Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Castle in the Air

Last weekend I headed over to Berkeley with my friend Donna to check out the scrapbook store on Fourth Street. (As usual, I spent too much on paper and stickers). Walking down Fourth Street, we found this fun little treasure of a shop - Castle in the Air.

This little studio sells all sorts of unique pens, papers, notecards and doodads. They also offer classes in collage and book arts, watercolor, crepe paper flowers and decorations, Dresden paper trim decorations and calligraphy. How fun!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Making a splash.

Napa Valley Register
by Jennifer Huffman | Monday, June 28, 2010

This past April, I got the news every mom wants to hear. We have a spot available at our community pool, the e-mail read. If you are interested in joining, please let us know.

Are we interested? Count us in!

A pool is guaranteed fun for kids of almost all ages. Toss in a few floaties and you have hours of entertainment. Sworn enemies on dry land, in the water, the three sisters suddenly come up with endless diversions together. Marco Polo! Push you sister off the inflatable caterpillar! Who can make the biggest splash? Bellyflops!

We’ve never belonged to a pool before. None of our Napa family members have a pool in their backyard. My in-laws have a pool but it’s in Vacaville — not exactly in the neighborhood. A country club membership is definitely out of our league. I don’t mind the Napa High or other public pools but the 5 p.m. pool closing time is tough for this working mom.

As a pool-less family, over the years, we’ve patched together a hodgepodge of swimming fun. We’d drive to Vacaville, or to a friend’s pool here and there. We’ve taken swim lessons at a private pool. I’ve quizzed my friends with pools about vacation schedules, hoping they’d need a pool sitter. I’ve visited the country club pool for a birthday party and coveted the comfy loungers and poolside snack service. We’ve even installed a baby wading pool in the backyard — anything to keep cool during summer.

I might have dreamed about getting a pool at our house, but I know the truth. Summer in Napa isn’t like summer in Arizona or Texas. We don’t really neeeeeed a pool. But when those heat waves hit, it’s all I could think about. Those are the days when I would have paid anything for 15,000 gallons of water to magically appear in our backyard.

After a neighbor down the street installed a pre-fab type of in-ground pool, I quizzed her relentlessly about the price and size. On hot days I could just imagine her family splashing as we sweltered just a few houses over. Oh, yes, I had pool envy, big time.

So I practically skipped over to our new pool the week it opened.

“Come on girls, let’s go the pool!” I sang out cheerily. On our way for the inaugural swim, I searched radio stations for pool-appropriate music. The car windows were down. I felt relaxed. Life always seems sweet when you are headed to the pool.

Hanging out at the pool is almost like being on vacation. I lounge in a recliner. I read a book. The girls swim. Tightwad mom even forks over dollar bills for candy and ice cream. Everyone is in a good mood at the pool. Even better, when it’s time to go home, we just pack up and leave. I’m not responsible for cleaning, heating or filling the pool.

Now that we belong to a pool, a trip to Target takes on whole new meaning. We need pool snacks, I announced. And those foam noodle things for floating in the water. Look at this nifty spray on sunscreen! Who’s outgrown their swimsuit? Aren’t these flip-flops cute? I need a pool cover-up. And a floppy hat!

I may be a new member but I can already tell the pool has its own sociology. The teens hang out on a grassy patch of lawn. The toddlers are in the baby pool. Baseball teams and other groups grill dinner or serve up birthday cake. Some people sit only on the shady side of the pool. Others lay out on the sunny side. Daredevil dads compete for the biggest cannonball splash. Teen lifeguards perch over it all and sell candy and snacks during breaks. Ahhhh, this is the life.

The next time someone asks me how my summer is going, I know exactly what I’ll say: Swimmingly.

For more Surrendering to Motherhood, click here...

Friday, June 25, 2010

The clean out: 2010

Almost exactly one year later, to the date, I hit the girls' room again for my annual trash and toss. This year the job went a little faster. It only took me three hours, instead of three days, to go through all their toys, books, clothes and other junk. This year the big surprise was all the hidden clothing stashed under here or behind there. I found tshirts, socks, underwear and shorts aplenty. These are the same girls who complained that they have "nothing to wear." Now I know why.

I have four bags for Goodwill, six bags for recycling and two bags of books to donate to the library book sale. Annabelle was headed to a babysitting job, so she took a purple baton, two stuffed dogs and two books for her little friends. Nothing gives a mom satisfaction like the sight of a cleaned out, and cleaned up room.


The Clean Up
Napa Valley Register
June 28, 2009
by Jennifer Huffman

I’d plotted. I’d planned. I’d circled the scene repeatedly, waiting for just the right moment to attack.

Then last week I did something I’d wanted to do for a long time: I cleaned out my daughters’ bedroom.

What’s the big deal? Don’t my kids pick up their own rooms? Sure they do. They make their beds (most days) and tidy up. But that’s just an illusion. Look under that pile of toys or in the corner of the closet and you’ll find a much deeper black hole.

Every time I went into the bedroom of my two youngest, my fingers would involuntarily draw closer to the piles of crap. I wanted in, and bad.

Eyeing their so-called collections of plastic junk, Dollar Store knickknacks and tchotchkes, I’d think to myself, I’ve got your number, Bedroom. Your time is up.

But if tried to do the big clean-up when they were at home, I’d never hear the end of it. “You’re throwing that away? Nooooooo!”

Every item destined for Goodwill would be scrutinized. A previously forgotten stuffed animal would suddenly take on the role of Treasured Childhood Toy That I Could Never Part With.

Obviously, this was a somewhat delicate situation. Luckily, one occupant was sent away on an outing for a few nights. While the other played outside, I made my move.

First to go were the Bratz dolls with their amputated feet, the Bratz sushi bar and Bratz Boyz motorcycle. No one would miss those Bratz. For good measure I chucked a bunch of wild-haired naked Barbies. My arms pinwheeled backwards like a cartoon character’s as I created growing piles of Keep, Toss and Donate.

Shoved under one dresser — surprise, surprise — I found a crumpled-up social studies test with a less-than-stellar grade. I found enough Dollar Store stuff to reverse the trade debt with China, empty gum wrappers galore, dust animals and more junk.

It was easy to get rid of the trashy Bratz and trashed Barbies, but the Groovy Girls were another thing. These soft dolls with floppy bodies and colorful, funky clothes were my favorites. Unfortunately, the girls didn’t quite take to the Groovy Girls like mom did.

I want my daughters to be Groovy Girls, not Bratz. Was I giving away a good girl role model? Be tough, I told myself. Their room was overflowing. This was no time to be sentimental over dolls no one played with anymore.

Reluctantly, I gathered up the Groovy Girls, their tent, guitar, couch, iguana and other Groovy pets and put them into the Donate pile.

The youngest one came in and I put her to work sorting Littlest Pets from Lego parts. Whatever doesn’t fit into these two containers goes, I told her. I collected into a bin what seemed like 10,000 pieces of jewelry. All the Playmobil got consolidated, with Noah’s ark rising to the top of the heap.

Three days later, I was so done with that room. I’d made two trips to Goodwill and the library donation box, and filled both our recycling toter and the neighbor’s.

After a friend said she’d take the Groovy Girls, Barbies and Bratz for her little girl, I quickly loaded the dolls, their furniture and clothes into my minivan and headed to her house. I didn’t want her to change her mind. Plus, I needed to get rid of the evidence before my girls got home.

Like Doll Delivery Fairies, my two assistants and I carried the loot into little Parker’s room. As we unpacked all the dolls Parker, 3, could only stare at us in wonder.

The Groovy Girls went to a good home. My girls would still be groovy, even without the dolls.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Drug house update

How about this makeover? The junk is gone and a "for sale" sign hangs in the front yard of the former marijuana grow house next door. The investor who bought the home spent two weeks fixing it up. It was bought at auction for somewhere around $350,000. He has listed it for $429,000.

We walked inside it at an open house last Sunday. This guy really knows what he is doing. He did just enough to make the home show good without going overboard. New countertops and kitchen appliances, but no fridge. Clean windows, but no window coverings. New tile in the kitchen, but same old tile in the entryway. Halfheartedly "staged" with a few pieces of furniture here and there. Clean but barebones backyard. New, but cheap carpet. Painted the front of the house, but not the rest. His crew also cleaned up the illegal unit in the garage but left the bathroom and mini bedroom in place.

Here's hoping for some good new neighbors.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sift goodies

The other day I took a short walk from the newspaper to a local cupcakery and look at the deliciousness I found.
Sift is located within a darling boutique in Napa called Cake Plate, and together the two are cooking up something good. The bakery gives its cupcakes cute names like "Pinking of You", "Key Lime Bliss", "All for the Cookie", "Black Cherry Jungle" and "Irish Car Bomb". I could eat about six of these right now.
Planet Claire says.... Czech it out!

Friday, June 18, 2010

"Crap Sale"

These two signs were recently spotted in Napa. Looks like someone is pretty pissed off. The "Sell Your Husband/House" signs attracted the attention of local code enforcement which showed up to remove them both. No word on how the crap sale went.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Camp Huffman kick off

Took the girls to our local craft store, Michael's, to stock up on supplies for Camp Huffman. Here is the booty they picked out. Sculpy clay, pipe cleaners, neon duck tape, feathers, fun foam and more. Oh, and dye and tee-shirts for tie dye projects. They love to tie dye at Camp Huffman. By the end of the summer, they'll end up looking like a very clean cut group of mini-Deadheads.

What else will the girls make from these goodies? Don't know, but I'll post pics of their creations.

(If you aren't familiar with Camp Huffman, click here for a column I wrote about our Do-It-Yourself Camp last summer.)

Monday, June 14, 2010

All locked up.

By Jennifer Huffman
Napa Valley Register
Monday, June 14, 2010

Last week I was recruited to work as an assistant to Pierce Carson, our longtime food and wine writer, at Auction Napa Valley.

I’ve been to auctions here and there, but I’ve never been to “the show” as I call it. For one thing, we have three girls that need to eat and need new shoes, not to mention a college education, so shelling out $2,500 a person to go to an upscale wine auction is definitely not in our family budget.

So I was very happy that Pierce and colleague Sasha Paulsen asked me to work with them for the day. The morning of the auction, Pierce handed me my media ID. “Guest Carson” it said. He apologized for the name mix-up. That’s OK, I said. You can call me Guest, or Ms. Carson, or whatever you want. I’m just glad to be invited.

Until that day, my only previous visit to Meadowood resort, host of the auction, consisted of a quick trip to review the bathrooms for the Potty Project, a two-day series Kevin Courtney and I wrote about Napa Valley bathrooms a bunch of years ago. I have clearly moved up in my story assignments.

Dinner at my house usually involves throwing together some kind of quickie pasta, chicken or Costco food special. But at Auction Napa Valley, international chefs had prepared all manner of gourmet delights. I followed Pierce as he schmoozed and sampled. Whatever Pierce ate, I ate. I had smoked squab. I had lobster. I tried caviar sprinkled next to quail eggs. I ate mini “pig burgers.”

The Auberge du Soleil chefs made bite-sized shortcakes with strawberries reportedly picked that morning on Silverado Trail. I’m guessing that means they didn’t come from the guy selling strawberries at the corner. A chef named Jean Joho was dishing out a cold soup. I never truly understood cold soup until I had Jean Joho’s cold Alsatian cabbage soup. Suddenly it became very clear. This was the crème de la crème of cold soups. From now on, it’s Jean Joho’s cold Alsatian cabbage soup for me or nothing.

Thomas Keller of the French Laundry walked around like a gourmet ballpark vendor doling out ice cream sandwiches from a wooden cooler. He personally handed me an ice cream sandwich. As soon as he turned away, I took a picture of it. It’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to Keller or his food, unless you count the time when I reviewed the French Laundry bathrooms for the Potty Project.

During the auction itself waiters brought out more tasty delicousness. One plate featured mini organic radishes with the dirt still on their roots as if they had just been pulled from the garden. Apparently the chefs have exhausted all other radish recipes, and therefore resorted to only the purest, most exquisite form of the food. They have literally gone back to their roots.

I had heard stories of the high-class porta potties at the auction so I was sure to check them out. They’re like a deluxe trailer bathroom with faux wood floors, a regular sink with hot and cold running water and flowers. Nice — and no porta potty smell at all. I stepped inside the stall and locked the door behind me. After noting the wooden toilet seat and framed portrait on the wall, I went to unlock the stall door, only it wouldn’t budge. I twisted the lock back and forth. It was stuck. I tried it again. Still stuck. Am I actually locked in a deluxe porta potty at Auction Napa Valley? This is so not good, I said to myself. What do I do now? Do I shout for help? Do I knock? Scream?

I could just hear my coworkers. Did you hear Jennifer went to the wine auction and got locked in a porta potty?

Would I have to be rescued? I imagined the 911 call I would have to make. “Yes, this is reporter Jennifer Huffman with the Napa Valley Register. I’m locked in a very deluxe porta potty at the wine auction at Meadowood.” Oh the humiliation. Will anyone even notice I’m missing? Will Sasha think I’ve fallen down on my reporting duties? Pierce will never ask me to be his assistant again after this. Those wine auction ladies will surely ban me as “Guest” forever.

Standing in the windowless box, I was feeling more than a little claustrophobic. I don’t care how nice a porta potty is, It is not fun to be held captive inside one. After several sweaty minutes, I tried the lock one more time. Finally it opened, and I was free.

Thank goodness. Just in time for dessert.

For more Surrendering to Motherhood click here.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Rolling, rolling, rolling: A new project

Check out what Dad brought home the other day. It's a 1966 Ford Mustang and it's Dad and Annabelle's new project car. As a new driver, it's not something she'll be driving right away, but after it's fixed up, and if she earns it... well, we'll just see how it goes. Dad was very excited about his "find" -- I guess it's something called a Sprint 200, which means only 5,000 of these Mustangs were made that year. It's a limited edition, just like our girl.

P.S. Note how the youngest immediately hopped into the drivers seat.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


I found this iPhone app via an old high school friend of mine, and it is so fun! Pick your lens and film and then start shooting. You get a fab vintage look with each pic. Shake your iPhone for a random lens and film selection. The Hipstamatic app comes with the John S Lens, the Jimmy Lens, the Kaimal Mark II Lens, the Standard Flash, the Dreampop Flash, Ina’s 1969 Film, and Kodot Verichrome Film. Super!

These pics were taken at the newspaper I work for. If you think the Hipstamatic app makes the newsroom look grungy, unfortunately I can't blame the app for that. It looks like that in real life.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Grow house update

Just when I thought the clean up crew was done dragging trash out of the marijuana grow house next door, this pile of junk appeared on the front lawn. I have to give the new owner (an investor) credit -- he's had a crew tearing into that house for five days straight. They've torn out the carpet, replaced the countertops with granite, patched the interior, replaced the front porch railings, weeded, mowed, installed new garden edging and more.

My husband said the new owner borrowed a flashlight to look under the floors and inside the walls. Why? He said the growers sometimes hide money in the house. I guess if I was running a grow house operation, I might not be using Bank of America either.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Auction Napa Valley roots.

What can I say about an event where auction lots regularly went for $100,000 and above? A man two tables away from me calmly bid more than $150,000 for an Aston Martin sports car with some wine thrown in. Retired CEO’s and other bigwigs from across the country were raising their paddles like there was no tomorrow. One businessman/investor spent $340,000 on a single auction item.

At our girls’ school annual gala, we are thrilled to raise anywhere near $10,000 for our Fund a Need auction item. For the Fund a Need auction lot at Auction Napa Valley, bidders raised $765,000 in less than ten minutes. Gulp.

During the event, this mom/reporter --who’s usually scrambling to prepare the nightly dinner around three main food groups; chicken, pasta or Mexican food –- sampled all manner of fabulous delicacies including lobster, caviar, quail eggs, octopus, scallops, and more. Note: one new fancy food trend seems to be serving baby organic radishes, with the dirt still on the roots. I guess in their efforts to impress the high rollers, the chefs have exhausted every other possible food combination, so there’s only thing left to do. They’ve gone back to their roots.

Shown here are pics of the auction centerpieces and the homemade ice cream sandwiches from the French Laundry, personally delivered by Thomas Keller himself. Yeah, that’s right, Thomas Keller gave me an ice cream sandwich – along with a wink.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Petaluma art car/Auction Napa Valley

Check out this cool art car we saw in Petaluma today. It was parked by a store calledHeebee Jeebees so maybe it belongs to the owners? I was very happy to take today (Friday) off from the newspaper, because I will be working at Auction Napa Valley tomorrow and possibly Sunday. I was asked to be a runner for our food and wine reporters -- meaning they will send me off to interview the high bidders and whomever else they want me to talk to. I'm pretty excited about this because I have never been to the auction night where bids for wine have gone into the high six figures in the past. Can you imagine??? I will try not to gawk at the high rollers ;)
I might also do a story on the high class portapotties I hear they have at the auction. Will post more tomorrow from Meadowood!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Drug house update

The infamous "grow house" next door has been sold at a foreclosure auction and has a new owner -- an investor that fixes up and rehabs other such homes in distress. He and his crew have been at the house for two days. First they took out about 4 truckloads of junk. We couldn't tell from outside but the windows had been covered with sheetrock so you couldn't see the grow lights on inside. The garage had a bathroom and small office built into it (also illegal).

On the front lawn there is currently: a big pile of cinder blocks, an vintage style red plaid suitcase (kind of cool but still gives me the heebeejeebees) with clothes neatly folded inside, a red bike that I remember the original owner's elderly father riding around town, some stereo equipment, carpet, wiring, and more.

The investor who bought the home has offered my husband $20 a day to borrow electricity from us, seeing as the PG&E meter was removed when the police raided the house. Now, if it was a neighbor that asked us to borrow a hookup, I would have told them to use our power for free. But this is this man's business. We'll take the $20.