february 2019

Will had another recital last, this one a smaller one with only about a dozen kids playing pieces. It's nice to hear him play in this context because it's easy to forget how advanced he is for his age/experience level—when I hear him play amongst all these other kids, I realize not only technically how good he is given that he's only been playing for a year and a half, but also how musically he plays the pieces.

I really like the piece he played for the recital. It's been a while since I've asked him teach me one, but I think I'm going to give this one a try.

Worst. Super Bowl. Ever.

On Saturday, we had a special surprise for Will: an early preview showing of How to Train Your Dragon 3. It was a special one-time showing a few weeks before it opened nationwide. And not only that, we also surprised him by making it a joint outing with his friend Evie and her sister Anika.

He was surprised and excited when we saw that we were going to the movies (we told him we were running an errand), even more surprised when we told him what movie, and I think he nearly fell over when Evie and Anika came running up to him.

This is the third (and supposedly final) movie in what has turned out to be a pretty good trilogy. I won't say this is the best one—they're all strong, and each have their aspects that shine above the other two—but it's a nice way to close out the trilogy, and it definitely has appeal for adults as well.

The only discordant note for me was the removal of T.J. Miller from the film and his replacement with a soundalike. He has such a distinctive voice and delivery that he's easy to mimic but impossible to copy, and every time his character spoke, it was so obvious that it was not him but rather someone trying to sound like him that it became a distraction and took you out of the immersion.

Will really likes the series because the main dragon, Toothless, is a lot like his favorite cat, Poe: black with green eyes and not afraid of anything. He liked this installment pretty well too—I have a feeling we're going to see this one again in the theaters, and it will no doubt be a purchase when it comes out digitally.

After the Jeff Tweedy biography, I stayed in the pop culture realm with Don't Panic, a book on the history of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy book and radio (and television and film) series that was originally written by then-fledgling writer Neil Gaiman (and since appended by various other authors to bring it up to date).

This was one of those pairings—book series that I love being documented by a writer I love—that was either going to be genius or very disappointing, and I'm sad to say it was the latter. That's not entirely Gaiman's fault, however—he does a great job bringing a similar humor and whimsy to his writing about the series that the series itself is known for. But there was too much emphasis (for me) on cataloging all the various iterations of the series, especially the radio show.

Since I'm only familiar with the books and the relatively recent film, all of the television and radio stuff were kind of abstract and irrelevant. I'm sure for Adams' hardcore audience, especially his British audience, those sections were a lot more valuable—the BBC radio show is actually the starting point for the Hitchhiker's universe, and it was also the BBC that made and broadcast the television series. But since I had no experience with or connection to them, those sections were a slog to get through.

The book also attempts to be a biography of Adams himself, but it gives you just enough about his life and personality to leaving you dying for more. There are a couple of proper biographies of Adams out there, but they don't get great reviews, so this will probably be as close as I get.

Here's my personal weird connection to the Hitchhiker's universe (beyond being a big fan of the books): when I was in my early teens (no older than 14), some friends of mine figured out that it was really easy to nick computer games from a local bookstore in the mall: the the revolving display for their comupter games was right at the big entrance to the store but but on the opposite side of the room from the checkout counter. I had seen them do this many times, but had never done it myself.

But I was obsessed with the first Hitchhiker's book, and when the game came out (a text-basd adventure like Zork) and got good reviews, I really wanted to play it. But with a price tag of $40, it was far out of my reach. So I'm ashemed to admit, the next time I went to the mall, I took a copy, feeling a rush of adrenaline and shame once I got out of the mall and realized I was going to get away with it.

The universe still paid me back and taught me a lesson, though. I started playing it in my school's computer lab after school, and some older guys saw it and asked if they could make a copy. I didn't really want to let them, but the same lack of character and weak sense of self that led me to steal the game in the first place made me feel like I had to—I would somehow gain some social credit with them.

Back then, to copy a game from a commercial game disk, you had to use a hole punch or a specialized clipper at a certain spot on the disk. They did this to my disk, made their copy, and gave my copy back to me the next day. The only thing was that now my copy didn't work: I would get to a certain point in the story and the game would crash every time when it hadn't before. Meanwhile, their copy of my copy played fine. And of course when I complained to them, they blew me off and said it must be something I'd done.

So they ended up playing a copy of the game I'd stolen, and I ended up with nothing but a guilty conscience and a harsh lesson in the realities of the social ladder and my place on it. A pretty fitting karmic punishment for my crime, I think.

After struggling with slow but steady weight gain over the past couple of years after a couple of years of tremendous weight loss and maintenance, I'm going to try a new diet this month: keto. I know, I know, it's supertrendy right now, to the point of being annoying, but I'm hoping it will work for me.

I'm definitely going to miss carbs and sugars, but I think I can get by because there are a lot of foods allowed by keto that I enjoy since I tend to like things on the salty, umami side anyway. My main sources of protein will come from the expected sources like chicken, beef, and pork, but I'm also going to consume a lot mre eggs.

For the non-protein part of the diet, I'm going to eat a lot of roasted veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and brussels sprouts), which will provide the extra fiber and nutrition I need and also be a conveyor for the all-important fats (in the form of olive oil). I'm also planning to use mixture of sauteed onions, mushrooms, and bacon as a garnish to help give the meat some flavor in place of a traditional sauce (which tend to be sneakily loaded with carbs).

I don't expect to have a miracle here, but I want to give this a solid try for a month and see where I end up. If it's sustaibable and helping with my weight loss goals, I can see doing it for a month or two at a time with a week off for a more normal diet.

After Will's piano lesson today, his teacher pulled Julie aside and said he needed to talk to her about something. She assumed it must be something negative but had no idea what to expect. But it was good news: Will was going to be asked to perform at a special honors recital for the school's best students.

Normally the recitals at his music school are open to all the students, but this honors recital is invitation-only and will be held at a local country club. It's a pretty big deal in the context of his school—each instructor nominates three kids for it, and then the director of the school chooses one from each group of nominees to play.

We haven't told him yet—he's supposed to get a formal invitation in the mail next week, and we want him to be excited when he sees it and realizes what it is. I'm so impressed with his ability, even if practice time is sometimes difficult—I took piano for several years in my early teens and never reached the skill level he's at already.

On Saturday Will had a birthday party in the afternoon for the younger sister of the boy whose birthday party we recently attended at Medieval Times. He was one of the older kids there, but he's never mindeed hanging around younger kids (or older kids for that matter—he just likes everyone). He's got quite a bevy of younger sisters who have crushes on him, and she was definitely happy he came.

That evening we went out to have dinner with my mom, who is still recovering from her most recent surgery in December. She's doing better now—she can actually take a few steps without a walker—but she's still a very long way from being able to take care of herself (she can't even get out her front door without assistance, much less think about relatively mundane daily activities like going to the grocery store.

The decent places she could live in Atlanta are out of her price range, which is a shame. If she was closer to us, it would be easier to have to her over for dinner or to stay a night or two. We could also take her to a lot more cultural events, which I know she loves, and she'd have easier and cheaper access to things like Uber and home grocery delivery. But aside from the cost, she's also have to have a much smaller living space, and even if she could afford one of those in the city, she wouldn't want to give up enough of her stuff to make that practical.

We still see her a lot more than we would have if she was still in Myrtle Beach, but we don't see her every weekend, and sometimes it's difficult to make it out there more than once a month. My sister used to come into the city more often, and in those cases she'd bring my mom with her for a visit, but she's been traveling so much that we've seen her even less than my mom.

Sunday was Julie's birthday, and we started out the day with a trip to a brunch place called Seed. It was a bit of drive, but because I hadn't started to think about a brunch option until a few days before, they were one of the few well-rated places who took reservations that still had spots available.

It was pretty good, but borderline whether it was worth the relatively long drive. Breakfast/brunch are pretty easy on this diet—some combination of eggs and breakfast meats (sausage or bacon) and black coffee are all acceptable, so I ended up with a ham and swiss omelet, bacon, and coffee.

For dinner I had wanted to go to Gun Show, which Julie and I went to a couple of years ago and thought Will would enjoy, but there were booked up the night before Julie's birthday and they were closed the day of. However, the chef for that restaurant, Kevin Gillespie, also has a place in downtown Decatur called Revival that specializes in upscale takes on classic southern food.

I got the bacon wrapped meatloaf and brussels sprouts, which Julie got the vegetable pot pie and sweet potato souffle. Will got the mac and cheese, of course. It was pretty good, and had a very homey setting, so it would be a good future choice for a nice dinner out with Will.

I've gotten a little tired of our annual trip to Hilton Head—it feels like we've done everything we can do there multiple times, and it keeps getting more and more expensive every year. Julie agreed, and so we were thinking about a couple of other options: a different beach (maybe on the Gulf Coast), a cruise, or a trip to another city like Chicago.

The cruise option appealed to us, but only if we could find the right deal. There was a special back in November where a child could sail for free, and we almost pulled the trigger then, but the special ended before we could make up our mind where and when.

But then the special popped up again in a fire sale a couple of weeks ago, and there was a ship sailing from Orlando during Will's spring break week. When Julie first noticed it there were about a dozen cabins left, but by the time I got around to looking at it after she emailed me (it was a workday), there were only about 7.

We looked at the options and talked about it, and when we finally decided to bite there were only 3 cabins left. But we got one for much cheaper than our annual beach trip for a four night, five day cruise to the Bahamas. Will is going to love it—we're going to try to do snorkeling shore excursions both of our port days, and I he's already obsessed with the idea that you can walk up to a machine with soft serv ice cream and get it free whenever you want it.

Because we hate fighting crowds and because Julie's birthday is so close to Valentine's, we don't usually do anything big on the actual day. And that's what happened this year: rather than trying to find a babysitter and getting reservations at an overbooked restaurant (where you're probably not getting the staff and kitchen at their best), we stayed in, getting takeout and watching a show together as a family. Will did make Julie a Valentine's card, and he also got her two enormous Reese's hearts that were so big that she cut them up into slices like a little cake.

This keto experiment is killing me at times like this—I've been very disciplined about not having any sweets at all, but Reese's are my favorite sweet treat in the world. Even if this ends up generally being a workable diet for me, I know I can't keep it up forever—a life without pasta, potatoes, bread, rice, or sweets seems hard to imagine.

Right after we took Will to see How to Train Your Dragon 3 at a special preview showing, I got an offer to see it for free a second time at another preview showing. This was on a weeknight and it was tight for Julie's schedule (all members of your party have to enter at the same time, and seats are first come, first served), but we decided to do it.

Once again I disguised this as an errand, this time a haircut for me (and although I actually did have a hair appointment that afternoon, my barber canceled it that morning). He tends to zone out in the car, so it wasn't until I pulled up to the theater that he realized where we were and got excited about a special midweek movie—he didn't even care what it was.

The movie held up really well to a repeat showing, especially given how recently we'd seen it. Will was just as entranced the second time as he was the first, and I didn't find myself bored despite knowing every plot point that was coming.

It was a realtively quiet weekend for me, but Julie and Will were busy. Will was off on Friday, so Julie took him to Snow Mountain, a winter-only snow attraction set up at Stone Mountain that's closing in the next couple of weeks. We haven't really done much snow stuff with him—we really need to take him skiing—and he had a ball sledding and tubing down the slopes.

On Sunday they got up early to do the Hot Chocolate 5K, a run where they give you a big bowl of chocolate goodies at the end of it. I'm in no shape to do a 5K at this point (although I'm working my way back for the spring and summer races), but even if I was, I don't know that I would have joined them. I did this one a few years ago, and it was COLD. Running is miserable enought, and I'm opting out of any races where I the odds of it being very cold are higher than average. So between the Thanksgiving run and April, I think I'm just going to stick to training mode.

We weren't sure if it was going to be workable in terms of logistics or cost, but we've decided to make the spring break cruise trip even more memorable for Will by having a day at Disney the day before the cruise. A big factor in this was that I was able to find a room at a Disney resort that's about as cheap as you can get—$137 per night. So we'll drive down to Disney on a Saturday, spend Sunday in a park, and then drive to the ship on Monday morning.

We're still considering which park to spend the day in, but it will probably be Animal Kingdom. That was my favorite park and came in second on Julie's and Will's lists, and it has the biggest variety of content: traditional theme park rides (Will loved the Everest coaster), a couple of zoo/safari experiences, multiple stage shows, and modern ride experiences like the Avatar ride.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed our experience last fall, and while I don't see us going multiple times a year (or even once a year), I do want to try to make a few more visits while Will is still young enough to really enjoy the experience. This is a good way to do it—an addon to another trip where we're only doing a brief stay. Depending on how much Will enjoys cruising, maybe we'll save up and do a proper Disney cruise sometime in the future.

After the somewhat disappointing Jeff Tweedy and Douglas Adams biographical books, I returned to sci-fi with a novel that made several best-of lists last year, Semiosis by Sue Burke. I chose it partly because I believed it was a one-off, but it appears now to be the first book in.a trilogy (after getting burned by Game of Thrones among others, I generally wait to read a series until all the books have been released so I can more easily keep track of the characters, the world, and the plot across all the books).

This book has an interesting twist on the humans-colonizing-another-planet trope: the planet this group of humans lands on is much, much older than Earth, and with all that extra time, many of the plant species have evolved into sentient beings.

The book proceeds in episodic fashion, focusing at first on a central character in each of the early generations of the colonists, but eventually turning to a critical period in societal development where they try to live in harmony with an ultra intelligent plant who initially sees them as service animals to be manipulated into helping it thrive while simultaneously trying to solve a conflict with another group of settles who arrived at the planet centuries before them.

That's the other interesting twist: these other colonists aren't human, but an entirely different species that also targeted the planet for colonization. The human colonists find evidence of their society, but have no idea whether they are indigenous or alien nor whether they are still alive or their relics are from a long-dead civilization. They don't encounter them or start to learn their story until pretty late in the book, and the climax of the narrative is an interweaving of the complex interactions of different factions of these two cultures and the plant society that they are dependent on for survival (and vice versa).

It was a great read, and I don't mind that I'll read the next two installments non-sequentially (I think book 2 is due out this year)—because it already jumps around between different characters, the specific narrative continuity of a single character isn't quite as important as it is in many other series.

I don't usually have much of an interest in true crime, but after I finished Semiosis, I started reading I'll Be Gone in the Dark, a book about the hunt for the Golden State Killer, a serial rapist and murderer who terrorized areas of California in the mid 70s to mid 80s. And then I started watching the Ted Bundy documentary that's airing on Netflix, which led to me also watching a bunch of those true crime shows on Oxygen as background noise.

The Ted Bundy documentary was decently well done, and I learned aome things about him I didn't know before (like the fact that he escaped from prison TWICE, and that the second escape led to his final but extensively killing spree in Florida), but I can already tell that as soon as I'm done with the Golden State Killer book, I'm going to be off of this stuff for a long time. I don't need any more examples of how truly empty and cruel human beings can be, and I don't get the fascination with the sensationalzed accounts of the harm people like Bundy did to so many people and communities.

But for now, I'm giving in to this little obsession, which has been pretty surprising to me. I think part of this is the caught-smoking punishment where you're forced to smoke a whole carton of cigarettes and then never want to smoke again—if I overindulge, I won't want to watch or read any more about this stuff for a long, long time.

For Black History Month at Will's school, each student was asked to pick a historically important African American, write a report about their lives and their contributions, and then dress up like them and tell an abbreviated version of their report in the first person.

They ruled out people like Michael Jordan and Martin Luther King Jr., but there were still a ton of kids who chose LeBron James and Barack Obama. Will came up with something completely on his own that was incredibly unique, however: he chose Scott Joplin, a ragtime composer of a song that Will has been working on in his piano lessons recently.

Not only was his report very informative despite very few sources for him to rely on, he also decided to bring a toy piano to school for his presentation and play a couple of bars of Joplin's most famous work, Maple Leaf Rag, which you will recognize it as soon as you hear it. He was a little shy about gettting dressed up, but he got into it pretty quickly and really enjoyed all the attention he got (the parents were allowed to come to the classroom in the morning to see all the kids' presentations).

Each teacher also got to select a couple of students to audition for a larger event where the whole school would be invited, and not only was Will selected from his class, he also did well in his audition and got chosen to be part of the all-school program. Julie and I unfortunately won't be able to be there for that one—we both have work commitments we can't get out of—but hopefully one of the other parents will get a good video of him for us.

Saturday afternoon was the last regular season Emory women's basketball game this year, so we all went together (Julie doesn't always join us). It was a decisive victory to cap off what has been a great season for them—they finished with a 19-6 overall record and a 10-4 conference record, putting them in second place in their conference, far and away their best year in a long time.

After the game one of the seniors gave Will her jersey, and he hung around to say goodbye to the team. They won't get an automatic bid to the D3 tournament because they didn't win their conference, but they could still get an at-large bid that they'll find out about today.

That would be an even greater way to end this season—they haven't been to the playoffs since 2013, when the current coach was still playing on the team—but either way, this has been a real step forward for the team and a the first really strong season for the new coach since she took over a couple of years ago.

For the past couple of years, my eyesight has been slowing getting worse, especially in bright sunlight or with things like headlights coming at me in the dark. At first it was kind of like when you've been swimming in a chlorine pool all day and your eyes are a little blurry, but it eventually got to the point that I didn't feel comfortable driving at night. I know it shouldn't have taken that long, but it was at that point that I finally decided to make an appointment with an eye doctor.

When I first mentioned my symptoms to my primary care physician, he guessed that it might be early onset cataracts. My father, a retired physician who had cataract issues (when he was much older than me, it should be noted) similarly guessed that it was cataracts. And my wife, consulting with Dr. Google, concurred with the two medical professionals. And it turns out they were all correct: I have cataracts.

I know this is considered to be a low-risk, high-reward surgery, and they do it with lasers now so it's a quick procedure and a quick recovery. I go in again on March 13 to get measured for lenses, and then we'll likely do the first surgery on my weaker eye in early April, with a second surgery on my other eye a couple of weeks after that. Now that I know what it is, I just want to get it over with, but we have our vacation the first week of April and I don't see any way to get it done before them, especially since my doctor wants to do one eye at a time.

I'm pretty terrified about this—my fear of medical settings comes from the fact that I had three eye-related surgeries by the time I was five, and although I only remember the last one, I think I have a lizard-brain sense memory that triggers whenever I'm in a doctor's office. And naturally because of the nature of those surgeries I'm especially panicky about anything to do with my eyes.

I know I should be grateful that this is a very solvable problem that doesn't require full anesthesia, a hospital stay, or rehab with a quick recovery time, but I wish they could just knock me out tomorrow morning, do both eyes, and let me have no chance to build up anxiety or remember any of it. But hopefully by May it will be all behind me and I'll be able to see the world as clearly as I used to.

I went to see Pinegrove last night, my second show in a row at the new Masquerade location after avoiding it for years (the parking is surprisingly simple there, so I won't hesitate to go to shows there in the future). I went with my neighbor Clint, whose been to a few shows with me before and started listening to the bad after my recommendation last year. I'm an enormous fan of their debut record, Cardinal, and I'm growing to love the overall impact of its successor, Skylight, which was released last year.

I had tickets to see the band back in November 2017, but a couple of weeks before they were due to play Atlanta, the frontman, Evan Stephens Hall (he insists on using his full name, serial killer style) had a mini self-imposed metoo meltdown after someone he'd been in a relationship with told him that he had some abusive tendencies. He canceled the tour and the release of the band's completed second album and stayed pretty much out of the news while he figured some things out about himself.

The band stayed together recording (Hall told the crowd at our show that their third album is already finished), they just didn't play out or release any new music. Hall finally found an internal equilibrium in the middle of last year, and by the end of the summer they had released their second album, and a couple of months later announced their first tour since the canceled 2017 one.

The balcony was open for this show (it was draped with curtains and closed off for the Jeff Rosenstock show), and although we couldn't find a place at any of the railings up there, I will definitely get there early in the future to grab a spot—I think the view and the sound would be much better from up there. We ended up finding a spot by the sound board that wasn't too bad, although occasionally the giant heads would align in front of us and our view of anything near the center of the stage would be blocked for a few minutes.

They started the show late but made up for it by not taking a break for an encore, but instead just announcing that this is where they would normally take an encore but they were just going to keep on playing. THey closed with the obvious choice, New Friends, which is also the closer for Cardinal, but the audience didn't want to believe it was really over. If they had access to the setlist, they would have known even before the lights came up: they played every song from their first two albums, along with one new song. They simply didn't have any more material to play.

During the show, Hall announced that it was the largest audience they'd ever played to in a headlining slot, and the crowd were definitely all fans. There were a couple of times when the crowd was so enthusiastically belting out complex, nuanced lyrics that Hall stepped away from the microphone and let the concertgoer students carry the song. I think it was a pretty emotional experience for him, and hopefully another step forward on whatever his internal redemption narrative is.

It's the last day to finish reading our files, and I still had 60 left when the day started. That's actually a significant portion of my overall file volume (a little less than a third), so you might be wondering why I've got so many saved up at the end. It's because in our new reading system, we have two readers on every file, and you're supposed to focus on which ever person has the most number of files left to read.

Because my territory is so small compared to a full time counselor, I always have the lowest volume comparted to whoever I'm paired with—my 100 files for RD always pales in comparison to the hundreds of files that my colleagues with larger territories need to get through. It's only until the last wee that my file volume is larger than my partners', and so everything in my territory ends up being read that final week.

It's more stressful than I would like it to be, so next year I'm going to try a new approach: for each 3-4 hour reading block where I'm paired with someone else, I'm going to have us read 5 of my files and then we can use the rest of the time for their applications. This should mean I'm making slow and steady progress of 10-15 files a week, and that should be enough to significantly reduce my volume for the final week of reading.

december 2019
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march 2019
february 2019
january 2019

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