Griffin Turns 1: A Very Llama Llama Party

My beautiful boy turned 1 year old on October 12th.  To celebrate his first amazing year we invited 40 friends and family members to the house for an outdoor party.

I chose a Llama Llama theme.  Llama what, you ask?  Llama Llama Red Pajama is Fin’s absolute favorite book.  He loves it so much, that when we passed a children’s store featuring the book in the window, he spotted it, laughed hysterically, then threw a fit as we rolled past in his stroller. That is until we took him back in the store to read him the book.  That was 4 months ago.  Since then we’ve picked up the entire Llama Llama series and read one of them every night.  It’s our ritual.


Going with the red theme, I made red brownie and cookie dough cake pops, a first for me.  Cake pops are the trendy rage these days.  They were a little trickier than I thought they’d be to make pretty, and probably looked liked they were made by my son.  But they were tasty, if not a little on the too-sweet side.  (If you want to learn how to make them I refer you to the cake pop expert, Bakerella.  I have no business giving lessons on cake pops).  I bought the cake pop stand on Etsy.

Llama Llama Cake

I also made red velvet whoopie pies with vanilla bean frosting, and purchased a Llama Llama cake that I had custom made from the talented folks at Jill’s.  I sent them a link to the book and they created the cake.  Pretty neat, eh?  Griffin instantly loved the cake when he saw Llama Llama perched on top.

I used a cake that I made in baking class that I had in the freezer as a smash cake for Griffin- because what’s a first birthday party without a little cake smashing?  For his part, Griffin was a little apprehensive at first, then dived right in once he tasted the butter cream.  We also borrowed from Korean tradition and placed a bunch of objects in front of Griffin to see which one he’d select, thus predicting his future career.  We used a harmonica (musician), book (scholar), ball (athlete), dollar bill (entrepreneur), and fishing reel (Dad’s idea…).  Apparently destined to follow in Dad’s footsteps, Griffin chose the dollar bill first, then the fishing reel, to the utter delight of the crowd.

Griffin had a fine time at his party, laughing and impressing the guests with his new walking skills.

Can you guess what costume I’m making for Griffin for Halloween???

Cake smashing


Fin’s 1st 4th: Fireworks

For the past 3 years we’ve lived in prime fireworks viewing territory, perched just above the Rose Bowl, which boasts the most spectacular fireworks display in SoCal.  Yet, every 4th we spend in Lake Arrowhead with the Core watching the show from our boat on the lake.  This year we were fortunate enough to enjoy fireworks in Arrowhead on Sunday and to finally see the 4th show from our house on Monday.  Hooray.  With my tripod set and my camera in manual mode with my f-stop to f/11 and my shutter speed set to 4 seconds (these are the can-do settings to capture fireworks), I was ready.

At about 8:45 p.m. the sun set and fireworks started to fly all over the Southland.  Fireworks, of course, are banned in Los Angeles County, but a little thing like the law won’t stop us Americans from celebrating our patriotism (ironic, no?).  Mini shows sprang up from houses far and wide.  Our view covers the Rose Bowl to Downtown Los Angeles and we were treated to fireworks displays from the Dodger Stadium to Disneyland. july-4th-1-of-7

Here’s our view looking Southeast towards Disneyland: july-4th-2-of-7

Here is the view looking Southwest to Downtown.  You can see the Dodger Stadium fireworks in front of the Downtown skyline: july-4th-3-of-7

At 9:05 the Rose Bowl show began.  From our view the fireworks were actually eye level.  Colors popped and fireworks boomed right before us.  The show was amazing.

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And Fin?  For a first-timer he did remarkably well.  Though it was an hour past his bedtime and he was cranky from teething, he was mesmerized by the lights and smiled and laughed as they exploded.  He wasn’t afraid of the noise, and watched nearly the whole show from Dad’s lap or sitting on his shoulders.  Our little boy is now an inducted patriot.


Happy Birthday America.

What it means to be a mother

Today marks my first official Mother’s Day, and I feel as if I’ve only scratched the surface of what it means to be a mother.  For nearly seven months I have devoted all of my energy to keeping my son alive, from the late night feedings to the early morning diaper blow outs, to the blown-out-of-proportion worries about things like runny noses and scratches.  Only now am I realizing that Worry and Sacrifice will be my constant companions, for the  So the fact that mothers everywhere get this one day where our families are required to make us feel special is way underkill if you ask me.

When the Facebook fad of the week called on Facebookers to update their profile pictures to a shot of their mother, I was reminded that nearly everything I know about being a mother I learned from my own mother, Marlene.  My mother married at just 18 years of age, probably to escape the horrors of her own Missouri upbringing, and had two babies by the time she was 24.  She never knew what it meant to experience the carefree, selfish, “finding yourself” phase most of us go through during our 20’s.  During her 20’s, she and my father were already struggling to raise 2 kids in the suburbs of the San Fernando Valley.  I grew up on a block where kids still played in the streets and neighbors went camping together during the summer.  I idolized my mother and would follow her around watching her cook dinner, put on makeup, or sew a new dress for me to wear.  She held our family together and put food on our table even after spending all day working on her feet.  She was nurturing, kind, and had a wonderful sense of humor.  Always up for an adventure, we spent our weekends hiking, camping, and taking 120 mile bike rides (not me, I complained about the long bike rides).  She was also the disciplinarian of the family (my father was a pushover) and had a fierce temper when crossed.

But what I remember most about my mother was her grace and strength.  She was the type of woman who was filled with empathy and compassion and made everybody around her feel special.  Anybody that met her noticed a sparkle in her eyes and her passion for life.  These gifts were taken from her when life as we knew it was abruptly cut short.  After a hiking accident left her paralyzed from the neck down, my mother was confined to a wheelchair.  For nearly a year my father, brother, and I put our lives on hold to care for my mother.  During this long year of hell my mother watched my father make himself sick with Multiple Sclerosis from the stress, my brother become depressed and despondent, and I refused to leave her side for a second.  Rather than live as a prisoner in her own body or be a burden on her family, she chose to end her life.

Every day I pay tribute to her sacrifice by not taking my own happiness for granted.  Even when I worry over some insignificant trifle, I look at my son and know that I have her strength in me and can handle whatever curve balls life throws in my direction.

This was the last picture we took together and I remember this day perfectly.  The Los Angeles Times was writing a story on the rehabilitation center in Northridge Hospital where patients with spinal cord injuries learned how to live with their disabilities.  The reporter chose our family to feature in the article and followed us around with a camera.  I remember it was right around this time of year and the dandelions were in full bloom.  At first glance this picture looks like any mother and daughter sharing a moment together.  If you look closely you’ll notice the headrest of my mother’s wheel chair and the joystick she used to maneuver it with her chin because she did not have the use of her arms or legs.  You’ll also notice that my hand was on her throat where the tracheostomy left her with a permanent hole that prevented her from breathing properly.  By this time she already lost the sparkle in her eyes, hidden by her sunglasses.  She would make her final choice to starve herself and die with dignity just a few months after this shot was taken.

I never questioned my mother’s resolve to end her life, nor can I fathom the strength it required to carry out her decision.  My son will never know his grandmother but he will learn her story and know what an incredible mother she was to my brother and me.  Whenever somebody asks me what motherhood feels like, I think back to our last year together and realize that while I’m still clumsily finding my feet as a mother, I’ve known since I was fourteen what it means to sacrifice yourself for the sake of another.  Now that I’m a mother in my own right, for the first time I can fully appreciate why and how she chose to make the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of her family.


Birthday PJ pants: Daniel’s 1st Birthday

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Hard to believe that my nephew turned one year old.  In this year he’s grown from a helpless infant to a happy, perceptive, stubborn, demanding, lovable, darling boy.  Gone is his newborn baby smell, replaced by dirty hands and an ever smudged mouth as he explores the world around him on all fours, grabbing and tasting whatever he finds in his path.  Any day now he’ll be walking on his own, when the challenge will really begin for my brother and sister-in-law.

Last weekend we attended Daniel’s birthday party.  Daniel was the life of the party, splashing in the pool, greeting what seemed like dozens of babies around him, and wearing his birthday boy hat proudly.  By the time it came to the traditional first birthday cake smashing, poor Daniel was so exhausted from all the excitement and attention that he cried after we sang him “happy birthday” and his parents tried to get him to enthusiastically nose dive into his cake.  The poor little guy was surrounded by 75 people all anxiously awaiting the performance.  Once he obliged, mommy put him down for a nap. 

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PEAS: Daniel at 5 months

It’s never too early to start preparing kids to eat well in life.  When all a five month old has had his entire life is breast milk and formula, I’m guessing even lima beans will taste like candy.  Daniel has just begun delving into the vast arena of solid foods, and vegetables are where a 5 month old should start (I’ve read).  So when my brother showed up one day with my nephew in tow, and (being a father who’s still learning how to pack the diaper bag) he forgot to pack enough formula to satisfy his son’s healthy appetite, auntie saved the day by whipping up some homemade peas. peas-7-of-1

In my freezer I happened to have a bag of organic peas.  I boiled them in water for a few minutes, then plopped them into my super high powered Blendtec blender, added a little water, and pureed until creamy smooth.  It doesn’t get more simple (and preservative free with no added chemicals or stabilizers) than that!  Perfect way to start baby off right.  peas-7-of-2

Hating them himself, my brother was skeptical that “any son of his” will tolerate peas.  After Daniel took his first bite it appeared my brother might win the bet that his son would spit them peas right out because the little guy pursed his lips, raised his eyebrows, and clearly questioned what on earth he was force fed.  Taking his time with this new experience, Daniel went through several emotions from confused to disgusted and finally settling on sheer delight, all of which showed on his face over the course of two seconds.  He then opened wide and started to cry when we didn’t pour spoonful after spoonful into his mouth at warp speed.  I beamed with pride as Daniel enjoyed and gorged on the first meal I made for him, plus it’s always nice when a sister gets to prove her brother wrong. :-) peas-8-of-2

My brother, dumbfounded, conceded that his son actually might eat his vegetables without struggle, and graciously asked to take the rest of the peas home to feed them to Daniel the next day.  (Note, to test a baby for food allergies it’s best to feed them a single food for three days in a row to ensure they tolerate it).  Daniel left with a smile on his green smeared face.

Tummy Time: Daniel, 4 months

I hadn’t seen my nephew since before Christmas and in that short span he has become a brand new baby.  Fully aware and interactive, when I walked in to reunite with the little guy Daniel was on his back exploring his first play gym.  He peered at me from behind a small stuffed bug, and with wide eyes, mesmorized, he stared quietly but knowingly at everybody in the room for several minutes, just taking it all in.  For the first time I felt that he recognized me, because he stared for a while, blinked his eyes, and then smiled when he seemed to remember who I was. One smile and I had to remind myself to breathe.  Already the little heartbreaker. [SinglePic not found]

Daniel is in a hurry.  He’s only 4 months old but is already wearing the 6-9 month clothes.  He’s also in a hurry to start crawling, as he becomes visibly frustrated when he’s placed on his hands and knees but can’t yet seem to propel himself forward.  Defeated, he plops over onto his back and starts grinning again.  The knowledge building inside his brain feels almost palpable, as you see him trying to put it all together.  Every day brings the chance for Daniel to observe and assimilate a million knew things about this wonderful world.

Wild About Bokeh: Daniel at 2 Months

One thing I’m learning quickly as a fledgling photographer is that nothing makes up for skill and the ability to capture a sharp photo, but a really good lens can help you fake it, for a while at least. These days I’m playing around with aperture and depth of field.  The lens I’m loving right now is my new 50 mm f/1.4.  The wide aperture value produces a shallow depth of field, so you achieve the marvelous blurred backgrounds that make portraits pop. (Photography nuts call this “bokeh”, pronounced bo-kay).

To practice with my new lens, I enlisted the help of my nephew, Daniel.  At 2 months old this was his first photo shoot, with me behind the camera anyway. Already a ham, he loves the camera as much as it loves him.  daniel-7-of-7 My father, the proud first-time grandpa, kept Daniel entertained while I snapped away from every angle, because my philosophy at this point is that if you shoot enough you’re bound to get a good one on occasion.  The “shoot constantly” method helped me capture the third picture, where you can really see the resemblance between grandpa and grandson (hint: it’s all in the tongue). 

(Click on a photo to enlarge)