Reupholstering our dining room chairs

Mix and match new chairs

Mix and match new chairs

This is another thing I have been doing in my (spare) time. Our dining room chairs have been really stained and, to put it in layman’s terms, yucky, for a long time, despite my best efforts with seat protectors and pads and stain removers. My kids often yell “SPILL!” while eating, even when the children are not actually bouncing around on top of the table. Tonight, after a 6-mile hike, I took Ronin and Soren out to eat at a semi-nice restaurant and was very trepidatious about it because of all of those issues and more.

Aside from having to tell Soren to break the bread into pieces before eating it instead of burying his face into it and slurping up all of the butter, they were perfect. I’m not sure why it’s such an issue at our house. Then again, I ate in my bedroom lying on the floor with a book in front of me most of the time when I was growing up and had to learn manners emergently when I lived in Spain as a teenager.

The children have been helping me out a lot with the reupholstering process. They have a lot of opinions about the fabrics. They like to choose which one I do next. Ronin is very good at removing staples, and Claire liked it too. I have only had them help me with the staple gun a little bit. Claire has been very sad to see the old, stained fabric go. She says it’s been around since before she was born and it’s dear to her heart and she made me promise to keep it for a while before deciding to toss it. Right now it’s on a shelf in a back room. It’s destined for the garbage, but I’m honoring my promise to her. She was not satisfied with “pictures for the memories” or a scrap of fabric to hold on to forever.

This is what they looked like before!

This is what they looked like before! And this is one of the better ones! (Picture credit – one of the kids)

I have enough fabric to double the reupholstering process. I wasn’t sure how much to order, since I’d never done it before. Only after I started doing it did Justin mention, “Oh yeah, it’s not too difficult–you just want to make sure you get the corners really well.” I had no idea he’d had experience. It probably wouldn’t have done me much good to put it on his to-do list, though. I hope to eventually make a couple of matching throw pillows for our couch, though. The fabric is tough, indoor-outdoor, and hopefully will stand up to kid punishment.

I have done four out of six so far, and have two left to do. I have two more unique but coordinating fabrics also. If I have an unoccupied evening, I can get one chair done. Those just don’t happen very often.

Last day of Read-A-Thon

Claire reading upside-down

Claire reading upside-down

Thank you to all who have sent checks and support. I just wanted to let you know that I have been trying (as best I can) to track the reading that Claire and Ronin are doing, and it’s almost impossible, but the interesting pattern that is emerging is that they read far less on weekends than on weekdays, because we are out of the house and doing things most of the time. Also, even though they are reading in the car most of the time when we are going places, I guess I don’t track and write that down on the record because I have no idea what they are reading or how much.

Claire reading upside-down

Claire reading upside-down

I also realized that Claire reads constantly, and I have to remind her to put the book down when she’s going down steps. She reads any which way. I keep catching her in weird positions while reading.

Yay Claire

I am guessing she has great stomach muscles

Ronin and Claire are really getting into an “Animorphs” series from school. They love it and Claire will read a book from start to finish. Claire also reads books about fairies and has been reading the Magic Treehouse series. I bought the classroom a series of books written from a kid’s point of view about surviving disasters, called “I Survived.”

All right. I guess I’d better get off the computer. In the 15 minutes I took to start writing this, Ronin discarded the DIY family coloring pages I made for him and decided to color on our family instead.

Soren, a blue man work of art by Ronin

Soren, a blue man work of art by Ronin

Ronin’s projects



I don’t think that I have been giving Ronin’s art enough time on my blog, but his work is fantastic and growing more mature by the day. I encourage his development and continue to give him more resources. I love to see his delight as he discovers more forms of expression.


Scrap paper ship


First one side


Then the other side of little green men and spaceships

These next two sketches show a disappointed Ronin after he got a face painting at the zoo. He had an octopus on his face, and he was sad about it. I told him that it did look like an octopus, but it was a happy cartoon-like octopus. He “Hmmmph!”ed and promptly sat down at the table and drew me a picture of the type of octopus he would have preferred to have on his face during the face painting session. He labeled it (I’m correcting for spelling), “Both are octopuses. One looks more like real life. The other looks more like a cartoon.” I was sure he could have done a much better job at the face painting booth, but those people need to emphasize speed over detail most of the time, and their aim is often for little kids.


Comparing realistic vs cartoon art


Ronin holding up his drawing next to his cartoon octopus

At Christmas, we made some homemade snow globes. Ronin chose to populate his snow globes with miniature redwood trees and hikers and campers. He thought Grandpa Bruce would like those. He was very precise about the placement.


Ronin’s hiking and camping snow globe figurines

We also made some trees for another snow globe. Ronin loved this part. I tried to make a tree too, but Ronin’s tree was far better than mine. He was more patient and his fingers were smaller.


Making trees for snow globes

I took Ronin to Treasure Island on an outing one day during another staged snow day. Ronin built the most impressive little snowman after he finished rolling around on the mound of snow. People kept stopping to take pictures of it. It helped that there was an arts and crafts table nearby that kept dropping stuff.


Ronin’s snowman

These next sketches date back over a long period of time. I keep piles of some of the best pictures and then photograph them all at once before putting them away.


World War II tank

Justin was doing something on this page first, and then Ronin used the rest of this. Ronin decided to label it (math, drawing) so people would be clear which was which.


Drawing and math

I’m pretty sure this next sketch is the one my grandmother thought my mom had done. It has a style reminiscent of some  things she has drawn.


Skyscraper attack


Car, terrain


Miscellaneous dinosaurs


Truck on a road

This next project was from a day that I stretched out a length of contact paper on the table and put some white paper with oval face shapes, otherwise blank, underneath it. I set out a bunch of magazines, scissors, little jars of stuff from the craft cupboard, and told the kids to make whatever they wanted on the faces. Ronin cut out some fur and used googly eyes and sequins and gems and made Grandpa Bruce. The nice thing about the contact paper is that it’s sticky but not too sticky, so articles can be picked up and moved around.


Grandpa Bruce

My dad gave Ronin a set of pastels for Christmas, since it was one of the items on our wish list. This shell was one of the first things he drew.

Shell, oil pastels

Shell, pastels

Finally, Ronin created this amazing ship on an Etch-a-Sketch in about 10 minutes while waiting and bored at an office.

Etch-a-Sketch ship

Etch-a-Sketch ship

Our wonderful weekend away

Happy anniversary!

Happy anniversary!

My mom gifted us with an entire weekend away from the children, and we took advantage of it in between our birthdays and around our anniversary. It was a little spur-of-the-moment, and it was one of the few weekends in the past year that it was actually stormy, so we couldn’t spend much time outside. I couldn’t find any rooms available in the places that that were recommended out of town, but I did find a nearby resort that seemed decadent enough to celebrate nearby.

Palace of Fine Arts, overlooking the cloud-laden Golden Gate Bridge

Palace of Fine Arts, overlooking the cloud-laden Golden Gate Bridge

We stayed in on Friday night, since I’d only gotten a few hours of sleep the night before and we wanted to rest up. The next day, we left in a leisurely manner and went across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco, to a museum where we’d never been. We toured the Legion of Honor Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, which has an amazing collection of art and artifacts, and has a beautiful view.  They had a fantastic Rodin collection there and paintings that I’d seen in books. They had a nail from ancient Babylonia, with cuneiform writing on it. They had an entire salon (French neoclassical) from Louis XVI restored and installed, from parquet floor to ornately gilded walls to the arrangement of the chairs to the lighting to the window treatments to the coved ceiling.

Justin and a Rodin

Justin and a Rodin

After the museum, we went to Pagan Restaurant right nearby, which has a huge menu of Burmese and Thai food. We got Thai iced teas and a few appetizers and one main course, and it was delicious. Pagan is pronounced “Bagan” and is a huge ancient city in Burma. Justin traveled through Burma about a decade ago and took a lot of really nice photos then, which is why “Burma” was one of the first 50 words that Ronin learned how to say. Ronin was fond of a picture we have on the wall and asked about it enough that he learned that word as early as he learned basic colors and body parts and common foods and drinks and animals.

"DANGERGOUS" is even worse than dangerous

“DANGERGOUS” is even worse than dangerous

After lunch, Justin and I went to Sutro Baths at Land’s End in San Francisco. I’ve wanted to go there ever since I heard this wonderful podcast about it on 99% Invisible about the allure of the Young Ruin. Check out the link, and you’ll want to go there, too. I will not take the time to describe the fascinating history of this place, since my links provide far more context and do a much better job than I could do. Every time we’ve had a weekend free, or even a weekend in San Francisco, it’s been too stormy to go. It took me a while to make the connection, but one of our other favorite places, Playland-Not-At-The-Beach, is filled with artifacts from the amusement park that used to be here.

Perfect for Valentine's Day, a heart-shaped hole in the rock

Perfect for Valentine’s Day, a heart-shaped hole in the rock

We walked around the ruins of Sutro Baths, and saw the waves pounding at the walls and frothing through passageways and spraying against rocks. We went through the tunnel, watched the waves sweep up through a few inlets, and stood at the other side. It was dark and uneven and full of little screams and laughs as people tripped through it.

Justin on the hill overlooking Sutro Baths

Justin on the hill overlooking Sutro Baths



It started to rain again and the wind was whipping around us as we explored, so we thought we should end this segment of our expedition and head over to our hotel. We drove across the Golden Gate Bridge to Cavallo Point in Sausalito, where we had a “date night” reservation including one night’s stay, a dinner credit at their acclaimed restaurant, and breakfast. This is a luxury resort in a National Park setting, so for most of the day we were in the Golden Gate National Park, on both sides of the bridge.

Here is a picture of it on a sunny day

Here is a picture of it on a sunny day

We had a room in the more modern section, up on the hill, with views of the bridge. There is no driving in most of the resort, so they recommend valet parking and a golf cart escort to the room. However, we were in Justin’s car and he has modified it enough that it is difficult for other people to drive it. Converting it to run on ethanol was just a small part of the work he has done. The valet parking attendants looked askance at us, but even I have never driven it. We went to the self-park area and walked up the hill with our bags. It wasn’t raining too hard yet.

View from our room

View from our room at Cavallo Point

Our room was lovely. There was a fireplace, a huge bathtub, a sitting area, another sitting area, a balcony with a couple of chairs, lots of windows. There was also a leftover salami that a previous guest had left, completely wrapped, which we chose to think of in the same manner as the two chocolates that were waiting for us. We went down to the reception at the main cabin later on, and enjoyed sipping wine on the long porch while watching kids and dogs run on the big lawn. We strolled through the art gallery. Our dinner reservation wasn’t until 8:30, so we filled the time with relaxing and exploring and chatting.

Our dinner menu

Our dinner menu

We ended up getting the tasting menu. I don’t know if you can see this, but it was one small thing after another for a long time. We started out in high spirits, conversing easily and enjoying ourselves a lot, but eventually we lost our steam. It was all very good, but after a long day we were tired and not used to staying up that late and eating for that long. Our last two items were given to us in boxes and we went back to our room, dodging the raindrops. The fireplace had been turned on, soft romantic music was playing in the dim glow of the room, and a scent of lavender filled the air. The covers were turned back and from across the room I spied a tube of something on the bed! I was a little suspicious of what it was until I saw the staff had put the “organic lavender relaxing spritz” on the bed.

Breakfast in bed!

About to have breakfast in bed!

I was so glad the next morning when I saw we had the option to get room service instead of having our breakfast in the restaurant, because it was pouring out and I wanted coffee and Justin was still asleep. I ordered food and we had breakfast in bed without worrying about laundry. We left in a bit of a hurry because the winds were picking up again and the ground was wet and the car was parked in a eucalyptus grove.

Eucalyptus trees, native to Australia, have adapted to climates all over the world thanks to their shallow root system. Approximately 90 percent of a eucalyptus tree’s roots grow in the top 12 inches of soil, which allows them to survive in areas of limited rainfall and harsh environments. After heavy rains when the soil is drenched and when strong winds come along, exposed eucalyptus trees can easily topple over. These are the trees that have been falling all over the Bay Area during the past big storms. The winds had torn the screen off our window at the resort and all kinds of things were banging around. We wouldn’t be surprised to hear trees crashing. We did know the kids were okay, though, because both Mom and Claire sent us emails.

Another stormy view from our room

Another stormy view from our room

We had two more stops on our date weekend. I didn’t take pictures. We drove back over to the East Bay. We had lunch at a pasta place and then watched The Imitation Game, a real movie in a real theater. We got back home around 5 PM Sunday evening, so we had a full 48 hours to ourselves. It was possibly the best present I’ve ever gotten, and I’m only saying “possibly” because I don’t want to be unknowingly forgetting some really awesome present that really was the best present ever but is escaping my mind in the sleepless years of present. Or maybe it’s better to just think everything is always the best, without hesitation, like Ronin often says, “Today is the best day ever!”

School Read-A-Thon Fundraiser

Ronin, trying on a day in the life of a daddy

Ronin, trying on a day in the life of his dad

For those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, you may remember this annual event. Our school has two fundraisers a year and this one is the largest one. I much prefer a fundraiser that promotes reading and only happens once (I don’t solicit anything for the other one) over having the children try to sell lots of little things throughout the year. Our school brings in local authors and other celebrities such as firefighters and athletes to read stories to the children throughout this time.

Justin and Claire reading together last Easter

Justin and Claire reading together last Easter

The money that is raised during this fundraiser will continue to support science, music, art, and physical education programs, plus help with teacher’s aides and classroom supplies.

Soren took this picture of Claire and Ronin reading while waiting for hair cuts

Soren took this picture of Claire and Ronin reading while waiting for haircuts

That was part of the recommended official plea. The kids are also supposed to commit to reading 30 minutes or more a day between February 13th and February 28th and to keep track of the total minutes they read, although donations are not linked to minutes read. It is really hard to keep track of the minutes they read. We have books everywhere, and they are reading constantly. There are books in the car. There are books all over the bedroom, in the bathroom, in the kitchen, in the living room. Books are piled everywhere. Every time I say I need to get rid of some books to make space for all of the books that keep coming in, a high-pitched whine comes out of Claire’s mouth that sounds remarkably like “Nooooowhaaahhhhhhh!”

Books from the past few days accumulated near the front door.

Books from the past few days accumulated near the front door.

Ronin will start reading while he’s brushing his teeth, and then forget he’s brushing his teeth and just keep reading, with his toothbrush hanging out of his mouth. With just the bits I witnessed yesterday, I wrote down a total of 1 hour and 45 minutes of Ronin reading, and I know I didn’t get it all. I have been having to document it, because there is no way the kids could write all of their books down in the tiny space allotted for each day.

Books on Soren's bed, shortly after waking up

Books on Soren’s bed, shortly after waking up (that is a toy fried egg)

Claire woke me up in a panic in the middle of the night last night because she didn’t know where one of her books was. She was worried that she might wake up later on with a bad dream and not be able to find it to distract herself. In my sleep-muddled state, I had to clarify with her that she was worried that she might be worried later. It worked for me to tell her to worry about that later, too. She found the book in the morning, and then put it down to read another book, and then couldn’t find it again because she’d been walking around reading. I love that they read so much. This reminds me of me when I was a kid. I never thought I would be a mom that would tell my children to put the books down for any reason, but I have to do it or they’d never get anything done.

Play kitchen, totally taken over with books over the past few days

Play kitchen, totally taken over with books over the past few days

I ran around the house yesterday and took pictures of the stacks of books that we have. At least once a week all of the books get crammed back on the shelves. Often it’s because we can’t find a library book. I like periodically documenting all of the books. Eventually we’ll have no toys left on the shelves and it will just be books. My dad has bookshelves in front of other bookshelves. I do not want to get to that point. Our house is so much smaller and we have so many more people in it.

Claire reading a "Wimpy Kid" book on my Kindle at swimming lessons

Claire reading a “Wimpy Kid” book on my Kindle during swimming lessons

Their teacher lets me know that they are both highly advanced readers. Claire has been making special trips up to a 5th grade classroom so she can get books that are at the right reading level for her.  Ronin is also testing and reading above grade level. Ronin also prefers very technical, non-fiction books whereas Claire likes fiction with plots, and those books tend to go a little faster.

Claire was reading to Soren and he became too snuggly to continue

Claire was reading to Soren and he became too cuddly to continue

The principal of the school has promised to kiss a snake if the fundraising goal is met. I’m not sure how many of you care about that, but the children find it delightful.

Section of book/toy shelf

Section of book/toy shelf

Section of book/toy shelf

Section of book/toy shelf

Another section of book/toy shelf

Another section of book/toy shelf

I read when I’m brushing my teeth, and before I had kids I used to read while I was stirring things on the stove, so I’m not surprised Claire and Ronin love to read so much. In Pocatello Idaho, when I had to walk about a mile through downtown after school, I used to always do it while reading. I got very good at telling where curbs were in my peripheral vision. If Claire and Ronin can get better about remembering their primary task while they read, I won’t take away their books while they’re supposed to be brushing their teeth.

Claire reading last Fall

Claire reading last Fall

If you would like to contribute to this year’s Read-A-Thon, please contact me directly and I will let you know how to give. You can make a check out to the PTA of our school and send it to me, or I can give you a link for online donations. It is fully tax-deductible. Thank you so much!

Happy Valentine’s Day

Mini canvases on mini easels.

Mini canvases on mini easels

Soren was the only one who brought in homemade valentines this year. Justin and I were gifted an incredible weekend away from the kids last weekend and VD snuck up on us, so 12 homemade valentines were easy to handle, especially with Soren who wasn’t in school every day. It was harder with Claire and Ronin who had a total of almost 60 valentines to bring plus three huge bags of fruit for their classroom party, and no free time during the days. I ended up getting a bunch of little valentine crafts to give to their classmates, and they came up with notes to print on stickers for their friends.

I did end up going back and getting some extra miniature canvases, because they were so fun to work with. We all had fun making miniature art on the mini canvases.