Small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.


O Christmas Tree

This post is little late, but its one I wanted to share with everyone. It’s actually so late, that last night we took down all our Christmas decorations and today are putting out one very dead tree. But more on that later. It’s better to start at the beginning of our Christmas Tree adventure.

First, you must know that I am a die hard live Christmas tree fanatic. I have too many fond memories of picking out Christmas trees with my family growing up to ever retrieve the same one from the basement every year. Now, let me just say that it’s a completely personal choice and I don’t blame anyone who doesn't want the hassle of a live tree, but for me, the hassle is where some of the more memorable moments come from (Mom, you know what I am referring to!). In the yearly trek for the perfect tree, I've always thought it would be a lot of fun to cut one down ourselves. Unfortunately, I've just never had the chance. Last year in Nashville was the first year Landon was really excited about the Christmas tree. It made me even more excited (is that possible?) and I told Adam that the following year we were going to step it up a notch and cut down one ourselves. Fast forward to our move to Northern California and within our first few days here we stayed in an area called Half Moon Bay. While we driving around from the road I could see them…the Christmas tree farms! I told Adam that this was our place and we would have to come back in December to cut down a tree.
My poor, physical-labor-loathing Husband of course had no choice but to go along with it. Not a diehard like myself, I may have converted him to the love of real trees if it were not for the fact that he knows that it means he will be the one doing all hard parts while I sit back and talk about how great it is. I knew I’d be pushing him to his limits this year, but by the time Thanksgiving was over, I couldn’t wait to go get a tree and so the weekend after Thanksgiving he put on a brave face and we headed out to find the one. First things first of course, a fueling stop at one of the local donut shops. 

Can you tell he's excited? It could have been over the donuts or the tree ... it's hard to know.

I had done a little research before we headed out and found a farm in Half Moon Bay which was supposed to be the best for kids. I figured it would make it that much more exciting for Landon so we headed there. When we first pulled in we were asked if we were looking a tree or if we wanted to partake in the festivies. We figured we’d get the tree out of the way and circle back for the pony and train rides, jumping houses and whatever else. We made our way to the back of the farm and into the tree lot. At the entrance of the field a big sign read, "All Trees $29.99". Wow! What an awesome deal! But as we walked through the field we began to see why.

They had hundreds of trees, but not a single one appealed to any of us. They were either too small, or not very full or just dead. We walked all the way to the back of the field, turned around and walked back without even seeing one we would consider. As we headed back to he car we tried to explain to Landon that this place wasn’t  the right place, but we would try another farm. Of course to him, we weren’t getting a tree and I tried to keep him excited even when I was a little worried myself.

We loaded back into the car and I pulled up my phone and found another tree farm called Santa’s Tree Farm just down the road that looked to be less kid centered and more tree centered. As soon as we pulled into their lot, we knew we had come to the right place. The elves handed us a saw and a map with directions to the various sections with all kinds of varieties of trees.

The prices may have been almost double, but at $55 for any size tree, it was still a lot less than we were used to paying and we could tell immediately that finding the tree wouldn’t be a problem here. Initially, we decided go to a Douglas fir section. We found one and walked around it seeing a number of nice trees, but nothing that seemed just right. Adam suggested we drive around to the other pathches and see if we like a different type maybe more. As we drove around, he pointed out that we should check out the redwoods. Given our new found love of them it seemed somewhat fitting that our first tree in California be a redwood. We found the redwood section and immediately knew that a redwood was our tree.

We loved the look of the branches which seemed flair out in a fan. The shape was nice and full and yet almost fluffy looking for a tree. The color was a bright green that looked almost electrified.

But if the name and the look were not enough, it was the discovery of the little baby pinecones so distinct on redwoods that really made our hearts swell.

We walked around the redwood section full of so many perfect trees trying to pick out the best of the best. I, of course, was constantly drawn to the oversized ones, but Adam kept my head on right and after walking the area for a bit we finally settled on the perfect tree. This is where the fun started for Adam who got to lay on the ground and use those arm muscles while I gleefully waited for it to tip over.

Landon pulled second duty making sure the stump was nice and flat while trying to figure out just how the saw worked.

And there is was, our first u-cut Redwood Tree.

Once we could see the stump there was no denying the redwood bark and tint.

With me happy as a lark, Adam loaded it up on the car and we headed home with our prize. When we got home it was just a nap, some finagling into our stand, a lost battle with our red lights, and a trip to the madness of the the light aisles at Target until our white and NEW red lights were on and we were ready to start decorating.

Can I just say, thank god I've bought 97% non-breakable bulbs over the years. Landon had a blast decorating the tree, but for every single bulb he actually got to hang on a branch, he probably dropped it about three times.

But it didn't matter, There is no way decorating a tree with a small child would be enjoyable if you had to worry about the bulbs falling and breaking.

As much as I enjoy decorating the tree, I now get even more joy watching my Son enjoy it.

Eventually, there was no more room left on the tree so we turned to decorating Landon instead.

I wish Adam had gotten a good picture of the finished tree, but we didn't. Needless to say, it was a beauty! But, as I mentioned at the beginning, the tree was put into the compost pile today. We noticed a few days before Christmas it was dead. Not just dry, but dead. It had lost the lush green color and was becoming brown. We think there were a few days in the beginning that it drank all the water really quickly and dried up. It’s our fault no doubt and I usually try to keep up the tree until the Epiphany (Jan 6th) so I was pretty sad to have to take it down so early this year. We didn’t even bother taking a family photo next to the tree. In fact, this is the only one I got with Landon Christmas morning next to it right before he opened his gifts.

On the bright side, we found as we were bringing it home, that the Redwood doesn't shed its needles like the Douglas firs or many other trees. It does however, have tiny little thorns at the end of the finger like branches. As Landon was decorating the tree, he would constantly say “Ouch, the tree bit me”. It didn't hurt much, it felt more like little pricks and it didn't stop him from continuing to joyfully add ornament after ornament. But, I will admit my hands were covered in red spots for three days after we moved and decorated it. Next time I might have to pull out some gloves.

With the good and the bad, it was still a lot of fun for me us. From our first time cutting down a tree to the enjoyment of having a redwood in our house. Landon even took on the task of official tree lighter whenever we would come home or wake up. He also put himself in charge of putting any ornaments back on the tree that’s Kaiser’s tail may have knocked off. He did this, while simultaneously scolding Kaiser for his carelessness of his beloved Christmas tree. In the end, we  ALL enjoyed our little Redwood tree and I for one look forward to doing it again next year.

We took video at the tree farm and a short time lapse while we were decorating the tree. Unfortunately, our memory card was already pretty full so we weren't able to capture it all. Here's a glimpse of the whole process.


Sequioas at Merced Grove

Our dear friends came for their first visit last week. We had a wonderful time showing them around our new home. We shared with them a few of our favorite places and things and experienced a number of new things together. The weather didn't always cooperate as planned, but it proved it to be perfect for their weekend here and we put it to good use cramming every second of it we could. Of all the fun things we did (there are too many to talk about at once), it is easy for me to pinpoint my favorite. Shockingly enough, it wasn’t my first visit to Napa, but our trip with them to Yosemite.

Pure magic laid a thick white blanket of snow over the place in the winter time and, as excited as they were to see the famous granite peaks for themselves, Adam, Landon and I were probably even more excited to see it dressed in white. Of course, she didn’t disappoint. Now frequent visitors to the park, it was still a new experience for us in so many ways. From the snow on the peaks to our trip to the Sequoias, this trip there was unlike any of our others.

With all the crazy weather we've been having lately we were not really sure how easy it would be to travel around on the roads. On the way, we had to buy a pair of snow chains for our car. It is a federal requirement that you have a pair in the car during the winter and we thought they might check. Of course they didn't, but we didn't want to risk driving all the way there just to be turned around at the gate. Speaking of the three hour drive, these were my back seat party animals pretty much most of the day...

Lame is all I can say.

When we arrived, our first stop was tunnel view to show our newbies a breathtaking view of the valley.

 I never tire of this view. It was especially beautiful with the snow laced mountains. Bridalveil falls was going strong as well which was another first for us. It made me excited to see the falls in the Spring when they are the strongest. It also made me excited to come back when the snow is three feet deep even in the valley.

It's also a great spot for a group photo.

 After tunnel view, Adam drove to one of his favorite meadows to snap a few more pictures.

The best part? Landon got to play in a little snow! He was SOOOOO happy! This might prove to be our family Christmas picture for the year. I'm ok with that since Yosemite has become a part of our lives. For Landon, it couldn't be Christmas until he saw snow.

We came across the ice skating rink as well and contemplated spending the some time ice skating, but decided against it. We stopped at the cafe for a quick bite to eat and tried to decide what we should do next. Should we take a chance and visit the Sequoias? Or opt instead for the short valley hike to Yosemite Falls?

Before arriving, we learned that the road to the Sequoias at Mariposa Grove was closed and only accessible by hiking there. So, when we got to the park, we asked the ranger what the hike would be like. He wasn't too confident in the conditions, but suggested instead that we might have more luck going to Merced Grove. The road to Merced was open and the hike to the Sequoias was only 1.5 miles. Although there was some snow in the area, he said the conditions were more favorable. The only real downside he said was that it was a small grove with only 15 trees. We decided 15 Sequoias was better than zero Sequoias so after a quick bite, we got back into the car and headed up from the valley and into the trees.

As we worked our way up the from the valley floor, the light dusting of snow became a beautiful blanket covering the ground and weighing down the massive evergreen branches. At that point, we knew driving up to the grove was the right decision (those of us awake at least). We arrived at the trail head a little after 4pm and we knew our daylight was very limited. The snow looked pretty deep, but we didn't come all this way for nothing so I got Landon's snow suit on him and we started the hike trying to hurry and reach the giants before we lost the light.

As quick as we were trying to be, none of us could help but to stop every so often and admire the surroundings. This was Christmas, massive evergreens, snow, and a seemingly perfect trail all to ourselves. 

As much as we wanted to see the Sequoias, it took a lot of convincing at one point to make Adam keep going. He just wanted to stop and take pictures of what was laid out in front of him. I couldn't blame him either, picturesque didn't even begin to describe it. 

We did manage to throw a few snowballs and shake a tree or two along the way as well. As we continued along the trail the light began to fade and the sky went from a bright blue, to a soft yellow, purple, and pink. The entire forest seemed to glow, glisten, twinkle. It was a magic few minutes as the snow reflected the myriad of colors. 

Just as we started to think we had to be reaching the 1.5 mile mark, Sergio pointed out what he believed was a Sequoia in the distance in the middle of the trees. While it definitely looked larger than the others, none of us were sure, but we could see that the path ahead would give us a closer look. As we continued looking at it to the left and preparing to follow the path in that direction, someone changed the direction of their head and suddenly called out to look at the ones ahead on the right. Just about 100 feet in front of us, in a straight line were five of the biggest giants I had ever seen. If the Redwoods at Muir leave me speechless, these knock me off my feet. If the sheer girth of these giants wasn't enough, their height seems physically impossible.

And although no amount of words or pictures can adequately portray what you just need to see with your own eyes, I think this picture of Landon standing to the left with his arms spread wide makes an impression.

Adam quickly set up his tripod and we decided with the sliver of daylight left to try and get one group shot. He was able to get all of the trees in although the lens disorts their size somewhat. Still, can you even make us out at the bottom? Just barely. Remember, we are almost 6 feet at the base there (some of us at least).

At this point, we knew we'd be hiking back in the pitch black. We weren't really prepared for that and given that at least a mile of the hike to the groves was downhill, we knew it was going to be a trek back to our car. So we took one last look at the trees and started back. Hiking back in the tall snow wasn't easy, but none of us complained. Even Landon did an amazing job. Three miles isn't a huge stretch for him, but three miles of snow, uphill in the dark is a challenging even for even adults.

As if the park and the snow and dusk and the Seqiouas were not enough, my favorite part of the day happened as we made our back up the trail. Day turned into night and it was the stars turn to stun us. Adam and I couldn't decide if it was more stars than we had seen in the mountains in Switzerland or not, but it was darn close. As we hiked, someone would call for us to turn off all our lights and we stood in the middle of the large path looking up past the silhouettes of the tree tops and right at a million stars shining back at us.

It felt like we were the only people left in the world as peaceful as it was out there . We stared at the Milky Way, this amazing system that we are a part of which. It never ceases to amaze me and I'm not sure I've ever seen it so bright.

I love incorporating Adam's wonderful pictures into my stories, but I've said it before and I'll say it over and over again, pictures don't even begin to do it justice. I could have stood and stared up at these stars for an eternity. 

We've got to find ourselves a dog sitter since Kaiser isn't allowed in many parts of the park. Once we do that and Adam's busy season is over, we will be planning a number of outings to Yosemite and the Sequoias. I know we will never have this exact experience again and the initial shock of seeing the Sequoias for the first time cannot be duplicated, but I also know every time we go has been better than the last and I cannot wait to see what in the world could ever top this.


Landon's Christmas Musical

Warning! - This post is basically for the Grandparents or anyone else who cares a lot about children.

It's great being able to share Landon's precious little moments on here with everyone from all the way across the country (and even around the world!) so when Landon's daycare let us know about their Christmas musical, we knew we had to try and get some videos for the grandparents especially.

First I'll start with the pictures. This was Landon through the entire first song...

 Hand in mouth, acting really shy about being on stage. This was Landon throughout the second song,

Now he is warming up a little and actually smiling. He's looking around at his friends, but not really participating. By the third song...

He's right in there with the best of them holding his baby and looking for Jesus. It was all pretty adorable especially seeing all the kids dressed in their holiday outfits.

He's not the most enthusiastic of the group, and he becomes easily distracted from the song so you can never really hear him in the videos. It's also not every easy to understand what they are singing all the time either. So I'll put the words below the videos.

In the first video, the song they are singing is called We are Camels and Wise Men.

The song is set to the tune of "Frere Jacques" and goes ...

We are camels, we are camels,
 Gold and brown, gold and brown. 
Following the leader,Going to see Jesus.
Come along, come along.

We are wise men, we are wise men
From afar, from afar
Following the bright star, Bearing gifts for Jesus.
Come along, come along.

The girls were an obvious distraction and the ear pulling at the end was not supposed to be one of the hand gestures.

The next song is My God is so Big followed by Christmas Bells

The lyrics are as follows...

My God is so big
So strong and so mighty,
There's nothing my God cannot do!


The Mountains are His,
The valleys are His and
The stars way up in the sky.

My God is so big
So Strong and so mighty
There's nothing my God cannot do,
For you!

The second song went...

Oh, do you hear the Christmas bells,
Christmas bells, Christmas bells?
Oh do you hear the Christmas bells, 
That ring out load and clear.

Oh can you see our Christmas tree,
Christmas tree, Christmas tree?
Oh can you see our Christmas tree,
it fills the room with cheer.

Oh, do you smell the gingerbread,
the gingerbread, the gingerbread?
Do you smell the gingerbread?
I'm glad Christmas is here!

I'm glad Christmas is here too and this musical was a lot of fun. Best part was that it only lasted 15 minutes so it never seemed overly drawn out. Afterwards, we all got to partake in the cookies that the kids had made themselves.

Through the event, I just kept thinking my little munchkin is really starting to grow up. I'm not sure where these last four (ALMOST FOUR!) years went. I do know however that I enjoy him more and more everyday. 


Let the Christmas Festivities Begin

We had a wonderful, fun, Christmas filled weekend and instead of creating the world's longest post I'm going to break it down into two (probably still super long). You always know it's been a really good weekend when you get to work Monday morning exhausted. With so much to do this time of year, we took advantage of it and fit everything we could into two way-too-short days.

Saturday, Landon woke up to find that St. Nicholas had left him some treats in his shoes overnight. This year was my first year doing this at home although his daycare celebrated it before. I'm thinking next year, I will step it up and make him clean his shoes before he leaves them outside his door. He liked the candy and we threw in a little flash light too, which he really loved.

Afterwards, we went to Panera Bread for some breakfast. Thank God the closest one is about 15 minutes away or I'd be going every day for a egg white and cheese sandwich. Next we stopped at REI because I had a $100 gift card burning a hole in my pocket. I got a lightweight backpacking chair so I can sit when Adam takes forever taking pictures and a headlamp. Now I can go through the caves and see all the tarantulas! Once we were done there, we headed over to Barnes and Noble to pick up a special book. On Friday night, Adam pointed out that my nightly advent readings were not really "age appropriate". I had to admit he was right and so after a little searching online, I found an advent schedule for readings out of The Jesus Storybook Bible. A million times more appropriate and illustrated! I didn't want to wait for Amazon to ship us one, so we bit the bullet and dealt with all the holiday shoppers. There was a nice surprise inside where a group of school children was serenading everyone with Christmas music.

They couldn't have been any older than 10, but you would have thought it was an adult symphony when you walked in the door. It was beautiful! Still, we were at mall during Christmas with a three year old so we got the book and left as quickly as possible.

We made our way back home so Landon could take a nap before we headed back out for the evening. This was an extra special evening and all we told Landon was that it was a surprise. Once he was up, we took him across the street and down into the subway for his first ride on BART. He was pretty excited to see the trains and to get on one of them. As a young kid in a big city, he's got to learn the ropes. I swear in Japan we saw kids his age riding the subways alone.

When we got on the train he took everything in and noticed the reserved seating. On it, was an outlined picture of an old man and a pregnant women and when he saw the pregnant women he asked us if the sign meant people are supposed to put balls under their shirts. He loved the subway with all the people he got to talk to and all the new things to look at. We got off at the Powell street station, right in the middle of the hustle and bustle and walked a few blocks to Union Square. I thought Landon would love the huge Christmas tree, but he wasn't overly thrilled. I on the other hand, was.

He was thrilled when I showed him the ice skating rink and asked if he wanted to go ice skating. Did he ever! We got in line at 4:45 to buy tickets only to find out the rink was sold out until their 8pm session. Instead of killing 3 hours we looked up the rink at the Embarcadero (near our old stomping grounds) and found out that their 6pm session was still open. Since we had over an hour, we decided to walk the mile to rink. Adam and I both agreed that this is the most excited Landon has ever been for anything. I tried to capture a little of it on my phone while we waited.

We got our skates on and waited for the doors to open.

We were the first ones on the ice and I held Landon's left hand while he held onto the wall with his other. At first, he was really shaky, but I kept explaining that he needed to keep his legs straight and shuffle without picking his feet off the ice. He wanted so badly to be really good and he did really, really well. Sometimes he would start to lose his balance and start to get really wobbly, but he would quickly regain composure and start again. He mentioned at one point that he needed to wait until he was "Big like me and Daddy" (his favorite line) to be able to do it, but he kept trying and never complained. I took some video with my gopro and while I still have a lot of learning to do I thought I would share. I know the Grandparents especially will like it. In this video, he actually mentions that maybe he should try skateboarding instead.

He took a few breaks along the sidelines with Adam while I got to skate around a little on my own, but he always wanted to come out again and try. I'm not one to brag on my kid's accomplishments because milestones mean nothing to me, but determination and perseverance make my heart swell with pride. Of course I think my child is precious, and adorable, and just plain awesome, but I think this was the first time I really felt pride in him. It's all about the attitude! I also took some still pictures from the videos. Not the best, but I'm happy to have them.

By 7:30, I could tell he was starting to get tired. So I asked him if he wanted to do something else like going to look at Christmas lights and he said yes. We returned our skates and decided to go back towards Union Square to see the Christmas lights at night. As we started to walk, Landon recognized an ice cream shop we had visited before and asked for a milkshake. Hot and sweaty, we agreed to split one and a few minutes later he was happy as lark making his way back to union square with his milkshake in tow.

He was so happy in fact, he talked to just about every person we passed. He would say, "Hi! What's your name?" to EVERYONE! And in San Francisco that means vast amounts of homeless people in the city. We are still not sure how to handle his overt friendliness. I think we need to talk to him soon about "stranger danger". On the other hand, I love his friendly demeanor and don’t want to crush that.

We made our way back to Union Square and over the the Macy’s light show. I had heard it was a big event where they closed down an entire street and had lights on the buildings with all kinds of activities going on. Turn outs, it was just a projector playing a screen-saver shot on a building and people walking around. They had lit benches to sit on, but that was about it.

Maybe the party had yet to begin, but we were less than impressed. I was impressed with the the decorations at the department store. They were all so beautifully decorated that I could have sat and enjoyed them for hours. These were actually taken during the day when we first got the square. It was even prettier at night, but hard to take pictures.

I especially loved the square at night with the lit up palm trees.

As a kid, I watched movies or shows about the holiday windows in the department stores in the big cities, but never actually seen one. Here, we got to see a number of them. The cutest being the San Francisco SPCA puppies and kitties. They had a black and white tuxedo kitty up for adoption and it took everything I had to walk from that window without it.

But I did, and we decided to walk down to California Pizza Kitchen for some yummy dinner (pesto shrimp penne is amazing) and wine. Landon drew us robots while we rested our legs from all the walking and activities and enjoyed a wonderful dinner.

After dinner we walked back to the station, got back onto the subway and headed home. This time, Landon enjoyed the stories his Daddy was telling him more than the ride itself. He still had a blast acting like a big person riding the train. He wants so badly to be big and I'd give anything sometimes just to be kid again for a day. One of life's ironies.We got home around 9:30 (way past his bedtime), took another number off our Santa advent calendar, and read a story from his new book. As soon we read the first story, I knew that this book was a good purchase. Not only were the pictures enticing Landon into the story, but the words were simple and easy for him to follow. Although most of the readings on the schedule are from the Old Testament, they all foreshadow the birth of Jesus and are appropriate for advent.

Even adults can benefit from this simplified story based bible. I loved this reading, especially the first sentence. "God wrote 'I love you' - he wrote it in the sky, and on the earth, and under the sea." 
It seemed like the perfect way to end such a wonderful day, one full of God's love.