Camping in the North West

Isaac and I are out on a camping trip right now. This was planned weeks ago. But at the beginning of this week, the big question on my mind was: How bad is the rain going to be?
You see, we do get fine days – and even sunny weeks here in Washington. But more often than not, it rains.
That said, the rain is usually light and sporadic. Usually you can ignore it and get on with your life. But when it comes to camping, the impact of the rain is quite notable. Handling rain means that you need a lot more great and a lot more planning.
At the beginning of the week, the forecast for rain was 40%. At this stage I was debating whether we should take our chances and pack light. By the end of the week, the forecast was 80% and the debate was over. We were going to peak for rain.
We drove to the camp site on a lovely sunny Friday afternoon, and as we setup or large rain shelter, we joked about how all this effort would be wasted if it did not rain. We had a good nights sleep, and when we woke to blue skies, I wondered if maybe we had gotten lucky. But not 10 minutes later the clouds rolled over and the first drops of rain started to fall.
Not to fear. Being experienced Washington campers meant that our shelter(a large tarp on wooden poles) is quite large. We quickly shuffled everything under cover and proceeded to make breakfast in the dry. We will probably go for a hike shortly. It is still raining, and we will get wet, but that is all part of living in Washington!

My Evolving LEGO Story

When I was a child, I was a big Lego fan.  I used to love creating large and complicated Lego creations.  I have fond memories of sunny weekend afternoons spent in my room creating new inventions.  I created medieval battle scenes, suburban villages, rocket ships and more.

As I grew older, I got interested in Lego Technics and Robotics.

However, by the time I had moved out of my parents home I had pretty much stopped playing with Lego.

A couple of years ago I started to get back into Lego again.  Specifically – I started to get into the new 12+ kits that are available these days.  I started out with a number of the Star Wars Lego kits.  My personal highlight here was the AT ST Walker:

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One of the things that I liked most about these kits was the hidden complexity.  It would be very easy to take something like the AT ST walker and just fill the empty space with nothing, or plain bricks.  But that is not what Lego does.  Instead, the entire model is full of interesting details – many of which will only be seen by the person who puts them together.  In the case of the AT ST walker – I can tell you that the inside of the feet is actually quite complicated.  You would never know that from looking at the outside.

Over time I started to fall out of love with the Star Wars Lego kits.  This was primarily because they are mostly ships and vehicles of one kind or another – and once you have four of them on a shelf, the fifth one does not really standout compared to the others.

After Star Wars Lego I started getting into the new town house series that Lego have been doing.  I absolutely love these things!

They are big and complicated, and they are beautiful when on display.  Here is my current Lego street (that sits on a shelf above my computer desk):

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On top of this – these houses were designed to be played with.

Let me explain.  My eldest two children have shown a mild to moderate interest in Lego.  They have always admired my Lego – but not really been interested in playing extensively with them.

Kai is different.  He loves Lego, and he loves playing with it.  He often comes and points to something on my shelf and asks if he can play with it.

Given this situation, I have come to have a solid appreciation for how hard it is to break each of my Lego creations, and how easy it is to fix if it is broken.  For example: pre-Kai I would have told you that my AT ST Walker was the best Star Wars Lego model I had.  It is striking and complex.  Unfortunately, it will also break if you look at it really hard.  In comparison my X-Wing fighter is quite robust, and is easy to fix when it breaks.  For these reasons I would recommend the X-Wing over the AT ST Walker any day.

So how do the town houses stack up?  Fantastically.

They are actually designed to come apart at each floor, and reassemble easily.  So if Kai asks to play with one of the houses, I pull it down onto the floor and split it out into the pieces for him:

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He can then play with the figurines and have them explore the building.

It is funny.  While I genuinely appreciate the process of creating these buildings, and am happy to have them on display for their pure aesthetic value, it is also great to have someone who can play with them in ways that I won’t.

As a result – I now find my interest in Lego kits changing.  I still love the town house kits, and want to get any that I do not have yet, but I find myself eyeing off some of the vehicle kits – like the large VW Van:

Or the remote control 4×4:

Simply because I know that I would enjoy making them, and Kai would enjoy playing with them Smile

Cheers,
Ben

Fastest Bicycle in the World

Kai got a new bicycle for Christmas.  It is nothing fancy – just a little red bike that we got on sale (from Costco I believe).  But Kai loves it.  Not only does he love it – but in his mind it is the fastest bike in the world.

We do not have much flat ground – so we have been taking him to the local park where there is a tennis / basket ball court that he can ride around in circles on.  While he does this he is constantly talking about his bike – with phrases such as:

“I’m going 100 miles per hour!”

“Using turbo rocket boosters!”

“This is the fastest bicycle in the world!”

It is hilarious and wonderful to watch.  Every now and then he will come over and ask if you are impressed by his fast bike – to which you have to agree that yes, it is an amazing bicycle.

Cheers,
Ben

Cleaning house, and breaking a piano

I am currently on Christmas holidays.

One of my top goals for the holidays was to clean out our garage.  It has been accumulating junk for a while now.  Some of it we wanted to donate, some of it we wanted to throw away – but all of it needed to go.

There was one particular challenge though.  Our old piano.

We picked this piano up from a neighbor down the street when they moved away.  It is old, beat up and out of tune.  And it weighs a ton.

When we bought our new piano we asked about options for what to do with our old piano.  It turns out that people were not even willing to take it for free.  You see, in this area of the world any charity with the vaguest need for a piano already has been given a nicer one than our old piano.  Checking the local newspapers confirmed that there were numerous local residents with adds that offered free second hand pianos to anyone who would come and take the thing away.

Given all of this, the logical conclusion was to throw it out.  But that posed new problems.

Mostly around how big and heavy the thing is.  Our dump has size limits – which a piano certainly breaks.  And even if it did not – there is no way that I could personally manage to get a piano into (and out of) our minivan.

There was only one thing to do – break the piano into smaller parts.

I started with an electric screwdriver and slowly, meticulously, dismantled the piano.  I found some entertainment in seeing how far I could disassemble it while still being able to play it (and occasionally encourage the kids to play on it and see how the internal mechanisms work).    Once it became apparent that I was about the cross the line from playable into unplayable – I ditched the screwdriver in favor of a sledgehammer – and progress increased rapidly.

Let me say now – it is a very odd experience to take to a piano with a sledge hammer.  Noisy too.

When I was done, I was tempted to keep the metal frame from inside the piano.  If you have never seen one of these, they are quite elegant – and I could easily see using one as an artistic component of some furniture or other room decoration.  However, I concluded that it would just sit around and become clutter, so off to the dump it went.

Besides, if I ever want to make some piano furniture in the future I know of a number of people in the area who are just giving the things away!

Cheers,
Ben

RD-Tee Toe?

Kai has recently started playing Star Wars Lego on our XBOX.  Now, Kai has never seen Star Wars – and knows next to nothing about Star Wars.  To him this is the “outer space Lego game”.  He is doing okay, and learning to play the game well enough (though there are certain levels where he frequently requires help from Isaac or me).  What I do find amusing is his name for R2-D2.  To the best of my hearing he calls R2-D2 “Arr Dee Tee Toe”.

This is made all the more obvious, as R2-D2 is actually his favorite character to play, and he talks to him all the time while playing.

As I was writing this sentence I heard Kai Say “Arr Dee Tee Toe, where are you going!?”

I have tried to correct him saying “His name is R2-D2!” - To which Kai responses “Yes! He is Arr Dee Tee Toe!”

Cheers,
Ben

Reliving the past

I have been reliving the past a lot over the last two weeks.

Kai is now 4 and a half – and has suddenly started discovering many of the computer games that I played with Isaac.

This started when we were down at the local GameStop and Kai found a copy of Super Mario Galaxy for sale.  Kai was very excited about the idea of a computer game that combined one of his favorite characters (Mario) with a recently discovered interest (Outer Space) and immediately asked if we could buy it.

When I told him that we already had this game, he was very confused.

You see, Super Mario Galaxy was released in 2007, before Kai was born.  Isaac and I bought it when it was new and played it through together.  Since then it has been put away in storage, and Kai has never even known it existed.

So, Super Mario Galaxy (and Super Mario Galaxy 2) have been dragged back out of the closet.  It is now (once more) my daily routine to play a little bit of Super Mario Galaxy each day with my son.

On the plus side – this time around I can ask Isaac to help Kai out with a level or two if I am trying to get some work done around the house!

Cheers,
Ben

Small progress

My two youngest children – Elizabeth and Kai – have a tendency too argue a lot.  They both have short tempers, and they both have a desire to always be right.  The result is that small disagreements rapidly spiral out of control.  Tonight, before dinner, there was a dispute about who should be playing the piano.  Within 5 minutes it had all escalated to the stage where both children were in their rooms sulking – while their freshly prepared dinners were going cold.

That said, a small moment of progress was made tonight.

Usually, when Elizabeth or Kai throw a tantrum, they get so caught up in the passion and the fury of it all that they have forgotten why they got upset in the first place by the time the tantrum is over.  This makes it very hard to have teachable moments when problems happen.  But tonight was different.

After Elizabeth had calmed down she came downstairs.  I asked her why she had got in trouble and she was able to say “because I was fighting with Kai”.  We then had a rational discussion of what she could have done differently.  Progress! Yay!

Finally I suggested that Elizabeth find Mum and give her a hug and an apology, which she did.  Elizabeth also offered to make me a coffee (as a peace offering) which I happily accepted.

I did not have the heart to tell Elizabeth that the coffee was quite bad – it is the thought that counts after all :-)

Cheers,
Ben

A 4 year old at work

Kai came into work with me today for a couple of hours.  He thought that this was great fun.  Surprisingly, I was able to get a lot of work done with him there.  I have a number of toys in my office and he happily played with them while I worked at my computers.  The only real interruption was the frequent requests to change my various transformers to and from their robot form.

I did take him along to a couple of one-on-one work conversations – which I started off by telling people “This is my 4 year son.  He repeats anything he hears – so if you use profanity my wife will know about it” followed by a glowering look from me.

When we did walk around the offices – Kai discovered that Daddy walks a lot faster at work than he does at home – so I had to give a number of piggy back rides to help him keep up.  He was very happy when after one meeting we wondered past the office of a developer who had cookies out for people to help themselves to (which Kai did – of course).

At the end of his stay – Werona came in and we went for lunch together.

Cheers,
Ben