Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas at Squaw Valley

As usual, we fled the Bay as soon as we could Friday night. Ski Team picked up where it had left off the previous weekend and we shoved Thing 2 out the door at 8:30a Saturday morning.

We've had an early and abundant snowfall this winter so the mountain is quite well endowed for December. Dave's sister, BIL and kids came up from LA Sunday and The Cousinfest began. It stormed heavily one day then snowed lightly off and on a few more days. In general, though, the conditions were great and Dave and I both got in four days. After eight years of being neighbors and friends, I finally skied with Downstairs Lora. It was humbling although I really appreciated the lesson and her taking her game down several notches for me.

I just love skiing with the kids; they're at the point where we can all ski together and just enjoy the mountain. I had the luxury of skiing by myself Christmas morning. The sky was blue, the slopes were nearly empty and the snowboarders, who I fear will run me over from behind and leave me maimed for life, were absent. It doesn't get much better than that.

Squaw Valley does a Christmas Eve Parade of Lights. Instructors and coaches ski down KT wildly waving flares and it's a beautiful thing to see. It was even more fun this year because we met up with Aaron and Jessica, and five-week-old Sierra. Yes, they live in Truckee and named their daughter Sierra. Incidentally, there's just something delicious about babies. No matter how many you've had, newborns just draw you in. It's quite impressive that Jessica is back on skis so soon postpartum. Either it's the healthy mountain lifestyle or the fact that her career as a neonatal RN made her smart enough to do the right things for Sierra en utero and stay in shape during her pregnancy.

The littlest Pinks turn eight this month so we had a celebratory dinner with our neighbors. With my MIL and her gentleman friend, who came up for the night, there were 28 of us. You can see Thing 2 above with her candled carrot. She didn't want a cupcake. (More for me. My scale proves it.)

The older cousins watched the younger cousins one night and the adults got a expensive meal at Plumpjack.

All in all a great week in the mountains. I was a little sad to come home but what with two birthdays in the family this week, it was time.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

December 26

Be forewarned, friends and family, the Room and Board Sample Sale is not for the faint of heart.

I'm not sure I've ever been shopping on the day after Christmas. But, spurred on by the increasing unhappiness we feel toward the uncomfortable and too-small-for-our-clan family room sofas, I got up early and drove into the city. Not knowing how many cars would be joining me on the road led to my arrival 45 minutes before Room and Board opened. I got into the parking lot, barely. There were perhaps 75 people in line when I arrived and when the store opened, the line extended another 300 people easily. Who knew?! Fortunately I had The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with me and the time went quickly.

Once inside, it was a stampede. The cognoscenti had scoped out the store in days prior, noting where their picks were located. Then on this day they ran for them and plopped themselves down, waiting until a sales associate passed by and wrote up their order.

I didn't have a snowball's chance in hell. C'est la vie. I'm still glad I went.

Five days of skiing left me a little achy so I took a chance that Suchada, my favorite Thai massage place, could take a walk in. And they could! So I had a great rub down before heading to the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market, the best California has to offer IMHO. Of course parking was a nightmare but after having read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle I was on a mission!

Now for my next moment of discovery: the market takes two weeks off for the holidays. At least Ferry Plaza has lots of foodie options. I left with four kinds of mushrooms, including Black Trumpet, which I'd never seen before, Prather Ranch beef and a Miette cupcake.

Sur La Table was having a big sale so I bought a few things and didn't buy many others. (Are you reading me, Dave? The bag I brought home did not include the cupcake wrappers, $160 Scanpan and cutting board that was not on sale.) My big coup was a green paring knife, pictured above. It's Kuhn Rikon and it's the best knife I've ever owned. I'll be cooking this weekend.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

My babies

These are my daughters, the three young people that have most changed my world. They have taught me how to function with very little sleep, belly laugh at things most people would find disgusting, and set aside my selfish tendencies.

Sherman Chu shot this picture, among others. We were very lucky to be the high bidder for his services at an auction last year. His niche is high-end weddings and I love to read his blog. It transports me to exotic celebrations on foreign soil and reminds me of the promise of marriage, of the way I felt when Dave and I tied the knot. A former news cameraman, his point of view is incredible, too.

Here's the backstory: Eldest Daughter is flexing her adolescent muscle by nixing the sweater I bought her for the photo shoot in favor of a top of her own choosing with high-topped Converse. Thing 1 is wearing a skirt, impervious to the cold at 8:30a on a November morning. Thing 2 is in a shag vest, reminiscent of my parents' Golden Retriever, whom she loves more than anything, with patent purple boots.

This photo makes me happy.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Happy tears

I've just had a good cry after returning home from dropping off the gifts for the family which Thing 2's class "adopted" for the holidays. One of Thing 2's classmates has a much larger SUV than mine so they graciously (for many reasons) drove. The gifts, pantry items and general household supplies filled up the entire back of their Yukon.

The generosity and huge way Thing 2's classmates and their families undertook this project blew me away -- not only did people donate requested items such as work boots but they added socks and extra laces. One family donated toiletries and dressed them up in a basket with cellophane and a ribbon. Another donated toys for most of the kids to accompany the gift cards the family had requested.

While the family received the actual items, I truly believe that we received the biggest gift.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

Warm but not so warm as to be Earthquake Weather.

Morning walk with Dave and the kids up to the swing at The Athenian School. Beautiful view of hills. Home in time to throw the bird in the oven and watch football.

First guests arrive at 3pm. Scavenger Hunt for the nine kids with Flip videos. Hilarious footage of the neighbors. A fire in the fireplace after the sun set. More football.

Traditional Cognac and apple roasted turkey. Laflamme's deep fried turkey. An audience watching Louis deep fry the turkey. Leslie and Neeracha eating the yummy skin from the aforementioned deep fried turkey. Ronald's lemon tart. Sibby's cupcakes. Cookies by Design. Brussel sprouts in cream. Mom's apple pie. Margo's salad. Cynthia's orange rolls. Hayley's date pudding cake with the aesthetically perfect glaze. Mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes and broccoli and stuffed mushrooms and chopped liver. Pecan pie. Pumpkin pie. Barefoot Contessa chocolate cake made by someone, who shall remain nameless, who does not like desserts. Weird. Clearly not a relative of ours. Homemade vanilla ice cream with candy toppings. Cranberry sorbet.

China, crystal and silver for 26. Floral and glass pumpkin centerpieces. Candles. Champagne and an imperial of 2004 Provenance Cab. More red wine. Wine charms.

Walk around the neighborhood in the dark with Neeracha and Jacquie to stretch legs.

My favorite day. Counting our blessings. Friends and family and laughter. Too much food.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Twas the day before Thanksgiving ...

Twas the day before Thanksgiving
And all through the house
I was looking for chairs
The Pinks were, too, and my spouse.

For the very next day
We'd have 26 for dinner
And it being Thanksgiving
There was no chance we'd get any thinner.

We'd set up three tables
On Sunday afternoon
We'd polished the silver
It's never too soon.

The Willie Bird was on order
From our local butcher shop
I set out serving dishes
I couldn't seem to stop!

The Scavenger hunt was created
And the lists were printed out
All dozen kids will participate
No matter if they pout.

There are crafts for them, too.
Things to decorate, build and stuff.
This should keep those small ones busy
I think I bought enough.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday
It's about family, food and friends
Hosting means we get first choice of leftovers
Still, I'm sad when the day ends.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Happy Birthday Michelle!

The second November birthday in our family is my sister-in-law Michelle's. Michelle and I have been friends since third grade. Sixteen years ago I married her older brother and got the sister I always wanted.

Michelle is the great entertainer. I can't tell you how many good times we've had at the home she shares with her husband and two daughters in Southern California. Her husband is named Phil and the littlest Pinks nicknamed him Uncle Fish when they were just learning to talk. If he dislikes that, he keeps quiet about it.

Michelle is a people magnet. She's the Kool Aid Mom and is always surrounded by friends and more friends. She makes life fun for herself, Phil and my nieces.

I'm grateful that her daughters are older than mine because she always knows how to counsel me on girl things. And when my girls drive me nuts I just stick them on a plane down south and she welcomes them with open arms.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

It's always the shoes.

Recently I worked up the courage to do something I have meant to do for many years: visit the US Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.

Three years ago I consulted to a company in the DC Metro area and had many opportunities to visit the museum. But I couldn't bring myself to go.

I've regretted it ever since. Although I did not enjoy my afternoon in the museum, I'm glad I went. It's a living memorial to the millions who died during the Holocaust and a reminder of how fragile freedom really is.

I started with Daniel's Story, the exhibit for children aged 8-11. Let's just say I won't be bringing even my 11-year-old there anytime soon.

From there I worked my way through the exhibits in chronological order, as the docents recommended. The story of Nazi reign is told through photographs, films, eyewitness testimonies and artifacts.

Of course it was the shoes that got to me. The assemblage of shoes. The pile of shoes that were once on someone's daughter, someone's son, someone's child. The shoes of the victims. Although really, we are all victims. The clothes pictured above were once worn by someone who did not survive.

I find it chilling, chilling to the bone, that this all took place just before my parents were born.

It's been a long time since I studied World War II and I'd forgotten some of the details: how widespread the Nazi reach was, how the Nazi's had encouraged Aryan population growth, how long it took President Roosevelt to decide to intervene.

I spent a long time at the Righteous Gentiles exhibit, which told of the non-Jews who risked their own safety to hide Jews during this period, to help them escape.

Elie Wiesel is perhaps the best-known Holocaust survivor. His memoir, Night, tells of his concentration camp experience and he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. The museum has many of his quotes showcased on its walls and it took me right back to age 12, when I read the book in preparation for my Bat Mitzvah.

Twenty-five years ago I visited Yad Vashem, Israel's memorial. Yet this was different. Perhaps because I now have the wisdom of an adult? Or because this is my country's acknowledgment of the horror and our role?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Happy Birthday Barry!

Dear Barry,

I remember when you were born. Well, I remember mom after she came home from the hospital. I don't much remember you until you were about six months old and I fed you a Popsicle at our annual 4th of July Party.

On the occasion of your birthday I forgive you for the following things:

1. Your cushy college experience. How come Mom and Dad didn't pay for me to spend four years in Santa Barbara?!

2. The perfect weather on your wedding day. As you'll recall, it poured rain on mine, forcing an outdoor event into a wine cellar.

3. The fights we had over sharing the car once you turned 16. I get it now. I returned home from college for the summers and messed with your routine.

4. You breaking your leg, thus delaying our planned trip to Disneyland. I've been at least a dozen times now and would be happy to never go again.

5. Your daughter cracking her head open right before we got into the car to return her from an overnight stay here. I was never so scared in my whole life. Blond hair shows blood a lot more than brown does.

6. Marrying a girl who can snowboard faster than I can ski. What's up with that?!

7. Being in a place without cell phone coverage when our twins were born. Granted, they were born over a holiday weekend ...

8. Reading my diary while we were on The Deadliest Catch voyage from Alaska to Washington. What else were you going to do? One can only watch so many cleaving glaciers and killer whales.

9. Not coming with us to Spain last summer. We missed you but really, the food sucked.

In all seriousness, though, you are such a mensch and I am so proud of how I raised you. You gave me an amazing sister-in-law who shares my adoration for shoes and ice cream. You had two beautiful, fun daughters for me to spoil. And trust me, no child ever died from eating Krispy Kremes for dinner. You are generous with your time and resources. You mix a good drink and grill a good steak.

You are 14 or 15 in the first picture. It was taken on Lake Washington, I believe, during the summer of 1987 on the aforementioned Deadliest Catch trip. The second picture is one of my favorites. You're with your 15-month-old on the couch at about 8am in the villa we rented in Siena, Italy. You've been up with her a long time. You're a good father and a good husband because you dealt with my perfect niece while my Ice Cream SIL got some shuteye in preparation for the marathon shopping trip we dragged her on that day.

Although it's your birthday I'm feeling like the one who got the gift. And after all, it's all about me since this is my blog.

Many happy returns, Barry! Love you!


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Snapshot: NYC in November

One of my college friends has her hands exceptionally full this fall. Her husband is teaching in Singapore and her step-daughter, who they have primary custody of, is going through the college admissions process. This process is even more complex because she is being courted by several schools for an athletic scholarship. And then there's the adorable four-year-old, too. Here is a picture of us from our sophomore year in college.

I attempted to visit them all in NYC last week. Most disappointingly, my friend was quite ill the day we had planned to spend together. So instead of seeing Central Park through the eyes of a urban four-year-old and her mother, I had several hours free in NYC to wander around. This is where the cupcakes came in.

It was an easy train ride up from Washington and I arrived just in time to see the Yankees win the World Series. My hotel was one block off Times Square and the normally crowded area was even more crowded on this particular night. Have you see The Deadliest Catch on the Discovery Channel? Picture how those crabs are packed into the holding tank in the bottom of the fishing vessel. That's how it was on Times Square except louder and with alcohol. The next day I went wild in Toys R Us, buying birthday presents for the adorable four-year-old and indulging my own kids in the New Moon department. Yes, Toys R Us has a whole department devoted to New Moon. For those of you looking for a good, centrally located hotel: Hotel Mela was it. Spacious room (with a bathtub, rare for NYC!), high thread-count linens, free wifi and quality bath products. It's at 44th St. between 6th and 7th Aves.

My aunt and uncle were visiting from Chicago and I had dinner with them Thursday night at Vice Versa, which I'd read about on Chowhound. The last 1:1 time I had with them was while I was in college, near their home. It was such a treat to catch up with them, get the detailed scoop on their kids and grandkids, and hear about their travels. My aunt is counting the days until my mom retires and they can hang. I think my mom is, too.

My friend and I grabbed a quick bite Friday morning before I left -- I needed to hand off the birthday presents and wasn't ready for my trip to be a complete aberration.

And then I headed for JFK, sad to leave the big city behind but very excited to see the kids and Dave, whom I really missed. (Note to those flying JetBlue: the terminal at JFK is new and modern but lacks AT&T cellular coverage, which makes it very hard to do a conference call from the boarding area.)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween 2009

Dave comes home from Tracy & Matt's Halloween Party. Try to engage him in conversation. It's futile.

Thing 1 decides to serve us breakfast in bed. It's a very sweet gesture yet it's too bad she had to wake us to do so.

Get out of bed and doll up because I absolutely positively have to shoot my work video while my hair is still perfect from my Friday afternoon trip to the salon.

Set up the Flip camera and stage the living room. Coerce kids into being human teleprompters. Eldest Daughter yells at me that she doesn't like being told what to do. After all, she's taking Video Production in middle school. Bite tongue to stop from telling her what I think of her attitude. Give husband two extra strength Tylenol and a bottle of Propel.

Am starting to get frustrated with the video shoot. Not as frustrated as the human teleprompters, though.

Realize we need to be at soccer in 20 minutes. Throw soccer clothes at Thing 2 and tell her she can get dressed in the car. Check on husband. He decides to meet us at the game.

Arrive at soccer for pre-game face painting and then warmup. It's Halloween after all.

Soccer game. Greet my parents, who have come to cheer on Thing 2. Notice that my mom and I have very similar haircuts these days. Discuss easy appetizers with Soccer Moms.

Console Thing 2, who is either hysterical that the season is over or that they lost. I never did find out.

Grocery shop. No idea why since I am leaving town for the week. Earn bonus points for not purchasing the People New Moon special issue. Figure I can buy it at the airport if I still want it.

Reshoot video, this time with husband as teleprompter. It still sucks. Bathe Thing 2. Prep appetizer for tonight.

Drop Eldest Daughter at Halloween Party then go Kristin & Mark's for dinner.

After dinner, trick or treat with kids in nearby neighborhood since ours is dark on this holiday.

Go to Maddy & Tim's for their annual Halloween Chili Feed while all the kids in our neighborhood trade candy upstairs in their house. Discuss bike shopping with Jill and Leeann. Ooogle at our neighbors' beautiful babies. It makes me want another. For about thirty seconds.

Walk home from Maddy & Tim's just as Eldest Daughter is dropped off. She tells me that she has returned with 176 pieces of candy.

Consider raiding Pinks' candy but decide to hold off until morning. Also consider shooting video again but instead, crawl into bed, thankful that we get an extra hour this weekend.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

They make me happy.

Cherokee Purple. Stupice. Green Zebra. Yes, heirloom tomatoes. Our neighbors bought them in local farming community today and delivered some to our doorstep. They made me silly happy. Silly happy because it's the end of October and silly happy because they taste so damn good. I made a special run to the artisan cheese shop this afternoon to get fresh mozzarella to pair with them. Stand back, sisters and brothers. I'm not inclined to share.

Two weekends ago I made dinner at my parents house. My mom is a phenomenal cook. I may have said this before but it deserves repeating. I never knew how good my brother and I had it growing up until I went away to college and started going home with my roommates.

The funny thing is, I never clued in to how different our kitchens were until that weekend. I have a gas cooktop. Hers is electric, the kind that's flat and easy to wipe clean. It was her choice; she remodeled her kitchen perhaps five years ago. She has two kinds of salt: table and Kosher. I have seven. I have four sets of dry measuring cups. She has a single set of wet ones. (No idea why I have so many -- one was a gift and they are very cute.) She has McCormick Schilling Vanilla. I have Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla and Mexican Vanilla.

Our generation has been taught that the best food comes from the best ingredients, thank you Alice Waters. Yet, my mom can outcook me any day of the week blindfolded. I can cook. Fairly well. But cookbooks were made for me. I don't deviate. I follow the recipes step by step and come out with the expected results. Timed correctly with the other courses if I'm lucky.

Can someone explain this to me? Is love the secret ingredient or are some people just born with the gene?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Top 100

Have I mentioned lately how much I LOVE to travel?

Each year Conde Nast Traveler comes out with its Top 100 list of Hotels and Resorts Worldwide. Dave and I go through the list religiously and see how many we've been to. I think Neeracha does this, too.

This year I've stayed at 12 of the top resorts. For the record, The Four Seasons Chiang Mai was the best of them. It was like staying in a manicured jungle and we spent a few hours on the pavilion attached to our room each day when Eldest Daughter, then three, napped. The Oriental Bangkok, however, was a close second because of the gold embossed stationery with our names on it and the bathroom the same size as our bedroom at home.

I've stayed at 10 of the top hotels. For the record, I do not think that the Hyatt Regency Reston, where I spent three months of my life, is deserving of this honor. I do, however, think that the Westin Excelsior Florence was. I clearly recall the view of the Arno from our terrace and also that we used Westin points to pay for our stay, which made it all the sweeter. The picture at right was taken on the boat at the Westin Excelsior Venice, where we went to celebrate our 10th anniversary. It made the list, too.

Full disclosure: there are more than 200 properties on the list; they are sliced and diced a few ways.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Come one, come all!

I just love Thanksgiving!

It's the perfect holiday: food, football, a fire in the fireplace, friends and family. It's my holiday. The one we host just about every year. It's the holiday our children will remember in our home.

I love assembling an eclectic group of friends and family, reading cooking magazines, testing recipes, pulling out multiple sets of china and silver, and eating my Mom's apple pie. I love the smell of roasting turkey. I love our family tradition of going to the park to celebrate what we're thankful for.

The more diverse the group, the better. We've had Japanese cowboys and American cowgirls, former clients, close family and weird relatives. Dave had a Chinese roommate at one time and his family always served Peking Duck on Thanksgiving. We like Peking Duck so we do that, too.

Caryl and I took a Thanksgiving cooking class at the California Culinary Academy before we both had kids. Then we did Thanksgiving together. We hollowed out tiny gourds and put tea lights in them. We made the simplest turkey recipe, which is still my favorite although I've tried at least a dozen recipes since. We used the chef's technique to carve the turkey, and the CCA's recipe for cranberry sauce, which no one prefers to canned.

Edible centerpieces are one of my trademarks. I've done cookie bouquets and Joseph Schmidt sculpted chocolates, among other things. (Hershey bought Schmidt and closed it down this year -- a true foodie travesty.)

Dave took one business trip the entire time I was on bedrest, pregnant with the twins; it was to Sydney over Thanksgiving. Eldest Daughter and I went to my parents house, where a family friend dropped off dinner because my mother was tending to me, her 3-year-old granddaughter and my father, who was recovering from broken ribs and a broken collarbone courtesy of a horse who is much better trained now.

Last year we spent Thanksgiving at the beach and, while it was a great trip, it felt wrong not to spend Thanksgiving cooking up a storm in my own kitchen.

The family picture here is from 2003, when The Pinks were two and six. I am struck by how young Dave looks. And how much I miss that sofa. It was the most comfortable piece of furniture I have ever owned.

If you don't yet have solid plans for Thanksgiving and want to join our gathering of the pygmies, come! Bring your favorite traditional dish to share. You can even RSVP in the Comments section below.

Monday, October 12, 2009

We went for the wrong reason.

Our favorite babysitter, Rachel, is on Pom at the local high school. We've long wanted to see her pom and Friday night was the night. Little did I know that it was the biggest football game of the season, and also homecoming.

The opponent: De La Salle, which holds the national record of 151 consecutive football wins. Joe Montana's sons have gone to school there, and Tom Brady's uncle is currently the principal. To say it has an extraordinary football tradition just doesn't do it service.

Dave was in the city all weekend, volunteering at the President's Cup, so it was just me and the kids. Surprise 1: We had to park almost a mile away. Surprise 2: There were a lot of community supporters there, families without high-school-aged children! It was quite the social event.

Rachel's parents are about as nice as they come and I was happy to have more time with her mom, especially. We sat with them and her brother, who is also seven. Sat is not exactly accurate. Eldest Daughter found her peers immediately and ditched us, texting me periodically to let me know where she was. The little kids played on the hillside next to the bleachers. It was an absolute zoo there -- and I know a thing or two about chaos and football, having gone to a Big 10 college and some Raiders games.

For those of you who care about football, it was an exciting game. Our team held its own fairly well until the third quarter. And then De La Salle kicked into gear and scored one more touchdown, which would lead them to the final victory.

The last high school football game I went to was when I was at Miramonte. Although we had a football team in Anchorage (it produced Mark Schlereth, who went on to play for the Redskins and Broncos), hockey was the much bigger sport.

The jury is still out whether Friday night's game made me feel very young or very old.

Friday, October 9, 2009

SOS - Save our School

Our elementary school is not going to close. But class size may go up again and we may lose music, the full-time librarian I have issue with and PE if we don't solve our budget issue. How a school that feeds into a high school where 98% of graduates go on to four-year-colleges faces these issues is beyond me. Still, it's the talk of the town.

Our wonderful principal, who sadly came to our school two years ago just when the going got rough, sent out an email asking if people had fundraising ideas. Being wacko an out-of-the-box thinker, I suggested the following:
  • A $10K donation allows the parent to choose their child's teacher the following year.
  • A $250 donation allows the parent to request that a child not have a specific teacher the following year. $250 also buys the right to have your child not in a class with another child you predetermine.
  • $100 buys you out of an unexcused absence. You don't have to lie and say Little Bobby is under the weather when truly he's under a cabana on Kaanapali Beach.
  • $100 and Little Bobby can bring in sweets on his birthday, something that is now against district policy.
  • $1K and Little Bobby can announce the Pledge of Allegiance over the intercom.
  • $250 buys Little Bobby the right to pull the week's ABC cards.
  • $250 and Little Bobby can skip the semi-annual timed mile run.
We'll see if they take any of my suggestions. Do you think I should give up my day job?!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Mean Girls? Find another zip code.

In 1984, the bedroom town of Orinda, California made headline news when 16-year-old Bernadette Protti murdered 15-year-old Kirsten Costas by repeatedly stabbing her with a kitchen knife. The girls were acquaintances, both students at Miramonte High School, and the act was motivated by jealousy. My family had moved from Orinda to Anchorage the previous year, however, this really shook me up. It shook everyone up. Things like this just didn't happen in Orinda.

Our daughters face challenges growing up to be emotionally intelligent, authentic, assertive adults. Girls bullying girls is real. And if you read my previous post on this topic you'll know that I am on a mission to help our community get through this. Why get your panties in a bunch when you can do something about it?!

I am pleased, over-the-moon happy, dancing around the house giddy, to let you know that I have arranged for Rachel Simmons' Girls Leadership Workshops to come to our community. The workshops are for 2nd and 3rd graders, and for 4th, 5th and 6th graders. They cover topics such as Responding to Mean Girls, the Double Sorry, Steps to Healthy Conflict, Emotional Intelligence and Relational Aggression.

Just so you know, it's possible to be petrified while on Cloud 9. Based on conversations I've had with parents on the soccer field, at Back to School Nights and at Trader Joe's, I think this program will be well-received. Our elementary school principal was more than happy to endorse it and have it on our campus. If no one signs up then I look like an idiot, an overbearing mother. If the program takes off then our girls will develop valuable coping skills and suburban parents such as ourselves will have to self medicate less to get through these years.

I look forward to sharing our lessons learned.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Soccer Saturday, Soccer Sunday

Thing 2 had soccer games both days this weekend. That, coupled with Soccer Pictures and a trip to the grocery to shop for Soccer Snacks, which it was our turn to bring, pretty much summed up our weekend. Fortunately the Fall weather has stayed so it was gorgeous out both days, sunny with highs in the upper sixties.

The seven-year-olds have really stepped up their game. They no longer play "cluster ball" and instead pass to each other (sometimes well, sometimes not so) and occasionally score. They know which goal is theirs without frequent reminders and they no longer raise their hands, classroom style, to be selected to throw the ball in. At right is Thing 2 scoring.

Our coach understands the nuances of girls now and when he's assigning positions for the upcoming quarter he tells those sitting out, "You're the cheerleaders this time." I don't expect boys hear the same thing.

Thing 2 does not generally go for frou frou hair. But there's something about soccer and she lets me do her hair in pig tails or braids. Today she chose to have it flat ironed. The other thing I just love is how she apologizes to people she inadvertently trips or slams into. Now if only she'd be as kind to her sisters on a regular basis ...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Yom Kippur in review

Yesterday was Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of repentance. On this day we ask for forgiveness for all the bad things we did the previous year and also forgive others for their wrongdoings. I really enjoy going to synagogue now; I find the sermon generally interesting, the music beautiful and following in the traditions of my ancestors reassuring.

I went for the morning adult service and my brother showed up in the afternoon with all of our little kids for the children's service. The sight of my dark-haired daughter and her two very blond cousins all snuggled up during the service made me teary eyed. Even the rabbi commented on it.

Last evening we hosted Break the Fast. Most Jews fast on Yom Kippur so at the end we do one of our favorite things: eat.

We had 32 to the house, more than half children. It's a fairly easy meal to do -- dairy only and things like fruit, bagels, lox and cream cheese, kugels and cakes. Dave's favorite is Cheese Blintz Souffle so I found his mother's recipe. It went fast.

My Mormon friends Paige and Celia have a fascination for all things Jewish so I invited them and their families, too. There are a lot of similarities between Jews and Mormons, which I'll encourage Paige to blog about. They showed the appropriate amount of enthusiasm at the amount and type of food although I'm not sure if Celia was more impressed with the gluttony or my walk-in closet with its entire wall of meticulously organized shoes. The picture here is of the three of us. I look 12. For those of you who have never seen a shofar before, I am holding one. And this is the leftover food, not at all representative of the initial spread.

Fall arrived overnight. Not seemingly overnight but really and truly, overnight. It was over 100F Sunday and on Monday the high here was in the 70s. So much for me washing the patio furniture thinking we'd dine al fresco last night ...

Friday, September 25, 2009

It's a good thing we moved to Anchorage.

It got me away from the mean girls.

Tween and teen girls just do this thing. They are competitive. They turn on their friends. They pretend to be friends with someone and then tear her down. They talk. They text. They are just horrible to each other.

There are many books written on this subject, Odd Girl Out and Queen Bee and Wanna Bees being amongst the most popular. I have read them both. They are both incredibly disturbing books, in spite of their chapters on why this happens and how we can teach our daughters to cope with it.

This has become my issue.

In junior high school I became friends with Karen, Sara and Tracy. They lived on the same street and I was the Odd Girl Out. In high school we parted ways and I was best friends with Vickie, who ran hot one day, cold the next, had way too much freedom and introduced me to things that people who don't live in affluent suburbs don't experience until college.

And then we moved to Anchorage. Where I met up with Courtenay, Kelly and Michelle, who were as normal as you can be when you live in Alaska. It was a foursome without backstabbing and we shared the common threads of intelligence, theater and the goal of college in the Lower 48. We hung out with mostly boys, not surprising since we were teenaged girls and males outnumber females 3:1 in Alaska.

Fast forward to today. Dave and I have three daughters. We are obligated and it is our absolute honor to raise them to be nice, socially conscious women, and to make the most of their gifts. Words and actions are powerful and we tell them, "Use your power for good."

Eldest Daughter is 11 and in middle school. I've been chatting with the other middle school mommies and I am not liking what I hear.

Again, this is my issue.

I wish they knew what I know at 42: Girlfriends are a tremendous gift. Treasure them. Do everything you can to help them. You will laugh with them and you will cry with them. You will call them, completely hysterical, from the doctor's office when you learn you are having surprise twins. They will call you moments after their children are born and say, "This has to be quick. I still need to call my parents." They will take you to the ER in the middle of the night when your husband is out of town and they will stay up all night with your newborn twins and cook meals for your freezer so you can get eight consecutive hours of sleep.

At Starbucks a few years ago a woman spotted me reading Odd Girl Out and struck up a conversation. She told me about her 17-year-old daughter, and the things she does. This woman had DENIAL tattooed on her forehead as the things she said clearly pointed to her daughter being the Queen Bee. She told me, "She's a good girl. She gets good grades, plays sports. What's the big deal about TPing a few kids' houses in the middle of the night?! The mother of a classmate called me a few months ago to talk about how our girls interact at school and I told her to have her daughter develop a thicker skin." I restrained myself from slapping her upside the head. Just barely.

Again, this is my issue. And I am doing something about it. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tohmato, Tomahto

Although it's now September, our local Farmer's Market still has the most amazing summer produce.

A few Saturdays ago Thing 1 and I got up early and exercised before hitting the market. She rode her scooter and I walked. It was in the mid-60s out and just a perfect morning to be outside. The Ironhorse Trail was quite crowded, not surprising given the weather and the fact that so many foot races are in September and October around here.

We stocked up on white peaches, strawberries, raspberries, eggs and heirloom tomatoes. A few weeks ago I was out of extra virgin olive oil and bought two house-brand bottles at Whole Foods, one Spanish and one Italian. I prefer the Spanish one! So for a late morning snack I sliced up a tomato, put a little Spanish oil and blue cheese on it and went to town.

I will be sad when the summer produce leaves the market and is replaced by apples and decorative gourds.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday is for Foodies

I worked from my client's San Francisco office today and also had two very good meals. It was a perfect Fall day and the San Francisco Symphony gave a free concert in Justin Herman Plaza at noon. The whole town just seemed to be out celebrating life; September 11 does tend to remind you of your blessings.

Lunch was at the Slanted Door with Wendy, who came in from Marin. Wendy's a smart cookie -- she took the ferry. Slanted Door opened in 1995 and has had rave reviews since. Sadly, I had not been until today. It's so well regarded that I gave a gift certificate to my client this summer when she brought her two sons on vacation. It is a good spot, because of its modern Vietnamese food using local produce and ecologically farmed proteins, and because of its location in the Ferry Building looking out on the Bay. Wendy had cellophane noodles and crab. I had Shaking Beef. We shared baby bok choy with shitake mushrooms. And both of us had fresh-squeezed lemonade that was more tart than sweet, yum! Who wants to go back with me?

On the way back to the office I popped into Miette and took away a lime tartlet smothered in meringue for a late afternoon snack.

Dinner was at Bix, a restaurant Dave and I have enjoyed many times. Bix is clubby, dark and feels like a 1930s speakeasy. One of the previous times we were there we played a great joke on friends visiting from Philadelphia. They'd been visiting other friends in Sacramento prior to having dinner with us. Peter, the husband, is tightly wound in general and, while we hid in the restaurant watching, the maitre d' told them that our plans had changed and that we would not be coming. Peter went ballistic and we nearly peed our pants.

Tonight was without similar incident. Our group of six ate family style sharing salmon, tuna, truffled fries and grilled cheese, chicken hash, foie gras, mozzarella and tomatoes, lamb sliders and ceviche. This was a nice ending to a frenetic work week.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Princesses of Tides

On Labor Day Neeracha and I took a subset of the kids to Bean Hollow State Beach to visit the tide pools. The timing wasn't great on two fronts: Dave had just returned home from running the Disneyland Half Marathon, his first (Good job, Sweetie!), and the tide wasn't far enough out to see much. But the ocean breaking against the rocks was spectacular and we all had fun crawling around on the rocks and pebbled beach. Thing 2 has the dexterity of a mountain goat and a lot of curiosity so this was a perfect outing for her.
The terrain was unlike anything I'd ever been on -- very much like I picture the moon to be, craggy in some places, smooth like firm sand dunes in others. The weather was Chamber-of-Commerce perfect -- 70ish and sunny. I recently got a Flip Video. Clearly I am still perfecting my technique, as is evidenced below!

As is typical of any outing Neeracha and I do, food played a part. Bean Hollow is nearly two hours from our house so our first order of business was lunch. By the time we got to Pescadero, the line at Durate's was very long so we had a quick bite at the local BBQ / grocery / pizza place. There was live music outside and lots of people! Pescadero, population 2,042, is not exactly a metropolis so this was surprising.

After the tide pools we drove up to Half Moon Bay for a stop at the Moonside Bakery on Main St. The last time Neeracha and I were in Half Moon Bay together was for my 35th birthday, a weekend we all spent at the Ritz-Carlton. Next to the bakery was a gourmet cookshop and the kids talked me into buying an Ebelskiver pan, a purchase that didn't require too much convincing after eating the kinda-sorta-pancakes our neighbors make with theirs. I'd be remiss if I did not mention our two stops at farm stands.

As I read back through this post I think it should be renamed: Hwy 1 Eating + a stop at Bean Hollow.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Back to School, Back to Work

In the schoolyard, kindergarten year, the mommies talked about returning to the paid workforce once their children went full days in first grade. Now that the economy is weak, many of them are actually doing this.

Not a week goes by that someone doesn't ask me how to find a flexible work situation. They see how I volunteer in the classroom and have a career and somehow think I've figured this out.

In reality, I gave up the career when Eldest Daughter turned one and I left my corporate job. The climb up the corporate ladder stopped then and there and I didn't care. In fact, I still don't. I just want to keep my brain engaged, set a good example for our daughters and provide for my family.

Here are some ideas for those of you mulling this over:

Retail. Jodi's husband was transferred four times during the first decade of their marriage. She worked for the Gap and whenever they arrived in a new city, she found a local store that needed a manager or assistant manager. You can also work just nights, just weekends, just while your kids are in school, or just during the holiday season.

Teach. You have summers off and work primarily the hours your children are in school. If you teach at the college level, you can teach a night class or two and your husband will have valuable time with the kids.

Jobshare. Do you have a friend who loves their job but only wants to do it half time? Approach them. This is a win for the employer, too, since they have two brains working on the same job, which often means better outcomes.

Work from home. I have a virtual assistant in Ohio. We've never met. She works from her house. You can do web design from home. Or bookkeeping. Or editing. You can do a corporate job from home a few days a week if you've already proven your worth to your employer.

Turn your hobbies into revenue. Do you love to scrapbook? Many people would love to have scrapbooks of their child's first year but aren't crafty. Are you a fabulous cook? Become a personal chef - one of those people who makes meals for busy families then drops them off to go straight into the freezer. Do you speak a second language? Tutor a few kids.

Of course all these things involve putting yourself out there. It blows me away when the most extroverted people I know tell me that they can't network. If I can do it, and those of you who know me in real life know that my social skills are marginal at best, you can. What is networking anyway? It's listening and talking. If you can talk to the parents at school functions then you can talk to people about what you want to do for work. It takes a village either way.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

I'm wiped out.

And I'm not the only Over 40 feeling this way today.

The first week of school is behind us. I just want to stay in bed all weekend but we all know the chances of that happening. It's 105F out I'm grateful that The Pinks aren't in a soccer tournament.

Although my husband does more than his fair share of the parenting, I still found this week draining. Three kids at two different schools with six schedules in total: Minimum Day (first day), Wednesday schedule and Regular Schedule (Thursday and Friday). Six different times that the bus picked up and dropped off. Three days of homework to supervise to completion, three sets of paperwork to process each night, three lunches to make each morning. Three children to coerce into bed at a decent hour each night and then out of bed the next morning.

And, to top off the week, my husband decided to orchestrate a neighborhood block party since many of our neighbors are now home from their summer travels. He planned this well in advance and executed it flawlessly. I did little except show up last night and clean up this morning. He is THE MAN!

Although the kids had ten weeks off school, I only had three. Why, Leslie, you may ask, did you go to school this summer? It's not that I went to school, it's that I spent a whole lot of time thinking about school.

The work I do right now is with technology solutions in education. It's really fun stuff, things I can absolutely relate to and it's interesting and challenging as well. But I cannot dispute the fact that I didn't really get away from school this summer.

The Pinks all seem quite happy in their new classes. Eldest Daughter started middle school and, aside from the huge, ugly and mandatory PE outfit, she's good with it all. I'm not sure who loves the bus more -- the kids or us. They just walk out the door in the morning then back in after school. In one more week after-school activities start (gymnastics, theatre, Hebrew, etc.) so Dave will be back to picking them up and driving them around but for now it's a beautiful thing.

Monday, August 24, 2009

'Twas the night before Christmas

Oh wait, wrong month.

Tonight, all over America, mothers and fathers are doing the same things.

Writing names on new backpacks. Inventorying school supplies. Making lunches. Laying out "first day of school" outfits. Locating bus passes. Spending an obscene amount of time on the phone and on email figuring out who is in whose class. Checking to be sure battery in digital camera is charged. Preparing for the moans when we insist they pose by the front door on the way out in the morning.

Eldest Daughter starts middle school tomorrow. As time marches on I have less and less involvement in her academics, her friendships and her selection of clothes. (Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Ms. Principal, for the dress code.) Her shoe size is barely one below mine now.

A few of my friends are sending their firstborns off to college. I'm glad I had children in my 30s instead of my 20s! This I cannot fathom.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Weekend Report: two new restaurants and some crafting

We're just back from a quiet weekend up at Tahoe. The Pinks were disappointed that none of their winter friends were around. We had dinner with two other families from the Bay one night but the kids still missed the ski clan. We tried two new restaurants -- Evergreen in Tahoe City, which was barely worth note, and Mountain Nectar in Squaw, which makes custom smoothies, among other things.

Eldest Daughter's newest book, Paris Goes to Lake Tahoe is selling well at the toy store in The Village, which was a nice surprise since we didn't even know that they carried it.

The kids have long wanted to do beading at the Farrah Rale Bead Studio in Northstar. I had an ulterior motive for heading to Northstar: restocking the Asian olive oil blend I'd fallen in love with at L'Olivier. Sadly, they no longer carry that blend. The beading adventure was fun. So much fun that I wish we'd done it earlier. Thing 1, Eldest Daughter and I made bracelets. Thing 2 made an anklet. My bracelet is green and white. Green for Tahoe in the summer and white for Tahoe in the winter.

The kids were a bit antsy up at Tahoe so we came home late Saturday night and spent today getting ready for school, which begins Tuesday. I've done as little as possible in preparation for school, wanting to prolong summer. But today we stocked up on lunch necessities, ripped the price tags off backpacks and timed the walk to the new bus stops.

Back to reality soon enough.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Mmmmmm Maggieray's

We are pretty big BBQ fans in this house.

Uncle Syd, originally from Kansas City, does mean ones. I cried real tears when he and Aunt Linda moved to Newport Beach a few years ago.

My mom grew up in Memphis and we love Rendezvous and its dry rub. Rendezvous is so big now that there's an outpost in the Memphis airport.

Dave used to travel to Dublin, Ohio for philanthropic work and his favorite spot there was the Montgomery Inn.

We've long patronized Emil Villa's but frankly, it's gotten less and less palatable over the years. We rarely eat it anymore.

And then Maggieray's opened one town north of here. Wow. I stopped there en route to my folks' house last week and bought one of everything so we could do a taste test. The ribs were outstanding. (The chicken and brisket were good but not as mindblowing as the ribs.)

Would you like some? If so, invite us over to swim I'll bring dinner.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Forty Four

Today is my parents' 44th wedding anniversary.

I once asked them, individually, and probably about the time that Dave and I got married, how you're sure you're going to still love that person in 50 years. They gave me the same answer: you plan on it. This is good advice.

This picture was taken in Spain this summer.

Happy Anniversary Mom & Dad!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


While others I know are fighting The Flu Bug, I am being viciously attacked by The Travel Bug.

My ice cream SIL is trying to put together a girls' weekend in NYC, which I'm all over. I will head to DC after that to meet up with my client face-to-face. (It's only $55 to take Amtrak between NYC and DC!)

It irrationally irritates me that Neeracha went to Bangkok this summer and I didn't go, too. She goes every year but after last summer's amazing trip, I'm very sad that I wasn't there too. It also irks me that I can't pinpoint why that trip was so great. Was it the Thai culture? The sense of satisfaction I gained being in a very foreign place and not finding it so foreign the second time around? Or was it the fact that Dave and The Pinks stayed home and it was all about me?

I read David Lebovitz' new book this summer, and also saw Julie and Julia, both heavy on Paris. This was torturous. Me, who went to Spain this summer! I hate how monstrous this sounds and I know how lucky I am, really and truly I do.

We're heading to Tahoe in a few weeks for a last summer long weekend hurrah. I don't think that's going to relieve my itch.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Summer at Squaw

The littlest pinks and I took friends to Tahoe with us this weekend. Paige's twins are the same age as mine, and classmates, too.

We had a leisurely drive Friday afternoon with one stop for frozen yogurt, another at Old Navy to use our Friends and Family coupon and a third at Ikeda's for fruit and other assorted edibles.

There really are two Tahoe's -- the summer one and the winter one. I prefer the Winter Wonderland while many people, my husband included, prefer the summer one. On Saturday I came a little closer to understanding the summer one. My MIL's gentleman friend has a place on the lake and graciously took us all out on his boat. Ron has grandchildren of his own and a lot of patience. He even let the kids steer the boat and the dinghy. Riding on his inflatable Sea Doo pulled behind the boat was so much fun that my face ached from grinning so much. The little kids loved it. Surprisingly, they also loved swimming in the very cold water.

After spending a few hours on the boat we went for a late lunch at Jake's and had my favorite appetizer: Hula Pie. Our waiter obligingly brought it on the double and didn't flinch when I ordered it upfront. This might be my favorite treat: macadamia nut ice cream, Oreo cookie crust, chocolate sauce and lots of whipped cream. It's even better than Mud Pie.

The kids hopped in the pool when we got home and then ate dinner in front of TV while Paige went into The Village to get sushi for us. At 10p we were all asleep except for Thing 1, who I encouraged to make coyote sounds out the bedroom window to scare the people walking by. While this was my not best parenting moment, it was sure funny!

On Sunday morning the girls rode their scooters along the Truckee River while Paige and I power-walked. It was gorgeous out -- not too hot yet with lots of rafters to watch on the river and bikers on the path to avoid. They did the trampolines when we returned to The Village, swam and then we had a late lunch at Burger Me before leaving the mountains.

Paige is a very good house guest; she drove some, let me pick all the places we ate, applied sunscreen to all children within reach, even when they complained, read the car user manual out loud en route so we could figure out what all the buttons on the dashboard did, and even dutifully signed the guest book. She's even good at loading and unloading an SUV. (Note to Jeff: Do you know how good you have it?!)

Four seven-year-old girls are quite entertaining, pee-in-your-pants funny at times. They talk about their siblings, how they get along with their twin, food, religion (we're Jewish, they're Mormon) and clothes. Paige and I covered the usual subjects: books, TV, parenting strategies, places we'd like to vacation, celebrities and elective plastic surgery.

Dave, the kids and I have just one weekend planned up there before summer ends and I'm fine with that. Soon enough the snow will fall and our skis will come back out.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Scotchmallows for Breakfast

I ate See's Candy for breakfast. Not good.

Eldest Daughter is sitting on a plane right now. All by herself. This is the first time she's flown alone. I'm a little nervous. Not because the plane will crash -- we all know that statistically it's safer to fly than to drive on our freeways. But because she's alone.

Dave is at the gate, where he will stay until the plane is in the air. And my SIL will be at the other end waiting for her.

Still, I ate four Scotchmallows for breakfast.

Monday, July 27, 2009

One last Spain award ...

goes to my dear husband for most patient.

His bag was just delivered. We've been home three weeks. I was thrilled to see the artisan candy from Papabubble. He was thrilled to see the Shandy's.

And it's officially over. Well, as soon as I polish off that candy.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Shoe Haiku

Of fifty-five pair.
Twenty-five of them are black.
I have a problem.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sunbaked Babies in San Diego

My Ice Cream SIL taught me this expression. It's the delicious way your own child smells after time in the sun, often with traces of sunscreen still on them.

I had two Sunbaked Babies this weekend. Really they were Sunbaked Seven-Year-Olds but I am partaking in a little poetic license.

The three of us flew to San Diego Friday night and spent the weekend with my cousins. Sara and I were close as children and had drifted apart due mostly to geography. She and her family moved back to California a few years ago and she'd long since issued a standing invitation for us to come and visit. Why did we wait so long?

They are much more religious than we are and it was interesting to see how they lived. Her husband is a psychiatrist so not only was I concerned about my children mixing up the milk and meat dishes and discussing their love affair with bacon, I also wondered what notes Michael was taking. They observe Shabbat on Saturdays and spend the day in shul. That gave us the opportunity to borrow their minivan (I'd never driven one before!) and meet friends at Legoland.

Legoland was a blast! We were there when it opened at 10a and ran around until we were completely spent, around 5p. The park is about 3/4 the size of Disneyland, much larger than I'd expected. We didn't even cover half of it. There is VIP Volvo parking. Sadly, mine was at the Oakland Airport Park & Fly.

Where to begin with the park? The kids best liked the ginormous Lego dragon. When you spoke into the receiver at its base it changed your voice and the dragon spoke your words. I best liked Miniland, which are Lego models of several cities. I loved the recreation of President Obama's inauguration, which was created right down to the spectators and the First Lady's yellow attire. I also loved the classic San Francisco Victorian's. Bourbon Street in New Orleans was pretty impressive, too.

We rode roller coasters and drove boats and spun on teacup-like rides and ate Apple Fries dipped in vanilla frosting (yum!) We admired the Lego busts of famous people, including Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and Queen Elizabeth.

The park didn't get crowded until lunchtime and we just had a great day. I was sorry when we just ran out of steam and had to leave. I wish Dave had been with us; he would have loved it as much as we did.

Sunday we went to Del Mar beach with my Sara and the kids. I'd never actually seen people surf before. And the coastal houses were amazing; I would love to rent one for a week. The kids played in the surf, built sand forts and buried each other while my cousin and I sat under umbrellas and laughed at how much we still had in common after having three children apiece and living very different lives. She's a Twilight junkie, too, and I think I convinced her to try Vampire Porn. We came home mid afternoon, bathed and went to IHOP for a late lunch. (I had to have the no-bacon-in-front-of-our-cousins-who-keep-Kosher talk with the kids at the restaurant.) Then they dropped us off at the airport.

We'll be back soon.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Far, far away

Eldest Daughter, who is 11, is at sleep-away camp. This is her third year so we've got the drill down. Still, I'd forgotten how much work I have to do for her to have the best two weeks of her summer.

1. Beginning in November when next summer's schedule comes out, coordinate with other campers' parents to find out when previous years' favorite bunkmates are going.

2. Convince child that two weeks is plenty -- she can go for longer when she gets older.

3. Schedule doctor's appointment for physical and for health release forms to filled out. Ask husband to take her to said appointment so I don't have to sit through shots with her.

4. Evaluate contents of closet so we know what to shop for. Query child why she has to have an outfit in every color of the rainbow. (The answer: the Color Wars game.)

5. Remind child that she cannot bring her cell, iPod or digital camera. Using best stern face, and repeat when she says her bunkmates are bringing them even though she signed a form saying they were against camp rules and that she would not bring them.

6. Mail her a letter three days before camp starts so she is the first one in her cabin to receive mail.

7. Shop for additional items of clothing and toiletries. Tell her we cannot do a spur-of-the-moment shopping trip with favorite bunkmate from last year because she lives 105 miles away.

8. Iron labels on all clothing items we hope come home with her.

9. Print address labels for the friends and family she thinks she will write letters to. Insist she does not pre-stamp the envelopes because history has shown how many will actually be written.

10. Email friends and family her camp snail mail address. Encourage them to write her as mail is a big deal at camp.

11. Throw all items in bright turquoise rolling duffel. Take iPod out of pocket where she has hidden it.

12. Drop her off at bus stop. Try not to be offended when she hops out of the car to join her friends and doesn't look back. (Best practice: carpool to bus stop next year so only one parent has to have their feelings hurt.)

13. Relax for 24 hours knowing she is still not thinking about us at all.

14. Pack and mail care package. It cannot contain food, even sewn into a stuffed animal, as she has suggested. This year's contents include: black nail polish that her father would never let her wear and nail polish remover, Abercrombie shorts, tween magazines M, Twist and J-14, three lip glosses, book of jokes and most coveted item of all: pillowcase that her friends have written greetings on with puffy fabric paint.

15. Try not to mope around the house until her return feeling like I'm missing an appendage.

I'm such a good mother.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

I blinked and 20 years had gone by.

This weekend I met up with Jeff, a friend I previously blogged about, that I had not seen in more than 20 years. Facebook enables these things.

I wasn't nervous about catching up with him and meeting his family -- I was excited and also thrilled to show off my own family. I was, however, a little surprised to see him waiting in the driveway for me. Did he think we got lost?!

As I guessed, his wife is sweet (and thin, damn those 86 marathons!) and their son is adorable. We really did pick up right where we left off.

We were going to get together for lunch somewhere random in the Napa Valley, where they were on their annual trip west visiting one of his college friends. Instead the friends invited us to their house in St. Helena so the kids could swim while we caught up. It was a perfect 80 degrees poolside and the six kids got along well. The friend turned out to be a well-known public figure, unpretentious and with interesting stories. It was just a nice afternoon.

How lucky was I?!

Monday, July 6, 2009

And the Oscar goes to ...

Dave and Thing 1 for Tastiest. The mosquitoes were relentless. You would have thought this was a camping trip!

Neeracha, for Most Dedicated Blogger and Best Restaurant Picker.

Sara, for Most Comprehensive Analysis of Neeracha's Blog in Order to Optimize Vacation Time. Sara even plotted Neeracha's picks on a Barcelona map with colored stickers!

Thom, for Most Committed to Daily Churro Procurement. The poor guy needs to learn to sleep in.

Leslie, for Most Likely to Blog with Thom's Pictures Without Crediting Him. I swear, Thom, it was only because I was too lazy to download my pictures to Peter's laptop, sort through them, then delete them. All the pictures on this post are mine. Besides, what good is having a professional photographer along if you can't rip off his photos?

Anna, for Easiest, Most Agreeable Child and 7-Year-Old Most Willing to Try New Foods. How is this possible for an only child?!

Mom and Dad, for Most Improved Participants. During our Italy trip in 2005 they were the first ones out the door in the morning and the last ones home at night. We actually got to spend time with them this year. Nice job Mom and Dad!

Linda, for Most Creative Use of Two Outfits During a Week-Long Trip. American Airlines lost her luggage both to and from Spain. Her bag finally caught up with us less than 24 hours before we headed back to the states. I have to give my MIL credit; this was an inconvenience but, seasoned traveler that she is, she did not let this get to her.

Peter, for Best Quote. I won't put it down verbatim here but it had to do with what he called Vampire Porn and my need to get through the first season of True Blood on my iPhone. The show is on HBO for a reason, folks.

Kate, for Best Joke From a 7-Year-Old: If you're American when you walk into a bathroom and American when you walk out, what are you while you're in the bathroom? European!

Steve, for Best Collection of Sherbet-Colored Polo Shirts.

Hilarie, for Most Committed to Sunscreen Application. One look at her gorgeous children and you'll know why.

Thing 2, for Most Vocal if Deprived of Her Daily Swim. My Energizer Bunny really needs her exercise.

This is my last post on Spain. Woo hoo!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Rambling around Las Ramblas

Las Ramblas was made for people watching. The wide pedestrian street runs from Plaza Cataluna to the Mediterranean, where it ends at a statue of Christopher Columbus commemorating his return to Spain after discovering the Americas. It reminded me a bit of Fisherman's Wharf.

We walked it twice. At its midpoint is Mercat de la Boqueria, a shrine to food filled with fruit vendors, suckling pig legs, live lobsters and restaurants. (If I never eat jambon again I'll be just fine -- we ate way too much of it this trip.)

Along the main drag are vendors selling flowers and small rodents, caricaturists (Eldest Daughter had one done), street artists, spray-painted, motionless people dressed like statues and remaining motionless and not remaining motionless, dancers (especially Michael Jacksons this week) and just strange people. It's nonstop both day and night. We could not get enough! Dave and I bought some original art -- really abstract acrylic paintings this time, not our usual watercolors or pen and inks.

After a long, slow walk to the water we hopped on a golondrine (aka catamaran) for a tour of Port Vell, Barceloneta and Port Olimpic. Barcelona's shoreline was well-developed for the 1992 Olympics and its cruise ship port is quite active. We were all surprised to see the Crystal Symphony there, a ship my MIL has been on 22 times. Yes, really.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Gorgeous Gaudi

During college I took a life-changing elective course: European Architecture. The images of Antoni Gaudi's whimsical, Modernista creations have stayed with me 20+ years and this week I got to see them.

We spent our first day in Barcelona doing my checkoffs, which we easily accomplished by getting tickets to the city tourist bus and keeping The Pinks stuffed with helados.

Gaudi is best known for the unfinished Sagrada Familia church. The first brick was installed in 1882 and Gaudi died when he was hit by a streetcar, at age 75, while still working on it. He never married, so obsessed was he by his life's work. The foundation hopes the church will be completed by 2030 using funds from the visitation of it. We took the elevator to the top, where I shot this first picture. I also popped this next picture, looking up while inside the church.

We also went to La Pedrera, the apartment building Gaudi completed in 1910 for the Guell family. Its facade is curved and its roof has chimneys resembling medieval warriors. The ventilation ducts are twisted into obscure organic forms. We could have played one great game of Hide and Seek up there. The residences are finished exquisitely with wrought-iron trim, one of Gaudi's trademarks. It would make me nuts to live in though -- no right angles anywhere!

Our last stop on the Gaudi milk run was Park Guell, quite a hike up into the hills. It includes fairy-tale-like gatehouses, which would be right at home in any Disney theme park, and an esplanade, at the park's centerpiece. The mosaic lizard just inside is often photographed. While none of these pictures show Gaudi's mosaics, he is known for that, too: small tiles of playful assemblies in bright colors.

Monday, June 29, 2009

I could live in Barcelona.

After two weeks of sun and fun in Andalusia, we flew an hour north for a few days in Barcelona en route home.

I was a little leery about our rental apartment. Sure, it looked gorgeous in the photos and the rental agency was extremely professional during the transaction. But the frightful Paris apartment we rented two summers ago also looked charming. And it was filthy. This apartment did not disappoint. I highly recommend Friendly Rentals Barcelona.

It was on Plaza Cataluna, across the square from Las Ramblas, Barcelona's famed street of shops and street performers. It was clean and modern and very quiet. And there was a doorman. City living at its best. The master bath had a bidet, which Thing 2 required a demonstration of. The six of us (my MIL had joined us by then) were very comfortable there and even bought a few food items at El Corte Ingles, the department store with the amazing food market on the lower level, which was across the street. After the mosquitoes and geckos we shared Rancho del Ingles with, this was pretty much heaven.

I didn't realize how mediocre the food was in Andalusia until we started eating in Barcelona! Our first meal was with my parents, who were heading back to the states the next day. I don't remember what my entree was but I do remember the first course: a whole avocado, split in two, with chunky vinaigrette filling up the middle. I can't believe I ate the whole thing. Other meals included fried artichokes (we had these at three different restaurants, my MIL and I could live on them), leafy salads with goat cheese or brie, tomato and mozzarella salads, well-seasoned meats, and grilled, seasonal mushrooms.

It was about this time that Michael Jackson died so there was an ongoing vigil in Plaza Cataluna. The Pinks found this interesting. This year, for the first time, Barcelona had its own Pride celebration and the parade was the second day we were there.

It was surprising how many people were in Barcelona. Yes, it's a city of almost 2 million residents and it was tourist season, too, but the quantity of people on the streets at any time of day or night was astounding. It reminded me of New York without the edge.

Friday, June 26, 2009

English Lessons

We also day tripped to Gibraltar this week. Gibraltar is a self-governing British territory at the southern end of Spain and at the entrance to the Mediterranean. It's 2.4 square miles. England and Spain have battled over the land too many times for me to recount here for you.

It's a funny place to get to. We drove 90 minutes south then parked in Spain and walked across the border. We could have driven but the line was very long. There were buses on the English side so we hopped one into town. The strangest part of the ride was crossing the airport runway. Gibraltar is a small place and they had to work an airport in there somewhere.

We walked through the small town, which had four synagogues, most surprisingly, and ate greasy fish and chips. Then we went to see The Rock of Gibraltar up close. There's a short tram ride to the top and there we had the most amazing view of the sea, Spain and Gibraltar itself. The rock is limestone and has many tunnels in it, which are controlled by the military. It's also home to a nature reserve and 200+ apes that adore potato chips. There are signs galore requesting that you not feed the friendly apes and reminding you of the 500 pound penalty for doing so. But those apes are smart little beasts and manage to nab any people food that remains briefly unattended. The Pinks had fun watching the apes. We all did, actually.

My mother-in-law arrived last night (after a 12-hour delay in Madrid and lost luggage, ugh) and will come with us to Barcelona tomorrow. Although we've covered so much ground during our stay, the time has evaporated. I looked into our refrigerator a few days ago and saw that one whole shelf was taken up by beer and an entire freezer drawer was filled with ice cream. I will offer it and much more to the housekeeper.

Today we went back into the city of Malaga and had the best meal of the trip thus far. The food at Gorki was modern Spanish. I had a spinach salad with goat cheese, sun dried tomatoes and bacon, and mushrooms with garlic and bacon so divine that I wish I'd eaten less of the salad and left more room for the mushrooms. Our friends were equally happy with their choices of kabobs and ham and cheese sandwiches. Neeracha -- you would have loved this meal. We followed lunch with helados (ice cream) from Casa Mira, where the cones are as good as the ice cream.

Tonight Belgian expat Chef Ric came in to prepare us dinner. He made two kinds of salad, chicken for the kids, a baked fruit dessert and paella. I'm glad we did this on our last night because it gave us something big to look forward to. Lesson learned: do this earlier in the trip so we don't have to throw out the leftovers.

While I don't want our trip to end, The Pinks have developed an infatuation with Pringles potato chips, which borders on obsession. I look forward to returning them to a calcium- and vegetable-filled diet when we get home!