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.)

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.

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.

Alex Update

19 12 2014

I suppose it’s only fair to follow up Wednesday’s post with a quick update about what it’s like raising this guy.

Playing in the Fountain

Here’s a snapshot of Alex in the third grade.

  • I have a hard time getting him out of bed on school mornings. He burrows under the blankets and protests, “I’m sleepy!” Only when he says it, it sounds like, “I’m sweepy!” I’ve bought a Sonos for the kids’ room as an alarm clock and also a Philips Wake-Up Light to try to make the mornings easier.
  • It’s also gets harder every day to get him to eat breakfast. He’s tired and not that hungry. He and Patrick are opposites here. Patrick eats well at breakfast and picks at his dinner; Alex will skip breakfast if you let him but always eats well in the evening.
  • If anything, Alex wants to please authority a little too much. If he thinks you’re mad at him he breaks down.
  • Surprisingly, his enthusiasm for soccer hasn’t faded. When he was younger, after three or four weeks of any activity (soccer, skiing) he was done. We struggled to get him to do any more. Now we’re into something like week twelve of soccer and he’s still excited by every practice and game. His skill doesn’t match his enthusiasm… but hey, with me as a father, I’m surprised he’s even interested in playing a sport. Now he’s not one of those kids who, in his free time, dribbles a soccer ball to improve his skills. Alex’s motivation around soccer is social and not competitive. He plays to have fun with his friends, not to win.
  • Following up on that point — Alex is effortlessly social. He’s friends with everybody in his class. Again, with me as a father, this is a little surprising.
  • Our biggest frustration? Alex consistently does the bare minimum work for school. Sometimes even less than the bare minimum (like forgetting to fill out his reading log at all). This is a constant question from his teacher: “Alex, are you doing your best work?” I suppose, with me as a father, this isn’t surprising at all. I turned “the bare minimum” into an art form. I’m a little blasé about this; “concerned” but not “worried.” (I turned out OK!) But his laziness drives Molly bonkers. (And my laziness drives Molly bonkers, too.)
  • He still hasn’t turned into someone who reads for fun, and he’s still a picky eater. I hope both of these things change. I think my love of reading as a child helped compensate for my overall laziness because it helped me hone so many key mental skills. And eating good food helps make life fun. We’ll see if I eventually pass on these traits to the next generation.

And a follow-up to Wednesday: The thought of me returning Patrick’s Christmas gifts turned “stubborn and self-motivated” to our advantage. Patrick decided he wanted to earn his gifts back, and he’s been an angel the past two days. Maybe more of an archangel. He’s listening to us and his teachers the first time, he’s been cheerful, and he’s been doing things like cleaning up his bedroom and the living room without us even asking. (Now the question: What will he be like after Christmas?)

An Unexpected Victory

5 12 2014

An odd thing happened this past weekend: Alex’s indoor soccer team won a game. Until last weekend, they always lost. Usually quite decisively. 

Drop Kick

Alex played goalie for the first half and actually made quite a few saves. He’s no Tim Howard (not enough tattoos, for one thing), but it’s starting to look like he knows what he’s doing on the field. (Or do you call it a “pitch” in soccer? I should learn the terms if I’m going to keep being a soccer parent.)

Victory Face

(Post-game victory face.)

Our Birthday Boy

18 03 2014

Molly had her most inspired birthday party planning yet. Invite 3 of Alex’s friends over, buy a nice Lego set for each of them, and let them build. It was less expensive than most of our birthday party ideas and way less trouble… the boys occupied themselves for two hours. Just building and silly eight-year-old boy chatter. They only needed parents when it was time to serve the cake and ice cream.

(This plan worked so well because our friend Ben kindly segregated the kindergarteners over at his house, also with their own Lego sets. He said they were also very well behaved and spent most of the time building. The moral: Keeping the age groups separated is the key to parental happiness.)

While this was simple, as you can see, Alex gave this party two thumbs up!

Happy Birthday Boy

The Cake

Camp Colman

4 06 2013

This past weekend, Alex went here:

Camp Colman

With these guys:

The Crew

It’s unclear how much parental supervision there was. He got to play with fire.

Playing with Fire

But most of the time he did safe things, like roast marshmallows.

Roasting Marshmallows

Or build an aquarium in the sand…

Building an Aquarium

…for his jellyfish.


He got to canoe,


and shoot arrows. (That was hard.)


It was hard leaving the place behind. We hope to be back next year, and we hope the weather will be just as nice!

The View from the Beach

The Last Smile

18 04 2013

I’m not too fond of this picture:

Last Smile

I think Alex looks a little possessed. This photo was destined to die on my computer, unshared and unloved.

But then this happened:


When those teeth grow back, they’re going to be big. Everything will look out of place until his face grows bigger to match it. I saw that gap in his mouth and realized he’s never going to look like that little first grade boy ever again. It happened so suddenly!

So I wondered: What’s the last picture I have of him smiling with his baby teeth? Yup… the first one you see, a picture of Alex on our last full day of vacation over Spring Break. Yes, he’s possessed, but it’s the last captured smile I’ve got.

But there are probably lots of toothless photos to come. I’ll leave you with this one. Believe it or not, Patrick took it. I think it turned out well.

Father and Son

The Real Magic of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

31 01 2013

Grandma Georgina and Grandpa George

Grandma Georgina and Grandpa George.

This past Thursday, Molly and I picked up Patrick early and headed to Villa to watch Alex in his stage début in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He was both Grandpa George and an Oompa Loompa.

Let’s be honest. There were no Tony-winning performances last week. While the kids did surprisingly well with their cues and memorizing their lines, a 5-8-year-old can’t project to fill an auditorium. Anything that wasn’t said or sung into a microphone was lost. And speaking of singing: No, at that age, they do not sing in time with the music.

Ensemble Singing

The chorus sings.

But you know, none of that matters when you are the parent of one of the kids on stage. All I saw was the smile on Alex’s face when he saw us in the audience, and the smiles on the faces of all the other parents, grandparents, and siblings sitting around us. I heard the laughter and applause after each of the older children finished a solo. When the cast came out for their curtain call, I felt the buzz in the room.

This is the real magic. My kid was happy, my kid was practicing and doing new things, and I’m his parent. It was a great night.

Oompa Loompa

Alex as an Oompa Loompa.

Cast Party

The parent volunteers set up an excellent cast party after the show.

Cast Flower

Alex got a rose at his party. Patrick put it in the “vase” for him.

No-Stress Chess

26 11 2012

An unexpectedly fun purchase from our recent trip to Math ‘n’ Stuff was No Stress Chess. This set has a few tricks to make chess approachable for kids. First, the board diagrams where all of the pieces go at the beginning of the game, eliminating one piece of memorization. But most importantly, the set comes with a deck of “chess cards.” Each card describes how a single piece moves. When you start playing No Stress Chess, you draw a card and move that piece. For example, if you draw a pawn card, you move a pawn. If you draw a knight, you move a knight. This one simple trick tames the complexity of chess and makes it something a six-year-old can approach.

Once you get bored with draw-a-card, play-that-piece chess, you graduate to playing chess with a hand of three cards. It gives you a little more room to think about strategy, but is still far less complex than regular chess. This is the level Alex is on now. As you’d expect, I get a little fatherly thrill each time Alex asks me to play a game of chess, which he’s done obsessively since we got the set. This purchase has been as much fun for me as for him!

No Stress Chess