Monday, December 27, 2010

Our Annual December Pilgrimidge

Not a perfect tree but more than sufficient for our family

For our fourth year in a row we packed a car (actually this time it was our friend's minivan) and headed over the Santa Cruz Mountains to Rancho Siempre Verde for our Christmas tree hunt. Many people are surprised to learn this is my favorite annual "chore" but it is - we always end up having a blast.

Just like last year, only with Ronan a little bigger and Dad with a beard

Last year Uncle S joined us and made his wife a truly magnificent, voluminous wreath (the wreath to end all wreaths!). The year before that Auntie Val, Uncle Nicolas, and BFF Laurin came along and we made a whole day of it, complete with stunt kite flying and grilled Schaub's sausages at the beach.

It was muddy this year, very muddy. Ronan did his best to test the depth of the mud in the worse spots.

Auntie She squeezing a chuckle out of Nieve

This year Auntie She as well as good friends Janet and Sandy helped us find the perfect tree. I must say they did a good job at that - even the guys who wrapped the tree for transport asked with disbelief, "Where did you find this one? Did you get it from the neighboring forest?" Looking at it in our living room it is clear that it is a well proportioned, straight, full tree. Nice job guys!

Yep. This pic makes me grin from ear to ear, every time.

So what makes RSV so special? Probably a combination of things but it's all the product of years of labor and love from the family that owns and runs the farm. Their genuinely friendly and funny approach to running the farm is evident from the moment you park. Here are just a few of the touches that we enjoy:

Tractor rides....

... or even better tractor drives. It never hurts to add a little tractor to your life.

Oh, and backhoe loaders are a good stand-in for those of you who may be tractor deficient

Giant wooden xylophones that are moderately usable as musical instruments but perfectly capable for toddlers to happily whack

Swings. Oh the swings. So many to try out and so many different styles. These swings are so fun there are often waiting lines.

The hollow haystack that even when soaking wet seems to provide hours of entertainment for little kids

The bonfire...

... and marshmallows. What's not to like about fire and puffed sugar on a cold day at the coast?

The attention paid to children - for example the little tyke cars with mini x-mas trees tied to the top

Like all of the previous years, we had a blast during our trip to RSV this December. Auntie She, Janet, and Sandy made it even more enjoyable - a big thank you to them for coming and joining in the fun! They also ran Ronan and Nieve so hard that they fell sound asleep in the car ride home, which made the twisty road journey a snap.

A fading Ronan stealing a snuggle from Janet

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Nana's Visit

"It's a full-on double kiss all the way. Woah! It's so beautiful. What does it mean?"

This week Nana came up to wish Ronan and Nieve a very happy holidays before the seasonal travel rush made flying challenging. Ronan had a blast showing Nana his school as well as inquiring (unprompted) after her 'ow-eee' (Nana cracked her sternum a few weeks ago and is still healing). His thoughtfulness made Mom and I look self-absorbed by comparison as we asked about it maybe once during the entire trip. What's more, after we hastily jumped into the car (due to heavy rain) and started off, Ronan calls out, "Dad! You should fasten my seatbelt!" It's unlikely he was concerned about his safety - rather he was showing off to Nana that he's our observant little process minder (how effective are fastened car-seat seatbelts anyway? Ronan did not know, however, that when I was his age and Nana was carting me and auntie Ala around in a VW Microbus that not only did not have carseats, it didn't have any back seats at all. In defense of Nana there was a playpen that we usually were in). Our cheeky little kid is already showing us up.

So much for a nice staged photo with all the subjects looking at the camera...

While Ronan was busy 'showcasing' his independence and new skills (being potty trained, jumping on/off the couch, etc), Nieve just wanted hugs from Nana. Nieve was still sick with a cold (or cold +) but loved her time reading with Nana or being gently walked around the house. As strange as it may seem sometimes those mundane moments are the most enjoyable.

Nana and Nieve reading

Mom and I were thankful that Nana did all the dishes and left our house in a much cleaner state than we found it. Now that Nana has left Ronan will occasionally ask, "where's Nana?". When I look into the kitchen sink and see a large pile of dirty dishes, I say the same. Many thanks, Nana, for the wonderful visit!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Ronan's favorite part of last week's visit to the CA Academy of Sciences - flirting with a diver when she was cleaning an exhibit

Two weeks ago Ronan watched a video of Uncle T SCUBA diving on Barbados. Since then his favorite play activity has been SCUBA diving, be it in the living room, the bathtub, or outside.

"Greeting Earthlings"

As all guys do, Ronan wanted to make sure he had the best dive gear. He convinced Mom to bring up her mask and snorkel and he fashioned a compressed air tank out of an empty SodaStream carbonator. He claimed the snorkel was his 'regulayor' (regulator) and he used his Thomas the Tank engine as a buoyancy compensator. Thankfully he has yet to try to wear fins, but I'm sure it's just a matter of time before he knows that is missing.

It does not appear to be very comfortable, but to Ronan comfort is not the point

SCUBA diving with Ronan is many years off, but hopefully during one of our trips to the Pacific coast we'll be able to get him snorkeling. Exploring the beauty in our seas has always brought a mixture of wonder and joy to Mom and me - here's hoping Ronan and Nieve enjoy it as well. If not, well, tough cookies for them. Fortunately, when they turn 18, they are free to partake in whatever recreational activities suits them!

Monday, December 13, 2010

California Academy of Sciences

Enjoying the Steinhart Aquarium

Last week we wanted to make a trip to one of our favorite spots - the Monterrey Bay Aquarium - but with Nieve working through (another) cold we decided on the shorter drive to San Francisco's California Academy of Sciences.

Nieve was under the weather but managed to be amazed by the fish swimming around her

Ronan's silouhette in front of the Northern California Coast exhibit

The renovated institution is housed in an impressive 'green' building with an open layout, featuring some innovative new exhibits. The Stienhart Aquarium was by far the most engaging exhibit for Ronan and Nieve, which explains why we spent the large majority of our time there.

A view from the acrylic tunnel running underneath the Flooded Amazon Floor exhibit

Ronan gazing up at the fish swimming overhead

Ronan delighted in finding 'Dory' and 'Nemo', two fish (a blue tang and a clown fish) starring in Pixar's Finding Nemo movie. He also enjoyed watching the sharks and various rays swim in the shallow pool. Nieve was enchanted by the large acrylic tunnel that lets you view the marine life from underneath.

A relaxed Ronan keeping an eye on Dory and Nemo in the Philippine Coral Reef exhibit

We were impressed with the size, variety, number, and thoughtful layout of tanks in the aquarium. In addition to the aquarium the rain forest exhibit impressed with interesting frogs, snakes, chameleons, and butterflies accessible to the visitor.

Mom and Nieve making their way up through the rain forest enclosure

Getting to know some of the local frogs

It was a great way to spend a few hours with the kids - we look forward to doing it again in 2011.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Hog Thief

A troublemaker's grin... I'm afraid we'll be seeing it frequently in the future

OK, yes, it's not a hog, it's a replica Indian. I suppose that makes this little bike even more awesome. Regardless, for an afternoon, Nieve commandeered Ronan's ride and had a blast doing it. If her legs were long enough to reach the accelerator pedal I'm convinced she would have tried to ride it all around the room. She loved the gages, the levers, and the fact that the front wheel moved back and forth with the handlebars. Thankfully Ronan was at Preschool when she dipped his bike - had he been home this post would have likely been titled, "Nieve's First Stitches."

Nieve's one-finger brake squeeze adding some style to her bad girl image

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Jack Johnson Jr., Take 2

Bare feet, laid back eyes, cluttered unassuming surroundings... yep, this may well be the Jack Johnson heir apparent

It's been a while since Ronan last played (with) his guitar - for the most part the toy instrument has been sitting unused in the living room.

The original...

Yet last week Ronan walked over, picked the guitar up (it's now a 5-string as the G-string broke many months ago) and, unprompted, started playing Jack Johnson's 'Breakdown'. Of course he's never learned how to deliberately play chords but he got a laugh out of all of us when he started singing the refrain and strumming the strings.

... and Ronan's cover

I still crack up at hearing him sing, off-key, "the wisdom's in the trees, not the glass windows." Mom and I are checking our borderline-appropriate idioms and snarky comments... we are amazed (afraid?) that he could pick up this phrase, given how hard it is to extract from the original song, even when you are listening carefully for it.

Here's hoping a love of music is fostered in Ronan

Since watching the original video on YouTube, Ronan and I have a pact that one day we will pack up the car with surfboards and head south on our own surfing sojourn. You can be certain Jack Johnson's In Between Dreams will be on our mp3 player (or whatever the popular music playing device is ten years from how).

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Leaf Peeping

Nieve did notice the brilliant colors but was more interested in the crunching sounds she could make with the fallen leaves

One of our favorite activities this time of year is the hunt for the most magnificent fall foliage in our neighborhood. Typically Chinese Pistache are the winners with their brilliant yellow and fiery oranges hues (especially on Bowdoin St. between Stanford Ave and Pine Hill Rd), and Ginkgos make their case by creating lush carpets of their leathery golden leaves after they have fallen. This year, however there were a few Japanese Maples that took the honors for brilliant colors - in particular the radiant crimson red leaves at our neighbor's house stops pedestrians in their tracks.

So maybe Ronan's not so interested in leaves after all...

...but the soft lighting can make Ronan appear (for a moment) to be quiet and still

A key ingredient to arresting fall foliage is the angle of the sun - it sits lower on the horizon and comes through the leaves to create the captivating brilliance that we enjoy. The same low, sometimes diffuse sunlight also makes for interesting photography. Non-rainy fall days are my favorite time to go out and take some snapshots of the kids.

Low, diffuse light with a slow shutter makes for rich colors and movement in photographs

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Un-Boxing the Imagination

Ronan checking his gages whilst Nieve enjoys a pre-flight snack

One of our favorite changes we've seen in Ronan over the past month has been the blossoming of his imagination. Rather than simply play with/organize cars he's now taking seemingly innocuous objects and turning them into something fun.

Happy to avoid TSA delays for this flight

Last week, for example, Ronan moved out all of his cars in trucks from the 'Greasy Garage' and proclaimed that the box was now the cockpit of his airplane. Of course Nieve wanted to do the same but Ronan noted she was, "too young to have a license" and would thus have to simply be a passenger. Ronan climbed in, had Nieve join him, and then proceeded to talk to the 'control tower', asking for permission to takeoff and land. Apparently things that he picked up at the Hiller Air Museum have stuck. When I asked where he was going to fly to, he answered, "Chicago. Or maybe Hawaii".

Ronan and the princess on a 'train ride'

Witnessing the flight of a child's imagination is one of the most rewarding parts of parenthood. I'm excited to see what else Nieve and Ronan decide to do with all the various mundane objects currently cluttering our house. Sure, those objects will most likely end up being destroyed, but witnessing that deconstruction process will be delightful!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Rain Ranger

Intrepid Ronan on his quest for water. Bravery comes easy when wielding a ladybug umbrella and sporting Thomas The Thank Engine galoshes.

Following a beautiful, warm first two weeks of November the rain and cold weather has finally arrived. Fortunately for Ronan he loves the water and, save the pre-hypothermia violent shivering, seems impervious to the cold.

Intentionally standing directly under a broken downspout next to our front door

Observing the storm drains and the fallen foliage blocking the grate

Finding streams, falling water, and puddles is Ronan's favorite part of rainy days. Just a romp around the neighborhood (or even our front yard) provides hours of entertainment. Ronan's fun is usually cut short by either Mom or I deciding enough is enough (blue lips, severely slurred speech, increased clumsiness to the point of dangerousness, etc) and requiring him to head back to a warmer, dryer space.

Not sure what this pose is about, but he did like the golden carpet of ginko leaves

Playing with some earthworms

Nieve is not much for 'the elements' so she stays inside where it is cozy, dry, and filled with fun but not too physically taxing toys.

When it's wet outside Nieve is happy to just jump indoors

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ronan Appreciates Art

Ronan reminds us not to take ourselves, or our art too seriously...

Well, maybe not yet. But he did at least pose *near* the beautiful painting we received as a gift from Auntie Mel and Uncle T. It is the third piece in our collection by our favorite artist, Agni Ardi.

A painting we fell in love with almost a decade ago in Ubud, Bali, now comfortably filling our living room

Agni's work is art that we love to live with - it's fun, complex, beautiful, and abstract. It's almost a game to see what people interpret out of the various lines and colors that stretch across the canvas - the paintings inevitably draw out even the most unimaginative viewer's imagination. It also seems comfortable with the chaos and clutter that is a home with two young kids. Both Nieve and Ronan love all of our Agni Ardi paintings. When asked, Ronan said his favorite is, "..the blue one. And the one with the red, too."

Many, many thanks Auntie M & Uncle T!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Standing... with a Prop

Our little girl trying hard to grow up (far too quickly)

Nieve has always had strong legs (with sizable thighs as proof). When we first brought her home from the hospital it seemed as if she was wanting to stand on her own. At the time Mom disapproved of letting her try (the abnormal stress from standing can adversely impact hip development), but now that Nieve is a bit older Mom has allowed her to stand for short periods of time.

A smile that says, "Look at me!"

When we let her try, Nieve will happily plant her feet and keep her balance for a short while under her own strength (aided by a prop). While standing she looks terribly proud of herself - when she eventually plops to the ground she immediately starts complaining. We're impressed with her strength and determination but are a bit concerned about her being more mobile than she already is!

Push off the prop to make it more challenging