Wednesday, October 31, 2007

If The Broomstick Fits...

Ride it!

Happy Halloween everyone!!!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Hooray For Halloween!

It's almost Halloween. When our big flood nightmare started, we hoped we'd be done with all the repairs by Halloween. And you know what? We just about are. There a few minor things that still need to be done, but they are cosmetic and not at all urgent. So it's meant a lot to me to be able to get a few decorations put up and actually get excited about the holiday. On Sunday, I took advantage of having my kitchen back by making Halloween pancakes. I used the molds from Williams-Sonoma, but has a variety of shapes.

I am not a pancake pro, and there was a definite learning curve to this process. I learned very quickly not to overfill the molds and that there's no such thing as too much vegetable oil spray. It also helps to have your pan and the molds pretty well heated before starting. After rejecting my first few attempts, I added a little more milk to the batter and achieved much better results. As usual, I ended up with more than I needed, which I love. They went right into the freezer for a little Halloween fun in a couple of weeks.

I'd love to say that my kids were amazed and impressed with my festivity, not to mention my mad culinary skills. At best, they were slightly amused. Except for the little one who wouldn't even taste a bite. My husband said some nice things, but I know he thinks I'm nuts for doing stuff like this. Fortunately, he keeps those comments to least half the time.

As for me, the greatest thrill was not the actual pancakes. I mean, after all, they're pancakes. It was having a kitchen to cook in and to be able to walk around without fear of stepping on nails or worse. Floors and counters will never again be taken for granted by me. And more than that, it was the fact that I'm once again taking interest and pleasure in the silly little things that bring a smile to one's face. This is huge progress for me and again, something that I'm definitely not taking for granted.

P.S. The last guy kind of looks like a burn victim, but I think that just makes
him look more authentic.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Leaving Lost Vegas

You know when you're in Las Vegas or some other adults-only destination, and you see a family loaded down with a bunch of little kids and strollers and diaper bags and all that goes with them? And you think to yourself (or in my case, sneer out loud), "What kind of complete idiot would bring small children to Las Vegas?" Well, as it turns out, I would be just the kind.

And you know how Las Vegas is now supposed to be hip and trendy and cool and high-end and even, dare I say, classy? Well, apparently the Imperial Palace was stuck in 1981 and never received that particular memo.

Combine these two facts and imagine the fun my family and I had in Las Vegas this past weekend. We were there to join my mother-in-law's family as they celebrated her dad's 90th birthday. Most of the gang was there from the East coast, and as we had missed the official celebration in August (being that we have all these kids and live on the West coast and Poppy lives an hour plus away from the nearest po-dunk airport and 3 from JFK or La Guardia), we agreed to drive out and meet everyone there.

We knew that the trip would be challenging and we were alarmed that the family had been led by an imbecilic travel agent - probably the only one in America who's never actually been to Las Vegas - to stay at the Imperial Palace. Still, we were glad that Julia was getting over the sore throat and fever she'd had all week and we were hoping to make the best of the trip. So, armed with snacks, drinks, books, DVDs, crayons and more than a few prayers, we set off on the 6 hour trip. Miraculously, we got on the road early, the kids did great on the drive, and we got to the city in great time.

We got our first taste of things to come when we hit Friday afternoon rush hour traffic just as Ethan announced that he needed a bathroom. We had no choice but to pull over to the side of the off-ramp and let him moon the entire city while cars inched by. Classy.

The kids ooh'ed and ahh'ed as we drove past the giant hotels and beautiful facades. And then we reached our hotel.

The Imperial Palace is neither imperial nor palatial. It is a shithole.

To ramble on and on about just how bad the IP sucks would result in much too long of a post. The decor, the smell, the's just all bad. We shared a swanky 2-bedroom penthouse suite with Ray's mom and his aunt. The mini-fridge smelled so gross that my kids refused to drink the milk I had stored in it, complaining that it tasted like cabbage. They've never even tasted cabbage. The toilet seat was worn away in so many places that I think Frank Sinatra himself probably used it at some point. I shudder to think what a regular room is like.

When Julia was 4 months old, we traveled to Florida to visit Ray's elderly grandfather (the other Poppy). We drove in from Atlanta and had to spend the night in Alachua in the grossest, creepiest motel I've ever been to. There were blood stains on the towels and I refused to step into the nasty shower. It seriously grossed me out to take my perfect sweet baby girl and stay in that filthy room. The Imperial Palace is the Alachua of Las Vegas. Other guests joked that the initials IP really should stand for ImPlode.

Mercifully, we finally got out of there for a while the afternoon after we got in, but not before having two meals at their nasty coffee shop, the Tea House (which came to be known by us as the Pee House). We headed to Circus Circus and the kids had a great time. It was like Chuck E. Cheese on steroids. It actually brought back happy memories of my own trips to Las Vegas as a child, begging to go to Circus Circus and playing the camel race with my cousins. A more recent addition to Circus Circus is the Adventuredome, a smoke-free mini-theme park with rides, junk food, and more games. This was a great way to spend our day.

From there we headed to Paris and tried to survive another meal while Bunch screamed. I have to say, he was fairly cooperative on the trip as a whole. Between his new obsession with Legos ("eggos") and the few words he now uses to communicate, the screaming has decreased. However, going from car seat to stroller to high chair back to the stroller is not his idea of a good time and even he's got his limits. The big kids got new Webkinz from a store there, which helped to allay their disappointment that we couldn't go up the Eiffel Tower due to the high winds. In fact, the fountains and volcano were also turned off because of the weather.

The highlight of the trip for me was jumping out of the car at the Bellagio to show my two older kids the stunning Chihuly installation in the lobby. A while back, they had seen some photos of Dale Chihuly's work on the internet and had showed some interest. I've been a fan of his work since we got exposed to it while living in Seattle. I couldn't resist the opportunity to show them the actual work when it was so readily accessible. I figured they should know that Las Vegas isn't just about worn vinyl and giant belt buckles. Ethan wasn't that impressed but Julia was very interested. We also went to the conservatory which never fails to stun me with its beautiful seasonal decorations. This time it was an autumn theme and was absolutely gorgeous. Even Ethan enjoyed the "waterfall" of apples. The only bad part about our little 15-minute excursion was that it underscored just how crappy our own hotel was when we returned to it.

I could go on and on, but why? Everyone knows that when you travel with a lot of people, decisions made by the group are not always best for certain individuals. This is magnified when one member of your group is a spry 90-year old birthday boy who still needs to get a nap in now and then. Going on this trip was the right thing to do, and it was lovely to see Poppy and his "girlfriend," whom I'd never met. She is a sweetheart and couldn't have been nicer to me and the kids. Everyone else did their best and we even got to leave the kids with Grandma and go play a little blackjack at night. Our itinerary and accommodations did nothing but make me long to go back to "Lost" Vegas, as Ethan calls it, this time in a nicer hotel, with better entertainment, different traveling companions and no kids. Like I said, what kind of idiot would take kids to Las Vegas anyway?

P.S. Thanks to everyone who's been concerned about our safety during the fire season. Although we drove through some fire areas on our way back from Vegas, our town is not affected. Our hearts are with the firefighters and those who are in the fires' path.

Thank you dpdixon for the photo of the Strip and ladnlins for the gorgeous picture of the Bellagio lobby.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

In case you hadn't heard, today is Blog Action Day, a day for blogs all over the net to post about the environment in a way that pertains to their particular readers. So far, over 15,000 blogs with a readership of over 12 million are on board.

Whether you agree or not that are planet is in an environmental crisis, there's no question that we can all do small things in our lives that will add up to a big difference. For example, with curbside recycling in most communities, it takes little effort to separate your trash. Other things, however, do take some effort. And with all of us leading super-busy lives, it's much easier to pick convenience over the environment. I feel guilty about this every night as I pack my kids' school lunches with plastic bags, individually packaged snacks and juice boxes.

So, I'd like to make this post an interactive one in two ways. First, if you have a blog, I encourage you to register and create your own Blog Action Day post. Second, leave a comment about real-world things you do in your own life to reduce your and your family's impact on the environment. Maybe we can all pick up a few tips to improve our efforts in a small way. One of mine is to reuse my scrapbooking scraps in any way possible. What's good for the planet is also good for my wallet!

Our small efforts will add up to a big result. And then we'll hold hands and sing Kumbaya. And isn't that what this is all about?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

4 Good Things

At the risk of sounding like Martha, here are 4 things that have made life a little bit better, easier, and/or happier around these parts lately:

  • Ice peas: what Ethan calls frozen peas, right out of the bag. My two older kids love them and I love a no-cook vegetable they'll actually eat. Tonight Ethan had 3 helpings (i.e. shakes of the bag into his plate). This is my kind of veggie. Here is my top secret recipe:
Remove bag of frozen peas from freezer. Dump on plate.

Gross? Sure (although I can usually stomach a few myself). Nutritious, absolutely!

  • The gum ball jar. I brazenly stole this idea from Julia's brilliant teacher. She has a picture of a gum ball machine taped to the board and when the kids behave well, she sticks some colorful circle stickers on it. When the gum ball machine is "full," they get a pizza party. Well, we're planning on going to Disneyland in the next month or so. We decided to tie the trip to our own gum ball jar. The idea has worked wonders. I've caught Ethan being nicer to his brother, both kids are being more helpful and Julia, in particular, is being more responsible. Woo hoo! This is a no-brainer of an idea.
  • The secret dot. After about the 14 millionth time of having Ethan ask if his shoes were on the right feet, I remembered an idea I read in a magazine once. With a permanent marker, I put a dot on the inside of each shoe and told him the dots need to kiss. Easy peasie lemon squeezie! This is one thing out of 11 million I no longer have to do every day and Ethan feels so smart and empowered.
Power to the Mommies!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Cheerios, Spongebob, and God

Almost a year ago, a Jewish family from Atlanta moved next door to us. Their kids were the same age and gender as our older two, and they loved hanging out in the cul de sac. The mom and I soon became good friends and chatted about everything from husbands to politics to religion and then some. I loved having a new friend right next door and I hoped I helped her feel a little less lonely after making a cross country move she didn't want to make. Sadly, we're no longer neighbors but we do remain friends.

One of the things we have in common is our religion. And although she's much more observant than I am (and feels way too guilty about way too much stuff), it's always nice not to have to explain things like holidays and traditions like to other folks. She just knows. She joined a temple within a week of moving here (9 years after moving, we have yet to do the same) and always invited me to accompany her to services and other events. We'd been to a couple of holiday things but never to services. Maybe it was residual Yom Kippur guilt, or the fact that Ray was going to be home late from work (again), but I decided to drag my kids to the Family Service with her and her kids a couple of Friday nights ago. I will not repeat this mistake again for a long, long time.

We get there and meet up with my friend and our other neighbor and her daughter and after chasing Brady around the grounds a bit, we file into the sanctuary where the boys grab their kippot and the older kids promptly march to the front row. It was interesting watching Ethan, who hasn't been inside a temple for a couple of years (for reasons which became very apparent in a few short moments). He had no idea what was going on but followed his friend, with Julia keeping an eye on him. We moms and Brady finally got seated a couple of rows behind the big kids and then the screaming started. That's right. Brady's current method of communication is to scream as loudly and ear-piercingly as possible. When he's feeling particularly verbal, he'll scream "Neh" to express his displeasure at the current situation. Otherwise, he'll just scream.

I scramble through my bag, grab a half-empty container of Cheerios, and get Bunch settled on my lap. For a few moments of bliss, he munched happily while I linked arms with my friends and sang some of the Friday night prayers. Pretty much at the same time as the Cheerios ran out, a tearful Ethan came back to my seat to inform me that "this place is dumb" and he was ready to go home. Crap.

From my diaper bag I pull out some giant Lego blocks for Bunch, a sheet of epoxy Spongebob stickers for Ethan and peace was temporarily restored again. As Ethan covered my arm with 20 or so different Spongebob faces then moved them one by one to my leg (who needs to go get waxed?), and Brady played with his Legos I once again got to enjoy the feeling of being in a temple on a Friday night for the first time in way too many years. The kids were actually quiet for 13 seconds until Ethan started going through my bag and found his toy hammer. Crap. First, he started banging on the epoxy Spongebob heads. Then he moved on to the chairs themselves. Then he continued with the potted plant next to our row of seats. By this time his friends in the front row had to come check out what all the noise and fun was about. And that's when Brady decided he wanted to play with the big kids too. Mind you, the service is going on this entire time.

The other kids were quickly shooed back to their seats by their mothers while Ethan, under threats on his very life, came back to his own seat where he sat on the floor and hammered the chair cushion. Brady, however, was completely done at this point and voiced his displeasure as loudly as possible, compelling the rabbi to remark on the strength of his lungs. And then my cell phone rang.

Mercifully, the service eventually ended and we headed over to the Sukkah to say the blessings over the wine and bread. My kids actually enjoyed that part, because it involved food. Just before we left to get our traditional Shabbat dinner of Wendy's drive-through, my friends actually had the audacity to ask when I was coming back.

It's interesting, attending services at 2 different temples within a week. You get a great urge to compare and contrast. Let's just say that this small, suburban congregation, with its almost makeshift bubble-like sanctuary and its rabbi and cantor combo who seem like they're auditioning for the next season of Last Comic Standing, falls short in a lot of ways to Valley Beth Shalom with its amazing rabbis, 1000+ member families and lovely facilities. But there was love, and caring, and friendship, and community here. There were smiles for my screaming baby and songs that captivated my daughter. And for me, there was the feeling that I was doing the right thing as a mom, even though it was hard, and stressful, and embarrassing. This feeling is hard to come by. I still don't plan on returning soon but I'm definitely glad I went.