Monday, 30 December 2013

Ballerinas and Gingerbread

The last few days before Christmas saw a flurry of Christmas activities for our family. We visited the Victorian Christmas fair in Nevada City, were dazzled by the Zoo Lights display at Oakland Zoo, were entertained by a production of the Nutcracker and checked out the giant gingerbread house at the Fairmont Hotel. Phew, what a lot of Christmas fun! Of course, on top of all that there was last minute shopping, wrapping and decorating. It's amazing we weren't all Christmased out by the big day.

We've already seen the Victorian Christmas fair and Zoo Lights so let's have a look at the Nutcracker and giant gingerbread house...

Looking very much like Christmas at the Fairmont Hotel

Zoo Lights at Oakland Zoo

Every December Oakland Zoo lights up the night in a festive way with its Zoo Lights display. We haven't made it there in the past but this year it happened to appear as an activity on our advent calendar. So one night last week we headed off to the zoo after dark and took in the spectacle of lights.

Lola loved the colorful lights

Friday, 27 December 2013

That Cheeky Elf: Week 4

Elfie Pokie Nokie has flown back to the North Pole to stay with Santa for another year.

Here's a look at his last few days in our home this Christmas...

On day twenty two we found Elfie playing a game of Uno with one of Ava's teddy bears. From the look of that hand I'd say that Elfie has picked up some of Ava's cheating techniques. The good old "shuffle the cards so that you get all the good ones" trick!

Looks like Elfie has been cheating at Uno

A Victorian Christmas

Last weekend we traveled back in time to the Victorian era.

Ok, night quite, but we did travel to the Victorian Christmas in Nevada City. Despite the name, Nevada City is actually a small town in California - not a city in Nevada! It is located in the Sierra Nevada about a two and a half hour drive north-east of San Francisco. Every December the town plays host to a Victorian Christmas fair. The setting could not be more perfect. Being an old Gold Rush town, Nevada City is full of beautiful Victorian architecture. Broad Street which forms the main thoroughfare of the Christmas fair is particularly pretty with views over the surrounding forest.

At 2,500 feet above sea level Nevada City sees much cooler Winter temperatures than the Bay Area. While it was quite a pleasant day when we visited it was clear from the piles of snow that we spotted around the place that it had recently been much colder. How beautiful would it have been had it snowed lightly while we were there? That would've been amazing.

The Christmas fair attracts huge numbers of visitors as you can see from my photos. The fair features many local vendors and old fashioned entertainment including musicians, carolers, jump rope and ring toss games for the kids, balloon artists and many people dressed in their finest Victorian attire - even Santa and Mrs Claus.

Ava receives a candy cane from some of the Victorian characters strolling the fair

The girls with Victorian Santa and Mrs Claus

Merry Christmas 2013

Christmas is now over for another year but I'm still a little behind with the Christmas posts - as usual!

So let's start the catch up with a look at our Christmas Day...

As soon as the girls woke up on Christmas morning they knew that they'd made Santa's nice list thanks to the trail of sparkly, snowy footprints he'd left in the hallway overnight. You can find out how Santa left these footprints here. The footprints lead all the way from our Christmas tree in the lounge room, down our entry hallway and out our apartment door. The girls followed the footprints and discovered that, just like previous years, the footprints lead all the way to our nearest fire stairwell which was obviously Santa's point of entry.

Looks like we've had a jolly visitor overnight

Sunday, 22 December 2013

That Cheeky Elf: Week 3

It has now been three weeks since Elfie Pokie Nokie made his appearance back in our home and it seems he's been having just as much this week as the last two.

Here's a look at what he's been up to...

On the fifteenth day Elfie was pleased to discover that we finally had a Christmas tree. We found him perched up near the top after a night of tree climbing. 

Elves and Christmas trees go hand in hand

Friday, 20 December 2013

Printstagram Calendar Giveaway

This give away is now closed.

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It's no secret. I take a LOT of photos. My trusty camera is almost always by my side and for those moments when it's not, my iPhone is always ready to snap a shot. Those iPhone shots inevitably end up on Instagram, then Facebook, then Twitter, then maybe my blog...

While those iPhone shots tend not to be as high quality as the photos taken with my real camera, they often end up becoming my favourites. They're usually more candid and capture brief moments in time when I wasn't actually planning on taking a photo. Plus the right Instagram filter can make a big difference.

While my photos may be everywhere digitally, I don't really have that many printed photos in my home. The era of digital photography has all but brought an end to that. There's no need for bulky photo albums filling up book shelves or shoe boxes of photos stashed away in cupboards. Whenever I want to see my photos I can just look on my computer, iPad or phone. While I love the convenience of digital photography and the easy, space saving storage I've got to admit that I do miss having printed photos around. Not albums and albums worth mind you, just the special photos that make me smile.

That's where Social Print Studio's Printstagram comes in handy. Printstagram offers various high quality printing options for your Instagram photos including archival quality prints, mini books, stickers, posters and greeting cards. The Social Print Shop has a great range of display options for your printed photos. I quite like the concrete photo block shown below.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

A Christmas tree... finally!

On our advent calendar there are always two activity vouchers that the girls just can't wait to get their hands on. The first is visiting Santa at Macy's which came up on the advent calendar a week back. The second is choosing a tree from a Christmas tree farm. They've been waiting so patiently for their second favourite voucher and it finally appeared yesterday.

The long awaited advent voucher

Saturday, 14 December 2013

That Cheeky Elf: Week 2

Elfie Pokie Nokie has now been back in our home for two weeks and just like last week this week has seen him getting into all sorts of things. He's been building, playing board games, reading books, hiding in various strange locations and even been fishing. Thankfully he didn't manage to catch any of our fish!

Here's a look at his antics for this week...

On Elfie's eighth day in our home he got into the Lego Duplo and built himself a little fort - and spread quite a few blocks all over the floor. Of course, this was right after the girls and I had picked up all of the Lego and Duplo blocks and packed them away for the evening! The girls didn't seem to mind though and were quite impressed with his building skills.

Elves like Lego too

Thursday, 12 December 2013

DIY Waterless Snow Globes

A recurring voucher throughout our advent calendar is one that entitles Ava and Lola to make Christmas crafts. We've worked on a few things so far (which I will be sharing soon) but today I wanted to share my favourite: waterless snow globes.

Home made waterless snow globes

I've been seeing homemade snow globes popping up all over Pinterest and I really love the look of them. They're simple to make and they look really effective, especially when grouped together.

Here's a look at how we made ours...

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Sugar Castle 2013

A Christmas activity that appears in our advent calendar every year is visiting the sugar castle at the Westin St Francis Hotel in San Francisco. After visiting Santa at Macy's last Friday we braved the rain and wind to make a detour on the way home and stop by the hotel for a look at the castle.

Each year in December the Westin St Francis on Union Square displays a beautifully made castle crafted entirely of sugar in their main lobby. Each year the castle is added to or modified slightly from the previous year. The fairy tale castle is always surrounded by a picture perfect little village and a (not made of sugar!) model train that chuffs its way around  and around. The castle itself also revolves so that all sides can be seen from any one spot.

The lobby of the Westin is rather dark which makes for a dramatic setting for the castle. The fact that it was a very gloomy night outside made it even more atmospheric, although a little hard to photograph without a tripod.

Ava and Lola watch the train go around the base of the castle

Monday, 9 December 2013

Snow in Berkeley

Ok, so that title could be a little misleading.

It has been really cold here lately, even technically cold enough at night that it could snow. But it hasn't. That would truly be amazing and would make this frosty cold weather we've been experiencing worthwhile.

So, while it hasn't actually been snowing here, we did get a chance to play in snow, right here in Berkeley, over the weekend. On Sunday the annual "Snow? In Berkeley?" event was held in Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto. A parking lot was transformed into a mini Winter wonderland complete with real snow for the kids (small and big alike) to play in.

Lola and her, umm... snowman!

Half way there...

I am now officially half way through my pregnancy!

I'm pleased to say that so far it's been pretty smooth sailing and that our little baby is doing well. My belly is rapidly growing and is much bigger than it was at 20 weeks in my last pregnancy. I'm feeling little kicks and those pesky (but not painful) braxton hicks contractions have started. I've had those from about 5 months on wards with each pregnancy so that's pretty normal for me.


Sunday, 8 December 2013

Karate Kid

For the last few months Ava has been taking karate classes with a small group of kids in a nearby park. Yesterday was the day for her official white belt test. The rest of Ava's class actually had their test back when we were in New York so yesterday's test was just all for Ava.

It was a pretty cold day, probably no more than 6 degrees celcius, but the sun was out so it was quite pleasant in the park. Of course, when the wind blew it was pretty chilly but luckily the wind stayed at bay for most of Ava's test.

Ava takes herself pretty seriously when she does her activities, especially when she sees it as a competition so she was very focused during her test and put in a lot of effort. She even did a good job of ignoring Lola who was making a lot of noise trying to copy Ava off to the side. It all paid off in the end when she was awarded her white belt and a certificate. She's all about the certificates, our girl. Certificates and trophies. If there's a certificate or trophy on offer Ava is in!

Here's a look at Ava in action during her test with her teacher Sensei Julia...


Saturday, 7 December 2013

A visit to Santaland 2013

Yesterday's advent calendar activity was the one that the girls had been waiting for: visiting Santa at Macy's. They could not wait to go see the man in red and tell him in person that they'd like American Girl dolls for Christmas.

After school we headed to Macy's to visit Santa in Santaland. It may have been cold, windy and pouring with rain but that wasn't going to stop us in our quest to see Santa. The gloomy weather combined with the train ride did send Lola off to sleep though which meant that she was a little grumpy when we arrived.

Grumpy Lola ready to escape from Santa

That Cheeky Elf: Week 1

The Elf on the Shelf appeared in our home on the first day of December. Since then he's been flying back to the North Pole every night to report to Santa and coming back again in the early hours of the morning. Last year when he'd fly back to our home he'd find a comfy spot on a shelf, the Christmas tree or door handle to hang from. This year, however, he's been a little cheekier and has been getting into all sorts of things. 

Here's a look at the first week of the Elf on the Shelf in our home...

On the first day the Elf appeared in the advent calendar. This is the spot that he always appears on the first day and also the last place he appears before flying back to the North Pole after Christmas.

The advent calendar appeared overnight and so did Elfie Pokie Nokie

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Happy Hanukkah

Yesterday's activity on the advent calendar wasn't really related to Christmas. In fact, it was related to another holiday that falls this time of year: Hanukkah.

In the afternoon we caught up with friends for a little Hanukkah party. Ava has been learning about different cultures and traditions at school and this week's focus has been on Hanukkah, so she thinks herself quite the expert. She's been telling me all about how to light the candles on the menorah and how to play with a dreidel; two things she was looking forward to doing at the party.

Our delicious afternoon tea consisted of potato latkes with apple sauce, brisket, cinnamon buns, Hanukkah cookies, fruit and chocolate "gelt" coins.

Delicious cookies from a local diner

Monday, 2 December 2013

Advent Calendar: Day 1

It's the first day of December and that means it's the first day of the advent calendar. Ava and Lola have eagerly been waiting the arrival of the advent calendar so they were pretty excited this morning when they walked out of their bedroom and discovered it hanging in the hallway.

As usual I have filled our advent calendar with vouchers for Christmas themed activities rather than the traditional chocolates. And as usual first up in the advent calendar was a voucher to write and send letters to Santa, something which Ava has been very eager to do for weeks.

Letters to Santa
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