Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Quinn's Tree - My Thankful Tree

Quinn's Tree - December 2011
Quinn's tree is a Fuyu persimmon, because Quinn's hair was the color of persimmons. It's a stick right now, but it'll leaf out in the spring. I gave it lots of extra compost, and I plan to underplant it with borage, sweetpeas and lavender. There should be some California poppies returning in that area of the yard as well, and a passionfruit vine that I expect will befriend the persimmon in short order.

I realized I want to call it the Thankful Tree as much as Quinn's Tree, because I think it reminds me about the importance of gratitude, in a weird way. It's easy to be frustrated by what we don't have, but there's more joy (and peace) to be found in celebrating what we do have even if it's "not enough," and in practicing gratitude for what is, rather than resenting what is not.

So, thank you Quinn, and wherever you are, know that you are not forgotten.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas from Our Family to Yours

"Oh good, Jackson's stocking is Y2K-compliant!"

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Drive-By Picture Post

Chrismukkah-related activities and the car semi-exploding have kept me very busy of late, so I haven't had too much time for bloggery, but here are a few photos of recent Jackson outings:

Jackson gleefully chortles at the camera as he enjoys a Hannukah cupcake at the Slavin Family Children's Library Hannukah storytime at the Jewish Federation Building on Miracle Mile. 
And when he was done with the cupcake he took to "drinking drinking" the crumbs on the plate, lest any deliciousness go unsavored. 
There were also many cookies. And a free Hannukah book that we've already read many times. The blue-frosting girl in the background kept showing up to party with Jackson. It was nice that he had an admirer for once, because usually he's the one running around inappropriately hugging other kids, bless his heart.
Which reminds me, I've been meaning to tell all my Jewish-ish mama friends: To my great delight, I have discovered there is a service that will send your Jewish or fractionally Jewish kiddo free Judaism-related children's books every month. (Who says the Jews don't proselytize?) Go to PJ Library to find out if it's offered in your community and/or browse the book list here.

Kitty! While tree shopping in the South Bay (more on that in a future post), we met a crotchety old alley cat in the nursery. Jackson had great fun chasing the kitty around and watching it drink from a fountain while balanced on an impossibly narrow ledge.
Baby's First McDonald's Play Place. I am so ashamed. (But I needed to keep him busy while we were waiting for the aforementioned semi-exploding car to be repaired, and you gotta do what you gotta do.)

Jackson was gifted this car (complete with name license plate!!) by our wonderful friend Lia. He adores it. He insisted we bring it inside. He eats a lot of meals in while sitting in it. This was breakfast yesterday. :) He may never walk anywhere again, in true Angeleno fashion. From here on out, only "driving driving." :)

Monday, December 19, 2011

$1 Crayon Rocks

I've been coveting a set of crayon rocks for Jackson since they're supposed to good for developing the "tripod grip" and because they're pleasantly sturdy, but I just wasn't loving the expense of ordering them online and paying for shipping. This is a DIY scheme that only cost $1 (instead of $10 with shipping and tax), although I ended up with crayon cookies more than crayon rocks!

48 crayons from Dollar Tree + worn-out muffin tin. For the record, it's true what they say: The peeling-off-the-wrappers is the hardest part. Turn on a TV show you like and then just get tearin'.
The "recipe" said 300 degrees for 8 minutes, but I think I ran for at least 15 minutes to get everything melted at that temp. I used plastic spoons to stir up the colors. The "bloom" on the top was the only evidence these were cheapo crayons.

Flipped. Pretty, right? The brown and beige tins have a swirl of white at the bottom because that's where I put the halves of the one white crayon.

Popped out...

...and packaged for Christmas morning.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Lights, Camera, Christmas!

We went to El Segundo's Candy Cane Lane tonight since we had a couple of minutes (OK, hours) to kill before bedtime. It was actually quite charming and a rare example of a great walkable L.A. experience for little kids. I mean, we had to drive there (of course), but once we landed it all very safe and secure and the many parents were all collectively looking out for the many elves toddling around.

Note to self (and my three readers) for next year: Enter 1320 E. Imperial Ave., El Segundo, CA 90245 into Google Maps for optimum uncrowded easy-walk parking.

A couple of real live peanuts check out Snoopy's dog house. And note the real live Charlie Brown Christmas tree.
So much to see!
There were not one but two model trains along the route, including this very sleek shipping-container freight train, as well as a North Pole Airport setup featuring fairly large model planes.
It's hard to see but this house has both (a) a giant fluffy cypress cleverly transformed into Santa through application of a hat, a sheet beard and a jacket of red lights and (b) an array of Twelve Days of Christmas boards on the front porch topped off by a "partridge in a pear tree" board in the tree.
This house is set up as a Christmas movie theater (note the marquee over the door), and they play holiday movies on a big screen set in their front window. I bet anything they change the movies everyday. Tonight's selection was Christmas Vacation.

Feliz Navidad everybody!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Collared Shirt All Day!

Mom: "OK, tell me if the water is too hot."
[Insert kid in bath water, which is apparently too hot.]
Kid: "Tell me! Tell me!"

Touche, little guy, touche.

Great busy today. Las Vegas grandparents call, then wonderful toddler Christmas party with sugar and lots of love for the kiddos, then nap, then grandpa's birthday party (I kinda attacked a pregnant lady after she was nice to my kid and told her lots of stuff about babies because I was so! excited! for her) and then we even made it home in time for Santa's annual visit to our neighborhood.

The Culver City P.D. does this wonderful retro thing every year where they go to each neighborhood in the city, one by one, every night for about three weeks. Santa has his own huge car/sleigh thing, and he's escorted by about three patrol cars, who zip through all the streets in the neighborhood first with their lights on so everyone knows the big guy has arrived. Jackson liked Santa, but he was mostly impressed by Santa's car. I forgot my camera this time, but next year I will not fail you.

Jackson heading out the door to the first of his many events today. He's trying to clean his ears with a children's Q-tip while walking. He would not let go of the Q-tips. He now has clean ears.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

All Creatures Great and Small

When all else fails, we fall back on our L.A. Zoo membership. We didn't have a good plan for today, so we hit the zoo to see the "panzees" and the "zebras...stripes."

The new Conservation Carousel is open and it is beautiful. For our first ride Jackson insisting on sitting down,  nice and safe, so we settled into this beautiful blue peacock chariot. The other chariot is--and I am NOT MAKING THIS UP--shaped like a giant ball of poo being rolled by a dung beetle. I asked the carousel manager about this and she said, "Tom Mankiewicz [the screenwriter and zoo trustee for whom the carousel is named] liked it." OK, so there you have it: One peacock chariot and one poo chariot.
Doesn't he look miserable? After we were all done he wanted to go "again," but during both of our two merry-go-round trips, J was highly suspicious of the goings-on.
Owls did the trick! Jackson agreed to sit on one of the "uppies" only when we found the one that had two owls sitting on a branch. He was still anxious but he gave it a fair shot. Mommy side note: This thing is just beautiful and so cleverly designed. The music is a little suspect, but all things considered, this was wonderful and we'll definitely be ponying up to ride the carousel ponies again in the future.

It's hard to hear what Jackson is saying in this video, but he's basically narrating the elephant's lunch. After we watched Billy eating his sugar cane, we watched him drinking water out of a trough and he playfully sprayed water for the crowd after every slurp. He was just showing off for us and playing around, but according to the zoo guy, Billy totally will spray visitors he doesn't like!

The zoo has their very own playground, way up at the top of the loop. I made Jackson pose inside the house just because the fallen ginkgo leaves were so pretty.

In addition to the carousel and the elephant, we saw the chimpanzees, the gorillas, a hippo, a rhino, a sleeping baby tiger, the wonderful pacing jaguar, some gorgeous Nubian ibexes and about a dozen tiny field mice. The zoo is literally crawling with zippy fearless little mice buzzing around the underbrush like so many windup toys. They were a nice change of pace from the big showcase animals.

Park Day: Aiden's Place, Westside Rec Center on Sepulveda

Truth be told, this was a phoned-in park day! We missed last week because I was so sick with the flu, so I was planning to come back strong this week, but not so much. We pretty much did a drive-by of Aiden's Place on the way to grandma's house for dinner. FWIW, I've been meaning to come here for ages because it's kind of a big deal park amongst Westside mommies, I just haven't been able to face the schlep all the way up Sepulveda into the nightmarish knot of traffic that surrounds the 405-Sepulveda-Westwood. In any case, I see why it's such a big deal. Huge place space with lots of surrounding mature trees, lots of enthusiastic friendly moms and easy parking. It was a tiny bit run down (what kind of gangsta twit tags a children's playground?!), but no real complaints. Aiden's Place will definitely stay in our park consideration set, it's just a question of how often we would want to do the commute given that there are equivalent or better parks much closer to our house.

J shouted "Ground!" (short for playground) and started running as soon as he saw the vast expanse of playgyms that stretched before him.
The playground as a great view of the skyscrapers of Westwood so the designers who put together the gyms added visually matching skyscraper-style towers above many parts of the playgyms.
This seating area features a quote from Ruth Krauss' The Carrot Seed and two giant carrot sculptures.
Trucks. Always a good thing.

And then it got dark really early because it's nearly the solstice and the days end before they even start so then we went to grandma's house for Cornish game hens and it was dee-licious. The end.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Thanks to Lia for the adorable Thomas galoshes that make this activity possible. After yesterday's rainstorm, our street rich in puddle-play opportunities, and Jackson enjoyed stomping, stamping, splashing, running and kicking all that water.


Jackson seems to finally be assembling a grammar. Over the past few days we've have the S-V constructions "The man waves" and "Lia* give?" as well as lots of two-word phrases and mimicry. He's not fluent with the "sentences" yet; they're still quite halting and there are beats between the words, but he's definitely assembling more complex speech, so yay!

*Complete with Signing Time name sign for Leah, which is a circled L hand-shape next to the face. :)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

One Busy Winter's Day

Somehow we crammed a lot into this Saturday!

The weather is bee-you-tiful (clear as a bell and not too cold) so in the morning we went on a walk along the Westchester Bluffs fire road/Playa Vista riparian corridor maintenance track--or whatever that thing is called. This road is rough going in parts because it's so torn up with tire-track ruts and mud holes, but  that's worth suffering because it's such a great escape into genuine "nature" and so close to our house. Red-tailed hawks sail overhead, goldfinches dart through the bushes, monarch butterflies flutter past and there are even a few late-winter wildflowers hanging on for dear life along the edges of the path. Jackson slept in the stroller for most of this trip, but eventually woke up and enjoyed some "unstructured play" time clambering into the aforementioned ruts in the road, picking up sticks, rolling in the dust and generally enjoying himself.

After we finished the round trip along the bluffs, we got back in the car and headed downtown for storytime at the Los Angeles Central Library. I've been trying to do a "Manners Week" theme for the kiddo, and the topic of this story time was "Naughty or Nice" so I felt like it was worth the trip down there. (Also, I adore the Central Library with ever fiber of my architecture-and-books-loving being.) I've been failing miserably at doing this "good behavior" topic on my own since there aren't really any books on this topic that aren't totally inappropriate for a toddler and/or that don't make me want to go "You can't make me say please--you're not the boss of me!!" As it turns out, manners need to be demonstrated more than than be instructed!

Anyway, the librarians at the main library have their very own story theater and did a wonderful job of putting together a "show" about various misbehaving kiddos and what becomes of them. Among other things, they staged a retelling of Aesop's Boy Who Cried Wolf and the kids got to participate. When Jackson saw that the librarians were handed out stuffed animals, he insisted that he be cast as one of the fuzzy lambs--and he got his way.

Jackson played his role perfectly, shouting "BAABAA!" at appropriate intervals.
Jackson was not on his best behavior during the puppet show. He ran down to the stage and insisted on pointing out to everyone in the theater: "BEAR! BUNNY! BUNNNNNY!" He was summarily removed from the orchestra pit by security (mama) and returned to his previous business of sitting in the aisles of the theater, from whence he was later removed by the fire marshal (mama).
After storytime was over, we took a tour through the amazing/brilliant/outstanding library gift shop (seriously, I am a connoisseur of cultural institution gift shops and this place had the single little best selection of kid's stuff I've seen anywhere) and went for a ride down the elevator and then up the five escalators in the grand atrium, and then we headed for home.

But not before climbing and crawling on all the ledges of all the fountains on the walkway out to the street. Of course.
But that's not all! After a quick pit stop at home for Trader Joe's Chinese food, we headed out to the Marina del Rey Holiday Boat Parade. Amazingly, this is actually the second year in a row we've done this, so it's verging on becoming a genuine family tradition. Jackson loved the fireworks and "sang along" with the noises, "Bang!" for bang and "Boom!" for boom. When they were over, he immediately demanded "Again!" and we promised we would play the fireworks for him again...in exactly one year. And then we sat back and watched the boats decorated for the holiday as they cruised around the channel, blasting holiday cheer.

We park next to the Del Rey Lagoon and walk over to the jetty that runs beside Ballona Creek where the bike path begins.
In addition to the fireworks and the brightly lit boats, we were treated to a radiant full moon.
I know this looks like a scene from a Vietnam War amphibious-attack flashback, but these are actually poorly photographed boat parade boats.
Last but not least, Jackson was brought home for a change into jammies and a dramatic reading of Corduroy by Don Freeman, as performed by his father in the style of a film-noir narrator. (This is extremely hilarious and bizarrely perfect for the book.) Jackson now sleeps cuddled safely in his bed, so merry Chrismukkah to all and to all a good night!

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Making a List and Checking It Twice

I QUIT: All year long I've been writing down every new word I hear from the little guy, but as of last week, I give up. There are just too many and I can no longer track what's really new or where he might have learned it from. It used to be that I would know if he learned a new word through explicit instruction or from a book, but now he's surprising me at every turn. During last week's wind storms I opened the front door to the gales and he looked out and said, "Breeze?" We were at the park and an egret took flight from a pond and landed on a nearby fence. He announced, "Fence." And today after we took him downtown we were talking about it and I swear he said, "City?" I didn't teach him any of these words, and I don't think we even said them in the immediately preceding conversation. In any case, I think he's off to the races language-wise, so I'm going to stop documenting so aggressively. (At one point a friend heard my complete system for the Jackson words list and asked, "Are you expecting this to have to stand up in court?") The kiddo still doesn't have any grammar to speak of--it's all one word at a time, or at best mimicked compound words or very simple phrases. Still, he manages to communicate just fine one word at a time: "Soup...hot...blow...cool," and we're having a field day chatting about his world.

NOT AUTISTIC: We've reached the 20-month mark, and I now feel safe declaring that Jackson is not autistic. I never had any serious concerns that he was, but everywhere you go as mom these days, they have developmental milestone checklists that are designed to be an early warning system for autism. Jackson has hit the major developmental milestones well within the margin of error (although he's very much a physical/kinesthetic late bloomer), and I was starting to feel like maybe all these warnings were perhaps a bit dramatic--but then I met a little boy at the park who showed me that autism concerns are not merely media hysteria.

I'll call this little boy Jerome. He was 10 days younger that Jackson, i.e. just about 20 months old. Through talking with his mom, I learned that Jerome isn't walking yet, and that he only has three words: mama, dada and duck. From listening to him I found that his "mama" is of the "Maamamamamamama" exploring-sounds variety of "word" that you would hear in a 12-month-old, rather than a clear "mama!" In addition, Jerome's play appeared to consist of highly repetitive behaviors to the exclusion of anything else, he didn't interact easily with people other than his mother, and he had what appeared to be a physical tic where every few seconds his legs stiffened while his arms simultaneously performed a seemingly automatic hula-girl move. As I watched Jerome play in the sand, side by side with Jackson, every autism alarm in my head was going off, and I was terrified I was going to have to be the one to gently suggest to his mother that Jerome might need early intervention, but thankfully, further friendly conversation with his mom revealed that he was already under the care of a physical therapist and an occupational therapist because of his "eye-rolling thing." Thankfully, Jerome had a very devoted, informed mama who will no doubt ensure that he gets the most loving and appropriate care possible, if he is, in fact, facing a developmental delay.

For me, however, meeting Jerome put Jackson's bright and cheerful personality and his natural verbosity in context. Apparently those attributes aren't necessarily evident in every single kid. So while it may sound ridiculous, as a nervous modern mama, I'm grateful that my little guy avoided this particular issue, which seems to be so prevalent in so many quarters these days.

Jackson Goes to Town

After a Saturday visit with some of the mommy gang to the Skirball Center (the Noah's Ark exhibit was great!) we spent most of this afternoon in downtown L.A.

We had tickets to an L.A. Conservancy-hosted screening of Miracle on 34th Street at the Million Dollar Theater. We started out the afternoon at the bazaar-style Grand Central Market where we checked out the busy goings-on and had pupusas (Salvadorean grilled-cheese sandwiches) before heading to the theater. We lasted through about 15 minutes of movie until (a) we realized that despite being initially mesmerized he was going to try to narrate the entire thing for the audience ("Man...talking...neigh-neigh?") and (b) we definitively lost his binky, at which point we were like, "Hey, let's beat it and come back when he's five!" The guys at the concession stand expressed regret that we were missing the movie, but we scoffed, because as per toddler economics that was plenty of value for our entertainment dollar.

After that we walked across the street to see the atrium of the famed Bradbury Building and then circled back toward our car, but not before we took a ride (for the adorably retro price of .25!) on the Angel's Flight funicular railway. In the company of a toddler, this beautiful, very noisy and seemingly rickety relic was both vaguely terrifying and supercool.

Jackson tries to go over the wall before we begin the 315-feet ascent of the "world's shortest railway."

Friday, December 02, 2011

Long-Term Memory

Jackson is starting to be able to "tell stories," as it were. For example, when Daddy came home from work and we talked about what we did today, Jackson said, "Painting...green," which is exactly right.

(Thanks to MIL Luise for recommending food coloring fingerpainting. I couldn't bring myself to use edible vanilla pudding but shaving cream was a hit. He was very hesitant to touch it at first, but then I added a sponge and a plastic fork to the mix and he warmed up and started making "Mountains!")