Happy Thanksgiving!

Pine Cone TurkeyThanksgiving was already four days ago, but I’ve decided that it’s not too late to write about what I’m thankful for.  Like always, I am thankful for my funny family that I love so much, for my friends that feel like family, for good health, and for our cozy little home.  Those are the biggies.  But there is still so so much that I am thankful for, and that’s what today’s post is all about:

THE TOP TEN THINGS I’M GRATEFUL FOR RIGHT NOW:

  1. Thanksgiving.  That’s right, I’m thankful for Thanksgiving.  I love that this country celebrates a secular holiday that’s all about gratitude, food, and awesome leftovers.
  2. Free stuff.  The best things in life are free, right?  I think that saying was meant to apply to things like love and health, but for me it has come to also include clothing swaps, library books, on-line learning (like creativelive.com), curb-side furniture, the Buy Nothing Project, youtube, 21-day meditation programs, Craigslist, and TED Talks.
  3. Technology.  I know I’m constantly taking screen time away from my kids, but holy cow, what would I do without it?  I rely on it for everything.  Technology is how I’ve made a living, and it’s part of just about everything I do:  listen to music, watch TV, blog, put books on hold at the library, read e-books, get directions, communicate, make travel arrangements, find recipes, shop, market myself, learn stuff, schedule my life, take pictures, make pictures, and the list goes on and on.  Isn’t that crazy?
  4. Exercise/Yoga Pants.  Some days were just meant to be spent in yoga pants – the only legitimate way to wear pajamas all day, without actually wearing pajamas.  If I happen to get a light jog in too, well kudos to me.
  5. Proximity.  I love walking, running, biking, skateboarding, or scootering to and from school with my kids every day.  I love biking to my office.  I love that I can walk to the store (which means I can only buy as much as I can carry), walk to the park, walk to our friends’ houses, or walk to the beach from my house.  Proximity rocks.
  6. Snowfall.  I am so glad that I live in a place with four distinct seasons, and that none of them are too harsh.  Winter temperatures in Seattle rarely go below freezing, and if we want snow we usually go the mountains to get it.   But when it does snow in Seattle, like it did this weekend, it is a treat.  It pretties up the place, makes things quieter, the kids love it, and, thankfully, it doesn’t hang around too long.
  7. New FriendsTai Lopez always says “New friends are good, but old friends are better.” I get what he’s saying; I’ve known my best friend Barb since kindergarten and there is nothing more fun or more comfortable for me than hanging out with her.  But I have some amazing new friends in my life, mostly people I’ve met through my kids, like my most favorite playground moms.  I’m pretty sure these new friends will eventually become old friends for both me and my kids.  I want my kids to have a Barb.
  8. Tortillas and Peanut-butter.  As a mom I rely heavily on tortillas and peanut butter. When the cupboards are bare I can still usually make peanut butter sandwiches or tortilla pizzas to put in lunch boxes.  We have tacos for dinner more than I care to admit.  I’m sure we have tacos for lunch every weekend.  Miles eats peanut-butter right out of the jar for a snack, or dips carrots into it.  And who doesn’t love a delicious banana and peanut butter?  YUM.
  9. My office.  I’ve been working in my new office space for a year now, and it has been life-changing.  I’m only there from 9am to 3pm, but I fill those 6 hours with concentrated work without the distractions of home.  Plus, I get to work and hang out with my wise and awesome friend Sonya who I share the space with, our Krypton group meets there every other week, I’m going to have a holiday pillow sale there in a couple of weeks, it’s not too expensive, it’s in a great neighborhood, and I can bike there.  How lucky am I?
  10. My Mid-life Crisis.  Is it possible that the best thing that ever happened to me was  two years ago, when I was 46, and I hated my job so much that I quit in a fit of frustration?  Vowing to never go back?  It might not be the best thing that’s ever happened to me, but it sure feels good.  I love being my own boss, spending more time with my kids, being creative, and doing things I love and that are meaningful to me.  I ♥ my mid-life crisis!  (Shouldn’t that be a bumper sticker?)

I heart my mid life crisis

 

Spring Break

We got back on Monday night from our most excellent Spring Break vacation.  We were gone for eleven days, and it was fantastic.  We went to The South to visit my sister’s family in Tennessee and my parents in South Carolina, and even though the weather was pretty crumby (cloudy, rainy, cold, and even snow – but a few nice days too!) we had a blast.  We stayed up late every night playing Rumikubs and cards (and I stayed up even later watching Mad Men), slept in every morning, and packed in a whole bunch of fun.  Here’s some of what we did…

First stop, Chattanooga, Tennessee where we went to the Jump Park:
Miles at the Jump Park

We checked out the alien’s house:
Chattanooga's Alien House

We went to the aquarium:
Chattanooga Aquarium

Chattanooga Aquarium - Shark Attack!

Chattanooga Aquarium - Shark Tank

And to the butterfly house:
Nadine holding a butterfly

Chattanooga Butterfly House

We watched my nephew’s lacrosse game:
Miles at Joshua's lacrosse game

Then we drove to South Carolina, leaving Chattanooga in the snow.  Six hours later we were at my parents’ house on a small island in South Carolina where…

We went crabbing:
Crabbing in Callawassie

The kids swam:  (Much too cold for me!)
Swimming in the cold at Callawassie

We took the boat for a spin:
Nadine driving the boat with Bonpapa

Miles on the boat

We played golf:
Nadine looks like a professional

Playing gold at Callawassie

We played tennis:
Playing tennis in Callawassie

We saw all kinds of birds:
Egrits

And alligators:
Alligators on the golf course

We went fishing:
What kind of fish is that??

We went strawberry picking:
Stawberry picking

Miles got a crew cut:
Miles at the barber shop

Miles feels his new 'do

We had an Easter egg hunt:
Easter egg hunt on Callawassie

And celebrated Easter:
Easter bunnies

But the thing the kids liked best of all was driving the golf cart.  It rained so much one night that the golf courses were closed the next day because of flooding.  So the kids and I hopped in the cart and on bikes, and we drove all over the island on the golf paths, splashing through all of the puddles, laughing our heads off.

Kids on the cart - watch out!

Golf cart fun

Golf cart fun

As you can see, what had tons of fun.  The only bummer was that Todd couldn’t join us.  His busy season is picking up so he had to work, poor guy, although I’m sure he enjoyed having a bachelor pad to himself.  But we missed him, and he missed us, and on Easter Sunday I got a text from him with a sound file attached to it.  He had written us an Easter song, which I played it for the whole family at Easter dinner.  Click here to listen to it. I think it might get picked up by a major label and become an Easter classic.  At least it will in our family.

Happy  Spring!  Happy Easter!

P.S. I Love You

Every year, for the past five years, my husband has given me the absolute best present possible for Christmas:  an extended weekend trip to Palm Springs with my BFF.  The weather, the scenery, the Ace hotel, the pool, the town, the architecture + no trips to the grocery store, no cooking, no planning, no shuttling, no homework + a friend I adore = the perfect getaway.

I just got back the day before yesterday and I feel like a new woman.  Besides feeling relaxed, I feel so inspired.  Every trip to Palm Springs has had a slightly different focus, like last year it was more about the architecture and the local scene.  This year we got out of town a bit and hit Joshua Tree and Pioneertown.  We still got in some excellent pool-side time, and we went to a super inspirational Modernism Week event – an interview with Roman Alonso, the creative director of Commune, the design firm for all of the Ace Hotels.

Why is this annual getaway is so inspirational?  I’m guessing it’s several things, like:  1) Palm Springs is about as opposite from Seattle as you can get – the climate, the people, the architecture, the town, etc.  2) I relax my brain and only think only about me – like what should I have for lunch or what magazine should I read or what movie do I want to see tonight?  3) The Ace Hotel is designed so perfectly.  I love every detail: the landscaping, the graphics, the art, the lighting, the DJ by the pool, the menu, the outdoor fireplaces, the full-moon drum circle, and the pop-up shop.  It’s so creative and fun and beautiful and homey all at the same time.  4)  Being with my most excellent friend (a mom of two boys who needs this vacation as badly as I do), we leisurely talk about everything under the sun.

Doesn’t it sound dreamy?  I also tend to go picture crazy while I’m there.  Here are some photos from our trip:

Palm Springs Vacation - Getting Out of Town

Palm Springs Vacation - Deserted Gas Station

Palm Springs Vacation - Heading Into The Desert

Palm Springs Vacation - Joshua Tree National Park

Palm Springs Vacation - Joshua Tree National Park

Palm Springs Vacation - Joshua Tree National Park

Palm Springs Vacation - Joshua Tree National Park

Palm Springs Vacation - Joshua Tree National Park

Palm Springs Vacation - Joshua Tree National Park

Palm Springs Vacation - Joshua Tree National Park

Palm Springs Vacation - Pioneer Town Moonrise

Palm Springs Vacation - The Ace Hotel Lobby

Palm Springs Vacation - Pioneer Town Moonrise

Palm Springs Vacation - Pioneer Town Moonrise

Palm Springs Vacation - Going Cactus Crazy

Palm Springs Vacation - Going Cactus Crazy

Palm Springs Vacation - Going Cactus Crazy

Palm Springs Vacation - Pioneertown

Palm Springs Vacation - Pioneertown

Palm Springs Vacation - Pioneertown

Palm Springs Vacation - Pioneertown

Palm Springs Vacation - Pioneertown

Palm Springs Vacation - Pioneertown

Palm Springs Vacation - Pioneertown

Palm Springs Vacation - Coming Back Into Town

Palm Springs Vacation - Coming Back Into Town

P.S.  Palm Springs I Love You!!!!!

Goodbye 2013. Hello 2014!

2014 is here and the party is over!  No more staying up late, sleeping in, lounging around, going out for dinner, hanging out with friends every day, having sleepovers all the time, watching too much TV, eating and drinking too much, and not exercising.  Tomorrow it’s back to school, back to work, back to getting up early, exercising, making lunches, shuttling kids to activities, making healthy meals, doing homework, etc.  I’m actually really looking forward to it.  And I’m super excited for 2014.  I think it’s going to be a very good year, and very different from 2013.

Last year I wrote a ‘Reflection, Intentions, and Predictions‘ post for 2012/2013, and my intentions for 2013 were to earn more, get crafty, eat healthy, expand my creativity, de-clutter, exercise, spend more time outside, give my kids freedom to play and do things they love, be good to the environment, and figure myself out.  Was I successful?  Let’s find out…

2013 Reflections

Here are my reflections based on my 2013 intention list:

  • Earn more:  While I earned almost nothing in 2013, Todd gave himself a raise, I had one paying web-development freelance job, and I started charging Blackbird Iron for my bookkeeping services.
  • Get crafty:  I had a few crafty adventures this year.  I made image transfers, did some sewing, put some designs on fabric, and did lots of crafty things as part of my ‘I Never’ project.
  • Eat healthy:  I actually think I lightened up a little on the eating healthy front.  The kids were getting sick of me showing up at school every day with nuts and raisins for their snack, so sometimes I brought a box of crackers instead.  And I let them order root beer when we went out to dinner sometimes.  But we definitely cut way back on our meat consumption, only having meat for dinner about half the time.  We ate a ton of beans, and I think our bean tolerance is increasing, if you know what I mean.
  • Expand my creativity:  I feel like I expanded my creativity in a few of areas.  I started the ‘I Never’ project which has led me to be more creative in my day-to-day life and has me writing every day.  I got my dad’s old Leica camera and have been experimenting with film photography.  I took some classes as planned – a textile design class and a sewing class.
  • De-clutter:  When Nadine moved out of the room she shared with Miles and into the TV room, the whole house shifted and I ended up getting rid of so much stuff.  I took several car-loads of stuff to the Goodwill and threw tons of stuff away.  I also got rid of half the stuff in my closet, and continue to purge purge purge.  It feels so good!
  • Exercise:  I could have done better on this front, but I didn’t do too badly.  We rode to school every day, I rode my bike as much as possible, and did boot-camp two mornings a week.  I only wish I could have gotten some yoga in.
  • Spend time outside:  We had an incredible winter of skiing every weekend and a summer of camping trips and hanging outside non-stop.  And we spent an hour every day after school running around on the playground, and lots of time at the skateboard park.
  • Give the kids freedom:  After school they ran around on the playground playing games with other kids in other grades, both boys and girls.  I think its so important for them to have this, even if it isn’t always perfect.  Plus I love chatting with my mom buddies.  And as much as possible I tried to say ‘yes’ to play-dates and sleepovers with their friends, I’ve been leaving them home alone more, and letting them go places on her own.  Big kids!
  • Be good to the environment:  I didn’t do everything intended, but I did ride my bike more than ever, didn’t buy any new clothes or much of anything (I did clothing swaps instead), ate a lot of food out of our own garden, and ate almost no red meat.
  • Figure myself out:  Oh boy did I do a lot of figuring!  I read a ton and completed the Alchemy Mastery Program both of which contributed to a big mind-shift.  I started meditating which I liked way more than I thought I would.  And I organized our Krypton group which is helping me figure out a business plan for myself.

I think it’s also interesting to look back at the predictions for 2013.  The year of the Snake was supposed to be changeable and unpredictable.  That it was, although I don’t feel like I got too many snake bites – just some uneasiness I had to work through, getting comfortable putting my old life behind me, and pursuing a new kind of life-style.

I’m a Scorpio, and 2013 for Scorpios was supposed to be about transformation, metamorphosis, and “rebuilding your life from its very foundation”, which just about sums up my year I think.  At the start of the year I was still feeling panicky about not having a traditional job with traditional benefits and a big pay check, but as the year progressed that fear morphed into excitement for the freedom I have to do what I want with my life.  2013 gave me the gift of a new direction, newly found peace, and a new-ish me.  And I think it’s more than just a coincidence that Fred the moth came out of his cocoon for us this year.

Antheraea Polyphemus aka Fred

 2014 Intentions

So, on to intentions.  While I intend to continue with my 2013 intentions, I have some new ones for 2014, as well as some new daily practices.  I decided that every day I will:  get rid of at least one thing, collect a piece of inspiration (like pin something on pinterest or save something in my notebook), and draw a picture.  And my intentions are to:

  • Put some structure back into my life:  With my new office space I will now spend 9am – 3pm ‘at work’.  I’ll plan my meals, shop, and do laundry on the weekends.  But I also need to fit in exercise/yoga, blogging, and meditation.
  • Focus on work that generates income and start an official business:  I’m ready to make some money!  Right now I have a couple of free-lance web jobs and Todd’s bookkeeping, and a few irons in the fire for more potential work.  But I need to define myself, build a portfolio, and start some marketing.
  • Get more help from family members:  I need help.  I can’t do everything I want to do and be the housekeeper.  The kids need to be more self-sufficient, do more chores, and hopefully Todd can help more with getting the kids to school, making dinner, shopping, etc.
  • Get some house projects done:  Re-finish the floors, touch up the paint inside and out, and clean up the yard and shed – these are things that can’t be put off much longer.  We’ll start with the floors because we’ve all been getting splinters lately.
  • Read the news once in a while:  I’ve been living in a bubble.  I didn’t know when the royal baby was born, I didn’t hear about the George Zimmerman trial, and I certainly didn’t keep up with anything happening in Syria.  I like not getting wrapped up in drama and politics, but I do like being able to talk somewhat intelligently about what’s happening in the world.
  • Silk screen!  This is the thing I am most excited about.  Every year I love silk-screening my Christmas cards, and I am a huge fan of the Vera Project where I do my silk-screening, but now I want to try multi-color silk-screening and silk-screening on fabric.

    silk-screened Christmass card 2013

    This year’s silk-screened Christmass card

So there you have it.  I think 2014 is going to be a pretty fun adventure.  Lets see what the experts have to say:

2014 Predictions

2014 year of the horseJanuary 31st marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year.  This year will be the year of the horse, and I also happened to be born in the year of the horse.  I am a fire horse and this year is a wood horse, so I’m expecting a pretty good blaze of activity this year.  But, when I consulted this web site, the year of the horse for a horse doesn’t look all that great:  I may experience a lot of self-doubt, finances will be unstable, things could get pretty stressful, romance will be just so-so, and I shouldn’t eat too much.

But… when I look at the predictions for a Scorpio, things look much brighter.  According to the experts at Astology.com I will continue to experience a lot of change and a new level of commitment.  They say “After shedding layers upon layers and ancient attachments, you’re ready for the new. This is your year to get crystal clear on what you’re most passionate about and commit to it in the deepest way possible.”  And apparently Jupiter is on my side to help me become “a fortress of money-generating power”.  That sounds pretty good!  And as far as romance goes, it doesn’t look perfect, but I like this part:  “Your focus is going to be on finding the beauty and balance with significant others.”

Okay 2014, bring it on!  I’m ready and excited for whatever this new year has to offer.

Cookies!

I’m not sure if this holiday season was extra hectic, or if every year I forget how it gets and then I’m surprised at all the running around I end up doing.  But with moving into my new office this month, doing web development and Todd’s booking, shopping and mailing packages, making and sending Christmas cards for our family and Blackbird Iron, partaking in holiday festivities, and keeping up with my ‘I Nevers‘, I seem to be lagging on my regular blog posts.

So in an effort to not fall too far behind my goal of one post per week, today I am going to post some cookie recipes.  But these are not just any cookie recipes!  These are the most delicious and cutest of all Christmas cookies.  These cookies are so delicious and cute, that they are the only two Christmas cookies we make any more.

First the most delicious recipe.  Bonus:  You can make them in about 20 minutes or less.  They are super rich though, so I try to cut them into pretty small pieces.

butter roca cookies

Butter Roca Cookies:

  • 40 Saltine Crackers
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups chocolate chips
  • finely chopped nuts

Preheat over to 350 degrees.  Grease a jelly roll pan and place crackers on it in a single layer.  In a saucepan melt butter, add brown sugar, and boil gently for 3 minutes.  Pour mixture over crackers and spread around.  Bake for 5 minutes, turn off oven and remove.  Sprinkle chocolate chips over top.  Return to oven for a few minutes, until chips are melted.  Spread immediately then sprinkle with nuts.  Cut into squares while warm.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving.  Yield:  40 cookies.

Now for the cutest cookies…

Gingerbread Reindeer:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Roll out the dough and cut into circles using a round cookie cutter or juice glass, and place on a buttered cookie sheet.  Put the pretzels where the antlers go; put the chocolate chips where the eyes go; put the red-hot where the nose goes.  Bake for 8 minutes then cool on a cooling rack.

Enjoy!  Merry Christmas!

joyeux noel

Happy Thanksgiving!

They say that gratitude is key to happiness and should be a daily practice.  I totally believe this, and so today, Thanksgiving Day, I thought I’d post ten things that I am so grateful for every day:

  1. My kids.  I just love ‘em.
  2. My husband.  He makes me laugh.  He works hard.  He loves his family.  I picked a good one.
  3. Friends and family.  They are my entertainment, my teachers, my therapists, my net.
  4. My house.  Especially this time of year when it’s freezing outside, I am so grateful to come into my warm and cozy home.
  5. My bike.  I ride her almost every day.  Her name is Crystal because she’s a soft crystal color, and when I ride her the most amazing ideas and thoughts pop into my head, like a crystal ball.
  6. My hood.  I have wonderful neighbors, the kids have an excellent school, and we are close to shops, hospitals, parks, and friends.
  7. Seattle.  I live in an incredibly vibrant and beautiful city, surrounded by water and spectacular mountain ranges.
  8. Blackbird Iron.  Business is good and Todd is happy.
  9. Seth and Beth.  They have been my teachers this year, and have opened my mind to new ways of thinking, living, and being.
  10. Me!  Healthy and happy.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Miles hand turkey

(Turkey courtesy of Miles, embellished by mom.)

Happy Halloween!

Yesterday was the best day of the year.  Or, according my kids, one of the best – right up there with Christmas.  And I have to admit, it was pretty darn fun.

Last night, after an excruciatingly long day at school, a group of us met up at our friend’s house.  We ate some snacks, admired the costumes, filled our to-go cups up with wine, grabbed some pillow-cases, and hit the streets.  It was a perfect evening for trick-or-treating, not too hot or cold or, most importantly, wet.  And lots of colorful leaves littered the sidewalks and streets.  Such a great time of year!  Nadine was dressed as a vampire, although her fangs just wouldn’t stay in her mouth, and Miles was a zombie hunter, although he looked a lot like Rambo.  I had a hippie-type costume on, and Todd, as per usual, was a weirdo.

Finally we hit the streets with lots of other frightening little people, and wow, those kids got such a workout – running from house to house, up and down stairs, non-stop as fast as they could, screaming with joy and yelling things like, “They’re giving out full-size candy bars at that house!” or “Let’s go to the chinchilla lady’s house!” or “Are you kidding me?  A granola bar?”  Meanwhile the old-fogy parents said things like, “You’re complaining about a granola bar?  We used to get apples or raisins, or worst of all, pennies!”  The best, though, was when Miles came back from one house and said, “Here mom, you can have this one, I know you love them,” and handed me a Brussels-sprout. I do love them.  And even though I don’t know who was handing them out, I love them for their Halloween trickery.

At eight o’clock the streets started to quiet down, but our kids still had some energy, and that’s when they really raked it in.  That’s because the treat-givers, who were ready to call it a night, started handing out fist-fulls of candy.  Eventually we made it back to our starting point, and even though it was late, we had to count and sort.  Nadine scored big with 172 pieces of candy, M&M’s being the most popular, with surprisingly few Reese’s Peanut-Butter Cups (my favorite, darn!)  Not a box of raisins, apple, or razor-blade to be found.  Finally, around 10pm, we all collapsed into our beds.  What a night!

The trick-or-treating "ladies"

A dead prom queen, a beautiful vampire, a nerd, and Death.

A Quick Candy Break

A quick break for candy – aka ‘dinner’.

A full bag of candy

Bags full, it’s time to head home.

A very happy vampire

A very happy vampire…

Halloween trickory!

…and a very lonely Brussels-sprout.

Happy Halloween!!

Desert Escape

I got back last night after whooping it up for four days in Palm Springs with two other friends, on our annual girls’ getaway, celebrating President’s Day weekend in the best way possible.  We stayed at the Ace Hotel & Swim Club and I just love it there.  It’s in a gorgeous location, is beautifully decorated, has really good food and drinks, and some very entertaining pool-side action.

This is the fourth year I’ve gone (always a Christmas present from Todd), and it’s amazing to me that after a short two-hour plane ride, I land in a place so vastly different from Seattle.  So as I was hanging out by the pool, I jotted down this list:

Top ten signs that I’m not in Seattle anymore:

  1. I wear sun-glasses and sun-screen at all times.
  2. Everyone seems so nice and happy – even from across the street people smile and say “Hello!”
  3. The stores in town have names like ‘Shoe La La’, ‘Just Fabulous!’, ‘The Cocky Cactus’ and ‘Looksy Couture’.
  4. The trees are loaded with oranges and the most gorgeous and delicious grapefruits.
  5. I haven’t seen a single Subaru station wagon.
  6. When people give you a recommendation on where to go, they also give you the gay/straight ratio, like “You should go to Toucans.  It’s about 50:50.”
  7. A nice looking guy just walked by wearing a t-shirt that said “Fuuuuck, I hate dating models!”
  8. There’s a guy by the pool wearing brown dress shoes, striped socks, a zebra-print speed-o, and a bolero cap, and he looks amazing.
  9. Poolside fashion for ladies:  a teeny bikini, fancy high heels, and a very small dog.
  10. Even though there’s a big sign by the pool that says “No smoking”, there’s a very waxed and tattooed man, with huge muscles, sitting at the edge of the pool smoking the biggest cigar I’ve ever seen.  (And he ordered a round of drinks for everyone at the pool.)

President’s Day weekend is also the beginning of ‘Modernism Week‘ in Palm Springs – a week of events celebrating the mid-century modern design that is so predominate there.  You can tour homes and neighborhoods, go to parties, see movies, lectures, and more.  On a past trip we went to a party at Steve McQueen’s house, which seemed to have been completely preserved in it’s original state:  shag carpets, macrame wall hangings, metal-foil wall-paper, kidney-shaped pool, and the most amazing view over the Palm Springs.  This year we rented a car and did our own self-guided tour.  And while we couldn’t get into some of the gated neighborhoods, we still saw a lot of amazing homes.

For a big night out we went to Melvyn’s Restaurant & Lounge at 5:00pm to see some of the locals sing, and what a time we had.  I ordered a gin and tonic – and wow, I’m not sure there was any tonic in that drink.  Then we listened to a few songs, got asked to dance, and mingled.  The music was great, the crowd was incredibly charming, and I felt really young.  What more could you ask for?

When I got home from the airport last night at around 10pm the kids were asleep, the house was totally clean, the fridge was full, the laundry was in the dryer, and Todd was planning a meal to put in the crock-pot the next morning.  How dreamy is that?  I’d say I got the best Christmas present possible.

Here’s a little 3-minute slide-show from our super-fun trip:

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

“Gong Xi Fa Cai”, means “Wishing you prosperity in the New Year” in Mandarin, and it’s what you say for Chinese New Year.  We celebrated  “New Years Eve” on Saturday night, and did our best to follow the tradition of feasting with friends, wearing red (although Miles dressed like a Ninja – all black with a ski mask), lighting firecrackers, and passing out red envelopes.  It was a super fun night.  Miles said it was the best night ever.  But he says that a lot.

I love the Chinese New Years traditions and superstitions.  Usually we go down to China Town, or ‘The International District’ as it’s also called, to see the dragon parade, the drummers, and other festivities.  Instead, this year we decided to invite some of Nadine’s friends’ families over to for dinner, and to watch ‘the China Video’ of when we got her.

Chinese New Year, also called the Spring Festival, is the most important holiday in China.  It lasts for 15 days, beginning on the first new moon of the year, and ending on the full moon.  It is a time of new beginnings and intentions – out with the old and in with the new!  It is about family, friends, home, and food.  All debts should be cleared and all quarrels should be resolved before New Years.  The house should be cleaned thoroughly to ensure a fresh start.  It’s also time for an attitude adjustment, to be optimistic, and is no time for laziness.  Here are some of the other Chinese New Year traditions:

  • Wishes are hung throughout the house that say things like:  ‘happiness’, ‘wealth’, ‘prosperity’, and ‘good fortune’. ‘Fu’ is the word for good luck in Chinese, and is often hung upside-down in order to catch the good luck.  Fu was Nadine’s middle name when we got her, and she is my little good luck charm.

    fu chinese character

    The Fu character – upside down it means ‘arriving’.

  • The color red is predominate, as it is a sign of luck, associated with sun, fire, brightness, and life’s energy.
  • Fresh flowers or bamboo are displayed to welcome spring.
  • Everyone stays up late on Chinese New Years Eve, even the kids.  The later your kids stay up, the longer life you will have.
  • Firecrackers are set off at midnight to scare away the evil spirits and to energize you.
  • Red envelopes filled with ‘lucky money’ get passed out to the children as a symbol of good luck and protection.

There is even symbolism behind the food that is served.  Our menu was: egg rolls (brushed with oil and baked rather than deep fried), brown rice (done in the oven to save room on the stove), string beans (stir fried with soy sauce and ginger), a whole duck (I got it pre-cooked at the Chinese grocery store – including the head), a whole fish (on the grill stuffed with garlic, ginger, and lemongrass), fried tofu (made with the help of our guests!), sliced oranges (with rose water and honey), fortune cookies for desert, and delicious ginger beer cocktails (I highly recommend these).

The egg rolls symbolize prosperity.  A whole duck or a whole fish is for abundance.  Long string beans equal a long life, as do long noodles or long grain rice.  Oranges are esteemed for their round shape and gold color and are symbols of good fortune.  Fortune cookies were invented in this country, and are just plain fun.

After dinner we had a dance party in the basement.  Miles and his buddy went a little nutty, taking their shirts off and putting dragon tattoos on their chests.

Miles with his dragon tattoo

And then we watched the movie.  I hadn’t watched our China video for a very long time, and was surprised at how different I looked back in 2005, with short dark hair.  There was a time when Nadine watched that movie every chance she got, when she was about 3 years old.  She called it the “When I Was a Baby I Was In China” video.  But we haven’t watched it much since then, and I think she really enjoyed having her friends see it. I think she just really loved the whole evening, and the fact that we were celebrating her holiday.

After the movie it was pretty late – about 10:30 pm.  But we couldn’t leave without some fireworks.  We had party poppers, and those funny things that explode when you throw them on the ground, some fire bombs, and best of all, roman candles!

chinese new year fireworks

The kids stayed up late, so we should have nice long lives, and the fireworks were loud and bright, so we shouldn’t have to worry too much about evil spirits this year.

Happy Lunar New Year!  Wishing you prosperity in the year of the water snake!

Rasing the Bar

Did Christmas even happen?  I just looked at the calendar and apparently it was just about three weeks ago, and already Miles is talking about the new stuff he wants, mostly legos.  Now I’m not anti-lego, far from it, but I am becoming more and more anti-stuff, and anti-wanting so much stuff.  How did this happen, this desire for so much stuff?  Is it some primal desire for newness?  Something we project onto our kids?  Or is it a by-product of living in an age of abundance?  Whatever the cause, the madness needs to stop.

Yesterday at the playground I was talking to a mom who is having 20 kids at a birthday party for her son this weekend, and she was pleading with us to forgo the present, or to team up, because the idea of receiving 20 presents was overwhelming.  She is having the party at a fun location, providing them with lunch and cake, and she was struggling with what to do for party favors.  The other moms moaned “Oh please no more goody bags, no more tiny crappy plastic toys or candy, we beg you!”  Isn’t the party enough?  It seems to me we are all drowning in stuff, yet perpetuating the tradition of birthday parties and extreme gift giving.  How did we get here?

On Wednesday night I took Nadine to a Campfire Girl’s candy rally, where she learned some tips on selling candy, their big fundraising activity.  And the biggest message they took away was that for selling 30 boxes they would get a stuffed moose, for selling 60 boxes they would get a stuffed giraffe, and the more they sold, the bigger and better stuffed animal they would receive.  They ate it up.  But really?  They’ll get a piece of crap that will hold their interest for an hour at most before it goes into the basket full of forgotten stuffed animals only to end up in a large bag of unwanted stuff dropped off at Goodwill?  What about the message about why they are fundraising in the first place?  What about the horseback riding camp they went to last year that was funded by candy sales?  Shouldn’t that be enough?

Please don’t think I’m down on Campfire Girls, because I’m not.  I think it’s awesome and Nadine loves it.  They learn about giving back to the community, make cool stuff, and go on great field trips.  Just before Christmas they went down to Ballard with their Santa hats on and handed out candy canes and wished shoppers “Happy Holidays”, and everyone loved them and they had the best time doing it.  They even love selling the candy.  I think they just love being together.  But what would happen if we nixed the stuffed animals?  Would they sell less candy?  Or would we be doing the world a favor by helping to reduce global stuffed animal overpopulation?

I, myself, have been feeling like Santa was overly generous this year, and that the kids’ appreciation for what they received disappeared too quickly, only to be replaced by the craving for more stuff.  As this is the year of ‘no more crap’ for me, it’s time for me to put my words into action.  A friend of mine told me she heard a nice little poem and guideline for Christmas presents, which I think is brilliant:  Something to play with, something they need, something you make them, and something to read.

This year my kids definitely got multiples of everything in that little ditty, except I didn’t make them anything like I did last year.  Last year for Nadine I painted a trinket box I found at Goodwill and stamped on some pandas and bamboo.  And for Miles I knit a hat with beautiful turquoise yarn the color of Perry the Platypus.  A few days after Christmas he lost it at the movie theater, and I knit if for him again.  They loved the gifts and I loved making them.

This year, however, Todd outdid himself with what he made for Nadine.  He made her a gymnastics bar to go in the back yard.  Initially I didn’t think it was what I wanted in the middle of the small patch of grass back there, but now I think it’s perfect.  Even in the dead of winter, Nadine and her friends and even Miles spend time back there swinging around doing their tricks.  Todd made it just right for her, they installed it together, and it’s one fine looking gymnastics bar.

Digging a hole for the gynastics bar

making sure the gynastics bar is level

voila a gynastics bar

Voila!

I think it’s so cool that she has a dad that can even make something like that.  What if that was all she got for Christmas?  Actually, Nadine would be fine with that.  She is a natural born minimalist whose two favorite things are her books and her friends.  And Miles, while he often talks about all the stuff he wants and wishes we were rich, I believe it’s the newness he craves more than the accumulation of stuff.

So, what do we do about it?  Well, I jumped out of my former life in a quest for meaning over money, and I would like my kids to understand the value of experience over possessions.  I know it won’t be that easy.  I get it.  I grew up in New Jersey in the 80s where we treasured our designer jeans and Gucci bags more than anything.  But maybe if I start with some small steps it will start to resonate.  We can start with changing how we celebrate our birthdays this year, making it a totally fun experience instead of a gift-receiving event.  Next Christmas we can scale back and make each other presents. Instead of rewarding the kids with money or stuff, we can reward them with fun events.  And when we go to the birthday party this weekend, we will forgo the present and offer a really fun play date or sleep-over instead.

I know they may seem like old clichés, but I truly want to us all to embrace the ideas that It’s better to give than to receive and Less is more.  It’s time to put words into action.  It’s time to raise the bar.  Wish me luck!