Friday, 9 November 2012

Art Buddies, Session 1

A note for my buddy Amy.

The first day of Art Buddies is so much fun. There’s a strong sense of excitement and a great buzz on that first day. I also love how everyone just pitches in and works together to get the room set up.  It’s always a good mix of familiar and new faces.

One thing that I love about the first day is that the kids get to pick their adult buddy. They don’t want anyone to have the experience of being picked last, so they have the kids draw a name from a hat. That way they get to pick you and the kids love that. 

As the kids enter the room they get a chance to call out their buddies name on the microphone. Some of the kids really like doing this and others are a bit shy. Part of the objective of the program is to build the kids confidence so they create opportunities for the kids to speak in front of the group, which is really nice.
My buddy is called Amy and she’s in the 5th grade.  After she picked me we went to sit down and got to know each other. 

On the first day the adult buddies bring something in to show their buddy what it is they do at work. We want to inspire the kids and introduce them to jobs that they may not have even known existed. 

It’s also a really nice way to break the ice. Amy was really curious about the work that I do and asked a lot of questions.  

The theme for this session is animals. We spent some time talking about the positive qualities that animals have and the kids are supposed to pick an animal that represents their good qualities and make a costume.

The brainstorming time is such a rush because all the kids are super excited. The room that we work in is filled with an amazing assortment of art supplies and everyone just wants to start walking around collecting supplies for their costume.   

All the adults try to spend a bit of time sketching and talking through ideas, but the kids can’t wait to start walking around and collecting supplies  :)
Amy didn’t want to make an animal costume and instead wanted to be an artist who painted pictures of animals. The great thing is that it’s completely fine for her to do that.  You don’t have to DO anything a certain way. 

Art buddies also stresses that the costume you make with your child doesn’t have to be the most amazing costume ever, it’s about spending time together and for you to make your child feel successful and to help foster their creativity. 

Sue does such a great job reminding us all that the point of art buddies is the shared experience and not about how great the costume is. Art buddies give the kids an opportunity to feel successful in what they are doing, everyone gets to feel important and like be a winner. 

Something new that has come into the program is the Buddy Books. We get a blank book at the start of the session so that we can write notes to our buddies, paste in photos of our kids working and we give it to the kids at the end as a keepsake. We can also use the buddy book as a way to give the kids something else to do if they are having a hard time focusing on the costume. 

I think it’s a really cool idea and Amy and I spent some time decorating our book together.

The first session was fantastic and I feel so happy to be part of Art Buddies.
I also want to mention that I do have permission to post photos of my buddy 
Amy tying up our bag at the end of the session. It was pretty full of stuff.
Amy is feeling pretty happy at the end of our first session together.

This is only one half of the room we work in. There's another huge table filled with supplies.


3:30  Help set up
3:55  Orientation
4:15  Kids arrive
5:30  Kids to bus
5:35  Clean up

Choose another volunteer to work with you and your child as a team of four. You and your "adult buddy" can support each other throughout the program, and fill in if one of you is absent.

Pair up with your child and get acquainted. Today, you'll help your child brainstorm ideas, then start creating together.

Show your child what you do.  Most of the kids have no idea that the logo on their sneakers --- or the TV ads they watch --- represent a JOB.

At this program, you'll help the children imagine themselves as powerful and important by identifying with the positive characteristics of animals. They’ll choose an animal that represents something they’re good at, then you’ll create a fanciful animal costume together. You’ll help boost the children’s confidence as they discover and celebrate their strengths.

Break the ice by looking at library books with animal pictures.  Ask the kids to tell you about themselves.  Show them our “Animals with Good Qualities” sheet, and encourage them to identify as many of their talents and strengths as they can. The more positive qualities they discover, the bigger the boost to their self-esteem.

Sometimes, kids are so anxious to get started, they’ll settle on an idea too quickly.  Tell them they can always come back to their first idea, but this is the time to explore lots of choices.

Start planning what you’ll create. We'll have paper and markers for sketching concepts. If you're ready, start creating your costume. Use your imagination!


We'll also have blank books for you and your child to write and draw in.  On the last day, you'll give the book to your child as a keepsake.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Art Buddies

One of the things I was really looking forward to doing once I came back to Minneapolis was to volunteer for Art Buddies. I had been a volunteer twice before I moved to London and it was a wonderful experience. 

The fall session started at the end of October and this semester we have a new theme, which is all about animals.

We're helping the kids imagine themselves as powerful and important by identifying with the positive characteristics of animals. 

The kids choose an animal that represents something they’re good at, then we work to create a fanciful animal costume together. 

Art Buddies was started back in 1994 by a wonderful woman called Sue Crolick, you can read her story about why she started it here. Sue and Steph Vagle are just incredible woman and are so wonderful.

Get involved:

There are lots of ways to participate and I'd be happy to talk to anyone who has questions about what it's like to be an Art Buddy. 

Have a look at their website and they are also on Facebook and Twitter.

I'll be blogging about this session so look out for more posts :) 

What is Art Buddies?

Art Buddies helps kids from low-income families discover their creative gifts while building confidence and big dreams. 

The creative volunteers come from all sorts of exciting fields — including advertising, graphic and interior design, film production, commercial photography, illustration, public relations, web design and architecture.

At every program, creative volunteers work one-on-one with their child. The kids are amazed that they each get their own adult. One boy told us, “Art Buddies is cool, cuz you get your own person!”

The workshops last from 7 to 10 weeks, with 40 mentors helping 40 kids create something fanciful and unique.  It might be a costume of a child’s future self, or a model of their dream city, or an image of themselves as “ruler of the world.”

No matter what the activity, the goal is always the same: to help the children believe in themselves and expand their vision of who they can become.

Art Buddies ends with the kids posing for professional photographers and showing off their creations in an exciting parade and performance.

Since its beginning in 1994, Art Buddies has paired over 1,800 children with over 1,800 creative people.  In the fall of 2011, we doubled the number of kids we serve to 160 per year. 

They believe in the power of creativity and one-on-one attention to change children’s lives.

Friday, 2 November 2012

A tribute to a great friend

My lovely friend Mary Ivers sends me the most wonderful music via Spotify Tweets. So even though she is far away in London, I feel like she's right here. She sent me this song tonight and I'd thought I'd share it with you. Cheers MareBear, I really miss you.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Hometown Tourist

As a quick intro, but I will be writing a separate post that covers off the move back to America, Matthew and I arrived in Minneapolis back in July.

Since that time I have found a lovely job, spent time with friends and family, met some wonderful new people, bought a second had Saab 900 and am now a homeowner.  A lot has happened and it has been a lot of fun.

The topic of this post is about being a tourist in your hometown. I recently went out to lunch with an old friend who mentioned that they had been doing some local touristy things recently.
I would say this is something that I was rather good at before I moved away, the old hometown tourist, but I am really trying to make an effort now that I am back. 

There’s so much to explore and enjoy here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. We’ve got a lot going on here and it’s going to be fun to take Matthew around and show him what’s so super about the cities and the state.

There’s a bigger piece to this story as well, but I won't get too preachy. I think it’s very important to support local businesses. These unique places are what make our city an interesting place to live in. I won’t get on a soapbox now, but we should really be thankful that people open these businesses and we should our support by shopping local…

The other day I was at the Target out in St. Louis Park and I overhear a conversation on the way to my car. One woman was saying to her friend “It’s so great around here. You've got Target and Noodles and Verizon, it’s really great.”

Yep, you've got all your big box stores right here in this strip mall. Not that I am poo pooing Target or Noodles (I am sucker for the mac and cheese with broccoli and tofu), but it just struck me a sad thing. That people were exciting by such a generic retail experience.


Before I moved away I made an effort to go to new restaurants and bars.I have my favorite haunts, but I am a firm believer in trying new things.

I am big fan of lists and I was at the library going through the Mpls St Paul magazine and they had an article about where to get interesting/good food broken out by neighborhood.  I thought it would be fun to try and see how many of these places Matthew and I could get to.

When in doubt, start with a donut!

So I decided to start with donuts, which is a pretty tasty place to start. We went to A Baker’s Wife over on 42nd Street and 28th Ave in the Powderhorn neighborhood in Minneapolis.

The article mentioned that they had a cinnamon sugar donut that must be experienced, so on Sunday morning we made our way over.

I’ve heard a lot of good things the A Baker’s Wife, but I just never went there. No reason in particular, just never made it, you know how it goes :)

A Baker’s Wife is a charming neighborhood spot; there were lots of cute families going in  to get a special Sunday treat. I went for the cinnamon sugar donut, which was warm and yummy. Matthew had a nice flaky croissant. I read online that their American tea cakes are to die for, so we’ll have to try that one next time. 

The intersection of 42nd Street and 28th Ave is an old school kind of place. It feels like old Minneapolis, in a good way. I found a blog called Twin City Sidewalks which featured this intersection, I recommend taking a look at the post and heading over to A Baker’s Wife.
Here’s to being back in a great city and hometown tourism. 

Enjoy other posts about A Baker's Wife

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Just to say that my blogging vacation will soon be over

Posts will include, but won't be limited to:

Riveting insights on  what it's like living back in Minneapolis after being away in London for almost 5 years! 

P.S. Thanks to all the expat bloggers out there who have sent me messages asking me to write some new blog posts! 

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Last night in Bognor

Just for the record we didn't fly BA, we flew with United. 

As per my previous post, Matthew and I arrived back in Minnesota on July 9th. We had a pretty long journey. 

We also only had two days from the time we arrived back from Uganda to get everything ready to go. Originally we thought we were going to be coming back in August, but things changed. We only bought our flights back to MN while we were in Uganda. Thomas, being the kind brother in law that he is let us stay at his house. 

We went down to Bognor on the Thursday and the day before we left we had a really nice evening out with friends and family.

We all met up at the local Indian and  had a farewell chicken tikka masalas. It wasn't an official leaving do, just a nice dinner with Tristan, Sue, Thomas, William, George and Ryan. 

Sue gave Matthew a really lovely present. She had printed out a bunch of photos of Matthew and the Bognor gang. Some real gems from over the years. It was a really touching present.

Since it was our last night in England, that meant a trip to the pub. We went to the Claremont, a pub that can only be described as a hardcore boozer. If you ever find yourself in Bognor and are looking for an authentic local experience head there and tell them Matthew sent you. You'll get a free serving of whelks to go with your pint.

We decided it would be a good idea to leave some packing for after the pub, so that meant we were up until 1am. We had booked a minicab to come collect us at 3:45am so after a brief sleep we were off to the airport. 

I am always a bit nervous about taking a taxi at ungodly early times in the morning. Matthew and I had a terrifying experience a few months back when we were on our way to Lithuania.

Long story short, the taxi driver fell asleep behind the wheel and we ended up shouting at him to wake him up. Once he was awake Matthew convinced him to pull over on the motor way and to let him drive to the airport. So, now Matthew can add taxi driver to his CV.

Thankfully our driver was bright and chipper despite the early hour. We had a 90 min drive up to Heathrow that was actually pleasant. 

Once we were at the airport all we had to do was check in and make one last trip to Boots* before boarding the plane back to America.

As everyone knows the airline industry has tightened their belts and clamped down on the amount of luggage you're allowed to check in. I used to be able to check 2 bags on an international flight, but that was back in 2009. 

Our carrier only allowed us one bag each, although I did look at the website and I could swear it said 2 bags, but I wasn't in the mood to argue at the check in desk. I had also caught a cold the day previous and wasn't feeling too feisty.

The woman on the check in desk was more than happy to point out that we were over the allowed baggage limit and I think she was hoping that I would melt down and be reduced to tears by the news.

I was like, whatever. I am happy to pay the extra fee, it's not a problem. 

I am also not ashamed to say that I was secretly pleased with the look of disappointment on her face when I just slide my credit card onto the counter and paid the fee.

We checked in and headed to the lounge. I don't remember too much after that, probably because I was so exhausted. Matthew and "slept" for pretty much the entire flight.

Next thing I knew we were landing in Chicago. Oh yeah, we had to go with a connecting flight. Flights to MN in the middle of the summer aren't as cheap as I had hoped. It was definitely worth saving that $25.00 by having a connection. We also got to recheck our luggage and go through security again!

During the connection Matthew had to present his green card packet to the US Border Authority. That was pretty straightforward. When we came through customs Matthew showed his visa and then we were ushered into a separate office area. We were in and out in 20 minutes.

The flight from Chicago was short and sweet and then we were in Minnesota! I called my friend's dad from a pay phone (yes, you can still find a few pay phones kicking around the place). My friend's parents have had the same phone number for my entire life, which comes in handy.

We collected our baggage and headed out to the pick up area and waited for Dennis to come and collect us.

We were whisked away in a lovely air conditioned car to their house in West St Paul, where family was waiting to welcome us with hugs, kisses and food. That was two weeks ago.
Lots has happened in that short amount of time. I also realize that I haven't blogged about our trip to Africa. Don't worry, I'll be posting shortly. There will be lots of fun posts about life in Minneapolis, because it is great to be back!

*Going to Boots at the airport is an English tradition

Friday, 6 July 2012

Back to Minneapolis

Super quick blog post. Matthew and I just got back from Africa on Wednesday and we are flying out to Minneapolis tomorrow. 

The past few days have been a haze of seeing people, packing, moving stuff, sorting out bills and trying to get our heads around the fact that we are going to be in back in the states tomorrow!

Our flight leaves from Heathrow at 7:45 am and today is going to be busy busy busy. So much has been happening and I can't wait to see everyone back home and to spend time with friends and family.

I am sure there will be a whole new slew of blog posts to chronicle what it's like being back in America as well as sharing how Matthew's getting on. As well as sharing what's been leading up to this journey back home. 

Here's to a new adventure!

Monday, 7 May 2012

London Tweed Run 2012

Source: via Rhea on Pinterest

I LOVE this concept. I wasn't able to get a spot on the Tweed Run this year, but I lived vicariously through photos and blog posts.

Could you imagine anything better than seeing a group of lads and ladies dressed in their finest tweed cycling through town on vintage bikes?

It looks like there's a Tweed Run in NYC and Italy, but not Minneapolis...

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Marks and Spencers Pinterest board

Source: via Rhea on Pinterest

To share with all my friends back in America I've started a British Food packaging board on Pinterest. I absolutely love all this Diamond Jubilee packaging!

Marks and Spencers

I could write endless posts about how much I love Marks and Spencer's food hall. The packaging design is so lovely. It is certainly one of my favourite things about living in England, being able to shop in M&S food hall.

Whenever I travel I like to look in the local grocery stores and see different styles of food packaging and it's no different here in London. I have been known to wander around the aisles in M&S taking photos. 

At the moment they have some fantastic packaging for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. I was looking for some images of that to share when I stumbled upon the website of Debbie Powell who is a packaging designer who has done work not only for M&S, but also Tesco, Jamie Oliver and Carluccios. I love her style of illustration, have a look at her site. There's a link on the site to her blog and that's filled with lovely images.

So this post has turned into a bit of a M&S packaging design round up.I found out that a chap called Stuart Kolakovic was the designer of my favourite tea packaging. His website is full of gorgeous illustrations.

Debbie Powell Giant Pretzels (a personal favourite)
Debbie Powell Queen's Diamond Jubilee tin

Kate Forrester's Queen's Diamond Jubilee tin

Stuart Kolakvoic tea packaging

Thursday, 12 April 2012

An awesome Kickstarter project!

If you don't already know this brilliant chap, you're in for a real treat. My very good and talented friend Taylor Baldry has a project on Kickstarter, the world's largest funding platform for creative projects in case you haven't heard. 

Here's Taylor's bio, it totally backs up that he's a legit guy with a dream in his heart.

Taylor has to raise the entire $1,000 by Wednesday May 9, 6:01pm EDT. If he doesn't reach his goal he doesn't get anything and then it's back to square one. Believe you me, I don't think his parents are going to want to give him any more money...

The books that he's creating are not only useful, but the will make learning fun and you more popular. So donate generously!

Have a look at his video and please visit his Kickstarter page to become a part of the story!Please be warned that there are some rude bits in the video, but no strobe effects.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Getting a Spouse Visa

Looking back over my immigration journey I spent probably too much time worrying about all the things that could have gone wrong, but you know what? It all worked out. I thought I'd share my journey with all those who are going through it. The key bit of advice would be this, don't worry about what may or may not happen. If you are a real couple and meet all the criteria then you will be fine.

Spouse Visa 

I met Matthew in October 2007 and we  decided to get married in August 2008. I remember us beginning to figure out everything we needed to do in order for me to get my spouse visa. 

I don't remember the exact date, but Matthew and I decided to go and see an immigration lawyer to make sure we understood the process. It was definitely worth the money at the time, I remember it being around £75. We are able to ask all the questions that we wanted. The immigration lawyer offered a service where they would fill out your application for you at the modest sum of £500! Please don't waste your money. Having an immigration lawyer fill out your application won't guarantee you anything. The visa's are expensive enough without wasting money for someone just to fill out a straightforward form.

I can remember reading loads about how to get the spouse visa on the internet and at the time it was a bit daunting. I guess the most scary thing about was the uncertainty over whether or not it would be approved. Looking back I can see that it would be highly unlikely that I would have been refused, but you just never know. 

After we were married Matthew went back to London and I stayed behind in Minnesota to wait for my visa to come through. Since I was only in London on a tourist visa I had to return home to send the application.

We had to wait for the marriage certificate to be sent out before we could send off the application. In theory that should have taken a week, but for some reason instead of sending to my address in MN it was sent to London!

That was really annoying. Matthew tried to send it back to me, overnight via DHL, but that got cocked up. The letter ended up sitting in a distribution center in Detroit for several days. A week later it finally arrived and I went and sent off the application.

Once it was sent the waiting began. It was good to be spending some time in MN, but it was really hard being new married and away from Matthew. It was a weird limbo time for me. I was staying with friends and I wasn't working. Not knowing how long I was going to be in MN was a bit stressful. In the end after the spouse visa application was sent it only took about 3 weeks for it to be approved. 

The application itself was pretty straightforward. We had to prove that we were a legitimate couple. I ended up printing out email conversations, photos of us on holiday and photocopying cards that we had received as a couple. We also had to show proof that Matthew had a place for us to live and that we had a certain amount of income, basically they wanted to make sure that we could support ourselves. 

All I have to say is that if you are a real couple and you meet the requirements than you will be fine. I spent a lot of timing worrying that my application wouldn't be approved. I read way too many stories of couples who were separate for months and other immigration horror stories. Don't waste your time getting stressed over what might happen, just make sure you fill out everything carefully and be prepared to be patient if the processing times are longer than you would want them. 

Becoming British

Yesterday it was a cold and snowy day in London. I had spent much of the day in the flat doing odds and ends when finally it was time to brave the cold and go out to the shops. Matthew and I bundled up and headed out in search of ingredients for a classic tuna hot dish.  When we got back and stopped to check the post we discovered two interesting looking envelopes from our local council addressed to me. 

Since I never get any letters from the council this could only mean one thing, news about my citizenship application. After tearing open the letter I was very happy to see that my application had been accepted and I had also been assigned a citizenship ceremony to take place on the 22 of February. 

What a feeling. I would even venture to say that I was chuffed to bits!

I applied for citizenship back on November 6, 2011 and you just never know how long things might take. I was told that it could take up to six months and so that was kinda what I was expecting. I also didn't realise that they would assign you a date for the ceremony. I thought that I would have to phone up and do that on my own. I've also heard people say that it can take a long time to get a place at a ceremony. 

Matthew of course was very excited, especially because I have to pledge an oath to the Queen. I am excited too and also relieved that it's all sorted now. 

It is a bit strange to think that I am now a British citizen. It's just something that I never thought in my wildest dreams would ever happen. 

I know the journey to citizenship is a subject that people are generally interested in so I thought I'd condense my journey down so you that people can get a general idea of how it all works.

Looking back this entire process of marrying someone from another country and sorting out all the visas seemed really daunting and at times a bit scary. I can say now that it's really nothing to get worked up over, as long as you're in a real relationship with someone and you follow all the directions you'll be fine. 

I'd also like to say thank you to all the other expat bloggers out there who have taken the time to share their journeys and also all the wonderful people who take the time to write on the UK Yankee Forum. It's always comforting to read other people's stories. 

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Going Green Ewa Kwolek's Brazilian Adventure

I started a new job in December. I am now working at Proximity London on the Kraft Foods team and I am loving it. It's a great agency, I've got great clients and projects and my new colleagues are wonderful. 

I wanted to share this post from Ewa Kwolek's (a new colleague on the Kraft team) blog. Ewa is going to Brazil for the month of March and doing charity work through the TIE organisation for the Edificio Ecologico.

Ewa has been working incredibly hard to raise money and has been coming up some very creative fundraising ideas. Please visit her blog to follow her story and make sure to donate!

Who am I and what is this all about?

Who am I?

My name is Ewa and I am an Account Director at a marketing agency in London – Proximity London. My agency working with TIE (The International Exchange) chose me to help developing world by using my communications skills.

What does it mean?

From 5th of March 2012 for 30 days I will be working for a sustainable organisation Edificio Ecologico based in Brazil creating a communications campaign for them.

Who are Edificio Ecologico?

Edificio Ecologico could be translated as ‘Ecological Buildings’ simply explaining their main goal of implementation of recycling systems (separation) in high-rise residential and business buildings in Recife (north of Brazil) to help improve environment and lives of garbage pickers.

This project started 8 years ago and thanks to efforts of its coordinators, 200 residential buildings are now registered to the scheme.

How will I be able to help?

In order to support these guys, I am not only offering them my communications skills. I am also raising money here in the UK that will form my marketing budget in Brazil.

How do I raise the money?

My main idea is around saving money at my work place by simple ‘green steps’. I am encouraging my colleagues to print double sided, switch off PCs and lights, walk up the stairs as opposed to talking lifts and also stop using plastic bags. And all of this to create savings for my charity work. It is simple:

  1. My colleagues do something simple
  2. Proximity passes on the savings
  3. I help a charity in Brazil

My re-usable bags

I produced 250 cotton bags and I am selling them to raise the funds. They were designed by two students who offered their time for free. The idea is simple: stop using plastic – buy one of my re-usable bags helping not only the environment here in the UK but also supporting my fundraising as 100% of takings will be passed to my charity.

What next?

I have 7 weeks left and still plenty to do. I need to raise minimum £1000 and I have a few more fundraising activities to organise and I need to sell all my bags. I also need to get ready and learn as much about Brazil as I can. On top of this I am learning Portuguese to help me communicate with the Brazilian family I will be staying with.

How can you help?

You can simply donate using the donate button on the top right hand side of my blog. Don’t worry, you don’t need a PayPal account and you can simply use your card. Read more here: You can also buy a bag from me (£4 only). Or simply read my blog and pass the message! Thanks in advance for all your support!
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