Wednesday, June 27, 2012

We Met The Blue Lilies

Last month we had our family photos taken by Wendy & Tyler in lush, green  Hampstead Heath.  Such a lovely way to remember our time in London.

I love their story.  They travel the world, full time, with their two young kids, taking portraits as they go.  They are a beautiful family and they document such precious memories.  I'm glad we had the chance to meet them.  I will cherish these photos!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Story of a Hat, a Queen, and a Horse Named Black Caviar

The Crowds at Royal Ascot
It's been the talk of the town for months.  Royal Ascot 2012.  An exciting week of horse racing attended by dapper gentlemen, ladies in outrageous hats, and by The Queen herself.

The Queen's viewing area- filled with her personal artwork and furniture.  She even brings her own caterers!
Racing has been held at Ascot for over 300 years.  It is steeped in tradition and quite an experience.
We applied for tickets to the Royal Enclosure through the US Embassy.  This is basically a VIP section with a variety of restaurants, bars, seating and viewing areas.  It also has the most formal dress code.

So that meant morning suits and top hats for the gentlemen, and formal dresses with hats for the ladies. 

I'd heard all about the "hat lady", Margaret Partington, who has been hiring hats for over 25 years.  She has over 2500 different hats in her little shop which is housed in a charming tudor building that used to be a butcher shop in the 16th century.  She chose the most beautiful hats for my sister and me!

When the big day finally arrived, the weather was typically English.  Which is to say, cold, scattered showers and extremely windy!

Oh the poor ladies caught trying to hold onto their hats while their skirts blew around (think Marilyn Monroe) darting inside to avoid the sudden rain.  Sure made me glad I wasn't wearing a full skirt!

Each day, the Queen and Prince Phillip arrive at Royal Ascot in a horse drawn Landau carriage.  What fun to see them arrive while the band played "God Save The Queen."

Because of the chilly weather, I spent most of the day inside, sipping champagne and people watching with my sister.  But I did brave the cold to watch Aussie favourite Black Caviar extend her winning streak in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes.  It was such an exciting race!  And the Queen just beamed as she presented the cup to the winning trainer.

 My view of Black Caviar crossing the finish line.  (above)
The Queen in the Parade Ring to present the Jubilee Stakes Cup. (below)

I just love the way she stands out in the crowd!

It was a fantastic day!  As we walked back to the car with sore feet (on the ladies) and sore heads (on the men-those top hats are uncomfortable!), we all felt as though we had experienced something so uniquely English.  And I loved everything about it.

Friday, June 22, 2012

My Birthday With The Queen

Waiting for The Queen in Windsor Great Park
Today is my birthday, and it is one of the most special birthdays I've had in years.  First and foremost, my amazing sister and brother-in-law are here to celebrate with me.  What a treat!  And to make the day even sweeter, I got a birthday wave from The Queen herself!

Me & the kids enjoying the picnic
My dear friend, Nicole, received car park passes from the Crown Estate to park along a private road in Windsor Great Park.  There, we had a very windy picnic and waited for The Queen to arrive.  Right in front of our picnic spot, she got out of her car and into her waiting carriage.

There she is!
Sadly, the weather prevented them from lowering the top of the carriage.  But that didn't stop her from giving us a beautiful smile and a friendly wave as she passed by.
A smile and a wave just for us
How could she resist when this darling girl was standing there, waving the Union Jack and holding up this cute homemade sign?

Her sign reads "It's my mum's birthday"
It was a very happy birthday indeed!

Click here to see the birthday gift I gave myself last year.  I have written in it everyday since then!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Union Jack Badges

The end of the school year came barreling toward us like a speeding train.  My daughter wanted to make little gifts to give her classmates to say good-bye.  Because she goes to an international school, many children are "leavers" who will be moving on during the summer. 

So, we whipped up these little Union Jack badges.  They would look cute pinned on a backpack or jacket.  The perfect accessory for the Jubilee Weekend or the upcoming London Olympic Games. 

We attached the badges to these felt hearts and added stickers on the back with her contact information.  Hopefully it will remind her friends to keep in touch during the summer months.

You can download the detailed PDF instruction sheet to make these cute badges here.

Here's how we said good-bye to our friends in Australia last year.
Do your kids give gifts to their classmates at the end of the year?  

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Day Out: Dover

On the coast of England, with a view of France in the distance across the Channel, sits Dover Castle.  The medieval castle was built by King Henry II starting in the 12th century.  But the site was important for centuries before that.  In fact, a Roman lighthouse and an Anglo-Saxon church still stand on the grounds. 

There's something for everyone at Dover Castle, which is part of the English Heritage membership.

Fun day out at Dover Castle
We climbed the tower and explored the great hall.
View from Dover Castle
The kids loved trekking through the medieval tunnels and poking into mysterious passageways.
And then there are the secret WWII tunnels to tour.  So much history in one spot!

View from the tower

Rainy cliff walk
After exploring the tunnels we headed a half mile up the road for a walk along the famous White Cliffs of Dover.  The cliffs are made of chalk, which gives them their striking colour.  
As you can see, the weather turned typically English on us so we didn't get to hike the whole 4 km route.  We'll have to save that for a future sunny day.
Despite the rain, it was a lovely day out with the family.

The beautiful White Cliffs of Dover

Have you seen the White Cliffs of Dover?  It's on the Facebook travel list challenge- so get to it!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Banana Olympics

Last week I found myself sitting in front of the computer trying to come up with some clever idea for my third grader's end-of-year class party.  I'd put it off until the last minute so there was no time to search out any special supplies or equipment.  I'd have to get creative.

And that's when I stumbled upon the idea of the Banana Olympics.  With the Olympics coming to London this year it seemed like the perfect silly party idea.  And so I ran with it.  
Our Banana Olympics was so much fun that I have decided to put it out here on the internet so that other frazzled party planners can feel free to copy it.  It was the most simple and most fun class party I've ever done.  This party lasted one hour and was so easy to plan, execute and clean up.

Here's the scoop:

I divided the class into 3 teams.  Each team came up with a team name and then used Sharpies to decorate their team banana.  I planned 8 different "Olympic" events, each involving the use of a banana.  The children competed in the events and scored points based on 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place finishes.  At the end, we totaled the points and awarded Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals to the teams.  Then we all celebrated by making Banana Splits!

Our events were:

1.  Knee Hold Hop
Holding the banana gently between your knees, hop to the cone and then run back.  Hand off the banana to your next teammate.  

2.  Under Arm Hop
Hold the banana under one arm.  Hop on one leg to the cone and back.  Hand off to your next teammate. 

3.  Wheelbarrow Race
Like a typical wheelbarrow race but with a banana "in the wheelbarrow" (on the player's back).  If the banana falls off, the team must stop to pick it up and replace it.

4.  Shuffle Toss
Two players toss the banana back and forth while shuffling (side step) to the cone and back.

5.  Banana Golf
Each player has a banana tied to a string tied around their waist.  Use the banana to roll a tennis ball to the finish line.  This was a favorite event for all!

6.  Long Toss
Toss the banana from a distance while 2 teammates try to catch it in an pillowcase.

7.  Banana Spoon Race
Like an egg and spoon race but with a banana!  We used wooden spoons.

8.  Leap Frog Banana Toss
Players line up leap frog style and after they jump over everyone in the line they toss the banana back up to the next jumper. 

I absolutely loved doing the Banana Olympics.  It was a great end to a wonderful school year.  If you decide to give this party a try, I'd love to hear about it.  Just make sure to have plenty of replacement bananas on hand!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Day Out: London

We have visitors!  Two of my favorite people have arrived- my sister and brother in law.  I'm determined to show them a good time while they are here.  And that's just what I did today.

We headed into London bright and early to catch the procession for The Colonel's Review.   This is a dress rehearsal for the Trooping of the Colour ceremony which will take place next weekend to celebrate the Queen's birthday.  If there's one thing the British do well it is ceremony and pageantry.  What a thrill to see the band playing and the soldiers marching.  And, oh my, the horses!  So beautiful and regal looking with their fancy tack.

From there we headed over to Oxford Street & Regent Street to do a little shopping.  London looks so pretty, still wearing all her Jubilee decorations.

The Queen in Legos in the Hamley's window
After popping into Harrod's (it's a must-see for tourists) we decided to take advantage of the unusually sunny weather and go for a ride on the London Eye.  The views were gorgeous and we all enjoyed the slow tour through the sky.

And it wouldn't be a day in London without spotting something a bit out of the ordinary.  So I really should not have been so surprised when over 1000 nude bicycle riders zoomed past us near County Hall.  It seems we stumbled upon the path of the London Naked Bike Ride.  I think my nine year old daughter may be scarred for life!

Never a dull moment! I hope you had an exciting Saturday, too.

Friday, June 8, 2012

UK Roadtrip: North Wales

Last week all of Great Britain celebrated the Queen's Diamond Jubilee with a four day weekend.  We opted to get out of London and explore another beautiful part of the UK- North Wales.
About 4 hours north of London, this part of Wales is home to the beautiful Snowdonia National Park.  We stayed in the charming little village of Betws-y-Coed, right in the heart of Snowdonia.
Although the weather wasn't perfect (it's COLD up there!), we really enjoyed our long weekend.  We spent our time storming castles, riding on steam trains, hiking to waterfalls and soaking up the beautiful scenery.
We saw lots of sheep and rock walls and natural slate; rolling green hills and gorgeous old stone buildings.  We marveled at the Welsh language (what???).
And although I was a wee bit sad to miss out on the festivities in London town, I was perfectly happy to watch the Jubilee celebrations on the telly in the warmth of our pretty hotel (which had a perfect 2-room suite for a family of 5).
Fun low ropes course.  The harnesses work great- they tested them!
So glad we got to see this beautiful part of the country.  But now that it's nearly the middle of June I'd really like to put the winter jackets away.  Is there such a thing as "summer" in the UK?

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