november 2015

Before I left on my trip for Baltimore/DC, we did our Halloween night trick-or-treating with Will. My sister and brother-in-law joined us, as did some friends who have an 8 year old son who gets along really well with Will. Here's Will with our pumpkins:

And here's Will in his costume with some of his friends from the neighborhood—he wanted to be an elevator this year:

He had a fun night, but was a little sad because I was leaving very early the next morning. However, Julie's mom flew in later that afternoon to stay with them for the rest of the week, so that made it a little easier to get over my absence.

My flight out of Atlanta left around 7:30 on Sunday morning, meaning I had to get up to get ready around 4. I wasn't leaving that early to save money or anything (although I think it did help with the airline ticket price - the flight was only half full, a rarity for me flying on Delta out of Atlanta to anywhere) - it was because the Ravens were playing in Baltimore early that afternoon and this would be my first chance in three years to see them play a game that counted (I've seen them play two preseason games in Atlanta since we moved here).

My original plan was to stay with a friend in Baltimore and pay for a ticket for him to come to the game with me (he's a big Ravens fan as well and had taken me to a game once before using free tickets he had gotten from a neighbor), but something came up with a family commitment meaning he could neither come to the game nor give me a place to stay. So I ended up staying in a hotel very close to the stadium (my window on the 17th floor looked right out over Camden Yards) and meeting another friend from DC before the game).

It was fun to be at the game - we sat in the endzone bleachers behind the marching band, right about where I sat the first time I ever went to a Ravens game back in 2004 with my brother - but the team's play was as terrible as it has been all season. They barely won with a last second field goal, and as with their only other win this season, it seemed less like the Ravens played well enough to win than that the other team played badly enough to lose. And it continued the Ravens ridiculous streak of having the game decided in the last two minutes of the game and the final outcome decided by a single score (which has been the case with all eight of their games this season).

After the game I said goodbye to my friend and went back to my hotel to relax for a little bit before meeting a friend and former coworker up in Hamden for dinner. We met at one of my favorite restaurants in Baltimore, Golden West, and I ordered my two favorite things on the menu: their teriyaki brussels sprouts and the chorizo burrito with Christmas sauce (both red chili and green chili sauce).

We had a good meal and talked for a long time - he's someone that I absolutely miss from my time at my former institution, and he's someone I would love to work with again in the future. There's seems to be little chance of that - he just recently took a new director-level position at the same university that he attended and where he has worked since graduating (minus a year spent abroad teaching English in China), so I don't think he's ever leaving and I'm pretty sure I'm never going back. But it's good to be able to hang out with him when we get the chance.

On Monday I had a meeting with a vendor in the morning, so I checked out of my hotel around 9 and drove up to meet that team in a coffee house near their office. It just so happened that the office was right across the street from Hopkins, so when I was done, I walked over to take a look around and see some of my old colleagues.

I haven't been back in nearly two years, and the last time I was there I still missed it a lot—I felt very tied to the place, and I still had a lot of friends who worked there, especially in my old office. But I think I'm past that now—as much as I loved my time there, both at Hopkins and in Baltimore, I can't imagine ever wanting to return to either place. There were new buildings on campus, and substantial changes to the building I worked in, but it all felt so small, and so distant from me this time.

I did visit with a few friends—I think there were still four or five people I knew from my old office who were still working there (another four or five still work elsewhere on campus, but not in that building anymore), and I had lunch with one of them at one of my other Baltimore favorites, Niwana, a little Japanese/Korean place near campus. I walked around the old office one more time before I left, and got to visit with a few other people, but I didn't miss the place like I did last time.

Before leaving Baltimore for DC, I stopped by to see a couple of friends who had moved to other offices on campus, then I fired up the GPS and got on the road before the afternoon rush hour traffic started to pick up.

I arrived at my hotel around 4:30, and just barely had time to check in, get the rental car parked, and get my stuff up to my room before it was time to meet my godmother Jane for dinner at a little french place across the street from where I was staying.

Jane and my mom have been best friends since they were in nursing school together at UNC, and they still see each other several times a year (in fact, my mom is going to celebrate Thanksgiving with Jane and her family this year). When we were kids we would always take beach vacations with Jane and her kids, and she has been there for many of the important milestone moments in my life.

One of my best memories of Jane was the time when I was very young—probably somewhere around 7 or 8 years old—when my mom let me fly up alone to spend a few days with her. I really, really wanted to see the Washington Monument—I had never been up in it before—but it was stormy that day and it was closed due to danger from lightning. It was my last chance to see it before I flew home, and I was pretty heartbroken.

But then a couple of hours after I had gone to sleep—probably around 11 at night—she woke me up and told me that it was open and that she was taking me to see it. As an adult, I now know what a tremendous hassle this must have been—she lives in Falls Church, which is a decent drive even without traffic, and then there's the parking to deal with, etc. But I don't even remember how we got there or how long it took—I just remember how amazing it was to be up in the monument at night, looking out over the Mall and the rest of the city. It's something I remember with vivid clarity to this day.

She still lives in the same house in Falls Church that she did when I was a child, so she drove to her closest Metro stop and took that into the city to meet me (my hotel was conveniently located right across the street from the Metro stop near the National Zoo).

I don't remember much of the specific conversation we had at dinner, but as I've grown older and experienced more of these reconnections that happen once every few years with old friends, I've come to see that as a very positive thing—it means this person is ingrained enough in your life and you in theirs that the details that you're catching up on matter less than just getting a chance to spend time with them in person again.

My conference didn't officially start until Wednesday, but I was tentatively scheduled to meet with another vendor on Tuesday morning, and Jane needed to get back home before it was too late, so we ended dinner around 8 (we started at 6) and I went back to the hotel to catch up on work email and prep for my Tuesday meeting.

The meeting with the vendor ended up being canceled, but my day worked out fine. My friend Tom, who I had planned to see in the afternoon, was able to leave Richmond early and get to my hotel in time for us to do a morning run together down to the Mall before getting changed and heading back down on the Metro to spend the afternoon visiting museums.

The last time I was in the DC area back in May of this year, Tom and I spent a frustrating afternoon trying to visit a few of my favorite museums, all of which were in some way inaccessible or unexpectedly closed, which was a real bummer for me—I love Atlanta, but the one thing I absolutely miss from living up in Baltimore was the plethora of great museums that were close by, especially down in DC. So we spent Tuesday afternoon trying to re-visit many of those same museums, starting with the Philips, which had been closed for a private function back in May.

It was open this time, and after a delicious lunch of okonomiyaki (a japanese crispy cabbage pancake) and a chicken kabob from a nearby Teaism, we spent an hour or so there. The special exhibition had some great pieces from van Gogh, Cezanne, and O'Keeffe, but it overall was less striking than some of the other exhibits I've seen there in the past. The Rothko room, however, is always worth the trip; Tom and I sat in there for a very long time, and although it happens every time with Rothko's pieces, the longer you stare at them, the more different they become from the original impression you have of them. It's pretty amazing that I can still get lost in his paintings, especially ones like these that I've seen so many times before.

After the Philips, we took the Metro down to a stop near the Mall and went to the contemporary wing of the National Gallery, another one of our failed ventures from May. We had less luck with this visit; it was still closed, and after quizzing a museum worker, we found out that the wing is undergoing a major renovation and won't reopen until sometime in the fall of 2016. I usually have a conference in the DC area in May, but no others that I know of for next year, so it may not be until May of 2017 that I will be able to see the pieces in this collection again, which is pretty disappointing—they have some great stuff there, including many favorites of mine from the 20th century, including Hofmann, Hopper, Dubuffet, Rothko, and so many others.

Next we headed over to the Air and Space Museum, which I wanted to visit just to touch the moon rock they have on display there. They had moved it to a new location—it used to be the first thing you would see as you came in the door—but we found it eventually, and then ended up spending more time wandering around the exhibits.

We tried to make it to the Folger Shakespeare Library as our last stop for the day, but we didn't quite make it in time, so walked from there back to Union Station to catch the Metro back up to my hotel. We ate dinner at a local sports bar, and then Tom headed back to Richmond while I got mentally prepared for three days of conference sessions that would start the next morning.

The first day of the conference went pretty well, and that night I met one of my professors from Davidson for dinner. She was my thesis advisor and probably would have been my primary academic advisor if our general subject areas hadn't been so different—I was into 20th century American literature and she was a medievalist (my thesis on Paul Auster had an interesting area of crossover for us—I wrote my thesis on the New York Trilogy, which is Auster's postmodern and very literary take on the hard boiled detective novel, and she was teaching a course in "mystery" across several different defnitions, including the medieval religious concept and the modern literary genre).

One of her signature courses, which I took, was her exploration of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, read in the original Middle English. And she would only teach it in the spring, because one of the culminating sessions for the course took place on the day (relative to when Easter fell that year) when the pilgrims would have arrived at Canterbury: on that day, Gail would host a huge, multi-course Medieval feast at her house where all of the students were required to dress in Medieval garb and bring a dish they had made themselves using Medieval recipes she provided. Her dining room at her home was paneled in dark woods and made up to look like the dining hall of an English manor; I suspect that it was decorated this way exclusively for the purpose of being able to host this meal once a year.

We mostly spent time catching up on how our lives have gone over the past decade or so, and one of the things I discovered was that she has now sold that home (she retired from teaching a couple of years ago), so no more official or unofficial Chaucer feasts at Easter each year. She now splits time between a few different locations with her husband who is also retired—she stays primarily in DC at a small apartment within walking distance of the Folger, where she is now a research fellow, and sees her husband every couple of weeks either in DC or at one of their other locations where he is off pursuing his post-retirement activities.

When I was reaching out to Jane and Gail, who are both foodies, to set up dinner with each of them, I told them to pick anywhere near a Metro stop and I'd be there. Charmingly, they picked the exact same restaurant—a little french place within walking distance from my hotel. If I hadn't enjoyed Monday's meal so much, I might have suggested a new venue, but I was perfectly happy to return.

When I met Gail, she suggested the prix fixe menu with wine pairings, which was fine by me (I had ordered a la carte off the main menu on Monday). Four glasses of wine is quite a bit more than I have on a regular basis, so I don't remember much about the meal except that all of the individual dishes were pretty good—my only small complaint was the sweetness of one of the red wines they served us.

It was really good to see her again, especially now that I feel like a proper adult and not just a student of hers. Hopefully I'll be able to arrange a visit with her whenever I'm in DC going forward—it sounds like she's planning to continue her work at the Folger for the foreseeable future.

On the second day of the conference, I ran into an old friend of Julie's and mine from Baltimore, and happily got about an hour to hang out with her between the end of the conference sessions and my previously arranged dinner meeting. She and her family had recently moved from Baltimore to upstate NY, where she's originally from, and she was now a counselor at a girls' school that I remember reading applications from at my previous institution (upstate NY was my reading territory). I always forget that she's on the other side of this industry (working with high school students instead of on the college side) and that I should always check to see if she's going to be at one of my conferences, but luckily this time we happened to run into each other and had some time to catch up in between other activities.

For dinner I met a dean from another school who I've been getting to know over the past year. He works for one of my old bosses, and he also serves as a board member for a group that I serve on a technical advisor committee for. We had our first real conversation at this conference a year ago, but since then it seems like we've run into each other everywhere—I went to five conferences this year (the most I've ever done), and he was at all of them, although our schedules only allowed us to meet up at three of them (including this one).

He also happens to be a runner (also much better and faster than me, which seems to be the case with just about everyone else I know who calls themself a runner), so we chatted about that for a bit, and I let him know about the Rock Creek Park trail in case he wanted to give that a try before he left. He also had an interesting theory about the prevalence of run-walkers that I see at races in Atlanta: this style of "running" is advocated by a man named, Jeff Galloway, who calls it the Run Walk Run method (I just made up the term run-walkers out of annoyance—I had no idea it had been codified to this extent). And guess where Jeff Galloway is based? That's right: he lives in Atlanta.

This dean is someone who philosophically approaches his process the same way that we do at our institution, and it's alway good to catch up with him about what issues they are focusing on and how they're resolving them—it's another good sounding board for how we might deal with some of those same problems at our institution. I feel a lot more connected to the leaders in the industry over the past few years—although this dean is one I've gotten to know particularly well, I feel like I'm much better known outside of my home institution since making the move to a new university three years ago.

I don't ever have plans of leaving here, but I do feel a lot more confident that if for whatever reason I had to put myself on the market and look for a new position somewhere, I'm much more of a known quantity in the industry and that I would have opportunities available to me.

On the last day of the conference, I went to the first morning session, but then I had to get packed up to head to the airport. It turned out that my friend Alysia, who I had met for an hour in between the end of the conference sessions and dinner, was also flying out of the same airport, so I gave her a ride which gave us a chance to catch up a little more.

All told, I was away for six solid days, which is not only the longest I've ever been away from Will but which is pretty likely the longest I've ever been away from Julie since we got married. It was a long trip, and it was good to be home, but it was nice to be able to catch up with so many people and revisit some of my old haunts. I don't miss Baltimore and DC nearly as much as I did when I left there three years ago, but it's nice that I get to go back every now and then.

While I was in DC, I was able to get in several days of running early in the morning. I've made sort of a habit out of this at conferences this year—I go to bed much earlier than normal, and so I wake up very early and have a couple of hours to kill before I have to get ready for the conference, and so I go for a run.

For three days in a row—Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday—I ran the same five mile route down the Rock Creek Park trail, past the Kennedy Center, and ending at the Mall, where I would run the length of the reflecting pool between the Lincoln Memorial and the WWII Memorial, over to the Washington Monument, and then down past the Smithsonian and the Hirshhorn and then back up that same part of the Mall past the Natural History museum to the Smithsonian Metro stop, where I would cool down for a couple of minutes before taking the Metro back up to my hotel.

It was a beautiful run, and an interesting chanllenge in that for the first couple of miles it was mostly downhill. I run short stretches downhill in my Atlanta runs—Atlanta, especially around my neighborhood, is very hilly—but the gradient in Rock Creek Park was steeper than I was used to, and I was using the muscles in the top of my thighs a lot more than I normally do.

The first morning, when I went out relatively late in the morning (around 9:30 with Tom after he drove in from Richmond), I was really surprised at how crowded the trail was—there were times when I felt like I had to practically elbow people out of the way. And even when I went out much earlier, while it was still pretty dark, there were still a lot of people running the path—between that and the morning traffic flowing into DC (the running path ran right next to Rock Creek Parkway), I certainly never felt isolated or alone.

One thing I learned from my run with Tom (who is, incidentally, a much better and much faster runner than I am): I'm not really built to run with other people. I've never run with anyone on my neighborhood runs (Julie and I run at different times because someone has to be home with Will), and because I listen to music while I run, it's sort of a solitary activity anyway. And as much as I like hanging out with Tom, I was just not interested in trying to hold a conversation while we ran; I think part of the reason I have grown to like running is because the physicality of it takes me out of my normal mental patterns—I can't think about the stress of work, etc., because I'm too busy focusing on the next stride, the next turn, the next uphill climb.

The morning after I returned from the conference, Julie and I got up bright and early to run a 5K together. Her mom came to visit and help out with Will while I was gone, and she wasn't leaving until later in the day on Saturday, so she was able to watch Will for us while we headed to Turner Fields for the CHOA Strong Legs 5K.

Julie also listens to music while she runs, and while we've never run together to know for sure how different our paces are, we just decided to start together and go at our own pace. It wasn't a bad course—a little hilly in places like most Atlanta courses, but it was cool to start and end at Turner field. And despite Julie leading me to believe that I would be a lot faster than her, she finished pretty close behind me—no more than a minute I would guess (and I had a pretty average race for me, right at an 11 minute mile).

I don't know when we'll get the chance to do that again, but it was fun to have someone to hang out with before the race, and I'm glad that she's done one now and has the confidence to know she can do it (even though she's been running that distance around the neighborhood for a while now).

Okay, now that I've wrapped up my little travelogue, it's time to recount what's been going on with the Ravens the past couple of weeks since I saw them play in Baltimore in a win over San Diego.

The following week, Baltimore had a bye week, but after that, on November 15, they had another home game, this time against Jacksonville, who have been one of the worst teams in the league the past few years and who the Ravens have done pretty well against during that time (which is true of most teams that played them). In fact, until this game, Jacksonville had lost 13 straight road games.

As usual, the game came down to the final few seconds, but this one ended in a loss for the Ravens, perhaps the most brutal loss they've faced in the course of this awful, awful season. Because it actually shouldn't have been a loss; in the days after the game, the NFL admitted that the officiating crew called what should have been the final play of the game incorrectly; if they had called it properly, the game would have been over and the Ravens would have been the victors.

Here's what happened: the Jaguars were making a desperate last-minute push down the field with time running out, and since they had no time-outs, they either needed to spike the ball on first down or hustle quickly to the ball. While they were attempting to line up for a final Hail Mary play with time expiring, a later review showed that they did not get lined up in time before the ball was snapped, meaning that the refs should have called a penalty on the Jaguars that would have ended the game with Baltimore ahead.

Instead, they let the play proceed, and in a fluke, one of our pass rushers received a facemask penalty on the quarterback, giving Jacksonville a 15 yard push up the field and time for one more play. That 15 yards was enough to barely put them in field goal range (they were far out of range prior to that), and since the game can't end in a penalty, they were given the opportunity to make that play even though there was no time left on the clock. They made the field goal, putting them ahead, and the game was over.

Yes, it's a ridiculously unfair outcome—the penalty on Baltimore would have never been called if the refs had called the penalty on Jacksonville first, thereby ending both the play and the game—but as usual, it wouldn't have mattered if the Ravens had taken advantage of their many other opportunities during the game to put themselves ahead and not be fighting for their lives up until the very last second.

Even if they had won, their record would still only have been 3-6, and the playoffs would have been a statistically insignificant possibility. Still, you hate to see a game end incorrectly on a blown call, especially when so many other things have gone wrong for the team this season. It's clear that this is just not their year, and the best thing to do at this point is get through this nightmare with a plan on how to bounce back next year.

The following Sunday, the Ravens went back on the road to play against St. Louis, and even though they ended up with a W, they still lost: both quarterback Joe Flacco (who hasn't missed a start since coming into the league in 2008) and starting running back Justin Forsett were injured and will be out for the rest of the season.

It was another last-second game that was decided by a single score (just like every other Ravens game this season, both wins and losses, setting an NFL record), and it was even more heartbreaking because the injury to Flacco came not from a Rams player but from a badly overmatched second-string left tackle getting pushed back by his opponent and rolling into Flacco's knee, tearing two ligaments.

Now more than ever this season will be about evaluating talent and needs for the future; I'm sure we'll win another couple of games, but we have so many key players that are gone now that the team on the field is more heavily weighted with backups than with actual starters; in addition to Flacco and Forsett, this year has also seen season-ending injuries to our two starting wide receivers (first round pick Perriman and veteran Steve Smith), the starter who took Perriman's place (Campanaro), our defensive leader and a key part of our pass rushing schemes (Terrell Suggs), our second string running back (meaning that the players who will be at that position for us the rest of the season will be third and fourth stringers), and our starting center, Jeremy Zuttah. And this is in addition to losing Haloti Ngata to free agency in the offseason and having our starting left tackle hurt for the majority of the season (which is the reason why an inexperienced backup was on the field when Flacco was hurt).

So the cursed season continues. I just hope we can make it through the rest of it without losing too many other bodies (we have already placed 17 players on IR this year, coming dangerously close to the 19 we had last year—which was one of the worst years in Ravens history in terms of injuries) with several games remaining).

Thanksgiving will be relatively small this year—my dad and stepmother are in town (they arrived yesterday), and my sister and brother-in-law will come over, but those will be our only guests.

I like hosting Thanksgiving—I've got the food preparation part pretty down pat—and we're also trying a smoked turkey from our favorite local barbecue place instead of fixing one, which will save a lot of time on Thanksgiving day. But we've had some pretty big crowds in past years, including more family and some friends, and while I certainly don't want to have it be this intimate every year, it's nice to have a smaller celebration every now and then.

I finally finished watching the first six episode season of Fear the Walking Dead, and although it's not nearly as good as its sister show, there is some potential for us to see this world in new ways that we haven't seen the original show explore in depth.

Things I didn't like: most of the characters, the fact that we only had the neighborhood dealing with military occupation for a couple of episodes, and how long it took them to really get the zombie apocalypse in full swing (I mean, if we're going to have that long a buildup, it would have been nice to have another group of characters who were figuring out from a medical perspective what was going on).

Things I liked: the potential for this show to stay in a different environment than we typically saw in the original show and deal with different kinds of crumbling social structures, and the very real possibility that some of the characaters I don't care for will die during the course of the next season.

Again, I'm not sure how successful this season really was given how much support they had from fans of the franchise and how little traction it seems to have gotten among that fanbase, but I'm willing to give it a chance—one thing the creators were really good about in the first few seasons of The Walking Dead was listening to the fans and adapting the show to be more the kind of show that people were wanting to see.

december 2015
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