Daily Affirmation

The best things in life are free.
The second best are very expensive.
- Coco Chanel

Friday, December 31, 2010

December 31st 2010: In which Marion inspires a trail hike

December 31st, 2010.  Last day of the year.  It started earlier than usual for this week - L and I went to Fullerton at 9:45 so I could get my bangs trimmed.  Normally that's something I do myself, and it never really ends well, so I decided to get organized and actually go in for the free trim.  10 minutes later we were on our way to breakfast at Tom's Place - the best breakfast burritos anywhere!
When we got home, we were stuffed.  A walk was in order.  We discussed back and forth where to go: the river bed, the Yorba Linda trail... and then I remembered the book of easy OC day hikes I'd given L awhile back.  We'd never ever gone on one.  Until today.  My friend Marion, in Washington goes on hikes all the time in beautiful forests that are so green and ferny they look prehistoric.  When we were there visiting last year she kicked my butt hiking and I've never gotten over the humiliation.  So this little hike (and the ones that follow) are inspired by her - although they won't be nearly so green.  Or damp and ferny.  I mean, this is Southern California - we don't have fern sprouting forests here.  Pity.  You know what we do have, though?  Rosemary that grows like weeds along the trail side.  It was a sweet smelling surprise.
Anyway, back to today's hike:  we chose a 4 mile loop that was back in the hills off of Weir Canyon.  It's always nice to look at new scenery when you're setting off on a longer than usual hike.  It helps to distract you from the sweat that's pouring down your back.  The trail was a little muddy in spots from the rain, but it was good for the most part.  The hardest part for me was the up and down and general unevenness of the trail.  We're used to walking on bridal paths or streets, so this was a new challenge for my ankles and knees - but I'd fortified myself beforehand with Excedrin and Advil.  It was a beautiful day - blue skies and crisp cool air.  Even so, it wasn't long before I was huffing and puffing.  But I did it.  All four miles.  And I only whined once or twice.
Here and there we saw evidence of the fire a couple of years back:

But you can see here that the rain has done it's work.  Lots of green and the sky was gorgeous!

I took a quick shot of my hiking companion so I would have an excuse to rest for a minute:

Towards the end of the 4 mile loop we came upon what was probably just a large puddle of water, but it looked so pretty on top of the hill overlooking the valley!  And check out the clouds reflected in the water.

And who's the happy girl who sees the end of the trail ahead?  Actually, I thought I saw the end of the trail ahead.  ahem - I actually DID see the end of the trail, but L thought that it wasn't the end of the trail and he led us on a little wild goose chase down a random trail that turned into a death defying (well almost) steep path that eventually led us to the car.  Next time I really need to speak up when I know I'm right.  But that's an argument for another day.  As I said - here's the happy girl who thinks she's about to stop hiking:

It was a fun couple of hours (except for the death defying part).  My knees and ankles and lower back are feeling it, but I keep thinking that I actually went 4 miles today, and I'm kind of basking in the glow of it all.  (I know I'm a hiking wimp, but you have to start somewhere...) Since it was cool out, there were no bugs flying around, and that's what wrecks most hikes for me.  I told L we should make a trail hike a weekly thing for better health in the new year.  I'm hoping it will strengthen my muscles, give me a cardio workout,  and beat some fluff off my butt.  I'll let you know how that goes.

My very best wishes to all of you for a happy, healthy 2011!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Hat For My Noodle and other holiday tales

I've been trying to do this post for the past 2-3 days, but could never quite get around to it.  Chalk it up to post-Christmas blahs.  Because I know you've all been waiting to hear - our Christmas Eve was good.  Rex and his family arrived about 2:30 and the good times began.  I'd had a kids basketball hoop for almost a year that I'd never pulled out and put together, and we finally got it out and put it to use.  Lexi and Matthew had a great time (after being in the car for almost 2 hours!) shooting hoops and running after balls.  Lexi was a superstar, but Matthew was still a little bit too short.  He would shoot and miss, and then sigh and say "I try again!"  He tried and tried and tried, and managed to get a few in the basket while we would applaud wildly.

We went inside, had a pre-dinner snack and brought out some games to play.  Matthew soon fell asleep in the bean bag chair and had a good nap.  Rex and Ronna played checkers and Lexi and I played a game and then went upstairs and played with the fairy castle.  L slaved away in the kitchen getting dinner ready so I could play with the kids - jealous much, ladies?  (I'm still shaking my head that I was lucky enough to win this prize - my life with him is a constant wonder.)  Andrew was also here visiting from Provo, but he opted to spend the evening with his cousins at L's parents' house.
Scott and Ashley arrived and we sat down to eat.  And we laughed and we talked and Lexi ate her dinner all gone and Matthew slept through the whole thing.  It was a good time - the most fun and least awkward time I think our family has had all together ever.  After dinner Lexi wanted to play with the fairy castle some more, so I got the four kids busy playing Apples to Apples, L ran over to his parents' to say hi to his brothers, and we settled down for some serious play with the fairies.  At one point I asked her who her favorite friends at school were.  She said that Justin and Derrick were her favorites.  I asked why and she said very matter of factly in her four year old way: "Well, they're boys, and sometimes I fall in love with them a little bit."  That perfect little story you tell for years, and laugh every time.
Soon we had the hunt for the Christmas Treasure: 2 bags of chocolate coins that I'd hidden in the manger of the nativity scene.  The kids had a lot of fun figuring out the clues and finding the prize.  We opened presents after that.  When Lexi opened her Princess Castle she hugged the whole box.  She was delighted with her little Rapunzel/Tangled doll that just fit in the castle.  Matthew loved his Hot Wheels cars.  Yay - I shopped well this year, thanks to L - all of that was his idea.
Too soon it was almost 10:00 and everyone had to go.  Rex told Lexi she'd have to leave her castle at my house until after Christmas because the car was too full.  Her eyes filled with tears and she begged him to "Try daddy - try to make it fit."  It fit.  I couldn't have let her drive off without it - my goodness!  The house was quiet while I cleaned up, but I basked in the memory of a good evening with everyone.  Without going into detail, I'll just say that there were some issues that needed to be smoothed over, and I think the time spent together laughing and playing did just that.  Success.  I went to bed with aching feet but a happy heart.
Christmas, quite honestly, was a let down.  The fun had already been had.  None of the kids were coming - they had to be elsewhere.  It's funny how you can understand that, and it's still lonely and waay too quiet.  I woke up with a headache - not a regular one but a hormone one.  The kind that just never really goes away.  Ugh.  Andrew got up and we opened presents and I was glad that he was happy to be with us.  He and L watched basketball, and I was happy for the peaceful day, but couldn't help wishing my kids were coming back.  I miss the noise and laughter and L cherishes the quiet.  It's about the only thing we ever disagree on.  Later in the afternoon, the two of them left to see "True Grit" and after my mom and dad came over for a bit, I headed out to see my grandma and aunt.  When I came outside after visiting with them it was raining.  A fitting end to the day.  It was an OK day - it just didn't feel like Christmas.  So while I got Christmas Eve down, clearly I need to figure out Christmas Day - especially if I can't have my kids come.  I spent pretty much the whole day feeling sorry for myself - how selfish.  Holidays can be hard when things change, so next year I want to be better prepared to have a Plan B.
On Sunday after church we took Andrew down to Balboa Island to walk around, and so he could smell the ocean that he gets homesick for.  It was a good afternoon for all 3 of us.

I'm off of work this week - a much needed vacation!  My mom and I finally got around to her birthday lunch and afternoon of shopping that I'd promised her.  We went to South Coast Plaza and tooled around.  It was fun to hang out with my mom and have a nice leisurely lunch.  She just turned 80 and we walked around from 11:30 until almost 5 - and I think I was more tired than she was!  She's a wonder.  While we were in Nordstrom, I found a hat.  A rainy day chapeau.  I love this hat. I'd never planned to get a hat or look for a hat, but that's just the kind of surprise I like to find when out shopping.  It's exciting to come home with something completely unexpected.  And so today I had a little fashion shoot with myself and my topper.  Like Lexi with her boys, I think I've fallen in love with this hat a little bit.  Indulge me.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Traditions

I'm late linking up to Jen's Christmas Traditions post here, but better late than never I suppose.  We (L and I) are new to the Christmas traditions thing.  Being a blended family, we haven't had a lot of time to develop our own traditions and favorite Christmas things.  While the kids were still growing up it was mostly trying to keep up what they were used to doing.  That meant that L would oftentimes go to his parents' house on Christmas Eve with his boys, and I would go to my parents' house with my kids.  Not really satisfactory, but you do what you need to do.  We tried alternating years, but that never seemed to work very well either.  Finally, after becoming grandparents and having the babies become toddlers, we decided that it was time to break away from each others' old traditions and establish our own.  Our own parents haven't been too thrilled with this, but we felt it was what we needed to do to try to strengthen our own family bonds.  We're able to concentrate on our own children and grandchildren instead of having our attention divided among a lot of brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews.  It just feels better to try to do things the way we want to, instead of bending to what we've always done.
The main problem, however, has been to try to come up with traditions of our own.  I've watched other families (including a lot of you blogging friends!) to try to come up with ideas that feel right for us.  L is a quiet man - and that's an understatement.  His boys are quiet young men.  My children are not.  They're loud and silly and opinionated.  They quote movie lines uncontrollably.  I think they're incredibly funny and a lot of fun.  They sometimes make my husband's eyes roll back in his head, and he heads upstairs to his office retreat where its nice and quiet.  His boys, by contrast, make me nervous.  They don't talk a lot, so I feel the need to talk a lot and very fast to fill a void that really doesn't need to be filled because no one is nervous about the silence except me.  It's an exercise in extremes on the rare occasions when they mix company.  Like on Christmas Eve this year.
As luck would have it we now have these wonderful grandchildren that take our attention off of ourselves. Instead of sitting around stiffly and hoping everyone mingles, we can concentrate on the little ones and have a wonderful time.  This year Lexi and Matthew will be spending Christmas Eve with us, along with their parents Rex and Ronna, and also Uncle Scott and Aunt Ashley (or Ash-a-ley as they say it). I wanted to have an evening that would start some new traditions, instead of the old lets-eat-dinner-watch-a-movie-and-leave-early routine.
I've planned a more formal dinner than we usually have: ham, scalloped potatoes, winter salad and, of course, green bean casserole.  That's a carry-over from my mom.  We always had a nice dinner together, even when the kids were small, using good dishes and pretty things.  I think it makes the evening more special.  After dinner, we'll play games.  L and I are not game players, but we are going to become game players.  I bought Carroms, Apples to Apples, and Uno.  We can all play together, and all be involved.  (No retreating up to the office!)  Before games, I've planned a special activity for Lexi and Matthew: a search for Christmas treasure.
Basically, it's a series of rhymes I wrote which provide clues to finding different symbols of Christmas - a star, candy canes, a gift, and finally a clue to the Christmas treasure, which is baby Jesus in the nativity set.  I'll have placed some gold foil wrapped chocolate coins in the manger with baby Jesus (the "treasure" - I hope that's not sacreligious!) and that will be the prize at the end of the hunt.  Lexi loves games, and I think she'll have fun figuring out the clues.  Matthew will follow along for the fun.  I thought we could have a brief reading of the Christmas story and the kids can place the nativity figurines in the set according to the story.  I keep hoping that one year we'll have more grandkids here and we can have a live reenactment of the Christmas story.  It's a little hard with only two.
After that, we'll play some games, and the kids can watch a Christmas movie - Polar Express or The Santa Clause.  They can open their gifts from us, and we'll have cookies and hot chocolate.
Boy, typing it all out makes it seem like it's not so much - but I've been really doing a lot of planning and preparing for it!  I hope it's something that everyone will think is fun, and that they'll look forward to each year.  And we can build on it.  The Christmas treasure hunt is short and simple this year.  As they get older it can become more elaborate.
I've baked and shopped and wrapped and planned.  L is excited to have some traditions of our own too.  He loves the grandkids and is excited for them to come.  I've checked my list of things to do, and rechecked.  I think we're ready.  Now all we need is our crazy mix of kids and those two sweet little ones, Lexi and Matthew.  Merry Christmas to all - have a wonderful time with your families, and if you happen to think about me briefly, send up a little prayer that we here are bonding and establishing some real family memories and traditions.  It's been a journey to get to this point.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Last Minute Decorating and Warm Coziness

I wanted to link you up to a really fun blog: Craftily Ever After  Her ideas are fun, creative, and best of all, EASY and INEXPENSIVE.  Or maybe it's best that they're fun and creative. Or all of the above.  Anyway, I downloaded her free gift alphabet art spelling out "JOY" and I love it.  It literally took only a couple of minutes and a trip to Target for the frame, and *VOILA* - a pretty holiday addition to my baker's rack in the kitchen.  I love it.  Be sure to check her blog often as she has a new idea almost daily, and lots of free downloads.  If you don't want to do the work yourself, she also has an Etsy shop!

We're all busy this last week before Christmas, so maybe this is something to save for next year, but I wanted to make sure you saw this beautiful , easy idea.

The remainder of the week?  Baking, wrapping, cleaning, and a few quick dashes out for last minute gifts.  I hope you and yours are enjoying a safe, happy Christmas and holiday season.  I'll be checking your blogs for updates on your celebrations, but won't expect much if you're as busy as I'm going to be!  And at the end of the day, the mister and I cozy up in our new Christmas jammies -  our gift from Katie this year. (And I've got my Halloween socks on in the picture - SWEET!)   What could be a better end to a busy,cold, rainy day?  MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL *and to all a good night!*

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Deck the Halls

I did it - I finally finished the Christmas decorating - just in the nick of time.  I don't remember when I've been this late getting it done, but tonight I mastered myself and instead of laying around like I wanted to do, I got busy.  L was doing security duty at the Newport Beach temple so I had the evening to myself.  All alone.  *sigh*  No matter.  I scrambled myself some eggs - extra cheese, yes please! - and got to work.  Last night I downloaded a bunch of Christmas music from i-Tunes that is mostly not strictly Christmas music and I turned up the sound and commenced the decorating.  Do any of you remember that song by Peter Paul and Mary "The Marvelous Toy?"  That's one of them.  I love that song.  I love Peter, Paul, and Mary, which shows you just exactly how old I am.  Anyway, I managed to deck the halls and hang the bows and treetop thing-y without falling into the tree.  Usually by the time I get to that I'm cursing and saying all kinds of bad 
un-Christmasy words because I don't really have a concrete, solid way that I attach everything.  It's all kind of by the seat of my pants.  And sometimes it doesn't want to work very well.  But tonight was magic.  Maybe because L was fulfilling his service duty at the temple.  It wouldn't have been nice to come home to a wifey tangled up in a tree and yelling like a lumberjack after guarding the Lord's house for 4 hours.  So I think I was spared - if not for my sake, for his.

I got the mantle decorated (again, things are precariously balanced.  Heaven help us if there's an earthquake...  I got my big orb of light (see on the right) plugged in and it gives
the most glorious light.  Magical...

I even got out the nativity.  This particular nativity is one my grandparents sent my family when I was a child.  My youngest brother and I used to *disagree* about how it was arranged.  I'd arrange it my way, and the next day I'd see that he'd disassembled my arrangement and done his own.  And then I'd do it back my way.... and so on.  The other two brothers couldn't have cared less - they probably didn't even notice.  (We were also the only two who could decorate a decent cookie.  He grew up up to be a plastic surgeon.  I grew up to be... fussy and stubborn.)  Even now I'm so particular about how all the figurines are arranged.  I know my teeth would gnash (and I might weep and wail) if L decided to change it around.  I usually put it up on the piano, but this year I put it in front of the fireplace (where it will hopefully not catch fire) so Lexi and Matthew can see it, and arrange it how they want to.  (I'll have to busy myself in the kitchen.)  It has a light attached that makes it look ethereal, and a small music box attached to the stable that plays "Silent Night."
So game on.  Now I need to wrap and wrap and wrap.  And bake even more than that.  It's going to be a busy weekend.  In between all the wrapping and baking I am getting my gray roots dyed.  Glad tidings of great joy indeed.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I'm Back

Did'ja think I'd died?  It's been a wild, busy, chaotic week.  My daughter and her two girls were here this past week.  Staying here.  In my tiny tiny house.  I actually babysat the girls the first night they were here while Katie and Zach enjoyed a night in San Diego.  I was nervous.  I've not had small children in my care overnight for years.  We don't have a bathtub anymore (just showers), so Hayden got bathed in the sink.  She didn't seem to mind it a bit.  Mia and I played with the fairy castle and fairies and unicorn while Hayden crawled into it, over it, and through it.  Soon enough it was time for Hayden to go to bed and she went without crying.  Yay! - points for me.  Mia and I watched a movie and then she settled down to sleep on a sleeping bag at the side of our bed.  Hayden woke up only once (just like Mommy said she would) but went right back to sleep.  And, just like Mommy said, they were up before the crack of dawn.  In California this time of year it isn't quite light at 6am.  Mia looked out the window and said "It's not a sunshiny day..."  I told her it soon would be, but that the sun wasn't up yet.  No matter - we went downstairs for breakfast: pumpkin pancakes.  Mia was skeptical, but loved them so much she wanted them every day.
I was actually successful watching them overnight!  This may not seem like a big deal to most of you, but I'm not, and never have been, much of a kid person.  Oh, I like kids, and I enjoyed my own, but I don't love to sit on the floor and play and pretend and play endless games.  I'd much rather be out doing something.  Maybe that's where my daughter gets it - she's the same way.  I've always been self conscious that I'm not that great with kids.  Never been the type that every kid gravitates to.  (That would be my mom.)  The time I really start enjoying them is when you can have a conversation with them.  And we're just starting to enter that era, so the fun is beginning.  My confidence is growing.
I worked at least part of the day the entire week they were here.  I knew Katie had planned to see several friends, so I wasn't worried she'd be bored.  Unfortunately, her car had some problems, and for a few days she was unable to drive it.  I adjusted my schedule at work and took a couple of half days.  Ashley was able to come and help her out one day, and she and Scott stayed for dinner that night.  It was so fun to have them all here - although that was early in the week and I was still adjusting to my house being blown up.  Sadly I did have a couple of moments I'm not proud of - the chaos and the small space got to me.  That, combined with a bad day at work made for a not very nice me.  Thank goodness for kids who love me anyway and are way more patient and forgiving than I have any right to expect.  And thank goodness for the sweetest little girls in the world, who were so excited to see me at any time of day or night.  All they wanted was my attention, and a little snuggle time in a chair watching a movie.  It heals your soul, is what it does.
Their last day here we went to see "Tangled."  If you haven't seen it yet, make sure you do.  It's so good.  I sat next to Mia.  She shared her popcorn with me, and we laughed and laughed.  It was a good afternoon.  I shared Red Vines and Junior Mints with Katie and Ashley.  Ahhh... good candy, a Diet Coke, and a great movie with people you have fun with - it doesn't get any better than that.
Saturday morning was crazy trying to get their car packed up, checking and rechecking rooms to make sure that nothing was left behind.  Poor Katie wasn't feeling well, and as it turns out was actually coming down with the flu (please please don't let me get it!) and had a miserable ride home.  No bueno.  Mia cried when they left and I cried.  Ten minutes later my phone rang and it was Mia, telling me thank you and I love you and crying.  I told her that I was crying too but that we needed to put our happy faces on, and she said she would.    I tried, but I had to get in the shower and have a good boohoo before I could pull myself together.  I find it's that way after every visit.  The chaos is hard for me, and I long for some quiet time.  Some down time.  But when everyone is gone, and the house is all put back together and I finally have the quiet time I'd been wishing for, I want everyone to come back again.  It's too quiet, and I start to feel bad about all the things we didn't have time to get to - or that I was too tired to do.  (Damn this getting old stuff!)  I can't seem to win this battle.  But I'm starting to realize that a lot of people struggle in this same way, and for some weird reason, that's a comfort.  As if maybe I'm not so crazy after all.  Or defective or something.

Christmas is coming.  The house is only half decorated.  I'm having a hard time getting into it this year.  My shopping is done, but very little is wrapped.  L is downstairs right now getting the tree up and putting on the lights.  (That's right -we're probably one of the few who have a fake tree who don't have a pre-lit one.)  I've not been able to get excited about putting it up - as if I can delay the season or something.  I'm just not looking forward to it.  At all.  Hopefully as I go through the motions this mood will disappear.  I remember a Christmas several years ago when I felt the same way.  I was a single mom then and my oldest was on his mission.  I couldn't even begin to get excited about a tree or decorating.  One of my daughter's good college water polo friends, who was a real family guy, went out and bought us a tree.  I'll never forget it.  Even now it brings tears to my eyes thinking about Scott Naples and his sweet Christmas gift to our sad little family.  It snapped me right out of the doldrums I was in and put a warmth in my heart.  Maybe I need to get busy doing for others - to find a way to get my mind off of that little sadness that's bothering me.  A little Christmas cheer to take my mind off of myself.  Because I need that small dark place in my heart to heal.  I need a small miracle.  Maybe this will be the year for that to happen.

Best medicine ever - isn't this a sweet picture of Mia flitting through her back yard like a magical fairy?

And Hayden, looking angelic in raspberry pink.
Yep - it was a great week with the girlies.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Brussels Sprouts and Christmas Visitors

For those who wanted the Brussels Sprouts recipe, it's sketchy and you may have to wing it here and there but here it is (without any specific measurements - we're a bit on our own here):
Parboil sprouts for 5 minutes.
Saute chopped leeks, pancetta (Italian ham/bacon) and chopped onions in butter.  I think a lot of butter, because you let it reduce down to where everything is carmelized.  Add more butter and bring it back up to a sauce. 
Pour the sauce over the sprouts and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.  At 350?  Probably...  Sorry - those are the directions we got, so it will be experimental.  But if they come out as good as at last week's dinner, they'll be fabulous.  Let me know if any of you try this.  I want to, (I really do)  but I'm still having bad Brussels Sprouts flashbacks from when I was 8.  Kind of like it was a fluke and I'll gag on them again.  I'll try to take courage and make a stab at it.

Hey guess what?  Katie and the girls are coming for the week!  She and Zach are going to watch Zach's brother play in a basketball tournament in San Diego on Saturday night and I'm the babysitter.  I don't mind saying I'm nervous.  I've never had them overnight before and this will be in a house they're not used to.  Yikes...  It makes me wonder how I ever raised my own kids.  You just don't know any better, that's how you do it.
Zach will go home and attend another rotation in Tucson for med school, and Katie/girls will stay on here.  In my tiny tiny house.  With the iffy heating/A/C ducting.  What does that mean?  It means that when you using heat or A/C, the master bedroom is hot or cold.  The rest of the upstairs is either freezing in the winter or hot in the summer.  We've tried everything, but the house is just wacky that way.  I'm worried they'll be cold and crying in the night.  OR - I'm worried I'll be hot and sweaty in the night.  What to do...what to do...
I'm worried the baby will pull the tree over on herself.  It's improbable - it's just one of those things that wake me up in the night.  I'm worried I'll be late to work every single day because I can't stop myself from playing with little girls in the morning.  (Will they understand that I can't play in the morning??  Will they think I don't love them?  I hate work...)
Depending on how the week goes, maybe I can take an afternoon off on one day or another.  I'm sure Katie has plenty of friends and places to go, however - I'm certainly not indispensible.  I just want to be.
One activity that's a must: going to see "Tangled" with Mia.  Not sure what day yet - I need time to talk L into babysitting Hayden while we go.  She'll be in bed - shouldn't be too much of a stretch for him.  But it will need to be finessed, although truthfully, he'll probably be glad for the peace and quiet.  Crowds big and small stress him out.  Me too, although it's hard to admit that.  I like order and neatness, and when company comes I have to force myself to Stop.  Just stop.
But just look at what I'll be enjoying.  That makes all control issues and all messes totally worthwhile.  It even makes bundling under 6 blankets in a cold house worth it - or sleeping in a tropical heat room.  However it works out.

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