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

Saturday, June 30, 2012

soft ball and s'mores

Last night was the 'cook-out and softball' street party organised by our neighbours over the road and it was amazing!

There must have been 70+ people there including adults, children and dogs!

I took the kids to the cinema in the afternoon (to see Brave which was great but a bit scary - big bears, teeth bared, fighting!) and this was the scene I arrived home to. There was a bouncy castle set up on our front yard for the little kids (and then we hosted the firepit at the end of the night), there was badminton set up next door, a volleyball net over the road and basketball on another. So by 7pm there were people spread all over the court.

Everyone brought a dish of food and drinks so there were cool boxes scattered about the grass and quite a spread in one of the houses. Grilled hot dogs and burgers, chicken, chips 'n dips, cookies, big slices of watermelon and strawberries.

We all made our way over to the baseball pitch behind our house around 8pm for the softball game. The older kids had been playing a game of kickball which seems to be a cross between baseball and soccer and usually played at school when there is a big group of kids. The women (and men who were too chicken / tipsy to participate) settled down on the bleachers, beers in hand to watch as the men and older boys warmed up on the pitch by throwing the softballs to each other in 2 lines. They had to divide themselves into 2 teams and it was like watching male birds compete for the females' attention, puffing out their chests, stretching out their muscles and waving around a whole load of testosterone!


To be honest I have no idea on the rules of softball. I believe it is similar to baseball but with a bigger ball. Kids start to learn baseball by playing t-ball where they hit a ball off a stand then move on to softball (the ball is anything but soft but is an easier target as it is bigger) then on to baseball. I know lots of 4 year old kids (boys and girls) who play t-ball every week.

A baseball:

A softball:

I am not afraid to ask the neighbours to explain things to me but to be honest I was just enjoying watching my kids watch the game. Most of the younger kids stood out on the pitch so they could try to catch the homeruns. I was quite fearful for mine who were playing behind the pitch as it wouldn't take much for one of those balls to knock them off their feet! Toby got hold of a baseball then a softball and was loving throwing it to me as we watched the action. Our close friend scored a home run so Toby high-fived him in celebration.

They played for over an hour so we got to see a beautiful sunset whilst we were there: 

After the match (no idea who won!) we took the kids to the playground. As were leaving at about 10pm the kids started to cry that they didn't want to go home but were very pleased to hear that the party had moved onto our driveway! Tobes only lasted a bit longer though he had a great fighting spirit and needed convincing to go to bed. 

He was fascinated by the volley ball, badminton and softball. I think he will be big into sports as he gets older. He has fantastic hand to eye co-ordination, is very strong for his age and can jump really well (feet together and can go pretty far!). Of course I would say he was amazing but a few people have commented too so watch this space.... T-ball here we come! 

Poor Jeremy had been up for such a long time by this point (since 1am US time as he had flown back from the UK) and I really needed to go to bed and I had a long run with my run camp at 7am this morning but there was more fun to be had and if Charlotte was still going then we would too. So we had s'mores round the firepit and chatted to the neighbours who had gathered round with their chairs and beers. I don't even know half of the people who were there but we got to meet a few more of them and it helped us feel more welcome here. 

However, strangely for us, our landlords were there on a home leave trip from Australia so it was a little uncomfortable going in and out of our / their house. It reminds me that we don't belong here, that this life is just temporary and who knows what the future holds.

But we are living for the moment and loving it! 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

old enough to be an antique!

On the last Sunday of each month there is an Antique fair in Allegan and I went today with my friend Ashley. 

We both have a passion for crafts and clutter so this fair is right up our street. Allegan County is about 45 minutes North West of Kalamazoo and was so easy to get to. It still amazes me how far I drive to get to things here. I would never have driven to Huddersfield for an Antique's fair but here I didn;t even think about it. 

I met her there and we spent a good few hours browsing round each of the stalls. 

There were so many stalls and so many wonderful things to look at. From old jars, vases and bottles in different shades of green and blue to wire and wooden baskets, perfect for novelty storage or garden displays. 
Vintage Fisher Price toys - yes the ones I used to play with... I am old enough that my childhood toys are antiques!!
Framed chalk boards, furniture, mirrors, linens, stamps, old postcards (some with writing on that dated back years ago), spoons, wooden scrabble tiles (we searched for ages for an 'M' to complete Ashley's surname with no joy but it was fun looking!), wooden pepsi crates, metal washtubs, globes, guns... You name it they had one there! 

I had a couple of things in mind that I was looking for. A new fruit bowl as the kids love helping themselves to apples and bananas and I needed a bigger one and maybe some blue glass. But as I went round with Ashley, she helped me to see how things I would have dismissed could be made to look great. I am hoping to return next month to pick up a couple more things but I did come home with a cool present for Jeremy, 3 Lee Child books for him (I love looking through books) and my bargain of the day - a set of brightly coloured stacking Pyrex dishes. 

I have a couple of Pyrex casserole dishes that I inherited from my Grandma and I am trying to 'decorate' the kitchen with multi coloured accessories. I have a red mixer and brightly coloured chopping boards from Joseph Joseph so when I saw these I knew they would be perfect:

They now have pride of place on top of the fridge. 

And the biggest one is perfect as my new fruit bowl:

I am no good at haggling. It makes me embarrassed and I don't know how low to go. The set of 4 bowls were $68 and in good condition. Thankfully Ashley reminded me that I had nothing to lose and suggested I offer $50... So I did and she took my offer! Yippee! Bargain! 
The colours make me happy, I am pleased I got them for a bargain price (£8 per bowl) and they will always remind me of my first trip to the Allegan Antique fair with Ashley. 

The sun was shining and I got to rummage through clutter for hours, chatting and laughing with a friend...  
What a perfect afternoon! 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

demolition derby

Our neighbours suggested a great night out for the kids (and us!)... The demolition derby at the Kalamazoo Speedway. I have been there before to watch the racing but not with the kids. However we thought the kids would love seeing the cars crash into each other so we headed down there after dinner last night.

It was forecast for thunderstorms so we packed a bag of umbrellas but luckily there was just a rain shower whilst we were on our way. It had been hot (30oC) and sunny all morning but the sky had gone grey and the temp had dropped (20oC) so apart from the bleachers (stadium seats) being a bit damp it was quite pleasant sitting watching the track. In true (weird) Michigan style, once the clouds cleared, the sun came out (at 7:30pm!) and it actually got really hot and humid again!

Anyways back to the racing!

The first cars out were the most bizarre 'mini stock' cars.

They seemed to be go-karts with a shell. The drivers looked like they had huge heads and were out of proportion to the cars. It took a while to realise the cars' 'lights' were actually stickers on the body work!

And then the demolition started.

The cars were pretty battered before the race even began. I have to say that at one point I thought it was the slowest race I'd ever seen... But I hadn't seen the tractor race by this point! Anyway they provided much fun as they 'raced' round the track, pushing each other off or into the tyre walls. I have also never seen so many drivers cut corners or just blatantly drive through the tyre wall rather than go round!

The kids loved it. Well I think Toby might have enjoyed the popcorn and climbing over the bleachers more than the racing but he did sit still for some of the racing.

Charlotte however was jumping up and down and cheering every time a car banged into another. She loved it and did not want to leave!

We were about to head home when they announced the next event was "garden tractor demolition derby". What?! Did I hear that right?!
Oh yes there they are, lined up and waiting to head onto the track. Well we couldn't miss seeing this so we stayed in our seats, eagerly awaiting the action.

And it did not disappoint! Lawn mowers with a racing seat installed, driving into each other to earn points! The highlight had to be one of them falling over (in a comedy fashion) and another that tried to carry on with only 3 wheels!! Only in America!!

And so concluded our kids' first live race experience. One to be remembered and hopefully repeated for many years to come! Can't wait to take them to an F1 race one day!

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Today was Charlotte's dance recital with her dance school 'Excel'.

She started doing ballet and tap in September last year. Our neighbour goes to the same dance school and she spent the summer dancing in front of the tv or to music on the ipod so we decided to try it and see how she got on. I remember when she could barely walk, she would 'rock out' to indie and rock stations on the radio. She loves to sing and dance though time will tell if she has more enthusiasm than talent! 

On her way into Excel dance for the first time, Sep 2011: 

She looks so young here! 

The recital was held at the high school in Paw Paw which is a town about 20 minutes from us. 
It's a huge building with a purpose built auditorium. I think the school has about 650 kids. 

The school: 

The outside of the auditorium:

Charlotte and her class have been practicing their tap dance since January. 
There are 3 groups in her 'act' and she was one of the blue birds from the movie 'Rio'. The others we red and yellow which looked great on the stage. Her costume was full of feathers and sequins which she loved. 

Here she is with her teacher Ms Lynn:

Since March and since we went to and from England twice and had visitors for Christmas, she has been quite unsettled and lacking in confidence. She used to practically jump out of the car at school or run into her dance class but I have noticed recently that she has gone all shy and clings to me. She had also started to just stand still during her dance lessons (especially if she caught me peeking through the window!) so I had no expectations for recital day. I expected she might just stand there and prayed she wouldn't get scared and cry. I just wanted her to enjoy herself. 

She has worked so hard, practising every week at dance class and at home using video footage from 'peek week' to help her remember the steps. We've had the music on in the car and I have spent a lot of time telling her she is a good dancer and trying to build up her confidence. 

Well she blew me away! She danced the whole routine during the rehearsal which made her teacher cry with pride and she did an amazing job during the actual recital, dancing and smiling the whole way through. I was crying my eyes out at the end and my heart was full of pride for her. She made us so happy. I am still smiling thinking about it a few hours later and hope I will remember today for a long time. The feeling of pride and joy watching my little girl dance. 

I think today was great for her confidence. She earned a prize for doing a good job (we gave her a doctors kit which she loves!) and we presented her with a bunch of glittery gerbera daisies when she got off the stage. 

She said she had lots of fun (she spent most of it smiling) and has been bouncing around the house ever since. 

At the rehearsal:

The big show: 

Toby loved the show and sat for an hour bouncing on my knee (he especially loved the hip hop rountine) and clapping after each performance. 

Flowers for my big girl:

What a day... I can't wait for next year! 

Friday, June 15, 2012


We got this invite today and it made me smile.

For lots of reasons. 

We have a park behind our house which has a baseball field on it which is where the softball will be played. Softball is similar to baseball. I have never played or seen anyone play but I guess I will learn soon! 

It reminds me that we are living in America and instead of meeting for a football match or game of cricket, we have been invited to a softball game.

I love how party organisers invite loads of people and then everyone pitches in by bringing a 'dish to pass'. It's also called 'pot-luck' and is a great way for me to try new dishes. 
There will be lots of american dishes like pulled pork (shredded BBQ pork), chips and dips, burgers, hot dogs, BBQ meatballs and lemonade. 

It will be held on our court. We live on a spacious cul-de-sac and are friends with most of the neighbours who live on the court (there are 8 houses). We have had a few evenings gathered round a  firepit on one of the driveways. The kids play in the front or back yard whilst the adults sit around with a beer, eating s'mores and chilling out. 

There is no guarantee it will be dry on the day as the weather in Michigan can be quite unpredictable but there is a good chance that by the end of June, it will be hot and sunny! 

Sunday, June 10, 2012


I am hooked!

I downloaded the instagram app on my iphone and I can now pretend that I take great photos!

For those of you who haven't used it, you take a photo on your phone and use instagram to filter and alter it to make it look like well like it wasn't taken on a phone!

I can then share the photo with other instagram users who follow me or share it on facebook.

Ordinary or dull photos look amazing using the filters:

This was taken on a dull day at the Farmers market.
I cropped it and added a sun-burst filter and hey presto!

Slightly blurred photos come to life: 

This is Charlotte performing on parent visitation day with her teacher Mrs Kelpin. 

We have been enjoying spending time with Jeremy's brother and family who are here for a 10 day holiday. It has been an amazing week and I don't want it to end!!

Here are some of the things we have been up to:

Strawberry picking (I love how the strawberries are the only things in focus) 

Digging a hole on a beach in South Haven (again I love the blurred bucket) 

Waiting for pancakes in Cracker Barrel 

Playing giant checkers outside Cracker Barrel

Fun in the sun in the neighbours' back yard

Firepit (I love the cozy coupe car in the background that Toby is driving) 

I love this picture... 
He loves playing with his sister. 
She is drinking my fizzy water and eating s'mores 
whilst wearing a necklace and fairy costume. 

makes sense

When I try to walk downstairs with Toby he looks at me and says "Carry you?!" He wants me to carry him down the stairs and how could I say no to that? It's so cute that he hears me asking him if he wants me to carry him by saying "Toby shall I carry you?" so when I don't ask it makes total sense that he would shout "carry you!"

Friday, June 8, 2012

you say tomato, I say tomato...

"my word you are so American" was a comment to my facebook post about 'selling a stroller at my garage sale'. I am not sure if it was the garage sale or the mention of 'stroller' that prompted that response but I have a feeling it was the latter. I am also not sure if it was a criticism or an observation but that's another story ("your kids eat like Americans" was a previous comment from that Facebook friend - criticism or observation?!)

So why did I say stroller and what's the big deal? Well obviously in England it's called a buggy and before we moved here I think I would have laughed if an English friend had called it a stroller. We have been here a year now and honestly there are some words I use deliberately because it makes life easier and there are other words that I use without thinking. I go to a 'stroller strides' class every week (think buggy fit) so I hear and use that word on a regular basis and have no reason to call it a buggy here. But other words like rubbish, bin and mobile phone just aren't used here and people don't know what I am talking about so it is easier to learn the American word and go with it.

And then there is pronunciation. I am proud to be English and the accent certainly gets you attention in the supermarket. People stop and listen to you. They ask you to keep talking because they like hearing your accent. I've had people pop up from another aisle and say they have been listening to me for the last 5 minutes. It's nice and makes you smile. But sometimes I just want to get on with my day and not stop for 5 minutes in every shop to discuss where I am from, how long I have been here, why we are here, how long will we stay, hear about their trip to London once (no-one every goes to Manchester!) and generally stand out like a sore thumb. It's nice to talk about England but it makes me homesick. It's nice to have a chat but it makes me feel like a tourist. Sometimes I don't want to be different, I just want to fit in.

And I have all sorts of problems with drive-thrus. It sounds lazy but when you have put your 2 year old in and out of the car 4 times that day (because you can't walk between shops here or get everything you need in one shop) and you really want a coffee, the drive-thru is the answer. It's convenient and quick and they are everywhere! But can I get them to understand me? Me: "a tall decaf vanilla latte please", them: "a what?! A soy latte? What size? Etc etc" After 3 attempts I got my coffee and an apology at the window. Jeremy was laughing his head off as he didn't believe me when I said they wouldn't understand me. Thankfully for my waistline I avoid the drive thru most days. The sat nav in my car involves me pressing a button and speaking to a call centre. I don't use it very often because I end up with the wrong directions or a long drawn out conversation where I have to spell the destination. It is stressful and makes me feel stupid. Jeremy says I talk too well and need to adopt some Michigan drawl but I am no actress and rubbish at doing accents.

So maybe I am turning a little American and have started asking for toe-may-oe instead of tomato or car-mel instead of caramel and maybe I talk about a flashlight instead of a torch, Fahrenheit instead of Celsius, yard instead of garden but it's for my own sanity trust me!

Friday, June 1, 2012

that's when good neighbours...

...become good friends!

I love the sense of community spirit here.

I don't know if it is because people move around all over America and can be 12 hours away from family, but in a crisis or hard times, people help each other out.

I have just got back from delivering a meal for 6 to a friend.
Her daughter was taken ill will appendicitis a couple of weeks ago and was in hospital for 10 days. She stayed with her the whole time. Now they are home, our MOPS group decided to help them by organising meals for them. You sign up at a website designed for the purpose (takethemameal.com) and call them the day before to arrange when to drop the meal off.
What a great way to help and so far 4 of us have.
The MOPS steering group also provide meals when a family has welcomed a new baby into the world.

I feel like we have had so much help over the last few months, that I was glad to be able to help someone else.
Let's just hope they like what I cooked! And if not, I am sure they will enjoy the bar of chocolate I threw in for good measure!

flight risk

I have a 2 year old boy.

He is gorgeous and it is fun to see how different he is from his sister.

But boys get into trouble so much easier than girls and that can make life quite stressful!

We went to the 'Party in the park' in downtown this week. It was a free event put on by the Kalamazoo library. Mums and preschool age children converged on the big park and volunteers from the library sat down with small groups and read stories to the kids. Some of them were dressed up too - Charlotte was very excited to see Winnie the Pooh and Curious George.
I went with some of the MOPS Mums and we had a great time watching the kids and chatting to each other.

Toby had other ideas. He is not one to sit still! He was off rolling down the hill with a little girl who was from the group next to us and kept wandering off to see what the other kids were up to. He is so nosey and does not fear being away form me like Charlotte does. She is going through a really shy phase and was more interested in reading the book she was given in her goodie bag and munching on the bag of cookies she found in there too.

So I was chatting away trying to keep an eye on both kids when I suddenly realised Toby was not there.

After a few seconds of looking round the area where we sat I started to panic. Reality hit and I knew he had taken off.

I told my friends and they started looking for him whilst I got help from the volunteers.

It was the worst few minutes. They wanted me to stay and tell them what he looked like etc but I just wanted to get round the park and find him. Luckily some of the volunteers also work at the playgroup we go to so they knew me and him.

I tried to stay calm and methodically work my way round with Charlotte to find him. I felt sick to my stomach and started to imagine he had been run over or snatched.

Thankfully as soon as they had announced that he was missing my friend found him! One of the volunteers picked him up and brought him back to me.

The cheeky monkey was not at all phased and just had a big smile as he shouted "Mummy!"
He had made his way into the middle of the park and was about to take a swim in the pool!! I love his sense of curiosity but wish he wasn't quite so adventurous!!

I'm grateful that he wasn't upset or traumatised but I don't know how he will learn not to wander off.

I felt like the worst Mother. Who loses their child like that?! You sometimes hear announcements at events and are so glad it's not you.

We left soon after. I am glad we went to the party and the kids enjoyed it but it makes me realise that having 2 toddlers on a day trip is not easy and I need to employ some better tactics to keeping him restrained!

But to end on a good note... Here are some photos of the day:

Toby (possibly deciding when to make a run for it) and Charlotte waiting for the stories

Excited to see 'Curious George' and 'The Man'

A sheep (poor guy!)

A frog (seriously grateful to these poor volunteers!)

Photo opportunity as we were leaving (Toby was securely fastened into his buggy!) 

'Memorial Day' weekend

It was Memorial Day on Monday which meant a weekend of celebrating and remembering, of giving thanks and spending time with family.

Memorial Day is an American federal holiday to remember the Men and Women who are currently serving, are veterans and especially those who have died whilst serving in the US Armed Forces.

Ever since we moved here I have noticed that Americans give thanks almost daily for the work their troops do.
From special mentions on tv shows like Ellen and adverts on tv, to unique registration plates on their cars, to fast pass through immigration at the airport, America honours their servicemen and women and veterans.
A police officer from Kalamazoo was shot and killed last year. There was a parade through the town and most of downtown was shut off so it could pass through. Almost every single police officer was there to salute as the coffin went past. A year on and there are still signs along the road to remember him and the investigation into his death is still top of the news. Americans do not forget.

They seem to me, to be a nation who are grateful for their freedom, who are proud of who they are and are very good at saying thank you.
It makes me realise how lucky we are (English and Americans) to have freedom of speech. To be able to talk openly (if you want to) about politics or religion. There will be an election here soon and I hear a lot of people putting Obama down for his plans to bring an NHS style system here. Mitt Romney seems to be the favourite to take his place so we will have to see how it pans out (but that's a whole other blog post!)

It's that American stereotype of being loud and proud, high fives and celebrating every little success. Some people find it annoying or cheesey.
I find it uplifting.

We went along to the Memorial Day Parade on Monday. The kids waved their American flags and scrambled into the road to collect sweets that had been thrown by people in the parade. They waved to the fire trucks, police, clowns and local senators who drove by. They clapped for the veterans on the floats, the Scouts and marching bands. The sun was shining and we had fun.

Most of our neighbours were away - the Michigan tradition over the holiday weekend is to drive up north to the lakes, but we decided to take it easy and chill out at home.

We have family arriving soon and I am so excited to spend time with them and watch all of the kids playing together.