Sunday, April 20, 2008

Waffles, a Quilt, Thai, the Model A, Mentos and Coke, and Telegraph Ave.

This is the quilt that Maddie made at her Camp Sew Fun last summer. We managed to finish the top with the borders, and we'd bought the batting and backing, but we ran out of steam there. So we brought it with us, and Maddie and Grandma got it all ready, tied it, trimmed it, and then Grandma taught Maddie how to do a blind stitch to bind it. They watched Enchanted and Pride and Prejudice while they worked. Grandma told me that Maddie kept up with Jane Austen really well, probably because she's familiar with the bollywood version. We're so proud of them for finishing and it's a beautiful quilt that Maddie was involved with at every step.
Friday night after a waffle dinner and a Mentos and Coke experiment when Grandpa got back from teaching his international engineering students at Cal, he took the kids out in the Model A. I didn't know it until this trip, but this car was green and white when he bought it, which was before he'd even left for college. It was a major mode of transportation during my parents' early marriage, and my mom drove it to student teaching (which teaches one how to double clutch, among other things; she said it was good and heavy in the snow). I think they just drove around Piedmont, because Sebastian said "we saw some weally funky houses" which is a great truth if you are growing up in a subdivision full of taupe stucco.
Rob and I took Sebastian out to Berkeley with us for lunch and wandering. Here they are at Sather Gate, which is thriving and full of student associations and activism as usual. Telegraph Ave. though, was cleaner and quieter than in recent years. This may be due to Cody's Books closing, which had been an institution for decades (they cited too many loiterers as part of the reason), or it may have been because of Code Pink protests outside the marine recruiting office which received a national backlash, cut Berkeley's federal funding, and brought in bikers who stood between the two parties, threatening to beat up the protesters. I think it's important to note that they were bikers, because no one else could have found parking in Berkeley.
Anyway, it was pretty quiet, and we could only find one lone, grizzled old man who was selling political bumper stickers to take back to the square states. We also got some crate labels for decorating later. My mom was dubious about our taking the four year old to Telegraph, but I told her "we don't have this stuff in Provo -- where else is he going to see the homeless and drugs and people with mohawks and a dozen pierces?". We told him that when he grows up, he can come here for school and play the drums during breaks. Sebastian was down with that. We also took him to Cha'am, our favorite Thai restaurant for lunch. Here he is chowing down on their soup. Then he polished off an order of Satay ("lollipop chicken" if you're marketing to the preschool crowd). When he got into the car, he said "Are we going to Blue Haiwed Betty's?" and even though I offered some other places for dessert, Sebi was not going to be swayed. This is probably because he went with Rob to get some of their amazing scones early the other morning, and while waiting in line, they gave him a free brownie. Who wouldn't show loyalty for a brownie at breakfast? We gave in and he had a strawberry shortcake from Betty for dessert. If you are ever in the neighborhood, you should stop and eat there. It is not cheap, and there isn't a huge selection, but they don't make a single mediocre thing. Betty used to work at Chez Panisse, and has now opened her own bakery at the corner of Telegraph and 51st. There's no sign, and don't worry if there's a line out the door -- it moves fast and you often get freebies while you wait.

Sebastian told us that "Califoinia owanges awe good" but that "Califoinia macawoni and cheese is gwoss!" (probably just overcooked at the restaurant where he ate it).

This trip has solidified the impression that our kids are phenomenal eaters. Last night they were arguing over the last of the salad. How am I supposed to deal with that?!

Walking too far in Piedmont

Friday morning Rob and I walked through Piedmont. Rob took pictures of landscapes and architectural details he liked, because we've been known to use them even in Provo. Our criss-cross ivy wall is a copy of two or three houses in the bay area (and it's starting to grow in, which is exciting).
These two were both houses on my walk to school. Speaking of which, my elementary school is in terrible shape and the playground is covered with portable classrooms while they fix it or knock it down to build a new one, or both.
This home has an amazing garden, though I'm not certain you can tell from the picture. It takes about 40 hours a week of gardening and is always changing.
It wasn't a long or particularly strenuous walk, but it was more than I can handle at present, and I was sneaking a rest on every bench we passed by the time we made it back to the center of town. I walked around the rest of the day feeling like my legs were going to fall off at the hips.

Whirlybirds at Alameda

From the Lawrence Hall of Science, we drove straight down to Alameda beach on Shoreline. This is another specialty beach at the bay. It is flat and warm, and great for taking kids to. I had looked up the weather and the tide, so we were there on the warmest day of our week at low tide. The kids could run several blocks out and still not get up to their knees, which makes the water unusually warm for northern California.
When we were down in San Diego last fall, I saw most kids on the beach at Coronado wearing wet suits, and it had just never occurred to me before, because we'd grown up jumping around in water with ice crystals in it. Coronado's surf seemed pretty balmy in comparison.
Rob, good father that he is, swung all the kids around multiple times in the water, tossing them into the sand at the end. For some unknown reason, I didn't bring my bathing suit (inherent distrust of sunny weather in SF, I guess), so I ended up wearing Rob's t-shirt and his shorts, which I couldn't zip up. I was a walking fashion malfunction, with the shorts falling down whenever I got up, so mostly I sat on the beach while everyone ran and splashed.
We stayed for about three hours, with the tide at its low ebb just before we left. Grandpa took us out to Indian food for dinner, and after just a little chicken korma and rice, Sebastian fell asleep on me. We've really been running him out of steam with no nap. But when he woke up as Rob was carrying him back to the car, he said "What about dinner!?" so we had to feed him some more when we got back to the house.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Lawrence Hall of Science

On Thursday, I was determined to get a couple of things in. We went and tried out our museum passes at the Lawrence Hall of Science. I'd been there a few times as a kid, but had never taken our children there, and now, suddenly, they seemed old enough. The picture above is of their Forces in the Bay exhibit where kids learn about plate tectonics and water and earth erosion. Like their father and uncle before them, the kids here are making dams.
Inside, there was an exhibit on speed. Maddie and Will both showed an uncharacteristic interest in the skiing video game. And both of them did a lot better on it than their parents would have.
This was Sebastian's favorite part of the whole experience: computer software that made your car any way you wanted it. Sebastian made about 15 of them in different models, paint jobs, with special accessories and details. He was a really good car designer.
And he had a great time designing with huge vinyl blocks too. He and Rob had the whole under-Kindergarten section to themselves for a while and took advantage of it.
There were large groups of school kids roaming the place, and we decided afterward that it's probably best in the early afternoon when the field trips are gone, but everyone got to play on things and the kids liked it pretty well, which isn't a bad start for all things scientific.

But Wait! There's More!

In the afternoon, we convinced the boys that they needed to come out with us (and give Grandpa a rest from basement and babysitting). We went to a beach and a playground and then walked out on the pier with all of the substance-abusing fishermen to see the lovely sunset.
Three beautiful children having a great break from the snow while they play at Shorebird park at the marina.
This is Maddie at the beach; we told the kids we were going to find sea glass. Now I know, you all have your own favorite beaches, and favorite sources for sea glass -- picturesque places called Sea Glass Beach with a little bistro just off to the side. But believe me, if you want to find sea glass, this is the place. It's ugly, it's filthy, and it's full of sea glass. This is because it's directly behind Golden Gate Fields (the racetrack) where lots of fortunes are lost, and lots of dreams and glass bottles are broken. Even Sebastian was able to bring home a bag full of the stuff. I think that he and I found the best piece of the day: a cobalt sea glass marble. The kids enjoyed themselves, because it's like an easter egg hunt on the beach. The bad news is that we left the box full of their sea glass on the back porch at Grandma and Grandpa's house, so we'll have to wait for a few months to get it.

Berkeley Wednesday with Maddie

So Wednesday we went to Berkeley with Maddie. And what did we do? We drove around places we used to drive. We took her up to Smyth Fernwald where the eucalyptus was chopped down, the plantings and oak trees are filling in, and I still don't understand the people who would live there and drive a BMW SUV (who are these people?).
We went to Monterey Market to rejoice in their produce (there are two kinds of people in Berkeley: the Monterey Market kind, and the Berkeley Bowl kind -- we became the former when we lived on MLK and never did convert). Then we went to the Berkeley horticultural nursery where Rob was very good and didn't buy any live plants this year (it was a ticklish business getting home a clematis a few years back), but exulted in their water plants and bought some seeds.
We stopped by Mr. Mopps and checked out all of the classic and politically correct and environmentally friendly toys.
Then we drove down Solano and went to Sweet Potatoes where we managed to clean up on clothes for Omega and Maddie. It felt like a real Berkeley day.

San Francisco on a Tuesday

On Tuesday all seven of us went to San Francisco. As with so many of our outings back in California, this one revolved around food. We saw the Ferry Building on farmers' market day. We bought Acme bread and Cowgirl Creamery cheese and some amazing orange honey almonds and walked up and down. Grandpa took the kids out to the back and they fed the pigeons. I'm still sorry I didn't try the candycap mushroom cheesecake at the vegetarian stand, but I was still trying to be good on the no-sugar diet at that point.
We went back down the embarcadero to Red's Java House for lunch. My dad used to take me here when I would meet him in the city while I was working here. It has an eclectic clientele -- everyone from men in shipping and loading at the docks to executives pulling up in their BMWs and Mercedes. You get cheeseburgers and fries here, and a few other options, but you come because it's a dive. The kids loved it. My mom had never been before, so we were spreading some culture both ways.
We had gorgeous weather while out there. And we still can't get over what a great place the embarcadero is, because the freeway here was just such an eyesore. It all looks so good now.
We piled back into the van and drove out to the end of Guerrero to have ice cream at Mitchell's, which we've always meant to take Grandpa to, and had never made it before. He got the best flavor of the day, which was four tropical (banana, pineapple, mango and ?). I tried a Peruvian fruit flavor which was a little like pumpkin. Rob had his standard: mocha almond fudge (divine) and avocado (really good if you're adventurous). Mitchell's is great.
Then Maddie and the grandparents went home, and Rob and I took the boys on a cable car (Sebi was scared and made me act as his seat belt). Then we ran around the Embarcadero center and Justin Hermann plaza (above).
Then we rounded it out by taking BART home. I had to stand on BART, and we noted that it wouldn't have happened in Berlin or Vienna -- there are advantages to the overwhelming superego, says Rob. One is that pregnant women and people with babies get seats on busses and trains.

Settled In

Once we got them to Grandma and Grandpa's house, the kids didn't want to leave. We got them to church on Sunday, with a special tour of the temple and visitors' center, but I had great plans to take them all over the bay area. They wanted to curl up and stay at home insted. Here Will is reading the Complete Collection of Calvin and Hobbes on one side of the fireplace . . .
While Maddie tucks into The Princess Bride on the other. Monday, Grandma took them to see Horton Hears a Who and to lunch at Fuddruckers while Rob and I scoured the Expo looking at tiles and all the kitchen and bathroom options. Then we went to Blue Haired Betty's, who makes the most ambrosial food, bar none. We were there for late lunch, so we each got one of her fried chicken sandwiches, and then shared a strawberry shortcake for dessert. That woman is entirely responsible for the fact that I'm off my no-sugar diet once again. Finally, we went to Trader Joe's to stock up on some of the grocery items that one just can't find in Happy Valley on the cheap.
If we didn't have something more enticing to do, reading around the house was the kids' default setting. And playing Legos. And going down to Grandpa's basement and playing 'electrical station'.

The Nut Tree and Memory Lane

SHHH!! Against my doctor's orders, we drove out to California for spring break. But I had a couple of good reasons: 1. the kids got off school for a whole week, which doesn't usually happen 2. Rob's schedule actually aligned with them for once so that he could take off, and 3. when I asked my doctor, he gave me financial reasons not to go (which I'd pay attention to if he were my accountant, but if he can't give me good health reasons, then why do I care what he says?).
So we drove out halfway on Friday, stayed in Winnemucca, then drove the other half on Saturday.
My dad was out on business, but my mom drove up to Vacaville to meet us, which was a big nostalgia trip for me. When my grandparents were driving down from Portland, we would often drive up to Vacaville to meet them at The Nut Tree and have breakfast there. It was a big restaurant with groovalicious yellow and orange vinyl chairs and two aviaries in the dining room and exciting things on the walls like a dollhouse of those weird little troll dolls with the hair that sticks up strait (I realize that these things don't really explain the allure of the experience, and that they don't even hang together very well, but they were the memories that really stood out as a child). There was a tiny airport on the premises with a small airplane to climb on; an upscale toystore; big huge sugar cookies decorated in diverse manners; a little train to ride on, and so on.
I remember meeting up with the grandparents in the parking lot in a pre-cell phone age and they always had a tupperware on the front seat of their Chevrolet Impala with grandma's applesauce brownies. I was amazed that after their trip they still had any left!
It was a rest stop when one still needed those. Then, after I went to college, whizzing past Vacaville both ways, the Nut Tree shriveled and died. The restaurant closed and In-N-Out Burger was across the freeway, along with an unholy mess of outlets.
Then, surprisingly, it came back, renewed, like a phoenix from the ashes. It has the same logo and bags and pieces of the original, but now put into a really sniffy strip mall with a children's theme park in the middle. The old train I remembered is still there. So we met up with grandma, and there are my kids riding on it!
The merry-go-round is completely new, but not unwelcome. The poor kids were so discombobulated -- it had been snowing in Utah the day before, and here we were in 90 degree weather. They all changed in the car, and on the carousel, only Will chose something that went up and down. Sebastian just sat on a decorative bench and was pleased as punch just to go around in circles.
Against our better judgment, we sent the kids on the roller coaster alone. As you can see by their faces here, in between laps, it was a little more than they were used to. They all still believe that they went around two times because the operator made a mistake -- not that he was giving them a good time by letting them ride it twice. It was cute, though, and about the right size for their age.
Here Sebastian rocks on one of the original rocking horses that I remember from my childhood. These were lined up in the shade just outside the big restaurant. There was a giraffe too, but one of the original train engineers told us that it's gone missing and is a great mystery.

Maddie and Sebi on the plane ride, which was just enough excitement for people who had been driving for five hours in a van. There were also bumper cars, a little rotating ride full of rescue vehicles, and a spin-up-high-in-the-air balloon ride that the kids rode. Also new were several boulles courts out in front, and a pond you could rent and push sailboats about on just inside the entrance which was so cute I wanted to wet my pants. Not that that takes much these days . . .
And Will, in another one of the surviving artifacts from the original Nut Tree. These very groovy animals were set up for peeking through, and they were all still there.
The kids seemed to enjoy it, but I probably loved it more than anyone else. After we'd worn them out on the rides, we went to dinner at Fentons, which has opened another store here. The food was at least as good as the original, and the ice cream was spot on. We thought Sebastian would fall asleep in the middle of dinner, but he rallied himself quite well once he had some ice cream in him.
Oh, and Rob and I shared a black and tan for dessert. "This may not seem very important I know/ but it is, so I'm bothering telling you so." When we were first married, we went to Fenton's and I ordered a black and tan, and Rob said 'oh, I'll share it with you' and when it came, I wasn't so happy about the sharing part. He claims that he had claw marks in his hands from the experience. I think I just jousted with spoons with him, but in any case, it didn't go well. Ten years on, we tried again by mutual consent, and not only did we share it with nary a harsh word or a claw mark, we let Sebi have the leftovers. This, I suppose, is how you end up with leftover applesauce brownies in the Impala at the end of the trip. Someday, maybe!

Friday, April 04, 2008


Last Saturday, Sebastian turned 4. I know, it's absolutely impossible, but it happened anyway. Having seen several of his siblings' birthday parties, he's been planning his for months. Thankfully, he wanted a pirate party, which we could do, because we'd done it before.

Hence, we drank a lot of root beer and sent out invitations in the bottles.
We brought out all the old pirate paraphenalia.
We decorated the living room and dining room with the great set of treasure chests bought by Grandpa last year in Eureka and table settings donated to the cause by the Isaaks.
We made paper boats (the kids decorated them, and then bombed them, at left, in the pool, with walnut 'cannons').
Will set up cups to shoot down with rubber band guns (a very popular game).
We blew up a lot of black balloons (the checkout lady thought it was a fiftieth birthday celebration, and I didn't have the heart to tell her that no, they were just more cannon balls. the kids jumped around on the trampoline sitting on them and trying to pop them so they could find the treasure map).
Rob set up a treasure hunt. He says it is a great comfort to him that we live in a place where we can have a treasure hunt. I have absolute faith that he could come up with a treasure hunt no matter where we lived.
And I made a cake. I didn't do the same time-intensive pirate boat thing I had made for Will's. I don't have the energy for it; the cake was pretty dense in order to carve it up and still hold the quarter deck last time; it was tough to cut pieces of roughly the same size; finally, why should Sebi's party just be a re-run? Something should be different, right? So we made a white cake with the jolly roger on it.

The kids were way, way into the party. And why not, since everything was about bombs or cannons or guns or explosions?

The highlight was, of course, the treasure hunt, where Rob had them chasing all over our street, finding the mailbox, the tree with the face in it, etc. He and Maddie had hidden the treasure chest (at left) under our neighbors' bridge over the irrigation ditch. When the group got there, Rob said "What do you see?!" and they all shouted "A SNAKE!!"

Indeed, there was a long skinny garter snake, about 2 feet long, hanging out under the bridge. Sebi couldn't get over it. For days afterward, he's been talking about how Papa and Maddie hid the treasure in the "snake palace", and he's convinced that there were several down there, like something from Indiana Jones.
They brought the treasure back to our house and found their treat bags inside.
Then they were ready to come in and warm up with lunch and cake and presents and general mayhem.

It was a good party, and the right number of kids for a four year old. It still wore me out completely. Sebastian has already started planning next year's party, and I just have to zone out and pretend I can't hear it.
His aunts came by and gave him a Cars the Movie fleece blanket, which he has already bonded with so much that he couldn't sleep on Tuesday when it got left at preschool from show and tell; and a Cars the Movie art set, which he loves and which pointed out that I've never let him watercolor before, because he didn't know how it worked (is this possible? I'm afraid so; he also got Play Doh because I'm not really into it, and all my kids are. I'll try to do better.).

He is such a wonderful, pleasant, patient, affectionate, smart and kind boy. He still offers to get me water whenever I don't look well (a leftover from morning sickness). He's a great companion wherever we go, the library or the store or Rob's office. And I missed him so much last night when Rob and I got away that today I took him to lunch at the park. I hope he stays as marvelous as he is at four!
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