Sunday, September 16, 2018

It's been nice to get back into the swing of things with school and everything. Life has calmed down for us...

A little bit.

Right now, Rachel is in Utah for a bike ride/race she is doing with her mom and sisters. From all accounts, they had a good time and had quite an "epic" time. I guess they got lost on the course or something. All's well that ends well though, and I think that this is only the first of many rides they will do together.



Meanwhile, the kids and I are just relaxing at home. We went swimming and rock climbing, and had our traditional "mom-isn't-here-so-we-can-eat-seafood" meal. It's been fun.


In other news, Rachel and I hosted a BBQ get-together at our house that had between 40 and 50 people showing up. Good times.

Also, Evelyn and I went to Silverwood for a day to ourselves. Ev overcame her fear of big rides and did "spin-cycle" (she had talked herself out of it last time she went). She had so much fun that she went back and did it four more times. It was a fun day.


Well...that's about it for this post. Have a good week!


Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Today is the first day of school for our kids. It has been an amazing summer vacation, but I think everyone is ready to take a few deep breaths and get back into a routine. I think that Rachel and I are ready to be able to go to work without constantly arranging for sitters. I think that our house and yard are ready to recover from being used and abused day-in and day-out beyond their capacities. I think our bank account is ready to have a little more growing room.

Don't get me wrong. Summer is fun, and we have made the best of it. 

But it takes a toll.

So let's all take a big collective sigh of relief and then enjoy the next couple of months of relative calm. I know I will.

Evelyn is going into 5th grade- masters of the school! At her back-to-school night she had fun catching up with friends and meeting her teacher. It is so fun to watch her thrive.


Judging from the back-to-school night, Ms. Addy is the most popular kid in her school. She is the only one who did not experience any nervousness or sadness about summer vacation ending. School can't start soon enough for this social butterfly.


Nice shirt, Jack! This guy has been working hard over the summer and is ready to excel this year in third grade (same as Addy). He still has the biggest emotions out of all our kids...put together.

For the first time ever Adalie and Jackson are in the same class. We'll see how this goes.


My goodness, I have a hard time believing that my Maren is a first grader already! She is ready for this. In the past few weeks she as been asking us more and more if she can read to us or do math pages to prepare. She was a little bit nervous, but I know she will do awesome.

The crew from Mullan Trail. What good kids they all are.

Lindsey is in her second year of preschool. Already she can count to 100, read simple words, and do basic arithmetic.  Academically, she could easily go into kindergarten right now, but she is too young. So here she is, queen of the preschool. 
*****

So how did we use the last week of vacation? Well, for starters, Addy and Rachel went to Silverwood.


Addy got to help with the magic show.


*****

The biggest event of the week though, was the visit by my parents. The arrived on Friday night. The next morning we left bright and early- just the adults- for Leavenworth. We had a fun time exploring the Bavarian setting, peeking in bakeries and gift shops, eating good food, and hiking in the surrounding mountains. That night we went to the outdoor Summer Theater's production of "The Sound of Music" before driving to a cute guest house where we were staying. The whole trip was pretty quick, but was a very satisfying getaway with my mom and dad. 






*****

When we got home from Leavenworth we didn't sit around for long. A quick lunch saw us out again, this time with cars full of bikes and kids. See, Maren had a breakthrough recently and she has been riding around a lot on her two-wheeler. It was time for us to test her newfound skills on the trail. She did great.

Here she is, proud as can be. The band-aid on her knee is the official stamp of a kid who learned how to ride a bike.



After the bike ride we came home and had a backyard BBQ. It was a good day.

*****

But the vacation was not over yet. The next morning we woke up and went to a wonderful little breakfast place in Post Falls called the Old European. It fits with the Leavenworth theme in that it serves a great German-style breakfast that is just enough outside of the norm that it feels special.

Once we were all fueled up with food we drove straight to the lake and spent the next several hours on the lake. Unfortunately the water was really choppy that day so we didn't do any skiing or tubing, but we still had fun.


I really like this picture

And this one too. These were the only sane people out of the group who didn't get wet on this beautiful windy day. 


*****

Last but not least we parked the boat at a dockside snack shop and got ice cream. It was a good visit from my parents and we are already looking forward to the next time they can come up.



Have a good week!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The back of my hands are swollen and bleeding, my feet feel like they are on fire, and my legs can hardly support my body weight anymore.

That is how I know it has been a great weekend.

*****

Some readers of this blog might remember a post I did about a year ago. Rachel and the kids were away, and I took the opportunity to explore a part of the Cascades that I hadn't been to before. The enchantments. Here is a picture that I posted back then:


I got to return to this alpine wonderland last week to do a little more exploration- this time from the end of a climbing rope. There isn't much to write about here- just that it was an experience that only a climber would understand.

Here is the small little lake where we camped- photo credits to Daniel. Also, I highly recommend clicking on each of these pictures for a higher resolution version. Blogger doesn't do justice to the splendor of the area.


What you are looking at is Prusik Peak. It rises up out of the landscape as a dramatic icon of the region, and is one of the most picturesque mountains I have ever been able to visit.

Cooking dinner
In two days we were able to do three different routes to the summit. The first was up the left side ridge (5.7), which we climbed quickly in our running shoes and minimal gear. The next two (both 5.10) were right up the front side and took considerably more time.

Kudos go out to Daniel here who is a great climber and has more endurance than anybody I have ever met. The weather was cold and drizzly and windy as he finished leading the last pitch of the day, and it was all I could do to keep up. All the same, the day went by too quickly as pitch after pitch of perfectly clean granite went by.



Resting at the top. What a day!
On the way down from our camp we stopped to do a different sort of climb, but one which has also been on my bucket list for years. The climb "Outer Space" doesn't end in a stunning peak or anything, but the climbing itself ranks among the best I have ever done in my life. Again, only climbers will really be able to appreciate this, but check out these pictures:



There were at least 3 pitches on this climb that are "classics" by anyone's standards- the kind of pitches that usually justify whole outings just for the 30 minutes or so that it takes to do them. That all three of these pitches are on one route is a remarkable coincidence. It is easy to see why this is a popular place to climb.

That night we ate a celebratory meal at an upstairs restaurant in Leavenworth. The next day we did a few short climbs that were close to the road, and then came home. The trip was somewhat of a whirlwind, but in my book it exceeded expectations and will live on for a long time in my memory.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Words fail.

This is all that could be said when the main character was asked to explain himself in a show that we recently saw. And it's true. Sometimes events seem to spiral so far out of our conception of what is normal that the vocabulary simply isn't there to describe them. And yet we try, knowing all the while that we will fall short.

So, what happened this last week?

Well, 

We went to New York City. But first, we went to Denver, and by accident found ourselves walking along the beautiful rock formations that lie on it's outskirts. And then, as if transported through space and time I was suddenly walking the halls of the Met and feeling so small and so large all at the same time, and while trying to process all of this in my head I was moved again, this time to Times Square, watching all the bustle around me and wondering what all these people must be up to, and then again to a small upstairs flat, but then back down, this time in a theater and then to a cabaret where I'm singing at the top of my lungs and relishing in the atmosphere- but look, I'm in a park now, in a pocket of serenity while life takes place around me, and the only thing that seems important is that I am looking at what might be the world's most perfect tree- but then back to the bustle of downtown which is full of new sights and sounds and tastes. Every step holds a new surprise, a new world, a new thought. And then I'm dancing with my love, keeping time with the music, and we sway back and forth and simply let it all happen, relishing it, knowing that this moment too, will be gone again in a whisper, it's taste on our lips a gentle reminder of what may have been a glimpse of perfection. 

Words fail.

That is all I can really say.

An open field that's framed with trees
We pick a spot and shoot the breeze

Like buddies do

Quoting songs by our favorite bands

Telling jokes no one understands

Except us two

And we talk and take in the view
All we see is sky for forever

We let the world pass by for forever

Feels like we could go on for forever this way

Two friends on a perfect day
      -Dear Evan Hansen: For Forever

*****
As with other large events, the things that happened this last week aren't nearly as important as what they all meant. That said, I still find myself processing the latter question, while wanting to articulate the first. As mentioned above, I fear that this is an impossible task. 
In the interest of where to place the emphasis, I have decided to group things categorically rather than chronologically. In doing so, I realize that some events lose their context- some of which is important. However, I think this small sacrifice will allow feelings to come through more naturally than the alternative. Also, I will take some time at the beginning to get through the early part of the trip, which was totally unexpected and perfectly wonderful.
So, without further delay, our trip:
*****
The first few days were up in the air from the beginning. The original plan was to rent a car and explore the Shawangunk mountains through hiking and rock climbing. This is a place I have been itching to go to since I was a teenager, and the opportunity was there, so why not?
Well the universe, as it turns out, had some different plans. Or at least, Southwest Airlines did. The second leg of our flight- the one from Denver to New York- was completely cancelled. No warning. No refunds. No help. Nothing really to do, except sit around and wait for the next chance to continue onward. That would be in more than 24 hours. In the meantime, we found ourselves stranded in an unfamiliar place with no bags.
But what an opportunity!
Before we knew it we had rented a car, arranged a hotel, and were off to visit the Garden of the Gods.

This place was amazing. It reminded me a lot of City of Rocks, but maybe even more dramatic because of the color and shape of the formations. Very cool.
That night, we wandered the hip downtown areas of Denver, and after a while settled on a sports bar listening to a live classic rock band while at the same time cheering for the Broncos in their second preseason game. How appropriate.
Also, here is a little known fact about us. When we graduated from dental school, there were two places where we decided we could live. One was Coeur d'Alene. One was Denver. I have to say, either would have been great. Denver is a really neat place.
But Coeur d'Alene is better :)

Anyway...
The next day we woke up and drove to the Red Rock Amphitheater. I don't know what I was expecting from this place, but I do know that I was blown away when I actually got there. Wow! 
It is rare for me to admit that people, through construction or other means, have very often been able to enhance the natural beauty of an area. Here though, is where they have "nailed it." The structure is a perfect melding of nature and architecture, with a careful eye of preservation to the surrounding environment. The aesthetic is compelling, making it easy to picture myself completely engulfed in these beautiful hills while at the same time participating in a concert with hundreds of other people around me.
What a place.
We are definitely coming to a concert here. Anyone want to join us?


Rachel on our morning trail-run. The landscape is almost surreal. I can already see the clocks melting...
Once we were done at the Amphitheater it was time for a quick lunch in the park, and then we were off to New York City. Honestly, it was a great unplanned stop. We are now grooming our children to want to move to Denver when they are older so we have an excuse for frequent visits.

*****
Okay, so far so good. This is where I am going to start going categorically while trying my best to avoid becoming a bumbling mess of superlatives.
First stop: 
Museums and Attractions
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • The Museum of Natural History
  • Guggenheim Art Museum
  • Museum of Modern Art
  • 9/11 Memorial
  • Madame Tussauds
  • The Statue of Liberty
New York, obviously, has a lot of things to do. I'm not going to go into detail about each of the places we went. They were all really neat in their own way- some were fun, some were introspective, and some felt like nothing more than boxes to check off a list. Nonetheless, I'm glad for each of them.

That said, I do need to talk about the Met and the Natural History Museum. We reserved an entire day for each of these places, and they both (but especially the Met) left me with a profound sense of humility toward the world and the people in it- maybe more than I have ever felt before.

Me. My family. My country. Myself. My culture. My religious upbringing. My history.

I.

What does it all amount to?

Put up against the backdrop of the world's history, it is a blip.

It is profound to walk into a room full of art and realize that the relics you are seeing represent all of these things to people and cultures of ages past. Things that, to these people, were worth fighting wars over and dying over. They gave their lives over in devotion to ideas- to kings and gods and lofty artistic ideals, often at great sacrifice. The world, to them, revolved around their understanding.

And now- all that is left are a few relics in a room. A big room, sure, but just a room all the same. And as if that wasn't enough, you can walk right through that door over there into another room, and see another world built around a different set of ideas. And another and another and another and another and another and another and another. And it goes on and on. And not only are these cultures dead to the past, but for the most part they were dead to each other as well.

There is something about looking at a six thousand year old clay dish- or at remnants of other human beings who lived hundreds of thousands of years ago, that puts things in perspective.

And then you step out into the streets of New York City. A city where a single building could house my entire town, and where the population of my home state fits into a single triangle of cement at the inauguration of each year, and you realize that all these people going around, they are also like rooms. That each one of them has things that, to them, are just just as important as mine are to me. They have their history. Their families. Their political and religious ideals. Their culture. Things they will fight for and die for.

And who am I? How can anyone, after going through that experience, not come away feeling tiny? It would have been absurd in that moment to assert that my own thoughts, my own truths, my own ideals were more important or real or valuable than "his." Or hers. Or theirs. I wouldn't want to even if I could, but in light of the relics of ages past, it simply became impossible.

And yet, at the same time, those same rooms held the collective history of the world. Those artifacts were made by real people. People like me. Small, tiny, somewhat insignificant people. And yet, I looked around me at New York City, a place where sky scrapers could be built in sixty days, and realized that all this was also just the collective efforts of people. And somehow this seemed hopeful to me. 

Words Fail.



The 9/11 Memorial


This picture was taken specifically for Addy. She was giddy about the idea of seeing Miss Liberty


The NFL museum was a laid back experience with a pretty cool 4D theater where we experienced a snow storm indoors.



Another running theme that we came up against was that of art. Both of these last two pictures were taken because they are pieces that we each liked. A lot. But when we tried to explain to each other why, we had to laugh at ourselves because of how pretentious we sounded. Once again, words were not enough. It was a feeling.

Sometimes I feel like writing this blog- especially this last section, is like trying to explain art.
City Exploration
  • Hell's Kitchen (This is where our apartment was)
  • Midtown
  • Upper East Side
  • Entire Lengths of 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, Broadway, the Highline, and most of Madison
  • Central Park
  • Battery Park City
  • Tribeca
  • Two Bridges
  • Times Square
We did a lot of tours, and we'll get to that in a minute. But most of the time we were exploring on our own. We did a lot of walking. In this way, the city itself became a museum. Each time we stepped around a new corner there was some famous building or statue or monument that would spring into view. Look- the Empire State Building! The LOVE statue! The Occulus! St. Patrick's Cathedral! The Brooklyn Bridge!

Etc, etc, etc.

Just wandering around and familiarizing ourselves with each of these neighborhoods was one of the the best parts of our trip and where we spent the majority of our time.







We biked the streets of NY... and lived. 


The Highline in Lower Manhattan.

Crazy Eyes! Rach decided to try and smile without having squinty eyes. She decided to stick with her beautiful original smile! This was our lunch spot in Central Park.

Tours

  • The Highline
  • Little Italy
  • Chinatown
  • SoHo
  • Broadway
  • Chelsea
  • Meatpacking District
  • Lower Manhattan (Bus)
  • Manhattan Island (Boat)

There is so much history to New York that we had to do some tours. Actually, we did a lot of tours. Normally we would go on these to learn bits of trivia about an area, and then spend the next couple of hours exploring on our own. Also, we learned that virtually every tour-guide in NYC is an aspiring actor.

Broadway

Chinatown

Chelsea

Financial District by bus (it rained a little)

Food
New York has so many food options with celebrity chefs, rooftop restaurants, and garden cafes. It really can be a foodie's paradise.

But...

We aren't really foodies. I mean sure, I like eating good food as much as the next guy, but I definitely don't get the emotional and spiritual high from it that some claim to experience. Because of this, it is awfully hard for me to justify spending a couple hundred dollars on a single meal.

But...

New York is also famous for many less extravagant dishes as well. Things like hot dogs. Pastrami sandwiches. Bagels. And even though we aren't picky eaters, I do have to admit that sometimes I like to splurge just a little.

Gelato in Little Italy

Katz's Delicatessen- the only place in America where you wait in line for an hour to buy a sandwich and a hot dog for $58. Was it good? Yes- it was delicious. Was it that good. Not a chance.
Probably the coolest burger place in America. To work here you must audition (and the competition is fierce). The wait staff sings to you throughout your entire meal. Little known fact: Stardust Diner has more alumni on Broadway than any other business.
Two other honorable mentions:

Rudy's- one of the oldest establishments in New York that is still open. A complete dive, the seats are covered in duct tape and hot dogs are given away for free. Love it!

Mr. Biggs- The storied history of this place makes it worth the visit. Apparently it used to be a gangster-owned speakeasy and they would keep body parts in jars behind the shelf to use as intimidation.

Night Life
Oh, to be young again and be able to stay up late with no babysitter to worry about! I do not think there was a single night that finished earlier than 1am. We just enjoy each other's company that much.

There are three places that really stand out here:


Don't Tell Mama's is a wonderful place right in the middle of the Broadway district. The entertainment is provided by singers of amazing talent, and it is not unusual for the occasional star to walk in and do a number. When we walked in for the first time there was an actor on stage singing Mr. Cellophane from Chicago, jazz hands flashing and legs kicking high.The best part? The audience joins in (with enthusiasm) whenever they know the words! It seriously feels like walking into a musical and we spent two full nights here.


Marie's Crisis Cafe in the heart of Greenwich Village was once the main hang-out spot for the legendary Thomas Paine. The name reflects that The Crisis Letters were written from its tables, and a mirror still hangs on the wall as a reminder of that era. It is uncanny to stare into that mirror and to see American revolutionaries staring back at you. Today, Marie's is a gay bar, but all are invited who enjoy showtunes and a good time. It is small and cramped and loud with all the voices singing in unison with such gusto that it is sometimes hard to even hear the piano.


Swing 46 is a swanky jazz club with good music and a dance floor. It felt especially good when Rachel and I were asked for recommendations of other dance places because we "looked like we would probably know." At a place known as the "hippest dance scene in New York" I'll take that as a compliment.

Broadway
I saved the best for last. This was the main reason for New York in the first place. The rest was gravy. Rachel and I are both huge fans of musical theater, and going to see shows on Broadway has been a wish of ours for a long time. During our week-long stay we were able to see four shows, and never sat more than 15 rows away from center stage. It was absolutely amazing.


Dear Evan Hansen is the best show I have ever seen. I don't say that lightly either. It had everything you could ask for in a musical. Showstopping performances, a poignant soundtrack, difficult real-life issues with no cop-out answers, and an emotional demand on the audience like none I have ever experienced. If someone tells you they didn't cry during this show, it can only mean one thing- they aren't human. Wow.


Come From Away is one of those shows that leaves you feeling really good about humanity in general. It definitely leaves a smile on your face with a "surprise" encore- Canadian hoedown style!


The Band's Visit was different than any other show I have ever seen. It is easier to think of it as a play with music than as a musical. Silence and awkwardness are two driving factors, and I have to admit it made me uncomfortable for a minute. I guess that was the point though. Overall, not my favorite. But not bad either.


Beautiful is a wonderful feel-good story about Carole King. It reminded me a LOT of the Motown Musical, but in my opinion was even better. Not real profound in any way, but great entertainment. I found myself clapping and whooping more in this than in any other.

*****


Throwback to 2009 when I surprised Rachel on our anniversary with a one-night stay in this little cabin. It was marvelous. At that time we decided that we would do a trip every year. Just us.

We have kept that promise to ourselves, and this year did not disappoint.

Happy 13th to us.