Remembering My Heroes

My Grandpa Bob, or "Uncle Bob" as he preferred we call him, served as a 1st Lieutenant in the 101st Airborne in World War II.  After dropping into Normandy, he was later injured by shrapnel fire in Holland ("Shot in the ass in the face of the enemy," he'd say) but finished out the war in the Battle of the Bulge before coming home.  He was decorated with two Purple Hearts and a Silver Star and is now buried in Arlington Cemetery next to his wife Alice LaVerne.  Before he died, he would proudly tell people with a twinkle in his eye, "I'll be buried right behind President Kennedy.......about a mile behind him."  Someday I'll take my husband and son to put flowers on their graves, but in the meantime we can visit Arlington Cemetery's virtual map.

During the war, my grandfather also served as the Athletic Officer for the 101st.  As a heavy-weight boxer himself, he fought Joe Louis in an exhibition match--which he lost.  He went on to fight Golden Glove tournaments and years later gave my older brother Patrick a few tips, one of which was to let the other guy throw all the punches until he tires himself out.  Note to self.

Patrick gave a moving eulogy at my grandfather's funeral and described his career as a family man, a community leader and a dedicated and beloved football coach who was known for turning mediocre teams into winning machines. He ended the tribute by saying, "Heaven's football team must be in a slump," which had the large crowd laughing through their tears. You can see photos of Coach Bob Burns in the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame.  What a character that man was.

Inspired by my grandfather, Patrick went on to join the army as a JAG lawyer and became a paratrooper himself.  He has tapped into the network of I Company 502, a group of comrades, widows and family of men in the 101st Airborne.  A few years ago Patrick tracked down Private Marvin Cartwright who fought next to my grandfather. I tagged along the day Patrick went to meet and interview him about his time in the war.  My brother videotaped the conversation and we enjoyed the afternoon listening to his stories.  So few people think to ask questions and I'm glad Patrick thought to ask.  It clearly meant a lot to Marvin, who has since passed away, and to his family.

Today I also remember others in my family who have served:  My maternal Grandfather Charles Markley, Uncle Jerry Markley, Cousin Tom Burns and Uncle John Burns.  My husband's maternal grandfather actually served in England's military in World War I, but that is story for another day.

Thank you to all who have served and to all the everyday heroes.  Enjoy the holiday today!


Any Excuse

There is even more to celebrate than I'd realized.  May 19 is my husband's birthday of course, but I just learned it is also the date the Spanish armada set sail and the date Oscar Wilde was released from prison.

After breakfast and presents, we took a walk in the arboretum and then attended a party thrown by our friends Joe and Kiyomi to celebrate Oscar's freedom.  Turns out they simply wanted to have a party, decided on a convenient date and then cast about for any excuse to celebrate.  I love this.

The invitation said, "Come join us for an afternoon/evening to celebrate May 19, Oscar Wilde's 1897 release from prison (or any other event that happened on May 19 that you wish to celebrate).  There will be lovely people, oysters, paella and perhaps some live music.  Bring the kids. We would love to see you."

And music there was!  The Nyamusiwa Marimba Ensemble set up in the back yard and played their hearts out. 

Taylor Shellfish Farms shucked oysters, a talented guy named Tom cooked paella over an open fire and Manny's flowed from the keg.  A hundred people shimmied, slurped,  bounced babies and congratulated each other for being counted by Joe and Kiyomi as "lovely people."

In addition to hosting fabulous parties, Joe paints. He showed us some recent pieces in his studio where this quote caught my eye:

Joe, I am taking notes from you my friend.


Paper Confessions & Lego Moleskines

When I was born, my parents sent out this cheeky announcement.

As a paper lover who adores to send and receive mail in the post, I have a confession.  I did not send out a birth announcement for my son as I’d meant to do.  I did not send out holiday cards featuring a sweet photo of him on his first Christmas.  And I did not send out new home address cards when we moved to Seattle.  I have been carrying a wee bit of guilt over this for a year now.  Really, I need to let it go.  Exhale.

But I did send out a few invitations for Xavier’s birthday party.  I found them at the lovely little Wallingford shop Paper Delights.

We had a perfect-sized gathering for the backyard party where all of us big people drank champagne and the pack of little boys ate cheerios and lemon curd-laced cupcakes.  I passed around a Lego Moleskine notebook (thank you, Auntie Rebecca!) for guests to write birthday wishes.  I’ll pull it out again next year at his 2nd birthday, and again each year after so he can flip through it to remember all the friends who celebrated with him at each party.  If only I could remember who came to all my birthdays over the years and what we did.  You'd think these special days would stand out clearly in one's memory, but so many details go smudgy and fade out as years pass.

Thank you to all you special people who love Xavier and helped to make his first birthday such fun!  His birthday season is now drawing to a close and my husband's birthday season begins....


How You Shine

A Very Happy Mother's Day to all you fabulous Moms out there, today and every day!

Doesn't this Nikki McClure card just warm your heart?  I love her art which she cuts with an x-acto knife.  She makes calendars, illustrated books and cards and just recently had a retrospective at the Bellevue Art Museum.  She is a favorite out here in the Pacific Northwest.

Today I am basking in love from my husband and son.  I am enjoying being a mom so much and I have my own wonderful mother to thank for showing me how well it can be done.  I wrote to thank her for a few of my favorite memories.  Below is a selection:

  • Thank you for that amazing mermaid halloween costume you made for me in first grade - still my favorite costume ever.
  • Thank you for always letting me finish "just one more chapter" in my book before I set the table for dinner.
  • Thank you for being a great example of why "It never hurts to ask."  This has opened so many doors for me over the years.
  • Thank you for stretching out like a happy cat on sunny patches of grass.  You always knew how to grab and enjoy a golden moment!
  • Thank you for being so cheerful and fun-loving.  I learned to not take life too seriously from a pro.

Take a couple of minutes and write down five happy memories with your mother.  Be as specific as possible.  Call her and read the list to her, send it over email or shout it to the world on Facebook.  I guarantee this will be the best present she receives on Mother's Day.

And here's a lovely poem celebrating a new mother....enjoy!

For My Wife
~ Steven Lautermilch

We are being born again,
getting second breath in skin and bone, vein
and artery, that once in grunion milt by sea and riverbed
died to take to air.

Through you I find new sight, see the egg
face to face, know the fish, grasp the tree and vine and
blossoming play the ape, to pay out more, still
more this cord our life-line, into time, into space.

With such grace you grow awkward, pantomime and trance
the moon and tides in their slow dance around the earth.
And then, delivered and light, how you shine,
how you shine.


Experiential Birthday Presents

Yesterday my son turned one.  For a present, his daddy and I gave him a Passport to the National Parks and his first official stamp.

We had been invited up to see friends at Cultus Lake just outside of Vancouver.  My husband said, "We could go Friday to visit friends in New West, then head to the party on Saturday. And then I might as well go into the Vancouver office for a few days and we can see cousins and friends in the city." Pause. "And then since we are up there, maybe we could go see my Dad for a few days and I could work from Victoria."  Pause.  "And (here he started excitedly poking me in the arm) we could loop home to Seattle by ferry to the Olympic Peninsula and go camping in the Hoh Rainforest!"  This is how my husband's brain works.  He is a master of logistics and a maximizer extraordinaire.  So that is how 11 days later, 700 miles, 3 ferries, 1 petting zoo, several dinner parties, 2 ten-mile hikes and 3 campfires later we ended up celebrating Xavier's birthday in a spectacular and unusually sunny rainforest.  

I love to give experiential gifts and this one will keep on giving for years to come as we explore all over the country together as a family.  Very likely my son will inherit my collector gene although I suppose there is a chance he’ll roll his eyes in future years as I insist on stamping his passport, but no matter.

Apparently these passports are popular in many arenas.  A few years ago, I visited my sister and her husband in Japan where they were teaching English.  My favorite souvenir from Kyoto was a sort of temple passport, this beautiful book with accordion-style pages.  

At each temple, many of them UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a calligrapher marks your visit by writing the date, temple name and some other beautiful notations in Japanese script I cannot read.  I gleefully ran around - I mean I serenely strolled through the temples collecting calligraphy inscriptions.  I must go back to Japan someday soon for the incomparable food, the friendly people, the relaxing onsens and more calligraphy inscriptions for my temple passport.  

Seattle Public Libraries put out a passport in 2008 to celebrate 10 years of renovations to the 27 neighborhood branches.  A friend in my book club visited each branch with her two young kids and had a ball filling up their passport.  

And then there are actual international passports.  Who doesn't feel a thrill when entering a new land and hearing that satisfying thunk! as the official stamp is issued?  What better memory aid then flipping through a passport to recall all your adventures?

Here is Xavier at 5 Mile Island in the Olympic National Park.  He assured me this birthday has been his best one yet.