Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Day camping birthday girl

Before living in the US, I used to hear the words 'summer camp' and then instantly associate it with teenagers spending weeks on end in rustic cabins by picturesque lakes, far away from home. I suppose I'd watched one too many movies as a kid, where this was the case. Does anyone remember Poison Ivy, with Michael J Fox? Or the original The Parent Trap? I'd always assumed that 'camps' were simply the American version of British boarding schools - but for summer time instead.

It wasn't until last summer, when the Faery had finished Kindergarten and was waiting to start Grade One, that I learned of summer day camps, and how entirely different they were. Not boarding school, but essentially a version of child care for older kids. Many of the Faery's school friends were enrolled in various day camp programmes over the summer - mostly out of necessity with two working parents, or sometimes to give their mothers a break. I didn't really feel the need to sign the Faery up because I wasn't working and couldn't justify the cost.

A factor that I didn't consider at the time, though, was the duration of American summer holidays.

In Australia, the school year tends to finish around mid-December, and begin by the end of January - a total of six weeks of summer freedom. In Los Angeles, school finished in early June and will resume in mid August. In Seattle, the summer break is from mid-June until early September.

That's around two and a half months of no school. In the Faery's case, her summer break is three months long, due to the move between different states and school districts. THREE MONTHS!

The first three weeks were a dizzy social blur for her, as I tried to ensure she saw as much of her buddies as possible before the big move... and then we moved.

This move has been harder on her than any of us. There have been tears galore, and pining for her friends. Despite me throwing a two-month-early birthday party for her in L.A. (knowing we'd be in Seattle and she wouldn't know anyone on her actual birthday), the past week has seen her express the most heart-wrenching statements - designed for maximum guilt - such as "What I REALLY want for my birthday is friends."

I've done my best to try and make the transition to Seattle fun, and between unpacking and the usual just-moved-to-a-new-city errands, most days have involved trips to explore different parks, playgrounds, and lakeside beaches. We even did our first bus ride into downtown Seattle last week.

It hasn't been enough to fill the social hole, though. We've been here just over a month, and there is still another whole month to fill before school starts... so J and I decided to enrol her at a nearby day camp for this week, in the hope that she'll enjoy hanging out with other kids her age. The local community runs a Monday-Friday programme, from 8.45 - 5, and makes use of the park that it's located in, and the nearby pool, with field trips to roller skating rinks, beaches, interspersed with arty/crafty activiti es. Every time we've walked through the park and past the community centre these last few weeks, we've seen the day camp kids hanging out and they seemed to be really enjoying themselves.

I was keen to sign her up sooner than later, but it turned out - availability aside - they were pretty strict about her being seven years old (the camp is for 7-11 year olds), so I had to wait for the week she turned seven.

That day came yesterday. The sweetest kid I know had her seventh birthday, and what did I do? I packed her off to summer day camp on her actual birthday. It sounds awful, I know. She'd spent the last week insisting she didn't want to go to camp. We did our best to make the lead up to her birthday fun - she got a new scooter, plus a bike without training wheels a week early (J has spent every evening teaching her to ride the bike, and she's pretty much got the hang of it now). We promised her a yummy dinner out at a place of her choice, and - of course - birthday cake.

Oddly enough, there was a shift in her attitude about the camp, and when it was time to go - her backpack crammed with her swimsuit, towel, sunscreen, lunch and snacks - she was genuinely excited. I had a knot in my stomach all day, hoping she was enjoying herself. When it was time to collect her, I arrived fifteen minutes early... and she was so intent on the beading activity she was doing, that it took those same fifteen minutes to wait until she'd decided to pack up. The drive to her birthday dinner was peppered with small stories about things that happened that day, and I knew she was okay.

This morning, she practically ran from the car to the community centre, and I had to catch her for goodbye kisses. At this rate, I'm going to be praying that there's a spot for her in another week's programme... and I'm thankful that she's happy.

6 years and 361 days old.

Birthday dinner of burgers and shakes, along with pinball, Galaga and Pacman.
Exhausted from day camp.

Playing Galaga with J.

Cake time. Happy Birthday, my sweetness.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Hard and fast

I've been a little missing in action, I guess.

Technically though, one post in five weeks really isn't too bad when you consider that it took me a full eight months to pull my finger out and even start this blog after moving from Australia to Los Angeles. By that standard, I could give myself another month or two before even thinking about logging in to Blogger, right? After all, we've just moved 1,800 km. That's nothing to be sneezed at, even if it's not quite the international move we made back in 2010.

I don't actually know where to begin, so I'll probably just ramble for a bit. I'm good at that.

Our moving truck arrived in early July - just in time for us to spend the entire July 4th holiday unpacking. That's how everyone wants to spend their holiday time, surely. Or maybe not.

It was then another couple of weeks without cable or internet hooked up, hence my silence here. Instagram was my guilty pleasure during that time, and I'm pretty sure I racked up a hefty data bill on my phone in that time. Instagram aside, having no internet to distract me meant I was able to get the unpacking done within a decent time frame. The downside of no cable or internet though? No TV to entertain the kids while I unpacked. Thank god for the iPad.

In all honesty, I'm not sure that having earlier internet access would have made much difference with my computer time. With such amazing weather at the moment - and knowing that a Pacific Northwestern summer doesn't last for too long - there's been a sense of urgency to getting outside and making every moment of blue skies count. And this is coming from someone who's not even a huge 'outdoorsy' type. I just know there's going to be plenty of time down the track, when we're hiding inside from the grey and wet... it'd be foolish now to spend precious sunlight hours hunching over a keyboard.

So far, we seem to have landed pretty well on our feet. Each day that passes, I'm even happier with the space we've moved into, and it hasn't taken long to feel like 'home'. The neighbours are all lovely, and the girls immediately took to the college-aged daughter on one side of us, asking her within ten minutes of meeting her whether she'd babysit for us (cheeky, and winning of them, and the answer was a resounding yes because apparently the feeling was mutual). Another friendly neighbour presented me with a bottle of wine, which is always an easy way to win me over.

We haven't done any terribly exciting explorations yet, but have spent most days getting to know our immediate area. Various parks and playgrounds have been tried and tested. Various supermarkets have been sussed out. Most importantly, various coffee houses have been visited. Our home is a mile uphill from the waterfront of Lake Washington. It's an area where I suspect parking could be tricky during the weekends and summer, due to the restaurants and cafes, so we tend to walk down a lot. The first couple of times, the walk home seemed a killer (I'd forgotten how living near water = steep, steep hills) but each time gets a little easier.

The silver lining to all those hills is that I can eat more doughnuts and drink more coffees. At least that's what I'm telling myself. Within days of arriving in Seattle's Eastside, we found ourselves at a small doughnut and espresso joint, and I've been smitten with that place ever since. The two people who run it (I can't figure out if they're siblings or a couple) are the sweetest, and make all the doughnuts themselves. They have cinnamon sugar doughnuts, which I never saw in L.A. but used to be a staple for me in Sydney. Win! Once or twice a week, I try to find an excuse to justify the 10-min drive to that neighbourhood so I can get my fix. The Faery and Miss Pie aren't complaining, either.

The only thing that's happened recently that sent a pang of sadness and missing my friends in L.A. was when I unexpectedly saw one of my closest friends on TV. Her daughter and the Faery are best friends at school, and our two families spent a lot of time together. The Faery was jumping up and down with excitement when she saw her on TV in a network promotion - for a kids show she works on - but I had a lump in my throat when I saw her face, knowing that although we plan to visit them (and have them stay with us later this year), it's still a while away.

So that's where we're at for now. Settling in pretty well, but little moments of sadness. Overall, I think I'm falling for Seattle's beauty. Like Sydney, this city is sprawled around a lot of water - making for incredible scenery. I've taken hundreds of photos already, and am going through somewhat of  honeymoon phase.

You know how there are people who fall hard and fast for other people? Intensely? That's me, but with cities. If I could bottle and sell the feelings I have as I discover a new city, I'd make a pretty penny.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Week One

The last couple of weeks we spent in Los Angeles were pretty much a clich├ęd whirlwind of craziness - bittersweet lunches, dinners and playdates with friends we'll miss, attempts to at least organise our belongings for the packers, and endless phone calls to coordinate the move itself - I have a stack of photos which I'll save for a later post.

We survived, but not without a fair amount of sweat (J & I) and tears (the Faery and - okay - me).
In some ways, though, the physical act of getting our things from A to B - 1,800 km apart - has seemed much easier this time round, compared to a year ago when we moved apartments within the same complex. There's a lot to be said for having other people pack and do all the lifting.

Four suitcases, two backpacks, two adults, two kids, and one caged cat later... we arrived at SeaTac Airport with surprisingly minimal drama, last Wednesday. Everything else we own is currently on a truck somewhere along the West Coast, to be expected any day now. We have the keys to our new place but it is empty for now.

Somewhere between getting off the plane, and getting our rental car.

First drizzly afternoon stroll, dodging slugs.

Even the sides of busy roads here have been beautified.

We arrived to drizzle, and I was little bummed after the amazing weather we'd been having down south. I'd known what to expect, but the immediate grey skies still disappointed me. Little did I know that a day later, the clouds would clear and a heat wave would roll in over the entire West Coast. Seattle is already a stunning city under grey skies, but when the sun comes out to play? Oh my. I cannot get over the green beauty of this place.

With temperatures peaking in the early 30s (Celsius), it was surprising to learn just how much I can sweat - despite these temps being nothing new to me, it was the humidity factor that I'd not had to deal with at all during our three years in L.A. High humidity and no air con in our  temporary accommodation has made for some incredibly sticky nights - reminiscent of Sydney summers. Seattle, I had no idea. There's a cool breeze today, and I never imagined I'd be so grateful for this, so soon after arriving here.

Lucky for us, the area we've been staying in has an amazing lakeside beach, with an equally gorgeous park next to it.  Although we've visited a number of playgrounds and waterfront parks since arriving, we spent several evenings at Idylwood Beach Park (doesn't the name alone sound like paradise?) during the peak of the heat wave, taking in the games of croquet and volleyball, families barbecuing, and kids diving off the lake's jetty as others surf paddle in the distance - all under the watchful gaze of teenaged lifeguards. That old saying 'to make hay while the sun shines' rings especially true around here. Unlike Los Angelenos, I get the feeling that Seattleites don't take the sun for granted.

My first solo sunset stroll in many, many months.

Idylwood Beach Park

Idylwood Beach Park

Kirkland Marina Park

Spins and secrets

The other thing that has me smitten are the (even) longer days. The sun doesn't set until after 9pm these days, which means it's still light and dusky at 10pm. Lengthy daylight hours have always been my favourite thing about summer, and I particularly loved summer in London because of this - many a late evening were spent in beer gardens as the sky slowly turned a deep azure. In the past, I've always been a stickler for strict early kiddo bedtimes, but the long days here are playing havoc with the girls' usual bedtime routine. We've relaxed about it because a) it's been so hot that it takes forever to fall asleep anyway, and b) there's no early morning school run to deal with, so isn't this what holidays are for? Besides, I think J has missed the girls so much that he is savouring his time with them when he comes home from work. Once they are in bed, it's still light enough for the two of us to enjoy a drink outside - even at half-past nine.

It's only been a week, but Seattle summer? I think I love you.

Emily agrees that late twilight hours are pretty cool.