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.

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?