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

Friday, November 30, 2012

photo-a-day november

I am still playing photo-a-day with fatmumslim
Here are my November photos:

1: something beginning with 'C' - I found a really comfy chair in the book shop!
Kids playing, I have coffee and comfort... Bliss! 
2: colour - the newly refurbished Radisson hotel in downtown Kalamazoo
Spoilt for choice - love the colour of my new handbag!

3: breakfast - casserole for lunch! 
4: tv - watching the F1 race on speed
5: 5 o'clock - busy creating a photobook
6: a favourite thing - seeing my two kids spending time together

7: reflection - buildings in Chicago 
8: something I do everyday - turn the light on 
9: small - my pocket notebook 
10: can't (won't) live without - these crazy kids!

11: night - our last one here 
12: drink - a G&T in the hotel after the first day of our removals at our house
13: where I slept - in a hotel whilst our house is packed
14: man-made - I love this photo.
There was a beautiful sunset at the back of our new house
but the prompt was man-made. I like how I managed
to capture the sunset whilst photographing the car

15: in my bag - everyone has a mini scoop don't they?!
16: the view from my window - a beautiful frosty morning
17: the last thing I bought - 2 tickets to see matchbox 20 at our local theatre
18: happened this weekend - we got to go to our first american football game
at the University of Michigan

19: something awesome 
20: work/play - food shop in Trader Joe's followed by
a Marshmallow and Gingerbread treat at Biggby
21: what I wore - my tomato red gap shoes
22: grateful - for my friend who made a delicious pumpkin pie
to finish off our first Thanksgiving meal

23: black - Friday. But we missed the sales in favour of getting this :)
24: a sound I heard - you know it's Christmas when
you are going crazy listening to the singing reindeer! 
25: (grey) sky - over Kalamazoo
(note Hubby's slide-with-coffee-in-hand skills!)
26: (my new craft) cupboard - won't stay tidy for long!

27: tree - on my handmade Christmas tree decoration 
28: vehicle - you know a boy lives in the house
when you find cars lined up all over! 
29: (little boy in a) big (world) 
30: on the wall - nothing... yet! (The joys of moving house) 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

introducing Leon...

Last Christmas I was introduced to a lovely tradition called 'Elf on the shelf'.

Father Christmas sends an elf to keep an eye on the children and help him write his naughty or nice list.

The elf stays in your house during the day, watching everything you are doing and then goes back to Father Christmas at night to report back.

The next day, the kids get up and run round the house to see if he returned and where he will be spending the day.

On his first visit, he brings presents for the kids - this year our elf, called Leon, brought our kids Christmas pyjamas and a DVD. He arrived on Thanksgiving morning and was hiding on the toy shelf in the basement. The kids squealed with delight when they spotted him. I saw Charlotte just staring at him as if remembering what it meant for him to be here, her little mind going as she figured it out.

Walking round the shops, you have to be careful to avoid the boxes which contain the elves and a story book of explanation... You don't want too many questions from beady eyes.

You can read more about the elves here.

Charlotte is totally drawn in by it. Last night I reminded her to go and say goodnight to him. She came back up to tell me she'd been to see him and had shown him that she was wearing the nightdress he gave her. Bless her!

And so begins a month of remembering to move him each night and coming up with genius ideas on where to put him. So far he has been found on the cooker hood, the bookshelves and swinging from the chandelier. And this morning, as the kids went to choose their favourite breakfast cereal, he was found in the pantry munching on the kids' cookies!! They thought it was hilarious!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

rules of the road

I am often asked how I find driving over here... on the 'wrong' side of the road. Most of the time it is pretty easy. Automatic gears and cruise control help. The roads are wide and busy roads often have a centre lane for people turning. Local roads have a layby where you can pass people who are turning left (crossing the oncoming traffic and therefore may end up holding up cars behind them) into a road or housing estate.

But today threw me. I was driving down the main road on the way to school when I saw a procession of about 20 cars going quite slowly. They all had small orange flags on top of their cars. I knew right away it was probably a funeral procession but then panicked as I knew I had read about that in the highway code but couldn't remember what was special about a funeral procession. I didn't know if I could overtake them (they were driving at 20 miles per hour) or if I had to fall in line behind them. Another car drove past so I slowly overtook them all.

There are different rules of the road here like you do not pass a school bus on either side of the road when it has it's red lights flashing and stop sign out. You can turn right on a red, if it is clear, or left into a one way street. Four way stops are a confusing venture with all sorts of rights of way!

It turns out that I was OK to overtake the funeral procession. They have right of way especially at traffic lights - where all traffic must stop to let them through.

My worry is when I go back to England and try to drive a 'stick shift' after all of this time! I know I will stall at the first set of traffic lights because I have forgotten to put the clutch in!

Monday, November 26, 2012

not quite so black friday

Bargains bargains bargains!

Black Friday is the Friday after Thanksgiving, when all of the retailers have huge sales and people queue round the block to get cheap electronics, toys and nappies.

Some stores opened at 9pm on Thanksgiving night and others at silly o-clock on Friday morning. Friends on Facebook said they drove down the main shopping road and saw loads of people waiting outside the shops in the freezing cold!

I was planning to go and have a look, to people watch and maybe pick up a couple of bargains. But then Jeremy had to do some work at home so I decided to get a few bargains online instead, from the comfort of my sofa!

We did manage a fun trip out on Friday - to the local Christmas tree barn. I hear a lot of people cut their own trees but I don't fancy trying to control 2 toddlers and a saw, so we took the easy option and picked a pre-cut one.

The temperature has dropped recently and there was a bitterly cold wind with a dusting of snow thrown in so we quickly chose a good looking 7ft one and headed into the barn for refuge, popcorn and hot cider (non-alcoholic). They have a great selection of gorgeous decorations and wreaths inside a beautiful barn lit with twinkling Christmas lights. I could have bought half the shop but luckily the kids were keen to explore and had little patience for browsing!

We are a bit early but we spent the rest of the weekend decorating the tree and house for Christmas. Only a couple of baubles suffered a grizzly fate in Charlotte's hands and our house now looks nice and festive.

We also enjoyed watching the local football teams try and get to the bowl (not quite sure what that means) at a friend's house, though the kids preferred to play ping pong in their basement!

And if we didn't get enough bargains on Black Friday, there is Cyber Monday after the weekend when there are lots of online bargains... Speaking of which where did I put my credit card...?!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

cute kids

Toby's favourite saying at the moment is "we've been there!"... He says it when he sees a familiar picture or something on the tv. We may well have been there or it could just be something similar like kids picking vegetables out of a community garden. He was looking at photos on the laptop screensaver the other day and must have shouted it a hundred times!

Charlotte and Jeremy went on early to a party yesterday. In the car she said she was scared and when Jeremy asked her about it, she said she likes going places with Toby. They may fight but they are best buddies too!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

pumpkin pie and turkey

We had a great first Thanksgiving.

The sky was a beautiful blue.... Probably the last 'warm' day for a while! It looks like the temperatures are set to drop and we might even get snow tomorrow!

Leon our 'Elf on the Shelf' arrived last night (whilst we were sleeping) and brought the kids Christmas PJs and 'Arthur Christmas' on DVD. They were so excited to see him sitting on the toy shelf in the basement. I spotted Charlotte just staring at him with a look on her face as if she was working it out in her head - hopefully thinking about how good she will have to be now! Anyway more about him later this week.

We spent the morning watching Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, getting things ready for dinner and Jeremy took the kids for an explore through the neighbourhood whilst I tried to put a few more of our things away in the house. We have unpacked a lot of the boxes but that means that a lot of things were thrown in cupboards. Because we are renting for just a couple of years we want to get settled as soon as possible.

Before dinner we crashed on the sofa and watched Arthur Christmas. We loved it! It is a great explanation for the kids on how Santa gets round everyone with plenty of grown up jokes thrown in! I especially loved that Toby snuggled up to me and I was gutted when I had to get up to finish off the dinner.

And so to the dinner. Our first thanksgiving meal in America. We roasted a turkey, mashed some sweet potatoes, constructed a green bean casserole, creamed the corn, baked the stuffing, cut up some jellied cranberry sauce (very weird but tasty) and boiled up the turkey gravy with a bit of the turkey juice thrown in!

It was all fabulous and the kids loved it too. They were excited to try everything they had been learning about at school (great way to get them to eat!) and Toby could not get enough sweet potato mash or cranberry jelly.

The showpiece was the pumpkin pie that my friend baked for us. I have to say I was pretty hesitant as a lot of people said they don't like it. But apparently it's not thanksgiving without a pie so we bought a can of 'reddi wip', found the cake slice and gave it a go. And it was delicious! There was enough sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon to make it a sweet dish and Charlotte even asked for a second helping.

We couldn't get a small turkey, the green bean casserole would have fed a family of 8 or more and we only made a small dent in the pie so I think we will be having turkey everything with a slice of pie thrown in for at least a week! It was an epic Christmas-style/fat-pants-needed/too-full-to-move kind of dinner.

It's funny to think that whilst we spent the day relaxing and eating turkey much like we would on Christmas day, our friends and family back in England were going about their Thursday as normal.

Only a few weeks until we are England bound! Yay!

long life

I looked at the milk in our fridge today - it will last until Dec 25th!

Whether it is 'skim', '2%', 'whole' or 'vitamin D', it is all ultra-pasteurised so lasts forever.

I guess it's because we don't have local shops or because during the long winters, the supermarket supply chains are compromised and people are snowed in for days or maybe because of the long distances food travels across this huge country.

Whatever the reason it makes life a little easier... once you get used to the taste!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Happy Thanksgiving!

This is my 100th post! Woohoo! Just over a year of blogging...

I am so pleased that I started this whole thing. I love writing it and hearing your feedback.
It gives me a purpose. Something I have achieved. A bit like a job. Except my ideal job would be surrounded by people, creating something physical; not sitting on my own in front of the computer. (And the pay is rubbish!!)

I have even started to print it out and stick the pages into a scrapbook. I'm hoping it will be a great way to remember what we did whilst we were here. I am halfway through the second book - goodness how big it will all be by the time I finish!

So thank you to my readers for keeping me going and my lovely husband for his patience when I am writing this instead of doing what I am supposed to be doing... But you know when inspiration hits, I just have to type!

It's Thanksgiving this week. Another odd holiday for a Brit family living in the USA. We were in England this time last year so missed out on all of the fun. But this year both of the kids have been learning all about the history and traditions of Thanksgiving at school. Singing songs like "Turkey and Stuffing" and bringing home beautiful turkeys cut out of paper.

Charlotte asked me if we were having a turkey for Thanksgiving and got excited when I said yes. She also asked if it would have a gobble... Hmmm me thinks she is expecting something with a head and brightly coloured feathers... I think a bare white bird in the oven might be a bit of a disappointment! Let's hope the other food will distract her!

For lunch we are planning to have turkey, sweet potato mash, green bean casserole (ingredients courtesy of my lovely friend) and creamed corn all served with cranberry jelly and apple sauce. And to finish, a pumpkin pie baked by a friend and her family who were raising money for charity and dropped it off at our house today. I am not sure what we will make of the pie. I've heard a lot of people say they don't like it but apparently it won't be Thanksgiving without one!

There have been so many pumpkin products on the shelves over the last couple of months... Pumpkin muffins, cupcakes, coffee, sponge rolls, bread, chocolate chip tealoaf to mention just a few that I have enjoyed!! (seriously impossible to lose weight here!) They really do do each holiday here to the max so I will be ready to say goodbye to pumpkins and hello to peppermint candy canes and gingerbread for Christmas.

November is a time to give thanks. To think of something every day that you are thankful for. I have so many things that I am thankful for and I hope we will spend some time tomorrow, maybe before dinner, sharing them with each other. It will be so nice to have some quality family time.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

book worms

My kids really do love their books. I walked into the playroom the other day and saw this:

It made my heart sing. I know they love each other but sometimes they can be really mean to each other so seeing them sat together, reading books before school, made me so happy. 

A friend gave Charlotte a sing-along book for Christmas last year and she loves them. They are such a good idea for the home or car. We have a couple now and she often puts them into the cd player and sits quietly engrossed. 

This one is an audio book with a few songs thrown in. We picked it up for a dollar from a local consignment store. Today she decided she wanted to listen to it whilst eating her breakfast... I'm all for anything that gives me chance to drink my tea in peace! 

Charlotte loves any kind of book. She will sit by our bookshelf pulling out travel guides and diy manuals, leafing through the pages and pointing out pictures like the Statue of Liberty (she is learning so much about America at school!). 

I hope their love of books will continue throughout their lives. It makes me sad to think paper books are being replaced by Kindles and iPads but I guess that's life... Always moving forward, technology making life a little easier (sometimes). 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Go Blue!

For the past year or so we have been Spartans - Michigan State fans (mainly because all of our friends are) but recently we were offered tickets to see the University of Michigan play at their home stadium - the "Big House" so we jumped at the chance and headed to Ann Arbor this weekend with a couple of Jeremy's colleagues from work.

We had perfect weather - sunny and cold but not too cold... Especially when you are packed into a stadium with 113,016 other people! It is the biggest college football stadium in the country, built like a bowl with some of the stadium above ground but most of it built down into the ground. They pack the spectators in onto concrete bleachers. When you sit down your knees touch the back of the person in front of you and you are shoulder to shoulder with your neighbour.

I had never been to an American sporting event before so it was very exciting for me. To be able to experience tailgating which is the custom of parking up your car, opening up the trunk (boot) and setting up food and drinks out of the back before and after the game. Some people just brought a few beers in a cooler but most people had an amazing spread using grills or crock pots, they served steaks, pulled pork, chilli and finger foods like tortilla chips and dips. There were blue and yellow chairs and gazebos all along the road, flags flying and people walking round with bright yellow pom poms hanging out of their boots.

We were very lucky to be able to park in a lot right next to the stadium! A guy our friend knew, owns a house right outside the stadium that has been in the family for years. Recently he set up a parking lot with a barn that has been done up with a heater, lights and a tv. They even have a heated porta potty (porta-loo) with air fresheners! He sells season tickets to the parking lot and hires young guys to man it. Some people don't even make it into the game, but just 'tailgate' all day. I heard that U of M students get up at 6am to start tailgating for a 12 o'clock game! There is a huge section in the stadium for students - a sea of yellow - and they did a good job of dancing along to the band during the breaks.

I am not going to even attempt to explain the game or the rules as I don't really understand it myself. I knew enough to spot a touchdown or a field goal, and the commentary over the speaker system plus the big screen helped me keep up with the action. We had really good seats so the action was not too far away from us.

The atmosphere in the stadium was very different to Old Trafford. It's much quieter and everyone is listening to the announcer rather than chanting. There is no foul language and the ref only got heckled once. But maybe there just wasn't many fouls handed out during the game.

One thing I found very funny was the slow mexican wave. A couple of normal mexican waves went round the stadium and then the most bizarre looking slow motion one!

There are 4 quarters to the game and a few timeouts thrown in. The whole game lasts about 3 hours but the time absolutely flew by. There were cheerleaders out on the field during a couple of the breaks and the marching band and dance groups did a fantastic show at half time. The band is huge! There must be at least 300 people in it. The show was called "The end of the World". They played and danced and formed letters and shapes on the field. They must practice for hours to be so perfectly in sync.

I have watched a couple of games on the tv and noticed there were a lot of ad breaks. What I didn't realise is that in 'real life' during the ad breaks, a man in a red cap walks out onto the field at the start of the ad break and all play stops. The cheerleaders or dance group come out to entertain the crowd. When he leaves the field, play can continue.

There are an abundance of food outlets in the stadium. The best time to grab some snacks is after half time so we squeezed our way out of our row and headed upstairs. It made me laugh to see a huge line for the men's toilets and nothing outside the ladies'! We weren't too hungry but we love kettle corn so we bought a couple of bags and hurried back to the action.

Michigan were playing Iowa and beat them 42 - 17. It was an action packed game and a great result! It is nice for us to have a new, positive association with the University of Michigan after the last year of hospital visits.

I loved everything about it and would love to go again sometime. I am also hoping we can make it to a local ice hockey game with the kids this winter and a big baseball game too. I am determined to experience as many American things as I can whilst we are here!

Here are a couple of photos of the stadium.
The top one is just one end of the stadium - the short side! The photos don't do justice to the number of people there!
The bottom right was taken from our tailgate party and the red brick building is the back of the press stand and boxes.... The bit that looks like it is really high up (see top left part of the top photo) but in reality is actually only a few stories off ground level!

Friday, November 16, 2012


I went to a MOPS night out last night for a toy swap and to play Bunco.

The toy swap was a great idea... Get the whole group to donate unwanted (but still in good condition) toys. Gather together and draw tickets to take it in turns to hit the table and choose a toy. Do that twice then declare a 'free for all' and pick up anything else you like!

I got the kids a couple of Toy Story puzzles, a Buzz Lightyear and a Mickey Mouse bingo game. They have kept them quiet for the last 30 minutes so we are all happy bunnies this morning. I picked up a couple of other things which Santa will bring in their stockings.

We then headed upstairs for Brownies and Bunco. I had never played it before so it took a fair amount of brain power to understand the rules! But basically you work in pairs on a table of 4 and the aim is to roll 3 dice to get as many of a number as possible. Round 1 you are trying to get 1s, round 2 to get 2s and so on. There are added 'thrills' like 3 of another number gets you 5 points! If your pair wins the round you move up towards the top table (and normally better prizes). It was good fun and a great way to meet ladies from the group who I haven't talked to before.

We weren't playing for big prizes but for some very lovely flower pins that my friend made. I won an orange one which is perfect for the 'fall'.... Though winter is coming - the ground has been covered in a beautiful frost the last few mornings - probably because it's been -2oC - Brrrrrrrrr!!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

a long way to go...

I overheard our 'driver' (the guy in charge of the ma-hoo-sive truck) say something today and I asked him if he was local. It turns out he is from a part of Michigan that is 3 hours away from Kalamazoo. So they (him and one of his team) are staying overnight in a hotel all week.

Imagine the scene - it's his truck so he has to park it up at night at the hotel! Not just the cab but the whole trailer too!

I was surprised he would drive so far for work so I asked him about it. Turns out he does it all the time. They are legally allowed to drive for up to 11 hours per day so he can do jobs in other states like North Carolina (13 hours from Michigan), moving someone from there to Ohio for example.

I know this country is huge and I know Americans often move around the country with work but I did not think about the guys who do the removals. Who work away from home all week, travelling all over the country, moving people around.

It is a small reminder of just how big this country is.

And how people here, will willingly drive for 24 hours to go to Disney or visit family in Texas or for work.

We have yet to do a proper road trip. A 3 or 4 hour journey 'up north' is just seen as a weekend away. Over 'spring break' and the summer, I heard many Moms discussing how to entertain the kids on the epic car journeys they were planning to undertake (and no-one talking about flying). Maybe sometime we will attempt a longer road trip...

Unfortunately the famous 'Route 66' is no longer in existence (apparently it has been replaced by the interstate system with only small parts of it accessible as bypasses and called 'historical route 66') but I'm sure we will find an exciting place to drive to.

I fancy driving 5 hours up to Toronto in Canada, 9 hours to Nashville in Tennessee or maybe we will just hop on a plane and fly to Washington DC or Boston, Massachussets.... Who knows but it is fun to dream about it!

P.S. all of our belongings are sat in that trailer outside some hotel in Kalamazoo... I hope we see them again!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

drive-thru daycare

I mentioned the other day that there is a local drive-thru donut shop. We also have drive-thru banks, coffee shops and I heard that you can drive to some restaurants and they will bring your take out order to the car for you!

But we also have drive-thru preschool.

I drive up to the school, the teachers walk down the path, take my child out of the car and walk them into school. When it's time to collect them, I drive up with a sign in the window saying 'Harper' - our cars don't have reg plates on the front so they don't know who is in the (one of many) black traverse - and they bring my child out to me.

It is designed to prevent kids wandering into the road whilst the parents are chatting outside school. One too many near misses apparently.

I would like to be able to talk to the other Mum's and get to know them but I do have a nice chat to the teachers each day about what the kids have been doing at school.

Charlotte and Toby are fine with it and Toby is cute when he is holding his teacher's hand and looking back waving and shouting "bye bye Mummy, bye bye Charlotte".

Very few people I know live within walking distance of any school, hence the abundance of yellow school buses. Most kids from age 5 and up walk (or some Mums drive them) to the bus stop on the housing estate as early as 7am to catch the bus to school. I think some routes take up to an hour to get to school. I only drive for 15 minutes to take my kids to school, but on the days they are both in preschool (morning for Toby and afternoon for Charlotte), that's quite a lot of time spent in the car!

Monday, November 12, 2012

on the move...

We're on the move. Up the road. Two blocks north, two blocks east. 3.7 miles to be precise. 10 minutes drive. It doesn't seem like a huge move but it feels like it.

Of course there is the obvious pain of having everything you own, packed up into identical looking boxes, loaded onto a van and moved to another house where they are spat out at lightning speed by removals men who don't really care where they end up and therefore the inevitable happens in the following weeks/months/years: "Where the heck is it?!" "I know where it was in the last house or the house before that!!" "Arrgghh it must be here somewhere!!"
But believe me somehow things get lost forever. Like socks in the washing machine.
And I hate losing things!

But no it's not just that. I love where we are living. It's a great house with a park at the back for the kids, fences all the way round (uncommon here) and the best neighbours I could wish for! We're on a court where it is (relatively) safe for the kids to play in the street and the 8 houses are like a little community.

We've had 18 months of wonderful memories here, made some great friends and had lots of visitors who've made it feel like home.

I love that my neighbour almost always knocks on the door during the day for a chat or to show me something.  I love that her one year old daughter often wanders over to our house to say hi (she is so cute and seems to like me!). I love that all of the kids in the neighbourhood are a similar age to mine. I love that Toby's best friend lives next door. I love that my friends live next door. I love how supportive and friendly everyone has been since we moved in.

And now we have to move!

And that fact makes me sad. And grumpy. And I am in denial. And avoiding packing up to move to the hotel. I am 'working' on the computer instead.

On the plus side, we took photos so I could design and order our Christmas card today. And I sorted out a load of photos on the computer. And wrote a blog post.

But the fact is we have to move. We are only renting this place and the owners are coming back from Australia early so we had to find somewhere else to live.

And the new house is great. Almost brand new and available for a couple of years. Someone Jeremy works with has moved to Singapore on a short term contract with Kellogg's and they offered us their home whilst they are gone.

We really are very lucky. The rental market here is virtually non-existant. Houses only go up for rent if they don't sell (and therefore are not very desirable) and will only be let on a short term basis (in the hope someone will buy it eventually). The failing economy means that investors can't get mortgages to buy new property to rent.

So it could have been a whole lot worse. We could have been facing a move to another town which would have meant a new school, dance class, Church, new everything. Or a move to a tiny condo with no outdoor space for the kids to play.

But it doesn't stop me feeling sad today.

I am very grateful that we had the opportunity to live here. We have made friends who I hope we will know all of our lives.

So it's time to move on. To settle into our new home and start a new set of memories.

Bye bye Belgian Ave... We will visit soon. I promise.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

brunch american-style

I am part of a group called MOPS - Moms of Preschoolers and we meet every other Tuesday morning. We are divided into small groups who sit together each week (there are about 70 women in the group) and we take it in turns to bring breakfast items in to share.

The categories are breakfast casserole, baked goods, fruit and yogurt. So when it was my turn to make a casserole, I had to ask a friend what they were and for a recipe!

She gave me the recipe for a delicious sausage casserole, which has been a hit in this household every time I have made it for visitors. It's really very easy to make and you can even assemble it the night before and pop it in the oven when everyone is getting hungry / waking up!

After making it for lunch recently, I thought I would share the recipe on here...

Serves 6-8

6 slices of bread
1 lb of breakfast sausage (sausage meat)
1 tsp mustard
1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese
3 eggs slightly beaten
1 cup of milk
3/4 cup of light cream
Dash of salt and pepper
Dash of nutmeg
1 tsp worcestershire sauce

Place the bread in a well buttered 9x13 in casserole dish to cover the bottom.
Fry the sausage, drain the fat and mix with the mustard.
Sprinkle the sausage over the bread (it should have turned into small pieces whilst frying).
Sprinkle the cheese over the sausage
Combine the eggs, milk, cream and seasonings.
Pour over the casserole.
Bake at 350oF (175oC) for 35 minutes.

And there you have it!
A yummy and easy breakfast to make when you have guests or for a weekend away.

Friday, November 9, 2012


I'm an all or nothing kind of girl.

I admit that I am a sporadic blogger.... Sometimes I go weeks without laying a finger on the keyboard and then other times I will flood the internet with my random posts.

And I'm sure I lose half my audience because of it.

So the best way to keep up is to 'subscribe' to my posts.

Scroll down to the bottom of the screen and you will see a box titled 'Follow by email'.
Enter your email address in here and each time I add a post, you will get an email with that post in it for you to read.

I do this for the blogs I follow and it makes it so much easier to keep up with the latest news.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

fuelling a nation

Sometimes I don't know if things are unique to America or if I just hadn't heard of them before we moved here.

Take Pandora internet radio. I have it on my iphone and it's fantastic... Just type in an artist or a genre and it generates a 'station' full of tunes by the artist and other similar music. I typed in 'family halloween' on Wednesday so whilst we were handing out candy we could dance to 'Thriller', 'Ghostbusters' and 'Monster mash'. I often use it when driving in the car - the children's songs keep the kids amused for ages! It's all free too - you just have to listen to the occasional advert. You can even fast forward a track if you don't like it. Genius.

Americans really do love their coffee. As much as us English folk love their tea. You will rarely find a kettle in a kitchen over here and if you ask for a cup of tea you will be lucky if you get a tepid brew (made with water heated in the microwave) of something herbal. But you will always be able to get a cup of coffee.

And don't worry if you don't have a coffee maker at home, there are plenty of coffee shops to choose from... Starbucks and a local company called 'Biggby Coffee' are open from 6am until late and all have a drive-thru so you don't even have to leave the warmth of your car (unless you are like me and by the time you have repeated yourself 10 times on the speaker you might have well parked up and walked in). They have so many tasty (and sweet) seasonal varieties like Pumpkin Spice (pumpkin and gingerbread), S'mores (chocolate, marshmallow and gingerbread with graham cracker topping) and peppermint blizzard (white chocolate and mint).

They really are all over the place - we have at least 8 big brand coffee shops within a few miles of our house plus most of the local restaurants and fast food chains do take out coffee.

Just recently on Instagram I have seen a number of mentions of Starbucks' red cup.

There are lots of indicators that Christmas is on it's way and it seems the first here is the arrival of red cups at Starbucks (instead of the usual white and green ones). Celebrities and bloggers have been photographing their coffee cups and exclaiming with glee "red cups are back!".

So I believe this nation really is fuelled on a big cup of hot coffee! (And donuts... Did I tell you we also have a 24 hour drive-thru donut shop?!)

To prove my point here is a picture of a company that drives round Kalamazoo stopping at local businesses delivering freshly filtered coffee. And yes they use a converted ambulance!

Update: The slang for coffee is "Joe".  

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

and it's all over...

That's it.

It's over.

The thing we've heard about for the majority of our time here in the US.

The presidential elections.

We turned the tv on at dinner time last night and watched it until gone 11pm. All along they said it would be close and for most of the evening the exit polls and early counts showed it was close. But as the night wore on Romney was starting to inch ahead. Then suddenly Obama gained a few important electoral votes and it quickly turned his way. Around 11:15pm it was announced that Obama had won. Not all of the votes were in but he had won the 270 electoral votes needed to win overall. Unfortunately I fell asleep around 11pm and missed the dramatic finish! Typical!

We were watching CNN's coverage (supposed to be the most balanced) and they had live streaming from all over including the Empire State Building:

At the end of the night the top of it was lit up to show the result - blue (for Obama) 

So Obama will be President for another 4 years.

It was fascinating to have lived here during it. To talk to friends about what it is like to vote. Because it's not as simple as pick a party and vote for the local representative.

Here (well in the state of Michigan anyway) you vote for about 20 different things from drain commissioner, sheriff, clerk, judge, senate, president, school commissioners, board for the university and the 6 proposals including whether to build a bridge.

The roads are lined with signs stuck into the grass in people's front yards with the names of the people they want you to vote for or "Say yes to proposal 4" or "No on 2". I know the name of the local sheriff and drain commissioner because I have driven past dozens of signs with their names on the school run for weeks!

It's so complicated and takes so long to read through all of the proposals and list of 'electees' that you are allowed to take notes into the voting booth! It takes so long that lines were forming in the voting stations from as early as 6:30am. Some people had to wait for 2 hours to be able to cast their vote.

I hear that the wording of the proposals is really confusing and the propaganda makes it even worse. The tv channels and radio stations have been full of aggressive adverts for and against the proposals and the two parties.

But it's all over now. Life can return to normal.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

cheerful and happy

With so much going on in our lives, so much uncertainty, so many health issues and daily challenges, I read this quote today and it hit me smack in the face.

"I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstances but by our disposition."

- Martha Washington (America's first First Lady).

where do I put the rice?

Even though we have been here for 18 months, little things still surprise me.

Take the other night for example.

We told our neighbours we were planning a fire pit on the drive way to celebrate bonfire night and that we would have food - chilli, chips and dips and rice krispie cakes.
Our neighbour said he would cook up a pot of chilli too so we knew there would be plenty of food.

When he arrived with his pot of chilli I told him I had cheese, sour cream and rice for the chilli.

To which he replied "Rice huh? That's a new one."

I'm sorry what?!

"You don't have rice with your chilli?"

"Oh no he replied, we serve it with oyster or saltine crackers and my grandma dips peanut butter sandwiches in - look I have some here".

Hmmm. Ok I thought maybe it was just him. So I asked another neighbour.

"Chilli? Nope never had chilli."

I'm sorry what?!

Ok try another neighbour... "Do you want some chilli?"

"Yes please"
"This looks delicious"
"So explain to me, where do I put the rice? On the top? On the side?"

I'm sorry what?!

So out of 5 sets of neighbours, only us and another couple (who are Indian) eat chilli with rice.

I can't get over it. It makes me laugh to think that something that I thought was an institution, that can be served in other ways like on a jacket potato (in England) or on a hot dog (in New York) would be perceived as being strange if served with rice.

I love this journey we are on. Learning new things all the time and occasionally being able to teach the locals something.

Anyway it went down well and everyone liked my recipe (well there was none left and everyone said they liked it) so maybe it's not that weird.

Chilli and rice with sour cream and cheese. Delicious and perfect on a freezing cold night when a dozen people are sat round a fire pit on your driveway.
Nothing weird about that.

Monday, November 5, 2012

disney magic

Recently we were fortunate enough to spend a magical few days at Walt Disney World in Florida.

We had 5 days of precious family time, sunshine, warm weather, fun and excitement and a collection of amazing memories that will last a life time.

Sounds amazing doesn't it?

Well it was and I am sure we will try to go again.

But let me tell you a few truths...

It is exhausting doing the trip in 5 days! Even without jet lag or a long flight.

2 year olds do not do as well as 4 year olds.

Going when you are tired is not a good idea (like running a half marathon or getting over an illness).

You have to be organised, take a bus to the parks, wait in line for the rides, be in the right place at the right time to see the characters (and wait in line) and have a whole load of patience.

Don't get me wrong, we had a fantastic time and the kids were in awe the whole time. But we had our fair share of tantrums and melt downs (along with many other families) and came home in need of a rest!

So there is the honest truth, now for the good bits. Our highlights. The things we loved and you can only find at Disney. The things that lit up the kids' faces, made Charlotte smile like I have never seen before and left Toby speechless.

1. Meeting the characters. We met Mickey Mouse, Jesse, Mary Poppins, 5 Princesses and the cars Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater. We also met a few characters during the parades. Charlotte high-fived Tigger and during the halloween parade (when she was dressed as Izzy from Jake and the neverland pirates) Wendy asked her for some pixie dust. Her confidence soared with each of these encounters. 

2. Lunch with the Princesses. We went to Epcot on day 2 and had lunch with 5 of the Princesses. They came to our table, signed the kids' autograph book and posed for pictures with us all. Charlotte could not sit still (nor could I!) with excitement and Toby fell in love with Ariel. At the end, the Princesses took all the little girls on a parade round the restaurant. With a little encouragement, Charlotte joined in and was on cloud 9 when she got back to our table. She gave her brother the biggest cuddle and the big kids were wiping away tears! 

3. The parades. We caught loads of the parades, often by accident as we happened to pop out onto the street at the right time. We were lucky to catch the Electrical parade on the first night and we waited for a while (munching pop corn and costume spotting to pass the time) to get a good spot for the Halloween parade. The kids loved waving at the characters and we thought they were fab! I especially enjoyed the night time one and following the one through Hollywood studios so we felt we were a part of it! 

4. The castle, the lights, the rides, the hotel, the iconic buildings. 
The things I've seen on tv, heard about for years. 
I found it so exciting to be standing underneath Cinderella's castle, the be walking down Main St in the Magical Kingdom, especially at night when it is all lit up. To be standing underneath the Spaceship Earth at Epcot and wandering through each of the countries. To be thundering round Space Mountain, getting wet on Splash mountain and delighting in the pure cheese that is 'It's a small world'. 
To wake up at an all-star hotel, with disney magic all around.
Getting away from reality for a few days and being a big kid. Seeing it through my kids' eyes and wishing I was 4 again! 

5. The fireworks. We saw 2 firework displays over the Magic Kingdom. For the second one, we were right in front of the castle and were surrounded by fireworks which lit up the sky. Truly breathtaking. 

6. The shows. We saw Dreams come true with Mickie and Minnie and gang, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Disney Jr live and the stunt show Lights, Motors, Action. They were all amazing and the kids sat enthralled through every single one. 

7. The food. I don't mean the general (not exactly high) standard of it or the fact it was available everywhere. It was the little things. Like the most amazing caramel chocolate popcorn. Having mickey waffles for breakfast. The Norweigan buffet with the Princesses. So so good! 

The thing about Disney is that it doesn't matter if you are 4, 14 or 44. There is something for everyone and I dare you not to be amazed, to be carried away with it all, to come home wondering when you can possibly go back again. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

a high price to pay

I went to Church yesterday with my neighbour to shop at a 'Holiday Vendor Extravaganza' which was organised to raise money for a local lady who was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer.

Having been through a cancer scare last year, and knowing that Jeremy is at a higher risk of colon cancer because of his colitis, I was keen to support the cause. I only have a small insight into what they are going through.

So why do they need to raise money? Well over here the health care system is far from free. I may have mentioned before but it's an insurance based scheme. It's a big deal (health insurance premiums can be more than your mortgage) and a lot of people choose a job based on the company's health care scheme. For example the lady who ran the local play centre for kids had to sell up because she was self employed and couldn't get health care insurance as her husband was too sick and the insurance company decided he was costing them too much money.

Even if you do have insurance cover, you have to pay the excess which can be hundreds of dollars for a hospital stay. And if you don't have insurance, you had better hope that you don't end up in hospital. When Jeremy was hospitalised earlier this year the bill for the week was $15,000 and the excess was $1300!!

Yesterday was about raising money for the family to help pay these medical bills, get a nanny for her kids and cover travel expenses. I don't know where she is being treated but we have to commute to a hospital 2 hours away for Jeremy's care.

It puts the NHS into perspective. I know it is not perfect by any means but it's amazing to think that here you don't just have to worry about getting better, but how on earth you will pay for it. I hear stories of people who can't afford to have another baby because of the medical bills. Makes you think.

But we had fun today, I picked up some Christmas presents, Charlotte got her face painted, I bumped into a lovely family I haven't seen for nearly a year (who went to Gymboree with Toby and I) and I even 'won' a beautiful glass plate in the silent auction.

As ever, the community spirit in this town blows me away. I hear the day was a huge success and I hope and pray the lady gets all the care she needs and life is a little easier knowing some of those bills will be paid.

Here is the plate I won. It's very bright and will go great with my multi coloured kitchen accessories!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

photo-a-day october

Another month, another photo challenge complete! October seemed to go really fast in our part of the world! We had a lot of fun celebrating fall at the pumpkin patches and enjoying the Halloween festivities. Of course, going on holiday in the middle helped the time fly!

Anyways here are my October instagram photos for the fatmumslim photo challenge:

1: where I stood - on the front doorstep of our new rental home 
2: lunchtime - I missed lunch in favour of a run 
3: this happened today - little boy got dressed in his sister's bedroom... Nice headband Toby! 

4: what I read
5: shadow - at Gene the Pumpkin Man's place
6: I'm thankful for - the Chemical Bros when I started to get tired during my 5 mile run this morning.
7: light 

8: angle - this is the only photo I took today. It's been one of those days. 
So instead of 'angle' how about my little 'angel'. 
9: red - target - gotta love it! 
10: emotion - excited to be in a yellow taxi in Chicago :) 
11: close-up - enjoying a taste of English chocolate thanks to our visitor :) 

12: on the table - pancakes for lunch at Cracker Barrel
13: landscape - whizzing by as we sit on our trick or treat train ride 
14: makes you laugh - hilarious comedy on the BBC! 
15: dinnertime - whoops I forgot this one! 
16: something I wrote

17: fruit - do you see what I did there?! 
18: made you smile today - "Barbie' and Diego on a date! 
19: letters 
20: 4 o'clock - playing 'Candy Land' with hubby and son 

21: calm - before the race 
22: in my town - heading north up the 131
23: the view from here - Spaceship Earth from Italy 
24: weather - the sun is shining in Disneyworld 

25: people - watching Beauty and the Beast at Hollywood studios 
26: listening to - a compilation cd my friend gave me from the movie 'once' 
27: morning - 9am and on the 131 heading 'up north' for the weekend
28: looking back

29: moon - it's hazy out tonight (and freezing!) 
30: clothes - in the washing machine
31: whatever you please - Halloween fun