46 posts categorized "Caitlin"

October 08, 2011

It's Great Country Farms,

Nicholas Dinoia!  Today was our second annual trip to Great Country Farms in Bluemont, VA,  with the Salty Dog Crew.  We were lucky that, as like last year, extended crew included Baby Nate's grandparents and his cousin, Wes or "Wesselley" as Nick calls him.  We had so much fun with them last year that Nick started asking about it two months ago.  

"Do you remember last year when we rode the cow train?  Do you remember last year when we ate the popcorn?  Is Wesselley coming again?  I'm older, so I can watch him!"

(Being older is a big theme right now.  In fact, yesterday he reminded me that he's going to be 4 soon.  *Sniff*.)

We had a lazy morning and then headed out to the country in the early afternoon.  We parked, ambled in and after purchasing 'very bad for you but very tasty' crunchy pumpkin peanut brittle, we headed into the play area.  Of course, we took pictures first to see how tall we are.

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Yes, Cait really is that tall and, no, she will not stop growing any time soon.  

We did the bouncy thing.

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We rode the cow train.  (This was mandatory given how long we had been regaled with tales of last year's trip.)

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We played in the corn bin and tried to ignore the folks who shunned the bin.  Seriously, one child said, "Ew, playing in corn, that's GROSS!"  The mom then said, "I KNOW!" and glared at those of us with kids playing there.  

Seriously, that's gross?  Woe to the poor child in that family who dares ever step in a mud puddle...

Anyway, my poor, apparently disgusting-thing liking child enjoyed playing in there (oh, the horror...) and I have the pictures to prove it!  This also made us very dirty and we are quite proud of that!

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We rode on the rope swing.  Oh, and by "we," I do mean all of us, me included.  Sadly, there is no picture as Peter thought it would be funny to push me several times and then leaving me dangling there...and not even preserve the Kodak moment!  Men!

So, here is Kelsey, who is a far more elegant swinger.

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Last, but not least, we played in the castle and drove tractors on the playground.  We had fun, fun, fun, til Great Country Farms closed for the day and I know all of us are already looking forward to next year's trip with the Crew!

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Night, all!

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March 04, 2011

One likes to assume

that one knows her children.  She knows what they like to eat, what they like to wear, whether they are morning kids or night owls.  She knows when they are being honest and understands where they are coming from when they stretch the truth a tad.  More importantly, she would like to think she knows her kids inside and out, so much so that she can predict the exact outcome of a distressing situation on her children.

You know, such as when one parent is deployed overseas for a year and the other is diagnosed with two types of what could be a nasty cancer.  Even the best parent in the world (not making implications), might be so overwhelmed with decisions, options and stress that she somehow doesn't notice exactly how her child is affected.  

It suddenly occurred to me today that perhaps I had done that.  Perhaps I had made a huge mistake or at least been a tad negligent in areas regarding the mental/emotional effects of this whole scenario on the kids.  They have not seen therapists, did not want to participate in support groups or related family potlucks and we had no desire to push them or go ourselves.

We haven't been ignoring the situation, but we have always been a bit more...laid-back with the kids.  We chat openly about anything (yes, anything) when they need to, but we don't push topics that might make them uncomfortable.  They know they can ask us about anything and while we do have talks, we don't go overboard.  I was actually thrilled when Caitlin found out about my diagnosis by accident.

Not only didn't I have to sit her down (or worse, both of us), I think she took the news far more in stride than if we had a face-to-face.  She digested everything in her own time and while she might have a been a tad bit perturbed, I think this was far easier on all of us.

We really didn't say much at all to Kelsey other than a basic explanation that I needed surgery.  I wasn't "sick" sick, I was just not as healthy as I could be and hopefully the surgery would correct that. When I finally got around to saying something to Nick about needing to see the doctor, his response was, "Are you going to the hostibal?  Are you going to have a surgery?  I can fix you!"  He then proceeded to find a toy saw and, well, let's just say he had an amazingly accurate idea of what was going to happen.  He wasn't frightened or upset, just very matter-of-fact.

I realized today when I received an email from a friend that it had been ages since we discussed 'it'. Things have been so much more normal lately, that there really hasn't been much to say.  In fact, the most discussion was probably a look I shot at Cait last week while driving when an ad related to my previous condition came on the radio.  She looked at me, changed the channel at lightening speed and we went back to our prior topic of conversation.

The email was concerning a sleep away* camp.  Though we are supposed to be planning Kelsey's birthday party (desperately need ideas for every aspect), I am also already looking forward to the summer.  We are hoping for lots of sailing, swimming and just plain fun, but camps are also in the picture.  Kelsey has requested both animal and nature camp, whereas Cait will be thrilled with one week of camp at the animal shelter in Alexandria.   We hadn't really thought of much more, so I was quite interested to read about the camp in the note.

It is  a camp for kids whose parents have dealt with my issue in any manner of speaking. Whether they have cancer, had it, are in remission...all are eligible.  I originally thought it was just on the west coast, but turns out there are many locations throughout the country and they run through the end of the summer.  It appears to be a great opportunity and I wondered if perhaps my kids needed this more than I thought? The deadline for registration was not far off and I quickly shot off a note to Pete and to someone else who might be considered a confidant for Cait, if no one else.

After a bit of discussion, we decided in all likelihood we would not go for the camp.  If nothing else, considering that I have not been through as much as I could have been (no chemo/no radiation**/good diagnosis), it seemed like perhaps it was best to save those spots for other kids who have really been through much more.  However, even after conferring quite a bit between the three of us, I realized I should still give Cait, if not both girls, the option of attending.

I mentioned it to her this afternoon and she asked for more information.  I explained the details I had gleaned from the website and while she said it sounded like a great camp, she just didn't think she needed it.  After all, she was really fine.  I wondered aloud if that was truly the case and she just looked at me and asked me what I meant.

I indicated that I just wanted to be 1000% sure that I was not ignoring her needs or pretending that she was fine when she was really quite worried.  Cait just looked at me, half-laughed and shook her head.

"Mom, I'm fine.  Really, I'm fine.  Yes, I was bit concerned in the beginning, but I knew you'd pull through!"

Oh.  And with that, it will be shelter camp for Cait, shelter & animal camp for Kelsey and lots of sailing, swimming and beach time for the rest of us.  However, I will, as long we are in the area, keep the other camp in the back of my mind, whether for us or someone else.  I know all too well that stressors can pop up any time, and it never hurts to have something in place.  Meanwhile...I'm still grinning about the pulling through bit.  Classic Cait...she always has just the right words for the situation!

 

*If you know anyone who might benefit, please pass along as the registration for the DC area camp is April 1.  Many thanks to Christy for sending me the link!

**Sigh, someday we will figure this one out...still on the table, still no decision.

 

July 19, 2010

One bonus

IMG_4927  to the move back to Virginia is the opportunity to reconnect with old friends, see them on a regular basis and give back as they have given to us throughout the years.  As you may have seen on our blog or on theirs, the Salty Dogs are known for giving our kids breaks from us during the summer.

IMG_4930  During the past few years, they have taken them camping, boating (power and sailing), had beach days and, of course, crafty time.  This kind of generosity has allowed Peter and I time to take small trips, given us time to close on a house, unpack or just relax and enjoy each other's company.  Now that Baby Nate has arrived, we are finally able to reverse the trend a bit.  Needless to say, the mother hens, Caitlin and Kelsey, are thrilled to help us.

IMG_4929  We had our first official opportunity (as a family) on Saturday night.  Shannon and Mark were having dinner with friends in the city, and given our proximity to DC, easy enough to let their Little Guy stay with us for a bit.  To say the kids loved it would be an understatement. 

IMG_4935  We read books, played with toys, took walks, rocked in the chair, and spent requisite time with Uncle Pete toiling away on coding for his current hobby.  Other than when Uncle Pete foolishly decided it might be bedtime and tried to rock Nate to sleep, LG Talbott was pretty darn happy.  When he was a little overtired and having trouble falling napping (not exactly the normal routine), I put him in the Ergo and we walked until he was snoozing soundly.  I got exercise and he had a little nap-time...a win-win scenario for all involved!

Above are a few photos from the evening.  No worries, Cait was only pretending to be asleep and definitely had a grip on Nate.  And, yes, Nicholas loves to eat cucumbers like their are apples.  Please ignore the boxes in the background and the general lack of organization.  Apparently we still have a wee bit of unpacking to do...

July 10, 2010

Eric Carle & The Titanic

or vicey-versa.  We have been spending the past week in Massachusetts with Peter's family, and realized there were quite a few places that we have not had the chance to visit prior to now. 

We had intended on visiting the newly discovered (by us) Eric Carle Museum of Art on Thursday, but the schedule didn't quite allow.  We instead decided upon a trip to The Titanic Museum in nearby Indian Orchard.  The website contained an overwhelming amount of information, and since our girls have always had a fascination with the Titanic disaster (and Nicholas loves boats), we felt it would satisfy our museum needs for the day.  Then there is the family tale that my great-grandmother was set to travel on the Titanic...until she found out she was pregnant with my grandfather.  She ended up opting to wait as she felt it wasn't the best time to travel.  She could have been a survivor, but in hindsight, I am quite glad she did not take the risk.

We thought it was interesting that there weren't too many photos of the museum on-line, but assumed it was the natural avoidance of photography near precious artifacts.  However, one might expect a photo of the museum itself.  Unless, of course, it is fronted by Harry's jewelry shop.

IMG_4910 IMG_4911 We whizzed past the museum the first time, having completely missed the information that indicated one needed to enter through Harry's Jewelry Shop.  This seemed a little odd, but we decided to go with it.  We parked on Main Street, zipped across the street and entered my maternal grandmother's living room.

No, not really, Harry's had nothing on Rose.  However, it was the most eclectic combination of wrapping paper (circa 1983), cards, and Catholic memorabilia galore I have seen since 2000.  It was all supervised by a woman clad in a vest covered in patches that would be the envy of Girl Scouts far and wide.  We sidled up to the cash register, and requested 4 tickets for the Titanic Museum.  The response?

"Ooh, yes!  Let me go turn on the lights!"

I love energy savings as much as the next person, and couldn't help but wonder whether that was a  bad sign.  I love it when my assumptions turn out to be silly and unfounded!

The museum was not huge, but jam-packed full of information.  Naturally, not many true artifacts (we are easily impressed, though), but enough to instill a sense of wonder and awe.  By far the most fascinating items were letters and diary entries from those who had traveled on the Titanic.  The museum also covered other impressive ships of the era, so one need not be a Titanic fan to enjoy a trip to the society.

When we first stepped through the doorway, I noticed a few interesting photos.  They were framed pictures of a couple who were clearly modern day, yet dressed in the finery one might find in 1912.  I looked to the left and saw photos of Leonardo DiCaprio and Frances Farmer on the deck of the Titanic movie set...with the couple immediately to the right.  The curator noticed our curiosity and quickly noted that the well-attired couple in the photo happened to be her brother and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Ed Kamuda.  She then pointed out other photos, and a chandelier (used in the movie) hanging in the corner.  Apparently her family's interest in the Titanic, especially her brother's information and artifact gathering over the years, had garnered the couple roles as first class passengers in the film.  

It was a bit tight for Nicholas, so we probably did not spend more than 45 minutes.  We were all suitably impressed, though, despite our initial worry that we had completely missed the boat on this one.  Oh, and the Eric Carle Museum?  No worries, we hit that one today.

It was a bit longer of a drive, and given that we had several other errands and family visits, we had less time to explore than we desired.  The girls were having a day out with Nonni, Peter's mother, so that coupled with a shorter amount of time equals to very good reasons to go back in the future.

IMG_4916 IMG_4912 The museum is located in the southern part of Amherst, a college town located in western Massachusetts.  It is around the corner from a country market, and, frankly, not much else.  There appears to be no limitation on space, so the hallways are wide (allowing for tall murals), the galleries are numerous and large, and there is plenty of room for the library, art center, story area, and, of course, the giant caterpillar.  In case you are wondering, yes, it did almost scare the pants off Nicholas.  I think he is used to the caterpillar being safely ensconced between the pages of a book, not larger than life in the middle of a museum hallway.

IMG_4913 IMG_4915 We viewed exhibits on the work of Eric Carle, Leo Lionni, and Lizbeth Zwerger.  Is there anything more amazing than seeing the original work up close and personal?  Viewing Eric Carle's tissue paper collage of the alphabet in person may even (in my humble opinion) trump my viewing of the Mona Lisa. 

No pictures from the gallery, and sadly, we had to miss story hour.  We were able to visit the art room, and Nicholas made his own tissue paper collage entitle (hold back your surprise and shock): Trucks.  We had a bit of an issue when he felt a toy truck (they had a play area in the art room...how incredibly thoughtful is that?) was his to keep.  Thankfully we were able to work through it without disappointment on Nicholas's part...and I was reminded once again how just a little bit more patience on my part can keep things on a much more even keel.  So not worth it to ruin a fun day by not remembering that a 2 year old sees the world so differently.  We would have loved to stay a bit longer, but we had one more exciting trip for the day in a town a few miles away.

IMG_4919 IMG_4920Yes, this was a trip to visit Uncle John at his 'office'.  Peter's brother is an EMT and we are hoping to see him one day work for the local fire department.  In the meantime, he is employed by a local ambulance service.  He was kind enough to let us stop by and check out the "ananances" that he frequently rides in for patient transports.  Nicholas enjoyed the visit, but was appropriately stunned by the lights, sirens and equipment that Uncle John utilizes on a daily basis.

And tomorrow?  We begin our journey home (to include an overnight with friends).  Then back to unpacking, getting settled and distracting ourselves (for the moment) from thinking about the end of July.

July 08, 2010

It's not all about the

IMG_4843   IMG_4846  beach.  Sure, we go to Chincoteague, well, Assateague (to be exact) to frolic in the waves, sink into the sand with a good book and build super-deluxe beach castles.  However, we also go to discover (and re-discover) the swath of land between the Assateague Channel and the ocean.  

It teems with wildlife of every sort.  Assateague and Chincoteague may be famous for the wild ponies that live in the marshy woods, but that is hardly the only draw. Birders flock to the island to catch a glimpses of herons, egrets, and piping plovers (among others) and will no doubt see more gulls (laughing and sea) than may be desired.  Those who have more of an interest in earthbound marsh creatures can find a plethora of crabs, shells (and the animals that dwell within), and fish.  

On Wednesday (1 July, I am a bit behind...) we opted for a less structured non-beach day.  While in Chincoteague last summer, we finally stopped by a little creek that had garnered our interest over time.  We had noticed cars by the side of the Beach Access Road, just yards from the beach. We were never entirely sure what folks were doing, but were too busy at the visitor centers, the pony center and the beach.  Many folks tend to crab near the bridge, so we assumed perhaps this was a different venture.  In fact, we were quite correct in our original assumption.

The girls wanted to try and crab, not so much to catch an edible treat (no place to steam) but just to try and get a bit closer to the little guys (or gals) in their natural habitat. Unfortunately, we had neither a proper net nor any bait to tempt those that tend to live just a bit too far from shore to be caught even with a long net.  This year we were a tiny bit more prepared.

We had stopped at Woody's for lunch, and Kelsey was not quite as hungry as her normal self.  She opted to save her sandwich as a treat for the crabs.  Not a chicken neck, but hopefully would do the trick (mind you, as if we knew how the meat would get out to the crabs...).  We also picked up a two long-handled nets and then headed to the creek. 

IMG_4865  We pulled over on the gravelly shoulder, gathered our meager crabbing supplies and headed down to the creek that eventually flowed into the ocean.  We were lucky to find another family, experienced at crabbing (to say the least), well- involved in a search for the elusive creatures.  They had string, bait, nets, and coolers, and were clearly in not only for the long haul, but possibly also for dinner.  We observed them carefully as they loaded up their hooks with glistening, raw chicken necks, tied their strings to sticks rooted in the mud and gently tossed them as far as possible into the water.  Our kids were (not surprisingly) suddenly incredibly jealous of their careful system...how could they possibly find even one tiny crab by tossing cold pulled pork into the water?

IMG_4847  The answer presented itself quickly as I scanned the shore that bumped into the the rapidly rising path to the road:  trash.  Sadly, previous visitors felt no issue with dumping everything from obvious recyclables to leftover crabbing tools.  I started a pile of garbage to be removed when we left and and looked at Peter as I picked up a clump of string.  He looked at my hand, inspected the contents and instantly understood my idea.  He then ran to the car to find an old bungee cord for disassembling.  Five minutes later we had a line (pulled from the trash), a hook (old bungee clip) and bait (yep, the pork).  Not thinking it would work and realizing Nicholas seemed to want to explore more, we crossed the street to another more solitary part of the marsh.  

IMG_4850  IMG_4862 Selfishly, I had also been tempted by a great egret (hope I pegged that one correctly, Jack & Janet!) that had landed on the lower part of the bridge.  He remained for a few photos and only flew away when I inched just a bit too close for his comfort.  I thought with my newfound stealth skills, perhaps Little Guy and I could catch a photo or two of other elusive island dwellers for the memory book.

We tiptoed across the mud, and I caught a quick glance of a tiny animal slipping into a perfectly circular hole in the mud.  It was a fiddler crab, a first for Nicholas.   Even bettter?  When two popped out at the same time to dance around on the sand in unison, pausing only when we caused slight tremors with our footsteps.

IMG_4872  We continued along, moving further away from the road and in a southerly direction towards the water.  We thought perhaps we might catch sight of a pony, but instead found a plethora of fiddler crab homes.  We caught sight of two more, but sadly I still have but a weak point and shoot that couldn't capture them quickly enough.  

IMG_4874  Realizing that quite a bit of time had passed since our departure, we crept quietly up to the road and back down the path to the creek.  To our astonishment, each of the girls had managed to tempt in a Maryland blue crab. Kelsey's disappeared before Peter could wrangle it with the net, but had successfully pulled in Cait's.  Cait realized, as you will see in the video (now here, see below!), that she really had no plan beyond the attempt.

She had carefully put him in a bucket with marsh mud and plenty of water.  The crab buried himself and after several more unsuccessful attempts on Kelsey's part, we were out of bait.  We tumped the crab out onto the ground, snapped a few photos of Cait's catch and watched the little blue creature skittered into the creek.  

Finished for the day, we, too, scurried home to our hotel with three tired and sandy, but very triumphant explorers.


July 07, 2010

New Kid on the Blog

There's a new badge on the blog, and though you may not be aware, it is something near and dear to my heart.  The badge links to a site created by two caring mamas who wanted to take a few days to spread the word about a simple activity that often becomes rife with complications: feeding one's child in public.

How on earth could that be difficult? When the method of feeding is the most natural, possibly the easiest, the cleanest, safest, most nutritional, but also (at times) the most ridiculed and misunderstood.  Yes, the simple act of breastfeeding in public can cause undue stress on the nursing mother for no other reason that others who happen to be near the mother may not approve of said activity.

May. Not. Approve.  Yes, someone (likely not related to mother or child) may find it repugnant, and make their disdain known through looks or comments that indicate said nursing mother is somehow deliberately trying to make the entire planet uncomfortable.  Given that I have been the recipient of both looks and comments, I couldn't help but think I needed to do a bit more to support this effort.

I am not going to go on and on about the statistics or try to convince anyone that they should or shouldn't nurse their child.  I am not going to ridicule anyone who doesn't, as in the end, it is a choice.  Do I feel strongly that children should be nursed? Yes. So much so that I still feel guilt that I *only* nursed Cait full-time for three months (and part-time until she was 5 months).  I was far more successful with Kelsey (and know that  "extended" nursing assisted her in her incredibly fast recovery from cranio-facial reconstruction at 14 months), and Nicholas still nurses in the morning and night.

I had no idea I would end up feeling so strongly or passionately about a topic.  Despite my viewpoint, I don't discuss it much, primarily because I feel motherhood is hard enough and I prefer to lead by example (and before you chuckle, I know it's not always the perfect example).  If you ask, I am happy to offer what worked for me, and after Nicholas, I finally feel as though I have a decent grasp on the topic of nursing a baby and/or toddler (having memorized the Kellymom website certainly helped).

Why the badge?  If he only desires to nurse in the morning or at night, and might even wean soon, why do I worry about the right to nurse in public?  Sadly, though not necessarily a worry for me, it is still an issue for other moms. Despite that almost every state protects the right to breastfeed in public and federal law also has protections in place, it still feels as though many have the assumption that it is not legal (or, more importantly, right) in public. It seems not a week goes by that there isn't a story of a misguided employee, from a lifeguard to a waiter to a clothing store staffer, who threatens the mother's right to feed her baby in the best way she knows how.  Why does this happen?

It seems that there is the idea that woman who nurse in public want to show off or display themselves somehow.  The reality, at least for myself, and for those I have seen nursing in public, is that one can find far more lascivious displays on the beach or in a Victoria's Secret catalog.  I can't say that I nurse in public (at the moment), because it simply isn't when Nicholas currently desires/needs to nurse.  However, I fully support the rights of others to do so, and given one such experience in my past, felt a little promotion for such a natural part of life is well overdue.

The incident?  I was the one criticized by a clothing store staffer.  I was humiliated and belittled because I sat in the only chair I could find in a shop to nurse my (then) 5 month old baby (Kelsey).  I was told that I was making others feel uncomfortable because I fed my child in the healthiest and most natural way I knew (and, not that it matters, extremely discreetly).  Would the same person have blinked had I whipped out a bottle? I feel very sure the answer would be "no."  

The badge will not be up for long, as it is part of the Carnival of Nursing in Public and it will end on July 9. However, my support for those wishing to nurse in public will never waiver, and I would hope (regardless of how you choose/are able to feed your child), neither will yours.

July 03, 2010

Click, click

Din_2010_176_T  I generally despise family photos.  I worry about slouching, not sucking in my stomach, the kids not smiling enough, and Peter doing that fake "I hate to smile" thing. I realized late last year as I was trying to decide whether or not to do 'official' two year shots for Nicholas, that we had not taken any real family photos in ages (other than quick snaps by a strangers in front of Hoover Dam with a so-so outcome).

Ages turned out to be almost two years.  We  had a semi-professional photographer take shots of us on the beach one morning in Chincoteague in June of 2008, and despite the fact that we did the 'white t-shirt look alike' business, many of them were quite good.  One shot of the girls was particularly darling, and it reminded me recently that since the kids are growing like weeds, well, no time like the present.

I toyed with having the photos taken in San Ramon by an absolutely wonderful photographer.  She has a gorgeous garden for a backdrop, and my only problem was not being decisive enough.  I probably should have gone to her last winter, but I was in a funk about losing more baby weight and I let that distract me.  

Then I saw these photos online, and knew I might have a chance of getting absolutely the family photos I craved.  Not with Jessica, but with a divinely talented photographer who frequently visits the Annapolis area, close by the home of the Salty Dog Crew.  I made mention of this to Shannon (Dr. Salty Dog) who happened to be in touch with Jana.  Jana wrote to me, and it turned out that she would be in town the week that we arrived. We couldn't hope for better timing and grabbed the opportunity.

In some respects, it couldn't have been crazier.  Not only was I throwing baby-fat, belly-sucking caution to the wind, but we were barely rested from our crazy cross-country charade.  My hair could end up being a frizz fest, the girls might argue the entire time, Pete might not smile (actually a trait that works well in his job, just not great for fun family photos), and Nicholas could have a complete and utter "I need a nap" meltdown.  So, we made sure to book early in the morning, I coffeed myself up (in order to deal with any arguing), Peter practiced smiling whilst muttering under his breath at morning traffic, and the hair magically worked out.

Now we have photos that made me laugh, cry and want to book another sitting.  Jana works wonders with nothing more than two cameras and a knowledge of perfect backdrops in downtown Annapolis.  It probably didn't hurt that our assistant also knew the kids (thanks, Jenn P.!), and even a bit of knowledge of the personalities being photographed is amazingly helpful.   Jenn and Jana both knew that Nicholas would be awestruck if the fire truck that whizzed by us towards the end of the shoot could stop for a minute. Jenn had a chat with the driver, and moments later, fire truck stalker Nicholas and his family had the perfect shot in front of "Firetruck, firetruck!".

There were so many incredible shots that it will be very hard to decide on a family photo book.  We will have not one, but two, as you can well imagine.  One for home, and one for Peter's home away from home.  I can't say his departure for a year didn't play into our decision to invest in gorgeous photographs. In fact, it increased our desire to capture more precious family moments on film.  Many thanks to Jana Bannan, and her assistant for the day, Jenn, for a morning and photographs that are burned into our minds and hearts forever.  

* Please note that the above photo was taken by Jana Bannan.  The same holds true for all linked photos in this entry.

July 01, 2010

Chincoteague Revisited

IMG_4796 IMG_4797   IMG_4807  We may be the most boring folks on the planet.  We go to the same beach every year, eat at the same nearby restaurants, and sometimes even stay in the same hotel.  Call us crazy, but with our lifestyle, it's nice to know there is a routine of sorts to be found somewhere.  We have also fallen in love with this sleepy little town and its nearby beach.  

We love that there is nothing on the beach, but sand and shells.  There are no man-made structures other than a naturalist shack and showers. Should one tire of the ocean view, there is the marsh just on the other side of the parking lot. There are numerous walking paths, creeks where bare-footed, sandy-bottomed swimsuited kids crab to their hearts content, and of course, the ponies.  

Every summer since 2006, we have come to Chincoteague and Assateague Island for at least 4 days.  We romp in the surf, chow on seafood and bbq (since 2008, when Woody's first opened), indulge in ice cream, and a few crazy games of mini-golf.  We have watched the new bridge come to life, and await the introduction of the connector.  Once that is complete, there will be two bridges leading into town (well, one split into two).  We only have to hope that doesn't change the nature of the town too much.  Though a coffee bar open past 5 p.m. would certainly not be an unwelcome addition...

IMG_4825  Thus far, this visit has been much the same.  We are downtown on the water, so much more is within walking distance.  Of course, the trolley is always an option, and one year we will actually be able to bring our bikes with us.  There has been one small change, but that is within our little family:  Nicholas. 

IMG_4799He liked the beach last year, and enjoyed being in the water.  This year?  He is an amazing ball of energy, and I am still surprised he left the sandy paradise somewhat willingly. He spent a good portion of the day digging in the sand and burying toy cars, but with much more determination and independence than last year.  The rest of the time, he was in the water and loving every minute of it. He spent much time running around in the waves, and loved it when they knocked him over. There was no sputtering or crying, he just stood back up and ran towards the next wave.  I have a feeling it will be very hard to leave on our last day, and can already hear him begging to come back next year. 

June 28, 2010

Dear Baby Nate,

IMG_4789  In a mere six months, you have wriggled, giggled and cooed your way into our hearts.  Just the knowledge of your impeding arrival set our hearts aflutter last spring.  Knowing your parents as we do, we could not wait to meet you, knowing that you as the combination of two such amazing people would be nothing short of absolutely wonderful.

We were not at all surprised to meet you and fall immediately in love!  The girls adore you and cherish their time feeding, holding and playing with you.  Your name is the first word out of Nicholas's mouth each morning, and he can't wait until you can truly play "firetrucks and peacey cars". We have been nothing less than amazed by you.

IMG_4794  Yesterday "Uncle" Pete and I received the ultimate honor of witnessing your baptism as your Godparents. We are so proud and excited to be a part of your life in such an integral way.  And while we may not always be close by physically, we will always be there for you in whatever way we can.  

We love you, Little Guy Talbott!

"Auntie" Jen, "Uncle" Pete, Caitlin, Kelsey, Nicholas, and, yes, Bailey, the toddler-proof cat

IMG_4787  P.S. You may not remember, but I was especially proud that Caitlin was able to sing during the ceremony, and a solo at that.  Though I have a feeling she will share her gift of song again with you in the near future....  

June 14, 2010

I'm gonna drive 500 miles...

no, actually more like 3,357 miles since we left San Ramon last Sunday.  Our tour of the southwestern and southern states came to an end when we pulled into the Salty Dogs driveway, shook off the Pirate Booty crumbs and 3 out of 5 of us met "Baby Nate!" for the first time.

Picture 001 Picture 002 While the girls spent a good portion of the time querying if we were there yet, Nicholas spent his time asking about Baby Nate.  He was so excited to meet him, having only seen him on the computer up until now.  Nate was sitting on Shannon's lap on the front porch when we arrived, and Nicholas was more than a bit shy.  After relaxing a bit (and playing in toy heaven, the Salty Dogs' den), he gave Nate several hugs and kisses...albeit some a bit too dramatic, but his intentions were good.

Picture 003 Picture 004 We had enjoyed tasty grilled treats, the girls splashed around in the pool long enough to wear themselves out a bit and we celebrated the big 29 (plus 9) for Pete.  Not ideal to spend your birthday driving 400 miles across three states, but he survived and was rewarded with a Cold Stone Oreo cake, thoughtfully procured by Shannon ahead of time.  We only slightly gorged ourselves on cake, relaxed, did some laundry, and enjoyed quality time with our dear friends (and hosts). 

Now I should be asleep as we do have to get up in the morning and head back out.  A much shorter trip, though, just over one river, as we head to Annandale so that Peter and the kids may see our new home in person for the very first time.  Oh, and figure out what to do for the Salty Dogs, as we simply wouldn't have had such an easy home purchase without all of their assistance:  hosting me/all of us, helping with inspection, taking extraordinarily professional photos and videos of the house, and helping with the walk-through.  We owe you one!

June 13, 2010

48 hours later...

I would love to say that we are completely relaxed and refreshed, but having just finished another 11 hours in the car (including stops), I think that would be a stretch.  The driving has begun to wear on us all and I think we can all agree that we are glad tomorrow is our last day.  As interesting as it has been, I was correct in my assessment that next time we need to build in more stopping time.

Other than the Grand Canyon and Memphis, we have had to quickly pass by or ignore completely so many places of interest. We had a brief swing through Nashville today, and even that was apparently pushing it. Rather than dwell on what we didn't see, however, I should point out that we did have quality family time in Memphis.  The girls had a two night sleepover with the grandparents and cousin Lydia (for one night), Nicholas had fun playing with Walker and Emmitt (both of the preschool set) and also had a good chunk of time helping Guy (Grandpa) run errands.  

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We also attempted to take a few family photos.  Dibby (Granny Gretchen) wanted to get a few shots of the kids in matching t-shirts.  She thought the yard at the family church might be the ideal location, but there were more distractions than she realized...sticks, dirt and mulch, oh my!  We finally managed to wrangle all of the kids onto the steps, but then came the issue of lining them up.

Cousin Emmitt (in black) wasn't quite so keen on the idea, but I still managed one shot with all of the them.  More of an action shot, but captured the moment very well.

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A few photos later, I got one with most of them looking at the camera, another spectacular feat, since the Little Guy wanted to look everywhere but at me.

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After the photos, it was time to head back to the house for a family gathering and an indulgence of sorts: an evening of Corky's BBQ and Ribs. The ribs were incredibly tasty as always (yes, finger licking good) and the accompaniments of slaw and beans rounded out the meal.  Not many pictures, as one can't very well eat ribs, lick fingers and take photos all at the same time.

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Since Peter's birthday is Sunday, and Guy (Grandpa) will miss Father's Day at home, we had a small celebration. Cait spent the afternoon baking a cake for Peter and  later frosted and decorated the cake with Lydia and Kelsey's help.  The cake was delish and the perfect dessert for the evening.

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After the gift opening and devouring of the cake, the kids romped outside and attempted to catch (and, yes, then let go) fireflies.  Up until now, this was a once a year activity, given that there were no fireflies in Iceland (to our knowledge).  If they were in our neck of the woods in the East Bay, they were not apparent to us.  

Our time in Memphis was over well too soon, and before we knew it, we were hefting the bags back in the car for today's trek.  We also loaded up the surprise gifts from Auntie Shannon.  They arrived in Memphis well in time for our departure and the hand-sewn bags contained several treats for each and kept them occupied for most, if not all of today's journey.  

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Shannon also clearly knows the rest stops in Tennessee quite well:  there may not be play ares, but there is plenty of mulch.  Mulch + a bulldozer = bliss for Nicholas.  Thank you, Salty Dogs, and see you tomorrow!

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June 11, 2010

Dancing Across the U.S.A.

IMG_2092  We have danced, sang, done yoga, watched Vacation twice, made everything from sunglasses to false nails out of Wikki Stix, and eaten massive amounts of bananas (inexplicably called mee-aws by Little Guy) and pretzels while traversing two-thirds of the country.  Now we are settled into decent hotel digs in Memphis for the next (drum roll) 36 hours!  Woot!  Almost worth unpacking for that length of time.

Due to massive internet disasters in Oklahoma City (high speed internet access, my *ahem*...), I not only screwed up our hotel reservations for tonight, but had no opportunity to write about our Grand experiences on Tuesday.  The Grand Canyon was, well, incredible.  I won't go on and on and on...just on and on, as I feel it is one of those places where one really has to go, explore and form their own opinion.

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I will say that I had two disappointments: 

  • It was extremely crowded and I did not prepare myself for that.  I should have assumed that everyone and their brother (and his sister, tottering around in her high heels) would be there.  I should have guessed that few pictures could be taken without 5 other families ending up in the picture.  I should have realized that I should not be surprised by the family that has a picnic at the rim of the canyon that consists solely of food from McDonald's.  Somehow it just seemed sacrilegious* in a national park.

  • We didn't realize that it would be under construction.  Not the canyon (well, guess it is always changing a bit), but the upper rim areas.  Some observation points were closed off entirely, and Nicholas had to be carried away from the boullywassays (bulldozers).  Note to both of us: next time ensure Ergo is on top of luggage, not buried beneath.  While Nicholas enjoyed the walk, it really wasn't super-friendly for a running toddler.  The paths were fine, but what toddler enjoys the paths? Attempting to climb down the rocks on the rim, that's much more fun!

IMG_4715   IMG_4720  Other than the above?  It was everything one would imagine and more.  I am betting the other 276 miles that make up the rim are as fabulous as the mile we trekked.  Just looking down at the valley made us all want to plan week long camping trips.  Well, Little Guy did not vocalize this per se, but when he finally took a really good look at the canyon and shouted, "Oh, my GOSH!", we took it to mean he was suitably stunned and would consider visiting again.

The only difficult part was getting back in the car and gearing up to drive 8 plus hours to Albuquerque.  We ended up having lunch off the beaten path in Cameron, and this (and the time change) added more exhaustion than we originally planned.  The flip side?  Somehow, along the way, the kids became far more patient and while I can't say they enjoyed sitting in the car for hours on end, really impressed us with their abilities to occupy themselves.

We did have a tiny issue at the Grand Canyon.  I think Kelsey had her fill with the drive, and was less than excited at first.  I did my bad mother bit (which I regret, but please, after 3 days in the car...).  We ended our disagreement with a hug and we both managed to shake free of the stuck-in-the-car-for-days-on-end stress.  The kids still had their moments (who wouldn't) but still managed to amaze me.  By today, any remaining crankiness was all but gone, and now we have two days to recharge.  More importantly, Saturday begins the home stretch of the drive.

It's not over, I know, and more challenges may remain over the weekend.  However, all things considered, I would not hesitate to do the trip again, but I would build in more time.  While we have loved seeing the country, too much of it has flown by the window.  We have watched it pass, our noses pressed to the glass, knowing there is so much more to stop and explore along the way, but just not enough time to do it all.  Well, not now, but who knows what the future holds?

*Call me a food snob, after two years of living in locavore heaven in California, I will gladly lend you my Michael Pollan collector's set.  I wasn't going to comment when I noticed and at first brushed it off as snobbery on my part. After California,  I think any meal eaten when communing with nature should be a slow-cooked, carefully prepared selection of regional delights (or a PB&J, fine, just not fast food).  However, I kept my mouth shut.  Then Pete muttered under his breath, "Who on earth has a picnic of McDonald's in the Grand Canyon?!"  Case closed!

June 08, 2010

Remember that balmy night?

It's just a tad bit warmer during the day.  When we finally loaded up (Pete let me oversleep again) and headed on our way at 11:45 in the a.m., it was a not so breezy or balmy 99.  Actually, I should add that I spent a good hour just getting the packages mailed, as the Barstow post office is the place to be on a Monday morning (so not entirely my sleeping past 9 a.m.).  Who knew?

It was supposed to be 106 F today, so I suppose we were cut a break.  I also have to add that this was a dry heat, which makes a huge difference.  Very different from those summers in Memphis with 100% humidity and 100 F!  Not that DC is much better, but with several pools available to us, and beaches not too far away, it's a bit easier to tolerate.

IMG_2077  IMG_4699 Barstow was only thIMG_4697e beginning of the heat wave, as we traveled a bit further south and then east, the heat stayed with us.  Granted, we were driving through miles and miles and miles of desert, but still amazing how the sun can just beat down, even later in the afternoon.  We stopped for lunch in Needles, CA, and it easily must have been, well, very, very hot.  So hot, in fact, that we are guessing this prevented the opening of the Latte' Cafe (note that I am merely copying the accent abuse in the sign). 

IMG_4702  IMG_4707IMG_4704We instead ended up at Jedro's Wagon  Wheel restaurant, the highest rated eatery on Yelp for Needles.  The iced tea wasn't bad, and while not gourmet, the food sufficed to fill our bellies and get us back on the road.  We made a brief stop in Seligman, AZ, home of the Road Kill cafe which earned a photo op, but not an actual stop to taste the 'kill.  The kids enjoyed hanging out in the jail next door, and then we crumpled ourselves back into the car and drove, drove, and drove to arrive in Tusayan at the ever so timely dinner hour. 

IMG_2083 Dinner at the hotel was longer than necessary, but did involve a banjo player and Indian dancers, so we forgave them the slow service.  They had a family dancing circle, which Nicholas loved, but I only managed a few iPhone shots and a very dark and grainy video not even You Tube worthy.  We followed up dinner with a trip to the pool to make up for the long hours in the car.

Now despite my worries that they might spend the entire time complaining about the trip, it really hasn't been quite that bad. I have been doling out one gift per day (wiki sticks, Brain Quest, books) and that has helped with the boredom. In Nicholas's case, I am not sure he needs much entertainment, as his entire day is spent looking for and discussing trucks and trains.  Thankfully, many of both in Southern CA and Arizona.  And, despite the heat, the desert is an amazing area to drive through.  The kids are getting a lot of interest out of the scenery and the trip itself spurs so many questions about geography and travel.  It's a long haul, and a lot of work, but I think it will definitely stand out as a unique and (mostly) fun family event.   And tomorrow?

The Grand Canyon, baby!  Stay tuned...

June 07, 2010

We have arrived...

IMG_2072  safe and sound, and are ensconced in our lovely "Inn & Suites" hotel of choice in Barstow, CA.  No, it doesn't appear to be much of a hot-spot, unless one is interested in the outlets (not so much), but a good stopping point for us, especially considering we got a bit of a late start.

IMG_2074  The emptying of the hotel room and loading of the car took a wee bit longer than we had expected.  I had several errands to run which made it hard to fill the car, and the loading itself nearly required an engineer.  Remember how Kelsey left for Camporee after the movers left, the  kids had school until Friday, and Cait had her final performance yesterday?  All of that translated into many more backpacks, outfits, sleeping bags and extra stuff that we had to squeeze in.  I didn't think about mailing any of the big items until it was too late to get boxes and make it to the post office in time (way too big for the APC, sadly).  

IMG_4692   IMG_4690  Other than the delayed start and a bit of a squeeze into the car, the ride was, well, uneventful. We hopped on 680, waved good-bye to San Ramon and patted ourselves on the back for making it thus far.  The ride was smooth and I actually got a bit of work done (so grateful for the iPhone) while the kids watched a DVD or two (I caved...it's a looong drive), and we made great time all things considered.  The best part?  It's so warm here, even at night!  I had become so used to the cool (to frigid) Northern California nights, that I forgot that summer nights can be balmy...absolutely heavenly (for me, Peter is sweltering already).  

IMG_4689  We did manage one pit stop at Target in order to get boxes to ship some of the unnecessary items home (Salty Dogs, box alert!).  We hope to get an earlier start tomorrow (after hitting the post office in Barstow) in order to get to our hotel near the Grand Canyon before sunset.  We also need to try to get a good night's sleep for Tuesday's excursion, as we want to squeeze in as much time as we can at the Canyon before we get back on the road and head to New Mexico.  And, with that, it's time for some shut-eye...ciao!


Wondering what Kelsey is holding?  Ah, yes, those are her pet meal worms, Spiky (now a beetle) and Flexy.  Well, were meal worms. One has fully transformed into a beetle, and is almost black, whereas the other one is still in pupa stage.  She was allowed to take one home from school, and desperately wanted to bring them with us.  We nearly lost them today when Cait knocked their container over, but thankfully they didn't fall far.  The death of a meal worm is something I am just not sure I could handle at this point....

As an FYI, Nicholas is doing the "toes to nose" Yoga pose as part of the in-flight entertainment....

June 06, 2010

Hooray for Hollywood!

IMG_4685 IMG_2063 Yesterday  was the final performance of the Danville Girls Chorus for the 2009-2010 season. As usual, the girls performed their hearts out, Nicholas kept Peter busy not listening to the singing, and I cried my way through the show.  Seriously, at a Pops concert! 

I know, I need to buck up and find my stiff upper lip.  I'm trying, but it's ridiculously hard when we are saying so many good-byes and hasta luegos.  I've begun to wish that we had the ability to live in two places at once.  Silly, I suppose, but there is just so much we are going to miss when we head off tomorrow...

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Caitlin Perhaps because I spent so much time bawling my eyes out (I didn't even really like Beaches, and that darn Bette Midler song just triggers something each time!), I missed out on a few photo-ops at the concert.  Or it could be due to Nicholas being antsy, the girls not wanting photos taken (shocking), Cait's choir director not being available for a shot, and, of course, the "no flash" rule during the concerts. I won't regale you with my lousy iPhone shots, so you will have to make do with Cait and her choir's photo display and a few photos from the last day of school in California for both girls. Nope, they aren't making me the slightest bit teary-eyed...oh, heck, where's that Kleenex, again?

See...

I'm supposed to be packing...or asleep...and clearly neither is happening right now.  Instead, I am fretting and freaking about our upcoming trip.  What on earth was I thinking when I agreed to drive across the country?

I know, I know, it will be an awesome trip. The kids will have a great time, and I will see all of this stuff I have waited 29 (or so) years to see.  I can't help just feeling a teeny, tiny bit nervous about the journey itself...will Little Guy revolt after being stuck in his car seat for so many hours on end?  Will Caitlin hole up in the back seat and disappear under a pile* of books, not to be discovered until Flagstaff?  Will Kelsey make SOS messages out of Wiki-Sticks and decorate the windows with them so passers-by can see, but we cannot until the lights of a CHiPs notorcycle cop (Ponch? Jon?) flash ominously in the rear-view mirror?

These and many more questions will be answered over the next 8 days.  I hope to keep up with our adventures with many lousy, out-of-focus, frantic and touristy shots as well whatever prose I can manage to eke out after 8 -10 hours in the car each day.  Why on earth the daily driving minimum had to go from a perfectly reasonable 300 miles** to a rather high 440 miles per day is beyond me. Guessing whoever made that change never drove the whole tribe across the country, much less across town (for any reason!).  Well...here goes nothing!

*Mind you, this is after I shipped 12 plus books home today from her 'emergency' supply.  So much for our book lock-down last week.

**If you are PCS-ing (Permanent Change of Station) and opt to drive to your new post (if allowed), you must drive a minimum of 440 miles per day.  This was changed about two years ago, inexplicably, and I would love to see it reversed by 10 a.m. tomorrow!

May 25, 2010

Signs

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 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 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.

IMG_3434  IMG_3461 IMG_4405

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.

April 27, 2010

Wicked Awesome!

IMG_4352 Our dear friends, Shannon and Mark, came up with a splendid idea last summer: instead of trying to figure out three separate birthday gifts for the Dinoia gals, they would splurge on one large combined present. If you haven't guessed from the title, they cleverly thought up the idea of tickets to Wicked!

Now, I was lazy at first.  I kept putting off giving Shannon dates, as each weekend seemed full, and I feared purchasing them only to find out we had some unforeseen event that couldn't be missed.  Our kids are not in an overwhelming number of activities, but the niggling fear remained.  Then we found out we were likely moving, and I decided to stress about that instead of just shoving that worry away and planning an adventure.

Fast forward a few months, and I had likely driven Shannon nuts by not committing to a date.  I realized if I didn't commit, we would never go and I would be the worst mother in the world for life.  I buckled down, looked at dates, looked at them again, and picked the emptiest Sunday out there.  I didn't want a chance of anything else interfering, and more importantly, wanted to make a day of it in the city.  I went back and forth on what to do, and finally settled on lunch and the show. 

IMG_1791   Believe it or not, I ended up planning the day to the minute (I know, what did the body-snatchers do with Jen?).  I realized the last thing I wanted to do was drive into the city, since our our lunch choice was not exactly next door to the Orpheum.  I found that not only does BART have online schedules, but one can plan their trip from door to door.  I entered our start address, and the tea room's address, and the BART quick trip planner gave me station options, departure times, and follow-up directions from the BART station to the tea room (over half a mile away).  Seriously, how incredibly cool is that?

(For those of you who knew about this capability for years and years, and are now laughing at me...well, hush...we all learn something new each day!)

The distance from the tea room to the Orpheum, however, was a good 3 miles.  I didn't see us hoofing that in our Sunday best (well, close to it, no jeans allowed!), especially if lunch ran even slightly over.  Enter Google Maps.  When getting directions from the restaurant to the Orpheum, I realized it offered options such as driving, local transportation or walking.  Sure enough, the site pointed out how the J line on Muni was just two blocks up from the tea room.  For $3.50, that 45 minute walk would become a 10 minute walk and a 20 minute ride on the light rail....and the station ended right at the Civic Center.  Walk out of the station, and voila, one has arrived at the theater.

IMG_4338 IMG_4340 So, at the wee hour of 9:55 a.m., we stepped onto the Bart train and rode comfortably into the city.  It was a fairly quiet, clean ride on upholstered seats, no less!  The one way ride cost us a mere $14.70 and we had to do nothing more than relax.  There was a bit of conversation I could have done without (person in front of us on his cell phone, need I say more?), but other than that, a fast and easy trip.

We walked up the steps at 24th and Mission, and what a gorgeous day!  I thought I would be freezing, but no, sunny, little wind, just a beautiful, clear day.  We had good hike uphill, and arrived at the Lovejoy's Tea Room by 11:03 a.m. for an 11:00 a.m. reservation.

IMG_4342 IMG_4347 I must admit, the girls were a bit iffy at first.  A bit whiny, a bit "I don't know if I like this...".   However, I think it was a combination of not enough breakfast, and being a bit overtired.  By the time the tea and hot cocoa arrived (in an Alice in Wonderland tea kettle, as part of Kelsey's "Wee Tea"), our moods had significantly lifted. 

IMG_4343 Two pots of tea, many sandwiches, salad, tea cookies, scones, jam, cream, and several petit fours (or PAST-rees, as Kelsey called them) later, we were sated and ready for our next journey.  We couldn't help but stop at the shop operated by the proprietors of the tea room to procure a bit of tea for home. We made our purchase, and then realized we should probably head towards the theater.

IMG_4348 I had thought ahead (twice in a day, who knew it could happen?!) and  had correct change for the Muni (pick that jaw up, please).  We hopped on the rail after a 10 minute wait, and enjoyed the winding trip through the backyards of San Francisco.  I am sure the homeowners are used to it, but I still wondered if they see the little trains barreling between the backyards or just ignore them out of habit?  I enjoyed watching one man prune his roses, and could tell others were just stepping outside of their back doors into the sunshine for the first time that day.

Halfway through the trip, we stopped by a large park (note to self: look up name, it looked awesome for kids, dogs, parents...).  Kelsey looked a wee bit envious of the families hopping off to spend the afternoon swinging and picnicking.  However, given how much time we spend at parks and given where we were headed, I knew she would soon forget her regret.

I must admit, though, I was a bit envious of the city-dwellers.  Whether I was standing on the light rail, hand on that metallic bar, or whistling through the tunnels on the Bart, I realized I missed my days of living in the city.  I remember knowing the Metro like the back of my hand, and we used to traverse DC back and forth, and up and down. Reykjavik wasn't quite as big as DC, but we could walk everywhere.  Peter had a 5 minute commute to work, and Tjornin, a tourist hot-spot, was "our" pond.  Whether playing on the ice in the winter, or Cait spending hours riding her scooter on the path around the pond...and having restaurants and shops within shouting distance..definitely something that we miss.  Not that the suburbs don't have their benefits, especially if one's employment is nearby...but, today I felt that pull of the city more strongly than usual. 

We arrived at the Civic Center station with a whopping 45 minutes before show time.  Even better, it was the Farmers Market.  Well, honestly, we were a bit sad, as we couldn't really purchase anything.  My spirits lifted a bit, though, when I recognized several vendors from our Farmers Market (currently in Danville, San Ramon opens this Saturday!) and realized I wasn't missing as much as I thought.

IMG_1793 We headed to the Orpheum and went inside, looked at the offerings (um, $39 for a t-shirt??).and eventually found our seats after arguing over candy purchases.  A farmers market around the corner and the only thing the Orpheum vendor has is grocery store candy.  I know, I know, food/junk food snob, but it's messy, sugary, and after such a healthy brunch...I acquiesced to one Kit-Kat that we all split, though apparently not fairly enough.  Note to self: always bring hand wipes to the theater for cleaning up of melted Kit-Kat off hands.

We were in our seats 20 minutes before showtime, and I was thrilled that no one was seated in front of the girls.  We had balcony seats, so a bit of a distance, and I didn't want their views obstructed anymore.  Cue two terribly tall people popping into said seats 2 minutes before the show started.  Even more annoying, though?  The 5 adults who showed up 5 minutes AFTER it started and blocked everyone's view while they stumbled into their seats...if we can show up not only on time, but 45 minutes early....

And?

The reviews by each girl:

Kelsey: "I didn't just like it, I loved it!  I can't wait to see it again!  My favorite part was the whole thing!"

Caitlin:  "I more than loved it, when can we see it again? My favorite part... the whole show!"

So, one can probably tell that it was a hit with them.  I agree with their assessments wholeheartedly, and we all concurred that Elphaba was our favorite character.  Now, just two questions remain:  who gets to read the book first and when will we get to see the show again?

A huge thank you to Auntie Dr. Shannon, Uncle Mark, Baby Nate & Cousin Sandy for sending us to Wicked!  I have a feeling we will see it again and again and again...

April 18, 2010

Judy & Stink

IMG_4309 IMG_4310 IMG_4311 are two of Kelsey's favorite characters from the Judy Moody & Stink series.  If you haven't heard of them, they are brother and sister...and that's really all I know.  I haven't had a chance to read the series yet, but Kelsey is pretty much enthralled.

IMG_1738 Which means when she found out that the author, Megan McDonald, was going to be at the library on Saturday, she was ecstatic. Right about now, you must be thinking to yourself, "Oh, my, what a thoughtful and caring mother.  She learned of the author's intention to stop by months ago, and even went so far as to let her daughter know about the essay* contest, so that she could enter.  Who knows, maybe Kelsey was even one of the 14 winners?"

No, I am the worst kind of mother:  I found out from Kelsey** on Friday (yes, Friday) that the event would take place yesterday, and had no clue about the essay contest. Note to self:  put name on email list for every event at the library, despite the fact that we are leaving in 6 weeks.  Will improve self-esteem, if nothing else.

So they went, they saw, they conquered the line after the hour long reading, which included each essay winner reading his or her winning entry.  By the way, apparently Nicholas was not thrilled with this idea.  I think Peter only had to leave the reading 6 times (or only told me about said 6).  Nicholas loves books, thinks he can read, loves anyone to read to him, but does not sit still for speeches about reading...which I completely understand. 

Now, you might think, "Peter took him out?  Where were YOU?  Not only didn't you know about the event, you slacked off on attending, too?" 

Yep, I did.  I was busy.  Decided to have myself a girls day out, and left Pete alone with the kids and had a spa day!

HA! HA! HA! As if....

No, I spent the day learning how to camp.  Yes, I have camped before (heard that snicker, too), and yes, I could do it without training.  However, if you are a Girl Scout co-leader and intend to go camping with your troop, you must attend a GS specific camp training session...all 8 hours of it. 

Now that must sound snide, but it really wasn't that bad.  If nothing else, it boosted my confidence about camping, and gave me several ideas that I just hadn't thought about before.  I went with the troop's other co-leader and another parent volunteer, so it was not as though I felt 'alone' attending the training.  We even had a chance to sneak in a bit of a field trip on the way home.

My friend, the parent volunteer, has a favorite Japanese grocery store in San Jose and really wanted to stop by.  I am always up for new food experiences, and since the three of us had carpooled (and she was the driver), we headed over the minute training was finished. 

 IMG_1733 It was gorgeousIMG_1736IMG_1737! Completely non-descript on the outside, but the decorations, the space, the lighting...and the simplicity.  The bakery/sweet shop (not sure if that is exactly the right term...) was to our immediate right as we entered.  The sweets were stunning...incredibly prepared and almost too perfect to eat.  I didn't end up purchasing anything, not one tiny morsel, as I simply couldn't choose...maybe next time?

Then we hit the main part of the store.  Everything from rice cookers to fish to what seemed like hundreds of kinds of sesame oil.  Pickled...everything!  I picked up a few items, a sushi plate, pickled ginger, a pickled radish salad, bean paste desserts and green noodles (all natural Ramen).  Then I noticed the restaurant...

Apparently it is a widely known and loved noodle house.  My opinion?  One giant yum.  Seriously, this was Ramen like I have never had before.  Thick, soft noodles in a slightly salty soy broth.  A tender slice of chicken and a pink and green slice of ...radish?  I was so enthralled I forgot to verify the ingredients (hard to do while slurping it up as fast as you can without burning the tongue, but it's so so good...) and also forgot the picture.  Next time, I promise!

Oh, yes, six weeks or no six weeks, the Ramen House (well, my name for it) is calling, and we have already made plans to go back.  If you are in the San Jose area, and have a hankering, I doubt you will be disappointed...we weren't and think others feel the same way!

* for those of you wondering, I have bombarded them with information about the FSYF contest.  However, they are both nervous about entering contests (gee, where do they get THAT from?), so we shall see.  

**This makes us sound like we don't go to the library. I am just usually too busy with the Little Guy when we go to notice much else.  We are there quite frequently, and in fact, each girl has approximately 10-20 books from said library in her room at any given point.  I can only say thank goodness for email reminders about due dates! 

March 24, 2010

Caitlin said

IMG_1610 that I absolutely must post this picture on the blog.  She found it on my phone the other day, and insisted on not only emailing it to her far away friends, but also printing out to take on a field trip yesterday to show her pals who have not yet met him. She thought it was absolutely, positively the cutest picture ever.  I agree it's cute, but I am still more surprised (excited/elated) about the girls absolutely adoring their brother despite his latest penchant of...well, doing those crazy things two year old boys must do.  It can't be denied that despite the way the two girls go at it with each other, they are still head over heels in love with the Little Guy.

I love this picture because it reminds me of his actions immediately preceding the taking of the photo.  He flopped down on the couch, picked up the book (upside down), scooted up to the back of the couch, opened the book, looked at the page, and immediately turned it right side up.  I have no idea at what age (I suppose a call to the parent police is in order) they are supposed to recognize which way letters should be when they read them.  If I had been worried, I can now check it off the list...providing it was intentional, of course, which we may never know.

On the other hand, I am not in the dark regarding his super-urgent playground needs.   He kept calling "Help, help" while stuck on a ladder held up by chains that he (normally) climbs up rather easily.  I walked over and upon arrival, he looked at me and loudly proclaimed, "I said, help!". Verbal language skills, check.

My other favorite part of the photo (besides the dog on his shirt)?  Yes, he is 'reading' Michael Pollan's Food Rules.  I will have to save more than a basic bit of adoration of this author for another post, but suffice it to say, his rules are right on target and will be my new food rules (the ones that aren't already).  If you aren't a reader or simply need more listening material for a long commute (and you find the topic interesting), you might consider downloading a podcast or two of his TED talks.  Seriously interesting stuff.

Sadly, it's now back to the real estate listings for me.  No word on whether we are buying or renting, only that the properties that interested us have been quickly and cruelly snatched up.  Two steps forward...

March 21, 2010

Reunion

It seems like just yesterday I was lamenting our impending departure, feeling torn about choosing between the possibilities that are in our future.  Somehow in the past 48 hours, I have come to terms with the fact that I while I am not thrilled by having to make tough choices, we need to move forward with our original plans.  I may never be 100% sure, but after a brief reunion we had today, I remembered that all is not lost by moving forward, as there are always future opportunities.

 IMG_1613 A friend from Iceland,IMG_1614 who worked at the Embassy with Peter, (I will call her "Mary") came to visit San Francisco this weekend.  She was in town to see The Little Mermaid performed by the San Francisco Ballet, and was able to carve out a generous amount of time to spend with us today.  Having not seen her in almost two years (Nicholas was not even 4 months when we left Iceland), we were thrilled to be able to catch up in the city.  Kelsey had been aching to visit San Francisco as a pre-birthday treat, and we could not miss the chance for the girls to entertain Mary with hours of pre-teen bickering.

One might say, "Oh, it wasn't that bad."  Oh, yes, it was. They insisted on displaying their sisterly love, and bickered through a good portion of the morning.  Sigh.  Nothing like showing off your maturing, growing, hair-pulling, and name-calling sweethearts.  Where did I go wrong again?  We pushed through though, and realized perhaps the ole blood sugar might be a bit low, and that a bit of lunch might be in order.

No, we did not end up at the vegetarian restaurant, but thought the menu (given the name of the establishment) to be immensely amusing.  We let Kelsey choose the place du jour, and, yes, Nan-King is now officially an old haunt.  The girls were separated, Mary and I caught up for a good hour, and Peter and Nicholas had nice father and son quality time.  After lunch, we thought a few minutes at the park might release a bit of energy, and this appeared to be the magic that reignited the real sisterly love.  The girls ran around, played with their brother, watched endless games of Chinese checkers, and enjoyed the unique decorations of this playground in Chinatown.  Nothing like pagodas and cherry blossoms in a park surrounded by hotels, apartments, restaurants, and many gray concrete buildings to feel as though you are in an oasis of sorts.

IMG_4091 IMG_4092 Given that Mary had the ballet (no, I didn't repeat that because I am jealous...okay, it looks amazing!), and we had to get back for Kelsey to participate in her troop's cookie sale (it's almost over...), we had to skip Crissy Field (Kelsey's last request for the afternoon), and nosh on ice cream at Ghirardelli Square instead.  Nicholas chose this area to have his pre-nap breakdown, though the free chocolates being handed out calmed him down a tiny bit (until the sugar kicked in). 

Our final event was a ride down Lombard Street (Kelsey's favorite), which helped Nicholas conk out completely, and then we had to bid Mary adieu (or bless, bless as it should be) and return to our corner of the East Bay.  It's hard to believe it has been almost two years since we last said good-bye at the Embassy, and yet after 5 minutes, it seemed that no time had passed at all.  I realized on the way home, that I needed to worry less and simply enjoy more during our last few months here.  Nor do we have to say good-bye, but rather just, "see you later."

March 19, 2010

Choice

is a 4 letter word in our household at this moment.  Normally in Peter's line of work, it sometimes feels like there isn't much choice about where we go next. We can bid on our top spots, or opt for a position in a country whose language (other than English, of course) we have been fluent in since we could walk, but end up continents away.  For us it has all worked out in the end, and while we may not have made the final decision we realize that we had experiences we couldn't have otherwise imagined.  They help shape us, and our future and we begin to realize that while we enjoy having a say, sometimes it's easier when someone else makes the crucial decision.

There is one time when that does not work out, and that time is now.  I should clarify: it has worked out for Peter.  I, however, am at a complete and utter crossroads.  I have too much choice, the clock is ticking, and the reality is that in 74 days or about 10.5 weeks, if everything continues as is, we will be without a home.  By we, I mean the girls, Nicholas and I.  Peter has had his housing assignment for over two weeks now and need only worry about the color of the sheets he wishes to take with him, or whether to go with merely a good laptop or a great one. I, on the other hand, have begun to doubt whether I should leave, and can't make a decision about where to go (definitively).  I know I am driving people nuts and making their heads spin...I am a total champion of free will and choice, so why can't I handle it anymore?

My tween is the primary reason.  The more we have discussed the impending move, the more ambivalent she has become.  I know she is only 11, and I know there are other issues at play.  However, she was the champion of moving back east, and was more excited about looking at houses than I was.  I noticed a change over the past few weeks though, and finally asked her point-blank if she wanted to move.  The result?  A near break-down and dissolving into tears, as she no longer knew what to do. Invitations have been more frequent, friendships have strengthened, and the anticipation of a year not only without Peter, but in a somewhat new environment has her freaked.  Kelsey has not been quite as emotional, but has shared several worries that just tear me apart. 

The irony is that normally when we receive a final assignment, we are not given the option of living in one of 6 different places (or more, for that matter, since we can go anywhere) around the country in which we can live.  Once an assignment is handed down,  we have choice within the general area, but nothing like our current options.  If we had any clue where we were headed next, it would be a tiny bit easier to decide.  If we knew language was a necessity, we would have a much more limited area to work with.  Or we could opt to stay here, and simply have one big move.  However, not knowing has made it that much more difficult.

I wish I knew the right answer.  I wish I could foresee next year, and tell Kelsey that she will have oodles of friends, as she does here, and will not have to worry that anyone will think she is "uggely" (her latest and saddest fear of no known origin).  I wish I could more convincingly tell Cait that the Middle School will be so much  fun, that riding a bus again will be awesomely fun experience, and that I know for a fact the perfect choir is waiting for her.  I desperately want to move to be closer to old friends and family, however, it can't be denied that the settled-in feeling exists or the friendships that have been made and will be sorely missed. 

I know what I should be able to do, but feel like I am failing miserably.  Ideas, anyone?

March 18, 2010

Singing in the Rain

Scan0001 IMG_4072-1 was the title of Cait's concert this past weekend with the Danville Girls Chorus.  There were fewer photo ops this time, except of a certain little guy, but their voices were as stunning and passion-filled as during the Christmas concert.

Cait tried out for a solo (insert happy dance here), but didn't make it. However, she tried.  She has so much more confidence as a singer, and while I think the church choir helped, DGC has really enforced that, as she puts it so eloquently, "Singing is just my thing".  Mind you, this is when we discuss if she has thought about sports (other than speed-reading) at all.  Nope, not gonna happen unless it's purely for fun. 

We wised up this time, and Peter didn't just drop Caitlin off, but parked, and found a spot in line. Even at 8:45 a.m., he was chair #7.  Keep in mind, each chair could represent any number of people.  Kelsey, Nicholas and I took a little more time to get ready (postponing Nicholas's boredom during the wait), and remembered both the bouquet of flowers, and a cookie for our place-holder.

IMG_4068   IMG_4077 IMG_4079 What can I say?  It was fabulous.  Unfortunately, no video or audio clips (we are such the rule followers), but we should have a DVD from them in the next month or so.  Now, what I don't understand...when an organization goes out of there way to provide you with a free DVD which allows you to enjoy the show...why do people insist on crowding the back of the church with video cameras blazing away?   Sigh.

Another sigh as we are really going to miss this chorus next year.   Cait has really matured, takes the practices extremely seriously, and received an excellent rating.  We are so content with her progress, and with the nature of the group, that I am really sad to leave.  My only hope is that we find a choir equally as stimulating in our next location.  I have found a few online, but hopefully can also get recommendations from the current director.

Now that would imply, of course, that she is interested in joining another chorus.  My guess?  You betcha. I have a feeling there won't ever be another audition like last year's, and yet, despite the frustrations, it was such a crucial turning point for her.  Our heartiest congrats Little C, for a truly fantastically musical year!

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 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.

January 29, 2010

100% Brownie

Tonight we* held the investiture ceremony for Kelsey's Brownie Troop.  We had an hour long practice session last Saturday, and it paid off in spades..the girls could not have been more prepared nor the parents more proud. 

IMG_1460
IMG_3743  This is her second year in the Girl Scouts, and I don't think we could be more excited about her participation.  She is so enthusiastic and truly enjoys spending time with every member of her troop.  I remember Brownies being fun but nerve-wracking, as it was just another activity with the kids from my private school.  Being that I was a bit on the shy side (really, an off-the-scales INFP shy??), I enjoyed the service aspect, but the social parts were only so-so. 

It is so different for Kelsey, and it just warms my soul.  She is truly happy, they are all excited to meet and all participate equally.  There is rarely a squabble and to watch the way the girls have embraced the notion of all Girl Scouts being sisters is amazing. 

IMG_3750 The ceremony was fairly quick with last year's troop being invested first, then welcoming a newcomer from another troop, and finally introducing the new girls.  With pins on their vests, they proudly sang for their parents and then served them...what else?  Yep, brownies.

IMG_3759  It was a fun night, made only a little bit hectic by Nicholas's occasional outbursts (he would have much preferred to help me on stage...).  Cait did a great job trying to take care of him during the ceremony, but it somewhat hampered her efforts to photograph the event.  We did manage a few from the celebration and once the Little Guy was double-fisted with a cookie and a brownie, all was right with the world. He immediately went back to being  his usual charming self and even insisted on cleaning up at the end.

The only missing piece was Peter, however, the joy of Facebook came through at this point.  I was able instantly upload a photo so a proud father (a mere 3,000 miles away) could see his daughter immediately following the ceremony (yes, FB is faster than snapping a photo with the iPhone and emailing).  Despite the fact he wasn't there, we still felt linked to him.  And that, my friends, makes me feel much more positive about our upcoming adventure that commences in late July....

*By we, I mean the other co-leader and myself.  I have probably not mentioned prior to now, but, yes, I am a co-leader this year.  I know I said 'never again', but I did have previous experience, and while it can be a lot of work, it couldn't be for a better cause.  Oh, and then there was the look of sheer delight (yes, really) on Kelsey's face when she found out I was going to take the position...that sealed the deal for me.

January 26, 2010

Reciprocity

is a fabulously easy and, apparently, inexpensive way to get oneself through the doors of many museums and science centers throughout the country without paying (an additional) dime.  We first visited the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in November of 2008 at the recommendation of a friend.

It is not only a museum, but also an animal hospital for injured and orphaned animals, as well as a permanent home for animals that are then considered "non-releasable". We were impressed and decided to join, figuring we would be frequent visitors.  We didn't go as often as we would have liked, but as mentioned in the above post, there are benefits to be reaped not only there, but at the Oakland Zoo and many other not-so-local science centers.

IMG_3715 IMG_3716 IMG_3717 In trying to 'do it all', we never actually made it back (at all) until this past Sunday.  It was the beginning of Week 4 sans Pete (NOT that I am complaining...) and we needed something different to do.  It has been pouring rain the past week, and I just couldn't channel my inner Icelander.  We are always receiving emails about the Museum, and realized a lot could have changed in the past year.  We decided it would make for a fun and relaxing Sunday afternoon (did I mention no school AGAIN today?), and twenty minutes later I was debating a new membership.

IMG_3720 IMG_3722IMG_3721  IMG_3723

Why?  Why would we join a museum for only 6 months (oh, wait, 5 months).  Perhaps because after adding it up, I realized that by joining Lindsay in the fall of 2008 for the small price of $55 (for a family membership), we ended up saving almost $130 over the course of the following year.  How?  We visited the Oakland Zoo three times, the Maryland Science Center,  the Springfield Science Museum, and, of course, the Wildlife center.  Admission to every place (with exception of the initial fee for Lindsay) was free with our card.

IMG_3726 The Wildlife Museum and the other science centers are members of the Association of Science-Technology Centers.  With a membership to one of the affiliated centers, you have a passport of sorts.  You will not want to leave home without it, as even many international science centers are members.  This can add up to quite a bit of savings when traveling.  You won't get free parking, and forget about the discount at the gift shop (which isn't really the point of the visit).  However, the savings on the entrance fees alone is generally enough to warrant a membership somewhere near home.

I won't do a play by play of the day (or the website), but the kids had a great time.  We found a room we missed the last time (the Discovery Center) geared towards the younger set, complete with live walking sticks and enjoyed by all.  Nicholas was thrilled to pet a rabbit, and the kids entered the naming contest for the new ground squirrel.  Nicholas finished writing his entry, crumpled it up, announced it was trash (he meant recycling, but can't enunciate that just yet), and promptly tried to stuff it in the collection box.  I am sure the folks will appreciate his rather abstract entry, if they are fluent in toddler scribble.

If in the area, I think it is well worth it to stop in.  In addition to the indoor activities, there is a playground attached for further energy release.  They also host birthday parties, offer camps in the summer, and special fun mornings for the preschool set during the school year.

IMG_3727After finishing up and catching a quick late lunch/early dinner in Walnut Creek, we headed home to finish up a project we had started the night before.  Sort of a surprise of sorts for a special someone, so will just show a few pics and hopefully not completely ruin the treat (if you will).  Hmm, what could it be?

 
IMG_3731

November 24, 2009

I'm supposed to be

sleeping. SSSHHH (with your finger diagonally across your mouth as Nicholas would do)!  However, felt I ought to add a few photos, even though I haven't finished yesterday's post on Legoland. 

IMG_3416   IMG_1307  We are in Anaheim, having pulled in this afternoon around 1 p.m.  I spent the hour long drive up from San Diego staring at the ocean as it traipsed along to our left for a good half hour or so.  Then landscape changed from water to hills to palm trees lining the streets of Anaheim.  

We had originally thought we might squeeze in one more activity while in San Diego, but I think the early in the day, less-stress drive was a much better idea.  This also gave Nicholas time to help with "me-me" (doing the dishes), prior to checking out of the hotel in Carlsbad.  If you didn't know before, you can now tell that he has older sisters who enjoy a good joke at his expense once in a while.  I really can't wait to see the payback one day.

The other picture is Nicholas working on his Yoga.  Even toddlers these days understand the importance of being limber, and more importantly, moving around whilst confined to a car seat to avoid those nasty blood clots.  Believe it or not, I mean that in utmost sincerity.  Not that I think he is at risk, though it is a possibility, but I have known too many people who have had it become an issue.  Though to be fair, while we do encourage stretching on long car rides, this was also his sisters bugging him to do different stretches.  They think it's hysterical that he likes yoga, and try to make him show off his two positions frequently.  At least he'll be flexible and relaxed, more than I can say for me.

We got to Anaheim in record time, checked in early (a plethora of open rooms) had lunch and spent the day getting snacks for tomorrow, trying to swim (hot tub broken=short swim time on cold evening), and visiting Downtown Disney.  I won't quote Pete, but suffice it to say we were a bit disappointed.  Lots of stores with overpriced stuff that we don't need or want, but attract kids like flies.  Amazing how they do it!  We escaped 'only' spending money on dinner, but frankly, next time, we will probably go elsewhere. The name now escapes me, but it was supposed to be genuine N'awlins cuisine. Hmmph, not really, but I didn't have my hopes up, either.  Now, off to bed or I might miss the 5 wake-up calls  and two alarms we have set for tomorrow.  Think it'll do the trick?

November 21, 2009

You know that scene in Parenthood

when Steve Martin gently asks his daughter, "Do you feel like you want to throw up?" and she replies, "Okay!" and her head spins around, covering the room in vomit?  Put Peter in place of Steve, and Kelsey for (um, little girl who also starred in Curly Sue & whose name completely escapes me) his daughter, and move the action to our foyer.  To think we thought yesterday that Kelsey was on the mend...

She had a bit of a cold earlier in the week, and stayed home from school on Wednesday.  I tried to also keep her home yesterday, but she was perky as could be, and adamant about attending school.  She likes it (an alien concept for me).  She slept in a bit, went to school, and all was fine.  Well, until this morning when I felt someone hovering over me and woke up to her mumbling that her stomach hurt in a rather nondescript way (this could mean anything from a small amount of gas to being ready to pass out from pain).  We went downstairs, Peter harangued her a bit about her outfit, and without further ado, she let him (well, the foyer) have it.

Nothing like spending your 'sleeping in' time (Pete was off today, and told me to sleep in ....HA!) cleaning a cold, hard ceramic tile on your hands and knees.  Though I recall being that sick as a kid, and there isn't much else that causes that unique type of discomfort.  Remembering how many times my mom probably cleaned up worse (and in the middle of the night),  promptly grounded me and kept that gag reflex at bay.  I tucked her into the couch and was relieved to see that she was too sick to go to school, but not too sick to watch TV.  Now I know you are thinking, but what about that trip we are supposed to take oh, tomorrow?

We still plan on leaving in the late morning, however, the Basket Brigade plans are on hold/being modified.  In all likelihood, Cait and Peter will deliver the goods, but we will not be wrangling.  Kelsey is still feverish, and while a few hours resting in the car is fine, I don't want her getting sicker (or anyone else ill) at the Brigade.  So, we will make up for our absence by increasing our donation.  I wish it weren't the case, but better that than we make an emergency exit , and delay our departure time even more.

Where are we going?  It has probably completely slipped my mind to mention much about the trip, because I have done such a poor job of planning, and I would really like to ignore that fact.  We are SO last minute on this vacation, but did manage to get a few good deals, including a heavily discounted Disney entrance and free Legoland tickets (thank you, thank you, Auntie Lisa!!).  We are making a quick tour of Southern California, to include San Diego (Legoland! The zoo!), Anaheim (Disneyland!), and the general Los Angeles area (Hollywood! A boardwalk/beach! An amazing Thanksgiving dinner!).  We also hope to catch up with a friend or two while on the way back home, and perhaps even stop at a winery (I know, perhaps my rear end...).

DPA675F-538 With all that's going on, I still managed to remember that Little Guy is 21 months old today.  Probably soon we will just mention the years (I have said that before, haven't I?), but given how much more of a Little Guy he has become, I feel I should write something (God knows, the journal isn't getting much of a workout these days).  I can never remember to write down all of his words, but here is a smattering (hopefully some new):  da-da (truck), choo-choo, please, thank you (which he says without prompting), hello (sounds like HEH-whoa?), Lemmeesee, What's that, who's that, ahfoo (airplane), bad cat, phone (phone), and the list goes on.

He has a newly discovered love of trucks and trains, and runs them up and down the couch, the stairs, the shoe rack, the car seat, and if he can't find the one he wants, he will make one.  He has made trains (and highways) out of boxes and puzzle cubes.  He pushes them into shape and around the room with the appropriate choo-choo noise.  Who needs a train table when you have an extremely active imagination?  Though I can't say we aren't toying with the notion, as I have a feeling it would get a lot of use.

IMG_3358 He seems to have outgrown the tiny bit of "terrible twos" he had a few weeks ago which involved a brief pacifier stealing and hitting phase.  We certainly understood the pacifier part (he would never take one, didn't know what it was, and had a sudden intense interest), but had to briefly avoid the gym daycare til we were sure the hitting bit had passed.  We nipped it in the bud quickly, and thankfully, smooth sailing for the time being (I won't say never again...).  There was also a touch of biting, but thankfully (?), he saved that one for me, and me alone. 

Today was a bit nutty and exciting*, and didn't remember to get a snapshot until he was asleep.  So, here we have LG conked out when he was almost 21 hours old, and now as he is 21 months old.  A wee bit of a difference, wouldn't you say?

*Cait was pulled aside after choir (at the church) tonight, and asked to do the lead in the church Christmas play.

November 19, 2009

Now you See it...

If your sweet tooth beckoned a few weeks ago, and you were tempted by the See's catalog Cait was proffering, your prayers have been answered. The orders arrived this week, and a giant cardboard box was hefted into my car today when I dropped Cait off at practice.  I haven't sorted through the assortment yet, but will attempt to do soon, and hopefully mail orders before we depart for our Thanksgiving vacation on Saturday afternoon. 

For those of you wondering, Caitlin was selling a certain selection of See's candies for the Danville Girls Chorus. They are trying to raise money for a trip in the spring, and each child will get a portion of what their total sales allocated towards their trip cost.  I am normally not terribly fond of fundraisers, as I think most are done when the kids are way too young.  It ends up being more of a competition, and/or the parents buy most of the offerings, since door to door is discouraged, and the neighbors have already purchased from their own children.

Since the Chorus is not the local elementary school, and one whole town away, Cait had a much better chance of being able to sell to friends and neighbors without getting the standard, "I gave/bought at the office."  She wisely targeted a few moms after one of Kelsey's playdates, managed to snag the grandparents' interest during a Skype call, found a neighbor who needed extra Christmas gifts, and even sold while back in Virginia & Maryland for the shower.  Oh, and we can't forget the frantic last minute call to Uncle John & Kim, who helped the cause, and will have their treats very soon.

IMG_3343I figured it couldn't hurt to plan ahead, and not buy all of my Christmas gifts last minute at the 7-11 (though it is a fun challenge to figure out who really needs a can of Sterno vs. the last 6 pack of Diet-Rite soda), so I added a few things to the list.  We added it up, sent in the form, and voila, four weeks later, have a gigantic box full of chocolates and gift cards galore taking over my bench in the front hallway.

 For whatever reason, I didn't learn of the sale until several days after it began. The first email I received was well after Cait started selling, and made no mention of goals.  The only item of interest was that each girl would receive credit for 30% of what they sold towards their trip.  Nothing about it being a contest, and if there was a prize section, I missed it entirely (this is good, I always fret too much about competition).  Lo and behold, there were at least two prizes per choir (if not more), and Cait won second place for fund-raising in the Apprentice Choir.  The prize?  A $30 gift card to Target!  Kelsey had won $10 gift card from Target at the Girl Scout Halloween Bingo, so you can bet Cait was thrilled to show it off. 

No word on whether she will splurge on big ticket items for the family (that could be half of a tricycle for Nicholas!), or spend on herself (will be closely monitoring her in the clothing section).  Now I best be off to wrap and pack.  If you purchased from her, look for an email soon with the expected arrival date, and thanks to everyone for their support!

November 05, 2009

First Communion

It seems like Caitlin just had her ceremony, and already Kelsey has begun preparations for her special celebration in the spring.  Of course, prior to the First Communion, is the Rite of Reconciliation, which already seems to be more of an undertaking than with Caitlin.  I am not sure why, but it is much more of a process here than it was in Iceland.

IMG_1286 IMG_1285 Perhaps it is the change in the scenarios:  when Caitlin made her First Communion, we attended the church on base in Keflavik.  Nearly all of the preparations were made during the CCD classes.   The teacher sent home a packet of prayers (oh, the nights of Caitlin nervously working on them...), but no hand-outs for the parents, no workbooks tailored to Reconciliation itself, and no retreat.  Tuesday evening, at the first parent meeting, I received not only a 3 page hand-out regarding the entire process, but a book for the children, and a periodical for our use. I have to say that I feel more confident having the extra information and material to work with, but  I don't remember going through any of the same when I was a child.  Perhaps it is timing, and not the church or program?

There were also many other differences, the primary one being the distance to the church.  Here we can swing by at a moment's notice, whereas even CCD at St. Michael's required a 1.5 hour round-trip. More importantly, we had to build in extra time for Cait, given that the motion sickness was far more prevalent then (and she was NOT reading in the car all of the time back then).  Even on the cold, dark Icelandic winter mornings, the poor thing was ill for at least half of the trips out there and back home.  I am pretty sure only a nap staved away sickness, and that could not be counted on most times.

2006-119Considering that we have weekly CCD lessons, church, parent meetings, workbooks, and two separate retreats (one for Reconciliation, one for First Communion), I must admit I am quite glad we could walk to church if necessary.  I am also quite happy to announce that I may have (at long last) found a regular babysitter that will not break my wallet.  Given that it appears I will be doing all of the Reconciliation work with Kelsey by myself, I think that is going to be a lifesaver.

As it turns out, Peter will miss everything that has anything to do with the process.  He missed Tuesday night's informational meeting (no big deal), but will likely be away for any other meetings, the retreat, and Reconciliation itself (kind of a bigger deal).  The bright spot?  He will definitely be there for First Communion, which is right now slated for either May 1 or May 8. Supposedly one gets to choose which date, but that remains to be seen.

The reason for two days of ceremonies?  The sheer number of children making their First Communion.  Not only are there two separate days, but there are three separate ceremonies on each day!  I remember having a big First Communion, but this just seems overwhelming.  Cait's entire CCD class had maybe 12 children.  The ceremony itself was intimate yet, having followed a brunch that morning for all of the First Communicants and their families.  Given there are several CCD classes per grade here, well, a bit of a shock to the system. I have a feeling if there is a brunch, it will be a cozy family event we have at home.

 I haven't mentioned as of yet, but of course, we will welcome any family and friends who want to visit.  Especially given that we are not going to be in the California area much after that, a good time to stop by if you haven't already.  Where to next, you ask?  Still working on that one, *sigh*.

November 03, 2009

I thought I had it under control...

Peter left yesterday morning for a week's worth of training in the DC area, and I was bound and determined to have everything flow smoothly this week.  Not that his presence is necessary to have that happen, but there is that certain ebb and flow when you realize you are not the only responsible party within 3,000 miles who can care for your house, crazy cat, or usually adorable children.

IMG_1281 Since the last trip went relatively smoothly, I thought I would simply copy the same game plan, and just tweak things here and there.  Rather than go nuts and start off with a crazy schedule, we would have the relaxing Sunday up front.  Part of it would be a family meeting to determine the week's meals (and who would help cook them), and the rest would simply involve getting our of our jammies, and more importantly, out of the house.

No problem!  The day flew by as we spent time doing odds and ends around the house, and then headed to Osage Park in Danville.  The girls would uncovered dinosaur bones in the play area, while Nicholas and I did walking/running intervals on the circular trail.  Fabulous!  We even had plenty of time to spare to go home, change, and then get to the teen mass.

In theory, it would have been fine, except that not only did I forget snacks for Nicholas (Annie's cheddar bunnies are a lifesaver), but the mass was extra long due to a special homily and introduction of the those preparing for confirmation.  No, Nicholas was not happy. 

He had not taken nap that day, and he squealed and squirmed, and I was ready to call it quits before the collection was taken.  We ended up staying as I had promised the kids we would head to the family dinner afterward (translation: no cooking or cleaning for me), and Nicholas briefly made amends with everyone when he clapped wildly and shouted, "Yea!!" when the teen band finished singing. 

Thankfully, the rest of the evening was fairly uneventful, and even bedtime was fine.  The only hitch was a slightly later bedtime due to the late mass and dinner...and with Kelsey, early or late to bed....late to rise. 

She is NOT a morning person.  Combine that with someone else who is not a morning person trying to wake previously aforementioned non-morning person, and you have a lethal combination. I try to be patient (translation: drink at least one cup of coffee prior to waking her up), but I am usually trying to get two people going, and stop a third from destroying their rooms (to prevent the litanies of "he's touching my stuff!!!") while doing so.  Not nearly as easy as it sounds.

She dawdled and she dallied, and I finally lost it.  The embarrassing part?  I really lost it when she couldn't find her glasses.  I had about given up when I found them on the kitchen counter, the pink frames blending nicely with the granite in the counter top.  Who put them there?  Me.  Sigh.

For whatever reason, she got over it.  We dropped Cait and co. off at the middle school, and made it to Kelsey's school in time to drop her off in the front.  I headed back home for a second cup of coffee, and by 9:30 a.m., I was had it - again.  Between the shower drain not working, and the master bath being flooded by the toilet that was clogged by one piece of paper (or perhaps something Nicholas thought to throw down),the morning was in the toilet.  The best part? The property manager decided not to call Pete back (despite the fact he told him it was urgent), as he thought "we were all on vacation on the East Coast."  If we were, would we really be asking for a repairman to show up the next day?

IMG_1275 We made it to swim lessons early, and miraculously had not forgotten anything.  Nicholas swam his little heart out, and I quickly dressed him and we headed home.  He remembered that I had two "pleases" (pieces of candy) in my purse that he had been carting around all morning.  He loved clutching them in his sweaty little hands, and I didn't care, as he seemed to show no interest in eating them.  Until now.  I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw this face just as we were about to turn into our neighborhood. 

He was so happy, and so proud, though, that I just couldn't get mad.  He had somehow managed only to smear on his face and hands, and there didn't seem to be a drop of chocolate anywhere else.  Despite my best efforts, I had to laugh.  Now don't think that I didn't still sit down with my glass of Zinfandel, and cranberry cheese with the Raincoast Crisps last night, desperately trying to find my DVR-ed episode of House (another non-House night, what is going on??).  No, the bathroom clean up alone earned me that chunk of heaven.  Still, nothing like a Little Guy happily covered in smeary cocoa, and bursting with pride as he licks the wrapper to remind you that not all is lost, in fact, perhaps something good (and yummy) was just found.

November 01, 2009

Halloween 2009

IMG_3288 IMG_3291 or because I know the grandparents are chomping at the bit for these photos.  Well, wait, we assume the grandparents are waiting with baited breath, because the Little Guy was just stinkin' cute tonight. 

I know I shouldn't say that, but he just didn't cease to amaze me.  He is all over this Halloween thing!  From dressing up to running (not walking) up the steps of each house (both the stroller and Ergo were out of the question), to saying thank you and bye-bye to almost every treat giver.  He gave an occasional stab at "Trick or treat," but that was a bit more difficult.

IMG_3299 IMG_3308 The girls had a great time, and Kelsey and her one friend loved listening to Nicholas.  I realize I need to enjoy it while it lasts, so "Isn't he cute?!" in girlie squeals was music to my ears.   Of course, the fact that he was he thought it was trick or trade (he would take a piece of candy and then offer the person one of his own) was simply adorable. 

Other than the high-pitched voices, it was fairly tame trick or treating this year, as we went with other folks and didn't try to overdo it. We also opted to leave Caitlin to her own devices (sort of).  She went trick or treating with a neighborhood friend, and came home two hours later with a nightmarish blister on her foot (translation: lots o' loot).  The only issue?  We figured out she threw away candy that she decided she didn't like.

I know we are trying to eat better, and woe to the non-organic produce that touches my lips (most of the time), but really, Halloween is once a year.  NO ONE throws away a Milk Dud in this house (that could be mine), and I know Peter will have words with her about that Snickers bar.  Seriously, I have never seen a child do that before.  Whatever, she's happy, we are happy (and on a sugar high), and all's well that ends well, right?

Last, but certainly not least, if you think you recognize a certain little monkey, you are correct.  The costume Nicholas is wearing was made over (GULP) 11 years ago for his (very) big sister, Caitlin.  You can't see it in the photo, but there is a large stuffed tail, and I have to say, it made an excellent leash tonight, as this little guy is just too fast.  Even after we arrived at home to have a small dessert party, he continued to run circles around all of us. If we could harness his energy, PG&E would be paying us...

Here's hoping everyone had a happy, fun, and safe Halloween!

October 25, 2009

October Showers

Today could have been miserable.  Not only was the weather a bit iffy by some standards (not mine, I love rain!), but the traffic was a tangled, knotted mess when we least expected it.  However, too many good things happened today to make it anything but a happy success.

We started off the morning with a visit to old friends, two sisters very close in age to both Caitlin and Kelsey.  Cait has known the older sister since she was a year old, amazing given our lifestyle.  For whatever reason, jet lag, three years since we last saw them, tween angst, Cait was a bit nervous and shy.  However, they had time to catch up a bit, and promised to keep in touch.  

After a quick lunch, we scurried off to Janet's house to finish prepping for the shower with only a brief detour to check out the old house. Yes, we still do quick drive-bys, but they are totally for her benefit.  She freaked out about the "new tree" in front of our house (our old renters planted it), and, of course, bemoaned having to leave the neighborhood (4 years ago, but I get it).

Classically, we got caught in a nasty mess of traffic on 236 or Little River Turnpike.  Turns out we were lucky, though, as we missed the bulk of the storm. We arrived at Janet's in time to get ready for the shower, and head out for a few more supplies.  Then, the fun began...

IMG_3218 IMG_3215 Guests started trickling in at the appointed time, and then the Mom to Be arrived looking happy, relaxed, and just a bit pregnant courtesy of the adorable bump.  Drinks (Habibi Fizz & Lemonate) were served, games (Which TV Mom are you, Fill in the Nursery Rhyme, & Woof or Waa) were played, and the Mezza cuisine brought guests back to the table for seconds and thirds.  It was a combination of Lebanese Taverna, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods at their best.

After (or during, for some of us) the Mezza, the gorgeous array of gifts was opened.  Shannon's Little Lad will have no shortage of clothing, toys, bath items, or sailing accoutrement.  The afternoon ended on a high note of chocolate cake (gorgeous and incredibly rich), and treats from a local chocolate shop. Without a doubt, the afternoon went off without a hitch, and the glow of happiness from the mom to be just lit up the room.

IMG_3200Babybib All of the thanks are due to Shannon's incredible circle of friends and family, both those who there in person and those who could only attend in spirit.  While Jen Pope organized the shower from top to bottom, to include the homemade cake (and frog atop the cake!), Janet was the official shower hostess.  Some of you may remember that she also hosted my baby shower eons (I mean, years) ago when I was pregnant with the wee one who was old enough to play bartender (simmer down, non-alcoholic drinks only) today!

Caitbecky Babyloot Ann and Erin created tasty beverages, and games that had everyone interacting.  Caitlin not only turned out to be a magnificent bartender , but also a waitress, taking plates and refilling so that all could truly relax and enjoy the day.  Nor can we forget everyone who drove in for the day from the extremely happy Grandmas, to cousins, co-workers, neighbors, & a last-minute drop-in for a photo-op from Jack, Janet's husband and photographer extraordinaire.


Note: I took the photo of the favors and the bib.  All other photos are courtesy of Janet, with the exception of the group photo, which was taken by Jack.  Many thanks to both of them!  Oh, and the significance of the bib?  It was my second crafty project of late.  The first was another bib that I did not feel photo-worthy, but gave to Shannon anyway, as I am sure it will still come in handy at meal time. The last picture is of Caitlin standing next to Grandma Happy (or Becky, Shannon's Mom)...love the shot, thanks, Janet!

October 19, 2009

When we were overseas,

IMG_3123 IMG_3127I must admit there was at least one thing we missed:  pumpkin patches. We could acquire fantastically shaped gourds in Caracas and genuine pumpkins in Iceland, but no pumpkin patches in either locale.We have decided, since we hope to go overseas again soon, to get our fill while we can.

One might think that would get repetitive, but not all pumpkin patches are created equal. They generally all have a wide variety of pumpkins, but some have hay rides, others have corn pits and mazes (of maize), and yet others just offer a few games, a lot of pumpkins, and the occasional jumping house/slide for kids.

IMG_3166 IMG_3186 Last year, Kelsey had a field trip to a very popular patch in Livermore, by the name of Joan's.  We never made it out as a family, and this year I decided it might not be a bad patch to try just with Nicholas.  We loaded up the picnic basket, found our sun hats (because it was 90 something in OCTOBER), and headed out with a friend and her daughter.

Joan's is a patch smack in the middle of a working farm.  We crept up the mile-long rocky road, and arrived just as the oodles of field trips were packing it up for the day.  We walked through several small patches, visited the "Old West" town (complete with a general store packed with modern-day candy), posed for pictures, climbed on haystacks, and ran through little tunnels.  Well, Nicholas managed to do all of that once he woke up.  Poor little guy fell fast asleep as we were driving in, and spent the first 45 minutes sound asleep in his Ergo (what would I do without it?).

IMG_3187 IMG_3191 Fast forward to today, and it's time for our second annual visit to G & M Farms, also in Livermore. They are famous for their corn maizes.  A new maize is designed each year, and one could easily get lost for hours, if not for the postcard-sized maps, clues (Trivia questions on tricky corners), and, now, text clues!  Yes, you can get a text while in the maize to help you along.  It was amusing, but we did just fine with the maps.

This year's map was dedicated to a local farmer who passed away last year.  It made for an incredibly interesting maze, and in some respects, very easy to follow.  We probably spent a good hour in there, and had even more fun than last year.  We kept Nicholas in the Ergo, but he enjoyed it all the same. Only once did he try to break the rules by grabbing at the corn; thankfully, it was a tough stalk.

IMG_3194 IMG_3197 We finished up at the play area, which includes the cow train, corn pit (and, thanks to the 'absorbent' diaper, have quite a collection of kernels at home), self-powered go carts, and 2 mini-mazes for the kids.  The larger maze is an indoor maze that even adult blessed in the height department can get through fairly easily.  One might not think it, but the hay can be quite insulating.  The farm was incredibly crowded yesterday, but one step inside the tunnels of the maze, and nothing but deafening silence.  It was only occasionally disturbed by Nicholas running through the tunnels at break-neck speed.

We had to cut the day slightly short to get Cait to CCD, but it was a great family activity.  There was something for everyone, and free, with the exception of a few rides.  I had been thinking prior to arriving that once may have been enough, but forgot how much more Nicholas could do this year.  After a hectic morning of soccer for Pete and church for the rest of us (first children's mass of the year), it was a welcome break on a gorgeous fall day.

October 14, 2009

You can take the boy out of Iceland,

IMG_3112 IMG_3113 but you can't take Iceland out of the boy.  Now we realize he is not *technically* Icelandic, but he enjoyed a taste of Icelandic babyhood prior to departing Reykjavik.  We took many a long walk in all types of weather.  Like other babies, he slept in his stroller outside, cozy and warm, but with all of the good, fresh air.  We have continued the tradition here, and he still has days where he dozes outside.  The natural white noise of barking dogs and the wind whistling in the trees helps him sleep soundly.

Many things, however, have changed.  Local reactions to weather do not, in any way, parallel those we saw in Reykjavik.  One of the first things we learned about living in Iceland, was that life goes on, weather or not.  Coming out of northern Virginia, we weren't quite prepared for the variety of offerings the meteorological gods threw our way, but we eventually woke up, saw the light, and adjusted.

HPa630n-770 After first arriving, and beginning school, Cait used to freeze on the playground. She *only* had a warm jacket, ski pants, and gloves.   Then I realized that LL Bean just didn't cut it there.  I headed to the nearest 66 North, and invested in two "super-suits" for both Caitlin and Kelsey.  Cait went from hanging out by the wall, and wringing her hands, to running around with the rest of the kids, no matter what the sky sent down.

Kelsey also played outside in anything, and everything and loved it.  The kids jumped on the trampoline in snow, with nothing other than long sleeves on.  The school rules included mandatory outside time.  If you wanted a bunch of kids with pent-up energy, keep them inside after lunch, and watch things go haywire.

IMG_3118 Then we moved to California, brought oodles of winter and wet weather gear, and landed in the middle of a drought.  Water restrictions galore, tawny hills everywhere, and no umbrellas in sight.  We were told "fall - spring is the rainy season," and finally the rains came on November 1.  We were thrilled to see the skies finally open on that gloomy Saturday morning.  It continued to rain frequently, and we were loving it...until the kids went back to school.

I noticed the oddity the first time it was drizzling at drop-off.  I thought I was in the wrong place, as there were no lines of children, just one or two teachers hurrying the kids inside.  Turns out if so much as a raindrop falls, they are rushed inside as though it is hailing (in any respect).  And when it was still raining at lunchtime?

They had indoor recess, and watched tv. I was confused, and angry.  Watched tv?  Why on earth weren't they outside, playing in the rain?  Well, that's not the way it's done here.  If I remember correctly, it probably was the same in Virginia, but the Icelandic way had become natural to me.

The rainy season has come early this year, and I am revisiting last year's debacle.  Do I fight the system?  Do I offer to personally outfit the entire school with proper rain gear, to include teachers and parents?  Do I suck it up and shut up?  I honestly don't know what to do.  I would love to regale the principal with tales of my immune-system strengthened children, or how kids really enjoy jumping in puddles and will not catch a cold simply because they are outside (remember the properly clothed part).

IMG_3119 No, they will get out their energy, and retreat to the indoors, happy for the warmth, but glad for the wild and free moments trying to catch raindrops on their tongues.  Sadly, I fear I am one of the few, and my opinion will be shunned for the more popular idea that sickness will be rampant, or the kids will be wet and miserable.

So, we will have our own outdoor times.  Auntie Shannon fully outfitted Nicholas in outdoor gear for his birthday, and he has finally grown into it.  He has a jacket, pants, and puddle-stomping boots (complete with ba-bas*).  Today was not the first storm (that one took us by surprise a few weeks back), but definitely the most vigorous we have had.  Nicholas played with planters, tried to catch water in a shovel, jumped in the puddles, and watched Kelsey dive under the water pouring off the roof test her umbrella's strength.  We finally ambled inside after a good 30 minutes, and were all tired and happy campers.  It's not Iceland, but it will do for now.

*Ba-ba: his current catch-all term for an animal. 

October 11, 2009

One of the least fun aspects

of moving (to me), would be the joy of having to find 'new' contacts.  Whether it be a doctor, chiropractor, or a luxury like the perfect hair stylist, it can take months (or as in my case in Iceland), years to find the perfect person.  I finally found a great stylist, but if Jogvan moved here, it would all be over for the new guy.

IMG_3095 IMG_3096 For whatever the reason, perhaps for the rise of pediatric or children's, well, everything, it seems much, much easier to find the perfect pediatrician, pediatric dentist or children's hairstylist.  The latter is particularly important for my children, as any of the Barbies (and their mutilated tresses) from my childhood could attest.  While learning how to properly cut hair would be a great skill to have, I have yet to get up the nerve to try.  Memories of perpetually unequal bangs probably will keep the desire at bay for quite some time.

IMG_3098 We lucked out by quickly finding a hair salon for the kids, aptly named Kids-N-Teens, run 100% by the owner, Daniella.  Much like Grenitas in Caracas, it is 100% for kids, complete with a play area and ribbon bar.   It's not Cartoon Cuts, and appointments are usually more than necessary. However, it is no pricier than Cartoon Cuts (or anything similar), and your child will leave looking and feeling like the beauty queen (or king) of her choice. 

Whether it's your child's first haircut (cue delivery of "1st cut certificate" with two locks of hair), or 18th, you feel as though she has known you, and your child, forever.  A closely-cropped cut for the boy, braids or tiny ponytails for girls, and your child is happily on their way.

Some might say it's a pain to wait for an appointment, or who on earth can't suffice with a haircut from the barber (or Mom)?  I look it as a talent-sharing situation.  Daniella is very gifted in the way of hair (and I am so very not).  Why not utilize the services of those who truly know what they are doing.  And, yes, I must admit, I also really like the way she cuts and styles Kelsey's hair without ever drawing any attention to her scar. It's the little details that matter, right?  

If you ever happen to live in this area, and have a child with shaggy locks or overgrown bangs, I highly recommend giving Daniella a call.  Check out the before and after pictures, and you will see how much one can get for a very small price. 

October 02, 2009

Here I go again, on my own...

While we are no strangers to separations, brief or otherwise, it has been a while since Pete traveled.  If you are a new reader, and don't know our history with DS, um, in a nutshell..  With this lifestyle,when posted domestically (being attached to a detail/field office), the spouse of a an agent can end up having a good amount of "alone" time.  This can be good, bad or somewhere in the middle. 

Maybe it had just been a while since I had an extremely active toddler while Pete traveled.  Maybe the issue was that I now had three vs. two, and the two older children are in separate schools, with 7 weekly activities between them (the irony is that comparatively speaking, they are massively under-scheduled for this area).  We don't send them to tutors or language school, and to be fair, I count CCD as part of their weekly activities.  However, they still add up, and two weeks ago, with Peter slated to go to UNGA for 12 days, I realized that we were going to be kept hopping on a daily basis. 

We started off slowly, on a Thursday. Nothing more than soccer practice in the afternoon, and I only needed to drive the carpool and drop the kids off.  Friday came and the only events were a play date for Kelsey, and the beginning of choir practice (at the church) for both girls.  Kelsey decided to join (has been chomping at the bit since last spring), and despite Cait's efforts to ban her, she is going each week and really enjoying herself.  We figured we would have an "easy" dinner, and opted for our favorite pasta place.  For whatever reason, maybe the heat (was over 100 F most days Pete was gone), but everyone was a bit cranky, Nicholas included.  

I ended up making the executive decision that we would avoid eating out again until Pete came back, but it would require a bit of planning and restraint on my part.  It just seems so much easier to say, "Let's go out for pizza!", and be done with it. 

Though I promised Kelsey we could sleep in on Saturday, this fell flat when I realized the soccer game was at 9 a.m.  Nothing like not catching up on sleep when you really need it!  We made it to the game (they won), and hurried home to change and back out to the Farmer's Market.  The Saturday morning routine of the Farmers' Market has become so ingrained that the girls are upset if we even consider not going.  We simply can't pass up stand after stand of fruit and veggies, from the boxes of freshly-shelled English peas to the bunches of basil.  It also doesn't hurt that the Green Lantern Catering Company normally shows up to whip up a veggie fritatta and grilled artichokes that are simply out of this world, but do not break the wallet. The owner is not only a part-time caterer, but also the executive chef at Standford's in Walnut Creek. 

Thankfully, dinner was at a friend's house.  As a part of our monthly international dinner, we dined on samosas, lamb biryani, and cauliflower.  It was mildly spicy, and deeply satisfying.  We headed home, and  Nicholas fell asleep on the way.  Sunday was a sleep-in day.  Seems great until you try to get moving and realize nothing is going as planned...primarily because there wasn't  a plan.  It hit me that if I didn't quickly come up with a something, my week was going to be a disorganized disaster.  Four days in, and I was completely frustrated already.

IMG_1211 I quickly planned out meals from Sunday to Friday, and it saved me.  No last-minute "What do I make" or "let's just go out!".  We ate in every night, and it was so methodical, the girls didn't think twice. Yummy leftovers made great lunches the next day, and we rolled from school to activities, volunteer and otherwise, smoothly.  Still exhausting, and I was up late with laundry, cleaning, and the like, but far easier than expected.

Friday night arrived, and Kelsey was busy with a play-date, choir practice, and movie night at her school.  Cait had her 6th grade social, choir practice, and then volunteered at movie night.  Nicholas and I took the time to relax, and have quality time in between the various pick-ups and drop-offs.

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Saturday rolled around once again, and with a later soccer game, we had time for the Farmers' Market early in the morning.  There was face-painting, aioli mustaches (grilled artichokes were back!), visiting with the kitties needing foster homes (and both girls desperately want us to become one), and the 4-H with a bevy of bunnies and chickens.  We made it to soccer just in time, and Kelsey shocked us all by volunteering to play goalie.  I was able to quickly upload  a photo via Facebook, and "Coach Pete" was able to see despite the 3,000 mile/3 hour difference.

IMG_1215 Jamba Juice followed, and we had just enough time to head home, swelter for a bit, and depart for a spaghetti dinner at the home of one of Cait's Chorus leaders.  She is a member of a local quartet, and in the midst of a fund-raiser for a trip to a much anticipated international competition.  Not only did we enjoy great music, and a yummy dinner, but Kelsey won not one, but two baskets in the raffle (back to back, even more amusingly).  

Despite the organization, and the overall ease of the week, we were still swamped, and it hit me hard on Sunday.  While a friend watched Nicholas on Friday so I could get a much-needed massage, it is still very hard being "on" 24 hours a day.  I realized we all needed a break, and kept our activities to a walk to the movies, a light home-made pesto dish for dinner, and Cait attending the first of her CCD classes.

IMG_1213 Monday and Tuesday passed quickly, and before we knew it, Peter was pulling up in the shuttle Tuesday afternoon.  He was gone 15 minutes later, as Kelsey had soccer, but he was home all the same.  Though here it is a few days later, and I keep thinking he will leave any minute.  It seems as though I almost fell back into my Virginia self, forgetting that he normally doesn't travel (that much), and that he won't be gone again for a while. So, he is back, we are together, and quite enjoying family time. It's a crazy life sometimes, but I think anything less would simply not be for us.  And, now, perhaps, a nap.


September 20, 2009

Second Grade Shenanigans

I realized I posted Cait's first day of school almost immediately (in my mind), and then completely failed to put much up (anything) about Kelsey.  Second grade is no less important than middle school, especially to Kelsey, and she seems to be adjusting very well.

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I say "seems" as the drop-off/pick-up procedure is much different this year.  Drop-off is still in the back, but pick-up used to be at the classrooms.  In theory, it was probably not ideal for the teachers. Parents arrived early, congregated, chatted, and may have been a distraction for the kids still working.  Generally, no one arrived more than 5-10 minutes early, but when kids are already counting the minutes until the end of the school day...

Instead of seeing the teacher on a daily basis, even if to just wave hello and not bowl her over with 20 questions while she is trying to pack up and get home to her kids, we see her for a few seconds at drop-off.  Well, if we make it to drop-off.  Lately, we have had to zip around the front so she could hurry to the classrom, rather than congregate with friends in the back for a few minutes.

With Cait at a new school and this area not offering busing (really, folks who manage this area of school issues, what ARE you thinking?), we have to make it to two schools within 10 minutes each morning.  So, instead of one bus carting 50-60 kids, you have 40-50 individual cars dropping kids off.  I would gladly pay for a bus service, but apparently the powers that be prefer the additional traffic, pollution, and congestion of many cars trying to drop off several hundred kids in 15 minutes.

I will grant that many kids walk, ride their bikes or scooter.  However, most seem to live a lot closer, and have much lighter backpacks.  The daily cathunk-cathunk of Cait's backpack down the stairs still has me thinking something has fallen the first time I hear it each morning.  We are in a carpool, which helps immensely, but the school bus issue really needs to be revisited.  Though I am fairly sure if one ever showed up  that Nicholas would be tearfully jealous of Cait.  Who can forget Kelsey crying because she couldn't ride the big, yellow bus with Cait ?  Has it really been 5 years?

Since I do not have a daily chance to pester the teacher about Kelsey (as if), I move along believing that she is doing terribly well in all subjects.  Most papers come home stamped with happy faces, and a good or great on them.  She generally gives me a blow-by-blow, and I have not received any worrisome phone calls, emails, or FB updates. Well, we still have some math issues, but for the most part have vastly improved in that arena. Though if she spent half the time on math that she does on reading...NOT that I am complaining, but balance is a good thing, right?

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As Caitlin is in the Girls Chorus this year (and deeply enjoying it), we figured Kelsey should have an extra activity (read: sport).   She has always enjoyed playing soccer with Pete in the backyard, and even though (by San Ramon standards), she has practically reached retirement age, we decided it was time to try having her join a genuine soccer team.  Oh, and Pete volunteered to help assist the coach.  We thought that might add a nice bit of "quality time" to their day.

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Now, Coach Pete (apparently when you volunteer to help the coach, you actually volunteer to BE the coach) is having a grand ole time with two practices and a game each week.  Once on a team, the idea of playing soccer with folks other than her easygoing dad scared the pants off Kelsey.  I tried a small bribe*, it worked, and she practices, plays, and really seems to like it.  Maybe not her career, but she is enjoying it, and that's all that matters. It also doesn't hurt that she has a heckuva nice guy for a coach, and the few extra hours together each week have been really good for them.

*Yes, extremely bad parenting technique, and I normally don't use it.  However, it worked for the first few practices, and she then forgot about it.  Blast me if you will, but what's done is done, and she is having fun.

September 04, 2009

Middle School Madness

IMG_2991 has begun.  We shopped, sorted, filed, labeled, packed, and prepped.  Oh, wait, she's 11.  Caitlin did all of the aforementioned with little or no help from us.  Well, one of us drove the car, and one of us paid for the school supplies, but other than that, she was on her own.  By choice, of course.

We took the obligatory picture on the front stoop with her carpool buddy, and with Kelsey. No, I don't know why they couldn't stand next to one another.  And, with that, she was off.  We waved until the car drove around the corner (yes, I even took a picture of the car driving away...I am hopeless). 

How's it going?  By all accounts, absolutely fine.  Her school has a nifty system called Schoolloop, which is a way we can all keep track of her homework and grades by merely logging into a website.  I suppose I should actually credit the school district, not the school, but I do applaud the school for using the system. Grades and scores are uploaded by the teachers per their schedule (daily, weekly, bimonthly) and there are never any (well, none thus far) surprises regarding grades, homework completion, or project due dates.

Last night was the official back to school night, and Peter and I were both able to attend (thank you, Sittercity!).  We visited all 7 classes, and received fairly comprehensive overviews of what would be studied.  Cait takes her "Core" (Readers' and Writers' workshops and Social Studies) classes with one teacher, and the rest of the classes (science, math, gym, and home ec (yes, an elective!) are with separate teachers.

I can't say we were disappointed in any aspect of the evening, and I was quite happy with the "rules" of the school. Rather than a crime & punishment style of authority, it is an action & consequence.  If she wears a hat inside, it isn't a crime, just an action.  There is the consequence that she loses the hat (for the day), but there is no punishment.  The same is true for gum chewing, dress code violations, and cell phone use.  They have a theory that middle school is hard enough for 'tweens and young teens, and try to teach them how to learn from their mistakes rather than just mete out meaningless punishments that shame them without teaching them. 

So, that's really that.  She comes home, works on homework, naps, eats dinner, finishes the homework, and reads.  Other than going to bed earlier (yes, earlier) not much is different.  I can't say it has been super-easy, as math has presented a few challenges, but she is adapting well and has no problem getting up and going in the morning.  It probably doesn't hurt that her Core teacher stresses that one should read, read, read, read, read, and read.  I think Cait's placement in that class was more than perfect!

July 08, 2009

Windy Days & Warming Huts

Not long after we arrived in San Francisco, I found a walking group.  There is so much to do and see in IMG_0951(2) IMG_0947 the area, and I wasn't sure where to begin.  Striding Strong had recently formed, and is the brainchild of a local who knows the area like the back of her hand.  Why recreate the wheel when I could learn about the parks and trails of the East Bay area from an expert?

Normally the walks take place in the East Bay, venturing anywhere from San Ramon to Oakland, Livormore or Pleasanton.  Leisurely walks are intermingled with intense hikes and interval training on a weekly basis. I originally was not even able to consider today's journey, as Kelsey had an eye doctor appointment.  However, when the eye doctor canceled (again), today's walk, a journey around Crissy Field, moved to the top of our to do list for the morning.

IMG_0952(2) IMG_0955 These walks were my salvation the first few months I was  here.  The group was still in infancy, so no one necessarily knew anyone else.  I had the luxury of being one of many newbies, rather than the only one.  Not only was I meeting new people, but also finally learning my way around.  The group also began to socialize after our journeys, and so meeting places near parks and playgrounds were often sought.  Our kids could play, we could stretch the tired muscles, catch up, or just take in the warm sunshine and cool breezes of the early California morning. 

Today's walk was truly a challenge (or so I thought), as it was in the city.  Not only in the city, but mostly on the other side. It was scheduled for 10 a.m., and nothing scared me more than missing something I had yearned to visit for so long (the virtues of Crissy Field had long been extolled, but we had yet to go).  Luck was on our side, and the traffic I feared never showed.  Other than a brief pause after paying the toll, there was not one hiccup other than not exactly knowing where to park.

After a brief phone call to the group leader, and several failed attempts at finding the giant sign saying, "Jen, PARK HERE!", I gave up and parked near an official looking building, with a less than official looking parking lot.  We stopped, got out and I braced for the deluge of comments, as they had originally been less than enthusiastic about driving into the city two days in a row.  And the comments? Oh, they came...

"Mom, look, a wildlife area!"

"Mom, it's so cold and windy, it's like Iceland" (said in an extremely wistful tone)

"Mom, look at the beach, can we play there?"

They LOVED it.  A cold and windy day, so gray one would think pouring rain was imminent.  The sky spit out a few drops hither and yon, but not once did they even ask for coats, as they realized we would soon be quite warm from the walk. 

We were able to meander through the dune area as a wooden bridge had been constructed so one could wind their way without damaging the plants.  We left the dune area, closed the gate behind us, and headed towards the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Twenty minutes later, not only had we caught up to our friends at The Warming Hut, but we were all overwhelmed by the views.  Painters littered the sandy aisles that wound through the dunes to the shore. Dogs frolicked down in the water, oblivious to the cold sea spray that nipped at their noses and chilled their paws.  Campers (from the local Y down the street?) ran and biked in many different directions, reminding one that even those that dwell in the city are never far from the nature's grasp.

Though we were not the slightest bit cold, we entered the Warming Hut to find out that it was an eco-friendly gift shop and cafe.  Caitlin and Kelsey ran off to procure gifts for their cousins for our upcoming trip to the East Coast, while Nicholas headed for the fruit bars.  A snack or two later, we were out the door, and walking with our group.

We ambled along, a happily chatting group of toddlers to preteens and their parents. We reached our final destination, the beach,  within half an hour.  No, the trip would not be complete without a stop at there.  As evidenced by any trip to a slightly beachy area, my children love the ocean and its sandy treasures.  They were particularly excited by the East Beach stretch, as they were able to walk through the water to a bank of sorts without getting completely soaked (Kelsey's sleeves and neckline were completely dry).

They ran, played, got soaked, and then a text came through:  if we hurried, Peter could meet us for lunch.  We made a quick pitstop at the Sports Basement to grab a few dry things for Kelsey, and hurried off to the Ferry Marketplace.  We all made short order of lunch at Mijita, and then wandered around after bidding Pete farewell.

We found a few more special gifts for our trip to MD/VA, and opted for one last stop at Ciao Bella Gelato.  Kelsey dove into a cookies & cream, while I attempted to eat my bambini scoop of pear.  However, someone else had a better destination for the frozen fruity treat, and Nicholas' face was soon as cold as if he dove headfirst into a snowbank. How could I refuse him, though?  The little icy pear gelato encrusted face grinned and looked up at me as if to say, "What a day!".  Yep, a very good day with little planning, but great results. 

June 26, 2009

The skinny envelopes are the ones

that rip at your heartstrings.  The ones you receive after waiting weeks on end, imagining countless outcomes in your head?  The letters that you fear terribly (but since it could be good news), you run to the window every time you think  you hear the mail truck drive up?

Yes, that has been me for the past three weeks. Scared and nervous over a letter that is really not for me.  Silly, really, because in the end, I will be nothing more than a chauffeur at best.  The knot in my stomach started forming on the ninth of June, well, really the 5th...

It was the end of the year party for the children's church choir (yes, the one Cait was so nervous about joining last September, but ended up loving).  It was a two hour long affair with food, drinks, and, of course, music.  Cait was having a great time with a friend and when we came to pick her up, the choir director begged us to stay and eat leftover ice cream and strawberries (well, okay, twist our arms!).  She mentioned something about Caitlin and her singing, and we started discussing how things had turned out.  She had known that Cait might be nervous, and seemed happy with her progression throughout the year.  So much so, that she mentioned a local girls' chorus was having auditions the following week.

Cait was worried she couldn't do both, but I reassured her the two choirs were on different days.  Then she worried about other issues, while I fretted it was too late to get an audition.  Did I bother to think about how she would be the day of the audition?  Um, no.  Bad move, in hindsight. I emailed the address on the website, secured an audition (a group setting, it turns out) and voila, we were in...well, for the audition.

I relayed the information to Cait and she seemed more worried than I expected.  In fact, she was downright nervous by the time we arrived.  It got to the point where I actually agreed to leave, provided that she let me listen to the choir director speak.  The more I listened to him talk, the more I was so excited about the opportunity she was fearing.  He was so NICE, and funny.  He had a way of talking that instantly relaxed me, and I would have gladly auditioned had they asked (no worries on that end!). 

The auditions started, and she wanted nothing to do with it.  I decided we could leave, and she freaked...suddenly not knowing what she wanted to do.  I stopped to let the lady overseeing those waiting for auditions know that we were going, and she thoughtfully said we could wait to the side, have Cait sip some water, and see if she didn't feel better...if not, no worries, there was always next year.

So, we wait we did.  The first set of auditions ended, and miraculously, Cait was ready.  Nervous, face a bit streaked, but almost determined.  She came out after the longest 10 minutes of my life and admitted, "It wasn't so bad!".  Whew.

Then came the waiting.  The director mentioned that we would learn of their decision by mail.  I had all but given up, and simply assumed the worst.  Then today's mail came, and at the bottom of the pile (did the USPS lady KNOW?), there was the skinniest envelope I have ever seen.  I was tempted to tear up without reading, and recycle without further thought.  Instead I opened it and confronted things as my worst fears

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turned into a dream come true!  "Congratulations!", the letter practically screamed, as I became a bit excited and overwhelmed.  Poor Cait was happily chatting on the phone with a friend, and I am fairly sure, thought I had lost my mind.  She did it!  I was so ready to leave that day and let her not try, and she pulled up all her gumption and nerve, gave it a shot...and made it. Nope, I couldn't be prouder. 

August 19, 2008

Ten years ago

20020690503_0_ALB1st Day and birthday party 011 you were thrust into the world from your warm and cozy hiding spot and placed into my arms.  After a turbulent and emotionally draining pregnancy, we were thrilled to have you in our lives.  We were startled by your blond hair and blue eyes, but so happy you had arrived at long last.  You were a long and lean baby, then toddler, as we began our somewhat unusual and  nomadic life together.

You have taken much time and care to become your own person.  You tried soccer (didn't like so much), ballet (much better, but not quite you) and settled on swimming and a love of music, whether vocal or instrumental.  You were and continue to be intensely thoughtful as a child, which fueled a love of reading, almost to a fault.  How many times have I heard an odd noise in the middle of the night, checked on you, and found you under the covers with a flashlight and your latest book?  The book that eventually causes your eyes to flutter as you tire yourself from the intense concentration and you drift off to sleep trying ...to.. read...one...last ...word.

You are deeply imaginative and from sketches to stories to songs, you can create worlds in which one could be lost for ages.  You have the ability to be terribly independent, but enjoy sharing your imaginative exploits with others, especially those close to you. You are a loving older sister, whether through such creative play with Kelsey or lulling NIcholas to sleep through song.IMG_1300

 You are a unique combination of us with your willowy figure, sparkling green eyes, porcelain skin, and ecru tresses.  We alternate between worrying about how quickly you are growing up to basking in your accomplishments.  You crossed between the continents as though you were skipping across a footpath in the backyard, and still remember the details of every step along the way.

You are Caitlin Hughes Dinoia, our little girl (yet so grown up) and today you are ten.  Happy Birthday,  Little Buddy!