Recent Happenings

We’ve been busy at the Box house. Here are some of the recent highlights.

  • I was off work all last week, and I was determined to be productive rather than good off the whole time. It worked. I polished the car, decluttered our bedroom, gathered clothes for Goodwill, mowed the yard, replaced two normal switches with fancy fan controls, dropped one of the fans and destroyed a fan blade, and completed my annual cockpit time.
  • I also de-babyfied the house, getting rid of Jonathan’s old crib and mattress, the high chair, the booster seat, several toys, and all our baby gates. The bottom floor of the house looks strangely different without all the gates, much more open. I dig it.
  • Last Saturday was Jenny’s birthday. My main present to her was watching the boys so she could go be alone and play for a while. She spent Friday shopping in Canton (I’ll take babysitting over Canton any day!), spent the night at a hotel in Farmers Branch, read a ton, got her nails done, and took a nap. The boys and I ate donuts, played, and went to the gym. Then the four of us went out to PF Chang’s for dinner Saturday night.
  • Another thing I love about my wife? She doesn’t whine on every birthday about how she’s getting older. Instead, she’s just thankful for another year.
  • We spent Easter with Jenny’s family. First, we went to their church for an egg hunt and worship. Their church is very small, which was odd for me, but has good people. The pastor is an old friend of Jenny’s, about my age, and one of the funniest pastors I’ve ever heard. After church, we enjoyed a tasty lunch at her parents’ house and celebrated Jenny’s birthday.
  • That afternoon, Jenny’s dad and I picked up a patio table and chairs from Lowe’s for our backyard. I’ll cover them in a later post with pictures after we get the patio umbrella set up.
  • I passed my annual competency check at work, so I get to keep my job. The big change this year is that designated check dispatchers are giving the checks rather than managers. My examiner started a few years after me but is really sharp and did a fine job. I didn’t apply to become a check dispatcher. It would have felt awkward to be in a position of authority over my peers. I already do that to a lesser degree when I’m training someone, and it’s something I tolerate rather than enjoy.
  • After spending over a week on normal person schedule, it was really hard to switch back to midnight schedule earlier this week when I had to return to work. My body just didn’t want to stay asleep during the day. It’s getting better now, though.
  • I’ve started lifting weights three times a week. Now that I’m getting into that habit, I’m enjoying it more and getting stronger. Our gym also has a core class that I hit once or twice a week to work my abs, lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. Plus I’m hitting the weight machines and even tried a barbell class. Don’t expect me to transform into Arnold, though. Ain’t nobody got time for dat.
  • Next month, we’re planning to take the boys down to South Padre to play on the beach for a couple days. Jenny will be taking a class this summer, and we wanted to go play somewhere between semesters. We might try some dolphin and/or sea turtle activities while we’re there as well. Southwest now has a nonstop from Dallas to Harlingen that looks wide open, so we’re all over it.

Blog Soup March 10, 2013

Most of you are probably not happy about losing an hour of sleep last night, which is understandable. But it meant I spent seven hours at work and got paid for eight, so Spring Forward day is usually a good day for me. Perspective!

Here’s some soup to help you wake up:

  • Daylight Saving Time (apparently the S that we all add to saving is incorrect – who knew?) seems to be more popular than standard (winter) time. So why don’t we just stay in DST year-round? Or switch to Greenwich Mean Time (Zulu time) so the entire world can use the same clock?
  • I saw an orthopedist about my still-sore knee. The good news: he said everything looked fine structurally, so I don’t need surgery or anything dramatic. The bad news: there’s no quick fix, either. My knee is sore from overuse, and I need to continue my break from running until it quits hurting and then resume very slowly. It could take a month or two. Yep, I think my half marathon days are over. I might just wait until this fall before I start running again. In the meantime, I’m cycling and lifting weights.
  • I need to do some research on the best way to get stronger with weights, because I’m not sure whether I’m doing it right.
  • I tried a weight-loss experiment last month, initially to slim down for the half marathon. My goal was to drop five pounds – five fewer pounds to carry for 13.1 miles. I cut out most sodas, reduced my OJ intake, cut back on dessert, reduced my portion sizes a bit, and rode my bike a lot since I couldn’t run. It worked. However, the feeling of being on a “diet” sucked for a while. Once I realized I wouldn’t be running Cowtown, I relaxed a bit but not entirely, so now I’m just maintaining. That’s five fewer pounds I have to push on my bike. It’s much easier and cheaper than buying a new bike that would weigh five pounds less, which would probably run at least $3000-4000, maybe more.
  • North Texas Food Bank collects and distributes food to hungry people in North Texas via many different organizations. On their website, they say they can provide three meals for $1. If I take my family out for dinner, we usually spend at least $25. So for the cost of a single meal for my family of four, North Texas Food Bank could feed 75 people. Makes you think.
  • Starting next month, I will get to work some of our new flights to/from San Juan, Puerto Rico. These new flights will add a bit of complexity, but it’s exciting to expand my skillset and experience a bit. Sometime next year, we hope to start our own international flights once our new reservation system is in place. We’ll gradually absorb all AirTran’s international operations, which currently include Nassau, Bermuda, Montego Bay, Aruba, Punta Cana, Cancun, Mexico City, and Cabo Los Cabos. Start saving those Rapid Rewards points!
  • Mario Kart Wii is awesome. Brenden, Jenny, and I like to race each other. It’s cool to have a four-year-old racing buddy. Jonathan gets frustrated and quits after about twenty seconds, meaning the rest of us are guaranteed not to come in last.
  • My office has been in an odd predicament for years now. Hardly anyone wants to be in management, for two reasons. 1) Just working the desk is a great gig and doesn’t require the headaches of management. 2) For anyone who works much overtime (like me), management generally means taking a pay cut due to some weird compensation rules. So it’s been difficult to fill management positions. Rumor has it that the compensation problem is finally being fixed. I still don’t want the job, but I hope that this change will finally entice enough people, and the right people, to step into those roles.
  • Our shared fence on either side of the house badly needs to be replaced. One of the involved neighbors approached us a few months ago with a plan to replace it using some of his employees, but it still hasn’t happened yet. Part of me hopes one of the spring storms will finally destroy these poor fences so the project will finally regain its momentum. I suppose I could help…
  • Jenny and I have toyed with the idea of studying Spanish for work via a study-at-home course. It would help her as a nurse in Texas and me as a dispatcher working flights in the Caribbean and Latin America. The best program for our goals seems to be Fluenz, but it’s expensive, so we haven’t bought it yet. Why did I take Latin in high school again??

Game On

For Christmas the boys got their first Nintendo Wii games, Mario Party 9 and Just Dance Disney Party. They had played a couple of our old Wii games before (they particularly loved beating the heck out of each other on Wii Sports Resort), so the fam gave them a couple of their own. I added Toy Story Mania shortly thereafter.

Ladies and gentlemen, my sons are gamers, and I love it.

I got my first video game system, an Atari 5200, when I was maybe 6. Jungle Hunt was my game of choice. It was so long ago, the TV I used had a dial to change the channel instead of buttons or one of those new-fangled remotes. Although the systems changed and improved over the years, I’ve been a gamer ever since. Mario and Zelda on Nintendo. SimCity and Super Baseball Simulator 1.000 on SNES. Goldeneye on N64. Grand Theft Auto III and Dragon Quest VIII on PS2. Skyrim and Demon’s/Dark Souls on PS3. So imagine my joy at seeing my sons pick up one of my longest-running hobbies.

No, they aren’t quite ready to smoke you in Call of Duty, but Jonathan is slowly learning the basic concepts of the Wii. Well, OK, sometimes he thinks he’s playing but really isn’t, but give him some time. Brenden, though, is really getting the hang of several of the Mario Party mini-games as well as numerous iPhone games. Now that he’s learning how to read, he doesn’t need as much help with the instructions, either.

Oftentimes Brenden plays alone. Sometimes Jonathan tries to play with him, but I think he’ll be a better gaming buddy in 6-12 months. Sometimes Jenny or I play with Brenden. Once all four of us even played Mario Party at once! It was a bit like heaven combined with a train wreck, but we had a blast. We bought the boys kid-size Wiimotes that fit their hands better than the normal ones and come in bright colors. I’m so excited for them that I stayed up past 4:00am on my night off playing through Mario Party to unlock all the stages for them. I guess that’s the gamer equivalent of staying up all night sewing a dance costume, right?

Although we certainly won’t force them to play, I hope they will maintain their interest as they get older so it can be a way for us to spend time together guy-style: bonding through a shared activity. As they mature, their skills will increase. I will need to go all-out in some cases to beat them. Perhaps someday they will even surpass me, and the Circle of Life (r) will continue.

Their growing interest in gaming also provides another excuse reason to stay on top of things in the gaming world. Brenden and Jonathan surely need a Wii U, don’t they? Gaming is great for hand-eye coordination, problem solving, spatial reasoning, perseverance, and manual dexterity. I’d hate to deny my children any advantage in their development. 😀

Highlights from the US Open

Over the weekend I flew to New York with my mom and aunt to see some of the world’s greats play in the U.S. Open. As expected, we had a blast. Here are some of the highlights:

Players Seen in Action: Roger Federer twice, Djokovic, Roddick (the day after he announced his retirement after this tournament), both Williams sisters, Sharapova, Murray, Azarenka, Vinci, Cilic, Nishikori, Stephens, Ivanovic, Tomic, Isner, Huber, Raymond, Blake, Kerber, Verdasco, and more.

Favorite Match: Sloane Stephens vs. Ana Ivanovic on Arthur Ashe Saturday night. Not only did this match feature two of my favorite players on the women’s side, but it also provided one of the most dramatic and entertaining matches we saw all week. Although I sided with nearly everyone there in pulling for the young American, Ivanovic was simply too tough and experienced that evening. We couldn’t be mad at Ana, though. She’s too nice and very gracious in victory, with sincerely kind words for Stephens. She also spent a surprising amount of time signing autographs after her win and finally had to be ushered off the court by a tournament handler.

Second Favorite Match: Andy Roddick vs. Bernard Tomic Friday night on Ashe. As you tennis fans know, the last few years have been hard on Andy. He hasn’t been able to play on the same level that carried him to a U.S. Open title and the #1 ranking, and his decline has frustrated him greatly. After he announced his plan to retire after this tournament, Friday’s match took on a whole new level of significance. We could have seen his final professional match. Fortunately for everyone except Bernard Tomic, Roddick played outstanding tennis that night and blew Tomic off the court with a fantastic serve, strong and gutsy groundstrokes, and great touch at the net. Normally, blowouts aren’t as exciting to watch as competitive matches, but in this case, we loved getting to see Roddick return to his old form and the clear joy that the match was giving him.

Non-Player Celebrity Sightings:

  • Ralph Macchio, sitting in a suite Saturday night in Ashe
  • Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman, sitting in the first row court side. Urban seemed happy to be spotted by the cameraman and played along, even planting a big kiss on Kidman. She seemed embarassed by all the attention. I wonder if celebrities prefer the high-end seats largely because the people in those areas know not to bother them. Macchio didn’t seem thrilled about being spotted by the camera, either.
  • John McEnroe, Mary Carillo, Justin Gimelstob, Martina Navratilova, Jim Courier, and Brad Gilbert, all in the broadcast booth except for McEnroe, who was heading there in a hurry and trying not to be noticed.

Pleasant Surprises:

  • Execucar, a prearranged car service that drove us from LaGuardia to the hotel and back. It was a bit more expensive than a regular cab or Super Shuttle, but it was much nicer and more convenient. Our driver met us at baggage claim (a bit late, but at least we weren’t waiting outside in the heat at the taxi stand) and led us to a sweet black Escalade. I felt like Ludacris only whiter and less talented. On the way back, our driver showed up early and drove us in a nice black Suburban. All payment including tip was done in advance, so we didn’t need to worry about fumbling with cash while lugging bags around. I’m definitely spoiled now.
  • Wingate Midtown Manhattan, a tall and skinny hotel just a few blocks from Times Square and Penn Station. Although expensive like all hotels in the area, it offered a fantastic location, a nice room, free hot breakfast, and good staff.
  • Long Island Rail Road, an alternative to the subway that provides the best way to get from Manhattan to the tennis center. It’s a bit more expensive than the subway, which meant most of the riders were tennis fans, and it felt very safe and ran on time.
  • Court 17, a new showcase court that the USTA added this year. With a capacity of 2800, it’s big enough for fairly popular matches but still keeps the fans close to the action. It features the Hawkeye call-review system, beautiful design, and a nice video board.

Flying American: Overall, flying American Airlines was a good experience despite its current financial troubles. Nearly everyone was pleasant and helpful, the planes were comfortable and clean, and our outbound flight left on time. The onboard wifi worked pretty well and offered a nice flight tracker, but I only used the free features since I didn’t want to play $15.95 for full access.

Our only problem came on the way home. Just after starting our takeoff roll, the crew noticed a problem with one of the engines and aborted the takeoff, which damaged the nosewheel tires. Maintenance decided to change the tires and then test the engines, which meant a 60-90 minute delay or so on the tarmac followed by deplaning for the engine test. In all, we left about 3:00-3:30 late. However, the crew took very good care of us during the tarmac delay (food and water around 60 minutes after we initially pushed) and gave us frequent, detailed updates so we would know what was happening.

Travel Buddies: As expected, my mom and aunt made great travel buddies. We got along well, respected each other’s goals for the trip, made plans but remained flexible, split up when necessary, shared some good talks and good laughs, and managed not to get into too much trouble.

Except for the flight delay coming home, it was a very smooth and enjoyable trip that we’ll all remember for years to come.

Want to see pictures? Sure, you do! Here you go.

First Family Vacation to Galveston

On Sunday, we hopped on the company plane, flew to Houston, and drove to Galveston for our first ever family vacation. It was an exhausting trip, but we survived, and the boys had a great time!

Photos from Our Trip

First Flights for Jonathan

We intentionally picked a short, wide-open flight for Jonathan’s first. That way if it didn’t go well, we wouldn’t bother as many people, and it would be over quicker. DAL-HOU is nearly as short as we could get, about 40-45 minutes in the air. After much debate over whether to bring their carseats onboard or to check them, we chose to check them. The boys had their own seats and sat very nicely after getting buckled in. I sat with Brenden on the way down and Jonathan on the way back, letting them watch part of a movie on my new iPad with kid-sized headphones. Jenny had their bag with a portable DVD player, paper, stickers, and other goodies to keep them entertained. Jonathan was a bit nervous at first, especially during takeoff, but didn’t seem bothered by the pressure in his ears. Later he said his favorite part was flying through the clouds. Brenden handled it like a veteran flyer.

Rental Car / Test Drive

We’d rented a standard mid-size car at Hobby. I was pleasantly surprised when they offered a Mazda5 SUV-minivan-crossover thing at no extra charge. We’ve been thinking about replacing our Grand Caravan with a Mazda5 in a couple of years, so this gave us the chance to test-drive it. As expected, it’s a cross between my Honda Fit and a minivan – sliding side doors, slightly longer and more spacious with an extra row of seats or storage in back, good gas mileage, and very comfortable. My only real complaint was the stereo, which needed more bass. I need to be able to crank Baby Got Back with feeling, and the Mazda5 just wasn’t up for it. That’s probably fixable, though. Brenden liked the vehicle so much that he wanted to take it home.

Ferry and Beach

We rode the free ferry across the bay. It was the boys’ first trip on a ferry, and a friend had told Jenny it was a great way to see dolphins. And the friend was right. The bay is teeming with dolphins. We probably saw a few dozen. Each sighting was brief, so watching for them required a level of patience that the boys didn’t quite have yet. But they did see a few and got really excited.

Then we played on the beach for a while, their first trip to the beach. Lots of firsts on this trip! We went to Stewart Beach, a family-friendly public beach across Seawall Blvd. from our hotel. The beach was free, but parking was $8. I’ll be honest. I’ve been to some amazing beaches (Ambergris Caye in Belize, Orient Beach in St. Martin, Panama City Beach in Florida, several in Hawaii, etc.), but this wasn’t one of them. Some of the other beaches in Galveston are probably nicer, like the ones I remember from childhood trips to the island. However, this year at Stewart Beach, the water was muddy, the sand was dirty, and the beach workers’ only concern seemed to be managing the rental chairs and umbrellas. But it was cheap, close to the hotel, and had sand, sea, and freshwater showers. More importantly, the boys had a blast digging in the sand, playing in the water, chasing seagulls, and just running around carefree. Brenden played Godzilla with any sandcastle that we built and immediately demolished it. None survived long enough to get a picture.

Rainforest Cafe

Grapevine Mills Mall features a Rainforest Cafe that I’ve seen numerous times but never patronized. Since we were on vacation with the boys, we gave it a try and were pleasantly surprised. Yes, it’s a bit expensive, but the food was MUCH better than I’d heard. My macadamia-encrusted tilapia tasted fantastic, as did Jenny’s bacon-wrapped shrimp. The theming is Disney-level, with animatronic elephants, gorillas, and anacondas plus simulated thunderstorms and authentic-looking rainforest trees. Our server was obviously comfortable with children and provided excellent service. After a bit of debate, we chose to try the Volcano, a ridiculously huge and amazing dessert that probably contains as many calories as I burned in Hotter’N Hell on Saturday. We ate all of it but one piece of chocolate cake.

On the drive to Rainforest, I was shocked to discover that a longtime Galveston landmark had been torn down. The Flagship Hotel, formerly one of the only hotels in the world to be built on a pier, had been demolished and replaced with a small, questionably named amusement park called Pleasure Pier. Apparently, the hotel took major damage from Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Hotel

We stayed at the Best Western Plus on the east end of the island. It’s nothing fancy, just clean and cheap with decent free breakfast and a beach across the street. They let us check in early, which was very helpful. The toughest thing about the hotel was sleeping with the boys. This time we wore them out during the day, put them in separate beds while we got ready and checking our mail/Facebook/Twitter/etc., and waited for them to fall asleep. Once they did, Jenny moved Brenden into bed with Jonathan. It worked great until about 4:30am. One of them woke up and woke the other one up, and after that they were done. Jenny and Brenden swapped places. Finally, after some talking and tossing and turning, everyone went back to sleep.

Overall, it was a great trip. We learned some valuable lessons that we hope to apply for the Disney trip in January. Unfortunately, Jenny and I started off exhausted after Hotter’N Hell on Saturday morning and insufficient sleep the night before, so we weren’t in the best of moods until we got home Monday and napped for a while. The boys were tired as well after playing all day Sunday without a nap and then lack of sleep Sunday night. But instead of being grumpy like I was, they simply chose not to obey and seemed to have a flawless ability to push our buttons at the worst possible time. So the trip stressed Jenny and me out significantly, but the boys had a wonderful time, which is the most important thing. They already want to go back.

I Volunteer as Tribute

I finally saw The Hunger Games, the spring 2012 blockbuster about a government-mandated contest that pits 24 randomly selected teenagers against each other in a fight to the death on live TV. Think Survivor with no tribes, more clothing, and knife fights instead of Tribal Councils. Those who know both say the book was better. I’ll probably agree once I read it, but I did greatly enjoy the movie and was actually a bit disappointed when it ended.

One thing that intrigued me about The Hunger Games was the notion of sacrifice. The movie opens with a timid, frail little girl getting chosen as a Tribute to compete in the Games against her will. Only one of the 24 Tributes will survive. Knowing her little sister wouldn’t last five minutes, Katniss (played by the excellent Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to take her place. Katniss is a skilled archer and has honed her survival skills in brutal, poverty-stricken District 12, becoming her family’s chief provider and emotional core after the death of her father turned her mother into an empty shell. The odds are against her, yet she goes anyway with no hesitation.

I’ve thought over the years about the notion of dying to protect someone. Millions of people risk their lives to protect others in various ways – police officers, firefighters, Secret Service members, and soldiers, to name a few – but risking my life isn’t part of the job description for a flight dispatcher. So probably the only way I’ll ever need to do that is a freak occurrence such as a mass shooting, a car accident, or a burning house. In the unlikely event that I ever find myself in that position, I’ll need to quickly make a profound decision:

Am I willing to die for this person?

As a younger man, say in my teens or early twenties, if I were honest with you and myself, I think I would hesitate for pretty much anybody. Perhaps I would convince myself to take the bullet or jump on the ticking bomb to save a close family member, but perhaps I would chicken out, especially if we weren’t close. I might rationalize it by saying the person would’ve wanted me to save myself instead because I was still young and had my whole life ahead of me, or by saying they wouldn’t die for me, or by saying it was clearly God’s will for them to die and for me to live. But there’s a really good chance I would save myself. I’m not proud of that, but at least I’m honest.

Things are different now.

I’ve been married for nearly ten years to my best friend and partner for life. We have two wonderful little boys. One of my primary missions in life is to ensure that those three people stay safe and have everything they need. An interesting protective instinct has grown within me, an instinct that I believe can override my own instinct for self-preservation if I ever find them in danger. If some guy pulls out a gun in our church or a movie theater, I’ve already programmed myself with Job 1: protect Jenny and the boys at any cost. Don’t think. Don’t rationalize. Don’t hesitate. Just get between them and whatever is threatening them.

I’m no hero. I don’t have spectacular survival skills or great marksmanship or unusual bravery. What I do have is a mission: ensuring the survival of those three people. It’s actually quite liberating to make other people your primary mission, to love them enough that you know you would die for them without hesitation. It took a while to get here, but I think this is one of the most important parts of growing up.