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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Oh Volcanoes!

Jack has been fascinated by volcanoes lately so we bought a book about volcanoes - who knew that the molten rock inside the volcano is called "magma" and it becomes "lava" once it's expelled?

Anyway, all the talk about volcanoes made me think of those frothing volcanoes of classic high school science projects made with baking soda and vinegar. So, I Googled "How to Make a Volcano" and Jack and I got to work. And it was awesome.

CLICK HERE to see more of our fun.

Christmas with Lola

It was so great to have my Mom with us for a week to celebrate Christmas. Jack really had fun with his Lola and we both wish we all lived closer.

Mom flew in on a Wednesday and we decided to hold our Christmas the following Saturday. On "Christmas Eve" we made brownies and set out one for Santa with some milk. That night we also exchanged one gift - you guessed it pajamas. Big fluffy one ones with feet and a velcroed escape hatch in the back for Lola and for me, and Christmas themed ones for Jack

The next morning, we opened our stockings and mountains of presents. there were so many presents that we actually took a break in the middle! This year Jack really understood the concept of Santa. He was a very spoiled little boy with lots of building, learning, and exploring toys from Lola. We had a lot of fun with the Whoopie Cushion in his stocking and his Batman umbrella is still a favorite - even when it's not raining. One of our favorite games from Christmas is "Feed the Woozle" and Jack cannot get enough of Kumon's Book of Mazes. Our most used Christmas treasure is the cash register that came complete with plastic coins, paper bills, and a credit card. Jack loves to play farmer's market and it's been a fun way to reinforce taking turns, to learn that things cost money, to learn numbers and play out simple math. We had so many gifts that I put a few away for a rainy day. We are so grateful.

Jack loved to have Lola "sleep over" and we enjoyed the simple things like making brownies and reading books together.

We were lucky to have Lola that week too so she could attend Jack's preschool's winter performance where Jack and his class sang a couple of songs for friends and family. Afterwards, everyone moved into the classrooms and the kids all proudly showed us their portfolios for this semester's project = "me". There were snippets and pieces of artwork in their portfolios about themselves like where they lived or what their skin color looked like. Throughout their classroom where surveys like how many people live in your house, what eye color or hair color you have, etc. and selected pieces were hung on the walls. It was nice that she could join us for that and see Jack's school and have insight into what our daily lives are like out here.

It was hard to see her go.

CLICK HERE for more pictures of Jack's winter performance and "Me" portfolio.

CLICK HERE for more pictures of Lola's Christmas trip.

Jack was taken with his Whoopie Cushion:

Jack practicing his numbers:

Letter to Santa

Jack grasped the idea of Santa this year so it was fun to write our first letter to Santa. Jack really wanted a remote controlled airplane for Christmas, but I explained that Santa might think that was a disaster waiting to happen in an apartment and with a skittish doggie. So, he settled for a remote controlled airplane OR car. I saved the letter and we mailed the envelope together at the mailbox.

CLICK HERE for more pictures of Jack writing his letter and envelope.

Stella Ball Tree = Happy

Interpretive SuperHero Dance

Jack is really into the music from the Nutcracker this season. There's one particular arrangement that he recognizes and has been humming. You can tell he's come across it by the surprised "Oh!" in the video:

A Multi-Dimensional Dining Experience

Fifteen years later, sometimes I forget that I live in California. Until I'm reminded:

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Nutcracker Tea

Jack and I do an annual Christmas Tea. This year we did a Nutcracker Tea which was a lot of fun. As we were seated, a Toy Soldier dropped by our table and presented us with a giant gingerbread shingle (like the one on the huge Gingerbread House we walked through to get to the Tea room) and a decorating kit. Jack got to choose a Nutcracker ornament - he chose pink, his favorite color. And a magician made his rounds for a little slight of hand.

Tiny Tea sandwiches and desserts were served with hot chocolate and marshmallows for Jack, and Earl Grey for Mom.

Afterwards we explored the Christmas decorations in the hotel lobby and got into the holiday mood.

CLICK HERE for more pictures.

Asian Art Museum excursion

Why don't we come here more often, I thought after a recent visit. It's less than a mile from our house, never crowded, and street parking is free on Sundays.

We went to the Asian Art Museum with a friend last November in celebration of an annual Indian holiday called Diwali. They had several tables set up where someone would help you write your name in Hindi (Indian) and turn it into a button. There were different rooms where traditional Indian music (think, sitars) was being played by a family for families -- their rendition of Row Row Row Your Boat was unexpected! Yoga for kids was being held in another room.

Among the regular exhibits, Jack and I found one room that was empty and spent some time there writing chinese letters with water and on red pieces of paper that were intended to be hung on the tree installation in the room.

CLICK HERE for more pictures.

"Batman. I Love Mommy."

I find it funny how Jack's thoughts are still so disjointed. Though, my heart is warm to think that I have reached the ranks of Batman in his mind!

Embarcadero Lighting

There's a set of towers in San Francisco called The Embarcadero. They're the typical boxy skyscrapers, four in a row, which lend themselves nicely to being outlined with lights for the holidays. Throw in some fireworks, an ice skating rink, a petting zoo, cookie decorating, and other holiday activities, and we've found ourselves a fun evening to kick off the holidays.

CLICK HERE for more pictures.

Hidden Villas Farm

I like to get away with Jack to nature when we can, and was interested to visit a farm so Jack can make the connection between the food we eat and where it's sourced. So I was excited to come across a tour for young kids at the Hidden Villa Farm which is tucked away in the winding hills near Palo Alto, about an hour's drive (which also means a built in nap on the way home in the car and is key since Jack does not nap anymore at home, only in the car.)

There were several other kids around Jack's age when we arrived. The tour started in the organic garden where we are able to see and touch a giant broccoli flower in the ground, taste growing arugula (did you know it gets more peppery the longer it remains growing?), touch silky soft Lamb's Ear (did you know it is inedible but has medicinal properties like using it as a bandage?) and discovered the grain amaranth (I never made the connection that the purpley plant I'd seen in the florist is actually where we harvest the grain). The kids got to see compost bins with their worms wiggling throughout. And crawl through tunnels in the garden and use the garden "iPhone" (a tube).

As we walked throughout the farm, we also dropped by the pigpen and were amused by several piglets as they squealed and ran in their pen, we chased chickens, patted sheep and cows, and found eggs to find in the henhouse.

Afterwards we had a snack and played in the small play area in the strong warm mid-day sun.

CLICK HERE for more pictures of our sunny day at Hidden Villas Farm.

Fall Decorating

There's little Fall color out here, so I'm always drawn to Fall leaves. We took those thin paper Fall leaves that usually go under fancy cheese plates, and taped them to the windows. We also made Thanksgiving cards to family. CLICK HERE for a few more pictures.


Halloween Month

Jack and Kerrie at Clancy's Pumpkin Patch
Jack was with Tom this year for Halloween, but as you know, I like to celebrate holidays all month long, so Jack and I found time to usher in the Fall and celebrate Halloween.

We kicked off our Fall festivities the first weekend in October with Cousin Kerrie and Clancy’s Pumpkin Patch. Clancy's is the only pumpkin patch in the City that’s complete with hay tunnels and a hay ride (albeit, a couple of times around the parking lot). When we got home, we decorated the windows with those thin plastic cling-ons. Interestingly, Jack liked to group all the spiders and bats on one window, all the pumpkins on another, and all the solid black ones like mice and owls on a third window. We made a little haunted house, and a couple of bats from black pompoms. The smaller of our pumpkins was transformed into the superhero Captain America with Mr. Potatohead-esque arms, legs, and head that you stick right into the pumpkin. We completed our decorating with a little sprinkle of the smallest pumpkins, skulls, a string of lights around the fireplace, and a perch of a few black crows on some branches.

CLICK HERE for pictures of our pumpkin patch excursion and Halloween decorating.

Later, Jack was really excited about carving a pumpkin and when we were finished he gave it a big hug. One of the funny things about living in San Francisco is that we have hot weather for most of October so our pumpkin quickly developed a thick layer of mold and rotted within a few days. Note to self for next year: be sure to buy two or three large pumpkins at the pumpkin patch to have some on hand!

CLICK HERE for pictures with Jack and his pumpkin.

Jack had his first opportunity to wear his Batman costume when we headed back to the Bay Area Discovery Museum for our third year at their annual Goblin Jamboree. It’s great to come home with a treat bag of plastic spiders and stickers instead of candy. This fun fundraiser has become an annual event for us – see how Jack has grown and flashback to our previous visits.

CLICK HERE for this year's pictures in Jack's Batman costume at the Goblin Jamboree.

Lastly, just before Halloween, Jack and I drove to Monterey for the weekend. Monterey has an amazing aquarium and a beautiful coastline to explore that kept us busy. We were also able to get in some trick-or-treating along the main drag through town, Lighthouse Avenue, where business owners dressed up and handed out candy. Jack was Spiderman this time. It was another hot day and we finished trick-or-treating just as Jack started complaining he was hot and wanted to take off his costume – just as well, the candy was melting too!

CLICK HERE for more pictures of our trip to Monterey's Aquarium, coastline, and Trck-or-Treating,

Sharing our Monterey treasures with you


Dia De Los Muertos

Papel picado ("perforated paper").
Delicate paper cutouts that are strung together on a string into a banner.
Jack’s preschool recently contacted parents to bring in pictures of loved ones who had passed. They were going to create an altar in celebration of Dia De Los Muertos (the Day of the Dead).

Decorated sugar skulls are traditional
DDLM is a Mexican holiday, founded in Aztec roots, that’s celebrated each year on November 1st and 2nd. Because we have a large Mexican population in San Francisco, it’s a prominent holiday and you’ll find altars dedicated to loved ones in storefront windows and all around the Mission district (largely Mexican) at this time of year. Skeletons are particularly iconic for DDLM and as homage to this cultural tradition. The City even placed custom designed rod iron gratings that feature skeletons around newly planted trees when they did a recent facelift of the Mission district. Even so, I hadn’t really participated in DDLM in the 15 years I have been out here.

I had mixed feelings about the school’s request for pictures. Both of Jack’s Grandpas had passed but I don’t believe either Tom or I ever fully explained that they were dead; emphasis on using the word “dead”. And Jack saw them only a few times, so he never asked where they were and we were able to evade a difficult subject. When my Dad passed, Jack was two. He came to the funeral home, but family kept him busy and he played downstairs with all of his little cousins while the sadness and tears played out upstairs. I don’t remember telling him that Grandpa “died”. When Tom’s father passed this summer, Tom and I weren’t together and I wasn't allowed at the funeral. I gave suggestions to Tom about how to explain Grandpa’s death to Jack and what he would see at the funeral which he attended, but I’m not sure what message was ultimately was conveyed, if any. At that time, I did discuss with Jack that a cemetary is a place for our bodies when they don’t work anymore and explained that's where Grandpa is – but we didn’t discuss further. 
Playing games at Casa Bonampak
In talking with Jack’s teachers about my concerns, I learned that DDLM is meant to be celebratory. It’s a time when life and the memories of our loved ones are festively celebrated – an annual way not to forget them, to celebrate what they mean (present tense) to us, and what we have to be thankful for in our own lives. In a spiritual sense, they are welcomed back to celebrate with the living – in Mexico, some families even have a picnic at the cemetery.

I finally did email a picture of Jack with my Dad for Jack to place on the altar at school. And noticed that Tom did the same. The kids made traditional skulls out of sugar and placed them on the altar alongside the pictures.

I wanted to learn more about what Jack was learning about DDLM, so I volunteered to be a parent escort on a field trip to Casa Bonampak, a store in the Mission that’s dedicated to preserving Mexican culture and traditions. The store is a few blocks from school. When we arrived at the store, the kids sat in a big circle and listened to the owner describe DDLM in the context of her own recent loss of her dog. All of the kids played a traditional Mexican game (like bingo) and the winner was honored with a colorful eggshell filled with confetti that was cracked over her head. That afternoon, I went back to Casa Bonampak and bought a banner (pictured at the top) and two sugar skulls – one for each Grandpa. Jack and I made a little altar together at home and we placed the sugar skull that he made at school alongside a paper airplane and a beaded bracelet he made next to the pictures.

Jack and friend, Alex, at taqueria
That night we went with a friend to the annual DDLM procession in the Mission that was a mix of art installation and dance with a lively procession through the streets. We ate at a taqueria for dinner (a cheap Mexican restaurant where you order at the counter and grab a seat) and then headed to Garfield Park where the action was. Our walk through the neighborhood to the park was candlelit as we passed several altars dedicated to loved ones. At the park we found huge altars of various forms and interactivity - some were huge, some were small, some encouraged us to write a note and post it to a roll of paper that spanned nearly a block or beckoned us to decorate paper feathers that we pinned to an altar. There was an amazing troupe of women who danced the flamenco in their flowing dresses and painted faces which captivated Jack and his friend (and their Mommies).

In the end, I discovered the positivity of DDLM and found it a wonderful way to connect to the diversity and community of our neighborhood and city. We've added a new tradition to our family.

CLICK HERE for pictures of our fieldtrip to Casa Bonampak and the nighttime festival in Garfield Park.