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

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Just when you thought it was safe...

Remember the trip we took to Martha's Vineyard back in the summer? Well Jeremy has just finished writing a post about it and even though it is way after the event, I thought it was still worth sharing. So I'll hand over to him:

Just when you thought it was safe......

I can't remember the very first time I saw the girl pulled under the water or the man calling in vain for his dog that had been swimming; but the experience of seeing it will be forever ingrained in my mind.

' Jaws' not only made me fall in love with the movie itself, it made me fall in love with movies full stop. For those of you who have seen the movie this post will hopefully make a lot of sense. For those who haven't, I apologise in advance - but you might want to go to the local video rental store or stream it - whatever you do....it needs a big screen. It's an old movie now but if you forgive some of the slightly ageing effects this is film making at its very best.

Having seen Jaws many times growing up I always wondered where the mysterious island was that was haunted by this great white shark -  a shark known affectionately by the production crew as 'Bruce' after Steven Spielberg's lawyer. When the opportunity arose to take a summer holiday on the east coast, I couldn't resist suggesting our destination be Martha's Vineyeard - an island just off the tip of Cape Cod - and the location used to film Jaws.

Throughout our week on the island I don't think there was a day where I didn't drag the family to walk here or there or to drive just around a corner....all for a quick glimpse of those locations that had made such an impact on me. 

The very first night Ruth and I took a stroll along the beach just by our rented house. 

As the Atlantic waves crashed onto the shores I realized that this was the place where the film opened - a group of friends sitting around a fire on the beach, playing guitar, singing songs - and not noticing the girl and boy that ran off for a skinny dip. The very sea where the girl swam and the bell tolled ominously out on the water. The very sea where the girl violently disappeared under the water. The very sea where the shark took his first victim. The very spot where a movie legend began.

The islanders on Martha's Vineyard have a strange relationship with the movie. Nearly 30 years ago it made a critical difference in saving an island that was struggling financially. The vast majority of the cast were also locals, thrust from obscurity to being featured in the movie that defined what it meant to be a summer blockbuster. But, whilst it's in their DNA, there is still a sense of trepidation of making much of it. Why? For the same reason islanders were nervous when Hollywood first approached the islands representatives many years ago. How could an island dependent on holiday makers swimming and boating in its waters be known for a horrific killer shark that could kill you in an instant? As a result you don't see a theme park or memorabilia shops or signposted locations. Instead there is a quiet acknowledgment that it has played a defining role in the islands development. So for an avid fan I had to do some homework to find those places that had been etched into my memory.

The main road from our rental home to the town of Oak Bluffs has a beautiful lake on one side and the sea on the other with its clam waves lapping the shore. We parked on the roadside just by a bridge that carries the road over the entrance of the lake from the sea. 

This was the beach where the little boy was attacked as his mum searches desperatley for her son. The bridge is where the woman in a fearful and timid voice suddenly cries out 'shark' as the dark fin of the great white swims into the lake. I ran along the rocks where the islands police chief runs after the sudden realisation that he sent his son to boat in the lake.....

Even though every rational part of my body knows that the film was fiction, 
as we swam in the beautiful waters off Martha's Vineyard I couldn't help but glance over my shoulder, scanning the water for that fin!

The nearby town of Edgartown was the town that's the focus of the film - where Brody the police chief marches down with his 'beach closed' signs.

The ferry terminal at Vineyard Haven is the very place where hundreds of tourists arrive in the movie for the holiday weekend....unaware of what lies ahead of them. 

Perhaps my favorite location was the tiny 3 car ferry ferry that takes cars and passengers across the short stretch of water to the island of Chappaquidick. 

I was determined to ride the ferry so we took a jaunt across to the island on the appropriately named 'always on time' boat (how can you be late if you have no schedule!). On this tiny ferry police chief Brody tries desperately to convince the towns mayor that he should close the beaches. The local doctor (who actually happened to be the real local doctor) changes his autopsy from shark bite to 'boat accident' in an attempt to protect his beloved town from financial disaster.

The little fishing village at Menemsha was site of Quints shack - the rough sea dog who leads the band of three men to capture and kill the shark. 

This little port has the tiny wooden gangways that I remember. And it has the spot where you can look out through the outlet to the sea....where those 3 men do battle with a true force of nature.

Martha's Vineyard was chosen primarily because of the waters off the coast were the perfect depth and the sea bed was a sandy bottom.... essential to operate 'Bruce', the breakthrough in technology that was the mechanical shark. Despite all this, the film itself was a nightmare to shoot - taking around 9 months instead of the initial 6 weeks envisaged by an optimistic production company. For a very young Steven Spielberg this movie could have very nearly broken him. Instead, he created movie history and accelerated his journey to become one of the greatest directors of all time.

As I stood on the cliff tops overlooking the sea off Oak Bluffs I could imagine that frustrated band of actors and crew trying desperately to commit to celluloid this movie that was in mind of a young hot shot director. 

Despite the challenges of getting a wary island community to agree to shooting and despite one of the toughest productions in the history of making movies, Steven Spielberg created one of the greatest movies of all time, and made me something of the movie buff that I'd like to think I am.

For me, it felt like a right of passage to visit these locations. I loved the fact that it was all so understated. I really felt like I was discovering those locations for myself. I could imagine the location scouts seeing the same thing 30 years before and having that sense that this was the place.

I am very grateful to Ruth for her patience as I tracked all this stuff down and for the nth time exclaimed 'that's where they shot.....'.  I will remember Martha's Vineyard as a wonderful place for our family holiday and a unique way to experience some movie history.

Will we come back to the island? Well you know what they say - just when you thought it was safe...

Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas Eve illuminated...

Our Christmas Eve this year was full of light and it was beautiful.

After a quiet day at home we went to our Church service which was held at a local high school - the normal Church building is too small to hold everybody and their extended families. We really enjoyed singing along to all of the Christmas songs including a rendition of Happy Birthday Jesus!
Charlotte said her favourite was 'Gloria' and mine was the country sounding version of 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen'. Towards the end of the service they asked us to pass round glow sticks and crack them all together. It was quite a sight to see the whole auditorium lit up.

Church for us has transformed since moving to America. Our faith is growing and we are delighting in hearing the kids talk about Jesus and God. Charlotte says wonderful prayers at night and this year we have really tried to focus on the birth of Jesus and giving at Christmas time as much as the other traditions like Santa and mince pies. 

After a quick stop to pick up a classy meal of chicken nuggets from the McDonalds drive thru (we really didn't plan our day well and we were all starving by the time we left the service at 6:30pm!) we drove up to a housing estate off Oakland Drive called Winchell as they were doing their annual luminaries. 
Every street on the neighbourhood was lined with paperbags, lit up with candles. They cast a soft light over the sparkling snow and looked beautiful! My photos do not do it justice! Most people turn off their main car lights and drive up and down the streets looking at the rows and rows of glowing lights. 

We arrived home feeling very festive and joyful. The kids were already pretty excited but then we told them we were going to turn off all of the lights and go to bed by candle light! I have a box of batter operated tea lights and they ran round the house putting the little lights on the stairs, in windows and even in the bathrooms! 
With the Christmas tree, the fire and tealights, the house had a wonderful feel to it. 

After hanging up the stockings, laying out treats for Santa and reading 'The Night Before Christmas' we finally got the kids to bed around 9pm! 

A wonderful day spent with our little family. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Griswolds...

Until a few days ago we had never seen 'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation'.

I'll wait whilst my American friends stop gasping in shock! I'm sorry but it just wasn't a classic Christmas movie in the UK.

Growing up we cried over the 'Snowman', laughed at the muppets, sang along to the 'Sound of Music'  and watched many many other movies like Star Wars, Oliver and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang which you could guarantee would be on at some point over Christmas.
In fact it isn't quite the same without the 'Radio Times' and a highlighter pen to plan out our Christmas holidays.

But this year we were excited when friends told us the new Alamo Drafthouse cinema in town was showing National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation as a quote-a-long.
The new cinema is set up so you can order food and drinks whilst watching the movie.
They gave us big plastic ties to wear and glow sticks to wave when he finally gets the lights to work on the house.
We were then instructed to shout out the quotes as they appeared on screen.

So we settled down with our drinks (I swear those frozen margaritas were pretty strong because I was quite giddy after only two!!) and waited for our dinner whilst the Griswolds burst onto our screens.

And we laughed our socks off the whole way through! What a great way to watch the movie for the first time with people dressed up in silver 'leisure suits' or Griswold Blackhawks' hockey shirts, shouting out the lines and laughing a second or two before the jokes.

And we laughed even more when the lights came on and we realised some of those crazy dressed up people were our Chiropractor and the owner of Charlotte's dance school!

What a great night out and we now have a new Christmas tradition to add to the list! I bought the movie on DVD and am already looking forward to cosying up in front of the fire next year to laugh along to their crazy antics!!

Thank you Penners! :)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

christmas lights tour...

Last night we bundled the kids up in pajamas, fleeces and blankets, set the radio to Star 105.7 which plays back to back Christmas music and set off round Kalamazoo for a tour of the Christmas lights.

We went to three destinations and I am sure there are lots more houses to be seen but we enjoyed our little ride and got a taste of local Christmas spirit!

Our first destination was a house on Nichols Rd just north of Ravine Rd (the gird system is so useful sometimes!). We couldn't find a place to stop but managed to drive past it twice.

The lights flash in time to the music they have playing. I wish I could have taken a proper video and photos. There was so much to see in just a quick drive by. But well worth it. It made us all smile!

The second destination was 'Christmas Card Lane' which is actually N Lauderdale Rd - south off West Main.

Each house has a huge Christmas card made out of plywood, illuminated and sitting on their front lawn.

The third place was a house on Long Rd which is off Oakland. It's a pretty standard neighbourhood with just a few lights. And then you turn round the corner and bang you know you are in the right place!! Apart from loads of cars driving up and down the small road, the lights are so bright you could not miss it. Despite the 18oF / -8oC temperatures (with a slight breeze thrown in!) we jumped out of the car, eager to explore.

It is a private house so you can't really wander through their front yard but you can walk up and down the street in front. There are so many things to see, it is almost impossible to take it all in! I read that the guy who owns the house employs 4 WMU students to put all of the lights up and it takes them 5 weeks! They then check it every night for blown fuses and clear the snow off the wires. There are Santas flying through the air, in helicopters, stuck in an igloo and waving to passers by. It is incredible!

I took these 2 panoramas and you still can't see everything!

Click on the photos to get a bigger size.

We all loved our trip round the lights and hope to see the Winchell luminaries later.

Merry Christmas everyone! May it be merry and bright!

Monday, December 23, 2013

preschool christmas shows...

We may have missed the big school production of a Christmas Carol, which was on whilst we were in the UK over Thanksgiving, but we did get to see both kids perform in their preschool 'Holiday programs'.

For the last few weeks our house has been filled with the sounds of the kids practicing their songs. From Rudolf the red nosed reindeer to Suzy snowflake, songs about Santa and figgy pudding. It's all we have done in the car, over breakfast and before bed! Charlotte especially likes to sing and often puts a CD into her player and dances round the house singing in her beautiful (if a little painful) high pitched singing voice!

So the day finally came. Last year we were stuck behind a big tall guy and I forgot my zoom lens so my photos were pretty rubbish. This year we rocked up first for both the morning and afternoon shows and bagged front row seats! We sat in the gym for probably 4 or 5 hours that day but it was so worth it!

When did our baby boy get so big?! 

We took lots of great photos but I don't like to post ones of other kids. Here is our morning preschooler (I tried to blur out his friends):

All they ask of each child is that they sit nicely on the stage and wear their collar without a fuss. Most of them did great this year with just a couple needing to sit with their teachers. The 3 year old morning preschoolers were so much louder than last year! It is the cutest thing to watch, especially when they get to hold their very own jingle bell and ring it with pride! 

Each child is introduced by the head teacher of the preschool - Mrs Laura Kelpin. 

We watched with pride as our little ones sat in their seats and performed the songs with such gusto, adding in the actions and smiling at us. I'm amazed at just how many songs the kids learn. The shows were at least 30 minutes long each. This year Charlotte was asked to go into the morning preschool during the week of the shows and help the younger ones with the actions. A pretty big thing for our shy little 5 year old! 

This is Charlotte's last year of preschool. She is a 'lucky duck' so she joins the preschool in the afternoon but next year she will go to Kindergarten full time and will perform with the big kids in their show at the Miller Auditorium. 
We have promised not to go anywhere between September and December to make sure we don't miss out on anything! With the fall festival, halloween parades, Christmas Carol and the preschool holiday show, it's a busy few months!! 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Fun and frolics in the UK!

Oh my goodness has it really been two months since I last posted on here?!

Well the last two months have been a crazy whirlwind of kids' routines, exercise, home leave and Christmas preparations. Isn't everyone burned out by now?!

We spent November buying Christmas presents and getting ready for our home leave trip. We had just a few days over Thanksgiving to head back to the UK to catch up with everyone, distribute Christmas presents (at around $20 per parcel to mail them I decided being ultra organised was a better idea! Plus we have 6 birthdays around Christmas too!) and become Godparents to our niece at her Christening at the end of the week.

We left on the Friday night. The flight took off around 10pm and Toby fell asleep as soon as the plane started moving! We had two and two on either side of the plane with three seats between us. It actually worked fine as the kids stayed in their seats for the whole flight (normally they want to switch between each of us). It made us laugh that the three seats were occupied by a group of teenage kids whose parents were living it up in Business class! That's the way to do it I guess!
I had Charlotte and we actually got a few hours sleep. Toby unfortunately woke up after a few hours and kept his Daddy amused for the rest of the flight.

We get a lot of people asking how on earth we do all of the travel with the kids. First off we have no choice. But really it's not that stressful. We explain every thing that is going to happen through the airport etc and talk about good behaviour and what we expect of them. They are so used to it now that they aren't as intimidated by the passport officers or security staff so it's a bit harder to keep them quiet whilst we are doing our fingerprints and explaining our visas etc.
We make sure we are one of the first people off the plane (after business class of course!) and make the kids walk as fast as possible so we get into the passport line as soon as possible.
The kids have a backpack each filled with books, small toys and colouring stuff. Enough to keep them amused between movies! They also have their own headphones for watching the movies on the plane. The international flights have a tv at each seat which is a huge blessing!

And jet lag gets us every time but you just have to battle through it. The first night we all sleep great because we are so tired and again the second night. By the third night you have to make an effort to go to bed at the correct time for where you are. Unfortunately we chose to watch a double bill at the cinema and arrived home at gone 1am! Whoops! But it was worth it! We saw Gravity and the Hunger Games. Both excellent movies that we would have missed if we haven't watched them both in one night! Our local cinema is so small that they only show movies for about two weeks.
So the kids got into the new time zone nicely but we struggled all week (and for a good week or so when we got back!).

We had a couple of days at Jeremy's parents' catching up with them, his Aunts and Uncles and some of our friends.

Fun times!! 

There is something about family bonds. We haven't seen some of these Aunts and Uncles since we moved but the kids took to them straight away and were very sweet with them. 

A fun couple of days spent mainly in the pub! As I was sipping my pear cider over lunch, Jeremy pointed out that it was only breakfast time in Michigan! Whoops!

Soon enough it was time to head up north to Manchester.
Our first stop on the way into Manchester was for a curry at our old local haunt with friends and their kids. So sad that to hear their kids asking why we were going already and they were having too much fun with our kids. A few hours is just never long enough!

We decided to try out an apartment hotel in the centre of Manchester. It's an apartment block run like a hotel. With underground parking and 24 hour door staff, we had a 2 bedroom apartment with kitchen and living room.
We enjoyed showing the kids around Manchester and the European Christmas Markets were on which made it even more fun. But that afternoon we dropped the kids off with my parents so we could spend two days shopping and enjoying the night life with friends.

I miss Manchester but not the gloomy weather!! 

On the first night we had a delicious Thai meal and drinks with a friend I used to live with and her husband. It always makes us feel special when people go out of their way to take time off work and organise babysitters so they can meet us for a precious few hours.
The second night we did a pub crawl around town with lots of different friends. The time absolutely flew! What I thought had been just a couple of hours turned out to have been 7 hours!! And it still wasn't long enough!

That was true of the whole trip. Every afternoon or evening we spent with friends and family flew by in a flash. We certainly made the most of every minute but it's hard to say goodbye when you know it'll be another six months before we see them again.
It seems to be getting harder not easier. As the years go by (we have been here almost three years now) a few hours with each family just isn't enough. So we will be on a mission to get those people over here for a visit and next summer I am hoping to spend longer in the UK.

We did manage to get a Thanksgiving dinner with my parents (a day late but Turkey none-the-less) at a local pub carvery. So nice to sit down and give thanks with family.

The end of the week was spent with Jeremy's family, meeting our new nieces - two arrived this year - and enjoying celebrating with Jeremy's sister and family at her daughter's Christening. We were honoured to be her God-parents and join in the wonderful day.
One baby was just a couple of weeks old when we met her and now she is crawling and pulling herself up. I was worried about how she would be with us but she is such a little poppet and was happy to be held by us. Charlotte really doted on both babies and was so proud of herself by helping to stop them crying with her funny faces!
I also really enjoyed cuddling our youngest niece to sleep. She was only six weeks old so would just pass out on your shoulder. I could have held her all day! Both girls are beautiful and I will treasure those memories until I get to hold them again.
It was also Papa's 65th birthday so we had a fun day surprising him with a party! How we kept 7 small kids quiet long enough to surprise me I do not know but it was worth it!!

Seven kids in six years... These kids are going to have so much fun growing up together! 

The thing about home leave is that every day is a party, sometimes two! We go from house to house, play area to playground, family to family, having the best time but it's not real life. The kids think it's amazing and cry about having to leave but they are just too young to understand that it wouldn't be like that all of the time if we lived in the UK. But I know how they feel and I found it really hard to say goodbye this time and we didn't even get to see everyone.

Sometimes I can't quite believe how crazy and surreal our life is. But then we are a slightly crazy family!

P.S. We didn't do a very good job with group photos on this trip! I promise to do better next time!