Friday, January 30, 2015

We're Sending Our Daughter to China
My kids with two of our Chinese exchange students

Most of our friends and family know this already, but in a little less than two months we are sending Bethany to China for Spring Break. Everyone has been incredibly supportive, although I'm sure a few people are thinking (but are too polite and kind to say), "how can you send your 13-year old to CHINA?"

Yes, Bethany is 13. She is in 8th grade. Yes, that might sound young to go traipsing all over the world without your parents. I would even agree that for many kids, it might be too young. Bethany, though, she's ready. And as much as I wish it could be all six of us, going as a family, that just isn't something that can happen at this time. So we are confidently sending her on a cultural exchange trip through her school, along with 11 other kids (7th-12 grade), five teachers and three administrators.

Some questions you may have:

Is it safe?
Keeping in mind that there are dangers involved with simply going about your life on a daily basis, we feel that yes, the trip is safe. Twelve kids to eight adult chaperones, many who have been to China before (and one - a Mandarin teacher - who is from China) is a pretty good ratio. They will be together, as a group, the whole time, and not just wandering the streets of Beijing and Shanghai on their own.

Where will they be staying?
Our school district has a relationship with a boarding school in Beijing, so the majority of the time they will actually be staying in the dormitories at the school. This will give the kids an opportunity to see first hand some of the educational differences between American and Chinese schools and educational practices, and will serve as a base for exploring the city. Because we have hosted three Chinese exchange students from this school, we know that it is very strict and that Bethany will be in good hands while staying there.

For one long weekend (three nights), each American student will go home with a Chinese student. I suppose this is the part to be the most nervous about, since everyone will be off doing different things with their host families, who may or not speak English, and we won't know what they're doing ahead of time. We also may not have contact with them for these few days. Furthermore, this is the part of the trip that requires us to take a leap of faith and depend upon the kindness and hospitality of strangers, as the parents of the three children we hosted had to do with us. My hope is that staying with a Chinese family, and really seeing first hand how people of a different culture live, will be a deeply rewarding experience for Bethany.

The final few days of the trip will be spent at (from my understanding) a kind of student hostel in Shanghai. This will be their only hotel-like experience in China, as they do some sight seeing before heading home.

What about homesickness?
Unlike the Chinese students we hosted, who were accustomed to being away from their families at boarding school, I expect that Bethany will deal with some homesickness, as well as culture shock. But one of the reasons we feel good about sending her on this trip is that she is a very independent 13-year old; capable, smart, and outgoing. She has flown alone in the past, and has spent time away from us on several occasions. The trip is two weeks, so it will be the longest she's been away from home without us, and of course the furthest, but I know that she'll be fine. I'm also pretty sure the kids are going to be kept so busy that they'll have very little time to pine for the comforts of home.

What will they eat?
The food might be a challenge. While staying at the boarding school, the group will have most of their meals there. We have been told that they try hard to accommodate American tastes, but to bring a couple boxes of protein bars just in case.The rest of the time, hopefully Bethany will get a little adventurous and try some new things, but she does like rice and noodles and Chinese candy so I don't think she'll starve.

Is it expensive?
It's not cheap, that is for sure. Since the kids will mostly be staying in our sister school's dormitories and with a host family, the greatest expense is the airfare. We have yet to be given the bottom line, but the total cost is estimated at approximately $2700. To offset the cost of the trip, we have been doing some fundraising as a group. Furthermore, Chris set up a GoFundMe account for friends and family who would like to contribute. We have been overwhelmed with the generosity of others - I must say we know some pretty awesome people!

Why do you think this is a good idea?
There are so many ways to answer this question. The world is a big, big place, but it's also smaller than we realize. Yes there are countless differences between the American and Chinese cultures, but as human beings we are more alike than different. It's easy to watch the news and form opinions and even prejudices about other people or groups of people without having any real life experiences with them. Visiting their country, meeting them, living with them, laughing with them, those things serve to bring us together, to learn about one another, and to have a greater understanding and appreciation of our differences, as well as a sense of empathy for the plight of our fellow human beings.

On a more personal level, Bethany expressed an interest in this trip a couple years ago and has maintained an interest in the Mandarin language (which she studies at school), and the Chinese culture. To be 13 and to have the courage and the desire to travel half-way across the globe without your parents is no small thing. If she has that courage, I do not want to be the one to discourage her, tell her she can't, and encourage a sense of fear where there was none. If she has that wanderlust, I do not want to be the one to squelch it.

What I want for my kids is for them to take ownership of their own lives, to believe they CAN even when others try to tell them they can't.

When Bethany and I attended the first informational meeting about the China trip several months ago, we saw pictures of the toilets (squatty potties) and the food, and we found out the trip overlapped with the 8th grade National Junior Honor Society trip to Washington D.C. (which the majority of her friends are going on). I thought to myself that she might change her mind with all of this new information. But when the meeting was over, she wanted to go to China more than ever. She was excited, and I was excited for her.

I know that as parents we can't give our kids everything they want. But when the thing they want takes courage and determination and a sense of adventure, saying yes might be the right thing to do. Saying yes this time, and allowing Bethany to have this experience, will open the world up to her in a way that never happens for most people. We believe that going to China is going to be a life changing event for Bethany.

Sure she could wait and have this life changing experience when she's 15 or 17 or in college, but I know that oftentimes the older we get, the more we get set in our ways, and the more we allow fears to take over and dictate our lives. Sometimes, the longer we wait to follow our dreams, the less likely we are to ever actually follow them. So if our daughter wants to start now, we're saying yes.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Giveaway: Sesame Street Live at Detroit's Fox Theatre

Sesame Street Live is celebrating 25 years of performances at the Fox Theatre in Detroit with a brand new show, "Make a New Friend." Grover has a new friend who is visiting from India, and, together with his friends on Sesame Street, shares cultural experiences with her and a whole lot of fun.

"Make a New Friend" will be playing from Friday, January 23 through Monday, February 16. Dates and times are as follows:

Friday, January 23: 7 p.m.
Saturday, January 24: 10:30 a.m., 2 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
Sunday, January 25: 10:30 a.m., 2 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
Wednesday, January 28: 11 a.m.
Thursday, January 29: 11 a.m.
Friday, January 30: 11 a.m., 7 p.m.
Saturday, January 31: 10:30 a.m., 2 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
Sunday, February 1: 10:30 a.m., 2 p.m.
Wednesday, February 4: 11 a.m.
Thursday, February 5: 11 a.m.
Friday, February 6: 11 a.m., 7 p.m.
Saturday, February 7: 10:30 a.m., 2 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
Sunday, February 8: 10:30 a.m., 2 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
Thursday, February 12: 11 a.m.
Friday, February 13: 11 a.m., 7 p.m.
Saturday, February 14: 10:30 a.m., 2 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
Sunday, February 15: 10:30 a.m., 2 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
Monday, February 16: 10:30 a.m., 2 p.m.

Perfect family-friendly entertainment, Sesame Street Live never fails to delight its young audience members. Expect to see lots of dancing, clapping, and singing along as the little ones recognize some of their favorite characters up on stage.

Ticket prices range from $8 (for schools & daycare centers)-$10 for select weekday matinees, to $65 for special Sunny Seats. Sunny Seats include premium seating and a pre-show meet and greet and photo opportunity with two Sesame Street Live friends, including Elmo. Please note the Sunny Seats are not available for the Kids Matinee Shows.

Purchase tickets at, in person at the Fox Theatre and Joe Louis box offices or at Hockeytown Authentics in Troy (with no service fees), all Ticketmaster locations or You can also charge by phone at (800) 745-3000. To receive a discount for groups of 10 or more, please call (313) 471-3099. For more information call (313) 471-6611.

To learn more about the show, go to, or "like" Sesame Street Live on Facebook.

My family has been to Sesame Street Live at the Fox numerous times, and each time has been a fun, memorable experience. Want to win tickets so you can take YOUR family to Sesame Street Live this year? MichiGal is giving away 4 ticket vouchers for Sesame Street Live at the Fox Theatre, in collaboration with Olympia Entertainment. Please note that vouchers must be exchanged for tickets at the box office ahead of time! You cannot get into the show with the vouchers! It is recommended that you go before the day of your desired performance to get your tickets.

Good luck!

Disclosure: MichiGal received ticket vouchers in exchange for promoting Sesame Street Live.

Sesame Street Live Detroit

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Why Do You Think #MichiganIsAuto? Share to Win $500!
A #MichiganIsAuto billboard

Disclosure: I was selected for this sponsored post by All opinions expressed are my own.

When most people think of Michigan, they think Motor City...they think cars. That's because Michigan is the birthplace of the automobile and the epicenter of the auto industry. Those of us who live here know more than a few people who work for the Big 3, if not directly than peripherally. My grandfather was an auto design engineer for one of the biggies for over 40 years, and many other family members and friends make their living from cars, in one way or another.

We have our own jargon here in Michigan. "Shut-down" is one of those times when all the plants close and most auto industry employees have some time off of work. "Working on the line" means working on the assembly line, building cars. The "Big 3" are Ford, GM, and Chrysler. Being "hired direct" means your paycheck is cut by one of the Big 3, as opposed to working for a contract firm, supplier, etc. These phrases are so ingrained in our everyday conversation that we don't even think twice about them. Michiganders live and breathe cars, it's part and parcel of why Michigan Is Auto.

The 2015 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) is happening in Detroit now through January 25 at the COBO Center. So it's the perfect time to share why YOU think #MichiganIsAuto. Even better? Your creative answer could win you a $500 VISA gift card!
Use the #MichiganIsAuto hashtag to win!

Here's what to do:

Now through January 23, using the hashtag #MichiganIsAuto,  post to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram the BEST and most CREATIVE reason why #MichiganIsAuto.

Tag MICHauto in your posts using the following social media handles:
There will be two drawings for $500 VISA gift cards; the first on Friday, January 16 and the second on Friday, January 23.

To learn more about MICHauto and the #MichiganIsAuto campaign, please visit

Is a trip to the Auto Show a tradition in your family? Are you planning on attending this year?

Looking for a #MichiganIsAuto billboard? One is located on I-75 South, just north of the Davison, and another can be seen from I-94 East, just past Outer Drive.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Great Escape Room - Royal Oak, MI

A few weeks ago I had one of the most entertaining evenings I've had in ages. And my life is pretty fun (ha!). I got together with a group of local bloggers to visit The Great Escape Room in Royal Oak, Michigan. With locations already in full swing in Orlando and Miami, the Royal Oak location just opened recently, and D.C. and Tampa will soon be following.

I knew there would be a mystery of some sort, but beyond that I had no idea what to expect. This is one reason I love blogging - I often find myself in situations I'm pretty sure I would have never been in had I not been invited as a blogger.

Since it IS mysterious, I can't give away too many details. But I can tell you that this place is just plain awesome! Here's a brief rundown of what you can expect.

Upon arrival, your party will be shown to a room where you can enjoy some light snacks and beverages while you await your turn. I suggest you use this time to visit the restroom as well, because when you're shown into The Great Escape Room, you won't be getting out until either 1) your group solves the mystery, or 2) your time is up.

A guide of sorts will accompany you into the room and lock the door. Not just on the doorknob, where you can easily get out, but with a key. She will give you some instructions, play a Sherlock Holmes recording that explains the mystery at hand and reiterates some rules and guidelines, and set a timer for one hour.

There are four puzzles to solve, and clues to find for each of those puzzles. Each is color coded, and when you find a clue it will have a colored sticker on it so you know which puzzle it goes with. For each puzzle there is a small bin where you can collect its clues, and a whiteboard where you can jot down any relevant information that might help you solve the puzzles. There are also signs indicating how many clues you need to find for each puzzle. Once the timer starts, you have free reign to tear the room apart looking for clues.

Now, there are a few rules. All clues are within reach, so you won't need to stand on furniture to find any. And there are a few items with signs requesting that you don't move them. But other than that, you can move everything, take out drawers, and disassemble whatever you can. You have permission to trash a room, AND you don't have to clean it up afterward.
Before and after shot at The Great Escape Room in Royal Oak.

Your guide is there to help you - to a point. She gave us some very vague clues to help keep us moving. The point is to have fun! They aren't going to solve the puzzles for you, but if your group is really frustrated or stuck, they will try to steer you in the right direction without giving anything away.

What did I like love about The Great Escape Room? It was entertaining, interactive, and mentally stimulating. It was a singularly unique experience, something out of the ordinary, social, and an absolute blast! Our whole group was grinning from ear to ear by the end. We were all completely engaged. The Great Escape Room would make a fun date, girls night out, parents night out, birthday party, etc. All ages are welcome, and it is completely G-rated - nothing violent or inappropriate. However, we agreed that we would recommend this experience for kids 12 and up, in a group mixed with adults, or 15/16 and up without parents or other adults.

If you successfully solve all the puzzles in time, you will find your way out of The Great Escape Room. If not, don't worry - they'll let you out once you're time is up. We are obviously awesome so we made it out in time, but don't feel bad if you don't - a lot of groups don't! Everyone gets a group shot at the end, with signage appropriate to your outcome.
Group shot with other local bloggers at The Great Escape Room in Royal Oak


Location: 301 W. 4th St., Suite LL110 (downstairs), Royal Oak, MI 48067
Phone: 248-495-7032
Facebook Page:
Cost: $28 pp Friday-Sunday, $23 pp Thursdays
Up to 12 people per group (book a min. of 10 tickets and your group will go through alone - otherwise you may be with some strangers - but that's fun too!)
Private Events (starting soon): $38 pp, up to 25 people (special 2 room events)

Right now the Royal Oak location has one Escape Room, but eventually they will be expanding to include at least one more. The clues and puzzles will be the same for awhile (approximately four months), so once you've done it, it's not really something you can do again...until they change it up or open a new room. Royal Oak is planning on opening their second room within the next month, and I am looking forward to taking some friends and going back for more! Located in downtown Royal Oak, there are plenty of bars and restaurants nearby to extend your evening fun. If you live in the area, or you're visiting, The Great Escape Room is not to be missed.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Anna Todd's "After" Series: A Wattpad Success Story

Have you heard of Wattpad? Having a teen daughter helps keep me in the proverbial loop, but in case you haven't heard of it I'll give you the short version. Wattpad is an app that allows users to read, write, and share stories. So basically it's a free platform for budding writers and anyone interested in reading their work. When Bethany first told me about Wattpad, specifically that she is using it during her daily free reading time at school, I was a little skeptical. Okay, actually I rolled my eyes and implored my child to read a "real" book. But then my mind was abruptly changed.

I received a package in the mail with a book inside: After, by Anna Todd. My mind was immediately blown by that statement you can see on the picture of the cover up above: "1 billion reads online." That's B-illion, with a B, which is a massive number for ANY book, let alone one that was created on an app. Sick in bed with the flu, I read After in one day. Then I immediately ordered book #2 in the four part series, After We Collided, and read that the next day.

And then, you guessed it, I wasted no time ordering book #3, After We Fell. I was a little dismayed that it was a pre-order, and I had to wait a few days for it to be delivered to my Kindle. I've been distracted by life and haven't gotten around to reading it yet, but it's on the agenda for this week. These are 500+ page books, and I'm devouring them in binges.

The fourth and final book in the series, After Ever Happy, is due to be released next month on February 24th. I already know I'll be ordering it.

My point is, these books are good. And they were created on an app. Who'd have thunk it?

So who is the face behind the After series? Anna Todd, a young military wife and first time author.

The series actually falls into the category of fan fiction, which I'll admit I had to Google because I wasn't really sure what it meant. Fan fiction is when writers create fiction based on characters that already exist or real people. A famous example would be the Fifty Shades series, which is actually Twilight fan fiction. Having read all the Fifty Shades books and the Twilight books, I can't see the connection, but my understanding is that the characters (or real life people) provide the seed, or inspiration, and then the writer just takes off on whatever imaginary tangent they can dream up.

Todd is a huge One Direction fan and based her series on a fictionalized depiction of band member Harry Styles. In the printed version of the books, his name has been changed to Hardin Scott, and he is the bad boy love interest of naive college student, Tessa. The series is sexy (R rated), well-written, and fun to read. And get this...Todd wrote it all on her phone! Simon & Schuster, impressed with After's massive success on Wattpad, picked it up and turned it into a 4-book (expanded and revised) series. Paramount has acquired the film rights, so be on the lookout for After on the big screen.

What I find interesting about Todd's writing is that she created the books with ongoing, daily feedback from her readers and fans. Traditional book writing will never end (I have to believe), but this kind of interactive writing is not going anywhere either. Kids these days don't do anything without constant interaction with their peers, so why should writing a book be any different?

Find Anna Todd on Wattpad as Imaginator1D, on Twitter as @Imaginator1Dx, and on Instagram as Imaginator1D. Her books are available for purchase from Barnes and Noble or HERE for your e-reader.

Disclosure: I participated in the After by Anna Todd blogger campaign as a member of One2One Network. I was compensated for this post, but all opinions are my own.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Raising Readers: My Personal Experience + Tips to Get Your Kids Reading

For as long as I can remember, I have been a reader. My heart would quicken to visit the library, or to hit the jackpot at a garage sale, bringing home a stack of fresh material. I read and read and read and read, often being scolded for attempting to read at the dinner table (even at restaurants). Perhaps if I hadn't been an only child, I wouldn't have loved reading so much. Perhaps if my childhood had been different in other ways, I wouldn't have searched so fervently for escape in the pages of one book after another. Or perhaps I was just destined to be a reader.

Whatever the case may be, I always knew my kids would also be readers. Never mind that Chris is not a bibliophile, not in the least. My overwhelming love for books and reading would most definitely be enough to mold and shape our children. I read to each of them since birth, took them to the library, gave them board books to ponder and chew. Did everything to reinforce the idea that we are a literary family.

One by one they learned to read, and I excitedly took them each to the library at the end of kindergarten (Mathilda's turn will be coming this year) for the important milestone of getting their own library cards. They always loved (and still love) for me to read to them, but the love of reading themselves has been a little slower to emerge.

Bethany, at 13, is my most reluctant reader. She is a busy one, always has been. Sitting down to read really just isn't her thing. She has read few books for pleasure, it pains me to admit. I still have hope though, I won't give up. I continue to search for books she might enjoy; I ask the children's librarian, I ask friends, I have taken to reading YA books myself partially in the hopes of finding books she might read. So far I've had limited success. Very limited. They do have reading time at school everyday, but generally she reads stories on the Wattpad app. I'm not sure of their quality, but I hope they're not horrible. At least she's reading though, right?

Connor is my super reader. It took him awhile (at least in my impatient viewpoint) to get into it, but I credit the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books with really getting him interested. Now, at 11, he reads voraciously. At the end of 5th grade he won the award for most AR points (they read books and then take AR tests at school, longer books have the potential for more points). This past year I have enjoyed reading several books with him, which was fun, and introducing him to some of my favorites. I employ many of the same strategies with him as with Bethany, but in his case I've met with much more success. For Christmas I picked my friend Tina's brain, as she has two sons who are avid readers, and as a result Connor has quite a nice collection of new reading material to keep him busy in 2015. At the beginning of 2014 he made a goal to read 15 books by the end of the year, and he blew that right out of the water.

Lucy is 8 and for the past six months or so has shown much more interest in reading on her own. I do still read to her quite a bit (she and Mathilda share a room and I read to them every night), but she has been reading chapter books independently as well. This year I would really like to encourage her to pick up the reading habit even more, and I will do that by taking her to the library regularly and actively seeking out books I think will interest her. For Christmas she got a set of fairy chapter books which I hope are just her thing. I also try to encourage her to ask questions when she doesn't understand something, to avoid getting frustrated and giving up. I am very hopeful that Lucy is turning into a super reader like her big brother.

My little kindergartener, Mathilda, is so excited to finally be able to read some simple words. She writes stories using all the words she knows, complete with colorful illustrations. Mathilda is so enthusiastic, and I certainly hope it holds. Right now she loves books. She looks at her books and pretends to read them, making up elaborate stories that she "reads" aloud, and finding all the words that she knows. She constantly asks me how to spell words, or spells out words that she sees and asks what they say. Hopefully the novelty never wears off and she will love to read, always. Only time will tell, but for now I make a huge fuss over her reading progress, and I know that she will be thrilled when it's her turn to get her very own library card in a few months.

What I've learned is that my kids are their own people. I can encourage all I want, but I can't force them to love reading like I do. But that's not to say I don't have a few tips for raising readers!
  1. Read to them often. Even older kids who are quite capable of reading on their own enjoy being read to. It's a wonderful calming activity for bedtime, and a great opportunity for bonding and discussion.
  2. Let them see you read. No matter how much they deny it, they really do want to be like you!
  3. Take them to the library and let them check out whatever catches their eye. We always take a canvas bag with us because we often leave with a couple dozen books. 
  4. Buy them their own books. This way they will always have books around when ever the fancy strikes to read. And they can relax and not worry about losing them or dog-earing the pages. Garage sales and thrift stores are great resources if you can't stomach the thought of paying full price.
  5. Get them an e-reader or tablet. I love real books, I really do, and so do my children. But our kids are living in a whole new era. Like it or not, they need to know how to use technology, not to mention that the option of reading on an iPad might just be that little extra incentive your child needs. And also it's awesomely convenient to have a whole library at you fingertips when waiting at the doctor's office or on long car rides (if they're lucky enough to be able to read in a moving vehicle without getting car sick).
  6. Find what interests them. This could be tricky, but keep trying! The children's librarian at your library is probably a great resource (ours is), as well as friends with kids. Probe your memory and try to think of what you liked to read at their age. If one genre doesn't click, try another. Audio books are an option too.
  7. Read books with your kids. You can either check out two of the same book from the library, or do an improvised sort of tandem reading. He reads the first three chapters, then you read the first three chapters, and so on. I've had a lot of fun doing this with Connor (and to a lesser extent with Bethany). I love having someone to discuss books with! This is also the perfect way to ensure that they understand what they're reading.
  8. Help them set reading goals. Connor got a kick out of keeping track of the books he read in 2014, especially when he surpassed his goal. As an added bonus, he now has a log of every book he read for the year. I wish I had a list of every book I ever read, wouldn't that be incredible? I also set a reading goal for myself for 2014, of which I fell embarrassingly short (okay, I admit that setting a goal of 100 books for the year may have been a bit lofty! I came in at 55, so my 2015 goal is 60). I love that I have a list of all the books I read in 2014, and I've already started a 2015 list.
What are your tips for helping your kids love books and reading? Do you keep track of the books you read? Goodreads is a helpful resource for that, where you can also rate and review the books you've read and find other books to read based on what you like.

Have you set a reading goal for 2015? Please share!