Friday, December 19, 2008

The Love of a Daughter

Yesterday, I went to Katy's class' "winter holiday" party at her Young Five's class.  She was so excited to see me, that once she noticed me, she had a hard time listening to the rest of the story being told by one of the older brothers of one of the kids.  She was waving, and calling out to me: "Daddy!  That's my daddy!"  I smiled, waved and put a finger to my lips.  When they were lining up to go to the different table stations (holiday bingo, reindeer ornament making and a "go to the colored square" game) she was having such trouble not calling out that she resorted to putting her hands over her mouth to help contain her excitement.

She wanted me to be by her the whole time.  I helped her make the reindeer (and then helped a bunch of other kids... sometimes these creative projects are maybe a little overzealous) and then served her a special soy icecream while the other kids had their icecream.  She wanted me to stay with her while she ate and didn't want me to leave, even when it was time for her to get on the bus.

I love that she loves me so.  Will she always be so excited to have me around?  I'd like to think so, and it is hard to imagine otherwise.  But, I know how kids are.  At some point, she'll be a little less excited to have me there.  And, probably will start to be embarrassed, at least a little.  But, I am pretty sure that we will always be pals, and that she will always love me, even if she isn't always excited to show it in front of her friends.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

100 Drop

Boy, it was easy to fall off the 100 Push Ups wagon.  I stalled about week four and never got back into the swing of it.  My interest just never recovered and I'm not sure if that is necessarily a bad thing; push ups are good, but they are a very specific way to exercise and there are probably better, more inclusive ways to work out.

Something that has gotten my attention lately has been Crossfit.  The ideology there is to focus on increasing Power output by working not just focusing on strength.  They post a daily workout that looks like it is rarely the same, which is good because my major hangup about working out is that I get bored and it feels like work too often.  I think that I will try to get some of the minimal equipment I am missing to effectively do this.

I suspect that doing the daily exercise on a regular basis will help me achieve the 100 push up mark indirectly.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

100 Pushups, Week Four

I had been pretty diligent about doing my push-ups every other day, up to about week four. I had started on Monday, but missed Wednesday and then it was suddenly Friday, so I decided to restart week four the following Monday. I had trouble getting to it again that week, so I finally have found the discipline to do week four. I did have a tiny bit of trouble at the very end, only getting a max of 25 on the final set of day three, but I think I am close enough to push through and begin week five.

I have to do my exhaustion test still. I am going to stop writing for a moment to crank out my push-ups to see where I am. I got to 40, so it looks like I have dropped to the mid-difficulty range. I am not surprised, since I had been negligent about keeping with the workout program. I think I will do fine as long as I keep with it.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Aftermath of the Two-Minute Storm

Katy and I went to visit my parents and siblings Thursday evening of last week. Though the drive was uneventful, with the exception of Katy's excitement about seeing her grandparents and aunt and uncle, there was a surprise awaiting us when we arrived.

Turning into the subdivision where my parents live, it was hard not to notice that there were a large number of overturned trees on both sides of the street. Fortunately, they were mostly cleared out of the way, so that at least there was a navigable path. The weather was pleasant and there were so many, I almost wondered if there was some serious trimming being done by the city. Not so.

When I arrived at my parents, the first thing I did was drive my dad back to where he had to park his car, three blocks away. When I had called my mom to let her know we were on our way, she had mentioned that there was a crazy storm that lasted about two minutes, but I had no idea how much damage had really been done.

In my parents' backyard, at least three large branches had been torn from their trees and deposited on the ground and on my parents' shed. One was at least 2-3 feet in diameter and had previously lived directly above their house; the wind had bent it far enough that it didn't even come close to falling on their roof and landed mostly on the shed, instead.

Part of my plan while visiting my parents' had been to help them build a deck in their backyard. Well, we spent most of Friday chopping and moving trees, instead. What I learned was that the chainsaw is a lot of fun. For the amount of work we spent doing back there, I was surprised by the fun I had. At the end of the day, when we were done moving all the tree parts, we finally had time to work on the deck, at least for a little bit: we mixed cement and used it to hold the posts in position.

Since we were also there to celebrate my brother's and dad's birthdays, we spent most of Saturday just visiting, eating out, opening presents and eating cake and ice cream. Finally, around 6pm, I dragged my brother and dad outside so we could move the pea gravel that Mom had had delivered. Dave and I transported it from the driveway to the deck area with numerous trips with the wheelbarrow; for something so small, it was a considerable amount of work. Dad used a rake to spread the dumped gravel, which also was exhausting. Finally, we were able to move the wood to the back. We finished the day by dismantling the old wooden steps that are being replaced by the deck; we used crowbars and the back of the axe and it, too, was fun.

I left on Sunday, so there wasn't really time to try to work on it any more, then. However, at least all the heavy stuff was in the backyard so Mom and Dad didn't have to try to move it all themselves. Conveniently, the building where Dad works was hit by lightning and won't be cleared for use by the fire department for two weeks, so he should have plenty of time to finish the deck. I am looking forward to seeing it when it is done.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Normal Looking Nails

As I described previously, I had been in the habit of biting my nails and have been having success at preventing any further biting. While I will still occasionally absentmindedly put my finger in or near my mouth. I am conscious of it, however, and if I notice I am repeatedly doing it, I will find a squishy-ball or something else I can hold or do with my hands.

I have actually been successful enough at this that I have had to trim my nails. At least, I felt like I needed to trim them: after years of biting nails too short, it is hard to tell what is the right length; it also feels weird when areas that are used to being exposed to air are suddenly covered.

If anyone else if having a hard time with this, the steps I found that made the biggest difference follow:
  1. Actively pursue not biting your nails. In the past, whenever I had thought about biting my nails, I always hoped that I could stop. This time, however, I actively kept it in my mind and really analyzed when and why I was doing it.
  2. Keep your hands busy. For me, I was often biting my nails when I had nothing for my hands to do. By finding a squishy-ball to play with, or just something to actively think about keeping in both hands, was often enough to make it to inconvenient or noticeable to myself when I would come close to biting again.
  3. Moisturize cuticles and nails frequently. As a guy, I frequently ignore all of that moisturizing stuff. Unless my hands are really cracked and suffering, I am unlikely to use hand cream. However, many times I found that a reason I was picking or biting at my nails and cuticles was not because I was nervous or bored, but because the skin was dry and was being irritated. Coating the entire nail area helped correct dry skin and made it less likely for me to chew on myself.
  4. Maintain nails. While looking for something to do with my hands, I would occasionally grab my swiss army knife and use the filing appendage to clean and shape the nails. This helped additionally because without the rough edges or dirty nails, there was no legitimate reason to bite at them.
  5. Don't do it by yourself. When I decided to stop biting my nails, I knew an easy way to do it was with accountability. So, I posted here about it, but I also told all my friends that they should tell me to stop biting my nails if they saw me doing it. Since I didn't want to have them constantly annoying me, I had additional incentive to catch and prevent the behavior myself.
It is hard to say if I am completely successful and done with the process of breaking this bad habit. While I am doing well right now, what is to say that when I am truly tested I won't resort to gnawing at my fingertips? I guess continued, careful monitoring will be the only way to tell. Once I have fully grown my cuticles again, I will consider it a success.

Monday, June 23, 2008

One Hundred Pushups

In my ongoing pursuit of self-improvement, I stumbled upon a website, onehundredpushups. The concept is that by following the simple program laid out on the site, after six weeks you should be able to do 100 uninterrupted push ups. Since I have been trying to do push ups in the morning when I wake up, anyways, I figured that this would be a fun way to motivate me to actually continue doing it every morning.

Today, I did the initial test, which is to do as many push ups as you can. I got to 31. I think I might have been able to get a couple more if I pushed myself, but I would like to start the program Monday morning and didn't want to deplete my energy reserves too much. At any rate, it puts me at Level 4.

Monday morning, I am going to begin Week 1. I'll report my progress later.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Bad Habits Die Hard

Several weeks ago, I decided that enough was enough: it was time to stop biting and picking my fingernails. I knew it was unlikely that I'd be able to do it cold turkey, so I did a bit of research online to see what others were saying about stopping the bad fingernail biting habit.

Most of what I found seemed to suggest putting foul tasting stuff on the fingernails, but I didn't want to have awful tasting food. The one really good tip, however, was to put moisturizer on the areas around the nails. Since that was the area that I bit the most frequently, it helps not having dry, itchy, pick-able skin.

The other thing I am trying, which I didn't really see suggested anywhere, is to find something else to do with your hands. When I find that I am putting my fingers near my mouth, I grab a squishy-ball and play with that absentmindedly instead of absentmindedly biting at my fingernails.

Also, being aware of when I am most likely to bite at my nails helped me devise good strategies to prevent it. For me, TV/movie watching tends to be a key time, so I try to keep things in my hands instead. Also, when I am nervous or thoughtful about something. Just being aware of it helps as well. Since I already carry a Swiss Army USB drive (with a file, scissors and knife included), I let my hands play with cleaning and filing the nails.

As I mentioned, it has been several weeks since I've started and I am doing very well. Now, my nails might be getting long enough to actually warrant trimming. At the very least, they are long enough to tap annoyingly on my desk. However, now that they are this long, resisting the temptation to put them in my mouth has become much harder. My fingertips feel a little funny and I definitely notice the nails. So, instead of biting them, I am keeping them busy typing this.

Seems like the urge has passed, so mission accomplished.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Running from the Barber

I am not a big fan of getting my hair cut. For whatever reason, the idea of having to pay money to have someone else play with my hair and likely butcher it just doesn't appeal to me. So, normally I let it grow to an unsightly length before I finally, begrudgingly get it dealt with.

This time, however, inspiration struck. Since we are trying to find ways to save money, anyways, what could be a better idea than cutting your own hair?

We ordered the Wahl 79524-500 Chrome Pro 24-Piece Complete Haircut Kit on Friday and it arrived on Monday.

Of course, Kendra was smart enough to want no part in my adventures with hair. So, I was on my own. I started by showering and combing my hair, followed by picture taking:

Look at that long hair! Look how unhappy it was making me! Notice, I'm not smiling.

Then, to make a long story short, I went crazy with the shaver, using the longest comb attachment. I grabbed hair and tried to snip it with scissors, using the mirror: this was much, much harder than I anticipated. When my hair became dry, I'd re-wet it in the sink. Periodically, I'd comb it to see what needed to yet be dealt with.

Finally, I was done:

Look! It is short now! And, it must be good, because I am soooooOOoo happy in that picture. It looks a little flat on one side in the picture, but when combed looks fine.

Kendra said it looked good. But, can you really trust someone you are living with? Would she really tell me if my head looked like poo? No, the only way to really test this would be at work the next day.

So, today, I went to work and didn't mention to anyone that I had cut my hair. No comments. Well, the occasional, normal comment, which is what I was looking for. It passed! I cut my own hair and got away with it!

And, after one more cut, I'll break even when compared to the cost of going to get it cut. Yay!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Avoiding the Rain

Last Friday, before I left work, there was a tornado warning. While it was uneventful where we were, the rain was coming down very hard. I always bring two umbrellas with me, both of which I had conveniently left in my car. It was around five, and I couldn't afford to wait it out, since we had to pick up a weekend guest at the airport.

Since I needed to leave and yet it was still raining hard, I came up with a plan. It was a brilliant, complicated, well-though-out plan; I decided that I would quickly bolt the short distance between my workplace and my car.

It worked effectively enough: my shirt was barely wet when I got to my car. The only minor oversight I had made was the large volumes of water that had become a lake in the parking lot. So severe were the puddles that I didn't even notice that it wasn't just the parking lot itself. While the run was short, my pants were soaked after the first step into that mess.

Later that weekend, on Sunday afternoon, there was another tornado warning. This time, I was at home already, with Katy and her visiting Gram. So, while I was able to avoid getting wet due to the rain, the storm caused a power outage that lasted until Monday.

I went out and bought ice as soon as I called the power company and learned that it wasn't scheduled to be repaired prior to Wednesday (they were wrong). When Kendra returned home, we transported our frozen goods to various freezers distributed across the city.

First, we stopped at my workplace and filled the freezer there. Fortunately, all the ice cream had been purchased and had not yet been replaced, so there was plenty of space.

Next, we ran to the church where Kendra volunteers and were able to find space for a couple items in one of their extra fridges.

We found a home for the rest of the stuff at a friend's who still had power and was kind enough to share their freezer space with us.

So, last weekend started with me getting all wet and ended with a rushed transportation of food. While it could be thought of as annoying or irritating, it didn't really bug me. I was amused by my saturating oversight and the lack of power and finding a temporary home for our food was a mini adventure of sorts.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Mind Mapping Game

I've been reading Lifehacker a lot since I've discovered it through Google Reader. I've installed Ubuntu on as a boot option on my desktop and as the primary operating system on my laptop because it was discussed there. I've switched to using Gmail as my primary email account and eventually ported my old address to Google Apps. I've learned shortcuts for Gmail and Google Calendar, as well as different themes. I've learned how to crochet a plastic bag out of sliced grocery bags. And, I've encountered a category they call Getting Things Done, or GTD.

Getting Things Done is a book by David Allen. I am still in the process of reading it, but I've already started using Remember the Milk to capture the task items using the recommendations and setup of someone suggested by LifeHacker. One of the steps of GTD is to brainstorm to capture all the elements necessary to complete a project.

The suggested way to do this is via mind mapping. When I first heard about mind mapping, it was in high school and I was a snotty know-it-all who was above every concept I didn't already know, so I kind of brushed it off. Now that I am a bit more mature, I am giving it a try using a piece of software, FreeMind.

The reason I am making this post is to point out that mind mapping is a blast. The one random topic I picked is providing a lot of entertainment. Just getting the thoughts out of my head is a rewarding experience, and it is revealing a lot of the steps necessary to complete the project. I definitely recommend giving GTD a try, or at least experiment with mind mapping on your next project.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Mouse in the House

Every once in awhile, I'll need to open the cupboard to get a dish. Absentmindedly, I'll walk up to the cupboard...

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which looks like any normal cupboard. But, it is easy, much too easy to forget the horror which awaits within

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Terror itself lives within our house. A monstrosity greets us, every time we need to eat.
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Mousey was a gift from Kendra ages ago. He is a handwarmer: you toss him in the microwave for 15 seconds and then hold it in your hands when they are cold. For whatever reason, I put him in our cupboard and the location just stuck.

Routinely, I'll forget that he is there. When I open the cupboard, I am surprised and it brings a smile to my face. The absurdity of finding mousey in the cupboard is added to when I recall that he will occasionally wear the origami paper viking helmet that I sometimes fold, making him look like a little mousey-bishop.

I guess the point is that sometimes little things can help set a happy tone for the rest of the day.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

My Blog Moving Adventure and the Wonders of Google

Recently, it was time for the annual renewal of the web hosting for my website. Actually, I was a couple of weeks overdue and had received a warning indicating that I would be shutoff soon. Amusingly, the auto-warning software my web host had been using was, apparently, malfunctioning; it sent the first and second warnings twenty minutes apart, and three days later sent the final cutoff notice.

When I received the first warning, I realized that my postponement of my web hosting decision could no longer continue. For awhile now, I have been considering leaving my web host and hosting with GoDaddy. Not that I had a real problem with them, but their once competitive pricing scheme could no longer compare to the new hosting plans being offered at other places. Before switching, though, I remembered seeing a feature at Blogger that I had meant to investigate.

Blogger has three ways of displaying its blogs. You can host on your own website using your own domain, which is what I had been doing. You can also use the free BlogSpot hosting, where your blog is hosted at a site with the format "", which is something I've used for some temporary and testing blogs. The third option is what I ultimately decided to use: "Custom domain" allows you to have your blog hosted with blogger, like a BlogSpot account, but you can use your already registered domain name in place of the blogspot address.

So, when you now go to or, it will take you to this site, which is hosted, for free, at Blogger. The steps to get here were not that complicated, but did require a little finagling.

The first step was to download my existing files from the previous web host; while Blogger behaves as an effective backup and effortlessly republished this blog, there were images and other files that I had placed there that may or may not have been backed up. Just to be safe, I downloaded the entire contents of my site and stored it on my computer.

The next step was to investigate an email option; Blogger can host the site, but using my old email address won't work without somewhere to host it. Google to the rescue again, this time in the form of Google Apps.

Google Apps is a series of Google's free applications, such as Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Docs, that can be applied to a particular domain. So, for example, instead of getting email at an address that includes "", using Google Apps, I can get Gmail email at my "" address. Configuring this was fairly straightforward, especially since there was an application that configured the MX records at GoDaddy for me. In addition to setting up the Google Apps accounts (for Kendra and me), I also logged into my old web host to configure the email to forward everything to our alternate email addresses; this way, we would be sure to get all our email while the MX records change propagated and we would know when it was full complete when we stopped getting the emails on the alternate accounts and started receiving them on the "" accounts.

After switching the email, it was time to configure my blog. I changed from FTP hosting to "Custom Domain" and entered "" for the name. Then, I parked the domain at GoDaddy and used their "Total DNS Control" option to configure a CNAME for "www" to point to "". That meant that would now point to the new, Blogger-hosted, location for my domain. I made a test post there (which has since been deleted) so I could tell when the old location was no longer being accessed and the new one (with the test post) was.

The one snag I ran into was that I couldn't find a way to have "" point to the same location as "". I thought that I would need to use a wildcard as the host alias for my CNAME, but GoDaddy does not support wildcards for CNAME aliases. I made an inquiry at the Blogger Help Group and opened a support ticket at GoDaddy. Eventually, after being extremely persistent and insisting that I get the support I needed from GoDaddy, five emails later, I am able to use "" as the actual CNAME host alias and point that to "", just like I did for "". (The lesson here is to politely and patiently insist on getting support you require from a company who is providing a service to you.)

After that final change, my email now works and my website domain and www subdomain works. So, instead of paying $60 a year for webhosting, I am paying nada. So, if I ever wanted to host another blog with a different name, I could do so on the cheap for just the cost of the registrar.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Morning: My Enemy, My Friend

A number of my resolutions for this year are going well, and some others are suffering a bit: While I now seem to be reading all the time, I have loss some of my interest in maintaining my exercise routine. The cooking plan needs to be revisited, and since we've returned from our ski trip, I'm much less likely to clean dishes in the sink, for whatever reason. I'm pretty aggressive making phone calls, but there is still a backlog of items I need to call someone about. My writing is clearly not meeting the frequency of thrice a week, but I am more likely to engage in parties/events that I would not normally be excited about.

Some of the problem, I think, has to do with the time of day at which I am trying to tackle these activities. Since I work during the day, and have tended to not be an early riser, the obvious time to tackle these activities is the evening. However, by the end of the day, after a full day of work, I am no longer interested in pursuing my goals; I just want to take a break. When I do convince myself to work on getting things done, it is rarely enjoyable and feels like I am stealing from my relaxation time.

Now, obviously, some things still need to happen in the evening, but I should be able to leverage my mornings better than I have been. My normal routine has been to set the alarm for whenever, hit snooze a million times and get up in a rush. Most of the time, Kendra has, thankfully, already gotten Katy ready and dressed and she is eating breakfast. So, the first step was to condition myself to pay attention to my alarm and stop going back to sleep instead of getting up.

What inspired my adventures into early morning rising started here at a great website I found through Google Reader called LifeHacker. Reading through the suggestions, the most prevalent idea seemed to be setting multiple alarms, with at least one placed across the room. The idea being that once you are up to turn off the alarm, you might as well stay up since there is no point of getting back into bed. However, I have tried this and it requires too much reasoning for my early-morning, befuddled mind to comprehend and I would arise from the bed, zombie-march to the alarm, disable it and then return to bed as if nothing had happened.

Something I have had success with in the past has been psyching myself up for getting up at a particular time the next day: expressing the urgency of getting up as soon as the alarm goes off, else I will miss the important event that was scheduled for early morning the next day. If I do this immediately prior to going to sleep, I have never had trouble getting up at the desired time, as long as there really was an urgent event occurring. Trying to psych myself to get up early for something like exercise has always been met with laughable results.

However, mulling over these two ideas helped me think of a new plan: I set my bedside alarm to 7am. I also set another alarm, the one on my wristwatch, to 7:11am and leave that in the master bathroom. After I set the alarms, and am getting into bed, I remind myself that when the bedside alarm goes off, I should turn it off, not press snooze, since a snooze would bring me to 7:09am and then I'd have only two minutes before the other alarm. Additionally, I tell myself that, while I don't necessarily need to get up right when the alarm goes off, I shouldn't go back to sleep so I can get up before the other alarm, the wristwatch, goes off. Thus, I have the multiple alarms, with one out of reach of the bed, combined with a generated sense of urgency: not wanting the other alarm to go off.

While it doesn't seem like much, the previously stated befuddled nature of my mind in the morning accepts the explanations instead of trying to delve into the complexity of the situation without coffee. Starting last week Monday, I have been up by 7:11am at the latest, with needing to rely on the watch alarm to re-wake me only once. So far this week, my body is already conditioned so that I am waking up a few minutes before my alarm and am up and out of bed as soon as it goes off.

As a further precaution, I have added a third alarm, my cellphone, set to 7:30am and left on the counter in the kitchen, downstairs from my bedroom; this third alarm has, thus far, only been used to note the time and mark the beginning of our exit from home in the morning, but it could serve as an emergency "last call" wake up, if need be.

Now, instead of being the last one up, it is a tossup between Katy and me as to who will be the first out of bed. Katy had gotten used to climbing into Mom and Dad's bed in the morning and watching cartoons, but now she is often getting into bed after I am already dressed. I miss the snuggling a bit, but we have a more relaxed, pleasant, wakeful morning together this way.

With this added time, I am now always the first downstairs and can prepare her lunch before she gets dressed. She gets to school on time to eat breakfast with her friends and I get to work earlier and get more accomplished during the day: the early hours always seem the most productive to me.

A couple of days ago, I read another item through Google Reader that was about early morning exercises. The suggestion was that you could be more awake with a little exercise in the morning; specifically, it suggested three sets of as many push ups as you can do. If that gets you going, you can do some scissor kicks for a quick core workout. Starting little, I did the push ups this morning and still got to work earlier than I had these past two weeks. While it isn't a ton of exercise, I should be able to incorporate this into my morning routine and workout five times a week instead of my goal of just two.

Now that I am conditioned to wake up early, my family is also getting accustomed to it. My plan is to get the whole family awake and ready to go early enough so that I can bike to work twice a week, on Thursdays and Fridays, and let Kendra take Katy to school. Kendra normally does things outside of the house on Thursdays and Fridays and it would even give her a head start on them. In addition to the extra exercise I'll get from the bike ride, I'll also be using 2/5ths less gas per week than I normally would have, thus saving money as well.

I don't count the time in the morning before work as anything other than "getting ready for work" time, so incorporating other activities is a easy thing to do that I will not psychologically be opposed to. Next week, the twice weekly bike riding to work is planned to start. After that, I may consider trying to get up a half hour earlier to get some of the things done that I really don't want to spend time on in the evening.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Raw Shark Texts Review

Some of the members at one of the websites I frequent, the gaming community, have started a book club at Having the books selected by a group who has similar interests makes the selection process easier. Additionally, I have already read two books that I would not normally have even known about and am reading a third. The first was the Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, which was a book that I would never have picked up on my own, just due to the feminine nature of the cover, but was pleased with the story. I started reading another that was suggested but wasn't a book chosen to be the book for the month, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, which is, again, a very good read. However, the book for the month was selected and I decided to interrupt my previous choice to join in on the reading of the Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall, and I was not disappointed.

Like the Time Traveler's Wife, I was able to get through this book quickly, in only one evening of reading. The story is about a man who doesn't remember anything: where he is, how he got there, what his name is, his past, his friends -- all this information is missing. He soon discovers that he has a disorder known as a "dissociative condition". It is an interesting mystery where the hero, Eric, tries to figure out what has happened to him.

It seems like there are several ways to look at this book. The first is the logical, what-could-happen-in-the-real-world possibility. From this point of view, it is clear that he has a severe disorder that eventually leads to his demise. The other way to look at this is the anything-is-possible, we-can't-assume-a-logical-world-in-books view. In this case, we can assume that everything that Eric reports is actual fact: the problems he describes are real and to blame for his memory loss. Or, there is the take a bit of both approach, where his memory loss comes from his suspected source, but some parts of his journey/disorder are not what they seem to be to Eric.

Without revealing spoilers, it is difficult to talk about this book. It is thought provoking and interesting enough where I would consider going back and reading through it again before returning it to the library to analyze it further. Some of the elements of the book are overlooked, intentionally or otherwise, and that can be a little frustrating, but that it keeps me thinking about it, and enjoying my thoughts, is enough to overlook any frustrations. I give it a four out of five stars.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Temporal Book of the Month for March

I started and stopped reading a couple of books in March, mostly because I really wasn't interested in my choices and also that I wanted to spend all that time playing Team Fortress 2 instead of reading. So, March passed and no book was read, seemingly meaning that I am not accomplishing my book-per-month reading resolution. Since I was in April and needed to read a book for March still, what better choice than "the Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger.

The characters and story are interesting and it was quick to read: I finished the five-hundred some pages over the course of two evenings. The way the story is told is in what could be considered mini-stories, jumping across time, though in most cases, the stories occur linearly. The concept was interesting and the storytelling was well done. The sometimes complicated subject of time travel was addressed simply and handled easily. That said, there were a couple of things that bugged me about the book.

One of my gripes with the book is that some events seem extraneous and unnecessary to the story, either detracting from the plot or introducing elements that the reader expects to be more relevant but are never developed. Another issue I have is that the characters are too accepting of their inability to alter things; with a little thought, there are routes that could be explored that never are addressed.

Additionally, several paradoxes throughout the novel indicate that there must be ways to alter the time line. An example of this includes certain facts that are passed from the future to the past and back again without there ever being an origination. This is glossed over for simplicity's sake, but it implies that the information came from somewhere originally and was then the origination point became unnecessary and never occurred.

The ending was unsatisfying. Without revealing spoilers, it seems that the ending resolves nothing, leaving some plot points introduced but never explored.

Regardless of the flaws, it was still an enjoyable, page-turner of a book. While it is, at best, lite sci-fi and outside of what I would normally consider for reading, I would still recommend it. I give it 3 or 5 stars.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

My Stickers For My Daughter Are Mine Again

When I was young, as many children do, I collected a variety of things. I had a baseball card collection (I still do... I should see if it is worth anything... hmmm) and a sticker collection. As the conservative, pack rat, save-it-for-a-rainy-day-and-beyond kind of boy I was, I didn't dare actually stick the stickers anywhere.

In one case, I had sent away and ordered a series of stickers by Lisa Frank from Pineapple. Of course, when I received them, I opened the brown envelope they came in, inspected them, and promptly put them away to be barely looked at again.

As time progressed, my interests changed. I stopped with the collections, but of course never discarded my existing ones. The stickers stayed in their envelope with the rest of the stickers.

And, I moved out. My stuff got boxed and was moved with me. It was never unpacked. I moved again, and again. The unused stickers were kept, buried in my collection of junk, stored somewhere in the basement.

Then, Katy was born. And she grew. And, it as it turns out, she likes stickers. And, most importantly (and thankfully) she doesn't have the same hangup about keeping everything that I did. In particular, she loves sticking stickers on everything. So, when we needed to go beyond simple stars for the potty chart, I remembered that I had a bunch of stickers that were well suited for a little girl. Of course, she loved them and was excited to get them for going on the potty.

Eventually, Katy didn't need the incentive for going on the potty. But, she didn't forget about the stickers. She will still decide that she should be entitled to a "potty sticker" on a whim, claiming she did a good job going to the potty that day. I just smile and let her have one, since the intended purpose is passed.

The fun part is that she will decide that not only did she do a good job going potty, but that I have done a good job, too. So, she will reward me with one of my old stickers, which I get to wear on my shirt. It took me twenty years to finally use these stickers, and it is my daughter who is doing it for me.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Return from Breckenridge

On Friday, January 25th, Kendra, Katy and I drove to Grand Rapids and took a flight to Denver. Thus began our Ski / Snowboard adventure. The flight was uneventful and we arrived safely. Kendra's mom, who lives in Denver, picked us up and we spent the night at her house. Katy was excited to sleep on the air mattress in her gram's room.

Saturday, after a easy paced morning and lunch out, we stopped at REI so I could grab a balaclava and some wrist guards. Then, I drove Kendra, Katy, Gram and I in Gram's Jeep the approximately two hours to Breckenridge. The mountain roads were clean enough, but I could tell there that it was a little intimidating for some in the car, so I tried to drive cautiously.

After a potty break the exit immediately prior to the one we wanted, we discovered that Breckenridge does not have the roads necessary to accommodate the number of people who visit weekly. While most of the drive there was quick, the final couple miles took forever due to crazy traffic circles and stagnant backups of vehicles.

That evening was spent unloading the cars and mostly taking it easy. I cannot recall what we did for dinner, but I believe I went to bed early.

Sunday, I was up at 6:00am (8:00 EST, so it really isn't that impressive.) Kendra, Grandpa Carl, Ann and I took Katy to her ski school around 8 and then I signed up for two full day snowboard classes. I waited around until 9:45 when the class started and spent the day learning the basics of snowboarding.

At lunch, I went most of the people from the class to the Quandry and had the burrito. It was yummy.

The next day, I had class with two of the people from the day before, and met one other new girl, Sara. The four of us did a good job and by the end of the second day, we were rated for blue trails.

Tuesday, it was very cold, so we didn't send Katy to class. However, I decided that I still wanted to go and got there around 10:30am. It actually warmed up and wasn't as bad as predicted, plus I was layered very well and it would have taken a lot to chill me (except for my toes!) While going down the trails myself, I bumped into Sara and her sister, Kate: we decided to hang out and try the trails together.

Wednesday, I went with Kendra and her family, but it was at this point that I realized that snowboarding non-stop every day was exhausting; I knew what I was supposed to be doing, but my body was too tired to do it. I ended up letting them go on ahead and took my time. After meeting them for lunch, Kendra and I hung out and went on the trails together for a little bit.

Thursday, I took a break, since I knew that I needed one. We walked around the town, had lunch and did some window shopping. I also bought some glove liners and some better socks. I also went and picked up Katy with Kendra; she had been on the mountain and was very good at stopping!

Friday, I took a final lesson and Katy did, too. We focused on technique, on carving, analyzing the grade of the hill and a couple of tricks. Katy went on the mountain again; the instructor told Kendra that she was very good at chained turns when following the instructor, but when she was tested, she would just go straight (which is about right for a four year old. ) Funny girl.

Saturday, we packed up and headed back to Denver. We met up at Gram's again and the rest of Kendra's family and had sandwiches. Gram's neighbors were excited to meet Katy, whom they had heard much about. Then, Kendra's family went off to the airport leaving only Gram along with Kendra, Katy and me. That evening, much to Katy's excitement, we dined at Red Robin.

Sunday, we went to the airport and flew home. We arrived in time to watch the Superbowl, disappointing as it was.

The trip was fun and I look forward to snowboarding locally. While I know that the experience will likely not be able to compare to mountain trails, I still think it will be a good time.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Tale of Success and of Not So Much Success

Yesterday, I finished reading the book "Endymion" by Dan Simmons and figured this would be a good time to discuss the progress I've been making on my resolutions.

Obviously, the "read a book a month" is coming along nicely, as I've finished ten days before the end of the month and have already started reading the sequel, "the Rise of Enydmion" by Dan Simmons. It seems likely that, if I continue to put at least a moderate amount of effort into making the time for it, I should be able to read about one and a third to one and a half books a month.

The "do the dishes like someone suffering from an obsessive compulsive disorder" is also coming along magnificently well. Without conscious thought, I've expanded the dishes to include making sure that there is always coffee ready or ready to be made. Additionally, though to a lesser extent, I try to keep the counters in the kitchen clean. I think I will have to analyze this further and see if there are other, obvious areas I could expand into.

With regard to the "make a meal per week" goal, I've been doing well enough. The first week I made the vegetarian chili and last week I made taco chicken, both in the slow cooker. This week, we might not have much opportunity to eat much of the food, so I am purposely holding off. I might start trying to plan on immediately freezing some portion of the meal so that during weeks like this, I can still eat a healthier meal.

Something that hasn't been going well at all is the "make the phone calls" resolution. While I have made a number of them, such as to the cable company, there are a good portion of them that I know would be time consuming and finding time during the day is not a non-trivial task. Mostly, I will try to use time during lunch for these calls, since I often go home for lunch and can have all the information I need handy. This doesn't work well for the calls that I know will take too long to do during lunch. I think I need to start planning on making a marginal number of these calls during breaks at work, otherwise I don't see how I will ever make them at all.

"Exercise once a week" is, technically, a success. However, I often so dread expending the effort that the workout is a bare minimum. The problem, again, seems to be with scheduling and when it is being scheduled. Typically, after I put Katy to bed, I'll go into the basement and run on the treadmill for a bit, and / or use the weights. I think that I really just don't like working out that late, but see no hope for correcting it; the concept of getting up early to workout is unfathomable to me. I might just need to try to adjust my motivations.

"Write more" is ho-hum. I am easily writing at a more regular interval than I have if compared to years passed. However, I am also clearly not posting at the goal number of three times per week. This comes down to wanting every post to be of great substance and hesitating if I don't have a truly worthwhile subject. I also pause knowing that it will often take a lot of time to write that meaningful post. I think the easiest solution is to come up with a plan for what type of stuff I will post about at different times during the week.

The "Better Attitude" is a hard one to judge. I have been more open to visiting others and going to parties, but I am not aggressive about pursuing additional opportunities. This resolution might just be a feel-good wish. I either need to more clearly define what I want to accomplish, or abandon the resolution. I'll consider what I really meant this for this resolution and will decide what should be done about it.

Thus, there are several clear winners, some clear losers and a number of in-betweens. Although, the effort of tracking and making strides toward these improvements, especially continually coming back to them and re-evaluating them provides at least some positive effect: persistence.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Motivational Morning

Although I sometimes have a hard time waking up and getting moving, there is a part of the morning that I love. Regardless of how the previous day went, walking from my car to work, with the sun overhead, I get a sense of newness: a sense that anything is possible and that I will accomplish the unaccomplishable this day.

Sure, it doesn't mean anything: I still have crappy days now and then, but it doesn't change the pleasant contentment and optimism for the future that I feel at that moment. And, maybe it does mean something; starting the day with a positive outlook has to affect productivity.

I wonder if I could artificially manufacture the conditions that cause this inspiration. This morning, it was sunny, cloudless (or mostly clear) and very cold, with snow blanketing the ground. I had just dropped my daughter off at her school / daycare and had a pleasant and loving goodbye. But, the feeling really struck me during the short walk from the car to the office. Maybe it is the scenery, which might explain why so many people seem to enjoy the inspirational scenic posters.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Right Stuff

This winter, Kendra, Katy and I will be going on a ski trip to Colorado with Kendra's father and brother and their families. I'll likely have much to chat about regarding that once we return, so I will leave the actual trip for a later post. What I am interested in discussing now is proper equipment.

For most of my life, my attitude with regard to various activities was the "good enough" approach. Meaning, I'd get the bare minimum to participate and would fuddle through the best I could. Somehow, this made me cooler.

Lately, I've come to realize that there might be a reason to invest in the additional equipment. If someone who does something professionally uses some piece of equipment, and I am not as talented as they are, wouldn't it make more sense for me to make sure I am equipped similarly?

For example, for this trip, I am very interested in snowboarding. Though I have never snowboarded before, I am buying a helmet and wrist guards. While there may be some thought that it "isn't cool", I look at the pros and see that they take these precautions, and they likely fall much, much less than I am expecting to. And, really, how cool am I going to look falling down, anyways?

Also, being properly equipped means that I can attempt things that I might normally be timid about. Stuff on the snowboard is one example. Another is when I went rollerblading, I always wore a helmet, wrist guards and knee pads: I also wasn't afraid to try spinning stops and other things that might not be a good idea without the proper gear. When I go mountain biking on trails, my bike has front shocks; when I would go on my old bike, going downhill would be killer, and now it is no big deal, allowing me to go faster and still have more control. To me, then, having the right stuff means being able to participate in the full experience.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Resolution Report

The first week of the new year is now complete and it is time to do a brief evaluation of how the resolutions are going. As long as I keep them in the front of my mind, I think I should be able to keep on course to complete them all successfully. As I suspected, some of these are easier to do than others. And, after only one week, it is hard to tell how well some of the longer termed goals are going.

One of the easier resolutions to evaluate is the first one, Procrastinate less: Do the dishes promptly. This one is actually one that I started doing as soon as I thought of it near the beginning of December. Surprisingly, this one has turned out to be fairly easy and more rewarding than I would think it would be. I clean my dishes as soon as I finish with them and I find myself aggressively monitoring the sink for the dishes of others.

An interesting side effect is that I seem to pay more attention to other things that I notice need to be done on a regular basis. For instance, when I see a basket full of laundry (that Kendra was kind enough to do for me) I would previously leave it endlessly, to the point where I would dig around in the several baskets that would collect when I would need clean clothes. Now, it is easier to notice that there are clean clothes to be put away, and I will do it right then instead of waiting till later.

Some things, however, are still purposefully left until later. They tend to be the things that I really, for whatever reason, just don't want to do, now or ever. At the time I am delaying, it isn't as obvious as when there are dishes to be done, but I am starting to notice more. Avoiding things I don't want to do leads into the next topic nicely.

Take responsibility for my life: make any and all phone calls is something that is hard to judge so early in the year. Only recently, near the end of this last week, did it become something for which I actually have a task. Making the phone calls, specifically in a short time frame, is something that will also help develop my anti-procrastinating skills, as well as helping with discipline: specifically, dealing with the phone calls that I really don't want to have to make will help with the discipline to do things anyway, without regard for my personal desires. I have two phone calls that I need to make right now, but it really isn't viable to do during the weekend, so it will have to be done either today or Tuesday and I'll be able to more accurately judge after that. Although, I did take care of a letter that needed to be written; while this isn't technically a phone call, I did take the initiative to write it because of this resolution.

Reading more is pretty easy: I've been trying to make time after I get into bed to read for about an hour before going to sleep. Although, it has required a change, in that I now have to go to bed earlier than I would like. Another easier one is the working out once a week: I really didn't want to do it, but I was able to make myself run on the treadmill once last week. Both of these also help with discipline.

A slightly harder one is Eat Better: making a healthy meal once per week. I really don't have many ingredients, or know many recipes. However, Sunday I helped make some vegetarian chili with Kendra and I am going to count that. My short term plan is to make it weekly myself until I determine other recipes we can make. There is a taco chicken recipe that we also like that I will probably throw in there as well. The ideal would be to introduce some of the elements in the chili to Katy separately to determine if there are any allergies that we don't know about.

Write More: post thrice weekly is also a more complicated process, since it is easy to run out of topics and there is always the temptation to put it off until later. Something that helps is to start the topics as soon as I think of them and just save whatever I have until when I was planning on posting. Also, saving lists of things that I'd like to post about helps me remember for later. I only got the two posts in last week, but think I'll be more successful this one.

Better Attitude: Seeking out activities is a tricky one to judge. I've been agreeable to going to parties and outings with whomever and cheerily greeted and looked forward to having Kendra's mom visit for Christmas. I think I am doing OK, but will need to put effort into planning some of these outings/visits. Maybe I will see about setting up a visit to Mike's as he suggested in the comments.

To summarize, after the first week, I think I am still on track with all of my resolutions and hopefully will be able to expand them as I planned.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Katy's First Movie

Monday, the last day of 2007, I convinced my daughter that it would be OK for her to continue her vacation and hang out with me instead of going back to school for a day. Mom had some things to attend to, so I suggested to Katy that we go see a movie. She thought that sounded like a good idea so we went to the 12:00pm showing of Alvin and the Chipmunks.

This was a big deal because Katy had never been to the movies before. She has watched her TV shows and movies on DVD at home, but we didn't think she'd be able to sit still long enough to watch a whole movie. She surprised me.

When we arrived, the previews had already started, so I carried her to a good spot and helped her with her coat. Then, I let her sit in my lap. She was enthralled by even the previews, so I suspected that this was going to be a fun experience.

She wanted to sit on her own chair for awhile and was very cute in the over-sized chair. She sat there and snacked on her Froot Loops and Christmas sugar cookie and enjoyed being able to put her juice in a cup holder. When she was done eating, she wanted to sit on my lap again.

The movie was OK, but it was a great experience because of Katy. She was clearly so happy to be there; at several points I could tell she was happier beyond words because she would suddenly turn to me and give me a big hug and a kiss without saying anything.

Something funny was that she had made a picture before we went to the movies, folded it and asked me to put it in my pocket. When the movie was done, she asked for the picture and just wanted to hold it in the theater.

I carried her to the car and was asking her if she liked it. She didn't want to leave and wanted to go again. In the car while we were leaving, I asked her what her favorite part of the movie was, and she said that it was going to the movies with Daddy. I had first mentioned that my favorite part was going to the movies with Katy, but it still is a very sweet thing for her to say, and she did seem truly sincere.

We wanted to go see Enchanted the next day on the first of the year, but the timing didn't work out, so we waited until the weekend. We went to the one and only showing of "Enchanted" at11:10am on Saturday. Although Katy disagrees, I think it was a better movie than the Chipmunks, and it was fun to have Kendra get to see how excited and happy Katy was about seeing a movie. We popped some popcorn for Katy (since her allergies wouldn't allow for us to purchase any for her) and brought some more Froot Loops and juice. I brought coffee for me.

I think I am ready to make going to the movies a weekly occurrence. Kalamazoo 10 only charges $4 per ticket for a matinée or $6.50 per adult for a night showing, so it is cheap compared to other places.