Monday, December 27, 2010

"And give money to all street musicians. . ."

This "request" was on a list in a book I was reading called "It was on Fire When I Lay Down on It" by Robert Fulghum of things you really should do (kind of like commandments but not quite). "7. And give money to all street musicians."

There's this bagpipe player who stands outside Abravanel Hall after symphony productions and plays his heart out. Eric happens to be Scottish and LOVES the bagpipe. He always throws money in this man's case. As we walked home after the symphony one night, he told me he wants bagpipes played at his funeral. "Whatever," I said. Not very reverent, but it was "duly noted" in my mind and we walked on. A couple minutes later, Eric decided to jaywalk and I can't exactly remember what happened but there was a car and a close call, and I told Eric I could head back over now and ask the guy if he did funerals.

A couple months later, as Bianca, Portia, our neighbor friend Hannah (who was staying with us that weekend), and I were leaving from the Nutcracker at the Capitol Theatre, there was a man just outside on the sidewalk. His beard was as bushy as a squirrel's tail and he looked homeless, but he was holding a cello, bowing back and forth with his frozen fingers peeking out of his gloves, playing Jingle Bells. This time it was me, digging through my purse for money. Bianca wanted to put the money in his pile. She wanted to give him more, but I only had so much to pay for parking at the garage. It made me wonder about this guy who was playing a cello on the street. The cello isn't a cheap instrument to get into. What had happened in his life that he stood there on the street and played his pretentious cello in the most humble circumstances, in 15 degree snowy nights?

Last week, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw this very same street musician named Eli highlighted in an article about Christmas. It made me smile to see his face again. Bianca and I both watched the video. I cried a little.

I don't typically give to random people asking for money, but street musicians are working for what they get. They're doing their part. I get to hear their music, so giving a buck or two here and there is just my part.

Christmas 2010

I'm not sure exactly what it was that made this year seem so much better than other Christmases in the past, but I just know how I feel and this was about as good as a Christmas could get!

When I was a kid, we always went to my dad's side Christmas celebration on Christmas Eve and my mom's on Christmas Day. Well, we're lucky to have somewhere to go Christmas Day--since neither Eric nor I have immediate family in the area--and this leaves Christmas Eve to just our family. For Christmas Eve, Eric made shepherd's pie (a tradition he's carried on from his family) for dinner. After eating, we read the Christmas story out of the New Testament and acted it out as best we could--with Bianca as Mary, Portia as Joseph, a stuffed bear Leah for baby Jesus, although our goat (Tigger) and ox (Jillyboo) weren't exactly cooperative.

I liked how they used Portia's silkies in the costuming. Here's Bianca helping Portia after a wardrobe malfunction.

Bianca provided three musical numbers on her viola--What Child Is This?, The First Noel, and The Little Drummer Boy. The music was interspersed with reading a Christmas story (The Tale of the Three Trees, thanks Crystal!) and with pulling out the Thankful Box we kept all December and read aloud the things we've been thankful for this month. We laughed so hard when we read a couple of Portia's contributions (remember she's just learning how to write and knows mostly the letters in her own name) but I swear she had written something that could only be pronounced "poopoocity". The Thankful Box was an idea Eric's aunt Joan gave us on Thanksgiving, and I'm so glad we did it. I especially remember ending on "I'm thankful for a warm house" as we sat in front of the fire together. We let the girls each pick one present to open (from her grandparent's box that arrived a week before), then nestled them into their warm beds.

The next morning, we were up around 6:30 and began opening the presents. I was trying to cut down on the amount of actual toys this year and opted to get them other useful things they would love. Portia's highlights were the Boomwhacker xylophone (not as loud as you might think), new gymnastics leotard, lots and lots of art supplies and her Travel Turtle so she can color in the car. Bianca got a violin, a sea-turtle-shaped thumb piano, ice skates, and books. I like gifts that encourage my kids to continue on with their talents.

If you'd like to know what my favorite present was this year, check out the wood floors in the first two pictures. I love, love, love them!

We had a quick breakfast of cocoa and cinnamon toast while Eric was preparing the "Bread Pudding Quiche" to take to Uncle Bruce and Aunt Joanie's house. We're so grateful they include us in their family celebrations each year, and we always have a wonderful time. So wonderful we could stay all day. A lot of times we do! The brunch was delicious and we sat around talking, playing games and watching movies the rest of the day. This is what Christmas should be.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A last-minute vacation plan, a ton of fun

I'm a planner. I like to do all my planning way ahead of time so I can sit back and wait, all the while having something really fun to look forward to. My sister Susannah and I booked our cruise for the first week of December at least six months ago. My mom bought her flight to come along with us and our families. Then three weeks before our trip, the very cruise ship we were scheduled to be on caught fire, stranding passengers for days without electricity or flushing toilets (but not really eating spam, that was all the media from what I heard). But the bad news was that the ship was out of commission until January, and we were out of a vacation.

That's when I started to panic. We considered Oregon (too far to drive), going to California anyway just to visit my sister (I didn't want my family to drive her crazy and her house was for sale at the time), Las Vegas???, a ski trip. . . We had a family meeting. We pretty much ruled out everything else and decided to do the ski trip. I found someone on ksl classifieds who was listing the week we needed at a 3-bedroom lodge with kitchen, and we decided to go to Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

We drove up on last Saturday right after Eric's company's Christmas party (which was watching Tangled at the movie theatre) for the 4-5 hour drive and we arrived around 9 pm. Here are my angels (I mean, snow angels) on the car ride:

I guess I wasn't expecting too much but I was so happy with the place we were staying. It was literally inside the ski resort. You walk out the front entrance and there's the ski school building; out the back and there's a tram, a gandola, and another chair lift. They even had lockers with boot dryers to keep our skiing equipment. Outside the windows, everything was sparkly and white. A wintery wonderland. Oh and the best part??? The two free lift tickets per day that came with the room. Talk about a pleasant surprise!

We took the first day to get settled in. We had a delicious lunch at Cafe Genevieve (which was supposed to be Jedediah's but was really good nonetheless--get the biscuits and gravy). On Monday, we bundled the girls up in their coats, snow pants, hats, scarves, gloves, boots and marched them right across the street to their ski school. I'd been prepping Portia for this by telling her that she was going to a "ski preschool." Bianca knew what to expect because she'd done snowboard lessons at Snowbird last year. But what we weren't expecting was so few people. I didn't realize this, but on a normal year, the resort is barely open with very little snow. However, we lucked out. The resort opened the week before with most of the mountain open. And the best part was there was maybe one or two other kids in the classes and an overabundance of instructors so my kids got private tutors each day.

With the girls taken care of, Eric and I were free to explore the mountain on our own. He skis, I snowboard, so we don't normally go together. I'm not used to riding up the lift with a skier but we figured it out. And I suppose it's not that bad with a skier; Eric's pretty fast. We went all over the mountain and would head back to the bottom to spy on our kids every so often. We'd have a nice, quiet lunch together and have until 3 when Portia needed to be picked up.

We skied every other day so as to not wear ourselves out or the kids and rested on Tuesday and Thursday. On the other days, we spent a lot of time in the "hot pool" as Portia liked to call it, took baths, and watched Christmas movies and would go out to eat. We had a great time one night at the Merry Piglets (Mexican, if you can believe that) and went on a frantic search through the village of Jackson looking for candy sticks. I'm still not sure what prompted that little wild goose chase, but the good news is that Eric found some.

We found these adorable hats at the Mangy Moose gift shop and just had to get them for the girls. They provided hours of entertainment for them too--as Portia roared at just about anyone as she wore it and Bianca and Portia played lion and mouse in the hotel on our days off.

On Friday, it snowed all morning--hard--and the afternoon was frosty but sunny and the snow was still cushy (which as a snowboarder I can appreciate). I couldn't believe when Eric and I came down the mountain and saw Portia on a true ski run with her instructor Zack. They do this cute game called red light, green light on skis but the best part was the purple light, which meant she had to boogie while she skied. So cute! She went up the chair lift five times on Friday afternoon.

Bianca was having a blast too. On the last day, she had mastered the "S" turn and could link her S turns all the way down the run. I was so happy to see how much she improved from Monday.

It was sad to pack up and go. On our drive out of Jackson, we saw a herd of elk, two moose drinking from the Snake River, a fox, and some other wildlife. I can truly say this was one of my favorite vacations ever. We just may have to do a ski trip every year now.

Next weekend, I'm going to go meet my sister and her family and my mom in Las Vegas. I guess I got two trips out of this one.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The awesome week all the hard work pays off

This has been a crazy week. It's Bianca's last week before she goes off track for the rest of December. Everytime I ask Bianca about things that have been happening this week, she answers "It's awesome." Not a creative response, but telling nonetheless.

Monday was the Reflections awards ceremony. This year's theme was "Together we can. . ." Bianca worked really hard and entered in three categories. She wrote a cute story called "Piano Girl" in which a girl playing a certain song lures a little girl out from a piano. The two characters work together to find out how to send the girl back to where she needs to be. She entered this in the literature category. In musical composition (Bianca's favorite), she wrote a duet with viola and piano called "Skipping Stones." The song jumps around a lot to resemble stones skipping across the water. The third category was visual art, and Bianca drew a poster of birds singing together while flying through the sky. Bianca is moving onto district in both literature and music composition. She was really excited when the winnings included a $1 coin and a $5 gift card to B& N, which she's already used.

Tuesday was the mall project (see previous blog for more information on Bianca's Beach Band Shack) and the Story Weavers contest at school (which is a storytelling contest). She'd been working on the fairytale called "Toads and Diamonds." She and another boy were chosen to represent her class.

Wednesday was the orchestra concert. Bianca arranged a viola solo with piano called "A Minor" Christmas Puzzle (you're supposed to guess which Christmas songs she put in there) and performed it at the concert. I thought she did great. 

Bianca also arranged a song called "Silent Morning" (based on Silent Night) for her friend Kalli to play on the violin. Bianca was able to accompany her. And yes, that's Portia who danced into the camera. I swear Portia thought the entire concert was a dancing recital for her.

We went to see Ballet West's Nutcracker Thursday night. Eric got free tickets somehow from his work. We're watching our cute neighbor Hannah while her mom is out of town, so she was able to come with us. The seating was open, so we were in the front row, very center seats.

On Friday, Bianca had to go in front of the entire school and tell her "Toads and Diamonds" story again. She competed against the winners of all the other classes, all the way up to the sixth grade. She got fourth place in the whole school. Not bad!

I don't know how much else can be packed into one week. We have to clear out a couple rooms in our house so that our wood floors can be put in while we're away and pack the car for Jackson Hole. We leave on Saturday.