Monday, December 15, 2014

More December Happenings

Many of these things I have already mentioned on Instagram, so sorry if you follow me there and have already seen these but I thought I would pull them together here for the blog, which is my more official record anyway.
A couple weeks ago we took the girls out to breakfast at Panera Bread in their Christmas PJs (we gave them a "December Box" this year on the 1st with new coloring books, pajamas, candy cane gum, etc. to enjoy all month long).  We didn't realize while ordering that Clara was trying to convince us to buy her this "mitten" cookie.  I somehow thought she was talking about Paul's parents' new cat, Mittens.  Anyway, once I finally spotted the mitten-shaped sugar cookies that she had been eyeing, we had already paid.  But a sweet woman in line behind us offered to buy it for Clara.  I tried to decline and was even going to buy it for Clara myself, but the kind lady said that she didn't have anybody else to buy one for and to please let her, so we did.  Clara was thrilled.

Rose was just happy to have a straw to play with.

Paul took Clara shopping for a present for Rose from Clara.  He made a cardinal mistake when he let Clara walk past the display of "Frozen" merchandise.  I will literally go all the way around a store to avoid such displays.  He sent me this picture of Clara clutching an Elsa doll and it was definitely not a good sign.  Especially since the "Frozen"-mania had really tapered off around here (thank goodness) and an Elsa doll wasn't even on her radar as far as Christmas things go.  In fact, Clara doesn't even really play with dolls (other than Baby Zebra) and for quite some time all she had cared about for Christmas was dress-up clothes (I am constantly harangued about dressing up so I know for a fact that this is what she really, truly wants), which is what she is getting for Christmas.  So now this whole Else-doll business and resurgence of "Frozen" is most unwelcome.  I know its just a dumb doll and that I am being a total helicopter parent and that I can be accused of overthinking everything, but Clara is at such an influential stage and it is like her opinions and tastes and interests are taking form before my very eyes and I just don't feel like an overexposure to Disney princess merchandise is beneficial at this time for her.  I know she is only 3 1/2 but trust me, her opinions of beauty are already forming and I feel like Elsa is just not a great example on many levels.  And while I have no problem with Clara watching the movie (or other Disney princess movies), I just don't want her to fixate on them too much (something she has already shown a tendency for) and so I try really hard to expose her to other role models through books ("Rosie Revere, Engineer" about a girl engineer is a favorite) or other shows ("Peg + Cat" about a math-loving little girl is big for us) or dynamic play where she can imagine her own characters and I feel like a lot of my parenting efforts are thwarted and undermined by this kind of merchandise. 

Anyway, enough of my soap box.  After prying Clara away from the "Frozen" section, Paul kept texting me some of Clara's other finds that she would say Rose would love, including a giant crayon bank (purple, naturally) and a car that Clara could drive her around in.

I helped Clara write a letter to Santa.  Dress-up clothes have gone out the window after the Elsa debacle but she's getting them anyway.  She signed her own name and traced the letters for "Santa".

We have been enjoying quite a bit of rain lately and the girls have liked having the Christmas tree lights on in the mornings while I make breakfast ready.  They play pretty well in there together while I get the food together.

We made sugar cookies one day when the rain was particularly heavy and we didn't want to leave the house.  Clara offered Rose a much too large piece of cookie dough and before I could get it away from her Rose had devoured it.  She definitely understands when she is not supposed to have something and does whatever she can to keep it, including wolfing down ridiculous amounts of cookie dough scraps given to her by a helpful older sister.  And you should have seen the mad dash Rose made when I dropped a couple of M&Ms on the floor later on when we were doing the decorating.  The look of triumph in her eyes when she popped that stray green M&M into her round little mouth had me cracking up and she hollered her discontent when I got to the other loose candies and swept them up before she could get at them.

Clara's frosting skills are certainly improving and she was very proud to tell me how her cookies looked so beautiful with all the sprinkles she was putting on them.  And as gross as I know they are in theory, I have to admit that I have an embarrassing love for those little sugar crystals on sugar cookies.  The crunchy texture on the soft cookie is just perfection to me.

One day instead of dressing up like mermaids (a favorite theme of Clara's) she wanted to dress up as Mary (we've been reading lots of books about the nativity).  I pulled out my scarves and she had a ball and wore them all day long.

But then at the ward Christmas party she was a little bugged that she didn't get to be Mary and was instead assigned to be a shepherdess.  She warmed up to it eventually though when she realized how long and flowy her shepherdess headpiece was.  At the end all the kids bowed and Clara was beaming. 

So far it is has been a very eventful and fun Christmas season.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Niles Canyon Train of Lights

Photo credit: not mine - I stole it from the Niles Canyon Railway Facebook page.  The experience is every bit as magical as this picture makes it look.
Back in October or early November I randomly picked up a "Bay Area Parent" magazine that was lying around at Clara's gymnastics gym and noticed an article about Christmas trains in the Bay Area.  The reviews for the Niles Canyon Train of Lights sounded really good so when I got home I checked availability and was able to snag tickets on a 4:30 p.m. departure from the Fremont station even though most of them were already sold out.  Unfortunately, Paul wasn't able to get off work early enough to join us (we plan to book earlier next year so we can do a Saturday instead of a Friday so we don't run into the same problem), but the girls and I had a wonderful time.  It was seriously the most amazing, fun, immersive holiday experience I have had in ages.  Each car has been renovated and is from a different era.  They are all decked out in garlands and lights on the inside and there are lights and décor on the outside of the train as well.  One car was probably from the 50's or 60's, the car we were in was probably from the early 1900's, some are outdoor cars with benches to sit on (you have to arrive early if you go with general seating like we did in order to make sure you get a seat on an indoor car, which is important since it can get really chilly).   

Once we snagged our seats, we just left jackets and our backpack (with a picnic dinner) to reserve our spots and explored the train.  Even when the train is moving the passengers are allowed to walk between the cars.  There is a dining car where you can purchase hot chocolate or cookies or other snacks and there are tables and chairs set up to eat at.  And I guess there are two special cars that you can pay extra to ride in where they have glass ceilings for better views and dinner is served, etc.  Lots of people came in large family groups and you can tell that it is a tradition for many people to go together each year.  Somebody in our car brought a mandolin and played carols the whole time, which was wonderful. 

Walking through these narrow hallways and squeezing pass other passengers on the vintage cars made me feel like I had been transported back in time.  I kept having visions of the train scenes from the movie "White Christmas" (my seasonal favorite) where they sing the song "Snow" and it made me a little giddy.  The girls seemed to enjoy the atmosphere as well, especially on the first part of the ride when it was still light enough to have a nice view of the beautiful canyon we were going through and the bridges and creeks we crossed over.  On the way back it was dark and they couldn't see, so they started getting a little more antsy, but overall they did great.

Santa Claus even paid a visit to each car, which was magical.  He had plenty of time to visit with passengers and the girls were excited to see him again (we took pictures with him earlier in the week, so they had already "met" him once already).  Sorry for the blurry pics but the train was moving and it was getting dark and I only brought my iPhone. 

The conductors were all dressed up, too, and they were the sweetest old men who I think volunteer at the railroad (the Christmas train is their biggest fundraiser each year).  They were very formal about helping people on and off the train and punching tickets and all.  I asked to take a picture with one of them and he kindly obliged.  Isn't he the cutest?  Rose wanted his hat. 

I seriously cannot say enough good about the Train of Lights and am already looking forward to going again next year with Paul and the girls (and any other friends who want to join us!).

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Little Things

There are so many tiny things that happen each day that make my heart glow as a mom, despite the sometimes stressful nature of the job.  And I always mean to take the time to remember them but I know I won't - certainly not all or even most of them.  So I'm taking just a few minutes today to jot down a few of the more recent ones that I can call to memory.

  • Rose has just recently learned the meaning of the word "kiss".  I think its from watching Adelaide giving kisses like crazy while she was out here visiting but yesterday was the first day that Rose has intentionally crawled up onto my lap while I was down on the floor playing with her, brought her face close to mine, grinned a half-grin, and then smooched me.  She pulled away, smiled sweetly when I said "thank you for that kiss, rose!" and then gave me two more before giggling and squirming away. 
  • Clara likes to drink the little bit of water left in the bottom of a bowl I used to rinse and serve raspberries in because she calls it raspberry juice.  Today I went to put Rose down for her nap while Clara was still at the table finishing dessert (the raspberries) and when I came out of Rose's room I spotted Clara carefully walking down the hallway with the empty bowl.  She offered it to me by saying "here mom, you may have a sip of my raspberry juice, just don't drink it all, okay?"  The sweet way she said it, the earnestness of her expression, her willingness to part with a sip of her meager "juice", the way she carefully carried the bowl around the house to seek me out - I don't know, it just caught me off guard I guess and made me feel emotional at how I can love someone so little so much.
  • A few weeks back I was loading up the car for some errands or something - diaper bag, buckling Rose in, purse, water, snacks, etc. when I heard Clara running through the house whimpering.  I stepped inside to find her looking panicky because she couldn't find her shoes and she was worried that I was going to leave without her.  It hit me forcefully that my impatience (which wasn't even high that day) was causing her stress and anxiety that no three year old child needs.  I got down on her level and promised her that I would never, ever leave her behind, then I helped her find her shoes.  Almost every day since then when we are getting ready to head out the door and she is sitting putting her shoes on she has wanted me to confirm my promise that I would never leave her behind and it is like I can see the feeling of safety and protection and confidence that fills her when I say those words.  I know I won't always have that power but I am grateful for it now.
  • Rose loves to be nuzzled.  Anywhere, really, but especially under her chin with my nose.  Although she laughs when tickled with fingers, there is nothing that gets her giggling quite like being nuzzled. 
  • The girls both adore playing with our handbells.  Rose crawls around with one in her hand until she finds a spot she likes, then she sits up and rings it like crazy.  Clara has commandeered both purple bells and I have to put them up whenever Rose is sleeping.
  • Clara offered the dinner prayer on Sunday when Paul's parents and my parents were both her.  It went on and on and on and was so gosh darn hilarious that all of us were barely containing our mirth by the time she was halfway through and she got angry at Paul for his silent laughs behind his hands and told him to "be serious, daddy" which made all of us just silently laugh even harder.  Tears were leaking from eyes, it was so funny.  At one point she started reciting part of the pledge of allegiance before going back to naming every single item in the room that she was thankful for. 
  • Clara confidently told me yesterday that she has a "fairy heavenly godfather". 
  • Rose's favorite food is german pancakes.  I swear she can practically eat more of them than I can. 
  • We had our first really impactful teaching experience about prayer with Clara a few weeks ago when she couldn't find her baby zebra.  This has happened before but I just have never thought to tell her we should pray about it.  We looked all over the house and in the car and everywhere we could think and Clara was sad about having to go to bed without her zebra.  Then I (finally) had the idea that we would ask Heavenly Father to help us find her.  Clara offered a sweet prayer and as soon as we were done praying, I knew - like, KNEW - exactly where her zebra was: under Rose's crib.  Rose was already asleep so I just didn't mention anything because really, the answer to prayer does not have to be immediate and I could tell that Clara was comforted by the act of offering the prayer.  So we waited but the next morning I explained to her how after she had given her prayer the night before I had felt the Holy Ghost tell me where to look for baby zebra.  And it was like I saw gears click into place in Clara's mind as she made the connections about Heavenly Father and prayers and answers and I realized that this is how the foundation of a testimony is built. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Nutcracker 2014

So way back in September when I enrolled Clara in ballet, I started getting to know the owner of the ballet studio, Rachel, who is a member of our ward here in Dublin.  Her studio actually has three locations and for the past five years her dancers have put on a full performance of "The Nutcracker" for free to the public at the Oakland LDS temple.  I had heard about it last year and wasn't able to get tickets because they were gone within about 5 minutes of being made available online.  But we try to go see a performance every year (see here - Clara was so little last year! - and here - when we did a triple date to see it in our pre-kid years).  So when Rachel asked me if there was any chance Paul and I would be willing to participate in the show this year, I sort of jumped at the chance to be involved.  Paul joked that I "voluntold" him for this part (a phrase coined by a friend from a previous ward).

As adults, we only participated in the party scene (Act I, Scene I) which is where a number of families attend a party at the Stahlbaum's (Clara's family) house.  We were assigned 3 girls and 2 boys to be our children and it was a lot of play acting.  There were a couple of Saturday rehearsals and a Wednesday evening dress rehearsal that we had to attend but since our parts were tiny and just supportive to the real dancers, it wasn't too intense.  We did have two little dance sequences though where the "parents" dance together in stately, 18th century dances though and I must say it was sort of a dream come true to perform on stage again after such a long time (since 11th grade for me).  I had forgotten how much I love performing.  There is just something magical about the lights and waiting in the wings for the curtains to rise and paying attention to cues and chatting with the other performers backstage that is so much fun.  Add to that the elements of Christmastime and date night with Paul (since the girls obviously had to stay with a sitter a couple of times) and it was even better than I thought it might be. 

The production itself was amazing.  For a non-professional group, I was blown away by the costumes and sets and talent of the dancers.  I cannot believe that this quality of a performance is put on for free every year (Rachel isn't sure how long she will keep doing it because it is soooo much time and work to do it).  There is even a live orchestra, which really adds a lot to a performance.  There were some places where the orchestra struggled but they all volunteer and there is a ton of music to learn and rehearse together so its not like you can expect perfection from them.  And everybody said that they have been getting better each year.

Here is a picture of the adult couples from our scene, minus Ms. Bambi who played the part of Clara's mother and teaches at one of the studios.  We really enjoyed getting to know each of them and were surprised to learn that of the five couples, three of us had adopted our children and we are all in the same ward.  The couple on the far left in green (the wife is also one of Clara's nursery leaders), the woman in light blue, and Paul and I each have two children who were adopted.  And the grandparent couple (literally, that is their role - there is a part called the "grandfather's dance") used to host birthmothers who didn't have a place to stay during their pregnancy and so they also have a close connection with adoption.  So many interesting stories and such fun making new friends. 

I snapped a quick photo from backstage one night to try to show the size of the auditorium and couldn't capture how large it really is.  There is a balcony and pit area and everything.

I adored all of the costumes.  There are so many different roles and many of them are played by the same dancers in different scenes so there were lots of costume changes.  I don't know how everybody kept it all straight!

For the record, Paul DID wear blush and lipstick on the second night after being shamed into it by the other men and me.  What a good sport he is.  Also, he is the most fun person to be on stage with ever.  He hammed up everything and I was constantly amused by his expressions and eyebrow waggles.  He was tasked with carrying one of the "dolls" (dancers that behave like wind-up dolls brought to the party by Godfather Drosselmeyer) off the stage at the end of her dance by flipping her upside down and carrying her off that way while she holds a stiff, doll-like pose and it got one of the biggest laughs of the night (because of the choreography, but still...).  Clara came to watch the performance on Friday night and said that her favorite part was when daddy carried the clown off the stage. 

Clara was fascinated by my "beautiful gown".  I went out at intermission to see her and she kept caressing the black ribbons and pulling out the red skirt to see how long it was.  I twirled for her and could see in her eyes that at that moment I was absolutely, for sure a princess and the most beautiful one in the world.  I was stopped a couple of times by other 3 year old girls who were too shy to speak to me but whose moms explained that they were "dying" to meet a "real ballerina" and that because I was in costume I counted.  It gave me a glimpse of what the people who dress as characters at Disneyland might feel like. 

I even wore false eyelashes for the first time for the Saturday performance.  I forgot them Friday night but remembered that I had a set that Tabby gave me for my birthday and pulled them out on Saturday.  Those things are insanely uncomfortable (at least at first) but I have to admit, they looked pretty cool on.  I mean, for a girl who has hardly any natural lashes to speak of, these things made a massive, insane difference in my appearance (at least to me they did).  I just wish they weren't so dadgum awkward to wear.  I need more occasions to try them out again so I can get more used to them.

After our part was over we just hung out backstage watching the dancers perform from the side, which was a very cool perspective.  I have mad respect for these ballerinas and how much hard work they put into putting on each show.  It was also so fun to watch the littlest performers (the angels and sheep) as they were squired around by their instructors.  They were so darling and I hope that Clara gets to participate one day!

And when we got bored we took ridiculous selfies.  It was definitely a time commitment to do the show but we had so much fun that we definitely would consider doing it again in future years if given the chance. 


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Taking Rose to the Temple

On Saturday, November 29th, we were able to take Rose to the temple to be sealed to us as part of our eternal family.  It was such a special, sacred day for us, just like when we took Clara to the temple to be sealed to us almost 3 years ago.  We had wonderful friends and family join us at the Oakland temple for the ceremony, which went well.  Rose was a little upset when she and Clara were first brought into the room for the sealing because apparently a temple worker had offered to carry her up and had taken her from Paul's mom who had been in the nursery with the girls.  Rose was none too happy about that but calmed down a bit once they got in the room and I was able to hold and comfort her.  My favorite part of the ceremony was when the sealer mentioned Rose being sealed to her father and Rose turned and stared at Paul for a few seconds, as if on cue, and then the sealer spoke about Rose being sealed to her mother and Rose turned her head to look right at me.  It was so sweet and like she knew exactly what was happening and what it meant. 

Afterwards we took a few pictures in front of the temple in our white temple clothes.  Clara was so excited about her white dress that Grandma Cece had brought for her from Utah.  Every Family Home Evening for a month now we have been talking about what it would be like to go to the temple as a family or why temples were so important, so hopefully Clara was prepared for the experience and maybe she will even have a memory of it as she grows up.  Rose was going to wear the dress that Clara wore when she was sealed to us but when it came down to it, that dress was just so tight on Rose that my mom found a new dress for her in a larger size that fit her so much better.  Both girls looked so beautiful.

We were so grateful to have so much support, especially over Thanksgiving weekend, with friends and family coming to join us.  We only wish we could have had the rest of our family members there too. 

Our good friend Lisa took photos for us afterwards.  She was my visiting teaching companion for years in San Jose and is a budding photographer in the South Bay.  She did such a great job and we really appreciate her talent and generosity in getting these images for us to help us remember our special day as a family. 

We are so very and eternally grateful to have our little Rosie as part of our forever family.