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

 

Chloe Through the Years

Ten years ago, in fall 2004, Brad and I bought our first house, after a year of apartment living in Carrollton, Texas. We had been married three years, and we had a few more kid-free years ahead of us. After a couple of months in our new home, we decided that it was time to add a pet to our family. So we drove over to the local no-kill animal shelter, Operation Kindness, and quickly chose baby Chloe. Her name at the time was Diana, which we felt was a much too serious name for a feisty little curious kitty like her. She was a month or two old when we brought her home. That first day we closed her up in our bathroom while we went to the pet store to buy a litter box, cat food, and toys. As soon as she got the chance, she checked out the whole house to get her bearings. She was so cute and tiny, and had beautiful glossy black and white fur. We loved watching her curiosity. Before long, she wore herself out, and snuggled up on the sofa with us. She was small enough to curl up into a ball and nap in our hands!

For the next few years, she was just about the center of attention at our house. If she wanted to go out in the backyard first thing in the morning, she would cry at the foot of our bed, and we would get up and let her out. When we opened a can of tuna, she would come running and stare at us with pitiful eyes until we gave her a few bites. We raised all the blinds in the house enough for her to sit on the sill and look out. When we traveled to our parents’ houses for holidays or weekend visits, we would bring her along. What else would we do with our baby? And when we went on vacations, we would ask friends to keep Chloe at their house while we were gone. We were serious business about Chloe having all the TLC she needed! Someone coming by to feed her every day wouldn’t cut it.

Fast forward a few years, and Chloe’s world would be turned upside down by Benjamin’s arrival. She was so depressed for the first few weeks after we brought him home from the hospital. She would sleep all day on my side of the bed, conveying her disappointment in this new creature by simple ignoring him. Eventually, she decided she could tolerate him enough to be in the same room where I was nursing him, but she made sure her back was turned when she’d sit on the back of the loveseat in the living room. And finally, at some point she accepted him as part of the family and would come sit right next to me when I was nursing or holding him. For the next few years, most nights after Benjamin was in bed, she would jump up in my lap, relishing in the rare undivided attention. Another difference after Benjamin was born is that we no longer took her along on road trips. Someone to check on her once a day and fill her food bowl seemed to suffice. Chloe didn’t appreciate this new turn of events, though, and she expressed her annoyance by opening every cabinet in the house. Upon returning home from our trip, we could always count on that being the case. Funny protest – glad it wasn’t something more damaging to the house!

Medically speaking, Chloe was always a “sensitive child.” After having extreme allergic reactions to her vaccinations as a kitten, the vet felt it best to no longer give her annual shots. She also had a sensitive stomach. If she ate table food, a leaf, grass, etc., she would vomit. This held true for many years, and cleaning up vomit became part of our regular routine, until the vet prescribed an anti-nausea medication for her. Her first foray into medical procedures was a two-for-one. We had her fixed and declawed (front paws only) all at once. Poor thing. She must have been disturbed when she woke up and discovered those changes, but I’m sure the pain meds helped. She only suffered one major injury over the years: she burned one of her paws when she jumped up onto our electric stovetop (on her way to the kitchen sink to snoop around), which was still hot from me boiling a kettle of water. She limped around for a week or so after that painful injury.

We experienced a more disturbing medical situation from her in spring 2010 when she stopped eating for several days. It was strange behavior. She would sit by her food bowl and stare at me, but when I fed her, she would sniff her food and walk away. We started trying to figure out the cause, and our best guess was that maybe she had eaten some balloon ribbon after Benjamin’s birthday celebration the week before. She had a habit of chewing on balloon strings/ribbons, and the vet was worried that she may have ingested some and caused damage to her intestines. Somehow he talked us into letting him do exploratory surgery to investigate ($$$!), and unfortunately he didn’t end up with any answers after the procedure expect that she had an enlarged gall bladder. So, we brought home some new medicine and Chloe, with a shaved belly and stitches from chest to bottom. Luckily, she started feeling better and eating again. Oddly enough, the same time the following year, she stopped eating again. This time, a new vet believed a food allergy was the culprit, so she prescribed Chloe a new prescription food. That seemed to help. From then on, she always ate prescription food.

In August 2010, Chloe’s world was turned upside down again. We brought home another tiny creature: Peter. This time instead of advertising her depression, she would just disappear and sleep the days away. But, she still had her quiet quality time with me and Brad at night after the kids were in bed. During cold weather, I even started letting her snuggle with me during the night. She seemed to really enjoy these cozy moments.

Chloe became a cross country jet setter at the end of May 2011 when she flew from Texas to our new home in California with us. That was actually the most stressful part of moving to me – figuring out how to get her to California, and how to keep her from freaking out about it. Because it was summer time, animals couldn’t be transported in the cargo area of the plane, so we had to buy a tiny regulation pet carrier that would fit under the seat on the plane. I was sure she would panic about the tight space and altitude changes. Fortunately, her vet gave us a sedative to give her before the flight, so she was happily in la la land from the time we took off until later in the day when we arrived at our new apartment in California. Chloe adjusted to our new place surprisingly easily. And again four months later when we bought and moved into our house.

For the next couple of years, Chloe’s daily life consisted of appearing to eat her food or sit in my lap in the early morning, nap time, and late evening; and in disappearing whenever the boys were around. She hid all the time because if the boys spotted her they were too rough with her, treating her more like a toy than a pet. Her favorite hiding spots were under our bed or nestled down into a pile of clothes on our closet shelves. Her loneliest days were every December, when we would take a 2+ week trip to the South for Christmas. Despite us having a cat sitter come spend time with her and feed her, she was very unhappy about being left along for so long, and unfortunately her protests took on a more damaging form than simply opening cabinets. To make sure we knew she was annoyed, she started urinating on our rugs, bath mats, and carpet while we were out of town. Christmas 2011 she irreparably soiled the guest room carpet (we replaced it with new carpet). Christmas 2012 she did the same to our bathroom vanity area carpet (we replaced it with tile). Some time in 2013 when we went on another trip, she did the same to our bedroom carpet, so we replaced it with wood flooring. And Christmas 2013 we wised up and removed all rugs from the house and closed the doors to carpeted rooms, so she didn’t do any damage. Obviously, she wasn’t the happy, laid back Chloe that she was in those pre-kid years.

And so, it didn’t come as much of a surprise, the week we brought Madeleine home from the hospital, when I caught Chloe urinating on the nursery carpet. I guess she didn’t care much for our new addition. Brad and I were quite angry about this, and didn’t want to deal with any more major flooring expenses due to Chloe’s stress and irritation. We decided it was time to find her a new home, and in the mean time, we moved her out into our garage. For the next several months, she was very content living out there. I think she was actually happier living out there than in the house, because she was able to relax without worrying about where the boys were. We also opened up the side door from the garage to the yard during the day, and she enjoyed lounging around in the backyard.

Finally, earlier this month, circumstances changed, allowing one of our neighbors to adopt Chloe. So, we packed up all of her supplies and waved goodbye as our sweet kitty headed to Santa Barbara and a child-free home where she can relax and enjoy the good life. We will always rememberl the good times (and the challenges) we had with her.

 

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.

Settling In

We have been in Valencia almost two weeks now, and we are starting to settle into a routine. And we’re learning that the weather really is as great as everyone says it is (helps us forget for awhile that we are missing all our friends and family!). While our old city of Dallas has been baking in near 100 degree heat every day, we have yet to break 80 degrees here! In fact, I think the high so far has been 78. The weather has been consistently pleasant, with lows in the mid 50s and highs in the mid 70s. Based on the forecast, it looks like we’ll start to “heat up” in the next few days, which means highs in the low to mid 80s.

So what have we been doing with all these beautiful sunny days? The first several days I felt compelled to spend every free moment unpacking boxes, but now we’ve mostly finished that task. Now if we could only make room for the boxes we want to keep in the garage… Despite being busy unpacking, decluttering, repacking, tearing down boxes, etc., we’ve made time to go outside every day. The boys and I have gone for walks on the trail adjacent to our apartment complex, and we’ve spent time in the park and playground next to our building.

Let me back up and describe how our moving day went. It was quite an adventure! On the morning of Tuesday, May 31, we packed up all our gear at Cara’s house, and she drove us to the airport. The list of things we carried with us when she dropped us off included: three suitcases, one large backpack, Benjamin’s Diego backpack, my diaper bag, one laptop bag, one pet carrier (carrying a sedated Chloe!), two car seats, a stroller, a three year old, and a nine month old. I was so stressed out about all this in the days leading up to moving day. But it actually worked out just fine. We checked two suitcases and the car seats, and one of those handy luggage carts helped us maneuver through security and to our gate with the rest of our load. I mentioned Chloe’s sedative before. It worked like a charm! We had tested it out a couple of days before, and were surprised that it didn’t put her to sleep, just relaxed her. And it did its job on travel day. She never complained – during the flight, on the drive to Valencia, or during our orientation in the apartment leasing office. The boys did well, too. We weren’t able to get seats together, but Brad and Benjamin were across the aisle from me and Peter. Peter slept off and on, and Benjamin alternated between watching videos and asking Brad LOTS of questions. He was fascinated by flying!

After we got the keys to our apartment and checked out the place, we made an unpleasant trip to Walmart to pick up necessities like toilet paper, trash bags, and milk. It was unpleasant because we were all tired, and Benjamin was therefore in a terrible mood – lots of screaming, whining, and disobeying. Things settled down by dinner time, when we enjoyed eating outside at Chipotle, surrounded by mountains and our new city. The cool air was refreshing after our long day. We spent the night at Embassy Suites, so Chloe had the apartment all to herself.

The next morning we met the movers at the apartment around 8:30, and by 2:30 they were finishing up. They unloaded everything, assembled furniture, moved certain items into our garage for storage, and were otherwise very helpful in getting us moved in. The boys were able to take their afternoon nap in their own beds, and we enjoyed a coffee break, drinking coffee from our very own Grind ‘n Brew coffeemaker. Ah…. For the first half of the day, we had help with the boys. Jared, whose family used to live in Ruston, drove down from Bakersfield and kept Benjamin entertained and out of trouble. What a lifesaver he was! His presence freed me and Brad up to direct the movers where to put furniture, when to put something in storage, etc. We stayed at Embassy Suites that night, too, so we didn’t have to worry about finding towels, cereal bowls, etc.

So for the past week and a half, we’ve been enjoying the weather, exploring our new city, and getting used to the new routine. Since Brad worked from home in Dallas, his going into the office is new for all of us. It took about a week for us to fully adjust to the time change. Before then, the boys were trying to wake up between 5 and 6. Now they are waking up between 6:30 and 7. But who can blame them for waking up early when the sky starts to get bright just after 5 a.m.?! Brad goes to work between 8 and 9 and gets home between 5 and 6. His commute is less than ten minutes. I try to keep the boys entertained during the day, and I enjoy a two hour break in the afternoon, since they usually take a nap at the same time. I always need this break, because Benjamin has been a handful, to say the least. I don’t know if it’s the move, just the fact that he’s three, or a combination of the two, but he is really something: chirping, screaming, hitting, pinching, biting clothing and furniture, throwing huge tantrums in public. Sometimes we have no idea how to handle him, but we are doing the best we can and trying to make sure he feels loved and secure during this transition.

We’ve continued house hunting, and hope to find something by the time our three month lease ends here. But for now, we are quite comfortable in our three bedroom/two bathroom apartment. It has a great view of mountains and a bike trail, and is relatively quiet. By 5:00 in the evening, we can open our windows,  let in cool air, take in the view, and relax. Our family of four is having fun on our California adventure so far, but when we get homesick we can always hop on Facebook, Skype, or our cell phones.

Saying Goodbye to Dallas

We moved out of our house in Carrollton two weeks ago, but until we officially head to California next week, I’ll still feel like Dallas is “home.” (We are visiting family in Louisiana for most of this month.) As we’ve spent this initial time away from DFW, I’ve been thinking about all the things I will miss about the place I’ve called home for the past 7 1/2 years. You’ll notice that many of these are food related. I think food is the best thing Dallas has to offer. Of all the places I’ve traveled, I haven’t found many cities that offer the same level of excellent restaurant service and food. Valencia will have a tall order to meet my expectations in these areas. Anyway, read on for the things I will miss most about Dallas.

  • Cafe Brazil – The coffee bar, the colorful art work, the cheese omelet with avocado and tomato… I had recently added the Brazilian burger to my list of favorites from their menu: 1/2 lb. patty with bell peppers, onion, tomatoes, pickles and Monterrey Jack cheese. Delicious!
  • Noodles Ave./Thai Coconut Grill – Whenever I was in the mood for Thai food, I had two great options: I could drive a little further and get quick service and satisfying pad thai or pad see yew at Noodles Ave., or I could drive right around the corner and wait a little longer for more finely tuned Thai cuisine at Thai Coconut Grill. Their strawberry green iced tea was also very refreshing. 
  • Fat Straws – I hadn’t been much recently, but almost every time I dropped by this drink place, I ordered the avocado smoothie with bubbles. So tasty!
  • Paciugo – I’ve told myself that at least I’ll have a Pinkberry on every corner in California, but I sure will miss this delicious gelato place. My favorite combo was pistachio, coffee, and mint chocolate chip.
  • Braums – If you are sensing a theme, it’s because I love ice cream, yogurt, etc. I can’t imagine living in a place where no one even knows what Braums is! I love that I can go in, buy my groceries, and order dinner or dessert, too. How many fast food places can you say that about? I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve driven through and ordered a burger and chocolate malt. That was especially a favorite meal of mine when I was pregnant.
  • Sonic – You may be thinking, “Wait – there are Sonics everywhere.” Wrong! From what I have heard, the nearest Sonic will be ONE HOUR away from us! 😦  I am packing in as many breakfast toaster sandwiches, Java chillers, burgers, and hot fudge sundaes as I can before we leave the south.
  • Studio Movie Grill – This is a date night dream come true! You can eat a delicious meal (my favorite is the Megaplex burger and sweet potato fries), and watch a movie at the same time. I know that more theaters are catching on to this dinner and a movie idea, but no one does it better than SMG. And even if you don’t want to eat a meal, it’s still more fun to see a movie here than a regular theater because the seats are comfier, and you have much more space with the swiveling, cushioned chairs, as opposed to stadium seating. Yes, I will miss this place. 😦
  • The Angelika Plano – My second favorite theater in Dallas is the Angelika at Shops at Legacy in Plano. The theater itself is comfortable, you can have a glass of wine while you watch, and you can watch independent and lesser known (but often better) films than at more mainstream theaters.
  • House of Blues – I haven’t been to many concerts since becoming a parent, but my favorite venue is definitely the House of Blues. It has a more intimate feel than the larger venues, giving you plenty of opportunity to see the performers and enjoy the music. I saw Regina Spektor and Nickel Creek there, and last summer Brad enjoyed seeing Blue October.
  • Meyerson Symphony Center – My introduction to the symphony center was during the Taste of Dallas festival several summers ago. The symphony offered a free concert, and so we went inside to cool off and enjoy some beautiful music. Since then I have been to a few concerts there – my favorite was Ben Folds with the DSO! (I was supposed to go see Idina Menzel last summer, but my third trimester morning sickness kept me at home…)
  • Turbo Kickboxing – I haven’t been very consistent with my 24 Hour Fitness gym membership, but I never got bored with Emily’s Saturday morning turbo kickboxing class. I will really miss this great workout – great music, motivation, and fun!
  • Carrollton Public Library – I’ve also loved our library. It was just a couple of minutes from our house. They always seemed to have the book I wanted to read, the employees were helpful and had a smile on their faces, and the lake and walking trail were beautiful. Benjamin and I enjoyed several walks checking out the ducks, geese, swans, etc. 
  • Mary Heads Carter Park – This park was right around the corner from our house. It has a pretty little bridge and stream (often with ducks hanging out), as well as an elaborate play area with all sorts of fun slides, swings, bridges… Benjamin had just gotten to an age where he could fully enjoy the play area. Thankfully there are tons of parks to discover in Valencia.
  • Rosemeade Pool – We thoroughly enjoyed beating the heat at our community pool last summer – especially in the kids’ rainforest area. Benjamin still talks about the “ding ding pool” (his name for the wade pool that gets drenched with a huge bucket of water, signaled by a dinging bell, every few minutes). The smell of sunscreen, the taste of peanut butter and honey sandwiches (I had to keep my pregnant self well fueled out in the heat!), and the sounds of laughing children and splashing water. Good times. I suppose the fact that we will be less than an hour from the beach is some consolation to moving away from the Rosemeade Pool. 😉
  • Bent Tree Bible Fellowship – We will really miss our church, too. We have made great friends in our Lifegroup, and will certainly miss Pete’s sermons. Benjamin enjoyed his Sunday morning class there, too.
  • The biggest loss for us will be not having family right around the corner. In Carrollton, we could drive two minutes south and be at my sister’s house, or we could drive about five minutes northeast and be at my brother’s house. 😦   We will miss all the family brunches and dinners, the nephews’/niece’s birthday parties, etc. We plan to familiarize everyone with Skype to not feel so far away!

Those are all the things I could think of at the moment. If you are a Dallas resident, what would you miss most if you moved away?

House Hunting in California

I just returned from a whirlwind house hunting trip in southern California. While it was fun to take a look at potential homes, it was also sobering to see what you get (or don’t get) for your money. Our house in Dallas was built in the ’80s, and with about 1900 sq. ft., 3 bedrooms, and 2 bathrooms, it is considered a starter home. We’ve decided that we want to live in a newer home in Valencia, to avoid some of the expenses that come along with maintaining an aging house, and we want to have about the same amount of space to be comfortable and not go stir crazy (and to have a place for visitors to stay!).

Unfortunately, space is limited in southern California, so we quickly learned that most builders opted for more house, less yard. I realize that we will never have a yard in Valencia as large as ours in Dallas, but I deemed it necessary for our house to have at least a small patch of grass. I want my kids to be able to run around outside while I am inside being domestic and such. Here’s a list of things we were looking for on our house hunt:

  • At least 3 bedrooms
  • At least 2 bathrooms
  • A place for guests to stay (either a second living area, or a 4th bedroom)
  • A yard (not just a patio, which is all many of the houses have, but also a grassy area)
  • A space for Brad’s desk (which is quite huge – obviously not made with California homes in mind)
  • A spacious kitchen (a big pantry, an island, etc.)
  • Move-in ready (we are pressed for time as it is, so we don’t want to be stuck with repairs and updates)

We are thankful that our realtor gave us her undivided attention for two days. She started by familiarizing me with the different neighborhoods in Valencia, so we were able to narrow down our search radius and parameters after day one. So our day two requirements were that the home have more than 1700 sq. ft., either two living areas or a 4th bedroom, and some semblance of a yard.

Touring other people’s homes is always an adventure. It’s amazing how little some people do to “stage” their home (a real estate term we have become very familiar with after transforming our house into a model home…), what repairs/updates they don’t do, and what random things they leave sitting around. Some of the highlights (or maybe I should say “low”lights) of our hunt:

  • The orange carpet – Wow! Walked in the front door, and there it was. ORANGE. Not just in the living room, but in the whole house, except for the kitchen and bathroom. Even the stairs! We couldn’t see past the orange, or the circa 1980 brown checkered counter top in the kitchen. Next, please.
  • The mattress in the living room – Another front door surprise: a bed in the living room! When you are trying to sell your house, it’s not a good idea to confuse potential buyers from the moment they walk in the house.
  • The hole in the ceiling – In the same house as the bed in the living room, there was a gaping hole in the living room ceiling. Not sure how it got there, but someone should have thought to fix it before showing the house.
  • The bathroom without a sink – In its final shining moment, and the straw that broke the camel’s back, the mattress and ceiling hole house revealed its strangest feature: a half bath with a toilet, but no sink and no mirror. Just a toilet. Isn’t that more like a 1/3 bath?
  • The sofas on the patio – I was perplexed by one house that had three humongous living areas. What would I do with all that space? No one was living there, so the house had no furniture. But for some reason, someone left two or three sofas upside down on the patio, with piles of cushions and pillows scattered about. I was too distracted by words like “infestation,” “fleas,” “mold…” to objectively observe the home’s more pleasing features – if there were any.
  • The wilderness family – Remember the series of Disney movies about the city-dwelling family that moved to a wilderness cabin and battled bears, wolves, and the great outdoors? Some of the outlying neighborhoods reminded me of that movie. These houses are built amidst huge foothills. I looked at a few that literally had a mountainous hill directly behind the house. It looked like one of three things would happen: 1) a mudslide would wash the hill straight into the house; 2) a pack of coyotes would attack the house; 3) a wildfire would consume the whole neighborhood. No thanks to all three of those scenarios. Moving on.
  • Hoarders-lite –We looked at one 3 bedroom, 1500 sq. ft. home with a great back yard. Unfortunately, the yard was probably bigger than the indoor floorplan! And this family was obviously outgrowing its space, and either too busy or too indifferent to clean up a bit before showing their home: dishes piled in the sink, a dense trail of toys leading through the hallways to the kids’ rooms, where piles of clothes and toys made it difficult to know whether or not there was actually a floor. Their super packed house made it look even tinier than it actually was!
  • Redneck sunroom – Wait a minute – there aren’t supposed to be rednecks in southern California. Then why did someone tear the wall off the back of their house and attach a one room mobile home as a sun room? Yikes.

Despite the list of lowlights listed above, we did see some very nice, well cared for homes. Some had great views/yards, some had great floorplans, some featured updated kitchens or bathrooms… However, we had just about given up our search and started calling apartments to sign up for a month to month lease when we stumbled upon “the one.” It was a house that had been on our list, but for some reason we had overlooked it the first day. So, we went to see it Tuesday evening, and everything about it just felt right: the wide streets, the houses that actually had front yards, the cul de sac location, the amazing view of the valley and foothills, the perfectly landscaped yard, the floor plan that exactly met our list of “must haves” and “nice to haves.” And all of that within our price range! We have submitted an offer and are waiting for official acceptance and a general idea of the timetable. We’ve learned that things work a little differently in California, so we are having to be patient.

I don’t want to share too much about this house until it’s official, but let’s just say that it seems perfect for us. I already mentioned the cul de sac location and great view. It is also within walking distance of the community park/pool/brand new elementary school, has two living areas and a fourth bedroom (plenty of space for Brad’s desk, a play area, and guests!), has a beautiful back yard with a patio and grassy area, etc. And a tiny detail that made me very happy is the lemon tree in the back yard. A few weeks ago when we were talking about living in California, I told Brad that I had a vision of spending a lot of time outside, and of growing things in the back yard – notably lemons and avocados. So when I stepped into this house’s back yard and saw large lemons hanging from a nice-sized tree, I exclaimed “It’s my lemon tree!” Who knew that all it would take to sell me on a house was a fruit tree?

Stay tuned for more news as we continue our relocation adventure. I’ll leave you with the view from our potential new home:

It was a very hazy morning, so this picture doesn't really do justice to the view of foothills and valleys from our potential new home.

California, Here We Come!

To borrow a line from The OC, “California, here we come!” That’s right, folks. Our little family is about to pack up, leave Texas behind, and move out to the West coast. Brad interviewed a couple of months ago for a new position in his company, was offered the job last week, and accepted it this week. While living in Dallas, he has been a Field Clinical Engineer, working from home. Now he will be a Principal Research Scientist, working at his company’s Valencia, CA office. That’s in the Santa Clarita Valley, about 35 miles north of Los Angeles. He’ll be working in the clinical research department, in the science and strategy group, doing study design and serving as a technical resource for the spinal cord stimulation business.

No doubt the move will be quite an adjustment for this southern girl. I spent the first 22 years of my life in Louisiana, the next three in Alabama, and have been in Texas for the past 7 1/2 years. Brad has had more experience with moving, since he moved around Ohio and to Louisiana during his formative years, before joining me in Alabama and Texas.

But of all the places outside of the south to move, why not California? The weather is great, there are all sorts of interesting things to do, and many fun destinations are within driving distance (the beach, the mountains, Disneyland, etc.) And even though I consider myself a southerner, in some ways my life has already been preparing me to be a Californian. Anyone who reads my Eclaire Fare blog knows that I am a huge tv and movie fan, so what better place for me to be than right down the road from where most of the movie and tv-making action happens? I’ll have access to movie premieres, tv show filmings, and possibly some celeb spotting (although I don’t know how many movie stars hang out in the suburbs…). I was also a huge L.A. Dodgers fan back in the day (my whole family was), and while I haven’t really followed them since high school, I’ll happily reacquaint myself with the team and enjoy going to an occasional game. Those are just two examples of ways that I’ll already feel “at home” in California.

While we won’t miss the miserably hot Texas summers, we will definitely miss being close to family and friends. Our parents have been within driving distance, and two of my siblings live within a few minutes of us. It is hard to give up such a good extended family situation (our recent family gatherings have been extra special since we knew a change was probably coming), but everyone has assured us that they will come out to visit. And, of course, we’ll make some return trips to see everyone here as well.

We don’t have all of the details of when and where we will move yet. First we have to prepare our house to sell, and then hope someone wants to buy it! Meanwhile, we’ll begin looking at houses in or near Valencia and try to reduce the amount of stuff we have, since we probably won’t have as much space out there as we do here. Brad will begin his new position by the end of March, so we’ll try to get as much done before then as we can. And we will pack in as much time with our Dallas area friends and family as we can before we board the plane for the journey to our new home!

If you are interested in learning more about the area we will be moving to, check out this informative Guide to Santa Clarita. Santa Clarita has been named one of the top ten best places to live in the United States. Winters are mild (highs in the 50s and 60s, lows in the 30s), and while summer temps do often rise into the 90s, it’s without the oppressive humidity, and it always cools off at night. Valencia is a relatively new development, so there are tons of new shopping areas, parks, houses, etc. We are excited about getting out there and rediscovering the area not as visitors, but as residents.

We’ll keep you posted on news as it develops. You can follow all our relocation adventures right here, where I’m sure I’ll be sharing all the excitement. I’ll leave you with a picture of Brad and Benjamin from the last time we took a family trip to Los Angeles. It was in May 2009, when Benjamin was only 14 months old, and had just learned to walk. (I returned the next month for a fun girls’ weekend with my friend Lindsay, who is about to move from L.A. to Seattle). A lot has changed since then, but we look forward to making many more family memories at the beach and elsewhere in sunny California.

Christmas 2010

Our Christmas celebrations were spread out over a month, since we celebrated with Brad’s family at Thanksgiving, and my family Christmas weekend. This was the first year that we have talked up Santa, and Benjamin enjoyed that, although he didn’t really seem to care who the gifts came from (and I was still able to buy some of the gifts while he was at the store with me!).

Brad and I went shopping together at Target early in December, in search of some fun toys for Benjamin. We really had to resist the urge to buy everything we saw. All the toys looked like things Benjamin would enjoy. But in the end, reason won the battle against emotion. As nostalgic as a Radio Flyer wagon seemed at the time, I knew we didn’t have a good place to keep it at our house. Same goes for the bulky tool bench set. And a lot of the toys seemed destined to break after ten minutes, or to lose their novelty quickly (like the Hot Wheels Crash Course Track). Here is what Benjamin ended up getting for Christmas:

  • Goonies dvd (this is his favorite movie, after all, and now he can watch it on road trips or at home)
  • Caillou computer game – This game is designed for ages 2 to 6, and I think it will be a good introduction to computers. So far he has played a game that teaches how to use the mouse.
  • Bathtub paint set – I need to write a negative review of this product online, because it is less than impressive. However, at least Benjamin still seems to like it. The problem? This paint/soap doesn’t actually stick to the bath tiles, except for a very faint smear of color. It came with a cute little hand-shaped palette, and a sponge to use for clean-up. At least the poor paint performance makes for easy clean-up, and it still gives Benjamin a change to be an artiste.
  • Chutes and Ladders, Candyland – These two games say they are for ages 3 and up, so maybe Benjamin will actually be ready to play in a few months. Right now, he just wants to make his character climb up the highest ladder and slide down the longest slide, and he wants to dump out all the Candyland cards.
  • An Elvis CD – Yes, perhaps this is a strange gift for a toddler, but he really likes Elvis! He was introduced to him through the song “Hound Dog,” on the Forrest Gump soundtrack, which is one of the CDs we let him listen to on my old “boom box.” The boom box is now his, it is in his playroom, and he has learned how to put CDs in, push stop and play, and adjust the volume. It has been nice to hear some classic Elvis songs around the house!
  • A space rocket tent – Benjamin’s favorite bed time stories for the past few months have involved camping, so when we saw this tent we knew it would be the perfect gift! And it is also my favorite kind of toy – one that encourages creativity and imagination, rather than being a one trick pony. Benjamin loves it, and we have it set up under the loft in his room.

We didn’t shower as many gifts on Peter, since all he really wants is mama’s milk and a dry diaper:

  • Baby Einstein Takealong Tunes – It’s a classical music concert to take on the road, to the park, or anywhere! I enjoy listening to it as much as Peter does.
  • Baby’s First Words book – Benjamin had one of these and loved it, so we thought we’d give Peter his own copy.
  • FunKeys – Right now Benjamin enjoys these colorful keys more than Peter, but I’m sure he’ll grow into them. The key chain has buttons/sound effects for various things, including unlocking the car, starting the car, and honking the horn.
  • Nursery Rhymebook and CD – This was a joint gift for the boys. I loved nursery rhymes as a child, and I hope they will, too.

Benjamin and Peter also got a handful of gifts from family members, so they will have plenty of entertainment for the coming months. Plenty of gifts were also exchanged among all the grown-ups, but mostly we just had fun all being together.

Sentimentals

I mentioned on Facebook about a month ago that Benjamin started calling ornaments “sentimentals.” He coined this term after I told him to “be careful with the sentimental ones because they are special.” At the time we were decorating Nana’s Christmas tree, but we have plenty of “sentimentals” of our own! Our anniversary is December 22, so we collected our very first ornament as a married couple on Christmas Day, 2001, during our honeymoon in New Orleans. Since we had had a Christmas wedding, collecting ornaments seemed like a good way to reminisce about our travels and special times over the coming years. We have followed through with our decision, and have accumulated many special ornaments over the past nine years. In fact, the “sentimentals” box is now nearly overflowing, which got me thinking: what if we become so overwhelmed with ornaments that we forget their significance? In an effort to prevent that from happening, I have snapped some photos of several ornaments and would now like to give a brief description about what they represent:

That isn’t a comprehensive list of our ornaments, but I hit most of the high points. We add one or two ornaments most years, so I’ll continue to reminisce about them from time to time. What are your favorite Christmas ornaments, and why?

Peter’s First Road Trip

Last month, when Peter was about 1 1/2 months old, we took him on his first road trip. We left on a Thursday afternoon to make the four hour drive to my parents’ house. Peter has been an easy baby at home, and the same applied on the road and at my parents’ house. He basically slept most of the way there and back, and when he was awake he was quiet and happy – except for the couple of times that Benjamin was screaming to torment him. 😦  We stopped once on the way there and back so that we could eat and I could feed Peter. This worked out well.

Benjamin has always done great on road trips, and aside from the previously mentioned screaming, he was happy and cooperative on this one, too. (We did, however, break out our “Nick, Jr. Favorites” dvd, and he watched 4 or 5 episodes in a row after he started getting stir crazy on the last leg of the drive there.)

I learned an important lesson on the way there: never change a newborn’s diaper on a car seat without putting something under him. Oops! I ended up with Peter’s poop and pee all over my seat. Thankfully I’d had the foresight to bring paper towels, so I was able to clean up most of it with those and wipes.

We enjoyed our few days’ visit with my parents and some other family and friends. It was a full house, since my brother, his wife, and their two dogs (a jack russell terrier and a great dane!) were also visiting from Dallas, and my other brother and his wife and son were over a lot, too. We had fun hanging out at home, going to a Tech football game, going to church, watching a Saints’ game, eating Johnny’s Pizza, etc.

Benjamin was particularly excited about the football game, mainly because we promised him he’d see a marching band. He enjoyed listening to them, but at one point declared them “too loud.” He had seen a marching band on Caillou, as well as on football games we had watched on tv. Now he seems to be a little confused about the difference between the actual football team and the marching band. How do I know this? Well, he’s going to dress up as Dree Brees for Halloween, and when I tell him he’s going to be a football player, he asks, “I’m going to be in a marching band?” We’ll work on that distinction at some point…

The main highlight where Peter is concerned is that he was generally calm and laid back the whole weekend, even at the noisy football game. He even slept until 6 a.m. two of the mornings we were there (as opposed to waking up during the night to nurse), which was quite exciting for me.

Here are some pics from the trip:

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