Seventeen Miles

28 01 2015

Sunday’s weather was the most spring-like of our recent warm spell. 60 degrees, dry… much nicer than we have a right to expect in January. We took advantage and made it a car-free day for the kids. In the morning, we biked to Alex’s soccer game. In the afternoon, we biked to Gas Works Park. All told, it was seventeen miles of biking, which I think is a record for Alex. He’s getting bigger and his biking is getting better. I had to raise his seat, and he consistently beats me up hills. (In my defense, I am pulling a heavier bike and 55 pounds of red-headed dead weight up those hills.) Alex’s legs & butt handled the miles well. However, his saddle is now higher than his handlebars, and that took its toll on his arms and back. I’ll adjust his handlebar height before our next long ride.

Sunday I also discovered a new family bike formation that works much better for us. In the past, we always rode with Alex in the front, and I’d follow with Patrick on the cargo bike. I felt confident in this formation because I could keep an eye on Alex as we rode. When we rode to Gas Works on Sunday, though, we had to navigate several detours on the Burke Gilman trail. Rather than call out instructions to Alex to make sure he went the right way, I simply said, “Follow me!” and rode in front. It was a little nerve-wracking at first because I couldn’t see him, but the longer I rode the more I became convinced this was the better way to ride. Not only was it easier to guide Alex through turns and intersections, I also got to set a consistent pace — a skill he hasn’t mastered. This way of riding was also more entertaining for both kids. Patrick wound up sitting backwards on the deck of the cargo bike, facing Alex, so it was easy for the two of them to talk to each other as we rode. We must have made quite the sight on the trail.

Monday was the last day of nice weather, so we biked to and from school… something we haven’t done since the darkness of winter descended. All told, that means we went more than 48 hours without putting the kids in a car. Not bad for the middle of winter. I’m sure we’ll beat that streak when good weather comes in earnest.

Yellow, Red

Patrick climbing at Gas Works.

Sparring Partners

Nice weather on a Sunday at Gas Works? Of course there are people wearing armor and fighting!

Bike to school in January

Getting ready to bike home.

Lord Hill Regional Park

26 01 2015

Another weekend, another hike through the woods. We took advantage of the spring-like weather and spent Saturday afternoon exploring Lord Hill Regional Park. It was our first time there. I was hoping we’d see wildlife, and I came armed with binoculars and a telephoto lens. However, while we heard plenty of frogs and saw a beaver dam, plants & mud defined the rest of our interaction with nature. Still, I’m glad we tore the kids away from their screens and got them outside.

The Deep Dark Woods

The rest of the photos.

Snoqualmie Falls

23 01 2015

Yet another awesome thing about working at Facebook: MLK day and President’s Day are company holidays. This is a big deal now that we have school-age kids; we don’t have to burn a vacation day or find childcare for these two school holidays. 

This year for MLK Day, I took the kids on a “hike” at Snoqualmie Falls. We started at the top of the falls:

Upper Observation

…took the short nature trail to the bottom:


…then walked back up again.

On a Walk

It’s more of a “stroll” than a hike, but it was just the right amount for two city-slicker kids. This was also the inaugural trip of the kids’ new Camelback backpacks, which they used to carry their own water and snacks. We bought these recently in anticipation of cross-country ski lessons, but those keep getting cancelled due to lack of snow. I also let the kids bring two old hiking sticks that have been lying unused in the basement for the past decade. Miraculously, these did not turn into swords.

Patrick’s verdict? “Dad, can we go hiking more often?” I sure hope so, kiddo.


Picking Up Kids after Biking Home

21 01 2015

How I commute

When sea levels rise and submerge most of Seattle under the briny deep, our house will still be dry. That’s the good news. The bad news: I have to bike uphill to get home from work. I get to choose between a half mile of steady grind, or a long stretch of false flat followed by two blocks of steep. No matter what I choose, I pull into my garage sweaty and out-of-breath. In general, my attitude is, “Sweat dries.” I don’t mind hanging around my family in this state. (You’ll have to ask Molly if she minds my appearance at the dinner table.)

But then there are the days I need to pick up the kids from school. Those days, I pedal into the garage, panting. I hang up my bike then immediately head to the car to get the kids. The school is close to the house, so my face is still red and my hair is still damp when I arrive. Every other parent wears respectable business attire. They engage me in polite smalltalk even though I look ridiculous. My collar sticks uncomfortably to the back of my neck. It’s not enough that I’m a slovenly software developer, I’m now a sweaty slovenly software developer.

When the boys reach That Age, I’m going to give them plenty to be embarrassed about. Add this to the list.

Best Job Ever, Space Needle Edition

17 01 2015

Wednesday, employees of Facebook Seattle got to hack at the Space Needle. The change in scenery would have been refreshing on its own. However, on Wednesday we also had perfect winter weather, so the whole day was kind of magic. I made a New Year’s resolution to take more photos this year, and to succeed I’ll need to stretch myself and create interesting images from mundane situations. Wednesday, though, was a freebie. I got to be in the right place at the right time and point my camera at pretty things. That’s fun, too.

Oh Hi, Lake Union

Mt. Rainier and the City

Three Ships

Cloud Abstract


Minnesota 2014

14 01 2015

I’m finally done with the Christmas photos. You can find my favorite selections here and here.

It was an iPad Christmas.

Yes, the kids got outside for sledding, snowball fights, and making snow caves. But when it gets down to -20 with the wind chill, responsible parents can’t keep throwing the kids outdoors, no matter how much those responsible parents might want an escape from the chaos. Aunt Becky organized lots of indoor activities to help release the kids’ energy without frostbite: Bowling, laser tag, the amusement park at the Mall of America, and running through downtown Rochester by way of its protected skybridges. But there’s a limit to how much you can or should provide kids’ entertainment for them. It’s good to let them fend for themselves. This Christmas, when those times came, the kids invariably commandeered the nearest screen.

Screen Time

You know how the younger generation makes fun of the older generation for not understanding technology? I thought my job programming computers protected me from that fate, in spite of the increasing gray at my temples. Well, that’s not the case. The kids’ game of choice, Minecraft, completely baffles me. They played for hours over the break, but I’m helpless at describing exactly what they did in the game. It’s like asking a chicken to describe quantum mechanics; with absolutely no comprehension, it’s hopeless. So I can’t begin to explain Minecraft, but it kept the kids happy and occupied. That’s enough.

I’m sure the kids would have been thrilled with a holiday break that was nothing but screen-time. But as adults, we know better, and we know that no holiday is complete without a feast. We had two, bookending the Brown Clan time together in Minnesota. Aunt Becky cooked a turkey dinner to welcome us all to Minnesota; Nana cooked a standing rib roast on our last night together. As an adult, I can tell you both meals were fabulous. I don’t know what the kids would tell you. As every family around the table had the same conversation about “I want you to just try this food” with their offspring, I suspect the universal opinion from the next generation would be, “Why do you have to ruin a perfectly good holiday with green beans?”

The whispers started as the dishes were drying after our last meal together: “We need to take a family picture!” Thus began the most challenging of holiday rituals: Getting the family portrait. While I understand f-stops and off-camera flash, I have no real tricks for getting 15 people to all smile at the same time and keep their eyes open. It’s just luck. That, and bribing the kids: “Come on, if you take one more serious picture, we can do a silly picture after that!” It worked:

Silly Family Portrait


9 01 2015

Minnesota, December 2014: Jetlag kept Alex and Patrick from falling asleep at night. The usual parental question of “How do we tire these kids out?” became even more urgent than it usually is on school breaks.

Luckily for us, three inches of dry, powdery snow fell the second night of our trip. The next afternoon, we bundled up the kids and headed to the Rochester Country Club. The snow hid all signs of golf and gave us a landscape with large, uninterrupted swaths of white and no cars. It’s the perfect place to turn kids loose and let them sled.

Hike to the Hill


From a “tire kids out” perspective, few things work better than making them walk up a hill a few dozen times in the cold. And they all did it willingly, with smiles on their faces, because of how much fun it was to go back to the bottom.

It was an exceptionally good sledding hill. It sloped down several hundred feet, its width gave a large margin of error for imprecise steering, and it came to a gentle stop with no crazy obstacles. I did a couple of runs myself. Free-falling down a hill: It felt like skydiving without leaving the ground. 

Return Trip

Smiling Patrick

The Boys

Four at Once

Sperling Family

Katie Spins

Mother and Daughter

Sled Train

December Backlog: Zoolights

6 01 2015

I’ve got quite a backlog of photos from December to work through. Let’s see how long it takes to work through them.

On December 21, we checked out Zoolights with the Leis’s. We arrived at the zoo with hundreds of other families after dark. While the animals were not on exhibit, Woodland Park Zoo strung thousands of tiny LED lights through the exhibits around the north meadow into the shapes of all of their headline animal attractions. It’s like walking through a gigantic 3D Lite-Brite set.

The lights are neat, but the transformed Zoomazium really excites the kids. Inside, the décor sets the mood with blue lights, decorative snowflakes, and hundreds and hundreds of fake yarn snowballs. You can imagine the effect. As soon as you walk inside, you become part of a gigantic kid-vs-parent indoor snowball fight. The kids occupied the high ground, claiming the play mountain as their fort. From there, they would either play it safe and lob snowballs at the parents milling on the ground, or the kids would be more daring and launch raiding parties. Raiding parties take advantage of the general mayhem to weave quickly through the adults and launch point-blank sneak attacks on parents from behind.

Yup, a good time was had by all.

Alex Takes Aim

Patrick Takes Aim


The best kind of indoor soccer…

2 01 2015

…are games where there aren’t enough players for substitutes. Constant running means the kids are even more tired… which for first grade soccer, is really the point, right? Patrick’s last game before vacation was like that. The other team only had three players. We loaned them two players (including Patrick) and had just enough for a no-sub game on both sides. Given how hard it was to get the kids to sleep well with the excitement of Christmas, the extra running was awesome.

Solstice Soccer