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8 posts from December 2008

December 25, 2008

Christmas Eve

for all was quite a bit more hectic than we had hoped it would be, but aren't they always?

Our day started off fast and furious with that last-minute tidying that never seems to elude the neatest person on the planet.  Well, maybe one or two people.  I have at least one relative whose home never fails to amaze me with the organization and its pristine state.  It is perpetually in a state of unhurried neatness; you know, cheerfully decorated, and the closet obviously not bursting at the seams from the two unpacked boxes you threw in there hoping desperately no one wants a tour of that part of the house?  

Despite my worries, I was able to get everything sorted and ready in time for a last-minute trip for the almost forgotten ornaments.  It was always a tradition of Mom's to get everyone an ornament for each Christmas.  This was similar to Grandmere's tradition of mailing an Advent calendar to my sister and me each year.  Oh, she was so timely and spot on with our interests for the year.  The calendar arrived Thanksgiving week without fail, and alternated between religious and secular.  I have tried to carry on that tradition, but somehow never remember until the first week of December.  Then again, the kids love opening several days in a row, so I won't worry too much.

For the ornament from Mom, whether fancy or simple, it represented either a special time from the year past (a ballet slipper for my year of lessons at age 10) or a general interest (I have many nature-related ornaments).  I was furious with myself for not remembering, despite the fact that the year has been nuts, I have three kids with very different needs and energy levels, and there was the chance they wouldn't notice if I forgot.

I noticed, however, and tossed and turned the night before.  Pete told me not to worry about it, and I promptly stressed more.  I had actually thought ahead in one respect, and not only gotten Kelsey's Christmas dress to the cleaner in the nick of time, but also had already purchased all of our groceries for the evening's celebration.  With the cleaning and decorating completed and a full 2.5 hours before we needed to be (very) early for church, I had plenty of time to escape and find ornaments.

We headed to the next town over.  I have tried to take a more holistic tack this year, especially with being back in the land of over-processed and way over added-to foods (hormones, preservatives;  we loved the clean Icelandic food!).  Well, I was desperate, gave up and found a few ornaments that seemed to match everyone's taste without either breaking the budget or bouncing around to several stores.    

We grabbed the dress at the cleaner's, drove home, showered, changed, did hair, make-up, dressed and out the door we were.  I won't discuss the quick trip to McDonald's for lunch, but the kids were thrilled.

"We are going to McDonald's for lunch?!" screeched Kelsey, "Why didn't you tell us?!"

In hindsight, maybe THAT should have been their big gift!

We needed to be quite early for mass in order to snag good seats. Not only was I not interested in trying to stand and feed Nicholas, as undoubtedly he would suddenly decide it was dinnertime during mass, but more importantly, a certain someone in the family would sing her first solo.

It was the first Christmas mass, and the Children's Mass & Christmas Pageant.  The pageant started at 3:30 p.m. and, as most do, reviewed the meaning of Christmas in a modern, child-friendly context.  It finished up at 4, just in time for the fire marshal to shut the doors,  (my favorite part) the priest to give a stern lecture to the usher about not allowing folks to save entire rows for family members (who had yet to show up while the aisles were overflowing with timely churchgoers) and mass to start!

IMG_1912 The choir (and Caitlin)?  Yes, they sang their little hearts out.  After communion, they performed a special song entitled "The Best Present of All" and three children marched up to sing at the microphone. The second child squeaked out his line sweetly, and Pete angled for a view (hard with a packed house), but managed a video (to be up soon) of our Cait not faltering for a minute.  It was a short line, but she did well and her voice could be heard to the ends of the church.  Our dinnertime guests were also in the audience and could hear her as though she was sitting next to them.  If she was nervous, we certainly couldn't tell, and not only was I proud of her for using her talent in such a beautiful way, but also for having been hand-picked by her choir director for the honor.  

Mass ended soon thereafter and we headed back home to fire up the oven and cover the dining room table in an array of dazzling hors d'oeuvres and dessert delights (many thanks to Trader Joe's & Whole Foods for their support with this effort).  Our friends, also recent arrivals to the Bay area, hurried in dressed in their Christmas finery and we proceeded to celebrate.

Our friends didn't tarry, as they had quite a few plans that included travel Christmas Day.  We said our _MG_1939 good-byes, Merry Christmases, donned jammies, and watched a Christmas movie together*.  Realizing it was getting late after the movie ended, the girls set out the essay for Santa (a ridiculously long, but cute letter), cookies & a Coke (figuring he might be tired of milk).  A quick read of the Christmas story and they were off to bed except Nicholas.  For whatever reason, he simply did not want to sleep soundly until late in the night.

Eventually he did sleep, in the crib no less, and I tried to muster the energy to finish finding and wrapping gifts.  I had little help this year as Peter had long since fallen asleep (er, around 7 p.m.) as he was sick with a mean bout of the flu.  Two  hours later I finally ambled off to bed with the hopes of half a night sleep dancing in my head.  I was exhausted, but our tree was complete and beautiful, and the fun would start all over again in the morning. 

Christmas Sampler

My typing is limited by the babe in my arms, but wanted to give a glimpse into our pre-Christmas fun...

The stockings are hung by the railing with care. We do have a chimney in our house, but this reminded me of the way my grandmother hung stockings in her house at Christmastime.  I always envied larger families at Christmastime and one day dreamed of a railing that would be draped with at least a few children's stockings. 

Note for those with good eyes:  yes, that is Maggie's stocking.  It was crafted too well to hide away forever, and since Bailey does not have a stocking, the girls thought he could use Maggie's.  The cat isn't pleased, but it is that or no Santa Claws.

St. Nick appears ...I was not going to go nuts this year and comparatively speaking, probably did not.  Despite my determination to have a simpler Christmas, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to dress up the little guy.  The girls got a kick out of it, and he is just such a sweet, jolly little fellow.


and, last but not least...


 visit to the big man himself!  There will be more updates later, but now I must make a pot of decaf (as the song goes, "She likes coffee at midnight, when the moment is not right"), and wrap my little heart away.  In the immortal words of Clement Moore, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

December 21, 2008

Brighter Beginnings & Birthdays

Years ago, we adopted a family for Christmas - I think.  Yes, I have to be honest and say that while I remember the many discussions Mom and I had, I don't remember whether or not we adopted the family. I know I certainly wanted to participate, but, sadly, can't locate that tidbit in my memory banks.

After the Basket Brigade was over, the kids asked what we would do next.  Was there a brigade for Christmas or anything even remotely similar?  The Adopt-A-Family idea floated out and we realized it was the perfect solution.  I researched the topic on-line, found about 50 groups who offered such an option, and seriously looked into group located in Oakland.  As it turns out, not only did they have quite a few families in need, but came highly recommended by the Basket Brigade leader

For those of you wondering if I have lost it, and how on earth we would fit another family in our house (or add them to the lease), I do not mean literally to adopt them.  Rather we would pick a family in need and make their Christmas as cheery as possible through gifts of practical needs (food & clothes) and fun (toys & trinkets).  

After going back and forth, we realized a small family might be best.   We wanted to provide an exciting morning for the family, but did not want to strain our finances in the process.  No, we aren't known to go overboard, why do you ask?

Given that we were already behind in our Christmas/holiday tasks, I opted to purchase most items on-line.  We chose a young father and his baby for our family.  Given the baby's age proximity to Nicholas, I had no trouble picking clothes or toys.  We added in gift cards for Safeway & Target, non-perishable food items, diapers & wipes, a stocking, clothes for the dad, and the dad's special gift: a digital camera. 

The entire operation was coordinated by an organization known as Brighter Beginnings in Oakland. You may purchase the presents, but they coordinate a week of drop-offs as well as the distribution of the gifts to many, many families.  After a crazy night of last-minute buying and gift-wrapping, we hurried to Lafayette to drop off our 5 fun and food-filled boxes (not only are individual gifts wrapped, but all items are boxed and labeled for ease of sorting).  We should not have been surprised, but we were...the pick up trucks were overflowing with boxes for the families.  One lucky family looked as though they were going to have an especially memorable Christmas as bicycle after bicycle was loaded onto the truck, all labeled with the same family number.

For whatever reason, many donors had not sorted, boxed and labeled their gifts, so volunteers were working at warp speed to ensure gifts were going to the right place.  We had followed the directions to a T and the drop-off took all of 5 minutes.  We barely stopped before we headed off to a late lunch, for which we were all very grateful after the long morning of preparation.  Will we do it again next year?  Absolutely, only this time I have a feeling the kids will be doing some of the shopping as well as the wrapping.  

On another note, today was special for another reason.   Nicholas Q., that stair-climbing (up andIMG_0183  down), babbling ("Hi-ya!") boy wonder of happiness and light is 10 months old.  He is still adorable, sweet and very, very, very strong.   He has no fear of anything (that's good, right?!) and is the light of our lives.  Happy Birthday, Little Buddy!  

December 20, 2008


Caitlin was about 18 months old as she had only peach fuzz for the first year, at least, of her life.  Kelsey was probably also about the same age, with gorgeous, bouncy, Cindy Brady curls that wouldn't quit..until she had her first hair cut.

Nicholas made it to 9 months and 29 days.  We had been contemplating the first trim for a while, and realized he needed at least a little snip in order to get that lock of hair that wouldn't budge out of his eyes.  Now, if he had a head of curls like Kelsey, I would not have done it...once you cut those baby curls, they are gone...at least in our experience.

So, I opted to go ahead and schedule the first haircut.  After all, it is a rite of passage in our household, and not something to be taken lightly.  There were pre and post photos, and we contemplated a video, but not sure your ears could handle it.  Nicholas is the sweetest babe in many respects, but loathes his hair being cut with an intensity few could match.

The hair was trimmed, locks sealed in not one, but two safe-keeping envelopes, and he lived to tell about it.   I am so thankful, in hindsight, that I opted not to do it at home for two good reasons:

  •  I normally butcher the bangs, so he would likely end up bald when we would have to shave his head to even everything out
  • He might never want to sit in his chair again, permanently confusing it with a 'seat o' torture'IMG_1887

Luckily we have a great place nearby, Kids-N-Teens.  Daniella, the owner & stylist, has done a fabulous job with Caitlin and Kelsey.  She is motherly, but not overbearing and turns getting a hair cut into a fun task for even the most obstinate child (not mine, they love her French braids!).

So within 15 minutes Nicholas went from this....

IMG_1891 To this new stylin' guy.  Now, the hair has calmed down a bit and is really just a shorter version of the little guy above.  Still so cute, though, and as you can see, no permanent damage to the psyche, and he has a new stop for those occasional trims.

December 17, 2008

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like....

well, we are trying to look like Christmas.  No tree yet, but that is dependent on Pete adiosing the moving boxes from the backyard.  Technically, it was the movers job, but they have decided to fight us on this tooth and nail.  Frankly, we just don't have the energy.  So, goody, we get to schlep 40 (now soaking wet) boxes to the Walnut Creek Recycling Center.  

Here we have one nod to the Christmas spirit:   the kids (can't say  girls anymore!) shoes filled with treats from the Jolasveinar.  As you may remember the 13 Santas visited us regularly each year in Iceland.  Even when we spent Christmas away from home in 2006, the Santas found the girls and filled their shoes.

IMG_0147 Since this move is permanent, the kids are no longer on 'the list'.  The first Santa was thoughtful enough to drop off a few goodies (note the epla for Nicholas), but indicated in the note that it was a special farewell treat.  Apparently, the commute from Iceland is simply too long and so we will have to settle for our single  Santa tradition.

The other decorative feature was created by Kelsey.  She has joined a Daisy troop at her school and oneIMG_0158 of the moms hosted a gingerbread house decorating party on Sunday.  The house was actually created with graham crackers, which was an interesting twist on the original idea.  Kelsey created, frosted, and decorated the cheerful little house.  They did not earn a petal for this activity, but they had a fun afternoon and the three girls who participated were able to get to know each other in a more casual setting.  

The other bonus?  The host's house is identical (EYE -clap- dentical) to our house.  Same railing up the stairs (different color, though), and all the rooms model our house to a T. Well, with one exception: our house is missing the gorgeous pool they have in their backyard. I was thrilled, though, to find another plan that includes our same awkward family room arrangement.  It gave me a few great ideas that I put into place yesterday, and everyone just loves the changes. 

IMG_1878 So, where are pictures of the new arrangement?  Unfortunately, we are still in the middle of things, namely finding a new DVD organizational system and furniture that better suits our family room.  In the meantime, admire this little guy who finally let us get a look at those new teeth!

December 10, 2008

Do you know the way to Monterey?

We do.  I know, not the quote, but was running low on title options.  Part of the agreement to move here included the necessity to travel more.  Despite the fact that I did not do much travel growing up, I have always had 'the bug'.  While we traveled some while overseas, one thing I have always regretted is how little I have traveled around my own country. 

So, rather than going back to DC, we opted for a position that would allow us to live in a different part of the country and not only see it, but all of the areas surrounding it.  Hello, CA!

I have to admit, I was a bit shell-shocked when we arrived.  I was a bit nervous (yes, I can run rings around the Beltway, and the Jersey turnpike is my friend thanks to EZ-Pass, but) as not only was everything so new, but just seemed profoundly, well, big, for lack of a better word.  We went into San Francisco twice in the first two months and that was plenty for me.  For the first time in my life, I understood why people were overwhelmed when they moved to DC.  I was...frozen.

Then I got up one day, had my cup of coffee, realized everything was running fairly smoothly, and got the itch to explore.  After discussing this with Pete, we realized we needed to get away, even if for just a weekend.  And the bonus?  Only ONE destination!  After our lost-count-of-how-many-stops-home-leave this summer, this was a pleasant change.  

Part of the, er, perks (?) of his job is the ability to learn about different areas of Northern CA.  One nearby area struck him while on the job (translation: reducing criminal activity in said area): 
Monterey.  In addition to plentiful parks and gorgeous beaches, it is host to the world-famous aquarium.  With our kids and their love of water, especially the ocean, a visit was absolutely mandatory.

Our only other big aquarium experience is that of the Baltimore aquarium.  Sadly, in comparison, I can now only say it is "o.k.".  We were absolutely amazed by the depth of the building and the extent to which it seemed to be built to blend with the surrounding areas.  The exhibits were very open, and it did not seem like the average aquarium with everything completely inside.  There were also several play areas for all ages.  That may not seem like much of a compliment, but I know the kids get overloaded with information and factoids and sometimes, just need to run around or play in the water.

Now we had one incident either the morning of/evening prior to our visit to the aquarium: the Peanut Shell disappeared.  If you don't know, the Peanut Shell is my favorite front carrier for Nicky.  I will most definitely find a replacement, as he just loves it.  I tuck his little legs into the swami position (my name for it), tuck him into the sling and voila, he is happy as a clam.  The best part?  No stroller to park anywhere.  

So, we were chagrined when the sling disappeared.  Poof, gone.  We looked everywhere, including the parking garage we utilized the previous night.  Nada, nothing, and we had not brought either stroller. We ended up carrying him, and while I would prefer the sling, I have to say, if you ever do the Monterey aquarium and you have a babe-in-arms?  Sling it, front-pack it, carry them on your shoulders...leave the stroller at home.  Everywhere we went, it was a traffic jams of the 4-8 wheeled beasts.  I love mine when pounding the pebbly path of the Iron Horse Trail or briskly walking to school in the a.m. In the Monterey aquarium?  No, never.

And as one can see from the pictures, the boy had the time of his life.  He was especially thrilled with the water area, which was not surprising, but has me thinking a sand/water table is in his near future. Now, I could write more about the aquarium (the otters, the many, many, many types of sea life, the extreme focus on conservation), but why don't you just visit for yourself?   And, yes, I also recommend a visit in person.

Was that all we accomplished in Monterey?  Nope, not even close.  Our first night was spent on Cannery Row.  I have to say, it was a bit touristy for my taste (the shopping part), but we arrived just in time for the lighting of the city Christmas tree, a visit from Santa, and Christmas carols.  We opted for a seafood dinner at the edge of the beach, after picking from the appropriate fish suggestion list from the aquarium.  

We spent the night at the Seaside Embassy Suites, and the girls spent much time  in the pool along with the rest of the children in the jam-packed hotel.  After a good night's rest and a visit to the aquarium, we headed off to Carmel-by-the-Sea.  We weren't sure exactly what to do, and as it was getting dark and the masses were hungry, never actually ventured out.  However, we did motor past a few cottages and happened upon a breathtaking sunset.  It took our breath away, and frankly, right back to the sunsets that were incredible in Reykjavik.  

Back to Monterey, dinner, and to the hotel for more swimming.  Our next day took us to Pebble Beach, as part of the 17 Mile Drive.  Craggy rocks, fiercely crashing waves, and sea otters playing in the distance.  Fearless surfers managed the waves like my kids wield play-doh.    We finished up with a family photo by the Lone Cypress...a candidate for the Christmas photo, but realized Nicholas was just too sleepy.  

We had heard from a friend that a trip to Monterey was not complete without venturing to Lover's Point.  We didn't have the time for the hike from Fisherman's Wharf, but that left us with more time to enjoy the waves.  There is nothing like running barefoot in the sand on Thanksgiving weekend, especially when one normally spends the time digging the car out of the snow.

With the sand play desires sated, we decided to head home, as we still had one more stop: Castroville. I had never heard of the town prior to moving here, but I will now never forget it. In case you areIMG_0113  wondering, it is the Artichoke Capital of the U.S.  Peter had visited during one of his business trips and insisted we stop for deep-fried artichoke hearts.  We also tried steamed artichoke (one of several that weekend), and artichoke bread (think banana bread but with artichokes and raisins, heavenly).

And, now, off to plan our post-Christmas holiday!

December 02, 2008

Houston, we have a tooth

Well, the beginnings of one at least.  I had long since given up on Nicholas having any teeth any time soon.  He can gum things to death with the best of them, and I figured they would arrive in their own sweet time.

This morning as I was feeding him, I felt a weird scraping noise on the bottom of the spoon.    Yet, I couldn't see a thing looking into his mouth.  Finally made him angry enough to open wide and voila...a little bridge of white!  I tried my best to get a photo, but frankly, that makes him very angry...and you wouldn't like him when he's angry (does that sound familiar to anyone?).  

So, here is a pic of him getting every last drop (pea-sized bit) of banana last night.  I have resorted to having him wear the full-body armor as otherwise his outfit absorbs almost as much food as he does.IMG_0121
He also had his 9 month appointment and all is well.  He has met every milestone the doctor mentioned and a few she didn't.  I almost had a run-in with a nurse, but thankfully things worked out.  It just really irks me when folks forget that babies are not 'one size fits all'.  One would think those who worked with them would know better, but...

December 01, 2008

Darn thing looked like it was made of green pipe cleaners!

Yes, we have already watched it, but only once so far.  Caitlin had it on for family movie night before Thanksgiving, and despite my intense dislike of the kids watching t.v., I do have a weakness for Christmas movies.  So, in all likelihood, we will watch some of the TBS marathon (wait, do they still do that?).   It should drive me nuts, but it doesn't...yet.

This post isn't really about that, though, but assuaging my incredible eco-guilt.  Ever since I was a young girl, I have wanted a real Christmas tree.  I didn't care if it was a Charlie Brown tree, needles dripping everywhere and limbs barely holding an ornament.  Everyone I knew had a real tree and I just loved them.  I loved looking at them, smelling their sweet, woodsy scent and enjoying not just the feel of Christmas, but an overall winter joy.

We had an artificial tree, which was just not the same to me.  Some might say 'a tree is a tree', but to me it was not.  It has been said that scent of smell is the strongest link to memory, and I would love for my kids (as adults) to inhale the fresh piney scent outdoors and have happy (we can hope) memories come flooding back.  Not just of receiving gifts, but of time together, time spent giving to others, and time just enjoying the season and the reason for the season.

So I decided I would have two traditions for our family:  a real tree for Christmas and dressing up that tree as soon as possible.  Not just with bows or glass balls, but gifts underneath (except "smelly" cat or dog gifts) tempting and tantalizing us for days to weeks on end.  

Then we started moving around the world and eco-guilt hit.  Were we chopping down the country's only trees?  Were fake ones not better?  Even in Venezuela, we managed to find a small but suitable tree.   Later we attempted a fake one in Iceland, and loathed it.  The lights were the awful 1970's colors, no white but a weird yellow instead.   We used it for two years, then donated it.

We forgot about donating it until last year when it was time to put it up.  So, we ended up heading to the Ikea where they had quite a few for sale.  Iceland has a fabulous recycling/composting center, so we were not worried that we would not be able to dispose of the tree in an environmentally safe manner.  If nothing else, at least it could biodegrade.  However, that left us to toy with the notion of what to do this year for the next 11 months.

I still wanted to keep my real tree tradition.  However, Pete enjoyed the pre-lit part of the fake trees. Then I was reading an email from a group I belong to and found this reference to an article about artificial trees.  My kids don't wear flame-retardant pajamas for obvious reasons, and people are constantly up-in-arms about lead paint; should we not extend the same concern to the tree we hover about for a good part of our holiday season?

 Wonder what the eco-experts think?  Check out articles here and here.  A fake tree will never biodegrade and will sit in a landfill forever, polluting for generations to come.  If you already have one, I am not saying not to use it, but keep the kids away until you test for lead.  My personal take is it isn't worth the risk to my family, no matter how slight.  Not when we have a more natural way to enjoy the season.

Sentimental reasons aside, we are now permanently a 'real tree' family.  If we live overseas and can't find/feel too guilty to chop one down, we will find a good ole Ficus or figure out something else equally creative.   Besides, they will always have newer and more realistic artificial trees.  If something realistic is truly your goal, why not go for the real thing?