Sunday, April 27, 2008

Lisa's Birthday

We left for the Marriott Newport Villas on Friday, checked in, took a deep breathe of sea air and went to the Dodger Game. Of course, we pass Angel Stadium on the way, but, as I explained to my girls, we have Dodger Blue running through our veins. Ryan is always talking about Angel games, but so far I have managed to keep ourselves pure.

We love the Marriott perks. Every time Ryan even thinks about going some where else, I glare at him. (He just won manager-of-the-quarter so hopefully he will not even consider leaving.)

Saturday was our relax-at-the-beach day. We started with breakfast at the Beachcomber Cafe at Crystal Cove (an Eric & Katie recommendation - we like to have our restaurants properly screened, reviewed, rated by professionals-or at least professional caliber foodies.) We romped a little on the sand. Here you see the front and back of Madison's infamous run. I think it captures her style. She runs like that on the soccer field too.

We hung out at the pool, where we were joined by some friends, the McCleary's - at least the ones not home with the flu. Here is Christian with the girls. Isn't he the cutest surfer boy ever? (You'll have to excuse the pizza evidence surrounding their mouths.) The girls are trying to decide who gets to marry him. I thought we would only have to deal with the fights over the same boy when they were teenagers.

We went to Sprinkles for our beach snacks. We got our favorite four, sliced them in quarters, and went to town. There are better cupcakes out there, but this is our favorite chain. We got the red velvet, banana, vanilla chocolate, and peanut butter chocolate. We went to the Corona Del Mar beach: one of the prettiest photo ops around. (But my camera battery died, so we only have an image that I got from Google)

We went to the Cheesecake Factory for appetizers and salads (and of course bread.) I wanted to go to The Melting Pot for dessert. When we had gone there before, we were so full that dessert was a struggle. So this time we were ready. We got the Flaming Turtle (chocolate, caramel, and pecan fondue) and S'mores (chocolate, marshmallow, and graham cracker crumb fondue.)

Sunday was a leisurely drive home. Ryan knows how to throw a party for me, I'll give him that much. He learned, a little while ago, that I like trips building family memories better than stuff. For me it is the greatest gift he could give me: having fun with the people I love the most.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Go Dodgers!

We went to the Dodger game on Friday night. This has become a yearly tradition that we go for my birthday. I normally never care we we sit. I have sat in the best seats (thanks to the Rabbi Jacobs family) and the worst (but hey, for four bucks, it wasn't that bad.) So I don't ever really care where we sit. Ryan has been wanting to sit in the all-you-can-eat section ever since the Dodgers announced they were converting their right field bleachers section. I didn't really care one way or the other, but did not quite see the point because no matter how you cut it, one women, two girls, and 2 toddler girls are only going to be able to eat so many hot dogs and nachos and popcorn and drinks and peanuts. . .

So we went and had the funnest time ever.

The section was full of passionate fans. Everyone was in Dodger Blue except the fool who wore his Colorado Rockies shirt (their opponents for the game) but we will talk about him in a second. There were a lot of antics: at least one beach ball was going the whole time, beer was flowing (not included in the all-you-can-eat ticket, but since people were not paying for food, I think they didn't care about the $10 price on the beer.) We were sitting in back of another family with young children and in front of a group where they talked about how cute our girls were more than paying attention to the game.

HOWEVER . . . everywhere else the food was being thrown like crazy. All-you-can-eat is really about the food fight. At first it was a little disconcerting. But, for some strange reason, as the game went on, it got funnier and funnier. If a Dodger hit a home run, hot dogs flew. If a Rockie got out, nachos went flying. Popcorn and peanuts went flying spontaneously. The guy in the Rockies shirt, however, got pelted with everything including beer and nacho cheese sauce. That should teach him.

As people were getting drunk, the expletives starting flying and I wasn't happy about that in front of the girls, but about that time the crowd was getting unruly and started throwing the food at the Dodger security who then brought in LAPD who then started escorting out the people who were throwing food at them. By this time, Ryan and I were in consensus that it was time to leave.

We left at the top of the eighth, but with smiles on our faces. Food fights can be fun, when you are not being hit with it. Nobody throws five dollar hot dogs, you eat them. But when they are free, they will fly.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Glasses for Madison????

The question is: does Madison NEED glasses or does she just WANT glasses? According to the two-hour optometrist visit, she just WANTS them. But before that conclusion was made, we went to Costco to pick out frames and she had to take all the pictures so she could decide which she liked most. But that darn perfect eyesight got in the way of the accessory. Maybe, if you pray really hard, God can curse your eyes so you can wear glasses. By the way, I was being sarcastic. Don't you dare.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

It only took 15 years to convince him . . .

I came from a camping family. My two brothers and nephew are Eagle Scouts. My dad was a scoutmaster and my mom spent years in the cub program. We camped across the US. We camped across Europe. My sisters married campers. Now, I am not saying that I don't love the comfy beds and bedding at the Marriott with the temperature controlled rooms. But I do love a good campfire with s'mores and cuddling in tents. I love being in a place where it is quiet, except for the sounds of nature. I love looking up in the sky and seeing stars and walking by moonlight. I love waking up in the morning knowing that I (and my family) can survive the night without the luxuries that we have been spoiled with. I love returning home and being thankful for running hot water and showers and refrigerators and other common items that maybe I take for granted on a regular basis.

Ryan is not from a camping family. According to Ryan, camping was not seen as a fun activity but something that the ward did and you slept in the car or drove home after the campfire. Now in defense of Ryan's family, that is the way he described it, but he may be biased in his own opinions. So rather than drag the whole family into it, let me say that Ryan would rather do any thing than sleep in a tent.

So, for 15 years I have been trying to talk Ryan into camping. I have recommended we go with others, that we go to great locations like Lake Tahoe, that I go with other people, everything. FINALLY, because the ward planned a camp out AND he is in the Bishopric, he consented to go.

I borrowed everything from my sister (I am not investing a dime, if he decides to never do it again) and planned everything within my power to insure he have a good time. I made the girls and I matching bandannas-my girls will love anything as long as they are properly accessorized. I gathered stuff for two weeks and the night before ran to Walmart with my last minute list. (This was the night before the teacher luncheon so you can imagine I was a tad stressed.) I went to bed ready for the two major activities of the next day.

At 3:00 am, Madison came in and woke me with my nightmare: Monterey was in her bed throwing up. I got up and starting the too-familar-process: clean up Mont, new pajamas, take off sheets, set up new place for Mad and couch for Mont, start washing machine and take my place near Mont for any future incidents. There were several. My heart sank knowing that there was no way we were going camping. As the sun came up, I started getting ready for the day, in the back of my mind trying to figure out who would take care of Mont OR who could take over the luncheon. But no problems: both Ryan and McK woke up sick as well. Well that took care of the child care issue, but I knew camping was out of the question as I left for the luncheon. Fast forward to after school. I came home and asked Ryan what we should do. I told him he had three options and I would not fight him on any or make him feel guilty about any choice he made. One: we could all stay home. Two: we could all go (Mont had not thrown up since 10 that morning) or Three: Healthy ones could go, sick could stay home. He said: "Let's go." (I thought that meant he was feeling better, but he was still sick and trying to be a good sport and did not want to disappoint us.)

We changed our clothes, packed the van, and drove up. When we got there, we were pleasantly surprised to find a really nice place: lots of grass, clean and stocked bathrooms, and around 24 other families from our ward. We unloaded and I started setting up the tents, sleeping bags, air mattresses, the fire, and dinner. Ryan enjoyed his Dr. Pepper. My goal was to make this as pleasant as possible for him so we could go camping again. (We only have two pictures because I was busy doing all the work.) We had tons of fun visiting with family and friends, roasting marshmallows, and competing with the Billmans for the best fire (they won.) We made s'mores with Reese's PB Cups (substituted for the Hershey's-a must try for PB lovers out there.)

At dinner time (see the foil dinners in the picture), there was a little complaining about the cold and dirt. I quickly turned that around:

Mom: Let's have a positive contest. Whoever can say the nicest things and point out the good things about camping wins . . .
Maya: . . . a millions dollars?
Mom: that sounds good.
Monterey: I like fire.

When the little ones were ready to go to bed (at 9:00) I helped get them into bed. Poor little Mont could not figure out how to get in the sleeping bag. She tried to get under the whole thing. I explained: "no, it is like a taco and you are the meat and the sleeping bag is the shell." My poor experience-deprived children. I laid down with them and they were out pretty fast. After about two hours of laying there going stir crazy, (I usually don't go to bed until between 11:00 and midnight) I got up and roamed and chatted with the other night owls. By the way, did I mention it was cold? Since living in the desert and HATING the summer heat, I never admit I am actually cold. It is a matter of principle. The temperatures dipped down to the 20's and I was just fine. Other people might have been cold, but I was finally just right. It felt good. In fact I was so warm, occasionally I had to take my arm out of the sleeping bag. I should mention at this point that both Mont and Maya had climbed into my sleeping bag. We were extremely cozy, but we stayed toasty. About 4:30 am, Ryan could not take anymore and exclaimed he was "out of here!" After some wiggling, he asked: "how do I get out of here?" I explained he had to roll over on his tummy, get up on his knees, and crawl backwards. He did it! He went to the car and started the engine (to make sure the battery did not die due to the cool weather-he is quite thoughtful about that kind of thing.)

We woke up with the sun and had hot chocolate by the fire to warm up. The EQ made breakfast of eggs, bacon, and pancakes. While everyone else went exploring and visited with friends, I took down the tents, rolled up the sleeping bags, deflated the air mattresses, and packed everything up. We left exhausted but looking forward to our next trip.

That's right people, our next trip. My strategy paid off: Ryan is already talking about the next time, and the tent he wants, and what and where and when. WHOOPEE! Next time however, I will teach EVERYONE how to set up and take down.

Friday, April 18, 2008

4.18.08 PTO Italian Luncheon

We had our PTO Teacher Luncheon on Friday, April 18th. Originally it was just scheduled to be an Italian themed luncheon, but since our school was just recently awarded the California Distinguished School award, we added that to our celebration. I ordered the cake to make it official.

The centerpieces were simple: old-looking candles and grapes and a homage to the Italian flag. In the past, I tried ornate center pieces, but the teachers and staff like to visit so much, that they do not like anything to blocked their view of each other. So now I try to keep it simple and low.

The food was made by the great parents of the students. My job is really to coordinate everything and then, through every one's help, bring it together. We had help with set-up, serving and clean-up: everyone did so much work; which in turn makes my life a lot easier. The food was amazing. Appetizers, salads, breads, main dishes, pastas, stuffed pastas, pizzas, vegetables, and desserts. Over 60 different offerings. It was really amazing to see all that food come in. The smell of garlic and all things Italian wafted through the air. Groups came in according to grade levels and partook of the bounty. Everyone loved it and we had many coming back for seconds and thirds.

Even though it is a lot of work, it has gotten easier each time, and all the help from the parents makes such a huge difference. I really do love our teachers, staff, and parents. They are a great group and I love that everyone is united in their desire to help the children learn. They really go above and beyond their working hours and many treat the children like their own.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Meat Pie

Sunday night, for (the Caress) family dinner, I made my dad's famous meat pie. I have not made it since my dad passed away, almost five years ago, but I figure if I don't start making it soon, I will forget how and I definitely do not want to forget it. So in honor of his birthday, April 17th, I have decided that I will make it every year.
My dad was a great cook. He never used recipes, but had a great feel for seasonings and flavor. He went to chef's school so he would be able to have a little more control over where he ended up in the National Guard. (Because he had served a mission, he had to fulfill this obligation in exchange for the privilege. At that point, only two men per unit were allowed to serve missions and everyone else was had to serve in the military.) He ended up as an officer and cooked in the military. But that is not where he learned how to make meat pie. That he learned from his grandmother. She had come to America from England with my grandfather. When my dad would spend time with her, she would make him English specialties like steak and kidney pie. He learned from her the crust, the way to make tender meat and veggies and of course, the gravy. Gravy was my dad's specialty. Lucky for us, when he made it, he left out the kidneys and anything else that we might consider scary.

When my parents got engaged, my dad wanted to do something nice for my mom on Valentine's Day, so he borrowed the keys to her apartment. While she was at work, he made her this meat pie (the first time he cooked for her.) While it cooked, he cleaned the apartment. She came home to find the dinner made and a spotless apartment. Of course, she knew she had scored a keeper. She felt like he really wanted to take care of her and knew he would take care of her forever. He always took care of her and all of his children. She felt that maybe, because he had been in foster homes for most of the time from the age of twelve on, that he really craved someone to take care of and wanted a family of his own more than anything. He was always very nurturing and loving.

My dad made this meat pie on request. It takes almost eight hours, start to finish, to do it right. I asked for it for my birthday dinner every year. Only his beef brisket sandwiches, mashed potatoes and gravy can compete in my mind. But I will save those for another post.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Summer Cuts

Every year, as the temperature warms up, we all get our summer cuts. We have had three consecutive days over 100 degrees so summer is here for us, ready or not. The haircuts were all by Kim.

Here is McKayla with her cut. Long layers and a trim. She kept her length, which is fine since her hair is so thick and soft and gorgeous, that I really did not want that much off.

Madison had the most drastic cut. About five inches off. I love Madison with short hair. Her hair grows really fast, so she is never afraid of going too short, because it will grow back so fast. The funny thing is that spring picture day was today and so her picture will show her last day of long, permed hair. She will love the length every time she gets out of the pool. (This was after her tennis lesson; it looked better before the running and sweating.)

Here are the big girls. Even though the picture does not look like it, they, too, were happy. We were just trying to get the picture before their hair got wet and since we were going swimming, they were not happy about the delay. Of the six pictures we took, this one showed their hair best.

Maya got her first real haircut. We have always trimmed it before, but it was so thin and she always wanted long flowing hair so we let it go and go, since I do not seek battles with Maya. Kim talked Maya into the bob. I wanted her to have it, but was not sure if she would go along with it. I told Kim, whatever you can talk her into. When I returned (I had to pick up Mad in between cuts) it was done and she looks adorable. Yeah Kim.

Monterey wanted her hair like Rapunzel, so there was no hope in going short. She doesn't want bangs anymore so it was a couple inches off the back and trimmed along the front. So we are in the awkward growing-out-the-bangs phase. This too shall pass.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Life is rough when you have no lips . . .

Monterey: "I want make-up."
Mom: "You have make-up on."
Mont: "I want my own make-up."
Mom: "Where did you get the make-up you have on?"
Mont: "I don't have make-up on."
Mom: "It is right there on your lips."
Mont: "I don't have lips."
Mom: "Yes you do."
Mont: "I don't have lips! I don't have lips! I don't have lips! I don't have lips! I don't have lips! I don't have lips! I don't have lips! I don't have lips!" (while throwing herself down on the ground, crying)I just had to capture this moment.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

General Conference

This General Conference seemed a little off to us, regardless of the wonderful talks and unique and precious opportunity to sustain a new prophet and his presidency. McKayla had the opportunity to attend General Conference in Salt lake City and although is was a great opportunity for her, we missed her horribly. Because I am very protective over conference weekend, we are used to having everyone home. We really felt her loss - especially the big girls who were both reduced to tears over her absence. On both mornings, Maya complained about missing McK and on Sunday morning she was in full on balling mode. On Sat. morning, we pointed at the TV screen and said "There is McKayla." Monterey ran into the room behind the TV looking for her, we told her "No, she is on the TV." She then went real close and kept saying "Where? I don't see her, I can't find her." Even Madison admitted to missing her (they are in that most wonderful phase of bickering that we love so much.) When she returned Sunday night, we were all fighting over who got to talk to her first and Madison kept interrupting with the persistent "We need girl time." So although we were happy for her opportunity, I don't know how we will bear a week of it during girls camp this summer. I am just so glad I have a twelve-year-old that we missed (as opposed to the ones that it is a relief to the people at home to have gone.)

Growing up, my parents were almost fanatical about us watching all four-five for the men-sessions; which I am so grateful for now that I am a mother. My dad taught us that the opportunity to listen to the living prophet was the most important thing we did all year. Aside from the fact that we need the weekly ordinance of the sacrament, the messages in General Conference were the most important meetings we could attend. As we got older, he always insisted that we keep that weekend clear. As we became teenagers and got part-time jobs, he encouraged us to take off Saturday so we could hear the words of the prophet and apostles. Back before we were able to have conference in our home, my whole family would be in the stake center, along with the full-time missionaries and a smattering of other people who attended the Saturday sessions. We could never figure out why Sunday would be so crowded when the Saturday sessions were just as good. I mean they spread out the apostles among all the sessions, right? For the priesthood session, my dad would take his sons and then later on, his sons-in-law also, out to dinner afterwards. The girls would go out and go shopping and out to dinner. Ironically, the very first time I did not see conference on General Conference weekend was in the mission field. We received videos weeks later.

As a mother, I always try to make conference weekend special. One of the things we do is plan special breakfasts and lunches for both Sat. and Sun. I buy and make treats that I would not normally. We were in Costco buying the mambo chip variety pack, when Madison said "I love conference weekend." Okay, so maybe it could be interpreted as a bribe. Whatever. She said it and that's good enough for me.

So back to this year. Everyone's most memorable moment was the Solemn Assembly where we were able to sustain our new prophet Thomas S. Monson, our new First Presidency, and our new apostle. We were also happy to sustain Ryan's mission president to the Second Quorum of the Seventy. Elder Kent Watson. McKayla was in the Conference Center during that session and was able to join with the YW and general membership to sustain the prophet in person. What a wonderful memory that will be for her.

I had two favorite talks. One of them was given by Jeffrey R. Holland on continuous revelation. Many Christians do not consider us Christians because we believe more than just the Bible. We believe that God continues to reveal his word and will in all ages. He gave the best explanation that I have ever heard about this subject. I think that his talk will be quoted a lot.

My favorite talk was from M. Russell Ballard on mothers of young children. I have always thought as Elder Ballard as the type to "lay down the law." But this talk came through like he was speaking to his daughters and grand-daughters and great-grand-daughters. He was so warm and loving that it really caught me off-guard. Many times when leaders have given talks about motherhood, no matter how kind and gracious they try to be, most either come across as "there is only one way to be a good mother" or in pointing out the ideal, we walk out feeling guilty and henceforth bad that we are not perfect. Elder Ballard really captured what it was like and some of the pressures and what we need. Maybe because I was up for three hours taking care of Maya the night before, or with Ryan in the bishopric, I never have help during the meetings, but when he spoke, I felt like he really captured what it was like. He was sympathetic to those of us who don't have perfect lives and perfect children and perfect homes and perfect husbands who bring home perfect paychecks and get our perfect pedicures and perfect matching furniture from Pottery Barn. (Was I ranting? It felt like ranting. But it also felt kind of good.) Anyway, I think most moms are doing the best they can so we should not go around condemning other women for their choices because everyone is trying to do the best they can with their personal circumstances that we may not understand completely. Yes, we need guidance and direction. Yes, we need to know the ideal so we have something to aspire to. But we also need to support each other. I feel like the women in my ward, neighborhood, area, and my family have always been so supportive of me. But there are other women out there who do not wear their problems on their sleeves like I do. Whether they are shy, embarrassed, feel inadequate, are afraid of being judged, are insecure, or just immensely private people; we must give people the benefit of the doubt. That is charity and that is how I felt when Elder Ballard spoke: like he had charity toward me in my situation. I'm not trying to be critical of other speakers in the past but I just REALLY felt his charity.

On Monday night, we had the extended Caress family FHE because Ryan's sister, Melissa is in town. (These last two pictures are from her photo site.) Ryan's mom asked me to take care of the lesson. We usually do a conference debriefing lesson so that is what we did with the whole group. Everyone answered one of the following questions:

What is your favorite part about General Conference weekend?

What was your favorite session?

What was your favorite talk?

Who is the speaker you always look forward to hearing the most?

What is one thing you hope to improve upon after listening to the conference talks?

What was the best part about the session(s) you attended?

We then played a game of matching the speaker with their topic. Prizes were given for each match. For example if you matched Cheryl C. Lant with "Tradition," you won a strawberry ring pop because she talked about her father passing down a large ruby red ring father-to-son, as was the tradition in their family. Everyone won prizes (or at least condolence gifts for trying.)

So there is my semi-annual report of the semi-annual conference.