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12 posts from December 2009

December 27, 2009

Pardon us

while we take a break.  Kelsey and I have both come down with some sort of yuck. Thankfully, Peter is not sick (yet, knock on wood) and he made us a splendid homemade turkey noodle soup today.  I was really hoping we would be healthy through his departure next Sunday, but at least we are having some quality time together.  Hope everyone else out there is a bit healthier, and it's back the couch, ginger tea, and Kleenex for me.

Oh, and yes, pictures from Christmas coming soon....

December 25, 2009

Norad has Santa

headed to Medford, Oregon, so I have a few moments to review the day. Whew! How did we fit everything in, yet still manage to have a fairly relaxed Christmas Eve?

I have to think that Peter taking the day off and not having the flu was a huge help.  This time last year, I was struggling to clean up after dinner, wrap gifts, get the girls to bed, and take care of Nicholas.  The first three weren't too bad, but he had a terribly restless night and was up to nurse every half hour to an hour.  Normally, not an issue, but when Santa is out cold with the flu on the couch, and you still have to find and wrap gifts....though I shouldn't complain, as I am sure it is one of those parental rights of passage that I will really miss one day.

This year we made things a bit easier by downplaying the gifts a bit.  Each one is getting one 'large' gift, though not necessarily in size, and a few other small items.  We have realized over the years that the girls (and Boy) get so much love in the mail from others that we don't need to overwhelm them.  The big gifts?  You, like the kids, will just have to wait and see!

IMG_3634  IMG_3620 We also changed our tune with regards to the gifts we gave others, and can't wait to see/hear how this goes over. In addition to making gifts for local friends, we   we changed our wrapping style. Not completely, and not for everyone, but for a few folks who we thought might appreciate the gesture.   I do have the fear it may go over like a lead balloon, as Christmas wrap generally is supposed to define the gift and add that little oomph of extra cheer.   We shall see, however, whether we end up being the cool hip eco-friendly folks who rocked Christmas with their radical gift wrap idea or ....let's be positive and stop there!  Since the gifts are likely under the various trees already, here is a picture I snapped of everything prior to the presents being shipped off to their many locales.  A major award will be given to anyone who guesses the use of the wrap just from this photograph.

Since I have already veered way off course, I should return to the point of the post: Christmas Eve.  It began with freshly baked scones (cinnamon, and a new favorite for Cait) to get us motivated to run our errands, and finish up a few chores before church, which was extremely early today.  The pageant began at 3:30 p.m., but we needed to secure seats by 2:45 p.m. in order to get that prime tripod spot. 

The girls were awesome!  The pageant commenced with 15 minutes of singing, then the 15 minute play with Caitlin in the lead.  According to the choir director, she nearly had a breakdown at practice the other day.  Today?  No hint of anything other than a confident, happy (or for the part, grumpy) Innkeeper.  Kelsey was a darling as an angel, and Nicholas loved watching both while intermittently screaming, "Outside, outside!" to entertain us all.  Yes, there is a video, and it will be available when Pete has it perfected in a day or two.

 IMG_3665 IMG_3675Considering I am a Midnight Mass kind of girl, I was shocked to be finished at 5 in the afternoon.  We had plenty of time to bake cookies for friends (and deliver them), watch Nicholas open a special pre-Christmas gift from Grandpa and Dibby, and enjoy a savory sit-down dinner.  As the hours had passed, we realized the girls (and Boy) needed to skedaddle or someone might skip our house.  Cookies and milk were put out with Santa letters, jammies were donned, and the girls read The Night Before Christmas to us.  Nicholas fell sound asleep during the reading, and the girls weren't going to last much longer.  We couldn't resist watching  a few minutes of A Christmas Story, but they were tired, Santa was spotted in Missoula, and it was off to bed.

And now that I hear bells jingling overhead, it is time for me to sign off.  Here's hoping wherever you are, you are having a happy and safe holiday.  Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night...

*Actually, the 'wrap' had to be ordered well in advance, so if this the assumption, well, not quite the case.

December 24, 2009

Another year,

another crying toddler.  Tonight was our annual visit to Santa at the Livery in Danville.  The Santa looks (and acts, I suppose) as much like the "real thing" as one can expect. After waiting in line for about an hour, one enters the former storefront to find a simple, but classic Christmas setting.  The grand red chair, the pine boughs and swags, and a basket filled to the brim with sweet treats.

IMG_1917 No elves, other than the balloon man blowing up skinny balloons and frantically twisting and tying them into mini-Rudolphs and candy canes. Oh, and a helper, perhaps Mrs. Claus, sans the costume?  One has to bring their own camera, but no fees are charged.  We went last year on December 23rd after realizing if we didn't hurry up, we would miss the opportunity entirely (we were a bit behind on...everything).   We liked the simplicity of the set-up (and proximity to a toy store for last-minute stocking stuffers) so much that we simply did the same this year.

Tonight we visited Santa first, and then followed it up with dinner at Pasta Pomodoro* to save any more kitchen clean up.  For whatever reason, we are just all tuckered out, and it's not even Christmas Eve.  We have a few more activities than last year, and Nicholas is certainly more mobile (which wears me out), but by all accounts we are way ahead compared to our Christmas prep progress at this time last year, and should not feel so...tired and hurried.

IMG_1914Scan0008 Perhaps my exhaustion is why I neglected to remember about Nicholas's reaction to the Man in Red.  Caitlin was so scared at 16 months that the photo became a family portrait (which I will find and post at some point), but thought it might be different with the others. It's possible Kelsey felt the same way at 18 months, but as you can see, she was beside herself at 9 months.  The photo of two grinning girls is framed and part of our holiday decor. After passing by it several times a day for a few weeks, I imprinted a happy, smiling Nicholas perched ever so delicately on Santa's lap in my brain. 

This led me to believe tonight would be a cinch.  I completely forgot that Kelsey was 9 months in the photo, and last year, at 10 months, Nicholas was not having any of it (see above).  Without dragging out the saga of nearly dropping two cameras (one a brand-new iPhone), and wiping tears and noses while trying to get Crankypants to smile so I could take a halfway decent picture, I can simply say that he was about as eager this year. Now I really must get that Skuut put together, lest I fall behind even more, so without further ado: the official 2009 Santa photos!

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*The photo of Nicholas in the Santa hat was taken a year ago tonight.  Found it when searching through other pictures, and just thought it to be a funny shot of the (now not so) Little Guy.  When do they stop growing so quickly?  Oh, and the dress Kelsey is wearing?  Caitlin wore that for Christmas when she was 5!

December 20, 2009

And our next post will...

not be our post.  We have decided that the time is right to share the news that due to the needs of the service, we will be going separate ways next year, at least in terms of where we live.  While it is not 100% official*, Peter has had a handshake on a particular unaccompanied post for the past few months.

While we were not deliberately trying to leave anyone out of the loop, we thought it prudent to wait a bit until this position seemed a bit more sure.  In Foreign Service lingo, we wanted to hear the words, "You have been paneled".  Due to many factors we have not heard those words, and I am not expecting to hear them any day soon, which is fine. However, this next posting requires quite a bit of heavy-duty training prior to deployment.  Given that the plans for the training, which begins January 4, are moving full-speed ahead, we feel comfortable in the likelihood that the posting will go forth.

It is therefore with a bit of trepidation that we are announcing in the most official way we can that Peter will be going over there (pick your unaccompanied destination of choice) for a year.  This has meant nothing short of a huge amount of uncertainty for the rest of us.  I can't say I am not a tiny bit stressed about the new job (well, location of said job) for Peter, but also a bit nervous about the four of us.  We have realized that due to financial factors (far more positive to move anywhere else) and in terms of distance to his new posting, we need to move as close as we can. 

One might say it's a bit laughable to think that being 6 hours closer will help, but with the way flights go, it could add an extra day to each R&R.  Trust me, even an extra 24 hours will be precious, and we do not want to throw it away on unnecessary travel. 

I am really not sure what else we know at this point, other than the following:

  • we will likely pack out in late May and/or early June
  • we will probably depart as soon as school has finished for the year
  • no word as to whether we will fly or drive to our home for the next year (but would love comments from those who have driven...especially given the minimum of 440 miles/day!)
  • his posting will tentatively begin in July of 2010 and will last for one year.  Assignments with DS are not linked, so no word on where we will go next.  We would love a three year posting in Africa or South America, but, as usual, it will depend on availability.
  • we are moving in an easterly direction, but not set on final location.  Support, friendship, weather, ways to keep busy, and a good number of available babysitters (no worries, I pay well!) will all be factors in our final decision.


Do the girls know? Yes. 

Are they okay with it?  As much as they can be.  They understand, to the extent that they can, that this is a need for the Foreign Service, and when one joins the FS they agree to worldwide service.

Are you okay with it? It's his job.  Bad things happen everywhere, and there is no point on dwelling on the "what ifs".  And, let's face it, I have done the single parent thing A LOT.  It's nothing new, and there are positive aspects.

What on earth will you do?  Just go about life as I would if Peter were on a very, very long and regulated SD detail or TDY.  Hopefully, I will dust off a few hobbies, continue to get in better shape, travel (yes, we have very grand R&R plans), and have a regular volunteer position somewhere involving kids, animals or books. Oh, and look at the bright side of life while drinking a lot of coffee...

*I actually typed this post several days ago, and was sitting on it for a bit. Rather than rewrite, here is the official word:  as of 3 PM PST Peter has been paneled, and the assignment is a go.

December 14, 2009

All tuckered out

Guess snack time is over!  In trying to get everything done today, and yet feeling like nothing has been completed, I forgot about one thing: nap time.  How hard is that?  I am just in such a flurry trying to get everything bought, wrapped, and mailed in a timely manner.  Times like this make me think life would be so much easier if we lived in one place, and it happened to be located within an hour of all our friends and family!  Hmm...or maybe I just need another cup of coffee.  Now, to get LG into a more proper sleeping place, and then back to the pre-Christmas grind.

December 13, 2009

Winter Concert

Scan0005  IMG_3570Preparations have been made for weeks.  Songs have been sung over and over while uniforms have been purchased, received, fitted, and tried on time and again.  Rehearsals didn't go over their time limits, but were intense and uniform checks were strict. The cavernous room with a spacious balcony was decorated with pine, poinsettias, and many, many twinkling lights.  Beautiful yet subtle so as to not distract from the performers.

    IMG_3573 The morning was cold, wet and windy.  Drop-off was two hours early.  Did we use enough hair gel? What about the bobby pins?  Oops, we left in earrings and forgot a ponytail!  No worries, mom and dad volunteers were on hand for small fixes.  It was not our day to help out, so we joined the cadre of parents, sisters, brothers, grandparents, and friends that snaked around the courtyard of the church.

We finally stepped into the room that was cheery enough just from the red of the seats that we now coveted.  One problem:  all of the seats had been saved.  Seat saving rules went out the window this morning, and we were out of luck.  We were banned from the balcony (no little ones near the videographer), and now seat-less.  Thankfully, a chaperon took pity and put us in the front row, giving us two seats with Kelsey and Nicholas to sit in our laps or the floor. 

IMG_3577 IMG_3582 The Board President spoke, and then the director opened the concert.  The choirs took turns, and each group of girls seemed truly happy.  A few fidgets here and there, a nervous glance or two, but overall, pure holiday joy.  The concert was a very good blend of songs representing Christmas and Hannukah, an idea that we really appreciated.  One medley went so far as to require audience participation.   We had to guess how many bits and pieces of various songs were combined into one.  The answer was officially 22, but technically 23, as the pianist played a bit of one song that was not voiced by the girls.

I won't fib and say that I 'heard' Caitlin, but I like to think that her sweet voice stood just a little bit higher than the rest.  The entire performance was moving and I don't think there could have been a parent in that hall today that didn't have a tear in their eye when their daughter came on stage.  The girls and young women were beautiful, radiant, and completely immersed in their love of song.  Considering the auspicious beginning to this adventure, we are so very proud of our Cait and thank her and the entire chorus for an engaging, exciting and incredible holiday concert today.

December 11, 2009

A message from Nicholas

Dear Auntie Shannon,

I tried to post this video on your profile for you, but had technical difficulties.   I decided this would be a little easier.  It also gives me a chance to properly blame my sisters and the cat for the mess in the background.  There is no way I could make this kind of mess...not cute, sweet, adorable little...nope, not me!

My mom also said to mention that she did not bribe me with the cookies.  I am a smart boy and filched those way before she grabbed the camera.  The message is from the whole family, but they thought I had the best delivery!  


Nicholas Q. Dinoia or "Little Guy"

December 10, 2009

Caring & Sharing

Kelsey and her Brownie troop are working on the Caring & Sharing Try-It.  It is a fairly easy badge to earn during the meetings and has been a good way for the group get to know each other a little better.  I would say that it has helped them to become more sister-like (in the spirit of Girl Scouts), but frankly, it is one of the most cohesive troops I have ever seen (should add, not so many). 

The girls are already friends with each other and rarely bicker or argue.  They all seem to get along and respect each other.  Whether or not they respect us is a different story.  However, given that they are all seven, I would be shocked if they didn't test the waters now and again.  

This week, as part of the Try-It, each girl was to bring a treat for another girl.  Sounds like Secret Santa, but called Secret Pal (sooo different, right?) and was not supposed to involve anyone buying anything.  Items could be made, pictures could be drawn, cards could be written, but nothing was to be purchased unless it was a part of the craft.  I matched up the girls, and kept a master list of names to prevent confusion (and last-minute, "I lost my pa-pa-pa-per and can't remember whose name I received!").
Kelsey found out she had (kind of) picked Jenny.  She wasn't really sure what to do, and we figured a card on my nice card stock should do the trick.  She had enough room to write a thoughtful note on one side and draw a picture on the other.  The front was a blank slate for her to attack with several sheets of stickers.

Scan0003She wrote the letter, and I was a bit taken aback.  Basically, as it touched on her moving, but, nothing really about her friend.  I commented that perhaps she could add in a few lines, about, say, Jenny . Naturally, she was a bit offended.  Not that I was upset by the letter, but thought perhaps it needed beefing up.  She cooled down and later added a few thoughts about Jenny.

Now I know some might say, "Wait, you are moving?"  Well, yes, we are.  Do we know where? Not exactly.  Do we know when?  Um, see previous answer.   It's the joy of this lifestyle! 

Another joy is deciding how and when to tell the kids.  We have decided the best way is to simply be honest.  Apparently, so do they.  We don't say we are moving anywhere forever.  They know plenty of children who are not part of Foreign Service families, yet move frequently anyway.   Knowing about the move in advance also gives them a chance to help pick where we go next (as if we have a huge choice), and time to adjust to the situation.

I really shouldn't have been surprised by the card.  She is quite matter-of-fact in her manner and simply telling her friend she is leaving, perhaps to indicate that she knows their time together is short, but valuable.  A bit early, perhaps, but there really isn't sadness, it's just, "see ya later"! In fact, she has done it with other friends, and neither Kelsey nor the friend thinks it is strange that she is so blase.  One friend simply told her she had to stay until her birthday party in July, and another has already invited Kelsey to her wedding.  Kelsey naturally reciprocated.  There goes the small family party in the backyard! I can hear it now, "No, no....$250 a head!"

December 07, 2009

Snow and other pretties

With all of the reports coming from the east coast of snow, snow, and more snow, I was officially depressed.  While it is colder here, our house will never have a blanket of snow, we have no reason to buy snow tires, and I scoff at the notion of a white Christmas.  Well, I did until today...

IMG_3550 Peter received an email from a co-worker at 6:45 a.m. (nothing like that "dinkle, dinkle" of the Crackberry before my first cup of coffee) declaring there was snow in Danville.  You may recognize the name as it is the hometown of "Sully" Sullenberger; to us, it is, well, the town next door.  The town whose border is merely blocks (albeit, long ones) from our house.  There was even more snow in Alamo, and Peter was treated to a view of snow-covered cars all the way to work.  Granted, there was no actual white stuff in our yard, or on our car.  However, I could easily see snow-capped Mt. Diablo from Cait's window.  You see, it's the little things.

Like the "pretties".  The pretties are everywhere this time of year.  They cover houses, and yards, and make the early darkness not so dismal or bleak.   They come in a rainbow of colors, and festivities are created around the set-up of many, many strings of pretties.  Yes, they are Christmas lights.  Well, holiday lights to be more exact.  According to Nicholas, no matter what the reason, the lights are very pretty, and if he shouts "Pretty!" once on a night-time car ride, he shouts in 10 times.  It would get old, except that he is so happy, and it is rather contagious. 

IMG_3546 You can imagine his excitement when Peter dug out our "pretties" out of the garage, and began stringing them up.  Nicholas happily helped wrap them around the bushes, and pull them down from the window.  Not exactly what Pete had in mind, but he really enjoyed having a helper, especially one whose enthusiasm does not fade. 

Even more exciting? A trip to a  whole farm of pretties!  Peter found a drive-through light display in Lathrop, CA, and we drove 45 minutes on a dark winter's evening to wind our way through the greatest display East of the Bay.  We couldn't wait to see the look on Nicholas's face.  However, we got the surprise, as by the time we got there, he was sound asleep.  The girls managed to wake him up (one of the few times I have advocated such an activity), and the lights helped keep him awake.  We stopped at the farm part, and the kids enjoyed mingling with Rudolph and his friends, as well as trying to convince us we needed to get a tree that minute.  Nope, it can wait another week.  Given it will be up until January 6th, no need to rush it.

IMG_3556 Now, Nicholas is not the only one who is excited about Christmas...as one gift came a bit early this year! See, there was a really, really, really good sale at King Arthur, and since Nicholas stole, I mean, lost the paddle to the old bread maker (which was not all it was cracked up to be)...it seemed like the perfect excuse to acquire one with a better track record.  I should also mention it was 20% off AND free shipping.  Who can pass that up?  It arrived today, and given our family's penchant for fresh bread, I have a feeling it will be in overdrive by the morning.  

Why not just bake it in the oven?  Perhaps because the oven is busy baking other kinds of holiday treats...only time will tell!

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It's that time of year again...

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

December 06, 2009

Helen Back

Helen Back
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Apparently Caitlin and Helen Thomas (assuming the letter is real) have something in common.   Any bets on how much Caitlin would love for her face to be there instead of that the permanently pouty Bella?  Can you see her face if she pulled that picture out of her Christmas stocking?   If this doesn't put you 'in the know', Caitlin is 100% Team Jacob.  Wow, I so can't believe I just typed that...

Tis the Season

for entertaining.  While we don't have any big bashes planned this year (Pete threatened to host the office holiday party, but that is on hold for the moment), but are hoping to welcome a few local friends to our house.   Thursday we had the extraordinary luck of hosting out of town family member for dinner.

My stepbrother, Forrest, was in town for a conference in Napa Valley.  While I can't say we felt sorry for him (Napa is still calling us), we thought it would be the ideal time to get together at our home, if his schedule allowed.  For a change we were only 40.4 miles apart vs. the usual 2,093. One of the teeny-tiny, itty-bitty issues we have noticed with our lifestyle is that it is often difficult to get visitors.

Schedules and airline ticket prices have frequently conspired against us, and we have not been able to entertain family the way we would if we lived down the street and vice-versa.  We may not have time on trips to visit each person at their home, and conversely, we host many more local friends than we do relatives.  Thursday evening was a happy change to that routine.

IMG_3542IMG_3544Forrest was able to grab the evening and the rental car, and arrived around 5 p.m. to the bustling household.  He and the kids (still tempted to say 'girls') had a good bit of quality time, and we enjoyed that all-important afternoon super-strong cup of java while waiting for Pete.   

It was not terribly grand dinner, just Chicken Francaise, broccoli, pasta, bread, and a field greens with berries salad, but seemed to fit the bill.  It was the first time I used the Le Creuset pan for this particular recipe, and I was thrilled with the way it turned out.  And, of course, the clean-up can't be beat.

After fresh berry pie for dessert, we were able to chat and relax over the postprandial carafe of coffee. It was so refreshing to have a new guest in the house, though he was certainly not a new friend.  We realized after all of these years, it was the first time he had met the cat or watched the kids in their home environs.  Simple (and perhaps odd to some), but made me realize just how far away we are, even when on the same continent or in the same country.  

It had been a long day for all of us, and after a last cup for the road, Forrest headed back up north.  I tried to type the blog post at that point, but realized I was really quite tapped out.  The dinner was truly a treat, but it had been preceded both the chaperoning of a field trip, and a trip to the eye doctor.

IMG_3538 IMG_3540 Kelsey's class visited the Dean Lesher Center in Walnut Creek, CA, for a unique hour-long version of the classic holiday tale, The Nutcracker.  I drove Kelsey and three members of her gaggle from school.  They wore their winter best (minus the unnecessary wool coat and gloves), and perched on the edge of their seats for the entire performance.  I am not sure Kelsey blinked, and the applause was thunderous from our section of the theater.  The only iffy parts were getting to and from Walnut Creek. 

Thanks to slow drivers,  a European-style parking garage (NARROW!), we almost didn't make the eye doctor appointment.  We were already a few months behind due to the doctor having to cancel, and his schedule being full for months, but were pleasantly surprised: no new prescription as her eyes are improving!  Yes, this makes me very happy.  This assuages a tiny bit of guilt I have felt all of these years about her eye condition.  Not our fault, I know, but what parent doesn't feel bad when their child has vision (or other impairments)?  We can't even blame anything or anyone, since it was "just a fluke occurrence", but still feel for her and improvements (not stronger lenses, again) are always welcome.

The pictures above would have been more scenic at the Arts Center, however, not much time for photo-ops before or after the show.  The photo of Kelsey on the left was taken early in the a.m., not long after she was able to get herself ready for school in the shortest amount of time on record.  The preparation included self-styled ponytails, and when Nicholas saw her all dolled up, he shouted, "Pretty!" and made her week, if not year.