2015: Year in Review

2015 has been a good year for our family. Here’s a month by month look at some of the highlights.

  • January – We started 2015 by finishing up a marathon visit with family. We rang in the new year with fireworks and soul food with Brad’s family in Lake Charles, then spent a few days in Dallas before making the long, cross country drive back to Los Angeles. While the trip was a daunting number of miles (and hours!) on the road, we found it enjoyable. There were so many different landscapes and scenic views along the way, and we had fun listening to audiobooks and surprising the kids with activities from their travel goody bags (thanks Nana!) whenever things got dicey. But we were happy to discover temps near 70 when we got home, considering that the road trip took us through areas where there was snow on the ground and highs in the 30s. Brrrr!
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The boys entertaining themselves on our cross country road trip

  • A couple of weeks after we settled back in at home, Peter ended up in the ER with a nasty mouth injury. He and Benjamin were playing rough, and Benjamin’s head ran into Peter’s mouth, damaging his top front teeth and gum. Poor guy. Thankfully, the injury ended up healing on its own (he had to be on a soft diet for awhile), and we were relieved that he didn’t lose his teeth. At the end of the month, we renewed our Disneyland annual passes. After taking a year off, we were excited to get back to one of our favorite places, and to introduce Madeleine to our favorite attractions.

 

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The boys entertaining themselves on our cross country road trip

  • February – After an eventful January, we were forced to hunker down at home, when we all came down with various ailments. Benjamin had strep, I had the flu, Madeleine had an ear infection and stomach virus… It wasn’t very fun for any of us, but we did manage to fit in a couple more Disneyland trips between illnesses.
  • March – We turned the corner to good health in March, and had two birthdays to celebrate. First, we celebrated Benjamin’s 7th at Disneyland, and then we had a Mardi Gras themed party at home to celebrate Madeleine’s first (gumbo, king cake, beads, good times!). We closed out the month with a family day trip to the Natural History Museum. We all had fun checking out the dinosaur bones and impressive dioramas.
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Madeleine’s birthday party

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Birthday boy at Disneyland

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  • April – Brad’s mom came for a visit during the first half of the month. We enjoyed seeing her and celebrating Easter together. We attended our church’s annual Easter service on a football field – the only time of the year when the entire congregation is in the same place at the same time (as opposed to regular Sundays when there are three services).
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Photo by CLTG Photography

  • The Easter bunny brought some goodies to the kids, and we dyed and decorated eggs for a hunt in the backyard. For my birthday, my request was that I not have to cook all day. So for lunch, we picked up Corner Bakery and had a picnic at the park, and for dinner, Brad made burgers and fresh guacamole, and we had cake from Ralph’s. The next day we continued the celebration at Disneyland.

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  • May – For Mother’s Day, we took a wonderful, memorable day trip to the Santa Ynez Valley with friends: a picnic lunch from a local sandwich shop, wine tasting in and around Los Olivos, and blueberry picking. The weather was perfect, and the grown ups were able to relax and chat while all the kids played together (and the older ones watched out for the little ones). We had such a nice time that I’m hoping to take a similar trip in 2016.
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Picking blueberries

  • Later in the month, our family of five drove down to the IKEA in Burbank in hopes of picking out new beds for the boys. While our quick dinner on the way out was somewhat pleasant (can’t go wrong with those meatballs!), the shopping portion of the trip was so stressful (it was like the employees were following us around just to point out every bad thing the boys were doing), we abandoned the idea of new bedroom furniture altogether! We will never shop at IKEA again with three small children in tow.
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The ill-fated IKEA trip

  • June – As school wound down for the boys, the first grade classes put on a super cute production of The Wizard of Oz. Benjamin was the cyclone. After several days of perfecting his big scene at home, he did a great job twisting and turning around the stage. On June 11, Peter had his last day of preschool. We were sad to say goodbye to his wonderful teachers and the rest of the staff. It’s been strange to not see them this school year! Benjamin finished school the next day, and he was thrilled to say goodbye to first grade and hello to summer! For Father’s Day, Benjamin picked out the recipes and helped me make enchiladas and cheesecake for Brad. We wrapped up June and started July with a staycation at Disneyland. We spent two nights at our favorite Anaheim hotel (kids eat free for every meal, newly renovated suites, views of the fireworks from the hotel, etc.) and had a great time. One night when we didn’t have the energy to deal with the hot weather and the crowds, we took the kids to see Inside Out in Downtown Disney.
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Peter’s last day of preschool – a Pancakes and Pajamas Day

 

  • July – Once we were back home, Brad and I had a rare date night out of SCV – we drove to Ventura to listen to some live big band/jazz music at a wine bar. We loved the music and the refreshing coastal air. On July 4 we joined our neighbors for their annual company party (In n Out truck, games, great view of the city fireworks). The boys had fun hanging out with their former babysitters who were home from college for a visit. I took the kids to the beach a couple of times during the month (so nice to escape the dry heat of Valencia!), and Brad and I took in our first Dodger game of the season on a beautiful, unusually cool July night – and they won!

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  • Mom and Dad drove across the country and arrived for their annual visit in mid July. They brought us a box of sweet, juicy Ruston peaches – the first we’d had in years! After they’d had a few days to rest after the long road trip, we took a day trip up the coast. We stopped for brunch in Santa Barbara, then took in some fascinating history at the La Purisima Mission near Lompoc. It has been restored to look like a working mission from the 1800s. There were almost no visitors there besides us that day, so it was easy to imagine that we had really stepped back in time.
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Mom and Dad at La Purisima Mission

  • We made a quick stop at a winery that Brad and I had wanted to check out, then we ended the day in the picturesque town of Solvang for a late lunch, followed by coffee and dessert at one of the town’s many bakeries. Later during their visit, we enjoyed a beach day, and one night we got a sitter for the kids so we could enjoy a nice dinner out with Mom and Dad at our favorite Italian restaurant.
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Mom and Dad playing cards with the boys

  • August – After Mom and Dad headed back to the South, school was just around the corner! (We have a too short eight week summer break.) The week before school started, Peter turned five, and we celebrated with a night at Chuck-E-Cheese, another day at the beach, and an overnight trip to Disneyland.
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Peter’s birthday

  • The boys started school on August 12, and we were immediately happy with their teachers and classmates. Madeleine and I settled into a new routine while the boys were at school. Brad traveled to Lake Charles for his high school reunion just after the boys started school. He had a fun time reconnecting with old friends. In fact, we ended up meeting up with a couple of his classmates at a Dodger game at the end of the month. Unfortunately, the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta pitched a no hitter, but we still had a nice time.
  • September – Early in the month, I took in my third and final Dodger game of the season – this time with a friend. The moms’ group that I’m in started meeting again after the summer break, and the boys settled into school a little more.
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The boys entertaining themselves on our cross country road trip

  • October – October was still dreadfully hot here, but it was all about the fall festivals. So, Peter and Benjamin had to suffer for fun in their Captain America and Harry Potter costumes during not one, not two, but three different occasions. (We spared Madeleine the discomfort, and only dressed her as Minnie Mouse for our Halloween night trick-or-treating.) Brad had his longest work trip of the year this month – a two week European tour that had him spending time in England, Wales, France, and Germany. He even stayed in a French chateau for a few nights, and we had fun FaceTiming him while he was there so he could show us all the interesting things about it. He returned home on the evening of Halloween, just in time to join us for trick-or-treating.

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  • November – To celebrate Brad’s return, we took the boys out of school one day for a family fun day at Disneyland. It was totally worth it to enjoy the smaller crowds and the beautiful fall weather. We love when we can wear jackets at Disneyland, and we even ate clam chowder in a bread bowl while sitting outside. Later in the month, when the boys had a half day of school, we drove down to Anaheim in the afternoon to experience all the Christmas attractions. The week of Thanksgiving, we took a little vacation to the beach in Oxnard. We stayed at the Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach resort and had a wonderful time. Some of the highlights: feeding trout at the Fillmore Fish Hatchery, taking a walk on the beach at sunset, going to a small but fun children’s museum (when it was too crazy windy to be outside one day), soaking in the sights and sounds of the ocean on a beautiful Thanksgiving morning, and eating a Thanksgiving feast at a restaurant in Oxnard before heading back home.
  • December – We are only a third of the way through this month, but I’ve been busy getting ready for our annual trip to see family and friends in the South. I’ve finished my Christmas shopping, but still have some Christmas baking to do before moving on to packing for our trip. We will spend time in Dallas, Lake Charles, and Ruston, in order to celebrate Christmas with our parents, and our siblings and their families.

Looking back on 2015, it’s been a year of lots of quality family time at home, as well as some fun adventures both near and far from home. We look forward to what 2016 has in store! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you!

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Photo by Sara Weber Photography

 

A Good Day

I woke up to the sound of Peter crying at 6 a.m. this morning. I could have buried my head under the pillow and griped about the early wake up call, but instead I decided to make the most of the day. Life is more fun when you focus on the positive and appreciate the simple moments that make up a typical day. Here are a few positives that I’ve been dwelling on today:

  • The sun shining through my window when I woke up, signaling a bright, beautiful day
  • “Talking” and snuggling with Peter after his first feeding of the day
  • Having 15 minutes of uninterrupted conversation with Brad over coffee (before Benjamin woke up)
  • The feeling of accomplishment when I had put a load of laundry in the washer and dryer by 8:45 a.m.
  • Making a healthy, hearty breakfast to share with Benjamin: oatmeal with bananas and maple syrup, fried eggs over toast, and fresh squeezed grapefruit juice
  • Our tour of Benjamin’s new preschool was made more exciting when the director received word that a skunk was loose on the church grounds. We had to move inside quickly! Never caught a glimpse of the skunk, but we certainly smelled him!
  • Sharing a yogurt parfait from McDonald’s with Benjamin while sitting on a shady sidewalk at the park
  • Playing on the playground with Benjamin (this is great exercise for grown-ups, too!)
  • Watching Peter laugh and enjoy the breeze at the park
  • Listening to Elvis music with Benjamin during lunch
  • Letting Benjamin help mash up a banana for Peter’s lunch
  • Singing to Peter while he laid his head on my shoulder at nap time
  • Drinking a cup of coffee, talking to Mom on Skype, and sharing the sofa with Chloe during the boys’ naps

A big positive today was the news that our offer on a house was accepted! This is the first step of several, since it’s a short sale that has to be approved by the lender before we can move forward, but we have cleared the biggest hurdle! This is our third offer on a house out here, so hopefully this one will work out.

Today is one of those days that I’m very thankful to be a stay at home mom. These early years don’t last forever – before I know it the boys will be school age and wanting to hang out with their friends instead of their silly mom. I want to fully absorb these formative years with them. I’m working on making our home a more fun, engaging place. I have big plans to introduce more spontaneity, crafts, outdoor adventures, etc. It will have to be baby steps, since I stay pretty busy just keeping up with the basics, but we’ll get there a little at a time.

Halloween 2010

Benjamin and I were enjoying the moment, but Peter not so much...

After much deliberation, eBay/Amazon searching, and stressing out, I finally decided a few weeks ago to go with a Saints’ themed Halloween for the boys. I had originally planned to do a Beatrix Potter combo of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny, but I couldn’t find authentic and affordable costumes to fit the bill, and didn’t have the time or creative energy to make costumes. So, they ended up dressing up as Drew Brees and a football – a costume combo that ended up being very cute, and not too expensive.

I bought Peter’s football “pod” and matching cap off of eBay. They were hand knit and very cute. Sure, he was a little too tall for the 0-3 month outfit, but we made it work. (I think it’s also designed for a younger newborn who doesn’t mind having his arms down by his sides; since it didn’t have arm holes, we just had to have his arms hang out the top.)

Benjamin’s Saints’ uniform required a little more searching. I never was able to find a toddler-sized uniform, so I just bought a youth small. We had to clip the back of the jersey so it wouldn’t fall off of him, and the helmet was almost comically large on his head, but he sure was cute in it! I bought the uniform off of Amazon, and ended up getting it for “free” by using my credit card points. It seems silly to spend a lot of money on a holiday that only lasts one evening, so I’m happy that I only spent $25 total on two costumes, one of which will now serve as a toy for Benjamin. He can grow into his Saints uniform over the next few years, wear it when we watch Saints’ games, and otherwise play dress up in it.

Our actual Halloween festivities were very low key. First we drove over to Uncle Patrick and Aunt Lindsi’s house to visit with them a bit, and to get a picture of all the Dallas cousins together. (Cara and David arranged to be there with their kids at the same time.) We had fun corraling everyone for a group shot in the front yard. And thanks for the tasty cupcake, Lindsi!

Later in the evening, we had fun doing a communal trick-or-treat in our neighborhood. Some of the couples from our church small group came over, and we took all the kids trick or treating. We had Luke and Leia Skywalker, two storm troopers, and our Saints duo. (I guess we missed the Star Wars memo!) We only went up and down our street, so Benjamin didn’t end up with too much candy. We have been rationing it carefully to avoid a full blown sugar high. So far his favorites have been lollipops and Raisinets.

It was a fitting end to the night when the Saints beat the Steelers in exciting fashion. Too bad that Benjamin and Peter were already asleep, but Brad and I enjoyed the game.

Here are some pictures of all the Halloween fun:

Let’s Watch the Goonies!

My earliest memory of watching The Goonies goes as follows: I’m sitting in the dark, red-curtained Ruston movie theater, turned backwards in my seat, because watching the tiny version of the movie showing in the projector was less scary than seeing a chained Sloth trying to get out of his chair, showing on the big screen!

For days, or perhaps even weeks, after watching this movie in the theater, I was afraid that I would wake up during the night and see Sloth standing at the foot of my bed. I was seven years old when this movie was released in 1985, and I was really disturbed by Sloth and a couple other things about it. So then, imagine how surprised I was when my two year old’s first favorite movie wasn’t Cars or Toy Story, or a Disney animated movie. No, Benjamin’s first joy over a movie-watching experience was The Goonies.

A few weeks ago, Brad started watching this classic adventure movie while Benjamin was in the room. Before long, Benjamin was snuggled up next to him saying, “Let’s see what happens next!” A few viewing installments later, Benjamin had officially watched his first feature length film. I kept expecting him to cover his eyes, say he was afraid, or wake up during the night crying about Sloth. Instead, every time Brad turned on the tv, Benjamin enthusiastically shouted, “Let’s watch Goonies!”

What a fun first movie for a little boy to enjoy: an epic adventure featuring secret passageways, hidden treasure, booby traps, pirates, and yes, even a disfigured but good-hearted hero. And despite all my worrying about it giving him nightmares, so far the only part that has disturbed Benjamin is when the Goonies’ antics cause the water pressure at the country club to go haywire, resulting in some guy sitting on a toilet getting thrown off by a geyser of water. Before this scene resurfaced (he and Brad have watched the movie a few times now), he kept repeating something about them “putting him in the potty,” and we couldn’t figure out what he was talking about. I guess that scene may set us back a bit with potty training!

Since Benjamin has enjoyed watching this movie with Brad so much, I have scheduled a couple more children’s movies to record on our Tivo: Ratatouille and Aladdin. The key seems to be watching in 20 minute increments, and making it a family event. I have a feeling that by the time Benjamin gets tired of this movie (if he ever does!), Brad and I will be able to quote every line! (So far, my favorite moments are when Sean Astin says, “Out there, it’s their time. In here, it’s our time!” and “Goonies never say die!”) I look forward to giving Benjamin more happy movie-watching memories. I know I have a lot from my childhood – Indiana Jones, Hoosiers, The Care Bears, etc. What were your favorite movies growing up – the ones you watched over and over again?

Escape to Las Vegas

Brad and I returned a few days ago from a fun-filled, relaxing, child-free vacation to Las Vegas. Mama C sacrificed most of her spring break from school to keep Benjamin while we were gone, and we certainly appreciated it! While she and Benjamin had fun hanging out at our house (aside from the reemergence of his ear infection, a trip to the pediatrician, and one vomiting incident…), we made the most of our time away. This trip marked the first time that we’ve been away from Benjamin overnight at the same time. (Brad has taken numerous work trips, and I had a weekend trip to Los Angeles last summer to visit a friend.) We were happy that Benjamin didn’t seem to mind our absence. He did ask about us occasionally, but when Mama C would tell him we were on a trip and would be home in a few days he would just say “okay” and continue what he was doing.

Here’s a rundown of our “escape” to Vegas:

Day One:

  • We woke up around 5:30 to get ready and left home on time for our 7:55 a.m. flight. I discovered that flying and pregnancy don’t mix well for me this time around. With all the pressure changes and bouncing around, I was rather uncomfortable and couldn’t really enjoy the flight, so I was happy when we landed early in Vegas. By 9:00 a.m. we already had our luggage and our rental car, so we had a full day ahead of us to enjoy.
  • When we left the airport, we headed east to Hoover Dam. It was a beautiful day – blue skies, temperature in the low 70s – and the Dam was, indeed, a marvelous sight to behold as we rounded the curve of the highway and found ourselves surrounded by rocky mountain terrain on one side, and a steep drop off to the dam on the other.
    • After a quick lunch at the Hoover Dam Cafe, we headed to the visitor’s center for a tour of the power plant. I never really knew that the dam serves as a power plant that supplies power to over a million residents in the southeast U.S., so it was interesting to learn how all that works.
    • Large signs at the tour entrance warned that people with claustrophobia shouldn’t take the tour. They were referring more to the tunnels that the tour takes you through (which I didn’t mind since they were big enough to drive a car through – it’s not like we were crawling on our hands and knees…) What did make me uncomfortable was the 1+ minute elevator ride that took us below ground to the power plant and inner workings of the dam. They packed 80 of us into the elevator like sardines! We had to ride the elevator like that about four times as they took us to different levels.
    • The tour consisted of a ten minute video on the building of the dam, a look at the huge pipes that carry the water of the Colorado River around the dam, and some time on an observation deck that overlooks the enormous generators in the power plant. Our tour guide provided some interesting trivia and history, as well as plenty of “dam” jokes.
    • After the official tour ended we went out on the observation deck that overlooks the dam and took some pictures. We also walked across the highway to an area that had lots of interesting art deco touches, and a memorial to the workers who died while constructing the dam.
    • It was neat to see such a famous landmark in person – after all, how often will we just be passing through that part of Nevada? But we were also glad that we took that detour at the start of our trip, so that the rest of the time we could relax and enjoy Las Vegas itself.
  • We arrived at the Wynn early afternoon. My initial impressions of the hotel: big, colorful, extravagant, pretty, and cheerful. We walked through the lobby doors to discover a beautiful indoor garden, and Coldplay was reverberating through the area (by way of discreet but plentiful speakers hidden among the foliage). I immediately knew that this was a place I would be able to kick back and relax – I guess the hotel planners did their job well.
  • We checked into our room, and then went in search of an afternoon snack. We ended up at Terrace Pointe Cafe, one of several restaurants at the Wynn. We shared some delicious hummus and creamed feta with warm pita bread. It was just the protein-rich snack I needed to hold me over until dinner. Afterwards we looked around the hotel – taking in all the shops, restaurants, and casino area. It’s easy to get lost in a Vegas hotel, but all paths somehow lead back through the casino, which unfortunately is full of cigarette smoke. I guess the smoking bans haven’t hit Vegas yet. Too bad. I enjoyed seeing the Wynn’s whimsical decor, from the elaborate chandaliers that line the corridors, to the colorful flower murals and butterfly mosaics.
  • We had dinner at Sinatra, a comfortable place whose theme centers around Frank Sinatra. I had a citrus and beet salad, scallops with a tasty sauce, and a vanilla and pistachio custard served with fresh berries and a cherry sauce. Brad had lobsert bisque, osso bucco with mushroom risotto, and tiramisu. All the food was delicious, and the service was excellent.
  • We went on an after-dinner walk outside – my introduction to the famous Strip. We made it as far as the Venetian (a few long blocks away) before the heavy meal and long day got the best of me and my pregnant belly, and we turned around to come back. I discovered on the walk that Vegas is just as over the top outside the hotels as it is inside them. Everywhere we turned there were huge screens advertising this and that hotel’s signature shows (Blue Man Group, Garth Brooks, and Cirque du Soleil, to name a few). Most of the hotels also have elaborate themes on their exterior, whether its the Venetian’s recreation of the Venice canals, or Treasure Island’s large (and rather tacky) pirate ship. The interior of the Venetian was very impressive, with its high vaulted ceilings and imitations of sacred ceiling art. I commented more than once that it seemed very wrong for these Biblical images to be ushering tourists into the temptations of the casino. Definitely bizarre.

Day Two:

  • When we woke up we ordered breakfast from room service. It arrived 30 minutes later. The server laid out a table cloth, and set out all the food and poured our coffee. It was so nice to have a leisurely breakfast in the comfort of our room, rather than going downstairs to the hectic, loud, busy buffet. And it was quite a feast: eggs, hashbrowns, toast, muffins, sliced tomatoes, coffee, and orange juice.
  • Our low key morning continued when we arrived at the hotel spa for our massages. I was pleased to learn that they offer an “expectant mother” massage. This was my first ever professional massage, and it was amazing – especially after all the walking and sightseeing we did the day before. Brad enjoyed his, too. The spa area was really nice, and we had access for the rest of the day. The robes, the soothing music, the citrus water, the fresh fruit, the jacuzzi, the steam room… I can see the appeal of spa weekends!
  • Once we were sufficiently relaxed from our spa experience, we floated down to the lobby for lunch at the Encore Casino Cafe. The Encore and Wynn are attached since they are sister hotels. The restaurant had a nice atmosphere – lots of bright red and gold touches. We each ordered from the “choose 3” menu, and our lunch was served on elaborate trees (see picture below). I had an arugula/baby portobello/cherry tomato salad, blackened beef skewers with a chipotle sauce, and a ham/swiss panini. Brad also had the salad, plus grilled shrimp with an avocado cream sauce, and something else that I can’t recall. Everything was delicious.
  • After lunch we returned to the Venetian to spend some time in its famous shopping area, the Shops on Grand Canal. It was very crowded, and we quickly discovered that the wait time for a gondola ride was longer than we cared to deal with. Instead, we snapped a few pictures of other people enjoying the ride through the canals, and even heard one gondolier serenading his passengers. We also did a little shopping, taking care of our Christmas ornament souvenir, and buying Brad a pair of shoes. The Shops are basically a mall, but with the elaborate setting of the Venice canals, and with an occasional indoor piazza designed to look like it’s outdoors – the ceiling appears to be a cloudy, blue sky, and there are fountains and a feeling of open air. The atmosphere was unique, but we didn’t stay long because it was quite crowded, and we also didn’t appreciate the Venetian’s apparent strategy of sending employees after you at every turn to offer you free tickets to shows and museums. We didn’t stick around long enough to find out what the catch was, but my guess is that it involved long, boring time share presentations…
  • We survived the gale force winds that nearly literally carried us back to the Wynn (seriously, there were wind gusts as high as 40 mph, and the rest of the time they held steady at 25-30 mph!), and happily sat down at Terrace Pointe Cafe for afternoon coffee. We even requested a table with “sofa seating,” so I could relax on some comfy cushions. We savored our lattes (served in sturdy, bright yellow mugs) and chocolate croissant, and noted the contrast between this tranquil setting and our usual frantic coffee time at home, when we spend more time worrying about Benjamin knocking over our drink than we do actually drinking it.
  • Later in the afternoon we returned to the spa. Brad worked out, then hit the steam room and jacuzzi, while I settled in for a manicure at the salon. I never get manicures – I usually go the pedicure route, so this was a nice change of pace (although I still prefer pedicures).
  • We had dinner at another Encore restaurant – Switch. Switch is called such because every 15 or 20 minutes the restaurant transforms in front of your eyes. A series of flashing lights and grandiose music announce the impending “switch.” The walls move upward and disappear, and a brand new wall and set of decor moves in to take its place. I know, it sounds kind of gimmicky and cheesy, but one nice touch is that the style of music changes to match the changing setting. I recall listening to Spanish, French, and jazz music at different times during our meal. As for the food, it was good, but not as good as at Sinatra. I had potato soup, NY strip steak, and creme brulee.
  • At 8:00, the night was young. We took a cab to the Bellagio and picked up our tickets to “O,” then had over an hour to explore the hotel before seating for the show began.
    • First we visited the Conservatory, an indoor exhibit of flowers, plants, and trees that changes seasonally. To celebrate spring time, there was a colorful array of flowers, as well as various whimsical, larger than life-size garden items, such as watering cans, flower pots, ants, bees, and snails. Many of these items were made out of plants and flowers, although some, like the ants and giant mushrooms, looked like something borrowed from the set of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. While it can’t compare to the Dallas Arboretum, it was a pleasant and entertaining diversion, and a breath of fresh air after walking through the smoke-filled casino.
    • Next we made our way to the famous Bellagio fountains. I had no idea how huge this pool was! The pool that houses the fountains must be the size of one or two football fields – it’s difficult to judge dimensions in Vegas since everything is so big. The fountains put on a show every 15 minutes, apparently with a rotation of different songs. Unfortunately, the song when we watched was Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic, probably the most over the top, ridiculous song ever made. But the power and beauty of the water more than made up for the unpleasant soundtrack. Well, I could have done without the water forming heart shapes at the end, but the rest of it was pretty amazing. As we left the hotel after “O” ended, we noticed that some classical music was accompanying the later water show. We wish we could have enjoyed that version. Oh, well. We certainly got the idea, and I’d recommend paying a visit to the fountains if you ever find yourself in Vegas.
    • The view from the Bellagio is also impressive. Directly across the street is Paris Hotel and Casino, a sprawling complex fronted by replicas of various Paris landmarks – most notably the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. Next door to Paris is the Flamingo Hotel, which I just had to mention because of the frighteningly large image of Donnie and Marie Osmond that not so gracefully graces an entire side of the hotel. While we didn’t walk the Strip end to end, I think I saw enough to experience the best and worst it has to offer.
  • After the fresh outdoor air, I felt surprisingly refreshed as “O” began. Before commenting on the show itself, I have one complaint to offer. Continuing the Vegas tradition of milking every penny out of you, the staff at “O” was eager to take your picture (and no doubt charge you an exorbitant amount for a copy) as you entered the theater, and they were also selling “souvenir programs” for $15! When you pay more than $100 per ticket, shouldn’t you be entitled to a complimentary program? Just saying… As for the show itself, I’m glad to say that it was well worth the money. Some of the highlights:
    • We had great seats – about halfway up in the main seating area, almost exactly at center stage. We had a great view of everything – and there was a whole lot to see.
    • The sets were colorful, imaginative, and often bizarre. I’d love to see a “making of” special, because it’s hard to understand how the stage can transform from a deep lagoon that divers are jumping into from the ceiling one moment to solid ground the next. And where do the performers disappear to? They would go underwater and never come back up, and at other times the water would be empty, and then suddenly 20 scuba divers would be laying on the stage next to the water.
    • While the sets were impressive, the performers are the real reason to go see Cirque du Soleil O. There were two female trapeze artists who showed tremendous strength and trust in one another, such as when one of them would hang below the trapeze, supported only by her partner’s leg. A few scenes featured divers who must have trained for the Olympics before joining this show – they were that technically impressive. Perhaps the strangest part of the show featured the contortionists – a group of about four women who got so turned around that it became difficult to tell what we were looking at. Sometimes they would form a human pyramid that seemed to be all legs and arms! There were also the strange men in white wigs who pranced around on fake horses, the women dressed in bridal gowns, and the clowns who entertained us between scenes.
    • I appreciated that this show features a live band and singers, since recorded soundtracks always dampen my enjoyment of a show. The band and performers were housed in some screened in rooms up and to either side of the stage, and the spotlight would turn to them at key moments to remind us that they were there.
    • The most impressive performer was probably the final trapeze artist, who emerged from the top of the theater, dangling on the trapeze. She proceeded to turn upside down, balancing her entire body on her head, which in turn was balancing on a tiny “stand” on the trapeze bar. It’s one thing to do a head stand, but quite another to do one while suspended high above the ground, and to do various splits and leg/arm movements at the same time. Wow! That required some serious strength and concentration.
    • As I watched O, I was reminded of The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, a movie that I saw recently. That movie is more about visual splendor and imagination than it is about plot, and the same is true of O. There’s a loose story to be found, one involving an “audience member” who gets swept up into the world of these circus performers, but you shouldn’t spend too much time worrying about how all the characters relate. It’s best to just sit back and enjoy the amazing show, and that’s what we did.

Day Three

  • If you are still reading, I commend you! And don’t worry, I don’t have much to say about our third and final day. We slept in and once again had breakfast in our room. We also decided that since we had already seen and done everything we set out to do in Vegas, that we would get on an earlier flight home. Our original flight didn’t leave Vegas until nearly 5 p.m., which would put us home after 10. We were happy when we found seats on a 1:45 flight, which landed at DFW just after 6 p.m. We enjoyed our last couple of child-free hours on the flight home, by reading and listening to music and talking to each other. The trip rejuvenated us and was a nice change of pace, but we were happy to be home again and to be welcomed by Benjamin’s ear to ear smile and big bear hugs.

Pictures from the Trip:


Mardi Gras 2010

Yesterday we continued our recent family tradition of celebrating Mardi Gras with a Cajun dinner. I don’t remember doing this growing up, except for the occasional store bought king cake, but we now enjoy bringing a little New Orleans flavor to Texas. A few years ago we celebrated Brad’s 30th birthday with a Mardi Gras-themed party, and other years we have had jambalaya or red beans and rice. This year, chicken and sausage gumbo, and king cake were on the menu. Cara makes the king cake from scratch every year and does a great job! Brad took charge of the gumbo this year, and it was delicious. Perhaps as a reward for his efforts, he was the lucky recipient of the baby in the king cake. We also wore our beads, and I had on my silly jester hat. All that was missing was some good jazz music – well, and all those intoxicated people in crazy masks and funny costumes…

More Fun in the Snow

Last week I posted some pictures from our first day in the snow, when it had “only” snowed about six inches. By the next morning, the snow had moved east, but it left a record-breaking 12 inch accumulation in the Dallas area (the greatest single day snowfall total ever in Dallas!). So, Friday morning I went outside early and took some photos of the pristine whiteness, and enjoyed the amazing quiet that a blanket of snow brings to an area normally buzzing with the sounds of passing cars and trucks.

After breakfast, we bundled Benjamin up and went in the backyard for round two of playing in the snow. While Benjamin and Brad built a snow man, I gathered some snow in a bowl and headed inside to whip up some snow ice cream. A treat from my childhood, you can make it by adding milk, sugar, and vanilla to the snow. Yum! My mom used to make an even tastier version by using sweetened condensed milk, or, as our family called it – Eagle Brand. The idea of making a dessert out of fluffy snow always intrigued me as a child, so I hope to continue the tradition for my kids. After I finished making it, I quickly carried bowls outside and we ate our servings before they melted! We also spent some time in our neighbors’ yard, throwing snowballs and chatting.

Later in the morning, Benjamin and I drove over to Cara’s house so Benjamin could play outside with his cousins. Jacob and Joel were building an igloo, and Anna was taking charge of building a snowman. Benjamin spent most of his time climbing in and out of a red wagon. I guess he was “over” the snow by then.

After two days of dealing with the time consuming efforts of bundling up and then taking off wet shoes and clothes, I am actually glad that we only get snow occasionally. Our family was talking about how we can’t imagine dealing with these weather conditions all winter long! So much more laundry, so many more wet floors, etc., to deal with. That being said, we certainly enjoyed our taste of a winter wonderland. It is nice, though, as I look outside right now, to see blue skies and sunshine, on a day with highs in the 50s.

Here are some pictures from Friday, followed by a video of us in the snow. In the video, listen closely and you’ll hear Benjamin calling the snow “dirty” and making coughing noises. He often coughs in response to us saying something is gross, stinky, or dirty. In this case, we had told him not to eat the snow we had stepped on (because it was dirty snow), so he was simply making an observation. You’ll have to excuse my high water jeans – it looked bad, but worked well as a technique to keep my clothes dry!

Fun in the Snow

We were thrilled to wake up to a world blanketed in snow this morning! Big, beautiful flakes had been falling through much of the night, and have continued to fall throughout the day. According to the news as much as 6 inches have fallen! This afternoon Brad, Benjamin, and I all bundled up and headed outside to have some fun. Benjamin loved it! He ran around, threw snowballs, and especially enjoyed eating the snow. Brad also taught him how to make a snow angel. I wasn’t able to take too many pictures or video since the snow was still falling, but here are some that I took before putting the cameras back in a dry place.

2009: Year in Review

In 2009 we saw our laid back baby grow into an energetic toddler, and while he was busy growing and exploring, we managed to take a few trips but mostly stayed close to home. Here’s a look back at 2009:

  • January – At ten months old, Benjamin’s favorite book was Good Night Moon, he was a speed crawler, and he finally started climbing out of the bouncy seat that had been his chill out zone since birth. We stayed home this month, recovering from the holiday travels, and I started a new semester at Brookhaven College.

Benjamin celebrates his newfound freedom, now that he can climb out of the bouncy seat.

  • February – In February we celebrated the births of two nephews: Lisa and Jeff welcomed Corbin to the world, and Chris and Karen welcomed Jude just a few days later. We met them both in one Louisiana road trip, visiting Lake Charles and Ruston early in the month, when these baby boys were just a few days old. In looking back at my February posts, I was amused by one titled “Diary of a Mad White Momma.” Brad spent six straight days away from home, in sunny L.A. and beautiful San Diego, while I struggled to keep things going at home in his absence. In the post I contrasted his carefree, fun days with my tiring, poopy diaper filled days. 🙂

Corbin at one week old. Look at that double chin and pot belly!

Jude Larsen, five days old

  • March – We kicked off the month by celebrating Benjamin’s first birthday on his birthday (March 1), with a family gathering at home. We ate burgers, cake, and ice cream, and gave Benjamin his very own cupcake. We also showed home videos from his first year, so we could remember how much he had grown over 12 months. We had a fun time keeping things low key, and were happy to have Mama C and Grandad, and many of Benjamin’s aunts, uncles, and cousins with us. Also in March I transitioned Benjamin from breast milk to cow’s milk. It was initially difficult for me to give up nursing him, but I soon appreciated all the freedom that doing so granted me.

Benjamin overlooks what remains of his cupcake. Apparently it was finger lickin' good!

  • April – Spring was in the air, so we got out of the house more for walks and time at the park. The Texas bluebonnets were beautiful, and I captured some nice pictures with them. Benjamin took his first steps on Good Friday, but it was about a month later when he left crawling completely behind. We also dealt with what seemed like a never ending ear infection, with one round of antibiotic after another not getting rid of it. (His doctor finally declared him ear infection-free in May or June, so talk of tubes in his ears was put on the back burner.)

Sweet Benjamin in a field of blue bonnets

  • May – I wrapped up my semester of teaching early in the month, which left me time to plan a fun Spanish-themed patio party for my girlfriends, with homemade sangria, tapas, good music, and good conversation. Benjamin and I also joined Brad for a few days in Los Angeles. We stayed around the hotel during the day while he was at work (staying at Embassy Suites was fantastic with a toddler!), and enjoyed lots of delicious food and a trip to the beach. At the end of the month Brad went to Toronto for a conference, and he enjoyed experiencing Canada for the first time.

Brad shares a special moment with Benjamin, as he experiences ocean waves for the first time.

  • June – The beginning of the summer was a month for visiting family and friends. We made a trip to Ruston, and then Nana came to visit us for a few days. The highlight for me, though, was when I flew out to L.A. by myself for a long weekend with my friend Lindsay. I had a great time taking a break from my mommy duties. I was able to read two books and start another one on the flight there and back, and while in L.A. I got a pedicure, toured WB studios, hung out at the beach, spotted a celebrity (Quincy Jones), and ate lots of delicious food. Michael Jackson died the day I flew out there, so I stepped off of the plane to discover his face all over the news, and his music everywhere I went. So far, this trip marks the only time I’ve been away from Benjamin over night. Brad and I are currently plotting a weekend getaway for some time in the next few months.

Lindsay and I at Pane e Vino, where we had dessert and coffee, and spotted Quincy Jones

  • July –This hot and humid month found us doing more traveling. We spent some time with Brad’s family in Lake Charles, and kept cool in Nana’s apartment swimming pool. When we left there we drove to Leesville, LA, which was home base for a reunion of my dad’s extended family. We had a nice time catching up with some aunts, uncles, and cousins we hadn’t seen in a long time, and spent the 4th of July at my cousin Steve’s camphouse on Toledo Bend. We ate tons of delicious food and had a great time, despite the heat of the day. Later in the month, Brad went on a team-building trip to Austin with some co-workers – the highlight of their trip was going tubing on a river.

Nana was happy to have both her grandsons in one place.

Hot but happy at Toledo Bend on Independence Day

  • August – We stayed home during August, and didn’t venture outside much unless it was to let Benjamin play in his baby pool. He also started saying some more words – his favorites were “no” and “bye bye.” Mama C came to Dallas for a visit before she started back to school, and Benjamin and I hung out with friends a good bit. I also continued meeting with my book club, which we started in June. During the summer we read three great books: Same Kind of Different As Me, Water for Elephants, and Undomestic Goddess. It was nice to have this outlet of adult conversation since my days were mostly filled with toddler talk while I was on summer break from teaching.

Benjamin loves splashing around in his baby pool.

  • September – I started a new semester at Brookhaven, and taught two classes instead of one for the first time since becoming a mom. Since Benjamin was still taking two naps, the paper grading and lesson planning were still very manageable. I also served as the adjunct faculty representative, which means that I attended faculty meetings a few times a month. Benjamin reached the landmark age of 18 months, and with the slightly cooler temperatures, he discovered the joy of exploring the great outdoors. He also started to feed himself, which freed us up to eat our own dinners, or get other things done in the kitchen! Benjamin and I started going to MOPS (Moms of Preschoolers) this month. He played in the nursery while I hung out with other moms. We also made a trip to Lake Charles to see Brad’s family, and to attend a family luncheon with all my dad’s siblings, and some of my cousins. It was nice to be in south Louisiana during the fall, when it wasn’t so miserably hot!

Snuggling with Nana in Lake Charles

We had a nice time catching up with all these relatives in Lake Charles.

  • October – We introduced Benjamin to the joys of the State Fair of Texas, including the dog shows, petting zoo, and lots of fried food! We wrapped up the month by dressing Benjamin up in a monkey costume and going trick-or-treating in our neighborhood. He had a great time, and we enjoyed eating his candy for the next couple of weeks. 😉

Our first family portrait with Big Tex (and yes, he is kind of creepy).

Benjamin quickly figured out how this Halloween thing works, and he had a blast!

  • November – We made a trip to Ruston mainly to attend a Tech football game. Benjamin had fun watching the band and shouting “Go Dawgs!” Brad’s mom came to visit us the week of Thanksgiving, and we kept things simple by picking up Boston Market’s Thanksgiving feast. We had planned to go eat at Luby’s Cafeteria, but Benjamin had a virus, so we ate in instead. During Nana’s visit we enjoyed going outside in the backyard, and playing with Benjamin’s new Legos, which were a gift from her.

Mama C and Benjamin share a sweet moment at the Tech game.

Nana gave Benjamin his first set of Legos as an early Christmas gift. He loved them immediately!

  • December – As usual, this was a month of decorating the house, attending parties, and visiting family for Christmas. But Brad kicked off the month with a work trip to Las Vegas (what a rough job he has, but someone has to do it…). We simplified our Christmas decorations, opting for a smaller tree, and no lights on the front of the house. I was relieved when my fall semester ended, as I was ready for a break. As the year came to a close, we visited Ruston for Christmas, and Lake Charles for New Years. We were happy to close out another fun-filled year with our families. I’ll leave you with this image of a happy Benjamin with his Christmas gifts. If you look back at the first picture in this post, you’ll see that he grew a lot this year, and is now very much a little boy instead of a baby. I hope that 2009 treated you and your family well, and that 2010 will be even better!

We kept things simple for Benjamin this year. He received a cool sports car, a basketball, a step stool (he loves climbing up to reach up high things), some bubble bath, some new toddler utensils, some flash cards, and some snack food.


Tech Football Weekend: November 2009

Every fall we try to go to at least one Tech football game. They are a family tradition – Mom and Dad have had season tickets for as long as I can remember, and I don’t think we ever missed a home game, rain or shine, hot or cold. Thankfully, last weekend we had perfect football weather. At game time, temps were in the 60s and the sky was clear (and dark since it was 7 p.m.). Sure, Tech hasn’t had a great season, but they actually put up a good fight against #7 Boise St., losing by only 10 points, with a score of 38-28.

We only stayed for the first half, since about that time was when Benjamin normally goes to bed. Apparently all the exciting stuff happened in the second half, but thankfully we were able to see what we missed on tv. While we were there, Benjamin wasn’t very interested in the game itself, but he enjoyed hanging out with everyone. We all had a good time, cheering for the team, drinking hot chocolate, and watching replays on the new jumbotron.

Earlier in the day we had lunch at Ruston’s new Pho restaurant, and we were impressed! Chris, Brad, and Dad had fried rice, and Karen and I had the egg roll noodle bowl. Our dish consisted of noodles, cut up pieces of egg roll, a sweet sauce, etc. We also tried the spring rolls, which are served with a peanut sauce and were delicious. It’s nice for Ruston to add this authentic Asian cuisine to its list of food offerings.

We always make a point to eat some Johnny’s Pizza while we are in Ruston, and so we had dinner there Saturday night before attending a Tech men’s basketball pre-season exhibition game. The pizza was delicious, and the game was entertaining. Benjamin seems to like basketball better than football, just like me. He had fun dancing to the music during timeouts and clapping every time the team scored.

The rest of the weekend was spent catching up with friends and family, exploring the yard with Benjamin, and as usual when it comes to my parents’ house, watching a lot of college football. We especially enjoyed watching LSU lose to Alabama. (Sorry, Tiger fans, but that’s just how I was raised…)

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