Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Rare self-portrait, in the mirror

Well, I've reached one of the big milestones in life - you know, the ones you look forward to or dread, or both, and somehow it feels as if things change when you cross that threshold. Today was my 40th birthday. I've actually been pleasantly anticipating this time. It feels like I'm entering a club or something. Like maybe I'm really an adult now. Of course, we've been through so many challenging times in the last 5 years, I've felt like an adult for quite a while. The whole 40th birthday event really didn't bother me - until a few days ago. I started having questions about what I am doing here, where am I going, who am I, that sort of basic thing. I suppose I still have a good amount of work to do in discovering myself!

So what did I do on this momentous day, you ask? It's Tuesday, so that means Aaron works and Gabriel has school. The kids and I spent 2 hours in Lego class today, designing and creating.

Gabriel works on his mosaic

And here is the finished project (a house floor plan with all kinds of imaginative things going on).

Annika works from her plan to create a picture of her imaginary friend with really long hair

Then home for lunch, and I got to spend the afternoon with my favorite son at the Seattle Art Museum. It happened that this was the day that my friend was able to babysit Annika so that I could take Gabriel by himself to the museum. We are fortunate to have an exhibit of Picasso in town this winter, and Gabriel has been itching to go ever since he heard about it. I'll share more about our visit and what we learned on a later post, but it was enjoyable for both of us. It's not very often that I get time alone with my son any more, so it was special for that reason, but also for all the culture we got at the SAM.

The entrance to the Picasso exhibit - they didn't allow photos inside this part

One of Gabriel's favorites from the main collection - he says it is colorful yet simple.

I picked up Aaron downtown after that, and we went out to dinner as a family. That's pretty special, actually, since we rarely eat out any more. (By the way, I discovered that PF Chang's has an ample gluten-free menu, and they are willing to work with other food allergies as well.) Aaron got me a book, and my friend got me a canning book that I had wanted. It's so good to have friends who know what you want! Lastly, I should mention all the words of encouragement that arrived on my wall in Facebook. Oh, what a marvel! To have so many people remember my day, and take a moment to write a little note to me. I treasure it. And I look forward to seeing what this next year will bring.

Ya gotta smile - one of the African masks in the SAM collection; Picasso took some of his influences from African art work

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Rattles and Ramblings

I heard a rattlesnake in my garden this afternoon. At least, that was the first thing my instincts told me when I was out weeding in the back. While I was thinking that, though, I was also thinking that it couldn't be true, because we don't have rattlesnakes in western Washington. Still, I looked around, confused, trying to figure out what made such a distinctive noise. Then, I saw it - hidden in the overgrown grasses was a lone seed pod leftover from Gabriel's poppies.

Poppy seed pod

He had planted them in the midst of the border area that had gotten so overgrown this summer. They bloomed red, splashes of color amidst the grasses and creeping buttercups and other unwanted plants. Some of the pods dried on their stalks, and I had brushed up against this one with my shoulder. The seeds inside shook and clattered against the raspy brown hull. Thus, the jolt of hearing a rattlesnake in my ear. (I've only ever heard one real rattler in the wild, on a hike I took with another gal. I screamed like a ninny that time. Thank heavens I didn't scream today.)

We have had unusual warm weather the past few days. Since when does it get over 70 degrees in November in Seattle? I've tried to take advantage of the afternoons by getting out and cleaning up the yard. Our poor yard has been so neglected the past several years. I'll get one area cleaned out, and then it will be forever before I get back to it again. Today I spent some time weeding the hedgerow against the north fence. Last year I planted some native wild roses and a few other native shrubs. I want more habitat for birds, and I have fond memories of bicycling in the summer down country roads and smelling the amazing perfume of the wild roses. Plus, once they get established, I won't have to water them. I only got about half way done tearing out weeds from the bed, but it looks better than it did.

Half-weeded bed

I was thinking while I was working that I never regret making time to get outside and work in the yard. I had put aside plans for a field trip this afternoon, feeling that I really needed to focus on getting our home together. The kids built little tents for themselves, and ran around with capes on.

There's a boy in that tent

Fly, Girl!

I even caught them cloud gazing. I found a huge snail for them to hold, and we enjoyed the birds and the leaves and soaking up the lingering afternoon sun. Sometimes it can be so difficult to change into my work clothes and get us outside, but it feels so good once we're out there, and the work is satisfying. Sure, the laundry is still piled up, and the dishes will have to wait another day, and I didn't get any more boxes unpacked, but this sun will not be here much longer, and the weeds won't get any better on their own.

Finally, I am well overdue posting our Halloween costumes. Annika was a unicorn, thankfully satisfied to wear her dress-up outfit. Gabriel was a magical kind of pretend bird. I'm pretty proud of the mask, but feel kinda bad about the rest of the get-up. He liked it, though, which is what is most important.

Gabriel's mask (made by me)

The kids getting ready to trick-or-treat

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Visit to the Conservatory

About a week and a half ago, Gabriel was asking to go out on one of our wonderful autumn afternoons and visit the Volunteer Park Conservatory. This historical building is a fun outing for when we only have a few hours but want to be transported to another place. I love that my kids are both so delighted to visit such a place. I let Gabriel use our old digital point and shoot to compose some of his own photos. I realized, though, that I haven't unloaded them to my computer yet! Oh well, here are some of mine from the day.

Enter into a magical land

Flowers in cages

Colors and textures

A room full of cacti

Patterns in nature

Funky prickles

Orchids of all colors, sizes, and fragrances

Photographer in action

I've never seen the flower of a pitcher plant before

Grow to the sun!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sheep Lake, near Mt. Rainier National Park

When your 8-year-old son begs you to go hiking, how can you resist? When he complains that he hasn’t been getting enough time out in nature, you must do all you can to rectify the situation. So, you go hiking. You find a friend who is willing to put up with you and your children, and you pick a hike that will make you and them happy, and you pick a sunny day with gorgeous blue skies and crisp fall air. You make some homemade power bars, buy a few treats to keep the kids “energized,” you pack the gear the night before, and pray nobody gets sick. You drive way too far on congested small-town roads and windy country roads and twisty-turny-wilderness routes that make your stomach flip somersaults as you try not to think about driving off the edge. You arrive at the freezing trailhead and pray there is TP in the outhouse, and that your friend hasn’t been waiting too long, and that she won’t get impatient as you get everyone dressed and booted up and fed and watered and buttoned and zipped and clipped into their packs. You go over your mental lists and hope against hope that you haven’t left anything important out of your overstuffed pack, and hit the trail at the time you should be feeding your children lunch.

The kids head up the trail

When your daughter, 5 minutes into the hike, complains about being tired, you pray again that she will make it all the way without you having to carry her, but you know it will be a long day of prodding and encouraging and whining and feeding her your enthusiasm and praising how strong she is and how great she is doing. You feel your patience stretching with every step along the path, and you know it’s good for you, but you hope you can continue to stretch throughout the day, and that you won’t snap and end up with everyone in tears. You give thanks for a hiking partner that is helpful and motivational and willing to go the speed of a tired 4-year-old, and still be positive. You watch your son speed up the trail until he is out of sight, and wonder when he got so tall, and so natural and confident on the trail, and you fill with joy and pride that after all these years of preparation, you now have an amazing hiking partner in your little boy who enjoys the wilderness and helps you see things in new light. He gives you hope that someday, maybe even next summer, the girl will be stronger and quicker and then, Oh! The places you’ll go!

The trail travels above the highway for a bit. You can see down the American River Valley for miles.

You stop reluctantly every 15 minutes because, yes, she REALLY has to pee again, and she needs a snack, and she’s too hot or too cold, so the mittens and hat come on or off. The autumn air is crisp in the shade but warm in the sun, and the breezes are light. The trees and shrubs are showing the last of their fall colors, but the leaves are dropping and the dusting of snow remains in the areas the sun doesn’t reach in its lowering path across the October sky.

Mountain Ash and bluebird sky

Dusting of snow at the trailhead

You feel the rushing of the turning seasons, the bittersweetness of this time of year, and you are so grateful you made the effort to get up high and breathe in the aromas of fir and cedar, huckleberry and duff, and coming winter. You store the warm sun and spicy smells and sense of wonder in a special place inside for those grey days ahead.

Because you are walking so slowly, you are able to notice plenty of fungi and interesting sights along the trail.

Colorful, deadly fungus

You notice how everything has gone to seed, yet how a few straggling flowers brave the season. You hear a raptor as it circles overhead and calls, and pikas in the rocks, alarmed at your intrusion. You arrive expectantly at the lake, elated to have made your destination, relieved that the girl seems to have a renewed burst of energy.

Beautiful Sheep Lake

You find a spot in the sun with a view and drop the pack to the ground, and take care of everyone’s needs. The boy explores while the girl curls up on a coat for a “nap,” the baby gets fed and diapered, and the sun moves quickly toward the ridgeline.

Sarah and baby rest at the lake

Your visit is all too short, which results in pouts and deep disappointment for the boy, who wanted to stay all day, and would prefer to spend the night in this peaceful basin. No matter that ice rims the shady, wet areas, and there is hoarfrost two inches thick, and the breeze is picking up and you don’t have overnight gear, anyway.

Hoarfrost at the lake

You promise yourself, yet again, that you’ll work on getting appropriate gear so that you can spend the night at a heavenly location such as this, maybe even as soon as next summer. You take a few more photos as you sigh wistfully and leave, reluctantly, knowing that in a few short days or weeks the snow will cover the ground.

The trail was a mix of mud and ice here.

Fall color and craggy peaks above the lake

You drag your daughter down the trail, giving her snacks to munch to keep her strength up. You alternate between holding her warm, soft, trusting hand, and encouraging her to keep up with her brother in front.

Gabriel and Annika forge ahead

When she tells you, on the cliffy parts, that “my eyes are affecting the ground – the rocks are moving in front of me!” you begin to worry about vertigo and dehydration and that maybe you are pushing her too hard, but you hold her hand and assure her over and over that the trail is safe enough to walk on, and you will help her if she falls. You pick your way agonizingly slowly down the trail, the parking lot visible a mile away, and your poor partner has to go ahead because the baby is wet and cold in the lowering light and she really needs to get him back to the car. You are so proud of your son for being able to walk ahead with her, and relieved that he will get to be back in her warm vehicle while you slowly, slowly, inch your way back down to him.

The parking lot lies just below the saddle between the two peaks.

You think it’s hilarious and yet exasperating when your daughter begins to squat down at every tiny tree next to the trail to measure with her hands how tall it is, and say, “Look at the baby tree! And there’s a mommy tree, and a daddy tree, and look! Those trees have their arms out wanting the mommy tree to give them food!” You inwardly praise and bemoan her creativity as she makes up little stories about where the baby deer wait for their mommies to go hunting, or where the baby bears come walking down, or the elk go down for water. You are so tired, but you manage to stay patient (mostly) and finally, you make the last switchbacks down to the parking lot, where you greet your son and hiking partner and use the outhouse even though the TP is gone, and get everyone changed and buckled in the car, and give them lukewarm cocoa and praise them for how great they did on this hike and declare over and over how proud you are of them.

Mount Rainier in the evening light

You slowly drive back down the winding roads, into the sunset this time, regretting you hadn’t taken pictures of The Mountain that morning when the light was better, thinking you really need new hiking clothes, because the odor from yours makes you want to faint, and trying hard to remember if there is a restaurant in Greenwater or if you have to get to Enumclaw before you eat. Since your daughter falls asleep in the back seat before you get to Greenwater, you decide to go to Enumclaw after all, and the three of you scarf down a pizza (the boy eating more than the mom), your reward for hiking almost four miles. Your husband calls, worried because he hadn’t heard from you yet, and it is dark, and the half moon is shining through the wispy soft clouds above the almost-glowing Mountain. After only two stops for potty, you make it home and dump everything out of the car and get the kids a bath and put their gear away, and read a short story even though it’s late, and greet your husband who enjoyed a quiet day working from home.

And then, just before he slips up the ladder to his loft bed, your son runs back out to give you a big, tight, lingering hug, and says “Thank you for taking us hiking!” And the memories of the day coalesce into joy and peace as you are so touched and melted by his gratitude. You hope he begs you again soon to go hiking.

Yeah, I think it was worth it!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Weekend Outings

On Friday we had a field trip to a local park for one of Gabriel's classes. Yost Park was my old "office" in the days before children, and it was nice to be back there in a student's role. It's a small little park in the middle of the city, yet is quiet and has a surprising array of wildlife. Working here through the seasons, and seeing the park in all kinds of weather, I really began to feel that I knew it well. It was one of the first times I understood what it meant to have a knowledge of place, and it surprised me how rich my experiences were over the years, since it seems at first glance to be a pretty normal, low-key, urban park.

We played some games through the few hours we were there, using our senses and pretending to be wildlife hiding in the trees.

Gabriel gets blindfolded for his turn listening to his classmates trying to steal the keys.

We noticed some little treasures in the autumn wilds, and came back with rosy cheeks and muddy pants.

Tiny black fungi on a log

Fuzzy caterpillar in a huckleberry bush

Interesting fungus growing on a rotting red alder tree

Another large mushroom, a shaggy parasol

With hubby working from home on Saturdays now, I try to find activities out of the house for the kids to give him a few hours of peace and quiet. Thankfully we live in an area that has an abundance of things to do; indeed, we often have too many things to choose from! On this drippy Saturday I settled on a trip to the U District Farmers' Market, and a visit to Sky Nursery, where they were holding an autumn celebration. My camera stayed in my bag for the Farmers' Market, but I did manage to get a few shots inside Sky Nursery. We had lots of fun - I'll leave you with some photos of our day.

What a drippy day!

Hercules the turkey gave us quite a show - including some very loud gobbles!

It could be an alien.....

Gabriel with his new houseplant. I'm such a softie for this kid and the things he wants me to buy for him...

We got to make scarecrows to take home. Gabriel's has a scary face....

....and Annika's has a happy smile.