Happy 6th Birthday Ava!

Today we celebrated Ava turning 6 in style, by hosting a ‘Unicorns on Ice’ themed birthday party at a local ice rink. We knew plenty of our guests had either never ice-skated before, or hadn’t done so in a long time, so we were a little nervous that people wouldn’t like it, or wouldn’t get it. Luckily everyone had a really good time, and several of the kids trying it for the first time ended up loving it and not wanting to leave. Hopefully we’ve sparked a little interest in a few of them.

The girls in our family took the Unicorn theme pretty seriously. Grandma, Ava, and Elise were each wearing Unicorn pajamas, meanwhile Jessica was sporting a beautifully colored Unicorn wig, which drew plenty of attention on it’s own. As you can probably imagine, our group was pretty easy to notice.

Most importantly, Ava had a great day that I’m sure she will always remember. Having Grandma and Grandpa Martin staying with us for her big day certainly makes things more special. She had a blast this morning opening boxes of dress up jewelry, clothes, and toys. The party went on pretty much all afternoon, then we came home to chill and let the kids play with all the new toys and gizmos.

Beyond today, Ava has been doing great with Kindergarten and is loving learning to read. She is beyond excited to have 4 loose teeth and can’t wait for the tooth fairy to make its first appearance. She loves playing hockey on Sundays with the girls and is constantly improving in all phases of the game. I hope today was a really special day for her because everyone loved celebrating with her. Happy 6th birthday my sweet girl.

Elise is doing really well and has been enjoying attending dance/ballet classes for the past several weeks in a row. Her running series ended a while back and we transitioned straight from that to dance. She is loving it and it seems to suit her, so it looks like something worth continuing. She is still attending pre-school 2 days a week, but I think we’re going to add a 3rd day after the new year. Won’t be long before we’re sending her off to Kindergarten as well.

Enzo is a raging ball of two-year-old energy. Sometimes he’s the sweetest, funniest little boy you’ve ever seen, then he suddenly transforms into an outburst of emotions without warning. His experience with the Terrible Twos has been different from the girls, but we seem to be moving away from the worst of it. Sometimes he’s super difficult to contain, then suddenly you’re playing with the funniest, coolest little kid ever. He’s doing well out on the ice, actually quite surprisingly well considering he’s still in diapers, yet is able to skate several feet in a row without assistance. He’s pretty hilarious without meaning to be, and might be the most talkative child in our family history. I remember Ava being a very talkative baby, but I don’t think she can compete with Enzo. He loves trucks, bulldozers, front-loaders, trains, and tractors.

Things with Jessica and I are going well and we’re just getting into all the holiday hustle bustle. A few weeks ago we had Grandpa Rick out for a Halloween visit, now we’ve got Grandma and Grandpa Martin out for Thanksgiving and Ava’s birthday, then we’ve got Grandpa Rick and Grandma Chris coming back out in mid December for a long weekend visit, then that following we our whole family is going to Las Vegas to spend Christmas at Nana’s house. My Mom has tons of stuff planned for us to do while we’re there, so yeah, the holidays are on in full effect.

Earlier this month I had my second elbow surgery of the year (actually in the last 3 months), this time on my left side. Everything went really well and I’m doing physical therapy on my way to an easy recovery. Although the first surgery wasn’t too major and was relatively easy to recover from, this most recent one was even less serious and will be even easier to recover from. It should only be a few more weeks before I’m done with PT and moving on.

As always, plenty to be thankful for, plenty of good stuff to look forward to. I don’t see how things could be better. Here’s several photos and videos from Ava’s big day. Happy birthday Ava! We love you to the moon.

Getting started with presents a day early

Trying to get a good view for Elise at opening night of Snowflake Lane

Winter trains and gingerbread cookies

Ava on her birthday morning. She loved her crown.

The Unicorns and the Dragon, preparing to party

Mama Unicorn

Grandma and Grandpa Unicorn, I mean Martin

Our good friend Julie and her awesome little boys

Love this pic of Carol, Butch, Dana, and Brad

Keeping each other upright

The Unicorn cake!

Ava opening presents from Grandma and Grandpa Rudd

Opening presents from Nana

Ava’s birthday morning

Free skating during her party

The cake photo

Happy Birthday to you

Not again

I can’t even believe I’m saying this, as it doesn’t seem quite possible, but it looks like I’m going to need surgery on my left elbow for the same problem I just had on my right elbow. As I mentioned in my last post, I hyperextended my left elbow in my first hockey game back after recovering from surgery on the right elbow for an avulsion fracture. It was painful, but not a big deal, and didn’t compare in any way with the injury to my right elbow back in July. The motion was different, and the pain was less.

It felt like it was getting better all week, and I ended up playing hockey the next Sunday and everything was fine. I had a great time, scored the only goal of the game, and enjoyed seeing my friends. This whole week I’ve been taking care of it and it’s been fine, but then yesterday morning I was putting together a set of bunk beds for the girls, and while pushing these two pieces together, I felt a pop in my left elbow, then a bunch of pain.

With Jessica’s help, I finished assembling the bunk beds, then started hemming and hawing for a while about whether or not I should go to urgent care. Based on her insistance, I decided to go get it looked at. There’s a brand new Urgent Care less than a mile from our house, so I had no excuse.

I explained everything to the doctor, including my previous injury, then he proceeded to do a bunch of tests by having me push and twist different ways with my hand/arm. At the end he said, “If you put a gun to my head, I don’t think you have another avulsion fracture, but we could do an x-ray if you want, it’s just that someone has to pay for it.” My response was basically “Well, my family has already reached our out-of-pocket maximum for the year, so let’s go for it! I hope you’re right, but I’d like to have the peace of mind I can only get from a negative x-ray.” He said that was fine and set me up for the next step.

Fast-forward to the moment the doctor is bringing my x-ray images up on screen. He hasn’t seen them yet, but as soon as he does he starts to chuckle and says something like “Well, I guess you were right.” I looked at the screen and saw almost the exact same x-ray I saw back in July on my right arm. As he explained, I have a bone spur on my elbow that is partially attached to my triceps, and it has partially avulsed. I showed him a photo of my x-ray from July on my right elbow and he said the injury is the same, except the spur on my right elbow had completely avulsed (broke off), which is why that experience was more traumatic and painful than this one. In this case, it’s a partial avulsion, but if I were to go out and play hockey tonight (or do anything athletic involving my arms), I would almost certainly experience a full avulsion. Having been through that recently and knowing how painful it is, I’d rather not experience it again. The memory of it is still fresh in my mind.

I know it seems like hockey is the culprit here, so I asked him for his opinion on that. What he basically said is that it’s not very common for people to have bone spurs like this on their elbows, and that while hockey isn’t something he necessary recommends for grown men, this issue would have likely surfaced elsewhere, assuming I was involved in some other activity. Hearing this was a bit of a relief because I don’t want to quit permanently, even though I know I am now being forced into taking another break from it.

So what’s the next step? Well, tomorrow morning I will call my Orthopedic surgeon who fixed my right elbow, and setup an appointment. My assumption, based on recent experience, is that we won’t need an MRI this time, and will just schedule a new surgery, but we’ll have to wait and see. My biggest concern is how long it will take to see him. I have jury duty in Snohomish this Wednesday through Friday, however if that’s the only time I can get into the doctor then I’ll just have to figure something out.

I was pretty bummed out yesterday afternoon knowing that in all likelihood, I’m going to need another surgery, then have to go through another 6 weeks of physical therapy. However at this point I’m over being bummed about it and need to just take things one at a time. I probably shouldn’t get too far ahead of myself, but I can’t help it based on recent experience. I suppose there’s still a chance I won’t need surgery, but I doubt it. I have no pushing strength in my left arm and simple tasks like pumping a squirt of hand soap are very painful. It’s so weird for my right arm to suddenly be my ‘good arm’ again, considering all the time I just spent rehabbing it, but it’s doing great. I have full mobility, zero pain, and it honestly feels stronger than before the injury. I think that has to be part of the consideration to have surgery on the left one, but we’ll see what the doctor says.

To end on a positive note, the girls love their new bunk beds, or as they call them, “bunker beds”. Kristy found them for sale online near her house and ended up getting them for us. I wasn’t sure if everything would fit in our minivan, but it did, and setup was relatively painless. Actually ‘painless’ probably isn’t the right word here, but I digress. Elise had completely outgrown her tiny bed, so we handed it off to another mom with an infant son. Now all 3 of the kids have ‘big kid’ beds that they won’t outgrow for years to come.

We’ve got a busy day today: hockey for Ava at 11:30, running for Elise at 3:00, and game 2 of the NLCS at 5:00. It’s Dodgers vs Cubs again this year, so I’m hoping for my revenge against the Northsiders. Dodgers took game 1 last night, so tonight will be interesting.

My right elbow x-ray from July. The spur has completely avulsed.

My left elbow x-ray from yesterday. The spur has partially avulsed.

The girls sitting on their ‘bunker beds’ for the first time

A new season begins

For the girls and I, a new sporting season has recently begun. Elise has been on a kids running team for a few weeks now and is having a lot of fun, Ava just started the hockey 2 program with the Washington Wild, and I’ve been back to playing hockey on Sunday afternoon for two weeks now. There’s a lot to get into, but first, an update on Enzo and Jessica.

The little guy took a big spill on his bike this weekend and has a split lip to show for it. I was out in the garage practicing shooting with my hockey stick when I heard Enzo start screaming and crying. I started making my way outside to see what was happening when I heard Ava yelling for me, saying Enzo was bleeding. I sprinted over to him and found him in the neighbor’s driveway with blood all over his face. He was a huge mess so I swooped him up into my arms and ran back inside. Jessica was home but upstairs so I yelled for her to come down, then started looking for the source of the bleeding.

We quickly traced it to his inner bottom lip, which was split wide open and already starting to swell. Once we got him under control (with a popsicle of course), we called a nurse hotline available through my work. After talking it over with the nurse we decided to stay home, keep ice on it, and watch the bleeding. He turned out to be fine, but the next morning his mouth was really swollen and bruised. It’s been getting better each day, and he barely even notices it now, but it was no fun in the moment.

Other than that he’s been doing great. He’s been regularly asking me if he can go ice skating with the girls, so I expect to start taking him soon. Jessica recently took a really cute video of him dancing in our living room, which I have posted below.

Jessica, in her quest to become Mill Creek Citizen of the Year, is continuing to brighten the days of complete strangers by giving out all of the painted rocks she spends so much time working on. Whether it’s responding to a request on social media for a particular themed rock for someone going through a hardship, or just leaving rocks unannounced for people whom she interacts with on the local ‘Buy Nothing’ site, she’s constantly spreading joy and receiving public (social) thank you’s. Her work is quite impressive these days, so I’ve recently put in a couple rock requests for myself. Fingers crossed that those requests receive preferential treatment.

Elise has been running on Sunday afternoons for a few weeks now, and she’s having a lot of fun. In all honesty, the program we enrolled her in is a bit of a joke, and Jess & I regularly comment that we could do something much better, but it’s fine. Basically you show up, wait for your race (which in Elise’s case is 4-5 year old girls), run the race, and go home. In terms of providing a minimum viable experience, it meets that bar, but that’s about it.

When you consider that these are all young kids with very little experience in track or running, you’d think they would do some type of group stretching or warm-up before starting the races, but that’s not the case. So instead, we arrive a little early and I do the stretching/warm-up with Elise (and usually Ava). Elise may not be the fastest kid out there, but no one is having more fun, and that’s all I care about. Ava likes to say things like “Elise, you lost the race and you’re not even crying”, but Elise always shows impressive maturity and tells her that she doesn’t mind if she loses the race because she still has fun running with her friends. She gets noticeably excited when seeing kids she recognizes from previous outings, so it’s all good. We’re hoping to get Elise started in a dance class soon as well. She’s been showing an interest there so we’re excited to let her try it out. As long as the kids are staying active and having fun, we’re happy.

Yesterday was Ava’s first day with the Washington Wild. Going into this I knew that they were one of the top female hockey programs in North America, but it didn’t really sink in until seeing it all in person. I actually play hockey on Sundays with one of the guys that helps run the organization, so I ran into him shortly after we arrived and he ended up introducing me to everyone.

The Wild were formed 15 years ago by two women who had grown up playing hockey, but always struggled with the fact that there were very few options for female hockey players. One of the founders has an award named after her, and the other is in the hockey coaching hall of fame. What started as a single team has now become an entire league, with multiple teams and age groups spanning from 4 to 19. In addition to local league play, the Wild have multiple travel teams who frequently compete in tournaments in other states, as well as Canada. They consistently place girls in NCAA hockey programs, and just last year they graduated 4 girls from various universities.

I want to be clear that I’m not expecting Ava to reach the highest levels this program offers, but simply point out that if she does decide to stick with hockey, she’s definitely in the right place. It’s a really cool program and I’m glad we’re now a part of it. Since Ava has done several skating classes already, including the hockey 1 program in Everett, she was invited to start out in the hockey 2 program with the Wild. This means wearing full hockey gear and using a stick on the ice, both of which are firsts for new participants in this class.

Ava was so excited to get out on the ice, but first we watched the end of a game featuring 8-10 year old girls. Honestly I couldn’t believe how good they were! They’re probably playing a cleaner game of hockey than the group I play with on Sundays, and their skating is definitely better. After their game Ava was right up front waiting to get out on the ice. Watching her there with the other girls, knowing this would be her first time playing with pads and a stick, my heart was racing. I knew she would be totally fine, but I was pretty anxious.

She ended up doing great and was bursting with pride when she came off the ice. It’s an hour long class, so it’s twice as long as any other skating/hockey class she has ever done, and while other girls were coming off the ice for a break here and there, Ava was having none of it. She didn’t want to leave even after the hour was up, but she had so much fun and couldn’t stop talking about it. When we were leaving, she got her own USA Hockey headband, and a sports card for one of the girls from the Wild’s oldest division. She kept the headband on all day, and refused to set the card down. We’ll see what happens, but I think she’s hooked. Can’t wait for next week.

After Elise’s race yesterday, I played hockey for the second Sunday in a row. On my first day back (the previous Sunday), I got to reunite with all my buddies and get caught up. Not surprisingly, when I finished playing my elbow was sore, but what is surprising, is that it wasn’t my right elbow (the one I had surgery on) that was sore. I managed to hyperextend my left elbow half-way through the game. It was painful, but there was no way I was coming off the ice. I can tell the difference between being hurt and being injured, and this was definitely the former. This was my first time playing left-handed, so I probably over-compensated, but I couldn’t believe it. It’s like, are you kidding me? I’ve been nursing my right elbow for 2 months, and now as soon as it’s healthy I’ve got to start dealing with the left one? I ended up getting a couple shots off during the game, but didn’t manage to score. Didn’t matter though, it was just good to be back out there.

I took good care of the left elbow all week, then yesterday came along and things went much better. With a brace on each elbow, a knee brace, and all my hockey gear, I felt like the bionic man getting on the ice. We did power skating drills for 30 minutes, so by the time the game started, everyone was gassed. It was a low scoring affair, but my team won 1-0. Fortunately for me, I got the one goal of the game. While I generally don’t celebrate my goals in favor of acting like I’ve been there before, this one was special for a number of reasons:

  1. It was my first goal since my injury
  2. It was my first goal playing left-handed
  3. It was the best goal I’ve ever shot

The whole play is still fresh in my mind, so I’m going to describe it. I was playing left-wing and my teammate (the center) got out on a fast break with the puck. If you drew an imaginary line down the center of the ice from goal to goal, we would have been about 8 feet to the left of it, and I was following him about 15 feet behind. He took a shot on goal, the goalie stopped it, and the puck deflected way up in the air. The goalie lost site of the puck, but I could see it the entire way.

As it came down everything went into slow motion for me. The puck landed about 10 feet in front of me, the goalie was out of position, and there was no one between me and him. That’s when you have the realization that you’re about to get a wide open shot, which can often lock people up. I’ve seen people (including myself) end up falling and/or missing the puck all together, but I’ve been practicing wrist and snap shots from the left side in my garage, and I was ready.

I took two strides towards the puck and set up for a snap shot, which is a power shot generally used when you’re close to the goal. I reached forward with my right arm, pushing the butt end of the stick down to create flex, then pulled it in, rolling my left wrist under the puck as it made contact, in order to get lift on the shot. As I was making contact, I saw the goalie diving back in front of the goal with his glove extended. The puck was rising, as I had intended, and it just barely passed by the goalie’s glove, then hit the inside of the top-right corner bar and ricocheted into the back of the net.

Our coach, who was playing defense on my team, immediately started yelling about “That’s why you always follow on the fast-break!” and “Position is everything in hockey!” and “Nice fucking goaaaaal!!!!!”. It was awesome. It just felt like this total comeback moment, being back out there with the same group on the same ice where I was injured a couple months ago, to be having this feeling of validation and achievement after dealing with surgery and physical therapy.

In many ways I feel like the situation I have with hockey now is very similar to Jiu-Jitsu in San Diego. When I was working in La Jolla, I’d go to the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu school a couple times a week on my lunch break, and became part of this great group of people. I loved it and always wanted to be there. Then we moved back to Seattle, and leaving my school was the hardest part. I tried two different Jiu-Jitsu schools but was never able to find something that felt right. It was a total bummer, but now I have this great group of people to play hockey with every Sunday, and it feels very much the same. I’m definitely glad to have found it.

Rather than end a post with recent photos, as I usually do, this time I’m going to switch things up and share some recent videos we’ve taken. There’s one from Jessica of Enzo dancing in the living room, one of Elise running her race yesterday, and three from Ava’s first practice with the Wild. Enjoy!

I normally find Ava on the ice by looking for the pink helmet, but that doesn’t really work anymore.

Ava Starts Kindergarten

This week marks a new chapter for our family, as Ava, our oldest, begins her kindergarten year at Penny Creek Elementary. It’s funny to me that exactly 20 years ago, Jessica and I were beginning our senior year in high school, and now all these years later things have basically come full circle, with Ava, followed by Elise and Enzo, beginning that long journey we all know as school. Anyone who knows Ava can imagine how excited she was to get started, but Mom and I couldn’t help but have a heavy heart. Obviously it’s all part of the process, but seeing your baby go off on her own, even just that little bit, is still tough.

I worked from home on Monday so I could be there to walk with everyone to the bus stop in the morning, as well as be there waiting for her in the afternoon when she returned. The funny thing was that during (or just after) her first lunchtime, Jessica received a phone call from the school principal. The first thing she said was “Don’t worry, Ava did nothing wrong” and then proceeded to explain that Ava was having trouble finding her lunch, then eventually did find it because another little girl had mistakenly grabbed it and started eating her apple sauce. Apparently Ava was a bit upset and emotional, and since it was her first day, the principle called Jessica to tell her what happened, assuming Ava would be talking all about it when she got home anyway.

It was no big deal, but memorable, for no other reason than the fact that we received a phone call from the principle on literally the very first day any of our kids went to school. Ava’s teacher, Mrs. Johnson, is a family friend who used to be our neighbor before moving away about a year ago. Knowing that she is there looking out for Ava is definitely a weight off our shoulders, and even she felt bad about Ava’s first lunch experience, so Jessica received an email from her as well. The best part is, when we asked Ava about it that evening, she barely even mentioned it. It was like “Oh yeah, some girl ate my apple sauce” and then she would proceed to tell us about riding the bus or going to recess.

Having a child in school full-time now definitely has an effect on our family schedule, and I love the fact that Ava is going to quickly understand ‘the weekend’. With Elise going to pre-school for 3 hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, it makes for a lot of shuffling for Jessica, and one can assume it will only increase over time. Good thing being Mom is her full-time job now because there’s a lot to keep up with. I also love the fact that Jessica and Enzo will be getting a lot of quality time together while the girls are in school. Plus that’s only going to increase once Elise enters Kindergarten next Fall.

We’re so proud of Ava, and as expected, she is already loving school. After her first day she proclaimed “It was the greatest day ever!” Though she hasn’t yet been in school for even one week, it seems to us like she is already starting to grow and mature. Just in the way she talks about people and things. Maybe we’re fabricating it a bit, but the truth is she is going to grow so much this year, and it’s going to be exciting to watch. Same for Elise and Enzo of course, it’s just different when you throw full-time school into the equation, especially for the first time.

At this point summer is all but officially over. School is back in session, traffic is getting worse, and there’s a little chill in the early morning air. Considering the fact that Jessica and I both had surgery this summer, it was memorable, but not in a bad way. We still had a lot of fun throughout this summer, and will look back fondly on it.

We decided to end the season on a high note, so on Labor Day we took the kids to the Evergreen State Fair in Monroe, which is only about 20-25 minutes from our house. It was the last day of the fair, so we showed up right when they opened at 10:00, not knowing that the rides didn’t open until 11:00. We ended up hanging out pretty much all day, and didn’t get home until 4:00. Each of the kids got to pick out a pair of sunglasses (which was hilarious, see photos below), as well as an unlimited rides wristband. Mom and I shared a handful of tickets so we could go on certain rides with them. There was an entire area of the fair dedicated to small children, so we spent most of our time over there.

We got to see all kinds of different animals, including sheep, a bunch of baby pigs feeding from their mama, cows, llamas, cats, baby chicks, horses, etc. There was plenty of food, some live music, and lots of people, so it was a fun day. On our way out we decided to go on some of the ‘big kid’ rides with the girls. Jessica took Elise on one of those contraptions that swing side to side like a pendulum, then eventually end up going full-circle. Apparently Elise had to keep her eyes closed as it went up in the air, to keep from getting to scared. Then Ava and I went on one called Area 51, which I always remembers as the Gravitron when I was a kid. It’s the one where you’re inside a circular room with your back against a vertical seat. The room starts spinning and soon you’re pinned to your seat, then eventually the seat rises up a couple feet and you’re basically floating in air. I always loved that ride as a kid, and although Ava was a little scared at first, she said later it was her favorite too.

The weekend before going to the fair, Jessica and I left the kids at home with Auntie Dana, and drove out to The Gorge for a concert. We saw Nathaniel Ratlief & The Night Sweats, followed by Kings of Leon. It was a beautiful evening over there, with the perfect sunset coming down just beyond the stage and the Columbia river. We ended up staying at a Motel 6 in Ellensburg so that we could avoid the 3.5 hour drive home after the show. The next morning we had a nice brunch in Ellensburg before heading home. None of it could have happened without the help of Auntie Dana though, which we appreciate very much. It was a nice little end-of-summer getaway for the two of us.

Speaking of good stuff, I recently received the good news from my manager that I had been promoted again at work. It had only been 12 months since my last promotion, so I wasn’t expecting it at all. It’s hard to believe how well things have been going for me since joining Microsoft 2.5 years ago, but I still find a way to keep a little chip on my shoulder as a means of drive and determination to continue making progress. No matter which level I’m at, I’m always thinking about what I need to do in order to reach the next level. At this point the next level for me is to become a senior software engineer, which is a bigger step than the one I just took. It’s hard to believe that I’m now only one step away from a senior role, so I take it seriously and am committed to constant growth and improvement, all the while knowing that it’s going to take time. It certainly won’t be another 12 months before I’ll be making that jump; it might be twice as long, but that’s fine. As they say in this industry, by the time you’re awarded a new level, you have already been doing the work of that level for some time, so the promotion is really just an acknowledgement of what you’ve already been doing. So now for me, whenever I’m working on anything, the question I have to keep asking myself is, “How would a senior engineer handle this?”

Okay, enough about work. We’ve got a nice weekend to look forward to. On Saturday we’ll be joined at home by Kristy, Madi, Brenda, and Jim, for a homemade pizza party. They weren’t able to make it to Enzo’s party back in January, and I’ve only done pizza once or twice since then, so it’s time! I’m excited to make it once again, and expect this batch to be the best yet. I’ve found making pizza to be more difficult than any other type of cooking I do. Not only do you have to get the dough right, but how you handle the dough (specifically how you roll it) makes a big difference in how the pizza turns out. There are also different ways of doing the sauce, plus plenty of other variables like oven temperature, toppings, etc. It’s as much science as it is art, so I feel like I learn something each time I make them.

More importantly than how the pizzas turn out, we’re just looking forward to seeing them and hanging out. Then on Sunday Elise begins her running/race series. Recently we asked her if there was an activity she would like to try out, and she said “I want to be on a running team!” So after a little research we were able to sign her up for a series of kids races, the first of which is this Sunday. I can’t wait to watch her and cheer her on. I’m sure Ava will be cheering the loudest.

Speaking of activities, we’re less than a month away from Ava joining the Hockey 2 class with the Washington Wild. I recently took the girls to the hockey shop to get Ava the remaining gear she needed. Elise also got a pair of hockey skates and is starting to show an interest in skating. She’s getting more and more comfortable on the ice each time we go, and she’s only barely 4 years old, so I’d say she is doing great. Enzo keeps asking if he can go skating as well, so I need to get him out there as soon as possible.

I don’t suspect it will be long before I’m back out playing hockey. Physical therapy has been going really well, and this is most likely going to be my final week. I’m actually going to miss it, but I’m excited to get back out with my buddies on the ice. I’ve been out skating a couple times recently and had no issues. I know it’s going to be a little rough the first time I take a fall, but that’s just part of it, so I can’t worry about it. My arm feels good and nearly all of my strength has been regained. I’m going back for a checkup with my surgeon on Monday, so hopefully I’ll get good news.

Jessica is continuing to go to physical therapy for her neck, but only once a week at this point. We both go to the same place and work with the same trainers, so it’s been fun. She recently had a checkup with her surgeon and he was thrilled with how everything looks. She’s healing so well and doing great with physical therapy; it’s pretty much been best case scenario throughout this whole ordeal.

Another example of us ‘moving on’ comes from little Enzo, who has recently graduated from sleeping in a crib, to his own race car bed. After all, what other type of bed would you expect for a boy named Enzo? I’m actually currently reading the biography of Enzo Ferrari (a birthday gift from Kristy), and we just hung the Ferrari flag in Enzo’s room, above his bed. I’m sure people will always assume we named him after Enzo Ferrari, but the truth is I started becoming a big Ferrari fan after having a son named Enzo. His name came from an E-Trade commercial, but I do always pull for Ferrari when watching Formula 1 races.

We also decided that as much as we loved Enzo’s long hair, it was time for a cut. It was constantly getting in his face, so we chopped a good bit off. It looks great on him though and he’s still got some curls. The girls also got really cute hair cuts just before starting the school year, so they’re all looking good.

As a little celebration present to myself for the promo at work, I recently bought a new electric guitar. It’s not brand new, in fact it was built in 1996, but it’s a beautiful hand-made guitar from Japan by a company called ESP Guitars. I’ve always been a big fan of their guitars, but have never owned an actual ESP until now. The closest I came was with my old LTD Jeff Hanneman model, which I gave to my nephew Kallan for his 21st birthday. LTD is ESP’s ‘affordable’ brand of guitars made in South Korea. They’re still really nice guitars, and I loved the one I had, but it doesn’t quite compare to an actual ESP. I’d been thinking for a while that I wanted a carved top, 24 fret hardtail super strat for a while, which is a little bit like a white buffalo, but that’s what I got. It’s a gorgeous guitar with a transparent green finish, so I’m calling it Grini (as in Pellegrini). Like all my guitars, each one is destined to go to a family member someday, and this one has Miss Ava’s name all over it. I kinda wish the guitar was purple because she loves purple so much, but it is what it is. Unlike Elise and Enzo, who each already have 2 of my electric guitars destined to be theirs someday, Ava only has the pink bass and my acoustic guitar. In other words, nothing quite as fancy as the others, but that all changes with this one. It really is a special instrument, and although I had never played this specific type of guitar before purchasing it online from a music store in Colorado, I fell instantly in love with it as soon as it arrived.

I guess that’s about it for now. As usual, we always have a lot to look forward to. In addition to this weekend, we’ve got Grandpa Rick coming out for a Halloween visit, then we’ve got Christmas at my Mom’s house in Vegas later this year. There aren’t too many dull moments in our world, but all is quite well. Enjoy the recent pics.

Trying out their new sunglasses at the fair

I think it’s fair to say he doesn’t like their driving

When Elise looked at all the sunglasses, she immediately said “I want the rainbow cheetah glasses!”

Batgirl, I mean Ava, showing off her new shades

All ready for the upcoming hockey season!

Gotta love that hair… And the pizza cheese

Sleeping in his new race car bed for the first time

Elise having fun over Labor Day weekend, with our friends the Palmers

Elise getting her hair cut in the police car chair

Our little girl is getting so big!


Go Cubs Go! (Not really, but it’s cute when he says it)

Taking Elise to her first day of pre-school

Looking good with his new haircut

Beautiful sweet Elise on her way to the first day of preschool

Hanging with my girls before the bus arrives

Mommy and the kiddos, waiting for the bus

Ready to start Kindergarten! Love you Ava.

Here comes the bus!

Cabin Life, 2017

Last time we spoke, I was blabbering on about my elbow injury and preparing to get under the knife. Well, a lot has happened since then, including another epic weekend with the O’Hair’s at their cabin on Hood Head Island, but I think I’ll pick up where I left off previously.

Surgery was successful, and actually ended up going better than expected. They didn’t end up having to put pins (or any other type of hardware) in my elbow, which means my recovery will be a lot faster than expected. I was expecting to be in a mechanical brace for 2 months following surgery, but that wasn’t necessary at all. I was able to start physical therapy a week after getting out of my splint. I’m actually going to the same place Jessica goes to for her neck rehab, so we’re kinda becoming regulars there.

The doctor told me that after getting in there and seeing my elbow, there’s no question that there had been prior trauma, which I was aware of, but also no way of knowing how bad it was before this injury. All they had to do was remove the little bone chip and reattach the piece of muscle that had been connected to that chip over to the triceps, where it belongs. Sorry if that sounds gross. I’m just glad it’s over.

The day I got the splint taken off, Ava and I went to the hockey store to get her a stick. I told her if she passed her hockey 1 class that I would buy her a stick, and she passed, so I kept my word. While we were there, I also bought myself a left-handed stick, some pucks, balls, and a little goal. So literally within two hours of getting my splint off, I was practicing with Ava in the garage. We were just doing stick handling, passing, and light shooting, but it was super fun. We were babysitting Ronan that day and he, Elise, and Enzo all started jumping in to play garage hockey with us. I’ve been out there a bunch now and have found the transition to left-handed to be surprisingly smooth.

Ava is moving on to play hockey in an organization called Washington Wild. They’re part of the Western Washington Female Hockey Association, and are regularly recognized as one of the best female hockey programs in all of North America (which obviously includes Canada). She’s definitely not ready to be on a team yet, but she will be joining their hockey 2 class in October. It’s going to be Sundays from 11:30-12:30, which will break up my football watching nicely, but well worth it. Once she gets bigger, if she sticks with it, she’ll be able to play on teams, and at higher levels (again, if she sticks with it), they travel for games. Regardless of all that, Ava is super excited to get to play on “the girls team” and we can’t wait to go watch her.

I almost forgot to mention that two days after surgery was my birthday. We ended up meeting up with Dana, Brad, and Kallan at the Chateau St. Michelle winery for the Wine Country Blues Festival. It was a super nice (hot) day so we all just hung out under umbrellas and listened to some blues legends. Charlie Musselwhite and John Mayall were both great, but seeing Buddy Guy was a concert bucketlist item for me. I think I mentioned this in my last post, but it was also his birthday (81st) that day. It was a really memorable day and so nice to get to spend it with Dana, Brad, and Kallan. The only reason we were able to do it was because Josh and Solana watched the kids for us.

So, onto this weekend. For the second year in a row we have joined Josh, Solana, and their boys Ronan and Finn, at Josh’s family cabin for a weekend of oyster hunting, crab potting, rock throwing, fishing, shell collecting, and overall PNW beachy woodsy cabin life. We were there last year for Labor Day weekend but decided to go a little earlier this year, and it worked out because the weather this year was better and the water was warmer.

I actually can’t believe how much happened considering how short our stay was. We all took the Edmonds-Kingston ferry Friday morning, but then took our time on the other side before heading to the cabin. We took the kids to a park and had lunch in Port Gamble before trekking across the Hood Canal bridge, parking at the end of a dirt road, and boating everything across the channel. It’s a bit of a production getting everything there, but worth it.

Sometime that afternoon one of the neighbors cruised up in their boat and told us about a big party going on the following night at the dragon. This is the same dragon Jessica and I visited for a 4th of July party back in 2009, and the same dragon we visited last year over Labor Day. He said there would be a band playing and that everyone was welcome. So we thanked him and said we might see him there.

Later that evening after dinner, we were all hanging out in the cabin talking about our day, and all of the sudden Josh pauses and says “there’s a bat in here.” So we all start looking around, and then it swoops through the cabin, everyone gasps, and it flys upstairs into our bedroom. I was actually falling asleep in my chair at the time but this woke me right up.

Since Josh was the only “owner” of the cabin present, he felt like it was his responsibility to deal with it, but as he started going upstairs, I could tell he was pretty nervous. Instantly my memory shot back to the time we were having lunch in Raleigh and he got freaked out when a butterfly landed on our table. Turns out he had some sort of traumatic butterfly experience as a kid and has always been freaked out by them. So instinctively I shout out “Oh don’t worry, it’s just a giant butterfly.”

Now I have to admit, we’d all had a couple nips off the old tequila bottle by this point, but that comment set the wives off laughing, and poor Josh reeling. So I hop up out of my chair, grab Ronan’s flannel shirt as some sort of weapon, and start marching upstairs. My plan was to open this door in the room that literally goes nowhere, to let the bat fly out. You open the door and it’s a straight 20ft drop into the woods, but it’s deadbolted and there’s a ladder in front of it, so opening it is a bit of a production.

So I step past Josh, armed with Ronan’s flannel shirt, and march on in there. In the background I can here Ava yelling from downstairs “Go Daddy! I’m not scared of that bat! Let me in there!”. It’s pitch black in the room, in a way that only a cabin in the woods with no electricity can be. I literally make it about two steps and that little bastard flies by so close to my face that all I can do is scream and drop to my hands and knees. Now it’s pandemonium downstairs. Jessica is crying from laughter, no doubt reliving the possum incident in San Diego. I’m crawling around upstairs swinging the flannel above me as some type of deterrent. Josh is screaming. If you’ve ever seen the movie “The Great Outdoors”, it’s totally like that.

So I’m crawling my way to the door, but I’m scared to stand up and move the ladder, then I hear Josh scream even louder because the damn thing flew out of the bedroom, straight at him, and back downstairs. Then I instantly hear the moms and kids all start screaming. It flew out for a second but then managed to come back in before we got the door shut. So I run downstairs to try and help, then the stupid bat flies back into the upstairs bedroom again!

Back to the same plan. I still had Ronan’s flannel in hand, so I marched right back up there, walked in all brave, reached out to turn on the lamp (because Josh had the generator running at this point), and the son of a bitch buzzed my tower again! As I reached for the lamp it literally flew right between my hand and my face! Josh saw the whole thing happen and we both screamed, then once again I’m on my hands and knees, crawling towards the door to nowhere.

I think Josh was trying to act like some kind of rodeo clown in order to distract it while I got the door open. I eventually got it open and the damn thing flew out the door. I’m sure it was more scared than we were, but we were all pumped with adrenaline and laughing our asses off. Even the kids thought it was hilarious. Ava was giving me all these props for saving the day, and I was still carrying around that ridiculous flannel. It was such an epic first night.

Saturday morning we took our time with breakfast, then walked out to the beach to explore low tide. Enzo was wearing his second pair of these water shoes I had bought him earlier in the summer. I remember thinking when I got them that they would be perfect for the cabin. Unfortunately they got lost at the beach about a month ago, which was a bummer, but when Jessica saw them on sale a couple weeks ago, she re-bought them. Needless to say, he got his feet stuck in some super wet sand during low tide and by the time he pulled himself out, his shoes were gone, so we lost them again! The only other shoes we had for him were his boots, but they barely fit him, so it was a bit of a struggle for the remainder of the weekend. Sometimes Elise was willing to share her pink water shoes with him, sometimes not.

We took a walk that morning, got to the end of the bay and crossed over to a different beach, and saw the coolest thing: a nuclear submarine, surrounded by battleships of various sizes, heading into port. Turns out there is a huge nuclear submarine base right around there, and we got to see one in real life as it came home. There was some civilian boat coming their way that they didn’t take kindly to, so a smaller boat sped up to them with their turrets pointed straight at them, and kindly escorted them away from the submarine. It was pretty intense.

Unfortunately Solana ended up having to work Saturday night, meaning she had to leave us and get on an afternoon ferry to go home and get ready. We ended up seeing the neighbor who told us about the party again, and he said the band was doing an early set at 5:00, then they’d be playing all night. Obviously we couldn’t bring kids to the late night party, but we figured we’d check out the early set. So we all hopped in the boat and cruised over there shortly after 5:00. As we were arriving, we were greeted by an older gentleman who I immediately recognized. He was “the mayor” of the island, who shuttled us to and from the island during our first visit back in 2009.

I chatted with him and asked if he remembered the fireworks incident on the beach that night. Of course he did, and said he has pictures of the beach explosion framed in his house. I said “Well, I’m the guy who took those photos” and he couldn’t believe it. It was so funny catching up with this guy after all these years about that crazy night. He loved our kids and couldn’t believe how things had turned out for Jessica and me.

The whole setting was perfect. The weather was beautiful, there were people fishing, the band was playing Phish and Grateful Dead covers (and they had a huge setup including stage, full P.A. system, lighting, etc – all running from a generator), boats of people were arriving, the kids were playing fetch with a couple dogs in the water, there was this old hippy lady with a big bubble wand making bubbles for the kids. It was like this perfect summer setting that we just stumbled upon. Totally memorable, totally epic, but just a bummer that Solana couldn’t be there.

We brought sandwiches and snacks with us, so we ended up hanging out for an hour or so, eating our food, and enjoying our surroundings. The band took a dinner break as it was getting to dusk, so we figured it was time for us to call it a day and head back to the cabin. The kids did amazing all day, and it was an extremely long day, so we all crashed hard that night.

Sunday morning Solana took a ferry back over and met up with us. Shortly after she arrived Jessica and I took the kids on a walk, and just like the day before, saw something totally unexpected. We were going the exact same way as we had the previous day, and this time we see a private helicopter parked at the end of the bay, right next to a small covered eating area. There were 5 or 6 people there eating and talking. We walked past them to a beach area, and soon they were ready to get going, so we all stood there and watched them take off. I don’t know much about helicopters, but I promise you this was a very nice one. There’s no way of knowing for sure, but from our perspective it looked like they flew their helicopter to a private beach for Sunday brunch. Like, who does that!? It was crazy, but cool to see. Enzo was loving every second of watching it take off and disappear into the sky. I was holding him the whole time and it was a bit surreal.

When we got back we enjoyed the fresh oysters that I had picked on the beach the day before. Josh likes to quickly barbeque them so they’re just a little warm, and have a firmer texture. His son Ronan, who’s only 3, absolutely loves them and will eat them all day if you let him. I wish I could say the same for our kids but they weren’t having anything to do with oysters.

We took our time getting out of there, but we assumed that by leaving at 4:45 (which we did) that we would make the 5:30 ferry. It’s only about 10 minutes away so we thought we’d have plenty of time. We drove for 5 minutes, then we hit the ferry line. And there we sat. It quickly became apparent that we would not be making the 5:30 ferry, but it seemed like we would certainly make the 6:10. So we finally get to the front of the line at 5:50, purchase our tickets, ask which ferry we’re on, and get the (devastating at the time) news that we’re on the 7:00 ferry, meaning we’ve got over an hour to kill.

I was tired, hungry, dirty, grumpy, and daydreaming of my shower. Overall my mood was a little sour, but the O’hair’s were in the lane next to us and had ordered a family sized fish ‘n chips that they couldn’t finish, so I soon found my mood lifting as my belly filled with fried goodness. I couldn’t stay sour for long considering what a fun weekend we’d had. I love the idea of continuing to do this every summer, if they’ll continue having us, but greatly appreciate the hospitality regardless.

Josh was filming with his GoPro all weekend and said he was looking forward to doing a bunch of editing and putting together a video, so I can’t wait to see (and share) that, but for now, I’ve added a bunch of my favorite photos. In the near future, Jessica and I will be going to a concert at the Gorge this weekend. Nathaniel Ratlief & the Night Sweats are opening, and Kings of Leon are headlining, so it should be fun, plus the kids get to have Auntie Dana over for a sleepover, so huge thanks to her. A few more weeks after that and Elise starts a new year of preschool, then a week after that Ava starts Kindergarten.

Randomly, while eating lunch today at a park with the kids, Jessica got stung by a wasp twice inside her mouth! She was going to take a bite of her sandwich, and somehow a wasp went straight into her mouth. She said she felt it fluttering around in there so she immediately reached her fingers in there to pull it out but it stung her twice. Now her face is all swollen up and hurting. I told her to look on the bright side – at least she didn’t eat it. To call this summer memorable would be a gross understatement. Enjoy the pics.

Getting some new ink on my splint

Jessica and I spending my birthday at the Wine Country Blues Festival

The boys!

Visiting our friend the dragon

Ava, Elise, Ronan, and Finn. That’s Ronan’s flannel I was using for protection from that bat!

Our little digger

Beach fun. I forgot to mention that their dog Sully was there with us.

Enjoying some blueberries

Enzo likes playing with oysters more than eating them

Josh and I at the party. You can see the band behind us.

More snacks by the beach

Getting ready to head home

Our nightly view to the northwest

The Funny Bone

I don’t know exactly where to start with this story, so I guess it’s best to start with the facts. Two Sundays ago (the day after Elise’s birthday party) I injured my right elbow playing hockey, and this Friday, July 28, I’m having surgery to fix it. Though I wish I could say it happened in some sort of glorious fashion that included scoring a game-winning goal, the truth is I wasn’t even playing a game when it happened. I was doing backwards skating drills and fell forward. As a natural reaction, I reached out with my hands to brace myself for the fall, but when they hit the ice, they stretched outwards and I felt something tear in my elbow. Just to be clear, this wasn’t an injury caused by impact, it was caused by an over extension of my right arm. Let’s just say it was extremely painful, but more on that in a minute.

To make matters worse, my Mom and daughter Ava were there watching me play. One of the things my Mom wanted to do while visiting us for Elise’s birthday was see Ava ice skate and play hockey. Since Ava’s session is right before mine, the plan was for Mom and me to watch Ava, then Mom and Ava watch me play. Going in, my biggest concern was that I wouldn’t score a goal (something that hadn’t happened in several games) with them there watching me. Getting injured wasn’t even a thought in my mind.

When the injury happened I was essentially paralyzed in pain on the ice for a couple minutes. By the time my teammates helped me up I could see Ava at the bench freaking out. The poor thing has now been the primary witness to two of the most significant injuries of my life – last summer’s skateboarding accident, which resulted in a broken foot, and now this. As soon as my Mom saw what was going on she started to panic a bit as well. I just remember sitting there on the bench trying to figure out what just happened, and my Mom asking me repeatedly “Do you want to go to the hospital?”, but I was in too much pain to respond to her.

One of the guys I play with came over to check on me, and he could see how upset Ava was, so he asked his kids (who were there watching him play) to keep Ava company while I figured out what I was going to do. Ava was having none of it though and refused to leave my side. They kept saying “Honey, come over here while your Daddy takes care of himself”, but her response never wavered, she just kept saying “I’m not leaving my Daddy!”

Eventually I got up and started heading to the locker room to get changed. Ava carried my gloves for me, and once we stepped into the locker room she said “Wow this is amazing! Look at all the hockey sticks and bags and showers! I’ve never seen anything like this!” Even in my miserable state I couldn’t help but laugh at her enthusiasm for something so seemingly meaningless. I guess if she’s going to be a hockey player then it’s a good thing she likes locker rooms.

Getting out of all my hockey gear was painful and difficult, but eventually I did, and then we all headed off to Urgent Care. My poor Mom had to drive, in a city she doesn’t know, in a car she’s not familiar with, and she was a nervous wreck. At this point I kinda started to lose it. I just remember starting to hyperventilate in the car, then for the first time as an adult, I started crying from the pain. Seeing me crying was too much for Ava, so then she started crying. It was such a mess!

A minute later I snapped out of it and helped direct my Mom to Urgent Care. Not only was it the same facility we took Enzo to last year when he split his head open, but they even put me in the same room. The only imaging device they had there was an X Ray machine, but due to the fact that there was no impact in my injury, I didn’t feel like an X Ray was necessary. I figured an MRI was more appropriate, but the doctor explained that whenever someone experiences an injury to a joint, having an X Ray is standard operating procedure, so I cooperated.

Shortly after my X Ray the doctor came back to my room and said “Michael, would you like to come see your X Ray?” My immediate thought was “Uh oh. That’s not a good sign. Obviously this means there is something to see.”

What he showed me was pretty surprising. Basically there was a small piece of bone, about the size of a dime (but thicker), detached from my elbow, just kinda floating there. I asked if I could take a picture of it and he complied, so feel free to check it out below. He explained that this may be related to my accident, but not necessarily. It could also be a calcium deposit. He then called an orthopedic specialist to have a look, but their recommendation was to wait 3 weeks and see how it’s healing.

I wasn’t too keen on waiting 3 weeks to figure out what’s wrong, so I took my prescriptions and X Ray cd, and we headed home. The next day I went to my normal doctor’s office, but ultimately all they said was that I would need to see a specialist. The funny thing was they recommended me to the Edmonds Orthopedic Center, which is the same place I went to last summer to treat my broken foot. Apparently I’m becoming a bit of a regular there…

A couple days later I saw the specialist. He looked at my X Ray and said we would need an MRI to know exactly what’s going on. Just as I had suspected! It sucks that you have to jump through so many hoops in our medical system, but that’s just how it works.

So I went in for the MRI first thing Saturday morning, then went about my day. We had plans to spend the day with Jim, Brenda, Kristy, and Madi, so shortly after getting home I got ready and off we went. By this point I wasn’t even wearing my sling because my arm didn’t hurt much, I had full range of motion, and it felt like it was starting to heal. Consequently I started thinking that maybe I had overreacted and that nothing major was wrong.

By the time my appointment on Monday came around (the one where I’d get my MRI results), I was almost certain that surgery wouldn’t be necessary. My arm was continuing to improve, so I figured I’d be back out on the ice in no time. Unfortunately the news I received was to the contrary.

Turns out that I had experienced something called an avulsion fracture. Basically when I fell and my arms stretched out, the muscle (my triceps) didn’t tear, but it pulled away from my elbow joint, and tore off a piece of bone with it. In other words, the tearing I felt wasn’t muscle or ligament, it was literally a piece of bone tearing off. Once I heard this I have to admit I felt a bit of relief because before this I was thinking that I had overreacted. I felt bad about crying in front of my daughter and making a big deal out of something seemingly insignificant. Hearing about the severity of the injury gave me some sense of justification. The doctor explained that if I were a professional athlete, this would be a season-ending injury.

He then explained that the piece of bone floating in my arm is still attached to a piece of my triceps. It would never float off into some other part of my body because it was still attached to muscle, but it would also never heal on it’s own. Based on my age and level of activity, surgery was my only option because the muscle needs to be re-attached to my elbow joint. If I didn’t agree to the surgery, I would be voluntarily accepting a significantly weaker right arm (my dominant arm) for the rest of my life. Obviously I couldn’t accept that, so surgery was my only option.

Having surgery comes with a downside though. I’m going to be in a full-arm cast for 10 days following surgery, then in a mechanical arm brace for 2 months. I will also have to go through a couple months of physical therapy in order to rebuild strength in my right arm, so basically I’m going to be dealing with this for the rest of the year. Worst of all, I’m not allowed to play hockey for 6 months. Obviously I’m not a professional hockey player (and in reality I’ve only been playing for 6 months), but I really love playing, so I couldn’t help but feel bummed out. I’ve made several friends through hockey, and just recently we had all decided to form a team and join the GSHL (Greater Seattle Hockey League) in the Fall. I would have almost certainly been a first-line forward on that team because I’m one of the highest scoring players in our group, but now I have to sit out and miss everything.

I’m sure the optics on this from a third person’s perspective are a bit silly. I don’t need to be out playing hockey, or doing anything that could cause injury for that matter. I have a wife, kids, and career to focus on, but I’m the type of person that thrives on doing stuff. Obviously I have the guitar to fulfill my need for a creative outlet, but I need a physical one as well. Just in the last 5 years alone I’ve spent significant time doing a variety of physical activities including: Ice Hockey, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Kempo Karate, Running, Surfing, Skateboarding, and Snowboarding. To cut out all physical activity from my life would make me miserable and I’m simply not willing to do it at this time. I realize that I’m not getting any younger, and if I continue to stay active then I’m going to continue to deal with injuries, but that’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make.

The other crazy thing with all of this is the fact that just last month Jessica had neck surgery! Can you imagine if I was in a full-arm cast while she was still in a neck brace!? Trying to care for the kids would be nearly impossible (but funny). I keep imagining a photo of us with a caption saying “This is what parenting can do to you”. It’s also strange that last year Jessica needed surgery to have her appendix removed, then shortly thereafter I had my skateboarding injury. Now this year Jessica has neck surgery, then I have my hockey injury which also requires surgery. You couldn’t script this stuff! What a mess.

Up until today I’ve been feeling a bit depressed about needing surgery. The only other surgery I’ve had in my life was having my tonsils removed, but this is going to be a whole different level. This is real surgery with a significant recovery time, and it’s been bothering me, but I’ve now shook it off and am ready to get on with it. I gave myself a dose of perspective by thinking about how I’d feel if I knew I needed surgery, but wasn’t able to have it, and had to accept permanent consequences. Or what if something more significant had happened and I’d never be able to play hockey again? The fact is that it could be so much worse for me, and I need to keep that in mind. The way I see it, a little dose of adversity is good for anyone. I just need to remember that when the recovery starts getting difficult.

Part of the reason I’m upset about being away from hockey is that Ava is now getting into it, and I want to be able to practice with her. After some thought, I came up with a way to be able to do that, as well as stay engaged with the game during my recovery: I’m going to switch sides are start playing left-handed. Permanently. The reason is simple: as a right-handed player, it’s your right hand that is lower on the stick and extended out from your body. Meanwhile your left arm is tucked safely into the side of your body, so it’s your right arm that is doing most of the work. Now that I know I have one arm that’s ‘better’ than the other, it makes sense to switch sides. This way my good (left) arm will be the one that’s extended, and my right arm will be tucked into my body. When I fall, I just need to make sure I keep my right arm tucked in, rather than extend it, which is what caused the injury in the first place. It would probably do me some good to practice falling without extending that arm. I’ve got plenty of protective gear on so the impact of the fall won’t hurt me, and I can still extend my left arm to brace myself, but it will go against natural instinct.

Switching sides is going to require practice, but you don’t need to be on the ice to practice. I had already recently been telling Ava that I was going to buy her a hockey stick, and of course she was excited, so I’m also going to buy myself a left-handed stick and start practicing stickhandling and shooting in the garage. Hopefully by the time I get back on the ice I will have built up my skills and will be confident enough to play on that side. The reality is I wasn’t an excellent player on the right side, so it’s not going to take too long before I’m at the same level on my left side. Luckily I’m allowed to start ice skating before the 6 months is up too, so I should have enough to keep me busy, and I’ll still get the satisfaction of practicing with Ava.

I think one thing that I’ve had trouble with is the idea that in order to get my arm back to 100%, I’m going to have to knock it down to 0%, then work it back up. The fact is that right now, my arm is probably at about 60%, so in a sense I could live with it, but it would never get better. In fact, it would only get worse. The other thing is, I can’t just give it 6 months and then decide to fix it. I’ve got a somewhat limited window to act on it, and if I miss that window, I’m screwed. So again, surgery is my only viable option.

Since I’ll be wearing a full-arm cast for 10 days, I’m taking all of next week, plus the following Monday (August 7th) off work. It’s a bummer that I’ll be in a cast for my birthday, but we’re still going to the blues festival that day, and I’m going to do my best to live as normally as possible during this initial recovery period. At least I only have to wear the cast for 10 days (which is long enough for the incision wound to heal). By comparison, Jessica had to wear a neck brace for over 3 weeks following her surgery, so I’m fortunate in that sense. Good thing I’ve got so many books to read because I’m going to have plenty of free time on my hands next week. I’m pretty sure I’ll still be able to play my guitar as well. I’m certainly going to try so I guess we’ll see soon enough.

Anyway, I could ramble on all day about it if I wanted, but I think you get the point. It’s not going to be a fun process, but it could be a lot worse, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that big of a deal. It is what it is. I’m just glad I’ve got Jessica and the kids to get me through it.

With the exception of my injury, we had a great visit with my Mom. She got so much quality time with the kids, we stayed busy with various activities, and we ate well every night. As always, it was sad to see her go, but I’m sure Christmas will be here before we know it. The kids are already super excited for everything she has planned, so in their mind it can’t come soon enough.

The weather here has been perfect lately so Jessica and the kids have been busy everyday with fun activities. Yesterday they went to Jetty Island in Everett and had a blast, so we may do that again next week when I’m off work. It’s crazy to think that Ava is only about 6 weeks away from starting Kindergarten, but that’s how it goes. We also just found out that Grandpa Rick is coming out for another visit in October, so we’ve got that to look forward to. Actually before that I think we’ll be seeing Amy and Tom for Labor Day, but I’m not totally positive.

So that’s the update for now. I won’t be able to write again until I have the cast removed, but you can expect another update shortly thereafter. We recently received photos from Leon taken during their son Miles’ birthday, as well as Elise’s birthday, so please enjoy those. I can’t tell you how nice it is to have a close friend that is such an amazing photographer! It’s such a treat to regularly receive these kinds of photos of the kids, so I hope he knows how much we appreciate it. I do my best to reciprocate in my own ways, but never quite feel like it’s enough. Enjoy the pics and I’ll see you on the other side of surgery.

My X Ray immediately following the injury

Hanging out with family this weekend. At least I won’t be the only family member in a cast.

Elise at Miles’ birthday party

Ava enjoying the festivities

She loved riding that thing

As did Enzo

Possibly the greatest cell phone photo I’ve ever taken

Ava loves the water

So happy at the zoo

What does the tiger say? ROAR!!!

It’s all about the fire trucks

Our beautiful little mermaids

This is right before I got fired from cake cutting. Good thing I redeemed myself the following weekend.

Happy 4th Birthday Elise!

Although her actual birthday was yesterday, it was today that we celebrated Elise turning 4. Like last year, we hosted her party at home, but instead of going with a bouncy house, we hosted a “Mermaid party”, per Elise’s request. My Mom arrived from Las Vegas yesterday to spend a long weekend with us, and we haven’t seen her since the family reunion last year, so it’s something we’ve been looking forward to for a while.

Before Elise decided on having a Mermaid party, the original plan was to have a “Dragons love tacos” party, in honor of our favorite book series. Obviously that meant we would be making tacos to eat, but then Elise changed her mind regarding the party’s theme. Rather than coming up with a Mermaid-themed menu, I opted to stick it out with the tacos. But don’t worry because Jessica did an excellent job putting up all kinds of Mermaid decorations. There were paper-mache jellyfish and octopus, mermaid-painted rocks for guests to take, a swimming pool, shell table, and Mermaid pictures drawn by the girls. It all came together quite nicely.

Rather than order a cake from the store, Jessica found someone to make us a custom Mermaid cake, and it ended up being not only beautiful, but delicious too. Cutting and serving it turned out to be a bit more challenging than I was expecting (because it was 3 layers and quite tall), but luckily I had Kristy and Dana there to back me up. I actually got momentarily “fired” from cake cutting, but it was only my first slice, so I think I deserve a little leeway there.

It was nice and warm outside, so the kids all enjoyed splashing around in our inflatable pool. On the food end, we had three meat options for tacos (ground turkey, shredded chicken, and beef carne asada), homemade guacamole, rice, beans, chips, salsa, and all the toppings, but I think it’s safe to say that Jessica’s “Cookie Monster dip” was the star of the show.

As far as guests, in addition to my Mom we had Jim, Brenda, and Kristy, the O’Hair’s, the Palmers, our next-door neighbors the Schreiber’s, Greg and his two kids, and Dana’s whole family, which was such a nice surprise. I knew we’d see Dana but wasn’t sure beyond that, so to see Anna, Kallan, and Brad too was great. Leon was taking pictures so hopefully we’ll get to see those soon.

The party was great, and most importantly, the birthday girl had a great time. She’s grown up a lot in the last year and I can’t believe she’s already 4. Getting to see her, Ava, and Enzo, having so much fun with all their friends and family is what it’s all about.

Beyond that things have been going great for us. Most importantly, Jessica has recovered so well from her neck surgery. She wore the neck brace for 3 weeks after surgery, and is now doing physical therapy. Everything is looking perfect, so that’s been a huge relief.

The kids are enjoying their summer and have been keeping busy. The girls had a great time on their road trip with Grandma and Grandpa Martin, and Jessica and I got some nice quality time with Enzo while they were away.

Ava is doing hockey now on Sundays directly before I play, so I’ve been taking her, then Jessica and the kids come pick her up while I stay for my game. Tomorrow, however, all of us (including Nana) are going to hockey so Nana can see her skate in person. So far her hockey classes have been only about skating, but soon I’m going to get her a little stick so we can start going to stick & puck sessions together (which are like public skates for hockey players) to practice.

My Mom will be staying with us until Wednesday, so I’m taking Monday and Tuesday off work. The plan is to stay busy doing fun stuff each day, and the forecast looks beautiful, so we should be in good shape. I think we’re going to the zoo Monday or Tuesday, and I’ll be doing homemade pizza one night, just like we did for Enzo’s birthday party back in January.

We’ve got some good stuff to look forward to as well. Next Saturday we’re going to Jim & Brenda’s to go swimming with them, Kristy, and Madi. Then the following weekend Jessica and I will be spending my birthday at the Wine Country Blues Festival at Chateau St. Michelle in Woodinville.

It’s actually pretty funny how this turned out. There’s several classic blues artists performing, including John Mayall and Charlie Musselwhite, but the headliner is Buddy Guy, whom we were supposed to see last year with Jeff Beck at the Zoo Summer concert series. For some reason he never showed up to perform for that show, and so has remained on my concert bucket list. He’s in his 70’s, so who knows how much longer he’ll be touring. Strangely enough, we share the same birthday, so he’ll be headlining this festival on his birthday, and I’ll be there enjoying it, on my birthday. Should be a great show. Now here’s where it gets really funny – I was talking to my sister Dana about this today during Elise’s party, and it turns out that her, Brad, and Kallan are also going to that show, so we’ll get to hang out with them there. I’m assuming this will be a great birthday.

Further out, in August, we’ve got a weekend at the O’Hair’s cabin on Hood’s Head Island to look forward to, as well as a Kings Of Leon concert at the Gorge that Jessica and I will be attending. So yeah, all is well.

I’m sure there will be better photos to share once I get Leon’s pics, but here’s a few recent ones for now, as well as a video of everyone singing Elise “Happy Birthday”. To our birthday girl, we love you to the moon and hope you had a great 4th birthday. Enjoy the pics.

Elise’s birthday morning

Posing with her awesome Mermaid cake

A Pain in the Neck

I’ve been meaning to write a post for a couple weeks now, but things have been a little out of the ordinary in our world lately, and the old blog often ends up on the back burner. Two weeks ago Jessica ended up having neck surgery to correct a “massive herniation” at the C6-C7 discs in the base of her neck. The pressure on her spine was pinching the nerve that runs down your left arm, into your thumb and first two fingers. They ended up fusing the discs and relieving the pressure on the spine, which provided instant relief to all the pain she had been experiencing. Everything went perfectly well so now it’s just about recovery.

It seems like something of this nature should require a night in the hospital, but they’ve got it down to such a science that it was actually just day surgery, and she was able to come home about 4 hours later. Since then she’s been wearing a neck brace and will continue to do so for another 8 or 9 days. She wears it 24 hours a day, minus the occasional 5 minute break, or shower.

So far everything seems to be going well for her recovery, and we’re right on track. She’ll have to do physical therapy, but not until she’s been cleared of the neck brace, so that’s the main upcoming milestone right now. It’s tough not being able to lift the kids, or look side-to-side, but she’s been a champ about everything and is doing well. I think the kids deserve a lot of credit too in how they’ve adjusted to her in recovery. The girls especially have gone out of their way to be helpful to Mommy, and both seem to revel in accomplishment after doing something Mommy asks of them.

Beyond the obvious with Jessica’s surgery, we’ve had, and continue to have, a lot going on. The week before Jessica’s surgery we were visited by Grandpa Rick and Grandma Chris for nearly a week. It was great getting to spend time with them, and of course we ate well throughout the visit. Rick made us a great steak dinner one night at home, then the following night I made homemade pizza, just like we did for Enzo’s birthday party. We had Butch and Carol over to visit that night and it was great getting caught up with them. The following night I did my best to make a nice seafood dinner and was really happy with how everything turned out.

Since it was Memorial Day weekend, we all ended up going to something called “Tankfest”, which was this huge military exhibit filled with tanks, planes, helicopters, guns, etc. There were all kinds of people dressed up in military uniforms from various eras and countries. They were even acting out battle scenes. At times it felt like you were walking through a time warp. They would even fire the tanks (with blanks of course), and the shock of the sound of that huge gun going off was a bit scary.

The following day, after Rick and Chris had left, we spent the day at Kristy’s doing a Memorial Day BBQ. A few months ago Kristy purchased a Groupon for herself, Jessica, and I to go racing at an outdoor go kart track. It’s a full-sized track (one lap is one mile) and the go karts are quite powerful, capable of hitting 55 mph. So, we basically dropped the kids off with Jim, Brenda, and Madi, then all headed out to the racetrack. Jessica hadn’t had surgery yet at this point, but was in no shape to be out racing, so Kristy brought a friend along to fill in. At least Jess was still there cheering us on and taking photos. I’ve never raced at this speed before, but it ended up being a blast and I definitely want to do it again.

After that we all went back to Kristy’s house for food, lots of badminton, and hanging out in the nice weather. Oh, and fixing the screen door that Ava ran into and broke. Jim and I made a trip to Lowe’s, and like 3 trips to his garage, which is only a few minutes away, working on fitting the door with higher quality rollers. It was a bit of a production, but also a bit of fun. I’m afraid to find out how it’s currently doing, but I guess I’ll hear when we see them tomorrow.

Today we spent the day with our friends the Palmers, and celebrated their son Miles’ 4th birthday. This was our second time hanging out at their new place, which is up in the farm country of Sedro Woolley. They’re renovating the house and doing a lot of work on the property, so it’s cool to see all the progress they’re making. They had a huge bouncy house (literally twice as big as the one we had last year for Elise’s party) and a bunch of food, so we all just hung out all day while the kids bounced, played, and fought over various random toys that all became important as soon as someone showed an interest in them. It was a great day, and Leon had his camera out, so I can’t wait to see the photos. Strangely enough, the photos included with this post were all taken by Leon on our last visit to their place, which was on Easter Sunday.

Tomorrow is Father’s Day, so it would only be fitting the we attend the Father’s Day Car Show in Burien with Jim, Brenda, and Kristy. This has become a new tradition over the past few years, and I always look forward to it. The weather is supposed to be good, and the turnout of cars is always impressive, so I’m sure it will be fun. Then later in the afternoon, Ava will be having her first hockey lesson. It’s the kids version of the Learn to play Hockey series at the Everett Community Ice Rink. I’m doing the adult program, and now Ava is starting in Level 1 of the kids program. She’s super excited and I think it will be a nice Father’s Day treat for me to see her start on that day. Then I have my class directly after hers, so it’s going to be a busy day.

Oh, and I almost forgot, we’ve also got Amy and Tom arriving in their R.V. tomorrow night. They’re driving up here from Colorado to take the girls on a week-long road trip, which will include stops at various parks, before reaching their final destination of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. This means that it will just be Jessica, Enzo, and myself for a week. The timing actually works out well though because I’ll be on call at work this week, meaning I’ll be working more than normal. Knowing that Jessica only has to take care of Enzo while I’m gone will be a relief. I think they’re actually going to come visit me for lunch at work one day. More importantly, I’m glad things will be easier on Jessica, that she and Enzo will get a lot of quality time, and that the girls will be having so much fun with their Grandma and Grandpa.

Earlier this week, Ava and Elise finished the year at preschool. In Ava’s case, she finished preschool all together and is super excited to start Kindergarten in September. Elise will do another full year of preschool, then most likely start Kindergarten in September, 2018. I say “most likely” because her summer birthday kinda forces us to make the decision on which year she gets started. I can directly relate to this because I have a July birthday, and consequently was always one of the younger kids in my class. Although arguments can be made both ways, ultimately I think Elise is pretty advanced for her age, and from a scholastic standpoint she’ll be ready to start Kindergarten a year after Ava. We just have to make sure she’s emotionally ready as well, but I think having another full year of preschool will take care of that. Hopefully we can get Enzo started with preschool midway through the year, right around his 3rd birthday.

Speaking of birthdays, it’s almost Elise’s! We’re only a few weeks away from her turning 4. Her birthday falls on a Friday this year, so we’ll be holding a party the following day at the house. We’re still working out the details, but as always I’m looking forward to doing the food. Not sure what we’re doing for the 4th of July this year, but it’s safe to say there will be a big fireworks show in our neighborhood (as there always is), so chances are we’ll be enjoying that.

I guess that’s about it for now. As always we’ve got a lot going on, a lot to look forward to, and a lot to be thankful for. Looking forward to writing soon about Jessica’s continued recovery. As previously mentioned, here are some photos from Easter Sunday at the Palmer’s house. Can’t wait to see the new photos Leon took today. They always capture the kids so well. Enjoy!

Switching Blades

Apologies for not writing sooner. I’m not trying to make any excuses but I’ve been so busy lately, and whatever free time I do have has been dedicated to music and hockey. Sometimes it’s tough to find a few hours to dedicate to writing, but we’ve had so many good things going on lately that a post felt long overdue.

First and foremost, last Friday we celebrated Jessica’s birthday! Since it fell on a Friday I decided to use a vacation day and make a long weekend out of it. In usual Pellegrini fashion, we celebrated in the form of eating well all weekend. Friday morning Elise and I took Ava to school, then after dropping her off, we went to a nearby French bakery and came home with all kinds of treats: croissant, chocolate eclairs, and the best key lime tart I’ve ever had. We made sure to save some for Ava to enjoy after school so she wouldn’t miss out.

While Ava was in school we decided to get our errands done, so we ran to the store to get Enzo some underwear. Basically, our little dude is already potty training and it’s time to start trying out wearing undies, but more on that in a bit. Then we ran to Costco to get some beautiful big Alaskan King Crab legs for the weekend. After picking Ava up from school we all went to the hockey store and got her a pink hockey helmet. The reason for this, as well as the title of this post, is that Ava is now doing her skating lessons on hockey skates, rather than figure skates.

For those that don’t know, it’s a lot harder to skate on hockey skates than it is on figure skates. The blade on a hockey skate is shorter, and both ends of the blade curve upward, plus there’s no toe pick. It was recommended to us that if she’s going to wear hockey skates, she should also wear a hockey helmet with a full face mask. Apparently some kids have a tendency to fall face-first on hockey skates, so we took their advice and got her the helmet of her choice. Turns out Ava hasn’t had that issue, but it’s still good to have her fully protected. The first time she wore it she wasn’t all that into it, but then yesterday she wore it again and had no issues at all. She was running around the rink before her lesson asking other kids what they want to be when they grow up, then would say, “When I grow up I’m going to be a hockey player!”

She’s still switching back to figure skates for the open skate session after class, but we actually have an agreement that next week she’s going to stay in hockey skates for the open session. There’s been a bit of a regression in her skating due to the switch, but that’s to be expected, and it’s good for her. Yesterday was her third class in hockey skates and she’s already doing so much better. It didn’t take long for her to get right back to the front of the pack. She’s already jumping in them, doing swizzles, touching her toes, etc. As long as she’s having fun I’m happy, and I can’t wait to get her out for one of the upcoming junior hockey sessions.

Anyway, back to Jessica’s birthday weekend. Friday night we had a babysitter over so Jessica and I could go out for a bit. We took an Uber to downtown Snohomish and bounced around to a few different places for happy hour. We had a rare bit of sunshine that evening, so it was nice to get out for a walk by the river. We didn’t really have a full dinner, but instead chose to have small bites at various places, and it worked out well. The babysitter had plans that night, so we were home by 7:30, but it was still nice to get away for a bit.

Saturday all five of us went to Ava’s skating lesson, then afterwards we went on a hike in an area called Meadowdale, which is on the northern end of Lynnwood. It was labeled as an easy hike that was kid friendly, but turned out to be pretty vertical. Basically you descended through the woods for a mile, then at the end was private beach access. It wasn’t the greatest weather, but was decent enough to hang out collecting shells and throwing rocks.

Unfortunately we hadn’t been there long before Elise started showing signs of an allergic reaction. She was getting welts all over her face, so we had to assume it was due to the shells she was collecting on the beach. We were pretty concerned, so we didn’t stay at the beach very long. By the time we made it back up through the woods the welts were gone, so there was no question that the reaction was based on something from the beach. Then, just a couple days ago, Jessica and the kids met up with friends at a different beach, but Elise had a similar reaction, only worse. This time the welts covered her face, hands, and arms. Obviously they couldn’t stay, so Jessica ran to a pharmacy to get some Benadryl. Luckily she responded well to that and the welts quickly went away. She called our nurse hotline to verify the treatment, but now there is no question that Elise is allergic to something at the beach. It’s so strange too because we just spent a weekend at the beach in September and there was no problem, but these kinds of things can pop up quickly. We need to get her in for an allergy test as soon as possible, and avoid beaches between now and then.

On the way home from our hike we stopped by Central Market (our favorite grocery store) so I could get more stuff for Jessica’s birthday dinner. As usual, I went a bit overboard and ended up getting so much stuff that we had enough for meals on Saturday and Sunday. I got two dozen fresh local oysters to shuck, a beautiful prime New York steak, French wine, and a fresh-baked French baguette. The plan was to have everything on Saturday night, but again, it was too much, so we ended up having the oysters and NY steak that night, then saving the crab legs for a big Sunday lunch.

Sunday morning we sent Mom out for some personal time while the kids and I hung out around the house. Once she returned we all had a nice big crab lunch. Not surprisingly, the kids love crab just about as much as we do, so it was nice to get everyone around the table together eating the same thing. That night I had hockey and ended up scoring another goal, so that was pretty exciting. Overall it was a nice long weekend for me, but more importantly, a great birthday weekend for Jessica.

So back to Enzo for a minute – he’s basically potty training himself. Although we’ve had some accidents, he has been very proactive in telling us when he needs to use the potty. This is the earliest age for any of our kids so it’s been a nice surprise. He gets so proud of himself when he uses the potty and I don’t think it will be long before we’re all the way there.

The girls are also having some breakthroughs of their own: they’re both doing great learning the alphabet. We’ve been focusing heavily on this lately because Ava starts kindergarten in September and we need to make sure she knows every letter without hesitation. As usual, when Ava focuses on something, Elise isn’t far behind, so they’re both doing excellent. The progress they’ve both made over the past few weeks is incredible. Elise gets so excited too because she’ll see letters somewhere and yell out “That’s my E!”

On my end, I’ve been getting together with my friend Sam from work every weekend for the past couple months to play music. He comes from a musical family (his oldest brother is a professional musician in New York) and plays a variety of instruments, but in our context he plays bass while I play guitar. The two of us share have shared an office since November and have developed a good friendship since then. We listen to music all day when we’re coding and talk about music constantly. He has all kinds of great stories, but my favorite is about his brother playing in a Rod Stewart cover band called Fraud Stewart. Apparently the singer was so obsessed with Rod Stewart that he even had plastic surgery to make his face look more like Rod Stewart!

I never really wrote about it, but the band I had going last year with Greg and Kallan fizzled out in the summer due to other priorities in both of their lives. Obviously I understood completely, but was bummed not to be getting together regularly to play with people. I kept playing and practicing pretty much daily, because that’s what I do, then eventually asked Sam if he’d like to get something going. He jumped at the offer, so we started working on various blues and classic rock covers by artists like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Cream, ZZ Top, Black Sabbath, Rush, and David Bowie.

Although we had been doing these practice sessions at my house, last week we took it to the next level be going to an actual rehearsal studio where you can be loud, sing into a P.A. system, etc. I’ve been driving to work each day doing vocal lessons in the car, and now that I’ve been doing that for a couple months, I’m seeing significant improvement. The obvious next step for us is to get a drummer, which is usually a challenge, but luckily we work with an amazing drummer named Chris who Sam has known for several years because they went to the same coding school.

Before getting into coding, the only job Chris ever had was playing the drums. He’s a teacher, and lived for several years in Nashville making a living playing with various big-name artists. He’s been on tours, done fly-dates, and played all over the place. Eventually he decided to get into coding so that he and his wife could have something a little more stable than music, but still plays constantly with various bands and artists around Seattle. Although we never really expected to get him, it kinda just came up organically one day, so I asked him if he’d like to play with Sam and I, and to our amazement, he said yes. Tomorrow night we’ve got another practice at the studio and Chris has agreed to join us. Obviously we’re pretty excited.

No disrespect to anyone I’ve ever played music with, but this is the most experienced group I’ve ever been a part of. Although it could be argued that as the only guitarist and vocalist in the group, I have the most difficult role to fill, but my outlook is that I really have to step my game up in order to be at their level, hence the constant practicing on my end. It’s funny because I’m doing all these singing lessons every day in the car, and I’m sure people have looked over and seen me singing my heart out and thought I was crazy, but I don’t care. It would be a waste not to utilize that time, and again, I’m definitely seeing improvement. At least I have tinted windows.

Before I go I want to mention the excellent Easter Sunday we had a few weeks ago. We ended up joining our friends the Palmers at their new house/farm up north in Sedro Woolley. They’ve got like 5 acres and a beautiful farm house that they’re doing all kinds of projects on. They have three chickens and plans for more animals coming soon.

We spent the day doing an Easter egg hunt, flying kites, riding the ‘tractor’, and eating an excellent meal. Leon is such a good cook so we enjoyed homemade ribs that he slow cooked for over 24 hours, scalloped potatoes, corn on the cob, and various other sides and salads. We ended up hanging out for about 4 hours before calling it a day. Definitely a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and there was no hockey for me that day so it was perfect.

Jodi, who is a therapist, said something that day that has really stuck with me. She was talking about some of her clients who do different types of creative things, but deal with issues of not feeling like their craft is validated. For example, there was an artist who said they weren’t really an artist because their work wasn’t being shown in any galleries. She had to explain to them that you are that thing because that’s what naturally what comes out of you. It doesn’t matter where you’re doing it, or who is seeing/experiencing it. Immediately I placed that connection to myself with music because I had similar feelings last summer when the band I started ended up falling apart. Whether I’m regularly playing with others or not, I’m still doing it constantly because it feels right to me, and that’s the only ‘validation’ I need. I thought that was a great lesson that I look forward to passing down to our kids when the time is right.

Next Sunday is Mother’s day, and for the first time in a few years, Jessica won’t be working. We don’t have specific plans but having her home will be nice. I’m sure I’ll be making a nice big brunch, then we’ll go with the flow and do whatever Mom wants. We also have a visit from Grandpa Rick and Grandma Chris coming in a couple weeks. They’ll be here the week leading up to Memorial Day, so I’m taking Friday off and making it into a four-day weekend. I don’t know exactly what we have planned for their visit but I’m sure it will be fun. After they leave on Sunday, we’re getting together with Kristy for some Go-Kart racing at a local race track.

Plenty of good stuff to look forward to. Here’s some recent photos and videos.

Beautiful Elise showing a rock she found

Ava testing out her goggles at breakfast

He loves pushing that stroller

He’s not real big on pants these days

Rockin’ the new Thomas The Train underwear

On our hike down to the beach

Trying out the new hockey helmet. They both loved the pink one.

Mommy and her girls at the park

Singing Happy Birthday to Mom

Jolly in Raleigh

As I write this, we’re just taking off from our fun and exciting long weekend in Raleigh, North Carolina. With the exception of Florida (which doesn’t really count anyway), neither Jessica or myself has ever been to the Southeast. As expected, we had a great time visiting (and making new) friends, exploring the city, and eating all the southern food we could get our hands on.

There were plenty of things I was expecting about Raleigh that turned out to be true: the friendly people, warm sunny weather, old country southern charm, beautiful old houses, and delicious Carolina BBQ. However there were also a few pleasant surprises: there’s more of a tech influence there than I was expecting, and there’s plenty of modern architecture, so you have this interesting mix of old world and new world coming together. It’s also much greener than I was expecting. As a kid who grew up in Washington state, I felt right at home with all the greenery, and loved the big beautiful oak trees.

I was also surprised at all the brick construction we saw. It seems like everything there is made out of brick: churches, houses, office buildings, even the fast food restaurants all have brick exteriors. Turns out they have a ton of red clay and make more bricks there than anywhere, so it makes sense, but it still stood out to us right from the start.

Since our last trip of this nature was to Austin, Texas (way back in November, 2015) we couldn’t help but compare the two cities. There’s actually more in common than you might expect. Both cities are state capitals (although the North Carolina capital building pales in comparison to its Texas counterpart). Both cities are warmer, cleaner, friendlier, and less crowded than Seattle. You actually don’t realize how crowded, dirty, and unfriendly Seattle is until visiting a place like Raleigh or Austin. Jessica and I would be walking around at night going “Where is everybody?”. It just felt so empty at times, but in a nice way. The only major difference between Austin and Raleigh is that where Austin has all this cool music culture with guitar statues on the streets, plus all the kitschy little shops and cool shopping districts like SoCo, Raleigh just has lots of (old and new) brick churches, reminders of the civil war (like statues for the Women of the Confederacy), and funny old signs about so-and-so who was born in a kitchen three quarters of a mile northeast of here.

Our trip actually got off to a slightly rocky start because we were supposed to leave Seattle at 8:15am, but were delayed because our captain was coming in late on another flight. So we get onboard, we’re waiting patiently, then the flight attendant gets on the microphone at 8:45 and tells us that the good news is that our captain has arrived, however the bad news was that we had a cracked toilet seat in one of the bathrooms and we needed a maintenance person to come on board to fix it. Obviously we were all thrilled to hear this news, and I threatened under my breath to Jessica that there would be another cracked toilet seat if we didn’t get going pretty soon, but there was nothing we could do. Finally, by 9:15, the seat was repaired and we were good to go.

It’s nice having a non-stop flight, but at 5.5 hours, it’s a pretty long one. Jessica has been doing better with her neck and arm issues, but being cooped up in the same seat for so long started taking its toll on her several hours into the flight. I was fighting a chest cold when we left Seattle (and still am for that matter), so getting off the plane in Raleigh was nice.

For a minute I had entertained the thought of trying to catch a Carolina Hurricanes hockey game since they were playing at home the night we arrived and it was their second to last home game of the season, but there just wouldn’t have been enough time to get checked into the hotel, then turn around and Uber it back to the arena. Instead, I found a sports bar within walking distance of our hotel, so after getting checked in we hit the streets and eventually settled down to watch the game.

I quickly realized that the sports bar atmosphere wasn’t exactly what we were looking for, and the game wasn’t all that exciting, so we decided to just have a couple appetizers and then head somewhere else for dinner. I’m glad we went there though because I got to experience my first staple of southern food culture: fried green tomatoes.

In addition to some Carolina BBQ, one thing I was hoping for on the trip was a good southern seafood meal. Randomly, there was this classic old seafood house directly across the street from the sports bar called 42nd Street Oyster House. We loved the look of the place, and the parking lot was packed, so we decided to go in.

Stepping in was a bit of a time warp. The smell of fresh seafood hits you in the face, and the old wooden floors, big exhibition kitchen, and oyster bar filled with young guys wearing metal gloves shucking huge buckets of oysters, was all perfect. Jessica actually hit it on the head when she said the place reminded her of a southeast seafood version of a famous pair of restaurants in the Seattle area called 13 Coins. Obviously you’d only get the reference if you’d eaten at the 13 Coins, but I thought her comparison was dead on the money.

We ended up sitting at the oyster bar enjoying homemade seafood bisque, fresh snow crab, various fresh local oysters (a variety from Virginia called Mobjacks were our favorite), and probably the best (and biggest) oyster shooters either of us has ever had. Although it was a long first day because of the flight, the experience at 42nd Street was easily one of the highlights of the trip, and possibly my favorite meal, although there was plenty of competition throughout our stay. I also just loved how we accidentally stumbled upon the place. It really felt like it was meant to be.

Since we hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before our trip, we decided to close the blinds, draw the curtains, and take advantage of the fact that the kids weren’t with us, by sleeping in as late as possible that first morning. We slept so long I remember waking up and thinking “Oh my gosh we’re sleeping the whole first day away”, but I’d look over at Jessica who was sound asleep and say “Whatever, I’m going back to bed”. By the time we actually did wake up I was shocked to look at my phone and see it was only 9:30am. I thought for sure it was past noon, and plus our bodies were still on Seattle time, but nope, just 9:30. Just goes to show you what being a parent does to your sleep schedule. I was laughing because the night before I remember telling Jessica I couldn’t sleep past 10:00am even if you payed me, regardless of the time change. I was half joking when I said it but I guess I was right…

Other than the food-related stuff and catching part of the hockey game, the only other thing I wanted to do on this trip was go to a guitar store. This has become a tradition for me when we visit a new city, so I did my homework and found Harry’s Guitar Store, which has been around for thirty years and has become a bit of an institution in the Raleigh music scene. I even went so far as to research their inventory so I’d know which guitars and amps I wanted to check out when I was there.

Obviously I knew I wasn’t going to buy a guitar or amplifier on the trip, but when you research these things as much as I do, just getting the opportunity to play certain ones is a big treat. So for the better part of an hour on late Friday morning, I just hung out there jamming. The owner of the store (Harry I presume, although he didn’t say) was really cool and told me to check out anything I wanted. I felt kinda bad because Jessica was just hanging out there on the couch reading while I nerded out on all this new gear, but then I kinda realized that the whole reason they had a couch in the middle of a guitar store was that Jessica wasn’t the first (or last) wife/girlfriend to get drug in there. Hey, at least they were prepared. I tried to buy a t-shirt before we left but they didn’t have my size, so I bought a new leather guitar strap instead. I figured it was the least I could do since I’d been playing such expensive stuff, but again the guys working there were awesome. The owner sent me home with multiple Harry’s guitar picks, bumper stickers, and various brochures about some of the guitars I’d just played. Overall it was just a great experience and the southern hospitality, even in a setting like this, still rang through.

After leaving Harry’s we were both starving, so we caught an Uber over to a district recommended by Laurel called Glenwood South, which confusingly, is north of downtown. We also followed Laurel’s recommendation by sitting down to lunch at the Raleigh Beer Garden. This place was a trip. They have nearly 400 beers on tap! There are so many beer choices that they have them separated into different rooms based on where the beer comes from. For us it was a no-brainer to sit in the room that served local beers, so that’s what we did. They have these long picnic tables to sit at, but it wasn’t busy yet, so we had an entire one to ourselves. After some local beers, pizza Bianca, and grilled Italian sausage with peppers on a pretzel bun, we were ready for a nap (because why not, right?). We walked back through the city to our hotel and got some rest. We knew we were in for a big night, although it turned out to be a bit bigger than expected.

Besides getting to celebrate Mark & Laurel, and getting to enjoy some killer southern food, the other thing that really excited us about this trip was that our good friends Solana and Josh were also coming along (Solana and Laurel have been friends for a long time). For those of you who regularly read this blog, this is the same Solana and Josh whose cabin we visited on Hood’s Head Island with the kids over Labor Day weekend. Doing just about anything with them is going to be fun, so we knew we were in for a good time.

The plan was that for everyone to attend Laurel and Mark’s happy hour from 4:00-6:00 on Friday at this cool bar called Raleigh Times, then do dinner and the reception the next night at a Lebanese restaurant called Sitti. We got there right at 4:00 and Solana & Josh had just arrived, so we settled in and started mingling. There was a beautiful rooftop patio, appetizers, and an open bar for everyone to enjoy.

By 5:15 I was just finishing my second drink, so basically I was pacing myself. These days if I’m out for a night on the town there’s only one thing I’ll drink – straight whiskey. Not because I’m trying to be a badass, but because I can’t do all the sugary sweet mixers that come in most cocktails, and drinking beer or wine all night will just fill me up and give me a headache. So I just drink some form of whiskey (Canadian, Irish, Scotch, or bourbon) neat, or perhaps with one ice cube.

So again, it’s 5:15 and I’ve had two whiskeys since 4:00. I’m doing good, feeling good, having a nice time, and then trouble strikes, but it strikes in the rarest of forms – Laurel telling us we need to start drinking more because the party will be over in 45 minutes and they were still several hundred dollars short of their minimum. From my restaurant days I knew that a party like this comes with a contract, and the most important part of that contract (from the restaurant’s perspective) is the minimum, meaning this is the minimum amount you will spend, and if you don’t reach it, we’ll just charge you for nothing in order to reach it.

My immediate thought when hearing of this ‘minimum’ conundrum was that I’d go in there and pick out the most expensive whiskey they have. With visions of Pappy Van Winkle in my head, I belly up to the bar, only to find out that their most expensive whiskey is Woodford Reserve. “How much is that?” I ask. $10. So I’m thinking to myself “Seriously, $10 is your most expensive whiskey, this is insane”. “What about Scotch?” I ask next. “Well we have MaCallan 12, but that’s only $12.” “Okay I guess I’m having that” I respond. “Want to make it a double?” she asks. “Why not.”

Fast forward to 6:00 and I’m just wrapping up my second double (which were really triples). Combine that with the two ‘singles’ I’d had earlier (which were really doubles), and you can start to see the kind of night we were in for. Luckily I wasn’t the only one drinking more than usual; Jessica was doing her best to keep up, and Josh and Solana can keep up with anybody, so we were all getting on the happy train together. It’s a good thing too because the rest of the party was pretty timid. I don’t mean this in a bad way, but it was a bunch of old people sipping on Chardonnay. In my mind, they needed us to liven things up a bit, so we did our part.

Soon enough the happy hour ended, but we were just getting started. There was a street fair with a band setting up outside, the weather was beautiful, and we were feeling good. So we went to this really cool place called Isaac Hunter’s Tavern. It was still pretty early for east coast standards (everything starts later on the east coast) but they had a band setting up, so we settled in. Fast forward a drink or two later and I’m dancing with a lesbian to a poor cover of “Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News. Luckily Josh was also drawn in by the 80’s synthesizers and chanting of “Don’t need no credit card to ride on this train”, but then quickly pulled me over to the dart board where Jessica was singing and dancing, and Solana was making friends with some friendly/creepy old dude at the bar.

We played darts for a while, but then decided it was time to find a new watering hole. I love how getting food never even crossed our minds. I don’t know exactly what time it was because things were getting quite hazy for me at this point, but it was barely dark, so probably around 8:00. We ended up at an Irish bar, but for some reason we didn’t really like the vibe there so we only stuck around for one drink, or in my case, one more whiskey.

After that we hit the streets and I came up with the great idea of doing some drunken parkour (look it up). As I write this I’m actually still a bit sore from some of my failed parkour stunts, but I certainly gave the rest of the group a few things to laugh about. Parkour Michael only makes his appearance about every five years, so it’s a special occasion when he arrives. I liken it to a bald eagle sighting.

After falling on my ass a few times, we ended up at a place called Whiskey Kitchen. This place was poppin – in fact I think it was the busiest place we visited throughout the trip. The whiskey selection was almost too big though and I was afraid I’d get asked to leave if I asked too many questions, so I just ordered whatever was on the tip of my tongue. I honestly don’t even remember what is was, but at that point it hardly mattered.

We ended up sitting outside by the fire just laughing, people watching, telling stories, and having fun. I think we were there for a while but I’m not totally sure. I was in rare form and had little remaining perception of time. Luckily that would be my last drink of the night because I certainly didn’t need anymore.

I don’t remember whose idea it was, but on our way back to the hotel we all decided to do the obvious thing after a heavy night at the bars – go swimming! Our hotel had a pool and hot tub open until midnight so we decided to split ways for a bit to freshen up, then meet at the hotel pool. By the time we arrived at the pool it was 11:00 and I remember being shocked at how many kids were down there so late at night. I did a couple laps, but as weirded out as I was about the kids in the pool, the kids (and their Moms) seemed to be equally weirded out by me, or at least that was how I perceived it. I quickly recanted and retired to the hot tub to sit with Jessica.

To finish off our crazy night, Jessica and I were taking the elevator (which was pretty full) back up to our room. I’m standing there all wet in my trunks with a towel around my shoulders, and there’s this prim and proper older woman next to us. She was friendly enough , but then the door opens on her floor and all I see is this young pink-haired 20ish year old girl twerking (look it up) with her ass literally right in our faces. I’m thinking to myself “No way, is this really happening!?” But the poor old woman didn’t know what to do. She kind of gasped and scurried past down the hall. Then the twerking girl and her two friends get on the elevator, and with the cutest English accent she’s says “Do you think she liked that?” I was laughing too hard to respond, so Jessica says “She might not have liked it, but she needed it. She definitely needed it.” What an epic night.

Then came Saturday morning and I had the kind of headache that other headaches tell folk stories about. I mean this was a legendary headache. Luckily I had woken up in the early morning and somehow asked Jessica for 4 Aleve. I remember thinking to myself that it felt like someone had poisoned me, only to then grimly realize that yes, I had been poisoned, but not by someone else. Actually yes it was by someone else, it was Laurel and her stupid minimum!

So I popped the Aleve and passed out for a few more hours. By the time I woke up I was still pretty shaky, but it was nothing a multivitamin, walk in the sun, and plate of Carolina BBQ couldn’t fix. We met Solana and Josh downstairs and headed off for the BBQ restaurant everyone told us to visit – The Pit. Once again the weather was beautiful and this time they were setting up a Lebanese street fair right outside our hotel.

According to Google, The Pit was only an 8 minute walk away, but based on the night the four of us had just had, it took us twice as long to get there. I’m partly surprised we even made it there at all. We ended up sitting outside and getting down on hush puppies, fried mac n cheese, deviled eggs, wings, and sweet tea. And that was just the first course. Typical hangover fare to be sure. For entrees Jessica got a fried chicken sandwich, while I went to town on the BBQ combo platter: Carolina pulled pork, Southern Fried Chicken and choice of sides (cole slaw, and more mac n cheese in my case). When we sat down they placed two kinds of sauces on our table. One was a traditional sweet/smoky/spicy BBQ sauce, and the other was a tangy Eastern N.C. sauce with a vinegar base. They were both good but the tangy one was easily my favorite. Pouring that stuff all over the pulled pork was unbelievably good, and let’s just say that I now understand when people talk about Carolina BBQ being their favorite. I’d have it again in a heartbeat.

After lunch we walked around for a bit, then headed back to the hotel to take in the Lebanese street fair. There were all kinds of performances going on, and again, the weather was perfect, so we were all happy to just sit outside, people watch, and bask in the glory of a sunny day. Eventually, since we knew we were in for another long night, we figured a nap was in order, so everyone retired upstairs for some shut eye.

A few hours later everyone was dressed and ready for the big night, so we met Josh and Solana in the hotel lobby. Since the restaurant they were holding the reception in was just across the street from Raleigh Times, where we’d been the previous night for happy hour, we figured we should stop in there for a drink. We hadn’t been in there 10 seconds before one of the bartenders who’d been serving our party the night before saw us and yelled “Hey guys, welcome back!”

The reception was held in a beautiful courtyard at Sitti. Once again there was an open bar, but this time I was having none of this ‘help us meet our minimum’ business. I’d be drinking at my own pace, thank you very much. There was also a nice covered area for dinner, so after an hour of reception time with drinks and appetizers in the courtyard, we all headed in for dinner.

Since Laurel and Mark have done a lot of traveling, they had this cool idea to name each table after a city that bears some significance for them. I was a bit surprised we weren’t at the Seattle table, but ultimately we were seated with Solana and Josh, as well as another couple whom we absolutely loved named Sammy and David, at the Torino table. There was significance in this because Jessica and Laurel met during their Semester at Sea in Torino, Italy.

We were actually given instructions by the bride, as well as both of her parents, to be the fun table at the party. Plenty of other tables were filled with very buttoned up formal east coasters who wouldn’t even consider loosening their tie at the end of the night. So we sort of took it upon ourselves to be a bit livelier than the rest. After all, that’s what we were told, and who would disobey the bride at her own wedding reception?

Several people got up and said some very nice words about Mark, Laurel, and their respective families. After that we enjoyed the best wedding food I’ve ever had. This was my first time enjoying Lebanese food and it was absolutely delicious! If you really get a chance to try Lebanese food, I’d highly recommend doing so. It’s funny because I’d never had any exposure to the Lebanese culture before this trip (and to be clear neither Mark, Laurel, or anyone else there was of Lebanese descent), but between the street fair earlier that day, and dinner that night, it just kept coming up. Totally random, but in a most delightful way.

Anyway, back to the food. They had this stuff called Garlic Whip that pretty much changed my life. In fact, I distinctly remember Jessica saying at dinner “Garlic whip, where have you been my whole life?” It was basically the consistency of whip cream, but slightly lighter and fluffier, with this amazing roasted garlic flavor. I was putting it on the goat cheese stuffed roasted peppers, on the beef, on the chicken, on the veggies. I’d put that shit on my waffles if you’d let me. I seriously need to learn how to make that stuff. Truly amazing.

After dinner it was back out to the dance floor, and remember, we were expected to be the life of the party, but luckily we had a secret weapon – Josh O’Hair. If physical comedy was a degree, Josh would have a doctorate. If it was a profession, he’d be one of the best. Watching him dance and sing is something hilariously special that everyone deserves to experience at least once in their lifetime. He pretty much had us all in tears throughout the evening. The closest person I can compare it to is Will Ferrell but even that’s not doing it justice.

Like myself, Josh is a former bartender who got out of the night life. He now works as a liquor rep for Patron tequila, and not surprisingly, he’s one of their top salespeople. He’s just got this infectious personality so it makes perfect sense that he’d be so good at sales. Because of his allegiance to Patron, that’s basically what he drank all night. Because of his non-stop moves on the dance floor, it wasn’t until we were leaving the party that drinking nearly an entire bottle of Patron started catching up with him.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’d certainly had my fair share of Bulleit bourbon that night as well, but I was nowhere near the level I’d reached the night before. Or, in other words, Parkour Michael was in deep hibernation (with an ungodly headache). So whereas I had felt like the one who was most out of control the previous night (and truthfully was), Josh was feeling that same way this night. Still there was only one logical thing to do after leaving the party – go to the bar of course. And there was only one logical bar to go to – the Raleigh Times.

We got over there, ordered a drink, but Josh couldn’t drink it. He sat there apologizing to me for how drunk he was. I told him not to be ridiculous and that he was fine, but it quickly became apparent that hanging out in a bar was in no one’s best interest. So I came up with the perfect idea to set Josh straight – swimming! No I’m just kidding. Not swimming, a gourmet hotdog. There was this awesome hotdog restaurant out on Fayetteville street and I knew a big ol’ hotdog with all kinds of regretful toppings was just what the doctor ordered.

So we went in, tripped out on their crazy menu for a minute, then ordered while the girls waited outside. I don’t remember what Josh got, but I had the Southern dog, complete with fried okra, cheese, and Carolina chili. We sat outside with the girls eating our hot dogs, and as expected, Josh totally started coming back to life. It’s like he was invigorated by carbs and pork casing. Unfortunately the totality of the (two) night’s consumption came to a head with Solana and she needed to call it an evening.

We totally understood and weren’t upset at all that they were leaving for the night, but at the same time we were feeling fine and completely in control, so we decided to stay out for a bit. Obviously we don get out like this often, so we felt like we had to take advantage. Jessica’s sweet tooth started creeping up on her, so while I stayed outside to finish my southern dog, she went back in for a milkshake. She came outside laughing and when I asked what was so funny, she said that while she was waiting for her shake, some guy came up to the counter asking the employees where he could get some weed. I can’t say I blame the guy because if I was out of town and looking for weed, the guy at the hotdog counter would probably be the first person I’d ask as well, but his response was perfect – “I don’t know man, my weed comes from Tacoma.” It’s such a strange, random, funny little world we live in sometimes…

We walked around for a bit looking for a place to have a night cap, but it seemed like every bar we passed was really crazy inside. That may have worked for us the previous night, but we simply weren’t on that level by this point. Eventually we found a quiet little spot where we could relax and talk. We got into such a good conversation that we got back to the hotel room and sat there talking about life, family, the kids, work, and future plans, until 3:00am! Normally we would never be able to do something like this because the kids are always up by 7:00, but I guess that’s what vacation is for.

So remember that little chest cold I was fighting when we left Seattle? Well, after three nights out in a row, one of which that included an appearance by Parkour Michael, let’s just say that by Sunday morning that little cold wasn’t gone. In fact, get ready for a shocker, it was worse! On top of that, because she had to talk over a loud DJ all night, Jessica completely lost her voice. Like literally her voice was at 10-15% capacity. She simply couldn’t talk, but the wedding party was doing a big brunch downstairs at our hotel and we felt like we had to make an appearance.

So we got as presentable as possible, put on a happy face, and went down to join everyone. We got there near the end of brunch (shocking) but enjoyed everyone’s company, as well as a substantial breakfast. Carolina omelette with pulled pork and jalapeños in my case. After brunch the weather was simply too nice not to experience, so we walked around for about an hour. After that we hit a wall and felt like retiring to the room was our only option. So we hit up a convenience store, stocked up on water and cold meds, and sort of stumbled back to the hotel.

The rest of the day was spent laying in bed coughing, laughing about the craziness of the last couple nights, and watching the final round of The Masters. In all seriousness, we hardly ever get out like this (even our trip to Austin a year and a half ago was much more tame), so I hope no one reading these stories is concerned, but we mutually agreed on one thing – we still got it! Might take us a week to recover, but we can still roll with the punches when we need to.

One thing I haven’t mentioned so far was that we were missing the kids badly the whole time. Jessica put it perfectly when she said, “You look forward to the trip for so long, and you’re so excited to get away, but then when you’re gone you can’t stop missing the kids and think about them constantly.” It’s so true. I can’t tell you how many times we saw something and said “Look! Ava/Elise/Enzo would love that! Take a picture.”

Since we were in all day on Sunday, it was a perfect time to call Grandma and check in. Unfortunately when we did, we found out that everyone had been sick the whole time and they hadn’t even left the house. Poor Ava had a fever and didn’t get out of bed for two days! Anyone who knows our energetic little Ava knows that she must have been really under the weather to stay in bed like that. Elise and Enzo weren’t quite that bad, but nowhere near 100%, so they just stayed in, watched movies, and let Grandma take care of them.

Sunday evening we had plans with Brad and Jeff – Jessica’s old friends from Iowa. They all used to work together in a restaurant in Cedar Rapids and have stayed friends ever since. I met them on my first trip to Iowa, which was 8 or 9 years ago, but haven’t seen them since. They moved to North Carolina for Brad’s job, got married, and plan on staying there forever. They really love it and I can’t say I blame them.

In all honesty I didn’t really want to go out because I was sick, exhausted from the previous three nights, and wanted to watch the end of the Masters, but there was no way we could cancel on them. That wouldn’t be cool, and who knows if we’ll ever be back. So we met them in our hotel lobby and started with a drink. I knew I’d be drinking as little as possible that night so sipping on a light beer seemed to make sense. I was able to draw them out and only have two all night, but still fall back on it in case anyone wanted me to have something more, like a shot of Grand Marnier, which was totally out of the question.

We called an Uber and headed out to dinner at a place called Cowfish. I’ve never seen anything like this but it turned out to be a lot of fun. It’s part burger restaurant, and part sushi restaurant. They even have some dishes that combine the two genres, something they call “Burgushi”. The atmosphere is really fun, and when you go to the bathroom there’s a track playing that translates southern sayings into Japanese. The only one I remember was “He’s as country as cornbread.”

By the time we finished dinner Jessica and I were absolutely spent, but luckily they both had to work early in the morning, so we decided to call it an early night. I’d been keeping my eye on the Masters during dinner, and when we got back to the room, it was still on. We ended up seeing the 18th hole, and the playoff hole that ultimately gave Sergio Garcia is first win in a major after 73 straight defeats. We were both pulling for him and were happy to see it turn out that way.

A good night’s sleep was exactly what the doctor ordered that night so we called it an early night and ended up sleeping over 11 hours. Not sure when that will happen again but it won’t be soon. For our final day in Raleigh, Jessica and I had lunch at a really cool little pizza place called La Stella Pizzeria. We’re both pretty tough critics when it comes to pizza, yet we both agreed that this pizza was excellent. Jess even went so far as to say “this is the best pizza I’ve had this year” before quickly biting her tongue after Enzo’s birthday party came to mind.

After that Laurel came and picked us up, then we all went to a park to lay in the grass, soak up a little more sun, and talk about the weekend. Mark and Laurel are actually moving back to Seattle next week, so this weekend was basically their ‘last hoorah’ in Raleigh. They bought a beautiful new home in West Seattle that we’re looking forward to seeing, and can’t wait to start seeing them regularly.

Now that the trip is over we’re just excited to get home to our babies. As we said on this trip, there probably won’t be many more getaways like this for Mommy and Daddy because the kids are getting closer and closer to being able to enjoy, appreciate, and remember their own vacations. Personally I’m pushing for a family trip to Hawaii in the next couple years but I’m sure there’s a Disney trip in our future as well. We’ll see how things play out.

If you’ve made it this far into the post, I congratulate you. It’s taken me nearly the entire flight home to write it. I know I’m never short on words, but even for my standards this has been a long one. Hopefully the stories from this weekend bring you just a small fraction of the joy we experienced on this epic getaway. This has definitely been one for the ages and I sincerely thank Laurel and Mark for having us, Solana and a Josh for being our partners in crime, and of course, Jessica for being the love of my life and the best travel partner a guy could ever ask for. Watch out for those open bars…

Starting the trip off right at 42nd Street Oyster House

Enjoying myself at Harry’s Guitar Shop

Holding it together at the Whiskey Kitchen

Striking a pose with Josh

Jessica’s Fried Chicken Sandwich at The Pit

Solana, Laurel, and Jessica looking beautiful at the reception