Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fourth Grade Statehood Program

Last Friday was the fourth grade program for Bianca's school (Riverton Elementary). I was really impressed this year. They told the history of the state of Utah, sang a ton of songs that went with it, and even did some square dancing (haha--this is totally a rite of passage; I remember doing it in grade school and it was funny to see Bianca promenading with the boys, holding their hands).

Bianca really wanted to dress up as a pioneer. She had been Laura Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie for Halloween a couple years ago so it was nice we could just pull out the costume that grandma Watters had made for her and it still fit (mostly). Here she is saying her part in the program.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My children's teachers

I have high expectations for my children's teachers: I expect them to love my children. And I've been pretty lucky. Bianca's in fourth grade, and there's only been one year that I felt that her teacher(s) didn't really love her and that was by far her most difficult year (my guess is our kids can tell if their teachers love them or not). Fourth grade is dwindling down to the last two weeks for the year, and Bianca is already worried about losing Mrs. Lloyd.

Portia has a cute pre-school teacher who I can tell adores her (really, I'm pretty sure she loves all the kids) but I know she loves Portia because most days when I go to pick her up, the teacher rattles off something funny or cute that Portia did that day. One of my favorites was the day Miss Melissa gave Portia grapefruit for the first time. Portia tried it and said to Miss Melissa, "It's kind of gross." To which Miss Melissa responded, "Well, I really like it."  Portia then said, "You like the gross?" I still smile when I tell this story to somebody and it's since become a joke at our house that sometimes one of us will "like the gross."

In June, preschool was optional. I opted for it since Bianca's in school until July 1 with her year-round schedule. We also signed Portia up for the "paper art" class that takes place after preschool so Portia gets to take a sack lunch. Portia LOVES this because it makes her feel big like Bianca. Here is a picture of Portia feeling big, holding her lunch box, and wearing her grapefruit dress, in honor of "the gross."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bianca's Piano Recital 2011

Bianca's piano recital was Sunday. She'd been working hard and practicing (we even took files of each song she was playing [and put them on her MP3 player] and her sheet music, and she had to "pretend" she was playing while we were on our vacation). She'd been working on eight pieces--Bourree by Telemann, Turkish March by Mozart, La'dieu by Burgmuller, Dr. Gradus an Parnussum from the Children's Corner by Debussy, Maple Leaf Rag by Joplin, Rhapsody in Blue by Gershwin, Rhapsody by Jon George that was a duet with her teacher, and an original composition called Moonlit Night.

They turned out great. I'm always so proud of her when she performs. Eric's Aunt Joan and cousin Sean and his wife Rachel and baby Charlie came too. I'm glad they were able to come and make Bianca feel loved as our "cheering section" usually is bare since neither of our immediate family lives in Utah.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Rock Step Run 2011

I love that Bianca motivates me to start running in the spring. Each year, she wants to get started training for the Rock Step Run in Herriman. She said she doesn't want to move up to the 5K from the 1 mile until she gets first place (the last two years, she's gotten 2nd, even though she's improved her time each year).

Saturday was the big day. I am always so worried that Bianca won't know where to turn back for the mile and get stuck running the 5K or 10K. I just wait to see her turn the corner. This year, she and a friend of hers were right there. They were both running so hard. When it's a friend (and her mom is my good friend), I feel bad wanting my daughter to win.

She was able to stay ahead at the end. She improved her time 23 seconds from last year and finished her mile in 8 minutes and 20 seconds.

Bianca ended up not only with 1st place in the 1-11 category, but also the overall women category. She finally got her 1st place. Now we can move on and start training for the 5K.
I even invested in Bianca's "running" and bought her a pair of Asics for her 5K training after the race on Saturday. This morning, we woke up at 6 am and ran two miles. This girl is a hard worker. She doesn't complain. I know she'll be ready for the 5K we're planning to run in July in St. Louis.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Our Trip to England PART EIGHT (Goodbye London)

We spent our last day here in London. In the morning, Portia and Bianca were watching cartoons. Their favorite was called Billy and was a British Charlie Brown (who was much less depressed than our Charlie Brown). During every commercial break, there was Lelli Kelly advertising their sparkly gem-clad shoes with make-up cell phone gift. So, Portia really wanted a pair of Lelli Kelly's. We spent our morning in London shopping at Piccadilly Circus, searching for Lelli Kelly's. I swear we walked for two hours looking for a pair and no one sold them. What's the point of all that advertising if I can't even find a pair. Eric was definitely in on the hunt and I tried not to mention too much that last year I had bought Portia a pair of Lelli Kelly's from Nordstrom's Rack but Eric made me return them because they were "hideous." Whatever--I guess Portia has him wrapped around her little finger after all.

The best part of the shopping was the book store, called WaterStones, where we lounged for an hour, looking a books (I love that all the covers in the UK are different from ours). We all bought some books. My pick was a UK edition of The Sky is Everywhere that was done so beautifully (colored plates with the poems in the book) I bought it even though I already have that book at home. [I ended up reading it on the long plane ride home the next day. I still love it!]

Long story short, we walked past Gucci, Prada, Anthropologie, Gap and could not find one store in Piccadilly Circus that sold Lelli Kelly's (and believe me, we asked). We finally gave up our efforts (I promised Portia I'd take her to Nordstrom's Rack when we got home and get her some) and jumped on a double-decker bus and then headed back to the underground and went to Buckingham Palace. This was something my mom really wanted to do. I wasn’t all that impressed. You can’t even go in. I did see the marching guards through the gate.

We ate in the late afternoon (nothing remarkable). The last thing we did for the day was visit The London Eye, the big ferris wheel where you can see most of London.

Instead of writing about the LONG plane ride home (9 hours from London to Atlanta; then another 3 to get to SLC), I'll mention the five things I wish I'd known before we went "on holiday" to England:

1. You don't have to tip at restaurants in England. The only place we needed to was in London (because they let you know you're supposed to).
2. Our plugs don't work there, so there's no reason to pack my flat iron. In fact, we spent three days searching for a plug adapter that had three prongs to recharge our laptops. I shouldn't have brought that either. Even with that one, my flat iron wouldn't work.
3. Flat sheets aren't done in England. They wash their comforters. That made me very uncomfortable at first, wondering if they did in fact wash the comforter.
4. I wish we'd looked at some British street signs before we started driving.
5. I wish we'd learned what the word "queue" meant before we left. That word still leaves me a little baffled.

I'll leave on the side-note that when I returned to Salt Lake City, Portia still wouldn't stop talking about Lelli Kelly's so I took her to Nordstrom's Rack. No Lelli Kelly's. Really, should I be surprised? Isn't that the way life works. Turned out, I ordered a pair off ebay--they're on their way from Hong Kong now. I know there's some irony there.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Our Trip to England PART SEVEN (On to London)

We bid farewell to Yannon Towers early Saturday and headed up north to London. It was a 3-4 hour drive. When we arrived, we spent a good hour driving around trying to find somewhere, anywhere, to park our rental car. Sheesh! If only I'd known how ridiculously easy their public transportation is, we would not have rented the car (note to self for next time). Anyway, we finally found a place, parked our car for 16 pounds (ouch!) and then headed over to The Royal Academy of Music museum. Bianca was excited to see an original Stradiveri viola and they also had two Stradiveri violins. She had been waiting this whole vacation until we got here to pick out her one souvenir. She chose a blue and green silk scarf with violins and other musical instruments printed on it.  We got on the underground and went to Westminster Abbey.

There were SO many people here (they were having a big championship soccer game—Wembley—between Manchester United and Barcelona that night, so there were a lot of singing fanatics everywhere we went. Seriously, everywhere we went there were the jolly voices of men singing for their team.) We passed Big Ben on our way. At Westminster Abbey (no pictures allowed), we saw the tomb of Queen Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scot (an ancestor of mine) and my favorite was the poets corner, where they had plaque for so many of my favorite writers—Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Brontes, Thomas Hardy, George Eliot. It was breathtaking to be surrounded by so many great writers. I could go on. They also had Handel’s tomb there.

The hotel was a hotel. Nothing special, except for the swimming pool that the girls were ecstatic to see (and jump into) and the plumbing--the wonderful plumbing of London. Also, what's the deal with no flat sheets in England??? At first I thought it was just Yannon Towers, but no flat sheets here either. I don’t love the crowds and the queues (oh, how I wish I'd looked that word up before I left the US) in London. I know I wouldn’t have been happy had we spent the entire time in London. I’m so grateful for our time spent on the coast and realize how much I loved our simple, provincial time better.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Our Trip to England PART SIX (Teignmouth and Shalton)

Friday was our last day in Teignmouth so we dedicated the whole day to staying in the area. We started the day out at the beach and took a ferry over to Shalton where we walked through “Smuggler’s Tunnel” that spit us out onto this gorgeous windless beach. We let the kids pick through rocks and sea shells. They also had a small zoo there with monkeys, lemurs, ocelots, and meerkats, so we had to go there too.

In the afternoon, we went to Twenty-Six downtown Teignmouth for “high tea”—I had the chocolate mint truffle infusion tea, an apple-walnut-blue cheese tartine, the sea food platter, and a Mississippi Mud Bar. Everything was so delicious. We spent the rest of the day letting the girls kick through the waves and pick through the sand to find more “seashell” treasures. We returned to the castle and began packing.

This was the last night we got to enjoy our “Room(s) with a View” (as the boring, character-less hotel room in London paled in comparison). Have I mentioned the views from the windows of each room at Yannon Towers yet? I don’t think so. Seriously, every room had an amazing view and we didn’t even use the tower room, which had the BEST view of the house apart from actually standing outside on the tower. Mom and I stood atop the tower one night, and I hurt my finger yanking the rusty lock from its hiding place to open the door. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the foresight to bring our camera and never got up there again. Here’s the view from my room. 

And while I’m at it, here are the rooms where everyone stayed. Here are the girls in their room and my mom's pink room:

Here's the room that Bianca dubbed her music room since I did make her practice while we were there (yes, I know, I'm a Tiger Mom):
Here's Eric's and my room.  When you laid down on the bed and looked up, the ceiling was a complete octagon and I loved the plaster and flower-decorated crown molding.

I can't close this blog without mentioning the plumbing. While I LOVE old houses, I do not LOVE questionable plumbing. In the bathroom on our floor, we had an amazing steam shower and a very scary toilet that burped several times everytime we flushed and usually didn't take most things away. Mom and the girls had a much more pleasant experience with their bathroom. The fireplace mantel from downstairs. The detail woodwork is incredible.

I loved staying in this little castle, that we had all to ourselves and were able to eat our own breakfast and explore and play. I did end up leaving a copy of my book in the bookshelf for future guests. We will miss Teignmouth and how wonderful every person we talked to was. Before I went to England, I wouldn't have believed that a community as a whole could be so incredibly nice.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Our Trip to England PART FIVE (Plymouth)

On Thursday, we drove to Plymouth to go to the  national aquarium of England. And yes, it's the Plymouth you're thinking of--the very place from where the Mayflower departed. The aquarium was a lot of fun but not a lot different from aquariums in the US. I guess a fish is a fish regardless of where you are. That's okay. My girls love going to the aquarium. Bianca and Portia both said their favorite thing at the aquarium was seeing the loggerhead sea turtle (named Snorkel) who made her appearance at the end.

Outside of the aquarium, as we were trying to cross a the bridge to get over to where the restaurants were, there was a group of people assembled. They were waiting for the bridge (which was an automatic turn-style bridge) to let a boat out.  When the boat finally came through, it took my breath away. On the boat was written its name,  “Our Miranda.” Maybe it was a coincidence, maybe not. It kind of felt like she was making sure we knew she was there in England with us. I choose to believe that.

We ate at a Thai Noodle bar for lunch and both the girls used chopsticks to eat (Bianca would not revert back to a fork after she started). Bianca and I had the mussaman curry. We drove back home through the moors again and saw some beautiful countryside.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Our Trip to England PART FOUR (The Moors)

Ever since I read Wuthering Heights, I've wanted to visit the moors that Heathcliff walked. When my mom asked me what moors were exactly, I was stumped and just mumbled what I imagined while reading Wuthering Heights--"open" "hilly" "rocky".  In fact, I wasn't really sure. On Wednesday, we decided to take a drive through Dartmoor National Park to see the moors first-hand.

We stopped at a little village of Ashburton for some shopping and then Whitcombe for lunch at this really comfortable restaurant where the girls ran and played in the backyard while we were waiting for our food. It had a running stream and blossoming trees where the blossoms were snowing and blossoms were floating on the water (thanks to my girls). 

The moors were beautiful and now I have the real image--the rocks jutting up through the grass and the open, tree-less rolling hills--to go along with some of my favorite English books. Turns out, I wasn't that off after all. There are wild sheep and wild small ponies and cows (I'm pretty sure they're wild too) that graze all over the moors. We had to stop (or at least slow) several times for sheep on the roads. Although seeing it and being there makes me want to re-read Wuthering Heights.

We stopped back at Powderham Castle again to see the gardens we hadn’t had time to do the day before when they were closing, and then we took the trail to the kid’s play area and pets—including all sorts of animals like chipmunks, lots of chickens and ducks, pigs, goats, ponies and tortoises (not turtles, says Bianca). They had a cute castle fort and a zip line that Bianca wouldn't stop playing on. Even Portia loved the zip line. We stayed there for quite some time and just let the kids play.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Our Trip to England PART THREE (Shopping in Exeter)

It’s no secret that I have a weakness for European designer children's clothing. I’d been dreaming of shopping in Europe and going into boutique after boutique filled with the European brands I love to buy for the girls—Jottum, No Added Sugar, Mim Pi, Oilily, Beetlejuice, Tickittyboo, and Cakewalk.

So, on Tuesday, we drove to Exeter to do some shopping. We found a little mini-mall with shops and stopped at “Next” first. I bought several dresses for the girls (although I’d never heard of this brand). Then we went to T.K. Maxx (which is the British version of T. J. Maxx although why they needed to change the name to K is beyond me). It was so awesome because the clothes were all the children’s European brands that I buy online. So I got the girls a couple more outfits each.

Afterward, we walked around several cathedrals and had a really good lunch at The Ship Inn. Then we walked to a bookshop called Bookcycle that we had driven past earlier. We couldn’t find any prices for the books and when I asked about it, they said everything’s free. You can take up to three books a day and they hope you’ll give a donation for the books for the charities they support to ensure people have books all over the world. (I realized after I returned home that there’s a bookshop in this very town that’s carrying my book and they’re asking a whopping $34. It would have been so cool to walk into a bookstore in England and see my book on the shelf.)

Next door to Bookcycle, there was a “designer children’s clothes” boutique (really the only children's boutique I found). I walked in ready to see all those name-brand clothes I had been expecting and was so disappointed when everything was Ralph Lauren, DKNY, Roxy and other stuff I can get at home. How ironic is it that our high-priced boutiques carry European clothing and theirs carry US brands?

On our way home, we stopped at Powderham Castle for a tour. It had two libraries and a music room, which Bianca was pleased to see. There was also a little strange story about the skeletons of a mom and baby found beneath one of the staircases when they were excavating years later--my guess is one of the important men got a servant girl pregnant and thought it'd be easier to off her than face the music. It’s known to be haunted (supposedly a medium came in and said they felt the presence of a mother and small baby). I asked Eric, Bianca, and mom if they felt a "presence". They didn't. Portia felt she had "presents" coming her way in the future. Cool castle.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Our Trip to England PART TWO (Teignmouth Beach and Paignton Zoo)

We decided to go to church on Sunday. It was just one town over, about a 10-minute drive. Everyone was so nice and wanted to talk to us about our “holiday” plans. We really felt loved, and Portia thought it was cool they were singing the same primary songs she does back home. 

In the afternoon, we walked down to the beach and took a walk along the coast. Then let the kids play at a cute park we found. We were starving and all the shops seemed to close around five o'clock (vacationers heading back north, I suppose, for Monday). We had planned to eat dinner in town, but nothing was open. We walked by an Indian restaurant, but when we went by, the sign said closed. We looked a little father and then turned back around. As we were walking back by the Indian restaurant, there was a group of guys inside and I mouthed, “I’m hungry” and kept walking. When Bianca, who was several paces behind me, walked by, the OPEN sign was showing. I was so glad they would feed us and thought they opened the restaurant just for us. It wasn’t until midway through the meal that I noticed they were scheduled to open at 5:30 and just opened a little early for us. Still, the food was so good!

On Monday, we took the train to Paignton to go to the zoo, per the recommendation of a woman we met at church. It was a little rainy but there were a lot of different types of animals and most of them were out because it was a nice cool day. And they had a ton of parks, even a nice, big in-door park where we rested away from the rain. I felt like we walked five miles that day.