Sunday, December 4, 2011

4 Months & 3 Years



Otto turned four months!



Well, sure, really he's almost closer to five months now, but we did get the picture on the actual day. And he's doing fun stuff, like rolling over, using his bouncy chair and just being more with it.


Helping daddy!


Tummy time!


Bouncing!

He also had his well-baby check-up. He's 17 pounds and 26 inches. Surprisingly, he's only in the 76th percentile for height and weight. (Surpising since he's in 9-month clothes and almost always the biggest baby in the room.)

And Stella turned three!



Last February, after her friend Lucy's party (and three months after her own), Stella got really into the idea of a birthday. Now her interest was cute but unfortunate, given that she had nine months to wait until her birthday rolled around again. So for the previous nine months we've had to talk about how Stella's birthday is after summer, after Otto's birthday, after Halloween and the day after Thanksgiving. But it did finally arrive and we made the most of it.

First, birthday presents on Thanksgiving with Grandma Susan, Grandpa Rick, Great-Grandma Gloria and Great-Aunt Debby.



On the actual day itself, she got pancakes for breakfast, more presents, a trip to the aquarium, a ride on a carousel, her choice for dinner (surprisingly, she requested tofu, and ate a lot) and a birthday cupcake.


Our fairy princess


Birthday carousel ride--I forgot these things make me feel a little carsick


Make a wish! (I believe it ended up being for "candy")

And then came the birthday party. We weren't sure how well-attended it would be right after Thanksgiving, but we had a good number of friends who could come celebrate with us, and it was really fun to see lots of different friends and watch the kids play in the "Zany Zone".


One crafty goal achieved: I saw this and thought it would be perfect for princess-obsessed Stella. It was down to the wire, but I finished it before her party!


Party time!


Stella kept saying she wanted a "rainbow cake" and different colored flowers had to do the trick. I also love that one of her friends in the background has her ears covered up for the birthday song. (I'm almost surprised Stella doesn't!)

And here's Stella holding her baby brother:



Oh, yeah, and Thanksgiving dinner happened amidst all that, too!


Dinner with the Hills!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Laughter



As Tyler mentioned in the previous entry, Stella has better success at making Otto laugh than any of the rest of us:

video

Ignore the fog--I had called Tyler in to record this while he was in the middle of washing dishes. Apparently the heat from his hands on the cold camera created its own little weather system.

Probably good to have this on tape for those moments that are less smile-worthy....

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Life in the Otto-man Empire



Quick Note: I started this entry about a week ago, and then abandoned it. I'm not 100% sure why, but mainly it just started to seem to be ramble and become unfocused. And I wasn't sure if our readers (Who are those people anyway? Grandparents? People who wonder why we don't post about travel any more? Emily and Charity?) would have any interest in listening to me talk about the trials and tribulations of being a stay-at-home dad again.

But, Sarah read my abandoned rough draft, and encouraged me to post it. So, here it is, with a quick ending tagged on. I'll post some Halloween pictures at the end of it, to make it worth-while.




About a month ago, I began my Paternity Leave. The idea was that I would take the rest of 2011 off, to watch Otto until he was 6-months old, at which point we will be moving him over to Stella's Pre-School. In the days leading up to me going on leave, I'd begun to naively fantasize about how my average day would play out: Maybe I'd wake up late, and then sip coffee while leisurely playing with Otto. Then around noon, he'd knock off for a nap, I'd eat lunch, and then spend the afternoon wistfully working on a variety of personal art projects, board game designs or maybe write a novel or two. And, of course, I would blog the whole thing daily.

It goes without mentioning that a supernatural, amber light -which filters through the windows and highlights playful dust-specks- illuminated this vividly imagined world.

The fact that I started my leave on October 1st, and am just now getting around to this blog entry should indicate how grounded in reality that all was. In all honesty, the first couple of weeks were rough. Being the adoring father is easy... doing it all day long, while trying to decipher why Otto is screaming at you, is another matter entirely.

It didn't help matters much that at first Otto stubbornly refused to take the bottle. Sure, he'd take a sip now and then, but only enough to tide himself over for the next hour or so. Then, resume screaming.

Also, I don't think I fully took into account what we can affectionately call our "Third Child:" The remodel. As I'm sure we've mentioned in this blog more than once, over a year ago, we began a basement remodel to convert our little 2-bedroom, 1-bath bungalow into a little 4-bedroom, 2-bath bungalow. Anyhow, with Otto's arrival, it because increasingly apparent that we needed more elbow room, so we've redoubled out efforts to push it through to completion. After a few fitful starts and stops, it's been in pretty full-swing since I've started my leave. And, as a result, when I'm not down there tearing up old carpet or peeling off old wood paneling myself, someone else is inevitably down there pounding away with a hammer, firing a nail gun, running a drill or electric screw-driver or otherwise making a huge racket. And, while sometimes Otto impressed me with his ability to sleep through the cacophony, other times it has been just too much for him, leading to an erratic sleep pattern.


This pretty much sums things up.

To top that all off... the poor eating and poor sleeping has then played havoc on Sarah's ability to rest up, since he would pretty much permanently latch himself to her in the evenings and nights. So, she wasn't getting the sleep she probably needs. Add to that the fact that her work has been hectic enough that it's been eating into her evenings and weekends, and Sarah's been, well, beat tired.

As for Stella... well, Stella's a 2-year old. A 2-year old who probably hasn't been getting the attention she thinks she deserves, and who is busy defining herself by wanting the exact opposite of whatever it is the rest of the family wants or needs at that particular moment.

To sum up, it's been a bit rocky at times these last couple of weeks.

So, when, at the end of last week, Sarah needed to go to LA for a couple of nights for a conference, I was a bit intimidated by the idea of staying home alone for two nights with both the kids. Otto still wasn't really taking the bottle, and Stella has been in a bit of a mommy phase since... well... sometime around when she turned one. So, my imagination was suddenly picturing less in the way of amber sunlight, and more in the way of lots of screaming and tears.

There were so many ways the whole thing could have gone horribly wrong and......y'know, it went really smoothly.

Sure, there were moments. Sure it was hectic. And, sure there was a meltdown or two. But, overall, it was a nice couple of days. About, halfway through the first day, Otto decided that bottles weren't intrinsically evil, and went from drinking 1 or 2 ounces a feeding to more like 6 to 9 ounces.

Meanwhile, Stella confirmed our working theory that she is better behaved when she's around just one of us than she is when she's around both of us. Maybe it's because when Sarah and I are talking to each other it means we aren't paying attention to her. But, whatever the reason, she was a delight to be with for most of the weekend, more or less living in her Princess dress and helping out in her own 2-year-old way (though, note, as she'll let you know, she's almost 3).

On the morning of our third day together, realizing we didn't have any bread in the house for toast, we piled in the car and headed down to All City Coffee Georgetown. I grabbed a mocha, while Stella went for the ginger muffin and hot chocolate. Otto, meanwhile, was content to sit in his car seat, watching members of the Cretin's Motorcycle Club mill around and prepare for a ride to some distant location. Everything just sort of clicked. Even, when I realized we'd lingered to long too long, and need to head out to a birthday party for one of Stella's classmates, the curve ball went smoothly. And, instead of panicking, we just switched gears and headed straight to the party.

Maybe, we rounded some sort of corner. Or, maybe I just adjusted my expectations about what my leave would look like; and Otto adjusted his expectations about what feeding time would look like. Regardless, I feel like him and I have started to find our rhythm together. Which is great, because it means that I'm getting to focus more on what a wonderful little person he is.

Its funny how, when people compliment your baby, certain compliments seem to bubble up again and again. For Stella is was always some variation of "she looks like she's really taking everything in" or "she sure seems observant." For Otto, the reoccurring compliment is "he sure seems happy" or "look at that smile!" And, its true! He's just a smiley, smiley kid. That's not to say he doesn't have his freak out periods (and, boy, does he have some lungs when its one of those), but for the most part, he's just a really easy going, happy kid.

He's also started laughing, and its Stella who seems to have a line on his sense of humor. Often, she's be hugging him, kissing him, squeezing him or otherwise man-handling him to the point where Sarah and I get concerned he'll be crushed... but usually he's just grinning away. And, Stella has a number of faces and sounds she makes that will leave him in stitches. It's fun watching their relationship blossom.


Me and the kids, one random morning. When either Sarah or I am watching both of them, this is how things usually end up.

Like his sister, Otto's also a real physical fellow. He likes to be held facing out, and is perpetually moving and grooving. It can be tiring on the arms, since he's also a big of a baby behemoth, but still.

All in all, its been exhausting. But, at the same time, it's been good exhausting. And, things seem to be getting better. Heck, even the remodel seems to be getting closer and closer to being done.

OK. Halloween! With pictures!

This years, Halloween was a lot of fun. While, of course, the festivities flew right over Otto's head, Stella was able to get into the fun more. All in all, there was a field trip to a pumpkin farm, two different pumpkin carving parties, another trip to a pumpkin farm with my parents, decorative ghosts for our front yard and Trick or Treating! Good times all!


"100% Princess, 100% of the Time" is my recent, unofficial slogan for Stella. Stella is still deep into her Princess Phase, so this years costume wasn't a big surprise.


The day before Halloween, we went with my parents to a pumpkin farm. By the time we got there, the pumpkins were fairly picked over, but it was a fun chance for Stella to run through the muddy fields, explore a corn maze and ride the "Animal Train"...


My mom, Stella, Sarah and Otto get ready to ride the Animal Train at the pumpkin farm. Belle looks eager to join them.


Trick or Treating.... which lasted exactly 3 houses this year, before Stella decided she'd had enough and was really to call it a night. She tends to be timid around strangers, so not surprising that she wasn't a big fan of going door to door demanding candy from them.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mini-Catch Up



A lot's been happening: I'm back at work, Otto turning three months, Halloween and going away for my first work trip. And besides that, there's just the daily work of having two kids, a job, a remodel and still not enough sleep. So this little quick update will have to do for now!

While I was in Anaheim for the annual American Evaluation Association's conference, I was shocked to realize that we had taken photos of Otto on the day he turned three months but had failed to document it here:


Otto at 3 months (with his sister who can't stand to not be part of the action)

Otto continues to be a pretty easy-going baby, hanging out, watching Stella, and starting to roll over and be obsessed with his toes:


Rolling over! It's still an occasional occurrence, and he gets frustrated that his arm gets stuck under his chest, but it is offically part of his baby repetoire. (And, funny story, this outfit was from a family at Stella's child care that had a slightly older Otto and handed this down! Even stranger is that they're a friend of a friend of a friend. With a son named Otto. Small world.)


Wearing a cute hat from Nana!


Starting to sit in his little baby seat and hanging with his fantastic older sister

Stella keeps things interesting, too, coming home from preschool with all kinds of new skills (necklace beading) and songs:

video
Apparently they sing this during birhday circle times: 12 (months), 52 weeks, 365 days, the earth goes round the sun....

And here's my fantastic family--big sister, big baby brother, and wonderful husband. I missed them so much while I was gone:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Crushing



I've been meaning to do this post for a while now, but have learned that when you are living in the Otto-man Empire, nothing ever quite happens on schedule. But, more about that in a later post, because today I wanted to talk about the 2011 Grape Crush!

For the last 5 years, Sarah and I have been making wine with a loosely organized group of people, in could what maybe be described as a Co-Op. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, ranging from people moving, to money, to just having too much wine, most of the people bowed out of the group this year. With the recent arrival of Otto, plus the ongoing basement remodel, Sarah and I seriously concerned taking a year off ourselves... but, in the back of our minds, we were worried that -if we took this year off- we might not pick the hobby and tradition up again next year.

So, after some soul-searching and convincing the old groups ringleader and organizer, Gary, to buy in on a third of our barrel, we decided to solider on ahead. But, since the grape crush has traditionally been held at Gary's house, and because Gary recently moved, we'd need to host it somewhere new: Our house.

This years crush would be significantly smaller than previous years. But, calling on friends old and new, we planned on having people meet at our place to crush grapes, enjoy a potluck meal and, of course, drink wine. And, since it was hosted at our house, I thought it might be fun, this year, to walk you all through the process.

(One of the surprising bonuses of this years crush was that our friend and fellow baby-sitting Co-Op member Erika Warner-Court and her family attended. Erika is an amazing photographer and all the photos featured in this entry were taken by her and, obviously, © Copyright Erika Warner-Court.)

The Grapes! In past years, we've generally purchased 2-3 tons of grapes directly from a grower in Eastern Washington. This year, with only one barrel to fill, Sarah, Gary and I ordered 500lbs of Syrah grapes from WWAWA (the Western Washington Amateur Winemakers Association... I think).

The Crusher! From the truck, the first place the grapes go is through the crusher. The crusher, like the press (more on it later), has plenty of Old World Charm™, and has connections to noted food writer Angelo Pellegrini. The crusher is used to loosely break up the grapes. From there it's off to...

De-stemming! Probably the least glamorous, but arguable the most important part of the Crush. A team of workers digs through the tubs of crushed grapes separating stems from the grapes and juice. Many winemakers try to remove nearly all the stems from the grapes before fermentation. But, we traditional try to leave some stems, which we feel helps add to the tannins in the wine.

The Vats! The separated grapes, juice and some stems are then dumped into our fermentation vats. At the end of the day, we'll add SO2 to the grapes to help kill any bad bacteria. Then the following day, we begin adding SuperFood and Yeast to the grapes to begin the fermentation process, which will last for several weeks.

The Press! After being separated from the grapes, the stems are dumped into the press. After the press is filled with stems, they're pressed to extract any last juice from them, and that juice is also added to the vats.

The Clean Up! - After successfully crushing and de-stemming the grapes, everyone is eager to get on to the drinking and eating (OK, so we've been drinking and eating the whole time... but still), but it's important to get things cleaned up, especially since most of the equipment, from the crusher to the press to (in this case) my dad's truck are on loan. But, that taken care of, it's on to...

The Feast! - Traditionally, this takes the form of a spaghetti feed in Gary and Cynthia's garage. But, this year, it took the form of a backyard banquet, with lasagna, chili and a variety of sides.

The Wine! - The Crush also serves and an opportunity to drink wine. Lots of wine! This year, we opened a bottle (or two) of our four previous vintages. (Photo by Ambika Beck, who also took some really great pictures.)

Sarah and I were both really pleased with how this years Crush went. And, while we miss having it at Gary's house, we both agreed that we'd be happy to continue hosting future crushes at our place. Now, for the grandparents and various family members, some additional pictures of Stella and Otto...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Back to Work! (Not that this hasn't been work....)



Well, it's arrived. My last day of my maternity leave. No, I'm not going back to work on on Friday. Rather, it's the last day Otto and I have home alone together before I go back to work on Monday. My maternity leave has felt of two parts: Monday-Thursday while Stella's at school and Tyler's at work, and Friday-Sunday when the whole family is home.


Kicking it with Otto-man

I feel bittersweet about the return to the work. In some ways, I dread finding the new new-normal. We have this routine down, with mornings getting Stella and Tyler out the door, time to nap as needed, and time to run errands and cook dinner before everyone else is home. Going back to work is definitely going to mix that up. And, of course, I'll miss being around Otto so much just as he's opening up more to the world and getting more fun.

But, to be truthful, part of me is also happy to get back to the adult Sarah. The one who can focus on a task for more than an hour at a time and gets to have a fulfilling professional life in addition to being a mom. Because I've been able to (and chosen to) exclusively breastfeed, Otto and I have been inseperable since his birth. In some ways, having some time alone beyond the one or two times I've made a 20 minute run to the grocery store will be welcome, too.

Part of the sadness probably is also due to the fact that I've enjoyed these early days with Otto more than I did the first time around. Partly because I think we're more experienced this time around. Partly Otto is probably just a bit of an easier baby. Partly because of the sunny days. And partly because we haven't had our life turned upside down. As I've mentioned before, with Stella around adding Otto to the mix hasn't given us carte blanche to mix things up. She still needs her usual routine, so it's been more a process of incorporating Otto into family life than creating a new life with kids.

And my own sadness can be tempered by the fact that I'm excited that Tyler (who will likely soon be the more frequent contributor) is going to be stay-at-home dad for the next few months. Tyler and I both took off the first three months with Stella, and he still watched her part-time when I went back to work. With Otto, he's been home some but working a contract gig the last six weeks or so, so he hasn't had nearly as much one-on-one time with him yet. And because Tyler is such a great dad, I'm excited for Otto to get to have so much time with him, too!



It's going to be an interesting week, for sure. Otto hasn't yet had a bottle, and I'm a little worried about how tired I'll get (Otto's been back to up 4+ times a night), but we'll forge ahead! Onward!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Pacific Beach, 2011



Last year, we made our first family trip to Pacific Beach with our friends Alison and Rhett. We camped at the state park and spent lots of time letting Stella and their dog Bisou run around in the sand. This year, Alison asked if we wanted to join them again, this time renting a house instead of camping since we both had little ones. (Fun fact, Alison had her son Oliver two days before Otto was born!) So, with a house rented, a good weather forecast, and our car packed to the gills, we set off on our first family overnight trip since Otto came on the scene.


Me and Otto hanging with Alison and Ollie!

We stayed in a little house a few blocks off the beach called the Salty Dog, and I think we'd all agree it was a little...salty. Clean and adequate for sure, but I don't think there was one 90-degree angle in the entire place. But it was a fine home for four adults, one toddler, two babies and one dog for two nights.


View down Pacific Beach--we were happy to get some sun, but we also love the more typical moody Washington coast


And we got there to beautiful sunny weather. The only downside? Infants and sun don't really mix since they can't have any sunscreen at this point. And, despite the sun, there was a fierce wind blowing when we made our first attempt to the beach. Shortly after we got to the beach, Otto decided to get hungry. Seeing as there wasn't any way to shield him from the elements while he ate, I walked the thankfully short walk back with a screaming baby while Stella and Tyler had some fun playing.

The next day was more of the same--sunny but windy. We went down for another visit after breakfast and had better luck. Stella, remembering Mexico perhaps, insisted on wearing her swimsuit--and only her swimsuit--out, but fortunately agreed to add on the layers we'd insisted on bringing along and had a good time building sand castles. Well, she quickly tired of the sand castle building and then ran around Tyler's castle fortress and added decorations she found in the sand.


Otto, geared up for the elements, including a sun hat and fleece blankie. this time he stayed blissfully asleep so I could have some time by the coast!


Stella, starting to build sand castles until she decided it was more fun to....


decorate ones built by...


Tyler, sand castle fortress builder extraordinaire


Queen (or probably princess) of the castles! Notice the swimming suit under the more weather appropriate clothes....

Later that day, we decided to try one of Alison and Rhett's tricks--driving onto a part of the beach further north from where we were staying so we could enjoy the view without all of the elements. And we were excited to have a chance to put the new car to use--four wheel drive and a nice big back we could sit in. Unfortunately, when we got there a sweet but abandoned dog wanted to make friends. Though he was friendly, he scared Stella who then refused to play or sit in the trunk. And the dog's sad situation made the rest of us depressed. So we hung out, briefly, with a little bit of kite flying before heading back to the house.


The new Subaru on the beach


Not exactly how we thought we'd spend that beach trip...


At least someone got to enjoy himself...


Not too surprisingly, between the babies and Stella, we spent a fair amount of time just hanging out in the Salty Dog. Here you can see the fate for newborns of this day and age:


Baby in one arm, iPad keeping the hands busy....


On our last day, we struck beach "gold": it was cloudy but warm and surprisingly calm. We made one last trek down enjoying the moodier Washington coast before it was time to head back to Seattle.


Last visit to the beach, at least for this year! (Otto slept through the whole thing.)


coming back from feeling the icy cold Pacific on my feet. Stella still found it "too loud."

Before we left, we thought it would be great to get a family portrait since we don't often have an easy way to have all of us in the picture at one time. Sadly, the kids didn't seem to be in the mood to cooperate:


Two crying kids, two worn out parents...not quite the portrait we had in mind...

But we did make up for it a bit at the beach:


Family self-portrait. No tears!

Fortunately, Otto was a great traveller, even though he's often a pretty fussy car passenger. And Stella kept up her enthusiasm for being in a "new house" as she calls any hotel or rental, and enjoyed having other adults to pepper with questions. (queue Stella ad nauseum: "Alison, what are you doing?" Lucky for us, Alison and found this cute rather than annoying.) And it was surprisingly calm and easy considering we had two babies about six weeks old in one house!

Already looking forward to next year's trip!