Cleaning Out My Closet

Juliette has made cleaning out the office closet one of her summer projects, which meant that this past weekend I had the opportunity to go through some boxes that I haven't opened in probably five years.

I always love these little trips down memory lane, rediscovering all the little treasures from my past. Being able to touch them, having a physical connection, always brings back the associated memories much more strongly than just thinking about them.

For example, there's the rocks that I found under the deck at the cabin my family used to rent in Tahoe every year. Turning them over in my hands, I remember how fascinated I was by the flat orange color on the top and the clear, ice-like crystal structure on the bottom. More, I remember the bite of the cold air in my nose, the crunch of snow under my feet, and the layer of pine needles and fir cones that littered the ground under the deck.

I especially enjoy it when these little forays into my "treasure boxes" turn up things I thought I'd lost. I actually let out a little cry of joy when I found a big stack of old RPG manuals and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles graphic novels that I thought had been lost or donated years ago.

On the other hand, there's also a certain embarassment that comes with some of the things I find. I have a tendency toward being a packrat, and why I save some things baffles even me. A selection of some of the useless or forgotten things I don't know why I saved:

  • A mostly full box of perfectly good staples, tucked in between some old harmonicas instead of, you know, being put into a stapler.
  • My "Intro to Systems Engineering" notebook, completely blank.
  • Ten or twelve rolls of old Pez, most of which weren't even still packaged with their dispensers.
  • An old micro-butane torch I bought for a project for my high school physics class, long since empty and broken.
  • A bunch of empty cigarette lighters.
  • A giant pile of old homework, some of which dated back to my freshman year of high school.
  • A 1985 nickel.
  • A green permanent marker that looked like it was about 15 years old, completely dry.

I started having flashes of those hoarder interventions you see on TV, with the host aghast at the piles of garbage and the hoarder breaking down in tears saying "I don't know why I kept it!" I shuddered and made a silent vow never to become one of those people. Not that Juliette would ever let that happen, anyway. But still.

Anything I found that I couldn't remember at all and had no immediate use, I tossed. I actually even got rid of some stuff I did remember, deciding that I didn't really need it or wasn't going to use it. By the time I was done, I'd cut my pile of stuff by almost half.

This is a big step, people. I may actually turn into a grown-up yet.

Learning to Share

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

I got this snap the other night when we were babysitting our friends' daughter. What you can't tell from the picture is that the reason he's "sharing" this ball is because he's trying to distract her from the other ball that you can't see, which both of them wanted at the same time. Still, it's been neat to watch them develop from only a dim awareness of each others' existence to actually playing together.

Appreciate Your Waiter

In the past week or so, Juliette and I have been out to nice restaurants twice: last week we went to the Farm House Cafe for my birthday, and last night it was Morton's for our anniversary. Since Jason still isn't up to the task of sitting quietly for long periods, we don't get much chance to go to fancy restaurants much these days, and so these outings were a fun change of pace.

The two restaurants we went to are very different in both atmosphere and food, but what they have in common are both high quality and excellent service. And it's really the latter that impresses us most. Good food is a must, of course, for us to put a restaurant in the top tier, but in a city like San Diego there are plenty of people who can cook. Good service, though, is what really keeps us coming back.

One thing I've never understood is how disdainful people can be of waiters. I've had a fair number of different jobs over the years--I'm an engineer now, of course, but in the past I've been a film festival projectionist, worked the register at my mom's store, tutored underprivileged high school kids, and worked in visitor presentations at the Montery Bay Aquarium. I've also been a busser, a bartender, and a waiter. And let me tell you, waiting tables was by far the hardest job I've ever had.

Yes, yes, I know: different jobs are difficult in different ways, and there are a lot of people out there who would find waiting tables to be much easier than what I do now. Certainly, my difficulties as a waiter have a lot to do with my own personal limitations.

Still, I can't even remember how many times I've overheard people saying something snotty along the lines of "How hard can your job possibly be?" I'd be willing to bet that nearly all of those people would be terrible waiters.

It's not just the physical aspects: the lifting, the balancing, the squeezing through a crowded dining room, dodging bussers and other waiters as they fly by, the aching feet and wrists. Though, those are certainly things I'm glad not to have to deal with anymore. And it's not just the mental gymnastics of having to keep multiple tables and their orders straight, each one having come in at a different time, each being at a different stage of their meal and having different particular requests. Though, again, that's also more than I can handle. (As I was telling Juliette last night, I can't really deal with more than three tables at a time.)

The real difficulty lies in the fact that each customer has a different expectation of how the meal should go, and what the waiter should do and when. You simply can't treat every table the same way. Some people will get angry if you don't check back every five minutes, others want to be left alone. Some people want you to be chummy, others want you to be formal. And first impressions make a huge difference, so you need to have all of it figured out before you even start talking, which gives you maybe thirty seconds to try to pick up any signs as you walk up to the table.

A good waiter is a master of reading the subtle psychological cues each customer provides. He will juggle ten tables, each with their own demands and special requests, all the while making everyone feel like he's there just for them. It's an incredibly difficult skill to master, and to me, seeing someone pull off perfect service is every bit as impressive as watching a master musician or actor give a great performance.

Of course, not every waiter is a master of his profession. Most aren't. But they all have a challenging job, and nearly all work hard to do it well. So try to cut them a little slack.

Mind you, I'm not saying you should ignore bad service. Not at all. As former waiters, both Juliette and I are quite forgiving of honest mistakes, but the same experience that gave us empathy for waiters who try left us with no patience at all for lazy waiters or those that don't care. I've stiffed waiters for bad service before and not felt the least bit bad about it. And I say this as a person who routinely tips over 20% on the total after tax.

No, I'm just saying, maybe take a look around and see what's going on. If you've been waiting a few extra minutes for your check to show up or for your plate to be cleared, take a look and see how crowded the room is. If it's wall-to-wall in there, very likely your waiter is slammed and simply can't get from table to table fast enough. Yes, in situations like that the management probably should have brought in extra staff to help out, but your waiter likely has no input at all into the scheduling process, so don't take it out on him that there's more to do than people to do it. Just try to have a little patience and remember that your waiter is a human being with feelings, and who has a very difficult job.

And for crying out loud, people: tip. As I mentioned before, I usually tip at 20% to 25% after tax, and I've been known to give tips as high as 50% when the service is truly outstanding. (Though, admittedly, I usually can't afford to tip that high at really expensive places.) I recognize, though, that most people don't or can't tip as much as I do. You don't have to be a big tipper to be a good customer, and I don't think any waiter should expect big tips. The standard is 15% of the pre-tax total. If you can't afford that much, you should probably be eating in cheaper places, or not eating out at all.

In my book if your waiter was trying, didn't make any unforgiveable mistakes, and you didn't tip when you could have, well, you're a cheapskate. And I don't want to eat at a restaurant with you.

Morning Dew on Lily Petals

Morning Dew on Lily Petals

The other day when I was in the back yard I noticed that this lily had finally opened, and that it had caught some water from the sprinklers. Oddly, when I came back the next day it had closed up again.

As you may have noticed, I've created a new "Daily Photo" section. Rather than dumping the whole week's photos on Monday morning, I'm going to just do one a day. This ought to force me to pick out the good ones, plus it may require me to shoot more often, which is always good. My plan is to post one photo per day, Monday through Friday. We'll see how long I can keep that up.

Lucky Seven

Seven years ago, today, I got all dressed up and then proceeded to have the best day of my life. Tonight, Juliette and I are going to celebrate the occasion by getting dressed up (though to a lesser degree than we did that day seven years ago), dropping off our son at our friends' house, and going to a fancy restaurant for a nice meal and some time alone with each other, like real couples do.

The seventh anniversary isn't one that people usually make a big deal over. Traditional folk give each other gifts of wool or copper; modern types give each other desk sets. I don't know about you all, but I had to look those up. All those anniversary gift themes tend to run together for me--I have a vague recollection of paper for the first, silver for the twenty-fifth, and gold for the fiftieth, but in between it's all fuzzy.

I'll tell you what, though: the seventh anniversary does have a bit of a special note in our case. This will be our first time celebrating an anniversary when we've been married longer than we were dating.

Actually, the day we passed our dating time happened a few months ago--March 16th, to be exact. Neither of us noticed at the time, but then we'd just had Juliette's birthday and anyway, these days our attention tends to be taken up a bit too much by everyday life to notice obscure milestones passing.

It's kind of an odd feeling, realizing that we've now been married longer than we dated. I've always thought of us as having been together forever, but only recently married. Now, though, and forever after, the bulk of our relationship will have been post-wedding. Even having done the math, I can hardly believe it; it still feels like just the other day that I saw her walking down the aisle toward me.

There are still some big moments to come, of course. In 2012, we'll have been together for half of Juliette's life. In 2013, half of mine. In 2020, we'll have been parents longer than we were together without kids. And, of course, there are all the normal birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, weddings, and so on.

The past seven years have been filled with work and play, laughter, tears, time together and apart. I've come to understand that the most important part of life is the people in it, and so spending your days and nights with good people who you love and who love you is crucial. Me, I couldn't ask for a better person to spend my time with.

Happy anniversary, Juliette.


4:26 PM, June 17th. Roger Ebert says via Twitter: "Find me a person who would value any video game above 'Huckleberry Finn,' and I'll show you a fool.'

4:28 PM, June 17th. I respond: "So tell me, which movie should I value higher than Beethoven's Ninth? Or higher than 'Huckleberry Finn,' for that matter?"

Ebert doesn't respond.

6:37 AM, June 22nd. Ebert quotes a Morning news article: "Video games don't yet (and maybe never will) replicate the experience of reading a good book."

9:37 AM, June 22nd. I respond: "Movies also don't replicate the experience of reading a good book. You of all people should know that."

Ebert doesn't respond.

9:41 PM, June 22nd. Ebert links to a survey he created, asking people whether they value Huckleberry Finn or a great video game more.

10:06 PM, June 22nd. I ask him: "Which do you value higher, Huckleberry Finn or a great movie?"

Feeling frustrated and pissy and degenerating into passive-aggressiveness, I follow that with: "I'm not really sure why I bother asking, since you clearly aren't interested in a dialogue. Or even intellectual honesty."

Obviously, Ebert doesn't respond.

Why on Earth am I talking to Roger Ebert? Why do I even care what he thinks about video games? Why is it so difficult for me to just accept that he's more or less being a troll at this point, and then move on with my life? Why am I becoming the kind of guy that people feel the need to throw that XKCD link at? I don't know, but for whatever reason, this whole Ebert/video game thing really has my panties in a bunch.

Well, that's not entirely true. I know why. Here's a man who can write a sensitive and honest appraisal of race and racism, who is willing to share a wonderful and personal remembrance of his father. A man who can produce writings that are familiar, insightful, and that inspire me to be a better writer. That he can also be pigheaded and unreasonable frustrates me.

Maybe I'm looking for someone to idolize. I don't have a lot of heroes, so maybe that's a void that I want to fill. Maybe I just want people (and, by extension, the world) to make sense. Maybe this is just the family tendency toward obsession and compulsive behavior coming out. I don't know.

What I do know is that trying to get anybody to be what I want them to be is a waste of both my time and theirs. Roger Ebert doesn't know me and has no reason at all to care whether I read his blog or follow him on Twitter. It's time for me to stop acting any other way.

What about you folks? Do bloggers and Twitterers ever get under your skin this way? What do you do about it?

Onward and Upward

Yesterday, Juliette and I took a tour of the two-year-old class with the director of Jason's day care facility. His current teachers in the toddler room have been telling me for weeks now that he's ready for the two's room, that he's getting bored and that he'll do well with the more structured curriculum in the two's class. We got to see the schedule and talk a bit with his new teacher, learning about the big milestones and watching her interact with the kids.

It was midmorning when we came in, and there were already four kids in there, all of whom we recognized from when they were in the toddler class with Jason. Transitioning to a new class was a little difficult when Jason went from the infant room to the toddler room, so it's nice to know that he'll be among familiar faces.

The crazy thing to me was how much those kids have changed since they left the toddler room. It's been several months since I last saw them, and most of them are now potty-trained (or nearly there) and talking up a storm. They even know how to wash their own hands; it blew my mind to think that Jason will be able to do that soon.

They're still kids in there, of course. At one point one of the little boys went off to the bathroom and came back with his pants around his ankles. "Did you forget how to pull up your underwear since yesterday?" the teacher asked him. He responded with a nod, yanking up futilely at the underpants that were caught on his knees.

It's hard to believe that we're already moving to another classroom. It feels like he's only just come to the toddler room, even though cerebrally I know that he's been there longer than he was in the infant room. Juliette and I were both feeling bittersweet after the meeting, happy for him to be growing up but sad that he's going to be leaving behind the teachers that he's grown to love.

And, of course, we'll be leaving them as well and having to adjust to new people, which adds another layer to it since I feel like I'm finally getting to the point where I really know the toddler teachers and can have conversations with them beyond just how Jason's day went. When I was a kid I moved from teacher to teacher--like we all did--and at times it was hard for me, but I never considered the fact that my parents were going through the same changes.

At every turn, this parenting thing has managed to surprise me. There is always some unexpected behavior or event, or some mental angle that never occurred to me. Over the weekend I was completely caught off guard by how happy it made me to get the Father's Day card Jason made me at school. Sometimes I wonder when I'm finally going to get used to it all, but I think the answer is never.

My Latest at Life As A Human: Youthful Dreams

"Youthful Dreams":


There’s a memory I have from high school, of my best friend and I staying up late one night conversing. It must have been one or two in the morning, and we were sitting on the floor of my cramped little bedroom, talking about the future, and our plans for it. We spoke in hushed tones because it was late and the walls were very thin, but even so, if my parents had been awake they would have been able to hear the excitement in our voices. Everything was so clear; we knew in the way that only 17-year-olds can that we were going to change the world.


Samurai William

By Giles Milton

If I were to tell you a story about an English sailor who sails halfway around the world, surviving scurvy and starvation to arrive half-dead in Japan, only to befriend the shogun, become the first Caucasian samurai, and open trade relations between England and Japan, you'd probably think I was making it up. But then, I'm not telling it nearly as well nor with as much detail as Giles Milton in his book Samurai William: The Englishman Who Opened Japan.

Milton's book recounts the life and adventures of William Adams, the title figure who, indeed, became an influential member of shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu's court, and helped establish the first English trade factory in Japan. But while Adams' life is a great story in itself, Samurai William provides a much broader view. Milton also goes into the history of the European East India companies in Asia and Oceania, the political turmoil at the beginning of Japan's Edo period, and the lives and struggles of the other men at the English factory. The complete picture is one of drama and adventure, presented with some great storytelling.

What struck me most about Samurai William was the sense of how Japan was both impressive and utterly foreign to its European visitors. It's something that you continue to see in Western attitudes toward Japan and its culture, but coming at it from the perspective of men for whom Japan was truly an unknown adds a whole new level, especially considering the relative levels of sophistication of Japan and England in 1600.

I think anyone with an appreciation for history and a good story will enjoy this book. Samurai William manages to both inform and entertain, which, in my book, puts it in the same class as all the best histories.

Started: 6/2/2010 | Finished: 6/18/2010

Purchase from Amazon

Wait, Whose Party Is This, Anyway?

Jason really made out like a bandit on my birthday/Father's Day weekend.

He got a new tee ball set from our friends, Emily and Ari, which he loved.

A new toy!

He got to meet some new people.

He got his first baseball-park hot dog.

He even got his first baseball glove.

About the only thing he didn't get was a piece of my birthday cake, which, thankfully, we served after he went to bed.

My birthday cake

The rest of this week's set:

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