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

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

lunchtime at school...

I volunteer to help out with lunches at school once every two weeks. There are no hot dinners so it's just to set up, help the little ones open things, empty the bins and clean up at the end.

I have been doing it for a year, so Charlotte is used to seeing me in there and it's not that exciting for her anymore. But this year the day care kids (Toby's class) are eating their lunch in the gym too.

The first time I worked this year his teacher spotted me and walked over to Toby, covered his eyes and told him to turn around for a surprise.

The look on his face was priceless!! He was sooooo made up to see me there. He kept saying "You didn't tell me Mummy!" He was telling his friends that his Mummy was there to help.
And for days afterwards he would repeat the story of how his teacher had a surprise and it was me.

It was a moment that I hope I never forget.

I miss picking him up from the day care (he goes to preschool in the afternoon and walks out with his sister and a teacher) when he used to see me through the window and run to the door shouting "My Mummy is here!" and then run and jump up into my arms. I'm always around so sometimes I feel they take me for granted. Don't get me wrong - I am so happy that I can always be around for them. But the look of sheer joy to see me when he wasn't expecting to was such a gift.

He puts a smile on so many faces - I can't believe I get to call him my son and see that beautiful smile everyday!

Here he is with our Thanksgiving turkey - he was determined to hold it!! :)


Monday, December 8, 2014

fall festivities...

So what happened on our return from the UK?

Recovering from jet lag for one! ;)

September was back to school and Charlotte's birthday.


The gals on our court arranged a back to school breakfast out on the street. It was pretty cool! Kids and parents from all over the neighbourhood came to our court for cereal and donuts, coffee and orange juice. The local firetruck also turned up to the delight of all of the kids (and Moms!).

Breakfast on the court

The firefighters parked in front of our house

We had a fun day in Chicago to celebrate Charlotte's birthday. Lunch at the Rainforest Cafe and shopping at American Girl and lego. The city was really busy so we left early and stopped at the beach on the way home. A play in the fountains and dinner at Silver Beach pizza was the perfect way to end a great day (their gluten free bbq chicken is our new favourite!)



We also had a pizza dinner in the court to celebrate the first day of school. It was actually Charlotte's birthday that day so we brought the cakes outside and feasted until late! There are plenty of kids in the court for ours to play with. It's the perfect place for little kids to grow up! We even had a fire pit one evening and the neighbours set up a projector on the side of the house for the kids to watch a movie!

Charlotte performed in her Fall show at school - she was so radiant and grown up. We've been practicing her poems in the car on the way to school so it was amazing to see her on the stage performing with her friends. Their school does a great job with performing arts and building up my shy girl's confidence.

All dressed up, ready for the show

September also brought the High on Kalamazoo Balloon Festival. I took my 'proper' camera this time and love how my photos turned out! You know how much I love bright colours and the sky was the perfect shade of blue! The balloons flew right over our heads and we could shout to the pilots!






October went by in a flash! I couldn't even tell you where the weekends went! I think we mostly spent them unpacking and trying to get the house straight. We didn't do any of the usual fall activities until cousins came over for Halloween. They spent a few days in Chicago then came to stay with us. We took them to buy pumpkins from Gene, trick or treat at the Kellogg's office, we carved pumpkins at home, chilled out in the hot tub and watched the school Halloween parade. We had a big Halloween party where all of the families on the court came to ours. The Dads braved the sub zero temps to trick or treat with the kids whilst the Moms stayed at home to answer the door. The little kids only managed a small amount of trick or treating but the older kids were out for almost 2 hours!
Our kids loved hanging out with the girls - so much so that when we were waving goodbye Charlotte turned to me and said "Mummy is this how I will feel when Granny and Papa leave? I'm so sad I feel like going and sitting in my room for 10 minutes". This life is hard on them emotionally but they are learning to be tough little cookies.

Trick or treat at Kellogg's

Dinner at Clara's


Granny and Papa came over for thanksgiving this year and gracefully offered to give us a break for a few days. We didn't argue and after some research, chose Sedona in Arizona as our mini break destination. Sun, desert and red rocks. Stunning!! (I'll post some photos later) We had breakfast in bed, hiked out on the rocks, chilled out, ate lunch, did another hike, napped, ate dinner and then went to the spa for a pamper. Bliss! The sun was shining which was great given we'd left Michigan in a snow storm!
It was so peaceful to sit up on the rocks and look our over the surprisingly green landscape.

Thanksgiving was lovely and relaxing and fun and we had so much to be thankful for this year. We gathered branches from the yard, printed off tags from the Jones Design blog and made a thankful tree. I loved reading out everyone's notes after dinner. The first one Toby wrote said I'm thankful for... "My Charlotte" and Charlotte wrote the last one "My God" :)

On Granny and Papa's last day we went to the Christmas Barn to pick out our tree. I love that place and it was fun to take them there. And so we move on to Christmas and one of our favourite times of year :) Christmas is another post - I've rambled on for long enough! :)

Sunday, December 7, 2014

planes, trains and automobiles... 2014

So how did the rest of our summer go?

Well just 4 weeks after we moved into our new home, I took the kids back to the UK for a month long trip travelling around the UK and Europe.

We started at Granny and Papa's, catching up with jet lag and visiting Brunel's SS Great Britain and Clifton suspension bridge. The boat was fab and I'm glad I walked over the bridge and back. I don't need to do it again though - I do not have a head (or stomach) for heights!

We then took a train to London for my cousin's wedding and to meet up with Daddy. He arrived early Saturday morning and surprised the kids in the hotel room! Granny and Papa came with us to help with the kids and I stole Granny away for the evening to see Phantom of the Opera in the West End.
Pretty much my whole family were at the Wedding including my other cousin and his girlfriend, who live in Minnesota.
We had a beautiful sunny weekend and it was so nice to spend time with everyone. We even got to spend a few hours on the Sunday doing the tourist sights like Buckingham Palace and Big Ben!

We then took a train to Kent to hang out with the Dean family. We try to see them every time we go back on leave but haven't been to their house for years. The boys all bonded and so did the girls. Their boys were so sweet - they set up camp on the floor with Toby instead of sleeping in heir bunk beds. Toby had nothing but admiration for them. It was a tough goodbye :(

My university friend moved to Annecy in France a few years ago and we managed to arrange a visit to coincide with another friend who was camping nearby with her family. So we flew over to Switzerland for a day (spot of sightseeing!) and then drove to France to meet up with them for the weekend.
France was lush - so much good food, wine (from a box!!!) and laughs. Oh how we laugh at ourselves... which is good job as no-one else does!! :) Bonuses were swimming in the lake and hiking up a mountain in flip-flops.

Then it was back to Bristol to see the Harpers and Pikes. Our newest nieces were babies last time we saw them and now they are toddlers! We spent as much time as we could cuddling them and trying to get to know them. Hardest part of living abroad :(

Before too long we were saying goodbye to everyone, including Daddy, and driving up to Manchester for 10 days. Our kids get 3 months off school in the summer so we decided that the kids and I would spend a month in the UK even though he could only go back for a week or so.

Manchester was a lot of fun. I got to see friends, hang out in Manchester and the Trafford Centre and the kids had a sleep-over at Grandma and Grandad's. We even drove over to Wales for the day to visit friends. When you only get to see people once a year, you make the most of every minute.

The final part of the journey was to drive back to Bristol to fly home from Heathrow the next day.

Whilst we were away, Charlotte lost her first 2 teeth! The first one fell out into the grass at Granny and Papa's - I can't believe she managed to find it! And the second whilst she was eating a 'crunchie biscuit' in Manchester. The British tooth fairy brought her a shiny gold pound coin each time which she decided to keep until we go back to the UK! She didn't even want to give the third one away that she pulled out when we got back to Michigan. Funny girl! :)

So all in all it was an epic journey! Thank you to everyone who had us to stay, fed us, travelled to see us and made the trip so much fun.

It was an amazing trip but we were completely exhausted when we got home. Definitely a once a year trip!


SS Great Britain in Bristol

Paddington Bear in London

Dean family in Kent

Geneva in Switzerland! 

University friends! 

Harpers and Pikes in Bristol

Uncle Simon came to visit

Summer fun at the Trafford Centre

My big girl with less teeth than she arrived with! 

Wales to visit the Langs (longest town name in Europe)

Grandma and Grandad time! 


Saturday, December 6, 2014

all things new...

I can't believe it's been over 6 months since my last post!

A lot has happened since May.... New house, new cars, new job, two big trips and two sets of visitors! Phew!

At the end of last year we decided to make our lives here more stable. Instead of being on a temporary 'ex-pat' contract we decided to change to a local contract. We sold our house in the UK (to the tenants who were living in the house at the time) and started looking for one here. After renting two different homes here and moving three times in as many years, it was a relief to finally have some control. We are still on visas that will expire in a few years so we have started the long (like two years long) process of applying for green cards. If they are granted to us, they will give us the chance to stay here for much longer.

In the spring houses here were selling really fast! After many evenings dragging the kids around house after house we finally found one we loved! It's a 4 bedroom house on a court with finished basement and private back yard (and we back onto a park which is great!) A friend knew the people selling so we heard about it the day it went on the market. We put in an offer two days later when we got a chance to view it. So did three other families! Thankfully we got our offer accepted. Offers here are legally binding. If you submit a written offer and it's accepted, you have to buy the house (unless something comes up on the survey). The same for selling. Unfortunately the process wasn't quite as smooth as we'd hoped but two months later we got the keys to our dream home. Yep just eight short weeks! The process here moves so quickly. There are no lawyers involved so the realtor does a lot of the work and earns every cent of their commission! There are strict time schedules for surveys etc so it was pretty stressful getting everything together but so worth it. We even met the seller at the final signing of the paperwork and he was so good to us - giving us his contact details and advice on things around the house.

Here is our house a few weeks ago during a snow storm:


To help the kids settle into yet another new home, we let them choose the colours for their rooms and even help with the painting! They did a great job with their paintbrushes!



As well as repainting their bedrooms, the laundry got a makeover as our new appliances left a big gap where the walls were not painted. We had a few weeks between getting the keys and moving in so we decided to go ahead and paint the living room and kitchen too. Before we knew it we had repainted almost every room! The colour scheme went from browns and yellows to blues and greys. We got a great local handyman/decorator in to help as we ran out of time after the first 3 rooms! We also enlisted the help of a designer from a furniture store called UBU in Grand Rapids. For a small fee, she came to our house, discussed colour schemes and layouts etc then a few weeks later I went back to the store to choose tables, chairs and even wallpaper and artwork. It was a lot of fun and I would highly recommend her and the store.

Add in two new cars, a change of role at work for Jeremy (he is no longer working for the global department) and a new role for me at MOPs (I am on the steering team as the finance leader) and we'd already had a pretty crazy summer by the end of June!

I'll update you on the rest of the summer and fall later!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

end of year show for my lucky duck...

It's almost the end of the school year here. Our local schools go from early September to the end of May. A 3 month summer holiday sounds great but don't forget the kids barely get a break during the school year. A couple of days for Thanksgiving in November, a couple of weeks at Christmas and a week for spring break. Compare this to 6 week terms in the UK and you can imagine how tired our kids are by now.

The end of the year brings summer camp sign ups, dance recital, the thrills and skills show at gymnastics and the end of year Kindergarten show.

The Kindergarten show came first. Our lucky duck's first evening show, which was held in the gym at school.
They have spent the last few weeks practicing songs and poems and working on artwork to decorate the walls of the gym.

The teachers traced around them on large pieces of paper, drew outlines of their clothes and then the kids coloured them in and drew their own faces! It must have taken them ages! The gym looked fab with the walls covered with life size pictures of our kids holding hands.



We arrived at school around 6:15, dropped her off with her teachers and found a seat in the gym. Rows of parents, cameras at the ready, waiting for their not-so-little ones to make their grand entrance. 
Each child announced themselves at the microphone and took their place on the stage. And for the next 30 minutes their parents sat in awe as those 5 and 6 year olds sang their hearts out. Classics that I don't even know the names of, to modern songs from Disney movies like Frozen, Aladdin and Toy Story. They did actions to every song and recited the poems beautifully. There were plenty of whoops and loud claps after every piece. Amazing to hear them sing 'Zippity Do Dah' in several different styles of music. It seems like just a few months ago that my shy 3 year old preschooler was stood at the front of her class, barely whispering the words and now she is a confident little girl, happy to be on stage with her friends and entertaining a room full of parents. There were about 45 kids in the show so there must have been 100 or so adults watching! 

All of the kids did so well and we were all so proud of them. Toby loved the show too and was happily doing some of the actions in his seat. 
Charlotte made everyone smile at the end. Wearing her beautiful flower girl dress, she did the most elegant curtsey to the audience. She looked like a gorgeous princess. 



Above with Miss Burns and below the first day of school with Ms Gagie. 
What a difference 9 months makes!


Afterwards we got to see her teachers, tour her classroom and take home her self portrait and VIP board. 



The American presidents - I expect he will know all of these in order one day! 

She will do it all over again next year as being a lucky duck means she gets to go to full time Kindergarten and be the oldest one this time. We don't know where she will end up spending the majority of her school years, but for now this school is doing wonderful things with our little girl.

Friday, May 23, 2014

tulip time...

May brings spring blossoms, daffodils and tulips!


It's the perfect time of year to head up to Holland and spend a day at the Dutch Village, a wonderful theme park in Holland, Michigan. With thousands of tulips, stunning with their bright colours, fun fairground rides, windmills and dutch dancing.

If you are looking purely for tulips, head to the Windmill Island gardens where they have a huge windmill and as many tulips as you've ever seen!

Wherever you end up, make sure you take your camera as there are loads of photo opportunities.
I made a flipagram video of our photos from this year:

video

Thursday, May 22, 2014

tutu tutorial...

Tutus seem to be the 'in thing' to wear to fun races this year. There was the Tutu run back in february where men, women and kids donned their tutus and ran 2.2 miles over snow and ice in aid of Girls on the run. And then the Color run in April where I saw lots of rainbow coloured tutus running through the dye. And I bet there were plenty to be seen at the Borgess marathon.

It's the Run or Dye race coming up and our team are wearing... Yes you guessed it... Tutus! I love it! What a great excuse to wear something as fun as a tutu!

So how do you make one I hear you ask?! Simply purchase 4 spools of tulle, a roll of elastic and grab your scissors.


Measure the elastic around your waist and cut, leaving an extra bit to tie. Simply knot the elastic a couple of times to secure it. 
Then cut the tulle to your desired length. I cut mine to 30 inches as I wanted a longer skirt. 
Fold it in half and loop it around the elastic. Repeat. And repeat. Until you fill the elastic.
Ta-da! 


Note: Sparkly tulle looks fab but be prepared to get covered in the loose glitter!! 
P.S. if you have left over tulle, it can make a great ribbon for wrapping a present. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

T-ball!


The kids are playing T-ball with West Portage Little League (WPLL).

And we are so excited...
The kids are loving being out in the field with friends, wearing their new helmets and gloves. Jeremy is loving the fact they are in a team sport. I am loving that it's something I watched Kevin Arnold do and now my kids are stepping up to the plate and taking their turn to hit the ball out of the ball park (well they don't always hit it and when they do it usually just goes a few feet but it's early days!).

It's not all plain sailing though. Our sensitive 5 year old has fears she needs to conquer.
Fear of doing the wrong thing. Fear of being in the wrong place. Fear of the unknown. Fear of doing something new.
It breaks my heart because it's exactly what I went through (and still do at times) when I was a kid. As I sit on that bench, realising how the situation is unfolding, seeing the fear in her eyes, watching her face crumple and the tears start to flow. It makes me want to bundle her up and take her home. But this is good for her. She needs to learn that she can survive if she just asks for help. So I am trying to stay in my seat and let her figure it out.
I am hoping the coach will see the reward of spending a few minutes with her, building up her confidence, because when my daughter does something she loves she radiates that happiness. Her joy overflows and she is like a completely different person.

Toby is so different. He is still my baby and loves his snuggles but out on that field he is in his element. Jumping up and down in excitement. Bounding over the bases. Getting frustrated when he doesn't catch the ball! I can see a competitive streak in him, a desire to please and a desire to win. We'll see how that pans out over the next few years! 

They had 3 or 4 practice sessions on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and their first game was Saturday. We've had cold and windy practices but the sun was out and it was glorious weather for their first game.

I felt like half of Portage was there. It was a lot of fun just seeing a lot of our friends sitting on the bleachers, cheering on their kids and their teams.

We arrived with the kids in their new team shirts - they are numbers 6 and 7 (size 'small child' looks like a dress on Toby!), the team gathered round to decide on a name - Jaguars - and so began their first game of the season.


We sat in the bleachers cheering them on and trying to stay out of the way.


I cringed when Charlotte ran straight for the first base on her first turn and managed to take out one of the other teams' players! Whoops! Poor kid! But that was the first and last incident and from then on we enjoyed watching the kids batting, running and standing out in the field waiting to catch the ball.








At T-ball level, it is not supposed to be competitive. No kid is run or caught out. There are no winners or losers. Just 26 kids out on the field having fun and learning a whole load of new skills. At this level it is all new to the parents and the kids.
We love our coach - he is really good with the kids and is encouraging them without pushing them too much.

At the end of the match, all of the kids from both teams line up to give each other high-fives.


Happy days! Go team Jaguars!