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Monday
Apr242017

kauai: north shore and kilauea town

The North Shore of Kauai is the wetter, more lush side of the island so we fully expected some cooler temperatures and rainy days.  However, we lucked upon a dry stretch of weather and only had a bit of rain the night before we left.  We were able to get some more beach time in and Nick could do his hike on the Na Pali coast that he had been planning to celebrate his 40th birthday.  

We rented the bottom part of a house from a French couple, Brigitte and Guilaume, who had lived in Kilauea for over 20 years.  They had transformed their banyon tree into a treehouse for their son many years ago and now let guests climb up to see the view.   We arrived right around sunset and Jonas immediately needed to get up into the Bird's Nest to check it out.   It was a bit rickety in places, but sturdy enough that we weren't too concerned for safety. 


The bridge in the background was off limits to us, used mostly by the house dog, Chantee.   She liked to hang out in the tree house and was very friendly.   We enjoyed spending time relaxing at the house; playing cribbage and lounging on the porch. Jonas also was quite enamored with Brigitte, one of the hosts, and would follow her around to help her water the garden and tend to things. 

The village of Kilauea is rather small, but has a few nice spots to eat and check out.   We were in town for the monthly night market which had music, food trucks and vendors.   There was also a spot for minigolf and Jonas loved it so much he just kept wanting to play.   

While Nick was off hiking the trail and camping, Jonas and I hit up a few more beaches and tried snorkeling.   The snorkeling was a good attempt, but we didn't quite get the hang of it well enough to see any fish.  The North Shore beaches are lovely and have good sand and nice, clear waters.   The two beaches we visited were at Ha'ena State Park and Anini Beach.  

 

We went through the town of Hanalei several times while driving the road to Na Pali and it was a nice place to stop for smoothies and fruit.   We were on a mission to eat as much fruit as possible before heading home, and we're mostly successful, but couldn't find a decent papaya.  We also forgot how good the bananas are and didn't nearly eat enough before the end of our trip.  

There is a lighthouse and wildlife preserve down the road from Kilauea.   Jonas and I managed to get out there during one of the times it was open, but we were not early enough to join the tour of the lighthouse.   Still, the conservation group that runs the area has binoculars on loan to watch the various seabirds nesting and wandering about.   

 

When Nick returned from his overnight trip, he reported a very sucessful hike and had some lovely pictures to share.   The exposed trail makes the hike a bit treacherous, but maybe in 10 years we can revisit it together.  

For the last day, it was my turn to get out for a hike while Nick and Jonas had some time together.   I tried the Okolehao Trail that cruised up a ridgeline to get some views of the area.   The trail continues out as far as you feel comfortable going and it does get a bit narrow with some steep drop-off.  

I had to psyche myself up once or twice to navigate some steep chutes in the trail.   The biggest one I very nearly stumbled down, which almost had me turning around.  However, I managed to collect myself and get down it (and many others afterwards) and it was nice to make it to the 'end' of the trail.  

On one of the last nights, the sunset was looked promising, so we scaled the banyon tree to watch from the Bird's Nest.  Eventually an intense pink light bathed everything around us.  

The sunset was a lovely send-off to a idyllic week spent on Kauai.  We will definitely visit the island again to continue our exploring and perhaps another round of mini-golf.    

Monday
Apr242017

kauai: in and around waimea

To celebrate our collective birthdays this year, we decided to explore Kauai for a week and escape one of the wettest winters on record in the Northwest.   We arrived on the island late at night and drove the dark roads along the southern end of Kauai to find our lodging in the outpost of Waimea.   There is something to be said for arriving to a new place at night -- building the anticipation for what you might be surrounded by when morning comes.   Our house was tucked away up-country from the town and was a historic plantation house.  We settled in to sleep for a few hours before the roosters began their crowing at dawn.   

Morning came with bright sun streaming in and a cold breeze blowing through the screened-in living room.   Nick and Jonas had already ventured down to see what Waimea had to offer.   Coming down the hill to meet them, the temperature warmed quickly and we knew we had a beautiful day ahead of us to explore the Waimea canyon.   We stocked up on groceries (realizing all the cafes were closed for President's Day) and after a late pancake breakfast, we headed up the road. 

Jonas loved scrambling along the red dirt and we stopped at most of the lookouts so we could walk the trails and get different views of the canyon.  

Nick was also scouting out ideas for a solo hiking trip he might take later.   We tried to spend the whole afternoon walking around so that we could wait for sunset, but eventually things got a bit too cold and we had run out of places to go, so we headed back to our house to get some rest.  Still, we enjoyed some great vistas and got a bit of exercise. 

The following day also had a warm, sunny outlook, so we headed to Poipu for a bit of beach time and hopefully some hiking.   Poipu beach park was noted to have a good kids' area, but we might have missed that part and ended up with a bit more surf.   Still, the water was calm enough for Jonas and I to get out for some swimming and playing.  We even managed to get Nick in for about 2 mintues before he decided the water was too cold.   He prefered to lay out in the sun (and at one point became encircled by a group of older ladies doing their post water aerobics cool down on the sand).  

After getting enough sun, we went looking for lunch.  We ate excellent burritos at Da Crack, a mexican joint named for its locale (being not much more than a crack in a wall of a shopping center).  Whie we ate, we talked about our plans for the afternoon.   Given a choice between botanical garden and walking the lithified cliffs, Jonas picked the garden. We stopped first at Spouting Horn Park to watch a blowhole in the lava rock.  Then we opted to tour the McBryde garden since it was self-guided and the Allerton tour seemed more structured (and expensive).   The tour requires a shuttle ride through some private property and glimpse of the Allerton estate.  Our driver was quite the character and fed us bits of trivia along the ride.   

We explored all areas of the garden until the last shuttle departed.   Jonas especially enjoyed the mist tunnel and we spent lots of time activating the mist and then walking through.  There were lots of beautiful orchids and other tropical plants -- plus some information on how the organization is working to preserve native plants. We ended the day with a stop at the fancy market in Poipu and then home again for another early night.     

For our last full day, Nick took the car back up Waimea to do some more extensive hiking while Jonas and I walked to town for a sunny afternoon of exploring and a quest for shave ice.   We spent a good amount of time out on the pier watching some guys fish (their only catch was a baby hammerhead shark that they let thrash around on the floor, wanting to use it for bait).  The beach in Waimea isn't very welcoming (and the water is rough and muddy), so we went to town and debated on which Jo-Jo's shave ice we should try.  There are two within a stone's throw of each other and it doesn't appear that they have the same owner.   We went with the guide book recommendation and it was good although Jonas was a bit put off by the artificial taste of the syrup.  We lounged the rest of the day at our house and greeted Nick when he returned from his adventure.  

We headed out of Waimea the following day and took a slow and scenic route towards the north shore of the island.  We visited the oddly desolate menehune canal and suspension bridge just outside of Waimea (not really worthwhile), learned about the brief Russian involvement in the islands at the Russian Fort, and stopped by Salt Pond Park and Hanapepe.   Salt Pond ended up being a rather nice swimming area, so Jonas and I suited up and jumped in.   There was a large Monk Seal resting on the beach there as well.  

I dragged Jonas out of the water so that we could go find some lunch.  As we were toweling off, two more monk seals swam into the area we had just been in and frolicked around for quite awhile.  I was very glad they waited until we were out of the water to arrive! 

After watching the creatures for awhile, we headed into the Hanapepe and ate a very local-style lunch at Bobbie's.   Bobbie himself was there to explain the offerings and what exactly was in saimin.  Afterwards we checked out the suspension bridge which was much more impressive than the one in Waimea.  We also walked along the levy road.  

Heading back to the car, we made one last stop at a very local farmer's market for some fruit then hit the road for Kilauea, only stopping briefly in Kapaa for groceries so we could get in before dark.  

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.