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

Sunday, September 29, 2013

High on Kalamazoo

Back at the beginning of August I posted this photo on Facebook...

As Toby would call it - a "hot air babbloon".

I was putting the kids to bed when I spotted it out of the window. Well of course I grabbed the kids and my camera and ran outside! It was flying over the houses across the road and was so close we could hear the burners going. There is something quite magical about hot air balloons floating across the sky. 

And then a friend commented on Facebook to say it was her Dad piloting the balloon! It turns out that he owns the company 'Michigan Balloon Corp' and was going to be involved in a local balloon festival called 'High on Kalamazoo'.

That festival was this weekend and we spent most of Saturday there. I already had a prior commitment (helping out at the MOPS Mom to Mom sale) and Jeremy had been away with work all week and only got back Friday night so we didn't get to see everything but the bits we did see were fab! 
Jeremy was born in Bristol where they make hot air balloons and grew up going to air shows. 

He took the kids earlier on Friday evening and caught the last of the balloons going off on their flights.

Before they went, I tried to paint balloons on the kids' faces with varying success! 

Both Friday and Saturday evening we watched the balloon glow. On Friday the weather conditions were just right for most of them to take a flight so not many of them had made it back in time to take part in the glow. But the ones that did made it a magical experience.

They also did a flight at 7:30am on Saturday morning but that was just too early for our little ones who had stayed up until 9pm the night before.

We did make it to the classic car show on Saturday though. Lots of fabulous classic American cars (and even a British MG) lined up for us to ooh and aah over! Our love of motorcars and racing is definitely rubbing off on the kids. They were pointing out their favourites and Toby even took my camera to take some photos of his favourite details.

Isn't that just the coolest boot you've ever seen?! 

A real life 1985 DeLorean! My movie loving hubby was ecstatic! 

Toby took these next 2 pics. The other 12 he took had his fingers over the lens! 

We went back with a picnic on Saturday evening hoping to see the balloons take to the skies again, but it was just too windy so instead we watched them set up for the glow. 

Driving past the crowd showing off their propane

This is the balloon from Michigan Balloon Corp.

We had a couple of hours to kill so we walked over to the stage where a rock band was playing. It was  funny watching Jeremy trying to amuse our kids by chasing them in circles during the music. And even funnier when he was joined by a load of random kids! It was quite the spectacle! 

Eventually the sun began to set and it was time for the balloons to light up. According to the commentator, they did something never tried before. They played a rock 'n roll version of the Star Spangled Banner and at the same time all of the balloons 'twinkled'. Each of them turning their burners on and off to produce quite a show. I love America's pride in it's nation. I hardly heard the British anthem when we were living there! 

They then opened the field and let us all walk round (in the pitch black!) to meet the pilots and feel the heat of the burners. 

Walking round seeing the balloons light up at different times was amazing! 
One pilot invited the kids to stand in the basket. They were happy to do so but the pic I took with smiles was blurred (trying to take pics with a flash in the dark with my phone - let's not mention that I forgot my big camera every time!) so this doesn't do it justice:

We were able to walk around for a good 20 minutes before the balloons had to be deflated before they got too hot. 

We were so lucky to be able to see hot air balloons like this - what an amazing thing to have in the town where we live! 
I'm still not sure if I want to go up in one though! My fear of heights is holding me back. Maybe one day... 

So great to have quality family time after being without Daddy all week!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

crayola wreath

One of my crafty friends here in Michigan recently inspired me to make a 'Crayola Wreath'. She had made a couple for the start of school and the bright colours really appealed to me. I have seen it a few times on Pinterest and have been wanting a reason to make one.

So I decided to make one to hang above the kids' work station. They love to colour and paint and generally make a mess. A while ago we bought a shelf system from ikea (inspired by a friend from the UK) and set up a little area for them in the kitchen, where they can work and have easy access to their pens and colouring books.

These buckets from the dollar section of Target (and a Mickey Mouse cup from a birthday party - I really need to find a third tin bucket!), hold coloured pencils and paint brushes. 
Plus there is a little box to collect clutter. 

The top two drawers are full of paints, ink pads and stamps, scissors and tape.

The next one down holds tins of marker pens, crayons and stickers

The bottom one is the perfect size for all of their colouring books

I'd love to say that it is always this tidy, but in reality it often looks like this!:

The other wall has wooden letters spelling out A-R-T, string and clips from Michaels to hang their artwork. And the 'work of art' above theirs is mine! I did it at Happy-our-art. 
It's no masterpiece but I like the colours and well I don't take myself too seriously! 

Anyway back to the wreath! It is so easy and fun to make.
I'm a bit of a perfectionist so I think mine has a few too many browns and I'm not sure about keeping the whites in, but the letters do a great job of covering up any 'imperfections'.
I love it and will probably make another one... It would look great in the kids' playroom or in Toby's bedroom! Or maybe as a teacher gift at the end of the year.

To make one you need about 60 - 70 crayons, a 10in and a 7in embroidery rings, hot glue and ribbon to hang.

I used 2 packs of 48 crayons so ended up with 2 rainbows. If you use 3 packs of 24, you will get 3.
Empty out the packets, pick out the 60+ colours you want to go with and arrange them into rainbows. As you work your way round the rings you will need to think ahead so you end up at the end of a rainbow. You can also mix the colours up as a simpler way to do it.

Then just start glueing the crayons onto the rings. Be careful to make sure they all sit along the same part of the rings so you have a 'perfect circle'. I used the black lines on the end of the crayons as a guide. It will make sense once you start glueing.

You can add any embellishments you want to. The kids decorated these letters at Charlotte's birthday party so I just blu-tacked them on for now in case they got upset and wanted them back!

Oh how I love kids' school supplies! 

Monday, September 23, 2013

fall, friends and the gull meadow farms...

I love Autumn, it's my favourite season here in Michigan. The days are shorter but when the sun comes out and there is a cool breeze it's the perfect time to be outside.

Unfortunately the sun only decided to come out at the beginning and the end of the day yesterday! But it didn't spoil our plans and we went up to Gull Meadow Farms to meet some school friends.

It is such a fun place full of pumpkins, apples, donuts (not everything revolves around food in our lives, honest!), tractor rides and lots of fun in pumpkin lane.

We met one of Charlotte's 'lucky-duck' friends whose little sister goes to preschool with Toby and the 4 of them had lots of fun together.

There are so many activities for them to do. They started off with a train ride (a tractor pulls cute little oil drum trailers) then quickly ran to the duck races; racing plastic bath ducks down drain pipes with water pumps, then through the hay maze to the huge bouncy pillows.

With energy levels flagging we headed to the shop for donuts and apple cider. My favourite is the apple cinnamon sugar but the kids chose frosted pumpkin ones. They were all eaten before our friends could even get theirs out of the bag! My kids like donuts!

We capitalised on the sugar rush and headed to the zip wire, obstacle course, hay bale hill, slides and of course ended up back at the bounce pillows.

We had to drag the kids off there with the promise of more train rides before we all got too cold and decided it was time to head home for lunch and a warm drink!

We will go back again before the season is up but it was fun to hang out with friends for a few hours and enjoy the cooler autumn days outside.

After an afternoon of watching movies and playing inside, Toby wanted to have dinner out in the back yard and I wasn't about to argue! And then, at Charlotte's request, we went on a late evening bike ride on the local bike trail. The kids are still not very confident; up hills are hard work for little legs and down hills are just a bit too fast. But we made it to the half mile point and back so it was a family win!

A beautiful evening

Big sister is always looking out for her little brother

Sunday, September 22, 2013

art prize!

It's art prize time again in Grand Rapids. It started last week and runs until Oct 6th. Any local friends who are wondering - yes you should go! And yes you can take the kids because they will love it too!

This is the 5th year and it was so much busier than it was when we went 2 years ago.

It's a competition where art is displayed indoors and outside across 169 venues. That's an awful lot of art... We barely scratched the surface!
There are thousands of dollars to be won and you can vote using your phone and the art prize app (when you are in the boundaries of Grand Rapids).

We all loved it! The art ranges from small pieces on the walls and in the windows of restaurants and shops to huge metal sculptures in parks and smaller sculptures inside museums and hotels.
We would have liked to go into the Art Museum in Downtown but the lines were huge and our little ones would not have made it!

This shimmering picture was made with thousands of sequins and tiny beads!! 

Just one of the many metal sculptures at the B.O.B.

There are interactive ones that the kids can climb on and others that you see and grab both kids to make sure they don't knock it over! There was a cool two way mirror disc that was spinning round.  People line up on both sides and as they stare at their reflection their body keeps morphing in and out of the person opposite! I think it had holes in it but however it worked, it was hilarious and freaky!

We are a family who like cities. The kids were full of energy and excitement when we arrived. And whenever we drive up north and go past Grand Rapids they always point it out!

We were going to the circus at the Van Andel arena which is right in the centre of town so we saw some of the installations on the way there. And then we spent the afternoon walking around, along with crowds of other people, tracking down the pieces we (I) wanted to see.

One in particular was a piece done by the art teacher at the kids' school - Lynda Marnon. She created a beautiful butterfly, made up of small painted paper flowers, sitting on a blade of grass. She has her piece in the Holiday Inn Hotel next to the GR Public Museum. Hint hint - go and see it then vote for her!

It's still hard work walking round a busy city with the kids, especially when they are tired, as they don't have a lot of street sense and hardly walk anywhere during the week. But they enjoyed climbing on the giant ducks, watching the living statues come to life and adventuring round the city. And of course repeatedly rolling down the hills at the Gerald R Ford museum!

This poor policeman had already lost his voice by 3pm! 

An 'Irish' singer who came to life when someone dropped a donation in his collection tin! 
The kids thought it was hilarious when he started singing! 

Have I mentioned I have crazy kids?! 

Of course the Kilwin's fudge (vanilla for J, chocolate for the kids and my favourite - salted caramel!) helped with low energy levels and the copious amounts of popcorn consumed during the circus helped too! (Good job they got 2 days worth of fruit and veg in on Friday!)

We love Grand Rapids - it's got the culture and energy on a scale that is sometimes lacking in Kalamazoo (downtown can be empty on a Saturday morning). We say every time we go that we should go more often, but it's an hours drive and there are just not enough weekends in the year!

Beautiful flags in the river - remind you of Glastonbury anyone?! 

Look what someone created out of book pages! 

A 'watch' outside the Children's museum

This face was made from thousands of tiny lego pieces! 

Hmmm - a ladder hanging above the road... 
Not sure if it was part of Art Prize but it made C laugh! 

And our celebrity spot... The weather guy from Storm Team 8!! 
In case you are wondering - those are 'official' Wood TV 8 sunglasses -  
a prize for writing their names on the map outside the studio.