Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Last-minute charitable contributions for 2013

A couple months ago, my mom sent me a link to a video about The Giving Pledge -- billionaires's commitments to give much of their wealth away. This link came at an interesting time: in October, Microsoft had a huge giving campaign in which employees were encouraged to donate their time and money to worthy causes. I've been pleasantly surprised by how charitable the company is: employees' donations are matched 100% up to $15,000, and volunteer time is met with a $17/hour donation to the organization from the company.

On this, the last day of 2013, I've scrambled to make some last-minute charitable contributions that, as a bonus, Microsoft will match. The organizations I've chosen to support today are:

Andrea and I have consistently asserted that we are very fortunate, that we are wont for nothing, and that we should help others to the greatest extent reasonable. Videos like this TED Talk, entitled How a Penny Made Me Feel Like a Millionaire, reinforce this view in me:

Happy 2013 to all our friends and best wishes for the new year!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

December 22-28 in Pictures

Reed helps make trail mix at Doug & Sarah's house

Ice skating and hockey on the pond

Christmas Eve at the Nieters, our boys play with their ninja glider and dragon toys

Nate gave our boys each a rock from the Dead Sea and a seashell from the Mediterranean Sea. Jake put his in a box with his initials.

It's only slightly disturbing to descend into the clouds only to find the tarmac immediately on the other side.

I ran some errands after work on Friday and had this quite good view of my office and the sunset.

A Saturday morning bike ride around Magnolia.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas 2013 Review

I've just returned from my trip back to Minnesota for Christmas. For now, Andrea and our boys are still visiting family. (She stays a bit longer because she doesn't have the vacation time constraints I do.)

Having left before Andrea, I brought a suitcase jam-packed with clothes, winter gear, and gifts. This actually let me walk on with next to nothing: my new phone (which I am very happy with, by the way), charger, and earbuds; a copy of Siddhartha that I intentionally left at MSP on my return trip; my e-reader; and a journal I've been keeping since August.

I flew out on the 17th, getting to my parents' place around 1:00am. The next day, Andrea, Jacob and Reed followed, and we spent the next few days with my parents, brother and sister-in-law at my parents' house and their lake place. The time consisted largely of Grandpa playing with the boys.

At the cabin, Nate and I helped Dad with the 200lb+ limestone hearth, several boxes of "cultured stones" for the fireplace facade, and jacks in the basement to help support the weight. Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures of any of the installed hearth, but one of Dad's updates from a couple weeks ago does include his homemade mantle (with inset LED lights) and much of the facade:

For longer than I can remember, Dad has been an avid woodworker and all-around handy guy, so when we're at their house, our boys are often in the basement with him "helping" in some way or another. On more than one occasion, one of the boys asked to go downstairs to build something with Grandpa.

Perhaps more than usual, Reed was Daddy's boy for much of the trip. On Christmas Day, as I was talking with Dad, Reed "snuck up" behind me, messed up my hair, and promptly hid behind me, giggling the whole time.

That first Saturday, the Seattle and Becker Shireys went out for the Christmas tree at a tree farm less than a mile away.

Along the way, I spotted what very well may have been a storage or utility shed, but it reminded me of Cabin Porn, so I had to get a shot of it:

At Doug and Sarah's house, we visited with Andrea's sisters and their families. Gavin, who is just shy of his first birthday, was Reed's favorite.
Reed tries to entertain Gavin by position himself upside-down for his cousin's amusement.
Reed also was fond of holding Gavin, especially for about a half hour at Christmas Eve church service.

Hot cocoa is best when served with a fistful of marshmallows.
For Christmas Eve and Christmas Day breakfasts, I made my Grandma Shirey's sweet bread dough, making Hungarian coffee cake and cinnamon rolls, respectively:

As is tradition, we exchange gifts on Christmas Eve with Andrea's side, and Christmas morning, we go to my parents's place for the Shirey exchange. Our boys were very excited about their new Seahawks hats, and my brother gave each boy a rock from the Dead Sea and shell from the Mediterranean Sea. Jacob put his in a small jewelry box and wrote his initials on it:

The boys were well-behaved for both gift exchanges, saying "thank you" and "merry Christmas" and giving hugs. They got a bit silly come picture time, but I'm sure some of them turned out well.

On Thursday, Andrea and I got up at 4:00am and left my parents's house at 4:30 to get to the airport for my flight back to Seattle. Unfortunately, Sun Country had to "replace a dirty seat belt" on the plane. Combined with the de-icing process, my 7:50 flight didn't leave until around 9:10. Just as well, since Seattle had heavy fog, causing us to waste some time in the air. Our fallback was to land in Yakima, where I'd still be a 2hr+ drive home.

Luckily, we got clearance to land in SEA. As we slowly descended, I noticed the trees, houses and cars far below. But perhaps five minutes later, I noticed we were back above the thick clouds - more time circling? We descended into the clouds, and when we emerged on the other side, I found we were barely above the tarmac - not the hundreds or thousands of feet that I was expecting.

Home again, weather is warmer by 20 to 40 degrees than in Minnesota. And hey, University Street Station now has its escalators functional again. Merry Christmas!

I've also included a small subset of [this visual week] pictures and details from my first and second calendar weeks in Minnesota.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

December 15-21 in Pictures

A street performer at Pike Place Market doing hula hoops, balancing a guitar and "solving" two Rubik's Cubes

Stepping out of my comfort zone with a Fremont Abominable. I dislike dark beers, but this was quite good.

A SeaTac ghost town of airline check-in kiosks 

Sending out some capsaicin to my roomie for Christmas.

Jacob and Reed playing at Grandpa Doug & Grandma Sarah's house

Reed quietly watching - enthralled - as Nate uses his phone

Getting Grandpa Sam & Grandma Ann's Christmas tree

Sunday, December 15, 2013

December 8-14 in Pictures

Riding the carousel at Westlake Park.

Apparently pot-bellied pigs have been a problem at school.

Reed helping me make waffles for breakfast on Tuesday.

Ice on sidewalks is treated much differently in Seattle than in Minnesota.

A beautiful morning drive to Bellevue.
On a Friday evening run, I spotted this car with a unique hood ornament.
Jacob laying on the dock at Green Lake trying to touch the water.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Traditions in Seattle

On Saturday, we went to Magnolia village to run some errands. The temperature was in the 20s -- much warmer than we were used to in Minnesota, but a bit cooler than we've been used to in our almost year and a half in Seattle -- so we bundled up and walked the two thirds mile together. We let the boys have some time at the community center to play (and Jacob got into his first car accident), then hit up Uptown Espresso for our Saturday morning coffee:

On the way back, we got a few library books. Jacob has made great progress with his reading; he regularly spells out words to us instead of speaking them, and he will read words that he previously would have no clue how to decipher. This morning, though, he didn't feel like going inside, so he instead climbed a tree and waited for us:

Sunday afternoon, we took the boys downtown for the annual Gingerbread Village. After some driving around looking for parking, we made our way to the Sheraton, and after a wait in line, we got to check out the amazing gingerbread houses built in support of Type I Diabetes research:

There also was a carousel at Westlake Park that we rode:

Both my boys wanted me to ride with them. In fact, that was pretty much the theme of our Sunday for both of them: two cute boys wanting to to hang out with Daddy.

After the carousel, we grabbed dinner at P.F. Chang's then walked back to our car. At Westlake Square, they ran around on the pulsing lights in the concrete:

While we did spend a bit of money for the carousel donation and a pretty decent chunk on dinner for four, our evening was a very positive experience that could have cost us about $15 in all. 

Last night, Andrea and I discussed how our traditions are in flux now that we're in Seattle and don't have the decorations we used to have. I remember, for example, when my family would bundle up, grab a sled and a saw and walk through my parents' ten acres. We'd find a tree we liked, cut it down, and drag it home, set it up and decorate it. My parents still get a freshly cut tree, and they now wait for us to fly back to Minnesota before getting it.

While we might not be continuing many of those traditions we grew up with, Andrea told me that before we got on the carousel, Jacob excitedly reported to her that he remembers riding it with her and Reed last year. Perhaps this will become one of our winter traditions.

Monday, December 9, 2013

December 1-7 in pictures

The boys loved the scones I made Sunday morning. Raspberries added for extra awesome.
Everywhere I go, I see Cards Against Humanity.

We ran out of heating oil, so I tried to get the boys to wear warmer clothes. to bed.

Escalator parts for University Street Station. 

Great socializing on the bus.

Story time ♥

Jacob climbed the tree outside the library instead of going in.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Real men mend their hoodies

A few years ago, I bought for around $15 a hoodie that has turned out to be the most comfortable long-sleeved shirt I own. But with all the abuse it gets, it's taken on some wear. The left elbow wore thin and through. It probably should have been thrown out long ago, but as a stop-gap, I took an old climbing shirt I was throwing out, made a patch and did a terrible job of mending the shirt, as you can see:

The sartorial equivalent of a twelve-car pileup.

Very shortly thereafter, a hoodie I had received for Christmas a while back had the same problem. This time, I tried patching on the outside. I'm not sure which is worse.

Monday, when I wore the only other hoodie that I own, I found the sleeves were comically stretched out, so I took in about an inch of slack on each sleeve, making it significantly more comfortable and better-looking, to boot.

My experience with a sewing machine now includes mending hoodies, making tree-huggers (hammock suspension system) and making ninja masks. Quite the repertoire.