Category: Family

My Christmas Gift Spreadsheet

It might be a little late to use this year, but a couple people have asked for my Christmas spreadsheet, so I thought I’d finally post it. Just click here to download: Christmas Gifts Record

I have a master template that I keep safe, and then each year, I open the file and Save As: Christmas Record (Insert Year). Insert each person’s name in the upper left green area. Change the Gift Budget and Stking Budget to fit your needs. The Amount Left to Spend at the bottom will change accordingly.

Here’s what the spreadsheet looks like.

Screen Shot 2016-12-22 at 9.44.27 PM

On the right, I have a key reminding me how to color-code each gift. If I know ahead of time what I want to buy, I put it on the list and highlight the cell in yellow. If I buy something online but it hasn’t arrived yet, I color it orange. If the item is in my possession but I haven’t wrapped it yet, I color it blue. And when it’s been wrapped, I change it to purple.

When I’ve bought everything for a specific person, I change the top light green row to dark green, even if I still have wrapping to do. And when everything’s wrapped and ready to go, I change ALL the rows for that person to red.

The total will add up automatically, and you’ll also be able to see at a glance how much is left in your budget to spend.

I also use the numbers of the items to keep track of the actual gifts. Ever been cleaning out your closet in May and found a few stocking gifts? I have. But that was in the past, BCR (Before Christmas Record).

Now, as I wrap, I put the number of the item on the gift tag – just small, in the bottom corner. For stocking gifts, I write the person’s initials and the gift number on the bottom of the gift. Then when I put the presents under the tree or int he stocking, I can make sure I have everything and nothing’s hidden in the closet or my sock drawer.

Yes, I’m anal. Yes, I buy a lot of gifts. I actually shop all year round, so I can take advantage of sales and clearances racks and get the most bang for my buck. Next week, I’ll start my Christmas Record 2017. Maybe I’m crazy, but I love, love, love giving presents! Hope this helps you next year!


It’s been a rough month.

First, our youngest comes down with a life-threatening asthma attack. Out of the blue. Never had asthma before. And while we’re dealing with his health, we’re trying to figure out the source of his problem.

One thing came to mind pretty quick – our house is under construction, and we’ve been living with plywood floors, and our son’s room happens to have some pretty big gaps where the awful air from under the house seeps through.

It’s heart-wrenching to realize that our living conditions were making him ill.

So floors. Picked some gorgeous wide-plank oak stained a beautiful gray. Had to get it ordered, acclimated, then schedule installers. Check. Meanwhile, the poor kid is staying next door at my mom’s (thank GOD my mom lives next door!), but he feels seriously displaced. We took everything out of his room and washed it. Scrubbed the walls and ceilings. Check.

So we have this awful old kitchen. Our plan is to move it to a different place in the house, and we’ve already got the new kitchen plumbed and wired and layed out. We’ve been trying to pay cash for everything and do a little at a time. But as the installers are laying out the new wood floor, they run right into the old kitchen island. We can cut off all the planks here, they say. But it will mess up the pattern of the floor.

So we decide to gut the old kitchen. Without having a new kitchen, mind you. We’ve been here before. In one of our previous homes, I lived without a kitchen for eight months as my husband built it in his spare time. We washed dishes in the tub or with garden hose. Not fun.

We tried to save the old Corian countertop and sink, with the idea of using it temporarily in the new space so we wouldn’t be without a sink. No dice. The old counters snapped into pieces. We thought we could just put a garbage disposal on the sink we have out on the patio – but, no, the sink hole is too small for a disposal. We thought we could replace that sink…but the previous owners grouted it in place, and now our patio kitchen needs new countertops.

And I still don’t have a proper sink. But what does it matter when I can’t cook?

And THEN…you know, since we went ahead and gutted the old kitchen, and our plan is to turn it into a library with a fireplace and board up a door and add new windows…the old door and windows had to go, right? I have gaping holes in the exterior walls of our house, and of course it had to be the hottest day of the year…110 degrees. With the heat billowing in, and the air conditioning being sucked right out…and man, does taking out windows surrounded by stucco create a lot of dust. If my child didn’t have asthma before this, he most certainly would have had it after.

The good news is, the kid’s bedroom is done. Clean with a brand new HEPA filter. Beautiful floors. He moved back in two days ago and is happy as a clam, with no breathing issues for a week. And beautiful floors throughout the house that I can actually sweep and mop properly!

Almost throughout the house, I should say. They’re still working on the new kitchen area. We have boxes of dishes and appliances and food all over the house. And did I mention the dust? But we’re getting there. Slowly but surely.

Once upon a time we had a dream. Patiently remodel our home. Take on no debt and pay for it as we go. Be smart. Only start projects we can finish.

That dream just got blown to hell. Okay, we haven’t succumbed to the Home Depot credit card yet, but I can feel it coming. I’m too old to live without a kitchen sink.

I’m a Lucky Mama

Happy Mother’s Day!

I have been blessed with an amazing mother. She is the most generous, loving, hard-working person I know, and I strive to emulate her every day.

I woke up this morning to the sound of a broom brushing the concrete outside the window. I laid in bed listening to five busy beavers cleaning, planting things, and arranging items, and I felt giddy: this is the only day of the year I really give myself permission to just be. I don’t throw a load of laundry in the washer. I don’t make myself a cup of coffee. I don’t make the bed (okay, confession: I don’t always make the bed anyway).

When I heard the activity winding down, I got up. Loudly. Creaked the bed, flushed the toilet, and my wonderful family responded. When I opened the bedroom door, there was a steaming cup of coffee waiting for me, and there were four homemade cards, and there were five smiling faces, pouncing on me to give me hugs and kisses.

They led me to my newly finished writing shed. My husband finished the interior last weekend, but the outside still needs siding and paint, and the little patio off the front was littered with tools and the detritus of construction. But now?

They finished the patio for me.

I have a beautiful purple-glass Moroccan lantern hanging from the eaves. I have flowers planted along the wall. I have two new teal Adirondack chairs. I have a Chinese dragon garden statue by the front door (hello, Mushu!). And I have a tin-roof bird feeder and a glass hummingbird feeder hanging from the pear tree.

All I can say is, WOW. It is my perfect space, created for me by my perfect family.

We spent the day playing game after game: Betrayal at House on the Hill, Seven Wonders, Forbidden Island, Pyramatrix, Codenames, and Catch Phrase. We had lunch at Red O in Fashion Island. We just enjoyed one another.

Thank you, Michael, for such a special day. Thank you Hannah and Jackson and Tyler and Alex and Jon. You gave me wonderful memories.

Been to San Francisco lately? Don’t bother.

I physically felt ill writing the title to this blog post. San Francisco was one of my favorite places, and my husband and I have made many wonderful memories there. For his birthday a few years back, I even pulled a Pretty Woman and flew us up there one night just for dinner.

We just got back from a family vacation there. We’d never taken the kids, as we were waiting until all four were old enough to appreciate it. We were so looking forward to it!

Things started off well. We left Orange County before 5 AM, and we drove straight to Muir Woods. The weather was beautiful, the kids were in awe, everything was A-okay.

We drove to the battery above the Golden Gate Bridge. The fog has dissipated, and we got great pictures.

Then we drove to Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch, a visit to the USS Pampanito, and some play time at Musee Mecanique. We were thrilled to get a great parking spot at a parking meter close to these attractions, in a busy area. We couldn’t get into our hotel until 3 PM, and it was about 2:30 at this point.

Yes, our car was full of EVERYTHING we brought.

Call us stupid. We were. We’ve visited this city countless times, and we live near LA, and we know you’re not supposed to leave visible things in your car. I left my purse, hiding it under the seat and under a jacket, but I took out every credit card, my driver’s license, all my cash, and stuck them in my pocket. Nothing of consequence was in there.

We came back to the car around 5:30, and our passenger window had been smashed. My purse and our son’s phone were stolen.

At first, I was incredulous. This couldn’t have happened without a witness. People were constantly walking right by! And as my husband sat on the phone with our insurance company, and I sat on hold with the SFPD, every single passerby commented and expressed their sympathy. So why didn’t one of them call the police earlier?

It soon became clear.

A man walked by who lived nearby and pointed out a camera on the wall next to us. “Go in and talk to the security guard at Williams Sonoma,” he suggested. “I’m sure they caught the thief on tape.”

Then an employee of Williams Sonoma walked by. She said, “I’m so sorry. This is a known occurrence. At least two or three windows are smashed here every week.”

A known occurrence? The police know that windows are being smashed and they don’t at least put up a sign to warn you?

I was handling the police call, so naturally, I dialed 911 first. I told the operator it wasn’t a direct emergency – the theft had already occurred – but we needed to file a report. She said the police don’t come out for property theft, and she directed me to call 311, the SF help line.


The help line operator, Tony, told me the same thing. The police don’t come out. You have to file your report online, but only if less than $1000 worth of stuff was stolen. If more was stolen, I had to go to the police department and file a report in person. He directed me to the police department in the Tenderloin. If you know anything about San Francisco, you know that this is the one area you DON’t want to go to. I told him as much, asked for a different station location, and he hesitated. “I can’t really comment on the area,” he said. “But if you’re with your husband, you should be okay. It would be ironic if your car was vandalized outside the police department.”


Meanwhile, our 18yo and our 15yo went into Williams Sonoma to inquire about the video. The guard was very helpful, and they found the footage of two young black men breaking into our car and stealing our stuff. We couldn’t get a copy of the video (it requires a request in writing to the security company and paying a fee for the CD of the footage), but he was nice enough to let our son videotape the footage on his phone. The video is grainy (you can see it on my Facebook page), but you can see the two men, you can see them pull up in what looks like a new car, one drives and the other smashes and grabs.

So I call 311 back and tell them I have the video. The operator (I got the same Tony again by luck) was stunned. He said in all his time working there he’d never had someone call with suspect info. He said that there’s really nothing they can do, even with the video. He said to go the Tenderloin PD, but since the theft was under $1K…don’t expect much.

We went straight to our hotel after this. We drove past curb after curb littered with broken glass. I don’t think we would have noticed it had our car not suffered the same fate.

The kids were nervous and scared. We don’t even lock our doors at home! Now I know that crime can and does happen anywhere, but this was a different level. These smash and grabs are happening on a regular basis and the city does not care.

My husband spent a couple of hours trying to find a place to replace our window. He finally found one that could do it the next morning, but they cautioned us that it’s a 2-hour procedure, and it’s first come, first serve. We debated – he could drop the rest of us off somewhere and then meet us when the window was finished, or we could all go together. The kids wanted to stick together. I felt bad for them – our first night in SF was ruined, then our morning would be ruined, as well. But it was what it was.

We got a later start than we wanted. My husband was still dealing with our insurance company (USAA – they are wonderful). So it was 10:00 by the time we got to the auto glass place, in a not-so-nice area. The place was full – there were ten cars ahead of us. The guy there was very nice and understanding. He said he does about 30 of these windows a day. According to him, three years ago, SF decided not to prosecute these car break-ins. If the thief is caught – even in the act! – they will only give him a ticket, and that’s only if he has ID on him! So a thief just has to leave his wallet at home, and he knows he’s in the clear.

So…we had to wait. Fine. The kids were hungry, and there was a Burger King down the street. We were kind of under the freeway, and you could see several homeless encampments set up along the fence. Homeless people roamed the streets. Now, this is nothing new for SF, but I have to say, the level of decay is something I’ve never seen there before. The streets were filthy. We had to step over piles of human excrement. The smells were so bad that our kids were breathing into their sleeves. We finally got into the Burger King and breathed a sigh of relief. Sort of.

There were two homeless people inside, just sitting. Fine. We ordered and sat down to eat, my husband and I ate one table and the kids at another next to us. One of the homeless men eyed our food then dug into the trash can near us. He pulled out some half-eaten food and sat down. Our kids were wide-eyed, but it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for them to see this. It’s heartbreaking.

Our 11yo had a bacon cheeseburger, and he pulled off the bacon to eat separately. The other homeless guy approached the table, grabbed his bacon, and walked out the door. Everyone in the restaurant (maybe 15 people) watched, craned their heads…but no one said anything. I mean, what can you say? What do you do? Obviously, the guy needed the food.

But that’s not the point. The point is that being “friendly” to homeless people by letting them squat wherever they want is NOT a service to anyone. Is it really dignifying to let them scrounge in the trash? To have them peeing in the streets?

Which is why you now see port-a-potties all over the city. I guess I’d rather have the port-a-potty in front of my house than a river of urine, but are those the only options?

We finally got our car back, and we started our vacation anew. It was tough. Broken glass is everywhere. The homeless are everywhere. The filth is everywhere. And this makes me so sad. I LOVE this city. But after this experience, I won’t go back.

After talking to a lot of locals and doing research, property theft is up 40% in the last three years since the city got soft on crime. And that statistic is only as good as the number of thefts reported. We didn’t end up making a report (our insurance company said SF theft is high, and did not require us to file a report). Many locals don’t bother reporting the crimes. They’ve had their windows smashed multiple times, and some have resorted to rolling down their windows, leaving the glove box open, and putting a sign in their window that says, “Nothing to steal! Please don’t smash my window!”

So why is the city doing this? The consensus from locals seems to be that 1) the city doesn’t want cars – they want everyone to walk – so they don’t care what happens to the cars, and 2) they believe that crime is born out of desperation, so the thief must need the goods more than you do.

How fucking insulting to poor people.

And I have video of my thieves. They were not poor, I assure you.

The locals need to wake up and take their city back. Vote these ridiculous politicians out of office. Maybe the locals don’t want tourists, and they’re fine with driving tourists away, but I’d hate to see the economy if tourism died. That’s a short-sighted view.

Again, this is bigger than one little smash and grab to some clueless tourists. Yes, we were stupid. But had we known how prevalent this crime has become, we would have done things differently. We have visited this city twenty times, and we’ve never seen things this bad.

And that brings me to my final point: why aren’t people talking about this? Locals know all about it. Why aren’t you screaming at the top of your lungs that your city has gone down the tubes? Why do you let crimes go? It just doesn’t make any sense.

Thank you, SF. You just took away my children’s innocence. And you’ve ruined a beautiful place. I feel sorry for you.

Love Tuesdays Blog Series: National Puppy Day



Much to my kids’ dismay, we don’t have a dog right now. Even though I love dogs, we are simply too busy to give a dog the time and attention he would deserve.

But my live-next-door parents have two, so we lucked out. Last year they adopted a brother and sister who had been left in the desert in Coachella. Here are Lola and Cotter a year ago:


Lola and Cotter Puppies

They’re not much bigger today, and they’re so sweet! It’s amazing how siblings can be so different – Cotter craves attention and always wants to snuggle, and Lola is content to be on her own and watch the action from the sidelines.

Hope you’re hugging your puppy today!

Forgive Mom and Dad Day



Today is Forgive Mom and Dad Day, and it’s an appropriate one for me, as I’ve been having some issues in this arena lately.

On the whole, I have no cause for complaint. My parents are wonderful. I had a childhood filled with kisses and laughter, with game nights and sports and music lessons and books. I couldn’t ask for better grandparents for our kids. We even bought the house next door to my parents so we could be closer to them.

It’s easy to view your parents as only that – parents. They exist only in that role. But of course that’s not true. They are individuals, and they have strengths and flaws and dreams and neuroses just like anyone else.

I started my own family early, when I was only 22. So I learned quite a while ago exactly who my parents were as individuals. (Yes, I think it helps to have your own family to understand your parents better. Not essential, but it helps.) My parents suddenly let down their guard as my own role transitioned from daughter to wife and mother. They shared insights and anxieties and struggles that I wasn’t privy to before. The bloom was off the rose.

Not to say they’re horrible people. They’re not. But they are very human. We all are.

My parents are divorcing after 42 years of marriage. They are deciding to be individuals and to focus on themselves for the first time in their adult lives. It’s not something I need to forgive them for, as they haven’t done anything wrong. They are, in essence, making a course correction. And it just sucks that it’s affecting the entire family.

So this isn’t a post about forgiveness, per se, but about understanding. I get it. I get what parents are doing and why they’re doing it. Now it’s up to me to adjust and help my kids get through it. Dwelling on who did what to whom and who’s at fault serves no purpose.

I’ve always loved my parents. Still do.

Always will.

Playing Loaded Questions with Young Boys

Loaded Questions

Yesterday, I played an hour of Loaded Questions with Alex (9), Tyler (11), and Hannah (18) – it’s a great family game. Players take turns drawing a question. The other 3 players answer the question, and you have to guess who said which answer.
Question: “What do you have a natural talent for?”
Answer #1: Using ointment.
Answer #2: Coming up with creative answers with ointment in them.
Answer #3: Art.

Question: “What is the best thing to do first thing in the morning?”
Answer #1: Rub ointment on myself.
Answer #2: Sleep in.
Answer #3: Rub ointment on Alex’s rash.

Question: “What have you never done on the Internet?”
Answer #1: Gambled.
Answer #2: Bought ointment.
Answer #3: Sold Alex.


My Writing Shed is Coming Along

My hardworking, amazingly talented husband has been transforming an old, smelly, rat-infested shed on the side of our house into a writing space for me. It’s so cute!



You can see I haven’t quite made it inside yet. Hope that El Nino holds off until the space is finished!

I chose a pale lavender for the interior walls, but I want something bright and outrageous for the exterior. I’m considering a bright pink to match my hair.




Life’s short. Add a little color.

It’s hair, people! It grows back! 🙂



(And yes, that’s really me. Bleached it, the whole nine yards. Best 40th bday present EVER. Well, except for the mug I got from Jenecca. This mug rocks.)





Our daughter Hannah graduates from high school this week.

I remember when she was six months old, crawling around with one leg stuck out to the side (we dubbed her “Peg Leg”), and I thought, I can’t wait until she can speak! I can’t wait to have a conversation with her!

All the hopes and dreams I had for her!

And you know what? We are so blessed, because Hannah surpassed every expectation I ever had for a daughter of mine. She’s nice, and brave, and caring, and smart, and talented and funny and fun and generous and beautiful and what every woman should strive to be. I am so proud of her.


In the blink of an eye, she went from sweet little girl…

Hannah Pendragon

To a strong young woman. Congratulations, Hannah. You have our respect, love, and admiration.