Friday, November 30, 2012


I turned forty this month, which is the kind of round landmark number that puts one in a reflective mood.  My first thoughts were of my thirtieth birthday, a nice round ten years ago. The day I turned thirty was my last day of work at Biola, and it turned out to have been my last day of (paid) work since. To celebrate, Shaun hired my sister Hillary to cater a huge dinner party, which was hosted by our friends the Shackelfords at their home in Whittier. I still remember wanting to lick the sauce off my plate of mussels, and the coq au vin she fixed remains to this day one of the best things I've ever eaten.

The past ten years alone have been full enough for a lifetime. Shaun and I have lived in eight different apartments and houses (in four different states, plus Germany.) We have had two babies who have grown into two schoolboys, and the mystery and joy of that has made my life richer than I could have ever imagined. We've had five surgeries among us, Shaun has worked at just about every flavor of programming job imaginable, and I've switched out my hobby of acting for writing, an interest more easily adapted to family hours. 

To celebrate my fortieth, we decided on a close-to-home weekend getaway. For the first night, we stayed at the Swantown Inn in Olympia. It's old and charming inside, with the old things allowed to just be old rather than being foofed up or torn out and replaced. It's dark and creaky, as a Victorian should be. We made quite a racket coming in late at night after we had dinner with the Shackelfords, who now live in Olympia. I love that they book-ended my decade.

On Saturday morning, we wandered around the Olympia Farmer's Market. It's where hippie culture meets the artisanal meat movement (that's smoked cheese and sausage chunks.)

If you go anywhere in Olympia, it must be to The Bread Peddler, where we had our lunch. A glass of rosé, a croque monsieur, and a pile of greens with tarragon vinaigrette were the next best thing to going to Paris. Nom.

On our way out we picked out several pastries to go, enough to fill a sizable box. The people around us (there was a long line) seemed compelled to make wistful comments. I think it was because deep down everybody wants to stand at the bakery counter and buy every single thing that looks good at least once in his life.

After lunch we headed to Lake Quinault Lodge on the Olympic Peninsula, an area of Washington I'd never visited before. I thought it was very beautiful and a little spooky, in a good way. (Thanks to The Shining, I will forever associate historic lodges with creepiness.) That's a rain gauge on the chimney, and we certainly saw our share of rainfall while we were there.

Here's the view from our bare-bones but clean and perfectly-situated room.

Out for a stroll.

On our way home on Sunday we stopped just down the road to see the world's largest sitka spruce tree. I thought it was endearingly homely.

It would have looked right at home in Middle Earth. It must have stirred up something in me, because I've gone back to reading more fantasy and other genre fiction since our visit.

We made the most of the last day of our trip, stopping in Astoria at our favorite fish n' chips place on earth before catching the movie Argo in Seaside. I didn't think I was in the mood for a movie, but I liked it.

I was already having a good day when I encountered a bouquet of flowers in a roadside rest stop. As my great-aunt Chicuela would say: Bonus.

Here's a picture that I took of myself on my actual birthday so I can look back some day and see what forty looked like. It is appropriately fuzzy.

In my forty years I'm so grateful for all the books I've read, the countries I've visited, the friends I've made, the meals I've eaten, the shows I've performed in, the songs that have stirred me, the walks I've taken, the family I love, the beauty of the world and all the creatures in it, and the Word of God that lights the way and reveals the truth. Even if these years were all I had, it would be a gift of more abundance than I could have ever hoped for.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


I know it's all turkey and pumpkin pie now, and nobody's thinking about Halloween. But I just had to share a little about ours, because it was surprisingly...heartwarming.

Shaun's mom has established a tradition of growing pumpkins in her vegetable garden for the boys every year. They always look forward to getting them, and they don't care if the pumpkins manage to turn orange or not, which works out well in our sun-challenged region. Willem sketched out the face for his pumpkin and showed it to us: "I want it to look confused." I think he did a fine job.

A week before Halloween, we were costume-less, with Willem wanting to be a spider and Nels wanting to be Darth Vader (again.) When the internet failed to help me craft a spider costume, it was time for Plan B. I suggested that Willem be a ghost. (Which shows how desperate I was for something simple. I forgot that ghosts would normally be on my prohibited costumes list, along with demons, witches, etc. ) Shaun suggested that Nels be a logger.

Willem did not know that sheet-as-ghost is the most played out costume of all time, so he loved the idea. After an initial mild protest, Nels decided that dressing as a logger would be fun. He wore Shaun's hard hat and carried an ax. (And yes, though the blade was edged with duct tape, it took all I had not to freak out as I imagined Nels tripping over the uneven sidewalks of our dark, hilly neighborhood and landing on the ax.) He wore his own hickory shirt (Grandma and Grandpa make sure the boys always have one) and we bought him a pair of red suspenders.

I wish you could have seen the warm smiles and heard the friendly comments the boys' costumes elicited when we went trick-or-treating. One man told us about the summer he worked as a logger as a teenager. Another told us about when he was a boy and his dad logged. Both Nels's outfit and Willem's classic costume (which made him absolutely miserable, and which he begged to take off twenty minutes after putting it on) seemed to evoke a lot of fond memories. It was as though the men opened their doors and, seeing our boys, looked right into the past.

Knocking on our neighbors' doors and being unexpectedly blessed with their stories filled me with goodwill. It's not a sentiment I've ever associated with Halloween before, but I'll take it.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Birthday Season

Nels wanted a science and technology-themed birthday party this year. Needless to say, I was stumped as to how to make that happen. Wandering the aisles of Party City, I found pirates and Spiderman and Sponge Bob and Angry Birds, but nothing remotely scientific or technological. Unless you count Iron Man, which I don't.

It finally occurred to me that I could shop for decorations at the educational supply store. Jackpot! I came home with posters of the human skeleton, the solar system, and (the one Nels pored over) the periodic table of the elements. Plus I got pencils that had drawings of brains on them to include in the party favor bags. (I also included Nerds, but I doubt anybody got the joke.) Best of all, the store was selling a plastic tube designed to facilitate the eruption of an enormous geyser when you drop Mentos candy into a bottle of Diet Coke, which was one of the few activities I was hoping to do.

Nels wanted a microchip cake and, thanks to Shaun, he got one. With his age written on it in binary! 

I always have an impossible time scheduling Nels's party, because it's during soccer season, and kids have games all weekend. So this year I took my cue from what some smart parents had done last year and scheduled the party for the middle of the week on the early release day. I even offered to take everybody home from school with me.

It worked too well. Everyone could come. We were too many for the minivan, so we walked. Fortunately my mom arrived just in time to accompany me. It definitely took the two of us to herd that gabby group home!

For the first time since we moved here four years ago, it was sunny on Nels's birthday. The boys made paper airplanes and flew them off the back deck, with a prize for the one that flew the farthest. Next we did a lemon juice/baking soda fizzing experiment that wasn't terribly exciting but killed a little time and traumatized a few guests because I told them they could taste it if they wanted to. Then it was time for the grand finale, the Mentos in Diet Coke geyser. It was all over in a flash, but it was impressive. Here's Shaun, surrounded by a rapt crowd, setting it up.

Cake and ice cream were eaten, and presents were opened, and the boys dispersed to play until their parents came to pick them up. They were uncannily quiet, they made very little mess, and they at least appeared to be having a good time. I worried for naught. As usual.

*  *  *
Willem's Angry Birds party was on a Sunday afternoon, on his actual 7th birthday, and everyone he invited was able to come too!

I found some amazing paper monster masks (at New Seasons in the checkout line, of all places) for the boys to color in. Shaun and I were astonished at how intently they all worked on their masks, and for how long. Not one of them blew it off. That was a big relief, because the rainy weather limited our activities, and I was afraid we would run out of things to do.

Here's Willem with his custom-by-dad cake. Our boys are totally spoiled, cake decoration-wise.  

Willem got so many thoughtful presents from his friends and family. It made me happy, because he really doesn't ask for much.

I mean, here's his B-L (Birthday List):

1: stapeler
2: very own desk
3: four tires (any kind)
4: bobel head
5: wooden platform

I love him so. And I'm glad to have the parties behind me for one more year.