As part of our trip to the Museum of Flight today, the boys and I attended a talk by astronaut Barbara Morgan. She's quite a remarkable person. After she graduated from Stanford, Barbara taught in a variety of elementary schools from an Indian reservation to Ecuador. She was selected as the backup to Christa McAuliffe as the Teacher in Space, picked from over 11000 applicants. After the Challenger disaster and McAuliffe's death, Barbara took on the role of Teacher in Space. She later was selected by NASA as a Mission Specialist and became a full-time astronaut, NASA's first "Educator Astronaut". After years of delays due to the Challenger and Columbia accidents, she flew on STS-118 on the Endeavor in 2007, bringing parts and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). She's now on the board for the Challenger Center and teaches at Boise State University.
She took the Stanford Alumni Association audience through her flight, from launch to docking with ISS to landing. It was fun to hear her stories about what it was like, especially the little things like how they put strips of duct tape in convenient positions ahead of time so they could use them quickly to keep things from drifting around the zero-g cabin.
It was especially neat to have her give the talk in front of the real Full Fuselage Trainer - a full sized mockup of the Space Shuttle that the astronauts like Barbara trained on. She kept gesturing at different parts of the FFT as she talked. We're fortunate to have gotten it in Seattle (although a real shuttle would have been nice too...)
It was a real treat to meet a true American hero. I hope America returns to manned space exploration again soon -- on American launch vehicles.
Goofy boys in front of the new Charles Simonyi Space Gallery at the Museum of Flight
Michael (12) started running this school year and has gotten pretty good (7:05 mile times). His school puts a lot of emphasis on physical education (rightly, I think) and awards extra credit when the kids run races outside of class. I therefore signed him up for the Resolution Run, which I ran seven years ago. (Holy cow! has it been that long?!)
It was a very beautiful (but cold – 34 degrees F) New Year's Day morning. Michael lined up for the race, confident he was going to blow through it easily, but he got cold feet – both literally and figuratively. Still, he powered through the race and finished in 34:40 (11:11 miles, average). This made him the 368th finisher overall in the "Dry" division (people who opted not to dive into Lake Washington just before the end of the race). I think there were about 700 people total in that group. He was 17th of 27 for his age division (boys 14 and under) and 168th of 228 of all men.
I think he did great for his first race, especially running by himself. (I opted out since I'm definitely not in race shape.) I'm very proud of him.) I need to get back into race shape so I can do the next one with him.
Michael crossing the finish line (behind the woman in blue). The time on the display is the "gun" time, not his time. They accurately calculate each runner's actual time using a chip tied to each runner's shoe and the blue pads at the start and finish.
This is a rare photo of Michael (12) letting Andrew (15) touch him. I had to tell them they couldn't open their presents until they posed for this shot. Whatever works. (You can see Michael's favorite panda hat in this shot; he wears it all the time around the house now.)
Here's wishing you and yours a joyous Christmas!
Andrew (14) and I spent the last three days rafting on the Deschutes River in northern Oregon, about two hours east of Portland. We went with our friend Selva and plus two of his friends; they had taken this trip a few years ago and decided it would be fun to bring their kids along. We were joined by another father/son pair (although the son was bit older than the other kids, entering his senior year of college).
We drove down from Seattle the day before and stayed at the Best Western in Madras (the Mexican restaurant next door has the biggest margaritas I've ever seen.) The next morning we started our adventure in Warm Springs and drifted almost fifty miles over the three days, getting out a little past Maupin. I didn't know whether the trip would be strenuous since I haven't really done much rafting before and have never done a multi-day trip. It turned out to be quite easy. The Deschutes is a "pool-and-drop" river. This meant we had long stretches of pretty calm water where we drifted along, paddling only to help correct our position in the river. Occasionally, we'd hit a short stretch of rapids which required a few seconds of hard paddling then more drifting. The guides steered the boat from the back and gave us instructions of when and how to paddle. Our group filled two boats plus we had two gear boats, packed with dry bags containing our camping gear and effects, the kitchen, food, camp chairs, etc. Raft camping is a lot like car camping in the sense you can live pretty comfortably since weight and space are less of an issue than in backpacking.
We generally left shore around 9:30-10:00am and rafted until 11:30-ish when we'd stop for lunch. We'd push off again around 1:00pm and raft until 3:00pm where we'd set up camp for the night. This left us a lot of time to chat, admire the high desert scenery, look for wildlife (including wild horses, bald eagles, turkey vultures, and dozens of ospreys), and engage in boat-to-boat water fights. There were a few exciting Class III rapids including "Buckskin Mary", which Andrew and I swam twice -- very fun. There were many camp sites along the river with pit or composting toilets so there wasn't too much trouble getting good sites with enough space for our group, both for lunch and overnight. We stayed at the Wingdam camp site the first night and Buckskin Mary the second. We ended our trip at Sandy Beach, which is the last pullout before Sherars Falls. We had good weather with only a few rain drops and alternating sunshine and slightly overcast skies. Our clothes dried very quickly each day. The evenings were warm so sleeping in the tents was not a problem. It was pretty different from camping in Western Washington where the nights are colder and more damp. The only downer of the camp sites were the trains that ran along the river; they came through a few times per night and were quite noisy.
We did our trip through the very excellent Oregon Whitewater Adventures; they did an excellent job making the trip comfortable, fun, and safe. I recommend them highly and would go again with them. They took care of pretty much everything -- loading and unloading, cooking, and cleanup. The food was pretty basic but good -- French toast/pancakes or eggs for breakfast, cold cut sandwiches or Costco oriental chicken salad for lunch, poached salmon or Spanish chicken and rice for dinner (although they forgot the rice so we had Spanish chicken and toast instead). The other rafters brought beer, wine, liquor, and soft drinks so we had plenty to drink in addition to what the company provided. Our guides Lauren, Colby, Jack, and Jeff were fantastic -- very friendly and great with the kids, safe and expert on the river, and full of stories and jokes.
Andrew and I had a really great time. I could easily have kept going on a few more days, and we're both eager to do more rafting trips.
Andrew (14) and I spent the last three days camping at Spencer Spit State Park on Lopez Island, which is in the San Juan Islands north of Seattle). We had never been the Lopez Island before; we found this park through recommendations from friends on Facebook (search really is better with your friends...) Aside from a huge downpour that started right after we set our tent up, the weather was perfect -- sunny and warm.
We tried our hand at sea kayaking for the first time. We launched from the south side of the beach and circumnavigated Frost Island. We managed to successfully stay dry until a fell on my ass getting out of the boat, soaking myself in the process.
We spent a lot of time on the beach. Andrew loves driftwood beaches; he's always making stuff. Knowing this, I brought along some paracord (always useful and good to have around). Andrew used the paracord to fashion a hoe, chiseling holes through a shell and tying it onto a driftwood stick.
The shells made nice targets for our new slingshot, which we tried out for the first time. They exploded in a very satisfying way when hit, although we didn't manage to hit them directly too often since we were still learning how to aim the shots.
We also used some shells to boil seawater, in an experiment to harvest salt. After boiling off the water, we did manage to get a little salt in the bottom of the shells. I think we'd have to keep adding seawater to get enough salt to scrape out. Note: the shells can pop and explode, I'm guessing due to pockets of moisture in the shells. Andrew got hit by a "shell fragment".
Beyond our beach adventures, we played with a night-vision scope, which was much more fun in the woods than at home. We even watched a doe for a while through the scope. She didn't notice us (or didn't care) so we got to watch her feeding on the trail for a while. (No photos of this, unfortunately.)
Our campsite (#2) was pretty good. It got sun for a good part of the day and was conveniently located to the water, garbage, and restrooms. It was OK private, but a little noisy from the nearby group camping sites (although I'm not sure any sites would have been quieter). The park has a few walk-in camp sites on the beach, which would have been fun to try, although they're not very private and use a composting toilet instead of the nice clean flush bathrooms servicing the other parts of the campground. (They do have a cart at the parking lot to help you bring your gear down to the site, however.) It's also worth remembering that you can buy firewood at the campground for $5/bundle. (The "camp hosts" will even deliver it to your camp site); bringing enough firewood is always a hassle, so this is a nice perq, although I don't know if they have this service year-round.
We both really enjoyed the campout (and the visit to Lopez Village). Andrew kept saying "this is the life" and thanking me for taking him along. It was definitely a trip I'll always remember.
For quite some time I've been wanting to launch rockets with the boys. Finally, yesterday (Fathers' Day), I picked up an Estes Rascal & HiJinks Launch Set and took Andrew (14) and Michael (11) off for their first real rocket adventure. This kit was really pretty perfect for us. It came with two ready-to-fly rockets and the launch pad. I bought a few motors of different sizes and some wadding to complete the set up.
Even though I haven't shot rockets since probably junior high, it was really easy to set everything up. The only real hitch was that it was pretty windy. We aimed the rockets into the wind a bit and stayed with the lower powered A8-3 engines so the rockets wouldn't blow too far away.
Obviously, the guys (and I) thought this was great fun; we even got a round of applause from a family playing nearby. The wind carried our last shot onto a nearby roof, but fortunately the wind picked up the parachute and lifted the rocket back to the ground. Everything survived the three shots we made (it was too windy for more powerful engines, and I only brought three A engines.) We're definitely all excited to do this again.
At last week's Seattle Maker Faire, Michael (11) became enamored with a Simon game, so we bought a kit to make one at home. (Those of you too young to remember, Simon was one of the first electronic games, introduced back in 1982. It had four buttons and would light one up. The player would tap it, then Simon would add another light to the sequence, which the player would then repeat, and so on.)
Today, Michael and I put the kit together. It was pretty straight-forward but it required some soldering. The last time I soldered was about five years ago when we built Herbie the Mousebot. Michael was really too young back then to solder, but today he did all the work. He seemed to really enjoy doing it and was very proud of his new game.
The Sparkfun Electronics "Simon Says" kit was very well put together -- good documentation and good quality parts. It cost about $30 at the show (although it's $24.95 on the website) and took us about 40 minutes to put together. We'll definitely get more kits. Hopefully, we can work up to Arduino stuff next.
Last weekend I took Michael (11) to the Seattle Mini Maker Faire. This is a smaller version the larger Maker Faire that Make Magazine puts on in the Bay Area. This is get together meant to inspire and connect "Makers" of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) technology projects.
The event was held at Seattle Center in a two rooms plus some outdoor space. The exhibitions were pretty wide-ranging from robotics to craft-stick bending to welding. There were lots of hands-on activities so Michael was pretty engaged throughout.
I was happy to see Microsoft had a big presence with our Robotics Developer Studio and the cool Mayhem project. Michael was pretty excited about Mayhem since he could potentially control his room lights with his phone or build a motion detector to keep Andrew (14) out, all with no programming. We'll be picking up some controllers and sensors for Mayhem so he can mess around with this.
I was also amazed by how many Maker workshops there are in the Seattle area from tool libraries to a "create space" (complete with 3D printer, laser cutter and other cool stuff) and even a robotics space. The show definitely inspired me to start building more with the boys.
Michael experimenting with solar panels. He discovered (with the multimeter) that running two panels in parallel increased the amperage but running them in series increased the voltage (even the guy tending the exhibit didn't know.)
A blacksmith demonstrated his craft outside the fair. Michael thought this was extra cool and wants to become a blacksmith now. I'm not sure how I feel about him with a hammer in one hand and a hot metal rod in the other.
Most kids like making and decorating Christmas cookies. Michael (11) decided he would create an army of snowman cookies instead.
As he was stamping them out, he kept calling, “Rise my minions!”
Once they were baked, he decorated them in red sugar and dubbed them his “Red Snow Corps”. He seems innocent enough in the photo below, but it’s like having our own little Calvin.
The kids have recently discovered that Michelle's car audio system will read text messages out loud. As you might guess, this has become a source of some amusement.
Andrew (14) has contented himself to making the car say funny things like "blarg" or having it repeat the prompts, but with errors, so it sounds like the car has a problem.
Michael (11), as usual, is more devious. When he sent "LOL" to the car, it said the expanded version "laughing out loud". Without missing a beat, he sent "WTF".
Fortunately, the engineers at Volkswagen had the foresight to handle this case gracefully...
The boys chose their own Halloween costumes this year. I thought their choices were pretty good illustrations of their differences. Andrew (14) chose to be a Dalton Academy Warbler from the TV show Glee. (This is a singing group from an all-boys' school.) Michael (11) chose to be an elite soldier from some unspecified armed service. Both were very pleased with their costumes.
Incidentally, Michelle made Andrew's jacket (and one for me...). I thought it turned out really well, better than other jackets I've seen on the net. I found the Dalton Academy patch on Etsy (I've also seen people selling them on eBay). The red piping was seam tape ironed on with heat activated tape (I can't remember what you call it, but you can find it in fabric stores.)
Last weekend, Andrew (14) and I (much older than 14) bought tickets for The Intergalactic Nemesis, self-described as a "live-action graphic novel". It turned out to be a super-fun performance combining a 1930's-style comic book projected onto a large screen with a old-style radio show performed live in front of the screen by three actors, a Foley (sound effects) artist, and a keyboard player. The evening was even nicer since they performed in the Neptune Theater, an lovely old theater near the University of Washington (Andrew was at least as impressed by the Neptune as the show).
The story was fine and the comic book art OK, but the live performance was really the show for me. The three actors did all of the many voices and were physically into it as well; it was super fun just watching them. The Foley artist was really fun to watch too, just seeing how he created all of the sounds from different things, some purpose-built (like a mini-door and frame for open/close door sounds) and some just ordinary things (like a locomotive engine sound made by shaking a box of macaroni and cheese).
This Austin-based group is touring the country. Unfortunately, they only had one night in Seattle (their first stop), but if you're in Fort Worth, Lawrence, Madison, Chicago, Minneapolis, or one of the other cities they're playing, I really recommend going to see them.
(Interestingly, the "book 2" of the project is a Kickstarter project.)
Andrew taking the mike after the show
The family and I plus our friends John, Kellie, and Barbi went to the Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire in Bonney Lake today. This was the kids' first time to a Ren Faire. I think it was Kellie and Barbi's first faire too.
We all had a great time. Almost all of the costumed attendees were very friendly, despite the fearsome looking weapons. These guys practically dragged Andrew (14) over for a photo.
I got my obligatory Ren Faire meal of a roasted (and smoked!) turkey leg. It was actually quite nice.
The Academia della Spada offered a pretty interesting overview of how fencing evolved in Europe including this sword and buckler fight. I was surprised how slow and calculating the fights were. This is apparently historically accurate. Going fast makes it easy for your opponent to get around your guard. (Who knew there are historical fencing clubs, let alone multiple in Seattle?!)
The boys got in on the action too in a massive Boffer sword fight. There were two teams with maybe fifteen fighter per side, armed with soft swords, spears, and shields. There were some simple rules about how you were wounded and died in action. (They'll come out and stage fights for parties! Can you say "morale event"?) The boys both thought this was the best part of the faire. Here's Michael (11) about to leap into the fray.
We all tried our hand at throwing knives, axes, and throwing stars too. I was pretty terrible at all of them, managing to hit the targets but not getting anything to stick in. Barbi was clearly a ninja in a previous life, scoring the best of all of us on the throwing stars. Here's John releasing his axe.
Since the weather was so nice today and since they spent most of the day playing video games and watching TV yesterday (for Michael's 11th bday), the boys and I got outside today and went for a hike on Little Si. This was the first time I'd been there, although Michelle had taken them there before.
Little Si is a nice hike about 25 minutes from our house. It's around five miles round trip from the trailhead with 1200 feet of elevation gain. Most of the hike is through the woods with some scrambling up rocks in sections. The views at the top are great. It took us about 1:15 up and :50 down. It was a popular hike today, so the parking lot was pretty full. Andrew (14) enjoyed it and wants to do more hiking; Michael (11) was inexplicably grumpy today (as you can see from the photo below).
Here's us at the summit (actually standing at the highest point:
You can see the breathtaking view here behind Andrew (this is looking SE, I think).
Andrew (13) graduated from eighth grade today. It's hard to believe he'll be starting high school in the fall. It seems trite to say it, but they really do grow up too fast.
Let summer vacation begin!
Today, Andrew (13) and I went walking with sharks! We were at the very cool Siam Ocean World aquarium in Bangkok, Thailand. They have a program called "Ocean Walker" where you can walk in their main tank and be in and among the fishies -- including some big sharks! You can see one of the sharks cruising past the ladder we went down.
To do the Ocean Walk, you wear a very heavy helmet into which they constantly pump air; it's actually quite noisy, which is pretty different from SCUBA diving. (I used to do a lot of diving during college and almost became a marine biologist). They have a safety diver in the water with you guiding you around.
You can see quite well through the aquarium glass into the viewing areas where the visitors are. Here's me and Andrew waving at a bunch of school kids.
I think the kids were especially excited to see another kid in the water.
It was a super cool experience for both of us. Even though I've done a lot of diving, I've never been in the water with sharks, and there were a lot of them in the tank. Fortunately they were well fed! Andrew did a great job, staying cool and paying attention the whole time. He's excited to learn to SCUBA dive now. I can't wait to start diving with him.
Special thanks to our friend Ann who patiently waited for us to suit up and then took these photos for us!
Last week we rented a house in Holmes Harbor on Whidbey Island with our friends Barbi and Kellie for a few days of crabbing, sunshine, and general laziness. Our friends Nori, Stacy, and Jarrett (and Stacy's dad) from Beijing came out too for a bit since the were in Seattle as well.
The house was part of an eighteen acre holly farm (yes, Christmas holly needs farms too), appropriately named Holly Hills Farm. It was really a lovely place on a quiet harbor. They have three houses for rent there - a larger, modern place (which we had), a mid-sized farm house, and a smaller farm house. Our place was well outfitted with everything you could want -- great kitchen with every manner of tool/pot/pan, grill, propane boiler (for all those crabs!), washer/dryer, fluffy towels, etc.
Here's the house from the water side:
Here's the view down from the house toward their dock:
Barbi brought her 19' speedboat and crab traps along. We soon found a good spot and were hauling in tons of crabs. We probably pulled up 200 over the course of four days, keeping about fifty (there are size/gender restrictions plus daily limits -- fortunately, we had several licenses so we could get a lot of crabs. The beach was also full of lovely, easily-dug clams as well as mussels, although we bought mussels since the store-bought ones are cleaner and not stuck together.
Michael (10) driving out to check out traps:
A pot full of yummy crabs -- turkey legs are awesome bait! They are cheap, last all day, and crabs can't resist.
A blazing pot full of crabby goodness:
The day's bounty (actually, just part of it...) We wound up eating crab a million ways -- boiled crab, crab fried rice, black bean crab, crab roll, crab omelets, crab cocktail, cold cracked crab, and more. We also had oysters (with whisky and one of this year's Oyster Wine Content winners), hyper fresh and ripe berries of all descriptions, black cod kasuzuke, fresh corn, and mussels and clams. It was absolutely incredible. By the second or third day, though, Michael declared a crab moratorium for himself.
In addition to crabbing and being lazy, the kids fished a bit. Stacy's dad is an avid fisherman and taught the kids how to bottom fish for dogfish -- little sharks:
Andrew (13) hooked into two of the dogfish, but since we weren't using steel leaders, both cut the line as they approached the dock. I can't say that I'm disappointed that we didn't land it. I wasn't sure I wanted to mess with unhooking the things.
We also just played in the water a bunch (OK, the kids did -- it was pretty cold...)
Like many boys, Andrew (13) and Michael (10) are fascinated by all things military and have expressed interest in becoming snipers or some such. So, as part of helping them explore this interest, on our recent camping trip, I brought an MRE (Meal Ready to Eat -- a military ration) along for them to try.
Here are the contents of the MRE laid out. Our menu for the evening was a "pork rib, boneless, imitation" (really a chopped pork burger formed into the shape of ribs and covered in a barbecue sauce of sorts), refried beans, crackers, cheese spread, peanut butter (which we couldn't eat since the kids are allergic), and an oatmeal cookie.
In the interest of giving us the best chance of enjoying the meal, I heated up the meat and beans in some boiling water (the pack didn't contain chemical heaters unfortunately).
Here's what the meat and beans looked like. The beans tasted fine, just like you'd expect canned refried beans to taste like. The "pork rib, boneless, imitation" wasn't as bad as I had feared. Overall the meal tasted like a mid-quality school cafeteria lunch.
That said, once they had a taste of the various parts of the MRE, the boys went back to their hotdogs pretty quickly.
Even after this experience, the boys have not renounced their interest in going military, although I think they'll have to broaden their dietary tolerance before they can really make it.
(For the record, the MRE was made by Sopackco and was a civilian version of the MREs they make for the military.)
We set up camp two spaces down from our last site in space 186. It was a nice, level spot, close to the bathrooms and water. (You can see our lovely rental Jeep Commander.)
Andrew (13) decided to bring a little American Gothic vibe to the site, but he couldn't get Michael (10) to join in the photo.
Of course, the big draw (besides cooking stuff on a fire and playing with driftwood) is the beautiful scenery at Deception Pass.
The next morning was a bit foggy (although fortunately it didn't rain on us like last time.)
The boys decided to hang out in the tent in the morning for a while playing card games. As you can guess from their clothes, it was bit chilly. Fortunately, we learned from our last trip and brought a lot more firewood so we could have more and bigger fires. This was a big improvement and important for our general comfort.
Eventually, the fog started burning off, and it became a lovely day with more playing the beach, hiking, and climbing the rocks. I also showed Andrew how to make snares and deadfalls as part of his camping education. It was kind of lucky that they worked since I hadn't ever made them either, having just read about them in books... (Of course, we didn't leave the traps out nor did we try to catch any animals in them.)
It was a fun trip. I really enjoyed getting the spend time with the family outside in such a beautiful place. They boys didn't have their electronics nor did they seem to miss them. The camping system is pretty well set up in Washington so it's easy to find and reserve a spot online (especially if you do it well in advance like I did). I really don't have many excuses to not take them camping more often, especially once we move back to Seattle from China.
I'm glad Michael (9) hasn't forgotten about life in Seattle. This morning as we're preparing to leave for Seattle he shouted with joy, "I'm wearing socks and sandals! It's time to go back to Seattle!"
I've commented before about the differences between Andrew (12) and Michael (9) but this was highlighted very clearly again last night at dinner.
I was talking with Michelle about a problem I was having at work about someone not doing their job well.
The kids were definitely playing true to form. Andrew is much kinder with his good "carrot" style leadership. Michael, not unexpectedly, is all stick.
Weird how different two brothers can be. Note to future employees -- watch out if Michael is your manager.
Andrew (12) has had rat tail for a few years; this weekend, he rather suddenly decided it was time to change his look. I think he didn't care for the attention it caused.
He went through with it without hesitation, but he was a little sad afterwards. He brought it home from the barber but threw it away once he showed Michelle.
The boys are way into Chuck Norris jokes these days; apparently they're all the rage right now at school (last year it was "your momma" jokes).
Andrew (12) generally gets the genre and has come back from school with a few good ones like "Chuck Norris counted to infinity. Twice." or "When Chuck Norris jumps into the water, he doesn't get wet. The water gets Chuck Norris'ed."
Michael (9) doesn't quite understand what makes these funny but is still trying to make up jokes, like "Chuck Norris doesn't rob banks. He just walks in and they give him the money." We'll have to keep working on this with him.
Here's a list of funny ones I found. A few of my favorites:
"Chuck Norris doesn't breath. He holds air hostage."
"When the boogeyman goes to sleep, he checks his closet for Chuck Norris."
Last year, I wrote about the icy fun Beijingers enjoy on the frozen lakes here. This year, we decided to try it out ourselves. We had a rare combination of a warm (for a Beijing winter anyway) sunny day with clear skies (read: little pollution) -- perfect for day of riding ice chairs at Houhai (a lake near the Forbidden City). It's a picturesque area surrounded by old Chinese buildings including the Drum Tower and the Bell Tower (see in the pix below.)
Our driver gave us a great tip -- avoid the first two skating areas (first one is too small/crowded, the second is primarily for ice skaters) -- so we headed straight for the third and last skating area. We bought three tickets for 10RMB (about USD$1.50) to get on the ice and another 40RMB for unlimited use of two ice chairs (plus a deposit of 80RMB each to make sure we returned the chairs.)
As you can see from the photos below, the chairs are pretty rudimentary -- just a welded steel frame with two seats covered with a little scrap of carpet.
After you pick out your chair, you choose the poles you'll use to propel yourself on the ice. These are literally just screwdrivers welded to sharpened steel shafts. It's something of a miracle that none of us came back with new holes in our body.
As it turns out, you can really get going on the ice on one of these chairs. Obviously, this is super fun. Our driver explained that they all used to do this because they didn't have money to buy skates before.
Andrew (12) quickly figured out how to do spins on his chair and started doing 720s. Invariably, Michael (9) decided that ramming Andrew was more fun.
There was really quite a scene on the ice. There were vendors right out on ice selling drinks, cotton candy, kebabs (chua'r), and such plus midway-style games even including the electronic free throw basketball games.
Trains of ice chair riders were pretty popular. Somehow, it seemed pretty nuts to have so many with sharp sticks in such close proximity.
There were other ways of getting around on the ice. Ice bikes were a popular rental. These looked pretty fun and got moving pretty fast too, although sometimes the wheel would just spin.
There was also a guy with a sleigh pulled by some animal (alpaca?). I didn't see anyone riding the sleigh.
You could even rent an electric powered cart. These were clearly repurposed bumper cars. I only saw fat, smug boys riding these.
I have to say, it was a very enjoyable afternoon. There were families, couples, old folks, young folks, and piles of friends all having a great time. People were all smiling, pretty polite (even apologizing if they crashed into you), and clearly having fun. Even the vendors were nice (the cotton candy guy even offered me a cigarette). This was pretty different from our usual experience in Beijing and was evidence that at it's best, Beijing is an awesome place. We'll undoubtedly go back to Houhai for more ice play again.
I liked this shot of Michael (9) playing with his new Legos on Christmas morning.
Andrew (12) humored me yesterday by standing very still for this photo at Shibuya Crossing, the crazy, uber-busy pedestrian intersection by the Shibuya subway station in Tokyo. It's a "scramble" crossing where all auto traffic stops so pedestrians can go in every direction. (This was also the debut of my zippy new lightweight, carbon fiber tripod. I love gear!)
Canon 40D, 28-105 3.5-4.5 at f22, 1.5 seconds.
I'm very pleased to welcome my new nephew, Simon Chengjie Chor, to the world and our family! He was born November 30 in Minnesota to my sister-in-law, Aimee, and brother, Ives. He's healthy and home now, ready to deny sleep to Aimee and Ives and charm everyone who comes by.
Andrew (12) and Michael (9) are ready to teach him all manner of bad things as soon as he's ready. I think my mom is crazy now because there are no daughters on our side of the family, but I'm sure she'll be fine (especially if Aimee and Ives have a girl next...).
For me, I can't wait to meet him. I love little, little babies! Anyway, congrats to Aimee and Ives!
Michael (9) and Michelle somehow had a discussion today that I'm really the Tooth Fairy. Michael seemed to know this already and was sanguine about it.
However, it apparently took some more explaining by Michelle that I'm not everyone's Tooth Fairy (which Michael thought might explain why I'm up so late all the time).
Some ideas die hard.
Yesterday, we were hanging out in the lovely Beihai Park (near the Forbidden City) when we saw a line of military aircraft making a pass along Chang An Avenue (this is the big road that passes between the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square - famous for a particular photo of a gentleman standing with some tanks). They were rehearsing for the upcoming celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the People's Republic of China where there will be a big military parade replete with tanks, missiles, high-stepping troops, and (apparently) military aircraft).
After we saw the fighters, helicopters, bombers, and an airborne warning plane go over, Andrew (12) asked, "Are those American fighters?" I replied, "No, if those were American fighters over Beijing, we'd be in big trouble."
(Separately, it was interesting that the planes flew over in a well-spaced single file line. I think American forces would have come by in tight formation. Just a difference in style or some concern over their ability to fly close together over government officials and population?)
This photo of the cherry pit/stem discard bowls pretty much sums up the difference between Andrew (12) and Michael (9). Andrew's bowl is the top one; Michael's is on the bottom. Hm, which kid is random and disorganized and which kid is a little obsessive?
We saw ducklings and bunnies for sale recently. (For pets, not food, I think.)
Michael (8): "OOH, I really want one! I will call him 'Silent Ninja'!"
Only Michael would name a cute yellow duckling "Silent Ninja". Needless to say, we did not buy one.
Michael (8) has decided to move from Guitar Hero to the real thing. So, two weekends ago, I took him down to Gulou Dajie, a street downtown with a bunch of music shops. We went through all of them and quickly found a nice little, locally made acoustic for 400 RMB (about USD $60) at a place called Xanders. I must say that everyone at the shops was very friendly and attentive -- not at all like my instrument shopping experiences in the US where the cooler-than-thou musicians/clerks are too busy screwing around with their buddies to deal with newbies like me.
This weekend, Michael had his first guitar lesson and walked out playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. His instructor asked him for a song he likes and wants to learn so he can start working on it next week; Michael made the ambitious choice of The Ballroom Blitz. It's quite a step up in difficulty from Twinkle, but I think he's up for it.
We went to an Easter party at our neighborhood's club house yesterday. There was a well-intentioned Easter egg hunt plus other activities and booths. While were were there, the boys and I were interviewed by a reporter from the China Daily. Some of our quotes were included in the article in today's edition. The other family in the story lives down the street and have become good friends recently too. Kind of fun...
By Erik Nilsson (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-04-13 09:34
Families in Beijing's Shunyi district put all their eggs in one basket to celebrate Easter together yesterday - but they had to find them first.
The egg hunt organized by Beijing Dragon Bay Villa was accompanied by appearances by the Easter Bunny - both in the forms of a villa staff member clad in a giant pink rabbit suit and live baby bunnies - face painting and egg decorating.
"This is a family time, and children love (it)," says the villa's property manager Zheng Min.
Finding the hidden eggs and candy helped alleviate homesickness for 11-year-old Andrew Chor and his 8-year-old brother, whose family moved from the US to Beijing four months ago.
"We used to do this a lot at home, and at first, I thought we wouldn't be doing it in China," Andrew says, holding up his sack of eggs, candy and toothpaste. He proudly announces he found six eggs, and his brother found five.
The boys' father Tony says he's happy the kids were able to join the fun. "The kids were kind of unsure about moving to China overall, and something like this makes the transition easier," he says.
Scot Julie Hansen, whose family moved to China four months ago, believes joining the party helped keep her family's Easter traditions alive.
Hansen brought sons Patrick, 10, and Thomas, 6, to join the fun. "It helps us meet some of our neighbors and bring some European traditions to China," she says.
Last weekend, we took advantage of the boys' short spring break (two days off school -- shorter than normal this year because of the late start due after the Olympics) to take a quick jaunt down to Sanya, a city on the south coast of Hainan Island. Hainan is on the south coast of China in the South China Sea near Vietnam; it's often referred to as the "Hawaii of China." It's a popular resort destination for Chinese and expats, plus it's apparently a big draw for visitors from Taiwan, Japan, and Korea. More interestingly, it's a huge favorite for Russian tourists. On our drive from the airport, we saw a lot of signs with Russian on them.
Contrary to my normal vacation mode where I want to see a lot things at our destination, this time we just wanted to sit around, soak up the warmth, and relax. To that end, we chose to stay at the Banyan Tree Resort in Sanya. The resort is away from the bustle of the more popular hotel areas, in a quiet section on Luhuitou Bay. We spent a lot of our time in and around the private pool in our two bedroom villa, going to the beach to play in the sand and warm water in the mornings when it was a bit cooler. The boys thought the midnight swims were especially cool.
(This is a Photosynth view of our villa. It's a composite image of a few hundred photos. You may need to install Photosynth first. BTW, Photosynth is a super cool technology by the big brain guys at Microsoft Live Labs. Worth checking out.)
I managed to sneak out to Luhuitou Golf Club for my first round in eighteen months. It turns out that not playing for a while doesn't help your game. Fortunately, I was playing alone save for my caddie, who was polite enough not to laugh, and the course was impeccably maintained with perfect greens (not that I could make a putt to save my life.)
The facilities were undeniably lovely and the service was very good (particularly by Chinese standards). The only real downer (and probably the thing that would encourage us to to try someplace else next time) was the food. It was very inconsistent, ranging from great to fair, and the menu was pretty limited. By the end of our fourth day, we were pretty bored with the selection. (Although I did have a pretty good Hainan Chicken Rice - always good to try a dish in the place of its origin.)
Still, it was great to get away from the dusty grey and brown air and ground of Beijing for warm, humid, clean air and lush tropical environs of Sanya. We all had a very enjoyable and relaxing time.
It's March 1 and spring is in the air (or is that just coal smoke?). One of the surprises for me about Beijing was how cold it really gets, especially since Beijing and San Francisco are roughly at the same latitude. Unlike in SF (or even Seattle), in Beijing, the lakes and rivers freeze over, and Beijingers head out onto the ice.
One popular place to play is Houhai, the lakes behind the Forbidden City. In addition to ice skating, the locals have other ways to enjoy the ice. One popular older form is to sit on ice chairs and propel themselves with sharp poles. According to our driver, they did this originally because many people couldn't afford skates.
A newer toy is the ice bike. I think the back wheel must have studs on it.
Nearby, vendors sold animals (usually ones from the Chinese zodiac) blown from blobs of sugary dough. (The art is called nie1 mian4 捏面 in Chinese, meaning "knead or pinch dough".) These were super cool, but they kind of sagged and melted when brought into the warm house. I've seen some people eat these, but I don't think that's advisable since the dude worked the dough with his hands and then blew into it the blob.
It was definitely a popular place and, like all fun things in Beijing, crowded. (The big tower in behind the lake is the Gulou or Drum Tower.)
We weren't dressed to play that day at Houhai, so I took the boys skating at a rink near our house. Well, Andrew (11) skated and Michael (8) ran around on the ice.
Eventually, Andrew dropped his skates and started ice bowling (with himself as the ball).
I can't remember the last time I skated or even walked on a frozen lake. It's definitely been 25-30 years (crap, I hate the way that sounds). Skating on the bumpy, grooved ice is definitely a different experience than smooth arena ice (go, Zamboni!) but we all had a great time.
While I'm looking forward to spring, I'm sad we didn't enjoy the ice more while we had it. We'll have to play more next winter.
Michael (8) rode a bike by himself today for the first time! This accomplishment was something of a surprise really. Unlike Andrew (11), who has always loved biking and mastered two wheeling at an early age, Michael has demonstrated no interest (negative interest in fact) for quite some time. Yesterday, however, as I was peeking into the new Trek store that opened nearby (I didn't bring my road bike and am thinking I might want one here), Michael suddenly showed interest in a cool new Trek Jet 20. Despite the relatively high price (due to China's import markup), Michelle and I decided to take advantage of this mood swing and bought the bike.
He tried riding yesterday and almost had it, but he couldn't quite get it all working. Then today, while I was getting my bike and Andrew's out for a ride, Michelle and Michael took another swing at things. By the time I came out, Michael was cruising down the street!
He's still working on starting and stopping, but he rode out to the nearby convenience store about five minutes away later this afternoon. Quite a feat! He's very excited and proud of himself. I think we'll be cruising around the 'burbs together before you know it.
(Separately, Andrew completed his longest ride ever today, almost seven miles. It was a good day for biking.)
Andrew (11) and I went ice skating today at the China World mall near our apartment; Michelle and Michael (8) watched (Michael wanted nothing to do with it.)
Andrew has only been ice skating once in his life and that was when he was two, so he struggled a bit, especially at first, falling a lot.
As they watched Andrew falling repeatedly, Michael said to Michelle: "This is better than watching TV!"
Schadenfreude is a bitch.
Up until this move, Michael (8) didn't really speak any Chinese. In his school here, he's started taking Chinese class. It's been fun to hear him start to use a few words here and there.
Today in the car on the way home from school, he lit into Andrew (11) with a set of Chinese insults. He started with some common Chinese insults (like "stupid egg", "silly melon", and such) and then started improvising by combining words he had learned (e.g. "apple head", "butt head", etc.) He then starting improvising sentences with insults (e.g. "You are an apple head.")
I think something like 75% of the Chinese words he knows are insults or can be combined into insults. He's surprisingly fluent for a guy with a week of Chinese class under his belt (although I suspect he is not learning these words in class.) Our driver, normally pretty stoic, almost exploded laughing.
Everyone learns in their own way; I think the "salty seaman" approach is Michael's.
The other day, Michael (8) came in singing a little ditty to the tune of We Are Family:
We are family,
[Looking directly at me, smiling] Even though you're fatter than me,
We are family...
After his last comment, I really think I need to start working out in earnest again.
Overheard from the back of the van the other day:
Michael (8): "I'm not even going to argue with you."
Andrew (11): "Why?"
Michael (8): "Because you're wrong."
I wonder if I can use that line at work...
As we get ready to move, Michelle returned the violin that Michael (8) had rented to start learning how to play this year. While the idea of a Chinese kid playing violin isn't unusual (it's even a bit cliche really), he's the one who suggested it. This was a bit odd since he doesn't really know anyone who plays violin nor do Michelle or I play, but of course, we were supportive.
As it turns out, he wanted to learn to play violin so he could learn to play The Devil Went Down to Georgia. I'm not sure if he was siding with the Devil or Johnny, but there you go. He was a little unhappy when his instructor opted not to start him directly on that song, and he really started to get a little impatient after a few weeks of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I'm sure we can find an instructor in China to pick up his violin lessons, although good rockin' fiddle players might be a bit harder to find.
In any case, somehow, I won't be surprised if a fiddle made of gold shows up in his room someday...
I think Michael (8) is trying to tell me something.
Michael: "Dad, you're strong like a bull..."
Michael: "And heavy like a cow." [smiling]
Me: [not smiling]
Time to redouble my workouts...
Michael (8) lost another tooth last week and was excited about the loot he was expecting to receive from the Tooth Fairy. When I went to tuck him in, I noticed he had tied blankets around the ladder to his bunk bed. He explained that these were traps to see if the Tooth Fairy is real. He figured that the Tooth Fairy could fly and wouldn't be stopped by the blankets, but if it was me, I couldn't get up there to swap the tooth for money. I scoffed and removed the blankets.
Later in the evening, when I went to, um, check on him, I saw he had put rows of books on the floor to trip any faux-Tooth Fairies. Sneaky devil. Good thing the Tooth Fairy is tricky too. I think the Tooth Fairy may need night-vision goggles and powder to detect IR beams next time; it's getting dangerous for the TF these days.
The boys and I went to the South 47 Farm in Woodinville last night to go through their corn maze. Every year, the South 47 makes some cool five acre, mile-long corn maze; this year it was in the shape of a tractor.
On Fridays and Saturdays, they open the maze up at night so you can go through with a flashlight -- way more fun! The boys and I have done this on and off for the past few years. When you're in the maze, there are clues to help you find your way out; if you answer these farming related questions properly (e.g. "what % of land is spent raising feed and bedding for horses in a horse-powered farm?" or "which is faster, a bee or a chicken?") you'll be directed the right way. To make finding the dead ends more fun, they have eight stations hidden in the maze; if you find all eight and punch the card they give you, you can get a small gift at the end. The maze is open until October 31.
This year, some of the corn was blown down by the big windstorm we had a few weeks ago, but it's still very fun. I highly recommend it. If you go during the day, stop by the Root Connection (for great veggies) and Minea Farm (for the best cider in the world), both just north of the South 47.
South 47 Farm
15410 NE 124th St. (corner of NE 124th St. & the Woodinville-Redmond Rd.), Redmond, WA
Dear readers, I wanted to let everyone know I've accepted a new position as the Group Program Manager for Live Search in Beijing, China.
There are a lot of reasons for this change. Since we were first married, Michelle and I have wanted to live overseas. We both enjoy the broader perspective that working and traveling internationally brings and wanted to really experience that more fully. (Frankly, I think all Americans could benefit from a more worldly view.) I've also been eager to explore my heritage and speak/read Chinese more fluently, as I resolved in my new year's post. I'm also excited to have Andrew (11) and Michael (8) learn more about the world, their heritage, and another language well. I think it will be extra valuable for all of us to have more insight and skills with respect to China for the future.
Professionally, I think Search is a fascinating and important product to unlock the Internet. As good as Live and even Google are today, it's still too hard for most users to get what they're looking for in many cases. It's a critical business for Microsoft to get right; we're obviously way behind here.
I also think that Microsoft needs to master distributed development; there are simply not enough smart engineers who want to live near Redmond to do all of the cool things we want to do. I also think we'd benefit from more local development and more geographic diversity. In particular, I think Microsoft needs to really do a good job in China as that country now has the highest number of internet users and is set to surpass the US in PC users next year.
The combination of our desire, the kids' age, and the great opportunity with Search lead us to consider the move seriously. After our Japan trip this summer, we tacked on a few days to visit China to see houses and schools. I had been to Beijing many times before but had never seen how expats live; Michelle and the boys had never been to Beijing at all. What we saw was acceptable, so we decided to proceed. (In case you're wondering, I couldn't really talk about this stuff earlier and didn't have enough touristy photos of China since we were house hunting, so I didn't post about what we did in China.)
All that said, it's difficult to leave IE. I love the product and the team. I'm incredibly proud of how far we've come since restarting the team five years ago -- from a security nightmare to XPSP2 to IE7 and now the great reviews of IE8 beta 2. The team is more capable and more fun than ever. I definitely feel I'm leaving on a high note and am confident the team will do great things without me.
So, I'll be transitioning to the Live Search team in a few weeks. Then, once our paperwork and visas clear, we'll move to Beijing -- probably around November. This is a three year assignment -- longer if we like it and shorter if we don't, but we do plan to move back. We'll be keeping our house since Michelle and the boys will likely spend summers here, and I'll be back frequently. The kids aren't crazy about the idea yet (what kid wants to move?) but I'm sure they'll have a great time.
I'll blog more about what we're learning about China and how things proceed as we go along. It should be an exciting new experience!
Last week, I took Michael (7) to get a haircut.
Michael: "I want it short on top and long in the back."
Me: "You want a mullet?!"
Michael [enthusiastically]: "Yes!"
Me: "No (f*ing) way" (parenthetical comment not spoken, but clearly indicated by my attitude.)
Michael: "Why not?"
Me: "You'll understand at your wedding when I'm showing photos of you when you were young."
Really, he'll thank me later.
We bid Jonathan, Tetsuo, and Toshiko farewell and headed back to Tokyo today on the Shinkansen. We were met on the platform at Tokyo Station by a bellman from the Four Seasons Tokyo, who took our bags and lead us on the short walk to the hotel. After a quick check-in and some lunch, I took to the boys to the Pokemon Center a few train stops away while the ladies partook in more retail therapy in Ginza.
The Pokemon Center is heaven for Poke-geeks like Andrew (10) and Michael (7). There was a big store full of everything Pokemon related you could imagine, from cards to video games to candy to nori (dried seaweed sheets cut into Pokemon shapes to put on your rice -- Michael bought some of this) to toys to clothes. They had someone teaching kids how to play the Pokemon trading card game, Pokemon videos playing on the overhead TVs, and rows of Pokemon capsule vending machines enticing the kids (the boys got Pokemon Pez dispensers out of one of the machines.
After they sated their shopping, we went next door to another room where you could play Pokemon Battrio, a video game the kids started playing at the Pokemon Center in Odaiba. You could also play Pokemon Battle Revolution, a Wii game where you use your Nintendo DS' to control your Pokemon; this is cool since your opponent can't see what moves you selected because the UI is on your DS screen.
They also offered a special birthday surprise if you had a Nintendo DS, a Japanese version of Pokemon Diamond or Pearl, and proof it was within a day of your birthday. The boys had their DS', their English copies of Diamond and Pearl, and proof it was within a month of their birthday, but that wasn't good enough. Oh well.
Some sick person planned this section of the Pokemon Center; the sun blazed into the room where the kids were playing Battrio, turning it into a solar cooker. In the focal point of the cooker, they had a cold drink machine selling Pokemon branded soda. Naturally, I bought one to keep me and the kids from catching fire.
Michael (7) to Andrew (10): "We're not friends. We're brothers."
I've had several people ask how our first camping trip went, so I figured I should post about our experience.
I left work early to get ready for our big boys weekend camping trip at Deception Pass. I did some grocery shopping and made a last minute decision to get a cook stove (a Coleman PerfectFlow InstaStart two burner job -- great decision). I picked the boys up from school and started packing the car. I had too much junk, so I had a bit of last second re-packing to do and we were off. We left Bellevue at 4:30pm on a Friday, headed to Deception Pass. The weather was miserable at home, and we were in continuous rush hour traffic pretty much all the way up past Everett, so we didn't get off to a good start.
However, as we got closer to Deception Pass, both the weather and traffic started clearing; by the time we got to the campground 2.5 hours after we left home, the weather was clear and beautiful. We found our site easily (even though the photo on the Parks website wasn't the right one for our site) and got the tent set up; then I went to get the sleeping bags and realized I had forgotten them at home during my mad repacking. My brain raced through the options - go home and get the bags, sleep on the pads wearing all the clothes we brought, bail on the entire thing... The boys looked on nervously as I sat with my head in my hands. I then realized that we weren't that far from civilization; we piled back into the car, drove to Oak Harbor (nine miles away) and bought three new sleeping bags at the Kmart. We were back in business!
We went and played by the water in the lovely sunset, had our fire complete with hot dogs and s'mores. Actually, Michael (7) cooked chunks of sashimi-grade tuna over the fire because he doesn't like hot dogs. We read ghost stories in the tent and listened to the EA-6Bs and P3s from the nearby Naval Air Station Whidbey Island fly their night missions (the aircraft noise was the only real bummer that night). Fortunately, the heavy rain that night drowned out the noise. :)
It was still raining when we woke up; I rigged a tarp over the picnic table and made coffee for myself as the kids slept in. By the time they woke up, the rain cleared up and didn't rain again. After breakfast, we played on the beach, climbed rocks, messed around with the driftwood, tried to find a geocache, and generally mucked about. The guys both managed to flood both pairs of shoes we brought (including rubber boots), so I had shoes drying by the fire.
Michelle landed from her trip to Tokyo, took a nap, and then came up to join us around dinner time. It was getting a bit nippy, so Michelle decided not the stay the night; Michael decided he wanted to go home too, so it was just me and Andrew (10). We had a great breakfast in the morning (pancakes and bacon -- wow, I forgot what a pain it is to cook bacon in a pan. Oven bacon rules!), packed up camp, and came home.
We all had a great time. The boys were already pestering me to go again, so I think it was a success.
As I wrote back in January, I resolved to take the boys camping this year and had booked a camp site. The fateful weekend is now here; we leave tomorrow afternoon for our big adventure at Deception Pass State Park. I think I have everything I need and just need to pack now.
We're all pretty excited, but I admit I'm a little nervous about how it will turn out since this is the first time I've ever really camped. Plus, the weather forecast is a little dicey (70% rain, 50% rain, 20% rain for the three days...). I'm sure we'll make it work.
Anyway, see you on the other side...
I was talking with the boys about the American Declaration of Independence the other day.
Me: "We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal..."
Michael (7) [interrupting]: "What about the super delegates?"
Yeah, I didn't quite know what to say.
I'm a bad father. I try my best to instill the right values for the boys, but sometimes, despite my best efforts, the kids go wrong. I know they're just kids and they are each his own individual person, but I can't help but feel responsible.
The other day, Michael (7) saw me working on a competitive review of Firefox. He noticed their logo and said, "That fox is sooo cute and cuddly. I love it!"
I tried to explain how the fox was really the pawn of a joint communist and Al-Qaeda plot with potential connections to Darth Vader, Voldemort, and people with stinky feet, and that it was trying to undermine truth, justice, and the American way. He didn't care; the fox was cute. (I think I may have lost the argument with the Darth Vader connection.)
I'll keep working with him to reinforce our family values. I hope this is just a fad that he'll grow out of like being a Democrat or vegetarian. :)
At my birthday party last week (eek, 40!), Michael (7) was talking to my friend Kristen.
Kristen: "What are you going to have for dessert?"
Kristen [with a practiced hand at batting away advances]: "Well, you know I'm not very sweet."
Michael [with a sly smile]: "Yes, but you're tasty."
I don't know where he learned that.
Andrew (10) is normally my nice kid, but he made a cruel, but accurate observation the other day.
Andrew [earnestly]: "Dad, you're big but not tall, if you know what I mean."
Time to diet and work out more, I guess...
Andrew (10) has been working on a report on John Jay for quite some time so we talked about it a bit at dinner this evening. I asked Andrew what John Jay did. Andrew proceeded to list off his accomplishments:
Throughout this, Michael (7) was unimpressed. Then, Andrew said "he went to Spain" (as the ambassador to Spain), Michael lit up and said "woo".
I guess all those other things were less cool than visiting Spain. Michelle then pointed out that she had just been to Spain. Michael was appropriately impressed there too. Not sure where his Spanish thing comes from. Guess we'll need to go to Spain sometime.
(I actually didn't know anything about John Jay before Andrew's report. Impressive dude. He helped free all the slaves in New York before he died too.)
I think it's important as a parent to keep your children connected with their heritage. Food, clearly, has tons of cultural and ritual meaning, so it's an important tradition to pass down.
With this in mind, this weekend, I introduced the kids to Marshmallow Fluff, a staple food in the Midwest (I grew up in Minnesota.) For those of you unfamiliar with this gooey concoction, Wikipedia describes it as a "very sweet, spreadable, marshmallow-like confection".
Andrew (10), who loves marshmallows, hated the Fluff. I think it kind of grossed him out, like many traditional foods do. I'm sure he'll develop a taste for it as he grows up. He'll thank me for it when he's older.
Michael (7) discovered the magical combination of peanut butter and fluff (well, soynut butter in his case since he's allergic to peanuts). While he didn't love the fluffernuter sandwich I sent him to school with, he does love dipping granola bites into the mixture. Kids these days.
The concert was enjoyable. There were three large screens suspended over the symphony showing scenes from the games. While the scenes weren't set to the music, it was helpful to see the games with the music and fun to see old school stuff like the original Zelda or Mario games.
They also showed close-ups of the musicians playing; since we were about three rows from the back of the auditorium in the highest balcony, it was especially nice see musicians doing their thing. I wish they did this in all symphony performances.
I admit I was a little surprised by the quality of the scores. While some of the songs like Super Mario Brothers were just fun and nostalgic, the newer scores were often beautiful. Since video games have become as huge financially as movies (bigger now, I think), I guess it makes sense that they can attract a similar caliber of composer for games as movies. They sometimes felt a bit formulaic (for example, almost every fighting game broke into a martial snare drum beat), but I'm this may have been just the samples they chose. As a Microsoft guy, I was pleased how good the medley from HALO was; in particular, the opening bars of the HALO theme are really distinctive.
One interesting note: two of the composers, Jeremy Soule and Martin O'Donnell, were in the audience - not something I've seen before since most classical music composers are, well, dead.
The boys were well-behaved through the concert, although by the end of the three hour performance, Michael (7) was getting sleepy and fidgety (I was too). Andrew (10) really loved it though. All in all, it was a good first symphony experience for them.
In case you're curious, here's the program:
|Nobuo Uematsu||Play! Opening Fanfare|
|Nobuo Uematsu/Square Enix||FINAL FANTASY VII-Liberi Fatali|
|Koji Kondo/Nintendo||Super Mario Bros|
|Joel Eriksson/Electronic Arts||Battlefield 1942|
|Nobuo Uematsu/Square Enix||FINAL FANTASY VII-Aerith's Theme|
|Masato Nakamura/Sega||Sonic the Hedgehog|
|Tappy Iwase/Konami||Metal Gear Solid|
|Yoko Shimomura&Kikaru Utada/Disney/Square Enix||Kingdom of Hearts|
|Jeremy Soule/Bethasoft/UbiSoft||THE ELDER SCROLLS IV: OBLIVION|
|Nobuo Uematsu/Square Enix||FINAL FANTASY SERIES-Swing de Chocobo|
|Yasunori Mitsuda/Square Enix||Chrono Trigger/Chrono Cross|
|Jason Hayes/Blizzard||World of Warcraft|
|Akira Yamaoka/Konami||Silent Hill 2|
|Koji Kondo/Nintendo||The Legend of Zelda|
|Nobuo Uematsu/Square Enix||FINAL FANTASY VII-One Winged Angel|
They also played a special additional score by Jeremy Soule, although I missed the title.
Watch graphics from your all-time favorite blockbuster video games—including Super Mario Bros.,® HALO® and The Legend of Zelda®—on the big screen while Seattle Symphony, Vocalpoint! Seattle and Northwest Boychoir perform the soundtrack.
They have a show next Thursday (1/24) at 7:30pm and a matinee Saturday, 1/26 at 1:00pm. Both shows are at the incredible Benaroya Hall. Unfortunately, it's not cheap; the lowest priced tickets are about $50 each with most of those sold out on Thursday already.
In any case, I thought it would be a fun way to introduce the boys to the symphony, so we're going to one of the shows. I'll let you know how it is.
Welcome to 2008! I'm not really one to make New Year's resolutions, but I have been thinking about things I want to do this year. Mostly, I have a list of things I've wanted to do for a while that I never quite got around to. Over the past few weeks, I took some steps to get going on these. Here are a few things I want to do and the steps I've taken. (Blogging about them will also help create a little public accountability.)
Spend more time with the boys
I think the kids and I do quite a bit together already, but I think these are the prime years I have with them where they're old enough (7 and 10) to really participate and still don't mind hanging out with dad, so I want to double-down on our time together.
The kids have been bugging me to go camping beyond our backyard for some time, so I thought I'd start there. I haven't ever really camped (OK, we went once when I was two), so I've been dragging my feet a bit, but I really want to try it as well. I looked into camp sites last summer, but it was almost impossible to reserve one at that late date, and I didn't want to chance driving somewhere and not having a site. So, this week, I reserved a choice site at Deception Pass State Park (close enough to home that we can bail out if it sucks) in June. I'm pretty excited and will probably book a few more dates just in case we love it.
Incidentally, the Washington State Parks reservation system is pretty good. They show you the individual sites with descriptions and ratings of quality and privacy, have photo(s) of the site, and make it easy to see what dates are available. Good use of our tax dollars.
Work out more
As I've chronicled on this blog, I've been up and down with my working out. I definitely do best when I have scheduled events I'm working toward, so this morning (the first day of sign-ups), I signed up for the RSVP (Ride from Seattle to Vancouver and Party). It's a ride like the STP (Seattle-to-Portland) that I did two years ago. I tried to sign up last year, but I waited too long, and the ride sold out. I'll do the Chilly Hilly again in preparation too, but I'll probably skip STP. Good to have the goals on the calendar now. I may do another half marathon (probably Kirkland in May instead of Mercer Island in March).
Learn to play an instrument well
I took piano lessons on and off growing up (mostly off) but never really reached a level of reasonable competency. I've always wanted to play well, so I started piano lessons last month, taking the half hour before Andrew's lessons (can't skip my lesson without making him miss his). We also just had a little Yahama grand piano delivered yesterday. It's been fun playing again, and my instructor has me working on theory as well to better understand what's going on. This had added an interesting new dimension.
I thought about starting guitar instead (which I've also always wanted to play), but I'm much closer to competence on piano, so I figured that was wiser. (I also played clarinet for six years, but I don't have much interest in picking that up again. Not too many social opportunities for clarinet...)
Learn to speak another language to adult fluency
I grew up speaking Chinese at home, suffered through eleven years of Saturday morning Chinese school, took a year of Chinese in college. I also took four years of high school German (enough to get by as a tourist). However, I can't really do business or carry on adult conversations in either language. Since I'm closer to fluency in Chinese, I decided to build on that base. Although I'm basically illiterate in Chinese, I figured I'd start with my listening and vocabulary skills. I started listening to Chinese language podcasts. There are a few good ones, but my favorite so far is by a guy named Serge Melnyk (really). More on these later.
I have lots of other things I want to do, but I figured this is a good start. Hopefully, I can stick with these and build some good habits. What are your plans?
As I mentioned previously, I chaperoned Andrew's (10) fifth grade class for a four day, three night field trip to Islandwood, a 255 acre outdoor learning center on Bainbridge Island near Seattle. (Here's a link to the Live Maps view of Islandwood. You can also get a "bird's eye" view of the facility.)
I must admit, the trip was much more enjoyable than I expected. First, the facilities are incredibly nice; it's not like any camp I've ever been to. Islandwood was donated by Paul Brainerd (founder of Aldus Corporation) and has a donor role that's a who's who of the Seattle wealthy (apparently Steve Ballmer hosts the fund raising dinners at his house, for instance.) As a result, they appear to be incredibly well funded. The facility is constructed and operated as a demonstration of eco design principles and is LEED Gold certified. Everywhere you look, there's a sign saying how the toilets are saving water, how the counters were made from recycled yogurt containers, how the wood was recovered from state highway projects, etc. They even weighed all of the compostable and non-compostable food waste after each meal to teach the kids to take only what they need. (By the last meal, we only had three pounds of food waste for 100+ people. This is crazy low; apparently most Americans each waste four pounds of food per day.)
During the day, we broke up into field study groups of eight kids, two instructors (masters students in education), and an adult chaperone (e.g. me). We visited some of the various ecosystems within Islandwood such as the harbor/estuary, pond, and bog. We also did team building activities on their teams course. The instructors did a good job keeping it fun for the kids, using games and hands-on activities. I especially enjoyed the owl/mouse/seed game where they had the kids learn about the balance of nature. The kids were divided into owls, mice, and seeds. The seeds had to go plant themselves, a few seconds later the mice had to pair up with a seed, and then a few seconds later the owls would try to hunt the non-paired mice. There were some rules about what happened if you were caught, etc. and over a few rounds, you could see the mice numbers fall when there were too few seeds, etc. This was especially clear on the chart they created. Neat stuff and the kids had fun.
Another highlight for me and many of the kids was a night hike. We walked through the woods with no flashlights or other illumination. I was surprised how well I could see after a little while. We talked about night vision (rods and cones), listened to the forest (they did a blindfolded "trust walk" which was interesting), listened to some stories, and did the wintergreen Lifesaver trick (they really do spark when you bite them -- cool.)
The meals were good. Most of the food was made from scratch on site (e.g. they baked their own bread) and were very accommodating to the various food restrictions the kids had. The kids ate a lot and many gushed about how good the food was. I think many families don't cook much at home so the food really stood out for them.
We also lucked out and had good weather (read: it didn't rain or snow) the whole time. Given this was only a week after the massive rainstorm that hit the area the week before, I feel very fortunate indeed.
The kids were much better behaved than I expected. The Islandwood staff commented on that as well. The only real bummer was a few kids and a teacher in my dorm got sick (projectile vomiting, etc.) Other than this small outbreak of typhoid (not really typhoid) it was a great trip. I also really enjoyed getting to know Andrew's classmates better; I hear their names all the time, but I don't know many of the kids well. It was a great opportunity for me.
I highly recommend anyone who gets the chance to attend one of the programs at Islandwood.
Conversation from this evening:
Michael (7) [unprompted and with conviction]: "I'll never ever go to Cal [University of California at Berkeley]."
Me [very politically correctly and with a mostly straight face]: "Well, Michael, despite the rivalry with Stanford, Cal is a very good school. I'd be happy if you went to Cal."
Michael [adamantly]: "No way. I'm never ever going to Cal."
That's my boy. I'm so proud. Go Stanford! (Now, he just needs to study really hard, and I just need to save a small fortune...)
Last weekend, I took the boys to Robothon, a robot festival at the Seattle Center run by the Seattle Robotics Society. In addition to battle bots (you could pay $5 to pilot a battle bot!) and other cool exhibits, you could buy a robot kit for $40 and someone would help you build it.
The kit was a "Herbie the Mousebot" from Solarbotics. Herbie has two light sensitive eyes and will chase the brightest light around. His whiskers and tail are touch sensitive; if they hit anything, he'll turn around. The two little motors drive Herbie along pretty damn fast. Herbie also has a taillight, so multiple Herbies can chase each other around. I have another kit (and a newly purchased soldering iron) to build before I can test this out. (I guess technically we have a Horatio, the black mouse, and Harriet, the white mouse.)
I took about two hours to build the thing. I've somehow managed to avoid learning to solder until this point, but I've always wanted to learn, so I figured this was the time. The boys were pretty interested at first; Andrew helped me solder and assemble the kit, but they quickly moved to watch the robot sumo battles that a school group was having the corner (I wanted to see it too.) The moment of truth arrived when I put the nine volt battery it. It worked! The motors ran and the speeds varied with the light. Actually, one of the motors was stuck at first, but it was because the tires were on a little tight. Fortunately, I didn't have to do any real debugging. I noticed some of the other builders had to reflow some solder joints - non-trivial once the kit is together.
We tested Herbie in our dark living room. The robot scurried around the room, bumping into stuff, backing up and jetting off in other directions. We could get it to follow a flashlight beam pretty easily. When we weren't paying attention with the flashlight, Herbie ran into the kitchen since the light was on. Scared the hell out of Michelle. Michael (7) thought that was really great...
More important, I passed the "dad test". These are terrifying moments where you have to prove you're a competent dad to your kids. I know they'll soon realize I'm just another loser, but I'd like to delay that as long as possible.
Anyway, Herbie is really very cool. There are a lot of other cool robot things going on for kids in Seattle including First Lego League and Junior First Lego League that I may need to check out for the boys.
Well, I finally got rid of my little brother Ives two weeks ago. After 35 (almost 36) years, he finally found someone who can put up with him long enough to marry him. All jokes aside, Aimee is a wonderful woman with great family and friends. My brother seems very content now and is lucky to have her. I just hope Aimee knows what she's getting...
Aimee and Ives had the wedding in Evanston, a suburb just north of Chicago and the home of Northwestern University. This was the first time I'd been to Evanston. It's a cute town, right on Lake Michigan. I see now why my Northwestern alumni friends really like it there. We stayed at the Hotel Orrington, which was centrally located, so we could walk everywhere.
The rehearsal and the wedding were very nice. My brother has a habit of getting teary on days ending in y and was a mess at my wedding so long ago. Of course, his wedding was no exception. At the rehearsal dinner, he choked up while handing out gifts, but I do give him and Aimee credit for holding it together during the ceremony itself (although it looked like they came close to losing it.)
As the best man, I gave a short toast (4 min, 30 seconds as timed by my friends - I had a reputation for overly-long toasts. Under five minutes is OK...) I was doing fine through the toast, working without notes and was almost done when out of nowhere, my throat constricted and I couldn't speak. I had a a terrified thought that I might dissolve into a teary mess and wouldn't be able to finish, but I pulled it together and got through it. I honestly hadn't seen or felt the surge of emotion coming. Wild.
After my toast, our fraternity brothers (Ives and I were both Kappa Alpha at Stanford) sang Kappa Alpha Rose to Aimee, a tradition at KA weddings. Aimee was a good sport about it, even though she doesn't have the "wealth of golden hair" described in the song (we did change the "eyes of blue" to "eyes of brown" in the song though.) Despite the fact most of us haven't sung the song for 10+ years, it didn't sound terrible (I sent the words to everyone ahead of time as a refresher.)
The boys looked really good in their black suits. Andrew (10) was the ring bearer, and Michael (7) was an "honor guard" along with another little boy. Michael wanted to carry ninja swords to help protect the ring, but Ives wisely demurred.
The weekend was especially fun for me because I got a chance to see tons of family and friends. We had almost all of our cousins, aunts, and uncles from both sides. It's been a long time since I'd seen most of them, and this was the first time I'd met my cousin Alice's husband and daughter. I also went out with my cousin Gary for beers, which was a new experience since the last time I saw him he was still way underage.
Ives and I have a lot of friends in common since we were both in the same fraternity at Stanford (Kappa Alpha) and both worked at Microsoft, plus one of Ives' friends from high school came out. As a result, I knew almost all of his out-of-town guests and had a great time catching up with them all.
Anyway, I wish Aimee and Ives well. I'm looking forward to having nephews and/or nieces soon...
Last night the boys and I watched The Sandlot: Heading Home, the third of the Sandlot movies about different generations of neighborhood kids learning about baseball and life on their sand lot ball field (this description makes the movies sound like they have way more merit than they really do.)
The basic (and not very subtle) message of the story is to do what you love and to value friendship above all else and things will work out fine. After the movie, I asked the guys what the moral of the story is.
Andrew (10): "I dunno."
Michael (7): "Always wear a cup when playing baseball."
Well, I guess that was an important lesson from the movie too.
The boys and I went to the Olympia Harbor Days today and went out on the Lady Washington for a battle sail. The Lady Washington is a tall ship sailing vessel, a replica of the original Lady Washington that traded for furs in the Northwest in the late 18th century; she was recently named the official Tall Ship Ambassador for the State of Washington (nice to see the state legislature really working hard...) She's was also the Interceptor in Pirates of the Caribbean and in Star Trek: Generations. She often sails with her companion, the Hawaiian Chieftain, another replica tall ship, as she did today. During a battle sail, the two ships maneuver for position and shoot blanks at each other with their cannons.
The Chieftain appeared to hold all the cards. They are a little bigger, a little faster, and better armed. (Chieftain carries four three pound deck guns to Lady's two three pound deck guns and two one pound swivel guns aft.) What's more, today, she had the weather gage (she was upwind of us), which is normally a huge advantage in sail combat. Once we motored out into Budd Inlet and raised sail, Chieftain fired a shot to signal the start of hostilities and then bore down on us. As she drew near (slowly in the light winds), we unleashed a salvo from our deck gun and swivel gun. Chieftain was unable to respond since she doesn't carry any guns that face forward. We tried to tack repeatedly, but in the shifty, light winds we had difficulty (never really tacking). As we flopped around, we blasted Chieftain several more times. Chieftain never got a clean shot at us and resorted to firing at the pleasure boats that were watching the battle. (It's OK by me to sink a few Bayliners.) According to the captain, they typically try to keep the fights pretty even otherwise the passengers on one ship get bummed, but today, I declare us to be the clear winner.
The ship itself was cool. I've been on tons of tall ships before, but I've never sailed on one. It was neat to see how all the stuff works and how much harder it is to do everything than on a modern sailboat. They definitely have a hard time pointing (sailing upwind) and tacking. The crew was nice and seemed to know what they were doing; they have a mix of volunteers and paid crew. I'm seriously considering doing their two week volunteer training where you live onboard for two weeks and learn the ropes (literally). They do an evaluation, and if you pass, you can be a long term volunteer with them. It would be very fun.
Unfortunately, the boys didn't love it. Michael (7) for all his swagger, doesn't really like loud noises, so the cannon fire wasn't a hit with him. Andrew (10) had a better time but somehow got it in his mind that he was going to help with the cannons and be allowed to go aloft, so he was a little disappointed. However, he is game to go on their week-long family expeditions they do in the San Juan Islands every year. I'd love to do that with him next summer.
One a side note, this is the first time I've really done anything in Olympia (which is the state capitol.) It's pretty small and a bit worn out, but the area by the water front looks very fun.
Earlier this summer, the boys and I picked up a mess of PVC pipe and made marshmallow guns. Once you assemble the guns, you put a mini marshmallow in by the mouthpiece and then blow the marshmallow out. The marshmallow will negotiate all the turns in the gun and exit the muzzle - kind of cool really. The marshmallows melt in the rain, so clean-up isn't difficult either.
We got the initial instructions from Instructables. We used 1/2" (internal diameter) PVC pipe and cut the pipe into a few standard lengths (we used 3" and 7") for flexibility in recombining the pieces. Instead of the recommended hacksaw, we used a pipe cutter. This was easier and safer for the kids, didn't require a vice or bench, and produced cleaner cuts. This was the first time I've bought PVC; turns out you can only buy it in 10 foot lengths, so you'll have plenty. There was a hacksaw near where the PVC was in Home Depot so you can cut the long pieces down into something that fits in your car. (I got nervous when I saw the PVC initially...)
We didn't glue the pieces together (friction worked fine) so the boys were able to build all kinds of variants. They quickly learned that while the idea of a multi-barreled gun was attractive, dividing your limited lung power n-ways reduced the power.
The whole thing was super successful and very fun. We've since made water guns hooked up a hose and have been trying (unsuccessfully so far) to build a gun powered by compressed air (I've added a tire valve to a 2 liter bottle and pressured it with a bike pump.)
It's worth noting that I'm deadly with a four-foot section of straight pipe. I can hit the kids anywhere in the backyard with a marshmallow while sitting on the deck. Don't mess with Dad.
Of course, if it's worth doing, it's worth over-doing. Check out these crazy marshmallow guns...
Michelle and I were joking about moving to China today. Michael (7) started getting concerned about the idea and asked if we were really moving. He was getting a little teary and crunched himself on the floor.
Michelle: [craftily] "Well, you know you could have your own servant."
Michael: [gleefully] "Really? My own servant?"
Michelle: "Yes, maybe two."
Michael: [big smile] "Sweet. Let's go."
Michael (6) was reading a kids' science book this evening and saw an experiment he wanted to try. Basically, you fill up a plastic pop or water bottle, put the cap on it, and then poke a hole in the side near the bottom. If you open the lid, the water comes out (obviously). There's some more on the how much further the water shoots out when the bottle is more full, water pressure, blah blah, etc.
Without me saying anything, Michael eyeballs the rig for a second, puts, his lips around the hole, opens the top, and drinks the water out quickly. He was a little messy about it, but certainly less than most of our old pledges.
I figured he'd get to this one day, but six is a little young to be shotgunning even water. Precocious kid...
Andrew turned ten today. Michelle and I are a little wigged (OK, maybe a lot wigged) about having a ten year old kid. How many ways can you say old?
Yesterday I took the boys over the Blake Island for our regular adventure outing. Blake Island a small island a few miles away from downtown Seattle in the middle of Puget Sound (map). It used to be a private estate owned by William Pitt Trimble, until his wife died of an accident, after which the heartbroken Trimble abandoned the estate. It's now a state park with a Native American arts and culture center called Tillicum Village (complete with salmon dinner and dancing show - not bad actually). It's only reachable by private boat or tour boat (the Argosy cruise line runs back and forth).
We've been to Blake Island once before a few years back on the sailboat we owned, and Andrew (9) went recently on a field trip. The guys have both been badgering me to go back since they like the driftwood covered beach, so I relented. We hopped on the 11:30 boat (the only one that runs this time of year) and spent two hours playing on the beach. Andrew, predictably, started building a huge house of driftwood, aided by a pretty girl who was camping nearby (lots of camping on Blake Island). Michael (6), equally predictably, enlisted my help sending driftwood "battleships" out into the water and trying to hit them with rocks. The weather was pleasant enough and everyone had a good time. We got a bit of lunch from the snack bar at Tillicum Village (I had a salmon salad - the salmon here is good since they pin the salmon on cedar stakes and cook it over an alder fire as part of their dinner show) and then caught the 2:30 boat back (again, the only one they run during May.)
It was a bit expensive - normally $40/adult, $12/kid minus a AAA discount for the round trip boat rides - plus the crazy Seattle parking rates (I paid $22 for parking across the street from Pier 55 where the Argosy departs.) Add to that the cost of snacks on the hour-long boat ride each way. On top of that, with the single boat sailing each way, you really only get two hours on the island. I think the next time we go back, we'll camp for a few days. The island has great views of Seattle and Mount Rainier, a fun beach for kids, and miles of wooded hiking trails. There are good facilities (bathrooms/showers, water, fire rings, and the snack bar with firewood/charcoal, lattes, and ice cream), and it's easy to get to.
In any case, it was a fun outing, and any day that I get to ride on a boat is a good one in my book.
Michael (6) lost his first tooth today. He's been hoping for this for some time now, looking forward to the cash the Tooth Fairy will bring. He had considered ways to rip out more of his teeth so he could get more money. Definitely a results oriented kid.
Apparently, the going rate for teeth in his school is a video game! I think this might just be for the first tooth; regardless, the Tooth Fairy is significantly more stingy around these parts. Michael left a note under his pillow for the Tooth Fairy asking for the new Pokemon Silver game; the buck or two the Tooth Fairy leaves will have to suffice.
Someone made a surprising observation the other day. Now that Andrew is nine (almost ten really), we've already passed the halfway point of the time he'll likely be living at home. We have less time together ahead of us than behind us.
This made me a little sad, really. It was a big wake-up call that we need to really spend more time together as a family during these next few years. It's even more important given that he's less likely to want to hang out with his parents as a teenager.
I guess I better think of something fun to do together for tomorrow...
The other day, Michelle took a look at Michael (6) and said, "You're very cute."
Michael, without batting an eye replied, "I'm not as cute as a chicken in a dress."
Not sure where that came from.
Last weekend, Andrew (9), Michael (6), and I had a grand ol' time geocaching in a park in Renton (a suburb on the south end of Lake Washington). We even found the cache this time (not always the case, unfortunately).
First, a little about geocaching for the uninitiated. Geocaching is a game where people hide caches and then list the coordinates on Geocaching.com. More often, there are multiple sets of coordinates, each leading to a clue that plays into a subsequent set of coordinates. Seekers then use their GPS' to work through the coordinates/clues until they find the cache. The caches vary, but they're usually some container with a logbook and some trinkets (the boys each picked up a small toy in this last one.) The guys (and I) love geocaching because it's a treasure hunt; it adds a lot of dimension to our hikes. It's a good excuse to play with gadgets too...
Anyway, the park where we geocached is the Black River Riparian Forest; the unique thing about this park (other than the fact the Black River has been gone for the almost ninety years since the Montlake Cut lowered the water level of Lake Washington) is that it's home to a huge heron colony, one of the biggest in Washington. As you can see from the photo, the trees are filled with heron nests. I understand they've laid their eggs already; the ones that survive predation from the bald eagles that have taken up residence very near by (we could easily the eagles' nest) will hatch in a few weeks. I want to come back then and see the hatchlings learn to fly. It was pretty cool even now.
A few tips if you go:
These past few days have passed in blur as sick Michael (6) and I watched a season and a half of Avatar: The Last Airbender (which, coincidentally, is the featured article on Wikipedia today - what are the odds?) As you know, we don't have TV (well, really, we don't have a TV signal), so we downloaded the show from Xbox Live and watched it via our Xbox 360. Pretty slick. Unfortunately, this left me dreaming about the characters last night in my feverish sweat. Ugh.
The show is actually pretty good and does a lot to be somewhat accurate in its use of Asian language (unlike cartoons I grew up with like Hong Kong Phooey); there are even little jokes and insider stuff in the Chinese they use for names, and the martial arts forms they use are distinct and pretty good.
That said, I couldn't let my life be destroyed by this cartoon, so today, I read the episode summaries for the rest of season 2 on Wikipedia. I feel much less compelled to power through the rest of the episodes now and feel some small measure of control coming back into my life. (Once again, Wikipedia proves the world is full of people with too much time, but I'm grateful...)
Still, it's a good show if your kids absolutely must watch something on TV. (Of course, you could just kill your TV...)
I've been home the last two days with a sick Michael (6) as well as for a day and a half last week. I sent back him to school on Friday after he was out Thursday. He seemed OK and wasn't very convincing telling me wasn't feeling well. I figured he just wanted another day of Xbox and no school. By noon however, his teacher had called saying he wasn't feeling well and had a fever. (I'm a bad daddy.)
He had came down with the tracheitis that Andrew (9) had the week before. He had a deep, barking cough and was generally miserable. When he's sick, he gets clingy. On the one hand, it feels good to be wanted, but it sure makes it hard to get anything done at home when he's like that.
I started getting sick too after hanging out with the Typhoid Brothers, although so far my symptoms are not the same. I had a pretty high fever and was a bit delirious yesterday. My body is achy too, although I'm honestly not sure if that's related to my illness or the ten miles I ran last weekend.
Michael seems well enough to go back to school tomorrow; I'm dying of cabin fever and am ready to go back too.
I went in to wake Michael (6) up just now and kissed his cheek. He turned to me with a mean look and said, "Stop sucking on my cheek" and then pulled the covers up.
Our raccoon came back this evening, knocking at our sliding door. We haven't seen him for a long while (maybe years), but he's been knocking on the doors a bunch recently.
Andrew (9): "Why does the raccoon knock?"
Michael (6): "Because he's knock-turnal." [Big grin, waiting for a laugh.]
A funny, scientifically correct pun. Scary.
Andrew (9): "Could I have an iPod? Maybe an iPod Nano?"
Us (two Microsoft employees): "Well, maybe for your birthday we can get you a Zune."
Andrew [confused]: "An iPod Zune?"
Um, I think we still have a long way to go on Zune awareness...
Michael (6) just said, "Daddy, you're my hero." Sure, it was just because I picked him up and helped him get another jar of his favorite jam out of the pantry, but it made my day. It's good to be a dad. (Of course I have no illusions about my place in the world.)
The other day I told Michael (6) that I love him. He replied, "I know when you'll stop loving me. When you're dead."
I have expected him to rip my still beating heart out of my chest right there with a grin on his face, but he went back to playing Lego Star Wars II (which the kids have already beaten since Christmas. Twice.)
Casually, Michael asks me, "How do you spell die?" A little nervously, I reply. A few minutes later he asks "How do you spell surrender?" Eek.
Michael was writing out some kind of ransom note on his Gameboy. He's going to be the death of me.
Merry Christmas! Well, "Happy Boxing Day" is really more appropriate, I guess. Anyway, we had a very lovely, if lazy Christmas yesterday. Michelle's folks are visiting from Florida and Mike is here too, so we had a full house. Andrew (9) and Michael (6) got off to a mercifully late start (we had company over the night before, and I was up even later playing Santa Claus getting stuff ready.)
The hot stuff for the boys continues to be Legos (especially Bionicle related), video games, and Pokemon stuff (popular again, after a brief affair with Yu-Gi-Oh). Especially popular are combinations of the above like Pokemon Mystery Dungeon for Gameboy DS, Star Wars Legos, and the penultimate combination" the video game Lego Star Wars II. The boys also got an Xbox 360 from Santa. We're not the first ones on the block with a 360, but I finally gave in. (I also admit it was as much for me.)
In addition to the Xbox, I had a prosperous Christmas: a nice Riedel wine decanter I've wanted for a while, the The West Wing season seven DVD set, Avenue Q: The Book (Avenue Q is quite possibly my favorite musical I've never seen, the amazingly fun Table Tennis for Xbox 360, some nice wine, and a Nordstrom's gift card. Good stuff.
Of course, Christmas isn't just about the stuff. It's about the food (you thought I was going to say something mushy about family, brr brr brr right?) We had beignets for breakfast, and I made potato chips using the deep frying oil again (damn, those are good - I'll post the recipe soon.) We also took another go at the Honeybaked ham we had for dinner Christmas Eve along with more yummy greens, and macaroni and cheese. (I don't care what anyone says. Twelve pounds of ham is essentially an infinite quantity of ham. It is too much for any sized event. Jesus wouldn't have had to mess with loaves and fishes if he had a twelve pound Honeybaked ham, pork issues not withstanding.)
Tummies full from too much food and eyes glazed over from too much Viva Pinata, we collapsed at the end of day happy. It was a good Christmas. Hope your's was too.
[2006-12-26 Fixed typo]
At dinner this evening, Michael (6) looked at us with great sincerity and said, "I think I know how to overthrow a government."
This is not typical dinner conversation for a six year old, but then, Michael has never been typical. But, of course I had to ask, "well, how would you do it?"
He then proceeded to describe how he'd have some run in front of a governmental leader yelling "Help!!" to distract them while an airplane dropped barrels of bombs on the leader.
He then sat back with a satisfied look, knowing his plan was infallible.
Watch out world...
This weekend in Whistler, Michael (6) had a few doozies as he got upset at me for not letting him do one thing or another.
First, I told him to put away his Gameboy:
Michael: "If you take away my Gameboy, I'll kill you."
Me: "Would you really kill me over your Gameboy?"
Michael: "No, I would just kick you in the nuts."
Yeek. (Just for the record, I did not teach him this. I think it's something he learned at school...)
Then, in another incident of which the details are lost to time, he grew frustrated and couldn't think of anything to say to me except, "Besides, you're the worst driver in the family."
In both cases, I had to solo parent since Michelle was useless, laughing too much to be a credible disciplinarian. Of course, I had no idea what to say after each of these, making me useless too. Oh well.
Andrew (9) told me this joke today. It's somewhat remarkable because it's actually kind of funny. Most of his jokes aren't.
Scene: Cloud City of Bespin during the light saber duel
Darth Vader: "Luke, I know what you're getting for Christmas."
Luke Skywalker: [obvious anguish] "How could you know?!"
Darth Vader: "I can sense your presents."
Ba dum dum. Splish.
Andrew (9) declared today that when he's older, he wants to make bacon art. "I want to pile up bacon, add more bacon, and then frame it to sell in art galleries."
Brings a tear to my eye. It's great to be a dad.
The boys came in the house the other day yelling, pushing, and fighting (as usual) over the usual nothing (who came in the house first, who touched whom, blah blah blah.) Michael (6) was being particularly aggressive.
After they got their shoes off, etc. Michael came into the kitchen and turned toward Michelle smiling and obviously proud:
Michael: "Guess what I did today?"
Michelle: "What did you today today?
Michael (without irony): "I practiced my patience."
Andrew (9) and Michael (6) read my blog the other night for the first time. They now know that I've been writing about them and their misdeeds.
However, rather than being mad about it, they're suggesting new posts all the time. "Dad, why don't you blog about this?" as they start doing something silly.
This is another example of the observer effect in action, I guess. I think I'm in trouble now.
OK, I need a little advice from the blogosphere. Andrew (9) came home and told the following joke that he learned at camp today. I need to figure out a response.
so, a duck walks into a courtroom.
judge: "what's your name and why are you here?"
duck: "My name is quack, and i was sent here for blowing bubbles in the pond."
The judge shakes his head and sends him away.
another duck walks into the courtroom.
judge: "what's your name and why are you here?"
duck: "My name is quack quack quack, and i was sent here for blowing bubbles in the pond."
the judge shakes his head and sends him away too.
a third duck walks into the courtoom.
judge: "let me guess. your name is quack quack quack and you were sent here for blowing bubbles in the pond."
duck: "no, my name is bubbles, and i was sent here for blowing quack and quack quack in the pond."
Andrew told the joke, but he didn't get it and asked us what it meant. I'm pretty sure Michelle's response of running away while holding her napkin over her face and then laughing out loud for minutes in the bedroom was not the right one.
There's a little lake (really a big pond to this old Minnesotan) near us with a public pier. According to a guy we met there last year, the action at dusk on worms is pretty good, so I took the boys fishing after dinner one night this week.
Sure enough, the stranger was right. As soon as the bait hit the water, we were getting taps and nibbles. The fish were pretty small relative to our hooks, so we mostly were feeding worms to the fish, but Michael (6) managed to catch his first fish (and our only landed fish of the evening).
It was a juvenile large mouth bass -- very pretty really, but tiny. Michael, of course, was delighted. However, he didn't want to throw it back, wanting to take it home and eat it instead (he loves fish). He didn't get the whole catch-and-release thing. The whole time he was whispering, "Eat the hook and die, fishies."
He scares me a little bit.
As I was coming out of a local mall with Andrew (9) and Michael (5) this evening, we passed by a Cold Stone Creamery shop (a good ice cream chain). Michael immediately started pestering me to go in.
Michael: "Please, please, please can we go to Cold Stone?" [repeat n times]
Me: "Michael, stop begging."
Michael: [stopping dead in the parking lot and looking straight at me] "I'm not begging. I"m badgering." ["duh" look on his face.]
Well, damn. I didn't expect to be corrected like this for at least another year or two.
Still, no ice cream. I'm just mean that way. Especially to snarky kids.
As usual, the boys had their baths tonight -- first Michael (5) and then Andrew (8). After Andrew got out of the tub, Michael walked up to him non-chalantly, looked him in the eye, and said, "I peed in the tub" and walked away.
Michelle and I couldn't stop laughing long enough to reprimand him.
This morning the kids were both still sleeping, so I decided to play some music to get them up. I started up the very cool Windows Media Player 11 beta, launched Urge (an online service partnership between Microsoft and MTV), and clicked the first album link I saw -- American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson.
As Since You've Been Gone started blaring out of my speakers, I hear Michael (5) start screaming from his bedroom, "I hate this music!!!!" His screaming becomes more hysterical until he's sobbing and bursting out in tears. I killed the music immediately and had to go console him. It took him a few minutes to pull himself back together.
Making children cry is not a recipe for success or creating passionate users. Kelly, you're a big meanie.
Andrew (8) was being exceptionally well behaved this evening, even offering to clean up a mess Michael made.
Me: "Andrew, I love it when you're this sweet. It's much better than when you're grumpy."
Andrew: "I feel the same way about you."
Damn, fair enough.
This evening, I was reading a book about snakes to Michael (5).
Michael: "King cobras are my favorite snake."
Michael: "Because they can spit venom."
Me: "Do you wish you could spit venom?"
Michael: "Yes. I would kill you first. I'd leave your body for another snake to eat though."
I am never turning my back on him again.
(Did you know the average length of a king cobra is nineteen feet long? As if they weren't scary enough with the venom spitting and the big hood."
We went through the mountains this weekend to Leavenworth for a little outing with Michelle's team. As we approached Stevens Pass, Michael (5) started listing all the ways we could die.
After he enumerated things like driving off the road or getting attacked by bears, he said "If we get stuck in an avalanche, we eat Andrew (8) first."
Where does he get this stuff? I'm going to have to start sleeping with my eyes open.
Andrew (8) participated in his second Pinewood Derby this year and won first place out of 35 cars! What made it more fun was that he did a lot more of the work on the car this year than last year, so it really was more of his effort. Andrew, of course, was delighted.
The event was much faster this year too thanks to a new track setup we used from Northwest Scouters. They have a slick four-lane metal track with computer scoring. We ran all 35 cars and were done with the racing part in maybe 35 minutes (vs. the two hour ordeal last year.) I think all the dads were more excited than the kids to see the track go together and check out all the computerized gear.
Congratulations to the Steelers on the victory in tonight's Super Bowl. The Seahawks gave it a good try, but ultimately self-imploded.
It was fun the watch the game with the boys tonight. We don't have a TV signal normally (I'll blog on that sometime), but today I hooked up a pair of rabbit ears to watch the game. We all sat around, snacked, yelled, and watched the game. The guys enjoyed it, although Michael (5) kept referring to the Steelers as the Robbers.
We'll have to watch more games in the future. It was fun.
Apparently, Michael (5) is tired of waiting for the big trade. He's removed the requirement that the eagle has hair and will accept a bald eagle now.
I'm in trouble now.
I'm not sure how the discussion started, but after some intense negotiations, Michael (5) has agreed with Michelle that he'd trade me in for an eagle, a monkey, and a goldfish. He figures they'd be more fun than I am, although he admitted the goldfish wouldn't do much.
When asked if he meant a bald eagle, he said, "No, I want one with hair." I figure I'm safe for a while since finding a hairy eagle will take a while.
Michael went through some packages that arrived yesterday looking for his animals. He was visibly disappointed when his box didn't show up.
I guess I should be flattered that he wants three animals in exchange for me. My boss keeps threatening to trade me for a carton of cigarettes.
Michelle is making fudge right now. Michael (5) is excitedly watching her do this; he's a major chocoholic. When I asked him, "Michael, do you like fudge?" he replied "I love fudge more than I love you."
Well, I guess I know where I stand.
Out of the blue this afternoon, Michael (5) declared today that he would choose to be in Slytherin House. (For those of you who are not Harry Potter devotees, Slytherin is the house at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry known for producing Dark Wizards.)
Somehow, I'm not surprised. He preferred the Sith to the Jedi as well. Power appeals to him.
I'd probably be in Hufflepuff, since I'm a bit of a duffer...
(Once again, I'm stunned that Wikipedia had articles on the random HP stuff I linked to above. I don't think Encarta or Britannica would consider it reference, but it's an interesting and useful redefinition of reference. Looks like the intersection between Wikipedia geeks and HP geeks is high...)
I guess I shouldn't have been surprised given his recent conversion to Egyptian mythology, but Andrew (8) made an Anubis holiday card this week in Cub Scouts. We were making pop-up cards out of construction paper. His had a pop-up head of a jackal (Anubis), resplendent with a red and green collar for the holidays, next to a Christmas tree.
It was a nice mix of two pagan religious symbols and is probably as Christian as other symbols associated with Christmas like the yule log and mistletoe, appropriated from pagan ritual.
After Michael's (5) bath this evening, I was kneeling behind him as he stood naked in front of his dresser picking out his pajamas. I noticed he wasn't really moving, but he was bobbing his little butt at me. I wondered what he was doing. Then, a lightbulb went off.
I asked him nicely, "Michael, are you trying to fart on me?!" He started laughing evilly, almost maniacally. He then turned around and started bobbing his butt at me again, still laughing.
Gross little kid. Fortunately, he doesn't have that kind of bodily control yet. Lord help me when he does.
[Scene from the Chor household this evening.]
Michael (5) comes into the kitchen despondent.
Michael: [Sobbing] "Andrew (8) is being rude."
Michelle picks him up to comfort him.
Michael: [Through his tears]: "Let's chop him up with an axe."
Michelle: [Soothingly] "OK."
Michael: [Suspiciously] "Do we even have an axe?"
Michael: "Well, let's a get a big knife and stab his heart." [Evil grin]
Who knows how this act will play out?
Michael (5) was mad at Michelle this evening because she wouldn't let him stay up past his bedtime to play his Gameboy (how cruel of her!) He was simply beside himself. Through his tears, he pulled me aside and said, "You should fire her."
I don't think it works that way, little kid. Plus, she'd get half.
Too bad I wouldn't get half of Microsoft's cash if they fired me. That would be OK.
We're not an especially religious family, at least not consistently. Michelle and I both grew up Roman Catholic and have gone back and forth in our faith. We are currently in an "away" swing. This has affected the kids as well. A few weeks ago, Andrew (8) asked me to stop saying his evening prayers, a ritual we've performed his entire life, since he decided he doesn't believe in God. Fine, his choice.
Then, last week, Andrew informed us that he has chosen a new religion, one based on Egyptian mythology. In particular he is drawn to Anubis, the dog-like funeral deity. I'm not sure if this is a result of the research he did into ancient Egypt last year or his fascination (like many eight year-old boys) in Yu-Gi-Oh, but it was certainly a surprise.
I guess I'm pleased he's making his own choices. This one has been harmless so far, i.e. he hasn't tried to embalm Michael (5) or made ritual sacrifice, so I'll let it go. If a temple starts going up in the back yard or he starts cutting strips of muslin, I'll have to step in. Funny, none of the parenting books I've read talked about this contingency.
This morning, I left the house carrying a big sack of clothes slung over my shoulder. Michael (8) looked up at me and said, "Daddy, you look like Santa Claus."
In fact, little kid, I look exactly like your Santa Claus...
I brought the project for Andrew's (8) Cub Scout pack meeting this evening. The project was a leather wallet with the Cub Scout logo on it; they come pre-cut pieces of leather with a big needle and some lacing. I admit the project was a bit complex, but I thought the boys would like the project. Besides, I photocopied the instructions for everyone.
No one read the instructions.
The boys immediately dumped everything on the tables and started working. Worse, the parents who were helping didn't read the instructions either. They started totally screwing up everything. As I raced around from table to table trying to save the projects, I found a few allies who had exercised their ability to read English. We feverishly got people off on the right track.
As designed, no one finished the project during our meeting, so they'll have to finish them at home. If they read the instructions, finishing a nice project will be straightforward. If not, it will be hellish hours of incompetence and eternal scorn from disillusioned sons.
Just stop running for thirty seconds, read the instructions, and know what you should do next. How hard is that?
(As a funny aside, the dads mostly thought this was a very cool project. "Wow, this is something he'll keep forever. If I had done this as a kid, I'd probably still have it." said one happy father. However, the moms thought it was horrible, "That's hideous. Please tell the boys that these make great Christmas presents for grandfathers..." commented one mother. The Mars/Venus split extends to Cub Scout wallets too, I guess.)
Andrew (8) has brought a game home from school. You try to get someone else to say "What?" then you say "You're stuck with it." Stupid third grade stuff, but we're all doing it now.
Usually, the strategy is to catch someone off-guard and call their name; unaware victims will just reply "What?" However, other strategies like mumbling, speaking in other languages (Andrew likes Huttese from Star Wars), and saying something non-sensical seem to work well too.
Michelle, not surprisingly, is the most devious and clever at this. Michael (5) doesn't quite get the rules and will just blurt out "you're stuck with it" and seemingly random occasions and then laugh and gloat (usually doing a little victory dance as well). We're all a little more cautious now, usually replying "Yes?" when our names are called.
In the JV version we play, the word "what" has to be said alone. I've seen Andrew's classmates play the varsity version where any usage of "what" results in getting slammed.
I have no idea where this silly game came from or why it's bad to "be stuck with it", but there you go. I have visions of calling Andrew when he's forty and getting him "stuck with it." I can't wait.
I just remembered this story from my last trip. When I'm on the road, I regularly call the family to check in and say hello. Andrew (8) tells me about his day and asks how I'm doing usually, as you might expect. Michael (5) just wants to know what I've bought for him. He's becoming more directive about what constitutes acceptable gifts and went as far as saying I wouldn't be allowed to re-enter the house without Lego Bionicles in hand this time.
What's more, he now wants to control what gifts Andrew gets too. On one call, I was talking to Michelle and heard the kids fighting in the background. When Michael came on, he was crying and upset.
Michael: "Andrew was being really mean to me. Throw away his gifts and just bring him rocks."
Yeah, I'll get right on that. Nothing I'm looking forward to more than carrying rocks in my suitcase. I'm sure there's some law about that too that would invite Customs to check my orifices out thoroughly.
Yesterday morning, I was lying in bed. I heard Michael (5) exclaim to Andrew (8): "Andrew! I just found the King of Boogies [boogers]"
By the time I got to the boys, the King was no where to be found, with no witnesses. I'm not looking forward to finding the King.
Overheard the other day:
Michael (5) to no one in particular: "Will someone please stab Andrew (8) to death?"
Ah, my sweet child.
(Actually, aside from his desire to slice up his brother, Michael has been extra lovey lately. This is nice for me, but has created a bit of a dry spell for Michael stories on the blog.)
Well, Andrew (8) broke his arm again. It's the same arm as last year, almost exactly a year later. Once again, he broke it on a play structure, this time at swim and tennis camp. He toughed it out mostly (pulling the tape off his arms to remove the IV was the worst part). Now he's in bed watching videos and eating Crunch bars.
This is becoming an annual start-of-school tradition. Not a good one.
As if the chair incident weren't enough:
"Michael (5), when someone pees on you, don't pee on them."
(From camp this week)
Q: What's more annoying than watching Jar Jar Binks in the Star Wars movies?
A: Listening to Andrew (8) run around doing Jar Jar impressions. (He's actually pretty good, but that just makes it worse.)
Kill me now.
Michael turned five today. It's trite but true: I don't know where the time went.
This morning at breakfast, I asked Andrew (8) if he remembered when Michael was born. He actually recounted a fair bit of detail of being at the hospital, the toys he tried to explain to Michael, and getting to hold Michael for the first time.
Michael: "I punched you right?"
Andrew: "No, you were asleep."
Michael: "I hated you holding me."
Some kids are just born mean.
The other night, I was reading to Michael (4). He knows his letters and can sound out words pretty well now, but he can be lazy about it. I pointed to a drawing of a rabbit in the book that had bunny spelled out next to it. I asked Michael to read the word.
Me: "No, Michael, sound it out. What's the first letter?"
Me: "Michael, what sound does b make?"
Me: "Good, now what's the word?"
As I mentioned in my last post, Andrew (8!) had his birthday party this afternoon with eight of his friends from school (all boys). It was mostly pretty harmless aside from the typical party favor fights (you know, those paper things you blow on that unroll and the roll back up? -- lots of poked eyes) and eight year-olds hyped up on sugar running around making up insane games.
However, the Mercer Slough Science Center and Interpretive Trail where we had the party was a mosquito infested hell pit. The boys and I went out on a hike with a naturalist to learn about bugs. We learned all about bugs and how much we hate them. We were getting eaten alive by mosquitos. The naturalist took three to the forehead like headshots right out of the gate. The organic, world safe, no dye, no pain, nice smelling bug spray Michelle gave us formed a thin and only partially succesful barrier against these aerial menaces. We beat a hasty retreat to get off the trail, harassed by enemy air superiority the whole way.
I guess having a party in a slough in mid-July was dumb. Duh.
(As an aside, the etiquette around RSVPs seems to be lost these days. If you're coming RSVP yes. If you RSVP yes, show up. If you're not coming, RSVP no. Ain't that hard.)
We often call Andrew (7), "Drew". It occured to me we could call Michael (4), "Kull". Somehow, it fits.
The boys have Star Wars on the brain. They just bought posters and bedsheets today. Andrew (7) is all about being a Jedi. Michael (4), of course, is all Dark Side/Sith. He wants nothing to do with that mamby pamby Obi-Wan. Power at all costs and cooler looking fighters to boot.
My bets are on the Dark Side around here. Obvi.
Michael (4) has been running around singing Sir Mix-a-Lot's "I Like Big Butts" (at least the first few lines). However, he's got the words a little wrong, "I like big butts that I cannot buy..."
Ask Michelle where he learned the words.
Michael (4) has something of an imagination, but it comes out in weird ways. Last night, he told us a story he made up. Apparently, cows drink Coke because humans take all the milk. The Coke makes them a little crazy, so the daddy cow kills the mommy cow and the big brother cow (the parallels were a little troublesome to Michelle and Andrew) by punching them in the spine. Then, the daddy cow and the little brother cow kill the pigs. And then they kill the other animals including the fox (not sure why it was important to call out the fox, but it was.)
We'll be cutting back on Coke consumption around the Chor household right away.
Michael (4) often likes his hair spiked up with gel; he thinks he looks especially dangerous this way (he does.) The other day, however, he tried to spike up his hair himself -- with chewing gum.
Michelle found him in the bathroom trying to get it out; naturally it was a mess. Fortunately, Michelle knows the secret Mommy tricks to getting it out (soynut butter) so no hair had to be cut.
I don't think he'll be doing that again any time soon.
Michael (4) has mysteriously become a sushi eating machine. While we've known he has always liked fish, especially salmon, we never gave him raw fish as a kid due to the bacterial risk. Then, one day recently, while I was enjoying my sushi at dinner, he reached across, grabbed a hamachi nigiri and chowed it right down. He loved it and proceeded to eat the rest of my sushi.
Now, when we go to sushi, we have to order him his own. He takes the fish off the rice, eats the rice first like a chipper consuming a log, and then feeds the fish into his mouth in the same fashion. It's like watching the Japanese kid who always wins the hot dog eating contest decimate a pile of hot dogs. It's really a site to behold.
Then, this evening, he asked what the bright orange tobiko (flying fish roe) was. Michelle told him it was "sprinkles" and offered him some. He put a little in his mouth and realized he'd been tricked, "These aren't sprinkles." "Well," I replied, "they're fish sprinkles. Try biting them." He did, smiled, and asked for more. Strange kid.
For the record, he doesn't like wasabi. At all.
As you may have realized from the previous posts, Michael (4) is not always the most generous kid. So, it was somewhat of a surprise today when he was readily bringing Easter candy to me this morning after the kids opened their Easter eggs. I then noticed he was going back to Andrew's (7) basket to get more candy to share with me.
Michael: [big smile] "I'm Andrew's helper."
He's all heart.
This morning the Andrew (7) and Michael (4) jumped into bed and each kissed me on the cheek to wake me up. "Wow, it's great to be a dad!" I thought.
Andrew: "Haha, I licked you."
Michael: "Haha, I wiped boogers on you."
Kill me now. They're teaming up against me already. It's like the scene in Jurassic Park where the velociraptors show pack hunting intelligence. Scary.
Michael (4): "One day, I'll be taller than Mommy."
Michael: "Then she'll have to die."
Michael: "Yes. Then I'll be taller than you. Then you'll have to die."
One more thing to look forward to, I guess.
The other night, I repeated my usual bedtime routine with Michael (4) where I ask him what the best part of his day was.
Me: "Michael, what was the best part of your day today?"
Michael: [looking cute, whispers something I can't hear]
Me: [leaning closer] "Michael, what was the best part of your day today?"
Michael: "Hitting you in the head."
Whack. He smacks me on the side of the head.
After the last time, you'd think I'd be wise to him.
This evening, I pinned his hands when I asked the question. The little rat tried to head butt me, a big smile on his face.
Michael (4) to Andrew (7): "Get back up so I can knock you back down!!"
Ah, brotherly love.
(Note, turns out this is a line from Yu-Gi-Oh, the Movie. Hard to believe it didn't win an Oscar.)
A good friend of ours has a cool pirate map tattoo on a good portion of his scalp. Michael (4) thought this was super cool and wanted a pirate map on his head too. Our friend told him, "You already have one. Everyone has one. You just can't see yours because of your hair." Michael was delighted and thought this was super cool.
The other day, he came up behind me while I was sitting down and starting picking through my hair on the back of my head like a scene out of "Chimps of the Gombe". He confronted me, "Hey, you don't have a map on your head!" Sensing a there-is-no-Santa moment coming, I put on my most sincere face and said, "Sure, it's there, it's just hard to see because of my hair" and stood up quickly so he couldn't check again. He paused for a moment and then walked away happy.
Great. On top of Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy, I need to perpetuate another great lie. Somehow, I think Michael will be more bummed when he finds out he doesn't have a pirate map on his head than he will be when he learns about the other things. I'm not looking forward to that day.
Michael (4), my evil child who strikes fear in others, has a weakness. Michelle discovered the other day that Michael is afraid of flies (but "just a little bit" according to Michael.)
Hard to believe that Mr. Dangerous is afraid of flies, but I guess even Superman had a weakness. I guess Andrew (7) will need to carry a little vial of flies with him from now on to ward off Michael.
Michael (4) is getting more devious. This scares me.
The other night, I did my usual bedtime routine where I asked him what the best part of his day was.
Michael: [smiling cutely] "Throwing stuffed animals at you."
Me: [stupidly] "When did you throw stuffed animals at me?"
Michael: [obviously] "Right now."
Bam! Boom! Kapow!
I was hit with a flurry of stuffed animals that appeared from under his comforter. Michael, obviously, was delighted and very satisfied. I had no doubt it truly was the best part of his day.
Andrew's (7) Pinewood Derby race was last night. His gloss red wedge-shaped "Dragon Fire" took third-place out of approximately 30 cars, delighting Andrew to no end (and surprising the heck out of me.) The event was long, but the kids did surprisingly well (contrary to my previous Cub Scout experiences). It was very fun, and I'm pleased to report the kids (and parents) were uniformly good sports.
For those who don't know, the Pinewood Derby is an even where kids build little cars and race them down a track. It's a Boy/Cub Scout tradition (I did it as a Cub Scout too.) I understand Girl Scouts and others do it too. The kids get a basic kit with a pine block, four wheels, and four nails. After that, you can do whatever you want, modulo a few rules around weight, moving parts, etc.
The kids are supposed to do most of the work on the car. Andrew did a little of each step (cutting the block, rasping it into shape, sanding, painting, etc.) but the Derby-elf (me -- thanks, Bruce, for this turn-of-phrase), moved the process along too. It was fun to make the car with Andrew. I don't do a lot of woodworking usually and am not the handiest guy around, but it's fun. I'm already looking forward to next year.
Michael (4) came up to Michelle the other day and sighed, "It's not easy being dangerous."
I'm sure Darth Vader had his bad days too.
As usual, we set out a plate of cookies and a glass of milk for Santa. Once the kids go to bed and after we've set all the gifts out, Michelle and I (or just I) eat the cookies, drink the milk, and maybe leave a note. Andrew used to love this and really thought Santa had eaten the little snack.
This year, when Michael came out Christmas morning, Michelle pointed out that Santa had left the cookie plate and milk glass out (instead of putting them away like we tell the kids to do), Michael got mad and said, "Oooh, I hate that guy!"
Not even Santa gets a break from Michael.
Not sure whether to file this under "Kids" or "Cool Stuff". So, my dear friend Connie (who I mentioned in my last post) gave the boys a nice Christmas gift last night. One of them was a book called Walter the Farting Dog. Really.
This is the charming story of a dog (named Walter, obviously) who, well, farts a lot. It's a big problem for the family, they try all sorts of remedies, but nothing works. Dad wants to take the dog to the pound, but the kids love him. Walter, not wanting to leave the family, holds his farts in until one fateful evening. Robbers break into the house and tie off his muzzle to keep him from barking. As you might guess, Walter saves the day with his unique affliction, endearing him to the family forever.
I'm not making this up.
Michael (4), of course, loves this story, especially in light of his fondness of farting (which Connie gleaned as one of four regular readers of this blog.)
We had dinner this evening at the Seattle Yacht Club with our good friends Connie and Mike (two unrelated friends who were both in town). While we were catching up, Michael (4) sauntered over to a table of pre-teen girls, struck a pose, and informed them, "I'm devastating and dangerous." He then just stared into each of their eyes.
It apparently worked. They fawned over him for a while. I think if I tried that I'd get laughed out of the restaurant.
Michelle emailed this little vignette today (since I'm on the road).
Michael (4): "Mommy
Michael (4) came up to me this morning, "I'll cut your butt with a scissors."
This might be a good way for me to shed some inches. I wonder if he'd do my beer belly too.
This weekend I took the boys to Denny's for breakfast. (Their choice, not mine.) Andrew (7) was reading the menu and deciding, so I pointed at different pictures in the menu for Michael (4) and asked him what he wanted.
Me: "Do you want Smiley Face Pancakes?" (pancakes with a happy face made of whipped cream, cherries, and bacon.)
Michael: "No, I want angry face pancakes."
So, I ask the waiter for "Angry Face Pancakes". He smiles and says, "No problem." A few minutes later, out comes the pancakes, and sure enough, they have a very angry face on them. The waiter can't stop laughing the whole time.
Michael was delighted. Tough kid.
Michael (4) has decided that farting is cool. Obviously, this is an incredibly unwelcome turn of events at the Chor household.
Last night we were snuggling and reading before bed -- a perfect scene of parent-child bliss. You know where this is going. He looks up into my eyes, smiles his cutest smile, and says, "I farted."
The night before, he's in the bathtub playing. He smiles (again with the evil smile) and notes, "You know what's cool about farting the in bath tub? It doesn't make a sound."
I'm not happy about this new hobby. Not one bit.
The other night Michael (4) was arranging his stuffed animals along the edge of his bed. He was being very deliberate about putting the toughest, meanest stuffed animals along what was clearly a defensive line. Elephants, tigers, dogs, walruses, and humpback whale were now arrayed along the perimeter.
I asked him what he was doing. "I want to scare girls away from my bed," he replied with a matter-of-fact expression.
I don't think that sentiment will last as long as his mother and I would like.
I ran my first Cub Scout den meeting today for Andrew's (7) den. I've run businesses worth hundreds of millions of dollars and managed teams of over a hundred successfully, so I figured how hard could an hour meeting with four boys be? (Insert evil laugh of Fate here...)
I tested the boys for their Bobcat badge first. They actually knew their stuff so we flew through that WAY faster than I expected. I noticed how quickly the time was going and started to ask them to explain the finer symbology of the salute and the commitments embodied in the Cub Scout Pledge. I tested them on their definition of loyalty and examples of how they could "Do Your Best" (Cub Scout motto) in their daily lives.
They sensed my fear and shot great answers back to me immediately. They all glared at me with "Is that all you've got, old man?" in their eyes. Defeated, I signed off on their books, completing their Bobcat trail. They had earned their first Scouting badge and had picked up my ego as a bonus.
I moved to my next activity (which was not scheduled to start until 7:40pm). I had cleverly picked two games from their scouting book, thinking I could both kill some time and sign off on two more badge requirements for a later badge. I also figured I was doing them a real service as the games will be good as drinking games too when they're in college (or high school as the case may be).
The first game was pitching pennies into pie tins. The scout book actually had recommended washers, but I used what I had -- coins. I see now why they explicitly noted washers; seven year old boys act as though they've never seen money and were eagerly and greedly diving into my bag to rummage for coins. It's a good thing none of them had their Cub Scout pocket knife; I know they would have carved me like a pumpkin to get a quarter.
Seeing my weakness, they didn't listen to me at all, and I didn't feel like I could beat them senseless in front of their parents. Fortunately, one of the mothers took pity on me and worked her mom magic. Apparently, the lack of a second X chromosome makes men incapable of effectively controlling children (at least I'd like to believe it's not my fault.)
After the penny pitching devolved into "penny hurling" and "shotgun pennies" and after a heated yelling match between Andrew and another boy about what constituted a fair pitch (devolving into near-tears for the other boy), we moved onto the next game, shooting marbles between cans.
So, it turns out that boys these days don't really play marbles. I should have figured this out since it was hard to find them. (Target doesn't carry them; I had to go to a "thinking toys" shop loaded with stuff that parents love and kids hate.) The boys didn't really know how to shoot marbles, preferring to throw them at me or pinch them like watermelon seeds. With the quick thinking and XX power of the mom at my side, I managed to coax them through a few rounds of this silly marble game without too many fights (although who got what marble was a nightmare, of course.)
I surrender and call the meeting, ten minutes earlier than planned but not a minute too soon for my sanity.
I have gobs of respect for people who manage piles of kids effectively; I don't know how they do it. I'm going back to my day job. It's way easier. Thank God the various parents in our den rotate meetings, so I don't have to do this again for a long time.
I took Andrew (7) to "Pokemon Rocks America 2004", here in Seattle last Saturday. This was a Pokemon extravaganza held only in three cities this year, so we were fortunate, I guess, to have it here in town.
We got to Seattle Center an hour early, and there was already a line full of people of all ages playing Pokemon on their GameBoys and arguing the finer points of battling and evolving Pokemon. Andrew was so excited he couldn't concentrate enough to play his GameBoy even though he hadn't been allowed to play all week.
The event itself was actually pretty good. I had expected a huge price gouging marketing extravagnza. To be sure, it was all things Pokemon, but it was done well. The event itself was free (even though the line wrapped around the building by the time the doors opened. They gave away a ton of free stuff and had a lot to do.
We learned how to play the card game, Andrew competed on stage in a silly game and won a ton of stuff, we traded Pokemon between our GameBoys with the staff (and got a dozen Pokemon we hadn't had before), watched videos, and saw more experienced kids battle.
The highlight of the event for most people was the opportunity to get the "Aurora ticket" -- the key to getting Deoxys, the last Pokemon (between all the various Pokemon computer games, you try to collect all three hundred some odd Pokemon.) There's no way to get this ticket in the game; you have to go to an event like this. We didn't have the right version of the game, I didn't feel like buying one, and Andrew didn't press the matter (fortunately, since the line was forever long.) At least one person I saw on stage had come from San Diego to get the ticket. Crazy.
Actually, there were a lot of crazies there. I wasn't surprised to see kids of Andrew's age, but there were lots of teenagers and adults who seemed even more enthusiastic. There were pimply faced 15 year old boys snorting about how to mate Pokemon, "Pokemoms" on stage for the karaoke contest, and parents arguing with their kids about which Pokemon evolves into what when -- and really caring. It was Dork Fest 2004.
Still, Andrew had a great time. The highlight for him may have been after the event when we found our photo on the pokemon.com website. Well he's in the photo; my head is cutoff. I've saved that screenshot for posterity.
I admit it was more fun than I expected. Guess I'm a dork too.
The other morning, Michael (4) woke up in an uncharacteristically good mood. He came out of his room singing, You Are My Sunshine.
"...you make me happy,
when skies are grey.
You'll never know beer,
how much I love you.
Please don't take my sunshine away."
That's my boy...
Every so often, I feel like I get some validation that through my kids' common sense and some decent parenting they might just turn out alright.
Andrew (7) wanted to talk about racism and race relations this evening. Not sure why, but he asked why black people used to have to sit in the back of the bus. "It just doesn't make any sense." During our discussion, I told him how interracial marriage was once illegal (which struck him as incredibly stupid given that almost half his friends are from interracial families) and how some white people in Seattle tried to run all the Chinese out of Seattle in 1886. "That's dumb" he said.
On the one hand I'm super proud of him. On the other hand, I'm amazed that what's obvious to a seven year old was not (and is not unfortunately) to so many adults for so long.
I camped in the backyard last night with the boys for the first time. We had a little fire (in a Weber Smokey Joe) to roast hotdogs and marshmallows for s'mores. The guys had a lot of fun; Andrew told us ghost stories. When he ran out of ghost stories, he started reciting poems. In both cases, the spirit was willing but the recollection was weak. We even survived a heavy squall that passed (thanks, Doug, for the great tent.) I also learned the value of a sleeping pad (which we did not have).
Finally, it's clear that I've learned from years of parenting. Andrew stepped out in the middle of the night to pee. Right before he started, I had the foresight to yell "not on the tent" and heard feet shuffling. Whew.
Well, it probably had to happen. Andrew broke his arm this week (simple fracture of the radius.) He tried to jump up to some monkey bars, missed, and fell funny. Fortunately, Michelle and I were there and had the car close by. He'll be in a cast for six weeks.
Michael, of course, is capitalizing on this. He has discovered he can inflict a great deal of pain on Andrew if he (in Andrew's words) delivers a "critical hit" on Andrew's cast. Mean little dude.
Michelle was confronting the kids about who sprayed water in the house. Michael quickly replied, "Andrew did it, and I didn't mean to do it."
Well, I guess he's got all his bases covered.
Andrew (7) and I were talking about fears the other day (not sure how we got on this subject.)
Me: "Andrew, what are you most afraid of?"
I asked Michael (4) how he felt when he woke up this morning. He replied, "A little miserable."
What a perfect turn of phrase.
(He is feeling better except when he first gets up. He also hates his medicines, so there's always a bit of a scene when it's med time.)
Well, of course everything went fine (so far) with Michael's tonsil surgery. We were home this morning by 10:30a.
The biggest complication so far is that he wants to run around and play outside (strictly verboten today). He was banging around a bit when he first came home as the anesthesia was wearing off, but he's pretty much back to normal now. It's a bit hard for him to understand why he can't eat anything, but we keep plying him with popsicles and ice cream, so he's mostly copacetic.
Back to making milk shakes and picking up popsicle sticks...
Michael goes in to get his tonsils out tomorrow morning. He has always had really big tonsils which leads him to snore like a little pig and have some trouble with apnea. Hopefully, he'll sleep better once he gets these out. (Of course, he may not be so disagreeably funny, which would probably cripple the best part of my blog.)
This is routine surgery, and kids are super resilient. Still, as a dad, I'm nervous. More later.
Andrew (now 7): "Michael hit me with a golf club!"
Michael (now 4 and smiling): "No, it was a baseball bat."
Well, he didn't deny it at least. (Editors note: these were plastic sporting equipment. No children were hurt too badly producing this blog entry.)
Michael (now almost four) has a history of wanting to hurt me. Well, he's at it again.
Michael: Daddy, when I grow up I'm going to kill you. Maybe when I'm four.
Should be a fun birthday party.
This is another story from Michelle.
So, Michelle takes Michael (still 3) to the doctor (like you do when you have kids.) This is the first time Michael has seen this doctor. Like many people new to Michael, she doesn't know what's she's in for.
Doctor: "Boy, you're cute."
Michael (immediately and very seriously): "No, I'm dangerous."
You just can't make this stuff up.
I have to give credit to Michelle for this one.
Michelle and Michael were sitting near the front of the plane on the way back from Hawaii as the passengers filed onto the plane.
Just then, everyone's nightmare -- a toddler comes aboard screaming and sobbing. His mother is carrying the car seat and a million bags and simply cannot console this baby.
As they pass, Michael mutters (pretty loudly apparently), "Stupid crying baby."
Michael (3) smells good. I like to go in and sniff his face and hair when he's asleep. (He smells good when he's awake too, but he's more likely to hit me then.) Too bad it doesn't last long. Andrew (6) isn't stinky yet, but he doesn't have that fresh kid smell anymore.
Sniffing your kids is a very nice and frequently undocument perq of being a dad. I'm enjoying it while I can.
This morning Michael (3) hid himself in our bed. Michelle was playing with him to get him out.
Michelle: "I can get you out. I'm the smartest." [Uncovers Michael]
Michael: "Who's hair is the driest?"
Michelle: "Yours is. Mommy just took a shower."
Michael: "Who's still in bed?"
Michelle: "You are."
Michael: "Yeah, who's the smartest?"
Damn. Outwitted again.
Michael: "Daddy, when I grow up..."
Me: [Eagerly] "Yes?"
Michael: "I'm going to hit you with a hammer. Maybe two."
I guess if it's worth doing once, it's worth doing twice. More is more...
Michael has a new favorite toy -- a red plastic hatchet that came with some Fisher-Price camping set. He doesn't really do much with it. He seems to just like carrying it around, holding it out in front of him with two hands or kissing it lovingly.
Scare me big time.
Michael: "I hate
Michael: "Because he cries when I hit him."
You're all familiar with the "Ideal Gas Law" (gasses expand to fill the available volume). After sleeping with Michael at my parents' house, I have a corollary -- the "Ideal Michael Law" -- Michael expands to fill the available bed space. I don't know how a little three year-old can take up a whole queen sized bed, but he does.
There is also something magical about his feet; no matter where I position him and where I sleep, his feet always wind up pointed at my face (or other sensitive parts.) It's like a pain compass.
Plus, he snores like a little pig. It's a good thing he's cute and the return policy wasn't very liberal.
Michael was upset with me for some reason this morning while I was out running errands with the boys. Through his anger, he glared at me and snarled, "I hope Mommy smacks you in the face. Hard." It took all could I do to keep from laughing.
He's evil, but he's cute...
"Michael, don't throw that chair at your brother."
Michael (yes, still 3 years old) has started calling me "lunkhead." Unfortunately, both Michelle and I started laughing when he said it the first time, so there's no going back.
Not sure where he got it. It was cute at first. Now I just want to beat him. Again.
So, Michelle picks Michael up after school. Michael is clearly mad.
Michelle - "What's wrong, pumpkin?"
Michael - "I hate Nicholas."
Michelle - "What happened?"
Michael - "He punched me in the hand."
Michelle - "Oh, Michael. You don't hate him. He just did a bad thing. Why do you think he punched you in the hand? Did you do something to make him mad?"
Michael - "I punched him in the heart."
Michelle - "Well, Michael, you can't blame someone for punching you back if you punched him first."
Michael - "I know, but I hate it when they defend themselves."
Ah, my little bully.
The boys were playing the Pokemon card game this afternoon. Andrew, being a good big brother, tried to explain the intricacies of the game to Michael.
Andrew - "Okay, Michael, this [something, something] means you can't hurt this card right now. Okay?"
Michael - "No, I want that card."
Andrew - [voice rising] "No, Michael you can't fight that one right now; he's not in the game. You can't hurt that pokemon."
Michael - [voice louder than Andrew's and to the sound of a card being ripped in half] "Yes, I can."
We don't need no stinkin' rules...
Michael whacked me in the face with a Lego contraption today. Pretty damn hard, actually. When I asked him to say "sorry", he said, "I don't want to say 'sorry'. How about 'give up!'?"
I think I'm ready to surrender.
Michael's mind works in miraculous ways. On the eve of the eve of the eve of Christmas, we were talking about Jesus and how he's the "Son" in the "Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."
Michael says, "I get it. The sun is made of cheese. That's why Cheesus is the sun."
Wow. I would never have come up with that.
Andrew, on the other hand, wants me to explain what the Holy Spirit is and how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all part of the same God. Back to Catholicism for Dummies.
I had a disturbing preview of Michael as a crotchety old man today. After I woke him up from nap, we was very cross with me. Fearing for my life, I put him down at which point he slowly tottered down the hall away from me, mumbling to himself, "stupid Daddy, dumb, dumb, dumb, stupid, dumb, hate you, dumb, dumb, stupid..."
My phone rang late this afternoon. I could tell from the caller ID it was Michelle. I pick it up.
M: "Baking soda on kitchen fires, right?"
Fortunately, there was only a minor oven fire with no damage. More important, the lamb chops turned out very well so no harm done.
The boys' wishes while breaking the wishbone this year pretty much sums up their personalities:
Andrew (6): "I wish for a million zillion good days."
Michael (3): "I wish for a sword so I can cut people in half like a hot dog."
We had a great Thanksgiving dinner. Loads of yummy food. But of course, that's not what Michael wanted. Pringles and whipped cream. What a combination! At least, he prefers real whipped cream to Cool Whip. There's hope yet.