Thursday, July 31, 2008

What about Bob?

Eight years ago today my father-in-law passed away. He and my mother-in-law were married for 38 years. They had two children, a daughter whom I befriended in third grade and a son, who I married in 1993 thus getting the sister I always wanted, in addition to a husband.

"They" say that time makes it easier. What exactly does that mean anyway? Does easier mean that the painful memories of his passing fade away and are slowly eclipsed by the happy memories that preceded them? If so, I guess this is true. Still, I feel cheated by his early departure from our lives, and from the lives of our children.

Yesterday in the car, Thing 1, displaying her characteristic sensitivity, expressed her sadness that she will never know him. I told her that she was so lucky to have had a relationship with his mother, her great-grandmother, who lived five years longer than her son. Thing 2's take on it: Isn't tomorrow a holiday? Daddy says it's a holiday and that we're going out to dinner to celebrate. Special day = celebration when you're six.

Bob lived many years with heart disease so it wasn't a surprise to us that he passed away earlier than his contemporaries. But that didn't make it any easier. He grew up as an only child and wanted us to have a large family. He tried to talk me into it on many occasions, in fact. Forget science for a moment: I am certain he had his posthumous hand in our twins' arrival.

He would be so proud of the things his son has done in the last eight years, especially his greatest accomplishment, stepping off the technology treadmill to spend more time with his daughters.

As I mentioned, Bob's mother outlived him. We were so blessed to live within a mile of her those last five years and we visited her multiple times each week. (This was as much for my own sanity as for her well-being. When you have newborn / infant / toddler / preschool twins you are looking for an easy outing and this was it! It's the exact opposite of taking your kids to a restaurant. They run around like crazies, make a lot of noise, and the residents of the assisted living community love it and beg for more.) I consider it one of Bob's greatest gifts to us to move his mom to a home near our house. The pinks have many, many memories of their great grandmother and I find comfort in that when July 31 rolls around.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Wisdom from dear 'ole Dad

We had dinner with my folks tonight. I'm still not packed for Thailand. In fact, I'm a little unglued at the thought of being halfway around the world from the kids. I've resolved myself to the fact that the trip there and back will be miserable. I just pray that the person sitting next to me on the plane does not smell.

I mentioned to my Dad that I'm afraid that there will be a natural disaster or something of the like while I'm away. (After all, my friends Hilarie and Steve were in Hawaii on 9/11 and it took them a few days to get back home to the nanny and the kids. This stuff does happen.)

Dad's sage advice: only worry about things you can control. He's a wise man. Thanks Dad!

I'm going to pack now.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

School clothes shopping

Eldest daughter and I began her school clothes shopping today. She's 10 and, in this past year, has become brand conscious. I'm not surprised, given where we live. However I was hoping we'd go another year or two before this happened. No such luck. Our days of Hanna Andersson and Gymboree are gone.

I'm trying something new this year. I hate to admit it but I learned this one from my parents. It's the Clothing Allowance. Of course my father's version involved a year-long spreadsheet and distributed payments. (Are you reading this, Dad?) I must have been older when this started. Our version is simpler, involving one lump sum, distributed by me today, in cash. It's what she can spend on her school clothes until she hits another growth spurt and needs more.

So today, cash in hand, we went to our local shopping district. We started in Nordstrom, where shopping is always a pleasure, and then went to Macys, where the service is indifferent at best and where the merchandise is crammed on rounders. In between we went to the luggage store, where I bought an electrical adaptor for Southeast Asia. An adaptor is different from a converter. Yes, I'm still working my way through my Thailand list.

She bought things at each, including one significant designer purchase. Let's hope she likes it for a long time! I kept my mouth shut except when asked a question regarding fit. Tomorrow we'll pop by the local mall, where she'll check out Hollister and Abercrombie. My guess is that she'll spend the rest of her wad in late August, when the stores fill with fall clothes, instead of just having summer clothes on sale.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The best of both worlds

We had friends over Saturday night to watch the television broadcast of the Hannah Montana / Jonas Brothers concert. It's a pink thing, trust me on this. Paige came over with her twin daughters, who were in kindergarten with Thing 2, and her youngest, a sweet three-year-old with white blonde curls.

Nails were painted. Toys were pulled out. Brownies and chips were consumed. And then the concert began. After an hour the girls bored of it and disappeared upstairs to play. I pulled out my secret weapon: Wii Fit. We laughed until we cried. Paige is a pretty good hula hooper and slalom skier! I'm pretty sure she spent most of Sunday online trying to score one for herself.

Blogging is proving to be a good diversion from my Thailand to do list. I did manage to procure the aforementioned reading material over the weekend, and call my cellular provider. My cell phone apparently does work in Thailand. Please, only call me if it's an emergency. Email's just fine for everything else. And if you do feel compelled to call, keep in mind that the time change is +14 just in case the emergency is something like you're pregnant with twins.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Two down, three to go

Loads of laundry, that is.

Eldest daughter is home from sleep-away camp. I missed her the most right before we picked her up. She, however, did not miss me as much as I missed her. I temper the bittersweetness of this by patting myself on the back and saying, "Good parenting, Leslie. She's independent." It did not take her long to tell us that she wants to go for a month next summer. Oy!

The drive to camp takes us north on Highway 29 from Napa to Calistoga and then into the mountains. Every time we drive this road I am in awe that we live so close to perfect beauty. People come from all over the world to experience the Napa Valley wine region and it's an easy 45 minutes from our home. Every time we go there I vow to visit more than twice a year and it just doesn't happen. Please come visit! I will take you to the Wine Country.

After we retrieved her, we had lunch with one of our daughter's bunk-mates and her family in the city of Napa at Taylor's Refresher, which is a diner with all organic food, very Californian. Then we walked next door to Copia, the American Center for Food, Wine and the Arts. It'd been a few years since we'd been and the Edible Garden has grown in nicely. The kids picked fresh blackberries (from a thornless bush, no less!) and explored. En route home we stopped by V. Sattui, the winery that Dave and I married at in 1993. We married Memorial Day weekend that year, in a torrential rainstorm. It was the first time it had rained on that date in 99 years. People told us that it's good luck if it rains on your wedding day. They also told us that it means you will have lots of children. I found that funny. I'm not so much laughing anymore.

As I type, I've got a very healthy dinner going in the kitchen. Steaks. Artichokes. Broccoli. Pasta. I'm not sure exactly how much protein Eldest Daughter consumed while she was away. I've already fed her my special brownies, the ones loaded with spinach you cannot taste. (Thank you The Sneaky Chef cookbook.) I guess I'll know soon enough if she reads this blog.

Last weekend I painstakingly painted her bathroom turquoise, otherwise known as Benjamin Moore's Spa Blue. She was thrilled to discover it done when she got home -- we had planned to do it together this summer. I'm glad she liked it because it's my impression that the amount of time she will spend in her bathroom will only increase over the years.

Tomorrow's a workday for me and I will be onsite at my client. I fully expect her to do what she did last year -- sleep 15 hours straight. She should be getting up as the clock approaches noon.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The countdown

Dave is forcing me to go on vacation this summer. He and my girlfriend secretly planned it then told me about it. I resisted. I can't just fly halfway around the world for kicks. I work. I parent. I have responsibilities. Eventually they wore me down so I'm going. And I'm happy about it. But I'm also starting to panic a little. Mostly about the actual travel to said vacation spot. Which is Thailand.

Each summer Neeracha goes back to Thailand for about a month to visit her family; I'm going, too, but just for a week. I'm renting an apartment in the luxury complex she rents in every summer. My apartment is 800 square feet, comes with venerable 5-star-service, and is $136/night.

I leave in six days. I called Japan Airlines this morning because my seat number did not appear on my e-ticket. That's when I learned that because I bought the least expensive airline fare, my seat assignment takes place at SFO right before I depart. Ugh. I'll die if I have to sit in the last row for the entire flight. San Francisco to Narita is 11 hours. I lay over for two hours then fly 6.5 more to Bangkok. Where I arrive at midnight. I leave Thursday and arrive Saturday. I will have no Friday next week but when I return the following week, I will get two.

There's no way about it, the trip is just long. I'm not sure why that's making me crazy, though, since I'll be by myself. It's cake when you're not entertaining little kids. Three summers ago I cashed in frequent flier miles and flew with two of the three pinks to Italy. They were 7 and 3 at the time and we did the Milk Run. San Francisco to Toronto. Toronto to Frankfurt. Frankfurt to Rome. Then a three-hour train ride from Rome to Siena. It would have all been good and fine had we not missed a connection and arrived in Siena in the middle of the night, long after taxi service had stopped. It took 28 hours in all. Dave claims that my recollection of the languages I studied in college becomes greater under duress. This was the case; I was damn near fluent in Italian that night.

Then there's the issue of what to do while sitting on a plane 18+ hours each way. I've loaded my iPhone up with some new games, music, podcasts and Season 4 of Sex and the City. I've checked JAL's web site for the in-flight entertainment options. I'll knit. This weekend I must pick up some reading material. This requires more than just popping into Barnes & Noble and buying whatever jumps off the shelves at me. I can't buy anything that Dave might like to read, too, because I will never bring it home. I have to buy things that I will read then leave in Bangkok for Neeracha to read next. And if you think I'm a voracious reader, let me tell you about her! Bonus points are awarded if I pick something her husband, Sean, will enjoy, too.

Things I must do before I leave:

  • Go through my files for all the articles I've pulled on Thailand since we were there eight years ago.
  • Wrap up my work projects.
  • Call AT&T and see if my iPhone will work there.
  • Wrap the gifts I bought for Neeracha's kids.
  • Figure out then shop for what I will bring to eat on the plane in case I hate what's being served on board.
  • Refresh myself on Thailand fashion do's and don'ts.
  • Figure out how how to bring home a Spirit House, the one thing I did not buy last time that I still want really badly!
  • Create 17 pages of instructions using 10-point type in Excel on the kids' activities for Dave and Rosa.
  • Charge my digital camera and find the cable so I can download pictures to Neeracha's computer while I'm there and blog.
  • Go through all the designs from Project Runway in case I want to have any of them knocked off
    But before I get to these things I've got other, more pressing matters. The Hannah Montana Best of Both Worlds Concert is on TV tonight and the pinks are having friends over to watch it. We've got things to prepare!
  • Friday, July 25, 2008

    Locks of Love

    By complete fluke I took the youngest pinks for haircuts this week. Dave has been doing it the last six months but his golf game ran long on this particular day so I went.

    When we arrived, Thing 1 insisted she wanted just a trim. "I want to be Rapunzel." And this child has long hair so she doesn't have far to go. But then she just had a change of mind and gave Janet the sign to whack it all off. Now she's sporting a classic bob and wow, it's cute! Her features just pop. I was completely shocked that she made such an impulsive decision. After all, this is the child who can kill a full hour just deciding what to wear. There was just enough to donate to Locks of Love.

    Here's the irony: Eldest Daughter has had long hair -- classic dancer's hair -- for the last five years. I've long wanted / begged / encouraged her to have enough cut off to donate. Nope. She's pretty attached to it. Then Thing 1 just does it spur of the moment. Won't she be shocked when she gets home from camp?!

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008

    Just peachy

    On Sunday, after the British Open, we made the hour-long trek to Brentwood to do something that's long been on my radar: pick fruit.

    The city of Brentwood makes it easy. There's a handy dandy "Harvest Time in Brentwood" brochure that tells you which farm sells what, when it's open, and includes a map. The same information is also online.

    Parents of young children generally know Brentwood for its Smith Family Farm. The farm does Halloween big time and we've been there a handful of times to see the animals, pick pumpkins, go through the corn maze and take hay rides. It's a standard preschool field trip and mother's club activity.

    Brentwood has changed a lot since we were last there. There are now malls with big box retailers and a surreal family aquatic complex that the kids would have easily ditched the fruit picking adventure for. I even saw a PF Chang's. My amazing virtual assistant, Mary, lives in Brentwood, and now I know why. There's little reason to leave unless you commute out!

    We arrived at the Farmer's Daughter and, after a liberal application of SPF 50, headed to the orchard, buckets in hand. It didn't take us long to pick 10 lbs of peaches, nectarines and plums. The pinks loved taking fruit right off the tree and eating it. I was surprised how much fuzz is on a peach when you first pick it, and how little of that fuzz is left by the time it hits our local farmer's market or worse yet, Safeway.

    It's late summer so my tomato obsession is in full swing. En route home we bought some heirloom tomatoes from a roadside stand and I've been eating them daily, Caprese salad style. Although heirloom tomatoes are appealing in that newborn baby sort of way -- sweet smelling and at the intersection of beautiful and ugly -- I really do prefer big juicy red ones. August is days away and so is peak tomato season!

    Thursday, July 17, 2008

    And she's gone!

    Eldest daughter left for sleep-away camp yesterday. I couldn't bring myself to take her to the bus stop; she asked me to then reconsidered when I told her I'd cry in front of her friends. The words had barely come out of my mouth when she raced downstairs to find her father, to confirm his availability.

    This child has been away from us before. In fact, at nine weeks she spent seven days at Grandma and Papa's house. (Dave won a quota club trip and we went to Puerto Rico. It wasn't our best trip, my hormones were way out of control, but I went. It's important to support your spouse in their accomplishments if you want to stay married and I was really proud of him.) Since then she's overnighted there many other times, at friends' houses, and at my sister-in-law's house. Yes, this child sleeps around. Happily.

    And this is not her first year at this particular camp. Last year she went for a week and begged to go back for longer this summer. So after a tremendous amount of coordination between the families of the friends she made last year, three of the five of us settled on a session that worked. This was no small feat.

    This picture, taken a year ago, has a good and complicated backstory. Take notes as you never know when I'll take down this post and there will be a pop quiz. My daughter is the second from the left. To her right is Wendy's daughter. Wendy and I have been friends since we went to a different sleep away camp, in third grade. To my daughter's left is a girl who became friends with Wendy's daughter the summer before. My daughter goes to Religious School with the girl on the far right. Her mother and I met the year we were 16, on a trip to Israel. She, Wendy and the girl on the far left's father all met at this sleep away camp in junior high. Did you follow? Jewish Geography at its best.

    I miss her. Sort of. I miss her in anticipation that she'll be gone for nearly two weeks. Does that make sense? The house seems empty already.

    Wednesday, July 16, 2008

    The phone call I never expected

    "Hello? I'm looking for Thing 2's Mom."

    "This is she."

    "My dog, Chloe, and I met Thing 2 last week at the park. She was with your parents."

    "Oh, yes?"

    "Chloe is having her 7th birthday party on August 17. I'm calling to invite Thing 2."

    "To Chloe's 7th birthday party?"

    "Yes, to Chloe's birthday party."

    "And Chloe is a dog?"

    "Yes, a Yellow Lab."

    Let's make sure we understand this. My daughter, Thing 2, has been invited to a dog's birthday party.

    I've read a fair number of parenting books. I can debate Ferber, attachment parenting and 123 Magic with the best of them. Nothing I've read prepared me for this parenting moment.

    Saturday, July 12, 2008

    Home again

    We're back from Tahoe. Although we can make the drive home in 2 hours, 45 minutes, today we took our time and even stopped at Fenton's Creamery at the Nut Tree for dinner. Eldest daughter's favorite clothing store is there, too, Justice. I sincerely hope she enjoyed her shopping there today as we will never go there again. I heartily disagreed with one of their business practices and hey, if you don't exercise your right to choose where you lay down your hard-earned greenbacks, what good is living in America?

    Aside from the sundae I had with dinner (in truth, it was dinner), the best part of our day was rafting down the Truckee River with two other families. We do this five-mile float annually, this time going with the Truckee River Rafting Co. Basically, you heavily douse with sunscreen and take a cooler full of drinks and snacks into a river raft. Then you float down the river, padding from time to time to avoid the banks. You hydrate, eat and either instigate or defend yourself from water fights with other rafters. You hop in and out of the water to cool down and you get absolutely filthy. The rapids are barely Class 1 so even little kids can go. Three hours later you pull out at River Ranch and eat lunch on the patio and then you take the shuttle bus back to your car. It was a gorgeous day, the kind my friend Thom Singer calls Chamber-of-Commerce-Weather, with temps in the low 80s when we pulled out, and the sky was blue, something that's not a given this summer since the whole state seems to be on fire.

    So we're home. It was well over 100 degrees here while we were away and fortunately the heat wave has passed. Eldest daughter leaves for sleep away camp in three days. I see a Target run in my future.

    Thursday, July 10, 2008

    Are Wii Fit yet?!

    I am not a video game person. I never did Pong (Do you remember that? It was the 70s!) or Tetris or even Grand Theft Auto or Guitar Hero. Dave reluctantly bought a Playstation when Sony was his customer and after six months of use down here, it moved up to Tahoe where I literally do not know how to plug it in.

    And then the Wii arrived in our home. For the first month Dave and the pinks played it. Tennis and boxing and bowling and Tiger Woods Golf and Mario Kart. I ignored it.

    Then came the fateful morning that Dave went to Costco. He arrived at 10a, like he often does. But this time there was tidal wave of people moving from the door to somewhere in the warehouse. My guy is sharp. And he has long legs, too. So he followed the crowd and we found ourselves the proud owners of Wii Fit, on the very first day it hit the stores.

    One of the first things you do on Wii Fit is take a fitness test. My girlfriend also managed to score one this day and confided to me that her Wii age was 49. I expressed the appropriate amount of horror at this piece of information then took the test myself. I then phoned her back and expressed an additional amount of angst at this since I, too, have a Wii Fit age of 49. I was born in 1967. You do the math.

    Fast forward to today. I'm hooked.

    Now my application isn't typical. I don't get up in the morning and turn the Wii on to get my workout in. I don't do it at night before I go to bed. A typical day for me begins at 5:30a with some work. I work until 7:30a or so when the kids get up and then I spend a little time with them, usually involving breakfast. When our nanny arrives at 8a I go back into the office and do a conference call or two. Sometimes three. If I'm lucky, a call will end early and then it's Wii Workout Time! Ten minutes of hula hooping or ski jumping is the perfect mental break from technobabble. I'm refreshed and ready to get back to business. Rinse and repeat.

    One last note about this game: I absolutely suck at the soccer balance game. The thing is, I am a shoe magnet, even shoes for sports I have never played in real life, so every last one of those puppies nails me in the head.

    Wii Fit suggests you retest your fitness each time you turn it on. I can't bring myself to. What if I've aged even more?!

    Wednesday, July 9, 2008

    Nice swing, nice hit

    These are the only two acceptable things to say when teaching your children to golf, according to a book my husband read last year.

    And so today Dave repeated these two phrases many times over. I have to give him credit; teaching the pinks to golf is a great idea. He adores the game and the more they enjoy it, the more opportunities he'll have to play.

    Today the four of them went to the Tahoe City Golf Course and "played" three holes. Why just three? Always leave 'em begging for more. They pinks have their own sets of clubs, really and truly pink. They drove. They putted. And Dave chanted: nice swing. Nice hit. The verdict? It was fun to hang with Dad and even more fun to drive the golf cart.

    While this was a good strategy, Dave really teed up this event with a primer several months back. Start taking notes now. When the three sets of new pink clubs arrived via UPS, Dave came up with what might have been the best children's golf-teaching-strategy of the year.

    In our backyard he set up three plastic plates. And on each plate he put a selection of small candies, Halloween-type treats. The kids were each positioned a few yards from their respective plates, clubs in hand, balls on the ground in front of them. If they chipped onto the plate, they got all the candy. Balls that hit the plate were rewarded with a single piece of candy. How much do you think they like this game?!

    Monday, July 7, 2008

    A Boston Kinda Independence Day

    I'm breathing smokey but not humid air this morning. Yes, I'm back in California!

    Dave and I just returned from four days in the northeast, where we spent the 4th of July in Boston then headed to Newport, Rhode Island for his friend Peter's wedding.

    Boston -- now that's a city that knows how to do the 4th of July!

    We had a great meal Thursday night with my friend Kathy and her husband Mark at Via Matta, regional Italian food. Kathy drives a Prius and I was really jealous. I'm also jealous because on most days she and Mark ride their bikes to work. So she's in shape and green. It's a good thing we've been friends for 10 years.

    We spent the day walking around town, trying not to say too many things along the lines of, "Thing 1 would really like this." When you have kids, your whole perspective changes. Frankly, I'd forgotten how much I love Boston. There are 70+ colleges in the area so one of the pinks will just have to head east so we can spend more time there. Not kidding.

    Random observations:

  • A Smart Car parked at the Brookline T station with the license plate "SMAHT"
  • Kathy has a black lab named Beaver.
  • At the Boudin Bakery at SFO, you can buy a sandwich as early as 4am but you cannot buy breakfast until 6am, which is a problem for passengers on 6am flights.
  • Long plane flights are easier when you are watching the full season of Sex and the City that you downloaded to your iPhone.

    • As mentioned previously, Boston does a bang up 4th of July Celebration. Dave and I had dinner at one of his favorite restaurants, The Palm, then headed over to the esplanade on the Charles River to hear the annual Boston Pops Concert. Shoulder-to-shoulder with 500,000 new friends, we watched a 25-minute fireworks show that bested any others I have seen and left us with huge patriotic smiles and ringing ears.

      There were lots of well-coiffed children at Peter and Sarah's wedding, which was sweet to see. Peter's 6-year-old daughter, Anna, had a starting role and it was truly a family affair. The venue could not have been more spectacular -- overlooking the water at the OceanCliff Hotel in Newport, about 2 hours south of Boston. I didn't know anyone at the wedding except the happy couple and Anna, and Dave knew just a few of Peter's friends. I love going to events like this and not just for the "it's a happy occasion and we're thrilled for them" reason. I genuinely enjoy going to places where I'll meet people outside my world. You have the most unexpected conversations and come away knowing just a little more about things you'd never even thought about.

      I'd never been to Newport before and it's worth a second look, perhaps not in the high season though. The maritime resort town was founded in 1639 and played a key role in the American Revolution. Newport has one of the highest concentrations of colonial homes in US and the architecture is quite charming. There are clapboard bungalows in town and then the huge mansions, for which Newport is known for, are overlooking the water.

      For the record, it was very strange not to be with the pinks on 4 July. (I did, however, get a record amount of sleep this weekend.) They come home today -- two from my sister-in-law's in LA and one from camping with my folks. We missed them!

      Tuesday, July 1, 2008

      Under the Boardwalk

      On Monday we took the pinks to Santa Cruz. It's been at least ten years since Dave and I have been and I'm happy to report that it was a lot cleaner and more family-friendly than either of us remembered.

      We took the Roaring Camp Railroad Beach Train down from Felton and invited our train enthusiast friends Seth and Lori with us. (Seth is such a train junkie that Lori threw his 50th birthday party aboard the California Zephyr. They rented it and a panoramic dome car, hooked them to the back of an Amtrak train, and we feted Seth from Emeryville to Reno and back. That was a party!)

      The Beach Train was the way to go. It's a gorgeous hour-long ride through the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and then you arrive at the Boardwalk. The train dropped us off at 11:30a and we reboarded at 4:30p, which was just enough time for the kids to do the roller coaster and bumper cars, play carnival games and eat a good lunch followed by caramel apples, salt water taffy and root beer floats. They were selling deep fried Twinkies there and as tempting as that sounded, I just couldn't bring myself to indulge. Maybe next time.

      The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk celebrated its 100th anniversary this year and the Giant Dipper, its most popular attraction, is the 4th oldest roller coaster in the country. It's a classic wooden one and has been open since 1924. It also has a 1911 Looff caroussel with hand-carved horses. Both were named National Historic Landmarks by the U.S. National Parks Service in 1987.

      Seth and Lori have retired from the Silly Valley rat race and were incredibly patient with the pinks and the endless questions and jokes that only elementary-school-aged children and their families can see the humor in.

      As a bonus, the Boardwalk was surprisingly empty until mid-afternoon. It was cloudy when we arrived but by mid-day the sun had come out and it was a perfect 70F. Apparently Monday is the day to go!

      We walked along the pier and were all fascinated by the sea lions, which look like seals but don't have ears. (Thanks, Seth!)
      It was a great day. We anticipated that it'd be fun but it was an even better time than we'd imagined and we'll be back again soon, with our sand toys next time to take full advantage of the beach.