Thursday, November 22, 2012

Forty Five

Forty Four wound up being a very good year.  Both Bella and Isaac have taken such incredible leaps in the past year:  Isaac working on his reading, his math, and generally growing into big-boyness.  Bella with her new Synchro club, and being a peaceful, smart 4th grader.  Her kindness and serenity amazes me every day...  even when she is pulled into drama with Isaac.

I supported Pamela's new business, and have been proud to see her out in the world connecting with people and making plans.

My work was wonderful this year - No huge dramas, and a lot of emerging work in areas that I have been laying seeds for years.  I made a good amount of money, and signed up work that will have it increase a bit next year...   which I'll need to fix the leaks in the shower.  I bought an ownership stake in my company too, but don't think we'll be selling anytime REAL soon.

I got two couples married in my 44th year.  I read a LOT of books and saw a LOT of movies.  I played a lot of cards, and built a lot of Legos.  I cuddled my dogs.

I wasn't as recreationally creative in 44 as I have been in other years - I didn't blog nearly as much, I didn't write a piece of music, I barely worked on languages...   I didn't play my drums as much as I had hoped (but maybe I need to move them to the basement, so that I'm less self conscious about the "whump whump whump" audible throughout the house.

I did exercise, and actually got into running - I'd say I ran almost 50 miles in my 44th year, which is 50 more than I ran in my 43rd.  In my 44th year, we got into climbing the rock wall at REI.

As a gift, the elections turned out in a way that pleased me, though I confess I didn't do a lot of volunteering or phone banking or even donating...  But I still felt good about it.

Not a lot of regrets in 44.  I'm looking forward to 45 being pretty great too.

That old devil perception...

I had an amazing moment tonight with Isaac as we were lying in bed:

He asked "what's a frown upside down?"  I answered "A smile!"  He asked "What's a SMILE upside down?"  I answered  "a frown".  He then asked "What's a frown halfway to a smile?"

I thought and said, "I think it's just a straight line mouth"

He said "No...  it's a moon".

And what hit me about this is that as we were talking about this whole smiles thing, we had a fundamentally different IDEA of how that smile was turning upside down:  I saw it like a line bent upwards, straighening, then bending downwards.  He saw it as a fixed crescent, that rotates to turn upside down, so if you stop halfway, it's a moon.

What it told me was that sometimes you can agree on a starting point, and an ending point, but have a completely different way of getting from A to B:  If Isaac hadn't asked me about the "half way", I'd never have known we weren't thinking of the same thing...

I know it's really a minor thing, but it really took me aback in a good way and gave me some insight into how people brains work differently, and how important it is to understand the process.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Bella has been listening to my music... a LOT.  As she's been walking through the house with my old tracks blasting on the iPad, I've caught snippets of songs I haven't heard for years...  so it got me to pull a playlist together and listen to some of this stuff.

From 1989-1993 I did a number of pieces of music for choreographers - first for my old roommate in the French house, then for others...   In all I did music for 5 major works - the first was only 8 minutes, the middle three were about 20-30 min, but my last was over an hour.

As I listen to this music, I'm pretty amazed at what I pulled off.  This was all just done in my spare bedroom direct to DAT, a wall of synths with me riding the knobs and levels as it went.  It really was a performance.  It's not all brilliant - I'd say that each piece has at least 15 minutes of really good stuff, and 10 minutes of "ok".  Some of it had to do with trying to get to a time the choreographer wanted, so there's some stretching...   Also, because the choreographers were getting a lot of music for no money, they didn't really edit or push me to fill out the lighter bits...

I was very influenced by David Van Tieghem, who worked with Laurie Anderson, and did two very good instrumental albums of music adapted from dancepieces for Twyla Tharp.   The influence is strong, but the pieces weren't derivative, at least.  They all sound like ME.

But listening also got me a bit sad:  In almost all cases, I worked very hard on the music, only to have the choreographer turn it into an improv movement piece:  In each case, I saw the premier, was happy to see a few "coincidental" moments where the body was thrown down right on a big "boom" in the music...   only to have that moment not happen at all the next night.  In fact, in once case, the dancer threw himself down to the ground in a very similar manner, but a solid two beats AFTER the big boom, which made it feel like a mistake.

I confess I never truly understood the language of dance, but it seemed to me that the movement could have been matched better - or "choreographed" a little better.  Maybe the dancer was doing an "echo" movement...   But each time, I figured "maybe next time".  

But what broke me was the hour long piece - it was huge and ambitious - I was writing tons of music, and when I arrived, a few things happened:  First, the facility wouldn't let me manually cue the tapes - they wanted me to lay it all down onto one long tape.  But they had very poor facilities, so the process added a layer of hiss to the music, and their techs couldn't reduce it.  So it didn't sound as good as I wanted.

But worse, the choreographer was having massive issues with writer's block, and she made an 11th hour decision to abandon her choreography and turn it into an improv:  The problem is that this was with 15 dancers of varying skill, trying to tell a narrative story, filling up an hour of time across 10 pieces of music I had written. 

The premier night, I was sitting in the sound booth hearing my music with hiss on the top, watching 15 dancers MAKING CRAP UP for a full hour.  I had worked so hard on this, to have it come out so poorly, it was just heartbreaking.  

After that, I made myself unavailable for this work:  a few chorographers called me up with ideas, but I begged it off.  And the choreographer of that last piece, apparently oblivious to my disappointment, left me a lot of messages for more dances.  I never returned the calls.  In general, when it comes to music for dance, I liked the music I wrote for the dance a lot more than I liked the end result.  After five times, I figured it was time to move on.  

But I have been enjoying listening to the music again.  It's good stuff.

Three of Four

Of the last four weddings I have attended, three of them were officiated by me.  The latest was just yesterday, at a beautiful small church in rural southeastern MN, just the couple and their parents (and Pamela).  It was a beautiful space - with a wood stove right in the middle of the room, and oil lamps and candelabras providing the light along with the setting sun.  It was a crisp fall day, with a pure blue sky.

The couple (who are keeping this under their hats for now, so will remain unnamed) trusted me to write the ceremony and provide some vows, which they loved.

As I reflect, I'm so grateful to Paul and Melissa Olson, who asked me 4 years ago to get ordained and perform their ceremony - it was in a field near New Ulm, another beautiful rural setting...   I remember being out to dinner with them, when they were about to ask a sensitive question...  I was SURE they wanted me in their ceremony (though knowing how any brothers Paul had, I figured I would be far back in the line).  When they asked if I would perform the ceremony, I said YES without a second thought.  It just seemed right.  Geek that I am, I read the ceremony off of my white Amazon Kindle.

My talent lay dormant for 4 years, but then my friends Gregg and Rachel had me do their wedding late summer in a planetarium in Philadelphia.  This one had a lot of Jewish tradition in it, which was fun to learn about, and I had to wrangle a good dozen speakers...  AND we did the glass breaking...  it was wonderful.

And now to have done one more in just a few months...  now it's strange, but I'm thinking "yes, this is a thing I do now" - I'm just expecting someone else to ask.

I feel I'm actually pretty good at this - I love to write (as you know), and I am not shy in front of a crowd...  and I also like to create a service that is very personal to the couple - I would never want to be one of those priests who just read the same service over and over...  Not that I'll have that risk - it's not everyone who wants an agnostic geek to perform their wedding.  I'm just happy that there are 3 couples (so far) who DID.

And I'm pretty sure I would have done a great job on the 4th wedding, if only Erik had asked.  But as consolation, I did get to stand on that stage as one of his "best guys", so it was worth it.

The other fun thing to consider:  My kids are growing up knowing that a person can pretty much do anything:  Write music?  Climb mountains?  Help doctors?  Marry people?  Sure, I can do that.  And so can they, someday.

Monday, October 29, 2012

An interesting evening

One of the wonders of having kids out there in the world is the people they choose to care about.  To be sure, Isaac has bonded with classmates, but so far, Bella has impressed us with her ability to "collect" unique people who have good hearts.  She's had a few people come through who like her energy, but guard it with strange jealousy (and drive us a little nuts) - but Bella's been pretty good about identifying that and de-escalating with them.  She's a gal who likes nice people.

In the past few years, her best friends have included the most effeminate boy in the universe, a Japanese girl, a big guy with speech impediment and a wild imagination, a gangly boy with Aspergers, a tall sporty girl with a penchant for surreal anecdotes, a sweet Pakistani girl whose dad runs a convenience store, and of course, her synchronized swimming pals.  Seriously, these kids should be out solving crimes.  They're the most hilariously diverse group I can imagine.  They're all dreamers, and they make each other laugh.

So this year, fourth grade, we started hearing about a new classmate, Amal.  Bella just loved her, and they sat together at lunch a lot.  We learned Amal is a muslim with Somali parents - she wears the hijab and is learning arabic and how to read the Koran.  She's also extremely giggly.

When Bella had her very small birthday party, Amal was one of four people on the guest list.  When she arrived at the birthday party, a little late, she bolted from the car and caught up with the rest of the gang who were up the block on a scavenger hunt.  (later that night, when I asked Bella what her favorite part of her party was, she said that it was Amal hustling up the street toward them).  I was left with her mom, Faduma, who had "just a few things" for the party.

She popped her trunk, and pulled out a party platter of two dozen cookies, a decorated sheet cake, and an enormous homemade pineapple upside down cake.  Also a card with a very generous gift inside - far more than Bella needed.  I tried to beg it off, and Faduma said "Bella is a good friend to Amal, and so she is like a daughter to me."(Bella, by the way, decided to donate part of the large gift to the humane society, which is SO Bella)

Amal had a great time at the party, very interested in our dogs (she's both allergic to most dogs, and her culture doesn't keep dogs as pets), and in the middle of a lot of mayhem:  When she left for home, her black hijab was liberally smeared with bright pink frosting from Bella's cake.  She had a mile wide smile.

The next day I got a call from Faduma:  She wanted to thank us for having Amal over, and asked us to dinner the next week.  Also, she wanted to take Bella out for the afternoon with her and Amal.  All week we wondered - what would this be like?  Pamela and I looked up Somali customs, I learned a few words to be polite...

Bella was picked up for a little shopping adventure at JC Penny, and we went over to the house a couple of hours later:  The dad, Mohammed, met us - the girls weren't back yet, but we sat and talked.  They had a sparsely furnished apartment right in the city limits so the kids would have access to the Edina schools.  The girls showed up a little late, with bags in hand - yes, Faduma had decided to buy Bella a winter jacket.  Way too kind.

For the next 3 hours, Isaac roughhoused with the two boys (in 1st and 6th grades), Bella was right there with them and Amal, and Pamela and I had an evening talking with Amal's parents - they were eager to share their stories, about how he left Somalia just 3 days before the civil war broke out (he had "a bad feeling"), how he left Faduma, but sent for her a few years later, how they've moved many times, how Faduma had to learn to drive in MN weather...

They have a youngest daughter who is on the spectrum for Autism:  She is willful, shrieks, but also sweet.  We watched as she processed a plate of fruits and vegetables into tiny cubes, and arranged into a colorful pile, then ran off.  She has her own language, which the kids all understand.  And throughout, the parents were patient and loving, and Pamela and I just marveled at their calmness with the storm all around (between the wrestling boys and the wild child and the giggling Amal and Bella).

My attempts to speak a little Somali led to a fun discussion with Mohammed (who speaks excellent English, by the way) about language - how he was working at a hotel in Minneapolis where a white man walked up to him and spoke perfect Somali - turns out he is retired CIA, and could peg Mohammed's accent and mannerisms to his exact tribe and city.  He was amazed.

He also was happy about, but also puzzled by the ability for people to get by in the US without learning english...  he said before coming to the US, he spent time in Ethiopia, Kenya, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, and each time, he said he had to learn the local language...   he said "to know the language is to be safe".  He worries about enclaves of people here who may not be safe if they have to leave their circles - he thinks everyone should be able to talk to a doctor, to a lawyer, and to a policeman with confidence.

It's interesting, because they also choose to use Somali as their language of the house... so they have English, Somali, and Arabic as languages in their house.  Well, that just makes me want to keep learning languages...  and now I feel like I want to understand Arabic - it has such beautiful writing.

Amal was very eager to show me her "learner Koran", and her arabic langauge book...  and then ran over with a colorful mat and said "do you know what this is???"  Of course I know about prayer mats - I watch Homeland, after all.

The food was an enormous spread brought in from the Holy Land Deli, and it was all wonderful.  They were very generous with their time and their home, and at the end of the night, I felt very privileged to have been invited over.  As we went home, Isaac said "this has been one of the best days of my life" - his play time with those boys was wonderful, and I think there might just have been a little something about being around a bunch of people who look like him...   I'll ask a few questions about that, but let him share what he wants...

I have the feeling this won't be the last time we get together with this very nice family (I sure hope we see them more).  And I'm grateful to Bella for having the sort of heart that looks right past a hijab, right past the awkwardness of the new kid in school, and makes a friend.  I feel like I have so much to learn from how she approaches some things in life.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

What happens in Vegas...

I'm just finishing up my stay in Las Vegas, where I was at a "wolf pack" style bachelor weekend for my friend and co-worker Gregg.  I think the statement "what happens in vegas stays in vegas" is a good protective strategy.  I do not personally have anything to be ashamed of - just to be clear - but I have witnessed a substantial number of occasions of impaired and questionable judgement.  That said, I do want to share a few details about some of the ridiculousness I endured.

First off:  This whole thing was planned by Gregg's brother Mark, and Mark apparently has some "VIP Dreams" - The overall strategy for the weekend appeared to be "Pay a lot of money for a table at a hip place, buy a lot of alcohol, and sit for a long time".  The issue appears to be that there are different levels of VIP, and they will give you the absolute minimum level possible.

Cases in point:  Saturday we had a cabana at the Hard Rock Rehab pool where a really very good Trance DJ (Paul Oakenfold) was playing.  The Cabana was for 8, but there were only seats for four butts, it was next to a speaker stack, and it was obstructed view of the pool area - we basically got an armpit cabana.  Then Saturday night, we reserved a table at XS at the Winn Encore - apparently a very hot spot.  The cabana we got was in the very back of the grounds, as far from anything as we could be (though to be fair, close to a bathroom), and outside with no misters or AC, so it was over 100 degrees in our little deathbox.  At least this one had room to sit, even if the seats were in the hotbox.

At both of these, we had "Bottle Service", which involves $300 bottles of Vodka (the same bottle you can buy for $20 at... um... anywhere) and pitchers of mixers and ice for you to make your own drinks.  At one point, bottles of champagne started showing up.  I was not doing the accounting, but I'm fairly certain that our party spent over $5000 between the table fees and drinks at these two venues.  My credit card was nowhere near this, and I limited myself to bottles of water, but I'm fully expecting Gregg's brother to start pinging us with desperate emails to help him pay this off...   Emails I plan to ignore.

The group was a mix:  2 of us are Gregg's work buddies, his brother, and "bros" from the past - frat brothers, former co-workers.  The Bro Pack was a hard drinking crowd, and we had one who showed up at midnight Friday, partied straight through to Saturday afternoon, and disappeared, not to be heard from again.  Another was supposed to be the "governor" of the finances, keeping tabs on the costs - but he incapacitated himself early on Friday and spent the entire rest of the weekend maintaining a level of blitzed out staring straight ahead, leaving Gregg's brother to pretty much run wild with the extravagances.  Anyway, the rest of the BroPack had a laser-like focus on "partying", and to tell the truth, I'm still not sure of all their names.

As far as we could tell, Gregg was having a great time, and in the end, that's pretty much what this weekend was about.  But truth be told, I strongly suspect we could have had at least as much fun with an epic steak and martinis night at a restaurant in Philly...   and saved a hell of a lot of money.

Two observations about the HardRock:
1)  The Hard Rock Hotel is LOUD.  My room overlooked to pool complex, and from 10am to midnight, I was treated to extremely high volume music - be it non-stop dance trance, to rock, and this morning, hip hop.  This made it hard to take naps.  Last night, the band "Filter" was playing - a 1990s one hit wonder - Hey Man Nice Shot.  If you do check out the song, it shouldn't be any surprise that the music is not in any way my style.  Their soundcheck was very long, and the tech REALLY wanted to get that kick drum sound right.  So yeah, a lot of noise.

2)  The Hard Rock Hotel Pool is NOT my scene.  I made the observation that if a neutron bomb went off in the pool area, there would be terrible losses in the areas of Tires Plus Assistant Managers, Hair Salon Receptionists, and health club personal training package upgrade salespeople.

Finally, if I do come back to Vegas (and I'm not sure I care to at this point), it will be at a grown up place like the Bellagio or Venetian.  These kids are killing me.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Newark Continued...

So we left off last night with me posting from the SkyClub good and late...   and at 11 pm, they announced that our flight was indeed canceled - It hadn't left Mpls yet, so our prospective departure time had pushed to 1:30am by this point.  Turns out the flight crew had hit the end of their shift so the plane couldn't fly.  They rebooked me on an 11:30am flight the next day, with a standby earlier.

By this time, flights had been canceled right and left across the board, so there were no hotel rooms within shuttle distance, so I had to hit the internet and find a hotel a bit further out - a $50 cab ride away, no hotel voucher from Delta.  But it was a semi-nice Sheraton - they have very comfy beds, but very loud elevators.  I had a good talk with a Delta reservations agent who helped me move my flight to Vegas on Friday...   I had planned on being home Thursday PM, spending the morning with the family, and taking a 2pm flight out to Las Vegas for my friend's bachelor party.  There was no way this was going to work, so they booked me on a 530 flight instead, and that left me some wiggle room.  A Tylenol PM helped ease me into sleep.

I got up and had a leisurely morning - it was pleasant.  Starbucks oatmeal and a whole lot of espresso.  I caught a cab back up to the airport, intending to arrive a good 2 hours before my flight.  Got in a cab and had easily the least pleasant ride of my life with a IWWG (pronounced EarWig) - my acronym for Incredibly Wrong White Guy.

This man expounded on politics, economics, cell phones, healthcare, genetics, homosexuality, and the history of Apple in a nonstop monologue that resisted my every effort to not participate or to steer the conversation elsewhere.  And it's important to note, he was not only wrong in terms of I disagreed with him, he was wrong on just about every fact as well.  It was like sitting with the Tea Party.  I endured it.

I really don't want to get into all of his wrongness, but a sample was "people think Steve Jobs was some sort of genius.  He was in and out of Apple over the years, and it took him 25 years to come up with something successful - the iPhone - and it's clever, because it just took a basic concept - touch and put it on a phone.  That's not genius, anyone could have said 'make a phone you can touch' - even little kids know that - but I guess he gets this one big idea and now he's a genius.  I tell you this, if he was such a genius, why didn't he get treatment for his cancer?  Stupid hippie thought yoga and herbs would cure his cancer, and now he's a dead genius."

For 20 minutes I got this.  It was not pleasant.  He did make the statement "Driving a car, it's not particularly intellectually challenging, so I wind up with a lot of time to think, and that's how I got all this stuff figured out".  I just smiled and nodded and just wanted to get to the damn airport and out of his car.

Once at the airport, I heard my name on the overhead - turns out I had been called for an even EARLIER standby flight and it was my last chance to board.  This was at 945.  GREAT!  I'll be able to see the family!  I got on board, and discovered a sad sad crowd - most of these people were from the night before, and they had got to the airport at 530 for this flight that was supposed to leave at 630am.  It was 945 and they had just boarded.  These were tired people.  Immediately after closing the boarding door, they announced a 1 hour gate hold for more weather coming through.

The woman two seats over started weeping, and grabbed a barf bag.  She proceeded to live under a blanket for the remainder of our flight, occasionally crying out in pain and retching.  We stayed at the gate for that hour, then pushed back and sat on the tarmac for 45 more minutes.  By law, I think they can't keep us on board for more than 2 hours, and were about to turn back around, when suddenly the weather cleared and we were allowed to leave.

We took off after noon ET, and the 1130 flight I had been scheduled on took off an hour after that, according to the listings.  If you're keeping track:  I had arrived at Newark at 4pm for a 6pm flight.  by 11, I had been sent away, arrived at 930, spent 2 hours on a grounded plane, and was finally in flight.  The flight was thankfully uneventful (save for the weeping and retching).

We landed and I leapt off the plane:  I had 3 hours before my flight to Vegas, and I was going to see my family come hell or high water:  I called Pamela and we agreed to meet at a restaurant halfway between the house and the airport.  I raced there, and spent a great hour eating and laughing and recharging my batteries - Bella and Isaac were glued to my sides, and I hugged them non-stop.  Pamela had kindly packed me a "Vegas" suitcase, and we swapped my business case for it.

Here's where I need to say I have the most wonderful family in the whole world.

Ok, so I made it back to the airport on time to board my flight to Vegas, which was ON TIME and I am happily ensconced in first class.  The Avengers is playing on the in-flight movie, but it's on a tiny tv coming out of the roof of the cabin three rows up, so I think I'll pass for now.

Vegas is going to be fun, but I'm a little nervous about it - it's going to be 9 guys, only two of whom I know, and there have been a series of increasingly "yeah duuude it's going to be AWESOME" emails sent, which leads me to think I'll need to approach this experience as an anthropologist, seeing these alpha males in action.  I may also see some boobies.  Pretty sure that's going to happen with this crowd.

I'll hydrate.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

The Epic Newark Experience

I am writing this from the Sky Club in Newark Airport, where I have been for five hours so far...  and appear doomed to remain for several more hours.  Flights have been canceled right and left, and the club has slowly emptied out from its original nearly Bangkok Street Market feel, and now there's just us survivors, huddled around the few AC outlets, making sure our lifelines to the outside world remain fully charged.

My flight has slid steadily later, and at this moment, I'm looking at a 1am departure, delayed a full 7 hours from its original time.  I am fortunate that I have few commitments on Friday, other than the need to leave for Las Vegas on a 2pm flight for a bachelor party...  I am nonetheless grateful to my Amex Platinum which has given me access to this haven:  I briefly ventured out into the larger terminal to find some "real food" (a bagel and a naked juice) and it was pretty grim out there.

If this was happening even 24 hours earlier, I suspect this would be throwing me into a crisis, wondering why the hell I'm doing this line of work.  I have had a string of unsatisfying engagements recently, where I've felt a lot like the "consultant outsider" who is paid to give advice that nobody pays attention to.

It came to a head with a client where I sat them down and told them straight out:  "I am making plans that nobody is following, there is no adherence to the scope of the project, nobody is holding to the schedule:  I am not able to manage this project.  At this point, the only thing I think I'm bringing to the project is our weekly status meetings where we commiserate about how badly things are going."  Their reply was "yes... but we still see some value in that."

It threw me into a little bit of a work crisis - with me wondering if I'm bringing ANY value in the world:  My meetings in New York City were of a similar flavor - we're the third group of "Strategic Consultants" this group has employed in the past 2 years, and more than one interviewee tolerated my questions before saying "well, this will just be put on the shelf with the other plans, won't it?"

I parted ways with my local "anchor" client in Minneapolis, and now have nowhere where I'm expected to be:  For the past 18 months, I could always just drive to that client and park myself at a desk, walking around, checking in on things...   maybe it wasn't always productive work, but it was them paying me to be there.  But on the last day of my tenure there, I was reminded of how little they thought of us consultants - the small but private workspace I had carved out for myself (they never ever gave me a cube, of heavens no) was taken apart and I was moved to a "war room" with 20 other contractors.  Just for one day.

Now, I have the same amount of work to do (the other clients definitely keep it coming), but just the home office to do it in, and I'm not sure I'm managing my time appropriately...   I need to be a little more disciplined.  But it's hard because we're also in the middle of a MAJOR home purge/reorganization, and I'm very excited about the changes we're going through... coupled with some major guilt and horror at the piles of books, DVDs, and random electronics that I've somehow accumulated.  We have sold, given away, and thrown away at least a full dumpster of stuff, and as I walk through the house, I don't miss a single thing.  But I am happy to have this space back, and am resolved to be a lot more intentional about what comes IN the house now.

My meetings in New Jersey today were a boost, however.  My input was valued, I got some good next steps identified.  I'm feeling valued again (at work - at home I always feel loved - FOR REALSIES)  And hey, my time in the Club has let me catch up on a few things I'd been putting off.   Like this Blog.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Cab Lady

I was getting a cab ride from the airport to hotel at 11:30pm.  The cab was a minivan with the middle seats taken out - 100% legroom, people.  Beautiful.  The cab was also heavily perfumed and it hurt my eyes a little.  It was driven by a 50-ish woman who introduced herself as "Cab Lady".

Cab Lady was chatty and got started right away:  She had just that very evening discovered a hamburger called the "Baconator":  She had gone home to take the kids out to dinner before hitting the evening shift.  They usually do mexican, but the kids wanted Wendy's, so she figured it would be ok.  She was a bit shocked at the price in the end - $34 bucks - she might as WELL have gone out for mexican.

BUT her son and his friend, they are teenagers and they eat a whole lot, but a double baconator was enough for each of them - they could barely stuff the fries into their mouths.  That's a whole lot of meat, according to Cab Lady.  She got one for herself, and could barely finish it.  It's a lot bigger than she was expecting.  And the bacon sure made it good.

We spoke about bacon and how good it is for a while.  I told her about Youtube videos with "Epic Meal Time" - but she didn't seem to know about You Tube, so I didn't press the point.

Her daughter is 10 and has proclaimed herself to be a vegetarian: That's why she got the chicken sandwich instead of a hamburger.  I said I'm pretty sure that's not vegetarianism - that chicken is pretty much "meat", and she said "maybe not a vegetarian, maybe she said she's a 'vegan' - what's the one where you don't eat anything with a face?"  I pointed out that chickens do actually have faces.  She laughed, and said "she's still new at this whole vegan thing, still figuring it out."

As we drove past a Burger King, she said she'd probably stop back there on the way back to the airport - she knew there'd be a lot more rides tonight because lots of flights got delayed.  She's got a taste for a BK Fish Sandwich - it's fish, but all done up like a Whopper.  Mmmmmm it's tasty.  And fish is good for you.

Nearing the hotel, we passed Shipley's Do-Nut:  She had just brought a box of Shipley's in to the dispatch office, to thank one of the dispatchers for helping her out with a shift, but you can't show favoritism, so she brought them all donuts, but her favorite knew the score, so it was all good.  She brought in 4 dozen for the ladies, and when she came back in the afternoon, they hadn't even eaten HALF of them.

Shipley's is a Houston Original - they tried to bring Krispy Kreme in, but we showed them the door, Shipley's are where it's AT.  The best part is that they glaze the donut and THEN put the chocolate icing on it - see at Dunkin they put the chocolate on a dry donut - that doesn't work as well.

(Editor's note - today I did walk over to the Shipley's Do-Nut and tried a glazed and I am here to tell you it IS wonderful and MUCH better than either Dunkin OR Krispy.  And they do spell it Do-Nut)

(Editor's SECONDARY NOTE:  Mark Loesch used to call Shelly's Wood Roast restaurant on 394 "Shipley's Wood-Chuck"  I got wistful for Mark while eating that do-nut)

A mere block away from my hotel, Cab Lady asked if I remembered what the turn was, and I said "I think it's the next block up, but if you miss it, you can just drop me off, no worries".  She thanked me and said not a week ago she was driving a rude man to this very hotel and she missed the turn, and the man yelled at her, despite the fact it would be a quick turn around.  Well she was not going to have any of THAT, so she stopped the cab and said "get out - you do not get to be rude to me.  And I don't want your money".  The man turned red and sputtered...  but Cab Lady was all right with that because in her many years on this earth, she has learned that she does NOT need to tolerate rude people.

And because she did not take the man's money, he cannot complain to the cab commission.

That was the story of my ride with Cab Lady.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

One Hundred Hours

I was thinking about these metrics I've heard that expertise and virtuosity can be basically guaranteed if you put in 10,000 hours into something. It got me to thinking: What could I get done with 100 hours? 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, 40 weeks. Or 1 hour a day for 20 weeks (giving yourself 2 days off a week). What could I really LEARN in that time:

- Could I learn to play guitar well enough to be that guy around the campfire?
- Could I get my piano playing back up to Suzuki Book 4 level?
- Could I get a working knowledge of a language I know nothing about yet (Polish? Italian?)

I think that I could probably pick up just about anything and become workable at it if not particularly graceful: I may be able to strum chords, but not able to do fancy flamenco picking. Maybe be able to converse about the weather but not politics. I know that Pimsleur Method is basically 40 hours of lessons for the full series (assuming each lesson done once). So I could do 90 Pimsleur lessons, and then pick up some additional material...?

I can't shake the feeling that 100 might be sort of magical: A serious commitment of time, but achievable. And an amount of time after which you really could have something to show for it.

I'm thinking about what my 100 hour challenge might be for this summer. What can I start from scratch, and post video updates at each 10 hour window?


May Adventures

I'm still adjusting to how much to blog here, how much to post on Facebook. I can't help but think that Facebook is ephemeral, like voicemails, and that when I'm 90 I'll at least have the extracts from this blog to review. So I'll try to remember to update here more often.

For the past few weeks, Bella has been doing a "biography" project on Albert Einstein: She's been reading, printing pictures, building an information display, and practicing "being in character". Yesterday was her big event: She stood by her station and answered questions as Einstein. Her job was to learn about his childhood and school years, as well as what he was famous for. She also assembled some "artifacts" to represent his interests: She picked a house of cards and a magnetic compass, both of which he played with as a kid. She had a lab coat, the crazy hair, and an insane fake mustache. Her classmates were similarly creative... but I did find it amusing that right across the aisle from my Bella and her frumpy old professor look, another girl was doing 'Shirley Temple" complete with babydoll skirt and ringlets. It was quite a juxtaposition.

In other Bella news: After 3 bikes and 5 years of trying, she finally decided to figure out how this whole "riding a bike" thing works. It started over the weekend, with a neighbor dad deciding to help her with holding the bike steady - maybe there was something about having a new teacher, but it finally clicked. On Monday after school, she raced to the bike and decided to get going again, and that she didn't need any help. And she spent an hour riding up and down the sidewalk. Tuesday after school, she tried again, but didn't have as much luck: She stomped in and said "DAD, when you say "it's just like riding a bike" it's a LIE - I FORGOT how!". But after her stint as Einstein, she begged for another chance before bed, and it clicked again. I think I have a real bike rider here.

Isaac is having some adjustment issues with the end of pre-school and the looming prospect of Kindergarten. He's pretty grumpy, and very in need of being allowed to feel like a little kid. He's asking for shoulder rides again (much to my neck's dismay) and to be pushed on the swing... he's asking for Scooby Doo shows again... But he's also becoming a lot more independent about playing: He's spending a fair amount of time across the street playing with Amelia and Wyatt and they're all getting along great.

His soccer season started last week, and he does not lack for passion: It's amazing to see that even in this entry level (5 year old league) there are some kids who have CLEARLY been playing for a few years and have some pretty developed soccer moves, while Isaac just has speed and interest... but no technique yet. It was frustrating to him to see other kids being better than him and he let a few unsportsman like taunts out (na na boo boo is pretty hardcore). I've tried to let him know that at this stage, we all have different skills, and that what he SHOULD do is watch those kids and learn to do what they do.

May was a sick month for me - I came down with a brutal cold that lingered for 10 days before I finally got wise and got some more antibiotics, which knocked it out pretty well. My ears were plugged up for over two weeks, however, and I did have one trip to Houston that led to tears of pain from the pressure... In the midst of this illness, I had a big proposal for a year long project in St Paul that I had to pull together, plus I had to step in to a gig in Houston for a co-worker who got so sick he had to go on disability (and I have the right skillset to backfill).

It led to a somewhat unfortunate conflict: I had to be in Houston to meet with senior leadership on the same day as I was supposed to present the proposal in St Paul. AND this was on my worst day of the illness. I had Dan, the founder of the company, come in to propose in my stead, but we lost the opportunity, and I'll be forever wondering if things would have been different if I had been able to be there... I've heard from other sources that the gig in St Paul was never ours to win, that another firm was the inside favorite, but I like to believe that once a person gets a bit of Jimmy, they can't say no... I'll try to look at this as a "for the best" sort of thing.

In the meantime, I have started the process of transitioning out of my gig in Minneapolis: While things have been good, there will be a requirement coming up that the project will need someone on site boots on the ground for 40+ hours a week to get some stuff DONE, and I don't have that time to give with my other commitments. So I have started working with them to find a backfill, and we will be keeping me on an advisory retainer so that I can provide guidance and oversight.

This is all leading to my continued soul searching about what I really want to be doing: I've been doing this traveling consultant thing for 3 years now, and it's been exhausting. I've been inside of a lot of hospitals, and have got very jaded about the effectiveness of most IT and administrative organizations. I still love the clinicians and think they're doing great work, but these organizations wrapped around them are just fundamentally sick and it's discouraging to fly into places and see them wasting resources protecting fiefdoms. I just don't know what I want to DO about it. Not yet.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A visit to the future

Last night I was in the air headed to Boston. I was on the Gogo internet (as I am most flights nowadays - I'm hooked), and got a few emails from my friends Paul and Caesar, and we figured out that all three of us were in the air at the same time: Caesar coming from BOS to SEA, Paul going SFO to JFK, and me MSP to BOS. After a few geeky "oh my goodness" emails, we decided to try to videochat eachother. We weren't able to get a 3 way chat going, but I did have a few seconds of grainy video of each of my pals, where we waved and marveled at the very IDEA that we were this connected, not to mention that we were all flying at 10pm on a Monday night.

It was a very futuristic moment.

I landed at 1045, got to the hotel by 1130 ($45 cab fare) and was asleep by midnight.... but it was a crappy sleep because I had an early meeting.

I was in Boston for a single 1 hour meeting at 8 in the morning - a sales presentation to a new client. The pitch went well. I had walked the 1.5 miles from the hotel to the hospital and walked back again. I had late checkout so I did a few hours of meetings in my room, then started to meander towards the airport. I was in Brookline and started the pedometer. I wandered up Beacon street, up Newbury, stopped for lunch at Sonsie, went up through Boston common, through downtown, to South Station, where I caught a bus to the Airport. I was on conference calls for most of my meander. The Pedometer registered over 5 miles walked, and my final bus fare to the airport was $2.

I'm paying for it with some sore feet, and achey ears.

The next few weeks will be a lot of busy: I was hoping for a quieter few weeks, but one of my partners in the firm has taken gravely ill - he has had a persistent respiratory issue for the past year, which has taken a hard turn and he was put on bed rest immediately, for 6 weeks. The problem is that he was set to start a new project TODAY in Houston, which is a Digital Radiology assessment. Unfortunately I'm the only other person in the firm who has this skillset, so I'll have to add it to my list of things to get done. Hey, it's billing, and I'll consider it a downpayment on my next vacation.

I have more work to get done, but I think I need to take a little break and watch a little of that Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Sanibel 2012 Part 3 - Coming Home

Where were we.... Thursday?  

Friday was another slow starter - the wind was strong all morning and it was spitting rain on and off:  Perfect time for me to take a run, right?  I did my 3 miles, up and down the beach, with a powerful headwind one way, and tailwind the other.  By the time I hit home, I was thoroughly soaked in a mix of sweat, ocean spray, and rain.  Time for a shower.  

A lot of the day was spent packing up, but the kids did a lot of swimming and some bike riding as well.  Some friends from Scott Terrace were in a resort just up the road, and we had them over to help me finish up some beers and hang by our pool:  Their daughter Lauren is 13 and is a synchronized swimmer too, so she and Bella were showing off in the pool:  I spied a little girl watching them trying out their moves in secret.  Fortunately, our friends were planning to stay until Monday, so we unloaded a fair number of supplies onto them, including my 1/3 bottle of scotch and our 1/2 bottle of tequila (we didn't make much of a dent in our hooch - we like it more for the taste than the effect, right?).  I got a very happy text from Jason later in the evening thanking me for the Balvenie scotch... 

The cumulative effect of Bella swimming for 3 hours a day in the bright sun had taken a toll on Bella, and she suffered from blurry vision, red eyes, and needed sunglasses for a few hours.  Nothing permanent, but we decided it was time to be done with swimming for the trip.  I think she was in water at least 24 hours across the 8 days.  After dinner out at the Blue Giraffe (deliciously adequate), we stopped at Pinocchio's for ice cream and sorbet.  It is THE place for dessert on the island, and we patiently waited in a line that coiled through the store, and were grateful that the line went past a second counter for espresso, so Papa and I could get a little something to keep us awake.  The ice cream was delicious - two "local flavors" were Sanibel Crunch (with nuts and coconut) and Dirty SandDollar (with malted milk balls and caramel).  My Mango sorbet was delicious, but it turned my mouth bright orange.

Friday night was another beach walk, with some great pictures - the moon was HUGE and bright orange on the horizon (more orange than my mouth even).  It looked like it was watching us...  We took a lot of pictures, but I just don't know if we were able to really capture the depth of field...   still, these full moons were something else - lit up the beach as though it was mid-day.

Saturday it was move-out day - all good things come to an end, and we needed to be out of the condo by 10.  Bella had sorted her shells into keep and return piles, and we made a big show of tossing the "return" shells back into the surf together, hopeful that another girl would find them and regard them as treasures.  

We piled everything into the car (but not before Isaac and I had a few more rounds or riding the bikes up and down the driveway) and were out a full 5 minutes early.  We headed to the end of Periwinkle Way to the Over Easy Cafe - a small, well reviewed breakfast joint...  of course on move-out day it's a pretty popular place, so it was over an hour to wait.  What a terrible start to the day, sitting on benches under a clear blue sky, surrounded by tchochke shops...  actually it was just fine.  The breakfast was well worth the wait - simply fantastic.  A great start to the day (which I guess we'll say started at noon, then?)

We stopped in She Sells Sea Shells for some little souvenirs we weren't able to find on the beach, and marveled at their terrible terrible collection of "shell people" figures.  Pipe cleaners, shells, and googly eyes, in dioramas having these shell people using computers, dancing, playing piano, golfing....  Nothing short of terrifying.  Then it was back to the Ding Darling nature refuge, this time for a guided tram tour of the mangrove estuary.  We had a great tour by a Brooklynite with fun stories and a love for the area.  Of course we loved the mangrove crabs and all of the beautiful birds, but truth be told Isaac was a little bored with the whole thing, especially considering there were no alligators on offer.  We were given a tip, however - the guide had recently seen a few alligators in a nearby nature preserve area...  

After the tour, we zoomed to the other end of the island for a quick photo shoot of Pamela and the kids by the Lighthouse, and we got out of there - the public beach was packed and hot, and we were just not feeling it - especially after our quiet, sparsely populated beach by our condo.  We felt a bit elitist, but also, hey, it was day 8, we were tired.  But not TOO tired 

We had an hour to kill before dinner, so we went to that other nature preserve, followed the instructions the guide gave us, and JACKPOT.  Heres what we saw on our one mile nature hike:  Black Snake!  Several large aquatic turtles!  A big Gopher Tortoise clomping through the brush!  A zillion little lizards (which we called "doo-di-doos"), a flock of snowy egrets, and yes, an ALLIGATOR!  A little guy, not more than two feet long, but an alligator nonetheless.  It was wonderful.

We ended our time on Sanibel the way we started it - with a meal at Trader's (where I had that amazing blackened grouper po-boy on Saturday previous).  Bam had renamed the place "Groupers" in her mind, so that's what we called it.  And the meal was amazing - we all had something we loved - bella got toretllini, isaac had his burger, Bam had a pork chop, and the rest of us had fresh, delicious fish.   I ended with a dessert of smoky Laphroaig scotch, a full belly, and a huge smile.

Given our early departures, we headed OFF the island to a Homewood Suites near the airport - better to have that 30 minute drive out of the way the night before, we figured.  Big clean rooms, quiet location.  We were all asleep by 9pm, having given our hugs to Papabam, who would be taking a later airport shuttle (no point in dragging them to the airport with us at 5am when their flight wasn't until 11!!!).  

And now it's Sunday - we woke up at 4:30am and caught a direct flight home at 6:50.  The kids were zombies and watched movies on the iPads (of course they wouldn't NAP), while I caught a few ZZzzzs and Pamela facebooked using the Gogo inflight internet (a luxury for work that is really worth it now).  We got home around 10:15, I went and picked up the dogs from the kennel and we're all chilling out together - the kids are watching Rango and enjoying frozen pizza...  we forgot about the fact that we'd be returning to a mostly empty house on a holiday, so groceries are scarce.

In all, it was an amazing week (in case you haven't been able to tell from my updates).  So what were some highlights?  For me, it was floating in the ocean - just a wonderful experience.  I liked my late night scotches out on the veranda with the kids asleep, listening to the roar of the surf.  I liked NOT checking in for work for a whole 9 days (I did a few little things, stayed WELL off the radar).   I loved my panama hat and my white italian loafers that I wore every single day (my Teva Man-dals were on my feet for just 2 hours total - they were nowhere near as nice as my loafers, which I had bought as a joke in Fort Lauderdale last year).   I loved watching Pamela help Bella ride a bike.  I loved riding up and down the driveway with Isaac on his BMX.  I loved running on the beach.  I loved walking the labyrinth.  I loved spending 9 days with my family, especially after so much travel recently.  

In short, it was a perfect vacation, and I'm looking forward to returning next year.  Oh, we are GOING!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Sanibel 2012 Part 2

When we left the story, Bella had lost a tooth and we were wondering what the Tooth Fairy would bring - and if indeed the Tooth Fairy would find us on vacation! Well, wonder no more: The Fairy did indeed find us, and she left Bella FIVE beautiful sand dollars - two large, three small. It was a great surprise, and Bella was very happy.

After all of the excitement of the previous days, we were up for a mellow day. The kids stayed in their pajamas until 10, watching Harry Potter on the iPad... the family decided to park at the beach for sand castles and reading. I took a run up the beach - 3 miles round trip with a nice breeze, but whew, that sand is rough on the calves. Ok, I ran-walked. Half and half. But don't tell anyone. Then it was some beach reading time - gotta say the beach is one place where that old kindle screen would be a lot better than the Kindle Fire with the LCD screen, but it was readable nonetheless.

What else to report about Tuesday? I think Bella spent most of the day lazing about watching movies and doing artwork. Isaac and Papa and I did go back into the ocean - I'm applying for honorary marine mammal status. I just love being in the ocean: It has a way of both reminding you that you are a very small part of the world, but also that you are a PART of the world. A nice sense of belonging.

We ate in the whole day, and if I left the property in the car, I can't remember it. In the afternoon, we connected with an edina neighbor, with her two kids: Isaac formed an INSTANT connection with the 6 year old Jonah, and the two of them played at their resort (just up the beach) for a couple of hours. It was fun to be in the pool at another resort, but it was a little deeper and more kids there, and a bit more work to keep an eye on everyone, so it was just fine that it was time for them to have dinner and we went home... The rest of the night was mellow - nothing to note...

But as Isaac was going to bed, he heard the TV on in the living room and asked: "Dad, what are they watching? Is is something that would be inappropriate for me?" I just had to giggle.

On Wednesday we were ready for fun again: Up early for shelling on the beach, a warm breakfast of eggs and sausage to get started, and we decided to head to the Ding Darling marine sanctuary: But first, we needed a few things from the supermarket, so Pamela and I got on our rented cruiser bikes and headed on the 2 mile path to Jerry's. It was a pleasant ride, and a fun exercise to figure out how to get all of our groceries divvied into our bike baskets, but it went well. Unfortunately, I got lost in the zone and accidentally left Pamela in the dust as we set off for home. I need to remember to check my surroundings. SORRY! In the meantime, Isaac got a little AM playtime with Jonah... and was severely disappointed with the time came for Jonah to go back to his resort... But hey, it was time to go to Ding!

We piled into the car and headed to the Ding Darling refuge - just a few miles up the island. We were all collected for our tour when Captain Dave came out and introduced himself and the tour... He said "this will be a lot more fun if you all ask questions, so does anyone have a question to start?" Isaac raised his hand: "What do YOU do?" was his question. Captain Dave decided this kid was allright.

The tour started with a petting zoo including hermit crabs, conchs, starfish, and a very antsy horseshoe crab. I was worried about the quality of the tour but then Captain Dave jumped in sharing fun facts about how that conch preys upon that clam: Its strange to think of a snail like thing being a predator, but dang, they go AFTER those bivalves! Then it was on to the boat for a one hour tour of the bay in the hopes of seeing some Manatees or dolphins... of course we saw a ton of egrets and pelicans and learned a lot... but it was a pair of Manatees who stole the show, keeping pace with our boat around 20-30 feet out, surfacing and flopping around over and over for us to see. Not SUPER close, and none of my pictures turned up more than a brown smudge in the distance, but believe me, we were all pretty dang happy.

No dolphins though. But we saw dolphins earlier in the week, so we got that checkmark on our list already. Also worth noting - Captain Dave made a big deal about the fact there IS a bathroom on the boat for emergencies, but ONLY for emergencies. Isaac decided to have an emergency. That's just how he rolls.

The afternoon had us back at the ocean of course, and I ran out to get us all a bunch of food from Schnapper's: 12 years earlier, it was something of a joke with Anne, Tony, and Pamela that I was such a fan of Schnapper's, and history was clearly repeating itself. But when the food came - fish and chips, hot dogs, burgers, fries, rings, and shakes, nobody was complaining. We ended the day with another long shelling walk - almost as far as I ran the day before. By the time bedtime came we were all VERY ready for it.

Thursday started a little slow, but after breakfast we wandered over to the pool for 90 minutes of swimming (and I took a nap... and narrowly avoided being baked beet red). Then we wandered out to the beach to discover there was no beach: The ocean was whipped up into a frenzy and had crept up 20 feet up the beach, creating a nice sand bar and tidal pool where we usually put our umbrella and chairs. It was truly amazing to watch the ocean with more strength. We all kept a little distance - we had no desire to be swept away in the crashing surf, but Papa said it reminded him of his youth in Brighton and plunged in head first - leaping across the breakers and being swept a good 50 feet down the beach in a matter of seconds. He dusted himself off, looking a little shaken, but happy. Even isaac needed no coaching to keep a little distance.

We headed "into town" to Jerry's for lunch (same Jerry's from Edina) and some shopping - and the kids had one idea: With that sort of wind, we needed kites! So we got two kites and launched them on the beach immediately. Bella had a nice diamond kite with a sea turtle that was happy to stay up in the air. It was like a happy pet at the end of Bella's string, just hovering nicely. Isaac picked a delta kite with a jolly roger on it that had an unmistakeable thirst for blood: It would launch up, fly for a few minutes, then do two rapid circles, gaining speed, before crashing straight downward. Its first suicide mission almost took out two retirees, and I had to keep an eye on it... It never got that close to a kill again, which I think broke its spirit - after a while it just decided to give up on even trying. But we tried.

Isaac, after the first few minutes, decided that the ocean was a lot more interesting. By this point the surf had receded so he was back to cavorting in the water, grabbing handfuls of sand and "feeding the ocean".
It was time for a break from the ocean, so we played a little shuffleboard (total time of interest for the kids - 90 seconds), a little catch with tennis balls (around 2 minutes), and more time practicing on our bikes: For those who don't know, Bella has never enjoyed a bike, and at the age of nine is still not happy without training wheels. But on this trip, she asked to try again, and so as of today, we've had three biking sessions with her on an adult sized cruiser bike with the seat low. Pamela has been wonderful walk/running with her to keep her upright. I've been riding up and down the driveway with Isaac, who is loving his rental BMX bike (with training wheels).

We cooked tacos (beef and chicken) for dinner, and then went back out for some sunset beach walking - the full moon was out, and for a while, it looked like mid-day on the beach. We gave the kites another go, and the Jolly Roger resorted to simply being dragged along the beach. It was sulking, we could tell. Bella's kite was happily up in the air. Isaac didn't really care. Got some great pictures of the bright moonlit beach, and came back in for margaritas (and a scotch) to relax. Isaac is asleep, Bella is almost there, and we're not far behind.

The say we might get rain tomorrow, and you know what, that would be ok with us. It's been such an incredible week, we could use the change-up.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Sanibel 2012 Part One

Sitting on my veranda on Monday evening - can this really be the 4th day of vacation already? Wow. It's been a wonderful time so far.

It started Thursday evening - the mom of one of Isaac's best friends emailed to ask if we had a ride to the airport arranged for Friday - could she be our taxi? OF COURSE! And so Friday am, a minivan pulled up and Isaac's friend Reid was standing with a sign for us, wearing a sportcoat and sunglasses. A quick ride to the airport, with the soundtrack of Isaac and Reid trying to say "poopy" as many times as possible, laughing uproariously.

A smooth flight to Atlanta, where we met up with Papa and Bam, with whom we would share a connecting flight to Fort Myers. Lunch at Chick Fil A (delicious despite their politics) was cut short by a series of strange messages: Our flight at 4:20 was delayed... to 4:50... to 6:30.... no wait, it's at 4:20 - BOARDING NOW... AT A DIFFERENT GATE COME ON PEOPLE!!! We got on in time and made it to Fort Myers safe and sound. Our minivan at the ready, we drove to the Harbor View Marriott - just on the Fort Myers side of the causeway, but with a view of the bridge. My points bought the rooms, which were suites (all they had left!) - a room service feast and a late bedtime, with the kids fighting on the hide-a-bed. Such is life, at the end of a long travel day.

Saturday we slept in a little, had the breakfast buffet (which I know well as a Marriott man - they always are the same, but pretty good nonetheless). Then a few hours of swimming at the pools (a colder, chlorinated one, and a warmer salt-water one. We swam for a good 2 hours before checkout. We had 3 hours to kill before we could check in to the condo, so it was off to SuperTarget to stock up on dry goods and last minute hats and crocs. While isaac, Bella, and I had an emergency snack (when we gets hungry, we gets HUNGRY, especially after swimming), a man in the cafeteria was calmly having a heart attack. It was his third so he knew the drill, he calmly sat (sweating and turning red) while the Target people brought him chewable aspirin, cool water, a towel for his forehead, and called people on his list. The EMTs showed up, and it was all very matter of fact. Bella had a lot of questions, and I was able to tell her some things about cardiology thanks to my work.

Then it was across the bridge to Sanibel: A quick lunch with an amazing blackened grouper poboy, and then to the Condo. We're right on the beach, first floor walkout. 2 bedrooms for us, 1 bedroom condo for PapaBam... and it was STRAIGHT to the ocean - suits on, we're going in. The surf was a bit rough but the water was warm, and Bella and Isaac were tentatively excited... It was their first encounter with the ocean, and it is a bit intimidating - so big, the waves so strong, the water so SALTY. The kids actually sort of hated it. They were happy to hit the condo pool - a small warm pool that was more familiar. For dinner, we went to a little hot dog place I remembered from my last trip here 12 years ago called Schnapper's Hots - they do great hot dogs and shakes. Perhaps going to the grocery store for fresh food was pushing it for bedtime, but we survived. Night Night.

Sunday morning began early - Bella was up at the crack of dawn and woke up Papa and Bam to go Shelling while the rest of us snoozed. Isaac slept in a little which was a miracle. There was a lot of swimming - Ocean and Pool - both kids were warming to the idea of the Ocean. Isaac decided the loved grabbing handfuls of sand and hurling them into the sea - he called it "Feeding the Ocean", and he grew to have elaborate dances around the feeding ritual - we watched as he stood facing the sea, turned into a cartwheel, grabbing handuls of sand, then pirouetted and the flung the sand to the water, finishing with a respectful bow. We stayed at the condo all day, leaving only to get the forgotten sour cream to complete taco night, oh and a few tubs of ice cream too. We finished the day with a walk up the beach toward the setting sun. We found someone had built a labyrinth on the beach with sand and shells to mark the path, so we all walked it. We found many shells, and were visited by dolphins on our walk back - two of them out hunting for dinner, letting themselves be seen for just a little while. Then I imagine they were off to collect their checks from the Sanibel tourism office.

This morning the whole gang woke up early to go shelling - Bella, now with her head in braids in proper island style, was in the mood to find more cockleshells, and she did. Isaac decided just a few minutes into the affair that this was not his bag at all, and could he maybe play his Nintendo for a while. That was AOK with me, and we sat in silence with coffee and the sounds of Mario as the shell hunters went on their quest. This was going to be a quieter day...

At 10 sharp, the condo pool was open for business, and the kids were there. At 11, we switched to the ocean, where I showed the kids the amazing thing - it's shallow, then deep, THEN SHALLOW AGAIN. The kids did not want to leave the sand bar for a looong time. Lunch at the condo of frozen pizza and sandwiches... and then we got the brilliant idea - we needed a little downtime and time out of the sun - what about a road trip to Captiva?

Ok - I think Captiva should have a huge sign as you cross the bridge: WARNING: There is no place to park here. If you are in a car and you don't live here, just go home. After a deeply frustrating attempt to find public parking of any kind, we decided to just hit the Bubble Room and have a late lunch, early dinner (and use their parking lot). The Bubble Room was as always charming, but something in the last 12 years, the extra layer of dust on the memorabilia makes it a little creepier than I remember it. Still, the cakes and pies were fantastic. Nobody was in much of a mood to keep walking around the area, so we headed back to Sanibel - while I had my Zillow iphone app open reading off the sale prices on the properties we passed. Somehow Captiva seems less charming when you realize those houses are for sale at $5m and more. Even post-bubble. There are no deals to be had on Captiva, my friends.

We salvaged the afternoon with more ocean time - at least that's what I was told - I hit the bed for a 20 min catnap and was awakened 90 minutes later with the family piling back from the beach. We worked as a team to get these kids ready for bed - Isaac was asleep less than 5 minutes after going to bed (but not before having a bedtime snack of peanut butter toast, waffles, and grapes). Bella and I read two gripping chapters of Mysterious Benedict before she got so excited she lost a tooth! It was off to bed with her, tooth under pillow, and I jumped into the car to assist the Tooth Fairy in finding just the right treasure for the pillow... We shall see what we find when the morning comes!

And so it's a peaceful night, I'm feeling wonderfully relaxed, and content knowing I have many more days ahead of us on this dreamy holiday.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

My Opinionated Son

Isaac has decided that he's an Atheist:  Yesterday I was sitting with him, and he asked me "do you believe in God, dad?"  I explained my agnosticism - that I think there's something out there but have no idea what it is, but understand how a lot of people feel and how important God is to them....   he answered "well, I DO NOT believe in God.  He's not real."

I asked him how he came up with this and he said "I figured it out myself:  It's OBVIOUS, Dad".

This is on top of a few days earlier when he was overheard telling a sister of a friend that "God it just a FAIRY TALE".   A few other times in the past few weeks I've heard him mutter at the tv when people say "I put my faith in God" (mostly during Hoarder shows, right?) - he just says "Not real.  There is no God.".

Pamela and I are pretty much at a loss as to how this worldview developed, as well as his vehemence.  I mean yes we're certainly not people with a black and white view on the matter - and Pamela is certainly more spiritual than I am, but neither of us have ever given this sort of message...   I'm thinking that there's a chance that part of Christopher Hitchens' spirit must have flown into him last year.   (As to Bella, she's not sure either, but I think she's probably more of a druid than anything).

But I must say that probably my own worldview isn't going to be particularly helpful in this - I can't assure him with a straight face that God is real, all I can encourage is to keep an open mind.  But he's a very empirical person, a very direct thinker:  If he asks for a cookie and I say no, he says "WHEN?".  If I say "Later", he asks HOW MUCH LATER.  If I say maybe he won't get a cookie at all if he doesn't let up, he says "NOT EVER?  I WILL NEVER EVER GET ANOTHER COOKIE AS LONG AS I LIVE?"

In the meantime, I think I'm just going to coach him that there ARE some people who believe very strongly, and perhaps we should keep his thoughts on this a bit closer to the vest.

In a related area, he's still very much a guy guy, but is starting to think that girls might not be the enemy. Yesterday, I overheard him talking with Amelia, a sweet blondie who he'll be going to Kindergarten with next year:  He asked her "Do you like Barbies?"  She answered "Not even a BIT - my sister does, but I don't like to play with them at all.".  He brightened a little, then asked a followup "What about Princesses - do you like to play Princess?"  "NO not at all" was the response, and Isaac decided that Amelia would indeed be an ok playmate for the next 20 minutes.

He's figuring out that there are some girls who aren't girly-girls, who he can probably interact with and enjoy their company.  Today at the playground, a girl his age was showing him her skills with the zipline and the hanging rings - he was keeping up and they were having a good laugh, until she was able to prove she was better at the rings - she could skip a ring and swing across in 3 moves instead of 5.  Isaac couldn't match it.  So after 3 tries, he just took off running and sat down under a basketball hoop with his head in his hands.  For about 20 seconds.  Then he picked up and tried again.

I liked that instead of throwing a fit, he decided to give himself some space to cool off.  That was actually pretty darn mature.

I'm really enjoying watching him grow up...   but I know I'll miss this little boy as he grows bigger.  After all of this, he confessed tonight that he really doesn't want to get any bigger, that likes being just this size, that he wants to be a kid, and he wants me to be his dad forever.

I told him he can enjoy his time being a kid, and we don't need to worry beyond that... and that yes, I will be his dad forever.  And ever.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Media Update

1)  Watched "Drive" the other night.  Absolutely incredible - like an action movie haiku - not one word or action out of place.  I absolutely loved how the driver and Irene were comfortable in their silences.  Also, to start the movie with a chase scene that mostly involves parking and waiting and driving slowly was pretty amazing.  The brief moments of violence are amazing in their brutality but non-glamour.  And Albert Brooks...  boy.   Who knew?  No spoilers but the "shh shhh shh, it's ok, it's all done" moment was stunning.

The soundtrack was hypnotic as well.  The music was done by Cliff Martinez who is my new favorite music guy - he did Soderbergh's Solaris and Contagion too - he does very minimal soundscapes that just create an edge to the scenes that I love.

2)  I am going to go on record:  The Harold and Kumar movies are just wonderful and ridiculous.  Pure, unapologetic love letters to the wonders of weed and bromance.  I saw the Christmas movie this week and had to pause it a few times out of paralysis from laughter.  Part of the wonder of the movie (and the whole series) is the completely depraved character of Neil Patrick Harris...   He is a revelation.

3)  I love love love a show on NBC called Community.  I had heard great things about it from the blogs, but never jumped in.  I'm downloading episodes and loving them.  I just started season 2.  It's about as close as you get to can get to Arrested Development, with a little less dysfunction and a little more cultural in-joke.

And that's the media update.

Monday, February 27, 2012


Well, turns out that even if one practices moderation in drink and bedtimes, being in smoky environs and yelling at parties (with the music so loud, the default conversational tone is "yell") and excessive schmoozing were enough for "The Ick" to re-enter the body, and by Thursday I was back on my back feeling terrible.  My sensible and lovely wife Pamela reminded me that it is not actually NATURAL for a cold to last for over 3 weeks, and for heaven's sake will I just go to the doctor?

A quick visit later I had a Z-Pak in hand and was starting the powerful antibiotics.  The doc had a good idea that while this might have started viral, it's likely that it went bacterial, so let's try to kill that.  And 5 days later, I am thrilled to say I really really feel better.  My guts are turned inside out due to the Z-Pak's power, but acidophilous you are my friend and you will rebuild my flora.

Bella had a swim meet this weekend and she's getting better and better all the time - it's fun to watch her getting the choreography and hitting the marks on the music.  And she's just so good in the water...   But of course Isaac and I didn't spend the whole day at the meet - we had a Dad's Day together, with me back at Lifetime Fitness for the first time in 3 weeks, then some Pei Wei, and a bunch of great quotes which I posted to Facebook...  but I'll repeat here because Facebook is temporary and this blog is forever:  I actually used the blog to help me remember something from 2009 (about the bird sanctuary and aquarium I visited on a business trip...)  So the quotes please:

Isaac held his arm up to the brown wood wall at the restaurant and said "look - I'm blending in" and yes the color was pretty close. I said that was so cool and held my hand up and said "look - I don't blend in as well as you do". 
He said "don't worry dad. I know what you can blend in with: a light bulb!"
I was waiting for Isaac to finish a drawing at pickup today and he said "I'll just be a minute - why don't you check your phone while you wait?
I'm back in Jersey for part of the week:  Tricky travel day:  Started at 4:43 (2 min before my alarm) when the airline texted me to alert that the flight was delayed for 90 minutes.  So I reset the alarm for an hour later, got up, had a leisurely morning until the airline texted me with a "never mind, it's only delayed 60 min" which had me bolting out of the house with my toast half-eaten and my coffee sloshed into a travel mug.  I pounded the coffee on the way, and discovered that a fair amount had dribbled down my chin onto my shirt.
I'm TSA-Pre now, so I don't wait in lines that mortals do anymore, so I breezed past, got some club soda and worked the stain.  With 5 days on the road, I really don't have a spare shirt, and was hoping to make this work.  In the end, the tie covered the remnant of the stain well.  Got into Newark in just enough time that if I got into a car and hit the road immediately, I'd be 5 min early for the meeting (of course I had planned on a hour of cushion in travel, but we know where that went).  
I didn't plan on missing a fork in the freeway and being taken 15 miles off course...  so I did make the meeting but was 15 minutes late.  GOOD TIMES.  At least I was only attending, not leading.
It's a strange project where I have been brought in to sort of provide oversight as two vendors actually provide the services - I'm supposed to keep the two vendors from getting in each other's grills, and make sure there's a coordinated plan across the 6 months...   but I'm not sure if I'm actually superfluous or not.  We'll see.  In the meantime, I had some goooood New Jersey Italian:  A slice of pizza and a dish of penne and red sauce with sausage...  it was entirely too much food, and incredibly delicious, and it came to about $10.  RIDICULOUS.
I'll be headed down to Philly for a social evening on Wednesday and then up to Boston Thursday for some meetings Friday and a flight home.  Interesting detail:  Round Trip ticket to Newark Mon-Fri was $500 more than a one-way to Newark, a train to Boston, and a one-way from Boston to home.  Not sure what that is all about.
The Boston meeting will be interesting - Another sales guy in our company made the contact, and it turns out that the guy (Arvind) is a fellow I've run into many times in the past 12 years, and we've always got along.  So they got the meeting on the condition that I come along.  I'm bait.  But I'm ok with that, because I have an evening in Boston now, and I'm going to USE it.  Maybe go to Panera, YEAH.
Circling way back:  There were two additional details from the show:  
1)  One of the tech blogs made a big deal about complaining about being ignored by vendors in their booths who seemed more absorbed in their smartphones than looking for customers.  One of the companies he called out was a Minneapolis company and I know the guys.  And they are totally chuckleheads who were immersed in their phones when I dropped by too.  It was just funny.
2)  Turns out after I got that great demo of Epic tools, another of my team got asked by JUDY what we thought about what we saw - I wasn't there.  Apparently my colleague said something like "meh, it's ok".  And then she told ME she said that.  I almost died, and wrote Judy a note to relate my own thoughts about the tool - I was just mortified.
I understand sometimes wanting to play it cool, but this was seriously cool stuff:  I had written up a full page email to our whole company explaining just how cool it was.  I don't know why we wouldn't just tell Epic they had done a great job.  People are just so...  so...  frustrating some days.
Ok, that's the update for tonight.  Off to bed - got a long day of meetings on deck tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Everything is amazing

I had a great time at the trade show yesterday, and got to spend some time looking at some very cool new features coming from Epic....  my favorite company.  Three times I had people come up to me and thank me for my nice blog posting from 18 months ago (where I got all mushy in love with Epic).

But it was a loooong day and it segued right into a long night with vendor receptions and the annual invite-only "event" from HISTalk, which is basically Gawker for Healthcare Technology - a snarky blog filled with rumors, but also an excellent place to find out useful information.  I made the invite list (and many did not - rumor had it tickets were being traded for $50 outside the event).  The MC for the night picked me out early and insisted that I participate in an Elvis Lookalike competition during the big show.  Of course I said yes.

Naturally the competition was rigged, a "real Elvis" crashed the stage halfway through, so I decided instead of crooning "blue suede shoes" as was requested, I started singing "Don't you want me baby" by the Human League.  Not really sure why, but people liked it.

Later on, our whole gang went to find a bar, and found it impossible to get a table - they were all roped off... unless you purchased "bottle service" - a $200 bottle of vodka gives you a booth for you and your friends.  I did the math, and actually it wound up being a really good deal - They brought cranberry, soda, and tonic, and a big bottle of Chopin, and that had all 10 of us set for 2 hours - everyone (but me) had 2-3 drinks - so you figure 10 people, 2 drinks at $12/each, the bottle was actually a good deal.  Plus it made me feel like some sort of high roller.  People were looking at our table with envy.

Las Vegas:  People can SMOKE there.  That's still a strange thing for me to process.  My entire wardrobe has been encased in plastic bags and will not be removed until it's ready to be washed.  STINKY.

I'm proud to say I didn't go overboard at any point - no hangovers, not a single cent gambled:  But so much time in loud bars has shredded my vocal cords, so we'll have to have me sound nice and husky.

The title of the post refers to Louis CK's monologue about watching someone get frustrated because the in-flight internet is busted - and I am totally using the inflight internet right now.  It's amazing.  And now we're descending and I'm going to be picked up by the family and we're having dinner out together - and THAT's going to be REALLY wonderful.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


I'm at the big HIMSS trade conference for healthcare - it's in Las Vegas and I'm at the Venetian.  This is my first time in Vegas since my dad took me here for my 21st birthday:  I will say this is not the same town I visited those 23 years ago:  I believe that I am on "the strip" which is completely unrecognizable... not that I remember that much about my trip so many years earlier (with the possible exception of the floor show we saw with a lady magician who "made her clothes disappear" - I later discovered that she actually does the trick with her twin sister, who I guess was on boob duty.  That's a strange family dynamic right there.  The disappearing top bit was just the end, the rest of her act was actually a pretty decent magic set.)

Anyway, I'm still not feeling GREAT, so I've been taking breaks and marshaling my energy for my bursts of interaction.  Last night we had our big reception, and almost 200 people showed up.  For followup purposes, I wrote down the details of about 25 conversations I had across the 3 hours.  It was exhausting, and my voice is fried - I sound like Kim Carnes.

I do love this show, and in 90 minutes, the real fun starts:  The trade show floor opens.  Up to now it's been meetings and "educational sessions" which I really can take or leave.  But let me loose on a floor of vendors with the latest in healthcare technology, and yeah, I'm happy.  I have meetings set up with a few, but have left a few hours to just prowl.

As to the rest of Vegas - I did step OUTSIDE the hotel complex to get some fresh air and find the Starbucks, but it's mostly indoors.  I've been walking right through the casinos - I have no desire to play a single game - I'm not really wired for gambling, which is good.

Time to catch a few ZZZs before the trade floor - then it's a pretty intense day going into the evening - two big parties I'm invited to that will be good for networking.  Then it's an early flight home tomorrow and not a moment too soon.  I'm missing the gang.

I do want to come back to Vegas with my sweetie pie, however.  It's pretty wild.

Monday, February 06, 2012

On Drama

I just came off of a 4 day "solo dad" stint with the kids and dogs - Pamela was up at a scrapbooking retreat, having a wonderful time. I took two "work at home" days to be available to the little ones, and we did all the classic dad stuff... Ate well, danced a lot, played a lot fewer videogames than you'd imagine, and read a lot. Also I attacked the sock pile, and finally filled all of our sock drawers with happy matches.

It was a wonderful time to recharge, after a few weeks of more travel than I've been used to, and a few more coming up. I'm on a plane right now to DC to visit my best man Erik. Well, technically I'm going out to do some work for a hospital in Fredericksburg, but I'm looking at it as an excellent opportunity to see my good friend. Take these moments when they're given, I say.

I took my late evenings with the dogs at my feet, the kids asleep, the socks sorted, and I got caught up on some media: I finished up the first season of Homeland - a manchurian candidate like show that won Claire Danes the Golden Globe, and she earned it, for sure. Damian Lewis also was very good as a frustratingly opaque POW who may or may not have been turned by to a terrorist in captivity. I'll leave the plot points at that, because at least one dear reader is just 2 episodes in, and the DVDs will be released in a few weeks and I want the REST of you to consider watching it. WARNING: This is a showtime series, therefore there are boobies. Move past the boobies (nowhere near as many as Game of Thrones, btw), and you'll be in good thriller-land.

I read an interview with one of the creators of Homeland Alex Gansa - he was a showrunner for "24" for a season, so he knows how to build tension... but I can reveal in a spoiler free manner that Claire's character is certainly no Jack Bauer - I think she holds a gun about once in the show... but is no less destructive in her own way. Two things struck me about the interview - first was the fact they're set up for a season 2 (or more), which leaves me with an odd feeling: When the last moment of episode 12 flashed by, I thought "now THAT's an awesome way to end this". I felt like every character had a great arc - we saw everybody's low and high, and the "situation" played out well for 12 episodes - there was a strong arc... I just don't know how that can be done in a second season - and I'm not sure I want to know what happens next. But I suspect I WILL want to know before long...

The other thing I read was that while they had an overall arc for the series, that on and episode by episode basis they were pretty much making it up and seeing where it goes. He revealed that even on 24, when there was a mole, they usually picked the mole right near the end based on the person whose activities were most likely to have been mole like. That means they were counting on a mole existing, but didn't know WHO until the last minute.

This sits WRONG with me: I don't think it's too much to ask to have these things actually plotted and planned out... but apparently series television is a lot looser than that. I guess it comes down to my ultimate disappointment with X-Files, where it turns out they really had no cohesive overall arc - that they were making it up as they went, and in the end tried to retrofit a conspiracy into there... but there were many episodes that didn't gibe with the big picture - where a person who is later revealed to be a traitor actually risks his/her life to save the person they were secretly undermining...

In Homeland, I can vouch that they DID make it all make sense - there's no "hey but why did he then..." moment at all - it's very consistent, but almost in spite of itself. In the interview it's revealed that a very key plot point was established through improvisation... which was a bit amazing to me. On the other hand, I have to respect that even though they had an arc in place, they were able to start to refocus parts of the plan based on strengths you find in the people playing the characters.

I was thinking of this more with last night's Downton Abbey - a show that is quite wonderful, but the episode last night was just a bit of a turd, with the ridiculous "Martin Guerre/English Patient" subplot - you KNOW that wasn't in the big arc planning sessions.

My other media completion was Neal Stephenson's REAMDE, which I loved beyond all reason, despite the fact it took over 50 pages to truly HOOK me. But as I've written before, Stephenson meanders a bit before letting the story start to go: In his 3000-page Baroque trilogy, it takes fully 200 pages to find a plot accelerator. REAMDE deals with a virtual world, but also about Iowa farm people, Idaho survivalists, Russian mobsters (and former Spetznatz heroes), Chinese hackers and street vendors, Hungarian IT support, MI6 spies, and Islamic Jihadists. It really gets roaring.

What's fun is that the main villain is not so much a criminal mastermind as much as a very good situational improviser: He doesn't think more than one move in advance, and as such is unpredictable and unstoppable. You can't root for him - he's just too terrible - but he's FUN to read, which is a great thing.

And so, I got caught up on media, and will be dong REAL work for a while, I suppose. Sigh.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


Pamela is hustling and bustling getting ready for a long scrapbooking retreat that she's going on this weekend coming up.  She's got special scrapbooking cases, has ordered a ton of pictures from our iPhoto library, and has started pre-making a few things:  Apparently she's gunning to be the honorary president of the scrapbooking sorority - Phi Beta Scrappa.  So I'm not asking a lot of questions about the plaster of paris drying in flower pots.

That means it'll be a long weekend of solo-daddy stuff this week - which was ALMOST a problem with some travel I had planned, but fortunately I was able to move some things around, and now Pamela can go have her fun free and clear.

Work is a bit crazy right now - In addition to my own work, I have been charged with growing a special business line around my geek knowledge of business intelligence (data warehousing and analysis).  Well, I've been doing a few small engagements in my "spare time" over the past year, but this year, it's feeling as though things are possibly warming up - I have two sold part time engagements and have a third in the hopper - the goal is that all three will have someone else working them longer term, but right now Feb and March are looking pretty busy - especially considering the other work I still have in Philly AND my main work in Minneapolis.

I had the Avengers over last night, and it was a wonderful lineup - a couple of old Highland Parks, a couple of Lagavulins, an Ardbeg, a Glenfarclas, and some japanese thing I can't recall the name of...   all were somewhat rare bottlings, and it was a delightful lineup.  We finished with a Todd Margaret marathon - watching Season 1 straight through.  This is a fine "downward spiral" comedy in which at every turn, the protagonist (played by David Cross) digs himself in deeper and deeper...  Great if you like Cringe Comedy.

In other media, I'm trickling my way through Homeland from Showtime - Claire Danes is fantastic as very fragile genius (?) and the manchurian candidate soldier is really well played too.   That, along with Fringe ad Downton Abbey have my TV needs down (though I do fill in with an occasional episode of Community).

For books:  Bella and I are 2/3 of the way through The Hobbit...   and boy I just had forgotten a lot about this ripping yarn - it is VERY fun, and Bella is thrilled every night with our chapter.  And in Dad reading, it took about 50 pages, but Neal Stephenson's REAMDE has finally set its hook in me, and I'm being carried along at a brisk pace.  Stephenson has a way of meandering at the beginning of his books (for my taste) and I'm always looking for the "moment" the book takes off:  In most of his, it takes 100 pages...  I just need to be patient.

The kids are asking to go for a walk, so off I go!