Monday, December 5, 2011

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays!

M&M are gearing up for their fourth Christmas, and the whole experience is much different this time around. Unlike last year, they get the gist of the naughty and nice list, and my threats to rat them out to Santa no longer fall on deaf ears. I've gone ahead and purchased an Elf on the Shelf in order to hammer home the idea that Santa and his minions are always watching. I may need to hide the Elf under one of their beds to drive home the point. Just kidding of course....

Milo & Maddy decorate their first tree. They went a little crazy with the red beads but a fine effort nevertheless.

Of course, holidays being a time of reflection, I thought it might be fun to have a look back at the kids over the last few holidays.

First Christmas - 2008

Ah, Christmas 2008. Fun times! We dressed the kids up in the above outfits with the hope of snapping a few nice photos for a holiday card. After taking something like 40 pictures, the above one was about the best we could come up with. That entire period is one giant, sleep deprived blur to me now. Thank goodness we documented things in the blog because I have nearly no recollection of the period from October 2008 to roughly March 2009. I seem to recall waking up twice each night (per baby) for feedings, though Elaine had the more difficult end of the arrangement. I also recall being in a constant state of worry about everything with the kids. Recall that this was the period when the kids could not go to any places that might have even small crowds of people due to their risk of contracting a virus or the dreaded RSV bug. Our big day out was the occasional trip to a small restaurant.

Christmas 2009

The following Christmas the duo become much more cooperative. It still took a while but I eventually managed to get a usable picture. The kids were about 18 months in the above shot (14 months corrected age). They were both walking at that point -- Maddy had just started walking a few weeks before. Pushing that wagon around was about their favorite thing in the world. I must have a hundreds photos of Milo running down the sidewalk with Maddy shrieking (happily) as she rode along. By this time, the kids were long since eating solid foods -- in fact I think they ate a much broader variety of food then than they do now. This was our last Christmas living in the cottage on Santa Clara Avenue. I also recall that the kids had to open their presents in two rounds since they still took two naps a day at that point.

Christmas 2010

By last year, M&M were full-on toddlers if not little kids. The above photo required about 12 attempts. Maddy still isn't smiling but close enough. They were starting to get the whole idea of Christmas: they liked presents a lot and for a change they were more impressed with the gifts than with the boxes and wrapping. As typical 30-month-olds, M&M were down to about 12 different non-fruit/non-candy foods they were willing to eat -- a condition which still persists.

December 2011

Bigger, more social, occasionally better behaved, but still not fully potty trained, M&M enjoy hanging out with their friend Chris who live a few doors down. Maddy especially loves Chris (who is also 3) and asks after him all the time. The kids are finally big enough to stand on a regular scale too, which is nice. If it's to be believed, Maddy now weighs in at nearly 34 pounds, and Milo still trails her at 30 pounds. Still, that'd be a big weight gain for Milo, who up till a couple months ago was tipping the scale at just over 27 pounds.
Two great pictures from this past Saturday at the play ground. Amazing how much bigger they are now. Notice too that Milo was finally willing to sit for a much needed haircut.

While I'm thinking about it, thank you very much to all of you who have contributed to the Alta Bates NICU Family Advocacy Counsel. The FAC has managed to raise over $3000 this year, and Mustache-A-Thon 2011 donors have contributed about $600 of that. Contributions are still greatly needed. If you have a few bucks to spare -- and no amount is too small -- please consider making a donation to help out a family with a child in the NICU. Very easy and tax deductible - just visit this link to learn more or donate:

Thanks very much and happy holidays!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Mustache-a-thon 2011 - Stop the Madness!

It's that time again! Yes, that time of year when I hold my handsome face hostage to try and pry a few bucks out of my friends, family, and anyone else who finds their way to the M&M Blog. It's your chance to to give a few bucks to a very worthy cause and help Elaine and the kids (and everyone else forced to see me each day) to rid my upper lip of the third bushy eyebrow that has taken up residence on my otherwise exquisite kisser.

What's the cause? I'm glad you asked... We're headed into the holidays and right now many families have a very sick baby or multiple babies in the hospital. Milo and Maddy spent about four-and-a-half months in the Alta Bates NICU, and we know first hand just how difficult it can be for these families. Elaine and I were relatively lucky - we had great insurance, great friends, financial security, very supportive employers, and benefit of having each other. Take away any piece of that puzzle and, well, an incredibly difficult time would have been nearly insurmountable.

NICU parents want nothing more than to be able to spend time with their child in the hospital. That means daily travel costs, parking, loss of income, and many meals out. Add to that the normal costs of having a child, and you can imagine the financial toll. For most families it's overwhelming.

So how can you help? Easy, donate a few bucks to a great cause. Any amount will help! Last year, the Alta Bates NICU started a Family Advisory Council (FAC). Among our several goals, we raise funds to help support families with sick babies -- it's very important and even more so as we head into the holidays. Please visit to make a donation and to learn more about FAC. Why yes, all donations are tax deductible.

And if that's not enough to get you to give a few bucks, well, just remember this: the mustache stays until I raise at least $1000. Take a look at the photo below and decide if that's tolerable. ;-)

We're all counting on you!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Halloween 2011 and the "Movember" Campaign Kick-Off

Halloween 2011 marked the first real trick-or-treating outing for the duo and it was a hit! Easily the most fun we've ever had with them, and that's saying something. Their costumes were not the most original -- Milo was an astronaut and Maddy a princess -- but that's what they asked for. We figured the kids would only last about 30 or 4o minutes at most, but we ended up staying out for close to an hour and a half. Pretty successful outing and way more candy than they'll ever be able to finish!

Milo, Maddy, and Dad get ready to hit the street.

Little Cinderella poses on the stairs.

So where are all the other pictures? Unfortunately this is it. We got carried away with the moment and didn't get any while we were going door to door. We tried to wrestle the kids back into their costumes to take a few in the backyard with the pumpkins (like last year), but Milo has refused to play along. We'll try again next year.

By the way, you may have noticed that dark area of lewdness between my mouth and my nose. It can mean only one thing. In honor of "Movember" I'm kicking off another NICU fundraiser in advance of the holidays. Set aside some cash and standby for more details on how you can get me to shave off my disgraceful mustache and help support families with premature children at the same time!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

FALL 2011

Finally, the August post and only 2 and-a-half months late! Much has happened since our last post. Most significantly, the kids are no longer attending daycare. Instead they've started a great half-day program in the Alameda School District (ASD). You might recall me mentioning all the testing and assessments the kids had in preparation for the new program. We were a little nervous, but the class is great. Right now Milo and Madeline are the only kids attending and they have a teacher and two aids assisting him. Not often you see that kind of student-to-teacher ratio. It's especially good since Madeline technically did not qualify for any services based on her assessments alone and Milo probably would not have qualified in most other districts. The district was pretty concerned about their medical history and wanted to ensure that they got the best possible support early. How often does that happen?

Maddy with hair long enough for pig tails.

The original plan was to have the kids attend the ASD program then take a school bus over to the daycare. Turns out they were scared to ride the bus and there was no reasoning with them. It was probably too much to expect all at once anwyay. So, we ended up hiring a great woman named Amy to pick the kids up and watch them in the afternoon. Much better arrangement all around. The bonus is that Amy is pretty good at painting nails and doing Maddy's hair, which she loves of course.

Milo with a giant cookie.

Despite packing down the cookies, Milo is still pretty lean. No concerns in particular with his weight at this point. He's eating a lot and is super active. There are worse things.

Milo, Maddy and Mom - Rodeo Beach - August 2011.

Beach trips are probably one of the best activities around for the kids. They love it, and since they can't run that fast in the sand it's pretty hard for them to make a break for it. M&M both really like putting their feet in the water, but since the surf is generally pretty big and cold, they don't go in much further than their ankles.

One of Maddy's favorite activities - standing at the edge of the waterline and getting her feet wet.

Milo, Maddy and Mom making tracks on a chilly summer day.

Maddy on the board walk.

We also took our first family camping trip in August. We headed up north to Humboldt Redwood State Park for a few days. Despite a long, rough drive up, we had a great time and the kids really enjoyed themselves.

Just north of Ukiah California.

The 5 hour drive started out well enough. Unfortunately, we got a flat tire enroute. Given that it was about 90 degrees, the car was fully loaded, and we had two 3-year-olds in the back seat it actually didn't go that bad. There was a tire shop nearby and they took care of us pretty quickly; we were back on the road within a couple hours and still made it in plenty of time to setup camp and cook dinner in the daylight. Definitely a beautiful spot and it was great getting to camp out under the redwoods.

The first ever McDonald's meal.

Enroute to our campsite, we decided to do the logical thing and stuff the kids full of junk food. Turns out our finicky eaters wouldn't touch the Happy Meal - with the exception of a couple fries and some apple juice.

Our little tree huggers enjoying a hike out to the Founders Tree.

Lunch time at the Women's Club Grove along the Avenue of the Giants. We looked for a larger table, but unfortunately this little one was the only one available.

Ambitious Milo decides to give climbing a go.

In addition to the great hikes, the Eel River flowed near our campsite. The water was a little chilly, but the kids had a great time swimming and playing there. Above: Milo cruises back and forth across the bridge over the Eel.

Tossing rocks in the Eel.

First morning in the woods. Success.

As much fun as we had, we ended up keeping the trip relatively short. Maybe too short... The ever present poison oak just became to formidable an opponent and it was near impossible to keep an eye ont he kids at all times at the campsite. We'll definitely go again though.

Food stop on the way home. The Lumberjack Diner. Classic Northern California dining.

M&M posing with their favorite vehicle, the fire truck! We ran across a group of several firefighter grabbing dinner at the Lumberjack of course.

Back to the usual activities: Above, Maddy engaged in a little double barreled nose picking -- a highly advanced technique.

I ended up bringing Milo and Maddy by my office one day back in September. We a have a staircase on the base that rises 123 vertical feet (202 steps). The kids really wanted to walk up it and made it all the way!

A visit to the Lawrence Hall of Science, Berekeley.

Dad and Milo at Lawrence.

Milo takes in the great view and enjoys a rare, relatively fog free day. He's pointing to the Golden Gate Bridge, by the way.

A day at the Pumpkin Patch - October 2011, Near Petaluma, CA.

Maddy making strides.

Daddy, M&M enjoying a ride.

Melita and Milo.

Milo picks out his pumpkin.

The Hay maze.

PUSH! PUSH! Despite her super toddler strength, Maddy did not manage to cover much ground with the wheelbarrow.

Parting shot: M&M backyard gymnastics - sticking the landing.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Summer Time!

Summer time! 4th of July Weekend picnic at Big Basin.

Yes, summer finally arrived in the Bay Area sometime in early July, though the weather occasionally lapses back into early Spring. Just this morning, Elaine was bugging me to put on the heat. I refuse on principle -- or as she puts it, "because you insisted it was broiling hot in here even though it was 64 degrees!" Same difference.

Anyway, the kids are doing really well these days. Huge leaps forward in language in the last couple months. In fact Maddy's speech therapist may discharge her at the end of August. In the spring she had several notable delays and was referred for therapy, and by the time we were able to get an appointment with the speech therapist, she had already met or exceeded most of her goals. That's the tough thing with preemies (and kids in general I'd guess): you worry and worry about the things they can't do and then suddenly they wake up one day and do it.

Milo has also taken big leaps forward. In fact during yet still another evaluation (unrelated to the series they had in May/June) he tested in the range of normal in all areas, though he was on the low side of normal on cognitive and language (just like Dad). The evaluator was very surprised that he qualified for any services at all with the school district. Huh?!

We also paid a visit to the kids' pediatrician in late June for the 3-year check-up. Everything looked good under the hood. The kids were weighed and measured and here's the break down: Maddy weighed in at a robust 32 lbs. and was 37" tall. That places her in about the 60th percentile for weight and the 45th percentile for height for full-term girls. Who'd a thought, eh?

Maddy munches in the great outdoors Big Basin.

Milo was a lean, mean 27 lbs (as of end of June) and was 36" tall. That places him in the 5th -10th percentile for weight and the 20th percentile for height for a full-term boy. Milo is pretty jacked though - the kid's calves are far bigger proportionally than mine ever were, and he's sporting a six pack. Crazy.

Standing tall - Milo mugs for the camera at Big Basin.

I was a little worried about Milo's lack of weight gain over the last few months, but he was just getting over being pretty sick. Overall, he eats well and is extremely active - so for now, no worries. He also looks like he may have gained a little weight since the check-up.

As you've probably noticed from the pictures above, the family braved the 4th of July traffic for an outing to Big Basin State Park. Turned out to be a great day! The kids loved playing in the trees (see above) and ended up meeting another little girl along the trail. The three of them walked and ran the entire half mile loop through the woods, though with all the doubling back, it was probably closer to a mile or more. Ice cream and popsicles were had afterward making for happy and sticky kids. (BTW: Maddy loves ice cream, but Milo will only eat popsicles - hence his low weight and toned tummy.)

Mom and M&M at the Alameda July 4th Parade.

4th of July also means parades. Alameda brags that it has the longest 4th of July parade in the country. Not sure if it's true or not, but it seemed pretty long. Most of the floats were great, but a few were suspect. I'm thinking of the one entitled "People Who Weren't in the Alameda 4th of July Parade Last Year!" Maddy was tired and a little overwhelmed by all the sites and spent most of the parade on Mom's lap. Milo enjoyed his giant cookie and took in the entire spectacle.

Maddy & Mom rockin' out!

We probably let the kids watch too much TV, but the good news is they only seem to like shows with lots of music and they never stand still. Even Mommy can't resist a little jig. Notice Maddy has taken to picking out her own clothing. The fine outfit above was included in a little costume chest she got for her birthday. Maddy likes to wear the skirt with pretty much all of her other outfits. It makes a fine addition, doesn't it?

Friends Chris, Baby Kate & Emily - July 2011.

This summer has also meant lots of visits with friends and many, many birthday parties. We got down to Redwood City to visit with our friends Chris, Emily, and Baby Kate who just turned 1. They happen to live next to one of the best city parks I've ever been to, complete with a mini-water park (see picture just below).

Maddy & Mom enjoying the water on a hot day.

Ellie's 2nd Birthday.

Birthdays, birthdays, birthdays! I'm certain that a substantial portion of Maddy's weight comes from cake frosting -- the Pixie's favorite food. Above, Maddy eyes the goods at her friend Ellie's birthday. (Ellie is the younger sister of Callie, who at age 4 is Maddy's idol.)

Callie & Maddy do some quality noshing - July 2011.

More birthday scenes: Riley's first birthday.

Beyond cheap food and entertainment for the kids, one of the up-shots of so many birthday parties is that we've ended up meeting a lot of other families and discovering a few great new spots for the kids. Riley's birthday was at the Roberts Regional Recreation area, which ended having one of the coolest playscapes we've ever seen yet (except maybe Happy Hollow, but that required an entry fee). It came complete with an enclosed slide, kids' boulder climbing area, and all kinds of other great stuff.

Mom awaits Milo - July 2011 - Roberts Reg. Rec. Area.

Milo jogs back to the playscape after grabbing a quick snack.

Since the kids are now 3, we decided to try our hand at a family camping trip. We're headed out in August to Humboldt Redwoods State Park to give it a whirl. In the run up, I went ahead and set up my backpacking tent in the backyard and - of course - made a few key gear purchases for M&M. We've committed to at least 2 nights, but we're shooting for 3 or 4 if all goes well!

Above: M&M try out there new sleeping bags, which are a hit so far! Maddy has insisted on sleeping with hers several nights over the last week and not just because I'm cheap with the heat either.

M&M practice the essential art of entering and exiting a tent - repeatedly.

The kids also visited their giraffes, lions, and other pets, which we generously house at the Oakland Zoo. Above: Rhea, Maddy and backwards Milo.

Rhea, Maddy & Milo checkout the alligator.

Milo pets the business end of the sheep.

The kids seem to be sleeping less and less during the day. Maddy in particular is starting to skip naps on the weekend. It really would do the little girl's disposition a world of good to sleep for an hour at least, but she'll typically have none of it. Above: Mom & Maddy work the Gruffalo puzzle while Milo sleeps soundly.

To end on an up note... Summer is all about rockin' out, and we've stumbled on to a nice free venue near the house. There's an open shopping center that's featuring some pretty respectable live music for free on Saturday evenings. And there's booze on hand! Yeah, I was shocked too. The first week we saw some pretty solid Latin Jazz by a group called Edgardo & Candela. The kids absolutely loved it. Yesterday it was Fish Bear - a mix of ska, klezmer, and rock that actually works really well.

Above: Maddy & Milo get down to business. As you can see, Maddy's dance is very pure, raw, and emotional. She leaves nothing behind.

Rockin' out is even better with friends. Above: Nicola, Maddy & Milo playing games after dancing to tune the tunes of Fish Bear and having a nice Chinese dinner. What more could a kid want?

See you next month with a full account of the camping trip and other developments. Wish us luck.