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

Monday, June 24, 2013


As a proud Mummy, I just wanted to log some milestones that the kids have reached recently.

Charlotte recently stopped sucking her thumb. I caught her doing it in her sleep last night but it's really been a few weeks now since she last sucked her thumb.
We had friends over to play and I commented that she was having a lazy day where all she wanted to do was lie on the sofa and suck her thumb. The Mom commented that her daughter just recently stopped after she was told she would need braces because sucking your thumb makes your mouth smaller.
I thought that was a great idea and realised that maybe I'd needed 4 teeth pulled because I used to suck my thumb. So I took it up a notch (as Charlotte wouldn't know what braces were) and told Charlotte that if she sucked her thumb, her mouth would get small, there wouldn't be enough room for her teeth and the dentist would have to do an operation to take some of her teeth out. A little harsh? Maybe. But it worked and she has not had any nightmares either! Win!

Both kids have learnt to 'pump' on the swing. Charlotte can now swing all by herself and Toby tries but sometimes he is just too short to even be able to get onto the swing! But he tries and of course and his big Toby grin on his face when he is doing it. If he is too short he shouts "Mummy I need you!" which I hear a lot in the course of a day. It's music to my ears most of the time but when you are in the middle of getting dressed or taking a shower it's not so good!
Oh and I would love to take the credit but it is all down to the preschool and day care staff! Thank you ladies!

Toby loves being outside and his favourite thing is his scooter. The problem is that he is a wanderer and would probably scoot off for miles if I let him! Charlotte is more of an indoors type of person, preferring to sit for ages at her little wooden table and colour or draw or write. She is actually excited to do her summer 'homework' which involves writing her name neatly between two lines and writing numbers through 200.

Charlotte has also learnt to click her fingers. She has been practising for ages now. It's not very loud but she is very pleased with herself that she can do it and we are very impressed too!

There are probably so many more things that they are doing that they weren't a few months ago but I am happy that I have captured these ones.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

lemon and lime love cake

It was book club tonight and often people bring a bottle of wine or a sweet treat. I've been going to this book club for a few months now. I love the small group of ladies, we always have a good laugh over a glass of wine and we've read some interesting books that I wouldn't have necessarily picked up myself.

So I decided to bake a 'lemon and lime love cake' which has always gone down well in the past. Baking ingredients here are a bit different to the UK. The butter we buy is made from canola oil and is softer and they don't sell caster sugar in the main supermarkets, only granulated. The wheat is also softer and had less protein. I know this through experience at Kellogg's, trying to use American wheat to make the UK products. It's just that it's grown under different conditions and you have to adapt your recipes to suit.

So my baking, since moving here, has been pretty disastrous! My pastry has been awful and cakes have been a big flop. Not that I am a great baker but I could give most things a good go!

But today I left plenty of time to run to the local store if there were any disasters and I am happy to report that there weren't! I used imported Irish (Kerry Gold) butter which I think made a big difference :)

I had a little helper with me, who I am very pleased to say, gets excited about helping to bake cakes and bread. I hope she develops a love of cooking and experimenting in the kitchen. Though it won't be great for her waistline!

Charlotte's choice of outfit for baking: half of her ballet costume and her apron! 
Oh to be 4 years old again! 

Here is the recipe that I followed:

Under the heading in the recipe book is written the following:

"This tangy loaf is known by lots of different names, but Love Cake is particularly appropriate since everyone who tries it finds it impossible to resist."

6 tbsp/90g butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing
11/2 cups/175g all-purpose (plain) flour, plus extra for dusting
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
11/4 cups/275g (caster) sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup/125ml milk
Grated peel of lemon and juice of 1/2 lemon
Grated peel and juice of 1 lime

1. Preheat the oven to 325oF/160oC, Gas 3.
Grease and flour a 9 x 5in/23 x 13cm loaf pan (tin).
Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.

2. Put the butter in another bowl and add 3/4 cup/175g of the sugar.
Beat until pale and creamy, then gradually beat in the eggs, adding a little flour if the mixture shows any signs of curdling.
Gradually add the remaining flour, alternating with the milk, beating well after each addition.
Stir in the lemon and lime peel.

3. Spoon the mixture into the prepared loaf pan and level the surface.
Bake for 40-50 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
Invert the loaf onto a wire rack, then turn it the right way up.

4. Mix the citrus juices with the remaining sugar.
Put a tray underneath the rack and spoon the sugar mixture over the top of the loaf, letting it run down the sides slightly.
Allow to cool before slicing.

It went down well tonight I think. The next challenge will be to try and make it with spelt flour which is pretty low in gluten and therefore great for Jeremy.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

thrills and skills...

We have had a busy June so far with something on every weekend.

Early June saw the kids performing at their gymnastics' thrills and skills show. They attend 'Kid's Gym' once a week and have only been going since January / February so we didn't exactly have high expectations!

They were a part of the 'Tumble Kids' show where the ages ranged from 3 to 5. It was very busy with lots of parents and families to watch all of the little kids. And a bit crazy to get a good spot to watch... Especially as our kids were in different groups but performing at the same time, so it was a case of divide and conquer! I gave Jeremy the dslr to take photos and I tried to capture as much video as I could on my iphone. I always end up stressing about trying to capture footage of them rather than just watching but with no other family over here, it is great to be able to put photos on Facebook for our friends and family back in the UK (and other parts of the world!) to enjoy and see how fast the kids are growing up!

It was a fun couple of hours and such a great experience for the kids to learn to be comfortable performing in front of such a large crowd. We knew a couple of families there so we were cheering on a number of kids! It was so nice for us to see both kids in a show and can't quite believe Toby is big enough to be up there! We were very proud parents that day.
Our kids can only attempt most of the moves but they got plenty of cheers and I think they really enjoyed it. Especially as they received trophies engraved with their names at the end and got to do a big 'ta-'da' on a podium.
We dressed Toby in one of his Olympic t-shirts so he was representing team GB in the gymnastics :) Maybe one day.... :)

Toby has great eye sight and managed to spot us every so often and give us one of his beaming smiles. When they get their ribbons during class they are told to wait until their parents capture a photo -  which is what he kept doing... We had to try and shout over the crowd that we had seen him and he could go and sit down! Very cute!

This equipment was at the back of the room so the photos are a bit dark 
but he did a great job of working his way across.

Charlotte has long legs which helps her jump up onto the equipment but she isn't always so elegant! 
I think Toby's favourite part is bouncing on the trampolines! 

Always a big 'ta-da!' at the end! :) 

Toby almost took his teacher's eye out with his 'ta-da!'. 
Both kids are starting to get a lot of confidence in front of a large audience. 
Every day at preschool they are asked to perform in a group, in front of teachers and the rest of the class. They just sing a couple of songs and it is all very relaxed and fun. 
And we can see the results as they were not phased by the audience and noise at the show. 

Proud of their trophies

As it was a nice sunny day, we went for frozen yoghurt with friends afterwards. 
All of the kids were on a high so I am glad we managed to get a table outside! 
I have blurred their friends' faces 

We love the gym as it has a really nice family feel, even though there are so many kids who walk through their doors each week!

Monday, June 10, 2013

a visit to Washington D.C.

We spent last weekend in Washington D.C. We have been planning to go since we moved here 2 years ago and we finally found a weekend, booked the flights and hotel and made our way to America's capital city.

Jeremy and I are planners. We like to plan and prepare and try to make sure we fill the whole weekend with as many activities as possible. You'd probably hate going on holiday with us if you are the laid back, see what happens kind of family!

So on a recent business trip Jeremy managed to read the whole of the Lonely Planet guide to Washington D.C.! And it paid off! We had a wonderful weekend, a plan for morning and afternoon activities, we didn't 'waste' any time and we saw everything we wanted to see.

There was so much to see that we knew we couldn't possibly see it all in one weekend which also took the pressure off. I even managed to suggest a lazy hour on the National Mall (between the Washington monument and the Capitol building) eating ice creams and playing frisbee whilst soaking up the sunshine.

We arrived on Friday afternoon and once we had unpacked, we jumped into a cab and headed for the National Museum of Natural History. All of the Smithsonian museums in D.C. are free! This one was huge and the kids enjoyed seeing the massive T-rex and other dinosaur skeletons.
Having lived in a small town for the last two years, I actually found the crowds a little overwhelming. People stepping on your toes, jostling for a table in the cafe and long lines to even get into the museum. But it is all worth it. And I am glad we went to the museum on the Friday afternoon because they were relatively quiet. The kids had a lot of fun walking round with my iphone snapping pictures... 117 to be exact! Most of them need deleting but I can't quite bring myself to do that yet. I loved their interest in the camera though and even let them use my dlsr. I figure if they are interested in the camera, they will let me take more photos of them.

We had just enough time before dinner to walk over to the White House. Even the rain could not dampen our enthusiasm at being able to catch a glimpse of one of the most famous buildings on earth. The kids did really well to walk all the way (it took us about 40 minutes from the museum) in the rain but Toby's face said it all - he was grinning from ear to ear (he had been asking constantly about going to see it for the whole journey to D.C.!) when we stood on the railings and waved to the President (he actually wasn't home but don't tell the kids that!).

On Saturday we bought tickets for the big bus ride and spent the day hopping on and off the various tour buses. They kindly gave us plastic ponchos when it started to rain which came in handy for the rest of the morning! The tickets were quite expensive ($35 per adult and our kids were free as they are under 5) but I would highly recommend it as a way of seeing everything. The tour went all over downtown D.C. and over the bridge including the White House, Lincoln Memorial, the Arlington cemetery, the Pentagon and all of the Smithsonian museums.
We stopped at the Lincoln memorial to walk up the steps and take in the view. Plus we managed to locate the 'I have a dream' Martin Luther King Jr plaque halfway up. The kids learnt about him at school, though Charlotte was convinced that her teacher was the one with the dream! It was the view I had gone to Washington to see. The one from the movies. Sometimes life here feels like a dream come true!

In the afternoon we took time to 'chill out' in the sunshine. It is quite a walk down the National Mall - the grassy bit between buildings - so we just did half of it. We walked from the Washington memorial all the way down to the Capitol building, stopping for ice creams and a carousel ride on the way. It's amazing how you can motivate tired legs with the promise of a treat! Some people said they couldn't believe we walked all of that way with the kids (and no buggy) but I loved being able to walk as we have to drive everywhere here. I felt it in my legs the next day and we did end up carrying the kids part way back to the hotel but it was great to be able to stroll down the mall, taking in all of the sights.

We had a fun stop at the White House gift shop. Jeremy wanted a small souvenir for his desk at work and I wanted to pick up our usual fridge magnet, post cards and maybe a picture to frame. We have a wall of travel pics in our bedroom - I love looking at them all and remembering the adventures we have been on.
Anyways we spotted a photo opportunity at the back of the shop. A mock oval office with a member of staff taking photos for you if you spent at least $5 in the shop. We could not pass up the chance to get a cheesy photo or two so we made our purchases and headed back there. It was almost 6pm and the kids were not being naughty, just a little too over stimulated I would say! But it all worked out OK and I am sure we will have a good laugh at the photos in years to come!

Sunday was spent at the zoo - another free attraction. I was very excited to see the Giant Pandas. I remember watching the kids' show 'newsround' in the '80s and hearing of the plight of the Giant Panda and falling in love with the cute black and white babies. So to actually be able to see two them in real life was amazing. We caught them at feeding time so were able to go into their house and see them chomping down on bamboo shoots.

Charlotte has just joined me whilst I am writing this and wants to help write the story. She says she loved Washington D.C. Her favourite part was visiting the White House, riding the carousel on the National Mall, posing for photos in the mock Oval office at the gift shop and seeing the Pandas at the zoo.

The kids were pretty tired by Sunday afternoon so we decided not to try and do any more sights, saving those for the next time we visit. We will definitely go to D.C. again and hopefully as soon as next year. There are so many more museums to visit. We especially want to do the Air and Space museum where you can touch a real moon rock. I think Toby will love it in another 12 months.

But for now we have a weekend full of memories (and a suitcase full of laundry to wash!) and a summer of weekends away to look forward to.


If you are interested in a trip to D.C. here is what we did:
We flew with Delta (because we are building up air miles with them and we each had $100 that they gave us to say sorry for the 4 hour delay on our last home leave trip) and the flights were great. Door to door it took us about 5.5 hours which we thought was pretty good.
We stayed at the Embassy Suites hotel on New York Ave in the business district, which was only about 6 blocks from the White House (a 20 minute walk). We have stayed in Embassy suites before and would highly recommend them if you travel with family. Jeremy has a Hilton Honors card so we got upgraded to a nice spacious corner suite. We had our own room and the kids shared the living room. Charlotte stretched out on a double sofa bed and Toby was quite happy to snuggle up on the sofa cushions laid out on the floor and covered in an extra sheet. The room also had a small kitchen with fridge and a dining table. The perfect place to come back to after a busy day in the city. 
The hotel had a pool and complimentary breakfast, plus they looked after our suitcase on the last day. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

mummy daughter date...

My baby girl is not a baby anymore. Obvious I know. But as much as I try to savour every moment, I take a step back and look at her and am surprised at just how fast she is growing up into a beautiful young girl.

She starts Kindergarten next September and will be going to school full time. So I decided to steal her away from daycare and spend a precious morning with my little girl.

We shopped and had a coffee at Biggby (actually a chai tea latte and a strawberry shortcake smoothie but hey you know what I mean... Drinks and comfy chairs and no washing up!) whilst we waited for Art bayou to open - the main venue for our date.

I went there recently with the MOPS group and loved it, so I thought it would be a great place to take my little girl, who loves to paint and draw.

We spent an hour painting (and repainting) ice cream bowls. The base coat got a bit boring for Charlotte, but to be fair painting 3 coats inside and out with a paint that is so chalky that it looks almost white can get a bit boring. But then she was let loose with blue paint and had fun painting blue spots all over it!

She is always very quiet when doing something new but I now her well enough to know she had fun. She can be so loud and crazy at home but equally as quiet and thoughtful when taking it all in.

I loved having her to myself for a few hours and it's always fun to sneak off and go on an adventure. We are both very excited to get our ice cream bowls back (I made one for the Tobester) but we have to wait a week. So we are counting down the days and hope they turn out OK... Either way we had fun and created some great memories.

*** Update: Ta-da! 
Here are the finished bowls. 
We are very pleased with them and can't wait to crack open a big tub of ice cream! 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

teacher thank yous

It's the end of the school year here in Kalamazoo. The year starts in September, there are a few days off for Thanksgiving, a couple of weeks for Christmas, a week for Spring break and that's pretty much it for holidays.

So now they have finally finished for the 3 month long summer. I am a little nervous of how we will all get on but I have lots of fun things planned (including lie-ins!) and hope that some structure to the days will help time fly by... Hmmm I'll get back to you on that one in about 4 weeks!

I wanted to say thank you to all of their teachers and day care staff. With 2 preschool sessions - mornings for Toby and afternoons for Charlotte, both in daycare at opposite times and lots of staff to look after the 100 kids who attend the preschool, I needed something relatively simple.

There are at least 20 members of staff so I decided to make fridge magnets. These are really easy to make and I had lots of the materials I needed. We made them at my MOPS group and I had tried them out at home. With a quick trip to the craft store, I had everything I needed to make a cute thank you gift.

If you would like to have a go making them yourself, I thought I would jot down a couple of tips.

You will need:
- 3/4in round magnets
- glass beads from the floral section of a craft store - they are round with a flat bottom
- scrapbook paper
- 3/4in circle punch
- modge podge or any type of clear glue

If you want to gift them you will also need:
- washers
- thick card
- gift tags
- ribbon
- sellophane bags

Punch circles of scrapbook paper with a bold design that fits into the circle. I found bright patterns like the flowers above worked really well.
Glue the paper to the magnet then glue a glass bead on top. Leave to dry. They will look blurred until the glue dries.
Glitter glue works really well too though they are more fragile because the glue is not very strong.

To gift them, use a washer on the back of the card to attach the magnet to the card, pop into the bag and tie with a ribbon and gift tag.

I hope the teachers like them. The kids have had a wonderful year at their school and we are very grateful to all of the staff for their hard work. My babies are growing up and I am having to let them go bit by bit.

Monday, June 3, 2013

climbing the walls

We try to get out for 'date night' as often as possible and usually go for dinner or to the movies.

But last week we decided to try something different. I have heard of 'Climb Kalamazoo' many times but kept thinking 'that's not for me' so put it to the back of my mind.

But recently we have been trying to find ways to incorporate exercise into our week. I (still) want to lose weight - honestly I am like a stuck record but I finally feel things are falling into place and my head has caught up so fingers crossed and fridge on lock down, things might start to change... Anyway I had the bright idea of booking Jeremy and I in for a climbing lesson for date night. You need someone on the ground to hold the ropes for you and my Moms group have been talking about going there so we decided to bite the bullet, get our gym clothes on and head downtown to climb the walls... Or at least try! 

Upon arrival I needed to use the restroom which took me past the top of some of the climbing walls. I should probably mention at this point, that I have a huge fear of heights. But hey there is nothing like confronting your fears right?!

Unfortunately looking up and down at the size of the walls actually made me feel a little bit sick and even more nervous! My thoughts at that time went along the lines of 'what were you thinking?! Idiot!'...

Luckily there wasn't much time to think about it, as it was time to start our safety class, learning about how to attach ourselves to the safety ropes, how to belay for each other (make sure we don't hit the ground with a thud if we fall off the wall) and the necessary communication to stay safe. 

But soon enough the time came to head out into the climbing area, pick a wall and show the instructor that we had been listening and could safely guide each other up and down the walls.

I decided to go first and get it over with. I literally have never done anything like this before so aside from bricking myself about the height, I don't even know how to get up a wall. I didn't know where to put my feet or how to hold onto the tiny little things sticking out of the wall.

I have to say my first two attempts were not very successful. I got 'stuck' unable to find a way to reach up to grab the next bit to hold on to and my arms were starting to shake. Honestly I was a big girls' blouse, shouting down to Jeremy and the instructor that I didn't know what to do and when I couldn't hold on anymore, asking to be let down. 
When I returned to the ground I was more than a little disappointed to find I had only climbed up about 6 or 7 feet which was less than halfway up! 
Jeremy on the other hand took to it like a duck to water and was up the wall in no time. Show off! 

I don't think I had really thought about how physically demanding climbing is. All I was concerned about what how high we would be going up. 

But I don't give up easily and the instructor suggested I started on the training walls (in the pic above) which are slanted and therefore much easier on your arms as you push up with your legs.

And what a world of difference that made! I almost flew up the first wall. OK that's an exaggeration but it felt like it! 

We took it in turns, I did one wall a couple of times then Jeremy would fly up a harder one. And so on as we moved round the room.

On one go he came down pretty quickly, which I have to admit was totally my fault! The rope starting to burn because I let him go too fast, which made me let go even more and of course he practically fell to the ground! Whoops! Anyways he forgave me and trusted me to do it again... That guy needs his head read! 

It was such an amazing feeling to climb up a wall. I was amazed that I could actually do it and got through the first 5 walls which got more vertical as they went across the room. I felt like a monkey climbing up to the top and the hardest bit was being lowered down. I learnt that you need to keep moving and push or almost jump up to the next hold whilst stretching as much as you can. The ropes give you a big sense of security... I do not know how people climb up actual mountains! 

It was a great lesson in communication, trust and teamwork, an exhilarating experience for both of us and I can't wait to do it again! 

Or maybe we will give abseiling a go next! I will always be scared of heights and I have a feeling it will only get worse, but I will not let that stop me doing crazy things like parachute jumps and rock climbing. 
Life is too short.