january 2016

We were pretty relaxed over the break—I had some work stuff going on that kept me busy the week before Christmas, but there was a stretch after that where I cound disconnect pretty well.

We mostly just stayed home. My mom came to visit for a few days, and we also spent the afternoon of Christmas with her at my sister's house out near Athens, where we exchanged gifts and had dinner before coming back home. Julie and I got a chance to go out and see the new Star Wars together while my mom was staying with us, and my mom also came to Will's Christmas pageant at church on Christmas Eve (he had a non-speaking sheep part, and he and the other sheep took it upon themselves to inject a little method acting into their performances by walking on all fours the whole way up to the stage just like sheep would).

There were lots of little excursions—we did a breakfast with Santa thing where we met up with a bunch of Will's friends from preschool, and there was also an outing to Fernbank. Will also got really into a little Snap Circuits kit I got him—I thought it would be one of those toys where we'd have to help him build everything, but after a few practice runs with us he got pretty adept at opening up the book and building something using the diagrams by himself.

Santa and our siblings and parents were also very generous to him, so he had plenty of new stuff besides the Snap Circuit kit to keep himself occupied. He still hasn't gotten to the age where he's asking for anything specific (when we asked him what he wanted for Christmas this year, he said "an airplane" without specifying further, so we got him a little battery powered remote control plane that's small enough to fly in the living room), and he genuinely seems to love everything he gets, even if it's clothes or something. I think by the time I was five I had very specific ideas about what should be under the tree, so it's nice that Will is still appreciative of receiving something from someone even if it's not something he knew he already wanted.

We did take one quick trip out of town over the holidays, leaving two days after Christmas to go stay at my dad's house in North Carolina so we could see my brother and his family. Normally they have been able to come down to Atlanta for a few days around Will's birthday each year, but this year they couldn't arrange it, and their annual Christmas trip to Wilmington was the closest they would come. So we decided to meet them there to make sure we got to see them and they got to see Will at least once this year.

We drove up on Sunday, spent Monday hanging out, and then drove back on Tuesday, so it all felt pretty whirlwind and a bit emphemeral, like I wasn't really sure it had happened the day after we got back home. But we packed a lot into those few days—Christmas dinner with all of my siblings and their families on Sunday (one of my sisters still likes in town and the other had driven up from her home in Georgia the day before we got there), a Star Wars viewing with most of the family, my dad's waffles for breakfast, lunch at our favorite restaurant in Wilmington, a hot dog place called Salt Works, and lots of playtime for Will with the family.

It was a quick visit but a pretty good one—it would be fun to be able to take Will back there this summer when my dad has the boat in the water—he might even be old enough to do a solo trip without us.

After we got back from North Carolina, we had a few days where we could really relax for the first time, so we mostly did. There was a birthday party for one of Will's friends, a New Year's Day party with some families of Will's friends (the second year we've done this—I'm hopeful this will turn into an annual tradition for the hosts), and lots of playtime with his many new Christmas toys, including an art desk with lots of art supplies, a science experiment kit, some LED Lego-like bricks, and a microscope with slides that let you look at bugs, etc., close up.

We also spent a sunny (but still relatively cold) day having lunch at the Ponce City Market and taking a walk on the section of the BeltLine that is connected to the market. I ran a 10K there in December, but that was the first time I'd actually been on the BeltLine, so I wanted to go back and visit some of the shops, restaurants, and artwork that line the trail. Will seemed to like that pretty well, so that might be a good place to go and let him practice riding his bike once the weather gets warm.

We also took Will to see Pixar's latest film, The Good Dinosaur. It was decent, and I think Will really liked it, but it somehow seemed lacking for a Pixar movie. Maybe it was because it comes on the heels of another new Pixar universe, this past summer's Inside Out (which certainly ranks up there in the Pixar canon), but it just didn't seem that deep compared to many of their best works. Again, there was nothing wrong with it, and I'm sure kids will really like it, but it just didn't blow me away like some of their other films have.

Monday was theoretically the day when everyone returned from the holidays and got back to work, but for some reason that's also the day that most of the school districts around Atlanta choose to make a teacher workday, meaning that parents must find some other type of childcare or take another day off.

Julie and I decided to split the day, with me working in the morning while she watched him and me taking the afternoon shift. As it happened, the Emory women's basketball team had a game that afternoon at 2, so I just had Julie drop him off at my office when she left for work and we headed over to watch that.

We've been going to their home and local away games pretty regularly for the past three seasons, and we tend to sit near the mother of one of the assistant coaches who attends pretty much every game. The last game we went to (on the previous Saturday), I chatted with that coach for a few minutes after the game, and she said the team noticed that we are regular supporters, so they would bring Will a t-shirt at the next game.

And true to their word, they asked us to hang around after the game was over so they could do that, and Will got really excited. But when the dozen girls on the team all came over to thank him for coming, give him his shirt, and pose for pictures with him (which they posted on their Twitter page), he got really shy, which is pretty unusual for him. It was very adorable, and I think it endeared him to them even more. Here's one of my pictures of him with the team:

So, the Ravens nightmare season is finally over. Let's wrap up the last few games:

December 20, at home against Kansas City. This was a blowout, plain and simple. The Chiefs were never behind, they dominated in turnovers, and the 34-14 gap would have been even larger if not for a Hail Mary touchdown by the Ravens to end the first half. This was a bad Ravens team at their worst.

December 27, in Pittsburgh against the Steelers. By winning this one, the Steelers could have kept a lock on a wild card playoff slot, but the Ravens have been strangely effective against their most hated rivals the past few seasons, and this game was no exception. As usual, it was a hard fought game that was decided by a single score, but this win marked the third Ravens win in a row, including last year's playoff game (again and Pittsburgh) and the first season sweep by either team since 2011 (when the Ravens also won both games against the Steelers). It also means that, with a 5-10 record this season, fully half of our wins this year (again including the playoff game in January) have come against the Steelers. There's not a whole lot to like about this season if you're a Ravens fan, but having bragging rights over Pittsburgh for another year certainly helps.

January 3, in Cincinnati against the Bengals. Cincinnati continued their odd dominance of the Ravens (we haven't beaten them since 2013) in the only game that I didn't get a chance to watch or hear and had to rely on the ESPN recap for. So I don't really have a good sense of what happened in this game, but I know enough to know that I don't want to know any more.

I'm glad this season is finally over and we can look to next year with hopefully our starting veterans healthy (by the end of the season, we had lost our franchise quarterback, our leader on defense, our left tackle, our center, our top three wide receivers, our top two running backs, and our top two tight ends to injury) and some talented new rookies (the Ravens will pick number 6 in the draft this year, their highest pick since the 2000 draft and their first pick in the top 10 since 2003.

Our schedule should also be quite a bit more manageable next year, and in a season in which 14 of the 16 games were decided by a single score, it won't take much to get us back on track if we can get everyone healthy and build on the great improvements that a young defense made in the second half of the season.

We let Will watch Star Wars (A New Hope, the first one that was released back in 1977) a few months ago after he started expressing interest in it, and while he said he liked it, he didn't seem interested in watching it again or in watching the next one. But with all the interest in the new Star Wars movie, it's become more fashionable in the kindergarten set, so he came to us a couple of weeks ago and said he wanted to watch the next one, the one with Yoda in it (The Empire Strikes Back).

Of the original trilogy, this is probably the one with the most graphic and scary scenes—I saw it when it came out when I was 9 and was already a full-blown Star Wars obsessive, and there were parts in there that creeped me out for several more years—but in general, Will does pretty well with separating stuff in movies from stuff in real life despite his active imagination (a trait that I did not share with him when I was his age—scary media would frequently make its way into my nightmares), so we decided to let him watch it for our family movie night.

He engaged with this one a lot more, and although the scary stuff (like the scene in the cave on Dagobah, Han getting frozen in carbonite, and the final battle between Luke and Vader) was certainly riveting to him, he seemed pretty unphased by it afterward. And then all week all he wanted to talk about was our next movie night and watching Return of the Jedi, so we let him do that a week later as well.

He seemed to engage with this one most of all, despite some early misgivings about the pacing of the Jabba's palace section (about 20 minutes in, he asked, "Is the whole movie going to be in this place?"), this is the one I'm betting he's going to ask to see again.

As someone who has gotten reobsessed with Star Wars since the release of The Force Awakens (I've seen it five times now), I'm happy to see that Will might be able to share that universe with me a little bit—he's also watched a little as I've played the Star Wars Battlefront dogfight missions, even sitting by me and pulling the trigger for me sometimes, and I recently invested in the Disney Infinity 3.0 Star Wars starter set so he and I could play its easier games together (there's a couch co-op splitscreen option).

I don't know if it will end up meaning as much to him as it did to me or many of those from my generation, but hopefully it's something that will at least be a phase for him that I can share in. And while I don't think I want to take him to see Episode VII while it's still in its first run in the theaters, I'm hoping that he'll still like Star Wars enough in two years that I would feel comfortable taking him to Episode VIII.

We went to another Emory women's basketball game on Sunday afternoon, this one their big annual family/kids game that had lots of food, prizes, and activities for children. He got a barbecue chicken sandwich provided by Pig N Chik, got a heart with Emory gold and blue painted on his hand and the Emory mascot, Swoop, painted on his cheek, got at least three bags of cookies and chips, and paticipated in the halftime game of picking up tokens off the center of the court which were redeemable for dollars if you open a savings account with the Emory credit union.

After the game, the girls on the team were also signing mini basketballs, and while he was a little shy at first (he was wearing the t-shirt they had given him at the previous game, and several of them remarked on it), he eventually warmed up, and even sought out his favorite player, Shellie to make sure he got her autograph in gold marker. We even got to see Swoop in person for the first time in two years (he doesn't come to the women's games very much—it had been so long since we'd seen him that he had a completely new costume).

He still doesn't pay much attention to the games—I've been trying to get him to sit with me and actually watch the game for the last three minutes of each half—but he really enjoys the experience of going to the games, and now that he knows some of the players' names, I think I'll be able to get him to pay more attention when those girls are actually on the court.

I've been catching up with the first half of the second season of Gotham over the past week, and I'm not sure I'm liking the turn it has taken. The first few episodes are focusing on a Joker-like character (who may or may not be the Joker from the adult Batman universe), and the series has gotten way darker than last year as a result.

Not that the series wasn't always violent and pretty dark compared to a lot of network television shows (it's definitely drawing inspiration from Christopher Nolan's bleak, gritty vision for Gotham), but it's really crossed another line in the episodes I've seen so far in a way that makes me less comfortable endorsing it, simply because the violence seems completely without purpose (unlike the gang-war construct that the first season used as a backdrop for its conflict).

I also miss the Penguin, who has been supplanted by the Joker character and a gang of lesser psychopaths—Robin Lord Taylor's take on Chester Cobblepot is inspired, and was defnitely one of the highlights of the first season, so having him revert to a bit character so far this season is a disappointment. Maybe that will change as the season moves forward—I'm only three or four episodes in—but right now it seems like a mistake.

I haven't really been able to keep up with my running for the past month or so like I would have liked to. Part of it is the cold, part of is that it's dark so early in the evenings when I typically run (and our neighborhood streets are suprisingly crowded with exiting Emory traffic until about 6:30 each night), and part of it is just laziness.

I've been using official races as ways to keep motivated and in training since last April, but there are a dearth of them this time of year, at least in the metro area. I have one on January 24, but I need to find something that works for February and March to make sure I can't get too far off in my training—as long as I run at least once every five days and run at least three times the week before a race (leaving a three day gap between my last run and the actual race), I seem to do pretty well. But I'd really like to be running 3-4 times a week every week.

The race schedule really opens up in April, as does the daylight and the warm weather, so I really just have to make it through the next couple of months until I should be able to easily resume my preferred schedule. I'm also looking forward to signing up for all the races I ran for the first time last year to see how much my times have improved (and I know that they will have improved significantly, especially for the ones I ran through August).

Julie has suggested that I start running on the treadmill again, but man, the thought of that makes me crazy—I just really love the whole experience of running on the roads, how it takes me out of myself for an hour in a way that running on a treadmill never did. But I may still have to try, if for no other reason than to have a more regular exercise schedule, even if it doesn't really advance my outdoor running goals that much.

I've been sick the past couple of days, but that doesn't mean I've gotten a break from work. I stayed home yesterday with the intention to do nothing but rest, but I ended up doing 5+ hours of work on and off throughout the day and evening.

And I was intending to only go into the office this morning for a couple of hours to get the really pressing tasks done, but I ended up staying about 6 hours, and I have a couple more ahead of me tonight (and likely some tomorrow as well, despite the supposed long holiday weekend).

I'm not sure why everyone saved up so many projects for the Friday before a three day weekend, but that's the way it worked out this year. If I hadn't been sick, it's possible I would have been able to get everything done by the end of the day yesterday, so there's some bad timing on my part too. But after such an intense year last year, and with the Christmas-New Year's break not being as restful as I needed it to be, it sure would have been nice to not have any work-related thoughts for a few days.

In the context of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend", I guess I'm turning into a Broncos fan for this playoff season—any team that knocks the Steelers out of contention gets some bonus points in my book.

And although Denver prevented a nightmare scenario of an AFC championship matchup between Pittsburgh and New England (which means that one of my two most hated teams would have been guaranteed a Super Bowl spot), it's hard for me to see how they're going to figure out how to beat Brady.

But it would be nice to see Peyton get a shot at another ring—despite his obvious age-related deterioration over the past couple of years, he remains one of the all-time greats, and he certainly deserves to have at least as many rings as his far less talented brother Eli (who has two).

Will lost his first tooth last Friday—it's hard for me to believe he's already that old!

His bottom two teeth (the first teeth that came in for him) have both been wiggly for the past week or so, and he's been playing that up by suddenly announcing "I lost my tooth!" in random settings, just to see us get excited before he tells us he's kidding.

So when he ran into the kitchen last Friday night when Julie was out picking up dinner and I was getting the plates and silverware ready and made that same announcement, I didn't take him seriously—until he held out the tooth in his hand and showed it to me.

He was so proud, and insisted on writing a note to the tooth fairy: "Tooth Fairy: This is my tooth." The tooth fairy did indeed come to visit, leaving him a dollar that he'll never spend because it was folded into an origami heart.

So I've given up and started running on the treadmill again. I have a race coming up on Sunday (when it's going to be bitterly cold), so I have to keep up my training, but with my extremely low tolerance for cold and the fact that my schedule this week doesn't allow me to run anytime except after dark, I had to do something, and the treadmill is really my only option.

It's been interesting—back before I started running outdoors, I struggled to maintain a pace of 5 mph on the treadmill, but returning to it after running outside and working on improving my speed, I had no trouble running at 6 mph my first time back on the treadmill, and I have a feeling I could have pushed myself even faster if I wanted to.

I can't wait for us to get to March, when the daylight and the warm weather will return to Atlanta, and I'm also hoping we'll have at least a few mild weekends before then when I can run outside. But when it's dark and cold, I'm growing to accept that the treadmill is a better option than not running at all.

My friend Sarah Sadowski passed away last night after a battle with cancer that lasted just over two years. I can't really process this or write about it right now—a proper eulogy will be forthcoming sometime in the next few weeks as I'm able to compose myself and pull together some coherent thoughts about her in the wake of my grief—but she was one of the most amazing, thoughtful, intelligent, kind, vivacious, caring, and admirable people I have ever met, and it was a real blessing to have her in my life.

She made an impact on everyone she met—EVERYONE—and while each one of us who was part of her life is suffering her loss in our own private way, it has been heartening for me to see the outpouring of tributes to her life and her spirit over the past week, and to know just how many people she had a positive impact on during her all-too-short life.

Well I'll be damned—it wasn't a decisive victory by any means, and if the Broncos end up winning the Super Bowl it will likely be on the strength of their defense, but Denver somehow knocked out Pretty Boy Brady and kept every the nightmare of every football fan outside of New England—of Brady winning a second consecutive championship after cheating to get his last one—from coming true.

As is usually the case when the Ravens aren't in it, I've only been mildly interested in the playoffs this year, and I'm not really that emotionally invested in a particular team winning the Super Bowl. But the Broncos will be who I'm rooting for simply because they knocked out my team's two most hated rivals in consecutive weeks.

On Sunday I ran my first 5K since running one on Thanksgiving Day (although I did run a 10K in December) on what was essentially the same course as that one in November—leaving from outside Turner Field, running to Grant Park, then up to Memorial, then back down across the Olympic bridge to finish at Turner Field. The big difference this time: the cold.

Becuase I've run a couple of times this fall when I thought it was cold—the runway 5K at the airport in October was in the los 40s, and the Thanksgiving Day 5K was also pretty chilly—but for this one, the temperature was in the low 20s, one of the coldest days so far this winter. Even with all my gear—four layers on top, and leggings and shorts on the bottom, plus a beanie and gloves—I was still freezing during the 25 minutes standing in my corral waiting for my group to start, and my hands never really warmed up during the race (I brought a second pair of gloves but stupidly did not wear them).

Because it was such a big race, they made everyone show up more than an hour before the start of the first wave of runners (if you arrived after that, you were not guaranteed to have access to the parking lots), which meant that for at least an hour, every racer was sitting in their car with the engine running and the heat cranked up. I spent my hour napping and reading, and although I would occasionally turn off the car out of guilt, it would usually only be about 5 minutes before the cold would start to creep in in a pretty serious way and I'd give up and do what everyone else around me was doing.

My time was a little slower than my previous best on this route (which is also currently my personal best on an official course), and that's due partly to the cold and partly to the huge crowd, many of whom were run-walkers despite the explicit ban by the race organizers on walkers in the first half of the waves where people were grouped according to their times.

And as for those self-reported minutes per mile: people are either greatly overestimating their abilities or were basing their time not on an actual race but on a single mile on a treadmill or something, because I found myself constantly passing people throughout the race, including people in the waves ahead of mine that theoretically were running anywhere from 30-90 seconds per mile faster than the time I ran.

Still, I finished in the top third for my age/gender group, which is pretty unusual (although I'm usually in the top half), but which may be attributable that this was a big event race (a Hot Chocolate race, which is a national franchise) and those tend to attract much more casual racers.

I still haven't decided on my race for February—I'm dreading the prospect of running when it could be that cold again—but if I can just get to March, the warm weather should return, along with a lot more choices in terms of races. I can't wait for it to be warm again—a lot of people hate running in 90 degree weather as much as I hate running in 20 degree weather—I'm happy as a clam (although much slower than my best times) when it's really hot outside.

Will lost his second tooth over the weekend, and insisted on another note to the tooth fairy: "My second tooth came out T.F. Come get it. Love Will". This time she left him a dollar folded into the shape of a butterfly.

He was very excited to show off his new missing tooth to one of the Emory women's basketball players after the game, a junior named Shellie who he has really taken a liking to. She's a team captain, and she's the one who actually gave him the t-shirt when the team gave it to him and took pictures with him a couple of weeks ago, and he also sought her out to make sure she signed his basketball on the team day event they had last week.

He went over to chat with her by himself after the game, and when I went over to retrieve him, she told me he had asked if she could come to dinner sometime! So I think we're going to try to make that happen.

I've finally started watching the new season of The Walking Dead, hoping that I can finish it before the new half-season starts next month, but after a couple of episodes, I'm just not convinced this show has any stories left to tell. Sure, we get new characters, and we don't know specifically what their reactions to things are going to be, but we've seen just about every character type and every situation that exists in a world dominated by the dead.

I was really excited about the road trip that brought them to Alexandria last season, and the possibility that they would find some remnant of former society that had at least a workable plan for how to reclaim the world, but that's not really what we got with this new community—similar to Fear the Walking Dead, we are just getting to see people who don't yet realize just how bad things are, or how bad they're going to get.

I think that's what it's going to take for me to want to reinvest in this show—some genuine hope that the world can be reclaimed, even if that reclamation will take years or even decades. Otherwise we're just waiting around for everyone to die due to a stupid mistake, bad luck, or just plain giving up. The end of the world has been thoroughly documented in the seasons we have already—I don't need to keep watching to know how it's all going to turn out if the world really does belong to the dead now.

Will entered a story in his school's creative writing competition in the fall, and it won first place so it when on to the district level (basically all the schools systems around metro Atlanta). We got the results back from that judging earlier this week, and he won third place overall for his grade!

We're really proud of him, but it would have been cool if he had won first or second—then he would have gone onto state. But still, this is a pretty big achievement considering that it's just a story he wrote for fun, not because he was going to be entering a competition and trying to win (he just announced to Julie one day that he wanted to write a book, and he dictated this to her in one sitting). Here's the text of the story:

Happy Heart and I Love Each Other

The Happy Heart said, "I never went to Earth before. I do not know where friends are or how they do anything because my other friends are in outer space."

"How does Earth work? Does Earth don't turn or does? If it went upside down, would I fall out of Earth? And it's already upside down and there's gravity so we don't fall down. That's interesting. I do not know how Earth works yet."

"Now I really know about Earth, and it's really fun. Kids are on different planets. In this Earth, I can't find my kids, but sometime I might find some kids. Sometimes there might be things I don't know about yet, like bugs. I don't know what bugs are called."

"I found a friend named "I." I saw a friend who didn't have a friend yet, and I didn't know I was in a storybook. I do not know how I came in this book."

"Earth is the specialist planet, and now I know what bugs are called. One is butterflies and caterpillars and ladybugs."

The End.

Love his little brain.

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