Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Stressed?

I found this taped to the boys' door. No idea where they come up with this stuff. Do not try this at home.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Happy Campers

Where they went:
The Campsite:
The highest spot that could be driven to:
The things Daddy let the kids do when Mom isn't there:
Waterbaby Benjamin:
Waterbaby Nathan:
Out of the swimsuits but not out of the water:
My very favorite color, found in nature!
No, Daddy did not let the boys play in this particular pond:
Quick change artist on his 3rd outfit of the day:
Daddy's campfire cooking, teriyaki chicken, corn, and mashed potatoes:
My three favorite boys ever:

Friday, July 24, 2009

Boys in Tents

To me, camping is cold water at the Sheraton. ~ Judy Rose (my mother)

The intrepid explorers pack the trusty mule, er van, high and head out on the trail...
I never camped growing up. Seriously. I didn't make up that quote about the Sheraton, my Mom said it all the time when I was a kid! And I was the ultimate girly-girl. I didn't even own a pair of jeans until the fifth grade, and I barely wore them because they weren't as comfortable as the skirts and dresses I'd worn my whole life. Michael, however, used to do the kind of camping where you hike in twelve miles and carry a shovel to make your own toilet out in nature. Nothing at all like the Sheraton! And not something a girly-girl would be caught dead doing!
The first time I went camping was shortly after I married Michael. He took me to a very rustic tent-only spot high in the wilderness of the Sequoias for my inaugural trip. No showers, no flushing toilets or running water, recent bear sightings, and lots of graphic signage warning against leaving any bit of food in tents and not in the provided bear lockers. It was a miserable failure, with me trying to hide my tears as I tried my best to love what my new husband loved, but could not find it within me to fake it convincingly. I love nature and the outdoors. But I also love beds with sheets, toilets, and a warm, if not hot, shower. Later Michael realized that everything would have been different and I might be a camper chick if he'd started me out a little easier. Oh well.
Needless to say, when the ultrasound revealed Nathan was a boy, I breathed a huge sigh of relief that I was off the hook and that Michael would have a camping companion. They went on an overnight trip several years ago. And they've done a couple backyard camp outs. But now that Mike has his spiffy new tent and air mattress, he decided to plan a weekend trip with both his boys. And I planned a weekend trip right here in my hometown, which included hanging out with girlfriends, lots of girly movies (five!), sleeping in (until 10:00 a.m.!), a pedicure (which I got nearly for free!), and lots of peace, quiet, and solitude. Ahhh, heavenly! I can't say for sure who had it best, but I know that the entire family was pretty happy about this arrangement!
I will stand up for myself just a little bit and say that in the 12 years since that first camping experience, I have changed a lot! I live in jeans and rarely wear skirts or dresses! Having children means dealing with a lack of privacy, bodily fluids and various messes that people without children are blessed to not have to think about. Having boys means playing in the mud and handling insects and animals, living and dead. Living internationally changed me further and I can do fearless things like breastfeed on a crowded train, use a squat toilet like a pro, and eat anything as long as I don't ask what it is. If I was to experience my first camping trip today for the first time, I would likely not have the same adverse reaction. Well, maybe not as strongly anyway! I guess you could say I could tolerate it a little better. We'll get a chance to find out soon, as next month we're going camping up in Zion National Park in Utah with some new friends. Those of you who know me well can start praying for me now...

Photos of the boys' trip to come soon!

Sewing, Sixes, and Snakes


When I was growing up, I lived far from my grandparents. I only saw them at Christmas or Thanksgiving. One magical summer my parents sent my brother and I one at a time to stay with my Dad's parents down in Fallbrook, CA.
My Gran used to run a sewing club for the neighborhood girls. She'd drag out her sewing machines and start the girls on a new project, serve them lunch, tell them a story, and then send them home with their creations. I was years younger than the girls in her group, but she still let me participate. With dogged determination I mastered machine sewing in a week, coming home with a skirt I made myself, a baby doll quilt, and an apron. My Gran used to proudly say I could sew before I could write my name. My Mom used to say she was happy she didn't have to teach me, as grandmas have much more patience for that kind of thing.
My Mom is an excellent seamstress. As a young woman she sewed all her clothes. I desperately wanted to do the same thing, and in middle school I was getting lots of use on her machine. In high school, I was notorious for creating the most random dresses to wear the night before an event, like the fall or spring concerts. In college I loved my costume classes, especially getting to use the industrial sewing machines that had no bells or whistles but were as fast as the wind. I made one friend's wedding dress, countless bridesmaid's dresses, and lots of elegant evening gowns that I'd wear out to the theater with Michael, which I tailored to fit me just so. I lived in the Downtown L.A. fabric district, where fabric was cheap and the selection was endless.
And then we had one boy, and then the other, and sewing was less and less important, as fabric prices soared and boy toys took over every square inch of the house. I would clear a space and drag it out to create period costumes for my little theater group, or sets of angel and shepherd costumes to fill out the Christmas play at church, but that was about it. And then recently I started using it to make some applique tees for the boys and their friends.
The boys became very interested in this process, and I took them with me to the fabric store several times to teach them about different types of fabric. Nathan is not very particular, he either likes something or he doesn't. And even if he doesn't, ehh, he might wear it anyway. Whatever. Benjamin on the other hand, is very exacting. He has an idea of what he wants something to look like, and he will spend a lot of time trying to find exactly the right thing. One of his girl friends who has all brothers and therefore does not like any girl things, was having a birthday and Ben decided a shirt should be made for her. I said that it could not be "girly" at all. Together Benjamin and I spent a long time going over shirt color and fabric combinations, and the final result can be seen above. Bright and cheery and appropriate for a girl with the tiny bit of pink, yet not "girly" at all. Good job Ben!
Ben helped out with most of the shirt, and then decided that he wanted to make something all on his own. Like a stuffed animal. Like a snake. A blue snake. With big eyes. So together we went through all my fabric and I gave him free rein on my machine, only giving him verbal instructions. He took it so seriously!

The only help I gave was to cut the tongue out of felt and to thread the needle so he could sew the button eyes on by hand.

Have you ever seen a bigger, more proud smile? This snake now lives with him, going with him where ever he goes. I can't really blame him, it turned out really cute and he did such a great job! Nathan wants me to sew him a snake. I said no, if he wanted one, he'd have to sew his own. He just shrugged and said never mind. Benjamin, however, pesters me all the time to use the sewing machine. I think I've created a monster! No wait... maybe that should be Ben's next project... a monster! Better go check my fabric stash...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Happy Blogaversary!

Wow, the last twelve months have flown by! My goal was to update the blog every day, and I came quite close with 338 posts over the last 365 days. A year ago Michael was on a business trip in Macau and I was thinking of ways to make our old family website more of a blog to update everyone on our adventures when we moved overseas, yet again.


That day I'd taken the boys up to Rocket Ship Park, which overlooks the entire Los Angeles Basin and the shoreline from Palos Verdes to Malibu. Both boys were missing their Daddy, and I found Nathan sitting on the swings, looking at the amazing view. I couldn't resist snapping a photo before I took the swing next to him and asked what he was thinking about. He said there were so many places in the world that he hadn't seen yet, and he marveled over how big it was! I said that what he was looking at was only the Los Angeles Basin, that the world was actually quite a bit larger. Then he asked if we were going to see it all. I asked him if he'd like to see it. He said yes, and I said that we would do our best.
It was just this really sweet moment, and I felt so grateful that we have this lifestyle of crazy international moves. It just really made all the chaos seem worth it. Of course, we now know that the whole Macau thing fell apart and even more changes are in the pipeline, but at the time I was bursting with pride and joy that we were raising kids who loved the world as much as their bedrooms, willing to explore whatever was on the horizon.
Later that day I saw the Mark Twain quote about boys that is featured at the top of the blog. Between the photo and the quote, I felt inspired to create a whole new blog that featured the boys, and the "wonder" that they experience every day. Mainly it was for the Grandparents, Aunties, and my friends who are fond of the boys but do things like head to Northampton for the summer and can't be with them. Now a year later, Boy Wonder has had over 7,400 visits from people all over the world. If you click the map icon on the left column, you can see the little red dots representing visitors from places like Poland, Lebanon, and Luxembourg. We even picked up a handful of followers I've never met (like Argon One, whose own kids are grown and moved out but stops by Boy Wonder when he needs a touch of nostalgia). Needless to say, I'm shocked that the daily life of the two people at the center of my world would be so interesting to so many people! So I just have to say thank you. Thank you for coming back every day, or subscribing, or passing this along to your friends. It's been fun. And knowing that someone out there somewhere is actually reading this inspires me to keep recording these little moments of discovery, growth, success and failure. Nathan has taken a keen interest in it, and he's generally the one who chooses the colors and new photos under the headline. Before you know it, he'll be the one updating!
I'm glad I started the blog when I did as it will always be easy for me to remember that July 17th is also Disneyland's Birthday. Yes, I realize that for the general population this isn't a date that stands out, but when you've spent many, many years getting a paycheck signed by Mickey Mouse, it's memorable! So happy 54th Birthday to Disneyland, and happy 1st Birthday to Boy Wonder! Many happy returns to both!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Family BBQ


You know how on Christmas, Thanksgiving, and sometimes Easter you gather with family, stuff yourself to excess, and spend a couple of hours trying to catch up with everyone's activities during the last year? I've long felt that there should be a summer holiday which would gather the family together for grilled meat, fresh corn on the cob, and fruit-filled desserts. Not ones to stand on ceremony or stick with long held traditions, we made up our own!
We invited Michael's brother Mitch, wife Jamie, his sister Holly, Alessandro, her friend from Italy, and Michael's parents to a Sunday afternoon food-fest complete with rib-eye steaks, 24 hour slow baked beans, corn on the cob, broccoli-bacon salad, blueberry cobbler and chocolate-caramel brownies. There was little to no conversation while everyone stuffed themselves silly! If you've been reading this blog very long, you know that I tend to not be a fan of cooking. But the strange thing is that I love cooking for a crowd, for special occasions. The little details, the planning, the prepping, and the gathering of a group of people I love together over a plate of delicious food brings me so much joy. Especially this group of people... Mike's mom who cooked three meals a day for a family of seven for decades, Mike's sister who is constantly coming and going with work, school, and dancing, and catching a meal when she can, and Mike's brother and sister in law who recently purchased a store and are dining primarily on fast food as they work crazy hours to keep the shop running smoothly. This, my friends, is a group of people who deserve to sit down and be treated to a fabulous and delicious home-cooked meal!
Michael rigged up a canopy over the back yard and we ate outside with the ocean breezes gently blowing across the nice tablecloths and plates and specially dyed blue and green flowers to match the green napkins. Even the boys were well behaved and charming toward our guests. I could hope for nothing more!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Damage

My mom and her mom were natural redheads. I inherited their pale skin but not their copper locks. I was a towhead (white-blond) until high school when I accidentally permanently dyed my hair pink for crazy hair day (in the days before pink hair was actually cool). After that I changed my hair color with the season to whatever caught my fancy. I generally went red in the fall but for the last three years it's stayed various shades of rust. It suits my nearly transparent inherited skin.
My kids were both born with pale golden hair which turned to a dirty blond around age three, just like their Dad. During the summer, their hair lightens quite a bit. They seem to have inherited both Michael and my Dad's darker, tanning skin. They turn a buttery bronze color and look just like the So Cal beach bums they are. The one thing they've never had was a sun burn. And this is only because I happen to be the sunscreen police, applying it whenever we go out, year round despite hearty protests. I personally use it like other people use hand lotion, because I turn pink after just seven minutes in the sun.
Unfortunately, on the 4th of July when we walked over to our local park, none of us applied sunscreen. I got my face because my face lotion contains an SPF of 30, but that was it. We were in the sun for about two hours, and most of that time we stuck to the shade. However, it was enough sun for all of us to get a burn. I lamented the damage done to Nathan and Ben's still baby-soft skin and spent a miserable night myself, trying to get comfortable while my chest area was on fire. The next couple of days the boys' faces turned more tan than pink, but my chest just got worse. It started looking like melting molten lava and I had incessant, persistent pain like I've never experienced, despite using every over the counter and out of the garden/kitchen remedy known to man (or at least the Internet). Michael and I went out to see Monty Python's Spamalot and even the non-stop laughs weren't enough to distract me from the fact that this was an incredible amount of pain for just a six by four inch patch of skin! So the next day I took myself over to Urgent Care where the dark-skinned nurse and the dark-skinned doctor both gave me quite a lecture! Oh, and a shot, three oral prescriptions, and two topical prescriptions for what ended up being a very bad and infected burn. Time heals all wounds, but prescription pain medicine helps too!
It's now been two weeks and the skin is raw and pink and very itchy and probably scarred, but the pain is gone. Of course, my vigilance with the sunscreen has risen to heights never before seen! The boys get sprayed down as part of the morning routine, plans to go outside or not. I was warned that those pesky UV rays don't know how to stay outside (remember those Stop Smoking ads that asked how smoke stayed in the smoking section?) and can zap you in the comfort of your own home. True or not, I will not be taking any chances. Pain has a way of teaching us lessons in far more effective ways than simply reading about danger!

Friday, July 10, 2009

A duck to water

The boys have swim lessons every weekday during the month of July at the local public pool in our city. This is the same pool (called "the Plunge") where my parents swam when they were kids, and where Michael and his siblings swam in their youth. My Dad told me my mom used to go to the Plunge to meet boys. Evidently, she met the best boy of all (my Dad) and then gave up swimming. I don't have a single memory that features my Mother in a swimsuit!

In my childhood we lived in a neighborhood where our house was the only one without a pool. My little brother and I would suit up, grab a towel, and go door to door during summer to find someone willing to let us swim, unsupervised, while the occupants went off to work. We always found someone happy to let us use their pool. Things have changed quite a bit since then, huh?
This year, the boys are in two separate sides of the pool. I sit in the center on the viewing deck and whip my head back and forth to see Ben swim and then Nathan. I confess that most of the time I sit with book in hand and enjoy the relative quiet of forty minutes of peaceful reading while the parents around me video tape and photograph their child's every splash.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Extreme Makeover, Nat Edition

Before:
After:
Sigh. I had to do it. I didn't want to do it. But with the swim lessons and hanging out at the beach and the way Nathan wails when you try to come his hair... it had to be done. I can't tell if he looks significantly older or younger. He definitely looks more preppy. The skin that used to be covered by the longer locks was pasty white for a day or two, unaccustomed to the rays of the sun. The good thing about hair? It grows back.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Birthdays Galore!

July 7th is a popular day to be born! At least among the people I know! My father in law, my friend Selena, and my friend Roger were all born on that day, decades apart. Two out of the three of them celebrated their big day at Disneyland, and since we have those convenient Annual Passes, we joined them!

It was awesome for my kids to have other little kids to play with while waiting in line. Selena and her hubby Ron have three boys, but they left the youngest at home, bringing the six and four year old along for the fun. Ben and their oldest were thick as thieves all day, talking about who knows what, and he rode Big Thunder Mountain with my boys while I sat about three rows back and tried not to fret. Which was easy as I was riding with Ron, who was yelling like a maniac (and video taping us) the whole way. We are so blessed to know this family: Ron always answers his phone when I call, even though he knows it's generally because I need him to do something crazy like build me a set, perform in a sketch after one rehearsal, pick up a piece of furniture off the side of the road to be used as a set piece, or stay up all night light doing a a painting project. The world needs more men like Ron (and women like Selena), and I'm so glad they have three boys to raise as we know there will be at least three more amazing people out there making the world a better place. Happy Birthday Selena!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Beach Day!

This week is packed with old friends! In an unusual change from how things normally go, one of my very best friends moved away a few years ago. It was a bitter blow to me, and it sure made me experience a bit of empathy for the trail of people we've left behind. The good news is that they moved about an hour away from my parents, so we do our best to get together every time we're up there for a visit. But this week they were down here and wanted to go to (where else?) the beach! Of course my kids are always up for that!
Left to right: Nathan, Benjamin, and Joshua.
Nathan's new boogie board was really put to the test! On land, Nathan is somewhat awkward... but put him in water and he's... well, like a fish! He's still learning how to catch a wave rather than let the wave catch him though! He was pretty battered at the end of the day, lots of cuts, scrapes and a bruise or two (which again means a 10 out of 10 on the Excellent Boy Adventure Scale).
Nathan said he's willing to use his own money to feed the meter so we can go to the beach more often! Both the kids already have a Coppertone tanline going on like the old ads... too bad I just burn with my incredibly pale skin or I'd take him up on that!

Ben is still barely learning to swim and the ocean isn't exactly the best place for him to try out his new skills! But he made a good effort with the new boogie board and I'm sure by the end of summer he'll be using it as much as big brother!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Old Friends

Because of all the moves we've made, we have to use the wonder of modern technology and keep in touch with old friends via the Internet. It isn't often (or in some cases, ever) that we get to go back to the places we've lived to see people face to face. One family we've kept in touch with throughout the years is our friends Jamie and Dawnette. We met them on the 4th of July in 2002, when Nathan was just 18 months old. They'd just had a little baby girl and they had a son about a year older than Nathan.
Both of them are originally from Southern California, and they travelled down here for the week to visit family, holding a special open house where all their So Cal guests could meet the newest member of their family. The drive was about an hour and a half, but waaaay shorter than the eight hour drive to where they live! Of course, since we moved away their family has doubled, they have another little boy and now another little girl. But they appear as if they themselves haven't aged a minute!

It was great to catch up with them and let our kids play together almost exactly seven year after we first met. Of course, none of the kids remembered each other! But toss any group of kids into a pool and they become instant friends, all over again!

Seeing them has made me feel incredibly homesick for so many people that have been a part of our lives throughout the years. Oh how I wish for an unlimited travel fund that could take me on a world-wide tour of our old homes and old friends! One day...

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Fun on the 4th


We live next to the park where the city of Torrance launches their huge fireworks display. Throughout the day they offer food booths and lots of stuff to buy. We walked over and had some BBQ sandwiches and sno-cones, then enjoyed a free ride on the trains that are run by volunteers.
After a quick visit with Grandma and Grandpa (who were expecting a quiet day while Auntie Holly was off in the mountains- ha! Fooled them! There's never quiet when my boys are around!), we came home and I cooked up several enormous batches of my favorite Spanish rice recipe to feed 80 people.
Every year a family on our street hosts a huge Independence Day party with food and bouncers and all sorts of fun. This year it became more of a block party as all the neighbors came out to enjoy the great company while the kids played. We never live anywhere long enough to get to know the neighbors, so this was a wonderful treat for us!
We enjoyed delicious carne asada (no simple hot dogs for this block!) and a table laden with enough desserts to send anyone into a sugar coma. We all bundled up in our winter coats and blankets as a cold breeze came through and then we oohed and aahed over the amazing display of color in the sky.
I don't know about you, but this was just about our best 4th of July ever! Great food, friends, fun, and fireworks! Happy birthday, America!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

God Bless the USA

At 15, I spent the summer traveling around what was then Communist USSR as a student ambassador along with a group of forty students from across the USA. The experience was eye opening, and completely changed me and my attitude toward the United States of America, with all the freedom and privileges we enjoy. I returned home just days before the start of the Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles, CA where singer/song writer Lee Greenwood gave a free concert, which my parents had to drag me to. For his encore, Lee sang the song he is most famous for, God Bless the USA. After experiencing first hand the lack of freedom in the USSR, I found the words to the song struck a sensitive chord and I couldn't help but cry deep, heaving sobs of gratitude onto my Dad's shoulder that I was a citizen of such a great and powerful country. To this day, I can't hear the song without shedding a tear or two.

Michael and I were going through old video clips and came across one with five year old Nathan singing God Bless the USA, while two year old Benjamin dances along. We had just returned from living in Hong Kong, and visiting China where we walked in awe and silence across Tiananmen Square. Talk about a tear jerker for this mama, even with the comic relief provided by the bike helmets they're wearing...


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Beach bums

It's such a fabulous thing to live so close to the beach. It's two miles from our driveway to the sand. We take advantage of this and go as often as we can. Most of the time we go close to dusk with a blanket and jackets and pick up the Albertson's $5 chicken dinner and dine on the sand while we watch the sun set over the Pacific.
I've always lived near water, whether the Pacific Ocean, Lake San Antonio, the South China Sea, the San Francisco Bay, Elizabeth Lake, or Tokyo Bay. I equate the water with peacefulness, particularly the repetitive waves that crash on the shore. The ocean air draws out the excess energy that my children are overflowing with, leaving them calm and restful. Nathan screams at the waves, as loud as he can. Sometimes I think the roar of the ocean is the only thing consistently as loud as my son!

I took them to the beach this week and watched as they grew more bold by the minute, creeping in until the waves were crashing over their shoulders. Another little boy taught Nathan how to body surf, and now he's begging for a boogie board! Both Michael and I surfed in our youth (Mike in high school, me in middle school) so we'd totally be up for enrolling the kids in surf camp... in a year or two. Hey, it's an expensive sport! In the meantime, I found a couple of kid-sized boogie boards at the grocery store (of all places!) marked down to a ridiculously low price, and I snatched them up. An old friend of mine and her kids are coming for a visit next week and we plan to go to the beach and put the boogie boards to good use! Ah Summer, how I love you!
Nathan, February 2003, age 2
(First trip to the beach, during a special trip to Southern California)

Benjamin, March 2004, 8 months old
(First trip to the beach after we moved to Southern California in 2004)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Birthday Boy Benjamin

Our baby boy Benjamin turned six years old! He wanted a special birthday shirt, so I let him pick out the fabric and the color of the tee and I stayed up late making it, while Michael wrapped his gifts.

Thanks to Disneyland's yearlong promotion of allowing guests into the Disney theme park of their choice on their birthdays, we decided to celebrate with Mickey and the gang. But wait, you say, don't you have annual passes to the Happiest Place on Earth and therefore get in free anyway? Why yes, yes we do! And so, in a very generous move, Disney grants Annual Passholders a gift card in the amount of a one day ticket to be spent on merchandise in the Park. Benjamin shared his with Nathan and they were both able to build their own Star Wars Light Sabers. Daddy was drooling because he wanted to make one too! Tuesday is a working day for Mike, but he joined us after he finished up a few things.
It was the very first birthday (other than the day Ben was actually born!) that Michael was able to be a part of! For Ben's first five birthdays, Michael has been traveling out of the country or out of the state. Last November, after missing a string of Nathan's birthdays as well, I laid down the law and said no more! The kids are getting old enough that they will remember their birthdays and that their Daddy wasn't present (which to my boys is the biggest "present" of all!). Unfortunately, the cycle for the entertainment industry tends to be extremely heavy in late November and late June. Oh well, we do what we can! Happy Birthday Beautiful Boy Benjamin!

That tiny dot at the top of Splash Mountain would be the boat bearing Daddy, Nathan, and Benjamin down a 52 foot watery drop. Mommy decided that one water ride was enough for her! Daddy is game for anything though, lucky boys who love daring drops!