Baja!

Families are great. I love our kids, and the people they are and are becoming, but sometimes Becky and I need some time, just the two of us, to be grownups together. We’ve never been in a relationship without kids, so that adult-to-adult bonding time has been pretty scarce.

Which means we have to go to lengths to make it happen. While the kids were at the Swanks, Becky and I boarded a flight to Cabo San Lucas. Apparently we weren’t the only ones with this idea; the customs area was overflowing. We shuffled through this room with this many people for two hours. Becky was breathing in a very controlled manner.

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But we weren’t here to see tourist Mexico, so we didn’t just hop on a shuttle bus to the nearest resort. Oh no, we wanted some real Baja Mexico. We rented a car (for way too much money), and drove an hour to reach our Airbnb in a little town called La Ribera (which doesn’t have an official website). It was dark when we arrived, but upon waking, eating breakfast, and going to explore, this is what we found.

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(Note the hoodies, and the deserted palapas. It’s not as warm as it looks.)

Becky combed our guidebook, and found a couple of awesome things nearby. One of them is a waterfall that mostly only the locals know about, just a one-mile hike down Cañon del Zorro.

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With the help of our host, we found the local gringo restaurant, where the food was comparatively expensive, high-quality, and delivered with unbroken English. This was a welcome respite; the rest of the town was Spanish-only.

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One of the days was dedicated to my 12th-day gift to Becky (whale sharks!), which meant driving 2½ hours to La Paz. What we found there was a really interesting and vibrant town, with lots of people out on the streets even though it was a chilly day. The entire peninsula is completely overrun with cute, friendly, filthy street dogs, that beg you with their adorable eyes for whatever food or love you can give them.

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We walked the promenade, and spotted lots of public art…

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…and some surreal marketing stuff…

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…and a place to grab brunch. We had two hours before our adventure pushed off, so a cup of coffee on the beach was in order.

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We strolled the town, and noticed quite a bit of Christmas spirit. This was in the courtyard of a house, just behind a gate.

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This was inside the cathedral (four stars on TripAdvisor!). We were surprised to find that there were snowy evergreens in the iron-age middle east.

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One strip mall had a ghost tree.

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Once our adventure had concluded, we stopped for lunch at a place our tour guide recommended. Becky would normally never let a photo of her like this see the light of day – we had just stepped off the boat, so she’s covered in ocean, wind, and bruises; and it looks like she burst a blood vessel in her eye from fear – but that margarita really is as big as it looks. And it was good.

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Our drive to La Paz included a sunrise, so it seemed fitting that our drive home would include a sunset.

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We made sure to explore our town. Here’s a bit of the flavor of the place.

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Our little house!

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Our street!

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Here you can see the “large” grocery store, the supermercado. There are lots of “mini-supers” around, but this one had fresh fruit and vegetables.

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We did eventually make it back to that beach, and swam in the Sea of Cortez.

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Our host keeps bees, and invited us to help him work on the hives! There was only one suit, and Becky is terrified of bees doesn’t enjoy being stung, so I got the privilege.

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Here’s our shower, including a loose tile that we were instructed to “leave over the drain while not in use, so things don’t crawl up into the house.” (Emphasis and nightmares mine.)

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This trip was a mixture of tough and amazing, just the way we like it.

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December Misc Roundup

The kids always go to the Grove, Mueller, and Swank Christmas party. This year, they dressed to the nines to meet the Big Guy.

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We also kicked off our 12 Days of Christmas by decorating our dining room and setting up our tree.

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We went to see a show about some pigs, and the day was so nice we decided to get a family portrait in the deal.

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They’ve both been having a blast at school. They did ice skating lessons at Lloyd Center…

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…and some reindeer came to visit at Montgomery Park.

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Will participated in the annual holiday concert, which turned out great! Upper school sang some carols in the Montgomery Park atrium.

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…and then they sang backup for the middle school’s concert a few days later! Will’s class sang the “Dahoo Doris” parts for the Grinch story, which Lucy was helping to tell.

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Lucy loooooooves going to see Melissa at the salon. She got a BIG chop (all that hair on the floor used to be hers), and came back with straightened hair!

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We always dress up for Christmas Eve at the Swanks’.

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After that, we did Christmasy things, and the kids spent the following week with their grandparents.

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(Becky and I were off on our own adventure.) Until next year!

#45: Deposit all the Change

This is part of our 100 Things in 2015 challenge. Here’s the full list.

For the last few years, we’ve been giving the kids their allowance in change. They each earn their age in dollars each week, so Will was getting $8, and Lucy $6, all in quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies. They’re both pretty good at saving up for big purchases, so it was piling up.

A couple of months ago we switched away from real money, and started using FamZoo. We’ve set up their allowance to automatically deposit in their accounts (which they check regularly), and we can know exactly how much spending money they each have just by looking at our phones.

So now we had all this change laying around, taking up space. It was time to make it go away. So we poured it all into a big bowl…

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…and brought it to the bank. Our branch has one of the magical coin-counting machines, so we turned it on and started pouring.

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It took a few rounds of filling and counting.

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But in the end, this is what was left.

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We felt literally ten pounds lighter. A+++, would deposit again.

Christmas Festivities

(We know, we know. This post is about 2 months overdue. It’s been a hectic couple of months.)

Christmas time always brings with it a collection of family traditions. Some of these are long-standing, like the dinner party at Chuck’s house on Christmas Eve. Some are newer, like the now-standard giant family portrait we take on that night.

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Will, Lucy, and their cousin Ty all got matching Christmas jammies, which prompted two separate families to take separate photos in front of separate trees.

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Another old tradition is the gathering of Becky’s family (at least the ones in northwest Oregon and southwest Washington) at her parents’ house in Oregon City. The portrait ritual has been ingrained with this crowd for a much longer time.

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This year saw the introduction of a novelty: games for the kids! Ken had a ton of fun planning this part of the gathering. First up: a game whose name I don’t know, but involves sticking cotton balls to your nose with whip cream.

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Kevin won the cup-stacking competition. No, not that cup stacking, the entry-level version where you just reverse a single stack.

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Many M&Ms were sorted by color.

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Apparently moving a ginger snap from your forehead into your mouth is a competitive sport. Becky and I won, of course; we’re really good with food.

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Sen was a tiny bit too young to take part in these games, but was having a blast anyways. Here he is dancing because of the way this cassette player opens.

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Lucy made good use of her time between turns, too.

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The actual gift exchange is always a centerpiece. Will and Aiden both received car-building kits, and Aiden elected to open his right then and there, so there was a frenzy of teamwork and craftsmanship.

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This Christmas season was really great for us, and we had a ton of fun visiting with all of our family and friends. Here’s hoping all the years to come are even better.

Gridium Camp: Santa Cruz

On our way back from Mexico, we connected flights in San Francisco. Or, rather, Becky changed flights, and I just got off. It’s time for another installment of Gridium camp!

I arrived in the bay area two days early for camp. Through my own disorganization, I had to arrange my first night’s stay at about 6pm that night, and I was fortunate enough that (a) I had a coworker who lives in the area, and (b) he had a couch I could crash on. Ray’s apartment is in SoMa, which is an area I’ve spent a fair amount of time in.

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His couch was comfy, and it came with power for all my gadgets. It’s possible he keeps this couch set up for guests; there were surprisingly many blankets and pillows around. Thanks, Ray!

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The next day I trekked over to spend time with m’verygoodfriend Melissa Severini. Her cat was very welcoming.

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What followed was about 24 hours of sous-vide pork and lamb, sparkling conversation, and some really good brunch, during which time I at no point pulled out my phone to take a photo. I guess you had to be there. Anyways, I crashed on her couch, too.

Since it was now 2015, we had started running a mile every day as one of our 100 Things. This was my view during one of those runs.

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The next day, some of the SF-local Gridium-ites (we don’t really have a good demonym) picked me up from Melissa’s house, and we took the scenic route down Highway 1 towards Santa Cruz. This coffee shop we stopped at had the most amazing collection of kitsch I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some.

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Finally we arrived at our rental houses in Santa Cruz. They were a 2-minute walk from the ocean, and since most of us live in non-coastal states, we had to spend our first evening on the beach.

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We returned to the house for a big crab dinner.

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After which we gave lightning talks. David‘s was on fantasy football, and apparently he’s pretty good.

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Then a surprise! David and his wife are expecting their first child soon, and Kimberly put together a baby shower!

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Some of the gifts were for grownups.

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The next couple of days were a whirlwind. We did some product planning, lots of stregery, and syllogized synchronous synergies.

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And I learned how to play Go. Or at least how to start playing Go.

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Another surprise reveal: we launched a new HR program called high fives, which is a way of telling our chat robot to send people Amazon gift cards, and which I wrote in secret in the weeks leading up to this.

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No trip to Santa Cruz is complete without an evening at the local dive bar.

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…and the requisite recovery period.

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…and recovery food.

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Skateboarding happened. I learned exactly how terrible I am at this, and how unpredictably multi-talented my coworkers are.

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Gridium celebrates the holidays by giving out gifts to employees, and they’re very generous with them. I received this most hipstery of coffee-brewing devices, and enjoyed delicious coffee the rest of my days.

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I was still running a mile every morning, but my cooldown view had changed a bit.

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Camp is pretty short at three days; my other experience with this kind of all-hands summit was GitHub’s week-long extravaganza, so these always seem to end too soon. Fortunately, there will be another one in just three months!

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#58: Play a Round of Mini-Golf

This is part of our 100 Things in 2015 challenge. Here’s the full list.

Who can turn down a round of mini golf? Especially if it’s glow-in-the-dark blacklight mini-golf? With a Groupon? I don’t care who you are, that’s good fun right there.

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There were 18 entertaining holes. This was Lucy’s first time ever holding a putter, and Will’s third (I think), so we made sure to not keep score.

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The course has all the usual tricks. An alligator that eats and poops golf balls…

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…holes that involve putting up and down a hill…

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…hippos…

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…zebras…

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…and giant mirrors.

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There’s even a trick shot at the end where you can win a free round. (We all missed it.) We had some good fun, and we might have to come back for more practice.

#57: Tour the Portland Underground

This is part of our 100 Things in 2015 challenge. Here’s the full list.

A city’s catacombs are always fascinating, and we’d been wanting to tour the Portland Underground for years now. The tour met at Hobo’s, and we started by gathering our group in the alleyway out back.

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Our tour guide then took us around front, opened a door in the sidewalk, and we went downstairs to a network of previously-interconnected basements that originally stretched from the waterfront to NW 23rd street, and from what’s now Old Town all the way south to what’s now the financial district.

It turns out Portland has a really seedy past. There were opium dens, houses of ill repute, black markets, and all kinds of other “underground” economic activity. Even as recently as the 1940’s, people were regularly being kidnapped, drugged, and being put to work basically as slaves – men on ships to east Asia, women as prostitutes in faraway cities. Down here is where they were kept until they could be shipped away.

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There’s even a 7-foot-tall wooden cigar-shop Indian, whose long story includes being wrapped in a rug and sold as a “drugged slave”.

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This is a primitive alarm system; this string of tin cans would be hung across a tunnel entrance, so the people inside would hear if someone was coming in.

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Of course, all of this was presented interlaced with ghost stories and tales of “paranormal experts” having “strange and unexplainable” experiences down there.

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Wikipedia notes that there isn’t really that much evidence for all this, and it everything I’ve written here might not be actual fact. But it doesn’t seem so unbelievable that it couldn’t be true. People have a history of being generally horrible to each other.

Anyways, it’s a different angle on our city, and we enjoyed the tour, even if it left us a bit disturbed. If you go, be aware that it was pretty crowded, and it’s pretty filthy down there, so don’t wear flip-flops and dazzlingly white socks, like one of our tour mates did.

#31: Experience Modern Russian Food at Kachka

This is part of our 100 Things in 2015 challenge. Here’s the full list.

One lovely January evening, we gathered up a couple of fantastic friends and headed to Kachka for some delicious Russian food.

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We opted for the steelhead “caviar…”

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…some “baltic sprat buterbrodi…”

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…and a great many other things, including palmeni (dumplings) and khachapuri (meat-filled cabbage rolls in a tomato sauce), accompanied of course by a flight of fine Russian vodkas, and a spectacular flaming tea cocktail. Every bite was delicious, and we’re looking forward to visiting again to try out the half of the menu we didn’t have room for this time.

#77: Museum of Contemporary Craft

This is part of our 100 Things in 2015 challenge. Here’s the full list.

Just the name of this place makes me curious. We’ve all seen contemporary art, but what do the practitioners of crafts have to offer us in the way of personal improvement?

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It turns out the answer is the same as it is with art: a bunch of weird stuff, beautifully made, most of which won’t mean anything at all to you.

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It was a fun stop, but we left more confused than when we entered.