Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Bumpy Enemies

Have you ever had a day of skiing so bad, you cut the day short after two shockingly miserable runs, then just sat in the lodge with a beer and a bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos in your hands, put your head down on the table and laughed incredulously into the void? If not, I will share a bit about how that might go.

The roads were slick up into the mountains on our recent ski day; a big dumping of snow had many people frantic to hit the slopes but in their haste, they instead spun out on Snoqualmie Pass. We, thankfully, did not spin, but that was the last thing to go right.

There were ominous whispers in the wind as Coco tried to put her ski boot on at the car but lost her balance and planted her socked foot directly in a foot of snow. It got worse when we boarded the chairlift and it stopped for a lengthy amount of time while we dangled fifty feet in the air. I fought rising panic when the chair just.... well, it just didn't move, dammit. And then it didn't move some more. And then some more.

I silently and desperately ran through rescue scenarios. How were they going to get us down from all the way up here? Do they have cherry pickers mounted on snow cats at the ready? Were we going to have to bungee? Would we have to jump down onto inflatable bouncy things and if so, how long would it take to inflate those things and wouldn't they just slide down the mountain anyway? Alex cheerfully chatted with the kids to distract them from the fact Mom had suddenly gone silent, wide-eyed and white knuckled. Mom had gone to her unhappy place.

The chair began blessed movement again after nine agonizing minutes of non movement. I began to breathe again, though my relief was short lived. After we dismounted from the chair and started getting PUMPED for skiing, we realized there was no easy way down. We had unknowingly jumped onto a chair that serviced only black runs, which are for experts, and one blue run (intermediate) that was so steep, it is my opinion it should be labeled blackish-blue, kind of like the color of a really bad and violently inflicted bruise.

My kids have the skills for the easiest green runs only. They are very much beginners, still skiing without poles and using wide snowplow stances to master their balance. They do not remotely have the skill sets nor confidence to tackle a blackish-blue, especially one with a fresh dumping of snow that was thick, deep, and quickly being shaped into moguls -- a.k.a. bumpy enemies.

Coco said flatly, "No, I am not doing this" as we stared down the steep slope from the top and I said without any confidence in my heart, "You can do it, we'll do it together, one turn at a time, nice and slow." I took one very slow, wide, careful turn in front of her to demonstrate how we were going to get down. She attempted the same, panicked in the middle, picked up speed, and face planted in the snow. And then she was crying and refusing to move any more.

I got a little crabby with her after many minutes of her sitting, crying, and pounding the snow. She was not reacting to my rational, "Coco, you've got to move, we have to get down somehow, we have no choice" and instead just shook her head "no" with her mouth set in a grim line.

I tried teaching her how to sidestep down the slope but the moguls (bumpy enemies) prevented it. I eventually convinced her to stand up and give it another go -- pretty much by threatening to maim all her stuffed animals at home if she didn't move -- but after a couple more turn attempts and a couple more hard falls, Coco was done. She took off her skis in the deep snow and left them in a pile as she stomped down the mountain -- though with the steep pitch she occasionally fell forward onto her chest and slid a few feet. I skied awkwardly behind her, holding her skis in one hand and my poles in the other and staying as close to her as possible to protect her from skiers and snowboarders rocketing down the slope from above. They could anticipate avoiding me, but no one would expect a small angry girl on foot.

It took us 45 minutes to get down that slope, made longer than it needed to be because she stopped every few feet to turn around and yell, "I'M NEVER SKIING AGAIN." My patience stretched to the breaking point and my enjoyment of skiing at a complete standstill, I yelled back, "GREAT, NEITHER AM I!"

Ahhh, making family memories!

Lucien fared better, at least he kept his skis on, and Alex got him down the mountain fairly intact despite a handful of confidence rattling falls. We breathed heavily at the bottom, where we were met by our good friend German Dad and his son, one of Lucien's best friends. We had all eagerly anticipated a day of skiing together the day before but in the moment, we all just kind of looked at each other in horror and wished we'd taken up another winter hobby.

I had to get Coco over to another area of the mountain where we could access some green runs. Everyone else was winded by that first terrible run, too, so decided they would join for a breather and a regroup on easier terrain. Unfortunately, the only way to get to the other part of the mountain was to traverse straight across a couple runs then take off our skis and walk twenty feet uphill to a pass-through.

It was like a little game of Frogger as the six of us skittered straight across the slope between downhill skiers and snowboarders. Then Lucien lost his balance and fell into a deep snowbank where he could not free himself. What a shitshow.

The chairlift for the green runs did not improve our rapidly deteriorating spirits. It was crowded and full of beginners, which is never an efficient nor easy scenario. There were people slipping and sliding everywhere, challenged with keeping their skis under them even when standing still. The woman in front of me in line just suddenly fell over to the side. She was standing there one moment then, with no explanation or seeming disturbance, she was suddenly on the ground. Her three family members standing to her left just turned, looked down at her, and returned to facing forward. They didn't say a word to her.

The woman tried and tried to stand but her skis kept getting jumbled. I leaned forward and helped her get her skis parallel, then told her to plant her pole in the snow and push up from it, and she would pop right up. She didn't pop, instead she slid sideways into her teenage daughter who just looked ticked off and said, "JESUS, MOM!" with an angry face. That poor lady, on the ground, embarrassed, and with total dick kids to boot.

I tried to help her a few more times but finally suggested she just take off her skis, stand up, and put them back on again. And that's what she did. From her face, I could tell she was never going to ski again -- which now made three of us.

The beginner chairlift line was not well managed nor marked so quickly devolved into chaos. It was a two-person chair but often six people shuffled forward shoulder-to-shoulder then all just kind of fought it out at the actual boarding platform. Alex, German Dad, the kids and I ended up far from each other as the mishmash of the line continued to mishmash. Coco and I went up first. As we were whisked away on the chair, I saw Lucien and his friend were about six people behind us, and Alex and German Dad about ten people behind them.

Coco crash landed getting off the chair so I picked her up, brushed her off, and said, "OK, you ready to ski for real? This one will be fun!" I could tell she wasn't convinced because she was crying again.

Halfway down the slope, as I skied behind Coco, I heard a voice yelling my name from up on the chairlift. It was German Dad and he was alone. Why was he alone? He looked as confused as I did.

He yelled down something like, "Hey, MJ, wait for me, I think something went wrong." I yelled back, "Why are you alone? Where's Alex?" and he said, "I don't know." Then I said "Where's your son?"and he said, "I have no idea." Incredible how everyone had gotten lost and separated somewhere between the chairlift and the top of a short beginner hill. "So.....where's Lucien?" I yelled and he said, "I think he got kicked out of the chairlift line."

For fuck's sake, people, skiing is not this hard!!!

I skied down quickly to find Lucien alone and fuming at the bottom. The operator had told him his lift ticket was not valid (it was) so pulled him out of line. Alex was stomping around somewhere demanding to speak to a manager about the ticket situation. German Dad and German Dad's Kid eventually found each other on the green run and made their way down to us. Lucien was so embarrassed and so angry by then, he announced he was done and was going to the lodge to eat a hot dog. I had to admit it sounded pretty good.

The Dads and I literally dragged the kids to the lodge because it involved yet another uphill traverse. We each had a kid hold onto the ends of our poles as we pushed uphill on our skis, pulling kids behind us as if we were well trained sled dogs. We may not have done much skiing that day but we got a really good workout dragging kids all over the place and carrying their equipment down steep slopes and fishing them out of snowbanks.

German Dad was pulling Lucien up that hill when Lucien lost his grip on the ski poles. The Loosh began to slide backwards, to which he yelled with what was intended to be rage, "Oh! and now I'm going backwards! Exactly how I planned!" Then he fell over and while lying in the snow, stuck his fist straight up in the air and yelled, "AWESOME!"

Lucien said all these things in anger but frankly, that's when things started to get funny for us adults. We tucked our chins into our chests and started laughing, that kind of laugh you don't want anyone to see (your very mad kids) but can't keep inside any longer. Sometimes it reaches a point of absolute absurdity and that's when it gets fun again.

German Dad and Alex shuffled off to the chairlift to do a few runs together, trying hard to salvage something from our shitty day, while I secretly giggled my way to a table in the cafeteria. The kids' spirits rose as I promised them hot dogs but plummeted again when we learned there was a water line problem in the cafeteria so there was no food.

I bought 500 bags of junk food of all shapes and sizes and a round of beers for the adults, which were very much appreciated when German Dad and Alex staggered in soaking wet about fifteen minutes later. The snow had turned to heavy drippy snow-rain while they were on the chairlift and Alex's "waterproof" jacket had failed him. He was drenched and shivering and could no longer feel his body. So we sat him on a heater and I bought another round of beers.

I call this one "dazed misery."
(photo courtesy of German Dad)

German Dad began giggling again as we sat across from our grumpy babies and said, "Gosh, this day was so great, I'm having a hard time choosing my favorite part!" The giggles soon overcame us adults, which was especially hard for Alex because his face was frozen. The kids got angry at our laughter, said, "I can't believe you guys are laughing at this right now, we hate you, you ruined our weekend!" We knew we should have kept the laughter on the downlow.

Grumpy babies
but the beer was friendly
(photo by German Dad)

Alex and I decided to turn our day passes into season passes that day. We stood in line at guest services and had our pictures taken on our way out, and we now all have laminated passes permanently affixed to our ski jackets. You may wonder why we did that after our worst day of skiing in recent memory and we certainly wondered why we were doing it in the moment, too.

The short answer is a greater force was compelling us. We are skiers at heart. Skiers strap slippery boards onto their feet and head straight down mountains; they are not a sane nor rational people. Terrible ski days will not keep true skiers away for long. Just don't tell the kids we're going back, and often.

Subject change. Did you know all Amazon boxes are labeled with numbers on the sides designating the size and shape of the box? I didn't know that until my parents picked up a new box number identifying hobby. They know them all and like to call out a box's number from a distance. Once when they were at my house, they said, "Wow, a 1AB, we've never seen that one before." It also tickled them immensely to say, "MJ, you got a 1B4 coming in the mail with Lucien's gift inside."

Lucien received a 1B4 from Colorado because he recently turned 12. Every day he looks more grown up and pushes away from us just a tiny bit more. He's still letting me squeeze him when we're on the couch watching a movie, though, and he still runs his ideas past me and asks my opinions. He's gonna have to find his way without me someday but I secretly wish I could hang onto his ankles and drag along behind him forever. He's always going to be my little dude.

The Loosh is funny, clever and quick-witted beyond his now-12 years. Some of his quips are approaching legendary status in our friend community and are repeated often. He added to his reputation recently when a friend said, "I prefer white rice to brown rice" and Lucien said, "That's rice-ist."

And you should have seen his face when he found out that annual ski pass was one of his presents!

Until next time,
it is likely,
I will continue to ruin my children's weekends.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

I gotta have more Winnebago

I live! Truly, I live. There are no excuses for me being away from the blog except for ALL of the excuses. Things are off the rails here, or at least more so than usual, which is saying a lot because we are not known for calm and measured living.

It is impossible to catch up on all the events of the past few months. There were many happenings -- some very good and some very, very bad -- but after all those things we are still here, still well, still living our best-ish lives as we stagger and stumble into 2018 hoping for good things.

When it comes to blog catch ups, they are usually impossibly long, fairly boring, and involve many pictures but not much insight. This time shall be no different, and will play out like a "recent holiday greatest hits" kind of compilation. Sorry for being unoriginal, let's just do this.

It's probably best to start with Christmas, as it is freshest in my memory so I won't have to make up as many fanciful details. Seattle had a white Christmas this year. Snow on the ground, especially at Christmas, is rare in these parts; we woke up and ran in circles outside, laughing like giddy school children (two of us are actual school children but I hope the simile is not weaker for that fact).

Natani, the dog born in a desert, is a snow fanatic and ran through the yard like a snowplow, mouth open and skimming the ground in parallel lines back and forth to put ALL of the snow into her mouth. Her lawn mowing-type precision surprised me because she is a hot mess when it comes to most other things. She accidentally overturns her food bowl then stares at it confused and whimpering, she tries to jump off the couch and lands on her face, she whines while trying to find her ball under the couch, not realizing the ball is sitting several feet behind her. When it comes to snow, however, attention to detail is important to her.

She also likes to chill in the front window with her paw up on the sill and her ball resting nearby for emotional comfort --

Before Christmas, we took the Winnebago up to Vancouver, B.C. for a couple days. We made the kids try virtual reality games and they both got terribly motion sick. The googly eyes applied to the VR masks made it worth it. For Alex and me, anyway --

We then plopped down at a nearby brewery and told the kids we were going to be there for hours to watch the Seahawks game. Oh, the utter betrayal on their faces when they learned they'd been taken football prisoners. Coco immediately asked to play games on my phone, and not in a nice way --

This is the choosing of our Christmas tree. Alex said, as the tree began to slowly slip from Coco's grip, "Lucien, help her, quick, extend your arm!" and Lucien, because he is The Loosh, extended his arm in the exact perpendicular direction from where it needed to be to catch the tree.

I caught the moment on camera, 
as Lucien cracked himself up with his non-helpfulness 
and the tree fell to the ground.

Our Christmas tree this year was anchored to the wall with a bungee cord because we couldn't get it to stand directly upright in the tree stand.

As Alex hooked the bungee cord to the trunk of our tree in the living room and secured it to the window sill, I said, "Alex, I appreciate your efforts in trying to keep our tree upright but... it's a bungee cord, man." Alex agreed it wasn't the best option but said it was the only thing he could find; we are apparently fresh out of rope and string and other taughter, less stretchy things. I sat in that room with many cups of coffee in the following days and pictured the tree falling over then bouncing up and down at the length of the bungee while squealing, "Whee, I feel so alive!"

Christmas Eve was celebrated at our friends' house with delicious things like ham with cherry sauce and smoked sea bass. The kids played in the snow across the street in an empty parking lot. When you live in the middle of the city, empty parking lots are the substitute for large yards. This particular lot is gated after hours so cars are not a hazard. It's where most of the kids learned to ride bikes, and where scooter races have been known to occur fairly regularly.

We brought a nice bottle of Calvados to share on Christmas Eve (I miss you, France) so suffice it to say, terrible Calvados-inspired dancing to '90s hip-hop happened --

We went to the Nutcracker, where Coco did some impressive dabbing during intermission --

After Christmas Day present opening mania, we climbed into the Winnie B again and ferried to a nearby island, where my sister and sister-in-law live on 12 acres complete with a stable full of horses and an A-frame ski lodge-type house. It's bucolic stuff. We parked the Winnebago on their property and in an attempt to find a level spot, did irreparable damage to a large section of their grass.

We like spending time in the Winnie B, especially in winter. There is something incomparably cozy about waking up in the Winnebago, preferably in a camping spot near the water or nestled amongst a ton of trees, and enjoying a cup of coffee while looking out the window. We dream of scrapping everything and heading off in the Winnie B for years, carrying along only bottled water, a ton of RV-friendly toilet paper, and a dream.

After Christmas we Winnebagoed over to Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula. It has likely become evident by now that the theme to our holiday break was "I gotta have more Winnebago."

This was our favorite trip in a long time. We camped both at old Fort Worden outside Port Townsend, and the following night in downtown Port Townsend next to the water. Fort Worden is where An Officer and a Gentleman was filmed. It is picturesque with its white barracks and stately old officers' homes surrounding rolling fields of green.

The abandoned, rusted, creaky bunkers at Fort Worden, however, are creepy as hell. I think I impressed my nervous children with my willingness to plunge into empty drippy spaces and straight down pitch dark stairways.

Creepy bunkers.
Coco said, "no."

machine gunnery something

Lucien's photobomb game is on point

(If it sounds familiar, Fort Worden is where Alex and I stayed in the haunted tiny castle and then locked our keys in the RV a couple years ago.)

After Port Townsend, we ferried to Victoria, B.C. Alex was living in Victoria when we met over 20 years ago, and a couple of his dear friends are still there. The female half of the couple made our wedding invitations by hand all those many years ago. The tiny daughter they brought to our wedding is now in college. What the hell is that all about.

Beautiful Victoria

High tea at The Butchart Gardens.
We may not be high tea people.
We were louder than most, and broke two glasses.

Family selfie in front of the 10 lords-a-leapin' from the 12 Days of Christmas display.
We are not sure why the lords were frogs.

old friends,
and a daughter doing something odd

Where to next? I can give Halloween a shout-out because I mentioned in my last post I would write about it and then promptly never did.

I don't really remember what happened there, partially due to the passage of time and partially due to the fact my "Vampire's Kiss" cocktail mix was a little stronger this year. I know we had a lot of fun. I know it was the largest turnout in the six years I've thrown the party and was full of very enthusiastic adults with reliable babysitters at home. The adults in our lives look forward to this event every year like kids do Christmas. Some refuse to leave at the end, clinging to the posts on our front stoop and wailing something about "no, please, the children are there...." It makes for a very late night.

I skipped the tarot card/crystal ball guy this year and instead hired a numerologist to do numerology readings in the TV room. He told me I don't suffer no fools, which I'd love to believe about myself but the truth is I suffer fools all the time.

My costume this year was Frida, of course --

Everyone told me it was a very good costume but I still lost to the guy who came dressed as Edward Scissorhands. He's a surgeon by trade so I felt his costume was a bit on the nose, but must admit (grumble grumble) he won by a longshot.

He may not be invited back next year.

What the hell, let's do more holiday. My mom and dad and brother were here for Thanksgiving. I do not dread spending holidays with my family; I look forward to it. They are a fun group of people and we are all on the same page politically speaking. When I hear of other's Thanksgivings, I realize I am very lucky. While my family was doing a jigsaw puzzle and watching Best in Show, one of my oldest friends was defending the #metoo movement to her Uncle Bert. I hope she had a nice bottle of wine at her fingertips. Or two. Or three.

My parents, brother and I rented a home on the island where Raba and Zee live for the long Thanksgiving weekend. We believe the house was haunted because Natani refused to walk down the back hallway. She would stop several feet away from it, hair raised on the back of her neck, and growl a very low growl as she backed away slowly. To our non-dog eyes, there was nothing there but an empty hallway. So that made for some restful nights.

Raba and Zee's A-frame ski lodge-type bucolic setting home.
They are doing living right.

One more holiday! Just one more! A friend organized a family soccer game New Years Day. It was adults versus kids and several soccer balls were used at the same time "to increase the chances of someone scoring." It was absolute mayhem. Then a football got busted out and tossed into the mix and I just don't even know what was happening out there.

Hot mess soccer

 Some kids didn't fare so well.
The adults were competitive, and came to play.

And nearly all the adults wore puffer jackets.
We are very Seattle in this picture.

It's been a good couple months, blog friends, but not all has been good. I am not yet ready to talk about the parts that aren't good but trust it, as fun as life has been in recent days, nobody escapes the grind without some pain, heartache, fear, and intense anxiety. Or maybe it's just me? I hope it's not just me. That would be lonely.

I'm going to end this with a couple recent Lucien (and one Lucien friend) quotes because these pre-teen boys are always good for a laugh during hard, weird times.

Me: Lucien! I am so excited. I am taking you to my favorite musical this summer!
Him: Which musical?
Me: Les Miserables.
Him: My name is Rob? That sounds like a terrible musical.

Lucien, eating a hot dog: This tastes amazing.
Lucien's friend: Mom, can I have a hot dog, too?
Friend's mom: No
Lucien's friend: OH come on, Mom!
Lucien: Oh, I'm sorry. Did I wake your inner hot dog?

Teacher at school: The human body is about 65% water.
Lucien's friend: So we're basically cucumbers with anxiety?
(We say this one around the house a lot now, bit of a family motto)

Well that was a long and rambling and pretty damn terrible summary of recent holiday happenings. At least you know I'm still alive, and still in love with a Winnebago.

Here's to 2018.

Your loyal though fairly absentee fellow cucumber with anxiety,

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The things that go wrong

An ode to a friend.

Mort was my dad's best friend at his law firm back when Dad was a working man in Toledo, Ohio. Morty was a loud man; his normal speaking voice could carry for miles without effort and bore a very strong Brooklyn accent. He was funny and boisterous and one of the kindest, most welcoming, most exuberant people you could ever hope to meet along the journey.

Mort and his two daughters were our ski vacation buddies. We took annual ski trips to Colorado together throughout my childhood and adolescence, rented pretty slopeside condos together, ate my mom's famous and appropriately dubbed "ski trip chicken" recipe at least once during our weeks in those cozy condos, sometimes twice.

Something went wrong on nearly all of those trips. It wasn't always fun in the moment but we now know the stuff that goes wrong is often the good stuff, the stuff we relish remembering all these years later, the stuff that makes us laugh, the stuff that made our time together rich and memorable. There were always botched rental car reservations, lost luggage, chaotic meandering drives trying to find elusive ski condos, serious sun poisoning resulting in unrecognizable puffy faces, tense people speaking to each other through clenched teeth as they debated who'd locked the keys in the car again. It was a rare trip indeed it all went according to plan.

I was the baby of the group by a wide margin so haven't always remembered the details of those ski trips thanks to my youth and spongy young memory brain -- plus my parents always stuck me in ski school as the rest of them cavorted around on the slopes together so I wasn't even present for most things. I'm not jealous of that at all, yes I am, very much.

But I've heard the family folkloric stories so many times, I've internalized them clearly as if I was sharp as a tack and taking notes for each and every one. For one example, "the flaming logs at Snowmass" incident. Our first night in the Snowmass slopeside condo, Mort closed the flue on the chimney when he thought he was opening it, then built a roaring fire as Mom cooked ski trip chicken in the kitchen. Mort continually and enthusiastically refilled her wine glass, proclaiming loudly, "Wine for the cook! More wine for the cook!

It didn't take long for thick black smoke to pour into the room. As the rest of us hustled our butts out of that condo, Mort lunged for the fireplace tongs. He grabbed the flaming logs one by one and dropped them off our balcony into the deep snow three floors below. It was about this time his wife called from Ohio to see how things were going. He was honest with her, and she grew alarmed.

We like to imagine the faces of the cozy skiers living below us as they soothed their aching ski muscles at the end of a long day with a glass of hot cider or mulled wine. What did they think when flaming logs began falling from the sky? They knew we were in town, that's for sure.

Sometimes our extended family joined our trips.
This is my dad, my second cousin, Mort, my aunt, Mom, one of Mort's daughters.
Where was I?
Likely face-planting in ski school. 

Dad likes to recount the time Mort convinced him to do "one last run" before the chairlift closed for the day. They made it back in line just in time and were the last people allowed on the chair. They high-fived. We did it! One more run!

The motor broke on the chairlift on that last trip so Dad and Mort were stuck swinging thirty feet above the ground for hours. It got cold up there. Dad began to resent Mort in that moment, the man who made him take one more run when he should have been back with us at the condo holding a steaming glass of hot cider or mulled wine by then. Ski trip chicken is an elusive far away friend when you're stuck on a chairlift.

After a few dangly hours, they saw the ski patrol run a new motor up on a snowmobile. Not too long after that, the chair lurched to life again and began slowly moving up the mountain. Dad and Mort made their way down the slope carefully with no light aside from the ambient light of a full moon. Dad says it was the most beautiful ski run of his life. Further proof that sometimes the things that go wrong are the best parts.

I'm not sure what this one was all about
but that's yours truly on the right in my '80s acid washed pegged jeans
and Mort is doing something to my head
and Dad is holding a stuffed hippo. 
Plus, so many hats. 

Mort, a Jewish man, was the biggest fan of Christmas carols you've ever met. My mom played the piano at every law firm Christmas party and Mort would stand directly over her, bellowing those tunes slightly off key with an unbridled joy never before seen at a law firm Christmas party, especially from a Jewish man. He was very hurt when a semi-professional singer joined the firm's staff and received the coveted  "FIIIIVE GOLDEN RINGS" solo on "The Twelve Days of Christmas." That had always been Mort's verse, you see.

Mort passed away from cancer a few years ago. It was a huge loss for my parents, one they grieved to their cores. Someone like Mort can't leave the Earth and his absence not be felt profoundly. There was only one of him, and that is a gross understatement.

Mort requested his ashes be spread in three locations, three places that held great significance in his life and ultimately became three of his happiest chapters. The first was Coney Island, where he spent an idyllic free range childhood. The second was at the top of Half Dome in Yosemite, where Mort defeated a lifelong fear of heights when he climbed it with my dad and one of his daughters about fifteen years ago. The third was right here in my backyard, in Olympic National Park, where Mort spent a few weeks with the Student Conservation Association at the age of 16, clearing trails and rebuilding Humes Ranch, a historical cabin off the beaten path.

Mort's two daughters carried out his wishes at Coney Island and on top of Half Dome in the past couple years. For the third and final stop at Olympic National Park, Mort's family invited my parents to join for the five mile hike out to Humes Ranch. My parents accepted with gratitude and I immediately decided the kids and I would join, too. We were eager to reunite with our old family friends, recount stories of Mort, celebrate his big heart and the way he lived his life.

Our two families gathered in neighboring rental houses for a long weekend at Lake Sutherland, just outside Olympic National Park. It doesn't get much more Pacific Northwest picture perfect than Lake Sutherland in the fall. It was gorgeous and crisp and calm and kind of smug with its autumn charms.

My parents brought Lucien a slingshot,
which we now know
is a perfect gift for an eleven-year-old boy.

Mom made ski trip chicken. We refilled her wine glass often, obviously, as Mort taught us to do --

The next day we hiked out to Humes Ranch. We stopped halfway through the hike to light a candle and remember Mort and tell stories of his larger than life personality.

Dad told a story I'd never heard before. On my dad's very first day at the law firm, there was a firm meeting in which most attendees, including my dad, showed up in polished dark suits. Soon after the meeting began, Mort walked in wearing jeans and a George McGovern t-shirt. George McGovern was a liberal 1972 Presidential candidate not at all embraced at the mostly-Republican law firm but Mort didn't much mind. Dad liked Mort immediately and then they were friends. History made!

Humes Ranch --

Mort's two daughters, a son-in-law, and two beloved grandkids.

Us, minus The Loosh, who was off somewhere
being moody and pre-pubescent.
(Help me)

My parents could not be any cuter.

Our long weekend celebrating my dad's best friend got me thinking about lives well lived. About how simple it is to do it right, or at least how simple it is in theory, how simple it should be. Mort lived life enthusiastically and warmly. I doubt Mort was perfect, none of us are, but he was a good man, a good father, husband and friend. I don't think anyone can aim much higher than to be those things, and to be remembered for such things when we're gone.

If Mort could see us from wherever he is now, I know he was giddy seeing his grandkids play with his dear friend's grandkids at Humes Ranch. The four kids ran through the fields, played hide-and-go-seek, laughed their bubbly little kid laughs. I could almost see Mort beaming and hear him bellowing with enthusiastic joy. He may have also been singing Christmas carols but that's cool, we'll give him a pass on the seasonal appropriateness.

(I'm also pretty sure I heard a faint, "LET'S DO TIN PANTS," an ode to times when we would be spread out along the chairlift but Mort would let his ski run wishes be known by yelling at all of us up and down the line...)

My dad wrote a long essay that was read at Mort's memorial service. I wish I could cut and paste the whole thing here because it is a beautiful homage to friendship and shared history but in lieu of the entire thing, this is the final paragraph. It made me verclempt as hell. I hope Dad is OK with me sharing it here, I didn't ask -- hi, Dad!

"A good day of skiing has three parts: early morning is the time of elation and anticipation of the coming adventure. The air is cool, the trails awash in morning light, the body eager. Mid-day is the time of accomplishment in the heat of the day, the time for fast skiing, maybe in moguls. Late afternoon is the time for relaxing and reflection, for slowing down and really seeing and feeling the beauty of the day and the warmth, golden light and long shadows of late afternoon in the mountains - skiing as a metaphor for life. Judy and I are in the late afternoon now. Mort has passed through it, but we still see him, content in the mountains, happy with friends and family who loved him."

One final thing about our long weekend, a tone change so I can, ahem, clear this dust out of my eyes. Lucien hurt his back over that weekend on the peninsula when he flipped around on his bed and landed on the back of his neck. His neck and back were still sore a few days later so I took him to a chiropractor. Lucien has never been to a chiropractor and doesn't quite understand their treatment methods as evidenced by his alarmed, "Why are you hugging me? WHY IS THE DOCTOR HUGGING ME?" as the chiro wrapped his arms around Lucien to adjust his spine. The chiropractor laughed so hard he had to stop and wipe his eyes with his shirt.

I love that kid.

The kids and I returned to Seattle from the Olympic Peninsula via the ferry. It was a beautiful day for a ferry ride. I have loved many places in the world but I am most absolutely content to be in this one. It's so fantastically pretty up in here.

I hosted my annual Halloween parents-gone-wild fest over the weekend. I'm going to post on that ASAP but after that, November will be all about the Paris book, a NaNoWriMo tweaked once again for my non-fiction needs. It's time to confront the reality of my editor's feedback, which hurt my feelings but is likely right on the money. I'll be around.

Until we meet again, 
here's to all the great friends we meet along the journey.

More wine for the cook! *clink*

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Recycling the laundry

I wrote this post the day before the earthquake hit Mexico City. I have debated whether or not to keep it, as it obviously does not address the gravity of the present situation. I'm going to keep it for now as a farewell to our time there and also our transition home to Seattle, but obviously my heart and thoughts are much heavier than at the time of its writing. The city and its people are never far from my mind.

The photos and videos showing what happened in CDMX and its neighboring communities are heart wrenching. I'm of course grateful the kids and I were no longer there, and that Alex and all our friends still in the city are OK, but it is a sucker punch to the gut to know what has happened to so many others. The earthquake truly devastated one of the most vibrant cities on the planet, and took so much away from so many. 

The people of Mexico are strong and resilient -- my heart is with them.

I couldn't find anything my last night in Mexico City because it was all gone. All our stuff had been packed into boxes headed to Seattle by either the fast route (our air shipment) or the slow route (our truck shipment which, as of right now, I'm convinced we will never see again because it's stuck somewhere along the border.)

I couldn't find my slippers that night, nor my pajamas, nor the toothpaste. Alex went to bed before me and in my attempts not to wake him, I had only my iPhone flashlight by which to search. I ended up sleeping in the sweaty tank top I'd worn all day, foregoing my nightly face washing and using Coco's toothbrush for the tooth cleansing. Don't tell her that, she will freak.

I sat outside enjoying our view until a very late hour that last night, just taking it all in and saying my goodbyes to the big bold city for which I'd found much affection. I drew hearts on the dirty glass panels of our balcony. They won't last there long but it was comforting to leave even the smallest of marks on our Mexico home.

The four of us had eaten our last dinner out in Polanco earlier that night at a favorite neighborhood restaurant, Dulcinea. We gorged ourselves on the most tender short rib, and fried bananas with beans and cream, and buratta in a spicy tomato sauce. It rained on our walk home which was fine with us because why not splash in a few puddles when you're headed out of a place.

This was a picture we left taped to the wall for our housekeeper upon leaving.
Lucien is holding the photo we gave her of Seattle.
And you betcha Coco is scratching her armpit like a monkey in her goodbye photo.
Paulina would have it no other way. 
She loves that girl just the way she is.

The next morning, the kids and I packed up our last things and climbed into Mario's car one final time for the drive to the airport. Alex is staying in Mexico City until the beginning of October to finish his job there so he held our hands often and gave us many hugs on the drive. The kids were not willing to wait until the end of September to return home, were definitely not willing to miss the first month of school. They were itching to get home and see their friends and play with their dog and get ready for new school years and quite frankly, so was I.

You can't fully enjoy the current city when you're prepping to move to a different city. Your focus and energy orients towards the place you're headed as you make summer camp arrangements there, book doctor appointments and babysitters there, find a rat specialist for the rat in your basement there, schedule reunion lunch and beer dates there. I tried to enjoy the last few days of Mexico but it was a distracted kind of enjoyment. My life had already left Mexico and was way up North.

Our driver, Mario's, family showed up at the airport to say goodbye to us. I was keeping it together pretty well until I turned around and there they were, his wife and two teenage sons with big hugs and shy goodbyes for the three of us. They didn't need to come see us off -- they live far from the airport and it's a lot of driving for them -- but they wanted to. Then it was hard to keep my shit together. I shed some tears as the kids and I waved one more time and sniffled around the corner towards the security line. Seriously, how lucky we were to meet the people we met.

The kids and I landed in Seattle again and -- oh my God -- there was English everywhere. It is a wondrous thing to understand everything all around you, be it written communication or spoken. I became the creepiest, most excited eavesdropper ever, sometimes just staring directly at the poor people with my mouth hanging open. I'm so sorry your aunt is suffering from a worrisome bout of diarrhea but isn't it cool I understand every word of your gruesome details??

The following are my immediate observations at the Seattle airport before we'd even collected our luggage --

1) There is a garbage can every thirty feet. I no longer have to collect my garbage in my purse for later disposal.

2)  Mexicans are warm and polite friendly whereas Americans are more obnoxious and over-the-top friendly. In Mexico it was a "I hope you are having a nice day, SeƱora" but in the U.S. it's more of a "Well HELOOOooooOOO there, little nuggets!" The U.S. Immigration guy told the kids a couple terrible "dad jokes" as a welcome home, shook my hand so hard my shoulder nearly dislocated, then laughed so loudly he hurt my ears, which is crazy because I'm married to Alex so am used to volume.

3) There is fully stocked soap and toilet paper in all the restrooms. I may have no more need for the Ziploc bag of toilet paper nor the family-sized bottle of Purell I keep in my purse. And once finished in the bathroom stall in the U.S., you don't have to put your toilet paper in the garbage can, you can send it right down the magical pipes!

When we walked into our house late that night after a long day of emotional goodbyes and travel and terrible turbulence and a near breakdown by me because GODDAMN AIRPLANES, Natani looked surprised for a few shocked seconds, lost her mind for a few minutes, then immediately went to get her toy and dropped it at our feet with an expectant look on her face and a viciously wagging tail.

She is happy to have her kids back. It's like she can't believe they're real. She wakes them every morning for school upon my command, "Go get the kids!" by jumping on their bodies and licking their faces. She takes her job very seriously.

good doggo

Our house/pet sitters taught Natani how to play fetch and swim in Lake Washington, two things she refused to do before we departed. You'd throw a ball and she'd just grab it and run away with it, looking back over her shoulder suspiciously like, "I know you're trying to steal my ball, b*tch." And God forbid she got near water. You could almost hear her thinking, "Aww hell no" as she ran the other direction as fast as her strong muscular body could carry her.

I'm glad she swims and plays fetch now but it's also a bit taxing when I'm stuck in the yard throwing her ball for two hours while dinner burns on the stove. I say, "OK girl, that's it, I gotta go inside!" and her ears droop and her body language sags and she sighs deeply, staring at her sad ball on the ground. "OK, just one more, girl," I say then, unable to break her heart again given we just abandoned her for eight months.

....and one hour later, dinner is toast and my hand is so cramped up, I have to ask Lucien to open my refreshing sparkling can of La Croix.

The first 72 hours home were strange. I'd forgotten my house. I couldn't find things, instead grabbed for drawers roughly where they were in Mexico City. Why is the silverware now to the right of the sink when it should be to the left? Our TV remotes were also befuddling. I'd forgotten how to make our various TV components work using our arsenal of complicated clickers. The housesitters had to come back the next week to give me a lesson. That was embarrassing.

We were all a little fuzzy and out of whack. You know how sometimes you're so distracted by other things, you can't process exactly what you're doing at the moment? I was sorting laundry a few days after our return and thinking, "Is tomorrow recycling day? I don't remember which day... I'm pretty sure it's tomorrow. Yes, yes, it's tomorrow, I must get the recycling to the curb right away." I then gathered up the load of laundry I was sorting, walked over to the recycling bin and tossed it all inside.

Lucien sat nearby enjoying a snack. He watched me recycle the laundry silently, a hand holding spoon frozen halfway to his mouth. He asked slowly, "Mom, what are you doing?" and I replied, "Well son, it should be obvious I'm recycling... umm... just the clothes and stuff." Damn, he caught me being weird again.

But as for Seattle, life here is good. My country is a hot mess and my city is getting super crowded with tech people but I love it here. I love the mountains and the ocean and Mt. Rainier, the volcano that looms hazily over the city. I love watching the Seahawks with a group of screaming friends again. I love seeing my kids happy back in their schools, and most of all I love grinning at the skyline from my back porch with a proper IPA brew in my hand.

We did our crew's annual getaway a week after our return. I handled the Winnebago all by myself for the first time because Alex is still in Mexico. It went perfectly well except for the time I came within inches of backing into my best friend's minivan. I stopped in the nick of time when I heard all the screaming and saw the waving arms of my frantic comrades.

Friends since babyhood
reunited in the Pacific Northwest.
And you betcha that's a narwhal.

This year's getaway was a little edgier -- though not as scary as the wind storm year -- given all the injuries. Coco cut her foot wide open on an oyster shell on the beach plus received a goose egg on her head when she turned suddenly and ran smack into the kitchen counter. It's a good thing we have a nurse practitioner in our circle.

Two other kids also succumbed to grievous oyster shell foot injuries and all children returned home with nasty "hot tub rashes" and ear infections. Hot tubs now give us all the skeevies. I'm not sure I can climb into one with a happy heart ever again.

I'll be around the blog as often as possible in coming months but my energies are on the Paris book edits and recycling my laundry. I am also trying to remember where I store the extra batteries and light bulbs. They should be in the kitchen closet, seems obvious that's where I'd keep them, yet they're not there.

I miss nearly everything about it.
Thanks for the memories and the love, CDMX,
and it's very nice to see you again, Seattle.

PS. As you can see, Bobo was also beside himself with delight upon our return --

wake up and tell us you love us, lizard.