58 posts categorized "Kelsey"

March 22, 2014

Kelsey, my wee Nugget

you turn 12 today! I meant to type this post last week, but between last-minute surgery, and my trip to Ft. Lauderdale, well, life got in the way.

I'm not actually home yet, but will be by the time you turn 12 at 3:45 or so this afternoon (since we were two hours later at the time of your birth while on medevac from Caracas...and then authorized departure...our lives were never dull).  I won't be there to make a birthday pancake in the morning, but knowing you as I do, you will be just fine with Dad making the special birthday breakfast. And while I wish we could have our big celebration tomorrow, we will have a spectacular time celebrating another friend's birthday and have a big bash for you in a few weeks.

Happy birthday, my dear sweet girl.  You are such a thoughtful and generous spirit.  Miss you, love you, and hope 12 is an awesome year for you!

September 02, 2012

I'm either up for Mother of the Year or

....I'm going to stop there.  After the "nickedent" on Friday, Kelsey and I decided perhaps we would try the mini-golf at the National Building Museum on our own over the weekend.  She really, really, really wanted to go and I knew how disappointed she was at not finishing.  She was so kind about leaving on Friday that I hated to completely disappoint her. 

Given that the exhibition closes tomorrow, I found a sitter for Nick and we headed back into the city to our "meeting."  The sitter was the best possible idea as the line for the mini-golf was easily two hours long when we arrived.  We hemmed and hawed, walked around, looked at the $100 Fallingwater Lego kit in the museum gift shop and finally decided just to do it. Given that I didn't have to stress about Nick getting bored or tired, it seemed like the best option.  She also wanted to check on her Lego work of art, but I said nixed that idea.  Yes, I'm cheap (would have cost us an extra $10 just to enter the room).

Look carefully...recognize this map?

I bought tickets just for the golf, we got in line and I held our spot while catching up on emails with my writing group and the PTA.  Kelsey enjoyed making friends with other kids whose parents were in line while they built things with giant blocks.  The hall is so spacious that she could have opted to run laps and no one would have really noticed.

About two hours later (though it really didn't seem that long), we finally started our game.  I can't say it wasn't slow-going, but at least we weren't at the beach under a mosquito attack?  Slowly but surely, we putted on through until we finally hit upon a brilliant idea:  skipping a hole.  One hole was quite literally created from a skateboard ramp.  Not a big one, but let's just say it appeared to be challenging.  By the time we were in line for that hole, the back-up was easily 10 people...yet we were standing next to the following hole and no one was playing...so, we skipped it, played through and finished up in 15 minutes max.

So, was it worth the wait?  Yes, I have to say it was.  The architecture/design of the holes was really amazing.  Like the work in the Lego room, it really was something you had to see in person to believe.  Given that it's unlikely we'd have a chance to play again and I was able to have a good bit of one on one time with Kelsey (which is critical for kids during a UT), I'd say I'd do it again in a heartbeat (but bring a portable charger, as my phone nearly died while I was taking pictures...).

Now that she's seen all of this fabulous architecture, guess who is chomping at the bit for a field trip to Fallingwater (tickets are cheaper than the Lego set)?  Oh, gee, okay!

March 14, 2012


are very big with us right now.  They involve traipsing through the woods with at least one light saber, a tool belt and several 'tools' (of the made-up variety).  Monday was early day for Kelsey, so we decided it was the perfect time for a good, long mission with Kelsey, her friend and Nick.

We set off with Nick shouting "Let's do it (play Clone Wars) when we get to the energy shield!" 


 The energy shield is a large cement block just over the bridge, near the creek.  We threw rocks, washed our hands and then Kelsey's friend wanted to take us to her mission area (who knew missions were so popular these days?).  Her mission was far more complex and in addition to throwing rocks, required some digging in the very clay-like mud, taking off our boots, stomping through the creek and... 



you guessed it:  falling over and getting 100% sopping wet.  If you can't tell, it was a most excellent day for Han and crew (though I was relegated to being Princess Leia's mom, as Kelsey had to be Leia).  Nothing like two hours trouncing through the woods and a creek to remind one that the ingredients for a great afternoon need include nothing more than rocks, mud, water and the occasional light saber. 

The light saber must never be out of reach...


March 08, 2012

You'd never know

the Nugget had surgery last Thursday.  She couldn't even open her eyes Saturday morning, but by the evening was walking around the house again (with sunglasses on).  By Sunday afternoon, she decided to drop the sunglasses and provided we kept the drapes closed, she had no problem with the natural light.


Too cool for school...

Monday was still a bit soon for school, but we decided to test the great outdoors with a field trip.  She wore her sunglasses most of the time, until we stopped at the coffee shop.  Within minutes she took them off and seemed completely comfortable despite the bright interior.


The healing power of the young is amazing...

I worried a bit about her return to school, however, she woke up Tuesday morning with far less swelling and the red in her eyes was finally dissipating.  She went off to school with only her regular glasses and had no issues whatsover.


Oh, yes, she wore the boots!

Wednesday was the big day:  the post-op appointment.  I picked Kelsey up from school and expected a long wait at the opthalmologist's Virginia office.  We were pleasantly surprised to see his assistant and then the doctor himself, within minutes of our arrival.  Kelsey was her usual calm self and passed every test with flying colors.  Even better:  no new prescription!


Celebratory spring rolls and fruit tea at one of our favorite Thai restaurants.

Her eyes are healing incredibly well, her vision is great (well, generally speaking) and we will see what happens in three months during her return visit.   We (of course) had to celebrate our good fortune with spring rolls (doesn't everyone?).    All in all, not a bad recovery.  Slightly painful, but very quick and nothing but good results from the surgery thus far.  Now that we are finished with her eyes (for the moment), we get to move on to orthodontia....good times!




January 20, 2012

"That's a parent!"

Yes, it is.  A parent who decided he wanted to surprise his daughter with a truly fun lunch and found himself at the Harris-Teeter at midnight on a Thursday night.  He had to get the right kind of organic turkey and the cheddar cheese sticks vs. the mozzarella (no cheddar at home).

Naturally, we did not have any sprinkles in the house (you know my penchant for that healthy eating and all)....weeeelll, we do have sprinkles, just not the uber-brightly colored ones (you know the ones with dye numbers instead of names? I'm overlooking that issue this one time...), so Peter had to buy a few of those, too.  Now, why might you ask was he doing all of this?

It's all due to Kelsey being BentOnBetterLunches .  We found this blog way back when and immediately put it in our bookmark bar.  Kelsey LOVES to make her own lunches, so she checks the blog daily for ideas.  Now, lately, we were in sort of a rut.  She would do well with making fruit kabobs or cutely arranging her snacks, but unless we had leftovers, the main 'course' sometimes ended up being pasta or Annie's mac and cheese.  Organic, yes, but the healthiest option?  Not so much.

Tonight she was looking at the site and found this post.  She desperately wanted to have these for lunch tomorrow, despite the fact that just last week she complained that she was the "only one who ever brought a healthy lunch."  Peter had to run an errand anyway (I mean, who doesn't at 10 p.m. on a Thursday) and offered that he would do his best to provide this lunch treat for her. 


Provide he did.  I don't know whether I'm more excited that he is getting turned onto the blog or that it is just such an incredibly sweet dad gesture.  So, if you are wondering, we are saving our 'this moment' for tomorrow, as this picture definitely needed a few words of explanation.  Oh, and in case you are curious, Peter used paper instead of silicone cups.  We have silicone, but he feared they wouldn't make it back home, yet he was making lunch for the child who takes real silverware to school each day and brings it home, to boot!   Whatevs, it's a darn cute lunch, right?


October 15, 2011

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. One photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.


Technically taken a day late and published much later, but still a moment. Idea courtesy of Soulemama.  


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.









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

We did the bouncy thing.

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

IMG_1113 IMG_1115











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!

IMG_1119 IMG_1120IMG_1122

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.

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!


Night, all!




September 23, 2011

{these moments}

{these moments} - A Friday ritual. Four photos - no words - capturing moments from the week. Simple, special, extraordinary moments. Moments I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment(s)' in the comments for all to find and see.



Idea courtesy of Soulemama.  


Lest I forget, two more images as reminders of special events this weekend...

Happy Birthday, Mom




and Happy 7th Anniversary, Salty Dogs!




September 18, 2011

It's nothing earth-shattering

but the kids finally had haircuts today.  Two out of three had the "I'm growing out my bangs/bad haircut look" for ages and we finally decided to attempt to find a decent salon again.

We have tried repeatedly to go to a local chain and each time it is close to disastrous.  The stylists spend most of their time trying to sell me shampoo I don't want, need or use and then proceed to hack away at the kids' hair.  The last time we went, Nicholas ended up with so many layers, I couldn't tell what the woman was trying to do.  

He was also not very happy about the hair cut idea (has never been crazy about it) and I don't blame him. Scissors and what-not flying around your head for 30 minutes is not everyone's idea of fun.  We finally decided we would try a friend of a friend's barbershop in Annapolis.  Pete would go first, Nicholas would watch and all would be well.

Unfortunately, the barbershop closes at 3 p.m. on Saturdays and by the time we arrived (my insomnia causes me to oversleep on the weekends), it was nearly 2:45 p.m. I cursed my inability to get out of bed in a timely manner and then we both remembered a children's hair salon we had seen in a nearby shopping center.  The prices were reasonable, it was open and it was across the street from my new favorite indie coffeehouse in Annapolis, Caffe Pronto.  Yes, it was all an excuse to get a mocha and my favorite coffee...sue me!

We stepped into the salon, Pigtails & Crewcuts, which was bright, airy and happily decorated.  They had the fun kiddie seats (airplane, fire engine and police car), a child size seats for those who would rather a regular chair and two regular size salon chairs.  I feared a long wait as it was a rather gloomy day out, but to my surprise, we were called within minutes.

IMG_0988Kelsey went first and after getting her settled, Nicholas's name was called.  Now, the test:  would he have any interest in getting his hair cut or would he be miserable the whole time?  I do NOT like bribing children since it generally doesn't work, but he had requested a lollipop (if they had them) prior to going in the salon.  We figured that was a fair compromise (considering I treat myself to an Indian buffet lunch after I get my hair done...) and we walked over to try out a car seat.

IMG_0989 He wouldn't have any of it and wanted absolutely nothing to do with the cars.  So, we offered the next best thing:  Dad's lap.  Sure enough, he climbed up, had no problem with the colorful drape and happily sat in Peter's lap for the entire cut (to include use of the clippers).  She chatted while she cut, cut, cut a bit more and worked the kinks out of the layering nastiness.  Nicholas was as calm and cool as a cucumber.  No unhappiness, no tears, just a quiet Little Guy sitting in dad's lap.  It probably also helped that there was a movie on (which was really for Kelsey, seated next to him), but it really doesn't matter.  He was happy and not traumatized by the experience and, even better, he got a really great cut.

He hopped down the minute the cut was over, gobbled up his lollipop and happily played at the train table until it was time to go.  Kelsey ended up with a smart bang/all over trim which will work a bit better than the bangs that were constantly in her eyes.  And the salon?  They have found new loyal customers.  The stylists were great, extremely patient (but quick) and the cost was the same or less than that local chain. No pressure to buy anything and we all left happy and well-groomed (well, 2 out of 5 of us).  Given that we are frequently in the area to see the Salty Dogs  (insert sweet quote:  Nicholas stated today, "Baby Nate is my best friend!"), it's an easy visit to work in.  We were to go sailing with them today, but the weather did not cooperate.  However, we had just as much fun hanging out at the Salty Dog homestead. 

Now the real point of this post? Pictures of the kids with their new 'dos.  And is it me or does the Little Guy really not seem so Little anymore?


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.

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 21, 2010

Ode to Spiky & Flexy

IMG_1975  Oh, I miss you so much, I hope you had good lives.  

Spiky, you ran away in the Grand Hotel, but you still live my heart.

Flexy, you traveled from ocean to ocean, through the desert, and visited the Grand Canyon (whether you knew it or not).

You were both born in a science classroom in San Ramon, and went from a mealworms to beetles while you saw the world from your cozy sawdust home.

I miss you...



 Spiky ran away during our Grand Canyon adventure, and Flexy passed away sometime today.  They may have been tiny creatures, but they were still nourished, nurtured and loved.  

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.  


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.  

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!


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.

IMG_4716 IMG_4719 IMG_4723 IMG_4727


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...


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?


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!

June 02, 2010

Iron Horse Trail

I know what you are thinking...another park? Don't you leave soon? Please...it's only Wednesday.  We don't depart until Sunday, and I can guarantee you we still have plenty of time to explore.  What's that you say?  How can you do that while saying your good-byes, finishing out the school year, attending concerts, and the like?

IMG_4652 It's quite simple if the good-byes are centered around more adventures.  Today's was rather simple, and in an area which I haven't discussed much, but certainly deserves some attention:  the Iron Horse Trail.  As the name might imply, this used to be part of the Southern Pacific Railroad.  Instead of being abandoned and neglected, it was turned into a trail that is used by bikers, walkers, strollers, skaters, runners, and scooterers galore.

IMG_4654 Not long after I arrived in the East Bay, I joined a walking group that would meet several times a week.  At least one of those jaunts was to be a fast-paced walk (and possible jog) along the trail.  The trail markers guarantee an easy way to keep track of one's distance while it trips and traipses through downtown Danville and the backyards of those that live nearby, and kept us on track for our minimum 3 mile round-trip. 

I can only describe a few of the many facets of the trail, as I have not had the experience of doing more than bits and pieces in Danville and San Ramon.  Personally, I have favored the lengths in Danville, but only due to the massive amounts of shade that the trees in the area provide.  Other parts of the trail in San Ramon, especially those that back to our current* abode, tend to be treeless and blazing hot under the summer sun.  Still, it offers one a wide swath of walking space, and for some, possibly an easy commute to and from work or school.

IMG_4657 Since we have been doing more outings with the Nature Group and fewer with the walking group (both run by the same fantastic leader, Linda), we have not walked along the downtown Danville portion of the trail in some time.  Today as a final playdate of sorts, Linda, her son, Cy, and Nicholas and I walked, Skuuted and scootered down the trail from the entrance of the Peet's parking lot (for lack of a better name) to the train car that sits behind the Museum of the San Ramon Valley.

IMG_4659 The boys played on the 'train', peeked inside and pretended to drive the wagons out front.  We didn't have a chance to investigate the museum, as there were too many rocks, sticks and the like to examine around the entrance.  We also were not so much in a museum mood as we were in a 'digging and rolling in the dirt' kind of mood. 

It's not technically a park, but the trail has become a play area of sorts for Nicholas. He first met many of his current playgroup friends on the path, despite (at the time) still being such a wee one who spent most of his time in the peanut shell.  Later on, he graduated to the Ergo or the BOB, depending on his mood. I am sure if we were here even another few months, he could be found Skuuting and then biking along the trail. 

IMG_4671 I know we will have hiking trails and the like in Virginia, but we will be hard-pressed to find a similar trail so close to home.  However, I have to admit that I have been a bit jealous of those who merely need to look out the window to see the trail.   While we have enjoyed the location of our home, if we were to live in the area again, I can't say we wouldn't want to live closer to this amazing path.  

*Kelsey playing in our 'backyard' which backs up to part of the San Ramon section of the trail.

June 01, 2010


IMG_2053-1 Nicholas's expression says it all:  we are feeling a bit footloose and fancy-free.  Peter cleaned up the leftover dregs at the house last night..(you know, those little items that seem to escape the first five look-sees) and met with the property manager today.  The walk-through seemed to go well and there was a handshake, a return of keys and garage door openers and the final farewell.  We are now completely finished with the house and can truly relax for the next few days.

While I am sure we will be anxious to get settled once we arrive in Virginia, there is something...no...a lot... to be said for living with fewer items.  We have not finished our de-cluttering and reorganizing and those two items are still on my task list for next year.  Theoretically, we could be headed out again in 14 short months and I would love a move as stress-free as this one.  

After Peter returned home (definition: wherever we are living at the moment)  we headed back to the Art & Wind Festival to celebrate. Kelsey had arrived home from Camporee late this morning.  She was safe, sound and exhausted, but still had plenty of energy to look for snow cones and cotton candy.  The kids had fun on the bouncy rides, we enjoyed a bit of  very tasty fair fare, and Nicholas was able to watch (hold onto your hats) the ladder being put away on the really super-big and awesome Truck #34. 

IMG_1933 Speaking of "fair fare," kudos to Kristen of the McNabb Clan!  She correctly guessed that the items in question in my Santa Cruz post were none other than deep-fried Twinkies.  Nothing like that to make the funnel cake covered with goopy strawberry sauce seem high on the ol' ANDI scale.  Apparently she has not tried them either, so sadly, still not a clue as to what they might taste like...and perhaps that is a mystery best left unsolved?

May 31, 2010

And they're off...

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

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

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

It just doesn't get more romantic than that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 28, 2010

They're heeere!

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

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

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

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

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

May 25, 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 23, 2010

Santa Cruz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 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 14, 2010

It was just a tiny lump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 09, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!

IMG_1883 IMG_1884 IMG_1885

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

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

"Oh, that is SO Kelsey and me!"

*Sigh* Happy Mom's Day!

May 06, 2010

First Communion and a little surprise...

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_3386 Caitlin and her friend were cantors for the ceremony.

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

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

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

April 29, 2010

It's a little smudged,

IMG_1798 but the feeling is there.  It's Teacher Appreciation Week at Kelsey's school. On Tuesday, each child was to take in a card of some sort.  Kelsey wrote out this card for her teacher, and then enclosed a Starbucks gift card.

I didn't read the card until she was tucked into her bed.  I didn't tear up, but I thought it was incredibly sweet.  I remember liking some of my teachers, but never to the point of not wanting school to end or being upset about leaving school early.

Fast forward to our car ride home tonight.  We were out getting shoes for her First Communion (on Saturday), and ran a few more quick errands.  We were on the way home and almost to our exit when it hit me that I had completely blanked on tomorrow's teacher treat.  It can be anything from a pack of stickers to a hand-written card.  What did Kelsey come up with?

"I want to make Mrs. H. a card, and put a photo of me on it, and then she will always remember me."

Cue waterworks on my part.  It's not even the leaving, in this case, it is her matter-of-fact responses to everything.  Even when we asked how she felt about the move recently, she simply stated,

"Well, let's move and then we can always come back and visit.  I could come back next spring for maybe a week and visit with my friends.  Let's do that, that's a good idea."

Is there such a thing as being too well-adjusted? 

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....


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! 

April 02, 2010

A Belly Full of Jellies

IMG_4209IMG_4225Jelly Bellies, that is.  A tour of the Jelly Belly factory was part of Kelsey's class study of Economics.  It was really quite simple:  watch many hungry parents (okay, one mama in particular) race to the Jelly Belly Factory store (when said tour was concluded) in order to spend a tidy sum on, oh, we'll call it "Easter" candy.   Never mind that several of the bags were purported to be filled with flavors that only she likes...

  IMG_4222 IMG_4224 Yeah, I was ridiculous.  Let's start at the beginning though, which was an hour long ride to the Factory, half of which I spent convinced I was going to get a Fastrak ticket.  There was one bridge to cross on the way, and everyone mentioned using the carpool lanes.  So, I did.  Then I realized it said Carpools AND Fastrak.  I then figured it was for carpools only if one has Fastrak.  We do, but it was in Peter's Tahoe, which had been parked for hours in the Financial District.

Guess what?  It really is just for carpools, and I guess they take really awesome photos of each car and decide if the tiny heads in the back seat are real or fake, and then ticket (or not) appropriately.  I have just never heard of any carpool lane allowing you to avoid the payment of a toll entirely...pay it faster with something like Fastrak, but never avoid it.  Live and learn! 

We arrived at the factory in good time (yes, on 1 Jelly Belly Lane) and had no problems parking.  Note to anyone interested in going:  go early!  We arrived at 9:02 a.m. and the parking lot was nearly empty.  By the time we left at 10:38 a.m., it was packed to the gills. 

We headed inside, snapped a few photos (sorry, about your nose President Reagan), and began the tour almost immediately.  I also learned the best way to ensure there won't be a long wait is to decide to use the restroom.  If there is a wait, it immediately dissipates the minute you walk away.  Thankfully, there was some snafu with the number of Jelly Belly hats distributed, and we didn't miss a thing.

IMG_4211 IMG_4213 IMG_4214

We went up the candy corn staircase, rounded the bend, skipped the optional photo with Mr. Jelly Belly, and enjoyed a taste of the Honey Bean Jelly Belly...pure YUM if you love honey (and I do).  The tour itself lasted no more than 30 minutes, and probably would be shorter if there weren't have oodles of kids pressing their noses to look at the (sadly, not operating) Jelly Belly making machines.  Unfortunately, we went on an inventory day, which meant that the factory was empty save for thousands of pounds of Jelly Belly ingredients and the equipment required to produce them.

Don't worry, JB must have known this could happen, and had monitors with videos of the entire process set up at several key points around the factory.  The tour took place in a  glassed-in hallway that looked down over the floor, and there was no shortage of good views of monitors or actual candy-making equipment.  Nor was there a shortage of samples throughout the tour...banana (okay).and ..juicy pear (super YUM).

IMG_1655 IMG_4220 I am not sure if we spent more time in the factory or the store.  I realized with Kelsey being distracted by the notion of possibly buying the world's largest jawbreaker, I had plenty of time to shop for the kids Easter baskets. If questioned, who wouldn't believe that I was just buying a few little treats my hosts next week, the fabulous Salty Dog crew?  

Now lest you think I have lost my senses and suddenly endorse eating oodles of Jelly Bellies, most of which are made with an ingredient I detest, well...I make exceptions.  I do love many of the flavors, can't stand normal jelly beans, and since we aren't huge candy eaters, I think a bit now and again won't hurt too much.  The funny thing?  Just as I was bemoaning how all of the flavors were only made with corn syrup, I found this mix. Oh, yes, I had to test it...and the flavors passed with flying colors.  Definitely on my list.

I was ever so grateful to have those to snack on for the ride back...one vegetarian potsticker and a mug of coffee do not a breakfast (or "brefits", as Nicholas says) make.  Trip to the Jelly Belly factory $44.19 plus cost of gas.  The fun had with Kelsey (and, yes, getting Easter goodies)?  Priceless.

March 22, 2010


was my nickname tonight.  My dear husband thought I was going a bit overboard on a project, and deemed me to be a little bit nuts. Now for those of you who know us (or if you quickly click here), you might wonder what me being crazy this has to do with the nugget...

Yep, Kelsey turns 8 today, but this is not *the* official post.  It will have to wait, as a special photograph needs to be taken first.  We have been waiting almost a year to do so, and, yes, more explanation on that later.  So, why am I loopy?

I guess I obsessed a bit (in his opinion) over Kelsey's birthday favors for her class.  It can no longer be as simple as cupcakes or candy (which is sort of okay with me).  I used to send in a birthday cake in Iceland to Kelsey's leikskola and didn't think twice.  I honestly don't remember what we sent in for her 6th birthday (to the International School), but if it was a craft, it was likely by choice.  However, it seems now everyone here simply gives out small favors.

IMG_4097She wanted to go with pencils and erasers, but I thought since that was quite popular, we should opt for something slightly different, and perhaps, a bit green?  Since it is spring, what better favor than a little grow pot for the garden?  We found a variety of herbs and threw in a few strawberry pots.  Since the carton was not super-sturdy, I figured it couldn't hurt to put them in a colorful paper (yes, recycled) bag.  Then I have all of these letter stickers, and even with the scrapbook updates I need to do, I will never, ever use them all...so I though it would be really cute to emblazon their names on the bag.  Of course, the bag then needs to be sealed, nothing a little hole-punching and a ribbon wouldn't fix.

 With that, you have the favors.  Really not that complicated or fancy, but a fun mother/daughter (til the said daughter's bedtime) project.  And, no, Kelsey is not getting one, but that is just to illustrate the design for the names, without displaying the roster for her entire class.

March 21, 2010


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


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 03, 2010

It's been quiet around here,

IMG_4025 as the little guy has been keeping me busy.  The Little Green Machine  has also been very busy.  Today's project for the LGM was stamping ink (from a very, very, very pink stamp pad), but it has also recently tackled melted Stamping Up crayons (several, not just one), Crayola Twistables (much easier to remove than Stamping Up crayons), cat vomit (admittedly not directly Nicholas's fault), general dirt, unknown sticky pink substances (thinking Kelsey might have had a hand in this one), coffee, and red wine*.  On the up side, that little machine has paid for itself several times over.  Invaluable if you have  a child that...scratch that, invaluable if you have a child, cat that doesn't understand ribbons aren't edible, and/or drink way too much coffee.

It took LG all of five seconds to find, get into and drop the stamp pad.  He promptly toddled over and proudly shoved his hands in my face.  Once I got over the shock of it and realized it wasn't blood on his hands, I had to snap a picture as he was just so darn pleased with himself. Or maybe this is payback for all of the times he didn't want me to take his hand-prints for cards and mementos.  Either way, he was happy with his "project" and I was happy (for many reasons) that it was easily removed.  We cleaned up and headed out to get Kelsey just as another rainstorm had finished. 

Remember how much he loves the rain?  And the puddles?  And every kind of water-go?  Yep, he fell in headfirst to the largest puddle on the playground as soon as we arrived and was one happy camper.  There's nothing like those simple pleasures of childhood.

IMG_1571 IMG_1572 IMG_1574

*In case you are wondering, I use nothing but water and don't bother putting it in the machine.  Just boiling hot water from the tea kettle, suck it up with the attachment from the LGM and the stains are gone. 

February 06, 2010

The Mid-Atlantic Weather Forecasters

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

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

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

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

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

February 05, 2010

Drum Roll (Drum Roll!)

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

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

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

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

February 03, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 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_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


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?


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 15, 2009


Though somewhat sadly, not in our favor.  In fact, all but one of the twelve goals scored were for the other team.  Luckily, that didn't prevent Kelsey or her friends from having a good time, or setting loftier standards for the next game.

Tonight was the first game of her indoor soccer league season.  She enjoyed soccer so much, that she wanted to continue with indoor soccer once the regular outdoor league ended.  A friend's father is coaching (so Pete is free to record the games), and even more of her school friends are on the team, since the age rules are more relaxed.

Tonight's game started with a brief practice, as the girls normally do not meet during the week: the league regulations require only weekly games.  Fine for those who have played before, but at least one was new to soccer and a little practice never hurt anyone.  Peter dropped Kelsey off early, and picked us up after their pre-game practice ended to save Nicholas a bit of boredom.* 

We arrived just as they were about to start, and I noticed Kelsey donning a second soccer shirt.  They were blue tonight, and the extra shirt could only mean one thing:  she had been chosen/requested to be goalie.

I was a bit nervous.  Goals are big swaths of land to cover, and really, she could have paid a bit more attention when playing outdoor soccer. During the outdoor season, her team spent so much time on their offensive moves, that she was often surprised when they ended up near the goal, and missed more than she caught.  Not to worry tonight, as the opposing team (which, if they are under 8, I am Santa Claus), spent a good portion of their time near/around/in our goal. She didn't have time to look at the scoreboard, much less daydream.  She was on top of things, but still missed a few, and the other team scored 6 goals in the first half, something that would have most crying in their boots.

Not me, and definitely not Kelsey.  She had at least one awesome save (if not more) for every goal they scored.  Her team didn't let go, and fought the fight until the end.  They ended the game just as red-faced and sweaty as the other team, and just as cheerfully (though with somewhat blase looks) and did the old "good game" routine at the end as though they had won.  They didn't, but they tried, and more importantly, seemed to have an incredibly good time, including the poor teammate who took a ball smack in the face one minute before the game ended. 

In the end, Kelsey wasn't disappointed because they lost, but because they got so few goals.  "Next time." she stated firmly on the way home,"we are going to get AT LEAST THREE!" 

*Who are we kidding, this kid was born to play soccer, and loves to watch just as much. If you remember pictures from way back when, he could kick a ball before he could walk.  When we arrived at the game, he ran around to the back of the car to get his "ba".  Little smarty-pants remembered how Pete kept the bags of balls in the trunk.  Yep, he's getting signed up next, provided it doesn't interfere with his Kindermusik/swimming/gymnastics/Itsy-Bitsy Yoga schedule.

Here's a a highlight reel of some of Kelsey's performance in goal (right-click and choose "Save Link As..." to save to your computer - 5.3MB):

Download Kelsey Goal Kick and Save

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*.