Our 2017 Family Vacation, Part 1

This was a vacation six years in the making. We had just been waiting for the right time to take our daughter to Disneyland. We thought at 5 and 3/4 years old, she’d be old enough to remember, appreciate and ride most of the rides. And so the plan was set in motion.

We decided that our vacation would cover a week, and would include 3 days in Disney, a day in Legoland, and a trip to San Diego and their zoo. It sounded exhausting. It was exhausting.

Now, thankfully, we made it home in tact and with most of our possessions. On the way home, I managed to lose my still camera, but thankfully I left it behind in Downtown Disney, so it was found and returned to me free of charge. I swear there were plenty of moments during the trip when if you asked me which I would rather lose, my camera or my daughter, I would’ve said the latter.

So it was stressful and exhausting, which was not surprising, yet I found myself under prepared for the toll it would take. In other words, I didn’t realize how many times I would have to restrain myself from flat-out Homer Simpson strangling my kid. You see, as a parent you think you’re running the show. You think this little person who depends on you for everything will just have to do what you say. And that’s true, but when you are trying to peel a screaming, crying child from the railing surrounding the Haunted Mansion line, you have to ask yourself, “is this really worth getting my way?” Which brings me to…

Day 1 – in which we have a near total meltdown by 8 a.m.

We began by getting up early and walking to the park. We were not going to make it in line before the park opened, like all the guidebooks suggested. I figured we should probably stop for breakfast, but I was too excited so we forged ahead into the park. After the requisite bag check, ticket picture taking, and passing by the sign that said that Disneyland contained chemicals or substances known by the state of California to cause cancer (which scared the crap out of a little girl old enough to read but not old enough to know it was just a required California warning), we were in. The first thing I did by the entrance was ask an outfitted employee if they were a photopass photographer. They were not, and that wound up derailing the photopass strategy for a long while.

The entrance to Disneyland. Photo credit: A stranger, and not a Disney Photopass Photographer

After we got in, the question was what to do first. I don’t remember how or why, but we wound up in Fantasyland where the wait for Dumbo was not too long. So that was it; our daughter’s very first Disney ride would be Dumbo. She started complaining when we were in line. She was hungry. So we flew the elephant first and then made our way to the Jolly Holiday Bakery. I ordered Sonja a chocolate milk, a staple of her morning routine, and she immediately began throwing a fit, saying that she didn’t want it and she wouldn’t drink it. I bought it anyway because there was nothing else they were serving that she would eat, and our day was off to a frustrating start. She eventually drank some of the milk and ate some of the bacon off of Dad’s breakfast sandwich.

She’s not seen Dumbo. And really, it’s a weird and unpleasant movie, isn’t it?

A skeptical look at the Jolly Holiday Bakery.

Afterwards, we headed over to Star Tours, which she was excited about until she got in line. The line is dark and the robots (her favorite things from the movie) freaked her out, and when she learned the ride was in 3D, that was too much for her. She’d never seen 3D and she didn’t understand what it was. She made a huge scene at the end of the line, and the cast member told us we could exit, but I wasn’t about to do that. She said if she had to go on the ride, she wouldn’t wear the glasses. Fine. Whatever. We got in and buckled up and she had her hands over her eyes the whole way through. When the ride finished and the doors opened, she said, “that was actually kind of fun.”

Next, we had fast passes for the Matterhorn. When we got up to the front of the line, they turned Sonja away for being too short. This was when we figured out she could get on the 40″ rides but not the 42″ rides. So they gave Shaun and I a ticket to switch off and I went first. Meanwhile, Sonja was crying and having a fit that she wanted to go too. They’ve updated the Matterhorn since I was last on it 13 years ago, and the abominable snowman is much more realistic. I have a feeling that if she did go on the ride, it would’ve scared her. Sonja also, throughout the trip, complained about some of the jerkier coasters hurting her back, and this one probably would have done that. It hurt mine.

After all the morning tragedies, we decided to go on the teacups, another ride she was really looking forward to and lists as her favorite in Disneyland. We had great luck with lines and got on not only the teacups but the Jungle Cruise, Winnie the Pooh, Pinocchio, It’s a Small World, Gadget’s Go Coaster, and Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin with minimal to no waiting. (Of those, Winnie the Pooh and It’s a Small World were her favorites. The Go Coaster was fun but hurt her back, she said, and Roger Rabbit was allegedly too scary.) We waited a good 20 minutes for Autopia, but she loved it. Peter Pan’s Flight was one that never saw the wait time at less than 40 minutes and which we consequently missed out on. The Haunted Mansion was a mere 5 minute wait, but as we were winding our way through the empty queue, convincing Sonja that it wouldn’t be scary, I said something wrong and the aforementioned pole clinging/fit-throwing ensued, and we had to use the exit of shame. We also couldn’t convince her to go on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Snow White’s Scary Adventures or the Storybook Land Canal Boats. (The Disneyland Railroad and the Mark Twain Riverboat are out of commission as Disney builds Star Wars Land.)

Mad Hatter Tea Party

Outside It’s a Small World…

Inside It’s a Small World

Dinsey CrossFit

In ToonTown

We spent more time than I had anticipated waiting in line to see characters, but Sonja loved talking to them. I guess I can’t blame her – to me they’re just strangers in elaborate costumes with ungodly amounts of makeup, but they were so nice to her. Who wouldn’t love that?

Making Bert laugh

She wanted to meet Mary Poppins so badly after she watched the movie. I thought that movie might be too old to have the characters at Disneyland. I was so happy to be wrong! First character autographs of the first day.

Ariel

Cinerella

Snow White

Though we thought it would be wise to go out of the park for lunch, we were tired of walking and wound up at Redd Rockett’s Pizza Port, which is one restaurant that we seem to hit whenever we are in Disneyland. At some point in the afternoon, we decided to take the guidebook advice and go back to the hotel and rest. (It was good advice, but we only obeyed it the first day because the 10 minute walk to the hotel was too daunting after all the rest of the walking. The other days we rested in the park.) We had dinner before re-entering the park, and we watched the Main Street Electrical Parade that evening, which was another big hit with Sonja.

The Main Street Electrical Parade

Then it was back to the hotel and lights out in preparation for…

Day 2 – in which Sonja wins big at a carnival game and cries her eyes out. 

We decided we’d better hit breakfast before the park this time, so we stopped at a Denny’s. Sonja still had a bad attitude and I found myself crying at her that I wanted her to enjoy her time at Disneyland. At that particular moment, as my face streamed with tears, a balloon animal guy stopped and asked if she wanted a balloon. Ordinarily, I would’ve said no, because who would want to carry that around, but I was looking to foster some goodwill. He said he could make her a princess and she chose Cinderella. He came back several minutes later and we gave him $5 for a balloon that she didn’t like. I tried to leave it behind at the table, but the waitress returned it to us as we were paying our check at the register. Then, in one of the saddest scenes you’ve ever seen, Sonja tried to throw Cinderella away in the garbage can just outside the restaurant. The manager took it from her and said we could come back for it later, which we didn’t. I really hope someone else got that balloon that liked it.

When we made it inside the park, Shaun went on a quest for World of Color and Radiator Springs fast passes, while we waited for Minnie Mouse’s autograph. After Minnie left and we were still waiting for Shaun’s return, I decided to try and foster more goodwill by getting in line for the Disney Junior Dance Party show across the street. Thankfully, unlike the balloon, this attempt really did foster goodwill. She liked the storyline that Mickey and friends were racing to get to the show, and the bubbles and “snow” and confetti they dropped from the ceiling. Next, we met Elsa, Anna and Kristoff, then we took a very happy child to Radiator Springs Racers where she had a great time on her first roller coaster.

Fostering even more goodwill by giving the child the cell phone

Disney Junior Live across the street

Let It Go

Listening to Kristoff

In line for Radiator Springs Racers

On Radiator Springs Racers. Sonja is the pink hat.

After Radiator Springs Racers, we enjoyed more of Cars Land by riding Tuck and Roll’s Drive ‘Em Buggies (bumper cars), Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters, and having lunch at Flo’s V8 Cafe, which she had been begging to do since I showed her the movie and told her we could eat there.

I thought this was such a cute ride

Flo’s V8 Cafe

So we were finally having a pretty good day and wishing we’d started at California Adventure instead of Disneyland. I don’t know if that would’ve made a difference, because we might’ve been doing better the second day after learning from the first day’s mistakes. However, I had much more of an agenda in Disneyland than I did in California Adventure. Shaun and I had only been to the Adventure park once, in 2004 a few years after it opened, and well before Cars Land and many of the other additions. This time, we were in a much more relaxed, glassy-eyed, wandering, look-at-the new-stuff state. Very casual. I think this was also the day we let her buy her stuffed animal souvenir. I figured that promising to let her buy something but then continually asking her to wait was not doing us any favors. She bought a Stitch Tsum Tsum. Most of the souvenirs she picked were Lilo & Stitch related, which I found odd because she won’t sit all the way through that movie, and she really loves movies. She told me she liked the Stitch things because Stitch is cute.

We took the momentarily happy child to get fast passes for Toy Story Midway Mania, a ride she was afraid to go on. Despite reassurances from the both of us that there was absolutely nothing scary about Midway Mania – that it was just a video game inside a ride – she resisted. She was still spooked by the idea of 3D. I finally told her that if she went on the ride and didn’t like it, I would buy her another souvenir. That was a bet I did not lose. We wound up getting stuck inside the ride several times, at nearly every screen, allowing us minutes more play time in each round (though sadly our points stayed the same.) The overhead announcement said something about needing to change the batteries. By the time we came around the corner into the light, Sonja was cheering about how awesome the ride was. When we put away our 3D glasses, she asked if she could have her souvenir. I laughed and told her no, she’d tipped her hand.

Inside Toy Story Midway Mania

Having an awesome time

We also played some of the Paradise Pier Midway Games. One was fishing, where all you have to do is pick up a fish from the pond with the magnetic fishing pole, and you get a prize based on the color on the bottom. For instance, purple is the small prize, green is the medium prize and yellow is the large prize. Somehow Sonja managed to pick the large prize. “Wow, what are the odds of that!” I was thinking, when the attendant handed over a giant Goofy. Immediately she started bawling her eyes out, complaining that she wanted a starfish, which was the small prize. We asked the attendant if we could have that instead. She said that she had to give us the Goofy, but she was sure someone out there would like to trade with us. We realized it would be quicker to buy another play in which she would most likely pick up a small prize. Thankfully that was exactly what happened. Later, she won another small prize playing against me at a skeeball-type game.

The big prize holding the small prize

Shaun was unable to find the World of Color fastpasses that morning, and by the time we stumbled across them in the afternoon, the early show was out of tickets. We decided we’d come back the next morning and grab them first thing. We managed to fill out the rest of our day with Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, Silly Symphony Swings, King Triton’s Carousel, ice cream at the Cozy Cone, the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail and the Bakery Tour. Sonja was too short for Goofy’s Sky School and Grizzly River Run, and Shaun and I wanted to switch off for the new Guardians of the Galaxy ride, but it was such madness to even get a fastpass that we passed. Next time, Disney, next time.

King Triton’s Carousel

Eating a cone at the cozy cone

The Redwook Creek Trail Challenge

Sonja saw this spirit animal thing online and she was SO EXCITED to get her spirit animal. She was a bear, though in this picture it looks more like the ebola virus…

Sonja was a bear, I was an eagle, and Shaun a moose.

Leaving California Adventure on the second day. My smile speaks volumes…

Oh, and the Frozen-Live at the Hyperion show was closed until a few days after we left, so we’ll have to catch that next time as well. We had dinner in Downtown Disney (which we didn’t like) and made it an early night since we were dead on our feet. Which brings me to…

Day 3 – in which we use our park hopper to park hop but mess up our extra magic hour.

I decided we should use the extra magic hour our park hopper passes came with at California Adventure. California Adventure opens later than Disneyland, so since we were exhausted that seemed like the better play. I didn’t realize that the extra hour was only valid at the Disneyland park. Thankfully, we arrived only about 20 minutes prior to the actual park opening time, because we’re slow. We waited in line for the “rope drop” and sped our way to the World of Color fastpass. I realized that we had forgotten to ride Soarin’ the day before, and so went to pick up a fastpass for that. The line was only 10 minutes, so we considered waiting, but the fastpass return time was also right then. So we got the fastpass and turned around and got on the ride, no waiting. It was pretty awesome, and Sonja loved it.

After that, we headed back over to Disneyland. We went on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Initially, when we had discussed this ride, Sonja was afraid because she said there would be thunder. I assured her there wasn’t, but since I was on day three, I knew where this was headed. So as waited for Thunder Mountain, which you mercifully can’t see much of from the line, I told her we were going on a train ride. She was convinced when she saw one of the trains chug by. Afterwards, she told me that she loved the ride and it was one of her favorites. I told her I knew she would like Thunder Mountain, and she scratched her head and said, “That was Thunder Mountain?”

Yep, that was Thunder Mountain

We had lunch outside the park at Panera, which caused us to miss our Splash Mountain FastPass, so we got another one, but this time it was for much later in the day and put us out of getting another fastpass for a longer time. Afterwards, we got on Pirates of the Caribbean before the line got too terribly long, and Sonja said she didn’t like it, except for the fireflies at the beginning. We went to the Enchanted Tiki Room, which Sonja loved, though we accidentally got in the line for the Dole Whip first and waited there for at least five minutes before we got to the front and realized what we’d done.

Trying to get a selfie on Pirates. Someone is not cooperating.

Some things never change

We finally got to Splash Mountain, and somehow I wound up in the front of the boat. Now, we told Sonja that she wouldn’t really get that wet on Splash Mountain, and in my defense, I’ve never gotten very wet on Splash Mountain. I’m not sure if that’s because I’ve never been in the front of the boat, or if they turned the water up, but I got soaked. Not at the end, but after one of the little rushes in the middle. Sonja got wet as well, but that lucky girl had a change of clothes in my bag. I was waterlogged for a couple of hours. Shaun, who was behind Sonja, only got splashed a little and dried quickly. He said I took the brunt of it. Sonja keeps telling us how she hated Splash Mountain and she never wants to go on it again, but she says it so excitedly… It’s almost as if she learned you can get wet and also not die.* I was excited to see the ride picture, but unfortunately the morons behind us did something inappropriate and Disney wouldn’t show us the photo.

“Your Photo Has Washed Away”

*Sonja later admitted to me that she kind of, maybe, a little bit, liked Splash Mountain. Just not the part where the crocodile was trying to eat the bunny.

We left the park and had Indian food for dinner, then returned for the World of Color show at California Adventure. Sonja absolutely loved it.

Just prior to the World of Color show. It turns out that screens made out of water take terrible pictures.

 

After the show, I decided to return to the gift shop at the exit of Toy Story Midway Mania and pick up the tank top I’d had my eye on. I had only bought one collector pin because I am not five and was waiting to buy my souvenirs until I was sure I’d found the best ones.

After that, tired as we were, we somehow managed to walk around Cars Land one more time. It just looked so pretty with all the neon lights that I didn’t want to miss seeing it at night.

Disney does everything well, but I have to admit, seeing these cartoonish cars driving around Cars Land was especially impressive

Get your kicks on….

We bought a couple of last minute, our-time-is-up-but-we-don’t-want-to-leave souvenirs and dragged our tired bodies back to the hotel. Which brings me to…

The end of this post.

When I thought I had lost my camera for good, I started frantically writing this post and detailing all the events I could remember, trying to preserve the memories in writing. Then three days later I got the miraculous phone call that Disney had found my camera. At that point, I slowed my writing, knowing I’d wait to post until I could add the pictures. I’m keeping all the details and continuing the story here. (Link forthcoming.) Join me next time for…

Day 4 –  in which we realize we’ll die if we try to tackle another theme park, and wisely decided to move our Legoland visit to Monday.

 

 

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My Five-and-Three-Quarters Year Old

At five-and-three-quarters years old, my daughter has finally finished preschool. I’m thinking of this summer as the last unnoticed summer. The finale before summer vacation really starts to mean something. A friend recently told me that once your kids start school, you might as well consider them graduated because the time goes so fast.

Finally and Officially a Kindergartner!

Graduation Day

Sonja continues to be a strong reader. She picks out books from the children’s section of the library, reads them to herself, then summarizes the plot for me. I find it pretty impressive, though I am biased.

Washing her car

The bedtime routine was getting unbearable. She will not fall asleep until 10:30 or 11:00, and I was getting really tired of the constant yelling for my attention when I was trying to work or relax. So I consulted the Internet and we settled on a new routine. After stories, we talk for 5-10 minutes. Then I leave the room, and if she can remain quiet and in her bed for 5 minutes, she’s rewarded with an extra 2 minutes of talk time and another hug. This has been going well, but the last couple of nights after I leave the second time, she starts calling me again. I’m hoping that when the school year starts and necessitates her getting up earlier, bedtime will be easier, but I’m not so sure. I was a pretty legendary insomniac for a very long time, and she may be following in my footsteps.

Sonja tends to talk in hyperbole, mostly about days (or things or food) being the best ever. Sometimes things are the worst. She’s pretty obsessed with first times too, like her first time on a plane which is coming up soon. She got to see her first play about a month ago, at the Oregon Children’s Theater. She loved it, and insisted we wait in a long line for cast autographs.

Playing at the park and…

… playing at the splash pad in the park. Best. Day. Ever.

Panda face paint. Best. Day. Ever. (Even if she did wash it all off 10 minutes later.)

Pinkalicious at the Oregon Children’s Theater

A very tall chair

Walking Pepper.

She also participated in her first ballet recital, which she also loved. Again, I was impressed that she remembered all the moves and to some extent led her classmates through the dance.

Recital Costume

Recently, Dad bought a Nintendo Switch and taught her how to play Mario Kart, and that, as well as Dad, quickly became her favorite things ever. We even went to see Dad at work and have lunch with him in Seattle.

Yay, we’re going to see Dad!

In Seattle but not in the mood for a picture.

And now we gear up for the best summer ever, with a first time plane ride and a first trip to California and Disneyland. I wonder what effect Disneyland will have on the hyperbole speak. Will days still be the best ever, but not as good as Disneyland? Two years ago, after we went to Canada, she asked to go back every single day for six months, so perhaps more importantly, how long will she ask to go back to Disneyland? If she’s anything like her mother, probably every single day for…ever.

 

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My Latest Culinary Experiment

I made mayonnaise the other day. I don’t have an explanation. I just saw the recipe in a cookbook I had and it seemed pretty easy. I just had to know. Could I do it? Would it be worth it? The answers were yes and yes.

It took me three tries. The recipe I found in the book said for best results to use half olive oil and half other oil. This concoction came out perfectly thick and creamy, but it tasted so much like olive oil that I had to throw it away. I mean, I like olive oil, but you know… The second time I switched to avocado oil, remembering what the owner of the farm where we had Sonja’s pictures taken last summer had said. (She said it was mildly flavored and good for mayonnaise.) Unfortunately, this attempt didn’t emulsify, so I had to try it again. The third time I made a few adjustments, including pouring the oil slower and using a whole egg instead of just the yolk. It worked. And it was good. It tasted mostly like Best Foods, except I used it to make other things that then turned out better than normal, like tartar sauce and macaroni salad.

The downside to this whole experiment was that homemade mayo only lasts about a week, if you listen to the experts online. I ended up with a little over a cup of mayo, and since I’m the only one in the house who eats mayonnaise, I just couldn’t eat it fast enough. I can see using this recipe when I have a potluck or a fish fry, when I know I can use it in larger quantities.

Previously, I tried and failed to make my own sourdough starter. It probably would’ve worked, but I got bored. Also, horrified by the amount of flour I was using. Next up, hummus. Pictures, I promise.

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My Alton Brown

I saw Dennis Miller live once. I think. No, I’m sure I did. It was a long time ago. I don’t know who I went with. I don’t know what theater. I don’t have any pictures. And I remember only one thing about it. After his set was over, he walked off stage and then immediately back on, saying he was going to spare us the encore bullshit. Did he think he wouldn’t get an encore? I don’t know. Either way, well played.

Last week, Shaun and I saw the Alton Brown Live: Eat Your Science tour at the Paramount. I’m writing it down because I feel that may be the only way I remember it five or ten or twenty year from now. Although I may remember that at the end of the show, just as he was wrapping up, there was a mass exodus of people, and Alton had to ask people to stay for one last song. (Yes, song.) I think that’s the only time I’ve been at a show where the performer had to ask people to stay. Nobody was leaving during the show that I noticed, but the whole production seemed lackluster. We went to see him talk about food, and instead we got off-key comedy-musical stylings (Allan Sherman would not be jealous) and a couple of silly, large-scale food experiments, with volunteers from the audience who had to go backstage for a costume change and came back in protective smocks and miraculously full of witty one liners. As we were leaving the theater, we heard another couple say that this live show was very different and not as good as his last two years ago.

I always thought Good Eats was a well done show, and I appreciated his explanations of cooking techniques. Some of Alton’s recipes are some of the best dishes I’ve ever eaten. Yet he’s much more into inventing elaborate cooking techniques and using non-traditional hardware because he can, and it’s not for me. And that’s what the show felt like. He did it because he could, and it wasn’t for me.

At my favorite restaurant before the show.

 

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My Five-and-a-Half-Year Old

The first time I wrote what was to become the “Sonja Quarterly Update,” she was six- months old. I hadn’t done one at three-months because the idea had yet to occur to me. One thing that I say in the six-month update, and that I remember very clearly, is that the first six-months passed as fast as a glacier. Everymommy everywhere talks about how FAST time flies, especially when babies are little, and to that I say, “Bullshit, madame.” As the sleepless days and nights bled into each other, I wondered how old I would be when baby finally turned 1. That day eventually came, and time eventually returned to its regularly scheduled rate of advancement, but now I find myself facing a new, yet oddly familiar, six-month milestone.

She wishes it were summer again. Don’t we all?

I’ve complained a few times that Sonja just missed the kindergarten cutoff (*see here, here and here), so she, or rather we, have to wait another year for her to start school. It’s now March, and her sixth birthday and the start of school are approximately six-months away. Six-months – that’s nothing, you say! Subtract time for meals and sleeping, it’ll go by like that.*

It snowed. A lot.

Oh but will it? Really? Three days a week, I take Sonja to pre-kindergarten. It takes 20-25 minutes to get to the school, and 25-30 to get back, depending on the day of the week. So for me, you have to multiply all that driving by 2, because I drop her off and go home and pick her up and take her home. We also go to the Y once or twice a week for ballet or gymnastics, where I sit on really uncomfortable bleachers, trying to read my book but not being able to fully tune out whatever loud conversation about child-rearing is going on behind me. Recently, when driving alone, I made an illegal left-hand turn on a red light. There was no traffic coming and I knew it, but the absentmindedness of making that turn disturbed me. I realized that I’m not fully present when I drive by myself because it’s the only uninterrupted stretch of time that I have, and my mind wants to take advantage of it.

Officer: Do you know what you did back there, Ma’am?
Me: Yes, I made an illegal left-hand turn on a red light.
Officer: Why did you do that?
Me: Because I have a five-year-old!

A trolley ride.

When I return home from preschool or activities or work, I return to a messy home. I can’t keep up with my little hurricane (or my big one.) I clean and I clean and I make all sorts of vows and pledges to do such and such chores every day, to keep on top of things so things don’t topple me, but after a few days, it’s exhausting. It’s not just exhausting, it’s deflating to watch your once reasonably clean house be torn apart at the seams day after day after day. It doesn’t take long before I want to do something other than clean, and my once steely resolve turns into ennui. I work and walk amongst piles of crap for days or weeks until some motivation, either internal (you can do it!) or external (guests are coming, tripped over the same toy 50th time in a row and I want to put my fist through a wall but I know that will only make more of a mess) puts me back on the righteous path of cleanliness. Shampoo, rinse, repeat and that’s my routine. For six more months. Six. More. Months. I don’t know if I’ll make it.

First time getting her hair washed at the salon. She said she wanted to go back to this place, over the place with the chairs shaped like cars, because here she got her hair washed and she didn’t have to take a bath.

The biggest milestone this time is that she’s reading. She recognizes a pantload of sight words, and is beginning to sound words out. She hasn’t added much to her repertoire of foods, though her new favorite thing to eat is a chicken leg. Her preschool makes her take no-thank-you bites of food, which have yielded more no-thank-yous than foods I could get her to try. She even said, “no thank you” to a doughnut, and who does that? It’s a doughnut! Her preschool also gave her the kindergarten evaluation, because she aced the preschool evaluation the first time she took it. She only missed a couple of questions, about illustrator and setting, and now I know those are things we can work on. She likes Moana and Sing. We tried to watch Pete’s Dragon but that lasted all of 60 seconds before she started bawling and insisted we watch something else. Her choice? Back to the Future. (I insisted on part 3.) She said she liked it because it was funny, but could not explain to me why it was funny.

A particularly suspenseful scene in Back to the Future III.

On the half-month birthday this year, we took a trip to see our friends. Sonja was so excited to take the train, which she later declared “boring.” We stayed overnight at a hotel. (“Now we’ve been to two hotels!” she declared.) We went swimming and shopping and to dinner, and she’s already ready to go back. It was certainly the most fun we’ve had over the past three months.

A bottle of water at the train station.

All aboard!

Screen time.

Shopping. Unicorn (whose name is Unicorn) and the sunglasses came home with us.

How many train rides does one need in one vacation?

Girls.

Silly girls.

Very silly girls.

Popcorn.

Swimming.

Headed home in style.

*An old Seinfeld joke.

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My Bingeing Problem

One Halloween long ago, maybe ten years, I was telling a friend that when I was a kid, I had no trouble with self-control when it came to candy. The treats I got on Halloween would last until Easter, if not longer. However, I lamented, those days of self-control were long gone.

Since the advent a few years ago of the beautiful activity known as binge-watching, I have been a devoted fan and addict. Why wait a week between episodes of a show, when you can get the whole storyline in a few days?

In the last year, I have added reading to my (albeit very short) list of hobbies. Over the years, I’ve had stretches of time to read, like when I would commute to work by bus. But mostly, it hasn’t been a major presence in my life. I consciously wanted to change that, feeling that I was being too consumed by the on-demand, information-less list-icle online culture.

Funnily enough, one of my favorite things to read about is culture. Over the past two weeks, I have been reading my way through Brigid Schulte’s fantastic Overwhelmed: Work, Love & Play When No One Has the Time (a book I began to read a couple of years ago but didn’t finish because I didn’t have the time.) When I read, I usually do so in fragments, when Sonja is otherwise occupied for five minutes, and I don’t want to do the dishes or whatever other chore is staring me in the face. Since I work in the evenings, I try to get up before her in the morning and read for 20-30 minutes, but most days it doesn’t work out that way. I sometimes get upset that I don’t get more time to read in pleasant, daylight-filled uninterrupted stretches of time, which is the entire point of Schulte’s book. Before I started reading this book, I read a short novel that I breezed through in a couple of days. I started to become upset that I couldn’t finish this much denser, much longer book in that amount of time. And something about that thought in combination with the content of Overwhelmed made me realize I have fallen victim to the culture of bingeing.  I was overlooking the fact that I was enjoying the time I was spending reading this book, far more than the little novel I read, because I couldn’t binge it fast enough.

Here’s what I think about that: finishing a book, or a season of a show, feels like an accomplishment. I’ve actually made it to the end, I can close the cover, hit the power button, check it off my list. And there is so very little these days that I can finish. I am interrupted a thousand times a day. Something as simple as paying bills, which should take five minutes, must sometimes be abandoned half-way through, picked up again either late in the night or when the nice people at the water company remind me they haven’t been paid. For Pete’s sake, I don’t even put my legs under the table when I sit down to dinner because I know I’m going to have to get up fifty times before the meal is over.

So finishing a book is like completing a thought. How novel – pun intended. I don’t suffer from the overwhelm as much as some of the people Schulte describes. I work part-time and I have the help of dual sets of grandparents. But the pressure I feel and put on myself to do everything and be perfect is real, and overwhelming. I tend to self-sacrifice instead of trying to find leisure time, because what would I do with the time if I had it? Oh Lord, I’d probably just screw it up. Or worse yet, I’d write a blog.

 

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My Best Of 2016

I think there is a widespread cultural feeling that 2016 was a shitty year. We had to listen to all the election crap, and then when the election was finally over, things just got crappier. But regardless of all the crap, I love writing this post and looking back at all the great things that I found during the year. Things I loved. Things that made me happy. Things that may have changed my world or me as a person. And 2016 was not devoid of those things. Here they are, in no particular order.

Better Call Saul, Season 2

I worship at the altar of Vince Gilligan. As I said last year, the idea of doing a spinoff of one of the greatest shows ever is fraught with peril, and such a show should not be any good. But, Better Call Saul is really good, and if it’s possible, season 2 may have been better than season 1. And the show somehow manages to tie itself in with Breaking Bad completely seamlessly, while still being a completely different show. You could watch this show having not seen a lick of Breaking Bad and still understand it and think it was the best show ever. I cannot wait for season 3, but to paraphrase our favorite children’s author, I will have to. Speaking of which…

Mo Willems

Children’s books are a mixed bag, and there are plenty that should be put in a bag and thrown straight out the window. I feel like if I have to read another rhyming couplet, my brain will melt and seep out of my ears. So thank God for Mo Willems. His stories are always creative, entertaining and devoid of saccharine. The Knuffle Bunny series and Waiting is Not Easy are my favorites, but with the help of the library, Sonja and I have read just about everything he’s ever written. Speaking of which…

Libraries

I’m putting the library on my list for the second time in 4 years. I used to take Sonja to library story times when she was little, and now we go all the time so she always has new stories to read. As I have put the pressure on myself to read more, I have been really impressed with the library’s collection. In the past couple of months, the only thing I could not find was an F. Scott Fitzgerald memoir*. When the public library didn’t have it, I realized that I was an employee at a community college, and that the community college has a library, and that the college library might have it. And they did! We talk a lot about the great access to information we have in the information age, but let’s not forget the original, and still best way, to access information. Speaking of which…

Reading

I read a bunch at the beginning of the year during my Facebook hiatus. Then, I went back to Facebook and found less and less time for reading. Then after the election, like everybody else, I had to turn off Facebook for a while. So I started reading again, and I was like, “hey, this is really great, and it was great at the beginning of the year, too. What was with me during the middle part of the year?” After all, it was this self-imposed self-control that led to the best discovery of the year, which was…

Shirley Jackson

How did I ever live without Shirley Jackson? I first heard about her book, Life Among the Savages, on the podcast, Mom & Dad are Fighting. When I needed something to read at the beginning of the year, the library had it. Though Shirley Jackson is a horror writer, this was a memoir (if you’ll recall, my favorite genre) about raising her kids in the 1940s and ’50s. I immediately fell in love with her prose and connected with her. I mention in my Best Of: Entertainment Edition that I abandoned a book I was reading called, I Want My Epidural Back. I read a good chunk of it and laughed a couple of times, but it was just another boring attempt at comedy through generalization. There was little in the way of narrative, and much vulgarity directed at this modern mythical creation known as the supermom. I don’t know if it’s our current culture that has created this motherly insecurity, or just our current technology that amplifies it, but I don’t find it productive or enlightening. There were no generalizations in Shirley Jackson’s memoirs, only characters. She definitely did not consider herself what we would now call a supermom, but she didn’t demonize anyone else, either. The only person you could call a villain is another mom that Jackson argues with over which of their kids started a fight, but even that ends in hilarity when they bump into each other at the store.

Mrs. Howell and I met at the meat counter in the grocery the next morning; she smiled and I smiled and then she said, “How is Laurie today?”

“He seems much better, thanks,” I said solemnly. “And David?”

“Fairly well,” she said without turning a hair.

“Horrible little beasts,” I said.

“Liars, all of them,” she said. “I never believe a word they say.”

Contrast that with the Epidural author:

Speaking of rugrats, I’ve got two of them. Zoey is six and she is AWWWWESOMMMMME. I also have a three-year-old named Holden who kicks ass. I don’t mean he literally kicks ass. He’s more of a hitter and a puncher. But not a biter, thank God.

I read every non-fiction story and essay of Jackson’s that exists, and now I’m left wondering if I’ll ever love reading anything as much again.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

This show packs in more laughs than most anything else you can watch on TV, and it also does two or three musical numbers every week. Pretty impressive.

The Crown

I’m generally not interested in any malarkey about the monarchy, but this was so well done. Though just because it is a well-done period drama does not mean it can fill the void Mad Men left, I really enjoyed watching it. So that’s something.

A Jane Austen Education

I’ve never read an entire Jane Austen novel, but this book made me want to. I think it’s just because I adore the writing of William Deresiewicz. But, with all that reading I’m doing, I’m sure to make time for Jane Austen at some point.

Brooklyn

This film had been on my radar for some time because the screenplay is by Nick Hornby, and it was nominated for an Oscar. However, I just can’t get that excited about any movie these days though, so I sort of settled for watching the radar blips, knowing eventually I’d probably get around to it. Plus, the last Hornby screenplay, An Education, was decent but forgettable. However, I really liked this movie. Saoirse Ronan was terrific, and I found I had a very strong opinion in her America vs. Ireland decision, which surprised me. It’s been a while since I felt emotionally involved in a film. So this one earns a hearty recommendation from me.

So there you have it. Not a bad haul for a year like 2016. I cannot wait to see what 2017 will bring. But I will have to.

*The library now has it available to borrow as an e-book.

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My 2016 Year-in-Review: Entertainment Edition

At the beginning of the year, I bought a planner made of (gasp!) actual paper. I just thought I would like it. And I do. One of the unusual manifestations of this purchase was that I decided to keep track of everything I watched or read throughout the year, in the notes section at the top of each page.

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Check marks next to things I finished.

Now I’m glad I did that because I can compile the list below. I love lists, don’t you? (Especially ones that tell you what you have already done, not what you have yet to do.) This will be a two section list: shows and movies watched, and books read. There are no dates, but the list is more or less in chronological order. This is only a list – no reviews or opinions. Anything that I particularly liked will show up in my forthcoming best-of post. A few caveats: My record-keeping was not perfect. I only finished reading Funny Girl this year, having started it early in 2015. (I almost always inhale Hornby books at an alarming rate; this one was a disappointment.) Also, I did not read every essay in the Shirley Jackson collection, Let Me Tell You, just the autobiographical essays.

You might not be able to tell it from the titles, but my reading list certainly has a theme. I like autobiographies/memoirs, and another genre that you might call cultural non-fiction. Well, that’s what I’m calling it, but I just made it up*. In fact, if you look at the titles of the books that I abandoned, they’re almost all fiction. I still have several fiction books on my to-read list, and I hope to read more fiction and find more fiction authors that I like next year. Having said that, we are who we are, or we are what we read, so read what you like.


Series and Movies Watched:

Making a Murderer

Narcos (Abandoned)

Better Call Saul (season 2)

The Good Dinosaur

Trumbo

Steve Jobs

The Big Short

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Halt and Catch Fire (season 2)

The Americans (unfinished but maybe not abandoned…)

Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

Star Trek: Beyond

Hail, Caeser

Mr. Robot (unfinished and probably abandoned…)

Parks and Recreation (all 7 seasons)

Angry Birds

Zootopia

The Secret Life of Pets

The Jungle Book (2016)

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Halt and Catch Fire (season 3)

Ghostbusters (2016)

Orange is the New Black (seasons 1-4)

Project Runway (season 15) (in progress)

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (season 2) (in progress)

Jane the Virgin (season 3) (in progress)

The Mindy Project (season 5) (in progress)

Big Eyes

The Crown (season 1)

Finding Dory

Dana Carvey: Straight White Male, 60

Gilmore Girls (revival)

Fed Up

Cooked

Spotlight

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Mitt

Into the Woods (abandoned around the 90-minute mark)

American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson

Brooklyn

Still Alice

Rosewater

Sully


Books Read:

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

Fire in the Hole (short story) by Elmore Leonard

Will Not Attend: Lively Stories of Detachment and Isolation by Adam Resnick

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz

Year of No Sugar by Eve O. Schaub

Death of Friendship (essay) by William Deresiewicz

Life Among the Savages by Shirley  Jackson

100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write by Sarah Ruhl

Let Me Tell You by Shirley Jackson

The Lottery (short story) by Shirley Jackson

Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

I Know I Am But What Are You? by Samantha Bee

Bucky F-ing Dent by David Duchovny (abandoned)

Lost for Words by Edward St. Aubyn (abandoned)

A Short Autobiography by F. Scott Fitzgerald

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti, et. al (abandoned, almost immediately. It’s really not even worth putting it on the list.)

I Want My Epidural Back by Karen Alpert (abandoned – so sick of this genre that makes fun of the so-called elite, put-together mommy with self-depreciation. There are so many of these books because somewhere in the culture we’ve been lead to believe that these women exist, but as far as I can see, they don’t.)

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff, and Guests by Chris Smith – Foreward by Jon Stewart

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

Fowl Language by Brian Gordon

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai (in progress)

 

*Okay, having now looked up “cultural non-fiction” I find that it is a real term, and Pollan and Gladwell turned up on a list of popular books from the genre, so I guess I hit the nail on the head.

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My 2016 Year-in-Review

I consider the year-in-review post a labor of love. I love it, especially for posterity, but it’s a labor to remember just what I did all year. Mostly I’m afraid that I may not be able to come up with anything. This year seems thin, but I’m sure I feel that way every year. Either I have to start taking better notes or doing more memorable stuff.

January

The first day of the year I begin a three-month Facebook cleanse, probably one of the only resolutions I kept. It was quite a productive time for me.

Sonja in PJs, photobombed by the dog, the vacuum and me.

Sonja in PJs, photobombed by the dog, the vacuum and me.

Sonja at a birthday party.

Sonja at a birthday party.

Stock! I make chicken stock about 6-8 times a year, and beef stock once a year, after Christmas dinner.

Stock! I make chicken stock about 6-8 times a year, and beef stock once a year, after Christmas dinner.

February

February is boring.

Valentine's Mailbox

Valentine’s Mailbox

Sid

Sid

Playing in muddy puddles

Playing in muddy puddles

Sleeping in her toddler bed

Sleeping in her toddler bed

March

Knowing that March is also largely boring, I make plans for my spring break: I paint Sonja’s room and buy her a “big girl” bed.

New room, angle 1

New room, angle 1

New room, angle 2

New room, angle 2

New room, angle 3 with closet doors

New room, angle 3 with closet doors

Sleeping in her big girl bed.

Sleeping in her big girl bed.

Hunting Easter eggs

Hunting Easter eggs

April

Sonja and I go to the Spring fair. We are supposed to meet friends, but they back out last minute so the two of us tackle kiddie-land together.

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Face paintin’

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Car drivin’

Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows

Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows

I hope she doesn't mow over someone's foot...

I hope she doesn’t mow over someone’s foot…

Milking a fake cow

Milking a fake cow

Sonja-Go-Round

Sonja-Go-Round

Helicopter flyin'

Helicopter flyin’

Fairy T-Shirt wearin'

Fairy T-Shirt wearin’

Stair nappin'

Stair nappin’

Helping Mom cook

Helping Mom cook

May

I see Paul Simon in concert, and buy a tour hoodie which I ultimately find to be a little ridiculous because the hood covers the logo, and other than the logo, it’s just an off-brown hoodie. But I still wear it nearly every day because, dammit, I bought it. I also paid off my car about a year early, so hooray for one less bill…

The Back

The Back

Pepper got a haircut

Pepper got a haircut

Fun at the park.

Fun at the park.

Sonja has her special day at preschool

Sonja has her special day at preschool

A preschool photo

A preschool photo

June

I tackle some decluttering a la Marie Kondo, making the trash can my new best friend.

A new bike

A new bike

She said it was her "summer break."

She said it was her “summer break.”

July

Day trippers! In lieu of a longer vacation, we take the first of two summer day trips. We also let Sonja play with fireworks for the first time, and we do a little photo shoot down on the farm. (Not our farm.)

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Family photo, Leavenworth, WA

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Friends

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More friends

A sweater was required for fourth of July fireworks this year.

A sweater was required for fourth of July fireworks this year.

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Dancing with fire

Tire swing

Tire swing

Carrying vegetables that she would not even try.

Carrying vegetables that she would not even try.

August

In August, we take another trip to the zoo. Shaun and I celebrate our 8th wedding anniversary. I have another birthday. And, on the hottest day of the year, we take our second road trip, the genesis of which is bathed in confusion, but the execution of which is memorable.

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Something tells me it’s all happening at the zoo

In the Columbia River

In the Columbia River

The girls coloring.

The girls coloring.

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September

We begin a bathroom remodel that is still agonizingly unfinished. Sonja turns 5. And I somewhat ill-advisedly start playing Pokemon Go, even though I know squat about Pokemon.

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The 5-year old

Birthday fun

Birthday fun

Birthday girls in a car

Birthday girls in a car

Some pinata confusion

Some pinata confusion

This is early, but after some work was done, such as waterproofing the subfloor and moving the wall.

This is early, but after some work was done, such as waterproofing the subfloor and moving the wall.

October

The predicted storm of the century turned out to be, quite predictably, nothing. Sonja goes on a field trip and trick or treating.

storm-meme

Totally prepared and completely underwhelmed

Totally prepared for and completely underwhelmed by the storm.

Prepping for a storm that never materialized.

Prepping for a storm that never materialized.

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Porch decoratin’

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Field Trippin’

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Giant Pumpkins

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Trick or Treatin’

November

We eat a turkey.

Outside of her school in a turkey hat.

Outside of her school in a turkey hat.

December

We see The Nutcracker and we visit Santa Claus. We decorate the Christmas tree and bake Christmas cookies. Sonja leaves out two cookies and a glass of milk for Santa, plus a carrot for his reindeer. And of course we open presents and eat ourselves into a stupor. As always, we really overdo it on Christmas. As always, I vow not to even leave the house after about December 10th, but then proceed to go out every single day to pick up some item I forgot the day before. It’s too much trouble, but I suppose I do it so that I’m not left wondering what I did all the long, dark winter.

Seeing the Nutcracker and eating very expensive M&Ms.

Seeing the Nutcracker and eating very expensive M&Ms.

All decked out

All decked out

Thumbs up with Santa

Thumbs up with Santa

Stocking stuffers

Stocking stuffers

A purple brontosaurus (that thankfully she loved...Santa was worried.)

A purple brontosaurus (that thankfully she loved…Santa was worried.)

Christmas dog

Christmas dog

The yearly picture with all of her gifts.

The yearly picture with all of her gifts.

Now on to 2017!

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My Five-and-a-Quarter Year Old

On Friday, Sonja and her pre-K class went to the nursing home to sing Christmas carols for the residents. It was a ten-minute production, top to bottom, which went, I suppose, as well as you could expect for a gaggle of four- to five-year-olds. When we got home, Sonja told the family how much she enjoyed singing for “the old people.”

Last week, we went with friends to see a performance of The Nutcracker. Even though she’s only five, I figured she would do pretty well, as sitting and watching things is one of her fortes. Afterwards, Sonja told the family how much she enjoyed seeing The Nutcracker.

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We started a new preschool this year. It is not a co-op, and I do not have to work in the classroom. When we arrive, she is so excited she can barely take the time to hang up her backpack and coat. She runs into the classroom to greet her friends. I say something along the lines of, “Bye, sweetie, have a good day.” Without turning around, Sonja sticks her hand out behind her in a half-wave and says, “Bye!”

Sonja is, to put it mildly, a well-adjusted child. It is surprising, to say the least, given her lineage.

Of course, she is still only five. She traded little plastic rings with one of her friends, and wore her new one to school. She lost part of it during play time, and according to her teacher, had a 45-minute meltdown, resulting in the first time her behavior card was changed to yellow, which is like a warning.

Sonja now knows how to read several simple words, and has a memory like a steel trap. Some of this memory is used on characters from Pokemon Go, which she has taken to playing with Mom & Dad, and which I feel is taking up valuable space in that big brain of hers. She seems to be slowly letting go of the fixation with the color green. She has not expanded her palette, though thanks to her preschool, she better at taking adventure bites, even if she does just say “phe, that’s disgusting.” She loves doing mazes and other activities in coloring/activity books, but she passes right by the coloring pages. She loves it when we think she is being funny, but her attempts to tell jokes…well you’d tell her not to quit her day job if she had one. She likes to listen to music or play with her stuffed animals after I put her to bed. She’s my little insomniac, but the nice thing about insomniacs is they sleep in.

For my part, I sometimes forget that she is a now at an age where she will remember these days. I do not remember going to preschool. I remember kindergarten, though, and as I may have mentioned a time or two, I was Sonja’s age when I was in kindergarten. We are so close to this giant milestone of school, and I feel like her not being in school is one of the things that leads me to think of these days as future forgotten.

Speaking of forgotten, I’m having trouble remembering what we did the last few months. I often forget to take photos for long stretches of time, which seems to be the case for the last quarter. I’m also having some photo organization issues, now that most of my photos are on my phone and my cloud storage is full.

We did, I recall, have a birthday party. It was at the house for the first time since she turned two, and a great time was had by all. I actually planned games and activities this time, and the kids enjoyed them, minus the requisite fits from Sonja when she didn’t win. I also finally figured out, after two years, how to properly bake a chocolate chip cookie cake. The neighbors lent us a bouncy house and “other grandma and grandpa” bought her a car.

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Pinatas are the new must-have for any kid-oriented occasion.

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Pizza ‘n’ Paw Patrol

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Birthday girls!

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Cruisin.

The first field trip with her new school was to a pumpkin patch, on a miserably soggy and frigid October day. I was impressed when the teacher’s assistant quelled a potential meltdown after one of the farmers suggested Sonja pick a different pumpkin that wasn’t bruised. Sonja really liked her pumpkin, and the assistant told her that was all that mattered, not what anyone else thought.

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Old friends

 

Prepping for a storm that never materialized.

Prepping for a storm that never materialized.

We finally had a successful Halloween. By successful, I mean that she didn’t have a meltdown every time she got a piece of candy she didn’t like (candy she doesn’t like: anything that’s not a plain Hershey bar or plain M&Ms or a plain Hershey kiss.) She also went trick or treating with her friend so that made it even better.

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Later, there was a Halloween pinata.

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Our Halloween decorations.

Sonja was not interested in “the holiday with the food,” but once it was over, she said she loved it.

Outside of her school in a turkey hat.

Outside of her school in a turkey hat.

December has been all about Christmas. We attempted to make a gingerbread house, which the dog then ate. There was the preschool concert. We visited Santa. And now we wait, in tremendous agony, for Santa’s visit. While we do that, we play the games on Google’s Santa Tracker, which is an enormous hit in this house.

Santa 2016

Santa 2016

12_dec-2016-santa-2 12_dec-2016-santa-3 12_dec-2016-santa-6As we prepare to head into the long winter’s void, my wish is that Santa brings her plenty of things to fill the time and plenty of space in which to keep the things.

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