A Collection of Random Thoughts

Live Nativity Oakland

Photo and text by Gabrielle. We saw the Live Nativity on Friday. Here’s the schedule if you want to check out it. There are a ton of Christmas events at Temple Hill — music, lights, etc. And it’s all free.

Here’s December’s installment of random thoughts just for you. Feel free to share your own random thoughts in the comments!

1) Some of the seminary students that come to our house in the mornings brought us a package of Abuelita. Have you tried it? It’s these hard disks of chocolate that you dissolve in hot milk or water to make hot cocoa. I mentioned this in the comments on the Hot Cocoa Bar post, but wanted to mention it here (because I know not everyone reads the comments), also, because I’m a little bit obsessed. It’s made by Nestlé and I can find it at my regular grocery store, so it’s nothing too out of the ordinary, but I had never heard of it until a couple of months ago.

Fun fact: my favorite hot cocoa mix in France was also made by Nestlé. Apparently they have my number as far as hot cocoa goes. Hah!

2) I’m thinking of sickness and the holidays. Little June has had a cold. She stayed home from church on Sunday and missed school on Monday and Tuesday. Nothing serious — she’s back in school today. But I can see the whole family is on the edge of it. Scratchy throats, sniffles. Life gets so busy and intense in December. We don’t end up getting enough sleep, and we eat too much junk. I feel like we’re all holding on, trying our best to stay healthy before the holiday hits. Because being sick on Christmas is the worst!

One of my early memories is Christmas at age 5. We had recently moved from California to St. George, Utah and I was super sick that year. I remember being on my parents bed and hearing everyone celebrating in the family room, and being too sick to join in. Poor little 5-year-old me.

Last year, we all made it through Christmas Day feeling healthy. But between Christmas and New Year’s we had a family retreat up in Russian River and we all got sick. But it turned out okay because the only thing on our schedule was watching movies anyway. : )

All that to say, I hope all of you reading are feeling strong and healthy!

3) Ben Blair wrote a series of 12 Advent Meditations, and he has been sharing them on his Facebook page. Today is day twelve. I’ve really enjoyed them and they’ve prompted good discussions in the comments. The posts aren’t public, but if you’d like to read them, you can ping him on Facebook and I’m sure he’ll share with you.

4) I had a huge wassail craving this week, and we made a big batch on Monday. I make it every December, though some years, it’s only for our Christmas Eve celebrations. For a decade or so, I followed my mother’s recipe, but these days I just wing it. I start with a carton of apple juice, then squeeze in the juice and pulp of 2 or 3 oranges and one lemon. Then I add wintery spices — cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, allspice, etc., and let the whole thing simmer. Do you ever make wassail? What’s your version like?

5) My mom is coming this Friday, and staying through the weekend! It’s a last minute trip and we’re so glad we get to see her before Christmas. It should be lots of fun. We’re all headed to the new Star Wars movie on Friday night (are there any lucky ducks going on Thursday?!), and there are good family events she’ll get attend, like Maude’s Cross Country team banquet.

6) Three of my kids are reading or re-reading all the Harry Potter books. Betty, Oscar and Olive. I can’t tell you how fun it is to see them on the sofa, curled up with the books and caught up in the adventure. Olive is on book 7, so she’s almost done. Oscar is on book 5 (Umbridge is the worst!!), Betty is on book 4. Our life right now is peppered with lots of Harry Potter discussions.

7) Probably the biggest thing on my mind: last month, just before Thanksgiving, we bought plane tickets for France!! Oh my goodness. I can’t tell you how excited I am. Ralph, Olive and Ben Blair have all been back to France since we moved, but the rest of us have not. We can not wait for this trip!! I feel like we all get a twinkle in our eye whenever we talk about it.

We’re going to spend the summer there. We head out on June 20th and return on August 20th. We’ve never bought tickets this far in advance — it’s hard to commit this far ahead, knowing we’ll miss some summer plans that come up. But on the other hand, it’s really nice to know it’s officially on the calendar so that we can plan around it. And the best part is that we got a total deal on tickets since we bought them so far ahead.

All of the kids passports expire soon, so the next step is getting photos for renewals. Woo hoo!

8) On Monday I turned forty-one-and-a-half. I didn’t feel much physical change at 40, but I have felt some since I turned 41. I won’t talk much about it now, but it’s on my mind and I want to write a post on this. I feel like I age in spurts. Like I look the same for years and then suddenly age over a weekend. Forty-one seems to one of my aging spurts. More on that later.

I think that’s it for today. Please feel free to respond to anything here, or bring up your own topic. I always love hearing what’s on your minds!

 P.S. — I post my random thoughts each month. You can find them all here.

45 thoughts on “A Collection of Random Thoughts”

  1. As I read this I’m home from work with a sick little one! I’m hoping she’ll be on the mend after resting today. She has her preschool play tomorrow and I don’t want her to miss it!

  2. So funny that a few of your kids are reading Harry Potter. We just started reading it as a family. I love seeing everyone snuggled up on the couch or floor for our nightly HP book club, as we call it. We are almost done with book 1. Lot’s of HP talk at our house too.

    We’re not heading out anytime soon to see the new Star Wars movies, but we are having our own Star Wars party at our house on Friday night. My kids have never seen any of the movies, so we are going to watch the first one. The kids also planned the menu, and I think they did a fantastic job:
    Galactic Pizza
    Wookie Pies -whoopee pies
    Light Sabers – pretzel sticks dipped in chocolate
    Jawa brownies
    Hans Rolo’s – pretzels with rolo’s and an m&m
    Yoda pop and Yoda ade

    What a fun batch of random thoughts. Mom visits are the best…enjoy!

  3. Such interesting things you write! We know about Abuelita as I’d discovered it in Mexico years ago (and as a Canadian, how could I resist something puck-shaped?), and it’s pretty awesome stuff. Looking forward to your piece on ageing as I just turned thirty-fourteen (and how’s that for denial?). I would totally concur about the spurt business. What the heck is with THAT? I told my husband, jokingly, that I feel the same as I did in my twenties, and then I happen to see my face in the mirror and wonder who it is, ha, ha. All the best for a good week & weekend!

  4. I have been searching high and low and beyond (think page 2 of google searches!) for one last present to get my 6 year old daughter for Christmas. Where you do look for Christmas present inspiration? As a mother of girls, do you have any tried and true present ideas focused on play that have stood the test of time?

      1. Her wish is for a Wonder Woman castle. My wish is for that to be an actual thing! Her enjoys playing school and office, dancing in the living room and making baked goods with playdoh. At least once a day she pretends to drive her little sister social engagements – anything from plays to gymnastics to sleepovers!

  5. Nestle has a reputation as one of the worst human rights violators in the world. Its hard to enjoy their products when considering their negative impact on so many parts of the world. If you do a quick web search you will find many references. Related to cocoa there are many issues with child labor and how the cocoa beans are sourced.

    I do love the cocoa bar idea and am looking forward to hosting my first this Friday thanks for the great idea!

  6. Our wal mart carries abuelita, we have a`mexican food section and they even started carrying a whole variety of mexican candies. i guess this is a regional thing. we are in arizona. however, i would expect it would be easy to find in an area as ethnically diverse as Oakland. please tell me you are eating its its!!! favorite bay area treat.

  7. We just booked flights to France as well for August. We will be moving there for a year. Did you get the good deal on Iceland Air? I love that airline and you can’t beat flights to Paris for under $5oo per person. Congrats on the trip back!

    1. Would you mind sharing how you find your flights? Do you simply check the website frequently? Do you pick random dates just to get a quote and hope it’s low? Do you get alerts? Will you share your tips on how you troll the internet for the good deals?

      And, what airport are you flying out of?

      1. Robyn I have been tracking the flights to Paris for 6 months. I check the sites every couple of days. I am very flexible on the dates and we also fly during the week because it is less expensive. We will be living in southern France, but it was drastically less expensive to fly into Paris and then take the train south. Plus, who doesn’t mind a couple spending a couple days in Paris. Ha! We are flying out of Boston on Iceland air to Paris. I love this airline. They have good food (and last time it was free for the kids), a fun airport in R, great customer service and fantastic prices. Also, if you can do a layover for a day or two in R it is really fun to explore Iceland. I wish I had more tips to share or a better system, but basically what the following is what I do:
        1. Flexible on dates, never fly weekends.
        2. I am flexible on airports, hence flying into Paris and then taking the train.
        3. I do not stick with one particular airline, whoever has the best deals, except Spirit. This airline is good if you don’t plan to have luggage or eat. Since we are a traveling family we always have 2 bags and carryons each and the fees on Spirit for these items can get pretty lofty.
        4. I am persistent.
        Good Luck. Let me know if you have any other questions.

  8. There are Harry Potter Trivial Pursuit cards! I won’t see the open package until after Santa delivers them, but I have a feeling our family is going to be doing a Harry Potter trivia challenge on long car rides starting Christmas day.

  9. We too love Harry Potter. My 4th grade son and I are reading Harry Potter together (I read aloud, he listens, we discuss) and it’s a daily treat for me. As he gets older now and I get less quiet, close time with him and I’m loving this read aloud time. We’re on book 4. I haven’t read the series before so it’s great for us to be figuring it all out together and sharing our predictions with each other. We started this summer with book 1 and it was just right. Now that we’re on book 4 Harry is 14 and my son is just shy of 10 so it seems like it might be getting a little mature for him. It’s darker than book 1 and 2 that’s for sure.

    Being read to by my mom is one of my favorite childhood memories. I hope the same will be true for my kids.

  10. It’s so cool you’re going back to France as a family. Where are you planning to stay? Will your cottage be completed by then? Make sure to take lots of photos!! :)

    1. That’s the big question. We’re wondering if it can be “livable” by the time we get there, and then we can spend some of our vacation time furnishing it. But I don’t know if our timeline will work. We need to talk to the architect and find out.

      If we can’t stay at our place, we’ll definitely get in touch with our former landlords and see if La Cressonniere is available to rent.

      1. I’ve been hoping for a post on the status of your French cottage. Has there been a lot of progress? Can’t wait to see some updated photos!

  11. I have never heard of ‘wassail’ before this post, but it sounds delish! Will have to try and make some – it seems almost like mulled apple cider?

    And that’s so exciting about France! I started following your blog after you had already moved back from France, so I look forward to following your French adventures ‘live’ if you will ;) Would love to know any tips or tricks you have for buying plane tickets in advance – we’re looking at a family trip to the UK next year or the year after and any cost saving tips you have would be so welcome! Have you done a post on it before?

  12. Hi,

    I am in France so I’ve just seen Star Wars… and !!!! No, I am not going to spoil anything for anyone… but I was more happily surprised than with the precedent movies…
    What was your nestlé chocolate for hot chocolate in France?
    Enjoy your mom!

  13. We have a house full of Harry Potter fans over here so instead of giving Christmas presents this year we have organised a trip to the Harry Potter Studios in London. Apparently it’s pretty amazing :) I can’t wait to try the Butterbeer!

    1. The Studios are incredible! There is so much to see in the two big rooms. There is a small section with drawings and models beyond the main rooms but it is poorly explained/labelled – however if you can find a guide it’s very interesting, it includes things like the working ideas for Dobby. However a word of warning the Butterbeer is really horrible!! I brought each of my friends a cup and we barely finished one cup between us! It’s still fun to try but don’t buy a whole round :)

  14. So excited about your France-plans!! And so looking forward to new cottagepictures! We just discussed our 10th anniversary plans for next june,which originally were a trip to Paris, but we would be there during the european soccer chamiponship..not exactly matching our picture

    1. ..(it cut off half..)
      so we’ll have to find something else. I dream of a hideaway in a cottage in the mountains with a few good books and good food… we’ll see if we can make that happen.

  15. First – long live Harry Potter! We went through that phase last year with our oldest, and I can’t wait to go through it again with our youngest. It’s the best.

    Second – I totally know what you mean about aging in spurts. I felt the same after turning 40, but 41 has been a totally different year! Crazy.

    Have a happy and healthy Christmas!

  16. On October 20th, I bought two tickets for the Thursday night showing of Star Wars for my teenage sons, and they are over the moon excited that the day is almost here. My 15 year old has also reread the entire Harry Potter series three time since the summer so for Christmas I bought him the new Harry Potter Trivial Pursuit card game. Can’t wait for your post on aging… I turn 40 in a few weeks so it’s a topic that’s on my mind a lot. :)

  17. I turned 41 and a half too recently and I try and count my blessings every day but I was in the changing room at a shop last week and my stomach was all crepey (it’s flat…but like crepe paper when I squish it together). I’m sure it wasn’t like that last month. I read an article recently that said woman can be ‘down’ in the 40s but happy again in their 50s. Maybe it’s because they’ve accepted the ageing process whereas I feel like I am working on accepting it. I want to be grateful that I ‘m getting to grow older, and I truly am, but it’s hard to wave goodbye to youth. My whole body’s like clothes that don’t fit quite right any more. Obviously I will be drinking copious amounts of hot chocolate to cope with this entire situation…x

  18. If you don’t mind talking ballpark prices, what are “good prices” for flights to France? I have a friend who lives south of Paris, with a standing invitation to come for a visit, and I would love to take at least my daughter, if not my whole family. But money is tight, and when I looked at tickets just on a whim, they seemed to be around $1000/person. Have you ever found them for significantly less than that? What are the best times of year to travel if you’re looking for the best price on flights? Since you’ve made the flight multiple times, I’d love your insight. :-)

  19. My favorite wassail is known in my family as “Uncle ___’s Pear Drink.” It’s a wonderful blend of pureed canned pears, orange juice concentrate, cinnamon, clove, lemon juice, vanilla, and water. It’s a Christmas favorite!

  20. So inspiring to me that you’re taking the whole family back to France! My husband and I are planning on taking our two boys (ages 9 & 5) to Peru for a month this summer. We lived there for a year 10 years ago before the oldest was born, and I never thought it would take a decade to get back. The 2 big complications for going to Peru are altitude (we lived in Cusco, which is at 11,000 feet) and water/food-borne illnesses (I always said I couldn’t go back with kids until they were reliable to not drink the bath water). Well, my 5-year-old is actually not reliable to stop himself from drinking the bath water, but we still want to go. It feels a little crazy to go away for a month – now that I see that you’re going for 2 months, a month will seem so reasonable! Needless to say, this travel series that you’re going to do is perfect timing for me!

  21. Nestle is the worst. I won’t buy their products. Name any area in the world and they are exploiting the people. They just admitted slavery and coercion is being used in Thailand catching the seafood for their products. They sold baby formula to poor African mothers where water quality was poor – it was reported they dressed in white coats to advise the mothers that breast was not best. Now they are creating a monopoly on water! Evil.

  22. We love Abuelita in Texas! The brick is cool but the powder kind is so much easier. You just mix it in like hot cocoa mix and you don’t need to stir it or deal with the grittiness of the sugar.

  23. I’ve always asserted that just as kids have growth spurts, adults having aging spurts. Sometimes A LOT changes in a short amount of time. I felt a big physical shift when I turned 43 1/2.

  24. Happy happy birthday! Totally get the aging-spurt idea…puts into words a feeling I hadn’t quite named before.

    Thanks for mentioning wassail :) We’re having a cookie decorating and gift exchange gathering with friends this weekend and couldn’t think of a good holiday drink to serve (they’re vegan, so no egg nog). There are lots of good wassail variations that will work!

    I remember several years as a kid when I would get sick right before Christmas. I missed multiple parties at school and was always bummed. My kids are both getting ear drops for infections right now, and my fingers are crossed that’s as bad as it gets.

    Can’t wait to hear more about France!

  25. We’re reading book 5 too – first time for my 9 yo son and second time for me. And I forgot how much I love that book! The scenes with Cho Chang are just the sweetest/funniest. Especially Ron’s reaction to Harry and Cho’s kiss!! And Umbridge is so bad, she’s awesome. My husband and I literally arm wrestle over who gets to read it to my son each night. And my son is so into it that he can’t sit back and listen but has to read over my shoulder. We just read about Snape’s worst memory. Can’t wait to read more tonight…
    Cheers to you and yours this holiday season!

  26. i LOVED this post, Gabrielle!!! Loved it. When I was 8, I had a stomach virus hot me hard right after opening presents, and I spent the rest of the day in bed, throwing up. This was in Hawaii (where i’m from originally) in the ’70’s, pre-cable. There was NOTHING on TV that was fun for me to watch. It was one of the most miserable days of my life!

    WASSAIL. YES. Love it, make it, and I make mine non kid-friendly, with brandy. I think my recipe comes from Design Sponge. I feel like I’m a character from Dickens when I drink it!

    AGING. Oh sister. I’m 45. and this year has been the year of aging for me, which has been very strange, since I’ve always looked younger than my age, stemming back all the way to my teen years, when I was getting in for the under-12 rate at the fair when I was 16, ha ha ha. I feel like I look every inch my age now! And physically, I feel 80. I think I need to devote a lot of this year to personal wellness…..

  27. I’m sad that I missed the live nativity in our neighborhood this year which features live animals too. It is so dear and I always cry for some reason. It moves me so much. Happy Belated Birthday!

  28. I love that your kids are into the Harry Potter books! My siblings and I love those books and have re-read them several times. My mom teaches second grade, and she recently mentioned that none of her students have read the books or watched the movies. Perhaps parents think their second graders are too young for the books, but it made me a little sad to hear. I hope they never go out of style!

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