Benji’s First Bellevue Arts Fair

OK, actually, I just realized that Ian and I went to the Bellevue Arts Fair shortly before Benji was born in 2012. But this is his first one ex-utero.

We drove to the South Kirkland Park and Ride and took a bus to downtown Bellevue. This saved us the misery of trying to drive there. Like any good mom, I had us take a selfie.

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On the bus.

We had to walk a ways from the bus stop to the fair — not super far, but with legs as short as Benji’s, it was still plenty long. Plus, he had to circle around every tree, naming them as planets: “This Mercury.” (One loop around the tree.) “This Venus.” (One loop around the next tree.) Etc. This was predicated by the fact that the trees were growing out of round iron grilles set into the sidewalk that, honestly, did look a bit planetlike, especially all lined up in a row. OK; this is probably a case of “if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail” — “If you like planets, every round thing resembles planets.”

Eventually we reached the Arts Fair, and after some detours to examine the aid car and police motorcycles stationed there, we started our quest for trucks. The entire time, Benji kept stating “Benji want truck.” He wasn’t yelling, screaming, crying, or being obnoxious (other than the obnoxiousness of repetition); just firm and convicted. We looked for trucks everywhere and found them in some odd places.

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Um, there seems to be a truck in this goat statue.

After a brief diversion to play musical wooden boxes (apparently officially called tongue or slit drums; that site isn’t the people we saw at the fair), we persevered until we finally found the tiny Jake Toys booth. Jake himself was sitting patiently, doing not much. I didn’t get a picture of the booth, which was vehicle toy nirvana, but Benji finally selected a very cool truck he dubbed a “mobile crane ladder dump truck.”

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After much searching, finally found a booth with all wooden toys.


Oh, this picture is taken in the lounge of the women’s bathroom at Bell Square, where Benji’s patience finally paid off and he got to actually play with his new truck for a while.

After that we did some other stuff, including spending some time watching the coolest marble maze Benji had ever seen. It was one of many such pieces a person could buy as a sculpture. Put it up instead of your TV, and you’d have endless entertainment.

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Coolest marble maze Benji has ever seen.

I also got convinced to switch our Seattle Times subscription from Sunday only to 7 days a week; I like the Sunday paper, and it wasn’t a lot more to do all 7 days. But later I realized I probably wouldn’t actually have time to read even the sad, wasted-away version of the paper that remains, so now I have to cancel that. Plus, the free umbrella they gave us for switching turned out to be a complete dud — when I opened it, a zillion tiny pieces fell out, and it was clearly broken from the get-go. Classy.

After a brief visit to the police booth again, this time to have our banana-y snack, we realized it was raining. I started us on our way back to the bus stop, and Benji told me his ankle really, really hurt. I carried him, the dud umbrella, the wooden truck, and our bag of stuff for what felt like miles (perhaps 1/4 of a mile, if that). When we got to the stop, I realized it’d be 25 minutes until the next bus. For some reason, my mommy brain didn’t work, so instead of sinking down onto the bench and breathing a sigh of relief while waiting there, I decided to walk us to the Bellevue Transit Center to catch any number of other buses that would also work.

Mommy fail.

By the time we dragged our sorry selves there, my arms were about falling off, Benji and I were both exhausted, we were wet from the first and only rain we’ve seen in weeks, and we ended up catching the exact same bus we would’ve gotten if we’d just waited at the bus stop in the first place. Benji was just so happy to get to play with his truck, he didn’t care about anything else. I merely felt grateful to sit stationary for a while.

So, good learning experience there.

Overall, I think we did have a good time. We saw interesting art, experienced all sorts of things, and found a truck for Benji. The only things I wish I’d done differently would be to wait for the bus and not take the stupid Seattle Times subscription-and-umbrella.

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Making Planets

Today we went over to my parents’ house and made planets.

First, we calculated relative sizes of planets, assuming Jupiter was 36″ in diameter. For reference, Pluto was about 0.2″ (sadly, too small to draw in the heart or any other newly-discovered features) and Earth was 3″. In that size system, the sun would be 360″ in diameter, so we skipped the sun.

Then, we searched all over the house to find round things the correct diameter that we could trace.

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After that, we traced planets onto their correct color of construction paper and cut out the planets. Shown are Saturn (missing its rings, and an amazing checkerboard, due to lack of construction paper) with Earth sitting on it. In the foreground are Venus, Uranus, and Neptune. I’m not sure where Mars and Pluto went.

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Finally, we painted the planets approximately appropriate colors.

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We are still figuring out how to put these up in Benji’s room, but when they’re up we’ll have an amazing solar system.

Edit to add: We put them on the ceiling individually, using zillions of push pins. Can you see tiny Pluto, up by Neptune?

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The McCurleys came over and joined us, with Colin (being a big boy) making his own set of planets.

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We also had fun with other things at Nana’s house.

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Reading and Other Fun Things

Benji has repeatedly told me he prefers riding in the car to riding on the bike. When asked why, he usually tells me that (a) he can see more in the car (probably not true when we use the Xtracycle); (b) I tell more stories in the car (definitely true, since I spend more time breathing hard on the bike); (c) he didn’t have to wear a helmet in the car (true).

But another reason may be that he can do more things without worrying about dropping and losing them. For example, I don’t give him books on the bike because if he drops them, they’re gone forever. In the car, not such a problem.

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In other news, we’ve been doing very low-key potty training. We started with just sitting in the potty with clothes on, followed by sitting on the potty with no diaper or pants. These sessions only occurred at times when we regularly change his diaper – after getting up out before going to sleep. He quickly understood that pee or poo in the potty got him M&Ms, and started squeezing out pee to get treats, and demanding to stay on the potty longer so as to get more treats.

We took a break on our trip to California, but getting back, we’ve jumped in with both feet (not literally!), going without pants or diaper the whole time we’re home, and keeping a potty nearby at all times. Yesterday he had one time of stopping play and peeing without prompting; the rest of the day, he sat at my request but didn’t do anything. Today he had one accident on the floor, but a lot more instances of pee in the potty, too.

I’m pretty sure he knows exactly what the deal is, and how to control himself, except when he’s distracted by playing. I don’t really know how the rest will go – going out in the world, for example – but so far, he’s very cooperative (amazing what M&M bribery can buy) and shown a good understanding of where pee comes from and how to control it.

I’m so ready to have diapers out of my life and budget!

Two Benji Vignettes

A couple quick things from our trip back:

Benji was a traveling champ, and tolerated all the waiting in line and hustling around and sitting in seats for endless periods of time, all with great tolerance. We had quite a bit of luggage to juggle, between his bags, his carseat, our two bags each, etc., plus needing to have one hand free to hold his hand and make sure he didn’t stray. Anyway, he did super, and just sipped his water whenever his ears felt painful on the ascent or descent. The rest of the flight, we pretty much just read books and ate snacks; it helps that we had a super-fast flight, just over two hours.

After our plane landed, we let him get out of his seat and stand up to look around while we waited for everyone else to disembark. He stood up, turned around, and looked down the length of the plane towards the back. With great sfriendliness, he said, fairly loudly, “Hello, everybody!” to all the people in the back half of the plane. His tone of voice was genuinely cheerful and yet surprised at the same time, a combination you don’t get when speaking with adults much. At least 50% of the other passengers who noticed his comment smiled and/or laughed at this.

Later, at home, Ian went to the store to restock our groceries while Benji and I played with his toys at home. (He came in and called, “Beep, beep, beep [his ‘alarm clock’ sound]! Wake up toys!”) To set the scene here, I was getting ready for nap, and Benji was playing nearby.

Benji: Daddy do nap. Not mommy.
Me: Why Daddy and not me?
Benji: Benji love Daddy.
Me [sadly]: Oh…
Benji [after a long pause]: Benji also love Mommy.

I couldn’t decide whether he was throwing me a bone, or what. But he definitely picked up on my sad-sounding tone and body language, and added the “also love Mommy” in response to that. Good evidence of his developing social awareness, even if it’s at the expense of loving me. (Don’t worry, I’m not really hurt. I know kids go through phases. Plus, I know he likes Ian to put him down because Ian usually takes a little longer, so Benji gets to stay up a little later.)

Visiting LA

We’ve been in LA since Thursday, celebrating my Nana’s 85th birthday. Benji has had so many fun experiences, I don’t think I can document many of them. But here are a few:

At the airport:

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At Great-Nana’s house:

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Benji demonstrates how some drums have foot pedals.

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Out and about:

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At the Alhambra Headquarters Fire Station

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Fire engines look pretty similar even thousands of miles apart.

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Firefighter Fernando gives us the grand tour.

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Very long urban search & rescue truck

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At Almansor Park pouring wood chips over a ball

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Looking at a June bug with Aunt Colleen (the bug is by Benji's foot)

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More fire trucks, this time San Gabriel trucks near Nana's house

Biking Benefits

Today Benji and I got to do two fun things because we ride a bike for the commute to/from preschool. I’m going to throw in a third related vignette for good measure, but these stories are practically infinite.

1. On the way there, a large work van went by and we saw it had a picture of a forklift on the side. We speculated about whether that meant there were, in fact, forklifts inside the truck/van/thing (Benji was all for this theory).

A little way down the road, there was the van, pulled over on our side of the road. I asked Benji if he wanted to stop and ask if there were forklifts inside, and he really did. So we pulled over next to the truck, the driver rolled down his window, and I asked (Benji was too shy and incomprehensible).

The driver told us that no, there were no forklifts in the back (sad!), but wait! Turns out that he was a forklift repair man going to the siding company across the road to fix one of their forklifts. We looked over there and, gratifyingly, a forklift just in our view picked up a load of pipes* at that moment. We thanked the driver and rode away, highly pleased.

*Autosuggest offered “puppies” instead of “pipes,” a wonderful and rather hilarious mental image.

2. In a very similar vein, on our way home from school, we went by a couple of City of Bothell work vans and trucks parked just off the Sammamish River Trail by a bridge over the slough. They were parked near a large blue tent. We decided to investigate, and the City workers were pleased to tell us what they were doing.

Apparently, wherever a sewer pipe crosses a bridge, even a small one like the one over the slough, there’s a pump to hurry the slurry (so to speak). There’s also a backup generator, in case power goes out. Definitely don’t want that backing up!

Anyway, if I understood correctly, after 35 years, one of the pistons in the backup generator got a hole in it. They ordered a new piston (they’re readily available, apparently, even after three and a half decades) and had just finished replacing it when we came along. The worker showed up pictures of the piston with the hole and the replacement piston.

Benji was very interested. He definitely understood the idea of helpers fixing the broken thing, even if he didn’t understand exactly what the thing was or why it was broken.

3. Finally, last week we were riding home on the road rather than the trail, when a fire engine from Bothell Fire Station 42 went by. Naturally, we waved. But even better for us, the fire station was actually in our route home, and we arrived there in time to see the truck backing into its spot in the garage.

Even more happily, one of the firefighters offered to give us a tour of the trucks, an offer we promptly accepted. We learned that the ladder truck’s ladder can go 100′ up (!) and that they use it for different uses than a tiller truck. The ladder has a bucket on the end that makes it useful for lifting equipment and people quickly, or for rescuing people from very high places. But, the firefighter said, they had to be careful not to bonk into things with the ladder when they turn the 51-foot-long truck, since the ladder extends a long way beyond the rear wheels.

We also learned that the truck had once gone out and rescued a cat from a tree, although they used a shorter ladder for that (they put the cat in a sack to carry out down).

Again, we left highly gratified and with lots of scope for play and stories.

We certainly couldn’t have had any of those exchanges in a car, zooming by too fast to stop. Biking allowed us to enjoy the journey a bit more, rather than just rushing from Point A to Point B. The fact is, although I like technology and efficiency as much as the next person, I have increasingly come to value slow time, one-on-one relationship time that only happens at a rate of one minute per minute. Benji and I have many interesting and, for him, educational conversations on our bike rides that otherwise wouldn’t happen. We certainly do use the car for getting places quickly, but I value and enjoy our biking time especially.

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Rain Garden, 2015

Well, poo. I just wrote a long, elaborate post about the rain garden and it got deleted by accident. That stinks.

As I was saying… Our rain garden is now in its fourth summer, a season it doesn’t like much. Summer is hot, dry, and sunny, all things not much beloved of native Washington plants. Many of the ferns suffer quite a bit, barely surviving. They need more cool shade, being understory plants.

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Ferns suffering from too much sunny, dry weather.

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Huckleberry barely hanging on.

The below is the last little leafy twig on a much larger, mostly dead plant that got cooked last summer, and is also prey to predation by bunnies.
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However, some things have worked out well enough. I planted huckleberries without much expectation of success – they die in captivity often – but one of the two I planted is doing decently well.

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Huckleberries sheltering beneath day lilies.

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Sapling sprouting.

I don’t fight all incursions by all weeds; I evaluate and decide whether to let it stay or not. This has really worked out in the grasses department, where all those grasses, sedges, and reeds I put in coexist with wild ones. Aso doing well are the dogwood I planted and a tall, woody, purple-flowering thing that I planted and now don’t know what it is. Anyone who has identification ideas, let me know. Those have both leafed out and provide lovely shade.

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Looking out from inside the rain garden towards the house.

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Rain garden shade, from inside the garden.

Oh, and in the category of plants doing great in this weather, but that aren’t in the rain garden: the honeysuckle. It’s grown from zero to nicely climbing this season, and even has some new flowers. Also, the avocado tree, which has grown at an alarming rate since I put out on the front porch. I have to keep it short enough to bring inside in the winter, potentially a very real challenge given that it’s grown something like 18″ so far this season.

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So pretty!

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Five foot tall avocado tree, grown from a pit I planted when Benji was a newborn.

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Something is eating my avocado tree, but what is it? How do I stop it?

Dulcius Ex Asperis