Turkey Days

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No travel for us for Thanksgiving this year, and so far, we’ve made the most of every minute! On Turkey Day, we went to see the movie Coco (so cute!) then came home to rest and cook our first “just us” family Thanksgiving dinner. We pulled out the “back home” recipes, and I made green bean casserole and mashed potatoes with the kids while Bart made a delicious turkey (after panicking that it wasn’t going to thaw out on time – it did!)

After sharing what we’re thankful for at dinner, we watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (good grief…) and I convinced Ella to sing Albuquerque Turkey at the table with her BatGirl cape and her handmade turkey puppet:

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On Friday morning, we headed down to Newport Beach to rent an electric boat with our friends Karin & Luis and their delightful children. With a picnic lunch, sparkling apple cider, Uno cards, coloring books, a pink Disney Princess life vest and nonstop banter, we enjoyed a beautiful ride in 76 degree weather, just as Thanksgiving should be – WARM!

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Friday night we had Thanksgiving dinner round two, with our friends Marshall and Rebecca, both of whom have family in the midwest (but not here). We made MORE southern food, including homemade mac & cheese and sweet potato soufflé, then Zoe set the table and made drink menus, just for the occasion.

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Yes, that is a drinking turkey. After dinner we watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and put the kids to bed.

And guess what we did this morning? That’s right. We got our Christmas tree. I’m obsessed about having a tree and can’t believe we waited an entire day after Thanksgiving to get one (though, if we were traveling, it could have been longer!)

I’m such a nerd that I HAVE TO have a Douglas Fir, the one that smells great and looks like the trees I had when I grew up, real ones, most often that we cut down ourselves. Unfortunately, there’s a tree shortage this year (so sad) and between that and the early date of Thankgiving (Douglas doesn’t last as long), we would have had to wait a week until the Douglas firs show up… I don’t have that sort of time!

So my kind husband took us to two more tree lots to find my fir to no avail. And for the first time ever, we have a Noble fir – but from an awesome lot that gives all their proceeds to children’s charities. Beautiful tree (so pretty it looks fake to me) but no incredible Christmas tree smell… Bart keeps saying “we can buy the smell”, but I just can’t imagine it would be the same. We’ll see how that goes. It’s probably a sign when they don’t actually SELL that at the tree lot (if it were so amazing, it’d be for sale, right?)

Our friends Holly & Amanda and their cutie little girl Addison came over for leftovers and helped us decorate the tree. Nothing like kids cramming ornaments haphazardly all over the tree (Ella mostly near the bottom, not bothering to try and reach up…) The resulting effect looks like Christmas should look: Messy.

And to top it off (ha!), I filmed Daddy helping the kids put the star on top of the tree, as I’ve done for many years, ever since Zoe was big enough to be lifted up there. For better or worse, this was the first year that Ella “got it” and of course BOTH girls wanted to be “the one” to put the star up top. Poor Bart.

To make it fair, I let Zoe choose if she wanted to go FIRST or LAST. She of course picked FIRST. Until she heard me explain to Ella what was going to happen: “So Zoe will put the star up first, then we’ll take it down so you can put it up there, and we’ll leave it up.” Ella was IN! Instantly Zoe decided SHE wanted to go last. HA! But choices have consequences, and so, she went first:

ZOE (ALMOST) TOP(PLE)S THE TREE

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My husband is clearly a saint – she weighs around 50 pounds! Up next…

ELLA NARROWLY MAKES THE STAR STICK

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In between it all we’ve connected with our families and friends through calls, texts and video. Not the same as being there, but SO THANKFUL to have so many amazing friends and family to be THANKFUL for! Equally thankful to have had a Turkey Day at home, as a small family. Tonight, we’re heading to the LA Zoo for the Christmas Lights – and we have a whole day tomorrow to see what else we can get into for Thanksgiving.

At the beginning of Coco (before the movie), there’s a short called Olaf’s Frozen Adventure where Anna and Elsa are trying to find their holiday “traditions”. While I know travel and options make most holiday traditions a challenge to maintain, I can only hope we will always be surrounded by friends and family – by any means necessary – and I wish for everyone the same incredible feeling of good fortune I feel today. That’s a tradition I can get behind. We have SO MUCH to be thankful for!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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ALLE (aka Ella)

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This kid is unpredictable. Precocious, mischievous and delightful, but no doubt unpredictable. She sings the cutest songs, unprompted, smiling the biggest smile to punctuate that song. But ask her to sing? Nope.

So it should come as no surprise that a) she started writing her name before the age of 3 and b) she writes it backwards. She CAN write it forward (the letters are formed correctly and she’s done it), but she CHOOSES to write it backwards – and with flair, with “E-hugging Ls” and an errant “A”.  According to Daddy, that character above to the left is a “J” for Johnson (that’s less common).

I’m a nerd, so I tried to look it up, but I can’t find this exactly. I can find writing letters backwards or “mirror-writing” (and that neither is “weird” for this age), but not right letters, wrong direction. Who cares? I choose to think it’s a sign of genius.

Like Zoe, she has a LOT of words. Unlike Zoe (well, as far as I can remember), she still has some pronunciation quirks (Zoe was very articulate). My favorite Ella-isms?

  • “I’m a Big Grill, Mom!” Yes, it sounds JUST like grill.
  • She still says “Biolet” for “Violet”
  • “Bumember” for “Remember”
  • “Baff” for “Bath”

Yes, I remember she’s 3.

Right now Ella attends preschool, one that is more focused on social, art and movement skills (as perhaps they should be), so I have no idea how “on track” she is. But I just attended Zoe’s parent / teacher conference and couldn’t be prouder.

Zoe is in 2nd grade, reading on a 5th grade level. She is a voracious reader, in fact, which all started with her love of dinosaurs. She wanted to know everything there was to know about them, and so we own 20 dinosaur books (resulting in the nerdiest of facts about dinosaurs that our kid spouts out to whomever will listen). And now she’s fallen in love with the Rainbow Magic Fairy book series. About reading Zoe says, “Mom, I just had to find my kind of book.

And so she has. About those fairies… One day recently she wanted to send a letter to the author, Daisy Meadows, to ask a question about the fairies. That’s when I found this:

So My Daughter Wrote Her First Fan Letter to a Children’s Author…Who Doesn’t Exist

Turns out Daisy Meadows is a just a name for a collection of random authors who write these books. There’s a lot of debate on the subject (they are incredibly popular), but then, who should your kid write that letter to? Do you tell them the truth and explain or let them live the dream? To find out, I asked my sister, where I go for all sound parenting advice. She said, “Send the letter.” and simply sent me the address.

My inclination was to explain and tell her it’s ok and the world works like this in some cases and there are questions for which we may never have the “answer”. But my sister is generally smarter than I am, and so, we wrote that letter. Turns out before it got in the mail Zoe said “Never mind, Mom. I found my answer.” She had wanted to know how to tell which book was the absolute first. And she figured out the numbering system on the books. Who’s the smart one? Clearly not me.

But back to Ella the Imp. This just came home from school:

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Her art is prolific, frequently signed by the author. Wonder how/if I should intervene before we have to change her name to Alle?

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fu·nic·u·lar

Bet that got your attention. Especially since anyone I’ve asked so far has no idea what a “funicular” is (include me in that group prior to last weekend).

Here’s how that weekend went.

Zoe had decided she wanted to plant some vegetables. I know what you’re thinking, it’s November. But turns out we live in Southern California and there are actually several veggies you can plant at this time.

So on Saturday morning we headed to Home Depot, coming home with 6-pack plants of broccoli, cauliflower and peas, and a bag of spinach seeds. Oh, and various Christmas decorations (’tis the season!), including a light-up Rudolph and a clapper. Yes, exactly what you think it is, and before you think we’ve turned 80, we ALSO have an Echo Dot. Comparatively speaking, I recommend the Echo. Try “clapping” off something (much less a light-up Rudolph) late at night without waking children and you’ll agree.

But back to those veggies. Before planting I had to clear and replace the top inch or so of soil in our raised (dormant…) garden bed. As I tried to figure out how to best get huge bags of soil to our backyard, I passed a row of kangaroo paws that I love, which needed heavy pruning at the end of their flower cycle. Surrounded by weeds, they  looked so sad, and clearly our “mow & blow” gardeners were not too interested in their survival.

You can guess what happened next. I ended up gardening for TWO HOURS while our children (and my husband) slept, constantly finding things that needed work and ending with finally clearing out the raised bed. Sweating, dirty and exhausted I headed in for a shower after watering our new veggies (still in their packs).

The following morning we put those veggies in the ground, and I found tons of muscles all over my body that had not been used for gardening in a long, long time. Ouch. Zoe (mostly) gently made holes and “tiny homes” for each plant, while Ella shoved dirt all around the bed (and her shoes). Let’s just say it was an adventure and by the time we had 18 plants in the ground, there wasn’t much room for (or interest in) those spinach seeds. So Ella’s final contribution was tossing those seeds all around the bed. We’ll see how that turns out (likely in the tummy of birds and squirrels is my bet).

And then, our real weekend adventure began. We were supposed to meet some friends at MOCA for an outdoor event with food trucks, music and arts & crafts tables, but at the last minute they were unable to go. But we’re brave. SO brave that my husband said, “You know, we could take the Metro downtown.

Yes, LA has a subway! Can you believe it?! I’ve lived here 19 years and been on it once, over a decade ago, but our children have not. So with very little prep, we headed to the North Hollywood station, figured out parking, narrowly avoided a “hustler” at the ticket machine (Bart is skilled at such things), found the elevator (which smelled vaguely of a porta potty), and hopped on the subway.

Zoe was beside herself with joy. Bart showed her the subway map, and she spent the entire ride getting up at every stop to tell us what the next stop was and how many we had left to our destination. At Pershing Square station, we stepped out into downtown LA and started our 0.4 mile (UPHILL – they didn’t mention that on Google maps) trek to MOCA. On the way was a FUNICULAR called Angels Flight, which Bart somehow knew had recently reopened in August.

Little did I know (until just now) WHY it was closed:

It was shut down in 2001, following a fatal accident, and took nine years to commence operations again. The railroad restarted operations on March 15, 2010.[5] It was closed again from June 10, 2011, to July 5, 2011, and then again after a minor derailment incident on September 5, 2013. The investigation of this 2013 incident led to the discovery of potentially serious safety problems in both the design and the operation of the funicular.”

In fact…

On February 1, 2001, Angels Flight had a serious accident that killed a passenger, Leon Praport (age 83), and injured seven others, including Praport’s wife, Lola. The accident occurred when car Sinai, approaching the upper station, reversed direction and accelerated downhill in an uncontrolled fashion to strike car Olivet near the lower terminus.

And as you’d guess, I would never have put my CHILDREN on it if I had known any of that. BART JOHNSON!!! Anyway, thankfully they survived:

(CLICK FOR VIDEO)

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After my husband risked the lives of our children, we headed to MOCA. As we approached he said, “I don’t hear any music.” To which I, the eternal optimist, responded, “Maybe it’s inside or something.” HAHAHAHA. Turns out, after all that exciting travel, we were downtown without a car and had gone to the wrong MOCA… The Geffen (also a MOCA museum), where the event was located, was a 22-minute walk from our location.

Though Bart looked concerned, my optimistic self said, “Remember Italy? Where you dragged me around the entire country, walking for miles, often CARRYING children, running for trains and generally lost? We can walk 22 minutes.

And so we did, downhill thankfully, also walking by the Broad museum, the lovely Walt Disney Concert Hall, and catching a glimpse of an outdoor opera performance of Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds“, broadcast through defunct air raid sirens on top of a parking structure. Walking through Little Tokyo, we reached the RIGHT MOCA, where we DID hear music and sat right down at a cool arts & crafts table immediately.

With staples and ribbons, sharpies and safety pins, the girls made a wallet, a purse and a choker that says, “I love my family.” I’d say the walk was worth it! And before you ask, Ella can write her own name (backwards, but still)!

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Inside the museum was an exhibit named “Disappearance”. As we entered there were HUGE rocks on the floor (see below), which of course our children instantly went to touch (and wanted to climb on). Immediately a “helper” headed over, looked at ME (not the kids) and said, “Please ask them not to touch the rocks.

What sort of museum has arts & crafts outside with kids running around and doesn’t allow touching BIG ROCKS on the floor?! Anyway, as the rest of the exhibit illustrated, this was NOT built for kids. There were human skeletons lying in gelatinous goo, large sides of beef, and masses of stuck-together trash, including mannequin arms. Guess what’s “disappearing”? Zoe did.

On the way home, Bart found a closer Metro station with an above-ground rail that took us to Union Station downtown. We entered the station and on our way to change tracks got to listen to an amateur pianist perform and found a Wetzel’s Pretzels for cinnamon sugar bites. It was at this time I realized how DIRTY our day had been. Before touching those bites, I pulled out the wipes and “washed” all the hands I could find, and we headed to our rail for home.

Now hyper aware of the germ-filled transportation we had chosen (and armed with a bag of cinnamon bites), I “educated” poor Zoe on why it’s NOT OK to rub our hands all over the cloth-covered seats of the subway, then eat a pretzel. Or spin around on the subway poles and rub on the windows, then eat a pretzel. The only thing that worked to send this message home was “Would you put poop and pee and puke and boogers right in your mouth?” (GOOD NEWS – she said “NO!”)

And so our adventure was a success – filled with life lessons, as it turned out. Sure, I am now certain I prefer my electric car to a subway ride to work every day (or to anywhere else, for that matter), but we did it! To be clear, we do NOT live in Italy, where technically we were on trains not subways, but I must say, having traveled by subway in Paris, London, Boston and New York, I can say that HANDS DOWN, LA has the worst subway system I’ve ever seen… But at least we have one, I suppose?

I love my children.

I’m going to be honest. Not every day at work is a walk in the park. In fact, some days at work are walking (running?) over hot coals to the edge of a cliff in the dark and taking a flying leap into the abyss in hopes there’s a net at the bottom.

I don’t mean TODAY of course (or do I?). But let me tell you this:

Whatever my day brings, the sound of “Mommy!” when I walk through the door and a snuggle with my girls puts the rest into perspective. Sure, sometimes “Mommy!” comes from a child with 102 degree fever for 3 days straight (that IS today) who, with glistening gooey eyes, says, “Mommy! I want you!” (meaning, I better be in your lap soon or else it’s going to get loud in here). Sometimes that same child has been up on / off for 2 nights and your worried self can’t remember if you slept.

Sometimes, you go into that room with the sick child to find her trapped under the leg of the sleeping other child – who, by the way doesn’t even remember you moving that leg as you freed her sister. Sometimes.

Tonight after dinner we watched videos of each of them as “babies” (aren’t they still babies?), and they laughed the awkward laugh of kids who are excited to see themselves “little” and yet unsure that’s actually them.

We also watched an octopus in Hawaii, Zoe breaking boards at karate, a pony ride that must have been one of Ella’s first (to which Zoe said, “Mom, those are the SAME PONIES! ha, she could be right), and Zoe’s favorite, a snowball fight with Dad 3.5 years ago – HALF HER LIFE ago:

This memory she JUST wrote about in her journal this year at school, and she told me tonight that OF COURSE she did, it’s “one of my happiest memories”. For the most part, Zoe remembers throwing that snowball at the car, not at me. I think that’s a good thing. Where’s freud when you need him?

Life is so short. And you never know when a moment will STICK and be the thing you think back on years later – half your life later – and smile. I wish for my children MANY of those moments and for myself, the patience to recognize them and be a happy part of that memory.

May we all have a snowball memory tomorrow – or the day after, or the day after that. A gal (who doesn’t even really like snow) can dream.

Not-so-ancient History

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Before you ask, Halloween ended up NOT being the wiz-bang event I expected – which may be disappointing to you after I wrote a whole “Prelude” to the subject. We DID go trick-or-treating, but as you know, Halloween fell on a Tuesday, so there was the usual mad scramble of getting the kids home from school, feeding them, and THEN getting them into costume.

By the time that was done, my dear husband was down for the count, finally getting the stomach flu the rest of the house had survived the week before. Poor guy. Unable to be far from the potty, he wished me and his parents good luck with the kids, and we headed off to a friend’s neighborhood (there’s no trick-or-treating in ours).

Barely qualified to parent, I am still proud to have gotten them out of the house in costume AND with treat bags. I did NOT however get even ONE good picture… I did get two fuzzy ones, though:

Proof positive that we DID make it out (and that Zoe did in fact bare her midriff).

The CUTEST parts were watching Ella try and keep up with the “big kids”, constantly 10 toddling steps behind – though she was FEARLESS and often FIRST to the scary house doors – and watching Grandpa offer repeatedly to “hold” Ella’s bag of candy. He’s got a bit of a sweet tooth :)

I also realized after my last blog post that I’ve been hoarding cute pictures of these kids (or perhaps I’m just way behind?) of recent trips to some of their favorite spots, so here goes, an attempt to get caught up!

NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM (9/23/17) – For DINO Fest! The “Fossil” card from Zoe above is also from this trip to the museum, and yes, they are rubbing paint on a metal dinosaur (and their outfits) below.

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DISCOVERY CUBE LA (10/8/17) – First but not last trip to Doc McStuffins exhibit, where you can wander around giving “checkups” to babies and pets, a very hands-on day. The tractor shot below is in a room filled with hay bales that little boys were running all over. Bart’s nightmare (the hay, not the boys – one day it will be the boys).

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THE DISCOVERY CUBE, Again (10/21/17) – Our 2nd trip to see Doc McStuffins, this time with cousin Signe! While she’s an awesome kid, Signe reminded us that two kids are all we can handle… There was a moment when Bart was surfing on his phone, and I was “watching” all 3 of them, as they ran in 3 different directions. Impossible. I have no idea how people have 3 kids and all 3 survive. Bart’s parents had FIVE! Insane.

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And now I’m cute kid picture caught up on the blog (I think). That said, another day, another cute picture of these kids, if you ask me. Who knows what will pop up next!

 

Halloween, the Prelude

I love Halloween.

It is my wedding anniversary. It was my grandmother’s birthday (in fact, we sang Happy Birthday to her at my wedding reception, along with 140 of our closest friends). Another fact: Every year we watch our wedding video on our anniversary and get to see that moment (and lots of other wonderful ones) to remind us how lucky we are to have one another and our amazing family and friends.

While for the past several years the costume part has been focused on our children, I used to live for Halloween and get excited about what costume I’d get to wear. And one of my favorite pictures of me and my sister is this one:

Wonderwoman and Superman

Not much has changed, as you can see.

Halloween these days begins as soon as the junk hits the stores :) We have window clings up, spider lights, this year a wall decal, and we head to a pumpkin patch to ride some ponies in a circle:

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This year we got sick and missed Zoe’s Fall Festival, but Ella’s school had a small festival of their own, where we played games like digging in spaghetti to find eyeballs and squirting silly string at a spider web target. And of course, dancing on hay bales to a little Hall & Oates:

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And we haven’t even gone Trick or Treating yet!

We HAVE however tried on every costume in the house, including this one, which is too big for Ella (though Zoe wore it at 3 years old) and too small for Zoe, who was worried about her belly hanging out – but who is supposed to be wearing a Jasmine outfit tonight with full, intentional midriff exposure (we’ll see how that goes):

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I’m typing this post from Temecula, where Bart and I went for a brief getaway to do some wine tasting to celebrate our anniversary. Bart’s awesome parents are watching our girls, including getting them ready for “school Halloween” and handling our normal life moments as well. Toughest part is usually getting them out the door on time for school, and each morning Grandpa Bernie has texted us pictures of a dressed and ready Zoe ready for school with minutes to SPARE… Oh, the magic of grandparents!

Soon we’ll be driving home to get those cute kids ready for a spooky night of chocolate and giggles, with a forecast of 64 degrees (that’s near freezing for LA) and a 15% chance of rain. Wish us luck!

24 Hours with Mom

IMG_8737Last weekend my husband went to see Bob Dylan in Vegas with his friend Joe, leaving us gals to have a 24-hour PAR-TAY! Ok, so that last part is only partly true.

After taking Dad to the airport, we headed to Target for a few necessities, leaving an hour and a half later with 4 pair of kid shoes, 2 kid outfits (no, not that Panda head above), 2 unneeded toys and oh, a few necessities… How does that HAPPEN?! We also grabbed some Halloween decorations, including a big black bug to hide and scare Dad. More later on that.

One of our local Target stores is also right beside a playground, so prior to shopping, the girls got the wiggles out on some play equipment, with the promise that they would be helpful once in the store. These kids love playgrounds…

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We had a birthday party at 2 pm at yet another park for our friends Holly and Amanda’s little girl, Addie. Oh, 1-year-old birthdays! Addie was awesome, Ella was sassy and Zoe wrangled all the little kids with her “I’m an old lady teacher trapped in small kid’s body” manner, at one point reading a book to them all on a blanket and at another teaching two little boys to share when playing kick-the-ball.

Let’s just say, they both had fun (even if the last pumpkin patch shot looks less so):

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Ella and I had fun with a “Baby Faces” book that was there (which she wanted to take home until I reminded her she was not a baby):

IMG_8707IMG_8709Creepy? Cool? You decide. I think a little bit of both and can’t take my eyes off the bad nail polish. Never paint children’s nails. They will constantly want it done, will NEVER notice when it looks disgusting and are hard to keep still. If you MUST paint their nails, sadly the crappy “kid friendly” stuff lasts a day or less and takes a while to dry. I found Sally Hansen’s Insta-Dri, which dries (seriously) in 60 seconds.

So after the party guess what the girls wanted to do? Go to ANOTHER playground… At our 3rd park of the day, they ran around some more, then we headed to the grocery to get ingredients for homemade HALLOWEEN pizza (thank you, Google). After offering up this great idea, I realized I had never actually made homemade pizza without Bart…

Sure, it SEEMS easy to use pre-made dough, but apparently there are a few details of importance. After looking up a How To video on Google, my brilliant daughter said, “Oh, you just have to get flour on your hands first because it’s sticky, then press it out and put on the sauce. It’s easy, Mom.”

I won’t call it EASY – at least not with 2 small children and me in the floor of our kitchen pressing out dough and trying to keep Ella’s feet out of the pizza (it seemed like a good idea at the time). But without too much trouble, we ended up with these three masterpieces to pop in the oven:

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Zoe = Dracula, Ella = Jack-o-Lantern, Mom = well, you guessed it, Mummy.

For those of you who (unlike me) can actually cook, you already know what happened next. Two of the three above came out as cheese pizzas with tiny spots of pepperoni once all that cheese melted (yay, heat!), but they were delicious, so no one cared. Oh, and I’m glad I got a before NOT an after photo to send to my husband, who replied “You have outdone yourself.” Mission accomplished.

But I almost forgot the big, black bug we got at Target to scare Dad. He looks like this:

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And is 8 inches long. Zoe had the great idea of hiding him under Dad’s nightstand near some white cords, then pointing out the cords and asking why there were black ones, just to get him close enough to notice it was a “bug”…

Ever been partner in crime with a kid who is SO EXCITED about her own joke/prank that she can barely contain herself and makes it OBVIOUS that it’s a trick? I have. Dear Dad played along but my idea of NOT telling him and waiting for him to find it and scream like a little girl would have been more fun, if you ask me.

And so, 24 hours with Mom worked out just fine. Dad got to see Bob Dylan, get some friend time, play some craps and sleep past 5 am. I’d say everyone won this one :)

Family Night at the Hollywood Bowl!

IMG_8583Bart and I have been to the Hollywood Bowl dozens of times for a wide variety of musicians – from Sting with Peter Gabriel with my sister to Gustavo Dudamel to the night of our first “date that wasn’t a date” where we saw Etta James. We call that one our Ettaversary (July 27, 2005), but that’s another story.

We love the Bowl. Some of the best parts of the Bowl experience include:

  1. PICNIC outside the venue. When we go with our friends Maggie & Gary, everyone brings something, and we meet at a picnic table to snack and drink wine.
  2. Bringing wine INTO the Bowl. You can’t do this for EVERY event, but for most you’re allowed to bring that picnic inside. We even got to share a box seat (those are closer to the stage) one night and bring a full picnic in there.
  3. Dancing in the aisles. For the Peter Gabriel / Sting show with my sister and brother-in-law, we spent a good deal of the show in the walkway between sections (along with many others) dancing.
  4. Outdoor acoustics and view. The Bowl is a perfectly setup amphitheater situated in the hills in Los Angeles and watching the sun go down is absolutely gorgeous. For those who can’t afford a box seat, there are huge monitors around the sides and there’s honestly not a bad seat for sound. Though it CAN get cold when the sun goes down, it’s also fun to bundle up and just BE outside listening to awesome music.

To be fair, parking stinks. There’s stacked parking at the venue, where we once got stuck when we went to see Crosby Stills Nash & Young (not MY pick but Bart loves them and it was part of their last tour together). Long story. OR you can pay an arm + leg to park nearby OR you can park farther away and walk uphill a long ways. OR you can Uber/Lyft over and get stuck in traffic in a stranger’s car.

Anyway, that’s also not the story here.

Here we go:

As luck would have it, we ended up with 4 tickets to see Tom Petty on Friday, September 21 that my husband bought months ago, and our friends weren’t able to join. In a rare, brave moment, I said to Bart, “Well, we could take the kids. They’ve never been.”

Remember my husband? He thinks they’re teenagers and that’s why we brought them to Europe… So of course he instantly said YES.

And (arguably unlike Europe), this time he was right. We had a blast! Let me also add here, we did NOT kill Tom Petty. And also, that he did not appear to be sick or having trouble, and the performance was terrific. When we parked down the street at the VFW, the lady there said, “Well, I hope you have a good performance tonight. I heard last night he was drunk and belligerent.” He wasn’t even THAT. In fact, he said Thank You quite often and sent good wishes to everyone impacted by the hurricanes.

Anyway, as you likely now know, this was one of his last concerts ever. Very sad. He died on October 2nd and while his cause of death is not official as of today, he was taken to the hospital in “full cardiac arrest”. I’m sure there will be some story there, but regardless, very sad. I have the fondest of memories of listening to Tom Petty with my sister growing up. RIP.

Here are a couple of minutes of Free Fallin’, the last song we saw before leaving:

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We had a really fun picnic before the show, during which Zoe and Ella performed an impromptu survey of nearby picnics to ask their favorite Tom Petty songs. Super cute. The show opened with Lucinda Williams, who Bart introduced me to early in our relationship and we both like, and she has some sassy lyrics, which of course no adult notices until their children are listening.

Then the sun went down and the kids fell asleep after just 2 Tom Petty songs – yes, in middle of a super loud concert with people around them standing, singing and clapping. Which of course meant we stayed for a few more songs, with children asleep in our laps, enjoying the music.

We hiked back down to the car, Zoe sleeping in the stroller, Ella sleeping in an Ergobaby attached to my body. It was a great night :) And even though at a recent trip to the Apple Store, our friendly (young) helper had no idea who Tom Petty was, our children can say THEY saw him LIVE in his last tour ever.

And we can say we braved the Bowl with 2 small children (let’s be clear, there were NOT a lot of strollers at this show…), and they had a great time.

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Three. It’s a Magic Number.

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Seems like we’ve been celebrating Ella’s (and Zoe’s) birthdays for a long time… And since we started on August 27, I guess we have. While my mom was here, we wanted to make sure both girls had their “time with Nina” birthday celebration, so last Saturday night, we took the kids out to a mexican restaurant (guaranteed birthday singing). Plus, Ella loves black beans.

For her 3rd birthday, one thing Ella REALLY wanted was an “Isabel dress”. For those of you who are lucky enough to not be familiar with Elena of Avalor, a relatively new Disney Junior show, Isabel is the little sister. And for that reason, there are VERY FEW Isabel dresses (and LOTS of Elena ones – in fact, we own one of those already, obviously).

Options? Pay $80-100 for a pretty good (rare) Isabel dress that will be worn twice, ever, or desperately search the Internet and find an Etsy shop that will “make” a dress for $26 that “looks like” an Isabel dress. As you can see in the picture above, we chose option B, and thanks to my sister, who sent Ella an Elena and Isabel pair of dolls, our dolls match the plastic counterparts in their hands.

Picture the moment when I had to sell that dress to our almost 3-year-old, hoping beyond hope she wouldn’t say “But that dress doesn’t look like the one on my doll? That’s not an Isabel dress.” As an experienced persuader, my pitch worked (instantly). Her face lit up for her Isabel dress right away, and she insisted on wearing it to dinner. SCORE. And in case you want in on the pitch, give the dress FIRST, doll SECOND.

This past Friday, Ella had her one and only actual birthday party at her school.

There were LOTS of discussions over months about options for an Ella party:

  • Have a small tea party at home with just a few of her school friends (The challenge: her preschool asks nicely that if you have a party, you invite “everyone”)
  • Have that “home party” after all, inviting our friends (The challenge: duh, enormous amount of work)
  • Host a party at Giggles & Hugs, an indoor playground where her classmate just had a fun 3-year-old party (The challenge: $500, and for a party she just attended)

After discussing all these ideas (and more) with my husband, at random – oh, how he loves that – we agreed that this is the LAST year she will not know/care that she doesn’t get a “big party” like Zoe did.

So I focused effort on making the school party fun. She wanted a PRINCESS party. Poor (few) boys in her class… First, I found a foam “crown-making” kit online with sparkly foam “jewels” to decorate your own crown. How fun would that be?! And not tiaras, but crowns. Something even a king could enjoy.

Next, I talked my husband into making 2 dozen cupcakes. Unlike Zoe’s amazing cakes of the past 7 years, Ella got chocolate cupcakes from a box (which she picked out) and leftover pre-made chocolate icing from a jar, leftover from Zoe’s cake, which he bought “just in case.” (Zoe’s cake, as every year, had homemade buttercream icing, made and colored by hand by her father.) And he topped Ella’s cupcakes with PINK sprinkles, which ran out at cupcake 20 (prepared the night before her school party, FYI), so the last 4 had a lovely Preppy Handbook green to go with that pink.

Also the night before, I stuffed favor bags, collected over time in a crazy fashion… The one thing she really WANTED in her bags was: Princess erasers (Zoe had dinosaur ones in the favor bags for her party). Do you have any idea how hard it is to find princess erasers? Go ahead, google it. Not easy. After finding 1 on Amazon and 2 separate sets on eBay, I found 24 princess erasers…

I also ordered some cute, tiny princess crayons online and some princess stickers. I’ve had those for weeks. A week before the party, I also ordered some small pink plates, napkins and favor bags. When I pulled everything out 2 days before the party, I noticed the crayons had arrived melted and those bags were not going to work with the stickers… Too late for Amazon Prime to arrive on time, I headed to the Dollar Tree to find ANYTHING princess…

And so, those 24 hodgepodge (new Elsa/Anna printed) favor bags that would fit sticker sheets included some lenticular small princess notebooks (9), princess tattoos (16), two random double-ended princess crayons per bag (48), princess stickers (20), and of course, princess erasers (24).

That party, that we didn’t even get to attend, was a big hit. Ella came home from school with a pink crown on, VERY happy, and we took her out to sushi with our friends Holly & Panda (and Baby Addie). She felt very special.

This weekend my husband had the great idea to take the kids to Palm Springs, where our friends have a place they weren’t using, for lots of pool time and another special birthday dinner ON her actual birthday. We chose Wangs in the Desert, a Pan Asian restaurant our friends introduced us to that is very kid-friendly.

Usually they have live music on Saturday nights, so I called ahead to ask if that was happening and when (our reservations were also kid-friendly at 5:30). Turns out they had a Drag Show called Paparrazi, a “star-studded” show with celebrity impersonators. And according to the venue, it was VERY kid friendly, and the guy who answered the phone was the server on the patio, was also a drag queen though “not tonight” and said they love kids at drag shows.

I was so excited! On the 5-minute drive to the restaurant, I needed a quick stop at CVS, which was on the way. Just 10 minutes later I got back into the car to LOUD Katy Perry music and 2 sleeping children in the back. Oh, just try to picture my husband’s face…

We were able to wake Zoe (reluctantly) as we parked at the restaurant, but the Birthday Girl slept in my lap until the show started, then instantly covered her ears. “Too loud.” My brilliant husband pulled out headphones on song 3, and we made it through several songs and saw a fabulous Liza Minnelli, Shania Twain, Brittany Spears – and to top it off, an Elphaba singing Defying Gravity, my favorite Wicked song!

They (plus everyone on the patio) even sang Happy Birthday to BOTH Zoe and Ella! We were in fact at the table next to these folks who were on the front row and knew the performers and got featured on the restaurant’s Facebook page. Almost famous.

And so, here we wrap another year. The blog goes into print, and we can officially say we survived. Looking back on all the above for this birthday season, that 50-person adult beverage party looks like a heck of a lot less work than it did a few months ago.

Happy Birthday, Ella & Zoe!

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Cross Your Fingers.

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For many months we’ve tried everything we can think of to get this kid interested in going potty and getting rid of diapers. She’s been in pull-ups since about March, but let’s just say each one only gets “pulled up” once (to put it on her)…

Guess what happens yesterday, the DAY of the other kid’s 7th birthday party? THIS KID decides she wants to wear big girl panties RIGHT NOW. Of course she does.

Here’s how that has gone so far:

  • Maybe 15 minutes after making a huge (positive) deal about putting on Trolls big girl panties (which we’ve had since before Christmas), Ella is standing in a puddle in the middle of the room.
  • That’s ok! Accidents happen. We head off to the bathroom to dry off and try again.
  • Maybe 30 minutes after putting on the 2nd pair of Trolls big girl panties: another section of floor, another puddle. At this point, I ask “What happened?” To which she responds, “I went pee-pee in my panties. It was an accident.
  • We discuss how it’s OK but for next time, if we have to go pee-pee, what do we do? Ella sings, “Stop and go right away“. Thank you, Daniel Tiger. See? She knows what to do. That’s something.
  • We put the tiny potty out in the middle of the room on a towel, so in case she needs to go, it will be close by. She’s pleased by that. She even sits on the potty a couple of time, but no pee-pee.
  • Maybe an hour or so after the 3rd pair of Trolls big girl panties are on, we are moving around preparing for a party, not even thinking about our big pee-pee adventure. I’m in the bathroom helping Zoe with her hair.
  • From the other room I hear, “Mommy! Mommy!” You can imagine what I’m thinking…
  • On the contrary, Ella has on her own gone pee-pee IN THE POTTY in the middle of the room and is sitting on the potty extremely pleased with herself!
  • Insert WHOOPING and hollering, and we make a HUGE deal of this FIRST TIME EVER going pee-pee in the potty (after literally hundreds of times sitting on the potty this year), and I rush to the kitchen to get her an M&M (that’s the deal).

Timing is everything. As you know, we had a birthday party coming up in short time after that. At the risk of derailing all interest in those big girl panties, there was no way we were going to that party without a pull-up. I was already worried enough about what was going to happen when she needed to poop…

And so, guess what goes nicely under big girl panties for a BIG party “just in case” we’re not close enough to a bathroom? A pull-up.

As long as she could ALSO wear the big girl panties, she was OK with that. About 7 minutes before we need to walk out the door for Zoe’s party, guess who had pooped? Thankfully, in a pull-up UNDER big girl panties. Disaster averted, for now. And so off we went to the museum – she even showed some of our friends those panties ;)

And guess what happened this morning when she got up? BACK in the big girl panties only (no pull-up), because she was going to JUST wear big girl underwear like her friends Scout and Mara and Priscilla! Sure, we had another accident, but I remain hopeful. School starts back on Wednesday with a new teacher (and many of the same kids), so I’m extra hopeful that THAT will keep her interested.

In just 13 days she will be three years old. THREE. We’ve been alluding to that milestone being a good time to get out of diapers.

For now, at least she’s interested at all (finally). Please cross your fingers…

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