Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Oh, Canada!

After our trip to Germany, most of our summer was spent close to home.  But in August, the boys and I got to head to one of our favorite places - Ottawa.  I know, I know - it isn't exactly tops on most people's vacation destination lists.  But it should be.  It is a beautiful city surrounded by gorgeous countryside.  But more importantly, several of my favorite people on the planet live there - my sister Erin and her family. We were there for 9 days, and each one was filled with lots of great moments together.

The day after we arrived, we visited an amazing Star Wars exhibit that contained tons of cool memorabilia from the movies and an interactive element of creating your own Star Wars character based on different elements that make up a person's personality.  Of course, Max and Luke thought it was the coolest thing ever and loved talking to their cousins about all the characters.  I kept wishing it was closer so I could take my students there

The kids and their Star Wars personalities
Several years ago, my sister and brother-in-law bought a cottage and small island a couple hours outside of Ottawa.  We've been hearing all about their adventures in getting things cleaned up and sorted out just to their liking, and in more recent years about the fun they have had with the kids there.  This year was the first time we had gotten to visit.  Just like they had said, it was a beautiful spot on the perfect lake - a retreat from city life and a haven for outdoor play.  We hiked around, we roasted marshmallows, we swam in the lake.  But the absolute highlight of the trip for the boys was fishing.  They spent every minute they could out on the point practicing their casting and reeling in - and were rewarded many times over with lots of fish willing to go for a ride on their hook.  One morning Max managed to catch (and release) 13 fish in just over an hour.  It was incredible.  Luke even managed to catch two fish at the same time on one lure.  I'm not sure they will ever have as much fun fishing again - but (forgive the pun), they were totally hooked!

Two fish on one lure

Luke's first fish

Max's first fish

My adorable parents

My funny sister

Eventually we had to leave the cottage and head back to Ottawa.  We had a very special day to celebrate - my nephew Cormac's baptism!  It was a beautiful sacrament and we were all so impressed by the welcoming nature of the parish that Erin and Alex belong to.  I'm so proud to be Mac's godmother and thankful that we could be there with them.

We finished up our trip in grand style with a trip to Calypso, a water park just outside of Ottawa.  Many, many amazing water slides and perfect weather were a great way to end our time together.  The boys and I even slid on the highest slide in North America!  It was an incredible afternoon, and made saying our goodbyes even harder.

Leaving my sister, brother-in-law, niece, and nephews is always tough.  They are such generous hosts and the boys adore their time with their cousins.  Even just hanging out at their house is relaxing and fun.  The fact that my parents were there this time made it even better.  But after 9 days without Dan, we were ready to head home.  I'm afraid that if he had been able to come with us, we might never have come back.

Thanks, Erin and Alex, for an amazing time.  So many highlights of our summer happened this week.  We love you all, and can't wait to do it again!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Ahhh, Summer...

Oh, dear summer, where did you go? 

I head back to work this week, officially ending our Summer 2013.  It's been a good one - lots of sun and water and time with family and friends. In fact, there simply was too much for one post.  But I am going to give a greatest hits list, just so I don't forget all the fabulous things that filled our days.

1. Lots of pool time.  This was the summer that both boys really took off with their swimming, and their favorite place to be was the water park at the athletic club. Dan and I certainly didn't mind the time poolside, either.

2. A daytrip to the beach - bumper cars in Seaside, sand play in Cannon Beach, dinner at Mo's.  Many of our weekends were preplanned, but this was a great spur-of-the-moment trip. 

3. Girls' weekend in San Fransisco - I got the chance to fly down and spend the weekend at a spa and winery celebrating the marriage of my amazing sister in law.  It was a beautiful weekend and some much needed me-time.

4. Rodeos - The boys continue to enjoy a good rodeo, so we hit a couple.  We went to St. Paul and the Deschutes County Fair.  I love seeing my boys enjoy a little of the country life.

5. Family Reunion - My mom's family got together for a great weekend in Central Oregon.  I finally got to meet my cousin's little one, and it is always wonderful to spend time with my aunts and uncles and cousins. We watched my dad ride in the fair parade and played on the party boat down at the lake.  But perhaps my favorite time was hanging out with my great aunt.

6. Max's 8th birthday - What a lucky boy - he got to go to Seattle with his grandparents to watch a Mariner's game, celebrate at the family reunion, and then have a party with 10 friends at the pool.  I can hardly believe he's 8 already, but taking the time to celebrate him is always fun.

7. Soccer - Max is now playing year-round soccer with TFA Barcelona.  On Tuesdays he had summer escola, Thursdays were practice.  They also played in a tournament in July. He is still loving it, and the time at practice gives me plenty of time for reading, and gives Luke and Dan some quality time together at home.

8. Berry picking - The boys and I spent time out at Sauvie Island picking berries and peaches.  Luke was a great helper this year, and we've all enjoyed the raspberry-marionberry and raspberry-peach jam.

9. Backyard camping and campfires - This was one of those things we didn't do nearly enough this summer, but the times we did were sure enjoyable.  Max and Luke even spent the night out alone!

10. Time together - One thing we had plenty of this summer was time together.  The boys and I were together nearly all day every day.  There were plenty of fights, but there was also a lot of lego and soccer and baseball and blocks and playmobil play that happened.  We shared trips to the zoo and OMSI, to parks and playdates with friends.  Dan and I saw John Prine at the zoo and we celebrated our 14th anniversary. The boys went to vacation bible school and we all celebrated the 4th of July with friends. We ate picnics and went to a Portland Thorns game.  And it was all better because we did it together.

It's been a good summer.  Lucky to have it.  Not quite ready to give it up. But for now, I am just remembering to be thankful.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Summer day at the beach...

Summer weekends are precious, and when one magically opens up with nothing on the agenda, you have to take advantage of it.

When Max's soccer tournament got canceled last weekend, we were bummed - for about half of a second. We do love watching him play - but it was going to be a minimum of three games on a weekend when the temperatures were going to be in the upper 90's (a rare occurrence around here).  And having two empty days before us was so exciting. We decided to fill Saturday with a day trip to the beach - slightly cooler temperatures, sand and surf, and maybe some yummy seafood.

We began by driving to Seaside to hit the bumper cars, first.  It had been a couple of years since we had been there, and Max had begged all last summer to go. After the first round, Luke decided he had enough, and he and I watched Max and Dan go another round of bumping and crashing and grinning. Then it was off to sushi and the book store. 

Our favorite place to play on the sand (that's within super close driving distance) is Cannon Beach - it's beautiful, there's lots of space, a bathroom is nearby, and we can always wrap up the day with dinner at Mo's. Even though there were a lot of people there, we had no problem finding a great space to set up camp and begin our afternoon of fun. There was a lot of digging, some sand castle work, some reading (for the parents), and lots of time in the ocean.  This was actually the first time that Luke has ever enjoyed playing in the ocean!  He loved running back and forth with Max and splashing in the waves.  Honestly, the water felt as warm as I ever remember the Oregon coast part of the Pacific feeling.  We got more wet than we expected, but it was nice to be able to play in the water without frozen feet!

Wrapping up with dinner at Mo's and fudge for the drive home, we were all more than a little blissed out.  A summer day at the beach is pretty tough to beat.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Our trip to Germany...

{Warning: this is a looooooong one, but I couldn't help it!  Please forgive me and I understand if you don't make it all the way through!)

When my sister-in-law got engaged this past winter, we were all very excited.  We've never seen her so happy, and we adore her fiance. The news got an added element of fun when we found out that we would get to go to Karlsruhe, Germany for the wedding. Due to the timing (the end of the school year), the plans (lots of "adult stuff"), and the expense, it was decided that it would be a trip for just Dan and I, while the boys stayed home with my amazing parents.

Aside from buying plane tickets, Dan and I didn't do a lot of planning for our time until just a couple of days before we left town.  We wanted to be available if Carrie and Zouhair needed a hand with anything, so we didn't want to be to tied to other plans.  But on arrival we realized we had about 4 days to spend playing tourist, and 3 days of wedding/family stuff.  It was great.

Except for the weather.  This May/June, southern Germany has been experiencing a highly unusual amount of rain and cold temperatures, leading to lots of flooding.  As we arrived on Sunday in a torrential downpour, it looked like all of our possible ideas for sightseeing would need to be revamped for lots of museum-going. We were both a little bummed, but wanted to still take advantage of our time there. We decided to wait and see what the morning would bring and make plans then.

Well, someone was looking out for us, because Monday morning dawned with just some overcast skies, and potential for clearing later.  After meeting up with Carrie and Zouhair to say hello (and borrow a phone with a data plan), we went and rented a car for two days. Our cute little Ford Fiesta and a GPS all of a sudden make things seem much brighter.  At Zouhair's recommendation we headed off to Strasbourg, France, just across the border from Karlsruhe.  There we got to visit the Notre Dame de Strasbourg, am amazing cathedral with the types of windows and architectural features I had just spent a month teaching my students about.  It was incredible.  We also enjoyed crepes and wine, and wandering around the old city. It didn't rain a bit, and we spend several hours just checking out shops and oohing and ahhing over everything.

We left Strasbourg early enough to hit another destination recommended to us by both a waiter and our hotel desk clerk as a cute little German town in the Black Forest - Freudenstadt.  We got there about 5:00, and began our search for dinner.  After some sightseeing/restaurant checking-out, we ended up at a beer hall where I had the most amazing kasespaetzle  of my life.  But perhaps the best thing about Freudenstadt was the drive there and back.  Winding through the hills and forests and tiny towns that look like all the pictures in the storybooks was a perfect way to spend the evening.

Despite the potential for rain, we used our second day with the rental car to go to Rothenburg.  Rothenburg is a Medieval walled city about 2 hours away from Karlsruhe.  Everything about the old city is quaint and perfect.  One expected a character from a fairytale to come skipping down the lane at any moment.  The old castle gardens were blooming and the window displays of schneeballen (basically pie dough wadded up and covered in a variety of sweet coatings) and sausages were very alluring.  Perhaps my favorite thing there was the Medieval Crime and Punishment museum.  I loved learning about all the amazing/terrifying/humiliating ways that people could be punished. We even got lucky enough that despite the weather reports, it was a beautiful sunny day.  Again. 

Day three brought the return of the rain and the arrival of Dan's parents.  We stayed in Karlsruhe and went to the ZKM Museums of contemporary and media art.  There was so much to see - from very heavy and serious documentaries and photo collages to contemporary pieces I'm not sure I could explain if I tried.  We left feeling exhausted by it all, but found it really fascinating and well done.  For dinner, Carrie and Zouhair took us all to a flammenkuchen restaurant, for which I will now hate them forever.  It was so very delicious - and so hard to get in Portland. We were glad that Dan's parents had arrived safely, and were thrilled to be all together.

The whole family took the train to Heidelberg (yes, our third burg/berg/bourg) on day four.  Heidelberg is a short 45 minutes away and a very popular tourist town with a beautiful castle and gorgeous red-roofed city.  We all took the funicular up to the castle and wandered around, then rode back down into the city for lunch.  It felt great to all be joking and talking and spending time together in this beautiful city.  It felt strange without the boys there, but it was also nice to have adult time. We split up for a little after-lunch sightseeing, and Dan and I made sure to enjoy some ice cream (which Dan had been making sure to sample in every city). We met back up, took the train back home, and enjoyed picnic dinner at the hotel.

Friday began the wedding preparations - and in typical fashion, it rained like crazy all day.  (Take note - every day trip brought sun, all the in-town days brought rain.  We were so very lucky!) We went to the flat where Carrie and Zouhair were staying to help with a seating chart/map that they had created to show where all the guests were from.  It was amazing to see just how international this wedding was -  and lovely to see just how much the bride and groom were loved. Friday also brought the arrival of Uncle John, Aunt Linda, and Madhavi (Dan and Carrie's stepsister). Friday night also brought dinner with Zouhair's parents, sister, and brother-in-law.  The food was incredible, and the company was warm and kind.  The Belkoura family was so welcoming and genuine that it was easy to see how our Carrie had fallen in love with them also.

Saturday brought some much-needed souvenir shopping for the boys and a trip to the nail salon for pedicures and manicures for several of us.  While it took much longer than expected, the time to sit and talk was always appreciated.  We were then invited out to  Zouhair's family home to help celebrate his
grandmother's 85th birthday.  We got to meet many of his aunts and uncles and cousins, and they were so generous of spirit.  We felt very welcomed, and stayed much longer than planned enjoying great conversation and amazing food prepared by Z's mom. Did I forget to tell you about how it rained?  Buckets.  So much that even this Portland girl was amazed.  The possibility for an outdoor wedding ceremony was looking smaller and smaller by the moment.

So imagine our surprise when Sunday (the day of the wedding) dawned with the most beautiful blue skies we had seen all week.  It just fit.  The wedding would be outdoors, it would all go according to plan, and the day would be the perfect day that my amazing sister-in-law deserved. She kindly invited me over to the flat to get ready with her, her mom, and her good friend, and we spent the time talking and joking and being entertained by the hair/makeup people and the photographers.  She was a radiant bride, and it all went so smoothly.  At the appointed  time we all headed over to the schloss (like a palace), finished getting her ready, and the wedding began.  I could recount a million of  the perfect details of it all, but suffice it to say that it was an event that I will never forget.  And the best part of all was how blissful both the bride and groom looked.  The party went on into the wee hours, and when we all began the walk back to the hotel, we were giddily exhausted.

Monday brought our return home.  While we were sad to be leaving the magic and beauty (and chocolate croissants) around every corner, I couldn't wait to get home to my boys. I missed them terribly, and realized that 9 days away from them is simply too many for me. Our travels home (by tram, then train, then plane, then car) all went very smoothly, and Monday night we arrived home to great greetings of love and hugs.  My mother was amazing, and we were so very thankful for the caretaking she did - and all of hte cleaning we found she had done when we arrived home.

It was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime trip.  Fabulous food, amazing sights, wonderful people, and a magical wedding.  I got to share it all with my favorite person in the world.  What more can I say?!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Second day of summer

Summer has just begun, and with it I'm going to be dipping my toes back in these waters..It's a space I've missed, but haven't had the attention/intention to support for a while.  But as this rainy June day has called me to the computer and good reading, the desire to write has come also.

There's so much to share.  Maybe later today I'll even tackle the "Trip to Germany" post that needs to happen.  But for now, it's just going to be about this moment.

I know it sounds silly, but today I'm glad for the chilly, rainy day outside.  Summer sun would have called us to active, busy pursuits of swimming and running and gardening.  But instead we are content to spend the day in our pjs and with words and music at hand.

Luke woke up gently to the sound of a hungry belly and the call of wanting to make art.  While I assembled the requested ham and cheese croissant, he pulled out the easel and stamps and paper and set about making cityscapes and dinosaur tales.  All the while he narrated his play with delightful stories, only stopping when a particularly enjoyable song came on and he needed to dance.

Max stayed in bed as late as he ever has, and from the looks of him, he was busy growing during those extra hours.  He looks long and gangly, and so much older all of a sudden.  He cuddled in on the couch with a book and slowly woke to the day.

I have whiled away the morning catching up on an online world of inspiration that I have missed. Words of wisdom, crafts to tackle, pictures of darling children, and the musings of my friends.  It felt luxuriously lazy and like a perfect complement to yesterday's first-day-of-vacation errand running and chore doing. I've got a head full of crafting ideas to tackle and a heart full of words that inspire me to enjoy today.

It's been a lovely morning. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Lessons Learned from being screen-free...

Last Monday we got an email from Max's school.  They were encouraging families to participate in "Screen-Free" week.  As I encouraged the boys to give up their 30 minutes a day, Dan jumped  in and said that we could all do it.

My first thought?  Panic.  Serious panic.

Because, far worse than my boys, I am a screen addict.  From the hour or two of TV at the end of the day to the hours spend on the computer, large parts of my life revolve around a monitor of one sort or another. And if it isn't the tv or computer, it's the iphone - a screen I always have with me, and one that has become my personal security blanket.

But I agreed.  I could do it.  It was only a week.  And we did make the caveat that we could continue to check email.

The first couple of days were the hardest.  And I did cheat one afternoon when I needed to make doctor, dentist, and hair appointments, and all the phone numbers (as well as my calendar) were online.  And I cheated again on Saturday when the recipe I needed was on a Pinterest board.  But other than that, I held true to my word. So what did I learn in the last week?

1. I am a creature of habit.  In the cars line at school pick-up, the first thing I did was reach for my phone.  When the boys went to bed at night, I almost automatically went to my chair next to the laptop and in front of the tv.  I spend a lot of time NOT thinking about what I am doing, but just following routine.  That is a habit I need to break.

2. My life is very plugged in.  My social life, my work life, and even the tools I need to manage my household all involve an internet connection.  In many ways it makes my days easier, and I rarely stop to appreciate the conveniences our life affords me. Screens aren't all bad.

3. Without screen-time, I have more time for other things I love.  I read a book, knitted, played board games, cleaned house, and prepared for the next day instead of scrambling at the last minute. While computer time or a great movie can be satisfying, there are many other things I could be doing for even greater satisfaction.

4. I felt like I actually SAW my children more.  And not just because they weren't watching TV. But without all of the distractions of screens, there was more time to notice the adorable freckles on Luke's nose and talk with Max about his newly-discovered enjoyment of baseball.

5.  It's easier to be screen-free when it's nice outside.  We had the most beautiful, summer-like weather all week, and really, none of us wanted to be indoors.  Sitting out on the deck  or riding bikes in the driveway, the time passed outside.  I think we all would have struggled more with this week if it were cold and rainy.

6. Screen-free didn't mean less busy.  Our schedules didn't magically open up into vast oceans of time to explore and craft and play.  We still had soccer and meetings, gym time and school work.  So going screen-free doesn't solve every ill. Life doesn't automatically become a idyllic oasis or calm.

7. But being screen-free did lead to less fighting.  Since they had more time to play together, the boys fought less so they wouldn't have to play alone.  And I fought with them less since they got more of my focused attention. Our house was more peaceful.

Overall, I'd have to say the week was a great experiment. Mostly for me. The boys are eager to be able to watch their 30 minutes a day again, but I am feeling a little less excited to return to old habits.  It was a wonderful time to re-calibrate, look at how we are spending our time, and find ways to be more intentional. My facebook newsfeed doesn't hold the same appeal when weighed directly against  a great book or backyard soccer game. After spending an hour today catching up, it was easy to close the computer and walk away. And after taking this few minutes to record my thoughts here tonight, I'm looking forward to turning the computer off and heading for an early bed time.

Are we throwing away the computers, phones and tv?  No.  But maybe, for a while at least, they'll play a smaller role in the life we want to be living.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A perfect day...

It doesn't happen often.  A day that is absolutely perfect.  But when it does, we have to  take notice.  Sit up and appreciate it.  And never forget.

On the first Saturday of February, we woke up to a beautiful, sunny, morning.  We puttered around, had breakfast, and began to think about the day.  We didn't have any obligations, and decided that we should take advantage of the beautiful weather.  But first, it was time for the gym.  After Zumba and Centergy (a pilates/yoga/stretching class), the boys and I headed home, eager to  figure out the afternoon.  While cleaning up, an idea struck.

The beach.

It had been months since we had been there, the weather was perfect, and there wasn't anything standing in the way (other than the fact that it is almost 2 hours away and it was already 1:00). I tentatively tossed the idea out there, and Dan was kind enough to take it up and agree.  In a quick whirlwind, we rushed around gathering snacks, sand toys, sweatshirts and jackets and boys. We were off.

Arriving at Cannon Beach, we headed straight to the sand.  In the shade of the famous Haystack Rock, we settled in to building our "biggest sand castle ever".  With all four of us working we built tower after tower, dug moats, and found driftwood and other shore treasures for decoration.  The sun was warm on our backs, and soon, shoes and jackets were removed.  It isn't often that we get to enjoy a 57 degree day on the coast in February, and we were taking full advantage of it.

For three hours, we dug, played, laughed.  Waves were chased.  Holes were dug.  Moments of perfection were frozen in our minds. Even when the waves came crashing onto our castle, it only made it more beautiful and mysterious.

We stayed until the sun set.  Buckets and shovels were packed up, sand was dusted off our feet, and we headed to the car.  The boys spent the evening telling us we had just had the best day ever. 

I have to agree.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The "one word" for 2013...

One of my favorite things about the new year is participating in Ali Edward's "One Little Word" project.  I've written about it here and here and even here.  But, to be honest, last year's "light" just never struck the chord within me that I needed it to.  I wasn't sure I was going to choose a word this year.  But when hanging out with my sister over vacation,  she asked me what my word was going to be for the year.  And then a few others of you asked.  And as the new year approached, I realized that it was still a project that inspired me and I might miss it a lot if I didn't give it a shot.

So instead of jumping right into a word and announcing it here, I've been sitting with it for a few weeks.  Trying it on.  Making sure it fits.  And it really has. So my little word for 2013 is...

(insert melodramiatic drumroll here...)


1: a state of tranquillity or quiet 
2: freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions
3: harmony in personal relations

I naively thought that switching to working halftime a couple of years ago would automatically bring peace to my life.  But it hasn't.  While I no longer get paid to work as many hours, the time "off" has allowed me to fill our schedule with activities and other obligations. After all, I'm only working part time, of course I can take on things x, y, and z.  And my children are older, so it's easier for me to do things a, b, and c than it used to be.  And the afternoons and evenings fill.

I also live in a house of two very active boys.  And as anyone who knows them can attest, quiet and tranquility don't often accompany their natural behavior.

So peace has been missing.  This year I'm going to look for it.  
Or at least ways to bring a little of it to my days.

Already, my word has helped me to make some choices that are working for me.  One of the biggest sources of noise and "disquieting or oppressive thoughts" is the media that I take in.  I stopped watching local news a few years ago, and that has helped.  But still, plenty of negative talk and attitude and emotion enters my world through television and social media. This year I am going to work at turning it off.  Not stepping away from Facebook and the like entirely, but consciously deciding if it is bringing joy to my day or just adding noise.

At Luke's school, they talk a lot about being peacemakers.  I absolutely love them for that, because that is how he is coming to view himself.  As someone who actively seeks peace. (Like all of us, he's a work in progress...) I want to be a peacemaker.  With my boys, that sometimes means being more involved in their play.  With my students that means encouraging their kindness and the value of shrugging off the social pressure of coolness.  With my husband that means strengthening our friendship.  And in all of my relationships, I want to work at finding a harmony that supports.

And sometimes, I just want some quiet. 

So, peace it is.  And may peace be with you.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A December recap...

It's been over a month since I visited this space.  Not because life was so quiet and calm that there was nothing to write about - but precisely the opposite.  December is a whirlwind of advent-celebrating, family-visiting, food-eating, gift-goodness that just doesn't stop.  And this year was no exception.

Nearly every morning in December the boys took great delight in opening our advent envelopes.  Inside they would find the activity or event of the day, and usually squeal with delight. From tree cutting to Christmas movie watching, the advent calender guided our fun and brought us a little magic every day.  Favorite activities were visiting Santa (always at the downtown Macy's), reading Christmas stories by the fire, and decorating the house for Christmas.  There were two new hits this year - making gingerbread houses (although we cheated and used graham crackers) and an indoor "snowball" fight with cotton balls.  Our advent celebrations have been a lot of fun, and it has worked really well to switch the focus to activities rather than "stuff".
Our Advent Calendar

Visiting Downtown

Luke asking Santa for a kitten

Max asked for a 3DS

Gingerbread house construction
 Christmas itself brought a great deal of magic as well.  This was our year to celebrate the holiday with my family.  My sister's family came from Ottawa and we all went to my parents' house for the week of Christmas.  While small by some standards, the 11 of us in one house (including kids ages 7, 5, 4, 2, and 6 months) felt busy, but our days were full of laughter and memories made.  Watching the cousins play together is always fun, and it was amazing how well they all got along.  There were ice skating and fort building adventures, baseball in the snow, stories with Mema, and lots of cuddling and wrestling. My sister and I had great fun dressing our families in matching pjs, which made Christmas day seem even a little crazier - red and green and white stripes everywhere.  Santa was kind enough to bring just what each child hoped for, and we all felt very spoiled with the gifts surrounding us.

A snowy baseball game
Listening to stories with Mema
My adorable nephew
The note Santa left for Luke with a gift of cat treats
Such a happy kid!
All five kiddos

Right after Christmas Eve Mass

My Canadian nephew just chillin' in the snow

Bungee cords may have been his favorite gift this year!

Lots of stripes.

Horse rides with Papa

 It was a wonderful month.  Lots of joy and love.  All we could have asked.  

One of my favorites