Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Cameron Boyce 1999 - 2019

There are some celebrity deaths that shock the world, the passing of a presence that touched many lives, and the world feels lesser for the absence of that person in the world. 

Cameron Boyce may not have been that celebrity, but he undoubtedly touched many lives and his family will miss him dearly. I know Cameron mostly through my kids, and I'm sad mostly because I know how sad they'll be when they learn of his sudden passing.

We didn't get the Disney Channel overseas, so one of the treats of coming back to the States for them is getting to watch their favorite shows on the Disney Channel. Jessie was one of those shows, and I can still hear Sam laughing at one episode in particular where the character played by Cameron and the butler fight for the affections of an automated coffee maker. 

Cameron went on to star in the Descendents movies as the son of Cruella de Vil, the nemesis in 101 Dalmatians, Carlos who was deathly afraid of puppies. The kids love these movies and there was a period of time while we were in Amman when they listened to the soundtrack incessantly. Descendents 3 was scheduled to be released on the Disney Channel in August. I don't know if it is still.

It's weird how the news of someone's passing can affect people in different ways. This one struck me, because he brought so much happiness to not only my kids, but undoubtedly millions of others, too, and his future was obviously blindingly bright.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Return to Ballston

Like the Empire Strikes Back or Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, sometimes the best iterations of a thing are its sequels, even if they lack the emotional resonance of the original.

We just moved into a high-rise corporate housing apartment in the Ballston neighborhood of Arlington for the second time in our careers. The first time was when we first began this journey, way back in 2010. It is now a little over nine years later and much has changed since that first, well-documented and tumultuous stay. It would be hard for this installment to be worse than the first. Not that it was necessarily hard but it wasn't the easiest time in our lives, either.

We had just moved from Jupiter, Florida where Peter and Sam were born and waded into an ocean of unknowns. Sam was two. Peter was only a few months old. Everything was new. We were on the 18th floor of an apartment building we can see from the one we are in now. Steel plates and metal grates on the road far below crashed and rattled every time a car drove over them which was constant, regardless of the day or night. As we passed the building on our initial walk to the grocery store for a few basic sundries (our apartment was completely devoid of food; we didn't even have salt and pepper), Elise noticed the plates and grates were still there nine years later. Last night, we reminisced about the time the block below our window was roped off and a police robot investigated a suspicious package left in the street.

Things are different now. There are fewer unknowns. The apartment is likely the same size, but feels smaller. There are five us now. Not four. And the tiny kids we once squeezed into one room at Oakwood Falls Church are longer and require more physical (and emotional) space. Clementine is sleeping on a rickety, World War II era cot; the housing company refuses to bring her a twin bed for a different reason every time I ask.

Up until yesterday, we had a dining room table in front of the bay window. We moved it at the kids' behest, in anticipation of their Legos from Jordan. They enjoy taking in the city views, watching the morning commuters rush to work. I like sitting on the couch in the dark at night in front of the city lights. 

When I returned to the training center for the class I have to take before we can continue on to Sri Lanka, I again felt the magic of those initial days nine years ago. Coming here, you are reminded of the excitement we felt before we set off for Brazil, a little unsure of exactly I was supposed to be doing and very unsure of what our lives there would be like. The feeling is the same now as it was then. It is a reset of sorts, a place where the cynicism and jadedness of working in the Middle East is washed off and replaced by naivete and dewey-eyed enthusiasm of a new adventure.

The magic, however, is tempered by the restlessness of three energetic children trapped on the tenth floor in a small two-bedroom apartment with nothing to do. We packed Legos, Transformers, and matchbox cars, but the shipment hasn't arrived yet. Elise has been working miracles trying to keep the kids from killing each other, but even her resources and patience have limits. 

After my first day of work, we decided to take the kids to ride their scooters around the neighborhood, but even getting the kids motivated enough to put their shoes and socks on takes a level of motivational speaking even Yogi Berra doesn't possess. We were poised to emerge from the apartment just as Clementine slammed Peter's fingers in the front door causing him to scream in pain as though someone had lopped his hand clean off at the wrist.

Later that night, after Sam was denied a bowl of ice cream for not eating his brussel sprouts, he pounded his headboard into submission, then fled into Elise's closet where I found him curled up in a quivering ball next to the dirty clothes hamper. He admitted then he missed his friends from Jordan, too.

Clementine has lost two teeth in our three days in Ballston. She lost the first when Peter popped her in the mouth and the second trying to bite Peter and Sam when they came into her room in a misguided attempt to cheer her up. Yesterday, she placed the first tooth in a plastic bag and tied it closes at the top. In my exhaustion, the tooth fairy forgot to come last night, and I had to admit to Clementine the knot on the bag was likely too tight for the tooth fairy to untie. Tonight, the tooth fairy has to pay double.

Plus interest. 

Friday, July 5, 2019

Home Leave Without a Home

Four weeks after leaving Amman, Jordan in the middle of the night, we are nearing the end of what by all accounts can be considered a successful home leave. The measure of success is itself a somewhat fluid concept. The goal of home leave shouldn't be to completely detox from a two year bender of work and school, but it should distract enough to move thoughts from what was left behind toward anticipation of what lies ahead while leaving relationships, familial connections, valuable personal property, and major limbs intact.

We landed in the United States at Elise's parents' house in Cheney, Washington. Their calm and comfortable home makes a perfect landing pad from two long years spent overseas. The fact little changes in sleepy Cheney brings welcome familiarity. Especially for the kids who revel in marshmallow milkshakes at Zips, if nothing else.

From there, we crossed the state, arriving in Everett two hours too early for our 3:00 p.m. check-in at the Hampton Inn and no real plan to fill the time. This exposed the first minor crack in what had been a smooth transition. Listening to three kids scream and fight incessantly for four hours will do that. Their argument started when I read Rogue One aloud to the Peter and Clementine while Sam wanted quiet to read his own book. Elise and I fought over a missed freeway exit, but found ourselves at the mall where she was able to buy a much needed dress shirt for Sam. 

All would be forgotten a few evenings later at Elise's birthday dinner at Canlis in Seattle.

As the birthday girl, Elise got to pick out the menu. We started with passed appetizers, devilled quail eggs, oysters on the half shell, crab croquettes. For dinner, we had the choice of a ribeye steak or salmon.  Needless to say, most of us went for the salmon. We had a chocolate molten cake for dessert.

From Seattle, we would set off on our weeklong camper van adventure of the Oregon Coast, followed by a week filled with watersports in Jupiter, Florida.

I write this on the eve of our last day of home leave. As much as we enjoyed visiting family -- and as gracious and accommodating family was in hosting us for four weeks -- it will be nice to not live out of a suitcase for a few weeks before setting off for Sri Lanka. 

Fishing with Jidu

This summer, the kids were old enough to go out in the ocean on Jidu's boat and go bottom fishing. 

The kids were super-excited, and were helping in delight when I just happened to pick up the pole after a dish had been nibbling at the line and pulled in a queen trigger fish.

Each of the kids got to pull up two fish, though they were either "junk fish" (inedible) or mutton snapper that were too small. 

Sam pulled up the first fish, a blue runner, and later on would reel in one of the undersized snappers.

Peter brought in the second fish, also a small mutton snapper, and later in a trigger fish.

Sam encouraged his younger siblings, cheering for them as they fought with their fish and telling them they could do it.

Clementine pulled in a sand eel. We even saw two sharks from the boat, one had to nine feet! We think it was a tiger shark, the largest shark native to these water, but we weren't going to up in for a closer look! 

Thursday, July 4, 2019


While kids in the States are likely raised on a healthy diet if NBA, NFL, and Major League Baseball, living overseas, our kids have been getting more and more into watching soccer. They were super into the World Cup last year, even though the U.S. team had failed to qualify for the tournament, and are super into watching the women's World Cup this summer, especially since the U.S. women's team is favored to repeat as champions and have been dominating the tournament. 

Their aunt and uncle are diehard Seattle Sounders fans and have been outfitting the kids in green and blue Sounders gear for a couple of years now. I thought it would be fun if we could all go to a Sounders game together while we were in town. It just worked out they were playing regional rival the Vancouver Whitecaps. To top things off the game fell on Pride Night.

There were tables set up in the main concourse of the stadium with rainbow markers and stamps so we could paint the pride colors on our faces.

The pre-game festivities included both the U.S. and Canadian national anthems. As well as flamethrowers and fireworks. 

And in place of the 12th man flag which usually flys at the end of the stadium, commemorating the support of the crowd as the "12th man" on the Seahawks 11 man roster, flew the Pride flag.

After a scoreless first half, the contest stayed locked in a scoreless draw through 96 minutes and looked destined to end as such until Leerdam buried the winner off a feed from left back Brad Smith.

Sounders midfielder Danny Leyva, making his first career MLS start, looked to have opened the scoring on the hour mark with a 30-yard lob after Whitecaps goalkeeper Zac MacMath came off his line to make a deflection save off a breakaway shot from Justin Dhillon. But the goal was waved off after Video Review by referee Alan Kelly after Dhillon was judged to have fouled MacMath during the shot, denying Leyva his first MLS goal and keeping the game scoreless, much to the chagrin of the home crowd. (Recap courtesy of the Sounders website) Everytime MacMath touched the ball thereafter, the crowd broke out into a chorus of raucous boos.

A slow starting game, but exciting ending to say the least.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Oregon Coast by Camper Van, Part Five - Mountains and Trails and Moss and Beer

Beverly Beach State Park provided a return to the forest. We broke out smoked salmon we picked up at the Tillamook Cheese Factory, along with some hummus which has become a family staple from our time in Jordan. 

The next morning, we explored a natural trail that encircled the campground. 

We broke camp and wanted to catch the second half of the women's World Cup match featuring The U.S. women's team against a stiffly competitive French team. We decided to stop at the historic, working bayfront in Newport. We stopped in for lunch at the Rogue Brewery tap house which had one tv tuned into the game over the bar, so we were able to kill two birds with one stone!

All the Rogue beers on tap.

After lunch we headed to our last campground of the trip, Beachside State Recreational Area, about 20 miles south of Newport, where we would roast hot dogs over an open fire and smores for the exclamation point on a phenomenal week on the Oregon Coast. 

The following day, we would rise early and make the long drive back to Seattle and civilization.