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6.27.16
It feels like I'm just barely getting used to being back in town again and yet I'm headed back to Chicago tomorrow for one more conference that will last the rest of this week (and I'll be presenting at this one).

After this, things should settle down some on the travel front, but it doesn't mean the next few weeks won't be non-routine in their own way—we've got family coming to visit for July 4, more family coming to visit the next weekend for Will's birthday, and then Will's birthday party with his friends the weekend after that. But at least I'll be home.


6.24.16
It took me a while to start watching the new season of Game of Thrones this year—I was a little irritated that the television show was moving into events not yet described in the books, and I was also not terribly fond of the tone and direction of the show last season (lots of time spend with characters and plotlines that I didn't care about, and almost glacial forward progress). But I finally started watching a few weeks ago, and I'm surprised to find myself more into the show than I have been in years.

I think it might actually be because it's racing ahead of the books—for the first time since the show started airing I'm doing something other than watching the visual recreation of words I had already created scenes for in my head and looking for the differences between the text and the show. But because George R.R. Martin has fallen behind in his writing, the show has become the definitive text (at least for now), and it's much more engaging watching the story unfold rather than trying to guess how the showrunners are going to piece the plot together in their own way.

I stil have criticisms of what I've seen so far—not nearly enough of Tyrion and Brienne, and I sort of resent the show getting me to root for Jaime and Cersei, even if only for brief moments, and they have the same problem as the books in terms of substantially moving the plot forward with regard to the dragons and the White Walkers—but overall this is probably the most fun I've had watching the show than anytime since the first season, when it was a thrill just to see the books brought to life so faithfully and with such attention to detail.


6.23.16
Even though I enjoyed running on the lakefront and every minute of my two hours at the Art Institute, the highlight of my trip to Chicago was dinner with some old friends on Sunday night.

These are two people that I've known for over ten years now even though we never went to school together, we've never worked together, and we've never lived in the same town. See, I met them while playing an online game back in 2004, and as we got to know each other in the game, we also found opportunities to meet each other in real life, and found that our friendship worked in that realm too (in fact this couple, who have been married for a few years now, actually met in the game as well and were able to make it into a deeper IRL relationship because they did happen to both live in Chicago).

We see them whenever they come to Atlanta or whenever we go to Chicago, but it's been a couple of years since either of those things happened, so it was great to see them and catch up a little bit (they don't play the game much anymore, and I don't play nearly as much as I used to, so our opportunities for online interaction have also diminished). They also made sure to make it a memorable evening for me in their town, taking me out to a hot new restaurant called Roister where they had some connections.

Roister is part of a group of restaurants from the restauranteurs who own Alinea, and the head chef is rising star Andrew Brochu. And my friend's son, who is in his early 20s, has been working there for the past few months and was able to get us in for the Prep Kitchen experience, where five of us (me, my friend and his wife, and my friend's son and his wife) all sat at a table downstairs in the prep kitchen area while each of the chefs would bring us shareable dishes. No menus and no ordering—the chefs brought us the dishes they wanted to bring us, and explained the ingredients/techniques they used when they delivered them.

It was a fantastic evening—one of the best dining experiences of my life in terms of food, ambiance, and company, and it was a shame that Julie wasn't there to experience it with me. I don't remember all of the dishes (the cocktails I had didn't help with that), but I do remember a fantastic housemade kimchi with fresh Fresno chilis and their amazing fried chicken, which is probably what they are best known for. Yes, I grew up in and currently live in the south and have had lots of great fried chicken over the years, but this was hands down some of the best fried chicken I've ever had in my life.

After dinner we headed next door to a trendy bar called the Aviary which is owned by the same restaurant group and which takes craft cocktails to a level I'd never experienced before. The cocktail menu was the closest thing to abstract art that I've seen at a restaurant, with the name and whimsical description of each drink displayed next to a graph of birds—the farther away the bird was to the left of the name of the drink, the more complex the prevention/preparation of the drink. We each ended up having two drinks, and we tried different drinks each time, so we saw a fair sampling of the menu, and while I don't remember them all, I do remember that even the simplest preparations involved lots more presentation and apparati than you would get at a typical upscale bar. And I remember that all the drinks were delicious.

I'll be back in Chicago again twice more this year, so I'm hoping to hand out with my friends at least once more. But I don't expect them to try to top that evening out, and frankly, I'm not sure if they could. It was pretty close to a perfect night—catching up with them in their hometown, and having two great restaurant experiences to boot—and those don't just fall into your lap on a regular basis.


6.22.16
My trip to Chicago last week wasn't too bad. It sucked to have to get on the road right after vacation, especially given all the travel I've already done since early May, but I haven't been to Chicago in a while, and I really do love that city. And this time, I got to experience it in a whole new way by doing a five mile training run (I'm doing hte Peachtree 10K on July 4 for the first time this year) along the lakefront, starting at the marina near the Art Institute (which was only a couple of blocks from my hotel) and running all the way down to the new Northerly Island nature park that extends down below Soldier Field. It was a great run, but crowded—I went early in the morning, and there were moments when there were so many other runners that I felt like I was in an official race.

The conference itself was pretty mediocre, but I did have a couple of hours between when the last session ended and when I had to head to the airport and I used that time to take a quick trip to the Art Institute, which just might be my favorite art museum in the world. I spent a good deal of time in the special exhibit of American painting in the 1930s, where Georgia O'Keeffe, Grant Wood, and Edward Hopper were billed as the main attractions, but Charles Sheeler really stole the show in terms of both number of paintings in the collection and how fresh they felt to me. I was especially taken with "Power Suspended", which I'm including an image of below, but this doesn't begin to do just to seeing it in person. I kept returning to it over and over, and it's the one that has stayed with me in the weeks since.

The other painting that really struck me from that exhibition was from Grant Wood, but it wasn't his most famous painting, "American Gothic", but instead his portrait of three women called "Daughters of Revolution":

I know these women. Everyone who grew up in a decent-sized extended family and/or in a small town knows these women, and it was so powerful to see how perfectly he captured their personalities so precisely while also making them into types that many people could instantly recognize in their own lives.

I didn't have nearly enough time to explore the museum—I spent most of my time in the modern wing (which is new to me—it didn't exist when I last visited Chicago), but I also hung out at the relocated Chagall windows and in the room that recreates the Chicago Stock Market trading floor with some quick sojourns into the 20th century American rooms in a fruitless search for Mark Rothko—and if I had know that my flight was going to be delayed three and a half hours, I would have spend all of that time in the museum. But instead, I got caught up on email, made serious progress on my leisure reading, and ended up getting home much later than I expected.


6.21.16
As soon as I got back from the beach, I had to turn around the next day (literally less than 24 hours after we got home) and fly to Chicago for a conference that lasted through Tuesday. Our oldest cat, Sarge (who is actually the cat we've had for the least amount of time because he was an abandoned neighborhood cat who we adopted after Will was born), had not been doing well—nothing specifically wrong with him, but just slowing down and clearly showing his ancient age—so we had the catsitter come once a day to check on him and give him a little extra TLC while we were gone.

He was fortunately still alive when we got back on Saturday, but we could tell that the end was near. He had a habit of falling asleep on me on the couch, and that's what he did on Saturday night, but he was so weak that he couldn't get up when he needed to use the bathroom, so he ended up peeing on me. I'm so glad I got to see him for a little while before I left on my trip, however, because Julie texted me on Sunday night while I was at my hotel in Chicago that Sargie had passed away.

Will actually dealt with it very well given how obsessed and scared of death he's been over the past few months. He took special treats to Sarge in the bathroom (we've been letting him sleep, eat, and use the litter in one of the upstairs bathrooms for the last couple of weeks because he just can't make it up and down the stairs to go to the litter room in the basement), comforted him, and set up one of his CD players in there to play Sargie music so he could rest better (Sargie has been all-but-deaf for a long time, so the music certainly wasn't bothering him even if it didn't help).

After he died, Julie took him to a pet cremation service (our last two cats to die were also cremated), and they also saved us a lock of his fur and did an imprint of one of his paws. I really think that helped Will—he had tangible reminders of Sargie and could still feel like he was in the house with us and not somewhere else. Will was still very sad, as were we all, but all in all it was a gentle transition and one that he did pretty well with given that Sargie was his favorite cat.

He was a great cat and a stubborn survivor, and he will be very missed. Each one of our cats has been special and unique, but I doubt that we'll find another one to compare to him in our lifetimes.


6.20.16
Friday was our final full day in Hilton Head this year, and we spent it mostly in the water, spending about four hours at the beach in the morning followed by a couple more hours in the pool after lunch.

For dinner our original plan was to go to Annie O's, a little place off the beaten path that we've gone to every year we've visited Hilton Head, but we were very disappointed to discover that it was closed (we did some research later and found out that it's just a remodel, so hopefully we'll be able to go back next year). So instead we went back to the New Orleans place that we had already visited once this year, and then went back to the condo to get things packed up and ready for our trip back to Atlanta.

This was probably my favorite trip to Hilton Head since we first started going four years ago after we moved to Atlanta. Will is old enough now that he can really participate in most activities, and he loves being in the water. There were no jellyfish this year, and we know enough about the island to have favorite places to go while still having enough space on the calendar to discover new places to eat and new things to do.


6.17.16
Thursday on our beach trip was a special day for Will, doing all of his favorite Hilton Head things. We started off the morning with a two hour dolphin tour, which we did the first year we were at Hilton Head (only an hour that time because he was so young) but which he has been telling us he doesn't remember anymore. We saw a ton of dolphins, including a pair that stayed with our boat for a while. They even surface right next to Will as he was looking over the side the blew water at him through their blowholes, which he thought was the best thing in the world.

After that, we headed over to the Salty Dog Cafe, which we've gone to every year. Will was in a little bit of a mood—he was pretty quiet when we started the dolphin tour too, so I wonder if he maybe didn't get enough sleep the night before. But he was better when we finally got our table and had some lunch, which we followed up with a trip up to the top of the Harbor Town lighthouse (not a real lighthouse, one that a developer built to be a tourist attraction, but still) and some playtime in the little park nearby.

But the day was far from over. After leaving that part of the island, we stopped at Will's favorite mini golf place, a pirate-themed place that has a cave near the end of one of the courses where you can look in and see a pirate skeleton surrounded by piles of gold. He's gotten a lot better at mini golf in the past year—he's using a real club now and he actually has some kind of idea about how to aim, etc.

For dinner we went out to a restaurant called Chow Daddy's that Will had wanted to try the night it was raining, but it was too crowded then. It was fine on Thursday, and we got a nice little table outside on the patio. From the name I had expected this to be a tourist trap kind of place—mediocre food, high prices, but family friendly. But it was a big surprise—they did the local sourcing thing and there were lots of interesting combinations and artisan touches to the menu. I got a fried chicken sandwich with house-made pimiento cheese, sriracha aioli, and house-made sweet pickles, and for an appetizer we all shared an avocado dip with house-made potato chips. This will be a place we'll definitely go back to in the future.

When we got home from dinner, it was still light out, so we took Will out to the beach to fly the kite that we had gotten him last year. Unfortunately the crossbar that gave it stability had gotten lost, but I was able to improvise a crossbar with a piece of driftwood, and so the kite flying didn't have to be aborted.

And to finish the day, we stayed on the beach until it got dark to look for ghost crabs, which we had a done earlier in the week with some success, and thanks to our improved searching technique, we found a ton. We discovered that when you corner them (they tend to freeze up in the light of a flashlight), they will do this sudden move where they almost instantly burrow an inch or two into the sand, and Will thought that was hilarious. We probably got three or four crabs to do it. We also went down in the surf and dug for sand fleas. For the first time Will was able to dig some up himself, and he loved catching them, talking to them for a minute, and then putting them back in the sand and watching them disappear.

It was a really fun day for all of us, but especially for Will—a ton of his non-swimming-related Hilton Head activities all packed into one big day.


6.16.16
On Tuesday we took a trip over to Hunting Island to see the lighthouse there. We went a couple of years ago, but Will wasn't tall enough to go up, and he's been talking about it ever since. This year he finally reached the minimum height requirement, so we took him back, stopping at a little seafood place on the marsh on the way there.

He really enjoyed the lighthouse trip—he was so excited that he was allowed to climb up that he and I actually took a second trip to the top before we left. After our first trip up with Julie, we all went on a walk on the nearby beach, where Will found a live sand dollar, which he held for a minute and posed for pictures with before putting him back in the sea.

We we got back home, the sea was calm and there was still plenty of daylight, so we went down to the beach and had a little swim before going to dinner. We ended up at a New Orleans-styel place that we discovered last year, and it was just as good as we remembered. Wil really likes it because they serve the kids meals in dog bowls.

Wednesday was our 20th wedding anniversary, and we decided to celebrate by going out to Skull Creek Boathouse, a very popular seafood place on the water. We went to the beach in the morning, and decided to head out to dinner fairly early because they don't take reservations and we had read that the wait could be an hour or more for outside seating during the tourist season, even in the middle of the week.

We go there around 4, and although it was already getting crowded, they had a perfect table for us near the water with great views. The weather was amazing, and even though Will was a bit restless, there was a replica buoy nearby that he would run off and have conversations with (he likes to tell stories to himself and play multiple characters or bring inanimate objects into his stories, like the buoy). We're still intending to do a big trip to celebrate all our years together sometime this fall, but in the context of a family vacation, this was a pretty nice way to spend the day with each other.


6.15.16
We got to the beach on Saturday afternoon, doing our standard routine of unloading the car and then heading to Walmart for food and other supplies. After we got that stuff back to the condo and unloaded, we went out to a local burrito place for dinner, one that seems like it's trying to position itself as a cooler, more boutique version of Chipotle, and that was pretty good.

This year we stayed in the same condo that we stayed in the first year we came, which I like more than the one we've stayed in the past couple of years because the balcony looks directly out over the beach and the ocean—you don't see anything but that when you look outside. The one we stayed in last year and the year before is on the same floor of the same building, but it's on the angled side of the building, so while we could see the water from our window, we could also see another condo building, and our main view was of the greenspace in between the buildings rather than the beach and the water. We chose that option the past two years because the price was so much lower, but this year when we were exploring options both the condos were renting for the same price the week we wanted to go, so we naturally chose the one with the better view.

Sunday was our first full day at the beach, and it was pretty low-key—morning at the beach, afternoon at the pool, and then dinner at a local barbecue place (Bully's) that was pretty decent. Nothing really compares to our favorite place in Atlanta, Community Q, but I tried Bully's Texas brisket chili and a couple of sides, and everything was pretty solid.

On Monday it rained all day due to a tropical storm off the coast, which is the first time I can remember that happening on our trips to Hilton Head, but we made a pretty good day of it anyway. We drove about half an hour to have lunch at a 50s-themed place called Cheeburger Cheeburger and then took Will to see the new Jungle Book, which he enjoyed pretty well. I guess I didn't mind it so much either, but I've developed a habit of taking catnaps when we go to see kids films that aren't that compelling to me, so there may or may not have been a couple of 15 minute stretches that I have no memory of.

When we got back home, it was still raining pretty steadily, but Will really wanted to go swimming in the pool. Since there was no lightning or thunder, I figured why not, and so I took him down to the swimming pool while Julie stayed warm and dry in the condo. Surprisingly, we weren't the only people there—there was also a dad and a granddad with two kids close to Will's age who were playing around in the pool (and again, this wasn't a little drizzle—it was raining pretty hard).

We noticed that they would occasionally leave the pool and go to a sundeck up above the pool area, and I couldn't figure out why until I heard one of the kids ask if they could go back up to the hot tub one more time before they went back to their condo. Wil and I thought that sounded like a pretty good idea our selves, so we followed them up and joined them for a few minutes.

I had never been up on the sundeck before—it's restricted to adults and I had always assumed it had nothing but a bunch of lounges for people who wanted to escape the madness of the child-infested pool below—but it was pretty cool. There were lounges, but they were in a six inch wading pool, so you could splash around in the water with your feet while sunbathing, and they had a permanent jacuzzi which could hold about a dozen adults comfortably.

With the rain, there was no one around to enforce the adults-only rule, so we stayed and got a nice warm soak for about 20 minutes. Will was a little hesitant at first—he sometimes thinks lukewarm water is scalding—but after he saw the other two kids in the hot tub and after I got him to gradually come in, one limb at a time, he really had a ball. It was a fun end to a fun day that could have been a disaster.


6.3.16
Even though I have not had a full week in the office in a month due to travel and holidays, we're leaving next week to go on our annual beach vacation. And as soon as we return (in fact, within 24 hours of when we get back), I'm off to Chicago for another work trip, followed by a week in the office before another work trip to the Windy City.

It's going to be nice to have a week off, but it's going to be a long time before I'm back in any sort of normal routine, and I'm already tired of traveling after my three trips in May. But Will's arm is not in a cast this year, and hopefully the jellyfish will not be out in force so we can enjoy many long hours in the waves together before I have to jump back into the craziness.


6.2.16
When I returned home from the last of my May trips on a Thursday night, my mom had already arrived for another visit, this time to join the rest of our family in celebrating the marriage of my cousing Anna and her partner Martha. They had actually gotten married earlier in the year in a small ceremony in another state, but decided to hold a party to celebrate with local friends and family.

The party was held at the Park Tavern, which sits at the southeast corner of Piedmont Park. It was a great facility, and a great evening—I saw lots of family I hadn't seen in a while (like my other cousin and her husband, my uncle and his wife, and my aunt, who divorced from my uncle more than 20 years ago and who I hadn't seen for at least that long), there was great food and drink, and everyone was just in such a relaxed, happy mood. There may have even been dancing, but honestly, I did not pace myself very welll with the drinking aspect and there are portions later in the evening that are pretty hazy to me.

It's funny how all four of my grandfather's grandchildren have ended up back in Georgia in the last few years. The youngest of all of us, my cousin Katie, never left—she and Anna were born here—but two years after we moved here from Baltimore, my sister moved up from Florida, and a year after that my cousin Anna returned from New Orleans. And even though we haven't been very good about it yet, it's nice to know that we're all close enough now geographically that we don't need a wedding or some other momentous occasion to be able to get together with our families—we just have to make plans and make it happen.


6.1.16
One of the critical things I needed before I went on a few of my trips last month was new suit. I still have not reached my target weight from when I started to seriously lose weight two years ago (and in fact have taken a slight step backwards, which is incredibly frustrating), and I was holding off investing in the more expensive parts of a new wardrobe (like a new suit and other dressier clothes) until I hit my goal.

But two of my trips required a suit, so two weeks before I was supposed to leave for the first trip that required a suit I went out to the local chain menswear store, picked out a suit, got measured, and was assured that the alterations would be complete and the suit ready for me to pickup no later than four days before I left (a Thursday; I was leaving on Sunday). I gave this so little though that I didn't even call to schedule a pickup of the suit until Friday afternoon, at which time the manager of the store informed me that they hadn't received my suit back from their central tailoring facility yet and that it was closed over the weekend, so the soonest I could expect it was Monday—the day after I left for my trip.

Huh.

But I didn't lose my cool, but instead explained my situation to the manager, and we worked out a plan: we would find the exact same suit at one of the stores in the area, measure me again, and take the suit to one of the shops that had an on-site tailor, who would prioritize my alterations so I could get the suit back by Saturday afternoon. Otherwise, I was pretty much screwed, because there just wasn't enough time to start over with a new store.

Unfortunately they didn't have any more suits like the one I had chosen in my size and color at the store where I made the purchase, so the manager spent some time calling around to the other stores in the area. Once she found one, she had them pull it off the rack and hold it while she dispatched an employee to pick it up and bring it back to her store. They weren't able to get it back to the store until after closing, however, so I showed up first thing the next morning to get the suit measured.

After this, I thought I'd be able to go have a normal day and just wait for them to call me back telling me the suit was ready for pickup sometime in the evening, but as I talked to the manager, it became clear that she didn't have enough extra employees to have someone run it over to the store with the tailor until later in the day, which made me pretty nervous. So I took the situation in hand and drove the suit to the other store myself, and then also drove back later that afternoon (the store was about 40 minutes from my house) to pick it up once the tailor had finished altering it.

That's obviously not the way I wanted to spend my last day at home for a week, but I got my suit in time for my trip, which was the most important thing. I hate the fact that this chain didn't meet their original deadline, and worse that they didn't proactively inform me of that, but I do appreciate the way the manager found a way to fix it, even if it meant a significant investment of extra time on my part.


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