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

Friday, January 31, 2014

dick, jane and puff...

When we went to Toronto for the week, I asked school for some homework for our kindergartener. So they sent home some maths sheets, some colouring sheets and some sight words.
It seemed an odd collection of words. A few basics like 'they' 'she' 'look' and then 'dick' and 'sally'. I wasn't quite sure why my 5 year old needed to learn the word 'dick' but we went along with the advice and played along making up silly sentences and getting her to tell me what each of the words were.

Now forgive my ignorance but until we sat down to speak to her teachers at the parent teacher conferences a few weeks later, I had never heard of the 'Dick and Jane' books but suddenly it all made sense... Her teachers explained that they use this series of books to teach the kindergarteners to read.

We missed a week of school for Toronto, another for home leave in Nov/Dec, over a week in snow days this month and we have a big trip coming up where the kids will miss over 2 weeks of school.
Now I know she is only a young five kindergartener but I am still keen for her to be able to keep up with her friends so (thanks to a friend who told me where to get one) today I bought a couple of Dick and Jane books for her to read at home.

Her teachers told me that she was doing well with her reading but that she lacked confidence. At home she doesn't really read anything out loud, though one of her favourite pass times is to thumb through a book from cover to cover, looking at every single page. It can be a Princess story book or a travel guide book, she turns each page, looking at the pictures as if she is mesmerised by the feel of the paper or the motion of one page replacing another.

She was very happy to get her new books after school and started looking at them straight away.  But soon she looked up at me with disappointment in her eyes, a look of self doubt on her face and said that she needed help reading as she didn't know all of the words.
So I announced that she was going to read the bedtime stories tonight and that I was going to help her.

We all climbed into our bed and she began to read us the story of Dick, Jane and a cat called Puff. (Can you tell that these books were first published in the 1930s?!). And to her credit, she did so well. There were a few words that she guessed and others that she didn't know, but I had a tear in my eye as I cuddled up to my baby and listened to her read a story.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

make someone's day...

One thing I remember clearly from my childhood was being taught to be polite. I particularly remember leaving a friend's house after a birthday party - one when I was young enough for there still to be party bags and games of musical chairs - and having to walk back up their (what felt like a really long) driveway to say thank you after I answered my mother "no" when questioned as to whether I had thanked the parents for having me. It was embarrassing but I am glad my parents instilled good manners in me. That day stuck with me and I believe they are a life skill that is ever so valuable.

Please and thank you. Just a few short words that can mean so much.

We are trying hard to teach our kids to say please and thank you. And they are getting there but they are only young so often need reminding. But when they do say please or thank you without being prompted, it makes me so proud of them. I often encourage them to speak to the assistant at the check out in supermarket or coffee shop, trying to teach them to be confident along with how to be polite.

Today was day three of the latest round of snow days (four if you include friday last week!) and we had escaped the house for a few hours to go to Kids' gym and the Chiropractor. We had time in-between for a treat so I pulled up in Biggby's car park and took them in for a hot chocolate and a cookie.

I am paranoid about them in the car park so always make sure they each hold one of my hands. A lady drove round the corner and stopped to let us cross. I asked the kids to wave to say thank you and they did. Pretty enthusiastically. Toby was so engrossed in his wave that he stumbled and I was concerned that we were holding her up as we slowly walked in front of her.

We got in the line at the coffee shop when a lady appeared behind me and said 'Excuse me, I just wanted to tell you how wonderful it was to see your children waving to say thank you to me. I was actually going next door but I just had to come in and tell you. I have always taught my children to do it and my eleven year old and I laugh about how she used to wave and wave at people..."

Well I was floored. I couldn't believe that the lady who had waited patiently for us to cross had now  gone out of her way to come into the coffee shop to tell me how pleased she was!

So what is the moral of the story, apart from the fact that manners do seem to go a long way?
Please think about speaking up and telling that tired looking Mum with the two or three kids in tow, that she is doing a good job. She may well not always believe it herself and those kids may well have  had a massive tantrum in public an hour or two ago, but in that moment you can tell her that she is doing a good job. It made my day and I hope I can 'pay it forward' someday soon.

Monday, January 27, 2014

adventures in potty training...

We are officially a nappy (diaper) free house! Finally! After more than 5 years we have moved on from the babies and toddlers to the next stage in our parenting careers.

I am so excited for Toby. He is almost 4 so more than ready from an age point of view. But this last year or so we have simply not stayed somewhere long enough to train him. With moving house, home leave trips and visitors to here it has been a crazy 18 months but we finally took the plunge over Christmas.

And he did amazingly well - which is what everyone told me - boys take longer but once they decide to do it, they can get it pretty much straight away.

So how did we do it?

Well we talked to him for a long time before the holidays. Explaining our expectations and out right bribing him. He had new underpants, Cars 2 on DVD and the promise of a trip to a waterpark if he gave me the best Christmas present - a potty trained son.

We have tried training him a few times over the summer but he just wasn't interested.

And we didn't hang about this Christmas! First day of the holidays we took his nappy off him and off we went. Despite constant reminders 'to go potty' there were a few accidents. I tried to be much calmer this time around. I chased Charlotte around stressing out about accidents but I learnt my lesson the hard way and was way more chilled out this time.
But the novelty of being able to pee standing up and new pants to facilitate that, won him over and he was dry during the day within a couple of days. Number twos took a bit longer but I also heard that can happen.

Credit goes to his Daddy who was at home enough over the holidays to get him started. If you ask Daddy what he did over the Christmas holidays, he would have to say he spent most of it in the bathroom!

Toby must have consumed half of his body weight in M&Ms and chocolate marshmallows over the 3 weeks but hey what can I say? Our kids are easily persuaded by bribery and whatever works right?!

What we weren't expecting or prepared for was the 3am then 5am wake ups. From the first night Toby was dry at night and as soon as he got the hang of it during the day he started waking us up at night to help him go. Great news for him but a bit of a shock when you turn over in bed, half open your eyes and there is your 3 year old standing over you asking to go potty!
Thankfully it's more like 6:30am now which is a much more reasonable time!

We pretty much skipped the portable potty and went straight for toilet training but here you refer to the toilet as a potty.

So this is what our life has been about for the last few weeks. Conversations about going to the loo and Mr Poo-poo wanting to go back to poo-poo land to see his Mummy and Daddy - a genius little you tube video which really helped!!

I have discovered that they have bathrooms in hobby lobby and world market and have spent a considerable amount of time in or around public restrooms over the last few weeks. I also wasn't prepared for his fierce independence. He has seen his confident big sister use the public restroom on her own and of course he wanted to do the same. He refuses to use the ladies so he has instructed me to stay where I am whilst he heads into the gents on his own. I don't like it. I want to protect my kids for as long as possible but I cannot argue with my bold 3 year old. And so far so good. I am never far away and keep a close eye on the door but I applaud his strong will and his pride in his achievements.
And he comes out with a big smile on his face, declaring "I used the urinal Mummy!".

Of course part of it is the excitement of using a new restroom and a slight disappointment when they don't have a urinal! Every new place we have been he has been keen to check out the restrooms!!

Kids never cease to amaze you. Every single step we walk through life with them is a joy. The ups and the downs. The tantrums and the achievements. They are all a part of this wonderful journey together. And although I don't want to hang out in public restrooms for long, I so miss being needed.

I don't miss nappies and will happily donate the size 6 Huggies nappies and pull we have hanging around the house!

Woohoo to the next stage in the journey!

Oh and much fun was had at the waterpark this weekend... Thank you Toby!!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

ice ice babies...

Our kids never cease to amaze us... We threw them into skiing and skating this weekend and they did so well! We'd had a lot of advice about getting them started young, before the fear sets in!

They were excited when we told them that the activity for Saturday would be skiing and that their teacher from school, Sandra Kelpin, would be teaching them.

But I don't actually think they knew what skiing meant. They had probably heard the word ski but listening to them confuse ski and skate and snow and ice, I really don't think they could have described skiing to us before we sent them out there! 

We bundled them up in plenty of layers as it was -10oC and headed 30 minutes north to a ski resort near Allegan called Bittersweet.
They have a couple of smaller ski slopes with magic carpets which make it so easy for the kids to learn.
So we got them kitted out in rental helmets, boots and skis and their teacher whisked them off. It was so good to have her as it took away a lot of anxiousness for Charlotte.

We went off for a coffee to give them time to practice without us watching but soon enough we were able to wander over to the slope and see how they were getting on. Having never skied myself I really had no idea how they would do. I was nervous for them but so grateful that they have the opportunity to do this right on our doorstep!
And they did great! Charlotte took to it really quickly and was ready for the bigger slope after only 45 minutes of practice. She happily rode the magic carpet up to the top and patiently waited for her teacher to help Toby before giving her the all clear to make her way down.

Unfortunately Toby needs to grow a bit before he can master the ski slopes. He was so happy to zoom down in a straight line but his little legs are not long enough to bend and make the 'pizza slice' necessary to slow down and stop! He has guts though and was happy to ski down the slope at full pelt with someone to catch him!

Charlotte went back on Sunday with friends from school and was soon being taught how to make turns and bend down to ski under an arch.
Skiing in Michigan isn't quite like France or Italy. The sun doesn't always shine and the wind can be wickedly cold, so instead of worrying about sunburn on your face you are more worried about frostbite!!
All of her friends did great too! It was so much fun to stand at the bottom and cheer them all on, marvelling at how our little 5 year olds were suddenly so grown up and mastering a skill that hopefully they will use for many years to come.

Miss Sandra and Mr Craig 

And if that wasn't enough, we took them to the local ice rink - the KWings stadium, home to the local ice hockey team and Greater Kalamazoo Skating Association, for their first skating lessons! They have skating lessons for kids of all ages from as little as 3 years old. It is so cute to see all of the little kids tottering around on the ice!

They were back in their snow pants, fleece tops and gloves along with helmets and rented skates and before they knew it, they were being carried onto the ice by the teachers and helpers and being shown how to stand, fall safely and walk across the ice.
I lost count of how many times they fell over (we weren't laughing too much, honest!) but they just kept picking themselves up and trying again! And they loved it!

They had a half hour lesson and were free to stay and practice for another half an hour but given neither of us can skate, we just spent the rest of the time watching the other kids.
When we saw Toby at the end he said to me "Mummy wasn't that so cool?!" with a huge smile on his face! Charlotte refused to take her skates off until we reassured her that we would be back again next week for another lesson!

I can't tell you how proud we are of them this weekend. We really are embracing the winter months and everything that Kalamazoo and Michigan has to offer! 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

more fun on the snow...

When we moved here we were given lots of great advice. One piece was on how to survive the Michigan winter.

It can start snowing here as early as November and still be cold and snowing in April. When we arrived at the end of March (almost 3 years ago!) we brought 12 suitcases full of winter and summer clothes as no-one could tell us if it would be sunny or freezing in that first month before the rest of our clothes arrived.
And they were right - we got everything! From freezing cold temperatures, a light dusting of snow, thunderstorms and then a gloriously hot and sunny Easter in April!
The weather is definitely unpredictable and there seem to be 2 main weather systems... Freezing cold with snow or sweltering hot and humid. Spring and Autumn go by in a flash! I was looking through fall and winter photos from this last year and found ones of the kids running around the back yard in swim suits in September! Bearing in mind that it was cold and rainy in August, it did make me chuckle!

So how do you survive a Michigan winter? Escape to somewhere considerably warmer like the UK or Florida? Well if you don't work or go to school that is a possibility but for those who are here and enduring 5 or 6 months of winter the best advice we were given was to find something you enjoy doing in the winter and embrace it. Like skiing or tubing.

We really haven't been able to do that yet. The first winter we were here, the snow was so deep it came up to Toby's knees and he just stood and cried!

We do have all of the snow gear - snow pants, fleece lined water proof coats, hats, gloves and snow boots but it is still just too cold sometimes.

However the Saturday after Christmas the sun came out and we decided to make the most of it and head to a local tubing slope called Echo Valley.
We were the first people to arrive at 10am which was great because we had the whole place to ourselves! For $18 per person we could tube and toboggan all day long. With a lodge serving hot chocolates and snacks to refuel us we managed a few hours before it got too busy and the snow and ice started to melt in the sunshine!

Our passes. We started with the $14 tubing pass then upgraded to the $18 combo pass that got us access to the tubing and toboganning. If the ice rink had been frozen, we could have done that too! 

We started on the tubing slope. We grabbed a tube each, with smaller ones for the kids and took the plunge down the steep slope. On the first go I decided to stand at the top and take photos. It might or might not have had something to do with my fear of heights! It just seemed like a big drop off the edge!

Beautiful day to be outside! 

But Jeremy and the kids made it down in one piece so I gave it a go. We went down in twos - with the adults holding onto the kids' tubes so we kind of danced down the slopes, swirling around as we pulled each other down!

I was very proud of Charlotte who told me that she was a bit scared. Her face was a picture as she cringed on the descent but then was full of a big beaming smile by the time we got to the bottom. And she was the one begging to go down the steeper and faster toboggan slope!

So after a few successful tube runs we decided to give the toboggan run a try.

Our toboggan

Bearing in mind that I am pretty sure I have never been sledging or tobogganing in my life! To say it was a bumpy ride would be a bit of an understatement! As the ice thawed, the ride got bumpier! The first run was all four of us on one toboggan but quickly decided we would be faster in pairs!
It was so bumpy that your brain was shaken in your head and your neck felt like it had been compressed an inch or two! I was quite dizzy after the second and third runs! The run itself has been around for over 70 years and you can reach speeds of 60mph.

 The kids using the rope to get an easier trip back up the hill! 

But it was a lot of fun and we would definitely go back again! We only left because it was getting busy and that meant long wait times on the tubing slope. Plus the rise in temperature to 40+oF meant everything was melting.

So we dragged our tired but excited children back to the car with the promise of returning one day soon!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Do you want to build a snowman?

"Let it go, let it go! .... The cold never bothered me anyway!"

Yep that is pretty much all I have heard for over 3 weeks now!

We took the kids to see the latest Disney Princess movie and they are obsessed! Even Toby.
To be honest, I have the songs going round and round in my head and we all loved it so much we went back to see it a second time!

I hadn't realised it was a Princess movie or a musical but was pleasantly surprised! The trailer made me think it would be similar to Ice age with a goofy snowman and reindeer as the main characters.

But it's actually about an ice queen and based on an old tale from Hans Christian Andersen.
I'm not exaggerating to say it's the best movie out of Disney (not Pixar) in 20 years with beautiful animation, a fun and well paced storyline and broadway style songs that you really can listen to over and over again. Believe me - we have the CD in the car and have listening to nothing else since!

It has really sparked Charlotte's imagination and it is fun to see the kids so engrossed in the big screen! We don't watch a lot of TV in our house (a lack of adverts make for a very short Christmas present list!) but we do like watching movies!

So if you haven't already, get yourselves to the cinema (borrow a kid if you have to) and go see Frozen!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

snow, snow and a bit more snow...

The BBC reports "North America shivers in 'polar' freeze!". 

In the East from Toronto and New York across the West to Minnesota, towns and cities are currently under a foot or two of snow with below, way below, freezing temperatures! 

We have had snow for the whole of December and it's been around or below freezing for most of that time. 
On Monday weather.com said the temperature outside was -17oC but the wind chill made it dangerously low - around -30oC! My cousin lives in Duluth in Minnesota and it felt like -41oC there! 

There was chaos at the local supermarkets on Saturday as people rushed to stock up before the big freeze! Even the local news were in Meijer reporting on the empty shelves and lack of organic cherry tomatoes!  

So what does it mean for us? Well everywhere was closed! For 3 days I got texts and emails from the local news station telling me schools, libraries and other public places were closed. 

No gym classes for me or the kids and Jeremy couldn't get to work. In some areas there was even a ban on driving unless it was essential. If you got stuck in the snow you could get a ticket! 

So Jeremy worked from home and we amused ourselves as best we could without making too much noise! The kids played happily with their new toys, we braved the cold for a short time each day - shovelling the driveway and path and making room for the mailman to drop off our mail. The city sent a plow down our road on Sunday and again on Tuesday night. We are lucky to live on a bus route so we are a higher priority tat some streets. We also pay a gardening company to clear our driveway but they must have been overwhelmed with work as they only came out a couple of times. 

We also had fun 'wading' into the middle of the backyard where the snow was almost up to our waists! We froze a Tshirt, made ice ornaments, ate snow Icecream and if there wasn't already enough snow, we made more by evaporating boiling water!! 

It's been a long Christmas break - Toby has been off for over 3 weeks, but we've had lots of nice family time and we are warm and dry in our house so we can't complain... But a bit of normality would be nice! 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

five kisses...

I know I am biased but Toby is such a sweet little boy! He never stops smiling and although he still can't pronounce 'Fs' his command of English makes us smile.

Every night when we put him to bed he asks both of us for five kisses. He puckers up and delivers each kiss whilst counting them. You then get an extra one (that you can't count) and asks you to "leave the door a little bit open".

Sometimes I try to get into his bed and pretend to go to sleep and he shouts "No Mummy! It's time for you to go downstairs and tidy up!". 

He is a boy who likes his sleep! He closes his eyes, grabs hold of the label on his pajamas and sucks his thumb until he falls asleep.

Apart from the other night when we had a new babysitter. The kids know her from school but Toby must have forgotten who was downstairs because she said he was shouting 'SOMEBODY come and help me!"

Other favourite sayings we love are "Something is not right!", "isn't that cool (pronounced coo-oll") and "Mummy, I need to tell you something". 


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

We said that 2013 would be our year (Jeremy was born on a Friday 13th so has always maintained that 13 is a lucky number for him!) and it was a pretty good one!

It was a typical year of ups and downs, of trials and triumphs but more important to us than the holidays and fun times was a hospital free year! There were the regular check ups but just to have made it through a full year without any major dramas was such a gift and we are very grateful!

So how did we say goodbye to the old and hello to the new?

With a fun evening with friends and snow!

We headed over to a friend's house just up the road and spent a lovely evening eating, drinking, chatting and sledging!

Despite the 11oF (-11oC) weather, we bundled up in snow gear and sledged down their front yard.

With their dog chasing the sledges and the snow falling on our shoulders, we had fun watching the kids sledge and 'surf' down the snowy hill into the deserted street.

At 10pm our kids were getting tired and cold and we were about to leave but we managed to help them set off some chinese paper lanterns.

They looked so beautiful rising up into the night sky (narrowly avoiding the house!!) and disappearing off over the neighbourhood.

But soon enough Toby was asking to get into the car and Charlotte was raiding the snacks bowl so we made a swift exit - just in time for Toby to fall asleep in the car and Charlotte on the sofa!

Then the big kids snuggled up on the sofa to watch the ball drop in Times Square NYC, sip some local fizz and watch the movie 'World's End'. I followed Charlotte's lead and also fell asleep on the sofa! Whoops!

Today we are wearing our Spartans' gear, watching the big hockey game (Detroit Red Wings vs Toronto Maple Leafs) before the Rose Bowl Spartans vs Stanford at dinner time.

A very American-style start to the new year! (And much needed relaxation time after very little sleep last night!)

Let's hope 2014 is a happy and healthy one! ...

P.S. Let's hope this isn't how the rest of the year will pan out... A face plant on the carpet whilst dancing round the living room led to a fat lip just as we were getting ready to leave for the party last night! Bless her!

P.P.S. This is my 200th blog post! Wow! :)