Sometimes life just isn’t fair

I know it’s not possible for me to protect my kids from hurting, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to. There’s a lot to be learned when we suffer. Sometimes, though, the only take away is that life just isn’t fair.

Conner’s best friend (ironically, also named Connor) is moving to California tomorrow morning. Tonight was the last time they’ll see each other for a very long time. They spent most of the day playing then we took them to see Captain America and had some Chili’s. I have been dreading this night since we found out they were moving. Connor is Conner’s (confusing, right?) best friend in the entire world. I know he’s seven so that’s a fairly small world, but it is still a pretty devastating thing.

As I expected, Conner is torn up about it and I can still hear him crying in his room. I know I can’t protect him from everything, and probably shouldn’t in every case, but this is one of those times when I just want to make all the pain go away. I know he’ll be okay, and I’ve told him that. I guess you just have to make it through something like that before you have the knowledge that you can survive it.

Maybe that’s the big lesson here.

Life isn’t always fair. But we still make it.

A note on civility toward a young, misguided Yankees fan

The Yankee Rebellion

Just a note to everyone planning to be at tonight’s Round Rock Express game: My oldest son will be in attendance and wearing his New York Yankees hat. His love of the Yankees is just a misguided youthful rebellion. I’m sure some day he’ll get over it.

Now, being Texas, I’m going to ask everyone to refrain from the things you would normally do to someone wearing a Yankees hat.

That means:
(“The Yankees suck” is mild enough and true, therefore acceptable.)

(This isn’t prison.)

(Looking at his hat and derisively spitting on the ground is fine.)

(I understand the urge, but resist it.)

One day we’ll cure him of his Yankee obsession. Until then, thank you for your tolerance.

The unearned tip

I’ve always had a policy of tipping well. Even for bad service, I tend to land in the 20% range. Everyone has a bad day. Maybe that one good tip, despite the bad service, is just what that person needs to turn their day around and make it good.

But I’m not sure how to feel about completely unearned tips. More and more when I get my receipt from a restaurant it has a place for a tip, even if there is no one specific to tip. The guy takes my order, passes it off to someone and they make the food. My name is called and I pick up the food. This is the extent of my contact with the restaurant employees. Where in that process is the tip earned? Am I wrong in thinking it’s not? It isn’t like a specific employee spent an hour of their life making sure I was happy.

So do you tip in these cases? I don’t, and don’t think it should be expected, but somehow still feel bad about it.

Maybe there’s a different perspective from the people behind the counter. Do you expect a tip in these cases?

Scheduling to my strengths

I’m endlessly fascinated with what successful people’s days look like. How do they schedule? How do they work? How do they, in short, accomplish all the things required for success?

I’m always toying with my own schedule, trying to find a way to really be productive (most days, I’d settle for just feeling like I was productive, whether I really was or not).

Usually this involves coming up with some new schedule, doing it for a week, loving it and then abandoning it to die as soon as a big deadline hits. This seems to be an endless cycle in my life.

So, for the next step in that cycle, I came up with a new schedule to accomplish a few goals I have. It should be nice for a week or so.

7:30AM Up and Ready For the Day.
Might get up earlier. Might get up later. Working from home I have that freedom. But the goal is to be showered (ha!), have the first batch of e-mail returned for the day, and be in the office by 8:00AM.

8:00AM – 10:00AM Writing
I write best when my mind is fresh. My mind is freshest in the morning. It’s one of those creative endeavors that, for me, requires more brain power than, say, designing a company’s brochures. I might as well churn out my day’s words in the morning, when they’ll be the best. I’ll use this time for any kind of writing, be it blog posts, client work or fiction. I’ve been a semi-professional writer for a few years (meaning I get paid for some my writing, but it’s not the majority of my work) and I think it’s time I started seriously working toward getting rid of that “semi” part.

10:00AM – 11:00AM Creative Work/E-mail
Whatever needs doing at this point. Lots of e-mail comes in every day so this hour can be for that or doing any other work that I need to clear out before lunch.

11:00AM – 12:00PM Lunch
I like my lunch early. Then I can work through the normal 12-1 hour when most people are eating. If my clients are eating, they aren’t calling me and I can have an uninterrupted hour to work. Also I try to spend my lunch time somewhere other than my office.

12:00PM – 2:30PM Creative Work
I can churn out a lot of work in two-and-a-half hours. Especially if I close down my e-mail/Twitter/the internet and stay organized.

2:30PM – 3:30PM Siesta*
A nap? For an hour? Probably not. But it helps me to take an hour at about this time to rest, read or, really, do anything but stare at a computer monitor. At this point I will have churned out quite a bit of creative output and by about 2:30, my brain is mush. I’m basically useless. I can sit at my computer drooling on myself (with the client’s meter running, mind you), or I can take a break (turning off the timer) and do something to disconnect my brain from my task list. If I try to power through this hour I never get much else done that day. At least nothing you’d consider quality work. If I take an hour to rest, it makes my last part of the day so very productive. Trust me, it’s a fair trade-off for my clients.

3:30PM – 4:30PM Wrap Up the Creative
Time to put a bow on this day, it’s almost done. I spend this hour returning the last of the day’s calls/e-mails and wrapping up any projects due that day (or, if by some miracle of God I’m working ahead, the next day).

4:30PM – 5:00PM THE FUTURE!
If I don’t spend a specific amount of time each day working on gaining new clients, well, they don’t usually just back the dump truck filled with cash up to my door. I have to go find them and then ask them to do that. Such a pain. Incidentally, when I’m fishing, the fish don’t just jump in the boat. Who do I see about that?

5:00PM – 5:30PM Organize the Next Day
Time to get the task list ready for the next day, send some e-mail and generally make sure I set myself up to be productive again.

Once again, all this sounds nice but any number of things (calls, meetings, being sick, deadlines, rabid weasels, being out of bacon) can come into play and screw this schedule up. But it would be nice if it lasted. I think it would be productive and allow me to continue taking on new opportunities. Also it would allow me to quit most days before midnight. That’d be nice.

*This would be the point, dear reader, when you might be thinking, “wow, this guy sounds like a jackass. A nap, really?” I don’t deny some amount of jackassery involved in this list, after all, there are people who have to really work for a living. I mean physically work. Roofing houses, this ain’t. Well, I earn my living with my brain. All the creative work I get paid for comes from said brain and if I don’t treat it right (rest it often, don’t do drugs, don’t stab it with an ice pick) my work is not as good. And if it’s not good, I don’t get hired, which means my kids starve. So, yeah, I’ll grant you I don’t do a lot of physical labor (although my photo shoots should qualify) but it’s still work.

**Also a note about the times: if I screwed any of them up, it’s because I’m currently hopped up on Nyquil and, man, it does weird stuff to my aforementioned brain.

“I’m just a kid from Brooklyn.”

“I’m just a kid from Brooklyn.”
My review of Captain America: The First Avenger

As a kid I was never a big fan of Captain America. He wasn’t as cool as the X-Men or Spider-Man. He was a guy who ran around with a shield and was, well, boring.

Mr.-Always-Do-Right just wasn’t that cool. He didn’t seem to have the same edge as a Batman or James Bond. As a result I didn’t pay much attention to him. The thing was I didn’t understand the heart of Captain America.

Every other character’s story seems to be “I can do this thing, so I will.” Iron Man knows how to build an awesome suit of armor, so he does and uses it to beat up bad guys. The X-Men all have special powers to they use them, again, to beat up bad guys. You’ll see the same pattern over and over again throughout classic super hero stories. I can do this thing, so when a situation arises, I will.

The heart of Captain America is, “I can’t do anything, but I will anyway”. Steve Rogers was a hero before he ever had any powers. I saw that as a kid, but didn’t understand it. I’ve grown up in an increasingly cynical world. And I’m probably humanity’s representative when it comes to being cynical. There is no cynicism in Captain America, the character or the film. His focus is doing what is right and helping others. That’s tough to find these days.

The film, Captain America: The First Avenger, is a blast to watch with a crowd. What you’ll find is that Rogers is a hero you can root for from the very first frame. He starts as a scrawny kid who stands up for what’s right, even if that involves getting the crap kicked out of him, multiples times. The focus of the beginning of the movie is showing us his character. Honestly, with modern Hollywood in charge, and Chris Evans in the part, I assumed we’d have a wise-cracking full of himself Captain America. You know, a cynical smart aleck. That didn’t happen though. Evans does a masterful job of making us root for Rogers. He brings the character’s awkwardness but earnestness to life. I genuinely liked Evans in this. Even after his transformation he’s still the same scrawny but heroic kid inside. That’s no small feat. If I looked like Evans, I’d be full of myself. Heck, I’ve got the exact opposite look of Evans going on and I’m still full of myself. He plays the part perfectly and, I think, proves a lot of people wrong who doubted him (myself included).

The heartbeat of the film itself feels very much like Raiders of the Lost Ark. I’ll have to see it a few more times, but director Joe Johnston might have created a modern Raiders. Everything from the grand adventure story, peppered with humor, to the period setting and rousing score. This is old-school Hollywood and calls back to great adventure films.

I’m honestly not sure how this picture was ever released in today’s times. Who releases a super-hero movie set in World War II? I’m not sure I would have been as excited if the origin of Captain America was told in modern times. I’m not sure he’s a hero that could be born today. Always doing right. Utterly selfless and patriotic. That’s a tough sell. But coming from the 40s, it just works. I want my kids to enjoy a hero who is always looking out for others and does right because it’s right. He doesn’t have to go on some journey of self discovery to figure it out either. The body can be enhanced but Cap is who he is because of what’s in his heart.

I bought Alan Silverstri’s score for the film the day before seeing it. I listened to it once and then heard it during the movie. I can’t stop humming it, just from that little exposure. I buy a lot of film scores and this one is unlike most of what I’ve heard in the past few years. Again, most recent scores are dark and foreboding. The score for Captain America feels like it was written for a film forty years ago.

And sticking with the modern-movie-feeling-old theme, never once did I say, “wow that’s a dodgy CG scene.” The CG blended well and was used to perfect effect; enhancing the movie without letting me know it was there. That’s my biggest complaint with modern filmmakers—CG has become a crutch. So many shots are done in computers now that could be done practically and without looking so jarring (this was my main complaint with this summer’s X-Men film). Johnston and his team did an amazing job with this. The gist of Cap’s origin is he’s a scrawny kid who’s given a “super-soldier serum” that pushes his body to the limits of what the human body can be. Can he fly and pick up entire buildings? No. But he can run as fast as a car and if he hits you, you’ll feel it when you finally land. I was afraid on both of these points. Any time in the past a character in a film has been able to run fast, it has just looked crappy and fake. Somehow they made it look like he really could run fast. I’d have to go back and examine those scenes a few times to see the editing required, but they pulled it off. The first scene where he uses his power, we feel the same exhilaration he does.

My only complaint I could level at this film, is that it could use another half hour of running time. Like Thor earlier this summer, it’s clear that they were trying to tell a sweeping story with a limited budget. It just seemed like it could have used a little room to breath. I wanted to spend more time with these characters.

This film as is perfect as any I’ve seen in recent memory. I don’t normally get too caught up in what movies make at the box office (except wishing this particular film had died on release) but I hope Captain America makes a killing. I hope people take their kids to see it in droves. I hope grandparents and teenagers alike will line up to see this. It’s exciting to see a hero like this on screen. I wish my parents would see it. Neither of them are even close to liking super-hero movies, but I honestly think they would like this one. It’s that good.

Good at math

“Dad, I’m good at math because you’re good at math,” Conner said.

I laughed. “No, Conner, you’re good at math because you’re smart. I’m terrible at math.”

“What? No, you’re great at math, Dad. You add better than anyone I know.”

“The problem is there are several layers of math above addition. None of which I’m particularly good at or ever stand even the slightest chance of understanding.”

“I still think you’re good at math.”

I hate you and your vacation photos

Twitter becomes very, very annoying this time of year. Everyone starts posting their look-where-I-am-don’t-you-wish-you-were-me-but-haha-you’re-not vacation photos.

This week I was blessed enough to be sending out those photos instead of just sitting there thinking, “I hate you and your vacation photos.” Feels good to be on this end of it.

Cody building a wall to keep the ocean away from his soon-to-be-built castle.

The funny thing about vacations is how absolutely exhausting they are. Last year we went to Galveston for four days. This year we stretched it to five but I don’t think we did anything extra. Instead, we added a nap every day, which was nice.

The six inches of glass doesn’t make this experience any less creepy.

Our favorite location was the aquarium at Moody Gardens. It’s very expensive, but worth every dollar to see. Last year we met a bright yellowish-green eel and named him, creatively enough, Eely. Eely became a bit of a legend in our house over the year and the kids (especially Conner) couldn’t wait to go find him again. After making it through the entire aquarium, Eely was nowhere to be found. Conner was dejected, and being the emotional kid he is, I knew this would probably ruin the better part of his day.

So we made one last pass, everyone spreading out to find this eel. Finally, everyone was ready to give up. I turned to walk back to the group and saw a tiny bit of yellow out of the corner of my eye. I looked again and saw about an inch of Eely’s nose sticking out from under a rock. “Go get everyone!” I told Colton.

Sure enough it was Eely, comfortably hidden under his rock. The day was saved and Conner was happy.

Conner shooting down Japanese war planes while we toured a battleship.

It’s funny how vacations with kids become more an exercise in recreating last year’s magic rather than seeing new things. Other than a little extra shopping I can’t think of one thing we new thing we did this year.

Colton, who insists he’s too old to order from the kids’ menu, doesn’t have any trouble coloring on one.

Oh wait, there was one new thing. The Rainforest Cafe. Now maybe it’s just me being old and cranky, the hour-and-a-half wait or the $100+ bill, but animatronic animals (and the occasional “rain storm”) are not enough to make a good meal for me. But, the kids enjoyed it.

And as an adult, that seems to be where most of the enjoyment comes from. The vacation wasn’t really about me having fun doing things I wanted to do. It was about creating an experience the kids would both enjoy and remember. This was brought to my attention during some of the kids’ brattier moments, when I was suddenly not having any fun.

I love this view.

My idea of fun? The view above. We stayed in an amazing 2,800-square-foot house. Not only was it nice to spread the family out beyond the confines of a hotel room, it was a beautiful and relaxing place. My favorite spot was in the brightly-lit living room, sitting on the right side of the couch, writing. I love to write fiction, but being that my job is to be creative all day, I don’t usually have much left in the tank to write. On vacation I could pretend I had no other creative obligations and just write. I ended up with a good outline and 8,000 words on a new story and was quite pleased with it. What I wouldn’t give to be able to stay at a place like this for a month and just write.

The view while riding the ferry at sunset.

My wallet is a little lighter than when we left, and I’m a lot more tired than when we left, but I hope my kids have something they’ll remember.

Now to try an adult vacation some time.

And I leave you with a photo of Conner riding a dolphin, because, well, it’s Conner riding a dolphin and that’s reason enough to be featured.

Thanks for taking the time to hate me and my vacation photos.

Camera geek note: I opted to leave all my gear at home this year and just use my iPhone. I was perfectly happy with that decision and never once regretted not having to lug around several pounds of metal, glass and plastic.

At what point is anything we make today going to be a collectible antique?

I have something of an obsession with vintage packaging. I love it. Most of it was made to last. Metal, glass and wood were the materials of choice instead of today’s plastic, plastic and more plastic. And there was a beautiful design to a lot of it.

At a garage sale last week I paid $3 for an metal Saltine cracker tin from 1969. It is both beautiful and incredibly functional. When my grandkids are old enough to appreciate the past, are they really going to want anything we currently sell in stores today?

All inclusive

All inclusive vacations should also encompass hiring a therapist to help with the transition back to normal life.

Days not filled with beaches, long naps and great food are just something I’m not prepared to deal with at this point.

Netflix causes virtual riot (flip a DVD over and set it on fire!)

I received an e-mail from Netflix notifying me that my current subscription plan was going away. In its place will be two separate plans. Both of these together would cost me roughly 60% more than my current rate. Of course, I wasn’t the only one. The rest of their subscriber base received the same e-mail, causing the internet’s collective head to explode (for some free fun, check out the 5,000+ comments on the Netflix blog post; most of the “burn in Hell, Netflix” variety).

While it’s always annoying to have prices hiked so drastically, and my first instinct is always to just cancel, I’ll probably stay with them. We watch a ridiculous amount of movies and t.v. shows via Netflix streaming. There is honestly no other way we could get that much entertainment for $7.99. And while we’re being honest, I’ve had the same DVD sitting on my desk for about four months. Obviously I’m not really going to miss that part of the service.

So they’ll continue to get my money. What they won’t get is my unadulterated love. They had it before. If you provide me with an incredible service at an incredible price, I’ll tell everyone about it: Why hello, Mr. Postman, do you have Netflix?

If, however, you try to hit me with a 60% rate hike out of the blue, well that puts you squarely in the category with other services I must have but who’s providers I vehemently detest (I’m looking at you telephone and health care industries).

While this may be a net positive for Netflix’s balance sheet, I think in the long term they burned a lot of goodwill. Maybe they had it in spades to burn, but it’s not easily earned and certainly not something to be wasted.

Welcome to the third dimension. Watch your step.

After hating 3D movies since they started their resurgence, I finally saw one last week with Transformers 3. Whether you thought the movie was great or terrible, the general consensus was it contained some of the best 3D work ever.

Having never see other films in 3D, I can’t say how it compares. That being said, I give it a solid “meh”. There were a handful of shots that I thought looked spectacular. For the other 95% of the running time, it was just kind of there. It didn’t seem to add anything to the film. Knowing this is about as good as it gets with this gimmick, I’m not inclined to pay the higher ticket price ever again. I guess if you’ve seen a few movies that had terrible 3D conversions, it might allow for more enjoyment of the format in Transformers. I just wasn’t blown away by it.

Could it be my utter hatred of the film itself or my previous dislike of the format contributing to my overall negative thoughts on the gimmick that is 3D? Probably. But I’m okay with that.

All-Star Game quote-of-the-day

Writing about the flawed nature of the All-Star selection process and the fact that we can’t do anything about it:

“So a sizable chunk of baseball fans want to see the rapidly aging corpse of Derek Jeter propped up between second and third for one last hurrah? Big whoop.”

— via the amusing American McCarver

What a 4th

We just gorged ourselves on some amazing hamburgers. Cooked to perfection with smokey pepper bacon, cheddar cheese and the requisite Doritos and Coca-Cola. Now I’m siting in bed working on a short story. Becca is on the other side of the bed reading and the youngest two boys are between us looking through a Lego catalog and picking out what they want for their birthdays. Baseball is on the TV (a one-to-nothing barnburner of a game between the Dodgers and Mets). Colton, already starting with the my-family-isn’t-cool teenage attitude, opted to spend the night with a friend instead of this excitement.

I just want to remember this moment twenty years from now when we’re sitting at one of the boys’ houses eating burgers and playing with our grandchildren.