Christmas Little Free Library

Ever since our Little Free Library got its Halloween facelift, we’ve been thinking about what we could do for Christmas. Finn wanted to make it into an acorn, which is cute but doesn’t exactly say Christmas. We also thought about a Christmas tree or Santa, but settled on an ornament. Yesterday Bruce set about making it happen.

Cutting and drilling



Hot glue gun

We put the first pass up yesterday evening and it just seemed like it wasn’t quite right.

First pass ... not quite right

It didn’t have as much pop as we were hoping for, the cap looked too small and the wire hook, while cute, was obscured by the trees.

So, we Googled ornament images to come up with some type of embellishment. We settled on snowflakes.


Bruce then made the cap bigger and ditched the wire for wood covered in silver tape.

New cap

A little glitter on the snowflakes was the finishing touch.

Snowflakes and new cap

This morning Take 2 was up.

Take 2

Much, much cuter!

Long shot

Merry Christmas!


Thanksgiving 2012

Since we were entrenched in remodeling this time last year, yesterday marked our first big holiday hosting gig since moving into our new house. It was a pleasure to cook in the new kitchen and fun to host this very Moision holiday. All seven cousins were together which will liven up any party. The food — a group effort — was delicious and a good time was had.

Such a good time, in fact, that I neglected to take any pictures. Well, I have one from early in the morning when Bruce was prepping the turkey. Finn thought it was hysterical that “Papa is touching a very, very, very fat turkey!”

Prepping the turkey

It turns out, though, that my favorite little documentarian was taking pictures I didn’t know about. When I mentioned that I hadn’t taken any, Finn said, “I took pictures!” He had apparently walked around with an iPhone and taken a bunch. I will say that his vantage point is not always flattering, especially the picture of my backside (which, obviously, will not be published here). So, without further ado, here is Thanksgiving 2012 from Finn’s perspective.

Alek working on the nearly impossible wooden puzzle from Belize.

Alek trying the puzzle

The table all set and almost ready for diners (more chairs needed).

The table

Finn’s selfie.

Finn's selfie

Uncle Nick playing with Winston, perhaps the cutest puppy ever.

Nick and Winston

Uncle Bob’s bike.

Bob's bike

Ezra and Grandpa Bill using their electronics.

Ezra and Grandpa Bill

Alek and the little cousins working on the stomp rockets.

Alek and the little kids

I think he took about 50 pictures; these were the least blurry and most flattering of the bunch.

Later, I took a photo from my perspective — laying on the couch contemplating getting up to get some Advil. The boys were playing with the little bug Bob had brought.

Playing with the "bug"

And even later, Ezra found a new sleeping spot.

Ezra sleeping in the hall closet

Yes, he’s in the hall closet. It all started when Bruce pretended that Ezra, Finn and Thomas were folding chairs and put them away with the other chairs. The boys thought it was hysterical. Ezra also thought it would be a comfy place to sleep. And so he set up his bed. Stuffed animals and all.

Ezra in the closet

UPDATE! Grandpa Bill took some pictures and sent them to me today! Here’s some pre-dinner running around in the backyard. I missed all of this since I was in the kitchen, but I’m so glad to see the kids were having fun out there!

Kids having fun

Here’s the grownups table.

Grownups table

And here’s our mini birthday celebration for Alek (13 next week) and Thomas (4 last week).

Celebrating birthdays

Disneyland with the Gottardis

Mike, Carla and the girls are down in So Cal this week for a three day (!) visit to Disneyland. I would die, but they are true Disney fanatics and invited us to join them one of the days. So, yesterday the boys and I went to Disneyland! (Big shout out to my friend Jay who got us in for free saving me a gigantic amount of money!)

After a nice visit with Jay, our day started off with lunch since the Gottardis had skipped breakfast and my boys were starving as usual. Off to Tomorrowland we went.

Lunch with cousins

Next up was the giant marble that the kids enjoyed pushing around.

Ezra and Kendra with the giant marble

Even though it was wet.

Giant marble

Since we were right there and it was time for Jedi training, we headed over to the stage to see what that was all about. Despite their best efforts, the boys did not get picked to be among the lucky few future-Jedis.

Pick me!

But we stayed to watch anyway and it was fun. Darth Vader showed up.

Darth Vader!

Then we went on perennial favorite It’s a Small World. The line moved quickly and the ride was fun, especially all done up for Christmas.

Entering It's a Small World

Small World

Autopia was the next ride on tap — luckily we had fast passes so we didn’t have too long a wait. Finn drove me; Ezra drove Uncle Mike.

Finn drives

Ezra and Uncle Mike

Post-drive face

The Buzz Lightyear ride was also a hit, although it took the boys a little time to get the hang of shooting the laser guns. Here they are listening to Buzz’s instructions.

Listening to Buzz's instructions

After that we headed over to California Adventure to check out the new Cars Land. It didn’t disappoint — it was a great re-creation of the movie and the rides were fun. The lines were long though …


Kendra and Ezra's U2 photo

(I Instagrammed this photo because I thought it looked like a 1980s U2 cover.)

Here are a few pictures from the Mater tow truck spinning ride and Luigi’s tire ride. It’s hard to take pictures while you’re spinning, so excuse the blurriness.

Blurry Mike and Carla

Emily and Kendra spinning

Finn spinning


Tire ride

We had dinner there and then waited in a very long line for the Soaring over California ride which is one of my all-time favorites. Everyone loved it and the boys said, repeatedly, that it was worth the hour-long wait.

Here are a couple of pictures of the cousins in front of the big Christmas tree.



It was a very fun, very long day that included a last minute trip to the Lego store at Downtown Disney and a near meltdown (on my part) trying to find the car. But eventually I made it home with two sleepy, happy boys.

Blue Ninjas

The end of our first soccer season has arrived. Finn ended up having a great time on his first team. His last game was rained out last weekend, but the scheduled pizza party happened anyway. The kids got trophies, and while I don’t really agree with the “everybody gets a trophy” philosophy, he and his teammates sure enjoyed them.

Finn and Jack show off their trophies

They enjoyed the little toy ninjas from the vending machine even more. And the pizza and cupcakes.

Playing with ninjas

Kudos to his coach for keeping games and practices lighthearted. We had a nice group of families and the kids had a blast.

Elves’ Faire 2012

We went to the Pasadena Waldorf School’s magical Elves’ Faire this weekend — my first time since I was not available to go with Bruce and the boys last year. It lived up to the hype — it is magical for children and your money disappears like magic, too! I didn’t take pictures of everything we did, but I got a few. First was this game that Ezra won best 2 out of 3.

Ezra and Bruce balance

Then there was jousting on zip line horses. Ezra:

And Finn:

Next Finn and Bruce played a giant game of Jenga.

Giant Jenga game


It didn’t last very long.

End of Jenga

Ruby and Rob played a LOT longer.

Ruby and Rob's Jenga

While they were still playing, we went and had ice cream (Carmela was there!), perused the map and planned the rest of our visit. Finally, Rob had had enough and pulled the plug, so to speak.

Rob's last play

After Jenga we roamed around and did lots of other activities — fishing, digging for treasure, food, crafts, etc. We also saw a ton of other Pasadena-area families we know which was fun. And then we were off to the next event — Finn’s soccer party. More on that in a bit.

Making Butter with Kindergarteners

Finn’s class spent the last couple of days before their [week-long] Thanksgiving break learning about the Stone Soup story, making Stone Soup and, on Friday, making butter and eating the soup. I volunteered to help with the butter-making and it was a fun — and exhausting — three hours at school.

First, the adults ran around getting things ready, while Finn’s teacher, Ms. Jessica, handled the regular early morning stuff. It was someone’s birthday so they did the “birthday shower” and the kids wrote out birthday wishes for her. Here is Finn’s table working on their birthday wishes.

Working on birthday wishes

Then the butter-making began. We put small amounts of heaving whipping cream into baby food jars and the kids started shaking.

Finn and friends making butter

They did a lot of jumping, light shaking and complaining their arms hurt, but eventually the cream turned into butter and some leftover milk. The kids drank (or at least tried) the milk and then ate some of the butter on crackers. Next up after recess they got to try the Stone Soup they’d made the day before. Finn had loved cutting up carrots and celery for the soup the day before and he gobbled up his portion and asked if we could make Stone Soup at home.

Kids trying Stone Soup

Eating and loving the Stone Soup

Sheep Canyon Hike/Bike


I’ve been hiking in the desert for about 18 years now. I first followed routes from Schad’s “Afoot and Afield in San Diego County” and traveled with various friends from school or went out on my own. Some time ago I started hiking with Peter Thomas, who’s been my hiking partner now for about 14 years. Peter started planning trips by piecing together sections from guidebooks with sections that aren’t in any guidebooks, but looked like feasible routes from topo maps. Recently, we’ve been exploring a loop route from Sheep Canyon to Shingle Spring to Fig Tree Valley in the Anza Borrego Desert. This is a description of the trip this weekend.


This was our fourth time to this particular area and route. The first time we came in from Anza to the north using bicycles and a trailer to get to the start of the loop. On that trip we had a lot of trouble with the bicycles and, especially, the trailer getting stuck in the sand. It was long and exhausting and it was dark by the time we came out on the second day. The second time we came in from the mountains to the west. A ranger there warned us that a coming storm would make the access road impassible, so we shortened our hike to a day hike, making it to the saddle at the top of Sheep Canyon. The third time we came in again from the mountains. That trip was also long, and we ended up having to navigate our way out in the dark.


This trip was a reprise of the first trip using bikes to get the the trailhead but I was using a Surly Pugsley instead. The Pugsley has 4-inch diameter tires which allows it to travel through soft sand. The plan was for Peter to ride in Thursday night from the south, for me to head in Friday morning from the north, and we’d meet at Middle Willows. On Friday morning I drove to the top of Turkey Track in Anza and the end of a rocky dirt road. The forecast was for a storm to come in the next two days and deposit 1-3 inches of snow the first day and 3-5 the second. I was a little worried about the road getting muddy, but I guessed I could drive out after the storm. I parked and headed in to Coyote Canyon on the bike.


I didn’t set up the bike until the night before when I realized my rack wouldn’t fit over the tires, so I just rode wearing my pack. The Pugsley was great. It seemed made for this. I rode on jeep trails and through rocky washes all the way to Bailey’s Cabin in Fig Tree Valley without ever having to walk the bike. I did take one fall over the handlebars with a firm thud to my helmet (thank you, helmet), but otherwise it went smoothly.


The next section of the canyon from Upper Willow to Middle Willows, two sections of dense vegetation, is an important desert bighorn sheep habitat and is closed to motor vehicles, so it was rougher going. I started down a wrong route in Upper Willows, got stuck, backed out, and found a route around the Willows. This was rocky and harder to navigate. I passed a monument to Juan Anza de Batista which seems to be in the middle of nowhere. I came to the Middle Willows which has a narrow path right through it. I started on the path, lost it, and got stuck. If I were on foot I could have pushed through the brush to pick up the path but not with the bike. I put the bike down and searched on foot for the path. After finding it I pushed the bike through to that path and followed it the rest of the way out. I came out the other side where Peter was waiting having come up from the south the day before.


We filtered water there and headed over to Sheep Canyon on the bikes. We stowed the bikes at the head of the canyon and started hiking. Sheep Canyon has an annual stream in the upper reaches, but there was no water at the bottom. This is the case with all the streams in the desert. They start in the mountains, fed by a spring, run down a canyon, and then stop, usually before reaching the valley, absorbed back into the ground. It always seems odd to me for a stream to have two endpoints. Somehow I think they should be a line with only one dry endpoint. Although we were fairly sure we’d find water eventually in the upper reaches of the canyon, we couldn’t camp without it, so we decided we follow the stream bed for an hour, and, if we didn’t have water by then, re-assess. We did find water shortly.


Traversing the canyon is slow going and involves a fair amount of scrambling over boulders and pushing through brush. The number of people who traverse these routes is small and drops off quickly the farther in you get. We typically don’t see anyone in the mountains on our trips (we didn’t this time). So even when there is a known route, there is no trail. Or, at least not a hiking trail like you typically imagine or see — a clear path with markings. Here and there you can find and follow thin signs of a trail. In some places it’s clear, but it inevitably disappears. It gets grown over, washed out, or breaks into separate routes. Following these spare trails is always an little emotional roller-coaster. There’s a high when you’ve found it and are following it and a let down when you lose it. When we lose it we usually push through and try to pick it up again. Sometimes the the trail will lead you around an impassible section in the canyon, like a drop-off or very dense brush, so it’s important to stay on it. We’ve gotten better over the years at following the trail, at picking up little signs of it, and being able to predict what routes they tend to follow. We take turns leading as it takes more effort to stay on the route and sometimes one or the other is doing better at it.


We made it to the lower reaches of a wide bowl near the top of the canyon and made camp. Somewhat coincidentally we found the same spot from a previous trip: a nice, flat, sandy spot near the stream. It was getting dark and cold as we set up the tents. We filtered more water, made dinner, and got to sleep. Nights are often long for me when hiking as we go to bed when it gets dark. I’ll sometimes get a lot of reading done (this time I picked up a book from our little library on the way out, which, so far, is pretty good). This time I slept pretty well and only woke a few times. It was a windy night and sand was blowing in under my rain fly and through the mesh tent. When I was reading I could feel the pages get gritty from the sand. Our tent pegs were set in the sand and not too firmly. I woke once to reset one when it blew loose letting the tent flap loudly in the wind.


We try to pick sites that are close to water, are out of the wind, have enough space to pitch tents, and receive the morning sun, so as to warm us when we get up. But the choices are often restricted. This site didn’t receive morning sun, so it was cold when we got up. We tidied up, left our packs and tents, and headed up the canyon. We had had difficultly on previous trips finding the best route out of the top of the canyon, which involves some difficult climbing up steep, rocky slopes. Although we weren’t heading out that way this time, we wanted to scout out routes. We had a trail description from a book by Lindsey, but it was a little cryptic in this section. Even standing looking at the hills we weren’t quite certain of the right route. We settled on one that looked like the best candidate which we’ll try another time.


In the desert your view is seldom obscured by trees or foliage which allows you to pick out routes visually as you go along. Also, because the foliage is seldom dense at high elevations (away from water), if the slope of the terrain on a topo map is moderate, you can be relatively certain that you can traverse it. We use this to choose paths in unknown areas. However, you often have to choose an approach along a certain ridge line or canyon. As the ridges separate, if you weren’t careful in selecting your route, you can find yourself in an impassible section, on a ridge that has a sudden, steep drop off, or facing a cliff.


We bring a GPS on these trips but, since we’re not following a marked route, the GPS can only resolve where we are, not where we should be. We also bring a SPOT device. This can send a message at pretty much any location to a satellite, and we use it to send tracks of our route. It also allow you to send a call for help if need be. I started carrying it a few years ago after my third heart attack and after the boys were born. I also bring on every trip a small vial of nitroglycerin as well as extras of my heart meds. in case I have heart problems. I think the risk of having a heart attack on a trip is very small (it’s been 11 years since my last heart attack), but it’s always in the back of my mind when I’m in remote locations and far from medical help. In theory, if I had an attack, we could call for help with the SPOT and I can take a bunch of nitro., although I don’t know if extraction is possible in some canyons.


After finding what we thought was the right route out, we headed back to our camp, packed up, and started out down the canyon. These spring-fed desert canyons are simply beautiful. Around every corner is another striking spot essentially untouched by humans. There’s a stark contrast between the steep canyon walls with roughly hewn rocks, studded with agave and dry desert plants, and the canyon bottom, thick with palms, mesquite, catclaw, and water-loving brush. The boulders on the bottom of the canyon are typically larger, and smooth, carved by the water. In many spots the water carves out clear grooves and divots in the rock.


It often reminds me of the garden at the Getty museum in L.A. There’s a small man-made stream there that trickles down the hill making different sounds as it moves over varied surfaces. The streams here are what I imagine those man-made streams are emulating, and they’re much more compelling in their natural form. In every corner they create a new little picture, a new set of sounds.


We always see some wildlife on the way although of course it’s relatively sparse. In the canyons, we always see birds and usually some frogs. We occasionally see snakes, probably one every trip, or every other trip. This time I stepped near a boulder, heard a rattle, and jumped aside. I never did see the snake. It’s unusual to be rattled at. It’s happened only about four times to me.


After a few hours of descending (always harder than ascending) we came out at the mouth of the canyon. As much as I love climbing in the mountains, I always have a feeling of relief on coming out. Route finding on the desert floor is relatively easy, and you’re not required to be constantly watching your footing. We picked up our bikes (my rear tire had a slow leak, so I pumped it up a bit) and headed out. On the way we passed a set of three four-wheel-drive vehicles heading in, and a lone hiker, also headed to Sheep Canyon. He gave Peter’s bike rig a thumbs up. Strapped to his pack was a small solar panel, which Peter asked about. It was a kit, and incorporated bamboo, which seemed to me to be the selling point for the hiker, who also sported a pair of bamboo hiking poles. He used it to charge his smart phone. He relayed the story of the maker, a young retired Silicon Valley millionaire, who, after making his millions, dropped out and started pursuing pet projects like this solar panel. We all nodded in agreement on the wiseness of this decision.


We rode the rest of the way out, carrying our bikes over three stream crossings. We finally came to Peter’s car, strapped our bikes to his rack and drove to Anza. The plan originally was for us to split up at Sheep Canyon and for me to head back North and come up via Turkey Track, but I decided it better not to travel alone, especially in such a remote area. It took longer than I anticipated for us to drive around to Anza. Peter couldn’t drive me all the way to my car, which was out on the end of a rocky dirt road. So he dropped me off and I got on my bike to ride the last section. I rode in a short way and ditched my pack on the side of the road, taking just my headlamp and car keys (double checked), so I could travel faster. The sun had just set and it was getting dark and cold.


At the end of a long trip there’s always a little pleasure in finally coming back to your car. And if you ever want to bond with your car, there’s no better way than to have it start up for you when you’re exhausted, all alone, in a cold dark remote location. It did start (I immediately forgave it any past offenses) and I drove out, stopping to pick up my pack. The storm had never materialized so I didn’t have to test my guess that I could still drive out if the road turned muddy.


Through Anza and part of the way back to Temecula I could only get AM talk radio and spanish FM. I listened to AM talk hosts lament the results of the election (“I’m telling Boehner-not one more dime of my tax dollars”) and discuss the minutia of college football.


Peter and I took a lot more photos. You can see a slideshow of them here.

A Few Photos

I have a few extra photos that don’t fit in anywhere but I thought I’d share them anyway. This first one is Ezra after grabbing a couple of books from our little library and finding a cozy spot to read.

Ezra reads

Next, I took this one after voting in the presidential election last week. I just like how the sun is streaming in. It was a total photographic accident.

I voted!

On Friday night, with Bruce out of town on a hike, I took the boys out to dinner and let them order the (turns out — huge) $1 sundaes. They were in heaven.

Blissful sundaes

After a couple of chilly days here, we decided to have our first fire of the season last night. The boys helped by throwing paper airplanes into it.

Cozy fire

Student Led Conferences

Aveson is switching up their conference/celebration of learning schedule this year to give parents earlier feedback on how kids are doing. So, last Thursday we had the first of two Student Led Conferences where the boys took us around their classrooms to show us their work and introduce us to the new Mastery Learning Portfolio assessment tool. I’ll feel better about the assessments in the coming weeks when I can view them from home as neither of my boys was patient enough to let me read through several pages of “I can” statements. But I did thoroughly enjoy seeing them in their classrooms showing off their work and skills. Here’s Finn doing the puff ball sort job.

Finn does the puff ball sort

And some of the math he’s been working on. I love his three bears.


His skull from Dia de los Muertos was hanging up.

Finn's Dia de los Muertos skull

And some evidence of Kindergarten science.

Kindergarten science

After the first session with Finn, Bruce, who had been with Ezra, and I switched up and I got to see Ezra’s advisory. Here’s all the stuff we were meant to do.

SLC to-do list

Ezra was very focused on getting to all of it (and did not appreciate any interruptions from me). He did get a little distracted by his friends’ conferences at times, but that’s par for the course. After making sure we logged out properly from the online assessment system, he read me a page from his Moomintroll book.

Ezra reads to me

And showed me the quilt project he made.

Legoland Quilt

Obviously, his trip to Legoland in September is still having a huge impact.

Girls Trip to Washington

Last weekend some friends (Jerri, Carroll and Laura) and I took a trip up to Washington State for a fun girls weekend. I’d never been there before and it was great from a scenery standpoint alone. It was actually Fall there!

It's Fall!

We flew into Seattle, had breakfast here …

Biscuit Bitch

… and then headed west. We stopped at this place called the Olympic Game Farm, which houses animals who used to be in the old Disney shows. (Although I believe all of these animals are actually the offspring of the orignal animals.) It was the best side trip! It’s basically a drive-through zoo and you can buy bread to feed the animals along the way. There were lots of small animals at the beginning — bunnies, peacocks and peahens, chickens, prairie dogs!

Prairie dog

Then we came to the llama and zebra area. Houston, we have a problem.




Needless to say, there was lots of screaming and many tears of laughter during the 10 minutes it took us to coerce the llamas to get out of the way. Seriously, they were up close and personal!

2012-11-02 14.01.49

Finally, we nudged them away (with the car horn) and were able to move on. On to the bison in the road, that is.


And finally, the payoff — the cutest bears ever!




I have video!

After that excursion, we got back on the road. After a bit, we stopped for a hike. Again, the scenery was beautiful.


Beautiful scenery

Our destination was this waterfall.


Here we all are — it’s a blurry photo, but you get the idea.


We rented a house and had a nice relaxing time — lots of uninterrupted sleep, popcorn, a movie, quiet. Perfect. The next day we took an excursion out to La Push beach. These giant trees washed up on shore were amazing.

La Push beach

It’s always hard to capture the scope of landscapes. I tried with a panoramic photo on my iPhone.

La Push beach

After one more night of peace and quiet, we headed back home on Sunday. Our ferry ride had an unexpected escort — the Coast Guard. They assured us it was routine, but it was still kind of freaky.

Ferry escort

On the long drive back, I was struck by the trees rushing by, so I took a video.

All in all, a great weekend getaway with the girls!

UPDATE: Here’s a picture of me that Carroll took. Always rare, the photo of myself that I don’t hate.


Halloween 2012

Another fun Halloween has come and gone. Here’s how it happened. First things first, we had to figure out something to do with the library for the night, especially since we got this nice write-up on Tuesday. We decided to take the books out and replace them with some dry ice. We also covered the light with red tissue paper for a nice effect. Of course, we had to test out the dry ice first — the kids’ favorite part.

Dry ice test

It really was fun for the whole family.

Dry ice testing

Finn and Papa

Ezra checks out the dry ice

When it finally started to get a little dark we put it in the library.

Dry ice in the library

Ezra checks out the library

It was very hard to get a good shot of it, but hopefully you get the idea.

Glowing library

Next up: trick or treating with the Heffs!

Ready to go!

Two bats

Bat in a tree

Posing with the web

Finn and Charlie

My friend Julie and her family (and her neighbors) joined us as well, and about 6:15 we were off.

Trick or treating

Trick or treating

Trick or treating

One of my favorite moments was when Finn got a Pixy Stick at one house and asked Julie what it was. He was sure he wanted it, even though he had no idea what it would be. She told him it was like “sugar sand” and he was sold.

What is it?

The boys’ “hand bags” filled up pretty quickly.

Two bats

After a long loop around Topeka and Atchison we were finally home.


The spider web looked great, especially with some additional lights and the jack-o-lanterns.

Web looks good!

The kids enjoyed handing out candy on our porch while the grownups had dinner.

Handing out candy

Later, more dry ice fun ensued.

Dry ice pumpkin

Finally, it was time for bed. Ezra wrote a note to the Candy Fairy who would come to take most of the candy (they kept five pieces each) and replace it with something else good. Here’s Ezra’s note, along with the Candy Fairy’s responses.

Letter, page 1

Letter, page 2

And the loot she brought.

What the Candy Fairy brought

Of course, this morning when the boys discovered it, Finn lost his mind because he thought he was leaving the five pieces for her and the rest of the candy was for him to keep. Um, no. You’re totally missing the point of the Candy Fairy, Finn. But Ezra generously offered three of his pieces and Finn snapped out of his meltdown pretty quickly. Now they’re at school with the rest of the sleep-deprived kids on a major sugar crash. Good luck to their teachers!