Alex’s First Piano Recital

31 03 2015

Every famous concert pianist started with a simple polka.

Every junior high piano dropout started with a simple polka, too.

Time will only tell which camp Alex is in.

(Do not watch this video unless you’re a relative, or prepared to be bored.)

Errandonnée 2015

30 03 2015

A total stranger on the Internet made the challenge: On your bike, run 12 errands in 12 days. Minimum total distance, 30 miles. This is the 2015 Errandonnée. “Why not?” I thought. Most of my bike riding is because I need to get somewhere in the city, not about “exercise” or “training.” The errandonnée fits into my daily life. The most challenging, unnatural part was remembering to take pictures. (“Pics or it didn’t happen!” as the kids say these days.)

Well, probably because I didn’t view the errandonnée as a challenge, I had only 8 different errands at the end of the 12 days. For posterity, this is my snapshot of 12 days of city-life-with-a-bike:

  • I biked to & from work for 7 of the 12 days. (By the rules of the errandonnée, I can only count 2 of those.)
  • Kids & bikes go together well! I rode with the kids to school, to a soccer game, to a playground, and to Baskin Robbins.
  • Need to run to a store but dread finding parking? Bike! I made two shopping trips (Chrome and Swift Industries).

So, while I may not qualify for a cool errandonnée patch this year, my thanks to the Chasing Mailboxes blog for putting the challenge together. I love seeing people celebrate the practical side of biking.

Alex’s 9th Birthday

27 03 2015

The phone started ringing at 7:00 AM last Thursday, as distant relatives wanted to wish Alex a happy birthday. “Does it feel any different to be nine?” Grandmom asked.

“No,” Alex answered.

These days, I have a hard time writing anything about birthdays (one of the reasons it took so long to write anything at all). The kids’ first few birthdays feel amazing. “Oh my God! I successfully kept this thing alive!” Now things are on autopilot. Alex on March 18 isn’t noticeably different that Alex on March 19. A eight-year-old in the house doesn’t feel different than an nine-year-old in the house. What is there to write about now that our lives just gradually accumulate small changes?

Why pick this day to celebrate out of the steady stream of days?

Well, whatever the answer to that question, Molly planned another great party this year — lots of jumping at Elevated Sportz. The kids all had fun and the birthday boy felt special. Maybe that’s all that needs to be said.
The Cake

We Went to the Zoo

18 03 2015

We went to the zoo on Saturday; our first trip in a long time. Clouds and the threat of ran kept most people away. I wanted to see the zoo’s new lion cubs. Patrick’s the one who spotted them first: All asleep in a ball in the edge of their enclosure. Disappointing — I was hoping for frolicking.

Three Brothers

Make sure you look carefully. There are three lions in this photo.

Of course we stopped at the Zoomazium so the kids could play. There, Alex discovered that growing up has its downsides.

Someone learns there are drawbacks to growing older.

Isn’t It Dangerous?

15 03 2015

Scene: Morning in the cafeteria of Facebook Seattle. It’s a typical Pacific Northwest winter day. Heavy gray clouds hang over the Seattle skyline and the constant drizzle makes the asphalt glisten. A dozen computer programmers, all dressed in jeans in hoodies, sit around tables eating scrambled eggs with one hand and holding their smartphones with the other.

BRIAN enters the cafeteria. He’s wearing a stereotypical yellow biking raincoat (wet), shorts that end awkwardly just past his knees, dark striped wool socks, and waterproof shoes. A messenger bag is slung over his shoulder. He grabs a plate of scrambled eggs and walks to a chair by COWORKER, one of the hoodie-clad programmers. He puts his messenger bag on a neighboring chair and sits next to COWORKER.


COWORKER: Looks up from his smartphone. Oh, hey.

Read the rest of this entry »

Why I Bike

12 03 2015

When I was in my early teens, I was lucky enough to have a good friend with a vacation house on the shore of Silver Lake, New Hampshire. In the summer, I would spend three weeks with him and his family. We would fish in the morning, sail (and deliberately capsize) a small Sunfish sailboat in the afternoon, and in between we watched the clouds drift over the nearby green hills. I remember watching ripples move through the lake water, and I was certain of two things: First, I would grow up to be a physicist. I wanted to really understand how ripples worked, how a rock that splashed here could move things over there. Second, I was sure that I would live out in the countryside when I grew up. Cities were loud and dirty and crowded. I wanted to spend my time outside in the fresh air surrounded by trees and water.

I was an awful driver as a teenager. Here’s just one of many cringe-inducing moments. Parents teaching kids to drive is one of the most painful things ever, so my cousin Doug let me practice in his truck one weekend in the parking lot of West Potomac high school. On the wide-open blacktop, I made awkward turns and jerky starts and stops. Then Doug said I could drive his truck back to the house. On the two-lane road in front of the school, I faced oncoming traffic from the driver’s seat for the first time. I had no idea how much space the passing car needed, I had no feel for how big the truck I was driving was, and though a teenage boy would never admit it, it was all kind of scary at the time. I gave the passing car space. A lot of space. In spite of Doug continuing to tell me, in a very calm voice, that I should just keep going straight… I gave that passing car too much space. The next thing I knew, the truck was on its side in the ditch by the road. I don’t think Doug has driven with me since then.

A series of unrelated decisions mean I’m not living the life that my teenage self expected. I gave up physics after one class in college. Picking the University of Washington for grad school brought me to the West Coast, and meeting a girl and a job at Microsoft kept me here. Forget the countryside. I live in the middle of the fastest-growing big city in the United States. For a few years of my Microsoft life, I would go weeks at a time in the winter without going outside at all. Molly and I would get into our car in the garage, drive to the underground parking lot of our building at Microsoft, and then drive back to our garage at home. We’d never see the sun (boo) and never feel the drizzle on our faces (yay).

But one thing has remained constant from my teenage years to today: Thanks to my formative experiences, I hate driving. For fifteen years I lived with cars as a necessary evil to get to work and to get the kids to daycare. (Though thanks to thirteen years of carpooling with Molly, I wasn’t *driving* for most of that time in the car.) Two years ago, I discovered how practical it was to bike to my new job at Facebook. There are many reasons people ride bikes: To get excercise, for the thrill of racing, to save money, to help the planet. Mostly, I pedal to keep my butt out of a car. I love it like I never loved taking the bus downtown, and I think I’ve finally figured out why. Yes, I live in a city, but I now spend at least an hour a day outside. And it turns out Seattle has plenty of trees and water around; I just needed to get out and enjoy them. Because biking is work amplified by a simple, understandable machine, I even spend more free time contemplating casual physics: force, mechanical advantage, angular momentum. Biking connects me to those dreams I had in my youth. I had abandoned them without realizing it, and now I have them back.

Alex in the Sun

Seattle, with a bike, some of its abundant water, and hints of the trees.

New Year, New Bike

9 03 2015

The daffodils are out, we changed our clocks, and a new season of biking is upon us. My general goal this year is to spend more time biking with my family. Last year’s biking was a solitary endeavor and I’d like to change that (as long as the kids and Molly are interested). The big specific goal this year is to bike with Alex on the annual 208-mile Seattle to Portland ride in July. He’s been talking about this ever since I finished the ride last year.

To support these goals, I ordered a new bike in December that finally arrived this past week: A Co-Motion Periscope tandem. I can easily adjust the height of the rear seat for either kid, and in theory the bike will handle two adults. (I haven’t tried yet.) Everybody got to ride the bike this weekend, and it gets an enthusiastic thumbs up from both children.

Molly and Patrick on the new bike

We do have one problem, though — the number of bikes in the house has officially crossed into “ridiculous” territory. I counted this weekend and we have nine working bike saddles in the basement and only four butts in the house. I suppose the first step is admitting I have a problem…

Feats of Strength and Teamwork

6 03 2015

We’ve passed a few silly milestones in this house as the boys have gotten bigger. A couple of months ago I was wrestling / roughhousing / whatever-you-want-to-call-it in the living room with the kids when they decided to gang up on me. An odd thing happened: They were “winning.” I’m still bigger, meaner, stronger, and faster than any one of my children, but when they work together they can wrestle me to the floor.

The second milestone was just two days ago. Every now and then the boys try to pick me up, and of course it never works. It didn’t work two days ago, either… until both kids tried at the same time. Standing on opposite sides, they each grabbed me around the waist, counted to three, and lifted at the same time. To my surprise, they lifted me about a foot off the ground. They couldn’t hold me up that long — probably only a second — but the fact I moved at all made both kids extremely happy.

The Seattle Project

4 03 2015

Alex is learning about Seattle history in his third grade class. It’s been fun as a parent, too. One of his homework assignments was to go to someplace new in Seattle and take notes. We chose a UW Women’s Basketball game, and Alex spent a few minutes after the game learning about UW sports history from the mini-museum inside Hec Ed Pavilion.

Alex learns to make a

Alex learns to make a “W” with his fingers at the basketball game. Yes, the stadium was mostly empty for the game.

Then, last week, I chaperoned on a field trip to the Museum of History and Industry. The kids had an hour to work on a scavenger hunt, answering various questions about Seattle history. After, they worked in groups to identify various historical artifacts. Alex’s team had to identify a sextant. I don’t know how they did it, but they correctly knew that it was from the age of explorers and that we’d use a GPS for the same function today… but of course none of the kids knew how a sextant would be used. But I bet none of the adults in the museum knew that either.



The age of explorers.

But the most fun Seattle experience happened by accident this past weekend. We decided to go to the Seattle Bike Show by bike. While I’m used to biking everywhere, I’m still a little timid riding with the kids beyond the couple of miles around our house, especially when either kid is riding his own bicycle (as opposed to being pulled by me). The Bike Show was at CenturyLink Field, south of downtown… waay beyond my usual bike-with-kids stomping grounds. I don’t think I would have done it if there hadn’t been an organized family bike ride there. Riding in a big pack with other families showed me that it’s both easy and fun to get to downtown Seattle by bicycle… as long as you have the time to do it at a kid pace.

Exploring Seattle by Bike

Our route to and from downtown. Riding at Alex’s pace, it took two hours each way.

Our bike route wound up being an impromptu tour of Seattle’s industrial history. We went through trainyards and shipyards. We rode by an enormous ship picking up its cargo of grain at Terminal 86. We took the time to stop at Fisherman’s Terminal (“Home of the North Pacific Fishing Fleet”) and look at the memorial to those who lost their lives at sea. It was a way more fun and scenic way to get downtown than just driving on I-5, and I’m so glad we took the time to do it.

Bike trip selfie

Bike trip selfie at the Fisherman’s Terminal. Patrick rode with us to the stadium on our cargo bike, but he phoned in a rescue for the way home: Molly came to pick him up. Alex and I did the return trip alone.