Monday, December 31, 2012


Two days after Christmas, I accompanied some of the youth from church into San Francisco to volunteer at St. Anthony's for the day. Located in the heart of the Tenderloin District, St. Anthony's provides food, clothing, and more to some of the poorest residents of the city. It was an amazing experience for all of us.

As a bit of trivia, St. Anthony's is the center featured in the movie "The Pursuit of Happyness" with Will Smith. This center was what helped Chris Gardner get on his feet and make a life for he and his son.

Some of the kids worked in the dining hall, preparing and serving food to the homeless lined up outside.

Some of the kids went to the Senior Center and played games with the senior citizens, most of whom couldn't speak a word of English.

I accompanied the youngest youth to the clothing distribution center, where we matched and sorted socks to be passed out to those coming to the distribution center for clothing.

It was a humbling experience. Here we were, just two days after Christmas, where we'd opened dozens of presents (including numerous new pairs of socks), and we were faced with the fact that there are people who don't even have a single pair of socks to their name. Some of the most basic necessities of life . . . those things that we take completely for granted.

After we finished up in the distribution center, we all gathered back together and ate lunch in the dining room with the "guests". Another humbling experience . . . sitting at a table eating lentils and rice with people who wouldn't eat another meal that day. A couple of the people at our table went back for seconds and thirds, and scooped most of the food on their trays into containers or baggies to save for later.

After lunch, we heard the life story of a recovering addict, who shared his story of drug and alcohol addiction. You could have heard a pin drop in the room. He shared his experience of hitting rock bottom this past summer, and falling to his knees in prayer. He said that he felt like he was getting a warm hug, and feeling a love greater than he'd ever felt before. . . coming from God. It was an incredible story, and one that stuck with all of us.

I came home and spent the evening in deep reflection. On the one hand, I felt so incredibly grateful for the many blessings in my life—a warm house, clean socks, good food, a family to love me. On the other hand, I was filled with such incredible sadness that there are so many who, for whatever reason, have found themselves without these basic necessities of life. I was thankful that Olivia got to experience the stark contrast from her life as well.

I hope this is something that we continue to do as the years go on. It is a good reminder of the importance of making good choices everyday, as well as a lesson in compassion and empathy for those less fortunate.

All throughout the day, the scripture from Matthew repeated in my head "When ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Of all the gifts I could have given, or received this holiday season, this was perhaps the greatest.

December recap

Now that 2013 is fast approaching, I'm scrambling to record the events of December. It's been a fun, and busy month!

We bought a gorgeous (albeit costly) Nordman Pine tree this year. It was pouring rain the night we went to pick it out.

Since Steve was still under the "no lifting" restriction with his back, I wanted to make sure we got a tree that the kids and I could get into the house. As we watched the tree lot guy hoist it up on the car single handedly, I thought it wouldn't be a problem. I was wrong. When we got home, we just let it fall off the car, then dragged it into the garage for the night to dry off. The next day, Olivia and I wrestled the tree around the front of the house, through the front door, and helped Steve get it hammered into the stand. My arms were sore for a week.

We headed into San Francisco to attend a "Red Egg & Ginger" celebration for the baby of a friend of ours. It was in the heart of Chinatown. It was quite an affair, with probably 200 people in attendance. The food was authentic Chinese, and most of it could not be easily identified. The kids did great, not complaining once, just politely tasting (or declining) each dish as it was brought to the table. Just as we were finishing up, Steve pointed to the platter of chicken still on the table. Who knew deep-fried chicken heads were a delicacy?

Jack and Grant thought it was hilarious. Jack picked it up and began to make clucking sounds as he bobbed the head around. Olivia and I nearly threw up.

Grant Avenue—sounds pretty Chinese, doesn't it?

We took a quick tour through the Fairmont Hotel to see the gigantic gingerbread house.

We had a Secret Santa, who delivered surprises to our house for the first 12 days of December. On the last day, we were greeted by our good friends, the Clubb's, as they identified themselves as our Secret Santa.


Jack and Grant both started basketball. We get to add two weekly practices and two Saturday games to our schedule for the next few months.

Olivia went to the school holiday dance with her BFFs.

Gotta love little brothers getting in on the picture!

Rocky, our "Elf on a Shelf" returned to keep an eye on things and report back to Santa at the North Pole. He got a little creative with his vantage points this year.

One morning, Rocky was found hanging upside down in the Christmas tree. Apparently, he didn't have a very good grasp on the tree limb with his legs, because right before our eyes, he came crashing face first down to the ground. It was quite traumatic for all of us to see him fall, and then just lay there helpless until we left so he could use his magic to right himself once again. From then on, he didn't try any acrobatics or position himself in high places!

The kids built a gingerbread sleigh. We had to throw it away after a day when the ants found it.

We attended our 9th Sunol Glen holiday concert.

Olivia had 7 performances of Puss in Boots. She played a cook and a peasant, and had one line: "It belongs to the Marquee of Carabas, your Majesty."

My mom and David came for a few days. Grandpa and Grant enjoyed a nap on the couch.

We got a letter from Foothill HS welcoming Olivia to the Class of 2017, and alerting us to the upcoming parent information night, as well as freshmen orientation.

I went back and forth between crying and feeling like I was going to throw up.

Grant and Olivia's class joined together to adopt a family through a local non-profit organization. The week before Christmas, we loaded up 4 cars and caravanned to the center, where we met the family and presented them with food and gifts. It was a touching experience for all, and good for the kids to have the opportunity to personally meet the family.

I helped out in Grant's classroom holiday party. We made a holiday train picture frame and played holiday BINGO.

The highlight was the "make your own snowman out of pancakes".

We had record rainfall in the month of December. This was the view out of our window most days.

We put together a 1,000 piece puzzle. We bought it at Walmart when we were out Christmas shopping. Steve thought it would be "fun for the kids". I think he was actually the one that wanted to do it. I had wrapped it up and put it under the tree . . . then a week before Christmas, Steve found it under the tree, unwrapped it, and started it on the dining room table! It took nearly a week to complete (Steve did most of the work, with me as assistant, and the kids supervised occasionally!). It was no small fete—so many pieces looked identical, and the shading was crazy. When we finished it, I wanted to jump for joy. In fact, I think I did.

We moved it to our coffee table on Christmas day so we could set the table for Christmas dinner. I can't bear the thought of tearing it apart . . . it may be on our coffee table for a while!

We baked cookies for Santa. I'm still sweeping sprinkles off the kitchen floor.

The kids planned and performed their annual nativity reenactment.

Then they opened up their Christmas Eve gift — new pajamas (They think it's boring. I think it's fun!). Grant and Jack's pj's barely fit. I think they'll last about a week.

Santa brought a ping pong table for the family this year. I think Santa knows that we hope to make our house the teenage hangout in the years ahead.

Olivia inherited my iPhone 4. When I was 13, I wanted a dual cassette deck/alarm clock/speaker set. What a difference 27 years makes.

Jack got an iPod Touch. He can text our next door neighbor now to see if he can come out and play.

Grant got a motorized scooter. Apparently Santa has been keeping track and noticed it had been a while since our last visit to the ER. I'm sure we'll be fixing that soon.

All in all, it was a wonderful holiday season. I'm so thankful for a warm house, good food, and a loving family. Pretty much all I could ever ask for.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Minor facelifts

For the first two years we were in this house, we dedicated much of our home improvement efforts (and money) on the outside of the house. A new paint job, cleaning up the overgrown and neglected landscaping, getting the sprinklers working well, removing a few trees, you get the idea . . .

Now it's time to tackle the inside!

We started in the rooms we spend the most time—the kitchen and family room. A fresh, warm coat of paint on the walls did wonders to liven up the space. It went from a drab off-white to a warm yellow-gold.

A new sectional and a few new pieces of art for the walls make the room feel a little more complete.

We've still got some work to do to finish it up . . . an area rug, sofa table, and TV cabinet are on the docket, but we're getting there.

The construction of the kitchen has always seemed strange to me. We have awesome appliances—a huge built-in Sub-Zero fridge, double ovens, and a six-burner Thermador stove are a dream come true. But the cabinets were basic paint grade cabinets, painted white with stainless steel hardware. Yuck. The paint was starting to chip, and looked pretty awful, and it was just so . . . white.

Since a total kitchen remodel wasn't in the budget, we opted for the next best thing . . . to paint over them!

We chose a soft greenish gray color for the cabinets to tie in the green in the countertops, with a coffee glaze in the grooves to give them an antiqued, semi-distressed look. We added green wainscoting along the backside of the bar. The result?

The new cabinet color ties in beautifully with the granite, and the distressed look adds dimension and interest. We pulled off the weird gaudy golden scrolls and added wainscoting to the back side of the island bar, to tie in the cabinets. The wall color is a soft, golden hue and the whole area looks much warmer now. I'm a happy camper (or, should I say, a happy cooker?)!