A blog about me and my adventure as an ex-pat.
Because someone told me to... Thank you Gaby.

Monday, October 31, 2011

happy halloween

Wow I love Michigan in October!

Someone asked me today if spending Halloween here is like it is in the movies and yes it is! From Jack-o-lanterns on every doorstep to friendly ghosts and witches everywhere, to getting the kids dressed up in fun, bright costumes to go trick or treating, I really do feel like we are living in a movie!

We have had a lot of fun this month. We have done so many things that I wanted to capture a few here.

There are the simple things like driving round the neighbourhoods and past shops and schools, looking at all of the fabulous decorations which have been up since the beginning of the month. There are ghosts hanging from trees, witches crashing into trees and doors, dozens of pumpkins carved into jack-o-lanterns or just sitting by mail boxes or on front porches. And some people have grave stones, scarecrows sitting on chairs, orange lights and even 6ft tall inflatables in their front yards.

I love the colours. The trees are desperately clinging to their leaves, still glowing red and yellow but also many of the decorations here are bright orange, lime green, purple and black. I always thought Halloween was black and white but here the house is bright with orange and purple window decorations, bright spooky houses on the shelves and pumpkins hanging around the kitchen.

We went to a place called Gull meadow farms to pick out our pumpkins. This was something I had seen on the tv and was very excited to do it. They had all sorts of things for the kids to play with including bouncy inflatable 'pillows' like a flat bouncy castle, hay rides and of course hot cider (not alcholic here!) and donuts to warm up. We had a fun evening in the sunshine, playing and riding round the farm on the wagon then chose our pumpkins. The kids are old enough to choose their own and help pull the little red wagon to take them to the car - cute!

We have done plenty of trick or treating already and it's still 4 hours until the official start of trick or treating on our neighbourhood! We have been to Jeremy's work where the staff decorated the offices and meeting rooms amazingly! Each room had a different theme and only a couple were spooky. Halloween here is a festival, a holiday, a celebration. It's about fun and treats.
There was trunk or treat at Southridge church last night. We went along with our neighbours and it was cute to see Charlotte and her friend collecting candy together and playing games. People from the church decorate the trunks of their cars, dress up in costumes and hand out candy. Even their dogs joined in with the dressing up! (The supermarkets are full of costumes for dogs - honestly everyone here gets dressed up!) We also went to ZooBoo at Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek. The zoo is decorated with hundreds of pumpkins and even the big bug sculpture at the entrance was dressed up! Local companies sponsor booths where you can trick or treat and there were fairground games too. We went with our friends and their little girls. Charlotte is best friends with Mia and they had a great time together.

There was also a fall festival at Charlotte's school and costume week at her ballet dance class. The kids have had so many opportunities to dress up and they love it! Charlotte has a bee and a witch costume and Toby has borrowed a few (he is growing fast so we needed a few choices!) including a bat, a pumpkin and Nemo!

There was also the 'famous' Spooky house near our house. Every year they dress the house up for Halloween and I have heard many people saying they avoid it as it is pretty scary! Their windows are boarded up, there are cobwebs hanging from the roof and they have put up a huge fence with statues garding the entrance. I counted about 30 carved pumpkins and they have a dozen stakes in the front yard with skeletons hanging from them dressed up. This year they added a small shed with rows of skulls displayed on it. Spooky! We took a ride up there during the day and every time we drive past now Charlotte points out the scary house!

Michigan is such a fun place to bring a family up. We are very much looking forward to trick or treating with friends, neighbours and family tonight. We live on a big housing estate which is a popular trick or treating spot and people will be driving in around 5:45 to collect their goodies. We have bags and bags of candy (I've been told to expect over 200 kids!) so hopefully we will have plenty to hand out.

It is so exciting, each season brings a different reason to celebrate, gather together with friends and rejoice!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

friends are worth their weight in gold

Someone told me recently to see the positive in everything, even when times are tough and it feels impossible to think there could be a good side.

Well we are going through a really tough time at the moment. I can't even begin to write how I feel about it all, but one thing has really struck me this week. And that is the power of friendship. 

I am a believer in a problem shared and I always want to help people. If someone tells me their problem I instantly want to help fix it or find a solution. But I am not very good at receiving help which is pretty hypocritical, I know! 

Well since we have told people about Jeremy's bladder tumour (which we recently found out is cancerous) we have been brought to tears by the love and support not only our family has given us but our friends have shown us too. 

There are people back in the UK who have sent us lovely emails which have been very touching to read. I sent out lots of emails to tell people what was happening and asked that people reply with their news, that we love hearing of news from home, however mundane it seems to them. So many of our friends and family replied. It made me realise how many amazing people we have left behind in the UK. All the years of friendship that we know will stand the test of distance and time.

And there are our new friends. Our neighbours and people I have met at MOPS or through Jeremy's work. They have all been amazing, offering emotional and practical support. We've had people babysit the kids at short notice, bake us cookies, cook us dinner, offers of help from everyone. We feel so blessed to have met so many wonderful people who want to help us so selflessly. 

And here is my positive in all of this. My relationship with Jeremy is stronger than it has ever been and I know we can get through this together but I have also learnt a lot about friendship.

So all I can say to them is thank you, you don't know how much it means to us that you are there for us. 

first crush

We decided we wanted to get Charlotte interested in Disney Princesses so whilst we were in Chicago we went into the Disney store. And there we saw Rapunzel who had long flowing hair. At the time, Charlotte would not let me lay a finger on her hair, I couldn't even brush it, never mind tie it back! So I thought that the princess might inspire her... Little did I know just how much!

We also bought her the film on DVD so she could understand who Rapunzel is (and because we want the excuse to go to Disneyland so best get her interested now!). Well she loves it!! We watch it several times a week and over the last few weeks she even just asks for the music on my iphone so she can dance round the room.

She knows the film so well that she recognises the music and knows which part of the film the music is from, even the pieces without words. But her favourite character, the one who makes her face light up, the one who makes her jump up and tell me it is their song is Flynn. Flynn Rider becomes Rapunzel's prince, though he is a bit of a bad guy at the beginning. So I believe this is Charlotte's first crush! And to be honest I don't blame her - he is really quite dishy!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

chatty man

A few months after Toby was born we realised that he couldn't hear. It turns out that he had 'glue ear' in both ears; a fluid that had built up behind his eardrum and was impeding his hearing to the point where he couldn't hear very much at all.
It took until he was almost one for all of the fluid to drain. 
As a baby he didn't coo or gurgle. I remember seeing him sitting at playgroup, quite happy but in his own little world and he didn't react when you called his name. 
Then one day at playgroup I knew his ears had cleared because it was like the light had be turned on and he suddenly realised all of these other kids were around him. His little face lit up and it was amazing to see him discover a whole new world.
And now, at 20 months old, he is starting to talk and the cutest thing is to listen to him in his room in the evening, chatting away to himself and laughing. 
Of course he has started talking with an american accent, saying words like 'there' and 'yeah' just like his sister.
I like their american accents but it is weird that they don't sound like us... well for now ;-)  

daylight robbery

Quick cute story about Charlotte...

We babysat for our neighbour at the weekend - we had 3 year old Cooper and baby Brooklyn over for a couple of hours.
Charlotte and Toby love their neighbours and enjoyed playing with them.
When their Mum came to get them, Brooklyn had fallen asleep on me so I offered to keep her until Jen had got sorted at her house and put Cooper down for his nap.
Charlotte was pretty tired too so we were crashed out on the sofas in the living room. She was chatting away to me when she sat up to say something and looked at me. Her face then fell and she looked appalled when she said to me "Oh Mummy! Baby Brooklyn! ... You have to give her back!" It was so cute bless her! She was so upset with me.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

precious morning

This morning was an unusually quiet one with both kids still fast asleep after 7am. It was also a school day so I had to get the kids up and ready to leave by 8:30. I went into Charlotte's dark room and picked her up from her bed, waking her from her dreams. I cuddled her as I carried her down the stairs and continued that hug for a good while on a chair in the living room. Her little warm body all curled up in my lap, her head resting on my chest. Heavenly. I wish we could have stayed like that for longer but time was getting on so we got our breakfast and sat down at the table. We hardly said anything, just quietly eating our breakfast,  making eye contact whilst we carefully ate our cereal. Quiet is something that neither Charlotte or I do well. But I did ask her if she had enjoyed her week with me (her Daddy has been working away all week) and she nodded her head. Then said "Mummy I love you". Four precious words, enough to make your heart swell and know that today will be a good day. And so far it has been. She was in such a good mood this morning, laughing along as she helped me get herself dressed, Toby dressed and find coats and shoes so we could leave on time for school.
Life has it's ups and downs, it's good days and bad days but I am sure this morning will be one that I remember for a long time.
Thank you Charlotte, I love you too x

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

falling for fall

Having proper seasons is one of the reasons why I really love Michigan.

Though when we arrived in April we did not know which season we were in! Our first few days were filled with sunshine and a taste of the chill factor. Within 4 weeks we'd seen snow, rain and had a day in the high 80s. That first month felt like a year and not just because of the weather. For me the days seemed to last forever and I remember thinking, was that only last weekend!! The kids did really well with adjusting to our new time zone and surroundings but given they were so young they couldn't tell me how they were feeling so they showed it with almighty tantrums in the supermarket carpark (thanks Charlotte!) and clinging to me every minute (bless him!). 

But a couple of months down the line and we had started to get to grips with everything, Charlotte was in preschool / daycare a couple of days a week, Toby was walking and learning how fun independence could be and June brought fantastic hot sunny weather along with our first visitors.

As I drove up Texas Drive and Milham I saw the trees fill with leaves and the landscape completely transform into lush countryside. Suddenly we couldn't see the park at the back of the house as the garden is lined with tall trees. It is like living in Centre Parks and brought back memories of wonderful holidays in the forest.

Each season also brings the most amazing and colourful flowers. Spring blossoms in bright purples and pinks that are so vibrant you would have thought the trees had been fed food colouring. Tulips on porches, surrounding mailboxes and lining roads. Masses of reds and yellows and pinks. We went to the Tulip festival in Holland, a town about an hour north of us, where there were tulips as far as the eye could see in every shade of red, purple, pink and yellow. We have even bought some bulbs in an attempt to recreate a piece of Holland next Spring. 

And autumn has not disappointed with the trees turning red, orange and yellow. But it was all over too soon and now the leaves are starting to litter the ground and once again we can see the park. Charlotte was looking out of the window of the car yesterday and said "Mummy it looks like Winter" which is too true. Before we know it, the temperature will drop (it's still in the 70s this week) and the snow will fall. Toby was sat on a plastic tray in the kitchen yesterday, I think he was practicing his sledging skills - it certainly looked like that! I am really looking forward to all of the fun that is to be had in the snow and experiencing a 'proper winter'. I am sure the winter will be long and hard but that will make the first blossom of spring all the sweeter.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


is an art form whose medium is sound and silence.

Silence... I'm not very good at that but music has become even more important to me now than ever.

Anyone who has heard me 'sing' knows I do not have an ounce of musical ability (if I could change one thing about myself it would be that I wish I could sing in tune, just a little bit!) but I love how music makes me feel and how it reminds me of all sorts of things.

Growing up my music taste was pretty limited. I loved singing along to my Kylie Minogue and Wet Wet Wet tapes playing on my walkman. I remember getting Madonna's True Blue album for my birthday one year and listening over and over again. I won Queen's 'The Miracle" record when I was 12 in a dancing competition at my school 3-2-1 disco and fell in love with their music. I love everything they have done and wish I could have seen them live. I thought Freddie Mercury was the best singer I had ever heard.

I forget how old I was when my Mum and Dad said they wanted to take us to the theatre to watch a musical. I think they must have taken us the year before to watch a ballet which completely bored me because I was adamant I did not want to go. Anyway they tried to convince me to listen to it on tape before we went but I was having none of it. Well I had no choice and off we went to the theatre. And how wrong was I?! There and then began my love affair with musical theatre. It is my number one treat night out and I can't wait to take the kids to see a show when they are old enough to sit still for 2 hours! I have seen many many shows in the wonderful theatres in Manchester, travelled down to London and the magic that is London's West End and I have even been lucky enough to see Phantom of the Opera on New York's Broadway and a couple in Chicago.

Charlotte is in love with the film Tangled which is fine by me because I quite like listening to the songs in it and have even downloaded the album to my phone to listen to it in the car! We were all dancing round the living room last night to a couple of the songs. Both of the kids love dancing to music. Charlotte loves twirling her skirt or using the fireplace as a stage. Toby goes to music class at Gymboree and loves playing with all sorts of noisy instruments. His dancing is limited to bouncing up and down or turning round in circles but it is ever so cute to watch!

Seeing Toby enjoy listening to music is even more special as he could barely hear anything after he was born. At some point in the first few months he developed glue ear (behind his ear drums was filled with lots of think glue type liquid) which meant he could only hear very high pitched things. He seemed to be happy in his own little world but when it cleared up at around 9 months old it was like a light was turned on for him. he no longer sat on his own at playgroup, looking surprised when he realised someone was there too. He was in awe of all the things he could hear and the noises he could make. He is still quite behind with his language but in the last few weeks has made huge steps and can say things like "Daddy, Mummy and No" which is very funny.

I met an amazing group of people in 1996 and music was a big part of our friendship. I have so many memories linked to the music of the 90s, to the music festivals 'Glastonbury' and 'V' and to many many crazy fun nights out in Manchester. Happy times at huge house parties at '105' in Leeds, hanging out at friends' houses, staying up all saturday night listening to music, friends playing Oasis and Blur on their guitars and me listening in awe and trying to sing along (quietly!). Weekends away in a cottage in wales, taking it in turns to play our favourite tracks, music to keep you awake, to dance to and music to soothe a hangover. Thank you Mr Tebb for convincing me to listen to Stevie Wonder. I remember you suggesting it and all I could think was - the guy who sang the cheesy tune "I just called", seriously?! But you asked me if I trusted you and I did and how I now love to dance around to "Sir Duke".

I realise now how lucky I was to grow up in Manchester. The city is full of clubs and I have enjoyed many nights dancing for hours in indie clubs like the Ritz with it's bouncy dancefloor (how could they close it down?!). I remember walking in there with my friends and wondering what on earth they had brought me to... Student night on a Monday began with Goth music, moved through indie and rock music and onto dance music. The foam parties were quite an experience and there are too many songs to mention that remind me of good times and past relationships. Songs that made us run from wherever we were because we just HAD to dance to that song. The Funkademia nights with funk and northern soul music. One of my best friends and I would dance for 3 or 4 hours only stopping to get another bottle of water or a shot of tequila to keep us going. We would get home around 3am with black feet from all of the dancing on the grim dancefloor, too exhausted to have a shower!

Music is amazing in it's power to take you back to a time or a place, to stir happy or sad emotions. Music that makes me smile or reminds me of the best days of my life. The first dance at my Wedding (Wouldn't it be nice by the Beachboys) or the song that was number one in the charts and playing when I walked into the theatre to give birth to my son (Fireflies by Owl City).
I hope my children grow up with a love of music and maybe just maybe they will have inherited some musical talent from their Uncles.

We have been going through a stressful time at the moment and have had 2 hospital trips where I am sure only by pure coincidence, an older lady has been playing a piano in the lobby both times. The thing is one of the songs was one played at Jeremy's Granny's funeral. It made me think that she was telling me that she is up there watching over us. Who knows...

I have formed so many special friendships through or with music and there are so many songs on my itunes that remind me of them. Music makes me feel closer to them all now but also further away. I often put my itunes on random play and the tracks will remind me of a friend or a night out whilst I am driving around. This morning it was the 'avalanches' which will always take me back to '105'.

And on to new friendships and how music can unite you and give you common ground. Meeting someone and finding out one of their favourite tracks is from the same movie as yours. Just one of the many things we have in common and makes us feel like we have known each other for years even though it has only been a few months.
I have also met someone recently who shares a love of 90s Manchester music, even though she grew up thousands of miles from where there. I am looking forward to sharing music with her and listening to her favourite tracks.

So to all my friends and family, know that I listen to my tunes every day and they remind me of you all. I often have a smile on my face as I recall all of those happy days which are so special to me.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

the big move

So how did we get here? On an aeroplane!

No seriously, what brought us to America and how was the journey?

Well I met my husband Jeremy at work. We both worked for the same company but in different departments. I had been asked if I wanted to work out here at the headquarters but the time wasn't right so we declined. A Wedding and a daughter later, in 2009, Jeremy was asked if he would like to take an assignment out here. We said yes but put it out of our minds as we were busy welcoming our son into the world.
In May 2010 the ball finally got rolling and we started to plan our new life. Jeremy had been offered a 3 year assignment to work in Global marketing. After a lot of organisation in March 2011 we packed the last of our things, said our goodbyes and boarded the plane.

Saying goodbye to everyone was so hard. We have family and friends spread out all over England and lots of gorgeous little people, some of whom we had barely had time to get to know before we were saying goodbye. Even with such a long time to plan the move it still felt like we hadn't had enough time with everyone.
So hard to say goodbye to friends who had been through so much with me and were a big part of my life. To say goodbye to a friend who didn't have long left on earth. To cuddle the little ones knowing they would be so much bigger next time I saw them.

There have been days when I would have loved to walk through the door of a familiar house, get cosy and spend time with my best friend. Days when I ached to pick up those little ones and give them a big cuddle. Sad days when I received bad news and just wished I could go home to support loved ones.

I think about my friends and family every day. Wondering what they are doing, where they are, how they are doing. I am glued to facebook and email, looking out for glimpses of their lives. Of course there is Skype too which is amazing but not the same.

But we are very excited to be starting a new stage of our lives. To be living the American dream. America is big and exciting and even the small things make me smile. There is so much here to explore, so many new friends to meet, so many memories to make.

The actual move is very stressful. Your life is literally turned upside down. Seriously - when I asked the men from the removal company to empty every box I did not quite mean for them to dump it all out onto our bed! It was like we had been burgled!
There are lots of practical things to sort and the first few weeks are a massive learning curve... How to drive on the other side of the road, find your way round the huge supermarkets, get your Michigan driving licence and pay your medical bills.
We have been blessed with a beautiful house and amazing neighbours who have helped us settle in. One of my neighbours often knocks on the door with a coupon for a clothes shop or an article from the paper about a fun place to take the kids. And for the first few months, I had a wonderful ex-pat who was an absolute angel. She greeted us on our first day at the house with a boot full of food shopping and toys for the kids. Such a shame that she had to move back to the UK recently.

But a lot of that initial stress is behind us now and forgotten with the passing of time. We are settling into the neighbourhood, Charlotte into school, Jeremy into work and Toby has lots of things to keep him amused during the week. But more of that later.

Well I have a little lady sitting next to me reading the Veggie tales bible so I will say bye for now so I can spend a precious few more minutes with her before she goes to bed.

the start of something new

So I finally made it to blog-land! I have been meaning to start this for 6 months now and have finally sat down to put pen to paper, well fingers to keyboard.

Why have I decided to write a blog? For a number of reasons...

I spend most of my days with my toddler and preschooler and as amusing as they are, I spend a lot of time having conversations in my head so why not write those thoughts down.

I have a terrible memory and want to save as many precious moments as possible.

I have moved many thousands of miles away from family and friends and want them to know what is happening in our lives.

I hope one day that other people new to the ex-pat life may read this blog and know what a roller-coaster it is.

And because someone told me to. So in memory of him, here I am, hoping to amuse you, inform you, share with you and hoping not to bore you!

As I sit here now (well hanging off the edge of the chair as my 20 month old son is trying to climb onto the chair too) I am looking out over the trees and the green grass of our back garden. The sun is shining and I am rejoicing in all that Autumn has to offer... Stunning autumnal colours as the trees change from green to yellow, gold and red. I drove past a row of trees yesterday that honestly seemed like they were on fire. The heat from them was amazing. I wish I could have stopped the car and taken a photo but I would have caused chaos so I just have the memory of it and the joy of driving past them most days on the way to my daughter's school.

I have attempted to decorate the house for fall (forgive me for mixing English and American terms - that is how my life is at the moment - a mix of two countries!) and Halloween with a mix of home-made and shop bought decorations. I have diversified my craft skills somewhat since I have been here and am loving looking at them every day in the house.

On that note I have also considered employing the professionals and have to sign off now to talk to a man about Christmas lights!

So rest assured I will be back soon,

Bye for now