Sink or Swim: Our Family Camping Debut!

As a kid, just about every 4th of July week in my memory was spent in Carnation, WA, a tiny town about 45 minutes east of Seattle, filled with sprawling green valleys, sturdy red barns and u-pick berry farms. For five nights each summer, my siblings, cousins and I (and the adults chasing after us, of course) would sleep in creaking narrow cabins equipped with little more than a bare light bulb and twin mattresses of prison-issue thickness. The mornings came too early but the days stretched on forever, our only markings of time the lines that would form before meals and the chapel bells that would echo through the acreage twice a day. “This is the life,” I would think as I spent hours at the pool, groomed my favorite horse, or floated lazily down the Snoqualmie River.

It really was the life. Some of the best days of my childhood were spent outdoors, running wild, at camp.

In search of an early start to a similar tradition for my own little family, we have begun camping, first last summer with just Anderson (Jude was not yet two and we feared a serious lack of sleep…), then this summer – this week – with both boys.

Though different in many ways than the Bible camp of my youth, tent-camping with my husband and kids in a local state park has been just as magical and memory-building in its own right.

There’s something about cooking on a camp stove, hiking down a crunchy gravel path to the bathroom, and waking way too early to a surging chorus of songbirds, that cleanses the spirit. Watching our kids run circles around the campsite, poke around endlessly at the beach, and snuggle into their sleeping bags at night, utterly worn out and utterly content – fills me with joy and makes life feel less…complicated.

I went into this camping trip a little apprehensive. What if my kids don’t sleep? What if Jude cries and keeps everyone awake? What if three nights is too long?

It hasn’t been seamless, but what ever is? We’ve had a good dose of puking (Jude, but only once the first night), bloody noses (Anderson) and pee-soaked naps on the beach (Jude, on my lap- note to self: swim diapers do NOT absorb pee!!).

But those aren’t the things I’ll remember. At least not in any sort of deterrent sense.

I’ll remember things like this:

(Jude and his buddy, Elia)

And this:

(this is the pee nap…we smelled GREAT!!)

And this:

(I love small town parades…their first!)

And this:

(tent-service coffee from Aaron was THE BEST!!)

And this:

(Anderson called this his hot tub and never wanted to get out)

And it already makes me want to return to this place, where we’ve bonded as a family and laughed with our friends – filthy feet, borderline sleep, chipmunk poop everywhere and all.

Because it’s magical. And because this, indeed, is the life. It’s the stuff childhood summers are made of.

Let’s do it s’more.

Under Our Umbrella, Eh Eh Eh (Our Rainy Canadian Vacation)


Hello! This month marks five years since I began this blog, in a pumpkin pie coma and pregnant with my first baby, Anderson, as a platform to write more and document some of my stories as a new mom, among other parts of my life.  Two kids, two homes and several computers later…the writing below is my 60th published essay here in as many months. Thank you so much for reading and for cheering me on over the ups and downs I’ve shared in this space.  I hope you enjoy reading about our Canadian adventure below, and only roll your eyes slightly at my title Rihanna shout-out (I really, really couldn’t help myself…).

In celebration of five years chugging away (some years more frequently than others) at this crazy blogging machine, here are five weird facts about me, the blogger:

  1. I am an obsessive proofreader and typically read something I write no fewer than five times, start to finish, checking for spelling errors, grammar, punctuation…even spacing.  I’m a true grammar nerd; I inherited the gene from my dad (we were both UW journalism school grads, exactly 30 years apart).  Go Dawgs (though the spelling of that pains me)!
  2. I’ve written most of my blog posts at my kitchen counter or dining room table, often while a baby naps or late at night after the kids are in bed, usually in bits and pieces over several sittings.  I have memories of my early blogging days, with hands on the keyboard and one foot constantly bouncing Anderson up and down….up and down…in his bouncer as I clicked away, determined to get out my thoughts du jour.
  3. I am an entirely self-taught blogger, fueled by pure determination, aided by the user-friendliness of WordPress, much trial and error and a lot of time spent poking around for what I’m looking for.  If I can do it – anyone can!
  4. The embarrassing/vulnerable/awkward stories are ultimately the ones I’m proudest to have shared.  I’ve learned they bring out the humanity in me, and in people who read and comment on them.
  5. “Perfect is the enemy of good” has become my mantra for writing (and much of life!).  The biggest reason I go weeks or months without writing, is because I’m waiting for some grand lightning bolt of inspiration to strike.  As unparalleled as those rare moments are, sometimes writing is a grind.  This blog is a hybrid of the inspired, and the grind.  Also, like life.

Cheers to more years!

Now on to our family’s first international vacation…

Canada, eh?  The idea to foray into the great territory to our north came while sitting with Aaron and our friends, Brandon and Liana, at dinner during a Junior League of Seattle charity event last February.  In one of our more spontaneous decisions, we decided to bid on a 4-night trip to Whistler over Thanksgiving weekend.  It sounded like a festive way to kick off the Christmas season, and we’d never taken the kids out of the country.  What could go wrong?  We easily won the bidding without much competition, and in the blink of an eye – our first trip to Canada was cemented.

Leading up to the trip, my excitement was lukewarm at best.  I was nervous and somewhat regretful of our kneejerk decision to commit to this trip.  Among my chief concerns: Would our kids have major crying/screaming/whining meltdowns during the 5+ hour drive each way (answer:  OF COURSE!).  Par for the course with a 2- and 4-year-old.  No one with kids this age vacations for the drive, people.

Onward to the Thanksgiving Eve morning of our departure.  Naturally, Anderson finished “reading” all the books he had brought before we backed out of our garage.  Two drive-through coffees and a half hour later we were on 1-5.  The boys lasted 75 minutes before we broke out the Amazon Fire tablets, and a whopping 3.75 hours(!!) before we made our first and only pit-stop, for lunch in a cute little Canadian town called Lions Bay.  We ordered an Americano, London Fog latte and turkey and cranberry (me: “It’s like Thanksgiving!”) sandwiches.  I’m surprised they didn’t kick us out of Canada right then.




Releasing the energy they’d pent up for hours, the boys ran around the small café and attached store, and Anderson did what big brothers do best by poking, prodding and generally annoying a shrieking Jude, whom I attempted to distract by letting him scroll through photos on my phone, at which point Aaron said, “Jude seems to be swiping left on you a lot, Anderson.  It’s his quiet way of saying no.”

With lunch and a mere 38-minute border wait behind us, we limped through the last 90 minutes of the drive, pulling into Whistler’s slushy cobblestone streets (most of the village snow would be washed away by rain during our stay…).  No turning back now!

The drives were the low points of the trip, but once there Whistler was more charming and expansive than I’d remembered from my last visit almost two decades ago in high school.  We filled our days with strolls through the village, snowball fights in Olympic Plaza, hot chocolate breaks, spaghetti and sushi dinners, and hours of Lego building back at the condo.  Jude was a little under the weather, so when we took him outside he resembled the kid in A Christmas Story who is so bundled up he can’t drop his arms to his sides.


Our last full day there, we gave Anderson the option to take a ski lesson (his first) through the kids’ ski school.  He decided he did want to, and off he went with his Australian instructor (I swear half the staff we came in contact with hailed from Down Under…I don’t know why this is a thing??), and three other preschoolers.  The jury is still out as to whether we’re raising a future winter Olympian (averse to most new things, he currently claims he doesn’t want to go skiing again “for a million years!”), but he admits he enjoyed the mountain-side hot chocolate, and the pictures sure are cute.


As cold as my feet were going into this trip, I’m so glad we did it.  Whistler did not disappoint.  You can just feel something special in the air there.  From the carefree sense of letting loose and adventuring, to the warm and cozy quaintness of the well-worn streets filled with people and languages from all over the world.  A world-class destination with a small town vibe.

You can bet we’ll be back.  I’d even bid on it.


PS – I consider myself somewhat of a bakery fanatic, and Whistler has one of the prettiest ones I’ve ever seen:



PPS  – As a very random and somewhat inappropriate aside, I just really love the tidbits of conversation one picks up at an après-ski fireside lounge at the end of the day, from its happy, unguarded, on-vacation and likely inebriated patrons.  Take this, for example, overheard as I paced outside said restaurant with a cranky Jude, while Aaron took his turn downing hard hot chocolate:

Woman: “Do you know what percentage of women enjoy being sent a picture of a man’s penis?  Zero.  Zero percent.”

Woman’s friend:  “That number seems high.”

I internally laughed so hard that I almost spit out my hot chocolate.

And with THAT vision of sugarplums dancing in our heads…Merry Christmas Season to all and to all a good night!








Flying Solo

Earlier this month I took a big leap outside of my stay-at-home mom bubble and hopped a plane – alone! – to Chicago for three days. My old college roommate, Catherine, was about to turn 30 and graduate from med school and I thought it was the perfect time to plan a trip to celebrate. I also selfishly was ready to spread my wings a bit and prove that I could do this – be apart overnight from my 14-month-old for the first time ever!
I eagerly awaited this trip for weeks and weeks and dreamed of it being this relaxing, rejuvenating and luxurious time where I could stretch my legs walking the big city, read for four uninterrupted hours on the plane, indulge in bubble baths in my OWN hotel room…. You get the idea.

In some ways the trip was exactly what I had felt I needed and hoped for, and in some ways it wasn’t.

First, the flight:
The last four flights I had been on included Anderson, so it was quite the change not having to juggle a diaper bag, nurse, change diapers, or get a baby to nap on my lap while on the plane. It almost seemed too easy, like I was cheating or something, to board the plane with just myself, a small bag and a book. It was nice to be able to listen to music and zone out, to get lost in a book and not be accountable to anyone else on the plane. But I also got nostalgic and a bit homesick every time I heard a baby cry. It never annoyed me in the slightest, in fact I actually found the sound comforting. I sort of missed the sweet soft skin and warmth of a baby’s body against mine on the flight, of shuffling through board books and watching the hustle and bustle of an airport and flight through a baby’s eyes. There were things that were nice about flying alone – don’t get me wrong – but I was reminded that the extra baggage required to take a baby on board was ultimately pretty priceless.

The hotel:
Yes, it was nice to have a bed to hog and a TV to watch whatever I wanted, but I was also loneliest at night all alone, towering above this foreign place. I had the hardest time sleeping and tossed and turned until well into the early morning hours both nights. It was almost as if things were too quiet, too sterile, too simplified. I missed my own hastily made bed, the hum of Anderson’s monitor beside me, the random knocking sound of our quirky refrigerator. A hotel, no matter how nice, doesn’t hold a candle to home (and mine wasn’t THAT nice…. Here’s looking at you tiny square pillows made for a guinnea pig).

The celebrating:
It was good to see my longtime friend. We had a lot of catching up to do on our very different lives. She introduced me to three amazing restaurants and made sure I was well-fed and well-acquainted with where I was going (I would have been lost without her…). I was reminded that emails and texts can’t replace the ground you can cover catching up in person. I’m glad we made the time for each other, and that I got to walk with her in her home city of the last four years before she moves across the country yet again. I find it fascinating to witness a life path so different than mine, and am so proud of all she has accomplished!

The city:
It was a bizarre sensation to be so completely untethered to the identity I wear like clothing every day here in Seattle – that of a mother. I have typically one or two small blocks of time on my own each week at home, to run errands, do my appointments and so on. But having an ENTIRE WEEKEND devoid of my mom hat entirely was a strange and almost disorienting feeling. As I walked for miles through the city, smelled the food and crossed over the river, window shopped, and got coffee, I figured I probably could have passed for a single, local woman about town. I did things I never ever do by myself or at home.

Like spend two blissfully quiet, meditative hours meandering through an art museum:

Or spontaneously attend an Aretha Franklin (yes, seriously – Aretha Franklin!!) concert at the famous Chicago Theatre:

I had a good time in Chicago. But undoubtedly and by a mile, the BEST part of my trip, was coming home to this:
back home with baby
I did not fully realize how much I had missed him until he was in my arms again. We were glued to each other for about an hour; I didn’t want to let him go. My coming home again to Anderson was one of the sweetest moments of my life. He made these sweet cooing sounds and showed me smiles I’d never seen before at the sheer joy of our reunion. I knew in that moment there was no place in the world better than this.

Up, Up and Away

 Just a few hours fresh off the plane from a long weekend in Arizona while Seattle endured a rare snowstorm, I am already missing the good tequila and poolside siestas.  As I write this, I am force-feeding myself frozen whole wheat lasagna that vaguely resembles particle board smothered in tomato sauce, exhausted and jet-lagged with a possible ear infection.  But hey, I have a tiny bit of a tan and my baby didn’t cry, vomit or otherwise melt down on not one but two flights.  So all in all, life is good. 

My husband, mother-in-law and I tag-teamed the baby care as we took Anderson on his FIRST PLANE TRIP (!!!) – a long-awaited and long-worried-about trip for his mom.  Some of you may be rolling your eyes or wondering what the big deal is about taking a baby on an airplane.  Now that I’ve done it, I see your point.  But for some reason I built this adventure up in my mind as one with the potential to wreak all kinds of havoc that could elicit all of my worst OCD/anxiety/Type A personality tendencies:  Blow Outs.  Melt Downs.  Nursing in Public.  Baby’s ears pressurizing because I failed to nurse him in public.  Excessive leaking.  Not enough diapers. 

You get the idea. 

I’m happy to report none of those disasters came to fruition.  In fact, I couldn’t have asked for a smoother first flight experience with my son – I’m so proud of us!!

Here we are, braving the airport for the first time.  They didn’t even card him.


On the plane, Anderson performed like a champ and could have passed for a seasoned member of the frequent flyer club.

He ate neatly while waiting at the terminal:


Carefully read all safety instructions in case of an emergency:


Chatted up all the lady flight attendants:


And even earned his wings:


Apart from a couple of minutes of over-tired whining before falling asleep in my arms, he never cried on either flight.  Success!!!

Here are the top 5 things I learned this weekend about traveling with a baby:

*Time things around their normal nap schedule as much as you can.  If they must nap on the plane, a nursing pillow and blanket to make it cozy really helps.

*Plastic cups and crinkly bags of snack mix from the flight attendants provide endless entertainment.  TAKE THEM. 

*The security staff is much nicer and less menacing when you have a cute tiny person strapped to you as you walk through metal detectors and get screened for explosives.  They make jokes, talk baby talk and adoringly call you “Mom.”

*There are plenty of places to feed and change baby without having to resort to the impossibly tiny airplane bathrooms.  Disposable changing mats, Clorox wipes and sanitizing hand wipes were our on-the-go friends. 

*Being on a plane with my baby wasn’t very different from being anywhere else with him.  His personality, rhythm and needs didn’t change.  Once I realized this I was like, “OK, I’ve got this.”  Just took me a minute….

While in Arizona we had a great time.

Anderson took some dips in the grown-up pool:


 Took it easy in the lounge chairs:


Took lots of walks and soaked up the sun (with sunscreen of course!)


Grandma Sue was a huge help, and provided Aaron and me with some much needed sun time and date nights!  A win-win bringing Grandma along, I tell you…





The trip was not without its hiccups, but they only make for that much better of a story, so the writer in me has dutifully accepted them.

For starters, the host at the resort restaurant jubilantly congratulated me on being pregnant within about 45 seconds of our arrival to a luxurious patio dinner, to which I scrambled to reply that I “recently gave birth.”  To which SHE replied by feeling terrible and leaving this in our room while we were at the pool later that weekend:



It was a NEWBORN onesie and socks.  Yep, all wrapped up with an apology card.  We even held hands in the bathroom and hugged later that weekend as she told me how horrible she felt and how she couldn’t sleep that night.  She said she should have known better after having 5 boys herself, and that it took her a long time to be able to afford “the right surgery” (???).  She was blonde, in her 50s and come to think of it her name was Anne….. Romney?

That is all a true story by the way, though I guess her British accent breaks the Romney connection.  We’re pretty much Scottsdale BFFs now after a face-to-face “I forgive you” from me, and I guarantee you if I ever visit that resort when I’m 9 months pregnant, she won’t say a word.

In addition to Anne, there was Ricco, the food service manager.  After I complained about the poolside service being scattered and slow, he took it upon himself to buy us our poolside drinks…..AND lunch……AND delivered an ice bucket of beer to our room that night….. AND wine……AND  a card.  Anderson liked it so much he ate it. 



I’ll tell you one thing, these Arizona resort people know how to make up for their mistakes, and by the end of our trip I’m pretty sure we were the most recognizable, uniquely treated family there.  The cute baby I “recently” gave birth to, didn’t hurt.  :  ) 


Leaving Home – Travels with Baby

Leaving Home – Travels with Baby

My little Anderson officially has an out-of-state trip and hotel stay under his little belt. We traveled to Portland, Oregon over the weekend for a two-night stay and what we thought would be the perfect “starter vacation” for our little family.  180 miles and three hours in the car each way seemed very doable, yet still enough distance to call an accomplishment.  Though Anderson fared very well overall, the trip wasn’t without its moments – I had to come back with some stories, right?     

Well our main “story” happened on the way down, when we stopped in Lacey, Washington for a coffee/bathroom/diaper/feeding break.  You can’t do a 3-hour drive with an infant without a coffee/bathroom/diaper/feeding break.  We pulled into a Starbucks, and parked a ways away so I could have some privacy to feed in the backseat.  When we were done, I went into Starbucks to get my coffee while Aaron stayed in the car and changed Anderson’s diaper.  When I got back we were putting him back into his carseat and realized his new diaper was leaking, more like rapidly oozing yellow substance out of its sides and onto his cute little white (of course) outfit before our eyes.  We scrambled to get him back out of the carseat and back onto the changing pad before more damage was done.  I should have known the cute little skull and crossbones diapers were too good to be true.

When another diaper and outfit was changed, Aaron tried to remove the carseat from its base to adjust some things before settling Anderson back in.  This is when we realized the carseat wouldn’t budge from its base, an action which is typically as quick as the click of a button.  Um, yeah.  This was an issue, considering the carseat pretty much needs to go everywhere baby goes throughout the trip.  I quickly began racking my brain for the nearest Target in case we needed to buy a new carseat. 

Upon closer inspection, we realized that a black canvas strap from the Ergo baby carrier that had been tossed onto the floor of the backseat, was perfectly wedged between the carseat and its base, creating a seal that wouldn’t budge.  The only solution we saw to this dilemma was for Aaron to yank on the Ergo strap with all his might, breaking it free from the carseat.  This destroyed the Ergo as the plastic adjustment pieces that were connected to the strap shattered, thus deeming it unwearable.  Aaron may have further dislocated his shoulder during this heroic maneuver, however the carseat was now free.  You win some, you lose some.    



Amid all the hustle and bustle of the coffee/bathroom/diaper/feeding break, I forgot to put cream in my coffee. Yes, I feel this is a detail worth mentioning, if you’ve noticed a theme woven throughout my blog posts of the key role coffee plays in child-rearing. I poured a couple of inches of Aaron’s vanilla latte on top of my drip and called it a day.  Having a baby on board is all about winging it. 

We stayed at Hotel Monaco in downtown Portland and though they seemed to prefer dogs (there was a dog-shaped chalkboard in the lobby welcoming the MANY canine guests by name, and many a four-legged friend were spotted lounging with their owners during cocktail hour – sorry, Izzy), they were very accommodating to babies as well.  They set up our room with a playpen AND a crib, baby blanket, stuffed animal, and baby bath products. We had a two-room suite which I definitely recommend for separating baby time from grownup time.  When Anderson went to bed at 7 or 8, it was awesome to be able to close a door between us and watch a movie, etc…. without worrying about waking him.  Bringing his sleep sack and sound soother were also key to recreating his usual sleep environment.  He slept like a champ!

We pleasantly enjoyed FOUR meals out without any crying, and got out to see a few things.  We drove over to Troutdale to have lunch with friends, and drove a bit of the scenic Columbia River Highway.  We walked the five blocks from our hotel to Powell’s Books and I could have spent hours in their amazing children’s book section.  Anderson truly loves books and it was so fun adding to his growing library on our vacation. All in all it was a good trip – we were able to do things we wanted to do while still working in naps and feedings as needed.

Highlight of the drive home would have to be getting hit on at a Tacoma Starbucks while Aaron was dealing with yet another blow-out situation back in the car.  I really rarely get hit on, and definitely not at all since being pregnant and giving birth.  The guy in line in front of me, while waiting for his venti mocha chocolate chip with whip Frappuccino (yep, that’s a whole weekend’s worth of calories right there), decided to shake my hand, introduce himself and tell me not one, but two jokes.  In case you are dying to know, as I was, the difference between bird flu and swine flu is a “tweetment” and an “oinkment.”  I’ll tell ya –  If I wasn’t married with a baby, clearly I would have been won over right there.  Thanks, Tacoma Joe. It warmed my heart to know I’ve still “got it.”  🙂