Thursday, September 25, 2014

Gemma's Frozen Fourth

It was inevitable one girl was going to request a Frozen theme birthday this year. I am surprised it wasn't Lily in June. It was an easy party to organize. I pulled out all my Christmas decorations and we decorated Goppy's living room. We figured since she had A/C and it was 102 degrees the week before it wouldn't be anywhere near frozen at our house.
The mantle held all the snowflakes and a few good movie quotes in frames.
The show stopper was the cake. Gemma and I pored the internet and she was very specific about the cake design. It is pretty much what sold her on the frozen party.
The ice crystals we partly home made and some rock candy sticks. The stair case led up to Elsa's palace.
From the moment guests arrived it was obvious Gemma would not be able to wait to open gifts. Side note: Alex is holding tiny cousin Gwyneth and I didn't even get a proper photo of her to make the blog debut. Maybe we will have to give her a post of her own soon!
Since it was a frozen party, the gifts were pretty much all frozen gear! Giant Olaf has been Gemma's constant companion since that night.
Ben made off with some loot while the girls weren't looking.
The highly desired Elsa costume so now Gemma can fulfill her wish of being Elsa for Halloween...along with every other girl in America.
Grandpa Lee was up and chipper for the party! He wouldn't miss Gemma's big fourth!
After gifts and dinner of chicken, macaroni and cheese (home made by Dad) salad and green was cake time!!Uncle E lit the four candles.
We all sang, and the old pro blew out her candles. Hope she made a good wish because she got every gift she could ever wish for. Although she did say to me the next day that she loved all her gifts more than a nano (grandpa just got an ipod Nano and Gemma is envious) then she says, well I do still want a nano.
The best is the next day when your sister goes to school and you get to be home and play with all your loot.
The fun didn't stop there. Gemma's actual birthday was Wednesday so of course there were a few gifts that made it to the house from us and family and friends that couldn't be at the party. Check out the brand new big girl bike! No more hand me downs!
As tradition requires, M&M pancakes for breakfast. Whoever started this tradition was not thinking ahead to school age and making pancakes before school!
The baby doll bath set even! Gemma saw this on a commercial in England and it was all they talked about after. That's pretty much why we don't have TV with commercials at our house.
Somehow the Anna and Elsa water bottle was a huge hit. I have never seen the girl consume so much water as she has since that arrived.
Her birthday was spent breaking in her new bike, gymnastics class, swim lessons, and dinner at a restaurant which to these girls is a huge deal! 
It was a great birthday sweet Gemma Grace. Here's to four years of fun and a whole lot more. Let's hope there will just be a little more sleep and a few less tantrums in your future.

Labor it up, at the beach

Labor Day weekend we met up with cousin Benji boo at the beach. They were in Carpinteria for the weekend and we didn't need any convincing to crash their party, or join them for a day at the beach.
We're pretty good at beach going these days. Besides the mass amount of gear we bring along, it is pretty much a guaranteed good time!
The girls really like to boogie board, or surf as they call it.
Ben was more interested in the sand sculpture.
They dug a big hole near the shore, only to watch it get washed away.
Taking it all in, with their toes.
This little guy enjoyed smashing castles more than building them, much to Lily's dismay. She had to have a castle guard standing by at all times.
This is the only way to get these two to sit still. Even burying couldn't hold them.
After our beach day, we cooled off with a rinse in the condo pool and then all went to our fave spot for dinner. It was a great way to enjoy the last bits of summer. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Back to school, back to reality

Last year back to school was full of firsts. Elementary school for Lily, beginning preschool for Gemma. This year is the year of "seconds", and that feels pretty good. Lily started first grade at the same school she finished off last year. Gemma returned to her same preschool to join the four year olds class. A little less change is nice this time.

Lily's school hosts a back to school bash the Sunday before school starts. This was an opportunity to find out who your new teacher is and see your old friends. There are three 1st grade classes and we didn't know any of the teachers going in so we had no hopes to be dashed. The only tough thing would be knowing you aren't going to be in class with all your friends from last year. 

Lily got Ms. Nicole as her teacher (yes, that is her last name). She is darling and we couldn't be more excited. She has a couple friends in her class from last year and is excited to make new ones too. She can play with all her other friends at recess because they get THREE recess breaks this year. She stays until 2:45pm each day except Tuesdays the whole school gets out a bit earlier. 
The first day of school was a Wednesday so it was an easy transition back to school with a short week. She lined up with her class and marched right on in when the bell rang. Not a glance behind to Gemma and I. Huh, guess we're old news already.
Gemma was not impressed with being left behind. Her school didn't start until the following week so we had some one on one time together. Let's just say that first week with Lily in school all day was a LONG WEEK. It is a huge adjustment for the kids to stay that extra hour and a half every day from the kindergarten hours. Lily came home so wiped out and so emotional. One wrong look and she would be in tears for no reason. She is loving first grade and her new teacher, it is just an adjustment. Gemma on the other hand is lost without Lily at home. It was the same last year but it is funny how quickly we forget and how the girls relied on each other this summer for companionship. They really are great friends and love playing together. Gemma has never had to play by herself with a big sis around all the time. She is finding it very hard and missing Lily so much during the day. Let's just say I am no replacement in the pretend play department.
Finally it was this little munchkins turn to start back at preschool. She was so excited to see her teachers again and meet new friends. Her little girl friend from last year was not returning this year so we had lots of chats about all the new friends she would make. The big highlight of this year is she gets to stay for lunch. She is still attending two mornings a week but the whole pack lunch thing makes all the difference.
We had gone shopping a few days prior to pick out a new dress for the first day. This girl has some opinions on fashion which is nothing new. She was wayyyyy more interested in shoes than the clothes and while she did not need another new pair of shoes we made a compromise that she could get the new boots she had her heart set on if we agreed on the dress. Pretty much she vetoed every (adorable) dress I chose and we settled on this one. She was more interested in the beach cover up type sundresses but this was more school appropriate. The best part is the morning of her first day she had huge tears over the dress and she refused to wear it. I totally saw this scenario coming. She wanted to wear a "frozen" t-shirt and skirt that had been worn for four days straight. I have to say, I wouldn't budge and she finally agreed to wear the new outfit. She looks darling of course and was so proud, although she did shout over her shoulder later that day, "I am never wearing this dress again."
If you remember last year she clung to my leg for the first three months of school and had to be coaxed away each morning by the teachers. This year she was happy to march right in, put her lunch box away, and after a few minutes holding hands she found her spot on the rug.
She came home that first day happy as a lark and told me all about the kissing hand craft they had done and all the fun she had. Just to keep things interesting, Gemma woke the very first morning after school with pink eye. Nothing says welcome back to school than shared germs. I was more than irritated seeing that she would now have to miss her second day of school and be home quarantined with me.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Returning to the Motherland

Note: This is a guest posting by Alex......

After nearly three and a half years, a trip back to England was loooooong overdue.  The original plan was for us all to go for our summer vacation.  Unfortunately, due to Grandpa Lee's illness, Sara made the decision to remain back in California.  Not wanting the girls to miss out we decided I would (literally) fly solo with the dynamic duo for two weeks.  Below is a brief summary of the trip and the highlights.....

With a constant supply of meals, snacks, drinks and cartoons the girls did great on the flight from LAX to Heathrow.  We were even lucky to get the "Skycouch" lay flat seats so they even snagged a few hours of sleep...

Shows and snacks
We made it!!!
It felt good to be back in England and see how things had changed in the past few years. It was also nice to see green fields and trees... such a change from drought ridden SoCal. Jet lag with the kids was rough initially so we kept things simple for the first couple of days.

A short walk from Granny and Grampy's house is the River Thames which flows all the way to London.  The first stop was to the Riverside Pub for Swan feeding and some "Pub Time"...  
Seeing swans for the first time 
Ahhh, pub time by the river
We spent some time exploring the local town (Lechlade) including the library, post office (to mail our postcards) and of course the Christmas Shop.  We also stumbled across a shop selling American snacks..

Checking out books at the local library
A taste of home - yikes Lucky Charms for $6!
Mailing post cards
What to buy at the Christmas Shop?
 A new hardware store had recently opened in nearby Faringdon and (with permission) was using the original name of Davis DIY.  Although smaller than the original it was great to see the name back in use again..

On Sunday Granny and Grampy hosted a family BBQ for the cousins and family to meetup. The weather was perfect and the second cousins finally got to meet each other and see how they have grown.  Gemma was just nine months old on her last visit and Joanne was yet to be born.

Gemma, Lily, Edward and Joanne
 With Granny's sports day activity set the kids had a great time with sack and three legged races and of course the egg-and-spoon...

Egg-and-spoon racing
A short drive away is the twon of Bourton-on-the-Water deep in the Cotswolds region of England.  The town is very touristy but has lots of things for the kids to do including the model town and Birdland.  The model town is actually a replica of the real town so it is fun to match up the real bulidings to the models.  There is even a model town, in the model town, in the model town etc etc.  It keeps getting smaller and smaller.

Tiny shops in the model town
Tiny version of the Church
Staring competition... first one to blink loses
Our big day out for the visit was a trip to Legoland in Windsor.  Located just outside London and close to Windsor castle.  Although it was a little warm and crowded we had a great time on the rides and looking at all the Lego models.

GG plans her route around the park
Mini Mt. Rushmore in Lego
Number one on the must-do list was driving the Lego cars.  After an extensive training session Lily was up first.  There was some initial trouble with driving on the wrong side of the road but after that she was away.  Then it was GG's turn on the smaller kids section, she was much more cautious and took it very seriously...

Lily behind the wheel
Driving is serious business
 In the afternoon we took our seats for the Pirate stunt show.  It was great fun with much swashbuckling action, explosions and stunts.

The big explosion finale
No trip would be complete without a visit to the gift shop for a small souvenir.  Just a quick browse to find something and then on our way home right?  Wrong... an hour later and no decision made the tears came fast, not the best way to end the day.

Lego Friends... pre melt-down
The next day we needed to take it easy and recover from the Legoland craziness.  I remember as a kid, Dad and I renting a row boat on the Thames and spending an hour messing about on the river.  So it was one of my highlights of the trip to rent a boat at the same place and take the girls out.  I rowed up stream and Gramps took the downstream leg.
Messing about on the river - Gramps was left on the river bank
About fifteen minutes drive from the house is the Cotswold Wildlife park.  Set in the grounds of a large country house, the park is home to many wild animals including Rhino, Giraffe and Lions.  We spent a fun day riding the train that circles the park, playing on the huge adventure playground and watching the animals. 

The choo choo train
All aboard the train
At the Giraffe enclosure
A Rhino grazes in the grounds of the house 
Picnicing in the park
Lily masters the rope climb at the adventure playground
No trip to England would be complete without sampling some of my favorite cuisine.  We can get all these foods in America but they just aren't quite the same...

Indian take-away - Chicken Tikka Biryani
 We took the kids out to the local fish-n-chip shop.  They, of course, wanted chicken strips but the rest of us went for the classic...

I spent a day in Oxford buying some souvenirs and playing dodge with the hordes of exchange students (I forgot about them).  One surprise though was stumbling upon a traditional pie shop in the covered market and couldn't resist.  The simple things are sometimes the best....

Pieminster Pie Shop
Our trip was coming to an end but Gran had one final surprise planned for us - Giffords Circus.  The circus is very traditional with an intimate big top tent and no animals apart from a few horses and dogs.  Everything about the circus harks back to an old fashioned traditional form of the art.  Even the their vehicles were traditional...

One of the caravans for performers 
An acrobat performs for the crowd
What a fantastic time we had and one Lily and Gemma will remember for a long time.  They both kept journals of the trip which will be fun to look back on when they get older.  Unfortunately we had to leave and many tears were shed all round...

Sometimes it is hard to leave