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!