Archive for December, 2009

Rocky Mountain Christmas

Posted by julie on Thursday, 24 December 2009, 0:58

My grandfather, Uncle Eddie (step-grandfather, actually, hence the “uncle”), gave me John Denver’s Rocky Mountain Christmas album when I was three or four. It’s  my most enduring Christmas soundtrack. I’ve been listening to this song for the past couple of weeks, tearing up as I steam broccoli for dinner. I do yearn for family and snow during the Christmas season. Yes, I am 36, and I’ve only been away from home (my parents’ home) for Christmas four times in my life: when I was teaching in Thailand, the year I was instructing in Baja (and actually ended up flying home Christmas day), the year Sylvan was born, and tomorrow.

I am grateful that Sylvan’s paternal grandparents are here to play in the snow with us and create all manner of festive holiday decorations (photos to follow), and I am beyond happy that I am not traveling during Christmastime with two small children, but, ooh, that Christmas for Cowboys smarts.

Priority Mail

Posted by jonesey on Wednesday, 16 December 2009, 7:25
Lettering by Sylvan (no, I didn't put the slide into the projector backwards)

Lettering by Sylvan (no, I didn't put the slide into the projector backwards)

Breakfast with Santa and Mrs. Claus

Posted by julie on Sunday, 13 December 2009, 16:04

Sylvan, Elena, and I walked into the church hall, set with sixteen or so round tables decorated with freshly-cut, wreath-shaped centerpieces (all for sale). In the kitchen to our left, teenagers, moms and dads, and grandparents bustled past each other, many wearing red or green elf hats. They flipped pancakes, made coffee, and smiled at us. We bought three raffle tickets for a chance to win one of two kids’ bikes, decorated with bows and sitting on a side table. The CD player on the same table played Christmas carols that sometimes skipped and repeated: “Frosty the Snowman…[hic]…Frosty the Snowman…[hic]….” And there was a bake sale, all the sweet breads carefully wrapped and displayed; a cookie decorating table; a balloon artist (Sylvan got a sword and scabbard); and wing and tutu maker (we came home with a beautiful set, in purple and orange harvest colors with glittery ribbon and silk flowers; Elena wore the tutu for a second, Sylvan wore the wings all afternoon).

With a fair bit of prepping the night before and morning of, Sylvan knew what to expect: Santa, sitting in a chair, Mrs. Claus by his side, pancakes and eggs for breakfast. We told Sylvan he could sit on Santa’s knee and talk to him, but only if he wanted. And he could ask him questions, or tell him something. Sylvan decided he wanted to show Santa some books, so he put them in a bag and carried them with him to see Santa.

Santa and Mrs. Claus were gloriously free when we arrived. The place was never packed, despite the large number of cars in the church parking lot, so families wandered up to the Clauses, took photos, had breakfast, maybe meandered back to tell Santa one more thing. In short, it was the best Santa experience you can imagine, everyone relaxed and happy, not standing in an hour-long line in the fluorescent lights of the mall, hoping nobody has to pee before you get to the front of the line and have to pay someone else to take a photo when you have your digital camera in your pocket. We’ll be visiting the Clauses at the Lions Club breakfast next December, too.

Everyone smiling? How is that possible?

Everyone smiling? How is that possible?

Holy play on words, Batman!

Posted by jonesey on Tuesday, 8 December 2009, 17:32

Those of you who have talked to Sylvan know that he is dangerously advanced in the talking department. It’s always been a bit scary. Here’s the latest.

Every weekend, the Hideaway Bakery makes potato donuts.  Emphasis on the “donut.” They’re delicious.  I usually pick up a donut or a few donut holes (for the whole family, naturally) after my Saturday morning long runs.

Last weekend, we stopped by the Hideaway on our way out of town to go play in the snow. Julie was getting out of the car, and the conversation went like this:

Sylvan: “Mommy, are you getting a potato donut?”

Julie: “No, I’m just getting some donut holes.”

Sylvan: “Mommy, if they don’t have a potato donut hole, can you please get me a whole potato donut?”

A groan-inducing play on words, at age four. And it wasn’t an accident — he knew exactly what he was doing. Grandpa Tom, you’ve got competition.

Have I mentioned that I don't like having my picture taken?

Have I mentioned that I don't like having my picture taken?

You’re going to need a bigger dove

Posted by jonesey on Saturday, 5 December 2009, 14:02

Maybe one that wraps around the whole van like one of those shark cages.

Jesus Take The Wheel

Jesus take the wheel

Forest Kindergarten Notes

Posted by julie on Friday, 4 December 2009, 10:24

This New York Times article about a Waldorf-based forest kindergarten in Saratoga Springs has lingered in my thoughts for the past couple of days, popping up when I see my son playing outside on his school’s playground or when I get a glimpse of the full moon and long to be camped out in the cold. The slideshow that accompanied the article was particularly affecting, from the leafless November woods to the children sitting around a family-style lunch table in a beautiful old farmhouse. The truth is, this is certainly not the first time I’ve wanted something a little different for my children, a day-to-day existence that involves more exploring, more time spent playing in streams and running around outside until I call them in for dinner (okay, while I realize that Elena’s only one, she’s growing up fast). The formative years that I remember (let’s call them ages 4-11), were spent first on a cul-de-sac and then on a dairy farm. I roamed, I had a fort in a bush in the backyard, I biked, I played cops and robbers, I spent hours engineering the stream, climbing on the hay, and traipsing through the pastures. When I was in fifth grade, I couldn’t believe it when Melissa, in sixth grade, said she had no time to play outside; she was always doing homework. While my jaw may not have literally dropped, I remember that slackjawed feeling, wondering how it was possible to live without playing for hours outside.

Those of you who know me recognize, of course, that I take my kids outside pretty often: we play in the snow, hike, go to the playground. But that’s scheduled by me, and it’s on my terms, really; Sylvan’s not just going outside to splash in the stream (there is no stream, although, if it rains hard enough, the street hosts a stream). These forest kindergarten kids spend three hours outside every morning, just being kids in the outdoors.

We do have a relatively new preschool in town, Dancing Sol, which has gotten rave reviews from the parents whose kids have gone there. I’ve been tempted to send Sylvan there. But that would involve lots of extra driving, and lots of retooling our schedules. Now, we drop off and pick up Elena and Sylvan in a double jogger; we can walk to their school from home, Chris’s work, or my rehearsal. It fits our needs and our values, and Sylvan and Elena know and enjoy their friends and teachers. And, honestly, I would feel like a parent over-engineering my son’s time if I made the switch.

I’ve also been influenced lately by Lenore Skenazy’s blog, Free-Range Kids. She’s been called “the worst mom in the world” for letting her son, who was nine at the time, find his way home on the subway by himself from Bloomingdale’s. This might seem like a scary thing if you don’t live in Manhattan, but this kid grew up there; he been riding the subway for nine years, reading subway maps for three. Her blog is dedicated to encouraging independence in your children by giving them independence (and also pointing out the absurdities of hovering parents and panic-inducing media).

My problem derives largely from our choice to live in the city in order to be able to walk to the grocery store, work, and school. That’s inherently different, of course, from living on a farm or in the forest. But that doesn’t stop me from wanting it all.

So I’m looking for ways to let out the leash, to give my son and my daughter real freedom, real opportunities to get outside and explore and construct without me. And without being turned in to the Department of Human Services.

Train Trip to Klamath Falls

Posted by julie on Wednesday, 2 December 2009, 12:29

Because 4-year-old boys think that trains rule (which they do, of course), we looked into an Amtrak trip, one that would take us somewhere new but that we could accomplish in a weekend. I was particularly excited to take the train south, since the tracks first head east, through the snows of Willamette Pass, before turning south to Klamath Falls. So, Klamath Falls it was, a town just north of California on the high side of the Cascades. K Falls grew up as a timber town, a train town; increasingly, it’s becoming a jumping-off point for recreation like bird-watching, hunting, and snow fun. And, as we squinted into the morning sun glinting off the light dusting of snow two Saturdays ago, we also found that Klamath Falls has some pretty good views of Mt. Shasta, already shouldering her own load of snow.

Shasta in the morning

Shasta in the morning

Chris left work a little early on Friday so we could walk out the front door at 3:30 and hop on a city bus. Chris carried a large pack containing his and my clothes, the kids’ warm clothes, and our train food. Sylvan carried a little pack with his clothes, books, notebook, and water bottle. I had a pack in which I could carry Elena which also had room for her clothes and diaper bag. And we had a jogger (Our four-year-old is a bit inconsistent with how far he can walk – two miles today, 20 meters tomorrow.).

Elena and I, after all of us narrowly found some seats on the crowded train (note to self: don’t travel by train the weekend before Thanksgiving), proceeded to walk up and down the aisles for the next hour and a half. After some food, she finally fell asleep on Chris. Sylvan and shared a pair of seats; I tried to doze while Sylvan drove cars around and drew.

I found our hotel, the Cimarron, after looking through some reviews on-line. The Best Western Olympic Inn gets great reviews, but it’s twice as expensive. The Cimarron had earned its respectable reviews: it was clean, with cushy duvets, 518 pillows, continental breakfast with cook-your-own waffles, and a very nice staff. I’d stay there again. The kids fell into bed on Friday night and slept hard, since it was 11 p.m. (after a few tears from Sylvan, who told us that he wants to live at the Cimarron).

After breakfast, where Chris finally turned the volume way down on the TV after all the other guests had gone (Do we wonder why ADD is prevalent? Focus!), we bundled up and stepped into the cold, sunny morning, tracking through less than an inch of fresh snow. Just behind the motel, we found the OC&E Woods Line State Trail, a walking and biking trail on an old rail bed that’s paved for its first seven miles, then gravel as it heads 88 miles to the town of Bly and north to the Nature Conservancy’s Sycan Marsh (cross-country ski trip, anyone?). We took it west, where we found a newly-paved section heading toward downtown – and from which we looked south and saw Shasta. We eventually had to cross a field, which many others had done, to get back on the road network to find the Children’s Museum of Klamath Falls.


I don't know what this building really was. It's right on the edge of town.

I don't know what this building really was. It's right on the edge of town.

I don't wanna ride! I don't wanna walk! No!

I don't wanna ride! I don't wanna walk! No!

We were a little early arriving at the Museum, so we enjoyed the hand-painted planets on the outside walls; Sylvan decided he would just keep circling the building until it opened (early, for us, it turned out). The parking lot on the building’s north side was a skating rink; Sylvan only went down once, amid laughter, luckily. This Museum is a gem, a little building that houses: a beautiful train set; the cockpit of a real plane, whose windshield opens to the outside; a wooden train set; a firetruck with a siren, radio, and lights; a shopping area, complete with plastic fruit and cash registers; a bike that one could pedal to light a traffic light or keep a ball afloat atop a stream of air; a hairdressing salon, dress-up area, and play post office; a recording studio, with (loud) instruments; a discovery area with a ball run, explorations of color and shadow, electric circuit board, and I don’t even remember what else; many more hands-on puzzles and building toys; and, my personal favorite, a phosphorescent wall inside a dark room that captures your shadow with a flash of light. I had fun timing my leaps with the flash while my patient daughter looked on. We had to drag Sylvan and Elena out after over two hours of non-stop fun.

Clifford and I save the day.

Clifford and I save the day.

We walked a mile to downtown Klamath Falls, stopping immediately over the train tracks to check out the outside displays at the Klamath County Museum, including a brick-making machine, old columns from a courthouse that was never used, and a wooden building that served as a milk shed, a fort, and, finally, a house. Then we started our search for lunch in earnest, since it was after 1 o’clock and the troops were restless, despite our plying them with bagels. But, then, suddenly, Sylvan’s 40 pounds in the jogger felt like 80. I looked down and saw that we had a flat. After some coaxing, Sylvan (whine) walked the remaining two blocks to lunch. Chris, with his iPhone (yay!) found that there was a Hutch’s bicycle shop two blocks from lunch; we’d stop in after lunch.

We went to A Leap of Taste, 907 Main Street, for lunch, which I’d found when I typed in “coffee shop Klamath Falls” into Google maps. And technology really paid off. Our sandwich – provolone, muffaletta (olive salad, for all you Italians who didn’t know, like me), and Eugene’s own Yumm! sauce – was superb, so good that the kids weren’t really interested in the PB&J we conservatively ordered for them. Sylvan’s steamer and my mocha were tasty, and the coconut cream cupcake? Mmmmm. Sylvan beat Daddy at a card game of War while Elena sat on the potty in the bathroom, which housed a 7-year-old’s beautiful crayon drawing on linoleum.


Off to fix the tire. The mechanic pulled from the tire a dozen or so seeds of the dreaded goat head plant (also called puncturevine) (remember that jaunt across the field?) before replacing the tube. While we waited, Elena rang all the bike bells and squeezed the bike horns shaped like cows. Sylvan donned a helmet and zoomed around the store on a little 13-incher with training wheels; he was sad when he heard that the repairs were complete.

Why am I not petting the dog in this picture?

Why am I not petting the dog in this picture?

But it was time to head to the Linkville Cemetery to do some research. I took some photos and notes before the cold closed in. Then we quickly headed home, two miles to the motel. And poor Elena cried nearly the whole way. She was cold, it turned out, and, when we sat her in a warm bath, she didn’t move, just contentedly waited for her circulation to return. Bad parents.

We ordered pizza for dinner. The free cinnamon sticks were the best part.

Awoke to wind, which turned to 30 minutes of snow. The motel shuttle brought us and the Amtrak employees to the train station, where we were scheduled to leave at 8:25. The trip back over the mountains was the highlight of my trip. The snow deepened as the train headed north to Chemult. We saw snowmobile tracks and occasional animal tracks. The ride along the south side of Odell Lake offered glimpses of steely water. The pass itself was clouded in and snowy, which only solidified our desire to play in the snow after Thanksgiving (which we did; more photos to follow). The ride west after the pass was punctuated by numerous tunnels and dropoffs to the north. Exciting. Elena enjoyed watching the cows and horses as we pulled closer to Eugene.

Sylvan tried to avoid the camera, but he's so curious.

Sylvan tried to avoid the camera, but he's so curious.

Well, our jogger decided to stay on until Salem, but Amtrak covered their mistake by offering us another stroller, someone else’s, to borrow so we could walk home. Which we did.

Elena has fun at the sink.

Elena has fun at the sink.