may 2016

We had a crazy busy weekend—it started with my parents coming into town on Thursday to stay with us through Sunday night, but we already had a lot of plans in place before they came into town, so they ended up adding to the fun.

It started on Friday night, when we had already arranged for Amy (an Emory softball player who is roommates with Will's beloved Shellie and who has been over to our house for dinner before) brought her teammate Kelsey over for dinner. I made fried chicken, brown rice, and sauteed zucchini and squash with onions and carrots, and Will had a ball playing with Amy and Kelsey while I finished up dinner.

He was already wound up from Meemaw and Geepaw visiting, and the playtime with the girls just amped him up further. He went to bed late, but we had to get him up early, because on Saturday morning Julie and I ran a 5K while Shellie and her boyfriend John watched Will for us, and then Shellie and John ran the one mile race with Will. He was pretty excited to do that with them (and not with mom and dad), and he ran the whole mile without stopping or without walking, something that he was clearly capable of doing in previous races but which he never had the motivation to do before.

We said goodbye to John and Shellie after the race, but we'd see them again later in the day. But there was a lot to do in the meantime...

After we got back home and rested for a bit after the 5K, we got our showers and headed out to meet my sister and brother-in-law at the Georgia Renaissance Festival. We've never been to the one in Georgia before, but we went to the one in Maryland a couple of times, and this was pretty much a carbon copy.

Will had never been before, and he had a ball riding the very low tech rides, trying out the weird fair food (he was particularly fond of the sausage on a stick and the fried mac and cheese, although he didn't like the fried ice cream sandwich made with chocolate chip cookies nearly as much as I thought he would), and doing other activities like doing the maypole dance, petting a goose, riding a camel, doing a maze with my sister, shooting arrows with me, and watching the jousts and circus-type performers.

We were there for several hours, and he was so exhausted that we weren't suprised when he fell asleep during the car ride home. But it's good that he got some sleep, because almost as soon as we got home it was time to get ready for dinner with John, Shellie, and another of Shellie's roommates/teammates, Michelle, who is going to stay in town over the summer and potentially be another babysitter for Will.

Will LOVED hanging out with John, who is basically a six year old in a tall 20 year old's body. He especially liked playing video games with him, and Will also got triple story time by having each of the three college students read a story to him (no parents or grandparents allowed).

Shellie is going back home to do an internship for the summer, so this was the last time we'll see her until school starts up again in August. I know Will is going to miss her (he tears up whenever he thinks of her graduating next year and permanently moving away from Atlanta), but hopefully Amy and Michelle will be good surrogates for the summer.

The race we ran on Saturday morning was this year's running of the very first 5K that I ran a year ago, and I was pleased to see that my time in the intervening year had improved by nearly six minutes. I'm still pretty slow, but my average time has been slowly inching down over the past few months, which is especially good in light of the fact that I've actually put on about 10-15 pounds compared to this time a year ago (although I'm still more than 50 pounds lighter than I was when I actively tried to start losing weight) and my running training regimen has been horrible recently due to weather, work schedule, and a little bit of just plain laziness.

Julie has been getting better too, and she could have beat me on this course if she had wanted to even though she hasn't run it before and didn't have a strategy for it—she was pacing me on the final two hills and could have passed me at pretty much anytime during the final three quarters of a mile, but she told me later she didn't want to make me feel bad.

I wish she had though—it might have motivated me to push even harder, plus I want her to be doing the best she can and not holding back. No, what makes me feel bad is getting passed halfway through the course on a hill by a pregnant woman pushing a stroller, who not only handily passes me but then proceeds to pull away so far that I don't even see her cross the finish line.

I'm still pleased to see that improvement year over year, but I'll be really curious to see if that trend continues for my next two races, which are also repeats from last year. My training regimen probably won't get any better—I'm traveling pretty constantly over the next two weeks, and my mom is also visiting for two weekends in a row, so I don't expect that my training is going to get any better (I'm going to try to run during my first trip to DC next week, but I'm not going to be surprised if I don't get another run in before the next 5K a week from this Saturday).

I'm also very aware that I need to up my training regimen in preparation for the Peachtree 10K, which I will be running for the first time this year. As of last fall, I had gotten into a pretty good habit of running at least four miles a couple of times a week and taking Saturday or Sunday to run a 6+ mile route in preparation for the Eastside BeltLine 10K in December, but I haven't run a 10K distance (either officially or in training) since then, and my four mile neighborhood route times have gotten 2-3 minutes longer than my best times. So I've got a lot of work to do to get back on track.

Sunday was a relatively quiet day—Will hung out with my parents in the morning, took a quick nap after lunch, and then we headed for soccer. One of his best friends from preschool who also plays on the team needed a ride home after the game, so his mother dropped him off and we drove him to the field. They got through the practice portion of the afternoon okay, but then the storm sirens started to go off and we all had to rush back to our cars before the deluge came down.

This season has felt really short compared to the others, even though I think this game was the only rainout for us. Maybe it's because they took a two week break right after the first weekend for games (due to a combination of spring break and Easter), but I just don't feel like we got to know the new players and their parents as well this year as we have in the past.

Will has really engaged with the game this season in a way that he hadn't before, so I'm hoping we can convince him to try it again in the fall, but there's a definite step up in competition at the next level (instead of playing against kids who are within a year of his age, the next bracket will have him playing against kids who could be up to nine years old), and I'm not sure if that will spark him to get better or whether he'll just give up when playing against kids twice his size (Will is both relatively small and typically the youngest kid due to his birthdate and the cutoffs they use for the age groups).

After soccer, we headed outside of town to meet my sister and brother-in-law for dinner and to say goodbye to my parents, who stayed with my sister on Sunday night before heading back home to North Carolina on Monday. Will is going to miss them, but the loss should be softened somewhat by Gabby's upcoming back-to-back visits and with everyone returning in early July to celebrate his birthday.

I'm going to be traveling pretty much every day the next couple of weeks for work, so I don't expect that I'll be posting again until the last week of the month.

Last year was probably my heaviest travel year ever in this job, with five trips for various conferences, so I thought this year would be a little lighter. That's not going to be the case, however—in May and June alone I'm going to travel five times, and I'll likely do two more conferences in the fall. I'm also thinking about asking for a small travel territory in order to continue to round out my skill set as I contemplate moving to the next level in this profession.

The first week is relatively easy—a three day conference which will keep me away from Monday afternoon through Thursday morning in a single trip—but the second week is where it gets complicated. I fly out on Sunday night for a west coast trip that I'll return from on Tuesday, but I won't actually get back into Atlanta until after midnight on Wednesday morning. Then I'll have just enough time to get some sleep and repack my bags for an afternoon flight to DC, where I'll spend one day and then return home on Thursday night.

I've gotten better at travel over the past couple of years as I've done more of it, but I expect that most people who don't travel for a living would be exhausted by that schedule, and I'm fully expecting to need both weekends to try and recover and get back into some semblance of a normal work routine after I return from my final trip.

It was Mother's Day weekend before I left for my first trip, and although my mom wasn't staying with us—she was dogsitting for my sister while my sister was on vacation, which isn't that great a Mother's Day present in my opinion—we did see her on Saturday and Sunday (although she wasn't allowed to be away from the dogs for more than six hours).

On Saturday she came over and we went out to lunch and then she and Will headed to the Fernbank Museum for a couple of hours, where they saw a new exhibit on bioluminescence and watched one of the IMAX films. My mom had to head back to take care of the dogs after that, and Julie and I had a concert to get to, so Amy (the softball player who had had dinner with us a couple of weeks before) came over to babysit and do movie night with Will.

On Sunday morning we got up early and headed down to Rise n Dine so we could be in the first wave of people to get in (there's always a line there on weekend mornings, but especially on a day like Mother's Day). We were actually the first people there and the first people to get inside, and we got a table by the window. Will had his traditional nutella pancakes with whipped cream on top, and we had a nice little breakfast together.

Later in the morning we went to look for a birdbath for Julie for her Mother's Day gift, and although we didn't find one, we did get a bag of ladybugs to let go when we got home. The nursery we were at was also close to an ice cream place, so we decided to have ice cream for lunch.

Later that afternoon my mom joined us for Will's final soccer game of the season, and then we went back home for dinner. We hate fighting crowds on big restaurant days like this, so we ordered out from Farm Burger and had dinner on the screen porch before my mom had to head back to take care of the dogs. My mom came back later in the week to stay with us for a few more days, but that mostly happened while I was away on travel, so I didn't see her again until Thursday, and she flew back home on Friday morning.

My travel schedule for the past two weeks has been crazy. I started off with a conference in DC that is one of the easier conferences in terms of schedule and demands, but it ended up being a very busy one for me this year.

I've been on an advisory committee for this organization for the last three years (it's a three year term, so this is my final year), and the committee tries to get together for a meal at the annual conference. I flew in on Monday afternoon, and the dinner with this group was that evening, so I only had a couple of hours to settle into the hotel and prepare for the week before heading off to that. It was at a restaurant called Casa Luca, an Italian place that I will remember for future visits. We were in a small private dining room with windows onto the kitchen, and we had choices of three different appetizers salads, three entrees, and two desserts (one choice from each section), and everything was very good (although I'm blanking on my salad selection, I had the beef tenderloin filet for my main course and a hazelnut coffee cake for dessert).

The next morning the sessions started around 8:30 and went through the late afternoon, which is pretty typical, but this year I was also a presenter at one of the sessions (along with two of my fellow committee members) later in the afternoon. We really weren't sure how many people would show up because there was another larger session being held at the same time, but I think we ended up with 250-300 people. I didn't have to do any prep for it—it was a completely open Q+A—so it was pretty fun. The tech they used for it was pretty cool too—people in the room could pose questions, which could then be upvoted by other people in the audience, and we would see live counts of the questions with the most votes on a screen on the floor in front of us, so we could respond immediately to whatever the crowd was saying they were most interested in.

That night I went and met Will's beloved Shellie for dinner—her family lives in the DC area and she's back home for the summer to do an internship. Her family was going to come along so I could meet them too, but it ended up being just her and her younger brother—her father was ill and her mother had just started a new job and it kept her at work until the evening. We met in a little pub near Arlington, and I got to take the Silver line out there (althought I could have also taken the Orange Line because the stop was before they diverged), which didn't exist when we still lived near DC a few years ago. It was really fun to see her in a context outside of the university and to get to meet one of her siblings—we'll hopefully get to catch up with her parents when they come down for a game next season.

The next morning I got up early for an invite-only breakfast with a data-sharing group that our university belongs to and some folks selling some data analysis tools, and then it was another full morning of meetings that continued until the end of the conference at noon. But I wasn't leaving DC until the following morning...

After the conference was over, my friend Tom from Charlottesville/Richmond drove up to DC so we could hang out before I had to fly back. He always knows the coolest places even though he doesn't live in DC—my last trip up here last year he took me to a hole in the wall sandwich place with great good and to a tea house where I got a crispy fried cabbage pancake—and this time he introduced me to a place called Bistro Bohem, a little Czech bar right around the corner from the 9:30 Club.

It was pretty fantastic. It was still early when we got there, so it wasn't too crowded (although I was pleased to notice that at least a couple of the customers at the bar were speaking Czech, which is always a good sign). I had a Czech beer and the pork schnitzel with house made fries, and even though there were a ton of other great looking dishes on the menu, I would probably get the exact same thing if I went back there again.

It wasn't a coincidence that we were around the corner from the 9:30 Club—we had tickets to see an Animal Collective show there that night, and we wanted to eat nearby to make sure we were among the first people in the club so we could grab a good spot at the railing. As it turned out, we got in early enough that there were still stools left facing the stage at the non-VIP section of the bar, so we settled in there for the evening—the first time I've ever seen a show at the 9:30 from that vantage point.

I only got about three hours of sleep that night because I had a 7:00 a.m. flight out the next morning so I could get home in time to rest for a few minutes before heading to our annual office celebration of another admission cycle coming to a close. This time we gathered at the bowling alley in the conference center for the university, which I think we did a couple of years ago as well.

I bowled three games, all over 100, which is a pretty good day for me, and then I said goodbye to my coworkers for another week—I worked at home on Friday so I could take my mom to the airport and then I was traveling again for the first four days of the next week, so I wouldn't be back in the office until the following Friday.

My next trip was to California for reasons that have to do with work but which I'd rather not get further into right now, specifically to Los Angeles. I've only really been to California once before (aside from a quick drive across the border when we were in Las Vegas a few years ago), and that was for a conference in San Diego last fall, so Los Angeles was a completely new experience—and what an experience it was.

Sprawl doesn't even begin to describe it. Yes, the stories about the freeways and the traffic all seemed to be completely true, but that doesn't capture the sheer size and scope of what are actually dozens (hundreds?) of small neighborhoods and municipalities that have grown into one megacity called Los Angeles. Someone I was visiting described it as what happens when you put globs of cookie dough too close to one another on the baking sheet and they all merge into one giant sheet cookie, and that felt pretty accurate to me.

There was concrete everywhere, and it was hard to escape the sense of claustrophobia due to the sheer number of people and the inescapability of the massive reach of the city. It probably didn't help that the sun didn't come out at all while I was visiting—something that the locals all apologized constantly for—so I didn't get the true California experience.

But there were some positive points—the food I had there was consistently great no matter what kind of food we were having, but the tacos were especially great—my hosts took me out to lunch a little hole in the wall local place that served a special of six different mini tacos on handmade masa, and all of the tacos were distinct and amazing. And I have a strong feeling that if I were to stay there long enough to really explore it, I would find the art museums both more numerous and more consistently strong in their permanent collections and special exhibitions than Atlanta—art museums are one of the few weak spots in the culture of this city.

Even though I was there for three days, it was a pretty whirlwind trip—I spent Sunday afternoon prepping for my meetings on Monday and Tuesday, and the Monday meetings went from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and the Tuesday meetings went from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., at which point I was immediately whisked off to LAX to catch a 4:45 flight back to Atlanta which didn't get in until after midnight (I didn't get home until close to 1:30 a.m.). I don't know when or if I'll get the chance to return, but I have a feeling it would take a couple of weeks to get to know each neighborhood, and it felt like there were dozens (if not hundreds) of distinct neighborhoods, so getting to know Los Angeles feels like a life project more than an actual doable goal.

For my final trip (which was also sort of for business but which I'll probably talk about in detail at a later date), I flew back to DC, leaving the house for the airport about twelve hours after I got back home from the L.A. trip.

This trip wasn't nearly as intense as the L.A. trip, but I also wasn't really in town long enough to see anyone. So I went out for a quick bite to eat and then spent the rest of the evening in my hotel room preparing for the next morning and trying to get to bed early and recover from whatever lingering jet lag I may have still had.

The morning sessions went well, and as soon as I was done with them it was back to the hotel for a quick change of clothes and then back to the airport for my afternoon flight home. I finally arrived back at my house around 7 that night, and for the first time in two weeks, I felt like I was actually home and was able to relax a little bit.

I have at least two more trips this summer (both to Chicago coincidentally, even though they are for completely different conferences), but those will both be done by July 1, and then hopefully I'll be done with work travel for a bit. It's already been an interesting start to the summer, and with the imminent announcement of a new president for our university, it's just going to get more interesting from here, and it will likely be a good thing that I'll be around most of the rest of the summer to keep an ear to the ground on any changes that new leadership might bring.

This may was simultaneously one of the longest and shortest months of my life. On to June, which will have more travel but which will also include a week of vacation at the beach with my family.

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