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

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Ooops! Guess I Missed October!

 I can't believe it has been 5 weeks since I updated this blog! Guess turning 50 really threw me for a loop! (*not really, but its as good a reason as any for being such a slacker*)

I'm going to have to work backwards from the present to early October events, but please note that this does not indicate the importance of said events!

This past Saturday, Nov 3rd, was Josie's second piano recital.  It marked her first full year of lessons with her teacher, Miss Sherri.  Josie has come such a long way with her lessons.  We never have to remind her to practice with Ms. Sherri making learning so much fun.  The recital was held at 9:30 AM and lasted for an hour.  Ms. Sherri's other students are quite accomplished, so much so that I felt a bit of Tiger Mom competitiveness clawing its way out of me.... (*I must push Josie to attempt more complex pieces of music...!*)  I suppressed the urge, knowing that when she grows up, Josie wants to be a waitress, not a concert pianist. (!)

Josie with her beloved piano teacher, Ms Sherri

So proud of her second trophy!

The evening before the recital, we had a visit from our dear friend, Ed B.  If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll recognize Ed... He and his wife, Marty, accompanied us to Africa in 2009.  They are also in photos of nearly family event of the past 15 + years!  How we miss our 'Virginia family'!

It was Ed's first visit to our West Coast digs, so it had been about 3 years since Josie had seen him.  She did remember him and quickly recalled playing with his grandson, Joey.  We took the two following photos so that 'Aunt Marty' could see how big and grown up Josie is now:

Of course, our visit with Ed was too short.  He was leaving early on Saturday morning to head back to Virginia, with a stop in Phoenix to look in on his Dad.  Sure wish Ed did more business on the West Coast!

We managed to squeeze in a memorable Halloween, too!  Josie decided to ditch the princess costumes and transformed into a Ninja at about 6 PM on October 31st.  She was not a happy Ninja starting out, but things got better as the candy bag got heavier...

 Biggest event in October was the marriage of my God daughter, Katie, to the handsome and loving Jesse, on the 20th of the month.  It was a beautiful occasion.  Plenty of opportunities to get misty-eyed over how beautiful the bride looked and how she seemed to grow up overnight.  I was third on the 'call list' the day that Katie was born in TwentyNine Palms, CA.  Her Mom, Nancy, was and is still, a wonder to me.

Shortly after 3:30 PM on that sunny day, the Reverend Karen summoned all present to rise for the arrival of the bride.  We stood, looked toward the barn and waited.  And waited. And waited some more.  After about 4 minutes, we heard someone behind us whisper "It's so quiet... you could hear a pin drop".  Nancy leaned back against me and whispered, "Or, hear an engine start and tires screech down the road...."  I laughed out loud!  This has been the kind of 'gallows humor' Nancy and I have shared throughout our two decades ++ of friendship.  We kept each other afloat during some very trying times.

I've already posted quite a few of these photos on Facebook.  So, for those whom I haven't bored to tears bragging about my Goddaughter, here are some shots from Katie's wedding:

I still have more photos of other, more mundane events taking place around the house.  Seeing how it has taken me over 6 hours to write this much - school is dismissing at 12:30 every day this week due to parent-teacher conferences -  I will have to wrap up this post and get back to my daughter.  Hopefully, it won't be another month gone before I get back here!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Even Mom is Back to School!

In mid-September I had the opportunity to attend a seminar in Boston, sponsored by the New England Historic Genealogical Society.  The class presented topics that include writing in genealogical format, working with images, and adding narrative to a genealogy.  It was very informative and just the kick in the pants I needed to finally finish up my research and get my long awaited book published.  I wanted the product of four years of research to be more than a scrapbook.  This class taught how to properly cite information and how to address the information that just isn't available.  I'm hoping that once it is published one of our younger family members will pick-up where it leaves off, or that the book at least stirs an interest in one who before had none.
I had the chance to walk around Copley Square on Friday afternoon and was thrilled to come upon the Farmers Market.  It was a beautiful afternoon and it seemed that all of Boston was out enjoying the great weather.  Here are some shots I took at the market:

While I was in Boston, I had an opportunity to have dinner with our dear friends, Nick and Mary.  It was their anniversary weekend, and before leaving for a celebratory get-away, they drove from the Cape up to the city.  How lucky am I to have such wonderful friends?!  While in Boston I also connected with my Maddie's BFF Maddy F.  Maddy F. is attending Boston University.  I figured that being so far from home, she would appreciate an evening out with a familiar face (mine!) and a nice meal.  Maddy met me at my hotel and Nick & Mary picked us up from there.  We shared an awesome meal in the North End Italian section and then hit up a Boston landmark for dessert:

Nick, Mary and Maddy enjoying the Italian feast!

Mike's Pastry - a Boston legend!

Cannollis in every imaginable flavor

My Girlz: Mary and Maddy

While we were all sharing dinner in Boston, I received a text from my Maddie.  Turns out that while I was looking after 'one-of-our-own', someone was returning the favor in Philadelphia...  My grade school friend, Terry, was watching her niece Katy play in a women's rugby game at St. Joseph's University.  My Maddie and a few of her suite-mates were at the same game, (and having recognized her from the many photos I post here and on Facebook) Terry yelled out for her.  Imagine my surprise when I received the following photo:

Maddie and Terry at SJU

I hope Terry doesn't want to kill me when she sees that I posted the photo, but I just had to thank her for being such a great 'Mom' and reaching out to our girl.  I forwarded this photo to James with the comment, "How blessed are we to have such wonderful folks looking out for our daughter?!"  And, its true.  Maddie has so many family and friends waiting in the wings, looking out for her best interest... It makes having her so far away a bit easier to bear.

Back here at home, we were able to cross one more item of home improvement off our list.  Our outdated oak baluster staircase was replaced with a custom stained, solid maple and iron baluster work of art!  This was the item that I wanted done the most.  It certainly has a more refined appearance and really complements the wood floors on both levels of the house.  I'm really pleased with the way it turned out.

 I'm finishing this post with a word of thanks to all my friends who have sent birthday wishes; my parents who sang 'Happy Birthday' to me this morning; my sister Suzanne who sent a beautiful bouquet  of Fall flowers; Israel, who stopped by with beautiful flowers and a lovely card last night; My sister Claudine who gave me the biggest laugh I've had in a long time; My in-laws Kim, Mom & Dad, Rich and Ken (and families) who never forget to send a card; and my husband and daughters - who give me the gifts of love and patience everyday!!  I'm grateful to have each and every one of you in my life as I enter my 50's (!gulp!).  I'm hoping to age gracefully... but if I don't - I'll just put it out there - I have no problem with achieving that goal artificially! LOL!  Have a great week ahead, and thanks again to everyone for a wonderful Birthday!!