DIY Mother’s Day

Art Davidson’s 1969 account of the first winter ascent on Denali, Minus 148°, is an incredible tale. An eight man international team, out six weeks; three men summit, and seven make it out alive. On reflection, one of the images that really stands out is when the three climbers summit. It’s night, complete darkness, and they pass an aluminum pole caught in the shine of their headlamps. What’s that doing here, out in the stark nature? Wait, that’s the summit. This is it. We did it. The expression goes, “it’s lonely at the top”, but it’s also sometimes dark and anticlimactic. You think you’re at least in part climbing the mountain for the views, or to see if it can be done. Sometimes there is no view, but it can be done.

Mother’s Day 2022 – Lady Kitty is quite the climber!

If mothering is the mountain, maybe Mother’s Day is the summit; you’re expecting to revel in your accomplishment, take in the view, and feel appreciated. You’re climbing the mountains day-in, day-out every year, but not every mountain nor every summit is the same. Sometimes there is no view, but it can be done.

With physical and emotional strength, determination, companionship, and a whole lot of sacrifice, mountains can be climbed – even in the winter. Mothering is a lot like that.

Except once you get flown in to Kahiltna Glacier, you don’t get to decide if today is a good day to try for the summit. 

Every day is a mothering day. Every day you’re trying for the summit, and when you reach your goal, sometimes there’s nothing perceptible there, just the air in front of your face and the twinkle of far-off civilization. 

Then, it’s another day, a different day altogether, and you’re on your way down the mountain. There’s still pain, but the sun comes out and you feel the relative warmth and that’s heaven; that’s enough. Davidson describes how on his descent after submitting, he can’t imagine ever needing anything more than feeling the warmth of the sun on his body. A child’s smile can be that sun, and sometimes, simply… the sun is that sun. You find your own moment of meaning, of making the journey worthwhile.

Mothering 2022 – PC Chamonix Browne

In my experience, Mother’s Days tend to be Do It Yourself (DIY). For Mother’s Day this year I kept up my phenomenal mother’s tradition of gardening and weeding—getting the garden in shape after the spring rains and bursts of sunshine have woken up all the weeds but the earth is still soft and forgiving. Lady Kitty was helping me a bit. She was cheering me on. “Well done, Mama,” she kept saying. (She can say so much now, I can’t even catalogue it all.) When Lake finished playing LEGO, he wandered out to share lovely moments together in the sun. We visited our neighborhood playgrounds where we bumped into and chatted with our neighbors throughout the day.

It’s easy to say, yes, thank you, I’m having a lovely Mother’s Day. It’s harder to say, my mother’s day is hard and underwhelming. My husband is sick, working, or absent. My babysitter got sick, injured, or cancelled. The children are wild animals and I have a headache. But that was the prevalent reality.

We all seemed to be navigating some version of a DIY Monther’s Day. A true Mother’s Day— not an idealized day-off from mothering, that starts with flowers and ends with fireworks, but an actual day spent mothering. DIY Mother’s Day means celebrating the life and the family that you work so hard every day to create and maintain. It means a day spent parenting alone with your children and having it be the best day of your life.

A perfect day, I’m glad I spent it with you.

Littlest Valentine

Our littlest Valentine is almost one year old! She’s fully engaged with growing up and her participation is absolutely endearing. She surprised us with the cut of a new tooth on the bottom left, after nary a fuss. She’s cruising around proficiently. She converses back and forth with you using the prettiest little grunts. She giggles and shares.

Most of all, Lady Kitty loves to smile and wave! One hand or two, her joyous waving of hello, goodbye, and all those moments in between is gorgeous and totally heart-melting.

Big brother Lake is melting hearts and growing up, as well. Tonight he popped into the kitchen to proudly show us that he had successfully gained his pajamas. I was washing up and drinking hot chocolate while Madeline dried and made herself a coffee. We pleasantly chatted. There must have been a slight scent of sweetness in the air as we performed our tasks and pleasantly chatted. Lake burst into the scene, instantly catching the mood, and dared himself a brief glimmered hope among his heavy wager of doubt.

“Is there dessert?” Lake said.

A pregnant pause ensued as my internal struggle with prudence and compassion duke it out. Into that space Lake’s matter of fact reason swelled. His hopes were dashed back from whence they had come as quickly as they were born.

“The answer is probably no, right?” I let my breath out, and with it evaporated the half formed words of a little hot chocolate with his name on it. He had let me off the hook, and handily parented himself. “That’s right, honey, no dessert. It’s bedtime.” I couldn’t help feeling proud of my sensible child, as he went on his merry, if not slightly resigned, way.

We hope you enjoyed a lovely Valentine’s. We love love! A perfect day—I’m glad I spent it with you!

Lady Kitty and the Big Snow

Seattle has a tradition these past three years of saving up the annual snowfall for a Big Snow in February. As Lady Kitty concludes her first year, she experienced her first really big snow. It had dusted a bit prior to Christmas which was really quite lovely. And then this weekend—President’s Day weekend—we were graced with absolutely heaps of snow. We had a pop-up piste out our front door. Ski-in/ski-out was delivered express to our doorstep.

The whole city turned out in support of winter sport. We walked everywhere as much as our feet could carry us, taking in the sights: legions of snowmen rolled up overnight, snowboarders caught air at Greenlake, and cross-country skiers swooshed to and fro going about their business.

I spoke with Lake at NanaBaba’s who said, “I didn’t know there was snow in Seattle too!” Yup, loads of snow Lake! Nearly a whole foot! The cats didn’t know what to make of it. Mr. Silky comically walked outside like the snow was on fire. Mr. Cat went in and out a lot.

Mr. Cat couldn’t decide …return indoors
Or remain outside

Lady Kitty bundled up to keep cozy warm and took it all in stride.

A perfectly snowy weekend, I’m glad I spent it with you.

The Perfect Age

My dad used to tell me every year on my birthday. “Well, ___ [fill in the blank] years old; that’s just about the perfect age.” My ears would tingle and my heart would swell with pride. It always felt so special. It never seemed odd at the time that every year he would say the same thing. Later, I caught the paradox. As a parent, I concur with the truth in his philosophy. Every year, every age, is perfect in it’s own way.

But eleven months… really is the perfect age! The sweetness of the pre-verbal phase is absolutely heart melting. Lady Kitty’s coos and grunts are rich with meaning and purpose. She waves bye-bye pretty reliably: to Madeline, to the tiger at the zoo, to herself in the mirror.

Lady Kitty at 11 months—the perfect age!

“Lady Kitty, I could never have this much fun with you if you weren’t here,” Lake said in the morning. He floors me. I tried really hard to commit these words to memory.

My memory is unreliable after about six minutes. I couldn’t replicate his phrasing. “Lake, what did you say this morning about Lady Kitty?”

Lake deadpans as above. “Lady Kitty, I could never have this much fun with you if you weren’t here,”

“All my words travel around with me” he said, explaining his memory.

Lake is an entertaining dining companion. Eleven months might be the perfect age, but four and a half is pretty perfect too. “That’s amazing that she plays with LEGOs, because that’s really rare!” Lake said in response to the news that a baby octopus named Tiny plays with LEGO.

When I apologized that the bread was still frozen. Lake said, “I don’t mind that it’s a cold sandwich–I just mind that it’s a sandwich.”

“Now my nose is like a smokestack!” Lake said while eating basil with dinner. “There’s spicy air coming out of it, ” he elaborated.

“I’m wearing the right clothes to be wearing blueberry jam,” said Lake in his navy blue sweater.

Lake is also really into telling “jokes” that he makes up.

“Here’s a joke: why’s it called a shortcake not a long cake? That’s the joke!”

“Here’s the joke: you can stain bananas when they’re peeled. you can never stain bananas when they’re not peeled.” Peals of laughter ensue. They do. For some reason I think Lake’s homemade jokes are hilarious.

The perfect age, a perfect day. I’m glad I spent it with you.

Happy 100th Birthday, Ruth!

Ruth Mary Thompson (born 1/21/21) has a special place in our family as the iconic matriarch. Think of the Queen of England (born 4/21/26). Whenever I see images of Queen Elizabeth II, young or current, I am reminded of my grandmother and these women’s similarities of style and character—elegant, stoic, generous and not predisposed to fuss.

My husband met Ruth briefly in the month before she passed away and was impressed by her jolly outlook. He admires my family genes with an endearing sense of awe: “Of the few phenomenal people I’ve known in my life, your mother (Ruth’s daughter) is certainly one of them. Of the many different types of genius a person might possess, your mother has one or more.” Ruth, like her daughter, had a steadfastness and zeal for life that was unflagging. Undeterred by challenges, she met life head on and with grace.

In me, and in Lady Kitty, these sparks stay alive. I’m comforted knowing that my daughter carries the Thomson strength inside her as well. For all the future trials we may face face, having a role model like Ruth is an indisputable asset. She passed away 10 years ago at the age 90. We miss her but live on inspired and carrying her heritage.

Ruth at 88 in 2009

Time Immemorial- aka Ocean Beaches Birthday

The world at night here is very dark. Pitch black. Only stars delineate the horizon. The roar of the ocean envelops all sound.

We walk past glossy dark-green sword ferns that would dwarf those in our garden at home, thriving in their natural habitat at twice the size of their urban brethren. Pools of standing water shimmer inky black broken only by Skunk cabbage sprouts and by silver rings pulsating outward from tree drip raindrops. The forest is black and green, stark and gothic in the deep of winter.

The world is reduced to a simple palate.

There are no neon lights, signs, advertisements, wires, traffic, roads, buildings, signs, people (also no covid, wifi, cell reception, restaurants, cafes, mobs, riots, or news, fake or otherwise).

There are smooth rocks of all sizes.

The beach is empty, save us. The sky is empty, save a family of bald eagles, two with white heads and tails, two juveniles sporting mottled brown overall. The beach is seemingly devoid of life. What are the eagles looking for as they fly over and over along the coastline? The views are vast and repetative.

The sea roils with white grey swells crashing incessantly into the shore and each other. The sound created is like hundreds of waterfalls layed end to end. Tumbling and tumbling.

There is a thin line of craggy trees, a few crashing in yearly mudslides down the clay embankment.

The wild Washington coast is one of my favorite places to be in winter. It’s a yearly pilgrimage of mine, a birthday tradition to revisit the Pacific Ocean. Time here is suspended, and the passing of time is only relevant in relation to the tides or geological time-frames. It could as easily be any century, any millennium. I’ve often thought of time as spiral, and here is an affirmation of that hypothesis. As I walk along the beach here, as I have walked along the beach here for many winters prior, I am the same body, here is the same beach, trees, sky and waves. The coast here is my touchstone. Many changes over the past year, yet nothing has changed. There’s something humbling and comforting, rejuvenating and inspiring about celebrating my birthday annually in the presence of ancient trees, timeless winds and ceaseless waves.

It’s so wild out here on the Olympic coast that the beaches don’t even have names. Ocean Beaches, the signs all point westward, or northward, or northwestward. “Ocean Beaches: collectively, that-a-way. We followed the signs north and west and arrived at Kalaloch where we explored all the nearby beach access points to create a small listicle guide: Beach 1 (spruce burls), Beach 2 (bonsai beach), Beach 3 (cozy cove), Beach 4 (superlative).

Beach 1
Beach 2
Beach 4 at High Tide —looking southward
Beach 4 at low tide — looking northward
There are smooth pebbles of all sizes

BONUS, dear Reader, are a few recent of Lake’s quirky quotes:

“North of December” Is where we are now? Is that January?

“You’re boring my whiskers out” Ahhh, the ennui of the four year old.

Ironically, with all the open space, there’s no room room for boredom at the beach!

Blowing [seafoam] kisses

A perfect day, I’m glad I spent it with you

Storm King

From November 28, 2020

It may sound grandiose, however, Storm King is a name befitting it’s station. This is the Pacific Northwest, a land that does majestic mountains. The people here do majestic mountains. So although the 4 mile round trip trail– which butresses Lake Crescent to the south– clocks a 2000′ elevation gain, we stormed that king. Our hosts (Lake’s good friend George’s family) took five little kids up that mountain like a walk to Rite-aid and back. Our German au pair had no choice but to huff up as well. How can you not, despite the despair of the switchbacks, when five children are racing ahead of you and the mossy adults are grimly striding it out PNW-style, forcing a smile whenever they catch a glance being sneaked at them?

Storm King thus invoked a romantic mood as the eleven of us leaned into the rocky trail, breathing heavily of the cold winter air. The woods were dripping with dampness, the cascading waterfall out of sight but sending whorls of mist up the mountainside. Our little hiking party was ebullient, having just ascended Storm King and viewed the great expanses of the Straight of Juan de Fuca and beyond. Lake was holding hands with George’s next oldest sister, Beatrice. They were gamboling down the trail together like puppies.

“My mama loves time out”, Lake said by way of a pick-up line. “Yes, she loves it when I put her in time out,” he tried again.

I was called into position as his wingman. “It’s true. Adults love time out”, I say. “We call it ‘me time.’”

Lake said to Beatrice, “maybe when we’re in college we could get married.”

“I’m too old for you,” said Beatrice, age seven.

Lake, not dissuaded, continued, “Maybe you can wait and decide when we’re in high school.”

She let go of his hand and continued skipping sweetly down the trail. Old man’s beard waved at her bouncing curls as she passed. The crinkly strands of algae-imbued fungus danced on the misty updraft, quite at home on the craggy ravine, ageless and impervious to the passing of time.

In her decicive refusal, Beatrice was intuiting the The Ayres Age-Appropriate Dating ToolTM (aka “The Gap App”TM). The fictitious Gap AppTM is a formula developed by Michael Ayres VanLaanen to test the maximum age difference a potential dating pair can withstand. The Older may exceed The Younger’s age by 125%, without it being “weird”. (So,at age 11, you might have the best chance Lake, when Beatrice is 14.)

In his persistance, Lake was also channelling the Gap AppTM, in graciously offering she could wait and re-evaluate his marriage proposal in ten years time. He had a wise notion that their relative age difference would diminish over time, and that by the time they were “in high school” she might feel differently.

Nonplussed, Lake moved along, continuing his inspired romantic musings. “I could also marry a boy. But I think I’ll probably marry a gwirl,” Lake said.

Piper’s name came up. At just 3 months younger than Lake, his babyhood friend Piper does handily pass the Gap App test. “Yeah, I’ll probably marry Piper,” he concluded, satisfied. Sure-footed as a mountain goat he scampered on down the trail after George and Beatrice, ahead of the rest of us.

Lake Crescent and the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Storm King Mountain
Lunch in the sun on Storm King Mountain

Voodoo Donuts

In spite of the travel restrictions of the past year, I worked to show Madeline as many of the local PNW attractions as possible. If nothing else, it’s part of our duty as an au pair host family to provide a culture exchange experience. One crucial part of this cultural education is sharing the zeitgeist of our major American towns and cities. I described our slightly quirky twin city to the south Portland, sharing about the phenomenon and show Portlandia (and insisted she watch the chicken episode).

Back in January the kids and I seized the opportunity to travel to Portland for a long weekend with our best friends. Madeline joined us for giggles and after doing her homework submitted to me her itinerary of Portland sightseeing musts: Voodoo Donuts and the Cullen House.

One morning while the kids were all playing harmoniously, Madeline and I set out for downtown Portland amidst reports of infamous New Years rioting. (Because, obviously). We felt like dystopian voyagers, resolutely braving the unknown, willing to risk our lives (or join the cause) for donuts. On this dark gray rainy late morning in the dead of winter, the Downtown Core was essentially deserted save our (and others’) destination: Voodoo Donuts.

Voodoo warrior

We joined the snaking crowd of peaceful donut hopefuls, kept in physically distanced line by the Voodoo Donut bouncer. Once admitted, we shook the rain off and allowed ourselves to be enveloped in the warmth, noise and hot sugar perfume. We were overwhelmed and momentarily paralyzed by our good fortune. The choices were so outlandish and decadent, how were we ever to decide? Feeling pressure to move expeditiously through the shop, we capitulated and threw 20 bucks at the Voodoo Dozen.

How to choose?

The riches of Voodoo goodness did not disappoint.

Next stop was 3333 Quimby—The Cullen House. The Cullen House is home to fictional vampire family in “Forks, Washington” from the famous film trilogy Twilight. We found the culdesac address at the top of a tiny sliver of Queen Anne style neighborhood, parked, and got out to take in the experience. We lurked shyly at the bottom of the long gravel driveway while the apparent homeowner snapped dirt off his running shoes with a proprietary air. We halfheartedly waved and quickly turned to go after not receiving a warm welcome. Our brief glimpse of the Cullen House remains a highlight. It is truly breathtaking the way the Frank Lloyd Wright style home is situated on a ravine and invites your fantasy into the world of the vampire family created by author Stephenie Meyer.

The best part of the Portland getaway is, of course the Lakacisms:

Lake: Lady Kitty is staring at me like she’s hungry for milkies. Lady Kitty, your milkies is driving!!

Mama: you have a hot chocolate mustache. It’s making you look old. [Sad face]

Lake retorts helpfully: Look at my legs. Not long.

Lake regarding Madeline: It’s always nice to have an au pair to help you. They do so much work that you don’t even notice. And sometimes they can even read your mind.

The least we can do in return is to brave riots to get her a Voodoo Donut… or a dozen.

Happy New Year!

We here at A Perfect Day wish you, dear Reader, a wonderful, cozy and joyful New Year’s Eve and a very Happy New Year!

It is on a hopeful note that we ring in 2021. Maybe the roaring twenties will begin to simmer down to a contented purr. Michael just got his first dose of covid vaccine yesterday and we are sheltering together on this rainy weekend with the best of friends. We are so grateful to our friends, family and neighbors who made all the difference in 2020. The year that felt the seismic impact of covid-19. And gave the world several vaccines at the close. The year that gave us Lady Kitty. And yielded the fruits of new friendships.

And today, as every day, I can earnestly say if I pause to consider it with gratitude: A perfect day, I’m glad I spent it with you!

Covid Christmas

Everything was a little upside down this year; a tad off kilter; a bit kattywampus; “unprecedented” was the descriptive refrain.

This year’s holidays, being no exception, progressed thusly encumbered. A little less festive, a lot less large gatherings (aka “parties”), and we must’ve forgone our Nutcracker ballet tradition.

It’s a covid Christmas!

Nonetheless, merrymakers we managed to be. In the stead of large gatherings we enjoyed a few of our traditions as well as a smattering of new whimsical and creative fêtes: a private symphony concert al Fresca, front yard bonfire etcetera. Holidays are often the highlights of childhood. It was Lady Kitty’s first Christmas after all! We commenced to withhold no efforts in introducing her to our very best version. And for Lake, at four years old, truly nothing can dampen the thrill of the advent, Santa, and Christmas coming. Lake was focused on the holiday like never before, his emotions running high. He was by turns devastated that Christmas wasn’t tomorrow yet, and devastated that Christmas would soon be over, and ecstatic that Christmas was coming and ecstatic that Christmas was finally here. (What joy!)

Like magic, a touch of “white Christmas” preceded the day.

Here and gone, like the gift of a white glazing of wet snow leading up to the final days before Christmas. The memories of time spent together, however, are not ephemeral. When the ribbons settle, and the wrapping paper is recycled, the friendships are the true gifts that remain.

Bringing the party to Jamma Julie— the Christmas Eve Birthday Girl!
Santa Tom came to play.
Best friends can only be kept apart so long.
Auntie Jessica finally meeting Lady Kitty
Nana wouldn’t miss it for the world. We were so blessed with her presence.

We are grateful we were able to see so many dear ones this holiday season whose friendships sustain us. We carried on, calmly I hope. Respectfully and prudently I trust. In shifts. Not all at once. Sometimes at a distance. Sometimes together. Some virtually. Some not at all. We kept up some play dates. We kept up the cheer. We spread love, not fear of Covid, this year.