Monday, December 21, 2009

And That's A Wrap

We've (almost) made it through December. Despite being a complete Scrooge, I think I fooled Ben into believing that his Mommy is nothing short of Mrs. Clause-in-training.

Our holidays always start with Trans-Siberian Orchestra. This year we took Ben for the first time. He lasted for two hours but declared it to be a "great show!" (My dad's dog, Mali did not attend the show due to the fact that my dad cut off her airway for this photo!)

Meanwhile, our Molly staked out her spot near the tree. And let it be known that my tree was up and decorated the first weekend of the month. I love having a fake tree!

Ben's holiday performance for his school brought tears to my eyes. He sang his little heart out. I love this picture. He was so focused!

After the performance, parents and kids gathered with the teachers in the classroom for treats.

I took Ben out one Friday night to see Christmas lights. We (I) mapped out our route - we hit eight houses, ending in Orangevale at the famous Dovercourt and it was fabulous!

My angel, among the other angels.

Last year, we had a gingerbread house disaster when the house I assembled collapsed mid-way through decorating. This year, I got smart and bought a pre-assembled house. The house came with enough candy to decorate a 4,000 square foot house. It went a long way on the 4-inch house!

The finished product.

We did Round 1 of presents at my house with Alisa, Alec and my Mom.

Santa brought two gifts he was dying for: an Air Hog (it climbs the ceiling and the walls - YAY - and Battle Strikers.

Next round of Christmas was at my Dad's. The weather was sunny and spectacular. We sat on the porch and my Dad taught Ben some new Domino tricks (and he didn't let Ben win!)

There was an obscene amount of presents. Ben literally dove right in!

Spending Christmas Day without Ben was harder than I imagined it would be. Much harder. I spent the day mustering up all my packing creativity and am now off to take a quick nap before jumping on the midnight flight direct to NYC.

My family still can't believe that I'd rather be staying home with Ben rather than escaping to New York. But it's true. The other that boy gets, the more I fall desperately in love with him and the more I want to be with him.

Nonetheless, the big suitcase is packed and New York awaits.

Birthday Blessings

Being a December baby has always been a curse.

A child with a birthday that falls two days after Christmas gets a birthday party in February, gifts wrapped in Christmas paper and possibly, the worst: "This is your combined birthday AND Christmas gift."

As a child growing up, my parents forgot my birthday. Not every year but generally, I'd start dropping a few hints mid-morning and then they'd look a little flustered and say, "OHMYGOSH, it's Jan's birthday!" One year, I bought a pin to wear that said something to the effect of, "TODAY IS MY BIRTHDAY!" I showed up for breakfast, proudly wearing the pin that year.

Having a sister born on the 31st didn't help matters. I don't think my mother ever combined our birthday parties but she was probably tempted!

So I'm always delighted when someone does something special for me on or around my birthday. I don't make a big deal out of my birthday and I don't expect others to, either. Still, it's nice to be remembered (just ask my dad - I forgot his 70th this year!) and to be celebrated.

My good friend Nancy who I so admire for her generosity and compassion offered to host an early birthday dinner for me with my friends from the gym. I could have cried from gratitude (and I did - a little!).

This month has been more trying than I've let on. I've found myself "putting on the happy face" for Ben and at the same time, feeling a little deflated and overwhelmed with the closing of a year that has brought more than its share of challenges. A party was just what I needed, and Nancy was intuitive and insightful enough to know that.

We gathered - five of us - in Nancy's warm and sweet home for a wonderful meal, good wine, an enormous cheesecake and presents (YES, presents! Before my birthday!!!!).

For my actual birthday, I'll be in New York. It would be hard to find a better spot to be in to celebrate 39 years. But I'll tell you what: being at Nancy's and sitting in front of the fire, having lots of laughs and being supported by four fabulous, strong women was right up there with any celebration I could ever have in a big city.

Nancy, on a list of the nicest things that people have done for me, this ranks right up in the top five. I treasure you. The gift of your friendship is the best gift of all.

Thank you.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Amazon, The North Pole...It's All The Same

Ben is asking a lot of questions this year. About Santa, the reindeer, the chimney, etc. All age appropriate, but daunting to me as well. I think the confusion started with the trip to see St. Nicholas. So, I took Ben this weekend to the Auto Museum to see the "real" Santa and clear up any confusion in that worried head of his. I thought he would talk Santa's ear off with all his requests, but no, I only got a quick smile and then, "Mommy, let's go check out the cars." Dare I admit, Ben almost acted too cool for Santa. Yikes. Well, at 6, at least he'll still throw me a bone...

Then there's the whole issue with UPS showing up at our door a few times a week. Since I typically buy gifts for all of my clients, for Ben AND for my family, I decided to simplify things a little this year and shop online. Plus, the Air Hogs car that Ben is desperately coveting ("Mommy, it climbs the ceilings AND walls; I MUST HAVE IT!") was sold out everywhere. No, I do not want a car with a vacuum for a motor tearing across the ceilings. Nor do I want a whiny 6-year-old. The Air Hogs was found, at twice the amount of the sale price, on Amazon. So were a lot of other things.

Ben, of course, asked me where the boxes were from. "The North Pole," I answered. He looked at the return address label. "Aaaaahhhhhmmmmmaaaahhhhhzzzzzzznnnnnn." Thanks, Montessori teachers. You're doing a great job! "See the large, black arrow?" I explained. That's a sign for The North Pole. "Ohhhhhhh," said the gullible, naive and innocent boy.

Now whenever we hear a "THUMP" at the porch, Ben's tearing for the front door.

Not that he even needs one item from the above boxes. Do those boxes look too big to contain a Nintendo DS player? They are. How 'bout TWO DS players? Nope, not in there because right now, said DS players (that'd be TWO, in case you missed the count) are sitting on my kitchen counter. Ben is perfect proof that if you want something badly enough, sometimes you will get more than one of the item. Not quite sure why that theory isn't working for me in the boyfriend department but Ben is well outfitted with a pair of DS players and I am using the "Nintendo Bucks Reward System" to maintain healthy levels of gaming.

Lastly, here are two very sweet children who are making their debut on my blog and who I hope that Santa will be very kind to because they were very kind to Ben over the weekend and their parents were very kind to Ben's mommy and we like have them as friends very much...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

She Could Be My New BFF

...I'm talking about Kari (not the blogging Kari) and "BFF" for those of you who are over 60, stands for "Best Friend Forever."

Everyone knows I love thrift shops and that I find about 90% of my clothes in our local secondhand stores. I also buy all of Ben's clothes in thrift shops. I am mildly obsessed with secondhand searching and will stop at nothing to find the perfect wool dress for my sister's wedding (WEAVE), a tall pair of black boots (Salvation Army) and a pair of "skinny jeans" that actually fit (still looking and looking and looking!).

So it was with great delight, that I clicked on this website: and discovered Kari. Not only is she an amazing secondhand fashionista, she is also quite creative with "thrifty" gift ideas. Check out her local media coverage and the beautiful gift creations she put together, then move down on the page and be amazed at her eye for fashion detail. I got nothin' on this girl!

After contacting Kari and telling her how utterly talented and what a goddess I think she is, she told me that she is going to put together an online feature with some of her "thrifty" readers, modeling their own secondhand clothes, styled by Kari. How cool is that? Of course I volunteered and can't wait to see what creative ideas she can come up for me. Maybe she can even find a pair of the coveted, yet very elusive skinny jeans! Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Identity Crisis of St. Nicholas

I took Ben, for the first time, to the annual St. Nicholas Night at our church. The event is held every year but it seems like it always falls on a day that Ben is with his dad. This year, we got lucky and St. Nicholas was scheduled for a day that I had Ben.

Before we left for the evening, I prepped Ben a little on what to expect out of Jolly 'Ol St. Nick. We googled St. Nicholas, laughed at his funny pictures, pointed out the physical differences between St. Nick and Santa and read the traditional St. Nicholas story. We didn't talk much about how St. Nick might be different than Santa - other than in his appearance.

We show up at church and it's a great, crafty, spirited extravaganza. Stations for kids to make ornaments, draw pictures of St. Nick, paint, color, you get the idea. Ben loved all the crafts, especially the ornament making stations.

About an hour into the festivities, parents collected their children for a St. Nicholas service. We Episcopalians have to be formal about our celebrations; I'm learning this. Even when dozens of young and hungry children are waiting anxiously to see St. Nick. We love our traditions, we Episcopalians. But I digress.

So we start to sing the St. Nicholas song and St. Nick makes his appearance, strategically weaving between each table so that the children can catch a glimpse of him. To my delight, he looks exactly like the pictures that we saw online earlier.

The kids are then asked to come sit in front of him and hear the St. Nicholas story. I tug on Ben's hand, he tells me "no way" is he going alone and I realize that he is slightly afraid of St. Nick. No worries, I grab Ben's hand and we go sit on the carpet together. And then St. Nick spills the beans:

"Do you know the difference between St. Nicholas and Santa Clause?" he asks the children. "Nooooooo," many little heads shake from side to side. "Well, Santa is the spirit of Christmas. St. Nicholas was a real person."

Ben looks at me. Confused. Oh boy. I tell him he's about to get a chocolate and he is distracted, momentarily.

He retrieves his chocolate, we say a few prayers, sing another song, and then it's time for pictures. My normally outgoing and talkative boy clams up and grabs my arm: "Mommy, you have to come WITH me." OK, I walk up with him and he motions for me to stand right next to St. Nick's chair while he has a photo taken.

Then, to my surprise, Ben leaps off of St. Nick's lap the moment the flash goes off. Doesn't want a second picture. Doesn't want to tell St. Nick about the Air Hogs or Legos sets that are on his list. Doesn't ask him for another chocolate or even a candy cane. Oh no, my boy is done with St. Nick.

We skip the dinner because it's spaghetti and meatballs, which neither of us eats, and head next door to Bernardo's. Ben goes straight to grilled cheese nirvana, pausing long enough to say, "Mommy, I like Santa MUCH more than St. Nick."

I haven't heard any other discussion since then and am once again thankful that at the innocent age of 6, Ben recalls the details of St. Nicholas night like this: "I got to make THREE COOL ORNAMENTS! Wanna see them? Mommy gave me a Zone bar BEFORE dinner! AND, we didn't have to stay for dinner! St. Nick was funny looking. He gave me a chocolate coin. I went to dinner at my favorite new restaurant, wait, what's it called? Bernardo's? BERNARDO'S! I LOVE that place. They have the BEST grilled cheese sandwich. It is SO BIG. After I ate it, I opened my chocolate coin and ate it too. AND I had that Zone bar at church. Gosh, I can eat a LOT. Have you seen my dog, Molly? Do you want to pet her soft ears?"

This post is dedicated to Lish.

Friday, December 4, 2009

"Sleepless Turns 100"! Or Better Yet, "An Indiana Wedding"

My sister just got married! And it's my 100th post! So, to commemorate 14 months of blogging, this post is dedicated to the new Mrs. in our family.

I've had a lot of people ask me a LOT of questions about the wedding. I've decided to do a little FAQ here so that if you've asked me a question and I haven't gotten back to you, you can find it here. And if you really don't care about the details, just take a look at the pics. Here we go:

How did Alisa and Alec meet?
Alisa and Alec met through It was her first date on the service. I think she canceled her membership relatively quickly after meeting Alec. I could tell that she liked Alec quite a bit from the beginning. In fact, just after they started dating, she brought him to Dad's birthday party and I asked her if she was crazy!

Alisa and Alec live in the Bay Area. Why Indiana for the wedding?
Alec is a born-and-raised Indiana boy. His dad passed away earlier this year after a hard battle with cancer. Alisa went back to Indiana a couple of times and instinctively felt that it would be appropriate (and fun) to have a fall wedding there.

Where is Columbus, Indiana?
Columbus is located an hour outside of Indianapolis. It's a gorgeous town, known for its architecture. Check it out:

What was it like staying at the mother-in-law's house?
Divine! I told Alisa, within minutes of meeting Irida (Alec's mother), "You won the mother-in-law lottery!") We arrived at midnight, Indiana time, all of my family: Mom, Dad, stepmom, brother, me, Alisa and Alec...and found Irida waiting with a table spread with a feast. That was the theme of the weekend: great hospitality.

Irida's influence was seen throughout the wedding. She surprised Alisa and Alec with the cake below and also gave Alisa a beautiful hand-knit shawl to wear for the reception.

Was there time for a bachelorette party?
Indeed! Several of Alisa's friends had flown out for the wedding. After dinner on Friday night, clad in feather boas, we hit downtown and were among the dozen or so patrons at the Columbus Bar.

This is Mike, our server, who brought us at least seven or eight rounds of vodka drinks.

Did you drink the vodka?
Oh heck no! That would kill me! I passed my drinks along to whomever would ingest them. But I did indulge in nachos, fried pickles and fried mozzarella balls (this is the Midwest, after all!).

Did everyone behave at the bachelorette party?
Mostly. Some of those girls are a little more wild than I remembered. One woman in the bar (not in our party) decided to do an impromptu and unsolicited striptease for us. That was, um, interesting.

Did you color your hair again?
Why yes, I did. I'm on the DIY program. But back to the party...

Where were the guys?
Alec and his crew were at the other bar in town: The 4th Street Sports Bar. We eventually joined them there until I dragged Alisa back to Irida's for a short night of sleep.

Did Alisa get her hair done for the wedding?
Yes, and it looked fabulous! She even let Teresa (our stepmom) wax her eyebrows for the first time, prior to the trip, with a lot of cringing and support from her girlfriends.

Who is Irida?
She's on the left, next to my Mom. Teresa is on the right. Alisa is sans pants.

What did Mom wear to the wedding?
A beautiful blazer and black pants.

What did you (Janeen) wear to the wedding?
A black wool J Crew dress. Secondhand, of course. With fishets and boots!

How happy are my
Dad and Teresa?

What kind of advice was Dad giving Alisa during the march down the aisle?

Were you (Janeen) the maid of honor?
No, Alisa didn't have attendants. But I did get to do all the maid of honor duties, like forget to jump up and grab her bouquet while she said her vows (I was adjusting the flash on my camera!). And I was one of the witnesses. And I gave a reading at the reception ("Oh The Places You'll Go," by Dr. Seuss.) And I cried. However. I didn't have to wear a God-awful bridesmaid's dress!

Did Alisa trip on her dress?
Not on the way back from the altar but she had a "moment" going down the aisle in which she instructed my dad to "freeze and smile."

Where's the shawl that Irida had made? Here it is, (gorgeous, huh?) along with Alisa's "party shoes."

Is that a naked woman?
I think this scupture had us all captivated at one point or another. It was mesmerizing.

The reception was at a soda fountain?
Yes! It was a beautiful venue, completely decorated for Christmas. Alisa and Alec rented out the whole place.

Did you eat burgers and fries?
Yes, we did have french fries as an appetizer but the actual meal was delicious. Salmon and beef. Guests had ice cream sundaes for dessert. Or cake. I had both. Of each. Two times around (there were a lot of flavors!).

Was it emotional to be in Indiana for your sister's wedding, with your whole family?
I cried a lot during the weekend. I think my parents are very happy for her. What do you think?

Who is the little girl from the photos?
This is Alexandria, daughter of my first cousin, Sherry. I hadn't seen Sherry in over ten years and I'd never met Alex. It was a treat to have their family with us.

Are you different from your sister?
This picture pretty much answers that question. I think my sister is more spontaneous, more lighthearted and much more easygoing.

Who is the good looking guy from all the photos?
This is my brother, Juan! He flew in from Southern California. Juan makes an effort to be at family functions and I truly embrace him as my other sibling even though we don't share biological parents. It meant the world to my parents for him to be at the wedding.

Did the newlyweds go on a honeymoon?
They went to Brown County, Indiana for a two night stay at a B & B. Here they are the day after the wedding.

What's next?
They flew home in time for Thanksgiving with our family and are settling into their new home in Dublin. I think they've finally recovered from the wedding madness, although a second reception is planned for the first part of next year to be held in Dublin.

When is it your turn?
Did you get this far in the post? Wow. My own Match membership expired - and I didn't renew it. I think for now I'll concentrate on being happy for Alisa and Alec! Congratulations again! Love you both.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Three in One

Life has been nothing short of a blur lately. In the space of seven days, my family packed in three big events.

The first: My sister's wedding in Columbus, Indiana. Check.

The second: Thanksgiving and a three day stay at my sister and her husband's home in the Bay Area with a day-long trip to the Chabot Science Center. Check. Check.

The third: Our annual holiday tradition of Trans-Siberian Orchestra and dinner. This was our fifth year going; and it was Ben's first. He lasted for the first two hours of the three hour show before falling asleep on my lap. Dinner this year was at Mulvaney's; one of Sacramento's finest dining establishments. You know it's a nice place when there isn't a kids menu available (the chef fried all natural, organic chicken breasts for Ben) and when the bill is more than your weekly paycheck (thanks Dad!).

Saturday to Saturday, we packed in a lot of family time and travel time and I won't even mention how much food was consumed! Fortunately, we had no drama, no insults, no antagonizing, no offensive behavior - zip, zero, nada. Whew. Thank you, God.

The next post will be my 100th! To commemorate a year plus of blogging, I'm going to dedicate the post to my lovely, newly betrothed sister and tell you all about her wedding. Pictures too!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Why I Love The Episcopal Church

Today, I found yet another reason to love love LOVE my church. Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of 16 countries, came to our very own Sacramento cathedral and spoke this morning.

For once, I was actually early, by ten minutes - to church. Good thing because the pews were packed. The Rev. Dr. Schori is a legend in her own time and all of Sacramento's Episcopal community came out to welcome her.

Keeping stride with the Episcopal faith, Rev. Dr. Schori underscored the importance of CHANGE in our nation. Feeding the hungry, providing shelter for the homeless, ensuring that everyone has fair and affordable access to quality health care, and addressing the global warming crisis.

"We need to stop building mega structures - religious, corporate and otherwise - and start noticing suffering," she proclaimed.

Amen to that.

The energy in the congregation was palpable. I found myself, more than once, in utter amazement at being in the presence of such a compassionate and wise spiritual leader. And I know that the people all around me were feeling the same way.

I stumbled - quite literally - into Trinity exactly three years ago, in the midst of a divorce and desperately seeking spiritual comfort and guidance. Oddly enough, the message on that cold November morning was underscored again this morning: "When the temple was about to come down, Jesus assured the disciples that something far more beautiful on the other side." At the time, the temple was my marriage. Right now, it could be a lot of things.

Last night, while perusing the News and Review, the following quote - by medical doctor and theologian, Albert Schweitzer, caught my eye:

"At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us."

Rev. Dr. Schori did that for me today - she rekindled my spark, which had temporarily been snuffed out by life. The temple, the flame, the notion of beauty on the other side of destruction - such wonderful ways to re-capture the essence of life.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Aunt, The Invertebrate and Iron Man

We finished up the month of October with a visit from my Aunt Diana. Everyone should have an Aunt Diana. I'm crazy about my aunt; I always have been. She is the most soft-spoken, gentle soul that you'll ever meet. As a retired school teacher, she's brilliant with children. Her favorite holiday is Halloween so her visit was perfectly timed. Ben fell in love with her and was incredibly sad when she left.

The requisite pumpkin carving, spearheaded by mother this year. Bless her!

Ben's class studied invertebrates in October. Ben was the desert scorpion. The kids made costumes and had a parade on Halloween. Here is Ben in his scorpion costume with Aunt Diana.

Each child had to give an oral presentation about their invertebrate. Ben's favorite detail about the desert scorpion: "Sometimes the mommy scorpion EATS the daddy scorpion after she has her babies!" He then asked me, "Mommy, did you want to eat Daddy after you had me?"

My mom, Ben and Aunt Diana at Ben's last soccer game. Aunt Diana was thrilled to get to see him play (and score a goal!)

On Halloween Day, we went to the Discovery Museum.

I think Ben was in heaven with all the attention he got throughout the day! Can you see the sparkle in his eye?

That night, Iron Man emerged from the bedroom for some serious trick-or-treating!

We told Iron Man that he could run as much as he wanted to, but under no circumstances could he fly around the neighborhood!

Iron Man attacks Mommy! This is the last Halloween I'll be able to pick him up, unless I want a serious back injury!

And here is the perfect trick-or-treater. This was taken right before Molly jumped into the Halloween action, going from doorstep to doorstep and being the best behaved trick-or-treater on the block (until the poodle crossed our path).

I can only hope that every Halloween was as fun as this one! Aunt Diana, please come back and visit us soon. We love you!