Talking about the weather is not interesting to most people - but we've had a really awesome phenomenon here for the last week that has been quite astounding to me. Some background: In December we broke the record for the most days with recorded rain - 29! And 2013 was a complete U-turn, cold air and blue skies for a week, absolutely stunning. And then a week ago, thick fog settled in. Not just in the mornings, but all day and through the night. Very spooky, very grey. Not a breath of wind - the only change was how thick the fog was. Cycling home in the dark fog was quite surreal - very quiet and with each of the lights forming little isolated pools.
I follow the blog of a local weather expert who works at the University of Washington: Cliff Mass's Weather Blog
. On Friday he wrote a blog with the surprising fact that there were blue skies and warm air (30F warmer!) just half a mile away. Half a mile!? Yes, half a mile, straight up. Normally it gets colder the higher you go, but the unique weather system that has settled here for the last week created an extreme inversion that trapped a pocket of cold, moist air on the ground for a week, while above us were beautiful sunny skies. The maximum temperature in Bellevue yesterday was 31F (-1C), whereas up at the Snoqualmie ski resorts it was a lovely 61F (16C)!
The other odd phenomenon has been that despite the lack of any precipitation, the air has been super moist and cold, so every morning everything is *drenched* in frost and dew. The trees and our road look all tinged with white, straight out of a winter snow scene. Then once the air warms just a little bit, every day between 10am and 11am, the "rain" starts, as all the frost thaws and the trees start to shed their load. For a house built under trees it's very unsettling because it looks like rain, it feels like rain, it sounds like rain, but when you step out the front door (no trees), it's perfectly dry!
So we took a drive this weekend to go hunting for some good weather and views. According to Cliff Mass's blog, the highest Bellevue peaks were high enough to catch the blue skies. First we headed up to "Hilltop". I just used Google Earth in 3D mode and twisted things around to get a look at what appeared to be the highest points with street access. It was remarkably to suddenly glimpse a dull outline of the sun after a week in fog, and then to have glaring mist in your eyes, and then suddenly to emerge into blue skies! Right as we reached the critical altitude to get a good view, the roads were gated. It turns out (I found out from wikipedia when I got home) that the entire summit was bought in 1946 by a group of families, and it is still entirely privately owned, it's a pocket of King County that is not part of Bellevue city, despite being entirely surrounded by Bellevue. They all get great views, but unfortunately no entrance for us plebians.
Thankfully I discovered that Cougar Mountain had a few roads that went pretty high up, and we finally emerged to some breathtaking views just a 20 minute drive from home. I'm really glad we had our failed trip up Hilltop, because it also gave me context. Hilltop appeared like an island in a vast sea of grey which stretched uninterrupted all the way from us to the Olympics, 70 miles to the West. I'm afraid that it is just one of those things that pictures don't do justice to. The view was so familiar. We were standing on a shore and looking out over a featureless, perfectly flat grey ocean to a shore in the distance, with one island visible. It was weird that this ocean was made of fog, and we lived under the surface! It was a little sad to sink back into the clouds, but I won't forget the experience in a hurry.
Cliff Mass's photo from Cougar Mountain on Saturday. (Taken from his blog)
My photo (apologies for phone camera quality) also from Cougar Mountain on Sunday. Look how little has changed, that's how static this pattern has been!
Click the pictures for better quality. The top-right picture is how our street has looked for the last week. Bottom right is a frosted tree near Hilltop summit.
Caryn discovered a great Groupon deal a while ago which gave us 2 night midweek break at a resort in Port Ludlow for a very reasonable price. Despite having a 3 month old in tow, we decided to go for it - our attitude has always been that we should take the most of the opportunities available to us right now, because we never know what the future holds while we're living on a visa.
Part of the attraction was that the trip wasn't too long. A ferry ride really breaks up the length because the kids can get out the car and walk around, and they always enjoy themselves too. Our nap planning worked out perfectly, so we had a wonderful drive up to Port Ludlow. The inn really exceeded our expectations - the room was a lovely suite with a spa bath that had windows that opened into the bedroom - perfect for our family! The surrounds were pretty, although the only beach we could see was a typically awful rocky Pacific Northwest style "beach". I asked at reception and they told me to take a path behind the inn to find "their beach". Caryn was a little skeptical, but I led us through this obscure path when suddenly - tadaa, a beautiful sandy beach emerged! Amazing, it was right around the corner from the rocks and gravel we almost spent 2 days trying to dig with plastic shovels. The kids didn't need to be reintroduced to a beach - instinct took over and they were engrossed in their games.
I walked down to put my feet in the water, and I very quickly jumped straight out again. It was freezing
and my feet couldn't withstand more than 5 seconds of being submerged without sharp pain. I tricked Caryn into walking in too, and she let out a squeal and dashed out moments later. Of course - this means that Emily happily waded thigh deep in the water, soaking her clothes in the freezing splashes. I simply don't understand how her body temperature is tuned so differently to ours!
We had a lovely afternoon and headed out to find a place to eat dinner. Our choices were incredibly limited. The hotel restaurant, if we felt like paying $15 per meal. A pizza place in Port Ludlow which is closed on Sundays. Or Snug Harbor Cafe, a diner. That's the sum total of the eating options in Port Ludlow. Well, we defaulted to the diner and we had a blast. Nice hearty food, Matthew discovered that he loves chowder, Emily gobbled chicken, Caryn tucked into fish and a salad, while I had their daily special - a steak!
Monday was our activities day, and the main event was a trip to the Olympic Game Farm, about a 40 minute drive away near Sequim. Part game farm, part zoo, they have driveable enclosures with reindeer, bison, elk, llamas, zebras and yaks. They also have cages and viewable areas with bears, tigers, wolves etc. I wasn't crazy about the conditions that the carnivores were kept in, and it didn't even really fit with the theme of the other animals which can roam freely around your car. Having been on African game drives, I thought I would have no problem with these relatively gentle animals. Wrong! Bison are huge and intimidating. Yaks like to block your car, and llamas... Oh llamas. They like to charge along outside your window, boxing your car in and waiting for food. You're allowed to feed the animals out the window, so they really are very enthusiastic when a car arrives. Everyone in the car roared with laughter through the llama enclosure, although I was feeling just a little bit tense - the combination of being flanked by running animals and blocked by large indifferent ones was a little unnerving.
Well, the kids loved seeing the animals, and after the entire circuit was done we decided to take them through a smaller loop just to see the llamas again. Repeat the chasing, repeat the giggling, everyone had a good time. But then we decided to treat them to one final loop before we left. This time, other visitors were in front of us, and their car was stopped, blocking the way. There are instructions all over not to stop your car. The horned animals have a habit of sidling up close and then damaging the cars. We were boxed in. However, being stopped took the frenetic pace away from the experience, and we suddenly found out that llamas are not quite as scary when they're not galloping alongside your car. They casually waited at the window for their next piece of bread. All was going really well until the llama Matthew and I were feeding sucked in its lips and pszbbt
, SPAT right in our faces. Ungrateful beast! It smelt absolutely terrible. Caryn and Emily insist it was the funniest part of the whole vacation. Matthew and I were less impressed.
We then took our exhausted kids back the Inn for a relaxed afternoon, and then some more time on the beach before heading out for a short forest walk and pizza. The forest walk was pleasant, but the highlight for Matthew (and for me, to be honest), was a part of the path which had been eroded by a tiny stream it bridged. I explained to Matthew what had happened and he spent the next 10 minutes repeating, "I never knew water was so strong!" Lovely to watch our kids learn. Delicious pizza back in our hotel room, and then Tuesday morning was a very peaceful trip back, a few hours at Kidimu kid's museum on Bainbridge Island before our ferry back to Seattle.
We were really lucky to have great weather, no sickness, good kid moods and solid night sleeps despite each of them sharing a bed with Mom and Dad. Katy did immensely well. She did great sleeping in a new crib and and a new place. We had her out and about with lots of driving, but she just coped fantastically and was mostly very happy. We couldn't be happier with our trip, what happy memories!
Caryn has been doing St Patrick's Day activities all week. We've had green variations of almost every meal, and Irish folk music around the house. Today, St Patrick's Day, was the culmination and we finished the day with Irish Stew, Leprechaun Lemonade and a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. (A bowl of chocolate coins for dessert)
"Leprechaun Lemonade" was a nice trick that Caryn found in one of her books or blogs. You pour normal lemonade into a jug, and add a little yellow food coloring to make the yellow color more prominent. Then you put a single drop of BLUE food coloring at the bottom of each of the kids' glasses. Nobody notices a single drop at the bottom of an empty glass, it's impossible to see unless you peer right down into the glass.
We took the jug as well as their empty glasses to the table, and told them that they were having special Leprechaun Lemonade. As we poured the lemonade into Matthew's glass it was instantly a bright and vibrant green - a very striking effect when the lemonade in the jug is very clearly yellow. Matthew's face was absolutely priceless. His jaw dropped, his eyes almost popped out of his head and his mouth made a perfect "O" for about 10 seconds. We couldn't have been happier with his reaction, best moment of the day.
We poured Emily's lemonade and our lemonade and the reaction was repeated each time. Finally, he probed.
Matthew: "How did it do that?"
Caryn: "It's special Leprechaun Lemonade, for St Patrick's Day."
Matthew: "Can we have it again tomorrow?"
Caryn: "No, it only turns green on St Patrick's Day."
Matthew: "Is it because you only use food coloring on St Patrick's Day?"
I nearly choked with laughter. Here I thought that we'd worked mysterious magic for our naive and innocent kids, and meanwhile Matthew had just sat there and figured out the logical explanation. I wasn't sure whether to be a little disappointed that our trick had been figured out, or just very, very proud of him.
I'm writing this mainly for myself, because I know that I'll forget this milestone, and I just wanted to record what has happened this week.
The birth of a child is a sudden change in your life. The days before it and after it don't resemble one another at all. It's a sudden and dramatic shift in the dynamics of your family.
I feel like we've just given birth to a pair of siblings. For the last 2 years we've had Matthew and Emily. But for the last 2 days, out of nowhere, we've had kids. They've interacted lots in the past, usually arguing about toys, or Matthew engaging Emily in his games, or talking nonsense to each other. Suddenly, they are doing stuff. You don't have to check what Matthew is doing and what Emily is doing. You check where they are, and what game they are playing with each other. It's like a switch just went on in Emily's head that she adores and worships Matthew, and wants to do precisely what he's doing, and at the same time Matthew has realized that playing with Emily is FUN. On the way home from the library today, Matthew asked if Emily and he could play in their room. Caryn assured them that that would be fine. They would have TV time, and then they could play wherever they wanted. Matthew asked if they could do it the other way around. Beloved TV time was shelved in favour of jumping off their beds.
This is great news, right? Caryn can just sit back for the last weeks of her pregnancy and let the kids occupy one another? Nope! It turns out, every discipline strategy we have is geared towards the children as individuals. We've never before encountered the gale force of siblings acting in concert to wreak havoc, egging one another on. How do you give Matthew a stern talking to about throwing napkins around the house while Emily is merrily doing a little jig behind you, tearing and spreading a new batch of napkins to the four winds? How do you shake your head in sympathy at Matthew's plight of having to go to the naughty corner, while Emily is following him there and they're giggling and tickling one another upon arrival? And how exactly do you react when you hear them over the baby monitor at naptime quite literally plotting together to summon you and stay awake.
It is all uncharted territory for us, and we momentarily are humbled again and reminded that we have a lot to learn about parenting. We had the toddler thing mostly down. We had the preschooler situation somewhat under control. But the toddler and preschooler combination? New to us!
The last 2 days have been so distinctive, their actions have changed so completely, it's been a light going on somewhere in their relationship. They fight and they push and they cry and they complain. But you can see that they're suddenly partners in crime. I'll say it again. We've just given birth to siblings. And honestly, I didn't even know we were expecting!
I sent this email to a large group of my ex-coworkers who I hadn't stayed in touch. I wanted to post it here for archival.
Facebook can lull you into a false sense of security. You share minutia every week and feel like you're keeping your friends up-to-date on your lives, but in reality it just makes you forget to email and *really* stay in touch with all those people you'd actually like to connect with. So, my apologies if this is the first you've heard from me in over 2 years. If you *have* heard my news, feel free to delete the email without reading. I won't be offended. Go ahead, do it now.
OK, to those of you still reading, the truth is, I actually *am* offended by all those people who deleted my email. But they'll never know that. I'll get my revenge at some unspecified time in the future.
SO! What's been happening with Hilton since he mysteriously disappeared? I don't know where to start. Let's start with the BEST bit. Family. Oh boy, I have discovered just how much I love being a father. Matthew is almost 3 and makes me laugh every day. He's absolutely nuts about anything construction related, loves reading books with Mom & Dad, and thinks that jokes are the BEST thing ever, even when he has no idea why they're funny. He's sincere, empathetic and tearfully wants to hug whoever is disciplining him. Our daughter Emily is 15 months old. She is crazy about animals and knows words or signs for most farmyard animals. She has a 6th sense for ducks, and you'll hear her making quacking noises even if you didn't know a duck was present. Turns out there are ducks everywhere if you look close enough. She is vivacious, confident and stubbornly wants to punish whoever has not bowed to her forceful will. She is the most likely family member to have a dirty face at any given point in time. Caryn is a fantastic mother and does *so much* with the kids I simply couldn't be prouder. They have so many outings, crafts and creative activities they're seldom bored. Being a father is what I was made for. I eagerly look forward to being home with my children. Even though I see them every day, I find myself thinking about them in the middle of a working day and suddenly browsing pictures of them.
What else? Well, Microsoft. The job here has been a mixture of incredible and mundane. It's been incredible to realize that day-to-day, my job hasn't fundamentally changed. There's a system with a bunch of code, some of which I have ownership of. Every day I come in and do many of the same tasks that used to occupy my time. What has been incredible is the context and the support. I'm working with a bunch of people who know a lot more about programming than I do, and it's very humbling. I'm constantly amazed when I realize how much I still have to learn from the experience of the people around me. The size of the project and team is significantly bigger than I've known in the past, and I've learned masses from the processes that are in place around here. Simple things like the source control and check-in environment, change and quality control. Automated tools mean that whenever I want to make a change, a line-by-line report of the code I've changed (a diff) is distributed to relevant people in my team to review. After I've gathered their comments, they collectively approve the change or bounce it back to me for more change. It sounds cumbersome, but the process is so smooth it works really well - it generally has a very fast turnaround because you're doing 3-4 little code reviews every day. Then my change is applied to the product, compiled and run through a bunch of automated tests. As long as I didn't break anything, my change is accepted. I've had 2 big, "pinch me" moments. Most of my features don't affect the user interface, but one did. It was really odd to save a bunch of code, run a big compile and then install a *Microsoft Product* with it's slick installer and my changes were visible as it loaded up. Weird. The second one is happening this month - I broke a pretty major feature right before they're about to declare Beta. As we were rushing around and trying to get my fix buddy tested in time someone was talking about the impact of this bug on early reviews. It occurred to me that tech columnists and bloggers would soon be using my feature and it would affect what they publicly wrote. Overall I'm very happy here - the work is challenging and I'm really enjoying my feature.
We were lucky to find a group of friends very shortly after arriving here, and the last 2 years have been a baby explosion, 7 of the 8 couples have had a kid within the last 4 years. The group used to get together every week and play boardgames and XBox. Now they get together to watch kids playing together - suits us fine! Caryn has found a really good friend - another stay-at-home mother, and they get together multiple times every week. Because of this group of friends we're become assimilated very quickly into American traditions, 4th of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Superbowl are all major fixtures on our calendar each year.
So, the move and the country? Well, both Caryn and I love the environment in the Pacific Northwest. Caryn grew up in Switzerland and I'm from Cape Town, so we both have good associations of a more green and lush landscape. We have bought a beautiful house that is nested in a copse of Douglas Fir trees - I absolutely love having massive trees in our back yard. Also, greater Seattle is riddled with lakes and rivers and we love living close to water. Neither of us are beach people, but we both really enjoy these lakes. This may sound silly, but an aspect of my life that brings me much joy is location and transport. I am a 35 minute walk from my office, and I'm right on a bus route which is my typical commute. I simply adore not driving, only now do I recognize what an unhealthy factor it was in my life, I spent my time behind the wheel raging at all the bad driving out there. There's some bad driving here too, but it's a lot easier not to care from the back seat of a bus. Winter is long and damp. I reveled in it the first time around. By year 3 I'm beginning to really start yearning for sunshine from February. I can suddenly understand why island holidays are so popular. People make the most of summer here. Literally every weekend for 3 months is packed full of fairs, festivals, parades and every other outdoor activity. Our kids are just at an age where those are lots of fun, so our summers have been exciting and exhausting. I also enjoy the 9:45pm sunsets in July!
That's my update, hope you stayed awake. I'm going to be visiting South Africa next month for Caryn's sister's wedding. I'll be in Gauteng from March 29 to April 10 and I intend coming to visit Liberty, I'll let you know what date. If you're on facebook and want to see snippets of my life, I'm at http://www.facebook.com/HiltonLange. If you want to see tons of our pictures, they're at http://picasaweb.google.com/HiltonLange.
Take care, all of you!
- Hilton learning to cook the local cuisine
- Watching a very strange game of cricket
- Emily's propensity for eating dirt
- Emily - those eyes!
- Matthew supporting Bafana Bafana. (Oh man, I enjoyed the World Cup from over here!)
- Stunning summer day on Lake Union
- Caryn and kids taking a walk around the neighbourhood
- Our wonderful house on a snowy day
- During Matthew's timeout tonight I heard him saying through tears, "I want to be nice. I want to be an astronaut."
- And I just heard from Caryn, sometimes during Matthew's diaper changes she'll open the window above his changing table to reduce unpleasant odors. With a chilly breeze blowing in, Matthew said, "Quickly Mommy, my penis is getting colder and colder!"
- I told Matthew that he’d been really good at games night. There were lots of kids and he’d mostly been gentle and shared well with all of them. His reaction? “I knocked over one baby.”
- Matthew drops a cookie onto the floor and grabs it back up again. “It’s okay if you pick it up fast, Daddy”. With a lump in my throat I realize - my son is becoming a man.
- I was putting Matthew’s pajamas on, and out of the blue he exclaims, “Clowns don’t wear pajamas”. I let it slide, but moments later again he said, “Clowns don’t wear pajamas”, and then started singing the classic circus tune and doing a little jig, pretending to juggle.
Some said that I was crazy, but Matthew and I headed off in the freezing cold last night to watch the last Seahawks game of the regular season. I've been watching football every Sunday for the last 4 months, I've become quite a Seahawks fan. They've had a fairly bad season, but through a twist of fate, they had the opportunity to qualify for the playoffs (top 12 teams out of 32 make the playoffs) despite only have a 7-9 (7 wins, 9 losses) record for the season, because they were placed in a surprisingly underperforming division. This week was the big game to see if they could clinch an unlikely playoff spot. Because it was effectively a knockout game, it was promoted to "Sunday Night Football" - the NFL picks one game each week to be featured and played in primetime - at the moment this never happens with the Seahawks because they're a struggling team, so it was an extra bonus to have the game under lights - although it made it extra cold for us.
We decided to take the bus, parking in Seattle is bad enough without a major sporting event nearby. Our great adventure started when we left the house at 3:30pm. The entire bus ride Matthew was asking "We at football yet?", much the amusement of fellow fans packed on board. As soon as we arrived at the ground and made it through security, there was a marching band dancing and drumming at the main entrance - Matthew was absolutely entranced. He loved the crowds and the noise, and we finally found our seats waay at the top of the stadium. I had only bought 1 ticket, kids under 3 are allowed to sit on laps. Thankfully when we arrived there were free seats around us so it gave us a few moments to get settled before we had to endure the squashiness of having people packed all around us.
After the game started, Matthew really responded to the crowd's reactions. He clapped excitedly, shouted along with the crowd, and was very interested in what was going on in the football. I managed to convey to him that the blue people wanted to run this way and the white people wanted to run that way, and we wanted the blue people to win. After each play, he'd ask, "did we do it?" I decided to take a video of his involvement, and my timing was PERFECT. No sooner had I started recording than the Seahawks scored a touchdown, which turned out to be the only touchdown of the game. The video is here:
(yes, he says "Hello Mommy" at the camera towards the end...)
He was engaged throughout the entire game, he just loved it. He had a few moments of tiredness in my arms, but none of grumpiness. At halftime he was a bundle of energy and I just let him stretch his legs by running around the back of the stadium a little bit. The 2nd half went really well too, he asked a lot of "Did we do it? Did they do it?" questions, and towards the end of the game just enjoyed sitting on my lap and watching. I thought he might have fallen asleep in the last few minutes of the game, but as the crowd was filing out his whole body spasmed with excitement and he sat bolt upright pointing at the field. "What's that Daddy! What's that!? What's that?" There was a little buggy driving on the field to ferry equipment off, and it was the most exciting thing Matthew had seen all night! The bus ride home was filled with questions about everything he'd seen, and he finally nodded off 10 minutes short of home at 10pm. As Caryn and I were changing this little snoring boy into his pajamas he roused again.
"Where I go tonight?"
"To the football Matthew"
And a torrent of excited words followed from a suddenly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed little kid. Thankfully he fell straight back to sleep after a short story. It was a simply delightful evening, thank you SO much to Caryn for staying home with Emily on our anniversary to allow it to happen. The babysitter is coming tonight to give us our belated 8 year anniversary date.
An update from Hilton this week! Caryn is having a busy evening. As always, its been a busy weekend in the Lange household!
On Saturday we headed off to EMP, the Experience Music Project. This is basically a museum of recent popular music and science fiction housed inside a real eyesore of a building in the space needle complex. Not entirely sure what we were expecting, but the museum-style exhibits were completely impossible to even try to look at with Matthew and Emily in tow. Thankfully we discovered the "Sound Lab" room upstairs which was a highly interactive exhibit consisting of a bunch of smaller little studios where you could go in to actually play a bunch of instruments. Those whole family had a blast there!
Sunday morning was time to acquire our Halloween pumpkins. We headed off to Jubilee farms (where we get our weekly vegetables from) and were surprised to see hundreds of cars parked on the fields and huge crowds. We knew that Jubilee was one of the low-key pumpkin patches, but even they were really bustling in the excellent weather. You arrive and park at a main central area with music, stalls, etc., and then you line up for a free 5 minute tractor ride out to the pumpkin patch itself. There was so much to see, both kids just loved the experience immensely. When we arrived at the patch, Emily immediately was pleased to be on her feet, waddling from pumpkin to pumpkin and getting her hands and knees dirty too. Matthew was off like a shot, he was in charge of selecting pumpkins and he took his duties very seriously. He never stopped talking and moving, and just loved everything there was to see. When we got back to the main barn with our pumpkins, Caryn and the kids settled on some grass while I weighed and paid for our pumpkins (a lengthy process because of queues). A little tractor with tiny trailer pulled up and stopped next to the grass and was quickly swarming with kids. Matthew spent 15-20 overjoyed minutes climbing all over the little tractor and climbing onto and leaping off the trailer. Emily and Caryn were on the grass - Emily is just loving being on her feet. Usually her hands are resting on something solid, but she periodically straightens up and shambles over to a new location, huge grin etched on her face.
Not only did we do really well with family activities, I also rediscovered some boardgame playing time. I discovered a "Friday night magic card draft" activity at the boardgame shop at Crossroads at 6pm. Describing "Magic the Gathering" (MtG) is impossible, but suffice it to say, I discovered a large group of geeks who play a game I really enjoy twice a week, and (this is the best bit), the draft format allows me to participate on equal footing without having prepared a massive and expensive collection of cards for months beforehand. I've always really enjoyed MtG, but been frustrated by the need to continually collect cards and spend money, so discovering this draft format was very exciting for me - it's exactly what I love. So Caryn offered to do bedtime and baths on Friday night and let me go and participate. I loved it, played until the event ended at 10:45pm, and then repaid Caryn's generous offer by doing the weekly grocery shop at 11pm! It was surreal to arrive home just before midnight with a car filled with groceries.
On Saturday evening we got together with games night group at Dan and Jill's - we met Callen (Randy and Kirsten's 2 week old boy), and then Caryn *repeated* her great kindness by taking care of bedtime again, freeing me up to return to game night and play Dominion (the current most popular boardgame) until midnight. Hooray for Caryn!
An anecdote that might amuse you:
The pumpkin patch ended late, so Matthew fell asleep at 2pm and slept like a log until 5pm. We were worried about his bedtime, and sure enough, he was awake and alert for *ages* after we put him down at 8:30. We felt terrible. "Trying" to go to sleep is awful when you're not tired, and we felt responsible for messing up his routine. So we offered him an unprecedented treat at around 10:15pm. He could come into the lounge and watch the end of Amazing Race with us, as long as he went to bed straight afterwards. He loved it, snuggling up to us under a blanket - who knows how much of a price we're going to pay in future evenings for this lapse. We'll see! Anyway, as Amazing Race finished, I told him:
"OK Matthew, the program is finished, and we agreed you'd go straight to bed afterwards. Would you like Daddy to carry you to bed, or Mommy to carry you to bed?"
Without hesitating he earnestly replied, "Emily!"
I'm the last person in the world who should have been reading Twilight. The geeky blogs told me it was awful garbage that was corrupting the values of teenage girls, that the fantasy was a travesty and that fans had no brains. However, I was surprised when Caryn (a longtime sci-fi/fantasy reader) picked it up and loved it. I needed to make up my own mind.
So, Twilight book 1 complete. My thoughts?
Story, story, story. It was page-turning, one of the biggest attributes of an enjoyable read. I flew through the first 300 pages in a little over 24 hours. At that point the book "cashed in" its biggest mystery and became a regular horror/action/romance, which took me a few more days to finish off. The central "mysterious man with an incredible secret" is an old superhero formula, but it's as compelling here as ever.
The writing style struck me as poor. There are large parts of the book that were weak or entirely forgettable. The classmates are flimsy characters who take up too many pages, and Bella's descriptions of Edward's incredibly good looks grow tiresome pretty fast. Clichés abound, and some of the writing is fairly painful to read. But there's a solid enough story and enough good attributes that I'm happy I read it, and I'll take a look at the sequels.
The romance partially worked for me. It was told from a female perspective, and this may have somewhat hampered my enjoyment, but I did capture the sense that the couple were falling head over heels in love, and it was enough to make their actions believable and their relationship something I rooted for.
The local setting was an unexpected surprise, and possibly my favourite aspect of the book. Having the novel set in the Pacific Northwest really made many of the scenes and environments incredibly real for me, it was a very significant factor as to why I was drawn in by the first few chapters of the book. Incredibly immersive, I'd stop reading and have to take a few moments to remind myself I wasn't inside the book's setting anymore.
The vampire lore was fine and served its purpose. This isn't speculative fiction where the lore is the central tenet of the book. Rather, the lore is a plot device to hang interesting people and decisions off. The constant complaints that her vampires glittered in sunlight ring hollow. Regular fantasy readers should be familiar with the pattern - our legends exist as a background legends in the story, but... *big reveal*... some of the myths are true, and they don't work in the way you thought they did! Complaining that her vampires sparkled would be akin to complaining that in space travel fiction the characters shouldn't use 6-shooters or glowy swords. Sci-fi/fantasy adapts and changes, you can't get lore "wrong" when you're the author.
All in all? I enjoyed it. 50% plot, 40% romance, 10% fantasy. Looked forward to reading the next chapter, what was going to happen next? Was very drawn in. However, I was aware of some pretty terrible writing mixed in with some compelling passages. A little too much gushing repetitive romance which was overly focused on the characters' physical appearances.
Interesting aside. I've discovered that my 2 favourite authors (Orson Scott Card and Brandon Sanderson) attended the same university as Stephanie Meyer: Brigham Young University (BYU). All 3 are, from what I can tell, religious and practicing Mormons, and it shows in their characters. Couples are chaste by default, rather than vice versa, and characters spend some time in each of their novels pondering the ethics and morality of their situations. It's an interesting trend. What is BYU doing right to be pumping out disproportionately many successful authors?
I am typing this blog at 10pm, lying in bed listening to the sound of a sick Matthew pitifully coughing, running a fever and calling us intermittently - poor boy. You wouldn't have believed it based on how he was earlier today. After his nap and a late lunch, Caryn and I took him and Emily down to Crossroads park to the strawberry festival. Because of the festival, parking is terrible so we just decided to walk down. Well, technically 2 of us decided to walk, 1 of us was told to walk, and 1 of us was pushed in a stroller.
We only arrived for the last hour of the festival, and I wasn't expecting much. Caryn browsed the stalls and went to fetch us strawberry shortcake while Matthew played on the overcrowded jungle gym and slides. After a while, Matthew tired of playing and wandered over to a large stage which had a band playing. He stared, transfixed (as he always does with live music), and we waited for Caryn to return. When she did, she didn't even have strawberry shortcake - shocking! She claimed they were sold out. Can you imagine a strawberry festival selling out of strawberry shortcake? I was not impressed. Anyway, she returned with an American flag that a realtor was giving away with his business card in some shameless promotion cashing in on nationalism. At this point, a new band started playing, and various children and even some adults moved to the open area in front of the stage and started dancing and moving around. Next to the edge of a stage was one fairly impressive guy doing some breakdancing moves. He was incredibly strong and his signature move was to push himself up on one hand and do a few gyrations with his legs in the air. A little later one or two other guys who could do some breakdancing moves arrived, and a little informal "dance-off" started taking place off to the right of stage, with one going after the other and getting a bit of excitement from the people standing nearby. The whole time, Matthew's eyes were just transfixed by the band on the stage and the ice cream we were sharing. (Or so I thought!)
Once the ice cream was finished, I thought Matthew might enjoy a bit of free space and movement to the music. Now, I've seen Matthew dance hundreds of times before. He copies his parents, he sways back and forth and is generally very unimaginative. So I pop Matthew on the floor and lead him to the area where people are dancing. And our previously transfixed and peaceful little boy explodes into a torrent of unexpected action like I've never seen before. First thing he does? Head and hands hit the ground, and BAM, his legs are kicking around in the air. I'm flabbergasted. Before I can assess whether violent headstands on concrete are a good idea he dives in for another move - he does the splits on the ground, jumps up, then up for another awkward headstand with splits above him. He's obviously been watching these breakdancers and he's in full imitation mode. I was totally amazed - who knew? At Gymboree they constantly get to dance to music, and Matthew is totally uninspired. Today he goes on a 30 minute cardio workout dance. He's so expressive, everything ranging from exuberant running to jumping on the spot to swaying and clapping to the music, all the way to (repeatedly) his newly learned breakdancing moves. He was a whirling dervish, a neverending dynamo of energy and quite obvious joy. It was a wonderful thing to watch and even take part in a little bit. Finally the band played their last song, packed and went home, and we were left with our red-cheeked son saying, "Dance. More. Dance. More".
I was confident he would run out of steam pretty quickly. He's been just a little sick for a few days, and I figured he wouldn't have much in the tank after an outpouring like I'd witnessed. A few minutes into our walk home Matthew squatted and touched the pavement. Normally that's to pick something up or show me something on the ground, but this time he just squatted and looked down. "What is it?", I asked him. "Daddy, tired", he answered, and got to experience the rest of the walk from atop my shoulders, leaning forward and actually resting his chin on the crown of my head. However, this respite was short lived. Our route took us through our local Ivanhoe park and Matthew sat bolt upright once again. He pleaded to play on the swings and slides, and since Caryn needed a bit of time at home to prepare supper, we split up. Once again Matthew powered up and after a hasty hug goodbye to Mommy and Emily, he charged over the grass all the way to the play area. 30 high energy minutes later and I had to tear him away from climbing a rock and finally start walking. Sure enough, halfway home and he sunk to his knees once again, telling me how tired he was.
He got through supper, but by bathtime he was a zombie. His head would sink downwards and he would mostly stop interacting, and I knew that he was all but asleep. Through his usually active time while getting diaper and pajamas he just lay peacefully on his back. He did manage to utter what book he wanted to read, but when reading it, his usual interactions with the page were conducted with leaden fingers and a croaky voice in a single quiet syllable. I was convinced he was going to fall asleep on my lap, but he made it to the end with eyes open. I told him to call Mommy, which is what he does right before being tucked in. To my surprise, he said "No, no!", and his activity suddenly increased. He clambered over me looking down at the side table. "Other, other. 2 books!" I was amazed - one of Matthew's possible rewards for being good on the changing table is to get 2 books read to him, and here was an almost catatonic little boy suddenly demanding that I keep him up even longer! He got his 2nd book and crashed into bed, fast asleep 2 minutes after I left the room. (He proceeded to sleep for 1.5 hours and then wake up super alert and coughing, which is how he's been until now, 11pm...)
Well. I've just blogged 4pm-8pm on Sunday, how many more paragraphs will I need to blog the rest of our weekend? Not as many, I promise.
We started off at Matt and Nancy's house - we're trying to start up swapping babysitting services. Round 1 was Matt and Nancy going out to dinner and a movie on Friday, and we went to Cirque du Soleil on Saturday. We took our whole family up to their place and were moderately pleased with how things went. Very pleased that individually all 3 children adapted super well and went to sleep like angels, no problems. Marginally less pleased that we could only really do bedtimes one after the other, and 3 baths and 3 bedtimes starts to add up, we felt like we spent the entire evening putting kids to sleep, after Emily started bathing at around 7:15pm, I think Matthew finally was put down at 9:15pm. The days of camper cots is over, and this time Matthew went to sleep just on a mattress on their bedroom floor. He's really good about bed though, and he didn't even try and move or explore - I was very proud of our big boy! Very successful, we'll do it again but may only send 1 parent, without the children.
Saturday was the final week of our free Gymboree trial. Oh my goodness I'm so pleased we got to My Gym. Gymboree is saccharine in the extreme, and I struggle not to laugh at the ridiculous things they do. An interesting experience, but not something I'm going to miss. Then came the USA soccer match. The media here has given a lot of attention to the supposed shocking treatment that USA has gotten from referees. The general public are not experienced soccer watchers either, and basically repeat exactly the words they heard from the commentators during the game. When it came to the "inexplicable disallowed goal" against Slovenia, most of the outrage was over the fact that "nobody knew why it was disallowed". I don't think too many people really wanted to find out why, to be honest. And the general public as well as the commentators kept referring to the other goal that was "robbed" against Algeria, conveniently ignoring the fact that despite being VERY close, the call was technically correct. I've seen commentators interpret bad calls are good calls, or try to paint 50/50 calls as outrightly bad. But I've seldom heard such a large group (the media, the commentators, the general public) take a technically correct call and simply by consensus start to agree that it was a great travesty of justice. If you google "Algeria Offside", the most common words you'll see in articles about it are "robbed" or "conspiracy". The opinions are parroted by writer after writer, website after website. Exposure to this has had a profound effect on me. It's sport, and everyone is behind their team, but the ease with which reality is casually discarded in favour of something that's more nationally pleasing is quite scary. When you extend this sort of public opinion to issues like politics and foreign relations, I find it deeply ironic when Americans routinely disparage China, North Korea or Iran for being blindly nationalistic.
That was an unexpected rant, sorry! The short version of that is - after the dramatic excitement of the last minute win over Algeria, I was enthusiastically cheering for USA. However, after listening to the commentators for an hour, and becoming downright furious for a total lack of analysis or a single replay of the tackle which led to the USA penalty, I became incensed at the whole situation and found myself rooting for Ghana. I don't know what audio feed you're getting, but in the last 15 minutes of extra time the commentary devolved into insulting the Ghanaian players for time wasting and cheating, it was like they'd never seen a side with the lead running down the clock. Almost as if they expected a side with the lead to run to the ball and take quick throw ins, And when you keep hearing words like "disgraceful" and "unsporting" when an opponent dives, the sniggering and back slapping when a USA player totally fooled the ref into yellow carding an entirely innocent Ghanaian was the final straw.
Ooops, I ranted again. Back to family!
Saturday evening was babysitting reversal. Matt and Nancy came over for supper. We bathed, fed and put Emily down to sleep. And we bathed and changed Matthew but left him awake. This was a little scary for us, but good. Nancy said that he was an angel, went down beautifully. I think our friends are a little jealous of us, but it's also good for people with a longer bedtime routine to see and remember that things can get easier as their kid grows up.
Cirque du Soleil was lovely. Incredible. Really excellent. We felt very odd to be out on a date without children, but enjoyed it tremendously. Some acts were spectacular, and even the less technically astounding acts were still attractive, fun and entertaining. I spent much of my time analyzing the physics, the process and the psychology of the show. There were a few slips and falls that I'm certain were deliberate in order to add to the tension as they step up their act - it certainly worked on Caryn. I've often said to Caryn, "When a book or movie kills off a major character early, it raises the stakes. Suddenly anything can happen, anyone can die." The show was the same. When the high-wire act guy fell and caught himself by one arm on a relatively simply early part of the act, the audience were totally riveting for the remaining tricks. And tense, very very tense. Plus it added massively to the sense of the difficulty. But great show. Highlight for me was the "wheel of death". Imagine an enormous hourglass. Or a pair of round glasses. I can't explain it, perhaps I can find a photo.
I'd better wrap up before I run out of battery, otherwise you won't be able to see the photos, yikes! Well, Sunday morning Caryn (and Emily) went to Portage Bay cafe (don't be too jealous!) to meet with the group to plan Kirsten's baby shower. Matthew and I had a wonderful father-son time walking along the waterfront and watching ferries. Then, on my way back to pick up Caryn I got stuck on the wrong side of Seattle's big gay pride parade and ended up driving half way around Seattle to pick up Caryn and few blocks away. Very colourful crowd!
You'll be pleased to know that our coughing little boy is soundly asleep, as is my wife. I'll get some photos up for you, and I'll get a video of up sometime this week too.
I finished the blog pretty abruptly last night, the laptop was showing me increasingly stern warning messages and I was overdue for sleep. I think that the reason that you all had broken photos was because I snapped the laptop shut as soon as I saw the last thumbnail appear, I didn't realize Google uploads the thumbnails and full photos separately - you live and learn!
2 quick extras. First of all, the gay pride parade. I can't emphasize just how stupid I felt, I literally drove the entire length of the parade route, getting a full Seattle city tour in the process. 45 minutes of solid driving, discovering areas of Seattle I didn't know existed. And then when I checked out the details of the parade it turned out that I'd bumped into the parade RIGHT at the far end of the route - all I needed to do was turn the other direction and I would have had almost no detour whatsoever. I felt pretty dumb.
Secondly, I wanted to comment on Matthew's relationship to Emily. The last few weeks has seen Matthew start to really enjoy being a big brother. He's concerned and tender each time Emily cries, he's consistently gentle with her and loves interacting with her when she's on the floor. He knows her routine and wants to help with everything, getting her into the car seat, picking her up from naps. When he wakes up in the morning, the first thing we hear him say is "Eat. Cheerios." Then, after he dashes out of his room and runs into Emily's room he'll have his face up against Emily's cot, staring into her just woken eyes and ask her, "Emmy, sleep well?" On the floor he loves to give her toys and watch her play with them, and if he's unintentionally rough he'll immediately stop and very very gently stroke her forehead saying, "Sorry Emmy. Sorry Emmy." It's an absolute pleasure to watch and I really can't wait for you all to be part of it in just 2 short months.
That's all! Have a good week. I think you both might be buying computers this week, good luck! Let me know how it goes and feel free to give me an SMS if you need me to ring you up (Skype to phone) to ask a question while you're shopping.