Thursday, July 17, 2014

Three Years and Five-ish Hours Ago....

I got to meet this guy for the first time:

I never doubted wanting to have kids, and I always wanted to have a daughter.  But I'm so glad now, too, to have the experience of having a son.

And not just any son, but this boy in particular.  He is:

And, as this *series* will show, apparently quite the dapper man:
Otto was so pleased to have this fancy outfit for a wedding that he insisted on trying it on in another store when he saw that Stella was getting to try her dress on.
In a snazzy hat like Dad.
 In the new orange vest he picked out by himself.

He's also reinforced what I learned about nature versus nurture with Stella.  While he has his evolved, feminine side due to having a big sister, he's also naturally into cars, trucks, balls, trains, guns, physical play and the like:

 A truck--woohoo!
 A natural-born Seahawks fan--"They run and catch and crash!"  This picture doesn't show it, but I think Otto was still the happiest I have ever seen him when we came home with the jersey for him (that he still wears at least twice a week).  Tyler often jokes that his natural sports ability/motor skills are a bit wasted on Otto with him as his father.

Otto's also affectionate, kind, thoughtful and loving.  When we were hiking last week, he was riding on my shoulders (like he did last year in the picture below) and said to me, "Mommy, I wish I could be with you always."  And it's not uncommon to have a conversation that goes something like this:  "Mommy, I love your earrings.  Mommy, I love your hair.  Mommy, I love everything about you!"  He's going to be the best husband ever.

  Tuckered out after a two mile.

On the Hanalei Pier in Kauai, just over a year old. 
 A pretty recent shot and one of my personal favorites.  His favorite pants.  His favorite shirt.  His special friend, Pig.  One of my dearest loves in life.

Happy birthday, Otto.  I'm so glad you are part of our lives.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Magical Thinking

Earlier this spring I was poking around facebook and came across this post of a mother's rant that she was done making childhood magical.  Childhood is magical enough, she argued.

Provocative, yes.   And, I, for one, don't believe my parents the same pressure to have perfectly plotted, accessorized and managed experiences for kids.

Thought-provoking, too. It got me thinking and talking with Tyler about what moments in our childhood felt magical and what that would mean for what for Stella and Otto.  I was surprised to realize that most of my best memories of childhood involved being outside.  Spending lazy summer days at a lake.  Going to parks.  Playing in the backyard.  Hiking.  Canoeing.  Camping.  Riding my bike and rollerskates.  Pretty simple stuff.  So I quickly dubbed this summer the "Summer of Hiking and Camping."  (Plus we're saving up money and time off to go to Ireland next Spring....)

I had some evidence this would work out.  Last year we managed to get in a couple hikes, even when Otto was just two.   And Tyler and I love camping, though we'd just managed one trip a year out of the last three (including one when I was eight-months pregnant).  Our hope is to get three camping trips in this summer. 

Trip number one happened this past weekend over the Fourth of July.  Serendipitously, someone Tyler works with who also has a two-year-old was camping, too, so we ended up camping together in an awesome primitive spot off the Mountain Loop Highway.  Three nights out on a river, in old forest, with lots of time to relax, play All-Terrain bocce, hike, toast marshmallows, and be outside.

View on the way to our campsite.  It would be awfully hard for me to ever move away from this.

Our home away from home.  Thanks, Dad, for the big tent that fits four people far better than my backpacking tent!

All-Terrain Bocce--a last-minute purchase by Tyler that was a major hit for kids and adults alike!

A little bit of quiet time in the sun while the younger kids napped

The kids' first "backwater baptisms" in some impressively ice cold water.  Stella went back for more about four times....

The first full day we hit up the Big Four Ice Caves a second time this year, which is a ridiculously gorgeous (and kid-friendly) trip--one mile in, one mile out, flat (a mere 200 feet elevation gain) with smooth trail to walk along. 

Holding hands to help the younger friends, courtesy of Althea Pomerleau

The pay off at the end--not the greatest shot, but you can get a sense of the grandeur

And snow and ice at the end for the kids to muck around in, not to mention wildflowers, waterfalls and a stream to splash cold water on your face as a reward for all that good walking.

The second day we hiked Heather Lake.  We'd hiked it once before, with the reward of lots of salmon berries.  Of all our hikes with the kids, this was the most ambitious--four-miles round trip, 1100' elevation gain, and not an easy path--lots of roots, rocks, mud, and climbing.  And we didn't luck out with the best conditions--it got drizzly partway up, and I hadn't packed raincoats in our daypack.  Worse yet, the salmon berries had been eaten or picked already, so the pay-off hoped for by Stella didn't quite come to fruition.  But it did lend itself to a good chance to practice "making the best of it", which Stella did (ultimately) with gusto.

 At the lake.  The last half mile got a bit maudlin, and given the conditions, we didn't get to hang out as long as maybe we would have otherwise, but gorgeous.  Someday we'll backpack up here and spend some nights at the lake and really soak it all in.
So a good time in the end.  Stella hiked all but maybe 100 yards of it.  Otto, in sandals, probably did 1.5 miles up, and maybe .5-.75 miles down.  Not too shabby.
 Happier times on the hike back down from Heather Lake, also thanks to Althea.  It's not terrible to have a professional photographer as a camping companion!

So beyond the camping plans, this epiphany about the outdoors also means that we let ourselves off the hook in general and spend more weekend time just hanging out in our backyard.  Or our friend's backyards.  Or checking out low tide.

A new beach we discovered in West Seattle--crabs, jellyfish, anemones and more

Perfectly plotted?  Almost never.  Magical?  Time will tell.
Early morning snuggles
Playing "Papa Bear" and "Baby Bear"
Snacking on the beach after a few dips

And it's not too shabby for some good adult bonding time, either:

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Beautiful Mystery

It's been awhile since I've been compelled to post.  These days, our life with the kids is pretty well-chronicled on facebook.  But tonight this happened:

Stella got her first two-wheel bike.  When I picked her up from school and told her we'd be picking up her bike at Tyler's office, she was possibly the most excited I'd ever seen her.  She told everyone we saw, literally jumped up and down with joy, and squealed.

And it feels like a moment.  I remember getting bikes when I was growing up.  The feeling of independence, freedom, the wind in my hair.  The feeling of my muscles working and propelling myself with speed and happiness.  It might have gotten me even more than preschool graduation:

To be fair, I had always viewed preschool graduation with a bit of skepticism before this year. 

But somehow these two events and my wonderful interactions with Stella on a regular basis now that she is five and half somehow just made me realize how much of a wonderful mystery Stella is to me.

She's driven, artistic, focused, and emotionally mature in ways that shock me.

I don't think Stella really understands what a scientist is, but--hey--it's a good ambition!

Standing by her self-initiated art project during our trip to Walla Walla, in which she created graphics around morning and evening routines (top row (morning):  wake up, eat breakfast, get dressed brush teeth;  (evening):  put on PJs, brush teeth, read a book, sing songs)

Under the "umbrella tree" she found 



With her mosaic she made, with intense focus, over two hours, on a special "date" as a reward for lots of good behavior. 

With the table she decided to set so we could have a "fancy" dinner 

The note from Stella's teacher describing her focused work for a week on a definition book.  This one on orcas was the first of three she has made since. 

Hiking, with her backpacking backpack, at the Big Four Ice Caves a few weeks ago.   She is always driven to do the whole thing herself, and is always asking when she can climb a real mountain, not just be at the base or on the side of it.

 At the big gallery room in the Frye Art Museum on another Mommy-Stella date.

I really don't share this to brag.  Partially I don't want to lose these memories, these moments we've had over the last few months.  But it's also because they are such an illustration of her as a person.  She doesn't have attitude and artifice.  This is who she is.  She's the kid during the before-mentioned preschool graduation who follows all the rules, stands still, and tries to get everyone around her to also be focused on the task at hand:

(untouched photo)

I see myself and Tyler reflect in her in many ways, but she's not either of us.  She's not some combination or reflection of us.  She's Stella.  And, sure, we are reasonably involved parents, we pay lots of money to send her to a good preschool, and she's got a lot of advantage.  The wind is at her back in a lot of ways, but so much of this she does because of her own drive, focus, and desires rather than because of some agenda Tyler and I have (which frankly is mostly about trying to just stay on top of day-to-day life these days).


Now, lest I come across as though I have a perfect child--she can be selfish and self-involved and impatient with others.  She can be stubborn and childish.  She is, really, a child still.  And I know her so well--we had the most intimate relationship that maybe I think you can have with another human being--but she is also a separate person whom I can only know so well.  Which is wonderful, and strange, and necessary (and probably a good way to bring me even closer to the parents in my life).

Here's to you, kid.  Can't wait to see what the next year or so brings to light.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Boring and Self-indulgent

I awoke, early this morning, from a dream that left such an emotional thumb print that I was unable to fall back to sleep. And now, here I sit, a little after 5am, sipping coffee and typing a blog entry. So, while there is nothing more self-indulgent and boring than relating a dream to someone else, bear with me, because that is what I am going to do.

In this dream, my dad and I were exploring an antic space above my parents' house. While their house has an actual attic space, it is nothing like the one I envisioned in my head: A large, slightly maze-like series of partially finished rooms, cast in a pale blue light with small drifts of fine white insulation piled in the corners. As we made our way to the back corner, we came across a peculiar and touching site: Some of my brother and mine's toys, arrayed out on the floor. The way they were positioned indicated that -at one point- my brother and I had been up in the attic playing with them, only to be called away mid-game; leaving the toys forgotten for twenty to thirty years. Looking down at them, and seeing a childhood event frozen in amber, such as they seemed to be, struck me with an immense sense of nostalgia and melancholy. The immediacy of it. A snapshot of a childhood event, seemingly forgotten. Looking at it, I was filled with a sense of connection to my younger self, but also with a sense of sadness as I contemplated how many countless events from my life have been lost from my own memory. Distanced by the years that lie between them and the present.

As I type this, I am 38 years old, and I feel the distant rumblings of a mid-life crisis rolling in. There is dull sense that at some point -likely in the not-so-distant future- my list of "things that I have done and experienced" will begin to exceed my list of "things I will do and experience." Heck, maybe that point has even already passed. 76 years would still be a solid run. And, that inkling has lent a certain uneasiness to the way I have approached things recently. A certain frustration with the day-to-day hassles that I have experienced dozens of times, and know I will spend solid chunks of my future dealing with again; a nagging discontentment with another evening spent watching TV. It manifests itself in surprising ways, both predictable and not. Both as a sudden, inexplicable interest in cars and professional sports, but also in a desire to re-embrace things I enjoyed in my youth, like role-playing games; and beneath all that, the expected existential ponders of the meaning of it all. What does it all mean? What happens after you die?

I am not a particularly religious person, but I do sometimes wonder if we build our own afterlife. If, after our physical bodies are gone, we are just left with our memories and an infinite access to them. That by revisiting our past events, and our reactions to them, we construct our own heavens. Heavens built from the recalled embrace of our parents or our children, days spent playing with siblings and friends, falling in love with your partner again and again, experiencing the thrill of experiencing something for the first time, or the joy of creation. And that even the bad memories have value; that the pain, fear and loss somehow casts the good memories in higher contrast.

But, all that said, I also have to admit that there is something decadent about the idea of a mid-life crisis. I imagine that people who scramble to get by day-to-day aren't allowed the luxury of taking stock of their life so far, and musing "what does it all mean?" So, with that in mind, perhaps I should just appreciate it, maybe even lean into it a little. Because, like the toys in my dream, these moments too will someday be the past. Forgotten and preserved only in my mind.

OK. Hitting "post" now. Stella and Otto are awake, and I have new memories to make.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

To Travel the rough road of life

I sit down to type this and it is Sarah's 38th Birthday. Sadly, as I type this, she is also in Calgary for a conference; so we had to make do with a tired and harried phone conversation after the kids' had finally gone to bed. That's not to say that we didn't get a chance to celebrate. In fact, between her Birthday, Mother's Day and my dad's Birthday, the first week or two of May always seems like a multi-party pile-up. Still, it is a little sad to think that, today, she is sitting alone in the Hoth-like Northern wastes of our great white neighbor to the North (Ok, maybe I exaggerate a little there).

Still, I suppose, this buys me some time to finally get caught up on the blog. So, let's see, what is happening these days...

The kids are hard at work, making wine for us.

Wine-making chugs along at it's usual pace. Actually, this year, because of the additional people involved, the actual process seems to be going quicker and smoother than in previous years. That's also saying a lot, since we've double our batch size (probably over 300 bottles!). At this point, the wine has been moved into the oak barrels, and it's largely a matter of climate control, which might prove to be an actual issue, since I suspect this will be a warm Summer.

In addition to that, our friends Ambika and Russ got married, and I was honored to be a groomsman in their wedding. I've been friends with Ambika for 15+ years now, and Russ is an amazing guy. I'm really happy they found each other.

(As a side note, since this blog is nominally about travel: Ambika lived in Prague for two year, roughly 10 years ago. My second time traveling abroad, I went and visited her there. Several months later, I met Sarah. Then, several months after that, Sarah went to Prague on a separate trip... and her and Ambika met each other there for the first time. I still would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at that first meeting.)

Bachelor Party hijinks in Portland. A long, booze-filled day, and one I definitely won't forget... though my memory gets a bit blurry at times.

Me in an official photo of the wedding party, wearing my "I'm pretending I'm James Bond" suit.

Ambika and Russ' first dance. I am, of course, partial to mine and Sarah's wedding... but this was still a great one. It has been a long time since I danced that hard.

I do want to give a special thanks and shout out to Sarah during all the wedding craziness. While I was getting to run around and party it up in my Dashing Grey Suit, she was often left with the often thankless kid duty. It was definitely appreciated!

Between the Bachelor Party and the Wedding, thanks to my brother, Sarah and I were able to get away for a weekend on Lummi Island. While the term "foodie" is met with a good deal of contempt and scorn these days, Sarah and I embrace it in so much as we enjoy a good meal, well prepared and well served. And, we are lucky enough to have the Willow's Inn just a couple hours north of us. Perpetually picking up awards and accolades from noteworthy sources, such as Bon Appetit. It's a once in a life time experience, that we've now been fortunate to experience twice.

The previous time we visited Lummi Island, we were in and out in a day. This time we had two days to explore, so we got to do a little mild hiking. Including the trek to this stunning viewpoint in the Baker Preserve.

Sarah, as we sit down for dinner. I love this picture of her and... well... I just love her.

Sarah and I, on the beach, across from Willow's Inn. I just like the subtle way this mirrors our old profile picture on this blog, taken nearly 9 years ago.

The short hike at Baker Preserve on Lummi Island wasn't our only outing into nature so far this Spring. We also got the opportunity to take the kids to the Federation Forest State Park, in the Cascades. While the trails there barely count as a hike, it was a good chance to stretch our legs and gave Sarah and I hope for this coming camping and hiking season. With Otto now in Pre-School and largely potty trained, we feel like this year we will be more able to hike, explore, camp and get out of the house. Both kids seemed excited about the idea and are already whining "I want to go camping!!" whenever we mention the woods. Fingers crossed!!

Here the kids are, examining a rock with their magnifying glasses. Stella, in particular, is a budding scientist, with a love for all things in the natural world. Be it space, planets, dinosaurs, animals, the garden her and Sarah have started or an experiment in one of her various science kits, she definitely has a desire to explore our world.

(As a humorous side note: After returning from our hike, my mom told me that the Federation Forest State Park was the same place that, over 30-odd years ago, I received me first bee sting. I still remember looking down and watching the bee sting my finger... a memory that informs my near-phobia of bees to this day. I'm glad that my kids had a less traumatic experience.)

I know... I know... most people who still read this blog are reading it because they are wondering how Stella and Otto are doing. So, here's a little update on both of them. As hinted about above, Stella is in a great space. At five years old, she is nearing the finish line of pre-school and excited about being a Kindergartener next year. And, honestly, she's a lot of fun. Curious, intelligent, proud of her budding abilities in reading, mathematics and art; it's amazing how far she's come in such a short period of time. I mean, just look at her...

Sarah took Stella to make mosaics, as a sort of mother-daughter activity. Her finished piece now hangs proudly next to her bed.

And Otto? Well, let's just say two is a little rougher of an age. There's a lot of crying... and whining... and "fighting the power." And, barely a day goes by that he doesn't test Sarah or I in some new way. So, frankly, it can be exhausting. But, at the same time, it's amazing to watch him develop into his own, unique person. He's athletic and active in a way no one else under this roof is. Energetic and legitimately funny. (Seriously, he made a joke this evening that had Stella and I laughing out loud. And he's two.) He's also growing and developing in leaps and bound, with his language skills taking off, the previously mentioned successes in potty training and the fact that he is suddenly drawing actual figures in his art. Craziness. And, to be fair, in the last couple of weeks, Sarah and I have started to see what might be the light at the end of the tunnel, and he becomes less obsessed with arguing, and become more interested in being a constructive member of the family.

Recently, I got to chaperone Otto's class on a field trip to the Experience Music Project in Seattle. (He is hiding in the second row, just above the teacher with the pink scarf.) Largely a music and sci-fi museum, the Pre-School class went to see a Lego exhibit there.

I started this entry with Sarah's Birthday, so I think I'll end it with her too. I just wanted to take a quick moment to say how much I appreciate her. These last couple of years have been some crazy ones, and -frankly- it's easy to lose track of your own partner in the shuffle and madness. But, whether it be over a fancy 5-course dinner or just a cup of morning coffee while the kids scream around us, it is such a wonderful and lucky thing to have someone like her across the table from me... supporting me, our children and this life we've created together. I could write a whole separate post about her recent professional successes (though maybe that is a topic better left from a personal blog, or at least handled by her), but instead I'm going to end it with a quick quote. Though we are entering the later days of Spring and are rounding the corner to Summer proper, I am momentarily reminded of a line uttered by Old Mr. Fezziwig in my favorite version of the Christmas Carol:

"What a difference it makes, Ebenezer, to travel the rough road of life...... with the right female to help bear the burden."

I know it's awkward to cite a Christmas show here, and we can probably parse out the problematic gender issues inherent in that quote, but for this second let it just mean that I'm happy that we are standing together, taking in whatever life throws at us, good or bad. And, I'll stand by Fezziwig's parting lines in that same scene: "What a lucky man am I!!"

 My wonderful wife, and their wonderful mom.

You have my heart. Happy Birthday, honey!