Sunday, November 11, 2012

Two Month Catch Up (sort of)

The other day it hit me that it's November. And I'm not sure where the last two months went--I think I lost September and October. It might have had something to do with having had four work trips and 60-hour work weeks.... But we're still here, plugging away, checking in too rarely, and having too little time for things, especially chronicling life when we feel like we're just barely keeping up as it is. And there's a lot that's been going on:  a trip to Walla Walla, Halloween, a trip to the pumpkin patch, winemaking..... but this won't be a faithful recounting of all of that.  Rather, I just want to capture a few thoughts about life these days.

I'm starting to get hints at life with two kids, rather than babies. Yesterday, we were outside, Stella was helping rake, Otto was keeping himself busy, and we were getting things done, getting fresh air, and the kids were even playing together.  (Of course, these moments are also regularly followed by fights and tears...)

Otto's a happy, easy-going guy.  And definitely more physical than Stella.  Here he is having graduated to sliding facing forward instead of on his tummy--just one of the many ways he's growing up so quickly!


Halloween 2012, with a Rapunzel Fairy and raccoon.  We went to six houses where Stella shyly said trick-or-treat.  Otto was ready to be right in the thick of it--definitely less shy than big sister!

Building a tower--another way that Otto definitely seems more boy-like.

Crush 2012:  Stella got to get her hands dirty this year.  I'm guessing she's one of the few four-year-olds with working knowledge of the wine making process.  ("Mom!  The caps fell!")

Stella's been a mama's girl for a long time, but she's increasingly getting more daddy-centric. I love this picture of them both in Walla Walla.

The family these days--Otto talking, copying Stella, laughter, a bit of chaos.

And, here we are, all together, the Hill-Stach's at the Pumpkin Farm. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

In a land called Hanalei

Well, the trip to Kauai was a rousing success! I can say that without qualifications. Well, maybe one qualification: Flying for roughly 6 hours with a 13-month-old who is eager to walk and reluctant to sleep is a bit on the rough side. But, beyond that, the complaints about our trip to Kauai are few and far between.

The early idea behind this trip was one that Sarah and I have been musing over along with two other families with kids. Knowing that it can sometimes be difficult to travel with young children, and knowing that you inevitably end up hanging out at your rental house or hotel room more than you'd like; the idea was to go on vacation with a small group of friends and rent a large house for all of us to stay in together. That way, there would be other kids for Otto and Stella to play with, other parents to help with watching the kids and, if we did end up just bumming at the rental, at least we'd have friend to hang out with there.

So, after quite a bit of hunting, I eventually managed to find the Taro Plantation on Kauai's North Shore, just outside of the town of Hanalei. (Incidentally, the town in Puff the Magic Dragon is actually "Honah Lee," so I can only presume it's coincidence.) The Taro Plantation was a large, four bedroom, three bath house, with an enormous living space, large deck and a pool. Definitely a suitable place to spend our time...

Sarah and Otto in the living room. Definitely enough room for the kids to run around.
Stella and a couple other kids on the deck. You can see the amazing view of waterfall striped hill (literally, we counted, like, 6 or 7 waterfalls after a rain one day), and the pool below. The pool was nice, because it was on-hand when we wanted it, but remote enough that we didn't have to worry about the kids jumping in while we weren't around.

Overall, it went amazingly, I thought. As predicted (read: hoped) the kids all really enjoyed hanging out together, and it was nice to have people to talk to while lounging around the house. This later point was especially important since we had several days where it would rain heavily for long periods of time, limiting our travels. (Hanalei is located more or less North of the wettest place on Earth, Kauai's Mt. Waialeale.) Also, luckily, all the families seemed to have the same expectations: When we all wanted to do something, we would. But, if only one family wanted to do something, they didn't hesitate to go do it. It made for a nice flexible day. It also ended up allowing us to do things we wouldn't otherwise have been able to do, like take a boat tour of the Na Pali Coast (more on that later).

Since most of the trip was a cycle of eat-sleep-sit-beach, I won't bore you all with a day by day account. But, instead, just hit on some of the high points. And, one low -or at least humorous- point...
Luckily, that isn't one of our cars.

On (I think) our second day there, another group of tourists attempted to drive down the road leading to our house, and managed to drive their car off the edge of the road, getting it stuck. They ended up needing to call a tow truck from the far side of the island to pull them out. Ouch. The down side was that it left us having to walk into and out of our house for half the day. The upside? This was our view during that walk...

On our third day, we took a road trip around the island, to see some of the sites there, including Waimea Canyon. The Canyon was actually socked in with clouds when we got there (I think that the other two families, who were on a slightly staggered schedule, might have had better luck), but we did get to see the amazing Kalalau Valley.

The Kalahau Valley. Sarah and I had to take turns going to look, since Otto was sleeping in the car. Sadly, for Sarah, I think I got a clearer view than she did.

Stella at the Valley. Overall, it was really warm in Kauai, but at the elevation, someone got cold.

Also, on the way to Waimea, we hit our first beach, the "Baby Beach," thus called because it lava rock pools provided a calm, shallow place for the kids to frolic.

The whole motley crew at the Baby Beach.

Stella and I also got to check out the Sounding Horn (a famous blow hole), frolic on some rolling red-dirt hills and -on the way home- Sarah and I got to sample some Saimin.

Saimin. A Ramen-esque dish. I think that the local lore says that Chinese immigrants say it's Japanese, while Japanese immigrants say it's Chinese. Either way, it's tasty!

The next day, we went to the other "end of the road" to check out Ke'e beach.

Ke'e Beach, caught as a quick rain shower passes through. In the hill behind the beach is the start of the famous Hanakapi'ai Hike down the Na Pali Coast. Obviously, with three infants and three pre-schoolers, that hike will have to be a pass this time.

Now's probably a good chance to talk about the kids and swimming. Stella has been taking swim lessons at the YMCA recently, but -despite that- she's notoriously cautiously around water. In past trips to places like Oahu and Mexico, she wouldn't even approach the water, claiming the waves were "too loud." That said, on this trip, she definitely rounded a new corner. Starting with Ke'e Beach, she started slowly adventuring into waves. By weeks end, at both the pool at the house, and Tunnels Beach, she was a full on water spaniel, jumping and playing in the water with (not-quite) reckless abandon. It was really great to see her make that transformation, and probably especially fulfilling for Sarah, since she spent several years working as a life guard and swim instructor.

Stella, cautiously, tries out some waves.

Otto, on the other hand....
...seemed to have little reluctance getting in the water or -more notably- playing with the sand at waters edge. Surprisingly, he was actually a little more cautious around the pool (not a bad thing), but he enjoyed splashing and playing in both.

One of the biggest advantages of traveling with the other families was that we got to take turns doing boat tours of the Na Pali Coast. Since we couldn't hike it, the boat tour seemed like the best alternative (well, short of dropping thousands of dollars on helicopter rides, I suppose). First the dads all went on the tour, while the moms stayed home with the kids. The following day, it was the moms' turn.

A Panorama of Hanalei Bay, where the tour departed. We didn't spend much time on this bay... but, wow! Stunning!

The Na Pali Coast. The beach in the lower half of the picture is actually the campgrounds where the hike terminates, but it's hard to even notice them with the stunning mountains looming overhead.

Our tour boat going into a cave that had collapsed. You passed through a cave opening into a large, round, open-air pool surrounded by sheer cliffs stretching up on all sides.

While there were definitely nicer boats doing similar tours, I'm not sure if there were better boats. The small six passenger boats we were on were able to speed and bounce over waves as well as slip into and out of small coastal caves, giving the whole thing a distinct sense of adventure.

Unfortunately, in preparation for the choppy, open water, we all popped Dramamine. Luckily, no one got sick, but on both days, the people who had spent the morning on the tour spent the afternoon sleeping off the effects. Speaking of sleeping...

Stella sleeping at Anini Beach. Anini Beach was supposed to be another great beach for kids, but ended up being a bit of a bust, owning to several of the kids just sleeping through it, but it not being a good place for adults to swim (shallow, oddly slimy conditions). Still, cute pic.

Tunnels/Haena Beach, our last, beach. Stunning, though a bit of a hike to get there.

The final day was spent at Tunnels/Haena Beach. Here, like on our tour and Ha'a Beach, we got to do some snorkeling. I'd actually never snorkeled before this trip, but after these experiences, I've definitely a convert. The Na Pali Tour's snorkel stop was probably my favorite of the three I explored, but might be trumped by the fact that I got to swim next to a sea turtle at Tunnels Beach.

But, sadly, soon enough, our vacation was over. I know I'm forgetting a ton of stories and events (the dad's taking the kids to brunch at the Commune, shaved ice, group dinners, that amazing Banana smoothie thing at Banana Joe's... and on and on). But, I'll end this with one or two more pictures, and call it good....

Stella, Otto and I in front of our rental car. The continuation of odd tradition of rental car photos.

Sarah and Otto at the Hanalei Bay Pier. It's been years since our RTW trip that started this blog, but it's wonderful to still be traveling with my best friend in this new context.

Chicken in a Barrel! ...just because. Actually, quite tasty. Worth the stop on your drive through Kapa'a.

So, to summarize, a wonderful, successful vacations. A few minor hiccups here and there, but a great time, and traveling with the other two families add a great new dimension to things. Sarah and I have spent so much time traveling together, that it was a great change of pace to share the experience not just with Stella and Otto, but with our friends.

(For more pictures, check out our Flickr set.)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

We have a walker!

Otto's been pulling up and walking along things for awhile now, but he may have crossed the threshold from a few steps to full on walking:

And he looks so proud of himself!  And, yes, that's Stella randomly talking about a banana since she's trying to get my attention away from her little brother.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Summer sun, sometimes

When I did my last post, about Otto turning one, I had intended to follow it up the next day with a post about our general life and misadventures so far this Summer. Now that two weeks have past, I figured I might as well get around to it. I'll keep this short and sweet, with just a couple of photos and captions, to keep the extended family up to date and so that when Sarah and I come back to this blog several years from now we can go "oh yeah, we did that."

Anyhow, here goes...

Father's Day was a pretty low-key affair. We celebrated it by having one of my favorite meals, pho, at one of my favorite restaurants, Ba Bar. Delish! And the company couldn't be beat.

With his one year Birthday approaching, Otto "graduated" to a Big Kid Car Seat™. Look how proud he looks. Unfortunately, Otto isn't a fan of car seats, period, so we still usually have our fair share of crying on the road.

We had out 5th Annual Housewarming Party, which is still one of my favorite annual get togethers, and our largest party each year (this year we had 73 guests pass through). Sarah did a better job photographing the party this year than we have in the past, but you're still stuck with a picture of me acting like an idiot by the grill. Like last year, we had a Build Your Own Hot Dog Bar... which seemed to be a hit again. (Photo by Stephanie Greene, by the way.)

It's probably worth mentioning that the week leading up to our Housewarming Party was chaos. Not only because we were prepping for the party, and not only because Sarah had to travel out of town for work, but also because we finally moved into our remodeled basement. I won't get into that now, since I still want to take some better pictures and do a whole entry on it, but ...yeah... exhausting. Though we are happy to be settled in downstairs now, and definitely appreciate having more space.

Stella and Otto's Aunt Jeanne and Uncle Tim came to stay with us for a long weekend, at the end of June/start of July. It was the first time Otto had met either of them, so it was great to spend some time with them both. Above, Stella hangs out with them at the Seattle Aquarium.

My High School friend, Bazor, got married (or rather, renewed their vows, since they were officially married last year in a small ceremony) in early July, and I was one of the groomsmen in the ceremony. It was an amazing experience and wedding, and I'm really happy for him, his wife Tanya and their lovely daughter Zoe (who was born two days after Otto). I'm sure I'll be getting some fancy photos when the official ones are finished being prepped, but for now here's a blurry photo of me and Stella having our first Father-Daughter dance. Another special experience, even if it mainly involved her hanging like a rag-doll while I swung her around.

Finally, while the weather this year is still less-than-impressive, we have finally got a little sun this July. This gave us the opportunity to do some fun Summer activities, like take Otto to the wading pool for the first time.

Anyhow, that's a quick run down of some of the stuff that's been going on at the Hill-Stack Shack. It definitely doesn't cover everything that's going on, like for example Otto has also started taking his first steps (small detail, that), but at least it will ease my Blogger's Guilt for a bit.

Finally, it probably bears mentioning that at the end of August, we'll be going to Kauai for a week. It'll be Otto's first big vacation, and hopefully will not only give us a chance to unwind a bit, but will also give this blog a chance to be a travel blog again, if only for an entry or two.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

One year down!

"I've got two kids,
I've got two kids,
They're Stella and Otto,
Yes, I've got to kids."

(...and here they are.)

That's just one of the goofy little songs that I find myself singing to Stella and Otto. More of a jingle, really. But, while it's not exactly cutting edge song writing, I have to admit that I always have a soft spot for it because, well, it still amazes me that I have two kids.

And, even more amazing, the youngest is turning 1 today!

Happy Birthday, Otto!

The cake and cupcakes Sarah made for the party we had for Otto over the weekend. Still not sure how she got all those done, along with the 500 other things we had to take care of.

Otto digs into his cake. Literally.

Crazy to think that it was a year ago today that Sarah and I made our way to the hospital, for Otto's big arrival. In fact, in roughly 2 and a half hours time, from when I type this, it will be one year exactly from when he appeared.

And, what a year it has been. Highs and lows. Somehow both rushing and slow. Frequently exhausting, but often rewarding. I remember in the first weeks after Otto's birth thinking "actually, having two kids isn't much harder than having one." At this point, I'd definitely rethink that bold claim a bit. But, never for a second have I regretted having a second kid.

And, seriously, he's such an amazing, amazing kid. A wholly different person than Stella, but one just as wonderful. It's interesting, as he grows and her personality develops, how I find my relationship is so much different with him than it is with Stella. Is it because he's a boy? Or because he's the youngest? Or, just because he's his own person, with his own personality? Certainly, a combination of all three. But, regardless of the reason, it's incredible how you can have two people in your life who you love equally, but who you find yourself relating to and bonding with in different ways.

While Stella has always been thoughtful and cautious, creative and into books; Otto is much more physical and daring, he has little interest in books and crayons yet, but already stacks blocks and loves tossing balls (two things Stella didn't do till she was much older). The observation Sarah and I have made several times is that when Stella used to first encounter a new object, she'd pick it up and turn it over in her hands again and again, looking at it carefully. Otto picks it up, bangs it on something and then tries giving it a toss. Otto's probably easier going than Stella is overall, and less inclined to get scared or worried; but if he's upset or frustrated, he's much more stubborn. And, as I've mentioned several times before: The boy has a pair of lungs.

As I said, it's like they're their own people or something. Crazy.

Developmentally, Otto's got a lot going on these days. Sadly, he's still not sleeping through the night consistently, but he's making a lot of big steps literally and figuratively. He's not quite walking on his own yet, but can waddle along while holding mine or Sarah's (or even Stella's) hands. And, he stands on his own from time to time. He's also gotten very good at going upstairs since we relocated the bedrooms to the basement (more on that in another entry), and can even go down stairs fairly well too.

He's also a pretty darned good hugger too.

Meanwhile, in his mouth, his sixth tooth is finally arriving, meaning his smile will seem a little less lopsided for a bit. And, he seems to finally be getting past the point of immediately sticking everything directly into his mouth. Also, he's not talking yet, but he spends a good portion of his time pointing at things and making a "dat" noise, which we take for him working on identification. Leading to a lot of exchanges that go something like this.



So, I think he's working on it.

It's been a crazy year. A wonderful year, if often tiring year. As I started our this entry by saying, it still sort of boggles my mind that I've got two kids. But, I'm a happier and better person for it.

Happy Birthday, Otto!

Otto, sporting the last of his little monthly shirt stickers. You made it, Otto!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Maybe, may be May

Man, this evening felt like it was fired out of a canon. But, then again, if I were to be honest, that's how the whole year has felt thus far. Hard to believe that it's been over a month since my last "sorry I don't post more" entry here. And, harder still to believe that Otto will be 11 months old in only a little over a week.

Anyhow, I'm halfway through 4 nights of solo daddy duty, and -yet again- appreciating and missing my wife. (Not to mention feeling in awe of single parents everywhere, again.) So, I figured it was a good opportunity to take 30 minutes and get caught up on what's happened since the last entry. Here goes...

Well, while I'm on Daddy Duty this week, watching the kids while Sarah attends a work seminar up on Cortes Island, just north of Vancouver Island, I can't say it's all be work, work, daddy, daddy for me. Not long after my last post, my College buddy, Earls, and I (along with his mom) headed out to Walla Walla for a whirlwind one night visit. While Earls (aka Liam) and his mom were headed out to hear his sister give a lecture at Whitman College; I used it as an opportunity to tag along, do some wine tasting and visit with my brother, who's been living out there since around the new year.

Me, Trav, Liam and Colleen, tasting wine at Amavi Cellars.

Then, just two days later, Trav, a group of about ten friends, and I, all headed out to a friend's families house on Whidbey Island, for some golf, beer, poker and male bonding...

Hey Ladies!

Possibly the biggest news of the last month and a half or so, though, is that Stella got her first haircut! After months of saying she wanted to grow it out "like Rapunzel," it was starting to round the corner from "cute and curly" to "tangled mess." So, one evening, when Sarah suggested that they might have to spend less time combing it, if it was shorter; Stella suddenly announced she wanted a hair cut. So, after a week of Stella asking us when she'd have her first haircut on a near nightly basis, it was time to schedule the appointment.

Before. It was definitely getting long, and a little unmanageable, though I have to admit that Sarah and I were a little hesitant... probably more than Stella.

After. But, look how cute she looks now! Stella sat patiently -if solemnly- through her first snip. No tears here!

Also, it was bother Mother's Day and Sarah's Birthday... on the same day. Similar to Stella's Birthday and Thanksgiving, Sarah's Birthday falls on Mother's Day after seven years or so. And, this was the first time, since becoming a mother, that she celebrated them both on the same day. To be honest, while I hope it was special for Sarah, I felt like I was a bit to scrambled and harried to really go all out for her, but still we managed a romantic dinner out (which she got reservation for, bad Tyler), and I made her Turkish breakfast the day of, amongst other things.

Turkish Breakfast. It's become a bit of a Mother's Day tradition at the Hill-Stach house. The ingredients are simple (a hardboiled egg, bread, cheese, olives, cucumbers, tomatoes...), but figuring out specifically what types and varieties makes it fun to shop for. Plus, it reminds us of Turkey!

Happy Birthday and Mother's Day, honeypie! She really is the center of my world, and an amazing mother for Stella and Otto.

Finally, last but not least, Otto turned 10 months!

It's amazing how quick he's changing and growing. With four teeth now, he eat an endless variety of solid foods. He pulls up, scoots, crawls faster than many people can walk, and generally leaves us in awe. Now, if he'll just start consistently sleeping through the night.

Finally, I don't feel I should end this entry without mentioning my recent brush with tragic circumstances. As I've mentioned here several times before, for the last three or so years, I've been involved with a local Illustrator collective known as The Bureau of Drawers. For the majority of those years, our groups de-facto headquarters has been the Cafe Racer in Seattle's U-District. Tragically, a week ago, an angry and mentally unbalanced ex-customer walked into the cafe around noontime and opened fire on the employees and customers working and eating there. All told, his rampage would leave six people dead: four people at the Racer, another woman he would shoot on First Hill while stealing her car a half hour later, plus, he would eventually take his own life.

Now, it would be an exaggeration to say that I was true friends with any of the people killed at that Racer that day. But, several of them were people I recognized. People who I'd shared a smile or joke with at the bar, during my countless hours drawing and hanging out at the Racer. Plus, to see the images taken from the surveillance footage both immediately before and after the shooting is something that will be hard to shake. Without seeing any actual blood or gore, the image of the shooter standing in the middle of a space I knew so well, with the stools -occupied just seconds before- toppled and scattered around him, brought the violence of something like this home in a way nothing has before. It is truly one thing to hear a store like this on the news, and another thing entirely to have it happen someplace you've spent your time at and enjoyed so much.

I'm deeply saddened for the lives destroyed that day. And, hope that the Racer and it's employees will be able to recover and someday open their doors again. I know the rest of the Bureau feels the same way. If you'd like to donate money to help the victims and families of the Cafe Racer shooting, you can do so at Cafe Racer Love.

Finally, it bears mentioning that, as I related in this blogs very first post, this blogs title, "Strange and Benevolent" is pulled from a line in a production by the circus group, Circus Contraption. Sadly, two of the victims of the shooting, Drew and Joe, were members of that troupe. In a way, that drives home what a strange, small world we live in. And while things like this will make a person question it's benevolence, I still believe our blogs title holds true. Thanks again, Contraption, for providing our blog with it's first kernel of direction. It's mission statement, in a way.

Photo by "Calamity" Jon Morris

Despite that tragedy, the Bureau has soldiered on, and yesterday we released the second volume of our quarterly digital anthology. If you are interested in checking it out (including the three "Lesser Legend" illustrations I included), you can download it a The Bureau of Drawers blog. Enjoy!

Finally, one last note: A little over a week ago, we bought tickets to Kauai. Yep. We're headed back to Hawai'i! This will be our second trip to the 50th State, but will be Otto's first big vacation (not counting his post-Christmas trip to see the Grandparents in Dallas). Looking forward to doing a travel entry on our travel blog, soon!