Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thankful for Many Gifts

The kids had the whole week off for Thanksgiving, which meant lots of family time at home. While we really do enjoy the kidlets, the lines about how “Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again” definitely resonated by Saturday. All annoyance aside, we are most especially grateful for our precious little ones as we close out November and get ready for Christmas.  

Fergus decided to come back home bright and early on Monday morning. Mike heard the kitty yowling at the back door to get in and, bleary eyed, greeted his furry friend, now much thinner for his two-and-a-half week road trip. His long-distance travels may be at an end for a while, because while he did escape another couple of times this week, he came right back home in time for supper. We may have come to a new status quo. Good thing we don’t live along a bus line.

Mike and Landon found the LEGO Minifigure Family website. Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours!
Landon personally styled himself as a stealthy ninja. 

Mike watched Landon make one of his intricate drawings. The kid has an amazing sense of symmetry.

The kids took to the tree in the backyard and used the cat’s leash as a rope swing.

On Thanksgiving, we went to the grandparents’ houses, first a meal at Grandma and Grandpa M.’s and then dessert at Grandma and Grandpa O.’s. We kept the kids occupied with crafts and games. Good work, Uncle Shad!

(We'll have to see whether we ever get copies of the pics he took.)

Hallie had to work at Nautica on the day after Thanksgiving, so Mike and the kids took her to the store, braving the crazy shoppers, before sensibly avoiding any and all stores for the remainder of the day. They went up to Mike’s CLU office while he did some work before they all went over to Mimi’s Café for a late breakfast with Mike’s long-time friend, Grace.

Eliza wanted to make sure Dad saw her new palm-inspired hairdo. 

After spending some time at the park and back on Mike’s campus, we went over to Grandma and Grandpa O’s, where the kids played in the backyard with cousin Haydn. We climbed the hill in the backyard and took in the view.

You can do it! 

Mike grew up with amazing valley vistas like this available right out his bedroom window. The photo doesn't do it justice. So blessed! 

And now for the climb down. 

We waded through even worse crowds to rescue Mom from work, and then got home in time for Dad to get the missionaries tasty local Thai food.

Hallie had to go to work super early on Saturday to get ready for more bargain hunters. She came back during her lunch hour (8:30-9:30 AM – yes, she was up early) to pick the rest of us up so we could all go to the Home Depot for the kids’ building workshop, a bank. We finished building the banks at home after pushing through the masses of holiday shoppers to take Hallie back to work.
First, a visit with Santa in his painted plywood sleigh at the hardware store

The kids helped Dad make chicken stock and begin decorating the house for Christmas. We have knick-knacks and garlands up, but we’re waiting on the tree until Grandma Liz gets back home from Idaho and we decide whether to borrow her family’s tree, which is better sized for the high ceiling in the front room. In the meantime, the stockings are hung by the chimney (!) with care. Now we just need a cold snap to justify turning on the fireplace and really set the mood.

Then we got Hallie again and, after eating a late lunch of Thanksgiving leftovers, spent the remainder of the day at home attempting to get the kids to tidy up. We finally gave up and watched some vaguely Christmas-themed TV. Ho, ho, ho.

Sunday morning dawned cloudy, then it began to rain. Perhaps we’ll get to use the fireplace sooner than we thought. Hallie went to choir practice, and the kids played in the rain before we went to church. We’re counting the days before Diamond comes down for Christmas, and we are getting into the spirit of the yuletide season, which means we’re dreaming of a green and balmy Christmas. The Church produced a video for the season that helps us remember what Christmas is all about, and we are grateful to #sharethegift with you:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Homemade Goodness and Sky High-jinks

Another week of routines leading into Thanksgiving week. 

Fall continues to make its understated mark on the Southland.

Mike's beard is filling out:
He thinks it's going in this direction.

The kids see things differently.

Eliza brought home some of her Thanksgiving-themed crafts.

Hallie worked at Nautica on Tuesday and Thursday. It's hard on her feet, but she has met many interesting people from places around the world. Who knew the Camarillo Outlets were such a global draw?

Mike was up on campus on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and hustling to make a buck in the evenings. Tutoring suits him, and his students seem to be progressing.

Mike experimented with making bread, with mixed results. He found a recipe for making a simple five ingredient honey whole wheat bread, and he followed it very closely. His very first loaf turned out extremely well considering it was a first-time effort. Then he began to experiment, and the results did not turn out quite so well. There must have been something wrong with the food storage quick oats he used as a flour for the second batch, and he didn't knead the loaf well enough with the third loaf. Thankfully, at least loaf 3 tasted OK (the first loaf was amazing--scarfed down in a day).

On Friday, Mike had business to conduct in the Conejo Valley. He picked up Cru after work and brought him back so we could play at Sky High Sports Trampoline Park. After working up a healthy appetite by jumping around, we went to Souplantation. We finished with some shoe shopping at the Vans store in the outlet mall.

Took the kids too IKEA on Saturday. Afterwards, they stopped by the elementary school where he used to teach. It's still there, and the neighborhood remains largely unchanged. Would have been better to come during school hours to actually see inside the buildings.

We had stake conference on Saturday and Sunday. The sessions emphasized missionary work, improving our teaching, and developing better habits of gospel learning. We appreciate all the efforts that were made by the speakers and choirs to help us feel the Spirit, and we have a lot to ponder and act on. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

New November Routines and Experiments

Short entry this week. We filled it up with routine acts of school, work, and play at home. We do have pictures, this week, though. Enjoy!

To start, the kids received their school pictures. Cuties! 

We played a lot in the front yard, riding around on bikes and scooters, kicking around the soccer ball, and drawing on the sidewalks.
The kids' depiction of their father in peach-colored sidewalk chalk. Note that in Landon's version, Dad has all ten fingers. 

We also made it to the park. The kids wanted to climb trees, so Dad obliged them.

Speaking of trees, this is fall in SoCal. Note the flowering bush, the bright leaves on the maple, and the palms swaying in the breeze. For our friends in northern climes experiencing the first snow of the season, we send our love. Please keep the snow! Send rain, though, lots of rain. We're getting milder temperatures and occasional clouds and drizzle, but we wouldn't mind more of the wet stuff.

The door-frame bar swing is getting plenty of use.

Landon is proving himself even more a Doctor Who fan than his father. The nerdlet is designing sonic screwdrivers for his dear ol' Dad.

We had an Elders Quorum Pie Fest tonight (Sunday), and here is what Mike made to share. Following Hallie's lead in matters culinary, he decided to experiment. What you see are pumpkin cocoa brownie pies baked with the puree he made last week, freshly ground whole-wheat flour, and maple syrup. As you might expect, they aren't particularly sweet. Hearty might be a good way to describe them. They need more chocolate. And sugar. And chocolate.

In other news, Hallie started a job at Nautica in the Camarillo Outlet Mall, the kids had doctors appointments, and Fergus (who ran away again last Thursday) has still not returned home. Mike has set on the daunting task of converting his handwritten journal from scanned .pdf format (scanning the pages was a task in itself mostly completed over several years). This involves reading each and every word via the Dragon app and then proofreading the result. Let's just say that the walk down memory lane has been (at times painfully) enlightening. He has one year down at this point and over two decades to go. 

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Summer in November

We celebrate in spirit with our friends in northern climes the first stirrings of winter. Out here, we keep waiting for the cold to come, but instead we’re enjoying warm days and cool nights. After 13 years doing the snowy kind of winter, we grownups could get used to this! The kids are taking the new climate in stride, although Landon actually mentioned that he misses the snow. We’ll have to take him to the mountains in a few months, just for the refresher. Meanwhile, we’ll go for a dip in the pool.

For the first time in who knows how long, we took no pictures at all this week. We filled the week with the normal routines (homework, meetings, riding bikes, and doctor appointments) until Friday. At school, Landon participated in a Veterans Day program. He sang a patriotic song, heard speeches about the work of military personnel, and saw servicemen and women in uniform. Thank you, troops, for all you do!

Later in the day, Landon had a follow up to last week’s doctor’s appointment and we are happy to say the kick to the eye left no damage. We piled in the car and dropped Mike off at work on the way. It has been very hot and dry here, and after dropping Mike off, Hallie’s nose started to bleed while driving. That was an interesting experience for the three of them. After Landon’s appointment, Hallie took the kids to see Grandma and Grandpa O. and Alie. They played down at the park on the corner. The kids ran, laughed, met new friends, and even shed a little blood as they careened down the hilly paths on their scooters and soared up to the sky on the swings. A fun afternoon was had by all. We had a slightly different pizza-and-a-movie night tonight. Mom and the kids grabbed a slice of pizza from Costco and watched Mater’s Tall Tales before it was time to go back and pick up Mike from work.

On Saturday, after taking Mike to work, Hallie and the kids visited with Grandma and Grandpa M. and Aunt Carly and her kids. The only plans Hallie had made that day was to go to a store with Carly. They were brave moms, taking four kids age seven and under into a beauty supply store. The kids did well enough that we took them to Chick-Fil-A for lunch and play time. We then went back home to sort our goods. The kids ended up playing in the hose and mud in the afternoon heat.

After everyone got home, Mike set to work in the kitchen, cutting up the pumpkins we didn’t carve for Halloween and turning them into roasted seeds and puree. Hallie then took some of the puree to make a pumpkin poke cake that claims to be better than, well, something. We’ll have to see about that.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Halloween, SoCal Style

Traditionally, October has been one of our favorite months in Michigan, so we have missed many wonderful aspects of the season, from watching the leaves turn to feeling the chill in the air, to getting apple cider and donuts at Westview Orchards or Blake Farms. That said, we have found ways to make the last month fun and meaningful, each with a uniquely SoCal flair.

We started the week with treats at church on Sunday.

On Monday, the kids showed how they are making progress in their studies.

While Mike was out tutoring, the rest of the clan hung out in front and rode bikes. Grandpa B. fixed and tested out Landon’s bike. The chain keeps coming loose, despite repeated attempts to tighten the chain. Grr.

On Tuesday, we really started getting into the Halloween “spirit” when Eliza started wearing her holiday-themed clothes and school-made crafts.

She also helped clean up around the house.

While Mike tutored, Hallie and the kids celebrated Cru’s birthday at Grandma and Grandpa M’s.

Eliza had her class party on Wednesday. She went dressed as a Renaissance princess. Her school schedule overlaps Landon’s, so he was able to come join the fun.

That night, our ward had its annual Trunk or Treat. Eliza had her hair braided by Sarah and changed into her Dorothy costume.
Notice the sorry Jack O'Lanterns in the background? They didn't last a week in the California sun. They'd've lasted all winter in Michigan. That is, unless the squirrels got to them. 

She happened upon the Wicked Witch of the West!

Landon had his Halloween party on Thursday because he had no school Friday for teacher staff development. The morning started with a parade.

The kids then had a party organized by Hallie. Hallie was so thankful for all of the parents that came to help. For her first time being room mom, Hallie had an hour-long set of activities that went off without a hitch.

Mike went up to work in the late morning and learned new things about life in California. While many things have remained the same these last few years, there are always new things to learn and new perspectives to be had. Sometimes it’s fun being a stranger in your own backyard.

That night, we watched the Westlake High School Warriors trample the St. Bonaventure Seraphs. Westlake is a top 25 ranked team in the state, so we saw some great playmaking (plus a beautiful sunset).

The kids liked watching the cheerleaders and the marching band more, though.

The phone app on Mike’s camera has been giving him grief for a while now, but things are getting worse. Sorry for the blurry pics.

Halloween Friday started off busy and a bit chilly by California standards, with rain threatening all day. We went to Simi for Landon’s first official doctor appointment and school physical. We couldn’t use the information we had from his last physical, and we have 90 days from his enrollment to get him one out here. Mike and Eliza visited Grandma and Grandpa O. while Hallie and Landon waited at the doctor’s. We then ran errands, prepared food, and got the back yard ready for guests.

In the late afternoon, we had some neighbors, our friends the Taylors, and Grandma and Grandpa O. and Ali for chili dogs and cider before the kids went out Trick-or-Treating. We wanted cake donuts to go along, but Rolling Pin had sold theirs all out.

In our neighborhood, we had a pretty good turnout. Many kids dropped by the house, and our kids filled their candy buckets. As Justin Roberts sings in Trick or Treat, we have enough candy to last us until May or June (or maybe April).  
This kid came in a homemade Optimus Prime Transformer costume that actually transformed, complete with sound effects!

The public safety officers even came to see us and pass out candy!

The kids ended their evening with “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”

In the late evening, we got a very rare downpour. The heavy rain didn’t last long, but it did cause a small mudslide on the other end of town.

Saturday began with Hallie going to Target to get leftover Halloween-themed school snacks. It all tastes the same, right?

We then went to cousin Cru’s house for his birthday party, which had a reptile theme. Alligator Al’s Traveling Reptile Pals came by, and Al showed off several snakes, a bearded dragon, a skink, and an African bullfrog.

The reptile theme continued into the activities, decorations, food, and party favors. The kids had a blast!

We returned home to do a little cleaning up after last night’s party and then drove to Altadena for Mike’s sister Emily’s wedding reception. We miscalculated how long we would have to battle LA traffic and finally had to take surface streets to get through the snarl. As a result, we did get to see some interesting and picturesque parts of LA, Burbank, and Glendale as we crested the San Rafael Hills along Chevy Chase and Highland Drives (even the names are picturesque) before getting into Altadena.

We celebrated with family and friends and look forward to Emily and Michael sharing a lifetime of happiness together.  

A little update on Diamond: Last month she started a two-semester internship that she works at two days a week. A lot of the work she is doing is along the lines of the profession she would like to go into, and it has been a great eye-opening experience for her. Diamond currently works for BYU-Idaho 3 to 4 days a week and does great at her job. This semester she has off, and is she looking forward to going to Detroit to visit family for the Thanksgiving holiday. Diamond has made a lot of friends at BYU-Idaho and continues to be involved in many school and ward activities. Recently she was able to attend a Piano Guys Concert. For a small town, Rexburg is not short of culture. Our family is counting down the days until Diamond is able to come and see us for Christmas.