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Letters to Santa

Every Christmas, my mom’s piano is covered in pictures with Santa. There’s the one of me as a baby, cradled in Santa’s arms. There’s the one of all three of us girls crowding Santa. There’s the one of us holding onto our youngest sister to keep her from bolting. There’s the one of us and our cousins as teenagers, all sitting on Santa’s lap while he was either grinning widely or grimacing from the pain of our weight. There are probably 16 or more pictures of us at various stages of life with our friend, Santa Claus. And then, to finish off the cycle, are the ones of my own kids with Santa. My favorite is the one when my daughter was 2. On her face is a smile that tells a story of fear and trepidation. It was the best smile we could get. Each time the camera flashed, she had been frowning, or grimacing, or looking at us to see if she was done yet. The elf at the booth would ask me each time if that one was acceptable, and true as a mom of a toddler that wants the perfect picture (despite the growing line behind me), I would ask her to take one more. I was about to ask her to take one again, sure that she would smile this time, when a little voice piped up.

“Moooommmmm?” she said in a wavering voice, begging with her eyes to please be taken from this strange man’s grasp.

“That first one we took is the best. We’ll take that one,” I told the elf as I scooped her up.

Santa was always a huge part of our holiday. My sisters and I were faithful in writing him letters and setting them by the fireplace to be whisked away by the wind to the North Pole. We’d start writing our letters in July. We’d make promises of being good all year, and helping our mother, and then, once December hit, we’d make good on those promises.

Truth is, I’m sure Santa was aware that we weren’t exactly good as gold. Every Christmas morning there was a little fear in the pit of my stomach that he would only leave me coal, or worse, skip our house altogether in favor of moving on to a house with well-behaved children. He never did skip us, though. And he never did leave us coal. Instead he left us presents like the pink bike with streamers and clackers on the spokes, or the stereo with the CD player and the remote control, or the socks with a space for each of my toes. And he never failed to leave us a letter, thanking us for the milk and cookies and the sweet cob we left for the reindeer. And just to make his presence known, he’d leave crumbs in the bottom of the glass and a boot print in the fireplace, and occasionally bells from his sleigh or some other cool memento.

This year, the Press Democrat would love to have your child’s letters to Santa before they send them off to the North Pole. The annual Holiday Gift Guide will be publishing on December 10th, and they plan on publishing letters to Santa from kids aged 0 – 102. Letters can include anything they want – pictures, what they want for Christmas – anything! At the end, have them sign it and include the town they live in. We’re looking for letters from all over the county! If chosen, your child’s letter will appear in the Gift Guide, wrapped in the newspaper on December 10th. Make your child a star!

Please see the forums on where to send letters to Santa by CLICKING HERE.  Entries must be mailed by Friday, November 27th, or dropped off by December 1st, so the window to do this is small. Start your letters today! We’ll be sure to send them off to Santa once we get all the letters. Happy writing!

P.S. If your family has a different tradition for the holidays, please feel free to share that instead of a letter to Santa.

Weekend Family Fun, Nov 14th – 15th

There are several great events going on this weekend.  But since we are officially in the holiday season, I want to urge everyone to do what they can to help others who are in need.  I have included a couple of very easy ways to give of yourself and not break the bank.  Our children benefit when we make community service a habit in our households.  What they witness of us is something they will carry into their own lives.  Use this season to start a trend that will benefit your soul as well as the lives of others.

Go Dog. Go!   “Big dogs, little dogs, red dogs, blue dogs, yellow dogs, green dogs, black dogs, & white dogs are all at a dog party! What a dog party!” Come on, read with me! You all remember the book, now you can see the play. Actor’s Theatre for Children will be performing their version of P.D. Eastman’s book, “Go, Dog. Go!” for kids of all ages!
Dohn Theater, Steele Lane Community Center, Santa Rosa
Friday, Nov 13th at 7:30pm
Saturday, Nov 14th at 1:00pm & 3:30pm
Sunday, Nov 15th at 2:30pm
$5.00 per person

Note: Tickets go on sale 1 hour before the performance in the lobby.

Santa Rosa Doll Show  Ask any little girl what’s on her wish list for the holiday season, and one of those wishes will surely to be a doll. At the Santa Rosa Doll Show this Saturday, doll collectors of all ages will be able to see dolls of every kind, from antique to modern, and accessories. This event is hosted by The Redwood Empire Doll & Study.
Veterans Memorial Building, 1351 Maple Ave, Santa Rosa.
Saturday, Nov 14th, 10am – 3:30am.
Free parking. Admission is $4.50, under 12 free.

Wild Cat Adventure  It’s not every day your child can see wild cats like cheetahs and leopards and tigers up close. The folks over at Wild Cat Adventure put on a great show with wild cats such as these, and also teach the audience about the cats. This is definitely something that kids and their families will want to see!
Sunday, Nov 15th, 3 PM
Sebastopol Community Center 390 Morris Street, Sebastopol
$10 adults, $5 children under 12.

Easy ways to help

Holiday Craft Bazaar
This event is being put on to benefit Project Linus, a non-profit group that gives homemade blankets to children who are facing illness or trauma. Items for sale include homemade crafts, baked goods, quilts, beaded jewelry, and more. Plus there will be a quilt raffle. Frank Simpson of the Petaluma Spectator on Petaluma 360 gives an even more detailed description of this event.
Saturday, Nov 14th, 10am – 2pm
304 Maria Drive, Petaluma (Across the street from Learning to Learn Pre School, Maria & Professional Drive)
Cash only, please

Feed a Local Senior
Meals on Wheels is starting their campaign to encourage everyone to donate $3.50 or more to help provide a healthy meal to seniors in our area. Council on Aging  has served close to 300,000 meals to 3,000 seniors since they first started in 1976. Only 45% of their funding comes from Government funding, so they rely on our help to feed those seniors that are unable to cook for themselves or drive themselves to the store. Their program allows seniors to be able to continue living in their homes and maintain their independence. Participating grocers are Big John’s, Molsberry, Oliver’s Pacific, Petaluma, and Skyhawk Village Markets.

Other People's Junk….

After the rains at the end of the week, the weekend’s sunshine made the whole world seem new. While still holding that autumn chill in the air, the sky was a promising shade of blue that beckoned to us to be outdoors and soak up some rays from the sun. Our kids were gone, staying with their other parents until Sunday afternoon. Mr. Wonderful and I were left to enjoy some peace and quiet, and do anything we wanted without having to worry about complaints from the kids. So what better way to spend a Sunday morning than to peruse the garages of other people’s homes, making their junk our treasures? Mr. Wonderful has been in the market for a certain piece of furniture. Last weekend it was antique stores. This weekend we thought we’d try our hand at garage sales.

We grabbed the newspaper and went out on our treasure hunt. The first house proved to be a bust. The one drawback of garage shopping on Sundays is that all the good stuff gets taken on Saturdays. We were left looking at old drinking glasses in the ugliest shade of green imaginable, and a lamp that made us question what they were thinking when they bought it brand new. We stayed for only 5 minutes before moving on to the next. This one happened to be located in a barn, and we were like kids in a candy store. Old chalk board? Sure! Cook books for a buck? I’ll take two! Tennis rackets and a vase? Absolutely! We walked out of there with our arms full and our wallets barely touched. But still, we hadn’t found what we had been searching for. So on we went to the final house. This one we only had to drive by to see that nothing was there. And we knew that we might not come across the desired piece today. But still, we were determined to at least find some more treasures out there to feed our shopping bug. Our last stop was the Goodwill.

I have a love/hate relationship with Thrift Stores. Plenty of people find joy in coming to Thrift Stores to get things much cheaper than they would if they got them new. And truth is, if you look carefully, there are plenty of barely used items that deserve a good home. Some things haven’t been used ever and still have their original price tags on them. There is an overabundance of good quality kitchenware that would have cost hundreds bought new, and are now selling for under $10. There are racks of shoes and clothes that, if weeded through properly, can produce treasures in your closet, or at least scraps for the quilt you’re making or for patches in those jeans with holes in the knees. There is a room dedicated to dressers and tables, TV stands and beds. The whole store is filled with diamonds in the rough, just waiting to be discovered. And I feel that after 10 minutes of perusing through other people’s castaways, getting caught up in the moment of discovering something that someone else didn’t see before me. But those first 10 minutes are filled with trepidation, the smell of musty clothes bringing on memories that aren’t so fond to me, a time when shopping at a thrift store was not done for fun, but out of necessity. It was back in my married days, a time that I often look at as if it were another life just to keep it seperate from where I am now.  Food was bought with a benefits card, something I would bring out discretely only to have the checker ask loudly, “Will this be Cash, or Food Aid?”.  The PG&E was shut off more times than I can count.  Dr’s visits were at crowded offices, waiting in a room filled with screaming and crying children for hours.  Dental exams were the same way, yet we were filed in and out like cattle, and not allowed to be by our young children’s side while they had their teeth examined.  School shopping was done at the Salvation Army with hope that some kid grew out of their clothes before they wore them out.  Being poor rendered us invisible and of a lower class.  And after my divorce, I worked as hard as possible to get out of that life.  When I walked away from poverty, I also walked away from “free” medical insurance, government aid, bounced checks, and Thrift Stores….and I never looked back.

Until this Sunday. It had been years since I had stepped into one of these stores. And the smell, no matter what, never changes. But this Goodwill had been kept up to impeccable standards. Everything was placed in an orderly fashion. Even the clothes were arranged by their type, and then sub-categorized by color. One quick glance around and I was quickly brought back to how fun “Thrifting” could be. The first thing I came across was a black suede jacket without a price tag. The fit was perfect, and exactly what I had been looking for to replace my own beat-up coat. I picked up glass after plate after cooking pan, imagining the possibilities with each as if shopping in a department store. I took in my fair share of eye candy before joining Mr. Wonderful in his quest.

And that’s when we saw it.

No, not the piece of furniture we were looking for. We had given up on that already. But a trivet for bread with glass Pyrex loaf pans. To be fair, Mr. Wonderful saw it first. But my eyes opened so wide and I swear he caught me drooling, and Mr. Wonderful lived up to his name. He told me he’d buy it for me on one condition. The evening before, I had been nearly impaled by a frozen banana that leapt out of his freezer and missed my head by inches. Mr. Wonderful’s son was not one for overripe bananas. Even one spot on them rendered them disgusting. So Mr. Wonderful froze the bananas and used them for banana bread. But his freezer was overflowing to the point that these frozen pieces of fruit were attacking anyone who opened the door. Mr. Wonderful promised me he would buy me the trivet, but only if I made him my own banana bread.

Consider it done.

My final bill came to around $13. I got three movies, the suede jacket (it was $7!), a fan, and some light bulbs. It was a steal! And the rest of the evening was spent over a hot oven to create only the best tasting banana bread. I used my favorite recipe that includes a secret ingredient (be sure to check the forums for the recipe). The result? Something I’m going to have a hard time keeping my hands off of while it exists in our home.

You’ve gotta love weekends.

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Speaking of weekends, if you know of a family friendly event coming up, be sure to let me know so I can include it in my Weekend Family Fun blogs. And if you are looking for something to do over the weekend, every Friday I have a new list of fun and inexpensive things to do over the weekend.

And a reminder, this is the “Season of Giving”.  Thrift stores are a wonderful place to donate your gently used items for folks that could use them.  Food Banks have barrels to donate food at most grocery stores.  Secret Santa is being set up as an annual tradition by the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County to help brighten the holidays for families in need.  And if money or items are not possible for your family to donate, your time is just as valuable.  Please consider giving this season, and help those families in need.

Best places for Trick-or-Treating

Want the best bets for Halloween Trick-or-Treating?  Look no further!  I have compiled a list of neighborhoods that I know of around the county that are sure to have your pillow cases overflowing with candy!  Did I miss any?  Be sure to mention your favorite neighborhood in the comments.

Jose Ramon Ave in Santa Rosa
4 neighbors put together a Halloween display close to Fulton and West 3rd that has been stated by some as the best Halloween display in Sonoma County.  Every year it gets better and better, and this year will be no exception thanks to an upgrade in the lighting system and over 100 props.  This is a must see!  It is guessed that this is going to be Santa Rosa’s new hot spot for trick or treating.

McDonald Ave in Santa Rosa
This is Santa Rosa’s favorite spot for trick-or-treating!  One of the members of this neighborhood reported spending $800 on candy, and having 1400 visitors the past Halloween! Be prepared to see live performances and spooky happenings in the neighborhood that makes Halloween come alive!

D Street, Petaluma
Each Halloween, Petaluma’s historic D Street is the place to be. Both adults and children dress in elaborate costumes and travel up and down both sides of the Victorian lined street, trick-or-treating at the many decorated homes. Ask anyone in Petaluma where to go for door to door candy pan-handling, and this is the direction they’ll point you in!

Armstrong Estates (5th Street East off of Napa St.), Sonoma
This is where the winners from HGTV won their new house. It’s also where John Lasseter of Pixar used to live. As kids, we always went through that neighborhood just to see the decorations alone. From what I hear, it’s also a great place to reap the benefits in candy!

Other neighborhoods I’ve been clued in to:
Sunshine Ave in Rincon Valley, Santa Rosa (off of Montecito Blvd)
Sonoma Mountain, Petaluma
Johnson St, Healdsburg (Mill St, left on Healdsburg Ave to Piper to Johnson)
Sunnyvale Dr, Healdsburg (Dry Creek Rd, left on Healdsburg Ave to Sunnyvale)

Any others????? Leave them in the comments.  And don’t forget your cameras so you can enter your Halloween photos in the SantaRosaMom.com contest!

For more tips on best bets for trick-or-treating, be sure to check out these great sites:
santarosa.about.com
sonomaonthecheap.com

A parents' guide to Halloween costumes

Creative, affordable and easy options exist for outfitting your youngsters.

There is a week left until Halloween. Still don’t have a Halloween costume? Don’t feel bad, neither do my kids. By now there is no doubt that the costume shops have been completely cleaned out, save for a few mismatched items to a costume that no longer exists.
But consider yourself lucky. You are about to save yourself a lot of money by creating your child’s costume instead of just buying something off of a rack. Truth is, you don’t even need to know how to sew. It is definitely possible to create a great Halloween costume on a budget and even at the last minute.
When my daughter was only 3 years old, I decided to be Susie Homemaker and make her Halloween costume for the first time. My mother is the original Susie Homemaker, having made our costumes every year.
She made me a pink nightgown and a gold foil crown with a tin foil star wand so I could be a princess. Another year she made bunny costumes for the whole family, including my baby sister. Those bunny costumes became a bear costume the next year, and a gremlin costume the year after that. Another year my sister and I wore matching poodle skirts with an embroidered character in the corner of the skirt. In preparation for Halloween, my mother would whip out her sewing machine months in advance and create original costumes that we would proudly wear to school and to trick-or-treating that night. So it was my dream to recreate my own childhood and make my own daughter’s costume.
Now, by admission I am not really Susie Homemaker. Sewing machine? Isn’t that what you rest your clothes on top of when you’re too lazy to put them in the closet? I knew I couldn’t really sew my daughter a costume like my mother could for me. But I was quite adept with a bottle of puffy paint, scissors and safety pins. With a little bit of tulle from the fabric store, an old turtleneck of hers, and various items from my mother’s costume box, my daughter became a sparkly fairy princess who twirled and danced around the house until trick-or-treat time. So really, if I can do it, so can you.
Kids have specific ideas about what they want to be for Halloween. Preschoolers tend to lean towards Dora the Explorer, Elmo and Cookie Monster. Dora can be created with an orange pair of pants, a pink shirt and a backpack, and then let your little munchkin run around with a monkey stuffed animal. For costumes like Elmo, it just takes being creative with sweats, or a pair of Elmo pajamas. There was one year that my son was Superman, and I bought him Superman pajamas. He wore that costume every night for his PJs after Halloween until they were way too short. I definitely got my money’s worth out of that costume!
While we’re on the subject of superheroes, that theme seems to be the winning trend among school kids. Spider-Man, Power Rangers, Wolverine, Captain America, Transformers, Wonder Woman. … You get the point. But beyond superheroes, there are a few new ideas that will be popping up around the neighborhoods Halloween night. Expect Michael Jackson to make an appearance on your doorstep. Zombies (uh, thanks “Zombieland”), Harry Potter, G.I. Joe and President Barack Obama are also costumes that we’re going to be seeing a lot of this year.
And there are also themed costumes. These are the simplest of all because your child can look any way he wants. And it’s easiest for you because you can base the costume off of things you already have in your home. Have your child dress like a hippie, or like a blast from the ’80s — you know we all have clothes left over from that decade.
Or be creative with balloons.
Purple balloons pinned to a dark sweatsuit and topped with a green hat become a bunch of grapes. Pink and white balloons pinned to a pink or white sweatsuit turn your child into a bubble bath. For added emphasis, clip a couple of half-inflated balloons in your child’s hair with a barrette.
So you’ve waited until the last minute. Or maybe your kid has changed their mind a million times about what they want to be. Don’t even sweat it. Just a little bit of creativity can go a long way in making your child someone else for one evening. At the very least, know that you’re not the only one who waited until the last week to finalize a Halloween costume choice.

This post can be found online in Lifestyle, or in the Press Democrat newspaper in the Sonoma Living section.

Calling All Moms!

As a mom, what kind of information do you want at your fingertips? Are you looking for more things around the county to do with your kids? Are you wondering what preschools are best, and what schools have the best academic scores? Are you curious about how to get your child enrolled into sports, and which one is right for you? Is there something specific you would love to see as a giveaway in one of our many contests? As the moderator of SantaRosaMom.com, I want to know how the site can best serve you – specifically what you would like to see more of. Leave me a comment, visit the site, or email me at crissi@santarosamom.com and share your feedback!

Same Room, Opposite Sex

Picture a family.   There’s a mom, a dad, and two kids – a boy and a girl.  They live in a house with a white picket fence that is bordered by daffodils poking their green tips out of the earth.  Coming in and out of the house freely is a black lab with a smile in his wag and excitement in his breath.  The house is a Victorian with a wide front porch, hardwood floors, and crown molding.  Step inside and you will see a room for each of them.  The first room on the left is the 4 year old girl’s room, and it sits directly across from her dad’s office.  A little farther in is the master bedroom, a large King size bed in the middle of the room and a closet for each spouse on both sides of the room.  Walk through the bathroom and you reach the last bedroom with the 1 year old drooling boy grinning out at you from his crib.  Everything is in its own place, every person has their own space, and all is harmonious in this family of four.

Now picture the same family two years later.  A lifetime of hurts has torn them apart and there is no choice but to divorce.  The mother and two children leave the house they had made a home, give away the dog, and let the daffodils die where they grow.  The father disappears into his own tragedy – the result of poor choices and resulting circumstances.   There is no money.  The mother is forced to go on any kind of aid there is just to be able to feed herself and the kids.  She moves in with her parents for several years to get back on her feet.  They sleep all in one bedroom, but are greatful for the roof over their heads.  The kids are 3 and 6.  The toddler sleeps with his mother, while the 6 year old sleeps in a bed on the other side of the room.  

After some time, the mother is able to find a job that pays well, but not well enough to be able to afford an apartment at today’s rental prices.  Luckily she qualifies for low-income housing.  She applies for an apartment after searching everywhere for the right fit, and is accepted.  The draw?

The apartment has only 2 bedrooms.

At this point the kids are 5 and 8.  And the mother knows that her choices are slim.  “When they are a little bit older I will surely be able to afford a bigger place so that they can have their own space.”  She knows that right now there really isn’t as much of an issue of privacy.  They are still young enough that it really doesn’t matter, and truthfully, they are all more thrilled at having their own space than to nitpick over the particulars.  She takes the small apartment gladly, proud of the fact that she is able to afford to take care of her kids on her own and that they will now have a new apartment to make into a home.  The kids are placed happily in their new room, ecstatic over the new bunkbed they will now sleep in. 

3 years later, and the family still lives in this apartment.  The mother has since gotten more pay and hours with her job.  But all it has allowed her to do is to get off of public assistance.  While the mother is happy to not have to accept money from the county to be able to live, she is no better financially.  She lives very simply and frugally, and there is still no extra money.  Her ex still contributes the same amount as he did before – zilch.  Her kids are older now: her daughter is 11 and her son is 8.  And they still share the same room, and sleep in the same bunkbed.  The room is a disaster – clothes and toys litter the floors since there really is no room in one tiny bedroom for a proper place to put their things.  The walls near the top bunk hold posters of the latest movie stars and pop singers.  This is where her daughter sleeps.  The bottom bunk is decorated with contraptions and Hot Wheels hanging from yo-yos by strings off the top bunk.  This is where her son sleeps.  The clothes on the floor are mainly the boy’s, as the girl is very careful to put all of her clothes away in her drawers.  The top of the dresser is taken up by all the novels her daughter is in the middle of reading.  In the morning when they wake, the daughter grabs her clothes from the dresser and quickly dresses on the top of the bunkbed before her brother gets up.  If he wakes up, she instructs him to stay where he is so that she can finish dressing.  Or she will wait till he gets up to go to the bathroom, and then locks the door behind him.  He has no choice but to wait outside the room till she is done so that he can get dressed as well.

The mother tries to apply for a three bedroom in the same complex.  When it comes to low-income housing, the choices are slim.  Many low-income areas have very poor living conditions and a lot of crime.  Her biggest concern is that her kids grow up positively.  Despite their thin pockets the mother insists that they will live in a place where they can feel safe.  This home, while small, has a high level of comfort and serenity.  The neighbors are kind and friendly.  The evenings are quiet.  The kids have friends that come by every day to see if they can play, and all the parents have formed an alliance with each other to look out for each other’s children.  It is a bonded community, and the mother knows that if she were to leave to find a bigger home she could afford, it would not be like this.  She knows because she has looked.  She knows because she has read the news stories from the same areas that hold the lower income houses.  So the mother is forced to be at her manager’s mercy when it comes to getting a bigger apartment.

Unfortunately, the mother is not the only one in her predicament.  There are many families – some with single parents, some with both parents in the home – that have small children and require a bigger home.  The mother puts herself on the waiting list for a three bedroom, even as she wonders how she will some up with the extra $300 a month it will cost her.  And she waits.  And she waits.  But the thing is, with the economy the way it is, no family is willing to let go of their apartment, and no family is able to exceed the guidelines for living in such a place.  So the mother is forced to endure living in a small apartment where her tween daughter and adolescent son are forced to share a room.

Meanwhile, the daughter and son have grown to hate each other more than anything. They bicker constantly, mostly over the small amount of space made even smaller by the son’s messy habits.  The daughter bosses the son around.  The son purposely aggravates the daughter.  The privacy issue is visited time and again as each complains about having to be locked out of their own room.  And it gets tiresome for each to take turns using the room or to have to go in their mom’s room to dress.  Their tight quarters cause them to feed off each other, and then cry out to their mom to referee.  And the mother finds herself at her wits’ end, unknowing how to resolve this issue once and for all in a situation that seems hopeless, and knowing more than anything else that as the kids get older the need for their own space is getting more vital.

The issue on brothers and sisters sharing a room is never black and white.  Sure, it’s ideal if they have their own rooms.  But what if the choices are slim and it just isn’t possible?  What then?  Leave your thoughts in the comments, or join the discussion in the forums at SantaRosaMom.com.