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

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

homeward bound

We are going home for Christmas!

Toby was wearing a Union Jack t-shirt at day care last week and his teacher was asking him what it was. He said "a flag" ... "(from) home".

We have two homes. Our life here in America and our homeland, England where we left a part of hearts behind.

So we are looking forward to seeing family and friends over the holidays and making memories to treasure until our next visit.

Christmas probably wasn't the best time to be making a big trip overseas. It has made December quite stressful and we are going to be so tired when we get back (not good for Jeremy's colitis). Plus it is really hard to make plans to see friends when Christmas is about spending time with family.

Plus I have no idea how on earth we are going to fit all of the presents into our suitcases so they are in one piece to hand out!! That's today's job!

Oh well you live and learn and next year we will hopefully have an early Christmas in England in November and have some quiet time here in December. Thankfully we are also heading back over the ocean again at Easter next year so plenty of chances to catch up with folks.

But for now let me wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy new year.

I will not be posting anything on here for a couple of weeks so I will see you all again in 2013!

Monday, December 17, 2012

reindeer cam

Last Christmas we heard about two guys here in Michigan who decided to set up a website called Reindeer cam.

My kids enjoy watching the reindeer and especially when Santa makes an appearance... But Charlotte did have a few awkward questions the other day like "Are there 2 Santas?" quickly followed by "Oh no he has just gone home to give them dinner!". Hmmm she's a bit too smart for her own good!

Here is part of an article I found online about them:

Two Michigan entrepreneurs started ReindeerCam.com, a 24/7 online livestream that gives kids a chance to keep tabs on St. Nick. Viewers can log on and watch Santa feed a pair of his reindeer live, every day until Christmas. This is the second year for ReindeerCam, and it's attracted more than a million viewers from around the world.
You don't typically expect to see reindeer outside of the North Pole, but two of them have found a home in West Michigan at Drew Born's deer farm in Caledonia.
"I've always raised white tail deer, and we put a video camera up back there," said Born. "So a friend of mine was like, 'Hey, you should put livestream video up of Santa's reindeer.' I thought about it for awhile and thought it was a great idea."
But Born's pal Adam Loveless needed some convincing.
"I was a little bit skeptical, but I thought, 'Hey, let's go for it and see where it takes us,'" Loveless said.
And just like that, ReindeerCam.com was born. The pair launched the website in November of 2011, and hit 1.2 million page views in the 10 days before Christmas.
People can watch the 24/7 livestream to see Santa feed the ReindeerCam stars - Mr. and Mrs. Stix, two reindeer not mentioned in St. Nick's famous line-up.
But both have attracted attention from around the world. Santa feeds the reindeer at 11 a.m., 6 p.m., and 9 p.m. every day. Typically, about 10,000 people tune in to watch live at each of those times.
The website, along with the iPad and iPhone app, has attracted viewers in more than 100 countries and territories. The pair sell about 1,000 apps a day at $1.99. 
"When I tell people what we do, they assume it's a regional success or something that's only working in West Michigan," Loveless explained. "But when I tell them we sold 100 apps in the UK today, 60 in Ireland, and another 30 in Australia, they're like you guys are reaching out a little further."
And it's all in an effort to help make those viewers' holidays just a little bit brighter.
"Thousands of kids love watching it," said Born. "And if we can put an extra smile on their face, all the better."

Saturday, December 15, 2012

so sad...

Yesterday we heard the tragic news that a gun man went on the rampage at a school in Connecticut killing several staff and 20 children aged between 5 and 10.

Awful, just awful. Heart breaking.

It is legal to carry a gun in this country and that scares me. A lot.

Every day I am grateful to be able to hold and kiss my children. To be able to watch them grow and thrive. Yesterday especially so.

*Update: Charlotte woke up in the night saying she was scared. Jeremy took her back to bed the first time but the second time I just wanted to cuddle her and make her happy. It worked! We didn't get much sleep but she woke up smiling and went to school in the car singing "when you are scared you go to your Mummy's bed with a teddy to cuddle". So sweet!

We were late to school. I didn't want to take them today. I think I was stalling and deliberately going slow. When we got to school, Toby ran off happily but I pulled him back for a kiss. When I went to take Charlotte to daycare, all of the doors were locked and there were signs telling us where to go. It's a good thing but a shocking reminder of what happened last week.
I just burst into tears. It all hit me and I didn't want to say goodbye. You take them to school everyday, wish them well and fully expect them to be there at the end of the day.
I'm enjoying my time alone but equally looking forward to giving those gorgeous kids a kiss and cuddle at 3pm!

Friday, December 14, 2012

fishing for reindeer

We decided to go and see some live reindeer as part of our regular Wednesday afternoon play date. My friend found a sports store just out of town that had Santa and a couple of reindeer.

So we packed the kids into the car and drove out on West Main to find them.

We soon found D&R Sports store and parked up. I packed hats and gloves and coats for the kids as I assumed it would be outside but initial inspection showed no signs of them so we went inside to ask.

Now being a sports store, I expected to find racks of track suits, rows of running shoes, baseball gear, basketballs and footballs.


We learned that Santa and his reindeer were at the back of the store, behind rows and rows of fishing gear. In front of the stuffed wolf, deer, squirrels and 8ft bear. Next to the "make your own Jerky... out of the deer you shot during hunting season" seasoning mixes. Which was next to the other bear wearing hunting gear, advertising the camouflage outfits you can purchase.

(That is one of the stuffed animals behind the display on the left)

Hmmm not quite what I was expecting but I don't know why I was surprised. We do live in Michigan, in the countryside, next to a load of fresh water lakes including the small one called Lake Michigan.

The line was quite long so whilst we waited the kids amused themselves by pointing out the stuffed animals and climbing aboard a huge snow mobile... I know what the boys want for Christmas!

We finally got to the front and the kids quite happily walked up to talk to Santa. After a couple of photos he asked Charlotte "what part of Texas is your Mom from?!". Of course I laughed and replied England. "Ah yes, I've been to England... Cambridge, Oxford, Derbyshire..." I told him that we were from Manchester to which he replied "Oh no I didn't make it as far as Manchester." Really Santa?! You fly all over the world on Christmas Eve, make appearances in shopping centres in cities across continents, but you haven't been to Manchester?!

Ok kids, moving on!! (Before they realise what he is saying and there are tears when they think Santa won't be delivering presents to Manchester this year!) Not quite keeping in character!!

Anyway the kids loved seeing and stroking the reindeer though I'm not sure the feelings were reciprocated!

Is it just me or is that Reindeer sticking it's tongue out at Toby?! 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

we go together like...

Cheese and caramel...

Yep cheese flavoured popcorn mixed with caramel flavoured popcorn.

It shouldn't work but it really does!

Called the 'Chicago Mix' we tried it the other week when we were away with friends for the night.

And yes that is the biggest bag of popcorn I have ever seen! 

flower wreath

Here is my finished flower wreath... Soon to be hanging above the bed in the spare room!

I'm really pleased with how it turned out. 
Now we just need to hang some pictures round the house to make it feel a bit more like home. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

the nutcracker

I took my little girl to the ballet this weekend. To watch the Nutcracker. And we loved it!

Her dance school was putting on a performance of the Nutcracker (first time they have attempted it) and our 7 year old friend was a gingerbread person so I decided it would be nice to have a girlie trip out.

It was a bit of a rush to get there (isn't it always a rush to get out of the house?!) but we got dressed up (Charlotte in her new bright pink GAP dress and me in my Macy's bargain purchase from last week) and headed East to Paw Paw High School where they have a performing arts centre.

We managed to get seats near our friends and with just a few minutes to spare, settled down to watch the show. As soon as we got into the theatre Charlotte exclaimed "I've danced on that stage" and indeed she did, in her recital last year. She has been shy about going into dance class recently so I am hoping this will encourage her to say goodbye to me and head into class without a second thought... We'll see.

The show was amazing and so cute to see the little girls dressed as reindeer or gingerbread people. All of the dancers did really well and Charlotte kept clapping and saying "I love this bit" and "They look beautiful!". I wasn't sure if I would enjoy a ballet. I remember being bored as a child but I really enjoyed it and the 90 minutes flew by!

It really got me into the festive spirit and made me a little emotional.

I hope this can be the start of a new tradition with my daughter... To see a show around Christmas time, just the two of us.

That is Charlotte doing her best big smile. 
She used to do crazy toothy grins and is now trying to be more posed! 

Whilst we were at the ballet, Toby and Daddy were going crazy at 'Bounceland' (a play place full of huge inflatable structures to climb up and slide down!)

Fun times :)

Friday, December 7, 2012

mince pies

I have been baking mince pies! Yay!

A local shop called 'World Market' sells mincemeat (from Robertsons which is based a few miles from where we got married!) so I was delighted on Sunday to purchase 4 jars!

I made a batch using ready-made shortcrust pastry (I know I was being lazy and didn't want to make too much mess in the kitchen!) but it had a funny aftertaste so I made a load more today from scratch and they are very good (even if I do say so myself!)... Too good! I am supposed to be following the Slimming World diet at the mo and I am pretty sure mince pies do not feature on any of their 'free foods' lists!!

I also bought a packet of pies (playing it safe) to take to my meal swap evening. All of the 5 girls said they'd heard of them but had never eaten one because they didn't fancy meat in a sweet pie! Yep for one they didn't blink twice at the thought that someone would invent a meat pie in a sweet pastry case (they love their sweet/salty here). 2, I'm impressed they'd even heard of them! 3, they really thought 'mincemeat' was actually meat which I totally forgive them for as that is what they are called.

Anyways we heated them up in the oven and they were a big hit! One lady described them as tasting like 'Fall' with a big smile on her face! They eat lots of spicy chutneys over Thanksgiving and spicy pumpkin products so I guess that is a fair description.

Another of my friends rang her Mum after I told her I was going to feed her mince pies... She asked her Mum was mincemeat was and asked if she would like it... Her Mum told her not to worry and that she would love them - and she did!

I am hoping they will be a big hit at my Moms' night out and ex-pat breakfast too... I'm determined to spread mince pie yumminess throughout Kalamazoo!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

coffee and crafts

My friend came over for a coffee and crafting morning today. She is very crafty and we love sharing simple craft ideas.... Or at least she enjoys teaching me!!

She brought a wreath she wanted to work on and a t-shirt to embellish for her daughter. More importantly she brought cake (I'm taking a day off the diet) which was delicious! A cup of tea (coffee in her case), pumpkin roll (pumpkin flavoured sponge filled with cream cheese frosting), a pair of scissors and a good old chin-wag! Bliss! Even better as all of the kids were in school!

I decided to make some paper flowers which I am going to use to make a flower wreath for the spare room.

I am following this rolled paper flowers tutorial to make the flowers and am planning to stick them onto a ribbon or material covered wreath form. I actually drew the spiral on the back of the paper as I found that easier than cutting the spiral freehand. It's fun to see them 'pop' into flowers from a rolled up piece of paper! Well fun if you are a bit daft, I'm mean crafty like me!

Aren't they gorgeous?!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

cook off...

Yesterday I cooked 40 portions of dinner. A batch of pasta bake and a vat of chilli.

"Why?" I hear you ask! Were we having a party?! Have I suddenly got a job in a restaurant?

Nope. I joined a group of ladies to do a freezer meal swap.

5 of us cooked two different dishes each and made enough to swap meals for all of our families. So my freezer is now stocked with:

Spinach lasagne
Filled pasta shells
Tortilla soup
Tomato and parmesan soup
Potato soup
Egg casserole
Chicken Pot Pie


I spent all afternoon and evening cooking but I probably don't have to cook another meal until next year! (We are leaving for England in 2 weeks which helps!) One of the ladies said she had been thinking about these meals so much that she even dreamt about them last night!

It was hard work planning the meals, shopping for all of the ingredients over the weekend and chopping all that veg (I do not want to see another onion or pepper for a long time!) but well worth it!

Some of the ladies finished off their meals at the house where we all met, so we had a nice evening chatting and chopping herbs and even had time for a baileys before heading home with a boot full of goodies! 

We ate the chilli for dinner last night and tonight we had Mac and cheese that one of the ladies cooked. It was delicious and the kids even went back for seconds which is always a win!

Meal swaps seems to be quite a common thing to do here. I have heard a few people talking about being in a meal swap group. And if someone in our Mum's group has a baby or gets really sick, they start a meal delivery list and people sign up to take them a meal. It's a great idea and really helps build community spirit.

All of the dishes that the other ladies made were very American - loaded with cheese and tomatoes... Mine were heavy on the veggies so I hope they like them and they don't just sit at the bottom of their freezers all year! Dishes that I would normally make for the freezer like fish or shepherd's pie, people here just haven't heard of.

We are doing it again in Feb so I will have to do a bit more research and come up with some more 'common' recipes.

Top: Cooking up a storm
Bottom: Loaded up and ready to go! 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

yams and marshmallows

I got a Thanksgiving day card from Jeremy which went along the lines of...

"To the one I love.
Like sweet corn and butter, we make quite a pair.
Like peas mixed with carrots, we're good anywhere.
Like yams and marshmallows, as partners we rule.
Like salad and dressing our union is cool...."

I questioned it but then dismissed it and got on with the rest of the day. But it kept niggling at me.
Yams (sweet potatoes) and marshmallows?! I don't get it.

So I did some research online and found a dish called Sweet potato casserole with toasted marshmallows. The recipe states that you cook and mash the potatoes then put half on the bottom of a casserole dish. Add a layer of mini marshmallows and then the rest of the potato followed by a topping of... yep more marshmallows!

That episode of Friends springs to mind when Rachel is trying to make an English trifle but the recipe book pages are stuck together and she makes it half shepherds pie and half trifle.
Ross says "It tastes like feet!" but Joey says "Well I like it... I mean what's not to like? Custard, good. Jam, good. Meat, good!".

I love sweet potatoes and I love toasted marshmallows but I just can't imagine I would like them together... served with the main course!! Yep I asked on facebook and a couple of my local friends confirmed it was a staple side dish at their Thanksgiving meals!

There is another 'treat' I have yet to try but have not been brave enough... Maple syrup and bacon cupcakes.

When you go for brunch here and order a pancake breakfast, you get sausage, egg, hashbrowns and pancakes. All together. Sometimes on the same plate and sometimes (the massive stack of) pancakes come on a separate plate. I used to eat the savoury as fast as possible to try and get to the pancakes before they got cold, but usually failed. And I love maple syrup on them. I was a firm fan of crepes with sugar and lemon but I have to say I would miss the maple syrup if it wasn't there.

And I have to admit I have come around to eating it all together. A few mouthfuls of savoury and a few of pancakes. Honestly it's not that strange! (... Oh how I have changed!)

And it's not that maple syrup and bacon is particularly weird because I love honey glazed ham and that's practically the same, but when I order a sweet cup cake as a treat with a coffee (yep no hot builders tea served in these parts) I am just not sure I want it to come with maple syrup and bacon on it!

I am really loving the sweet salty combo in kettle corn, salted caramel and chocolate coated pretzels so there is hope for me yet... Watch this space!

Monday, December 3, 2012

nuts about food

I have recently just discovered Logan's Roadhouse. A restaurant chain which was founded in Kentucky with headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee (somewhere I really want to visit).

A restaurant with a 'Southern' feel to it.

A little bit 'red-neck'.

A restaurant where, when you walk in there is country music playing over the speakers, vintage decorations on the walls and peanut shells on the floor.

Yep that's right... peanut shells. All over the floor. All day.

So the deal is, you arrive, you get seated at a table and on the table is a complimentary bucket of peanuts. They give you a plate but most people just throw the peanut shells on the floor by the table.
And the staff only clean them up at the end of the day. So as you walk to your table or to the restroom, you crunch your way over the shells.

I honestly could not believe it the first time I went in! I was meeting a couple of ladies for lunch and I just sat staring at the floor! I had to take Jeremy there to see for himself.

Obviously it's not the best place for us to go as we normally avoid nuts due to my nut allergy (though I'm not allergic to peanuts). But it's a fun place to get pretty good American food and definitely an experience!