Now we are six

The boys are six. Most definitely not babies, however small they look when playing soccer with the fourth graders, but not yet truly big boys. 

We saved their party date until the end of May so my parents could join the festivities and we could make it a little bit of a farewell party too. With my big plans for a carnival themed party with sack races and bean bag toss, it ended up being all about the food, cake and presents, and the chance for the kids to run around with a soccer ball. The boys were very spoilt, so many amazing presents I’m not sure how we’re going to fit them all in the suitcase on the way home. 

Mum and I spent most of Friday doing food prep, I wanted to make it an Aussie party; fairy bread, honey joys, sausage rolls. I made a big batch of traditional lemonade too which is unheard of here, it seems the powdered mix is the usual route taken, not sugar, lemons and water. I know how much sugar went into the menu, so it most definitely was party food, but I also know no chemicals or additives were in anything. Not a common occurrence here.
Hutch was in charge of cake decorating. The boys had decided a couple of days before what they wanted and all I’ll say is that fondant icing is the best. It may taste disgusting, but it makes cakes look ace.
Six years of challenges, laughter, tears and memories we’ve made. I’m so looking forward to the next six years, I have a feeling they will be the joy before the stresses and strains of teenagehood.

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Boston marathon

We weren’t in Boston last year for the marathon so I’ve never felt it was my place to get on board with the Boston strong tag line. Today though I was excited to be part of the day. To be honest, you kind of have to, the city is pretty much shut down.

We wandered up to Beacon Street which was the 24mile mark. The sky was blue and full of helicopters, police everywhere and it felt really safe. Now I’m no runner, but my friend Tina has taught me how important it is to cheer for the participants, so with Aussie and American flags in hand we found a spot on the railing.

We cheered and cheered and cheered. Well I did, the kids got bored quite quickly. I *think* we saw a friend of my parents, if not a random guy was encouraged quite loudly. Every Aussie that ran past got an extra ‘go Aussie’ and I even saw someone wearing a essendon footy top and he managed a high fist pump when he heard me.

I was so proud of all the runners, a marathon is not on my to do list at all and I hope that the crowd support helped them along. All I know is that if I was in a race half way around the world it would give me a bit of a boost hearing someone from home and I’d run that little bit further and little bit faster.

Well done to every participant, just by competing you’ve done so brilliantly.

Chicago

Taking full advantage of having in laws staying, Hutch and I escaped to Chicago for a mini break sans kids. It’s the first time he’s had away from them since we got to the US, I’ve disappeared a couple of times to NYC, but no real time out together in over a year. It was a toss up between Chicago and Montreal. I was keen on Canada, but Hutch had googled Michelin star restaurants and there are plenty in Chicago. Flights were cheap, we used Expedia and paid $380 return for both of us, and we found a lovely studio on Air b’n’b that was a steal! I left it to Hutch to plan the restaurants but vetoed Alinea, three stars it may be, but way too expensive.

We checked in online on Thursday night and the website said there was a possibility that the flight was overbooked and would we be interested in volunteering to take a later flight, compensation would be provided? I figured that we weren’t in a hurry, and that there were probably other people who needed to get to Chicago quicker than we did. When we got to the airport we were bumped, given hundreds of dollars in compo vouchers and access to the United lounge. Happy days! Hutch got to watch a replay of the Bombers game against the Hawks, and we ended up leaving at 930.

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Dinner on Friday night was at Sixteen on the 16th floor of the Trump Tower and Hotel. It’s got 2 Michelin stars and is fancy. Lots and lots of waiting staff, a set nine course menu with two themes; Day or Night. The day menu focusses on the springtime, new growth and fresh flavours, the night menu focusses on things that grow without light, and has more of a seafood bent. We chose the Day menu, and it was very entertaining.

 

My favourite flavoured courses were the first, ‘The Rising Sun’ was cured salmon, kumquat, haricot vert, lemongrass chantilly and osetra caviar, and the last ‘May Flowers’ huckleberry filled goat cheese mousse, with almond financier and mountain mint ice cream.

The most entertaining was ‘Melting Snow’ which involved a mushroom tea being brought to our table, heated with a small gas flame and the liquid was sucked into a top chamber to be flavoured by nasturtium and other greenery. On cooling it flowed back into the bottom chamber and was then poured over a hollow ball of ice, symbolising the melting snow. It was amazing from a drama point of view, but unfortunately because the hot tea was poured over the cold ice, actually meant the meal was tepid and probably my least favourite taste.

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The view from the 16th floor of the Trump Tower feels as though you aren’t very high within the skyscrapers of Chicago, a great view of the Wrigley building (of chewing gum fame) that has now been taken over by Groupon. Here’s before and after sunset.

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The architecture of Chicago is very interesting, it feels like a really old city, the train system is wooden and badly maintained, and the buildings are a mix of old and new. The great Chicago fire back in the 1870s wiped out over 60% of the CBD so there isn’t much left from before that time. There seems to have been lots of building done in the last 20 years and most of them are lovely.

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Saturday we didn’t have a reservation anywhere and after the hammering of the wallet on Friday night, it was probably a good thing. The apartment we were staying in was in Old Town, a few train stops north of the CBD, just near Lincoln Park. We wandered around to the International Museum of Surgical Science and spent an hour or so there, I think I was more keen than Hutch. It had a variety of examples of surgical techniques over the ages, along with some statues of important figures in medical history.

It was freezing on Saturday, about 2 degrees and low visibility. A walk down The Magnificent Mile (also known as North Michigan St) to Eataly for some lunch was about all we could manage. Eataly Chicago is just as good as Eataly NYC, think David Jones Food Hall on steroids, and only focussed on Italian food. We shared a plate of cheese and cured meats and I restrained myself from buying anything.

A short train ride took us to the Art Institute of Chicago. (Just as an aside, the train system is a bit weird, the stations are named for the streets they are on, so there are two Harlem Stations on the Blue line in very different parts of town. There are duplicates on other lines too as well as another Harlem station on the Green line. The city loop runs mostly aboveground on an old system. We quite liked the bus.)

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The Art institute is amazing. If you go, enter from Monroe st, the queues are much shorter and you get straight in to the modern section. We stuck to the art from 1900 onwards and that took us ages. It’s a fantastic collection even with the European section being closed. American Gothic is a great piece, there are lots of Georgia O’Keeffe who I’ve seen in other galleries, but she and her husband Alfred Steiglitz donated quite a bit, so it’s a comprehensive display of their work and collection. A little bit of Warhol, some Pollock, some de Kooning, a lonely Lichtenstein, brilliant. I’d have it in my top galleries in the world.

Saturday night was very low key, dinner in the Old Town and an early night.

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On Sunday we woke to a glorious day, well 11 degrees and clear skies, so we were very happy. A mile or so walk through Lincoln Park, past the zoo and up to North Pond, our brunch destination. It’s still very heavy density a few miles north of the business district, the apartment buildings are massive, probably taking advantage of the view of Lake Michigan. We noticed lots of car parking buildings and lots around the city, it seems the public transport isn’t reliable enough for people to commute in by rail or bus. With a population of around 10mil in Chicago and surrounds it’s a big city with some challenges.

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After a gorgeous brunch, we caught the bus downtown to join a river and lake cruise. Hutch got fleeced by a shoe shine guy, his lovely brown shoes were polished up nicely, ‘obligation free’ until the end when he was told it was $8 a shoe! I only had a $20 and handed it over way too quickly. After some heated discussion we walked away with $9 change, total rip off.

The river cruise was 90 minutes and the commentator was impressive, she spoke for at least 75 minutes and has a head full of facts and figures. Did you know it’s not called the Sears Tower anymore, it’s the Willis Tower? Naming rights go to the largest tenant. They have also reversed the flow of the Chicago river so the waste water goes down to the Gulf of Mexico. The lock that’s been built to make it all happen has to report to Michigan and Wisconsin every day notifying them of how much water they are taking out of the lake. It seemed quite contentious, a little bit dodgy and a lot of lawyer fees to get approval to change the river. Unfortunately the tap water is fairly gross, very chloriney which seems weird coming from a big lake. The big building in the second photo is Merchandise Mart, so large it used to have its own postcode.

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Off to the Museum of Contemporary Art after that which was much smaller than I expected. It’s supposed to be Chicago’s answer to MOMA but is nowhere near the scale.

Dinner on Sunday night was at Sepia, a one star restaurant than Hutch picked because he liked the website. Again a tasting menu with paired wines, lovely ambiance, dark with big light fittings and brown tones. Fresh flavours with peas featuring, not quite as fancy as Sixteen, but some tasty wine that was very well matched to the food.

Back to the apartment to bed before an early flight back to Boston. A few dramas there, American Airlines won’t let you store more than one boarding pass on your phone so we didn’t have one for Hutch and we arrived as boarding was commencing, a sprint to the gate after pushing to the front of the line at security, and we were allowed on the plane one minute before they drew back the air bridge. Oh and I left my passport in Chicago.

Most cities aren’t at their best at the end of the winter, snow has melted and the springtime isn’t in full bloom. Chicago is an interesting city, one that is great for foodies and with a bit of local knowledge would be a happy place for families too.

 

Leaning In

For the first time in my life I’ve joined a proper book club. We meet once a month, and actually spend quite a while talking about the chosen book, as well as drinking a fair amount of wine.

This month’s book was Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg which has been a best seller pretty much since it was published last year. There are a dozen of us in our group; mid thirties female professionals, mostly Irish doctors, some with kids, some partnered and some single.

For this month’s meeting we went away to Cape Cod, the summer holiday playground of the Kennedys. In the winter it is lovely and quiet, we didn’t see any neighbours and had a bracing walk on the beach. With over 60 emails in the week before planning catering, car pools and leaving time, we arrived on Friday night looking forward to a break from real life and a chance to chill out and recharge the batteries.

It was a really fluid weekend, chatting to whoever was sitting at the table or on the sofa. Everyone chipped in, a couple of us took a meal, we had professional looking cupcakes and others bought wine. So relaxing. ImageImage

Once we got talking about the book it got quite heated, well from me at least. The Irish medical system seems to be quite inflexible for families with two doctors, the hours are long and career prospects are curtailed for men who may want to take some time off to raise their children. Either I’m quite deluded (which is very possible) or the Australian system is slightly better. Not being a doctor myself may make things a little easier but I’m hoping when we go home that Hutch will be able to have a varied working week that will allow for him to be primary carer at least a couple of days a week. Some of the book club members are already Attendings here in Boston (Consultants for those in Aus) and their challenge is to support flexibility as much as they can. Some are seeking out mentees to help develop and the best outcome we’ve had already is that after reading the first few chapters, one member sent an email out looking for a Fellowship for the coming year and got one! Once Hutch has finished his Masters I’m going to get him to read the book. I think we need to get more men supporting women and their careers and as our generation become the Consultants it is their responsiblity to make it easier for the next generation, not harder.

The decisions we make as mothers seem to cause a lot of guilt, whether it’s because we need to work, or if we’ve chosen to stay home and wonder if that’s the most satisfying decision for us personally. Interestingly our parents all did different things, some of the mums were at home, some of the dads were teachers so were home more and some families had both parents working. Exactly as it is today. I think so long as the kids are fed, clothed and loved they will turn out ok and we should be able to prioritise what makes us fulfilled as adults too. Saying all that though, I do realise that fitting that in with a husband’s inflexible career can be difficult.

As the token Aussie I was very remiss in introducing any cultural aspects to the weekend, but our American representative showed us how to make s’mores, the all American campfire dessert. Image

Some very late nights, with lots of dancing, laughs, bad selfies and wine, (did I mention the wine?) meant we left on Sunday afternoon recharged but happily tired.

I got home to a daughter who’d vomited half an hour before I walked in the door, how’s that for a crash back into reality?

The luckiest

Lots of people told us we’d become closer as a family by going away and that has most definitely come true. Hutch is home a lot, to the point I try not to talk about it with our friends because they have husbands working 60+ hours a week and the burden on those at home is much worse than on me. Given he’s home so much, our household responsibilities have become more even, I’d go as far as to say he’s possibly doing more than I am these days. With no work, no volunteering and low school responsibilities I’ve been much more mentally relaxed, the constant to do list that we have in our real life doesn’t exist. We have no car to run and don’t even have to pay bills as our rent is all-inclusive.

I have a natural leaning towards laziness and I have to remind myself that as comfortable and stress free as life in Boston is, it isn’t a sustainable and that to be truly fulfilled we need to challenge ourselves, and push the comfort zone.

The money will of course run out eventually, and we’ll go back home to a big mortgage, school, childcare, work, study and all that involves.

But for now I say without any intention of gloating or smugness, that we are lucky to live a simple happy life and I will look back on this time with fondness.

Rhythm and melody

Apparently it’s the coldest Boston January on record. One of our school mum friends hates the cold, saying we get to experience this kind of weather as a novelty, they have to deal with it every year. A neighbour complains about the snow to her husband then thinks of the Aussies who live across the road, and how much fun we’re having, and that perhaps they should change their outlook.

We spent Australia Day with friends from Darwin and a heap of other internationals. We had fairy bread, sausage rolls with dead horse, cheese and vegemite on toast and I made my first pav. Of course I forgot to take a photo. It worked out well as all Stephanie Alexander recipes do, and I topped it with kiwifruit, tipping my hat to my NZ heritage. I relayed the story of Anna Pavlova and her trip down under a few times, just so everyone understood the heritage of the dessert is slightly contentious. One of the American guests thought Australian food was quite 1950s which perhaps it is, but to be honest, none of us are contestants on MasterChef, and if I had to list what I’d expect to be considered American cuisine it would be slow cooked meat, pizza and hot dogs. Not exactly 5 star dining. I don’t think she meant to offend and I wasn’t really, just surprised at what she may have been expecting.

Hutch has had a very relaxed January, he did one class for a couple of weeks that was very light on, so went to the gym every day, wore lots and lots of layers and ran outside whenever the temp got above zero. Classes are back in full swing this week and he’s quite excited about what is coming up. He tries to tell me about the content, but my eyes glaze over when I hear covariant and regression and matricies  – totally foreign language to me.

The boys have started some after school activities, Woo is doing Mad Science which is fantastic, he’s learnt about electricity, taste, and yesterday was heat. I didn’t realise that the US was the only country that uses Fahrenheit. He’s loved it. Skets missed out on his first preference of indoor soccer, but is with his best buddy doing Outdoor Explorers and is learning about hibernating animals and gets to run around outside.

My social life is getting quite busy. I was out for dinner last week with four other mums who are all American but newish to Brookline, and have plans tonight and Hutch and I have a Harvard dinner on Saturday.

Meema plays beautifully with some of our friends especially those her age, but is getting just a little bit bossy of the smaller kids. Trying to pick up toddlers who are quite capable of walking themselves, and hugs that squeeze so tight everyone falls over. I think she will definitely need to go back to day care when we get home, she’s spent far too much time with me and Hutch on her own.

Our weeks have a good rhythm to them now, and the push to get the kids ready in the morning has lessened.

Our flights home are now booked, and although it’s months away I find my mind wandering to things that we want to do when we get back. I also drift toward websites with bigger cars, and check out what the school uniform requirements are like for the boys when they get back. I need to remind myself that we’ve got quite a busy few months ahead with lots of visitors and there is still lots to do here. My sister arrives in a couple of weeks with a long list of things she wants to do and see so I’ll have to dust off my tourist hat and plan some adventures. I think because it’s been so cold and we have stayed fairly close to home we’re in a bit of hibernation mode. I’m sure once the weather gets warmer we’ll be out more.

I’ve done one of those photobooks for 2013 through iphoto and it’s done and ready to be printed, but do you think I can get the system to change my postal address? No of course not. That may just stay on the computer until we get back and I can do it then.

The only issue we have at the moment is that we have a little family of mickey and minnies living in the kitchen. We’ve caught a couple and tried all the humane ways to get rid of them, but I think it’s time to call in the experts. They’re a hell of a lot better than cockroaches though, yuck!

Winter wonderland

Looking at my header photo it confirms to me how quickly the seasons change here. We’ve had our first proper dump of snow, with snow angels made, snowmen built and lots of skidding on frozen patches of ice. We’ve had to put the scooters away, which made a 20 minute walk to yoga with Meema the other day take 45 as she and Woo insist on stopping to sample the snow on each street corner.

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Then with a day of rain, all the snow was washed away.

We’ve enjoyed the cold for the most part, though without a car it does make our world feel that little bit smaller. The effort to get everyone dressed and out of the house as well as walking rather than scooters has meant fewer excursions, but now we’re in holiday mode with Hutch around too, we’ll be going out each day exploring some more parts of Boston. The children’s museum is apparently great and is somewhere I’ve saved for a cold day. There are snowfields less than an hour’s drive away, and ice skating rinks all around town.

Having Christmas Day just us was brilliant, possibly my best Christmas ever. The kids were so excited in the morning, they were thrilled with their presents and just full of joy. Pancakes for breakky with ice cream (only because it was Christmas), then more playing with toys and off to the playground to try out Meema’s new skipping rope and Skets’ baseball set. The snow having melted was blessing in disguise as trying to find a white baseball on snow would have been nearly impossible. Woo got a big blue sled and as the most patient of our three he’s quite happy to wait for the snow to try it out, though we have had to discourage it from being used down the stairs😦

Home for a roast turkey with the best gravy I’ve ever done (I like to cook, but gravy has always been my nemesis) Jamie Oliver’s get-ahead gravy was the base plus a couple of secret ingredients from my mum made it delicious with plenty left over.

I had a moment of homesickness watching this, but remembered that just having the five of us together with no pressure to be anywhere made it such a special day, and a cold Christmas is such a novelty.

We spent the afternoon watching a movie, then wandered down the street to have a drink with some other Aussies. Eight kids aged between eight and three and they were all fabulously behaved, thanks to Polar Express. The adults actually had a chance to talk nearly uninterrupted!

Home again to speak to families back in Melbourne and some very happy but tired Hutchies tucked up in bed last night.

As I write this the snow flakes are falling thick and fast, I think Woo’s sled might get a run tomorrow!

I hope you had the perfect Christmas for you, with whatever it was to recharge your batteries and have a smile on your face.

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Thanksgiving

We hosted Thanksgiving, as you do when you’ve got no idea what’s required. A good hour trawling through Martha Stewart gave me some clues; pretty much the same meal we’d do for Christmas without the ham but plus the pumpkin pie.

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The advantage of home delivery shopping and not working meant the pumpkin and apple soup and the cranberry and pomegranate relish were done on Tuesday, and the stuffing prep all done on Wednesday. Getting the bird in the oven first thing in the morning Thursday and with Hutch pottering around tidying the house, we actually had time to go and see a football game, apparently a very traditional thing to do on Thanksgiving day. Our team got spanked – not sure if they actually scored any points at all. They had a good crowd though, cheerleaders, drummers and lots of rah rah. The game itself escaped me, seemed to be a lot of guys on the sidelines and not much flow of play.

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Guests arrived at midday and after a couple of glasses of bubbles, I in my dorkdom made everyone around the table say what they are thankful for in 2013. Put us all on the spot a bit, but confirmed to me that all of life is about relationships. We were thankful for new friends, new opportunities and all glad we had settled in so well. One of the great things about Boston is the itinerant population, so many people are from out of town that friendships are easily formed. Understandably Bostonians aren’t as keen to invest in friendships with us as we’re going to leave them eventually, but we now have people around the world to visit.

I bought an apple pie through school as a fundraiser and it was way better than I’d hoped. We also had pumpkin and pecan pies both very tasty, and cake pops, gorgeous little angry bird style turkeys and little orange pumpkins.

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The leftover cake pops have taunted the kids for the past few days, there was far too much fussiness at Thanksgiving for my liking so we’ve been using them as incentive for vegetable and fruit consumption. Poor Skets has never been very good at his fruit or veg but will happily drink green smoothies. So we’ve made a bit of a chart with everyone’s targets- Meema has to have 2 veg and 1 fruit, the boys are 4/1 and Hutch and I are 5/2. The first day was horrendous. Woo’s tantrum was beyond, he felt quite out of control in the whole process so we eventually got him calm enough to discuss day two and he agreed to eat his veg so long as they were raw. Fine with me. Skets never thought he’d make it to four veg, but with a smoothie full of spinach and a roast dinner with me helping him eat peas and corn he got over the line on day three with the final incentive of calling Dinks. He got there, only gagging twice, and we are all so proud. I bet that cake pop tasted like heaven.

Now we’re in December and all the blogs I read talk about getting ready for Christmas and I’m not feeling it at all. Christmas for us is usually hot, and at the end of the year with lots of counting down to the holidays and the beach. This year it feels like we’re only at the beginning of the year, it’s cold and with a massive meal for Thanksgiving over and done with, I imagine Christmas with the five of us will be very low key. Perhaps with some snowball fights🙂

Perceptions

Before we moved to the US there were quite a few negative opinions of America when we told people we were going away. A lack of gun control, no universal healthcare, tipping. Most people would say they loved parts of the country; New York, Las Vegas, Disneyland, but that they weren’t necessarily fond of the people. Visions of brash overweight Americans wearing visors and bum bags, Presidents like GW Bush who didn’t have a passport until he gained office, people who had no idea of global geography.

Now we’ve been here a couple of months I feel I can confidently say that for all those stereotypes, there are a hundred more reasons to enjoy this place. The people are truly friendly; from school parents to shop assistants, everyone is happy to help out, talk to you and engage in the interaction. The landscape is beautiful, Melbourne could get some tips from the Boston Public Transport system (it actually works across buses and trains). Yes they have massive problems with gun control, but universal healthcare is slowly coming in, Obamacare seems to be making a difference. The state of Vermont has implemented a program that covers everyone – yes universal healthcare – and on initial budgetary projections looks to save the state millions of dollars. Tipping I am getting used to, and although I don’t agree with it, am comfortable not punishing the staff that are getting so poorly paid by trying to prove a point. It seems like Obama is actually getting somewhere. A huge advantage that he’s not up for re-election so can actually get on with the job, but he has to fight with Congress every step of the way.

I’ve been following the Australian political scene a little bit since being away and you know what? There are plenty of reasons not to be proud of our country. Our treatment of asylum seekers, the life expectancy of the Aboriginal community, and a government who continue to embarrass us all in their lack of integrity. I read today that Minister Pyne has thrown out the Gonski report, without any great explanation. Why? Just because Labour thought of it? We need political leaders that are prepared to see beyond themselves and identify what is best for humanity, regardless of where the ideas come from, and be proud to look back at the next election and be able to honestly say they made Australia and the world a better place to live. Australians are happy people, and should be strive to be open minded, inclusive and willing to help those who need a hand no matter where they come from.

Our village

Three months in and the Hutchies are in a good rhythm. Hutch does the school drop off, Meema and I catch up with friends and take advantage of the activities of our neighbourhood, and I eventually get around to vacumming the stairs. (Note to self, never put dark carpet on stairs, they are a nightmare to get clean.)

Slowly slowly we’re becoming part of the community. Margie is the local lollipop lady who looks out for all three kids every day and loves to hear what they’re up to. Hutch has found his favourite coffee place in all of Boston, and we visit it most weekends so we’re nearly at the stage when they know what we want before we order it.

Choosing not to have a car here has worked out well so far. The school is a three minute walk away, Hutch’s uni is a mile away and the supermarket delivery is top notch. We haven’t got to the depths of winter yet, so I’m not sure how Meema and I will go wandering/scooting the streets on icy footpaths but we’ll give it a go.

Saying that, I rented a car today to go across town to buy some Wilton’s food colouring. Of course my data allowance had run out so I had to figure out how to get there without a map. Total first world problem I know, but I was pretty proud of myself for getting there without getting lost. You see so much more of the town when you go somewhere new and as much as I love our local shops, we need to do a little more exploring. It was fantastic to get an afternoon kid free to check out AC Moore, an arts and crafts store that has an amazing range. I was thinking of my sister and cousin’s wife the whole time I was in there, Presh is right into crafting and quilting, MT is an amazing cake decorator and I could imagine her with an overflowing trolley. I’ve bought the first few Christmas pressies and some crafty activities for the kids to do when the snow keeps us stuck inside.

We’re hosting Thanksgiving in a couple of weeks, and with only one American guest I’m glad no one will have high expectations! I’ll do the turkey, and have already been on marthastewart.com looking up stuffing recipes, and I’ll allocate the rest to the guests. It’s pretty much a Christmas dinner without the presents isn’t it?