Archive for the 'Christmas' Category

Thanksgiving table for 2

Sunday, November 29th, 2015

No matter whether I was at the gym, at the office or just out and about, for the week prior to Thanksgiving, everyone’s conversations centered on “what are your plans for Thanksgiving?”

This year, when I was asked if I was cooking or how many people we were hosting, for the first time in the 30+ years that we’ve been married and probably in my whole life, my response was “We’re going out for Thanksgiving.”

Before the person I was speaking to had time to make any judgements about this information such as: “That sounds really pathetic. Are they orphans or such unpleasant company that they don’t have any family or friends who will take them in for the evening? Even homeless people get invited to share Thanksgiving,” I quickly added, “None of our kids are able to make it home for Thanksgiving and neither Steve or I really saw the need to cook an enormous amount of food for just the two of us.” As I was saying this, I hoped that I didn’t sound too defensive.

If going out for Thanksgiving meant trying to find an open Burger King, I think that really would be depressing. But we had an opportunity to make it special because we rarely go out to eat and after all, it is Thanksgiving, so we made reservations at in Glen Ellen. They were serving between noon and 6 p.m. and we made reservations for 5:00.

It turns out that we’re not the only ones who decided to let trained professionals prepare, cook and clean up for Thanksgiving. The place was packed. While I certainly would have expected to see lots of empty nesters like us, there were lots of multigenerational families. It totally makes sense that if both parents are working, and they don’t have the time or interest in cooking, and grandma and grandpa are coming into town, eating out for Thanksgiving could relieve a huge amount of stress.

The menu at the café was a three course meal, with four choices for an entrée; Roasted Turkey, House Ham, Pan Seared Flounder or Risotto. Steve and I both chose the turkey but he started with an enormous Arugula salad with figs, goat cheese and pancetta. I had the Butternut Squash soup. For dessert, we both ordered the Brownie Sundae with Brandied Apples.

Everything was absolutely delicious. There was no need for the waiter to ask if I was done with my soup; I had practically licked the bowl clean, it was that good. And the service was efficient but friendly.

People often say that the best part of Thanksgiving is leftovers. No need to cook just for those. The portions at the Girl & Fig were so large that we brought home another full meal for the day after.

Our only disappointment of the evening? We couldn’t figure out how to bring home the leftovers of our Brownie Sundae without the melted ice cream leaving a puddle on the car floor.

Fake fir

Monday, November 9th, 2015

I held out as long as I could but I finally gave in and went to the dark side…at least that’s the way my daughters see it…because I bought an artificial Christmas tree.

In the past several years as the quality of a Tannenbaum in a box has gotten better, getting an artificial tree became and more and more tempting. It was harder to justify the work that goes into buying and decorating a real tree. There’s the hassle of manhandling it into the car, dragging it in the house, adjusting it in the stand – “Is it straight now?” – and vacuuming up pine needles until Easter. But our daughters insisted that an authentic Christmas celebration required and authentic tree.

Even though this whole process was a lot of work, I could always wrangle one of the kids to help out. Especially our youngest daughter – Jennifer really cared about having a real tree and was willing to invest the time to make it happen.

Early in the holiday season, the two of us would plan an evening that we could shoot up to Costco and get the tree. While buying a tree at Costco isn’t quite an “over the river and through the woods” kind of picturesque outing, it was a bonding time for us. She always wanted me to wait to decorate the tree until she could be around to help. As we unwrapped each ornament, we reminisced about the moment in time when we bought them.

But this Christmas, Jennifer is in Shanghai and she definitely won’t be popping in for the holidays. And neither will our other two kids. Valerie is working most of the Thanksgiving weekend and Ethan has only been at his new post in Kansas for a couple of months.

So there’s no chance I’ll be letting anyone down by assembling and fluffing the artificial Douglas fir that I bought from Target.

I think the switch to an artificial tree is symbolic of a bigger change than just choosing to make decorating and cleanup from the holiday season a little easier for myself. The artificial tree represents a change of seasons in our lives. For so many years, the holidays were about making the holidays meaningful to the kids. But that time has passed. Now, it’s up to Steve and me to set the agenda for the holidays.

It’s a both uncomfortable and freeing. It will take some getting used to but we may actually rediscover what life was like BK…before kids.

Sunday, December 21st, 2014

This week, I’m re-purposing (I love that word, it sounds so much better than saying that I’ve found a way around doing more work) our 2014 Christmas letter as my blog post.

If you follow my blog, (so you’re the one!) thank you for the time you haven taken to read my ramblings and hear about the happenings in our household. I wish you and those dear to you a very Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

We hope this letter finds you enjoying a happy, healthy, and not too crazy holiday season.

Speaking of health, that’s a subject we don’t take lightly as we begin a new year. Steve knew he had some heart disease but when he went in for a stent last March, the cardiologist discovered that his arteries looked like the LA freeway system on a Friday afternoon before a three-day weekend – clogs everywhere. It was either schedule the surgery ASAP or make sure that he had 911 programmed as a “favorite” on his phone.

So in April, Steve had triple bypass surgery and eight months later he’s doing great; he dropped 20 pounds, went through a cardio rebab program, and recently resumed his workouts at the gym. We feel so blessed that it wasn’t an “event” – the euphemism for a heart attack – that put him in the hospital, but instead, we were able to schedule the surgery around our kids’ graduations.

First up on our graduation trifecta was Ethan’s in early May when he graduated from his 18 month Korean language program at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey.  Following graduation, Ethan spent the summer getting additional intelligence training at an Air Force Base in the Middle of Nowhere, Texas. Then it was on to Korea where he is stationed at a huge Army base in the heart of Seoul. Because it’s the army, he says there’s the usual amount of make-work projects, but he continues to be enthusiastic about his decision to enlist and the opportunities available to him. As long as Kim Jon-un doesn’t go totally wacky, Ethan has his day job on the base and the weekends to explore the second largest metropolitan area in the world. Let the adventure begin.

In mid-May, we drove to Orange, CA for Valerie’s graduation from Chapman. After initially feeling that she wasn’t “blonde” enough for Southern California, Valerie found her place in the graphic design program at Chapman, thanks to a wonderful department chair who nurtured her talent, developed her marketable skills and also welcomed her into his family. Right now, she’s wrapping up a short term job at a law firm – not related to graphic design but it pays the rent – and looking forward to expanding her free lance clientele. She hasn’t changed from when she was a preschooler drawing at her Little Tikes table; she is always creating art. Since she’s not a big self-promoter and I’m a proud mom, I will add that you can find some of her delightful art by searching for her name on Tumblr.

And last but definitely not least, at the end of May, Jennifer Lynn graduated from Montgomery High. What motivated her during her senior year to get out of bed, work hard to pass her IB diploma exams and keep smiling at cranky customers during her shifts at Starbucks?  The dream that her efforts would result in the opportunity to escape our condo in Cotati and go away to a four-year college right out of high school. We consider it nothing less than divine intervention that her dream became a reality when Pepperdine in Malibu offered her a full tuition scholarship. Gauging by the infrequency of her calls home and the frequency of her Instagram postings with friends at the beach, Santa Monica, Sherman Oaks, and Bevery Hills, she has had a wonderful first semester. She assures me that studying does happen in between the SnapChats.

While Steve keeps Rustad Marketing chugging along, I spend my days managing projects for a branded promotions company. Hard to believe I’ve been there a year because the days absolutely fly by. We work with a lot of great clients including developing products for museum stores. S o remember, always exit through the gift shop!

We wish you and your family a joyous holiday season and very Happy New Year.

Love, the Rustads

Family wrap up for 2013

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

As a wrap up to the year and also because I didn’t have time to write a blog for this week, I’m re-purposing (I love that word, it sounds so much better than saying that I’ve found a way around doing more work) our 2013 Christmas letter as my blog post for this week.

If you follow my blog, thank you for the time you haven taken over the past year to read my ramblings and hear about the happenings in our household. I wish you and those dear to you a very Merry Christmas.


This past year brought another move – the second one for us in two years. Given the frequency of our address changes, you might get the impression that we actually like moving. No chance of that – it just happened that the opportunity arose to move to a sunnier condo across the narrow driveway. We whittled down our possessions yet again in this most recent move and if we get any leaner and meaner, Steve and I will be sharing the same fork.

Ethan has completed the first year of his five year hitch in the army and is still immersed in Korean at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey. I regularly remind him how fortunate he is to be getting his Advanced Individual Training in one of the most beautiful places in the country. The DLI is like being back in college except that unlike SF State, he has to study. To burn off steam from eight hours a day of Korean, he and his buddies travel to weekend Bay Area GORUCK competitions (ruck is short for rucksack; the army term for a backpack.) These competitions involve creative combinations of ocean water, sand, pushups, running, log carrying and team building challenges all while carrying 40 pounds of bricks in your ruck.  I guess he just didn’t have enough fun in Basic Training.

In May, Valerie will graduate from Chapman with a major in graphic design. She is already putting her talents to work outside of the academic environment in a small design firm in Newport Beach. Between keeping up with her school assignments, internship, part-time job and martial arts classes, and new this year – a relationship (according to Facebook) – she is a busy girl and several days go by between hearing from her. Good thing that I can keep up on the happenings in her life by following her on Instagram.

Jennifer Lynn got her driver’s license shortly after the beginning of 2013 and that was the last we saw of her. Okay, I’m exaggerating but she is eager to exert her independence and hopeful that the spring will bring news that she’s been accepted into a college far, far away from Cotati. While we wait to find out if the scholarship money has enough zeros attached to it, Jennifer is spending her senior year of high school balancing her time between her IB classes, working at Starbucks and the most recent expression of her adventurous personality, joining the wrestling team. Boys…girls…wrestling…how does this work, I wondered? She assures me it’s all very legit and as Steve reminded me, it’s a useful skill for a girl to know how defend herself – especially one who wants to land on the east coast.

In between branding and design work for Rustad Marketing clients, Steve is very involved as chairman of a non-profit dedicated to helping veterans with severe PTSD. He also volunteers with the Petaluma Police Department and generously gives of his time whether they need help with crowd control or want him to shoot a video of a town hall meeting.

While I have loved working with the community at the Petaluma Visitors Program for the last three years, I will be leaving the PVP at the end of the year to join a company that makes promotional products, particularly for museum stores. It’s hard to say goodbye but I’m looking forward to new challenges and growth.

Steve and I are very thankful to be in good health surrounded by faithful friends. We wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and blessings in the New Year.


The Rustads


Welcoming Santa

Sunday, December 1st, 2013

Once again, Santa and Mrs. Claus arrived in spectacular fashion on Saturday when they chugged up the Petaluma River in a Jerico tugboat. The sun was shining on the water, the temperature was almost balmy, and when the tug sounded its horn heralding Santa’s arrival at the Turning Basin, I think even those of us who haven’t sat on Santa’s lap for many, many years felt their heart beat a little faster in anticipation.

Thanks to a huge amount of support from Basin Street Properties, Santa and Mrs. Claus were able to greet children in a decorated tent outside of Tap’s new location in River Plaza shopping center. I’ve worked this event for a couple of years and while the kids are always adorable, sometimes they are not that eager to be face-to-face with a stranger in a big red suit and a full beard. I’ve seen some tense moments between parents when dad is determined to get the perfect photo for their Christmas card but mom doesn’t want to set off a tantrum with their 2 year-old that could take hours to recover from.

But perhaps because Santa and Mrs. Claus weren’t in a stuffy room or crowded mall setting, it relieved some of the pressure on the families waiting in line to sit on Santa’s lap and have their photo taken. Everyone was extremely patient and I don’t think I saw any toddlers burst into tears and cling to mom for dear life when they realized that they were being handed off to Santa.

Santa and Mrs. Claus take a break between kids’ Christmas wishes

Plus, Petaluma has the best Santa and Mrs. Claus this side of the North Pole. Sweet, genuinely interested in what the kids have to say, and willing to accommodate the families in whatever way works for their photo.

The day will stand out for me as a picture perfect Christmas memory. And thanks to John O’Hara at the Argus for taking such great photos. See them here.

Oh Tannenblog

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

There are many reasons that I am happy that Ethan enlisted in the army; providing me with months of material for my blog is only one of them.

This week I’m going to give Ethan a rest – something that he says that he is sorely and literally in need of as he looks forward to graduation from basic training this Thursday – and turn my attention to the home front (actually the front room) of our little condo here in Sonoma County.

In our old house, the Christmas tree was placed in front of a huge window. And because the house was at the top of quite a steep street, everyone driving up the hill could see our tree glowing in the window. Neighbors used to tell me how cheery it looked to see our brightly lit tree like the tip of an arrow pointing the way home.

In our cozy condo, window and wall space are in short supply, so with the help of a twelve foot extension cord threaded under the couch to the wall outlet, the tree sprouts out of the middle of the room. Although I miss being able to see the decorated tree from the outside, I like being able to have a 360 degree view of it. Since there is not a back to the tree where I can hang all the ugly ornaments, I tossed the dregs of the decorations that were at the bottom of the cardboard box. No more chipped balls rolling around, faded holly leaves and Nutcracker soldiers missing a loop and an arm.

So now, every ornament I look at on the tree makes me happy – there aren’t any of the “I always hated that one.” Each one brings back the moment in time of where we were when we bought it, or who gave it to us, or what was happening in our lives that particular Christmas.

There are little glass balloons that Steve and I ordered from a Horchow catalog when we had money and no kids. There are beautiful Waterford ornaments that a dear friend gives me every year. Next to the poodle in a poodle skirt ornament that Valerie picked out at a store on Kentucky Street shortly after we moved to Petaluma is a charming felt cutout that Jennifer and I bought at Target for $1.99 last year. I remember standing in the store and picking it out, still feeling shell-shocked from moving out of our house a month earlier.

Taking time to reflect; that’s a beautiful part of Christmas.

Bright hope for tomorrow

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

New Year’s day is such a strange day. It’s a combination of relief that the holidays are over. Everything that needed to get done, got done. It’s such a pleasure to go to Target and the grocery store and be able to find a parking place. The stores are quiet and easy to get around in. No more overly stressed shoppers trying to cross one more gift off their list.

But I also have some post holiday letdown. I can no longer use the busyness of the season as a distraction from the pile of bank statements and bills on my desk. It makes me realize that even though there was a lot of work involved in preparing for the holidays, I really enjoyed it. I might just have to bake some more biscotti and savor the experience once again.

However, the bittersweet nature of the day also gives me an opportunity as I look ahead to the new year. I’m the type of person who more easily focuses on the bitter…or at least the less-than-perfect aspects of life. Something improves but I immediately find a way to negate it. We don’t have to pay property tax but the car needs new tires and major service; we reduced our phone bill but we need to start making payments on our Parent Plus loan. Oh, woe is me…we’ll never get ahead.

I can get myself into a total funk where the only thing I have to look forward to is getting through tax day on April 15th. Isn’t that a cheery thought.

Rather than going down that depressing path, I’m going to take a few minutes to reflect on the sweet things in our life. The fact that we got through the sale of our house. It was stressful but we survived with all our limbs intact. A little painful, yes, but it certainly didn’t destroy us. We found a safe and very nice place to live. Is it ideal? No, but neither was our old house.

Everyone in our family is healthy. There is no amount of money in the bank that could take away the deep pit in my stomach if one of my kids were ever to be really, really sick. And how about a husband who looks at least 10 years younger than his age, is always reinventing himself in business, and has an abundance of talents and skills?

I have a job waiting for me to return to on January 3 working with a wonderful group of people. That is a blessing because going into the holidays a year ago, I didn’t have a job. Being in that situation has given me a lot of compassion for all the people looking for work.

So there is good reason for me to be optimistic about 2012. As I see it, the choice is either hope or despair. I’m going with hope. Amen.

The Yule Blog

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Merry Christmas,

As you saw on the postcard, we did a lot of downsizing in 2011 – even our Christmas greetings downsized to a postcard – so I appreciate you taking the time to find the website to read our annual family recap.

After living on Paula Lane for 17 years, it became apparent to us that the house had become too much for us. It had too many bedrooms now that Ethan and Valerie weren’t living at home, too much yard work and way too much mortgage. We are grateful that we didn’t have to give up our first born to Wells Fargo in order to get out from under it, so after about a six month process, we moved in early November to a cozy condominium in a quiet complex called The Cottages in Cotati.

It’s more of a drive to get Jennifer Lynn to her full-on schedule of high school activities but one of the best things that has come from moving up the road is that Steve has had the opportunity to share office space with a long-time business associate in a nearby community. After working alone in a home office for the past eight years, more contact with the outside world and a bigger separation between home and office feels really good to him.

On a beautiful day in May, it was a thrill for us to watch Ethan and 5,000 of his closest friends graduate from San Francisco State. It was definitely an opportunity for me to be in the moment and set aside my worries about the job market, his compounding student loans and the $56 in his checking account. However, I needn’t have stressed, because he did get a job at a small video production company located in the nice part of Oakland. He’s working the phones to bring in projects so he can build his film industry credentials on IMDB – that’s the internet encyclopedia of movie data. He really likes the sound of Ethan Rustad, Associate Producer.

Valerie’s second year at Chapman University in Orange, CA, has been a lot sunnier than her first. We know she’s doing fine because unlike the frequent teary phone calls during her freshman year, we never hear from her. She’s too busy perfecting her graphic design projects, working part-time at a law firm in Santa Ana, taking acrobatic classes and watching “Friends” reruns on Netflix with her roommate.

Jennifer Lynn was the only one of the three kids who actually had to experience the move with us…Ethan and Valerie just got a text message from us with our new address so they could find their way here for Thanksgiving. Jennifer’s only requirement for our new home was that she didn’t have to share a bathroom with mom and dad and since our new place has two-and-a-half baths, we exceeded her expectations.

As a sophomore this year, Jennifer Lynn is combining two activities that surprisingly have something in common: cheerleading and playing the tuba. That’s because that both require heavy lifting. Wow, that girl’s getting some shoulders on her.

I have been very fortunate to continue my position at the Petaluma Visitors Center and Downtown Association in spite of the dwindling reserves in the city’s coffers. And Steve’s versatility as a marketer, designer, consultant, cartoonist, filmmaker, and pretty much anything else anyone will pay him for, has seen us through the tough economy.

We are looking forward to hanging some pictures in our new place, letting out the collective breath we’ve been holding for the last year, and seeing what opportunities the New Year has in store.

We wish you peace, happiness and prosperity in the New Year!

The Christmas crunch

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

The ghost of Gourmet Magazine past visits my kitchen every Christmas. That’s because for almost 20 years I’ve been making the Biscotti di Greve recipe from the December 1992 issue to give as Christmas gifts.

Gourmet – December 1992 $2.50

I always enjoy getting the magazine off the shelf and studying the fluffy intensely-pink dessert that is pictured on the  cover and flipping past the NordicTrack ad to get to page 164. By now though, I’ve used the recipe for so many years that the page is so crusty and spattered that the magazine practically opens by itself.

Because we moved a little more than a month ago and all our routines have been shaken loose, I wasn’t sure I would continue with the biscotti baking tradition. I love making them but baking 20 dozen biscotti is time consuming and our lives in 2011 have been all about downsizing.  So maybe giving homemade gifts was another aspect of my life that could be simplified. I could make one trip to our neighborhood Target and I could be done – no fuss no muss.

But after Steve and I talked about it, baking the biscotti again this year just felt right. I know at least some of the recipients truly look forward to getting them and would actually miss it if they didn’t get my “I hope you don’t have any loose fillings,” crunchy almond orange biscotti.

Besides, if you’re going to give a homemade treat as a gift, I think biscotti are the perfect choice; they are practically guilt free because they have so little fat and not all that much sugar in them. Plus, there’s no such thing as a stale biscotti so they will taste just as good in January when all the other holiday goodies are long gone.

And when something works, why change it? Although the thought of going to Target and just picking something off the shelf instead of making the gift myself sounds appealing, the reality is much more that I would spend two hours wandering the store only to come home frustrated and empty-handed because I couldn’t find anything that would be appropriate and affordable to give clients, friends and family.

The smell of them baking would also help our new place feel more like home. I don’t need to just make biscotti, I need to make some happy memories here too.

And there’s one more reason why I should make them again this year. How could I pass up the opportunity to say we’re giving biscotti from Cotati…it has such a nice ring to it.

Home for the Holidays

Monday, December 5th, 2011

Next week, we will celebrate our first month anniversary in our cozy condo in Cotati. And it’s almost starting to feel like home. I’m beginning to be able to identify electronic beeping sound goes with which appliance. Is it the dryer beeping, the microwave, the oven signaling that it has been preheated or the refrigerator telling me that the door has been open for too long?

Of course, celebrating holidays and creating memories definitely helps a house feel like a home. Hosting our family for Thanksgiving and having the aroma of a turkey in the oven fill the house – and thankfully not setting off our overly-sensitive smoke detector for the two hours that the turkey was in the oven – helped Steve and I get over the feeling that we weren’t staying in a nice hotel on an extended vacation.

And downstairs right now, our daughter is baking gingerbread cookies and it smells wonderful. Isn’t having the smell of freshly baked cookies that taken right from the real estate agent’s manual of “How to Make an Unfamiliar Place seem Homey?”

And we got our Christmas tree. Since our new place is full up with furniture, there wasn’t a wall or corner that made the perfect place for the tree so it’s sprouting right out of the middle of the room.  Actually, it’s quite nice having a 360 degree view of it.

In the long run, it’s probably the everyday activities even more than the special occasions that really add up to feeling like we are living here and aren’t just visiting. Now that I’m in the routine of cleaning the bathrooms and cleaning up cat barf, I’m darn sure that I’m not staying in a hotel. And you know what, it feels really good.