Sunday, July 31, 2016

Octonauts Birthday for my little Explorer

My little Lucy turned four years old! It is a shock to my system, sometimes, to look at her and see this big growing girl with long legs and unruly hair and a constant sparkle in her eye. She was my newborn baby just yesterday! Every mother says this, I know. But I seriously feel like I remember every day of her life so clearly. I remember the way she was practically born smiling, her ready smile and curious wakeful eyes even in her earliest weeks. I remember her big round baby face at ten months old, snuggling me in bed, always near, always cuddly, sturdy and soft in my arms. I remember her learning to walk in Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone, madcap and gleeful. 

Tootie has always loved cartoonish characters. Even as a young baby she would thrill to the sight of Elmo's face across the thrift store, pointing with excitement. I never even introduced these things to her, she just naturally adored them. She has never been drawn to the "princess" type of cartoon character, but instead loves oddball types like robots, creatures, aliens and animals. I find it so interesting so see what different children are drawn to. Polly couldn't care less about cartoons or characters, has never really been into television shows or movies, and was never captivated by Elmo or Pooh or Totoro or Littlefoot the way Toot was. (Polly just loves babies.)

Anyway, no surprise that Tootie has been completely in love with the Octonauts (the style of illustration is her favorite type) for quite a while now. They are a gang of animal creatures who live under the ocean in their big Octopod and go on missions to rescue and protect sea creatures. It took me a while to get to know these characters, but she would fill me in with details all the time. She is quite observant, knows the colors of their ears and the details of their suits, what function they serve and what they like. At the end of each brief episode (we watch on Netflix) there is a "Creature Report" with some educational facts about the real versions of the animals they protect. 

Lucy has been talking about her Octonauts party probably since her last birthday!

Wearing two little barrettes just like Dashi, her favorite character. 

Birthday morning excitement

Trying out the hats we made.

This was our first "commercial cartoon character" party and to tell the truth, I was not looking forward to that aspect of it. I don't really like the look and feel of store-bought, mass-produced, heavily marketed kid stuff and at first I didn't quite know how to go about throwing an "Octonauts" party while avoiding that type of consumerism. So even though it's not that easy to find Octonauts party stuff, that turned out to be fine because I decided to make all the decorations anyway.
Making big cardboard cut-outs is one of my favorite party preps, although it's the most time consuming. Tootie helped me glue the letters on our banner: "Explore Rescue Protect" is the Octonauts' mission statement. We hung blue and orange streamers and blew up simple balloons, many of which got popped earlier in the day. Even with the more commercial theme, it turned out to be maybe my favorite party to prepare. I loved making five big cardboard Octonauts: Captain Barnacles, Qwaazi, Tweak, Dashi, and Peso. I also ordered six handmade felt Octonauts masks from Etsy for an great price, and they were beautifully done. 

Tootie helped me color in little signs for some of the foods. We went with a loose "sea life" theme, calling the kale salad "Seaweed salad," for instance, if only in our own minds. Baby carrots because Tweak the engineer bunny loves carrots, that sort of thing. 

The fruit bowl was supposed to resemble Gup-A, the Octonauts' little deep water vehicle with a dangling headlight for the midnight zone.

I just served citrussy ice water for the kids.

Polly was so stoked when Abby arrived. She is so in love with this dog. She pulls around a little toy telephone and calls it her "Abby." She'll even say things like, "Abby wants to go to the river, Mommy. Abby loves water," and bring that broken phone thing in the car with us! One night she wanted to take it to bed, and it's a real clunker. Haha!

My mom made the cupcakes, vanilla with cream cheese frosting and little toppers that I ordered from etsy. And we were so lucky to have our big cousins in town for the party this year! Amy, Jarom, Bella and Oey basically led the PARADE of fun that day. 

All little kids adore Orion. Something magical about that boy. He creates a fantasy land wherever he goes.

Her big moment! 

The best thing about these parties is just the pure element of HANG OUT.  We love each other so much. You'd think we'd see a lot more of each other ... all of us. If it takes a four year old's birthday to bring us together all afternoon, so be it. 

Out of all her sweet presents that day, this little woodland fawn named Phoebe from Sara was probably her favorite. She carried Phoebe around constantly the first few days, likes to snuggle her at night, dresses and undresses her, and makes up stories about her. We even went to the website to look at the other Hazel Village creatures, and now Polly fantasizes about having one of her very own too.

Birthdays are a whirlwind. Her party was so, so fun, (I actually took like half the pictures I usually take this year!) but I decided that the day-after is actually the best day ever. The girls played together so sweetly all day. We were still wrapped in the birthday glow, but everything was super mellow. I finally had time to pause and daydream and reflect upon the fact that I have a four year old child. And she is a bright and beautiful light on this earth. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Coastal Anniversary - Part Two, Bodega Bay

We had big plans for peace and quiet as we traveled south, but kind of forgot it was a three day weekend for fourth of July. There was a huge fireworks display planned in Bodega Bay on Saturday night that we hadn't even been aware of, so now I understood why it was so hard to book a room even a month in advance! 

Our drive down to Bodega Bay was gorgeous of course,with those unforgettable views that I fell in love with so long ago and that now bring me back to circles of time just like so many things these days. The mundane act of driving becomes magical. Music plays that has become the soundtrack to my memories: Grandaddy, Elliott Smith, Lucinda Williams, Ryan Adams.  Little forest nooks around every tight curve, tucked into eucalyptus and pine, rusty shacks and crumbling rooftops, airstream trailers and VW busses create dreams of other lifetimes. I see the drop of the cliff and the tops of the redwoods and the magnificent canvas of ocean that would catch us all and it's like traveling for a while on god's most majestic tightrope.

We checked in at Bodega Harbor Inn with our customary excitement and general enthusiastic approval. No kitchenette here, but the vibe was super laid-back, it's dog friendly so the girls were in heaven, and there's a big wide front yard for kids to run amok, presided over by a row of colorful lawn chairs for parents to lounge.  

We explored town a little, bought some deli stuff for a picnic dinner, and found a little playground right up the street at the elementary school. (Note to future self: it's really hard for non-seafood-enthusiasts to find anything to eat in Bodega Bay. Plan accordingly)

A youth group showed up to play basketball while we were there. We met the leader who grew up on a neighboring dairy ranch. Two little boys made it their mission to show off as many playground tricks as they could to us. 

We walked around the school a little bit and fell in love with this community mosaic.

We made our way up the coast to a pretty view just in time for sunset, making a cozy nest in the back of the van and pretending the sun's sinking show was a drive-in movie. 

Darin did some photography....

Guess who got to stay up late reading? ;)

Morningtime motel breakfast accompanied by a strong case of bedhead.

Nursing break.

Tootie collected these dried snailshells and had about five of them she wanted to bring home. We later forgot to bring them with us on our way home, so she was devastated and spent a tearful half hour or so trying to call and have the staff mail them to us.

Saturday we headed down to Point Reyes National Seashore.
Busy day at the Visitor Center!

Stump dance.

We took the long drive out to Drake's Beach out near the lighthouse on the ocean side of the peninsula, but it was so absolutely foggy and windy over there that literally no one was there. We had expected crowds. Saw a lady in a parka practically in tears getting back to her SUV. We thought we were tough, tried to brave it, but even we wussed out. 

I've always loved his seaside hair.

Then the girls fell asleep in the car, so Darin and I made the executive decision to head back up to Bodega Bay where, even though it may be foggy, it wasn't near as bitterly cold. It meant we spent way too much of the day in the car, but it worked out: the girls woke up just as we arrived at Salmon Creek Beach, stoked and ready to play. It was totally packed so Darin dropped us off to make our way down to the beach while he parked the van. We took our time meandering down,; as soon as we got to the bottom of the wooden staircase they plopped in the sand, ecstatic. And it wasn't even too chilly to get into bathing suits a bit later. It turned into a perfect beach afternoon which was all the girls had wanted anyway. 

I love this girl's little beachy lion mane too.

Making "potato soup."

We knew we wanted to make it into Sebastopol in time for dinner at an old favorite joint, Papas and Pollo. Missa had mentioned that they expanded their outdoor seating and had a kids' play area. Once we got there, it really sunk in what a great idea this was. They really upped the ante.

Even the food seemed like it tasted better...?? Or maybe that was just after 24 hours of crusty bayside deli food out of the ice cooler. 

When I asked if the fireworks were visible from the front lawn, the owner of the inn told me that they used to be, but that the trees across the way had grown too tall, so "now we just cross the street and watch from Diekmann's store." So that's what we did. It was so fun to be out with hundreds of other revelers, families and teenagers and grandmas and all in between, bundled up and excited for the show. 
The girls were so excited to stay up extra late, riding on our shoulders as we walked and waited, they were chanting at the top of their lungs, "FIREWORKS FIREWORKS BOOM BOOM BOOM." 

 Unfortunately once the show finally started, a thick fog had settled in that made only the bottom half of the fireworks visible, but hey, we didn't care. We even busted out the glow sticks and continued the party on the motel lawn.

Next morning: styrofoam cups of cocoa  (more on the rug and the towel than in the cup) toast and toesies. 

Hard to say good-bye to our little home away from home.

But it made it easier once we said we were heading to a park in Sebastopol.

We grabbed breakfast at another old favorite haunt from when we lived here, Grateful Bagel

Then we set off for a stroll around downtown Sebastopol.

Copperfield's Books has the BEST kids' section. 

But we also found some gems in the used bookstore, Mockingbird

And then the most important stop: Screamin' Mimi's for delicious homemade ice cream. I worked here for a year back in 2003 and, thankfully, not much has changed. Peppy young people serving up scrumptious and unusual flavors all made on site with the finest ingredients. I had the signature flavor, Mimi's Mud (espresso ice cream with thick fudge) in a homemade waffle bowl with hot fudge. I used to make the hot fudge, so I know the deliciously rich ingredients that go into it, butter and cream and cocoa and imported vanilla, yes please! I'm a lifelong fan, and the whole visit, the warm smell of waffle cones cooking, the mellow hippie clientele, the flavor samples in tiny delicate spoons of coconut lime and other treats, the salty taste of cajeta in Tootie's scoop, it all took me right back to when I worked here with Nichole and Brianna and other buddies years ago. (See the end of this post for an old pic.) I even waited on Tom Waits and his wife Kathleen at this counter once. 

It was hard to leave town, just too fun to be out running and around and exploring with this gang. At the very last moment I jumped out and ran back into Copperfields to buy the new Terry Tempest Williams book, The Hour of Land, a gorgeous signed copy I'd been eyeing. It felt so good in my hands as I jumped back in the van where Darin was waiting in the alley. We were in high spirits, richly refreshed. I felt like I could go home now.