Thursday, December 30, 2010

Handmade Christmas Ornaments

For the last several years, I've made a series of handmade ornaments to give as gifts. Did I make any for us to keep? Sadly, no. Maybe this next Christmas I will. Every year the recipients change, although at this point, everyone in my husband's family has received one. The only person with a complete collection would be our old next door neighbors. They are just so much fun to give handmade gifts to!

In 2008, I made these quilted style ball ornaments:
I was inspired by one my Grandmother Rose had made when I was a little girl. This is the one we gave our next door neighbor. We had several newlywed and newly engaged friends, so I made pairs of these with coordinating fabric for their Christmas gifts. I also gave them to my mother and father-in-law and my husband's brother and his wife, and Auntie Holly. All the "local" members of the Chase family.

In 2009, everywhere I looked I saw gingerbread man decorations. So, I made these:

 The pair on the top went to our next door neighbors, and the family on the bottom went to my husband's middle sister and her family. I also made a couple others that went to another set of newlyweds. Ben also got into the action that year and helped me with some of the hand stitching, as well as making a few that were 100% his own. He carried them with him where ever he went and even slept with them under his pillow until they were ratty and falling apart and now he wants to make some new ones.

2010 was a very cold year! Our summer never really kicked in until we had a couple hot weeks in September. And all Nathan has been talking about is snow, snow, snow. So this year, I did snowmen:



The top one went to my parents, the middle ones went to my husband's youngest sister's girls (fanatics for pink and purple), and the bottom one went to our old next door neighbors. And those four sum up the only ornaments I made this year, despite having a bunch of newlywed friends and family members. Everyone else got shut out. Wanna know why? Because of this:


At first glance, it just looks like the amazingly talented Michelle A. Moreno, Jeff Braine, Katie Moloney, and Robert Skyler Payne, standing around onstage. Yes, this is the show I spent three months working on. But look a little closer:
See those lovely costumes? They were made by yours truly. Skyler's sweater was easy-breezy. One hour of appliqueing on some diamonds and stitching some gold outlines to get an off-center argyle look. Michelle's dress on the other hand... you are looking at 40 hours of hand cutting and stitching to bring you the glory of a dress decorated with each of the 12 days of Christmas.

Their characters are from North and South Dakota, and they are filled to overflowing with Christmas Spirit. When brainstorming what kind of "Ugly Christmas Sweater" Michelle's character might wear, the 12 Days of Christmas kept rising above the other ideas. So I got to work on the top half. I designed each of the Days myself, and cut them out of felt. Each one has some hand stitching accents to give them some pop. I got to the Five Golden Rings, and realized that this was an insane project. Insanely LARGE and time consuming. My time was already stretched between Japanese classes in the morning and rehearsals at night. So I gave up some sleep to hand cut and hand stitch some more. I brought the whole thing with me to my Parents' house over Thanksgiving, and worked on it there, too. I even sucked my Mom into it, who hand stitched each individual item to the sweater itself. The detail is crazy. I put blush on the Eight Maids a Milking, and hand-tied silver and gold bows to the ballet slippers that represent the Nine Ladies Dancing. Each Piper Piping has a red feather sewn onto his hand-cut hat.



Yes my friends, you are looking at forty hours of work. By the time I was finished, I pretty much hated it. I thought it was ugly, and not in the "good ugly" way we were looking for. I thought everyone would hate it and say "go whip up something else." But I brought it to dress rehearsal and everyone's jaws dropped. At each of the six performances, the costume (which had a funny reveal) got applause. You'll never see me on stage, but each night I soaked up that applause like a particularly porous sponge. So that would be the reason I didn't make my usual dozen or so ornaments to give away. It was because I made 78 individual "ornaments" that went onto that costume! And it brought joy to about 1,800 people who saw the show, so I feel okay about not making more for my friends and family. 

Of course, once the show was over, I still felt the need to make something to give to my loved ones. I was completely done with felt and tiny needles, So I broke out the really thick yarn and my biggest crochet hook and made 25 very chunky and warm scarves to give to the ladies in my life:

Of course, once Michael, Nathan, and Benjamin saw the many, many scarves I was making, they all wanted one, too. So I made one for each them in the slow, relaxing days following Christmas, letting them choose their own yarn:
Left to Right: Michael, Nathan, Benjamin, and (because I've never met an ugly shade of green I didn't love) Mine.

I've made a bunch more to send out to certain people I know with January birthdays and people who live in places where the high today is 9F. That's just wrong. They need more than a scarf, but a scarf is what I've got, so that's what they're getting. Brrrrrr...

I think for next year, I'll abandon the felt ornaments and do something with wood. I'm already sketching up ideas now! And maybe one of these years I'll make some for us to keep!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Saturday, December 25, 2010

25, again

This year I celebrated turning 25 for the 11th time! Hooray for birthdays!

My husband started a tradition of having a birthday breakfast on my actual birthday, Christmas Eve. No one can ever come to a regular birthday party or a dinner on my birthday, but we always manage to find a few people who can join us for a yummy breakfast complete with cake. It's always different people every year, since Christmas Eve isn't a work holiday for most people. We've been doing this since I turned 25 the first time! Actually, that was the very first birthday party that I've ever had in my life, thrown as a surprise by my husband. Christmas Eve is not a very good birthday to have if you're the type of person who likes to celebrate it with a lot of people!

This year we went to King's Hawaiian Bakery and Restaurant, which serves the very best breakfasts on Earth. Go ahead, you can ask the twenty-something people who showed up and ate breakfast there with me:

And then there was cake. Yes, I know cake for breakfast seems a little silly, but remember, I'm a girl celebrating my 11th 25th Birthday! There's a bit of silliness about me. Breakfast Birthday Cake:

Yummy! After my birthday breakfast, we made the four hour drive up to my Mom and Dad's house. My Dad makes me delicious birthday tacos every year. They are my favorite. And of course, there was another cake. Two cakes in one day? Yes. Yes indeed. Because I like cake. A lot.



And you know what was really cool? My little brother showed up at my parents' house to celebrate with me.

Best. Birthday. Gift. Ever.
He will kill me if he sees this photo. Hoping he doesn't read this blog!

It was a great day. I feel so blessed to have so many people who love me! After a day filled with the warm glow of so much love and attention, it made me really think about the many fabulous people in my life. And it made me wish that all of them could have the same feeling of being loved that I felt on my birthday. With that, I decided that one of my New Year's Resolutions for 2011 is to make sure the people in my life know that I love them. Because I don't think there's anyone who hears "I love you" enough. I get to hear it a lot, but I never tire of it, and I crave hearing it even more! So get ready friends and relatives, because I'm going to be spreading the love in 2011!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thankful

I'm thankful for my three babies...
My baby brother Marty, my baby Nathan, and my baby Ben. None of which resemble babies in the least! We went to my Mom and Dad's house for Thanksgiving, and my brother showed up for a little bit. My boys adore Uncle Marty! I'm pretty sure the feeling is mutual, based solely on how my bro lights up when he sees them!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Double Digits

We've got a ten year old in the house. It's a bizarre feeling, having been a parent for a decade. I mean, I can't possibly be old enough to have given birth ten years ago, right? That's just crazy. But enough about me.

This has been an incredibly difficult year for my oldest son, Nathan. Our whole family is struggling as we figure out new territory that none of us are really ready for. Although, truth be told, Nathan has been incredibly difficult since the moment he was conceived. My pregnancy was filled with nine months of daily (if not hourly) vomiting, necessitating many hospital visits to get hooked up to an IV to rehydrate. My labor was 40 hours of excruciating pain (he was sunny-side up, causing misery that not even an epidural could touch), followed by a C-section. Certainly not anyone's dream first pregnancy and delivery. But there he was, almost ten pounds of beautiful, bouncing, blond-haired, blue-eyed baby boy, and I was instantly smitten. He was, and is, a child of extremes. Everything is bigger and louder when he's around. His lows are so low that everyone wants to cry right along with him. And his highs are so high that he can completely change the mood of a room filled with people just by entering it. Many times I've wondered if I was going to make it another year (or week, or sometimes hour) being Nathan's Mom. How am I going to make it, I've asked myself more times than I can count. And yet, here we are with ten years of experience in parenting Nathan. Nate the Great. The Nathan-ator. Natorade. The boys with a million names. Who I'm still very much smitten with. We're all better for having him around, despite recent struggles. And we've all grown so much. And speaking of growth, take a look at this:


I handed this plate to Nat to take the photo, and he sat there transfixed. I didn't even have to tell him to put his hand next to the imprint of his two week old hand, he did it himself, with awe. Nathan's hands are almost as big as mine. His feet are the same size. He wants to wear my Doc Martens. I'm not willing to share $100+ footwear with the boy who likes to scuff his shoes for fun. And he's half an inch shy of 5' tall. Wow.

For his birthday, we got him a Flip video camera. He saved up half the money, used his birthday money from the Grandparents and Auntie Holly, and then we paid for the rest. He's made hours and hours of video clips. It's so interesting to play them back and see from his point of view the things that are interesting to him. He likes to set up his tripod and film himself playing video games, narrating what he's doing for the audience, giving tips and tricks on how to navigate the different levels of Super Mario Galaxy 2 for the Wii. Or chasing his brother through the house, screaming like a monkey:


Ah yes, cinema gold! Good thing the Flip camera is a sturdy thing with no moving parts!

Also, for his birthday, we got tickets for Michael and Nathan to go see a Kings game at the Staples Center. We are not an athletic family. We don't play sports, or even watch sports. But Nathan has somehow become a fan of ice hockey. So tickets for Nat and his Dad to go see a game together ended up being a great gift, even if the Kings lost.

During the month of November we happened to be in Anaheim near the place that we lived while I was pregnant and where we brought him home from the hospital after he was born. We drove around until we found it, and then took a photo of him.


It was a little two bedroom + loft townhouse, and not much to look at, but it is the place where we went from being husband and wife to being a family. Nathan only lived there for ten weeks, and then we all jumped on a plane and moved to Japan. But he said he was pretty sure he remembered living here. Funny kid.

Happy Birthday, Nathan! You are the light of my life and the spice in my spice cake. Life would be dull without you. Quite dull indeed.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Debt Free Christmas Shopping!

I had to share this very old (but more relevant than ever) Saturday Night Live clip.



We're still working our way out of debt around here in the Chase household, and we're happy to report that in the last two years, we haven't bought a single thing we haven't saved up for first! And if you are keeping track, as of last month we've paid off 45% of our substantial debt since February of last year. We've had lots of setbacks recently... expensive car repairs, a move, a new computer to replace one that went belly up, a few weeks of unemployment between gigs... but thanks to putting a chunk of income into savings, these things were just potholes in the road rather than brick wall events we couldn't recover from. We weren't even tempted to start using the credit cards again. Of course, that meant that the rate we were going to get out of debt slowed dramatically, but at least we didn't put ourselves further in debt. I'd call that success! We'll see how we weather Christmas. I'm seeing lots of handmade gifts in the immediate forecast...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Car Waffles

My husband is a breakfast evangelist. Which means that when he's not telling people about the benefits of eating breakfast, he's either eating it himself or making it for others. If he doesn't have breakfast, he becomes faint and headache-y. Me on the other hand, I can take it or leave it. But I only take it when someone else is making it. I'm not a morning person, and if I had a choice of taking 15 minutes to make and eat breakfast or spending those 15 minutes in my luxurious bed, snoozing... well, bring on the Zzzz's. In addition to that, my stomach is rarely ready to have anything to digest before 10:00 a.m. Of all my body parts, brain included, my stomach definitely takes the longest to wake up.

When we had kids, my lifestyle choice of not consuming breakfast was put in jeopardy. Because children have to eat. At regular intervals. You've got to feed them, even if you just fed them an hour ago. They insist on it. If you don't feed them, they complain, both with their words and their terrible attitudes that come from being hungry and cranky. So I had to set aside my breakfast reluctance and at least pull something out for the kids.

From an early age, they could tell the difference between a Daddy breakfast and a Mommy breakfast. Daddy makes fluffy pancakes, perfect French toast, scrambled eggs with pepper jack cheese and lemon pepper, and crisp bacon. Mommy points to the pantry and says, "the cereal is in there, don't spill the milk."

Because my husband is not only a breakfast person, but also very much a morning person, he always leaves plenty of time to get up, get dressed, gently wake the children and supervise their morning routine, make breakfast, and cheerfully get them out the door to school. However, when he's not around and the task falls to me, it's a much more hectic and crazy experience. I stumble out of bed, lurching down the hall like Frankenstein, one (or both) eyes still closed, growling at the children like a zombie cheerleader as I go, "Let's go let's go let's go let's go."

On those crazy mornings, there never seems to be time for breakfast. As I forcefully shove the kids out the door, they cry but we haven't had breakfast! We'll starve! Tired of hearing this refrain, I invented Car Waffles. While they get themselves buckled in the car, I pop a couple of Eggo Waffles in the toaster. When toasted, I wrap them in a paper towel, rush out the door, and present them to the boys, to eat in the car on the way to school. At first, it was exciting and fun... oooh Car Waffles! How exotic! But then Daddy ruined this fun by actually making them waffles at home one morning. His were dripping with melted butter and bathed in golden syrup. Much more appealing than a waffle wrapped in a paper towel. So the next time I went to make Car Waffles, there were groans and grumbles of protest... we want syrup! And a plate!

Grrrrr, if you want breakfast, this is what you get said the anti-morning Mommy cheerleader zombie.

So what did I do to close the ever widening gap between how awesome Daddy is in the morning and how, um... not awesome Mommy is? Well, I taught them to use the toaster themselves. Now when Daddy isn't here in the morning to give them the positive morning experience that every child deserves, they bound out of bed and race to the kitchen to be the first one to pop their Eggo's into the toaster. I still lunge stiffly down the hall, gruffly instructing them to brush teeth and grab sweaters, but at least breakfast isn't the sore point it used to be. And instead of feeling bad that I'm not the warm and fuzzy Mommy who makes sure the kids have a well rounded breakfast to start their day, I'm feeling good that I'm teaching them self reliance and how to meet some of their own needs. Yeah, yeah, self reliance, that sounds good.

Oh look, it's almost 10:00 a.m. Time for me to eat something and clean up the syrup the boys spilled all over the table when they made their waffles this morning. Small price for breakfast peace, I say.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

NaNoWriMo, Year 2

Oh yeah baby!  It's that time of year again! Welcome to National Novel Writing Month! That time of year when a bunch of lunatics write 50,000 words in 30 days, just for the fun of it! I did it last year with great success as you may recall. This year... well, we'll see. I have a lot more on my plate.

I'm taking that Japanese class (doing great, just got test #3 back with a grade of 97%!), and I'm also working on a huge show that opens in December which means I'm in rehearsals almost every night of the week during November. My time is limited. But I refuse to complain, as I'm doing everything I love: learning a foreign language, writing, and working on a show. I'll save the complaints for when my time is limited because my schedule is filled with things I despise, like doing taxes and running mindless errands. Life is good!

Day one stats: 1,721 words down, 48,279 to go!

Lite Brite

Remember playing with Lite Brites? As I kid, I got my cousin's hand-me-down version and remember playing with it for many hours, holed up in a dark room to get the full effect of my designs. I've noticed that they seem to be coming back in vogue this year, with lots of new products out there in time for Christmas.

I've been considering getting one for the boys. I'm a huge fan of toys that let the kids use their imagination to create (we've got millions of Lego Bricks, and it's still on the top of the wish list, five years in a row). Of course, the video below is swaying me to hurry up and get one... look at the creativity involved!

Nathan is saving up for a Flip Camera for his birthday (Gasp! In 18 days we'll be entering double digits! Help!) so he can make videos. I can see him making something similar to this (although on a much smaller scale of course!). Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Blank Slate

When we moved, we sold our black leather IKEA couch which had been with us for 10 years. We really want to get new living room furniture. While we save up for what we want, we've been making do with our cloth KLIPPAN sofa, which (as you can guess with a name like that) is also from IKEA.

Besides the price, the best thing about the sofa would be the dozens of different available covers you can switch out whenever you get bored. Or when you have two messy boys and have sold your boy-dirt repelling leather couch. The bad part is that each cover costs $50. When we got the sofa about five years ago, we bought a bright red cover. Since then, I always check the AS-IS bins to see if there's a cover. I've scored twice, finding covers marked down to the bargain price of $1.99. Yes please! One of the spares is black, and the other is a fluffy cream color, made of fabric you would normally make a teddy bear out of, or use for the trim on Santa's suit. It was so ridiculous that I just had to buy it. Seriously... a couch you can snuggle with! Who wouldn't like that? At least temporarily while you're washing the more respectable covers? I've had it for about three years, but in all that time I've never once used it.

Today it is pouring rain. It's dark and dreary, and when I stepped into the garage to fetch umbrellas for the kids, I saw the bag marked "Cream Couch Cover." It just seemed like the perfect day to try it out. I brought it in and stripped off the black cover, quickly replacing it with the fuzzy cream one. The kids came downstairs ready to go to school, saw the fuzziness, and climbed onto the couch. They rubbed their faces into it and proclaimed their affection for it.

Nathan: Our couch is white!
Ben: And fuzzy!
Nathan: I love it! Let's keep it!
Ben: I want to just lay here forever!
Nathan: Mom, will this couch stay white now?
Me: Well, not with you two messy boys around. I predict parts of it will change color about the time you get home from school and put your feet on it.

I'll enjoy the fuzzy, creamy, snugly feeling while I can. At least until the black cover gets laundered!

Stomp your feet

My oft-repeated refrain to my children: Have you ever gotten anything you wanted by yelling at me about it?

The consistent answer from the children: No.

But it never stops them from trying.

One day it will stop, right?

(Please say yes).


Friday, October 15, 2010

Nihongo

Whoa, time is flying. We have so many things going on that there's no time to write about them. But I feel the need to take a moment and reflect on my little back-to-school experience of taking four units of Japanese at the local community college (Nihongo = Japanese Language). I think this is the most amazing thing I could possibly be doing right now. It is nothing like the rest of my life. Much of life involves simply doing the same things over and over. Take making dinner for instance. You choose the recipe, shop for the groceries, do the prep work, pop it in the oven, set the table, and then everyone sits down to eat and the meal is history. And unless it gives you a stomach ache, there's nothing tangible to hang onto proving you did all that work. And the very next day you have to get up and do the same thing. No matter how hard you work on tonight's dinner, you'll still have to make another one tomorrow.

Even career related things fall into a pattern and become repetitive. We own our own company, and therefore have a lot of freedom to move ahead and do whatever we can dream up. But I still have to send invoices each week. And cut checks and pay the payroll taxes, over and over again. And then a project ends and we have to hit the pavement to find a new one, exactly the same as before (although thankfully every project is different, which is always exciting).

As a parent, I know many of the things I do with/for my kids will have long lasting benefits that will flower and bear fruit, but so many of those things won't be seen for years to come (heck, I'm 30-something and I'm still trying to make good on some of the lessons my parents taught me as a kid!). It's a long uphill struggle, with almost no instant gratification. The immediate return on many investments with my kids is a lot of moaning and complaining (but Mom, I don't want to learn how to fold my clothes... why would I ever need to know how to do that? Why do I need to learn how to cook… I can just go to a restaurant if I'm hungry).

I'm excited by the fact that a few things we've been hammering into them since birth are finally starting to pay off. Yet they are a long way off from being independent, productive members of society. Even if we do our job to the best of our ability and teach them everything we can and give them every opportunity at our disposal, there is still no guarantee that our kids will reach their potential or go on to do great things with their lives. It can be a depressing thought when you are doing all those thankless jobs that any parent does throughout the day. Sometimes it would be so lovely to get some positive feedback beyond giving myself a pat on the back as I get into bed at night because no one did serious bodily harm to anyone else, no fires were set, and no property was damaged beyond what can be repaired.

So here's the thing with my Japanese class, and why it could not have come at a better time: the harder I work and the more I study, the better grade I get. And that grade is mine. I get to keep it forever. I don't have to start all over again the next day. I get feedback in the form of quizzes and tests that have big fat red A's on them. I can see major improvement every time the teacher speaks to me in Japanese and I not only understand, but can reply back to her. I can see my kids stop complaining about their homework, because Mom is sitting right next them, doing hers without complaint and with great enthusiasm. I get hugs and cheers from my family when I pull out a returned assignment that the teacher graffitied with praise. I cannot say enough great things about this experience and how it's given me something that brings a smile to my face the minute I wake up (and as I'm the polar-opposite of a morning person, that's saying a lot).

I will say this - the baby and preschool years are brutal. They are physically taxing, emotionally draining, and are all done in a sleep deprived state. From the act of giving birth though the day when the kids can finally take showers and wash their own hair, you are on duty 24/7. You don't even get bathroom breaks without an audience or just that tiny bit of extra time needed to shave both legs on the same day. There is not much space in the day for doing anything like taking on learning a foreign language. Not many available brain cells, either. So although I'm beyond thrilled at being able to dive into this with reckless abandon right now and lap up all the success I can handle, I don't think doing this two or three years ago would have provoked the same positive response. It might have become a chore, rather than the delicious pleasure it is right now. Joy abounds.

And now I have to get back to studying! These verbs aren't going to conjugate themselves!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Remembering

Two years ago I wrote about our 9/11 experience.

It was not far from our minds, even though we spent the day at Disneyland. We really wanted to do something as a family to mark the end of the first week of school and the fact that Michael is back to working more manageable hours (meaning 10 hours a day or less). As we walked into Disneyland, we caught sight of the flagpole at the beginning of Main Street, with the U.S. flag at half mast.


On Main Street, the Celebrate Today parade was passing by. All the Disney characters dance and sing about all the many things that we have to celebrate, like birthdays, anniversaries, engagements, etc. It was jarring to see the symbol of a nation remembering a terrible day while listening to such high energy, upbeat music pounding in our ears. It doesn't feel like a day for celebrating, but it was good to find things to be excited about, such as the really short lines, bumping into Naveen Andrews (Sayid from LOST), and not having to be home to watch the news show the footage that still makes me sob uncontrollably. Over all, it was a good day.

How did you remember 9/11 today?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Annual Return



And they're off! A new school  for a brand new school year! I've been a bundle of nerves, worrying about how they'll adjust to this school and all new friends. What I forget is that thanks to my Mom's job, almost every September up until high school I went to a different school. All new friends, all new classrooms, all new teachers. And it taught me to make friends easily and be confident, resilient, and comfortable walking into just about any situation. Why wouldn't I want the same for my kids? Maybe because I just want them to gain wisdom and experience without having to go through any of the pain that normally comes with it! This year the boys are responsible for making their own school lunches. I have to say, that was a wise decision on my part, as making lunch for them has always been the most painful part of my mornings!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Back to School

Today was the first day of school. But not for the boys... for me!

The traditional first day of school shot that I do each year for the boys!

After 13 years of being out of college, I went back. But before you get too excited, please note that I'm only taking one class, four units of Japanese. I'll be going three days a week, during the day when the boys are in school. This week I've really been able to empathize with working/single parents who have to find some place to send the kids while they are at work (or school), since my kids are still on Summer Break. 

Today the boys got to hang with my in laws. Wednesday, my husband will stay home from work while I'm in class. Friday, my parents will have them for the weekend. Monday is a holiday, and then they start school on Wednesday when I go back to class as well. Whew! I never take for granted the fact that I get to be home with my kids and can completely work around them. I can do my job at 2:00 am in my pajamas from my home. I don't think I'd want it any other way. When raising kids, each day seems to go on forever, yet the years fly by, and I don't want to miss out on what ends up being an awfully short amount of time.

And yet... I'm very glad to be going back to school, breaking out of my routine and learning something new, even if it's just one class. When we lived in Japan, the company hired me a private tutor who came to our home twice a week to school me in speaking, reading, and writing Japanese. We lived in a suburban area near Tokyo where there were hardly any expats like us. I rarely came into contact with people who spoke English.  For learning a foreign language, this is the way to go. However, that was 8 years ago. I fear I'm letting those valuable language lessons go to waste. And my deepest wish is to move back to Japan at some point. So why not sharpen those rusty skills?

I took the boys with me to the campus last week to pick up my textbooks. Since they are starting a new school and are somewhat nervous about it, I thought I'd share my own nervousness about returning to school after being out for so many years. I was hoping we could have a little heart to heart conversation about fear of change. Instead, Nathan said, "Just be cool on the first day and you'll be the most popular girl in no time." And Benjamin said, "Mom, you're not afraid of anything. Don't start now." I got a lump in my throat at their sincere efforts to bolster my confidence. And I hope I can do the same for them when they start at a brand new school next week!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Fear

My husband has been out of the country for work this week. To distract the boys (and me!) from missing their dad, I've been planning lots of little fun things, like days at Disneyland, trips to Toys R Us so they can spend their money, and having lots of friends over. Today my house was filled with boys between ages 7 and 10. They spent most of their time laughing themselves silly by saying the names of various bodily functions and eating everything in my house. I sat in another room with my feet up, reading a book and enjoying the sounds of laughter and frivolity (even if it was borderline disgusting). I had a smile on my face, thinking about how great this life is, even though I'm missing my husband terribly.

 After the friends went home, I took the boys to Trader Joe's to restock the now-empty fridge and pantry. Benjamin had a little Lego mini fig with him, and he was making the little man jump off the shelves and into the cart. It was getting annoying as he'd throw his whole body at the cart with a loud screech to simulate the little man flying through the air, crashing into the cart. I kept asking him to stop, told him to put the mini fig in his pocket, and keep the noise down. Then Nathan started loudly complaining that it was taking too long, which was as grating as a kid chanting, "Are we there yet?" on a long car trip. Honestly, have you ever been to Trader Joe's? It's tiny. Three or four aisles, max. There's no way to take a long time there, which is possible to do at Von's or Ralph's or Food 4 Less with their dozens of aisles. I was getting annoyed at both of them for exhibiting the kind of grocery store behavior that I trained out of them when they were three or four. They'd just had a long, fun day that I'd arranged and now they were getting on my last nerve. How's that for gratitude, I thought. So much for my previous good feeling about my great life.

I went to check out and when I ran my debit card through the machine, the entire machine came right off it's stand. The cashier tried to help me get the card through, but it was chaotic. He handed me my receipt and I stepped away with my cart. But only Nathan stepped away with me. Benjamin was nowhere to be found.

Thinking Ben must be in one of the other checkout stations, I had Nathan walk up and down to look for him. He wasn't there. I had Nathan stand with the cart so I could look up the ends of the aisles, and there was no sign of him. I got a very metallic taste in my mouth and felt my knees buckle. I grabbed the cashier who'd rang me up and said my younger son was missing. He went into action, an employee at the door, an announcement on the P.A., another employee sweeping the aisles. I stared out the front door, looking at several cars backing out of parking spaces, and my vision blurred and my heart pounded as my imagination ran wild, thinking that one of those cars might have my baby in the back, being taken away from me. Just as I started crying, I saw Benjamin's head bobbing down the checkout lane as he skipped up to me. All the employees cheered and said, "we've all been looking for you!"

Benjamin had seen the bathroom in the back of the store, and since it was taking me so long to try and pay for my purchases on the faulty machine, took the opportunity to go use it. Without saying a word to me. This is a tough one. I am forever encouraging my boys to become more independent and self reliant, which is what Ben's excuse was for going by himself to the bathroom. But I still have a lot of work to do on the area of communication. I was shaking for at least an hour, trying to shut off the part of my brain that was imagining the phone call I would have had to make to my husband if things had gone in a much more tragic direction. And the boys and I had a long talk about not assuming someone has heard you unless they acknowledge you in some way (a lesson I'm learning from the fact that my husband is deaf in one ear and doesn't actually hear everything I think he does).

I hate to go back to making them walk next to me with a hand on the cart so I know where they are at all times like I did when they were toddlers and preschoolers. I don't want my actions to be motivated by fear. And it's hard not to live in fear every day, reading the headlines and walking alongside friends who have indeed lost a child through abduction which ended in horrible tragedy. All I know is that I'm grateful for the little boys peacefully asleep in the room behind me, even if they love to laugh at the word "poo" and make fart jokes and annoy me. I don't want to contemplate life without those precious annoyances.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Thoughts on Pluto and Size

Four years ago on this very day, a group of 424 astronomers sat down and voted on the definition of a planet.

By the new definition, Pluto didn't make the cut. Goodbye planet Pluto, and any number of mnemonics that helped us all learn the order of the planets when we were in grade school. 

I remember discussing this at the dinner table with my husband. We thought it was hilarious. We made jokes to each other while the kids (then ages 5 and 3) ate dinner. We thought of the poor kids of the future who will never know the ending to "My Very Excellent Mother Just Sent Us Nine..."  They'll be scratching their heads, wondering just how Excellent a Mother she could possibly be for just trailing off like that, leaving them with nothing!

Much later that night I was peacefully asleep, facing the side of the bed, when I was startled awake. Nathan was standing there staring at me with wide eyes, tears streaming down his face.

I sat up and grabbed him, concerned because Nathan has never been prone to nightmares or wandering about the house in the middle of the night. Or tears for that matter. I asked what was wrong, and he said, "I don't understand how Pluto was a planet yesterday and now it's not a planet today. Who has the right to make that decision? And why would they ever do that? It's not like Pluto ever did anything to them." And then he just sat there and quietly sobbed.

I was absolutely dumbfounded. I mean, a five year old should not be worrying about that, right? Right? I didn't think Nathan even knew what planets were! Shortly after that little middle-of-the-night conversation, we got him a book about astronomy and planets. It was meant for a much older kid, but he devoured it, in the same way he later devoured books on human anatomy, machinery and robots, and perhaps the oddest one to catch his fancy, a National Geographic book about the Titanic, complete with photographs and theories on what went wrong that fateful night. You want a surreal experience? I remember debating with Nathan over different ways they could have saved more people if there had been a slight change to the design. He was six. (Our current topic of debate? Nuclear fission and nuclear power in general. Someone help me!)

Throughout Nathan's childhood he's been treated poorly by people who think he's much older than he is, including yours truly. His height makes people guess his age at up to two years older than he really is. His first week of first grade he was called a liar by the yard duty lady when he did something he shouldn't on the playground and she wrote him up. She said as a third grader he should know better. She didn't believe he was only a first grader and didn't yet know all the rules. And his intelligence and knowledge about a wide range of subjects fool us into thinking he's more mature than he really is. He can talk to the doctor intelligently about blood cells and clotting, and he's always coming up with questions about things I've never even thought about. When Nathan does something ridiculously childish or developmentally age-appropriate,  everyone  comes down on him much harder than anyone ever would to Benjamin, who is blessedly average in size and demeanor.

I hope that when Nathan hits adulthood things will level out a bit as the other kids have a chance to catch up in height. I hope he won't continue to be the subject of scorn and derision for what looks like immature behavior for a kid his size. It's tough. Just like poor Pluto getting kicked off the team for being the wrong size, he just can't help it. Today's anniversary of Pluto's banishment from planethood is a good reminder for me to treat Nathan like the kid he is. One who may be smart, but is a kid all the same.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

July 17th

Sure, we're already a month past July 17th, but I wanted to point out a few things that happened that day.

First, Disneyland turned 55 years old.


Second, this here little Boy Wonder blog turned two years old.



And third, the Chase Family pulled up its roots and moved.


We lived in our old rental house for four years and two months. This beats our previous record from up in the San Francisco Bay Area where we lived for 23 months. In fourteen years of marriage, we've moved twelve times. It was nice to stay put for awhile, but unfortunately, things weren't going so great there. We've had major problems with the house, and when the owner became ill and could no longer manage those problems, she passed the house off to a property management company.

The property management company took a look at the house and fixed only the biggest of the laundry list of problems. Despite months of gently prodding them to come fix the rest of the things, nothing was happening. Well, that's not true. What was happening was I was growing depressed over our house being the 2nd ugliest on the block and growing bitter every month I wrote a very big rent check for a house I was embarrassed to have company in.

One night I clicked onto Craig's List and looked at rentals in the area. One place jumped out at me. I printed the listing and tossed it to my husband. He was interested enough to call and we went over to look at the place. Compared to our old home, the place was like a posh resort. The owners were incredibly friendly and so nice that we ended up chatting with them for a couple of hours instead of the 20 minutes we promised the baby sitter. We thought it over for a few days and then jumped.

Of course, we jumped right when my husband is working six to seven days a week, 18+ hours a day. Which meant that the bulk of the move fell on my shoulders. But it's not like we haven't done this before! I point you toward Exhibit A: we moved to Japan for a year with a newborn on exactly four weeks notice. Or Exhibit B: I managed to get everything packed for our move to Hong Kong with two toddlers underfoot and a husband who was out of the country for the entire month before our move. This should have been a piece of cake, right?

Actually it was a tough move. I did 95% of it in my minivan with the help of teenage friends. The new house is three miles away from the old house. I put 250 miles on the van in five days. You can do the math to see how many trips that represents! I've never been so happy to be done moving in all my life!

We love the new place, we actually gained an extra room which has been turned into my studio/office so I don't have to work and sew in the dining room any more. We did lose a yard. But we gained a ten acre park with a pond which our bedrooms overlook, and we have two good sized patios. We lost our huge garage for a smallish one. But we gained a pool, spa, dry sauna, and clubhouse. We lost the 2nd ugliest house on the block and gained the best landlords we've ever had in twenty years of renting. And, the boys gained a two-story home, which they've been begging for since they discovered that some houses have stairs. And we're gaining better looking buns from going up and down those stairs all day! Can't complain about that!

So there you go. My explanation for why nearly two months have passed with no posts. There will be more soon. We're having lots of adventures and enjoying the new digs. Life is good. Glad you're here to share it with us, even if it's only via the web.

Goodbye, Old House.
(Photo taken after we locked the door for the last time and started to drive away.)


Hello, New View.
(Photo taken just now from my bedroom window, as the sun is starting to set.)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Someone just turned...

...SEVEN!

In honor of the big day, here's They Might Be Giants singing a family favorite: Seven! I have to warn you that this song is highly addictive, so you can't blame me if you go around singing "We want cake! Where's our cake?" all day long!



Friday, June 25, 2010

Bookends

First Day of School:



Last Day of School:
Nathan grew 2 inches this school year.
Benjamin grew 1.5 inches this school year.

If you really want to see how much they've grown, compare it to last year's Bookends post.
Why do they insist on growing up? Where is the pause button?

Summer vacation starts in four hours!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

5,110 Days

624 Weeks.
168 Months.
14 Years.

All of them married to the same great guy, Michael Chase. I don't feel like I'm anywhere close to being old enough to claim 14 years of marriage, but after last year's mix up, I double checked. 14 years, sure enough.

But look at the photo above, where we are brand new newlyweds. Then look at the photo below, taken right before we left for our anniversary night on the town.

Barely recognizable as the same two people!  Looks like fourteen years have passed to me!

The only thing that hasn't changed is our love for each other. In the last fourteen years, our hearts have broken as we've been witness to the carnage of the broken marriages of our family and friends. We've never said that could never happen to us, because we've seen firsthand that it can happen to anyone. We've worked incredibly hard to keep our relationship a priority, even through multiple international moves that have stressed us to the breaking point, impossible work schedules conspiring to keep us apart, and our romance-busting children. Getting married is easy. Staying married is much more difficult. Every single day we are confronted with choices that will either hurt or help our marriage. Fourteen years ago, we committed to choosing the things that will help, even when it's not the easiest choice.  We don't always get it right. But if I had to do it all again, I would still choose to marry my handsome fella. Happy Anniversary, Michael! I love you so.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Best Day Ever

Happy Father's Day to the father of my beautiful boys!
I remember vividly how I told Michael he was going to be a dad. It was early 2000, and my husband was a Star Wars maniac. He was drawing me to the dark side, forcing me to become a fangirl myself. I'd saved up and then secretly pre-purchased the first Star Wars Trilogy (episodes IV, V, & VI) on VHS which was going to be distributed close to Valentine’s Day. It was a big deal, the first time George Lucas put it out there for people to own. It cost a fortune as I recall (which makes me giggle, you can't even buy VHS anymore!). I put the receipt and claim ticket in a sealed envelope, wrote Top Secret on it, and stuck it to the fridge. I showed it to him and said it was there to be opened when he had the WORST DAY EVER. As the weeks passed, he had a few bad days, but none he'd classify as the worst.

We'd been married for almost four years, and I'd known from the time we started dating there was a good chance I wouldn't be able to conceive without medical intervention. We had options, but we weren't pursuing them. I'd just quit my high-stress job and was taking a month off to ponder a major career change. Michael was in the middle of his own high-stress job, working on a project that would eventually move us all to Japan. I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life while Michael's career suddenly hit the fast lane, and life felt like an emotional roller coaster. However, there was one day where everything made me cry and fume and laugh and rage, all at once. Forget the emotional roller coaster, this was a bullet train direct to Crazytown. There was a little bitty whisper in my head suggesting what it might be, but I tried to tell it to shut up, it wasn't possible. Days passed, and the whisper became a shout. I went and bought a pregnancy test. It said to wait two minutes to read the results, but it wasn't necessary. That thing lit up like a neon light saying there was a baby on the way. My jaw hit the floor. I picked it up and then danced around the living room with Bruce the Cat (he didn't much care for that), and then paged Michael (on a pager! How quaint! How 2000!).

I continued my little dance around the living room until Michael finally called. Before I said a word, he jumped in to tell me that he was having a bad day. A day so bad, it could only be called the WORST DAY EVER. The worst day in THE HISTORY OF BAD DAYS. He asked me to meet him after work and told me to please bring the Top Secret envelope from the fridge. Then he was off the phone, back into the land of WORST DAY EVER. I was filled with sorrow. Moments before I had been dancing with unrestrained joy. Now I was bawling uncontrollably at how insensitive he was to have chosen his WORST DAY EVER to fall on the very same day as my BEST DAY EVER. How could he?!

I managed to pull it together and put the positive pregnancy test in a small box and tied a ribbon around it. I grabbed the Top Secret envelope and met him in the parking lot after work. He slouched into my car, thunderclouds swirling around his head, a stream of grumbling words coming from his mouth. He was not a pretty sight. He told me about his horrible day. I gave him the envelope, which he tore into. "Thanks, this is nice," he said. Nice? Slightly disappointed that my thoughtful gift was only in the category of nice, I handed him the box with the pregnancy test in it. He opened it up, clearly puzzled at the white plastic stick in the box. I pointed to the small picture on the stick. One pink line: not pregnant. Two pink lines: Pregnant. Then I pointed to the two glowing pink lines. He caught on.

"You're pregnant?" I nodded. "You're going to be a Mom?" I nodded again. "I'm going to be a Dad?" I nodded once more. He grabbed me and held me and together we shed some tears.

"I'm sorry your day was so bad," I whispered into his ear.

He pulled back and looked at me, slightly confused, bad day completely forgotten. "Are you kidding me? This was the BEST DAY EVER!"

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Party of 11 1/2

So guess who showed up on my doorstep this afternoon?

It's Chris! We haven't seen him in 18 months, and yes, I started crying when I saw him. He's finished up his 2+ years of Navy training, and now he's been assigned to the Naval Base in San Diego. Hopefully he'll be here until after the birth of Chris and Alyssa's son, due in August. The last few days they've been driving cross country from Connecticut to California, crossing the State border this morning. We're all so happy that they are here on the West Coast! Hooray!

To celebrate having them back in arm's reach, our family and Alyssa's family all went out for dinner. Chris requested Mexican food and guacamole, and we were happy to oblige! Welcome back to California, Chris and Alyssa!
Left to Right: Heather, Michael, Tommy, Chris, Alyssa, Tahnee, Sandra, Peter, Aaron. The kiddos in the front are Benjamin and Nathan.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Family Ties

I lost my first Grandparent, my Dad's father, when I was in the third grade. It was a devastating experience in many ways. I'd never been exposed to death or dying before that. It was very difficult to see my family, a very jovial bunch of people, deeply grieving. The funeral itself was a nightmare, as all the family members except my brother and I sat in a separate section to the side, evidently to provide some privacy. My brother and I sat in the back of the packed church with my Mom's parents, where we cried and wailed, both for the loss of our grandfather and the unexplained (to our satisfaction) separation from our parents.

When Nathan started third grade this year, I unexpectedly spent the day on the verge of tears. On the surface, it was an absolutely ridiculous reaction. Third grade is hardly a milestone year. But I couldn't shake the deep sorrow that enveloped me. The truth was that I was scared of history repeating itself and of my own son losing a grandparent at the same age I did. I finally called my Dad in tears, hardly able to express why I was so upset. We cried together on the phone for an hour as I asked him to tell me everything he could about my Grandpa. What did his hands look like? What did he sound like when he laughed? What made him happy or angry? My memory of him is nearly blank, and that made me grieve even harder when I thought of my own kids. If they lost their grandparents right now, would they have any memory of them when they are older?

Earlier in the year my Dad's sister arranged a family reunion. It was held at a park, noisy with activity. I was very late due to previous plans I couldn't get out of. Most everything had been put away, including the giant boards plastered in family photos. My cousin kindly pulled them out for me to look at. I immediately saw a black and white photo of me and my little brother standing on either side of my Grandfather, a long table behind us set up for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. It took all my strength to not rip the photo off the board and stuff it in my pocket to save forever so that I could have some small token of proof that we were together. Instead, I've been pestering my Aunt Barbara all year to send me a copy of the photo. It arrived this morning.


There's no secret to the fact that of all the places in Los Angeles we could have called home, we moved a block away from Michael's parents. And although my parents live about five hours away, I make sure the kids see them at least every other month. We tend to give our children the things we didn't have growing up. For me, that is giving Nathan and Benjamin every possible opportunity to get to know their Grandparents. Not just on holidays when everyone is dressed up and on their best behavior, but as part of everyday life. When they are my age, I want my parents and Michael's parents to be part of the rotating cast of characters that fill up their childhood memories. I know that almost every single time my kids are with their Grandparents, I pull out the camera and get a picture to go with the hundreds of other photos of them with their Grandmas and Grandpas through the years. I wonder if when they have children of their own, they’ll work this hard to make sure Michael and I are part of their lives. I certainly hope so. I'll make it easy on them, meet them at least halfway.