Two Patrick Milestones

30 09 2009

I picked Patrick up from his room in daycare today. He walked over to me and gave me a kiss – either that, or he was trying to eat my lip. It surprised me! I’ll chalk this up as his first kiss.

Then, as we were leaving the room, he waved bye to the teachers. Nothing new about that. But this time, he clearly and repeatedly said, “Bye bye!” Another first.

Not Every Day is Happy

One from the archives. I was obliged to take this picture because it was Patrick’s 15 month birthday. He clearly wasn’t in the mood.

Prosser Hot Air Balloon Festival

29 09 2009

This past Saturday, I convinced Molly to let me take another mini-vacation. Friday night, after the kids ate dinner, I threw my camera bag and a change of clothes into the car and headed over the mountains to the small town of Prosser, Washington for their annual hot air balloon rally. I crashed for a few hours in a Best Western in the Tri-Cities, then drove under the clear pre-dawn stars to the Prosser airport, which is really a grass field with a few small corrugated metal hangars.

Even though I made it to the airport by 6:00 AM, the field was already full of people, pickup trucks, and blue tarps spread over the grass. The balloon crews were stretching the deflated nylon balloons in long thick lines over the tarps. The crowds sipped coffee bought from the PEO Sisterhood table. Everybody had a camera in hand.

Balloon Detail

The inside of a hot air balloon, photographed during the cold-fill.

The real action started around 7:00. The sun peeked over the nearby hills, the master of ceremonies released two small helium balloons into the sky so the pilots could judge the winds, and then the pilots started filling the balloons. The loud droning of thirty-four large gas-powered fans filled the airport. For ten minutes, the crews used the fans to inflate their balloons with cold air. All across the airport, the colorful nylon popped up from the ground like gigantic mushrooms. When the balloons had enough structure from cold air, the pilots started firing the propane burners. It was as if each wicker basket had magically transformed into a fire-breathing dragon. Each tongue of flame shot upward with a loud whoosh and if you were standing anywhere close to one of the burners, you felt the waves of heat wash over you.

Breathing Fire

The crew starts hot-filling a balloon.

In surprisingly little time, the sky filled with balloons. Camera gear in hand, I jogged three blocks from the airport to the Yakima river. Just like at the airport, a small crowd lined the sidewalks on both sides of the bridge. From this vantage point, you could enjoy the most picturesque sights of the rally. Most of the balloon pilots rode the wind over to the Yakima river, then descended for a splash-and-dash: They let the basket dip into the river, then fired the burners to ascend from the water. Some were able to cruise along the surface of the river for a considerable distance. Others started their river runs on the east side of the bridge. The winds blew the balloons westward, and the pilots waited until they were right next to the bridge before firing the burners. The balloons skipped over the bridge as effortlessly as you’d step over a curb. The crowd cheered for each of these close encounters. Once on the downwind side of the bridge, the balloons descended again to the water’s surface.

Balloon and Ripples

A balloon does a splash-and-dash.


The balloon “Checkmate” gets ready to fly over the bridge.

Unfortunately, the rising sun also brings stronger winds. By 9:00, all of the balloons had dropped back to earth to avoid getting caught in unpredictable currents. The balloon rally was over, but I still had a few hours of mini-vacation left. On balloon rally weekend, Prosser is a great place to be. It’s the heart of the Washington wine country. In California, that would translate to excessive bling. But this is Washington, and “heart of wine country” still translates to “rural America.” Downtown Prosser is a few streets, old-time storefronts (too many empty), a nice park, and a big feed & grain store. Napa it’s not.

Truck, Hay, Chow

A truck outside the feed & grain store in Prosser.

This small town throws down the welcome mat on Rally weekend. There’s a farmer’s market in the morning, complete with a Kiwanis club pancake breakfast. Of course one of the farmer’s market tables was staffed by a local winery: Daven Lore. I talked to the winemaker, Gordon Taylor, at the market. (Of course the winemaker himself was standing at the table at the farmer’s market. That’s what I like about travelling through Yakima instead of Napa or Sonoma.) He described himself as the winemaker for the locals. At the farmer’s market, he even sells one of his wines (“Recovery Red”) in a refillable bottle. If you bring the bottle back to him, you’ll get a discount on your next bottle. Alas, I didn’t get to taste his wine, but I’m going to be on the lookout for it in Seattle. One of the other events happening in Prosser on Rally weekend is the Harvest Festival. This is a small crafts/food/music fair that spreads over a few downtown blocks. The booths at the fair have the typical assortment of candles, photographs, and garden art. The music, though, can be really charming.

The best part of visiting Yakima Valley, of course, is visiting the wineries. I saw the full spectrum in just a few hours. Oakwood Cellars is a small operation run out of the winemaker’s house. Terra Blanca clearly aspires to Napa Valley. But my most cherished memory will be my visit to Chinook. It was my first time there – it’s always been closed on my prior trips to the valley. I’ve bought & enjoyed a lot of Chinook wine from McCarthy & Schiering in the past. So I felt humbled to be in the tasting room, which was a modest, clean farmhouse room no bigger than our kitchen. Kay Simon, the winemaker, was of course one of the people pouring wine and answering questions. It was a low-key, intimate operation, and everything I tasted was delicious. In Prosser, the greatest treasures are found in unassuming locations. I couldn’t leave without buying a case.


Grapes growing at Oakwood Cellars.

The plus side of waking up before dawn? I could have all of these adventures, drive three hours through desert and mountains, and still make it home in time for the kids’ dinner! Surely Molly will let me go again next year…

Seven of Thirty-Four

Seven of thirty-four balloons.

Count the Balloons

How many balloons can you count in the picture?


22 09 2009

Self Portrait, originally uploaded by B.K. Dewey.

One of us is getting more hair, one of us is getting gray hair. More Patrick photos below the fold.

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Monitor Glow

22 09 2009

Pasty white monitor glow starts at an early age. Ever since our trip to Rochester this summer, Alex has been fascinated with my iPhone. It’s a failsafe way to occupy him for 20 minutes.

Puyallup Fair

20 09 2009

Swinging Spectator

Although it took us twelve years to finally make it to the Puyallup Fair, I sense it’s going to be an annual end-of-summer family tradition. There’s nothing like utter hedonistic sensory overload to make you crave the return of cool, damp, sedate weather.

We’d been on the fair grounds for about fifteen seconds before Alex homed in on all of the really cool stuffed animals at all of the carnival game booths. Even Molly was impressed by the huge lifelike stuffed tigers they had at the ring toss. I wasn’t looking forward to explaining to him that because carnival games are rigged, he shouldn’t count on ever getting one of those cool toys hanging from the ceiling. Molly spared me that agony when she discovered the ultimate kids’ carnival game. You pay your money, then pluck a rubber duck from a swirling pool of yellow plastic. On the bottom of each duck is written an S, M, or L, and you claim a small/medium/large prize based on the duck you grab. No tears, no frustration.


This year, Alex got a big kick out of the rides. While he was scared just walking by the big roller coasters, once we got to the kiddie ride area he was in heaven. He didn’t have to run more than 20 feet to get to the next ride, and we were there early enough that there were never long lines. Carousel! Giant Slide! Airplane ride! Obstacle course! Alligator ride! He bounced from one spot to the next without a break. By fortunate coincidence, he declared, “I want to go see the animals!” just as we ran out of our $30 worth of tickets. That spared us a meltdown from Alex. We weren’t so lucky with Patrick. Although he can’t talk, he made it very clear with his body language that he thought the you-must-be-two-years-old-to-ride rule was very unfair! (In case the body language was too subtle, his screaming let us know what he really thought.)

A Boy on his Pony

We didn’t get to spend as much time with the animals as I wanted. Seeing all of the kids with their 4-H horses, goats, and chickens is what separates a rural county fair from a corporate amusement park. The kids and their families were all so obviously proud of the work they did with the animals.

Finally, no trip to the county fair is complete without gorging on sugar and fried food. While Michael Pollan has conquered the Seattle food culture (every restaurant seems to emphasize its local, sustainable, seasonal ingredients), fair food remains an unapologetic celebration of cheap, processed calories. We got lunch from a stand that advertised At the fair since 1923!, and I’m sure the menu has changed little in the intervening 76 years.

Krusty Pup

We all ate our fill of curly fries and corn dogs. I’ll admit lunch was our low point of the day. Alex was tired and cranky, and this caused me to get short-tempered. In the challenge of navigating crowds with two corn dogs in one hand, an open cup of Dr. Pepper in the other, and somehow pushing & steering the stroller with my pinkie, I hit a bump and spilled Dr. Pepper all over the baby bag and my camera. Luckily, unlike the encounter with the wave at Cannon Beach, the camera has survived the sugary splash. But we still knew this was our cue to leave, while we were still mostly having fun. Both kids slept hard in the car on the way back to Seattle, and we were able to round out our day with a pleasant, low-key, Indian Summer afternoon.

I still haven’t made it to the fair during the rodeo, and I still haven’t seen the fairgrounds lit up at night. There’s enough happening in Puyallup to keep us coming back for years to come.

The Center for Wooden Boats

18 09 2009

I’ve got a soft spot for the Center for Wooden Boats at South Lake Union Park. It’s a beautiful location. You look across the water and see the rusty metal of Gasworks Park. Turn around, and the Space Needle is poking out over the buildings of the Mercer Mess. And all around you, the graceful curves and bright colors of the boats. A short visit is all it takes to feel connected with Seattle’s maritime past.

Center for Wooden Boats


Lincoln Park

14 09 2009

I’ve got the kids on my own for the next few days. Molly left for a conference yesterday afternoon and gets back Thursday. Yesterday afternoon started well. Patrick took a three-and-a-half hour nap, and even Alex fell asleep late in the afternoon. I had to wake him up at 4:00. While he was a grumpy groggy bear, I somehow managed to drag him into the car by 5:00 for our latest adventure: Our first trip to Lincoln Park in West Seattle.

Going to West Seattle always feels like a journey to another world. The drive has something of an Epic Quest feel. To get there from our sheltered enclave north of the Montlake Cut, you have to take I-5 under the skyscrapers of downtown Seattle, then take the West Seattle Bridge over the sprawling industrial sector, past the iconic red cranes, over the Superfund site that is the Duwamish River, and finally take Fauntleroy Way through a part of the city that’s somehow different in a way I can’t pin down.

We got to Lincoln Park around 5:30. It immediately made a good impression on all of us. While the park is over 130 acres, we had luckily parked just a short walk from a large, well-loved playground that was nestled under the park’s huge pine trees. Near the playground were lots of picnic tables, a covered picnic shelter, and a few barbeque pits. There was a large group picnic underway when we got to the park, and the smell of the pine trees, the new fire in the barbeque pit, and the cool air blowing off Puget Sound made it seem like we were off on a camping trip.

Alex and Patrick had a great time at the playground. Patrick’s favorite thing was to climb erratically up some scary-steep and narrow metal stairs and then slide headfirst down a small but steep slide. I wish I could have captured some video of him sliding, but I had to dart back and forth from the stairs (to keep him from falling backwards) to the base of the slide (to keep him from entering low earth orbit from the speed he picked up on that thing).

Somehow, I managed to persuade Alex to leave the playground after 30 minutes so we could take a walk through the park. (Patrick doesn’t need persuading. Since I can strap him in the stroller, he doesn’t get a vote.) Of course, with Alex, “walk” is more like “run full speed 50 feet, then stand still, then run 50 feet, then stand still…” And “through the park” was really more like 100 yards along the Bluff Trail. But we still got to enjoy a little bit of the setting sun through the trees and the view of Puget Sound far below.

On the Bench at Sunset

Because we got such a late start, we only spent an hour at the park. We’ve got to get back someday. We didn’t get to the beach, or to Coleman Pool (a heated salt-water pool right on the Sound). From what we’ve seen, it’s well worth the journey.

Alex Climbing a Fence

Alex climbs the fence separating him from Puget Sound, far below.

Patrick Gets the Cow

Patrick is happy because he’s successfully snagged his brother’s cow.

No point watching this movie unless you’re related to one if the kids.

Labor Day Weekend and the Museum of Flight

11 09 2009

Long weekends today aren’t the same thing they were, say, 4 years ago. No possibilities for loafing around any more! Instead, our offspring expect us to produce three days of solid entertainment for them. This job is harder when you have three days of cool, wet weather to work with, which confined us to indoor activities. Maybe this is what a cruise director feels like.

We did try one new thing this weekend: The Museum of Flight. Molly had been once, years ago. For me, it was my first trip. My verdict? It’s no Air & Space Museum, but it’s still quite nice. Alex enjoyed sitting in the different airplane cockpits. Patrick, though, is too young to really enjoy anything there. I don’t know if we’ll be returning soon to the museum, but I predict that we’ll get many solid years of entertainment & education out of it when the kids are just a little older.

Look at Me! I'm a Pilot!

My Three-Hour Vacation

6 09 2009

For some reason I still don’t understand, Alex decided that 5:00 AM was the correct time to wake up yesterday morning. Maybe this is just the kids trying to keep me on my toes. All week long, it’s been Patrick who wakes up between 5:15 and 5:45, usually with a dirty diaper. Yesterday, Patrick slept until close to 7:00. Perhaps they whispered to each other on Friday night and agreed to switch roles.

I tried to be super-dad, and I took care of the kids in the morning and let Molly sleep until 8:00. It didn’t work so well. When Molly woke up, I was exhausted and really needed a break from the kids. Luckily I talked her into taking the kids to the Pacific Science Center by herself, giving me a rare and cherished three-hour vacation. From 10:00 to 1:00, I was on my own.

If I get a morning to vacation in my own city, I usually head to Cafe Campagne at Pike Place Market. If I fully engage my imagination, I can pretend I’ve just landed in Paris for brunch, only there’s no jet lag. Cafe Campagne is busy, but I can usually snag a stool at the bar with no reservations and no wait. It’s perfect for an impromptu vacation. As usual, I had the oeufs en muerette. That’s two poached eggs over bread with bacon, mushrooms, and a delectable foie gras / red wine sauce. The thing I love about bistro food is it’s perfectly acceptable to get food with a meaty red wine sauce and a huge basket of hot, crispy, salty french fries for breakfast. (Excuse me: pommes frites.)

The second best part of eating at Cafe Campagne is wandering the market afterwards. I’ve lived in Seattle for thirteen years now, and this is the first time I made it to the infamous gum wall in Post Alley underneath the market. Yes, it’s as gross as it looks in the picture.

Gum Wall Admirers

The rest of my trip through the market, I wandered through my usual haunts and enjoyed both the crowds and the explosion of color that you can always count on downtown, 365 days per year. Three hours of tourism in my own city was exactly what I needed to recharge. These mini-vacations are a lifesaver.


Pepper Ring

Peanut Butter and Jelly Monster

5 09 2009

Patrick is a Peanut Butter and Jelly Monster. He inhales them. He’ll eat a whole sandwich faster than Alex can eat a quarter of his.

That’s all I wanted to share today.