Thursday, December 13, 2012

2012 Letter

Greetings One and All -

I hope that this letters finds everyone in good heath and high spirits.

The biggest news of the year is the growth of our family. On March 31st we adopted. It was something that has been in the works for quite some time really, dating back to 2003. Our new little guy is one year old and when we met him for the first time we knew in about five nanoseconds that this was a perfect match. He'd been abandoned and was in foster care for about two weeks before we brought him home.

It has been an adjustment to say the least. It has taken some time to re-adjust to having a new young one in the house. The interrupted sleep, the constant need for attention, feeding schedules and of course cleaning up his messes. He isn't all that big but his energy takes up a lot of space in our house. The one good thing is that all of the other kids are old enough to help. It isn't always as much as Christy and I would like, but it is better than being on our own. After a little deliberation, which occurred in the car on the way home, we decided on the name Memphis.

Back in 2003 when I was starting a new job in Tacoma, we moved in with our friend, Carol, until we could find a place of our own. Carol had a roommate named Sophie and Ainsley quickly fell in love with her. Ainsley's attachment to Sophie lasted long after we moved out and started the obsession that led us to getting Memphis. You see Sophie is an English Springer Spaniel and Memphis is a Black Lab. Ainsley begged us for years for a dog which was something that we were just not ready for. So a little bit ago I explained that getting a dog requires a lot of work and money. So I set a goal of $400 for all three kids to raise. This, in my mind, was the amount that would be needed for adoption, getting supplies and having a little left over for upcoming vet visits. It was also a number that I thought would take years to accomplish and therefore postpone this from becoming a reality anytime soon. Turns out it took about six months. My Grandma Virginia donated a fairly large amount, others chipped in, couch cushions were mined, savings accounts raided, purses emptied, and mounds of coins pooled. All of sudden they'd amassed $407 dollars. Damn it. Let the dog hunting begin.

Here are a few things that I have learned about owning a dog. First, it really is like having a new baby in the house, at least for the first couple of months. Dog poop has a Velcro like relationship with grass. You simply cannot get all of it off. So we have a policy of throwing some dirt on the left-overs to reduce the chance of someone stepping in it and bringing it into the house. By the way, asking our kids to wear shoes in the backyard is a senseless task, it just doesn't happen and they are pretty good at finding the spots that haven't been covered in dirt. So now our back yard is full of mini mounds of dirt - kind of like the mima mounds without the mystery and intrigue. The absolute best way to find undiscovered piles of poop is to mow or weed whack the yard - you are guaranteed to run into or step in a pile. Young dogs listen and obey about as well as a one year old child.

On the whole Memphis has acclimated pretty well. The first camping trip was a little rough, but the second was a vast improvement. I don't think he has taken to Ainsley as much as should was hoping, but I do believe that she is happy. That part helps with the other issues.

Ainsley continues to participate in the Kids as Play theater program. This year she was in Annie, playing one of the orphans. She has such a good time performing that she had a hard time not smiling during "It's a hard knock life". The play turned out great - the stage version is a little different than the movie. She also continues to take piano lessons - the pieces are becoming more complex as she works her way through the different periods of classical music. She is talented and it is enjoyable to watch her grow. She participated in an acting class this fall that focused on developing characters and writing scenes and dialogue. She decided to end her Irish dancing career but replaced it this spring with softball. Aside from being cold and little wet sometimes, this was a good time. Her team participated in a weekend tournament. They lost their first game and then came back to win every other game to play for the championship. She made a great catch while playing left field to help seal one of the victories. She also played second base and quite a few games as catcher (Christy's position). She is maintaining a few different pen pals and continues to read a ton of books. She found a cool little book club at the library that meets once a month and gives the kids their own copy of the book.

We did discover that there is one thing that she needs to work on: hair cutting. This summer she decided to give Jade a small trim. Turns out the left was uneven compared to the right, so started the back and forth effort of getting the two sides to match. The longer she cut the shorter it got. Yikes! The look on her face when she came to ask Christy for help was something else. "Her bangs are longer than the back". Huh? It all worked out though, a trip to a professional was able to set us straight and it turns about Jade looks pretty darn cute.

Ainsley is really growing up, she's almost as tall as Christy and has developed a crush on Leonardo DiCaprio. I'm not ready for this.

Finn's creativity continues to grow. The old joke about kids liking the cardboard box more than the contents is pretty true for him. More than once we've had to canvas both the East and West side of Olympia looking for boxes for him to play with. A few weeks ago we were at the Dollar Store and walked past the door that leads to their storage area. An employee was there standing next to a large stack of broken down boxes and was in the process of tearing down some more. Finn turned to me in horror and asked "Why are they ruining all of those boxes?". It was like learning how hotdogs are made. He couldn't imagine anything worse. Finn has also become a big fan of chess and checkers. It didn't take too long for him to develop the skill of looking forward and understanding how his move will affect his opponents moves. There was a time that playing with him lacked excitement and fun - there are only so many times that you can maneuver your pieces in a way to set-up of triple jump for him. This time has passed - he gets it now. You can actually play him straight up and there's a chance you'll lose. He really likes winning, maybe a little too much. Aside from cardboard, he uses a lot of scotch tape (I mean a lot). He also paints and draws quite a bit and seems to really like make the ideas in his head come alive.

Jade finished up her first year of ballet with a recital in May at the Washington Center for Performing Arts. She did a great job and looked adorable. She is developing a love of cooking often jumping at the chance to help Christy in the kitchen. She is also a natural caregiver, when someone isn't feeling well she'll fetch them water, set-up their bed for sleeping and offer up one of her famous massages. When Ainsley was three she used to develop performances for us and Grandpa Jim once stated that "you better get her on stage someday". This was true, but it is even more true for Jade. We listen to a lot of music of differing genres throughout the day. Her ability to pick up the rhythm and create a dance to anything that is playing is really impressive. She has a natural sense of the mood and can find ways to move and make her body flow that matches the music so well. There is a joy to her dance that you can sense when you watch - there isn't really any thought involved, it just happens for her. She loves musicals and picks up on lyrics pretty quickly (well mostly). The more times she sings a song the further the words meander from the original. It can often create a funny lyric, but the laughter isn't always well received.

Both Finn and Jade had a pretty busy summer. They took two sets of swimming lessons and played T-Ball for the first time. Jade was able to progress through the different levels of swimming a little faster than Finn...she's apparently part mermaid. After the first week they went to the lake to cool down and she told Christy that she didn't need her arm floats anymore. Seems she doesn't suffer a confidence problem. Finn is a talented baseball player. He has a really strong and accurate throwing arm and has great power at the plate. His very first at bat of the season was a bases clearing home run. He hits well into the outfield grass. His base running is an all or nothing effort - long strides, arms pumping with eyes focused. Getting him to slow down and stop at first base is a bit of a chore. As the only girl on the team, the Black Jaguars, Jade showed the boys that girls can play and look fashionable at the same time.

Christy continues to be the family teacher. While Jade told her once this year that she was "just pretending to be a teacher," the reality couldn't be further from the truth. She is a great educator. One of the tools she uses with great efficiency is re-framing a situation. When Edison was working on the lightbulb he tried 1000 different elements before coming up with the final solution. When asked what it was like to fail so many times he replied, "I didn't fail, I found 1000 things that didn't work". We were at a park earlier in the year and the kids and I were playing tag. After a few rounds of working hard to not be "it" and working even harder to tag one of the kids, I decided that I needed a break. More accurately, I needed an oxygen tank. Soon after sitting down, Finn and Jade started whining and telling me that they wanted to play some more. I quickly became frustrated and tersely asked the kids why they couldn't be happy with what I was able to do and to appreciate the time I had already given. This didn't work. The kids were still sad. Christy quickly re-framed their bemoaning to "you were having fun and just like playing with your Dad and would like to do it some more". They shook their heads in agreement. Oh man, when you put it that way I'm a jerk - who can be frustrated that your kids like playing with you? She wasn't really teaching me that I am an A-hole (even though I felt like one), but about hearing what the kids are actually saying. She is much better at this than I am. I just wish she was always around to translate for me.

She is getting a little help "pretending" this year by taking the kids to Olympia Regional Learning Academy one day a week. All three kids are taking classes on Tuesdays. She is living the Rockwell-esque version of a stay-at-home mom , making lunches, driving the kids to school, sitting down and doing homework, etc. She is really doing a fantastic job managing it all and this is evidenced by how well the kids are doing and how much they are enjoying their time there.
We are all so lucky to have her. She takes such great care of all of us and provides us all with an abundance of love and support that we couldn't possible show our appreciation for.

Years ago when I got my first DBA job it was really a training position. I had no background in Oracle and near zero experience. At the same time another guy was hired too. The manager at the time tried to create a small bit of competitive environment between us, trying to force us into these situations where we would try to “out do” eachother. I decided that I wasn't really that competitive and the situation turned me off and in my mind didn't work. Somewhere in my head it was "cooler" to be less competitive and more relaxed. Turns out I'm a fraud - I am competitive. I'll stop pretending now. Attending all of Ainsley's softball games taught me this - pretty quickly. Sometimes discussing (a little loudly) my disagreement with the umpire's inconsistent strike zone or calls at first base. And providing loud cheers of "run hard", "good eye", "nice throw" and "great catch". At the same time it is this machismo that makes me a good employee and push myself to be better. Maybe the State needs to hire more competitive people so that there can be a small game of one upness that will progress our ability to serve. I am not talking about the level of competitiveness that leads to a ridiculous habanero eating contest, but the kind that results in pride. "Look at this great product they've made, let's try to make one better". Dare to dream I guess.

I hope that 2013 proves to be everyone's finest and is filled with peace, love and good happiness stuff.

Best Wishes,


Tony, Christy, Ainsley, Finley, Jade and Memphis








Saturday, September 08, 2012

Lake Wenatchee

After our successful trip to Dash Point, we decided to squeeze in another trip. This time we wanted to head east a little bit in hopes of chasing down the last remnants of summer like weather, something that has mostly left western Washington already. Now that the kids are a little older they can handle a slightly longer car ride so we opted for Lake Wenatchee.

The state park is actually divided into two different sections, separated by about a mile and the Wenatchee River. The south loop offers tent camping sites, a designated swimming area, playground and general coolness. The north loop offers utility sites and no advertized coolness. Of course we chose the north loop. Attempting to learn from our Dash Point experience, we bough a "dogbone" which coverts a 30 amp plug to a standard plug. Not to fooled again, I also talked to a co-worker to has a motorhome and mentioned that some sites use a 50 amp plug which is different still from the 30 amp plug. So we bought a 50 to 30 dogbone as well. We were covered. When we arrived the first thing I did was open the electrical box and found...that this box offered a 50 amp plug, a 30 amp plug and two standard plugs. Sweet. Well the good news is that I'll be able to use my machine and we'll be able to use pretty much any utility site the state has to offer in the future.

We found an unforeseen beauty in going camping during the first week of September; this is the first week of school for just about everyone - the campground was nearly deserted. We had the place to ourselves. We didn't need to tell the kids to be quite, we could create our own shortcuts to the bathroom through other sites and generally treat the place like our own personal playground.

Central Washington is still quite warm at this time of year, each day we were there hitting in the mid 80's. Awesome. The Wenatchee River, and by extension Lake Wenatchee, is glacier feed. So you pretty much need 80+ degree weather before stepping foot into these waters. The shores of the lake are shallow enough to actually get a little warm which is all the better.

The terrain in in central Washington is such a contrast to what we are used to seeing, the forest density is much less and the color palette is a bit more monochrome as well. Our site was on the outside of the loop so the back of the site opened to a small hill. Finn and Jade found this to be the perfect exploring spot. Quickly finding their perfect walking sticks and climbing away. We were able to keep our eye on them the whole time so from a parenting perspective it was the perfect site. There was actually a fairly decent playground in the north loop within eyesight was well.

We found a trail down to the lake on this un-cool north loop that was like winning the lottery. This trail led to a small playground, a bathroom and open beach area. Since there weren't many people in the north loop we had the beach to ourselves both times we went there. Spending several hours playing in and around the water. The lake stays shallow for quite a distance so it was great for the kids because they could walk out and really play. Finn perched himself on a rock and then started yelling. Jade and Ainsley were oblivious. After what seemed like hours of yelling and remaining motionless I made my way out to the rock. Despite getting nice and toasty warm in the sun this water still struck me a cold once I got deep enough (i.e. as the water came close to my waist, nudge nudge). Once I got out there Finn explained to me that there was something scary in the water. I looked to where he was pointed and discovered...a shadow from a fellow rock. Hanging my head I made my way back to shore to detail the horrors of the lake to Christy.

We took a small day trip into Leavenworth. Ainsley quickly grew quite fond of the area and asked if we could move. Jade followed suit, proving again that the younger sister older sister bond knows no boundries. Finn like it too, but that was because we started the day with ice cream cones for the kids. We hiked down to the river front and found a great place to play. The girls collected the best looking rocks they could find and Finn found sticks to throw. Christy and I just watched staying somewhere between lifeguard on duty and dotting parents. Ainsley remembered to bring purse and absolutely had to find a gift shop to lighten her load. Christy found a pen that smelled like pizza for Finn and one that smelled like ice cream for Jade. Finn took a whiff and declare "it doesn't smell like pizza, it smells gross". He was right, there is a faint hint of oregano, but that's it. Jade loves hers. Go figure.

This trip provide a much more level tent surface for us and the fire wood created yet another perfect environment for marshmallows and smoking sticks. This time Jade joined in the smoking stick fun, but she doesn't add the same sound effects that Finn does.

Ainsley brought her rubiks cube. She is getting very good at solving one side, even to the point of being able to nearly solve one side without looking. It won't be long before she is able to solve the whole thing.

Give the great weather and the great accommodations we've already started looking forward to next Septembers trip. Of course there will be ice cream in Leavenworth.

Dash Point

Camping has been a bit of challenge for us the last couple of years. First, just the sheer effort involved in preparing and going on a trip is at times too overwhelming. There seems to always been more than a few obstacles that make it difficult. One constant issue is my need for electricity. Not in the electric grandmother type of way, but for my CPAP breathing machine to make sure that I make it through the trip. This year, although it is a little late in the year, we decided to try using the utility sites offered at many of the state parks. Since we weren't sure how this was going to go we opted for a park we've been to before and for something close by; Dash Point.

We first visited this site back in 2003 when we were still living in Renton. It was really late in the season and much of the campground was closed, it rained and I don't think we got the full Dash Point experience.

This time around was different. The weather was great and the campground was full, which means there were other kids for Finley and Jade to play with. There is a really nice half mile hike down to the beach from within the campground. So we spent a fair amount of time both days at the beach, playing in the water and watching the osprey dive into Puget Sound and attempt to grab salmon. Sometimes they were successful, which is impressive to watch, and most of the time they were not which is actually a little more entertaining. Sometimes their eyes are bigger than their ability. We saw one osprey make a successful grab a giant salmon out of the water, but it was so large the bird could hardly hold onto the thrashing fish, eventually dropping it.

Of course there were fire roasted marshmallows. We continue to use our technique of placing the chocolate into the marshmallows prior to roasting. This makes for a nicely melted chocolate experience. Our family doesn't even bother with the graham crackers, they just fill you up and get in the way of eating more mallows and chocolate.

We can now officially brand Finn a firebug. Any chance he could get to throw something into the fire he'd take it. Watching the flames like a hawk he'd quickly suggest that he stoke the fire with an additional log if there was even the remote chance that the fire was starting to die down. There was also the flaming sticks. Placing the tip of a long stick into the fire and then quickly extinguishing it so that it would smoke. Of course there is really one one way thing to do with a smoking stick; swing it around and make all kinds of noises (I mean "sound effects"). These can range from a train, to a rocket, missile or newly forged sword. Being the extremely creative kid that he is this provided him with near endless entertainment. I think he would have been pretty happy if we had a fire going the entire time we were camping.

Did I mention that we were using a utility site? Well you are allowed to use a tent in these sites, which works for us, but they aren't really situated for one. Our tent it pretty big and has a slightly odd shape making placement a challenge in most sites. Site four at Dash Point was really tricky. We moved the picnic table twice, eventually returning it to its original spot and then proceeded to spend the next three nights sleeping at what can only be described as a obtuse angle. Actually only three of use got stuck on this slope, Christy and Finn were spared. The last night Christy did switch with me and laughed quite hard when she first laid down for the night.

Anyways, these utility sites come with both water and electricity. We brought 150 feet of extension cords along with us not knowing how far away the tent was going to be from the outlet. However, within minutes of getting setup I hear Christy say "we have an electrical problem". Now I know that I packed the extension cords, that couldn't possibly be the issue. I walk over and take a look. The outlet is a 30 amp plug, which is an large triangle shaped plug that looks nothing like a standard outlet and there is no hope of a standard plug fitting into. Sweet. Apparently RVs and motor homes don't use standard outlets. Foiled again. The lack of a sleeping aid and the extreme angular position made for a long couple of first nights, but I survived and good time was had by all.

Monday, February 20, 2012

2012 Reading List

Lately I have been able to get back into reading a little bit. It has been great and daunting at the same time. There are so many books to read and so little time. Last year I started reading Michael Connelly's books in preparation for watching The Lincoln Lawyer. I enjoyed the book quite a bit and the movie was OK. I probably would have liked the film better had I not read the book, but that is pretty typical. Connelly's The Poet is one of the better books I've ever read. Great storytelling. Now I've made it through almost all of his catalog and haven't been disappointed yet.

Books I've read in 2012 so far (as of February 20th).

The Drop.
The latest from Connelly continues the tradition of quality work. Fans of Harry Bosch won't be let down.

The Bourne Dominion.
Another installment of the Ludlum character by Eric Van Lustbader. I originally read Ludlums first three Bourne books back in 2003. They are really good and have very little to do with the movies, which are also very good. Just enjoy them seperately. When I read these I started reading Lustbader's continuation of the series. I thought that the first couple where a great extension from where Ludlum left off. His latest books have taken a different direction in my opinion. However, that doesn't matter too much as they are still a really good read. I thought The Bourne Dominion was better than the Bourne Objective and the Bourne Betrayal, but not quite as good the Bourne Sanction, which might be my favorite Lustbader Bourne book.

Double Dexter
Jeff Lindsay's latest Dexter book. I think each book gets better than the last.

11/22/63 - A Novel
Stephen King's epic about a time traveler who goes back in time to stop the assassination of Kennedy. I just finished this book and thought it was really well done. At 850 pages it is a commitment in time and effort to read, but well worth it. Not your typical King novel, but executed with near perfection. When Jake, the main character goes back in time, it is to 1958, so a majority of the novel is spent filling in the five years. A decision that explains the books high page count, but a decision that pays great emotional dividends. I believe that King has a real fondness of the late fifties and early sixties and based on the experiences detailed here I can see why.

I've also been reading a lot of Mo Willems's books. Unlike most kid's books, they're entertaining and don't get old after the 136th reading. Now that's a feat.

June

Another Connelly novel, Chasing the Dime.  This one doesn't involve his normal set of characters, but was solid nonetheless.  He flat out doesn't disappoint.

Also, City of Bones, another Harry Bosch story, again, very well done.

I guess I haven't read the Dexter books in the correct order, but that hasn't diminished my enjoyment of the series.  I just read the first one that set everything off.  Darkly Dreaming Dexter. I can see where the first season of the Showtime series played pretty close to the book and then went in their own direction.

September

We took two late summer camping trips this year which afforded me some downtime and the chance to flip through some books. A co-worker, at my request, provided me with a list of authors of the same ilk as Michael Connelly. The first that I tried was Harlan Coben's Just One Look. It was pretty good, but I will say that there were just a few too many twists and gotchas at the end. It kept me on my toes though, I wasn't able to figure it out which is more than I can say for most books. I followed that up with Caught. I thought this was a bit better, these stories are pretty dense and have lots of detail. Much like the Poet, all of the little details play a role in the bigger picture and their place in the puzzle are ultimately revealed.

November

This doesn't technically count since I haven't finished, but it was taking up some of my time.  Devil in the White City.  So far so good - an interesting tale, kinda of hard to believe it is real.

Angels Flight by Michael Connelly, another Harry Bosch story.  Solid as usual.

December

Lee Child's Gone Tomorrow.  Maybe I was just a little more sensitive to it this time, but I thought that this one seemed a little more violent than some of the other Reacher novels.