Turning 35. What Have I Learned?

I will turn 35 tomorrow. That makes me older than most professional athletes and many of my children’s teachers. But it also means I’m finally old enough to run for president. Sure, I’d never actually do it because I want to stay married to Jenny, but it’s nice to have the option, you know?

We aren’t planning anything crazy (not my style), just a nice dinner with my immediate family and an extended family party on Sunday for a few October birthdays. But I thought it might be a good time to reflect on some of the lessons I’ve learned, sometimes the hard way.

You Define Your Own Success

I think each person has to define success for him- or herself. You can’t let someone else define it for you. As Bill Cosby said, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”

For me, success is a matter of achieving the goals you set for yourself. My main goals are to love my family and take good care of them, enjoy the precious time I have on this earth, and leave it better off than it would’ve been without me. No doubt I could do better on all counts, but overall I think I’m doing okay.

Some Battles Are Worth Fighting…

…but most are not. Standing up for those who need help is a good thing. Teaching my sons to be responsible young men, though often difficult, is good thing. Getting riled up with people who cut me off, diss my favorite sports team, or are firmly entrenched on the other side of the political spectrum is a waste of time and energy. The Serenity Prayer is one of the wisest things I’ve ever heard: “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Money Isn’t Everything

I’ve worked for roughly minimum wage and far above it, and I am still convinced that money doesn’t buy happiness. Yes, it can help solve certain problems and make life easier in some ways. However, no matter how much money or stuff you get, you will always want more.

That being said, I am very grateful for what we have. Just as importantly, I am grateful that I worked hard to get it rather than inheriting a huge trust fund. It’s satisfying to have a job and provide for my family and share the fruit of my labor with others.

Attitude is Contagious

In interacting with probably thousands of people over my lifetime, one thing stands out: the people I’m around have a large influence over me, more than I want to admit. Attitude is contagious. The world is full of cynics who love to complain and criticize, and some of them don’t even realize it. The more time I spend around those people, the more I become cynical like them, which depresses me. On the other hand, the world is also full of people who look for the good in things. Whether you look for the good side or the bad side of life, you can always find it. Always.

Life is too short to waste time getting dragged down by negative people. I’m trying, with varying degrees of success, to be more positive and spend more time with positive people. That’s why I no longer waste much time posting political stuff or angry rants on here or on Facebook. I would rather stay positive and post things that will make you laugh, think, or appreciate the good things in life.

Balance is Key

I’ve been a religious wacko. I’ve been an academic workaholic egghead. I’ve been overly preoccupied with grades, girls, money, politics, exercise, the future, other people’s opinions of me, righteous indignation, unions, and my job. None of these things made a good foundation for life.

It’s not healthy to obsess over any one thing. Balance is one of the most important parts of my life. A good day for me includes some time with my family, some time working on something productive, some tasty food and drink, a full night’s rest, some time to think and learn, and some time just for me to relax with a movie or game. Except for the uncommon good night’s sleep, many of my days look like this, which is one of the main reasons I’m quite happy.

Thank You

Readers, thank you for sticking with me through the changes on my blog. Friends and family, thank you for loving me warts and all. I am grateful for you and grateful for 35 years on this remarkable journey.

Brenden’s Bedroom Makeover

For the last couple of years, Brenden’s bedroom has consisted of an IKEA dresser and a secondhand IKEA pine bunk bed that was missing some parts and whose safety was slightly questionable. By questionable, I mean it was missing some fasteners and slats. But hey, who wants a bed that safe? BORING.

For months we kept saying we needed to go get some type of board to place atop the broken slats, but…you know, life happens. The final straw came when the boys, while playing along for a bit in Brenden’s room, decided it would be fun to jump off the top bunk and try to grab the ceiling fan cord on the way down. Miraculously, both boys and the fan survived this game. However, it finally persuaded us that it was time for a change.

We wanted his room to finally have a look, to appear to have some semblance of intention and style. Or at least to match. We decided to keep his IKEA Malm dresser in birch and buy a few matching pieces. Here is the result:

Bed and Nightstand

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Bookshelf and Reading Chair

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Testing the New Reading Nook

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I dig it. Brenden digs it. And it keeps them from rolling around in the floor or from ending up in the ER with a concussion from a falling ceiling fan.

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.

Farewell to the Solar Water Heater

I call that getting swindled and pimped
I call that getting tricked by business. – Macklemore

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It seemed like a good idea at the time.

As some of you will recall, in 2010 we had a solar water heater installed. Thanks to the federal tax credit and a rebate from the electric company, we only had to pay about 1/3 of the total cost, and we hoped to save $30-50/month on our electric bill by using the sun to heat our water. Green? Check. Interesting and unusual? Check. Cost-effective? Probably. I pegged our break-even point at 3-5 years, much better than the 20-year break-even point for solar electrical panels.

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way.

For a couple of years, the system worked great in summer, okay in spring and fall, and hardly at all in winter due to changes in roof temperature. That aspect wasn’t a surprise as the system only works when the roof is warmer than the water in the tank. However, I never noticed any significant drop in our electric usage. With so much variability in weather conditions and hot water usage, it would be very difficult to measure exactly how much the solar water heater was saving. However, I expected to see some difference, especially in summer when it heated the water so well.

In 2012, after two years in service, the system stopped heating water as well as it had before. The pump still ran water up to the heating panels on the roof and back, but the water temperature rose much more slowly than it should have. So I had to call the installer back out. He cleaned out one of the filters or something like that, and afterward it worked great for about a year. Fortunately, he didn’t charge for the visit other than a small fee for a failed part. I must add that the failed part was a tube that leaked water into our bedroom closet, which was more than a bit annoying.

Finally, this summer, the pump quit working correctly. Instead of pumping water up to the roof, it merely vibrated and made weird and loud noises, loud enough for me to hear from our bedroom. The installer, along with every other North Texas company who installed the Fafco Sungrabber system, had gone out of business. The one company I could find who still serviced these systems in the area was difficult to work with and not very responsive. But they finally delivered the final straw of bad news: the replacement pump was nearly $700.

I was done. “Come take this thing out,” I told them.

On Wednesday of last week, about a week after I nearly flooded my house by trying to do it myself (always know where to find the key to turn off your water in case of emergencies, people!!), the crew came out and removed my much-hyped solar water heater. Considering how much I paid to have it installed ($1500) and then removed ($250), I am quite sure that I never earned my money back despite my high hopes at the time. My intentions were good. I think the installers did a decent job. But it seems that the technology just didn’t work that well. The boss at the removal company said he refused to install the Fafco system in homes I had because it was “crap.”

Now we are back to having a normal, boring, non-eco-friendly water heater. It isn’t the most efficient, but it works. When we sell this house someday, we won’t need to explain that we’ve got this weird solar thing and describe how to use it, nor will we need to scramble to find someone who can repair it. That’s one less thing to worry about.

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.

Ten Things I’ve Learned From Parenting

Brenden turned five this week, so it’s not a bad time to reflect on some lessons I’ve learned from being a dad. It’s hard to say whether fatherhood matched my expectations. When Jenny was pregnant with Brenden, I focused on preparing for life with a baby, which is MUCH different from life with two preschoolers. We still make plans for the future with them, but so much of fatherhood now seems to be able surviving each day without having to visit the hospital or the liquor store.

Here are a few things I’ve learned, or at least reinforced:

  1. Nothing in my life has driven me insane like my children have. When they are being difficult, they seem to bring out the worst in me, and I hate that.
  2. Few things in life have made me prouder than my children. Watching them make progress in the pool, seeing them treat their friends and cousins kindly without being prompted, hearing them say they love me, and getting enthusiastic hugs when I come home fill my heart with pride and wonder.
  3. It’s fascinating to see reflections of me and Jenny in them. Brenden got my stubbornness, love of data, comfort with routine, distaste of last-minute changes, and affinity for video games. Jonathan got Jenny’s gentle and kind spirit, creativity, and love of people.
  4. No matter what I do as a parent, many people are going to disagree with it. Maybe I’m doing things differently from the way they were raised. Maybe I’m not following their favorite parenting book or guru. Maybe they are afraid I’m going to horribly corrupt my kid or give him autism or spoil him or send him straight to hell or jail or dozens of counseling sessions later in life. But there are only two people who get a vote in how we raise our kids: me and Jenny. All other opinions are advisory only.
  5. Spending money on your kids is much more fun than I expected.
  6. It can be difficult to know how far to push your kids and when to step in and help. One good example is video games. Brenden loves to play, but many of the games he likes are challenging, and he often gets frustrated or intimidated after dying just once or twice. Then he comes to me or Jenny begging for us to take over and get him through the level or past the boss. On one hand, I want to say no because the only way to get better at something is to keep trying and thinking when things get tough. On the other hand, he’s five years old, and it isn’t realistic to expect him to be able to ace a game that challenges even a lifelong gamer like me.
  7. From time to time a vision pops up in my head. Jenny and I are around 50 years old. The boys are away at college, making the house ours once more. We share a bottle of wine and quietly ponder whether we did the best job we could with them, whether they turned out okay. We relax a bit once we decide the answer is yes.
  8. It wasn’t until I became a parent that I realized how embarrassing it could be when your kid acts up in public. (Sorry, Mom!)
  9. Even though I knew parenthood would significantly affect most parts of my life, thinking about all the different ways still amazes me. Without kids, we would drive different cars, live in a different house, travel a lot more, spend more time with friends, have more toys, spend our free time differently, and make numerous other changes. Although we make many sacrifices for them, I don’t begrudge those sacrifices. They are part of my new mission in life, the mission to give these two crazy boys everything I can give them to help them become men. As difficult as fatherhood can be, I derive great satisfaction from being their dad.
  10. I knew fatherhood would be a lot of work. I don’t think I realized how much fun it would be, how they would make me chuckle almost every day, and how much Jenny and I would enjoy laughing about them together.

I was apprehensive about becoming a parent for a while. If I could have learned some of these lessons in advance before the boys arrived, the prospect would have been more appealing and less scary. But that’s not how life works. Instead, I got to earn these lessons the hard way, and I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity.