Thursday, December 30, 2010

12/30/2010 The Holiday Week

And so ends by far my easiest, most productive, least stressful work week yet. This was not because of work itself, but rather, because of no school.

Funny, two full-time moms I've talked to found the holidays more stressful than regular times. And no wonder, holidays with family interactions and so much to do, are stressful. But the particular combination that makes up my life -- our school's excess projects, multiple pickups, having two boys completely out of control when we get home, my standards for lunch (no school lunch and no packaged lunches), and not having any extra family support at home -- makes holidays a true break. Dare I say, even a vacation.

We got a lot done too, not the least of which was signing closing papers on our refinance today. 4.375%, yay! This will lower our monthly payments by over $400. We'll likely put that savings right back into the mortgage, but it's nice to have the extra flexibility.

School starts again next week, but I sure as heck hope to make the most from my remaining 3 days of freedom.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

12/29/2010 Coffee Night

Off to Coffee with mom friends!! And no big deal, this is SUCH an easy week. Work is SO easy when there's no school!


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

12/28/2010 The wife at home

I went to work early today, left late, and worked hard. But when I left work, I was able to run an errand on the way home, then go home to astounding peace. Actually, it was a weird day, because I left before the kids were up, and Dave had taken them to Tonya's for an unusual weekday sleepover before I got home. I never even saw them today.

But what a stunning difference my workdays have been this week, not having the painful 30-40 minute pickup time, and the very stressful work when I get home trying to get the boys to work on school projects while I clean up lunches, make dinner, and start tomorrow's lunches.

Instead, I can leave work when I'm at a good breaking point, have a direct drive home, and walk in and find everyone playing quietly (or, as today, absent). Meantime, Dave's taken care of answering phone calls, returning library books, waiting for the appliance repairman (our dryer is making death-throe noises), rescheduling Gabriel's teeth sealant appointment, picking up our new storage shelves, and scheduling our mortgage refi closing document signing, getting kids to pick up their rooms, finding batteries for whatever needs it.

WHAT a difference! Working life is soooo much easier when someone's at home taking care of everything!! I wouldn't even mind if it meant I still had to cook and grocery-shop -- I get left with the things I like to do, and with time to do them!

Well, I'm not going to get a new wife anytime soon, but this really underscores our dire need for some domestic help. Next year, when all 3 kids are in school.

For sleepover night tonight, Dave and I actually went shopping to find him some snow gear. This is an expensive and time-consuming new obsession to get started in, but once we have everything covered, things will go much smoother for the frequent trips to the mountain I'd like to take this winter. I'm trying to keep myself from going crazy and taking everyone on another snow trip over New Year's, since there really is no good reason to do it other than....I just want to go back. We really don't have the time, and school starts next week (wwwWWWWAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!), but 3 weeks until our ski trip seems SOOOO long.

So does the time when it will become practical and economical to hire someone to help us. Boy, how I need that.


Monday, December 27, 2010

12/27/2010 Back to Rancho

Awww, my boys. I love them so much. This is a great photo.

Katrina had a great time too, and no trouble keeping up with the pack. I think we can safely retire all our strollers.

These were taken at one my favorite places in the world, Rancho San Antonio. But I wasn't there. I was at work today, and will be this whole week. Meantime, Dave's company has shut down and he's at home taking care of the kids this week. For the most part, I'm not sure who has the better of the deal, but if it means a fun beautiful walk at Rancho, he wins!


Sunday, December 26, 2010

12/26/2010 7!

Julian's birthday today! Not an extension of Christmas, but his OWN birthday!

I was up early for a coordinated call with East Coast relatives, but Mom Nature had her own ideas (something about an itty-bitty blizzard), so that happened later when we weren't around. The boys played with their RC cars and lightsabers pretty much all day. Julian and Dad worked together to put together his "My First Clock" toy, which they both enjoyed.

I was sluggish and unproductive today, but did manage to bake Julian's birthday cake, and later make the frosting. I had a brainstorm about how to do this: do it with him -- let him decorate his own cake rather than surprise him. I thought we'd do it together, but he got right into it and wanted to do it himself. Well, almost himself, until a pastry-chef-underling appeared and demanded a role, which he obliged.

We finally declared it done, and I was very happy for the pressure to be removed for me to make a neat fabulous cake! And he loved it!

We sang Happy Birthday, he opened his generous birthday presents, we listened to Happy Birthday from East Coast family, and finished the day with one very special-feeling 7-year-old.

The trouble with the middle child is that his age isn't so shocking -- it's one I've done before, and it's one I'll do again, so the extremes surrounding the firstness or lastness of an age never exist for him. Still, 7. My mother says that's the age of reason. You've got a lot to live up to, kid!


Saturday, December 25, 2010

12/25/2010 Christmas Day!

The big payoff day!

Finally, our kids turned normal and were anxious about Christmas morning and looking forward to opening gifts. In the past, it's taken us a few days to plow through everything! We had everything done by noon this year, a record for us. Still, gift-opening didn't start until everyone was dressed, had breakfast, and everyone was in the room and ready.

Uncle Ronan always comes through with things little boys really want -- and what could they want more than remote-controlled cars?

Unless of course, it's lightsabers from Uncle Ryan and Aunt Laura! Close call -- they spent all day playing with RC cars or lightsabers.

Mom & Dad always get them these boring kit sorts of toys, which they end up loving, but don't have the same "wow factor" on Christmas Day.

I'm skimming here, because everyone got way more wonderful things they were very excited about. What's mentioned here is just what I happened to get pictures of.

Katrina loved this Clifford, hugging it again and again.

Grandparents obviously know her, because this Clifford activity kit was also a huge hit.

A Barbie! Her first -- it takes an Uncle to get things like this! She loves it.

And a very cool book on shadows from Aunt Laura and Uncle Ryan. Where do they get these great ideas?!

Socks for all three! The boys weren't so excited about socks after getting RC cars, but I know they both will get into them later. Julian especially will think hard about his dinosaur socks.

And lots lots more that I didn't happen to get photos of. I'm overwhelmed by the generosity and thoughtfulness of our family...thank you all!

Later, we decorated gingerbread cookies. Well, sort of "we"....the boys were involved in other things, so I started off with just Katrina. She was so into it, so cooperative, so easy to give guidance, I was really surprised. It was never like this with the boys, they needed a whole lot more guidance to keep them from dumping a whole bottle of sprinkles on one cookie. Katrina had a very clear vision of what she wanted each cookie to look like, she'd work on it for a few minutes, then announce "it's done!"

She ended up decorating almost all the gingerbread people I had left to decorate (I baked them yesterday). She chatted happily while she was working, describing each person and what they liked and what they were wearing, occasionally asking me for more decorations in a certain color in a certain shape. She was really really adorable and charming through all this.

I hate to say it, but for this sort of thing, girls (at least this one) really are more fun than boys (at least those ones)!

Gabriel joined in at the end, when there was only one left to decorate. He was easy to work with too, but then, he's almost 9. Meantime, Julian was happily working on a rocket project (from grandparents again) with Dad. I can't imagine decorating cookies with the boys together these days. They're constantly competing, insulting each other, and at each other's throats, and would probably start throwing sprinkle bottles at each other or start a gingerbread-man fight.

Christmas dinner was overall pretty simple. I attemped to duplicate Ryan's smash hit of brussel sprout fricasee from Thanksgiving, with perhaps 90% success (there's no replacing raw talent!). Add to that roast chicken, ciabatta/pancetta/chestnut stuffing, and broccoli for the kids who won't try brussel sprouts.

Katrina took one look at dinner and said, "May I please be excused?" I reminded her that gingerbread cookies were at stake, and she looked right at me without blinking and repeated, "May I please be excused?" Just like her older older brother, absolutely unrattled, single-minded, she knew exactly what she wanted to do. A quality I admire, but I still wish my 4-year-old would eat something for dinner. She put her plate away and marched straight upstairs to play.

Well, she met my criteria for dinner rules, and on principle I avoid food fights, so I let it go, but still, argh.

It rained all day and we went nowhere -- just how Christmas should be!


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sledding Trip

I have this week off from work, so I figured this was a fine time to make a "quick" trip to the snow. We have a real ski trip planned for January, but maybe I could pull off a "quick" "simple" overnight trip to go sledding.

First, get everyone's stuff together. Who fits what, who needs what, buy it, find it, borrow it, hand it down. I thought I was very clever putting each person's snow gear into one of these Ziploc "Flexible Tote" bags. They're ventilated, so would also work as temporary totes for wet snow stuff.

Great idea, except for one thing. My little brain sees a closed bag as "complete." Unfortunately, it turned out that a closed bag meant "I needed to move this to a different part of the room without everything falling out." More on that later.

We left around 11am, a perfectly poor time, since we'd arrive too late to do much. But I didn't feel like driving in the dark and snow in an unfamiliar place, and it's been stormy the past few days.

We've never had much trouble with kids in car trips anyway, and that's without food, DVDs or video games. Gabriel read "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" to Katrina for well over an hour.

We stopped at a Denny's, the boys' favorite, for a late lunch. What a pain. Katrina was awful, refused to order anything, and complained constantly. When the boys got their chocolate milkshakes, she fussed and cried and said she wanted that too, and finally agreed to eat a few bites of pancake to get one. The shakes take forever and we were ready to leave, but Gabriel sweetly shared his.

When we got up high enough in elevation to see snow, the kids were really excited. No one moreso than Katrina, she couldn't stop talking about it!

Gabriel paused his reading aloud at one point when we came around a bend and saw a valley lined with snow-tipped trees. "Wow, I love that big open view," he said, "If we were in a movie, this would be a perfect time for music!"

Destination: the very very basic Sierra Inn in Kyburz, that has a very very non-basic view of the American River. It's about 12 miles from the ski resort.

When we arrived, the kids immediately suited up to go play in the snow. And this is when the rotten eggs were discovered in my best-laid plans.

Somehow, one of Katrina's snow boots had been left behind. I think I'd taken it out of her bag to check its size, but it never made its way back in. This was a disaster -- our whole trip was planned around playing in snow, and boots is one of the few non-negotiably necessary items.

She was soooo excited to go play in the snow, I didn't have the heart not to let her, so she played in her lightweight vented sneakers, the only shoes she had on this trip. I had to come up with Plan B for her boots anyway.

They all played outside for over 2 hours, until I had to drag them in. (Unfortunately getting the boys to change states is really hard, and I had to get seriously mad at them to get them inside.)

By now, it was well past dark, and much of their gear was really wet. Not surprisingly, Katrina's feet were soaked through.

This wasn't the only problem. The boys' base-layer bottoms were still at home on my "to be sewn" shelf (to take in waistbands), both boys had forgotten pajamas, and Julian's hood and hat hadn't made it into his totes either. And somehow Katrina's hair-stuff bag didn't make it either. And I'd failed to try on my own borrowed snow pants and jacket.

Julian's jacket was already a last-legs item. It's a size 4 hand-me-down from his older cousin, it's too small for him, and the outer zipper doesn't work. The inner zipper worked, so it would do for the day, but I'd forgotten how unwaterproof it is. It was wet all the way through, including the sleeves.

These issues were all workable, but the missing boot wasn't.

Between rain, dark, tired, only soaked-through shoes for Katrina, no one wanting to change again, and the nearest restaurant turning out to be lunch/breakfast only, I improvised dinner with some just-in-case breakfast provisions I'd brought (oatmeal) while the kids watched an HBO Family movie. From now on: accommodations with a kitchen.

Meantime, I tried to dry the soaked clothes, taking care not to melt anything on Katrina's sneakers.

In the morning, we packed up and drove to the Strawberry Lodge for breakfast, starting with and some hot chocolate.

Katrina repeated and escalated her "performance" from Denny's yesterday. She refused to order anything, then when I ordered French Toast for her, she was outraged that it wasn't Julian's smiley-face pancake. She whined and complained about absolutely everything ("I don't LIKE milk! I don't LIKE snow!"), then forced me to carry her away from a fireplace where she sat down in the way of other patrons. I was furious that my life had regressed back to bouncing fussy toddlers around in restaurants while waiting anxiously for food to arrive. I'm so done with that. Worse, she was keeping me from chatting excitedly with the boys about the upcoming snow play.

She was also obstinate about going to the bathroom. I absolutely did not want to arrive at the ski resort with her needing to go. Parking and getting everyone's gear on and figuring out where to go would be made 10 times more stressful by a pee emergency. I fought and struggled with her, stayed silent sometimes, got angry and threatened to take her home other times, or just left her alone in the bathroom when I was getting too frustrated. Finally she relaxed and produced and we were on our way.

This restaurant nightmare was one of the very few times I've ever thought "this child needs a spanking" of her.

Another 10-minute drive, and here we were at Sierra-at-Tahoe!

This is the ski resort we're going to in January, which also has a tubing/sledding area. It's so confusing figuring out new ski places; so I figured we might as well do the sledding here and get the lay of the land.

Indeed, it was a real pain figuring out which lot to park in, but when we did, we joined the leagues of snowboarders (mostly boarders! boo!) gearing up in the parking lot. The boys put their snow bibs on over their jeans -- not ideal but it's all they had, since their base layer bottoms and a reasonable substitute in a pinch (PJs) were all at home. Gotta make do.

That's when I discovered that the wall furnace "dryer" had melted the one functioning zipper on Julian's jacket. I froze in disbelief and panic. Is this possible?!

Further inspection showed several inches of zipper teeth melted into one long slippery tab. There was no zipping this jacket today. Like boots, jacket zippers are another non-negotiable item.

After the blood started circulating again and my limbs unlocked, I actually laughed. I'm being tested, I'm sure of it! Fortunately, the jacket also has snaps, and those would have to do for the day. Some serious improvising going on here.

Finally geared up, I then thought to ask if we were in the right place for the tubing. And no we weren't, it's in a different lot on the other fork of the Y.

Pile everyone back into the car, and find the tubing area, where I discovered there is no lodge. The tubing is in a separate area from where the rentals, ski school, restaurants and retail shop are. There were porta-potties, but no indoors and no place to buy lunch. Once again, we'd have to make do.

But now we needed to go back to find the rentals. I'd had a brainstorm in the middle of the night as I lay awake fretting about the Katrina boot problem: rent snowboard boots. Snowboard boots are light enough to walk in, and the ski school would certainly have her size for rent. Finding regular boots to buy in her size without driving into South Lake Tahoe would be impossible.

And this improvisation worked. It cost us 45 minutes and $17.50, but at least Katrina could play in the snow now. And now I knew where the adult snowboard rentals were (which didn't have the small sizes) and where the ski school was (which did), where the retail shop is, where to buy water, where the ATM machines were, where the bathrooms were, and where the guest services were (which isn't where the rentals are). This was much more information than I'd planned to obtain this morning, but I had it now.

Finally done, we drove back to the tubing area. I signed a zillion waiver forms, paid $10 each, and then let the kids loose. After all the morning's hassle, they were all very ready!

The tubing lift was down for maintenance, but the tubing runs were open, and there's a walk-up lane in which you pull your own tube up. The tubing was much more supported than I expected -- they have guys at the top to push you (I think to prevent people from swan-diving onto the tubes), and guys at the bottom to help stop you and to clear out the landing area. Thank you lawyers!

We arrived early enough (11am) to get the one coveted "double-tube." The boys could tube themselves, but Katrina either had to go in my lap, or in this double-tube.

She wasn't sure about the whole thing at first, and started to throw a tantrum about having to sit in the tube like this. Feet out is the rule.

But as soon as we got going, she lit right up and laughed aloud most of the way. She loved it! This photo and video are from her first time -- no need to get used to it for once.

We did this many times, all but one successful. Something set her off and she punished me by refusing to look.

The boys needed no prompting. Julian's tube kept slowing down and getting stuck despite valiant pushes from the guys helping; this problem went away when we had to start rotating tubes.

Gabriel was all over it, and went down again and again and again. He practically sprinted back up with his tube; I think he went down twice for every one run of Julian's.

I also went down once or twice with each kid sitting in front of me. Gabriel certainly doesn't need his mommy with him , but I'm so glad that he still wants to.

Me and Julian.

And Katrina.

What's with the bear in the background? This guy showed up after we'd been there for about an hour. Katrina was put off: "It's not Halloween!!" The bear reached out to her, and she recoiled and gave the usual shriek of terror that she reserves for dogs.

But she was very interested in the bear, and later I was able to get a photo of her with him.

Then she started following him around everywhere. One time I lost track of her and then found her walking up to the top of the tubing in pursuit of the bear! It was very cute, actually.

(Pink is a great color to spot a little kid in the snow from a distance!)

The boys eventually tired of pulling tubes up, and turned their attention to whacking each other with snow, and playing on this hill. Gabriel engineered a set of snow steps, as the hill got slick after some time to climb up.

Katrina, never a good climber, went up and slid down again and again and again.

They did take a break for some granola bars (aka "lunch") and then went right back to playing. The temperature was about 30-31 degrees, warm enough that you could sit down for a short while and eat. It was snowing on and off the whole time we were there, but never snowed hard.

Later the boys found the bear, and had a great snowball fight with him and one or two of the other guys running the tubing hill. Julian especially made friends with these guys. It occurred to me that they're really not much older than the boys; maybe 10-15 years. That's a lot closer in age to them than it is to me!

After another major struggle with a port-a-potty visit (that was resolved only with a promise/threat of hot chocolate), and a lot of prying to get the boys refocused from pummeling the bear with snowballs, I managed to get everyone piled into the car, wet snow gear and all. We'd change our clothes somewhere else...somewhere.

I took a short detour to investigate our accommodations for January. I was relieved to see how close the road and house is to the resort.

The carful of wet overdressed kids could survive for an hour. I figured we should drive to a large enough town to get gas, dinner, and change. It'd be warmer too, at a lower elevation.

No Denny's in Placerville though, so the boys settled for Carrows. No shakes at Carrow's, so they settled for a dessert sundae. And no cajoling them to eat -- they were very hungry and sat quietly plowing through their dinner!

Katrina was still on edge but finally was hungry enough not to be impossible. She ate a bowlful of spaghetti, but refused to eat any broccoli (which she likes), because there were other vegetables on the plate too. She finally conceded when she saw the dessert sundae that was at stake.

And then she won her own. This overall was still an irritating struggle, but it paled next to Denny's. Our waitress was visibly shocked when I told her that this was the best-behaved Katrina's been at a restaurant on this trip.

We were home by 8pm, tired, but happy!

I sure learned a lot on this trip. The gear snafus piled on one after another -- thank goodness I hit the biggest snags before our real trip in January. We won't have time to recover from missing items, since the kids will have ski school first thing in the morning.

Though many people drive up and back in the same day, for us it's a big enough trip that it's worth staying at least 2 nights. Driving home after the snow play mostly works, aside from the wet-gear problem.

I hated the restaurant dependency, and Katrina made that 100 times worse. For many meals, there's no need for an hour-long restaurant visit, and in some cases, like their oatmeal dinner, it isn't an option anyway. Next time: accommodations with even a very basic kitchen.

But, logistical tests and all, it really was worth it. I really love seeing how happy the kids are in snow. I've never seen Katrina more animated or excited. And I just love being in the mountains, seeing the trees and valleys and views. I can't wait to go skiing now!


Notes: what's needed to buy/replace/find/fix for January trip:
- Boys: base layer pants (fix waistband)
- Boys: different ski/snow socks that aren't so itchy
- Boys: light fleece shirts instead of cotton sweatshirts
- Gabriel: mittens he can put on more easily with wet hands
- Julian: new jacket
- Katrina: long base layer pants that stay in boot
- Me: ski socks (borrowed ones are too big)
- Me: bigger gloves (borrowed ones are size M and much easier to put on than mine)
- DaVE: everything except gloves