RSS Feed

‘Family Fodder’ Category

  1. Teens in the House!

    July 28, 2011 by Wendy

    In the wee hours of this morning, something a little disturbing happened. At 12:38 a.m., a teenager began occupying our home. And then just 20 minutes later at 12:58 a.m., there was another.

    No, we didn’t not have a spontaneous house party, but our Natalie and Nicole turned 13 today, and I have a feeling our lives are about to change. Not, perhaps, as drastically as they did 13 years ago when these girls came into this world—at least I hope not—but change they will.

    Natalie and Nicole, almost 1 week old.

    Natalie and Nicole, 1 week old.

    Natalie and Nicole, almost 5 years old.

    Natalie and Nicole, 4 years old.

    Natalie and Nicole, almost 13 years old.

    Natalie and Nicole, almost 13 years old.

    Now here’s the cliched question: Where did the time go?

    No, seriously, where did it go? I can close my eyes and instantly bring myself back to the moments they were born, at 12:38 a.m. and 12:58 a.m. Because of pre-term labor, I was in the hospital for two weeks, doped up on all kinds of horrible meds that gave me bad dreams and crazy thoughts. Just about every night during those two weeks, the contractions came on like crazy, and depending on which nurses were on staff, I may or may not have been whisked in a panic to the delivery room and prepped, only to have things slow down and I’d be returned back to my room.

    This went on almost nightly, and as it got closer to July 29th, Mr. BK’s birthday, I decided two babies would be an awesome birthday gift, and set a goal to have them then. Plus, I couldn’t exactly head out to the mall, and there was no back then, so that was all I had for him. But I quickly learned that you don’t really “set goals” when it comes to childbirth, and on the eve of July 28, I began to develop the dangerous condition of pre-eclampsia, meaning I needed to get them out stat—or else. So hooked up to a Pitocin drip and my waters (yes, waters—two bags) broken for me, it was time. But it was only about 5 o’clock in the afternoon on the eve of their father’s birthday. As the painful hours passed, I became more and more determined to hold them in until at least the stroke of midnight.

    “Do you feel the need to push yet?” the nurses would come in and ask. I’d look at the clock—only 10 p.m.

    “Um, no, not really,” I’d grimace, even though I felt like I could go #2 at any second, the hallmark symptom of “feeling the need to push.” These babies were going to be born on their father’s birthday and that was that.

    When midnight finally struck, I breathed a huge sigh of relief, and finally confessed to my need to push. And just 38 minutes later, we heard the sound of Natalie’s tiny cry—and the silence of Nicole’s absent cry. “This one decided not to breathe!” is what I heard instead. But that panic only lasted a minute while the nurses did their thing, and then I heard her loud cry.

    And then from there on, it’s like I’m watching the past 13 years on fast-forward, speeding right through everything: first steps, birthday parties, playdates, illnesses, school years, family trips, and now suddenly, they’re teenagers! Where, oh where, is that pause button?

    Sadly, there isn’t one, but if I could just pretend there is for a moment, I would like to hit it and dedicate this blog to my special girls. One at a time, of course.

    Nicole Helena


    My dear, sweet Nicole. Did you see what I did there? I put YOU first, because for your whole life, it’s always been “Natalie and Nicole.” I don’t know why; it just sounded better that way, plus it was natural, since Natalie was born first.

    Now speaking of that…you were supposed to be born first. All along, you were “Twin A,” and all along, you were poised at the, um, entrance, ready to come out first. But then, fittingly, either because you were being polite or because you were being pokey (both of which are entirely likely, as we now know), you decided to wait. Or, Natalie was being bossy and cruised right past you (also entirely likely, as we now know).

    And then you decided to wait to start breathing, too. You scared me a little there, but only for a minute. Had I known then that you just prefer to take your time doing things, and doing them your own way, I wouldn’t have worried so much.

    Sort of.

    But you have made up for that little scare by being so easy, so pleasant, and so trouble-free just about every single day of your life. Eating, napping, playing…nothing was a struggle even as a toddler. There were never those “Terrible Twos.” Or Threes. Or anything. Well, except for maybe that 3rd-grade year, your self-described “schizophrenic” year. Hey, you said it, not I. And anyway, that wasn’t so bad. You were just trying to figure yourself out. Everyone has years like that. It would be great if we could keep this “easy” pattern going during these upcoming teen years, OK?

    When you were born, you smelled like cookies. I couldn’t stop smelling and kissing your sweet little cheeks. That’s why we called you “Cookie Face” for the longest time. You were pure sweetness. To this day, you are pure sweetness. When I think of you, I think of the color white. You are such a sweet, sweet soul and one of the kindest, most gentle people I know. And not just because you are my daughter—but because that’s just you. Anyone who knows you would wholeheartedly agree.

    You amaze me every day with your creativity, and your patience to funnel it in ways I can’t even imagine—making highly detailed sculptures no bigger than an ant, crocheting, knitting, sewing, making stages for Noelle’s Polly Pockets and tiny houses for her critters and creatures, and even fashioning hair ties for me out of seaweed when mine break in the ocean.

    You are wise beyond your years, and have always given Poppy and I questions that make us think. It’s no wonder you’ve always been such an awesome student—not just in school, but in life.

    I can’t wait to see what you are going to do with your life. Your preschool teacher predicted you would be some kind of minister or missionary, or another Mother Teresa. I can see that. But I can also see you doing something in the sciences, something that requires you to use your brain and your hands. (Are you sure you don’t want to be a doctor?) Whatever you become, I can already say that it has been a pleasure watching you get there. From the minute you were born—literally—you have done things your own way. I have always said you were “sweetly stubborn.” I don’t know anyone who can convey the message, “No, I don’t want to do it your way AT ALL, I have my own ideas, please leave me alone” in the sweet way that you do. Although you have never said those words in your life, you have your way of letting me know that’s what you’re thinking. This “sweet stubborness” is and always has been a part of you, and I love it. (Except it does frustrate me when we’re clothes shopping!)

    When you and Natalie were younger and I had my fun at dressing you either exactly alike, or the same but in different colors, I always put you in pink. I thought you were going to be the delicate one, the one who would always want bows in her hair and pretty shoes on her feet.

    I can hear you laughing now. You, the girl who is always up for any outdoor adventure and has skydiving on her bucket list. The girl who, on our recent camping trip, was barely seen nor heard all day, as she was busy hammering geodes open or exploring the forest. I love, love, love your adventuresome spirit, and I hope that stays with you always.

    How long did it take before I finally figured out you shouldn’t be the one in pink? That you didn’t want bows in your sweaty little curls, and that you couldn’t care less what your shoes looked like, as long as you could run fast in them?

    How much money did we give Miss Nadya, and how much hair gel and bobby pins did we go through before we finally realized that you hated your thrice-weekly ballet classes, and only liked the yearly performance? Could that be why you never really did get your left and right feet figured out, and why you fell and lost your Beethoven wig on stage? Yes, you definitely seem more comfortable and confident on the basketball court, and the family so enjoys watching you steal the ball and zipping around the court, always with a huge smile on your face, and always offering a helping hand for fallen opponents and teammates alike.

    In fact, you play basketball the way you do everything in life: with a smile, polite yet determined, and always supportive and encouraging of your teammates. Keep that up both on and off the court, and I promise, it will get you far in many aspects of your life.

    As parents, it’s natural that we recognize certain traits in our children and try to pinpoint from whom they’re came. While you most definitely are your own person, you did get your DNA from us, so If I could be selfish for a moment, I’d like to state that you absolutely represent the best parts of both Poppy and me. And despite what the majority of strangers say, you got your blue eyes from me, and right now with your braces and when you wear your glasses, I see me, in 5th and 6th grade. (But you are much prettier and far less geeky than I was.) I guess because of that, I thought you would be a lot like me, but it turns out that you are a lot more like Poppy in many ways. Both of you, let’s say, aren’t bothered by disorder, you’re both very mechanical and analytical, you both love the outdoors and you’re both extremely loyal and trustworthy. That being said, you’re also sensitive and empathetic. It makes me so proud to see that in you, because before you were even born, I knew that was one of the traits I really wanted to instill in our children.

    We are so lucky and blessed to have you as a daughter, and your sisters are lucky and blessed to have you as a sister. You make a perfect BFF for Natalie, and an excellent role model for Noelle. I hope you have a fun sleepover party tonight with your friends, and I hope your first year of teenage-hood is exactly how you want it to be.

    We love you, Cookie Face!

    Natalie Celestina


    Oh, Natalie. Chatalie, Battalie, Tattalie…so many nicknames over the years, each evolving with your dynamic, vibrant personality. If Nicole is the sweetness in our lives and home, you are the lightness.

    The minute we first looked at you, you really did look like Nonina, your namesake. With your olive skin and long, thin nose, you looked just like a cute little old Italian lady. I swear I wouldn’t have been surprised if you’d have been born with a babushka on your head and a loaf of Italian bread tucked under your arm. Since we didn’t know if you were going to be boys, girls or one of each, we had already decided yours was the girl name, so since you were first, you got it. And even though you weren’t supposed to be first, it couldn’t have worked out or suited you better.

    Like lots of things in life, I suppose you just knew that was the right way to do it.

    You were a crabby baby. Not crabby as in cranky, but just serious and all business.Which is so funny because that’s exactly the opposite of how you turned out to be. But in those early days, I would nurse you and you would either look at me sternly or not look at me at all, and in my post-partum, sleep-deprived state, I would say, “She doesn’t even like me; it’s like she just wants to nurse, then she’s done with not even like a thank you or anything.” That went on until you were old enough to say “itch da,” which meant, “switch sides.”

    We called you “Owly,” because once when Poppy’s very midwestern friends came to visit you, they said you seemed “a little owly,” which in Wisconsin/Iowa-speak, must mean crabby. The name just stuck. Plus, we thought you seemed wise.

    Because grandparents and aunts were the only ones who ever babysat you (to this day!), we made them all take a CPR course. This proved to come in handy, what with your breath-holding spells that would begin with a cry, followed by a failure to inhale, followed by turning blue, then passing out and even seizing a couple times. It got to the point where everyone around you (especially me) would instantly go into panic mode if you so much as bumped your head or stubbed your toe. (Literally—a door running over your foot once resulted in a call to 911 and an ambulance ride, all while I was suffering a bout of the stomach flu.) Yeah, those were good times, girlie!

    When that first started happening, we took you to all the necessary specialists, only to have the neurologist diagnose you as “precocious,” something he said he saw 20 times a year with his young patients. At that appointment, he gestured at Nicole and said, “This one does it too, doesn’t she?” And actually, yes, she did, but not to the degree you did. She’d stop breathing and turn magenta, while you took it to the blue spectrum. And speaking of colors, that’s about when I started noticing gray hairs.

    Still, despite these episodes, you quickly went from “owly” baby to happy, exuberant toddler. You were a ball of pure energy who had little use for naps. You ran around the house from day to night like a little ant—in fact, Nonno used to call you formica, which is “ant” in Italian. And once you started talking (first word: “April,” our Beagle at the time), I swear, you’ve never stopped. Thus, the nickname, “Chatalie.” And we love it. You bring so much fun and laughter to our house now that it’s hard to imagine you as the “owly,” serious baby that you once were. Well, most of the time, anyway.

    Although at the time, I scoffed at the “precocious” diagnosis and insisted on further tests of your heart and brain, it turns out that old, eccentric doctor was right. You quit with the breath-holding spells at age 3, just like he predicted, and then you were reading chapter books at age 4, and even narrated your preschool play.

    You’ve amazed us and made our hearts swell with pride with your every accomplishment, which seem to come to you with ease. You amaze me with the way you set goals for yourself, and then achieve them one by one, as if you have a checklist. (Wait—you probably do have a checklist, as this is the girl who makes a list of not only what she has to pack for a trip, but another list of what she has to re-pack for the return trip.)

    When you started in ballet, you just “got it” right away, as if you were born with a bun and a leotard. You loved being on stage, and we all loved watching you perform for years. Then you decided you were more interested in gymnastics, and I was too busy with a new baby to see about finding you a class, so you taught yourself by looking up techniques on the internet. When I finally did get you enrolled in a class, your teachers were so impressed with your front and back handsprings, they asked you what gym you’d been training at. “I taught myself on E-how,” you’d say. They were astounded; I’m still amazed. I have always wanted to do a back handspring and never could, and at this point, probably never will, and it makes me happy that you can. (And I’m so happy that you got it back this year after losing it for a year out of fear.)

    I love how you figure out what you want to do, you learn how to do it, and you do it and you do it well. This determination and resourcefulness will get you far in life, and I’m excited to see what you’re going to do. Right now, you say you want to be a graphic artist or in advertising/marketing when you get older. You have so many qualities that would be right for that field, so it will be interesting to see if you choose that path.

    Because you were so serious and analytical as a baby, we all assumed you were taking after Poppy. But we couldn’t have been more wrong about that. As you get older, it’s seeming like you and I are alike in a lot of ways. We both enjoy doing so many of the same things—reading, yoga or exercise DVDs, shopping, writing, and recently, hair and makeup talk—and it’s a new kind of fun for me having a buddy to do these things with. Even better, you seem to be developing my distaste for messiness and lack of order, which means I have a little more help with picking up around the house and nagging the others to pick up after themselves, so yay!

    We are so blessed and lucky to have you in our lives, and we love you more than we can say. You are a truly wonderful daughter and sister, and we are all grateful for your presence every day. I love how you helped out in Noelle’s gymnastics class, and that you work with her at home, and that you have become an expert at the “turbo bath” and sometimes read to her at night. I am so happy that Noelle has you and Nicole for big sisters—she adores you both, and I couldn’t ask for better role models for her.

    Enjoy your party tonight with your friends, enjoy being 13, enjoy your last year of middle school. It will all go way too fast—at least for Poppy and me.


    And speaking of Poppy, of course we haven’t forgotten that today is his birthday, too. He was so thrilled when you were born on his birthday (and oddly enough, the same day his twin cousins were born a decade or so earlier), and he has never once minded sharing his day with you. In fact, he’s grateful to share the spotlight, because he thinks the whole birthday thing is kind of blown out of proportion. Still, we always find a way to spread out the celebration. (Now when Noelle was given that due date as well, that was getting a little ridiculous. Thank goodness she decided to wait another four days because we all know she most certainly would not want to share her birthday!)

    On the night that you were born, we did manage to have a small birthday celebration in my hospital room, and when this photo was taken, it marked the beginning of a new tradition:


    The best birthday gifts ever!

    Nearly every year since, sometime during the birthday bonanzas, I try to take the same photo of you girls on Poppy’s lap. I remember many times saying, “We’re gonna do this every year, even when they’re teenagers!” I can’t believe that time is already here.

    First birthdays, 32nd birthday.

    First birthdays; 32nd birthday.

    2nd birthdays; 33rd birthday.

    2nd birthdays; 33rd birthday.

    7th birthdays; 38th birthday.

    7th birthdays; 38th birthday.

    8th birthdays; 39th birthday.

    8th birthdays; 39th birthday.

    9th birthdays; 40th birthday.

    9th birthdays; 40th birthday.

    10th birthdays (first Cokes!); 41st birthday.

    10th birthdays (first Cokes!); 41st birthday.

    11th birthdays; 42nd birthday.

    11th birthdays; 42nd birthday.

    12th birthdays; 43rd birthday.

    12th birthdays; 43rd birthday.

    And we will continue to do so, even when you’re in college or have husbands and children of your own.

    So I hope you have a happy birthday, too, Mr. BK. I hope you enjoy your day that will end with 10 squealing teenage (!) girls taking over the house. I know you would not want it any other way, and I love you for that.

    That, and about a million other things.

  2. What’s on the Whiteboard

    January 27, 2011 by Wendy


    We have this whiteboard in our kitchen that’s a holdover from when I was doing preschool at home with Little Miss last year. It’s not the most attractive kitchen accessory—certainly nothing you’d ever see in a hip Dwell spread—but because it gets a lot of use, we’ve left it up. Usually it’s filled with cartoon drawings, doodles and the occasional math formula or problem that Poppy is trying to explain to the girls.

    Sometimes, after everyone has left for work and school, I’ll look at the board and get a flashback of what was going on at the dinner table the night before. This morning, I got the idea to do a “What’s on the Whiteboard” segment on my blog every once in a while, as it gives a little snapshot of what’s going on in our world—or at least our dinner table.

    As you can see, the main focus of our conversation the other night was, and has been, about the new member of our family due to arrive tomorrow—an adorable yellow lab puppy named Cheerio, just like the ones you see in the Cottonelle and Estee Lauder commercials—but hopefully NOT like the one in Marley and Me. (I’ll blog more about him after he gets here.)

    We  have been planning for his arrival since November, before he was even born in early December. So the other night, we were discussing the importance of consistency, and that we all need to use the same terms and commands with him for training purposes. Twin A decided to make a list of those commands on the whiteboard, such as “Drop it,” “Leave it,” “No biting,” “Stay,” and, my favorite, “Put it away.” (Anyone who has ever been around a male dog will know what this one means. Two words: Red. Rocket.) She also wrote out his daily schedule that the breeder has outlined and encouraged us to follow.

    OK, nothing really exciting there. But what made me laugh the next day was seeing the diagram right in the middle of the board. You see, that was the day the big news came out that Oprah had an unknown half-sister. I found the story quite fascinating, not so much from Oprah’s perspective, but from the sister’s. Imagine finding out one day you have family you never knew about, but to find out she’s Oprah? (Just for the record: I would forgive my mom for withholding this secret–if the secret family member were someone as equally cool and famous as Oprah.)

    So I was explaining the story to Mr. Buzzkill (BK), but he just wasn’t getting it. It was a confusing, convoluted story to begin with, but BK does not like the use of pronouns, which made it even harder to tell because there were a lot of “shes” to potentially throw around, between Oprah, her new half-sister, her deceased other half-sister, her mother, her nieces, etc. Making it even more confusing was that the new half-sister and the deceased old half-sister had the same name. And I’m trying to explain this to him? Sheesh!

    He’s also known for asking questions that have nothing to do with the point of the story: ”Wait, now who owns this BBQ restaurant?” And, “Now whose house did they go to for Thanksgiving?” Honestly, I’m surprised he didn’t ask who made the sweet potatoes. I’m not even joking.

    Sensing our communication breakdown frustration (a nice way of saying, “getting really exasperated with each other,”) Twin B jumped out of her seat and decided to diagram the situation for BK. (This pronoun-averse engineer processes things better in chart and graph form. Go figure.)

    I still don’t think he got the story, though. Nor do I think he really cared, but at least he tried.

    And that’s what was going on at our dinner table discussion the other night.

    Stay tuned for future episodes of “What’s on the Whiteboard.” I know, it’s all so fascinating.

  3. Can We Ban Halloween?

    November 16, 2010 by Wendy

    I hate Halloween.

    There. I said it.

    Isn’t that bad, coming from a mother of three children? Shouldn’t I be reveling in this kid-centric holiday, planning and making their costumes weeks in advance, like a good mom does?

    But no, I kind of dread Halloween beginning Oct. 1.  Maybe it’s because it’s the first sudden flurry of activity after the long summer and stressful start of the school year. Suddenly, the calendar becomes packed with school parties, fall festival and volunteering, plus trying to decide on three costumes and then gathering the supplies for them all. I’m just never quite ready for it when it hits.

    But the main reason I’m so anti-Halloween is because the traditions that go along with it (eating ridiculous amounts of sugar and celebrating all things evil and gory) are the opposite of everything we try to instill in our children all year long. Trick-or-treating is the WORST. Think about it: We are forever warning our children about Stranger Danger, and yet, we take them out in the dark of night (and sometimes on a school night!) and goad them into knocking on strangers’ doors and taking candy from these strangers. And even though we’ve all had it drilled into our heads since we were little that strangers put razor blades and drugs in the candy, we’re all, “Go on, sweetie, go knock on that door and hold your bucket out, and remember to say thank you!”

    Every year, while the girls and their cousins are knocking on some random door, there I am at the end of the driveway, going “Who came up with this tradition? This is terrible. We’re making our kids go knock on some pervert’s door and letting them take candy from them! It’s so dumb! Halloween should be banned!”

    And every year, there’s my Halloween-loving sister, going, “Oh, get over it, ya Scrooge, it’s tradition!”

    That’s not to say we don’t get into it or celebrate it. The twins have always chosen their own costumes, and they’re almost always homemade, which is saying a lot, as I am not a lover of crafting. In past years, they’ve been sushi, an ant-infested picnic table, cotton candy, an ice-cream cone and a bubble bath, winning prizes in the costume contests almost every time. (Score for the non-crafty mom!)




    This year, because they were too indecisive (Twin A), or procrastinated too much (Twin B), we kept it simple. Twin A was a “spa girl” and Twin B was a gypsy, both of which were easy to put together with stuff we already had around the house. Little Miss decided months ago that she wanted to be Snow White, which was even easier, since we already had the costume from previous years, and only had to buy a new wig:




    I do have a lot of fun helping the girls dress up, but I admit it’s probably one of very few things I won’t be too sad to see them outgrow. The tween twins are almost there, but not quite yet. They still had fun dressing up and trick-or-treating this year—especially when we hit the house where the nice old man always hands out money instead of candy. (They know his house—it’s the one with the Bentley parked out in front.)

    Every year, I get into Halloween less and less, putting up fewer decorations and barely glancing at those little booklets for fun ideas. In fact, this year, I didn’t put up a single decoration, other than the tiny pumpkin Little Miss brought home from her field trip to a farm. Thankfully, Little Miss is afraid of anything remotely creepy, therefore I get a reprieve from getting the boxes of decorations down (I only have two) and stretching those pesky cobwebs all over the house. The scariest decoration we have is a pumpkin with a sensor on it that says, “Boo! Did I scare you?” when you walk by. She has nightmares about that thing so there is no way it’s coming inside.

    The twins weren’t quite that skittish, and we got into the holiday more with them. Every year since they were toddlers, we would drive more than an hour away to a farm with a pumpkin patch, where we’d let them pick their pumpkins, and I’d take a million adorable pictures of all things fall. Then we’d come home, let them dig the gunk out, and I’d make roasted pumpkin seeds. But for some reason (usually due to poor planning and lack of time) we haven’t gone, nor have we even carved pumpkins for the last two years. I know, lame.

    Lucky for us, my sister is the complete opposite. She lives for Halloween, and is one of those who decks out her house both inside and out as much as most people do for Christmas: skeleton-bone streamers, bleeding pictures, ghosts, monster footprints, spider webs, rats, life-size hanging ghouls, rattling skeletons, creepy snakes, screeching cats. Come October, her house looks like one of those Halloween superstores.

    And she carries the theme into her menu for the evening. This year she made “feet of meet” (foot-shaped mini meatloaves, complete with mangy toenails made from Brazil nuts), pizza that looked like candy corn, some kind of bloody punch, mashed potatoes with green-olive eyeballs, witch-finger cookies and rolls with finger hot dogs sticking out. You get the picture:



    Clearly, that’s why we go there every year, plus she has a better neighborhood for trick-or-treating.We don’t get a lot of trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood and never stay home on Halloween night.

    Especially not since the time two years ago, when just as we were getting ready to leave, our doorbell rang. “Don’t answer it, I don’t have anything!” I said. But it was too late. The girls opened the door and there was a hayride-load of about 15 kids holding their pillowcases and buckets open expectantly. The girls and Hubby ran to the pantry in a panic and came back with handfuls of stale Easter candy and—wait for it—conversation hearts. I’m still mortified.

    That night, we came home to find our pumpkins all smashed up all over the yard. We got the message: Our “treats” sucked and we’d been “tricked.”

    I guess that’s what happens when the kids find out who the neighborhood Scrooge is.

  4. Letting Go of My Little Larva

    July 9, 2010 by Wendy

    Earlier this year, when winter turned into spring, I decided to give Little Miss a lesson on life cycles.

    You see, instead of sending her to preschool at age 3 and 4, I had kept her home, where I taught her the early stages of the three R’s, plus things like life cycles and a whole lot more. (I think, anyway. We’ll see when she gets tested in the fall.) The reasons for keeping her home were many, but the main one was, I admit, purely selfish. As my last baby, I wanted to keep her home with me as long as possible. Having seen her older sisters sail at supersonic speed from kindergarten to middle school, I am all too aware of how fast it goes. And I am all too aware of the feeling that once they start school, you lose a huge part of them as they’re sucked into schedules, routines, homework, projects, contagious viruses, a whole new social group—all of which are pretty much out of your control.

    I will be losing my Little Miss exactly one month from today to the public education system.

    My mother-in-law once told me that you start letting go of them a little each day from the minute they’re born. (This from a woman whose two out of three grown children live within 20 minutes of her, but whatever.) That was hard to imagine back in the days when I was their only source of nutrition for the first six months of their lives, and then as their only “beverage” for another year beyond that. That didn’t feel much like I was “letting go,” especially when it was two at a time.

    I miss those days.

    But that’s just the way it goes. It’s the circle of life. (Go ahead, sing The Lion King theme song here if you must.)

    Oh, yes, back to teaching the life cycle. So I ordered one of those butterfly kits and a frog habitat, in which you have to send away for the larvae and the tadpoles. While we waited for our “babies” to arrive, we went to the library and got lots of books on life cycles, butterflies and tadpoles.

    A couple weeks later, our “babies” all arrived on the same day in our mailbox: two tadpoles and six butterfly larvae. The tadpoles were easy. They just needed to put in some spring water, fed every other day and observed for signs of changing into frogs. The butterfly larvae were even easier. They just hung upside down in the little cup for about two weeks, each one slowly forming into a chrysalis. At that point, we observed more closely and actually got to witness four of the six emerge from their cocoons and unroll themselves into butterflies. As soon as they’re “born,” you feed them some orange slices and sugar water for a few days.

    And then you let them go.

    And it is beyond sad as you watch your child say goodbye to their beautiful Monarch friends, and you explain over and over why they have to be let go. And then you wonder why you ever did this project when it brings so much pain, especially when you’ve done it before with older children and heard the same wails and saw the same agonizing tears.

    This is what it looked like, from the beginning to the end:








    kiss goodbye


    getting ready

    getting ready2




    So by now, you must see where I’m going with this post. Yep, the old butterfly-gets-its-wings metaphor.

    In college, for an English class assignment, I wrote an allegorical poem about leaving home, and I used a butterfly as a metaphor. My professor wrote “Cliche!” and “Overused!” in big fat red ink all over it. Gah! I cringe when I think of that awful poem. At the time, I was offended, but oh, how right he was. How could I have not seen that back then? Did I really think that was a good poem? And here I am again with the butterfly metaphor. But I don’t care. No one’s grading this, and right now, with my Little Miss one month away from starting kindergarten, it couldn’t be more appropriate.

    How did this happen so quickly? Please excuse the use of yet another cliche, but it literally seems like I just had her. I can picture myself lying in that hospital bed, doing that final push despite my case of sudden-onset reflux. And then the doctor held her up and I saw her little girl parts and I realized then that despite the fact that I’d been saying I didn’t care what we were having, that I really, really did want another daughter.

    And she was perfect. Her proud father kept saying her head was shaped like a trapezoid, but I never saw that. Not even in pictures to this day. In fact, she came out so clean, so pink, so chubby, and just so everything a baby should be. And I loved her immediately and deeply.

    We got home from the hospital and settled into our easy, snuggly routine. And then I blinked my eyes and it was time for her to start kindergarten. Yes, really, just like that.

    That’s how fast these almost-five years have gone. (She turns 5 exactly one week before the first day of school.)

    Of course, I’ve been through this before, with the twins. And yes, that was doubly painful. But kindergarten was only half-days back then, so it was a teensy bit easier. It was when they started full-time 1st grade that I really had my breakdown. But being pregnant with another little one at the time made it a bit easier, and I started to enjoy my “me” time that year, knowing it would be my last for a while.

    But this time, it’s different. I knew all along how fast it was going to go, which is why I tried to make the most of each day we had together, and why I kept her home with me. But just because you realize it, doesn’t mean time slows down. I wish it worked that way.

    And by the way, those two tadpoles I mentioned we sent away for in February? They were supposed to turn into frogs in two weeks. It is now almost six months later and they’re still tadpoles. One of them hasn’t grown a bit, and neither are even close to losing their tails or growing legs. I even emailed the company to find out what’s the deal.

    If only our children could be more like the tadpoles.

    When I think about how fast my girls have grown and are growing, I get like a hot flash, a lump in my throat and a stabbing pain in the gut, especially when I realize that with the twins turning 12 later this month and starting 7th grade in the fall, it means they’re only going to be home with us for another six years before they go off to college.

    Go away, lump, hot flash and stabbing pain, go away!

    I get that same hot flashy, lumpy, stabbing-pain-in-the-gut feeling when I imagine the first day of kindergarten one month from today. I’m dreading it more than anyone could know. I’m dreading it as much as I’m already dreading the walk back to the car after we leave her older sisters in their dorm rooms at college.

    But I can’t go there right now. That’s an entirely different post. Heck, that’s an entirely different blog.

    If you look at those last few pictures of Little Miss after having kissed her butterflies goodbye and letting them go, you’ll get an idea of what I will be looking like at 9 a.m. one month from today. And the day after that. And probably the day after that. And then, after a few more days like that, I’m sure I will enjoy the few hours I’ll have to myself to “get my groove back.” I’m looking forward to the day when I look at the clock and go, “Oh, man, it’s time to pick them up already?”

    But until then, I’m holding on to my little larvae.

    P.S. If by some chance a bald and probably retired college professor who looks like Paul Shaffer happens upon this blog, please refrain from writing “Cliche!” or “Overused!” in the comment box. I already know it is and I don’t care.

  5. Smoky Plum is the New Black

    June 6, 2010 by Wendy

    My poor husband.

    Friday  night, he helped coach at Twin B’s basketball practice. They came home, both dripping sweat, and didn’t say much other than to ask who won the national spelling bee. However, about a half-hour later, Husband walks out of the kitchen holding a bag of ice to his face and says, “Uh, I ran into Brooke’s head tonight at practice and now my eye has suddenly blown out.”

    “Blown out????” I say, blasting my migraine-plagued head off the couch. You don’t say the words “blown out” to a panicker like me unless you’re at the hair salon.  ”Lemme see!”

    He pulled the bag of ice away, revealing a Cadbury-egg-sized purple lump on the corner of his left eye.

    Ahhhhhh! What did you do now?” I shouted, or something similar that made him go, “Well you don’t have to get mad about it!”

    “I’m not mad, but it’s just why are you always getting hurt?” I said, reminding him that he was still healing from his neck injury of three days ago, when we heard Little Miss cry out in the monitor at 3 a.m. and he flew out of bed but got his foot stuck in the blanket and fell shoulder-down smack into the door.

    I took a closer look at the eye injury, which made my own eyes water.

    “Want a raw steak on it?” I asked, because that’s what they did once on The Brady Bunch, when Peter got socked in the eye by Buddy Hinton while sticking up for Cindy.

    “No. I don’t even know what that does,” he said.

    “Me neither,” I said. “And anyway, we don’t have any. How about a bag of frozen peas?”

    “What for?” he asked. “I got this!” he said, nodding toward the unwieldy bag of ice cubes in a Ziploc wrapped with a dishcloth pressed to his eye.

    “Should I take you to urgent care?” I asked, already knowing what his answer was going to be.

    “I don’t think so,” he answered, as if I had just asked “Will it snow here in Arizona tomorrow?”

    I still wasn’t sure, so I took a picture of the injury and texted it to my sister, whose husband is a paramedic. “HELP!” I put in the subject line, and then waited. They live in Michigan, and it was going on 2 a.m. there. Still, my phone rang a few minutes later.

    “Is his eye hanging out of the socket?” my sister said, repeating questions fed to her from her groggy husband, whom she jolted awake when she got my text.

    “No!” I said. “It’s on the outside, not the eye BALL.”

    “Is there fluid leaking out?” she asked.

    “I don’t know. Is there fluid leaking out?” I asked Husband.

    “I don’t think so,” he said, dabbing away the condensation from the ice bag.

    “You don’t want to mess around with the eye, I’d take him in,” I heard my brother-in-law say in the background.

    But since nothing was hanging or leaking out, we decided to skip the dreaded E.R. waiting room and just ice it and sleep on it.

    “If I wake up and his eyeball is on the pillow, then I’ll bring him in,” I said to my sister.

    Well, the next morning, I didn’t wake up next to an eyeball, but what I did wake up next to was Adam Lambert:


    The swelling had gone down, but his entire eyelid was swathed in a deep plum color with a perfectly straight line of kohl black right by his eyelashes.

    “It looks kinda pretty!” I said, after the initial shock wore off.

    Throughout the day, I kept staring at that eye, thinking, “Now how can I get my makeup to look like that?”

    I always thought that when one gets hit in the eye, one gets a black eye. But no. This one was the perfect shade of smoky plum mixed with a hint of shimmery lavender. In fact, I have an eyeshadow palette just like that called “Time for Wine.”

    Even more disturbing, the swelling had pushed the outside edge of his eyebrow up into a nice little arch, the kind that some of us girls go through the pain of waxing to achieve. With a little plucking here and there, and the application of some guyliner and guyshadow to the other eye, he’d be make Adam Lambert and Pete Wentz look like amateurs.

    I emailed some pictures to a half-dozen family members who I thought might be be interested or entertained. (Luckily, Husband is a good sport when it comes to these things and indulges me while I make a spectacle of him.)



    My sister-in-law said, “Well, so much for trying to do a ‘guy thing’ for a change. Maybe he should stick to princess bedtime stories.” (Ah-ha, so you do read my blog! See previous post.)

    My aunt said, “OK, if he starts singing, bumping and grinding, I’m running for the hills. But seriously, I’d take that photo with me to the nearest MAC counter and tell them to do their stuff.”

    And now if only I can get that annoying Adam Lambert song, What Do You Want from Me? out of my head.

    Poor guy. He can’t even get a decent, cool-looking shiner. And adding insult to the pretty injury?

    It came from a 13-year-old girl.

  6. Girls, Girls, Girls

    June 1, 2010 by Wendy

    Sometimes I feel bad for my husband, living in the all-female, estrogen-soaked household that he does. Last night happened to be one of those times, maybe because our evening bike ride had to be cut short after encountering a pack of javelinas and four squealing, shrieking girls wanted to high-tail it home. (In fact, our bike rides always seem to be cut short, due to some fear one of us girls develops out in the middle of nowhere, where he likes to go. That being said, I don’t think coyotes, bobcats, snakes and the dark are unreasonable fears at all when you live in the desert.)

    Anyway, I told him that he should start taking more time to pursue his hobbies, and do more “guy” stuff, like hunting, fishing or going to the shooting range. Sometimes a guy just wants to sit around and talk about trucks, and that’s just not a need I’m capable of filling. Politics, I’ll do (on a good day), but trucks, no way.

    “When? When am I going to find the time to do those kind of things?” he asked.

    “Well, I don’t know, you have to make the time,” I said.

    So about an hour or so after this discussion, he offered to put Little Miss to bed. A few minutes later, I went in to say good night, and this is what I found:


    It looks like he’s snuggled up in bed with her, reading the captivating tale of Cinderella’s Palace, right?  Only this is what I heard when I walked in:

    “Do not mix alkaline, standard (carbon zinc), or rechargeable (nickel-cadmium) batteries. Do not recharge non-rechargeable batteries. Rechargeable batteries are to be removed from the sound module before being recharged. Rechargeable batteries are to only to be charged under adult supervision. This product uses…”

    And then I figured out what he was doing. Bored out of his mind from all the princess tales he’s read night after night, daughter after daughter over the years, he decided to get creative. And read the inside cover of the page. You know, the copyright page. Only this book was one of those that had those musical buttons on it, thus all the battery talk.

    And Little Miss was listening with rapt attention! Especially when he got to the part about the book/device being compliant with FCC rules and regulations.

    Happening upon this scene reinforced my belief that he really needs more guy time and less “princess” time. But that isn’t quite what I meant.

    Oh, well. At least Little Miss is now aware of the dangers of mixing carbon-zinc and nickel-cadmium batteries.

  7. The Fig Tree

    May 27, 2010 by Wendy

    It’s nearly the end of May, which, as anyone with a drop of Italian blood in them knows, means only one thing:

    Fig season.

    As far as I know, any family with an Italian patriarch worth his saltimbocca owns at least one fig tree.

    I am not Italian. Just ask the “100 percent Italian” waiter at the little trattoria we went to last weekend, who made sure to point out this fact, all the while fawning all over my dark-haired, olive-skinned husband. I know he was 100 percent Italian because he told us this. About three times. But I get it. After being married into an Italian family for the past 19 years, I know a little bit about how it works.

    Which brings us back to the fig tree:

    Native to the Middle East and particularly prolific in Italy and California, it’s not at all common to see fig trees among the saguaros and ocotillos here in the desert Southwest. If you do, in fact, see one in someone’s yard, you can pretty much guess that someone of Italian descent resides there.


    My straight-from-Italy father-in-law has two of them, and he made sure both of his desert-dwelling sons have them as well. In fact, we have two. Years ago, he came over with some roots and a few branches from his own tree and said, “Plant this.” And we did. And it quickly got enormous, and started shedding those giant fig leaves that look just like Adam and Eve’s underwear.

    And ever since, it’s like my father-in-law has allowed us to adopt and raise his own flesh and blood. I’ve even sent pictures as it grew. It’s not unusual for him to call our house to check on the fig tree. Sure, he asks how the kids are, how’s everything, but what he really wants to know about is that fig tree. Are we watering it? Did we cover it? Are they getting ripe?

    By “covering it,” I mean putting a sheet of netting over it when the fruit starts to appear, so as to prevent the birds from pecking at it. (I feel sorry for the birds that dare peck at my father-in-law’s trees. Let’s just leave it at that.) Prior to this covering, there’s much back-and-forth discussion between my husband and father-in-law that goes something like this:

    Husband: “I went to Home Depot today, and they didn’t have it.”

    Father-in-law: “Did you try Lowe’s?”

    Husband: “No.”

    Father-in-law: “Ya gotta cover it or you’re gonna lose it all! I’ll go to my Home Depot and get some and I’ll send your brother over this weekend.”

    Covering it is, for some reason, a big two-hour ordeal. It involves ladders, extension poles, other people, and if the kids aren’t around, some swearing. Then once it’s covered, it’s on.

    We wait.

    We check.

    We wait some more.

    fruits 2


    Last year at this time, not only did my father-in-law provide the netting and help us cover our trees, but he drove around to his friends’ houses to help them cover theirs, or do it for them if they were out of town. (All of his friends are Italian; thus, of course they have fig trees, too.) Because of this, we called him the Fig Saver, and imagined him wearing a Superman-like cape, flying around town, shooting netting out of his wrists, all in the name of protecting and saving everyone’s fig trees.

    The other day, my in-laws had a pretty harrowing day that involved a doctor’s appointment, a painful shot to my mother-in-law’s spine and a visit to a very ill friend of theirs. The kind of day that you just want to end by going home and collapsing in bed. But no. They stopped over.

    To check on the figs.

    “One more week,” my father-in-law said as he drove off.

    Strangely, it brought back memories of visiting my obstetrician’s office as I got closer to my due date, leaving the office with a “one more week” assessment.

    When the figs do finally come in, though, it’s less like a birth and more like a competition.

    Every night, my husband and father-in-law discuss how many they got, how they taste, how many are left on the tree, how ready they look, etc. We’ll bring some from our tree over and he’ll say, “Nah, these are no good.” Or, ” Too dry.” Or, “These were picked too soon.”

    Then a whole big discussion ensues about the differences in elevation, water quality, the weather, etc. (We live 7 miles apart, however they do live on a mountain.) But usually what it comes down to is him saying, “You guys don’t water it enough!” or “You guys water it too much!”

    The big discussion.

    The big discussion.

    For Father’s Day last year, we got him a sweatshirt that said “got figs?” on it. The fact that a company actually produced such a shirt tells me he must not be the only one with this obsession. And he actually wears it.

    Every year, he announces the figs will be ready on his birthday, which is May 19. In fact, when he was a boy in Italy, that’s how he knew it was his birthday. If there were figs on the trees, he must’ve turned another year older.

    Recently, one of the girls asked him, “Nonno, when are we going to celebrate your birthday?”

    “You’ll know it’s my birthday when the figs are ready,” was his answer.

    Turns out they weren’t ready on his birthday, but they might be this weekend, so guess when we’re celebrating his birthday?

    Provided there are figs.

    Last year, my sister-in-law and I toyed with the idea of having a baby shower-type party for him when the figs come in, with invitations, balloons, games, a cake, the whole works. Of course, he would think we were being silly, but to him, the fruits that come off these trees are like his babies. We weren’t joking.

    Every day during the season, he gently plucks the ripe ones off the trees and lovingly places them in a basket, bringing it in and placing it on the table for all to admire.

    And then he eats them.

    And eats them.

    And eats them. Skin and all. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen my mother-in-law try to temper his intake, warning him, “You’re gonna have a problem.”

    In this family, a problem means either gas or intestinal issues. I don’t know if he ever has a problem, but I sure would if I ate as many as he did in one sitting.

    He does share. IF you’re family or close friends. One by one, he introduced all three of our girls to the art and pleasure of fig eating and they all love them. And Mama loves them because they’re packed with potassium, fiber, calcium and a bunch of beneficial minerals.

    First, Nonno tries one while Little Miss watches.

    First, Nonno tries one while Little Miss watches.

    Ahhh, finally, a bite.

    Ahhh, finally, a bite.

    Little Miss with last year's harvest of the day.

    Little Miss with last year's harvest of the day.

    Drippy, messy, straight off the tree.

    Drippy, messy, straight off the tree.



    And speaking of the art and pleasure of eating them, apparently there’s a whole lore among men comparing them to certain parts of the human anatomy. But this is a family blog, so we won’t go there. All I know is my husband loves them, too. A lot.

    I’ve come across many recipes that incorporate figs, but I’m pretty sure my father-in-law would have a fit if he knew I tainted them by using them in a recipe. No, figs are to be eaten in their purest form. Not dried. Not in a pudding. Not in a cookie. I am quite certain he’s never even heard of a Fig Newton.

    Besides, there are never any uneaten ones left to use. Once, my father-in-law came over and saw that we had a basket overflowing with them. It was about three days’ worth of pickings and we just hadn’t gotten around to eating them all.

    He looked at the basket in horror, as if we had left an unattended child in the middle of the street.”Those are gonna go bad!” he admonished. “You gottta eat them! How come no one’s eating them? If you don’t want ‘em, I’ll take ‘em. I’ll send some to Uncle John!”

    “Pop! How many you think we can eat in a day?” said my husband. “Just because we don’t go crazy doesn’t mean we’re not eating them!”

    Sadly, because it’s such a short season, the figs are gone before we know it. But that’s OK, because that only  means one thing:

    Time to make the sausage.

  8. What a Difference a Word Makes

    May 22, 2010 by Wendy

    Yesterday, while we were sitting in the car waiting for BK to finish pumping the gas, Little Miss said, “Mommy, remember the God talk the other night?”

    “The God talk?” I asked, trying to remember what she was referring to.

    “Yeah, you know, the one where you said you forgave God for Poppy?”

    Whaaaaat?” I asked, amid the peals of laughter from the other girls. “I forgave God for Poppy?”

    “Yeah, remember, at the end of my prayer the other night, you said “I forgive God for Poppy.”

    “Ohhhhh,” I said, suddenly remembering the conversation. After her bedtime prayer, I often ask her if she wants to add anything, like what she’s thankful for, sorry for or asking for. After one too many nights of “Thank you for my Barbies,” or “I would like more toys,” I tried to steer her in the direction of less material things, like being thankful for her sisters, her parents, her grandparents, her home and food on the table. As an example, I told her things I was thankful for, which of course, included Poppy.

    “No, I said I thank God for Poppy, not forgive Him for him,” I clarified, just as Poppy opened the car door and asked what was so funny.

    “Oh, nothing, we’re just forgiving God for you,” I said.

    “Oh,” he said, nonplussed, but I explained the situation anyway.

    It was a good lesson on what a difference one word can make.

  9. What Would Walt Think?

    May 13, 2010 by Wendy

    Last week in Disneyland, at the end of one of our family’s favorite attractions—Soarin’ Over California—I said, “Walt Disney would be so proud of this ride.” (I know, in Disneyspeak, it’s an “attraction,” but let’s face it, this is a ride. And a spectacular one at that.) A simulated hang-glider tour of the Golden State, Soarin’ takes guests—strapped in tightly under a wing-like canopy contraption thingy—over such California landmarks as Napa Valley, the Golden Gate Bridge, Malibu, a Palm Springs golf course, Los Angeles at night, San Diego and Disneyland itself. It is awesome, and I wish I could ride it every day. It’s like sitting on a ginormous swing that’s lifted high up into the sky, with your feet dangling as you swoop into different scenes, sure you’re going to kick the surfers, river rafters, horseback riders and skiers you’re gliding over. It’s amazing how real it feels, especially with all the twists and turns, and the smells of evergreen, orange blossoms, the ocean and the cold snowy air on the mountaintops. I always get goose bumps at the end, which culminates with the fireworks and Tinkerbell flying over the castle. Walt would definitely be proud of the Imagineers who came up with this one.

    In fact, more than a few times during this last trip, I wondered how Walt would feel about how Disneyland has both evolved and stayed the same since he created it in 1955. I thought about it when I saw the light on above the fire station on Main Street, which Disney freaks like us know is left on as a tribute to him. Word is, when the light is off, it means his daughters are in the park. Walking down the middle of Main Street, I thought how cool it must feel to be one of Walt’s children, seeing the throngs of people filing in every single day, and knowing your dad built such a worldwide icon. And I imagined Walt himself, looking down at the park as if it were his child, and like any father, he would likely be proud of a lot of things the park has become, while shaking his head in disapproval at a few things. But just a few. Here’s what I know he would be proud of, based on our most recent experience:

    • The park and the surrounding grounds remain immaculate. It still surprises me how clean it is, despite the fact that some 40,ooo people pass through the gates each day, give or take a few thousand depending on time of year. I never saw a single cigarette butt or straw wrapper on the ground. We even noticed a cleaning woman mopping the street at the end of the driveway of the Grand Californian Hotel. I said to the girls, “Look how hard that woman is working to keep it clean for us. I’ll bet no one ever thanks her, so let’s thank her today.” And so we did. But then BK kind of ruined the moment when he said, “She should be thanking us! We’re paying her salary!” (To be fair, this was at the end of our trip, so he might have been a little jaded—and broke—after five days of Disney dollaring.) But what really made me happy were the hand-sanitizing stations scattered throughout the park, complete with warning signs about staying home if you’re exhibiting signs of illness. Which no one did, obviously, as I’ve never heard so much productive, hacking, gross coughing in my life. (There’s no place like Disneyland to kick the germophobia into high gear, especially in those crowded enclosed lines.) Still, it was nice to see the Disney folks cared about us and our health, even though these dispensers were empty  every time we attempted to use them.


    • It’s still all about the details, just as Walt wanted. This photo says it all:


    • There was no shortage of healthy snack options wherever we went. Sure, there’s still plenty of churros, corn dogs, face-size lollipops, ice cream bars and cotton candy around, but there are also lots of fruit stands and healthy items on every menu. One day, the girls and I loaded up on snacks from a vendor cart while we waited for the Pixar parade at California Adventure. Our haul included pineapple spears, mango slices with cayenne pepper, bags of dried apples, a hunk of sourdough bread and a pickle that stunk up our cooler for the next two days. But don’t be too impressed at this relatively healthy spread—snacks for the next night’s fireworks viewing included a giant frosted Rice Krispies treat, a couple squares of fudge, chocolate-covered marshmallows on a stick and this adorable Minnie Mouse apple that cost $8.95. Yep, Walt would be proud:


    • We were in line for Splash Mountain over in Critter Country, trying to figure out what to do next because the big girls wanted to hit Space Mountain, but we didn’t want to jet all the way over to Tomorrowland to find an hourlong wait, especially when our 4-year-old had been asking to go on Dumbo all day. What to do? Well, there’s an app for that. Seriously, there is, and it’s called MouseWait. Though not affiliated with Disneyland, Walt would be so proud of this genius iPhone app that we depended on throughout our stay. Not only does it list updated wait times for all the major attractions in both Disneyland Park and California Adventure, it also includes real-time park news, like “They just ran out of coffee at Market House!” or “Space just shut down!” or “There’s a big crowd by the castle right now, anyone know what’s up?” I discovered and downloaded this free app before we even started planning our trip, which allowed me to keep my eye on things before we went. It was a good tool to gauge the daily crowds, and gather all sorts of other helpful information, like daily hours and events, where to eat and where not to (I learned someone got food poisoning at one of the restaurants there, so we steered clear of that one!), park tips and updates, and even glimpses of the parks via live webcams. The girls enjoyed reading about all the Hidden Mickey spots, and I enjoyed lurking in the MouseWait live chat lounge, where all the cool MouseWaiters hang out and discuss most things Disney. There seems to be a core group of them—many of whom I’m guessing are annual-pass holders—and they actually have regular meet-ups and reunions in the park. Even though they seem like a very nice, welcoming bunch (they love Disney, how can they not be?), I didn’t feel cool enough to jump in on any of these conversations until our fourth day there, when I woke up with a horrendous migraine. Migraines and Disneyland do not make a good combination. Not wanting to miss out on the fun (or worse yet, waste a Park Hopper day!) I had to drag myself out into the bright California sunshine and try to make the best of it. So I turned to MouseWait. I created a user name (Melody, after Ariel’s daughter), jumped into the chat area and asked for suggestions for quiet, out-of-the-way spots at California Adventure where I could park myself while the rest of the family played. Almost immediately, I got 16 responses, all with great suggestions and most with “hope you feel better soon!” sentiments and even headache remedies. They were all so nice, it made me tear up right there sitting outside of Grizzly River Run rapids ride. But perhaps most helpful was the wait times feature. The app employs a patented technology called MouseRank that uses some kind of algorithm that combines a bunch of factors that result in accurate wait times. I don’t know exactly how it works, all I know is that it does and it’s surprisingly spot-on, and it saved us a bunch of time while we were there. The only downside was that I was glued to it like a preteen with a DS, especially while waiting in line. I still get on it a lot now, living vicariously through others who are in the parks at this minute. Walt would definitely be proud of this one. And did I mention it was free?


    • Disneyland has a way of bringing out the best in people. On our second day there, a woman came up to us and handed us a balloon for Little Miss. This wasn’t just any old balloon—this was one of those high-dollar (10 bucks, I think) balloon-within-a-balloon balloons that stay inflated forever. I have no idea why she gave it to us, but Little Miss loved it so much she refused to let go of it, even though it was triple-tied to her stroller and weighted down with a water bottle. She stopped going on rides for the rest of that day because she didn’t want to let go of it. We brought it out with us every day, and even trusted it with a cast member who wouldn’t allow us to take it in to the Aladdin show. Unfortunately, the happy balloon story has a sad ending. On our drive home, about an hour outside of Anaheim, for some reason that will forever be unknown, Twin B decided to open the back window. From the front seat, all I heard was a loud sucking noise, and then the wails of a devastated Little Miss. When I turned back, I saw that giant pink Mickey head getting smaller and smaller as it glided over the top of the freeway bridge behind us. BK scolded Twin B for opening the window, causing her to burst into her own tears, followed by Twin A then bursting into tears. So thank you anyway, random stranger lady, for the balloon. For a short while, it brought our daughter precisely the joy that Walt intended.


    • It’s hard to say how Walt would feel about Bats Day, which happened to fall on the weekend we were there. I’d never heard of it, but apparently it’s a huge unofficial gathering of the goth/death rock subcultures. Their website touts it as “the largest dark alternative subculture gathering on the West Coast,” and I’d have to say that was an accurate description. Our first clue that something was up was the sea of black we noticed as soon as we got to the castle that day. Our second clue was all the parasols, combat boots, prom dresses, top hats, fishnet stockings,  skulls, guyliner and trench coats. The park photographer told us it was “Goth Day,” but then MouseWait told me it was “Bats Day.” We even saw a few gas masks, which I guess goes along with some of those alternative genres. At least that’s how one MouseWaiter and possible Bats Day participant explained it to me when I asked, also saying, “There’s Goth and then there’s stupid.” Not surprisingly, the Haunted Mansion remained packed all day long, and I heard later that the parking structures were full of hearses. It was fascinating. And a little scary, especially when Twin B and I ended up in an elevator car full of them on Tower of Terror. In line, one guy who sported the tallest, sharpest, spikiest mohawk I’ve ever seen, asked Twin B if she was scared. He meant of the ride, but I could tell by the way she was staring at his hair and sidling up next to me, that it wasn’t the ride she was scared of. I wasn’t scared until we got on and Spike said, “OK, back row, grab the person next to you and choke them for the picture.” Luckily, we were in the front row. This went on all weekend, and it sure made for some excellent “people watching.” It was essentially a Twilight novel come to life, minus the hot young vampires. (This group spanned all ages—I never imagined that senior citizens were into Goth, but apparently, they’re out there.) It was even better than when we accidentally and unknowingly  found ourselves smack in the middle of “Gay Day” in Disney World one time the first weekend of June.



    Now for the parts where Walt might’ve wanted to put a few cast members in time out:

    • At the end of our trip, we went to the World of Disney store to buy a few souvenirs. It wasn’t until after I got home that I noticed a small message with an asterisk on the bottom of our receipt. It said “WARNING: This product contains chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. Thanks for visiting the Disneyland Resort. Have a Magical Day!” Unfortunately, the asterisk was referring to the Ariel necklace that Little Miss picked out as her souvenir—and wore the entire 8-hour drive home. Great. She already lost her balloon, now I’ve got to take away her necklace, too. But I’ll have a “magical day” doing it! I wish this information were posted with the product, so I wouldn’t have bought it in the first place. Oh yeah, I’m sure that’s exactly the point. I don’t think Walt would have knowingly sold anything that causes cancer and birth defects.


    • At California Adventure, I ordered a chicken wrap for lunch at the Bountiful Valley Farmers Market. I ordered the Sonoma wrap, with grapes and a yogurt sauce, but instead got the Buffalo chicken wrap. BK went back to the counter to switch it out for me, and since I had taken a bite of the incorrect one, he said he would just eat it. But no. The cast member at the window said he had to witness him throwing the incorrect order away before he’d replace it, and he actually craned himself out of his window to make sure it did, indeed, go into the trash. Sheesh! What a ridiculous waste. I was so annoyed, and I’d bet Walt would would be, too.
    • After dropping more than a few dollars on a salon makeover for Little Miss at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (see previous post), we immediately went on Peter Pan’s Flight. After the ride, Little Miss noticed she was missing the purple ring she’d just gotten as part of the makeover. Upon exiting the ride, I told the cast member, who instructed me to come back that evening after 8, when they do a cleanup of the ride, collecting lost items. We did come back that night, and the nice Peter Pan cast member told me it wasn’t found, but that if we went back to Bibbidi and explained what happened, they’d give us a new one. You gotta love Disney. Except: When we went back to Bibbidi and explained the situation, a surly woman (who was no fairy godmother) told us she would have to call her manager. After some time, the manager came out and said all officially that we would have to go back to Peter Pan and have them fill out a loss report. Are you kidding? They were acting like this was a real 10-karat amethyst, when it was really just a $4 ring! And it probably was known to cause cancer and birth defects, too! “Never mind,” I said, “It’s not worth all that, and it’s not like it was even real.” But then after the manager left, Surly told us to just take another one. But she wasn’t happy about it. I’m pretty sure Walt wouldn’t have been, either, but not because he was out a silly ring.

    Still, even with these few disappointments—and even with the crabby old cast member at the exit who growled, “That’s my foot” after we accidentally bumped him with our stroller—there’s no question that when it comes to theme parks, there’s no place like Disney, both Land and World. Disney just knows how to do it right, which in a way, has kind of ruined any other theme parks for us, like Knott’s Berry Farm and Magic Mountain. Even with their high-tech super-scary thrill rides, compared to Disney, they might as well be the state fair.

    And for that, Walt should be proud.

  10. Who Needs Sitcoms When You’ve Got Kids?

    February 17, 2010 by Wendy

    Two days ago, on our way back from a dentist appointment for all three girls, I broke the news to Twin B that she might have to have a couple of teeth removed. Trying to make it not seem so bad—but stopping short of calling it having them “wiggled,” as the dentist put it—I said, “It won’t be bad, and you’ll get laughing gas and everything!”

    “Oh, I’ve had that, it’s so cool!” said Twin A.

    “I’ve had it, too!” piped up Little Miss.

    “No you haven’t!” argued Twin A. “You’ve never had laughing gas!”

    Her genius retort: “Yes I have! Sometimes when I laugh real hard, a biiiiig gas comes out. That’s laughing gas!”

    Some sitcom writer should steal that line.

    But perhaps even more charming was the fact that this particular day happened to be President’s Day. Little Miss had been so excited about it in the days leading up to it. I had no idea why, seeing as she’s not in school yet so it wasn’t a “day off” for her. But I soon figured it out after she woke up all excited and asked where her presents were.

    She thought it was “Presents Day.”

    Boy, was she disappointed.

    It reminded me of a time back when her older sisters were 2 and we dropped them off at my parents’ so we could go vote in the 2000 presidential election. I said, “Grandma and Grandpa are going to watch you so that Poppy and I can go vote for president.”

    Twin A said, “You are going on a boat for presents? OK!”

    Come to think of it, we might as well have taken a boat to the polling place, seeing as that was the year of all those ballot miscounts in Florida (remember the year of the “hanging chad?”) and it was days before we even knew who won.

    Then that reminded me of another time when the twins were around 2 and just starting to talk a lot, but not yet saying all their consonants. Especially when it mattered, like this: We were in a checkout line at a store, where a man ahead of us had a giant tattoo of the American flag on his cheek. Noticing this, Twin B says quite loudly, “Yat man yooks yike a FAG!”

    The man, wearing a wife beater that fully exposed his rather large arms covered in many more tattoos, turned around and looked at us and…laughed. Phew! He walked out the door and toward a huge Harley in the parking lot. I’m pretty sure he was not what Twin B thought he looked like. Not at all.

    With kids like these, it’s no wonder we don’t really watch sitcoms anymore. We don’t need to. But that doesn’t mean we don’t miss the good ole days when Thursday nights meant Seinfeld and Friends. Even our kids couldn’t compete with them.