Monday, May 6, 2013

Final Wrap-Up!

Wow, I never realized how much time Facebook sucked up blogging time until I went to write this post.  It's been forever since I did an update.  Its a bit repetitive posting some photos here, because I like the immediate gratification of sharing them on FB.  But, I'll do it anyway.  At least the narrative will put things in order.

Biggest event of the past few months was Josie making her First Communion.  Its a big deal with our family, as it is with most.  My parents and my two sisters flew here from the East Coast to be a part of the Mass and festivities following.  It was a beautiful day for a celebration of such magnitude.  I'm afraid that no one got the message to our church - which did a terrible job in organizing and preparing the children for this sacrament.

I try to stay positive on this blog, but there was little to praise about the Communion Mass.  I expect those of you who read here might remember your own First Communion or Bar/Bat Mitzvah.  I think, within their respective faiths, these two rites of passage carry equal importance and reverence.  So, you can imagine our dismay when it was announced that there was NO dress code, NO group photograph, and NO procession.  Families were given 3 Masses to pick from: 10AM, Noon and 2PM.  Masses were held at the local Catholic elementary school, in the gym.  This was supposed to alleviate over-crowding and provide enough room for the Communicants and their families to celebrate the Mass.  

Imagine our surprise to find the gym packed upon our arrival.  Not only packed, but a large number of people had 'reserved' whole rows (20 chairs across) and in some cases TWO whole rows of seats like they were on a cruise ship!  They laid out handbags, scarves, jackets and anything else they could find and then posted guards around their protected space!  We tried to be respectful of this arrangement.  James and I sat on the end of a row with Josie while the rest of the family searched for seats.  Ten minutes into the mass, there was still a whole empty row behind us while my 70-something parents stood in the back, unable to find a seat.  What's worse is when we asked the person who was 'guarding' the row if we could make use of it, we were given a lecture about how they had arrived an hour early to reserve those seats... "For people WHO ARE NOT HERE!" I replied in my most emphatic whisper.

There was no need to whisper.  All around us, people spoke in normal tones throughout the entire mass.  I mean, full conversations in the middle of the homily, texting on their cell phones, placing calls on their phones to find late arriving guests, etc.  It was a disgrace.

I am, by no means, a conservative, buttoned-down, holier-than-thou, type of Catholic.  I enjoy a casual gathering as much as the next girl.  However, some events require a certain reverence and respect.  None of either was provided that day.  Two of the Eucharistic Ministers, grown men, were in tee shirts.  The auditorium was set-up like an MTV sound stage and not one traditional hymn was a part of the program.  I know I sound like an old foagie going on and on, but it was embarrassing to hear my family comment on what a mess the whole thing was.  They were right.

Here are some family photos taken that day:

So, enough of my belly-aching.  Moving on to other events...  Our dear Maddie is at this moment finishing her Freshman year of college!  We are so proud of her!  It has been a big year of changes for her and she handled them all with fortitude and resolve.

She has set a goal to study abroad in the Spring semester of her Sophomore year.  This requires holding a solid GPA and having one's course load arranged so no credits are lost along the way.  She has signed up for an on-line course over the summer, arranged her Fall schedule to have only courses in her major and has already begun the paper chase for the study-abroad program.  She is also very active with her sorority and holds down a part-time job as a hostess at a Sports Pub on campus.  When she was having trouble with French II, she spoke with her professor, got a tutor and pulled a B out of the course that she was failing at mid-term.  I can tell you that NO ONE was more surprised than her parents when this kid turned out to be a go-getter!  We've stood back and watched her make her way - with fingers and toes crossed - and she really did great.  Good for our Girl!!

Here's Maddie (on the right) and Friends right before her Sorority 'Spring Formal'...

Finally, I guess its time to let everyone know that my "KICKING AND SCREAMING" had ended.  We are moving back East where my darling husband has secured an awesome job with an awesome company.  James has already started in his new position, which is located in Washington DC.  We will be here in California until Josie's school year comes to an end.  The house here has been on the market for 10 days and we have received 3 offers.  I will be traveling to Virginia this week to continue our home search there.

Its all moving quite rapidly, and I've barely had time for pleasurable pursuits - such as my research and getting together with friends.  We all plan to make the most of the limited time we have remaining here in California.  James has planned outings with Josie to make sure she sees all the wonders of the LA area  before we move.  Here are a few photos of Josie and Katie at the Griffith Observatory in early April:

Josie is going to miss her friends here so very much.  We are worried mostly for her, because she is a tender hearted girl, who feels loss so deeply.  We know she is returning to her Virginia friends, but we have to keep in mind that she was 4 years old when we left.  Although, she has never forgotten or been out of touch with those friends.  They have done a great job of letting Josie know how much she is loved and how much they are looking forward to her return:

A welcome home letter from Josie's friend Emma

And James and I are doing our best to re-acquaint her with the sights of her past:

So, it remains to be seen whether I will continue to blog once we return to Virginia.  I started blogging back in 2004, when we began our adventure to adoption.  So much has changed.  Life is certainly fuller, better, and much more exciting with two daughters!  James and I consider ourselves the luckiest parents on earth - we have two great daughters who are devoted to each other and love each other so very much.  We had no idea back then that Josie would be Maddie's other half, that they would complete each other so fully.  We also had no idea how much love, joy and laughter could come from that tiny little baby from China.  Our girls have changed us, and our family, for the better and forever.  I am thankful.....

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Oscar Sunday and the LA Travel Show

The weather here has been a bit chilly the past few weeks.  Those of you with school-aged children know that the flu has been running rampant, too.  Josie has been down with a wicked cough, sore throat and slight fever for the past three days.  Thankfully, she had a flu shot in the Fall - which means we skipped the vomiting and really high fever - but it's never easy to watch the little one suffer with glassy eyes and red nose.  We all needed to get out of the house and have a bit of fun.

Today was our second time visiting the LA Times Travel Show.  Last year was the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, so there were a lot of exhibits and presentations that featured Ireland.  This year lacked that central theme, but was really entertaining just the same.  Being on the West Coast, this show is heavily populated by Asian and Australian tour companies... shorter flights than from the East Coast.  I saw only a few European and African entities represented, but those that participated did so in a grand manner.

We kind of took the fast lane through the show - we wanted to be out of LA before the traffic for the Oscars began.  Although the LA Convention Center and Hollywood are in different parts of the city, the traffic is terrible to start with... huge pretzel knots of off-ramps and intersections with the worse drivers I've ever encountered.  We were there when the show opened at 10AM and we left just as Actor/Travel Writer Andrew McCarthy was taking the stage as a featured speaker at 1PM.

One presentation that we did sit down for was the Wilderness Escapes wildlife show.  Here's a bit of what we saw there:

California Red Tail Hawk
Fennec Fox - native of North Africa

This is what the Fennec Fox looks like at about 3 months old!  
Full grown hedgehog
A majestic Grey Owl

These cute characters appeared courtesy of Korea Tourist Bureau

Taiwan was well represented
And now, losing weight can be a vacation!

And finally, our favorite exhibitor was the Island of Fiji - a lot of their private resorts had booths and even provided entertainment:

These guys had me dreaming of white sand and azure blue water...  Maybe someday....

I'm finishing this post just in time to watch the Oscar Red Carpet.  Maddie and I usually enjoy watching this event together - I imagine that she and her friends in the dorm will be watching this evening.  Josie and I are making popcorn and settling in for the long broadcast.

In preparation for the Oscar broadcast, James and I watched ARGO last night.  (It was ON Demand already for $4.99!)  It was fantastic.  I had get up and walk around the room a bit as the more suspenseful bits unfolded - I guess that's a good sign that the film was realistic enough to make me nervous!  I hope Ben & Co. win a few awards tonight.

We are STILL without a kitchen.  The drywall and painting was finished a week ago Thursday.  Our contractor made an error on the original estimate for the cabinets, so we were in a holding pattern for two weeks while the revised estimate was submitted and approved by our insurance company.  I selected the replacement granite two weeks ago, so I guess now its just a matter of getting the cabinets made and installed.  Today marks DAY 68 of the kitchen project, which was slated to be 45 days long. Needless to say, we've grown tired of microwaved food and take-out.  Maddie comes home for Spring Break on Friday (March 1) and I won't be able to make a birthday dinner for her.  ;-(

Hope everyone has a great week ahead.  Stay warm and well!  xox

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Annus Horribilis - Already!

In late November 1992, while addressing the Guildhall, Queen Elizabeth II referred to the closing year as an "Annus Horribilis" ('horrible year' or 'year of horrors').  I remember clips of the speech being shown on TV along with images of Windsor Castle ablaze just four days previous.  The Latin term stuck with me and quickly came to mind in the opening days of this New Year.

On New Years Day we were awakened by a call from my sister, Suzanne.  Our brother Chalie and sister-in-law, Kim had just suffered a terrible shock.  Kim's Dad, Dick, had died in his sleep that very morning.  The sorrow and heartbreak were immediate as I thought of Kim losing her beloved father.  My brother had lost a father-in-law and dear friend and my niece and nephew had lost their treasured Grandfather.

Dick was an awesome man.  I always looked forward to seeing him at family functions.  He was a terrific Dad to Kim and her sisters, Courtney and Allison and her brother, Michael.  He was a loving husband of 40+ years to Sheila.  Grandfather extraordinaire to his grandchildren.  Kim was kind enough to 'Facetime' (Skype) with us on Christmas Day and I got a chance to speak with my 'boyfriend' Dick.  He looked great and was his usual charming self.  He scolded my husband for keeping us away from Virginia for so long and told me he missed me - as I did him.  It really made my day and I'm so thankful now that I had the opportunity of that call.  I still cannot fathom the heartache that Kim and her entire family are living with... Such a huge loss.

Dick and Sheila, 2007 with Kate.

James and Dick at Kate's First Communion celebration

On January 5th we departed cold and stormy Galveston, TX for a week long cruise to Cozumel, Belize and Honduras.  Maddie's boyfriend, Israel, joined us on the trip.  We had a great time observing and sharing all of Israel's 'firsts' -  his first airline flight, his first vacation, and all the new adventures!  It was a last minute trip, so we took it easy.  We didn't schedule too many activities.  We just wanted to play it by ear, letting the kids decide where the day would take us.  We really enjoyed having a 'sit-down' dinner every night with the kids.

In Cozumel, we rented a Jeep and struck out to find the Mayan Ruins of San Gervasio:

Touring in Belize

Josie the Pirate onboard the ship

When we got to Roatan, Honduras, the kids hit the beach.  James and I had arranged to take a mountain hike in the lush forests of the island.  Going up was the easy part - with tropical rain showers cooling us along the 4+ mile trail.  Going down was quite a different story!  The rains had turned the terrain to mud.  We wiped out more times than I can count, but we discovered that my husband has ninja-like dexterity with a walking stick... he saved himself going over the edge quite a few times!

James at the trail head

Our view through the canopy as we climbed

One of the smaller downhill challenges

My war wounds, proudly earned!

Once we mastered the mountains, our guide had a nice reward for us:

Ahhh, now THIS looks like a vacation!


Casey's Illness

Casey is still with us, hanging on and improving daily.  She was diagnosed with pneumonia on Tuesday and hospitalized.  She was released from the hospital on Thursday evening, but we've had to take her back to the Vet twice a day for nebulizer treatments.  On Friday (yesterday) she started showing signs of recovery - she ate her first meal in 4 days and went out on a short walk with James in the evening.  We have our fingers crossed that Casey will fully recover.  She turned 13 years old on January 8th and is proving the Vet to be right... Jack Russells are a hearty breed - never count them out!

Kitchen Reconstruction (pictured above):

Not a damn thing to report!  No work was attempted this week.  Our contractor called on Wednesday to let us know his full estimate for the kitchen work was sent to our insurance company that morning.  We expect to hear from our insurance contact on Monday and have work started sometime next week.  We have been kitchen-less for a full month.  I couldn't make any of Maddie's favorite meals while she was home on Christmas break. She's back at school now.  If I don't get some vegetables into Josie soon, the food police are going to come and lock me up!  Broccoli and spinach steamed in a microwave aren't at the top of her hit list!

I really wanted to keep up more with the blogging - it's one of my resolutions.  I'm hoping that the weeks to come bring some lightness and laughter.  Barely 3 weeks in to the New Year - there's just too much sorrow, worry and disappointment to document.  Let's hope my next post has a bit of joy in it!   Until then, I hope everyone stays warm and well.  xoxoxo

Monday, December 31, 2012

A Happy New Year to All!

I'm hoping that seeing a double rainbow yesterday is a harbinger of good things to come in the New Year. It has been chilly here in Southern Orange County, with morning temperatures hovering around 41F (5C) for the past two weeks. Great timing, as it finally 'felt' like Christmas for the first time in the three years we have lived here.

 I want to start this post by wishing all of our family and friends, near and far, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year. At this time of year, it isn't hard for me to recall all the love, support and friendship I have been blessed with every day, every year, for the past 5 decades. I am so thankful to still have friends from my childhood in Philadelphia, my high school and college years in Maryland, and in every town that we have called home in the past 12 years. I am also so grateful for my newly discovered extended family members ("cousins" one and all!) who have shared their time, their stories and their friendship with me. All of these wonderful folks have added such depth to my appreciation for the inherent goodness of mankind. I have and will continue to try to "pay forward" all the kindness shown to me and my family. Thank you all, so very much!

I guess I'll work backwards in sharing our activities of this holiday season.  Yesterday, Maddie and I were out running errands when a storm started making its way in from the North.  Storms around here are pretty rare - and thunderstorms are rarer still.  I had my new camera with me, a Canon Rebel T4i (thanks, to my darling husband!) which I was itching to experiment with.  The storm provided some pretty dramatic scenery that I was hoping to capture.  Here's a few of the shots I got before the rain started:

From the parking lot of the Home Depot about a mile from our house

A bit farther down the road toward San Juan Capistrano

Our 'pay-off' for storm chasing for a half hour!

Another fun event that takes place during the holiday season is the LA Car Show.  James is an automotive journalist in his 'spare' time, so he always packs up the kids and their friends and heads into town to get his "car guy" fix!  I won't bore anyone with the photos of the latest car models - instead I'll share this photo of my two loves taken in a photo booth at the State Farm Insurance exhibit at the show:

On the 22nd of December we hosted a "Girlfriends Christmas Luncheon" for Josie and her friends.  It's a chance for all the girls to celebrate the season, share some yummy food and do Arts and Crafts.  This year the girls decorated Christmas tree ornaments.  Wreaths, Snowmen and Snowflakes were decorated for Grandparents, Moms and Dads and friends.  Instead of exchanging gifts with one another, each guest brought and unwrapped toy "for the poor children" (as Josie says!).   About 2.5 hours into the gathering, we loaded the girls and the gifts into the car and headed over to our local fire station - the firemen were collecting toys to distribute to the needy children of the county.  The girls were able to appreciate the fact that Christmas is a time of giving and that there were children who would wake up on Christmas morning with no presents under the tree.

Jill, Isabelle, Megan, Nyra and Josie share a lunch of 'pigs-in-a-blanket', Christmas tree shaped sandwiches and holiday cupcakes.

Making ornaments for family and friends.

Big sister Maddie helped the girls a lot... She's SO Crafty!

Even Israel helped out once he finished work for the day!

Sweet Jill, granddaughter of our neighbors, Denise and Brad. In the background, Isabelle, granddaughter of our other neighbors, Kathy and Dennis.

Once all the food was gone and the ornaments were set out to dry, we made hot chocolate and piled into the car to take our traditional 'Tour of the Lights' in our neighborhood.  We play Christmas songs on the radio and drive along our streets to see who won our community decorating awards.  It's the cheapest holiday fun a bunch of girls can have!  Here's a bit of what we saw that evening:

It really was a lot of fun.  Our party lasted from 1PM- 7PM and there wasn't a bit of trouble with any of the girls.

Earlier that same Saturday, a local pet store was offering free holiday pet portraits.  As many of you know, we're dog lovers.  Our Casey and Carson are loved so very much!  I thought it would be great to have a portrait of them in Christmas finery... the dogs, of course, had other ideas.  According to James, they arrived 30 minutes before the 'studio' opened (both dogs get VERY EXCITED by new environments) to get themselves together before the big shoot.  Things were going well until the other guests (a beagle and two Pekingese) arrived.  Carson made a dash for the beagle, knocking over the Christmas tree in the shop on his way to offer a greeting to his 'new friend'.  Casey, in the meantime, rolled onto her back, paws in the air, offering her belly to anyone who would give her a nice rub.  This action scattered the large ornaments and greenery being used as props for the portraits.  The whole place turned into a circus - with James apologizing to all in attendance as he backed out the door with the troublemakers!  I think the owner of the shop took over 20 photos but only 3 turned out good enough to be offered as 'portraits'.  Here's one of each dog - what a hoot!

And, finally...
The reason so many of our friends did not receive Christmas cards from us this year: ANOTHER LEAK!!

The morning after Maddie arrived home from college I had planned to take the photo of our girls for our Christmas cards.  Josie was still in school when Maddie awoke at 11AM.  While getting caught up on all the news in the kitchen, Maddie dropped her phone - which slid under the refrigerator. We had to pull the refrigerator out from the wall to retrieve the phone.  When we did, we noticed water dripping down from the cabinet above.  "This can't be condensation, right?" I said.  Then, we started looking up and over to see bubbling paint, swollen crown moulding and a stream of water coursing along the soffit above the cabinets, down the sides of the cabinets and pooling on the hardwood floors.  UNBELIEVABLE!!  Our third such leak in the three years we have owned this house!!

Another pin-hole leak in the copper piping, this time in the ceiling of the kitchen.  We estimate that the leak ran unchecked for about 12-15 hours.  During that time, the cabinets soaked up enough water to distort their shape and the base moulding had also caught enough moisture to swell and push out from the wall:

Bubbling paint at base moulding

Looking up at the soffit and crown moulding closest to the leak source

Since the 17th, our time has been spent entertaining our insurance representative, construction estimators, dry wall contractors, mold remediation experts, packers, and coming Jan 2nd - a complete demolition of the kitchen.  The kitchen has to be taken down to the studs as moisture was found EVERYWHERE - including the wall that backs the refrigerator and wall ovens.  The other side of that wall makes up part of a closet under our stairs.  What a mess!  I don't mind admitting that I just wept when I saw the extent of the damage.  Luckily, we have an excellent home insurance policy.  It will take an estimated 45 days from demolition to installation and finishing an entire new kitchen.  The contractor said that the demo team will try to salvage the granite we installed two years ago - but if they can't, we're covered for the loss.  It's a bad news/good news/bad news kind of process.

So, when the going gets tough - the tough get going... Right out of town!  James and I are taking the girls on a quick get-away to a far better environment.  This Friday, January 4th, we're leaving on a 7 night cruise to Cozumel, Belize and Honduras.  We're gonna let someone else do the cooking while we contemplate kitchen cabinets poolside!  Perhaps I'll finally get that photo for my Christmas cards - which at this rate - will arrive late January!

I hope all of you have a joyous New Year celebration.  Best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2013.  See you next year!!  xoxoxo