Last weekend, the kids and I made our way back to Hand Camp for our second year (you can read about last year here). We almost didn’t get to go this year as we were initially wait listed. On Tuesday of last week, we got a call from the people who organize the camp that 3 spots opened up and they wanted to know it we wanted them. Maggie had an all day class Saturday, so we decided to send me and the kids for the weekend.
I’m so glad Brenden got to go this year. The extra year of maturity really showed. He was making friends and running around with other kids and generally having a blast. Both kids were really well behaved and we had a great time together.
It was also good to talk with other parents of kids with similar hand differences about the things going on as their kids get older. The funny thing is, we all realize that the hand differences are almost zero of our challenges. Our challenges come from the fact we have kids. It’s like an extra bonus parenting support group to know we’re going through the same things as others raising their kids.
And here are a few pictures from the weekend:
Arrival lunch with ice cream for dessert.
“Spinning” during opening night announcements. Those kids are silly.
Emily is such a ham when the camera comes out
Emily got a little tired the second day and needed a nap.
But she livened up for the carnival that night and got this cute face painting kitty cat.
Brenden is now fascinated with roly-polies (aka pill bugs) and wants one as a pet.
This was the last thing we went to on Sunday, those are some tired kids.
Shawn Blanc posted about companies that spam their own customers. This is a terrible practice and it pains me when a company I’m already doing business with does it to me.
The worst offender for me is Time Warner Cable. Over the summer I switched to their high speed cable internet service because it offered much better download and, more importantly to me, upload speeds over my existing U-Verse internet service. Since then, at least once a month, I get a phone call from them trying to up-sell me on subscribing to cable or their phone service. The worst part of this is the opening line of that call: “We’d like to extend an offer to you, one of our best customers”.
My response last time was that if they called me again to try and up-sell me, I wouldn’t be one of their customers at all. I immediately got the “do not call list” spiel and was told I shouldn’t be called again. Since then, I haven’t had a call from them. I don’t want to cancel my cable internet service, but I also don’t want to be up-sold for products I don’t care about. I’m very aware of their other products, and if I wanted them, I would have already have them.
So companies, please take note, when you have someone already on the line, just be grateful you have them and find more customers elsewhere.
Shipping something via a UPS Store location means only that location can call UPS about any issues with your shipment. You’re stuck talking through a middleman. Nowhere in their store or on their receipts do they mention this. From now on, I’m shipping only via USPS or FedEx.
The sordid tale:
A few weeks ago I shipped a package using UPS via “The UPS Store”. I’ve used this location several times for shipping, notary services, and US Mail drop off. The clerk, who later turned out to be the manager, let me know that Ground shipping would get my package to its destination overnight. I was pretty happy with that. I notified the recipient and sent them the tracking number.
I entered the tracking number into Delivery Status (a great app for your iOS device for tracking packages) so I could watch the shipment’s progress. As expected, it was “Out for delivery” the next morning. It was “Out for delivery” at 10 PM when the recipient contacted me to make sure they had the right tracking number as they didn’t have the package yet. That night, Deliver Status updated the status for the tracking number with “Out for delivery” again. When the package hadn’t arrived by 10 PM the second day, I called UPS.
After a brief wait on hold, I got a nice lady on the phone who was ready to help me. I gave her the tracking number and then she asked if I was with The UPS Store. I told her that I was not, but that I was the person who shipped the package at The UPS Store. At this point, the helpfulness stops. I’m told that The UPS Store became the shipper of record as they were the last ones to touch the package and it was shipped under their UPS account. I clarify a couple of times that despite the fact I paid for the shipping and it was my package, I was powerless to initiate anything to find the package and that only The UPS Store I used could do so. Of course, being so late at night, I’d have to wait until the next morning to go to the UPS Store to get things sorted out.
After those tweets, the UPS help twitter account replied with essentially the same information I’d been given over the phone. It really bugged me that this wasn’t explained anywhere in the store or on the receipt you get when you ship there.
First thing the next morning, I went to the store and the same clerk was on duty. I told her that I had problem with a package I had shipped and gave her the tracking number. She looked it up in the computer and came to the same conclusion that I did: “Something’s not right”. She then calls UPS in front of me and gives them the tracking number and says she’s the manager of the UPS Store that shipped the package. They then start asking her questions about the package. She has to relay those questions to me because, being the shipper, I actually know the answers UPS needs to know. After about 5 minutes of this back and forth, UPS initiates a trace on the package. I’m told it will take 5-7 business days to complete the trace.
Needless to say, after having to use a intermediary to conduct the phone call I tried to do the night before, I was fuming. Trying to remain calm, I ask the manager what’s the deal with why I have to have her make that call for me. And she replies with “that’s just the way it’s setup. It’s stupid”. To which I responded that yes, it is stupid and it’d just cost her and UPS a customer. I asked where in the store or on any receipt I was given that it was stated that I’d no longer be the responsible party for the package. She said there wasn’t anywhere that was posted. I then informed here that it should be in huge red letters on a banner behind the counter. Or at the very least on the huge receipt they print out. I haven’t returned to the store since`.
My biggest frustration here is that I entered a place with the UPS logo on it and shipped a package via UPS under the impression that UPS would be the one helping me. It turns out, each UPS Store location is an independent franchisee. The problem seems to stem from the fact that UPS bought Mailboxes, Etc and turned them into The UPS Store without changing their previous relationship. I’m willing to bet that any normal person would assume that shipping a package at The UPS Store would be just like dropping it off at a UPS warehouse for shipping. Incidentally, shipping at a UPS warehouse is the only place where you remain the shipper of record and can initiate package traces.
This UPS policy also applies when you drop your package off for shipping at a Staples that’s an authorized UPS shipping center. I was told this on the phone with UPS and verified it at my local Staples. So beware there as well.
To check and see if this was FedEx’s policy, I went to my local FedEx Office and asked them if I shipped something through them via FedEx if I’d be able to deal with FedEx directly or have to come to them in the store. To my relief, I was informed that I would be able to handle any shipping issues directly with FedEx. From now on, I’m only shipping with FedEx and the US Postal Service. I suggest you do the same.
And for those wondering, after a few days, the package finally arrive to where I shipped it, so there’s at least that one bright spot.
Back in September, Brenden went to his first day of kindergarten. It seems just like yesterday we were bringing him home from the hospital. I can’t believe how quickly he is growing up. He’s working on writing, reading and math. He’s enjoying it and we work on homework throughout the week. Here are some pictures from the first morning.
Yesterday one of my heroes, Steve Jobs, died. For reasons I’m still trying to understand, when I learned of his death, I immediately had tears in my eyes. Tears for a man I had never met.
Steve’s vision and his company’s products are the reason I have a career at all. From programming on my friend’s Apple IIe, to my first Mac, to the iPhones and iPads I work on now, Steve has affected so much of my professional life. So many othershavewrittengreatpiecesabout Steve, and I’ll cede the floor to them, but I just wanted to say: Thank you Steve.
A quick followup to my last post about my Pixar visit. While at the company store, I picked up a couple of toys I couldn’t fit with me back on the plane, so I had to have them shipped. They were a Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear and the iconic Pixar ball (as seen in my photo here). Those items came in a week or so ago and the kids loved them. Brenden really likes his Lotso, even though “he can be a bad bear”. On the upside, he smells like strawberries. There’s also a picture of Emily sporting the Buzz Lightyear in Spanish mode t-shirt I got both kids.
This past week I was out at Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference in San Francisco. Due to some fantastic circumstances, I was able to go on a tour of Pixar Animation Studios. It’s not open to the public, I was lucky enough to be invited by an employee I know for a tour. All I can show you here are some photos I was able to take of the reception lobby. Everywhere else in the building is covered under a non-disclosure agreement, so no photography.
The Pixar Gates
Giant Luxo and Ball
Me standing next to Woody and Buzz Lightyear made out of Lego
The Awards cabinet with the Oscars and other awards
Me as a Toy Story 3 Action Figure
The Toy Story Aliens
Me with Sulley and Mike from Monsters Inc.
The lobby is truly awesome. On the left is the cafeteria, on the right are the company store, the mailroom, the playroom and a kitchen. The building was designed by Steve Jobs and is setup to make “chance encounters” happen between people from different departments. It’s an incredible working environment. I wish I could show you what I saw once we went upstairs, but I’d hate to get myself and my employee friend in trouble. If you ever get the chance to tour the Pixar Studio, do it!
I discovered something odd about my thinking the other day. Some of you may not know this, but my mom died in 1984 when I was 6. The thing I discovered is how deeply this affects my thinking about other people and their parents. If someone older than me mentions that they are doing something with their dad, I don’t think twice about it. If that same person were to mention doing something with their mom, I think to myself “wow, how old must their mom be, I’m surprised they’re still alive?”. Another odd thing is it’s only people older than me. If it’s someone I know is younger than me, this line of thinking doesn’t happen.
I’ve been doing this subconsciously for years. It wasn’t until the other day that I realized I was doing it. I’m not exactly sure what that says about me, but it opened my eyes to how deeply my mom’s early death has affected me in ways I’m still uncovering.
This weekend we took the family to Hand Camp at Camp John Marc put on by the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital For Children. This is a camp for children with a limb difference between the ages of 4 and 9 and their families. We’ve been waiting to get to go to this camp since Brenden was born and we were told about it. It can be hard to get into because there are only so many spots and lots of families that want to go. We had to apply and they use a scoring system to choose families to come. This was our first year of eligibility and I was so happy when we got selected.
We shared a cabin with two other families, one of which was here all the way from Montana! We were signed up for several family activities throughout the day Saturday and Sunday morning. A few times during the weekend, the kids went off to play with other kids their age in groups while the parents broke off into discussion groups. While we’re able to attend most of the Hands Down Support group meetings, several of these other families aren’t able to make the journey. This is their only time of year to get together and discuss their questions and fears with other parents of children with similar issues. Sometimes it’s just great to hear others are facing similar parenting challenges with their kids as we are. And most of those challenges have nothing to do with having a limb difference!
I’ve always been a reader. I started reading when I was around 3 or 4. I really picked up the pace in high school. I read all my assigned reading, plus most of what Michael Crichton and Stephen King had written up till that point. As an adult, that started slowing down as work, school and family started taking up more and more time. In the past several years, I would try to read at bedtime and just fall asleep. I was reading maybe 2 or 3 novels a year. Yuck.
I’ve been wanting a Kindle to read on since they were introduced, but couldn’t justify the $400 price. Especially not knowing if it would increase the amount of reading I was doing. In August, Amazon introduced the $140 WiFi only Kindle and I bought one almost immediately. The device had finally hit the price point I’d been waiting for.
Since I received it in September, I’ve read more novels than I have in the past few years combined. It’s accelerating too. I’ve read more novels since the beginning of 2011 than I did in all of 2009 and 2010, including after I got the Kindle in 2010.
I think there are a couple of reasons why this has occurred. The first is that It’s just easier to keep going. Trying to read a novel the size of Under the Dome
( 4 lbs ) in bed at night can make for some very tired arms. The Kindle is so light and the page turning so easy, I just keep reading.
The other reason is more psychological. The Kindle tells you what percent complete you are with a book and also shows you little marks where sections of the book, usually chapters, are . Being able to see that I’m burning through 5 or 10 percent of a book during each session is motivating. So is being able to know I can push through to the end of the section I’m reading without having to waste time flipping ahead a few pages to see how far away I am.
I know digital readers are not for everyone, but for me it means I’m reading like I’m in high school again and that makes me incredibly happy.
A couple of nights ago I saw Insidious, a very creepy and excellent horror movie even though it was rated PG-13. I highly recommend you see if it you like scary movies. The TL;DR of what comes next is: Every horror film should be rated R.
That night’s theater experience was somewhat ruined by the fact that the movie was rated PG-13 instead of R. Just as the previews were ending, a large group of young teenagers came barging in making a lot of noise. All of them easily younger than 17, which would have been required for a rated R movie.
I was hoping once they found some seats they’d sit down and shut-up. Sadly, I was wrong. Through the entire opening setup they were laughing and giggling and generally being very distracting. I’d almost reached the point where I was about to get up and tell them to keep it quiet when they finally settled in.
Lastly, was the girl 2 rows in front of me that texted through the first hour of the movie, and not discretely either. Her phone was one that had a horizontal slide out keyboard and she was constantly sliding it and out to respond to texts. Worse yet, she was holding it up and had a very bright screen which was incredibly distracting in a dark movie. It got so bad that someone several rows behind me yelled at her to “put her damn phone away”. Which of course she didn’t do. Someone else must have complained because a few minutes later an usher came in and asked her to put it away, at which point she finally did.
Had this movie been rated R, neither the gaggle of teens, nor the texting girl would have been in the theater to dampen the experience of such a suspenseful film. That’s not to say people over the age of 17 can’t also ruin the experience, but I have more thoughts on that for a future post.
Since 2005, I’ve been attending the Texas Rangers Opening Day game. I’m not a huge baseball fan, but I do enjoy going to games and Opening Day is the best day to go. So much optimism of what can be when a season starts. One of the cool things they do during the National Anthem on opening day is have a military flyover. This year was a B-52 and it was awesome. I captured a video of it you can watch below.
It started with a phone call. I was standing in line at Target when I got a call from my wife. She was nearly in tears and said to me “My passport is expired”. This was at 1:55 PM. The major problem: we were supposed to be on a flight to the UK at 5:40 PM. I told her we’d figure it out and I hung up and began quickly going through ideas in my head.
In the parking lot I started to search for what we could do. My father-in-law was also searching at our house since my in-laws were there to watch the kids while we’d be gone. We both came to the same thing: we needed to get to the Dallas Passport office pronto since it was closing at 3 PM. The site also mentioned something about needing an appointment. Also, the message told us everything we need. We’ll come to that later.
I rushed home and flew through my remaining packing, hugged the kids, and we rushed out the door. Along the way, I started calling the passport office to make an appointment for a rush passport. The earliest I could get was 8 AM the next day. Undeterred, we kept going down to to the office. We got there around 2:25 PM and ran into the building that houses the passport office.
As we entered the office, the guards told us that we needed to turn off any electronic devices and then sent us to the window about appointments. The lady here gave us a rough look when we told her that we didn’t have an appointment. She also asked if we had all the documents, including 2 passport photos. Of course, we didn’t have any passport photos. We asked the lady if there was somewhere nearby we could get passport photos and she oddly replied “I can’t tell you, you’ll have to ask the guards”. I took it that for some reason of policy, she wasn’t allowed to do so. Her parting words to us were that we’d need to hurry, they were closing in 5 minutes. Which I will note is 30 minutes before 3 PM.
We asked the guards and they told us the sundry shop in the building took passport photos. We ran to the shop and the girl working there was happy to help and told us it would take about 5 minutes. While Maggie was taking care of getting her photos made, I ran back out to the car to get “proof of travel” in the next 2 weeks which was something else we would need.
After obtaining the photos and going back upstairs, we noticed that Maggie’s printed ticket confirmation only printed out the first page. That meant that the flight details didn’t make it on the printout. Without being about to use our phones once inside the passport office, we had no way of showing proof of travel. The only other thing we had was a printout of our hotel reservation showing its address in London.
The lady at the appointments desk had Maggie fill out an application for renewal and looked over our documents. Hesitantly, she accepted the fact that we had a hotel reservation of immediate travel and told us to wait to be called to a window. At this point, there was only one window open and the lady there almost immediately called our number. She took Maggie’s application and let us know how much it’d be to get a rushed passport (it’s $170 for a renewal). She also questioned our “proof of travel” until we told her that the first lady had accepted it. She also made some comment about “when did you think you were going to make this flight and when did you look at your passport”? It was making Maggie feel unnecessarily extra dumb for having not checked before. I was thinking it wasn’t necessary to chastise us and make us feel worse. We were obviously stressed and were just trying to get things settled as quickly as possible to make our flight.
Finally, she entered everything in the computer and told us to sit and wait for the passport to be printed. After what felt like an eternity, the passport was presented and we rushed to the airport where we arrived well before out flight and found ourselves sitting at the gate at 5:00 PM amazed that we were sitting there at all.
So that’s how we got Maggie’s passport renewed in 45 minutes. Tada!
A quick aside: at 2:45 PM, each of these civil servants grumbled mightily about us being there at closing time. While I’m very grateful for our outcome, I could have done without the complaints about having the audacity of making them work through to closing time.
The past couple of days have been quite cold for around North Texas. We will have been under freezing for over 36 hours in the morning. Yeah, yeah, I know, no big deal to the Midwest and other locales, but we certainly don’t see that kind of extended cold very often. That also means we don’t see frozen bodies of water with much regularity. Much to my surprise, during my morning walk today, I noticed the creek that runs through the park in my neighborhood had a thin sheet of ice over it. You know it’s gotten cold when a moving body of water forms even a thin sheet of ice. Luckily, we should break above freezing tomorrow and be back in the 60s by the weekend. Texas weather is awesome.
Last year, it snowed a lot for around here. We even had a White Christmas. This year, Brenden was so looking forward to snow on Christmas, but we had to explain to him that it doesn’t always do that. It didn’t snow this year for Christmas, but today it did snow and Brenden was very excited to go play in it! We even built a little snowman.
It was also very good we had the snow to distract from a little bit of a disappointment from earlier in the day. This morning, before the weather got too bad, we left to go visit my dad in Sherman. We were all going to go see the new Yogi Bear movie and Brenden was very excited. It became clear to me on the drive to Sherman that the weather conditions that far north were quickly deteriorating to be pretty bad for driving and that we’d need to turn around and come home without seeing the movie. Brenden was crushed. He even cried real tears. I told him that I was sad too, but that we had the snow to play in when we got back home and that we’d see the movie with “Pa Jim” next weekend. After a few minutes, he finally got over being sad about missing the movie and started getting very excited about the snow. Whew.
Before I get into the meat of this post, let me show you three pictures.
I have been overweight for as long as I can remember. In 2004, I weighed 280 pounds. The picture above was taken in May of that year at Caprock Canyon in west Texas. A couple of months later, we moved to New Jersey. In March of 2005, I decided it was time to stop being overweight. I got an appointment with a dietitian and she set up a diet for me. That diet was 1800 calories a day,down from the 4000 or so a day I was averaging then. She wanted me to eat three 500 calorie meals and two 150 calorie snacks. Quality calories too: no juices, sweets, etc. I started the diet and began exercising. A little at first and gradually adding more. By May I found I could run again, and began running 5 days a week. I ran 2 miles or so first and got up to 3.5 miles at a 7 MPH pace by the end of our time in New Jersey. If you look at the archives for 2005, you’ll find weight loss update posts. Here’s the last one. I got down to 220 pounds during 2005. That photo of me with the Stanley Cup, taken in September, is the lowest weight I can ever remember being in my adult life: 220 pounds. I had also lost about 8 inches on my waist. I had to start wearing my wedding ring on my middle finger because it would just slid off my ring finger. If you look close, you can see that in the 2005 picture. I now keep that picture as my iPhone background for inspiration.
I had incredible willpower during the months from March until October. I couldn’t even tempt myself with my favorite fast food: McDonald’s. I didn’t have any cravings for bad foods. I kept eating sensible meals and snacks. Once, Maggie and I went to a Chili’s and I could only eat half a Big Mouth Burger before I was full. People who knew me before and who know me now would be shocked at that I think.
In November of 2005, we made the move back to Texas and I took my old job back. In doing so, I apparently left my willpower in New Jersey. I had and continue to have an array of cravings daily. We moved back to all my favorite foods. The overeating began and with my new commute and schedule, I no longer had time for exercise. I ballooned to where I am today, in 2010, weighing 320 pounds. That’s right, I undid all the hard work I did in 2005 and added 40 pounds!
One thing I’ve learned about myself the past 5 years is I stress eat. When I get stressed, I start thinking of everything I love to eat and I go out and get one of them. I over order and then shove it all down. Part of that stress was my previous job. It was a high stress environment. Couple that with a crazy 45-90 minute commute each way and I was always craving something and would call my wife and convince her we should just eat out since I was getting home late. We even moved closer to my work in 2008 to try and help the commute time, but work got even more busy and I was still coming home late and stressed and wanting my comfort foods.
Enter my New Beginning. Part of the allure of taking a job where I could work from home was being able to always take the time to get exercise in as well as a much better chance of eating at home. In November I started walking 2 miles a day during the week. I also started eating better and at home and I had lost 6 pounds or so.
Ironically, my new job got very busy at the end of the month and into December and I didn’t do my walking and the bad eating kicked back in, undoing my good work.
So, here I am in 2011. This morning, I made the decision that no matter how busy I am and how late I stay up, I’m always taking my walk in the morning, working to upgrading to running once I’ve lost enough weight that the shin splints go away. I need to take advantage that my schedule is my own. After working on someone else’s schedule for most of my life, that’s taking some getting used to. I’m also going to find my willpower to put down these cravings. I know it’s going to be hard, but I think if I can get a solid 2 months in, the cravings will eventually go away.
My goal weight is 220 pounds, meaning I need to lose 100 pounds. I think that will take the better part of a year, if not longer. Then the real battle of keeping it off will begin. I wanted to share this with you with hopes that by doing so I make myself accountable to my friends who I know read this blog as well as the Internet at large. I’m determined to get back to size 34 jeans and not being disgusted when I look at myself in a mirror.
Finally, the irony is not lost on me that I sell a fitness tracking application for the iPhone as well as work on a calorie tracking application for one of my clients.