Blog Soup 1/26/2013

Welcome to the first Blog Soup of the new year!

  • I’m on shift 12 of 14 in a row at work. Don’t feel too bad for me, though. I did it to myself. We normally work six shifts in a row followed by a three-day or six-day break. I picked up a trade and a couple of overtime days last weekend, which is why I’m on such a long stretch. It also includes five shifts training a new guy. I am looking forward to some time off next week.
  • Next Thursday I’ll hit my nine-year anniversary in Dispatch. Before I know it, I’ll be having a retirement party and taking my grandchildren to Disney World.
  • I’ve been working on our spring season race calendar. Right now I only have two big events planned, but I might add some smaller events in between. First up is a return to the Cowtown half marathon on Feb 24. As you might recall, Cowtown was my first half marathon last February. I barely missed my goal of finishing under two hours. After a more leisurely and fun half at Disney World earlier this month, I am training hard to break 2:00 next month. I know my body is capable of it. The only question is whether everything will come together to make it happen that day.
  • Our other event is a 100K bike rally near our first house, the Cross Timbers Classic Bike Rally. It starts with a lap on the track at Texas Motor Speedway in north Fort Worth and does a loop through the surrounding area. Jenny and I both signed up for the 100K ride (62 miles). So far our longest ride was 50 miles at Hotter’N Hell back in August, so this one will be a new challenge.
  • I used some Amazon gift cards to get a cool new toy, an iHome rechargeable speaker dock for my iPhone. Why is that cool, you ask? It lets me carry the speaker to any room in the house and listen to my music or Pandora. I’ll mainly use it for listening during a soak in the bathtub (no outlets in the bathtub room) or in the kitchen while hanging out with the kids. It’s maybe a foot wide and has a built-in dock for my iPhone or iPad. For such a small unit, the sound is surprisingly good.
  • Aussie tennis star Samantha Stosur has better arms than I do.
  • I was thrilled by the deep run that young American Sloane Stephens enjoyed at this year’s Australian Open, especially her huge win over Serena Williams. Stephens is developing into a phenomenal player and also seems like a very warm and good-natured person. If she can stay healthy and handle all the pressure, she seems poised to take over as queen of American women’s tennis.
  • I don’t really understand the drama over gun control. The pro-gun people are all worked up because they think the government is trying to take all their guns, which is untrue. The anti-gun people think that tighter gun control laws will keep us safe, which is also untrue. Based on what little I’ve read, the measures being proposed would not have stopped most of the mass shootings from the last 10-20 years. Even if these new measures pass, I doubt they will have much impact. The only way to completely eliminate gun violence in America is to wave a magic wand and make all guns worldwide disappear. Even I don’t think that’s a good idea, even if it were possible.
  • An acquaintance of mine decided to take out $50,000 in student loans to get a master’s in film from a private school in California. Now she can’t find a job but owes nearly $700/month in student loan payments. She set up a crowdfunding site to raise money to pay her loan. Part of me wants to help, but the other part thinks she was unwise to borrow that kind of money to pursue a degree with such questionable marketability. Just thinking that makes me feel old.
  • Screw my man card. I wish I had Lady Gaga tickets for Tuesday.
  • Jonathan had his three-year-old checkup this week. He was very healthy as expected. He measured 90th percentile for both weight (37 lbs) and height (39.5 inches). His language and motor skills are normal. We’re working hard on potty training this weekend. It still amazes me to watch these two grow up.

Happy 3rd Birthday, Jonathan!

Happy birthday to Jonathan Andrew, who turns 3 today!

A while back, he kept bringing me a red Transformer that turns into a sports car. He could turn it from car to robot just fine but couldn’t figure out how to fold it up and turn it back into a car. So he kept bringing it back to me for help Every. Two. Minutes. Last night, he showed me that he could now do it “all by my ownself.”

It’s amazing to watch these little guys grow up.

Highlights from Disney World 2013

We survived! Our family trip to Disney World, our first extended family vacation, was both fun and difficult. I’ll cover some of the challenges at the end, but first, here are some of the highlights.

The Boys’ Excitement

We visited Disney World in 2007 for our 5th anniversary and tried the vast majority of the rides and shows, so our focus for this trip was sharing the parks with our sons. As we’d hoped, they had a blast! The crowds were light, so they were able to meet many, many characters and do pretty much every ride and show that interested them. Everything at the parks and our resort was new to them, so our stay was a week-long journey of discovery. Seeing them shoot a bow and arrow for the first time, marvel at the Lion King show and the Pixar parade, meet Buzz and Ariel, kiss Merida, play in the Dinoland and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids playgrounds, and ARRRRRR with pirates reminded me what the parks were all about.

Brenden’s favorites included Test Track at Epcot, the play areas, the pirate cruise, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Tom Sawyer’s Island at Magic Kingdom, the resort’s Finding Nemo themed swimming pool, and riding on the bus, preferably in the middle seat in the back row. Jonathan’s favorites included Soarin’ and The Seas with Nemo and Friends at Epcot, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin and the People Mover at Magic Kingdom, TriceraTop Spin at Animal Kingdom, both play areas, and hitting on any nearby princesses.

Cars Family Suite at Art of Animation

Last year Disney opened a new value resort called Art of Animation just across Hourglass Lake from Pop Century. We reserved a Cars family suite, which included a separate master bedroom, breakfast area with a table that converted to a bed, living area with a sleeper sofa, two bathrooms, two TVs, microwave, and mini-fridge, plus Cars theming everywhere. As expected, the room was amazing. It provided plenty of space and gave us the chance to have time for ourselves to relax and plan the next day without keeping the boys awake. The boys loved their “secret beds” as well as the Cars decorations both in the room and throughout our section of the resort. Check this photo album for pics of the resort. The resort overall was beautiful and well-designed. I especially loved the airline checkin service, which allowed us to check in for our flight and turn over our four bags and two strollers right there at the resort instead of lugging them around. After a tiring week and a half marathon for me that morning, dropping off the bags lifted a huge weight from our shoulders.

New Fantasyland

Disney has spent quite a bit of time and money remodeling Fantasyland. It won’t be complete until the new roller coaster opens in 2014, but the Beauty and the Beast and Little Mermaid sections are open and look great. Jenny got to meet Gaston (“If I sweat on you, there’s a fee”) outside his new tavern, and we all got to meet Ariel in her new grotto, neither of which we met last time. Both characters were perfectly cast. The new Voyage of the Little Mermaid ride, our primary destination on Day 1 at Magic Kingdom, does an amazing job with animatronics on the characters inside. Rides like this have come a long way from the days of the Spelunker’s Cave at Six Flags Over Texas that I enjoyed as a kid. Beast’s castle sits atop the new Be Our Guest restaurant, which offers a tasty-sounding medieval-style menu but was always too crowded for us to try. Maybe next time.

Disney Transportation

We rented a car last time and were planning to this time, but our friends talked us into trying the Disney bus system instead. We’re very glad they did because it saved us over $200 and relieved us from having to lug two carseats through the airport. Disney’s Magical Express service took us and our bags to and from the airport, and the busses carried us between our resort and the parks with very little hassle. The only times we had any significant wait came at the end of the day when many guests were leaving at the same time, but even then it wasn’t too bad and saved us from having to walk deep into a parking lot to search for our car. Even better, it’s all free.

Garden Grocer

We wanted to eat breakfast in our room for a variety of reasons – healthier food, less trouble, lower cost. A nearby grocery store called Garden Grocer lets you order food and drinks online and delivers them to your resort, where resort staff can take them straight to your room. So upon checkin, we found bags of groceries in our room filled with fresh fruit, bagels, hard apple cider, milk, cheese, and more. No, it wasn’t cheap, but it definitely saved us some money versus $25-30 for breakfast in the resort food court, and it was much easier than trying to eat there with two preschoolers.

Monsieur Paul

To celebrate our anniversary, we enjoyed an unbelievable dinner at Monsieur Paul in the France region of Epcot. Despite my forgetting four semesters’ worth of French and being embarrassingly unable to speak to our server in his native language, we enjoyed one of the best meals we’ve ever tasted from a table overlooking the World Showcase lake. French red wine, beef tenderloin, white truffle mashed potatoes, orange souffle, escargot, and more provided a welcome change from the pizza and french fries we’d been eating in the parks with the boys. They also noticed our “Happy Anniversary” buttons and wrote the greeting in chocolate on our dessert plates.

Disney World Half Marathon

I covered this race in my previous post.

Other Fun Experiences

We met up with my cousin Bryan, his wife April, and their daughter Breanna for dinner at Epcot’s Tutto Italia the night we arrived. They had been at Disney World all week and were leaving the next day, so I’m glad we got to share a meal with them and get some Disney pointers. Unfortunately, the boys weren’t quite in the mood for an upscale Italian dinner after spending all day in cars, airplanes, airports, and busses. But it was still fun to hang out a bit.

We got to meet LOTS of characters, including the Big 5 (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto) both in the parks and at Chef Mickey’s for breakfast. Other scores included Buzz and Woody, Merida, Cinderella, Aurora, Rapunzel, Phineas and Ferb, Ariel, Gaston, Mike Wazowski, and Lightning McQueen and Mater (sort of). And that’s not including the ones I met during the race. We bought the PhotoPass Plus service to get digital rights to all the official Disney photos that their pro photographers took. It wasn’t cheap, but we obtained dozens of great shots that way, including many we wouldn’t have gotten as well or at all without it. Here are links to all of our photo albums:

On our last night we took the Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage from Contemporary to the Seven Seas Lagoon to watch the Wishes fireworks show. The boys were acting crazy, so it was a bit stressful for us, but the idea was great and we did enjoy it. We gathered in a conference room for a party beforehand with music, cake, snacks, and drinks plus the chance to take pictures with Captain Hook and Mr. Smee. Then we boarded our vessel and sailed out for the show. Our pirate captain learned it was our anniversary, so he had the other passengers sing “Kiss the Girl” for us while we danced in the aisle during the voyage.

Challenges

As you parents can imagine, spending a week at Disney World with a four-year-old boy and a two-year-old boy can be a bit stressful, especially with boys as active as ours. Despite the relatively low crowds and short wait times, it was still difficult to get them to act nicely in line and to stay quiet and remain in their respective beds in the hotel. We had a few instances where one of them said they wanted to ride or do something only to change his mind once we walked over to get in line. They are the kinds of challenges you’d expect with boys this age in a high-stimulation, high-structure, low-sleep environment like this. Honestly, looking back, I’m a bit surprised they did as well as they did, especially on the days when we rolled the dice and stayed at the park all day instead of returning to the room for a post-lunch nap. We probably would’ve had an easier time if we’d waited a year or two before attempting such an ambitious trip. However, we did enjoy the trip, and the boys had an absolute blast and are still talking about it. We’ll be back, just not tomorrow like Jonathan requested.

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Awe

On occasion, far too often I’m afraid, I get the chance to step back from the daily struggles of parenthood and look more closely at my children.

They are impossibly, achingly beautiful.

I don’t say that just because they are handsome young men because it’s much, much more than that. They are a mysterious, inexplicable swirl of Jenny and me and her family and my family and God and genetics and chance. No matter how much we try to shape them into some vague notion of responsible, loving, mature young men over their couple of decades in our care, they are separate and independent and amazing little people with their own personalities, wills, and choices to make. It’s amazing that I get to play a small role in their lives.

It’s so easy to get beaten down and distracted by daily life with children – the constant messes, the moments that make me shake my head in bewilderment, the frustration that occurs when I measure childhood logic by grown-up standards, the soul-sucking drudgery of making their compliance with my directions my ultimate goal rather than something more meaningful, the fear that this will be the time when they really do hurt each other and do permanent damage, the numbness that develops after tuning out countless fits and learning how to judge the seriousness of a cry from the other room.

If those are the only parts of parenthood that we think about and remember, it’s hard to be happy as a parent.

But today we went to the boys’ open house at school. Brenden showed us around his room like he was proud of it. He played with a friend on the big-kid playground and yelled gleefully for the friend to chase him, a natural leader like I never was. I saw a drawing he’d made of our house, and it actually looked sorta like our house. Jonathan played dress-up in his classroom for at least the dozenth time. He loves being either a fireman or Superman. He loves his teachers. They love him. He plays with cars in the corner, not because we taught him that boys are supposed to like cars, but simply because he does. They are real people. They didn’t even exist a few years ago, yet now they do, growing and changing every day.

We came home and put them to bed. I remember late last night going up to check on Jonathan when he was coughing, just like I’d done other nights when he’d woken up with a nightmare. He wasn’t scared of the large, dark man he could barely see because he knew it was me, that I loved him, and I was here to help. It’s awe-inspiring to hear my two-year-old say, “Thank you, Daddy,” after I give him a drink or tuck him back into bed.

Tonight I put Brenden to bed, and he figured out how to break my concentration and relentless focus on the task at hand. I’d finally brought his piggy bank, a gift from our friends Chris and Demona upon his birth, into his room so he could collect his own coins. He found the concept of a piggy bank amusing. As I’m asking him which song he wants me to sing, he starts saying, “Piggy.” I don’t know why he thought it was funny, or how he knew it would break me, but I laughed. He knew he had me then, so he kept doing it and laughing hysterically at my helplessness. I temporarily lost my “control” of the situation, and I just let it go. I sat by his bed laughing with my son. It felt like we were actually friends instead of parent and child. And I liked it. We agreed upon “Old McDonald Had A Farm.” And yes, Old McDonald had a piggy tonight.

After they were asleep, I looked through the pictures Jenny had taken of the open house. I was blown away by what I saw. Their lives, their personalities, leapt through the pictures into my soul, as if I were seeing them for the first time. Those beautiful boys belong to us, to God, to the world. I don’t deserve them, but I’m glad they are a part of my life anyway.

I want to see them this way much more often.

Kid Tricks

The Box boys keep learning new tricks, and it’s time to brag a bit. Here are a few things each of them has picked up lately:

Brenden

  1. Writing His Name – Brenden’s pre-K class seems to be a big step up in terms of structure and curriculum, which seems appropriate considering they’ll be in kindergarten next year. One big change is writing letters. Yep, Brenden is starting to write and can already write his name. Depending on the available space, he might or might not put all the letters in the correct order or on the same line, or even include every letter each time, but I was impressed all the same.
  2. Phonics and Pre-reading – They are already working on phonics. B has a reading folder and phonic homework. We’re supposed to practice the short vowel sounds with him this week. Next week they start working on “blends”, consonants paired with vowels. He also seems to be pre-reading a bit. If you ask him to read you a book, he refuses. However, sometimes he seems to be reading without realizing it, such as recognizing someone’s written name or another word.
  3. Getting Dressed – In the morning, Brenden can take off his PJs and overnight pull-up, use the bathroom, and get dressed completely on his own.
  4. Typing – Yes, Brenden can type, sort of. He helped Jenny type a letter to Mickey Mouse. Basic typing should be easier than writing, if you think about it. Once he reaches junior high or even late elementary school, I wonder whether he’ll type more than he writes by hand in school.
  5. Tennis – He’s not bombing 130 mph aces down the T, but he has made significant progress in simply getting the ball over the net. We “played” last week with modified rules – if he hit it over, he generally won the point unless I felt like hitting a winner up the line, which I did a couple of times. (is that bad?) Once he understood that he got a point for clearing the net, tennis became much more fun rather than frustrating. His coordination has improved compared to the last time we played as well.

Jonathan

  1. Talking – Preschoolers’ acquisition of language fascinates me. Jonathan can still be difficult to understand if you’re not around him every day like we are, but he is really progressing in his speech. His language skills really picked up in January when he started preschool, and he generally speaks in complete sentences such as, “More milk, please”, “I sit wif you”, “He making a bad choice”, or “That’s not very nice!” His conversations with Brenden can be hilarious.
  2. Pottytraining – Hmm…how to discuss your son’s pottytraining on your blog without embarrassing him 10 years from now when he goes back and reads all the stuff you wrote about him? He’s in pull-ups all the time now. Um, number 1 is working great if we remind him. Number 2 is proving difficult, but he’s only 2 1/2, so I’m sure it will be OK. Right now, when it’s potty time, he wants us to drag him across the living room by his feet to the bathroom. Yeah, I don’t get it, either.
  3. Pedaling – After struggling with the idea for a while, Jonathan has figured out how to pedal his Mickey Mouse tricycle. I look forward to the day, still a couple years away, when all four of us can go ride in the park together.
  4. Letters and Numbers – Jonathan has known the alphabet for some time now, both in the song and on the page. He can also count to fifteen, maybe higher. We practice letters and counting every day. At bedtime, instead of a normal lullaby, he wants us to sing him the alphabet song.

All these new abilities remind me of a wonderful but sobering truth that nearly every parent faces at some point: someday our children will be on their own and won’t need us anymore. They will know enough tricks to go forth into the world and make their own way. Our job, even though the boys don’t always understand it or like it, is to prepare them for that day. Every new ability they gain brings them a bit closer. While a part of me is saddened by that thought, the rest is amazed by my children and what they can already think and say and do.

This and That – Sept 16

Long Run Day
 
Huh, that sounds like a dish at my favorite Pho restaurant. Mmmm…pho…. I Love Pho. No, that’s not me being emphatic, it’s the name of the restaurant in north Irving. You can get a LARGE bowl of pho (Vietnamese soup) for about $8.
 
Anyway, I have decided that Saturday is my favorite day of the week. Why? Along with college football day in the fall, Saturday is Long Run Day, the one day of the week when I run a really long way. Yesterday I ran 11 miles. Next Saturday I hope to do 12, followed by 13 the following week. My 15.5-mile Tyler race is less than four weeks away, and I can hardly wait. My legs feel good, even the hip flexor that was irritating me for a while during the spring and summer. My energy level stays high during the runs. The temperature is dropping. I love the long run because it’s a challenge without being impossible. At the end I feel like I’ve accomplished something because I have. I return sweaty and tired and a bit sore, but I’m generally happy. There’s nothing like achieving something you once thought you could never do.
 
Filling the Space
 
A wise person once noted that when people move into a larger living space, they eventually acquire more stuff to take advantage of the extra space they gain. For instance, when we moved from a two-bedroom apartment into a four-bedroom house, we almost immediately got pregnant with Jonathan and filled the fourth bedroom with baby furniture. Sure, that was our plan rather than a surprise. However, even without Jonathan, we would’ve done something with that extra bedroom that probably would’ve involved getting more stuff. We had the space, so why not use it for something?
 
I’ve noticed, and another writer pointed out, that we do the same thing when our income increases. We survived on our previous level of income and could do any number of nice things with the extra money: save it, invest it, give it away. But let’s be honest – those nice, responsible things aren’t nearly as fun as upgrading our lifestyles. Why deny yourself something you want when you finally get the money to pay for it?
 
So…yeah…turns out an expanded budget isn’t the same thing as an unlimited budget. So after a couple of fun months, it’s time to be fiscally responsible again. Eyes on the prize, Box! Item #1 is saving up for…
 
Nursing School Update
 
For the last two years, Jenny has been knocking out nursing school pre-reqs at Tarrant County College and planning to start nursing school there next fall. The nursing program there awards an associate’s degree in nursing and prepares students to pass the licensing exam to become a Registered Nurse (RN). After studying the nursing job market and talking to some professionals in the industry, Jenny is working on a transfer to the University of Texas at Arlington, which awards a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). We think the BSN will help her find a nursing job once she graduates, and it also lays the groundwork for a possible master’s later on. Yes, UTA is more expensive, but it’s not nearly as steep as the private nursing schools in the area (gulp). And it will require more classes. For her, the BSN requires about four extra classes that she needs to take prior to entering the nursing program. At this point, she’s not sure when those classes will be offered. She should start the nursing program either next fall or in spring 2014. Either way, nursing school will take four semesters in all, and we think the BSN will be worth the extra time and money. Go Jenny Go!
 
Science vs. Religion
 
As you’ve surely noticed, sometimes scientific knowledge conflicts with one’s religious beliefs – not necessarily the core of one’s faith, but the interpretation of certain passages or concepts. Moreso than in most Western countries, it seems much more acceptable in America to choose religion over science when the two seem to conflict. I was like that in high school. But then as I grew older, I started wondering why I expected the Bible, written thousands of years ago, to serve as a science textbook rather than a religious text. When writing the Bible, the authors came from their own culture and their own level of scientific knowledge, and they were writing for an audience from the same culture and the same level of scientific knowledge. It doesn’t seem fair to expect the Bible to be absolutely accurate from a scientific perspective by 21st century standards. Many aspects of our society (think iPhones, TVs, atomic bombs, heart transplants, space travel) are so radically advanced compared to Bible-era technology that the Bible’s writers would probably consider them absolutely miraculous…and probably quite difficult to describe in ancient Hebrew. So when I see a conflict between science and my faith, I generally assume that my interpretation of the Bible was flawed in some way, probably because I’m expecting the Bible to be something it was never intended to be. God gives us all a brain, and I’m pretty sure He expects us to use it.
 
Random Thoughts
 

  • Have I mentioned lately how glad I am that I’m not famous? Among other perks, no one wants to publish topless pictures of me.
  • We have almost all the details worked out for our trip to Disney in January, and we’re all very excited. I think Jenny and I are more excited than they are because they don’t really know what to expect. I can’t wait to see their reactions to all the amazing things they will see.
  • Last Sunday, Baylor alumni Robert Griffin III had arguably the best debut by a quarterback in the history of the NFL. He already has a starting job, tons of fans, marketing deals with Adidas, Subway, and Nissan, the respect of his teammates and coaches, and a bright future ahead of him. History holds numerous cautionary tales about the dark side of fame and fortune, but everything I know about RG3 tells me he will handle the craziness and pressure just fine. Sorry, Jerry, I’m a Redskins fan now.
  • Whenever I’m around Jonathan, if I start singing or dancing, he tells me to stop. Sometimes he covers his ears. Apparently, I’m embarrassing him even if no one else is around. Or maybe I’m just that bad.
  • I took the boys to play tennis this week after Jenny got Jonathan his first racket, a tiny blue Spongebob one. Jonathan got bored quickly, but this time Brenden actually tried to hit with me for a while. Tennis is a hard game to learn and nearly impossible to master. Brenden always gave up quickly in prior outings, but this time I changed the rules. Basically, if he got it over the net, he got a point, and I cheered for his every point. He likes that kind of tennis. Here are some pictures.
  • Jenny and I did two yoga classes last week. I like to think it will help me stay loose for running and cycling, plus it helps me relax. I sorta did a move called Side Crow for the first time. Google it if you want a picture. It was definitely NOT relaxing, rather quite difficult and a bit scary, but I did manage to hold it for a second or two without falling on my face.