Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Santa was so very good to us this year! James and I decided early in the season that we would ease back a bit on our Christmas activities. This was our first Christmas in California. Last year we flew home as soon as the kids were out for Winter Break. This year we stayed put. Although I really missed the 'big' family Christmas, having a small "just the four of us" Christmas wasn't so bad. There was no rushing around or shipping Santa gifts. No cold weather and we actually baked the cookies for Santa ourselves!

Josie had us up at 5:45AM. She crawled into our bed, put her face right up to mine and said, "Mom, I think Santa came here. I saw only two cookies on the plate we left him and the milk is all gone!" James groaned, rolled out of bed and went downstairs to put on some lights. Most importantly, he started a pot of coffee! Maddie, who has never been a morning person, managed a smile for Josie when we sent her in to wake up her big sister.

Santa left Josie a new pair of ballet shoes in her stocking!

Josie thinks Maddie's "Slingshot Underwear" is hilarious! Josie picked them out for Maddie all by herself... it was VERY hard for her to keep these secret from her big sister!

Santa (Maddie!) also left me a pair of thong underwear! This is wrong on so many levels, I won't even start....

Hailey and her Mom, Jane came by for a visit on Christmas night. We are lucky to have found such wonderful friends here.

Notes from the Roadtrip:

We had been thinking about taking a trip to the Central California coast for a few months... Promising ourselves we'd get around to it during the winter break. The plan was to take our time with the drive and follow our fancy. Well, the rains here in Southern California kept us indoors for nearly 7 days. By Wednesday, we were ready to bust out - cabin fever stinks!

Many of Maddie's classmates' homes suffered terrible damage in the storm. One of her girlfriends posted a video of the furniture floating in 4 feet of water in their home... she was also filming when they lost power and were evacuated by the Fire Department. Very scary. We did not suffer any loss or flooding. Our community here was built only 10 years ago and the developers really did a great job with irrigation design.

Here are some photos from the roadtrip that I didn't post to FB:

The Drive:

After stopping at Meridian Winery for a tasting, we took a tour of Hearst Castle. We chose the "Experience" tour which included an IMAX film about the inspiration for and building of the Castle. Very cool.

We drove about 40 minutes south of San Simeon and stayed in San Luis Obispo for the night. We enjoyed a delicious dinner at the Creekside Brewery in the quaint downtown. We walked around a bit and then headed back to the hotel. The kids and James were asleep within 30 minutes. I was able to stay up until 10PM!

We had breakfast at a roadside diner where the pancakes were as big as your head: (really.)

We stopped in Pismo Beach to see the rugged coastline and the sea lions:

(Love this one!)

We made a longer stop in Santa Barbara. We took some time to enjoy the beach, grab some lunch and shop around town:

And finally, here's a photo of my husband in full road trip mode:

We call this his "Hey Yo Yo" look: part gangsta/part geek!

Have a Safe and Wonderful New Year celebration! To my friends and family on the East Coast: Stay Warm!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gingerbread & Germs

The granite countertops were installed in the kitchen last Wednesday. We are very happy with them. We had to leave the two-level island in, given we didn't want to get into the plumbing and reconstruction of the whole island structure. So, we extended the top level to make it more functional. Before, it was just 12" wide. Now, it's 20". It can be used for serving kids on the go or doing homework - which frees up the kitchen table for family meals. We have a painter coming for the final phase of renovation next Tuesday. All in all, a relatively painless process.

Just when the dust settled (literally!) from the granite install, Josie came down with a wicked 'bug'. She woke me up at 3AM Thursday to tell me her throat was really dry. One touch told me that she had high fever. We settled her back to bed with some ice water and some Motrin Jr. and she was able to rest until 6AM.

Josie was hoping to attend a friend's birthday party on Saturday morning, but it just didn't happen. For 5 days her fever was between 104.6 and 101. She was at her absolute worse on Saturday. She was lethargic - just not herself at all. James and I had to cancel all of our plans for the weekend. We missed a Christmas party and a lunch with two of my High School classmates who live here on the West Coast. Total bummer. But, when you're 5 years old and feeling terrible and sick - all you really want is Your Mom. So, James & I stayed home and cuddled Josie all weekend.

While she was sick, Josie did all of her homework. She practiced her penmanship. We played about 100 hands of cards, read every book she owns and built the Gingerbread house pictured above. Of course, no one will be able to eat it because she coughed all over it while we were making it :-(

Josie's fever broke about noon on Monday, but left behind a terrible cough and runny nose. I kept her home on Tuesday to be sure the fever didn't return. Wednesday was Pajama Day at school and there was NO WAY our girl was going to miss it. So, I bundled her up in her Princess pajamas and a warm coat and off she went. She had a great time in school, but when I picked her up at 12:30 she told me she just wanted some lunch and to take a nap. Today was much better. Her cough is nearly gone and we're not going through a box of tissues every 3 hours! Her girlfriends have been knocking on the door every afternoon wanting to play... Today they played nicely outdoors for an hour and a half and Josie was happy to come in for dinner. She's currently watching Finding Nemo with her big sister, waiting for her Dad to get home from a business trip.

I'll post photos of the kitchen next Thursday. The new stainless range hood is due in next week and the painter will be done his work by then. Just in time to settle in for a Long Winters Nap!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Well, I Didn't See THAT Coming....

On Friday our kitchen remodeling process began in earnest. I had only 3 hours while Josie was at school to begin the removal of the hideous 6" white tile countertop in our kitchen. I have no idea why these countertops are the builder standard here in California. I would have much preferred a formica countertop instead of scrubbing every grout line, everyday. One drip of coffee on the white grout seemed to take on a life of it's own, spreading across half the countertop like a virus. I swear I have gone through a case of Tilex in the year and 4 months that we have lived here.

My first task was to remove the top level of the two tier island where our sink is. James and I thought that the two tier island was undesirable - it seemed to interfere with the flow of the room, which adjoins the 'family room'. We thought a lower profile, flat top island would not only look better, but also look bigger and be a bit more functional. As it stands, the higher tier of the island is used to collect junk... mail, toys, and the 'take upstairs' pile that seems to always be in Josie's wake.

Stage One complete in 2 hours

Stage Two, Island countertop demolition complete

The houses here are very small. Unless you want to pay $1 million for a 3000 sq.ft. house, one is resigned to make due with a smaller footprint house for a bit (and I do mean, just a bit!) less money. Since we move so much, I'm always thinking 'Resale'. I would want granite countertops in a house in our price range. I'm sure in a few years, when we sell this house, buyers will want to see them too. We're trying to update the house without losing a chance to turn a profit, so we have to invest in only those items that will give us a return on investment. Kitchen & Bathrooms are where the money is well spent.

Our house was built in 2000 and owed by the same family until 2008 when it went into foreclosure. In April of 2009, an investor bought the property at a tax sale, fixed up the interior by painting, cleaning the rugs and installing distressed, wide plank hardwood flooring on the main level of the house. James put an offer in on the house in July 2009, while the girls and I were still in Virginia saying our goodbyes and taking care of the sale of the Virginia house. We took possession of the house on August 8th of last year.

I completed the island work on my own on Friday. On Saturday, James called in the Big Guns in the form of his childhood friend, Fred. That's when the 'man-sized' tools came out and the real demolition began. Maddie was very eager to vent a bit of frustration, so Fred supervised while she pried, smashed and chiseled a good part of the remaining countertop.

The demolition uncovered two really unfortunate realities of the initial construction of our house. First, once the top tier of the island was removed we discovered the reason it was a two-tier design. There is a return pipe directly behind the sink that must be higher than the drain. So, if we want the single level island, we're going to have to get into the plumbing. That's an expense we didn't anticipate. Second surprise was behind the cooktop and along the backsplash of the full counter... It appears the original builders used a substandard drywall and an equally inappropriate, stronger bonding adhesive to install the backsplash.

All was going great until we hit the backsplash and found the drywall behind it to be the consistency of marshmallow, caving in at the slightest pressure.

This afternoon, we have a handyman coming by to repair the drywall and to give us options on what to do about the island. I'll let you know the outcome... the granite is to be installed on Wednesday. Wish us luck!!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Holidays are Here!

In the past 10 days, we've had a lot of events. Most were happy, just one sad. Not to be a downer, but I'll start with our sad goodbye to Josie's very dear friend, LoLo. LoLo was Josie's first friend at her pre-school here in California. LoLo, like the pre-school friends we left behind in Virginia, is a Hugger. We love Huggers! The girls adore each other, so this was a tough one for Josie. LoLo and her parents Ross & Leah will remain close in our hearts as they start their new life in Colorado.

James turned 49 years old on the 21st. As is our tradition, he got to pick his birthday dinner. This year he surprised us with a request for Cream of Crab Soup. I found an excellent recipe on the Old Bay Website and doctored it up a bit (added quite a bit of Sherry and other spices). We served the soup in bowls of sourdough bread. It was VERY filling and really delicious! A crisp green salad went along with the soup and of course, red velvet cake for dessert.

Disneyland switched over from Halloween to Chirstmas decorations in record time. We took Josie to see the Christmas tree on Main Street and then her favorite -"Its a Small World" -all decked out in lights. It took us 45 minutes in line to get on that darn little boat and honestly I had that song as an ear worm for the next 3 days... Torture!!

This year we decided to do a bit of local exploring for Thanksgiving. James' family was unable to make the trip to visit us and my family was gathering at my sister Suzanne's house in Philly. I certainly didn't feel the urge to spend all day cooking for just the four of us, so off we went to San Diego.

We stayed at a Marriott resort on Coronado Island which was really 'old school' but lovely. Josie loved the flamingos and ducks which had free run of the resort. Did you know that flamingos eat bread? I didn't, but found out rather quickly when Josie held a roll in her hand...

We spent Thanksgiving Day visiting the Hotel del Coronado's beachside ice skating rink. It was a bit odd, but fun. The day was sunny with temperatures in the mid 60's. It was Josie's first time on ice skates. Initially, she wasn't too thrilled with the concept but she got more brave with each trip around the rink. In the end she declared that she 'loved' ice skating.

After we took off the skates, we took a walk on the beach. Just writing that is pretty weird, but the experience is what we all deemed "Soooo California"! It really was a great time for all of us.

Being in San Diego was the perfect excuse to resist the urge to hit the 4AM Black Friday sales. Santa is going to be a bit stingy this year... 3 big presents for Maddie. For Josie, well.... We've spent the better part of the month trying to convince her that there was NO WAY Santa's sleigh could carry everything she is wishing for. Our girl does have a lovely heart though... In her letter to Santa Claus she asked him to please bring new toys to the 'poor children'. What a kid :-)

Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Maddie Gets A Ring...

This evening was the Junior Family Mass where Maddie and her classmates received their High School rings. The rings were blessed during the course of the mass and then given individually to each student.

We were thrilled that Maddie and her 'Gang of Four' cohorts were chosen to participate directly in the Mass through readings and offerings.

(Sorry for the blurry photo... church lighting stinks!)

Brianne, Maddie E, our Maddie and Hailey - The Gang of Four!

Josie and I sat next to Hailey's parents, Jane and Rick, during the Mass. James is out of town on business and I know he was very disappointed to miss this big event.

Jane, Hailey and Rick

Finally, never to be out of the spotlight for long - Josie had to get into the photo with the girls! They all adore each other, so I'm glad I was able to get this last shot...

It really was a beautiful celebration and it gave us a chance to count our blessings just a bit ahead of Thanksgiving.