Saturday, June 15, 2013

Juggling with Varying Degrees of Success

It's Father's Day Weekend, and Pamela has gone down to Chicago to visit with her grandmothers. One is 93, one is 97. They're both in semi frail health, with her Dad's mom weathering a bit worse... It's good to get quality time in. This leaves me a dad-bachelor for the weekend, and it's been a good one.

Friday, i was technically "working" and got a few things done, but mostly spent time watching as Isaac and Bella had friends over for massive playdates. At the end of Kindergarten, Isaac's class made phone books with pictures and numbers, and Isaac has been carrying his book around every day, asking who he can call to come play. He has personally called to arrange for three playdates in the past week now - William on Wednesday, Advik on Friday, and Barrett today. He's very polite on the phone and interested in arranging the details. And he's relentless if people can't play, he goes right down the line. Every playdate is the result of at least 4 calls, and he doesn't get discouraged.

He's quite the social planner. Bella had a long good playdate with Jenny yesterday, but today was playmate free, and spent time working VERY hard on a father's day card for my dad - She got into a perfectionist streak, and was taping pieces of paper over writing to write it neater - some areas have 3 layers of over-papering. I think Dad will be pretty amused. Isaac wanted to make a card too, so he dictated what he wanted it to say, Bella wrote it very lightly, and Isaac TRACED over it. It is signed "Sincerely, Isaac". Sincerely?

Last night after the kids were asleep I decided to watch Percy Jackson The Lightning Thief: Bella and I just started the 4th book - I love to read to her still, even though she is quite the reader too: She just finished MockingJay and we had a good talk about the ending. She's a smart girl. Anyway, I left a few thoughts on Facebook about how I felt about the Percy Movie (Short version: An insult to readers of the books). Bella had watched it a month ago and I had pressed her for details, and she demurred saying "it was... different.... not really like the book at all".

So today, I took her aside and we had a good 20 minute DISH about the movie: We were talking about ALL the things they got wrong in the movie. She was actually really happy I finally saw it so she could talk about it: "I didn't think you'd really UNDERSTAND until you saw it, Dad".

A kind soul set me up with a little walking around money for Father's Day and so you know what I wanted to do: Go to the Mall of America. We got there right at the open, and first things first, got Isaac some shoes. That boy is growing, and is never one to complain, but we noticed his toes were jammed in all of his shoes, so it was time for some fresh kicks. The nice Russian lady at Nordstrom got Isaac well sorted. And none of the shoes blink, nor do they have fire trucks or robots on them: Just solid, good runaround shoes.

Then it was to the Lego store: I've learned that both my kids are only lukewarm on structures and vehicles, but love the figures - they can play all day with the characters. So I picked a few sets with characters we didn't have before, including some Star Wars (Hoth Battle, with a Tauntaun), pre-Star Wars "Old Republic" figures (like all darth vaders with wild colors), and Galdalf and Saruman. All day there were strange voices coming from the other room as they set up their lines of battle (and yes, LOTR wizards CAN battle Sith Lords).

I popped into the Microsoft store: I've been toying with the idea of physically separating my work and play lives by getting a windows laptop and keeping my work stuff on it - I figure I'd NEVER want to open it unless I was working. Then scrub all work stuff OFF of my Macs. I walked around, and was just... well... not feeling it. It's a good theory, but one I think I'll need to plan out a little better.

I think this work life balance thing is going to take more than a laptop to fix. Ive been traveling a lot less, and home a lot more, but for the past month, my brain has been very distracted: I have had 4 clients going, all with strategic work (which means they're renting my brain and attention more than my time). It's not just client work - I have 3 really huge engagements that I'm managing resources on as well - trying to make sure my teams are doing well... and this is the work where if I get it right, I'll make a lot more money than the 4 other clients. Plus participating as an owner of the company. It makes it very hard to "turn off", when my job is to think about how to solve problems. And the solution doesn't usually come in the 2 hour part of the day I allotted to that client. It comes at 3am.

This is leaving me a little distracted at all hours - my shaving is interrupted by pondering a different way that one client could possibly arrange their patient outreach team, and the water is running.... I'm starting to feel like an eccentric. The bigger problem is that pretty much ALL input, be it work or home, is coming through the same buffer, and I'm sometimes a but more curt than I should be. The dog barking is a lot of noise that is wasting my precious brain cycles, and I react accordingly.

So I need to do SOMETHING: Today, I did nothing related to work and focused on the kids. It was a wonderful day. I played hooky for part of yesterday as well. I fully intend to kick back all of Sunday as well. But come Monday, it's all coming back, and I'm going to need to work out how to keep this all moving.

But that's Monday. Today is Saturday, the kids are asleep: They both got 2 chapters of reading from me (Isaac is now on book 29 of Droon!), and now I'm sitting on the couch with the dogs, who have finally accepted that Pamela is NOT walking through that door any second... and they can sit with the other big dog for a little while.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

My Exercise Goals

I do like to exercise, and try to do at least two good workouts a week: Recently it's been a lot of running with pushups and pullups mixed in. This is consistent with my Three Goals of Fitness (with sub-goals):

1) Self Preservation in case of animal attack or apocalypse: Be able to run away from someone or something at a good speed for at least a mile. In case s**t goes down and it gets weird. Also be able to pull myself up into a tree should the need arise.

2) To wear clothes that look good on me, and not have to buy more because I got fat. 34 nevermore.

3) To play with my kids: Have enough energy to run around with the kids, to lift them and wrestle, ride bikes, climb hills, etc. Be fully physically present for them. Corollary to this is to have enough cardiac health not to keel over during these activities.

That's it. That's all I want. Not looking to bench press my weight, or build up a swimmers upper body. Not looking for a six pack - I'm a goofy looking guy and putting some muscles on that isn't necessarily all that productive.

I was telling my friend Paul about this, and he said "that's totally Paleo". Apparently Paleo exercises are all tuned around primitive survival skill type exercises. And I guess it is. Not sure I'd do that well against a saber tooth tiger, however.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Changes for Isaac

This past weekend, Isaac had his performance at Circus Juventas - his third year in the program. Unfortunately, of the three performances he was only able to make one of them - the first missed because I was out of town and it just couldn't work, the third because he had been up the night before puking (and yes, the test came back as STREP). But It didn't really matter that much, because after 3 years, his performance was relegated to jumping rope, 3 rotations in a German wheel, and a whole lot of "Ta DAA" standing around.

I feel like in years past, once you made it past the toddler stage, there was a bit more to see with the Kinders, but this year, it was more of just a Toddlers Plus sort of routine. I didn't really see them developing any new big skills. And of an hour class, I saw Isaac on his butt at least half of that time while other people did things. Add to this, there was a very solid line (physical and virtual) between the class and the parents, and I don't believe I exchanged more than 5 words with his teachers, and whenever I did, they looked at me like I was a little nuts.

As I was starting to figure out that their show was going to be something of a dud, that he wasn't being trained for anything flashy, I started watching around the other practice areas, at the other older kids doing their more advanced skills... and truth be told, over the course of the year, I watched them all do ONE thing over and over and over and over again, with refinements. The lady on the rope swing did her routine twice a week, and yes she got better and better at it, but she was up there for 10 min total over the hour. The rest was talking and watching.

It made me think of polar bears in a zoo - the way they just sort of do the same routine over and over, and you see them walking in that loop, stepping on their well worn footprints - you can set your watch to them. Now, I understand that Circus is a PERFORMANCE, and you're performing a ROUTINE, and you simply need to do that routine over and over until you get it RIGHT. But watching, I was wondering - how much exercise are they getting really? If we moved into a more advanced class, how much fun would working that same skill over and over be? In general, Circus is a lot less about the tumbling and exercise and more about the Theater and Performance.

And for a lot of kids, that works out well - I also liked theater to a point, but I also remember that in my Children's Theater days that it was a LOT of sitting around and waiting and waiting and waiting and NOT fidgeting or you'll get yelled at. I am not sure Isaac has that temperament.

I was having doubts about whether we'd want to continue in the program next year. Isaac solved the problem for me: After his show, he said that "Circus is a lot of sitting around - maybe I'll come back when I'm a teenager. I want to do Karate and Soccer now"

So after 3 years of saying "Isaac goes to Circus School", we're hanging it up: We may revisit in a few years, but we're going to focus on sports where he can run his little tail off pretty much non-stop (Soccer!),

Saturday, May 04, 2013

On Shaving

Up to about two months ago, I was happy in my routine: I would shave with my Norelco 5 times a week, and touch up with a Gillette Mach 5 twice a week to get the longer hairs. I don't have a particularly THICK beard, and this allowed me to get'er done in just a few minutes a day. Occasionally I'd get a nick from the Mach5, and usually the Norelco left me a little red-faced without the closest of shaves, but it worked.

Then one day I saw an article describing - a new venture from the entrepreneurs who founded Warby Parker - hipster eyewear for only $99, plus a pair donated for every pair bought. If I hadn't just moved to progressive lenses, I'd be rocking about 5 styles of Warbys. Anyway, the story was about how they thought the Gillette thing was a total rip-off, that $4-5 a blade was completely unreasonable (and you know what, it is), and they wanted to offer something similar or better for a better price.

So I ordered up their starter kit: Aluminum handle, 4 blades, and a tube of really nice shave cream for $25. And I used it, and I liked it a lot. I posted on Facebook about how much I liked it, and I went ahead and ordered some replacement blades - and to buy 16 blades and two more tubes of cream, it was $30, which is well less than half what that costs for Gillettes, plus I love the cream, did I mention that? Makes my face feel nice.

My razor to Norelco ratio upped to half/half. These blades were getting close, and no nicks, and my face feels good.... win win. And that's when it happened.

A chorus of voices taunted me - the REAL good shave out there is the dual-edge Safety Razor- get a beaver brush, a tub of soap, a handle, and feather blades, and rock this old school - a step up from the straight razor to be sure... and once you get your kit together, blades are like a DIME apiece and last just as long. It's way more manly and economical.

Allright. I had already done one move - it couldn't hurt to try another. I went to Amazon and found the gear I needed. The investment wasn't THAT much - about $75 total, with enough blades to get me through to 2018 I'm sure. Plus, the gear looks so good, and feels so... manly. I was very excited to try this out.

Of course, this led to quite a few boxes being delivered for my folly. The initial Harrys Box. The refill boxes. The brush box. The Safety razor box. The Blades box. The razor/brush stand box. Bella noticed the amount of shaving stuff and made some comments: A few days later, an Amazon box arrived (with a BOOK in it) - she opened the door, picked up the box, and said "More SHAVING stuff for Dad!" and tossed it inside with disdain. Ah, my princess.

My first day, I learned how to use a styptic pencil. I had massive cuts on my neck and chin. I spent an extra 20 min in the bathroom moisturizing and hoping that my family would not laugh at me (or scream) when I emerged. Day two was a little better, but I re-opened a few of the previous nicks. Day three a little better than that, but my nerves left large areas under-shaved, including my adam's apple, which I'm SURE I would simply lop off in one flick of the wrist.

Now don't get me wrong, I liked the experience - working up the lather, the feel of the heavy metal shaver, the danger of unwrapping the loose blade and carefully placing onto the handle - it felt good, like home made bread instead of store bought. It was a good experience, but one that would take a lot more practice.

I went on a trip last week and brought both my Norelco and a Harrys kit, and wound up using only the Harrys. It's now to the point that I'm 4 shaves Harrys, 3 shaves Safety Razor, zero shaves Norelco in a week. If I need to put on a tie (meaning flipping up the shirt collar on my neck), it's no question it's a Harrys morning - there's just too much nick-risk with the Safety Razor.

I'm at a point where I'm wondering whether continuing with the Safety is a good idea, when I can get a good shave at a good value from the Harrys. I feel like if I got sucked into a time vortex, my Safety Razor skills would come in handy in the 1930s. I also do enjoy the ritual. But shaving with the Safety is sort of like petting a ferret: It's quite possible to do, a lot of times, you're going to get bit, and it's not nearly as relaxing as petting a more domesticated animal, like say a rabbit or dog. If I could get to the point where the Safety was more like petting a CAT, one that might capriciously swat at you occasionally, but is generally a pretty safe bet...

I'm giving myself permission to evaluate this whole experiment, and I may revert to my old pattern, or a 100% Harrys mode. As Pamela told me: One of the guys advocating for the Safety Razor HAS A FULL BEARD. I looked at current facebook pictures of the other guy who was. Yep. Beard.

These guys are shaving vicariously through me. I need to make my shaving decision based on: Do I like this? Do I look good when I'm done? At this point, I may be moving back to Harry's. But give me a week. I sort of made this INVESTMENT in the Safety and wouldn't want to walk away entirely... If I can make these BOTH work, I won't need to buy any shaving stuff for a couple of years based on the number of blades and how much cream I have on hand.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

What I ate in Tennessee

Monday Night: Hokie Smokie barbecue, over by the mall. As you drive up, the smell of smoked meat permeates the neighborhood. As we went around the table, 5-of-6 got Brisket. I was number 6, and got the combo with Brisket, sausage, and chicken. The food came, and I went into something of a fugue state - I have no recollection of conversation or other people, but I cleaned my plate. Every bite was amazing.

The service, mostly ok, but she left us alone too often to go flirt with young guys up at the bar. It took a good 20 min to get the check - i watched as she would look over at our table, nod to herself as if saying "yeah, gotta get over there", and then get distracted by the boys, all smiling and giggling. It was ridiculous. Fortunately in my food coma, time passed quickly.

Tuesday Night: I had to hit the mall because I had destroyed a shirt with a too-hot iron in the hotel room. Press-press-press-MELT. Right on the breast, so can't hide it with a tie or jacket. I looked up the mall online and was intrigued by "Petros Chili and Chips" - home-made chili on Fritos with toppings. Ok, tried it. It was only ok. The chili was pretty average, and while Fritos were advertised on the website, any mention of frito lay was gone at the actual store. It was cheap and ok, but not worth a re-visit.

Wednesday: Had a little lunch to get after a bunch of meetings: Looked on Yelp and found the five-star "Scratch" wood fired pizza. A beat up old house with picnic tables all around, huge stacks of firewood everywhere, a large collection of 1970s LPs, and a record player (patrons are encouraged to dj), and an enormous wood fired oven (with a smoker on the side). Walked in, and 3 guys literally dropped what they were doing to explain to me how it all works: 3 crusts, they smoke their own meats, organic local veggies: Do I want to tell them what I like, and they'll just make it? They have an awesome "cheeseless wonder" that won "pie wars" (whatever that means), but I wanted just a little cheese. I watched them make the pizza, and they invited me back behind the counter to check out the oven ("it's part of the scratch experience, man").

The pizza was delivered in a box to my table, and the guy stood and watched me take the first bite - wanting to know if I liked it ok? I LIKED IT. I loved it. I ate way more of it that I thought I'd be able to. Smoked pepperoni and sausage, roasted peppers, banana peppers, spinach, red sauce, chimichurri, and red pepper flakes. It just tasted amazing.

They gave me some sort of discount because the bill was $5 less than my calculations, and the guy just said "hey, Jimmy, it's all right. It's all right." I will be going back there every time I visit Johnson City, now.

Wednesday Night: Once I finally hit Atlanta after travel delays, I had a few minutes to eat, so I stopped at "The Varsity" - a chilidog stand in the ATL airport. I was drawn in by their bright colors, and the chorus of ladies who where hollering out to all passers-by "what'll ya have? what'll ya have? what'll ya have?" They lured me in with their siren song, and I did eat the chili dogs. And they were good... but not transcendent.

And that is my food report. It is 1am and I am not home yet.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Sanibel 2013 - The Finale

First, an addition:   I now remember why I was so tired Friday - I took a 5k run in the morning during a break in the rain.  It was wonderful - I wore a hunter orange run shirt, and I had more than a few people say "hey I saw you out running!"  

Sunday was our move-out day:  Pamela had done the usual incredible job of getting us fully packed up the night before, so "all" we had to do was finish up and clean... and clean... and clean...   you know what, we are AWESOME condo renters.  We vacuum.  We sweep.  We strip the beds, we do some laundry, and we leave behind cleaning supplies.  We DID try to finish all of our beverages, but we wound up with a couple of beers for giveaway, making us probably a little popular.  And for the health crowd, we left a few V8 juices too.  

We were finally packed and ready to rock about 930am, and headed over to the Over Easy Cafe at the end of Periwinkle way.  Last year, we went there on our move-out day with PapaBam, and it took 90 minutes to be seated.  We said "we'll hit it mid-week, not move out day, we're going to be smart about it...", and here we were, on move-out day waiting for a table.  It was only 40 min for the table, during which time we shopped in the cute little stores and Isaac and I played hat-toss for an improbably long time.  Breakfast was fast once we sat down, and it was DELICIOUS - well worth the wait!

We weren't quite ready to leave the island, so we went to Ding Darling and took the tram tour route by car, getting out to spend extra time looking at things:  We saw a bunch of fish, some cute crabs, some NOT cute Horseshoe crabs, a lot of birds, and my highlight, we saw an Osprey gutting a fish on a light post right above the road - as we drove slowly under, we were less than 10 feet from this magnificent creature, savagely ripping into that fish.  Turns out the male osprey brings food for the young and the female, and it is expected that the fish be READY TO EAT by this point:  I was looking around to see if he had a dish of batter and a deep fryer to really prep that fish properly, but no, it must have been back on another tree.

After a leisurely drive, we put the pedal to the metal and hightailed it over to the Tarpon Bay Explorers manatee pontoon ride:  This is the same things we did last year with PapaBam - a touch tank presentation with horseshoe crabs, conches, hermit crabs, and shrimp, viewing of some great seahorses, and then the boat ride.  We only wound up seeing a manatee nose from a distance, and no dolphins (we had the dolphin action covered), but the true treat was seeing a Heron and its baby peeking out of a mangrove island - the staff was completely excited - it was their first sighting of the baby too, and their excitement was infectious.  The guides were big fans of Isaac and Bella, asking them to lead in the touch tank (Isaac got the first conch, and Bella was the first to handle the terrifying horseshoe crab.  (Did you know they have dozens of eyes?  THEY ARE FREAKY.  Also, they're not crabs, they're "Aquatic Arachnids").  Isaac and Bella were also entrusted to walk a pelican beak and a manatee rib around to show everyone.  

They were much better behaved than the little Ukranian boy who hollered and tried to stuff a whelk down the aeration tube at the touch tank.  He was non-stop...  But we kept our distance, and we had a great time!

Final food on the island was back to Schnapper's Hots, where we all ate well, AND got dessert!  Love that place.  Then it was off the island.  The traffic was very light, and we made our way to Target for one more suitcase (I don't think we acquired that much, but our packing just sort of "unfurled" to the point that it seemed unreasonable to try to cram it all in.  So a cheap suitcase in a style we didn't have (roller duffel), and hit the hotel.

By the time we hit the hotel, I discovered I was BONE TIRED - and the family graciously let me nap for a spell.  My dreams were intruded upon by a beep beep beep sound and I was fairly convinced that we had a room next to a service elevator which would keep us up all night...   but no, it turns out they were watching a show about these lunatics with metal detectors.  They were going on and on about looking for hidden gold, and in the end, settled for two coins and a belt buckle.  One of the guys could have been played by a young Randy Quaid.  

A final swim in the almost completely empty pool as the sun went down - the water was warm, with temperate breeze keeping us underwater.  I zoned out in the hot tub for a spell...   Lots of smiles, giggles, and a general realization that we are ALL tired!  Back up to the room and a quick call to Room Service for dinner - everyone ate up, but I started to get queasy - was it the thai spring roll?  No, it was my exhaustion catching up with me.  I was asleep right after the kids (but not before they got a full chapter or two each).

3am, Bella woke up, resentful at her lot on the hide-a-bed, and to smooth things over I swapped with her.  My back may never recover, but she got a good nights sleep, so good for her.  I figure we've had a pretty cushy week, I can take one for the team.  Poor Pamela had insomnia, so I'm guessing it'll be an early night for her tonight.

As feared, Isaac is adjusting to the new time zone, and was up at 630 ET.  We'll need to get him back on track tonight...   We got up, I secured espresso for myself, and we finished our pack-up...  then to the classic and amazing Marriott Breakfast Buffet.  It's always a treat when traveling, and even more fun with the family.  I got a little worried about our timetable, but we managed to get there on time, missing all of the lines, using my Platinum status to check our now SEVEN suitcases, and cut to the front of the security line to the assembled glares - hey you know what people?  When you fly 80k miles a year, let's talk.  For me, it's a small reward for being away from the family.

So now we're on the plane home - Isaac and Bella have ipads and headphones, watching shows.  Pamela has the headphones on watching a Billy Crystal and Bette Midler comedy that I would never in a million years want to watch.  I'm updating the blog and starting to get my brain back into a work-mode.  I know weather has been crappy back in MN, and will continue to be so this week, but just to be back in my house with the puppies will be wonderful.

Some Random Thoughts:
My big scrape on my palm from my tag-accident is healing nicely, but made tennis a little tough with Isaac.  Hard to grip a racquet with a sore palm.  My chin is also healing well, with just the purple remains of a bruise and a little tenderness.

I read NO books, and only watched ONE show (Orphan Black).  I did a lot of sudoku, and stared at the sea.  It was a brain vacation.  

Our Edina friends at the condo complex had a little 2nd grader Gracie who turned our lives upside down - She was sporty and played ball with Isaac, but it was mostly cousin Liam who was drawn into her orbit - there was a lot of talk about "somebody has a GIRLFRIEND".  It was cute and ridiculous in that way of the very small.  

I was ID'ed by another Edina mom, who said "between that had, and your distinctive gait, I knew it had to be you".  That was one of the more surreal ways of describing how I could be identified.  I was self conscious about my walk the rest of the trip.

There were only a few minor sunburns - I wound up with bright red ankles where I had missed spraying.  They hurt for days.  Bella started with some red cheeks, but they lightened up, so the burn wasn't too bad.  Pamela escaped with a single playing-card sized red mark on a shoulder.  Isaac turned 3 shades darker all around...  

I remain enamored of Pelicans, which I have named "Robert" to a bird.  They are just amazing.

It was a delightful vacation.  Thank you for reading!

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Sanibel 2013 Part 4

The day started with more rain - booms overnight and gray skies all morning - it didn't really clear up until 4 in the afternoon, with a few windows of not-rain in there here and there.  The kids were up early after the sleep-overs and spent the day shuttling between condos, watching Road Runner cartoons, and playing video games...   they generally did pretty well, and the use/abuse of technology was tolerated - rainy days were made for technology.  

We started everyone off with a big breakfast of bacon, sausage, and pancakes, so the kids all had full bellies to loll around with.  I played a lot of solitaire, and there may have been a nap in there too - in retrospect, it was a totally mellow day and I think VacationBrain had fully set in.  In a way, this is what we go on vacation to do - to actually shut OFF for a little while.  There was a brief clearing around lunch, and I swam with Isaac in the pool...   In the late afternoon, with the sky finally cleared, we all headed to the beach for another round of shelling and sand castling.  And yes, I did emerge a little in the day to do a deal for work.

And that's when the day got AWESOME:  We were walking along looking out at the surf when someone spotted a dorsal fin a few hundred yards out - beyond the sand bar.  One dolphin...  make that two...  were making their presence known.  We were all pretty excited...  when we spotted a fin closer in, this side of the sand bar.  I shouted "Dolphin" and someone said "That's not a dolphin..."  And sure enough, it was a grey fin, and then the tail poked out - grey and vertical, not flat and dark...  SHARK!   We all started hollering and pointing, someone grabbed a camera, and this guy (I think it was one, but someone thought there were two) was feeding on something - we saw some great thrashing - and he was pretty close to shore!  After a minute or so of a show, it started moving out and further down the shore...  

Towards some people who were improbably actually swimming in the rough, cold surf.  A mess of kids ran up the beach to warn them.  They came in for a few minutes then decided that damn it they had paid good money to get neck deep in a cold ocean and no shark was going to ruin that for them...  so they went back out.  No matter, the shark(s) went away.  The dolphins continued their minor show way far out, but perhaps they sensed that they'd have to up their game significantly to get that level of reaction again, so they slunk off as well.

We were all tremendously jazzed, and the energy level was so elevated, it was hard to come back down.  Sunset was beautiful at the beach, and we all stood together reflecting on the wonders of the vacation - it was a wonderful send-off for the people who needed to leave on Saturday.  

After putting Isaac to bed, I was sent out to find Bella, who was out with cousin Jen and the cousins doing flashlight shell hunting in the moonless night.   I went out once, didn't see them because they had gone so far up the beach their lights were too dim to see, went out again and finally found them:  Bella was just flush with the excitement of being out late, using a flashlight, and having found a few treasures on the beach.  She took some doing to get down to sleep...  and we all just passed out.

Move-out day, for MOST people...  but not us!  Scott and Tiff were off at 5am, Bill and Betty off by 9.  Winnie and Steve were due out at 9pm, and Jen and Harman were headed to the airport Marriott to rest for an early Sunday flight...   so we opened our condo to family and friends to park at!  It was a clear but cooler day, and the kids spent the whole morning in the pool (it's warmer in the water than on the deck).  Some went shelling, and the rough waters were bringing up tons of great shells!  

We collected everyone's left over food and built a huge lunch buffet - mexican, burgers, deli sammiches, salads, crunchies and sweets.  Plus the collected beverages - everything must GO!  Beers, juice boxes, muscle milks, V8 juice...  whatcha want?  

The kids hung together as a unit until late afternoon when people started needing to go... and there were a lot of tears:  This has been an incredible vacation for us, but for the kids more - they've had the run of this complex, playing hide and seek and tag around the lagoon, visiting eachother's condos, going to the beach (with a grown up of course), and alliances were formed, broken, and reformed over and over...   I suspect this will be one of the vacations they remember for years to come.  

When we were finally down to just the four of us, it felt unnaturally quiet.  We went out to dinner at the Island Cow for some family friendly food, but we were not long for the night - Isaac melted down first and was asleep by 7:15.  Bella was down by 8:30.  We're in bed now at 10, with the house all packed and ready to go.  We will hit the road early Sunday for breakfast, then hit our Marriott for some quality afternoon pool time.  We're all ready to come home on Monday, and are just 36 hours away from seeing our puppies, sleeping in our own beds, and hitting daily life again.  

Random Thoughts
There's a book for Japanese Language Learning that has sat by my bedstand all week, unopened.  There's a sales presentation I was planning to do as well, that I've typed about 8 words into.  I just can't get into that frame of mind on this vacation - I am truly valuing being "unplugged".

After my whiskey was consumed, I was bought a replacement - a small flask of Johnny Walker.  I did try to drink a little of it, but it just didn't take for me.  Thanks anyway!

I have not really had the shelling bug this time around, but Bella and Pamela have found some wonderful treasures.  My happy thing has been reading to the kids at night after a long day - Isaac and I finished book 15 of Droon, and started book16 tonight.  And Bella and I are loving Percy Jackson.  

There's a Doctor Who on my hard drive that's been waiting for me to watch it, but that seems more like Edina viewing - not really for Sanibel, you dig?

One more update coming on the airplane Monday!

Friday, April 05, 2013

Sanibel 2013 Part 3

At the end of the day Thursday, Pamela and I were staring at the wall, exhausted:  We had just had the whole clan over for a spaghetti dinner, and had agreed on some kid swapping - Isaac, Julian, and Trent were all lined up in Isaac's king size bed and were pretending to sleep, furtively whispering and giggling, and Bella was sharing a room with Liam.  All were on their way down to sleep, and a thunderstorm was rolling in.  We were scared the kids would wake up from the booms.  Pamela turned to me and said "i honestly don't remember what even HAPPENED today".  Well, let me help you remember.

The day of the Surrey Bike.  I have always classified Surrey Bikes in the same area as paddle boats - they seem like a very charming thing to do, until you get about 200 yards down the road or out from shore in one...  then one or more of the kids decide they're done with pedaling, and you're getting a fantastic, unexpected workout.

Pamela and I had looked at the prices and decided that a 2 hour block was probably right - another group was deciding whether it would make sense to rent for 24 hours...  the kind people at the rental place said "just take it out, pay for the first hour, and when you bring it back, we'll give you the best rate based on how long you keep it".  There were raised eyebrows and knowing looks amongst the workers - "these people will be back within the hour" - bets were probably taken.

That all said, it really was a charming way to travel, and when Bella did decide to help with the pedaling, it was actually not that hard.  But when it was just Pamela and I pedaling, going up a hill, it was not AS much fun.  We took the bike 2 miles up the island to the crazy ice cream place Pinocchio's - home of the atomic colored mango sorbet.  We got there early with no line, and by the time we left, the line was out the door...

The trip took closer to 90 minutes, and we were only charged for the hour.  Pamela and I were both chagrinned to discover that our motion sensors (for exercise tracking) hadn't picked up our pedaling frenzy, and our activity trackers showed as though we had sat in a deck chair for that 90 min.

There were some naps taken, a little swimming, some beach time...   and lots of kid play time.  Late afternoon, I made my power play:  IT IS TIME FOR SCHNAPPERS HOTS.  As you know from last year, this is one of my favorite places - great dogs and burgers.  High prices, but really good.  The music was straight out of the 70s.

We headed back and there was more kids-running-like-mainacs while Scott and Tiff headed out for their evening out.  We sat on the porch with rum and cokes, and then it was off to bed for the kids.

I got up early and took a little run with a cool breeze.  Then straight to the pool for me and Isaac, and to the beach for Pamela and Bella - they've been the shelling pair.  We got dressed and headed over to our friend's condo for lunch - the Casa Ybel complex with a great restaurant.  Mark and Jenner and their kids Jonah and Olivia welcomed us, and we shared lunch by the poolside.  They made a great blackened grouper sandwich!  Bella and Isaac got sparkly temp tattoos.

Back to the complex and Isaac and I played some tennis while the gals did more shelling...  then the skies opened up - RAIN DAY!  The kids hit Cabin Fever with shocking rapidity:  I piled them into the car and we headed over to Jerry's to get some ice cream and a couple of toys for rain play.  We saw the traffic off the island as one long unbroken stream of cars, but we were able to cross to get to our treasure.  After more play, we invited everyone over for spaghetti dinner, Jen and Harman got their date night at Trader's, and you know the rest!

I've done my best not to do much/any work on vacation, but there was a big sale I needed to engage in...  but have pretty much stayed off of the work tip.

The kids have been doing some amazingly complex play time with small plastic animals.

It's Friday, and all the kids are tired and it's been raining all morning.  There's quite the pillow fort in our living room.

That's it for now.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Sanibel 2013 Part 2

Monday started with Isaac re-adjusting to the time zone and fast awake at 7am. I am living in dread fear that he will fully adjust to eastern time by the end of our trip and be up at 6 again, only to have that become 5am back in Minneapolis. IT WILL HAPPEN. A good breakfast and we joined the cousins for a morning walk up to the small Annex to the Ding Darling nature center: This is where we saw the baby alligator and the gopher tortoise last year, and we were optimistic for great viewings... Our new resort is just a half mile from the annex so we had a nice march before it got too warm. And we did see some good stuff, including a pretty big old gator lolling about in the water - about a 6 footer. Not as many birds as last year.

Got back home and it was time for the pool again - Isaac is part Mer-man I suspect. Bella sat out, preferring to play with the cousins. Lunch was hit or miss, with Isaac declining major food in favor of running outside again. I got a little couch nap in while we all stayed out of the sun for a while... but Bella and I went off for a walk again while Pamela took Isaac to the beach with the cousins. Bella and I wandered down to a resort just down the beach where our friends Jenner and Mark were staying, and hey, there they were at the pool bar! So Bella and I had drinks with them (Bella had lemonade, I had a beer), and we brought a margarita back for Pamela, which she accepted with a smile. By early afternoon, it was apparent that everyone was getting a little cranky and we needed some major food. So into the car and off to the Blue Giraffe.

The Blue Giraffe is a very average place (and I think I wrote the same thing about it last year too), but good kid food, plus some cute shops and a playground outside. Inside, I had a very odd deja vu: I was was drawn to the build your own burger section, and dictated an order to the waiter - burger well done, guac, BBQ, Bacon, and jalapenos. The waiter said they didn't HAVE jalapenos, and I said "really?" and then realized, I had attempted to build this very same burger one year earlier and been stymied by the same issue. What is odd is that I had NOT tried to order this strange burger combo since last year. There was something in the wording of the BYOB menu section that triggered my same response. This year at least he offered roasted poblano peppers.

Bellies full, Bella and Pamela wanted to browse the shops, and Isaac wanted to play in the kiddie playground. He played well with the other little kids, but over time, their parents were all ready to go, and he was left alone on the playground. I went in to play and he asked if I'd play TAG. Well sure I would. We raced around and around, and then it happened. In the paver sidewalk, I was running top speed and TRIPPED. I fell forward, and broke my fall with my hands, but my momentum was such that I kept tipping forward, and smacked my chin on the ground. I don't think I even landed - I pushed myself right back up to standing, but found I had cuts on my hands, a puncture in my thigh from where my keys jammed in, and a good scrape on my chin - plus a sore jaw from getting my teeth smacked together.

Isaac watched from a safe, tag-free distance and wanted to know if I was ok... as did a group of older folk nearby. At that moment, Pamela wandered up too asking "NOW what?" Bandaids and neosporin were brought out, and i was actually quite a bit shaken by the event - it's not fun to be out of control like that. But I also wanted to be strong... And was feeling just sort of old and broken. Fortunately, nothing WAS broken by a miracle, so despite not being able to shave for a day or two, and a scraped up palm, I'm doing ok. But it was a little freaky.

There was supposed to be an ice-cream sundae bar after dinner with the cousins, but their dinner ran later and later and later, and by 8:30pm, there was still no ice cream and Isaac was a bit of a wreck. We gave him a bowl of whipped cream and a promise that TOMORROW there would be ice cream. He cried a bit, but we also finished up book 14 of the Secrets of Droon, so all was ok. I came out to find my cousins and uncle sitting on our porch, dipping into my scotch: The remaining kids were playing flashlight tag in the dark, and we were talking guy stuff. My Strathisla 12 was finished up and the kids were all headed to bed by 10, so I kicked them out and went to bed. I might have had a little too much scotch.

I awoke at 5, insomnia wracking my brain, worried about statements of work and deliverables and whether I was any good at my job and all sorts of other things I have no right to think about on a nice vacation. By 6:30, I was back asleep, only to be awakened again at 7 by Isaac jumping on the bed. Literally. The day had nowhere to go but up. (And in the clear light of day, no there weren't big things to worry about and I actually AM very good at my job, thank you very much)

We gassed up with coffee and breakfast and hit the beach for a shelling run bright and early - Bella found joy in following shore birds. A very nice whelk washed up at our feet, and we picked it up, only to find it occupied. So we threw it back into the sea, only to have it wash up at our feet a good 100 yards later. I dubbed it Sidney the Suicidal Whelk, and we threw it even further back out, and we didn't see him again. Bella found a good hunk of coral. And we watched several dozen pelicans in a feeding frenzy, swooping and diving for fish - it was hard not to hear "Flight of the Valkyries" watching them. As we walked back, Isaac feigned tiredness, so he got a shoulder ride from me, and a piggyback from Bella.

Then it was Isaac headed to the Pool again, and I joined him. Bella was with the cousins again, for some reasons, the cousins have consented to having Bella tie them to palm trees. Bella loves this and cackles evilly. I got a nap in the afternoon, and we all got ready for our second Ding adventure of the week: The Tram Tour of the Ding Darling Nature refuge. We had done this last year too, and had thoroughly enjoyed it. This year, we had a different guide, but just as much fun: Highlights included a whole lot of Tarpons jumping out of the water, a horseshoe crab mating frenzy (dozens of those hideous things crawling all over eachother), a black mangrove snake trying not to be seen, and TWO big crocodiles - one a bit hidden but clearly huge, and the other swimming in a lazy circle for us to watch. They were close, they were noticing us, and we were happy to be up in a large vehicle. This year, not as many tiny mangrove crabs, however. Asked the kids what they thought after the tour, and the reviews were two thumbs up from each (though Liam added "Three Thumbs Up" - not sure what that thumb represented).

When we got back, we realized that with 3 sets of parents and 7 kids, we have OPTIONS, and we were offered the first of the "Date nights" - 2-3 hours to disappear while the other people fed and watched our kids (we'll be returning the favor for the other two families, of course!). We gussied up a bit and headed off to Traders (or as Bama renamed it, "Groupers").

Dinner was fantastic - I had horseradish crusted salmon, Pamela had blackened grouper. They had a good scotch on the bar (Glenrothes) and Pamela had a nice prosecco wine - we just enjoyed each other's company without worrying whether there was a hamburger on the menu. We wandered back in time to see the kids finishing up their sundaes, and I wrangled them back to home for bed.

I read to them both - Isaac and I started book 15 of Droon (something about MoonScrolls), and Bella and I kept on with Percy Jackson. Funny thing - Bella has started reading Percy Jackson 3 times and sort of crapped out in the same point (Page 58?) each time. Tonight, we finally blew PASTE that milestone, and kept on going! It's sort of fun to read it out loud because it's written first person in the voice of a petulant 12 year old demigod. So I get to throw a lot of attitude into the reading, and Bella has a lot of giggles.

After everyone was lights out, I pulled on the shoes and wandered up to the beach - it's a moonless night, pitch black except for the stars: they keep the lights low at the beach so as not to bum out the turtles, so it's like being on the moon out there - seeing by starlight. I stood staring at the sky, and that magical thing happened where I started to see THROUGH the first layer of the brightest stars, and see hints of all the stars behind them - and I got to a very peaceful place, realizing that there's always more to see if you let yourself stop and pay attention.

That's part of why I love doing these Blogs - by the end of a day, it's fun to try to remember all of the fun things that happened in that day. Listing it all out, it's pretty amazing just how much we pack in, while still feeling like a vacation.

And we're less than half way through! More adventures to come.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sanibel 2013 Part 1

Sanibel 2012 was such a magical time, we decided to give it another go, but even MORE.

Vacation started on Friday, with us dropping the dogs off at the Pampered Pooch and waiting for the taxi: Pamela had been our packing professional and had got us beautifully arranged for the trip. The house is clean and ready for us to return... and we wished the cold weather farewell. The lines were pretty short for our early afternoon flight, and we even had time for a quick lunch at Ike's to start our trip. The flight took off on time, and landed a little early. It was bumpy, but no puking.... Isaac was definitely restless and didn't really want to sit still, but we made it through. We were up in the front of the plane (not first class, though) so we were off the plane nice and fast.

Getting the car was a bit nutty - we had rented a small SUV, but realized with our luggage, it wouldn't work and requested an upgrade. They accommodated for a pretty small fee (interestingly, the guy wrote down the "standard" upgrade rate, and our discounted upgrade - 75% off, but didn't SAY the numbers - just pointed to them with raised eyebrows). But then he couldn't find the truck in his system, and walked us OUT to the lot... and then couldn't find the car, so did yet another upgrade in the lot, with a hand-written note on our form... which didn't really thrill the gate guy, but he waved us through nonetheless.

We headed straight to our Chicago friend Rick's parent's house in Cape Coral - Rick and Kari are of course the parents of Bailey and Ty, the twins who I have known since they were less than a year old - they're as old as my relationship with Pamela - which means that Pamela and I are now in the "junior year of college" phase of our relationship. Whatever that could possibly mean. The house is on a boat canal, and we took a little cruise before dinner. We discovered this feature of so many houses out here - the enormous screen structure - sample at to see what these huge screen structures are like.

Off to dinner - Rick's second cousin opened a small italian restaurant in Cape Coral, and it was simply wonderful: The owner was a hugely loveable creature filled with smiles, hugs, and laughter: She kept coming over to chat, and the food was delicious - many of us went simple - I had spaghetti and meatballs and sausage. Halfway through, a trio of plates emerged with fettucini alfredo, which I was told was delicious. Dessert was cheesecake and cream puffs. We left stuffed. Isaac was tired and excited and we played a lot of tag in the parking lot between courses.

Bed was at the Marriott right on the bridge to Sanibel - a huge king suite bought with points from my travels. Lights out immediately. We slept in, had room service for breakfast, and then a few hours of swimming at the resort. Rick and Kari joined us for a little cocktail in the sun. Big excitement out on the dock: A pair of dolphins were hanging out just 20 feet out from the dock. They were swimming around and around, surfacing, flapping their tails, and generally showing off.

Lunch at the Lazy Flamingo - the land-side not the island one - with grouper sandwiches, raw oysters, and conch fritters with cool iced tea. A completely Florida lunch, in a very Jimmy Buffet style old school bar atmosphere. We parted ways with Rick and Kari, and headed to Target to stock up for the Island. Happily, there were no heart attacks (or exposed boobs) at this Target, just a little panic as Wells Fargo decided that they couldn't understand why I was charging things in Florida when I am supposed to be in MN. After a few min on the phone, all was cleared up, but it was an ANNOYING moment. I do love me some fraud detection (just 2 weeks ago, somebody started using one of my cards to buy textbooks in Russia, and they shut that DOWN), but not necessarily when it IDs ME.

Crossed the bridge to the island and found our resort - just a half mile further up the road/beach than last year. Much larger complex, and a lot of teenagers. LOTS of teenagers. Not really that LOUD, but present. But who cares about teenagers when we have COUSINS? Yes, the Wisconsin arm of the family is here for the same week, in the same complex, just a few units away. Seeger, Liam, Julian, Trent, and Clyde. Plus friends from back home, Bill and Gracie. Bella and Isaac were out the door and running around, and we suspect that will be how the week goes. Of course there was swimming - first a visit to the ocean, then some serious pool time.

Off to Jerry's for shopping, libations, and a little dinner. Made it home, unpacked, and then off to bed... Isaac passed out pretty quickly, but Bella took some time to unwind with Catching Fire... Lights out by 10 for the kids, and 11 for us. ZZZZzzzz.

Easter Sunday: Isaac was back to the early wakeup, and Pamela surprised me by getting up FIRST, taking the early shower, and being generally the conscious person in the house. It was wonderful to be lazy, if only for a little while. One of our treats from Jerry's was small boxes of sweet cereal, and the kids were loving their breakfast of Lucky Charms and Cocoa Puffs. And hey, the Easter Bunny found us out here! YAY! The kids found their "Baskets" - actually mesh bags for shell collecting - filled with toys and chocolates. As the kids played with their new treasures, I pulled on some clothes and took a little run: 2.1/4 miles for a refreshing wakeup, listening to the new Depeche Mode album.

The day itself was a BLUR of fun - lots of pool time, lots of beach time, a little couch time. A little grimness - a dead bird on the lawn, a dead bird washed up on the beach, but some really cool beach finds too - a lot of crab parts and some bright coral pieces! Bella was very into the hunt.

The kids were all a PACK running around with some "secret agent" game where they were all wearing sunglasses. All day excitement. Isaac was in-and-out of the game, choosing to pair up with kids when possible: Trent for a while exploring the elevators, and Gracie at the end of the day, hunting for lizards and practicing cartwheels. He's really more of a one-on-one kind of kid. Dinner was tacos, and we met up with the Wisconsin gang to celebrate cousin Scott's birthday. A little cake, a little scotch, and some good laughs.

We ended the day with a walk down the beach as the sun set. It started with just me is Bella having a little stroll, and we met on the way back with Pamela and Isaac... One the way to the room, Isaac challenged us all to a race back, and sprinted off, and we caught up to him distracted by a climbable tree: Bella taunted him "That's how it works with the Tortoise and the Hare" - Eventually, Isaac did actually catch back up to us and was the first through the door and into bed.

Well, that's what happened so far. It's time for bed! Just 7 more days? WOW.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Vacation Vacation Vacation

I have one thing on my mind right now.  VACATION.  In mere days we will be headed out to paradise, and it is very very hard for me to focus on non-paradisiacal activities.  There is work I could be doing in the evenings - there are Powerpoints to tweak, spreadsheets to wrangle, proposals to generate.  But tonight, I just want to go on vacation.  I am not doing my Just Do It challenge either - after my steak, I let Piano slide.  When I get BACK from Vacation, I will re-dedicate myself, but for now, please, GET OFF MY BACK.  Go play "The Sting" soundtrack if you want to hear "The Entertainer"  I'm busy thinking about seashells.

We went to Target last night to "refresh" our vacation wear:  Pamela said "our challenge is to be the most colorful family on Sanibel".  I got Isaac and myself some seriously retina-searing ensembles, and I cannot WAIT to bust them out.   It wound up being quite the shopping trip.  Thank goodness for the tax refund.

I've been having more fun with color recently, sporting bright yellow or red pants, bright orange and purple shirts...   part of me is saying "MINNESOTA if you cannot be a little less gray and miserable, then I will overcompensate."  Only Isaac rocks a brighter color scheme these days - and that's protective so that we can easily spot him as he sprints off into the distance.

At Target, Isaac decided to go stealth:  He said "3-2-1 DISAPPEAR" and he did disappear.  He was never further than 20 feet from me, and always came out when I hollered, but in the meantime, he slunk low to the ground, hiding behind clothing racks, and generally disappearing.  It was a little unnerving, but he loved it.  A few times, I rounded a corner to find him standing on an end cap, posed like a mannequin, hoping I wouldn't notice him.  That made me laugh, and I wish I could have got a picture of it.

One of my favorite things to do nowadays is to "move like Isaac" - the kid bounces around like a lemur, so to enter a room and move around like him AS AN ADULT is both visually stimulating AND a good cardio workout.  I think that simply moving like him for an hour would put anyone into shape.

Update on Bella:  Her friend Minori did write back with some pictures - she's wearing glasses now!  Bella was so thrilled she fired back a new message right away:  I hope this keeps going - it's very cute.  And hey, if they decide they want to get together, I'd love to take her to Japan.  Watashi-no Nihongo-wa totemo subarashii desu!  (my japanese (language) is totally fantastic).

Finally, Pamela's out doing another Silpada party - I'm really happy for her doing this stuff - because it's giving her a reason to reach out, be social, go to parties, and connect with friends.  We've been in our shells for the past few years, and we need to get out.  I am hoping to perhaps connect with the neighbors a bit more in the coming months - once the thaw comes through...

DID I MENTION I am sick of winter, and want to go on vacation?  SO READY FOR THIS.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Just Do It Update

This morning I hit my first goal - 10 30-minute piano practice sessions.  We are going out for a steak dinner tonight at Pittsburgh Blue in Edina.  The rest of the family is now envious, and has vowed to "catch up" on their projects...   Objective Achieved?

I'm adding to the repertoire:  When I was a kid, I focused on the Suzuki method, but many of my non-suzuki friends would sit down to the piano and do the intro to Joplin's The Entertainer.  I recall being mildly envious of them, playing a "popular" song rather than the classical pieces I did...

So I downloaded some sheet music and got to work on it this morning:  My first thought is that I am probably happy I didn't try it back then - lots of big octave spans and jumping left hand comping.  I don't think my hands, though long-fingered and unquestionably elegant, would have been happy with those big fisted chords.  My hands are now just great for that sort of thing, however.

The current play list is, then:
 - Scales to wake up the fingers
 - Suzuki Book 2, pieces 1-6.
 - The Entertainer
 - Somebody by Depeche Mode.  Of course.

This is quite fun.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Sweetest Words

My best man Erik once said "the six most beautiful words in the english language:  'You were right, I was wrong' - I can never tire of hearing that phrase spoken to me."

I'm just finishing up a very interesting project:  The whole direction healthcare needs to be going is in the safe and reasonable sharing of patient data across the inpatient and ambulatory and post-acute care spectrum.  Patients need to know that every provider they see knows what they've been through, and that what they tell THIS provider will be shared with the next.

But the way healthcare is stratified and siloed, it's been very hard to do this.  So I was brought into a project to design a working framework for a regional health system - a hospital with 150 employed physicians across 60 offices, working with an affiliation of 150 more independent private practice and specialty physicians.  Over a dozen medical record systems, no shared network, and most worryingly, we saw several meetings devolve into shouting matches.  These people want to share data about patients, but could barely tolerate communicating with each other.

We approached it as both a governance and cooperation project AND a technical project.  My first architecture suggested that BOTH sides move a little and put data into a co-owned system that they'd all maintain.  We got serious pushback from the health system side, and the kept making changes to my architecture... by the end of last week, it was looking as though our proposal was literally to endorse two parallel systems, one for the health system, one for the private practices to share.

Of course that would be twice as expensive, and it wouldn't fulfill the core requirement of data sharing that we were brought in for, but i was able to somehow draw a bunch of "interconnect" pipes so that evern though they were parallel, they were replicating data, so it was sort of like sharing, only we each have our own copy.

FINALLY this week, I had a really good conversation with some of the key sponsors (who were having a little sticker shock at the cost of the parallel solution) and got them to come ALL the way back to my original recommendation.  The CIO actually sent a note to his team saying he finally understood the benefits of the shared architecture, and credited me with having the right vision from the start.

Today was my final presentation to the board here in Michigan:  There were still some strong reactions in the room - mostly from some of the "parallel-istas" who hadn't yet seen the light, but I knew that the key sponsors finally understood.  And most gratifying, at the end of the meeting, a core group of 5 doctors, a mix of the privates and employed, who had previously been actually yelling at each other....  they sat and talked about the benefits they'd all see in this architecture.

It was something that got me thinking that this might actually do something positive for the patients out here.  And it felt good...   And let's be honest, it felt good to have them finally understand that I WAS RIGHT.   HA!

But it is also a strange thing to say "here you are - the next steps are yours" and know I'm not going to be working on this unless they call us back for a new engagement.  Part of the consulting "thing" is that you need to learn an environment really well, figure out what they really need, help them start down that path, and then you need to move on, because us consultants are EXPENSIVE.

There are definitely BAD consultants who don't go deep, don't learn what's unique about a site, and don't leave an actionable plan.  I pride myself on not being that bad consultant, but the problem with going deep is that I wind up caring... and it can be hard not to see them through the engagement.  I have to wish them well and hope they do the right things.

So it's bittersweet to finish an engagement like this.  Those nights of tweaking Visio diagrams until midnight...   it's wrapped up and done.  So now I'm sitting in a cute tiny airport waiting for the one flight that will take me home today.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Bella's bad year

Tonight just before bed, I found Bella at the computer, tears in her eyes, with the start of a letter up on the screen:  It was a note to her friend in Japan, Minori.  She turned to me and said "I just miss her so much" - and her note said "when you left, my life changed forever".

I know I've written about this time before, but it was fresh in my mind and I want to reshare:

First grade was a tough one for Bella:  That was the year that her classmate Grant came to school having just stated treatment for brain cancer, and they spent all year watching his struggle, as disappeared for treatment, ballooned up from steroids, lost his vision and ability to walk, and ultimately lost his life.

Bella's teacher that year was not the most nurturing of people - sort of a brass tacks kind of lady, so Bella clung to her close friends.  Minori was one of her closest.  Minori's family came from Japan and her dad worked for a biomedical device manufacturer...  and at the end of the year the family was transferred back to Japan.

Between the loss of Grant and the loss of Minori, Bella was definitely on-edge.  It didn't help that this was also when I was traveling a lot - That was the year of Cleveland...   basically for her whole year of first grade through half of second, I was gone 4 days a week.  Later that summer, her other best friend Miles left for Austin Texas.

She went into second grade with her dad missing, her two best friends gone, and having watched a friend die..  and she had that brass tacks teacher again too.  It's no wonder that she had a nervous breakdown.   Yes, kids are resilient and make it through things...   but I know she stores things down deep, and suddenly tonight she decided that she was really really sad and missed her friend.

So I helped her finish her letter, and we found some pictures and pasted them in.  And I packaged it up and emailed it to Minori's mom.  Hopefully we'll hear back.  Maybe they'll video-chat now?  Bella steals my phone to video chat visit with her dear friend Aleena every day after school...

Anyway, I have a good kid, and she's made it through some sad times.  I'm glad she can let her feelings out sometimes.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Old Minneapolis

There's a Facebook group that posts old pictures of Minneapolis, and the ones that resonate the most with me are of course the ones from the late 1970s and early 1980s, when I spent a fair amount of time down there.  We were more "free range" kids back in those days:  I grabbed a handful of change, walked the 6 blocks to the bus stop, took the Number 5 downtown and back again.

I was remembering our family nights - maybe we did this a lot, maybe it was only a few times, but they imprinted strongly on my memory:  I remember the 4 of us walking to the bus, riding it down, walking down a side street to a tiny Japanese restaurant called Asuka:  Carrie would get Tempura, Dad would get sukiyaki or some similar "lots of things in a big pot".  I would get Yakiniku, which was basically spicy beef and no veggies.  I do not recall what mom would get...   I'm not sure if they did ShabuShabu there?  Hmmm.

After that, we would walk back up to Hennepin and pop into Shinder's:  It was a wonder of a place - huge and sprawling:  Magazines and periodicals in the front to the right, Books off to the left, and straight back to the comics.  If you went THROUGH the comics to the left, there was the porn...  and the skeevy gentlemen had to mosey past us kiddos to get their fix.  As a boy, I was undeniably CURIOUS about what was behind the gate, but never spent much time trying to catch a peek:  I suspected that if I showed too much interest, either the parents OR the employees (stalwart trustees of the innocence of youth) would say "this is a boy who may NOT COME BACK IN HERE" - I wanted access to those comics, thank you very much.

After the comics were purchased, we'd walk the extra block up to 8th to catch the 5 back home:  The block between had a couple of theaters, but I remember the actual corner being very dark and boring.  I wondered why Shinders couldn't have been one block over - at least we could have looked at the brightly lit window displays.

At the bus stop, there was a hot air grate without a fence around it, and we'd stand on it basking in the warmth while waiting for the bus.  I'm not sure we ever really knew what the schedule was - I don't recall my parents wearing watches - the bus just CAME every 15 minutes or so - either you caught it or you waited for the next one.

There were a couple of variations on this family trip - I recall at least one time going to the Nankin Chinese restaurant, and the joke at the table was that you couldn't find your food under all of the water chestnuts.  I also remember going to a crepes place called The Magic Pan, but don't remember liking it at ALL.  I also know there was a Best Steak House down there but I think we went to the one up on 56th and Nicollet instead.  If we were ever downtown during the DAY, you know we went to the Brother's Deli - with the theme song "Kibbitz and Nosh!  At the Brother's Deli!"

After school and weekends, I took the trip downtown by myself or with my friend Jeaner - we saw movies at the Skyway, we shopped for comics (and maybe were a little bolder with trying to work out what was behind the frosted glass beyond the comics...  but I still thought - IF CAUGHT, they will tell my parents next time I come in with them.  I actually thought the dudes at Shinders would take Mom aside and say "he was here last week, and we caught him trying to look at the adult magazines... WE THOUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW Ma'am."  At which point I would be sent away forever.)

Of course as we got older (6-7th grade) we discovered the record stores too - Harpos/Hot Licks became Northern Lights, which was awesome...   there was never any reason to go into MusicLand - overpriced and NOT COOL.  Video Arcades popped up (Pops on 6th was the one to visit - the "arcade" on Block E was trouble).

The landscape of that 4-6 block area of Minneapolis imprinted on my brain:  For years into adulthood I would have lucid dreams of walking around that version of downtown Minneapolis, though the stores would change in the dream, and new streets would appear, leading to a new adventure.  But in those dreams, it was always dusk or night - the times when tired, full of Japanese food, and comics in hand, we would wander back to the bus stop.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Five Days In

I have been a good boy and have been working on piano every night.  I am now to Suzuki Book 2, song 5, a Bach Minuet.  Tonight I played book 2 songs 1-5 through twice, with some extra work on both 3 (the happy farmer) and 5 (bach minuet 2).  Tomorrow I will add 6 (minuet 3) to the repertoire.

This is FUN!

Also, I have been playing the drums nightly - heck by the end of March I might actually have some half-decent chops back.  Then it's time to form a neighborhood BAND!  But will anyone want to play Visage's "Fade to Grey" with me?

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Just Do It

Motivational Bribery at the House.

While I've mused about "100 hours" and what can be done, I'm now lowering my sights - there's a lot you can learn just by practicing it 10 times.  It helps that I'm desperate for ways to incent Bella to practice her guitar - she really is good, and when she practices, she gets better so incredibly fast...

So I got an idea:  The JUST DO IT list:  A name, a task, ten checkboxes, and a reward.  For Bella, it's 10 times practicing guitar, and she gets a trip to Yogurt Lab.  For me, it's 10 times practicing piano, and I get a Steak Dinner.

It's not for chores.  It's for creative endeavors.  Isaac wanted a task, and we suggested drawings, but he decided to integrate his dual loves of music and getting people to do things, his JUST DO IT is to get at least 1 other person engaged in a Family Music jam session.

We shall see how this works - but 10.  Ten.  X.  We should be able to make these goals.

My goal here is not to get 10, but to get 100.  I think we will set up tiered goals once we hit 10 - make 20 and up get more intense.  I'm figuring when I get to 100 on Piano, the Dave Smith Instruments Prophet 12 will be released...  

And I'll have some time for it - I'm in a low-billing phase right now - I'm going to spent dime on sales and methodology build this week and next:  I'm sitting home while many in the company (and most of our customers) are out at a big trade conference...  So looking forward to some time for improvement.

Saturday, March 02, 2013


As you know, the family music zone has been established, and in the weeks since, we've had some good times there - If anything we tend to get into competition about who gets the keyboard - everyone wants to play the keys:  I might need to get a second and third keyboard down there - rebuilding the deathstar from my old Harriet days?  Surely a nice Jupiter 8 and a PPG might be welcome?  (Did you hear that sound?  It's Pamela's teeth grinding, and she doesn't even know I'm writing this).

Moving the drums downstairs was easily the best idea - I can plug in my iPod and play along:  Tonight it was two Simple Minds songs, a Tears for Fears, and my new favorite love/hate song "Survival" by Muse.  Fun drums and a million fast fills.  And I can do it after everyone's asleep and nobody's the wiser.

As I've been playing the keys to accompany Bella's guitar playing, I have taken steps to actually start playing piano songs - I laid hands on my old Suzuki Method books, and am pleased to report that I am now playing approximately as well as I did when I was 10.  It was very strange to realize I still had muscle memory of a few of those songs.

It put me in the mind of my catastrophic experiences playing piano in college.  I had let my "chops" such as they were lapse well into high school and had fully embraced my new wave "pose over a two finger melody" method.  But part of me still thought I was good at piano:  I still went to piano lessons, but I forgot to practice, and thus I completely failed to advance.  In college, I kept trying to dodge the concept of piano, but had to take lessons as a part of the department...   and thinking back, again, I did not practice, and I did not advance in skills.

But since I was also mister synthesizer, I considered myself a good musician, just "in my own way"...   and if it was just that, it would have been fine, but some strange part of myself kept thinking of myself as a "Secretly excellent piano player if I just applied myself"  This delusion came to a head for me when a girl I liked who played Cello asked me if I played piano.  I said yes, and she said we should do a duet (which passes for courtship in a music department).  She gave me some sheet music and we set a date for a week later.

In that week, I did try to practice, and realized I really couldn't read music, I couldn't play those notes, my hands couldn't do those chords...  but somehow I still went to the date, with a strange feeling like I'd be able to pull it off.  It was some seriously deep delusion, and it was 15 minutes into the date and me not even able to play the first page, while she played very nicely...   I blocked out how I tried to pass it off, but I don't recall ever really fessing up.

I did try not to put myself into that position again - a flautist tried the "let's play a duet" thing a year later with me, and I was quick to say no, that's not what I do, and proudly played her one of my noise compositions.  She figured out I did music, but different music.

Long way around, but really some of those experiences have led to deep "piano shame" for me.  So I'm looking forward to re-approaching my the piano - getting back in at about the same place I was when I was good, and trying to have fun.  Also, it's a good and safe thing to be learning this with Isaac and Bella listening.

So my goal for this week is simple:  re-learn how to play Schumann's The Happy Farmer.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Family Music

As my studio has shrunk and consolidated, it has got to the point that it's pretty much a laptop and a small keyboard:  With a little work that single keyboard and laptop can sound a heck of a lot better than my whole room full of synths ever did back in the 1990s, but there has been a compromise.  The compromise is spontaneity and immediacy.  In order to make a note of music, I need to park my laptop, launch a program, hook up some USB cables, find an audio cable, find the keyboard somewhere, and then I'm ready...  it is five minutes in the best case, over 15 in the worst.

As Bella has been learning the guitar (a fantastic instrument that can be picked up and played with really no prep time at all, save for the occasional tuning), she's wanted me to play along, to accompany her on keyboards.  Something about both of us playing really seems to make her happy, and truth be told, it makes ME happy too.  But the aforementioned issues with getting a playable instrument up and running led to me sort of limping along playing accompaniment on the iPad:  Not a BAD sounding thing, but not really the most inspiring instrument...  

Add to this all that last christmas, I splurged and got an electronic drum set:  I put it up on the 3rd floor, and in the past year, have seen it used fewer than a dozen times for a pretty obvious reason:  Having a kick drum on the 3rd floor, even if it's being played through headphones, is still a shared experience with the whole rest of the house - WHOOMP WHOOMP WHOOMP!  This was not an instrument for naptime, nighttime, morning...  really it was a Saturday afternoon instrument at best.  As such, it wound up pushed into the corner and not used all that much.

So last weekend with Pamela out of town, I decided to address all three issues.  I created a family music corner in the basement.  I moved the drum kit to the basement, along with an amp, mixer, and speakers.  I laid my hands on an inexpensive piano-synth (something that has its own sounds, doesn't require a computer, but sounds pretty good), and I hooked it all together, with a stool and music stand for Bella.  Keys, Drums, Guitar, all together.

I declared it the family music zone - the speakers will be on, the drums and keys can be played by anyone at any time.  Headphones if you want them, or speakers for immediate enjoyment.  And in the past week, we've had 4-5 good family jams down there:  Bella loves playing the keyboard, Isaac loves the drums, and somehow by default I've been playing guitar.  We mix it up - Bella guitar, me drums, Isaac keys...  when it's the three of us, it's a bit atonal, but I can see that developing.

But aside from Family time, having it all up and running has actually been really good for... me.  Tonight I had 15 min to kill while Isaac finished up a Star Wars show before bed, and I went down to play the drums.  After his show, Isaac came down, dialed up a big fat synth sound, and played crazy notes to my drumming.  We laughed, and then he dragged me upstairs for bedtime.  After everyone went to bed, I went back down and dialed up a piano, and played "Somebody" by Depeche Mode, followed by a strangely rousing version of Oh Suzannah, and a little "Happy Farmer".  I'm feeling a bit more connected to music, and am being drawn to performing instead of just arranging.  I haven't "performed" since 1990 - everything since then was sequenced and arranged.  But the idea of playing a piano for christmas carols, it's been something I've sort of wished to be able to do for years.

For writing music and producing songs, I'm still loving my laptop studio - when my inspiration hits, I have the tools.  But it's not an environment for PLAYING, for creating a shared experience.  For that,  it's just nice to have instruments at the ready.  I'm hoping that this might be something we keep going as a family.  Oh, and I'll get Pamela a tambourine and microphone.  The girl has GOT to be the B-Reay Family lead vocalist.

Saturday, February 02, 2013


Had a very nice day with the kiddos today:  Bella had an all day meet at Wayzata middle school - it was the four local teams, of which Bella's is the newest.

For the past 3 years, Bella has been learning with a St Paul team, which led to 30+ min drives each way to practice twice a week.  The club was good, but focused a lot of their attention on the older girls, and the young'uns frankly didn't get as much training time or attention.  So this year, we split off and formed a new club:  We got our own name, our own coaches, and started with 6 girls, between 8-12 years old:  The next generation of synchro stars starting their own club to grow together.

The coaches, Em and Liz are just wonderful - Em's the mom of the group, and Liz is the taskmaster, and between the two, they make sure the girls are nurtured AND worked.  And watching them work, they've advanced more together than they had in 3 years at the old club.

There's definitely some politics and whatnot in there too, but really what I see is that these girls are a very good team, growing together, and learning a lot.  They have an award for the hardest worker in any practice - the seahorse - and it's awarded every night.  The coaches tell me that they don't even have to pick it, that the girls unanimously know who put in the work in any practice.

So at today's meet, our little club was up against three other clubs that have a huge bench strength - we only competed in 5 categories - 1 solo, 1 duet, 2 trios, and a team routine.  We didn't take first place in any, but we made a great effort, and the girls felt great.  There's a picture of them all smiling, feeling good that they not only made a showing, but they're building something for themselves, and for a new generation of swimmers.

I'm very proud of my Bella, and also for the coaches and moms and dads who have worked to create this new little club.  I'm wearing my pink seahorse shirt with pride tonight.

After the meet, Bella, Isaac, and I went out for terrible mexican at Don Pablos - There's something about their chips and fajitas that just works for me.  Anyway, we ate well, had a lot of laughs, came home, and Bella zonked out nice and early with a big smile on her face.  And tomorrow, we pick up again, and start practicing for the next meet!

By the way, Isaac is their mascot - he hung out with the girls for much of the meet, and had lots of hugs for his sister.  And he too wore his pink Seahorse shirt with pride to his class at Circus Juventas today... even though it's a "girl color".

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The bad week

One week into the new year, the flu descended on our house.  Bella was first to go, flush with a fever, home sick from school.  Pamela followed two days later, hit with a wrecking ball and knocked right out.  The boys were all doing well and feeling strangely immune.  Sunday came around with some hard news:  I had to leave town for one night, then 2 more nights - Pamela still sick (3 days into it), and a (I thought) immoveable client meeting.  I bid my sniffling girls farewell Sunday afternoon.

At the airport just before boarding came the text:  ISAAC HAS THE FLU.  He got a fever spike not 90 min after I left the house.  Oh boy.  I should mention here that I am also flying my non-preferred carrier - Delta has ridiculous prices out to the east coast, and I was saving almost $700 by doing a connecting flight via American.  The meeting was to be 10-noon on Monday, so I had to fly Sunday night.

On American, I have no status.  I fly coach, and I board last.  They are also not particularly incented to do me favors in a bad travel situation.  Oh, wait, now I remember, this isn't even a fully American flight - it's United to Chicago, then American to LaGuardia.  One of those Orbitz Specials.

Got to Chicago safely - no drama there.  The flight to LGA was delayed just a bit, but we boarded.  The passengers seemed anxious and I soon learned why - LGA had been backed up all day, and many of them were supposed to have flown on 3 and 5pm flights, and were now hoping this 8pm flight got them there.  

Pulled back from the gate and...   Announcement - LGA is still backed up, so we're going to sit HERE for an hour.  BUT PUT AWAY YOUR ELECTRONICS!  The flight attendants paced the aisles like prison guards yelling at anyone who had a device out, despite the fact we were not moving, nor DUE to move for a good 45 minutes.  RULES ARE RULES.  I did not break the rules, I napped.

When we finally took off, the captain perhaps ominously said "there are still backups out there, but don't worry, we took on extra fuel".  The flight progressed, but then we started circling.  For an hour, and then we were abruptly told:  "we're out of fuel, and we're diverting to Pittsburgh.  There will be a ground crew there who can gas us up, and we still hope to hit LGA by 2am".  The passengers were abuzz - flight trackers saw that the flight that left just before us had landed.  THEN we saw the flight that left just AFTER us had landed.  Why were WE diverted?

We landed, and nobody got up...  we all thought we were refueling.  30 minutes we sat on the plane, and the without warning they said "sorry folks, the crew just timed out, and we need to spend the night here.  We'll be leaving at 10am tomorrow".  We filed out of the plane and found the line for re-booking and hotel vouchers.  We were lined up in plane order, so I was right in the middle.  After waiting for 10 min and noticing the line was not moving, I called Orbitz.

Over the next 45 minutes, I patiently explained to the man at Orbitz that my flight was in Pittsburgh ("what, did you change flights?"  The computer still showed the plane was refuelled and due to hit LGA that night).  No I did not want to go to LGA anymore.  My meeting is at 10am, and the flight wouldn't land until 12.  Could they just send me HOME from Pittsburgh please?  It took the whole 45 min, and explaining the whole situation to him twice and the lady from American he finally found once... and I got rebooked.  And in that time, I had moved 15 feet ahead in line.

I called Marriott, found the closest hotel, called them directly and had them come get me.  I wrote to my client and explained I'd be on the phone.  My head hit the pillow at 3am.  The next morning, I had a good breakfast and headed to the airport - might as well do the call from the airport.  Took the call, and it all worked out fine.  Headed to the gate and ran into the flight crew from the night before.

Turns out the gate agent had no idea how to rebook or how to get hotels:  They didn't get to their hotel until 345.  They were royally pissed about the whole divert and refuel thing.  And they were mad they were in Pittsburgh to boot.  (Let me take a moment to mention the Pittsburgh airport - apparently they used to be a hub for someone and built a massive almost Atlanta-sized airport with a tramway, out in the middle of nowhere.  Then the hub left, and the airport is a serious ghost town.  It was sort of spooky to have such a huge facility looking SO empty)

The flight home was uneventful, really...  except for the mild scratchy feeling I was feeling in my throat...  uh oh.  By the time I hit Minneapolis again, it was pretty obvious - I was going to get this Flu.

My next 24 hours were like a man with a death sentence - I worked my tail off getting things arranged at my clients, canceling my second trip of the week, shopping for groceries, getting the bills paid, finishing my presentations, running errands....   Tuesday I woke up with a cough and the sniffles, and I knew this wasn't going to be good.   Pamela was still floored too - I'm not sure how she would have survived my trip, actually.  Bella was glazey.  Isaac was a zombie, and there were mountains of kleenex.

Wednesday hit, and I had one thing I had to do:  I had to LEAD a 1 hour presentation for a room full of doctors in Michigan.  I slept until 30 min prior to the meeting, got up, caffeinated, brought my a-game, then zonked out for the rest of the day.  DOWN FOR THE COUNT.

Thursday:  I had 3 conference calls scheduled that I had hoped I'd have the presence of mind to attend:  I woke up 2 minutes before the first one, and wrote the following message to my team:  "I got worse".  I stared at that message for a minute, wondering what else I should write, and my brain said "that's all you need to say".  I hit send and passed out for the rest of the day.  A migraine decided to move in early afternoon, and by the evening, Pamela had to head out, so I crawled downstairs to monitor the still-barely-moving children.  My eyes went to the TV and the flashey-flashey triggered a violent reaction - I moved faster than I had in 2 days, and lost my meager lunch.

Friday was similarly lost, but I was able to function for almost 2 hours of it.  By Saturday, I felt almost on the upswing, and Sunday one could actually say I was better.  Pamela was still suffering, Bella had good days and bad, and Isaac, well he's the king of dancing around the room laughing while his nose runs like a faucet, so he was just HIM.

It's now Wednesday, and everybody has a clean bill of health finally...   I went back to work Monday, and by Tuesday, one could even say I had my traditional chipper energy back.  And I needed that because the down week put me behind at work...   working hard to catch up.

And that was the week that was.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

De-Icer Ballet

Starting the new year in style, in the first class cabin of a tiny airplane headed down to Dallas to solve a problem I may or may not have any idea how to resolve...   I had resolutely tried NOT to think about work for the past 10 days, constraining myself only to caring about the physician scheduling project in Minneapolis, but ignoring all others.  So I'm just getting back into it, and am balancing the needs of 4 new projects in my brain.

This morning, I snuck out with most of the house asleep, but Isaac gave me a long hug and wished I didn't have to go.  He breaks my heart every time I leave.  Bella too, but she always gets me the night before, because she sleeps in when I'm on the way out the door...    Still, these one-night trips are a lot better than the 3-4 night disappearances I suffered in 2010, so we'll deal with a little sigh here and there.

I got to the airport on time, and was in the security line when I realized my phone was not in my pocket.  I raced back to the car, calculating what my options were:  Buy a phone?  Have someone drive it out to me?  WHAT?  I was relieved to find the phone sitting on my driver's seat, where it had decided to hide, just to make me sweat a little.  I got back into the terminal and into line - and made it to the gate with plenty of time.

The new Delta gates are a thing indeed - with an embarrassment of power outlets and dozens of iPads freely available for use.  It actually makes the SkyClub seem a bit.. shabby?  Superfluous?  I enjoyed the free electricity and internet, and boarded the plane when called.

Here's a little picture of what I saw this AM:

As the sun was coming up, the jet wheeled over to the de-icing pad, and I was given a good view of the process:  Truck number 9 was on our left side, right out my window, with a driver smoking a pipe (???) and the de-icer person checking her phone in the elevated cab.  We pulled up, and the girl put away her phone and pulled on her gloves, as the guy put the truck in gear.  They made a slow turn and started driving and spraying:  The de-icer girl's cab was even with my window, and only 15 feet separated us.  She worked the cab height controls with one hand, and the sprayer nozzle with the other, and she was intently focused on the job - need to make sure that pink fluid covers the whole wing!

She looked a bit cold in a giant jacket, and she had a lot of eyeliner on.

They made their way to the tail end of the plane, turned again, and pulled up behind truck number 11, which was just on its way to de-ice the plane that pulled up next to us.  The driver adjusted his pipe.  De-icer lady pulled out her phone.  We pulled away, "number one for takeoff".

It was a sort of poetic start to the day (after my minor panic about the phone), and I'm hopeful for a great rest of this trip.  I'm hoping a trip to a Pappas restaurant is in the cards for tonight!

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

In 2013

I will post to JimVentions around once a week.  The drought will end.