I’m Back

As you might (or might not!) have noticed, I’ve taken a break from blogging – about an 18 month break, leaving your Facebook news feed more room for funny cat videos, Trump memes, selfies, and whatever else brews your coffee. From time to time I thought, “I should probably blog about something,” but there was always something else to do or think about. Perhaps it’s time to fill you in on some of the highlights of the last year and a half. Think of this as our Christmas letter…in October. Just go with it.


Jenny, after five years and countless hours of work, has finished UTA nursing school and now works as a full-time RN. She’s a labor and delivery nurse at a local hospital and works with my sister in the same unit. Lisa even trained her for one shift, but I don’t think they had time to cover Lisa’s patented “Jive Talking” dance. Labor and delivery is a lot to learn, especially as her first nursing job, but she’s working hard and doing great. In about a month, she’ll get signed off to handle patients on her own. All hail Nurse Jenny!

House News

After 6 years in our house in Euless, we sold it in March to a nice couple with a little girl who wanted to put her in a good school. For five months, we downsized into a small two-bedroom apartment nearby while the boys finished their school year and M/I Homes built our new home in Grand Prairie. The building process might earn a separate post someday, as it was fascinating but quite stressful. Finally we closed and moved in August. We love how the house turned out. It has all the space we need and more, and it’s right by Joe Pool Lake with untouchable Corps of Engineers forest to our north and west. I’ve already spent many happy hours watching sports and playing games in the media room. Plus we finally have space to host events again.



Things are great with me. I’m still dispatching for SWA on the night shift and helping out with on-the-job training and overseeing the midnight workload. We’re getting several new midnight desks this year and next, which will help spread out the work better. I’m still thankful to have a wonderful wife and sons and extended family and good health. I’m still trying to run three times a week to stay in shape, only now in our new neighborhood instead of the park I ran through for years. It’s been fun to figure out new routes to cover the mileage I need for each run.

Sleep, I’ve found, is severely underrated. I didn’t fully appreciate sleep as a younger man. Being well rested makes it so much easier to deal with the stresses of parenthood, work, and people who make you mad. So I’m trying to be more intentional about getting enough sleep. Sometimes that means missing out on some things, but it’s better than being irritable all the time and falling asleep on the way home from work in the morning.

The Boys

The boys are also doing great. They love the new house and being closer to Jenny’s family and Lisa’s family. Cousins Reagan and Reid are half a mile away, so we see them often. The boys both have excellent teachers and enjoy their school. Brenden has started tumbling lessons as of a month ago, which teach him some body control and also give him a solid workout. Brenden is in second grade. Jonathan is now a kindergartener. (!) In a decade they’ll be driving and chasing girls. Ok, Jonathan might be chasing girls before then, but still.

That’s all for now. I’ve given up on using this blog to deeply analyze the world’s problems, convince all of you to change your minds on some crazy topic, or solve the mysteries of the universe. Those things can be nice, but they wheeze on my Zen, and these days I’m more into Zen than crusading. If I keep blogging, it’ll be more about just us and what we’re doing. If we interest you, stay in touch!

February News

YES, I am still around, just haven’t felt as talkative lately. Here are some updates.

The Boys

Brenden has become conscious of the fact that school, home, and other venues have a power structure and that he is generally at the bottom. Like his father, he doesn’t really like this arrangement. So for a while he kept butting heads with his teacher (refusing to work, playing around and acting silly) and with us (refusing to follow directions, threatening to move out, etc). Our initial hard-line approach didn’t work and seemed to make things worse. I became overly harsh and critical. I didn’t really like who I became when he decided to act up. Something had to change.

We switched back to more of a Love and Logic approach, which takes more thought but works better for him. We’re trying to give him more choices so he feels like he has some control over his life. We’re trying to be more loving and positive, which really seems to make a difference in whether he wants to cooperate with us. We’re rewarding him and Jonathan for good behavior at school. Good news from their teachers earns them marbles, and we take them to do something fun each time they fill their marble jar. So far, these changes have made a big difference in his behavior and his attitude.


Life in Dispatch is going well. We are scheduled to move into our beautiful new office across the street in May, giving us a tornado-resistant facility with lots more space, better equipment and support, and a slightly shorter commute for me. During a long stretch of time off, I set a personal record with eight overtime shifts in a row this month in between all my Olympics watching and facility activities. I also passed my ninth anniversary in the Dispatch office.


Jenny is now in her second semester of UTA nursing school and continues to do well thanks to her intelligence and hard work. She has two clinicals this semester, psych in Bedford and med-surg in Mansfield. Like last semester, she is really busy but keeps pushing through. Two weeks until Spring Break!


We replaced our bathroom countertops and sinks in November with solid surface, sand-colored counters and white sinks from Lowe’s. I am very pleased with the results. Our next project is scheduled for Monday and Tuesday of next week: refinishing the boys’ tub and surround. The tub is chipped, the tile is white with weird brown speckles, and the caulk is terrible. Miracle Method, the company that refinished our kitchen countertops, will redo the tub and tile in solid white. Except for replacing the carpet after we move out next summer, this should be our last major project for the interior. We are thinking about having a few trees removed or trimmed in the front yard, and we’ll replace the side fences at some point as well. I feel good about leaving the house better than we found it.


My mom always worried I would end up “dead in a ditch.” I’m still alive, but I did take care of the ditch part last weekend.

Let me back up. As most of you know, the Dallas area experienced a bit of an ice storm last week. It started Thursday evening and dumped a few inches of sleet and freezing rain over the area. I had to work every night during the storm. By Friday morning when my shift ended, the streets in Dallas were slushy but still drivable. I slept a few hours in a Company-provided hotel room. It was a nice gesture, but due to a noisy heater and my constant expectation that the housekeeper was about to knock on my door, I didn’t sleep well and finally gave up around lunchtime.

By then the Dallas streets still looked the same – dirty slush and drivable. However, since the temperature was forecast to stay below freezing all day, I didn’t want to drive all the way home and then all the way back that night for my next shift. So I hung out in northwest Dallas all day. I ate unhealthy and delicious food (try the Cinnabon things at Taco Bell – oh my). I slogged up to the Cinemark and watched the new Christian Bale movie (great acting, OK story). I felt a little proud of myself for not being one of Those Texans who cower in their homes the minute a snowflake appears.

Trying to kill some time, I looked for a Starbucks where I could enjoy warm coffee and play on my iPad. However, the neighborhood I was in didn’t seem to be a Starbucks kind of place. So I parked at McDonald’s near a big shopping center that was surrounded by low-income apartments. Lots of people were wandering around in the parking lot, some walking to the grocery store or a restaurant, others chipping ice off their cars or trying to tweak something under the hood to get the engine running. My Sheltered White Boy senses started to tingle. I decided not to carry my iPad into this tiny McDonald’s and sip warm McCafe. Instead I hurriedly chipped ice from my wheel wells and hoped no one would ask me for Help.

Confession time: I try to be a generous person. I want to help people and like the idea of helping people. I give money to build wells in South Sudan and feed/clothe/educate needy children in Ethiopia and repair damage from tsunamis and chemical explosions and Storms of the Century. But there’s a catch – I always prefer to keep my distance.

By giving money through a computer rather than time, I can keep control of the situation. Actually getting involved with people’s problems directly and having conversations face to face and looking them in the eyes is way, way out of the comfort zone for a shy, introverted guy like me. Sometimes real people need something tangible like money, or a ride somewhere, or help with their cars, or gas, or a job. Situations like that involve talking to strangers and starting relationships. Relationships can be messy, inconvenient, and awkward. It’s easier not to get involved, especially with people you’ll never see again.

“You know where the nearest Wal-Mart is?” a voice from behind me asked. I turned and saw three young men. They seemed nice enough, but The Voice inside kept asking whether they were sincere and what else they might want. I have helped a few sincere strangers who approached me in the past. I have also gotten scammed. I once heard the same sob story from two different guys in the same parking lot a few weeks apart. For situations when someone might approach me needing Help, my default answer is no.

“Sorry, I’m not sure. I’m not from here,” I replied truthfully. They moved on.

I finished cleaning my car and found a Starbucks, a place where people who can afford to drop six bucks on a coffee and a cookie can hide and not get asked for Help. There, I felt safer, but also a bit ashamed. Those thoughts got stuffed into a dark corner of my soul as I warmed up with my venti cappuccino.

That evening I slogged my way to the office and worked my shift, finishing around 7:00am Saturday morning. The incoming morning shift people reported fairly good roads. Tired of hiding in Dallas and missing my family, I chose to brave the ice and drive home. Playing with my sons in a winter wonderland is a rare treat, and my wife was a bit stir crazy from being cooped up at home with all their energy.

As expected, most section of the roads and highway provided decent traction. However, the bridges, overpasses, and a few other areas were coated in ice. The slushy mess that covered the roads on Friday had frozen solid overnight as the temps dropped into the upper teens. I discovered my first so-called cobblestone ice, the tooth-rattling washboard of bumpy ice that tested both my shocks and my nerve. Along the way I passed a few cars that had gotten stuck and been ominously abandoned. Finally I turned north to highway 360, the final leg of my journey home. Just a couple of miles lay between me and my family.

I would be exiting to the right, so I stayed in the icy right lane instead of moving over briefly to the smoother, drier left lane. Suddenly, I felt the back of my car start to slide. I’d driven on ice a few times over the last several years and recognized the feeling, but I had always managed to keep the wheels straight and pull out. This time, though, my back end kept sliding left. It happened so fast that I can’t remember exactly how I tried to recover. Soon I was spinning sideways into the left lane with my front end pointing toward the right shoulder. I kept spinning and started moving forward toward the shoulder.

“Hmm. This wasn’t supposed to happen.”

I kept sliding. A shallow ditch appear on the other side of a wide, icy shoulder. Finally, I came to rest with my left wheel in the ditch on a patch of icy grass and mud and my right wheel on ice.

Beyond feeling out of control, the experience wasn’t particularly scary. No other cars were nearby at that moment. My car was mostly on the road. The ditch was shallow. All I needed to do was back out and turn around. This was an embarrassing but minor inconvenience, I thought.

The ice and my front-wheel-drive, 100-hp Honda Fit had other plans.

Using reverse only spun my wheels. I tried rocking forward and back, turning right and left, and got absolutely nowhere. I got out and tried pushing but couldn’t get any traction on the ice. I wasn’t going anywhere. I had stumbled onto a problem I couldn’t solve on my own.

I needed Help.

After I flailed about for five to ten minutes, the first car stopped and backed up. A man climbed out and walked toward me. I initially waved him off, embarrassed and determined to fix this mess myself somehow, but he kept walking toward me. His message was simple: you’re screwed, so call a wrecker. I had already suspected that, but he helped me accept it. So I guess that was helpful.

I called my insurance company to get some use from my roadside assistance coverage. Due to all the other people who had crashed or gotten stuck on the ice, the wait was at least four hours. That was an awfully long time to wait in the car. On the other hand, my house was far enough away that if I walked there in those conditions, I would need to come back soon after I arrived. I didn’t want Jenny to pack up the kids and come rescue me, nor did I want to ask my dad or a friend to go out in these conditions. There was no good option.

As I debated, another car spun out directly behind me in the same icy lane. That’s when the gravity of my situation became a bit clearer. If I waited in or beside the car, I might get hurt or even killed. If I walked home, I might return to find my car smashed. I sat in the car trying to decide which bad option I would choose.

That’s when Help arrived.

The next car to stop contained two guys about my age or a bit younger, both wearing service technician uniforms from a Grapevine car dealership. For all I knew, they could have lived near the McDonald’s from the previous day that made me nervous. They said they couldn’t just leave me alone beside the road. They drove a Civic Hybrid and offered to try to pull me out with a tow chain. As we were discussing that plan, two other cars stopped and three more guys got out, probably on their way to work. First we tried it with the Civic Hybrid. One guy drove while the other four guys tried to push me out of the ditch. The Civic didn’t have enough power to get me out, so another guy hooked up his pickup to me while the other four pushed. After a few cautious attempts, Plan B worked. I was free.

And it was only because five strangers interrupted their commutes, took pity on a guy they’d never met, and helped him out of a bind he couldn’t undo himself.

I thanked them profusely. It might have been appropriate to pay them something for their trouble, but my car was blocking traffic and they needed to get going, so it didn’t work out. The guy who drove the pickup left me with a big smile and a simple, “Be safe!”

I tried not to cry.

At the very least, those strangers got me out of a major jam. In light of the other cars that could have spun out in the same spot and potentially crashed into me, it’s possible they even saved my life.

I’ll probably never see any of those guys again, nor can I ever repay them for their kindness. What I can do is remember this experience the next time I see someone who needs Help. Few things can humble a man like needing a hand from a complete stranger who has zero obligation to do anything for him. Perhaps one day I’ll have a chance to pay this forward. Until then, all I can do is be grateful and tell their story.

Blog Soup 9/26/2013

Hi! Things are a bit crazy in my house these days. I’m temporarily awake and free to blog, so here is an update on us.

  1. Except for me, my entire family is now in school full-time. Jenny has class all day Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday and also goes in sometimes on Thursday or Friday. Brenden is in kindergarten five days a week from 7:45-2:45. Jonathan is in preschool five days a week as well. I’m still trying to convince the boys that I really have spent many, many years in school and don’t need to go anymore.
  2. Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays are a bit tough for me. I get off work at 6:00, come home to help get the boys ready, take them to school, and crawl into bed around 8:15-8:30am. Then I get up at 2:00pm and pick them up. Plus Monday nights the boys have swim lessons at 5:45 and 6:45 in Southlake. So I’m usually pretty tired the first half of the week, not to mention the rest of the family.
  3. Jenny is probably studying more than she has in her entire school career. The material isn’t difficult for her, but the volume is staggering – tons of reading, video modules, and skills training. Despite the workload, she is keeping up and doing great. Starting in two weeks, she’ll be at Baylor Grapevine once a week working with real patients on a limited basis.
  4. I am embarrassed that Ted Cruz represents my state in the US Senate. If you’re not sure why, this editorial should help.
  5. The polls don’t show it since we haven’t played any tough opponents yet, but my Baylor Bears are one of the best teams in college football this year. They have a real shot at the Big 12 championship and a BCS bowl. Yes, it does feel a bit insane to write such things, but our defense is finally catching up to our ridiculous offense, and that should scare every team we’ll face this season. In our three games so far, our defense has scored more touchdowns (4) than it has allowed (3). We have tickets for the Oklahoma game Nov 7, our first real test of the season.
  6. I really want a media room / man cave with a nice projector, comfy seats, a wet bar, and soundproofed walls. You know, something like this. Since our current living room is open to the upstairs hallway where the bedrooms are and directly under our bedroom, my subwoofer doesn’t get much use when I have some downtime to watch movies or play games. Someday!
  7. Brenden is selling chocolate for his school’s PTA. I loathe cheesy fundraisers like this and would happily write the organization a big check rather than guilt-trip my family and friends and neighbors into buying overpriced junk they don’t want. I actually planned to refuse to participate. However, I forgot one crucial element: the fundraiser people give the kids incentives to sell. Brenden came home with his box of candy bars determined to sell two boxes so he could get get to play in the Game Truck (r) when it comes to his school. So guess what? I’m selling chocolate on his behalf. 🙂 To their credit, the chocolate company has improved its recipe, and the chocolate is now quite good.
  8. I did not sign up for the international desk at work next year. The international flights are interesting and the workload is light, but since you need a special qualification to work the desk, it’s difficult to trade an international shift away if needed. Since Jenny will have EARLY morning clinicals two days a week next year, I need to keep my trading flexibility. I might try it again in 2015 if I think we can make it work.
  9. Once we have the cash, I’d like to replace the Grand Caravan with a Mazda5 and the Fit with a Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt. However, right now we’re saving up for other things, so we’ll try to squeeze a few more years from our current vehicles.
  10. The boys now have passports! I’m not sure when we’ll use them yet, but they are ready. We might do an awesome cruise after Jenny finishes school in May 2015. Once the Wright Amendment restrictions are loosened in October 2014, flying to cruise ports from Dallas on SWA will become much easier.

Southwest Goes Way, Way Offshore

Yesterday Southwest Airlines reached an exciting operational milestone: our first scheduled flight more than 162 nautical miles offshore, far into the Atlantic Ocean. For now, we are only flying so far offshore between Baltimore and San Juan, Puerto Rico, but other routes will probably follow.

This new type of route takes us into what’s called Class II airspace. Class II includes any area that’s too far away to use ground-based navigational beacons, such as areas far from a coastline or so remote that no navigational beacons are installed. Flying there requires special training, FAA approval, and onboard equipment for long-range navigation and communications. In many cases, such as our BWI-SJU flights, Class II also overlaps with areas that are so far offshore that the FAA requires life rafts onboard. These areas involve Extended Overwater operations.

With No Overwater Equipment – 50nm Offshore

Until Southwest added life jackets to all our planes in 2006, we were required to stay within 50nm of shore. Under the old rule, our BWI-SJU route would have needed to hug the coast, a very inefficient route as shown here:

With Life Jackets – Up to 162nm Offshore

Adding life jackets allowed us to fly up to 162nm offshore, which let us take shortcuts across the Gulf of Mexico between Tampa and New Orleans or along the East Coast between South Florida and North Carolina. On our BWI-SJU flight, we could use a route that went a bit more directly between the two airports. It wasn’t perfect, but it was better than the first route, saving 2900 lbs (about $1300 worth) of fuel and 29 minutes enroute.

Class II / Extended Overwater – Up to 1 Hour from Adequate Diversion Airport

As of yesterday, we can now enter Class II airspace and go beyond the 162nm perimeter with a properly-equipped aircraft. For now, only some of our new 737-800s are equipped for these flights. With them, we can fly up to one hour (428nm) from an adequate diversion airport. This is a significant step up for us in terms of both capability and time/fuel savings. The Class II route saves an additional 2200 lbs (about $1000 worth) of fuel and 20 minutes versus the route using only life jackets. Compared to the hugging-the-coast route, it saves a whopping 5100 lbs (about $2300 worth) and 49 minutes enroute.

Here are all three routes side by side with the new Class II route in white. Nice, eh?

Some of our new 737-800s came equipped to fly more than one hour away from an adequate diversion airport, known as ETOPS. Currently, Southwest does not have ETOPS certification, which takes time to obtain and requires additional maintenance and training. ETOPS would allow service to places like Hawaii. I do not know if or when we will pursue ETOPS, but those aircraft will be ready in case we do.

Happenings from the Week

It’s been a pretty good week. Here are some items of note.

First Taste of Caribbean Dispatching

In the lower right, you can see the first first I’ve ever gotten to flight follow to a destination outside the continental US, SWA 742 from Orlando to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Honestly, someone else had planned it and followed it most of the way. I took over maybe 10 minutes before it landed. But that still counts, right? I got to plan my first two SJU flights Monday morning. Since Puerto Rico is a US territory, flights to and from there aren’t much different from an operational perspective. We just try not to divert to Cuba.

Uncle Charlie

The saddest part of the week came toward the end. After a long and debilitating battle with Alzheimer’s, my great uncle Charlie passed away on Thursday morning. Nearly all his family and many friends got to gather on Saturday in Wichita Falls to say goodbye and celebrate his life. Although we are certainly sad that he’s no longer with us and will miss him, it’s a relief when long-term suffering ends for someone you love. He was a good man. Several family members shared moving stories about him that gave me a clearer picture of his high character, sense of responsibility, and devotion to his family. Rest in peace, Uncle Charlie.

NBA Player Jason Collins Comes Out

This article from USA Today has more details, but this week Washington Wizards center Jason Collins became the first openly gay player in any of the big four American sports. Other pro athletes have been out for many years, such as tennis stars Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King and sprinter Carl Lewis. Perhaps competing in individual sports rather than team sports made coming out easier. Until now, gay NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL players have always stayed in the closet. But it was only a matter of time, as statistically about 3 percent of people are gay or lesbian. Overall, the public response to Collins’ admission from other players has been very supportive and positive, which is very encouraging. Bravo to Collins for having the courage to take a huge risk and go first by being honest about who he is. Others will follow. You can count on it.

South Padre, Baby!

Soon we plan to take the boys to South Padre Island for a couple of days. In addition to lots of beach time, we also want to visit a rescue facility called Sea Turtle, Inc., take the boys sailing on a replica pirate ship complete with a pirate show, and enjoy some tasty seafood.

Helping West

I decided not to attend the West memorial at Baylor to counter-protest Westboro. My firefighter friend Jeremy did, though, and said it was very moving and well-done. I made a donation to the Salvation Army’s West fund, which is probably more useful than picking a fight with ignorant hatemongers, anyway. My sister and her husband went down and volunteered in West on Sunday, bringing an amazing number of cookies to the displaced residents and helping with the food efforts in person. They were nice enough to bring me some kolaches from Czech Stop, which helps West and me both.