Happy Birthday Mommy – 2014

Today the four of us celebrated Jessica’s birthday. Since it fell on a Monday it seemed like a perfect excuse to use a personal day at work and make a long weekend out of it. We lucked out and had beautiful weather, so we all hopped in the car and headed to the ferry terminal in downtown Seattle. Soon enough we were on our way to Bainbridge Island for a day of fun exploring a kids museum, walking along the water looking at boats, and having lunch. On our way to the island Ava was thrilled to be out on the deck of the ferry taking in all the scenery. It was super windy and a bit chilly but she didn’t care, in fact getting her to leave the ferry and go down to the car was a chore of its own. I had to bribe her by saying that we were going to look at more boats in the water and maybe we’d find some ducks.

Ava is currently in what I’m calling a ducks and fireflies stage. She won’t stop talking about either of those creatures and is obsessed with seeing them. The funny thing is that she hasn’t even seen a real firefly, but she saw some glowing lights in a tree at the mall and now she’s obsessed with them. Luckily quenching her duck fix is pretty attainable around here so we’ve been going to the park frequently to look for them. Saturday afternoon we attended a birthday party at Seward Park, which is right on Lake Washington, and there were plenty of ducks for Ava to obsess over. Of course getting her away from them usually requires a bribe of some kind. I’ve found that chocolate chip cookies work well…

After we left Bainbridge Island we drove up north to Mill Creek to check out a house for sale that we found online. We’ve been getting pretty serious about buying something lately and actually contacted Aunt Carol today to start the loan qualification process. Yesterday we drove around for a few hours looking at places, but today was better because we like the Bothell / Mill Creek area so much better than what we had previously seen. There are a few houses up there that we’re interested in so hopefully something will work out. Either way its fun (and maybe a little stressful) to be looking for something to buy. We know we plan on being here for the long-term and even if we can’t get our ‘forever home’ right now, we can definitely get something nice. It certainly beats paying someone else’s mortgage for them.

While driving around Mill Creek today we were really impressed with the neighborhoods. There’s a golf course in the complex, a swimming pool, and a couple really nice big parks all within walking distance. The other great thing about that area is the schools. Both of the elementary schools near the houses we’re looking at are graded 10 out of 10. For comparison sake, most of the elementary schools we found in Seattle scored between 1 – 5 out of 10. This simply wasn’t an option so finding an area with good schools for the girls was a top priority. Also, from an investment perspective, houses in good school districts are much more desirable and carry a higher resale value so its a no-brainer.

Hopefully it won’t be long before we have an update on the house situation. The idea of moving again soon doesn’t exactly tickle my fancy but becoming a home owner for the first time will (hopefully) be a great experience. Everything else is going well, just staying busy as ever. I’ve only got about 8 weeks left in school so ideally we can schedule a move right after I finish, but we’ll see. If we have to pull the trigger early and move before I graduate I’m sure I’ll figure it out.

Elise has been crawling for a while now, and it seems like she’ll be standing on her own very soon. She loves to stand up but needs help to stay up. We were just looking at pictures of her from a few months ago and commenting on how much she has already changed. Ava is starting to look a little different now simply because her hair is long enough to tie up in the back. Her hair is so fine that it doesn’t stay in the hair tie for very long, and before you know it she’s got a bit of a lion’s mane going on, but its super cute. Here’s some recent photos, most of which were taken today on our adventure to the island.

Make more room for baby

We’ve jumped right back into our regular routine since Grandma and Grandpa left. Ava has continued to ask about them on almost a daily basis, she even goes so far as to look for them in the house. I assume from this and the fact that I know my mom spoils her and loves to take her out on new adventures, that they had a great, memorable time. It felt amazing to get away for a few days, just Michael and I. We needed a little recharging and some fun, carefree nights out.

HUGE thank you to my Mom and Tom for all of your help.

Just days after Grandma and Grandpa left, and days before her nine month mark, little Elise decided that she was ready to officially start crawling. It’s been a fun adjustment for all of us since. It’s back to baby gates on the stairs, which often upsets Ava. Pack n Plays set up in the living room, which often upsets Elise and through it all poor Bella has been shuffled off to the side to make more room for baby. We’ve had a recent increase in talks about sharing toys, and playing nicely together. Thankfully, Elise doesn’t appear to be as daring as Ava was at this age. It is a quality that I love so much in Ava, but I’m not sure that two daring, over energetic, little girls would have the same affect. Instead, Elise is like a little zen buddha. People comment, time and time again, at how happy and mellow she is. She’s easily the happiest one in the family. Her personalty is coming out more every day and it’s a lot of fun getting to know her better.

I have been working a lot more this week and last because it’s Seattle Restaurant Week and Michael is back in school for his final stretch. I’m not sure how, but we have managed to find time for some really great day adventures. This past Sunday, we all loaded up in the car to get out and enjoy the beautiful day. Initially we were in search of a spot to visit the ducks. Michael had an idea to visit one of his favorite childhood spots but unfortunately it is now a soccer complex. After a few failed attempts at finding a good place to stop we stumbled upon a botanical gardens in the Tukwila area. What a great random find. It was a perfect place to get out for a walk and explore some small ponds, flowers, bridges and waterfalls. Ava loved every minute of it but kept searching for ducks the whole time. She can not get enough of ducks lately. We don’t even feed them, because it’s illegal everywhere. She just loves to talk to them and toss pebbles in the water.

After the botanical gardens we decided to head to the beach since we were already so close to Lake Washington. We drove to Gene Coulon Park and hit the sand. Ava literally took off running as soon as we unbuckled her seat. I had to chase after her just to stop her from running right into the lake. Ultimately it was a great decision to stop here. The weather was absolutely perfect and we all had a great time playing in the sand and walking on the docks. After more than enough time in the sun we headed home and spent the rest of the day relaxing.

The amazing weather stuck around another day, so on Monday morning I called up a girlfriend and arranged a little adventure for the day. We packed up the Durango, two baby girls, one toddler and two Moms and headed to the annual Tulip Festival. It was a bit more driving than I had expected but we all had a great time walking along the flower fields, picnicking, meeting farm animals, and kite watching. It was a great spring afternoon and I’m so glad that we got out and enjoyed it because the rest of this week has been nothing but rain. Ugh, it is not easy keeping a nature obsessed toddler happy during consecutive days of rain.

Still not sure what we are going to do this weekend for Easter. I think we will most likely hold out to see what the weather does and decide what we feel like on the spot.

Here are some updated pictures of everyone. Sorry for the delay in posting them.

Elise 9 months
Elise at 9 months

Ava playing in the front yard

Crawling around Gene Coulon Park

Vancouver, 2014

Monday afternoon we returned from our long weekend in Vancouver to the smiling faces and outstretched arms of our beautiful little girls. While we were enjoying ourselves up north (more on that in a second), the girls were exploring the Seattle Aquarium, Pacific Science Center, and much more with Grandma and Grandpa. Huge thanks to Amy and Tom for coming out and taking such good care of them, and us in a way.

Since Thursday was our actual anniversary, and I was technically on vacation by the time Thursday evening came around, we decided to go out for a very special sushi dinner. This may sound a little odd, but go and watch a movie called “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” and you’ll understand very quickly. It’s a documentary about a Japanese man named Jiro who is widely regarded as the best sushi chef in Japan. He’s in his 80’s but still works full-time, and has been doing so since the age of 10. The whole message behind the movie is that the secret to life and happiness is the dedication of your life to a craft, and striving for perfection in that craft knowing that you will never truly achieve it.

Jiro has had a number of apprentices over the years, and the training they endure is incredible. They spend 7 years learning to make the rice alone! 7 years! One of Jiro’s apprentices is a man named Shiro, who owns (in my opinion) the best sushi restaurant in Seattle. It’s on 2nd Ave in Belltown and its a place that I’ve been familiar with for many years. Before Thursday I had only eaten there once before, but once I found out that Shiro was Jiro’s apprentice, I had to go back. Since Jessica didn’t get to eat sushi for most of last year due to her pregnancy with Elise, she was more than happy to have a proper sushi meal.

We made reservations for the sushi bar, and as expected the place was packed so we weren’t even seated until an hour past our reservation. Luckily however, we ended up with the two best seats in the house. Not only were we seated at the sushi bar, we were placed in the two end seats, meaning that we would be served by Shiro himself and would have the only unobstructed views of him in the entire restaurant. The rest of the seats at the bar are separated from the chefs by a glass case of fresh fish, but not ours. We could clearly watch him making everything. When you get a chance to watch an expert perform their craft you need to take advantage of it and appreciate it for what it’s worth. Of course more than anything we were happy to be enjoying a night out together, but we couldn’t get over how cool and special it felt to watch him work.

Regardless of all the sentiment and tradition, the meal was quite simply the best sushi meal either of us have ever had. Our typical approach in situations like these is to put down our menus and let the chef choose our meal. This was no exception. Shiro hand-selected and prepared everything we had that night, and believe me, there wasn’t an unpleasant bite to be found. Although everything we had was amazing, we mutually decided that the king crab, torro (Ahi tuna belly), and local salmon were best. Shiro adds the appropriate amount of wasabi and sauce to each piece so no work is required on your part, just pure sushi enjoyment. This was one of those dinners that we’ll never forget but I’m sure we’ll try to replicate it sooner than later.

Friday morning we drove up to Vancouver. We had good weather and only a 30 minute wait at the border. After crossing we went straight to Kitsalano for lunch, which I’ve previously described as the West Seattle of Vancouver, but upon further inspection feels much more like Pacific Beach than West Seattle. We had a great lunch at a bistro called Burgoo, which included the best meatball sandwich of my life. After lunch we walked around to explore the area, then headed downtown to check-in at our hotel. We stayed at the Metropolitan Hotel, which is the same place we stayed in last time. To be honest, our experience with the hotel on this trip wasn’t as good as it was last year, but that was a very minor detail in an otherwise outstanding trip.

Friday night we enjoyed another all-time great meal, this time of the Italian variety. We went to Cioppino and had the best seafood we’ve ever had at an Italian restaurant. It was funny because this was a very different dinner from Thursday night, but they were both dominated by amazing seafood. Shortly after we sat down we were greeted by the Maitre’ D, who informed us that my Mother had purchased us a nice bottle of wine and told them to take good care of us for our anniversary. She is unbelievable! What a considerate and thoughtful thing to do. Well, the wine was outstanding, as was the food and service, plus the surroundings were priceless. There was a table behind us that looked like a Good Fella’s casting call. These guys were dressed to a T, drinking very expensive wine, and drawing a ton of attention from the restaurant staff. They definitely personified the environment, and between the dinner we had there combined with dinner at Shiro’s and lunch at Burgoo, I was already proclaiming this as one of the great ‘food weekends’ of my life.

Saturday was spent walking around downtown Vancouver and shopping. We got some stuff for ourselves, as well as for the girls, then went back to the hotel for some swimming, champagne, and got ready for the hockey game. Seeing an NHL hockey game in Canada was a bucket list item for me so it was really cool to get to do that. Sunday we walked around some more, had a nice brunch, then went to the movies to see “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, which I thought was good. Although we tried to stay out late, we ended up back in our room before midnight every night. That said, we made the most of each day and were pretty beat by the time we left on Monday.

Obviously we were thrilled to come home to our girls but I’m glad we got this time away. Getting back home meant the spring quarter at school had officially begun, so I immediately had some homework to take care of. My first day back at work was Tuesday, and it was a long one. By the time I went to bed at 4:00am I had been working for over 18 hours and could barely see straight. I mentioned recently that I’ve been working on a special project but couldn’t go into any details. Well, that special project is now live (as of this evening) and will be promoted tomorrow morning on Amazon’s homepage, as well as Jeff Bezos’ shareholder letter.

In order to help mitigate some of the negative press we have received regarding our fulfillment centers, Amazon has decided to offer fulfillment center tours to the general public. By allowing people into these once very secret facilities, we should be able to dispel some of the myths regarding work conditions. Having spent a fair amount of time in these places, I already knew that the reports were false, but now anyone will have the ability to see what happens behind the scenes once you purchase a product. The site is located at: amazon.com/fctours and it is expected to receive a very high traffic volume.

This was my first opportunity to do something that is publicly visible at Amazon so I took it very seriously. The exposure it brought me was incredible; every day I’ve been finding myself in meetings with directors, senior managers, and other leaders throughout the company. It is these very same people who will control my fate when the decision comes to see if I should move along to the next level, so making a good impression was vital. Fortunately everything has turned out really well and I’ve been getting some much-appreciated praise and recognition for the hard work and dedication. Having worked on this project makes me feel like I have finally truly ‘arrived’ at Amazon, and I’m excited to be able to take things like this on again in the future.

We’ve been very spoiled by having Amy and Tom out to stay with us, so these next couple days will be a bit of an adjustment. Jessica said Ava was very upset to see them go today, but before she knows it they’ll be back for Elise’s first birthday in July. Jessica will be busy at work due to Seattle Restaurant Week so I can’t wait for Sunday when the four of us can relax and have a nice family day together. Sorry for not posting any new pictures of the girls lately. I promise to post some next time I write.