Have a 'Holly Golly' Christmas

Christmas for us always spans the whole month from Thanksgiving through to Christmas, yet in a way is often over by the 15th. We were actually in SF a week longer than normal since the boys' school didn't finish until the 21st but we still celebrated our Christmas the weekend before so the boys would have plenty of time to play with their toys.

We got our Christmas tree right after Thanksgiving and the boys really enjoyed getting all the ornaments out and helping to decorate. We have 2 plastic boxes of stuff, as well as a separate ornament box, but that's it. I would love to get some more Christmas decorations, but really don't want to deal with storing it. We like to get everything taken down and put away before we leave, especially since we don't get back this year until almost a week into January, it will be nice not to have to deal with it upon our return. I posted our free Christmas tree on our local Buy Nothing facebook group and a mom was so excited to pick it up for her kids, though embarrassed that she couldn't buy one herself. She said, 'my 11 & 7 year old picked a 'handicapped' tree from Lowe's that was 50% off so we were able to get a very small tree for $15 It's my youngest's first Christmas and it would mean so much to have a picture perfect tree for her first Christmas photos.' She told later that day that when her older two saw it, they were SO excited. I've tried to share a lot of this with the boys especially so they continue to learn the reason for the season.

We decorated probably 20 paper bags and filled them with warm socks, toothbrush set, granola bars, chips, water and fresh fruit and handed them out to anyone we saw in need, which unfortunately, is pretty easy to find in SF. Last week, we went downtown to see all the lights, the SPCA animals in the windows and ride the glass elevator at the St. Francis. Papa came along and we even stopped at the Fairmont on the way to see their huge gingerbread house (the boys definitely weren't as into it this year). It's a nice annual tradition and so fun to see all the holiday decorations, and we toted along a big bag of the brown bags that the boys did a good job of handing out on their own.

Our church also has some great ways to give back and I tried my best to get the boys involved. We give gift cards to SafeHouse so they each turned one in, and we also collected a bunch of requested items for stockings for another organization. I loved a new addition this year, a giving tree decorated and left on the sidewalk in front of the church. We brought various sets of gloves and knit hats, labeled the size and put in a ziplock bag and then clipped onto the tree. The boys were grudgingly helpful with this project, but that's okay, hopefully they'll get the meaning in coming years.

One of our favorite things to do is to wrap a big box and fill it with snacks and drinks for our delivery people. We get a ton of deliveries for about two weeks after Thanksgiving so the boys helped me make a big sign thanking them and telling them to help themselves. We did it for the first time last year and it was such a hit. Some people don't take anything but many do and we're often left notes of gratitude. George is really into the idea and was very helpful in checking to make sure the box was stocked each morning. I'm bummed I didn't get a photo this year as it will be a fun way to track the boys growth each year.

I love doing gingerbread houses and the boys were very excited this year about it. I debated going somewhere to do it but we just picked some up at Target and did them at home. I got three, thinking Colette would be into it, but she wasn't at all

Every year, they do the tree lightening in Golden Gate Park and put on an awesome free party from 4-8pm with lots of crafts, cookie decorating, entertainment and best of all, rides! The kids love it and it helps that we get there right at 4pm as by 5, it's pretty crowded. Dedee came along to help us wait in lines and we got to ride everything we wanted to before it got dark. Coco loves the pirate ship, and we had a little trouble on this crazy scary ride that swung all the way around (often leaving you hanging upside down). I was riding with G and W was riding with another girl and screamed, 'stop the ride! stop the ride!' and thankfully they did. G looked terrified and I told him to close his eyes but it was definitely scary because you're not as secure as when you're locked in a rollercoaster. We were buckled in and then in a cage so we weren't gonna fall out, but it certainly felt that way! They also had a snow hill with sledding, Coco rode with W and looked a bit scared but seemed to have fun. She also really wanted to go on the big slide so we waited and waited (with Dedee took the boys to do the rock climbing wall) and she loved going down and wanted to go again... too bad there were about 100 people in line!

The best was there was a juggler/comedian there that we went to watch  -- George adores this kind of humor -- the guy was engaging the kids with all kinds of slapstick humor and George couldn't get enough. I got a video a bit too late but he was on the ground laughing, it was so much fun to see.

This is the first year we took Colette along (and first year for Dave to join us) to the Nutcracker Sweets, a 45-minute performance. The boys did pretty well, but not so much for Colette. I think she liked it but talked non-stop asking questions about everything. It's actually very kid-friendly and their two rules are no cameras or recording, and no shushing kids. Coco wanted to dance in the aisles and ask a million questions so after Dave took her out several times, they didn't return. I think I need to do a better job of prepping her next time, that she needs to stay in her seat or on our lap and that we'll try not to talk. We'll see. William always loves it and George likes it okay but by the end is bored (just like I was at his age) so next year I think we'll do a special outing and just take William. George heard about this and asked if we were going to lunch after and if so, he wanted to go to the real Nutcracker too...

We did go out to lunch about the Nutcracker Sweets, to Tony's Pizza, one of the best in the city. It had been a long morning already, but Dave was a trouper and agreed, when I suggested we try to go see Santa now, as we were all dressed up. I had heard about Santa at Japantown, that it was a low-key operations with crafts and a take-your-own-photos approach, and surprisingly, known for it's short line. We parked in a 30-minute meter and had plenty of time to see Santa and even do some crafts. Coco wasn't scared at all!

I took the boys to the Dickens Fair last year and it was so much fun, this year, somehow, Dave agreed to go and we brought Coco too. We found some outfits that fit the theme pretty well I think! We had fun exploring all the old-time displays, George and Dave made a fairy house, we watched some shows, rode the carousel and Coco loved the ballroom where everyone was dancing. We finished up with sausages for lunch.

On our Christmas Eve, we went out to burgers and then drove around the city to all the best spots to see the Christmas lights and again, it was the first time Coco and Dave came along. We had a great time and it was so fun to show them the famous Tom and Jerry house. Dave said when he was getting Coco out of her carseat, he told her Santa might live here, then as they're walking over, the garage door opened and all you could see was black boots, then the red pants... Santa! Dave said Coco grabbed him so tight. What perfect timing!

Our Christmas Day turned out great. The boys were up just before 7. This is the first year we didn't have Jessica's help wrapping all our presents, but Dave and I also did better about sticking to our 3 present rule - 1 from Santa and two from us. I had a bunch of small stuff, mostly stuff for the trip like travel games, fun warm hats for Colorado, etc., that I had to wrap for the stockings, but I did most of the wrapping one night when Dave was out so it really wasn't that bad. It's funny that since Dave helps the boys figure out what they want, and they know the gift rule, they pretty much know what they're getting. We talked about maybe having them make a list of 5 things and then we'd make the final decision so we had some more control (even though Dave does lead them a bit). This year William wanted a remote control monster truck, Lego Garmamec man and a new part of the castle to add to what we have. George was set on Lego Llyod's dragon, a Playmobil castle and an accessory to the castle that we already have. Coco kept asking for 3 new baby dolls (she already has 3 so that wasn't happening). She loves her peppa pig figurines and I saw they had a camper van at Target so we went with that, a little sink that works for her to wash dishes and several new dress-up dresses. The boys of course loved their gifts and Coco's were a hit too. We just cleaned out our play kitchen and got rid of a bunch of stuff, so I was a bit hesitant about adding more with the sink, but it was a big hit, it's really cool how it works! The kids had fun playing all day with their toys, Dave did lots of Lego assistance and I built the Playmobil castle... which is huge, too big for us to keep out anywhere that it would actually be used so we offered to sell it and George could choose a new gift, which he was surprisingly fine with. No takers yet on the castle so we'll see if we're actually able to sell it.

It's so hard to get young kids to really understand what Christmas is all about and to engrain 'giving' into the process as opposed to just thinking about presents for themselves. Dave and I actually don't exchange gifts at Christmas -- we're both adamantly against more 'stuff' and while Dave actually does give me presents for other occasions, for Christmas we usually don't. We've discussed this a bit as we do want to make sure the kids know Christmas is not just about them. I've made a tradition of getting Dave the new family photos on canvases that we update in our bedroom each year. This year I wanted the boys to learn about giving too, so we sat down and talked about the idea of coupons. They still don't have an allowance (but will soon!) but still, we'd love to keep the focus off monetary gifts and have them get creative. I gave them a few ideas and then helped them separately create coupon for each family member. Dave helped them with mine. My favorite is probably from George, I can turn in the coupon, apparently DAILY, and they'll stop fighting immediately... I haven't used it yet, but I need to!

It is so fun to be at Disney during the holidays, in fact, I really want to go to Disneyland for Halloween time at some point. And this year, the way it worked, we were at the parks from Dec 22-24. Not ideal from a crowds standpoint, but so fun with all the festivities and exciting to be there on Christmas Eve (even though it's not the same excitement for us since we've already celebrated).

We arrived to Naples around 9pm on Christmas Eve and Linda welcomed us with her delicious chili and chocolate chip cookies. We got settled in and got the kids to bed and when we woke up the next morning, around 10am, we headed over to Linda and Gary's  for a day of celebrating. A big breakfast, then opening some presents, pool time and hanging out until dinner. What a great day! The kids loved their new toys and will give them something to play with while we're here.

I love all the holiday activities and the traditions we're building and it was fun to include Colette in more of them as she gets older.

Coco is 2 1/2!

Just before Thanksgiving, Coco turned 2 1/2. She's turning into such a little lady with tons of opinions, preferences and ideas of her own. She's generally very comfortable and warms up quickly at all of her classes and has no problem being dropped off. She does randomly have days she wants me to do more with her instead of exploring on her own, and when we tried a ballet class last week, she was a bit clingy, but by the end, could hardly wait her turn for her time to dance by herself in front of the class.

Definitely in the last month or so, she's had some stronger 2-year old opinions and reverse psychology is really the best approach with trying to get her to wear a certain pair of shoes for example... 'You can wear the gold or the silver shoes, but definitely not the brown' and she will 100% only want to wear the brown. I have so much fun buying girls clothes and definitely have gone a little overboard so trying to reel that in again, but she enjoys opening the packages as much as I do. She'll tell me what she likes and what she doesn't and I'm fairly successful at still choosing her clothes for her, though I am trying to give her more control by asking if she wants to wear a dress or pants (which she inevitably answers 'a dress AND pants' as she'll often answer 'I want ALL!!!' to similar questions). She has some favorite dresses that I need to hide if the occasion isn't appropriate and thankfully she's never been allowed out in one of her dress-up costumes so she doesn't know that would be a possibility.

Her hair is getting so long and despite Dave's request to cut it, I'm not quite ready to. She does pretty well with me brushing it, though lately she'll start saying 'ow, ow, ow' before I even start brushing. I ask her what kind of hair she wants and her favorites to request are 'long with a bow' or 'a witch's braid' (or sometimes 2 braids). She still has that typical toddler hair -- quite fine and silky and tons of flyaways so I've been testing out a few new products trying to keep her hair looking halfway decent 30 minutes after doing it. I've also been pinning different hairstyles to try and have made progress on my French braids. She let's me braid it and is usually just playing while I do it so we'll see how long that lasts. She'll need at least a trim at some point in the near future but if we take off more than a couple of inches, the curls will be gone for good.  

Despite me dropping our MyGym class a few weeks ago, she really loved it and enjoys classes with a lot of movement. She's on track physically but certainly not on the advanced end of the spectrum as far as coordination and gross motor skills go. She can climb up and down a ladder but still occasionally gets stuck and doesn't really know where to put her hands or feet to get up or down. I was impressed at our last MyGym class though that she was able to run across the 'hot dog' without any help so her balance is pretty good. She's been into balls lately and enjoys playing catch with Dave. I've looked into soccer but haven't found a class to fit into our schedule yet.  As I mentioned, we tried a drop-in ballet class and liked it better than the trial we did on her second birthday, but doesn't totally get what they're doing. On the other hand, the other kids clearly had been coming regularly so hard to compare. I did 'win' a month of ballet classes at the boys' school auction so I plan to try out Tutu School again after the holidays.

She's loved her Rabbit Hole class, as well as art class and both teachers recommended she move up to the next preschool class. That would be a 2-hour drop off class at Rabbit Hole which doesn't make much sense for us since it's on the other end of town so it would be too long to stay nearby but too far to go back and forth. But we'll see, maybe as we get closer to her birthday I would consider it. I wanted her to have some drop-off options but also want to have these last months with her before starting preschool in the fall. She's already doing a toddler art class that was drop-off for her as she's ready, but the teacher said she's ready for the 1.5 hour preschool class that's drop-off for all and just a few blocks from us so it should be perfect.

Coco has been spoiled by having Dave home the last few months and loves to play 'going to the ball' which involves dressing up along with all of her stuffed animals. She also loves to take her balance bike out with Dave, but she really doesn't have the hang of it yet so I don't think it's much fun for him ;)

Coco can still play for hours at her dollhouse, setting all the characters up a certain way and having ongoing conversations between them. I feel like I'm with her so much, and a lot of the time I spend with her is when we're out of the house, that I rarely 'play' with her when we're home. Thankfully she has Dedee, Papa and Dave who are great about giving her their undivided attention when they're with her, and really play with her. She's used to me needing to get things done when we're home that she rarely asks me to play and just does her own thing. As much as she loves all her classes, I have to tear her away from her toys (mostly dollhouse and figurines) to do anything else. She always asks, 'Can I play for a minute more?' It's been nice to be able to leave her home for things like school drop offs or other quick errands so she has had more time at home.

EAT: Favorites haven't changed - pork chops, salmon and really any meat or anything that anyone else is eating. She's known for eating half of whatever my mom brings, or taking most of my dad's lunch when I bring him something. She's still a good eater overall and I wouldn't say she's getting pickier, but more preferences are coming out. She doesn't like any fruit in her oatmeal or cereal (though will still eat it separately, thankfully). She likes to sprinkle chili flakes on her pizza and does fine eating it, but other times will say something is 'picey' even when it's not. 

SLEEP: Coco is napping maybe 4 times and week and for the most part, that seems to be working well. On the days she naps, she takes much longer to fall asleep (often awake until 8:30) whereas if she hasn't napped, she'll fall right asleep at 7pm and often sleep later the next morning. I don't think we're close to dropping the nap, but napping every day is too much. We've been lucky to play around with this with schedule having Dave or my parents around for some of the nap times.

TALKING: Coco is a chatterbox when she's comfortable in her space but still has plenty of sounds she has trouble saying. She can't say ch- at all (no choo choo, instead koo-koo). Ts are hard too (train sounds more like krain or tree is kree). She can say Santa and I think other words that start with S followed by a vowel but words like snake are 'nake'. She will repeat the 'ssss' sounds and then 'nake' but can't string it together. Even words like 'dress' have a guttural sound, now that I'm thinking about it more, it sounds like she has trouble stringing sounds that don't flow. Juice is 'goose' too. We can understand her and most can, I think. I always try to repeat what she says back to her with the correct pronunciation but we'll see if she's able to figure it out on her own.

POTTY: The saga continues... she's still in diapers and we don't have plans to change that but I chatted with a friend who's son had a similar issue and she gave me some good tips - switch from whole milk (and it was time to do that anyway) and start doing magnesium chewable kids vitamins, over the daily dose. That combined with what we've done since October with daily prune juice and/or prunes has really made a difference in consistency and her ability to 'let it all out' versus holding it in. I'm hoping if we break that cycle, then we can eventually try potty training again and hopefully with success this time.

STATS at 2.5
30.6lbs  - 27lbs 6 months ago
37.5 inches - 34 inches 6 months ago (though I think she's closer to 37)
Teeth: all 
Diapers: size 5
Clothes: 2T
Shoes: 7/7.5 - size 6 6 months ago)

Colette: Two-and-a-half! Time is flying by and you're getting bigger by the day.  In many ways you seems like such a big girl -- when you're at the park or some of your classes with kids a year younger, you seem SO big -- but then there's other times I think about things like preschool and can't believe you're already going to be going in the fall. George had his 'family book' out from preschool the other night and I remembered back to when we were making it, just a week or two before you came home from the hospital. You'll grow so much more in the 9 months until preschool starts but it's hard to think of you putting that book together with me anytime soon. You really try to be one of the big kids and are constantly asking, 'Can I come too?' or 'Can I have a turn?' or 'Can I see?'. You just want to be a part of whatever we're all doing. We started doing 'dinner host' this month where we take turns saying grace and doing our rose and thorn and any mention of dinner host and you start shouting, 'I'M dinner post!!! I'M dinner post!!!'.  People always comment that you look like a doll and that hasn't changed. Big, dark eyes, rosy, full cheeks and the curls too. You've started waking up, both in the mornings and after nap, in a bit of a mood, but otherwise are generally pretty happy. You get excited easily and often tell me 'I had a fun time' after we leave one of your classes. You love your time with Papa and Dedee and have gotten so close to Dad over the past few months when he's been home even more during the week. For a bit last week, when I would tell you 'I love you', you would say, 'I don't love you, I love Dad' but thankfully after a few days you replied, 'I love you so much!' which made up for it. Dad also explained that you guys sing Skid-a-ma-rink a lot with the 'I looooove you' at the end so that's where it may be coming from. Now you're in a phase of 'I want Dad to get me out of bed' etc so I just pray that doesn't last as long as the boys' phase did. You still want me for plenty of things so it's already nowhere near as bad. I knew I always wanted a girl and I don't know whether it's  how far you've come, the fact that I've gotten to 'enjoy' it a bit more this time with just one or just the person you are but having you around is the absolute best. You bring so much joy to me and to each person in our family. You're the boys' #1 and you make Dedee's world with your excitement to see her every time she comes. While it's true that the days are long, I'm already sad that you'll be off at preschool every morning in the fall. I'm looking forward to all our adventures together in the next six months, then a fun summer before your school experience starts. We love you! Happy 2.5!

Pismo Beach 2018

It looks like our Pismo trip is turning into an annual tradition which is fun, but also unfortunate since we're escaping the bad air due to fires. Last October, after several days of bad air quality due to the Napa and Sonoma fires, we left town and headed down to Pismo to visit Chip and Julie. We stayed at a great airbnb and had nice weather. This year, the Butte fire up north had already given us 6 days of bad air quality before we decided it was probably time to leave town again. The boys had not been outside for PE or recess for that whole time, we were bringing them right home from school to stay inside, and the same for Colette. For the first time, the air had crept into the purple -- really bad. Once they canceled the boys' school and all other SF school that for the next day (Friday), we started researching to get away. You either had to head to Tahoe (mid-50s) or as far as Pismo Beach (about the same distance but warmer) to get 'green'/good air. We explained to the boys that we're the lucky ones -- we weren't affected by the fire like all of those who lost their homes, and we have the  means to be able to book a last minute trip.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Crissy Field on Thursday in 'purple zone' air

We drove on Friday and the air was absolutely awful for the majority of our trip. Then we arrived around 2pm to clear, sunny skies and were finally able to be outside. We rented the same condo we did last year during the fires. We spent the afternoon at the beach and got a nice sunset, then headed to Chip and Julie's for pizza.

Saturday was another beach day -- it was really the only thing the kids wanted to do. In the afternoon we met up with Chip and Julie again and went to a winery 10 minutes from their house to sip on a bottle of rose while the kids kicked the soccer ball around and Coco sat at the table with us and played with a little lego house Simone had brought. As long as she has some little characters, she's happy!

We ran some errands on the way home -- the air wasn't looking any better in SF so had extended our stay until Monday so needed to pick up food. We grilled that night. There was a lot of back and forth with my family. My brother was already in the Bay Area with his family, and my sister was planning to come up with her family from LA but with the horrible air, we were all reconsidering.

On Sunday, we decided to take advantage of being so close to Santa Barbara (still 1.5 hours away but better than the 5+ hours from SF) and take the kids for a visit. We stopped off in the Danish town of Solvang and the kids loved that. There were quirky toy stores and great bakeries. We also go freshly made pretzels. Next we drive the 30 minutes more to SB. It was fun for me to drive around campus and see how things had changed. They just opened a new children's museum down there that I thought the kids would love but all they wanted to do was go to the beach so I found a spot, Shoreline Cafe, where we could eat on the beach. The food was good and the kids had a blast playing. After much back and forth, it was decided that my parents would come down with my brother and his kids (Elizabeth was still working) and their dogs. And my sister would also come Monday with her family. They booked hotels room and we were finally all set.

Monday morning we knew we had time before the others came, so we stopped at Avila Valley Barn, which we had last been to when the boys were 18 months old. Even at 5, they still loved feeding all the animals and running around the hay maze. They have an awesome bakery and produce market so we got some stuff, including two pies to have for dessert that night.

Next, we drove about 20 minutes to Morro Bay, stopped for lunch at an awesome taco shop (the scallop tacos were so good!) before checking out their beach. We had fun playing frisbee and the kids found friends who were exploring the tide pools.

We made it back to Pismo right as the others were arriving and after a quick quiet time, headed to the beach with all the cousins. So much fun! I love seeing everyone together. My sister's boys, while getting older and not super into family vacations at the moment, are always so great with my kids. Dave stayed behind and grilled up sausages for everyone for dinner. It was nice to have the space of the condo so we could host the 15 people.

We were lucky to get sunny mid-60s days. The kids even went in the ocean (though were very cold afterwards), but I was perfect in yoga pants and a tshirt.

We spent the morning at the beach, then went back for a short quiet time before heading over to my sister's hotel, the Lighthouse Suites to swim. That place is awesome and we'd definitely consider staying there for a shorter stay where we don't need a kitchen. They have affordable 2-bedroom 2-bath suites, a pool, it's right along a cliff so you can take walks overlooking the water and it has a super fun games area with a play structure, spinner, multiple ping pong tables, giant chess and connect-4 and badminton courts. The kids had a blast and then we headed back to the condo where Dave had made tacos for everyone. A fun night of hanging out again, playing games with the cousins. The air was still bad in SF, but rain was predicted for Wednesday so we were all checking out as planned. My sister would go back to LA and the rest of us would head up to the Bay Area.

Tuesday morning, Dave and I were busy getting everything cleaned up and out of the condo, then we headed over with everyone else to my sister's hotel for more swimming and playing until starting the drive home around noon.

The kids all had so much fun together and it was such a nice surprise extended family vacation that we're considering making it an annual tradition. Dave and I hosted, sort of last minute since my parents no longer wanted to host after being gone, a simple Thanksgiving. I missed the deadline for Whole Foods but luckily was able to get a cooked turkey from our favorite roasted turkey sandwich place. We all made some simple sides and had pies from Avila Valley Barn. It was low-key but perfect. Dave and I were exhausted after the busy trip and all the hosting but it was worth it, and he was a great sport about it.