Monday, December 28, 2009


Every year, I kind of let something slide.

This year, I managed to pull of Christmas cards (well, to my aged relatives, anyways - yours may or may not be in the mail by the end of this week), but by the time Christmas Day rolled around, I realized I had not made a single solitary Christmas cookie.

Boxing day, Kelly mentions that there weren't a lot of cookies (we had some, as I had two friends come over with cookie tins full of nut-filled toxic-to-me goodies that the rest of the family has been enjoying, and Ken and Kelly went to a cookie baking extravaganza at the house of one of his colleagues). I had turned up a Christmas Cookie magazine while I was clearing out Skip's room earlier that day, and so I said "hey! Would you like to make cookies?"

(This served a double purpose, as I'd just gotten an email from church saying "We're having a cookie social tomorrow morning, so if you have any LEFT OVER cookies, could you bring them?" and I had no leftovers, but I could fake it, right?)

I figure, hey, it's the second day of Christmas... if we're celebrating Orthodox Christmas, I've still got 10 days left to get my act together, right?

Last year, I'd scored this great Wilton cast-aluminum cookie press on the clearance rack at a fancy-pants grocery store. I had never taken it out of the box, and it was about time.

Kelly was giddy with glee!

And even though the recipe book said "Don't worry if your first attempts fail. With practice you will get better", Kelly didn't make a bad cookie all afternoon.

Her favorites were the Christmas Trees...

But she made sure to test out every attachment of the press (and I discovered why it was on such a huge mark-down - there was no instruction manual, and one of the pieces in the handle assembly had been put on upside-down. But I watched a lot of MacGuyver in my youth, so was able to fix it! Boo-yeah)

By the end of the afternoon, she'd made 8 cookie sheets of little perfect cookies. That's almost 16 dozen cookies (not including all the dough that we may-or-may-not-have eaten) I was sure that a hundred and fifty little buttery cookies would be a wonderful addition to the assortment the following morning at church.

Kelly's last tray of cookies was to test out the final attachment. It sort of looked like a bow tie, or maybe a propeller. She squirted out a pan-full of cookies, and then said "I'm going to decorate these with silver balls. I'll put one on each side of the bow tie!"

Alas, the cookies sort of spread out a bit while baking.




Is it just me...?




What do you see...?




Do you think the church ladies would notice? Maybe they'd enjoy the festive silver pasties?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas At the Parker House

We were up late, at church until midnight on Christmas Eve, at the traditional carol service that we do every year.

Skip played in the band, but Ken's mom knew that she couldn't stay up that late, and still be functional the next day, so it was just our nuclear family.

At the end of the service, we all go outside with candles, and sing in Christmas morning.

And then I motored home with very-sleepy Nate and Kelly, while Skip stayed with Ken to clean up. Skip had to break down the bass set-up, and get it into the car to come home. But he played around with his friends for a while first.

He tries to pretend that he's not excited at all, but that's a REAL manic "Christmas is almost here!" smile, if I ever saw one.

As a result of being up so late, our family didn't get rolling until after 9am on Christmas morning. After breakfast (for those who wanted to eat), it was time for Stockings!

Then we read stories. Every year (since he was 6), Skip has read "This is the Star" by Joyce Dunbar. A great story.

Then we lounged around for a bit, and the kids started eating some of the candy from their stockings. Perhaps giving Skip a blue-raspberry push-pop wasn't the best for future photographs during the day...


Anyways, we had a few interruptions (Ken has 4 younger brothers) for phone calls, and we didn't end up finishing unwrapping gifts until nearly noon! Skip kept saying "There are too many presents" because he is trying on a 'curmudgeon' personality, and because there was only ONE thing on his Christmas list. We kept saying "Just wait until you open the SKINNY JEANS we got you!" (he hates anything that isn't roomy and stretchy-with-elastic-waist).

I had worked until after midnight the day before Christmas Eve to make him a replacement cloak (Nate is wearing his old one in the 'stockings' photo above), seeing as his original one was from Halloween of his 3rd grade year. He was hoping for black.

He got black.

Kelly's list was very long, and included a pony. Hah. Yeah, right.

It did NOT include this:

"Is it... NO! It can't be...!!!!"

Ken got a great deal on a gently-used netbook hand-me-down from a guy at work. Kelly's old computer was one that had been discarded from Ken's former employer 8 years ago. It had no sound, and would only run if you took the case off.

She was TOTALLY surprised.

Skip's big gift...

"What's this? The box is pretty small... It's too big for a DVD... but it's not as big as I thought the... WAIT a minute...!"

"Hey! When did Adobe start packaging Flash in this smaller-sized box???? You tricked me!"

Yes. The *only* thing on Skip's Christmas wish list was Flash, which he was hoping to learn before taking any computer courses at college next year.


Yup. He's upstairs right now, making little movies.

After seeing what Skip and Kelly got, Nate was pretty excited. But when all was said and done, what was Nate's best favorite gift?

Yup, that would be a hat, made out of a box that, I think, a pair of trousers were packed in.

Our Nate. He has the simple tastes.

But he was not left out.

He got hot sauce!

(and that game "Wasabi!" that's behind him) I think he was most happy about getting the Sriracha hot sauce. We were down to the last drips in the bottom of the old bottle, and Nate was starting to get worried there wouldn't be any more.

But now, I must go and check on the roast. We're having The Other Ken and Toni over for supper. It's her birthday, and I've told them that they can't bring anything. So I guess I better make sure that we don't have any holes in the menu...

Next up...

Kelly makes inappropriate cookies!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Macy's on Boxing Day

For the last 6 years, or so, my mother in law has been sending me money in November, and asking if I would "shop for the children for Christmas". A couple of years ago, she added in "and here is money for you to buy something for you and my son". I love that she does that. She's VERY generous with the money, and I have weeks to plan, and to check sales, and to get things that I know the kids want and need. And then I have to get them less stuff, because Grandma just seemed to KNOW exactly what they wanted.

Partly, she does this because she just doesn't see the kids often enough to know what sizes they are, and she also realizes that no matter how many times we talk on the phone, and I make the kids say 'hi' to her, she's not going to be able to divine what it was that they most wanted to have for Christmas. Another big part, though, is because she is VERY mall-phobic. Like her eldest son, she would much rather poke her eye out with a stick than brave the crowds and no-natural-light setting of the narrow-aisled, over-stocked mall stores.

She tells me, over and over, that I am a hero for her, shopping so she doesn't have to. Sometimes, I let her off the hook, and tell her that it is a joy to shop with someone else's money (which it is). Other times, I just bask in the accolades.

So you get the idea that my mother in law does not shop.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise to you that I thought I heard the first horse of the apocalypse whinnying at the back door last night when she came up to me, and asked if I might be considering going to the Boxing Day Sale at Macy's the following morning (today: stores opened at 6am), because if I was, she would like to accompany me.

What? Is this some sort of test?

But it was all innocent as it turns out, because she'd seen a Macy's flyer (I recently opened a Macy's account - saved me $400 on a sofa in October - and the store now sends me nearly-daily flyers and reminders of all the money I could be saving if I used my credit card at their store - they don't seem to realize that I am saving WAY more by simply not shopping...) and had noticed that $110 cashmere sweaters were marked down to $39. Much as she is not a shopper, she does have a very nice modest wardrobe that has two cashmere sweaters in it, and she thought having a third, especially at that price, would be a wonderful expansion.

Together, we looked at the site, and examined the crew neck sweaters (the only style that she would consider wearing), and she thought that she would brave the mall for that kind of bargain. I suggested that there was no need for us to burst through Macy's doors when they opened at 6am, but that perhaps we could go over there after our 7:30 (regular time) breakfast.,

And so it was decided.

Mom then went upstairs to get ready for bed, and Ken looked at me. "My mother wants to go to a MALL?" he asked, incredulously.

"Yes, but I do worry that the selection will be a bit picked-over by 8am..." I replied.

He raised an eyebrow, "You *KNOW* you love to make those pre-dawn shopping expeditions...."

"I could make a reconnaissance run and be back before breakfast!" I whispered with glee. And so with that, I went off to bed while Ken waited for Skip to come home from an X-box party at a friend's house.

OK, I'll admit that I'm getting old for this. But when the radio blipped on at 5:45 this morning, I was SO ready to just hit the snooze button repeatedly. Alas, my "all Christmas music" radio station had reverted to "The 24-hour Huey Lewis and Bee-Gees show" content, and I couldn't get out of bed fast enough when my brain registered another chorus of "Happy to be stuck with you".

It was good that I went as early as I did. TEN MINUTES after the store opened, there were barely 6 sweaters left on the rack. And only one size medium, and one size large. The rest (and the rest of the other styles, too) were all X-large, and my mother in law is very petite.

I took the only medium (cool red - "claret") and the only large (black) into a fitting room, and tried them both on. The medium fit, but perhaps was a little more form-fitting on my post-Christmas-feasting belly than was modest. The large was a bit roomy, and had extra fabric in the back, but draped down the front better.

Decisions, decisions...

I bought them both.

And, true enough, when I got home, not a creature was stirring.

I was able to get breakfast ready before my mother in law came downstairs, and then I sprang it on her,

"Mom, I thought that there might be limited stock on hand, so I took a look, and I'm sorry to say but there were no size smalls at our local Macy's. There was one size medium, though, and I bought it, and if you like, you can try it on. If it's a colour you like, you can have it, otherwise, I'll keep it, and we can order another one in your choice of colour from the macy's online store, and the sweater should arrive before you head back to Canada."

Her eyes got wide. "What? You mean... I don't have to go to the mall? I get to shop at home?"

She gave me a big hug. "You have just made my day!"

And, wonderfully enough, the size medium was exactly right for her. About as roomy on her as the large is on me. And the colour is a PERFECT foil for her pale skin and silver hair.

I hope she wears the sweater to church tomorrow. She'll be a knock-out.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Family Outing

When Ken's mom came, we thought it might be a good idea, because she's going to be here for more than two weeks, that we plan some short adventure, perhaps an over-night, to break up the long expanse of the visit.

Not that a long visit is a bad thing, but it might be fun for the kids to be counting the days for a variety of reasons.

So yesterday, I thought "I'll find out if it's even POSSIBLE for us to visit Ano Nuevo State Reserve, and we'll make that one of the ends of a two-day trip down the coast after Christmas. If we can't, we can always just head to Monterey, and spend a day in the aquarium, and then go farther down the coast." (Ano Nuevo is where the Elephant Seals congregate every year between December and March. It's protected, so you can only access the beaches of the park on a guided tour, and the tours regularly sell out on the first day that the reservation line is opened in October)

I called the reserve reservation line, and asked if it would be possible for our family to visit the reserve in the week after Christmas.

They had exactly ONE ticket available on the 28th.

Um, yeah, that's not going to work for us.

It was looking like we wouldn't get to see the Elephant Seals, when the lady said "But I do have six tickets available for tomorrow..."

Sign me up!

I had to take a deep breath before telling the family, though. Because the only tour time available was the nine o'clock IN THE MORNING tour, and that meant leaving our house shortly after seven. And this is supposed to be VACATION, and I could see the boys whining before I'd even finished explaining what our big adventure was going to be.

They settled down, though, when I said that they could sleep in the van all the way there.

Things were not looking good this morning, though. It was foggy, and misty, and all closed-in, and threatening rain in a big way. And on the drive, we had the windshield wipers going all the way there. I considered not even taking my camera on the hike, just in case it got too wet from the constant cycle of mist-drizzle-rain-deluge.

The museum and gift shop were pretty cool. They're in an old dairy barn, and you had to watch your step and your head... the floor sloped with original old floorboards, and the beams were laid in a time when people were shorter... or just more observant when they walked around...

Lots of things to see inside, too.

As we hiked out to the ranger station from the ticket-area, it was looking pretty icky. I'd take my camera out from its little hidden pocket inside my big winter coat and snap a photo before quickly snapping the lens cap back on and hiding it in the folds of my clothes again.

But the family soldiered on...

It was blustery-stormy on the hike, but the rain stopped as we stopped to look out over the bluffs.

And then I heard this wild noise, like a motorbike dying, or one of my kids dragging their wet shoe across a fence rail. I couldn't put my finger on it, until I looked down...

Our first glimpse of a bull coming ashore. The docent figured he was about 13-14 feet long, and this was most likely his first time coming ashore at this site. He was calling... trumpeting... to see if there were any males that he was going to have to lay the smack-down on. It gave me chills.

As we walked, single-file, across the dunes towards the next viewing area, I suddenly pointed at a lump. Is that an elephant seal?

Yup. Apparently, they're seismically sensitive, and the vibrations from our footsteps had wakened it. Until we came by, it had just looked like a shiny dark brown lump beside the boardwalk. Fortunately, he wasn't willing to exert any effort to scare us off. Whew. He was bigger than my minivan.

We tip-toed, single-file along the boardwalk to the next viewing place, and it was breath-taking!

Two young males, sparring. As the docent said "These guys don't have a chance yet. They're like middle-school boys strutting their stuff in front of the girls. Pretty soon a teacher is going to come by and smack them upside the head. The *real* males of substance aren't going to be wasting their energy this early in the game. They're biding their time, and will move in when there are more females to mate with.

The big males, they were just lounging around, having a rest.

Yup. Closer than I ever thought I'd get.

And check this out... a young female:

Kelly wanted to name her, and take her home with us. Yeah... she's the size of a VW bug. And she blew fluffy white boogers when she exhaled. I'll stick with hamsters.

The kids ended up having a grand old time.

And nobody got trampled.

Ken's mom was just delighted with the event.


And the loser is chased into the surf by the 'winner'...

Don't get any ideas, Skip and Nate...

On the way back, we stopped at a display of pieces of a shipwreck that had washed ashore.

And just as we got to the car, the skies OPENED! It was a deluge on the way home, but the whole time we were out looking at the elephant seals, it had been just lovely. A little cool and damp, but probably nothing below 50F

But by the time I got home, I was EXHAUSTED! I'd been up since 630, and it felt like supper time when we got home at 1pm. I made lunch for everyone, and then lied down on the couch, and the next thing I knew, it was supper time. I better not be getting sick. I still have presents to wrap!

Sunday, December 20, 2009


The other night, the local Girl Scout troupe came down our street caroling.

(I had been forewarned that they would be coming - the leader is a friend of mine. And I asked if I could hand out hot apple cider to the singers, and was told that would be a very nice touch.)

So after supper, while Ken took Skip out to a "performance Kung Fu seminar" (think David Carradine meets Steven Segal, and then imagine a room full of kids having a HOOT doing prat-falls, and pretending to kick the lights out of each other), Kelly and I buzzed around making the place look more "Christmassy".

I lit a candle by the front door...

Oh, it smelled GREAT! My new favourite scent. It's something called "winter", and was a gift from Nate's teacher (she also gave me soap and lotion in the same scent! Magnificent!) And it reflected so wonderfully in my fave snow-globe.

*edit* Ooh! I just checked on the maker of the "Winter" scented candle and soap/lotion, and it's Bath and Body Works! Whee! I hope they discontinue it right after Christmas so I can pick up a TON of the stuff on clearance. That is such a great scent!

And then, while I was aimlessly cleaning up the place, I came across several strings of outdoor lights that I'd not gotten around to hanging, so I went outside, and made the front porch just a little more glow-in-the-dark.

Psychedelic, even. Especially when seen through the (sorry, my northern friends) palm fronds...

And then I heard the commotion in the street, and the hordes arrived. They'd collected an entourage, sort of like a living holiday Katamari Ball. What started off as a dozen Brownies, had morphed into nearly 40 people. Don't stalk these people, I'm really posting this photo so you can see my fun chili pepper Christmas lights in the olive tree.

(missing from this photo are the 3 boys in the front row who didn't know it was a GIRL scout event, and had followed along, singing lustily, with an eye for what free goodies they might get at each house)

Fortunately, I'd filled the crock pot by the front door to OVERFLOWING with cider that had been simmering since school was out, and there was enough for everyone. Even the parents went away with full mugs of cider (hooray for my earlier "Hmm... maybe I *should* get the jumbo pack of insulated cups, and not just the stack of 12" moment at Safeway.)

The next morning, Nate had his turn at the "Performance Kung Fu" seminar. I really am KICKING myself for not taking video of his fight scene. He was paired with this giant Black Belt adult who coached him, and man, that guy could ACT! I thought Nate really hit him a couple of times. And Nate LOVED it! He was SO getting into it, and my photos are all kind of blurry as a result.

But here you can see him doing a flying side kick that brought Goliath down like a stone. And all the kids in the audience cheered.

Yikes. Look at how high he is off the ground! Both boys are wondering when they can do that again. And next time, I *WILL* use the camera in 'video mode'.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas Tea

I ran into an old friend earlier this week, and she happened to have an extra ticket to this evening Christmas Tea, and invited me along.

I am so glad that Skip is old enough to babysit (at the drop of a hat, even), and I can just leave the house and know that the kids are safe. Ken had a meeting, so I asked Skip to make sure the kids were in bed at a reasonable hour, and hoped that he'd study, maybe just a little bit himself.

And then I got all dolled up, and headed out to a swank hotel for an evening of Holiday Fun.

It was a Dessert Social. And it was catered.

You know that game Six Degrees of Separation. At my table? It was TWO degrees. I knew two of the 10 ladies going in. One, my old friend who invited me, the other a woman who hosts one of the local Moms In Touch groups, and who I've known for five or so years. And then I met the woman sitting beside me.

Me: You look sort of familiar. Have we met before?

Her: I don't know. Do you go to church?

Me: Yes, over at *my church*

Her: Hmm. No, we're over at *other church*

Me: Oh! Is Alex (friend of mine) the music director there?

She: Yes! My husband knows him, too. He plays drums for Alex.

Me: Oh man! Is your husband the drummer for *cool hip Jazz Combo*? I sang with them last year!

She: Oh! I watched you perform!

Another conversation, once the subject changed to hobbies (which is always does when you get ten women at a table yacking)

She: Do you quilt?

Me: Yes, but not for several years. But my daughter wants to start, so I've been taking her to *local quilting shop*

She: That's my store! No wonder you looked familiar.

And another woman looks across the table...

"Hey, do you have a son doing Kung Fu over at *our academy*?"

Yup. I'd met her at Kung Fu last year.

And then I look across the room, and there, at another table? One of the girls I chaperoned on the Disneyland band trip two years ago.

It's a small world, after all.

Over the Top

A long time ago, we 'adopted' (or were adopted by, more like) a wonderful old grandmother-type who had lost her children in their youth. She doted on Skip, and we tried to make sure that she felt well taken care of by us.

In her neighbourhood was this street that was the talk of the town every Christmas. When we first moved to California, she would talk about it, and make sure that we came by to her house, and then onwards to the Well Lit Street.

This year, I made sure to take time out to take Nate and Kelly down the street, too. I think later this week, while grandma is here, we'll all go as a family and walk the two blocks of wonder.

These ornaments? As long as my arm.

Making the tree look proportionate, even though it's two stories tall.

The local high school chorale was strolling down the street, stopping to sing in front of every house. They were pretty darned good. I think it might inspire Kelly to try to take one of the chorus electives at middle school next year.

One of the houses had this vintage window-display Santa from a bygone era. Every kid stops to sit in Santa's lap.

(except Nate. He's chicken-livered. Just like his mother)

It was a (warm) winter wonderland.

It still looks odd to me to have Christmas lights in a lemon tree, though.