Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What We're Up To

Things have been pretty boring around here since Charlie started preschool again. Brad's been working a ton and it's been raining non. stop. I am so over the rain.

It's also below average temperature-wise most days. How can it be almost May and most days we don't break 55 degrees?? Some mornings I really could wear my down coat, but I don't. Just out of principal. The same goes for turtlenecks. It's cold enough to wear them, but I refuse! My wellies, boots and other coats are doing lots of extra duty this year.

Things are looking up for us, though because Friday we leave for vacation and hopefully some warmer/sunnier weather! We are going to Portugal, where I think it will be warmish (65-70 degree highs). We're spending a few days in Lisbon and then taking a train down to the coast for a few days on the beach.

I've been trying to get us ready to go, which is hard because we have almost no spring or summer clothes with us. We originally thought we were going to go back to the states halfway through our time here, but have decided against it.

We would have had to go back without Brad because of his work schedule and having Charlie adjust to the time change twice in short time period sounded.... not fun. He's also just so settled in his routine and school here and I don't want to throw off his potty training again. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. So we are just going to push through until it's time to go home for good.

Anyways, with no warm weather clothes, I've been shopping, mostly for Charlie and me, but also for Brad. Finding shoes has been tough because most shoe brands don't have half sizes and I am such an 8 1/2. Plus here, you have to buy shoes you can walk miles in and not kill your feet. I finally found some sandals and  sneakers that will get me through.

Overall, I find shopping to be more fun when there's not so much pressure to get it done! I love some of the stuff I found for Charlie, though. All drawstring pants so he can take himself to the potty. :)

Potty training continues to be a two steps forward, one step back type of thing. He finally got his helicopter on Saturday for going poo poo on the potty. And promptly returned to pooping.... not in the potty. We spent the afternoon flying it around the garden until it got caught in a tree. Brad came to the rescue with an American football, which knocked it out of the tree. People here see our football and think it's for rugby!

Brad has been very thoughtful on the weekends and taken Charlie out for several hours in the morning so I can get some time to myself. This weekend they went to Hyde Park and watched the Queen's birthday celebration. Horses, a marching band and canons - Charlie is still talking about it.

Since Brad has typically been leaving before Charlie wakes up and coming home after he's in bed, they both seem to really love their time together. And I can't tell you how awesome it is to drink a cup of coffee and read the paper!

I went out with a couple of girlfriends on Saturday night to dinner and found actual GOOD Mexican food! Finally! We've been on a hunt to find the best and I think this is it. They also had an excellent margarita on the rocks. The restaurant is called Mestizo and I can't wait to go back for huevos rancheros at brunch. I now know where to go to scratch my itch.

After dinner we went to the coolest bar, called the Booking Office Bar. It used to be the booking office at St. Pancras station and has these high ceilings, original brick walls and big windows that look out over the train station. Definitely worth a visit.

Sunday we had a birthday party for one of Charlie's little friends at the The Little Gym. It was at Westfield, which is this ginormous shopping mall about 30 minutes from here. The program was fairly similar to what we'd gone to at The Little Gym in the states. Charlie had a great time.
After the party it was time for more Mexican food! There's a place at the mall which has Mexican street food, so we gave it a try. It was pretty good, not knock your socks off. Charlie inhaled the guacamole and his quesadilla. It really hit the spot. I think I can quit eating Mexican food for a few days.
So that's what's been going on with us. Brad's deadline is this week and we leave Friday night for our two hour flight to Lisbon!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Potty Training. Sigh.

Disclaimer: this entry has a lot to do with poo poo. 

I could really use some help here from you moms of boys out there. I feel like I must be doing something wrong. I thought we were just trucking right along with the potty training, making progress, getting used to things... and then he went back to school this week and it's been kind of a mess. In the underwear, if you catch my drift. That the teachers are now cleaning up. 

We have been using the potty the past few months in conjunction with pull ups. It went well. I didn't push him because we were going back and forth to London and it was a lot of change with new places to live, new school, etc. 

Then Easter break came and we focused on potty training for two weeks and moved to underwear. When he went back to school, we were 100% on the wee wee, no accidents there, waking up in the morning and after naps dry (in a pull up). It was a different story with #2 - no progress there. I thought he was just having a hard time recognizing the feeling of having to go ahead of time. Now I think he finds it scary or just doesn't want to do it. 

Having accidents doesn't really phase him. It's not the deterrent I wish it was. He'll come and tell me like Hey! this interesting thing just happened. At school he won't even tell anyone, he'll just walk around in it until they notice the smell. He has also had wee wee accidents at school too. So that's a setback.

I thought I had the perfect bribe to get him to go #2 in the loo (that rhymes!) - this remote control helicopter he was dying for after we went Harrods. I bought it, he knows it's here and that he can't open it until he goes poo in the toilet... and he no longer seems to care. If helicopters aren't going to help me, where can I turn???

On top of it, he is starting to dig in his heels in about EVER getting on the potty and adamantly telling anyone who asks NO. No bribe is helping here - chocolate, stickers, reward chart. He doesn't care. NO. I've kind of quit asking at home and started telling. 

And finally, my last major problem: Charlie doesn't want to use any potty except the potty at home.  One of my friends lent us this portable potty seat with bags attached that you can set up anywhere on the ground, so that's what I've taken for him to use at school. He'll go on that, but still had 2 accidents in 3 hours this morning. I'm doing laundry every day. Obviously.

So there you have it. Books, techniques, suggestions - if anyone could weigh in, I'd appreciate it. I'm frankly a tad jealous of you moms with girls who seem to have such an easier time with this and would love to hear a horror story or two out of you as well. 

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to use the ladies room. What, TMI?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Easter Break

Today was the last day of Easter break and Charlie starts his summer term of nursery tomorrow. The past 2.5 weeks has been a little surprisingly fun. I thought maybe I'd be going a little crazy by the end with no mommy breaks lined up, but we've been so busy I haven't really noticed. Having almost consistently beautiful weather hasn't hurt. 

So what have we been doing? Well, we have taken an art class and a cooking class. We've gone to lots of parks and done a lot of playing. We've gone to buy new shoes and got a cute new haircut. We've seen lots of animals and ridden a couple of zip lines. We've had picnics and play dates.
(at cooking class)
We've also potty trained. Which truly deserves its own post, if for no other reason than to allow my vast readership to opt out of a post about my son's poops. I will just say that Charlie is going to school tomorrow in underwear. And several changes of clothes. 

I think one of the highlights of Easter break was this neat farm we visited last week - Belmont Children's farm. I posted a ton of photos on Facebook and a few here. It was a little tough to get to, but they had so many animals to check out - and LOTS of little newborns! Itty bitty lambs and chickens and pigs. Oh my!
Charlie loved the bunnies, which are brought into a special room so the kids can pet them. We also bought some feed and were able to go around and feed some the animals. The alpacas and the goats were the most enthusiastic - along with a random deer that was living with the goats. 
We also took a tractor ride around the farm, but Charlie was in completely exhausted meltdown mode by then so it wasn't as enjoyable as it could be.  I can't even think about it. Ugh. He reluctantly agreed to stand by the tractor for a picture, though. 
Since we were on the go most of the two the weeks, I also really loved our little day together buying shoes and going to lunch. We rode the bus to Harrods and sat on the top level. Charlie picked out some Pumas that he said made him fast. He then went on to show off his shoes to everyone he met. He even pointed out to the lady sitting next to us at lunch that there were TWO new shoes! Yes, we sprung for both. 

We spent a long time in the toy section checking out all the persons and the remote control helicopters. Then we had pizza sitting on barstools in the pizzeria and got Charlie some ice cream in the parlor. You could basically live in Harrods and never come out. They have everything you could ever want. It's more a matter of finding it because that place is crazy-huge. It could stand to have its own tour book. 
I think Charlie is excited to get back to school, though. We talked about it a bunch today and he brought up several of his little friends' names. 

In addition to nursery, Charlie is taking tennis and soccer classes in the afternoons a couple of days a week. They are just little 30 minute classes because really, how much can you teach a 3 year old about any sport? 

He had his first tennis class today and it was hilarious. Three instructors for nine kids and it was still like herding cats. They mostly did little drills, running around cones and stuff. Charlie had a blast and thought he was super hot stuff when they let him use the little racquet. The classes are cheap and he's 3, so I just want him to have fun and get worn out. 

As for me, I'm hoping to get back to working out while Charlie is in school after a 2 week break. I have discovered pilates reformers classes and I am hooked. What an amazing workout. I wish it wasn't so expensive, I'd go all the time. 

I also bought a groupon for these classes that use the vibration plate machine. I'm not too familiar with this machine - I've just seen them in the gym. It was a good deal for 5 classes, so worth a try. Hopefully it will be a good workout too. Anyone out there seen/tried them?

Brad has been working crazy hours (I know, shocking) and will be for another week or so. We are just two weeks away from our vacation - we're going to Portugal! A few days in Lisbon and then the rest at the beach on the Southern coast. Hoping for some relaxation and good food. 

Well, that's what's been going on with us! Time to get to sleep - school tomorrow! 

Chelsea Game

We took Charlie to his first Premier League soccer (football) game last night at Wembley Stadium. Brad was able to buy some tickets from a coworker who couldn't go. When he first brought up taking Charlie to the game I was torn, but it ended up being a really good experience. Charlie had a great time!

The game was Chelsea vs. Tottenham in the FA Cup semi-final. What does this mean? The FA cup is an annual tournament here and our favorite team, Chelsea, was doing pretty well! In fact, last night they won 5-1, so now they are playing in the final tonight against Liverpool. 

Brad and I have both been to a few Chelsea games at their home stadium in Fulham, which is about a half hour bus ride from our flat. The first time we went, we bought Charlie a little Chelsea football uniform and he wore the jersey last night. Brad wore his Chelsea jacket that my parents got him for Christmas. Kara sadly has no Chelsea paraphernalia and just wore her favorite blue gingham shirt. Sniff. 

I don't know what I was thinking, but I assumed the game would be similar to the ones I'd been to at Chelsea's stadium. It didn't cross my mind that Wembley Stadium is huge. There were over 85,000 people there last night. I'd say 75% of them were men between the ages of 18 and 35 who'd each had an average of 5 pints. Yeah.

I got a little nervous about having Charlie there as we approached the stadium and this was all becoming evident to me. The kazillion cops, some on horseback, and a circling helicopter didn't do much to calm my fears. Of course, all of this was very exciting to Charlie. The only thing he likes more than policemen and horses are helicopters. 

It turns out I didn't have anything to worry about. Everything was very orderly. When we were waiting in line to go through the turnstiles, a security agent came by and offered to let us go through the disabled entrance. I think he was kind of laughing at us for trying to send Charlie through a turnstile. But hey, no line and a special elevator to our seats - I'll take it! 

Really the only fail was that Wembley Stadium has NO apple juice. Like, none. Ugh. Whadya do? I guess the other fail was that Chelsea's first and second points were scored while Brad was under the stands searching for said apple juice. Brad got to see points 3 and 4. Point 5 was scored on the train ride home, trying to beat the mad exit rush.

Charlie had a lot of fun at the game. It was a little sensory overload at first with all the people and the loud music. But he got used to it and by 10 minutes in, even realized there was a game going on. He turned to Brad and said "Daddy! There's a soccer game there!" - you know, just in case Brad hadn't noticed yet! 

While Chelsea hasn't had the most spirited fans when we've been to home games, it was very exciting last night! Lots of singing and cheering. Charlie would hold up both hands and yell for Chelsea! He also broke it down at halftime when Rihanna came on. Charlie loves to boogie.

It was a little insanely crowded leaving, but we got out ok. We had a very tired boy on our hands when we got home after all the excitement. I hope we can take him again while we're here, because he loved it so much. I don't think I'll ever forget taking him to that game last night. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Warwick Castle

Just north of the Cotswolds, near the town where Shakespeare was born, there's a castle. You can visit it, watch some shows, have a hot dog and buy your kids some medieval dress up costumes. It's kind of like a theme park without roller coasters. It's called Warwick Castle! 

I poke fun, but it really was a good time and definitely worth a visit, especially with kids. Inside the castle they have some neat exhibits and artwork. Not that anyone who visits a palace with a 3 year old boy gets to stop and read about the art! There are far too many appealing options for said 3 year old. Like hot dogs. 

Behold, I give you Trouble:
In true England style, it was rainy and grey when we went to visit, but you can't really let that stop you around here. In Texas we would call it a bad hair day. Here it's just what your hair looks like. My mother is going to have a hard time with that when she visits in June.
At any rate, when we entered the pre-paid ticket gate, we heard the most awful cries and shrieks. Like an animal was in the most horrible pain. Not to fear, though. It was only the peacocks. Who knew they made such awful sounds?
The castle itself is beautiful, set up on a hill, overlooking a river. You can tour the castle and the princess's tower, along with some extra exhibits we skipped because they looked a bit silly. One was the dungeon with some sort of torture theme and the other had to do with Merlin.
There are shows going on all day. Things like battle reenactments and birds of prey. If you know Brad, you know he is fascinated with birds of prey. You can go see the birds in the barn where they are kept during the day, but for some reason, we were the only people looking at them. Just us and some big, mean birds.

The bald eagle was of course, stunning and majestic. And had a lovely view.
There was also a vulture named Ringo. We got a kick out of that.
While Brad was watching one of the shows that Charlie's patience had faded on, I took him to get his face painted. After much deliberation, he chose the dragon. Kind of a relief, because I could totally seeing him asking for the princess crown because it sparkles and is neat and us not being able to talk him out of it. Three year olds do not care about your gender stereotype hangups people.

Dragons are loud and exciting, though, so he chose that and then proceeded to make this face the entire time she was painting:
After that was all the fun of trying to get him to pose for a photo with his face painted. I'm not sure why he looks like he is in physical pain when asked to smile for the camera, but this was the best we got:
We climbed the ramparts and watched a neat archery show and checked out some other things before deciding we were all castled out. Charlie loved it and didn't want to leave.

If he was a few years older he could have done the Knight School and some of the other interactive things. Not sure I'm wild about handing him a bow and arrow at this time, though. Instead we handed him a hot dog to distract him and hightailed it to the car. :)


Easter Sunday

Sadly, the above two pictures are the best ones I could get of Charlie in front of the church on Easter Sunday. He refuses to pose for pictures these days. Ahhh, our Easter memories, immortalized forever in a series of bad photos! 

The hotel we stayed at had breakfast for the guests each morning, so that is where Charlie opened his Easter basket. I didn't want to take photos in our room, it was just too dark. So I sent Brad and Charlie down to start eating and assembled the basket and surprised him at the table! Of course, the next day at breakfast he asked where THAT day's gifts were. 

An Easter basket with little gifts is not very traditional here in England. I didn't realize this until talking to someone today. That explained some of the strange comments and looks we got when he was opening it. It also explains why I had such a hard time finding him a basket. I ended up getting one at this hardware store on Portobello Road. I might use it for napkins now! 

Easter egg hunts are a more common, but are done differently. Most times, it's an Easter Trail full of clues that you follow and at the end you get a giant chocolate egg. Alternately, smaller foil-wrapped chocolate eggs are hidden. Those plastic eggs we use in the states are almost impossible to find. Nobody dyes hard boiled eggs either. There's no egg dye here and even if you brought it over, all the eggs are brown. You can't really get white eggs. 

I tell you all of this for no reason, since it was pouring rain most of the day and we didn't have an Easter Egg hunt! Charlie didn't seem to miss it. The couple of times we've been somewhere with a pre-Easter hunt, he just wants to stop and eat the chocolate!

Anyways, I just got some little things for Charlie's basket. Some candy, a couple of new persons, a book, things like that. Charlie's Didi sent a card and some little gifts. 
The most popular thing he opened was the chef's hat and apron I, ahem, the Easter Bunny, got him. He has been fascinated with cooking lately and they told me at his nursery that he dresses up as a chef and "works" in the kitchen almost every day. So now he has an outfit for home, too. The hotel staff thought it was hilarious and a few of the cooks came out to see Charlie in his outfit. 
After breakfast, we had some time to kill and it was only drizzling, so we walked around Chipping Campden and checked out an old garden and the cemetery at the church we were going to attend, St. James. The cemetery was fascinating. We saw some tombstones from the 1600's, but there were many that were older that we were not able to read. Just covered in moss and worn away.
 
At one point, one of the ushers came out of the church and pointed out a couple of graves for two brothers who invented boat engines! Now we are all that much closer to winning Jeopardy. 
The inside of the church was beautiful. I didn't feel right taking pictures of it. We made it through about an hour of the service before Charlie was getting impatient and loud. The service was really running very long, I bet it went on for another hour. So at that point, we exited stage left and went back to the hotel. 

After a rest at the hotel and a change of clothes, we drove to another village, Stow, and had an awesome lunch at the Old Butcher Shop. Deeeelish.  Charlie was perplexed as to what to order, though. 
We all needed a nap after that meal. Plus it was raining. I wanted to go to this Cotswold Farm park where you can see lots of animals, but laziness won out. I took Charlie to the park again until it was time for dinner.

We went to an inn up in the hills for dinner that had the most amazing view. There were lots of hikers there enjoying dinner after a long walk. It was nice way to end our trip. 

Some other photos from our walking/goofing around:

Easter Weekend in the Cotswolds


Brad had Friday and Monday off for holidays here in the UK, so we booked a trip to the Cotswolds for the long Easter weekend. We stayed in a village in the Central Cotswolds called Chipping Campden and it was about a 2 hour drive Northwest from London. 

In order to get there and be able to check out the different villages, we rented a car, which Brad very nicely volunteered to drive - on the wrong side of the road, of course. And for that extra element of fun, Hertz gave us a stick shift! 

So very many things to think about at once while driving. I mainly just tried to be helpful and play navigator. We ordered Charlie a booster seat off of Amazon UK to ride in, so he mainly demanded entertainment and let his opinions be known from the backseat. 

We left late Friday morning and managed to get out of town without getting too lost. About halfway through the trip, just outside of Oxford, Charlie started crying and telling me he had the hiccups. Then he puked twice all over the backseat. And my ipad. Never a dull moment when you travel with a 3 year old! Or any age really. 

Poor guy was so upset, but we got him changed and he actually seemed to feel better afterwards. He had some water and a snack and was a lot more cheerful after that. 

I had planned a stop at this farm, Daylesford Organic, that was on the way to Campden. There is a Daylesford Market near Charlie's preschool that I love and the farm that supplies all the food is located in the Cotswolds. It was really nice, but I would have to use the word "farm" loosely. It was so posh there, groomed courtyards, a gorgeous renovated barn that's a spa and a very chic cafe and shop. It looked like the Hamptons.

After lunch we went and checked in to our hotel and checked out the town. Chipping Campden is a cute village and out of all the Cotswold villages, we stayed there because Rick Steves recommended it in his book. Now that I've been, I wouldn't stay there again. The other villages have a lot more shopping and things to look at. Each time we drove through them, I would have high street envy. 

While Rick Steves was a huge help when we went to Italy, I'm finding his UK recommendations to be so-so. We stayed at one of his highly recommended hotels, too and it was resoundingly meh. Since we were staying less than a week, our choices were limited on accommodations, but still, this place (the Noel Arms) was shabby. I would love to go for a week and rent a cottage with some other people. Would be great fun. Anyone want to join?

Apart from the scenery, the highlight of the trip was the food! I mostly ignored Rick's restaurant recommendations and got some ideas from a friend and used TripAdvisor. There are some incredible places to eat in the Cotswolds that use local ingredients and have really amazing food. 

We had reservations each night and for Easter lunch at a different inn or pub. And I use the word "pub" loosely - pub food in London is generally not that great, but in the Cotswolds is very good. No smelly bars with greasy meat pies in the country! If you find yourself in the Cotswolds, The Old Butchers in Stow and the Fox Inn in Lower Oddington are not to be missed. We also enjoyed the Badgers Hall Tea Room in Campden.

While some parts are prettier and less touristy than others, overall I thought the Cotswolds were very beautiful; so lush and green. It's exactly as you picture it - rolling hills with ancient stone walls, green fields dotted with sheep and old stone buildings and churches. It was nice to just drive around and take in the scenery. There are also gardens to visit, antique shops, palaces, farmer's markets and a bunch of other things I'm sure I don't even know about yet!

A lot of people go to the Cotswolds and take long walks in the country. There are public footpaths you can follow that range from 2 to 20 miles long. The paths go through and in the woods - you just follow the signs! You can stop in each village you go through and have some food or a drink. 

I would love to go back one day and do some of the different walks. Unfortunately, Charlie's too heavy to put in a backpack, wouldn't be able to walk that far and the paths are obviously not stroller friendly, so that was one activity we had to bag. 

Not that we ran out of things to do. We had more to do than we had time for. You could spend two weeks in the Cotswolds and not do everything you want to. When you're only there for a few days, there's all this pressure to hurry up and see stuff! I finally just had to relax and work on the assumption we'll return one day. 

Even though the village we stayed in was a bit slow, it had an amazing park that was about a quarter mile behind our hotel and the high street. It's funny the things you value when you travel with kids! So guess what the park's big draw was? A zip line. Yeah. We went there on both Saturday and Sunday and Charlie rode the zip line over and over. I rarely see zip lines for kids at parks. Is that a UK thing?

The other highlight for Charlie in the Cotswolds was that he got to sleep in a bunk bed at the hotel! We reserved a "family room", which is pretty common around here.  It's basically a regular hotel room with a small room attached that has a twin bed or bunk beds for the kids. That way, everyone can stay in one room. Unlike hotel suites in the U.S., family rooms don't cost that much more than a regular room.

Anyways. Five minutes after we checked in, Charlie was up on the top bunk. There was a rail so he couldn't fall out. He was thrilled and thought it was so neat to sleep up there. When he got bored in the car or out and about, he'd ask to go back to the hotel and get in the bunk beds. This did not translate into naps, though! Brad and I decided that when we get back to the states and transition Charlie to a big boy room, we will have to get him bunk beds. 

This is getting so wordy (shocking) so I think I'll do a separate post on Easter and Warwick Castle, where we spent Saturday. We got back Monday and it rained the entire trip home. We left early after we heard traffic would be bad later in the day as everyone headed back into London after the long weekend. Charlie is exhausted after playing so hard and not napping. We're making up for it today with a long nap. While it rains, of course. :)

Here are a few more pictures from the trip:

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Charlie on the Zip Line

This morning we met up with our friends Katie and Lillie and went to Izzy Jones in Queen's Park for some Easter crafts. After lunch we decided to visit the Queen's Park, conveniently located IN Queen's Park. Isn't that handy? 

From across the football field I could see the zip line and I knew Charlie was going to try and ride it. Against my better judgement, I let him, and he was thrilled. He did this over and over again. The only way I could convince him to leave was to tell him Daddy would bring him back soon to do it again. :)
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