All posts by emphasisonjoy

Ella in Stitches

IMG_9706I guess we can count ourselves lucky that kid #2 has been blissfully unaware of the joys of the emergency room. Until last night.

Both kids have been to My Gym Parent’s Night Out many, many times. It’s an indoor gym-style playground theme night, from Pirate Night to “Decorate your own cupcake” to New Year’s Eve to last night’s “Bubbles & Balloons”. They play and make friends and generally wear themselves out while bouncing and climbing and singing, all guided by a very kid-friendly and diligent staff.

While the kids have fun for 4 high energy hours, we head to dinner and/or a movie (most often a movie), watching whatever movie has the right start and run times to fit the window and rushing back to pick up exhausted children and roll them into bed.

As you know, I can be a Nervous Nelly when it comes to child safety, and believe you me the first time we left our kids there with Zoe doing flips over a bar and running and bouncing on anything she could find, I was terrified for them both – though mostly Ella, who I was sure would a) want to do anything her sister did and b) get trampled. But after so many uneventful events, I’ve simply been thrilled to have a night where truly everyone has fun. Plus, Ella’s a tough little nut.

Last night we calmly dropped them off, rushed to see Phantom Thread (which we enjoyed) then rushed back to pick up the generally excited but exhausted kids. Bart headed into My Gym to sign them out while I headed next door to Unleashed pet store to grab a brush for our cat (that’s another story). My phone rang almost instantly. My husband was calling.

In his Minnesotan calm voice he said, “Come when you can. Ella has an owie on her chin.” I love that man. I headed right over to find her sitting with an ice pack on her chin, wrapped in a paper towel with blood on it. Turns out that literally 5 minutes before we arrived, she had slipped going UP the slide (seriously?!) and hit her chin.

She was apparently a trooper about it and “barely cried”, but they thought she’d need stitches because it hadn’t completely stopped bleeding. As all mothers do, I read my child’s face, where clearly there had been tears but her eyes looked alert and slightly scared but OK. At first glance, I thought they were overreacting, but when I looked at my husband’s face, I knew we were headed to the Emergency Room…

And so off to the ER we went, which thankfully, despite having been there 4 times for two random bonks on the head and two odd episodes by the time she was Ella’s age, Zoe does not remember at all.  Every one of those ER events ended positively and while most required some diagnostic measure (twice a CT scan of her head…), none required real intervention. Like stitches.

It was 9:55 pm by the time the ER doc put some lidocaine gel on Ella’s chin, convinced that after she cleaned up the wound she would need a stitch or two. Thirty minutes later, Bart took Zoe out of the room, and they wrapped Ella like burrito in a folded up white sheet to restrain her arms and legs “just in case”… She giggled at being a burrito, with no idea this doctor and very buff looking latin male nurse were prepared for literally kicking and screaming – and they “do this all the time” with little kids. I had been warned… In fact, Bart couldn’t believe I wanted to be the one to stay in the room.

The brief numbing shots that followed? Not so fun (for either of us). The cleanup part? Not so bad (thanks to the numbing shots). The covering half her face with a sterile white protector with a chin cutout so they could stitch her up? Not her favorite but no tears. The 3 stitches in her chin? Uneventful until the doctor pulled the blue string above that white protector as she was sewing, to which Ella said, “What is that blue thing?” She was thrilled to have blue on her chin (though she “really likes yellow a lot”). So other than the shots, she was cool as a cucumber. Prior to the stitches, Ella’s biggest concern had been that she didn’t want to get blood on her shirt (wow – oh, and she already had blood on the neckline her shirt that she couldn’t see).

Overall, she was amazing. The doctors couldn’t believe her calm (or mine, maybe?)

We were home by 11 pm or so, with 2 tired kids, 2 tired parents, 3 new stitches, and one Anna band-aid on Ella’s chin. Everyone is sleeping right now except me, so I have no idea how she’ll feel today with those stitches and having to have them in for 7 days (then taken out by a doctor… turns out it takes 3 weeks for the dissolving ones, which is not great for little kid skin). I will hope for the best and be thankful it’s only 3 tiny stitches below her chin.

And damn, I feel lucky that we have two incredibly tough, amazing little kids.




Zoe’s $1 Million Idea

IMG_9689On January 2, 2018, Zoe woke up with a brilliant idea:


Don’t even think of stealing it, I’m documenting it here just in case because you’re going to love it.

Here’s how it works (this was the actual conversation):

  • Zoe (waking from a nap): Mom, I’ve got a great idea. I’m going to make these headphones that when someone says, “Sh*t” [insert my raised eyebrows. she has never to my knowledge said that…], then the headphones change that word into something nice.
  • Me: Wow, that’s a great idea, Zoe! 
  • Zoe: Yeah, like if someone says something like ‘You’re dumb’ it would change into ‘You’re really smart’. Or if they say, ‘I H-A-T-E you’ then it changes to ‘I love you’. [yes, she spelled out ‘hate’]
  • Me: Very cool!
  • Zoe: It would be great for bullying.

Then I remembered a video I had found that I watched with her many months ago called How to Stop a Bully from Brooks Gibbs. In it he insists that a student “bully” him as much as she can, and he models how he thinks people should respond.

Clearly, that video made Zoe think. And now, Happiness Headphones™.

Other great benefits of Happiness Headphones™?

Let’s say you NEED to hear a “bad” word. Like “stink”. Just turn the headphones UP so you can hear “stinkbug” and turn it DOWN to change “You stink” into “You smile a lot” [actual copy provided by Zoe, copyright pending].

The inventor is fuzzy on exactly when (or how) Happiness Headphones™ will be available to the public,  but if you’d like get on the waitlist, just let me know. I’m still interviewing for the marketing role she’ll surely need, but I’m hopeful!

GLAMPING. ‘Nuf said.

IMG_9623Ok, there is without a doubt MORE I have to say about glamping.

Our friends, Karin and Luis, invited us months ago to rent vintage RVs at a camp called The Holidays in San Clemente, about 1.5 hours south of us in Orange County. And MONTHS ago, it sounded like an awesome idea! The website has super cool photos of 5 retro trailers in a circle on a campsite area with bocce ball, cornhole, horseshoes and a huge fire pit in the center – a “community”, they say.

It’s near the beach, up on a bluff, and you can almost smell the melting marshmallows from the photos alone. Here’s a shot of our actual view in the campsite, the first night’s sunset, and the view from the bluff:


But before we got there, I started looking at the weather… Yes, I know the rest of the country is experiencing an incredible cold wave – including a “bomb cyclone” in Boston! – but let’s just say I’m “sensitive” to cold temperatures. To me, anything in the 60s is “cold”, especially when sitting outside, even when you’re “glamping”. The HIGHS were going to be in the 60s – one day might get to 68, one up to 61… Brrrrrr.

Clearly, we went anyway, dusting off the warmest things we own, prepared to do whatever it took to survive (ha!) On the first night, we grilled out and sang Happy Birthday to Karin, celebrating with an incredible olive oil chocolate bundt cake my insanely talented husband baked. It was gluten free but you’d never guess it, and he replaced the shaved chocolate with Dagoba Chocodrops which added “chocolate surprises” to the texture. It was delicious. And we didn’t freeze.

On the first full day we made breakfast at the campsite then headed down to the beach, intentionally NOT putting our children in swimsuits so we wouldn’t have to hear them whine about the cold. Our friends spend more time at the beach and are clearly smarter than we are, wearing tank-tops and swimsuits… I was sure I’d have the last laugh.

In short time (no pun intended) I was sweating, Zoe had run into the waves, soaking her pants and by the end, Ella had gotten drenched by a surprise wave, after which she was inconsolable until I stripped her down completely and snuggled her in a towel.


Oops? See those cliffs behind Zoe? The campsite’s up top and to get back up there, I pushed a grumpy, ocean soaked 30-pound child in a stroller with 2 bags of “picnic lunch” hanging off the sides up what felt like an 80 degree incline. I’m pretty sure a healthier person than I would have struggled. I thought my head was going to explode. It did not :) Between Bart’s questionable knees and my bad hip, it’s clear why smart people have children earlier in life…

One extra cool thing that happened at the campsite was that in the tent beside us there was a family with THREE little girls, all almost mirror ages of the three girls in our group. One of them, who was Zoe’s age almost exactly, was named Chloe (I kid you not), and you would have thought those two were separated at birth. Their parents were also super nice, and though we missed getting to say goodbye, Chloe left Zoe a note asking her to be her pen pal, including her mailing address on the outside (clearly in her mom’s writing) and a simple note inside in her own hand:

Best Friends? Yes [checkbox] No [checkbox]

Life really is pretty amazing sometimes.

We headed into town on the second night for dinner to a pizza shop called Brick (yum) and after many many many hours of these kids climbing in a short tree, playing games (their favorite was “family”) and practically rolling around in the dirt, I’m pretty sure they made memories that are sure to last.


What you can’t see is how dirty all their fingernails are. Ew. On the final full day, we headed to the pier for crepes then to a really cool playground I had found in my pre-trip research (yes, I have a Google sheet filled with options).

After two sunny (Thursday/Friday) days, we were socked in on Saturday, which didn’t really seem to matter until around 6 pm (in the darkness), when the solar powered battery that controlled the small stove – and the heat – ran out in our friends’ trailer… Solar power needs sunlight. Go figure. Thankfully the very kind (and earthy) owner Andy, who we had met earlier in the day, walked Bart and Luis through exchanging the battery with another unit.

But that didn’t stop us from lowering the heat in our trailer, where the kids were huddled up after dinner around the table watching Despicable Me 2 and waiting for s’more time for the 3rd consecutive night. Overall, disaster averted and on Sunday morning, we got up early and headed out to miss traffic, spent hours unpacking and washing everything, and got ready for the first full week of the year to start (which included me traveling to Seattle for 3 days).

If the rest of this year ends up as awesome as the start, filled with friends and adventures, I have NO DOUBT that we are in for an incredible 2018. Speaking of which, I’ll wrap up with excerpts from the “More / Less” list that Zoe and I made together for the new year (What do you want to do MORE of, What do you want to do LESS of). It’s a tricky way to get around those pesky “resolutions” and still get your head straight.

The MORE List:

  • Family trips
  • Baths (vs. showers)
  • Hugs, kisses & snuggles
  • Going to family and friends’ houses
  • Family play time
  • Time outdoors
  • Reading & talking
  • Cleaning up after yourself (clearly, this one’s mine!)

The LESS List:

  • Showers (but baths are good)
  • Yelling at Zoe & Ella (I wouldn’t call it “yelling” – but this one’s from me)
  • Skwirt sunscreen (Zoe hates the spray stuff… and that’s how she spelled “squirt”)
  • Staring at a screen
  • Buying things we don’t need
  • Ella messing up the room
  • Leaving on the lights
  • Cat scratching things & people

And there you have it. We’ll see how that all turns out.

Happy New Year!

Happy Zoo Year!

IMG_9608What better way to start of the year than a trip to the zoo?!

After spending New Year’s Eve with friends who have twin 7-year-old boys, we were ready for real-life chaotic small animal activity (if you haven’t spent New Year’s Eve with small children old enough to feel the excitement, you’re missing out).

To ring in the new year, the kids made homemade pizzas and monkey bread and played non-stop, making Rainbow Loom jewelry (read: scattering small rubber bands all over our friends’ house). You can also never go wrong with a bunch of Solo cups for stacking and smashing (and Poppy-house making):


And our friend Bardo again proved you really CAN move an Oreo down your face without touching it – this time on video! It’s mesmerizing.


I got several “action shots” of the kids outside as they got warmed up for fun:

And we rang in the (East Coast) New Year with lots of loud poppers and exclamations (or screaming, whatever you call it), then slipped the girls into PJs and headed home.


On the first day of 2018 we watched our friend’s 15-month-old daughter, Addie while they moved into their new place. So of course we took all 3 little monkeys to the zoo! Zoe had decided she wanted to head straight to the gorilla area and write down all the information on the signs there. She made it through the first description of Rapunzel, “a very sweet gorilla who was born at the Cincinnati Zoo on February 20, 1984…” before she asked me to take a picture of the sign so she could keep enjoying the zoo. Best laid plans.

As the zoo began to fill with families who had the same great idea we had for New Year’s Day, we headed to the California Condor Rescue Zone, an indoor playground I had never known existed there (and I’ve been to the zoo several times). I was super excited until we walked in, and I saw manmade “cliffs” all around the perimeter of the room, with ZERO climbing equipment.

Zoe has taken two rock climbing classes at a local college, but with instruction and strapped safely to cords. I watched that class ONCE. That’s all I needed. So if you put that child (who instantly started climbing and claims she has done that a lot at Zoo Camp) along with TWO younger kids (monkey see, monkey do), and you probably don’t want ME in that room…

Thankfully, Addie had no interest in climbing. Ella, however, instantly climbed herself up to a spot she couldn’t find her way down from, leaving me to squish between a window and that rock to help her out… In the adjoining room (which I encouraged) there was a condor vet setup where you could pretend to care for baby and adult condors, and where any parents who care about the safety of their children (which does not frequently include my husband) could find a few moments of relief:


(Notice I did not put the baby in the crate. Oh, and it is remarkably easy to get small children excited about crawling into one…)

Sure, that didn’t last long, but I’d say fun was had by almost all. Not a bad way to start the new year, if you ask me. Up next, GLAMPING. But that’s for another post. Stay tuned!


An Actual Sing-Along (+ bonus features)

IMG_9337If you’ve never been to the Walt Disney Concert Hall, you should. Even if you’re not a fan of the oddly shaped but incredibly impressive exterior (designed by Frank Gehry), the acoustics are amazing, and the interior is gorgeous, per this photo from Wikipedia:

Screen Shot 2017-12-23 at 2.53.04 PM.png

But I digress. This post is about our trip to see Santa (remember, I’m a few posts behind) and participate in a Holiday sing-along to celebrate the magic of the holidays! We arrived early and took a few pictures outside – well, my husband did, doing his best stereotypical kooky, “I can’t be constrained to take a picture like tourists do” photographer impression. The BEST of his rapid-fire shots was the one above, in which my head is conveniently missing… (though I must admit it’s a pretty cool picture.)

Inside we stood in line for Santa in a beautiful room with very artistic “Christmas” decorations like the trees behind Santa:


At the end of the line they handed out a coloring card and crayons, and in the middle of the room they had set up small long tables and chairs for the kids to decorate. Zoe takes coloring seriously and instantly got started. Then suddenly, she started covering her paper to “prevent cheating” as her sister tried to color HER card exactly the same… Oh, the drama. She literally refused to finish hers. I assured her that Ella’s card, though the colors may be similar, would NOT look “exactly” like hers.

Though both ended up lovely, I’m pretty sure I was right:


The sing-along was great, infused with humor by Melissa Peterman, who invited three children – then EVERY child in the entire concert hall – to come up on stage. Luckily [insert sarcasm], we were pretty much as far as you could get from the stage in the balcony, but Zoe REALLY wanted to go. Good time to have 2 parents. Thanks, Dad!

I hung out with Ella who, while she did a good job, was more interested in eating than singing… And so, we went afterwards to an iconic Italian place Bart found downtown (Maccheroni Republic) with “artisan organic handmade fresh pasta” made daily. It was delicious. Right outside they had a branded vintage Fiat 500 (I have a Fiat 500e. I feel confident mine is much faster and more reliable, but dang that’s a cute car).


With leftovers in hand, we headed across the street to the Grand Central Market, filled with local vendors since 1917, where we grabbed some fresh bread and headed out. Walking back to our car we saw a homeless man literally picking food out of the garbage to eat. Guess who went home with our leftovers? And tell me, how do you explain to two beautiful, kind children why someone would need to eat from the garbage?

I know this can be a touchy subject, but nothing helps remind us how lucky we are than seeing others in need. It makes me sad that some people take advantage of that feeling, another complicated subject to cover with children. Anyway, on this day Zoe only asked why someone was eating from the trashcan. I simply said that he had no food, and so, we gave him ours. And she was very happy about that.

Later that day we headed to Universal Studios for Grinchmas, which was a zoo on a Saturday night but worth it. In Whoville, we watched the Christmas tree lighting, saw “snow” (bubbles), and got a picture with Max, the dog from the live action movie, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The line to sit in the Grinch’s lap was 60 minutes long…



We of course went to Hogwarts (Harry Potter!) for the light show, where we were crammed in among tons of fans and watched ghosts and owls and Quidditch on the side of the castle. Afterwards we headed inside where Zoe wanted to ride the ride, and Ella tried to convince me she was tall enough:


Turned out in her favor though because they made us wait in the gift shop… By the time Bart and Zoe got out, Ella had selected her two favorite things (she went home with the Unicorn). This was the “Please, Daddy” picture I texted Bart as he wrangled Zoe back from the ride:


On the way out we met someone I was more excited to see than they were… Try explaining Beetlejuice to a 7-year-old (never mind a 3-year-old who basically refused to take her eyes off him as he taunted her). Ghoul? What’s a Ghoul? Zombie, but not exactly? Anyway, I am generally NOT fast to get into a picture, but since it was honestly easier to get in it than take a 30-pound kid off my back:


And last but not least, if you’re interested in seeing our very own Zoe Lou Who perform in her winter camp performance of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, here you go:


Phew. RIGHT UNDER THE 2017 WIRE. Tonight we’ll ring in the new year, and again I’ll make a resolution to blog for our children’s sake on a more timely basis… We’ll see how that turns out! Happy (almost) New Year!

Mission Possible VII: Christmas


Santa Came to Town!

As the kids get old enough to “get it”, it becomes even more important to make it special – and my husband is the master of that. This year, not only did he shop for me, but he also shopped for himself, wrapped his and my gifts with the kids and put them under the tree. You read that right: I had no idea until Christmas what I got for Bart.

Funniest part is that HE didn’t realize that until he was telling me which one he should open first. I (for once) had simply followed instructions. He told me he had purchased things for himself and that I was not allowed to buy him anything more. Well, I DID do a little of that, since I couldn’t stand him not getting anything from Santa, and since the kids had WRAPPED his gifts, those were clearly NOT from Santa.

Anyway, that was just one of the many tactical errors made by Santa’s elves this Christmas. I’ve gathered some tips so the same might not happen to you:

  • Never, and I mean never, go to Target WITHOUT the kids just to “get a few small things for their stockings”… Trust me.
  • It’s a great idea to give kids the Target Holiday Toy book and allow them to circle some things that they might want for Christmas – as long as you TELL them that they will not get EVERYTHING they circle (which we did). But then, when you shorten that list, DO NOT revisit it later thinking “maybe just a few more things…”
  • Get a Douglas fir tree. This year we ended up with a Noble fir, which we got right after Thanksgiving, and today, that is ONE DROOPY tree…plus, it never smelled like Christmas (even though Bart bought scented sticks, my nose was not fooled).
  • Even if it worked like a charm 2 years ago, THINK TWICE before wrapping the kids’ door with red and green streamers… At 2 am you just might hear the door open (even if you INSIST that your kids go potty before bed for just such a reason) and have to talk a child through sneaking out under those streamers quietly to not wake her sister. And at 2:30 am you may have that same little girl at your bedside unable to sleep because she is “trapped in her room” (read: she wants to see if Santa brought toys)…
  • If you want that little girl to go back to sleep until 6 am, don’t tell her you want her to sleep for “8 Mickeys” (Mickey Mouse shows) and NOT give her an iPad. Most children stink at gauging time, but I’m willing to bet that NONE of them can guess how long “8 Mickeys” is without watching 8 Mickeys. I’m honestly not sure how long/if Zoe slept after 2 am…

Oh and,  if you have a husband like mine who lives to make experiences for people, make a LIST of all your Christmas traditions so he can SEE that you have 20 things that you do EVERY YEAR. Otherwise, on Christmas Eve he may just think you haven’t “done enough” and make you doubt yourself so much that you search Pinterest to FIND a tradition to start THIS year, only to find you already DO most of them.

For posterity’s sake, here’s our list (with a few shifting exceptions):

  1. Get and decorate a tree as soon as humanly possible after Thanksgiving
  2. Let the kids put the star on top (I’m dying to see how this one pans out next year, now that Zoe is already almost 50 pounds!)
  3. Hang Christmas lights around the living room (this year we added a Rudolph)
  4. Go see Christmas lights somewhere else – we do everything from enjoying them as we drive around to Zoo lights and other “professional” ones
  5. Bake cookies and butterscotch blondies
  6. Buy gifts (and/or give baked goodies) to kids and teachers at school
  7. Use an advent calendar
  8. Go see Santa at the mall or anywhere else we can (we get in at least 2 Santas)
  9. Take pictures for the Holiday Card and send out a bunch
  10. Against your better judgment, have an Elf on the Shelf
  11. Have a “big feast”, as Zoe calls it
  12. Listen to Holiday music nonstop from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day
  13. Donate toys to other kids
  14. Make a gingerbread something
  15. Watch Holiday movies: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Polar Express, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (and various others on Netflix)
  16. Dress up for parties, school and for the first year ever, matching Family Christmas pajamas
  17. Open presents on Christmas Eve with the Johnsons and Christmas Day with my family
  18. Enjoy Christmas performances at school and winter camp
  19. Put out cookies and milk for Santa and carrots for the reindeer on Christmas Eve
  20. Spend time with friends and family – in person, on the phone and on video

This year, our friends Rebecca and Danielle just came over for brunch, and I’ve cleaned up the living room 3 times after the girls have opened gift after gift for what seems like a week straight. Speaking of which, I have a suggestion:

Dear Our Generation Doll maker, 

You should really rethink your Coral doll packaging. Seriously.


Two key themes this year: 1) My super cool niece Sophie gave Zoe her American Girl doll (Laney), so we got Ella that Our Generation doll (Coral) above and somehow have 25% of all available accessories for those dolls all over our house – and there are a lot. 2) A Li’l Woodzeez doll house and seemingly 2,000 tiny pieces that go along with every animal family you can think of… It’s been a blast opening parent proof packaging and trying to wrangle every teeny bit.

Disturbing packaging aside, we are SO BLESSED to have each other, our amazing friends and family, and to be able to give our children a Christmas filled with too many gifts from the Target Holiday list, while they still prefer “volume” to “value”.



Holiday Card 2017


Another Holiday Card adventure this year!

Every year we head to the mall, hoping the Santa picture is so crazy awesome that we can use it for our card. Zoe turned 7 this year, and we’ve only been able to use it once…

And yet, I’m hopeful every single year. As you know last year, I almost had to leave my husband over the Santa photo, so come to think of it, maybe we should stop that practice entirely?

But it’s too late for 2017. Besides, several of our holiday card photos were taken NEAR Santa beside the huge Christmas tree in a random mall. What a great backdrop for little kids (and given the number of people doing it, I’m pretty sure we didn’t start this trend)!

We showed up as usual for the obligatory Santa photo, and Bart dropped me off with the girls to be among the first in line. As we walked up to the line I noticed there was a family of Little People in front of us. If you’ve ever been with children around people with differences you’ll understand the mild panic and the sound of opportunity knocking that I felt at that moment.

As the mother turned around to face me and Zoe, I smiled, said “hello” and instantly opened a conversation about how great it was to get to Santa early! Zoe took one look at me then started her wonderful “I’ve never met a stranger” Zoe talk she has had since she spoke her first words.

Ella was completely distracted by a mirror in which she was making faces at herself and  never even batted an eye at the fact the mommy and daddy in front of us were small. Then we ALL engaged with Jacob, their 18-month-old son who was doing exactly what kids everywhere do when standing in line: Being Impatient.

Turns out he loved to hug, really liked little girls (fortunately, I have TWO of those!), and liked to scoot around on his butt (super cute). Also turns out he was not a huge Santa fan (as many young kids aren’t), to which Ella stepped under the rope to catch his eye and try to make him smile. The mom and dad were incredibly nice, and we commiserated about the Holidays and kids. I took a few pictures of the girls beside those huge ornaments they have in the Santa line and ALMOST got a picture for the Holiday Card:


The moms in line behind me were saying to one another (about Ella) “What is she DOING?!” Believe me, ladies, I have no idea.

Afterwards, Zoe and Ella wrote a letter to the troops (well, Zoe wrote a letter and Ella stuck on the stickers) and then suffered through photo after photo in front of that huge tree. Every year I tell myself I should learn Photoshop to stitch together the “good half” of all the photos I take of the girls together. See what I mean?


My personal “not a chance” favorites are these:


In the first, our “art director” had terrible timing, and in the second, Ella is literally yanking Zoe’s fingers apart as she cries out in pain.

Later I made a point to talk to Zoe about the experience in the Santa line. She said, “At first I thought they were kids.” We talked about how important it was to be nice to EVERYONE, to keep in mind that people who are different may not always be treated nicely, and if she ever saw someone NOT being nice that she should be the one to BE nice. We are all just people, and I told her how proud I was of her kindness to others in life in general. I feel very lucky to have such terrific kids!

About a week later, Zoe and I went to see the movie Wonder (which you should absolutely see) about a boy with facial differences which is so life-affirming. Yes, I cried. Zoe’s takeaway? Don’t let anything stand between you and the things you want or need to do. Yes, I cried again – ha!

Back to that Santa photo, it didn’t turn out too badly either, but that weird silken background just isn’t as interesting as a big Christmas tree, in my opinion – and so it made the BACK of the card:


Speaking of which, I scrambled to assemble and order the card so they would be sitting at home when I returned from Chicago on Friday, December 8 – I even paid a rush fee. No luck. So I was on the phone when tinyprints customer service opened on Saturday morning, where a TOO calm “Santa’s Helper” announced that my cards were “lost” (based on their tracking info) and would need to be reordered…

To her credit, she removed my rush shipping charge AND expedited the new cards.

I’m sure you can guess what happened next: On Monday, I received a box of 160 Christmas cards (my original order) and on Tuesday, I received ANOTHER box of 160 Christmas cards. So, if you’re reading this and haven’t received your card yet (you should have by now) OR wish you had received one (or a second one), please let me know.

OR if you have a crafty idea (other than wallpapering a small room, as my husband has already suggested) about what to DO with 160 extra cards, please share.

Another year has FLOWN by, and another Holiday Card is in the archives. Here we are on Christmas Eve. Unbelievable.

We here at the Johnson home are sending WARM WISHES your way for a very Merry Christmas! [[[[HUG]]]] That’s a virtual, but very powerful, hug!

Under Da Sea


Before I get started I just want to point out that OMG it’s almost Christmas, and I am weeks behind on the blog… Let’s see what I can get done before the year ends!

A few weeks ago, my friend Karin found tickets to The Little Mermaid live show on December 9 at a theater super close to our house (which ironically I have never been to). She and her cutie pie daughter Sky came up from OC to watch, and it was a blast!

First of all, I’m constantly amazed by how children can be so observant and yet still be so generous with their assessment of princesses (who are clearly NOT the “real” princesses). Other than a reddish wig, our Ariel didn’t look much like the movie (yes, I know it was animated), but she had a LOVELY voice. And of course for any kid who has seen the movie, there was no mistaking “which one” on stage was Ariel, so I guess it doesn’t really matter how real she was, right? She was Ariel.

There were other liberties they clearly had to take with the live show (not easy to pull off an open ocean battle with a huge sea witch on a local stage), but in general I don’t think the kids cared much as long as the gist of the story was there – and the songs were intact. As an adult who loves The Little Mermaid trying to watch it through the eyes of children (and there were a LOT of children there), it was credible enough. And honestly, there’s nothing like some live singing to warm up a room, if you ask me.

The small theater was in fact filled with families, and to his credit the stage manager did a great job of tactfully, in a kid-friendly way, letting everyone know that this wasn’t a sing-along (and that people had paid to hear the actors sing). What I thought would be a 1.5 hour show (since that’s how long the movie is) turned out to be almost 3 hours, but all the kids did great, even though Zoe really really wanted to stand up and dance, and Ella insisted on bringing her baby, who needed a snack during intermission:

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I can’t help but be concerned AND optimistic about her future as a mother…

But the real point of this post is that AFTER the show, the characters came out to meet the audience, and you would have thought our kids were meeting celebrities (were they?):


Yes, that’s a baby hanging upside down from Ella’s hands, but what would YOU do if you got a chance to meet a REAL PRINCE?!





Turkey Days


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:


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!


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.


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:



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



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!

ALLE (aka Ella)


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:


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