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18 posts from May 2010

May 31, 2010

And they're off...

IMG_2025 IMG_4623 IMG_4634 With a giant belch of exhaust, the truck heaved to the left...to the right...back to the left...then righted itself again and managed to finally pull forward.  All 15,000 pounds (give or take) of our 'stuff' was headed east.  Odd for a change that our household goods will only be crossing rivers and going through woods, save for 250 pounds.  The only items shipped over any large body of water will be those that Peter chooses to send by UAB to you-know-where.

I have to say this must be the least stressful move yet.  I finally let go of the notion that we have to do everything ourselves, and hired painters and house cleaners.  Brilliance in action and well worth the money.  We were able to focus on the move, not fret about matching colors or whether the fridge was clean enough, and Peter (bless him) uttered the magic words when the maids left yesterday,

"I am hiring a maid/housecleaning team to come to the house next year on a biweekly basis."

It just doesn't get more romantic than that.

Now don't get your panties in a wad or think he's gone off the deep end, but with three kids, a cat, maybe a dog (yes, it's time, a shelter visit is in order..), he decided that's a necessity.  You know what? After parceling out jobs during this move, I have realized that doing it all on a regular basis (much less just during a move) is a worry I don't want.  I think a little help may just aid me with holding onto my sanity over the next year...along with exercise (really need a good Yoga class), learning how to sew (and knit),  photography lessons, that occasional glass of vino, and, of course, my dear, sweet kiddos and all of their activities.

IMG_4643 IMG_4647 Now before all of that happens, we have to finish up life here.  In case you are wondering, we are sort of pretending everything is status quo.  Kelsey went to Camporee* this weekend and I will assume is having an absolute blast.  When we aren't trying to Freecycle remaining items (anyone need a stainless steel wastebasket for their office?), we are enjoying local events like the San Ramon Farmers Market (The Green Lantern's grilled artichokes are not to be missed) and the San Ramon Art and Wind** Festival.  We are hitting favorite eateries for the last time and I will have one final jaunt into the city this week.  It's hard to imagine that this time next week we will be on our way...

Oh, that reminds me: the itinerary.  Some have asked, and here is the (extremely) tentative plan:

  • 6 June, depart San Ramon and stop in/around Barstow area
  • 7 June, drive to Flagstaff
  • 8 June, visit the world's largest hole in the ground (just couldn't resist...) and head to New Mexico
  • 9 June, drive, drive, drive and spend the night in Oklahoma City
  • 10 -12 June, an 'extended' stay in Memphis (technically Germantown) to hang with the 'rents and eat the world's best BBQ!
  • 12 June, drive, drive, drive and spend the night somewhere on the TN/VA border
  • 13 June, arrive in Edgewater (home of Baby Nate!), and celebrate a certain someone's birthday...

IMG_4648IMG_4649So, until next Sunday,  we are happily ensconced in our second room in ye Old Residence Inn.  We received a hearty welcome from the staff upon check-in and enjoy the fact that Caitlin can walk to and from school (and the library!) for one more week.  Nicholas is sad to miss the carpool with "John John" (Cait's carpool buddy), but we still have the frantic race to get Kelsey to school...at least some things don't change.

*End of the year Girl Scout Camping trip...s'mores, tents, hiking, swimming in lakes, campfires, and scary stories galore. 

** Nicholas decided that the firetrucks were THE reason for the festival.  They had the ladder extended all the way...if there had been an "ananance", too,  we might never have seen the rest of the goings-on...

May 28, 2010

They're heeere!

IMG_2020 The massive truck pulled up and settled down with a thunk in front of our neighbor's house yesterday.  The door creaked open and out spilled boxes, rolls of paper, boxes and boxes of tape and a mountain of shrink wrap.  It wasn't long before the only sounds in the house were the screech of the tape being pulled off the roll and the crumpling of massive amounts of paper (can I apologize to the trees once again?).

IMG_2016 Despite the fact I thought it would be a crazy day..well, it was a bit nutty when the movers, plumber and painter arrived almost at the same time, two out of three needed payment by check (and the checkbook was with me while I got the kids to school and the sitter), and assistance with matching colors and the occasional, "This goes (insert piece of furniture labeled "DON'T MOVE" here*), right?" floated down the stairs while Peter struggled to multi-task.

IMG_2017 I had stayed at the hotel the night before so the kids could get settled and sleep, while Peter opted for the occasional catnap on the couch.  He stayed the night at the house in order to finish up a few remaining organizational issues. He was the first (and only) on the scene when they arrived.  After getting the kids where they needed to go, I arrived to pay folks and assess the general situation.  The packing was already well under way by the time I took a good look, and the by noon, it seemed as though the downstairs was ready to be loaded on a truck.  Not entirely the case, but the movers assured and re-assured us that this was by far not their most difficult move.  Not that it should be, but that worry always sits there in the back of my mind...

IMG_2018 In fact, things went so smoothly, that both of us had time to retreat to the hotel, shower, and don our Sunday best for Kelsey's school concert and art show last night.  We finished up the night with a trip to the local yogurt shop with friends and treated ourselves to take-out Chinese, before heading back to the hotel to finish homework, get the kids to bed, and hopefully get a bit of shut-eye ourselves before starting all over again this morning.   Now off to get another cup of coffee and then soon the truck loading will begin! One more day, one more day....

*The movers later pointed out that the "don't move" signs were tiny .5 inch by .5 inch Post It note flags (one per item), not the poster board size sign in red marker one might normally expect.

May 27, 2010


House To us, of course.   As of this early this afternoon,  we are homeowners once again.  We may only live in the house for a year, but it is almost totally and completely ours (minus the teeny part that still belongs to the bank).  Despite a crazy closing that could have been a little bit smoother (note to self:  Notary on the go FAR superior to Parcel Plus notary), we have signed, sealed, and Fedexed our paperwork back to Virginia. Many thanks to our friends and our Realtor for helping with so many of the details.  We are truly grateful and cannot wait to celebrate in our new abode! 

May 25, 2010


I think we might actually pack up this week and move.  Despite the fact that we are still going about our day to day activities, little signs pop up here and there.

IMG_4618  IMG_4609 The bath toys are hanging up and drying out, the various and sundry awards, memorabilia, decorations, and bits of gear from the field office have been boxed up and are in the living room awaiting a proper packing.  The extra garbage bag has been purchased on the off-chance we go over our one bag* per week limit.  The handyman (to paint the girls' rooms), plumber, and housekeepers have been scheduled.  Utilities are set to go on in the new house, and are being scheduled to be turned off (in the rental) as I type this post. 

IMG_4604 The girls' schools know they are departing, Nicholas said his last good-bye (or see you later) to Miss "Rindsey" (Lindsey, of Kindermusik) today, and tomorrow is his last lesson with Janice (Jenny's replacement at All Star). Kelsey said good-bye to "Guy" (Brian, her swim instructor) yesterday, and we have plied all of said teachers with cards including a favorite photo of teacher and child..

The biggest sign?  The piles of clothes that are being stacked in preparation for being packed into the suitcases.  We are moving to the hotel tomorrow night, as there is nothing I loathe more than being in the house the night before pack-out.  Given that the movers could say they are coming at 8 a.m. (and show up at 7 a.m.), the kids have to go to school, and we really don't want our toothbrushes or dirty linens packed...we decided to ante up for an extra night at the Residence Inn.  We are packing tonight, and everything we need for the final 10 days to include Cait's chorus costume, Kelsey's Camporee needs, and anything for the cross-country trek in the Truckster will go to the hotel tomorrow afternoon. 

While it may seem like all is moving smoothly, we do have occasional setbacks.  Kelsey had a bad night last night, as she is terribly excited about the move, but can't get over missing Field Day or the end of the year party.  The straw that broke the camel's back was my insistence that her framed artwork (for the Art & Music show on Thursday) not be on display at the show, as otherwise the movers couldn't pack it.  I finally bent on that notion, and we are just going to beg them to pack one more box Friday morning.  Given all she is giving up (extra time with friends, birthday parties already being discussed, Girl Scout camp...), I think it's a reasonable compromise.  

Now I need to quit my procrastinating and get back to organizing.  I tackled the catch-all formally known as the "cabinet beneath the wet bar" last night and made a great deal of progress.  Time for another coffee, and then I think I can easily tackle the craft desk that has been calling my name for days...

*We normally produce about one normal kitchen size bag of actual trash per week, a big improvement for us.  Between composting, recycling, and the new green waste bins, we realized we could easily down-size our garbage bin that is used for weekly collections.  Over time, we have gone from a 65 gallon cart (left behind from the previous renters) to a 20 gallon cart.  It technically can hold two bags, but 1.5 bags is generally our max.  Unfortunately, we always seem have a bit more throwing away to do at moving time, despite the Freecycling, Craigslisting and just giving away stuff  to anyone who will take it.  We were grateful to learn that the Waste Management company offers huge pre-paid bags that can be left out with next week's waste pick-up.  Not that we want to have more, but better to be safe than sorry, I suppose.

May 23, 2010

Santa Cruz

IMG_1921 IMG_1927 Last Saturday, as I was hanging over the boardwalk on in Santa Cruz on the Sky Glider, I once again lamented our imminent departure.  I realize I must sound like a broken record with regard to the "there is so much to do here" business, but darn it (again), there is still just too much to do! 

The trip to Santa Cruz last weekend was a reward trip for Kelsey's Brownie Troop.  They earned a tidy sum selling cookies and although some funds are being donated, we wanted them to enjoy a bit of their earnings.  They chose a field trip to the Boardwalk, and we apparently planned it for a gorgeously sunny, but not too hot Saturday in May. 

IMG_4507 IMG_4508 It had its ups and downs (don't they all), but I felt by the end of the day, it was safe to categorize the trip as a success.  The girls romped and picnicked on the beach, ran into each other at the bumper cars, rode roller coasters, and in general, had a great time.  There were a few tears here and there (should I say they all seemed to be on my daughter's part?) but nothing like a few Dippin Dots (apparently no longer the "Ice Cream of the Future") to bandage any wounds. 

IMG_4525 I didn't buy the all-access pass (wrist bracelet), but managed to take in two rides, one of which was the Giant Dipper.  It was a hard, noisy roller coaster ride, but so much fun.  I couldn't bring myself to purchase the obligatory picture of me at one particularly harsh turn, but just imagine my hair on end, mouth pasted open in a frightened grin, and fists gripping the handlebars for dear life...you get the picture.  Oh, and note the day it opened?  I had to ride it after I saw that, considering 86th anniversary was only two days away.

Now I was good and avoided most of the Boardwalk fare, but the funnel cakes just called to me.  I skipped the ice cream and gloppy strawberries, and ordered the "original" which is the cake sprinkled with a light dusting of powdered sugar. Even that was a bit much, but thankfully the girls were willing to help me finish it off.

IMG_1932 After walking up and down the Boardwalk and investigating it fairly seriously, I felt it was like others that we have been to in the past with the exception of the items in the photograph.  Your name* in lights (or bold-face type) in my next blog post if you correctly guess the item's name.  I was a bit frightened by the idea, but have no doubt some folks love it as a special Boardwalk treat.

The day went by much more quickly than we anticipated, and soon we were headed home.  The girls seemed to have the time of their lives, and although I was not sure what to expect, I was pretty thrilled with the outcome.  If you are in the Santa Cruz area, and have the chance, it's definitely not a bad way to spend a sunny Saturday.

As it turns out, the Boardwalk was not much closer to home than other parts of Santa Cruz. Our drive was easily 90 minutes one way, and the GPS veered us slightly off track once, making the trip a tiny bit longer.  Happily, there was parking just across the street from the boardwalk, only $11 and an easy walk if you felt like dropping off the lunch bags prior to starting the rides.  As with other areas in Northern California, light jackets are always helpful, even on sunny days, as well as hats and sunscreen.  If you or your traveling companions opt to romp in the sand or water, you might consider a change of clothes and most definitely a towel.

*Sadly, Shannon and Peter are not eligible due to the email photo they received that afternoon explaining said items.  It was too shocking not too share!

May 20, 2010

Redwoods Revisited

Here's the problem with this state:  there are just too darn many places to visit.  Two years is not enough time to do it all.  I am happy to say that along with many of the 'biggies' (Tahoe, Muir Woods & Yosemite), we have also visited many other parks and areas that might be lesser-known.  The second issue I have with there being so much to do in so little time?

One visit is never enough.

While some may feel one visit to a local attraction (say, Muir Woods) is enough, I often feel that I need at least two or three visits to really get a feel for the place and soak in all that it has to offer.  In fact, we may feel required to 'join' some of the organizations, as we feel we will be there quite frequently.  Suffice it to say, I could not say no to our second meet-up at the Redwoods today.  Even more exciting?  I technically got part of the way there without using the GPS (after I was GPS-ed, of course).

I thought it was odd that it had directed me take 680 vs. Crow Canyon to 580, but it is an easier drive in some respects.  I realized that I have been so many places lately, that I wasn't sure that landmarks I saw were actually from our recent visit to the Redwoods (remember, we carpooled and my friend drove) or from a visit to another Oakland site.  After the GPS told me twice that the park was in the middle of someone's front lawn, I pulled over, cleared my mind, really thought about it, quit fretting about being lost and late, and realized I knew where I was.  Once I hit the next main road, I turned left and there was a tiny sign indicating that the park was straight ahead.

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We missed most of our playtime with his buddy, Cy, due to our late arrival, but not with the rest of the group.  We had a long, leisurely walk through trees and enjoyed stopping at the water-go (again of the creek sort).  We reveled in the wildflowers, decided trucks were not meant for water-gos, and found more walking sticks* than Nicholas knew what to do with. After a good 20 minutes, we met up with the rest of the group at Trail's End. The boys ran around, the parents chatted, and we eventually headed back for some playground time. 

IMG_4567 IMG_4566 I've said it before and I'll say it again: this truly is the place to be on a warm day.  It was fairly breezy when we arrived, but the sun was blazing down by the time we left.  There easily had to be a 10-15 degree difference between the shadier woods, and the playground in the middle of the sunny field.  Despite the fact that we had to get going at some point, it was very hard to gather our lunch bags and hats and be on our way.  Each time we leave a park or museum, I wonder if it's the last time we will visit before we depart for good.  Then again, it's only a 20 minute drive and the movers don't come until next Thursday....

Note:  Like many places in Northern CA, you can be fanning yourself in the sun then freezing in the shade.  Don't forget your light jacket, snack, water, sunscreen and hats.  I don't think the walk from the parking lot is more than a mile round-trip, but if your toddler tires easily, an Ergo or stroller wouldn't hurt.

May 19, 2010

Chez Panisse

IMG_1946 Thirty days ago, Peter ran frantically into the house.  He and Kelsey had just come home from her First Communion Retreat and he was anything but calm.  He was muttering and sputtering, and I couldn't get a word in edgewise.  I started fearing the worst, and finally he came up with,

"I swear, 30 days before, I swear, I was up at 6 a.m.!"


"I swear, I went to Open Table, I clicked on May 17, a table for two, it was ONLY 6 A.M. and it was fully booked! How could this* be?!"

I was taken aback.  I knew this anniversary celebration would be important, given his upcoming deployment, but never guessed in my wildest dreams that this was in the offing.  Yes, I had mentioned it now and again, but I didn't expect him to remember that there was one place I really wanted to try.  A local establishment just down the road, a homey yet rustically chic kitchen known for its gastronomic delights. 

  IMG_1957 IMG_4550 Peter was trying desperately to get reservations for Chez Panisse.

I hadn't said anything in months, and with everything else that was going on, it was now the last thing in my mind...but not his.  He was so worried that I would be upset if we went on May 18, instead of May 17.  I couldn't get over the fact that we might actually enter the restaurant with reservations for one of the famed seating times. 

He planned a new attack.  He set his alarm for 11:59 p.m., kept Open Table up, and clicked on the 6:00 p.m. slot the minute the clock struck midnight.  Success! 

Four weeks later and several hours later, the sitter was here,  the kids had their salad and pasta, and we headed up to Berkeley.  Despite hitting traffic, we arrived in good time, and snagged a parking space only yards away just as the meter struck 6 p.m.   The restaurant blended well with the neighborhood, a simple brown building dressed primarily in greenery.  We stepped through the door and began our journey to slow food heaven.

IMG_1952IMG_1953I cannot say that I am a food critic of any sort, but one would have to be hard-pressed to have a single complaint about the meal.  The halibut tartare melted in our mouths.  The garlic soup was so light, but the touch of the poached egg and toasted bread stretched it close to a meal.  The quail was tender and juicy, petite, yet filling and perfectly paired with the fava beans and greens.

The slow food was just as it should be...prepared from local products with such care, spread out so as to not overwhelm, and completed with a just a hint of dessert (oh, the strawberries...).  Our waiter, Howie, was available when necessary, but unobtrusive and exceedingly skilled with wine pairings.  It truly was an evening to remember. 

Oh, sweetie, thank you for such an incredible treat.  Next year, same place, same time?  I'm only half-kidding....

Note: Please ignore the grainy photos, there's only so much an iPhone can do...

*It is a little known fact, but Chez Panisse does not give reservations more than 30 days ahead of time.  It is probably a more widely known fact that they book up quickly.  Thus the only way to ensure a time at the restaurant is to book the moment the clock strikes midnight.  You could try and call the next day....but I wouldn't wait that long!

May 18, 2010

Sulphur Creek

I wasn't kidding. Movers and packers be darned, I WILL conquer the parks of Northern California.  I have a voluntarily compost-turning, dirt-piling, nature-loving little boy who adores playing in the rain and lives for his outdoor playgroup.

IMG_1935 IMG_1937 The fact that it was merely drizzling today was not enough to keep us away from the Sulphur Creek Nature Center in Hayward.  The morning was supposed to be an outing, "Toddler Time" for our Nature Playgroup, but we could not attend due to Nicholas's swim lesson.   Linda, our intrepid group leader, knew we had swimming and would miss the main part of the meet-up. She was kind enough to offer that we could visit and picnic after the Toddler Time class.  She mentioned that there were many animals on hand to be seen, gardens, and (obviously) a water-go of the creek sort.

The girls accompanied us as today happened to be a teacher work day.  We could not sleep in too much this morning due to the lessons and the need to pack up for our lunch with Linda and Cy.  Despite the fact that they stayed up way too late watching Julie and Julia last night (true Foreign Service kids, right?), Cait managed to wake up on her own at 6:45 a.m. and Kelsey followed not long after.  We hurried through breakfast, sped off to swim lessons, and by 10 a.m. were headed to the Nature Center.

IMG_1938 IMG_1939 Having never been to Hayward nor the Nature Center, I had no idea what to expect.  It was hidden back on a residential street merely minutes from 580.  After turning in, we easily found parking (two spacious lots), and tromped down the stairs in our venture to locate our friends. 

The first treat was the footbridge over the creek.  Nothing fascinates Nicholas like a water-go, and I completely understand.  There is something so beautifully mesmerizing about the flowing of the water, and the green of the surrounding foliage is just brilliant.  It didn't take much of a reminder to get Nicholas headed down the bridge and through the animal rehabilitation area into the the Discovery Center.

IMG_1941 We missed the class, but no the opportunity to "touch and feel, not steal" the snake skins on display.  Nicholas was enthralled by the turtles paddling about in the aquarium, and enjoyed 'talking' with them until the class was  over.

IMG_1944 As with other nature centers in the area, the Discovery Center is generally closed on Mondays, with the exception of Toddler Time classes.  There was nothing more to investigate inside, so we returned to the great outdoors to meet the wildlife.  

I think the coyotes had to be our favorite.  I am not sure how many I have seen in the past, but I know viewing (and talking to) them today was a first for Nicholas.  A fox was the immediate neighbor, though he was having a bit of quiet time.  He was up in a perch, sound asleep with his tail wrapped tightly around his burnished fur.  Nicholas insisted he had a blanket, and we decided with the warmth of the fur, he did look as snug as a bug in a rug. 

A deer ran down from the hills, and proceeded to prance around the edge of the property.  I am sure we were startling him, and we just watched from a distance.  Lunch time came quickly, and as with all of the parks, there were no shortages of places to stop and nosh.  The rains became more apparent while we were eating, and we opted for a quick hike under the lush canopy of trees on the hillside that surrounded the center.  The deer had come back, and the boys just couldn't get enough of him.

IMG_1943 The climb gave us a better view, and we were within spitting distance at times.  The deer would stop for a moment or two, and the boys were just fascinated.  The girls certainly found his antics entertaining, but the boys are still so young and absorbing so much, so quickly.  Such a treat to see the looks on their faces and the excitement in their young voices.

It seemed like we had just arrived, but by this time it was nearly noon and the rain was getting harder.  This pleased Nicholas to no end, but the girls were getting antsy to return home.  I knew a nap could be in the offing soon, and we wrapped up our visit with a final look at the rooster, ducks and magpies.  Another look in the creek, and we were back in the car having enjoyed yet another taste of the outdoor beauty that is Northern California.

May 17, 2010

Grow old along with me,

the best is yet to be...

From the study lounge in Everglades to our globe-hopping adventures, we've come a long way.  Thank you for a crazy life and three adorable, fabulous little people.  You had me at "I bet ..."

Happy Anniversary, sweetheart!  

May 16, 2010


IMG_4503 Wednesday afternoon arrived, and while looking at my calendar, I realized Friday was a giant blank.  I suppose this is generally good news, but given our shrinking window of time here, I don't advocate spending too much time on the homefront.  There is still so much too explore and I can't justify keeping Little Guy cooped up during the day while I sort through baubles and knick-knacks.  Yes, I am always looking for a reason to procrastinate the inevitable.

I wrote to my all-park and museum-knowing friend, Linda, to see if she might have any ideas and/or get the little guys together.  She mentioned several: Lake Anza, Sunol and the Chabot Science Center.  We ended up deciding on Sunol, perhaps knowing it was going to be a sunny, good for throwing rocks in the creek sort of day.

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 It's a fairly quick drive to the area, though one does hit the windy roads going in and out of the park.  We parked in the general parking lot, and were surrounded by local school children on a field trip.  The sun was shining brightly, and we immediately headed down to the creek.

Linda noted that the water was rather low in the creek, which while maybe not ideal for nature, gave us a larger playground that morning.  Instead of having to stand on the sloping banks, we were able to sit on the higher parts of the creek bed while Nicholas and Cy ran around, threw rocks (we aren't at the skipping level yet) and enjoyed being shoeless and fancy-free.

  IMG_4495 IMG_4496 We even opted to have our picnic in the creek bed, and the boys ate and played for another hour.  Given Nicholas's eating habits (eat/play/eat/play), this worked out for the best.  It was truly a gorgeous day, and while hats and glasses were necessary while in the direct sunlight, it was not blazing hot. The tall, stately trees provided a splendid respite on an as needed basis.

Overall rating?  Have a curious, loves to throw rocks, and stomp in the creek type of toddler?  This is your place!  Just don't forget your picnic lunch, water, sun gear, change of clothes (for those water exploring types), and a towel.  Water shoes, too, if you might be exploring in the creek for extended periods.

May 14, 2010

It was just a tiny lump

IMG_1914  in my throat until I opened the card, and found that the girls in my troop and their parents had written the sweetest note possible. Tonight was our last Brownie meeting, and at the very end the other co-leader and I were presented with gift bags and roses.  I was so touched just by that gesture, and did not expect (a way too big) gift card inside nor the card that took me from a bit verklempt to completely overwhelmed.

A good thing that I did not peek earlier than when we returned to the house for the evening.  We had a busy night tonight, with the Brownie meeting running almost concurrently with Cait's Open House.   Nicholas, Caitlin and Peter headed to her middle school and Kelsey and I arrived there as soon as we could.  

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We were able to visit with almost all of her teachers, and the reports were just glowing. I was very curious to hear what her Language Arts teacher had to say, and her comments mirrored our thoughts that Cait had matured quite a bit throughout the year and truly enjoyed her work.  One of her big projects for the year, if not the most involved, was a compilation of correspondence with a friend or relative of a different generation.

Cait had to choose an older family member or friend and write to them throughout the year.  The two were to share information such as likes and dislikes, differences between their generations, and strive to learn a bit more than they might just through conversation.  Cait picked her Great-Uncle Bill, who also happens to be her godfather.

They exchanged letters, and Cait created a beautiful album around their written conversations.  She had a chance to foster their relationship, and realized, I think, that while some things have changed drastically through the years (technology) other things remain the same (having to babysit one's younger siblings from time to time).  She did a lovely illustration on the cover, and both her project and a poetry book were on display tonight for all to see.

We also visited her math classroom and were thrilled to hear that her extra work at home has been quite apparent to the teacher.  Nicholas enjoyed flirting with the teacher and she made a comment about "Someday you will be here for middle school!"

Um, no, he won't. Sigh.  Back to those letters to the schools, one down, three to go....

May 12, 2010


Which stands for the Oakland Museum of California.  We had a rather impromptu visit on Sunday, after our best-laid plans to take a Mother's Day hike in Las Trampas were derailed by rain.

I know this doesn't usually stop us, but we have hiked muddy areas of Las Trampas before, and while Nicholas would adore it, it would be a lot more 'stopping to pull hiking boots out of ground every five minutes while gloppy mud tries to hold onto shoe and massive sucking sounds emanate from said ground' than hiking. For that reason, and that reason only, we decided to find a semi-indoor activity.

I recently heard of the Oakland Museum of California, though I constantly screwed up the name and kept calling it the California Museum of Oakland.  Really not much of a difference, and Peter had no idea what I was talking about, so really a moot point.  It's a museum (I know, shocking!) in Oakland about California (honestly!).  I read about the 2 year, $58 million renovation, and decided it was worth seeing that afternoon. 

Apparently the rest of California read the very same article and had the same reaction, as the line was out the door when we arrived.  We contemplated buying a membership, but since they only charge for ages 9 and above, we would have to go several times to make it worth it.  As soon as the kids found a place to play (waiting areas with rocks for piling get two thumbs up), the line started moving quickly.  I freaked out and thought perhaps OMCA was part of the reciprocity deal with the science centers and museums, but no such luck.  This turned out to be a good thing, since my Lindsay Wildlife Card (and free pass) were sitting safely in a drawer at home. 

We ended up only having an hour, and decided to start with the history hall.  We were stopped by a Welcome to California sign, and I took the first of many bad pictures.  I will blame it on the banning of flash photos and poor lighting.  I  completely understand why such rules are necessary, but it doesn't change the fact that the pictures* are terrible.  However, not a good enough reason for me to not torture my readers with several!

After we took the requisite photo with the sign, we hit the map of the world.  There had been an assortment of red dot stickers on the table and each person/family was supposed to put one on the map to indicate where they came from.  As usual, we went with Iceland (we did move from there....).  Sadly, all of the stickers appeared to have been used.  I was happy to find an extra dangling on the wall above the map (sorry if someone really came from northern Greenland) and plopped it down around Reykjavik.

The dad-like guy of the family standing next to us wondered where I found a sticker, and I mentioned it was just lolling about on the wall, so I put it to better use.  He then gave me my favorite quote of the day (maybe the weekend),

"You Icelanders certainly are resourceful!"

I explained the situation, and the father agreed with me that "where you hail from" could encompass many different areas for many people.  We helped him find another wayward sticker, and moved on to view the rest of the History section.

To say the area was jam-packed with information is an understatement.  I won't detail every little thing, as I think it is definitely worth seeing and don't want to spoil any surprises.  I will say that active toddlers may not find it as enchanting as older children.  

Nicholas enjoyed the museum (especially the airplane seats), but it is not a "please touch" children's museum by any stretch of the imagination.  While there were certain items that could be touched, most were "eyes only". He didn't have a hard time, but I would have completely understood if he had.  Realistically, this is probably more for the 5 and up set, though I would plan on interspersing outdoor breaks if we were there for a longer visit.

I thought we dawdled quite a bit, but even so managed to depart the history area within an hour.  We checked on the Science section (yes, it really is closed until 2012 due to renovations) and had a brief tour of the gardens before departing.

Overall review?  Best for older kids, and I would allot at least 2-3 hours.  We didn't get to view the art collection, and possible that could be more extensive than I imagine.  Once the science section reopens, I would think this would be at least half a day or maybe something you revisit.  If we had any plans to be here when the science hall opens again,  I would consider joining.  I think not only would we enjoy a few visits, but out of town folks might like to take a look, too.

*Don't worry, pictures will be coming soon.  Our internet is barely chugging along these days, so all I could do to eke out this post.  Oh, and *technically* I am supposed to be tidying the garage right now so that the movers doing the pre-pack out survey tomorrow don't freak and think we are trying to move the entire state.  I exaggerate, though, it really isn't that bad.  I have de-cluttered quite a bit over the years, so I am hoping we will be pleasantly surprised by their estimate.

May 10, 2010

Every time

IMG_4472 IMG_4473  we think we have seen everything there is to see, California pulls another rabbit out of her hat.  Friday's itinerary included a much, much too short trip to Santa Cruz.  We journeyed not for the boardwalk (that's next weekend), but to investigate the Seymour Marine Discovery Center and nearby Natural Bridges State Beach.

We headed off a bit later than we intended, but Nicholas was full of energy and needed to romp while I double-checked my list.  Having missed the part about the beach at first, I had to make a quick run back into the house for several beach towels.  We didn't need them, but only for lack of time.  Had we been there into the afternoon, I have no doubt one we would have needed both...as you can imagine, no shortage of water or sand!

IMG_4474I had heard that Santa Cruz was "about an hour".  IF there is no traffic and you are headed to the center of town, this is correct.  However, coming from our are of the East Bay, I would think one should allot at least 1.5 hours for the one way trip.  Not only did I not realize it was a bit longer of a journey, but didn't count on 8 miles of windy road.  At least this time a sign actually warned us!

Despite the longer journey, this area is not something to be missed.  I can't yet account for the boardwalk (that's next weekend), but even if you just stopped to look at the view from the back deck of the Marine Center....breath-taking.  Nicholas took one look and shouted, "Ocean, ocean, ocean..."  and that was it for miles and miles.  Nothing but dark blue to pitch black water swirling around with one smallish (50 footer?) boat trailing a whale along the coast.  We were too far away to see much, but caught the occasional spray from its blow-hole.

I should back-track to our arrival.  We got there a bit late, however, still in time to catch the outside tour with our group.  We missed the activities inside (seeing marine life up close and personal), however Nicholas very much enjoyed the outside tour.  We had a guide named Julie and we were her first tour group ever.  To her credit, she was extremely enthusiastic and carried her guide book like a bible. If you have ever had even one marine biology course, though, it may seem a bit geared towards those who have never seen a fish other than in an aquarium.

IMG_4476 She was very good with the kids, talked mostly to them and pointed out everything she could that might be of interest to us.  After viewing the whale from the deck, we were invited to a back research area.  No photos of the research subjects were allowed*, but I managed to catch a few of a desolate, sandy cove, Younger Lagoon,  that abutted the pier next to the dolphin pools.  According to the guide, photos were not allowed as two of the dolphins were given to them by the Navy and were under strict supervision. Sounds a little fishy to me (especially after I found a you tube video of said animals) but rules are rules, right?

We finished up the tour under the skeleton of a giant blue whale that had washed up on shore years earlier and was painstakingly preserved for display.  The kids were allowed the special treat of walking underneath the bones and realized just how big the whale had been.  The tour ended here, and the organizer of our group gave us a new meet-up point for our trip to the beach.

IMG_4481 We parked off-site to save a few dollars, but I might cough them up in the future.  I ended up having to take three bags and Nicholas up a long road to the picnic area, and then down a steep path to the beach.  Not terrible, but a bit tricky when you barely have one hand to hold with your active toddler. 

IMG_1861I didn't check the temperature, but it must have been in the high 70's and perfect weather for wading in tide pools or just building sand castles.  After ambling (running for Nicholas) down the path, we arrived at the beach.  We were in perfect view of the bridges, and needed only go halfway to the water to find a 'water-go' which may have been Moore Creek flowing down through the meadows (or my geography is completely off and just a large tide pool).  Either way, he was thrilled and soon pants-less after getting his pant legs completely soaked (despite me rolling them up).  After being admonished  by another beach comber for not carrying extra clothes on my person (what, I didn't have enough stuff?), he survived putting the damp pants back on once we finished up our brief beach tour. 

IMG_1859 IMG_1866 If we had more time, we could easily go back and spend a full day here.  We would revisit the Marine Center, have another picnic lunch, and spend the afternoon playing in the sand and water.  The town itself looked worthy of exploration, but we ran out of time on Friday.  Here's hoping we have a bit of time after the boardwalk and beach on Saturday, though that is more of an official field trip. Now, the only question:  what else can we squeeze in during our remaining 27 days in the East Bay?

May 09, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!

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May your day be filled with lovingly drawn pictures, swirling hearts, and flowers.  May it be happy despite the bickering sisters and spilled syrup (the comforter did need a washing...).  May it be joyous because the Little Guy wanted to (and did!) use the "pah-yay" (potty for those not in the know).

 IMG_1882And if it wasn't all it was cracked up to be, take a look at the video on my friend, Kolbi's site.  Cait watched it with me, and her take?

"Oh, that is SO Kelsey and me!"

*Sigh* Happy Mom's Day!

May 06, 2010

First Communion and a little surprise...

After close to 9 months of preparation, Kelsey made her First Communion on Saturday.  The parent meetings, retreats, the Reconciliation, family lessons at home, the hunt for the dress, rehearsal, and many random discussions led up to the ceremony on Saturday afternoon.  Despite my fears something (anything) would go awry, the day seemed to flow smoothly from one event to the next.

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In atypical Jen fashion, I actually thought ahead and not only had Kelsey's hair appointment (for a cut) early in the week, but planned to have her hair done at the salon the morning of the First Communion. We need only show up with the dress in hand (the veil was already there) and Kelsey relaxed while Daniella worked her magic. I was able to relax, take photos, and not stress out over the fact that I was not able to get every hair perfectly in place.  Much more fun for all involved!

Once Kelsey's hair was finished, she donned her dress and tights, and slipped into her shoes.  Daniella's next client oohed and aahed over her as we exited the salon, and we hurried home so that I could get into my Sunday best.

We had a small window of time before we needed to be at the church, so Kelsey, in all of her finery, and Nicholas were able  to Skype with Grandpa and Nonni Dinoia while I got ready.  Grandpa Kirk, who had flown in from Tennessee (and missed the terrible rains and flooding throughout the state), picked up a last minute necessity for Kelsey, and we headed to the church.  Since there were so many First Communicants, there were 7 ceremonies spread out over three weekends. Not only did this prevent overcrowding, but gave each family had their own pew at the ceremony, and views were rarely obstructed.

IMG_3373 IMG_3376 We arrived in a timely manner, took a few photographs, dropped off Kelsey in the bride's room, and waited for it to begin.  And?

It was beautiful and touching.  We had thought during rehearsal that the directions were a bit much, but all of the rehearsing paid off and there was nary a hitch.  Despite the many directives the children had to learn in a short time, the mass seemed to flow smoothly.  We were lucky enough to have the Children's Choir singing for the ceremony (not all will have the choir present) and the special surprise?

IMG_3386 Caitlin and her friend were cantors for the ceremony.

The Children's Choir director had written to me a few weeks before to ask if Cait might be able to cantor for two of the three ceremonies on Saturday.  I gave permission, but realized that Cait might balk if her nerves got the best of her.  I was so grateful that she not only didn't hesitate, but embraced the challenge, and sang with all of her heart on Saturday.  I had so hoped that somehow Cait would be able to contribute to the ceremony, but had never imagined that sort of participation.  

IMG_3413 It was truly a family event, as unlike my First Communion, or Cait's, for that matter, both parents accompanied the child to the altar.  When it was time for the children to receive the bread for the first time, all of the communicants and parents were on the altar together, forming a giant horseshoe (photo ops were minimal at best).  We received communion together, listened to the children sing as a group, and then were dismissed after a hearty congratulations.

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We were lucky that not only were two of Kelsey's friends (and their families) were able to attend, but that she was in the same ceremony (and across from) another schoolmate/CCD friend, Anna.  We ended up merging our post-ceremony celebrations in quiet alcove at a local restaurant, and the girls were thrilled to have so many friends with whom they could share their day.  Considering how our next few weeks may be a bit hectic, it was quite a relief to spend the afternoon enjoying a leisurely dinner with friends and family.

May 04, 2010

Tilden Park

What a gem.  Tucked away in the hills of Berkeley, this park that houses a farm, a nature area, an environmental education center, and acres of gorgeous wilderness will encompass you.  It will be difficult, at best, to remember that a bustling metropolis is but a few miles away.

I have heard about Tilden Park many times over the past two years.  "You've been, haven't you?!" is a common refrain.  I would shamefacedly admit that I hadn't, but offer up "It's on our list!".  I am glad to announce that the list has become shorter by yet one more item.


Dad and I thought this local park trip would be ideal for today.  We went to Nicholas's swim lesson, picked up lunch, and headed to Berkeley. Once we turned off the main road in Orinda, we started climbing higher and higher by way of a rather windy road.  Nicholas was completely unfazed by this, perhaps as he was completely and inexplicably upset by the fact that we could not yet pick up Kelsey from school.  Nothing comforted him until we saw a rather large water-go (a lake, in this case).  This fascinated him right out of his misery, and was back to his bouncy, happy self by the time we reached the park area.  By the "park" area, I actually mean the picnic and playground area that is located near the entrance to the Nature Area and Little Farm.


It actually took quite a bit of driving to get there.  I was sure everything was closer than it appeared on the map, and the reality was quite different.  We drove around so many curves in the road, that I was convinced we had missed a sign somewhere.  Just as we were going to turn around, we finally happened on park area, and breathed a sigh of relief.  We parked near picnic benches, and began decided lunch was first on the agenda.


The picnic was extremely fast.  Barely a moment to set down our sandwich rolls, and pop open the tab on my seltzer.  Nicholas tore into his sandwich, gulped down his falafel, and practically galloped to the playground.  There was a large sand pit, and Nicholas was not disappointed as we had indeed remembered the sand toys, to include the orange bulldozer.  He played happily, shared his toys, and packed up willingly when we mentioned the farm.


The Little Farm is part of the Nature Area (no, we didn't have a hope of fully exploring) and is set into a hillside surrounded by a bit of a forest.   Nicholas enjoyed greeting each set of animals (roosters, pigs, goats, cows and sheep), and fed them with dropped scraps of lettuce and celery from previous visitors. The heat of the sun pounding down on the farm was relieved by a short hike around the edge of the sheep pens in the shade of the cooling trees. Comparatively speaking, it was a short visit, but we left feeling content that our time was well-spent.

I know it is not likely, but if we have the time, we would return in a heartbeat.  There are children's activities galore, a newly renovated hiking path that is not to be missed, and the sense that one is days, not miles from the hustle and bustle of city life. The parks in Northern California never cease to amaze us.

May 03, 2010

One of my goals

IMG_4409 since we moved to California has been to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.  Honestly, I didn't even care if I  walked across the entire structure, but at least wanted to step up there, walk out, look down at the water, and embrace the 360 degree views.  I finally did that today.

Yesterday was Kelsey's First Communion and it's pretty hard to top the excitement of that day (posting still under construction).  We realized we probably needed a bit of a break today, especially since yesterday's celebration turned into a sleepover, and we were just all drained (in a good way).  We talked briefly about things to do and bandied about local hikes.  I realized that was also something we could do during the week, and I had promised the girls that we absolutely, positively would make it back to Crissy Field before we left.  I realized this was the time to do it: Dad was in town, Crissy Field is smack next to the bridge, and let's face it, we are really running low on time.

Am I upset about the last statement?  No.  I know I have probably come off as ridiculously over-worried about certain aspects of the move recently, and for that, I should know better.  I should just count my blessings and get over myself:  Peter has a decent job, we aren't homeless, we can afford to eat (well, at that), and things will fall into place one way or the other.  Oh, and we *might* have orders, but I am not going to stress it one way or the other anymore.

We tried to get an early start this morning, but the Gods conspired against us, and I owe them one for that.  Turns out today was Escape from Alcatraz.  We wondered why parking at Crissy Field seemed to be at a premium, and then Pete reminded me (well, told me) that one of our friends was participating in said event.  I don't remember any discussion about this, but between the race, and the gorgeous, sunny day...there was not a parking spot to be had in the East Beach area.

We realized this might be a sign we should just head to Fort Point.  Peter started driving there, but Kelsey needed a bathroom break as we approached the Warming Hut.  This was not the inconvenience we thought it was, as we finally figured out the Battery East Trail (to the Bridge) was just yards away from the Hut.  We were literally 100 steps and then a short walk away from the bridge.

I had not bothered with either the stroller or the Ergo, and I am grateful for that thought. Little Guy enjoyed the hike almost as much as we did.  Most of the trail was very toddler-friendly and I hate the thought of him not expending that energy as he should.  Fifteen minutes after we started, with only a few stops for photo ops, we made it.

IMG_4421 We only walked about a third of the way across, but that was enough for me.  For a few moments, we had an incredible vantage point that we shared with just a handful of other folks.  And, if you are wondering, I just realized that none of us were bothered by the height.  The bridge vibrated a bit due to the incredible amount of traffic, but nothing that worried any of us. The views had us mesmerized and awestruck.

It was not climbing Mount Everest or even Escape from Alcatraz.  It was, however, something else we can check off our list and, if I am correct, a day the girls won't forget for a very long time.

May 02, 2010

Lunch with Guy

Guy is Grandpa, at least for the moment in this house.  Grandpa arrived Thursday afternoon in order to attend Kelsey's First Communion, and Nicholas immediately dubbed him, "Guy."  Guy is quite the term of endearment, used for the person who drives his toy trucks, for Kelsey's swimming teacher (real name: Brian), for the garbage man (on a pedestal in Nicholas's eyes), and the person who steers the fire truck that seems to whizz past us almost daily.  It's quite the catchall term, and apparently much easier to say than Grandpa.

While much of our work for this special weekend was completed early on, I had a terrible time deciding on a gift.  Once I figured out something meaningful, but not overwhelming, I needed to find a store that might offer such an item.  I was really hoping to find an independently owned shop that might have a larger selection of unique jewelry or books that might not be highlighted in larger bookstores.  Nothing off the wall, but I love supporting local businesses, and an extra bonus if they are remotely free-trade and/or eco-friendly. 

I heard of a local store, Sagrada, in Oakland, and could tell from their web-site that they had a large religious/spiritual selection.   Having not been to Oakland too frequently (other than the zoo, science center and airport), I figured a trip to the store would give me a chance to explore a bit more.  We decided to go Friday morning, and headed west on a gorgeously clear and sunny day.  Ideally, we would have taken the Bart, but opted to drive as we had to be at school for pick-up by 2:30 p.m.

IMG_3318 IMG_3320 IMG_3323 The shop is located on Telegraph in the Temescal/Telegraph neighborhood.  Parking was a bit tricky, but we found a spot and walked half a block to the store.  It was everything I had hoped for and more...spiritual, but in many directions.  While they had a healthy section for the celebration of First Communions, it could be said there was something for everyone no matter what their belief.  I found the key gift for Kelsey and a few cards for other cousins also making their First Communion.  Dad and Nicholas also explored, finding a crayon table (key for the younger set) in their small, but well-stocked children's section, and a water-go (in this case, a fountain).

IMG_1820 IMG_1814 Dad made a few purchases, and we realized we had just enough time for a sit-down lunch.  Our only problem was deciding where to go. Everything along the block whet our appetites, and after a bit of discussion, we settled on Ethiopian at Asmara.  It was a simple, but charming restaurant.  We were promptly seated and took entirely too long to decide on a meal.  We ended up sharing a beef entree and vegetarian combo of red lentils, yellow lentils, mustard greens and veggies.  It was served with generous amounts of injera bread and salad. 

IMG_3328 IMG_3329 The lentils were smooth, but flavorful and the mustard greens were finely chopped and just a bit spicy.  I also opted for steamed milk with honey, the perfect accompaniment for my meal.  Nicholas asked for a fork at first, but once we explained that they weren't necessary, he dove in and alternated between eating with his fingers and utilizing the bread.  Dad also got into the spirit of things, and we before long the tray was nearly empty.

We couldn't stay for dessert, as the school day was almost over, and we still had rummage sale stuff drop-off (a whole car load!), choir practice (and extra practice for Cait), as well as our first cook-out of the year on the to do list.  I really wished we had more time to explore, though, as it was a neighborhood full of unique shops and eateries that I now regret not finding sooner.