Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Driving down back country roads in my hometown with Paul and the kids, jamming to old tunes on the radio. The sun is out for the first time in days.

Sam: "See Mom! The sun just needed a little music, that's all."

This boy just keeps getting more and more awesome.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

When Little Boys Go to Heaven

When little boys go to heaven, it might look a lot like what the Pacific Science Center in Seattle looked like yesterday when the model train show chuffed into town. The idea to take the boys there flew into my funnel in Spokane, and it turned into the spot where Elise could reunite with a friend from pre-school and her two little boys.

Pete at the helm. 

Besides various model railway layouts, including a miniature layout of the Island of Sodor made from Legos, the boys could drive their own model trains. 

There was also the largest train table in the world. I have said before that the train table at Barnes and Noble can create and shatter dreams. We have left Barnes and Noble on several occasions with a tantruming toddler in tow thanks to the train table. Fifty tiny engineers played around this table, so the recipe for mayhem was sown. 

The table itself was a work of art. Everything was craftsman, from the trees which resembled scarves wadded into balls and held in place by rubber bands to the hand-carved hospital tower, tunnel and bridges. The topography looked as though it had been carved by a cartographer. 

The table's creator was conscious enough to not allow greedy engineers to let their trains get too long. Though his technique leaved a little to be desired. He watched over the table and whenever anyone's train grew longer than three cars, he promptly confiscated the access cars. While his motive was golden, his technique was not, and when a parent complained to the owner of the table's wife, she explained that he was a Boeing engineer and simply, "Not very good with kids." 

The train table was adjacent the insect exhibit and butterfly garden. Clementine was oddly attracted to this giant, animatronic praying mantis. 

Besides a glass bowl filled with cockroaches, there was this exhibit:

We weren't impressed. We've seen bigger and we've seen them in real life.

Our Seattle House

With all our moves in recent weeks, from Brazil to my mom's house in Florida, to Elise's parents' house Cheney, now to our rental house in Seattle, we have had many "homes". I am sure everyone feels dislocated, because Elise and I feel dislocated. We've explained to them that we have many homes, a new one each week, in fact, until we get to our new home in Washington, DC.

Our Seattle home has been one of our favorites. It is small, yes, but it is ours, and we can leave a pile of laundry waiting to be washed on the kitchen floor, and toys on the living room floor, and our shoes by the door. And, of course, it's in Seattle.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Home Leave

The second half of our eight week vacation finds us in the PNW...Pacific Northwest. If confronted, I would vehemently deny the fact that I am a Florida boy. I may have been born there, but as evidenced by my wanderings, my heart was already elsewhere. I just didn't know where, yet. So, as soon as I was able, I left. Baltimore, Colorado, Washington, DC, Brazil, India. Every few years, I circle back and tag home, with each subsequent sojourn taking me a little further away. Soon, I am likely to break the tether permanently. This would not be a bad thing. I am not writing this to bemoan Florida, but I have come to the conclusion it is a nice place to visit, and each time I touch down in what I am beginning to call my adoptive home, it becomes more comfortable and familiar.

I have my wife, Elise, to thank for that. When I was first introduced to mountains, snow and pine air as a young boy on a ski trip with my dad and brothers in Colorado, I knew instantly this was where I belonged. I moved to Boulder too late for my liking and left too early. If asked, one of my biggest regrets was leaving at all, but thank God I did, for had I not, I would never have met Elise and discovered the amazing life and greater adventures that I have found.

I find everything I love about Colorado here. I am not a complicated person. If I have coffee, a good run, my family and beer, I have everything I could want from life. Fortunately the PNW has the best of the things that sustain me. Though our lives have taken us to Brazil and will take us, again, to Washington, DC and then on to India, adventures worth leaving for.

As mentioned in previous posts, eight weeks of vacation with three children under five presents its own challenges. We are in between homes which leaves me with a sense of dislocation, as though in limbo. It is almost as though we could not exist as we no longer belong to Brasilia and do not yet belong to Falls Church and so there is no one but this blog and Facebook to keep us accountable for our actions. Therefore, I have to set my own goals. I know there is a colleague awaiting me in Washington, not quite an old running partner. I have not run with him in two years, so I must return in better shape than I left. I must push the pace in a ten-mile training run. It's the little things. Sometimes, I wish I wasn't so competitive.

And yet, these eight weeks have given me new gifts, including a moment of pure, unadulterated joy that almost brought tears to my eyes, then threatened to freeze those tears to my cheeks. Sam, Peter and I went sledding. While they are maybe a little too young not to be tentative, I took each of them a quarter of the way up the hill behind Elise's parents house. As I pulled them back in the sled through the snow, we stopped at the top of a nearby hill to survey the view. We could see the entire town below us and the far away mountains on the horizon.

This was something I had always dreamed of doing and it was a good feeling, a fantastic feeling to be able to give them this. I had dropped $360 at REI for new snowsuits for everyone and I would have paid three times that and still have felt as though I had received a bargain.

As we trudged back home, me pulling them over and up piles of snow, I was happy. The kind of happy that sticks in your throat. Sam had to get out every time the sled tipped forward down a brief descent, and Peter giggled wildly up and down as I pulled them along. I couldn't feel my fingers anymore, but I didn't care. I would have stayed out there forever.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Diplomat's Son

Me (exhaustedly) : "Welcome to my world!"
Sam: "It's not your world Mom, it's everybody's world."

Yes, we are doing the right thing. Yes we are.

Christmas (Just) Past

Merry Belated Christmas! We just left the whirlwind that was reverse-culture-shock, shopping, Christmas, both boys birthdays, one birthday bash, New Years, catching up with friends and family (whew) and are now settling into a slower (and freezing cold) routine in the Pacific Northwest. 

I gifted myself a new camera as a "Welcome back to the USA!" gift for myself and for the ever changing face of my business. I can say of us all and of EHP that we are stronger, more resilient, more creative and mobile each day that passes. There are a ton of photos to share from our adventures and now that time allows, you should see a little more from my camera and less from my iphone.

Here are a few photos from just before our shiny clean trip to one of the most inspiring places on Earth, Jupiter First Church. A place that brought me back and that I continue to come back to, arms and hearts filled with gifts and thanks and love.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Ready to Go Home. To Brazil.

Okay, I think I am about ready to go home now. To Brasilia.

When we left Brazil, there was too much to do to move back to the States for introspection. As I finished up work, we packed, and checked a thousand things off our to-do list before leaving the country, there was no time to drink in our last weeks and days of Brazil. I didn’t even finish everything on my list. When I tried to close my Brazilian checking account, the teller told me a manager would have to do it and the manager would not be in until 1:00. I couldn’t wait until 1:00, so my account is still open. I had a dream a few nights ago that I had my work cell phone, Blackberry, even the emergency radio in the pockets of my pants, having forgotten to turn them all in. Elise has confessed that she has been having similar dreams about our pack-out.

Our first few weeks back in the United States didn’t afford many opportunities for reflection, either. We landed a few days before Christmas with an equally long list of errands. If Brazil was still fresh in my mind, I didn’t know it or didn’t have time to notice. A few days later, during the chaos of Christmas, New Year's and scrambling to get everyone ready for family photos, it vanished completely.

This morning, though, it crept back, manifesting itself as vignettes on my mind’s eye. As I made banana pancakes this morning, I was reminded of Brazil. That was when muscle memory kicked in. I have heard that, like smell, muscle memory can powerfully bring you back to a place. See, I made a lot of pancakes in Brazil. Why? Because it was one of the few things I could make for breakfast and, working every day, it was one of the few parental duties I could perform; I tried to fit in as many between 5:00 a.m. and 7:40 and when I returned from work I did baths every night. It’s not much, I know, but between baths and washing dishes, I tried to do as much as my schedule would allow.

As the boys watched the same Curious George DVD that they have been watching nonstop for the past week and Clementine played quietly on the floor, I made banana pancakes and pictured different parts of my life in Brazil. What were faded images were now all vividly green. My drive to work and the car parked in front of the seminary with its trunk open and the crowd gathered there for morning cafezinhos out of tiny plastic cups and pastries. And the drive home when I would pass the same ice cream vendor pushing what I hoped was an empty cart back uphill from his usual spot in Pier 21 to the place he parked it at night near the bus stop and the boy selling garbage bags who wore the same brown polo and same red baseball cap every day, rain or shine.

The time I ran over the Lake Paranoa dam shortly after Clementine was born, clocking seven miles which was way too many at the time. The course was exceptionally hilly as the road descended down to the span over the dam and climbed back up to a churrascaria sitting on the side of the road, advertising fresh alligator meat, and the view beyond out over green rolling hills that evoked the Land of the Lost, as if that line of hills separated the city as originally envisioned by Dom Basco on one side and a land completely devoid of civilization, law or humanity on the other.

Even the comforts of home are missed. Little things like a familiar bowl to mix pancake batter in, a spatula, a place for paper towels, the means to close three thick wooden doors and separate the children from Elise or Clementine sleeping peacefully beyond.

Though Nanny’s house is more than comfortable, it is work to create and sustain the same illusion for Sam and Peter that my brothers and I had when we visited our own Nanny’s house. It was a magical place and a magical time because everything is special and everything seems to happen automatically. Of course, Sam and Pete are too young to appreciate that everything does not happen automatically and a lot of freakin’ work is actually involved, just as I was too young then to appreciate that someone had to make the pancakes or biscuits that appeared on the table every morning and it was no accident that our favorite cartoons were on TV.

I didn’t realize how much work it would take Nanny to simulate this same illusion for her grandchildren to create a place where pancakes, biscuits, hot dogs, food in general is always plentiful and within reach, a place where your favorite shows are always on TV, a place without a schedule, where the only box to check on a very short to-do list is □ play.  

Don't get me wrong, I am more than excited to go to Washington, my second home, that has won my heart and may, someday, be our only home. Now, home is where we make it and, truth be told, I don't mind living out of a suitcase and it makes dressing immensely less complicated. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Bunny Races

Two days ago my favorite middle son turned three.

Of course, I love all my children equally, but I feel a special bond with Peter. Sam is the oldest; he will do most things first and, in that, be a constant source of wonder, surprise and pride. Of course, as the oldest I hold him to higher expectations, and as he begins to exert his independence of thought, I face a new challenge, a boy with whom I have to reason and explain. This is both a blessing and a curse. It is insufferable in the fact that “because I said so” just doesn’t work anymore, not that I was ever a believer in exerting my parental will just because I could. I believe many parents abuse their power. I have no ego to feed and do not need to dominate my children to prop my self-importance. Having to explain my rationale makes me accountable, which I appreciate. It forces my actions as a parent to make sense, and when I explain the reasoning behind what I ask of Sam he usually understands the underlying logic and then acquiesces. Usually. Explanations are also very exhausting.

Clementine is the girl. I am only just beginning to understand how wondrous a bond the father-daughter connection is. It might not mean much yet; she is still a baby, but it will. Of this, I am sure as her games of peek-a-boo are already timeless and it tickles me to be sought out by someone who up until recently didn’t realize I existed because I don’t make milk.

But Peter….Peter….Peter could be the quintessential middle boy. If he wasn’t so….so….Foosa-like. In his first year, which coincided with our stressful move to Washington, DC when he was eight weeks old, eight months living in corporate housing on the eighteenth floor of a high-rise, and was capped off by our first international move to Brazil, to me, Peter was a beacon. I will always clearly remember his smile which at the time had the power to crack any stress like an ice-wrecker cleaving through glaciers.

Since then, Peter has become brilliant, engaging and prone to episodes of extreme low blood-sugar resulting in nearly psychotic meltdowns. Peter is an emotional roller coaster. His highs are stratospheric so that his peals of laughter sting dog ears and his wit cracks up everyone, including himself. His highs are high, high, high. His lows, often precipitated by lack of food, are dire. Like the R.E.M. song, "Low, low, low."

I have written about Peter’s first week in the United States and his subsequent mellowing. As he turns three, he continues to impress and amaze me.

As we did for Sam a few years ago, we hosted a family birthday party for Sam and Peter at the playground in Nanny’s neighborhood in Abacoa. Elise asked San and Peter what they wanted to do at their birthday party, even prompting them by suggesting, “Gunny sack races?”

“Bunny races!” Pete squealed.

So, as his only real birthday wish, everyone lined up for Pete’s version of bunny races which he was happy 
to demonstrate for everyone, as well.

When the pizza delivery man arrived, Peter and I were the only ones there to greet him. “THANK YOU!” Pete blurted, genuinely appreciative. In fact, Peter is easily the most appreciative of the three. He never forgets to thank me for a juice box or after-nap snack.

He is also the most apologetic. We have yet to get him out of this bad habit of pooping in his nap-time pull-up, no matter how many times I ask him if he needs to poop before nap. He pooped twice today before nap, soiling two pull-ups. That’s okay, I’ll just take it out of his college fund.

Every single time, he apologizes profusely and genuinely. It is hard to stay mad at him, though I remind him, “Foosa, if you were sorry, you’d just stop doing it!”

Peter also had the uncanny ability to find beauty in unsuspecting places. When we turn on a Curious George DVD, Peter coos, “Beautiful!” at the opening Universal Pictures sequence. It may not immediately spring to mind, but it is the one with the sun rising over an orb supposedly meant to represent the Earth.

Pete has even begun kissing and hugging his younger sister. When Elise took him to Target the other day, he pointed to tiny girls clothes and awwed, adding, "This would be cute for Clementine."

There are mental images of Peter I will always carry with me. A new one was taken Sunday afternoon midst all his family swirling about him, a lone boy played with a plastic red Lightning McQueen car that topped his birthday cake, rolling it through the wood chips of the playground alone. Peter likes to lay on the ground as he plays, to get eye level with the wheel of his Hot Wheels. A few minutes later, though several tried, no one would suffice when he bumped his chin on the slide. No matter who comes to his party or who plays with him, he always comes to Elise or I when he is hurt.

I hope this remains the case. Though I don’t want him to come to harm, I know he will still need me for awhile, and I am fond of telling Sam and Peter that they will leave us and stop needing us long before we will leave or stop needing them.