april 2012

Our decision letter process went pretty well this year, although it's becoming more and more complex to manage from the IT perspective each year. In addition to eight communications to applicants on Thursday (the day the physical letters went to the post office), we had five more on Friday and a few more today (and pretty much every day the rest of this week). We are also sending out personalized links to sign up for our admitted student events, along with personalized links to accept our admissions offer and pay your deposit in an entirely different system.

We're getting to the point where there are so many moving pieces that we're going to screw up one of them without a CRM (customer relationship management) system to keep it all organized. We've had that in our budget request for the past few years, but it keeps on getting denied in favor of other projects. Hopefully we'll get it in time for next year's process (our budget cycle doesn't start until July 1, and we haven't been given a final answer on our CRM request for the next fiscal year yet). But at least we got through this year with no major issues. Pressing the send button on the decision emails for Regular Decision is the scariest thing I do all year, and it's nice to have another successful send behind me.

Meetings from 9 a.m. straight through til at least 2 (my noon appointment is a lunch meeting). I don't reckon I'll be sticking around for too long after that, especially given that the rest of the staff got two half days off last week on Thursday and Friday after our decision letters were mailed and I worked all day both days (and well into the evening on Thursday).

Birthday today. I'm not going in to work, but I expect to spend much of the day working around the house and taking care of office issues remotely. I need a real day off badly, but I think it's pretty unlikely that I'm going to get one of those anytime soon.

I have a hard time keeping track of the days recently. Personal and professional lives are kind of overwhelming for reasons I'm not quite ready to discuss, and they will probably remain that way for the next few months. I think it will be good, but there's a lot of hard work between where I am now and the eventual good outcome.

My grandfather turns 92 today. He gets less active with each passing year, but it's still pretty incredible what good shape he's in. We had a scare with him over the past year where he wasn't eating well and his wife was having issues, too, so they ended up moving out of their house (where they were expected to be completely self-sufficient even though neither of them should really have been driving) and into a retirement community.

He's a very independent man, and I was worried that he might just give up and slip away rather than adjust to his new reality, but he's done surprisingly well, and I'd say he's in better health now than he has been in a few years, mostly because he has regular meals and no real responsibilities to stress him out.

Will is named after him, and I really hope he makes it another few years so that my son will have a chance to know his great grandfather in a way that he'll remember for the rest of his life. He's an amazing person, and he's been a tremendous influence on me; I would like nothing more than for he and Will to have a real relationship that both of them can hold onto.

I was going to write "Tom Petty was right" as my entry for today (referring to his line "the waiting is the hardest part"), but something made me suspect that I had used this at some point in my blogging history.

And I was right, although it has been a while: I used it over ten years ago in February of 2002. As I often do when searching back through my blog, I ended up reading all the entries for that month, and man, my writing was a lot more interesting back then. Not necessarily the content of the entries themselves, but my approach and my willingness to spend time doing more than just giving the bare bones facts—I spent a lot more time describing things, whereas now I feel more like a journalist who's trying to get his story posted before anyone else does.

I'm mostly okay with that—I have less time for any of my creative impulses now than I used to, but I still think it's important to maintain the discipline of posting here so that I don't drop it altogether. This may have started as a way for me to explore writing in a new format, but it has definitely evolved into more of a personal timeline that I don't really expect to be interesting to anyone but me (and occasionally people who know me). And that's okay for now.

Will is 21 months old today. That's really not very long, but it feels like he's been part of our lives forever. He's definitely on track for the Terrible Two's—he gets frustrated very easily these days, especially when he's tired, and will go into screaming, kicking fits we call Toddler Meltdowns (TMDs)—but in general he's a very outgoing, good-natured, sweet child, and pretty fun to hang out with. He learns so much every day, and he's finally getting to a point with his language skills where he can communicate almost anything he needs (although during TMDs he sometimes chooses not to).

I'm so happy to have him in my life. Even on his worst days he's still a wonderful little boy, and I can't wait to see what kind of person he turns out to be.

Today is the first day of the first of our two big open house events for admitted students, and I'm not helping out at all because I have to be home to take care of Will because our daycare provider is taking her first sick day since we started using her so she can take her mother in law to the doctor. I won't be there tomorrow, either, and there's a decent chance that for next week's two-day event I'll only be there for one day (and maybe none).

I feel kind of bad about this—this really is an all-hands-on-deck kind of event, where we have hundreds of students and their families coming to campus for a big two-day program that includes overnight stays on campus for all of the admitted students. The potential for disaster is high, and ever little bit of help increases our chances of success. I'm also friends with the person in charge of organizing and executing these programs, and I feel like I'm personally letting her down.

But it can't be helped—there's just too much to do over the next couple of weeks, professionally and personally, and this is one of those high-priority tasks that quickly becomes low-priority when I compare it to all of the other things I have on my plate.

I have beta invites for both Diablo III and the next World of Warcraft expansion, but I haven't been able to play either of them for more than a couple of hours. I'm not usually big on playing betas, but I have questions about whether I want to play both of these games and it would be nice to try them out a little before purchasing them.

I've also been dying to get further into the first Mass Effect game so I can play the second and then the third. But it's even harder to find time to fire up the Xbox than it is to sit down at my computer and play a game for an hour or two, and I wouldn't be surprised if I'm still trying to finish the first Mass Effect title at the end of the summer.

Hopefully I'm going to have a bit of time off this summer, and although I expect that I'll have plenty to do even during that fallow period, I'm hoping I can invest a little time in gaming. It used to be so easy to log on and play for an hour or two instead of watching tv, but now even when I do have a spare few minutes, I have a hard time mustering the minimal concentration it takes to play.

I don't know how frequently Friday the 13ths acutally happen, but it does seem like three months isn't a very long time between them.

So here's the big announcement that I've been pretty sure I was going to make but which I didn't finalize until this past weekend: we're going to be leaving our jobs in Baltimore and moving to Atlanta. We've more or less know this for the past month, so most of our free time has been spent cleaning and packing and scheduling work on the house so we can have it ready to sell by the second week of May. We actually have a pretty tight timeline: while Julie won't be starting her new job until September, I'm going to start my new position on June 4, giving us precious little time to move out of the home that, up until four months ago, I assumed we'd be living in for at least another ten years.

For those of you who know me in real life who I didn't get to tell in person, I apologize, but feel free to call or email for more details. We're very excited about the possibilities for our careers and for some quality of life issues (working much closer to where we work than we ever have before and having Will in a daycare on the same campus where we will be working), but we've got a lot of work to do over the next couple of months to make it happen.

I'm not sure why, but the Baltimore food trucks, which used to be plentiful around our campus with most of the major ones visiting at least once a week, haven't been coming around much in the last few months. It stopped around December, which isn't unusual because the students not being here for the holiday break puts in a dent in sales, but they didn't return when the students did.

(I wonder if that's because they don't know enough about our academic calendar to know that we have a short intersession term in January that many students elect not to take, and so the student population doesn't return to its normal numbers until late January. Maybe they came back at the beginning of the year, found that the numbers were still very small, and decided to abandon us for greener pastures.)

Last week one finally returned to campus, and although it wasn't my beloved Gypsy Queen (they now have two  trucks, but neither of them have been near campus in a long, long time), I wanted to support any visit by a food truck in the hopes that it might convince others to return before the students leave again in May. It was the GreChe grilled cheese truck, which I've been to a couple of times before but which hasn't managed to convince me that it would be worth a regular visit.

But they may have finally turned the corner for me with one of their new specialty sandwiches: roasted jalapenos with cream cheese and bacon. The jalapenos were spicy but not overwhelmingly so, and the cream cheese definitely helped cool things down a little. And the bacon just put the whole thing over the top; I don't necessarily believe that everything is better with bacon, but in this case it definitely was. It was one of the best things I've had from a Baltimore food truck, and it would motivate me to become a regular customer of this truck if they put our campus on their weekly schedule.

The NFL released the 2012 schedules today, and the Ravens are in for a doozy of a season. It some ways it's fair – last year we had a relatively weak schedule, especially for a team that went 12-4 and made it to the second round of the playoffs the year before – but I wouldn't be surprised if this turned out to be the hardest schedule this year (at least at this point – some of these teams will inevitably falter and not be as good as they look on paper now).

The AFC North is a tough division to play in no matter what – half of the AFC teams that made the playoffs last year came from the AFC North (Pittsburgh and Cincinnati took both of the wild card spots for the conference), and the extra-divisional matchups against teams like Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, Denver, San Diego, the Giants, and New England make their schedule even tougher. I don't see a single game this year that I expect to be an easy, automatic win. The only good thing about their schedule is that the bye week comes at a perfect time in week 8, as opposed to the last year's week 5 bye.

Joe Flacco has been making noise about being the best quarterback in the NFL this offseason (not coincidentally while he's negotiating a new long-term contract), and he'll certainly get the chance to prove it this season. He'll face many of the game's elite quarterbacks, including Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning and Peyton Manning in back-to-back weeks, and of course Ben Roethlisberger twice. If he can lead this team to another regular season divisional victory playing against those opponents, he'll have a lot more credibility. Of course, all those guys except Rivers also have a Super Bowl ring, and getting one of those would be the ultimate statement about Flacco's abilities.

For the record, not even the most delusional Ravens fan thinks Flacco is anywhere near the best quarterback in the NFL. He's the best we've had in a long, long time, and he fits pretty well into an offense that has gotten more powerful in the last few years, but that's due as much (if not more) to the presence of Ray Rice as it is to Flacco.

We've been packing for the past few weeks, but this week the work on the house begins in earnest. By Friday, we should have the downstairs bathroom shower replaced, the house, sidewalks, and deck powerwashed, two massive pieces of furniture that we don't want anymore hauled away by the Salvation Army, and maybe some preliminary work on the walls to remove wallpaper and borders in preparation for painting.

By the end of next week the painting should also be done, along with some baseboards being installed in the downstairs bedroom, and on Friday we're having the first of two Pods delivered, which will take all of our non-essential items (assuming that we've been able to pack all of them up by then), possibly along with our freezer, the piano, and the treadmill. Once that is done, the only thing we have left to do is get the carpets cleaned, which is supposed to happen on May 3.

We're doing the move in two stages: the first stage is just to clear out all the stuff we don't really need so there will be more room in the house and it will show better. Then at the end of May we will have another Pod delivered, and that's where we'll put all the stuff that we'll need for the first 6-8 months while we look for a permanent home in Atlanta.

The second Pod may or may not include the freezer, piano, and treadmill depending on where we end up renting. We're looking at two options right now: an apartment complex near campus that is big enough for us to live in with Will for a few months but which is expensive and will be subject to a plague of undergraduates come September, and a house that's much cheaper, has a yard, seems to be on a quiet street with good neighbors, but which is farther from campus and is closer to a sketchier part of the city.

We won't be able to visit either property in person before we have to decide (although we did visit the apartment complex when we were in Atlanta in March), so we're having a friend who lives nearby visit the house for us to give us a sense of how safe it feels and measure the rooms, etc. She's doing that on Friday, so we should have a decision by the end of the weekend.

We're so busy trying to organize different parts of our transition to Atlanta that we really don't have much time to reflect on our time in Maryland. Every now and then, though, when I have a few moments of downtime, I catch myself thinking about what a good life we've had here, and how little time we have left to say a proper goodbye. Every time I do something now, whether it's getting takeout from a favorite restaurant or driving an alternate route to work that takes me away from the highways and through the country, I think about whether this is the last time I'll ever do that thing, and I'll know that even if it's not, sometime in the next six weeks it will be.

We've been pretty happy here, and instead of a grass is greener effect for our new situation in Atlanta, I instead find myself reflecting on everyday beauty here that I take for granted, and wonder if I'll find the same sort of comfort in Georgia. I know that I will—it took a long time for Maryland and Baltimore to grow on me—but it's going to take some time, even though Atlanta already feels more like home to me in some ways than Maryland ever has.

And while I'm excited about Will growing up in the south and experiencing that same culture and sense of place that I did when I was young, it does make me sad to think that he'll never know this place, never think of it as home even though he was born here and he has lots of people here who love him and care about him, most of whom he'll never see again.

Six months ago, I thought I'd be living here for the rest of my career, maybe even the rest of my life. And not just Maryland in general, but this neighborhood, this house. We've been here for twelve years now, which I realized the other day is the longest I've ever lived at one address in my entire life. Even though I still have a major soft spot in my heart for North Carolina, where I grew up and went to college, this place has become a part of me, and there are things about it that I will always miss.

I don't think I really realized how much I loved this place until we made the decision to leave it. I've always been terrible at goodbyes, but this one is turning out to be much tougher than I anticipated.

We committed to a rental property in Atlanta over the weekend, a little house that's about 4 1/2 miles from campus. It's nice to have that part of our transition settled, but it was hard to really celebrate because we have so much more that we have to get done in the next few weeks.

This week is carpet repair, finishing up the shower replacement downstairs, and getting most of the rooms in the house repainted (only the four bedrooms are exempt—both bathrooms, the kitchen, and the other common rooms are all getting fresh coats of paint). In preparation for the painting, we spent the weekend packing up everything on the walls and on the bookshelves and moving all of our furniture to the center of each room so the painters could easily access the walls.

If they were going to be done in a day, this wouldn't be so bad, but since they are going to be here through at least Wednesday, that means we have to reset some of the furniture each night and then move it back to the center of the room in the morning. It also puts a bit of a crimp in our packing, because we've got so much stuff jammed in our primary staging room (the guest bedroom downstairs) that we don't have room to put anything else anywhere until the painters are done and we get the rest of the house back. Even if we could find some time and energy to continue packing, there's simply no place to put the boxes right now.

We do have a little extra time this weekend that we didn't originally anticipate—our initial plan was to pack the first Pod ourselves, which meant that we would have started packing on Friday afternoon or Saturday morning and likely wouldn't have finished until Sunday afternoon. But now we're having movers pack the first Pod, and they're not coming until Sunday, so we now have all day on Saturday to pack up boxes. And if the painters are gone by Wednesday, I could also take a vacation day on Thursday if I felt like Saturday wasn't going to be enough time for me to do my share.

Will has been feeling bad the past few days—he had a fever over the weekend and still had the sniffles on Monday. But while he's clearly on the mend now, I think I may have caught what he has, and the timing couldn't be worse—there's still a lot of packing left to do before the first Pod arrives later this week, and with the way I'm feeling now, I don't know how I'm going to get my stuff finished, much less help Julie with the common stuff. And given that Will usually doesn't get sick and that it's taken him more than five days to recover from this one (and he's still not completely recovered), I don't see this being a 24 hour thing for me.

The packing will get done one way or the other, but I'd prefer not to have to do back-to-back allnighters on Friday and Saturday to make up for the fact that I couldn't do any packing this week because I was sick.

Still feeling pretty horrible, so I've decided to try to rest as much as possible today and take a vacation day tomorrow to focus on packing. Resting is not easy because we've still got the painters in the house—Julie is home today, too, so she can actually monitor them and leave me to focus on recovering, but I just can't relax when there are strangers wandering the hallways. Hopefully I can get enough rest that I can be in better shape for tomorrow and make some significant progress on my packing.

This was supposed to be a vacation day so I could do packing ahead of this weekend's decluttering portion of our move, but I'm still feeling pretty bad, so I'm not sure how much I'll actually get done. This thing lingered with Will for a while, and his immune system tends to be better than mine, so I'm not necessarily counting on a quick recovery. But this is just about the worst timing to get sick and not be able to do physical activity.

You have to have faith in Ozzie Newsome after the great job he's done over the years, especially the last few years, but so far this offseason feels like a bust. The Ravens lost significant players in free agency but signed no one notable themselves. They resigned some existing players, including Lardarius Webb, who has become one of my favorite players over the past couple of years, but they still haven't put together long-term deals with Joe Flacco and Ray Rice.

And now, after seeing all other teams in the AFC North pick up at least one solid player in the first round of the draft (Cleveland and Cincinnati each got two), and watching while New Englad traded up to get two prospects who were both rumored to be high on Baltimore's wishlist (including Dont'a Hightower, the Alabama running back who was pegged as the potential heir to Ray Lewis), the Ravens have opted to draft no one in the first round, giving up their lone first round pick for high second and high fourth round picks.

Again, you have to trust that this will all turn out well, but it seems like all of our AFC North rivals have made substantial improvements so far this offseason, while the Ravens are basically the same team minus some Pro Bowl caliber players. Hopefully they'll make some good choices in the second and third rounds (and beyond).

Even though we didn't have a pick in the first round, most analysts seem to think the Ravens had a pretty decent draft. Their first pick was the third pick in the second round, and it was spent on a player who many people thought would be in the top 15, and there were other sleeper picks in later rounds that could pay big dividends for us down the road.

I'm still not sure we really did well compared to the rest of our division, though—all the other AFC North teams made significant upgrades, and I'd say that overall they have all improved while the Ravens are not yet back to where they were last year. Given how tough this division is, that doesn't put us in a good place going into the season, especially with the toughness of the rest of our schedule this year. Every matchup within our division, whether it involves the Ravens or not, should be a good, hard-fought game this year, and it wouldn't surprise me to see both wild card teams for the AFC come from the North just like last year.

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