may 2015

Running my first 5K tomorrow. I'm not really that nervous about it—I've been running about 3 miles in my very hilly neighborhood for the past couple of weeks without a problem, the first time I've really run outdoors since starting to run on a treadmill a year and a half ago, but it will be weird to run in a big crowd people given that this has thus far been a very solitary activity for me.

I'm sure I'm going to be one of the slower contestants, even within my age group, but I'm not at the point where I'm worried too much about my time yet—just going out and running on a new course and finishing without pausing to walk will be an accomplishment for me. As a bonus for this particular run, there's also a Tot Trot that Will's going to do, so he's very excited to join me even though it will mean getting up very early on a Saturday (the race starts at 8 a.m., but you have to get over there around 7:30 to pick up your shirt and race materials).

We'll see how it goes; Atlanta is thick with 5K races between April and October, so if I like it, I can do one or two a month pretty easily, just substituting one of those for one of my three weekly runs. And if it doesn't do anything for me, at least I can say I've done it and then possibly start working on training for a 10K.

Leaving town for a conference tomorrow, so this will be my last post for a while. The weekend was pretty good—my 5K was no problem at all (I was slow, but I didn't have a problem finishing without taking any walking breaks despite a couple of pretty imposing hills), and I think I'm going to do a couple more over the next month.

Will also had soccer on Sunday, and after scoring a couple of goals last week, he's suddenly way more into than he ever has been, wanting to stay in for as long as possible (after typically being the first kid who wants to be rotated and/or take a water break). He's not necessarily any better a player, but he seems engaged for once, and he's definitely more willing to get into a crowd of kids and mix it up for the ball than he has been in the past.

My conference wasn't too bad, even though they relocated it from Baltimore to the Eastern Shore because of concern about the riots in Baltimore, which meant 1) that it was an hour and a half drive from the airport to the hotel instead of 20 minutes and 2) there was absolutely nothing to do when the conference wasn't happening. I got so bored that I ended up going to sleep by 10 most nights and getting up at 5:30 to do a four mile run around the resort grounds just to kill some time (and get my exercise, of course).

The new location for the conference was at a golf resort, and in general it wasn't a bad venue except for one little problem: they tried to throw me out of my hotel room the day before I was due to check out. It was Thursday afternoon (the conference went through Friday), and I took advantage of a break in the conference sessions to go up to my room and check work email for a few minutes. I heard what sounded like someone repeatedly trying to insert a key card into my door, and when I went over to look into the peephole, I saw a man with a suitcase angrily muttering to himself before walking back down the hall.

I assumed that he had just gone to the wrong room or the wrong floor and didn't think anything of it until a few minutes later when someone from housekeeping knocked on my door and asked why I hadn't left the room yet because there was another guest who was ready to check in. I explained that my check out date wasn't until the next day and there must be some mistake, so they said they'd have the front desk look into it and contact me.

About 10 minutes after that, I got a call from the front desk saying that according to their records, I was supposed to check out that morning. I explained that no, I wasn't supposed to check out until tomorrow, and that my original reservation had been until Saturday but that I had changed it to Friday when I checked in (I had tickets to a concert in DC on Friday night, but since the new conference location was so far from DC compared to the Baltimore venue, I made arrangements to stay with a friend on Friday night instead of going back and forth to the hotel in the middle of nowhere). The woman from the desk said she'd discuss the situation with the housing director and review their records again and get back to me.

After another 10 minutes (during which time I retrieved my confirmation number from the trip notes I always keep in Evernote when I travel), I got a call from the same woman, who said, "I've discussed this with the housing director, and we agree that you are checking out today." After a momentary stunned pause on my part, I said, "No, I'm not, and here's my confirmation number to show that I was originally booked through Saturday." I also reminded them that I was there with a conference that had just given them a windfall of tens of thousands of dollars in unexpected business and that it would make no sense for me to check out a day before the conference ended. She said she'd get back to me within an hour.

At this point, I decided it would be unwise of me to leave the room because I was guessing that my key was already invalid, and once they had me locked out, I lost pretty much all my leverage. They took nearly the full hour, but when they called me back, they told me that I did not have to check out until tomorrow, but that I would need to come downstairs to get a new key. But instead of apologizing, they again tried to make it sound like it was somehow my fault, saying "We've had to move mountains, but I'm happy to inform you that we'll be able to extend your stay by one more night." I (mostly) calmly explained that, no, they were not extending my stay one more night, they were fulfilling the obligation of my reservation and scrambling to make up for a mistake by one of their staff members, likely the person who checked me in when I arrived on Tuesday.

They were more apologetic when I came down to get my key, offering some free drinks at the bar or snacks delivered to my room, but I declined—I just wanted my interactions to be over and done with and to get back to the conference without worrying about them giving away my room. It was a very surreal experience, and some of the worst customer service I've ever experienced in a hotel, especially a higher-end resort property.

Other than that, it was a pretty nice stay, but I'll be very happy if I never have to return there again. Let's hope no other unexpected instability in Baltimore forces them to move the conference in future years.

Another crazy busy weekend. I got back from my conference on Saturday around noon, and that evening we had plans to go out with some other parents from Will's school. My sister and her husband came over around 5:30 to watch Will for us (we hadn't seen them in a few weeks with our schedule and them moving into a new house, so Will was thrilled to see them), and we went out for dinner and drinks and didn't get home until around 11:30.

The restaurant we went to was called Community Smith, which we chose primarily because it had a rooftop bar—one of the couples in the group is from Austria and they are returning home next month, and the wife has been wanting to hang out at a rooftop bar in downtown Atlanta before she leaves. The food wasn't bad, but there was nothing really amazing—the things that were probably the most unique were a couple of the side dishes, the spicy kale and the curried coconut milk chickpeas.

The service wasn't that great, though—at the end of the meal, they asked us if we were paying on one check or if we wanted it broken up by couple, and the rest of the group elected to break it up by couple since they offered to do that for us. About 15 minutes later, the checks came, and they were badly wrong for about half the group (ours was fairly accurate, only leaving off a glass of wine but not charging us for anything extra). They said they'd redo all the checks, and then the manager came back about 15 minutes later saying that they had tried multiple times to redo the checks but the number of people in our party kept crashing their system, so he was just going to comp everything for us.

He said this in a fairly hostile way, and the rest of the group was happy to leave without paying (they did leave cash tips for the waiter, however), especially since we had to wait so long for the check issue to get sorted out, but I just didn't feel right about not paying, and since our check was pretty accurate, I just gave that to them to process.

The service upstairs at the bar was similarly odd. The waitress didn't bring a cocktail menu and asked like we'd asked her to retrieve a dead fish from the garbage when we asked for one, and then proceeded to complain about her job while taking our orders. She brought me the wrong drink (a different brand of gin than I had asked for and a whole bunch of cucumbers instead of the extra limes I had requested) and didn't revisit the table in more than an hour (despite the fact that the bar was pretty small and there weren't too many other customers there that night). Julie and I eventually gave up on getting a check, so we just left $20 with one of the other couples and headed home before it got too late.

And then Sunday was Mother's Day...

Mother's Day was pretty low key: we started with breakfast in the morning at a favorite spot in Emory Village, followed by a morning nap and then a walk into Decatur in the afternoon to get ice cream.

Will is getting much better about walking everywhere recently; he's not a fan of hot weather, but even though it was pretty warm on Sunday, he walked all the way to downtown Decatur and back without needing to be carried and with a minimal amount of complaining. It's hard to believe how much difference a year makes—last year when we would do this, a stroller was a necessity, and I think we might be getting to the end of the time when we even need to think about a stroller.

So here's my current strategy with the Apple Watch: I'm still intrigued by this product as a potential replacement for my Fitbit Force, but I wasn't quite ready to pull the trigger on the day went preorders went live. If I make the decision to get one, I don't want to wait forever for it (the Apple Store is estimating that new orders placed today won't ship until July). However, the online stories about the Apple Watch fulfillment process say that you typically get an email about a week before your Watch ships letting you know that your order is being prepared, I've decided to preorder one and use the next couple of months to decide whether I'm ready to buy one or not.

This way, if I get a preparing-for-shipment notice and I haven't decided to get one at that point, I can simply cancel the order without any penalty. And hopefully by July, the production will be catching up to demand and supply constraints won't be nearly as tight, so that if I decide in August that I'm ready to buy one, I'll only have to wait a week or two instead of a couple of months for it to be shipped.

We'll see what happens. There have been some stories online about Watches shipping much earlier than their estimated date, so I might not actually have two months to decide. But if they are estimating shipping dates in July, I'd hope that I'll have at least a month before my name would make it to the top of the list.

The series finale of Mad Men is coming up this Sunday, but I won't be watching it—at least not right away. It took me a long time to get into this show, but I was a pretty avid fan starting around season 3 (after watching the first two seasons on Netflix) and I kept that up through season 6.

But I think they made a major mistake with season 7 (the final season) by splitting it up into two half-seasons of seven episodes each that aired a year apart, and this error was compounded by the difficulty of the first few episodes of season 7, which made it hard to get back into the show after a year off and knowing that it was going to be another year before we got to see the real end to the season (and the series).

I saved all the episodes from season 7 part 1 even though I only managed to watch the first two, and I assumed that I would get the urge to watch them before the second half of the season aired so I could watch the final episodes along with everyone else. But that impulse never struck me, and although I now also have the final seven episodes DVR'd, I still haven't watched any more of part 1, so whenever I decide I want to finish this show, I'll have a full season of all 14 episodes to get through.

I'm going to stay away from the online commentary about the finale, but I do think if the assessment of the way the show wraps up is generally positive (I should be able to tell by the article titles even though I won't read the articles themselves), I'll be more inclined to try to get back into the show before the summer is over.

I ran my second 5K on Saturday, and although I know the times between different races aren't directly comparable, this one was in the same neighborhood as my first one and the route even shared a long uphill street with the first one, and I improved my time by two minutes over the one I ran two weeks ago. This also lines up well with my neighborhood route, where I'm seeing a similar improvement trying some different strategies now that I'm past the I-just-want-to-finish phase and I'm moving into the how-do-I-get-faster mindset.

On Saturday afternoon we had over some friends and their kids who are moving back to Austria soon. The son was in Will's class a preschool a year ago, but we've stayed in touch and done a lot of stuff with them even though the boys are in different classes this year, including playing soccer the last two seasons (the dad and I co-coached the team this spring). They are both physicians, and the father, who is a transplant specialist, came to Atlanta on a two-year research grant, and that grant will be up in June, so we're trying to spend as much time with them as we can.

When we had dinner with them a couple of weeks ago, we discovered that they had never been to Krispy Kreme, so Will decided that his friend Anton had to have a fresh hot donut before he went back home. So we fixed dinner for them (my family's fried chicken recipe, roasted broccoli, brown rice, and a spinach/green apple/bleu cheese/pecan salad I discovered last year that has become one of my favorite dishes) and then headed over to the Krispy Kreme so the kids could see the donut machine in action and get a hot donut.

For the first time we can remember, the giant donut machine wasn't working. We've probably visited that store a couple of times a month for the last three years, and the big machine has always been cranking out fresh donuts, so it was a bit surprising to see it shut down on a Saturday night, when they're usually very busy. Luckily, they were still making hot glazed donuts on a smaller machine, so while the kids didn't get to see big machine in action, they at least did get to try fresh hot donuts.

I'm leaving for a conference in Dallas tomorrow, and then Monday is the Memorial Day holiday, so I won't be posting again for a while.

After this trip, I'll be about halfway through my two months of too much travel—we've already done a trip to NC for my dad's birthday in April and a couple of weeks ago I was in Baltimore for another conference, and then after this conference we have a week's vacation in June followed almost immediately by my final conference of the summer up in New England.

Work won't necessarily get any less busy after that (although we are making good progress on the big system implementation we're doing this summer), but at least I'll be here every day, which should make me feel a little more connected to the day-to-day goings on in the office than I do now.

I've never been to Dallas before, and I'm not renting a car, so it's likely that all I'll see of it will be the airport, the hotel, and the conference location. But t's a pretty tight schedule and we won't have much time to do much exploring anyway.

My Dallas conference was pretty good, but it was rainy and relatively cold for Texas in May (highs in the mid-60s), and the schedule was so packed that we didn't get to do much besides conference activities—there wasn't even time to see the attractions on the SMU campus (where the conference was held) because they were all closed by the time the sessions got out.

When I got back to town, we had another one of our packed weekends. On Saturday morning I went out for a run in preparation for my third 5K this Saturday, and then we fixed some stuff for a pool party with our friends who are moving back to Austria in a few weeks. We played in the pool with the kids for an hour or so, and then the other dad grilled up hamburgers and hot dogs by the pool for dinner.

Will has never really liked hamburgers (he doesn't like fries or chips, either), but because his friend Anton was eating one, he gave it a try for once and ate about half of one (after he had already eaten two hot dogs). It would be cool if this leads to a new openess about trying them other places—there are a couple of really good local hamburger places we go every now and then, but Will always ends up eating a grilled cheese.

On Sunday we walked over to Decatur in the morning to visit the annual Decatur Arts Festival, which we've attended for the past couple of years. Last year I bought a $250 framed print that we hung in our dining room, but this year I didn't see anything that really struck my fancy (although we did buy a couple of little pieces for Will's room and I bought a new wooden spoon/spatula for the kitchen).

When we were eating lunch, there was an African drumming group (I mean the drums were African; most of the players were white people in their 40s-60s dressed in standard-issue hippie gear) playing at a pavillion nearby, and he got really into it, so we went over for a closer look after we finished eating. They were inviting people to come up and dance, so he sort of did, but he was really shy about it. Eventually some other kids came up, though, and one of the drummers even brought out an extra drum for the kids to play together, so he got more brave then. After it was over, he asked me, "Why did they keep playing the same song over and over?", which I thought was hilarious.

We then went over to the Makers' tent, where they were demoing some robots that their high school members had built for competitions, and Will was all over that. We watched until they had used up both sets of their batteries and had to wait for a recharge before they could do more demos, and even then Will only wanted to leave if we promised we could come back before we went home (we did, but the big robot still wasn't working at that point).

Will is a very empathetic and emotional little kid (we've seen this recently in the responses his classmates have had to leaving their preschool compared to Will's—he cried about it every time it came up for about a month before the end of school, and on the last day he was very emotional saying goodbye to all of his teachers and friends, while for most of his friends it was just another Friday at school and the change rolled right off of them, even though almost none of the kids in his preschool class will be going to kindergarten together next year), and he also gets very attached to objects—he's constantly bringing home sticks and rocks and especially leaves that he finds interesting, and he also keeps every random piece of string he finds in a little sealed tupperware container. So it isn't surprising to me that he sometimes has an immediate emotional reaction to art, especially given my immediate and overwhelming attachment to certain works (although I don't recall having those reactions when I was four).

So it was no surprise to me that he spent a lot of time at the festival lingering in one tent or another, attracted to certain pieces and certain artists. But what was kind of surprising was his reaction to a piece of jewelry that had been made by encasing a bird's feather under a layer of glass—Julie was with him when he first saw it, and she said he immediately latched out and did not want to let it out of his sight for fear that someone else would buy it. He was obsessed—when we wouldn't commit to buying it, he started weeping in the tent, and I had to pick him up and carry him away because he wouldn't leave on his own. After we calmed him down a bit (a frozen chocolate covered banana certainly didn't hurt), we talked through it with him, and then went back to the tent to see how much it cost.

Unfortunately, it was being sold for about three times as much as I thought it was worth, and it wasn't something that Julie would really wear, so we couldn't justify getting it. He was sad about that, but I had another little chat with him about how it was okay to love a piece of art that much, but you couldn't always own it forever. I don't want him to not have those reactions—my connections to pieces of art and works of music have played a major role in my emotional and philosophical development—but we also are doing our best not to spoil him (an even bigger danger with an only child), and it was too far beyond the budget we had set for a work of art that he could pick out for his room.

It was tough for him to let it go, but eventually he did, and we ended up picking up a bright little piece that was about 8 inches square and had a butterfly and flowers on it, which is the kind of thing he's much more likely to stay engaged with over the long term. Still, I was very tempted to get the other piece for him despite the price—I've just never seen him react to anything so suddenly and so strongly.

Will did another great job with the walk to and from Decatur, especially given that once we got to Decatur we spent another couple of hours walking around the festival. For dinner that night, we went to Holy Taco in East Atlanta, which by coincidence is the first place I ever went to eat in Atlanta when I came for my first trip to consider a new job here a few years ago. Despite the long day, Will was very chatty and in a good mood—it was a good end to a good day.

Monday—Memorial Day—was also very busy for us. We started out in the morning with a trip down to a new state park, Panola Mountain (no, it's not really a mountain, just another big outcropping of granite like Stone Mountain), where we planned to do some geocaching and have a picnic lunch.

This park featured very few nature trails; instead, most of the trails were part of the PATH system, a series of hundreds of miles of paved paths designed primarily for cyclists. The part of the park we were in had paths that circled a large lake, and we ended up hitting six geocaches by the end of the day, pausing about an hour in for a picnic next to the lake.

It was another big day of walking for Will, and he made it through mostly without issue, although as we neared the end of the day, I think he was developing a heat rash and was complaining that it hurt when he walked. We got to the car just as the afternoon showers were started, and then headed back home for some quiet time before dinner.

We had plans to meet a few other families from Will's preschool class (including our Austrian friends) for a barbecue in a nearby park, but 15 minutes before we were supposed to meet, the skies opened up and rain started pouring down. After some text-based deliberation between the moms, it was decided to relocate the party to the house of another family that was close to the park, which turned out to be a wise decision—the rain never really stopped, and at one point in the evening it became so intense that we moved from the enclosed screen porch into the house.

Despite the long day, Will was the last kid to leave. He just loves his friends so much, I really hope we can find a way to stay in touch with as many of these families as we can. I know he'll make tons of new friends in kindergarten in the fall, and it's likely that most of those families will live in our neighborhood and be the friends he might keep for as long as we live in Atlanta, but he's known some of these kids for three years now, and they'll be the people he will remember as the first friends he ever had.

Will's preschool was out this week so they could get ready for the new school year, so Julie decided to take him to see her mom on Wednesday. But that meant on Tuesday I needed to stay home with him so she could go to work.

Since I was at my conference last week, and it was after a holiday weekend, I was expecting email volume to be pretty high, and I thought I'd have to spend most of the day downstairs working while he entertained himself upstairs. But there must have been lots of people on vacation, because by lunchtime I had taken care of everything I needed to, and I decided to take him out for an afternoon surprise: a trip to Lego Land, which I've never been to but which Will loves (Julie has taken him a couple of times before).

I didn't tell him where we were going—just that it was a surprise—but when we pulled up to the mall, it happened to be on the side that has the Lego Land sign on it, and he immediately guessed that. But I told him that wasn't where we were going, and he was momentarily disappointed, but quickly turned to figuring out what we were actually there to do. Lego Land is located on the top floor of the mall, along with a movie theater that we've been to a couple of times, so when it became clear that's where we were headed, he started to get excited about going to see a movie, while also hinting that maybe a visit to Lego Land afterwards wouldn't be a bad idea. But as we exited the elevator and I headed straight for Lego Land, he got really excited, jabbering about all the things he was going to show me once we got inside.

We spent a long time there—over three hours—riding all the rides twice, seeing two movies (luckily different movies), and playing at all the play stations, including nearly half an hour of Will on his own in the kids-only play area. He was so excited the whole time—I think he could have spent a whole day there and not been ready to leave. We picked out a Lego toy in the gift shop on the way out—a Star Wars model that included an R2-D2 figure—and then he promptly fell asleep in the car on the way home. He was so tired that when we got home I just sat in the driveway listening to music on the car stereo because I didn't want to wake him up.

For dinner that night, we did another treat since it was our last night together as a family for a few days (Julie and Will are coming back on Monday afternoon): we took him to T-Mac, a kid-friendly sports bar in Decatur that Will calls "the game place" because they have a small arcade room that he loves to hang out in while waiting for his food to come. He ALWAYS wants to go there, and while the food isn't bad, the service is usually pretty slow and we don't really get to have dinner with Will because he always immediately wants to go to the arcade. But we hadn't been in a few weeks, and it was a nice way to end a special day for him.

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