My mom is so old…

Chickadee thank you note

Chickadee thank you note

I showed Ronin this thank-you note I drew for my grandmother. He told me how much he loves my drawings, and how he thinks I’m the best artist in the family.

I said that I might be OK now, but he is certainly better now than I was at age 8, and all of his practice is really paying off.

He asked me if they had markers when I was a kid, or if I had to use quills and ink (?!?!?!). I said sadly that I wasn’t so lucky as he is, having all of the nice drawing supplies, and that when I was little I just stuck the ends of sticks in the fire and used the sooty ends to draw on pieces of rock, or cave walls.

Then he asked if maybe I could have found a feather and a partially filled bottle of ink and dipped the feather into it to draw with. I glanced at him with raised eyebrows, and he thought about it for a moment, and then answered his own question, saying that maybe the bottles of ink were just refilled and re-used, so they weren’t just lying around.

GAH!

I’m so glad I’ve risen beyond my humble upbringings. Kids these days.

Technology gifts for Christmas

The kids got GPS-enabled watches for Christmas

The kids got GPS-enabled smart watches for Christmas

I already regret it in some ways. But after the Halloween experience of losing Soren for a while, and for many practical reasons, it seemed like a good idea. After an initial outlay for the watch itself, it is only a $5 cost per month per device on our bill, and we can call and message each other and Justin and I can look up the kids’ locations through an app. Even better, the children can run around like crazy at a busy playground and Claire can message me and ask me where I am when she can’t find me.

Claire can't find me at the playground and uses her watch to ask me where I am

Claire can’t find me at the playground and uses her watch to ask me where I am

The GPS isn’t sensitive enough to help me find them inside the playground. In fact, Soren called me and asked me to join him “behind the large play structure.” So I went to find him, scoured the whole area behind the large play structure, called him back, and eventually found him behind the smaller play structure. It looked big to him, I guess. Yesterday I looked for his location when we were at a new playground by the Bay, and it showed him as in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, floating near the bridge. I am glad it was not accurate for his location then.

Ronin has been having the most fun with messaging

Ronin has been having the most fun with messaging – he sends me texts and emojis frequently

The downside is that I get phone fatigue. I have so many messages and calls that I start ignoring my alerts. Soren calls me from 20 feet away to come push him on the equipment in the playground. Ronin texts me from the bedroom to tell me that he’s home. Claire messages me and asks me what the fox says. I’m hoping as the novelty wears off, so will the unnecessary calls.

On the other hand, I took Soren and Ronin to another unfamiliar playground yesterday and they went far ahead of me on their scooters. They were so far ahead they were out of sight. A few minutes later I got a phone call. “Mom, where are you?” I told them I was still back on the path, walking, where they’d last seen me. They came back on their scooters from the distance. That was really nice.

The GizmoGadget watches also have pedometers, to-do lists (if we program them–I set Ronin’s up for “Have fun” on a daily basis), and only selected calling lists, both for sending and receiving. They encourage the kids to jump, as a brief form of personal training.

I can see Claire and Ronin walking back and forth to school much more easily now that they have a way of communicating, and being able to leave them at home for periods of time now. Those of you reading this who grew up when I did (and who aren’t familiar with current American culture) may be surprised to know that this is even in question, but there is a huge issue about how old children can be before being left to walk alone to school or in the neighbhorhood or being home alone, and regardless of the law, many people get alarmed at seeing elementary-aged children alone and may call the police. I have been letting the kids run around our rather large block for a few years, and I rehearse with them what they should say. Claire has had to tell people a few times that her mom is waiting for her in that house (she points) and she needs to get back quickly.

The Free Range Kids website has a lot of interesting facts, resources, and stories about freedom and children today. Here is an link to an article about the Free Range Kids project in The Atlantic, called Let Your Kids Ride the Bus Alone. I realize that GPS links to kids is kind of the antithesis of free range, but although California does not have a specific law addressing when kids can stay home alone, there is a checklist of developmental recommendations, and several of those concern being able to call parents or reach help.

Also, just last month, two blocks away from us, the older sister of Claire’s best friend was home alone when an armed intruder kicked down the door of her house, threatened to kill her as she ran upstairs and locked her bedroom door, and stole a bunch of electronics before escaping. She called her father instead of 911, but their dad responded quickly and there was a huge police response including a SWAT team, helicopter, road closures, and police dogs. We saw a lot of it. I try not to live in fear, but I also try to be practical. I can’t see leaving the kids at home without phone access.

We also were surprised to receive a hoverboard from my dad after we got back from Santa Barbara. These have been in the news a lot for stories about spontaneously bursting into flames and not being allowed on airplanes and for Amazon refusing to sell them temporarily and for lots of injuries. I checked this one out after we’d been using it for a while, and it looks like it has a high quality battery and a safer charging system than the ones that have been making all of the news.

Ronin hopped on it the second we took it out of the box and spun in a little circle in the living room. After that, I insisted on helmets and outdoor use. They are really cool. I have to set a timer for 5 minutes per kid and there is still fighting. I have not gotten a turn on it yet.

Claire went out with Justin yesterday for a walk/hoverboard trip at Coyote Hills. They went for quite a long ways and Claire got some good practice in. I can’t wait to see how she does on it the next time I’m around her. However, since we hadn’t charged it since we got it, apparently they got about 3 miles in and then it ran out of battery, so Justin had to carry it back to the parking lot. It’s very heavy.

Claire’s first job

Soren, Claire and Ronin at Google headquarters

Soren, Claire and Ronin at Google headquarters

I guess it was actually her second job. I gave her a couple of dollars after she very nicely looked after a young boy at the Twins By the Bay camping trip in August. She even let him spray her shirt with a water bottle, since it was hot and that was what he wanted to do.

Claire's REAL first job, babysitting

Claire’s REAL first job, babysitting at a camping trip

Anyway, I’m on a mailing list to try out new Google products if they find that I’m a good test subject and I have the time or ability to do it. It helps that I live in the Bay Area. I answered a bunch of questions, listing what kinds of things I know about and do, how much technology I own and use and how often, and my family characteristics. I didn’t think I was listing anything that wasn’t known by them anyway, but here it was all in one place. They contacted me and asked if I had any 8 year old children interested in trying out a new app.

Claire often uses the internet for research

Claire often uses the internet for research

They chose Claire because they had plenty of boys already for their study, but not as many girls on their list who were familiar with games and devices. I try not to let Claire have too much screen time, but it’s become a little more necessary as most of her friends have Minecraft playdates. I have books installed on her Kindle so that she can read them on her own or listen to them being read aloud while she does projects that involve her hands. Claire has her own email address and can send emails to select family members and friends. Actually, all of the kids have their own email addresses, but Claire is the only one who maintains an ongoing interest in it.

Now each child has a Kindle. They all have different books, and they each got each other Minecraft skins as Christmas presents. Ronin also received a Chess app as a Christmas present, which is actually more functional than a physical chess set, since it teaches game play and provides an opponent when he doesn’t have one. When everyone else saw his chess set, they downloaded it on their Kindles and started playing.

Ronin relaxing on the Google campus

Ronin relaxing on the Google campus

I had to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement, or NDA, with Google for Claire’s study. Because of that, I didn’t ask her too many questions about what she did for the study. All I know is that she got to play with some app for about an hour. She got paid for it. I put the money towards Amazon & Audible books, after taking us all out to dinner on the way home. This was another busy and late night, and Justin was out of the country then, but that day went really well. Even though the drive to the Google campus was an hour or so away, after the long commute home from work, things were completely smooth.

I may go back later and change the publishing date on this to reflect when it actually happened. I’m starting to figure out why I may have gotten a bit behind on things this past year. I keep remembering “Oh yeah, Justin was not here then.” I was mostly taking videos and pictures with my phone (as seen in this post) because it was easier to send to him via text or email on the fly. The little video at dinner was specifically taken to send to him. Dinner with the kids is usually challenging, and dinner out is even more challenging. It was so amazing and pleasant to have a wonderful restaurant meal, I had to share it with him. I have also been taking all three of them out to eat more because of that.

Soren’s first job

Soren, giving the gift of giggles

Soren, giving the gift of giggles

I took the kids to a photoshoot for a locally-based game company in the Fall. We were paid in games and professional photos, but mostly did it for the fun of it. Soren had the most fun, since he went first and actually got to pretend to play a game.

Soren was paired up with a girl we didn't know

Soren was paired up with a girl we didn’t know

Claire and Ronin were supposed to be doing their homework and were having a hard time, with all of the distractions. We also went quite a bit later than scheduled. Justin had been out of town for a long time when we did this, so we were all out of sorts.

The original 'gift of giggles' photo

The original ‘gift of giggles’ photo

I was feeling badly because I was trying to keep Claire and Ronin out of the studio part while they were taking pictures of Soren, and they kept flopping down on the floor or trying to inch their way in. Just remembering this is making me a little tense, especially since this is a company that really promotes cooperative family game play, togetherness, and happy times together. Everyone there seemed really nice.

Claire and Ronin, trying to do homework

Claire and Ronin, trying to do homework

After Soren, the photographer had the twins sit together and he snapped a dozen or so pictures of them, but since they weren’t posed with any games, I figured these pictures were just to help them not feel left out (decisions about participation weren’t made until arrival) and to give the gift of professional photos.

Ronin and Claire, at the studio

Ronin and Claire, at the studio

I thought that was really nice.

The other cool thing was that most of the kid models were from our school, so I can look at the ads and recognize friends of ours now.

I found the first photo, above, of Soren on the Facebook page of the company, and don’t know if it’s going to be used more or not. He is excited to be famous. Claire keeps wondering if she is going to be famous, too. I have been telling her that it’s up to the company whether or not to use the pictures and there is no guarantee, but I wouldn’t count on it. Besides, she already had a paid job at Google. (You didn’t know that? I haven’t been great at keeping up.)

Peaceable Kingdom is a locally based game company

Peaceable Kingdom is a locally based game company

After the photo shoot was over, we sprinted to a nearby playground to run around and let off steam. We were amused to see that much of the equipment was similar to what is on our school playground.

On the playground near the photoshoot

On the playground near the photoshoot

Happy New Year! (Looking ahead to 2016)

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

We did similar worksheets to what we have done in the past. I just handed them to Claire and Ronin and asked them to fill them out. Claire wrote down Soren’s answers for him.

Looking Back at 2015

My favorite experience:

Claire – Six Flags   Ronin – Going to Hawaii  Soren – Hoverboard

My biggest accomplishment:

Claire – Snorkeling  Ronin – Learning my times tables  Soren – Waiting for Christmas

My favorite place to visit:

Claire – Children’s Fairyland   Ronin – The Great Outdoors   Soren – School Playground

The best meal is:

Claire – Spaghetti; bread with butter  Ronin – Apple & gouda sandwich; ice cream sundae   Soren – Cheese pizza

If I have a free day, I like to:

Claire – Play    Ronin – Go on a hiking trip   Soren – Go to Grandma’s house

My favorite book:

Claire- Harry Potter  Ronin – The Book With No Pictures   Soren – To The Top! Climbing the World’s Highest Mountain

My favorite movie:

Claire – Emmett’s Jug Band Christmas    Ronin – Star Wars: The Force Awakens  Soren – Harry Potter

Looking ahead to 2016

One way I’d like to grow:

Claire – Taller  Ronin – Smarter, faster  Soren – Taller

I’d like to continue to:

Claire – Be nice  Ronin – Love nature, make a lot of friends  Soren – Go to Santa Barbara for Christmas

I want to try:

Claire – Making new friends  Ronin – New foods  Soren – Reading more

I want to stop:

Claire  – Bullying  Ronin – Being not-nice Soren – Trying to bite my hair (????)

I’d like to visit these places:

Claire – Florida, Maui  Ronin – New Guinea, New Zealand, New York  Soren – Hawaii, Santa Barbara

My goals for this year:

Claire – Ride more, stop lying, be nicer, eat new foods, stand up to Cassie

Ronin – Make more friends, not get mad, not get jumpy

Soren – Get better at hoverboard, learn how to read, become a grown-up

Trip to Santa Barbara & Montecito over Christmas

A sea star in the palm is worth almost as much as an octopus on the shore

A sea star in the palm is worth almost as much as an octopus on the shore

A stranded octopus (not blue-ringed)

A stranded octopus (not blue-ringed)

A kid on the beach pointed out this large octopus to us and we watched it for a while before someone helped it back into the water. It was pretty amazing.

We went to Santa Barbara to visit Omie over Christmas break. This decision was made at the last minute due to some miscommunications between Justin, who assumed we were going, and me, who thought it was decided we weren’t going anywhere. I scrambled to find a place to stay over a period of about a week, since staying at rental houses now involves asking for the time and space, waiting up to 24 hours for a response, and then trying somewhere else. Once accepted, the funds are withdrawn immediately, so we can’t try multiple places at once. Most of the places I tried had not updated their calendars and apologized for not being able to let us stay, one after the other after the other.

Santa on the beach in "Santa" Barbara

Santa on the beach in “Santa” Barbara (handing out a candy cane to Soren and other kids)

Still, I kept trying because we wanted to go, the kids wanted to go, and we know Omie comes up here a lot to see us. It would make the holiday much more special. What I ended up having to do was go farther afield, but we ended up in a nice house in Montecito, which is an area just adjacent to Santa Barbara where a ton of movie stars live. When my phone offered to “check in” for my location, it asked me if I was at Oprah’s, which was only a few-minute walk away. We were just down the road from a historical mansion (which I did not get to tour).

Soren, hanging out in the chair at our rental house

Soren, hanging out in the chair at our rental house

It was stormy and cold most of the time we were there, so we didn’t get to enjoy the yard very much, but I saw a lot of hummingbirds and the kids picked grapefruits for me. On the last day, it was so stormy the fence in the back yard actually blew down, along with a lot of the patio furniture. Tree debris was scattered all over the streets and along the freeways. A wildfire burned out of control 20 miles away in Ventura.

Soren and I were sick the whole time we were there as well. In fact, when the rest of the family went to see the new Star Wars film, Soren and I went back to the house and rested on the couch. Soren and I shared a room most of the time during our vacation because we coughed all night and kept each other awake. Soren is mostly better, although since I started writing this his dinner came up, out, and saturated the floor, his sheets, and “Wow! It even came up through my nose! That’s incredible!” Claire and Ronin have been sick off and on, with occasional cold symptoms and norovirus-type symptoms. They were mostly okay on the trip, though. Justin tells me every few days that he is sure that he is getting sick, and then he doesn’t seem to get worse.

This video shows the three kids playing “Simon Says” only with “Kitty Says.” They started out with Simon but after a while they got tired of that so they switched to other types of creatures. Ronin was calling the shots with this one. I thought it was very cute.

We did not spend all that much time at our rental house, although it was very nice to have the space to stretch out. We had everyone over for dinner several times, although I didn’t do any cooking. Justin’s mom brought over a bunch of delicious food on more than one occasion.

It was very nice to have two separate living areas, divided by a cozy fireplace

It was very nice to have two separate living areas, divided by a cozy fireplace

One day we went to the Mission in Santa Barbara. Ronin and I have both been wanting to tour it for ages, and it was quite beautiful. I believe there was some historical information for us to watch in the little chapel, and in writing on plaques here and there, and there were displays in the museum. There was a live-animal manger scene out front, but since it wasn’t quite Christmas yet, there was no baby Jesus for display. Our children were just thrilled to be able to pet some baby animals.

Claire pondering lives lost too soon

Claire pondering lives lost too soon, at the Santa Barbara Mission

There were some delightful gardens as well, but I had to take Soren out without seeing the whole Mission because he was behaving recklessly, probably because he was sick. We went out and (almost) napped in the car for a brief while waiting for everyone else to finish. This was the day that we skipped out on the movie. Justin was very surprised that Soren agreed to miss it, but he was feeling awful and he knew that he couldn’t sit quietly.

Walking at Elings Park

Walking at Elings Park

We did venture away from the ocean at one point. The Botanic Gardens were closed on the day we tried to visit, so we went for a walk at Elings Park, the largest privately funded park in America. We found a geocache and watched out for hang-gliders. We went out for lunch at the restaurant at a nearby beach. The fish tacos hit the spot.

Eating lunch at Arroyo Burro Beach

Eating lunch at The Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach (Arroyo Burro County Beach)

We spent a lot of time on the beach. My mom is still talking about how much she loved it.

Paused for a moment in front of the tree

Paused for a moment in front of the tree

Soren showing off his art kit to Justin

Soren showing off his art kit to Justin

Christmas was wonderful. The kids got everything they wanted, and then some. They had pointed out some things in a catalog to Omie the last time she visited, and she very nicely bought them what they asked for. Soren had been asking for an art kit since Claire and Ronin each got one from our friend Chris on a recent birthday. They got some cool new games, clothes, and also a week at a summer camp (from my dad) that will teach them archery, tracking, building fires, and wilderness survival skills.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

Claire and Grandma Jan

Claire and Grandma Jan

We did go back to the beach after the kids wound down from unwrapping and playing with their presents.

Claire levitating

Claire levitating

Claire and Omie walking together

Claire and Omie walking together

Panorama of the beach

Panorama of the beach

Ronin examining the water

Ronin examining the water

Ronin pointing at a snowy egret (and Bert will tell me if I'm wrong)

Ronin pointing at a snowy egret

This is where all the magic happens

This is where all the magic happens

My mom, Jan, walking on the beach

My mom, Jan, walking on the beach

We did not mean to coordinate all wearing red and blue. It just happened. Thankfully there were no prohibitions against gang colors. I often dress the kids in bright red just to make them more easily found, since that one camping trip when I realized that dressing them in browns and greens might be more soothing to the eye, but also more camoflaging.

Omie told me I had to see this art installation on the beach -- and she was right!

Omie told me I had to see this art installation on the beach — and she was right!

Claire dancing in the waves some more

Claire dancing in the waves even more

I realized, when I was recommending a trip to Santa Barbara to some friends of ours today, that many of our trips in the past have been accompanied by winter colds or some other kind of illness, or Justin’s sprained ankle. I guess winter vacation tends to fall in the microbe-sharing time of year. I am very glad we went, and despite feeling a little draggy after more than two weeks of being sick (I’m trying to post this retrospectively), the extra rest and not having to work have been doing me a lot of good. I’m averaging about twice the amount of sleep I normally get every night. I just hope that we were good enough to not pass this along as well.

Grandma Jan and the kids all together on Omie's couch

Grandma Jan and the kids all together on Omie’s couch

Claire, with Omie serving a lavish breakfast

Claire, with Omie serving a lavish breakfast of fresh fruit, German pancake, jams, cottage cheese, sausage, eggs, coffee and tea

Thank you so much for your hospitality, Omie! If you read the New Year’s post, you’ll see that they resolve to do this every year!