Saturday, August 19, 2023

Whidbey 2023

For our final summer excursion, the kids went off to Camp Quest while Ryan and I spent a few days on Whidbey Island again. M had been saying all year that they didn't want to go back to camp again and I finally figured out that they feel pretty homesick while they're away - which is really all the more reason they need to go! They finally accepted that they were going whether they wanted to or not and went into the packing and trip up there with a decent attitude. Got our usual view from the beach photo while dropping them off:

We headed back home to an empty house - we'd opted for more driving for ourselves this year in order to push our time on Whidbey to the latter part of the week. Tuesday afternoon we got ourselves packed and headed to the ferry. Ferry rides here never get old, as evidenced by the view from the Mukilteo ferry ride.

We did a little exploring this year but also just spent a lot of time relaxing at the cottage - we stayed in for all our meals those first couple days and went out for dinner in Langley just on our last night. I read (Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe) and we spent some time enjoying our shows that we watch without the kids and which we never have time for usually. We did do a little exploring though. I'd come across an article that talked up Greenbank Farm, so we checked that out. It was not as impressive as the article made it seem - the cheese shop was mainly cheeses you'd find in any grocery store for instance - but the small art studio/gallery was interesting and we did a little wine tasting and thoroughly enjoyed the pies we got at the cafe that's on-site. Our last day we headed up to Fort Casey State Park near Coupeville where we explored the fort and learned about the disappearing guns that were in place there. That was all interesting, but the main draw for me was the Admiralty Head Lighthouse. If the lighthouse looks shorter than lighthouses you're used to seeing, it's because it is! Since the house sits on a bluff, it didn't need to be as tall to serve it's purpose.

After a few days on Whidbey we headed home and had one more kid-free evening before camp pick up. M seemed to have a better time this year and their camp counselor commented that they were a great addition to the cabin and seemed to have really grown since last year. G has really enjoyed the past couple years as a "leader in training" - it's weird to think they only have one more year as an LT/camper, though they could opt to go back as a full counselor after that.

While I'm sure we'll do a few more small weekend things over the next couple weeks, we're starting to think about school starting again. The summer has flown by and I'm not feeling ready for the kids to go back yet. Cross-country officially starts this next week and I've got to figure out where to get a trombone from for M and we'll have middle school orientation and all that sometime in the next couple weeks as well. 

Sunday, July 30, 2023

San Francisco

We were supposed to head back East this summer, but then airfares skyrocketed and things have been uncertain in the tech world, so we decided it wasn't the time to spend that kind of money on a vacation. Our consolation trip was to head to San Francisco - Ryan and I have both been but the kids never had. And my trip was 20 years ago in college, so I barely saw anything.

We stayed in the Embarcadero neighborhood, at a hotel Ryan had stayed at previously for a work trip. He had a view of the Ferry Building and the Bay when he stayed, but those rooms weren't available so we were stuck with city buildings/rooftops. The lobby of the hotel is pretty cool though.

Day 1: Started the day off with dim sum, much to M's delight. Took the bus to the Sutro Bath ruins, which also afforded the kids a first look at the Pacific Ocean. The baths look quite impressive in old pictures - would have been cool to see them back then. Hiked a bit along the various trails that run through the park here. Hadn't really thought about dinner plans, so ended up at a fancy (aka expensive) seafood place. Ryan got to experience cracking open lobster and he and G tried a variety of oysters/clams. I am just getting to where I can tolerate mild fish with the occasional crab or lobster being okay, so did not try the oysters or clams.

These trees were everywhere - I think they look cool

Distant view of the bridge

Day 2: We had a sailboat excursion in the Bay scheduled for the afternoon, so we took a very slow streetcar (not cable car - never did get around to riding one this trip) over to Fisherman's Wharf and found a cafe to eat brunch at before exploring that area a bit. G is confident that we could've jogged to the wharf faster than the streetcar got us there. It also lurched and shuddered every block or so, leaving me wondering if it was going to break down mid-trip. 

M bought a lobster souvenir and per their request we stopped in at a candy "department store" where they had all the usual stuff but also things like pickle cotton candy. 

Headed to Pier 39 to board the catamaran we were set to sail on - Adventure Cat. Saw a sea lion swimming around.

We forgot sunscreen unfortunately, but enjoyed the sail a lot. I was a bit cold despite dressing in layers - it's just so windy once you're out on the water! And because it's so windy and chilly you don't even notice that you're getting sunburned until well after the fact. We ate crepes at Pier 39 once we got back from the sail and then got ice cream before heading back to the hotel. We got the kids food from the store and Ryan and I headed out to a local bar for a light dinner/belated anniversary celebration.

Looking back on the city


Closer view of the bridge

Day 3: We took the light rail to the botanical garden in Golden Gate Park. After the gardens we headed a little east toward Alamo Square. Ryan and G stopped a a place for pedicures/manicures but M wasn't interested in that so the two of us went straight to Alamo Square where he played at the playground for a bit while I enjoyed the views of the Painted Ladies and SF. 

Ryan and G joined us and then we all headed to the Church of 8 Wheels for some roller skating. I used to know how to roller skate, but it's much harder as an adult. The building is cool though - used to be an African-American Catholic congregation, survived a couple big earthquakes, hosted Vietnam protests and was a site for the Black Panther Party Free Breakfast Program, which inspired federal school breakfast programs. 

After skating, we rode the light rail back toward Golden Gate Park where we had hot pot for dinner - a first for all of us, though Ryan and I have been wanting to try it for a while. Then we headed to Ocean Beach to catch the sunset. Before we knew it, M had their socks and shoes off and was wading in the water. Ryan joined in, while G and I decided that sand in our shoes was as much as we wanted to deal with. At some point a wave caught M and once a little wet he decided he may as well go all in. They had a lot of fun playing in the ocean even though it meant they were chilly as we rode the train back to the hotel.

Day 4: Mission District. We started off with breakfast pastries that we picked up from Tartine, which we ate at Mission Dolores Park. M enjoyed playing on that playground for a bit before we headed off to wander Valencia Street. There was this cool-looking high school across the street from the park.

We started with Clarion Alley - there are many more murals throughout the neighborhood than just the ones in Clarion Alley, but it was interesting to see several all together. I believe they are updated periodically, so often reflect current events. I took pictures of just a few:

Along Valencia street we stopped at Dandelion Chocolate for some very rich, chocolatey drinks. M found a store they loved further down the street that had a variety of taxidermy, rocks, witchy items, and then at the back had tons of houseplants. 

We walked all the way to Bernal Heights Summit, where we enjoyed a windy view of the city. 

Opting for a car to take us back to Valencia Street, we next stopped at a Brazilian bakery/cafe for pao de quejo, coxinha, acai bowls/smoothies, and a brigadeiro for M. All delicious. Then it was off to Urban Putt, a fun mini-golf experience that is inside what used to be a house. G, of course, beat Ryan and I while M opted to not be scored - though did manage a couple holes in one.

Day 5: We started the day with another dim sum place, then walked through Chinatown to Lombard Street and after climbing up toward the famous part of that, headed down toward the piers again. Browsed Pier 39 a little more before heading to the gate for another boat ride, this time on Bay Voyager. It was just us and a young German couple. The kids had loved our jetboat tour that we did in Portland, so we were correct in assuming this would be a hit as well. The captains shared a lot of interesting history through the ride - and I appreciate that they outfit us all in wet weather gear to help keep us dry and warm! 

It's close up and not covered in fog!

There is a Civil War era fort (Fort Point) under the bridge arch

SS Jeremiah O'Brien is a WWII Liberty ship that is still operational - our tour captain was part of the crew that sailed her from London to Normandy for the 50th anniversary of D-Day

Lounging sea lions!

After our boat ride we found a restaurant to head to for dinner, Piccolo Forno. It's in the middle of Little Italy and had excellent food - I'm very jealous that SF has a Little Italy neighborhood. We walked back to the hotel, a delightful journey through the Little Italy neighborhood which borders Chinatown.

Fun building seen on our walk back to the hotel

San Francisco was a lot of fun to visit. I don't think I'd want to live there (and can't afford to anyway), but if you stay right in the city it's very easy to get around by walking or via transit. Lots of sewage odors wafting through the air (apparently a combined side effect of warm/dry summers meaning less rainwater to move sludge through the pipes and unintended consequence of low-flow toilets per what my google search turned up). It hits randomly, which means you don't get used to it. That said, the robust transit was nice (not perfect - the signage left a lot to be desired, there was the aforementioned incredibly slow streetcar, and the light rail we rode was at grade and in the same lanes as the cars which slows everyone down; but still, more built out than Seattle) and I adore Victorian/Edwardian style homes, which are plentiful in SF, even if they have all been split into 2-3 apartments. I'd happily spend more time in several of the neighborhoods we visited and there were definitely sights we didn't make it to, so another visit may happen in the future.

Monday, July 10, 2023


It's been ages since I've been to the zoo - I know I went once or twice with G when he was little, but couldn't remember if the last of those trips included M or not. And we've been to the Port Defiance Zoo a couple times with friends, but I'm not sure we'd ever been to our zoo, which is shocking considering how much M loves animals. So when he asked on Friday if we could go to the zoo, I decided we should go this weekend.

Started off with the penguins, as usual:

Saw lots of other animals - jaguar, wolf, elk, colobus monkey, lynx, river otters (G's favorite) and so on on our way to find M's requested emu. Saw this kookaburra:

And saw a few wallabies hanging out indoors, before finding an emu and another couple wallabies outdoors:

By this point M had expressed a desire to have all the things as pets, including the bears. He also would like to ride on an ostrich or an emu (I told him I have a movie we can watch that will show him how that would go). 

Of course, he wanted to be able to touch the animals, so we made our way to the "family farm" section where we admired the pig, donkeys, cows, and chickens while waiting for the petting area (with goats and sheep) to open. He entered the petting area with several other kids but outlasted all the ones in his group and some in the group that came in after them. Got all the goat and sheep pets in before we left for the day, catching a glimpse of the red panda and the flamingos on our way out - M and I agreed that the flamingos win the smelliest animal award.

It's easy to put off little adventures like this when we're busy with other things, so I was happy we took advantage of our quiet weekend to fit this in for him.

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Birthday Trip

We're trying really hard to actually get out of the house and do things/go places this summer. Ryan was tired of hearing about all of his coworkers' adventures and having none of his own. An orchestra friend has been telling me for the past year about an inn she's been helping to renovate and they just got the restaurant in the inn opened, so we headed up there for a couple nights since I had off on the 4th and my birthday anyway. 

This town is tiny - they've got a combined elementary/middle school apparently, with a total enrollment of 28 students per wikipedia. Most of the homes in this part of Washington are rich people's ski cabins I guess. But the inn has been around since the 1890s, when the town was a little more bustling due to logging and a nearby gold strike. The town is in close proximity to Stevens Pass for skiers in the winter and to lots of good hiking and climbing. And since it's right by the Skykomish River, lots of river activities as well. 

We stayed in the cottage that is just behind the inn since this had a bedroom space for the adults and a loft for the kids to sleep in. M was nervous about climbing up and down the ladder to the loft initially, but after a couple trips up and down decided it wasn't so scary. 

Up in the loft

M asked "is that a radio?"

We opted for a hike on the 4th, waiting until early afternoon to allow the early morning hikers to finish and leave (and to allow the 3 night owls in the family plenty of time to sleep in). Bridal Veil Falls and Lake Serene are two well-known hikes within the national forest, but given their popularity we decided to opt for the Wallace Falls state park hike to Wallace Falls instead. This was also packed, but we did manage to find parking at the trailhead. The hike started off relatively easy, but after the lower falls quickly started to pick up elevation. The falls were beautiful and the view over the valley at the upper falls worth it, but my knees really didn't like the trip back down. Still, glad we did it. And at least you're protected from the sun by the trees, unlike the hike we did in Salt Lake last year! I also made sure to take extra water on this hike, having learned our lesson from that Utah hike. Despite the tree cover, it was still the warmest day we've had yet this year, pushing 90.

Look at all that shade!

Lower Falls

Middle Falls

Upper Falls

Looking out over the valley from near the upper falls

The crowds on the trail significantly thin out after you reach the lower falls - there's a covered picnic shelter there and lots of people go that far and then turn around. A small number continue on to the middle falls but even fewer go as far as the upper falls. We all appreciated cold showers when we got back to the inn and then went to the inn restaurant for dinner that night. The next morning we packed up and headed home. I constantly feel lucky to live in a place with such easy access to natural beauty - all this was just an hour outside the city.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

School's Out!

School is finally out for the year - and just like that we're done with elementary school. It feels strange to be through when I swear we were just sending M to Kindergarten not that long ago. They had a graduation, but when the day came he asked me how long it was going to last and if there would be treats after (a little over an hour and yes) - to which he replied that even treats weren't enough enticement for such a long graduation, time he would much rather spend playing Tears of the Kingdom. So we gratefully skipped 5th grade graduation.

M's thoughts on being done with elementary are "well, it wasn't always the greatest experience for me", which is accurate. I'm not remotely confident that middle school will be any better, but it has a few things going for it - starting later, after school clubs that M is actually interested in, and he's looking forward to science and history classes. I'm nervous about those because they start to include more and more of the things he doesn't enjoy - writing and math. And they switched the middle school we're zoned for so now he has to bus to the school and I have no idea how that works for after school activities.

The middle school is forcing all the kids to do music and he's opted for trombone. I'm glad that they get to be the "bad guy" since our previous attempts at encouraging music were met with indignation that we were forcing him to do anything (we weren't, as evidenced by the fact that he neither plays an instrument currently nor knows how to read music - something I never expected would be the case for children of mine by this age). We were surprised by the trombone because he's been firmly in "if I have to it will be cello" land for years, but has now declared "I don't think I'm a cello guy". I think he's mainly picking trombone because he's decided the lack of keys/valves means it will be easier, lol. And I'm slightly worried that because they're making everyone do music it means he'll have a bunch of obnoxious kids in his beginning band class which will make him hate it. 

G's year was difficult in a myriad of ways, ranging from the shooting to a disorganized and ineffective Spanish class. But he'll be swapping out Spanish for computer science next year, so is looking forward to that. He considered doing running start (taking classes at the community college) on and off, but in the end decided to stick with classes at the high school. And he did enjoy his LGBTQ world history class and his language arts class this year - where he didn't even break a sweat over an assignment to write 25 poems in various styles that all work to tell a single story. Such an assignment probably would've killed me in high school considering the level of stress I felt about having to write just one poem.

Of course, track was a huge positive as well this year. The track season ended in mid-May, but he's continued to have practice a couple times a week since. He just missed making districts, so hopefully will make it next season. He did earn a varsity letter for track this year and it feels slightly shocking to have a child of ours get a legit athletic varsity letter and not a "oh, you did band/choir for a few years, here you go" letter. One of the local running clubs puts on a series of all-comers meets through the summer, so he's gone to a couple of those. He'll go to a 3-day pole vault camp in mid-July. And, whether we're all ready or not, we're going to start small discussions around college selection and admission prep this summer.

We kicked off summer the weekend before school got out with a camping trip. Our last camping trip, M was still in diapers. Reservable camping sites fill up quickly, so we just picked one at random that looked like it would fit our tent. Ended up at Schafer State Park a little southeast of Olympia. It's a small state park along the Satsop River. If you fish, that's an option there as is swimming in the river. And there's a 1 mile loop trail in the park. It was a nice way to spend a couple nights, but not where I'd go for a longer camping trip since we don't fish and there aren't other things to do nearby - even getting up to Olympic National Park would be a few hours drive.

It was much easier to fit all our stuff in this car than our old car, but we decided we'd still benefit from a cartop carrier.

Ryan taught M how to build a fire, so he was in charge of all our fires this trip and did an excellent job.

Hot dogs roasted over the fire is the best way to have them it turns out, but M decided he just doesn't like hot dogs at all anymore.

Next time we go camping I'll take off work the day we plan to leave. I think I figured the kids would be in school all day anyway and I'd be able to prep in the evenings before. But then the Symphony was playing Mahler 2 and so of course I had to go to that Thursday night, and all the previous nights had been packed with a variety of other things. Work was busier than anticipated that week, so we ended up rushing around in the late afternoon to get last minute prep done and didn't leave Seattle until after 6, which wasn't ideal. Still, it was good to get out camping again. M was very disappointed we weren't going for longer, but G had finals the next week still so we had to keep it short. We won't have time for another camping trip this summer, but plan on another one next year.