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

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

coat magic

This is a really cool thing that the kids learnt to do at school.

It gives them some independence, a sense of achievement and is actually really helpful when you are rushing to get out of the house!

The kids put on their own coats by using some 'coat magic'.

Ask your child to lay their coat out on the floor in front of them and get them to stand at the label end (up by the hood / collar).

They then reach down and put their arms into the sleeves, lift the coat up over their head and it should slide down their back into place.



Monday, February 25, 2013

we all live in a yellow duckmarine

Whilst we were in England for Christmas, we had a couple of hours spare and a friend suggested we went for a trip on one of Liverpool's Duckmarines.

We were staying on the Wirral so it was only a short drive over the water to the Albert Dock. We lucked out on a beautiful sunny day which made for great photos (trust me, they are few and far between in England!)

Before the ride, we had just enough time to grab a coffee in Starbucks at the Beatles Story museum in the Albert Dock. They were playing the Beatles music (obviously) and had lots of cool pictures and memorabilia. If we went back again, I would love to spend more time there.

I won't spoil it by giving you a full account of the Duckmarine trip but basically you get a tour of Liverpool by road and then a fun trip into the water. If you are ever in Liverpool it is well worth an hour of your time! The kids loved it and we would do it again... Hopefully with our nieces and nephews next time.

It also inspired us to go and see 'Experience the Beatles with Rain' which came to our local theatre last week. We were laughing when we got to our seats as the audience was made up of much older people than the week before when we saw Matchbox 20. There was a sweet old lady next to me, bopping away to all of the tunes. The show was 4 guys dressed as the Beatles (with slightly dodgy Liverpudlian accents) playing all of the classic Beatles hits. They did a really good job and it was amazing to see how much the Beatles changed over the 10 years or so that they were together. It definitely got a bit weird in the 70s and they were pretty political for a 'pop' band.

I grew up listening to their music and remember my Mum singing "I want to hold your hand" to my brother! So it was a flashback to my youth and a bit of British nostalgia thrown in too! 

I also have to say how it makes me laugh that bands find it very amusing to be playing to an audience in 'Kalamazoo'. They think it's the funniest place they've played! 

Update: Since Christmas, two of their 'ducks' have capsized. So I am not sure how long the company with continue to operate! 

Thursday, February 21, 2013


The kids are growing up so fast.

I think we will be saying that for the rest of our lives. Doesn't every parent say it? Time is going so fast. We are trying to savour every moment.

We often have no warning of when the last times will be too. Like Toby's last day time nap. We've been struggling to get him to take a nap (even though he does perfectly fine at day care!) and finally we have given in. After trying, unsuccessfully, for most of last week we have stopped them and he is doing fine so far. I thought it would be hard to not have that quiet time with just Charlotte, but actually they are playing together so well at the moment, that they can keep themselves amused for quite a while!

They have numbers teams at preschool and Toby joined the "I can count to 10" group (even though he can count to 20 and beyond for me) having done it in front of his friends and teachers at school and Charlotte joined the 100s.

And then there are the milestones that you conveniently forget about after number one outgrows them... Like the procrastination at bed time. Toby has always been a good sleeper. He's just like his Daddy - when he is tired he knows it and is quite happy to go to bed (sucking his thumb and fiddling with his label), unlike Charlotte, who takes after me, and flat out denies she is tired and argues to stay up. But once she admits defeat, she has got much better at going straight to bed, all be it sometimes with the light still on reading. But Toby has started the whole "I just need to say something" or rearranging things in his room at bed time!

Like I say, they are playing really well together at the moment, and will even play in the basement together. Charlotte calls Toby "Little Brother" and he calls her "My Charlotte". They are always giving each other hugs (normally instigated by Charlotte) and she often says "Mummy I love you so much".

Kids are hard work, our life is so very different to what it was a few years ago and time alone is precious. But I love it!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

running in a tundra

This weekend was the first Portage Winter Blast event. A half marathon and 5K race along the trails around Portage in Kalamazoo. I was one of the lucky 500 people who got a half marathon place but had to give it up as I have been too sick to train and there was no way I could complete 13.1 miles. So I joined in with the 5K.

We got the kids out of bed just before 7am and headed to the start line. On the way we saw the temperature reading in the car drop to -4oF which is about -20oC! The sun was due to come up around 8am and we were all hoping that the sunshine would help us out!

I waited inside with my friends until the last minute and then headed outside to the start line. Boy it was cold! We got to the line just as they blasted the start horn and we were off! The city had done such a good job of clearing the ice and snow off the roads and trails. It was the best running conditions I have seen in ages.
But very quickly I realised just how cold it was. It was hard to breathe and feel like I was getting a proper lung full of air. And then I noticed people running past with frost in their hair. I sometimes wear gloves but usually my hands get too hot. Not this morning, even my gloves weren't enough to keep my hands warm!

The 3 miles went relatively quickly and I knew Jeremy and the kids would be cheering me on near the finish. I ran up the last hill and there they were! Shouting and waving at me. I got quite emotional seeing them cheering me on. When I need some inspiration to keep going on a long run, I think about how proud my family are of me. I think about how the kids run round the house saying they are running like Mummy. So to have them there, actually seeing me run was a special moment. They even ran a little way to the finish line with me. It was too icy for them to keep up with me but they weren't far behind!
Jeremy was laughing at me because my hair and gloves were all frosty.

We soon got inside to grab a hot chocolate and a dunkin donut to warm up. As I walked into the building, my eyes started watering and my nose started burning. I don't think I realised just how cold it was until the warm air hit me.

We headed back outside to cheer my friends on who were brave enough to do the half marathon. One friend ran past and I could barely see her face for all of the frost - even her eye lashes were covered in frost! It was quite a sight!

I did 3.2 miles in 36 minutes and came 12th in my age group of females so it wasn't my fastest run but I was pleased to take part in the first race in my city and just to be out and about and exercising again!

Here is what the Kalamazoo Gazette had to say about the day:

PORTAGE, MI – More than 800 runners braved single-digit temperatures Sunday morning to participate in the first PortageWinter Blast Half Marathon and 5K race.
How cold was it? Runners’ faces were coated with icicles, steam poured from their heads and frosty breaths billowed as 553 half marathoners pounded the 13-mile pavement along Portage park trails and roads and nearly 300 5K runners got things started.
“It’s 2 degrees on my phone,” said Portage Mayor Pete Strazdas as he counted down 50, 40, 30, 20, 10 before starting both races in honor of the Winter Blast event that also kicked off Portage’s 50th anniversary celebration all year long.
Zachary Baker, 31, of Portage, won the half marathon with a time of 1:24.20, and said it was so cold “I heard my beard crack. It was a fun race. The course was really awesome. I thought because it was so cold the salt wouldn’t melt the ice and snow, but it did.”
Michael Waterman, 43, of Marcellus, was second and Ryan Geers, 32, of Kalamazoo, came in third.
Lauren MacVicar, 31, of Kalamazoo, was the top female half-marathon runner, turning in a time of 1:27.46.
“I’ve raced a few half marathons but this was my first time in winter,” she said. “It was cold, but the city of Portage did a great job keeping the roads clear. It was a lot of fun.”
In the 5K race, Michael Nasuta, 26, of Portage, finished first with a time of 17.54 followed by Alec Sullivan, 17, of Portage, and Marc Westra, 16, of Portage.
“I grew up in Maryland and they run all winter long,” Nasuta said. “The course was great. The only issue was at the end when I almost slipped. And my lips are numb.”
The top 5K female runner was Katie Sorensen, 17, a Portage Northern High School senior who did not train for the run but plays soccer.
“The hardest part was the cold on my face,” Sorensen, wiping some of the ice crystals from around her mouth.
Bonnie Sexton, Kalamazoo Area Runners vice president and co-organizer of the Winter Blast, called the inaugural event a big success, as more than 175 volunteers, the co-sponsor city of Portage and a host of sponsors all contributed.
“I think it went really well,” Sexton said in between keeping track of the races outside and all the festivities, signups and race postings inside Portage Central High School where the event was hosted and both races began and ended.
The Kalamazoo Area Runners, the state’s largest running organization with nearly 1,000 members, was looking for a winter run and teamed with Portage that was looking for a big event to launch its 50th anniversary celebration.
Strazdas reminded the crowd of the significance of the Winter Blast.
“It was 50 years ago on Feb. 18, 1963 that Portage Township voters voted to become the city of Portage,” Strazdas said. “It’s a big deal for the city of Portage. This is just the start of our 50th birthday celebrations.”
Many of the volunteers, who provided everything from medals for all half-marathon runners to water for all runners, braved the elements along with the athletes and spectators in the parking lot at Portage Central High.
“It’s cold,” said a shivering Jamie Clark, who wore a purple spike hat to keep warm as he volunteered to man the water and Gatorade table beginning at 7 a.m., often having to break the ice forming in the frozen cups.
His wife, Amy Clark, the volunteer coordinator for the Winter Blast, said she was pleased with the number of volunteers who checked in runners, handed out awards, provided refreshments and directions and lined the various race courses to marshal runners along the right routes.
“I think it’s going really well for an inaugural event,” Amy Clark said.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Valentines and a gig

We just spent our first Valentines in the US. Last year, the kids and I headed back to England for a couple of weeks and Jeremy went away to Florida with work.

As with all holidays, the Americans do a good job of Valentines. Everywhere you go there are decorations, chocolates and candies for sale and of course cards. 

The kids have parties at school and hand out Valentines to their friends - usually a little card and maybe some sweeties. We were a bit bar humbug and we weren't sure if they did anything at preschool. We got our kids a card and some sweets (consumed alongside a bowl of cereal at breakfast) but didn't hand anything out at school. Thankfully, it seems neither did any of their friends (there are 30 or 40 kids in each of their classes) but they did come home with an envelope of cards from their teachers:

Jeremy and I exchanged presents and cards. It might be a commercially driven holiday but it is still nice to have a special treat and be spoilt! We also went to a gig at the local university. I get the feeling that it normally only hosts theatre shows but this week Matchbox twenty came to town and they rocked the auditorium! They are an American rock band who rose to fame in the late nineties and were pretty big over here but not so much in England. I heard about them through a friend and absolutely love them. They are my go to for long car journeys, a mix of loud rock anthems and soft ballads. 

Here is what our local 'paper' had to say about the gig: 

KALAMAZOO, MI -- A little more than halfway through a two-hour set at Miller Auditorium, Matchbox Twenty frontman Rob Thomas grabbed the cell phone of a woman in the front row.
He proceeded to record video of each member of the band as they played "So Sad So Lonely." At one point, he laid on his back and filmed guitarist Kyle Cook's solo. And yes, he eventually handed to camera back to the woman before finishing the song.
It was one of a handful of moments during the concert the band played off the sold-out audience. The band rarely strayed from sets of previous concerts on this tour with "American Idol" winner and opener Phillip Phillips, but it did deviate near the end and mixed in some surprising crowd interactions.
Maybe something was in the air on Valentine's Day eve -- also the day before Thomas turned 41. At one point, guitarist Paul Doucette grabbed the microphone to tell the crowd Thursday would be Thomas' birthday. The audience cheerfully shouted "happy birthday" to him.
Dressed in black jeans and a black button-up shirt for most of the show, Thomas seemed to embrace the evening. At points he reflected on the band's 17-year career and thanked fans for give them "the best job in the world." He also sucked up to the city.
"Of all the city's we've played, Kalamazoo is the most fun to say," Thomas said.
Earlier in the concert, he encouraged everyone to "celebrate life at WMU."
The night was loaded with accessible pop-rock from the band's 1996 debut to its 2012 release, "North," which debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Top 200.  When the group broke into hits from "Yourself or Someone Like You," Thomas let the audience know they were turning it back to the mid-'90s.
The couples to my left loved the band in high school but never saw Thomas and Co. live until now. It was a Valentine's Day gift.
Thomas referenced making mixtapes as a teenager in his bedroom as a way to get lucky on a date, a notion sections of the crowd applauded. At points, it felt like a high school reunion and a first date rolled into one.
The band -- Thomas, Cook, Doucette, bassist Brian Yale, guitarist Matt Beck and drummer Stacy Jones -- provided a polished, efficient delivery. They have the show down to a science. Outside of a some occasional banter, Matchbox Twenty moved quickly from song-to-song. It opened with "Parade" and followed with "Bent" and "Disease."
Matchbox Twenty slowed things down with "If You're Gone" and "Overjoyed," followed soon after by "Our Song" and "Long Day." Thomas introduced "I Will" as his favorite track on the new album.
For couples on a date night, it provided some cuddle time.
The set concluded on a relatively mellow note with "Bright Lights," but the members returned for a pair of encores that included "Sleeping at the Wheel," "You're So Real," "Back to Good" and a cover of R.E.M.'s "The One I Love."
The concert closed with the hit, "Push." A few couples at the center of the auditorium linked arms as swayed as Thomas sang ironic, un-Cupid-like lyrics such as "I want to take you for granted" and "I don't know if I've ever really been loved."
Out of context, it seemed odd, but for those looking to rekindle the excitement of Matchbox Twenty's mid-'90s explosion onto the music scene -- presumably the soundtrack of earlier romance -- it made perfect sense.
Before the band made its final bow, Doucette invited a boy on stage to do the honors with the rest of the band. The crowd ate it up.
"American Idol" winner Phillip Phillips opened the night promptly at 7:30 p.m. and performed five singles with the help of a guitarist, percussionist and cellist.
In addition to a cover of Michael Jackson's "Thriller," the Georgia songwriter Phillips and his band busted out a funky, moonshine-soaked introduction to his hit, "Home." The crowd appreciated the fresh take on the popular song, standing and clapping before the lights flipped on, abruptly ending his set.

And a video shot partly by a fan in the front row and partly by the lead singer of the band who took her phone round the stage!:

We had a fantastic time. I am still recovering from the flu, but managed to dance for the whole two hours. I lost my voice halfway through and needless to say I was exhausted the next day, but it was so worth it! At times it felt surreal, I have never seen them live, in person or on tv but have listened to their albums so many times. It was kind of weird to see them singing and playing the songs I love, but very exciting too. If they played one of my favourite songs, I jumped up and down and waved my arms in the air... You are never too old to enjoy a good concert! I loved being there with Jeremy and it was a fun, intimate gig (having orchestra seats helped!) and they are a band who are truly grateful to their fans, who are not pretentious and just wanted to give us all a music filled, action packed show! And they did. Thank you guys! 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Lying in bed watching the snow fall

That's pretty much all I have done for the last few weeks.

I got the flu and it took me out big time! They say you know it's flu and not a cold when it hits you hard and totally takes you out. I definitely had the flu and a chest infection.

It took 2 weeks and a course of antibiotics to shake off the symptoms and another week to regain my energy levels (and brain power!).

Thankfully Jeremy was at home as he had booked a week off work. The plan was to have a few days together going out for lunch etc and then a few days in a resort called Great Wolf Lodge (think Centre Parcs in the snow) but sadly he spent the whole time looking after me. Also school agreed to have the kids for us for a week so Jeremy could work and do the drop off / pick up.

He didn't really get a rest but he did get the chance to do things like dance and gymnastics with the kids and the school routine, all things he doesn't normally get to do, but not really what we had planned. Oh well, that's life and we rearranged the trip up north for a weekend in March.

I spent 2 weeks watching the snow fall and catching up on my tv programmes on Netflix and the BBC iPlayer... Thank goodness for technology!
I was too sleepy to read and lost count if the number of times I had to replay the shows because I fell asleep watching them!

I am so grateful to the friends and family who helped us. To the people who kept in touch on email and Facebook, keeping me sane. And especially the friends who brought us meals. Jeremy did a great job of shopping and cooking but it was a relief when friends brought over tasty soups and casseroles and take away!

I missed so much. I missed my kids, I missed my husband (who moved to the spare room to be saved the non stop night time coughing) and I missed a couple of good nights out! We managed to sell our tickets to see the stage show Les Mis at the local theatre which was a shame but at least my friend got to go.

I was due to participate in a half marathon on Sunday but given its still -3oC outside and I am only just back in my feet, I will run a 5K instead.

It's so nice to be back in the land of the living but looking forward to spring and some warmer weather!