Wednesday, July 30, 2008

OK, So I Lied...

This entry will not be about our day trip to Napa and the rest of our San Francisco excursion. I may write more about our trip later.

What I want to write about tonight is my beautiful daughter. Her birthday is tomorrow, and she'll be turning six years old. Six! How can that be? It seems just yesterday that I was in the hospital room in Nashville, excited and scared and relieved and exhausted, having been awake since 3:00 a.m. in labor with my firstborn, but it was six years ago today.

The sweet, grown-up little girl sitting in the living room right now and cheering on her father as he plays Mario Galaxy bears little resemblance to the small bundle that was given to me after my unplanned c-section. That bundle was red and screaming and tiny; CoasterGirl is tall (nearly to my shoulders already!) and willowy and tan from two months of summer freedom and excursions to the water park. She is talkative and energetic and smart and much too mature for her age.

She constantly amazes me - she's reading on at least a 3rd grade level; she reads words like "elementary" and "underpants" and "unfortunate" without batting an eye. She knows things about ocean life that I never learned in school. (Did you know that the bump on a beluga whale's head is called a melon? I had no idea.) She thinks math is fun. She is interested in so many things, and has a drive to excel at whatever she does.

It's so hard to remember sometimes that she's only 5 - she's smart and sarcastic and funny and understands more than she should.

These six years have passed so quickly; I can hardly believe it. My mother warned me it would, but somehow you can't quite believe it when you're up for the 3rd time in the middle of the night with a newborn, or taking a toddler to the potty for the 2nd time since you were seated in the restaurant. All of a sudden, you look up and your little girl is no longer so little - she's a kid instead of a baby; a student instead of a pre-schooler.

Happy Birthday, CoasterGirl. Here's to the next year - may it be filled with happiness, learning, and new friends for you. And may it go by just a little slower than the last one did.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Food, Walking and More Food

San Francisco: Day 2

One thing we knew we wanted to do before leaving San Francisco was to have Chinese dim sum. If you've never had dim sum before (we hadn't), it's a really fun dining experience. Servers bring around trays of small portions of dumplings of every kind, pork buns, snow-pea shoots, and other yummy offerings while you sip hot tea and try not to gorge on any one type of food for fear you might miss something delicious.

So we got up bright and early on Wednesday morning and enjoyed coffee and a doughnut at a bakery in a nearby hotel, then made our way to a bus stop and caught the MUNI to Geary between 22nd and 23rd, where the guidebook said we could find great dim sum at Ton Kiang. We weren't sure how crowded it would be, or whether we would have to wait in line, but as we were fairly early, we were first in the door! We had our pick of dishes as a result (though the place filled up quickly) and enjoyed pork buns, garlic-sauteed snow pea shoots, shrimp balls (which CoasterGuy said he expected to be really, really tiny - har-de-har-har) and some kind of dumpling that I don't remember at this point. It was (nearly) all very tasty, and we were full to bursting when we finally put aside the chopsticks and told the server "no more, please!".

Our plan for the rest of the day was to spend the better part of the afternoon at Golden Gate Park, and then to go back to the hotel, change for dinner, and enjoy a nice meal followed by drinks at the Top of the Mark.

We ended up walking off the dim sum - a combination of misinformation and poor choices led us to hiking most of the way to Golden Gate park from Ton Kiang and through a good portion of the park while looking for some sort of shuttle or bus stop. Finally, though, we found the Dutch windmill, which was the main thing I wanted to see at the park. The gardens were beautiful, though I wish we could have seen it when the tulips were in bloom.

Near the windmill was the Beach Chalet restaurant, which has some spectacular views of the Pacific from the dining room. Though we were still full from our dim sum excursion, we decided to stop in for some liquid refreshment and to rest our now aching feet.

Once at the bar, however, we just had to try the "best crab cake in San Francisco" with our beverages. It was a fairly tasty crab cake to be sure, but CoasterGuy and I agree that it couldn't hold a candle to the crab cakes at Phillips Seafood in Baltimore. They were generous with their liquor, though - my amaretto sour was at least 80% amaretto, with merely a splash of sweet and sour mix and ice to break it up.

Afterwards, we watched the ocean for a bit, and were surprised to see some surfers on the beach, as chilly as it was.

We decided then to take a bus back to Japantown and kick around the hotel until dinner time. The much-needed downtime was nice!

We made reservations for dinner at John's Grill, the restaurant famous for being mentioned in The Maltese Falcon as a place where Sam Spade ate, and planned for heading to the Top of the Mark for drinks afterwards.

John's Grill was very nice - live jazz in the upstairs dining room, great martinis and good food. CoasterGuy had the cioppino, and I had a ribeye with a baked potato and some steamed veggies. Again, we must have arrived just in time, because the dining room was packed to the gills before we finished dinner.

After dinner, we made our way up to the Mark Hopkins hotel for drinks at the Top of the Mark. It was a foggy night (in San Francisco? Imagine that!), so the view wasn't nearly as spectacular as we'd hoped for, but the atmosphere was very nice nonetheless with live music and great service.

By the time we made it back down the hills to a bus stop (in heels, no less! Well, heels for me - not for CoasterGuy) we were exhausted! I don't feel a bit guilty for having dessert at both John's Grill and the Top of the Mark - we did enough walking that day to make up for it!

Next time: Day 3 - Napa Valley.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I Left My Heart...Well, You Know

I believe I promised a trip log (with pictures!)

The CoasterFamily set off early in the morning on Saturday, July 12th with 2 kids, 3 suitcases, a diaper bag and a duffel full of carry-on items for the flight. Nearly 12 hours, a car ride and 2 flights later, we arrived in Las Vegas and were greeted at the airport by CoasterGuy's sister. The first order of business: Slurpees! Since we don't have any 7-11s near us, CoasterGuy was excited about getting a real Slurpee, as opposed to that imposter, Icee.

Thus fortified, we made our way to the north end of Vegas to meet the newest addition to the family, Baby Bean. Bean is adorable - she looks just like her older sister. The cousins got reacquainted and blew through the house like a tornado as the adults sat, chatted and thanked the heavens that we didn't usually have 4 kids under age 6 in the house. Dinner: In-n-Out Burger - mmmmmmmmm.

The next day we took the older kids to the aquarium at Mandalay Bay and lunch at House of Blues. I highly recommend the garlic fries and the Soul Sensation - a lovely concotion of various rums with a splash of soda. Tasty! Afterwards, we walked through the Luxor to Excalibur, where we spent WAY too much money on carnival-style games for the kiddos. CoasterGuy's sister won a giant tiger at the ring toss booth, and the kids each got a few smaller toys.

That evening, CoasterGuy's sister and her husband kindly agreed to watch the CoasterKids while we went to see Love at the Mirage and then afterwards, to Caesar's Palace to eat dinner at Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill. While the meal was very good (and the margaritas were excellent), I think we both enjoyed the Manju Buns (steamed barbecue pork buns) we had before the show at a bar in the Mirage more. Maybe because we were hungry? Maybe it was the martinis? I'm not sure, but boy, were those pork buns good.

The next day was a travel day - we arrived in Phoenix around noon and enjoyed a nice lunch with the in-laws at the Rainforest Cafe before saying goodbye to the CoasterKids for the rest of the week and flying on to San Francisco. Yes, that's right: in one day, we had breakfast in Las Vegas, lunch in Phoenix, and dinner in San Francisco. Whew!

San Francisco, Day 1: We slept in a bit and had coffee and pastries at a bakery in the Japantown Center. Then, we walked from our hotel in Japantown to Union Square, where we caught the Powell-Hyde cable car up to Lombard Street (the crooked one). I don't know if you can clearly see the kid in the dark gray shirt (next to the one in bright yellow) but I caught him in mid-yawn. How anyone can yawn looking down over Lombard Street when the hydrangeas are in full bloom is beyond me, but there you have it.

We walked part of the way down Lombard, taking the time to watch cars navigating the twists and turns, and admiring the hydrangeas and other blooms lining the street. We saw this brave couple riding a motorcycle down Lombard.

After meandering down Lombard for a little way, we made a beeline for CoasterGuy's old high school, Galileo, and then to Ghirardelli Square for the yummiest hot fudge sundae I believe I've ever had. I'd post the picture I took of it here, but you'd just be jealous.

Afterwards, it was on to Fisherman's Wharf for lunch at Boudin's (yes, we had dessert before lunch - ahh, the freedom of dining without kids!) CoasterGuy had clam chowder in a sourdough bowl, while I opted for a rustic tomato soup. From there, it was shopping, shopping and more shopping as we picked up souveneirs for friends and family, and of course, for ourselves, too!

We wandered from Fisherman's Wharf over to Pier 39, where we did more shopping and watched the sea lions sunning themselves on the floating platforms (docks?). This time of year, there aren't very many of them around, but we had a good time watching those that were. Later we had a delicious Nutella and banana crepe from one of the shops.

As the afternoon wore on, we started our trek back toward Union Square, laden with shopping bags and mostly full bellies. Though we were nearly exhausted and tired of walking by this time, we had reservations for dinner at the Stinking Rose, so we walked through the Chinatown gate and headed past the junk shops towards the restaurant (stopping to browse and to buy a fan and a Lucky Cat pillow for CoasterGirl).

We arrived for dinner early and were seated immediately. Alex, our server, was very nice - she gave us the rundown on the most popular dishes. We had the roasted garlic/anchovy concotion to spread on bread before dinner, and split a bottle of very nice pinot noir. For dinner, I had the 40-clove Garlic Chicken, while CoasterGuy opted for the Garlic-Rubbed Prime Rib. Both dishes were great, but the star of that particular meal (at least as far as I was concerned) was the giant martini glass full of tiramisu we had for dessert.

Exhausted and full to bursting, we decided to take the MUNI back to Japantown and crash back at the Hotel Kabuki. This was quite possibly the best decision we made all trip - we ended up using the buses to get around everywhere all week, and found it to be a convenient and inexpensive way to get where you need to go in the city (as long as you're not in a rush).

Well, as I've already practically written a novel, and I've only covered our first day in San Francisco, I think I'll leave off here for today. More to come, if you're not already bored to tears. Next time, San Francisco: Day 2.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What I'm Listening To Tonight

Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers, baby. "Maybe We Should Fall in Love" from No More Beautiful World.

I love this band - they're mostly straight up rock n' roll with a Southwest flavor, though on different songs you'll hear echoes of country and reggae. They were in Atlanta last night - I'm so bummed I missed them. Their live shows are great, as are their fans.

I must now go have a drink with tequila in their honor.

Monday, July 21, 2008

We're BA-ack!

We returned home from our trip to Las Vegas, Phoenix and San Francisco last night, and boy, what a trip it was! We had such a great time!

Once I get my pictures downloaded from the ol' digital camera, I'll post a detailed trip log, and I think I may make my very first scrapbook ever to chronicle the trip. I'm quite sure both will be dominated by descriptions of meals we had and places we ate!

The CoasterKids had a great time visiting their grandparents, and CoasterGuy (trying it on for size...) and I enjoyed ourselves immensely in San Francisco. Getting up this morning for work was so hard to do! When does my next vacation start?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

High Anxiety

I mentioned in an earlier post that W and I -- yes, "W" - I haven't come up with a witty pseudonym for Mr. ChelleBelle as yet, and I refuse to use his suggested alternatives on general principle. At any rate, I posted earlier that we will be taking a trip via airplane later this month. Well, what I neglected to mention is that I get nervous flying. Actually, that's an understatement. I am phobic about flying. And now that the scheduled flight is a mere 3 days away, I'm having trouble eating and sleeping, and my stomach is full of butterflies.

It wasn't always this way. I used to love to fly. I loved the acceleration as the plane sped down the runway on takeoff, I loved the spectacular views from cruise altitude, and I loved settling in with a good book and a soda.

So what happened? I'm not sure. I've read that many people develop this fear in their 20s or 30s, as they become more aware of the fragility of life and begin forming their new family units. I was in my early 20s when my phobia began, and traveling frequently (by air) for work. I did have a few rough flights which were weather-related, but I can't really pinpoint when exactly it started. But start it did, and now days (and sometimes weeks) before a scheduled flight, I begin worrying about it. I'm not even sure "worrying" is the right word - I'm not really consciously thinking of flying at all - I just feel anxious. "Dreading" might be more accurate.

Logically, I know that I'm safer on the airplane than I am on the drive to the airport. I know the statistics. But somehow, logic just doesn't seem to work on this particular part of my psyche. The logical part of my brain says "get a grip!" but the other part is screaming "Danger! Danger!" and marveling at how calm everyone else seems to be while it takes a massive effort of will for me to board the plane.

So before most flights, I retake an online Fear of Flying Self-Help Course. It seems to help some.

The most annoying part of all this is the general anxiety level in the days before a flight - it scrambles my brain enough that I find it difficult to concentrate on anything, including planning what to pack and preparing my workload for my upcoming absence. Also, I'm ridiculously irritable and short of patience. Grrr.

Monday, July 7, 2008


So, after reading the first few entries of this blog, Mr. ChelleBelle has a few corrections he'd like me to issue.

Correction 1: He is not merely an "auditor for a university" - he is an audit manager.

Duly noted.

Correction 2: He is not a "foodie"; he is a "gourmand".


Correction 3: He prefers not to be called "Mr. ChelleBelle". Suggested alternatives include "His Almightiness", "Sir" and/or "Master".

Errrr....hmmmm. For some strange reason, none of those suggestions really grabbed me. Gee...I wonder why?

Henceforth, Mr. ChelleBelle shall be known as...well...any ideas?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

And So Ends Another Long Weekend...

Ahhh....long holiday weekends. Gotta love 'em. Time to sit back, relax and enjoy the family.

Or, if you're Mr. and Mrs. ChelleBelle, time to finish a redecorating project, host a party, and listen to the CoasterKids fight about whether they should be watching The Wiggles or Spongebob Squarepants. Or whether CoasterBoy is allowed to touch CoasterGirl's dolls. Or whether CoasterBoy will be messing up CoasterGirl's puzzle. Or...well, you get the idea.

CoasterBoy will be two in a few weeks, and the Terrible Twos have arrived a bit early and with a vengeance. His favorite word is already "No!" and his stubborn streak has become his most prominent personality trait, eclipsing his innate sweetness with astonishing speed. I think the highlight of the weekend was CoasterBoy crying hysterically because his cereal puffs were in a plastic baggie instead of in a bowl like his big sister's. Or maybe it was when he insisted on watching The Wiggles in Big Red Car for the bajillionth time ("Car! Big Car!! Car, Mommy!! Car, Car!!").

So now the kids are in bed at last, and the house is quiet. The dishes are washed, the living room is straightened up, and we're planning for the week ahead and the vacation that starts on Saturday. And as this long weekend finally comes to an end, I raise my glass to all my friends who are stay-at-home moms: Here's to you. You're my hero.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

July: Month o' Craziness

July is going to be a very, very busy month for us.

My brother is turning 30 this month; I'm planning a party for him in conjunction with the 4th of July for Friday. CoasterGirl and CoasterBoy both have birthdays at the end of this month, and in between? Well, Mr. ChelleBelle and I are celebrating our 10th anniversary a month early with a trip to San Francisco by way of Las Vegas and Phoenix. The CoasterKids will be with us for the first 2 legs of the trip, but we're headed to San Francisco by ourselves after that for the longest trip we've taken sans kids since before CoasterGirl was born. Just writing that is making me tired!

Sometime in the next week or so, I need a haircut and a manicure, CoasterGirl needs to see the eye doctor and get new glasses, CoasterBoy needs an immunization that was out of stock at his 18 month well baby visit, and I need to order a new set of contacts. Oh, and Mr. ChelleBelle is having some dental work done. Also? I need to make sure my current wardrobe is sufficient for our trip out west, plus plan what to pack to keep a 2-year-old occupied on a cross-country flight.

Oh, and did I mention that we're in the middle of a kitchen remodel?


The Obligatory "All About Me" Post

Hello, my name is ChelleBelle, and this is my blog. For an explanation of the name and why I'm blogging, see my previous post, "Riding the Life Coaster".

I'm a 30-something working mom living in the Southeastern United States. I telecommute full time for a large financial services firm. Mr. ChelleBelle is an auditor for a university. We have two children: CoasterGirl will be 6 years old later this month, and CoasterBoy will be 2. We also have 2 cats whom we rescued from an animal shelter - they've been with us through 9 years, 3 moves, multiple jobs and 2 kids. Mr. ChelleBelle often tells CoasterGirl that she must be nice to the cats because they were here first.

I am an avid reader, a newbie runner, a tentative gardener, a word game enthusiast and a terrible housekeeper. I love music, baseball, movies, and food.

No, seriously - I love food. Mr. ChelleBelle and I are self-proclaimed foodies. Over the years, we've learned to cook ever-more ambitious recipes, primarily in an effort to avoid crushing debt from our dining budget.

So that's the scoop on me. And as this is my second post, no one can call me a one-post wonder. Ha!