Sunday, January 31, 2010

The (Infamous) Lotus Candle

When we were in China, we discovered the lotus candle, and we bought a couple to bring home to the U.S. It's a flower that shoots off a big scream of flame, then opens (or blooms) into a flower of candles, all the while playing a high-pitched version of "Happy Birthday."

We used one for Casey's 4th birthday after we returned.
And we used one (a knock-off we bought at Albertson's) for Marcie's 4th birthday.

Then we found another one at Albertson's (they're rare, I tell ya!). Here it is at Casey's birthday party yesterday (and, in particular, I hope you enjoy Jason's commentary):


video

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Casey's Rock'n Bowlers Birthday Bash

I didn't get a ton of photos-- at least not good ones-- in part because the kids were all over the place at the party. But Casey did have a good time. The kids seemed to like the t-shirts we made as party favors. They were skeptical about the silly putty we handed out as a "thank you for coming" party favor gift at the end, but we were fine with that. There was plenty of pizza and french fries and lemonade and cake. And lots of friendly competition and laughter, too.

Casey bowled a 76 his first game- and in the last frame, one of his friends came from behind to end with a 77. The highest score among the kids was an 86, which is pretty impressive for a bunch of 7 year olds.

Here are some photos. I'll upload a video of his lotus candle on the birthday cake (we were careful to have everyone move balloons out of the way, but I put a few other candles too close to the big one and had to move them because they were catching the petals on fire!).







Bowling Birthday Cake

One thing I learned early on as a parent is that when your child tells you they want something and you decide to buy it, you should not "upgrade" whatever it is they've asked for to the newer, better version. You should get them what they asked for.

This year Casey asked for cupcakes for his birthday. And that's what he got. But when it came time for his party, he was elusive about what he wanted his cake to be. I'd read horror stories about making ball cakes (in a round pan), and I didn't have the time to do a "practice" cake. So I did half a ball for the bowling ball, made the cupcakes, and did a bowling pin to boot.

I'm no Cake Boss or anything. But cakes are what I like to do for the kids. Some people make Halloween costumes. I bake. Here are the results:



Update:

On the way to the birthday party, as Jason was walking into the garage, the cardboard holding the bowling ball and bowling pin bent. Which caused the cakes to slide forward and Jason to lose his balance. The bowling ball did a little flip roll and almost ended up somewhere between the hood of my car and the garage floor-- but Jason caught it and we were able to flip it right back in place. Phew. I was just glad I took the pictures before we transported it. That, and that I'd made plenty of cupcakes for everyone.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Tooth Fairy Cometh

In the week after Disneyland (or maybe it was the week right before- it's blending now. That's what I get for waiting too long to post about it), Casey lost another tooth.

Now, I don't know what the going rate for the Tooth Fairy is in your neck of the woods, but around these parts, we've heard tooth rewards of as much as $20 (!). Casey's cousin recently received $5, but his parents explained that was because it was a special event (his first one), and they doubted the Tooth Fairy would ever bring that much again.

Casey's Tooth Fairy (or Tooth Fairies-- he's not sure if there is a different one for each tooth) brings him $1 bill for each tooth. It comes in a snack-sized ziplock back, as a bookmark in an easy reader style book. I'm not entirely sure how the Tooth Fairy decided on this reward-- except that it's my understanding that one of the fairies in Tooth Fairy land wanted to give books to encourage reading, but the others all told her that Casey would be disappointed to discover other children received cash. The first Tooth Fairy was not entirely convinced that was true, I imagine, because what do children spend cash on, anyway? But the fairies, like all good collaborative partnerships, must have agreed to compromise. Because Casey gets money and a book he can read.

Anyway, Casey's tooth was knocked out of his mouth at school when he was horsing around with his friends. He was not clear about the location or the context of the horseplay-- just that it went down the drain. So he had no tooth to leave the Tooth Fairy in exchange for a reward. He decided (on his own) that he should write a note, explaining what happened. And, he posited that the Tooth Fairy would respond in writing, and because fairies are small, the note would have to be tiny.

Here's Casey's note:


And here was the Tooth Fairy's reply, included in the ziplock bag, along with the dollar bill, as a book mark in a new League of Justice book.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Pediatric Urgent Care Is Anything But Urgent

Casey's fever did not subside by Sunday.

So off we went to our local (pediatric) urgent care, where they do not triage.

I actually think this played to our advantage, given that all we had were four days' of a fever (ranging from 101 to 103.9) and an infrequent cough. But I was struck by how long the wait was. We arrived 25 minutes after opening, were seen after about 3 hours of waiting and then discharged another hour later.

In chatting with a couple other moms in the waiting area (both there for ear infections and just in need of antibiotics for their girls), and in exchanging stories with them, it struck me how terrible our Children's Hospital system is at treating urgent patients. When you got to the ER, even by ambulance, they triage. So even if you have a broken bone, unless it is compound and you need surgery, you could be waiting six hours or more (and in fact, we ran into that on one of our trips to the ER). This is so even when the doctor sends you there and calls ahead.

Urgent care on the weekends is much the same.

But the thing is, what else can you do? If Sunday happens to be day four of fever, the options are urgent care or ER. If your kid breaks his arm on a Saturday, your options are urgent care or ER. And if your insurance company is like ours, we have to go to the children's urgent care.

What I learned is that our children's hospital urgent care is staffed by one doctor. One. A second one gets called in eventually (after about 2 1/2 hours, in our case). I guess I should be impressed that one doctor was able to handle 14 patients in under 3 hours. But I just felt bad for her.

So I've come to the conclusion that, given the number of kids who are in accidents or fall ill on the weekends, we most definitely understaff our urgent care (and ER system). Why? I have no idea.

Casey wasn't feeling well, so he was fine with laying all over me and watching the endless loop of Disney movies. When he felt better, we downloaded a Magic Treehouse book on my Kindle and took turns reading to each other. When the doctor finally got to us, after listening to him breathe and giving him a breathing treatment, she explained that any true diagnosis would require x-rays at a nearby (not pediatric) hospital, and the wait would be at least 2 hours. Then they'd have to be read and blah blah blah blah. (I stopped listening.) Fortunately, she was willing to send us home with an inhaler and antibiotics as an alternative. And off we went to the pharmacy.

His fever was gone by morning (thank you antibiotics), and he was in good spirits all day at Grandma's house, enjoying homemade soup for lunch and a full spread of Chinese and American food for dinner. (Yum!)

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Birthday Party That Wasn't

Casey came home with a fever yesterday. Nothing else wrong. Just a fever.

When I got the phone call from the school, I was secretly glad for an excuse to leave the office. Even though I was pretty busy, I work in a high rise (albeit only about halfway up). The high rise was built on rollers. This is good for earthquakes, because it better withstands ground rumblings by allowing the building to roll or sway instead of topple. This is not good for windy, windy days because the building sways with the wind. At least it's not good for me on windy days because, as it turns out, I get motion sick. By sitting at my desk. And yesterday I forgot my sea-sickness bands. So having to pick up Casey was a nice excuse to work at home.

But now he's still sick. With a fever.
I called the doctor's office, and they suspect it's just a cold.
I didn't even know you could have a fever with a cold. But you can.

Initially we thought we'd just have the party without Casey. After all, the kids were expecting it. And how would I reach all the parents?

But then I called the bowling alley, and they agreed to reschedule.
And then I tracked down contact information for everyone who'd RSVPd.

Perhaps some kids won't be able to make it next week. I know life gets busy.
But it's just a birthday party-- and it's a bit hard to have one without a birthday boy.

So next week it is.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Disneyland

I love going to Disneyland on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. It's never too hot. It's never too crowded. But this year, someone has to work (and it's not me). So we decided to head up for the weekend before the holiday. This ended up working out well (especially because it's now raining and we got to enjoy the Magic of Disney in sunshine).

We went last year at the same time, but it's been a whole year, so the kids were pretty excited. Though they did inform us that they would not being going on Pirates of the Caribbean (too scary, they claimed).

We stayed at a very conveniently-located hotel, in a family suite. We started our day yesterday in California Adventure at Soarin' Over California, which we've always wanted to ride. Marcie is well over the 40" mark now, so she got to enjoy the experience, too. (As a side note, I just found Casey's 5-year check-up paperwork when I was cleaning and he was more than an inch and probably two pounds lighter than Marcie currently measures at age 4!) After we finished up in California Adventure and headed over to Disneyland for lunch, we headed to the hotel for an afternoon nap. Then we let the kids stay up for the fireworks last night.

This morning we nibbled on our continental breakfast before we hit the park (just in time for the gates to open). We went straight for Indiana Jones, which was broken. I waited while Jason and the kids rode the Jungle Boat and climbed Tarzan's tree. They returned just in time for the ride to open, and for Jason to take Casey on it for the first time. Marcie and I snuck off to ride the Pirates ride (which she rode again with Jason, though Casey vehemently refused). We ended our trip back at California Adventure, watching Turtle Talk with Crush and riding all the rides in Bug's Land. We even managed to catch the High School Musical 3 show three times (twice just the tail end, though).

I didn't take a lot of pictures, but the ones I took actually came out pretty nicely. Here are a few of my favorites:


Casey carried this journal with him, copying down words and drawing pictures of things he liked in the park. Sometimes his writing-while-walking slowed as down a bit. But who wants to discourage that? So we went with it. This is arriving at the Park.
A nice couple visiting for their anniversary snapped this one of us at Toy Story. I convinced Jason to wear the 3-D glasses. But not Marcie. She's one tough negotiator. And I'm not kidding.


There is no significance to the letter "A" except that it was empty and the kids wanted to climb on it this morning.

One of our favorite things about Bug's Land is the repeated reference to Casey's name. But Disneyland isn't selling paraphernalia with "Casey" on it anymore. We got some at Disneyworld before he was born, but we couldn't find mugs or key chains or anything with "Casey" on it this time. What's up with that?


Lucky Seven

Friday we celebrated Casey's 7th birthday.

I'm not sure why sevens are considered lucky-- but I can count at least two reasons I'm one lucky mom: Casey and Marcie. This year, for the first time, Casey expressed intent interest in the "day he was born." We told him how we'd been at Disneyworld with a friend of his from school's parents. We told him about the airplane, meeting his birthmom and the snowstorm. We told him how he cried at first, but we held him while we fed him. We told him how lucky we felt then-- and how lucky we still feel that his birthmom picked us. Casey thinks we're lucky, too. And he is not quick to let us forget it. I'm okay with that.

This weekend I continued my organization spree by cleaning out the "junk closet," which is what our closet in the computer room/ study had become. I came across the certificate of flight Casey got when we flew home from Ohio shortly after he was born. I came across a lot of photos from his first year of life. I found some school work he'd completed in preschool. And I found the letter we'd sent to Casey's birthmom to introduce ourselves. Our featured picture was me with short, blond hair. On the back were several photos of us with our nephew Sal (who was an infant at the time), and pictures of our then-pets, only one of whom still lives. We all looked (and were) much younger.

Casey asked me to read him the letter, and I did. And I must say, I was pretty impressed by what we'd written. Not because we're super cool and great writers (though we are- ha ha). But because I think we've really held true to the goals we articulated, the promises we made. We wrote about how much we longed for a child. We vowed to be involved in his life by volunteering at school, attending sporting events, and reading together. We explained that we believe in hard work and the Golden Rule, and we wrote about how we would preach tolerance of all races and religions and creeds while at the same time emphasizing our own beliefs. But above all, we promised we would fill our home with unconditional love. I think we've done these things. So far.

Of course, Casey is only seven. He has a (hopefully) very, very long future ahead of him. But so far, I'm impressed. And I don't really think I can take the credit. Casey is just a great kid. He is genuinely sweet. When I asked him to pick just a few kids to invite to his birthday, he refused. He wanted to include the whole class. Not because he wanted a lot of gifts, but because he couldn't possibly choose just a few friends-- he likes everyone. When a boy in another first grade class got hurt on the playground on Friday morning before school, Casey ran back to the playground to find the boy's backpack while I walked the kid to the office. Then Casey offered to stay with the boy in the nurse's office until school started. This wasn't someone Casey hangs out with regularly. But Casey was undeniably concerned.

When I see Casey, he still gives me bear hugs and big grins. He asks me to crawl in bed with him to cuddle on cold mornings. He curls up next to me on the couch. When he's being mean, he knows it and he apologizes for, literally, "acting like a jerk." When it comes to Emotional IQ (or "EQ" as it's called), Casey is kind of a genius. He is truly amazing. And, in the end, that's what we want for our kids-- that they are comfortable in their own skin, capable of getting along in the world, and genuinely happy. Maybe some of this is parenting. But in Casey's case, I can't help but feel like I really hit the jackpot.

Here are some photos of how he celebrated his big day:


The night before his birthday, I baked mini chocolate muffins -- his favorite (the chocolate part, not the mini part)-- to share with his class. He later told me that they all sang him "Happy Birthday," and he even got to, literally, take a bow.
Before school, we let Casey open presents from his Godmother, his cousins, and from his grandparents. The globe, which he's been asking for now for a few months, was a big hit. (Yes, the other presents are wrapped in Christmas paper-- but paper is paper, and it all gets torn up anyway. This gift, if you must know, was wrapped in Hanukkah paper.)

After school, we met up with Casey's San Diego cousins (and their parents) and his Aunty Tiffy at Red Robin for dinner (Casey's favorite). This is before dinner. From left to right: Calliope, Jason, Casey, Joey and Uncle Bryan. Ethan and Casey's aunts must've been behind me.





Ok. So this isn't Casey. It's Ethan, his 2 1/2 year old cousin. But I couldn't resist putting it in here because Ethan is just so darn cute, and I knew how much my mom would love the photo. . .

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ouch

It never feels good to get a phone call from the school during the school day. (I say this like it's happened to me a lot; it hasn't.) In those few seconds before I picked it up, my head sort of spun and my stomach lurched. Casey gave no indication that he wasn't feeling well this morning. And school was to end just about an hour after the phone call.

The worried voice on the other end revealed that Casey had been stung by a bee. On the tip of pointer finger. He was resting comfortably with ice on it. They let him talk to me on the phone ("It hurts a LOT, Mommy," he said, sounding all of a sudden very small.)

Of course the school was worried. And how responsible of them to call. She'd checked his file and noted that we didn't mention any bee allergies.

Of course I thanked them for the call. Casey is not allergic to bees. He's been stung before-- in fact, I think it was on his pointer finger. That time, though, he poked the bee, so it was kind of his fault.

Anyway, he's fine. Or he will be. But you know how kids are around bees-- no matter how much you tell them to stand still, they flip out and that just makes them a bigger target. . .

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Pugasus' Big Adventure

Yesterday morning, when the trash was left by the curb, our side gate (apparently) did not latch all the way shut. At some point in the not-very-windy day, it teetered open, leaving enough space for our beloved Pugasus to escape.

When we arrived home, a little after 8:00 p.m., following a birthday party, we discovered the open gate. And the missing Pugasus.

After thoroughly searching the yard by flashlight, driving a loop around the neighborhood with the high beams on (and Marcie choking back tears rather unsuccessfully), and scouring the front stoops of our neighbors on foot, we had to call it a night.

Where could Pugasus have gone? He's over 10 years old now. He has only one eye. He gets stiff in his hips. He's nearly deaf. And his "good" eye just isn't that good. He can't even make it on a walk to the end of the street. But he was, without doubt, missing.

So, this morning we set out to hang up flyers all over the neighborhood. About 20 of them. And they each sported this photo of Pugasus:

Just as we were getting ready to leave for the movies, to help their kids get their minds off the missing dog (Casey wrote Pugasus a note that read: Dear, Pugasus Please come back. Love, Casey." (Yes, the comma is in the wrong place; but I'm impressed he included the comma!)), the telephone rang.


"I know where your dog is," this sweet voice on the other end said to me. "Do you?"


"No, I don't. Did you see the signs?"


"Oh, I did," she replied. "I just wasn't sure if you'd found him yet."


"Well, I hung the signs, called the shelter, called Pug Rescue, and talked to our vet. Since he doesn't have a chip, there's just not much else I can do at this point," I explained. I admit it. I was a little defensive-- and irritated-- by the caller. Initially.


Then she explained that she'd taken him to a nearby vet. And they'd called animal control. And he was in the shelter. I thanked her for the information, and offered to come give her the reward money, which she graciously declined.


We called the vet to confirm they had not kept Pugasus over night (they hadn't). And, unable to reach the shelter people (still), we headed on up there anyway. It's about a 25 minute drive.


When we arrived, the first woman we spoke was downright mean. "There's no pug here," she began. "I was the one on call last night, and I didn't pick up any pugs."


"Well, the vet said a man picked him up."


"Well that can't be because I was the one on call," she said again.

"Well perhaps he wasn't picked up at night-- could you check the records?" I asked.


"You'll have to pay fees to get him out," she started.


"Of course."


"And we'll have to give him a rabies shot before we can release him."


"If you need to give him a shot, then please do."


"We do."


"So you said. Please do whatever you need to do so that we can take him home."


She sort of growled some more at us, then finally went into another room and came back. "He's here," she said.


Finally another, much nicer woman, took over the case. She told us they'd put Pugasus in his own room because he was so mellow. And after we paid the boarding fees and the pick-up fees and the rabies shot fees, she went to get him.


He looked enormously fat to us, for some reason. We're guessing they over-fed him a little. But we had him.

As we were leaving, at least two other workers stopped us to tell us what a sweet dog he was, how much they loved him, and how they'd wanted to take him home for the night. (We could certainly understand that--we would have much preferred to have him in our home last night.)


We stopped and took down all our signs on the way home-- one of our friends' sons (a friend of Casey's), who'd been upset by the news of Pugasus' disappearance popped his head in the car to see the dog.


Pugasus certainly seems no worse for the wear. He's been sleeping all afternoon. That figures.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Getting Busy Organizing

We spent New Year's Day together as a family, mostly just hanging out. We went to the Wild Animal Park, where we watched the cheetahs actually chase down some crows. Here we are (unfortunately, Casey closed his eyes just in time for the photo):




And then today, I decided it was time to start organizing. People who know me think I'm a highly organized person (I am, actually, just not physically.) But the truth is that I have a very high tolerance for clutter. In fact, as I type, there is only enough space on my desk for my arms and my keypad. The rest of the desk is covered with stuff-- mostly plugs and documents that need to be filed or shredded. But I'm too lazy to take care of it. Keeping things tidy takes effort. And someone who cares.

In any case, after looking back through photo after photo of the kids at the kitchen table with a cluttered mess behind them on the kitchen counter, I got serious. Here was the result:


I have no idea if we'll be able to keep it this way. But I'm willing to try. It may seem a little ridiculous to you-- but we don't have an office "nook" in our kitchen. And we need to keep homework and school supplies, batteries, scissors and stamps, coupons and gift cards-- all that sort of stuff-- close at hand. I'm hopeful this will do the trick.

Next I'm tackling the bedroom. Then the office. Wish me luck.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year!

I had planned to write a really meaningful post to celebrate the new year. A review of 2009. The highlights, at least. But now I'm tired from uploading all the Christmas stuff. So, instead, here is how we celebrated (once again, east-coast style).


We started out our evening with a 5:00 p.m. dinner at a nearby restaurant (actually one of the nicest ones in Poway, the Brigantine) with some friends of ours with whom we've spent the last 3 or 4 New Year's Eves. The photo is of Grace and Matt with their son Lucas. Their daughter, Lila, celebrating her first New Year's Eve in the U.S., was at the other end of the table.


The kids were all pretty good at dinner. We ordered their food right away, which I'm sure helped. That and the strategic use of i-phone games.

After dinner, we came back to our house, where we mostly played wii games. Lucas brought his Mario Olympic Sports game to share, and since I have the Wii Fit, we were able to use the balance board for some fun ski-jumping.
Lila turns two January 2nd, and in honor of her birthday, the kids picked out some presents for her. This is Marcie "helping" her play with one of her new gifts. I'm glad we got to help Lila celebrate something because she sure wasn't going to make it to 9:00 p.m. to help us ring in the new year. . .



But just before 9:00 p.m. the kids donned their pajamas, we laid out some bubble wrap on the floor for stomping, pulled out our homemade noise makers (from water bottles and beans), found the CNN count-down in New York, and rung in the New Year loudly. Without even waking up Lila.

The kids toasted with Sparkling Cider in special (plastic) flutes Casey and Marcie had picked out. This was the first year they were really aware of what it means to "toast," and all three kids had plenty to share (so long as it meant they could clink their glasses and sip their sparkling cider).



After the "midnight" festivities (which also included us calling my mom's cell phone to leave a very loud "Happy New Year" shouting message), the kids brushed their teeth and cuddled on the couch watching Monsters vs. Aliens while the grown-ups played a very quick game of Quelf.

The B family left around 10:30, and Jason and I crawled into bed, where I fell asleep watching The Hangover with him.

I'm a big believer in spending New Year's Eve with the people you look forward to spending the New Year with. So I'm glad we do something with our kids-- and our friends.

She Asked The Question

Sitting in the crowded (overbooked) waiting area for our flight home from North Carolina, my inquisitive, spit-fire daughter looked up at me and asked The Question:

"Mommy, how do you get the baby out of the tummy?"

Eyes all over the waiting area turned and looked at me and Jason.

But we were completely prepared.

"Marcie, we will tell you all about it. Later. Not at the airport."

And we did. Well, I did. The next day. I explained both ways. She asked if it hurt. I was honest (I don't know, but I've heard it does). But does it hurt very bad? Yes, I think so. But it's worth it. When you're 30. Because that's how old you should wait to be until you become a mom. (This is my standing answer for everything.)

Merry Christmas!

When you have eighteen people, five "families" and eight kids under one roof on Christmas Eve, some coordination is definitely necessary. Fortunately, we are all reasonable adults and it was no problem.

Here's our Christmas Eve and morning, in photos:



This is the 12-foot Christmas tree my parents had ready when we arrived. You can't see, but presents cover the floor the width of the room. We do a gift exchange, so each adult gets one present from another adult and each kid gets one present from another cousin. (Technically it could be more than one package because it's based on a money limit.) But then you have to add in the individual families' presents to each other, and it gets a little crazy. . .

Before bed, the kids got all nestled in their pajamas. My (apparently more organized) siblings purchased matching jammies for their kids. Mind are wearing random pajamas they brought. Not sure I could've gotten Marcie into something different anyway-- she's very picky. Anyway, my brother read T'was the Night Before Christmas to the whole gang. And they did a pretty darn good job of listening to the story-- all of them, from age 2 1/2 on up!


I know it took them a little while to settle down, but I snuck back in later on to snap a photo of five them crashed out. We'd explained that they could not wake us up until it was morning, which meant the sun had to show. I told them that if it was dark, they had to stay in their room. As it turned out, they woke us up when they saw the very first ray of orange in the morning light. But it was still dark in the house. This actually played completely to our advantage because the Santa presents, laid so carefully by the fireplace, were visible from the balcony upstairs where we all gathered. But because it was dark, the kids couldn't see anything until we turn on lights once they got downstairs.

Speaking of the balcony, here is the scene from above. what you see is 18 filled stockings (hung with 3M product) by the chimney with care, as well as 8 presents from Santa, each with a label directing the child to his or her gift. (In case you're wondering, here is what each received from left to right: Ethan got a pirate ship; Vince's wrapped present was legos; Calliope got a Cabbage Patch baby doll; Casey got a dinosaur hot wheels track; Sal's wrapped present was a lego set; Joey got a jungle set; Leo got a hot wheels track; and Marcie got a baby crib/pack n play, a baby pillow and blanket, and a baby panda Hello Kitty.)

Casey surrounded by some of the contents of his stockings, which we all emptied before breakfast.

Marcie helping my mom prepare our traditional fried dough Christmas breakfast (though Casey, Jason and I also had some delicious banana bread packed and sent by Jason's dad-- this is what we usually have when we're at home).

After breakfast, the kids opened their gifts. We helped them pull stuff our, prepped the turkey and got it in the oven, and then the adults opened presents. We had snack foods throughout the day and sat down to Christmas dinner around 4pm, after which my sister and I took a nap together. Then we all played Quelf, a new game Jason picked out to play this year. It's a lot of fun.

The Fam

Well, I've already written more in the month of January than in some months in 2009! I was reading back on some posts from earlier, wondering what the heck I could possibly have had to say, and laughing at some of the stories I'd documented, so glad I'd done so. So while I'm not calling it a resolution, I'm hopeful I'll remember to continue documenting the kids' lives for posterity. I digress.

This post is about family. In some respect, family is what you make it. And by that I mean family is who you make it. Family does not have to be your blood relatives. Which I guess is pretty obvious. I mean your spouse isn't a blood relative but is probably the most important person in your life. And in my case, the same holds true for my kids.

So we can choose who to surround ourselves with, and in that sense, we can choose our family. But I am really lucky because not only do I have some amazing, supportive friends, who I really do consider to be family, but I also have a wonderful family. I have four really caring, really interesting, really accomplished sisters in law. I have three really caring, really interesting, really accomplished brothers in law. I have nieces and nephews who know me and who I know and love. My point is that were I choosing who to spend my time with, these are exactly the people I'd want to be with. Which makes the holidays all the more fun.

For kicks, and in case you care, here are the members of my side of our family:

These are my parents with Marcie.

My big brother Bob and his wife Karin. He's an accomplished attorney; she's a doctor focusing on psychiatry. They have three boys: Sal, Vince and Leo-- all of whom are pretty much fluent in French (even though their parents are not-- what a great gift!).

I did manage to get one photo of my younger brother and his wife together, but they didn't know I was taking it. So out of respect for them, I'm not posting it. This is Tram (pronounced Chum). Their middle child is in the background with a "cheese" face. Here, she's helping the kids make sugar cookies. Tram is a high school teacher (which is how we met). She and my brother Bryan have three kids: Joey, Ethan and Calliope. I think one reason I don't have any photos of them together is because a 2 1/2 year old and 7-month-old keep you on your toes.


This is Bryan and Megan (my younger sister). I always thought of Megan as the family baker (she is very talented), but it turns out my brother is quite a cook, too. These two moved away from California to Pennsylvania when he was a sophomore and she was in 5th grade. We used to joke that they were the Pennsylvania family because many of the people they grew up around never even met me or Bob. I think they have a special bond because of their time together in the H family of four.

And last but not least are Timour (pronounced Tee-more) and Megan. They are the newlyweds of the group, and they live in San Francisco right downstairs from my older brother, so they are very close to Sal, Vince and Leo. Coincidentally, Timour, like my nephews, is fluent in French.
Missing from these photos, I suppose, is one of me and Jason. I don't have any of just the two of us from the holidays. But if you look to the right, you'll notice that we did snap a new family photo, which I've added to the blog. Boy, we're starting to look our age . . .

Cousins

Growing up, though I had many, many cousins, I didn't really know them very well. This was in part because they all lived in the Boston area (except the two in Cincinnati and the two in New Hampshire), and it was in part because our age range was relatively vast. I fell somewhere in the middle. But I didn't have any cousins with whom I easily "fell in" because of our age.



One thing I think is cool for our kids is that the age spread of my nephews and niece makes get-togethers all the more fun. The oldest, Sal, is 17 months older than Casey. Vince is 6 months younger. Then Joey is a year younger than Vince. Leo is 6 months younger than Joey. Marcie is a year younger than Leo, and Ethan is 18 months younger than Marcie, followed by Calliope who is 22 months younger than Ethan. In fact, two of the cousins are in first grade this year and two are in kindergarten. What it means in practical terms is that the oldest is 8 1/2 years old and the youngest is 7 months old and most of the kids are close in age.



Anyway, I hope they grow up to be great friends and a large support system for one another. I know all their parents and love them. Here are some photos of "the cousins" in various forms from our week in North Carolina:




At breakfast together the morning the San Diego cousins arrived.


Leo, Marcie, Sal, Ethan, Vince, Casey, Joey (Calliope wasn't at the table).


Joey, Casey, Vince, Ethan, Leo, Sal-- enjoying some television (which was not on very often).


At the LEGO store, where they had a LEGO party.

In the back: Marcie, Grandma H., Vince, Casey

In the front: Ethan, Leo, Joey, Sal.
(Yes, Calliope is absent from this photo- she was being "worn" on her mom at the time.)

At Ray's Splash Planet (an indoor water park).

Leo, Marcie, Casey, Sal and Vince.

Ethan and Joey were also there in the water with us.

Calliope hung out with Tram (her mom), enjoy the sauna-like air.


And it was my mom's desire to get a good photograph of all eight of her grandchildren. I don't know that either of these qualify as "good," but when you're talking about kids from 7 months to 8 years, I think this is about as good as it gets. Here are what I thought were the two best:




I hope the kids one day look back at these photos and see how happy they were-- how much fun they had, and appreciate these relationships. We're lucky to have such a close-knit family.

The Flight to NC

The kids and I traveled on in advance of Jason, who couldn't leave until the red eye on the 23rd because he started a new job this year and didn't have the vacation time. The flight was a non-stop. We scuttled through security without a hitch, and then each kiddo got a Starbucks hot chocolate to sip while we waited. And they cherished those drinks. First, they unloaded their winter coats and backpacks into my arms, already full with my jacket and my purse. And then they more or less skipped their way down the corridor to our gate, while I shuffled on behind them like a pack mule.

We did encounter two interesting China-related comments on our way to North Carolina. The first came from someone watching me in Starbucks, who inquired directly whether Marcie is adopted from China. I said she was, a little surprised by the question-- which is rarely asked of me. The woman explained that she has a younger sister, also adopted from China. The second question was from a flight attendant on our trip, who asked if my husband is Chinese. "Indeed he is," I responded. She actually wasn't trying to be nosey so much as she was trying to figure out if I was a coworker's wife (apparently the co-worker is Chinese).

In any event, the kids were well-occupied by their Nintendo DS, Leapster and DVD player, not to mention the Oreos and Twizzlers we purchased en route. And they were in good spirits when we landed and were greeted by their grandparents. We zoomed off to their home, where we had some dinner and watched Prep and Landing, our favorite Christmas special of the season. (Casey keeps calling it Crap and Landing, which makes me laugh.) Their cousins from San Francisco arrived an hour or so after we did, so they all went to bed in the "bunk room" together that night. Their San Diego cousins arrived early the next morning, and then the ruckus began.

Twas the Weekend Before Christmas

Every three years, for at least the last nine, my siblings (and our families) and I have all met up in North Carolina, at our parents' house, to celebrate the Christmas holiday. We decided to do this three-year rotation because it allowed us (theoretically) to do one Christmas just with our nuclear families, one with our spouses' families, and then one all together. We go to North Carolina so that our parents can host. And because my dad has trouble getting time off around the holidays (he's a pilot). This will probably be the last year we do it. As our families have grown, the travel has become more complicated. But having done it for 2009, I feel so fortunately that we've all made this committment to spend time together for a week or so at least every three years. And we're especially lucky because, while we pay our air fare, my parents live in a house large enough to hold all eighteen of us. Not without a lot of work on their part. But it's so much fun, and I feel so grateful we can do it.

Before we headed off to North Carolina this year, though, we celebrated the Christmas holiday with the part of Jason's family living here in San Diego. Here are a couple photos of the night before our departure:




As you can see, there was no shortage of gifts -- or smiles-- hanging out with the S family.