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Monday
Nov072016

new york

Considering that this October was the wettest October on the books in Seattle, we feel lucky to have escaped to New York State for a week of sun, leaf peeping and festivities.   My brother was getting married in the mountains near Buffalo, so we decided to make the most of a cross-country flight and do some touring as well. Coincidentally, some of Nick's extended family reside on a property at the edge of Lake Ontario outside of Rochester, which they named Oakdene.  Nick hadn't been out since his teen years and I since I have heard many stories about Oakdene  we figured we were due for a visit.   

But first, Niagara.  

On the advice of many friends, we crossed over to Canada to experience the falls from that vantage.   It gives you a much better view of both American Falls and the Horseshoe, or Canadian Falls.   Plus, it gave us an excuse to use our passports again.   The town near the falls on the Canadian side is quite touristy as well, but once you get down closer to the river, that element mostly disappears and you're left with some great views and a lot of mist.   You an get rather close to the brink of the falls and it is amazing to see the volume of water that is tumbling down.  

We also found the Nikola Tesla statue and read up on his ideas of hydro-electric power. Nick has Serbian roots as well, and I thought he bared a bit of resemblance to the man.  Certainly we both felt humbled by how much he accomplished by a young age.  

It was time for us to head out to Oakdene, so we pried Jonas away from the touristy funicular train (that went up about 200 feet and cost $5) and headed back to the states.   We arrived in Wolcott at dark, and after some backtracking, finally made it out to where the property began.   The family owns roughly 100 acres of forest, largely undeveloped.   There is a central cottage that is shared between the families (Nick's grandmother is one of 5 girls who inherited the property).  

Some families live at Oakdene year round, while others gather there in the summer months.   The property sits on a bluff above Lake Ontario with trails that wind down to the shore.  In fact, the original stone cottage has since plummeted down the bluff as its foundation eroded away.   

Part of the foundation of the original cottage

Nick's mother's cousin Chris lives at the property year round with his wife Sue and they were gracious enough to get the cottage set up for us and help us find it in the dark. They own a schooner named the Sara B and were planning on taking her out of the lake the next day for the winter season.  That morning they asked if we'd like to go out with them for the last sailing and we were happy to tag along.

The rest of our time at Oakdene we spent sunning ourselves at the lake, exploring the forest and looking for the Grandmommy and Granddaddy oak trees. We enjoyed the rustic quality of the cottage, having fires to warm ourselves at night and lots of candles to see and eat by.  

As we departed, Chris rang the old bell that hangs by the new cottage and we vowed to make it back to Oakdene before too much time has past.  

On our way to Ellicotville for wedding festivities, we drove the length of Lake Seneca, one of the finger lakes and hiked through Watkins Glenn.  

The slate canyon has been carved away by the river and has a few trails to explore.  We learned that tour busses drop their loads at the top of the canyon and hoards of tourists clog the trails occasionally, taking numerous selfies and generally blocking the path.  We surfed through 3 groups before we had the canyon more or less to ourselves.   It was still a beautiful waypoint, especialy with the golden leaves floating down and landing on the dark, wet rock.   We hiked both ways and made sure to find the suspension bridge on the way back to our car.   

Elliocotville was a charming town and we enjoyed spending a few days there seeing family and being in the wedding.  The day of the rehersal dinner our family went out to the nearby Allegheny State Forest to enjoy the sunny morning.   The grandparents took Jonas while Nick and I did a hike on our own.  We hiked a pleasant loop trail, watching out for the newfound slipping hazard of acorns hidding under dry leaves.   

For the wedding day, Jonas was the ring bearer and looked sharp in his vest and bow-tie.   I made the outfit to coordinate with the wedding party and put a few little colorful surprises in the linings.  

My brother and his wife looked beautiful and their ceremony was thoughful and simple.   Jonas wanted to dance the night away, but we had an early flight in the morning out of Buffalo, so we said our goodbyes early and headed to bed.

Our return home was uneventful (the typhoon that was predicted to hit Seattle never materialzed) and we endured the soggy weather of October with colorful memories of our trip.  

 

Tuesday
Sep132016

the letting go

Here we are, the end of another summer and the start of Kindergarten. There has been a lot of excitement, nervousness, early mornings and long days this week.   For me, it feels like everything we've been doing for the past 5 years has been about preparing for this change, to grow and raise a kid who can stand on his own and be ready for the bigger world. 

He looks pretty ready to me. 

Leading up to the official start of Kindergarten there were a lot of days spent getting ready for this big transition and I think we were all ready just to get going.  Jonas had a week of half-day Jump Start program which gives the incoming Kindergarteners run of the school without the other kids tromping around.   It also lets the teachers suss out the kids and form their classes.   Jonas' class has 23 kids and one great teacher.   We already love Ms. Stenberg.   I think having a teacher that Jonas liked immediately has made starting school so much easier.  

On the first full day of Kindergarten, we were waiting for the morning bell to ring, chatting with the other families we knew from the neighborhood.  In fact, 2 familes we know from our PEPS group are at the school and Jonas shares a cubby with one of them in his classroom.   It made it easier for me to already have familar faces to connect with and trade tips and information with, since I tend to be more reserved around new people.  So we're all on the playground waiting when the 7:50 bell rings (quite loudly).   In a flash, Jonas started running to line up, but he wasn't going in the right direction.  Nick and I had to chase him down and remind him where his class lines up now that he is in Room 2.  He was so eager to fall into place and was probably lining up where his group met during the Jump Start Program.   Every morning when we've arrived at school, he goes right to his line, ready for work.  

He's been full of conversation about school and already learned a lot about the social aspects of school (sometimes the hard way, when he's been excluded from play by an older kid).   Part of the letting go is knowing that he has all the tools to deal with other kids and stand up for himself on the playground.  Still it is hard to see him feeling sad or left out, knowing that I can only help from a distance by talking with him about his challenges.   He's a sensitive kid and I think once he finds the other kids he fits with, then his days at school will be even better.   

Personally, I have been relishing the time I've been given back by the start of school.   There have been morning walks, coffee shop visits and a few hours to spend on sewing.   I made Jonas these blue pants for his first day of school, and as a test run for some trousers I'm going to make to outfit him for my brother's wedding next month.  I have quite a list of sewing and knitting projects that I want to get going on and my newfound free time will not be spent idly.  I've also taken on my own PEPS group on Mondays -- helping a group of new moms through those hard first months.   My first meeting was also on Jonas' first day of school and seeing all those tiny babies made me feel that I had come full circle in the first part of my parenting experience.   

We have certainly moved on from that phase, with a twinge of sadness, but mostly with a lot of excitement for what comes next.  

Tuesday
Sep062016

les grandes titres, part deux


France: le luberon and apt

We moved southward for the next segment of our time in France, closer to the Provence region in an area called the Luberon, staying in the town of Apt.  Our house was a charming bungalow set in the hills of the area with a lovely view (and an infinity pool!).   The owners were a married couple with grown children they would visit anytime someone wanted to rent their home for a week.   We were warmly greeted by the gentleman who cheerily showed us everything we needed to know about the house.  He had made us an eggplant tart and left a bottle of wine to welcome us.   His wife did not speak English, so I practiced my French as best as I could as we talked about her grandchildren and items she had that might be of interest to Jonas.    They then left us to catch their train to Paris, giving us a restaurant recommendation and tips on feeding the stray cat that came to visit them.   

We explored a few areas close to Apt and a highight was the village of St. Saturnin les Apt which had a lovely farmers market and some older ruins to wander through.  

Nearby was a park with ochre hills you could hike through.   A smaller version of the Roussillon, this park was called the Colorado and not exactly worth seeking out, but fine for an afternoon of hiking if you were in the area.  

There was a small aquaduct carved from stone and Jonas delighted in throwing small leaves and watching them float down to small pools.  Sometimes travels with children mean finding simple pleasures for entertainment. 

We took a day-trip to Arles the following day for what was probably one of my favorite days of our vacation.   I had found a cooking course online that looked interesting and was willing to work with non-French speaking students.   Many cooking classes in Provence seem geared towards Parisians or other native French speakers.  I managed to communicate well enough with our instructor, Erick, via e-mail preparing for the class, but he would arrange for an interpreter to come and be present for the actual class.   The class would just be for my dad's wife and myself, everyone else keeping busy in Arles checking out the old Roman architecture.   We had to arrive quite early in order to visit the market and get supplies for cooking with Erick.   Nervously, Debbie and I searched out the apartment in the city center where the class was held, and realized we had been given the wrong house number when we rang the bell of a woman who answered the door from her windows on the second floor.   Amazingly, I was able to tell her what we were looking for in French and understand her answer. Erick's apartment was just a few doors down (we had been told it was number 13 when in fact it was 31).  We were greeted by Erick, his assistant/interpreter Lidie and set out for the market.   

Unfortunately, I didn't have the camera for this part of the day (the pictures are from the boys' time in Arles at the old amphitheater in the city center), but we followed Erick to the market and watched him buy peas, mussels, calamari and various other fresh items.  Lidie was very sweet and easy to talk with and she had helped Erick on several occasions and made the class go rather smoothly.   Two hours later, we were setting out a 5 course meal and Nick, my dad and Jonas came back to join us for a leisurely lunch.   Erick was self-taught and specialized in older Provencal cuisine which drew quite a bit from other Mediterranean cultures and even using Asian ingredients such as fish sauce.   Jonas loved the food and was a good guest.  Coincidentally, one of Erick's sons was named Jonas as well and we met him as we were eating. Erick and I found out we also shared a love of making Pain au Levain at home.   His house had all sorts of collected cookware and he also dabbled in making essential oils.   Despite the language barrier, we had a good connection and the class was very worthwhile and special.  

Quite full from lunch, we took a side trip to the Pont du Gard, one of the large Roman aqueducts.   It was a perfect place to sit and enjoy the architecture and put our feet in the cool river.  

 

After our trip to Arles, we had one more full day left in the Luberon.   Nick and I really wanted to explore medieval ruins near Buoux and were impressed by what we found. 

 

A stairwell carved into stone with a precarious drop off!   This must have taken several decades to complete and was a bit of a secret entrance into the living area of the ruins.   The ruins were on top of a hill, in a prime location to see any invaders making their way towards the enclave.   There were several dwellings in the ruins, some complete with moats and bridges, and even a church.   Nick explored some of the quite deep cisterns.  

Clearly this was not a place to bring your 4 year old to play.   We were glad to explore on our own and had the area mostly to ourselves.   That evening Nick and I went out alone again to dinner at the restaurant our host had recommended, Le Bistrot de Lagarde d'Apt.   This was no city restaurant, but a remote dining experience tucked away in the hillsides with literally nothing nearby.   And it was very much worth seeking out.   To make a reservation, you had to leave a message with the restaurant during the day and then they would call back to confirm.  Somehow we managed this, despite not having phone service, using the house phone and having them call back my dad's mobile phone.   With a reservation secure, Nick and I went to gas up the car before driving to the hills.  However, the gas stations wouldn't take our US credit or debit cards and the cash kiosk was closed.   We took a gamble that we had enough gas to make it to the restaurant and back.   It would have been a long walk home if the car ran out of gas, but luckily we didn't have to find out how long.  

The dinner delicious and memorable.   Almost all of the waitstaff were women, which is a rarity in France.  We ordered le Pigeoneau, which turned out to indeed be a small pigeon (or squab).  The menu was in French, which left an element of surprise to the meal. We had a set menu with several courses, all quite interesting and well done. Afterwards, we returned to the house, coasting down the hill in the darkness to save on gas, happily full of great food.   

The next day we said au revoir to my dad and Debbie and caught our TGV train back to Paris.   Off to the the city of lights for a few days before our journey back to the States. 

Tuesday
Sep062016

worth doing

To be brief, triathlon number 6 was not my best.  The weather was perfect and the summer much milder than last year's blazing heat.   I had been putting in lots of hours training on the runs and biking, but not finding enough time in the pool.   Still, I felt optimistic that I could beat my previous time of 3 hours 11 minutes and possibly meet my goal of finishing in less than 3 hours.   That was, until I got a nasty summer cold.   By the time the SeaFair Tri rolled around, I was on the mend, but had scrapped quite a bit of training in order to recover.   I also was not at 100% by any means energy-wise and definitely felt it after the swim.  An illustration of my fatigue was when I tried to remove both arms from my wetsuit at the same time and was briefly stuck.  Discouraged that I was already going too slowly to beat my time, I just put my head down and did my best to finish.  

Olympic Triathlon -- 2016

3 hours, 27 minutes  

346 of 358 finishers

Let me tell you, I could tell that I was near the end of the pack by the time I was on my second lap of the 10K run -- it was pretty lonely out there.   Still, I was trying to focus on myself and not compare myself to other competitors. I must say though, I'm glad I didn't finish last.  

Nick got this photo of me during the last leg of the run.  I was trying really hard to beat you, number 523, but just couldn't find the energy to sprint the final distance.  

A few friends who were doing the Sprint distance race cheered me on as I was about to embark on the remainder of the run.   When we chatted about the race afterwards, my friend said I was looking pretty good when she saw me chugging past.   Truthfully, I didn't feel that bad during the race. My hips and knees didn't give me any grief which was encouraging.   Everything just felt a little slowed down and I couldn't find any reserves to pull from.   

In the long run, my time doesn't really matter.  I still think the event is worth doing, even if I'm not improving.  It is about the process of training and pushing myself to work as hard as I can manage.  Some years I'll have more time to commit to training.   Maybe I can even take a swim course to improve my technique.  This year it was just enough to be out there, amongst others, being athletes.  

And as far as goals go -- there's always next year.

Thursday
May122016

les grands titres, part one

This time last year we were bumming around France, mostly in the Drome and Provence regions.   Tonight I put the last bit of my French grey sea salt (fleur de sel de guerande) in my salt cellar and was feeling nostalgic about our journey.  Instead of writing a day-by-day recap of our experience, I'm just going to give highlights (les grands titres) of the areas we explored.  We were a bit off the beaten track and I wholly recommend the same for anyone looking to make a trip to the French countryside.   

france:  dieulefit and the drome

 

We stayed a week in a lovely stone house in the Drome region of France, closest to the village of Dieulefit. The owners of the AirBnB rental were an English and German ex-pat couple who were extremely gracious and welcoming.  Their own home was on the same property, but we had plenty of space and privacy.   Berndt, the German, kept Merino wool sheep and did trail running through the mountainsides. He also had a well-trained sheepdog Jacques who delighted Jonas with his tricks. Berndt's wife was happy to chat about the region and kept a lovely garden (whose enormous snails were a fascination to Jonas).  

Exploring the medieval village of Dieulefit was certainly a highlight of our time in the region.   The village is known for its poterie (pottery) and there are many styles made locally.   I bought a simple white stoneware bowl and my dad found some raku fired mugs to take home with him.  The village had everything we needed for supplying ourselves with food, we just had to be mindful of when the shops were open.  I had the most perfect strawberry tart from the small bakery in town.  The region is also known for its strawberries and we enjoyed many during our trip.  We spent several days strolling around town, collecting provisions and then having a relaxing dinner outside at the stone house.  

If you aren't biking around the mountain roads of the region, then you're exploring medieval ruins or hiking through the trail system that connects the area.   We spent a day in Le Poet Laval doing a bit of both.   Nick and Berndt were going to do a long trail run back to the house, so we dropped them off and my dad, Jonas and I spent the afternoon in the village.   There were lots of beautiful old buildings, some still in good repair and functional.  There was an old church being used as an art gallery which had lots of passages to explore.

 We had lunch at Les Hospitaliers, recommended to us by our hosts and easily the nicest restuarant in the village.  French restaurants, even the more chic ones, still have a special set menu for children, which is usually something much more interesting than chicken strips or a burger.  Jonas was more or less patient through the long lunch (which was excellent) and rewarded nicely by the fanciest dessert of his young life. He was also amused at the dog sitting quietly at the feet of its owner at the table next to ours.   

We spent an hour or so wandering the trails near the village after lunch.  Jonas practiced saying "Bonjour!" to everyone we saw along the way. If we had the time we could have hiked back to Dieulefit!

The next day, Nick and I did get a chance to embark on another hike near a ruined abbey outside of the town of Die (pronounced "dee").  Die was a much larger town and there was a flea market in the town square the morning we stopped through.  My dad and his wife kept Jonas entertained while we trekked up through the mountains to a nice ridge. 

 


It was a hot and sweaty hike, but beautiful and very different than typical Northwest hiking.  We had the trail mostly to ourselves, but Nick did spy the local chamois!  

Jonas kept busy playing in the dirt piles near the abbey while they waited for us to finish (we were up in that ridge somewhere).

We enjoyed the Drome region for many reasons.   Mostly, it was very quiet and un-touristy. That did mean we had to attempt speaking French more than we would have in a larger city, but generally we managed to communicate.    It was also great for hiking, biking and trail running.   There was also an incredible amount of culture in the surrounding area considering that it is a good two hours from any major city.  It is also a lovely place to just sit and relax and take in the countryside.  

Next some highlights from Apt, where we spent the next leg of our trip.