#87: Ben – Record a Video Course

I like having a side project. It gives me a way of sharpening my saw on something other than my day job, but I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2016 challenge. Here’s the full list.

In 2015, I recorded a video tutorial series on Python, and had a great experience working with O’Reilly Media. So when they asked me if I was interested in doing it again, I didn’t have to think too long before I said yes. This time the subject matter would be Kubernetes, a software system that helps you run other software systems on lots of computers.


The video series went up on O’Reilly’s site in August, and I’ve been surprised by the amount of feedback I’ve received. People really seem to respond to this kind of teaching, which I love. This is my second good experience doing this, so I’ll most likely do it again if I get the opportunity.

Kids: Eagle Crest

This Memorial Day weekend, the Swanks whisked Will and Lucy to sunny Eagle Crest. We weren’t there, so we can’t really tell their story, but it sure looks like they had a great time.

This was Will’s last little adventure with the Swanks before heading off to his huge adventure at Sandhill. It looks like he made the most of it.

#18: Jenson Family Reunion

We’ve tried hard to set up an every-other-year cadence for Jenson gatherings, starting with a Sunriver gathering in 2013, and continuing with a lakeside retreat in 2015. The news of Dorothy’s cancer prognosis threw a wrench in this rhythm – if she was going to make it to any more, it’d have to be right away.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2016 challenge. Here’s the full list.

So we gathered everybody in Washougal in mid-May. The house is big enough to fit everybody, although it started to feel small during the day, when even the local families came over, so we made use of the outdoors as well. There was a campfire pretty much every day, and a family friend hooked us up with access to her swimming pool. One day there was a giant slip-and-slide.

Dorothy even taught a painting class for the kids. They all put Ken’s old Tri-Met work shirts on backwards for smocks, and painted a version of Starry Night. They had a ton of fun, and the paintings turned out really great.

We even staged the traditional Jenson clan talent show! This time it was just kids performing, and a wide variety of talents were showcased, from music to dramatic poetry readings. Little Sen treated us to some interpretive dance.

It’s hard to capture the full breadth of this event, even with dozens of photos. Touching moments were happening around every corner. A literal ton of great food was consumed, hundreds of games played, and every kid made a T-shirt that everyone else signed.

We knew Dorothy’s time was limited, and we wanted to make sure all the kids’ last memories of her were happy. This was the last time we were all in one place together, and I think we did a pretty good job of making it memorable and fun.

#11: Get a Trampoline

When I was a kid, I would occasionally visit other kids’ houses. And there was one thing that would always settle a tie when it came to deciding whose house we would go to: a trampoline in the backyard.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2016 challenge. Here’s the full list.

We’ve got a pretty big yard. Most of it is on a slope, but there are three patches that are big enough to hold a trampoline, and two of them are big enough for a really nice-sized one. We measured the one we thought would work the best, ordered the 17-footer from Amazon, and waited.

(Note: you’ll probably notice that our lawn is brown. We don’t usually live like this, it was in transition. We’ve since had it covered with cedar chips.)

We worked as a family to set up the frame and stretch the canvas, but it was tilted at something like 15° off level, and we didn’t want the kids to go flying out of it or through the flimsy nylon mesh. So the next weekend Becky’s dad came over, and we started digging out trenches for the high-side feet to sink into, so the tramp would be level. Unfortunately we nicked a sprinkler pipe while doing it. So we did a hasty repair job, and decided to leave the tramp on the big patch at the bottom of the yard, which was level enough for safety.

So how has this one turned out? Great. Will and Lucy made good use of it in the early summer, and Lucy still spends time out there when the weather cooperates. She’s been practicing gymnastics moves, and she’s getting pretty good. This project has been a huge success, and we’d do it again in a heartbeat.

#57: Give to Charity

We’ve been meaning for a while to make a habit of giving to charity. Our lives have been pretty good, and we want to know that some of that goodness gets passed on to others.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2016 challenge. Here’s the full list.

So we each of us sat down, chose a cause we cared about, and made a donation. Here is where our money went.

Becky: The Pajama Program

The Pajama Program is a charity that provides new PJs and books to kids who are homeless, living in extreme poverty, or who have no parents. We teared up just looking at their website.

Ben: Black Girls Code

Black Girls Code is an organization that teaches girls of color how to write computer programs. My field is one of the least diverse by gender and race, and initiatives like this will help correct this imbalance, and provide opportunities to kids that might not otherwise have them.

Will & Lucy: Animal Shelters

The kids both love animals. Will has benefited greatly from the therapy animals at the Sandhill Center, and Lucy has been asking for a while to make a lemonade stand and give half the proceeds to the animal shelter. So her donation went to the Humane Society for Southwest Washington, and his went to Animal Humane New Mexico.

#89: Ben – Play Through a Video Game

I loved video games as a kid. I raced and fought and adventured with my friends (and alone) for hours on end. When I was 14 I stayed up for two days straight playing Final Fantasy III (née VI), which is probably one of the best games ever made. It was great.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2016 challenge. Here’s the full list.

Of course, growing up and having a family changes your priorities, but I’ve never lost my appetite for games. I just have less time to play them now, so I have to be more discriminating with my choices. This year I set a goal to play through an entire game, start to finish, which is something I’ve had a hard time with lately. Starting things is easy; it’s the finishing that’s hard.

I also wanted to actually accomplish something. I’ve been twiddling with little things now and then (replaying Portal and Braid, for example), but those shouldn’t count. A Hundred Thing should be bigger than that. So I went looking for something substantial.


And it landed in my lap, courtesy of the Humble Bundle. The game is called Pier Solar, and it was intended to be the ultimate evolution of the kind of game I loved as a kid. The team originally wrote and released it as a Sega Genesis cartridge in 2010(!), but since then it’s been given a graphical overhaul, and released on more modern systems as well.

I found out as I worked my way through it that this just isn’t the kind of experience I want any more. When I was younger, I had infinite patience for walking around, fighting monsters, and leveling up my characters (this has since been dubbed grinding). It felt good, there was an almost visceral connection with what the characters were doing on screen. But my tastes have changed. I want the joy of victory, of solving the puzzle, and a great story.

Turns out that my dissatisfaction isn’t just because I’m old, though. Others have also said that this game isn’t as great as it thinks it is. The writing isn’t the greatest, the combat could be much more satisfying, and the only reason I didn’t get tired of the grinding is the setting to turn down the encounter rate, which means the game isn’t that hard to begin with.

So I did it. I completed my goal. But I’m not super thrilled about it. I’m hoping to make time for more of this, it’s a recreation that I heartily enjoy. But I won’t be counting on nostalgia to make it fun anymore.


#9: Read a Parenting Book

We treat parenting like a skill. True, there’s some talent involved, and some personalities are more suited to it than others (much like woodworking or acting), but it’s also something that you can get better at.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2016 challenge. Here’s the full list.


So we read books. In the past we’ve read books on reading and happiness, so this year we focused on money. The Opposite of Spoiled focuses on how to teach kids about money, so that they won’t be clueless or have bad habits when they grow up. Some of this we had already been exposed to (from Rich Dad Poor Dad and other sources), but much of it was new territory. Some tips I picked up:

Don’t make money a taboo subject. Tell your kids how much money you make, and where it all goes. This will nudge you into being a good example with regards to saving and charity, but also opens the door for them to ask questions and get answers. Remember to teach them about politeness, though – only look into your neighbor’s bowl to make sure they have enough.

Give them an allowance. Kids need a chance to practice making decisions with a limited budget. Advise them on purchases, but let them make the final decisions. If they want to blow it all on candy and not save up for a video game, that’s their choice.

…but start them off with good habits. Becky grew up with half of her allowance automatically being diverted into a savings account, and that habit has served her well in adulthood. We’ve carried this forward with our kids, and they love seeing how much they’ll have to put towards a car or something big in the future.

Use tools. We can’t recommend FamZoo enough. It’s like “Mom and Dad Community Credit Union,” but with a website and automation. You can set up allowances for kids with amounts based on their age, with automatic splits into savings and spending. For older kids they offer debit card accounts too.

We learned a lot from this book, and we’ll probably read it again after a while, just to make sure we’re doing the right things at every age. If you’ve never thought about how your kids think about money, this book is a fine place to start.


#8: Amusement Park

Enchanted Forest is an Oregon institution. If you’ve live anywhere within two hours’ drive of Salem, you’ve probably been here. And the thing is: it’s not terrible. We’ve been here a number of times, and it never really gets old.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2016 challenge. Here’s the full list.

We came here to celebrate Lucy’s 8th birthday. She loves the place almost as much as we do.

The other kids always love it when I get on the frog hopper. If you’ve never been here, you should check it out. Then we can sing the castle music together.

#2: Dine at a Portland “Restaurant of the Year” – Nomad

Nomad made Portland Monthly’s Restaurant of the Year list in 2015, and we’ve been trying to figure out how to make it happen ever since. Turns out it was worth the wait.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2016 challenge. Here’s the full list.

When you first enter, it seems more like an under-construction coffee shop than a fancy restaurant, but the food transcends the decor. We shared our plain table with a party of four we’d never met before, and the dissonance between the decor and the cuisine left us all feeling a bit strange.

But it all makes sense in hindsight. You’re supposed to be taken out of your comfort zone, and the non-restauranty feel of the place just sets the tone in your mind — you haven’t had anything quite like this before.

Truth be told, we definitely saw echoes of Holdfast in the style of food here, down to the explode-in-your-mouth “rocks” we had for the final dessert course. But I’d hardly call it derivative; this is very much its own thing. Expensive, but worth it.