Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Voorhees 2009: Wrap-Up

The rest of our time in Voorhees passed too quickly as usual. Lily really enjoyed all the time with her cousins - it's so fun for us to watch them play together. I'm telling you now - these three are going to be trouble together. I can see it already. On our first night there, during the dinner the three of them suddenly disappeared. Then I heard Valora moving around chairs and stuff in the kitchen. Next thing we knew they were in the living room, huddled around a plate of Christmas chocolates wrapped in cellophane. Lily was holding a pair of scissors (procured for her by Valora) and was stabbing through the cellophane while Valora and Sera looked on encouragingly. I'm pretty sure this scene is just a precursor to what is to come. Valora, having a couple of years on the other two, will be the idea-man. Sera will be the quiet co-conspirator and lookout. Lily will be tasked with execution - boldly going where no man has gone before. I fully expect to have to find them driving around in one of our cars in the middle of the night in about 10 years. Lily will be at the wheel of course. Maybe Sera will work the pedals while Valora shouts instructions! (Que, perhaps you shouldn't read this part out loud to the girls - no reason to give them ideas!)

We spent a lot of time just hanging out and enjoying family time. Gordon and MaMa spent a morning at the local children's museum with Lily and Sera one day. We ate lots of yummy food and even got to enjoy some time in the backyard. It was a pretty mild weekend. I even got to lounge around on the couch and catch up on blogging a fair amount. On Monday night, we had a little birthday celebration. December is a busy birthday month for us - we've got Gordon on the 8th, MaMa on the 12th and then Lily on the 22nd! So Gabe and Que got a yummy cake for all of them:

Lily enjoyed blowing out the candles and "helping" MaMa cut and eat it!

Our last day there was Tuesday, and we set up Gordon's new tripod to attempt a family portrait. We had varying levels of success with that endeavor. Anyone with kids know how hard it is to get one of them to sit and smile for a photo - never mind three. Note that Lily is standing in the back with her Daddy - she refused to go sit in her spot on the couch with MaMa and BaBa and the girls.

The goofy-face photo

The best of the bunch

Valora and Daddy

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Spring in December

Our second day in Voorhees was especially warm - like in the 60's warm. How could you NOT take advantage of that and go play outside! We're always wishing that we lived in a warmed climate - so days like this are a big treat. We put the girls in the cars and drove a short ways to a pretty awesome playground.

Lily on the "big girl swing"

See! I can still lift my own weight! (sort of)

Sera on the balance beam - getting help from Mom

Valora - climbing all on her own

Gabe and Sera sliding

Sera and Dai Bok - all smiles!

Gordon "hanging" with his girls

Mostly failed attempt at a group photo

Lessons Learned: The Holidays 2008

So yeah, I've got a number of great holiday-fun stuff to post, but you know - I'm all good intentions and very little follow-through these days. However there IS something I want to get out here - more for my own benefit than anything else really. Every year the holidays are lots of stress/headache followed by lots of fun. Every year I vow to lower the headache quotient so I can concentrate on the fun, but I always fail. And now with Lily's birthday falling on December 22nd - well it's just total mayhem. And I pretty much respond by just making it harder on myself. It's almost like I enjoy the challenge of seeing how crazy I can can actually get. So THIS time I've resolved to sit down and make a list of all the things I could have done just a little differently to make the experience better. The idea is that next year I'll come back and read this and TAKE HEED. So we'll see if that happens. Ok here's my list of things to remember for next time around:

1. Start the annual MasterWong photo book early. The past two years I've used blurb.com to make a photo book. They come out really great and I love the fact that the book-making software is installed on your local machine, so you don't have to do it all online. You just upload at the end. Anyway both years I was rushing up against the holiday shipping deadline and it was NOT fun. This year was total misery. Gordon took SO many great shots this year that the book was nearly 80 pages. Add to that my obsessive perfectionism and some Picassa/Time-Capsule induced networking problems you get many late nights and lots of frustration. Next year my plan is to start much sooner and do the book as I go. After all, the photos from June are taken in - well, June - no need to wait until December to go through them!

2. Sort of a corollary to #1 - don't get something in under the wire on the holiday shipping deadlines and expect it to actually arrive in time. Sadly the blurb books didn't make it to us until 12/26 - so we didn't have them for Christmas Day. The upside is that they're refunding the entire order (how much do I LOVE blurb?) and we still had the one for MaMa and BaBa in time for our trip to New Jersey. However, next time I plan to make the ground shipping deadline instead of pushing it to the 2-day one. I may still use 2-day shipping (not a big price difference), but at least it gives more time to get here.

3. When looking around for photo calendar options just start with SnapFish. I spent a while checking out different ones and liked the collage/design options here the best. Also the finished product came out really nice.

4. Toddlers + Christmas cookies = a VERY good thing. I wasn't sure how well this would work out, so I was hesitant - but it was great fun. We did a cookie decorating night with our friends Lisa, Rick and Sofia. The girls had a great time and rocked at chocolate crinkle making. LIly had a great time icing the sugar cookies with Daddy the next day too. Definitely make time for this again next year - totally worth it.

5. Make time to Christmas shop in Harvard Square - sure it can be a little inconvenient getting there, but it's so great. I love the stores there (Calliope, Tokyo Kids) for gifts that you might not find just anywhere. Also the atmosphere is wonderful. We need to continue to take advantage of places like this while we live close by in Somerville.

6. Search out the local craft fairs - I stumbled upon the Somerville High craft fair one Saturday while Gordon and Lily were at the Children's Museum and had a fabulous time. I found some really neat, original gifts too. It's most fun if you can get there on your own. We did a Union Square craft fair with Lily and she was not so into that - so it was less fun for us.

7. Get as much done early as possible. I think next year I'll try to get started in November, leaving more time in December for just having fun. I know this is pretty general, but my friend Lisa was successful doing it this year - so I'm inspired now.

8. Our condo is bigger than I think and actually pretty good for entertaining. I'm putting this one in here because every year I get stressed out over the number of people coming to Lily's birthday party and the size of our condo. It's a little rough having a birthday in late December in New England - not a lot of outside options. But both years we've had a pretty full house and it's gone great and been tons of fun. So relax - it'll be great. Even if there's a foot of snow outside - like this year (and last).

9. Making gifts for the kids is a great idea, but should not be left until December 21st. Seriously, this year I decided to make Lily some felt food. I had all the supplies in November, but due to the photo book (see #1) did not get started until the Sunday before Christmas. As a result I was up until 1AM on Christmas Eve sewing slices of bread. NOT recommended. So think about projects like this in the summer and plan accordingly!

10. Opening gifts with toddlers takes awhile. We will NOT be able to pull off Christmas at our house AND Christmas at my Mom's house all in the morning in time for dinner at Gail's at noon. I'm putting this one here because we had a very close call with this type of plan this year. Thankfully I realized the error of my ways in time to rectify the situation (thanks Lisa!), but it was close. Next year we should think about how to do this a little earlier than on Christmas Eve ;)

11. Don't pay a professional photographer to do your holiday cards. The photos came out nice, but the price of the cards is crazy. Most of you probably already know this - but we got a little suckered into this one - didn't really have all the facts up front. Anyway, it's a long story, but it caused me a bunch of angst and Gordon lots of hassle. It all worked out in the end (thanks to Target's very reasonably priced photo card jacket thingies that saved the day) - but again, not fun.

OK that's all I've got for now. I do, however, reserve the right to come back and add more if I think of them.
Feel free to leave comments on your own holiday time management tips - I'm always looking for more ways to keep up the jolly!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas: Part 2

After celebrating in Fall River, we took a day to "recuperate". I put that in quotes because not much recuperating was done. Instead my parents came up to celebrate Lily's birthday - that was birthday part "I have no idea, we celebrated so many times" (I still need to do a birthday post, but the short story is that our planned celebration was FUBAR'd due to snow) They also helped me do 10 loads of laundry and find homes for the new toys - so it was a much appreciated visit. We packed up that night and on Saturday morning took off for the next phase in our Christmas celebration: New Jersey! One note: we are unclear how we will ever travel with two kids because the car is completely full when it's just the three of us. Where will all the stuff in the backseat go when there's another car seat back there??

All of Saturday was spent driving to Gordon's brother's home in Voorhees. It should be about a 6 hour drive - but for some reason we ALWAYS seem to hit tons of traffic. This trip was no different. First we hit a stoppage on the Mass Pike, then again on the Merritt Parkway in CT and then AGAIN on the New Jersey turnpike. So although we left Boston around 10:20, we didn't pull up at Gabe's house until 6:20 that afternoon. We are very lucky in that Lily is an excellent travel companion. We stopped once for lunch at a diner in CT and that was really all she required. There was a tiny bit of complaining at the very end, but really minor. And honestly, at that point I was wondering when we'd be able to get out of the car too! She's really enjoying the new Elizabeth Mitchell CD that my parents got her - so that definitely helped on the trip too.

We arrived just as Gabe and Que were getting our Christmas dinner out. Sadly we weren't there early enough to change Lily for the occasion and settle in at all, so it was a little hectic. Gabe did a great job with dinner - 6 very yummy courses - and we got to meet his partner in his medical practice. Here are some pictures of the girls in their party dresses looking adorable as usual:

One surprising side effect of the trip has been Lily's new sleeping arrangements. We had brought her pack and play with us figuring that she would sleep there. But then Gabe & Que had set up the girl's old toddler bed. Once Lily saw that she proclaimed "I want to sleep in THIS bed". At first we were skeptical - will she STAY in the bed? Will she be up in down all night? Is an unfamiliar place the best place to attempt it? But in the end she was so insistent that we decided to follow her lead - and she was right! She did great in the bed all weekend - naps, overnight, the whole bit. We told her that if she got out of the bed she'd have to sleep in the crib and she never once got up from it. She did enjoy testing that the monitor worked by calling "Mommy! Daddy!" a few times before falling asleep - but that was it! Our little girl looked so big and grown-up sleeping in that bed - it was really awesome. Here's a picture of her cousins joining us for some songs and hugs before bedtime:

As a follow-up: I'm writing this now from the Holzes and Lily is still eschewing her pack and play. She slept in it poorly the first night here and then we gave up and put a futon mattress on the floor for her instead. She's done great on that as well. So it looks like when we get home we will be moving her to the mattress on the floor and saying good bye to the crib. We had hoped she would transition sometime between now and next October (when baby #2 will be ready for the crib) - so yay Lily. We're still somewhat amazed at how smooth it's been so far. I guess we'll see if that continues when we get home!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas: Part 1

So wow - Christmas is quite the production around here. I'm constantly blown away by all the really fun stuff there is to do at the holidays. With my track record there's pretty much no way I'll get to post about all of it. So I'm going to skip ahead a bit and get right to Christmas Day.

Our Christmas Day is spent mostly in Fall River, but we do like to wake up in our own house and start things out there. It's getting a little complicated - trying to fit everything into the time we have. One of the main issues is that my Grandma just can't really travel very far. One option would be to have the whole family up to Somerville, but that would mean that we can't see Grams - and that's just not a very good time. So we start out with Christmas at our place and then head down to Fall River. Another wrinkle is that Grams can't really go to my parents either because she needs a wheelchair to get around and they live on the third floor in a building with no elevator. A few years back Gordon and Eric actually carried her in her wheelchair all the way up the stairs. But yeah- that wasn't such a great idea. So now the day goes like this:

- wake up in Somerville, open our gifts
- pile in the car, drive to Fall River, meet at cousin Gail's for dinner with everyone, Grandma included
- Grams goes home and we all head back to my parents to open more Christmas gifts with them.
- pile a bunch of loot and an exhausted and overstimulated toddler into the car and drive back to Somerville where we all pass out.

At leas that was this year's schedule. Last year we actually did gifts at my parents BEFORE dinner at Gail's - but as Lily gets older that's just impossible. This year she had a few gifts from us at home as well as a stocking stuffed by Santa. She doesn't really get the whole Santa thing yet - but does love seeing pictures and decorations featuring him. It's sort of funny, because in her mind he's always accompanied by a snowman - thanks to the christmas decorations of some neighbors. So if you mention Santa to her she'll say "AND SnowMAN!".

Checking out the loot - new kitchen in background

Ninja Shirt! from Santa (who apparently reads Mike Adamick's blog)

Although she does enjoy receiving new toys she's very slow at the gift opening thing. She wants to play with everything she gets right away! It's very sweet and we hate to rush her through it. We'd love to foster the whole idea that there are only one or two gifts anyway - as opposed to the mountain of materialism that is so prevalent at this time of year. It's even more overwhelming for her since her birthday is only a few days before - presents! everywhere! everyday!

Once we had wrapped up at home - and Gordon had finished packing up the prime rib that he woke up at some insane hour to get in the oven - we piled in the car and drove down to Fall River for dinner at Gail's:

Posing with Uncle Eric

Big fan of the new guitar from Gail & Bev

Uncle Eric and Liza

Grams checking out her 2009 Calendar

After dinner we went back to my Mom's to get Lily (and Gordon and I!) a short but much-needed nap. Then everyone else came back too and there were MORE PRESENTS:

My Mom even admits that she went a little overboard this year. Seems she mistook the amazon WISH list that I had created for Lily for a shopping list. Lily loved all her new toys though - one big hit is the animal hospital complete with a doctor's kit, keys to open the animal rooms and little animals to care for. She enjoys getting all of her animals into the game. She puts boo-boo cream on ducky and takes her cat's temperature. Uncle Eric and Liza gave her a number of pots and pans and dishes to go with her new kitchen as well.

Our last stop that evening was a visit with Justin, Chi and Justin's Mom Karen. Then we got in the car, fired up the new Elizabeth Mitchell CD and listened to 'Lil Liza Jane about 20 times on our way back to Somerville. Much to our surprise Lily remained awake the entire drive home - we were sure she would crash. However once she got into her comfy crib it was lights out:

(Gordon captured this one with his super-cool new birthday present flash - you can't tell but it was totally dark in the room and she is really asleep)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Rain Rain Go Away

At Christmas last year Lily received a super-cute raincoat and umbrella set from Andrew, Tammy, Julia and Nate. Actually that may have been her birthday gift, but the days are so close I get confused. Anyway, she's outgrown the raincoat by now, but is REALLY loving the umbrella. I can't believe how much she digs it carrying it around. We even had to relocate it to the laundry room once because she kept trying to dragging it around the house and trying to open it up inside. It seems that one session of "no more umbrella" seems to have cured that though.

Now, if it's raining outside, the first thing she does is rushes to its home by the front door and asks to use her umbrella. She's adorable carrying it. She gets really serious, uses two hands and walks very slowly. The slow pace is mostly because it covers her head entirely and she can't really see. So there's just this giant walking butterfly heading down the sidewalk. The other day (okay sometime in November) it was raining, so Gordon let her get all dressed up in her raincoat and boots (another favorite) and take her umbrella out to the front deck. Here are some pictures so you can judge the cuteness for yourself!

Thanks Holzes for another much-loved present. While on this topic... Lily also loves her rain boots and will often put them on just to walk around the house. If I mistakenly call them shoes, as in "take your shoes off while we're inside". She'll look at me very seriously and say "No mommy, not shoes, BOOTS!" Apparently I have much to learn.

She also likes singing "rain rain go away" when it's raining outside. They must sing it at day care because later on the song goes "Mimi's kids want to play" Then she names all of her day care friends. It's pretty darn cute.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas Cookies

One of our holiday activities this year was a cookie-making night with our friends Lisa, Sofia and Rick. I was unsure how such an endeavor would go over with 2 2-year olds - but it was really a great time. I prepped by making both the chocolate crinkle and the sugar cookie dough a couple of days before. Then the only things left to do with the girls was roll the chocolate crinkles in powdered sugar and roll and cut out the sugar cookies. Lily and Sofia were both really into the activities and very skilled. The chocolate-crinkle part was my favorite. Sure, the dining room was covered in powdered sugar (see evidence below) - but Lily was totally awesome at the job. I couldn't keep the little balls of chocolate dough coming fast enough for her. She would get ahead of me and be all "another ball? another ball? more? more?". What a slave driver!

For those interested, the chocolate crinkle recipe came from Corinne. I can post that here later, if anyone is interested. The sugar cookies I found at Simply Recipes. I used recipe #2 from here and they came out really great.

Here is the night in photos for your enjoyment.

The chocolate crinkles in progress

Sofia, showing off her sugar-coated hands

The ymmy end result

Next (after a brief clean-up session) we started on the sugar cookies. First we had to roll out the dough:

Then there was cutting:

At this point we had run out of time and energy so we got the sugar cookies in the oven and chowed down on some Cafe Rossini pizza (mmmm). The next morning Lily and Daddy finished up by icing the sugar cookies:

Prepping the icing

The artist at work


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Gordon's Birthday & Carousels

Gordon's birthday is December 8th - and we're very lucky in that my parents live close enough to us that they pretty much always babysit so we can celebrate birthdays and the like with a little adult time. This year his birthday happened to fall just after the weekend of the winter carousel day at my Mom's school. So we decided to take advantage of that by having Lily stay overnight at Grammy and Papa's on Saturday night and then attend the carousel day with them. Totally a win-win situation: Grammy gets to take Lily to the party and show her off to all of her friends and we get the WHOLE NIGHT to ourselves to act like adults.

Gordon still has Marriott points from all his years on the road as a software consultant. So we decided to stay at the Rennaisance in Providence - a pretty swanky hotel in a good location downtown. We went to Pot Au Feu, a French bistro style place. We feasted on french bread, foie gras and escargot for appetizers. Then Gordon had a great casoulet - not QUITE as good as the one he had in Paris - but still yummy. I had a duck plate that included both confit and a breast - far more than I could actually consume! We topped it off with a yummy pear tarte tartin. A very lovely meal - even if I am a little bitter that I didn't get to enjoy a nice glass of wine to go with it. I'm not what you'd call a big drinker - I get tipsy from 1/2 glass! - but I AM missing my occasional glass of wine with this pregnancy. At least I get to sip liberally from Gordon's glasses :)

After dinner we lamely went back to the hotel and found ourselves asleep by 10:30 - ha ha. But oh it was nice uninterrupted sleep in a really comfy bed. You just can't beat that! The next day we had time for another adults-only meal - brunch at the Cheesecake Factory in the Providence Place Mall. It's funny how much I miss going out to eat. I mean Lily is pretty well-behaved and all, but restaurant meals are just NOT the same. In general I prefer to take her to very low-key places or just eat at home. Anything that takes any time at all is not fun for any of the parties involved!

Finally we headed over to the Carousel at Battleship Cove to meet up with Lily and my parents. The carousel is actually pretty awesome. It was built in 1920 and was a permanent fixture at Lincoln Park, a local amusement park, for many years. I have lots of memories of visiting that park as a kid. The park closed in the 90's and the carousel was refurbished and brought to Battleship Cove, where it's been since. My Mom's school rented it out for the day on Sunday and had a little holiday festival there. It was pretty fun - Santa, snacks and all the carousel rides you wanted. Lily could have easily ridden all day and was none too happy when we told her it was time to leave. Here are some pics of her enjoying the ride.

Thanks Grammy and Papa for giving ALL of us such a great weekend!

Oh and I will leave you with an image of me and my new fashion-forward style. Check out the lovely belly band peeking out below the ill-fitting maternity shirt. Apparently I'm going for some kind of pudgy, not quite put-together look with this pregnancy. By the time I find a pair of pants that fit me the baby will be here and I'll be right back at pudgy (and exhausted) again. Oh well, at least my pants seem to be staying up!