Sunday, January 6, 2019

All is Love & Sports: Reflecting On My Misfortunes and the Oregon Ducks

The year 2018 has been a rough year for me and my beloved Oregon Ducks. Starting in 2017, Darcy told me on a few occasions that she wanted to separate after 15 years of marriage and 18 years of a loving relationship. January 1, 2018 she emailed a separation letter officially putting to rest any doubt that we were staying together as husband and wife. Ironically, my love affair with the Ducks began at the same time. Darcy, now my ex-wife, was a senior and I a first year graduate student. We met at the University of Oregon during Fall Term in November 1999. It was love at first sight. Sounds corny and pathetic, right? It’s the god honest truth. I never fell for someone so hard and fast before. I noticed her on campus and began doing intense research as any good student is trained to do. She was a picture of grace, poise, and beauty and still has a spirit and presence about her that is mesmerizing and intoxicating to this day.

In 1999, my Oregon Ducks were on the cusp of something special. Joey Harrington and Coach Belotti
were taking the football team to new heights and Coach Ernie Kent was preparing his basketball team
for March Madness. It was a harbinger to come for us a couple and my Ducks as we both enjoyed
unparalleled successful seasons. Yes, Chip Kelly you are still a God!

Fast forward to 2017-18 and my separation mirrors the misfortunes of the Ducks football and basketball
seasons. Three years removed from a National Championship appearance, the Ducks had a losing season
in 2016 and clawed their way to a winning season in 2017 before being completely embarrassed in a bowl game by Boise State in 2018. The humiliation of this experience is not unlike the feeling of being told that your wife wants to leave you. In fact, Coach Willie Taggart separated after one season and left for greener pastures for Florida State. (Coach Cristobal is finally righting the ship and creating a winning culture.)

The basketball team has had a similar trajectory. A glorious Final Four team in 2016, the current team is
struggling to find the right combination of five players on the court who will listen to Coach Altman and work
together as one cohesive unit. It’s not pretty to watch either team as they struggle to make an impact on their respective fields of play. I cringed at the thought of our friends and family watching my relationship disintegrate with Darcy in the same way. Despite lots of drama, twists and turns, long talks in the middle of the night, and two stints of marriage counseling, this was a very big loss in the win - loss column.

Sports Culture: An Acquired Taste
I have been an avid sports nut growing up in the sports crazed Philadelphia area. Darcy, on the other
hand, is clueless about sports, pop culture, and doesn’t buy into sports culture. This one aspect of our lives
and the different approach to life and recreation should have been a tell tale sign that we weren’t meant to
be together long term. Having different tastes in music and food is one thing, but if you have two people
who don’t enjoy a good game on TV let alone attend a game or two, then that’s an issue. Darcy actually
played sports in high school so I had high hopes that this would translate into more interest in sports.
Darcy played along for the first few years, but the last five years it was apparent her interested was fake at
best and she wanted nothing to do with it unless our kids were playing in the game.

Box Out & Rebound!
If you’ve watched the Ducks basketball team there is one blatant deficiency: rebounding. Basketball teams
that can’t rebound are doomed to fail. I need to take this lesson to heart and rebound myself from a
devastating period of my life. In so many ways, I need to reboot my life with a new purpose and passion.
I turned 49 this month and I’m going to start my life over. I’m making plans to visit New Zealand for my 50th
birthday to hike the Milford Track and visit Hobbiton among many other thing s to see and do in this
beautiful island country. I'm creating a new life around my personal goals. It’s time to follow my heart and
make decisions based on passion and life purpose and everything else will follow suit.

Love is not a Spectator Sport

I love watching sports just like the next guy but I like it on so many other levels. It teaches a lot of life
lessons about perseverance, teamwork, shared sacrifice, and competing at your best even if you’re not at
your best. It’s why I choose to coach and volunteer in youth sports and youth development. Darcy and I
forgot that we were on the same team. Heck, we weren’t even playing on the same field in the same sport.

We had competing priorities, didn’t share the same vision of success, and couldn’t agree on how to parent
our wonderful kids. Add Darcy’s interest in a polyamorous lifestyle and you can see the future clearly even
if it’s staring you in the face and don’t want to call a desperate timeout to change the outcome of the game.
One of my favorite sayings is there is no “I” in team, but there is an “E” in We. Darcy was clearly playing
for a different team - or I hate to admit this - playing for herself. My team included the kids, Darcy, and our
extended families. I hope to one day I can find someone who understands the concept to teamwork and
doesn’t mind watching a few games from time to time. It's the kind of drama I can get behind in my new life.

Friday, December 8, 2017

2017 Holiday Greetings from the Cronin Clan

December 3rd, 2017

Happy New Year!!

Today marks the first day of new year in the episcopal calendar, and the first day of advent. It's not a day that I've celebrated my whole life, but between the sunshine and gratitude I feel here at the Gemini super full moon, I feel gloriously happy and want to share and reflect about the past year with you, my friends and family.

This past year has been a tumultuous one for me personally, and for our family. Usually we start our family newsletter by sharing about the kiddos first, but in this new year, I want to turn everything upside down and continue to learn from the new perspective that a new vantage brings.

Blissful at Baked Alaska for our 15th wedding anniversary.

I started this new year feeling trapped and spiritually lost. In the year prior I had set about "finding myself" and what I discovered had brought me further and further away from Kevin. I had fallen divinely in love with myself and awakened to the fact that I had been giving him my power (plus, my sister, mother, and kids...). Add to that my sense that Kevin feared my desire to become spiritually enlightened. Add to that the feeling that I wasn't in a professional position to be able to fulfill my dharma, and felt isolated in my community. Kevin and I went through counseling, and despite a valiant effort, we both became further disillusioned, especially as I became happy through my work and poured my energy there. 
Without sharing my midlife memoir, I can now say that I understand why my favorite astrologer/guru calls this year "The end of Illusion." At the beginning of this new year, I feel grateful to have a loving husband and three amazing children, who are growing faster than I can fathom. I also am blessed to be working and serving our community. My official title is Juvenile Prevention Specialist for Clatsop County, but I'm really the coordinator for Northwest Parenting, and hope to be known as a "Family Education & Empowerment Specialist." The last exciting news that I would like to share is that I've become certified in Imagination Yoga, and I am thrilled to have a vision for bringing this playful practice to the children and families in our community, region, state and beyond... 
After Kevin's run and my sunrise stride across the mighty Columbia River.

I usually try not to speak for Kevin, but as he's out hiking on this beautiful day, I'll do my best to give a brief synopsis from my point of view. I know our marriage struggles took a grate deal of energy from both of us, but thankfully, since our celebrating our fifteenth wedding anniversary, we've been focused on sharing our love and rebuilding our foundation. Despite having his "dream job," the luster of serving as Community Development Director wore off, and in September Kevin chose to take a tremendous leap by leaving his salaried position. I am proud to share the new name of his business is West Coast Cronin Clan Co. and despite not even having a web presence yet, he just billed his first three clients and has some very exciting development projects he'll be working to help create. Kevin's new journey includes taking up running, meditation and yoga, on top prioritizing of lots of long walks and hikes. He was happy to compete in three races this year, check out his post entitled (Yes, after ten years of having a family blog, Kevin decided on his own volition to write a goes to show that old dogs can learn new tricks! ;-) I selfishly hope that he'll be inspired to write more, as I know he enjoys creative writing... Kevin has also been fulfilled by serving as the President of the Lower Columbia Youth Soccer Association, and is excited to have his first paid coaching gig and is also planning to start refereeing, as part of his life/career transition. Needless to say, he's a different person than he was just a year ago, and I'm proud of his ongoing transformation.
Kieran giving Teagan a ride on our trip back East for Gram's 80th birthday.

This year has been a year of huge growth for Kieran as well, as he will likely be taller than me by his twelfth birthday, next month. Kieran was eager to enter middle school, and now enjoys the freedom of going to Friday night skate nights with one of his best friends, Noah, who he got to know by participating in the Columbia River Maritime Museum's first ROV Club. Their fifth grade team competed in the Seattle area, after five months of working together, and got Rookie of the Year. The competition included an oral defense, and even though he sweat bullets through it, Kieran was clearly the oratory leader. He also had the chance to serve as Treasurer, and good at ordering meals for the club. Lastly, Kieran enjoyed a great season of pitching, and looks forward to playing in the spring. He experienced his first soccer injury this summer, and sat out the fall, but is back to playing on a winter North Coast United team. 
Thumbs up before Makenna's big 10k walk/run. :-)

Makenna also happily transitioned schools, and is now at Lewis & Clark Elementary. She enjoys having lots of friends, and is quickly getting up to grade level with her reading. She's also loves playing soccer, and is quite the natural, according to Kevin. She still loves making art, and is banging away at the piano as I write. She's had fun in gymnastics and really wants to get back into swimming more. And here's a cute photo from her second walking race, the Great Columbia Crossing (she came in after her Dad, but in a few years, she'll surely be lapping him). Makenna's also more and more interested in "screens" and really wants an tablet like her friends who have started messaging me...she even coaxed her sister into asking Santa for an Apple watch yesterday...Teagan: "I want a talking unicorn, who can fly, and play and do anything I want! Oh, and an Apple watch!" ...I think he saw right through her. ;-) As a middle child, Makenna savors her rare alone time with Kevin and I, and most of all, loves being a Big Sis to Teagan. She dreams and talks a lot about growing up and living in Paris. Her dream of having a small white dog came true when we got a new puppy...
Our first hellos to Lulu, who is part sweet, part crazy dog. Lulu fits her. ;-)

Teagan's birthday wishes came true when we welcomed our four-legged family member, Lulu, a Schnoodle (mix between a miniature schnauzer and poodle). Lulu has tripled in size since she came home three months ago, and is getting closer to being "potty trained." Lulu adores Teagan, who loves her puppy kisses. Teagan also loves preschool, and according to Makenna, she is an "awesome artist." She certainly is proud of her expanding coloring and tracing skills. She remains a very emotionally sensitive and intuitive person who often seems ahead of her four years...precocious doesn't describe her entirely though, as she has a wicked sense of humor. New neighbors described her well after meeting once at the park..."Teagan. (thoughtful pause) She's a riot!!" She certainly has a riot of curls to match.

If all our personal lives weren't busy enough, we had a full year as a family. We finished turning our Theater into an Airbnb suite, and with the income from our first rentals, we  renovated the basement. We've had some fantastic short term renters who were all young professionals, and super kind and respectful (our first longer term renter had the sweetest dogs, Zeno and Maggie, who inspired us to get a puppy!) I was surprised to just check out stats to see that we'll have hosts over thirty sets of guests this year! I actually earned far more from our rental income than from my day job, and it's only because of our rental income that Kevin was able to make his career leap ahead of his intended schedule. Our historic home still remains a truly expensive labor of love, and it's great to be able to share it with guests from near and far (we had the sweetest young lady stay for a week with her infant son and mother, and our last longer term renter was from Maine :-)

OK, I know this is way longer than practically anyone actually reads these days, but the sums up the true highlights of 2017 for us. It feels so incredible to have made it through the darkness of the great eclipse, and to be gearing up for a truly beautiful new year. Today was simply amazing in so many ways, and blue skies in December didn't hurt. We've got so many fun advent plans, and are looking forward to making special memories with family and friends. 

Lastly, even though I've always enjoyed sending my love in the form of a holiday card to our loved ones, I used to feel awkward and apologetic for writing a "brag" newsletter. But this year it feels like we have so much to authentically brag about, and we are indeed so very grateful to have family and friends to care enough about us to share our lives virtually. As always, we would love to plan a visit or camping trip for the new year, and we hope that our paths will cross in person, rather than just online.

As Teagan is going to share as the Star in her preschool Christmas pageant: "For Mary and for Joseph, the would be a special night. For Jesus would be born, and bring the world hope, joy and light." No matter your beliefs, we wish you a season of beauty, wonder, and believing in magic.

Peace be with you,

Darcy and family

PS I don't want to post our personal info here, but feel free to reach out to Kevin or I by Facebook.

Family pic after our big walk/run in September. Kieran was still out of commission with his knee.

More first Lulu kisses!!

First day of school: 6th, 3rd and preschool.

Beautiful sunny fall day at McClure Park, where next year we'll be celebrating the new hillside slide...wahoo!!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Cronin Co-Housing

We haven't shared about it much with family/friends, but our family has been happily co-housing since the spring. We started off by building a Murphy bed in our Theater and turning it into a Private Theater Suite on #Airbnb, and we've been happy to host lots of weekend guests who love exploring Astoria.

But we also quickly got inquiries for more long term rentals from people who have temporary jobs here on the North Coast and who need a temporary furnished space to call home. So we renovated the basement into a monthly rental, and we'll soon be wishing our second renter farewell. We've also had two guests in the Theater who have stayed for over a month, and we've been so happy that we are ready to start officially advertising our "Cronin Co-Housing."

Maybe it's because I spent my early years living on my parents' hippie commune, but I've always had a fascination with co-housing. I even did a qualitative research project in graduate school interviewing people living in co-housing. As a kid, I remember touring by mansions in Southern California and thinking to myself that I would only want to live in them if I could live there with lots of friends and family. So, now that I'm living in my own "mini-mansion," it felt natural for me to want to share our home.

So far we've given our guests space to explore Astoria, but we also enjoy hosting dinner parties and the kids actually love getting to know guests. So, as we've rethought what we want to offer and attract, that we really do want the opportunity to get to know our guests. We've decided to include two family meals per week for guests who are living with us. It could be dinner, lunch or breakfasts, depending on our schedules. For us co-housing doesn't mean that we'll talk with or even see our guests every day, but that a few times a week we'll have a chance to connect and share our lives along with food and drink. We hope that by welcoming guests into our family that it will give a unique opportunity to experience Astoria.

Here's our first flyer that we just posted around Astoria, and here's more photos:

Private entrance, south facing.

New mini-fridge, dining table and La-Z-Boy.

Extra twin bed for any guests.

Comfy Queen bed, open shelf dresser, plus two closets (one big enough for a bike/gear).

Another view, the bathroom door is hiding behind the pillar.

One more view of dining/living area.
Private bathroom with new toilet and handheld shower head, plus plenty of storage.

Shared laundry room with new high capacity machines. Feel free to use our eco-friendly detergent and cleaning supplies.
McClure Park is across the street (soon the 30 ft hillside slide will be done!!) 
Lastly, a little more about our family:

  • Kevin - East Coaster at heart. Starting up a private consulting planning/development business. Loves running and yoga. Coaches youth soccer and serves as President of the local soccer club.
  • Darcy - Oregonian at heart. Has the world's best commute, walking just two blocks downhill to work for Clatsop County coordinating Northwest Parenting. Blogger and community volunteer.
  • Kieran - Tween who soon will be going to his first dance. He loves talking about sports, history and world politics (socialist in the making). Learning to play the french horn.
  • Makenna - Loves making art, playing with friends, her puppy and little sister.
  • Teagan - Preschooler who loves her new puppy, and playing outside and dancing/signing.

As we mention on our Airbnb listing, and which has worked well for our guests so far, we are up early on the weekdays. We have breakfast on school/work days at 7, and are usually out of the house by 7:45. Kevin works from home and Darcy usually walks home for lunch. We tend to have dinner on the earlier side, around 6...if we don't have sports or a community meeting.

We look forward to meeting with prospective co-housing guests soon...we would love to welcome you to Astoria and share our little piece of paradise.


Monday, November 6, 2017

Running for My Life

Cold, wet, beautiful run in Vancouver B.C.
I love hiking. I enjoy mountain biking and long rides on country roads. I do not like running...or at least not up until last year. I decided on a whim to run my first 5K in May 2016 as part of the Astoria Parks & Recreation Foundation’s “Run on the River” event. I thought this was a great way to get involved in the community by volunteering and why not run a 5K for the heck of if while I’m at it. I didn’t train whatsoever. Mistake, right? Darcy thought I went bonkers. I just showed up at the start line on the 6th Street Pier in my most presentable pair of soccer shorts and Adidas running shoes I had stashed in the bedroom closet and just went for it. How hard could it be to run 3.2 miles along flat terrain with a fantastic view of the Big River? As it turned out, very hard, but a lot of fun too!

I was full of piss and vinegar at the start running on sheer excitement and adrenaline. At the turnaround near Smith Point, I briefly stopped and doused myself with water and then pushed on drafting behind a woman who looked like she was in much better shape than I was and coasted until I turned on the jets for a final kick. As I crossed the finish line I let out a cathartic yell, but didn’t have a clue how I finished the race. I picked up some water, a snack, gently bowed to receive a medal from my daughter Makenna (who was volunteering with Darcy) and waited patiently at the runner’s tent to collect my race time. I couldn’t believe it...I did a double take at the printout...I finished first in my age group (45-49) and placed 8th overall with time of 28 minutes! In addition to a cool t-shirt that I still love and wear religiously, a glass blown medal from Fernhill Glass Studios, and a tasty free pint of cream ale from Buoy Beer, I received a fancy water bottle for my placement and a lot of pats on the back. The best part was my confidence level skyrocketed and seemed to be floating on a cloud for the rest of the week, knowing that I could accomplish anything. A priceless feeling that was worth the registration a couple times over.

Although the runner's high of my first race was undeniable, I didn’t run another race until I entered the same event in May 2017. This time I actually warmed up with a few runs on the Riverwalk in April, and a handful of long hikes to crosstrain, and finished with a time of 24 minutes! I didn’t win my age group and placed 15th overall, but I felt great about shaving 4 minutes off and setting a new personal best...a PB in the running world. Faced with the results, I knew something good was happening and decided to sign up for my first 10K in Vancouver, BC for October.

Throughout the summer, I had Vancouver on my mind keeping me motivated and focused. I filled my summer weeks with more hikes than runs, but I followed up with another race in August at the Lower Hospice's "Race to the Bar" at Fort Stevens State Park with a 5K run on the beach. This was an excruciating experience because the weather was terrible and the wind was brutal. After the turnaround, it felt like ten people pushing against me as I methodically jogged back to the finish line in a meditative state. As it turns out, I placed 2nd in my age group falling to the overall winner with a time of 25 minutes which was pretty good considering the cruddy conditions.

With continued training in September and October I signed up for a 10K at the Great Columbia Crossing, knowing this could be a trial run for the following weekend at the James Cunningham Seawall Race in Stanley Park. Talk about two amazing views in the Pacific Northwest! The Columbia Crossing event developed into a beautiful fall day and had to be one of the coolest things I've ever done; running across the Astoria Megler Bridge from Dismal Nitch on the Washington side to the Red Building Loft underneath the bridge with stunning scenery. Thankfully, Dave Feeney, a local Coastie, ended up being a great, impromptu running partner which I never had even with all of my training runs. It was a great strategy to have someone set the pace and chit chat along the way and before I knew it I was on the down slope of the bridge heading for the final stretch. Dave took off as we quickly approached the bridgehead, but I used a final leg kick to cross the finish line in 50 minutes! I didn’t purchase the extra chip timer, but I did the check the race results online and found out I would’ve placed in the top 10 of my age group among a group of 500+ runners.

I honestly can’t tell you why I wanted to run at age 47 or what I’m running to or from in life. I can tell you that I’m in the best shape of my life, doing daily yoga and meditation, in addition to my running and hiking schedule. Darcy has noticed the positive changes from my new physique, new attitude toward life, goal setting and results, and putting myself out there to meet new people and experience life on my terms.

This last year has been my most challenging year in life. Darcy and I struggled as a couple up until my transformation in August and then I left my job in early October. Running has been more than a diversion from the daily grind, it’s been a great tool to clear my head, think more clearly, live in the present, and demonstrate to myself and the family that I’m still kicking ass! I don’t know if I’ll ever figure my life out, but I do know that running has been a great way to help with the process of sorting out the next steps.

Where am I running next?

I haven’t scheduled any race events for 2018. If you have any suggestions or ideas I’d love to hear them. Everywhere I turn there is another 5/10K race on the calendar. In years past the family has done the Shamrock 5K Walk in downtown Portland so I may have to do the 10K Race. Trail running really appeals to me as well and Silver Falls State Park has got to be up there. There are so many other beautiful places that beckon my inner calling to keep searching and running for my life until I find what it is I’m looking for. I’ll let you know when I find it.


Saturday, December 31, 2016

Farewell 2016

Dear Friends and Family,

It's already 2017 for our East Coast family, so it's about time that we publish our annual holiday "family newsletter." This is the first year that we haven't diligently mailed out a hard copy. It's partly because this year it harder to put into words. But as the year quickly comes to a close, I can't help but want to reflect and capture the highlights for the family history blog. We especially want to remember our epic Oregon National Parks road trip.

After moving to Astoria the previous summer, we are finally feeling settled and love our beautiful little city. It was only after we had past the one year mark and enrolled the kids back in school that I really realized how stressful the moving transition had been for us all. It feels so much more relaxing to know our way around our own life without all the unknowns.

The kids have grown tremendously since we moved, and Kieran passed the five foot mark not long after turning 10 (he's a solid 115 pounds too!). It sure won't be too many years until he's taller than us. Kieran is still big into soccer and played in a competitive league that required us to travel to the Portland area nearly every weekend in the fall. He especially loves playing goalie and made some great friends. Since soccer ended, he's joined a ROV team through the Columbia River Maritime Museum, and they'll be competing in April. He's the team's CFO and he's enjoying learning in new ways. Probably the most memorable part of the year was going to L.A. for the Airbnb Open. After having read all one million words of Harry Potter, I really wanted to take him to the new Harry Potter World before he was "too old." It's hard to believe that he'll be in middle school by the fall...

Makenna is blossoming as well and loves her second grade teacher, Ms. Olson. Makenna had a great soccer season and scored several of the best goals. Over the winter break she remembered how much she loves swimming. Makenna is still very social and loves listening to pop music, especially Katy Perry. Makenna is a fantastic big sister (and becoming a better middle sister). She still loves art and just recently started drawing the cutest owls. Makenna is still a fashionista and loves her owl dresses. She has a eagerness and joy that we hope won't ever fade.

Teagan is still a joy as well, even though she's certainly insisting on her independence since turning three. She and Makenna are the best of sisters and play really well together. Teagan loves her preschools and since September has split her time between Peace Learning Center and Grace Episcopal. Teagan has learned some social skills from her sister and has made some great friends who she clearly adores. Teagan looooves playing with puzzles and already counts past ten and recognizes most of her letters. She got a baby doll for Christmas that fits perfectly in her arms and has a diaper bag with accessories, and it's so much fun watching her be a mama. Makenna quickly offered to serve as the Nanny and loves the doll just as much. It's so much fun that they have each other.

Kevin finally feels at home career-wise and loves his role as Community Development Director for the City of Astoria. After a year and a half, it's fun to start to see his work making a difference and there is much is progress, with a new economic development strategy dubbed Advance Astoria, that is sure to create positive changes in the community. The most memorable event of the year was when Kevin dressed up in drag for the Jane Barnes Review, where he prowled down the catwalk to Katy Perry's Roar. He earned the most dollars thrown at him for the fundraiser for the Astoria Downtown Historic District Association, and it was hilarious to see him as never before. Kevin was also won an award from the Oregon Chapter of the American Planning Association for his leadership of the Parks Master Plan.

This past year is hard to put into words for me personally, as I've struggled to redefine myself/my career and have gone through a serious I'm-turning-40 phase. I've had more ideas than I can even manage, haven't wanted to limit my possibilities, but have still felt limited/overwhelmed about how to make all my dreams a reality. It's been a year of tremendous spiritual growth. My year of searching was an adventurous one, which led me to launch Yippie Chicks with Miel, road trip to the Wallowas for the five year anniversary of Wally's death to scatter his and our Grandpa Ellis' ashes (we still have a tiny bit left to bring to Wales someday...), our annual pilgrimage to the Oregon Country Fair, serving as Miel's Best Twin at her wedding, driving the whole California coast together to go to BlogHer, traveling to the Airbnb Open in L.A. again in November (we actually hadn't taken a trip together college, which the exception of me visiting Miel in Peace Corps, so we used 2016 to make up for lost time). I also did an online training called Mindful Youtube University and a teacher training to teach Imagination Yoga to kids, both which were truly inspiring and I look forward to incorporating into my work. As I plan for 2017, I'm eager to finally hone in on how I want to serve my new community (and I have a few applications in the works and an interview next week...wish me luck).

With all my big dreams that have often seemed incompatible with Kevin, we've been going through marriage counseling. After feeling pretty hopeless, I'm grateful to feel progress and I'm beginning to feel hopeful that we can both accept and appreciate each other in the new year and beyond.

OK, with five minutes left in the year, it's time to wrap up this year end reflection. I truly hope that this new year brings you peace, love and prosperity. I also hope to meet/host many of you in Astoria in 2017.

Wishing you Peace,

West Coast Cronin Clan

Friday, December 30, 2016

Summer Family Road Trip: Oregon Coast & National Parks

Our family just returned from our biggest Oregon road trip yet, traveling just under 1200 miles in 10 days together.

There were lots of "firsts" for our family on this trip, as we traveled down the entire Oregon Coast, spent the weekend in the gorgeous California Redwoods, visited the spectacular Oregon Caves National Monument, reminisced in Ashland, delighted in the wonder of Crater Lake National Park, basked in the beauty of Bend, and savored the scenic miles on final trek home along the Columbia River.

It's not the miles that feel impressive though, it's the fact that I truly feel so much more connected to my family, and in awe of the beautiful nature that surrounds us. You would think that we would be sick of each other, instead I'm feeling inspired by my vision for our family, which includes experiencing as much as possible of this amazing state.

Don't get me wrong, there was plenty of natural sibling rivalry along the way, but true fights were intercepted and many lessons were learned along the way. The best part of the whole trip was seeing the big kids work together as a team to become Junior Rangers. Teagan's focus was on building excitement for her upcoming 3rd birthday, showing nearly every stranger her three proud fingers.

As we prepared for the trip, I was feeling testy and disconnected from Kevin after a summer apart (I had already been traveling for nearly five weeks). Thankfully, by the end of the trip, we were both feeling rejuvenated and reconnected.

Aside from our own "reservation" at Olivia Beach, we actually did the entire trip without any reservations. This was a first for our family, as Kevin usually plans a tight itinerary, down to the menu and activities. Yet, after traveling with Miel on our Yippie Chicks adventure down the entire California coast, I was convinced that we would be less stressed to not be beholden to a set schedule. Even though I knew that it was a risk, I wanted to create room for family adventure. As it turns out, we experienced "camping magic" more than once. :-)

Day 1
We packed up to leave after Kevin was done with his City Council meeting, little did we know that it wouldn't let out until past 10.

Day 2
We had arrived at Olivia Beach past midnight, which made for a tired first day, where I worked and everyone else watched more than their share of the Rio Olympics. Plus a much-anticipated family dip in the outdoor heated pool next door.

We celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary early, and I should get some cred for finding a great babysitter who lives in walking distance to Olivia Beach. (I've always envisioned finding a babysitter that we could recommend to our guests, and thankfully now I can!) We spent our "date night" with dinner at Kyllo's, our favorite fine dining place. Dinner at Kyllo's was wonderful, complete with grilled artichokes, crab cakes and a bottle of Willakenzie Pinot Gris. I was a very windy and cold beach walk. It was hard to believe that the rest of state was having an extreme 100+ heat wave, as we braced ourselves against the wind on our frigid walk back along the beach.

Day 3
Our big family excursion was hiking Cascade Head Nature Preserve, which was marvelous. We hadn't hiked the trail since before kids, and it was even more beautiful than I remembered. It's absolutely the most beautiful hike along the Oregon Coast! The kids did fantastic, and the weather was perfect.

It turned out that we had more family business that I had hoped for (sadly I had promised the family that I wouldn't work, but it was unavoidable. I was reasonable and only put in 4-5 hour days, not like our typical beach business trips, where we put in long hours of sweat equity). We had just hired a new cleaning company, so we needed to meet our new vendor/partner to make sure our mutual expectations are clear. We are also trying to schedule a remodel of the lofts to build a dormer and exterior stairs, so I needed to meet with our contractor. Plus, the typically trip to Ace for batteries and to Bi-Mart for supplies (we used to purchase on Amazon and will go back to that as we as we can...) Back when we built our beach cabins, I had envisioned relaxing the pool. Instead, we poured cocktails and weeded together as the kids splashed nearby. Thankfully, we had celebrated our the night before. I had spent most of our last visit weeding as well, and I'm more than ready to clear up my weeding karma. (we are committed to not using herbicides, which has made for lots of work). Still, I felt grateful, having accomplished our beach cabin dream so much sooner than we ever thought possible. My goal is that by next year we'll finally have the weeds under control and still be keeping vendors and guests happy.

Day 4
We packed up, wrapped up the final business and managed to hit the road by 10. The kids had been on their best behavior with the promise of going to the Oregon Coast Aquarium. As a kid I was truly fascinated by marine life, and did a distance class through the OSU in high school, and then focused a year of studying marine biology and ecology at Denmark's International Studies Program. So, it was a big deal for me to show the kids the aquarium.

There was a bit of line, and next time I would pre-purchase tickets online. We missed the otter feeding and got there just in time for the seal/sea lion feeding. The animals were a lot of fun to watch, and way more entertaining than the wild sea lions the kids see on the docks of Astoria on a regular basis. The best part was when the kids had a chance to get a sticker by answering questions about what they had learned about the difference between seals and sea lions. Kieran was asked which animal is louder, and he easily knew that sea lions bark loud enough to be heard at our home, six blocks from the river! Makenna was craving negative attention and kept filling my sandals with pebbles, after a frustrating/embarrassing time out, we were able to enjoy the rest of our aquarium visit. There was plenty to see and I only wish that we had more than two hours explore.

We were on a travel timeline though, and needed to get down to Sunset Bay to get a campsite. Thankfully the kids were tired after a parking lot picnic lunch, and Teagan napped nearly the whole drive. We put on our "camping magic" as we round the curvy coastal bends, and arrived just after four to find the dreaded "Campground Full" sign. Miraculously, they still had an RV site left between to the fish cleaning station and the woodshed. We all jumped for joy and quickly pitched our tents. My meal plan included driving back up the road to the roadside fish and chips place that I spotted on our way (check out my Google Local Guide review of Oceanside Beachfront RV Resort). It turned out to happily fill everyone's bellies, and I would highly recommend it (review to be posted soon!)

We got back to camp in time to go meet Smokey the Bear. Makenna had met Smokey in her first grade class, and Teagan was very excited to meet him for the first time. Kieran was given a book by his great grandparents called Saving Li'l Smokey when Makenna was a baby, so all the kids have heard many times about the danger of wildfires to animals.

We enjoyed a safe campfire and tucked ourselves into bed to read around 9. :-)

Day 5
We got up early the next morning to go on a ranger-led tour of the tide pools as Cape Arago. It was at these same tidepools that my fascination for sea life first began, and it was a pure pleasure to explore with the kids. It had been a full moon the night before, so the low tide was extra low. I somehow managed to keep Teagan balanced on my hip through most of adventure. We saw plenty of Oregon tidepool favorites, including lots of sea anemones and sea stars. I remember finding a lot more sea stars as a kid, but I didn't spoil the experience by comparing the time that I found a rare nudribranch. We trekked all the way out to the sea urchin beds, near the sea kelp forest. Once again, I was only a little sad that we didn't have all day linger and explore (this trip easily could have lasted twice as long...if only Kevin had more time off!).

We headed south toward Bandon, picked up grocery supplies at the local IGA, and found our way to Cranberry Sweets, the candy store we visited nearly every trip as kids. They have lots of samples of their unique jellied candied. While I love sampling them, I knew that the rest of the family wouldn't really eat them. So, instead we stocked up on salt water taffy and an assortment of gummies. The kids were delighted, and it was fun to "play Mom" and remember my own inner child. We had forgotten bread at the store, so we stopped by the Bandon Baking Company. It was a pretty traditional American-style bakery, and since I'm more of a European bakery lover, it kept me on task to just buy bread. We picked up a few really quality bagels and a round loaf of cheese and chive bread. I only wished that I would have bought a few more bagels for the road. They were very decadent with cheese and artichoke and cheese and bacon, so it was probably a good thing. ;-)

We coasted south past Face Rock, where my family spent several spring breaks with close family friends. It definitely inspired me to plan a reunion with families who I have so many fond beach memories. Bandon is indeed a beautiful beach town, and once again, I would have loved to stay for a full weekend.

Yet, the California was calling our name. The drive down the coast was absolutely beautiful, easily as gorgeous as Big Sur, which I had just traveled earlier in the summer. This particular section of the coast feels like you are on the edge of the world. Wonder fills you as the waves crash against the coastline. I don't know if the kids appreciated the drive enough, but we parents didn't take it granted. Kevin was only disappointed that we didn't have time to hike Humbug Mountain, which we had hiked at our first winter holidays together. Instead, we sufficed with a picnic lunch in the parking lot.

I had been wanting to camp just north of Crescent City, at the Tolowa Dunes State Park, but we couldn't find the campground (it turns out the campground that I had researched was at a whole different park, but I couldn't get online to find more details). We had just passed the turn off to Jedediah Smith Redwoods State and National Park. Truthfully, I had only not planned to go there because I was afraid of not getting a campsite. We arrived around four and once again found a "campground full" sign. Our camping magic worked though, and we managed to get a cancellation for the next two nights.

This put our traveling minds at ease, as we headed down for a swim in the lovely Smith River. I had swam upfront from here with Miel earlier in the summer, and this was by far a superior swimming hole. Perfect in all regards. There was a warm "kiddie pool," deep green pools and nice rocks for jumping and diving. The current was very calm, and the temperature perfect after a refreshing moment.

Day 6
Once we settled into our campsite, suddenly lots of memories camp flooding back: camping during spring break with our new puppy, going on a 4th grade field where a few brave kids joined the "banana slug club" by kissing one, and rafting down the Smith's emerald and aquamarine pools in college with the UO Outdoor Program. There were lots of Oregonians at the campground, most in RVs with week long reservations. The evening ranger programs were really interesting (I think we all had a crush on Ranger ??). The kids earned both a Junior Ranger pin and a special "EdVenture" badge for following the nature trail clues and reading/learning along the way. Kevin lucked out at managed to snag the last spot on a kayak tour led by Ranger ??. I was jealous, but swimming as they paddled by, I couldn't really complain. Hilariously, but not so surprisingly, spunky Teagan gave the whole kayak tour a show, having stripped naked and smacking her bootie vigorously as they paddled past!

We also went for a beautiful day hike. After the short crowded loop of Stout Grove Memorial trail (National Parks' Trail Site), the connecting Mill Creek trail was virtually empty. I was really surprised to find such a quite trail. It was kid friendly, but not stroller friendly.

We could have easily stayed a week at this site. The sites were really spacious, and felt so secluded that we had to repeatedly remind our kiddos to use their "inside voices". The showers are coin operated, unlike Oregon's "free" campground showers. Best of all, our campsite was really dark and the view of the stars through the tree canopy was worth every mile of the drive.

Day 7

After a beautiful drive, we said goodbye to California and headed toward the Oregon Caves National Monument. I had forgotten what a long windy drive up the mountain it is from Cave Junction. We had to go slow so that Makenna wouldn't get nauseous. I remember my Mom telling us stories about driving the school bus up there on class field trips.

Once we got there, I was reminded of what a hidden treasure this park feels like. Between the historic chalet and chateau, it feels like rustic village in the wilderness. Kevin told us about how it's listed as one of the most endangered historic buildings, in need of restoration. We were happy that the timing worked out to take a ranger led tour of the chateau, where we learned all about it's unique history. It's definitely on our bucket list to come back to stay.

The cold dark cave peaking out of the mountain gave it's own adventure. We all had wanted to go on the cave tour, but Teagan was too young, you have to be five years old. So, we sufficed by exploring the visitor's center, which included a mini cave, which she loved crawling through. The big kids were all smiles when they were done with their cave tour and worked together to earn their Junior Ranger badges. They were extra happy because they were made of carved wood, instead of the typical plastic badges.

It was the end of a heat wave, so were glad to enjoy the cool mountain air, before we headed on to steamy Ashland. As hoped for, we got to Ashland just in time for a happy hour dinner at Standing Stone Brewing Company. I used to work there as a part time hostess, so it was fun/weird to go back with our family. The food was delicious, and I'll be doing a full review. :-)

We booked a last minute night at the Ashland Springs Hotel through and I was pleased to remember that this was the same place that had sponsored the Forest Activist Conference that I used to coordinate for Headwaters. The place had a new retro vibe that was very hip and fun. After almost a week of camping, the kids were eager to swim in the pool and watch a movie...while we parents washed laundry!

Day 8
We took the kids by our old apartment, the place where we were married, and on an obligatory visit to Lithia Park, but then it was time to head to Crater Lake.

We were too anxious about getting a camping spot to stop at the Natural Bridge as I had planned, but we did get a great campsite at Crater Lake. They have just 25% of the sites on a first-come basis, so we were happy to not have to find a campsite outside the park.

The kids were indeed in awe of the amazing blue water of Crater Lake. They were also quick to start working on earning their third Junior Ranger badge of the trip. Meanwhile, I head over to the lodge to book the last five spots on the boat tour of Crater Lake for the next morning.

Day 9
We had a VERY cold night, huddling in the tent, and rallied the kids out of their sleeping bags to head for the boat tour. I had gotten the time wrong for catching the shuttle, so we ran to catch it (without brushing our teeth or eating breakfast as planned...thankfully I had packed some snacks for the excursion!).

Our morning hike down to the water's edge increased our level of anticipation, as the water became more and more beautiful the closer we came to it. The boat tour was absolutely the highlight of our entire trip, and I would go again in a heartbeat. I had hiked down to the boat docks and even jumped off the short cliffs on a previous anniversary trip, but it was amazing to be out on the water itself. Next time hopefully they'll be offering visits to Wizard Island.

While we had planned to stay at Crater Lake longer, we unanimously agreed that we didn't want to freeze another night, so we headed north to Bend.

We arrived in Bend at happy hour and found our way to Crux Fermentation Project. We had been once before in the fall without the kids, and they were amazed by the party-like atmosphere. In fact, Teagan lit up asking "We're going to a party?!" It took us a long time to get a table inside, but we enjoyed a sampler and games outside. By the time we left it was getting dark, so we crossed our fingers as we headed toward Tumalo State Park. Blessedly, we got the very last campsite (again, there was a campground full sign up, but after sweet talking the host, it turned out that there was a single handicapped space left, and as it was 9, we could have it). We opted to put up a single tent and cozy together (especially after freezing!), but in the process snapped a tent pole (thank goodness REI does repairs!).

Day 10
With a broken tent pole and a decent night's sleep, we woke up in the morning ready to head to Black Bear Diner and make the trek home to Astoria. It was a glorious day, and even though we had a long drive ahead, we savored it, knowing that our trip would soon end. We went a route that we had never driven before, up toward The Dalles. It was wonderful to see the Mighty Columbia River again.

We celebrated the end of our road trip with some frozen yogurt in Hood River, and were ready to head home to Astoria.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Teagan Turns 3!!!

Teagan's third birthday was nothing short of fun-filled, just like our vivacious little girl.

She woke up on her birthday cuddling her new unicorn, Pinky, which her Aunt Jade had given to her the day before, as we began her festivities. Yes, we did stretch out her celebration over the whole weekend, but nothing too elaborate, setting a pace that she led...which means it was jam packed with more memories than I'll even have the time to share.

My sister, Jade and her family came to visit the day before, which was extra special because her step daughter, Kiana, and Teagan share the same birthday. :-) :-) Teagan was spoiled with lots of awesome presents from her Aunt Jade (who knows by now that we don't go overboard on toys, and is always very thoughtful and generous). Thank you Aunt Jade!

This is my favorite new pic that Jade took, which captures just how sweet Teagan is, especially with her beloved chickens. She's fearless with them, just like the meaning of her middle name, Brenna.

Kevin gets lots of Daddy cred for baking a frosting Teagan's birthday cake with her and her big sibs. It was exactly what she wanted, chocolate with purple frosting and sprinkles. Kevin chose to do it as a bunt cake, which made it look like a big Voodoo Donut. Needless to say, she loved it! 
After a waffle breakfast, we walked to Grace Episcopal, where Kieran was an acolyte and held Teagan as eagerly stood up in front of the whole church and put up her three proud fingers (as she has been show nearly every strangers for a few weeks). 
At coffee hour, Father Lance's daughter, Grace decided to give Teagan on of her old American Girl dolls that she doesn't play with any longer, as a generous eighth grader. We appropriately named the doll Grace. Thank you Grace!
Teagan thought of this photo opp at the Astoria Sunday Market.

Teagan opening Gram and Pop Pop's birthday card (Sorry we didn't manage to call, Teagan was resisting a nap during the window of time when we should have called...She was grateful for her card, and her checking account thanks you!

I bought myself a beautiful bouquet at the Astoria Sunday Market to celebrate three years as Teagan's Mommy.
Here's a lengthy reflection that I shared on my Darcy's Utopia blog entitled Life is Better with Teagan.

Thanks for sharing your life and birthday with us Teagan!


PS For those of you, like me, who can't help but take a trip down memory lane, here's a link to the photo shoot that we did when Teagan was just a two months old. Plus, here are my top three favorite posts from her first three years: Kissin' Cousins, First Shamrock Stride, and Teagan, Three Months Already!!!