Saturday, December 27, 2008

Merry Christmas!

The Ayers household is having a quiet day after a day of merry making yesterday on Christmas Day.  We hope that all our family and friends also had a wonderful day.

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More on the festive season to come!

My Camera (by Lauren)

Here is Christmas Day 2008 as recorded by me (Lauren) on my new Camera...

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Click the photo to see more.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Road to recovery

The household has gradually been getting back to normal following our week of illness.  Even Jocey, who seems the slowest of us to recover, seems to be getting there now and hasn't run a fever today.  She still isn't eating like she normally would, but I am hoping that she too is on the road to recovery.

Lauren has had a good weekend as her tummy medicines kicked in.  Last week, she was vomiting whilst she was unwell, and had difficulty getting her appetite back.  She has become really skinny due to being repeatedly ill since the summer so we have been really worried about her.  Even Jocey, who is normally a good eater seems to have slowed down in terms of growth as she has been unwell so often this winter.

On Saturday, I took Lauren to a birthday party in Kingston.  It was the party of one of her friends from her old room at nursery, the infamous James.  Whilst she was in the 2-3 year old room, there was a time when she would often come home and say that "James did it" for various ailments, bumps and bruises!  I was never sure if there was always truth in the matter (one time Lauren complained of a sore neck and said that James had done it.  When I examined her neck I found a really large gland there which must have come up whilst she had had a sore throat; I am sure that that was the cause of her discomfort, not James!).  Thus I was a little surprised that Lauren was invited to the party.

However, they must have got over their previous differences as they seemed quite happy to play at the party.  James's parents were lovely and really welcoming.  The party was a lot of fun and Amanda's Action Kids were on hand to provide the entertainment.

When the cake came, it was spectacular.  It was an African theme with animals of the savanna on top.  There was a zebra, a giraffe, an elephant, a lion and I think a monkey.  James's dad told us that it had been really difficult keeping the cake a secret from James because the giraffe's neck was so long that a hole had had to be cut in the box to accommodate the head.  With the head sticking out, they had had an interesting time trying to stop James from destroying it before the party.

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As soon as the candles were out, James proceeded to take the animals off the cake and eat them!

Lauren had great fun and for the first time seemed to enjoy taking part in Amanda more, even though she (and a few others) were terribly shy to begin with.

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Here she is enjoying a bit of cake.

Last weekend, before we all became ill, we enjoyed a lovely afternoon at Snakes and Ladders, where we'd had fun before.  Last week, we also had a flying visit from Suzanne; Lauren and Jocey were really pleased to see their grandma.  I'm hoping she didn't catch our germs!

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Both Lauren and Jocey had a great time on the climbing frames, slides and swings.

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Here are two pictures of the girls hugging / wrestling...

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It's lovely that they are so affectionate with each other!

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You can see all of the photos from this month on our Flickr site.

Today, I've spent most of the day cooking and getting ready for going back to work next week.  At 10pm, I finally finished all the chores, baking, lunches and dinners for next week.  No wonder I got so run down and got floored by the flu last week.  Even my weekends aren't much of a break!

I've decided that I must be more careful with things and take more rest so as not to get so run down again.  It's horrible being unwell and no good for the family either.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

House of Lurgy

On Sunday, we were all struck down by the dreaded lurgy.  All of us have had sore throats, coughs and sneezes.  The poor girls have been running fevers too and have found it difficult to sleep at night.  As a consequence, we've not had much sleep either.

I've had the whole week off so far due to this.  I still feel awful and don't want to infect all my colleagues, who are working flat out as it is and I am sure would not appreciate being ill this close to the festive season.  Lauren is better and went back to nursery today but Jocey is still running a temperature.

I can't believe what a rotten winter we've had; we seem to have been constantly ill this year.  I do find winter in the UK pretty miserable at the best of times - this year has been particularly unpleasant.  I hope we're not ill over Christmas; that really would be the last straw!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Ooooooh!

I've had a brilliant morning at the new Westfield shopping centre.  I've had time back over the last two days for working last weekend, but yesterday was unfortunately taken up with work related stuff, so I basically ended up working from home.

Today, I dropped off the girls at nursery and had a much needed morning to myself.  I decided to head off to the new Westfield shopping centre; I felt it was time I did so after I had to bail out last time.

Well, I can say that I certainly wasn't disappointed.  Everything inside was light, airy and beautiful like shopping in a winter wonderland.  The staff were helpful and courteous and it wasn't too crowded initially.  Of course, after lunchtime it began to fill up with people getting home from work early.

Inside it was tidy, clean, comfortable and well laid out.  Everything (including lifts) seemed to be working.  There was a mind boggling selection of shops and places to eat.  I felt really spoiled for choice.

In the end though, I was very controlled and didn't go mad.  I bought a Christmas present for George and have some really good ideas for everyone else.  Now I'm going to see if I can get some of the things I've seen today online for less.

When we lived in Sydney, it was always our tradition on a Saturday morning to go down to our local Westfield shopping centre (in Chatswood) to have sushi and to go shopping.  I honoured that tradition today and had sushi for lunch; it put a smile on my face to be able to do so again.

I can't wait to go back to the Westfield again for more shopping heaven!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Work frenzy

Following my post about playing with dolls, I have had a chance to demonstrate our hospital's new simulator to our staff.  It all went extremely well and they were all excited and enthusiastic about getting to train on it themselves.

Some rather unexpected things have come out of that day.  Firstly, I am beginning to realise that I am leading on an absolutely enormous project which is getting bigger and bigger by the minute.  I have been approached by people outside the hospital interested in our simulator.  Some want to be able to train on it and others just want to learn more about what we're doing.

I have even been approached to do a research project with a really high powered team in medical education.  I was completely flabbergasted.

This afternoon, I am going to be interviewed by one of the local radio stations about the simulator.  Since I've never done an interview before, I am (and this is putting it mildly) pretty scared.

Looks like I'm going to be busy at work for the next little while!

Over the hill

Yesterday, I opened a letter for Jase which looked like junk mail.  I had to laugh when I realised what it was.

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Poor Jase!  I especially liked the line "for people aged 50 and over"; I am pretty sure I put fewer candles on his last birthday cake than that.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Debriefing the debrief

I have spent the last three days (yes, all weekend...poor Jase entertained the girls all that time on his own without complaint) up to my eyeballs in educational theory and learning how to encourage people to learn through simulation.

Essentially, this involved playing with adult sized, highly sophisticated medical "dolls" which were programmed to suffer from all sorts of nasty conditions.  I worked with a fantastic bunch of people all weekend to come to the rescue of these dolls to save them time and time again from certain death.

After each session, we learned to debrief each other to bring out learning points for the whole group.  We then had our debrief debriefed in turn.  It has been hard work, at times stressful but in the end a lot of fun.

Playing with dolls is serious stuff.  I'm sure Lauren agrees with me.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Poor health

We've all been ill again this weekend.  I had to pick up Lauren early from nursery because she had a bad cold and was running a high fever.  She was ill the entire weekend and gave the bug to Jocey, who has been grumpier than usual with it.  They seem to be constantly unwell at the moment with one bug after another.  Jase also managed to give me his tummy bug from earlier on in the week so I had a miserable weekend too.

I think this year we've been ill much more often than in previous years and I am sure that this is because we are all really tired.  I am still getting up several times in the night (especially now that the girls aren't feeling well) and generally don't get enough sleep.  Coupled with getting up early for work and long days, we are just about surviving and no more.

I hope we can look forward to something better than this in the future because this current situation is not a life at all.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Snakes and Ladders

On Tuesday, we had more rain so all thoughts of going to the park were quickly abandoned. We had been to Bramley's in the past on a rainy day but I just didn't want to go on public transport on that day. After a little bit of research, I decided to take the girls to another soft play indoor playground in Brentford, actually on the grounds of Syon Park where Jason and Charlotte had their wedding.

I was pleasantly surprised. It was easy to park and although a bit of a walk from the car park, Snakes and Ladders was a lot of fun. It was much bigger than I expected, with a three storey climbing frame for the bigger kids.

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It cost £9.50 for all of us to get in and we had an hour of Amanda's Action Kids for free whilst we were there. It was definitely much better value for money than my last time with Amanda (although of course the Riverside is a wonderful location). Lauren became really shy during the Amanda session and refused to participate, even though Jocey was enjoying it. I really don't know why she was so self conscious. Half way through, she lost interest and wanted to play on the climbing frame.

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Both Lauren and Jocey had a fabulous time, especially on the slides and bouncy castles. I was really quite surprised at how much Jocey has come on in terms of what she can do physically. She got a lot more out of it than I expected.

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Best of all it was fantastic to watch them playing together. Lauren had a great time sliding into this ball pit and tumbling into the balls.

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Jocey loved watching her do this; she just laughed and laughed.

We had a good lunch there too. As usual, Jocey demolished her food and then proceeded to "investigate" Lauren's food. I couldn't help laughing when Jocey slyly helped herself to some of Lauren's chips.

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To be fair, when Lauren found out what was happening she did graciously share her food with Jocey. It makes me so happy that they play and share.

It was mid afternoon before they agreed to go home. After all the exertion, they both fell asleep on the journey back but they clearly had a great time. We'll definitely go again. Even though Bramley's is closer, I do find going by car easier than going on public transport with the two children. I know that's not very eco-friendly, but we can all only do the best we can.

There are more photos from our day out on my Flickr album here.

Ouch!

Poor Daddy stubbed his toe on the skirting board whilst playing with Jocey last weekend.  The toe then proceeded to swell and turn black and blue.

It was obviously broken so I gave Jase a bit of sympathy, strapped it up and instructed him to take painkillers.  He hobbled around for a few days but now it's definitely improved.

I also sustained my own ouch, courtesy of Lauren.  We had a conversation on Tuesday along these lines:

Lauren: "Mummy, I'm three!"

Mummy: "Yes that's right, Lauren.  How old is Jocey?"

Lauren: "One."

Mummy: "Yes, clever girl!  How old is Mummy?"

Lauren: "Don't know."

Mummy: "Aah, Mummy is thirty-five."

Lauren (after long pause): "Forty-five?"

Mummy: "No, thirty-five!"

Lauren (quite firmly): "Forty-five."

Ouch.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Weekend washout

We've all been unwell this weekend with upset stomachs.  Lauren and Jocey have both been vomiting, leading to multiple changes of bedding and piles of extra washing.  My poor babies!

Lauren is fortunately better but still a bit grumpy and tired.  She had a good day at nursery today though, and was full of laughter and conversation on the way home.

Jocey is still running a slight fever and has a runny nose and cough.  This evening, I also discovered that all four of her premolars are emerging at once.  It must be so painful; I gave her some painkillers and an extra hug this bedtime.  My poor darling girl.

Mummy and Daddy haven't fared much better, so none of us have had much fun this weekend.  None of us have had much of an appetite.  It was a shame because we all ended up staying at home, with the girls catching up on their sleep.

I actually needed a rest this weekend; I've been travelling into central London all week to go to courses.  Whilst it was fun to go on the courses, I don't envy the people who have to do all that commuting every day.  Being squashed into a tiny space on a Tube train during rush hour when you're tired and grumpy is no fun at all.

I had originally planned to go to the newly opened Westfield shopping centre, a huge new shopping centre in Shepherds Bush that I blogged about some time ago in anticipation.

It looks lovely on the news and I can't wait to see it in the flesh.  However, I plan to go without the girls on the first occasion as I suspect it will be mobbed.  Also, Charlotte told Jase that it was still quite child unfriendly as the lifts were still being sorted out.

Anyway, off to get some sleep myself now before facing another busy day tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

SuperMummy Event photos

Mini-et-Moi who hosted the Cupcake Event that Emma and I attended in Wandsworth have posted some pictures and a blog entry on their website from the day.

There are some pics of the girls and me (looking rather serious in two of the shots!) enjoying our time there.  It seems that they are planning another event slightly closer to us in West London for the future.  I will be looking forward to that with interest.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Cold!

We did get snow.  Jase went to work on Wednesday and sent me this picture.

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A few people struggled into work with mountains of snow on their cars too.  Apparently this is the first snow in London in October for 74 years.  There's no snow today but it is very cold.

Winter is with us!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Cupcake fun!

There are days when I am utterly amazed that I make it out of bed at all.

For what seems like months on end now, I have had very little sleep because both girls have been quite troublesome at night.  Lauren is currently refusing to sleep in her own bed in her bedroom, so is camping out on her mattress in our room.  Jocey has had the cold for weeks and has been waking up several times in the night every night.  Inevitably, she wakes up Lauren at some point in the night too.

Between the two of them, I have been struggling along on a few hours of sleep every night (and of course going to work and dealing with the daily whirlwind-that-is-work too).  It's been so bad that I have had a series of migraines lately after having been migraine free for ages.

I've been aware that I have been feeling really rather down as a result of this chronic lack of sleep, so felt that I should make every effort this afternoon to attend a "SuperMummy event" hosted by Mini-et-Moi at a Mummy spa in Wandsworth called Cupcake.

I had been invited as a Blogging Mummy by the organisers - I was really chuffed by this.  I convinced another hard working mummy from work, Emma, to come too.  I wasn't quite brave enough to face all those "yummy mummies" by myself!

I turned up just on time to find Emma waiting in her car for me.  She had left her two with her in-laws as the children were being taken to see a show.  I had managed to bundle Lauren and Jocey into the car after a morning at the park and trying to get them to eat their lunches with as much sense of urgency as I could.  Of course, I had failed miserably and Lauren had taken her lunch at her usual snail's pace.  Jocey was tired and grumpy at not being able to sleep after the park so was not her usual cheerful self either.

After successfully laddering my tights whilst trying to change into something vaguely presentable and failing to get the sat nav to work on the first attempt, I was slightly flustered on arrival.

However, all this was forgotten when we got into the spa.  It was lovely, and the concept is a really good one - it has a crèche and organises fun things for the children to do to allow hassled and busy mums some time for a much needed pampering.  Emma and I laughed about the possibility of leg waxing at some point in the distant future when our lives were less mad.

Although we stuck to the non-alcoholic drinks and didn't take any of the champagne that was on offer, we still had a good time.  Lauren and Jocey wouldn't play in the crèche because they were tired and grumpy, so stayed with me and ate rice cake snacks, which they both really enjoyed.  Emma and I watched the demonstrations with interest, though we were both deeply suspicious of the personal shopper service when seriously heavy weight designer items were brought to the fore.  No price tags always equals trouble in my experience!

At the end of the afternoon, we had the chance to briefly have a look around and eat the remaining pink cupcake on offer.  It was very good, and a taste of the good life in general.

Although Cupcake is too far away for us to use its facilities, we had a fun afternoon and I think that the idea is a good one.  You do feel frazzled and worn down by every day life as a mum and opportunities to look after yourself are rare.  I was amazed by the number of the glamorous looking mums there with their equally glamorous offspring in tow.  However (as I said to Emma at the time), I figured out some time ago that I was never going to be "perfect" so had stopped beating myself up about it.

In spite of all the odds, I got out of bed and did something fun today with my girls.  That has got to be an achievement in itself.

Birthday weekend

Daddy turned 36 two weekends ago and Jase's parents and Aunty Madge came to visit.  They were all in good spirits and had some exciting news for us.  Suzanne was recently contacted by her birth family and found out (much to her surprise) that she had a brother and sisters that she had never known about.  She brought some old family photos and her newly discovered family tree for us all to see.  It was all very exciting and I hope that her meeting with them goes well (this coming weekend I think).

Lauren and Jocey were really pleased to see them and went to the park with them on the Saturday whilst I was constructing Daddy's chocolate birthday cake (with chocolate sprinkles, of course).  Unfortunately, I seem to have forgotten to take any photos of the finished article; however, I was very proud of it and it did taste good.

Park Grandparents 026Despite the cold and the wind, they all had a fun time.  Lauren even tried out the roundabout and the newly mended climbing frame.  She loves sliding down the slide backwards!

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Jocey also had fun, but did seem a bit tired because of her cold.

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On the Sunday, Lauren and I were invited to her friend Lorenzo's birthday party at a place called Eddie Catz in Putney.  We arrived quite early because I had been afraid that the traffic in Fulham would be terrible and so had left early.  I worked at Charing Cross Hospital on the Fulham Palace Road in 2005 and had spent many a time stuck in a traffic jam around the hospital so was wary of the area.

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Lauren was a little shy initially but quickly got over this as she saw more and more people she knew.  She spent the whole time playing with her friend Cameron and they both had a wonderful time going up and down the climbing frames and slides and playing with all the toys at Eddie Catz.

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Lorenzo and his parents clearly enjoyed the party too.  When the children sat down for their meal, I had a brief opportunity to chat to his mummy Natalia; we talked a lot about the nursery and how our children are currently finding their move to the big room.

Soon it was time for the children to tuck into Lorenzo's gorgeous chocolate cake and for the grown ups to try out the other yummy cakes brought by Lorenzo's mummy and daddy.

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I don't think any of the children wanted to leave at the end of the party, but I had to take Lauren home because I could tell that she was really tired.  We both had a really fantastic time.

That evening, the family went out to eat at a local gastropub, the Princess Victoria.  Despite having won an award from London's Time Out magazine, we admitted at the end of the meal that we had been a tad disappointed.  The food had the potential to be stunning and we found the starters and the dessert to be fab, but the main courses were not quite right.  Both Jase and I had ordered the beef with Yorkshire puddings to find that although the beef was good, the Yorkshires were rock hard.  I am hoping that the next time we go, the food will be better.

A busy weekend, but lots of fun was had.

Autumn Glory

I heard on the radio on the way home tonight that the temperature will fall to -3 degrees C.  It might even snow.  I supposed I shouldn't be surprised as it is the end of October now, the clocks have gone back and the nights are drawing in.  Winter is well on the way.

However, over the last few weeks we have enjoyed the last of the autumn sunshine.  We've had a few glorious weekends with sunshine where we ventured out to the park for fun and frolics.  There was no mistaking it for summer, though; despite the sun there was a definite chill in the air.

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The trees have been a riot of colour; when we went down to Ravenscourt Park a few weekends ago I took some great photos.

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It was breathtaking.  I can understand why Jase loves autumn so much.

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Lauren and Jocey have both had fun with all these trips to the parks.  Ironically, Lauren isn't interested in anything but the swings after overcoming her fear of them. 

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She's tried out several ones over the last few weekends.

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She seemed to especially enjoy this tyre swing at Ravenscourt Park and went on it twice whilst we were at the park.

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This includes revisiting the very first swing she ever went on.  Below is one of the pictures I took at the time of Lauren on that same swing two and a half years ago.

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This time she didn't need my handbag behind her to prop her up!

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I can't believe how quickly she has grown up.  I've blinked and suddenly she's gone from a baby into a swing-obsessed three year old.

After the obligatory visit to the swings, we laid out our picnic rug under the trees to enjoy the sunshine.  Despite the credit crunch, our rapidly shrinking savings and the daily collapse of banks all over the world, we decided to push the boat out and get some ice creams.

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I think most people are being similarly cautious with their money at the moment.  However, life is not worth living if you can't have the occasional treat every now and then.

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I suspect it will be a while before we are enjoying the sunshine like this again.  Today, we went to the park but it was so cold despite the sunshine that the girls were keen to come home after only half an hour.  My girls dislike the cold and I can't say I blame them - I'm afraid I'm not a fan either.  I'd much rather a warm climate!

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Imagination of the 3 Year Old

Lauren Art Oct 2008

I found this on the wall at Lauren's nursery.  It reads "I am drawing Daddy, Jocelyn, Mummy, George and Grandma.  George is my cousin, he is 5.  I like playing with my cousin.  My grandma lives with me."...!

Click the picture to open it in a new window then click on the "All Sizes" link to make it bigger.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Fun with Amanda

It rained almost all day today.  It was so miserable that none of us really wanted to get up, never mind leave the house.  Lauren had crawled into bed with me during the night, as she has done for about two weeks now.  I'm not sure why she's doing this but clearly on some level she feels that she needs extra reassurance at the moment.

The three of us were able to have a bit of a lie-in as it was my day off from work and Jase managed to leave for work in the morning without slamming the door.  However, we were all eventually woken up by Jocey who just did not want to stay asleep anymore.  Lauren and I were not impressed.

After breakfast, the girls played for a bit before Jocey got grumpy and fractious; it became obvious that she wanted to go back to bed.  After a bottle of milk, we didn't hear another peep from her for another three hours.

I felt a bit guilty that Lauren had missed out on the opportunity to go out in the morning and early afternoon because of the weather and Jocey going off to sleep.  However, Jocey was clearly very tired so I didn't want to wake her.  I did an Internet search for some ideas of activities we could do when Jocey finally got up.

Previously at Happy Times in Hammersmith, she had enjoyed Amanda's Action Kids, which were fun Music and Movement type classes.  I'm not sure if she has these now at the Richmond nursery so I decided to look on their website as I vaguely remembered that they ran some classes in Chiswick.  I was pleased to find that there was a Tuesday afternoon class available at the Riverside Health and Racquets Club and that I didn't need to be a member, just to pay at the door.

It's always interesting to look around health clubs.  I must admit that I was really impressed by the Riverside; it had a clean, contemporary look and seemed to have really great facilities.  Judging by the number of parents with young children there, it also appeared really family oriented, like our own Park Club.

We had a superb time.  Although Lauren and Jocey were a bit fazed at first, they soon got over their shyness and uncertainty and joined in.  It wasn't long before they were shaking rattles, singing and dancing with the other children there.

I will definitely remember that option for a future rainy day.

Monday, October 06, 2008

New for old

This weekend I have been playing with technology.  Jase installed Windows Vista on my machine and now everything looks so gorgeous!

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I am having a play with it to get used to all the new ways of doing things.  It's like having a brand new computer all over again!

On Saturday, I also updated the software running inside my smartphone.  I bought a Blackberry Curve in June and now it is my pride and joy.  I couldn't do without it, but have found the lack of video capabilities annoying.  So imagine my surprise and delight when I found that upgrading the software has added video options to my phone!  I had to try it out just to make sure it worked and am pleased to report that it did.

I will be looking forward to taking little snippets of video footage whenever I have a moment I want to keep for posterity!

Party, Park and Play

Lately, our time has been disappearing at an alarming rate.  I can't believe that a whole month has passed since we returned from Chicago and the big wedding; it honestly doesn't seem that long.  To be fair, it is perhaps still fresh in my mind because I've been blogging about it over the last few weeks.

On our return from Chicago, I was catapulted into a busy week on call at work.  However, at the weekend, Lauren had the opportunity to go to her first birthday party.

She was invited by one of her best friends at nursery, a little boy named Cameron.  I was so relieved and pleased that after all the upheaval of changing nurseries, Lauren quickly started to make new friends.  She now has a core of close friends - Cameron, Lorenzo, Suzie and Lilah amongst others at the nursery.

Although she remembers her old friends, I don't think she thinks about them much anymore.  Her chatter on coming home from nursery is always about her new friends.  We went to Ravenscourt Park last weekend and passed by her old nursery but she did not recognise it at all.

Cameron's party was held at a child friendly pizza place in Kew.  Lauren and I were really excited as the time for the party drew nearer.  We both got dressed up and arrived on time to find that we were the first ones there.

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The room was lovely; it was upstairs with a beautiful view of the village of Kew and we had it all to ourselves.  A big table was set for all the children and a smaller one for the adults.

I didn't really know what to expect as this was the first time I'd been to a children's party as a parent.  I was surprised as the children were all quite shy; I think they were a bit thrown by seeing each other out of their familiar social context.  After a while though, they did start playing together.

I was really touched when the time came for all the children to sit down to their lunch and the birthday boy Cameron wanted to sit next to Lauren!

The food was good and the children all enjoyed themselves.  I found it hard to sit down with some of the other parents though as Lauren didn't really want me to leave her alone.  She insisted that I sit down with her to eat my pizza, so I grazed the best I could.

All too soon, it was time for Cameron to open his presents and cut his cake.  Here he is with his mum Kristen.

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Cameron was really impressed with Lauren's fire engine gift, which she chose herself at the toy shop.  It had all manner of lights and sirens which were instantly investigated by many of the little boys at the party after Cameron opened the present.  I was glad he liked it, being one of Lauren's special friends.

Lauren ate all her cake, gave a Cameron a little hug and a kiss, we thanked Cameron's parents and then we went home.  I was amazed that there were no tantrums or screaming from any of the children; they were all remarkably well behaved.  I was proud of my Lauren!

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In the past, I have written on a number of occasions about Lauren's previous aversion to the swings (started here, then continued here and here).  Much to my surprise, in the last few months she has completely turned around.  In the summer, she agreed to go on the swings with me if we only did very gentle swinging.  As her confidence grew, she agreed to swinging higher and higher.

We've had a few recent trips to the park where all she wants to do is go on the swings.  This has been a noticeable change since her birthday.

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I'm glad of this change as Jocey really loves the swings and is keen to go on them every time we go to the park.  Lauren also loves going on the same swing as Jocey; the girls spend all their time giggling together.

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We've been really lucky to have a few really sunny weekends to enjoy.  Here are the girls clambering around the play jeep at Wendell Park.

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Lauren has hugs with Daddy.

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Jocey has a turn of driving.

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Lauren even ventured on the roundabout, another thing in the playground which she previously would have avoided.

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We also met up with Charlotte and George in the last month, who has grown massively since we last saw him.  He is coming up for 12 weeks now.  He definitely will grow up to be tall; he now stands level with Jocey's shoulder blades!

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Jocey herself is rapidly changing and growing in both confidence and ability.  Although her language skills are behind Lauren's at the same age, Jocey is physically stronger and is now able to walk a couple of steps completely unaided.  She is just short of 13 months and I think that that is a huge achievement.  However, for speed she still prefers to crawl.

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Her social skills are really quite advanced and I am sure that this is due to being a second child and playing with Lauren all the time.  I remember that it took Lauren much longer to start to play with other children, whereas Jocey has already begun to occasionally play with Lauren. 

However, some things are the same no matter which child you are bringing up.  Here Jocey attempts to untidy my recycling box.

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Almost identical to my experiences with Lauren when she was a year old!  She then went on to untidy our folded laundry, much to my dismay.

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And just like her sister, she is fascinated by shoes.

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I have no idea why!

Lauren meanwhile has moved up into the Pre-school room at her nursery without any major problems.  I was really proud of her.  I know it will take her time to make new friends but she has settled in well so far.  Her language skills are improving in leaps and bounds and her play is becoming much more sophisticated.

She is developing into quite an artist.  This is a picture she drew recently, which I absolutely adore.  Unfortunately, I could not keep the original as she had drawn it on a piece of mangled scrap paper but here it is digitally preserved for all time.

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She tells me that it is a picture of Mummy, Daddy and Jocey.  Mummy is on the left, Daddy is the big one in the middle and Jocey is the small one at the bottom between the wavy lines.  I think she started to draw herself on the right hand side but then changed her mind.  Isn't it fabulous?

She is also overcoming many of her previous fears (like the swings).  Today, we went to swimming and she managed to swim completely by herself for most of the time we were in the pool with armbands for support.  She's come such a long way from the girl who used to cry and wail whenever we went swimming!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Trip to Chicago: Part IV, Downtown adventure

The week after the big wedding was really fabulous as we were all able to relax and enjoy downtown Chicago.  I have to admit that I really loved the city; it was clean, stylish, fun and the people were really friendly everywhere. 

Another unexpected bonus - the food was also really good.  I have had many previous trips to the US before and encountered food that really wasn't so good; however, Chicago has a reputation for being a real foodie city and rightly so.  Here we are on the final night in Chicago, after a really enjoyable Thai fusion meal.

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We stayed in the Conrad in Chicago, right on the Magnificent Mile, the main shopping avenue downtown.  It was probably the loveliest hotel I've stayed in for some years.  We were shown to a pretty spacious room with two double beds and a large bathroom with a massive walk-in shower.  The finish in the room was impeccable.  Most impressive of all was the huge widescreen TV with the Bose surround sound system!  Below is a picture of the room we stayed in.

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Everything was well thought out and the staff were amazing.  The concierge especially couldn't have done more to help and recommended some fantastic restaurants for our evening meals.  Below was the excellent antipasto which we devoured at a restaurant they recommended called Quartino's.

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We did quite a lot of sightseeing despite having to cater for and entertain the two little girls.  In fact, they seemed to really enjoy going to see new places with us.

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My cousin Margaret arranged for all of us to go on a boat trip to see the architectural sights of the city from the Chicago River.  We felt that this was very fitting since my great uncle is a professor of architecture.

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It really opened my eyes to the beautiful buildings in the city and we learned quite a lot about the city's history.  I think of all the great buildings we saw, my absolute favourite was 333 West Wacker Drive.

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Sitting on the bend of the Chicago River, this post modern building echoed the curve of the riverbank and its green glass windows almost rippled like the water in the river.  Gorgeous!

After the boat trip, we took in the sights of Navy Pier.  It was a very hot day, well into the 30s with quite high humidity and no wind.  Lauren enjoyed looking at the bronze statues there.

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However, we were all a bit disappointed to find that the Children's Museum was closed for the week following Labor Day.  Later in the week, we took the bus to the famous Aquarium, only to find that it too was closed for the holiday week.  What bad timing!  I probably should have made sure it was open before setting out, but since we were already there we went to the nearby Field Museum instead, a large natural history museum.

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Jocey enjoyed the exhibits and pointed at all the animals and birds on display.  Lauren enjoyed everything apart from Sue, the large T Rex dinosaur in the atrium.  It took a long time to convince her that it wouldn't bite and that it was actually fun to look at dinosaurs!  I really laughed when she told me back at the hotel at the end of the day, "Mummy, I like dinosaurs!"  All that brainwashing clearly helps - well, eventually.

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We also had to go to the famous John Hancock Centre to see the city from the observation deck on the upper floors. 

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95 floors up is a restaurant where we had a rather average meal but were surrounded by an amazing view.  Unfortunately, on the day we went it became quite foggy whilst we were up there, so the view disappeared after a while.  This photo was taken just before the fog descended and is looking north from the John Hancock at the beaches of Lake Michigan and towards the Lincoln Park area.

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Another highlight of the holiday was our visit to Millennium Park.  This fabulous outdoor space is a green retreat for the city, despite having a massive car park in the ground beneath it.

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Lauren and Jocey loved running around in the park and being given freedom to explore.  Jocey, who is now very close to walking unaided, loved getting close to the birds we saw at the park.  In the photo above, she was pointing and saying "Uuggh! Uuggh!" excitedly at some passing pigeons.

There are two outstanding sights to visit inside the park; one is the massive sculpture by British artist Anish Kapoor called "Cloud Gate" (nicknamed "The Bean" by locals).

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The other is the equally impressive Jay Pritzker Pavilion, an auditorium for open air concerts.  It looks almost like a giant seashell with these enormous steel poles arcing outwards from the mouth of the pavilion to form an open "roof" over the grassy space beyond the fixed seating.

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We were lucky enough to be at the park when the soloists from Chicago's Lyric Opera were rehearsing for their big Millennium Park Concert with the great conductor Sir Andrew Davis.  It was amazing, even though they were obviously holding their voices back for the big night.  We sat in the audience until their rehearsal finished at lunchtime and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Even Lauren sat captivated by it all.  I haven't been able to go to the theatre or the opera since the girls were born, so it was a real treat.

After the park, we took Lauren and Jocey to a toy shop within a big department store (now a Macy's but originally it was the famous flagship Marshall Field store in Chicago).  Lauren fell in love with a bunny called Lollihop, which she brought home.

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Jocey also fell in love.  Initially this was with a big pony which was too big for Mummy to fit into her suitcase!

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Later, she spotted Eebee and only had eyes for him after that.  My parents bought Eebee for Jocey as her birthday present.  Every day, she comes downstairs and on seeing him will go over and give him a big hug.  She loves soft toys as much as her sister, and gives the Eeyore and Piglet which also came home with us (courtesy of Hubert and Bonnie) daily hugs too.

We also managed to pay a visit to the Lego store.  Outside the store were some interesting Lego figures.  Lauren was captivated by this little old lady with her doggie (must remind her of Bob).

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Daddy, on the other hand, loved the man with the bird's nest on his head.

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They also had a full size Darth Vader and R2D2 in the store, which Daddy particularly liked.  Lauren refused to go in the store at first because of the green Lego dinosaur attacking some poor Lego construction workers!

Our final day in Chicago was Jocey's first birthday.  We went out to a barbeque grill place for lunch and were surprised to see the waiter bring three little cakes with a candle on for her dessert.

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Lauren was very excited to be helping Jocey blow out her candle on her first birthday!

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Jocey had a great time and loved all the attention.  Lauren couldn't understand why Jocey hadn't had a birthday before...

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All in all, we had a fantastic time in the Windy City and hope we can go again soon.  Funnily enough, apart from at the time this picture was taken, it wasn't really all that windy!

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I was most disappointed when I found out that the "windy" part of the nickname refers to hot air and rhetoric rather than inclement weather!

All our photos from the week in the city can be found here (family photos) and here (architectural photos).