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

Thursday, August 30, 2012

pink tulle wreath

Charlotte has never been that girly... until the last few months! She loves pink and princesses so we are having a Princess themed party at our house for her birthday and I wanted to make a few decorations.
My friend made a beautiful green tulle wreath and I thought a pink one would be perfect for the party.

Here it is:

To make it you need a large straw wreath, 3 rolls of tulle and 3 rolls of wide pink ribbon (added decoration optional).

Keeping the plastic on the wreath, wrap the ribbon round the wreath form to cover the straw. I used greening pins to secure the ribbon. You could hot glue it.

Cut the tulle into strips that are about 20cm long. If you use it on a reel, you don't need to worry about the width.

Tie each of the lengths of tulle onto the wreath. I used a reef knot. Tie them off centre so the knots end up just about on the front of the wreath. 

When you have worked your way round the whole wreath you can fluff it up. The more tulle, the fuller the look. 

I use another greening pin to secure a small loop of ribbon and hang it on a nail or hook on the wall.

The 'Princess' wooden plaque is attached with 2 pieces of ribbon stapled to it.

I am planning to sit 3 of her Princess dolls in it when I put it up for the party.
I am also thinking of turning it round and attaching eggs to make it into an Easter wreath. 

Here are some photos which might help:

Top left: First roll of ribbon attached to the wreath form with a greening pin. The next piece of ribbon will cover this pin.
Top right: Measuring the tulle strips
Bottom left: Knotted tulle strips on the wreath
Bottom right: The underside of the wreath

So let me know. Was this interesting? Did it make sense?! Did the photos help? Are you feeling inspired or a bit confused and sick from the sight of all that baby pink tulle?! 

Either way, I will do another post about her party (it's on the 8th Sept) and hopefully I will capture some of the highlights on camera (if I am not up to my elbows in cupcake frosting and jam sandwiches!) 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


I have been a bit crafty since we moved here.

I don't mean devious or deceptive.

I mean I love reading craft blogs then shopping in our local craft stores Michaels and Hobby Lobby for supplies and heading home to get a bit crafty for a few minutes or hours if I dedicate an evening to it.

I have always loved stationery, colourful pens, funky erasers, tins and cases to organise them in. I used to collect stickers and could spend what felt like hours choosing stickers in a book shop in Manchester. I have a terrible memory and I have already forgotten a lot of my childhood but I remember my love of stickers.

When one of my best friends was getting married, she asked me to help make her Wedding Stationery and so in started my relationship with craft stores. I then made all of my Wedding stationery and favours and was delighted when a few years later my lovely Sister-in-law asked me to do hers.

A love of card making has turned into a family affair as my Mum then got hooked and my sister-in-law on the Dean side. She makes beautiful cards and is now selling them! Well done you Mrs!

However since moving here I have changed tack. I loved card making but it became a chore and I never got to enjoy the fruits of my labour as I would pop them into an envelope and send them on their way.

Crafting is huge here in America, almost every American I know does some sort of crafting from sewing to fun crafts with kids to wreaths and bunting to decorate their houses.

There are tons of craft blogs online and I have a couple of friends who are really good at creating decorations and who inspire me with all their gorgeous photos on Facebook.

So if there is a 'holiday' coming up like Easter or Halloween I turn to the craft blogs or Pinterest for inspiration and try something new.  I am no craft genius and everything I do is really quite simple. I find it so relaxing to get some material or paper out of the cupboard and have a go at making something. Wreaths are my favourite. They look great hanging on the front door or on a wall or cupboard door.

I even got my mother-in-law involved. She made a beautiful purple flower wreath and helped me create my 4th July wreath. Poor lady pierced her fingers a couple of times trying to push greening pins into the styrofoam wreath!

I have made a number of wreaths and displays for the house, some of which I have photographed and put on facebook. But I thought I might put some details on here in case any of you are feeling crafty and fancy giving it a go.

So watch this space for my first 'tutorial'!

Monday, August 27, 2012

not quite vintage chic...

I went to the Allegan Antique Fair again this weekend but this time I took the family. 

I love walking up and down the rows of stalls, taking it all in and trying to imagine how I could use some of the clutter in our house. 

Jeremy and Charlotte loved it - I kept losing Jeremy who was determined to buy a retro Pepsi sign - which he didn't because he took too long to choose one and the seller was nowhere to be seen - oh well maybe next time! 

Charlotte is a lot like me and was in awe of all of the vintage toys, jewellery and garden furniture. She went from table to table. gently touching all of the things, picking them up (nearly giving me a heart attack on numerous occasions!) and excitedly pointing things out to me! 

Toby in the other hand, fell asleep in the car on the way and spent most of the afternoon asleep in the buggy! He got lots of attention as people thought he looked very cute and it meant our shopping experience was a little easier with only one toddler to contend with.

It was a scorching hot day so we cooled off with big cups of lemonade (the delicious homemade variety chilled with half a cup of ice and a whole lemon thrown in!). We also 'snacked' on an elephant ear... A delicious but huge sweet treat - it's a flat fried donut type thing with sugar, cinnamon and apple sauce on top and I think it gets it's name from it's size - it was massive! Almost the width of the double buggy! I wish I had thought to get a photo but it took both of Jeremy's hands to hold it whilst I pushed the kids and fed it to them (and myself of course!!).

Here is one (minus the apple) courtesy of google:

(and I wonder why I can't lose any weight!!)

We walked round for a couple of hours, 'ummed' and 'aahhed' over a few things and ended up just buying a couple of trinkets. We will probably be moving house by the end of the year so we will wait to see what space we have before we buy anything too big.

Anyways I was very pleased with my purchases... Retro diner style salt and pepper shakers -$3, a cute little bracelet for me - $12 (the stall holders were lovely with the kids and gave Charlotte a plastic bead necklace and a little doll for free. Toby had just woken up and was too grumpy to take them up on the offer of a free toy!) and a wire basket - $10 to display lemons and limes in the kitchen:

Not exactly vintage chic but they add a bit of fun and colour into our house which is always good. 

There is one more date in the diary for the fair before then end of the season (being outdoors it only runs from April to September) so maybe we will go again one more time this year! 

Friday, August 24, 2012

bye bye baby

My baby boy started day care this week and he is loving it!

He starts preschool in September so I thought I would send him to day care for a few days with his sister to get used to being away from me for the day.

I had nothing to worry about... The first day he cried until the teacher produced a jigsaw and the second day he ran in, waved and said "bye bye Mummy". And that was it. No tears. No clinging to me. Nothing. Just happy to be there and playing with his big sister.

He is only 2 and a half but the Gagie Preschool like to start them at this age and he is obviously ready to make some friends and spend the day playing.

So what do I do now?!

Well the first day I went for a coffee in Starbucks, bought some craft supplies in Hobby Lobby and spent a very quiet hour in Meijer getting the groceries for the week.

By the time I got home at 1pm I was very calm and realised just how much I talk to Toby during the morning - either chatting to him or trying to control him in a shop!

The second day we had doctors appointments in the morning so they didn't get in until 11. I enjoyed a lovely long chat with a friend, making plans for them to visit and even managed to fall asleep in a chair on the decking before heading out to pick them up.

It's really quiet with him here and I do miss him but it is so nice to do things like work on the laptop or phone calls without any interruptions.

So I think we are all going to enjoy the new Autumn schedule of preschool, day care, ballet lessons and a whole day to do with as we please on a Friday!


He loves his new lunchbox that he picked out in Target:

All smiles on his first day of day care:

Walking in on the second day:

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


I just saw the International Space Station fly right over our house!!

My neighbour (bless her) text me about an hour before it was scheduled to go over, saying she'd heard on the news that it would be visible at 10:24pm.

So at 10:10 I headed outside onto our decking with a glass of wine to sit and wait. It's gone off chilly at night here but still warm enough to be outside in shorts and t-shirt for half an hour.

It was so nice to sit outside in the dark and look at the stars whilst listening to the night life (my word that cicadas are noisy!), watching fireflies and enjoying a bit of quiet time with a glass of wine.

Jeremy is working away (in Australia) so the days have been a bit crazy and the evenings, getting the kids to bed, seem to last forever (Ok that is a slight exaggeration but I do seem to run out of patience around 8pm!) so it was nice to go outside for a few minutes and chill out.

At 10:25 I met my neighbours out in the court and we watched for it coming. Suddenly we spotted something moving slowly above the Church which is WNW from our house. It was moving in the right direction and as it got closer it got faster. It took about two minutes to cross over the house and disappear out of sight. It was there one second and then seemed to fly into a cloud. My neighbour Dan informed me that it was because it lost the sun's rays with the curvature of the earth. Thank goodness he was there because Jen and I were just giggling away all excited to have seen it!

It looked exactly like a child would draw a star - a bright white five pointed thing moving in the sky!

It was overhead at around 8:30 but it was too light to see it. Can you believe it only takes 2 hours to orbit the earth?! I wonder who was on it and what they were doing during those 2 minutes that we could see it.

It's supposed to be visible again tomorrow night so I am off to dig out our binoculars!

The binoculars didn't work - it made the image jump around in a weird way! But I have seen it 3 times now and took Charlotte out tonight. She was very pleased to see the space ship and waved to them. The website said we'd be able to see it at 8:40 but I was dubious as it was still light (though we could see the moon and bats were out eating the mosquitos) so when we spotted it heading east we were very excited! The only bright light in the sky! It has changed course from the 1st night and I believe we might only see it for another couple of nights. It has been fun to head out front with the neighbours and look up to see it. Living in Manchester, the sky was always too polluted or cloudy to see anything like this so I am a little bit chuffed!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

open house

Wow what a fantastic few weeks we have had!

Some of our dear friends came to visit us and we had a blast!

We spent a wonderful weekend with a couple of my friends from University and their family. All of the kids got on brilliantly and it was fun to teach their boys a thing or two about America - our neighbour lent them baseball bats, balls and hats and even gave them a 30 minute lesson on how to throw and bat. We then took them to the baseball pitch behind the house and they had great fun putting it into practice!

We had a lot of laughs in a short space of time and I even got a bonus running buddy on Saturday morning.

My personal highlight was the huge water fight in the 'back yard' - good friends are ones you can blast in the face with a hose pipe!!

We missed our other University friend and raised a glass or two in her honour. Miss you and your family lots and cannot wait to visit you soon!

They left on Monday and it was a quick turnaround before our next visitors arrived on Friday... Jeremy's friends from England with their family and the next day, his friend from Australia.

It blows your mind to think that friends and family would travel such a long way to come and see us. We felt very honoured and excited to share a bit of our experience here with them.

We went to Ribfest in downtown Kalamazoo (think huge BBQ with ribs and pulled pork washed down with fruit smoothies and beer), swimming in the lake at our local beach here in Portage, St Joseph (to swim in Lake Michigan and run through the fountains), Binder Park Zoo, Air museum (more fun than it sounds... they have a load of fairground style rides for kids), Jungle Joes (a building full of huge inflatable slides and bouncy things - I did the sensible thing and stayed home to cook the dinner. Jeremy came back with friction burns on both elbows and I am pretty sure Si broke his glasses - for the fifth time!!) and a trip to the Kalamazoo Speedway which everyone loved (especially Charlotte - my little petrol head!).

That was just the first week!

The second week we headed 'up north' and finally got to see what everyone has been raving about for the last year.

'Up North'. North Michigan. Gaylord (pronounced Gaylerd), Traverse City (with a long 'a'), Petoskey, Charlevoix, Sleeping Bear Dunes and Otsego Lake.

Absolutely stunning!

Sandy beaches, blue water lakes perfect for swimming in (no salt is a definite bonus!), huge sand dunes (perfect for climbing and running down), Petoskey stones (fossilised coral which I found on the beach - apparently quite a hard thing to do!), tree lined roads, alpine style buildings, beach towns that remind me of the English seaside, beautiful lakes with amazing sunsets (perfect for evening pedalo or canoe rides), lazy days on the beach, chilled out evenings (well once the kids went to bed around 10pm!) with a glass of wine and friends.

Perfect! And all within a few hours drive of here.

When we have visitors, we live life like we are on holiday too. Far too many ice creams but days filled with trips out or fun round here. A house full of laughter, kids playing and giggling together. I love it!

Seeing Kalamazoo and Michigan through visitors' eyes, reminds you what is good about life here in Michigan.

It is just a shame they have to go. Saying goodbye makes me homesick but we will be back on English soil for a visit soon.

In case you don't follow my facebook feed - here are some of the highlights:

Poor Steve! Note every single one of us was dressed but ended up soaked!:

 Baseball in the park:

Our local beach at Ramona Park:


The fountains at St Joe:

Our lake 'Up North':



And finally, Sleeping Bear Dunes:

Friday, August 10, 2012

corn belt

We live in the 'corn belt' of America (amongst other things like the fact Michigan is classed as Mid west?!) which spreads from North and South Dakota through Wisconsin and Ohio, Michigan and down as far as Kentucky (yes OK I had to look up those states to work out the geography!)

Anyway ...

I love the sweetcorn here!

Our neighbour's parents live on a farm and are often giving them more food than they can eat, which is great because we got nine ears of freshly picked corn this week and it was delicious! When it is in season, we can usually get it fresh from the farmers market for a few cents an ear or $5 for a dozen.

I can't believe how cheap it is, though this year they say it is more expensive because they have had to irrigate the corn fields during the unusually hot weather this summer. The poor farmers have had no end of trouble with hot weather and a very early spring, followed by weeks of frost then more ridiculously hot weather.

But it is still very cheap, in abundance at the moment and deliciously sweet and juicy. The corn here is multicoloured with yellow and white kernels, the white ones being the sweetest. And if you cook them just right and eat them whilst they are still hot, they literally slip out and into your mouth as you take a bite!

The best way to buy them is with their husks still on and eat them within one or two days.

Here are the ones Jen brought over this week:


Thursday, August 9, 2012

butler service...

Toby woke up fairly early this morning and made his way into my room as I was waking up and looking at facebook on my phone (do I have a technology addiction or what?! Isn't that as bad as waking up and lighting a cigarette?!).

Well anyway, he is not one to cuddle so I decided to leave him playing with my phone whilst I had a shower.

Of course I don't get to have a shower in peace and he was there the whole time.... But as soon as he heard the shower go off, he opened the door and passed me my towel!!! How cute?!

So I really can't complain about company in the bathroom with that level of service!

Sunday, August 5, 2012


Olympics fever has blown the top off the thermometer!!

We have had a great weekend with our friends, soaking up the sun and splashing in the water, meanwhile our home nation have stormed their way up the medals table...

Friday morning: 

Sunday evening:

World and Olympic medals have been smashed! Gold, silver and bronze medals have been awarded in track and field, cycling, judo, sailing, tennis and rowing. 

Great Britain is truly great! Way to go! 

Thursday, August 2, 2012


Over the last 2 weeks, the kids did swimming lessons with Brittany's swim school. You can find it on facebook here. Their teacher was Miss Bethany, a college student who swims as a sport and teaches in the summer holidays. The school is based at her family home. They have a pool in a lovely setting in the back yard and I got to hang out there, watching the kids during their lessons. Great when the sun was shining, not so good the day it rained!!

I could only get them booked in for 6 lessons so I was hoping that would be enough.

They were nervous at first but soon warmed up to Miss Bethany. She was lovely with them, calling them a 'silly goose' if they stopped kicking or didn't want to go under the water.
By the end of the second week, she had Charlotte swimming under the water after jumping off the diving board and starting to learn the front crawl - scooping the water and coming up for a breath after 3. She could also swim on her back, kicking her legs and even came down the big water slide a couple of times (she has my fear of heights!).

Toby wasn't too sure at first but by the end, he was happy to put his face, ears and head under the water, was eager to climb up onto the diving board to jump off and started to learn to hold onto a float and kick his legs to move forward.
She worked him hard for the 30 minutes - after every lesson he would pass out in the car!

But the real proof for me was this weekend, when we took them to the beach with our friends. Their kids - Luke and Johnny, who do regular swimming lessons, were more than happy to show Charlotte how to do things like the butterfly stroke and she loved it! She tried to copy everything they did and we could not get her out of the water! She spent hours swimming under the water, without any goggles on, trying to swim further each time.
Both kids were full of confidence in the water which was so good to see. I love being in the water and I so wanted them to learn to swim at a young age, hopefully we can find local lessons over the winter.
I am so proud of my water-babies.

Week One:

Week Two: 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Olympic fever

We have Olympic fever in our house this week and we are loving it!

It all started at the weekend with an Olympics themed party for our visitors - my friend Ruth from University and her family, our neighbours and some ex-pat friends. We did well and had 5 countries represented - teams GB, USA, Australia, Ireland and Mexico!

I love my neighbours - they went to Old Navy and Party City on the day and bought up a load of 4th July clearance items. They win the award for best dressed guests!:

We missed the opening ceremony on the Friday night as the Planes arrived that day and we were busy having fun at the pool, playing baseball at the pitch in the park behind the house and relaxing with beers and s'mores round the fire pit on the driveway with our neighbours! Phew! 

After taking Ruth to my run camp on the Saturday morning we enjoyed watching the opening ceremony whilst decorating the house team GB style and getting ready for the party. I particularly enjoyed the Queen and Bond dropping into the stadium from a helicopter (oh ok it wasn't really them but to be fair she did film part of it with Daniel Craig) and the whole history of England thing with the stadium transforming from agriculture through the industrial revolution to digital era. All in all I think they did a great job and I was very proud of my home nation! 

We had a great time at the party, the kids had a bouncy castle and inflatable pool in the back yard whilst the adults watched the Olympics in the house and soaked up the sunshine. Jeremy did a stellar job with the BBQ and friends brought tasty dips and salads to munch on. 

But by Monday I was on my own with the kids and unfortunately without any Olympics coverage. NBC have the rights here and in their wisdom, decided to limit viewing to prime time - 8pm to midnight, recorded over the day. I cannot stay up until midnight so I was left watching it on Tuesday, 36 hours after it happened and approximately 35 hours after I saw the results on facebook! Oh the joys of the digital era!! Oh and heavily biased (obviously) on the team USA so no coverage of Zara Philips Silver medal or the cycling. 

Until today... My friend saw my frustration on facebook and found a way for me to stream the BBC coverage through my laptop! Woohoo! I was very excited to watch the action on a pretty historical day - we got medals in rowing, cycling and swimming.

I remember watching the Olympics as a kid and playing Daley Thompson's decathlon game on the Spectrum but kind of lost interest in my 20s. I did however really get into it in Beijing when I was on maternity leave with Charlotte and we met Sir Chris Hoy (when he was just Chris Hoy!) who had just won Gold at the Olympics in the cycling.
And again when I was in the hospital with Toby and watched a lot of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

And now I have started exercising and can barely run or cycle a few miles, I have even more respect for the Olympic atheletes! It is also cool to watch it with the kids. To get them excited about the gymnastics and then see them jumping and rolling on my bed saying "Mummy look I am doing gymnastics!".

The kids have collected Olympic t-shirts from friends and family and today we received a parcel from their Auntie (thank you Lou!) with official Olympic mascots in them so we aren't missing out all together, being so far away.

So fingers crossed I can maintain my internet connection for the next week or so and we can enjoy the games with our next visitors - Jeremy's childhood friend Simon and his family plus 'Aussie' Dave and hopefully have lots of fun memories of these very special Olympic games from our home country.