The Real Magic of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

31 01 2013

Grandma Georgina and Grandpa George

Grandma Georgina and Grandpa George.

This past Thursday, Molly and I picked up Patrick early and headed to Villa to watch Alex in his stage début in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He was both Grandpa George and an Oompa Loompa.

Let’s be honest. There were no Tony-winning performances last week. While the kids did surprisingly well with their cues and memorizing their lines, a 5-8-year-old can’t project to fill an auditorium. Anything that wasn’t said or sung into a microphone was lost. And speaking of singing: No, at that age, they do not sing in time with the music.

Ensemble Singing

The chorus sings.

But you know, none of that matters when you are the parent of one of the kids on stage. All I saw was the smile on Alex’s face when he saw us in the audience, and the smiles on the faces of all the other parents, grandparents, and siblings sitting around us. I heard the laughter and applause after each of the older children finished a solo. When the cast came out for their curtain call, I felt the buzz in the room.

This is the real magic. My kid was happy, my kid was practicing and doing new things, and I’m his parent. It was a great night.

Oompa Loompa

Alex as an Oompa Loompa.

Cast Party

The parent volunteers set up an excellent cast party after the show.

Cast Flower

Alex got a rose at his party. Patrick put it in the “vase” for him.

Skagit River Eagles

28 01 2013

It’s Bald Eagle Festival Time! Every December and January, both bald eagles and birdwatchers head to the Skagit river. The eagles come from as far away as Alaska to feed on the carcasses of spawned salmon. At first light, the eagles head to the river to feed. They’re a talkative bunch and will make lots of noise calling to one another. After eating, they head to the skies. On clear days, they’ll go exploring. On grey and rainy days, they’re more subdued and tend to hunker down in nearby trees. Those are the best days to go eagle watching. Growing up in Virginia, in the aftermath of DDT, I thought seeing a bald eagle in the wild was a once-in-a-lifetime treat. On the Skagit in winter, you can see several at each bend in the river.

Distant Eagle

Alas for my photography, this is the closest I could get to an eagle. We stopped on the side of the road on the way home for this shot.

I didn’t know all of this before Saturday. Friday night, all I knew was the address of the Bald Eagle Interpretive center in Rockport, WA. That, and that they have guided nature walks each Saturday at 11:00 in December and January. Everything else I learned from Bob, the retiree who generously lead us on our walk through Howard Miller Steelhead County Park, who brought his own spotting scope and tripod, and who set it up low to the ground especially for Alex and Patrick after everybody else had left. I love volunteers.

I learned a few other things from Bob. For instance: The salmon run was two weeks earlier than normal this year, so most carcasses had already washed far downriver. The eagles follow the carcasses. Ergo, there was not a single white feather to be seen in Rockport. (For the kids, Bob trained his spotting scope on a Great Blue Heron. And we did see one immature bald eagle — all brown feathers — flying low overhead as we walked back to the car.) We drove through two hours of rain and walked through a half a mile of mud for eagles, and all we got were spindly-legged frog fishermen that we can see in abundance 15 minutes from our house. What?!

Patrick is not impressed

Patrick is not impressed with the wildlife.

To salvage the trip, we headed 8 miles up Highway 20 to the town of Marblemount to grab some lunch and check out the fish hatchery… supposedly a good stop for kids, and another place to spy some eagles. Well, let me tell you about Marblemount. In the winter, this town is literally the end of the road. As you approach, you’re first greeted by roadsigns telling you this is your last chance for services for 76 miles. Then, you’ll see the signs telling you that Highway 20 is closed for the winter in another 30 miles. This is it… a dead end. The town, when you get to it, is a post office, the fish hatchery, and 10 storefronts, 8 of which are closed for the winter.

And you know what? Marblemount was awesome. 1 of the 2 open storefronts was a restaurant that served huge portions of burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, and French Fries. It gave us the nourishment to continue our adventure. And the fish hatchery was delightful. Yes, it is a cold, concrete, industrial building. But like the Bald Eagle Interpretive Center, it too has a retiree volunteer, this time ready to share his passion of fish rather than fowl. The boys got to see salmon eggs, salmon fry, and a frozen 48-pound Chinook salmon that looked like a monster from the last ice age.

Patrick and the Small Fish

Newly hatched salmon. You can still see the yolk sac. 

Frozen King Salmon

A Chinook salmon caught by one of the hatchery workers. They put it in the freezer and bring it out for the tours. The teeth are terrifying in real life.

In spite of setbacks, the Miracle of the Mountains made it a wonderful day. In the mountains, fog and mist are beautiful and mysterious. In the lowlands, that’s just dreary. On our way back to Seattle we drove through pockets of snow flurries and watched them swirl around moss-covered trees. In Seattle, it was just rain — part of the wet purgatory that will last until July. And as we headed downriver on the way home, I knew to look in the trees. I saw bald eagles at every bend.


In the mountains, this isn’t dreary. It’s mysterious.

Boys at the Trailhead

The boys love spending time outside. Here they are at the trailhead at Howard Miller Steelhead County Park.

A Weather Story in Pictures

21 01 2013

When I lived in Virginia, I was a little weather-obsessed. I loved watching studying the weather maps and seeing the approaching fronts, and I eagerly anticipated the big weather shifts they’d bring. That all changed when I moved to Seattle, where the weather tends to stay locked in the same pattern for a long time. I often don’t bother to check the weather forecast before heading out for the day. Just dress for yesterday’s weather and you’ll be fine.

Over the past week, though, we’ve lived through a typical slow-motion Seattle weather change. It starts with a glorious surprise, when our usual winter gloom gets swept aside for amazingly clear skies.

Happy Friday (Edited)

A little part of you leaps for joy when you hear that the dry air is here to stay… no rain in the forecast! Days and days of sunshine! 

Not so fast. Clear air in winter means the ground cools off quickly at night. After just a few days, you can get an inversion — cold air at the surface trapped by warmer air aloft. Suddenly, your mornings look like this:

Meadowbrook Park in the Fog

(Look closely and you can find both boys in that picture.)

And if you’re unlucky, it’s not just the mornings that are shot, but the whole day, too. But as everyone who follows Cliff Mass knows, it’s easy to escape an inversion. Just head up! You may remember how Alex and I escaped four years ago:

Alex above the clouds

We’re at the top of Cougar Mountain, and a sea of fog stretches out below us. This year, though, we got to have a little more fun and escape this way:

Molly at Snoqualmie

Both kids are now old enough for ski lessons! We’re not committing to six weeks of lessons like we did two years ago. That taxed Alex’s endurance too much. But it’s easy to sign the kids up for a single morning lesson at a time, which makes things much easier to manage with our schedules and the kids’ temperaments. I don’t know how fast the kids are going to progress with skiing, but this weekend at least, everybody enjoyed getting out of the fog and playing in the snow.

Boys, Troll

7 01 2013

Boys, Troll

Two days before Christmas, I spent the morning hanging out with the boys and the Fremont Troll. This was an even better idea than it seems. The boys climbed, jumped, got dirty, and had an all-around excellent time. It was better than a playground.

My ulterior motive was a clandestine trip to The Book Larder, Seattle’s best cookbook store. There, I bought a copy of Modernist Cuisine at Home as a present for Molly. We haven’t had much of a chance to cook from it yet, but I can’t wait to spend time with it in the kitchen. (Wait, I said it was a present for Molly, right?)