Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Summer Wrap-Up



For the last month or so, basically since her posting spree in the second half of July, Sarah has been egging me on and trying to get me to contribute to the blog again. But, while this blog still holds a special place in my heart, and while I still see it is as sort of an ongoing journal of mine and Sarah's adventures together (and now Stella and Otto's too), I have to admit that I'm been less than jazzed about posting here in the wake of our trip to Iceland and France this Spring. That trip sort of reminded me about how much I enjoyed using this blog as a travel journal and -afterward- I've struggled to get motivated to go back to writing about bumming around Beacon Hill with the kids.  Those memories have merit for Sarah and I personally, but don't seem quite as "ready for prime-time" as, say, Provence.

And, while Sarah's work continues to allow her to travel (she's in New York as I write this), my job (which I otherwise love) keeps me closer to home. So, there ya go.

But, with Summer now coming to a sweltering (it's the second week of September, and in the 80's) end, enough memories and adventures have now piled up that it would be a shame not to make at least a cursory mention of them. So, here goes....

None of this is in any sort of chronological order, by the way. More thematic. Or, if nothing else, it reflects the order that I uploaded the pictures.

Birthdays!
For reasons known only to those who like to play the "let's see what was happening 9 months before that" game, all the Birthdays in my immediate family seem to fall in the same three months. The first (and most irrelevant to this entry) is the late November/early December block of Stella, my mom and I. Then in May, it's my Dad, Sarah and Grandma's turn. Finally, in July, it's Travis and Otto.

So, accordingly, we had a couple get-togethers with my family, at my folks' place, first in May and then July...

 Happy Birthday, Grandma, Sarah and Dad!

Happy Birthday, Otto and Travis! (With some candle help from Stella!)

Georgetown and Beacon Hill
After a couple years of being sort of buckled down with new kids, I feel like we are starting to explore Beacon Hill and the surrounding neighborhoods (Georgetown, but also Columbia City, Seward Park, the ID, West Seattle, etc) again. Georgetown in particular has been a place we've started frequenting more often, namely the spray park there (see Sarah's Otto entry for pictures), but I also attended Sub Pop's 25th Anniversary Concert (Mudhoney, Father John Misty and Built to Spill, amongst others) and -as a family- we paid a visit to the Georgetown Carnival...

 Otto checks out a sound exhibit -where you were encouraged to clang metal pipes together- at the Georgetown Carnival (sort of a punk-rock meets Burning Man street festival).

The wagon has gotten a ton of use, not just to Georgetown, but just around the block and to neighborhood parks. (Here pictured with two sleeping kids.)

The Annual Housewarming
This year, we celebrated our 6th Annual Housewarming Party, as we wrapped up our fifth year on the Hill. This has continued to be one of our favorite days of the year, as we invite friends from near and far to come enjoy beer and grilled food in our backyard. Hopefully, it's enjoyed by our guests as much as us.
 This year, the canopy got to be a "shade structure" instead of a "rain structure."

Each year, the number of kids continues to grow. What was one or two at our initial house warming has grown to be probably a third of the crowd... which is quite a few when you take into account that we usually have 70+ guests over the course of the day.

Nisqually Wildlife Refuge
Encouraged by our Franklin Falls hike (see Sarah's entry), we hiked the 4-mile-round-trip boardwalk of the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge a couple weeks back. While Otto didn't quite hike the whole thing (see photo below), Stella amazed us with her fortitude. We'd planned on hiking just a portion of it, and then turning back; but she kept insisting "no, let's hike to the end." And she did. As hikers, Sarah and I were definitely both proud of her that day.

Otto held out as long as he could, but ended up catching a ride back on my shoulders... where he promptly fell to sleep.

Lake Phuckalia
Another annual tradition that we observed this year was our camping trip to "Lake Phuckalia" (which is actually just a small swim hole on a river just outside of Salmon La Sac). We've posted about it before but, basically, its the annual camping trip we make with my dad, his College buddy, Gary, and whatever victims we can round up. Drunken shenanigans usually follow, but the less we talk about those, the less dirty looks I get from Sarah.

 Doing a mini-hike with my dad, Sarah and the kids. My dad kept commenting on how Otto was walking the trail so naturally, like he owned it. Again, proud.

We've been doing this camping trip for years now, nearly annually for close to 20 years, and the scenery never ceases to inspire me.
Vashon Island
We did a couple trips out to Vashon Island this Summer. Once just as the four of us, and once with Sarah's mom and step-dad while they were in town. It's sort of become one of the de-facto day trips for us. One 10 minute car ride and one 15 minute ferry ride and we are on a rural island community a million miles from the hustle and bustle of Seattle. 

 On the ferry with Nana and Grandpapa. They live in Texas, outside of Dallas, so something like this is an easy way to give them a great change of pace. Plus, who doesn't love a ferry ride?

Each trip involves a visit to the Point Robinson Lighthouse. Usually, it's closed up, but this time there was an attendant present and we got to go up in it.

Walla Walla
Last year, we rented a house in Kauai with our friend Justin, Yachi, Divya, Gautam and their kids. This year, partially because of our trip to Europe this Spring, and partially because Justin and Yachi were expecting their third child, it didn't work out to do something that ambitious. Still, we combined our now seemingly annual trip to Walla Walla, and ended up renting a house with Justin and Yachi, along with our recently engaged friends, Russ and Ambika, and Justin's brother-in-law, Kip for a long weekend of wine tasting and hanging out.

 "The boys" hanging out on the creek that went through our back yard. One of the reasons we've enjoyed hanging out with Justin and Yachi so much recently is that, not only are the laid back about plans and schedules, but our kids all get along so well together. Which has been increasingly nice as the kids reach the age where they entertain each other more and more.

 Everyone enjoying dinner. (Sorry, Russ, for the photo of you chewing... devilishly hard to get a flattering photo of everyone eating dinner.)

 A view form Pepper Ridge Winery. Their view is better than their wine, but it highlights one of the reasons Sarah and I keep coming back.

Unfortunately, this is what Sarah saw most of the time. The kids, less impressed with wine tasting, spent a lot of time demanding her attention.

After this trip, and the previously mentioned Kauai trip, Sarah and I have definitely learned to appreciate this style of vacation. By traveling with other families or couples, and renting one large house, we are able to stay in the types of places that we otherwise couldn't. Plus, it provides a great base camp for hanging out and letting the kids run amok.

West Seattle
Aside from running errands, and the biweekly frozen yogurt trip, we actually haven't made it out to West Seattle a ton this year. But, we did head out to Alki to do a little beach combing during the annual lowest tide. Sarah has a friend, Anne, from her days back in Commerce, TX, who recently moved out her with her family. We met up with them, and got to explore the beach a little, and do a tasty lunch at Marination Ma Kai, which does amazing Hawaii fusion food from their location on a West Seattle pier.
Sarah and the kids posing on the beach, with Seattle in the background. From this angle, it almost looks like you could walk there without getting your feet wet.

Anyhow, I think that hits most of the major beats for this Summer. It's been a busy one. And, after several mediocre years weather-wise, a hot one. Hopefully, tonight's post will help lure me back into the fold and I'll start posting regularly again. Between Sarah's travels for work (something like a dozen days this month alone), plus the start of wine-making season and the fact that -next month- Sarah and I will have known each other for 10 years (wow!), there will definitely be plenty to post about.

Until then... Enjoy these final days of Summer!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Franklin Falls, or a tale of hiking with two kids



I chose to move to Seattle because I wanted to go to go grad school somewhere that I thought I might like to live.  But, in reality, this choice was largely based on movies (Singles, Sleepless in Seattle), its connection to grunge (what could be bad about a place that helped spawn Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the like?) and a brief visit during an unusually beautiful day or two in March.  (Within a year, I knew everyone was happy during that visit because the sun was actually out during the tail end of winter.)  Oh, and you didn't have to have an air conditioner to live comfortably.  But within my first full year, living in the Pacific Northwest had reinvigorated a love for the outdoors that had largely laid dormant during my high school and college years in Texas.

I'd spend the week searching online for new hiking gems (my job was much less demanding in those days).  Checked out new areas every weekend.  When I met Tyler he joined in (he had hiked a lot when he was young, probably less so when we met), continuing my annual pilgrimage to Lake 22 and even revisiting Mount Dickerman toward the end of summer.  We hiked a ton during our RTW trip.  And we even kept it up a bit when Stella could be carried on our backs. 

But the last few years have been a struggle.  We tried one hike last summer, which ended up feeling disaster-ish.  Otto too young to really walk.  Stella to old to really be carried.  No one was happy.

But we're gearing up for a camping trip (or two or three, if we can swing it) and last night, when I realized the weather had been beautiful and we had nothing planned, I suggested we try a hike.  We'd be smart this time.  Do something short, good for kids.  Not care if we reached any sort of goal.  Bring lots of food.  Low expectations.  So we got up, did a little research, and decided on Franklin Falls.  Listed in just about every site talking about hikes good for kids five and under, it's one mile to a waterfall, one mile back, with really mild elevation gain.  With a picnic lunch, many changes of clothes and good attitudes, we hit the road.

Hitting the trail!

Franklin Falls were farther out than I initially expected, and not surprisingly crowded when we arrived.  I used to shun the busier hikes, annoyed by hikers who slowed me down or when too many took away from my enjoyment of being in the wilderness.  Maybe it's age, maybe it's that I'm one of the slow people with little kids in tow, but it doesn't phase me so much anymore.

So the short story:  we made it!  We had fun!  It took four hours to hike two miles plus lunch, but the kids--both of them--made it from start to finish using their own legs!  We had a brief moment when I think we both started to get that itch to reach the waterfall,  but we spent a lot of time picking up rocks, throwing them off "bridges", talking about the shiny roots from many people walking over them and had lots of snack breaks.  And, sure, it helps that both the kids are older, but I do think largely it was us as parents getting over ourselves and just letting things go more at their pace.  (Which I think is part of why the last hike was so disastrous and one of the difficulties of parenthood--whenever things are bad, you really know deep down that it's largely your own fault in one way or another.)

Second snack stop, about a quarter mile in, maybe.  I should have brought even more food than I did.  I did bring:  six oranges, four string cheeses, Trader Joe rice crispy bars, two bags of "trail mix" (random stuff in our cabinet), chips, and ham and cheese sandwiches.  We broke into the snacks fast and they'd basically eaten everything except the stuff they didn't like in the trail mix before we'd started heading back to the car from the waterfall.

Climbing up a big tree, Stella being the protective big sister

Otto and his big rock, waiting for the next bridge so he could throw it down to the river

We made it!  We were all pretty excited to make the slightly slippery last stretch of hike to the base of the falls themselves

Picnic time, then some time to hang out in the sun and--you guessed it--throw rocks in the water

 

Obligatory family shot in front of the waterfall.  Otto distracted by the waterfall.

Stella being silly with a stick by a few trillium holdouts

And we made it!  Sweatier and more tired but still in good spirits!

And it was fun to get to talk with Stella, and tell her about trilliums and white water and other random trail stuff.  And Otto--well, he doesn't converse back a lot yet, but he is fantastic to talk to because he has this endearing way of saying a really enthusiastic, supportive, "Yeah!" at all the appropriate moments.  It was so fantastic to get to share something we love with them and have them have a good time too.

Now, we won't subject any of our other hiking friends to this pace and routine anytime soon, but we will be hitting the trail again before too long.  And I can't wait to go camping!

Sleepy Otto--two miles is pretty good for a two-year-old!  And final confession--I promised Stella we'd stop for ice cream if she hiked all the way back on her own without whining. I'm not sure it was strictly necessary, but it certainly didn't help.  And, hey, who doesn't want some ice cream after a hike?
 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Brasilia



Blogging was so much easier on the road.  Part of that's because of the novelty of life on the road but mostly due to the lessened daily responsibilities.  Sure, we still had to feed ourselves and generally make sure the children weren't complete ruffians, but we didn't have piles of clutter, bills, work, etc.  And it's not that interesting things haven't happened after our family trip.

To whit--I went to Brazil in June (and am just now getting around to at least share some photos here).  For the work side of things, I was asked to present to an industry lobbying group on how to evaluate advocacy efforts.  I was one of six invited presenters (three Americans, one Irish and two Brazilians) and the only non-academic.

Because the trip came so fast on the heels of Iceland and France, I think it was literally the day or two before my arrival that I had time to really even realize I was soon going to be in another country, realizing things like, oh, yeah, I know absolutely no Portuguese.  What should I eat?  What should I do while I'm there?  Next thing I knew, I was saying goodbye to Tyler and the kids and on a plane headed south.

So, first off--my business travel is usually not so glamorous.  I've had many more trips to Pasco, Washington or Palo Alto, California.  And not since my first overseas trip to Indonesia have I been treated to business class.  Man, it's a good thing I didn't have this trip *before* the flight to Iceland.  I won't lie.  It's nice.  Food.  Wine.  Room to stretch out.  The little bag of goodies with useful things like eye masks and hand cream and socks.

Another unusual perk of this particular conference--the super fancy "VIP suite" next to the conference room.  It was gorgeous.  And we spent almost no time in it.

Yet it is also still a long overnight haul.  And I was still totally jetlagged upon arrival.  Even though Brasilia is only four hours ahead of Seattle, the red eye flight and not enough sleep still threw me for a loop.

After checking in, getting a bit more sleep and catching up on some work, I headed out with one of the other presenters to do a little sightseeing.  She wanted to head to a mall for some presents for her grandkids.  Not usually my first choice of an outing in a new country, but it was nice to have some company, and the mall was an interesting first look at the key thing to know about Brasilia:  it has fascinating architecture.

The outside of the mall, with the soaring entryway and two halves of a circle with the circle in the middle.  The shopping section was just two floors.  Oh and every store had at least six employees ready to wait on the couple of customers who seemed to be there at any given moment.
Mostly when I mentioned I was going to Brazil for a conference people would say, "Rio?!"  And I would say, "No, Brasilia," at which point they would pretty much have the same comment I initially had, which was something like, "Is that the capitol?  Is it on the beach?"  Yes, and no. But when I mentioned to some clearly better-read friends, one of them exclaimed, "You're so lucky!  The architecture!"  And so I learned about Brasilia.

Essentially, in the 50s the president decided to move the capitol and create a brand new city in the center of the country.  (Rio is still peeved.)  So it's a planned city with architecture from one particular period and even generally one particular architect, who is spoken of in reverent and hushed terms among the Brasilia residents I met, Niemeyer.

After the conference, I got to tour around and see lots of Neimeyer's work with the other presenters and some kind (and English-speaking) Brasilians associated with our conference, including the striking Cathedral:


The cathedral, flanked by large bronze statues of some of the apostles

I didn't realize until going in how gorgeous the stained glass is, with sculptures of angels hanging from the ceiling.
Outside the chapel, to the left is a bell structure, further back and on the left, the national gallery--more on that later

A large plaza with a monument (center, white) and bird tower (concrete, left)

One thing you might have noticed from the previous pictures is that the design of the city is big on lots of plains of concrete.  Which is an interesting choice, given the heat and lack of shade available.

Next to the plaza is the Supreme Court building
 But what was really amazing was that the wife (who was really lovely, more on her later) was a key staff person for the ranking Senator of Brazil.  So she was able to take us into the Congress.  While we weren't allowed to take any photos inside, we actually got to go into the senator's office (in one of the white towers below) and into the Senate (bowl down) and the House (bowl up).  I learned to tell the difference between the two sides because the design was based on the idea that the House is meant to take in the ideas and voices of all the people (hence its openness) while the Senate is more closed and insular.
 

Panorama of the Congress
I'm sure at one point Brasilia seemed out of date, but it is so mod and stylish.  In almost all of the buildings, there was fashionable furniture and rugs like this

After seeing the Congress buildings, we tried to go to some exhibits at another government building, but it was closed.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs--the photo doesn't do justice, but the architecture and its reflection in the pond were something to behold

I never got my own photo of the Department of Justice, but it was one that intrigued me.....


So, instead, we got to drive out to see the President's house:

Pretty snazzy digs!

Because I was going so far (12+ hours on a plane), it was silly to arrive and turn right back around, so I stayed an extra day.  The same woman who had taken us to the Congress offered to come and take me and one of the other presenters still in town sightseeing again. 

We went up to a TV tower, which is also attractive and from which you can get a lay of the land.  Brasilia is laid out with a central mall along which run all the ministries down toward the Congress, Supreme Court and the plaza I saw the first day.  Then the city fans out on either side like wings, and each kind of area you can imagine has a district.  So we were in the hotel district, which is directly adjacent to the central area.  But interestingly there are two hotel districts, one north and one south, and the districts are mirror images to each other.  So you know if you need to do banking, or go to a pharmacy, or the like, that you would go to one of the two districts with that kind of stuff.

Looking down the mall--the white bump toward the back are the towers of the Congress building

Ariel view (not my own) so you can see the winged shape and the lake


A fancy bridge--my photo was blurry
Stopping to actually go into the National gallery (and prove I was actually there).  Unfortunately, they were between exhibits so there wasn't much to see, but it is a wild building.
The swoosh

The line of ministry buildings

She also took us to lunch on the lake and helped me mail postcards home, Stella's only real request of me on the trip!

I'm so glad I got the opportunity to go there.  A few other random thoughts:

  • The people I met there were absolutely lovely, so helpful and hospitable.  People really went out of their way to share their city and country with me in a way that was really touching.
  • And everyone who spoke English apologized for the poorness of their English, which was ridiculous.  I could hardly pick up "thank you" before I left.  I thought I'd be in better shape than I was with my background of some French and Spanish, but Portuguese has different sounds and a sing-song quality that I could not pick up at all in the few days I was there.
  • Business travel is an interesting thing.  I always feel like I'm getting a somewhat insular experience--I'm picked up, taken nice places, and don't always feel like I get a real feel for the place.  But getting to go to the Congress and seeing sites with a local was an amazing treat and I got way more out of my time there than I would have otherwise.
  • The protests started right as I was leaving, which I didn't see any of, though the Confederation Cup was about to get underway.
  • The city is like a museum almost.  Almost everything is striking--there are mosaics and sculptures and notable architecture and well-designed furniture everywhere you look.  I can't imagine another city like it in the world.
It definitely created a hunger to go back and see more of the country.  (Though I better learn some Portuguese first...)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ot-two!



Two years and seven hours ago (roughly), this guy entered our lives:

Otto, less than 24 hours old

And now Otto's two!



Somehow over the past 24 months, I think I've lost 12 of them.  Time has flown by.  I never felt bad about not having a baby book for Stella--her life and milestones were more than adequately caught in all their glory here.  Otto?  Well, Otto's a second child who also had the (mis)fortune of joining us when our lives as a whole just got busier, professionally and because having two kids has really been exponentially more work than just one. 

But we love him none the less, despite less documentation.  He's a fascinating little person.  And, for his second birthday, I wanted to capture some of the Otto-ness we love and appreciate these days. Because while I think now that I'll always remember these details, too soon, they will be replaced by new developments and observations, at risk of extinction without taking the time to capture them as they are these days.  So here goes!

Otto and balls--soccer balls, footballs, bouncy balls, basketballs, volleyballs, light-up balls--you name it, he loves it.  I remember playing a game of rolling a ball back and forth with Stella.  I had read somewhere that it was a developmental milestone of some sort.  She'd sort of humor me, roll it a few times and then want to move on.  The first time we gave Otto a ball, it was a revelation, as if he realized that his hand was *made* to catch and throw balls.



In fact, he is a better catcher than Stella is at four and a half.  And he drop kicks and does things that regularly shock and amaze me.  His gross motor skills are definitely strong.  We joke that it would be funny if Tyler ended up with a jock for a son.

But he's really not just a jock--he's got a surprising ability to focus and systematically solve things like puzzles and building.  I'm convinced he got some of the Soenksen/Stachowiak engineering genes that didn't express themselves in the same way with me.  His teachers at school are regularly mentioning how surprised they are at the way he does complex puzzles and builds 3-D shapes with these metallic shapes.

The first thing Otto showed us with his birthday metal shapes was this house he built

Completing his birthday puzzle (and, yes, with his helmet for his to-be-delivered bike present)

Another thing about Otto--he's got a natural charisma and is (generally) more outgoing.  When I drop him off at school, kids are always shouting "Otto's here!".  And when I ask him what he liked best about his day, he says "friends!"  (Stella, as a counterpoint, always talked about going on a walk outside.)



He can be a ham.  One day, I wanted to take a picture of Otto and Stella as we went in the house after school, because I thought they looked cute.  Now about every third day, Otto stops in front of the door and says, "Picture, Mommy!  Cheese!"

 

Although, if you ask him to smile, he squints his eyes.  Like Tyler, I've learned to ask for a smile then wait for him to laugh at himself to get a good shot:

"Smile, Otto!  No, with your eyes open!"

He also can prefer to be behind the camera:

video


He's not afraid of his feminine side:




And has quite the sartorial sense:

Unbelievably, I don't have a recent photo of him in his favorite plaid fleece pants with matching jacket. What will we do when he outgrows them?

And is a bit obsessed with swimming and swimsuits:

It started in Iceland when we went swimming everyday--anytime we even mention "swimsuits" he gets excited and obsessed.


And he's a talker.  Some of it is probably trying to keep up with Stella and get our attention (which is, frankly, less laser-focused than it may have been at other times....) 

And he's ironically both laid-back/easy-going and sometimes super-sensitive:

We see this point pretty much anytime something is disappointing...
 

There's so much, it's really impossible to capture his essence with these few photos and words.  He loves trains and cars and diggers (but not loud noises).  He looks up to Stella and wants to emulate her.  He's actually very kind and better at sharing and taking Stella into consideration than she is with him.  And my life is infinitely richer for having him in it.

 
Happy second birthday, Otto.  We love you.