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

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

packing headache

Packing. Do you love it or hate it?!

I hate it.

I think it might be from years of packing to go on business trips. In my old job I would often have to go and work in factories across Europe, sometimes for just a few days, sometimes for weeks. I quickly lost my love of airports and hotels. Trust me, a Marriot hotel in Germany looks very much the same as one in Manchester.
I still have a toiletries bag that is always packed and ready to go. It used to make packing quicker, especially as sometimes we only got a couple of days notice to go on a trip.

Or maybe it's because I have to make lots of decisions.

Take the other weekend for example... 2 hours before we were due to leave and I was not packed or even showered!


I was so excited that we were going away with friends for some fun in the snow and sunshine, but I am great at procrastinating and pottering too.
At making lists and lists but not actually putting anything into a bag.
Finding lots of urgent and important jobs to do that absolutely must be done before I pack.

And the weekend after that the same story. Hardly anything packed but I did manage to do 5 loads of laundry, bake a cake, write 3 blog posts and clear out the kids' playroom the day before we left.

Hmmm the queen of procrastination!

We are going away again tomorrow. This time to England for home leave. The kids are getting pretty good at packing their back packs for the plane. Collecting up toys and books (the smaller the better given we make them carry their own bags!) to amuse them on the 14 hour trip.
Given we are leaving at 9am, you'd think I would have everything sorted but no, I am sat here writing this post and hoping that it will all magically make it's way into our bags!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

an enchanted evening...

Last night was the Daddy Daughter Dance at the Gagie school where our kids attend preschool.

I had a wonderful evening with our little man, racing cars, which basically meant shooting them under the sofa (oh those poor wooden floors!) and snuggling on the sofa watching the Cars movie and eating lollipops (suckers for my US friends).

All dressed up and ready for her date.

What a good looking couple.

I shall hand over to Jeremy to tell you all about his evening with our beautiful daughter....

I can remember clearly sitting in Trafford General Hospital in Manchester, sitting in the chair in a small room, holding a few day old Charlotte in my arms whilst her mummy had some rest. As Charlotte slept it was the first moment I really remember envisaging all the things that I might do now I had a daughter. I remember whispering in her ear that one day her daddy would take her dancing.

Well, about four and a half years later that really came true. Ruth told me that Charlotte's school were having a "daddy-daughter dance". I had no real idea of what to expect, but like everything about living in a new country you just have to seize every opportunity. 

We'd been told to think of it like a 'prom'. Not so easy given my knowledge of proms extended to watching 'Back to the Future" and "There's something about Mary'. Thankfully Ruth, through her network of 'moms' had found out the essential information. Dress smart - tux would be just right. Buy your daughter a corsage (what's that?! I hear any men reading this ask - a flower bouquet she wears on her wrist). 

So, I dressed up in my best (only) tux with a white bow tie as Charlotte had said she wanted daddy to look like he did when he married mummy. I even wore the cufflinks from our wedding day. When I walked down the stairs and saw Charlotte I felt quite overwhelmed with emotion. I felt an instant connection between the amazing day I married my beautiful wife, that moment in hospital when I had promised to take Charlotte dancing and the present; standing with my beautiful daughter, her face bright with joy, happiness and excitement. I could not have felt more proud.

When we arrived we were quite early, in fact the very first people to walk in. We paid on the door and walked into the gym which had been utterly transformed from a basketball court into "an enchanted evening". Charlotte and I held hands as we walked under an arch of blue, green and purple balloons and into the centre of the room which was filled with lights and hearts. For a moment as I saw the "enchanted evening" banners I recalled watching Back to the Future and the "enchantment under the sea dance". This was a moment for me to experience something of what it is like to go to school in America - and most importantly to share a very special evening with my daughter.

Slowly but surely the room filled with slightly uncomfortable men in suits and tuxes - all walking in a lopsided way as they held hands with their much shorter daughters. Old men, young men, trendy men, traditional men - it did not matter - they were there for the same reason as me. To have that time with their daughter. Or daughters! A friend of ours called Chadd arrived with his two daughters so he had his hands full - I guess by now he is used to that. Another friend Jim was there with his daughter. 

We had our picture professionally taken (can't wait to see that!) and then loaded up on sugary cakes and snacks - a lot of dancing was to come. Then the DJ announced that whenever he mentioned an 'enchanted dance' the girls had to bring their dads onto the dance floor and dance together. 

Every time an enchanted dance came on Charlotte would hold my hand and rush to the side of the dance floor where all the lights were - she loved the mirror ball and another reflection which made the ceiling look like a moon and stars. I remember looking down at her and seeing her staring at the ceiling as we danced, those beautiful brown eyes just like her mum's. I span her, she danced around me, we promenaded and eventually, as she (and I) got tired I lifter her up and danced with her in my arms. Could any father ask for any more? 

Charlotte also had many special moments with her friends. She would grab her friends hands, give them a huge hug and they would run onto the dance floor. Every so often she would look back over her shoulder to check I was there watching over her. I know it won't be too many years before she just runs off - but in that moment I felt so very close to her. I was proud of the way she looked out for her friends - always encouraging anyone on the sidelines. Concerned to see that all of her friends were happy - very much like her mum.

As the evening drew on the men got more and more relaxed, helped no doubt by the mandatory birdie song and conga (where you had to find your daughter and join the conga in action). As Charlotte began to suck her thumb (along with many other of the preschool girls) the DJ helpfully announced that there would be a free balloon for each girl to take home. That was the perfect cue for Charlotte to announce she was ready to head home. We walked out into the cold, dark night hand in hand.

I could not have asked for a more perfect time with Charlotte. Life goes buy so quickly it was amazing to have a moment in time to really acknowledge just how special it is to be a dad and how very proud I am of her. I hope in years to come to have more moments like these and I will do everything I can to be the best father I can possibly be. But whatever the future holds this enchanted evening was one I will treasure forever.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

March went mad...

March madness is upon us.

No I don't mean the fact it is snowing in Michigan and Manchester right now even though it's the 23rd of March!

And no I don't mean the main part of the breeding season of the European hare (thanks Wikipedia!).

I mean college basketball. 68 teams from across America, competing to be National champions.

Men (and women) all over America are glued to their tvs. Two weeks of virtually non-stop action means a lot of tv watching. Or wives tutting as husbands announce they are driving 2 hours and spending $150 on a ticket to the game to support their team. Basement walls are covered in brackets (your prediction for how the games will go or left blank to fill in as the tournament goes along), bets being made, hopes and dreams shattered as teams fall out one by one.

So far Michigan State and Michigan made it to the second round and Michigan won their game to go through again.

We have lots of friends who support both teams so I'd like to cheer them both on... But it's the Malaysian Grand Prix this weekend so I will be shouting for Jenson Button.
Sorry guys but my heart lies with cars!

Friday, March 22, 2013

modern technology

I remember watching Star Trek and thinking the technology was so unbelieveable it could never happen. Watching Demolition Man set in 2032 where cars drive themselves... yeah like that will ever happen?!

But it is! In 2013! There are plenty of cars with parking assist as Jeremy Clarkson showed us on an  episode of Top Gear where a Kia Cee'd parallel parked itself! Even I can't do that but a car with no brain (OK so I might have lost several brain cells through University and the birth of my babies) can park itself?!

I remember the days when we didn't have mobile phones. Where you made plans in advance or just turned up at the pub, knowing at least one or two of your friends would be there. You made plans and you stuck to them. You rang your friends from the phone box on the corner and got through to their Mum first.

I remember floppy disks and writing computer programmes to make a robot move. Loading games on my spectrum with a tape player. It took 30 minutes and then would crash and you would have to do it all over again!

I also remember the days before the internet. I remember learning what the internet was at University and trying it out in the computer lab... You know, the place where you had to queue for a desktop computer and then go down 3 floors to the printing lab and hope the assignment you printed off is OK to be handed in because you have left it too late to go back and wait for another computer. I had to go into Uni to hand in my assignments or work on the computer or look up information in the library - you know in a thing called an encyclopedia! Now you 'Google' everything you need to know and send your assignments in on your laptop or ipad without getting dressed or even leaving your bed!

I can pay cheques into the bank using my phone.

I can watch tv on my iPhone. And Jeremy can use the same app to watch something completely different on his. I can watch the internet through my tv. I can pause and record tv. I don't have to adjust an ariel or tune my tv to the right channel. I have 300 channels to choose from not 3. Yes I was there when they launched Channel 4 in the UK!

I read books on a Kindle. I can get the next book in the trilogy in about 30 seconds. I love books. I love looking at them on a bookshelf but they take up so much room that the Kindle is just easier. Records and tapes have been replaced with CDs and iTunes. Before long the kids will not believe we had bulky DVDs or CDs.

I have thousands of photos on my camera, my phone and the laptop. More than I have time to do anything with. Remember the 28 or 32 photos you got when you had your film developed? With all the stickers saying the photo was over exposed or the film was damaged. It was a gamble but exciting to go to the shop and see which ones came out ok.

I can talk to friends and family all over the weekend thanks to Skype.

Facebook, texts and emails keep me sane. They are the way I keep in touch with everyone, especially all of those dear people in Europe. First there was friends reunited and now there is a political minefield in Facebook. I hear a lot of people ditching it as they see it as a waste of time. And I can totally understand that. But personally I hope it stays in some form or other for as long as possible.

Reading blogs and looking at Instagram, I can 'connect' with people all over the world, half of them I have never met! I am so nosey that blogs fascinate me. I follow the story of a family in Oklahoma who adopted a baby from China, a lady in Australia who writes about photography, a lady who designs beautiful fabrics and another lady who lives in Martha's vineyard, loves England and writes cookbooks.

Technology blows me away. There are so many more things that I haven't mentioned. I cannot keep up with the latest gadget or way of doing things. I try but it won't be long before the kids are teaching me! It's not all good though and the thought of my kids having access to the internet scares me. I will just have to deal with that when it happens.
And many hours are wasted playing games on my phone or trying to retrieve all of my calendar info when I get a new phone. Technology can make life easier but it can also bring a whole load of stress!
We are heading back to the UK next week and were thinking we might be able to watch a movie or two, when I suddenly thought, I don't know how to rent a movie in the UK anymore! Here we still have video stores or can rent one through the cable or itunes. I have no idea what to do in the UK!

Is simple better? Maybe for an old lady like me!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

... and relax!

I just got home from my yoga class and I feel fantastic! A little hot and sweaty but very pleased I made it.

A friend introduced me to a local place - Intentional Yoga (on Westnedge) a few weeks ago and I really enjoyed my first class. But then I got the flu and I haven't been able to get back into it until today.

I thought it would help with my running as core strength and stretching are very important when you start increasing the miles to 13. I struggle getting up hills as I have lost all of my core strength after two babies and a C-section. I have a weak back and I swear my stomach muscles have still not knitted back together after three years! So I am not the most graceful of yoga participants but I am giving it a go and really enjoying it. I am running my second half marathon in May and I hear it has a couple of killer hills so with just a few weeks to go, I need all of the help I can get!

It's done in a warm / hot room so you get very sweaty very quickly but having run in from the car, through a couple of inches of snow, it is very nice to lie down in a warm room and feel yourself start to relax.

It's much harder work than I thought it would be and I soon feel my heart rate getting faster. I even got quite dizzy at one point and had to sit down! As well as strengthening, I am hoping it will tone me (and maybe even help me shed a pound or two or three!).

And I have even got Jeremy hooked on it! He takes the 5:30am class (not quite my idea of fun!) twice a week and says it really sets him up well for the day. He is totally addicted and really misses it if he can't go. I am sure it has nothing to do with a bunch of fit women in lycra and it's all about the stretching and workout!

So I had best get in the shower as I have to pick the kiddos up in an hour. Three days of preschool sounded a lot, but it is amazing how fast time flies when you are having fun!

Monday, March 18, 2013

stomp stomp clap clap...


We went to Great Wolf Lodge this weekend - the one up in Traverse City.

I would describe it as a place that is a lot of fun... For about 2 days and especially if those days are not a Saturday.

I also think it is one of those places that gets easier with age. The older your kids are, the more relaxing it is for the parents.

For those of you who don't know it's a wolf themed hotel with a huge water park at the centre of it. They do a really good job of keeping the kids amused, with slides for all ages in the water park, a lazy river, a family hot tub (Charlotte's favourite) and basketball pool. They also do story time in the lobby with one of the mascot characters and the kids can turn the water on in the park if they get there at opening time. We did this every morning and the kids loved it!

We have two non-swimmers who didn't always want to wear their life vests so most of the time we were in the water with them, holding onto them. Of course Toby managed to wander off (he is scarily fearless) and Charlotte found him happily shooting people with the water cannons.

We did manage to enjoy some time out a couple of times. Charlotte and I had our first 'Mommy and Me' pedicure together which was very sweet. And yes, I am now sporting bright pink sparkly toe nails.
Jeremy and I also took it in turns to get a massage which I would highly recommend, even if just to escape the kids and the noise for an hour!

We got cabin fever after 48 hours and had to get some fresh air so we headed 10 minutes north into downtown Traverse City and had a delicious dinner at the Mackinaw Brewing Company. I ordered a BBQ platter with ribs, chicken wings and brisket. I think Charlotte ate more than I did and Toby helped too! I don't blame them - it was really good and I would highly recommend it as a place to eat if you are up north. It was full of people celebrating St Patricks Day so it had a great atmosphere and the kids were highly amused by pointing out people's bright green hats and beards!
I wanted to say 'Hi' to Lake Michigan first so we braved the cold and wind to walk up to the harbour through the snow and ice, took a couple of photos and then swiftly escaped into the town! It was only about -5oC but the wind made it feel much colder!
We spent some time up there in the summer with friends so it was fun to see it all covered in snow... Hopefully we will be back in a few months and be able to swim in the lake again!

Above: Turning on the water and meeting Oliver Racoon. 
Toby really is like a little puppy... Look at his face going down that slide! 

Below: Our trip to downtown Traverse City. 

So all in all we had a fun, busy, crazy, noisy, exciting, exhausting weekend! With hindsight we should have only stayed 2 nights and had a day at home to relax before going back to school. Charlotte was so exhausted this morning that I managed to get her undressed, on the loo and dressed for school without her opening her eyes! I left her for 2 minutes and she was back in bed again! They miss their Kiddie Kamp bunk beds and were really good given we all shared a room but I think we all needed to get back to our own beds last night! 

It was great to get away from the snow and pretend it was summer for a while. The water park is heated to 80+oF which felt lovely! Though the drive up past all of the green fir trees standing in pure white snow was beautiful...

I'm still ready for Spring though (and looking at Facebook this morning, I am not the only one!)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Sweet & salty

Chocolate coated pretzels... Oh how I love you!

The soft crack of sweet milk chocolate followed by the crunch of the savoury pretzel. The flavours explode in your mouth leaving a sweet creamy flavour at the front and salty at the back.

I think this is what makes them so flippin moreish!

Charlotte asked me to buy them in the supermarket the other day and I agreed as I thought they would be a good treat after a few hours of swimming.

And they are going down really nicely with a hot cup of tea.
Too nicely.
We've eaten half the tub and it's less than 24 hours since we arrived!
I say we, of course that's just me and the kids!

Best get back to the pool and climb a few more steps up to the big slides!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

when the rubber hits the snow...

As well as the cardboard derby, we also tried out tubing whilst away last weekend.
I should probably point out at this point that I have never skied and have not managed to get any lessons yet (yes I know 2 winters in Michigan and I still haven't plucked up the courage!). So I didn't brave the ski slopes but we did get to go 'super fast' down a tubing hill!

The course was pretty icy, with black rubber mats out to try and make sure we stopped (and avoided sliding onto the road!) so we got up to a pretty good speed down a couple of the lanes!

I'd just like to point out that I did my fair share of pulling the kids back to the lift! Right before this picture, one of them had ended up in the crash barrier and it was a bit of a scramble to get them out of the way of the oncoming traffic!

The kids loved it! Even after the spill they had in the morning, they were confident and laughing all the way.

It was so quiet on the way up. The guys at the bottom of the hill attach you to a handle which drags you up to the top where you are literally spat out onto a snowy ramp. We would send one of the kids up ahead of us and they would be waiting with a smile on their face. Charlotte wanted me to bump into her and one time I got up their to find her chatting to a random (I need to speak to her about stranger danger!).

After about 20 minutes, Charlotte wanted to go up with the other kids and she happily handed the tube strap over to the guys, got in and rode up the hill on her own. Because of the ice, they didn't want too many tubes going down together but they let us ride holding on to her and let her and her 7 year old friend go together. I was so proud of her confidence and independence. She could put her feet out at the end of the course to slow down and drag her tube back up to the lift.

It was a lot of fun and I could have spent all evening up their but sadly our time was up after an hour.

It has given me the confidence to give skiing a go... Maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks?!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

racing in the snow

We spent this last weekend up north with friends. Their family own a condo near Lake Bellaire which is a small lake just to the East of Lake Michigan. It is a beautiful part of the world and popular in the summer as well as a snow destination. The property is in a ski resort called Shanty Creek and is about 3.5 hours from our house.

The resort had a cardboard derby event on the Saturday morning so we had spent most of Thursday night constructing a fire engine out of a cardboard packing box (following some sound advice!) and a couple of rolls of duck tape

After taking forever to pack, we finally got on the road on Friday evening and made our way up the 131 highway, stopping at a drive-thru McDonalds for dinner (bribery will get you everywhere, including 2 quiet kids!).

It's the kind of place that makes you feel instantly relaxed the minute you arrive and we got a warm welcome from our friends.

Saturday morning and we were up and about early to get registered for the race. We made our way to the bottom of the ski hill, proudly dragging our cardboard sleds behind us. We arrived to see a huge beer bottle, an even bigger pirate ship, a snow mobile, a huge gun (?!) and a box of popcorn, all made out of cardboard, tape and paint! I began to think maybe we should have spent longer on ours but made our way to the judging area and waited to see what they thought of our bright red and silver fire truck. Unfortunately we didn't win any awards but our friends did for their fabulous green racing car sporting the ski resort's logo.

And so on to the races. Our kids were racing as a team so we watched the other kids in the individual race... And they came 1st and 4th! Woohoo! So that was 2 medals so far, one for each of them.
There were so many boxes in the team category that they had to do 2 races with the top 3 finishers entering a finale to determine the overall winners. After the first heat it was our turn. Jeremy got our kids to the top of the course and into their sled. I eagerly waited at the bottom, camera in hand, ready to capture their first time in a cardboard derby race. We told them it was just for fun to manage expectations but they only went and won the first heat! They were the youngest team and most of the crowd were shouting team fire! Probably because, having won, they just sat their waiting for Jeremy and I to get to them! Bess them!

It was a quick scramble back up the hill to go again. They were the youngest team and most of the crowd were shouting team fire! Probably because, having won, they just sat their waiting for Jeremy and I to get to them! Bess them!

As they came down the hill for a second time, I was busy cheering and taking photos as their sled quickly edged into the lead, unaware of what was about to happen. But Jeremy was watching from the top and could see that they were heading towards the wall of snow on the side of the course. They were going at a pretty fast pace and were just a few feet from the finish line, well ahead of the rest, they went up the snow bank and completely flipped over! Disaster! I was willing them to get up, brush off and finish but soon realised there was tears and blood! Fortunately they had helmets on and the blood was just from surface scratches on Toby's lip and face. Toby was fine after a quick cuddle and clean up but Charlotte was pretty shocked (even though she had a soft landing on top of Toby!). It was such a sad end to a fantastic race but they soon recovered and after lunch, we had fun watching Daddy and our friends skiing down the hill.

We are certainly bringing up our kids to be adventurous and try news things! I wonder what the next few years will have in store for them!

Above: trying their sled out before the race and looking good in the first race

Below: winning the first race, but disaster in the finale... so close yet so far! 

"When can I go skiing Mummy?!"

Friday, March 8, 2013

taxing stuff...

We are busy getting everything together for our US tax return. Everyone in the States has to fill one out and we have already missed the deadline by a week!

There are offices on every corner, offering to help you complete it. Adverts on the television selling their company as the best. People standing on the roadside, dressed as the Statue of Liberty, waving at cars and hoping you will use Liberty Tax this year (the poor sods are out there in the freezing cold for hours on end!).

We pay taxes in the UK and the US and everything is pretty complicated. For example the tax year in the UK is April to April but in the US it is the calendar year.

And of course we don't make life easy by being one of those couples, who every year without fail, swear they will do a better job of filing paperwork... and of course fail!
We even bought two big metal filing cabinets in the hope that would make life easier but it didn't. We are overwhelmed and swamped by daily additions to the pile. We get tons of flyers and catalogues in the mail, pictures and work from preschool on a daily basis (which I have a hard time throwing away... I imagine the kids all grown up asking to see what they made when they were 4. Imagine looking back through the pile with oos and ahhhs and isn't that cute) and the important stuff just kind of gets lost in the piles!

So we are now scrabbling to find everything we need and hope that we do a better job next year!

Now just let me move that pile of paper so I can get to my cup of tea...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

early mornings

Our kids both have a clock in their room with a light which comes on like an alram. We have them set for 7am and they are not allowed to get up until the light comes on. It's called ok to wake! and it works pretty well. I think Charlotte is like me and wouldn't get up until she had to anyway but Toby is awake early and waits patiently for his light to come on so he can come in to see us (and beg us for breakfast - he leans over and whispers in my ear "breakfast Mummy breakfast?").

Just recently, he has been bringing us 'presents' from his room. It's always the same things... His Ariel pillow (yep she is still "My Ariel" and he still loves her!), his Mickey Mouse from Disney, a teddy that my friend sent me with a bunch of flowers (and is his favourite), a teddy from our friend in Australia and a Taggies blanket.

He comes into the room with them all in his arms and places them on the bed. It's very sweet and I don't really know what he wants us to do with them. But they make their way back to his bedroom, ready for  bedtime that evening.

He looks so sleepy in this photo! 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Happy Birthday Dr Seuss!

It's Dr Seuss Day (though most schools celebrated yesterday with cotumes and green eggs for snack time!) and we are celebrating with a pyjama day (not linked, the kids just wanted to stay in their pjs after going to a friend's house early this morning so I could go to run camp!) and watching The Lorax.

We are relatively new to Dr Seuss (shock horror I know!) and the only one the kids have read is The Lorax. Jeremy says he read some of the books at school and I had heard of green eggs and ham but it really isn't what British childhoods are made of. Paddington Bear and Mister Men yes, but not really Dr Seuss. Not like it is here. All Americans (or at least the ones I have met) have read every book, are teaching the stories to their kids and often quote it in everyday life.

I have to say I am looking forward to reading more of the books. They seem to be written in rhyme like the Gruffalo and, although a little strange, they seem quite fun!

If anyone has recommendations on where to start, a favourite book from their childhood, or one that they think is the essential read, please let me know!

And now to snuggle on the sofa with my little man and enjoy the movie!

Friday, March 1, 2013

cookie monster

Our Girl Scout Cookies have arrived! Yippee!

I say "Our" in a loose kind of way. I bought 6 boxes with the intention of taking some back to the UK.

I got them at 5pm. We (the kids and I) ... (OK just I) have already opened two of the boxes.

I get silly excited about things like this. You can't get them in the UK but I loved the Friends episode about Monica eating far too many when she was younger and then Ross trying to sell them. And now we are asked in January if we'd like to put our orders in. Oh yes please, where is my pen?!

And so the diet hits another stumbling block!

My favourites are the lemon ones and the kids love the mint chocolate ones. We'll see how they go down at Easter... If there are any left by then ;)