All posts by emphasisonjoy

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:

(CLICK FOR VIDEO)

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.

IMG_8379Need I say more?

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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Zoe’s Lucky 7 Birthday!

IMG_8341It all started 7 years ago (plus 38.5 weeks, but who’s counting?). Alright, we won’t start at the beginning, but the birthday discussions for this year started a few months ago. Let’s start there.

For the past 6 years, we’ve celebrated Zoe’s birthday at our home, with a progressively nuttier me trying to one-up every year and mostly a group of OUR friends, which we selfishly invited and fed adult beverages (which in my opinion is the only way to attend a kid party).

There are a lot of pros to a home birthday party:

  • You’re already home and the entertainment comes to you.
  • You can serve what you want and improvise if you need more.
  • No one’s charging by “headcount” or “time” (which is why we’ve had around 50 people each year for about 4 hours and never worried about it).

And then, there are a lot of cons…

  • You have to setup (which includes “extra” cleaning that home to have guests over).
  • Because you can improvise, you “might” overdo it… (think Star Wars party last year)
  • You are responsible for the entertainment, that whole time.
  • You have to CLEAN UP after, when you’re exhausted.

But this is the first year Zoe has had a LOT of school friends she wanted to celebrate with, which (plus all our friends) would have been a huge party at home. In addition, last year we had about 7 of her “school friends” and there was a LOT of running through the house and banging doors… The thought of 20 of those?!

And so we started looking at venues. And YIKES. The Natural History Museum (which Zoe loves)? $660 before food. The Zoo? Minimum $150 for space for up to 40 guests, plus admission (discounted $14/kid, $17/adult), and food $13/person… If we paid for all, that’s $1,320. Now, I know, I know, what’s your child worth? And there are ways to reduce those costs (like invite fewer people, etc). But still.

Add on one more wrinkle. We have 2 kids, whose birthdays are about 2 weeks away from one another. For the past 2 years, we’ve been able to combine those (and honestly, Ella just knows it’s a party, so she doesn’t care). While 40 (or even 50) people may sound like a lot, there are 24 kids in EACH of their classes – add even one parent and not ONE sibling and that’s 100 people, if all show up.

And so, the compromise: Discovery Cube. Slightly more reasonably priced (including really great pizza), and it’s a science museum, with LOTS to do – and a Dinosaur Exhibit. As I was creating my evite for the two-girl party, I realized the potential volume of people, and the fact while Zoe LOVES dinos, they pretty much scare Ella.

That’s how Zoe ended up with a venue party, dressed like a “dainty dinosaur” (a costume which every parent and lots of strangers asked me where I got – thanks, Amazon):

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BEST part of that outfit? I could find my birthday girl from literally across the museum. (Unintentionally) Brilliant.

So about a month ago, we had venue, invite and theme all set. Up next, the cake. I began my search online so I could lay down the gauntlet for my husband again this year with our annual cake challenge. On Pinterest, I found this:

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From that little picture, my husband created THIS:

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Yes, you CAN believe your eyes. That’s a La Brea Tar Pit (filled with melted Ghirardelli dark chocolate) and a prehistoric scene art directed by our very own birthday girl, Zoe. That bright green dinosaur is from the Jurassic Park movie, where he spits ACID. So while you may not be able to make it out on this picture, there’s also dark chocolate on the poor dino in the tar pit, from its ACID spitting friend. Zoe’s idea. Oh, and those are Chips Ahoy cookies crumbled all around (or prehistoric dirt, if you prefer).

Cake? Check.

This year we were lucky to be hosting our book club (which is a chunk of our group of friends who usually show up for Zoe/Ella’s birthday party), so our first celebration began the Sunday before, with the cake you see at the very top of this post, and singing (plus adult beverages) with many our friends.

My mother arrived on Wednesday (she never misses a birthday!), and on the Friday of Zoe’s actual birthday, we went to her favorite restaurant, Miceli’s, where the waiters are all singers and perform between table service. And Zoe got a birthday song all her own:

(CLICK FOR VIDEO)

And a couple of great pictures with her nina (my mom):

On the day before, Zoe’s father had “donated” to the school to make this happen on the lighted display board outside her school:

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We pulled up on Thursday (the last day of school before Labor Day closures) with a bag full of small gifts for her class (yes, another party), and you would have thought her name was up in lights on Broadway! Did I mention how amazing her father is?!

Also on Friday (her actual birthday) another thing happened: A HUGE FIRE. In the La Tuna Canyon area, a brush fire was blazing, which so far has burned over 7,000 acres (the largest fire of its kind in LA history) and was only 30% contained by Sunday night… That fire started 8 short miles from the Discovery Cube.

After checking in on the people we know who are also close-ish to that fire, we (ok, me) obsessively started calling/emailing the Discovery Cube to see what impact there might be to people trying to go there for, oh, say, a Birthday Party…

Though several people had to find alternate routes, I’m pleased to say that they arrived safely and a great time was had by all. And now the only problem that remains: What the heck do we do for the other child who turns 3 on September 16?

But for now, we’ll enjoy one little victory, and share LOTS of pictures of a dainty dinosaur and a couple of short videos for you to enjoy. If you want to see any of the pictures “bigger”, check out our photo album. Our NEW 7-year-old:

The Birthday Song:

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The Santa Ana Birthday Winds:

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I think this kid had a PRETTY GOOD BIRTHDAY.

Happy Birthday, Zoe!

“Best Mornings EVER”

IMG_8286 (1)Before this habit disappears, I want to document what my “Mornings with Ella” are like these days.

First of all, they begin too early. Somewhere between 5 and 5:30 am, a door opens and closes (not silently). It’s like an alarm clock of sorts.

If I’ve fallen asleep on the sofa, which is not unusual (and anyone who knows me knows I’ve had this problem since high school – my mom hates it), then I’ll hear footsteps thumping down the hallway headed in my direction. Actually, no matter where I am the footsteps head to the “big room”, since her morning ritual is a baba and a show while Zoe and Bart keep on sleeping.

Here’s what follows:

  • Ella cuddles up with me and hugs my neck, then, in a soft sweet voice…
  • Ella: You’re the BEST MOMMY EVER!
  • Me: YOU’RE the best ELLA ever!
  • Ella: I love you, Mom.
  • Me: I love you, too, Ella.
  • (Silence and smiles for a few beats, then…)
  • Ella: I want a baba, Mom…

Not a bad way to start the day, amiright? (Well, if you ignore that the baba part is delivered with a whine, which I do.)

Now, to be fair, I wouldn’t mind if this ritual started a LITTLE BIT later. I’m up by 5 am regardless; however, I’m a morning person (read: wind-up doll) and my only real “me time” where my brain is not mush is 5 am to 6 am, and I haven’t had that in a couple of years (pretty much since Ella started walking).

In contrast, Zoe has to be literally LIFTED out of bed around 6:30 am (usually after Bart has turned on the light and sometimes turned on “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper or “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore rather loud on an iPad near her head). I think he’d keep trying passive stuff for a while, but I’m impatient, so I get her to hop on a piggy back and dump her on the sofa in the other room. That works.

Sound like any teenagers you know?

Anyway, back to Ella. She (still) is a VERY different child than Zoe.

Unlike Zoe, who at 3 months of age attended our work Christmas party with around 40 people and happily hopped from lap to lap of complete strangers, Ella is glued to my leg (or under my dress). When gently placed in the arms of even someone she has met before, she instantly reaches out for me or Bart to take her back… Stranger? Danger. This literally happened last night, and to be clear, Ella will be 3 years old in 3 weeks.

Unlike Zoe, for whom we honestly barely needed to babyproof the house (for the most part we could just tell her “Danger!” and she’d look very serious and stay away), Ella makes a beeline for danger in any place in the world. At almost 3, she still likes to put pennies and Shopkins “close to” her mouth. Mostly NOT in the mouth, but my heart…

If Ella is silent in the other room, you can be sure that something undesirable (if not dangerous) is happening. Stickers? Why not stick those to the hardwood floor? Hidden coins in Zoe’s room? Not for long. Worse = the bathroom. If alone, she will no doubt be pulling out a step stool so she can reach something you do not want her to reach.

Even in the SAME room but quiet, watch out. Wonder what would happen if I took every top off every marker and laid them in a line on the rug? I’m sure I can figure out how to take apart this [fill in the blank] “all-by-my-self”.

Maybe these tendencies will yield a fiercely independent, mechanically inclined problem-solver who finds the cure to cancer or figures out how to build affordable, sustainable housing for all.

Don’t get me wrong – she still loves princesses. We don’t have a tomboy who prefers cars to dolls (in fact, she loves dolls), just a mischievous, strong-willed girl with a mind of her own. As I type, she’s dressed up (for the second day in a row) as Elsa (who she refuses to stop calling Anna, though she’s seen Frozen AND Frozen Fever hundreds of times), including uncomfortable plastic shoes, long evening gloves and a tiara.

It’s just that THIS Elsa is carrying around popsicle sticks, organizing them into triangles and squares, and distributing them around the house, each in its own special place, so I can find/pick them up for days. THIS Elsa regularly says “But I don’t WANT to” about anything you WANT her to do. THIS Elsa gets excited about the PROSPECT of going potty like a big girl, then poops in her diaper and reminds us that she COULD HAVE gotten 2 M&Ms for that if she’d gone in the potty.

It’s exhausting and confusing. Thank goodness she’s incredibly cute.

Oh, and. In addition to Elsa/Anna, she’s obsessed with movies: Moana, Trolls and of all things Megamind. If you haven’t seen that third one (or Trolls), then you may not appreciate how “not-Elsa” they are… Even Moana is an unlikely (reluctant?) princess more like Mulan than Aurora. Let’s just say she has eclectic taste in movies and her heroes are strong and resourceful.

So I’m hopeful that this “princess” finds balance (and does not drive us crazy first).

Fingers.Crossed.

 

 

 

Hamilton.

IMG_0480On August 19, my husband sent me an email with a link that said “Fill this out”. As the dutiful wife I am, I blindly clicked that link and filled out a quick form, submitting my precious contact information for a lottery – a chance to win 2 tickets to Hamilton in LA on August 20.

Yeah, right. Nobody wins those. They’re just collecting email addresses. In fact, I refused to provide an “optional” phone number. Scam. (I said not a word of this to my husband).

First of all, it was easy. So easy that when I LOST that lottery on August 20, I had no problem signing up again for the following Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday shows. I mean, with such little effort, what did I have to lose?

Plus, since the 4th of July, when our children (and honestly I) first heard the soundtrack from Hamilton and I purchased it in the car on the way home, we’ve listened to many of the songs, over and over. Our friends’ kids LOVED IT, dancing around the pool party singing all the words. It was the first time I realized that when Lin Manual Miranda hosted Saturday Night Live and rapped his intro that THAT rap was actually a real song adapted from his Hamilton show.

I loved that monologue.

But back to Hamilton. As I received my 4th “Sorry, you’re a loser” email notification on Wednesday, August 23 from the “Lucky Seat” Lottery, I got another notification… A calendar invitation from my husband with the word “Ham” in it for an 8 pm show on Thursday, August 24.

At first, I thought he was just trying to add to his luck with CONFIDENCE, but then, I had already gotten my rejection email so surely he had, too. I replied immediately with “YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!” Nope.

While I’m aware that through random acts of goodness throughout his life, Bart Johnson has built up quite a bit of karma, NOBODY wins those things! He’d only filled out 5 short forms (and he buys real lottery tickets regularly and we haven’t won THAT yet…)

Excited and shocked, I went straight to the Pantages Theater website to see what those tickets would actually cost. The cheapest ticket for that date and show was $507 – but the only other tickets ranged from $750-850 a ticket. THIS IS THE LA SHOW, folks, not on Broadway!

After a brief moment where I thought, hmm, if we SOLD these tickets we could buy 4 trips to Harry Potter World, a flight for four to various places, 3 very nice vacation weekends in Palm Springs, and so on… I got incredibly excited that our daughter, who knows the lyrics to Schuyler Sisters by heart – including which parts are sung by Angelica, Eliza and Peggy (I’m Eliza, FYI) – was going to get to see Hamilton. What 6-year-old gets to do THAT?!

(NOTE: In fact, FEW 6-year-olds SHOULD do that, says The Internet. Bart got home from the show and said “There was a whore in the show!” HA! For the record, I knew that.)

(SECOND NOTE: You can’t actually “sell” those tickets easily. You win the day before the show, have a few hours to choose to buy them for $10 each, and have to show up at 5 pm day of the show to pick them up with your ID.)

But I digress, again. Near the end of dinner on the day of the show, we asked Zoe if she’d like to SEE the actual show about Hamilton. Her eyes (and rest of her face) lit up, and her head nodded vigorously. I had already laid out her favorite “fancy” dress and shoes – even a headband – so we tossed our dirty urchin in a quick shower, dressed her up (including lip gloss and a tiny bit of sparkly eyeshadow) and she headed off with Daddy to see Hamilton.

She was a little bit excited (as evidenced by the photo above).

According to Bart, during the first several songs she would lean over and tell her next door “neighbors” (who were a young couple that also won their tickets) some key facts about the show, which of course she had never seen.

In case you weren’t aware (I wasn’t), the show itself is 2 hours and 45 minutes, and we’ve NEVER made it through the entire soundtrack, so somewhere after the 2-hour mark, she started nodding off (it was an 8 pm show on a school night…) Bart kept asking if she wanted to go, to which she’d say NO! then start falling asleep minutes later.

And so that’s how my daughter got to see Hamilton in the right orchestra section, row PP (not a bad seat at all!) for $50 ($10/ticket + a $30 t-shirt), and my husband became the “Best Dad Ever.” Again.

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How a Kitchen Changed our Lives

IMG_8250 (1)I’m not even kidding.

Do you see the cute heart-shaped silicone cup on that plate? It’s filled with quiche, made by Ella (with a little help from Dad).

For Christmas, when I knew we were going to have a new kitchen but I did NOT know when, I bought my husband a cookbook, for the kids: Cooking Class: 57 Fun Recipes Kids Will Love to Make (and Eat!) They weren’t wrong!

So far, in our new kitchen, we have made from that book:

  • Mini-quiches (more than once)
  • Crepes (more than once)
  • Yogurt parfait
  • French toast on a stick
  • Lettuce rolls
  • Homemade applesauce
  • Trail mix
  • Granola bars
  • Homemade tortilla chips
  • Popcorn chicken

And there’s so much more! No, this is not an advertisement for that book, but this new happiness IS facilitated by our new, fabulous kitchen, designed by my husband to be the center of our home and make family time awesome. And it sure has.

Breakfast is served at the counter most days (in fact, many meals now happen there), where the Bart Johnson Kitchen is OPEN for business:

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(in case you forgot what it looks like)

All that space between the cooktop and sink (which Bart was concerned about) has turned out to be awesome, since peeling apples with little kids is a task best done in the middle of the floor on a towel over a big bowl. And that’s exactly how we did it.

I literally cannot complain about it. Don’t worry, though, my husband can fill in on that front with his obsession over the shine on the countertops, two TINY chips in those countertops which an ant would not even notice, and the fact that yes, it’s near impossible to reach the back of our microwave (which opens like an oven and is placed a little high). Oh, and I guess I COULD complain about the floor, the color of which is too light, but then, it is one of the very few items in the kitchen I picked out, so I will not.

Regardless. LIFE! The flow of our days has changed, and often we make dinner while the kids are playing games in the middle of the floor in our great room, which is now OPEN to our kitchen (does it seem like we spend a lot of time on the floor? maybe). We had friends over for brunch and the “big people” sat at the actual table while the kids made (and ate!) french toast on a stick, and loved it.

So I’m pleased to report that our new kitchen has changed our lives, and when you’re ready for a mini-quiche or other treat made by a mini-human, come on over!

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Summer Camp!

IMG_4567As we wrap up Summer Camp for Zoe, I realized I don’t think I’ve shared the joy that is Monarch Camp here in the blog yet. Oh, what you’re missing.

Remember any bad “camp” movie from the 80s, remove the ‘overnight’ portion (since Zoe just goes to day camp), and you’ll get a sense of the chaos that is camp.

The picture above is from the last day of camp this year. It was “Color Celebration Day”, and here’s how the camp alerts parents to the particular brand of chaos they are serving up daily:

Color Celebration
During our color celebration, we will be having a powder paint party. The powder paint is easily washed off but will stick to your camper’s clothing. We ask that your campers bring an additional change of clothes if they would like to participate.

If you would not like your camper to participate in the powder paint festivities, please send an email so that we may arrange an alternative fun filled activity for them.

That was copy/pasted verbatim content. Here’s my take on what it should have read:

HUGE MESS DAY
During our huge mess celebration, we will be throwing things at your child which will NOT COME OFF their clothing (or their shoes, though we’re not going to mention that). Since they will clearly get paint all over your car on the way home – and who knows where else! – we ask that your campers bring an additional change of clothes, only in case they are wimps from the paint throwing and start to cry, because there’s no way they are going to be willing to take their paint-filled clothing off before getting in your car.

If you would not like your camper to participate in the powder paint festivities, please send an email to us so we can put your kid in the dunce corner, where they will cry and complain until you come to pick them up (and we will have written evidence that you are the one who stole their fun, not us).

Now scroll back up to that picture, which was just before Zoe got into our car on Color Celebration Day, and tell me my take wasn’t the more honest one. She was not alone.

To make things “easier” for parents, they send an email each week with a preview – and THEME – for each day of the upcoming week. These themes have ranged from “crazy hair day” to “Wear either Yellow Clothing or coordinate the same outfit with a friend for Twin Day”. It’s the little, simple things parents love to do.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I am all for making things fun. And believe me, I AM the mother who ensures when it’s Orange Day that there’s orange on our child, but on “Dress up as a character day”, I had to put my foot down. The night before, literally as she was going to bed, Zoe wanted to go out and buy a dinosaur costume so she could be like a dinosaur from a show. Um, no.

And honestly, camp is SHEER CHAOS. I have only picked her up a few times (camp is very close to our house, so Bart gets that job), but he will attest to this being a daily reality. There are kids, backpacks and “I’m not even old enough to drive but I am responsible for your child” counselors with glitter on their faces EVERYWHERE in this massive field where they congregate at the end of the day. My nightmare would be having to spend a week attending this camp.

First job when you arrive to pick her up? FINDING HER. They are loosely grouped by age but with some games in the common area in the center. It’s a live Where’s Waldo.

On your way out, they check your ID to make sure you’re not stealing one of these filthy, sassy-infused children, and they hand your child a wooden token, which s/he hands to the “guard counselor” (also not old enough to vote) sitting at a desk on the way out.

Between checkout and guard there are countless boxes of “lost and found” items: towels, clothes, water bottles, lunch boxes, you name it. Oh, and a small room where they sell 5 different popsicles, as though your amped up child needs any more energy.

This is Zoe’s 3rd year attending Monarch Camp summer session (and she’s attended a winter session, too), so you may be asking why in the world we keep doing that… Good question. And I do have an answer!

Though she comes home EVERY DAY absolutely disgustingly dirty, destroys a backpack every summer with sunscreen, grass and sand all over the inside AND outside, loses 2-4 water bottles (which are not cheap items) and begs every day to wear a bikini (also no), she loves it. She comes home tired, with stories about her friends, and those 16-year-old “counselors” hug her, praise her, teach her sassy things (not a fan of that part), and make her feel special.

They also have a field trip every week, which takes her twice a season to Zuma Beach in Malibu, has taken her to the aquarium, science center, a few movies and more. Imagine the opportunity of getting to do that with your friends, on a bus, once a week. Heck, I wish I had summer camp…

In addition, they swim every single day. For “classic camp” they swim twice a day and for gymnastics, fine arts and theater arts camps they swim once. And swimming is good.

As part of the Theater Arts camp she attended for a few of the weeks this summer, they had a Variety Show where kids could participate and perform. Our kid is nothing if not a performer, and thankfully Bart captured the following on video to memorialize the moment:

Variety Show

CLICK FOR VIDEO

You go, Zoe.

Anyway, as summer camp ends we prepare for Zoe to start SECOND GRADE on Tuesday. I can’t even. Hopefully, she got her wiggles out over the past several weeks of chaos and can buckle down to actually learn some stuff at school. We shall see!

What I love about Facebook

IMG_8227Above is the sweet picture of loving sisters I posted on Facebook for the Fourth of July, with two cute little girls snuggling (ironically wearing the same dress as last year, which is the ONLY other time they’ve ever worn it- will I ever learn?).

Below is a more accurate view of what that day actually looked like, when not shined up by the Facebook filter (and I don’t mean image filter):

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Sure, people have lots of pictures, good and bad, and tend to share the “best” ones (they used to say it takes a whole roll of film to get ONE good one – I wonder what that stat is in digital terms?). However, I will maintain (or maybe confess?) that the picture chosen to put up on Facebook is generally the SHINY HAPPY one.

When I say Facebook filter, I mean this: Pick a person you care about (or even one you don’t) and go check out their Facebook page – not their most recent post but their whole page. Most often when you do that you’d think all they do is vacation and hug and celebrate and see really cool stuff (most often with friends who seem to like them). Maybe we really ARE all Trolls (from the movie, not the under the bridge kind).

Facebook posters have deep, passionate thoughts on subjects – are quippy and fun – run 5Ks for good causes, remember loved ones fondly, ask help for friends and think their toes look great in those “me perspective” pool photos (that one may be off-topic but it is pretty common and DOES imply vacation/calm/happy).

I’ll bet you have a Facebook friend (or have had to DE-FRIEND someone) who tends to post negative or depressing thoughts or just overshare completely inane details about their lives, but I’ll also bet that’s the exception, not the rule. Or else all I have are some incredibly homogeneous (and mostly happy) Facebook friends.

Let me be clear. It’s not always an “upper” to head to Facebook and see everyone’s blissful happiness, but just like watching a good movie, if you can you suspend disbelief for long enough, you sure can be thankful so many people ARE having seemingly happy, kind moments.

Anyway, I’m not trying to say what I post on Facebook is fake. It’s not. But I will say that what I love about Facebook is while I have a lot of pictures that look like this:

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(blurry, but cute!)

I also have a lot that look like these:

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The many faces of LIFE. Thanks, Facebook, for (usually) bringing out the best in us.

First World Problems & a Triceratops

IMG_8241First of all, as I mentioned in our London post, Zoe LOVES dinosaurs – also evidenced by the fact she has now watched every Dino Dana episode (new series on Amazon, 14 episodes) and almost every Dino Dan episode (old series, also now on Amazon, 52 episodes). PLUS, two “movies” about Dino Dan’s brother, Trek.

But I digress.

Today we went to the Natural History Museum in LA for the Extreme Mammals exhibit, which was really cool!

For the First World Problems part of this post, let me point out these moments:

  • We enter through the Gift Shop. Zoe: “Mom, can we get something in the gift shop?” Me: “Let’s see how the day goes and how well you listen.
  • We exit the Extreme Mammals exhibit through yet another gift shop. Zoe: “Mom, can we get something in the gift shop?” Me: “We haven’t been here long. Let’s go see the butterflies and see how it goes.
  • We exit the Butterfly Pavilion through yet ANOTHER gift shop. Zoe: “Mom, can we get something in the gift shop?” Me: “It’s 11 am. Don’t you want to see the dinosaurs?
  • We eat lunch, and it’s time to leave. Zoe: “Mom, can we play in the stick house?” (NOTE: It’s 94 degrees outside.) Me: “I thought you wanted to go to the gift shop on the way out? Would you rather play in the stick house?”

One National Geographic dinosaur book and 2 “Fizzy” dinosaur eggs later, we’re out of the gift shop and on the way home. Suckers.

Notice a few things here? Ella didn’t ask for anything, and we could have left all 3 gift shops with empty hands, but Zoe, she is persistent. Hopefully that will pay off in a job setting one day so she can take care of us in our (rapidly approaching) old age.

Also, it takes every trick in the book to deter her from her goal. Negotiation, reminder, distraction, perspective. Or maybe it’s all just constant negotiation…

Anyway, on the less commercial side, we also enjoyed the Dinosaur Encounters show they host a few times a day, with a human actor/employee and a human-powered life-sized dinosaur puppet acting out a skit for a room full of mostly kids.

This time: A Triceratops, which Zoe really likes.

We arrived early and ended up on the front row, seated on the floor just behind the stanchions. We’ve been to one of these before and often there’s some part of the skit which requires an audience volunteer, so Bart reminded Zoe if she wanted to BE that volunteer, she’d have to move fast.

When the actor asked for volunteers, she was the first with her hand WAY up and enthusiasm beaming in his direction. As she headed to the small stage, she mention to Bart (in reference to the Triceratops on the other side of the stanchion), “Don’t worry, Dad, they’re herbivores.

That ended up being sage advice and may explain the exceptional confidence of our lovely future performer child as she took her part in the skit (sorry you can actually see the stanchion and some wobbly spots, but I’ve got Ella in my lap):

(CLICK FOR VIDEO)

And so, that’s the story of Zoe vs. the Triceratops (almost impressive as Zoe vs. pushover parents in gift shops).

Happy Saturday!