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20 posts from February 2010

February 28, 2010

Anyone hungry?

IMG_4020  Why do you ask?  Perhaps because our dining room table is covered with boxes and boxes and boxes of assorted Girl Scout cookies!

Today was cookie pick-up at long last, and we have 146 boxes to prove it.  We are sorting and separating tonight, and if you are local, your Girl Scout cookies of choice will be ready for drop-off or pick-up by tomorrow.  In fact, if Kelsey has finished organizing her new desk (her room is now even more pink, if that is possible), we may even drop a few off tonight.  Thanks again to everyone for their purchases and enjoy!

It's official...

we can truly house-hunt and buy a house (gulp) as have been pre-approved for a mortgage*.  I am  excited, nervous, freaked, and all of the above. Mind you, we don't actually know that we are going to buy a house, but we thought on the off-chance that we found a homestead-like place that we could afford in the DC suburbs**,then we officially have X amount of said funds available.  I don't know of any reputable Realtor who will take my say-so as the end-all, be-all in what we can afford to purchase, so I spent twenty minutes sweating over an online application and voila!   

We received the good word on Friday and immediately pounced on the real estate listings.  Peter found the perfect place five minutes later on Zillow.  Fabulous, until we realized that the isting agent had never removed the ad and the house actually sold last June. Thanks, Zillow, *deletes from Real Estate bookmarks.!  I then did a quick look-see, found a great place and Mr. nixed it as it is a teensy-weensy bit over our 'approved' amount. Details, details.  Now, realistically, are we going to find a house on the net and love it so much that we sign a contract the next day?

Nope.  We are just going to peruse until our eyeballs have popped out of their sockets from staring at the computer screen too long, and the girls promise to share a room if we will quit asking their opinion on every house we even remotely like.  HA, as if!  Then we will just freak out, reverse our stance on buying, and peruse the rentals in other areas like crazy.  Oh, wait, we didn't stop doing that in the first place.  

Now should you happen to absolutely love and adore your neighborhood, the schools seem reasonable (I realize this is open to interpretation), the commute (to DC and/or Arlington) doesn't require hotel reservations (yes, PA is out), the area is fairly walkable, and that cute little cozy, yet roomy and very updated Cape Cod down the street *with a basement* (this might be my major requirement) is available, feel free to shoot me an email.  We loved our old neighborhood and will poke around there, but not sure we would find exactly what we want in our limited time-frame.  Any advice welcome!

IMG_4009IMG_4015(2) Now more random pics of my kids in the neighborhood we currently enjoy.  Did I mention we also love cul-de-sacs (or coves, courts, dead-ends, &/or circles)? 

*I know we have owned a house before, but frankly the process still made me a bit nervous.  Call me silly, but...

**We are not avoiding the city, but we need to have re-establish residency in a certain Commonwealth well before Cait goes to college.  We  feel we should purchase in said state eventually in order to make sure those pre-paid tuition plan payments that choke us each month will actually work in our favor.  

February 26, 2010

I felt pretty lazy today, but then I read

this comment and that sealed it.  My cyber-friend, Kolbi, has thought up an ingenious idea and run with it.  It's the kind of idea that makes you sit back in your (not-so-comfortable desk chair), smack your head, and wonder why on earth you didn't think of it?  The key point?  Someone did, she went with it and I love it.

Blog_logo1 Kolbi has compiled excerpts from various blogs written by those in the Foreign Service and/or their family members, used the blog's own photos or added related images, linked back to the original sites, and added a spin of her own.   She completes each section by adding her  own take on the post of the week and an excerpt of said blog to tempt you.  The only problem is deciding which site to visit first.   I think there are even a few new blogs for my blog-shelf, and can't wait to have another cuppa and review them.

It is very clear that she put a great amount of time and effort, and whether your goal is to learn more about the Foreign Service itself (work-wise), general stories of life in the FS, or just have a gander at great photograph moments from all around the world, please take a look.  You can also always click through to her family blog (and reach the round-up) by clicking on "A Daring Adventure" at the top of my blog roll.  Hats off to you Kolbi, for a great idea, and I personally cannot wait to read next week's installment!

In other news?  Um, none really.  In fact, reading through the aggregate of blogs made me a bit weary for the days of living overseas.   We are still clueless about our next post (after Peter's tour de....), but can't wait to see that bid list that should be coming out in 4-5 short months.  You know, after we move to um, where's that real estate section again?

Note: above photo is from Kolbi's site and should link through to the round-up. Enjoy!

February 25, 2010

The response was overwhelming....

and the votes are in....and whether you thought it was the best choice, or you guessed that it was Kelsey's favorite....

IMG_3831 Yep, Dress D is her current gown of choice.  She LOVED the flowers, and the layered skirt.  While it's not yet a guarantee, I think it is safe to say that we will be headed back to the store soon to give it a another whirl and re-visit the veils. 

I was actually a bit unsure about posting the poll in the beginning, but I ended up being overwhelmed by the responses.  I don't always like making decisions like this completely on my own and with Peter liking one as much as the next...well, each opinion helped!  Thanks so much, I am very grateful to all of you who commented here, on Facebook, through email and by phone.  Oh, and I almost forgot...I actually meant to post one more photo yesterday:  a comparison to the 'non short-listed' dress Kelsey tried on.

It was created and sewn by my mother, and if I remember correctly, she worked into the wee hours of the morning finishing the dress.  That's it, it's genetic!  I knew that it may not fit or at that Kelsey might not want to wear it, but love that she at least tried it on.  I think she even thought it was "cool" or "neat", as she commented, "If you have another daughter, she could wear it for her First Communion!" 

No, that's NOT an announcement, and she begged me not to tell anyone, but I thought it was too...Kelsey...not to share.  Oh, and the comparison photo?  Well, I found one just of me, but thought that wouldn't be much fun.  Instead, I decided to use a few family photos.  If you get to see me in my early 80's finery, then everyone is fair game!  In all seriousness, this was one of my favorite celebrations, as so much of my family went hundreds of miles out of their way to attend (way before iPods, in-car DVD players and possibly FM radio in some cars). 

I'm pretty sure I said something then, but it certainly bears repeating: many thanks to Mom, Dad, Amanda, Grandmom, Grandpop, Grandmere, Grandpere, Uncle Bill, Uncle David (who assisted with the ceremony), and Aunt Peggy (and those who wanted to be there, but couldn't) for your support.  You made it an amazingly special day, and I won't ever forget that.  Now back to those photos...

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February 24, 2010

You be the judge!

Cause I am seriously all tapped out.  We are 96 days and counting until we depart California on our cross-country quest and journey to find a home for a year.  I am still tossing ideas around in my head, and the current real estate market has only made the decision-making process that much more complicated.  Housing prices are still high, rentals low (but they are rentals, and I am so over renting after this debacle), and no idea which place will be best in the end.  I know what I would like to do, and then there is what is prudent...*sigh*.

Enough of that, we have a party to plan!  Well, a celebration that will hopefully include some sort of party, and most importantly, requires a well-chosen dress.  If you are just joining us, Kelsey's First Communion is rapidly approaching (we think, hope no one is under the impression the church has actually contacted us to confirm the date), and will occur one of the first two weekends in May.  I am not worried about the ceremony, as I know she will be fine...but I do want her to feel as though the day is special and she is prepared.

Cough, ahem, that is to say, I would prefer to not spend the morning (and likely very early morning at that) sewing up the bodice of her dress. 

"Sewing?!"

Yes, I know, everyone knows I can't sew.  However, I can do a few quick stitches when the need arises, and it most definitely arose at Caitlin's First Communion.  Some of you may remember that we could not find a dress.  Since Grandpa Kirk was headed just south of the Arctic Circle to visit with us for the week, we asked him to bring a dress with him.  This, of course, hinged on Dibby could locating one that might fit (in any way, shape or form).  Cait and I pored over emailed photos, closed our eyes, spun around, stuck our fingers on the computer screen and picked a frock.  Luckily, we both picked the same one.

2006-84 The only issue was that Cait required a dress that would fit a 10 year old height-wise, cause, you know, she was 7.  Waist-wise?  Um, yeah, that of a 5 year old would be perfect.  We went for the best dress height-wise, I spent the morning pulling in the waist, and voila, an angel.

We have an entirely different situation now.  Every other store in the East Bay caters to bridal parties and First Communicants.  Dresses, tailors and the like are readily available and relatively inexpensive.  Choice makes it easier, right?

Not so much.  I originally thought Kelsey could just wear Cait's old dress.  I know, nothing like a hand-me down on one's special day, but who would know the difference?  One problem:  it's three sizes too big.  Unlike Cait and despite the fact that she appears to have a similar build, Kelsey actually wears regular (not slim) and still wears size 7/8 without the issue of pants appearing to be clam diggers.

 IMG_4006 HP7935-659IMG_4004We tried on the dress and Kelsey swims in it. It's not just too big, it's way too big.  She could wear it, but would require major alterations.  We then tried on Cait's flower girl dress from a certain someone's wedding just in case...amazing how the dress falls to almost the same place on their ankles...yet Cait was barely 6 at the time and Kelsey is now almost 8.  Last, but not least, we gave one more dress a go.  It's actually almost too snug (if remember me as a youth, this would not surprise you) in the bodice, and just covers the knees.  The collar is already quite tight and while she enjoyed trying it on, it didn't make the short list.  Pardon the hair by the way, sort of a last-minute try on session...just imagine her with flowing curls and a veil.

With all of this in mind, we recently stopped at a local boutique to see if they had anything in stock...boy, oh boy, did they.  I found several that I liked, Kelsey found a keeper, and I am hoping any or all of them are available at a certain shop in Germantown where prices are a bit lower.  So, without further ado, I present the selection:

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So, dress A (first two pictures on left) or dress B (with veil in the third shot).  I should add that she was not fond of the lace in the second dress ("too scratchy!"), and I am sympathetic to that sort of worry.  The last thing you want to do is fidget uncomfortably during this sort of sacred ceremony.  She also tried on a few more...

 

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Here we have dress C (first two photos and veil #2), dress D (middle photo w/an optional jacket) and dress E.  I am not going to state which, if any, might be Kelsey's favorite (at least not at this time), but would love any and all opinions.  Which one and why?  Sleeves or no sleeves?  Jacket? Which veil?

I know, so many questions.  However, any and all input is appreciated.  We won't reveal the winner  until the special day, but would love any feedback (especially if anything seems terribly inappropriate...it has been a while).  With all of that being said, if any one happens to see one of the above dresses (or something extremely similar) hanging around at Chocolate Soup, please let us know! 

I know I have to be realistic, and in the end it will likely be mostly Kelsey's choice, but other viewpoints always help in my opinion. Now back to those real estate listings...

February 23, 2010

Til hamingju með afmælið

Happy Birthday sounds so much more exotic in a different language, non?  Given that Nicholas was born in Reykjavik, it seems fitting.

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Sunday was the actual fiesta, though not quite as elaborate as some of our past festivities.  I think, despite my desire not to stress about the future, that I needed to have one less thing to worry about.  Since Nicholas is only two, and we were not tying in a baptism or other celebration, we figured we could go easy this year. As Peter expected,  he enjoyed himself just as much and we had a fun afternoon that didn't have me running around like a crazed maniac.   I was also not exhausted from icing a cake well into the night (I'm resting up for next year!).  Oh, I was still tired, but not as tired.

IMG_3984IMG_3994 IMG_3992 We invited two friends over (one for each year, but only one made it), and we had an activity ( coloring with markers (!) courtesy of the girls), cake, ice cream and presents.  Oh,and decorations galore, mostly courtesy of his sisters.  They spent hours making a giant sign (complete with photos), hanging streamers and arranging balloons.  To say it was sweet is an understatement.

Nicholas enjoyed opening the gifts, and, of course, was ready to stop after opening each one (a la Christmas).  I was grateful for the small gathering as anything more might have been too much.  He had a great, but not overwhelming time and enjoyed plenty of play time with his new treats when it was all over.  We had little to no clean-up, and there was plenty of extra cake (single layer chocolate with butter cream icing from Whole Foods.  Can you say YUM?).  And, with that, the 2nd birthday is officially over. 

Well, there is that last little sliver of cake in the fridge ....

February 22, 2010

We have been chomping

at the bit to get to the California Academy of Sciences since it re-opened in December of 2008 (yes, 2008). The only deterrent thus far has been the constant barrage of complaints about long lines.  My father was able to go when he had a free day during a visit last February, but it was a dreary Monday, and the lines were few, if any, as everyone was either at school or work.  After not making it last week, we figured it would be the perfect way to spend Nicholas's birthday.

We headed out very early on a Saturday morning (for us), after dragging Caitlin out of bed kicking and screaming.  Apparently, she "wasn't aware" of the plans for the day.  A bit of moaning and groaning and 23 books later, we were in the car and on the way.  We were through the tunnel before we knew it and the bridge traffic was practically non-existent.  Peter thought there was a hiccup when he saw an enormously long line as we drove up to the parking garage, but then realized he was looking at the de Young, not the Academy (free day at the King Tut exhibit).

As mentioned previously, we tried to go last week, but opted to wait and, YES!, saved $25.  Pete is officially a hero as far as their terms require, so he flashed the badge and we got in.   I could have done without the snarky look from the cashier (um, he earned those creds, no looks necessary!), but his ticket read $0.00 and we headed through the doors.

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I really hesitate to do much of a review here, because I am afraid I will do the Academy a disservice.  I have heard so much about it since it opened, and could not wait to get there.  My reasons are probably a little bit different as I was more excited about the environmentally sound aspects of the building itself (my heart went aflutter when I saw compost bins next to every waste basket & recycling bin).  I was sure I would also find the exhibits fascinating, but really wanted to see more about the design of the  building.  Turns out I could have stayed home and studied the website if that was my only interest.

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The Academy has a lot to offer, but perhaps we have been to too many aquariums, gardens, conservatories, natural history museums, and, yes, gift shops.  I had a constant feeling of deja vu...take a bit of the Smithsonian, add it to the Baltimore Aquarium, sprinkle a little of the butterfly conservancy on it, add a side of the zoo in Caracas, and don't forget to cover it with Icelandic turf houses.  For once, I felt over-traveled and, well, disappointed?

The kids loved it, but Pete and I left feeling sort of...blah.  The kicker was standing on the roof with everyone oohing and ahhing over the grass covering.  Yes, it is awesome and energy efficient, but we saw them on a regular basis all around the country in Iceland.  Heck, our friends just outside the city proper were living in a house with a turf roof.  So, to be quite honest, the only thing that surprised us was how much other folks seemed to be in awe, and I realized, sadly, that I am officially a museum snob.

Does this mean you shouldn't go?  No, it doesn't.  Every child we saw seemed to truly enjoy themselves and were totally immersed in the activities, as were most adults.   Nicholas is still amazed by everything, and Kelsey and Cait really dug the rain forest portion, as it jibed neatly with studies they have done in science class.  I also know myself well enough to know I would have been extremely disappointed to not go and experience it.  However, that being said, I am relieved I didn't purchase a membership.  If we lived down the street, it would be one thing, but given our distance and the short time we have left here, I don't see us returning anytime soon.

It was still a great day for the birthday boy, though, as he was treated to not one, but two free "chock-chock" ice creams during the day.  His sisters were quite vocal with the waiters at both lunch and dinner about his new age, and the Little Guy was very appreciative.  We saved the real cake and ice cream (and presents) for Sunday, and just enjoyed having so much free time to explore the city's offerings on his special day.

February 20, 2010

24

months to the day since the Little Guy arrived.  Two entire years and he is a full-fledged toddler, careening toward the preschool years.  How is it possible so much time has passed?  It seems like just yesterday I was pregnant, grateful to be sick after an early scare, and then happy to finally 'look' pregnant at 9 months.  Then an amazing birth experience (thank you, Icelandic health care system) and our family gained a new and incredibly adorable member....

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In June, we moved back to the U.S. and spent a good portion of the time visiting family and friends on Home Leave.  The first picture below was just after passing through customs, and his official 'entering the U.S. for the first time' photo (no, he is not an Icelandic citizen, but, yes, he does have a very cool (literally) place of birth listed on his passport).  The Residence Inn became our home until we settled officially in the East Bay with a now almost six-month old.

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Peter had started work almost the minute he arrived, and we also commenced the search for a new home.  We found one, moved in soon fter school started, and before we knew it, Nicholas was crawling everywhere. We got a little busier in the fall, and Nicholas had an overwhelming number of firsts...food, holidays,teeth, words, steps...amazing!

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Then we hit the biggest first: the birthday, which coincided very nicely with his baptism.  This celebration brought a plethora of family and friends out our way, for which we were very grateful.

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Summertime wasn't just a time of growth for the garden...LG had turned into a walking, talking little man.  We spent a good portion of the summer back east showing off him (and his beautiful big sisters), and the rest of the time exploring areas near and far in California.

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Fall headed our way, school was back in session, we had activities galore, and the Little Guy's vocabulary grew exponentially.  He surprised us with sentences fairly early, and seemed to understand everything we said perfectly...gulp.  We enjoyed many a festival, and couldn't deny our inner mouse;  Thanksgiving vacation was well spent at Disneyland.

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Despite an inauspicious beginning, nearly 3 years later we have an incredibly awesome LG.  He is the light of our lives and binds us together in more ways than we knew possible.  Thank you, Nicholas Quinn, and Happy 2nd Birthday to our sweet, dear LG.

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February 17, 2010

Ashes, ashes

Kelsey was excused from CCD class today for to allow for all children and their parents to attend a special Ash Wednesday children's liturgy at 5 p.m. today.  Cait was unavailable due to choir practice and Peter had his joyous commute, so Nicholas, Kelsey and I were left to our own devices.  The list of participants (or lack thereof) is why (as of late) I don't particularly enjoy church without another adult along for the ride.

IMG_3943 Despite the fact that it was a short ceremony, Nicholas got his share of hair-pulling, biting (grinning demonically while doing so), toy car throwing and screeching in.  Yes, he's two on Saturday, and he is very, very, very good at it.  Oops, forgot pinching.  Despite the fact that his nails are almost non-existent, he could be in the pinching Olympics.  I am fairly sure the skin on the back of my arm is now completely numb.

I know, this sweet little boy?  Yes.  However, the only bright spot (if it can be considered one) is that he keeps it in the family.  He leaves Caitlin alone (for the most part), pulls Kelsey's hair occasionally, and will attempt to bite Pete.   No one outside the family is ever touched, and my only conclusion is that this is some sort of performance review on his part, and I clearly have many issues to work on (he has yet to articulate what the issues might be) in the coming year. You can bet I have quite a few ideas of what Nicholas should give up for Lent.

Kelsey has decided to give up whining (which has, ironically, tapered off lately) and Cait is still deciding.  They were debating many different items yesterday, but Cait couldn't settle on anything definitively.  On the other hand, I miraculously came up with something at the very last minute.  Nothing earth-shattering, but something that will be easy to remember.  Nothing has derailed me more than forgetting what I had given up.  Yes, entirely possible, sadly, I have done it many a time in the past. 

Possibly the only time I didn't forget, perhaps because it was just one item, was back in 2006.  I was late with the decision, as usual, but opted to give up soda.  I really only drank one kind: Coke.  Since I grew up in the South, I should clarify that I do mean Coca-cola (the one and only).  I don't mean diet (blech), new, Pepsi or 7-Up....just plain old Coke.  I began to realize how much we bought (and thus I drank) one day while getting it uber-cheap at the base.  I think we paid somewhere in the neighborhood of $3/12 cans (is that cheap?  it seemed to be at the time...).  I would buy several packs, and it would last a week or two...meaning I could easily be drinking 2-3 cans of empty calories (and, let's face it, tooth-rotting junk) per day.

It suddenly seemed like a ton of something my body and teeth just didn't need.  I remembered giving it up in the past and it seemed like after a week or two, I didn't miss it anymore.  So, I figured, why not?  Guess what?  It worked.  Not only did it work for Lent, but I have kept to it since then.  I have had a sip now and again when nothing else was available, or if I really craved one (occasionally while pregnant), but that's it. 

I realize it might sound silly, but I know we have saved a ton of money.  Peter also gave it up last year, and now only drinks the occasional diet Squirt.  The kids will have an occasional soda when out, but I don't buy the stuff, and I don't miss it.  In fact, neither one of the kids had any until we returned to the States.  And, believe it or not, I have been ridiculed at times for not "letting them" have it. In reality, they simply never developed the taste for it until now.  I am not going to throw up fences around them and say no completely (good way to encourage them to sneak it behind my back), but I don't keep any around the house.

So, I will be interested to see what, if any, effect my current Lenten goal has on me or my health (there's a clue...).  If anything, it may not even be the item itself, but more likely related issues.  Only time will tell!  In that vein, anyone out there have a Lenten promise they care to share?

February 16, 2010

Holidays galore

Not only was yesterday Valentine's Day, but also Chinese New Year.  We had been planning to spend the day at the California Academy of Sciences, but ended up deciding to postpone until next Saturday. 

Translation: we are cheap.  We realized (almost) too late in the game that it is Heroes Salute at the Academy.  From February 1 - March 15, policemen, teachers, military and other heroes are let in for free.  Suffice it to say, we certainly think Peter fits in their somewhere, but need to double-check before we show up without a ticket.  After all, wasn't he the recipient of the chocolate "My Hero" lollipop for Valentine's Day?  Not sure that will prove anything, so we are contacting them this week, and hopefully a quick check of the creds next Saturday will work.  With all of this in mind, we opted to have a more free-floating day in the city yesterday.

IMG_3929 IMG_3931 In hindsight, not a bad idea.  I don't know what traffic was like at 9 a.m., but it was downright awful at 12 p.m.  I know we should BART, but the added expense (when we almost always find free/cheap parking) didn't seem to make it worth it.  However, after yesterday's driving debacle, we might opt to park at Walnut Creek next time, and head in from there.  We finally arrived in Chinatown around 1 p.m., and after catching a glimpse of a New Year's celebration at the Cultural Center, opted for lunch at our favorite restaurant.

A co-worker turned Pete onto the place not long after we first arrived.  It's fairly small and nondescript.  Easy enough to walk past without a glance or a thought that you might be passing up some of the best eats in Chinatown.  Make no mistake, if you want excellent food and a selection to meet anyone's needs, the House of Nan-King is your place of choice.  Between the sizzling rice soup, vegetable fried rice and three-tiered baby pea shoot salad, I was in heaven.  Salt & Pepper Shrimp and Crackling Beef were thrown in for good measure, and didn't disappoint.

IMG_3932 IMG_3937 IMG_3938 IMG_3939(2) We ate leisurely (the delivery is somewhat spaced out) and when sated, the girls begged for a trip to Ghirardelli Square.  Sadly, that was not in the cards.  We tried to drive over and traffic was even worse.  No parking to be had anywhere, and Kelsey's sudden urgent need for a restroom had us turn around and head in a different direction.

Peter knew of a park nearby, and a few minutes later (and thank you to the kind lady who gave us 'cuts' in the ladies' room line) we were set for our next adventure.  We were extremely close to Crissy Field, and I have been yearning to get back there ever since our trip last summer.  We parked a few minutes later, and spent the next hour walking down to the pier by The Warming Hut.

 IMG_3934 IMG_3940 We were lucky, and were able to have not only a gorgeous day for walking, but several seal sightings.  The girls were thrilled to run on the beach, and Nicholas loved the "water go" (that would be the ocean).  No fog until we neared the end of our trek back to the car, and even Peter seemed impressed.  I don't know what it is about that area, but there is something so...neat...(for lack of a better word) about the location of Crissy Field.  You can see the Golden Gate from the beach, yet can feel so far away from civilization...despite being down the street from the million dollar row houses on Marina.  Seriously an area not to be missed.  We are still planning a walking trip over the Golden Gate, and I know that day will also include much frolicking in the surf and sand, as well as a picnic.

After the long, long day we drove home (more traffic, yuck) and the kids enjoyed a movie while we tried to watch a flick of our own...and failed miserably.  The trek across Crissy Field (and back) really did us in, and I fell fast asleep in the middle of the movie. Thank goodness for On Demand and two day movies.  Speaking of which...

February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!

IMG_3928 Thanks to everyone who sent special treats and wishes our way!  As usual, way too much, but thank you, we will enjoy!

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February 13, 2010

Thank you...

While we are sometimes lucky enough to have family and long-time friends around for the 'high' events, such as baptisms or First Communions, it is often difficult for the in-between days.  Unlike those who live down the street from family, or even the next town over, we don't have the automatic influx for birthdays, Christmas or, of course, Reconciliations.  It's understandable, but tiring at times.  Last night, however, was different...

IMG_3886IMG_3884IMG_3879We arrived at the Reconciliation in a very timely manner, in fact, quite early.  Despite the 4 p.m. start time, folks poured in until 4:30 or so (including, ironically, one of the visiting priests).   As this was a communal Reconciliation, the children sat up front, while we waited a few rows back. The ceremony began with a song, followed by readings, the Gospel and then the children were called forward.

IMG_3890(3) Kelsey didn't seem to be too fidgety despite her previous fearIMG_3883(2) s that she had nothing to confess (I had offered the obvious....), and before we knew it, she was chatting with Father Ray.  He blessed her, we met her at the Baptismal font, received her certificate, added her candle to the photo wall and it was over before we realized it had started.  As it was to be a celebration, we had opted to have supper with  with friends at a local Italian restaurant.  We enjoyed dining leisurely, and arrived home early enough to have plenty of time for Kelsey to peruse the contents of the Love Bag.

 I didn't really know what to expect from the Love Bag.  I wasn't even sure what to put in it until push came to shove.  An emergency trip to Michael's gave me a few ideas (thank you to the person who put the only package of remotely Catholic stickers back in the wrong place!), and by midnight it was finished (I know, early for me).  And, to be quite honest, I wasn't sure what the outcome would be....

IMG_3897 IMG_3895(4)Until Kelsey opened it, and we all quite literally felt the love. I had stuffed the bag with paper, ribbon, card stock and photos.  When she opened it,  lovingly hand-written letters, memories, photo collages, cards, and emails poured out of the bag.  Stories, family heirlooms and collages framed Kelsey on the couch as she tried on various pieces of religious jewelry from days past and admired pictures of forgotten times.  She read each and every letter and card out aloud and suddenly the room felt almost crowded, as though everyone was sitting there watching her... just how it should be. 

Thank you, thank you, thank you...to everyone who contributed and made her day so very special.  She will not soon forget it...nor will we.

February 10, 2010

Valentine's Day Mania

Kelsey has been extremely worried about Valentine's Day this year.  The party is Friday, and as of this morning, she had not yet finished her cards.  Ahem, she had not yet started her cards.

IMG_3847 IMG_3850 We wanted to have a bit more of a hand-crafted touch this year, but I knew with Peter out of town, and 4 hectic schedules...I really wanted to find the time to  sit down time to cut out the hearts and fold the envelopes, but finally threw in the towel and headed to my new favorite crafty place.   The only location is in Berkeley, so we have to go when we have enough time to get caught in pre-tunnel traffic.

IMG_3848 IMG_3849We were supposed to head out early Saturday afternoon, but with getting to the gym, the Farmers' Market, and feeling lousy due to a newly expanded cold (love it when it takes root in the chest...lots of fun!), I had to try and nap (this did not go over well with a certain Little Guy).  We finally headed out very late in the day, and made it just before closing time.  We arrived, found what we needed, borrowed their bathroom thanks to a kindly cashier who bent the rules (I'll give you one guess as to who was 'doing the dance' the minute we walked in....) and on the same cashier's recommendation, headed to Jimmy Bean's for dinner.

It was a delightful little cafe with many organic options and quite a good cup of coffee with dessert.  We could have driven straight home, but we were all starving, and having received the news that morning that Pete's return was delayed again...I needed a bit of a break.

IMG_3855Now to get back to the point of the story, yesterday Kelsey and I both realized that tomorrow is going to be so busy, we will not have time for Valentine's Day cards.  Given that today is her 'early' day, it seemed like a fun activity.  She grabbed her stickers, I got out the new stamps (yes, I am edging ever so slowly back in...), opened up the cards, and she went to town.  I demonstrated how to use the stamp and then left her to her own devices.  She did not mind me taking a few photos, but insisted that this was her project and that was that.

IMG_3854Half an hour later she had every card completed and while it's not 100% hand-made, they are very sweet and full of Kelsey creativity*. Who knows, maybe next year, we could have a Valentine's Day card making party...not that we would know anyone who might be interested in participating?  Oh, and the last picture really has nothing to do with Valentine's Day...but it's just so sweet to see the Little Guy having quality time (in person) with his dad once again.

*I should note that the boys in the class are receiving Hot Wheels cards. Kelsey quickly decided they would like them much better than the other cards.  Hopefully, they won't be offended, but I have a feeling she is probably right.

February 09, 2010

It's been said that a picture is worth 1,000 words...

Here are roughly 4,000 from tonight.  Welcome home, Beaker!  One safe UT-related homecoming down, four more to go...

IMG_3815 IMG_3816 IMG_3817 IMG_3819

February 08, 2010

Remember the sisterly love?

Getting along better, doting on their brother, what sibling rivalry?   I know that there will be clashes from time to time, and figure that is probably healthier than annoyances bottling up forever.  In fact, I was rocking Nicholas to sleep tonight (very quick tonight, given his lack of a nap this afternoon) and I thought I heard a bit of an argument. No big deal, it happens, right?

IMG_1479Nothing terribly loud, no screaming, but we have thin walls (card stock is thicker) and the voices were definitely raised.  Then everything was quiet, doors were closed (not slammed) and I decided all was well...until I carefully shut the door behind me, walked over to Kelsey's room to give her a kiss good-night, and found the above sign on the door.

 She has had signs before such as, PRAVATE - Keep out!, but nothing this detailed.  Though for all I know, the last sign was directed to Nicholas, as he now has a penchant for touching and occasionally filching her stuff.  This new directive (or list of directives) is so specific, that I know the recipient of her ire is her next-door neighbor.

So, here's my question:  this is normal, right? They will look back one day, laugh about their petty differences and be the best of friends...correct? 

I know I probably shouldn't think twice about it, especially since Cait's only reaction to the note was a giggle.  Each time I see it, though, I think of the siblings I see, whether at school or church, who never seem to argue and simply adore each other.  On the other hand, Cait's not upset, Kelsey is happy to have the sign on her door, the baby is snoozing soundly, and if all goes according to plan, Peter comes home tomorrow. I think I will enjoy her creative spelling and leave it at that.

February 06, 2010

The Mid-Atlantic Weather Forecasters

get a prize for nailing this one.  Now if select other folks had actually heeded the warning, we might have Peter at home with us instead of stuck in Virginia.  Technically not stuck, as I suppose he can leave his corporate digs anytime he likes, though not sure where he is going to go except maybe the exercise room?  From what we have gleaned, nearly everything is closed, especially those important places like airports.

Petesnow It is certainly reasonable that they shut down, however, if the stars had aligned as they could have, he would be here right now.  Instead his original flight was canceled, his new flight was canceled, and now we should be holding our breath regarding the third flight.   I have somewhat given up, though, especially that close to 2,000 flights per airport were canceled this weekend AND another storm is set to bear down on Tuesday (if the forecast holds true). Frankly, I think it will be nothing short of a miracle if he actually flies out on Monday.  Normally I would not be so frantic, but with everything we have left to do, and give the reason why he is there is the first place....each day he is gone is a day lost before he's deployed and the kids aren't letting either one of us forget that..but who can blame them?

To answer another question that may be out there, yes, frankly, we are jealous.  We haven't seen snow (up close and personal) since we left Iceland, and we miss it!  It's not about missing school or work closing early (that NEVER happened in Iceland), just about the winter fun.  The wet mittens drying on the hissing radiator, the red noses, and the steamy hot cocoa after a morning of snowy adventures.  Yes, we could drive someplace, but I would much rather have the snow come to me.

 
2005-4 2005-6 2005-72005-3   I was thinking about it last night, and realized this would be the ideal time to post pictures from winter snows of the past.  It was perfect, until I realized that I couldn't find many snow pictures from 2002-2005.  I have no idea what could have happened, and hope this isn't another loss from last year's move.  Though those were the SD years, so guessing maybe I was just a little scatterbrained.  Or maybe having too much fun in the snow to take pictures?  Though it could very well have been the PCS from Iceland...the move that we thought went so smoothly until we learned of the Great Bookcase Mix-up of 2008.  I sincerely hope whoever is using the bookcase my mother sanded and stained to perfection is enjoying it, as the one received instead is not quite of the same caliber.

Scan0009 IScan0010 ended up finding a few photos from what appears to be early 2000 and several from early 2005. If I remember correctly, it was mid-February of 2000, which would also explain why Peter was actually home to take Caitlin sledding.  He would have been in RSO school (having just finished language) and would have normal work hours for the duration of our time in Virginia.  After a very hectic schedule for the first 14 months on the job (and of Caitlin's life), we really enjoyed having him around a bit more before our first big move overseas to Caracas.

February 05, 2010

Drum Roll (Drum Roll!)

After two grueling (and rainy) weeks of sales the totals are in and we are thrilled.  The column total matches the row total and Kelsey D. managed to sell a whopping 146 boxes of Girl Scout cookies! 

IMG_3789 IMG_3786 She was still a bit nervous this year even after several days of selling.  However, the enthusiasm never flagged and she insisted on wearing the complete uniform every time (though now I really wish I had sprung for the beanie...).  Nicholas even got into the act and knocked on several doors ("Knock? KNOCK!"), when he wasn't jumping in the homeowner's mulch (tan bark is very, very big with him right now).

In case you are wondering, we (our little family) did not boost the sales by much.  No, I did not add 50 last minute boxes, only 12 and, trust me, that's on the low end.  She sold to those near and far, even some two continents away (which excited her beyond belief).  While I am glad to take a break (until booth sales begin),  it was very enjoyable, especially given how involved she became.  It was such a good exercise, from the charitable aspect to the extra work with math and money (just numbers, she won't actually handle the cash).

As a reminder, they are due to arrive the last weekend of February.  If there is any hope we will see you by mid-March, we will give them to you upon your arrival.  If not, they will be shipped as soon as possible.  Kelsey and I both thank you very much, and hope you enjoy!

February 03, 2010

Nicholas and I are watching the same TV shows...

and I'm liking them*.  No, I am not crazy, just a bit weary with the single-parenting gig.  No worries, nothing major, just still have to work on that whole 'finding time to sleep' business.

I have been a bit preoccupied with, well, everything these last few weeks and somehow completely ignored upcoming celebrations for the kids that need attention. Let me rephrase that:  not ignored, just didn't give as much focus to the planning of the events as I should have.

Scan0006Kelsey's Reconciliation is next Thursday, February 11, and guess what I just remembered?  Her Love Bag.  Yes, Love Bag, hold the chuckle, I am utterly serious.  Rather than try to send an email and worry about leaving someone out, I have uploaded a photo that describes the Love Bag and what is needed.

You can read through, but it is to be a simple gift bag filled with loving notes for the child receiving the sacrament.  No toys or games, but obviously religious objects (small, it's the size of a lunch bag) are fine.  Everything you need to know should be in the letter and I know Peter will love reading about this (hi, sweetie!) since I haven't even remembered to tell him about it (the bag, not the event), much less forward the information (here you go, honey!).

So aunts, uncles, grandparents, neighbors (current/former from 2 states and 3 countries..), "sends" (Remember those?  No, that's not a tear...), you are all welcome to send something.  Of course nothing is required, and it will not be empty if you don't participate...but if you know Kelsey...you know she will really, truly, deeply appreciate anything you have to say.  

In case you are wondering, she does not read the blog, and is more likely to figure it out if I forget to stash everything away..  However, any questions should probably be directed to one of us, if need be.  Or maybe just Peter...my mind is a bit weary...3 days, 23 hours, and two minutes til we have our family back together.  Not a moment too soon in any of our opinions.

*Come on Shannon, don't let me down!

February 02, 2010

95 Years

would be a long time to live.  It is the exact age my grandmother would have celebrated today if she had not succumbed to the evil grip of cancer in December of 1990.  However, this is not a post to mourn her, but to celebrate her life.

I have not said much in the past, and that is probably somewhat logical.  I tend to live in the here and now, occupied by the three little people that mean so much to me.  However, given that they have never met their great-grandmother, I thought I ought to jot a few notes down before my memories begin to fade.

Scan0004 Clearly, I don't remember meeting my grandmother, or Grand-mère, as she liked me to call her, but likely not too long after I was born.  She and my grandfather lived in a grand home in Toledo, a place which I dubbed "Ohio House", but later became known as Happiness Hotel.  This was around the time of the release of the Great Muppet Caper, and if I remember correctly, the nickname probably had to do with family laughing spells.  Ever so popular, they were generally the highlight of a visit.

Someone would start a story, whether it be Grand-mère, Aunt Peg, or maybe Mom.  Many stemmed from the retelling of classic stories from Grand-mère's childhood...one of her sisters "driving" the car at age six (the gear slipped into reverse and the car bounced back and forth between the house and a large tree), the famed roller skating on the dining room table (at 40 feet long, what else was it good for?), or another sister announcing to a dinner party of easily 50 plus guests that, "No one could go to the bathroom because we don't have any toilet paper!" (all stories circa 1920s).  The stories might seem simple but they were fleshed out so that one could see the guests in their finery, hear the clink of the glasses, and listen to the gasps of laughter as the little girl's voice finally reached its intended audience.

There were many other tales, some even involving me.  No one could forget the time that I answered the phone (was I 3, maybe 4?) and mangled the name of the local hardware store so much so that my grandmother was sure it was a crank caller.  Nor can anyone forget the all-time classic: learning German.  In preparation for a trip to Germany to visit my uncle, my grandmother decided to teach herself German. She was already fluent in 5 languages, what was one more?

She never undertook a new language lightly, and the entire kitchen was soon covered in labels to boost her vocabulary.  She even brought her study guide on vacation to Palm Beach for a working vacation to get a head start.  I was also there, having been spirited away by my generous Aunt Peg.  It was a whirlwind week of fun, and, at that point, having not been to the beach in years, it was a trip I still recall fondly. 

Scan0002 There is always a rainy day on any beach trip, and this one occurred on a Tuesday.  We decided to jump right in, and the three of us began to learn together.  We ended up in fits once again, trying out conversations that involved everything from Alaska to a conversation with a waiter about our toilet being broken.  Maybe simple, but I can still see the three of us howling away like fools in that condo, rain streaming down the windows...

Now lest you think my grandmother was without fault, well, even I have to admit I very rarely saw what I would deem imperfections.  In fact, perhaps the only thing that ever struck me was her perfectionism to a fault.  Though, in hindsight, the lessons, such as how to properly thank one for a waste basket, have stuck with me forever.

In 1982, she sent me a treat: a metal waste basket with Garfield emblazoned on the outside.  Wow!  Garfield was the rage, and everyone was collecting books, stickers, you name it.  I had whatever books my pocket money could purchase, and not much else, so this was a treat from heaven.  If I remember correctly, it came from the Popcorn Factory, so it also had a large bag of buttery yum inside. 

Scan0005Now this was from my grandmother, and no one forgot to write a thank you note to my grandmother.  Ever.  I sat down, whipped out my stationery, and in my still developing and somewhat stilted 5th grade script, thanked her for the wonderful trash can.  Oops.

My grandmother was not only a fabulous thank you note writer herself, but also greatly enjoyed letter writing in general.  She loved to correspond by mail, and took pains (yes, including a ruler) to make sure her writing was even.  After all, one would not want to smudge the heavy (and usually monogrammed) card-stock from Neiman-Marcus.  About ten days after I mailed the thank you note, I received a short, but sweet note in the mail from her that was along the lines of the note below:

Dear K.J. (childhood nickname, long time to lose),

Thank you so much for your note.  However, I am very disappointed, and might not be able to order from that company again.  In your note, you thanked me for a trash can.  I had no idea that is what you received, as the item in the catalog was very clearly described as a waste basket.  I hope you were not too disappointed.

Love,

Your Grand-mère

Scan0001I watched my wording after that note. She was so clever in her writing, though, that I never took it for more than it was worth. She didn't mean it as anything more than a gentle reminder to watch how I phrased my notes.  I don't think I have  penned a letter since without thinking of that time and double-checking my verbiage.  Now, if only I could find that note for my scrapbook, as despite the fact it was a bit of a warning, I truly appreciated her taking the time to write.  Just like she took the time to mail us treats every November.

Each year around Thanksgiving, two large envelopes carefully addressed to me and to my sister would arrive in our mailbox.  Inside of each was a stand-alone Advent calender of her choosing.  She always kept tabs on our interests, and purchased accordingly.  One year I would love Peanuts, the next year a more religious calendar was preferred.  It was a special treat that lasted until I went to college and had she lived, I can't help but wonder if she wouldn't have extended the tradition to my children.  Sadly, I am not quite as good at remembering, and generally forget to purchase until the 6th or so of December. 

 I could go on and on, but my fingers are a bit weary, and tomorrow is another early school day.  Though in Grand-mere's honor, I am thinking it is time for just a taste of coffee ice cream before bed.  Oddly enough, Kelsey is the one who picked out the flavor just the other day...almost as if she knew.  Happy Birthday, Grand-mere, wherever you are...

The above pictures represent a few of my favorite memories with Grand-Mere.  The top photo includes both my grandmothers, as well as mom and me.  It was the afternoon of my First Communion, which took place at St. Henry's in Nashville.  The next photo was snapped just following high school graduation, in May of 1990.  Grand-mère's visit was a total surprise, and I am still grateful to this day, as it turned out to be one of our last visits.  She lived in Toledo, and I was still in Memphis until August, when I would depart for school in Washington, DC.

The letter is a one of many samples I have of her writing.  So careful and so thoughtful.

The last photograph was taken just prior to my senior year in high school, if I remember correctly.  I think we were waving good-bye to my dad as he headed to the airport after dropping me off at their house.  I would stay to be a counselor at a camp in Michigan, and spend time visiting with my grandparents.  Why the bathrobes?  Tradition.  After a visit, we nearly always left in the early morning to drive back to Memphis.  She would still be in her bathrobe, tissues handy in one of the pockets for dabbing her eyes as we drove out of sight.   We thought this would be a classic photo, and if nothing else, a amusing wake-up call for the neighbors.

February 01, 2010

At post?

DPA675F-376If you are in the Foreign Service, you probably have heard of the blog, At Post.  It is relatively young, but has already earned two mentions in the Foreign Service Journal and is rapidly gaining a quite a following.  Due to a request for winter photos, I submitted a picture I snapped on Christmas Day 2007. 

It was our first white Christmas in Iceland and utterly gorgeous.  I took a walk around the neighborhood between gift opening and guest arrival and marveled in the beauty.  Despite the freshness of the snow, one can see by the footprints that many had already been out to enjoy and bask in the glow.  After all, we were down to maybe two complete hours of daylight at that point.  In fact, in my mind, the day was much brighter, perhaps because I was so used to the longer winter nights (all 22 hours of them!).

DPA675F-370 DPA675F-372 DPA675F-374  If you have a chance, please peruse the blog.  Better yet, if you are in the FS and have oodles of photos that might fit a category, don't be shy, send them in!  I think it's a fabulous idea for a blog, and will end up being a very unique photo album.

DPA675F-344 DPA675F-435 DPA675F-443 DPA675F-450  I realized while looking back at that time period, that I left out some of my own photos from that Christmas that I intended to post...you know, one day.  Guess that time has come. The first set includes three pictures of the kids at Árbæjarsafn, just on the outskirts of town. It's a unique open air museum and this was the first year we had a chance to visit it at Christmastime. We enjoyed games, súkkulaði, and watching the making of Laufabrauð, among other activities.  It was a bit nippy, but the kids love watching history come to life.  It's probably quite obvious, but the other photo is of the girls in front of the Christmas tree at the annual Christmas party at the Embassy.

The second set of photos include the girls posing as Icelandic Santas during our annual trip to the Christmas village in Hafnarfjordur, our last Icelandic Christmas tree, our home for three years, and an Icelandic snowman.  I wish I had written about it at the time, but I am guessing I must have been preoccupied with our (then) upcoming move, as well as the impending arrival of LG.