December So Far

So far this month, we have done a few fun things. We started off the month with a visit to the Festival of Trees. Our kids liked it for about a half hour before Eddie got tired of walking and laid down on the floor. I had just given the kids some new Christmas pajamas that morning and Eddie insisted on wearing his all day long. We allowed it because the sight of Eddie in his Santa jammies never failed to make us laugh. Here he is posing with Jack & Sally at the Festival:

Who ever heard of a skinny Santa?
We have yet to get a decent photo of Violet in her elf pajamas. But here she is the next morning, doing her new favorite thing: removing all the ornaments from the tree, adding toys in, then rubbing her bare belly up against the branches.

Who needs pants when you've got killer boots?
Last weekend, we went downtown to visit Temple Square and City Creek. We had a delicious, but ridiculous dinner at the Blue Lemon (eating with our children is always ridiculous). Eddie's favorite part of our visits to Temple Square is the bell by the assembly hall. He talks about that bell all year long. So after we saw the bell, we visited The Christus, then walked over to see the reflecting pool. We tried to get Eddie to smile a normal smile and he insisted that this was a normal smile:

Violet enjoyed seeing the trees all lit up and she really liked the statue of Jesus. She really wanted us to let her get in the fountains and refused to keep her gloves on.

We made it back to City Creek in time for the fountain show. Every hour, they have a choreographed fountain show that plays along with some Christmas music. A couple of times each evening, they have a medley where you get to see all three shows in a row. This was Eddie's favorite part.

Yes, that is fire in the fountain.
The next day, we went to meet Santa at the Sorensen Home Museum in Draper. I had never been to the museum before, but read that it's not terribly crowded so you don't have to wait long to see Santa. We only waited about 15 minutes. This is the first year that Eddie agreed to sit on Santa's lap. Violet, on the other hand, was not too happy about it. As you can see, she spent the entire time on Santa's lap gearing up for a huge scream. I don't think she breathed the whole time.

I am fairly confident that this is the real Santa. Look at that beard!


Christmas Countdown

Now that Eddie is old enough to properly anticipate Christmas, but not old enough to understand how long it is until Christmas is actually here, I decided it would be best to do a more extensive Christmas countdown. Last year, we did a book advent, where we unwrapped a different Christmas story each night leading up to reading the story of Christ's birth from Luke 2 on Christmas Eve.

This year, I intend to do the same thing, though I have extended it to include 24 books in all, one for every day leading up to Christmas. We will start on Saturday, the 1st. Last year I bought several Christmas books, but most of them are borrowed from the library. If you do this, just make sure that you plan the books to be opened before they need to be returned. Here is a list of the books we'll be reading this year, in the order we will open them:

Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree by Robert E. Barry
The First Night by Barbara G. Hennessy
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
Olive, The Other Reindeer by Vivian Walsh
Russell's Christmas Magic by Rob Scotton
Elton the Elf by Lisa Mallen
If You Take a Mouse to the Movies by Laura Numeroff
Here Comes Santa Claus by Gene Autry
Sad Santa by Tad Carpenter
The Sweet Smell of Christmas by Patricia M. Scarry
Oh, What a Christmas by Michael Garland
Sharing Christmas by Kate Westerlund
The Great Reindeer Rebellion by Lisa Trumbauer
Santa's Favorite Story by Hisako Aoki
Together at Christmas by Eileen Spinelli
Mickey's Christmas Carol
Mooseltoe by Margie Palatini
The Christmas Magic by Lauren Thompson
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
Snowmen at Christmas by Caralyn Beuhner
Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera
Bear Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson
Olivia Helps with Christmas by Ian Falconer
The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore

I tried to coordinate some of the books with some of the holiday activities we have planned. For example, on the day we plan to go to the Festival of Trees, we will read Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree and on the day we visit Temple Square, we will read Santa's Favorite Story (which is about Santa telling the Nativity story).

That brings me to the other Christmas countdown activities we plan to do. I made a list of various holiday events going on in the Salt Lake area, then put them all in a calendar so that we have at least one holiday thing to do each day during December. Some of the things we plan to do are going to holiday story times at nearby libraries, making cookies, watching classic Christmas movies when they are on TV, family game night, seeing the elves at Gardner Village, meeting Santa, taking a drive to see Christmas lights, etc. The point is that we don't spend so much time irritating each other in the house, but we plan outings in advance to (hopefully) reduce the stress such things involve for me.

I am excited for December so that we can get started. Leave comments telling me what you do to countdown to Christmas with your kids.


The Great Northwest, Pt. 2

Since I had to stick pretty closely to Portland to be available for my various press checks thoughout the week, Kristen and I spent quite a bit of time wandering in various parts of the city, checking out quirky little shops, art galleries, etc.

Hmm, I wonder what this place sells. 

This doorway on Mississippi Avenue caught my eye, not long before we filled our bellies with heavenly ice cream sandwiches at Ruby Jewel.

Kristen visited the International Rose Test Garden while I was working, though I was able to meet her there when I was finished. It wasn't peak rose season or anything, but still a pleasant place to visit.

I had seen the food cart, Big-A** Sandwiches, featured on Adam Richman's show Best Sandwich in America, so we decided to check it out one day for lunch. Their namesake features roast beef, french fries, and melted cheese (plus a little horseradish) piled high on a ciabatta roll. Kristen and I split one so we wouldn't have to locate a "Portland Loo" nearby.

On one of my free afternoons, we drove to Sauvie Island along the Columbia River. It was interesting how after venturing just a half hour north of Portland, all the quirkiness and snark of the city all but vanished. We enjoyed the scenic drive past pumpkin patches, orchards, and wide open spaces, then stopped at a farmer market to chomp on corn on the cob and handpick some apples.

After my last morning working, we drove out to the coast. Our first stop was Newport, where we dined on fresh seafood before visiting the Yaquina Bay lighthouse. We were also sorely disappointed to learn that Newport's "Deco District" consisted of a mere two buildings.

A little ways up the coast, we also check out the Yaquina Head lighthouse. I really thought it would be bigger.

Another cool stairwell for your viewing pleasure. It was either this or a photo of the volunteer in the old timey maritime garb. But he was much too busy chatting us up about the thickness of the window wells.

We stopped for the night in Lincoln City, highlighted by a chilly stroll along the beach at dusk. We got back to Portland the next morning just in time to spend 10 whole minutes at the famous Saturday Market before going to the airport to catch our flight home.


The Great Northwest, Pt. 1

Kristen has been planning another trip to Oregon ever since we went last year. She was disappointed she didn't get to tag along with me in the spring, but when I had another press check scheduled this fall, she wasn't about to let another opportunity pass by.

Upon arrival in Portland, we visited “The Grotto” aka The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, a large botanical garden and Catholic shrine.

After lunch we drove up to Mt. St. Helens. Our first stop was the Ape Caves, the longest lava tube in the country.

We did bring one head lamp with us, but it wasn't really sufficient to light the complete blackness of the caves. And unfortunately the visitor center had just closed for the season, so we couldn't rent any additional lights. Thus we didn't make it too far in before turning back.

Next we checked out the Trail of Two Forests, a 1/4 mile loop of hardened lava formations and hollow trunk-shaped holes in the ground.

We attempted to keep driving up to a scenic lookout to actually see Mt. St. Helens, but the snow was really starting to accumulate on the road so we decided to turn around (best not to run our rental car off the road). It was foggy and rainy enough that I'm not sure we could have gotten a clear look at the mountain anyway. Maybe next time.

As we drove back towards Portland I spotted a collection gnarled tree trunks on the edge of a lake.

We had to stop because, well, I have an unnatural affection for such things.

Breakfast the next morning was provided by the Waffle Window. While we were waiting for our food, I photographed the nearby Bagdad Theatre. It seems great old theaters like this are on practically every corner in Portland.

I instructed Kristen to act casual for this cafe shot. If you look closely, you can see her mentally rolling her eyes.

Kristen's waffle was topped with banana, caramel sauce, whipped cream, and granola. Mine featured bacon, bree, basil, and peach jam. Delicious.

To be continued...


The Little Beasts Visit the Beastro

Now that the weather has cooled to the point where I actually enjoy venturing outside, I decided it was high time to get a new zoo membership. So today, I loaded up Eddie and a hysterical Violet and we went to the zoo. This is our first time going since the new Rocky Shores exhibit opened. This is also the first time I have taken Violet when she was at all aware of what was going on. She was not really happy to be there until we saw the first monkeys. She probably could've sat watching those monkeys perching on a branch all day. But Eddie is not one to linger, especially when there is a polar bear to see.

Violet was not happy about being placed in a large nest for a photo-op, but she managed a small smile. We would not be so lucky later on, as you can see below. Eddie really liked seeing the seals and sea lions. The exhibit is great because you can see the animals from above and also down below the water line. Violet laughed at the sea lion briefly as it laid on the deck making weird noises. Then she just wanted to go right back to pushing the stroller.

Next we went to see the polar bear and got a really good view. As we were inside watching the seals swim, the polar bear decided to take a swim, so we were among the few people inside next to the window as he swam around in circles right in front of us. Eddie really liked seeing the polar bear.

Unfortunately there was an unexplained "issue" with the giraffes so we didn't get to see them. Instead, we walked over and went on the carousel. You can see that Violet's mood had not greatly improved, though she did smile a bit as we went around. Violet enjoyed seeing the grizzly bears. We happened to find a secluded viewing area and shortly after we got there and Violet pressed her face on the window, all three grizzlies came to hang out with us. Perhaps they thought she looked like a snack. 

But I think her favorite part was the small animal building. She yelled at the tiny monkey to "STOP IT!" when he looked at her and she was afraid of the dark enclosure full of flying bats. I can't say that was my favorite either. Then she ignored the rest of the animals and tried to perform complex aerial gymnastics on the railing. She was not happy when I pulled her off every time she managed to get into this position. I just really didn't want her cracking her skull on the concrete floor. I am such a stick in the mud.


Read It!

Obviously, I love to read, but it isn't often that I happen across a book that I think everyone should read.  Until last week. I firmly believe that every person can benefit from reading this book, but especially women and the people who love them. It is called The Dance of Anger: A Guide to Changing the Pattern of Intimate Relationships by Harriet Lerner.

Despite the title being pretty awful, the book is great. I have struggled for some time to work through my feelings of seemingly unprovoked anger, but this book has led me to a breakthrough. Now I realize the reasons why I get angry and that it is my responsibility to change those patterns and to let go of things that are not in my control.

Read it. You won't regret it.


Leave of Absence

My oh my, it has been a while since I blogged. Nearly 3 months to be approximate. This long stretch of inactivity can be summed up thusly—I just haven't had anything interesting to say. In the past, when I've had more time on my hands, I didn't necessarily let that stop me (often leading to posts about President Monson playing air guitar in my dreams).

Anyway, what better way to dip my toe back into the blog waters than with a nice, cushy "trip up the canyon to see the fall leaves" post?

This is what we get when we ask our kids to pose casually with their arms around each other. So natural.

All the other photos with the kids posing together were even more awkward than the hugging one. So… how about a nice candid shot?

I wonder if these two are related? 

Not only did we get Violet those killer boots at the neighborhood yard sale yesterday, we scored Eddie this shirt for free. Speaking from experience, the trick is to wait until late enough in the morning when people have realized their crap isn't actually worth anything.

"Eddie, look at the camera. I am looking at the camera! Um, I'm pretty sure you aren't. I am! No you're not!" Ha! In your face, Eddie! I've got a dozen photos just like this to prove you weren't looking. (I'm all about winning arguments with four-year olds.)


First Day

Today was Eddie's first day of Pre-K. He is going to Aspen Preschool in Riverton three days a week. We loved his school last year, but since he was in the same class as some of his closest friends, he was a bit of a trouble-maker. So for this year, I decided we should expand his social circle and put him in a school where he didn't know anyone in advance.

There are 12 kids in his class, and from what I saw when I dropped him off, most of them are boys. Since most of his friends thus far have been girls, I am excited for him to become friends with a variety of boys.

I am particularly excited about this school year because not only will Eddie be reviewing all his letters, colors, and shapes, but he'll also be learning some sign language and some Spanish.

I could tell that Eddie was both nervous and excited about his first day. But he was brave when I walked him into school and asked if he was okay for me to leave. He said, "yep," gave me a kiss, and promptly went to find something to play with. Violet wasn't as okay with it. She wanted to stay at "schoo" with her brother.

After school got out, we celebrated by going to Noodles & Co for lunch. Eddie said that his favorite thing about his new school was playing on the playground. He was also happy to tell me that there is a boy in his class who is "funny just like me."


The Literature of Self-Discovery

I have, once again, gone on a serious reading binge. Not only have I read five books in the last week, but I have at least four more on the shelf waiting to be read. As I typed up my thoughts about each of these books, I noticed that they all have a common theme: self-discovery. I don't think this is purely coincidence, since I have spent the last year trying to rediscover myself. I am very interested in learning other people's stories of their own self-discovery. So, here they are:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society // Mary Ann Shaffer

The only fiction on this list, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was a fun and interesting read. This is a novel about self-discovery, a love of literature, and overcoming incredible hardship. It is set in England & Guernsey just after World War II has ended. Juliet is an author looking for an idea for her next book when she comes across an inspiring group of people living on the island of Guernsey, which was under German occupation for several years during the war. As Juliet researches for her book, she discovers what she really wants in her life… and even better, she gets what she really wants in the end.

The Glass Castle: A Memoir // Jeannette Walls

I decided to start reading memoirs because I think that someday I might like to write my own. This one was a bestseller, so I decided to give it a whirl. I can understand why people like it so much. It does have a little bit of bad language and a tiny bit of sexual content, but overall was simply fascinating. But it's fascinating in the same morbid way that makes people want to see the results of a car accident. That being said, if you would like some validation on your parenting abilities, your breadwinning abilities, your housekeeping abilities, etc., then read this book. You'll be amazed at the resilience of the human spirit.

Three Cups of Tea // Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin

Based on my own arbitrary blogging rules, I probably shouldn't write about this book because I haven't finished it yet. But here I go anyway.

I grew up in a rock climbing family, so this book interested me at first because it is about a mountain climber who discovers his life's work after a failed attempt to summit K2. Oh yeah, and it is also about self-discovery, which is what I'm all about these days. While I have enjoyed reading it, this isn't a book that can hold my interest for long periods at a time, so I keep getting distracted. I'm not quite done with it, but I have been very impressed by the cultural awareness and insight it gives as an American perspective of Pakistan before 9/11. But that isn't what it's really about. It's really about a man who promises to build a school in a remote village in Pakistan and then works to keep that promise. This book really helped me appreciate the enormous impact a small service can have.
The bridge strengthened the village's maternal ties, and made the women feel a whole lot happier and less isolated. Who knew that something as simple as a bridge could empower women?

Reaching for Hope: An LDS Perspective on Recovering from Depression // Meghan Decker & Betsy Chatlin

If you or someone you love suffers from depression and also happens to be LDS, read this book and thank me later.

As I have been working through depression over the past year, I have learned a lot of things. One thing this book helped me see is that for a depressed person, positive emotion is dulled. I experienced this without understanding it. Now I know that the depression is responsible for all that I have been lacking. This book was different from other depression books I have read and helpful in one very important way: it comes from the same spiritual culture that I do. It addressed the affect depression can have on a person spiritually and how to overcome that. It was enlightening enough that I didn't return it to the library because I hope to find time to read it again.

Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story // Sue Monk Kidd & Ann Kidd Taylor

This book resonated with me on several different levels. Mothers and daughters. Self discovery. World travel. Depression. Writing. This book is right up my alley.

The mother and daughter take turns writing about a defining period of both of their lives, which included their travels in Greece and France. If nothing else, this book made me want to see Greece. But it also helped me understand the need to trust a higher power to help me discover myself and my path.
I realize I hide my real self because I'm afraid of being rejected. Lately, I've tried to confront the fear by asking myself: so what if I am rejected? … when Mom and I were on the ship and everything spilled out. All my self-hatred and fear. And I hear her gently say, 'You deserve to love yourself.'


Violet At 18 Months

It is hard to believe, but Violet is 18 months old today! She is becoming very independent and very talkative. She is also mischievous enough that even Eddie has started calling her "a menace." Violet has also learned to say "No, Biolet" when she's doing something naughty.

So sweet and innocent... or is she?
I am pleased to report that Violet is finally getting some teeth. She now has 8 teeth, including 3 molars. These have proved very helpful since Violet loves food and wants to try every food she sees. Her newest favorite is the sandwich. She won't eat the ingredients individually, but in sandwich form, she will hork it down as quickly as she can... unless you try to help her. Then she becomes enraged and refuses it until you leave her alone. She also loves all sorts of treats. She recently discovered marshmallows and insisted on eating her own s'more by herself. We have to be really careful about mentioning the word "cookies" in her presence because once the thought enters her head, she won't stop shrieking "COOKIES!" until she has had as many as possible.

Violet talks a lot. Her pronunciation of some words are really funny because instead of just saying the beginning of the word, she will say the end of it. For example, instead of saying that a dog says "woof," Violet just says "fff! fff!"

Soon to come to Violet's list of accomplishments: potty training. I am hopeful that starting this early will result in a more agreeable process than it did with Eddie. Today was the first day I let her hang out with no pants for a couple of hours. The best part is that Eddie and his friend Isaac were sitting on the couch, watching a movie, and didn't even notice this:


A Productive Project

Sometimes being a stay-at-home mom gets a little monotonous. It makes it hard to stay motivated. Recently, I decided to find a way to be more organized and manage our home better. I have always been a messy person, but I have gotten really tired of my house being a constant mess. With a bit of inspiration from Pinterest, I decided to create a Family Binder. The intent of the binder is to have everything in one place so we never again lose our shopping list, forget if we've paid our bills, or lose track of where our money is going.

First, I brainstormed what types of things I wanted to have in the binder. This included things like a weekly menu, a shopping list, a monthly calendar, a bill-pay checklist, an expense spreadsheet, car maintenance logs, babysitting instructions, important phone numbers, etc.

Then, I divided them up into broad categories like Home Management, Food, Money, etc. These categories became the dividers in the binder.

So far, I have just been trying to work the binder into my daily routine. For the Home Management section, I created daily and weekly to-do lists. I also divided up our house into zones for cleaning. I have four zones and try to deep clean one zone per week. Each list is in a page protector and I use a dry erase marker to keep track of what I've accomplished. I already feel so much more productive after checking off things every day. And the theory is that every room in our house should be thoroughly cleaned at least once a month. For some of you, that probably sounds like it's not enough, but for me, it's a huge improvement. The daily list helps me get up in the morning and get things done. Every day, I am reminded to do laundry, to empty the dishwasher, to make the bed, etc. This is the first time in my life that I have regularly made my bed. Shocking, I know.

Another part of this project was to create a chore chart for Eddie. I have felt that he really needs to learn responsibility. Since he doesn't read yet, I used pictures on his chart, which now resides on our fridge. We use magnets to keep track of what he does each day. When he completes all 6 of the "chores" in the top section, he earns a nickel. If he tries a new food, he earns another nickel. And if he does something else that I ask him to do, he earns another nickel. It is nice to have him cleaning up his own toys, not fighting about getting dressed, and reminding me to let him help with the dishes.


Ten Things…

...We'll Remember About Our Bahama Cruise
10. Cruise ship "staterooms" are way too small, especially with Violet's Pack-N-Play monopolizing what limited floor space there was. The four of us were packed in there like sardines.

9. Stateroom showers are also not adequate for getting sand out of every crevice. Just ask Mermaid Riley and Eddie. Oh excuse me, Mer-MAN Eddie. MER-MAN!

8. After hearing the poolside band pull off a reggae mashup of "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" and "I Believe I Can Fly," it is apparent that pretty much any song can be successfully reimagined with an island beat.

7. Violet loved the ocean and wanted to stay in the water the entire time we were at the beach. She even became a daddy's girl for the day because I would take her farther out into the waves than Kristen would.

6. The ship's kids club was heaven-sent. In addition to the themed activities and face painting, a few hours away from his parents each night helped prevent Eddie from getting thrown overboard.

5. Kristen's bleached, windswept hair and mirror-plated sunglasses had me itching to reenact scenes from Top Gun. "You can be my wingman any time."

4. Eddie spend most of the trip demanding we carry him, and Violet wanted to walk everywhere herself. Crazy kids.

3. Hermit crabs can provide hours of entertainment for a boy at the beach.

2. We can now say we've been to the Bahamas, but Kristen and I don't really feel like we've seen the Bahamas. Instead, we saw our ship, some tour buses, a few sections of beach, and more than enough souvenir shops. The one day in Nassau when we would have had a chance to do some exploring outside the tourist circuit, it was pouring rain. Oh well.

1. Cruises provide an endless supply of food that never seems to fill you up. Somehow, we both managed to make it home without gaining any weight.

Bonus Memory! People on vacation will wear anything and everything (or next to nothing). The highlight was when encountered an old man on the elevator wearing a fedora, gray muscle shirt, khaki shorts, crew length dress socks, and black loafers. (Not pictured, unfortunately).