Saturday, December 31, 2011


Every year I vow I will wrap the presents ahead of time and every year I put it off until Christmas Eve.  Jonathan is a good sport and helped me out.

So we were up late and the kids up early.  Matthew, Melissa, and Corinna were all up around 6.  Surprisingly Isaac slept in till 7.  While Isaac slept, I prepared the Apfelpfannkuchen or German apple pancakes with cream (recipe below).  Matthew and Melissa decided that that ought to be a Christmas tradition after trying them at a German breakfast place in San Antonio 2 years ago.  M&M looted their stockings and jumped and danced around the house noisily until Isaac woke up. 

Melissa with her stocking loot.
(Notice the foaming bath soap, hair supplies, book, and crayons.  Santa is a practical elf.)
Matthew sorting the presents

Matthew admiring his dad's wrapping paper.  Jonathan's tradition is to use newspaper.  Upon questioning he replied, "You have your traditions, this one is mine.  Besides newspaper comes in pre-cut pages perfect for wrapping." 

Dad got in one last Chinese lesson before opening presents.

He's up!  And he was a bit puzzled by the excitement at first.  He quickly caught on. 

Melissa received a crystal (amethyst) necklace that she'd really wanted.

Licorice for me, from Matthew.  Wrapping paper for Corinna.  

A camera!

Star Wars Legos and a Lego idea book (and lego storage bins)

Grandpa and Corinna

Melissa bought Matthew a magic kit.  She knows her brother.  

We were thoroughly spoiled by our parents and siblings.  The children were delighted with their new treasures.  Thank you.

After opening presents, we dined on German Apple Pancakes with whipping cream.  Mmm.  Then Jonathan and Isaac tried to take Dad to the airport- but Jonathan already wrote about that adventure!

Since the car died right before church and we had no way of getting there, we opted to watch the First Presidency Christmas Message with the children instead.  It was a nice relaxed Christmas day and Matthew, Melissa, and Isaac had a lot of fun with their toys.  That evening Andrea and Jeremy hosted Christmas dinner and it was beautiful and delicious! 

Merry Christmas!

Apfelpfannkuchen (German Apple Pancakes)

You will need:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
 (apple filling)
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup white sugar + 1 tbls
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  •  2 large Granny Smith apples - peeled, cored and sliced 

  1. In a large bowl, blend eggs, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Gradually mix in milk, stirring constantly. Add vanilla, melted butter and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg.  Let the batter rest 30 minutes.
  2.  Preheat the oven to 425 F
  3. Melt butter in a 10 inch oven proof skillet (cast iron works well), brushing butter up on the sides of the pan. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup sugar, cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg. Sprinkle mixture over the butter. Line the pan with apple slices. Sprinkle remaining sugar over apples. Place pan over medium heat until the mixture bubbles, then gently pour the batter mixture over the apples. 
  4. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes at 425 F and then reduce heat to 375.  Bake an additional 10 minutes.  Whip cream to serve on top.  Enjoy!

Grandpa and Matthew

Jonathan's dad came to visit right before Christmas.  He came for the warm Texas biking climate, but he picked the only cold week of December!

While here, he and Matthew worked on a science project.

Behold!  The Ping-Pong Partner! We can't call it a "ping pong ball gun," because guns are Not Tolerated. But who can find fault with a ping pong service return practice partner?

They spent hours working on it together, designing, tweeking, and refining. I'm really not sure who had more fun, grandpa or Matthew.


Snapshots from Christmas break

Grandma Ellis sent us a big box for Christmas and told us to go ahead and open a bit early.  So we opened it on a day the boys were bored and Melissa sick and feeling just a bit sorry for herself.  Inside were wonderful treasures.

Isaac found a cape and a light up gun.  PERFECT for a super hero!

He raced through the house fighting "bad guys" and big brothers.

"Where's Matthew?"

 "There he is!"

Run, Matthew, run!

 "Bang! I shoot Matthew!"

 Got 'im!
 This game seriously entertained the boys for over 45 minutes.  It was loud, it was wild, and they were happy.

Grandma thought of Melissa too, and she received a zhu zhu pet kitten which she happily snuggled on the couch.  She really was sick, poor thing.  We had a date planned for that night (sitter and all!) but had to cancel. 

Matthew got a hex bug nano from Grandma.  This absolutely delighted him, since his previous hex bug nanos had met an unfortunate end at the hands of Isaac.  Matthew now has a dorm safe in his room to keep his treasures from prying, destructive brothers.  Hopefully the legs on this hex bug last longer! 

During Christmas break we made graham cracker and gingerbread houses.  The Hannas joined us that evening. 

This year we had individual graham cracker houses so everyone could make their own and eat it without interference.  I also made one real gingerbread house that later Melissa decorated.  And then Melissa, Matthew, and Isaac promptly ate it.  Sorry, the destruction commenced before I got pictures.

Corinna enjoyed the Christmas tree.

Her casualties are scattered on the floor.

Family pictures taken after church a week before Christmas.  Matthew was just thrilled by the prospect.

They were tired and ready for lunch, but humored me...somewhat.

Sigh.  This was the best family picture we got.  Grandpa tried his best, but the kids were grumpy.

Father, son, and grandsons!

The DataStax 2011 holiday party

Held at Red Robin near our California office. On the positive side, it's relatively inexpensive as company dinners go. On the negative, the burgers there are really pretty average.

Isaac playing New Super Mario

Isaac playing New Super Mario by jbellis
Isaac playing New Super Mario, a photo by jbellis on Flickr.

You can tell it was Dad who picked out his pajamas. (You can also tell I gave up trying to get him to hold the wiimote in the classic, horizontal NES orientation.)

Why Matthew isn't allowed to take books into his bedroom

All our Calvin and Hobbes books look like this now. He's not gentle when he's awake, but it's the rolling around on them in his bed while he sleeps that does most of the damage.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Isaac makes Voodoo Toast

Isaac makes Voodoo Toast by jbellis
Isaac makes Voodoo Toast, a photo by jbellis on Flickr.

"Well?" Rachel demands rhetorically. "What else would you call it?"

Sunday, December 25, 2011

At least Grandpa didn't miss his flight

Dad had a 10:25 flight. It's 30-35 minutes to the airport so I usually leave 2h early when I'm flying myself. But we didn't anticipate security lines today so we left a little after 9.

Ten minutes down the freeway the car started slowing down. I pushed the gas pedal; nothing happened. I pushed it harder; nothing still happened. I pulled over into the shoulder by an exit ramp. The brakes and the power steering still worked but the engine wouldn't turn over. When I turn it off, it didn't restart.

I called a cab for Dad. Since we weren't at a fixed address the dispatcher put out a "Who's near the Lamar exit on 183 southbound?" call. Two cabs replied; I told the second that the first was on the way "in five minutes," but he came anyway and actually beat the first one, who eventually showed up about 15 minutes later. Dad did make it in time to catch his flight. Not quite the goodbye I was hoping for.

I called a tow truck for the minivan. It was getting cold inside by the time he arrived an hour later -- it was about 40 degrees out, unseasonably cold and rainy for December in Austin. Isaac took everything in stride, playing Chu Chu Rocket on my phone while waiting.

The driver took us home before taking the minivan to storage to spend the night, since no mechanics are open on Christmas. That's where I took this picture. Nice of the guy to save us another wait for a taxi. We tipped him for his trouble.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Baby model

Baby model by jbellis
Baby model, a photo by jbellis on Flickr.

No, this isn't Corrina. But it could be her twin.

Before the storm

Before the storm, a photo by jbellis on Flickr.

Between Mom, Dad, grandparents, and Uncle Chris, there's a lot of presents under the tree tonight.

Isaac wasn't interested in dinner

Until Rachel put some motivation next to him.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ha ha ha

Isaac loves World of Goo. He calls it "ha ha ha!" -- I think that comes from the name the goo balls make when you click on them. Surprisingly, he finds it easier to play on the laptop's touchpad than on the Wii. (He's definitely picked up on the "cursor" concept a lot faster than our older kids did.)

He's beaten the first three levels by himself. The fourth is going to be a bit more challenging, since you need to not only build around the spinning blade but do so efficiently. He calls it the "Wheel of Ow."

Ha ha ha by jbellis
Ha ha ha, a photo by jbellis on Flickr.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Isaac might not be ready for sunbeams

Last week Isaac cried and yelled when I left nursery until they came and got me. I took him to his mom in junior nursery, where he spent the day.

Today Isaac cried and yelled after Rachel dropped him off until he fell asleep. When the other kids were practicing sitting in chairs and singing songs, Isaac refused to have anything to do with it.

We suggested to the primary president that Isaac isn't ready for sunbeams -- he's still less verbal than your average two year old, and he's been assessed with delayed social skills as well. Matthew had similar problems at that age, and I still remember what a hard time he had in sunbeams, crying every week for months. I suggested keeping him back too, but to our bishopric at the time it wasn't an option; if you were 3 in January you went to sunbeams, period. Today I would / will fight harder.

This president said that instead of keeping Isaac back, they'll call someone to be a full-time Isaac minder during primary. This ward is huge, with not enough callings to go around, so maybe that will work. But, she was actually just released so we will revisit the matter with the new one.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Preschool Evaluation

Isaac art. The figure on the left is Isaac. He got frustrated by the mouth of "mama" he was drawing, declared it "poop," and stopped working on it. Couldn't find his other drawings, so this one will have to do.

Wednesday the 7th, Isaac had the formal preschool evaluation through the school district. Since he is from a "bilingual" household they had a French speaking interpreter there. The evaluation process was almost identical to the play-based pre-assessment. The speech pathologist, child psychologist, and an administrative official watched him play, spoke and tried to engage him in different activities, and made notes. The French interpreter not very useful though. After watching for a half hour, they wanted her to initiate play with him in French. She didn't know what to say or do and really didn't know how to speak to small children. Isaac basically ignored her and kept returning to the original assessors. And I know he understood, her, she just wasn't particularly interesting to him. Dommage!

At the end of their evaluation they had a brief meeting with me. In that meeting they said he definitely qualified for preschool, and in fact they were recommending the most intensive, 4 hours a day 5 days a week preschool. They have several preschool programs ranging from just speech therapy to social, cognitive, and physical therapy. Isaac has severe speech delays, some social delays (they noticed that he is very rigid in his play and doesn't take kindly to outside suggestions to change the play), and some gaps in his cognitive development.

It is hard to come to the terms that he does indeed fall under the "special needs" umbrella. I just see him as my little boy, my Isaac. Originally I thought he just had speech delays, then, as he got closer to 3 noticed the social problems. As far as gaps in his cognitive development, I think at least part of that stems from his inability to effectively communicate and interact with people. There is definitely a spark in that child, I know there is! He is very clever in some areas, such as problem solving and puzzles. He also has excellent control of his body, both fine and gross motor control. Jonathan is more practical about it, "If the label fits, so be it, as long as he is getting the help he needs." He is right.

The next step in the process will be the ARD meeting with the school district in which we will set some goals, determine the suitable program, and have him registered for school. Fortunately, we as parents have a lot of flexibility. We can alter the days and the length of time he is in school to what works best for Isaac. Before the meeting we'll check out the preschool, meet the teachers, submit paperwork. There is a lot still to learn before the ARD meeting which will influence our decisions...

The ARD meeting will likely take place at the end of January after the formal written evaluation is submitted. After that he can enroll in school. We'll see how things go!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Grandpa Ellis tells a story

Paraphrasing Dad's first-person words:

My high school physics teacher had a game. He had students ordered in a kind of S alternating rows through the classroom, starting to his right. If he asked a question and the student in front of you missed it, and you got it, you'd switch places. I was a sophomore, and most of the class was juniors and seniors, but I marched up to the top of the S. So he put me back down at the bottom, and I marched up again. This happened a couple times, until he announced, "New rule: the goal is now to keep Ellis from getting to the top."

This was the same teacher that had some strobe lamps, to examine fast-moving objects by illumination. I made a mechanical one that doesn't work too well, and showed it to him. He wanted to show it to the class. I said it didn't work very well because I had the wrong kind of light bulb in it, but he said, "I want to show the class about creativity."

The sad thing is, I've never paid much attention to what other people think, but everyone said he was a bad AP teacher so I didn't take AP physics. So from that point I was a year farther ahead in chemistry, and that's what I ended up getting my PhD in even though I liked physics better.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Six Month update

It is hard to believe that 6 months have already passed!

Baby Bubbles has more than doubled her birth weight and is now 17 pounds even and 26.5 inches long.  This puts her at the 75th percentile for weight and height.  She's a good sized girl, as my biceps will attest.  She loves to be held, and so spends a good portion of her day in my arms. 

Just this week she discovered that she can roll around to get to objects she wants...and so the exploring mischief phase begins!  Her main goal in life is to get anything and everything she sees into her mouth.  Keeping small bits of flotsam away from her will be challenging with three older, messy siblings. 

She can sit up with just a little support, otherwise she topples over after a few seconds.  So close!  

Today, Corinna's first tooth broke through so she is back to her cheerful self.  She is a happy baby and people often comment on her sunny disposition.  "I never see her frowning, does she ever cry?"  She is generous with her gummy grins and bestows her dimpled smiles upon anyone who talks to her.  And when she smiles, she smiles with her whole body.   Her arms flail, her legs kick, and the corners of her eyes crinkle with joy. It is delightful.

No one can make her laugh quite like Isaac.  She thinks anything he does is hysterical.  Here he is just being himself, much to Corinna's amusement. 

Isaac at the petting zoo

Isaac at the petting zoo by jbellis
Isaac at the petting zoo, a photo by jbellis on Flickr.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Trimming the Tree

Jonathan and the kids picked out a tree on Saturday.  Our house smells like Christmas now.  Monday night we decorated the tree.

The littlest one always puts the star on the top.  I had to climb a chair to reach the top with Isaac.