Thursday, December 31, 2009

Christmas Bustling?

My oh my what a busy "break"! I think the word "break" was meant to be, like, break in the action. To provide a time of quiet and rest. I think this "break" was meant to be like, break the bank, and break my back, and break neck speed. It's been great fun and we have been able to see all our grandparents! I can't recall a time when we have seen all the grandparents in such a short stretch of time.

The "Break" started with a quick over night at mom's house for Carl's memorial. We spent the time after the service with Dad and Sally. We couldn't stay another night because we needed to be at church the next day, all the kids were in the Christmas Program.

Bob worked on Monday and Tuesday. The kids and I just hung out and did a little shopping. We made the mistake of meeting daddy down by his work for dinner on Tuesday night. The mistake was leaving home at 4:55, in the rain, right before a major holiday when everyone was headed out to do some last minute, late night shopping. AND the place we were going was across the street from a major mall. It's usually a 15 minute trip....it took almost an hour.....Lesson learned....

Mom and Ed arrived on Wednesday. We set up the basement as a guest room since Bob has taken over the former guest room as an office. It worked out nicely. Sophia and I went out for a couple hours to do some last minute shopping our selves. We knew exactly what we were going to get and how it would go. We worked in a lunch at Nordstrom and had a really nice time together.

Christmas Eve we went to church, wrapped presents and set up Santa Gifts. As you know.....Santa is a busy guy. He can't wrap his presents but he does put them together or set them up. (Bob and Ed) Santa built Sophia's Playmobil horse training facility. It took an hour and a half and a couple shots of Tequila but Santa got the job done. Ed made the following mistake on Christmas..... He said to Sophia (when he was sure it was done by Bob) "Darn, I wish I could have put the Vet Center together with you." She said, "We haven't done it yet Grandpa!" Ed laughed, rolled his eyes and got to work. He and Sophia worked diligently for about 45 minutes and then Sophia was bored so Grandpa finished the job. He won't make that mistake again and for his part now.....Lesson Learned.

Christmas day was a flurry. We all got plenty of stuff. The kids got less then last year and that was great. In early December we went through their stuff and got rid of the old to get ready for the new. The things that they got went along with current things. I do not want to start a new collection of what ever. You have Legos, you get more Legos. You have Playmobil, you get more Playmobil. You get the idea. This has worked well for us.

Christmas Night we had dinner at the Wang's with the Klines as well. Sarah's mom and her husband were in town too. You'd have thought Sarah's mom and my mom were old high school buddies. They chatted and laughed their heads off. We all had a wonderful time. The kids played, we laughed and talked and shared the responsibility for the dinner. It worked out very well and was great fun.

Mom and Ed left on Saturday morning because they needed to get to Seattle to celebrate with family up there. We packed and got ready for the Great Wolf Lodge for Coulter's Birthday.

Sunday...Great Wolf Lodge. It was a total cluster last year. Lots of waiting in line. This year we arrived at 12:20 and walked right up to the desk, got checked in and went to our room. Talk about a different experience! It was great! Rex and Tina met us there. We went sliding for hours. The toddler pool was closed, some kid threw up in it, so Kees was pretty bummed and bored. He and I left the pool early and played Magic Quest and had a hot chocolate. He loves his mommy and Kees time.

We had microwave dinner from Trader Joe's and then Dad and Sally came to visit. It was low key and really fun. I had been worried that it would be too crowded and chaotic but really, it was fine. Dad, Sally, Rex and Tina took the kids to play Magic Quest and Bob and I went to the bar for a glass of wine. It was nice. We hadn't just sat down with only the two of us in at least a week. We enjoy each other's company so a week is a long time when we don't get to be together alone. After about an hour we all congregated back in the room. We ate cake and Coulter opened presents. Dad and Sally left and Rex and Tina took the kids back to the arcade. The kids didn't get to bed until 11:30. When they did they passed out in about 30 seconds.

All 8 of us would have slept fine except Kees was coughing, the kind of coughing that has sent him to the hospital twice this year. I got up and had him upright so he would stop coughing. He slept on me most of the night. I didn't sleep much or well. You know, sitting up with a coughing kid on you, it's not really conducive to a good night's sleep.

Monday, more sliding, more Magic Quest, pack and head home. Oma and Opa (Bob's parents) were pulling up in front of our house exactly as we were pulling in the drive way. We had prepared the basement for their arrival before we left town and were really glad because, obviously, NOW we didn't have time to get ready. Hugs all around, lots of chatting, left overs for dinner and an appropriate bed time.

Tuesday was Coulter's actual birthday. Being Coulter he was now expecting his birthday party. I explained that the Great Wolf Lodge was what we did INSTEAD of having a party. He still wanted to know who was coming and when. OH, and it snowed! The kids were all ready to build the "Black Diamond." Last year Bob built them a luge course right out the front door. That was with 2 feet of snow or so, not 2 inches! I ordered a Star Wars Cake for the evening. We had a present for him, the neighbors came over and we ate cake....Good enough. The kids played Wii, they went to bed, the adults played Wii and we went to bed. It was a nice day.

Wednesday the kids had play dates and played all day. We went out for Chinese food for dinner. A little more Wii. Another great day.

And today is New Year's Eve. Our neighbor is having a last minute get together. We will go for a bit but I don't anticipate being there long. Ans and Bert have to leave our house at 6:30 to make their flight. I don't want the kids staying up too late because we HAVE to get them back on a schedule.

Our last couple of days of this "break" will be spent as a family. Hopefully unwinding a bit and just hanging out. I wouldn't have cut any part of it out because it has all worked pretty well and we have enjoyed seeing all of our grandparents and friends. One thing dove tailed into another and timing was everything. It was a lot of planning and work but really worth it.

We have enjoyed all the chaos, busy-ness, fun, family, sliding, etc but it certainly was NOT a "break" for us. I think that you can agree that in this instance, we really should come up with another term for it. This year we had a Holiday Chaos or possibly a Holiday Willy Nilly, maybe a Christmas Crunch or Christmas Bustling? Any of those could work but certainly not a "BREAK."

Have a happy and safe New Year's Celebration. We will see you in twenty ten.

Monday, December 21, 2009

2009 Holiday Letter



I can’t believe that it’s that time of year again but…. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!! And a very Happy Hanukkah to our Jewish friends too!!!!! Kwanza…Festivas for those of you who celebrate those…. Am I leaving anyone out? In this amazing year of hope and change I want to make sure that we are all included.

Our lives continue to be full of new experiences and lots of growth. The kids are all getting so big. Sophia is 8 (almost 9) and has lots of interests. She’s played tennis, basketball and soccer this year. There has been lots of crafting, sewing and fiddle lessons too. This is the age of trying out lots of new things. Sophia is already turning into a t’ween. I can hardly believe it. She is a lovely young lady who is protective of her brothers and is so very smart.

Coulter will be six, four days after Christmas. He is very energetic and funny. He played soccer this year and LOVED it. He also tried tennis and seems to be a natural. Time will tell. He is learning so much in kindergarten. One morning I got up and saw a bunch of math problems written on some scratch paper. I asked, “Who helped you with this?” Coutler looked confused and said, “No one.” Like duh mom…. He’s reading and spelling too. I marvel at how their little brains absorb so much, so fast. It’s like watching God work right in front of me. It’s amazing to say the least.

Kees is 4 now and loves school. He is there 5 days per week and is in Debbie’s class. Most of you don’t know Debbie but Sophia and Coutler had her and now it is Kees’ turn. He marched in the first day of school like he owned the joint. He too tells me about all the things he is learning. He has a real sense of wonder in his big brown eyes when he tells me about his discoveries. He’s also very funny. When we’re driving around we pick out Cruisers, Minis and Buggies. On a recent drive Kees reported, “I just thaw an inbisibul puhpuw cwuizer.” Bob said, “How can you see it if it’s invisible?” Kees said, “I duthst have beddah eyes den you.” Funny boy.

We had LOTS of adventures this year. 2009 was the biggest year of travel so far. We started at the Oregon Coast for Spring Break and had a marvelous time playing together. It’s always so relaxed and fun out there.

Summer travel…. First Atlanta for a week the day after school got out. We had a great time with family and a few friends. It’s always so hard to see everyone we’d like to see. Next it was off to the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas for 9 fun filled days. It’s amazing! The water park, the Cove Cabanas, swimming with dolphins, great food, friends, family and for us there were VIP Parties. That you’ll have to hear about in person. We had two sitters with us, Mackenzie and Clara, and that made it more fun for us all. I’m pretty sure they didn’t feel too stressed with their “work load.” Then it was back to Atlanta for a couple days with family up at Lake Lanier. Good times.

We spent the 4th of July in Manzanita with Mom, Ed and our friends the Wangs. It’s so much fun with the small town feel and big fireworks on the beach. The kids all rode on the fire truck in the parade down the main street. And to top it all off the weather was perfect.

I took a road trip with the kids to the Bay Area where we stayed with our good friends the Slacks. They were gracious hosts. So much so that this could become an annual event….poor Slacks. They live in the East Bay Area so we took the BART into the “city” a few times and really enjoyed that experience. We visited many tourist spots, rode the cable cars a lot and spent quite a bit of time in Chinatown. The kids loved that. We visited our friends the Sobels and had a lovely lunch with them. It was very successful and the kids set the pace.

We took our annual Decatur Island trip in the San Juans. It was, as usual…GREAT! Our friends the McGanns couldn’t make it this year but the Shannons and Leeks did our best to keep the tradition going. Clara and Mackenzie made the trek to the island with us too. Clara’s parents, Rebecca and Greg, came for 2 nights. They’ve been hearing about the island for so long and were dying to see what it was all about. It was everything and more they had imagined. It’s a magical place for us all. The kids gained a little more freedom this year and the big girls were allowed to go kayaking on their own. The weather was perfect and as usual…the food and friends are always the best. There is nothing quite like standing around the big spool at sun set, eating piles of fresh crab with great friends. It’s heaven on earth.

I have taken a couple nights away on my own. I recently went to a wedding in California where my friend Marilyn married Majid Karimi. He is so warm and lovely as is his family. Marilyn’s family was wonderful as well. The Karimis were like my long lost Persian family. It was great fun and I was able to catch up with friends too. My good buddy Ellen took excellent care of me there.

Most recently we spent a fun filled weekend on Mt. Hood with 4 families. All the kids had a blast and there was hardly a cross word among them. We had the last sunny weekend on the mountain. The views from 7000 feet were breath taking. The following weekend it snowed a foot and a half. Yikes…we just dodged that one. Thanks so much to Becky and family for that experience.

Bob continues to be very successful with Kaiser Permanente. In May he was promoted to CIO of the Sunnyside Hospital in Clackamas. And recently, he was asked to take on some additional duties supporting the CEO of the hospital. He’s busy and happy and that’s how he likes it. They’re all still in the “Love fest” phase… “You’re so good at thus and so. You really nailed it.” “Oh thank you, I couldn’t do it with out your help.” It’s the best.

Our lives have been so busy this year and equally blessed. We enjoy that our kids are happy to share experiences with us and that they are great travelers. It’s a wonderful time with our small people. They are quite excited for Santa to come and are leafing through the toy catalogs that come in the mail. They cut out things that look like fun and glue them to paper for their wish lists to show Santa. When I look sideways at the expensive or odd choices Sophia says, “What do you care? You don’t have to pay for it.” She may be becoming a t’ween in some ways but she’s not there yet.

May you share in a child’s wonder of the season this year. It is such a blessing. Christ came as a child to be with us as a human and may we, in turn, see God through the children in our lives.

Please keep in touch. We love hearing from our friends. Our information remains the same.
THE LEEKS,

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Good Times, Good Break.....

I have to say mostly good times though. It's been a busy couple of weeks. First the Polar Express debacle, the next week our giant Christmas Party and this week time in Tacoma. We went to my friend Carl's memorial service. I'll go down the line and fill you in.

Polar Express, read posts below. Nuff said......

The Christmas Party was a success. It ran from 3 to 8. We invited about 120 people and had about 100 show. It's an open house format so all 100 aren't here at once. The kids ran wild, the food came and left with the people (it was potluck) and everyone had a good time. Everyone (except one) left before 8. We had one friend who stayed late. I didn't really catch that their kids didn't have school the next day and I was having fun catching up. Bob was cleaning up and I didn't want to slow him down. The next thing I know it's 10:30 the kids are still up and I have had one (or two) too many glasses of wine. Yikes!!!!! Go to bed kids, you have school tomorrow!!! The kids go to bed and so do I..... It's been another successful party. Monday was a little tough on us all but we made it.

Our week bumped along. The kids' excitement about the holidays seems to grow exponentially with each passing day. I don't know how their teachers deal with all these hopped up kids, but they do. It was hard enough dealing with 3 kids.

Our family packed up and headed north for Friday night to go to my friend Carl's memorial service. I still can't believe he is gone. We stayed with mom and Ed along with my brother Rex and sister-in-law Tina. We left town around 4:00 so we had a good portion of the evening to share with family.

At about 8:45 Bob realized that he had left his suit hanging on the back of our door.....at home. He had on jeans and a short sleeve shirt, that was not going to cut it. Luckily Kohl's is open until midnight and they had suit on sale. AND....they had Bob's size. That was lucky. We pulled together a suit for him and were home by 10. He got all black...jacket, pants, shirt and tie. He looked like Johnny Cash.

The memorial service was on Saturday at 11 at the same church where Bob and I got married. It was so strange to be there under those circumstances. We explained to the kids that it was imperative that they behave for this service. To encourage their good behavior we bought them bribes. Hot Wheels trucks for the boys and a Webkin horse for Sophia. I am not above a good bribe. Bob wanted to put the kids in the cry room but I insisted that they be in the sanctuary. I think that kids need to learn to behave in various circumstances and this was one of those times. To their credit they were good, REALLY good. They earned their bribes.

The service was so Carl. It started out with a 6 piece brass band playing New Orleans style jazz. It made me smile. There were lots of stories about Carl and about his character. He was involved in so many things and loved by so many people. I laughed, I cried but mostly I remembered my friend and felt lucky to have known him for so long. He was like another dad to me. There was a beautiful slide show with music and in the middle of it was a recording of Mary, Carl's wife of 41 years reading words that Carl dictated on November 25th of this year. She read the following;

I thank God for hastening us to life. I thank God for summoning us to a celebration of the senses. I thank God for the sun and the moon and the glory of the heavens, the majesty of nature, man's power to know and reason, the incredible beauty of great art and music that penetrates the soul, the wonder and mystery of the unknown which keeps us striving, the gift of friendship and the power that draws us together in the community of spirit, a family that allows us security, warmth and pleasure of the fireside.

More specifically, I'd like to thank our friends and loved ones who took care of our family during this very difficult time.

It was truly humbling to see the care, the sense of community, the humanity, and the unbridled spirit of giving. We are deeply indebted.

And finally, I thank the incarnate God, Jesus, that came to this earth and died for our sins and delivered us to eternal life.

-Carl Francis Loovis-

Carl was a great man.

I saw lots of people I hadn't seen in ages. It was nice to catch up with them. We all shared Carl stories and laughed. Most Carl stories are pretty funny.

And now we are home. The house is all decorated, the refrigerator is full, gifts are purchased (not wrapped yet) and we are ready for Christmas. Mom and Ed are coming on Christmas Eve and we will all share Christmas Dinner with friends. This next week will be a busy one. Bob is off starting on Wednesday until January 4th. Mom and Ed come, then we're road tripping to the Great Wolf Lodge for Coulter's Birthday, Dad and Sally will meet up with us there, then Bob's parents come to town for 5 days. A two day respite and then the kids go back to school. Winter Break...yeah right! We're looking forward to seeing all our parents and to all the festivities of these holidays.

May you find peace in these next two weeks. Merry Christmas to all and to all a GREAT BREAK!!!!!!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Santa, Fairies, and all the Rest

If you have read my last couple of posts you know that Sophia figured out the Santa situation. It was very sad for both of us. She cried like she had lost a good friend, and in essence she did.

Last night while I was cooking dinner she came in to talk to me.

She asked, "Mom, if Santa is a spirit and Twinkle (her personal fairy) knows Santa. Does that mean that Twinkle isn't real either?"

I stopped cooking, took her in my lap and we talked. She looked afraid and sad already. I wasn't going to lie to her. I knew this was coming and had been dreading it. I said, "Sophia, I am not going to lie to you. Twinkle isn't real either. I am Twinkle."

She started softly sobbing and laid on me. I said, "I am so sorry. I wondered if I should be lying about all this. Would it have been better if I didn't lie?"

She said, "No. It's your job as a parent to lie."

I said, "NO, NO IT ISN'T!!!! Parents are not supposed to lie."

She said, "Yes you are....about Santa and stuff."

I agreed that maybe that was OK. I told her that those were all the secrets, that I wasn't lying about other things. I just wanted to give her a rich fantasy life. We talked about all the stories that I had made up about fairies.

She asked, "Can I make up stories now?" She seemed excited about the prospect.

I said, "Of course you can. I even thought that when this happened that you and I could make up stories and write a book or something. We could really have fun with it."

She really liked that idea and said we could mail it to a publisher and have the book made for real. Then, as a real book, it could be in the library and stuff. I guess only the books in the library are real.

I told her about the Tooth Fairy, The House Fairy the boy's Fairies etc., etc. I told her how I named the Fairies from the song Twinkle Twinkle Little Star so I could keep track of the names. Otherwise how would I remember them. She smiled and laughed about all the stuff that I had to remember and the silly things I have done to be a fairy. She asked where the gifts came from. I told her I had to go out after they went to sleep to get stuff. It was a pain but I did it because I love the kids. She wanted to see where I kept her teeth. Yes, I kept her baby teeth. I showed her. Then she wanted to know where the fairy dust was. I showed her. She asked if it was real fairy dust. I said, "I bought it, I am a fairy, it's real fairy dust." She laughed. She seems to understand it all. She's still sad about her loss but is happy to help in the future.

So the cat is out of the bag and her fantasy life is much diminished. It does make things simpler for me. I was talking to Sophia this morning and I said, "So knowing what you do now, does it make more sense why Twinkle forgot to write back sometimes? You know she's busy and has other priorities."

All Sophia said is, "What are priorities?" So I explained that. She agreed that Twinkle did fall down on the job every now and then but it did make sense now.

Sophia is still sad about the death of her fantasy. I tried to make it less sad and recruit her as a helper. She did slip the other night at the dinner table saying, "Mom, Carlie knows the secret about Santa."

I said, "What about Santa?" Total rookie move on my part.

She said, "About how Santa isn't real."

I was like, "Shhh, shhhhhh.... Let's not talk about that here. Not right now!" The boys were right there. Luckily it went right over their heads. She felt really bad.

After about 5 minutes she said, "I'm sorry mom. About what I said."

I said, "It's OK. They didn't get it." And I smiled really big. I could see the relief on her face. I wasn't mad. I remember having to learn when to and when not to say things. It's a hard thing to learn. She is so sweet and wants to help with the boys and their experience.

So that is what is happening here. Sophia is totally clued in. She is sad about her loss but excited to share in perpetuating the fantasy. I am sad too. My baby is growing up. I know this is part of the plan but it's sad to see her innocence slipping away. I am so proud of her and the girl she is becoming. My baby is growing up.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

More Express...

As you may have noticed in my last post, I was a bit perturbed by our family experience on the Polar Express. It was disappointing to say the least. The last post was my letter to a Jon Schlegel who is the VP and GM of Rail Events, Inc. They license each of the railroads to do the Polar Express and are responsible for making sure it is a quality event. The Polar Express brand is owned by Warner Brothers. Following is the email that I received from Jon on Monday afternoon.

Dear Mrs. Leek,
Thank you for contacting me regarding your unpleasant experience on The Polar Express at the Mt. Hood Railroad. I am sorry to hear it was such a disappointment. Our company, Rail Events Inc., licenses this event on behalf of Warner Bros. Consumer Products, Inc. It is our responsibility to ensure our host railroads are portraying the event in a quality manner. One of our company representatives will be in Hood River tomorrow night, Tuesday, December 8, 2009 to ride and conduct an event evaluation.

I just returned from visiting four events in the Midwest and East Coast and will tell you that they were all wonderful events! I am disheartened to hear your accounts but do appreciate your detailed explanations as it will help us rectify the situation. I am copying Michelle Marquart, the General Manager of the Mt. Hood Railroad. Perhaps you already sent this to the railroad but I want to make sure your comments are addressed. I assure you we will follow up with the railroad.

As the parent of a 10 year old boy who still believes in Santa, I understand how awful this must have been for you and your 8 year old daughter. My apologies go out to you, your daughter and your entire group.

Please do not hesitate to contact me again if there is anything else you want to share with me. My information is listed below.

Kind Regards,
Jon Schlegel
Vice President & General Manager
Rail Events Inc.

I thought it was a nice first step. He was right, I had sent an email to the Mount Hood Railroad (MHRR) but hadn't heard back from them. There is a form you fill out and it goes to what I assume is a general mail box.

I had also cc'd the Mayor and City Manager of Hood River. Both of whom wrote back. They both said that they were not affiliated with the MHRR but were sorry that we had a poor time. Then they both took the time to give me good ideas of fun things to do in the future. I was grateful.

Next I got an email from a woman who works at Nora's Table in Hood River. When I mentioned this to my friend Annette she told me, "Oh, that is the best restaurant in town!" I am really looking forward to going there on our next trip. Apparently my letter / email has been flying all over Hood River to the business owners. This is good. While I know the MHRR isn't affiliated with Hood River it is where they do business and it's important for the right hand to know what the left hand is doing. Hood River is so cute this time of year and they are working hard to be successful it seems a shame to have one entity failing the entire group.

I received an email from Michelle Marquart, the GM of MHRR asking me to call her. I called her in the early afternoon on Tuesday and we talked for about 20 minutes. She apologised again and again. She assured me that they were working hard to make the experience better. She had flown people out to experience other Polar Expresses. They were to come back and report on their experience and come up with a plan to improve their Polar Express. Next there were people flying in from Chicago to address some of the issues. All in all, there was action going on. She offered me my money back and tickets for next year. She promised that the experience will "knock my socks off." I accepted but I told her I couldn't promise we'd ride again next year. There are some very raw nerves about this right now. I did tell her if we did ride next year that I would report back on the experience honestly. I really want to give them a good review but there is a lot of work to do.

I also sent my letter to a few people at Warner Brothers. It was hard to figure out who was who on the web site but apparently I got at least one of the people right. Here is the reply I got from Warner Brothers....

Dear Mrs. Leek,

Thank you for your note and for alerting us about your experience. I am sorry to hear that it did not meet your expectations...to say the least. I am pleased that Jon from Rail Events responded quickly and I have asked the appropriate individuals within our organization to also follow-up with him.

Again, thank you for taking the time to let us know.

Regards,
Barry

Barry R. Ziehl
Senior Vice President, Worldwide Public Relations and Marketing
Warner Bros. Consumer Products

He responded within a couple hours of my email. I thought that was great. I wrote him back and said that Jon had contacted the MHRR and we were working it out.

So that is what is happening with the Polar Express. I am impressed that so many people hopped to action. I felt cheated and like MHRR and all the entities involved just wanted my money. I am now softened and feel like they are trying hard to make this right. That even a big corporation does care about the experience of our collective children. There is a lot of training and money that go into a quality experience. You can't have management on every train so sometimes things digress. That has obviously happened on the MHRR. By all accounts of what is happening now I would say it will get better. It needs to. It needs to improve for the MHRR, for Rail Events, Inc, for Warner Brothers but ultimately for our children. They are so full of magic and wonder this time of year. It's a shame that Sophia lost her belief in such an abrupt way. I really don't want that to happen to another kid, at least not while you are supposed to be sharing in the fantasy. And now I believe that all the corporate entities involved want a positive experience for our kids too. Sometimes it just takes a bit of a reality check to get things back on track (so to speak).

Thank you to all the people in Hood River who sent me emails and well wishes. I want Hood River to succeed. If you haven't been out there for the holiday season you should go. It's really festive. I look forward to revisiting the Hood River Hotel and Nora's Table on my next trip among many others.

Thank you to the people at Warner Brothers, Rail Events, Inc. and MHRR who are trying to make this right. It really is for the benefit of everyone who works with the experience and the riders who want a fantasy. As I stated earlier. I want this to succeed. This is a fun fantasy and if done right could be a great family tradition. Time will tell.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Polar Express.....or Polar Depress? You Decide....

Dear Jon,
I am writing to share my Polar Express experience with you. I will preface this by telling you that I have been an event planner and also a restaurant and hotel manager. I have been given lots of feed back over the years, some helpful some not. I will try to make this constructive as that is my intent.

I read about the Polar Express ride and was very excited to purchase tickets and share that experience with my husband and 3 children ages 8, 5 and 4. When I shared with a couple friends that we were going they decided to join us. We had 6 adults and 8 children total. Not only did we spend $300 on tickets we decided to make a whole weekend out of it. We stayed at a hotel and in total our weekend netted Hood River about $1000. Good for Hood River, they need it.

We had a great day on Friday in Hood River and needed to go to the train at 7:30 so we wrapped up our hotel fun. Everyone was very excited about the Polar Express. We boarded the train, found our seats. As the train left the station, there was no music that we could hear, there was no guidance on the train to find seats, there was no decor to make it feel special. There was a lot of noise and chaos. About 20 minutes in some high school aged kids came through the train car and handed out cookies out of a plastic laundry basket. Immediately following came the hot chocolate. It was awful. Made with powder and water in really cheap Styrofoam cups......that leaked....on my jacket.... That is just a side bar. There wasn't any personalization, no smiles, no Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukah, just a, "Here you go."

Next the story. It was a recording on the overhead and we couldn't hear it. The speakers were very poor and the volume was low. Again, the high school kids came in, this time with books. They moved fairly quickly through the train car but the kids didn't get to see most of the pictures and when they did it was a fast glance. It was pretty upsetting to my 4 and 5 year olds.

The lights inside the train were too bright and there was NO light outside the train. It was like being in a subway tunnel for 2 hours. All during this time my son wanted to see what was going on outside the train. I ended up giving him my jacket so he could put it over his head so he could see.

We arrived at the "North Pole" the train slowed. I was under the impression that we would get off to see Santa. Instead we could see Santa and some "elves" waving at us. There were some lights that showed some outlined houses and that was pretty much it. The train stopped, reversed direction and left town. I have to say I was shocked. Really, that would have been the perfect place to see Santa, add a gift shop and have some carolers.

The train pulls out and....we wait. About 10 minutes later and some disappointed kids later Santa shows up with an elf. This is my favorite part. The Santa was so bad that my 8 year old daughter burst into tears and says, "He's not real. He's not! I'm beginning to think it's just you and daddy. That you are Santa." She sobbed for a long while in my arms. It was a very hard thing to talk about in that venue. You may think that 8 is the right age to figure this out and that may be, but on your train, paying for this experience, it was NOT the place nor the time. Seriously. This was supposed to be part of the fantasy not the end of it.

Next the caroling..... Two more high school boys came in and announced, "Let's sing some carols." They yelled out a song title and we were supposed to sing along. Neither of these boys could sing, at all. They started out the songs with, "One......Two.......one, two, three, four." This is not a rock band and their counts had nothing to do with the beat that we were singing. They were so bad that a woman in the back of the train essentially took over. She got everyone singing the same songs. It was a relief. The boys stood in the middle of the train and sang badly, following this random woman's instructions.

FINALLY we arrive back at the Hood River station. We filed off the train and there were some high school kids singing one song or another. That was the most festive part of the whole thing. I am not sure if that is part of the "experience" it seemed like they just felt like singing. They were laughing with each other and not generally being silly. I felt like the people exiting the train were secondary to their good time. As we stepped off the train there were more high school employees standing next to exit on the outside of the train. I believe they were there to assist people so they didn't fall. They failed. My friends son fell down the stairs. Rather than attend to the situation one of the high school kids yelled at one of the other high school kids and said, "What are you doing?? You are supposed to help people." They never asked if he was alright and didn't seem to really care. It was very disconcerting.

We departed the train, stopped at the gift shop and hit the restrooms. I was very thirsty and I needed to go to the restroom during most of the trip. I found out after the fact that there was a restroom on the train and there was water available. If there had been an announcement early on I may have known that.

So that is our experience in brief. It was horribly disappointing and my daughter now had lost her belief in Santa. It was NOT worth our $300. Honestly, it wasn't worth much of anything. I felt cheated, lied to and disappointed not only for myself but mostly for my children. This is such an exciting time for them and they were cheated and I was cheated out of seeing them enjoy the experience.

When we got back to the hotel all the adults stood there and stared at each other....."Did you just experience what I did?" We couldn't believe that was it. We felt ripped off, we were having a better time in town. One of the dads said that if he had known where we were he would have gotten off the train. It was that bad. I felt like we were on a subway car going through a tunnel for 2 hours. A New York Subway ride would have been better because you know you can get off every couple of minutes. On the Polar Express you are trapped for 2+ hours. It was awful. Really, awful.

There are SO many things that could have made it better. First, if the employees that cared about our experience. I understand that these kids are young. They don't have kids so they don't understand why it would matter to a small child. It doesn't matter if we have fun or not. They get their $8.40 an hour whether we have a good experience or a bad experience. What's their motivation to give us a good experience? None. They're much more motivate to have fun with and impress their peers, as they proved last night.

How about some lights outside the train to light up the scenery? The kids tried so hard to see outside but couldn't see anything. I know that would cost something but it couldn't be much when spread over the cost of tens of thousands of tickets.

Stop the train at the North Pole and sell some stuff. I know this would be tricky with Santa time but you could make a haul at a gift shop, hot chocolate / coffee shop, caroling time, maybe a little play or a real reading of the book. People could sit on hay bales, sip hot chocolate whatever. Yes it would take more time but it would be great and better then time spent on the train....staring out at darkness.

The hot chocolate in the story was big. Kids LOVE hot chocolate. Make it better quality. And what about a little song and dance with it? I know this takes training and money but I really believe it would be worth yours / their time.

Those are just a few of the suggestions.

We will not be riding the train next year. We will, however, go back to Hood River for the weekend. I guess if you want the big positive for it was that we had such a nice time in the town. I am still disappointed that we left our good time in town for a 2+ hour subway ride to nowhere.

Next year we'll return to Hood River for the holiday celebration on December 3rd. We've already made our reservations. We're going to take our $300 and spend it in the town. We're going to bring an LCD projector, show the movie in our hotel suite and give our kids a real experience. We're bringing a train whistle and doing it right. We'll sing, dance and give our kids hot chocolate made with real milk and whipped cream and marshmallows.

You may want to talk to the Mt. Hood Railroad and talk to them about their hiring practices. They may want to take a page from Disney and mirror their practices. They should be selling experiences not just a one time $25 time slot. They should want you to come back.

Mt. Hood Railroad just wanted my $300 and apparently doesn't care if I ever come back. Their lack of care made the biggest impression on me. It's what I will share with everyone and what I carry with me. I have a blog with many readers and will be posting this letter. I encourage you to respond to my letter and I will post your response on my blog as well. I am also copying this to the mayor of Hood River and the City Manager. I promise you that this is not just to complain but to give you feed back. The Mt. Hood Railroad is giving you and your organization a bad name. You either need to insist on improvement on their part or discontinue a relationship with them. It should be an embarrassment to your establishment and needs to be dealt with.


Heather C. Leek

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Few Pictures of Carl Having Fun


This is Carl as we started out on a hiking trip. He carried in about 4 quarts of already made stew....that's heavy. Note the tubs tied to his back pack. He rented his gear and didn't check it out before he left home. Ahhh...we were camping in the Rain Forrest and ahhh....Carl's tent didn't have rain flys and the couple others he rented didn't either.



This is what it looked like in the morning along the nice quiet creek that we set up camp next to. Everyone was soaked except for Laura and I. We were sleeping like babies, because we had a rain fly.



Mary and Carl out for the evening.



Mary and Carl in Paris. This was such a great trip.



Carl pointing out something or other at Notre Dame. He used his umbrella as a pointer the whole day. We still laugh about that.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Carl

There are people who move you during the course of your life. People who change who you are at your core. Carl was one of those people.

When I was in 2nd grade (1972) we lived in Denver. We had many friends there, many that we are still friends with today. It was an interesting time for our family and for our country. Our family was going through many changes spiritually, socially and internally. Our country was getting close to the end of Vietnam and that brought our country to a huge change in social consciousness. I remember that it was a very contentious but exciting time. During our time in Denver we made many wonderful family friends but our closest family friends became the Loovises.

Over the years we lived in close proximity more than not. When they moved to Germany, we went to visit them there. When they moved to Tacoma they stayed with us for a long while. Once settled into Tacoma we shared, what seemed to be MOST, holidays at some point of another. Some of my favorite memories include the Loovis Clan and our family sharing a meal around the dinner table. Carl was often asked to carve the turkey and always took a new and different approach. Most of which left the bird in shreds. We learned to like it like that. We asked him to carve because it was always...ahhh....ammusing. I can't tell many specific stories but I can tell you that there was lots of wonderful food, many stories and always an abundance of laughter. Carl loved his stories as much as anyone and would laugh with us even if we were laughing at him. He thought he was funny. He was right.

Carl was also very honest. His frank discussions with my parents made many strong and needed impressions on them. He was willing to put himself in a vulnerable position to speak the truth. That is not only honorable but very brave. He made them see and face the truth when sometimes no one else could. Some of those truths and then the follow up results brought peace and forward movement to our family. For that I am grateful.

When my parents were going through their divorce my mom leaned on me a lot. I, in turn, leaned on the Loovises. I would call Mary and Carl in Germany. They would offer advice and more then anything, they would listen. It was always a tremendous comfort knowing that their steady family was there for support. We didn't talk often but just knowing they were there for me was an amazing relief to me. They supported our whole family no matter what form we took. Both Carl and Mary have been there for us as individuals and as a whole. They accepted both my parents new partners and we were all family. They have been a true constant in our lives.

Carl was the coolest nerd I have ever known. I say that with total love and admiration for Carl. He had a comb over but he wasn't bald. He just insisted on wearing his hair with the part waaaaayyyy over to the side. My mom tried to get him to change it a couple times but he always went back to the same hairdo. Who knows why...

One of my favorite stories was when my mom gave Carl a green tennis sweat suit of my dad's. She gave it to him because she hated it and was sick of seeing my dad in it. What she didn't take into consideration was that Carl would wear it and she would have to look at him over the net on the tennis court. Carl wore that sweat suit strictly to bug my mom. He knew why she had given it away and thought it was hilarious to make her look at it........for years. It makes me laugh every time i think of that. Now THAT is a good joke.

He had a passion for music and classical music in particular. To watch Carl listen to music was often times to watch him do aerobics. He might conduct, or dance, even do ballet on occasion and many times more then a few of us got involved. I remember that one time he and my mom were acting out a murder scene in an opera. There's a picture where mom had a big chef's knife and was lunging at Carl and he had a surprised look and his hands up in surrender. It was hilarious. In the most recent years Carl was on the Tacoma Opera Board. His passion for music and participation on the board will be greatly missed.

I have been extremely lucky to call Carl my friend. We made each other laugh...often and a lot. We spoke in a New York accent lots of times just because we liked to pretend we were other nerds or something from a different coast. Then we'd go back to being just us....regular geeks from this coast. He encouraged my interest in music and for that I am grateful.

I am also grateful for Carl's special friendship with my mother. When she needed a male friend who she could trust Carl was there and Mary supported them as friends. I can't tell you how important that was to her and to me as a model of a healthy platonic relationship. I know what that looks like.

There are so many memories that I could share but those here are some of the most important. Carl passed away today just before 3 pm after a long, hard fought battle with cancer. I am going to miss him tremendously as will so many people. He was precious to more people then I can name. When he was so sick and taking visitors he would get really tired. I joked with my mom that it was his own fault that he got so worn out. If he hadn't been so important to so many of us he wouldn't have been as tired now. May he rest peacefully and know God's love now.

I hope I can be as good of a friend as Carl was. His family is hurting but also know he is finally at peace. My parents and their spouses have been an amazing support during this process. Being where I am and having 3 kids left me at a bit of a disadvantage in the assistance arena. Love I can give. Support I can give. And hopefully over the future months and years I can lend a hand when and where needed. I love Mary, Kim and Kristin and pray that they stay strong and lean on the many friends and family that are here to help. We all carry a little piece of Carl with us and are better for it. Much love and peace my friend.........

Thursday, November 26, 2009

KEES IS FINE!!!!!!!

Thanks to all who inquired and were concerned. Kees is fine. He arrived at the hospital after sleeping for about a half hour. Of course the sleep calmed his lungs so he was feeling MUCH better. He went to the bathroom upon arrival and declaired...."I know what da pwobwem was! I needed to go potty!" Silly boy.

We don't know what caused the problem. The Albuterol worked when he calmed down during his nap. I'll be talking to his doctor soon to see what we can do to solve his issue. Until then....I pray he's fine.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sometimes Fun, Sometimes SCARY!!!!!

There are times where being a mom is great. There are times where being a mom is frustrating. The worst times are when being a mom is scary. Tonight is one of those nights.

Bob and I had a teacher conference tonight with Coulter's teacher. That went great! He's brilliant just like we thought. While we were there the kids were with some friends. When we went to get the kids Kees was coughing a bit and sounding like he was getting croup. He was breathing fine but barking a bit. He went to bed with out much issue.

Bob and I were enjoying our first night of vacation together. We had some wine, watched TV and I doinked on the computer. It was a nonchalant kind of night. I took a really nice bath and then we went to bed at about midnight. That's later than usual but not too late for vacation.

At about 1:15 Kees came in BARKING and crying. I tried to calm him down but once you start coughing like that with congestion in your chest it's hard to stop. I've been there. I gave him Albuterol, started the vaperizer and put Vick's on him. Nothing stopped it. I did tell him he had to stop and he listened. He knows that the more he causes the problem, the worse it gets. We layed in bed and finally I asked him if he wanted to go get the medicine that he breaths. He said, "The one that I breave in my moufe?" I said, "Yes." And he said, "I want to get that." When a kid says they want to go to the hospital and get emergency care.....BELIEVE THEM!!!!

As I sit here writing, Bob is taking Kees to the hospital. I, of course, can't sleep, so I am blogging. I am not overly concerned that anything bad will happen. Just as a parent, it's my job to be concerned, to make them go.

As Bob was walking out the door he said, "So, it was 2 years ago when this happened the last time?" I was like, WTF DUDE? "NO, it was 4 months ago....June" "Oh, OK"

I am grateful that he is taking him this time. I am the mom. It's my job to be, maybe, overly concerned. Bob is probably, appropriately concerned.

So I am concerned, Bob is on his way to the hospital with Kees and I am waiting for word. I'll pass on more when I know it. Until then.....

Monday, November 23, 2009

Today's Bike Ride

I'm out here riding and had to do a quick post. First of all it is the MOST beautiful day. There are hundreds of people out and that is great.

So I am riding along the river and moving at a pretty good clip. I'm not being dangerous just moving when this lady freaks out. Her, approximately 8 year old grandson was just wandering about. She's yelling at him, "Look OUT!" And looking right at me. I almost started laughing. I made a huge turn to avoid them by more than 30 feet just to show that there was NO danger. Man,people are weird.

So if you see me coming you better scream and run 'cause I am gunnin' for ya....

Have a great day and if you can RIDE baby.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

What a Weekend

Me and My Big Girl Caitlin and ahhh...the other violinist. Crazy fire show.... Sophia and Caitlin throwing some gang signs or something....LOL All the girls

video

It's been a good weekend. Friday night we celebrated by spending the evening watching TV and doing pretty much nothing. Saturday Sophia woke up better...way better. Hooray! Not only was she better she had a birthday party to go to and everyone was invited. Bob took the kids to the Academy Theater for the party and then he and I went out and did a bit of shopping. It was nice to have that time together.

Our afternoon was peaceful. Bob worked outside and I was inside. At 5 we went over to the Stewart's. I was going out to the Miz Kitty Vaudeville Show. The Stewart's babysitter was on her way. When she got there Bob asked her if she minded if our kids stayed. Bob scored. She said that was fine. Bob went to a movie. The Kitty Show isn't his thing...I don't know why but it isn't. I, on the other hand, love it.

I handed out programs at the door before the show and laughed a lot during the show. There were a bunch of friends there and we all enjoyed ourselves. If you are around and inclined, you should come some time. It's like nothing you've ever seen before. After the show we all went out and had a drink and a bit of something to eat. I took a cab home. I usually do when I go to the Miz Kitty Show. I ride with someone there and cab it home....

This morning we all got up and went to church. We're trying to be consistent with church. We want the kids to participate in the Christmas Pageant. They have never wanted to before and this year is the year...finally. They practice after church so we really need to be there for that and for, well, CHURCH! For us, it's the right thing to do and I think it's a good community for our children.

When we got home Sophia and I quick, made some cookies. We were going to the Trans Siberian Orchestra where Caitlin Moe was performing as one of their featured violinists. The cookies were for Caitlin and anyone she wanted to share them with. They've been on the road for weeks and it is a crazy schedule that they keep. That and eating on the road can be brutal. They were in town less than 24 hours and did 2 shows. We wanted to host a dinner but they didn't have time. Cookies would have to suffice.

The show was at 3:00 and we were a bit early. We had seats in the 8th row, awesome. The show was really something. Rock and roll Christmas. The lights were going, lots of lasers and pyrotechnics, it was amazing. And Caitlin was great. She spotted us in the audience fairly early and gave us a couple of waves and lots of smiles. Sophia felt like SHE was a star. It was very cute. T

hose musicians are the hardest working group of musicians I have ever seen. They were running and jumping the WHOLE time. AND I know they have done this the past 2 days, twice a day in 2 other cities. Exhausting! They load in the buses after their 7:30 show tonight to head to Salt Lake City. I am too old for that, I can't imagine!

I was smiling the whole show. Partly because it was just good fun. Partly because the guy next to us was singing and playing air guitar A LOT! There was a big fan group near us. They told us that they had been every year for like 10 years. They were all going crazy. It was fun to watch. Everyone was just really enjoying themselves and that is what it's all about.

After the show Caitlin came out to say hello. She had wanted to bring us back stage but because of the tight turn around they weren't letting anyone back there. We chatted and took a couple pictures. We handed over the cookies, Caitlin was grateful. She is such and nice girl. I wish her luck and a good night's sleep.

Bob had dinner all ready for us when we got home. He and the boys just hung out and stayed home. They DID clean the basement. Good job boys!

It was a really nice weekend. Our week will be great too. Monday is a regular Monday but after that, Bob, Sophia and Coulter are off all week. We're doing a family snack day in Kees' class on Wednesday and then we're going to Mom and Ed's for Thanksgiving. It will be a fun and busy week. I hope your weekend was as fun as our's.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Gaggle of Geese

Sophia and I were talking about funny names of groups yesterday. I told her how Bob and I used to make up names because some of the real names are so funny.

A group of CROWS is a MURDER. ALLIGATORS are a CONGREGATION. That's a little confusing with the whole church thing. Then there is a CHARM of FINCHES. A BLOAT of HIPPOS. LARKS are an EXALTATION. I think we should change from alligators to larks at church. "And now if the exaltation would rise and sing." Doesn't that sound better? How about a ROMP of OTTERS? Wouldn't a ROMP of RABBITS be more appropriate? A WRECK of SEA BIRDS? I thought that applied to ships only. You also have your BARREL OF MONKEYS. Really! They're called a barrel.

So while discussing all this I told her some of the ones that I had come up with. Who's to say they're wrong? How about a SLIME of SNAKES? Makes sense.... Or a BUZZ of BEES. What about a TANGLE of GIRAFFES? I like a GIGGLE of LAUGHING HYENAS. You know since they're laughing and all. A JOSTLE of SQUIRRELS....and so on. You can also do the same to groups of people. A LIE of POLITICIANS. A SCHEME of BLOGGERS. A SCHOOL of TEACHERS....OK that one could be real. A THUMP of CARDIOLOGISTS. Then Sophia and I decided on a BOOGER of CHILDREN. We really laughed hard over that one. Especially since everyone is sick this time of year. Then we used it in sentences. "Sophia, how many kids are in your class?" "A whole big BOOGER mom." "Wow! That's a lot!" Ha ha ha ha, he he he.... we are so funny.

So that is the conversation we had in the car yesterday. Talk to your kids about it and see what they come up with. They have some great ideas.

And if you want to see the real names for all the animals the San Diego Zoo is the place. Some of the names are hilarious and THOSE are all REAL.

Flu, Swine Flu, Stomach Thing????? I Dunno....

Sophia was sick about 3 weeks ago. She went to spend the night at a friends house and woke up at 3:30 throwing up. Poor baby. She was sick for a day and a half. Was that the Swine Flu?

A week ago I stopped by the nurses stand at Kaiser. I asked, "Will there be any more flu vaccine this year?" The receptionist said that there wouldn't be and that I should wash my hands, cover my cough, avoid sick people, and keep my hands away from my face. "Thanks" I said and almost rolled my eyes. I know she is just saying what they have told her to say but really.

I have 3 small people and 2 of them practically sneeze in your face, they WILL lick you and the quick nose pick is not unusual. I don't want to know where the boogers are. The Lysol Wipes are good but there must be some sort of Irradiation Machine that I could get. The kids could just walk through it daily after school. Yes, I am going to look into that.

Tuesday, this week, Sophia woke up with a headache, a temp of 102.5 and her back and legs were sore. I called the peds nurse who said, "It's probably H1N1 and it's probably just the beginning. She was hot and uncomfortable all day but she was able to bring herself to watch TV....LOTS OF TV. We all stayed away from her for the most part and any time she moved through an area I would follow behind with Lysol Wipes.

Wednesday she still had a fever of 101.5 but felt much better. Again, TV...not a lot of sleep, just a lot of TV. I insisted that she read and then she was only able to read 2 pages before she was just "too tired." Yeah, right.... Back on with the TV. By bed time, no fever...we'll see.

Thursday...NO FEVER!!!! Off to school. I took her over to her friend's house so they could walk to school while I dropped Kees off at his school. I got a call 10 minutes after I dropped her off. Her legs hurt, her stomach had "bubbles" in it and she wanted to come home. I picked her up. I was sick of being at home....I took her to coffee with Bob and I. She was able to stomach a steamed milk. I figured if she could do that she could go to....Fred Meyer. I hadn't been out of the house in 3 days! I will tell you that before we left the coffee shop we did our community service and wiped the table down with hand sanitizer. Sophia didn't want anyone else to get what she has.

Fred Meyer was successful and I picked up just a few things. If she could go to Fred Meyer then why not Costco? Off we went to Costco. Again, I didn't need much, just the usual $500 basket. How is it that every time I walk through the door it's $500? That's another post. Sophia was fine the whole time. A little tired but fine. We picked Kees and his buddy up from school and then headed home. Sophia went right back up stairs and turned on the TV. What's a girl to do?

Last night I insisted she shower, wash her hair and get ready for school the next day. Enough with the half sick kid. She agreed and said she was missing going to school. That was nice to hear.

So with a bit of trepidation, I sent her to school today. She has been with out a fever for more then 24 hours. Unfortunately, she woke up with a headache and a few stomach cramps. A couple of Ibuprofen later and a bit of breakfast too, she was much better. So today, I made sure I was near a phone all day. It's 12:30 now and no call. I pray this is good news. And I ask....Was that the Swine Flu?

So far so good, knock on wood, pick a 4 leaf clover and hold on to your rabbit's foot. No one else in the family has been sick. Who's going to take care of me if I am sick? The thought terrifies me. I am praying that we are all healthy for Thanksgiving. I want to make sure we do not pass this along to anyone else.

Wash your hands, cover your cough, avoid sick people and keep your hands away from your face. That's what the pros say. Yeah, good luck with that.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

At dinner Kees was telling us that one of his friends knew everything. I said, "I don't think so." And Sophia said, "Oh yeah, well ask him what x + y + z equals." And she had a little smirk on her face. I asked her what that equalled and she said, "I don't know but Einstein knew."

Later the kids were talking about what Bob does for a living. He said that he, "Worked on computers and cracked people open." The kids all giggled and said that he didn't crack people open because he was NOT a doctor. They all agreed that Bob turns computers on and off for a living. Yep, that's what they pay him the "big bucks" for.

Coulter announced, "I know how long it takes to get older." I, surprised, asked, "Really? How long?" He reported, "It takes 8 weeks to get older. No wait, maybe it's 80 weeks." And now we all know.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Little Things



This may look like just a stapler to you. But to me it's a little bit of happiness. I had an old stapler. It was a standard black Swingline, circa about 1989. Nothing special. You know the standard top load model. Lucky for me, my kids lost it. I am sure it's lost in the house some place, but it's been gone for three weeks now. In my book that is really lost.

On Sunday we took a family trip to Costco. You can imagine how excited the kids were to go....NOT! I have a rule about Costco. I make a list and then I stick to the list EXCEPT I am allowed one thing that is not on the list. The one thing can not be a TV or a computer, it has to reasonable. Then if there are two things that I want that are not on the list I have to decide which one to get. The dropped item can go on the list for the next time I go to Costco if I still really want it. Most of the time I reason myself out of the second item and it never gets on a list.

My item this time was.....wait for it....wait for it....a stapler. Yes, I know you know that since it's right there on top. I love my new stapler. It's easy to use, easy to load and, for now, it staples correctly every time. I used it quite a few times today. I am considering getting my stapler "chipped" you know, like they do dogs and cats. I will not be happy if it goes missing and can not be located. Maybe I could attach one of my old cell phones and then call it if it goes missing. Ahhh, finally a good use for my old cell phones. I did hide it in hopes that the small people will not know about it or where to look for it. But they'll find it...they always do.

I remember as a kid that my dad had a pad lock on his tool kit. My mom got so frickin' mad one day she paged my dad 10 times, called his office and had them over head page at the hospital to try and track him down. She needed a damn hammer and she needed it now! I, of course, could see her point. A pad lock on your tools? It seemed so silly, aren't those for everyone to use? NOW of course, I totally get it.

I am considering a small locked drawer for all the important things I need. In that drawer would be the following; a hammer, a multi functional screw driver, pliers, box cutter, tape, MY NEW STAPLER, scissors, nail clippers, a tape measure, Carmex, a good pen, a couple pencils, note paper, my Ipod, a glue gun and glue sticks, a hole punch (that's a new kid favorite), one candy bar for emergencies, and maybe a drill but that ones only if the drawer is big enough. Of course then I would have to wear the key on a necklace so ONLY I could access the secret stash. Oh the little things that can make you crazy with kids.

I say to my type "A" dad, "It took 30 years but dad, I GET IT." It must have been secretly gratifying to go to your tool box and KNOW that what you left there was still there. I'm not sure what MY solution will be. But for today the little thing that I am really happy with is my new (albeit hidden) stapler. Yes, it is the little things in life that make me happy.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Me and Maria Shriver

Upon first glance you may think that Maria Shriver and I do not have much in common. In fact, we may not have much in common but we do have one major similarity. I'll explain later.....

My dad is a doctor. All growing up we hung out with doctor's families. Mom and dad went to doctor's parties. My friends were doctor's kids. Mom decorated doctor's offices and then their homes. You get the idea, there were lots of doctors around. You couldn't swing a cat with out hitting a doctor. I decided early on that I didn't want to be married to a doctor and I didn't want to go to doctor's parties and be the doctor's wife. Not that there is anything wrong with that I know LOTS of amazing doctor's wives, it just isn't what I wanted to be.

Bob has done very well in his career. He has moved up through the ranks as an IT guy and is now moving into the operations side of things. He worked at the now defunct Egghead.com. Then he was with Banfield The Pet Hospital working in IT. Now he is the CIO and Chief of Staff for the Sunnyside Hospital with Kaiser Permanente. I am so proud of the work he has done and the leader that he is. It's a little funny to me that he is working for a health care organization since that is what I grew up with....health care that is.

Guess what? Bob called me on Monday afternoon and said, "Get a babysitter for tomorrow night. We've been invited to the annual Doctor's Dinner." I asked, "Who all will be there?" And Bob says, "The usual crowd and then all the doctors wives and such." I start to laugh, laugh really hard. How can this be happening? Here I am going about my life and I am now attending a party in essentially the same role as a doctors wife. Nope, you can not guarantee anything in life.

When I married Bob I KNEW I would not be married to a doctor. He was a budding IT guy working in a warehouse doing inventory control. He was smart and was developing his resume. He was going to go far. I knew he would be successful and he would NOT be a doctor.

I have heard Maria Shriver talk about when she met Arnold Schwarzenegger. He's a foreigner with a heavy accent, he's a body builder and an actor. She grew up in politics and was NOT interested in the least in being a politician's wife. When she fell in love with Arnold one of the things that she KNEW FOR SURE is that he would NEVER get into politics. I mean look at the guy. Well we all know how that turned out. Not a politician? I guess you can never say never.

So that is what Maria Shriver and I have in common. We both got what we were not looking for. It's not a bad thing it's just not what we planned. Honestly, I think the fact that I ended up at the annual Doctor's Dinner is hilarious. And I am pretty sure that Maria thinks it's pretty funny that she is living in the California Governors Mansion. It goes to show that God has a really good sense of humor and that our plans often are just rough drafts.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Shower Party

Every morning I get up and take a shower between 7:10 and 7:20. I get up, turn on the NPR, turn on the shower and then I hop in the shower. I like to enjoy the warm shower waking me up while I catch up on the news. Next I see Coulter, "Mom, can I turn on the heater?" "Sure" He comes in, sits down and cozies up to the heater. "Mom, if 3 people tie then it's a 3 way tie. Right?" Me, "Right" "What if 50,000 people tied? Then it would be a 50,000 way tie." Now Kees comes in, "Move ovah Cotah." Coutler moves over and Kees starts sharing his important information. "Mom wouldn't it be weahd if twucks had feet?" "Yeah." You can never get enough of these kinds of conversations. And finally Sophia and the dog arrive. Sophia now shares her pertinent information. Yet again....a party in my bathroom while I am taking a shower. Being a mom of three means there are VERY few things you can count on doing solo. I used to think a shower would be one of them but it isn't.

As this is all going on this morning Bob pops his head in and says, "Good bye. I love you." SCREECH.....hold the phone "You told me you had a meeting 5 minutes from here at 8:30 not 7:15." Bob - "I do but I have to pick something up on the way." "What? Coffee?" Bob says with a smile on his face, "Yeah.....come on kids. Let's get some cereal." They all file out with daddy.

I don't begrudge the man his coffee but don't tell me you'll be here and then run out. Especially when I am in the shower! He knows that....I love him and by his cute response, I know he loves me. He's thinking that he almost got away with it....ALMOST.

I remember when I was a kid getting up on Saturday mornings, cozying up in front of our heater and watching cartoons. It was really nice sitting there with my brother getting warm. Maybe that is what my kids like too it's just that the heater is in my bathroom.

I vacillate between wanting them out and not caring that they are there. Soon enough they'll be grossed out my their mom in the shower and I will have quiet time with my NPR. At some point it will be gross to have them in there frankly. So for now I try and accept that this is how it is. Their endless chatter. It is so important to them and they share such big ideas. You can practically see their wheels turning.

As a little side bar. I remember reading Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth" and at one point he talked about taking a shower. How most people are already at the office (in their head) by the time they hit the shower. They don't stop and just enjoy the warm water, the quiet time and the time to wake up. They don't live in the moment, NOW. That being said, I am pretty sure Eckhart Tolle does not have kids.

So I try and live in the moment and accept my morning shower parties. They won't last forever and I am sure when they are over I will miss them. I need to just accept that for now a shower is a social event.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween....

The front steps
Sophia's Pumpkin...A cat in the grass

Coulter's Pumpkin with a little "Bling"

My Devil pumpkin....eatting a little pumpkin

Kees' pumpkin...A vampire with a broken tooth. Opps!

Most years we make a big deal of going to the pumpkin patch and getting the full pumpkin / fall experience. Next we dig out the Halloween decor and get busy making out house all scary. This year I didn't feel like it. That's my excuse...I didn't feel like it. Our only decorations (besides the pumpkins) are 2 pumpkin paintings made by the boys at school. And our pumpkins....Got 'em at QFC. Yep, I'm all Martha Stewart and stuff. Not my best momma moment.

I did carve pumpkins with the kids. This means that I have to cut off the top, clean out all the pumpkins and then carve all the pumpkins. Maybe this is one of the reasons why I "don't feel like it." I will say that Sophia got out 95% of the pumpkin goo herself. That was nice. Kess and Coulter....no dice, I had to do all of theirs. Coulter didn't want to get his hands dirty. Kees didn't know why that stuff needed to come out.

We roasted the seeds....yummy.

Everyone got to design their own pumpkins and then I carved the faces with the Drummel Tool. That worked pretty well.

Tonight we're going to a party so we won't even be home. Weird. That is a first. The kids will Trick-or-Treat around the neighborhood and we'll all have a good time. Next...I guess it's time to get out the Thanksgiving stuff and then quick...the Christmas stuff. I better start "feeling like it" soon because we're doing our big party this Christmas and "I don't feel like it" won't cut it for that.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Snack Mom




I must preface this post with the note that this is my 6th year of preschool participation at ChildsWork. It has been a really good experience for all of my kids and I am grateful for their teachers there. They have givin my kids a curiousity for learning and wonder at their discoveries. It is a blessing.

Friday was Kees' snack day. This is a big deal. You get to pick out what you want for snack, your parent can come and stay in the class room for the day and it's just a little bit like being a star. Kees was REALLY excited!

I had a few things to take care of so I got to his class room just after 9:00. When I walked in the room Kees' face lit up. He was thrilled. I set my things down and made my way over to him. He hopped up and sat on my lap with a big smile. "Hi mommy. He he he" He introduced me to his class. You could tell he was really proud.

After circle time we went out for recess. He wanted me to run with him the whole time. I declined. I'm not much of a runner.

Next it was time for "Exploration" in the class room. The kids get to pick and choose. Kees opted to play a game. It was really fun to watch the kids make up the rules and how to play Candy Land. It was nothing like the game I remember but they were having fun. It was interesting because they didn't seem to care who was winning or if they were playing by the same rules. At home there would have been yelling about not playing by the rules and who was cheating. At the end of "Exploration" they packed up the game and no one won. Good stuff.

Then Kees and I went down stairs to prepare snack. He carried the trays and I carried the heavy stuff. We worked in tandom and Kees made sure that everyone had equal shares. He was diligent in his work.

Snack was a hit especially the Nori. I was surprised by that. We also had apples, cheese sticks and pumpkin scones.

So Kees got to be a bit of a star yesterday. I was glad that he enjoyed it. It's a bit tedious and I am not wild about going to preschool. But once again I am shown that it isn't about me now is it?

Fall Leaves and Mosaics


Kees - "Random"

Sophia - "Island"

Coulter - "Fish Too"

Fire Breathing Dragon

Butterfly

Oasis

Sophia's "Fish"


I try and do a bit of art with my kids every now and then. Honestly I am not much for finger painting, messy art or just scribble. I am a bit more type "A" then that. I want to have a project, be able to explain it and then have the kids do their own with out having to kill myself helping them. Sophia is there but Coulter and Kees don't have the skill or patience yet to do anything that requires much detail work. The fall mosaics (that's what we have been calling them) are perfect. They're cheap and there is no way to do them wrong.

A couple weeks ago when the leaves were in full color here the boys and I went out collecting leaves. Sophia was at soccer so she didn't get to go with us. The idea was to collect as many different colors and shapes as we could. We arrange them on wax paper and then iron another piece of wax paper on top of them all. Above are the designs that we came up with.

It was lots of fun for us all and that is sayin' something.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hoops

So here I am a 44 year old mom of 3 kids. I am trying to get myself in better shape. You know the ole, move more eat less thing. Sadly, sometimes, moving less and eating more is, well, just more fun. Especially this time of year when it's getting cold out and everyone is baking and making soups. I love soups. AND I am in the mood to cook. I go through phases of loving cooking and hating cooking. I am in the former right now. But I digress....

This post is about Missy. I met Missy about a month ago the first time I played basketball (in a really long time).

My friend Becky invited me to play basketball at the NECC (NE Community Center) on a guest pass. I was leery since it's been, ohhhh, almost 26 years since I last played. But I went. Do you know how hard it is to play basketball for an hour straight? I was thinking "Oh my goodness, I can't believe I used to do this for hours every day!" The lines, the running, yadda, yadda and blah, blah, blah. The thing is I had a really good time. All the ladies were really nice, some were beginners, some had played before and were pretty good. It wasn't too competitive and we just tagged in and out as someone got tired.

I missed a couple weeks because I was out of town but I went back this past Monday. We were about 40 minutes into playing when I was guarding Missy. Missy has played basketball only a few times in her life. She was doing really well. She could dribble the ball, shoot and even scored a couple times. The next think I know, while I was guarding her, she was on the floor holding her knee. Anyone who knows anything about that action knows, "Oh CRAP! This is bad." She laid on the floor for a few minutes, we got her ice. She needed ice on both the back and front of her knee..... "Oh damn, that is really bad!"

I have to tell you that when this happened I was not in contact with Missy. I was really grateful for that fact because if I had been I would have felt REALLY guilty. Like it was my fault. As it was I felt bad enough. It really was just a wrong step.

After a few minute on the floor I remembered I had some Advil in my purse (fanny pack) and gave her some. 10 minutes later....no relief. We called her husband to come and assist her. Luckily he has a flexible job and was able to come. Laurie and I assisted her to his car (she couldn't put any weight on her leg), wished her luck and off they went. We all stared at each other and though, crap.....that sucks.

Apparently it was so swollen for 3 days that they couldn't even do an MRI. They could today. Guess what? It was worse then we thought. She has a torn ACL and Meniscus. Yikes! Worse yet, she has 3 kids, 6, 8 and 11. I called her tonight and she said that her family has been helpful and great. AND her mother and mother in law live close and have been really helpful. Thank goodness. A few of us from basketball are going to bring her some meals so that they don't get sick of Mac-n-cheese (though my kids would love that every day).

Here we are a bunch of 30 and 40 somethings trying to have fun and get fit(ter) and BAM, someone gets hurt, really hurt. I am trying to figure out if I should still play basketball. Missy and I are about the same size and she is almost 10 years younger then me. Doesn't that mean that I could go down just as easily or even more so? I'm just saying..... Maybe I should stick to the stairs and the bike. I feel like I have been so lucky with the knees so far, maybe I shouldn't push it. But then there is the other side...it's really fun. It's a fun group of women, it's a fun way to get exercise Becky, I know you read this....don't worry, I haven't made up my mind, I am just pondering.

Sometimes this getting old thing blows but I can honestly say this, I wouldn't go back for anything. I used to win at most sports that I participated in. Now I have fun playing sports and I don't really care if I win. I'm there to have fun. Age, grey hair, kids, happy family life, great husband and a bit of forgetfulness beats the heck out of youth, ignorance, arrogance and a bit of sports ability any day. I'm just not certain if basketball is going to be my thing or not. I don't know if I am willing to take that risk.....we'll see....it is fun.

Zuppa Osso Bucco

I had to put this on the blog so when I am traveling OR if someone else needs the recipe it's easy to find. This is really easy to make and takes about 30 minutes begining to end.

Lamb Dumplings:
Combine the Lamb and the next 5 ingredients then reserve mix and rinse off your hands.
1 pound ground Lamb
1 large egg, beaten
1/3 cup Italian bread crumbs, a couple of handfuls
1/4 cup, a generous handful, grated Parmigiano or Romano
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, eyeball it
Coarse salt and black pepper

Gremolata:
2 cloves garlic, cracked away from skins
1 (2-ounce) tin flat fillet anchovies, drained
Handful flat-leaf parsley, about 1/4 cup loosely packed
1 lemon, zested
Pile garlic, anchovies, parsley and lemon zest on a cutting board and finely chop the mixture, then transfer to a small dish. I put mine in the food processor.

Soup:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pot
2 carrots, peeled
2 ribs celery and their greens
1 medium yellow skinned onion, peeled and halved
Coarse salt and pepper
1 fresh or dried bay leaf
1/2 cup white wine
1 (14-ounce) can white beans, cannellini, drained
1 (15- ounce) can diced tomatoes in puree or coarsely ground tomatoes
3 cups chicken stock, available in re-sealable boxes on soup aisle
2 cups beef stock, available in 1 cup small boxes on soup aisle
1 cup egg pasta, broken egg fettuccini or medium egg noodles

Heat a medium soup pot over medium to medium-high heat. Begin to chop veggies while pot heats up: dice carrots into 1/4 inch pieces, chop celery and onion. Add extra-virgin olive oil to hot pot and carrots. Turn carrots to coat them in oil and add celery and onion as you get them chopped up. Work near the stove so you can chop, then drop into the pot. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper and a bay leaf. Stir vegetables and cook 5 minutes to begin to soften. Do not let vegetables brown, reduce heat if necessary. Add the wine and cook for 1 minute. Next, add beans and tomatoes and stock to the pot. Put a lid on the pot and raise heat to high. When soup boils, about 3 minutes, add 1-inch balls of Lamb dumplings directly to the pot. When you are done adding the Lamb, stir in the egg noodles. Simmer soup for 6 minutes to cook noodles and meat dumplings. Adjust seasonings and turn the heat off, then let soup stand a couple of minutes.

Serve soup in shallow bowls with a couple of teaspoonfuls of gremolata on top. Stir the gremolata throughout the soup and pass crusty bread at the table for dipping and mopping.

See....Now we all have easy access to the recipe.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Iva


I have to admire our dog. There is nothing that she loves more then "ball." She likes to bite the ball, chase the ball, and I am sure dream about the BALL. Unfortunately, this time of year playing ball is not as frequent of an event as Iva would like. She turns into a mud ball while chasing the ball. The thing that I admire about Iva is how she can sit and stare at you for hours. She is hopeful and persistent. She does not know the meaning of "no ball." She all hears is the "ball" part of that statement. To her we sound like Charlie Brown's teacher except for the key words in her life, "go, ball and park."

In our house we've had to be careful about saying "go, ball and park" because Iva goes nuts. We say things like, "Shall we play with the dog and the round thing?" or, "Let's move across the street to the field." All in hopes that Iva doesn't understand so she'll stay calm. If we can't agree to play ball and someone says, "ball" it just seems mean not to do it.

Wouldn't we all be a bit better if we could have the blind hope that Iva does? All she wants to do is exercise, run with abandon and play. What a great goal. Sometimes the "stare" works but Bob is way less apt to take her then I am. I cave. The look in her eyes says, "Take me out, play with me.......LOVE ME!" I can't resist most of the time. I mean, it's what she lives for.

So I say (for Iva) live in the moment, enjoy the little things that bring you great joy and focus on your goals (playing ball) not obstacles (Bob and rain).

Monday, October 26, 2009

Mt. Hood Weekend


The back of Timberline Lodge

Kees in his cave. He was being a Mountain Tiger....hugh?

Sophia after her "summit"

The whole fam damily at 7000+ feet

The 'rents and the boys on the ski lift

Check out the bunny ears on the mirror. So Cute! And the fire log pillows on the bed.

Becky relaxing on the sofa. Great room.....

Gas "wood stove" and bar area.

A WAY better kitchen then I have.
Deer head in the living room. Check out the antler chandelier.


Wow is all I can say about the cabin we just stayed at this weekend. The cabin is called the Mule Deer Cabin and is phenomenal. Every detail is beautiful and has been attended to.

The mom's arrived on Thursday. We went to Timberline Lodge for dinner. It was pretty good and we enjoyed it. Then we went back to the cabin and got our party on. I have to say, waking up tired after a party night is MUCH easier when the small people are not around. We had breakfast, went on a little walk and then prepared for the coming onslaught of people.

The troops started arriving about 5 pm. We had a huge dinner with all 15 people. The kids watched a movie, the adults talked and then later watched a movie too. The cabin has a rear projection movie set up. Again, cool.

Saturday was gorgeous! The sun was out and there were only a few clouds in the sky. We all headed up the mountain to the Timberline Lodge. When we arrived we voted to take the chair lift to the top of hill (or the top that we were going to). It takes you up to about 7000 ft. From there we could see forever! We could see the top of the mountain and many other mountains. We felt lucky to be there when the weather was so good.

That evening some of us danced to 80's music (Becky's era) and had a fine time. Again, food, family, wine, movies, fun..... All fun.

The one bit of nastiness.... Saturday night Coulter got sick. He had been complaining that his stomach hurt. Then, about 10 pm Coulter came up whining and just hurled on the floor. He hit a couple pillows and some leather and wood furniture. WHAT he DIDN'T hit was more important. There was a carpet that was not only beautiful but I am sure about half of Bob's salary. Coulter was inches from hitting that. I am still quaking thinking about that. Bob had already laid down with Kees so I was on my own with this one. God bless Becky who jumped up and helped cleaned up Coulter's mess. I was torn between finishing the clean up or cleaning up Coulter. We cleaned up some of the barf but then Coulter was really upset. I got up and stripped Coulter, put him in bed, made sure he had a barf receptacle for the night time with towels underneath. By the time I got back up stairs the mess was totally cleaned up. I couldn't believe it, Becky finished cleaning up that gross mess. Yikes!

Sunday was pack up, clean up and drive down. It all went fairly smoothly and Coulter seemed to feel better. Thank goodness. It was a really fun weekend on all fronts. THANKS BECKY!!!!