Friday, February 20, 2015

Hamilton Happenings- A year of family stories and photos

Kathy and I are flying overseas again tomorrow, so I won't have time to write a new blog this week.  In the meantime, I'm sharing Kathy's 2014 year-end Hamilton4 newsletter.  I removed or altered the Christmas-y bits. 

This family update was originally sent out as a Christmas letter to our friends and extended family.  As always, links to earlier blog posts look like this.

From Kathy:

Greetings, Family and Friends!

Our biggest news of 2014, in case you haven’t heard, was the birth of our son Levi James Hamilton on January 15th

Levi weighed 9 lbs. 6 oz. and was 19 ½ inches long.  Now 11 months old, Levi is crawling, climbing and getting into EVERYTHING!  More than Lena ever was at this age. He continues to bring us so much joy and happiness.

Vine video: Unclick the mute button above to hear Levi singing as he learns to crawl

Lena has accepted her role of big sister very well.  Lena loves her baby brother very much, and Levi’s face lights up whenever he sees her.

Lena and Levi enjoy playing together, except for the occasional, “Mommy!  Levi is looking at me.”  Yes.  It has already started.

In September, Lena turned 3 and began preschool two mornings a week at Aloha Christian Preschool, a ministry of our church.  Lena loves school and is making lots of friends.

Open house at Aloha Christian Preschool

Lil' Lena gets jiggy with it during Aloha Christian Preschool's Christmas program.  Kinda.

We are still serving as Youth Pastors at Aloha Church of God.  This past summer we led a combined group from our church and Tigard Church of God on another mission trip to Vicente Guererro,Mexico in Baja California.   We are planning to go back once again in 2015.

Missions work trip in Vicente Guererro, Mexico with Welcome Home Ministries

Garth preaches on occasion, when his shift at Delta Airlines allows.  We love the people whom God has called us to serve.

In addition to working for Delta at PDX airport, Garth also became a hiking leader for NW Wilderness in 2014.  He also started assisting with expeditions for other local outdoor groups.

NW Wilderness climb to the summit of Mount Adams

Garth organizes and leads hikes, scrambles, and adventure expeditions all over the Pacific Northwest, as he does with our ministry students.  Combined with his leadership, love for people, and passion for the outdoors, his aggressive-leaning hikes often fill to capacity.  This role also allows him to explore wild areas that would be too dangerous for hiking with Lena or Levi (or me!).

Garth also ran in the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon with some Delta coworkers.

A tutu-clad Garth with Delta coworkers, after crossing the "Finish Swine" of the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon

I still work 3 days a week at The Portland Clinic, and I love my new position of Nursing Support/Referral Coordinator for our Family Practice department. The other days, I am a stay-at-home mommy to two very busy L’s (Lena and Levi).  I often joke that I go to work to relax.  But being a SAHM to the L’s is definitely the best job ever!

In March, we (without kids) flew to Dublin, Ireland for a few days.

Dublin, Ireland- A few days before Saint Patrick's Day

I flew home to the U.S. early, and Garth continued on to meet some friends near Belfast, Northern Ireland for a couple more days.

Northern Ireland: Garth and a few friends from Australia cross the rope bridge over to Carrick-a-Rede, on their way to the Giant's Causeway

It was this Ireland trip that first brought out the separation anxiety that I get from being away from the L’s.  But I really enjoyed uninterrupted time with Garth! 

This summer we took our first road trip as a family of four for some hiking and visiting in Southern Oregon.

On that same trip, we also visited the Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon.  

Lena loved seeing all the animals up close, and Levi was too young to care.

We also took the kids on our annual Hamilton family camping and water ski trip at Banks Lake in Coulee City, WA. 

Garth of course occasionally flies over the pond for quick overseas friends day-visits to his many international buddies, but only when the kids are committed to plans that don’t necessarily involve him, allowing him to get away for a day or two.  Depending on the destination and the festivities, some of these international trips are eventually covered on Garth's Blog.

In addition to these overseas weekends and international family getaways, we sometimes take domestic trips as well.  For example, a few months ago Garth blogged about taking Lena for a Daddy-Daughter day trip to Seattle.

Daddy-daughter airplane ride

Earlier this month, Garth and I flew away together for a completely kid-free week.  It was intended to international  We tried to return to Johannesburg, South Africa (for a safari that Garth was planning), and then to Nicaragua and Seoul, South Korea.  But due to flying stand-by and encountering oversold flights, we ended up visiting friends in Seattle and spent some time in L.A. and Atlanta instead, including hiking Stone Mountain in Georgia.

Hiking Georgia's Stone Mountain before catching a flight to Rome, Italy

With only a couple of days left, I encouraged Garth to stick with our original plans and continue on for the planned Saturday night out with friends in Rome, Italy without me since he had a couple of extra vacation days.

It’s hard to sum up our year in a short letter, but I encourage you to follow Garth’s blog: Garth does a great job of writing about and posting photos of the things we do, including some of our exciting family hiking and surfingand of course our travel adventures.

We are blessed by a faithful God... May each of you feel His love this blessed [Lenten] season!

Garth, Kathy, Lena and Levi Hamilton

Thanks again to Kathy for writing this update!

Garth's blog will return next weekend with a book review of "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail" by Cheryl Strayed, followed by updates from our latest hikes and overseas trips!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Hong Kong hiking awaits

Pic tweeted from Hong Kong yesterday:  Hiking over the Dragon's Back here in Hong Kong, with hang gliders circling below

This post was written from the U.S. Wednesday morning, although I ultimately didn't leave Portland for Hong Kong until Thursday.  Long story... resulting in some disputed hostel charges.

Since I flew home to the U.S. this morning, I can start gathering some pics from yesterday's hiking near Hong Kong.  I'll share the stories and pics here, sometime after our upcoming Hamilton4 family update.  And our next family overseas trip is just around the corner!

From Wednesday:

All checked in for my Portland-Seattle flight, the connecting flight from Seattle to Hong Kong looks wide open, and the Hong Kong Hostel just sent a confirmation of my booking!

This 1 1/2 day standby trip planned for yesterday (Tuesday) was delayed by one day for good reason:  Kathy wasn't feeling well on Monday night. I wasn't even about to leave yesterday morning if there was a chance that she'd still be under the weather. This speedy weekend visit will have a different aim than my goal of checking out the Hong Kong protests (links are this color) last October. This one is all about the hiking.

Hopefully I'll find some Lena and Levi-friendly trails for our next visit!

124 Section 1 Tai Long Sai Wan.jpg
Hiking the Maclehose Trail in Hong Kong; Photo by David Woo on Flickr

Due to a last minute change to fly to Asia instead of hiking with my friend in South America yesterday, my research is sketchy. In typical Garth style, the past hour has been spent hastily downloading maps and copying blurbs of travel info to my Note phone... everything is paperless. And blogs like Hike Hong Kong have also helped to generate some hiking ideas.

On the way home, yet another of my return visits to Argentina may still be on the table!   My friend Sandra who is backpacking through South America and I have been trying to coordinate a quick dayhike that is a bit "closer" to home:  Iguazu Falls, on the border of Argentina and Brazil!

My visa for Brazil has expired, though, and the Argentina departure fee for U.S. citizens is a little tough to swallow. We'll see what happens.

Check back soon for posts about this Hong Kong trip, other travels, and recent hikes and climbs.

But coming next, the most important stuff...

A Hamilton4 family update!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Top 10: Most popular TRAVEL posts of the year (Unpublished #3 from Hong Kong)

A family trip to Spain:  One of our many, MANY yet-to-be-published overseas travel stories

From Hong Kong:

As explained last month in my Honorable Mentions compilation, this is Part 3 of a previously unreleased "Best of" series from January 2014, based on page views for my 2013 posts.  Yes, this series is an entire year old and these posts are from 2013.

Writing new content for this blog has taken a backseat recently to family time, ministry, leading hikes, the occasional climb, and traveling overseas.  Perhaps this unpublished series will help readers pass the time until I start blogging again.  If not, check back when I get home from Hong Kong in a few days!

As always, links look like this.  Here is the link to last week's "Top 10: Most popular non-travel posts"!  Only the 18 travel posts from that year were factored into this list.  So now, from January 2014, here are some brief reflections on each of my travel-themed Top 10:

10.  Bogota, Pt. 5:

Risky Business and the Musicology Hostel

Sometimes a travel post is nothing more than a plug for a Colombian hostel with plenty of character.  And characters.

A couple of earlier entries in this Colombia travelogue, covering my journey from the U.S. to South America, didn’t make this Top 10 list:  No Sleep ‘Til Bogota!, and also Bogota, Pt. 2:  Colombia, At Last

This journey that immediately followed South America began in Switzerland, continued in Italy, and was finally coming to a close when I met Ravil at the JFK airport.

More worthwhile, I.M.O., is the less popular "Italy: Killing a Day in Milan."  Stories and photos from my least favorite Italian city (I prefer the mountains and countryside anyway) included the can’t-miss sights of the Duomo cathedral and the Swiss/ Italian mountains.

On some years we frequently fly to Italy every few months, so I’m looking forward to seeing Houtan again on one of our upcoming Italian visits!

Though awash in criticism, this story was all clean, innocent fun.  After relocating to the next Colombian hostel, I edited and tightened up this post to clear up any misconceptions.

The inserted apology was probably overkill.

And I thought that previous #8 post about the birthday party was controversial?  Public and private backlash on Facebook and Twitter was staggering after I released this story of fellow traveler Hector and me exploring a rough part of Bogota, Colombia.

Granted, our lives were put in serious danger multiple times (including a terrifying, unmentioned episode that I’ll share in person but would never release online).  But Hector and I knew what we were doing.  And God was certainly watching out for us as we shared a wonderful act of service together.

True story, with one significant footnote:  The only artistic license I took with this narrative was my intentional vagueness about Hector’s true identity (again, I’ll freely share the “real” version with anyone who asks).

In other words, a few extra sentences would've changed this story completely.  Choosing to omit this detail dramatically changed the original, inspirational narrative into a straight up life-or-death adventure… and it definitely was that.

Three hours before departure, Mommy changed her mind about allowing Lil’ Lena to visit one of Daddy's friends in the Netherlands for the day.  I gave a rain check to my graciously understanding friend in Amsterdam and hit this Dutch beach town instead.

Thanks to my other well-traveled friends at the Flying Pig Beach Hostel, this relatively minor weekend getaway was one of my favorite trips of the year (after Rome and Venice, of course)!

But alas, there's just no substitute for an overseas daddy-daughter day trip.

5.  Northern Italy, Pt. 2:

Verona, Venice, and beyond

Before the year's end party in Rome, some clever friends surprised me for a most memorable weekend in Venice.  While the departure from Venice was downright catastrophic, the quick stopover in Verona beforehand was a joy.

The only damper on Carli's and my wedding facility recon for Robbin (which we never got around to anyway) and touristy Verona sightseeing was setting a sky high record for sleep deprivation.  Full flights had dragged out my U.S. departure for Italy by two full days, forcing me to cut out the en route get-together in Austria entirely.  Thus, I was a barely conscious zombie by the time I reached Verona.

I don't exactly remember falling asleep... But at some point that night, I woke up in Venice for the main event.

Speaking of ever-evolving trip beginnings, this unplanned trip to Osaka was the fallout from the unfortunate events in Part 1- China: Shot down and the earlier teaser, China:  Beijing in My Sights.  No single factor was to blame.  My convoluted visa scheme was risky, I was brushed aside by my hopeful contact in China, and the standby passengers were all deplaned when our flight was declared overweight in Seattle.

The change in destination sent me headlong into Japan's Golden Week. The festivals and parades were exuberant. And it was all worth the hassle for the opportunity to bust out some wingman magic for my eligible bachelor buddy, Xia.

My Japanese coworkers later objected that chaotic Golden Week is the craziest time of the year to fly standby to Asia.  But it came down to flying to Osaka or flying home.  On that note, flying home from Osaka was one of the most unbelievable "non-rev" ordeals I've ever encountered.  The best twist: getting my passport yanked in Guam. Long story.

And that's why there's definitely gonna be a very belated Parts 3 and 4 on Garth's Blog to conclude this saga.  Trust me, the rest of this story is too outrageous to pass up.

The Swiss protest photo above is the first pic that I ever "live tweeted" from a news making event.  Merely a week after my "In Harm's Way" incidents in Colombia (see #7 on this list), I wasn't in a rush to get caught up in any more excitement for the month.  But then this happened.

Kathy and I hadn't seen our buddy Sebastien since the dancing, sailing, swimming, and snorkeling at Club Med in Turks and Caicos Islands several months earlier.  After landing in Zurich, I hopped a train through the Swiss Alps to Lausanne.  Seb gave me some suggested sights to see while I waited for him to get off work.  Before sightseeing, I made sure that I could navigate my way to his flat and also to our meeting spot, the nearby Church of Saint-Franรงois.  All was peaceful.

All hell had broken loose by the time I returned to our meeting spot that evening.  Throngs of protesters had overrun the church courtyard and the surrounding streets.  The collective shouting* made it impossible to hear a phone conversation, so Seb and I attempted to locate each other with a mish mash of emails, texting and Facebook.

*Fortunately, there were no gunshots this time.  Kathy and I nearly peed our pants when deafening gunfire broke out during the earlier protest that we saw in Argentina.  The nerve of those guys!

By the time Seb showed up from work, the crowd had moved on.  I excitedly told him what had just happened as we left the scene to kick off our night.  Other than my pics and a video clip, he had to take my word for it.

The next day's stop was, you guessed it, another Italy trip.  But that was completely unrelated to my second most popular travel story of the year...

My tweet from the JFK airport taxiway was elaborated on here, in this short story about the alcohol-related incident that forced our plane to return to the gate.  It was hastily composed on my Note phone as my water taxi cruised through the canals of Venice.  And it is disgusting.

Consider this a cautionary tale about excessive drinking before flying... as well as a warning to anyone in the airline cabin service industry who is prone to gag reflex.

And the #1 most popular travel post of the year (and nearly all time) is...

Other than a questionably prudent but climbable side excursion (referenced in the title) that I discovered, the pilgrim's path up Colombia's Mount Serrate is not difficult nor dangerous in the least.  In fact, anyone in decent shape should be able conquer the high altitude and run up to the peak.

Lingering too late at the touristy summit, however, can lead to problems.

Since trail access is shut down before dusk, running back down may be the best option to slip through the gates before they are locked for the night.  In this case, though, there were some non-runners making their way down who needed a hand.  And you know what they say, leave no man (or woman) behind.

As I was assisting some older ladies on a steep stretch of trail, the gates below closed for the night.

 Lowering fragile bones over the side of a trail and then boosting them back up the other side was the only thing I could think of to get us back to the trail head.  Surely there was a better way?

Previously unknown fact: 
A single photo of Hector, the violence-prone star of #7's "In Harm's Way," is subtly buried in the #1 post.  That's probably the closest I'll get to publicly revealing the truth about Hector's identity.  Any guesses as to which one he is?

Thanks for taking the time to revisit these travel posts, readers.  The current adventure in Hong Kong is almost ready to be published.

Stories from our family's more recent and upcoming overseas travels are coming soon!