So Whadja Get?

We had a very generous Christmas here. Mom and Dad didn’t have to buy much, as the grandparents were…prolific. But we got a few great items. The biggest hit was definitely the Kidkraft Suite Elite Kitchen. Mouse LOVES it. LOVES! It was a gift from Grandma and Grandpa and  Daddy Santa set it up on Christmas Eve. A friend also bought him a Melissa and Doug pots and pans set, so  I Santa set those out too. It was the first thing Mouse saw on Christmas morning and he wasted absolutely zero time getting to work on his dinner. He’s gone back to it again and again since. Such a great purchase.

America's next Master Chef

Another favorite was the Duplo Push Train Set. It’s super cool. Apparently there are two different kinds of Duplo trains. There’s the regular toy Duplo train, and the engine takes batteries and makes noise and moves on its own and stuff, and then there is the “Lego Education” line Duplo push train, where you use your own hand to make the train go and you make your own “chugga chugga chugga choo choo” noises. We got the latter, and that is why I love my mother-in-law–for avoiding the noisy battery-operated one. I mean seriously? Why does a DUPLO train set need batteries??? Luckily Mouse loves to make train noises, so it works out quite well.

Mouse got plenty of other things but those were the two biggest hits.

Oh, and we had trauma on Christmas Eve at bedtime. So the Pajama Fairy comes to our house on Christmas Eve and brings everyone a new pair of pajamas to wear to bed and have something nice in the morning. This year the Pajama Fairy picked out a Hatley pattern with jammies for Mouse and matching pajama bottoms for Mommy and Daddy. Well the Pajama Fairy forgot that children’s pajamas fit very tightly, and Mouse has a particularly large noggin. Needless to say, as I was trying to pull the pj top over his head on Christmas Eve, it got stuck. Then he started crying and I felt SOOOOO bad! But I still wanted him to wear the special pajamas and we had our matching pajamas and blah blah blah long story short (too late!) I took a pair of scissors and just cut down the neck in the back. If you look closely at the picture, you can see where I did it.

Heh.

Anyway, I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas as well, and are enjoying these holiday weeks.

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New Year's Eve with Tots in Tow

Dear Hubby and I have never really fully embraced New Year’s Eve as a bona fide holiday.  To us, it’s always been a night to stay up late – and then cram in some sleep before the big day of football.  But, we do have our own New Year’s Eve custom we started a few years before we had kids. 

We get dressed up and go out to a fancy restaurant for dinner.  It’s not much, but since it’s not even a real holiday, we thought it was something.  When The Big Cheese arrived on the scene, we toyed with how to keep up our little custom without a babysitter.  Honestly, we found that it was really easy.  We still go to really nice restaurants (think linen tablecloths, romantic ambience, classical music piped in. oceanfront), we just go at the very beginning of the dinner hour when we won’t interfere with super romantic dates and annoy other diners. 

Her first New Year’s Eve, we went to a wonderful oceanfront seafood restaurant with a good friend from out of town.  Our waitress, a full-time teacher who waits tables on holidays for the tip money, absolutely fawned over The Big Cheese.  She brought the seven-month-old diner her own New Year’s tiara and introduced her to all of the neighboring tables.  Needless to say, she knew how to earn a good holiday tip from us! 

We certainly haven’t always had such success.  Last year was Bugster’s first New Year’s Eve, and we went to a different oceanfront restaurant.  We had family in from out of state, and we had our customary early reservation (5:30).  We were seated in a corner, surrounded by windows.  It was majestic.  Until the grouchy elderly couple was about to be seated next to us.  They took one look at our well-behaved and fashionably dressed darlings and demanded a new table.  Every time either girl eeked out a single noise that evening, they glared in our direction.  Oh, well.  All I can say is karma, baby.

This year, we waited too long to make our reservation.  In fact, we made it two days ago.  So, we are dining at the ripe late hour of 4:45.  We decided to mix things up a bit.  We’re going to take the girls to Rainforest Café, a super kid-friendly restaurant (floor-to-ceiling aquariums, gigantic gorillas, faux thunderstorms) with a tasty menu for grownups.   We almost never go, so it will keep the special occasion vibe going. 

It may not be much, but it’s our little way of maintain a piece of our pre-parenthood life.

Happy 2nd Birthday Mouse!

I was 34 when we decided to try to conceive. Given my age, I assumed it would take us several months, maybe longer. I bought the 10,000,000 pack of pregnancy tests at Costco in anticipation. I read Taking Charge of Your Fertility to identify when I was ovulating (I cannot recommend that book highly enough to any woman, not just those trying to conceive). And then we decided to take the plunge and have my Mirena IUD (love!) removed. TWO WEEKS later I got pregnant. First try. Go figure.

The timing was impeccable (she said, rolling her eyes). I’d just been a bridesmaid at a good friend’s wedding in Philadelphia and yes, there was  a lot a bit of drinking going on. When I got home and hadn’t recovered from my “hangover,” I decided to take a test. Positive.

All I want for Christmas is you

And since I had all of those tests sitting around, I took two more. Positive, positive, positive. Train Guy had just gone to his parents to pick up our dogs. I know some people plan an elaborate and memorable way to reveal their pregnancy to the babydaddy, but I was so shocked I pretty much just met him at the door, speechless, holding one of the sticks out. He took one look at it and said, “The line looks kind of faint. Or is it one of those any line is a positive things?”

Bingo on the second one.

And then I did the math on my fingers. Due on Christmas!!! Poor kid! If I’d known I would get pregnant right away, I would have waited a few months to give him a fighting chance at a decent birthday. Throughout the whole pregnancy I lamented his Birthday of Doom. Combination gifts, no class parties, birthday forgotten altogether. What a major bummer.

Mouse’s official due date was December 23rd. It wasn’t an easy pregnancy by any means, and I ended up being induced. As the hours ticked by on Christmas Eve, I just kept looking at my belly, saying, “Look Kiddo, you better come out soon because you do NOT want to share a birthday with Jesus. Jesus wins that contest EVERY TIME.” I think he might have heard me because I did that 4cm to 10cm in an hour thing and he was born at 6:57pm on December 24th.

A special present on a special day

I had been rather down about the whole due date thing. Christmas is my favorite holiday and it would be such a hassle to celebrate a birthday too. Mouse would get the shaft every year. But once he was born, I changed my mind. When they returned him from the nursery with a stocking draped over him, my heart just melted. Train Guy pointed out that if you’re going to have a birthday near a holiday, you might as well go all-out and have it on a very special day. Whereas before I’d been hoping for an early delivery, I felt completely different looking at the best Christmas gift I ever got.

That was even how he got his nickname. He was always a noisy little eater, making these tiny mouse noises while eating and also while sleeping. Train Guy said, “He sounds just like a little mouse,” and I chimed in with, “‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, ‘cept our new little Mouse.” And the name stuck.

Now we celebrate his half-birthday in June and Christmas Eve is extremely low-key. Just the grandparents and great-grandparents come over with one birthday present (in birthday paper, NOT Christmas paper!). Tomorrow we’re having a small brunch with a delicious strata, some roasted potatoes, and a bit of ham. The day turns into Christmas after Mouse’s nap and we all enjoy our holiday, particularly with our perfect holiday gift. I could have asked for a better present.

Retailer Impressions

Rocky's lost Santa gift

Now that the holiday shopping season is winding down, were there any standout retailers, good or bad, in your experience? I shopped plenty of different venues, everywhere from Amazon.com to my local Target. Here were some of my impressions.

First let’s get the bad stuff over with. Just a minor offense by our local Golfsmith store but they allegedly ran out of gift boxes in the first week of December, no doubt due to the swarms of golfers who hit the store so soon before Christmas. Really? You couldn’t estimate better than that? Old Navy lost points in my book because they were charging for their boxes. Even at Christmas time? Here’s the worst of it. Disneystore.com lost my child’s Santa gift before it even got to UPS. It was a Mickey Mouse bean bag chair I know he would like (were any of you lucky enough to get this one?), I ordered it a month before Christmas (just to be safe) and they still botched it up. Worse, they stayed in denial throughout all of my communications with them until it finally came down to the wire and then they had no choice but to fess up. By then the item was out of stock and too bad for me. Grrrrr. But wait, the customer service department, who annoyingly told me they wanted me to have a “magical experience” every time I corresponded with them could only muster enough magic to present me with a $10 voucher on Dec. 21 to be used towards shipping of another item. Do I really want to put myself through this again? I think not, the voucher didn’t even cover the cost of the 2 day shipping I would need. Upon further presenting my case, one sole rep decided I should get more for my trouble. My ears perked at the sound of this, I’ve been sick this week and didn’t particularly want to go out in the rain looking for that last minute item, I was hoping for a Disney pass or at least a decent gift card. I got a $12 plush Mickey to arrive on Christmas Eve. I’m not holding my breath on that one. I also found a couple of other friends who have had bad experiences with the online Disney store so scratch this vendor off my list.

Now the good. The JC Penney store, which, like many stores now, had to do away with their gift wrap department (so sad to see this service go) came through on the boxes, I even got extras just for the asking, no hassles. They put out some great coupons like $10 off anything (yes, you could actually get a $10 item for free) and had decent markdowns and lines that were tolerable. Macy’s had some super sales and huge discounts, boxes included as well. Nordstrom tends to be pricier and the sales less impressive but the customer service is usually right on and everything is so nicely folded in tissue and placed in great sturdy bags. Online stores Sears.com and BarnesandNoble.com came through with my orders in a timely manner, everything packaged nicely and bonus points/special offers were received. Sears has a club that’s free to join and Barnes and Noble has a free kid’s club that allowed us some extra discounts. Free shipping was a plus as well as the ability to return gifts at their local stores.

That’s a wrap for me. Happy Holidays!

Holiday Magic at the Disneyland Resort

I live just a few miles away from Disneyland and we’ve had annual passes every year since we moved here (except when I worked at Downtown Disney and had a cast member pass). I love love love Disneyland, and the holiday transformation of the park is absolutely second to none. The entire park looks great–but there are two absolute must-do’s: the fireworks and the Holiday Small World.

Train Guy and Mouse enjoying the snow (you can't really see it, but it's there)

(also, the holiday Haunted Mansion, but that starts in October so I don’t consider that 100% Christmas holiday–but do that too)

The fireworks were a total bust last year. One, I didn’t get to see them because we were so busy leading up to the holiday (we were in Europe for the first half of December) we just didn’t go that often, and the one time I went at night determined to see the fireworks, they were canceled due to weather. Train Guy and Mouse went on a different night, and Mouse was pretty much terrified and cried the whole time. So much for Disney Magic. So this year we decided to give the fireworks another try.

Mouse did much better. He didn’t actually, like, smile or anything, but spent the whole time pointing and saying, “wow! Wow! WOW!” And as expected, the fireworks were amazing. Seriously, after being spoiled by years of Disney fireworks, every other fireworks display pales in comparison. I’m always left saying, “that’s IT?” This year we stood in the middle of Main Street about halfway down the street. It turned out to be a good spot because we were right up against a crosswalk rope so there was a gap between us and the people in front of us. It was still quite crowded.

After the fireworks, it “snows”, which involves bubble machines spewing out small bubbles that fall like snow. It’s actually really cool–the best part being the faces of the kids as they realize it’s snowing.

The clock face is wearing a Santa hat! What do you mean, you can't see it?

And if you do nothing else in Disneyland at the holiday, ride on It’s A Small World. I know, I know, Small World gets a bad rap because the song is repetitious and annoying, but it’s actually a very cool ride, and they change pretty much every single detail for the holiday. Plus they intersperse the Small World song with Jingle Bells and Deck the Halls, so instead of just an endless loop of It’s A Small World After All, it’s an endless loop of Small World/Jingle Bells/Deck the Halls. Which doesn’t sound better, but it really is.

Of course, now I have It’s A Small World After All stuck in my head, but anyway…

Actually a short while ago they refurbished Small World. One of the main problems was that the boats kept getting stuck. You see, when Small World was built (in 1966), Disneyland guests were–how shall I say this–less hefty than they are now. Therefore, the boats ran in a trough propelled by water current alone. Which was fine until the average guest started gaining weight. The boats would get a bit weighted down and sort of creep along, often stopping completely. It was actually kind of fun when that happened, because you’d kind of reach out and help your boat along by grabbing the sides of the trough which is pretty much as anti-Disney as you can possibly get (“come and ride the ride that doesn’t really work and you can pull yourself along!”). All the dolls in the ride were getting a little tired too, so Disney shut the whole thing down for major renovation and when they brought it back, there were different (presumably more bouyant) boats, a track to help the boats along when they needed it, and awesome-looking dolls inside. They even added Disney characters (like adding Ariel in the underwater scene) which I thought would be really lame but they actually did it very well. So anyway, the holiday Small World is pretty much the most awesome holiday thing in the park.

Peace on Earth--now with new and improved boats!

Oh, also, they do this projection music thing on the Small World facade that I personally call the “Psychedelic Nutcracker.” It happens every ten minutes or so and it’s a short medley of songs including, but not limited to, selections from the Nutcracker, that plays while a sort of movie/cartoon/lights/flashing thingies goes on in a bit of a frantic way. But it’s very cool. And I’m sure that after that vague, somewhat bizarre description, you’re sitting there thinking, “We are SO making a special trip to Disneyland next year to see the Psychedelic Nutcracker at the Small World, whateverthehell that is!”

And of course, no Disneyland holiday trip is complete without family pictures at the castle and tree!

It was too much of a hassle to take Mouse out of the stroller. Merry Christmas, kid!

See? We took you out for the tree picture!

I AM AN AWESOME PHOTOGRAPHER!

Random Tuesday Thoughts

The first full lunar eclipse on a winter solstice since the 17th century, and Southern California, the place of eternal sunshine, is in the middle of an unending rainstorm.  Hopefully some of you were able to enjoy it.

I am looking forward to the big royal wedding. Hopefully, this marriage actually lasts more than a few years . . .

The Big Cheese is rather obsessed with The Grinch.  She’s really afraid he’s going to steal her toys on Christmas.  She asks us several times a day if we’re “really sure the Grinch isn’t real.” She loves the movies, the book, and stuffed Grinches, and she is a huge fan of the song. But some part of her just can’t give up on the fact that the Grinch might steal her Christmas presents.

My little bro is getting married in June, and The Big Cheese is gearing up to be the flower girl.  I am taking her dress shopping this week, and I am so excited to see her try on the “princess” dresses and tiaras.  She’s going to be gorgeous!

It’s easy to get caught up in the craziness of the holidays, but I want to take a second to make a little public service announcement.  Remember that the extra time off right now is a chance to spend time together as a family, doing things you don’t normally do.  Take a morning and head to Chuck E. Cheese, and leave your cell phones in the car.  Go to a theme park or museum you’ve been meaning to hit and just haven’t gotten around to it.  Also, call up friends you don’t see very often and make a point to get together. 

I tried Kraft’s new Homestyle Macaroni and Cheese tonight.  It requires that you make a cheese sauce, add crumb topping, and throw in some shredded cheese.  Dear Hubby and I thought it was some of the best mac and cheese we’ve actually ever had, but the kids weren’t such big fans.  Bugster really didn’t like the visible herbs on her pasta, and The Big Cheese also wasn’t a fan of the green stuff.  I personally thought it was scrumptious!

OK, Gleeks. What do you think about Sam?  I just don’t think he’s hot enough to be with Quinn, and I really think he’s pretty mousy.  His voice is just O.K.  I just can’t jump on the Sam train.  What am I missing?

Totally scarred The Bugster.  We visited Santa over Thanksgiving weekend, and I went up to him with the girls.  The Big Cheese wasn’t overly enthusiastic about the whole thing, but she was O.K. since I was up there, too.  The Bugster started screaming and asking for Daddy, but we stuck it out.  The Santa picture is priceless, with her bawling at the top of her lungs.  Now, whenever Santa is mentioned, seen, or even comes in to her thoughts, The Bugster says, “No Santa bup.” (Bup = Bugster-speak for sit.)  We have assured her repeatedly that she doesn’t have to sit on his lap at all this, but I don’t think she believes us.  Dear Hubby is convinced she’ll forget by next Christmas.  I’m not so sure . . .

Oh, and I need to tell you about my Christmas present to myself, because I think you, our readers, will actually appreciate it, unlike some of my “friends.”  I bought a ticket to see the New Kids on The Block in concert in July.  They’re performing with The Backstreet Boys, but NKOTB is all I really care about.  I have wanted to see them since I was about 12, so I am having a lot of trouble containing my excitement!

Have you heard our new tagline?  Gen X Moms Blog: For when you don’t get carded anymore

Christmas Wish

It’s been an interesting week for this mama and her family. My husband’s company laid off 3 people in his department this week with cuts in other departments globally to keep their profit margins this year.  Many years ago, I was laid off the day before Thanksgiving, so I can sympathize. It really stings you and it’s hard not to get depressed over the holidays. This was just another reminder of the state of our economy and how the “recession” is not over yet.

With only one income, I’ve been trying to think of creative ways to “give” this season. For the local community, I offered free Mommy & Me music classes at a local mama-owned business.  I plan on baking up a storm of cookies to gift to family and friends. We have also limited our spending on gifts to just the children this year and limiting that to one or two special gifts. Though it doesn’t feel very festive at home without one, we did not put up a Christmas tree as we’ll be visiting my in-laws for the majority of the holidays.

I, like many, will be travelling a long distance to ring in the New Year. Since I can’t pack my entire household, we have decided to purchase diapers and formula upon our arrival to save space in the car for more essentials (never fear we’re bringing enough for the trip). We must remember to leave enough space in order to change diapers as we’ll be driving in the rain at night in hopes that the babies sleep on the way. Fingers crossed!

I feel a sense of melancholy with the recent lay-off news and the fact that I’m breaking away from tradition this year. On Christmas Eve, my side of the family stays up till midnight to open presents. I really don’t know what to expect at the in-laws, but I’m hoping to blend our traditions and make some new ones.

So my wish to you is that your home is warm, your stomach is full, and your heart is filled with joy, love and laughter.  And I challenge you to bestow the Christmas Spirit by remembering to be kind, patient, and courteous to your fellow shoppers and travelers, even if they have slighted you in some way, like taken your parking spot, bumped you with a shopping cart, or cut you off in traffic, etc. Keeping your heart light will ensure you and others will experience a Merry Christmas.  Cheers to the New Year!