Christmas at Nana’s house

On Thursday evening we returned home from an excellent Christmas vacation at Nana’s house in Las Vegas. We were there for a full week, and were kept busy with all kinds of fun and exciting activities. Lots of memories were made, some bucket list items were checked, and a great time was had by all. There’s so much to get into, so let me dive right in.

Rather than fly out of SeaTac airport, which is always very busy and crowded (especially during the holidays), we opted to fly out of Bellingham, which is north of us (about 20 minutes from the Canadian border). Although the distance is further, it’s much easier for us to deal with because it’s such a small airport. This is our second time flying to Vegas out of Bellingham and we love it.

There was a bit of excitement flying in, as the winds that day were ferocious. The plane was jumping all around as we were preparing to land, and a few passengers could be heard yelping as the plane bounced up and down from all the turbulence. Once we landed Ava shouted out “That was fun!” and the entire back half of the plane erupted in laughter.

Between the 5 of us, plus all of our luggage, no one had a single car that was big enough to hold everything, so I had been coordinating with my Mom and Uncle Bob to pick us up. Basically Bob would be taking the bags, and we would be riding in my Mom’s car. The airport was typically busy, so there was a long line of cars waiting to get into the passenger pickup area.

My Mom was ahead of Bob in that line, so she arrived first. I started getting the carseats setup in my Mom’s car, then in the distance, I could see our other ride, which was coming to get our bags. My typically sour traveller’s mood immediately disappeared as I saw Bob coming to get us. You see, his car has become a bit of a tourist attraction in Las Vegas. It’s completely covered with toys, bobblehead dolls, poker chips, Christmas lights, and more. You have to see it to understand, but luckily I have included photos below. His car gets so much attention that even cops pull him over to take photos of it. When you’re with him, he’s constantly responding to photo requests saying “Yeah, take as many as you want.” He actually makes a little money from it too – basically he drives down to the famous “Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas” sign at the south end of the strip, and people pay him to take photos of/with his car. It’s perfect for Bob and I know he enjoys all the fun and attention.

We had plans for our first evening in town, but everyone was exhausted from all the traveling, so we ended up staying in and relaxing. It’s good too, because Friday was going to be a busy day, and as it turned out, a major highlight for the whole trip.

We got out of the house around 9:00 Friday morning and headed out to the Lion Habitat Ranch, which is southeast near Henderson. Bob and Sandy were on their way to meet us there, sitting at a red light, and ended up getting rear ended. They were at the front of a 3 car pile up. The guy that caused the accident was driving a fancy BMW, and he slammed into the car in front of him so hard that he completely totaled his car. The car he hit then ran into Bob and Sandy, and they were pretty shaken up. Damage wasn’t horrible, but he hurt his back and neck. They’re so lucky they didn’t get hit by the BMW directly, as it probably would have killed them.

They still made it to the ranch though, and were able to join all of us for a private tour. As it turned out, this ended up being my favorite part of the entire trip. I’ve always loved lions, and I’ve seen them at the zoo, but this was a completely different experience. You’re separated from them by 2 chain link fences, but you’re only about 8 feet away, and let me tell you, being in their presence at that proximity is nothing short of amazing. It’s a visceral reaction you have and you quickly realize that although humans may be the smartest animals in the world, they are completely powerless in relation to these majestic creatures. For a second I made eye contact with a 620 pound male lion, and he didn’t even growl or roar, but simply perked up and grunted at me. My instinctual reaction was “Oh my God!” as I stepped backwards so quickly I nearly fell over. Suddenly those fences felt like nothing but thin air.

We had an amazing tour guide who showed us all around the place. She introduced us to every animal they had, but the biggest (pardon the pun) highlight of all had to be Ozzie the giraffe. Ozzie is the only giraffe to have ever entered the state of Nevada. He’s a reticulated giraffe, which is the tallest species of giraffe. He’s currently nearly 16 feet tall, weighing 2,000 pounds, but he’s got a lot more growing to do. Once he is fully grown he will have grown another 5-6 feet, and will put on another 2,000 pounds! For each foot he grows, his massive purple tongue will grow another inch, making it easier to reach out to grab food.

Ozzie is so friendly that everyone in our group got a chance to feed him. Giraffes eat a strictly vegan diet, so we were all feeding him pieces of lettuce. He would bend way down so he was at your eye level and let you pet him on his chin. All I can say is it’s an amazing experience to be at eye level with a giraffe, then watch him elevate directly above your head another 10 feet into the air. It’s humbling actually.

In addition to being an all-around nice guy, Ozzie is a talented artist. Every day he sets up with his painting supplies and paints pictures by holding a brush in his mouth. For those that don’t know, giraffe’s are Ava’s favorite animal, and it just so happened that one of Ozzie’s paintings featured Ava’s favorite colors (purple & black), so I had no choice but to purchase it. It’s now proudly displayed on our art wall, along with a magnet containing a photo of Ozzie working on one of his masterpieces, right as you enter our house.

Speaking of paintings, my Mom was so kind to get me an absolutely beautiful painting of a lion from the Habitat Ranch. It’s one of their younger male lions named Benny, and it looks strikingly similar to the lion tattoo I have on my right shoulder. It was too big to carry on the plane, so she’s going to mail it to me. I can’t wait to get this up on our art wall, right there with Ozzie’s painting.

After the Habitat Ranch we relaxed at home for a bit, then went out that evening to this really cool indoor trampoline park. Unbeknownst to me, ‘trampolining’ has become practically a professional sport, and there were some kids doing stuff there that makes your jaw drop. The place was huge and there were so many different areas and activities to explore. Jessica frequently goes to places like this with the kids, and she said this was easily the coolest one they had ever been to.

So for an hour we basically jumped around and played games. It was a ton of fun, and an extensive workout. Everyone was starving by the end so we treated ourselves to burgers, fries, and milkshakes before calling it a night. Friday really was an awesome day.

Saturday was mostly a chill day at the house, but that night I went to an NHL game with my friends Devin and Tiko. Meanwhile Jessica and the kids hung out and played at Tiko and Tina’s house with their daughter Helen. This is the first season for the Las Vegas Golden Knights franchise and they’re having an extremely good year, which no one expected from a brand new team. It was only my second NHL game ever and it was a blast. The arena is right on the strip and the atmosphere was excellent. Lots of energy, and plenty of cheesy Vegas entertainment during game breaks. The Knights ended up beating the Capitals 3-0 and Fleuri got his first shutout as a Knight, so it was cool to see that in person.

Sunday was Christmas Eve, so I took the kids to the park in the morning for a couple hours so Jessica and Nana could get stuff done around the house. It ended up being a memorable park trip because Ava finally figured out how to swing on her own. I’ve been trying to show her how to swing for years whenever we go to a playground, and on this day it finally all kicked in.

That afternoon we went to this newer shopping mall nearby called Tivoli Village. There was a Christmas store there that was putting on these amazing Christmas experiences for kids. We arrived early and had lunch, then walked and shopped for a bit. When we first entered the Christmas experience it was like you were entering Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. There were all these bubbles coming down, Christmas music was playing, and these cheerful elves were out greeting us and explaining our upcoming adventures.

Each room we entered had a new theme and activity for the kids. In one room you’re building ornaments with elves, while in another you’re eating cookies, sipping warm cocoa, and chatting with Mrs. Claus. The grand finale was when we met with Santa and got our picture taken. Ava was so sweet when she tried to get Santa to keep the ornament she had just made.

Christmas morning was totally fun and crazy, as you’d expect. Lots of paper flying everywhere, shock and awe from the various gifts being revealed. It was great. We had tentatively planned on going sledding at Mt. Charleston that day, depending on weather, but there wasn’t enough snow, so we decided to just relax at home and have a nice dinner. Terry and his girlfriend Lana were there for a bit, and Bob and Sandy came over for the afternoon. I made spaghetti bolognese and we had a handful of other things as well. It was a nice day of family, gifts, relaxation, and food. Oh, and for no particular reason, I decided to show my face again and shave my beard completely off for the first time in 18 months. The kids were pretty freaked out by it, and Ava actually got visibly upset, but it didn’t take long for her to start coming around. At first she was afraid that I wasn’t going to be the same person, but she’s good now.

Bob gave me a couple really special Christmas gifts that I will hold onto forever. One was a Seattle Mariners coffee cup that he gave his dad back in 1977, which the first year they were a team. Not only did my Grandpa never drink out of it, he never even took it out of the box. When he passed away, it went back to Bob, but never came out of the box, and now I have it, still in the box. It’s a brand new coffee cup that’s older than I am, but it comes with some sentimental value.

The other gift, and this one really means a lot to me, is the United States flag that was folded by soldiers during my Grandfather’s funeral. Bob has been holding onto it since Grandpa died (which was about 17 years ago), but he said he spoke to his siblings about it, and they decided I should have it. I got a little choked up when he told me that and had to step away for a minute. It means a lot to me to have this, so Jessica suggested we get a flag box for it and put it on display in our house. It’s definitely something I’m proud (and honored) to hold onto.

Tuesday was another fun and busy day, filled with exotic animals, and an unexpected surprise. We met Bob and Sandy at the Mirage, then headed over to the dolphin exhibit. Nana sent Jessica, the kids, and myself on a VIP tour with a dolphin trainer. We got to see the entire area, learn a lot about dolphins, and meet a really friendly 39 year old male dolphin named Lightning for a snack, photo, and a few splashes.

They have an underwater office we visited, and all the female dolphins were swimming near there at that time. So we got to see Cocoa, the new baby dolphin that was just born there 5 months ago. They had microphones setup to capture all their communication and it was incredible. I’ve never been up close with dolphins like that before, and just like our experience at the Lion Habitat Ranch, it was simply awesome. My mom’s main goal was to send us home with memories, rather than stuff, and she totally came through. We did stuff on this trip that I will never forget, and hope the kids don’t either.

Later that afternoon we were in the tiger exhibit, which is connected to the dolphin habitat. It was pretty busy and crowded, but then out of nowhere I recognized our friend Kendra, who Jessica and I have known forever in Seattle. Her sister Julie used to be our roommate at the house in Queen Anne, and we’ve all been close ever since. She was there with her family, presumably for New Year’s Eve, so we all hung out for a second to catch up. It was just a nice random small-world surprise.

Wednesday was the day we weren’t looking forward to because it was the day Nana was scheduled to have shoulder replacement surgery. Something strange happened though, which may have been a twist of fate. While we were on the tour at the dolphin habitat, my mom got a call from her doctor. He said he’d been thinking about her for a while and had come to the conclusion that full shoulder replacement surgery was the wrong first step. He wanted to try a much easier procedure where they inject stem cells into the bone, then do some type of compression therapy, in hopes that it will stimulate new bone growth.

She was ecstatic because it was day surgery, rather than 3 days in the hospital, and felt like it would be worth it to try based on his recommendation. So I took her to the hospital early Wednesday morning, then picked her up and brought her home that afternoon. Everything went perfectly well during the procedure so hopefully things continue to go smoothly.

We wanted to give her some quiet time to rest, so after getting mom setup at home, Jessica and I took the kids down to the strip. Destination – M&M World! The place was so busy you had to wait in line to take an escalator. No joke. So each of the kids got to pick out a toy, then we got out of there as quick as possible. Enzo got this little toy fan (which I assume is more popular in the summer), and has proceeded to get it stuck in Ava’s hair twice now. Once was so bad we had to cut some of her hair off to get it out. The girls both got Miss Green stuffed animals, but Elise has already lost hers, which is another story.

The other place we really wanted to show them was the indoor gardens at Bellagio. It’s only 2 blocks away from M&M World, but these are Las Vegas blocks, so it took us quite a while to walk there. Walking with your young kids on the strip is a bit of a trip. There’s a lot going on, plenty of distractions for the kids, so you have to walk with purpose. It turned out that just getting there was the adventure, and by then the kids were pooped. We still walked around the Christmas displays though, and were blown away by several of them.

It was a long walk back to the car, but I noticed I suddenly wasn’t feeling very good on the way. By the time we got home I was as white as a sheet and needed to lay down. I got in bed at 7:00pm and that’s where I stayed until 1:00 the following afternoon. It was one of those nasty combinations of fever and chills and it hit me out of nowhere. I had been sick before this trip but was taking antibiotics and had gotten past it, then I basically got blindsided by the flu. Jessica got it too, and so there we were, faced with travelling home in a matter of hours, feeling like hell, with 3 kids to keep in check.

Somehow we pulled it together and were able to get everything out the door. We actually left with one more suitcase than we arrived with, but that’s just how it goes. We had no troubles at the airport, as practically no one was leaving Las Vegas 3 days before New Years Eve. Once again flying through Bellingham was simple and easy, so we found ourselves home around 11:00 that night.

The kids all did great, and to their credit, none of them were 100% either. They were all exhausted, Enzo was showing signs of having caught a cold, Ava had been dealing with Enzo’s fan getting stuck in her hair, and Elise had (actually still has) a black eye because Ava hit her in the face with a badminton racquet.

Upon arriving at home, we didn’t exactly have the homecoming we were expecting, in that our new fish Taco, was unfortunately dead. Our neighbors had been feeding him, so we’re not sure what happened, but it was a bummer because we knew the kids would take it rough. They were all sleeping, so the conversation would have to wait for the morning. As expected, Ava took it the hardest (although Elise was quite sad as well), but we used it as a life lesson about being a pet owner. Later that day we went to Bridges (our favorite pet store) and ended up getting a tank heater, 4 male guppies, and a frog. Look at us with 5 pets.

We decided to name some of them after the animals we’d met on our trip, so one fish is named Ozzie, and another is Lightning. Elise named her fish Oreo, and then there’s Coconut, which is how my kids refer to my favorite hockey team, the Vancouver Canucks. Oh, and we can’t forget about Stevie Ray Frog. He seems pretty lonely though so we may have to go back for Jumpy Hendrix to join him.

While Jessica recovered pretty quickly from the flu, I had no such luck. Since we’ve been back I’ve been really sick and have barely left the house. Jessica is working at El Gaucho Seattle tonight for New Years Eve, so this is my big day alone with the kids. Unfortunately I was still feeling like hell, and to make matters worse, the pain had spread to my ears, which freaked me out into thinking I had an ear infection. Since it’s the last day of the year, I knew I could go to the doctor at no cost because my deductibles had all been met, but if I waited another day, everything started over. Plus I’m on call at work starting tomorrow, which means I’ll be extra busy all week, so I made the call to go into Urgent Care this afternoon, even though it meant bringing all 3 kids with me.

I got there and started coughing so hard during check in that they made me wear a mask. They got us into a room quickly, but it was there we sat for a full hour before a doctor arrived. After a full exam he told me it’s not an ear infection, or pneumonia, but a classic case of influenza, which in this context was good news. He said the worst of it is behind me, but prescribed a cough syrup to deal with some of the lingering effects. He said the pain I was feeling in my ears was a reflected pain, coming from a nerve in my respiratory system. More than anything it just ended up giving me some peace of mind that I’m almost over it and there’s nothing more serious to deal with. In a strange way, it felt appropriate to finish off 2017 with a few hours in a doctor’s office, considering everything we’ve dealt with this year.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Day, so I’m off work. This year I decided to change my Stay Fit benefit at work, so starting tomorrow, our family is enrolled at Columbia Athletic Club, which is a very nice facility that’s only 5 minutes from our house. The kids are also enrolled in their kids club, meaning we’ll always have care for them there, plus they do all kinds of weekend activities, so it should be fun. Jessica and I are excited to be able to start working out together, and they have a killer combination of indoor and outdoor pools, so going there in the summer is going to be sweet.

2017 was a pretty crazy year for us, mainly being dominated by Jessica’s neck surgery and my 2 elbow surgeries. We’re not getting any younger and this year was a good reminder of that. This was the year of hockey and ice skating for Ava and myself. The first of many I assume, as we both have come to love it. Elise has started exploring a lot this year, including participating in a running team, and taking ballet lessons. This year Enzo has developed a vocabulary most 2 year olds can’t even touch, and Jessica has shown a dedication to giving and community support that I’ve been extremely impressed by.

Looking ahead to 2018, we know we’ve got Christmas in Colorado, but we’re also thinking about an early summer trip to Vegas. For the near-term, I’ve got a big work project due at the end of January, so it’s going to be a busy month for me. Then at the end of January Mr. Enzo will be turning 3!

To our family and friends who actually take the time to read this, thank you, and happy new year with love from all of us. Here are some of our favorite photos from the trip. To Nana, thank you so much for a Christmas we will always remember.

Uncle Bob’s ‘Toy Car’

Enzo taking a closer look

Elise couldn’t decide which pair of sunglasses to wear, so…

This is the 620 pound lion that scared me half to death

Jessica saying hello to Ozzie, the giraffe

Mom got a lot of quality time with him

Ava holding our painting by Ozzie

Enzo wearing my Dad’s actual U.S. Navy hat. I’m sure it has shrunk over the years, although Enzo does have a very large head…

Jumping into some milkshakes after the trampoline park

Ava showing her newfound skills on the swing set

Elise and Enzo patiently awaiting the Christmas village extravaganza

I had to hold Ava for a bit after shaving my beard so she would believe it was still me

Wearing silly Christmas clothes in front of the tree, our annual tradition

Enzo wearing my crown from a school play – 30 years ago. Yep, Mom still has it, and it’s in perfect condition.

The little sweatshirt is one I used to wear as a little kid, but then Mom broke out the big one on Christmas. Jessica swooned over it and had to have it.

Bob and Enzo quickly became buddies on this trip. It was great to see.

Getting some time with our new friend Lightning

Exploring the tiger park at the Mirage

Ready to explore the Bellagio kids!? Maybe not. It was beautiful though.

Elise has never seen a Christmas tree she didn’t like

Ava enjoying her Princess Poppy travel pillow on the plane ride home – a gift from Nana

Our first visit from the Tooth Fairy

On Friday night, her first night of her first holiday break from school, miss Ava lost her first tooth! She had been wiggling it for a couple weeks, and Jessica noticed during our fried chicken dinner with Rick and Chris that it was more than ready to come out. She told Ava to pull it out, but she was scared, so Grandpa (who was sat right next to her while she was sitting in Grandma’s lap) reached in there, gave it a couple tugs, and it popped right out.

It was almost surreal – one second I’m taking a bite of spicy fried chicken from Ezell’s, and the next, Rick has Ava’s tooth in his hand. Meanwhile she’s sitting there with her mouth wide open and this funny look on her face, not sure how to react. She didn’t really like seeing some blood, but as we all know, it was no big deal. She was totally cool about it and got super excited about her impending visit from the Tooth Fairy. She immediately ran and got her Polaroid camera from Nana to document the occasion.

It was an exciting moment for all, and the first of many, in terms of losing teeth. I was always scared of pulling teeth as a kid, but as a Dad I’m going to have a chance to get over that. Ava’s dentist said there are 3 more coming soon after, so I may get my chance soon. The Tooth Fairy was kind enough to leave Ava one dollar, and a chocolate gold coin. She’s so excited to go spend her dollar at the Dollar Store, but I’m not sure how she’s going to cover the 10.4% sales tax.

That night had to be my favorite of Rick and Chris’ visit, because in addition to dinner and the whole tooth debacle, we also built an awesome gingerbread house, and opened Christmas presents from Grandma and Grandpa. The gingerbread house was really fun because literally all 7 of us took part in its creation (or maybe I should say its decoration, as the house was already constructed for us). Everybody was adding their own little touches to it, and of course Enzo kept trying to eat stuff on it so you had to keep an eye on him.

After they went home on Sunday morning, Ava had her final hockey class of this session. There were lots of kids absent for the final week, so she got extra one on one time with her coaches. She now has a 3 week break from hockey before starting back up for the next round. Speaking of hockey, I was able to get back the previous Sunday and play with my friends for the final session of the year. I was a bit out of shape but still had a blast, and most importantly, suffered no injuries.

Sunday night we decided to do our own little Christmas thing at home, just the 5 of us. The main downside to travelling for Christmas is that it can prevent you from forming your own holiday memories at home, so we just pretended last night was Christmas by giving the kids all of their presents from Mommy and Daddy. Instead of wrapping everything, we did this fun thing where the kids all waited in the living room while one of us went upstairs to pick out presents for them. Then we would come downstairs and play everything up before surprising them with their gifts. It actually worked out really well, and for each ‘round’, the kids seemed to bubble up more and more with excitement. Plus there was minimal cleanup, and you’re not wasting wrapping paper.

Each of them loved their presents and consequently spent the rest of the evening playing with all their new stuff. Some highlights included:

  • Big dress up dolls for Elise and Ava
  • Enzo’s ride-on firetruck
  • Costumes (Elise got a Belle (from Beauty and the Beast) dress, Ava got a Lego Batman outfit, and Enzo got decked out like Sir Lancelot)
  • New clothes for the girls
  • A toy Zamboni and a toy street sweeper for Enzo
  • A coin book filled with pennies (Enzo is obsessed with pennies)
  • And lots of little trinkets

This Thursday morning we’ll be flying out of Bellingham, heading to Nana’s house in Vegas for Christmas in the desert. I know my Mom has been working extremely hard to get the house ready, so I hope she can finally relax and just enjoy the time with her grandkids. She has a busy itinerary planned out, which includes visits to Lion and Dolphin habitats, pictures with Santa, baking cookies with Mrs. Claus, sledding on Mt. Charleston, trampoline parks, and much more.

We will also be visiting our friends, and I’m super excited to go to the hockey game Saturday night with my buddies Devin and Tiko. The Washington Capitals will be in town to play the Golden Knights, so it’s going to be packed, and I’ll get a chance to see a future Hall-of-famer in Alexander Ovechkin play. I’m sure I’ll also make it out for a poker tournament with my Uncle Bob. Should be a great week.

I’ll definitely be writing again after our trip, so for now, here’s a few pics and videos from our recent visit with Grandma and Grandpa Rudd. Merry Christmas!

Ava’s Polaroid after losing her first tooth

Nice shades

Grandpa and his “main man”

On 3 say “Gingerbread house!”

Enjoying the new costumes for a bit

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!