Virtual Valentine’s Day

Royally in Love, On the Road to Recovery
📸 PC Madeline Jung

This year we are celebrating Valentine’s Day virtually. Lake brought covid home from Kindergarten ten days ago and quickly shared it with his unvaccinated one year old sister. It took a few days until I succumbed as well. So, I’m still in covid quarantine and Michael is quarantining separately in the Airbnb. He’s working really hard to stay negative so he can continue to support his hospital. But that means he’s not as available to support us. We wave and mime kisses through the glass door, and we’ve ducked out for a few walks.

It’s been a long lonely go of single parenting two sick kiddos while sick myself. Mothers everywhere can relate to this unenviable position. So I has been looking somewhat desperately forward to a romantic date night with Michael at the ballet over the weekend to celebrate Valentines Day. When the realization that there was simply no possibility we could attend finally penetrated the dense layers of covid haze, I was crestfallen. Thankfully the PNW Ballet graciously changed our tickets so we have Swan Lake to look forward to in a few months. But for now it’s a case of all dressed up and no place to go— That’s Michael holding his breath in the back of the Fiat to mark the occasion.

We are celebrating our love this virtual Valentine’s Day by infusing a wee bit of fun into our covid-dampened days. We are finding ways of keeping our family together and strong, even when it means we’re apart. We wish you and your families a very happy Valentine’s Day this year. Know that even if you’re alone, you are loved. May you be well!

Happy MLKJ Day Weekend

Dear one, whether you stay cozy indoors or venture out…

We hope you are safe, healthy and feeling comfort and peace. In honor of Martin Luther King Junior, perhaps you are taking a moment to pause and reflect, recharge, and when setting out again, stepping in the direction of inclusiveness and racial equality.

Perhaps you would like to be inspired anew by MLKJ’s historic speech 28 August 1963. I just listened to it and find it beautiful and all too relevant still.

As much as is was true in 1963, so MLKJ’s poetic and poignant words remain compelling today: “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.”

Perhaps this is a weekend to pick up a topical book and further educate ourselves on pressing race issues in America.

Perhaps this is a weekend for action. Stepping out with peace, smile a friendly smile to a stranger, have a kind word for all we meet, or have a challenging yet meaningful conversation.

I’m at the ocean on my first mother hiatus in nearly two years picking up Barak Obama’s A Promised Land, which he describes as “An invitation to once again remake the world, and to bring about, through hard work, determination and a big dose of imagination, an America that finally aligns with all that is best in us.”

Enjoy your weekend, and take good care.

Birthday Song of a Mother

Birthday Song of a Mother

Bedtime with my children is one of the sweetest parts of my day. Nearly every night for the past five and a half years, I crawl into bed next to my baby and cuddle, (nurse), and sing them to sleep. At the foundation, four years were spent just with Lake alone, so the two of us have a solidly established routine. With the advent of Lady Kitty nearly two years ago, our party has joyfully expanded to include her as well. Lake sleeps in the bunk bed above Lady Kitty so as I lie next to Lady Kitty breastfeeding, Lake and I chat about the day and all important things, great or small. We have a relaxing visit and a good giggle. Then just as, or before, our merriment escalates to rowdiness, I wave my magic lullaby wand, and after a few songs Lake goes out like a lightbulb. Lake finds tireless enjoyment from the same set of soporific family favorites.

The past few weeks this precious bedtime ritual has been complicated by my inability to sing Lake his traditional lullabies. Thankfully I’m not sick, and my voice is still as strong as ever. It’s actually that, any time I begin to sing throughout the day, but most disruptively at bedtime, Lady Kitty has started mounting a sudden and insistent resistance. She immediately interrupts me with her emphatic uh uh’s and if that doesn’t work, she moves quickly to no! no! no! protestations leading to flat out upset crying making it all but impossible to eek out anything more than a halting Twinkle Twinkle if we were lucky. Lake and I were dumbfounded, and our inquiries to Lady Kitty revealed no further insights. Lake was frusterated but resigned, and if we really stopped to consider our predicament – which we did as we had plenty of time for contemplation without the singing- we could see the comical side.

After weeks of this—Lady Kitty picketing my bedtime singing and Lake lobbying for his songs —I finally stumbled upon a song that Lady Kitty approves of. It turns out she is delighted if I sing the Happy Birthday song, and only the Happy Birthday song! In a dramatic and welcome departure from her general singing boycott, she giggles and laughs each time I sing a round of the Happy Birthday song!

But only it it’s sung for her. Of course, Lake urgently wants me to sing the song him instead, but Lady Kitty won’t stand for that. Now, both my kids are clambering for Happy Birthday to be sung to them each night, and meanwhile, it is ironically my birthday week. However, we are happy (Lake begrudgingly so) to sing Happy Birthday over and over to Lady Kitty if it means we can all enjoy a song together as we drift off to sleep. So, on this eve of my birthday, I’m feeling particularly blessed by the richness and the quirks of life as a mother. A perfect day. I’m glad I spent it with you!

I’m delighted to share three new photos taken late October at Washington Park Arboretum to commemorate this 44th birthday. 📸Jason Gerend.

Lady Kitty had a Good Year

We love this theme song for Lady Kitty, that Michael sang, inspired by the Beatles’ Peter Jackson “Get Back” documentary. Sing the “Lady Kitty” lyrics in place of John Lennon’s “everybody” lyrics in the tune of “I’ve Got a Feeling” and you have an apt description of Lady Kitty’s past year.

Everybody had a good year
Everybody let their hair down
Everybody pulled their socks up
Everybody put their foot down
Oh yeah, oh yeah.

“Lady Kitty had a good year. Lady Kitty let her hair down. Lady Kitty pulled her socks up. Lady Kitty put her foot down. Oh yeah, oh yeah.”

Indeed she did. She grew so much this year! She learned to walk and have compassion and show empathy. Lady Kitty loves pickles, drinking water, shaking her head, spinning in circles, playing peekaboo, and communicating.

Her words to date are: hi, bye, no, Mama, pleece, dank oo, uh huh, uh uh, dis.

She loves to be impish and enjoys a good joke. Equipped with all that, she can convey the world. She knows how it works.

All photography on location at McCaw Hall by Chamonix Browne, The Happy Film Company

We loved, we laughed, we cried, we grew and we all had a good year alongside Lady Kitty. We wish you a lovely New Year’s Eve and the very best for 2022!

White Christmas 2021

Living in the temperate maritime climate that we do, snow is a rarity, or has been for most of my life. So, it feels like a minor miracle that as I reach for the blog post title, “White Christmas” to mark this extraordinary moment, I discover I already have a post titled White Christmas published 25 December 2017. It seems we are seeing that climate patterns are changing for my children’s generation, however it is still with wonderment at the serendipity of the snow arriving exactly on Christmas that I’m reaching for the same title anew to mark the occasion once again this annum.

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Happy Christmas 2021 from the VanLaanens

The day would have been special enough even without the advent of snow. For months now Lake had been saying Christmas was his favorite season of the year.

“What is your favorite season, Tolle?” he asks me. “Mine is Christmas!”

We had a wonderful advent month full of Christmas traditions, and yet, for Lake it was the most exciting moment that Christmas was finally set to arrive. Nothing could dampen Lake’s optimism that Santa would be bringing him a (yes, real live) lynx and a Paw Patrol headquarters lookout tower. If I had any suspicions otherwise, I discreetly kept them to myself, and joined him in the possibility of his tantalizing fantasy.

I drove Lake and Lady Kitty out to NanaBaba’s on Christmas Eve in the afternoon, stopping for a fun visit with Michael’s dad and wife on the way. When we arrived to NanaBaba’s it was like stepping into a warm and smiling embrace with the household decked and twinkling. Baba had a fire roaring and Nana had hung the stockings by the chimney with care. She invited us all to choose a stocking so Santa would know which one was which. We crowded around the fire, examining the needlepoint stockings with great interest. The anticipation by all was palpable, buzzing like electricity near a high voltage tower. Lake chose the stocking depicting a Christmas tree bursting with presents, and for Lady Kitty we all agreed the ice skating children scene was perfection, and for Baba, the Santa carrying a Christmas tree slung over his shoulder like Paul Bunyon. With that settled, we turned our attention to Santa’s eminent arrival. Lake surmised Santa would not be coming down the chimney, not a chance, he wouldn’t fit. He would be coming in the back door, and his reindeer would stay outside in the backyard.

On Christmas Day in the morning, Lake was dancing and hopping around the living room. Do you, Dear Reader, remember Christmas morning when you were five? The anticipation? The tingle-in-your-toes excitement? He shot around the room like a boomerang, inspecting the bulging stockings and noticing that the platter of carrots he left out for the reindeer and Santa was nowhere to be found. (Per Lake “Santa doesn’t need cookies. He’s already too fat,” so carrots it was) . Lake was thrilled to open his stocking, and to teach Lady Kitty how to open her stocking, as well. As we were enjoying a lovely Christmas breakfast – heaps of fresh fruit along with the family standard: cooked muesli – Baba suggests to Lake we go “migrating”. This is an inside joke with NanaBaba and Lake, whereby they travel and go places like a flock of migrating animals. We all thought that sounded like a marvelous plan. So, Nana packed us all up picnic lunches, and we headed out to Westport for a walk along the sea.

Then the minor miracle occurred. After a picnic out of the wind in the sunshine of the gorse bluffs, as we were walking back to our awaiting vehicle, it began to snow, On Christmas Day! At the Washington Coast! We could not believe our good fortune for nature to add to the Christmas festivities in this special way. Lady Kitty was not as delighted as the rest of us. She was downright disapproving. Such a cold wind, she reprimanded. Why, it’s driving crystalized flakes of rain straight into our faces. She was not impressed.

Lake said “It’s like we’re really really tiny and we’re in a popcorn popper!”

Candy from our stockings was Lady Kitty’s saving grace. Eating one caramel corn after the other, continuously (keep ’em coming!)- she was able to keep her spirits up.

It kept snowing throughout the day. Nana revealed her long sojourn in a rainy climate by declaring, “Lake did you look out the window? It’s like pouring down snow!” Lake raved at the snow and was delighted to make snow angels and go sledding, and me: My heart was singing like a brass band!

We woke up on Boxing Day to a heavily flocked neighborhood. We’re so unaccustomed to snowy winters that it delights us to no end and turns the traffic upside down. I had a gorgeous but harrowing white-knuckle drive home with Lady Kitty (thankfully after 4.5 hours, we arrived without incident), while Lake stayed behind with Nana and Baba for the rest of his school holiday. Unfortunately Michael had to stay home to work this year’s holiday, but he was stoic about his tour of duty at the hospital and uncomplainingly commuted in every day. He is undeterred by driving in the snow and reported great snow performance from the Fiat 500e.

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Winter continues to press in tightly. The world, adorned with a diamond encrusted mantle of fluffy ice, day after day sparkles and shines so festively, comically squeaking and crunching beneath every footstep, and yet Lady Kitty is adamant she does not wish to go outside. Even with the sun shining brightly and blue skies beckoning, Lady Kitty is admonitory about the state of the cold. She pulls her hat to a rakish angle, then yanks it completely, as if, by refusing the snow gear, she would be able to cast off the whole distasteful phenomenon of the White Christmas snowfall.

The rest of us, we all enjoyed the novelty and the beauty that the blanket of snow provides, lending a memorable sheen onto our White Christmas 2021. We hope that you all had a very happy Christmas as well! We wish you much health and peace and joy, and we look forward to celebrating various milestones with you in the new year – hopefully together! A perfect White Christmas Day (and beyond), I’m glad I spent it with you!

Home for the Holidays

Enduring Traditions

Amidst these plentiful hours of cold dark rain (O, the weather outside is frightful), we classically turn inwards and indoors to seek reflection, society, warmth and light (the fire is so delightful). It’s the season of coziness. We gather around our gas fireplace to share pleasant evenings drinking hot chocolate, telling stories, putting on theater, watching films, and cracking nuts from their shell. With Lake spending his days in Kindergarten these past four months, it’s been a special treat to have him home for the school holidays. We are embracing the “Home for the Holidays” theme this year with zeal, and with no exotic travel plans on any visible horizon, we are savoring our enduring holiday traditions, made all the more poignant by the restrictions and lack we withstood last year.

Since many of our beloved holiday traditions were on hold last year due to the ongoing COVID pandemic and we are cherishing them this year with renewed vigor. For the children, Christmas is still cloaked in the magical allure that makes it Lake’s favorite time of year. So, we don our masks and set out with vaccination cards in hand to reaffirm what we hold dear and to reinvigorate the classics of the season.

Cementing family traditions

The tree

Originally a German tradition, the Tannenbaum was introduced to America via Prince Albert, the German born prince. With his marriage to Queen Victoria in 1840 he brought the tradition to England and when an illustration of the Royal Family gathered around their decoration-laden tree was published in the London Herald in 1848, the idea was immediately picked up in the States. (It just goes to show how the royal family have been longstanding trendsetters, and the phenomena of the Kate Effect predates the current Duchess of Cambridge.) The image encapsulated a quintessential tableau of warmth and family joined together in convivial merriment to celebrate the birth of light and hope amidst the dark nights of winter that continues to compel us all. We are drawn year after year to the ritual of choosing the perfect tree, and bringing it home to decorate. And then night after night of the advent the bright lights of the tree fill the house with a fresh alpine aroma and warm feelings that translate to enduring memories.

Our own VanLaanen Family Tannenbaum tradition began five years ago when Nana brought the tree to us in Seattle on Thanksgiving weekend. It was such a gift to have the most gorgeous majestic and tall Noble Fir appear directly from the forest into our home, and be installed year after year in our living room. The children loved it, and especially Mama. Last month instead of hosting family, we were invited out to Nana and Baba’s for Thanksgiving. The opportunity presented itself that Nana would take us with her on her Tree Farm Adventure, so we could choose the tree together, and take it back home on top of our car ourselves.

It was without a sense of urban alacrity that we gathered together our supplies for the Christmas Tree Procurement Adventure. We embraced the provincial ritual by making it the main event of our day. I packed a hamper with thermoses of hot chocolate, still steaming from the stove. Nana packed easy to peel citrus, and we accidentally left behind the English tea sandwiches she had thoughtfully prepared. We gathered up hats, mittens, shoes and an extra pair of boots, donned our wool sweaters and rain pants, and brought with us puffy coats as well as rain coats. We set out to find our destination without GPS assistance, heightening the sense of mythical journey. This local Christmas Tree farm is a bit of a seasonal pop-up, with no internet presence, and is well known by word-of-mouth only. There is no business listing, and the location does not show up on a map. Nonetheless, it is well signed from the highway and we have passed it countless times over the years, so it was a wee amusing that we were anxious about finding the place. Nana drove slowly down the highway, through the dim daylight as Lake and I peered closely at each embankment and road in fear of missing our turnoff. At last, we came upon this familiar scene, the trees having not moved since our last visit.

Hocketts Trees

The air was thick with grey clouds that started as high up as we could see (which wasn’t far) and reached all the way down to the puddles, wet our faces, and clung to our hair. There was a profound quiet on the tree farm, and we could hear none of the splashing cars driving fast along the nearby highway. The earth was a hard muddy brown, and the trees stood out from the mist, sparkling with droplets of water at the tip of each needle. They had such personality, standing in groups gossiping about the trees that had just been cut down and driven away. We found our perfect tree providentially. A tall handsome fir looked right at us, not partaking in the provincial chatter, yearning for the city. Lake was happy celebrated with our hot chocolate–

As with so many of our plans in life, they don’t always go without mishap along the way. That’s what makes the Story! That’s what makes the Story of Birth to Death unique to us and our family. So it was with our beautiful tree. Once we got it home and prepared the tree to place in the tree stand, we discovered that one or two of the bolts/nuts was stripped, giving the tree a strong lean. One day the water got low, and it turned out the necessary ballast was no longer present anchoring the tree. TIM…ber… it tipped over. That’s the story. Madeline and I swept up the glass, righted the tree, and added more water to anchor it. Michael added some fishing line guy wires later. The tree is tied up now and all is good so far. Probably we should get a heavier tree stand to adequately support any of these future tall majestic Christmas Trees from the Aberdeenshire.

The Nutcracker

We were so excited to be able to return to experience George Balanchine’s Nutcracker performed live by Pacific Northwest Ballet at McCaw Hall again this year. There was no live performance last year, however Lake is a veteran, having been already several years now. To celebrate the return to the stage, we made it a family affair and invited Nana, our best friends from Portland, as well as our delightful and talented family photographer Chamonix to join us for a rollicking good time to be commemorated on film.

Wide eye’d wonderment taking in all the “traditions” that are brand new to her.

I was thrilled to be able to style a large group, and had a lot of fun collecting the royal and royal inspired outfits for everyone to wear. Part of the preparations included trying on the clothes in advance, to make sure they will fit and look great, as well as having the kids try on their shoes. They are all growing so fast! Lake was funny, as I handed him a pair of black leather loafers he asked, “Are these the big ones, or the small ones?” He had kept track and knew that I had purchased them in the beginning of the year in two sizes.

“These are the big ones,” I said.

“Can I see the other ones?” he said.

“Oh, yeah, these are too small!” He seemed to get a thrill out of the fact that shoes he had worn in recent memory now no longer fit.

“Yea, they still fit!” I said, rejoicing after he tried on the larger size.

Lake said, “Can I wear them to school?”

“Yes,” I said after a conflicted hesitation. I wanted to be able to say yes over something like shoes, yet at the same time, I wanted them to look crisp and new for the photos.

He ultimately changed to tennis shoes, after all things considered, including his own perception that they might get scuffed on the playground.

Lake, “Well, actually, I don’t want my friends to think I changed my style.”

The ballet and the costumes also hadn’t changed in style, and we loved it for it’s consistency. The music and the sets and the dancers and the children sprinkled fairy dust onto our holiday season. We were all enchanted from curtain up to the last smattering of applause.

A Christmas Carol

This is a Christmas Carol tradition from Michael’s family that he introduced to us for the first time this year. He surprised Lake and me with tickets to the ACT Theatre production for the three of us to have a family outing and an evening out downtown. The cast was truly so thrilled to be back on the stage after the COVID freeze. Their enthusiasm was contagious, the Charles Dickens story came to life, and a VanLaanen tradition has been sparked for the next generation. Lake was a wonderful audience member, and was hiding in his seat with one eye peeping out during the visit from Marley. He described the visits from the Spirits of Christmas Past, present and Future as a “nightmare” that Scrooge woke up from, happily!

White Christmas

We have had a series of white Christmases since Lake was born. And so it may be for Lady Kitty as well. We are on the snow watch here, so the kids are outside all suited up in snow suits looking precious, but snow continues to allude us. We are wishing you all a very happy Christmas, white, green, or upside down. It’s a perfect day to commemorate family traditions, or start one anew. And may I just say, I’m so grateful to spend it with you, and to share it with you, too, dear reader. Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

Rain on Rain

Without even following the news, rather just by sniffing the air and going about routine business, it was a noticeably WET month here in Washington. Upon investigation, it’s turning out it was the wettest fall on record. And the second wettest November on record. (It will be hard to beat 2006 –where 15.63″ came down in Seattle alone that month.) An “atmospheric river” came through our region the middle of the Month.

Nonetheless we persisted in our commencing our Remembrance holiday plans in Leavenworth. My vision of golden crisp autumn hikes with children dancing ahead of my on the trail, as we took in the changing of the colors turned into cold puddle splashing slogs with faces wet with rain and tears. There were two speeds of rain that weekend. Fast and faster. If we thought the rain might be letting up and so we bundled up to head out, it was certain to be pouring by the time we were underway. We withstood the elements better, we found, when we were well fed and in the company of friends.

On our way home from Leavenworth, we spilled out of the mountains along with torrents of rainwater and crashing snow melt. Every mountainside was a cascade of water, and the rivers swelled and like a tidal wave crashed into the region north of us, bringing press photos of stand up paddle boarders in downtown Bellingham streets and letters from HRH Queen Elizabeth II sending condolences to the province of British Columbia. It was intense to be out there in the mountains witnessing the makings of the flooding as it happened.

The mid-month atmospheric river subsided, and we were granted a relative, but still very wet, reprieve before the next “river” blew in at the end of the month from Hawaii. Thanksgiving weekend fantasies of cold but sunny days at the beach were dashed by the reality of rain upon rain. So we enjoyed a lovely relaxing weekend, full of healthy food, and having a hilarious time playing inside and down in the basement. Giggles rang through the house for days on end.

Black Friday meant running in my black track suit. Buy Nothing Day for us. Time spent together = priceless.

The fleeting moment it appeared the rain was letting up to a steady mist we dashed out to Westport to take a walk near the Pacific Ocean. The sun shone for a few minutes. We drank it in!

Lake took this photo! Nana and Baba hosted a wonderful Thanksgiving retreat!

We are thankful for the friends and family that brought the warmth and rays of bright sunshine to our lives and our outings this month against that omnipresent backdrop of grey.

New Park

Lake and I recently went out exploring after school, just the two of us, and stumbled on “New Park.” This we happily added to our repertoire of the neighborhood playgrounds we visit on a daily basis: Tom Park and Spinning Chair Park. New Park is a tiny bit further and had therefore been thus far undiscovered by us. It has a great all-wooden play structure beckoning pirates and sailors and captains to try their hand at weathering the high seas and whirlpools. We look forward to returning to New Park again soon!

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

Nature Kid Nature Baby

Lake coined the kiddos “nature kid, nature baby” as we walked around the neighborhood parks this weekend playing in the leaves. Such gorgeous weather and a real treat after our record-breaking rainy storm. Lady Kitty models her new bespoke hand knit sweater, a gift from Auntie Denise. She thinks it’s funny when Lake throws leaves at her face. The first few times it’s hilarious, then, like any joke, the novelty wears off and it’s just getting hit in the face. Sibling joys!

Closing Up the Summer Cabin

Keeping toasty in the cabin with Baba’s neatly chopped and stacked wood at the ready. PC Spencer Brown during the 2021 Labor Day visit.

We’re deep into autumn now, and the air is full of leaves, sideways rain, and blustery winds. Nana and Baba are still living at the lake cabin, cozy as ducks. Winter and freezing temperatures will soon come calling though and it’s time to think of migrating back to the west side. With colder weather that suddenly dips below freezing at night, the pipes will freeze and burst if they’re not careful to drain them thoroughly for the winter and then make a quick exit –until next year.

It’s truly been a special summer season this year. Lake spent most of the summer there on his own with Nana and Baba. They have such a great time! So, Nana and Baba invited Lake out for one last weekend at Point Petite before winterizing. Lake went solo on the airplane for the first time, flying over as an unaccompanied minor. He was his typical stoic and nonchalant self, although he was getting plenty of accolades from all directions on his bravery and maturity. He’s his own person, and always up for an adventure. As Michael offered a hug and waved him onto the plane, it was reported there was no looking back.

It was a happy reunion on the other side. Nana and Baba gleefully swooped Lake our to Point Petite. They were snug as bugs in a rug in the cabin that evening.

Cozy evening by the fire

The evening before Lake left, he lost his fifth tooth. He left it under his pillow for the tooth fairy and in his excitement to go to school and leave for NanaBaba’s, he forgot to even check> is the tooth still there? Did the tooth fairy come in the night and leave him a treasure? He might be surprised when he finally takes a peek.

Lady Kitty loves to go outside—fondly remembering our Labor Day Point Petite visit—on a rainy afternoon in Seattle.

Meanwhile Lady Kitty enjoys autumn in Seattle and every morning she points up at Lakes bed and wants to talk about where Lake is.

“Well, Lake went on the airplane by himself to visit Nana and Baba at Newman Lake. Remember being there? They are having a good time. He is coming back.”

She is satisfied with that.

Lake and Nana and Baba made the most of their weekend. They had a busy social calendar packing in a Saturday matinee of the musical Cats and a Sunday performance of Disney on Ice. Thank you to Nana and Baba for hosting Lake for all these exciting events and precious moments in between that make the life sweet.

Preparing to see the musical CATS—getting in the mood