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

Monday, February 24, 2014

mushroom fun...

At the end of last year Jeremy had to go to Ann Arbor for the day and on his way home he stopped in at Whole Foods.
Oh how I wish we had a Trader Joes or Whole Foods here.

Anyways he stocked up on organic meat, yummy vegetables and some treats for the kids. He also picked up a mini mushroom farm from a company called 'Back to Roots'.
The instructions said to simply open and water twice a day to grow some delicious oyster mushrooms. I was skeptical because I am terrible at growing anything but the kids were excited so we gave it a go.

And true to their word within 10 days we could harvest our mushrooms.

I had no idea mushrooms started off like this! 

Unfortunately by day 11 they had started to dry out and that was the end of our mushrooms but the kids loved it and were very excited to eat them. I roasted them with some peppers and cherry tomatoes and they ate them. Which given they had said they didn't like to eat mushrooms, I was happily surprised! 

Jeremy and I were not so much excited as a little disturbed by mushrooms growing in our kitchen. Each morning we would come downstairs to find they had grown out of the box a little bit more! Pretty creepy but a fun experiment to do with the kids! 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

cake, ice-cream and friends...

My little man turned 4 this month! 4! I no longer have babies or toddlers but two beautiful children who are growing up way too fast for my liking!

Birthdays are one of those times that you are reminded just how far away you are from the friends and family you left behind. I wish they could have had their cousins and friends running around with them, their aunties and uncles providing the goofy entertainment and grandparents there to shower them with love and attention.
The time difference makes phone calls and Skypes tricky to organise so a text or an email can go a long way. Thank goodness for technology!

But we are blessed with great friends here and we had a few fun days celebrating with them.
We had his birthday party for school friends on Saturday and another at our house on his actual birthday.

We decided to go to Bronson Athletic Club where we hired a room and had two lovely ladies help us. They took the kids to the basketball court where they burnt off a whole load of energy for an hour! They raced around on scooters, threw basketballs and had a game of soccer with two Dads in goal!!

I will not post photos on here as I aim not to post pictures of other people's kids (especially ones I don't know very well) but it was a fun filled afternoon with a great group of families. 

Tip: pay extra for long life latex balloons at Party City 
- they lasted for days rather than hours! 

Toby and I spent most of Friday making his birthday cakes. He is always eager to help out in the kitchen. It takes longer and I am always on edge making sure he doesn't do something silly but so worth it to have him interested in cooking and baking.

He wanted a Lightning McQueen cake so I set about finding instructions and a cake tin at Michaels. The instructions said to colour the buttercream icing whilst the cake cooled. It took two attempts to bake the cake (I needed to use twice as much mix and coconut oil worked better than PAM spray for lining the tin) so I should have had plenty of time... My issue was the amount of red food colouring I needed! Add a drop of blue to white frosting and you get blue. Add yellow and you get yellow. Add a bit of black to white and you get grey. So I got a bit of a shock when I added red and got pink. Added more and got bright pink. Added a bit of black and got purple!

Four bowls of icing and a whole bottle of red food colouring and I finally got dark red! The trick was to add a bit of brown. I used the gel colours which worked better than the liquid but I had added so much that the butter icing was starting to turn into a liquid! 
My advice would be to colour the icing the night before and leave it in the fridge. The red also got darker overnight. 
But I got there in the end and 10 icing bags later I had 24 iced cupcakes and one Lightning McQueen cake! I'm not sure the parents were very happy about their kids consuming vast quantities of food colouring but the kids had fun making their tongues turn red and blue!

When I was putting him to bed after his party I asked him what his favourite thing was about the day to which he answered "The cake!". Ok what about the second? "The ice-cream!" (The tradition here is to serve cake with ice-cream... There was no jelly in sight!). Ok, what about the third thing? "My friends". Sweet boy, I enjoyed seeing his friends too! 

Near the end of his party he sat on the floor, with a look of glee on his face 
and whispered over and over again "presents". 

His actual birthday was Monday so we sent him to school with a book as a gift for his friends.

I love that they encourage this and it is so much easier than making 50 cupcakes!
They also made him a crown to wear and all of his friends sang Happy Birthday to him.

He didn't want to go into school at first but once he got hugs and lots of attention he soon changed his mind! 

I think he really enjoyed his fourth birthday. I know I did. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

reaching for the sky...

This last weekend we enjoyed some time away with friends 'up north'. We went up to Shanty Creek resort and skied on Schuss mountain. We are really embracing this cold and snowy winter and filling it with fun things to do like learning to ski.

We are grateful for all of our friends who have encouraged us to get out and try it.
The kids are doing so well and Toby is probably the most enthusiastic of all of us. He was literally hopping from foot to foot, eager to get his skis on and get down the mountain!

We had a beautiful sunny day on Saturday and it was so good to feel the sunshine on our faces (and I was so grateful for a helmet with ear muffs and lots of layers!!)

I have to say that as fun as it is, it is also hard work. I don't just mean the skiing, I mean getting everyone layered-up, renting equipment and getting out onto the slopes.
Also we have realised that we will not be able to teach our kids to ski. Charlotte moans and say she can't do it when she is with us, then she goes off for a one hour ski lesson, learns how to ride the chair lift and skis down the mountain! Toby has plenty of enthusiasm but not a lot of patience... At least this time he learnt how to make a triangle with his skis to slow down whilst skiing down the hills. But he is so eager to get going that he can't even stand still on the magic carpet! He can also put his own skis on - such an independent little boy!
It's amazing to watch the little kids going for it with very little fear. I wish I had learnt when I was a lot younger and not as wise!
I am enjoying it but still have a long way to go and could really do with a few hours of practice and a lot of encouragement. I think next winter I will get started earlier in the season and try to go for a lot more lessons whilst the kids are at school!

But it certainly tires the kids out and by 7:30pm they were asking to go to bed!

It's a 3.5 (4 in the winter) drive to Shanty Creek so to break up the journey home on Sunday, we stopped in Grand Rapids.

If you are looking for a way for the kids to burn off a whole load of energy and you are in Grand Rapids then head to Sky zone near the Woodland Mall.

It's a big indoor trampoline play place. You can bounce on the huge trampoline area at the back, bounce off a trampoline into a foam pit, use trampolines to help you land a basketball in the net and they also have trampoline dodgeball! Crazy trampoline fun for big and small kids!

Our kids love it and a one hour session was plenty of time to tire them out!

They are only open in the evenings and weekends but they do have a toddler session on Friday mornings. Just check the website before you plan a trip. We have been there around lunchtime both times and as we were leaving it got really busy.
I can't wait for the one to open this summer in Kalamazoo!

Friday, February 14, 2014

a bushel and a peck...

I love you, a bushel and a peck
A bushel and a peck
And a hug around the neck...

We are feeling the love tonight on this fun Valentine's day!

Americans don't do things by half and Valentine's Day is no exception! Charlotte has been making and writing her Valentine's cards for weeks - all 50 of them! She was asked to do one for every friend in both of the Kindergarten classes at school and all of the teachers.

I printed off little banners like "You are awesome!" and "You rock my world!" and she stuck them onto cards with washi tape along with hearts and then wrote the names on the back. It was a little laborious but she enjoyed doing it and she just wrote a few names each night as 50 was a pretty steep order. We also enjoyed a party at a friend's house to get a head start on making the cards. By the end her basement was covered in pink paper, stickers and ribbons... I bet it took ages to clear up! Bless her!  She also had yummy snacks like white chocolate M&Ms, chocolate dipped biscuits, cakes and white chocolate popcorn!

The kids spent all week handing them out which involved filling a brown paper bag with all of the goodies from each child - the bags were fit to burst by today!

She received all sorts of things from a sweet apple treat with a card saying "you are the apple of my eye" to cookies and an awful lot of lollipops! It is so cute to see all of her friends' names written on the cards and she delighted in pouring out the contents of the bag and cooing over her swag!

Earlier this week the whole school put on a show for the parents. They asked half the parents to come one day and the other half the next. On the second day they also managed to set up a live stream on the school website. Imagine my delight when I found out that my Mum and Dad, my brother and his wife and my nieces and nephews were all watching the show at the dinner table in England! I hear people were watching it all over the world! Very cool!
Toby and I were also watching and I was so enthusiastic that Toby asked me to stop clapping so loudly! It was such a good show - the music teacher picked out some great songs with classics like 'L-O-V-E' by Nat King Cole 'Think about a world of peace' and 'When I'm 64' by the Beatles.

The kids also decorated the living room for me as a surprise. It was fun to come home from a meeting  and find pink hearts everywhere!

Charlotte went into school today and had a party whilst Toby and I had a fun date at the Air Zoo.
Happy times!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

a weekend on the ranch...

Following Toby's potty training achievements we followed up on the promise of a weekend at a water park and headed up to Rothbury (north of Muskegon) to the Double JJ Ranch.

It's more than just a water park and we had a lot of fun and even managed to escape the snow for a few hours!

There was a winter storm warning issued for that weekend so we made an early escape from Kalamazoo and drove up the 131 on the Friday morning. The drive was pretty stressful with really icy driving conditions and blowing snow on the highways.

But we made it safely and checked into our condo with a sigh of relief.
The condo was spacious with fun and quirky things like wagon wheels and horse shaped stools at the breakfast bar:

There were huge icicles hanging down from our back porch! 

We had loads of room so the kids shared a bedroom and we had our own room with en-suite. Unfortunately the ranch is in need of a refurbishment and our rooms were pretty cold at night. So cold that we ended up sharing with the kids for warmth. To be fair it was about -15/20oC at night and the heating just couldn't keep up.

The pool opens at 4pm on Fridays, so as soon as Jeremy had finished catching up on his work emails, we drove over there and spent 3 hours in the warm!

We did venture outside in the hot tub but were told to come in as there were too many icicles hanging from the water slide. Whoops! It was fun to be outside in that extreme of cold in a swim suit and feel warm though!

Poor Toby was too short for any of the slides. You have to be 42 inches and he is only 38. But he knows how much he has to grow and assures us that he is working hard to grow whilst he is sleeping!
But we enjoyed going down the slides with Charlotte and they have some great ones.
Again the water park does need some maintenance as it's old and some things weren't working. We heard there are new owners who are hoping to refurbish it soon. But the kids didn't notice and we had to drag them out of there for dinner. Toby was so tired that he actually fell asleep whilst waiting for his hot dog!

The other thing is that the water park and restaurants were a short drive away. We might have been able to walk it in the summer but so much snow fell overnight on the Friday night that we couldn't even get the car out to go to breakfast on Saturday morning! We were laughing as we sat in the car watching someone shift the snow out of the way for us! What an adventure life in Michigan is!

Once at the main part of the resort we enjoyed a fab buffet breakfast in the steak house, looking out over the tubing slope as a snow mobile carved out the lanes.

With a belly full of pancakes, waffles and bacon we hit the slope for some snow fun. The sun came out and we had a blast tubing down the slope and hitching a ride back up!

We came down in twos for the first few runs

The view from the bottom

Hitching a ride back up!

This boy loves the snow! 

Even with the sun shining we got cold after an hour or so and decided to head to the pool to warm up! We spent the rest of the day in the pool and yet again had to drag the kids out for dinner! They just loved the freedom of swimming (Toby had a life jacket) in the shallow water and shooting people with the water cannon.

Given the bad weather we decided to get on the road at lunch time on Sunday. We had a special winter package which included a ride in a horse drawn sleigh. Not ones to miss an opportunity we signed up for the 11am trip. 

We took a tour round the 'Back Forty' 

Beautiful Clydesdale horses

It was still really cold so we wrapped up and snuggled under blankets for the 20 minute trip. 

We felt like we were on a journey through Narnia! It was just wonderful. There was a blanket (a 10 inch blanket) of snow covering everything and the trees looked magical with the sparkly snow on every branch.

We had a great time at the ranch and would definitely go back there when the weather was warmer. It sounds like there is loads to do at the "Back Forty' especially in the summer - rodeos and cook-outs and horse riding! Watch this space, we may well go back for horse riding lessons or even a ride on a sheep!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

ski monday...

I fell for an older man on Monday.

Well kind of fell on top of him, in front of him and then next to him...

I took my first ever ski lesson and let's just say that I expect I will be quite sore for a few days to come!

A lovely guy called Charlie was assigned to be my teacher for an hour or so on Monday morning before letting me loose on the slopes on my own!

I couldn't believe it when he said he was in his 60s and had only learnt to ski 7 years ago. Oh and he's been an instructor for 6 years now! Wow! So there was me thinking that I am an old dog trying to learn new tricks and he totally blew that theory out of the window!!

We went up to Bittersweet Snowboard and ski school where the kids took a lesson a few weeks ago. I can't be the only one on the family who doesn't ski can I?!

So I got suited and booted and then made my way to pick up my skis. First hurdle - working out how to walk in the boots. I was so slow and was kind of stomping my way along the room! Everyone else had the heel to toe thing figured out but it took me a while to catch on! Hmmm, I can't even walk in the boots, how am I ever going to figure out how to ski elegantly down the big ski slope outside the doors?!

Because let's face it, the professionals and just about everyone else I have ever seen skiing, make it looks so easy! As a child, I spent many sunday afternoons watching ski sunday and pretending to jump off the slopes (or sofa!) with my little brother.

Even Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards looked vaguely elegant when he whooshed off the ski jump!

So I was very excited and oh so very nervous about zooming down the big hill on skis!

We started on the bottom half of the bunny hill. Using the magic carpet to get to the starting point and then making my way down the hill with Charlie in front of me. Let's just say right now that I was far from elegant!

Views from the magic carpet

It's so counter-intuitive! I was told to lean forward to go slower or stop, when all I wanted to do was lean back! Shift your weight on your feet but not your whole body. Push right to go left. So much to think about.
Thankfully we were pretty much on our own for the first 30 minutes but then 150 school kids descended on us and I suddenly had moving objects to avoid!
I frightened the life out of little girl as I came hurtling down the hill screaming because my snow plow / pizza slice / tips pointed together manoeuvre wasn't slowing me down as fast as I hoped it would! I did the only thing I could think of and fell backwards onto my bum! Whoops!

But before long I was catching on and apparently ready for the longer steeper hill...

Except this involved catching the chair lift up to the top. I wasn't given long to think about it and before I knew it I was being whisked up the mountain. With nothing holding me in! No bar, just me sitting on a chair with big heavy skis and boots attached to my legs which were dangling below the chair. Did I mention that I am afraid of heights?!
Thankfully I didn't have long to worry about that as I had to work out how to get off the chair whilst it is moving. Apparently this would involve skiing off the end. Yeah that didn't go well. I fell off 2 out of 3 times (the other time Charlie pushed me off)! They stopped the lift as I was picked up off my bottom and back onto my ski-clad feet!

I made it down the hill 2 times with the instructor with varying degrees of success. No sooner than I had learnt to go in a straight line, he wanted me to do turns! But I finally got the hang of it and I was left to do 1 more run on my own whilst he showed Jeremy how to do something way more complicated... So we made it to the top of the hill and I told them I would follow them down so I knew which route to take.
I almost bottled it and very nearly stayed where I was, but I plucked up the courage to go for it and pushed off.
Except I started off too fast, picked up speed and flew past them in a blur of purple!
They were busy discussing the sideways moves that Jeremy was attempting then looked back up to see where I was. When they couldn't see me they looked down and couldn't believe I was already at the bottom!
Trust me, I couldn't either! I had a major adrenaline rush and was shaking for ages afterwards. I do not know how I made it down in one piece but I had to laugh afterwards!!
We headed to the restaurant for lunch and for me to calm down before we gave it another go.
I decided I didn't fancy falling off the chair lift again so stayed on the bunny hill, practicing my turns and how to stop (a pretty important thing to learn I think!).

Some of the school kids kept asking me for help. I found out later that it wasn't my amazing skiing skills, but that one of their instructors was also wearing a purple jacket and black ski pants so the kids were told to look out for someone wearing that outfit!

It was an absolutely beautiful day... Blue skies, fresh white snow and bright sunshine all day! Honestly we could not have asked for better weather (though I was worried when the car said -1oF at 8am!) - Michigan at it's finest.

At the top of the slope before my kamikaze trip to the bottom! 

So there you have it. I did it and really enjoyed it! I will definitely do it again but will make sure I get another lesson or two. It's one thing to get down an almost empty slope but goodness knows what I would have done if there were many more people on that hill!

P.S. How stunning is Michigan in the winter?! 

Monday, February 3, 2014

tutu fun...

Kalamazoo has a great running community. There are lots of picturesque trails and wide roads which you can run down and running groups like Kalamazoo Area Runners and Borgess Run Camp (1000 people are taking part this year!). Along with a great local sports store called Gazelle Sports, who work a lot within the community putting on run groups and races. They also sponsor an organisation called 'Girls on the Run' which has a branch in Kalamazoo.

Girls on the Run (GOTR) is a non-profit program for girls in 3rd to 8th grade, encouraging them to be healthy and confident and teaching them to run.
It costs a lot to put a student through the program so they hold fund raising events to offer financial aid to girls who want to participate.

Which brings me to the tutu run... A 2.2 mile race held on Feb 2nd at 2pm and as the name suggests, you wear a tutu whilst navigating your way round Spring Valley Park. All in the name of fundraising for GOTR!

Over 500 women, men, children and dogs joined in the fun! We gathered in a snowy parking lot then took off round the course, navigating hills, snow and ice!

It was quite a picture to see all of the brightly coloured tutus against the bright white background.

The snow makes the scenery beautiful but it was hard work running up those snow covered hills. Running on the snow is like running on sand or frozen mashed potatoes! It's like taking 2 steps forward or one step back. And its tiring - it felt like we were running up hill the whole way! At the end was a tight bit of trail with big lumps of ice so we had to almost tiptoe over the lumps and try not to slip and fall.

But it was fun turning round the last corner and hearing the DJ blast out "Let it go! Let it go! The cold never bothered me anyway!" seemed very appropriate and put a smile on my face!

Of course the hot chocolate and Dunkin Donuts at the end were also a welcome treat.

But the best bit was seeing my friend's daughter - who was eager to be one of the first to start - take off running and just keep going! She ran and ran, only stopping every so often to make sure she could still see us. She did such a great job and it was such a joy to see all of the young kids running their hearts out with big smiles on their faces! In fact it was an 11 year old who won the race.

We even made it onto the MLive website...

Next year I have asked Charlotte to do it with me (hopefully I will be able to keep up with her!).

Note: For a $25 registration fee I received a t-shirt and entry into the race. Kids and anyone who didn't want a t-shirt could just pay $10.