Sunday, August 29, 2010

The more things change...

For the last week or so, I've been meaning to take a second to talk about Stella starting "Baby School." Sarah did a great job encapsulating the first week or so in the last entry, and Stella is actually adjusting to the new situation and schedule pretty readily; but at the same time I thought that it was worth mentioning that -in some ways- this transition has been as big of a change for me as it has been for her.

For the last 20-odd months, I've been more-or-less a stay at home dad. Sure, Tirza was watching Stella several days a week, and Sarah was home on most Fridays, and sure I was working part time. But most days involved at least a couple hours of Stella and I bumming around together; trying to keep busy or find a fun way to pass an afternoon. But, for better or worse, with Stella beginning Day Care, that's all changed.

The first couple of half-days that I took Stella to Day Care were mainly just exciting and fun. It was a change in the routine for both of us, and Stella seemed to enjoy the space and experience. But, when that Thursday and Friday rolled around, it began to hit me more that my little sidekick was leaving me. And, by Monday, when she had her first full day of child care, as I watched her diligently follow Sarah down the front walk on their way to the car, I suddenly felt the lump rising in my throat and my vision started to mist up.

Then, as the car pulled out of the driveway, it was just me in a quiet house by myself.

...Although, to be fair, our house wasn't quiet for long. That same week, with my dad working as the general contractor, we began the first stage of our basement remodel. This stage, which we are now probably halfway through involves turning the large basement rec-room into two bedrooms. Demolition, carpentry, electrical work, cement-cutting, heating duct rerouting... the last two weeks have been marked by a flurry of activity in basement. Previously, while I worked in the basement and listened to Stella and the nanny's daughter, Natalie, crash around upstairs, I thought it got loud; but that doesn't even begin to hold a candle to trying to work upstairs while electric drills and saws whine and roar beneath my feet.

A view of the basement before the remodel...

...and roughly the same view about a week later. I'm pretty sure we will do an entry about the remodel specifically, so I won't go into too much detail here.)

The remodel, combined with trying to get started working again, my first on-site contract in about two years, a ton of activity with my drawing group the Bureau of Drawers and packed weekends (the Annual Lake Phuckalia Camping Trip, the Annual Whidbey Island Country Club Party) have led to me feeling like I'm in a perpetual state of flux. People keep asking me how I like my new routine, but it's hard to give them answer since I seem to be unable to establish any sort of routine. It's made for an exciting couple of weeks, but also an exhausting couple of weeks.

The Annual Lake Phuckalia Camping trip. This years trip was marked by a creepy van guy, bee swarms and probably too much whiskey. But, Stella has become quite the little camper, and enjoyed spending time with her doppelganger, Ryder.

Me and fellow Bureaucrat, Nikki, hold up a long communal drawing that was created as part of our illustration groups activity at a recent Seattle Art Museum event.

This entry seems a little off, maybe a bit unfocused. But, maybe that's appropriate. I'm sure things will settle down sometime soon. And, I'm sure that -at some point- I'll get used not hanging out with Stella during my weekdays. Still, right now, I'm just trying to roll with the changes, stay flexible and not get overwhelmed.

And enjoy my evening and weekends with my favorite two ladies.

Stella riding on my shoulders at the Phuckalia Camping Trip.

Sarah and I enjoy our 5-year bottle of wine... a wedding gift from our friends Justin and Yachi. Love you, honey!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Stella's Start in Montessori

In late June, our nanny of over a year gave her two week notice. She was getting farther along in a somewhat difficult pregnancy and keeping up with her own 2 1/2-year-old daughter and Stella was just a bit more than she was able to do. We were sad to see her go; she had been a steady, happy and loving presence in Stella's life for a long time. Then again, we knew as soon as she told us she was pregnant that the end was in sight--it was just a little sooner than we expected.

At around the same time, we felt like Stella had turned a developmental corner of sorts. While I had been really happy to have her mostly home all that time, I felt that she--and we--were ready for her to be in a setting that would get her around other kids and give her some new experiences. So, sad though we were for Tirza's departure, it felt like an opportunity to find Stella another child care arrangement that would work well for her now that she was older.

We started looking into different child care options. We checked out our local resource and referral agency which provides information for licensed child care options, but while helpful, it's daunting to have a list of 100+ places that aren't rated in any way. So we ended up mostly calling places that we knew were close to home, en route to my office or recommended to us by friends. Even though Stella's older and the ratio of staff to kids is bigger, it's still hard to find an open spot, which meant Tyler took a break from freelancing to be a summer stay-at-home dad for about a month, but we finally did a few tours and found a place we liked and finally decided to make the transition to center-based care for Stella.

We decided to go with a Montessori center. People have lots of different ideas about what Montessori means--some positive and some less so. Montessori method is based off of practices developed by an Italian doctor, Maria Montessori, in the early 20th century and focuses on giving young children freedom in an environment prepared with materials designed for their self-directed learning activity. The focus on seemed a perfect match for Stella who's independent and very curious.

And we were really impressed when we went to visit Minor Avenue Children's House, a new place that I can literally see from my office window. Fortunately for us, it was just opening, which meant we were able to get in. Right away were liked the feeling of the place. The teachers and director are all very quiet and calm. It's built for kids--a good outdoor area, child-sized sinks and tables and potties, and lots to explore.

They had a nice transition plan. For four days, Stella slowly eased into visiting the center. The first day, Tyler took her and stayed for about an hour. The second day he dropped her off and came back after about a half hour. The next two days I decided I should participate since I'd be the one dropping her off and picking her up on my way to work. At first all went well. We walked in, Stella showed me around, Tyler showed me the routine ("Her diapers go here, her cubby is over here, you set her lunch here"), but as soon as Stella realized I was leaving she panicked. Grabbed me, cried hard and was kind of frantic. Ouch. But she seemed fine when Tyler went to pick her up after lunch. The next day, same routine, but no papa. Less frantic, but still really upset. And she was fine when I picked her up after nap. Well, after nap time. When I arrived, she seemed quite pleased to walk me over to her little mat and show me how she could lay down on it with her blanket, but that was as close as it got. It was a fun evening.

Then, the next week, it was starting in earnest. Four days a week, all day while I was at work.

Stella on the first day of "baby school"

Day 1: "Are you excited to go back to Montessori today, Stella?" "(head nod/teeth nod), but this day she cried as soon as I parked outside the front door. And then, in my flustered hurry to get her settled and leave with as smooth a goodbye as possible, I left with her shoes. I couldn't not take them back--she'd need them for play time and they often take walks and even have picnic lunches in the neighborhood. So I had to go back. And I had to put them in her cubby, which meant going *back* into the room. It had been about 20 minutes, and she was still red-eyed and sniffly, with the teacher still trying to distract her. (The teacher is very nice, but I did detect a bit of an impatient look when I walked back through the door; I couldn't blame her--she was the one who had to hold screaming Stella and still also keep up with the other children already there). Stella soldiered through--she was still resigned, I think knowing that it really wasn't time to go yet--but it destroyed my illusion that while she was sad when I left, she was OK pretty quickly. Another ouch. But that same day I was also able to leave a little early to stop by and join a little circle time, hoping that my presence for a little while would affirm to Stella that it's an OK place.

Day 2: "Stella, just so you know, we'll be leaving for school in about 15 minutes." She cried and sat sadly on Tyler's lap while I finished getting ready. And she was crying when I left the room, but the crying was more resigned, though definitely sad. The teachers shared she was transitioning well, though they also said one day she cried every time one of the parents left.

Day 3: All smooth at home and in the car, and when Stella realized it was time for me to go, she got her big, pre-cry frown, but then engaged with the teacher in something and wasn't crying when I left. Yay! She was still definitely looking for me when I arrived, but she seemed to be interacting with the other kids. The teacher said that every once in awhile she'd say "mama" and cry, but she was doing really well.

Day 4: No crying when I left! She actually went to a play area in the room while I dropped off her various things and then waved and blew me a kiss goodbye. She still seemed a little solemn, but not tears! And she was having fun when I arrived--running in the outside area, drawing with chalk, excited to show me what she was doing rather than being ready to leave immediately.

So the transition wasn't so bad. It seems that she's already learned some new things (better with a fork, can take off her shoes, "sings" songs with hand movements) and says she's had a good time at the end of the day. And I still really like the center and the teachers, who always take a minute in the morning or the afternoon to check in. And I think even the sad moments are going to be worth it. I think it's going to be a great place for Stella. And eventually--when she's really transitioned--it will be nice to be so close by. I could stop by for lunch or during the day. Even though I can't see any children, I am comforted by seeing the place she is while I'm at work.

Now, we'll see if it "sticks" tomorrow, as week two begins...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Four Generations Part 2: The Freebairn Family Reunion

Hanging out with my mom's side of the family wasn't even the impetus for our trip this year. My dad's cousin had helped organize a Freebairn family reunion, gathering my dad's mother's siblings and their families.

My dad's family has always been more far-flung, with his siblings in New York, Virginia and (now) South Carolina and my grandparent,until a few years ago,in Virginia. During this time, we lived in Arkansas, Indiana and Texas, so our trips to visit were fewer and farther in between.

But I did know my great-aunts and uncles a bit better since they live in the same farming area as my mom's family. My dad grew up spending summers on his uncle Tom's farm (which explains how my parents met), so holidays and visits to Ottawa always meant a trip to see Tom and June on the farm, who were really a second family to my dad. I remember going to visit my affable Uncle Tom and Aunt June who always had ice cream on hand for the kids, as well as visits with my dad's uncle Wes and aunt Naomi, typically around the holidays, when their houses would be filled with their kids, and their kids' kids and lots of delicious baked goods, like shortbread and Scotch cookies.

So while I grew up knowing my great aunts and uncles on that side of the family, I hadn't really seen many of these relatives since the last reunion, 13 years prior. So Tyler and I decided to make the trip to the reunion happen so we could re-connect with that side of the family, too. And I was happy that the reason for the gathering could just be for people to get together. Over the past few years, more of that generation has passed on, including Tom, Wes and Naomi. Of the five Freebairn siblings, only my grandma, one of her brothers and Tom's wife June are still with us.

Despite 13 years or more, it was amazing how recognizable some of my second cousins were. I'd see them and have vague memories of running around together when we were little during the holidays. And even people who I was really meeting for the first time were so nice and friendly. There were a few gatherings over the weekend, but the last one was a potluck picnic at my great aunts house out in the country--again, lots of family and lots of food.

Once again, I did a terrible job taking photos (still hoping to snag some from others who were there!) so I borrowed this one my aunt took of all the baked goods, most of which my grandmother made--Scotch cookies, short bread, orange slice cookies--mmmm.

I might have to update this after some further investigation. I can't Google and get a good explanation for what Scotch cookies are. They're not butterscotch--they seem like good sugar-type cookies with the defining characteristic of having some egg cooked on top.

And spending time on a farm is definitely different than hanging out in the city:

Stella's favorite part was probably the battery-powered cars that were on the farm. This one's battery was charging, so Uncle Dick was nice enough to give her a Stachowiak-powered ride.

Eventually, Stella ended up in a car with a battery. She was in heaven.

Did I mention the driver is three?!

It was a blessing to get to spend time with so much family who travelled everywhere from New York, South Carolina, St. Louis, Georgia, Texas and maybe other places to get together. Thanks to Rita and June for all their planning! Hopefully we can have another get together just because it's fun before another 13 years pass!

Four Generations: Soenksen Side

As Tyler mentioned in his entry about our night away in Chicago, we went to Illinois a few weeks ago to go to a family reunion. We got to spend time with two sides of my family, the Soenksen clan (my mom's family) and the Freebairn's (my dad's mom's side).

I realized on this trip to Illinois that my grandma's house has been the most constant physical location of my life. My parents have moved. I have moved. My dad's parents have moved. My grandma still lives in the house they moved to when my mom was probably about 10 years old, so I've been visiting here always. There's always been a big back yard to run around in, a basement full of toys, and plenty of snacks to nibble on.

The other thing to know about this side of my family is that it's big. My mom is the oldest of seven siblings. I'm the oldest of 21 grandkids. Stella's one of 10 grandkids, ranging from 7 to 1. And that's without even getting to my mom's aunts and uncles and cousins. So my whole life has included trips to Ottawa to see lots of family.

When I was really young, all my aunts and uncles still lived at home, so I got to play with them. As I got older, there was a growing bevy of young kids. And there was some point when I was of an awkward generation--too young to really relate to my aunts and uncles, but too old to relate to many of my cousins who were 10+ years younger than me. But much of that has changed. Now I can relate to both the older and younger parts of my family--and it's fun getting to really know many of my cousins for the first time as adults. Most of the family still live close together--in the same town, even, or in other parts of Illinois or Wisconsin and grew up together--five cousins are the same age. Even though that's not true for me, it's important to me to visit and still be part of the family even though I live far away.

I did a terrible job of taking pictures during this trip (I was too busy enjoying myself, I guess!), but this shot just feels like time at Grandma's house--hanging out in the living room, with various aunts, uncles, cousins and kids around.

And if we're not in the house, we're hanging out on the back porch, chatting while people keep an eye on the kids running around the back yard.

And now that I've had Stella, I'm even more anxious to get back and see everyone and have her know that side of the family. She's the only grandchild on all sides of her family. When we get to Illinois, there are lots of kids to play with, lots of adults to keep an eye on things, and lots of new things to try out.

Out on the town with Great Grandma Geri

Spinning on the back porch with Maddy, my cousin Lindsay's daughter.

Trying to get a turn on the slide. We were so shocked when Stella played on it--she tends to shy away from slides at the playground, but I think she was inspired by her cousins!

On this trip, we also got to meet two of my cousin's kids for the first time, Jonas and Mila who's just three months younger than Stella. Trying to coordinate a photo of a 20 and 17 month old is a bit like herding cats:

Mila up, Stella down

Stella up, Mila down

Stella got to ride a tricycle toy in the driveway, but what I really love is how casually on a Monday night you'd have a cousin over to mow my grandma's lawn and my aunt stopping by to stay hi and we're all hanging out and watching Stella.

Stella also seems to be in a phase where she really likes four-year-old girls. This included my cousin's daughter, Mia, who Stella called "Me-Me."

Swinging on a big girl swing like Mia

Matching head wounds--only Mia's was real....

All too soon, it was time to say goodbye and head back to Seattle. I know Stella had a great time, and I can't wait to go back for our next visit! While I love my life here in Seattle, I do miss the fun and chaos of being closer to my extended family. Hopefully we'll get back again before too much time passes.

Four generations: me, my grandmother, my mother and my daughter

Saturday, August 14, 2010


One of my favorite things to do with Tyler is go out for a good dinner, preferably somewhere with a tasting menu and paired wines, so we can sit back, relax, and let ourselves be surprised by the chef.

This year for our anniversary we decided to try Canlis. Perched on the edge of Queen Anne and the Aurora Bridge and overlooking Lake Union, it's an institution. All I really knew about it was that it was a family run place, fancy and a bit expensive.

Arriving is like entering a sanctum--Tyler thought the dining room looked a bit like it could be a Bond villain's lair, but in the best possible way. Greeted by an actual Canlis family member (one of the grandsons of the founder), we were shepherded to our table. One thing I liked immediately was that they had tables along the edges of the room oriented so that couples sit next to each other rather than across from each other.

We already knew we were leaning towards the tasting menu, where you get five courses that are pre-set by the chef. I have to admit, when I first saw the menu, I felt slightly underwhelmed--caprese salad? Proscuitto and melon? Classics, of course, and appropriate for the season, but I thought it sounded slightly pedestrian.

Fortunately, I was proven wrong in that initial assumption over the course of the evening!

First, an amuse bouche, or little bite to wake up our appetite--a small cup of tomato pepper gazpacho with a bite-sized "grilled cheese" with house-made mozzarella, basil and a tiny sliver of tomato.

The gazpacho was rich and smooth, with a great punch of pepper flavor without being overwhelming. Sometimes I think gazpacho can be a little water-y, but this was rich and flavorful. And the presentation, with tiny, perfect drops of oil dotting the surface of the soup. I was intrigued.

Next came the caprese salad, a beautiful array of various tomato types, more of the house-made mozzarella and more. Unfortunately, I didn't pay enough attention to the waiter to really hear everything that was on the plate. There was an avocado mousse, which also tasted a little smokey, an aspic-like gelatin on the plate with basil seeds, and some green, popping things, that tasted a little fish-y and a little mustard-y. Maybe some kind of caviar with wasabi?

We had decided to also do the paired wines with our meal, and they had two options for that: the pairings listed on the menu or, for more, the "sommelier's pairing, with different pairings that the sommelier would come out and describe. We decided to do one of each, and Tyler was gallant enough to offer me the sommelier option.

The wines were delicious, but the best part about doing both was to see how the pairings differed. For the caprese, I got a sparkling rose, with a nice toast-y flavor that I thought complemented the tomatoes and cheese while Tyler had a Walla Walla rose which was very darkly colored and dry, but fruitier.

Next was the proscuitto and melon, which also included some dried/fried prosciutto (as Tyler described, like the thinnest piece of bacon ever), fennel fronds, fresh fig and pickled fennel and figs. Tyler got a Vouvray, while I got a dry Riesling. At first I thought I got the better wine of the two--I tend to like drier wines anyway--but I ended up feeling that the Vouvray went perfectly with bites that had the pickled flavors whereas the Riesling brought out the earthier, herbaceous flavors of the fennel and prosciutto when paired with the fresh melon. Mmmm.

Now onto the meats, and maybe my favorite course--basically chicken and truffles. Chicken breast with truffle under the skin, a perfectly seared morsel of chicken thigh, some chicken truffle sausages and an amazing truffle sauce. Earthy, rich goodness. For this course, we both got Pinot Noirs--one was earthy like the dish, the other more acidic as a counterbalance. I can never get enough of the earthiness, so I co-opted Tyler's for my own to bask in that flavor profile.

Then lamb. A slender tenderloin with ras el hanout, a North African spice blend, a baba ghanouj-stuffed squash blossom (I'm always a sucker for a squash blossom), some greek yogurt, and small bites of zucchini and a sun-dried tomato. Tyler got a nice Bordeaux-blend pairing, while I had Tempranillo. Again, both tasty, though I loved the lightness of the Tempranillo against the richness of the lamb.

Just as we were getting full and up to our eyes in richness and red wine, it was time for the palate cleanser. In this case, homemade ginger beer with flowers and cherries. These cherries were amazing--skinless and soaked or injected in the ginger beer so they burst in your mouth. (I think the waiter described them as grown-up "gushers".) Just the thing to wake us up from the rich food stupor, and heaven for Tyler who loves ginger.

Then dessert, a pannacotta that was strawberry shortcake-inspired, with shortbread at the base, strawberry gelato and other sweet goodness. (Yes, it's not your imagination, my memory blurs a bit as the evening wore one.) And, being Canlis, they noted why we were celebrating. This came with a dessert wine from Washington grown from very old vines (maybe 1917?) and a sparkling wine. Again, they were paired well for each of us, with me loving the sweet on sweet while Tyler liked the lighter acidity to match his dessert.

To stretch the evening just a bit further, we sipped some decaf americanos, where Tyler got his choice of four sugars to add to his coffee: raw sugar, regular sugar, splenda and vanilla sugar.

Then the evening was done. Along with our check came two treats for each of us: a Fran's salted caramel and another bite of deliciousness--and I failed to photograph them before popping them into my mouth.

So--my overall impression? Wow. The food was interesting, suprising and well-executed. The service unwaveringly good. Great view. Nice dining room. Excellent wines. We didn't know this before we arrived, but they're known for their valet service, which was impressive. You drive up and get out. When you leave, your car is ready for you. No tickets. No waiting. No asking for your car. Tricky!

If I were to split hairs, there were two things that was a little disappointing. We had one sommelier bring out our wine for the first two courses, but then another sommelier came out for the other courses. Normally, that wouldn't be a big deal, but after the first course, I thought we should take advantage of having a knowledgable wine steward tableside, so we had a nice conversation about the pairings and he left saying, "I'll be interested to hear what you think about this one" but then we never saw him again. And later in the evening we're pretty sure the new sommelier started serving Tyler the sommelier pairing instead of me, which was probably just a small oversight, but felt a tidge sexist.

All that said, it was an amazing meal and an amazing experience. Pricey, but worth it. I would definitely add it to my top five dining experiences and hope to go back for another celebration.

I remember when these rings felt new and strange; now we feel naked without them. Looking forward to another picture like this when our hands are old and wrinkled!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Almost Five Years

It's been a good night. My impromptu israeli couscous dinner was a success, the sun has been shining, and Stella and I had a good evening together while Tyler was out at his weekly illustration group gathering. Before Tyler left, he had guiltily said on his way out to just leave the dishes for him to do later or tomorrow.

But there I was washing the dishes, squinting out the west-facing window into the setting sun--and not just because we're battling ants. Tyler always does the dishes since I almost always cook, so I thought I could give him the night off. And all the sudden, up to my elbows in hot water and soap, I felt overwhelmed by how surrounded I was by signs of Tyler's love and kindness. Here I was, washing the knives I used for dinner that he had sharpened for me for Mother's Day. And then rinsing off the cutting board that was the other part of my present. While those may sound unromantic, they were perfect--practical but lovely, thoughtful for someone who loves cooking and often finds chopping a bunch of vegetables a perfect way to unwind.

Then there's the clothes I'm wearing. Guess who does the laundry every Monday while I'm at work?

And the snacks on the counter he bought so we'd have things to send in Stella's lunches as she heads off to Montessori, in case I get too busy to follow through on some of my more ambitious cooking plans.

And, beyond my squinting, there's the yard he mows.

And there's probably a thousand other little things that I don't necessarily even realize.

Maybe I'm just feeling sappy because our fifth anniversary is Friday.

I feel so lucky to have Tyler as my partner in life. So we're probably kind of boring these days. We're not the young newlyweds, living on Capitol Hill, heading out to meet friends more nights of the week than not. We're not the intrepid travellers, heading out to travel around the world. We're just your fairly typical, home-owning, child-rearing mid-30s people. And our marriage has definitely changed through all those transitions. I now better understand a line from the movie "Before Sunset" when a character says of his marriage, "I feel like I'm running a small nursery with someone I used to date." There are lots of logistics. And we're more tired and more distracted than ever. But I still love Tyler's company, the way he thinks and views the world. I love that he's taken a chance to run his own business, partially for more artistic fulfillment and partially because he really values his role as a father. I love that he keeps pushing us to still keep some of those parts of us that are travellers and urbanites. Basically, I just really love him.

Happy early anniversary, Tyler.

And to those of you readers who made your way through this possibly overpersonal entry and who were there celebrating our marriage with us five years ago--thanks for being there to witness that day and for supporting us in various ways these past few years.

P.S. Thanks to Timothy Aguero Photography for the great wedding photos!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Happy Hiking Heather

Last weekend, we'd planned on doing a camping trip, but since Washington State is protesting sunny weather, and because we felt like we were falling behind on our chores around the house, we decided to just do a day hike. So, Friday morning we loaded into the car, and headed up to the Mountain Loop Highway, just east of Everett.

Initially we were thinking that we'd planned on doing the Lime Kiln Trail, but the road to the trail head was mysteriously closed off, so we again changed our plan and headed to the Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest to pick a trail at random. We've actually hiked several trails in this area before (Dickerman, Lake 22), but decided on something new instead: Heather Lake. What promised to be a relatively easy 4 mile hike (round trip) to a sub-alpine lake.

Sarah and Stella at the trail head. Let's go!

Parking our car at the trail head, and loading Stella into the trusty hiking back pack we set off. The first portion of the hike was a little mixed, the heavy canopy of trees blocked most of the sunlight, so there's wasn't much in the way of ground cover, and a stubborn mist hung in the sky giving the entire woods a dark and atmospheric vibe. But, on the interesting side, we were treated to the site of giant old growth stumps... many of which had become nurse logs themselves.

One of the many old growth tree stumps. A little sad, but still impressive, and the new trees growing out of them are a cool looking addition.

Farther up, the mists rose, green bushes appeared and the old growth stumps were actually replaced by some surprisingly large old growth trees, literally rising into the clouds.

Higher and higher. While some trees were broken off at the tops, others seemed to simply rise into infinity.

Hiking with Stella poses some unique challenges in that she is only happy to ride in the backpack for about a mile or two, and then wants to explore a bit on her own. Unfortunately, once she's out of the backpack, she's reluctant to get back in. So, we have to pick out hike lengths carefully. That why we were luck that, just as she began to fuss, we crested the hill, and entering into a large, stunning bowl canyon, with the equally stunning Heather Lake at its center.

Our first peak of Heather Lake. Wow. My initial reaction: "Now I wish we'd brought out camping gear and could stay the weekend!"

Stoically surveying scenery.

The lake was small enough that it was easy to walk the entire way around it. So, we started around looking for a nice place to stop and have our snack/lunch. But, not far along, Sarah introduced Stella to the joy of Salmon Berries, and from about that point on, Stella's main goal became the acquisition for the tart, orange berries.

Salmon Berries... Stella's new hiking obsession.

Stopping on the far side of the lake, we took off our packs, sat down on some small boulders and dug into our food. Momentarily forgetting the salmon berries, Stella made another discover: Beef jerky. Her little teeth didn't seem to be able to bite through it easy, but she happy jawed and sucked on it until the meat became a slimy mess.

Babies first beef jerky!

Looking back across the lake, I made the same observation I seem to make every time we take a hike: I don't know why I always drag my feet to go hiking, when I always love this type of thing so much.

Gratuitous beautiful landscape.

Soon the food was done, so we made our way around the lake a little more to find a beach for Stella to explore. Most of the lake was hedged in by marshy grass or boulder fields, but we still managed to find a small gravelly beach of Stella to get muddy on. While she played and tossed gravel into the lake, she managed to inadvertently summon some strange little brown/black ducks who obviously thought she was trying to feed them.

Getting ready to test the water. By the end, Stella was stripped down to her diaper and shirt, and was wading out to her knees. So, like, six feet out.

Drying Stella off, we loaded her back into the backpack and made our way back down the mountain. A simple, beautiful day of hiking. Who could complain about that? Another thing you can't complain about: Beer and pizza at Stellar's Pizza as our post-hike reward.

In the next couple of weeks, we have a couple more camping and hiking trips planned. After this, I'm looking forward to them!