Sunday, December 31, 2017

Stay-cation With Dad

Back on the 17-19 of this month, the family and I went on a very short beach vacation to South Padre Island. Before we moved to Texas, we used to try to get away to San Diego every year in December. Now that San Diego is a prohibitively long drive away, we had to find somewhere else to go. South Padre Island is Texas's big beach destination, especially come spring break time. So, it was the logical place to go. It's also a few hours closer to us than San Diego ever was.

It was a quick trip. We were only there for one full day, driving half the day on Sunday to get there, and on Tuesday to get home. My wife just plain couldn't get the days off from work. But we had fun. Some highlights:

The beach was really nice, even if the water was too cold for me.

The kids made several sand castles, and had a good time decorating them with the many, many nice shells that were on the beach.

We went to the Point Isabel Lighthouse.

I really like lighhouses.

We went out on a dolphin watching boat tour.

It was about a three hour tour.

But the courage of the fearless crew made sure we got home instead of marooned for years on a desert island.

We took all of my older kids parasailing for their first time. It was their Christmas present for this year.

And we went to visit a turtle rescue place. Both of the turtles in the picture are missing limbs. The one on top only has one limb, and has to wear that prosthesis just to be able to swim upright and not drown. It was neat, but sad.

Despite being pretty warm, the beach was always foggy, making it look like some kind of post-apocalyptic world in all the pictures I took.

It was so bad that it looked like this on our last morning there. My son sent this picture to his friend:

His response: "Nice gradient."

So, anyway, that was the beginning of our winter break this year. But back when we were trying to schedule our vacation in the first place, my wife proposed that we try to get the days off around New Year's Eve/Day because they would probably be in less demand than Christmas. Boy was she wrong. I was able to get them off, but she was completely unable.

So, I had them leftover now. I was off from Wednesday through Monday, a six day vacation with all my kids out of school, but no wife around. What should I do? I had enough time off that we could have done something really big, like drive all the way to New Mexico and go to Carlsbad Caverns, but that time off was smack dab in the middle of what is usually one of the coldest times of the year, so camping was probably out.

In the end, I decided to try to do a stay-cation. We could save money that way since we weren't renting hotels or anything, right? After all, we've lived here for such a short time that we are completely unfamiliar with all the local attractions.

We really like nature, its beauty and majesty, so most of our vacations are in places like national parks. So, I tried to look for things like that. However, those things tend to be best enjoyed in good weather. The only national parks in Texas are way over on the west side, but I found several state parks that we could go to. Plus, there were several other interesting things in town that we could see. Houston is the fourth biggest city in the country after all.

I decided to start with Battleship Texas and the San Jacinto Monument. Then, if we had time, we could go see a few other things nearby.

We headed out Wednesday afternoon, and immediately it started raining. The whole drive there the rain got progressively worse. I started worrying about how awful this was going to turn out to be.

The ship was very cool:

But our experience of it was pretty miserable. It was pretty cold, and very wet. The rain had made many puddles on the ship's deck that we had to step in to get where we were going, so our feet were soon wet. And battleships are made of metal, which gets as cold as the air around it, so everything you touched was very cold as well.

After the ship, which took a pretty long time to see everything on, we went across the way to the San Jacinto Monument.

This is the monument that commemorates the battle that won Texas its independence from Mexico. On the site they built this gigantic white column. It looks suspiciously like the Washington Monument from Washington D.C. The only real difference is that there is a star on the top of this one.

We'd gotten a late start and taken a long time on the battleship, so everything at the monument was near closing time. You could ride an elevator up to the top of the monument and look through the windows in the observation deck at the top, but the elevator shut down operations at 5:30. We hurried to get on, but it turned out to be pretty unimpressive. In the Washington Monument, I assume you get an amazing view of all the other things on the Capitol Mall, however this monument just gives you a view of the more or less empty surrounding area.

There's a reflective pool, which on a day like this day was anything but reflective:

And then there were a lot of refineries and other industrial installations.

I guess we had to take the elevator up just to say that we had, but it was pretty expensive to do so, and not really worth the dough.

We were the last people in the observation deck, and took the last elevator down. By the time we got down to the bottom, even the gift shop had closed on us. We could only look at the historical items they had on display in the museum area. If you've ever been to a museum with a 5-year-old, you know how long that kind of stuff will entertain them. Soon, we hit the road.

I took one more picture on my way out, because they'd turned on the lights now.

Aside from freezing our butts off, the day hadn't been that unsuccessful. The kids seemed to have had a pretty good time.

I decided that day two of the stay-cation would be in downtown Houston. I'd heard that one of the really tall buildings would let you ride their elevator up to the sky lobby on the 66th floor to get a really neat bird's eye view of the city.

I looked everywhere trying to figure out just which building it was, and finally found this entry on Wikipedia for the Wells Fargo Building:

The building's own website didn't say one thing or another about wether the public was allowed to be there or not, so I figured that whoever this guy was that wrote that line of the Wikipedia entry knew firsthand that it was allowed.

We walked to the building, and had all gotten inside the elevator before a security guard caught us, asked us if we were visitors, and then told us that visitors weren't allowed to go to the sky lobbies. I was completely livid. If I'd been there on my own, I probably would have been arrested after I completely lost my cool all over this security guard. But instead, I was there with my kids, so I just smiled and said, "oh, okay. Come on kids," and led them elsewhere.

Now that I'm not with my kids, let me just say FUCK WELLS FARGO! They are a completely shit bank. I was once their customer, but I was so glad to see the last of them. They did nothing but nickle and dime me for every kind of bullshit fee that they could. Every second my money spent in their bank was a second too long. Again, FUCK WELLS FARGO! I don't think they have any owning interest in the building either, but I don't care. It's got their name, so FUCK WELLS FARGO!

Okay, now that that's off my chest...I led the kids down the stairs into this really cool thing that they have in Houston. There are a bunch of underground tunnels that connect all the downtown building. They are finished up all nice and neat, and look just like a regular old hallway in a mall, but still I think they're cool. I assume they made them because it's usually too damned hot to walk from building to building out in the open air. The kids didn't seem too interested in them. Instead, they seemed uncomfortable and wierd. They didn't want to be there. I tried to take their picture, and they didn't want to pose for it. They just wanted out.

I realized that being told by the security guard that we weren't welcome had probably destroyed all of my day's plans. My older son told me that he felt like he didn't belong in the tunnels. He said it felt like he was walking through someone's office without being invited. What it really felt like was walking through an airport hallway or a mall, but it didn't matter. They were all squeamish.

So, the next chance we had, we went back up to ground level. We were close to city hall, so we stopped in the square there for a few moments to eat some snacks.

Still, however, the kids were acting weird and self-conscious. I took them over to Sam Houston Park, where there are a collection of historic buildings that you can look at. Apparently, you can get a tour of these buildings if you show up at the right time (and pay), but I hadn't seen that when I looked into it the night before. Instead, there was an audio tour that you could listen to with your phone. The kids thought that sucked, and they weren't impressed with the fact that you couldn't enter any of the buildings (I guess you only get that if you take the paid tour).

My oldest son told me that I'd done a poor job picking places to visit. The kids pretty much wanted to go home and call it a night, and frankly so did I. The experience had been super crappy. The highlight of our whole trip to downtown Houston turned out to be walking along the muddy, smelly buffalo bayou on the way to the Wells Fargo Building.

After that, everything went to hell, and I kind of wish I'd never even bothered. I decided to give the day trip, stay-cation thing a rest on Friday. Then, momentum, or the lack thereof, finished us off. We never went out to do another thing the rest of my vacation, and the stay-cation with Dad was proclaimed a complete failure.

Makes me think of my favorite Reel Big Fish song:

I Shouldn't Be This Hurt

I was at H-E-B the other night with my wife when I saw a bunch of NFL gear on a clearance rack over in the corner. It wasn't a great deal, only 25% off, but among the merchandise they were clearing out were a bunch of kid-sized jerseys of Texans star J.J. Watt. I found one in my 5-year-old's size and talked my wife into buying it for him.

Now, a bit of background. I've been hopelessly enamored with professional football since a very early age, probably since six or seven years old or so. For some reason, though, not a single one of my kids likes football. And not because I pushed it on them too much and they rebelled against it or anything. If anything I didn't push it enough. I just enjoyed it alone, and every one of my kids sided with my wife in thinking that football sucked. I thought, when we had another late-arriving child that maybe I had another chance to win someone over to my side, but despite my best efforts, the 5-year-old isn't very interested in it either.

I think it's got much more to do with the fact that society at large is moving away from being sports-centered like it was in my youth. Now it's video games and superheroes instead. And my kids are all into those things just fine. Anyway...

I still try to get the 5-year-old interested in football here and there, and I thought getting a cheap J.J. Watt jersey might be another chance at doing that. In fact, a few years ago I happened upon a really nice Peyton Manning Colts jersey at a thrift store. It was for an age several years above the age my son was at, but I thought I could buy it (for the next-to-nothing that they were selling it for at the thrift store) and set it aside for when he grew into it. I put it in the closet and waited for its time to arrive.

Of course my 5-year-old never stays out of my closet (OR ANYTHING ELSE) for long. So, soon he came across it. And, even though he claims to not be interested in football, he insisted on wearing it right now. I let him wear it for a few minutes, but told him he had to save it for when he was old enough to fit it for real. So, with that in my history, you'd think it'd probably be okay to get him a J.J. Watt jersey in his size to wear right now, right?

Well, when we got home from the store, I told him that I'd bought him something. He seemed excited. I told him that he probably wouldn't like it that much, and not to get too excited. I think he ignored that suggestion, though, and went right ahead and got excited.

When I pulled it out of the bag and showed it to him, his reaction couldn't have been worse. He sighed heavily, his face fell, and, without saying anything at all, he turned and walked away.

It was not the reaction of a 5-year-old. It was more like the reaction of a teenager who had been constantly ignored and possibly abused by a drunk father. Then that father, now divorced and not living in the home with the child, hopelessly out of touch with his child's life, presents them with a gift that wouldn't fit and possibly represents everything the kid hates about his worthless disappointment of a dad.

I know the kid is just five, and I can't take anything he says or does seriously, but I couldn't help but be really, really hurt by this reaction. It was just so freaking harsh.

A while later, while unloading the rest of the groceries, I found my bedroom door locked, because my wife was in there having a talk with the kid. I don't know if he came to her crying and complaining, or if she saw the look on my face like I had been sucker-punched in the balls with a set of brass knuckles, but she was in there trying to convince him that it wasn't the worst thing in the world that I'd ever done to him, and maybe he should just say, "thanks Dad" and take the shirt and put it away and forget that I'd ever presented it to him in the first place while never wearing it one time at all. I don't know.

It was so strange, though. I was so very, very hurt by his reaction. Why? He's fucking five years old. He still believes in Santa Claus and doesn't even understand the most basic of mathematics like subtraction yet. Yet his reaction left me hurt and reeling for hours afterward. I didn't know what to do. I felt like going out, getting in my car, and driving fast and dangerously angry like I might have done as a young man, maybe blasting "Damage, Inc." by Metallica while doing so. Or maybe just getting in a fight so that somebody could punch me in the face for real instead of emotionally.

Of course, I didn't do any of that. Instead, I just sat on my computer all night long, working on meaningless minutiae like organizing my iTunes songs.

By morning, I was mostly over it. But I'm sure the ulcer in my stomach I formed overnight will help me remember the hurt forever. Being a parent is hard, I suppose.

Bumblebee's Last Ride?

Back in 2013, I got a little Fiat 500 to use on my interminable commute to work. If you listen to That Gets My Goat, then you've surely heard Rish complain mightily about the car and its diminutive stature.

And he's right, it's tiny. I mean look at the thing. I don't think a person was ever meant to dwarf a car, and yet that's pretty much what I'm doing in that picture. But, that's what the whole point of the car was. I needed it to get to work, a drive which I made alone, and I wanted it to save me money on gas. So, you get a little car that doesn't weigh much, and the gas will be almost negligible.

So, I just ignored Rish's complaints, and, as Americans tend to do, I grew to love my car. It was so nimble and maneuverable. I could park in any spot without the slightest trouble. I could turn on a dime. My son, a Top Gear-watching car snob, originally disdained the car too. Top Gear had taught him that only sports cars were cool. But then he grew old enough to drive, and learned to drive on the Dodge Durango that we'd gotten for the kids to use. It wasn't long before he realized how much better it was to drive my little Fiat compared to the lumbering SUV, and his opinion changed somewhat.

Since the car was so small, I decided that I would name it Bumblebee. I have started naming a lot of my inanimate possessions...after Transformers. It started with my first computer, which I named Megatron (I wanted to name it Optimus Prime, but Windows wouldn't give me enough characters to do so). I named my thumb drives, my external hard drives, my whole family's phones, and then, finally this car. I named her Bumblebee because she was so small, and that was Bumblebee's claim to fame, the smallest and frailest of the Autobots (until Michael Bay screwed him up casting him as a Camaro).

So, last night, I was about to turn left into a parking lot that contained a restaurant that my wife and I were going to eat at. There was a guy in a Ford F-150 in front of us in line to turn, and, while I was looking to the left at the turn I was about to make, the guy started backing up toward us. He had realized that he had gone a little too far, and was probably not going to be able to get his behemoth of a truck to make that turn. So, he looked in his rearview and side mirrors, and saw nothing there. So, he backed up.

But there was something there. It was my little midget of a Fiat named Bumblebee. When he started backing toward us, my wife saw it and started screaming. I looked, saw what was coming, and tried to shift into reverse to get out of his way, but, in my painic, I fumbled around uselessly, failing to shift into anything. As a last ditch effort, I tried to honk my horn to warn him. I hit the horn at about the same moment he hit me.

It was a pretty tame accident as far accidents go. The guy was probably doing five miles an hour or so when he connected with my bumper. But, the size differential between the cars made all the difference.

I took this picture right after the accident. Can't see much because of the darkness.

These pictures I took the next morning:

You still can't see it that well for some reason. I should probably take some pics with the hood open so you can tell how the front caved in better. But even then, it didn't cave in that much.

It's pretty minimal damage, really. The car still drives, and the damage doesn't seem to make any difference to its performance. It just looks a little worse for wear.

I worry, however, that, all the same, this may have been Bumblebee's last ride. I've been in accidents that involved much smaller damage than even this one before, and it cost enough to fix it that the insurance agency totaled the car instead of paying to fix it. It really doesn't seem to take that much. I suppose I could buy a new car if that happens, but I'd miss Bumblebee. I love that girl. I'd be sad to see her go.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Audio To Paper

I never actually read anymore. It's a thing I do very seldom. I still read tons of books, however. I just listen to them instead. I get them from the library or I get them from audible.

But, like many readers, I love books. Physical, paper books. You might guess if you come in my front door, and turn to the right, because this is what you'd see:

Yeah, there's a lot of toys there, but there's even more books. They go together well, I'd say.

Anyway, I don't know if you're like me, but these days, I use audiobooks as a way for an author to audition for the purchase of actual books. I listen to a book, and if I really like it, I put it on the list for physical book purchase. So, that's a long roundabout way to get to this point. I finally got some physical books that I'd auditioned as audiobooks. My wife got them for me for Christmas. I've listened to the whole series so far, and now it's time to start buying them up.

Just need to get the rest of them now...

Boxing Day

I went to the store on the day after Christmas when they put everything on sale. At first, I didn't think I'd buy anything, but then I saw a little tiny white Christmas tree. Normally it costs $10, but everything was on sale for 50% off. At $5, I could buy it without feeling bad. So, I did. I thought maybe I could use it next year on my desk at work or replace one of my toy displays on my bookshelf in my study at home.

Then I got home, and I looked at the tree, and I got to thinking and remembering. Why did I bother to buy the white tree? There was a regular green tree, or even a blue one for that matter, but I chose the white one. Then I realized, it was probably this:

That's the Christmas tree I grew up with. Every year we dug that bottle brush-looking thing out of the garage and set it up. My mom had red lights that we hung on it, and most of the ornaments, as well as the topper (wasn't an angel or a star, not really sure what else to call it), were red.

After being flooded with these memories, I decided that I had to do my best to make it as close to a miniaturized version of that tree as I could. I went back to the store, and searched through their 50% off shelves until I managed to create this:

What do you think? Hopefully it'll look good wherever I decide to display it next year.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Must Have Been On Sale

It's always a pain trying to figure out what to get your co-workers for Christmas.

There was a manager at work that gave everybody a bag of this popcorn.

It's pretty good. I've had it before, and it is yummy. Sadly, I'm doing low carb, so no popcorn for me, but my kids were happy to gobble it up for me.

I didn't know this, but they were selling big bundles of these popcorn cones at Costco this year. The manager must have gotten them there, because that's where my wife went and got a bundle to give to all the other managers that she works with at her job.

She was all set to give it to them, brought it with her to work and everything, but when she came inside, she ran into her own boss. What was the first thing her boss said to her?

"Hey, go ahead and pick what flavor popcorn you want for your Christmas gift. Get it quick before you wind up with the jalapeƱo or something."

Yeah, that's right. Her boss got the exact same popcorn cones that she did. Which were the exact same popcorn cones that my manager got too. Whoever makes that popcorn probably had a pretty good year.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

That Took A Dark Turn

I bought a bag of really dark chocolate, 86% cacao, because it is so low in sugar it is allowed on my diet. This morning, I reached into the bag and found this unwrapped piece with a bite out of it.

While I was at work, my 5-year-old got into it and helped himself to a piece, thinking he was sneaking a treat. He told me this morning that he bit into it, and “it just tasted like black.” It is dark chocolate after all. Not really for kids.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Fake News?

The building where I work is brand new. It's been in use for less than a year, and there are still things that aren't complete yet. Today, they were fixing a couple of those things.

They were putting up those silver letters to label the various places in the building. Control room, as you can see in the picture, was already up. A few others were on the counter, being prepped.

In the spirit of those Christmas blocks that I have been rearranging away from their proper configuration of believe for years and years runnning:

And for a split second I thought I had the perfect thing to arrange those letters into that could be more timely.

I could take Cafe and News Room, and rearrange them to spell Fake News!

Oh, damn, no I couldn't. While it might be a hard C sound in Cafe, once the F and C switch places the C becomes a soft C, making it merely Face News...So sad.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

JIngle Jammie Jam

Now, Old Navy has never been known for having good commercials, but I think this one is a new low for them. Damn do I hate it. It’s a freaking jumbled up mess. Never has there been a more fitting song for the term mash-up.

I hate it so bad that I had to shout it from the mountaintop somehow. What terrible crap!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


Chick’n is what they call it when it’s actually synthesized chicken-flavored product, right?

A True Friend Of The Crown

Went to Dairy Queen today with the kids, and my 5-year-old chose this as his treat.

I was proclaimed a true friend of the crown. DILLY! DILLY!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Merry Christmas!

Traded my Pez Dispensers that I display on my shelf to reflect the season.

So, this is my Christmas card to y'all. Merry Christmas.

You're A Teacher, Dammit!

Got an email from one of my kids’ teachers that started like this:

Dear Parents,

Today are the first days of finals.

Should I bother to keep reading?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Appeasing The Cheese Snobs

Went to Costco this morning. I thought it was funny when I saw two different people who refused to go inside the vegetable cooler, and instead waited outside while someone else fetched their organic spring mix for them. I mean, c'mon people. Is it really that cold? Or are we just too coddled in Houston with the warm temperatures all year around?

Also, I got myself some cave-aged cheddar.

A week or two ago I tried to make a joke about how this had to be unnecessary pretention on behalf of the cheese folks to sell more product, but everyone quickly schooled me so that I now know that cave-aged cheddar is the best kind of cheddar evaaarrrrr!!!!

Time to try it out.

It's not bad. Not bad at all.