From Allie to Hazel…

22 Jun



So basically I’m celebrating Hazel because she has/is being so brave these past couple of weeks (and obviously all the time too). Not only has she just rocked the roller blades, but we have been practicing learning how to bike without training wheels. It started out, “Allie, no I’m not ready!” To “Allie can we try again?” And lastly, “Let go! Let go!” And although she is definitely still learning I have loved watching her conquer her fears with such strength. Near the end of practicing today she said, “I can do this!” And I just have so much love and gratitude for the little noodle and all her bravery… Watching Hazel start to say things like, “I’m scared, but I can do this!” Has been so amazing to witness. In the past she would scream and say, “IM SCARED!” and run inside. Basically watching her grow has given me all the nanny feels.

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8 is a beautiful number (Happy Birthday Grace)

28 Mar

Apologies to the email readers, you may have to click on a bunch of links to see the videos below…


Crazy 8…You get 8 when infinity (∞) stands up.  8 is the Chinese luckiest number.  There are 8 planets in our solar system (since Pluto got the downgrade). I graduated High School in ’88 and you were born in ’08.  And now you are 8.  Wow. 8.  Double that and you are 16 [STOP!] I can’t really think about that.

Except some days you MAKE me…

Grace: The Talk

Whaaaaaaaat?  Nope…not happening. (fingers in ears).  Cue Daddy tantrum.

OK.  Back to you being 8…

Well, this is you at 7 but today does mark the day I get to talk about all the things you have been doing…You are doing a lot (in fact, you may have complained about being over-scheduled).  For starters, you are playing some soccer, Portland style…

Grace, soccer in the rain

We are pretty sure you like it, even if you are new to the game. You’ve learned a lot already, like playing in the rain is kind of fun.

You are also working on your higher arts with Jim, your piano teacher.  He even invited you to open his annual holiday concert…

Piano Recital: Grace 2015

Your higher goals seem to be up a wall somewhere, ever since your beloved Allie got you hooked on climbing.

Fast Climb

And now there is this…

Grace Rollerblading

Gracie rollin’. That video is day two of you with wheels strapped to your feet and it was FAR beyond what you could do on day one.  Amazing.

But that is what you do, not what you are.  Here was my card to you today.

Daddy’s card 2016 from Brad Topliff on Vimeo.

To my beautiful, smart, funny, silly, creative, fashionable, sometimes crazy, artistic, happy, ridiculous (in a good way) daughter.  You amaze me every single day with your curiosity.  I love to watch you work and make things and try things and climb things.  I love when you tell jokes and try to make up your own.  I love your reading and your questions. I love when you spend good, fun time with your sister and I can see how much you love each other (even when you seem like you don’t).

Thank you for the last 8 years.  I can’t wait to see what you do next.

Happy Birthday.  Love, Daddy.

Love all of us, Mommy, Hazel, Lincoln and Scruffy too.


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Two hands for Hazel! Happy 6th Birthday!

21 Jan

Dear Hazel-

Almost every night for the past couple years, you have insisted that I sing you the song about hapless monkeys falling off the bed, bonking their noggins and causing mommy to make a very expensive call to their primary care physician.  Frankly, his advice is not particularly helpful but she continues to try until there are no monkeys left to worry about.  Talk about questionable parenting by this negligent monkey mommy and absent primate daddy!  Anyway, about 365 days ago you insisted that due to your advanced age, you required FIVE monkeys each night.  I agreed that it seemed logical.

Life just became VERY difficult for me!  Based on this past agreement, I now have to use TWO hands to count your monkeys.  I checked in last night on the ongoing relevance of this song about the tragedy that can follow unsupervised monkey fun.  You insisted that it is still necessary and when you turn 11, maybe we can start over with the fingers and when you turn 30, I might be able to count by 10s.

If I could count on 24 more years of singing about head trauma, I would take it in a heartbeat, but I know that in the BEST case scenario, your teen years will involve more eye rolls than monkey songs.  There might even be eye rolls about monkey songs.  But let’s not talk about that day, it make my eyes do something other than roll.

You are 6 years old today!  Despite my complaining above, I am very happy to get to share your special day.  It will always be bittersweet, as I go back and read the post from last year to remember just how much you have changed but definitely more sweetness than bitterness.

I haven’t been able to blog much this year so this might get a bit long but it will have lots of pictures in it, so it will be worth thousands of more words than it has.

Hitting the Oregon Trail

First things first, you moved to Oregon!  That was a pretty big deal for a 5-year-old and will continue to be a big deal for a 6-year-old.  Now that we are settled into our new house, we can spend even more time doing the fun things that Oregonians do.  Like visiting:

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Mount Hood (near where your Grammie grew up)…

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…and the Columbia River…

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…and the lakes…

2015-06-20 15.17.22

And dead relatives like this guy, your great great great grandfather, who set out on the real Oregon Trail and settled not far (30 minutes or so by car, not horse) from where we live now.

Goodbye Preschool, Hello Kindergarten

You had to leave your friends at Bright Beginnings Montessori, which was really hard.  But we found you another Montessori for the last half of your last preschool year, and all of a sudden you could name all 50 states on a map.

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So you graduated…

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….and started walking to Kindergarten with your sister!

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Where you have made a lot of friends!

HazelBirthday2015_ - 19


You have been absolutely loving school and your teacher Mrs. Cheney.

Soccer fan, future star

Part of moving to Oregon meant our introduction to the Portland Thorns, one of the best Women’s Football Clubs in the country (with the absolute best stadium).  You have embraced the Thorns with almost as much fanaticism as your mommy.  The top knot style you share with the goalie has become the stuff of legends.  Your skills on the field are new and your are definitely having fun working on them with your tiny little friends.  You make soccer adorable.
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The Many Faces of Hazel

We have certainly seen a number different Hazels since you were a three-nager, some good, some…well…let’s just say “loved”.

There’s the teenager, complete with ennui…
2015-04-16 07.17.43

The master of disguise…
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The grumpy old lady…
2015-04-05 13.57.58

The queen of puzzles…
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The happy flowergirl/sister
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And the angry one…
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The tired girl…
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and finally, the birthday princess.
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We love you more every day, Hazel, Hazel Dazel, Hazy Baby.

Happy 6th birthday!

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Happy New Year 2016!

01 Jan

8 years in a row!  

We made some pretty HUGE changes in 2015 and we are all looking forward to making something great of 2016! Happy New Year!




2015 is here, girls 2






Fwd: Both







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Happy 7th Birthday, Gracie!

28 Mar

Dear Grace

I am proud to say that this is the first birthday post that you will be able to read by yourself. It is a constant source of a amazement how easily you read now. I think if I go back and look (I’m on a plane now so I won’t, but you can…just search for “Happy Birthday) I will find that you were really just starting to “get” reading a year ago. Now, we find you with a book in your hands a lot and you love to read the signs wherever we go.

do no DesterB

One sign that you are growing up…

Your 7th year will be your 1st as an Oregonian! I think it is still a little hard for you to wrap your head around the idea that we don’t live in California anymore. When we told you we were moving, you and Hazel accepted it easily, as you do for most of the changes we inflict on you. As the move got closer, you started to feel it a little more and realize that you were going to miss your friends.

Something about you says "teenager" already.

Something about you says “teenager” already.

It is a sign of your great character that you made such good friends in your time at Sandpiper. Trust me when I tell you that you will make lifelong friends in Portland too. AND you will get to keep your friends in California, if you take the time to keep up with them. Both your mommy and I are very good at keeping up with our friends from different parts of our lives. Hopefully you will get that habit. You are about to start being Pen Pals with some of them and that is a great start!

Writing letters will be a great use for your new desk. It was your main negotiation point when we said we were going to move to a new house and a new state. “Can I have a desk with a rolling chair?” you asked. We built it last weekend and you jumped up and down and squealed, as most people do about desks. Later you announced that you were going to be “in your office” which made your desk builders very happy.

In your office...

In your office…

As much you love your desk, it pales in comparison with your love of talking about your teeth. You wanted loose teeth SO BAD that you seemed to have willed them loose. But you can’t seem to will them out of your mouth (probably because that would give you nothing to talk about). You have one bottom tooth gone and one so ready that you bend it out for anyone crazy enough to look at you in the mouth. I have learned my lesson. I no longer look up when I hear “Hey Daddy, look at my tooth.”

Your teeth are another example of what happens when you really want something (though this isn’t actually the case with teeth). You decided you wanted to read, so you did. You wanted to tell time and you learned it in a day. After months of off-and-on bike riding attempts – just days before the move – you told me to take your training wheels off and you rode your bike. You are an amazing kid and you can probably do anything you set your mind to, you just have to try (and fail a few times) and REALLY want it. Wanting it makes all the difference.

GraceRides! from Brad Topliff on Vimeo.

You want for nothing but you seem to want a lot of things (which is why we try to keep you away from commercials). You want to be first, you want to be funny, you want to be noticed, you want to be silly, you want to be with your sister, you want to be left alone by your sister, you want to roller skate (I think), you want to draw, you want to write, you want to read, you want to have the remote control, you want some new friends and you want to visit your old friends.

Speaking of making, this is your latest creation.

Speaking of making, this is your latest creation.

Whatever it is that you want, you have the power to get. Whatever you can imaging, you have the power to make. You are 7 today, and the world has no idea what it is in for.

The rule has relaxed

The rule has relaxed

Happy Birthday, Peanut!

We love you!

Daddy, Mommy, Hazel and Lincoln.

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Ride, Grace, Ride

10 Mar

In case you missed it, Grace picked a day last month and decided THAT was the day to take off the training wheels and go…

It took some practice and some jogging and some nervous balancing, but then off she went, into the sunset.

If you can’t see the video, try the link GraceRides!

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09 Mar

February was free of blog posts as we finished packing the old homestead into a wagon, herded the livestock (Lincoln) and headed north.  It was a bittersweet departure, but we knew it was the right time to leave the Bay Area – Jenn’s adopted home and my native one – to find shelter as well as rain from which to be sheltered. So far, we haven’t seen too much rain, but we are promised it will fall and fall and fall.  Maybe in the fall.

Grace and Hazel miss their friends (as do we) but they are handling the change like champs… and they get their own rooms.

They are only vaguely aware that their ancestors came to Oregon 160 years ago for pretty much the same reason, but they will soon know this with absolute certainty as I seek pioneer museums with which to bore teach them.  Whether it is history, nature or wine, we are looking forward to exploring Oregon as soon as we get all these boxes out of the house…

We hit the hot and dusty trail

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Happy 1st half decade, Hazel!

21 Jan

Dear Hazel,

Even though I wrote last year that you are a big girl (not a baby any more), I find myself still thinking of you as both. You are definitely still our baby and yet you change so much in a year that you simply can’t be a baby anymore.  You are a Hazy paradox.

At age 5, not many kids are requesting Radiohead tunes but you heard Creep in the Book of Life and the words “I’m a weirdo” made you giggle, so you ask for it every time we get in the car.   I quickly learned not to play the original. Even though you are “effen” special, you probably shouldn’t repeat that stuff at school, which you probably would because there can be no disagreement that you have a devilish streak.  We knew this years ago when we found you behind a chair with a large vitamin M (M&Ms) dispenser, dispensing them by the handful into your mouth. We have to watch you because you like to sneak places, crawling under the sightline of our bed to sneak into our room.  More that once you have escaped the bath process to run streaking downstairs.  You keep it interesting.


if only you knew that you are channeling George Clinton…

You are definitely not channeling your inner Mary Lou Retton.  Every Saturday, you make it clear that Olympic Gold is not your dream, as complain about getting dressed to go to gymnastics, but, like any teenager-in-training, I think you just like to have something to complain about.  The complaining is pretty half-hearted, though, and I’m pretty sure that you actually like to be there, bouncing and climbing and falling down, but still sticking the landing…

Bouncing Hazel (click here if you can’t see the video)

Speaking of training for your teenage years, the 8 years you have left before you turn 13 should give you ample time to earn a master’s degree, if not a PhD.  You would be able to pass Sassy Voice 101 today without studying…

Sassy Voice 101 (click here if you can’t see the video)

And some days, I can’t believe how grown up you look…


When I remember you this way…


Happy Birthday, to our adorable,



FullSizeRender 3


Ice cream loving…


Little big girl.   We love you SO much!

FullSizeRender 4



Hazel the Puzzle Pro, Queen of the Jigsaw

10 Jan

Everyone needs a “thing’.  Something they are good at that gives them pride of accomplishment and draws them back in, as they chase that feeling of satisfaction at a job well done.

When you are 4 (so very nearly 5) and the youngest one in the family, it isn’t easy to find that thing because you don’t seem to be as good as everyone else at everything else.  As the world whirrs by and everyone around you is busy doing something important.  You try to copy, or help, or just join in but it never seems quite right.  Unless that is, you are a “puzzle pro”.

At some point, ages ago when Hazel was a little girl of about 3, she discovered jigsaw puzzles.  We had a few boxes of them with 24 or 48 jumbo pieces and she always seemed to like doing them.  She wouldn’t listen when we suggested that she find the corners first or line up the edge pieces, she just picked up pieces and tried them every possible way, until they fit.  And when they did, she beamed with pride. We nicknamed her “Puzzle Queen” and she beamed some more.

In her 4’s, she would wander out of the closet carrying a puzzle and find a clear space on the floor.  We could hear a little voice somewhere chattering away to herself as she worked.  She wasn’t talking about the puzzle or even anything that made any sense.  She would sing, or tell herself stories, or talk about people she knows, all the while picking up each piece and to fit it with another.  For the others of us in the house that like jigsaw puzzles, this seemed a frustrating and inefficient way to work…but it worked.  Puzzle after puzzle, Hazel sat there talking and fitting things together.

In the past year, Hazel has completed each of her puzzles many, many times sometimes asking for help just to have some companionship. We graduated her away from the large piece puzzles to the 100 piece puzzles that say on the box for 6+ years, and she kept on doing them and we called her a “Puzzle Pro”.  When Grace was down with pneumonia over the holidays and all of us sequestered in the house, we bought some more puzzles – 100 pieces for Hazel and 200 for Grace.  Then we found first Hazel kept offering to help Grace (“Grace you’re not a Puzzle Pro”)
with her puzzles and then ended up just doing them herself.  They take her multiple days, but every time we lose track of her, we can hear a little voice in a corner of the room talking to herself and fitting the pieces together.

Hazel the Puzzle Pro from Brad Topliff on Vimeo.

Puzzle Pro

When the victory dance is over, there is no rest for the Puzzle Pro.  She just finds her next conquests and gets to work.

Puzzle Pro

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5 things that you may or may not have missed in 2014, that you should read now (if you are avoiding your family after the holidays) and feel great about it

02 Jan

Here we are in the new year and I am trying to catch up on trends that I have missed. I’ve just learned the Macarena and now I feel like I need to write a post that enumerates things you should feel or do, like “43 things that drive you crazy at work” or “13 celebrity butts you MUST see NOW”.

This meshes well with the fact that I was very lax in my blog posting last year. A fact that should not suggest any shortage of material from Grace and Hazel. I am going to try to be better in 2015, really…and eat better…and exercise more.

So here they are, the 5 things that you may or may not have missed in 2014, that you should read now if you are avoiding you family after the holidays and feel great about…

Disneyland (July)
We took our second trip to the big D with the kids and the first when they could actually ride rides. “Could” is a key word in that sentence. Grace could ride just about anything based on height and was willing to try just about anything. She rode the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror twice (both times clinging to my arm) and Splash Mountain in the front seat.

IMG 6650 2 from Brad Topliff on Vimeo.
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And she hugged every character she saw
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Hazel, on the other hand, declared that she “didn’t like characters” from the second she saw Goofy in the lobby of the hotel. From that moment, she would run and hide from every character (though she was ok with lifelike Ariel in a parade) and she would suddenly need to go potty when faced with the thought of going on a ride. We tricked her into the Cars ride and she remained dubious of any suggestions from there on out. We also made them go into a 3D movie of the Bug’s Life that turned out to have spiders descending from the ceiling and things jabbing you in the back. Both girls screamed and we questioned our own decisions from there on out.

This is what Hazel looked like when she saw…well, anything:


And this is what she sounded like:

IMG_6702.MOV from Brad Topliff on Vimeo.

Eventually she figured out that the carousel worked for her, so she and Jenn went around and around and around.



Hula Hooping
Some time in the summer of 2014 at the beautiful Bella winery in Healdsburg winery, as we sipped their latest delicious rose on the lawn beneath the shady tree, Grace found a hula hoop and we discovered that she actually knew how to use it.

Hula1 from Brad Topliff on Vimeo
We went home with a case of wine (it really is delicious) and the determination to get Grace a really good hoop. Toy stores only carried the cheap Wham-o kind that no self respecting kid outside of 1955 would use and the ones online were crazy expensive and hard to ship. Naturally, I quickly learned the secrets of the ancient artisanal hoop makers and connected some irrigation tubing together, wrapping it in colorful grip tape.

Then we learned that, like Lays Potato chips, more than one hoop is preferable.

Hula 2 from Brad Topliff on Vimeo

Grace the reader and writer
Grace finished Kindergarten with the love of school that we hoped she would have. 1st grade with Ms Brenner has continued that winning streak. She can’t get enough of her teacher and soon after the year kicked off, this started happening:

Grace the reader from Brad Topliff on Vimeo.

From a beginning reader to a kid willing to jump onto any word and give it a spin.

As if reading wasn’t cool enough,  Grace announced that she was writing a story. She walked around with her notebook for a day murmuring “once upon at time” and “dangerous” to herself. Eventually, this is the story that came out. Spoiler alert: it’s a little dark

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Unless you can easily read phonetics, it can be a bit hard to read.  Here is the official author’s reading:

Grace reads her 1st story from Brad Topliff on Vimeo.

Hazel’s firsts
Not to be outdone by her older sister, Hazel decided that 2014 was her time to start reading, too.   The plots of her “Mat sat” books may not be much but the pride she has figuring out whether Sam or Mat have a cat in a bag certainly is.

Hazel the Reader from Brad Topliff on Vimeo.
In her final year of preschool, Hazel gets to be one of the big kids.


which means less napping and (apparently) more attention from the young boys in her class.

Chef Hazel, the model
Like any almost-5-year-old, Hazel has more interests that schoolwork and boys.  She has found an unending source of joy in the kitchen helping her mommy. Mommy likes it a bunch too.

Hazel helps Jenn prepare pancakes


And when she finally, must get down to serious work, she heads out the door to go coal mining modeling.


We haven’t done a lot, but she actually enjoys doing auditions and has even seen a little work (watch for her few nanoseconds at 00:50 and 00:55), so who knows if there is more camera time in 2015.

What can be written about the Big Show that can’t be seen in the girls faces?

Grace , Xmas morningGrace and Hazel Christmas morningHazel hangs an ornament on the treeHazel has balls

We hope your holidays and new year celebration were everything you needed to cap off 2014!

Watch this space for many more posts in 2015!  I’ll do them right after my run.

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