Sunday, December 30, 2007


Another random post from before the real holiday. Several years back, I went to a little class in a friend's home on how to make truffles. Turns out, it's not so least not the way I was taught. Probably not the classiest truffles in the world, but fun and impressive-looking nonetheless.

So, this year, I decided to make chocolates for all of the kids' teachers and speech therapists. I did dark chocolate filled with mint creme. I did swirled milk and white cholocate filled with cappucchino creme. I did dark chocolate with marshmallow and raspberry filling, white chocolate with bittersweet chocolate creme, milk chocolate with butterscotch creme, swirled milk chocolate and peanut butter chocolate with peanut butter creme, milk chocolates with caramel (homemade by Daddy), and big heart-shaped dark chocolates with caramel and marshmallow.

I bought cute little boxes and those little paper cups for candies. I got Christmas stickers for decorating and metallic, elastic bows for securing the more regular shaped boxes. I printed out guides to the candies and their flavors, cut them out, pasted them on high-quality red backing paper. And completely forgot to take a single photo of the finished product!

That means you'll just have to believe me when I say they were super cute and that more than one person said "You made these?" with a tone of disbelief. So, all I've got is these photos Daddy took of me while I was in the initial stages of making these teacher-destined chocolates. I didn't appreciate the camera much at the time, but hey, it's the only way I know it happened. The extras are already long gone...

Oh yeah, I made some really cute Christmas cookies this year too, but forgot to take any photos of those before distributing to the neighbors. They looked something these cookies I made last year:

Home for the Holidays

I'm a little out of order here. We went to Santa Cruz after the kids were done with school for the year. BUT, before kids can be done with school, there must be much celebrating at school. For Mam, that meant participating in the preschool's annual Holiday Sing. The school does four of these each year. One for kids who go to school Tuesday/Thursday mornings, one for kids on the same days, but in the afternoons, one for kids who go MWF mornings and a last one for kids going MWF afternoons. Mam's group represented the final group of about 100 kids, going on stage to perform.

Mam's class is the only class of 3-year-olds in the bunch. The rest are 4- and 5-year-olds. As usual, Mam loved being on stage and seeing Mommy, Daddy, Gram and Grandpa in the chairs below. Also, as usual, the crowd of type-A parents arrived ridiculously early, so even though Daddy arrived to save us seats about 20 minutes early (I was volunteering in Smuch's classroom 'til the last minute), we sat in the back row of the main section.

The kids were predictably adorable singing about a dozen holiday songs with hand motions and piano accompaniment. Afterwards, they got to have a cookie snack in their classroom while all the parents stood around and congratulated them on their performance. One of my favorite moments of the day was when Santa made a surprise visit to the classroom. Mam was visibly in awe...

Who knew Santa came to see kids at preschool and hand out presents too??

Not to be outdone (although he kinda was), Smunch also had a party at school, although no concert. His party consisted of decorating gingerbread/graham cracker houses. And his was the best! Well, no, it wasn't the best at all, but it had character...a character I suspect was influenced by Smunch's rather strong desire to eat his house. It was devoured fewer than 24 hours after it got home!

The highlight of that party was that I'd accidentally gotten myself appointed coordinator of the class gift. I was fine with that, but the presentation was another story. I have no self confidence when it comes to standing in front of a crowd, even if it's mostly just a crowd of kindergartners. So, you can imagine I felt just slightly proud of myself for getting all the kids to chime in and say "Thank you, Ms. Britton!" as we presented her gift. And to the aide as well. Phew!

One final hug for his teacher before he left and we were all home for the holidays...for two weeks...whatever will we do?? Stay tuned...

Butterflies on the Beach

I'd been looking for an opportunity to go to Santa Cruz and see the monarch butterflies this year. The migrate to a particular eucalyptus grove there every winter and I'd never taken the kids. So, the Sunday before Christmas, Daddy and I packed the kids in the car and headed South.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, but it was cold and it hadn't really warmed up enough for the butterflies to get going when we got there...and apparently they leave around the end of December these days, when they used to stay until February. So, there weren't all that many. No long bunches of butterflies looking like dead leaves dripping off the trees. Just a bunch of orange and black butterflies fluttering around...but only a couple hours after we arrived.The kids were thrilled just to look at the chilly little butterflies that couldn't get off the ground.

Fortunately, the place is also right on the beach, so we went down to the beach for a while, where the kids were happy to play in the sun and the sand, collecting shells, making sand castles and generally running amok. I, on the other hand, wandered up and down the beach looking for interesting photos to take. I ended up with a couple of pretty cool ones. Too many to bore you with here, but here's a small sample:

After a while on the beach, we set off over the rocks to the tide pools. The tide was still going out, but there were some interesting pools already, mostly with lots of sea anemones. The kids were pretty excited to have a sea anemone "suck" on their fingers. There were a few missteps and sodden socks and shoes, but nothing quite compared to my looking over the rock ledge at the field of mussels clinging to the rocks, only to hear Daddy yell "Wave!" I had enough time to turn my back and make a feeble attempt to protect the camera. The camera survived. My clothes were a different story.

You can't tell just how drenched I was - from heels to hair - in this photo, a rare one of me with the kids. I usually spend all the time taking the photos, but I'd handed the camera over to Daddy after my little mishap.

Thankfully, I keep the ol' mommymobile in a terrible mess, which means there are almost always some spare clothes in there somewhere. I had to live with my wet jeans, but I found a new sweater and we headed back to see the butterflies, which were now flying around, before making our trek home. Unfortunately, you can't really take decent photos of butterflies flying around in the sky! All in all, a very blog-worthy day, if just for the photos!

The important people in life

I realize it's almost 2008 and I still haven't written anything about Christmas. In fact, I still haven't written anything about the things we did before Christmas. This was one of them. Our local community hospital recently launched a big campaign to make it sound like some kind of medical center of excellence, with slogans like "Tough on Heart Disease, Easy on You." If I sound a little snide, I don't exactly mean to be. Perhaps it is an excellent hospital. I know many people prefer it to our local teaching hospital. I can only say that my L & D experience there was far from stellar...but it was also complicated and ugly and they just didn't seem to be prepared for my method of childbirth (way too early and way too fast).

But, I digress. Shortly before Christmas, I spotted one of these advertisements as we stopped for pizza downtown. Rather than one of the hospital's many heart or cancer specialists displayed larger than life, this one was someone I knew. As much as she's not a close personal friend of mine, I still have very strong feelings about this woman. She had to give me some really bad news about my babies...more than once. But she has my admiration and respect because without her and a whole lot of other people like her, I might have no children at all.

She's the director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). She took care of Smunch for two weeks of his 14-week hospital stay at the teaching hospital (where neonatologists do two-week rotations) and she is in charge of the NICU where Mam was pulled back from the brink of death after her birth. If I sound a little too sappy, it's not because I have an overblown sense of the drama involved here. It's because that's what life was like with a baby in the NICU. I'm so, so pleased to view that experience only in my mental rearview mirror. And it's getting further and further behind us in most ways.

I can't say I believe my kids came through the prematurity experience unscathed, but I can say that this woman played a very important part in their lives and I'll be forever grateful for that.

So, we went back a week later and took some photos. It wasn't a good hair day, it wasn't a terrific behavior day, even, but I love these and somehow, they feel important.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Forgetful Mommy

Today, I took Mam to a Trader Joes that we usually don't go to. I had my grocery list, but discombobulated as I was by the different store layout, I kept forgetting to pick things up. The store was busy and I kept driving my cart around in circles. Mam was safely ensconced in the front and we chatted our way around the store several times. The following was the highlight of the trip:

Me: Remind me if I forget to go get your fig bars, O.K.?
Mam: O.K.
Me: Thanks
Mam: Tell me when you forget and I'll remind you, O.K.?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A snuggle at bedtime

Tonight, Mam earned a glowing star on her ceiling for keeping her pants dry all day. So she and I lay snuggled in her bed with the nightlight out to look at her stars. She had but one request:

"Mommy, will you snuggle me just until the stars stop glowing?"

Oh, the waiting...

I know it's tough for kids to wait for Christmas. All those presents...and the presents and Santa and the presents. It's been especially hard for our Mam since Grandpa Ryder brought his gifts last weekend. We dutifully put them under the tree, but perhaps that wasn't the best idea...

This morning, Daddy and I were taking a shower. Yes. We were taking a shower together. We have one of those showers with two shower heads. It seemed sorta kinky, sorta romantic when we bought the house. Turns out it's just practical. I don't need to get irritated when he's in the shower and it's been three days since I've made it there, but this is the only time I'll have to do it all day. I just hop in on the other side. But I digress...

We were in the shower when Mam came in with one of the presents from under the tree and the following announcement:

"I've waited long enough!"

Monday, December 17, 2007

Human contact

Hopefully, this is one of the last in the series on my experience with Sears and A & E Factory Service. I mean, we've all had enough, haven't we? When I last mentioned this little experience, a tumbler assembly for a drier had just landed on our porch. It's still there.

In a surprise move, I got a phone call today from a very nice woman named Tracy, who said she was with Sears and had read our BBB complaint several times. She offered to send me the $190 we had to spend to have the washer re-repaired by another party. I took her up on that pretty quickly. I'd asked for that, plus the cost of labor on the original repair, but figured I wasn't likely to get all that. I'm happy with having the real repair covered. That's probably the refund that made the most sense. 

But, I said, we now have another problem. We keep having these dryer parts delivered to us. Someone was supposed to pick them up, but it hasn't happened. Naturally, she had no record of this incident at all, but gave me her direct line, told me nothing was likely to happen before Christmas, but if I gave her a call after the holiday, she would make sure UPS comes out to pick it up. Hmmm...after the holiday, huh?

So, I have a lovely porch (aside from the mess the painters left on the slate), festooned with icicle lights and poinsettias...and a giant 3.5' x 3.5' box of dryer parts. Ho ho ho.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Sitting with Santa

I love taking the kids to see Santa. I mean, yeah, it's kind of a pain to get them dressed up for a photo, but they're so jazzed about the whole thing. This year, Smunch and I had this odd little conversation as we pulled into the parking garage at the mall for our annual Santa visit.

Smunch: Is he the
only Santa?
Me: Yes. He's the only Santa at the mall.
Smunch: But are there other Santas at other malls?
Me: Yes. There are other Santas at other malls. (I'm a lousy liar.)

That seemed to be acceptable. Good.

This year, Smunch asked Santa for a bike without training wheels. Having mastered riding his ridiculously tiny bike with 12" wheels without the training wheels, it seemed the least Santa could do would be to bring the kid a new bike.

Mam asked for a "pony set". I hope Santa knows what a pony set is because I'm not actually clear on that, but I have a feeling Santa's gonna come through on this one!

And here is a compilation of our Santa photos from the last few years. In 2002 and 2003, I was way too paranoid about germs to get photos taken with Santa. In 2005, Mam was scared of Santa. I'm so glad they're both going to be excited about him for another couple of years. And geez, who's that blonde little girl anyway? I coulda sworn she had dark hair!

Sears and A & E Factory Service, the ongoing saga

Particularly at this time of year, it's really exciting when the UPS guy drops a package this size on your front porch. What could it be??? It's huge, it must be really terrific. But no. It's not.

This package arrived last night. It was after dark and I didn't even see the UPS driver. I just yelled "thanks!" out into the dark in the direction of a large, idling motor. Then I actually took at look at the box...and all that came to mind was a string of expletives and related jargon that I get from the Fake Steve blog...because I'm such an avid reader of business-related non-fiction. Things like "frigtards" and "WTF".

As you may recall, we had a really awful experience with Sears and their A & E Factory Service last week. The end of that saga was that I looked up several other appliance repair places, Daddy called one, they came out that day and fixed our washer. Meanwhile, I filed a complaint with the BBB against A & E, asking for our money back. I hate them. Really. I wish I could do more to black ball them.

See that little package on top of the big giant box? That arrived the night before last. It's a fabric-y "tub belt" for a Maytag dryer, sent from A & E Factory Service. It was pretty lame they'd send us such a thing. But the box? That takes the cake. It's the entire tumbler assembly for said Maytag dryer. From the same frigtards, of course.

A) It was our washer that broke B) We never ordered any parts for it C) Our washer is a Kenmore (aka Whirlpool) D) Who are these people who can't manage to get out here to fix our washer after they broke it, but can send us large, useless parts for a dryer we don't own???

Oh, Christmas Tree

It was high time we finally got our Christmas tree last weekend. This is significantly later than we usually go, as evidenced by he fact that one of the tree farms we passed was already closed for the season and the one where we finally stopped was closing at the end of the day. We were already perilously close to the end of the day.

Since we moved to this house a few years ago, we've been able to get ridiculously tall trees, so now we go on our search with that in mind. It's not quite the big adventure it was when I was a kid. My sister and I used to go out in the farm and try to get ourselves lost while our parents took the dogs on a search for the perfect tree. I hope my kids never pull that. Then again, this was a pretty small farm. Hard to get lost. And I think the kids still took it for high adventure, so everyone had fun! Gram and Grandpa usually join us and get their own tree, but this time Grandpa Ryder came along too, just to snap some photos (which I obviously don't have or you wouldn't just see my crappy shots.)

We drove to the foot of the mountains, tromped around the in the cold and growing twilight and perused the picked over trees for about an hour before picking one to cut. We tied both trees to the top of the mommymobile and headed back down the hill.

Daddy and I always agonize over the perfect tree. Sometimes it looks perfect until we get it home and we realize that about halfway up, the trunk takes a giant bend to the left. Sometimes we give up and just take one and it turns out to be perfect. Every time we cut a tree, we both declare that it's the shortest we've cut since we moved here. Every time we get it in the house, it's just inches from our cathedral ceiling. This year's specimen isn't perfect, but you know? It ain't half bad...and the kids have declared it "beautiful!" And, so it is.

A Day...or two...with Rascal

As part of Mam's preschool program, each of the kids gets to bring the class "pet", Rascal, home for a day. As part of that fun adventure, their parent is required to document the experience in photos and help the child add a page to Rascal's scrapbook. That meant we actually kept Rascal for an entire week while I struggled to make a trip to Michael's and get some doggie stickers to complement our photos.

On the upside, that also meant that Rascal got to go on many adventures with us. Somehow that didn't necessarily lend it self to terrific photos, but we had fun anyway. I wish I'd thought to take a photo of Mam's scrapbook page, but I didn't. Mam was thrilled to get her turn with Rascal. We took him out to barbeque with us, Mam threw him a tea party.

Mam read him (her?) books before bed and snuggled him to sleep. In fact, she rarely let Rascal out of her sight for the week we had him. She's never really had a special toy that she felt the need to tote everywhere with her, so it was especially cute to see.

As our grand finale adventure, we took Rascal to see the ophthalmologist with Mam. He sat very patiently in the chair and even tried on Mam's glasses for fun. I was a little worried about taking Rascal back to school. I kinda snuck him back

into the classroom while Mam was eating lunch with her friends. She didn't seem traumatized, the extent of her comment on it was to say "Another kid took Rascal home today." She didn't sound sad, but it kinda made me miss the little pup!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Bedtime Preparedness

I don't know just what she was prepared for. Perhaps she was making sure she wasn't blinded by the morning sun that doesn't shine in her bedroom window. And maybe she was planning to use the pumpkin as a weapon against anyone who dared wake her up before 6:45... suggestions?

I'm thinking maybe she was waiting to turn into Cinderella with the pumpkin as her coach, only she was headed to some kind of rock 'n' roll ball...

Do NOT have Sears or their A & E Factory Service Repair your Appliances

More on this later. Right now, I just need to have an online temper tantrum. My washer started leaking a little last week. Daddy called Sears Repair for service. They couldn't come out until Thursday (almost a week), so I lived with it, catching the leaking water in a pan. The repair guy came yesterday. I have no real complaints about him, except that after he left, Daddy ran a load of laundry and water FLOODED our laundry room. Obviously the repair made the problem worse.

Now, I have a toddler who has totally regressed on potty training, including a gigantic poop in her pull-up this morning that nuked her pajamas and I have NO washer. And A & E Factory Service...the subsidiary of Sears that does appliance completely unresponsive. Their reps first lied to my husband last night, telling him they could help when the office was actually closed, the next one said the office was closed and she couldn't do anything. The one this morning said they can come out in a WEEK. You can believe I'm pissed.

Lesson learned. Do your online research before calling these guys. They have a *terrible* reputation and appear to go out of their way to avoid any meaningful customer service.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

If you can go berry picking...

Last night, on our way home from dinner at Armadillo Willy's, Smunch and Daddy were discussing the intricacies of making milkshakes and the following discussion ensued:

Daddy: But we don't have any strawberries for strawberry milkshakes.

Mommy: Yes we do.

Daddy: Oh, right. We do.

Smunch: Where did they come from?

Mommy: They're from when we went and picked berries, I think. We put them in the freezer.

Mam: We can go and pick Oreos!

Sure, we can.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Festival of Lights

Each year, in preparation for the holidays, our relatively quaint town in Silicon Valley holds a sweet little parade it calls the Festival of Lights. This year was its 30th year and it gave us an excuse to bundle up the kids and head downtown on Sunday night. Despite the fact that this is hardly a world-class spectacle, people taped off portions of the sidewalk and placed lawn chairs starting early Saturday morning. It may be a small community, but it's a very type-A community.

We're not type As and we didn't tape off or blanket our piece of sidewalk. We had to settle for the dregs of sidewalk sitting, which was just fine. We staked our our own little piece of curb on State Street just about 20 minutes before the parade started. Time enough to get some coffee for us and glow necklaces for the kids.

It's mostly a parade for the kids, but now that we've got kids, it's really a blast to watch their mesmerized little faces. Almost makes me feel like a kid myself!

The parade includes a fleet of hand-pushed "floated" decked out in lights, several local high school marching bands, fire engines, police cars and a smattering of other marchers dressed up and waving.

The grand finale each year is the arrival of Santa, complete with his sleigh and reindeer. Almost makes you want to go get a tree and put lights on your house, doesn't it. Nevermind that it's still November!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Out takes

Thanksgiving may have just ended, but that means that we participated in two of our sorta-favorite traditions today. First, as soon as Daddy and I could muster the energy to make our munchkins look not only presentable, but camera-ready, we had our 5th annual taking of the holiday photos.

This, of course, is required in order to craft the perfect photo card to send all our friends. Last year, I think this whole process took about 3 days. This year, we shortened the process by making it far less democratic. Daddy took most of the pictures. I chose the best ones while Daddy rewarded the kids for surviving the photo shoot by taking them for a ride on the light rail. They didn't go anywhere. Just up a few stops and back again.

I picked the best out of our more than 300 photos and spent hours trying to come up with the right mixture to create the perfect holiday greeting. This one is of a swamp monster, dressed in cute Christmas duds, posing with a sweet and demure little Mam.

And here, we have the dreaded two-headed kid monster.

Yes. I am aware that this is probably far more thought that I should be putting into such things. I'll no doubt feel the need to include an actual letter with these masterpieces as well. And yes, that would be more than one masterpiece. I couldn't choose just one. Choosing two designs allowed me to use 7 of the 36 photos deemed worthy of a card.

I won't ruin the fun for those of you on our Christmas card list by posting the beautiful shots of the kids, but here are some far more entertaining ones that didn't make the cut. And hey, if you've never gotten a card from us, but you want to...let me know! I think I ordered enough for most of the planet to get one.

Oh, and our second tradition is to go to the town's annual Festival of Lights parade...but I'll save that for the next post...

Christmas is clearly just around the corner.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

That's what cousins are for

Older cousins exist to teach you how to do things. Here's Mam showing Spencer proper jumping technique. This is the technique to be used only when jumping while chasing your cousin around the tree in the driveway.Cousins are also handy for teaching you how to make silly faces. Smunch was in not-so-rare, but gosh-we-wish-it-was-rarer form at our farewell breakfast this morning. Honestly, he was being a brat, but Spencer seemed unfazed by the generally annoying behavior of his older cousin.
Clearly my nephew has this whole thing figured out. And obviously, he's a genius because learning from his cousins seems to be second nature already. Hopefully, he'll leave it at copying silly faces and forget about being obnoxious!

Giving Thanks

It was sort of a mixed bag of a Thanksgiving this year. I mean, it was good! Aunt Karen, Uncle David and Spencer came for the holiday. They stayed for 5 days, which felt ungodly short and we didn't see enough of them by a long shot. But, so it goes. The food was great. Nothing was a big disaster. You can see the kids enjoyed watching Grandpa cut up the turkey. Not as much as eating pie, perhaps, but it was interesting nonetheless.

On the downside, Mam had a rotten cold and Daddy caught some flu-like thing that had him totally laid out with a high fever by late Thursday and for all day on Friday. I also had a work project I was trying to finish up, so I wasn't around as much as I would have liked. I submitted my project to my client on Wednesday afternoon. There's something to be thankful for right there! Although I brought them, I never did manage to get the kids into their Thanksgiving duds. Mam looked like an absolute ragamuffin with her wild, unkept hair and runny nose. Oh well.

On the whole though, our Thanksgiving was a good one, filled with laughing kids, a little of the Macy's parade, a little of the National Dog Show and a LOT of food. I made some awesome butternut squash this year. Gotta remember that one for next year!

Pilgrims and Indians

I admit that I never really tried to explain to Smunch the history behind Thanksgiving. I guess he must've thought it was just a day when women cook a lot (and Daddy makes great dinner rolls) and we all eat ourselves silly. Fortunately, the public school system is pretty good at making up for my neglect. Not only did all four kindergarten classes at Smunch's school put on a little show of festive songs and poetry, but they all dressed as pilgrims and Native Americans for the event...despite the fact they sang a song called "Pilgrims and Indians". PC-ness seems to extend only to the lengths of a kindergartener's understanding and attention span.

The kids spent the previous day in class making their feast - mixing corn muffins, churning butter, bagging popcorn and decorating cookies. All the little construction-paper-clad pilgrims and Indians feasted together after the show, doubtlessly thankful to spot their families in the crowd and have the opportunity to dive into those cookies they'd had their eyes on for a whole day!

The big payoff

There are many...many, many times when I've questioned my own wisdom at having children. I mean, I love them and all, but gosh, they're a lot of work and gosh, I'm lazy. I like to sleep. I like to sit and read without being interrupted every tenth of a second by "What's that a picture of?" "Why?" "Who was there?"

So moments like this one are especially heartwarming to me. This was the scene I arrived upon when getting up one morning. They'd gotten Monopoly Junior out of the cabinet, dealt out the money and started playing on their own. We've finally made it! Kids who play want to play together. Not only do they play together, but they go out to the kitchen and do this on their own...quietly...while leaving us sleeping! I couldn't be more happy that I've got two of them, you know?

Next up, getting dressed before leaving their rooms!