Thursday, December 31, 2009

12/31/09 New Year's Eve Day

Dave and I had a bad history for New Year's Eves, starting with our first together:

1998: Minor car accident in the city.
1999: I was on call for bogus Y2K issue, and Dave was sick.
2000: I had my first fever in 10 years, then was sick for a month.
2001: We poured a concrete platform in the basement, I was 8 months pregnant.
2002: Miscarriage.
2003: Brand-new baby, absolutely no sleep.
2004: Broke the streak...Laura and Ryan were here.

And overall New Year's Eves have been fine since, though we haven't done much on New Year's Eves since having kids. One year, we were asleep and were irritated at being woken up by some popping sounds outside, later realizing it was celebratory fireworks.

We really do get some cool aircraft flying over our house. This is a zeppelin (a rigid-frame airship made by the German company Luftschiffbau Zeppelin), not a blimp, despite their similar shapes.

I took the kids to the city today to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. We had such a great time and I took a lot of pictures, but those will have wait until tomorrow. It is New Year's Eve, after all.

Happy New Year!


Golden Gate Bridge Walk

On New Year's Eve, I picked the kids up from a sleepover at Tonya's, and since they were already so handily in the car, I took them straight to the day's activity. I wasn't quite sure what that would be until we got on the road -- my initial idea of walking the Golden Gate Bridge seemed iffy due to weather, but, most of the time that I take chances against the weather, I win.

And today was one of those times. Overcast, chilly, but no rain and a perfectly fine day to walk across -- and back -- a bridge. I was determined to make it all the way to the other side, and back, as usual underestimating how long it is (1.7 miles).

I grew up within walking distance of the Brooklyn Bridge, and walked or bicycled across it many times in my youth, so I have a long history of bridge-crossing. As a kid I had some snobbery about "my" bridge -- what other bridge could ever be as grand or historic as the Brooklyn Bridge -- but, it turns out, there's plenty of room in my heart for two. And indeed, the Golden Gate Bridge is truly spectacular, no less captivating after living in this area for 20 years. Gabriel has wanted to walk across it at night, but a day trip would have to do.

So, we drove to the city, parked at one of the vista points, looked around a bit, then headed across.

I've never paid much attention to what else is around there, but there's a lot. Fort Point is a Civil War era fort that I think can be toured. That's a definite future visit.

Nice thing about the bridge: it's so noisy from traffic and wind that I couldn't hear Katrina complaining from the stroller!

Not that I needed to. Gabriel pushed the stroller almost the entire way.

At first it was tricky getting him and Julian to stay to the right -- there are a lot of pedestrians near the ends of the bridge and a lot of bicycles. Once we got past the initial crowd, we were among the very very few walkers who went past the first tower; most other bridge-crossers were runners or cyclists.

It warmed up noticeably as we headed north and then crossed the Marin county line. Julian finally took his hood off -- he's driving me crazy with that because I hate how pictures look with that hood on!

It was a really fun walk, and they all loved stopping and looking out at the bay, Alcatraz and the few boats that were out. But it was longer than I expected, and we were all ready for a break when we arrived at the vista point on the north end of the bridge. It completely packed with cars looking for parking, and I was grateful we were not among them.

We sat down on the walls, resting and drinking in the scenery. The kids didn't realize that the city we were looking at was San Francisco.

Gabriel, to my surprise, said he was hungry. He's never hungry! I hadn't planned at all for this. I'm not a big snack-packer anyway, I'd planned to take them to lunch right after our bridge-walk, and it wasn't even really lunchtime yet. But we had a long walk yet back across the bridge.

I spotted some tour buses parking, and overheard their announcements about leaving in 15 minutes. Feeling nervy, I asked a tour bus driver if we could get a ride back across the bridge, but they weren't going that way. Then one of those fake cable-car busses pulled up, and I asked again. This guy was really nice, and said he was in the midst of a 2-hour tour, but for $10 he'd take us all back and drop us close to the parking lot. Cool!

The kids amused themselves while we waited the well-worthwhile 10 minutes.

Then their favorite part of the outing: the bus ride back! It was fun being on an open bench facing out. I suppose I should be a little more freaked-out about my 3-year-old being so exposed and close to traffic, but they were all calm and having a ton of fun.

I was very grateful to the tour bus operator for being so gracious and helpful. Thank you, sir!

When we got back, a demonstration was underway. (The signs say "Free Gaza").

The only counterpoint was safely airborne, towing a banner that reads "Israel: Security Freedom Peace."

There is a small "Bridge Cafe" there, with a small selection of food. Being San Francisco, you can count on some healthier choices amidst the Cheetos and Skittles, and we made do with a fruit salad and grilled chicken sandwich. Katrina was afraid of the pigeons that stalked us, and she shrieked whenever I took her off my lap to get up for any reason.

It was much more crowded when we left than arrived, so I was glad we'd gotten there as early as we did. We took the scenic route back through the city, on the Great Highway. I'm ashamed to say I never knew that San Francisco had so many wonderful and easily accessible beaches! Then again, who wants to go to San Francisco during beach season anyway?

A beautiful walk and a really really fun time. Funny that I moved here largely to be closer to a big city, and that now I rarely visit it. That really should change.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

12/30/09 Sleepover

Kids on sleepover, yayy!

Actually, we were late to sleepover because Gabriel came upstairs to ask me something, while I was lying down resting. (On days I work out, I try to lie down for a bit, though lately my back has been great.) He ended up snuggling up with me in bed, and we chatted and laughed together for about half an hour. He is such an awesome kid -- awesome person -- I just love these moments alone with him. He's so sweet, bright, cheerful, eager to explore verbally and talk and laugh about things. I'm very aware that it won't be long before he won't be snuggling in bed with his mother anymore, so I really treasure those moments.

Thankfully, Julian and Katrina were completely absorbed in a huge box of Mr. PotatoHead things that we just got handed down (thanks!). If her brothers aren't bugging her, Katrina let me take naps, though I generally try to set her up with something interesting to do in her room so I can hear her. The trouble comes when the brothers are looking for someone to bug.

The kids were all excited for sleepover and for once clamored right into the car. On the way over, Gabriel gently expressed his disappointment at not getting a Nintendo DS for Christmas (UNCLE RONAN DON'T YOU DARE!!). I'm just not ready to monitor a highly desirable item that will completely absorb him for hours a day. I can only see it causing trouble.

I know where he's getting the idea though. At least 3 other boys brought their own Nintendo DSs to sleepover, captivating most of the group. (Katrina couldn't see, but found other toys to play with.)

I don't know, I don't dare go there yet. They have plenty of other electronic devices in their lives, they're not deprived.

They're all going to be exhausted and grumpy tomorrow...I'd better brace myself.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

12/29/09 Castle Rock

If not for a really fun and beautiful outing today, the day would have sucked.

I'll start with the bad stuff. First, Gabriel had a rare crying episode this morning when the leg broke off a teddy-bear pancake I'd made. By itself this isn't bad, but this kid does not let go of things easily, and he carried on for nearly half an hour, with Katrina joining in when I refused to serve her after numerous rude demands (she refused to say please). I had some fantasy of calling my sister and brother today, but this noise level made it impossible.

There's also a seriously increasing problem of Gabriel attacking Julia. Boys will be boys, and brothers especially will be very physical together, but too many times, Julian is left howling in pain for a relatively minor offense. I know he can be a pain, but getting kicked in the back for make a stupid sound repeatedly is too much. Today the attacks happened more times than I can count, though Julian dished out his share too, including a deep bite on Gabriel's hand. Naturally, that cost Julian dearly.

They really, really needed to get out.

But we had a long delay leaving because of a major Katrina tantrum. She refused to go to the bathroom before getting in the car, a strict rule. And there was no leeway here -- she hadn't gone for a while, and we were going to be in the car for a long time. I was SO frustrated alternatively trying to persuade her and threatening her with taking her to Tonya's, while the boys were ready, in the car, and pounding each other. I threatened to put a diaper on her, but wouldn't you know it, I gave away all our diapers yesterday. I was ready to take her to Kid Park, a place where you can do drop-in childcare, and again she was fine with that.

But finally, finally, she relented. By then I was a wreck, teetering on complete insanity, seething with frustration, ready to put up all three for adoption.

Few things soothe the soul more than getting outside and into the mountains. I made a fortunate navigation error, which meant we took Page Mill Road, a twisty scenic road I used to know like the back of my hand from motorcycling. The kids loved the detour, fascinated by the road features and the views. Still, Katrina was excited to get to "Rock Castle," our state park destination (really Castle Rock).

Castle Rock is a wonderful state park in the Santa Cruz mountains, with one of my all-time favorite hiking trails. We weren't there to hike though, we were there to walk the 3/10 mile to the huge rocks, with fascinating formations and caves and all sorts of stuff to climb on.

Katrina at first insisted on staying in the stroller.

This actually was stressful for me; I wanted to follow the boys and see how they got used to the climbing before not worrying about them. The odds of someone stranding themselves or falling are high there.

Gabriel jumped right in, excitedly exploring every crevice, wiggling through tunnels, climbing up to the tops.

Julian was typically hesitant at first, but it didn't take long for him to relax and start exploring farther than Gabriel did.

In fact, I made the mistake of blurting out without thinking, "Wow, Julian, you're a really good climber!" It went to his head and he kept trying to show off. But it's true; usually Gabriel is better at gross-motor-skill things, and Gabriel has a big age advantage, but Julian was surprisingly more agile and courageous. Gabriel is very competitive though, and several times he saw Julian scale some obstacle that Gabriel had tried and given up on, then he tried again and got through it.

The boys had a great time exploring and playing, and I gave them free rein, quelling a small thread of fear that one of them would get trapped or stuck when I was too far away to help in time. But you have to let kids go, and actually they were both pretty careful. (As babies/toddlers, none of my kids showed any particular ability or inclination to climb.)

I like to climb too, though cold hands and minding a grumpy toddler hampered that.

Katrina, typically, did not take to this right away. At first, she'd barely even walk on level ground without holding my hand.

Then she tried climbing through a very easy tunnel, and got all scared. I didn't rescue her, instead coaxing her to climb out herself.

I carried her around the back of the rocks and up onto a small plateau with a level area leading to a shallow cave. This turned her around. She relaxed and had a great time playing in "her" cave.

Then she got brave enough to try some other caves too.

In the end, it looked like I was going to have a problem getting them all out of there, but it was late enough and they were hungry enough that some granola bars tore them away.

We had a nice drive home and an overall good afternoon and evening. Gabriel and I made two batches of cookies from my new old cookbook, I Know How To Cook (a new translation of a classic French cookbook that my grandmother used). The kids were tired and had an early bath and a movie. I have to say, it's weird when they're watching a movie, so quiet. I can't turn off my Mom "it's too quiet" alarms.

Aside from yet another fraternal impact incident, they went to bed tired and without any trouble. And we now have another Top 10 Favorite place to go.


Monday, December 28, 2009

12/28/09 7 days for 6 strings

This morning, Julian and Katrina were unbearably adorable. They spent the better part of an hour with Julian reading a fairy book to her, both completely absorbed in the story. I think Julian was more into it than she was!

We've had ~gasp~ rain here on and off the last few days, and I've learned something about Katrina: she loves rain. She grabs her rain jacket the moment she realizes it's raining, puts on her boots, and goes right outside. Two nights ago, Dave had to insist she come inside, because it had been dark for over half an hour and it was dinnertime -- never mind cold and raining, that was fine with her. She threw a huge fit about having to come in. She very very happily plays in the dirt and mud, singing to herself the whole time outside.

She is an odd little bird sometimes!

We've rediscovered our little ukulele, and Gabriel has been tackling learning it again (though we lost our little instructional book on it). It's eerie hearing him play something on the ukulele, then duplicate it exactly on the piano, chord for chord, note for note. Tonight, I caught a little video of a very rare thing for him: singing while playing.

He's no Elvis, but it's interesting seeing him work through a song (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in this case).

There's a precedent for string-instrument "Twinkle" in his life.

(Cellist: Anna Vazquez, Papa Paul's daughter.)
(Oh my this brings a tear to my eye...even at 6 months old, he had such an intensity about him. Maybe that's just me seeing it. And she is so good with kids.)

It was so cute seeing him hanging out in a chair and going between trying to play a specific tune, and just strumming idly -- musical tinkering, if you will. You can just about see the music coursing through him -- it's just in him, even if it doesn't show up all the time.

Meantime, Julian was on the piano. Given the rainy afternoon, and the destruction the boys were engaging in earlier in their room, I was sorely tempted to resort to the video route (we have "Ice Age" from the library, as yet unwatched), but as is usually the case, somehow they find their own entertainment. Seeing both boys working on their instruments, while Katrina happily prattled about outside in the rain, I was once again glad I didn't go there. Even if the walls in their room and my vocal chords had to suffer for it.

Lately, Julian's been practically studying the piano. He's been working really hard actually, teaching himself tunes from the piano's preprogrammed ones. Gabriel does the same thing, but their styles are very different. Unlike Gabriel, Julian almost always sings along, he doesn't do any chords, and he doesn't try to play fast. But he tries more songs and he's more experimental with the musical aspects with each song. Like Gabriel, he spends hours playing and practicing.

(Dave and I are talking about lessons for Julian now. That will be interesting. Julian doesn't show the same sort of skill or talent that Gabriel does, but generally by nature he's more open to instruction. And Julian also has a musicality, a creativity, about him I don't see in Gabriel, who I see as more of a "technical" musician. Julian finds freedom in music; Gabriel finds order in it. For the record, Dave doesn't quite agree with this characterization, and indeed, it's very vague and subjective.)

Meantime, Dave and I also mused that maybe a kid-sized guitar is needed here. Gabriel's eyes got huge at the idea, but we were prepared: he doesn't take good enough care of the ukulele to get a real six-string guitar yet. So we set up an agreement: 7 days for 6 strings. That is, if he takes PERFECT care of the ukulele for 7 days -- no running with it, no putting his feet all over it, no holding it up Pete Townsend-style to threaten his brother, no leaving it on the floor -- then we'll talk about getting a guitar.

Then we put the 7 days in writing on a calendar, countdown style, with a line for each day to put a check or an X. I give it 10% he'll meet his end of the agreement -- Gabriel can be very motivated, but he's still just a 7-year-old kid who doesn't think past what his next gross-out noise will be.

Truth is, I hope he makes it. I'd like to learn a little guitar myself.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

12/27/09 And so it goes....

...our tree, that is. Not only did we get it on the early side, so it's getting really dry, but the cleaners are coming tomorrow. It seems early, but we might as well put away the Christmas ornaments and take down the tree now. And try to get the house under control; every room was strewn with toys.

An unusual event today at the Doudna house: a playdate! Here? Us?! No thanks to me. So far, every home playdate the boys have had -- about 4 all told -- have been arranged and overseen by Dave. Dave's former coworker has an 8-year-old 3rd-grader, Kirin, who lives in Ohio, but visits his Dad during holidays, and his Dad looks for kid-company for him. (The Dad also flies to Ohio every other weekend to see his son, and talks to him at least twice a day.) He's a nice kid -- plays the piano and takes Spanish, so we had a lot to talk about. I was surprised how much the boys were looking forward to it, and overall they all had a great time.

Still, there came a time when I had to pay more attention than I really wanted to or could, as Gabriel and Kirin were acting bored. Unfortunately, when two 8-year-old boys are bored, by far the best entertainment is beating up on the 6-year-old younger brother. Like tormenting him by playing Monkey In The Middle with, of all things, his favorite monkey. Julian's no match for Gabriel and an older pal, but he wants to play with them, and so can't be persuaded to just avoid them. Still, I can see that future playdates will take some planning. Gabriel is highly liable to butt in and take over Julian's playdates too.

Julian is loving the book The Stunning Science of Everything. Tonight, he went in search of a pencil to fill in some blanks on a sort of quiz page the book has, but it's really not a workbook; the blanks are small and on glossy pages and really are more for verbal quizzes. Dave wouldn't let him have a pencil to ruin the book, but I intervened. I try not to intervene most of the time, but I could see Julian had his thinking cap on. It's his book, and it does have blanks, but mostly, he REALLY WANTED to do a project.

This is a quality in him I never really saw until kindergarten, but I see it all the time now. He doesn't have Gabriel's intense focus -- few do -- but he is very very committed to projects and completing things. I found him studying the Spanish books I got him for his birthday today too, books I thought we'd mostly do together. (We're going to have fun with this, both boys want to learn Spanish now, and I do too.) Dave and I are surprised -- and shouldn't be anymore -- on a weekly basis at how much information Julian absorbs -- and retells. Gabriel might have learned the same amount in kindergarten, but he never talked about it to the extent Julian does. But Gabriel never took it upon himself to do workbooks (or things that look like it), and was far far more difficult to motivate to do school projects.

Katrina was funny with Uday today too (Kirin's Dad). She's not super social, we're learning, but one-on-one with some adults, she turns into a chatty little star. And she did that with Uday today, clearly taken with him, vocalizing whatever little thought flitted through her head. When she does this, people always exclaim they never heard her talk so much, which is odd to hear for me, though I know it's true. She's very very talkative at home, but she reserves this quality for certain people and situations away from home.

Maybe it is time to venture into the world of playdates, if I can figure out how to juggle my self-centered life with my childrens' needs! (I really do need to work on those closets...)


Saturday, December 26, 2009

12/26/09 Julian is SIX!

My boy -- six years old!! I can't believe it.

I can't say the day was all fun & games though. I went running in the morning, and threatening weather ruled out my usual default pasttime (hiking). Kids needed to get out though, and I needed to do some "research" for my project to reorganize the boys room. So, I trucked the bunch up to Ikea. On the day after Christmas. What WAS I thinking.

Katrina was supposed to be taking a nap, but she heard us leaving and came running after us in a Pull-Up. So, she came with us. Thank goodness, Gabriel insisted on all the stroller-pushing, that actually made things a lot easier.

I'm thinking of replacing the boys' two dressers with one huge one. And this fits the bill: it's huge all right. The rest of their clothes would go in their closet, which right now only has a useless hanging pole. I don't know, this is pretty massive, but it fits the space perfectly.

I also bought a rug for their room, though it's in our family room temporarily in an effort to absorb some of the awful racket. I hate buying furniture on impulse, with no plan, just to get something in there, but, that's exactly what we did.

This set me behind to make what I'd planned for dinner, and I hadn't even started Julian's cake! I went to the grocery store with the intention of buying him one, but decided against it because there weren't any small enough. Besides, Gabriel said something the other day that was along the lines of shock that I'd buy a cake. "Of COURSE you make a cake!" This from the same kid who also asked with complaint why we were the only kids who don't get storebought cakes (which is SO not true). I guess he meant "only kids who don't get storebought cakes whose mothers can actually decorate cakes."

Anyway, Dave pointed out that if I use a mix and canned frosting, to them, it's still "making" the cake. So I set aside my new baking snobbery and quickly whipped up a cake. Me and Duncan Hines, that is.

After cake time, it was gift-opening time. A major affair, because most of Julian's birthday presents from his party hadn't been opened yet either.

(I'd used the birthday presents as a very serious consequence for obnoxious behavior, which he continued -- even after he saw me storming off with an armload of unopened birthday presents. My kids are immune to consequences that don't involve fingerprints on their rear ends! I should qualify that to: my boys. Katrina, for all her "spirited" behavior, has never earned herself more than a light tap on her hand once or twice.)

Quite the bounty, and this doesn't include some things he did get to open!

Yay six!