Friday, December 24, 2010

Love to You All

Merry Christmas! Wishing you love and happiness!

The four of us in 2009.
The four of us in 2008.
The three of us in 2007.
The three of us in 2006 (plus broom!)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

At A Certain Point, It's Lazy, Not Frugal

For the last couple of years, I've had a Christmas prep list that has slowly been shortened by attrition, throwing in the towel, and occasionally, accomplishment.

It took a couple of years to find pretty stocking holders to sit on our mantle that weren't either ugly or out of stock. They are sitting empty-hooked over the fireplace right now, because I'm afraid Buster will grab the stocking and bring the heavy holder smacking into his head. The stockings will go up Christmas Eve. Next year, perhaps they can be festive decorations for a few weeks. Depends on the impulse control of someone very small.

I found really nice stockings at Crate and Barrel, so I crossed sewing new stockings off the list. Two years ago, I sewed new Christmas gift bags in the giant sizes required to store boxes of toddler toys. Last year, well, we all remember the fiasco of the felt Christmas ornaments, so let's just say that we've given up making our own and have recalibrated our satisfaction with the current state of the tree.

The one remaining task on the list after all these years was to make new gift tags. We are frugal around here and use the same colorful Christmas-fabric gift bags year after year. Same with the gift tags. I made a set of tags years ago, and we tie them to the presents each year. There have been some additions and amendments as family members are added.

But really, it's time to replace them. We give joint family gifts to my parents (it's so much fun to brainstorm with my sister), and those tags used to all be labeled "To Mom and Dad, From Lady M, SwingDaddy, and FourthBreakfast (my sister.)" In a magic marker scrawl, there's the addition, "And Fourth Breakfast's husband."

It was probably fine that first Christmas after they were married. Problem is, they will be celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary this summer.

Plus, the little dude can read now, so tags that say "Dad" and "Mom" should be SwingDaddy and me, rather than my parents.

So, I finally made new tags. I printed our names on those perforated Avery business cards, punched holes, tied ribbons, and attached some pretty holiday stickers that I acquired in 2007 for this purpose. Done. Woot!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Benefit of Being Really Late

We managed to capture the not-as-elusive-this-year family picture on Thanksgiving day. I ordered the holiday carsd the following week. I opened up the spreadsheet where all our family and friends' addresses were tidily typed, and then I closed it again. And it stayed closed. Weeks later, it was time to step up and scrub the data.

The major bonus to getting your cards ready on December 22 is that more than half of our friends have already sent theirs, eliminating the need to confirm their current mailing addresses. I got most of the rest updated during the afternoon and sat down to face the dreaded Mail Merge.

I've been dodging it for three Christmases, editing the old mailing label file, but I knew that this year, it was too far gone. Time for a new merge. Something went wrong or just changed in the last Windows/Office upgrade, and the formerly effortless task had become daunting. I opened up the help file and began to read.

The better part of 90 minutes later, I conquered the Mail Merge, including the subterranean linking of source Excel files to Microsoft Word, and the resetting of my label format. Whew!

I've got the cards labeled, stamped, and stuffed. SwingDaddy will take care of sealing the batch, and now I can just enjoy everyone's cards coming in.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Development of Dangerously Practical Skills

The micro dude has made some leaps in the use of tools. He’s discovered he can reach any light switch with the proper application of footstools. And he can also get enough leverage to turn a round doorknob if he’s on a stool. So, there’s no safe place from him in the house now.

His big brother is picking up some extra skills too. SwingDaddy had a football game on the TV yesterday, and suddenly both boys appeared in the playroom, wearing their Chargers jerseys. They’d gone upstairs together and located their jerseys in their respective dressers. Q-ster donned his, and then helped his little brother. Go team!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Best Gift is Giving, with Sprinkles of Course

I love the festivities around the holidays, and finding a gift that will delight the recipient is one of the best parts. Last year, I realized that too late that I hadn't prepared things for Q-ster to *give.* He didn’t get to have that excitement and anticipation of watching someone open the present you made or selected.

I thought lots about what the boys could make that wouldn’t be a total dust collector. Bookmarks? Picture frames? I settled on edibles, and thanks to the good ol’ fashioned internet, found a description of how to make chocolate covered pretzels.

There are, of course, no picture of the work in progress, because I was too busy supervising little hands. Q-ster became surprising adept at shaking sprinkles evenly over the chocolate. Buster pretty much dumped the whole portion on one end of the pretzel and then tried to pick up the extras for eating.

Tasty, pretty, and even hygienic. The amount of hand-washing and prevention of nose-wiping that went into this project rivals any cooking project I’ve ever seen.

We packaged them up, Q-ster drew some cards, and we mailed them out. Woo-hoo!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Sports Conglomerate

Over the weekend, the boys played a whole series of sports. First, hoops in the backyard.

Buster made some baskets too.

There was some kind of golf/hockey/lacrosse activity that ended before I could figure out their rules and take a picture.

Q-ster explained that he invented a game called Crashing Cones for his little brother, which involves knocking over the cones with well placed soccer ball kicks. I guess it doesn’t get better than that a game where you get to both kick and make messes.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Reindeer Resource Management

As an industrial engineer by education, this story pleases me a great deal:

It was raining today as we walked to Q-ster’s classroom, and he commented that “Christmas should never be cancelled. Christmas is the greatest thing!”

Then he paused, worried. “What if it rains on Christmas?!”

I reassured him that it would be ok.

He thought about it, and added, “Well, they’ll have to have extra reindeer to pull the sleigh.”

Ah, anything can be overcome with proper scheduling and application of resources.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Munchy Diversions

Yay me! I finally remembered to bring my new mesh produce bags to the grocery store, so I don’t have to waste plastic bags.

Boo me! Bringing a box of chocolate cookies to the office to share was nice in concept, but having them within arm’s reach for a whole day was a really, really bad idea.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Alternative

What I neglected to mention yesterday is that the endless rounds of “Sleigh Ride” were actually a welcome relief from the music that has become the Theme Song of Christmas in our household . . . The Imperial March, also known as the ominous tones accompanying Darth Vader whenever he appears on screen.

Last year’s Star Wars ornaments also play that tune, and oddly, I’m beginning to feel the holiday spirit when I hear it.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Snowman, Penguin, Giggles

You know those incredibly obnoxious holiday sculptures that play some inane tune over and over again? We received one that was actually pretty cute last year, and it fully redeemed itself tonight when Buster entertained himself for almost an hour with its antics.

Note of caution: one plush musical holiday sculpture is enough, thank you. ;)

Thursday, December 09, 2010


Every time I think the garden has produced the last roses of the year, there are a few more.

Once again, an unrelated note.

I'm not worried that I might "turn my sons gay" by allowing them to investigate my makeup. Buster regularly requests "LIPSTICK!" while I'm at the mirror in the morning, and I give him an old tube that he plays with, snapping the cap on and off. This is usually followed with the statement, "It's a GUN!" while pointing it at an imaginary enemy.

So now lipstick has joined the long list of items (fingers, lincoln logs, legos, play drills, the lower case "r" from the wooden puzzle) that cannot be pointed at anyone while making a shooting noise. Who would have thought.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

And I Didn't Buy It For Myself

I never quite got around to hanging the window valence that matched Buster's crib sheets and baby mobile, and now it seems a bit late to bother. We should go straight to little boy decorations, or maybe I should get a jump on timing and put up a teen look.
His brother has a drummer motif on his walls, so I thought of these Cars decals. Buster loves Lightning McQueen, but I'm thinking we might want something a little less commercial and licensed. I managed to resist the temptation to pick up the neighboring octopus wall decals too, since I think SwingDaddy might not appreciate cavorting sealife on our walls.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Things I Will Never, Ever Do

but deeply admire.

Check out these gorgeous Advent stockings hand sewn by Kimberly at Tippy Toes and Tantrums. We all remember how my felt Christmas ornaments worked out (as in "one half of one snowman completed") last year.

And this how-to for exquisitely decorated cookies from the Pioneer Woman. I'm best making chocolate chip cookies, which have no symmetry requirements in ornamentation.

In unrelated news, the activities of eating dinner and wearing socks have apparently become incompatible for our two year old.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Play Ball

Sometimes, the boys will play together for minutes and minutes! Yesterday, they were taking turns pitching and batting.

What you can't tell from these picture is that they were pitching a football. Well, it was a creative game to say the least.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Q-ster, Star Student

Each child in Q-ster’s kindergarten gets to be “Star Student” for a week, where they create a poster that tells everyone something about themselves, bring items to school for show and tell, and serve as the teacher’s helper.

Last weekend, he brought the blank poster home to prepare for his starring week, and I figured I’d help him with what to write and draw for each topic. Instead, he went ahead and filled out each one independently and charmingly.

Our family.

What he likes to do – play Legos, of course.

What he wants to be when he grows up – a hero.

He also wrote that what he most dreams for is a dog, since his best friend just got one.

I volunteered at kindergarten today, and his teacher confided that having him be Star Student this week is like having a classroom aide. He can really step up and help, which is not always the case with five year old “helpers.” Go little dude, we’re proud of you!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

A Whole Darn Sealife Theme Park and Only Two Octopi

We took the boys to SeaWorld with my parents over Thanksgiving and had a splendid time. Surprisingly, no meltdowns, and only ten thousand pounds of snacks were consumed, one grape at a time.

A very fat penguin.

A flock of flamingos taking a walk. They are much taller than I imagined, not that I really imagined ever standing next to one.

Shamu (and friend) jumping.

Stingray petting pool. Stingrays have funny stubby heads, but I didn’t manage to catch on camera.

The boys were very cute at pointing out when they saw an octopus. “Mommy, mommy, look!” There was a picture on the sign for the aquarium building and a live octopus inside the aquarium, where it had suctioned itself on the glass facing us. It felt a little like we were seeing his underwear, since all his suckers were exposed.

I was disappointed that there were endless fuzzy orcas to be purchased and not a single plush octopus, but that’s probably for the best anyway.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It’s All Perspective, Part II

More Scandinavian colleagues in town this week, this time after a harrowing set of delays due to de-icing at the airports on their home turf.

To cheer them up, I told them about my friend who had flown out of our local airport over Thanksgiving on an usually cold day. He too had to wait for de-icing on the tarmac . . . by waiting for the sun to melt the ice.

P.S. We all have a lot to say about Pillow Pets, don't we! Good thing they don't have an octopus.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Be Very, Very Frightened

Remember that story that Amalah told about her sons and the Pillow Pets? Jodifur wrote about her child somehow acquiring EIGHT of them, whew.

At Target last week, I ran across this aisle.

Good Lord, that’s a lot of Pillow Pets. As I was readying my phone to take a picture, a family walked by. Both kids immediately went over to the shelves and laid their heads down on ladybug pillows, while the mother snapped, “Oh, stop it!”

One must admit they market these things brilliantly.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Calling Home Decorators

We moved into our house almost three years ago, so it seemed about time to hang up a few pictures. I pretended I was some type of arty person who reads design websites and cut paper templates to tape to the walls to judge where to place them. I scrawled the subject of the photo(s) and marked which ones have multiple images.

Q-ster came by to examine the wall shortly after we taped up the papers. He was was distinctly unimpressed. “Did you draw these?” he paused, looking for something constructive to say. “Maybe it would look better if you used some color. Yeah, why don’t you add some colors.”

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Most Realistic Video Game Ever

It's that time of year again to figure out which charities I've missed during the year and make donations before the year is up. We've been at my parents' house this week, so I haven't been able to look through my records, but we've browsed through the websites of the usual suspects, like Livestrong and Child's Play.

One fundraising team for the latter organization calls itself Desert Bus for Hope and managed to raise almost $200,000 this year by playing the video game Desert Bus for five days continuously and doing stunts while donations poured in. What is Desert Bus?

Courtesy of Wikipedia (which is probably another target for year end donations):

The objective of the game (Desert Bus) is to drive a bus from Tucson, Arizona to Las Vegas, Nevada in real time at a maximum speed of 45mph. The feat requires 8 hours of continuous play to complete, since the game cannot be paused.

The bus contains no passengers, contains little scenery (an occasional rock or stop sign will appear at the side of the road), and there is no traffic. The road between Tucson and Las Vegas is without exception completely straight. The bus veers to the right slightly; as a result, it is impossible to tape down a button to go do something else and have the game end properly. If the bus veers off the road it will stall and be towed back to Tucson, also in real time. If the player makes it to Las Vegas, they will score exactly one point. The player then gets the option to make the return trip to Tucson—for another point (a decision they must make in a few seconds or the game ends). Players may continue to make trips and score points as long as their endurance holds out. Some players who have completed the trip have also noted that, although the scenery never changes, a bug splats on the windscreen about five hours through the first trip, and on the return trip the light does fade, with differences at dusk, and later a pitch black road where the player is guided only with headlights.

Anyway, somebody in gameland has a good sense of humor.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Feeling blessed to be surrounded with loving family in the sunshine.

Happy Thanksgiving to fellow Americans, and wishing a wonderful day to our international friends!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Redefining Activities When Accompanied by Small Children

Trip to the park = Eating snacks on the playground
Trip to the grocery store = Buying snacks
Trip to the zoo = Eating snacks in the vicinity of animals

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hockey Kings

The boys got a chance to tackle an air hockey table at a birthday party last weekend and played a pretty reasonable game against each other.

At first, I held Buster so that he could lean over the table, but he soon insisted on standing on his own two feet, barely tall enough to see over the edge.

I ran for my good camera as soon as I saw the game in action, but I find that the blurry iPhone pics that I snapped first actually capture the action better.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

It’s All Perspective

We were showing a mechanical device to our Scandinavian colleagues who were in town for the week, when one of them asked to take a photograph to better explain it to the team back home. The camera didn’t go off, so he fiddled with the settings to locate the trouble.

“Ah, the self timer was on. We sat outside on the patio for breakfast this morning, so we took a photo,” he explained.

None of us really reacted, so he tried again. “Breakfast. Outside. In NOVEMBER.”

“Right, right!” We Californians nodded and agreed, yes, that was a miraculous thing indeed.

Friday, November 19, 2010

First Piano Recital

Q-ster had his first piano recital today. Here he is, practicing at home beforehand.

Buster contributes by doing acrobatics, yelling "Look at me!" and drumming while his big brother plays.

A dramatic final note.

His piano teacher cleverly arranges a series of recitals at different retirement homes in the community, and everyone signs up for a few that are convenient. Q-ster's experience with performance unaffected by distraction came in handy today, when a resident absently started singing the "ABC song" to his rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

The boy was note and rhythm perfect for both his pieces, the only one of the cast of performers to hit it exactly. So proud of my little dude!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Buster hasn't quite gotten the hang of blowing bubbles himself, but he's happy to hold the wand for anyone who wants to assist.
The ants were apparently impressed with the bubble technique as well.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Today in Pop Culture

Yes, Princess Diana's life wasn't a fairytale, but I was always fond of her. It's lovely to see her son give that ring to his fiancee, and I wish them happiness!

I've always loved that picture of Diana with her two boys. I'm unlikely to ever get both of mine in ties, but I think Buster is close enough to bribing-age that I'll be able to get some cute huggy shots, perhaps even in time for Christmas cards.

In other pop culture news, I expect all of you to vote for Jennifer Grey (go, Dirty Dancing fans!) next Monday night, because it would be a travesty for Bristol Palin to win Dancing with the Stars. Yes, she's a trooper for enduring her mother putting her in the public eye as a pregnant teen, but she's no dancer.

Photo credit: Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters/Landov; A.G. Carrick/Camera Press/Getty

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Bandz, They Arrive

I thought the fad would pass before Q-ster was old enough to pay attention, but he came home with his first Silly Bandz today, a gift from a friend.

The first hit is always free, isn't it?

At least this is a fairly cute trend. (Collective groan from those of you who have been monitoring Silly Bandz trading rules for years . . .)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Wedding Dress, Twelve Years Later

I need to wear a white ballgown for an upcoming concert, and fortunately, my wedding dress is in the style of an 1840's gown. And it fits!

At least it fits for standing around. I'm not sure how well I'm going to last wearing it for aerobic activity. My body is not the same dimensions as it was before having two children (I seem to have increased the Pamela Anderson-type attributes), so I'm not sure just losing a few pounds will make enough of a difference. We shall see.

In any case, for you costumey types, my gown is silk organza over silk dupioni, with champagne-colored hand embroidery and ribbon-work. In keeping with period character, the waistline is cartridge-pleated and the bodice is closed with hooks and holes, instead of my usual quick-change velcro secret. That means I need help getting in and out of it, unlike the big red dress, which I can manage entirely by myself.

P.S. If you're in the Bay Area and need a costumer, I'll send you an intro to the wonderful woman who made this gown, the red one, and many others.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Second Careers and More Travel

Loved this image of retired NFL champion Jerry Rice in his new career, hot glue gunning sequins to a mirror ball (in the Dancing with the Stars segment parodying Sports Center.)

Total non sequitur theater today:

Enjoying a shoe shine at the airport earlier this week. Yay for new-looking shoes!

Other thoughts - I purchased entirely too many bottles of water at the airport this week. Pricey.

My business trip was entirely airport-hotel-conference room, so I didn't actually see anything interesting enough in Chicago to get some kind of treat for the boys. And they didn't notice the lack of gifts when I got home. Yay for huggy boys!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Someone Has Been Reading About Wolverine Too Much

Q-ster met me at the door this evening as I came home from work.

"All my dreams came true! Spikes came out of my hands!"

Ok, dude. Whatever makes you happy.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Just What I Needed

Pictures of me on the internet in my underwear.

Fortunately, 1840's-style underwear isn't all that scandalous. We're doing a show with a local symphony, and they used an odd photo from a previous concert for their publicity (above, sorry about the mis-scaling.) The image on their lovely, glossy brochure is cropped wider, so you can see both my legs in their stocking-ed, bloomered, petticoated glory. SwingDaddy, of course, is looking dapper and very blond.

Other photos from that same concert, in case you were wondering what the top of the gown looks like:

It's fun to be dancing with friends again!

Photo credit