Friday, February 25, 2011

Happy Matching Family

My boys, as you may have noticed, dress in matching clothes quite often. This is a tradition (habit?) that goes all the way back to June of 2003 when I went from having one child to a pair of children. Here is our very first family portrait as a family of four. Although you can't really see it, both baby Benjamin and Nathan are wearing while collared shirts and tan shorts (overalls in Ben's case).


My urge to dress my children alike goes all the way back to my own childhood, when I saw Julie Andrews make clothing for the children in her charge from bedroom curtains, resulting in this:


Having only a brother, I dreamt of the day I'd have two little girls that I could make dresses for, who would always be dressed alike. Of course, that didn't happen.



What happened instead is that my sister-in-law, Heather (great name!) had two little boys, our nephews Tanner and Braxton. She bought (or received as gifts) lots of amazing little boys clothes that matched or coordinated. When Tanner and Braxton grew out of their clothes, Nathan and Benjamin were the lucky recipients. I dressed them alike a lot, mainly because I happened to have a plethora of matching clothes to dress them in.


At the time Benjamin was born, we lived quite close to a Baby Gap Outlet. And if you have a baby boy, the cutest clothes on Earth to dress him in can be found at the Baby Gap. So I'd go find super cheap clothes at the outlet that matched, like the tees below featuring a little green snake. I think they were 99 cents apiece. Kinda cute on its own, but pair it with a brother also sporting a snake shirt? Way cuter.


When we moved back to the Los Angeles area, I discovered an Old Navy outlet, and suddenly the boys were sporting lots of matching rugby shirts.


The family got in on the fun, and started buying matching shirts for the boys.

When we moved to Hong Kong, I purposely dressed the boys alike, generally in bright colors, because it was so much easier to keep track of them when we were out and about (not that they didn't stand out with their blonde hair).


And then of course once they started school, I made sure that they wore matching outfits for the first day of school, the last day of school, and for their official school photos.




Now when I shop for a shirt for one of them, the other will inevitably ask if they can get one just like their brother's. My parents always buy them heavy winter coats (because we only ever need heavy winter coats when we visit them), and they always buy them matching jackets. These are their current jackets, worn over matching shirts at a Bakersfield Condors ice hockey game:


It doesn't stop at clothes! The matching has spread into their sleepwear! Although to be honest, we go to a Christmas pajama party every year at a friend's house, and I always pick up (or sew) cute matching Christmas pj's with that party in mind (Thanks cousins Emma and Rebekah for the Beyblades in this pic!).


Friends who have kids older than mine say, "Just wait, they'll get sick of dressing alike and rebel against it." But you know what? They do it on their own. Even if they don't have an exact match, if Nathan puts on a green shirt, Ben will too. On purpose. Without any prompting from me.

The whole matching thing has become a little phenomenon I like to call Happy Matching Family. Because if a family is all dressed alike, they have to be happy, right? Okay, maybe not. But it does remind me of the awesome family portraits on Awkward Family Photos, which always make me laugh, and what is happier than laughter? Nothing!

Recently, we planned a Disneyland day with some friends. I jokingly said "What are we going to wear? We have to play Happy Matching Family!" And then all the girls squealed in delight and instead of just joking about it, I actually did something about it. I made a stencil of Mickey Mouse and some letters, hand painted tee shirts with everyone's names on them, and then appliqued on a hair bow or a bow tie according to gender, leaving Nat and Ben's plain.


And then we all wore them, and got the bucket-loads of attention that a group of outrageous Disney fanatics wearing clever personalized Disney themed tee shirts deserve. Did the boys groan and shy away from the attention? No. No they did not. They cheered and squealed right alongside the goofy adults every time someone said, "Whoa! Those shirts are so rad! Where did you get them?"


Yes, I know that Nathan and Ben and their habit of matching will (might?) end at some point. But I hope we can count on another few years of dressing like a Happy Matching Family at the Happiest Place on Earth. It's just more fun.

And if that photo above doesn't make you want to go to Disneyland, then I'm just not trying hard enough!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Brothers, Friends

They're brothers by birth, of course.
Please oh please let them grow up to be friends.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mission San Antonio de Padua

We have a fourth grader in the house, and if you are living in California, you know what that means: the California Mission Project!


Mission San Antonio de Padua

My husband did one, but my fourth grade year was spent at a tiny private school in the San Fernando Valley and I completely missed out on it. The California Missions are such an amazing part of California history. There are lots of great resources on the web if you want to read up on them.

Most fourth grade classes in California have the students build a model of a Mission. It's become a little cottage industry, and craft stores here sell Styrofoam kits and countless accessories to go with them. Nathan's teacher gave the kids a choice of 5 or 6 different projects, not just limiting them to building a model. One option was making a video journal. Since Nathan recently saved up to buy himself a Flip video camera, this seemed like the perfect choice for him. He got to choose any Mission, but I encouraged him to go with Mission San Antonio de Padua in Monterey County. Three reasons: first, it's the only Mission on a military base. Second, San Antonio was a very musical Mission, teaching the local Native Americans how to sing and play instruments and read music, and Nathan likes music. And three, it's in the town where I lived during high school which meant a visit to the Grandparents' house and some catching up with old friends. It didn't take a lot to persuade him. Nathan heard "there are tanks on the military base..." and he was sold. The first three day weekend we had available was this past weekend, so up we went.



We stopped at Mission San Miguel on the way, since I knew it was tiny compared to Mission San Antonio and it would be good for Nathan to get that perspective. 

Interior of Mission San Miguel Archangel

Most impressive for the boys was the cemetery, with its elaborate marble headstones of people long departed. Back in the car, we headed for Lockwood, California, where the population has now climbed into the 400 range (per the sign as we entered), which is up from the 123 that resided there the four years I called it home.



We entered Fort Hunter Liggett without incident and made our way to Mission San Antonio. It hasn't changed a bit since I was there last in 1993. And you know what? It actually hasn't changed all that much from when it was originally built back in 1771! Because Mission San Antonio has only had three owners and due to its location on an Army base in the middle of nowhere, it's still quite rustic and unspoiled and it's quite easy to see exactly what it would have been like 200+ years ago.


Nathan did a great job on his video, but you can tell he's far more accustomed to being behind the camera than in front of it, as evidenced by the many ummms and errrrs. However, ALL the words on the video are his own, we'd talk about what we were seeing and then we'd just film him telling us about it... totally unscripted. Also, try as I might, I could not get Nathan to pronounce "Padua" correctly (or any of the Spanish words for that matter). So it's "Pah-DOO-uh" here. I hope you enjoy it and maybe learn a little something. Nathan had fun, but I was thrilled that he actually learned so much while we were there. We all learn differently, but Nathan is a classic kinesthetic (tactile) learner, which means he does best when he can actually experience something.

Without further ado, please join me for a screening of Nathan's California Mission Project video:




Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cans for Pounds

My friend Ron works in construction. Like so many people, he found himself out of work last fall. One night his wife was shaving his head and his son snapped a photo of him. Ron was horrified by the photo and how, um, round he had become:

He decided to do something about it. Since he was already out of work, he had a lot of time to devote to it. He wanted a little accountability as he sought to lose weight, so he came up with a plan: Cans for Pounds. He asked people to sponsor his weight loss for 90 days by donating one can of food for every pound that he lost, which he would then deliver to a small local food bank that feeds 200-300 homeless and hungry each week. I enthusiastically signed up to support him, but I told Ron that I would only donate up to 50 cans. He thought I was crazy and told me there was no way he'd lose anywhere close to 50 pounds... 25 or 30 would be his max.

For the last 90 days, Ron has gone running every single day. He pushed himself daily until he was drenched in sweat. He focused only on cardio, not on doing any weightlifting. Without a gym membership, he used the local park and the beach as his personal fitness center. He went running no matter what the the weather was like, including the week when we got pouring non-stop rain. He cut out all the sodas and junk food, and focused on eating healthy and being very careful with portion control. He got a bunch of other people to join in with him as well, and they all started gathering at the beach on Saturday mornings for workouts, which included running up and down the 74 steps from the Strand to the street level. When it got tough, Ron thought of how many additional cans of food would be donated if he just pushed himself a little harder. When he hit a plateau, he changed things up and invented all sorts of crazy games, like throwing a 16 pound bowling ball across the sand, running to it, picking it up, and throwing it again down the shoreline. He found he could run 10 miles and describe it as easy. He started a Facebook Fan Page, and people from all over California (and even some in Canada!) started their own Cans for Pounds campaigns. One guy lost 9 pound in 6 weeks, and because he had so many sponsors, donated over 400 cans of food to a local food bank!  But let's get back to Ron. Want to know how many pounds he lost in 90 days? 

 He lost 50 pounds!

Ron before (at 241 pounds):
Ron after (at 191 pounds):

Ron came to our house tonight to pick up the cans we'd been saving for the last three months. When he came to the door, we were all so shocked to see him! What a transformation! He said that he's lost count of how many total cans have been donated through the Cans for Pounds challenge, but it's somewhere in the 4,000 range. Can you imagine? I'm so inspired! Ron helped himself by lowering his weight and getting in shape, but he also helped countless other people right here in our local community who would otherwise be going hungry during the lean months that follow Thanksgiving and Christmas. And do you want to hear the best part? Two days before the 90 days of the challenge wrapped up, Ron got hired on a big job. So now he's back to work on a construction site, in better shape and with way more stamina than he ever had. I'm certain that he wouldn't have been able to have such a profound weight loss if he was putting in 10 hour days on a work site. Things always happen for a reason, including long spells of unemployment!

I'm so grateful that we are friends with Ron, his wonderful wife Selena, and their three amazing boys who have all been featured here on the blog in the last couple of years. I hope Ron's story inspired you... if not for losing weight, than at least in looking at how you can make a positive difference in the world around you! If you're interesting in doing your own Cans for Pounds challenge, hop on over to the Facebook fan page and Ron will give you lots of tips and tons of inspiration!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Anyone Can Cook!

The husband and I were up late one night, folding laundry and flipping the TV channels. We paused on the Disney Channel and ended up watching most of Ratatouille. It's such a strange/gross/cute/funny movie, isn't it? My favorite thing about the movie is the character of the recently deceased  Auguste Gusteau, chef, television star, and author of a book called Anyone Can Cook. He was convinced that anyone could indeed cook, which is the inspiration for a little rat named Remy to end up as a chef. Ick. But kinda cool.

I didn't learn to cook until I was 18 and in college, living in a teeny-tiny apartment by myself. I had no idea how to do anything other than put a frozen entree in the microwave. A cousin of mine took me under her wing and taught me how to make a few things, including a recipe I called "Slimy Green Burritos." I made them for my husband while we were engaged, and he thought they were so good, he made up a song about them! "Oh yeah they're green! Oh yeah they're sliiiiiimy! Oi, Oi, they're burritos!"

Both of my parents are great cooks, they just didn't want us kids in the kitchen (they still don't! We get kicked out even if we just want to hang out and talk while they're cooking or cleaning the kitchen!). But considering I still feel handicapped in the area of cooking, and take absolutely no pleasure in it, I've decided to make sure the kids get plenty of opportunity to get in the kitchen and make things.

Ben is working on a cooking patch for Cub Scouts and part of the requirements involved choosing a recipe, preparing a meal, setting the table, and cleaning up. Ben chose to make a chicken enchilada dish. It's super easy to throw together and really hard to get wrong.

The only thing I helped him with was double checking that he'd done each step of the recipe correctly, and to put it in the oven and take it out.  The rest was all Ben! He was very proud of himself, but I don't think it was anywhere as close to the level of pride I felt in seeing my youngest son donning an apron and concentrating on doing a great job.


We got the recipe from a can of Carnation Evaporated Milk, which you can get at this link. The only difference is that we use green enchilada sauce instead of red. Because I'm not the only one around here who likes green!


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Need a boost?

We are going through a pretty rough time of it lately. It's been one of those days weeks months where we seem to be getting pummeled non-stop from every corner! We've been pretty low key about it publicly, not ones to moan and groan and complain. However, one of our friends noticed something wasn't quite right, and she and her husband went out of their way to do something so incredibly thoughtful for our family that I was just completely blown away. We all were. It was just a small thing, but it made all the difference to us. And it reminded me that we need to pay attention to those around us. Be on the lookout for our friends and family who are quietly struggling and need an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, or just some kind words of encouragement. Do you have someone in your life who could use a little boost? Why don't you give it to them? Go on, do it!

Speaking of boosts, take a look at the amazing booster seat below:


I'm dying from the cleverness! You can get one from House 8810 for $25.

The Phone Book Fairy came last night and left us a thick Yellow Pages and a medium sized White Pages phone book. We never bring them into the house, we always simply deposit them directly in the recycle bin (we have tried, to no avail, to get our address removed from delivery). Before this morning, the boys have never even seen a phone book before! It was funny trying to explain to them what it was, and why people (used to) need them. They both agreed that it's much better to be able to access the "phone book" right from the Internet browser on your phone! The cute Yellow Pages booster seat above would be totally lost on them, but I remember sitting on a real one back in the day! This would have been so much nicer!