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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!
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 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!
Over Spring Break, the four of us took a cruise, the first for our sons. As most of you know, Jenny and I love cruising, and we were excited to let the boys try it. In our ongoing quest to try different cruise lines, we chose Princess this round on a recommendation from our friends James and Alexis. They were absolutely right.
Here is our photo album from the cruise.
Here are some of the highlights and thoughts.
Although cruise food has nearly always been tasty for us, Princess definitely served our favorite food of any cruise line we’ve tried. We ate dinner every night in one of the main dining rooms except for one night at the signature steakhouse, Crown Grill. Every meal, every dish featured a gourmet flair…veal cordon bleu, peach soup with prosecco, seared sea scallops, Asian-spiced roast duck, some of the best cheesecake I’ve ever tasted. The Crown Grill was a special treat, a high-end steakhouse that serves a slow-paced, highest quality meal that becomes the main event for your evening. The breakfast buffet offered numerous options, many of which changed daily. Even basic items like the pizza were delicious.
Our dinner at Crown Grill
Unfortunately, all the gourmet food that we enjoyed so much made feeding our picky sons a challenge, Brenden in particular. We never bothered taking them to the main dining halls, feeding them separately before taking them to the youth center. Brenden ate lots of hot dogs on this cruise. One of the only things I would change about Princess would be to add a few more kid-friendly food options and to provide trays at the buffet so we parents could carry stuff for our kids.
It probably isn’t fair to compare our cabin to the others we’ve sailed in. Since we were taking the boys with us for the first time, we needed more space and sleeping arrangements for four instead of two. After much research, we sprung for a mini-suite, which had two TVs, a queen bed, a sofa bed, a pull-down berth, full bathtub, and an enlarged balcony. It. Was. Fabulous. The boys took turns in the upper berth, and during the few times we rested in the room, the boys could watch their TV while I watched the moving map of the ship or the bridge cam.
Princess targets a different crowd than our previous cruise lines (Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian) and does things a little differently. They carry few kids (our ship had maybe 150 total under age 18, less than 50 under age 8, during Spring Break out of over 3000 total passengers) and cater more to middle-aged and older travelers. The older cruisers enjoyed our boys, giving me the impression that Brenden and Jonathan reminded them of their own grandkids. Princess felt more like a relaxing, refined pleasure cruise than a nonstop party. The few drunk people I saw were stumbling back to the ship on our Nassau day. The Cruise Director plans some activities but doesn’t blabber over the PA system every morning about how you can play The Newlywed Game at 9:00 beside the pool. They respect you enough to leave you alone and let you seek out the activities you want, so it’s generally quieter. They also seem to personalize things a bit more for their guests, such as printing your name on a card outside your room, leaving a welcome message on your phone, and providing information specific to the children’s program if you’re sailing with kids. I am sold.
Although Princess doesn’t cater to families, it does offer an excellent children’s program that our boys adored. The youth center is split into three areas by age. Our sons played in the Pelicans area (ages 3-7), which offered age-appropriate activities such as face painting, crafts, Olympic games, movies, a play structure, and computers. They are used to environments like this from being in school and the gym’s child care, so we figured they would like it fairly well. They wound up choosing to spend every evening there from roughly 6-10pm. They stayed busy and had a blast while Jenny and I enjoyed a delicious dinner, explored the ship, or relaxed in the room. It was like having date night every night for nearly a week.
One more highlight was the kids’ area on Princess Cays, their private resort. It features two large covered areas, one a playground and the other a huge sand pit, and youth workers to watch your kids while you go play on the beach or read a book. Again, the boys had a blast there. If a parent was present to supervise, kids could also swim in a kiddie pool, the only kiddie pool our boys encountered on the trip (none available on the ship).
Since Princess’s focus is different, its entertainment options were a bit different as well. Our ship included one large theater for shows. Jenny isn’t as into the shows as I am, and I only caught one – an illusionist/comedian. He was pretty good. I’m sorry I didn’t see some of the other shows, but we preferred to enjoy the nice meals and relax rather than racing through dinner to make a showtime. In the beautiful three-story atrium, we saw a couple of acts: a pair of acrobats and three Filipino chefs making food art, which Brenden loved. For me, my favorite entertainment offering was Movies Under the Stars. The ship includes a large video screen on one of the top decks next to the pool and plays recent movies at night. They even provide blankets and popcorn. Our sailing included Gravity, Captain Phillips, and Thor: The Dark World. We discussed watching a movie as a family but never found the right movie and night. I, however, did catch an afternoon showing of Top Gun. If we sail with Princess again when the boys are older, we might get to try it. I love the concept.
Port #1 was Nassau, which we had already visited twice but was new to the boys. This time we walked from the dock to a nearby public beach called Junkanoo and let the boys play for a couple of hours. Then we walked another 1-2 miles to Ardastra Gardens, the zoo we visited on our first Nassau cruise that featured the marching flamingoes. The boys enjoyed it but were a bit tired after all the walking. Then the visit took a nosedive when Jonathan lost his balance and fell onto a cactus. We took a cab back to the ship and finished fishing out all the cactus spines before dinner.
Port #2 was Princess Cays, the line’s private resort at the far end of one of the many Bahamian islands. We loved it there – plenty of beach chairs, palm trees for shade, watersports, the kids’ play area, good food, gorgeous beaches. Brenden and I took a 30-minute trip on a kayak, which was lots of fun but more work than I was expecting. This was a very relaxing and peaceful day with ZERO cactus incidents.
Port #3 was Grand Turk, a first for me and Jenny. It’s a very small island that’s the capitol of Turks and Caicos, an island nation that is somehow part of the British Commonwealth. Here Jenny and I initially left the kids onboard in the youth center and enjoyed our only official excursion, a kayaking and eco-walk adventure on the barely-developed north end of the island. I wish we’d brought a waterproof camera so I could have gotten some pictures as this area was rugged and beautiful. We got to see and touch some local, nonvenomous mangrove jellyfish. The guides spotted a nurse shark underwater and tried to grab it (!) but did not succeed. I did get to hold a sea urchin and sea cucumber before paddling back. Then we bought some gifts to take home, picked up the boys, and took them to play on the beach one last time. The island and the cruise lines built a beautiful pier and shopping center to siphon away tourist dollars, and there’s a great beach right next to the pier. We played on the beach with a beautiful view of the ship, which was just a cool experience.
Jenny and I LOVED Princess. The next time we sail just the two of us, we’ll be strongly tempted to choose Princess again. The food, the quieter and more elegant atmosphere, and the personal touches made this a very pleasant way to travel. If we’re traveling with the boys, we’ll be torn. They had a wonderful time and still talk about our trip three weeks later. However, at least while they are young and picky eaters, we might try a more family-friendly cruise line such as Carnival or Disney to make things a bit easier on us.
I think I’m about done with these winter ice storms.
Sunday night, I was driving to work after yet another Dallas ice storm (was this number 3 or 4 of the season?). My airline keeps flying whether the Dallas streets are dry or braking action nil, so I refuse to call in chicken to work when the roads are bad. If our Chicago ramp agents can throw bags during a blizzard, I can find a way to make it to work. After my spin-out in December, I decided to drive our gas-guzzling minivan since it carries significantly more heft than our little Honda Fit. You know, just in case anything happens.
Although the street in front of our house was mostly dry, and I’d already criticized Brenden’s school district on Facebook for canceling school AGAIN due to the ice, I quickly found that most of the streets were indeed slick. Maybe I should delete that Facebook comment, I thought. I was in the center lane, driving slowly and carefully. dreading the moment I’d felt three months ago when I could lose traction and begin to slide. But so far, so good. An Accord was ahead of me in the right lane, also driving slowly and carefully.
As we came around a curve, the Accord began to slide as I drew closer. It hit the right curb and bounced off. As I was passing it, the Accord began sliding back to the left. On the ice, I was afraid to make any sudden evasive maneuvers, so I just hoped I could move ahead before it crossed my path.
The Accord hit me on the right rear wheel, sending me spinning clockwise on the ice. I heard a crunching sound and felt a bump when it hit. A similar impact on dry streets probably would have been more dramatic, but the ice allowed my van to start moving more easily, so the damage wasn’t as bad. I know I did one 360-degree spin, maybe two. It happened so fast that I can be sure. I wish I’d had a GoPro recording on my dashboard. After a few seconds, the left rear tire hit a curb, bringing the van to a halt.
Well, this is a bit inconvenient, I thought.
I was wearing my seatbelt as always, and I wasn’t hurt, but I knew the van could be. I pulled over onto a side street and hoped the other driver would do the same. She did. I stepped out to see the damage.
The left rear tire was hissing flat, the rim banged up from hitting the curb. The right rear tire was shredded, which meant I wasn’t going anywhere in this vehicle. The rear fender had popped off on the right side and was hanging off. The right side panel was also dented near the wheel well. Overall, it wasn’t good news, but it could have been much, much worse.
The other driver, a young woman, stayed put, but her boyfriend (?), a young man, climbed out of the passenger seat. We exchanged information and assured each other we were OK. He apologized. Their Accord was drivable but looked worse than my minivan, the front end banged up badly.
I got their insurance card and the driver’s license, taking pics of both with my phone. The insurance card was expired. He seemed surprised at first but assured me that he had renewed it and just hadn’t replaced the card. I suppose I wasn’t thinking clearly because I didn’t remember to record their license plate, photograph their car, or confirm the make/model/color. I didn’t even use my iWrecked app since I was in a hurry to get this resolved so I could get to work. We decided not to call and wait for the police since no one was hurt and both cars were drivable. With ice all over the area, I figured the cops were busy with more serious accidents.
Once we both were satisfied, I cautiously drove the van across the street to a small parking lot outside a self-service car wash. Driving with both rear tires flat felt odd, like I was driving through sand or pulling a trailer. Then I started calling work and Jenny to figure out what to do. I was only a mile or so from home, and Jenny piled the boys into the Fit and drove out to get me. Then I drove her home and set out for work, arriving 30 minutes late and hoping the whole time that I would make it there without wrecking our other car.
Low. Ri. Der. Drives a little slower.
We’ve been dealing with our insurance company (MetLife), renting a car from Enterprise during the week, and talking to the repair shop (Craig’s Collision). So far Enterprise has been great, giving me a sweet Nissan Maxima and billing it to MetLife since I had rental coverage. On the other hand, MetLife and Craig’s both seem stuck in molasses, taking their sweet time to get anything done. I initiate most of the phone calls. I had to call MetLife back Tuesday afternoon just to get them to come tow the van away from the car wash parking lot before someone else had it towed for me. The shop got the car late Tuesday afternoon but didn’t give us an estimate until Saturday morning. So we’ve spent all this week in limbo, wondering whether the damage would be enough to total a 2005 minivan with 90,000 miles.
We looked into both new and used cars just in case we had to buy something fast. Since we’d been considering a replacement for the minivan within the next couple years, we were excited about having a legitimate excuse to move ahead a bit early. However, we haven’t had a car payment in over six years, and financially it would be better to postpone that streak for another year until after we move.
MetLife has determined that the other driver was 100 percent at fault, which I agree with. However, the other insurance company hasn’t made a decision. From my little contact with them, they don’t seem to be the brightest bulbs in the box. The body shop says the repairs will cost $3615, which apparently is too little to total the minivan. I have mixed feelings about that. They estimate the repairs will be done in 1 1/2 to 2 weeks.
Come on, spring!
YES, I am still around, just haven’t felt as talkative lately. Here are some updates.
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.
As I did last year, I made of list of random stuff I’m thankful for beyond the obvious (family, friends, health, warm house, etc.). If you don’t know about these things, go find them and become happier.
- Shiner Holiday Cheer, probably available at your local Tom Thumb or favorite purveyor of adult beverages
- Yoga pants (for the ladies, not for me)
- The elusive no-hitter at work, which entails going an entire shift without a single phone call
- Not having a car payment. My vehicles aren’t new or sexy, but they’re paid for.
- Pandora internet radio. My current favorite station is Indie Christmas.
- Pulp Fiction, partly because it inspires insane awesomeness like this (language warning)
- Living five minutes from Lowe’s while we spruce up our house (and having a handy father-in-law who works for Lowe’s at another location)
- iMessage, which lets me text for free with most iPhone users and even see if they’re currently typing back
- DVRs, which are especially helpful when you have kids
- Getting free Southwest points through my credit card so we can get REAL TICKETS on flights instead of listing ourselves and hoping there are open seats
- Bath soap that smells good. Bath and Body Works sells several scents for men that are great.
- Getting birthday wishes on Facebook. I know it’s kinda cheesy, but it’s still nice to get bombarded with HAPPY BIRTHDAY throughout the day from so many different people from so many different parts of my life.
- My sons’ ever-patient teachers who are helping to teach and shape them into amazing young men
- Whipping cream for my coffee
- Roller coasters
- John Hughes’ wonderfully humanizing Thanksgiving classic Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
What random stuff are you thankful for this year?