Sunday, September 30, 2007

Home Improvements R Us


We seem to be addicted to home improvements. In the winter it's the basement or the kitchen, in the summer the work moves outside and we tackle garden beds and painting the house. This summer we cut a new set of stairs into the deck, built raised garden beds, and re-landscaped the front yard. Phew! Now that it's just about time to do one last yard clean-up, we're starting work on the bathroom. After that...who knows? I'd love to paint the living room and rearrange the furniture a little, clean out the craft room so Jake can have a bedroom...then maybe we'll be "done."

Here are some pictures of our summer projects:

We decided we needed a nice, straight route to the grass from the deck, so Rob and his dad spent an afternoon building a new set of stairs. We placed a few paving stones at the bottom with thyme growing between them. We also ripped/yanked/dug out the long perennial grasses that had been growing around the base of the deck. They were just too agressive and we wanted room for a few vegetables. So out they came and we replaced them with tomatoes, carrots, rosemary, and lavender. Only THEN did we decide to build raised vegetable beds...

I had seen this great layout for raised beds in Sunset magazine, and Rob said we could easily copy the idea. "Define 'easy'" I should have said. We had a big circle of pine-needle encrusted dead grass where we had cut down a spruce tree. So we measured and measured and measured some more and finally came up with a plan for the four, four-foot square beds. After many debates about what best to use for the sides, we wound up with recycled railroad ties. They smell pretty strongly of creosote and weigh a ton, but are big and strong and the smell has faded over the summer. With the ties in place we filled them with soil, mixed in some peat moss, and our "simple weekend project" was ready for planting - after a month and half of weekends. The idea was that each of us would have one planter, and we could plant whatever we wanted in it. Haley chose her pizza garden, I planted a cutting garden, Rob planted bright, showy plants and vidalia onions, and Jake got stuck with a bunch of saplings and leftover onions. We've already been talking about what we'll each plant in our beds next spring.

The raised beds felt like a huge project, and then we turned around and started an even bigger one. We've been saying for years that our house could really use some curb appeal - scrubby evergreen shrubs and nondescript foundation plants lined up against the house, with landscaping rock underneath. Blah. We wanted something low-maintenance, attractive, and welcoming. So one time when my mom was out to visit she painted a picture of our house with a new landscape. I told her which plants I liked and she painted them right in. It looked great! When we finally decided to go for it, we followed her plan exactly and I think it's the most peaceful home project we've ever done together because all the decisions were already made. Rob spent a couple of weekends hauling out load after load of rocks, and soon we were ready to plant. It's still gowing in, but we're happy with the results and the neighbors can't stop telling us how great it looks. Maybe next year we'll get the brick path in...and the woodland garden under the evergreen trees in the back...and a gate on the side of the house...

The bathroom is still in the early stages. We pried out the old cast-iron tub last weekend and got the new, jetted tub installed. I love it! The kids are both scared of the jets, but I'm in heaven. We've been so busy that the tiling is still in progress (not to mention Rob DRILLING THROUGH HIS FINGER - he's fine), but it'll get there. There's no shortage of help from the kids...

The old tub - with its dark scratches, clear caulk, and side panels - it had to go!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Summer Catch-Up III - Seattle Trip


A few days after getting home from California, we headed out again, this time to Seattle. I was thrilled to be going "home" to the Emerald City, where 16-month-old Jake would finally get to meet his grandpa and aunts and uncles. After a rocky start (leave after dinner and let the kids sleep in their car seats - hah!), we settled into a pattern for the 3-day trip: drive for a few hours, stop at Wal-Mart for a new DVD, drive for a few more hours, stop to have lunch and play at a park, drive some more, etc. Needless to say, it drove Rob crazy. But the kids were surprisingly well-behaved travelers and I was grateful for all the time I'd put into researching and mapping out city parks across Montana. Because of all the wildfires and fellow travellers in Montana, we wound up staying the last night in Moses Lake, WA and rolled into Seattle early on a Sunday morning. We stopped to show the kids Snoqualmie Falls, and we were all in awe of the mountains (so high!) and the evergreen trees (so many!). You'd think I hadn't lived there for 20-plus years, but I fell in love with the beauty of the state all over again.


We were kind of like tourists in our own town because we wanted to show the kids all of the quintessential parts of Seattle. When we were planning our trip I was listing all of the possibilities for Haley. "Hike in the mountains, go to the zoo, ride on a ferry boat..." At this last idea she snapped her head up, looked at me with big wide eyes, and said in all seriousness, "I want to go on a ferry boat! Are there real, live fairies on it?" So we of course had to take a ride and look for fairies (insert un-PC joke here). Grandpa Breckon and Grandma Denise joined us with cousins Mikayla and Marissa for our trip to Bainbridge. We had lunch al fresco, and Grandpa/Dad was extremely patient as we explored the fun shops along the main street before heading back across the Sound.


Speaking of quintessential Seattle, we had told Haley about the Fremont Troll. It happens to be up the street from one of Rob's favorite guitar stores, Dusty Strings, so we spent an afternoon in that quirky neighborhood. Haley quickly got over her fear of the troll once she realized she could climb on him, and is now documented in dozens of tourists' photos (she wouldn't get down). While Rob was drooling over arenose instruments, the kids and I watched the drawbridge go up and down to let boats through, and of all things, both Haley and Jake enjoyed running and dancing around a waterfront business park's courtyard. No naked cyclist sightings, but we enjoyed ourselves anyway.

One other place we wanted the kids to experience was the market - I've just always loved the atmosphere and the abundance of fresh produce and flowers. They, of course, loved the flying fish and fresh donuts. Left: Aunt Tammy feeds Jake fresh blueberries.
What's in Rustin, you ask? One evening we drove down to visit my brother Chris and his wife Jen there, and see their cute house and yard. We loved the grilled salmon, good company, and distinct lack of mosquitoes while we chatted late into the night. Right: Haley and Rob practice their stunts - it doesn't freak me out nearly as much if I'm behind the camera.
I joked to Rob a couple of times that we were going to go home and our vacation photo album would read, "Here are Haley and Jake in front of Nordstrom's! Here they are in front of the very rare Ralph Lauren Rugby store! Here they are on the escalators in Crate and Barrel! Etc..." In a word, we both like to shop. The kids do too, actually. Although not quite marathon shoppers, we can almost always find something to interest them. In fact, I really think they should be put on the payrolls of Pottery Barn Kids and Land of Nod for their extensive toy-testing. Left: Jake and Haley get dangerously close to falling in the fountain at University Village. It's pathetic to admit, but I really do have a lot of fond memories from Seattle shopping centers - many a psychology textbook was read while sitting at U-Village... Hopefully the kids will remember more than receipts and shopping bags from our trip!

One day I got to go to my favorite nursery, Molbak's, in Woodinville with my mom and Jake. Jake was hamming it up in the cart - look at those blue eyes!
I suppose if we hadn't been so busy supporting the local economy, we could have squeezed in a few more fun outings. We wish we could have: gone to the zoo (it was closing when we got there one evening), swam in a lake (it was CHILLY while we were there), gone on a hike (no room in the bags for hiking boots), watched a sunset from Queen Ann, and I really wish we'd gotten even one glimpse of The Mountain (too cloudy almost every day). But I guess that's just part of life in Seattle - overcast skies and so many fun things to do. But most of all we were happy to visit with family and friends and very grateful to Dad and Denise for their hospitality. I guess we'll have to make another trip soon!
We were feeling masochistic, and decided to tack on a few extra days in the car so we could swing a bit south and see Mount Rushmore. It was worth the trip - it's even better in person than the pictures can show, especially if you hike down the trail and get right under it. Although it was nearly 100 degrees out, we had a great time, and highly recommend it!
Below: Rob, the kids, and "the big faces", as Haley called them; Jake entertains himself on the drive by trying on Haley's new hat. Every girl needs an orange cowboy hat, right?

Sunday, September 16, 2007


This has been a busy and emotional week. A little over a week ago we got the news that a young father in our church had passed away, leaving his wife and 2 young boys. She's in our mother's playgroup and his mom is my visiting teacher. It is so tragic and I've been thinking a lot about life and death and how very grateful I am for my family and loved ones. As I sat during the funeral I couldn't help but think "what if", and I decided I needed to make more of an effort to maintain relationships with family and friends. I want you to know how much we love you! We hate being so far away, but think of you all often and treasure your friendships.

Our thoughts and prayers are with you, Byzewski Family.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Summer Catch-Up II: California Trip


The excitement was palpable in our house as we counted down the days to our California trip. We talked every day about all the fun we were going to have - Haley didn't believe me that people actually get to live in California and go to Disneyland all the time. Those fortunate kids! Somehow Rob and I managed to get ourselves, 2 kids, 3 suitcases, 2 carseats, one double stroller, 2 carry-ons and a diaper bag from our house to the Minneapolis airport (a 4-hour drive to long-term parking, shuttle to the terminal, then the gauntlet of check-in and security.), got in to LAX around midnight local time, picked up the rental car, and finally made it to our hotel next to Disneyland around 2 am (4 am our time). Whew!

But it was worth it the next morning as we walked from our hotel across the street to Disneyland. We spent that first day in the California Adventure Park, which was fun, but not as magical as Disneyland. The kids got soaked in the Bug's Life water area before we headed back to the hotel to meet Rob's parents and sister Katie. They had come down just to go to Disneyland with us. We spent the entire second day in Disneyland - riding the carousel, teacups, Casey Jr. train, etc. Haley even got a very special appointment to talk with 2 princesses. She was so excited and got all dressed up in a Cinderella dress, and wouldn't say one word to them. But whenever we ask now what her favorite part of the trip was she says, "Meeting the princesses!). By the end of the day we were sweaty, hot, and exhausted, but very glad we'd traveled across the country to have this experience with our kids.

Their voices were strangely high-pitched and they kept making weird princess gestures with their hands (see Sleeping Beauty) - no wonder Haley was shy! But still, every girly-girl's dream come true.

Countless rides on the carousel, but happy each time. Well, Jake doesn't look it, but he really did have fun!

Jake is still in love with any kind of ball - this is what he picked out as his Disneyland souvenir.

Nothing like an amusement park to wear out the kids. Fortunately the stroller reclines and he was able to snooze comfortably.

Sitting on Mickey's couch at the end of the day. The kids were so tired but we just couldn't leave without taking them to Toon Town.


As if Disneyland and the beach weren't fun enough, I also got to see the Broadway show Wicked in L.A. Rob's family loves musicals, but he doesn't, so he very graciously offered to watch the kids while we went to the show. His sister Anna drove down from Bakersfield to come with us (her husband sayed home to watch the kids too...), so we got all dressed up and drove to Hollywood to the Pantages Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. It was wonderful! And while we were walking to the theater I looked down and noticed all the stars - here's my foot with Mr. Cole's star.


We left Anaheim and drove west to spend a few days at Redondo Beach. That same crazy anticipation and excitement that Haley felt about Disneyland? That's what I felt about the ocean. I always loved my family's trips to the Washington Coast as a kid and want my own kids to have the same kind of memories. But living in Grand Forks we're about as far from an ocean as you can be! The Red River just doesn't cut it...

So I was thrilled that we got to spend 2 1/2 days just hanging out on the beach, and we milked every minute of it. Morning walks before breakfast to look for sea shells, long afternoons watching the kids dig in the sand and run shrieking with delight/terror from the waves, evening walks down to the shore to watch the sun set over the ocean. Like Haley, I kept thinking to myself, "People get to live here! They can go to the beach every day!"

We also managed to squeeze in some high-powered shopping - hurray for Nordstrom, Build-A-Bear Workshop, and the Vans store! We left California with sand in everything, slightly-corrected farmer's tans, dry skin from the salt water, and an intense desire to find a way to afford living by the beach.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Summer Catch Up I

Spring in North Dakota creeps in as slowly as possible, followed a few weeks later by the humid stickiness of summer.

By mid-May it was hot enough to hit the splash parks. Both kids were SO very excited to go. Did they get wet? No. Did they even think about getting wet? No. I guess the excitement was all about watching the other children run shrieking through the fountains and sprays. Oh well, fewer towels for me to wash. And we did get to work on getting a bit of color on our lily-white North Dakota selves.


On Father's Day we drove an hour west of Grand Forks to Larimore Dam, just to explore and see what it was like. It felt good to just relax and have fun for an afternoon, and the kids were not timid about the water this time. Haley had been wanting to learn how to fish and had lots of questions for this little boy.


We packed in the activities for the Fourth. Rob had the best start of the day - he ran a 5K race first thing, before we all headed downtown for the children's parade. It was HOT that day, and we were all wilted by the time we rolled into the town square for the opening ceremonies. Nothing that a snow cone couldn't fix though, and we went on the explore the car show (Haley's strange latest obsession), studiously steering the kids' attention away from the big, air-filled bounce-around things with miles of children waiting in front of them. Besides, we had other plans. We headed out - way out - of town to some friends' farm for a picnic. Haley ran off with her friend Audrey the whole time and we only pried them away from each other in the evening by promising they'd see each other again at church.

We had planned to drive back into town for the fireworks, but Haley fell asleep on the way home and we decided it wasn't worth it to wake her. So Rob and Jake and I watched them through the trees from our front porch as a huge lightening storm moved in and joined the fireworks with flashes throughout the sky.