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!

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Sparkly Pillow

I've blogged previously about Mam's spotty record with potty training. Her pediatrician's bright idea was to put her on a potty schedule. Obviously, the good doctor has never tried to put Mam on a schedule. After, oh, half a day of trying that one, I opted for the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy of potty training. I stopped asking. I stopped telling. The struggle wasn't worth it.

Instead, about two months ago, I took Mam to Diddams and told her she could pick out anything she wanted. She would get it when she could keep her pants dry for one week straight. She picked out a big, glittery heart-shaped pillow, which she immediately dubbed "the sparkly pillow". I don't love the sparkly pillow, but that really wasn't the point. Mam adores it.
Obviously, Mam had to work long and hard to earn her pillow. It lived in the garage until Sunday night, when Mam discovered it on her bed. She'd finally kept her pants dry for 7 (really 8) days straight and she was so proud of herself. I know, because she said so. Repeatedly. "Are you proud of me?" she kept asking through the glowing smile.Who wouldn't be proud? And today is day nine of dry pants. I hesitate to say we've succeeded, but we're making progress! And our Mam couldn't be happier with her new bedtime companion.

Farewell to the Green Geckos

It seems like soccer season just started, but Saturday was Smunch's last game already. The team tied the Green Dragons 6-6...which is the best they'd done all season. They weren't the most talented team out there, but Smuch seemed to have a lot of fun...even when he was more interested in reporting the score to his teammates than he was in where the location of the ball. Of course, the highlight of the entire game was the trophy he got after the pizza party.

Unfortunately, the sky opened up and poured rain on us during the pizza portion of the afternoon. Still didn't spoil the trophy though. Any soccer season is a successful season if there was fun to be had and a trophy to show for it, rain or not. And, Mam? I think she probably considered it successful just because it rained!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


I'm not sure when Halloween went from a one-day event to something more than a week long. It seemed like we had non-stop, festive activities. It's nice that the costumes get a good work out, but *phew*, I'm kinda glad it's over!

This year started off with a couple of Las Madres events...a party for Mam's group and our annual pumpkin patch visit and pizza feed for our friends from Gavin's group. I'd already bought a bunch of cheap pumpkins at Safeway, so I considered it a success that we made it out of the pumpkin patch with nothing more than our own photographs. And pizza was fun. Sometimes I forget how nice it is to get together with our "old friends".

We continued our week with Halloween itself, which included the Halloween parade at Smuch's school and the Halloween concert at Mam's preschool. Naturally, the two events overlapped. Daddy and I ran from the parade to the concert.

Gavin was a skeleton this year and Mam was a queen...or a princess...or a little girl with a velvety blue dress and a crown. Whatever. It was a cute costume, even if I bought it last year when I just couldn't decide which costume to buy for Mam and bought two! It was a little shorter than I'd anticipated.

The parade was cute and the concert was fun. Unlike her brother was in preschool, Mam was totally into performing on stage. She sang and did all the hand motions. It's a lot more fun when you see your kid enjoying herself! There are a lot more kids on the stage them you can see in this picture. There were about 100 kids singing. They have three of these concerts every year. Now I'm really looking forward to the holiday concert and the "Spring Sing".

The day ended with two of the cutest and most enthusiastic trick-or-treaters around, leaving all shyness at home and bolting out the door to every neighbor's house within reach. They had a great time...and came home with lots of candy. According to Scott the woman at the next-to-last house they visited told the kids they were cute and gave them each five pieces of candy. At the next house, Mam, failing to say trick-or-treat at all, was compelled to say:

"I'm cute! But my bag is heavy. Can I have just one piece please?"

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The genetics behind a mid-life crisis

Do you suppose there's some kind of gene predisposing people to a mid-life crisis? I suppose not, but it would at least give me some kind of tenuous reason for mine...other than that I've completely lost my mind. But a lot of these things seemed to make sense at some point or other and now they're some big, tangled morass. I think I'm starting to get things figured out, but just like a big tangled ball of yarn, it's going to take me a while and there are some big knots to deal with.

This all started about a year ago, when I found out that a local highly respected university was going to be starting a masters program in genetic counseling. It's a profession I've always been interested in, but never had the guts to pursue. It has all of those messy aspects to it, like human emotions. As a college student, I didn't much like the idea of messing with my own fragile psyche, but I've learned a lot since I was 20...thank goodness. Now I feel like it's a job I could actually do. So, a year ago, I e-mailed the medical director for the program. She gave me some vague idea about the requirements...human genetics courses, biochemistry...all stuff I already have. I was put on the 'interested prospective students' list for updates.

I finally heard back on the program this year. They plan to admit their first class...of six Fall. I figured I probably wouldn't apply for Fall. I probably need to wait a couple of years until both of the kids are in school. Along with that announcement came the full, real list of requirements and recommended experience for the program. They'd changed, naturally. They now include a psychology class (developmental psychology or counseling psychology), and strong recommendations to do some work in crisis counseling and to job shadow a real-life genetic counselor.

Still not a big deal and I was kind of psyched about the whole thing, so I went back to a place I'd looked into last year for crisis counseling (I knew other genetic counseling programs recommended it). It turned out they were just about to start a training class for new counselors. I could make it to all of the mandatory meetings, so I signed up even though it meant having Scott come home early from work twice a week. I really enjoyed the class and the role playing. I felt like I was learning something new for the first time in a long time.

After I'd completed about half the training, the genetic counseling program sent out their curriculum for the program. The classes looked cool and exciting. Lots of clinical work. Lots of medical genetics and developmental biology. But one look at the list of classes with 20-22 units each quarter and I realized that it would easily take up 60 hours a week. I have two small children and a husband. How would I ever be able to do that? I can't. It's just doesn't work with my philosophies about parenting and family. I love being home. I love volunteering at school. But,...

I already had a meeting scheduled with the new director of the genetic counseling program and it was just two days later, so I continued going to my training classes and met the director. I figured I'd go ahead and ask her my questions and see if I'd even be able to get in. We went over GPAs and GRE scores. With the crisis counseling and a psychology class under my belt, I'd be a great candidate. I was all enthused again. I even asked her if she'd known people who'd been through the program with young children. She did. It sorta sounded do-able, even though she confirmed my suspicions that it's about 60 hours of work every week.

The same day I met with the director of genetic counseling a friend of mine from Mam's playgroup had a massive stroke while on a retreat for work. She was 35. The news the next day was grim. There was no hope of recovery. They eventually removed her from life support and she died, leaving a really sweet husband and a 3-year-old daughter behind. She was a really amazing woman who had done tons of volunteer work for disadvantaged kids and gotten her Ph.D. at Stanford. She was teaching classes there when she died. The news was so many ways.

So, I thought I'd re-prioritize a little. The idea of doing genetic counseling went pretty much out the window. But I thought I'd go ahead and finish my counseling training. After all, it would ensure that I could still apply for the program if I changed my mind in a few years. But I'd stopped enjoying the class. I didn't enjoy the last role play I was in. I didn't feel that good about it, but I'd already done a couple of "shadow shifts"...listening in while an experienced counselor was on the phone with clients...and I was just about to do my first shadown shift where I was on the phones myself with the experienced counselor listening in.

Then came the memorial service for my friend. It was harder than I'd imagined...and I already knew it was going to be hard. I'd seen my friend just four days before the stroke. She was fine, lively and happily watching an Andy Z concert with her family. The loss to her husband and her daughter, who will barely remember her, seemed immeasurable. I wondered how I could have spent even a second considering a program that essentially requires me to abandon my family for two years.

Yesterday, things came into focus just that much more. I had my shadow shift with a woman who is probably one of the best phone counselors they have. I hated just about every minute of it. Crisis counseling, especially on the phone, really isn't quite what I'd expected it to be. They have a list of people considered "frequent callers". It might be 100 people long, but it may not be that long. Most of them are mentally ill. Some are just lonely. All of them call a lot, so the TCs (telephone counselors) get to know these people rather well. There's not much to do for them other than listen and encourage them to take some steps to get their lives together.

I was there for four hours and answered 25 least that's the number I logged. The phone rang so much that I probably missed a couple. I know it was an usually busy night, but I don't think that really had anything to do with my feeling about the whole thing. It felt like four hours of running my fingernails down a chalkboard. It was a very long four hours and I didn't enjoy it. My shadower said I needed to sound more like I cared, like I was really empathizing.

What I learned is that I understand so little about where these people are coming from that maybe I'm really not all that empathetic. I want to be that person...that warm caring voice for anyone who needs it, that person who makes psychologically wounded people feel better by just listening. But I'm not. I have little doubt I could become an adequate telephone counselor if I really wanted to. But I don't like it. I don't want to spend my time this way when I could be with my family. I need to quit.

But, of course, prior to going to my counseling shift, I'd just e-mailed the director of the genetic counseling program to remind her that she was going to send me names of people I could shadow, information on a potential internship and information on a good psych class to take. I guess she should be sending those this week. I almost hope she forgets. Goodness knows, I want to.

My alternate plan? I'm going to take some classes on decorating cakes (I've been left way behind in that arena) and making jewelery. I love that stuff. And maybe, just maybe some new hobbies are really what I need.

You can never have too many friends...

That seems to be Mam's motto. One of her newest best friends, Marina, is a third grader at Smunch's school. She's eight. She's also one of our neighbors. One weekend, a little while ago, Mam ran into Marina at one of Smunch's soccer games. Marina's little sister plays soccer at the same time and the two of them were on the same field that day.

By the end of the soccer game, the two of them were insisting that they wanted to have a playdate. So I talked to Marina's mom and we arranged for Marina to come to our house the next day for a little while. And, even though there are five years separating Marina from Mam, the two of them seemed to have a blast. I'd love for Marina to grow up to be a mother's helper-type friend, but I dunno how Mam would really take to that. Somehow, they're already too close!


I'm waaaay behind on the blogging. I'm going to blame that on having one giant tangle of a mid-life crisis. More on that later...well, maybe. No need to bore you all to tears.

This year is the first time Smunch has had the privilege of participating in a major school fundraiser...the Walk-a-thon! It's one of those things where you're supposed to go get sponsored by all your neighbors and family members. You're supposed to get your parents to hit up their co-workers. That sort of thing. I've always hated that sort of thing. And considering they asked each parent for $800 per student for the "educational foundation", it gets kind of annoying that we're hit up for other bits of money over and over again. So, Smunch was sponsored by my parents, Daddy's parents and, well, us.

Although it had been threatening to rain, just the day before, it turned out to be a beautiful day and the turn out was good. More than anything, it was fun to feel like we were part of the community.

Even Mam walked about four laps before collapsing.

It turned out that kindergarteners earned a 'gold medal' for doing 25 laps, so we encouraged Smunch to make it for that long. Daddy walked the whole way with him. Water bottle in hand and hat on head, he went round and round and round and round... You get the picture.

I'm not sure we did Smunch a big favor by getting him to go for the gold medal. He was tired at 20 laps. By the time he earned his gold medal, I'm really not sure he cared anymore!