Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Chilly (but happy) Return

In theory: There I was - hanging out in Key West, no responsibilities, just looking at the water, getting a suntan, and enjoying virgin pina coladas. Sounds lovely doesn't it?

The reality: I missed these guys so much!

Well, let's put it this way - spending time with my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew was invaluable. And Stella and Eric having quality dad/daughter time was equally as important. But I'm here to tell you, when I am not with them for four straight days, it's really hard. I cried every time I said goodnight to little Stells over the phone.

But guess what, I'm back, we're all fine, and aside from occasional hormonal moments, I had a real blast. My brother rented a house right on the water in Cudjoe Key, which is about 20 miles north of Key West. Here's a view from the neighborhood we stayed in.

We rented a boat on Easter Sunday and spent the day cruising and fishing. We also went to the beach, kicked around downtown Key West, ate some good seafood, and just overall enjoyed hanging out together. They live in CA so I don't see them nearly as much as I'd like. Check out the massive fish my brother caught.

But by far the highlight of my trip was getting to see my only nephew, Jay. He's named after my late father, and sometimes he looks just like him. He's the baby that people stop on the street to ooh and aah over. Let me show you why.

Back to reality now, but you know what, my reality isn't so bad. Because these two loves are what make it all worthwhile.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Life with Stel

As Marian experiences a well-deserved break in Key West, I remain in the trenches of Life with Stel. This is a report from the front:

6:30 a.m. Stella awakes asking for milk. But milk isn't enough to get her to lie down and go back to sleep. She wants to get out of bed. I cajole her to play in her room quietly while I attempt a little more shut-eye. This works for about 12 seconds. So, last ditch effort, I give her the opportunity to lie in bed next to me and put her head on "mommy's pillow." This is quite an opportunity for her. I mean, "Mommy's pillow"! She is delighted, flops around quite a lot and seems intent on kicking a beat on the bed with her legs, preventing sleep on my part. But at some point she commences singing "if that diamond ring goes bye" and I manage to drift off -- for nearly 2 hours! This is an amazing development. Her dad will not soon forget this act of generosity on her part. How she never runs out of songs is beyond me.

8:30 a.m. On her way to the kitchen for apple juice, Stella can't help noticing something interesting outside. "Snow, Daddy! Wanna play outside!" We share a hearty breakfast of Cream of Wheat and trudge outside. Great fun, of course. And, as usual, right before reaching our home she starts to run and bites the dust. There were a lot of places she could have fallen in the soft, fluffy snow. But she managed to fall in the hard, unfluffy, road. "Are you beating your kid?" asks my neighbor, Dan, stepping out of his home. Sigh.

10:30 a.m. We head for Lake Junaluska where there is an Easter Egg hunt planned. The thermometer on my car says 24 degrees. If I were the Easter Bunny, I'd pretend I saw my shadow and go back in the ground for four more weeks, at least! But the kind folks at Junaluska go on with the show. The older kids (8 and older) are allowed to hunt eggs in the snow, while the little ones are ushered into rooms with eggs scattered all over the floor. Not much of a challenge to FIND the eggs, but the kids seem to appreciate product over process. There are opportunities to make crafts and decorate eggs, too. Stel seems a little bit intimidated by the crowds and refuses to hug the Easter Bunny.

When we arrive home, Stella asks for an icicle from our roof gutter. She loves the natural popsicle. This will be her undoing in the afternoon, as you shall see.

Noon. Lunch, a couple books, and Stella is OUT for the count till 3 p.m.! "Tire her out!" is my mantra for the next four days.

4:30 p.m. After an Elmo video, we go for a walk. She's upset that all the icicles from the roof gutter have melted and has me on the lookout for icicles elsewhere. I finally find a good one on a branch near one of the little streams in our neighborhood. She can't believe her luck! But she will not have mittens between her and the icicle. "Your hands are going to get cold," I warn. "Aren't your hands cold?" "No," she smiles, enjoying that icicle.

Ten minutes later she's crying. "Hands cold! Hands COLD!" She drops the icicle in the road and it SHATTERS, causing her to cry even harder. Her mittens are no solace - so I give her my giant gloves, which kind of cheer her up. She looks seriously deformed walking with those gloves flapping. Then she announces she needs her diaper changed, and begins crying at the discomfort -- then announces that she wants a "snack." "Goldfish! GOLDFISH!" she cries. There are too many simultaneous issues for me even to hope to resolve. I carry her home as fast as I can, and this kid is HEAVY. But we make it home and everyone is happy.

6 p.m. We eat a quick dinner and head for downtown for the opening of Women in Vision, an art exhibit at Gallery 86 featuring our friend Angela Blehm's paintings. I want my daughter to be inspired by creative women at an early age. Of course, when we enter the room she's immediately drawn to the snack plates people are carrying. "Want a snack," she says - even though we've had dinner already. I fill up her plate with cheese, crackers, half a cookie, and some other winning foods. Most of it ends up on the floor in time, but some of it makes it into her mouth - and some of that ACTUALLY GETS SWALLOWED rather than spit out on one of the benches people are expected to use to admire the art on the wall. I can't really study the paintings when I'm afraid my daughter will spit out her food on one, instantly earning me an art purchase I hadn't banked on.

6:30 p.m. We spend a half hour more on Main Street as Stella sings and dances like a Whirling Dirvish. This fits in nicely with the "tire her out" theme. Eventually her hands get cold and we head back to the car, to home, and evening routine, which is pretty straightforward.

8 p.m. and she's asleep again, until tomorrow...

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Future Plans

You've heard the one about life being what happens when you make other plans. That's a frightening proposition for anyone who has a Great Plan For Their Future like we do right now.

It's especially hard for me. Whether it's that I grew up Lutheran (you're not really allowed to want anything if you're Lutheran -- it's about as far from the "Gospel of Prosperity" as you can be) or the fact I read too many Greek tragedies in high school, the thought of making big plans puts me at unease. Maybe that's part of the reason why I've bailed from most of the career paths I've started. It could be simply a desire for novelty (that's a big part of it, I'm sure) but I think it's also because after you've spent a few years in a field you find yourself having to go to the next level. Success in the first few years usually means more success later on, and you need to be ready for it. But I've been broke so long, am I really ready to have money? Not only does prosperity seem outside of being a good Lutheran, I'm not sure it fits with who I am as a person. I think it's related somehow to an actual and metaphysical fear of drowning: getting too far out in the deep end, not being able to get out before I'm crushed and suffocated by all the weight around me. Better to stick to the shallows where it's safe.

Having a kid is what started to change my outlook. It's not that I want to give her all the "things" she might want. (She won't get her own car in high school, I can already tell ya, and if there is a car she gets to use on a regular basis it will be a 1985 Dodge Omni. It was good enough for me, gd!) It's just that being at the office for 10 hours at a stretch, not seeing my kid for basically 3/4ths of her waking hours, just started to depress me. So when she turned 3 months I took family leave from my job and never went back. I thought about freelancing again as a writer for magazines, but that can be just as grueling and require just as much time away from family as working for The Man, especially when travel is involved.

So, we created a company that allows us to set our own schedule to a degree. I can help with Stella's morning routine, usually be home for lunch, and be home in time for a late afternoon walk. Working more can wait until 8 when she's in bed. It's not unlike the Kiribati way, for it's rare that a person does not eat at home with family three meals a day. (The only difference is I don't fish or hunt for crabs.) This kind of day is very gratifying, and, really, if we can keep it up and still pay our bills it will be enough success. It will be all the wealth we need to build.

But something has been nagging me all this time. It's the feeling that, for the first time in MY life, at least, I need to consider the possibility of building something bigger and beyond the day to day. If Stella wants to spend a month learning how to mush dogs in Alaska, I want to be able to help her do that. If she wants to attend a sailing camp, or spend time in an ornithology lab in the Amazon, or attend field hockey camp, I think it would be great to be able to make those things happen. Even better: what if her family could join her on some of these adventures ("Aw, Dad, can't you just drop me off at the bus stop and write me letters!!!") What I'm talking about is spending a few months in the Pacific, a part of the world we can teach her about. Spending summers at the beach near Wilmington which so edified my wife's growing up. I don't know where our interests as a family might take us, but it takes money to make those things happen. In addition, I'm curious to see if our company can edify the community by, number one, providing a high number of high-paying jobs, and, two, getting involved in community initiatives (ex. a new senior center, an after-school place for teens - you get the picture). In short, I'm wondering if the Lutheran in me just needs to go be happily miserable waiting for doomsday someplace else, far away from the rest of me.

So, we're going to PLAN a company strategy that imagines the next twenty years. I expect real life will diverge considerably from what we put down on paper. I'm not afraid of that. It's just that for the first time I'm afraid of staying in the shallow waters too long. It's a good feeling to be "getting in deep." The swimming, after all, is so much better there.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Abridged version of our trip

Charleston is a romantic, beautiful, scenic and historical city, one that I would love to visit again and again. There really is so much to see and do, tons of great bars and restaurants, parks, beaches, and great things for kids too. I would recommend it to anyone, because whatever your interests, you could still have fun there.

I must admit I was anxious traveling with Stella since she moved to a big girl bed, and she's long grown out of her Pack and Play, which meant she was sharing our bed. It's crazy how my moods and overall happiness level directly correlate to how much rest I get these days. And while the first night was a bit rough, she did GREAT for naps and nighttime the rest of the trip. We were so proud of her!

While Eric and Pat worked most of Saturday, Brittain and I took Stella to Folly Beach. The photo (see last post) of her with filthy clothes happened like this - she had sand on her hands as we were walking back to the car, and I said, "Stella, just wipe them on your shirt and we'll change you later." Well, she took that as an open invitation to grab handfuls of wet sand and clump them all over her clothes, since I said it was OK. Brittain and I laughed so hard at that one. Check it out in this pic.

We also ran around tons of parks, fountains, piers, and of course, strolled the lovely streets of the city. We ate good seafood, everyone else drank good drinks (though I did have a virgin pina colada that hit the spot), and got sun and salty air on our skin, which felt incredible.

The picture of the bride and groom was taken in one of the most beautiful green spaces I've ever seen. They were gorgeous, just posing for their photographer among these tremendous oaks and spring flowers, with the beautiful old houses on one side and the ocean on the other. Everyone around was staring at them!

Can you tell that we really needed a vacation? Between running the businesses, chasing Stella, and just getting through every day, we don't take enough time to just be with each other and good friends. It was just what the doctor ordered.

Here are a few more photos just for fun. Expect another update next week after yours truly returns from Key West! Supportive emails and phone calls to Eric over Easter would be welcome as he'll be full-time dad for 4 straight days. God Bless him.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Charleston Photos

We only returned a few hours ago from our weekend in Charleston, but we had a blast. Here are some pics we took - but I'm too tired to explain them. Will try to get to that tomorrow! Enjoy!