Friday, December 28, 2007

You Odyssey the Entourage

Since my SUV vs Minivan post, we've looked at a few of the higher rated models out there.

The first two we saw were the Hyundai Entourage and Kia Sedona, and we discovered that they're actually both the same company. We liked the Entourage better anyway so Kia got kicked off the list. Unfortunately, we ran out of time to see the Honda and Toyota that day and very shortly after that, Connor arrived.

Last weekend we finally felt back up to going car hunting again and had planned to go see the Dodge Grand Caravan, Chrysler Town & Country and the Honda Odyssey. We were kinda biased against the Odyssey, mostly because Misha's not thrilled with her current Honda (Accord) and because I've never been one to root for the winner. Still, I wanted us to get to know it so that we had a bar to measure against with all the others out there.

The Dodge was a gadget freak's wet dream. Bluetooth, 20GB of Media storage, 2 DVD screens, Satellite TV, a touchscreen media system that turns into a backup camera... it was all there. But then we drove it and discovered why someone invented sway bars. The thing cornered like it was about to derail. Add to this that it wasn't very large-feeling inside after you factored in the low ceiling (and the DVD modules which brought the center ceiling even lower) and the fact that both the Stow-and-Go and Swivel-and-Go seats weren't that impressive* and we quickly dismissed it from our finalists. And since the T&C is basically the same car but a bit more posh and $1,000 more... that was gone too.

*(Stowing was harder than it should have been and required you to move the driver's seat completely forward with no memory option to reset it and Swiveling meant that you and the people in the third row now shared about 8 inches of knee space. Kinda like flying backwards on Southwest without the witty overhead addresses.)

We finally got to examine and test drive an Odyssey on Wednesday and it was a surprise. We liked it and it drove better than the Accord. The rear seats folded down in a really easy and completely different manner. The controls seemed well laid out (though there were a ton of radio buttons thanks to the XM Radio) and my only gripe was that the seat warmer buttons were low enough to be foot activated. I really liked the 2nd row center seat and the reconfigurable captains chairs that could be made into a "bench" without the center seat. Getting in and out of the third row wasn't as nightmarish as I thought it might be and even when I gave myself legroom in the front and 2nd rows, I was still able to sit comfortably in the 3rd row (which is important since the 3rd row can't adjust forward or backward). The suspension was solid, if a bit stiff and the ride was comfortable.

From Honda, we drove over to Hyundai immediately to get as close to a side-by-side test drive comparison as possible. We figured this would tell us clearly who was the winner, but the ended up liking both cars pretty equally. The Entourage has smoother suspension without swaying and also has some high-end features that would have required us to move to the Touring model on the Odyssey (at least $3,000 more than the EX-L).

At this moment, we're leaning toward the Entourage since it has almost everything the Honda has, plus a motorized tailgate, adjustable pedals and memory for the driver's seat, pedals and side mirrors... all for $2,000 less. Sure, it doesn't come with XM, but since I don't have XM currently, I'm not missing anything (yet). And the few other features (center 2nd row seat, MP3 player jack, rear climate control, etc) are all non-essentials. The only real benefit I saw was that Honda has an engine management system that shuts off 3 of the 6 cylinders when coasting and only uses 4 when cruising, which saves gas and the environment. Hyundai, on the other hand, has received stellar safety ratings from the IIHS and they just gush about this at the dealer. If one more person tells me about the breakaway engine mounts...

Any thoughts from the fray? Too late to talk us out of a minivan at this point. I'll admit that the Odyssey is a great vehicle with a solid fit & finish and some nice options, but the Entourage is just solid enough to make it a true competitor and leave us with a few dollars to put towards Connor's college fund.

Reflections on 2007

In no particular order:

- Moving across the country with your wife and 2 pugs in a Honda Accord is both an adventure and a nightmare.

- Sometimes it's necessary to leap before you look in life.

- There is no good Mexican Food in Charlotte, NC.

- Friends are precious things. Good friends know this about you too.

- You cannot hide a fart in a Herman Miller Aeron Chair.

- Who you know will get you through the door. What you know will keep you inside.

- Actually finding *The Home* is both a shocking and jubilant moment, especially when it's about the 127th home you've looked at.

- The prospect of going back to college at 33 is daunting.

- I can't believe I'm 33.

- I can't believe I'm a dad (though it's beginning to sink in diaper-by-diaper).

- I Can't Believe It's Not Butter is actually pretty good.

- Someone out there is in my ______, _______ing my _______.

- I want to travel more.

- I want to weigh less.

- I need to worry less.

- I need to sleep more.

So on that note... good night!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

When in Rome...

Well, not exactly Rome, Italy... more like Rome, Georgia.

I walked into a Starbucks today for the first time since moving to North Carolina and saw slices of red velvet cake in the dessert case.

My mom (visiting from SoCal) didn't even know what red velvet cake was when I asked her if she'd ever seen it in a Starbucks display in Los Angeles (she's much more of a Starbucks goer than I am, in fact we were only there to buy coffee for my dad who flew into town today, so I figured she'd know more about what's in the dessert cases out west than I would.)

She asked me what's in it and all I could tell her was "a lot of red food coloring."

Add to this the fact that you can buy sweet tea by the gallon from McDonald's (branded as "Mickey D's Sweet Tea") and you can share in my amusement over how much local influence there is over cuisine in national chains (McDonald's also has a "Southern-style Chicken sandwich here that's basically copied straight from Chik-fil-a.)

And yet, despite all the strange foodstuffs, I'm still unable to lose weight. Go figure. :)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Wow, this is quite a ride.

Connor's almost 3 weeks old and I can't remember the last good night's sleep I had. Of course, the truth is that Misha's been up in the evenings more than I have, but I like to think I do my share by rotating with her whenver possible.

Also, he's mostly been a little angel, causing only a few completely sleepless mornings (defined as midnight to 6am) and pretty much keeping to a standard, albeit frequent, schedule of pee/poop, eat, pee/poop, eat (top off), sleep, repeat.

We even found time to take this holiday photo while he was taking a nap. It would have been fantastic to have had his eyes open, but it was enough to try to get the dogs to stand still and not shake off their antlers.


So a wonderful season of happiness and a prosperous new year to all of you out there.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

I promised ya pics...

We're back home now, and whoa has it been a wild ride so far. The nurses really spoiled us and this cold turkey thing is just no fun.

So now that I'm not being corralled by the hospital's draconian wireless access system, I can post some pics:

First day on the job...


Simple Math: Happy Baby = Happy Mommy


It really hasn't completely hit me yet...

Saturday, December 8, 2007

He's Heeeere!

Connor Raine Gomberg
Born 12/6/2007 at 11:13am
7 pounds, 2 ounces
21 inches
Apgar Scores 9, 9

Well, the big day finally came. We actually knew what day it would be, since we had an induction scheduled at our last doctor's appointment, but we'd hoped that he would have made an appearance before it came to that.

In true first parent form, I've got a full play-by-play of the entire event written down on one of the notepads by the phone in our hospital room. Since blog entries ar supposed to be short - and since I've posted a few doozies already - I'll spare you the details.

Suffice it to say, Mother and baby are well. Misha's recovering nicely from her C-section (if you really want the details, e-mail me) and Connor's feeding and sleeping and pooping - which is what infants do best.

Me? I'm completely beside myself. I've seen plenty of babies in my day but there's something totally different about looking into the eyes of your own child. I've heard about this connection, I knew it would be there, but nothing can prepare you for what it really feels like. It's truly awe inspiring.

(The hospital's wireless network is making it impossible to post photos... I'll get one up tonight.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

No, no baby yet...

We've reached that point where every time we pick up the phone or call someone, we're bombarded by the "has she given birth yet?" question. We've almost bypassed all of the due dates that various people and websites have given us. The last date on the list is today, so I guess we've still got a few hours left before she's officially, officially, officially, etc... late.

(Side note: I just had to flee to our bedroom to escape Celine Dion on Dancing With The Stars... I can still faintly hear it singing. I'll have to sterilize my ears later tonight...)

The funny thing is, we keep getting the "has it happened yet?" questions from my parents and other people who are pretty much a given that we'd call them within the hour if not immediately.

So to sum up:

Has it happened yet?
No

Are we ready? Yes. She more so than me for obvious reasons.

Will you call me when it happens? If your relation to us could be called nuclear or you stood (or almost stood) in our wedding, then yes. Everyone else will get a call or e-mail once we have time to come up for air.

That reminds me, I should invest in snorkels.

Friday, November 16, 2007

To SUV or not to SUV

With 2 pugs and a baby on the way, we're going to need a bigger automobile to cart everyone and their stuff around town.

But the question at hand is: SUV or Minivan.

Now before you slap me and scream "why would you even consider a Minivan?!", let me play out the logic here.

1) SUVs come in all sizes and prices from small and cheap to large and pricey. Minivans usually start at the lower end of the SUV price range.

2) Small SUVs can only carry 5 people with limited cargo space. Large SUVs can carry 7 people, sort of, and have more cargo space, but not much with all 3 rows set up. Minivans can carry 7 people more comfortably and more cargo. Most minivans have more cargo space with the seats taken out than the entire cabin and cargo areas in a Large SUV.

3) Large SUVs have low MPG numbers. Minivans have MPGs closer to smaller SUVs. Gas is expensive. (In case you hadn't noticed...)

Yes, they're soccer wagons and grocery getters, but you can't argue that a minivan is more practical than a SUV. Besides, I've always seen SUVs more as gas-guzzling status symbols than anything else. How else can you explain the lifted compact station wagon that is the Lexus RX? (ok, so they've made it larger since the first model... but it's just fun to pick on.)

So, I guess we're pretty much going to go with a minivan unless someone knows of some redeeming SUV feature that might sway our opinion. Any suggestions on the different makes of minivan would also be appreciated.

So hop to - it all 3 of you who read this little blog of mine - and help a dad-to-be out. ;)

Friday, November 9, 2007

Happy Homeowners

We closed on our new house today, which means 2 things:

1) We're in debt again.

2) We ain't moving anywhere again anytime soon.

That said, the house is beautiful and has more than enough room for us to grow into. After months and months of looking, it was the closest we'll probably ever come out here to finding a home that met most of our criteria and I know we'll be very happy there for many years to come. Good schools, nice yard, 3-car garage, good "dog solution", 5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms. We'd have spent twice what we got it for to get a similar place in San Diego.

Now we just have to give notice, make a few repairs and move. Wish us luck!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Water, water everywhere and finally a drop from the sky

We've been in a major drought here for the past few months, so much so that the Governor of North Carolina has asked people to turn off the water when they brush their teeth.

Really?

Maybe I'm strange, maybe it's that I'm from California, but who the hell leaves the water on while they're brushing their teeth. Assuming you brush as long as you're supposed to brush, that's 2 minutes of water running for no reason whatsoever.

I've also had two occasions when I've watched someone in a restroom at my office turn on the water, wash their hands, then walk over, grab towels and dry their hands, then walk back and turn off the water. I've *never* seen this anywhere before... ever.

2/3rds of the world is covered in water, but most of that's not potable (as our friend with the albatross around his neck lamented in his famous tale). When you live an irrigated desert, it's easy to forget that if the aqueduct bringing you your water dried up you wouldn't have long before you'd go thirsty. But you are definitely keenly aware that water is precious.

Living here in North Carolina, it would seem that water is mostly taken for granted. Atlanta's about 2 months away from running out of water. That seems like a long time, but unless we get a lot more rain in this area, it's going to pass quickly. Maybe once someone turns on their tap and gets nothing out, they'll start thinking a bit more seriously about conservation.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Too many new shows, too little time

My wife and I have been trying to take in some of the new shows this fall season and while a few have fallen flat, there are some surprises.

First, a dud. "Life" kinda turned us off with the whole "zen" thing the lead character does, rambling to himself about being detached from the world around him. The big problem for us was that there's really no good hook that grabbed us and we saw it turning out pretty much the same way as "The Evidence" and "Blind Justice": Interesting but Canceled.

However, "Journeyman" has turned out to be a nice surprise. About 40 minutes into the first episode there's a "whoa!" moment that really piques your interest and by the end of that episode, you're thoroughly invested. The whole time travel angle brings a lot of possibilities to the table but the core of the show isn't really sci-fi, it's really about following your instinct to do what's right.

Another show that's got potential is "The Big Bang Theory" which is kinda like a version of "Friends" retitled "Geeks". It's surprisingly funny thanks to a mix of awkward and physical comedy and it helps that I'm sadly familiar with some of the more geeked out jokes that pop up.

My wife's new find is "Dirty Sexy Money" about a lawyer just starting out working for a rich New York family (complete with all the socialite stereotypes) while also trying to figure out who killed his dad, who was the previous lawyer for the family. It's like a soap opera in prime time, but with a lot of shock value moments like the live lions brought in for the family photo shoot or the polite blackmailer who sold a sex tape to a higher bidder but hopes that this won't affect any future business they might conduct. It's got Peter Krause from Six Feet Under and Donald Sutherland and William Baldwin, so it's got a stellar cast that plays well against one another.

"Pushing Daisies" is a unique show to be sure. First, is the fact that it's narrated story-book style. In fact, the whole thing plays off like a fairy-tale in a slightly twisted land of make-believe. It's got hints of Tim Burton, Roald Dahl, Jeunet & Caro and Terry Gilliam, except not as dark on all accounts. One wonders though, how long the premise can be maintained, considering that if the male lead touches the female romantic lead in any way, she'll die.

Finally, I've been happy to see that "Bionic Woman" has taken off well. Borrowing actors from another successful sci-fi series - Battlestar Galactica - has helped them, but at some point they're going to have to cut that umbilical. Katee Sackhoff, who plays (played?) Starbuck on BG does a great job as a damaged anti-hero; the first Bionic Woman who lost control and a piece of her humanity in the transformation. So far, every episode has included either another actor from BG or a reference to the show. In the pilot, a prison guard was played by a BG actor and in the third episode, the unethical doctor who created the bionics for Sackhoff's bionic woman is played by another recognizable BG actor. Amusingly, the second episode had no BG actors, but featured a clip of the show playing on a television in a house they were walking through.

Our Tivo is working overtime.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Babies R Us R Cool

This past weekend my wife and I spent a combined total of 8 hours at the 2 Babies R Us stores in Charlotte. I'd scream, but I'm too tired.

You see, we're cursed. We like something and there's a good chance it won't be available. Or, if it is available, it has been or will soon be discontinued.

My wife found a bra she really liked: discontinued.
We registered for this really cool bar ware: discontinued.
I think we've got a list somewhere.

Anyway, my parents wanted to buy the furniture for the baby's room, so we went to purchase it this weekend. But the set we wanted to get from before was out of stock and not at the warehouse either. It would be at least 2 months before they got it in. Trouble is, we're due in 6 weeks. Not going to work.

It's available in white.
But it doesn't look good in white.
86 that set, let's find another.
Cool, found a great one: crib, dresser/changing table, hutch, armoire.
Except the hutch is on backorder.
No problem, it's not essential, we'll pick it up later.
10% off for opening a new credit card and 15% off for buying 3 pieces of furniture.
Except cribs aren't included in the deal.
But the hutch would have been.
Ok, let's get the glider and matching ottoman too while we're at it.
Sorry, that glider's been discontinued from the store.
You can special order it from the manufacturer, but it will take 12-15 weeks.

Can we get the grungy floor model?
Yes, $200 off.
Ok, but we'll need to order new cushions.
That'll be $200 and 12-15 weeks.
*sigh*, ok. What about the ottoman?
That's broken, but they've got one up in Concord (35 miles away).
Do they have a newer glider?
Yes, but it's incomplete, they don't want to sell it to you in that condition.

So to get all the furniture and discounts, we buy the floor model and I fly up to Concord in my old BMW to pick up the ottoman. Turns out the glider up there is only 2 months old (compared to 4 years of people "test-gliding" the one we'd already bought).

Will they sell it to us?
Yes, but it's missing a spring.
Why's that?
We took it out for a customer that wanted 4 springs (instead of the 3 it comes with).
If I say I don't care, will you sell it to me?
Sure. $50 off.

I buy both the glider and the ottoman and manage to squeeze them into my car and drive home.

The next day, we go back to our local store and return the old glider (that we never really took possession of yet, it was going to wait in the back room until all our other stuff showed up from the warehouse. BUT, my wife now wants 2 gliders so we'll be able to have one upstairs and one downstairs. So we special order another glider. Oh, and we get them to give us one of the springs from the old glider so we can fix the new glider.

All said and done, they managed to coordinate all the coupons and incentive discounts, the staff was super helpful and patient and we got everything we needed, including a much nicer bedroom set than we'd originally planed to get.

And it only cost us twice what we'd gone in to spend.

Yeah...

Highschool Reunion (not)

So my 15-year High school reunion is coming up in a few weeks. Part of me's glad I'm living across the country with a pregnant wife and can't make it. Don't get me wrong, I love seeing my old friends... I just don't like that I have to qualify that with the word "old".

At my 10-year, there were a few people with babies and a few with much less hair. I can only imagine what everyone will look like this time.

And then there's the fact that I was skinny in high school and ballooned up in college so much so that a few people didn't recognize me at my 10-year reunion. Well, I got thin and started dating, then yo-yo'd for a while and lost a bunch for my wedding and now I'm back hovering around my usual 240. Maybe I'll be thin for my 20-year reunion.

In case you're wondering, I went to a private school, so if they had it their way, we'd be having reunions every year to keep reminding us that we're better off for their education and that we should donate to support the coming generation of students. Never mind that it costs more than some colleges to attend high school there.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Cents from AdSense

I just checked my Google AdSense for September and I've finally had a click-through. Which translates into a $0.04 commission for me. Wow. One of you out there actually clicked on an ad and made me some money. Bless you, kind reader.

Now I just have to update my tax information and figure out how to get them to cut me a check... I gots bills to pay after all. :)

Saturday, September 29, 2007

How about a nice sharp stick in the eye, huh?

Last Monday, around 10am, I suddenly developed a spot in my left eye that seemed as though someone had taken a flash photo of me, except that nobody had and the after-image didn't go away. It was irritating, and by evening it had grown into a ring-type shape.

In addition to the after-image, the area was also blurry and kinda acted like a blind spot in that items in that area weren't as sharp and a little muted colorwise.

In a disappointing first, Google failed me in trying to figure out what this was. So did Yahoo and Ask for that matter.

When Tuesday rolled around and it was still there, I decided to set up an appointment with an Opto... oftho... ophta... eye doctor. After staring at a bunch of charts and having my eyes dilated and examined, the doctor came back with Central Serous Retinopathy (or CSR to the initiated).

Basically, a vein in the upper layer of my retina is leaking fluid (but not blood) and this is causing a bulge in my retina that's manifesting as a blurry spot in the center of my vision. Apparently I've had this before since there's some scarring on my retina, though I've never had these symptoms. My left eye did start going slightly out of focus a while back, but only slightly and I figured it was just part of getting older and getting closer to needing glasses.

Apparently CSR is a fairly common thing in males (check) aged 20-40 years (check) and it's usually brought on by an episode of stress (check, heck, infinity-check).

The tough part is, there's no treatment for this, though it does eventually go away on its own. I can expect a few weeks or months of this wonderfully distorted vision and then it's a total crapshoot if I'll return to normal or if I'll always have some limited blurriness and bad night-vision in that eye.

So driving and working in front of a monitor all day has been fun. I've developed a bit of vertigo at times when walking, mostly due to the fact that my left eye can't really see much at center vision other than general shapes and colors. Depth-perception is right out the window and good luck trying to read the alarm clock in the morning.

I love how the body sometimes deals with stress, putting you in situations that would seem to make things even more stressful. "Wow, I'm really stressed out. I know, let's screw up my vision! Yeah, that should make the stress go away!" Sheesh.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The 40 Year Old Virgin

We Tivoed (is that a word?) The 40 Year Old Virgin a few weeks back and settled in to watch it last night.

Hysterical. I started laughing from the moment the movie started and Steve Carell walks through his room of action figures and I really didn't stop laughing for longer than a few minutes until the credits rolled. Totally infantile in every way, but not as crude as American Pie and its offspring... more like a Kevin Smith film. Basically, it's a guy film.

Apparently, they had to remove 15 minutes of footage to avoid an NC-17 rating. Kinda makes me curious to check out the Unrated version. Anyone out there seen it already?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Episode II - Attack of the Stones

Y'all remember the Kidney stone that my pregnant wife just had removed. Well she started having some pain around her ribcage the first week of September that she described as "like a metal band tightening around [her] bra-line".

The best the docs could tell us was to give her some Tylenol-3 (hooray Codeine!) and Zantac and have her rest in a tub. While this worked, she was continuing to have episodes so we scheduled a visit to the doctor's office.

Everything kinda happened quickly after that (but don't worry, it's a happy ending... kinda). She got there and the doctors hooked her up to a monitor to listen to the baby's heartbeat and see if she was having contractions. Which she was. Every 1-2 minutes.

She called me on the way to the Maternity Ward in tears, worked up over the fact that she was headed back when we'd figured we wouldn't be back there until it was time for her to give birth in November. I skipped out of a training session I was in and took the rest of the day off to be with her.

A few shots of whatchacallit and she was no longer contracting, but the doctor on duty was concerned about her recurring pain (FINALLY! A doctor that listens!) and scheduled her for an ultrasound. What seemed like an eternity later, the results were in: Gallstones.

You're shitting us, right? First kidney stones, now gallstones.

"Look at it this way hon," I told my wife, "there's no other organ that makes stones." I have no idea if this is the case, but I've never heard of a spleenstone, have you. Nope, just kidney and gallstones.

So we're not entirely sure if this means that she's going to have to deliver via c-section or what other considerations there are going to be, but at some point the gall bladder's coming out.

For now, we're managing her diet to keep out saturated fats and prevent more episodes. Which is interesting, but not as difficult as we'd first feared since there's so much fat-free food out there.

So, yeah, it's been an interesting month.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

First Anniversary

Ask me how hard it is to believe that it's already been a year. Go on, ask.

Really, really hard. Really.

Add to this the fact that in that year we've sold a house, moved across the country, changed jobs and become pregnant and you begin to realize just how fast the year has flown by.

That said, it was nice to have a three-day weekend to celebrate.

That said, we didn't get to do much celebrating because my wife was recovering from kidney stones.

That said, we did do some low-key celebrating. I cooked up some New York Strip steaks with rice and veggies. No champagne (pregnant) though we'll be sure to break open a bottle at some point and drink down some bubbly.

My mother-in-law sent us our cake, which has been taking up a bit of space in her freezer for the past year. We defrosted it and had a slice. It wasn't bad, though it wasn't as good as I remembered it was a year ago. It was almost like a year in the freezer had taken a bit of the taste out of it. Beyond that, the thought of eating something a year old was a bit... eww.




My folks sent us a clock, which is the contemporary gift for a first anniversary. Traditionally, the gift was paper. Not sure how that evolved. Not just any clock though, it was a clock that my Dad and I restored years ago and which was in my old room at their house. It's a gorgeous clock with brass accents and weights and one I've always liked for its beauty and sentimental value so it was a treat to see it emerge as we opened their package.

So over the next year we plan to take it muuuuch slower. With the exception of buying a house, giving birth and learning how to be parents. Yeah, so much for that "slow" plan, eh?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Harry Potter & The Sub-Prime Mortgage

Suffice it to say, there's going to be spoilers in this post.

I finished reading the final Harry Potter book recently and, though I believe it was about as good a send-off as we could hope for, there are a few discussion points to be had IMHO.

First - Death
For a book that takes its title from a mythical group of three items that together make the wearer the "master of death", there sure is a lot of dying in this book. And a lot of seemingly random, needless, senseless dying.

Sure, it's a product of our times, but there are a few "rules" out there, especially in Hollywood, such as "The Dog Never Dies". Show me a movie other than Old Yeller (or any other movie where an animal is the lead character) where a dog bites it. Even that lame Stallone movie where everyone's trapped in the tunnel under the east river... that darn dog lives.

But what character is the first to go? Hedwig the Owl. C'mon. Cute white snowy owl that we've come to know and love over the course of 6 books as Harry's trusty messenger and only summer friend... BAM hit by a killing curse and then unceremoniously blown up BY HARRY in a falling motorcycle side-car.

Beyond that, there's the death of a minor, death of parents resulting in the orphaning of a child, extraction of trophies from the dead... you get the picture.

Second - Deus Ex Machina
Something I've always loved about Rowling's writing was that she'd sneak something into a story that seemed trivial, yet proved to be a useful bit of information a book or two later.

Sorcerer's Stone opens with Harry speaking to a snake, a trait that seems merely magical to us unknowing muggles, yet this plays a very important role in Chamber of Secrets and future books that delve into the connection between Harry and Voldemort.

Later in the same book, it's revealed that Fred & George Weasley seem to know their way around the school better than anyone else but it's not until much later in Prisoner of Azkaban, that it is revealed they've been using the Marauder's Map to find their way around and learn about all the secret passages in and out of Hogwarts.

The twins' joke shop, the Room of Requirement, the list goes on of items and themes alluded to and later revealed.

So was I the only one that was competely broadsided by the Hallows?

With the possible exception of Harry's Cloak, there's really no mention of them at all throughout the entire series. Maybe I just need to read it over again from start to finish. Yeah, that's what I'll do. (evil laugh)

Finally - "19 Years Later"
For a guy who evolved from "the boy who lived" to the boy who killed Voldemort, you'd expect he'd be a bit more celebrated and swarmed by fans. Further, you'd expect that any evil or crazy wizard out there looking to make a name for themselves would be itching to challenge him to prove they are more powerful.

Not that I'd want him to be eternally haunted by his past or paranoid in the epilogue, but it just feels a bit too suburban the way she's written it. It's almost as if he's settled into a happy, safe muggle-like lifestyle with 3 kids and a mortgage.

But I really did like it...
Besides all that, I really liked the book and thoroughly enjoyed the series. Frankly, I can't wait to see this particular book on the big screen. The battles at the end should be quite a treat to see with all the giants, acromantulas, wizards, thestrals, centaurs and furniture in the mix. With any luck, they'll leave enough time over to do justice to the rest of the story.

So what did you think of the book and series?

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Pregnant Wife & The Kidney Stone

No that's not the name of a recently unearthed chapter in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, it's unfortunately been the story of our lives for the past week.

Monday night, my wife woke up with a terrible pain in her side. She thought that she had pulled a muscle while flipping in bed but the pain didn't respond to massage or a heating pad and after 2 hours of agony, we decided to take her to the local Urgent Care.

Trouble is, they were closed at 1:30 in the morning. Actually, they closed at 8pm the previous evening. BUT THEIR *HUGE* RED "URGENT CARE" SIGN WAS STILL LIT UP BRIGHT AS DAY. Genius, eh?

So we continued on to the Emergency Room in Pineville and they admitted us to the Maternity Center because she was pregnant. Apparently we were supposed to have called before coming in so our OB could be ready for us. Again, would have been good to know earlier.

Initially, they thought that she had a kidney infection but she didn't have a fever and her labs came back negative. Still, they started pumping her full of antibiotics and kept a fetal monitor on her to track our baby's heart rate and my wife's contractions. 16 hours and 1 ultrasound later, they diagnosed her with a kidney stone.

After a consultation with a urologist, we agreed to have them implant a stent in her kidney to provide some pain relief and then come back in next week to have it removed and zap the stone with a laser. The pain relief after the implant was instantaneous and it was great to see my wife's eyes smiling again after 2 days of pain.

With the pain gone and the baby well, they discharged us on Thursday morning and we've been home ever since. My work gives us the option to work from home with permission so I've been taking advantage of that opportunity to be here in case I'm needed.

Apparently, we're now living in the "Stone Belt" and Kidney and Gall Stones are pretty common here due to the diet and minerals in the water. Yeah, I'm soooo drinking nothing but bottled water from now on. And sticking with my weirdo California diet (though that mostly consisted of McDonald's & Chili's).

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Surprisingly, Stardust didn't suck...

We went to see Stardust last night with some friends and, honestly, I had no idea what to expect. I really hadn't heard much, but based on the star-studded cast and the number of ads on TV, the hopes weren't high that this would be a good flick. Don't blame me, I said, I wanted to see Superbad or Rush Hour 3 (though based on ratings I've seen since, my choices might have been worse).

The movie begins with a voice over by Gandalf... er, Ian McKellan, who serves as the Narrator to bookend the movie. We're then treated to a young boy who discovers a magical new world and loses his virginity... which to any teenage boy losing his virginity is really one and the same.

If you're thinking that this might not be a fairy tale for young kids, the unceremonious delivery of a baby 9 months later to the doorstep of this hapless youth should cement that opinion. And I haven't even gotten to the part with Robert De Niro in drag. Yes. I'm still trying to unburn *that* image from my retina.

Anyway, the movie picks up pace and quickly becomes interesting, involving and quite humorous.

A cameo by Peter O'Toole as a ruthless king on his deathbed sets the story in full motion and establishes a rather amusing theme of fratricidal inheritance and beyond-the-grave sideline commentary.

Michelle Pfeiffer plays a witch in search of the fallen star to regain her youth and magical power. I must say, she's really showing her age, but they did a great job using prosthetics and CG to make her beautiful again. Oh wait, scratch that, reverse it. Prosthetics ugly, catwoman beautiful.

Robert De Niro does indeed get dolled up in women's clothing during a true train wreck of a scene that you can't watch yet can't tear your eyes from while laughing hysterically. I really won't tell you more because he plays a great character that needs to be unveiled and not explained.

In all, the movie was surprisingly fun to watch in a Princess Bride tradition of a modern fairy tale. Though I wouldn't call it equal in story and execution, it certainly comes in a close second.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

1 month on the job

So I've now been at my new job for a month and wow do they expect you to hit the ground running. I've already been assigned 2 major projects and at least a dozen different audits and special projects for my Manager and Director. It's good to be working again, though I'm hoping the sprint I'm in currently in will slow to a nice marathon pace... still tough, but not burnout tough.

Trouble is, my Manager gave notice last Friday and is moving back to Chicago where she was transferred from. While not unexpected (she apparently made this plan known in January but was waiting until she had a job in Chicago before giving notice) I had been hoping that I would have been on board a while longer before she left. I'm interested in applying for her position and I think having more experience on the job would have given me more of an edge. Regardless, things are what they are and we now we learn to make lemonade.

Another potential obstacle is the fact that I don't have a Bachelor's degree. My company has a degree requirement for new hires and has recently extended that to in house transfers and promotions. They had to pull a few strings to get me in, and now that I'm there it's looking like I'm in that spot until I get my degree.

The only light at the end of this tunnel is that there are a lot of other people in the company that are in my particular predicament and the upper management in my area is looking into how these requirements will impact our group. I'll still apply for the Manager position though since you can't succeed if you don't try.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Bonnie & Clyde Turn 1

Today was Bonnie & Clyde's first birthday. We picked them up some new toys. A birthday cake that plays "Happy Birthday". Loudly. Twice. And a parrot that sings s song that sounds a lot like a certain dancing hamster.


They went nuts for both of them, chewing away happily. Growling because they wanted the toy that the other was chewing on. Chasing all around the house with "Happy Birthday" playing from room to room (complete with an amusing doppler-like effect). And eventually forgetting about them completely to go and play with a toy they haven't looked twice at for over a month. At least it wasn't a cardboard box.

(Bonnie's version of "CHEESE!")

Monday, July 30, 2007

Busy... busy... busy... repeat...

This blog was a great idea until I got a job. Now I’m trying not to remember how long it’s been since I last updated it.

So what’s been happening?

I've been working
Turns out that the Business Analyst position is pretty close to being right in line with the work I was doing at my last job, so I’ve been doing a pretty good job getting up to speed on their systems. My health care background has helped help tremendously.

The good news is that I’m now earning an income and we can start saving money instead of living check to check and trying not to dip into our savings so that we have a nice chunk of change to plunk down on a house. The bad news is that this saving period won’t last long because we can also now start looking for that house.

I’ve been at the job 2 weeks now and already there are a pile of projects on my
desk that threaten to become overwhelming. Needless to say, I haven’t had time to
update my blog from work (nor would I, boss). ;-)

We’ve been house hunting.
As mentioned above, we've begun the arduous task of hunting for a house. There are a ton out there, but unfortunately, nothing that remarkable. Sure, the homes are more affordable here, but when you get down to it it's the same as anywhere else. The nice neighborhoods with the good schools are all expensive and the closer you live to the city, the more you're going to get for your house.

A few houses looked promising this past weekend, and it's a good thing because it feels like we've been through about 50 already. One was move-in ready, beautiful, but had a smallish lot and very small backyard. It was also a full brick facade with vinyl siding around the sides and back... which is a peeve of mine since I'm of the opinion that if you're going to do brick, do brick. Siding with some brick accents? Ok. Full brick front with siding? Not so zesty.

The other house was larger, older and sitting on 1.5 acres. Wow, talk about a huge lot. The home was semi-remodeled in an awkward way with a modern full bath downstairs and a country-style kitchen. The rest of the house was original, which was a shame because the master bath was hideous and would have been the first thing we'd re-do before even moving in. The price was a bit high, but it was on the market for 4 months already, so we figured they would be willing to negotiate.

Trouble is, someone else beat us to the punch and put an offer on it today. I'll look back on this in a few months and thank them, I'm sure, for making the decision for us. It would have been a very nice home, but a potential money pit and we don't really need that with a baby on the way.

We can’t decide on a middle name.
We’ve been trying to decide on a middle name for our impending son. There’s a tradition in my family to honor a relative who has passed on and we’ve had a few deaths in the family since our wedding but we can’t decide on any names based on these family members.

There’s a thought to name him after my grandmother on my mother’s side, but I can’t exactly give a girl’s name to my son and still be able to look him square in the face. My mom countered that we could use her Hebrew name only and that she has her uncle’s Hebrew name, but I'd want to somehow anglicanize that name and it probably would come out strange. Now if we were having a girl, I'd have no problem with Rene as a middle name (which is my grandma's name without the "I"... figure it out, win a gold star...)

We saw Harry Potter 5 and The Simpson’s Movie
Both really good. They managed to whittle down The Order Of The Phoenix pretty well to its major points without leaving you totally at a loss for what was going on like in The Goblet Of Fire. Considering that TOOTP was the longest book, the fact that it's also the shortest movie is quite an accomplishment. I'm actually thankful that they took out some of the story lines (S.P.E.W for one), but a bit miffed that they completely ignored the fact that they left out that the Prophecy could have been interpreted to have been for one of Harry's classmates and not Harry. Then again, Neville and the Deathly Hollows just doesn't sound right.

The Simpsons Movie was everything you hoped it would be, but maybe not quite enough at the same time. Great jokes, great gags, all the characters being the most true versions of themselves possible: Bart skating and defying authority, Lisa concerned about the environment, Homer doing completely foolish things over and over and over and Marge trying to keep the family together through all of it. With the exception of a few CG scenes (and some 3D animation similar to the style used in Futurama) the movie was largely exactly what you'd see on TV, just longer and packed with more jokes. The movie even says as much, mocking you - the moviegoer - for having paid good money to sit there and watch it. You can stay until the very end, but there's not much that's rewarding to be seen after the Simpson family gets up and leaves halfway through the credits.

I’ve finished reading Harry Potter 6
Bring on the Deathly Hollows! In The Half-Blood Prince (who wasn't who I thought he was) Rowling obviously learned a lesson from The Order Of The Phoenix and cut the exposition and tangential story lines to the bare minimum required to move the plot forward. It was welcome, as the book was more tightly paced, but at the same time it felt a bit lacking in the rich detail that she has painted in previous books.

People call TOOTP a transitional book, merely existing to set up the final 2 books of the series. In my mind, that distinction belongs to The Half-Blood Prince. Without giving too much away to the 3 people who haven't read it or haven't heard about what happens from a friend or online somewhere, Rowling pretty much makes the final Harry/Voldemort confrontation we're all expecting in the final book possible, plausible, and ever more dangerous than any to come before.

Can't wait to burn through the final book.

The pugs are in Doggie Day Care
Now that we're at work all day, the dogs have had the house to themselves. After eating one of our dining room chairs a while back, we managed to find a gate wide enough to block off that part of the house so they could have the rest and the outside. Unfortunately, the couches are still in their area.

Day 1 on the job and we come home to a house filled with fluff. One of the back cushions had a stain on it so my wife had thrown it into the wash and left the exposed pillow part on the couch. This was apparently the "kill" signal for our pugs and they did a handy job eviscerating it. It's still sitting in the laundry room awaiting triage.

Day 2 passed without any destruction, but with a fair share of fluff in the pup's poop. At least it was passing through them. We looked into "Doggie Day Care" places where we could drop off the dogs in the morning and make sure they weren't tearing up the house, but at $20/day/dog, even with a pre-purchase discount we were still looking at $600+ per month to do this and decided it was too expensive.

Day 3 and they turned their attention on another couch pillow, but this one was a seat cushion, so in addition to the fluff, there was a firm foam core. This core was partially eaten and there was dog vomit on the floor when we got home. Clyde threw up again later in the evening and then again in the morning. Each time, it was only kibble, no foam. So we were worried that he had a blockage from eating the foam and took him to the vet where they kept him under observation, took x-rays and eventually released him back to us once it was clear that things were *ahem* "moving along".

So $550 later we decided that $600/month was a small price to pay compared to possible vet bills for whatever horrible thing they decided to get themselves into next. The pups were pretty freaked out at first, getting pushed into a room with several other dogs all crowding them as the new arrivals, but they've been there for over a week now and seem to be doing well so until we get a house with a good dog solution (read: a room we can close off completely and securely with a dog door to the outside so they can make) we'll just keep them in Day Care.

So... what's new in your life?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

So, yesterday was a rollercoaster...

Lemme tell ya' little story 'bout a man named Carl...

For starters - and the most important part of the day - we had our 20 week sonogram appointment yesterday morning at 9am. We usually go in the afternoon, but figured that if we were one of the first appointments, we shouldn't have as much of a delay. Oh how wrong we were.

At 9:20, the tech called us back to the sonogram machine. We'd brought along a DVD-RW because they had told us that both machines could record the sonogram onto DVD for us but we needed a DVD with RW capability. Turns out that the machine we were on only took VHS, but luckily the other machine was open so they moved us which was nice.

Everything went smoothly, the baby looks healthy and is right on schedule and we found out that we're having a boy! This was a pretty surreal moment; you have to stop calling the baby "it" and assign a gender. Specifically, it's a moment when the reality of the whole experience really hits you full force and you start having more fully formed thoughts about the arrival date and setting up the nursery and getting everything ready and the list goes on. At least, that's how it was for us. And it's a wonderful feeling indeed.

So after all the measurements were taken and the sex determined, it was time to pop in the DVD and record some of the sonogram for posterity. But the DVD didn't work. Try again. Still no go. Turns out that the recorder is a DVD+RW and we had a DVD-RW disc with us. Grrr. Luckily, a previous patient had brought in a box of DVD+RW discs and left some behind so we used one of those. More on this later.

After the sonogram, they led us to a second waiting room where we sat for about 20 minutes and chatted with people sitting around us in various stages of pregnancy. When they finally called us and put us in a room, it was another 20-30 minutes before anyone came in to see us. We met with one of the staff midwives who was originally from Wales and then we were on our way to the appointment desk. By the time we walked out it was almost two and a half hours later.

We drove home and Misha scooted off to work to salvage what was left of the day and I hunkered down to wait for the TWC guy to install digital phone. After our last phone bill from Bell South, the $39.99 flat fee for digital phone with unlimited calling nation-wide didn't seem like a bad deal.

About 2pm, I got a call from a company I've been interviewing with and they extended me an offer. It was generous, with an annual incentive bonus and regular merit increases, good benefits and 401k with matching. Unfortunately, the HR gal had called on my cell phone which has a habit of noisily disconnecting after 3 minutes so she offered to call me back on my house phone. About 30 seconds into the second phone call, the doorbell rang. Doesn't the cable company have the darndest timing? It's either 2 seconds before the end of the 4 hours window they give you, or it's when you're occupied doing something important like trying to accept a job offer or sitting on the can. We agreed that she would call back in 10 minutes and the TWC guy got to work. 10 minutes later, he's still futzing with jacks and jumpers and HR calls back. She suggests that I try her on her cell phone after TWC leaves. Is it possible to blow an interview after they make an offer?

So it's been a good day so far. We're having a healthy baby boy, I've got a job, we've got cheaper unlimited phone. Whoo-hoo! So I call a friend quickly to give him the news and midway through the phone call, it starts to drizzle outside and the phone crackles, hisses and goes dead. 30 minutes later after holding for TWC Customer Service and getting transferred a few times, they tell me that I have a bad jack and that to use the phone I'll have to plug it directly into the modem. Which means that only 1 phone in the house works right now until another tech can get out to the house today. Grrr. But at least we have a phone.

At this point, I decided to scan the sonogram images and pull the video from the DVD to my PC so I can host it online somewhere. Trouble is, the DVD player on my laptop seems to keep freezing for 15 seconds every 10 seconds of playback. Worse, my software can't find the video at all and is creating 0K MPEG files instead of ripping it like it should. Looks like even though we did get some video to record on the DVD, it was faulty somehow and completely unviewable. Grrr. But luckily the scans worked and came out nice.

I ran a few errands and then got home a little bit before my wife. We had decided to go out someplace nice for dinner to celebrate that we knew the sex of the baby and that I had been offered a job. She started looking for steakhouses in the area and I went into the other room to get my shoes and saw our pug Clyde chewing on an SD Card case. No idea how he got this item, but the alarming thing was that it was empty and that I didn't know if it had been empty. Wracking my brain, I remembered that there was a 16MB card that came with our camera and I thought I remembered keeping that card in the case. Worse yet, our dogs tend to battle over toys until one of them ends up with the item and gets sole chewing rights so there was no certainty that Bonnie hadn't eaten the card. So, dinner was scrapped in lieu of (ANOTHER) trip to the Animal ER to get "the kids" x-rayed. Grrr.

Luckily, after another 90 minutes, both dogs came up clean and we happily paid $250 for the knowledge that no surgery would be necessary. We drove home, grabbed McDonalds on the way since it was already 9:45 and we hadn't eaten dinner yet, and caught the rest of Last Comic Standing and went to bed.

Great day, frustrating day, long day, busy day. Whatever, I'm glad it's over. Of course, today's not looking much better considering the chunk of carpet that's now missing courtesy of our little mutts. I should have listened to Nancy Reagan when she said "Just say no to Pugs."

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Updates - Round 6

So we're pregnant... selling the house... newly married... let's see, what else can we do to add some stress.

Go East Young Man
Some time back before we were married, my wife's company took over a bank in Charlotte, North Carolina. There was speculation that people might be transferred and she asked me if I'd ever think of going. My answer was a flat "no". However, post-wedding, with a family on the way and no encumbrances like property to worry about, things looked a little different.

I spent 3 years living in Northwest Indiana during the internet boom (and bust) of the late 90's and early millennium. I'd always joked with my wife that we could sell our place and buy something nice outright in Indiana and use the money to go on trips, spoil our kids, pay for their schooling, etc. A trip back to Indiana for a friend's wedding however showed us both that while San Diego was EXPENSIVE AS HELL, it was worth every penny to not be living in Indiana. No offense to the Hoosiers out there, there's plenty to love about Indiana, but Lake and Porter counties are oppressively flat, devoid of activities in the winter (other than getting drunk, it seemed), and mentally still struggling to get out of the 60's when it came to race relations. That said, I was able to enjoy living there as a bachelor and made several life-long friends (you know who you are).

But Charlotte was different. It seemed that most of the people I knew considered the Carolinas to be a haven of sorts and had aspirations to one day move away from "da region" and live there. Many of the large cities in North Carolina have seen tremendous growth and gentrification from people flocking there in droves from the north and west. Charlotte claims to welcome 28 people every day, and I'll admit it's extremely hard to find a native. This "melting pot" scenario makes the culture a bit more progressive. There are apparently a lot of "halfbacks" as well; people who moved from the northeast/midwest to Florida and then moved "half(way) back" to the Carolinas and Tennessee. It's quite the menagerie.

During escrow on the house, we arranged for a trip out to Charlotte to see the Charlotte office and learn more about the area. Prior to this, we did as much research as possible. If we decided to go, it would be optimal to go soon after closing escrow so that we didn't have to find an apartment or live in a hotel for longer than we had to. This would mean using some time during the trip to view places to live and probably putting down a deposit on a rental.

The trip was a lot of fun. Charlotte's airport is pretty small (There's a row of counters for US Airways and a row for anyone who isn't US Airways) but functional and not overcrowded so it was a pleasant travelling experience. My wife's office is minutes from the airport and the business park it's located in is very nice. My primary concern was if it would be as flat as NW Indiana and thankfully there are continuously rolling hills throughout the entire area and beautiful trees everywhere. The tour went well and since I would have to leave my job to move, I had an interview with a company not far from my wife's office. We toured the city and the communities to the south and found that we really liked the area.

So, down to the nitty gritty. The weather was beautiful the entire time we were there. We'd expect humidity and thunderstorms in the summer and freezing temperatures and ice storms in the winters, but otherwise mild weather in the spring and fall with the leaves turning and flowers blooming that go along with that. Wow, seasons. Gas was cheaper, groceries were cheaper, non-chain restaurants were cheaper. We've since found out that phone service is more expensive, but utilities are cheaper on the whole.

And then there's real estate. We rented a 4BR/2BA house for $1,500/month. My sister pays almost $2,000 for a 2BR/1BA apartment in California. Most of the homes we'd be interested in are 4+BR/2+BA on at least half an acre for $300-400K; we sold our 2BR/2BA townhouse for more than that. Sure, there are million dollar homes in Charlotte, but you don't have to live 30 miles away to own an affordable house. My wife's company offered to keep her salary, raises and bonuses on the San Diego level, so even if I wasn't able to make as much at a new job we'd still be doing fine and should be able to afford a nice place to live once we'd been in town long enough to learn where the best schools were, etc.

So, the path was set. We decided to move. I gave my boss 3 weeks notice upon my return to the office and we started planning the move. Next update: your virtual drive across the country on US20 in an overpacked Honda Accord with 2 pugs. Wheeee!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Updates - Round 5

At the time of our wedding, my sister was already several months pregnant. So much so that we had to scramble with less than two weeks left before the ceremony to get her a new bridesmaid dress.

Babies
My nephew Sam was born on February 22nd, 2007. You'd think that 2/22 would be easy to remember, but I seem to keep forgetting. Hey, I'm new at this Uncle thing. The first weekend after his birth, we drove up to my sister's place to see him.

We had the dogs with us which thankfully didn't make things as awkward as we thought. They were still being housebroken and we figured taking them with us would be better than coming home to crap all over the kitchen. Especially with the house freshly on the market.

Bonnie and Clyde played around with my sister's cats' toys while the cats hid in their bedroom and we got to meet Sam. I haven't had much experience with babies, especially recently. (I think the only other picture of me holding a baby was of me holding my sister when I was 4 or 5.) Sam was tiny and my sister snapped a few pictures and before we were ready to go it was time to leave.

Sam's grown quite fast (that's a pic of him in a onesie we bought in May) and my sister's doing a great job being the stereotypically protective first-time mother. I'm sure we'll be just as loving and protective when our turn comes in November.

Yes, shortly after visiting Sam and shortly before our house went into escrow, my wife became pregnant with our first child. We found out the usual way, a few weeks afterwards, after waiting for the little stick to say one way or the other. I was reading in bed when my wife went to check on the reading and though overjoyed at the blessing, her sarcastic humor came out and she muttered "Summer's going to suck". Well, that's one way to tell your husband he's going to be a father. :)

Funny thing is, we had purchased a monitor to track her cycle and let us know the optimal time to attempt... um, baby-making. We'd tried three months in earnest (actually, we were in bed) with no success. Now, with the house on the market and other things in our lives up in the air (ah, more in the next update) we were less inclined to try as hard and managed to get pregnant anyway. Go figure.

Regardless, we're psyched, doing what we can to get ready, making sure she's getting enough food and dairy and going to all the doctor visits. We've had 2 sonogram sessions already (images above and below) with a third scheduled for next week. We get to find out the sex of the baby at next week's appointment as well, so we're really looking forward to that one.

So, any advice for the father-to-be?

Friday, June 29, 2007

Updates - Round 4

One of the things that my wife and I agreed to do once we were married was sell our townhouse and move up to something bigger. We had plans to start a family relatively shortly after the wedding and doing so in a 2 bedroom townhouse was possible, but not optimal.

Real Estate
So starting at the beginning of the year, we rented some storage units and proceeded to move all of the clutter that filed our lives into storage in preparation for selling the townhouse and so that there wouldn't be as much to move at one time once we found a new place. Every weekend, we'd fill our cars to capacity with boxes and drive them over and load up the unit. It quickly became quite obvious that we had a lot of crap (still do).

With the house cleared of clutter, the organization and decorating began. We'd torn up the planter areas on the patio during the summer but then didn't get much further because of the wedding and because I wasn't sure what to plant in the middle of August that would last. The only thing we had done was put down sod along one side so that we could train the dogs to "go papers" on the grass. This was effective, but also a nuisance as the grass would die pretty quickly from the urine and I'd have to go back to Home Depot and start all over again. As the market date approached now, it became imperative that we do something, anything to make the backyard look better. We picked up an aluminum/stone table and chair set from Costco for about $300 and I began the task of gardening.

We had originally thought to put plants along the back fence and only sod the left side, but when reality came crashing down, we decided it would be easier to sod the back as well. I used Mexican beach stones (round, flat, black/grey stones about 3 inches in diameter), large smooth rocks extracted from our planters (there were at least 10 that were almost bowling ball size) and a nice shrub to create a quasi-bonsai garden in the right corner near the door.

I used the smaller, flatter planter stones to create a cobblestone effect in the corners that I was actually really proud of and that the house photographer praised later when he came to take his pictures.

Then we sodded the left and rear and finished off the right with Alyssum and Geraniums

A wall decoration on the fence and the blown glass butterfly bath that my sister and her husband gave as a bridal shower gift and the backyard was complete. Believe it or not, we were planting and doing cleanup almost right up to the arrival of the photographer. You can plainly see that our backyard is still wet in the photos he took from me trying to spray away all the sod dirt.

Inside the house, we bought a new dining room table and completely rearranged the furniture in the living area to open up the room. We got one of those wrought iron candle-holder sculptures for over the fireplace... $20 at Target, but it made such a difference. Most of the rest of the house was pretty well completed. We'd repainted our kitchen a year earlier with one wall a textured mix of dark reds and the rest a nice light Pecan. Coupled with the tan Corian counters, light maple cabinets and the black appliances, the kitchen really looked sharp. The bedrooms upstairs needed some minor tidying and then our house was ready for market.

The photographer took some amazing photos and the resulting flyer looked fantastic. The Broker Caravan on day one went well and we had planned to have an open house on the second weekend. Because of the dogs, we wanted to make the listing "by appointment only" which meant that my cell phone was the contact and agents were calling me at the rate of 2-3 per day to stop over and see the place with their clients. I'd usually get the dogs and step out, but I'd either hear comments through the windows or some people would say nice things about the place on their way out. The only real sticking point for most people was the construction going on in the lot next door. It was a commercial building and people were worried about how high it would be, how much traffic, etc. Figures, they leave that lot dirt for the entire 5 years I lived there and then they decide to build on it when I want to sell. The kicker: it was my own company that was going to be putting in new medical offices there. Go figure.

On the eve of our open house, we got an offer. It was lower than we expected and we decided to go through with the open house anyway, but they answered our counter with a more reasonable offer so we took it. 13 days on the market. Incredible considering one unit in our complex had been on the market for almost 6 months. The escrow went relatively smoothly with nothing major turning up in the inspection. 45 days later, we closed and I'll be happy not to sign my name to anything for a while.

So where are we living now? Ah, let's not get ahead of ourselves, there's still at least 3 updates to go. :)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Updates - Round 3

After having a blast on our honeymoon, it was back to work which was a mixed feeling. Frankly, I think if I ever take more than three weeks off of a job, I may as well just stay off. Especially if Hawaii is involved. :)

One thing that we'd been wanting to do for a while but hadn't since we knew we wouldn't have the time during the wedding planning and celebration was get a dog.

Bonnie & Clyde
I grew up with Weimaraners and my dad grew up with Weimaraners. My wife's family kept King Charles Cavalier Spaniels and she herself had a Beagle several years back. We were limited by the size of our backyard... erm, patio... and the fact that we lived in a nice-sized, but still relatively small townhouse. Leaving the dogs outside was not an option because there was no shelter and we couldn't install a dog-door insert in the sliding glass door because our backyard was right on a cul-de-sac where one of my previous roommates cars had once been stolen.

So small dogs, apartment dogs were in our crosshairs. Weimaraners, though beautiful dogs, are large and need a large yard to run around and be active in. My father also had a bad run with his final 2 dogs, both of which had multiple medical issues and died long before their time. Beagles apparently eat anything and everything and are highly destructive when left alone in the house. Cavaliers are cute, but my wife had had 7 of them at one time as a kid and that was enough for her for a while.

After much research, we decided on a Pug. They're small, cute in an ugly way that's hard to describe, and supposedly perfect for apartment living. We found a breeder in East County San Diego and drove out there on a Friday night to see her litter. She had 4 left of the original 6: three males and one female.

Our original intention was to get 1 dog, but then we realized how lonely the dog would be while we were at work and figured since they're small, we should be able to manage 2 dogs pretty well. (Yeah, right! I'm praying we never have twins!) I'd always had male dogs and female cats (that *is* the way God intended, right?) so we decided to get 2 males and my wife suggested we name them Han and Chewie after the characters in Star Wars. However, the little girl of the litter stole my wife's heart and we ended up getting a male and a female.

We brought them home and this is the first picture we took of them. They passed out on the couch after the long ride home. It's hard to believe now that they were ever this small.

Naming them turned out to be a challenge. We tried to think of famous boy/girl duos that would fit their personalities. The list got pretty long at times but eventually we settled on Bonnie and Clyde. We get a lot of strange looks when we call to them singly; who names their dog "Clyde" after all, but when people hear both names they generally think it's really cute.

Not to be an over-proud papa, but I have to say that there are some ugly pugs out there and I think Bonnie and Clyde are pretty cute all things considered. They're almost full grown now and rather large for pugs. Clyde had some eye issues that are a whole series of posts in themselves, but he's fine now and not too much worse for wear.

They're a lot of work but a lot of fun. Someone once told us that with a Pug in your life, you'll always have laughter and we have to agree completely.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Updates - Round 2

So after most weddings, there's

The Honeymoon
My sister and her husband had had a novel idea: take 1 week to travel and 1 week to relax at home and unwind. We had decided this would be a great idea for us to do as well, except as we started planning it out, we wanted to squeeze a few more fun things into the 2 weeks and pretty soon, we were pretty much booked solid with no "unwind" time left over except for the final Sunday.

Our adventures began in Hawaii on the island of Kauai. We'd both been there a year earlier for a friend's wedding and we both really enjoyed ourselves and had a lot of fun so we decided to go back. We spent a week at the Sheraton in Poipu and over the course of the week we did all the touristy stuff: champagne sunset cruise, scuba diving, horseback riding, movie location tour (including the Jurassic Park Gate location below - please ignore the datestamp), innertubing down the plantation irrigation ditches and hiking through the rainforest. We also took some time to relax and tour the island. It was a good thing we left when we did at the end of the week; a few more days and we would have probably stayed.

Back on the mainland, we embarked on the second leg of our honeymoon: Vegas, baby! We both have a love for Las Vegas and we stayed at Treasure Island - sorry... The "TI" - in a very nice suite with a jacuzzi tub and the works. They sent a bottle of a really tasty champagne up to the room, which was very nice. I wonder how many times I can get away with saying that I'm there on my honeymoon? One of my coworker's brothers is a pit boss in the high limit room at The Mirage, so he got us fantastic seats for Ka (the Cirque show at the MGM). Fantastic, not free, but you can't complain when you're 12th row center (you don't want to be any closer or you won't be able to take in everything that's going on).

On our way back to San Diego, we stopped in Anaheim to spend 2 days at Disneyland. We stayed at the Paradise Pier hotel which is a bit of a hike to the park, but not terrible considering all the rest of the walking you're going to be doing during the day. The hotel greeted us with balloons and an autographed photo of Mickey and Mini wishing us congratulations on our wedding. We thought this was really cool, but then when we got back to the room at the end of the first day, the staff had turned down our bed and covered it in rose petals arranged in threes to form "Mickey ears".

Someone spent a lot of time on that, I'm sure. There were also petals on the floor from the door to the bed, chocolates on the bed, Mickey Ear Rice Krispy treats on the desk and a note wishing us a magical night.

That last bit was a little weird, knowing that the staff knew what we'd be up to that night as honeymooners (watching a movie and passing out... what were you thinking, eh?), but the gesture was certainly appreciated.

All-in-all a ton of fun and a fantastic trip the likes of which we probably won't be able to do again anytime soon.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

I say ketchup, you say catsup

Alright, catch-up time.

For anyone following my gomberg.com homepage, my last update was in December, 2005. I know: I stink at updates. I was writing at that time to report that I had just asked my girlfriend of 3 years to marry me and that she had accepted.

So what's been going on in the past 18 months? Well... I'm going to do some major posting here to bring you up to speed. 1 Topic each post so that we can break things down a bit into more digestible chunks.

Ew. Sorry, proceeding....

Wedding
We waited a good month to let the reality of the engagement sink in before even thinking about the wedding plans. This was both good and bad, because those of you who have been through this blissful and insane period in your lives will know that locations and vendors book up fast, sometimes a year in advance. What it did do was allow us to thank all of the well-wishers and advice-givers in relative peace and comfort without feeling like we needed to rush into everything and end up with someone else's idea of a great wedding.

The first step was location hunting and after several weekends we decided upon The Victorian in Santa Monica. There was some parental hesitation because it could only seat 180 (150 comfortably and even then a little cramped) but we had fallen for this place so we eventually moved forward with everyone's blessing. The date we had picked was September 2nd and Vendors were all wrapped by the end of March. Or was it May?

The big day arrived quickly and was everything we hoped it would be. My wife and I had the time of our lives and hoped that our guests did as well. We certainly received a number of compliments over how well everything turned out and how much fun people had. We had really wanted to imbue the night with a bit of our own quirky selves and so we had a few personalized surprises such as the dinner music being songs from movie soundtracks; everything from Pirates of the Caribbean to "Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life" in Monty Python's Life of Brian.

The wedding really turned out to be a full weekend affair thanks to a Friday night rehearsal dinner and Sunday brunch thrown by my parents. Coupled with the "big day" (props given generously to my Mother-in-Law), it was truly a whirlwind weekend for my wife and I, made even more special by the friends and family who shared it with us (both personally and vicariously). Thank you.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Welcome one and all

Welcome to my new blog.

I figured the biggest obstacle to my updating my home page was that it was too much work to edit the pages manually (I really need a good WYSIWYG editor), so I've put myself out in the blogosphere in the hopes that the ease of updating combined with the interactive forum and resulting self-imposed pressure to maintain said updates will inspire me to maintain a schedule of updates.

This blog is about me (what blog isn't) and Gombergs in general whenever I happen upon an interesting Gomberg figure or factoid. It's what I had planned to do with http://www.gomberg.com but ultimately failed at. (gomberg.com is being redesigned in the wake of this change.)

This blog isn't about gossip, trash-talking, venting, or anything else that the relative anonymity of the web afford so many people. I've been down that road before; it's not where I want to be.

I look forward to seeing you here in the weeks, months and years to come.

Carl