Back to Business

As far as I’m concerned Summer 2016 is over. Football is back, the leaves are starting to turn, and we had another epic Labor Day weekend, so bring on the sweaters and crockpots, the haloween costumes and holiday plans – we’re back to business baby! We definitely ended Summer on a bang by spending the holiday weekend with our good friends the O’Hair’s (Josh, Solana, Ronan, and Finn) at Josh’s family cabin on Hood’s Head Island in Hood Canal, WA.

Door to door from our house, it’s less than 2 hours away, but you have to take the Kingston ferry from Edmonds, drive through this very picturesque little town called Port Gamble, then across the Hood Canal bridge (which is one of the biggest bridges in the state), take a right on Paradise Bay Road, then another right on Seven Sisters Road (which is this super long dirt road with tons of private driveways leading off of it) and park at the very end in a dirt lot near the water. Finally, you have to take a boat ride about 200 yards across a little bay, and then finally you will find yourself on Hood’s Head Island.

Hood’s Head is totally off the grid, meaning you use generators for power, you use wells for running water in the cabin, and you use outhouses for, you know, your business. There are some really impressive cabins out there. This particular cabin has been in Josh’s family for about 60 years and has grown from a small single room to a pretty decent sized abode, which included a wood stove in the living room (totally reminded me of my Nana and Papa’s place growing up), a kitchen, two bedrooms (ours was upstairs), and a nice covered back patio. The best part, however, was the fact that you’re only a couple hundred feet from the water. There’s so many trees that you can’t really see the cabin from the water, but it’s right there.

By far the strangest part about everything was the fact that this wasn’t the first time Jessica and I have been to Hood’s Head Island. We ended up there for a 4th of July party with a bunch of friends back in 2009. If you remember our wedding invitation, there were a bunch of square photos that made up a collage; well two of those photos in the top-right corner were of this really cool dragon made of driftwood that I had taken that night around sunset. I remember having so much fun that night – there was a full band playing up in a treehouse, Jess and I had fun swinging on a rope swing, and I got the most epic photos of a fireworks show gone wrong when everything exploded on the beach.

Fast forward 7 years and there we are, back on that island, visiting the same dragon, except this time with all 3 of our kids. It kinda felt like we had come full-circle. We spent our time collecting shells, sand dollars, and fresh oysters on the beach, taking walks around the island, and watching the kids splash around in the water. It was just a two-night stay, but that was enough – you get the full cabin-life experience, then still get home in time to enjoy the final day-and-a-half of the long holiday weekend.

I made spaghetti at home ahead of time, so we all had that for dinner on our first night, but the second night was what really stood out to me. Basically we had dinner right there on the beach, and it was totally my kind of dinner – a shellfish extravaganza! Fresh dungeness and red rock crabs caught in the pots we had set the previous night, approximately 3 dozen fresh oysters from our beach, grilled salmon with butter, and ice cold cans of Coors Light. It was epic – definitely the highlight of my Summer (which makes sense since I tend to associate memories and good times with food).

We didn’t have crab crackers so I went caveman style and just used a big rock to crack the shells. Josh had a preparation that I must admit I’d never seen before. Normally what I’m used to is putting the live crab in a pot of boiling water, then cleaning it after you’ve cooked it. This approach is great when you’re in a kitchen with running water, but it’s not so easy to clean a cooked (and very hot) crab on the beach, so he took a different approach – he would kill and clean them right there in the shore water, then cook them in the boiling water. The benefit to this approach is that once you pull it out of the water it’s ready to serve, which is much more conducive to dining on the beach.

At first I was a little shocked to see him cleaning the crabs alive, but I was fine with it and decided to make the kids watch so they’d get a little lesson about the circle of life. They understood that we caught those crabs in the water (legally too because Josh has a shellfish license and the season was still open), we let the females go from our pots so they could reproduce and only kept the males; and that was our dinner. I don’t know how much of that really sunk in but it seemed like an appropriate lesson at the time.

As an oyster lover, I was once again impressed with Josh. Some of the oysters we collected were pretty large and would be very difficult to shuck when they’re raw, so he would pull about a half-dozen at a time out from our bucket in the water, and would just quickly grill them on both sides (I forgot to mention that they have a gas grill next to the boathouse, which is very near the shore). So anyway he would very quickly grill the oysters on both sides, which would just barely pop them open, then we could easily shuck and eat them. The consistency of the oyster was perfect; it was warm but not cooked through, so the four of us adults would just stand there at the water’s edge eating these fresh oysters with a dash of hot sauce, then throw the spent shells back into the water. I learned (from Josh of course) that new oysters will grow in these spent shells, so there was another sense of this whole give/take relationship with the sea. I have to give their oldest son Ronin a lot of credit too because he ate a couple of oysters himself – something none of the other kids were willing to try. Even before I ate one I had no doubts about the quality of these oysters. Just a couple hundred yards down at the end of the bay was a private oyster farm, so there was no reason to think that ours would be any different than theirs (and of course they weren’t). Just to give you a sense of how many oysters there were, when the tide goes out there are so many of them you can’t really even see the ground beneath them. There are literally millions of them, everywhere you look. It was just incredible.

By the time Sunday morning came around I think everyone was ready to head home. I was definitely looking forward to a long hot shower, and a good night’s sleep in my own bed. Since there were 9 of us (4 adults, 5 kids) staying in the cabin, we obviously had a lot of stuff with us. So much so that it took us 3 boat trips across the bay to get all our stuff (and people) into the cabin. We had so much stuff that I just sat there waiting on the beach with everything while Josh shuttled everyone across the bay. People walking by were asking me if we were staying for a month, and got quite a kick from my response of “two days actually”.

The morning we left it was so foggy that when Josh and I started taking stuff across the bay to load into the van, you couldn’t even see the other side (remember it’s only about 200 yards across). This time we had a bit of a problem though because his old outboard motor was acting up. We got about halfway across on our first trip and the motor decided to die. So here we are floating out in the middle of this bay in super thick fog, Josh is trying his best to start the motor but with no luck, and we can’t really see anything. Jessica and the kids were back on the beach by the cabin but they couldn’t see us, so let’s just say Michael had to row the boat ashore. I tell you what, rowing is not the easiest thing to do with a Sunday morning hangover (I forgot to mention we enjoyed a very nice bottle of Anejo Tequila with our shellfish extravaganza the night before). By the time we reached shore I was starting to get the hang of it, but it was a bit humbling at first.

He eventually got the motor running again, but mysteriously it always seemed to crap out when I was in the boat. That’s okay, I got more practice with my rowing. Although it took 3 boat trips on the way in, for some reason it took 4 on the way out, even though we (presumably) had less stuff (food specifically). By the time both vans were loaded, the boat was locked up in the slip, and everyone was buckled into their carseat, I was exhausted. We lucked out on the way home though and got right on the ferry as it was preparing to head back towards Edmonds. It was definitely an epic couple of days that we won’t soon forget. Big thanks to Solana and Josh for having us out; I hope we can do it again.

A few days before the big weekend I received the good news that I had been promoted at work. I’m now a Software Engineer II at Microsoft, which is kind of hard to believe, but nevertheless is something that I’m very proud of. I didn’t even know that my manager had submitted me for a promotion, so getting the news that he submitted me, and that upper-level management had approved it after I’d only been there about 16 months (at the time) was very humbling. Normally the promotion schedule for people around my level is every 2 years, so to have been approved at 16 months, and then actually received it at 18 months was really cool. We went out to our favorite Mexican restaurant that night to celebrate, but the best part of the whole experience was getting home from work that day and being greeted by Ava and Elise (who looked so pretty in their dresses) saying “Congratulations Daddy, we’re so proud of you!” That was very special.

Although I had a new sense of pride going into work the following day, this isn’t something that I’m dwelling on. It’s nice to take a moment to reflect when something like this happens, but I’m already thinking about what’s next. One thing I love about this industry is that there is always room to learn and grow, and one thing I love about Microsoft is that you will always be rewarded for your growth. I’m working with my manager on improving my technical breadth, technical depth in certain areas, leadership, communication, etc. He knows what my goals are and is obviously committed to helping me achieve them. I definitely feel lucky to have landed where I have at Microsoft and intend to be there for the long-term.

Earlier this week I got to have a surprise lunch with my friend Garth, who was my first mentor at Amazon back in early 2013. He’s actually the person who interviewed me over the phone when we were living in San Diego, which means he basically gave me my first opportunity with Amazon. We were teammates for a couple years before he left to take a Senior Software Engineer role at Disney. He was on Microsoft campus this week for a special ‘Hackathon’ event being sponsored by Microsoft and Disney, so we got to catch up over lunch on Tuesday. We’re about the same age, married with kids (although he’s got me beat with 5), and we’ve always gotten along great since the first time we met. It was nice sharing what I’ve been up to at Microsoft and hearing about all the big things he’s got going on, including special recognition for a room availability website he put together internally at the Disney offices in Downtown Seattle that uses motion detectors in meeting rooms to collect data on their usage, then reports it to their space planning staff. He’ll be receiving an award at a private Disney conference in Burbank, then will be speaking at a big public NodeJS conference in Nashville in the coming months. I’m proud of him and everything he’s done, so it was great to catch up.

The day before yesterday was the first day of preschool for Ava and Elise, so I worked from home in order to be able to take them to and from. Although Ava already started going to preschool back in January, it was still surreal (and a bit emotional) to see her and Elise going in for their first day together. They go to the same school on the same days (Tuesday and Thursday) but at different times of day, meaning Enzo gets some quality time with each of them on those days while the other is at school. As expected they both had a great first day and were excited to show me what they had made. Elise made a paper with her hand prints and when Ava saw it she said “Oh did you make that for me Elise?” and Elise replied “No I made it for Daddy.”

Although Jessica didn’t work a ton during the Summer (because that’s their slow season), things are picking up now and she’s going to be working more frequently through the end of the year. Things are also picking back up for me at work after a slow August (when practically everyone is out on vacation), hence the title of this post. We’re already thinking about our next house, and have set some big goals for ourselves, so it’s back to the grindstone for us.

This evening we’ll be taking the kids to a fund-raising event being thrown by some relatives on Jessica’s side. There will be a pumpkin patch, corn maze, and I think even pony rides, so it should be a lot of fun for them. Then I can’t wait to watch the Seahawks play the Dolphins in the season opener tomorrow afternoon. It’s been a good summer. Bring on the photos!

Our wedding invitation – notice the dragon in the top-right corner

The dragon
Here’s a few photos from our first visit to Hood’s Head Island – July 4, 2009

Jessica and Michael

Michael rope swing

Jessica rope swing

Fireworks gone wrong

Fireworks on the beach
Best shot ever! This was not supposed to happen…


Visiting the dragon with the kids

Every time Ava came to shore her boots would be overflowing with water

Ahoy matey! Straight ahead!

This photo describes our girls perfectly. One is cautious and stays at the edge of harm’s way, while the other forges ahead throwing care to the wind. I love them both beyond words.

The kids! Left to right: Ronan, Ava, Elise, Enzo, and Finn

Hanging our on our little private beach. That’s the boathouse behind them.

Ready to go home on Sunday morning

Hanging out with the kiddos

Returning from one of my sherpa trips with Josh. The fog had cleared by then.

See you next time, Hood’s Head Island!

Ava getting her hair done before the first day of school

Elise getting ready for her first haircut

All done up and feeling good

Having fun at the Zoo yesterday

Hi birdy

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