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

Friday, May 31, 2013

memorial weekend

This happened last weekend...

A few weeks ago we bought a play structure for the kids from the local wholesalers. At first we were apprehensive about building it ourselves, preferring to pay someone to build it for us. With Jeremy working away a lot, our weekends are precious. But we were going to have to wait for weeks for that to happen so thanks to the long Memorial weekend, he decided to take on the challenge and have a go at building it himself.
Many people told me that they had heard horror stories of building these structures which made us even more apprehensive. Jeremy said the instructions were a little tricky but to his credit he did a great job! He has an unbelievable amount of patience and determination.

He worked on it for 2 days and 2 evenings straight.... When he gets going on something there is no stopping him! Not even when it started to pour down with rain! At one point he came in saying he needed a cap to stop the rain pouring down his face!
The only bit he needed help with was putting the roof on and attaching the swing part. Thankfully one of our friends willingly offered to spend an hour in the rain, lifting and holding up the various parts.

The kids were really patient and well behaved for me so Jeremy could get plenty of peace and quiet to concentrate. Despite the rain, I decided to take them to the Portage Memorial Day parade.

'On a soggy verge, somewhere along S Westnedge Ave, 
2 English children were spotted singing 'God Bless America' 
and waving their American flags, waiting for the parade to pass by...'

Jeremy scored mega Daddy points, when to the kids' delight, he had finished by dinner time on the Monday. And a little rain wasn't going to stop them having fun on their new swings!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

a box full of bribes

The Fed Ex guy knocked on the other day with a parcel. I was surprised as I couldn't remember ordering anything. Surprise turned to other emotions like disbelief and gratitude when I opened the box to discover that a wonderful friend in the UK had sent the kids a box full of Dr Seuss books! She read a previous blog post about our lack of knowledge on the subject and having older kids, decided to send us all of their old books. Thank you, I can't tell you how much it meant to us!

The kids were very excited when I opened the box to show them. They love books and were excited to see the cat in his hat on the front of the books.

I am looking forward to using the books as bribes... I mean rewards... over the next few weeks! They have already earned 3 between them and I finally know the story of Green Eggs and Ham!

Which by the way is a dish on the menu at a local restaurant. They added pesto to a ham omelette and it was delicious! Try it, you might like it!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

little hands

I love picking Toby up from day care. When his teacher tells him I am outside the window, his face lights up and he shouts "My Mummy is here!" then he runs to the door. As soon as I step inside he runs to me, arms out stretched and jumps up to give me a huge hug. It makes me smile everyday.

Of course the magic is broken when he then doesn't want to leave, refuses to put his shoes on and runs off towards the car park, mad because he was having too much fun to go home!

But the other day was different. We were walking back to the car when I felt him reach up and put his hand in mine. It made my heart skip a beat.

I love how his little soft warm hand feels. How great it is to be needed and loved. How he looks to me for protection and companionship.

I treasure moments like that because I don't know when the last time that he reaches up to grab my hand will be. And I am grateful to be a Mum.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

fantastic fours!

I was going to name this blog post "terrible twos, testing threes, ferocious fours!' but decided (after a good night's sleep) to call it "fantastic fours" because I have an amazing four year old... she can just be a little ferocious at times.

I had a conversation recently about 'fakebook' and only mentioning the good stuff about your kids so they end up looking like angels. And I do it on here. I talk about the wonderful days out we have had, how much fun we had and how cute the kids looked. I don't post the picture of the kids refusing to smile, or sitting under a tree on time out or the tantrums.
That is not how I want to remember my kids' childhood. But it's a part of growing up and it's real life.

Ex-pat life is teaching me so much about my personality and so much about the kids. There is nothing like being tested to show your true colours....

And I don't think Charlotte likes change.

Since we have been back from our recent home leave her behaviour when around other kids has been embarrassing.

I can spend the day on my own with the two of them and they are so easy and well behaved (once they have been fed) but go to a friend's house to play after school and there are tantrums, tears and down right selfishness.

We aim to be pretty strict parents and I think we are doing OK with discipline but recently she is acting like a spoilt brat.

And we have been guilty of spoiling her since the move. Buying toys as if to try to absolve ourselves of the guilt we felt, taking her away from everything and everyone she knew. And we feel that guilt all the time but especially after a home leave trip.

I am tired of explaining her behaviour by saying she is tired or hungry or 'unsettled'.

Maybe I should just say "she is a strong willed four year old who knows what she wants".

But I think she is a sensitive little soul who has lived in 3 houses in 3 years, has a Daddy with a job that takes him travelling round the globe and a Mummy who likes to go out for a run or to book club or bible study or out to dinner with friends in the evening.

I think she probably doesn't know if she is coming or going sometimes. Or more importantly if Jeremy and I are coming or going. I have learnt that she shows her anxiety in potty accidents, maybe as a way of attention seeking. And she throws tantrums when it is time to say goodbye to a friend or share a toy.

Does she have a fear of losing her things and saying goodbye because she doesn't know when she will see that friend again? We go back to England and she has the best time with friends and family but every day is a big goodbye. So it is understandable that when we return, her behaviour is trying.

She is a lot like me when I was a kid.

Our kids were never going to be quiet - just look at their parents!

So I am trying to be sympathetic but firm. Giving cuddles more often than reprimands. Trying to explain each day what the plan is so she knows where she is at. Trying to reward good behaviour but also introducing a box for confiscating toys when her behaviour is unacceptable.

We will see how it goes. Maybe we are being too harsh, maybe we have been too easy on her. I am sure you will all have an opinion and I am nervous about putting this out there, but this is part of our life at the moment and I am trying to find the right way to handle it. The best way to parent.
I bet we all feel like we make mistakes from time to time. Life is an adventure and you learn something new everyday.

She is so sweet in so many ways. Like lending Toby the framed photo of us she has in her room, because he misses his Daddy. Or 'buying' him a blue fish in the pretend shop at school because she knew he would like it. Or drawing pictures for her friends.

I just wish she could show that side when we are on play dates so they could see what a beautiful, loving, sensitive little soul she is.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

when the cat is away, the mice will play....

Jeremy is away again with work, so the kids and I get to play together all week! Or at least that is what I tell myself to keep sane! I hope I am still this positive by Friday!

They are sad and we do miss him but we just fall into our little routine and special treats when Daddy is away....

Like dinner in front of the tv or ice-cream on the way home from school.

It's funny how he has his routine for getting the kids to bed, I have mine and the baby sitter has hers. And the kids know what they can and can't get away with in each scenario!

For example, I said it was bath time and Toby asked if I was joining them. Literally. Over the winter, if I had a bath to warm up after a long run, they would ask to get in with me. So now they associate my bath times with sharing a bath! I couldn't quite face that last night but we did all get into the shower together!

And then bed time and Charlotte said she wanted to sleep with me. I would love to but we just don't sleep well together. But when I told her she could fall asleep in my bed and I would transfer her later, she jumped out of bed and ran down the landing shouting "Yay! This is going to be so exciting!". How funny?! She got into my side of the bed, snuggled down, I turned the lights off and that was the last I heard. Isn't it funny how kids see the pure joy of such a simple treat.

I went in to move her at 11pm and she put her arms and legs around me and nestled into my shoulder as I carried her through to her room.
She might be a big grown up girl (or so she thinks!) but carrying her across the landing, I got a precious moment with my baby girl. All of the tantrums, screaming and recent bad behaviour was forgotten as I enjoyed a warm cuddle with my first born.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

hey there thomas!

How did we choose to spend Mothers' Day?! Lazing around the house?! At a spa?!


We went to meet Thomas. After all, the reason I was celebrating was because of my beautiful children, so what better way to celebrate than to spend a fun family day out at a museum. Right?!

Well OK, a day on the sofa with a latte and a box of chocolates, watching a good movie, would have been fun too but it's not really me!

I did get breakfast in bed, delivered by two excited kids, ladened with cards and presents. I enjoyed a precious few minutes of quiet time (whilst trying to ignore the chaos of our morning routine downstairs) and a shower in peace!

We packed up the car with a picnic, donned several layers of warm clothing (Spring mysteriously disappeared this weekend and we actually got caught in a hail shower!) and drove a couple of hours to the Henry Ford museum just outside Detroit.

We had tickets for the 2pm train and it was amazing how fast the afternoon flew by. The kids were in awe of Thomas, the sound of his whistle and the steam blowing out of his chimney. Toby had his head hanging out the side of the carriage the whole way round and ended up with black ash on his face! Charlotte loved waving to all of the people we passed and enjoyed it in her usual quiet, thoughtful way. Toby was so excited he refused to pose for a photo. He just wanted to stare at Thomas! It's amazing how they are totally taken in by it all and are so excited to ride with Thomas!

They had a play area with old-fashioned tin toy cars. They were tricky to manoeuvre and pedal but the kids loved them and couldn't stop pretending to fill them up with gas! I guess because they have seen us do it so many times!

We were looking for something else to do in the village, once the kids had visited each of the tents, playing with Thomas train sets and getting 'Rosie' tattooed on their forearms. Yep, Toby had his choice of pictures but wanted a pink train like his sister!

On the train ride, we saw a handful of Model T Fords driving around and quickly realised we could go for a ride in one. Bam there was my Mothers' Day treat! I couldn't believe that we could go for a ride in a 99 year old car that normally, are only on display with a big 'do not touch' sign. I tried to take some pics but there wasn't much room to move and not much to photograph inside. There were no instruments, speedos or dials. No slick dashboard and apparently we were lucky to have a windscreen and front door!
It was so cool and I loved listening to the engine and watching how the driver changed gear and accelerated in such an old fashioned vehicle.

Unfortunately we ran out of time to visit the main museum but I hear the Rosa Parks bus is there (Charlotte was really disappointed to have missed it) and the car Kennedy was shot in, so I am sure we will be back again to see the rest of the exhibits!

There were beautiful chandeliers in the corridors of the museum 
(I have a thing about photographing chandeliers from underneath)
Toby and his choice of (pink) pedal car.
The main event - the train ride with Thomas! 

My favourite part of the day - the ride in the Model T Ford 
- so shiny the doors reflected the grass perfectly.
Charlotte 'getting gas'.

Monday, May 13, 2013


After running errands on Saturday morning, including a trip to the Kalamazoo Farmers Market (fresh farm eggs, fragrant lilac, local honey and new basil plants were just a few things we picked up), the kids got a treat in the form of a huge field full of every type of truck they could imagine.

From fire trucks and ambulances to diggers and oil drills, school buses and racing cars to semi trucks and smart cars, you name it, it was there!

Rows and rows of vehicles that they could touch, climb into, honk the horn and dream of one day being big enough to touch the pedals!

Organised by the Junior League of Kalamazoo (which I thought was something to do with baseball but turns out to be a group of women dedicated to volunteering!) it was a fantastic event and we all loved it!

Charlotte and I were excited to sit in one of the iconic yellow school buses (I felt like Bart Simpson) and Toby did not want to get out of the racing car. Jeremy said he has always wanted to pull the air horn on one of those huge semi trucks and man are they loud!

As you can see in the pictures, my girlie little daughter, who insisted on wearing a big puffy dress all day, is equally as happy acting the tomboy and running round the big trucks... Just like her Mummy!

Friday, May 10, 2013

village life

I went to Vicksburg yesterday to meet a friend for coffee. An ice cold decaf mocha. Yum!

Vicksburg is a small village about 25 minutes south of where I live. 25 minutes south of the main shops in Kalamazoo. 30 minutes south of downtown Kalamazoo. Out in the 'countryside' by comparison to Manchester in England's.

There isn't much there from what I could see, just a few shops, a Church, a library, bank etc but it is a quaint little village with a main street that runs through it and it reminds me of home. I grew up in a small village about 10 minutes from town. My Mum would tell us she was popping out to the shops and would only be half an hour. An hour later I would be so worried as to where she was and it turns out she had stopped to talk to about 5 people as she made her way round the shops and that's why a quick trip into the village turned into an hour.

We got our coffees, my friend said hello to a couple of people she knew and we sat outside under a beautiful blossom tree. Within 2 minutes another friend walked past pushing a stroller. She lives 2 streets away and was out running errands with her son. So funny that we had just sat down and were discussing how nice small village life is, when a friend walks past as if just to demonstrate the point!

And that is what I miss. Seeing people. Bumping into familiar faces in the street. Getting to know the person behind the counter at the local shops. Community. Familiarity.

On my Wedding day I got ready at home and set off in the vintage 'bus' that we had hired, to go and get my parents. On the way we took a detour through the village to make sure we went past the local fruit and veg shop to see the owners. My family know them by name and they wanted to wave to us as we drove past.

I am often out and about in Kalamazoo but rarely bump into anyone I know. Everyone in the local starbucks, book shop and grocery store are very friendly but I do not know them by name and it's often a different member of staff each time I go in. Kalamazoo is a small town by America's standards but it is huge compared to the small town I grew up in.

Or maybe it is just that I lived in the same town for 30 years.

We are enjoying living in Kalamazoo and there is plenty to do here. We have made good friends and settled into a local school and Church. But today reminded me how nice it can be to live in a small village. I've made a mental note to visit more of the local villages, especially as this time of year is a great time to drive through the countryside, with all of the blossoming trees and sunshine.

This is the main street in 1909.
(Images courtesy of google)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

going dutch

Charlotte starts full time school in September and even though I have a long summer ahead with the both of them, I am starting to count down the days already! I am going to miss her so much and I know Toby will!

Having two kids close together has been hard work. When Toby was born, Charlotte was only 17 months old and even though we thought she was big she was really still a baby. Whilst I was up in the night feeding Toby, Charlotte was still waking up with things like teething and it was divide on conquer on many nights.
Two kids in nappies, two in a buggy, you get the picture.

But now we are reaping the benefits. At the moment, they are great friends. And like all friends, they have their fallings out but on the whole they play together and keep each other amused far more than I could have hoped. I do not know how long it will last and I hope their bond can survive the separation that school will bring in September.

But until then, I am enjoying 'easy' days out where they play together and I get to sit back and delight in sibling love!

And today we went to Holland to see the tulips. It's 'tulip time' up in Holland, a town an hour north of here, and they were in full bloom.

We had beautiful, warm and sunny weather with a cool breeze to make it a wonderful day for being outside, running in and around tulips and under pink and white blossom trees.

We went to Windmill island last year and I wrote about it here so this year I thought we would try the Nelis' Dutch Village. We jumped in the car after Toby's gym class and got there just in time for 'pigs in blankets' and dutch apple pie for lunch at the 'Hungry Dutchman Cafe'. Everything in the village is tulip, dutch or windmill themed. Maybe a little tacky but I love any reminder of Europe and the bright colours put a smile on my face.

After refuelling - we are a family who definitely need food to keep our energy levels up - we ventured out into the 'village' and spent 5 hours enjoying all of the sights and amusements there. From a big shoe turned into a 'clubhouse' and slide to a petting zoo, swings and a carousel, pedal pumper cars and Dutch dancing lessons there was plenty to keep my kids amused and more that we didn't even get to!

They are at that wonderful age where they can delight in the simplest of things and watching them toss bean bags over and over again was as fun as watching them try out a Dutch dance in front of a big audience. The dancers work around the village but come together every couple of hours to put on a show and teach the audience a simple dance. The kids were captivated and hurried to the front to take part in the dance. We were on our way home when they saw them starting again and begged to watch and join in just one more time. How could I refuse?! They were the only kids to do it and I was so proud of them!

And of course there were plenty of photo opportunities for me! I try hard to capture as much as possible on my camera or phone as I have a terrible memory and want to be able to look back at days like this when the kids are all grown up and have kids of their own. But I also don't want the kids to get annoyed with me for making them pose for too long.

When we came home, I showed them all of the photos I took and I often let them look through the annual photobooks I make, so they can see why I take so many and hopefully enjoy them as much as I do.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

toe nails are for wimps

What a busy but fun weekend!

It kicked off with fun at the Borgess kids fun run on Friday evening. We had fun at the expo, picking up (extremely loud) horns, the kids' race packs with event t-shirts in and Borgess logo tattoos. Charlotte is really coming our of her shell. Normally she shies away if someone talks to her but we have been talking a lot about manners and being polite by answering when someone talks to you. And it's working! She had a big smile on her face whilst walking round the different tables, saying hi and joining in the fun!

After a picnic on the grass (loving this sunny weather!) it was time to join the big warm up in the field outside with Gavin the Gazelle (from the local sports store) and the hundreds of other kids and parents. The kids loved dancing to the music and meeting Gavin!

I was quite nervous as we have been in hibernation for the last few months (it was a long and very cold winter!). We don't walk anywhere anymore so I am worried about the lack of exercise our kids get. I figured it could be great or a complete disaster and we wouldn't know until we tried.

So off we went, the kids joining in with their age group (6 and under). We all walked to the start/finish line and we were off. And the kids did great! They ran almost the whole way round, especially when another child ran past. They held our hands part way round and slowed down when a stitch kicked in but they did so much better than we expected! A whole mile in about 16 minutes! It was fun to see other families we know there and the Dairy Queen ice-cream we enjoyed after the race with friends was a well earned treat! I was very proud of our little runners and hope they can join in more races in the future!

On Saturday morning I joined in with a local walk in downtown Kalamazoo in aid of MS. A friend of a friend has it and I wanted to offer my support as I know how awful the disease can be. I enjoyed walking the 3 miles with my friends and love to be involved in local events. There were over 400 people there and I believe quite a lot of money raised so a success I think!

After collecting my race packet at the Expo on Saturday afternoon at the K Wings stadium (and being interviewed for local radio - I have no idea if I made it onto the radio the day of the race but fun to think I might have!) we headed home to grill some steaks and try to get an early night before the big race.

Of course I woke up at 5am, panicking I had missed the (6am) alarm so I didn't get too much sleep but hey sleep is for wimps and after a weetabix breakfast I headed to the Health and Fitness centre with my friend for the race.

It was great to start the race with my W.A.R. (we are runners) teammates and warm up together (not sure we really had to jog to the start line - we looked like total try hards, but it was good to get moving before setting off for real!) even if we didn't finish together!

(I didn't really think through the tattoo on the face - fun for the race but it won't come off and I have school visitation with a load of other parents tomorrow! Whoops!) 

There was a minute silence to remember the Boston marathon victims and a lady sang the National Anthem after they raised the American flag which is a traditional thing to do at sporting events. Love their patriotism!

There was a hilarious moment where a few of us who had worn an extra layer (in my case a 2XL tshirt Jeremy got free from a parade in 2003!) tried to work out how we could throw away our tops without them landing on top of a fellow runner! We all managed it though and it's a great tip if you enter a race which involves lots of standing around. The discarded shirts are collected up and given to charity.

As we set off there was lots of cheering from spectators and the sound of hundreds of feet hitting the asphalt. I believe there were around 8000 runners but the start was staggered and set out in pace groups so there wasn't too much pushing and shoving. The roads are so wide it was easy to find room to run.

I loved running in my local town. One of the best bits was running down the shopping mall. There were so many people out cheering and it was fun to run past Gazelle sports and our favourite restaurants (I may have heckled the lady from the cupcake shop!!). People had used chalk to completely cover the road in words of support and drawings which was fun to run over. The atmosphere from the crowd was so powerful that it sent adrenaline through my body and made my legs feel so light they almost felt like jelly! There was lots of sprinting to catch a high five and fun reading all of the signs. The A4 picture of a half naked Ryan Gosling put a smile on my face!

There were so many supporters out along the course. A sweet old couple playing a drum and tamborine, giving us a great rhythm to run to, bluegrass and rock bands keeping us going, so many volunteers handing out water and GU brew for which I am ever so grateful and a group of kids handing out refreshing ice pops!! It was quite difficult to breathe and suck on them but they were delicious and refreshing! As were the cold wet sponges handed out by kids in the last mile!

I loved reading all the signs like "Toe nails are for wimps" {update: one of my toenails has turned black!}, "I am a stranger but I am proud of you", "I bet you though they said Rum" and "Smile if you just peed a little" or "Smile if you aren't wearing any underwear" which of course make you smile!! The course went down 'Random Rd' which also made me smile and it was great to see so many of the residents out cheering us on.

We set out pretty quickly, doing 10:30 and 11 minute miles so (unsurprisingly) by mile 8 I was struggling. My friends did really well and a couple of them ran on ahead of me. So the next couple of miles were a little lonely until I spotted another team W.A.R. runner. I did not know her name but a shout of "team WAR" had her turn round and caught up to her and asked her to run with me. It turns out she had been struggling too (neither of us completed all of the training) and she was run walking. I was so grateful and we had a great time for the next 3 miles, running together and helping each other. Even though she was in my team, I had not spoken to her before but we soon bonded and it's one of the things I love at being a part of the run camp.

At mile 12 I finally spotted my gorgeous family, holding up a "woop woop' sign, blowing on their horns and shouting to me. They even ran along with me and soon caught up with me again after the hill (Jeremy did a great job pulling the kids up the hill in their red wagon!). I got flowers (daisies and dandelions) kisses and the energy to complete that last mile! Jeremy even managed to get them all there to see me at the finish line!
I believe they'd had a fun morning, passing the 5K runners on their part of the course, playing football in the park and getting lots of smiles and waves as they blew on their horns to encourage the other runners. They were flying a Union Jack flag and got high fives from a runner carrying an American flag!

The finish line was pretty emotional for me. I gave my last bit of energy to cross the finish line with a sprint and tried to sit down but was quickly picked up by a volunteer and a friend who got me moving. I was so relieved to finish I cried! Such a big girl's blouse eh?!
Charlotte made me smile with her "Mummy you are super super super super super brave!"
I managed to take a minute off the last race time so a PB for me - not bad given I didn't manage to do all of the training plus the training I did was mainly in the snow and the race was hot and sunny!
It was great to see friends and congratulate them, hang out in the food tent and enjoy chicken tacos, hot dogs and pickles. Yep pickles. I almost drank a cup of pickle juice by mistake but apparently the pickle I consumed was great for replacing all the sodium I lost!
They had a big play area for the kids and lots of fun was to be had on the inflatables. Such a well organised event with a festival feel.

I love the running community of Kalamazoo. I have made some great friends and am so proud of them for getting great results in the race today. We have skidded on snow and sweated though a humid summer together so it was great to run a race in the sunshine with a lovely cool breeze. Perfect!

So a big thank you to Borgess and Gazelle Sports for putting on such a great event, to my run camp leaders for their inspiration and support, to my wonderful family and their valuable support, to my running partners for keeping me going and to everyone who sent their support on facebook or texts. And to my wonderful friend who decorate our garage with congratulations banners as a surprise for when we got home!

I am glad to report that I still have all 10 toe nails but may have a pair of aching legs and a bad back tomorrow! Totally worth it though!

Here is a cool time lapse from a spot in downtown Kalamazoo:

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

happy may day!

We've been busy making baskets for May day.

The tradition here is to make a paper basket and fill it with flowers from your garden. Then leave it on your neighbour's doorstep, knock on the door and run away. They will (hopefully) then find a sweet surprise when they open the door.

As we don't really know anyone in our new neighbourhood, we are going to head over to our old street and knock on a couple of doors.

The kids were excited to make this simple craft after learning about it at school. They love anything that involves scissors and stickers!

We simply traced round a small plate onto a piece of thin card, cut it out and used a ruler to cut it in half. One half was folded round to make a cone and the other half cut to make a strip for the handle. A bit of sellotape and a handful of colourful foam stickers and there you have it... 3 flower baskets.

Unfortunately we don't have many flowers in our yard. And when I say 'not many' I actually mean none. So we will be filling our baskets with flowers from the supermarket. Not quite what I would have liked but I am not about to go down to the local park and get caught pinching daffodils! :)