Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Steven and Stacey's Visit

We were honored to have Chris's brother Steven and his wife Stacey stay with us last week. Steven came in on Sunday for a conference and Stacey was able to fly in the following Wednesday. Steven and Stacey are Lia's godparents so it was awesome for them to spend some quality time with her outside of our usual Christmas/beach trips home. The kids loved having them stay with us and lavished attention on their Aunt Stacey and Uncle Te Tee. Meal times were certainly much more lively and bed time more fun! The highlight for me was a girl's lunch out on Thursday while the big kids were in school. I took Stacey to Masa's - our favorite sushi restaurant. It was a lovely lunch and I enjoyed it very much. After picking up David, we got to play in the park a bit before picking up Emily. I got these cute pictures of Lia with her god Mother - they were playing peek-a-boo with me.

After picking up Emily, we had a fun outing to Walgreens. It was pouring down rain, but that didn't spoil the kid's Easter spirit.... They picked out some Easter Egg kits so we could dye eggs and Mom let them indulge in these light-up Easter egg wands. Well worth the price, by the way, the kids have played with them non-stop. Emily had to go to choir practice, so we promised to dye eggs after school on Friday.

The first words out of Emily's mouth when I picked her up from school on Friday were... "Do you remember you said we'd dye eggs today right after school?" And I was able to tell her that Stacey was busy hard boiling the eggs and we were going to do just that when we got home. You can see that she is very excited about this project! The kids had a ball decorating their eggs. One kit had the kids wear plastic gloves and squirt paint on the eggs with these little capillary tubes. That didn't work so well b/c the gloves were adult sized and the paint got everywhere. The second kit had the kids put each egg in a little bag and then squirt paint in the bag and smear it around. Much better design! Let's hope I can remember that next year! Anyway, the kids were very proud of their colored eggs and had a great time making them.

We took Stacey and Steven to the Knights of Columbus Lenten fish fry at church on Friday night. It was delicious. Chris stayed to clean up as he is Captain of the clean-up crew this year. We all love his Captain's hat!

On Saturday, we spent the whole day at the Tomball German Festival. We heard lots of polka music. Chris got to see AlpenFest - his favorite WurstFest band, we ate some great sausage and typical fair food, and the kids spent the entire day playing on the red caboose in the play yard. An awesome fireworks display ended a very fun day.

Sunday, Steven and Stacey had to go home. We took this great picture of Lia with her god parents before church:

We had lunch at Skeeters and said our goodbyes at Bear Branch Park. Chris took them to the airport and I stayed with the kids because Emily had a Daisy's outing at the park. What a great visit!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Monterey Trip Chronicles, Day Five

Wednesday, March 18th Highlights

1. Pinnacles National Park
2. San Juan Bautista Mission
3. Dinner at Dona Esther
Our last full vacation day... Chris wanted to take the family hiking and picked an incredible spot to do so! Pinnacles National Park is near the town of Soledad - about a 30 min drive from our hotel. We checked in at the ranger station and noticed the weather was perfect - warm and sunny but not too hot. Everyone used the super-clean facilities, we loaded up our stroller and back pack with lots of food and started our hike with lots of energy! We made it about 100 yards when David announced he had to go to the bathroom, so I took him back and then we started again (about 10 min later) with gusto!
The kids needed to stop for lunch about 30 minutes into the trail so we found a nice flat rock to have our lunch. David really enjoyed saying "Hello!" to all the hikers passing by. Of course, Emily has been hiking for years... so she enjoyed showing David what it is all about. Here they are holding hands. Cute!

If we were very very brave.... we could have continued on the trail for about a 1/4 mile through a dark and scary cave.... Flashlight required... very dark, very damp... Chris and Emily checked it out while David and Lia played with rocks outside the entrance.

Emily wanted to show me, so Chris watched the kids and she took me as far as she had went with her Daddy. You had to climb up a lot of rocks to get to the cave... Emily is really good at scampering up all those rocks... she must be part mountain goat! When we got to the dark and wet part of the cave, I thought it was pretty creepy... and had no desire to go further. Would you go in there? Maybe when the kids are older we can come back and do that part.

We headed back the way we came... The kids were not quite as energetic on the way back but we all made it out and were happy to see those clean bathrooms and our car! On the way out, Chris saw this cool sign pointing the way to all the wineries in the area.

We headed to San Juan Bautista to see the mission there. We arrived after 4pm so it was closed but the kids had a ball chasing a rooster around the grounds. Roosters are pretty quick. Apparently, they don't want to be caught by little children! David and Emily thought this was one of the most fun activities of the day! We ate dinner at Dona Esther's and ended a fun day with Mexican food and chocolate cake.

We did laundry and packed to go home that night. (Boo...) Our trip home was smooth. Chris was upgraded to business class and gallantly gave his seat to Lia and I to enjoy. First class treatment is divine! Am I lucky or what?

What a fun vacation!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Monterey Trip Chronicles, Day Four

Tuesday, March 17th Highlights

1. The Monterey Bay Aquarium
2. Jack's Peak - quick hike

On St. Patrick's day we visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The kids were very excited and so were we. I was a little surprised at how expensive it was though... $29 for adults and $17 for kids 3 and under... They asked how old our kids were and Chris said 5 and 3... but there was no charge for David which was kind. Anyway, getting past the price of admission, we spent the whole day at the Aquarium and the kids certainly got their money's worth. They loved the big tanks of fish and the special feeding shows where the scuba diver got in to feed them. Emily and David picked out a front and center viewing spot and enjoyed the presentations. The kids really liked all the hands on exhibits... maybe even more so than the "real" animals to look at. The highlights for them were the sting rays and sharks in the big tank... they both got a kick out of the hammer head shark. They called it the silly head shark... The jelly fish tanks were awesome as I remembered from our last trip and the sea otters made quite an impression because they got to see them playing with various toys... looked like they were having fun. The aquarium also did a good job on the kid's play areas. There was an awesome tunnel to crawl through with little tanks inside... I'll post a picture of that. David loved it! There was a play structure and even a toddler area. Emily did not want to leave. She can read now and spent a lot of time actually reading the exhibits to herself. She is such a big girl now. Chris really wanted to make it to Jack's Peak before closing so we left the Aquarium around 5:00.

Here is David in the kid's tunnel checking out the little tanks.

Mommy and Daughter on the half-shell?

We made it up to Jack's peak about 45min before park closing. There was a quarter mile hike we figured we had time to do. Emily still had plenty of energy but David had been snoozing in the car. Chris carried him up the trail so it was a good work-out for him! We would like to come back here and do some more on another trip.

Jack's Peak picnic area at the end of our short hike. Very pretty!
Post more later!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Monterey Trip Chronicles - Day 3

Monday, March 16th Highlights

1. Carmel Mission
2. Forge in the Forest for lunch (Carmel)
3. Caledonia Park (Pacific Grove)
4. Ghiradelli shop for hot fudge sundaes! (Fisherman's Wharf)

Chris wanted to hike Jack's peak on Monday morning and we arrived at the park gates 10 minutes before the park opened. Unfortunately, the park ranger did not come down and unlock the gates. After waiting 30 min.... we decided to leave. A little frustrating.
We headed to the Carmel mission next. This mission is beautiful as you can see from the pictures. Emily picked out a rosary in the mission shop - pink (of course) with heart shaped beads. She is very excited about it.

After the mission, we went into Carmel for lunch. We were going to stop at the Tuck Box for tea and scones... we did this on our last trip here... but they only take cash and we had very little. Instead, Chris thought we should try Forge in the Forest. This restaurant had a great fire pit inside and nice patio seating outside. The kids were intrigued by the fire and we had the place to ourselves since we were eating around 2:00 again. The food was good and the kids were happy because they had Kraft Mac n' cheese. Kids are easy to please.

We took the kids to Caledonia park in Pacific grove so they could play next. This park has some great playground equipment, green areas, and nice bathrooms. We got to the park around 3:30 and there were lots of kids playing there after school. Emily quickly found some friends and had lots of fun. I was able to take a nap in the car with David and Lia... decadent... and then they all got some good play time in after naps. Our little Lia dearly loves to play these days!

To end another fun day, Chris treated us to a hot fudge sundae at the Ghiradelli shop in Fisherman's Wharf. I thought we could all share if everyone had spoons... oh no... our Emily was a bit agressive and David wasn't getting his share so we had to implement some rules... We had to take turns getting a spoonful of the sundae... one person at a time. It made it last a little longer... but it was gone quick!

I'll update again tomorrow.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Monterey Trip Chronicles, Day Two

Sunday, May 15th Highlights
1. Mass at Sacred Heart, Salinas
2. Royal Presidio Chapel, Monterey
3. Rappa's for lunch at Fisherman's Wharf
4. Customs House, Pacific House, Casa d'oro gardens
Sunday morning, the kids began to adjust to California time a bit... they slept in till 7am... We had plenty of time to have breakfast and make it to the 11am mass at Sacred Heart in Salinas. In fact we arrived so early that the little kids were able to nap in the parking lot while Emily played at the school playground for about 20 minutes! The church filled up quickly and the locals were dressed pretty casual. Emily was able to attend the children's liturgy, just like at our church, and seemed very excited to go with the big kids to their special classroom. She brought back a special handout with the day's readings and was very proud of it. Here are some pictures we took after mass:

Family shot... looks like Lia is ready to bolt!

Here is Emily next to a nice mural of the Salinas Valley

Next, we visited the Royal Presido Chapel in Monterey. "It is the oldest building on the Monterey Peninsula and the oldest church in continuous use in California, and the only remaining chapel associated with a presidio in California. Not surprisingly, it is also a National Historic Landmark. " Again, Emily thought it was "Awesome!" I think the little kids were napping again so we took some pictures of her here:

After the presidio, Chris was excited to find FREE parking near Fisherman's Wharf on Pacific near Scott (for future reference). We ate at Rappa's and it was a big hit with the kids. We arrived around 2:00 so it wasn't too crowded and we were able to get a table by the window so the kids could watch the boats going in and out of the bay. They really liked that! We even saw a seal sunning itself on a buoy. All the restaurants in this area hand out samples of their chowder as you walk by. This is great when you are hungry! The chowder here was fabulous as was the sourdough bread. Outside of the restaurant there was a bird guy. He had all sorts of birds and let Emily hold one. She really liked that. I think her Nana will love this picture:

The only picture of us together on this trip! Thank you to the nice man who took it!

There is a historic walking tour near the wharf. We were able to go into the Monterey Custom House. "Monterey’s Custom House is a traditionally styled Mexican adobe structure. It was used by the Mexican government (1821-1846) for the collection of taxes imposed on foreign merchants. " We also walked by the Pacific House and the Casa d'Oro gardens. For future reference, the bathrooms at the gardens were very nice and very clean! David and Emily were being silly outside the custom house... couldn't resist taking these:

Another busy and fun day! More to come...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Monterey Trip Chronicles, Day One

I didn't find any time to blog on this vacation... we were way too busy! I'll just go day by day now that I'm back. :-)

Saturday, May 14th Highlights
1. Drove through Salinas (found church for Sunday, saw Steinbeck House, town center, and the "big" people in the fields)
2. Toured the Pacific Grove Natural History Museum
3. Had lunch at the Fishwife in Pebble Beach
4. Played on the beach and climbed rocks at Asilomar Beach
5. 17 mile drive
6. Carmel beach park

Our first day began very early as the kids got up at 6am and were ready to go... California time did not work in our favor in that regard... Our Residence Inn had a very nice breakfast for us. The kids all loved the waffle maker. Emily was excited that she was tall enough to get her own juice out of the juice machine. David and Lia discovered Fruit Loops are way tastier than Cheerios. And Mom and Dad tried to keep the mess to a minimum... tall order for our family.

Chris wanted to explore Salinas (this is the town our hotel was in and it is about a 15-20 minute drive to Monterey) and find the catholic church for mass times. We spent some time driving around the town center and found church without too much trouble. The John Steinbeck house was nearby as well. This was the famous author's childhood home (Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Of Mice and Men)... There is a larger Steinbeck museum in town but we didn't have time to see it this trip. Salinas is known as the salad bowl capital of the world because they grow a lot of spinach there! The kids liked the larger than life people they had displayed in the fields on billboard cut outs... they showed people working in the fields and on tractors and such. We called them the "big people" and said hello to them each time we drove by.

The next order of business was to tour the Pacific Grove Natural History Museum. Chris picked this museum because it was incredibly kid friendly and better yet - free! The kids had a ball and enjoyed the museum more than we expected. They got a kick out of all the hands-on exhibits. Emily liked all the information on whales and listening to the sounds they made. David liked the bird exhibit and all the fossils. There was a play area where the kids could crawl through a burrow and pretend to be a mole or a ground hog... big hit! Dad let them pick out some treasures in the gift shop as well. Emily found a ring with a pink stone and one of those flip books about a flying dinosaur... and David picked 3 critters to play with - a rat, a snake, and a mouse. Those critters would entertain him for the rest of the trip! He is easy to please.

Here we are in front of the museum sitting on a whale!

David and Emily pretending to dig in their burrow.

David and Emily in front of the big Pelican.

We had lunch at the Fishwife, a restaurant Chris and I liked from the last time we visited the area. Lunches at nice restaurants only work with our kids if you bring lots of snacks that they like to eat and finish in under an hour. Lucky for us, they had crayons for the kids to color with, buying us some more time, and we enjoyed a very nice lunch.

After lunch, we let the kids run around. They loved climbing on all the rocks at Asilomar beach. David and Emily enjoyed being king and queen of the mountain in this shot:

After our "play break", Chris took us on the famous 17 mile drive to Carmel. We stopped at bird rock and the kids were able to look through the telescopes and see lots of seals - very cool for them. We also showed them the lone cypress. Emily thought it was all "Awesome!" but kept telling us she really wanted to get to Carmel so she could stick her feet in the ocean...

By the time we got to Carmel, Emily got her shot... It was quite cold but she went in up to her knees and was very happy. I think her overall tiredness must have dulled her senses... there are no other people in this shot for a reason! The kids even played in the sand a bit before we headed out. We had a big day!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Monterey Trip Notes - Friday March 13

I am very happy to report that the Nelli Family made it to California and we are enjoying our family vacation! I have a few minutes, so I am going to update our blog with our trip notes. Friday was our travel day and it began very early. 4am to be exact. We packed on Thursday night but as hard as we tried to get to bed early, we were still up till 11pm... So at 4am, I dragged myself out of bed, dressed the kids one by one and Chris got the car loaded up. Emily was a bit crabby, David popped out of bed and asked, "Where are we going... California?", and Lia went along with the flow as she always does. Our goal was to be out of the house by 5am but it ended up being more like 5:20 - not bad.

We still had plenty of time to make our 7:30 flight to LA. All went well at the airport. The kids were very excited and had big eyes on the bus from the parking lot to the airport. Emily and David dragged their own little rolling suitcases, Chris had a large suitcase and 2 car seats, and I had Lia in the stroller with another car seat. We looked a bit akward I'm sure... but did well all considering. Going through security was smooth and we got everyone on the plane early while Chris fetched us some bagels and coffee. I won't lie though... the 3 1/2 hour flight was LONG and we had a few unexpected challenges...

First of all, there was only 2 bathrooms for coach class and the kids go to the bathroom a lot. I didn't expect David to have any potty issues because he uses the potty like a champ... however.... I was not expecting the airplane bathroom to scare him. He didn't like the tiny space and when the potty flushed he freaked out... I think he was afraid he might get sucked out of the plane. So anyway, he wouldn't go in the potty and couldn't hold it 3 hours so we had 1 accident... then we changed him and he immediately had another accident... then he fell asleep... then Chris finally managed to get him on the potty and he was able to overcome his fear and he was okay after that. Emily did great - no issues there. Lia did fine but got a little cranky because she wanted to walk around. Can't blame her.

Once we got to LA we had enough time to eat and chill out before our next flight to Monterey. No issues there. It was a short flight and we were glad to finally arrive. All our luggage made it and we were greeted with beautiful California sunshine and a cool breeze that felt like air conditioning. Chris got us a Nissan Xterra and we were on our way!

We found our way to Fisherman's Wharf and had a fine meal at Bubba Gump's. It is incredibly kid friendly and everyone enjoyed their meal. After lunch, we stopped at Lover's Point (a park right by th e ocean) in Pacific Grove and the kids were able to run around and climb on rocks. I thought it was very cold but it was so sunny... the weather here is very deceiving... it looks like it should be warm - but it's not! Then we headed to Salinas to find our hotel and got checked into the Residence Inn. Once we were settled we made a quick trip to Walmart and the grocery store to pick up a few needed items. Since the Residence Inn has a small kitchen, I was able to prepare a simple dinner for everyone before bed. We were all tired. A very long day!!!!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Little elves...

My kitchen floors are always dirty.... and I don't clean them very often. The weekends are good times to get the kids involved with the cleaning. They think it is really fun and they actually enjoy being helpful. Think it will last??? They thought the dark brown water I dumped in the sink was really cool! My thought was... gosh, that is really nasty! I have these rags with elastic on them to use with my steam mop. The kids think it is more fun to put them on their feet and use them as ice skates. They did a good job drying my floor! Here are some videos of the kids in action:

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Jenny Lim's Wedding

Jenny Lim and Jim Faber

We took the whole family to a wedding on Saturday! Jenny Lim, is one of Chris's dear friends from his years at the University Catholic Center at UT. She married Jim Faber and the wedding was beautiful!

The red Chinese character is the traditional Chinese wedding character for the phrase, "double happiness." The character is composed of two copies of the character for the word, "happiness." The doubling of this character is meant to symbolize the joint happiness of the bride and groom. "Double happiness" is an important symbol in Chinese culture. It represents a particular outlook and philosophy on life: that we are called to go through life together, growing in joy.

At the wedding ceremony (this was Emily's 1st wedding) she saw all the pairs of bridesmaids and groomsmen coming down the aisle and asked her Daddy with wide eyes, "Are all these people getting married?" She was infatuated with the bride, and rightly so, because Jenny looked like a real life princess! When Jim and Jenny came around to say hello to their guests, she couldn't wait to hug her!

Of all the guests, I think Emily had the most fun. She got to dance with the bride and all the bridesmaids. What an honor! She had a ball.

Jenny changed into a traditional chinese red dress toward the end of the reception.

David didn't think too much about the wedding and the reception... until the wedding cake was served! You can see he cleaned his plate! Lia was also quick to help her Daddy eat his slice as well.

And sweet Lia wanted to walk everywhere! I had a hard time keeping her off the dance floor! Must run in the family...

Lia and her tiara...

For several months now, Lia has assured us that she is a girly girl and knows what to do with all the girly girl stuff. She combs her hair, puts in clips, puts on her shoes, puts on underwear, and knows with certainty that beads go around her neck and the tiara goes on her head. She is something else! Here are a series of shots I took in Emily's room with commentary... (mine of course)

"Look what I found in Emily's room..."

"Yes, I know wear this goes..."

"Is it straight...?"

"Am I beautiful...?"

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

February Updates...

We attended the celebration of gratitude service at church on Saturday, Feb 21. Our family represented the Familia ministry and we were given the opportunity to present gifts in the procession. Our kids thought this was very special to "march in the parade...". The O'Connors represented the Bread of Life home schooling group and the girl scouts were beside us as well. What an honor! The gumbo festival after mass was lots of fun as well. The kids loved the live cajun band just as much as last year and had a ball. The gumbo cookoff was awesome too! Saint Anne's society won the non-seafood division and Chris said he was inspired enough to enter next year... we'll see...?

Emily sang in the Ash Wednesday service at our church. She was proud to receive ashes twice... she went to mass at school at 9am and then sang at the 5:30 service. She continues to be very proud to sing in the choir. David, on the other hand, informed his Daddy that he did not want ashes on his forehead! For Lent, we have given up a few things... no fast food, no videos but ETWN shows okay... it allows me to get dinner ready and they do have some great catholic content for kids! But we are also listening to the audio bible CDs that were so graciously given to us at church. Emily and I listen to the kid's version in the mornings as we get ready for school. It is surprisingly easy to incorporate it into our schedule this way and she really enjoys it. She told me at church she was tired of waiting and was ready to receive communion like we do. ;-)

I got tickets for Chris and Emily to see Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat last Sunday (March 1). Class Act productions puts on their shows at the Nancy Bock theater here in The Woodlands. I was lucky to get them front row seats. Chris said Emily loved the singing and the dancing and that she was moved to tears during a scene depicting Joseph in jail... he had to give her his hankerchief! I wish I could have been there.... but what a great Daddy/daughter outing. She was tired the next morning for school but assured me it was worth it.

We have had some sad news since my last post as well. Our dear friends recently lost their fathers in February. Lowell Smith's father died suddenly and unexpectedly in the middle of the month and Kevin Heyburn lost his dad later in the month. Chris was able to attend both funeral services in support of his friends and we continue to pray for their families.

More later...