A Garden Fest of Lights to Delight Children of All Ages

December 23, 2007

This year we started a new tradition with the twins – a visit to Lewis Ginter’s Garden Fest of Light.  It was so beautiful; I wanted to share some of the sights with you.

A Christmas Peacock

The peacock was my favorite.  If you would like to see more pictures of the lights at Lewis Ginter, click here.

Once a hunting ground for the Powhatan Indians, the property now known as Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens was bought in 1884 by Lewis Ginter, an entrepreneur and philanthropist.  He built the Lakeside Wheel Club as a haven for Richmond Cyclists.  When he died, his niece Grace Arents inherited the property and turned the Wheel Club into a convalescent home for children.  Upon her death, she willed the property to a friend with the stipulation that it be turned into a botanical gardens honoring an uncle.

A hundred years after Ginter’s original purchase, Arents dream was realized when

Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens was chartered in 1984.  Since then the gardens has grown leaps and bounds.

And each December it hosts, the Garden Fest of Lights – truly a delightful sight.  There are more than a half a million lights to delight.  But they are not just strings of lights; they are works of arts.  In beautiful sculptures, the lights build peacocks, flowers, fish, leaves, unicorns, frogs and more. 

The twins loved the Children’s Garden best.  Not only could they run through the maze of lights over and over again, but they also got to go into the treehouse where they could look at lights for as far as the eye could see. 

If you are ever in the Richmond, Virginia area in December, I encourage you to take the walking tour through the Garden Fest of Lights.


A Toddler’s View of Christmas

December 22, 2007

 At 2 1/2 year old, my twins are really getting into Christmas for the first time this year.  They are taking it all in and they’ve already got certain ideas about this merry holiday.  Here’s a look at how toddlers (at least these two) view Christmas.

It’s all about the lights

The twins got their first glimpse of Christmas lights on the way home from their aunt on Thanksgiving.  They were instantly smitten.

So the following Tuesday, my husband and I took them to the GardenFest of Lights at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens.   With more than half a million lights sculpted into flowers, butterflies, fish (my son really liked the fish), candy canes and a giant peacock, the twins were enamored.  My son couldn’t get enough of the maze of lights and my daughter loved climbing up the tree house in the Children’s Garden where she could see lights in every direction.  But their favorite thing was the train that went through the little fairy village in the conservatory.  The photos on the Christmas card were taken in front of the gingerbread house in the conservatory.

I spent the entire next day while out running errands trying to explain to the twin why they couldn’t see the lights in the daytime.  By nightfall, I was exhausted.  I gave up and took the twins back to Lewis Ginter for a second round of GardenFest.

In the two weeks following Thanksgiving, my husband had to travel for work, finish a project for school and study for an exam and a final, leaving little time to hang Christmas lights.  But because the twins were so fascinated with the lights and I couldn’t drive around the neighborhood every night looking for lights in response to cries of “Mommy, I want to see lights,” I made a trip to the store and came home with three lighted Christmas yard signs – Mickey Mouse, Tigger and Snoopy on his doghouse – that I could set up easily.

Every day on the way out, the twins stop to check on these displays.  If one has fallen over, they demand that “Mommy fix it.”  And every evening when they come home, they must stop and look at each display regardless of how cold it is outside. 

Now that my husband has finally got the rest of the decorations up, we can hardly get the twins to go into the house.

Snowmen are cooler than Santa

The twins still aren’t to sure of the man in the red suit.  Therefore, I still doesn’t have a picture of them with the jolly ol’ elf. 

They know who Santa is.  They’ll both tell you he says “ho, ho, ho.”  But they won’t go anywhere near him. The closest they’ll get is to hold out their hands for candy.

I did get my daughter to sit on the little stool in front of the Santa at the mall.  Clinging to me for dear life, she cried out her wish list – “I want a Dora [the Explorer] book.”

Their Christmas icon of choice – Frosty, or rather any snowman.  They scream in delight every time they spot a snowman decoration.  They had no problem walking up to the snowman character at the arrival of Santa at Short Pump Mall and they love the Frosty cartoons.

They even made their own snowman.  It didn’t matter that we didn’t have snow.

Somehow though, I think it might be hard for Frosty to start shimmying down fireplaces.

Giving can be hard

When the Toys R Us catalog arrived, my daughter buried her nose in it first and then my son.  Next the toy commercials on TV doubled and then the cries from my daughter of “Mommy I want mine” and “Mommy, brother wants” (my daughter can always be counted on to take care of her brother) started ringing throughout the house.  My son limited his pleas to “p-l-e-e-e-a-s-e.”

When I could no longer hear myself think, I knew the twins needed to be taught that it’s better to give than to receive.  So I decided the twins should do a stocking in the Salvation Army Stocking Program.

Together we shopped for items to fill these stockings.  Then I packed the stockings and off we went to deliver them.

The twins both proudly carried their stocking into the drop off location.  But when it came time to put the stockings in the box, they had a little trouble.  After a bit of coaxing the stockings were firmly placed in the box and my little man cried all the way back to the car.  Life lessons are so hard.

It’ll be interesting to see how it goes when it’s time to distribute gifts on Christmas.

Mickey Mouse Still Rules

The twins have really enjoyed watching Christmas specials from the Rankin and Bass classics like Frosty and Rudolph to holiday episodes of their favorite shows. 

But they are their mother’s children; thus huge fans of Mickey Mouse.  Given a choice, their holiday favorites are Snowed in at the House of Mouse and Mickey’s Twice upon a Christmas.

However, the new Shrek the Halls came in a close second as my daughter is a big fan of the green ogre. 

The Grinch is the only one they really didn’t care for.  My daughter kept burying her head in her my shoulder and my son watched with his hand over his eyes, peeking through his fingers.

Christmas Carols are to be Sung Loudly

The twins think that Christmas carols are to be sung loudly wherever they are and can be accompanied by dancing.

The twins were shopping in Target one day with me when my son decides to belt out a chorus of Jingle Bells in the middle of the store.

The twins went to a Christmas Concert by the Community Choir with me and a friend of ours. 

The twins enjoyed themselves immensely.  However, I’m not sure that the lady in the row ahead of us appreciated my son’s rendition of the songs.  Or the amount of dancing both children were doing.

We were out on an adventure with a little friend of the twins and his mother.  Suddenly from the back seat a chorus of three different songs being sung at the top of each little ones lungs made its way to the front seat where the two adults could do nothing but laugh at the toddlers’ enthusiasm.

Christmas Cookie Dough is the Best

The twins are becoming quite the bakers.  They’ve already made seven batches of Christmas cookies, much to their daddy’s delight. 

However, their favorite part of the baking experience is still licking the spoon.

Bells are the Instrument of Choice

The twins went to a Christmas Puppet Show.  As part of the show, they got to be in the Christmas Band.  My son played the tambourine and my daughter the bells.

Still, the twins instrument of choice for the holiday is bells.  They have wrist bells that they took to Williamsburg to play during the caroling.  They have bell necklaces and there are even bells hanging from all the door handles in the house.

Christmas Train

The twins love their Thomas train set, but nothing compares to the motorized train around the Christmas Tree.  It must be turned on when they wake and can’t be turned off before bedtime.

My son will lay on his belly in front of the tree and watch the train for long periods at a time.

Christmas is about Making New Friends

During Christmas caroling in Williamsburg, my son tired to use his skills to impress a new friend.  He walked up to this boy of 10 or 12 and just started performing.  He sang, danced, played his bells and even did some rolls on the cold ground.  And a new friend was made.

Mistletoe Etiquette: How to Graceful Manage those Awkward Moments Under the Sprigs

December 17, 2007

Every year I put mistletoe up in my house.  For me, it’s a fun reminder to appreciate the loved ones in my life.  I never dreamed that mistletoe came with it’s own etiquette.

MistletoeI’m sure that everyone has a story about an awkward moment under the mistletoe.  Mine involves a party I went to with a friend and a sailor I’d just met.  But I was single, he wasn’t a bad kisser and we were all having a good time. 

Overall, not a terrifying story and something to laugh about now with friends.  But I can think of a few situations where being caught under the mistletoe can cause some serious discomfort.

What do you do when you are married, but are under the mistletoe with someone other than your spouse?  What if you find yourself under the sprigs with a co-worker at an office party?   What if you are caught under the mistletoe with a new neighbor, or worse yet, a complete stranger?

Well etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore has all the answers for you in The Clarisonic Mistletoe Manifesto: Make Merry but be Wary When Exchanging Kisses Under the Mistletoe.  She offers lots of options including the air kiss, the hand kiss, the cheek kiss and the corner kiss.

Hope these tips help you avoid any awkward moments this holiday.  Happy kissing! 

Photo by darwin Bell. (License: Creative Commons Attribution)

Christmas Cookies: Baking up Holiday Memories

December 17, 2007

Baking cookies at Christmas has been a holiday tradition in my house since I was tall enough to stand on a chair to reach the counter.  I have many memories of a delicious-smelling kitchen filled with laughter as I baked with different members of my family – my mother, my sister, my grandmother, my cousins – over the years.

BakingWe always baked the favorites – chocolate chip, snickerdoodles (a type of sugar cookie rolled in cinnamon sugar), oatmeal raisin, sugar cookies and peanut butter.  But because I cherish making Christmas cookies, I’m always on the look out for new recipes to try and have been know to make up to 10 varieties a season.

Maybe baking Christmas cookies holds another special meaning for me.  It’s no secret that I’m domestically challenged.  I’ve never been very good at those things associated with maintaining a household – I’ve set fire in the kitchen when attempting to cook on more than one occasion, I’ve turn the laundry pink and shrunk sweaters, I’ve jammed the vacuum and bleached the carpet when trying to clean a stain.  But baking is different.  Baking I can do.  So Christmas is my time to shine.

For these two reasons, it’s been very important for me to pass on the tradition of baking Christmas cookies to my twins.  Their first Christmas, they weren’t even old enough to eat cookies (and honestly I was still struggling with the new duties of motherhood), but by the time their second Christmas rolled around I had a planned.

Last year, I bought them their own apron and hat and set them up on bar stools at the breakfast bar.  I bought the already cut, pre-made cookies – the kind that are little round circles of dough.  I put a cookie sheet in front of them and let them take the pieces of dough from the wrapper and put on the cookie sheet.

I personally would never think of making cookies that weren’t for scratch, but knew that we had to start somewhere small so the twins could participate.  I figured we’d grow a little each year until one day they are making cookies from scratch.

Well now the twins are 2 ½ and we are closer.  For Halloween, I bought the premade sheets of cookie dough and let them go to town with cookie cutters.  My daughter kept using the same piece of dough.  She’d cut it out, roll it back up, pat it out and cut it again.  My son actually had more fun flying his cookie cutters around than using them on the dough, but hey it’s a start.

And for Christmas this year, we’ve moved up to mixes.  They’ve made four batches of cookies already and we are going to try to knock three more out today.  But in all honesty, I think their favorite part of the experience is licking the spoons when we are done.

Sure, I’m not making as many cookies as I normally do, but at least I’ve got someone new to share the cooking-making fun with.  I’m looking forward to years of Christmas cookies baking with the twins and can’t wait until they are ready to try their own recipes.

This week I bake chocolate chip cookies for my husband and snickerdoodles for me.  Soon the twins will be baking these as well as their own favorites.

Speaking of favorite Christmas cookies, what are your favorites?

Newsvine Interview About Heroes Column

December 14, 2007

Since the beginning of the second season, I’ve been regularly writing a column about the TV series Heroes not only here on this blog, but for a news site called Newsvine.

This fall, Newsvine was purchased by MSNBC.  Recently MSNBC picked up one of my Newsvine columns on Heroes and promoted it on MSNBC.com.  More than 2,000 people read that column.  This recognition also got me some additional attention over at Newsvine and another newsviner recently interviewed me. 

You can check out the full interview here.

20 Burning Questions About ‘Heroes’

December 14, 2007

Volume 2 of Heroes has closed, but questions remain.  The biggest, of course, being when will Heroes return and what will Volume 3 “Villains” hold?

But as the third volume remains in a state of flux due to the writer’s strike, I have plenty of time to ponder those possibilities.  However, in the meantime, I have 20 burning questions (in no particular order) that I’m hoping the writers will be answering when the show returns.

1.  Do Niki and Nathan live? 

Although neither died on the last episode of Heroes, both lives were left in peril.  Was Niki still in the house when it exploded?  If not, how did she get out?  Will Nathan survive the gunshot wound?  If so, does he have some superhero assistance to do so?

2.  And just who shot Nathan?

I think it’s obvious The Company is behind the hit, but who actually did the shooting?  Was it HRG, back working for The Company?  Was it Claude returning?  Or was it someone new?

3.  What happened to Caitlin?

I know I brought this one up before, but what happened to Caitlin?  Does she cease to exist now that the future she was in no longer exists?  Is she still in the future, just a different future?  If so, what does she remember?  Will Peter ever find her or has he forgotten about her already?

4.  What else was in The Company vault?

What were the deep dark secrets The Company had hidden away?  Why were those items down there?  What happened to the contents of the vault?  Did Nathan, Peter and Matt take anything or destroy it?  Or did they leave it intact?

5.  Who is in The Company jail in Odessa?

When Hiro and Adam went into the depths of Primatech in Odessa, Adam told Hiro that this level is where the cells were.  Are these the same cells we saw Sylar in last season?  Who is The Company keeping in their little jail?  And why? 

6.  How many other “jails” do they have?

Adam and Peter were kept in cells in New York.  Is that where they are keeping Maury Parkman now?  And Sylar, in the beginning of the season, was kept somewhere in Mexico.  Just how many of these little prisons does The Company have?

7.  Who was Angela talking to on the phone at the end?

The logical answer is Bob.  But I get the feeling that there is someone else higher up pulling the strings.  In Season 1 we were led to believe that Linderman ran The Company, but when he died, he was seamlessly replaced by Bob in Season 2.  No power struggle among partners which makes me think he was appointed by someone at the top, a top that we haven’t seen yet.

8.  Just how big is The Company?

It have offices (with prisons) in Odessa and New York and, at the very least, a warehouse in the Ukraine and a prison in Mexico.  Just how big is this Company?  How many people are involved?  Are they all people with powers?

9.  Who are the other members of the League of 12? 

We’ve seen a picture of all 12 members, but we’ve only met seven – Angela Petrelli, Daniel Linderman, Kaito Nakamura, Charles Deveaux, Maury Parkman, Victoria Pratt and Bob.  We know, although have not met Arthur Petrrelli.  Who are the other four?  We know from the picture that it’s two women and two men.  We know that this picture was taken after Adam Monroe was incarcerated so he isn’t one of them.

10.  And who is still alive?

Of the eight members of the League of 12 that we know about only three are still alive – Angela, Maury (although he’s trapped in his own mind) and Bob.  What is the status of the other four?  Are they alive or did Adam already get to them?

11.  How did the League of 12 form?

According to Bob’s story, Adam brought the League together to do good.  But exactly how did he do it?  How did the various members meet?  From the graphic novels, we know that Linderman and Arthur Petrelli met during the war.  But how do 10 others with powers come to know each other, let alone form their own version of a Justice League?  We have at least that many heroes in the current generation and after saving New York in Season 1 they all walked away from one another as if it never happened.

11.  What were their powers?

I only know what the powers are of three of the League of 12 – Bob can turn metal into gold, Linderman could heal and Maury can read and control minds.  I think but do not have firm confirmation that Angela has dream premonitions and the Deveaux had some kind of mental power.  But what were all the others’ powers?  Thanks to Bob’s story, we know at least one of them could control weather or freeze water, something to make a hurricane turn to snow.

12.  What caused the League of 12 to splinter?

The older heroes keep mentioning a division among them, some event that seemed to drive them apart, at least ethically.  But what was it?  Clearly over time their definition of “doing good” has changed.  But what was it that caused the group to splinter?  And who was on each side of the controversy.  I don’t think it was Adam and the virus, because they are clearly still a group when the photo of the 12 of them was taken, which appears to be years after Adam and the deadly strain of the virus were locked away.

13.  Why would Angela protect Victoria?

It’s clear that Angela and Victoria didn’t care for each other and that Victoria didn’t approve of Angela’s methods.  So why is it that a woman who chooses The Company over her own children would so vehemently protect Victoria?  It couldn’t be because Victoria knew the location of the virus.  Apparently, several people knew that location.

14.  What happened to Papa Petrelli?

We were told in Season 1 that Arthur committed suicide.  But given what we know about the Petrellis and their involvement with The Company, I have to wonder if that was just a cover.  So that leads me to question what really happened to Arthur?  Did his wife off him for The Company?  Did someone else?  Was he killed in the line of duty working for The Company?  Did he want out?  Did he not approve of Linderman’s plan for his sons?

15.  Why was the Takezo symbol a logo for the Petrelli law firm and not The Company?

When the symbol from Takezo’s sword started marking members of the Legion of 12 for death, Angela said the symbol was the logo for her husband’s law firm.  Why would Arthur use this symbol for his law firm?  I could understand Kaito using the symbol for his company, but why the Petrellis?  Why wouldn’t it be the mark for The Company?  Likewise, why did the Haitian have a necklace (the one he gave to Peter) with this symbol?  Did it show his allegiance to The Company or the Petrellis?

17.  Why was The Company experimenting with the virus to begin with?

Clearly The Company had been experimenting with the virus for a while.  We saw that with Hiro’s little journey to the 70s.  But why were they experimenting with it?  Where they trying to find a cure for the Shiantis of the world?  Or were they trying to find a why to rid people of their powers?  Or was it for the more deadly reason that Linderman and Adam have already both showed an interest in?

18.  Who are West’s parents?

Although I never really cared for West, I wondered who his parents were.  Did they have powers too?  If so, what were they?  Do they know their son can fly?  Why aren’t they a little more concerned about his showing his powers off in public?

19.  Who are Elle’s real parents?

I had similar questions about Elle’s real parentage.  Did they know what their daughter could do?  Did they have powers of their own?  Did they willingly give up their daughter?  If so, why?  If not, what do they think happened to her?  Will Elle go looking for them?

20.  How are powers passed on genetically?

How does one get his/her powers?  If it’s genetic, it should come from their parents.  How do powers pass from one generation to the next?  Can you have a power if you only have one parent with powers?  Why do some children get the same power as their parent (Matt) and other get different powers (Claire or Micah)?  How come Claire has powers, but Nathan’s boys don’t?  We saw several duplications of powers this season.  Claire and Adam could both regenerate.  Linderman could heal (not sure if his power was the same as Claire and Adam’s or just similar).  Nathan and West could both fly.  Does that mean there is a genetic connection to them or is it just coincidence?

Anyone want to offer some theories to answer these questions?  It looks like we’ll have plenty of tie to mull them over.  What Heroes questions are on your mind?


Related Post

Heroes Returns with Double Feature Season 3 Premiere

‘Powerless’ Closes Another Chapter of ‘Heroes’

December 4, 2007

I’m kind of relieved that Heroes will be on a bit of a break for awhile.  Quite simply, “Powerless” left me feeling ambivalent at best. 

Heroes PowerlessI want to enjoy Heroes, but I felt let down by the episode.  Granted, this episode wasn’t intended to be a season finale when originally written.  Yet, even as a chapter finale it was a disappointment. 

We know little more about The Company’s end game.  Neither villain was killed.  The epic battle scene was neither epic or even really a battle.  Two different heroes on separate sides of the country had the same idea to expose The Company as, in my opinion, a pretty lame attempt to stop its efforts (which we still don’t entirely know what they are) and both were unsuccessful.

And the character I am most interested in what happens to is Caitlin.  Not because I really care about Caitlin, I’m just intrigued, if not confused, by the time/space continuum thing.  If Caitlin is stuck in the alternate future where the virus was released and that future is no longer possible, what happened to Caitlin?  Does she return to the present?  Is she gone?  Does she show up in the changed future?  Will Heroes bother to address this issue or will Caitlin simply be forgotten?

But back to this episode.  I was wrong on my guesses for who died – sort of.  I thought it was going to be Maya and Adam.  Yes, Maya did die, but was healed by Claire/Mohinder’s blood.  So it not only cures the virus, it heals the dead/dying.

And while Adam isn’t dead, he is presumably “buried” away where he can’t hurt anyone.  I thought it was pretty cool, even cruel, of Hiro to bury Adam alive, but it definitely opens the possibility of his return.  Will we ever be completely rid of any of these villains?

The deaths were Niki, who dies in a fire rescuing Monica, and Nathan, who is shot during a press conference to expose The Company.

Will either of these be permanent?  Surely, Peter can heal Nathan although explaining his resurrection might be a little hard since he was killed on national television.  And even if Peter doesn’t realize he can heal his brother, Angela knows.  But will the heartless witch bother?  After all she was ready to kill off Peter again this episode and never batted an eye when she heard Nathan was shot.

In fact, my guess was that she actually shot Nathan to protect her secrets until I saw the figure walk away.  Was that HRG that shot Nathan?

I guess Niki is really dead, but is it a big deal since she was dying anyways?  Or was she?  Mohinder said Sylar had the same virus strain that Niki had.  He had to be given it what four or five months ago and he was still alive.  The way Mohinder talked Niki was going to die any minute.  Either she wasn’t dying at all or the virus takes a bit of time to kill.

Claire’s storyline was short lived leaving HRG working for The Company again and the rest of the Bennett family temporarily safe.  But since neither The Company nor HRG can be trusted (for different reasons), I don’t see the relationship lasting.  The only plus here is that West is history after bailing on Claire to save his own skin.

Meanwhile Elle was all over the place this episode – trying to please her daddy by going after Sylar herself, but still going to HRG to find out more about Bob’s testing of her powers as a child.  Does she want his love so much that she’s going to forgive the way he treated her as a child or will she seek revenge?  And just what happened to her file?

The big showdown at Primatech was so anticlimactic that it’s not even worth talking about.  I think that Matt’s new powers are pretty cool, but they really don’t make for a good show in a big battle.

So what’s in store for the next chapter?  Apparently Sylar has his powers back, but that storyline is tired.  I’d rather see him gone.  How much more can we see of The Company?  Aren’t Bob and Angela the only ones left?

Let’s hope that this break will give the writer some time to work on pacing issues, story flow and some original (or at least not from Season 1) storylines.  I want to be excited about this show again.