In which Graham comes to visit

My little brother Graham got back from Afghanistan in May and he’s on his way out of the Marines next month!

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Fresh off the plane

On his way to Tennessee, he and his friend Nick stopped by for a few days in Seattle. I feel like I’ve been practicing for his visit every time others came through and now we have the Seattle circuit just about perfected. We haven’t seen each other in over a year, since our grandmother’s 90th birthday in Nashville, so we had some catching up to do. Here’s what we accomplished:

Gas Works Park

Gas Works Park

Gas Works Park

Gas Works Park with the Seattle skyline and Space Needle across Lake Union.

The Fremont Troll under Aurora bridge

The Fremont Troll under Aurora bridge

Both Nick and Graham are in the 1st Marine Battalion - Engineers whose symbol is a castle. It took a lot of convincing for them not to steal it.

Both Nick and Graham are Marine Engineers whose symbol is a castle. It took a lot of convincing for them not to steal this from the Ballard Locks Engineers.

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Fish ladder – Ballard Locks

Ballard Locks - in the Seattle rain

Ballard Locks – in the Seattle rain. At this point I don’t mind the misting, in fact, when a visitor comes I hope that it rains a little. I don’t want people thinking that I complain over nothing or that I’m lying about the meteorologic properties of this place.

Graham is going to hike the Appalachian Trail at some point in the next year or so, maybe even Nick will go with him. We visited the REI headquarters downtown so he could stock up on some gear and also bask in the outfitter wonderland that is that store. Naturally we needed to test out his new purchases out on a hike, and where better than Mount Rainier National Park? Unfortunately the Mountain was obscured on our drive down, so the boys couldn’t see her glory. We ended up going to an area in the northern end where I hadn’t been before to hike a trail called Green Lake.

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Graham and his new backpack – checking one National Park off the list. We stuffed it full with everything we could find in the car to simulate the real thing.

On the trail

On the trail – that is a fallen tree above Graham, they grow them big here.

Old growth forests, plenty of moss and waterfalls did not disappoint along the way.

Old growth forests, plenty of moss and beautiful waterfalls did not disappoint along the way.

Nick, Graham and I

Nick, Graham and I – Ranger Creek Falls

Green Lake - a little different from the Greenlake in Seattle we live near.

Green Lake – a little different from the Green Lake in Seattle we live near. A little more alpine-y and snowy.

It was about 10 miles up and back - a lakeside picnic broke up the trip.

It was about 10 miles up and back – a lakeside picnic broke up the trip.

Wubby and I.

Wubby and I post-hike in the valley 

On the way home, after stopping by the Carbon Glacier Distillery that was on the way from the trailhead, the clouds parted just as we were entering the city. I told the boys to look out the back window of the Jeep and there was stunned silence at the sight of Her. All day Graham had been joking that we should go to the top of Mount Rainier and I kept telling him that was impossible in May, but he hadn’t believed me. Now he did. It reminded me of my first glimpse when I was up in Seattle for the pedo interview so many years ago. She still takes my breath away – I swear one day I’ll wreck the car from staring at Her too much when I’m driving.

The next day we started playing tourists in my own city, starting with the Space Needle:

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View of the Mountain from the top.

View of the Mountain from the top. When I first went up in the Space Needle when I came out for the interview, there were clouds between it and downtown, so I had no idea there was even a huge-ass mountain yonder. Now I know that the Space Needle is not worth the $20 “airfare” unless it’s a clear day. We couldn’t have picked better weather for it though – 360 degree views from Mt. Rainier to Mount Baker to the Olympics, Sound and even our tiny Greenlake.

The boys enjoying the view.

The boys enjoying the view.

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To continue playing tourist in my own city, we took the Monorail downtown. For $2.50, it's worth it to get the 15 clocks downtown from the Needle.

To continue playing tourist in my own city, we took the Monorail downtown. For $2.50, it’s worth it to get the 15 blocks from the Needle. It was my first ride too. 

We started off in the Market with my favorite drinks - Rachel's Ginger Beer. I'd never actually been to the flagship store, we buy it at our local farmer's market (yes, I just hated myself a little for typing that), but it's super cute and they taste so refreshing - especially with rum!

We started off in the Market with my favorite drinks – Rachel’s Ginger Beer. I’d never actually been to the flagship store, we buy it at our local farmer’s market (yes, I just hated myself a little for typing that), but it’s super cute and they taste so refreshing – especially with rum!

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Then on to the Market itself.

Then on to the Market itself. Please note the ferry boat going across to Bainbridge.

We saw the trinkets, and watched the thrown fish.

We saw the flowers, and the thrown fish.

And took in views of Elliot Bay and the Cascades..

And took in views of Elliot Bay and the Olympics…

..and downtown with the waterfront from the pier.

…and downtown with the waterfront from the pier.

The boys liked the gum wall - Graham added to it.

The boys liked the gum wall – Graham added to it.

And they weren't too impressed with the original Starbucks. I blame the spoiling them with Rachel's Ginger Beer first.

And they weren’t too impressed with the original Starbucks. I blame the spoiling them with Rachel’s Ginger Beer first.

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The next day I had to go back to work, but not before dropping the kids off for kayaking in Lake Union at Agua Verde:

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Not pictured of the things we accomplished: running around Green Lake, eating Mighty-O doughnuts, taking shots of absinthe at Carbon Glacier Distillery, touring my work at the Center for Pediatric Dentistry, eating Paseo sandwiches, drinking at the Moon Temple and on Murphy’s back porch, eating home cooked meals, visiting the EMP museum and recovering from all our adventures in the hammock. We. Did. It. All.

Cheers to an excellent visit. Come again soon Wubby!

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In which there are Christmas traditions

We’re such a new little family (even though in about two weeks we’ll mark our 10 year dating anniversary), that we’re still establishing Christmas traditions. One of my favorites so far is where on Christmas Eve we exchange ornaments that are indicative of the year’s adventures:

Step one for ornament exchange: Pick out tree. We almost didn't get a live tree this year with finals and end of the year stuff cramping up my scheduled, but Jeff insisted and I'm so glad we did.

Step one for ornament exchange: Pick out tree. We almost didn’t get a live tree this year with finals and end of the year stuff cramping up my scheduled, but Jeff insisted and I’m so glad we did. The smell has been heavenly.

Step two: Tie to the Jeep. (Step two and a half: Remember that you left most of the bungee cords in your bin in storage and pray that the two you brought will do the trick).

Step two: Tie tree to the top of the loyal Jeep. (Step two and a half: Remember that you left most of the bungee cords in your bin in storage and pray that the two you brought will do the trick. Consult with stranger parked next to you and get his vote of confidence).

Step three: Trim the tree while eating traditional Christmas nachos (we used to makes these all the time when Jeff was in law school and we saw each other on the weekends. Plus the red and green make them quite festive). Another tradition: Listening to the web broadcast of This American Life's episode with David Sedaris's Santaland Diaries.

Step three: Trim the tree while eating traditional Christmas nachos (we used to makes these all the time when Jeff was in law school and we saw each other on the weekends. Plus the red and green make them quite festive). Another tradition: Listening to the web broadcast of the This American Life’s episode with David Sedaris’s Santaland Diaries.

Last year Jeff gave me this handcrafted tin crab from when we went crabbing with our dear friends Bri and Ian up in the San Juans.

Last year Jeff gave me this handcrafted tin crab from when we went crabbing with our dear friends Bri and Ian up in the San Juans.

It's nice to be reminded of the fun trip!

It’s nice to be reminded of the fun trip!

My ornament last year for Jeff.

My ornament last year for Jeff.

Merry First Christmas :) With a picture of our first dance at the wedding.

Merry First Christmas 🙂 With a picture of our first dance at the wedding.

This year, to commemorate our first full year in the Pacific Northwest Jeff gave me a hand blown blue and green glass raindrop ornament from a local Seattle artist. This is one of the biggest glass blowing regions of the world and some ash from Mount St. Helens is included in this piece.

This year, to commemorate our first full year in the Pacific Northwest Jeff gave me a hand blown blue and green glass raindrop ornament from a local Seattle artist. This is one of the biggest glass blowing regions of the world and some ash from Mount St. Helens is included in this piece.

I bought this glass piece and etched an outline of the Burning Man symbol on it with the year to commemorate our trip this summer.

I bought this glass piece and etched an outline of the Burning Man symbol on it with the year to commemorate our trip this summer.

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This year some friends introduced us to a street called Candy Cane Lane where all the houses deck out in great Christmas lights. (Sorry for the blurriness of the pictures)

This year some friends introduced us to a street called Candy Cane Lane where all the houses get together and agree to deck themselves out in great Christmas lights. (Sorry for the blurriness of the pictures: night + iPhone camera = not great, but you get the idea)

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We Try to watch 12 Christmas movies every year. So far we've made it through Christmas Vacation, It's a Wonderful Life, Elf, Home Alone, White Christmas and currently as I write, A Christmas Story.

We try to watch 12 Christmas movies every year. So far we’ve made it through Christmas Vacation, It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf, Home Alone, White Christmas and currently as I write, A Christmas Story, so halfway there. As we ate traditional barbecue pork and watched White Christmas last night, the scenes with the troops celebrating Christmas in a war zone  overseas hit particularly close to home. 

My little brother Graham is currently serving in Afghanistan (he's the second from the right). Here's hoping there's a Christmas miracle and they can all come home soon.

My little brother Graham is currently serving in Afghanistan (he’s the second from the right with the present on his gun). Here’s hoping there’s a Christmas miracle that they can all come home soon.

It's no secret that I love Christmas cards. I remember stuffing envelops as a kid and sitting for what seemed like ages for the perfect shot where all three of us were looking at the camera. It was the '90s so there was a lot of hairspray involved.  This wall has sent us love from Rachie, the Kirks, the Plues, the Pecks (Virginia), the Pecks (Memphis), the Watsons, the Smiths, the Seals, the Lanes, the Reeses and the Fowlers.

It’s no secret that one of my favorite traditions is sending and receiving Christmas cards. I remember stuffing envelops as a kid and sitting for what seemed like ages for the perfect shot where all three of us were looking at the camera. It was the ’90s so there was a lot of hairspray involved.
This wall has sent us love from Rachie, the Kirks, the Duffs, the Pecks (Virginia), the Pecks (Memphis), the Watsons, the Smiths, the Seals, the Lanes, the Reeses and the Fowlers.

And love from the Balestrinos, Baileys, Fitzpatricks, Moores, Friars, Russos, Plues and Aunt Doris.

And love from the Balestrinos, Baileys, Fitzpatricks, Moores, Friars, Russos, Plues and Aunt Doris.

We may not have a real fireplace, but the Yule Log movie on Netflix made a nice replacement.

We may not have a real fireplace, but the Yule Log movie on Netflix made a nice replacement.

Though it’s probably more applicable to Thanksgiving than to Christmas, I’ve had the carol For the Beauty of the Earth perpetually stuck in my head this season:

For the beauty of the earth
For the glory of the skies
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise. 

We’re so thankful for such a great year, for such wonderful friends and family (near and far) and for the promise of a brand new year. From us to you: Merriest Christmas!

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In which there’s a phone call

My little brother Graham is the only immediate family in my time zone. Granted he lives 1,223 miles away on a Marine base in southern California, but at least I can pick up the phone at 9pm PST and he’ll be awake to chat.

The last time the four of us were together - at grandmom's 90th birthday in Nashville.

The last time the four of us were together – at grandmom’s 90th birthday in Nashville.

If you’ve met my brother, you’ll know he’s a total goofball. I’m a better pediatric dentist because through him I know all about the Power Rangers, Transformers, Iron Man, the Hulk, Captain America and the rest of the Justice League, Batman, Spiderman and his ultimate favorite, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (seriously, he has a tattoo of them). He likes to call me when he passes the Navy Dental unit to tell me how he’s not getting his teeth cleaned. And for some reason I always end up calling him during his weekly Taco Tuesday dinners on accident. We discuss Shark Week at length. On our calls he is constantly giving me grief by pretending I’m a dental assistant, not a dentist (“oh stop, you just hand people things, right?”). I tell him he’s an idiot; he tells me he hates my bangs. I love all our talks.

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The hardest call to make though every time is right before he deploys for Afghanistan, like the one we had this morning.

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Graham with his service dog Chopper

Love you little brother. I know you don’t read this blog, because your hate for blogs is on par with your hatred for bangs. You and Chopper take care of each other and stay safe. I’ll miss getting to call you whenever I want.

In which my little brother is almost home

My little brother returns from his first tour in Afghanistan at the end of the week! I’m really sad I can’t make it down to see him touch down on American soil for the first time in 7 months (ugh, residency), but I’m just so glad he’s coming home safe and sound! Don’t worry Graham – brother-sister reunion in Seattle as soon as we can get you up here! (Rachie – we’ll get you out here too!)

Graduation from Parris Island Marine Boot Camp – May 2011

Of all the pictures I took that weekend you graduated from Boot Camp to officially become a Marine, I don’t know why this one is my favorite. Maybe it’s because we got to see the barracks I imagined you reading our letters in for the first time. Mostly it’s because this has to be one of the only times you ever wore your BCs (short for birth control glasses) on the Island. Oh little brother, don’t you know that nerdiness is in now? Thick rimmed glasses can you get you laid. Or at least a phone number. You’ve just got to embrace it.

Last year around this time I was running my first marathon in D.C. Fitting it was the Marine Corps run through all the monuments on what would become the year pre-anniversairy of you coming home. I’m sorry you were on the opposite coast and couldn’t run it with me but I was thankful for the technology that let you call and encourage me to keep going. That push was just what I needed to make it over the bridge. I remember your pep talk from the night before:

G: Good luck tomorrow.
E: Yeah, thanks. If I survive this one we should do another one together.
G: Well we both know that’s not going to happen. You’re not going to survive it! 

And then part way through the race:

G: It’s like that half we ran in Nashville, remember?
E: Yeah, except not.. this is twice as long.
G: Just think about how far Nashville was and then just pretend you forgot your keys and had to go back.
E: I think you can just call a locksmith if that happens..

So I was the crazy girl who looked like she was on a little too much of a runner’s high, giggling into the speaker on my iPhone headphones when you called around mile 22 and asked if I’d found my keys or not.

And I’m so thankful that you got to come to our wedding last spring right before you left and walk me down the aisle. I know it was rough taking the red-eye in and then staying up all night with us to celebrate but I don’t think I could’ve had it any other way. Thanks for holding me steady down what seemed the world’s longest walk and for keeping me smiling by quizzing me on how many teeth a whale shark has. I think I made up something, but the answer is about 3000. I’m a human dentist, not a shark dentist.

Can’t wait until you’re officially home! Get ready for a visit full of otters, Thai food, comic book stores and xbox when you come!