april 2022

So. The day after our biggest decision release of the year, I took over a week off for vacation. It happened to coincide with Will's spring break at school, but honestly, I would have needed to do it anyway. This was without a doubt the most stressful cycle in my 20 years in this industry, and not only am I going to need a significant recharge before next year if I want to keep doing this (which I do), I'm also going to need a lot of changes in the way our office utilizes my team and me. But that's a topic for another day.

We told Will that we were going down to Florida and staying in a cottage near the beach, but that's not actually what we had planned. See, we had planned to take Will on a cruise in the summer of 2020, but of course Covid happened and we had to cancel that one and haven't been on one since. Will has been asking when it will be safe to go again, but we had told him possibly this summer but maybe not until next year.

He's also been obsessed with a certain ship: Wonder of the Seas, the newest ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet (it just started sailing in early March) and currently the largest cruise ship in the world. While looking for cruises we might take in the summer, Julie noticed that Wonder had a weeklong cruise that coincided with Will's spring break, and although he'd have to miss a couple of days of school, they had ocean balcony cabins for a good price and it seemed like we could make it work if we wanted to.

Our other big concern was Covid: we've been pretty Covid-cautious, but when we read that Royal Caribbean not only requires all passengers 12 and up to be vaccinated but also have all passengers show a negative Covid test taken within 72 hours of the sailing, we felt like it was worth the risk (especially considering that most of the activities on and off the ship were outdoors). So about three weeks before the cruise, we booked a cabin and started quietly accumulating the gear, etc., we would need for the trip.

It's getting harder and harder to fool will—we've surprised him so often growing up that he's incredibly suspicious, even when we're telling him the truth—so I concocted an elaborate story about our beach trip, even showing him an Airbnb at a beach a little north of Fort Lauderdale and planning out the activities we could do when we weren't at the beach.

We drove down to Orlando on Thursday, and then headed to Fort Lauderdale Friday morning, arriving around 1:00. We told him that we couldn't check in to the Airbnb until 4:00, and I suggested we head over to the cruise terminal to see if we could see any cruise ships in port. Even when he saw that Wonder was one of the ships in port that day, he still didn't think we were going on a cruise—he was just really excited that we would get to see it in person before it headed to Europe for several months.

But when we pulled up to the curb where you offload your luggage, I let him in on the surprise while Julie surreptitiously filmed him, saying: "Will: I have an April Fools for you. We're not going to the beach—we're going on a weeklong cruise on Wonder of the Seas!"

He completely lost his mind, and I could tell from his reaction that he was really genuinely surprised. So we unloaded our bags, parked the car, and about half an hour later, we were in our cabin to drop off our carry-on bags before heading up to the top deck to watch the ship pull away from the dock and head out to sea.

Our first full day on the ship was a day at sea, but there was so much to do on the ship that you needed a full day to explore. There was so much to do, and Will tried all of it by the end of the trip: multiple pools and water slides, a zip line, a carousel, an ice skating rink, a climbing wall, a FlowRider (surfing/wakeboarding simulator on real flowing water), a mini golf course, an escape room, a laser tag arena, a six story tall dry slide, and so much more. Will didn't do all of it that first day, but he did quite a bit, and he ended up doing most things multiple times during the voyage.

Our first port of call was Labadee, Haiti, which wasn't really Haiti—similar to CocoCay, the island in the Bahamas that Royal Caribbean has exclusive access to, this port is in an isolated part of Haiti that is completely controlled by Royal Caribbean. We had thought about doing an excursion to a rain forest, but by the time we booked the cruise, those options were completely sold out. So we opted instead to take a boat to an uninhabited island that was about a 25 minute ride from the port where we could swim and walk around for a few hours. You could circumnavigate the island in about 15 minutes, which I did a couple of times looking for shells. But I spend the vast majority of my time in the water.

The next day (Monday, the fourth day of the cruise) was my birthday, and the ship was docked at San Juan, Puerto Rico (specifically Old San Juan). We spent the day walking and exploring the sites, including two old forts (Castillo San Cristobal and Castillo San Felipe del Morro), with a stop in between to visit Parque de Los Gatos, a small park that is inhabited by a colony of feral cats. They were pretty easy to find, but they were indeed feral—even the ones that would let you get close to them were pretty clear that they didn't want to be petted.

We left Castillo San Felipe as the sun was started to go down, and we walked back along a path that ran by the sea. We ended up walking seven or eight miles that day, so even though there were still a few hours left in port by the time we got back to the pier, we decided to head back to the boat and have dinner there.

We visited yet another port on day 5, this time Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas. This was one of the ports that Julie and I visited on our 20th anniversary cruise a few years ago, and we repeated one of the excursions we did then: a trip to an uninhabited island where you could swim with sea turtles, which we knew Will would love. You couldn't actually go onto the island—instead, the boat dropped anchor in a cove called Turtle Bay, and you jumped off the boat and swam around.

Unfortunately Will's mask wasn't fitting very well and he was really struggling to swim and see anything underwater. And although I was following the guide and trying to stake out a turtle for him to see, I couldn't find one (there were tons there when we went a few years ago), and we didn't end up actually seeing any turtles in Turtle Bay.

We were all kind of bummed by that, but the day was redeemed when we got to the second part of the excursion. It was supposed to be a relaxing hour or two on a beach at a different nearby island, but one of the guides said there were sometimes turtles there, too, so I made it my mission to find one so Will could see them. I swam out away from the shore and surprisingly found one pretty quickly. I swam with him for a few minutes and tried to get Julie's attention so she and Will could swim out, but unfortunately I attracted another family nearby and they got way too aggressive with the turtle, chasing him off before Julie and Will could see him.

I was a little pissed about that, but I didn't give up. I went and got Julie and Will and got them to swim out closer to me, and I was fortunately able to locate another turtle (a little smaller than the first one) pretty quickly. Since they were waiting for my signal, they were able to come over without anyone else noticing, and we got to swim with him by ourselves for 15 or 20 minutes before another group joined us. This group was much better behaved, however, and we were able to swim with the turtle for about 45 minutes, following him from a distance as he scavenged for food on the sea floor, coming to the surface every 5-8 minutes to take a couple of breaths before returning to the bottom.

It ended up being a pretty great day despite how it started, and I was so glad Will got to swim with a sea turtle. That was one of my best memories from our previous cruise, and it was really cool to be able to do that with him.

Our next day was another day at sea where Julie and Will continued to explore the ship while I mostly napped and read. That night we went to dinner at a molecular gastronomy restaurant on the ship with an Alice in Wonderland theme. The food was pretty good, and Will enjoyed all the little surprises—food that looked like something other than what it was and cool tricks like his dessert, where the waiter poured hot chocolate over a chocolate dome to reveal cake and ice cream underneath.

Our final port and our final full day on the ship were spent on CocoCay, and island in the Bahamas that is completely controlled by Royal Caribbean. They have built a full-fledged water park on the island with a huge swimming pool, multiple water slides, and a wave pool, along with tons of chairs and umbrellas on the beaches that ring the island. Julie and Will went immediately to the water park while I went snorkeling before we met back up for lunch.

After lunch I took them out and showed them a couple of man-made reefs where fish hung out, and then we swam back and all went over to the water park together. We spent some time in the wave pool and going down a couple of the medium-height slides before ending the day with a trip up to the tallest slide (which Royal Caribbean claims is the tallest water slide in North America). It was cool to do it even with the wait—the tower had great views of the island and surrounding water—but it honestly wasn't as fun as the slides that were a little lower down on the tower. I'm glad I did it, but I'd probably choose to go on the other slides multiple times rather than go on that one again.

We left the boat pretty early on Friday morning, and although we had planned to stop somewhere in the middle and drive back the rest of the way to Atlanta on Saturday, I decided to just push through once we got to Valdosta. It was a much longer drive than the combined times of our drives on the way down, but we were still home in time for dinner, and we had a whole weekend in front of us before we had to go back to work and school.

It was a great trip, and I'm glad we were able to do it. Who knows what the Covid situation will look like in a few months, and if we hadn't gone on this trip, we wouldn't have been able to go on Wonder of the Seas, because it's heading to Europe for an extended assignment there in a week or two and won't be back in the US until November of this year. It was a great surprise for Will, and we all had a lot of fun together.

Back in March I wrote that it would be a long time before the UNC basketball team would make me as happy as they did when they curbstomped Duke at coach Mike Krzyzewski's final regular season home game, but man, I could not have predicted what happened in the recent NCAA tournament. For the first time in history, Duke and UNC met in the Final Four, each playing for a chance to play in the title game.

As you probably know, UNC won that match. It was a close game throughout, unlike their regular season matchups, each of which was a relative blowout by the visiting team, but the Tar Heels held on to a slim lead for the last 30 seconds and ended up with the win and a ticket to the championship game.

So that means, in addition to spoiling Krzyzewski's final regular season home game back in March, UNC also ended his career with a loss to his hated rivals and denied him a chance to close out his career with another national championship.

Both this game and the final game against Kansas happened while we were on the cruise, but I was able to watch most of them at the outdoor sports bar in the Boardwalk area at the back of the ship. It was disappointing to see them lose the Kansas game and earn their first national championship since the 2017 season, especially when they had such a huge lead (40-25) going into halftime.

But I can tell you honestly that if UNC fans would rather have another national championship or have those two games against Duke where we got to absolutely destroy the story-book ending that Duke fans were hoping would cap the end of Krzyzewski's career, a decent number of us would take the outcome from this timeline. Those bragging rights are going to belong to UNC and its fanbase for a long, long time—Duke fans three generations from now who haven't been born yet will still speak bitterly about those two games.

My mom had yet another surgery yesterday, this one to correct a longstanding issue that's had a tendency to crop up and complicate the recovery from other surgical procedures. So far she seems to be recovering well, although given all her issues, she's likely going to be in the hospital for at least a few more days before they clear her to go home.

Hopefully this will be her last procedure for a while. She really wants to get some other joint issues addressed, but after all she's been through medically the last couple of years, I think her body needs a few months just to rest and repair itself before she does something traumatic to it again.

This weekend I brought Will with me to the Atlanta United game against Cincinnati. We got there early so we could get something to eat and feel comfortable without our masks on before it got too crowded. The match ended up 0-0, so we didn't miss anything in terms of scoring, but unfortunately just as we were leaving, star goalkeeper Brad Guzan (the team captain and second most popular player behind Josef Martinez) tore his ACL on a non-contact play and will be out the rest of the year.

That's a huge blow to the team, and we're really going to need to produce more points from our typical massive possession and shot advantage (we've been a pretty low-scoring team despite dominating those aspects of the game this season) if we want to stay competitive without him.

Yesterday was Easter, and the Easter Bunny did find us at our rental house. Will always has a great time hunting for eggs, and it's fun to see how they keep turning up in unexpected spots throughout the day (and week—not all eggs have been located as of yet).

So. There is progress being made on the house front. We got a sort-of final settlement on the dwelling portion of our claim (which covers the house itself, not what was in the house) in February, and while there are some additional buckets of money that we should be able to tap into during the rebuilding process, we've essentially maxed out the basic coverage for the house at this point.

That allowed us to pick a contractor in March, and that contractor has now started the work of cleaning out the debris from the structure and tearing out the structural elements that will need to be rebuilt/replaced. They've applied for permits to start the actual construction, and we're also finalizing the architectural drawings and picking out all the details of fit and finish (fixtures, appliances, tile, flooring, paint, lighting, etc.).

This is all still pretty traumatic for me—I haven't even seen pictures of the house since they started the demolition, much less been to see it in person, and I probably won't at least until they have a roof on it and have a decent amount of framing done on the interior so that it looks something like the house I remember. Julie has been taking point on all the discussions with our insurance company, our public adjuster, and the contractor, which is a huge amount of work, and I appreciate so much how much she's taken on.

But I'm just not capable of dealing with it all right now. If this fire had only affected me, I would have taken the settlement money, paid off the mortgage, sold the lot, quit my job, and left Atlanta for who knows where and just taken a year off to process it all. Everything in my coping instincts tells me to run—if I'm being forced into a clean slate situation, I want it to be a true clean slate.

Luckily Julie's coping strategy is to throw herself completely into getting our world back to as close to what we had before as we can, so she's the counterweight I need to find my way through this without completely upending a life where I was pretty before the events of the past year or so.

I got a lot of reading done while we were on vacation, including two books (in what I later realized was a yet-to-be-completed trilogy) from Sylvain Neuvel. I have previously read Neuvel's Themis Files series, which starts with the discovery of an ancient giant robot (akin to the Jaegers in Pacific Rim, meant to be controlled by two pilots working together) apparently left on Earth by an alien race and the decades-long attempts to unlock its technological secrets.

That series started out strong and kind of foundered as you got deeper into the trilogy, and I'm worried that this series might be the same way. This new trilogy is called Take Them to the Stars, and it's a sci-fi based alternate history whose first book, A History of What Comes Next, takes place during WWII as the protagonist, Mia, attempts to lure Wernher Von Braun away from the Nazis and recruit him into the American rocket program.

That book was good, but I was less enamored with book 2, Until the Last of Me. This novel takes place in 1968 and focuses on Mia's daughter, who is a key behind-the-scenes player as humans are attempting the earliest manned space launches. It was fine, but not as good as the first book, which is following the same trendline as the Themis Files series.

But I will read that third book whenever it comes out, because I do want to see how this all resolves. And while I would recommend A History of What Comes Next (which works as a standalone novel), the way the story wraps up in book 3 will go a long way towards determining whether the entire series is worth the time investment. I'm hoping for a good outcome, because there's a lot to like about the overall series so far, but I've definitely got lowered expectations based on how the Themis Files trilogy played out.

After reading the Take Them to the Stars books, I stayed in the sci-fi realm with John Scalzi's latest, The Kaiju Preservation Society. I've read a few of Scalzi's other works, including the space opera war series Old Man's War, and his Star Trek parody Red Shirts. His books are briskly plotted and are a breeze to read, and although he typically stays sci-fi adjacent, his novels and short stories range across many subtypes in that genre.

This book is about the discovery of an alternate dimension connected to Earth where kaiju live (kaiju are giant monsters like the ones in the Godzilla movies) and the secretive group of researchers who study them while also trying to keep their existence secret and prevent bad actors from unleashing them on our world. As usual, Scalzi moves us quickly through the story, which is mostly told through the eyes of Jamie Gray, a new recruit to the operation who is brought in by a close friend.

This is a mostly fun read, but once you get past the reveal of the kaiju dimension, it doesn't have a very interesting or unique story to tell and becomes a bit of a generic thriller, albeit it in a sci-fi setting. It suffers from some of the same faults as Hench (by Natalie Zina Walschots), which tells the story of a relatively average office drone who works her way up to the inner circle of her supervillain boss. Both books find unremarkable people who are, for no apparent reason, thrust into incredibly important roles, which strains credulity—both these organizations are incredibly well-funded and could afford top talent without resorting to the heavy reliance on a data entry cubicle-dweller (Hench) or a food delivery driver (Kaiju).

It doesn't take long to get through, however, and if you're a fan of Scalzi or you want a light summer read, this isn't a bad choice. I'm also happy that Scalzi seems to have had the self-awareness to not try to force this concept into a trilogy—the conceit was already straining under the weight of a single book, and I can't imagine that there would have been a lot of room for the sequels to extend the story in compelling ways.

After several books in the sci-fi genre, I returned to non-fiction with The Language of Butterflies: How Thieves, Hoarders, Scientists, and Other Obsessives Unlocked the Secrets of the World's Favorite Insect by Wendy Williams. The title is pretty self-explanatory—it's a deep dive into our knowledge of and history with butterflies.

It's a pretty good pop science book on these insects, which was fascinating to read through but which I've only retained selective facts from even though I'm only a couple of weeks removed from finishing it. But I like these books that do intense examinations of very specific subjects, and this is a solid entry in that genre.

The author has written similar books on horses (not interested) and squid (VERY interested), and her writing in this book will make me consider the squid book and whatever her next entry might be (she seems to publish a new book about every five years, and since the butterfly book was just published in 2020, we might have a few more years until she delivers he next project). But again, a worthwhile read if you like pop science whether you have a particular interest in butterflies or not.

I found a good deal on Braves tickets in the Xfinity Club level at Truist Park for last Friday night, so we surprised Will with a visit to the ballpark as soon as he got out of school. We're still pretty cautious about eating indoors, but we always like getting a meal from the concessions on the club level, so we go there early so we could find a table away from other people and have our meal before it started to fill up. We then spent the rest of our time in our seats, which were of course outdoors (and as a bonus, they were on the first row of our section, which reduced the number of people we were in close contact with and also gave us a great view and more room to spread out).

I don't recall us going to a Friday night game before, because the Braves always do fireworks after the game for Friday night home games, and I think I would have remember those if I'd seen them before. We were expected a short five minutes of fireworks, but it was a full-on fireworks display that was at least as long and at least as impressive as any of the annual fireworks celebrations we've been to on July 4 since we moved to Atlanta. We'll definitely have to keep our eyes our for more cheap tickets on Friday nights—it's always fun to have the experience of visiting the park and seeing a game, but those fireworks alone make the trip worthwhile.

I haven't been to a concert since I saw Bartees Strange way back in early December 2021, but I've now been to back to back shows the last two nights, and I'm excited to have the spring/summer concert season kicking into full gear.

The first show was Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, who played Buckhead Theater on Sunday night. I saw them back in 2018 when they played the much larger Center Stage venue down near the symphony hall, and they were so amazing at that show that they are now permanently on my must-see list whenever they come through town. My wife accompanied me to this show (she swears she didn't go to the 2018 show, but I remember her being there and I bought two tickets for it, so...), and we got seats up in the balcony because we just wanted to sit and enjoy the show.

That worked for the first half of the show, but towards the end of the main setlist, everyone started getting up and dancing, so we ended up going down to the floor since it had a better view if we were going to be standing anyway. It was another fantastic show—they have such a deep catalogue, and their joy at performing in front of an enthusiastic audience was palpable. I've started to revisit their early body of work through my new vinyl collecting habit, and I'm happy to be able to still be able to experience those songs in a live setting 40 years after their original release.

On Monday night I went to see Modest Mouse at the Tabernacle, giving a second ticket that I originally purchased for Julie (who wasn't up for back to back shows to start the week) to my friend Wes, who gifted me a ticket to Bob Dylan in March that I wasn't able to use. We had great seats in the center balcony on the second level a couple of rows back, and we go there in time to see openers the Cribs, who put on a spirited show.

We were having a good catch-up chat as we waited for Modest Mouse when we both noticed at the same time that the setup for the headliners was taking longer than usual. And then we had the dreaded announcement from someone in the band's management: several members of the band had tested positive for Covid that evening, and they were going to reschedule the show.

So that kind of sucked, but at least I got to see the Cribs and hang out with Wes for a bit. And we'll see if the reschedule or just cancel. Hoping for the former, especially with the seats I was able to get for this one, but expecting the latter.

I started watching Succession as part of my attempt to catch up on critically praised series that I haven't watched yet, but after making my way through most of the first season, I don't think I get it. It has snappy dialogue and lavish settings, but the supposed tension and drama is all meaningless because everyone is an asshole and I could care less about which one of these monsters ends up running the company after their equally awful (but far more competent) father steps down.

I'll finish watching it because I need something to watch while I'm exercising indoors and there's only two more seasons of the show currently in existence (they are working on a fourth and final season). But really, everyone here, even the minor characters, have so far proven to be absolutely despicable creatures who occasionally cosplay at being human if it can get them something, and the only good ending for all of them would be a targeted asteroid strike.

I've been pretty good about keeping up with my exercises from the rental house, either walking or running in the neighborhood, running on Emory's indoor track in the winter, or doing sit ups/push ups/free weights at home, but I got tired of not having a treadmill where I could exercise while watching tv when the weather was bad or I just didn't feel like going outside.

A treadmill isn't an option in the rental house (in our real house, we kept the treadmill down in the finished basement in a little den area where it could take up space without interfering with anything), so a couple of weeks ago I ordered a stationary bike from Amazon to fill the gap.

It's not a fancy connected bike like a Peloton, but a relatively inexpensive (around $200) model that doesn't need an external power source (the LCD screen is cleverly powered by the energy produced by your pedaling) and folds up into a compact size that I can discretely store in the front room near the tv.

So far I'm pretty happy with it—it does everything I need it to do, and it's nice to have a true cardio option that doesn't require me to leave the house. Plus I really like being able to watch shows while I exercise again—I usually listen to music when I'm exercising, but I've run through just about every workout-appropriate playlist I have and I need a change of pace to make the workouts go faster.

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