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.

Chilly Hilly 2015

28 02 2015

Patrick and I were speeding downhill on Fletcher Bay Road when I saw it: The Mile 19 shortcut sign. Turn right on Lynwood Center Road and you stay on the main Chilly Hilly route, which gives you 33 miles of biking around Bainbridge Island. Turn left and you cut off ten miles from the route. In other words, the left turn means you’re done. 

I decided to check in with Patrick. I was pulling him along on a tag-along bike. If you haven’t seen one, it’s basically a third wheel that clamps to the seatpost of my bike. Patrick gets his own seat and set of pedals, but I get to help with balance and speed. I called over my shoulder to him. “Patrick, how are you doing?”

“Good.” He sounded chipper.

“Do you think you can finish the ride?”


I turn right for the full Chilly Hilly route.

On the ferry

Read the rest of this entry »

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.


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


Wood Smoke and Chilly Mornings

11 08 2013

Morning Sunlight

Last Sunday night, I stared at the embers of a dying fire, then looked up. Through dense fir branches, I caught glimpses of the starry night, a too-rare sight thanks to Seattle’s cloud cover and lights. But it’s summer, so the clouds are gone, and this wasn’t Seattle. I was at Cougar Rock campground, 3000 feet up the side of Mt. Rainier. 10 feet away, my family slept inside our massive Kingdome 6 tent, exhausted in their sleeping bags.

The Leis family was asleep in the next campsite. Camping had been Jenny’s idea. Her twin sister Katie had flown in from the East coast to join the adventure, and we’d celebrated their birthdays around the campfire with cupcakes and candles the night before. Not a bad way to turn ____ years old. Though with the absence of presents and inflatables, I’m not sure my kids recognized it as a birthday party. To a 7-year-old, grownup birthdays make no sense. Boring!

Other friends of the Leis’s had joined us on the trip. Their campsite was nearby, still on Loop B, but out of sight. They also had two boys, so between us we had six boys aged 7 and younger. It sounds like a recipe for chaos, but the forest is a perfect place to absorb and channel little boy energy. Earlier that night, as we grownups sat around the fire and enjoyed our grownup drinks, the kids had been roaming the campsites in the dark. The boys were chasing a group of slightly older girls on bikes who we’re pedaling around and around Loop B. Our boys thought this was the best game in the world, and I think the girls were just trying to ignore them. Our parental supervision was limited to a periodic census, making sure we could count six glow-sticks through the trees. It was awesome.

Nisqually River Boys

We’d spent the morning hiking the trails above Paradise. Because the campsite was so close to the trails, we beat the worst of the crowds in spite of our unhurried breakfasts. We’d lucked out on the weather. It was warm but not hot. In front of us, we had clear views of the massive glaciers; mountain ridges ringed the horizon behind and below us. When the serious mountaineers would pass by, we’d point out their helmets, ropes, and ice axes to the kids. With binoculars, we could see the line of climbers on their way to the base camp 4000 feet above us. Their tiny black silhouettes stood out against the blue-white ice field. They’d be making their summit attempts the next day.

We made it to the tree line. We got to hike across a 50 foot stretch of snow, which was the highlight of the morning for all the kids. That and the marmots that stalked us through the alpine meadows. Spectacular mountain vistas? Boring! Snow in August and Rodents of Unusual Size? Awesome!

Above the Treeline

The act of hiking itself, just putting one foot in front of the other, challenged Patrick at times. I don’t know if we would have made 50 feet up the trail, much less to the tree line, if I hadn’t caved in and carried him piggy-back-style, with my backpack full of water, food, and a first aid kit slung on my front. With all the extra weight, I got my exercise for the day. I was a little disappointed that my Fitbit said I’d only walked the equivalent of 92 flights of stairs that morning. It felt like more. My wrists were sore for two days from the strain of supporting Patrick’s butt.

While the grownups liked the hike, the kids were happiest in the campground. They climbed logs and chased girls. Alex carried a stick most of the day. He made a noble but ineffective attempt to sharpen it, and it was his spear for elk hunting. All the boys got Junior Ranger patches from the evening Park Service program at the campground. Patrick found ants, ant larvae, and beetles, and proved (again) he’s not at all squeamish about picking up bugs.

As I reflected on the day, I knew what the kids liked so much about the campsite was freedom. As long as they were close enough for us to hear them, we let them do what they want. Modern childhood is structured and supervised around the clock. Having hours to just go play with friends is as rare a treat for them as a starry sky is for me. We’d be heading back to Seattle and normal life the next day. I didn’t know if I’ll be able to give this kind of freedom to the kids in our city life, or if this will always be something that comes with wood smoke and chilly mornings. But I’m glad they got this treat this summer. Patrick told me it was the best weekend of his life.

Parenting Version 2.0 continues to be great. Tired and happy, I joined my sleeping family in the tent.

The Family 

The Brothers

Skagit River Eagles

28 01 2013

It’s Bald Eagle Festival Time! Every December and January, both bald eagles and birdwatchers head to the Skagit river. The eagles come from as far away as Alaska to feed on the carcasses of spawned salmon. At first light, the eagles head to the river to feed. They’re a talkative bunch and will make lots of noise calling to one another. After eating, they head to the skies. On clear days, they’ll go exploring. On grey and rainy days, they’re more subdued and tend to hunker down in nearby trees. Those are the best days to go eagle watching. Growing up in Virginia, in the aftermath of DDT, I thought seeing a bald eagle in the wild was a once-in-a-lifetime treat. On the Skagit in winter, you can see several at each bend in the river.

Distant Eagle

Alas for my photography, this is the closest I could get to an eagle. We stopped on the side of the road on the way home for this shot.

I didn’t know all of this before Saturday. Friday night, all I knew was the address of the Bald Eagle Interpretive center in Rockport, WA. That, and that they have guided nature walks each Saturday at 11:00 in December and January. Everything else I learned from Bob, the retiree who generously lead us on our walk through Howard Miller Steelhead County Park, who brought his own spotting scope and tripod, and who set it up low to the ground especially for Alex and Patrick after everybody else had left. I love volunteers.

I learned a few other things from Bob. For instance: The salmon run was two weeks earlier than normal this year, so most carcasses had already washed far downriver. The eagles follow the carcasses. Ergo, there was not a single white feather to be seen in Rockport. (For the kids, Bob trained his spotting scope on a Great Blue Heron. And we did see one immature bald eagle — all brown feathers — flying low overhead as we walked back to the car.) We drove through two hours of rain and walked through a half a mile of mud for eagles, and all we got were spindly-legged frog fishermen that we can see in abundance 15 minutes from our house. What?!

Patrick is not impressed

Patrick is not impressed with the wildlife.

To salvage the trip, we headed 8 miles up Highway 20 to the town of Marblemount to grab some lunch and check out the fish hatchery… supposedly a good stop for kids, and another place to spy some eagles. Well, let me tell you about Marblemount. In the winter, this town is literally the end of the road. As you approach, you’re first greeted by roadsigns telling you this is your last chance for services for 76 miles. Then, you’ll see the signs telling you that Highway 20 is closed for the winter in another 30 miles. This is it… a dead end. The town, when you get to it, is a post office, the fish hatchery, and 10 storefronts, 8 of which are closed for the winter.

And you know what? Marblemount was awesome. 1 of the 2 open storefronts was a restaurant that served huge portions of burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, and French Fries. It gave us the nourishment to continue our adventure. And the fish hatchery was delightful. Yes, it is a cold, concrete, industrial building. But like the Bald Eagle Interpretive Center, it too has a retiree volunteer, this time ready to share his passion of fish rather than fowl. The boys got to see salmon eggs, salmon fry, and a frozen 48-pound Chinook salmon that looked like a monster from the last ice age.

Patrick and the Small Fish

Newly hatched salmon. You can still see the yolk sac. 

Frozen King Salmon

A Chinook salmon caught by one of the hatchery workers. They put it in the freezer and bring it out for the tours. The teeth are terrifying in real life.

In spite of setbacks, the Miracle of the Mountains made it a wonderful day. In the mountains, fog and mist are beautiful and mysterious. In the lowlands, that’s just dreary. On our way back to Seattle we drove through pockets of snow flurries and watched them swirl around moss-covered trees. In Seattle, it was just rain — part of the wet purgatory that will last until July. And as we headed downriver on the way home, I knew to look in the trees. I saw bald eagles at every bend.


In the mountains, this isn’t dreary. It’s mysterious.

Boys at the Trailhead

The boys love spending time outside. Here they are at the trailhead at Howard Miller Steelhead County Park.

Boys, Troll

7 01 2013

Boys, Troll

Two days before Christmas, I spent the morning hanging out with the boys and the Fremont Troll. This was an even better idea than it seems. The boys climbed, jumped, got dirty, and had an all-around excellent time. It was better than a playground.

My ulterior motive was a clandestine trip to The Book Larder, Seattle’s best cookbook store. There, I bought a copy of Modernist Cuisine at Home as a present for Molly. We haven’t had much of a chance to cook from it yet, but I can’t wait to spend time with it in the kitchen. (Wait, I said it was a present for Molly, right?)

Pumpkin Time

7 10 2012

This is what I imagine it feels like to visit Australia at Christmas. All of the holiday trappings are there, but the weather is just wrong. That was our experience today. In spite of the full-on summer weather — cloudless, sunny, warm — the calendar says October so we headed to our favorite pumpkin patch: The Farm at Swan’s Trail.

Pumpkin Patch

Like last year, we went with Asher, T.J., and their family. With all the jumping the kids did, I estimate they spent 20% of the trip not touching the ground. The hay pit seemed especially popular. It was shaded, and the kids got to spice up their usual routine of “jumping” with “throwing hay.” (Although, in my role as Meanest Dad in the World, I told them to stop throwing hay whenever I saw it. That never seemed to stick for long.)

Big Jump

The Farm added a new attraction this year: A large, orange, inflated jumping “pillow.” Imagine one of those inflatable bouncy-house attractions from a street fair or Pump It Up, and just remove the side walls, and you’ve got the idea. This was as fun as the hay pit.

Bouncing Children

This is the first year I got to experience The Farm’s signature attraction: A 12-acre corn maze shaped like Washington State, complete with highways and over 200 cities marked inside. Last year, Patrick was too young for the maze, so he and I skipped. This year, we were maze buddies and we got through in record time. I can’t wait until the kids want to explore the maze and find all the things hidden inside, rather than just escape the maze.

An arial view of the corn maze.

Patrick’s going through an animal-obsessed phase right now. He and I spent a lot of father-son time away from the others, checking out the animals at the farm. Patrick had an odd obsession with the “Four Little Pigs” show. He remembered it from last year. From my adult perspective, it’s a lot of waiting in a small, crowed amphitheater for a five-minute interpretation of the Three Little Pigs. It must have made some impression on Patrick, though, because he would have happily waited in an empty amphitheater for hours, just waiting for the show to start. He didn’t want to miss those pigs! (It took all my powers of persuasion to convince Patrick that it was OK to leave the empty amphitheater, and we could make it back in plenty of time for the show to start.)

Patrick most enjoyed the hands-on animal exhibits: Petting rabbits and holding kittens. I must admit it melts my heart to see how thoroughly these little animals captivated our red-headed imp. He was gentle and sweet with them the whole time.

Patrick Holds a Kitten

Perhaps because of the weather, we stayed a few hours longer than we have in the past. Everyone was exhausted (and a little pink from the sun) by the time we headed home. A marvelous day.