Mobile. Agile. Big Smile.

Attention Heisman voters: keep your eyes on this kid.

Carson took his first steps just a few weeks ago. He’s making his way through the stage where walking is interesting, but crawling is faster. And with more walking comes more falling. He’s grown a bit tougher in his second year, so the total tear count is being held in check. Here he is strutting his way along the Ocean Beach promenade.

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Days in the Valley

We took our first trip to Death Valley back in 2005 during a September road trip to southwestern Utah. It was a quick layover during a long drive to the storied canyons of Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. The scale of Zion Canyon with its high-country terraces and serpentine slot canyons quenched our thirst for a bit of adventure. And the Seussian red rock of Bryce burned its twisted forms into our memories. But the brief time we spent in Death Valley stuck with us most all. We found ourselves heading back just a few months later during an impromtu winter road trip down the east side of the Sierra. We gave ourselves more time to explore, making the pilgrimage to Racetrack Playa and ringing in the new year on the rim of Ubehebe Crater.

After Autumn was born, we started talking about when we could share the park with her, which was really a conversation about just how soon you could subject a young child to a twelve-hour road trip and camping in the remote desert backcountry. After a steady year of Tahoe trips and good number of nights in the tent, we decided fifteen months was about right. To make things interesting, we dismissed all of the responsible destinations and instead aimed for the Saline Valley, one of the most remote outposts in the largest national park in the Lower 48.

After ten hours of driving, doing a northern end run around the Sierra, we braced ourselves for the final leg of our trip: fifty dusty miles down the infamous washboard of Saline Valley Road. As it happens, the washboard wasn’t a problem. The 6,000 foot pass laden with 16 inches of unplowed snow was the problem. We white-knuckled our way over North Pass and drifted down to the valley floor, where we looked back at Autumn and took a moment to reflect on how incredibly responsible we were being.

That night, the temperature dropped to the low thirties, about ten degrees cooler than we had expected. Jody did an admirable job keeping Autumn warm, but low temps and the forecast for a major storm found us breaking camp by mid-morning and resigning ourselves to just a single night in the tent. We spent the next two days enjoying the hell out of the Lone Pine area, taking trips into the Alabama Hills and generally goofing around.

Two years and too many seasons have passed, and we find ourselves a family of four. Carson is fairly sturdy at age one and has ample tent time under his belt. We found an opportunity for another wandering road trip south. Two days after Christmas, we loaded up the Subaru and hit the road in the pre-dawn hours. A very dry start to the winter gave us the unusual opportunity to cross Tioga Pass in late December. We landed in a shoebox-sized motel room along Highway 395. Decompression in tight quarters took a while, but by the following day we found our way into the park and did a short day hike in Mosaic Canyon. Carson loved the view from his perch atop Jody, and Autumn was in her element, bouncing her way up the canyon. A full-speed faceplant had us both worried that our little girl would advance her quest to be toothless by the age of four, but the grill remained intact and we brushed the dust (and blood) away.

That evening we found ourselves more comfortable accommodations and settled on our plans for the following day. The temperature was relatively low, hovering around the low 40s overnight. Our original plan to camp in the Eureka Valley and visit the Eureka Dunes wasn’t going to fly given the elevation and corresponding temperature drop. But the Panamint Valley looked promising. Big and desolate, with a low elevation, the Panamint Valley was the perfect place to find some distance between us and everything else.

The next morning, we loaded up the car again and drove back into the park. We bounced our way north along a washboard dirt road and found a big patch of sand with plenty of room to spread out near the northern end of the Panamint Valley. Dispersed camping is the perfect remedy for the guilty feelings that usually vex families with young children in crowded campgrounds. Our nearest neighbor was two miles away and the kids had the biggest sandbox they could ever dream of. We played a bit and watched the sun set early over the Inyo Range. Camping in late December means very long nights, but we kept Carson and Autumn entertained until bed time arrived. Jody had her hands full sharing a tent with both kids. I stifled feelings of guilt and drifted off to sleep in my own tent just twenty feet away.

Morning brought happy smiles, but also bitter cold and a painfully slow sunrise. We filled our bellies with a big breakfast and broke camp, a little bummed that we had just one night at this amazing site. Our drive home took us back over Tioga pass and we stopped at Tenaya Lake, to stretch our legs and play on the ice. We drew into SF pretty late and knocked the sand out of our shoes one last time. We’ve now camped in three of the four major valleys in the park: Death Valley, Saline Valley and Panamint Valley. Getting to Eureka Valley just requires slightly warmer weather—something that isn’t hard to come by in this place. The kids had a great time and they’re getting used to these long road trips. We hope this is just the start of many more years exploring Death Valley and all the outer lands of this amazing state we call home.

More photos from this recent trip can be found here.

More photos from our 2009 trip can be found here.

Christmas Time Lapse 2011 – Short Film

This is the best way we know to condense eighty minutes of stocking un-stuffing and gift un-wrapping into a tidy little film. And we only had to press the shutter release once. This year, we have twelve-hundred photos in just under four minutes to capture a whole lot of Christmas cheer. For the kids, the naughty moments were simply no match for the nice ones this year, and Santa delivered once again.

We’re getting this posted a little late. There were some technical challenges and good bit of lazy to blame for that. But maybe it’s nice to have a little bit of Christmas in February. Take Care, All.

2010 Christmas Time Lapse

2009 Christmas Time Lapse

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Twenty Eleven: The Year in Review

Years from now, I’m certain we will look back on this year as a turning point for our family. We knew 2011 would be one of the most exciting, challenging and memorable years on record. It did not disappoint in that regard. Instead it left us with an appreciation for all we have and the support we enjoy from our family, friends and colleagues. If you’ll indulge us, we would like to give you a recap of 2011 for the Pritchard family.


Carson came into our lives just two weeks before Christmas 2010. The holiday season was a blur of Christmas lights and sleepless nights. We emerged on the other side of the New Year with a smiling bundle who soon earned the name Captain Smiles. Carson is a happy kid, but is certainly not afraid to speak his mind when the situation calls for it (feed me, burp me, amuse me).

In February, Carson took his first trip to Portland to meet family and friends and deemed the state of Oregon: “A fine territory, rich in natural resources and worthy of further exploration.” A few months later, Carson spent his first night in a tent on Grandpa’s back lawn in Twain Harte. The close quarters didn’t suit him at the time, but we’ve had two camping trips since and he’s warmed to the idea of sleeping beneath the stars. Carson spends three days a week in the loving company of our nanny Ahna and his best bud, Naomi Sabraw. In November, he watched his first OSU football game and was welcomed into the brotherhood of the damned. We shook that one off and celebrated his first birthday earlier this month with family and close friends. Carson becomes more mobile every day. He’s pulls himself up on anything in sight and teeters around on his squishy little feet. It won’t be long before we’re running after him, just trying to keep up.


Autumn has eased her way into Big Sister mode with equal parts curiosity and mild discontent. “Who is this diapered interloper in our midst?” (Yes, our kids really talk like this.) She’s become a champion road-tripper and declares a clear preference in music: Hip Hop. She loves to read books with Mom and Dad, and her favorites include: Ferdinand, Learning to Ski with Mr. Magee and The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes. In February, Autumn stepped into ski boots at Kirkwood for the first time and declared: “Ahh…now this is civilized,” then proceeded to give a sharp look to the knuckle dragging masses cinching up their snowboard bindings. We kept our expectations low and our supply of M&Ms flush (don’t judge us) and made it through the first ski experience with everyone’s feelings intact. Autumn loves her weekly swimming lessons at the JCC and also gave soccer a try this past summer (ehh…we’ll keep working on that one).

In September, Autumn said goodbye to the droolers at daycare and matriculated at Presidio Preschool. She loves going every Tuesday and Thursday and spends most of her time at PPS working on art projects, a pursuit to which she also devotes much of her time at home. In November, she had a surprise visit from the Tooth Fairy after a little swimming pool accident brought a bit more character to her smile. Autumn loves to laugh and dance and has become a capable sous chef, helping Dad with cooking projects nearly every weekend. She has the pancake recipe down pat – three of everything (see the video).


Jody took a major step this year in her professional life. In January, just weeks after Carson was born, Jody founded Pritchard Lighting Group. Starting with just one project that she carried over from her previous company, a steady stream of work began to flow in. Before long, it was clear that the plan for several months of rest was a pleasant memory. Plumbing the depths of sleep deprivation, Jody worked tirelessly to build a solid foundation for her new business.

In May, Jody traveled to LightFair in Philadelphia, where she delivered a talk to an audience of her peers on the design of lighting websites from a specifier’s point of view. Her partner for the talk was her long-time colleague and friend, Kristin Peck. This was just part of a collaboration that led to their announcement the following month and the creation of PritchardPeck Lighting. From their website:

Jody Pritchard and Kristin Peck founded PritchardPeck Lighting in 2011, intent on building a team of talented professionals who seek to elevate the practice and deliver a fresh and accessible perspective on lighting design. A creative approach to problem solving is combined with a strong aptitude for technology. This is a team with the curiosity to push the boundaries, and the experience to deliver something both practical and beautiful.

Fearing the title of Overachiever of the Year might escape her grasp, Jody continues to stay home with the kids two days a week, taking them to swimming lessons, the Discovery Museum and plenty of time at the neighborhood parks. Often, her work gets in where it fits in and she’s become acquainted all too well with the other side of midnight.


Matt is still uncomfortable talking about himself in the third-person but has acquiesced to the tradition of the holiday letter. In 2011, Matt saw his responsibilities grow in his role at Williams-Sonoma, where he works on strategy and new features for the eCommerce platform. If you spent any time on the Williams-Sonoma, PotteryBarn or West Elm websites in the past year, you’re already familiar with his work. In his limited spare time, Matt let his geek flag fly with a renewed interest in high-power rocketry and various tech hobbies. He still bakes and makes photographs whenever time permits, opportunities that are few and far between these days. At the end of the day, most of his time is spent trying to impress his kids with fresh dance moves.

Perhaps Matt’s greatest achievement this year was getting his young family out the door for three camping trips, including one bona fide backpacking trip in the Marin Headlands. Each trip was designed to allow for mid-night bailouts in the event of a blowout, meltdown or raccoon attack. The most memorable trip was likely our October trip to Kirby Cove, where we got to spend the night at the beach beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and just a stone’s throw across the water from our home on 25th Ave. Both kids got their first view of Yosemite Valley during a weekend trip in May, and were greeted by the biggest waterfall flow in a generation. In October, the crew headed south for a much-needed vacation in Palm Springs. A week of swimming, relaxing and exploring the Coachella Valley was capped off with a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park. After Christmas, the team will head south for bit of adventure in the wilds of Death Valley National Park and the Eastern Sierra playground they like to think of as their second home.

2011 has been an amazing year. We’re happy to have spent time with so many of you and look forward to a timely reunion with so many more. We hope you have a Happy Holiday season and a prosperous New Year in 2012. Take Care.

The Big ONE

Wow…that was fast. I feel like I’m just getting to know this little guy. The first year with Carson felt so much different than our first year with Autumn. But I’ll save that for another time.

Being a December baby, outdoor birthday parties are probably off the table for Carson. At least until we get the ski parties going in a few years! But the chilly weather just helps us squeeze a little more love out of the day as family and friends pack into our little place in The Richmond. The entire cadre of (local) cousins was in the house (we missed you, Bodhi). Aunts and uncles, grandparents and close friends rounded out the party and made sure no food went to waste.

Carson handled himself with the grace of a one year old…which is to say: he laughed and he cried with equal intensity. But it’s to be expected. That’s a lot of people to have looking your way, squeezing your cheeks, hanging on your every babble. The cake was a bit of a mystery to him, but once he employed is trademark overhand smashing technique, it all came together…or apart.

2011 has been a big year. And one that we won’t soon forget, thanks to Carson. Happy Birthday, Big Guy.

More photos from the day on Flickr.

Carson, Welcome to Oregon State Football

Oregon State football demands a special type of loyalty, one that defies reason and requires a penchant for self-abuse. During my tenure at OSU, our record was as follows.

  • 1994: 4-7
  • 1995: 1-10
  • 1996: 2-9
  • 1997: 3-8
  • 1998: 5-6

The program was coming on strong about the time I graduated, and during Jody’s final year at OSU, the Beavers posted their first winning season in almost thirty years. The following year, we traveled to Tempe to watch a 10-1 Beaver team trounce Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. I always resented the students who came through OSU in the years after I left. The Beavers were consistently posting winning records and playing in respectable—if not top-tier—bowl games year after year. These kids didn’t know what it meant to be a Beaver fan. To sit through rainy games at Parker Stadium, only to watch your team get thumped again and again. To see your team turn over the ball in the Red Zone two to three times a game.

It is with great trepidation that we burden our children with the emotional baggage that is OSU football. I imagine that parents with hereditary diseases and Cubs fans feel the same way. But maybe a little pain and suffering will build character. Like a Cormac McCarthy novel, the occasional bright moment (a winning season, or even a first down some years) shines with blinding light amid the darkness.

I’m exaggerating, of course. Some of my best memories are tied to OSU football games. But I couldn’t help feel a little guilty as we took Carson to his first OSU football game last night. It was a unique game, played at AT&T Park because Memorial Stadium is being rebuilt this year. He made it through three quarters before the long day got the best of him and he retired for the evening. OSU lost in classic fashion: 23-6. Maybe a 49er game would be good for his spirits.

Camping at Kirby Cove

We don’t want for natural beauty around here. It is good to remember that. After twelve years in the Richmond District, the sound of the fog horns has been softened by the white noise of citified life. Those horns should serve as a reminder. A reminder that Lands End is more than a name. That we sleep at the edge of the continent—a short walk from the great Pacific. It’s good to remind ourselves. To spy the Farallons on a clear day. To take a detour at sunset and spend a few minutes along the sea wall watching the horizon for a green flash as the sun fades away. Or maybe to spend a night in a grove of trees beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and watch the sun rise on your home, just a few miles away.

What a Difference a Decade Makes

In the words of Jermey Piven – Ten Years Man! Ten! In April 2001, Matt and I took our first backpacking trip together in Point Reyes National Seashore. I can hardly believe we’ve spent a decade outside together. Since then we’ve had countless adventures, the biggest of which is doubling the number of Sierra Souls in our household. It was time to go back to where it all began, minus the freeze dried lasagna maybe.

Over the weekend we opted to go put our new Humvee stroller (aka the “double wide”) to work and enjoyed a picnic together in the meadow halfway between the Vistors Center and Arch Rock. A hike? Uh, sure. sorta. I’m not sure what our twenty-something backpacking selves would have thought of rolling our kids on the same trail we walked years ago, but if parenting has taught me anything – it’s to stop being so judgmental and just appreciate that people are getting out and enjoying our public spaces. Especially sleep deprived sierrasoul-types. Autumn and Carson, you have no idea what you’re in for over the next ten years = ) Better grab your boots…

More photos from the day can be found on Jody’s Flickr site.