Cigarettes remind me a lot of several times in my childhood where key moments were filled with that that heady stink. All good memories, mind you, whether it was going to the bank for the first time see go check a safe deposit box with my dad, waiting for the laundry to get done at the laundromat, the last trans-Atlantic flights which had smoking sections, or visiting friends and enduring hours of those billowing clouds while my parents partied or my friends and I played Super Mario until the wee hours of the morning.  Having not lived with parents that smoked I was always intrigued. That cool Marlboro man always beckoned to me as did all those moments in the movies. Hang loose, enjoy some chitchat and take a few good drags.

My first cigarette was at a culvert in the rural fields of then Czechoslovakia. It was some Russian brand as my grandpa implicitly denied us access to his recent gifts of Camel from America. I coughed, choked, and hated it but damn were we cool. I didn’t do that again until I moved out and lived on my own during a contract gig editing a fishing gear catalog when I became fond of those Wide sticks puffing away keeping buzzed on nicotine and coffee.

Thankfully, my wife disapproved. Back then the nasty smells erupting from my lungs after a few cigarettes were hard to hide. Half drags, mints, brushing teeth; I’d end up coughing out a lung the next morning and would feel terrible until that first morning hit. I wasn’t a long term smoker though. All in all I think I went through  a carton my whole smoking career. I got lucky and didn’t get hooked. Having gained 90 pounds after my stint at college mixing my overweight status with the tarring of my respiratory system was likely a road to self destruction. I knew better. My parents quit smoking the day they found out they were going to have me and I only saw them smoke a couple times as a kid. After that the last time my dad smoked was the couple he had when he found out his younger brother had died tragically. I respected him for that as I did my mom – they stayed off them since having kids and I’d do the same.

Fast forward a decade and I started my career in programming and I was once again around chain smokers yet I successfully stand away from cigarettes. I did however become acquainted with pipe tobacco and cigarillos. Mild in flavor, without the inhalation, and more of an occasional smoke they seemed like the refined gentleman’s pastime. And so I embarked to learn and adopt this weekend pastime.

The occasional pipe filled with a nice cavendish or some other golden or mixed Virginian tobacco was delightful accompanied with a small glass of cognac or the like. Into the wee hours a friend and I would sit and chat while we sat back and allowed the living room to stew in a fine haze of sweet chocolate tones.

Even more recently I have been exploring cigars which each also have their own tones and flavors mildly accompanying my moments of relaxation after a long week of whatever it is that I stress over during my journey through engineering management. At first it was a cost consideration. Casa de Garcia at a mere $2 a stogie was a fantastic deal but as my tastes refined and I tried other it became clear that the discount bin was no longer worthy of my increasingly refined desires.

Once in a while I will visit my favorite site and order myself a shipment of various selections. Romeo y Juliet, Cohiba, Punch, Macanudo – these are now the contemporaries which I am happy to share when anyone inclined for a good, meaningful conversation over a stiff drink, crackle of a starlit fire, or watching the barbecue sizzle for hours on end.

I like cigars and while I definitely don’t want to smoke incessantly a cigar here and there is just what relaxation calls for. It’s always better with good company but there are some days when its something to look forward to while letting my mind wonder and decouple from the stresses of life.

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The Security Scan

Security scan. What does that mean? The phrase came out during a recent meeting. A few of us looked at one another – eyes betraying a look of bewilderment and amusement as we contemplated the possibilities.

We’re in software so tri-corders, armed men making rounds around the perimeter; these did not make any sense. Surely the security scan was some sort of manual software process. A check list of tasks to determine that the software to be released passes some bar of predetermined security threshold. Perhaps an automated process?

The conclusion we eventually came to was that there was a “security scan specialist” waiting at a terminal somewhere deep within the corporate megaplex. He surely wore a white collared shirt complete with skinny tie. Upon accepting the security scan task he places a physical representation of our software into some sort of device. He initiates the scan. Lights and whirrs come to life validating the integrity of our humble payload.

The specialist stands back. Out comes a cigarette. He lights it and takes a deep, long drag allowing himself to savor the bitter combination of burnt paper and stale tobacco.

Minutes come and go. The ash tray accepts a couple more taps. In what seems like coincidence the dot matrix printer comes to life roaring through a ream of paper as it output various diagnostics.

The specialist presses out his cigarette.

He then, with both hands, separates the output of the security scan from the printer with a single well practiced tear. Walking over to his desk he pauses. Grabbing a lukewarm cup of coffee off his desk he takes a sip. Scanning the top page and locating the output of the process which the collection of yellow stained machines had arduously labored to complete:


A thin smile presses through his lips. He lifts the papers, places them into a manila folder. He scribbles the date and target project for which the scan was completed and then coupled the two. Placing the documents into a massive filing cabinet he completes the task by shooting off an email to his colleagues who were eagerly awaiting the results of his work.

We laugh a good laugh. The technology may be different but the analogy remains. We should question if established processes or practices are really in sync with current times and technology. It is harder to see in software but the absurdity of what we sometimes settle into is as our security scan specialist illustrates.

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The Next Big Thing

I’m currently working on a side project. Finally. After 2 years at Disney I have finally gotten back into doing what I love for myself. It’s not that I couldn’t have done this before but with the hectic schedule, travel, kids, new house, and just plain old life it’s been hard to dedicate any time to anything much more than vegging once I got home from work. The next big thing here is that I am hoping to launch this SAS and its corresponding website soon. Alpha release. Nothing spectacular. Just get it going and update as feedback and use rolls in.

Around the house we’ve done some work – we built a fence around the back yard. We built a rock wall on the North side of the house to shore up the gravel walkway. The next big thing is that we’ve gotten estimates for solar panels and an air conditioner. I love the idea of use depending more on limitless power sources. We’re working out some details around installation on the solar idea. As for air conditioning, well, this summer was a tough deal. We live in a newer home but even with the supposedly up-to-date insulation and all it still gets quite warm inside. It’d be wonderful to get a chance to sleep comfortably at night during the summer! However, now that we’re leaving the hottest time of the year it’s not urgent.

But I think the biggest next big thing for me is the fact that I’ve accepted a Director, Technology position at another company. It’s a wonderful opportunity and I have a huge amount of excitement going into this new role. Essentially, the company is looking to build out their mobile teams in a city known for its mobile and technical talent pool. I am very happy to be able to be onboard with a company that is pivoting its mobile strategy. There are a lot of smart folks that I had a chance to meet and I am certain with the team we’re putting together we can make things happen.


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Living in Edgewood

Living in Edgewood has been actually quite uneventful. For that I am thankful. The town has changed a bit since 1997 or so when I moved away. A wider main drag. More homes built on the fields that littered the area. Heck, all around it’s become busier. For now the ordinances prevent colonies (hundreds of cheaply manufactured home built within a couple yards of each other) and apartments which keeps density down.

As a home owner I voted against more taxes on all fronts. I wonder if towns eventually allow apartments to change the voting dynamics. Folks that do not own will likely be more accommodating to things like mismanaged school and fire districts looking to increase their revenues.

My parents live close by but not too close. They have chickens and we are grateful to get a couple dozen a week for our groceries. Living hear has other cool benefits. Everything is closer for us. There’s a Fred Meyer down the hill. A Safeway and Albertson’s down the street. My old high school friends can come visit and I can run into them at various locations around town. The commute still proves to be shorter than when living in Kitsap.

We’ve been slowly and surely working to keep the house kept up. The front yard isn’t too hard: it was done when we bought the house. The back yard needs some work. We had to rent an industrial sized mower to knock down the giant brush. And the yard isn’t smooth. There’s slight ruts and bumps all over. I think most of the green growing in that part of the yard is weeds!

Inside we’ve gotten all our boxes unpacked. There’s a couple in the office closet that contain compact discs. Ha! What to do with so many? The garage has a few donation items. An old bike. A gas grill. I replaced the crappy particle board shelves on my rack with nice ¾? sheets of hardwood plywood. With that I put away most of the random stuff in my garage.

I just got through a 8 or so week set of illness. It started with a  mild fever and congestion, cough, then a serious cough and congestion. During my trip to Walt Disney World last week it culminated in a fever and then boom, gone. Very strange. Henry is now coughing. Harrison just got done. It’s been month or so of illness at the Hradek household. I have been changing the home filter and even spending the extra $2 to get the highest level of HVAC filtration possible to reduce the microbes floating through the air.

Another cool benefit is that we live in an area whee there’s milk delivery. Organic vegetable boxes. All straight to our door. We’ve been making great use of our nice new kitchen. The fun part of having a home, finally, is that we can keep and make things as we want. Right now there’s some basics we need to get through like fences and backyards but eventually we’d like to things like have a root cellar, an outdoor over, a wood stove, and so on. Time and patience. In the mean time, however, it’s important to enjoy life as it is. It’s hard to do sometimes with how busy we are. The kids, Cub Scouts, gymnastics, home schooling, work; on and on.

It was sunny and warm up until mid October. Now it’s freezing out some nights. I wonder if we’ll get snow. It’d be nice to have a few weeks of a bit of snow. A change in scenery. After spending a week in Orlando coming home to darkness at 4pm and the need to dress warm is depressing.

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Implementing Agile

I started off this last week working with my development team and corralling everyone into adopting some semblance of the Agile development process. There have been some challenges but they don’t come from my team members as I am lucky to have a team of devs who are excited about going this route. Most of my difficulties have been over having a massive project to morph and plan into smaller more manageable chunks but I’ll get into that later.

Use Cards, Post-It Notes, and Whiteboards

With tools like Pivotal Tracker out there for us to use it may be wild to suggest switching to 5-x-7 note cards et al. but there are some solid reasons for this. We had tried using Pivotal and found that although it was a fantastic tool to help us track sprint progress and velocity it took out the human element of what we were trying to accomplish. That and there are some glaring UI/UX issues with it that drove some of the team nuts.

Having physical cards forces tasks into generic, easily defined and understandable tasks. A card must represent something we feel we can accomplish within a sprint. Once we’re all standing around and a stake holder asks us to define what that card represents in complexity we can guarantee that at least two people had a worthwhile discussion to the challenges and merits of completing a card. Once you have a card (or story, or task, or whatever) you can prioritize it and devs can then talk about the tasks that are required to accomplish the card. Everyone involved has input into priority.

Taping these cards and sticky notes to the whiteboard allows us to use markers to add notes, shuffle things, and most importantly — talk. We have a tangible card to see make its way from the queue to finished along with its tasks, number of days it took to complete, and all the discussions and awareness the entire dev team has regarding these cards. You simply do not get this level of involvement from software even if its up on a screen via projector.

Meet Less: Brief Daily Stand-Ups

This forces the meetings to be chunky, content filled discussions which tend to be shorter. I feel it encourages people to open up about their own project(s) and other people’s tasks. Straight and to the point. What are you working on? Maybe start off with some good news? And then, any roadblocks? Everyone on the team has a chance to input. Decisions can be made here that can quickly adapt to the daily changes a task or whatever take.

Standing up and huddled around a task or story board, I feel, forces meetings to be quick and to the point. Hey, we’re on our feet. No need to espouse philosophically.

Dev Retrospective

Once a week on Fridays plan thirty minutes to discuss top issues which the team collectively feels need discussing. There are a few ways we can force people to talk about what is bothering them. The one version I saw of this meeting was very interesting and I think with a little tweaking can be really fun and effective at getting the team to identify and fix pain points in the week collectively. Shooting for a total of 30 minutes, here is a brief break down:

  1. 3 minutes – Using pens and sticky notes, have everyone including yourself write at least 2 notes about stuff they want to talk about. Examples: “Build process broke… again!” or “Jack shit”.  The point is two notes each. The silly pointless ones will eventually go away as in hopefully folks will try and identify real issues to discuss.
  2. 3 minutes – Everyone stick their notes to the board. Have everyone explain what they mean by the note. Briefly!
  3. Organize the stickies into similar groups. “Build process broke… again!” and “Ant dist file exploded.” are essentially the same thing.
  4. 2 minutes – Everyone has 2 votes. You can vote twice for the same sticky.
  5. Pick the top 2 items that people voted for. If there is a tie, everyone gets another vote.
  6. 10 minutes – Discuss the first item.
  7. 10 minutes – Discuss the second item.
  8. 2 minutes – Wrap up with action items or decisions on how to resolve the issues. Our team was able to discuss and generate real goals and changes to existing processes.

It won’t be exactly 30 minutes but you get the point. Have someone set a timer. Stick to the limits. Remember, the more time you spend in meetings the less work gets done. It is tempting to discuss every issue and take all day to address things. No need. If its important enough next week it’ll come up again.

Focus on Delivering Stories — Remember the Chores

No one wants to get through a sprint and find that some important chores and/or bugs have been neglected. Although delivering stories can often times be a stress-er between you and the stake holder, management, or whatever; it is important to remind everyone that without chores and bug fixing sprinkled throughout a sprint will accumulate technical debt. Don’t be horribly disappointed when your velocity drops a sprint because a major bug left the entire team scrambling to fix it. With the removal of hard deadlines and introduction of self management and integrated testing you have mini deadlines keeping a level of manageable stress with everyone rather than building up to a giant point of release.

Full Buy In

Everyone who can influence the development team priorities needs to fully buy into the Agile process you (and they) define. There can be no exceptions. As soon as those crop up the process breaks down and all the effort into self organization go to waste because the rhythm of the sprints is interrupted.

Also, manage through gossip. Have meetings where people can choose to eavesdrop and/or join in easily. Don’t be disruptive but avoid conference rooms for meetings unless everyone is present.

Team Build

Get developers away from their desks! Encourage the team to do more than just program together. Take breaks together. Go get coffee together. Eat lunch together. Organize outings to local meet-ups. The goal here is to get the team talking about anything. We need to have team members willing to open up and share more than just work. The goal here is that eventually getting up and asking questions and conversations will happen organically without meetings or planning.

Peer/Pair Programming

Schedule two 90 minute peer programming sessions with each of your devs a week. My goal was to eventually reduce that to one peer programming session per developer a week and have the developers initiating these sessions by themselves at least twice a week with each other (and me).  These are very important because they help mitigate the problems associated with expertise silos, help open the team up to one another, and help expose competency problem which the team will probably address on their own.

With the pressure of smaller sprint goals looming every week or two weeks, we can quickly see that hiding in a corner cubical for months and then crunching the project in the last week before the 6 month deadline isn’t going to work anymore. We want people who love what they do and are excited to do it.  It can be possible that some programmers are introverted and that peer programming (and Agile for that matter) are best suited for extroverted types. I think with the right coaching and encouragement everyone can get excited to share and talk about code. How did these people get trough your interview process if they didn’t! I feel that people will embrace Agile and work to make it successful if they see the benefits.

Evangelize Agile

There is no hard definition to Agile. There are only core tenants or principles. Those you should have memorized and fully endorse. Some of these are weaker than others and will require that you and your team make sure you try and work out a way to encourage that all the principles are touched on. Talk about how this is good for the company because it is. Understand why. Encourage others to join in on meetings and have them contribute.

Everyone Knows Best

Originally I had thought about this section as “Developers Know Best” but that is entirely wrong. Developers may be the ones who know best about what they are delivering to the customers or stake holders but it is the customers that know best about what they want. Developers have to remove themselves from a position about taking the code personally. There is no room for territorial behaviour. The trust must be mutual. Developers trust the business or stake holders. The latter must trust the developers. If that doesn’t exist then that is something both ends of the spectrum will need to work on.

When the business or management want something done they should approach any dev and ask for an estimate on a Sprint story. A dev should then be comfortable roping other devs and giving the stake holder what they need to know: the cost of getting something done.

Sprint Review/Planning

Once a week on Friday afternoons we get together and review what we’ve done (usually with stake holders). This is a very positive meeting. We’re all professionals and try to encourage and support one another in what we’re working on and got done.

For planning everyone will get together and try and sequence tasks so that things reliant on one another get done in the correct order. Priorities are chosen and with the limited people to do the work and scope of a week or two worth of time things quickly get filtered into musts, nice to haves, and if possible.


Not every shop’s development process will look the same. The same shop’s process won’t even look all that similar after a period of time. We are constantly trying to improve what we have and how we do it. It’s been two weeks and we’re tweaking and changing things as we go along. Our shop runs Trac hooked into SVN so we’ve decided collectively to use Trac as a way to tie all commits tied to a particular story inside a Trac ticket. Things change. Change is good especially when everyone is on board and wants to improve what they do and how they do it. Earlier I had mentioned using cards instead of Pivotal. On smaller more intimate teams this may make less sense.

I’ve been thinking a lot about whether stand ups are helpful. I think they are great places to share issues or progress an to hopefully encourage people to work together. I think there seems, in my experience, to be a steady direction of developers to work themselves into a cave working alone and without much interaction.

Anyway, it is an organic process. Don’t be afraid to change it.

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Crystal and I finally did it! We have purchased a home and moved to it. The whole process took almost two months from an offer to getting moved out of the old place. The kids have gone feral. My sanity took a dive. And we’ve all probably gained 10 pounds of fast food bloat.

As I’ve mentioned before we have been looking at buying a house for some time. Between repairing our credit, saving money, and finding something that would work for us it’s taken a couple years. We looked at a lot of houses between Poulsbo, Kingston, and Bainbridge Island; Puyallup, North Bend, and Edmonds. West Seattle? Too small. Bellevue? Too expensive. Puyallup? On a flood plain. Enumclaw? Lahar path. On and on. Although I feel a little guilty for moving the whole family to my second home town I feel good about it. Edgewood is quite a nice town. Partly rural it’s in the middle of everything but out of the way.

I’ve ridden the ferry for quite some time from Kitsap County and last I rode I was clocking in at around 80 to 90 minutes each way. My commute is now 35-50 minutes in and 40-55 minutes home. Around half the commute!

The house is very nice. The kids get their own rooms. I get an office. Crystal gets a craft area. We have room for a school room. We have a guest room. Space for the fish tank. Plenty of space in the dining area for guests. A nice set of bathrooms. A swanky laundry. All that and a nice sized yard. The garage has enough room for all the usual garage type things.

We have quite a bit of work to do. We started with a washer and dryer. Next up is a fence. After that a fridge (we’re using the beer fridge and freezer for now). Then the backyard. There’s a few years of fun ready for us!

Moving out of the old house was a headache. It feels good to finally be out of the lease and out of the “cave” – the shadow thrown by a plethora of foliage and trees surrounding the house. The landlord was nice and let us out of our lease but required us to do a lot of work to get it ready so we had a chance of getting our deposit back. I have moved the Mercedes to the church while I figure out how to move it to the new house. It doesn’t run all that great. It actually needs a new master cylinder. Also, it now shakes at higher speed.

But before cleaning and moving a 5 person household 9 days before the end of the month, which in itself was a feat, we also had over a month of conflicting news from our lender. For the first time in our lives we had lender competing for our loan. We decided to go with the builder’s preferred lender which probably helped us in the end. The lender was then going through a merger with another bank which caused delay. It was very stressful!

We’re looking forward to a summer of BBQs and visiting our friends and family. It’s good to be back!

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The Meus

As I write this I am 30,000 feet somewhere over SouthEastern United State having just left Orlando on a flight back to Seattle. This is fourth such trip I’ve made since joining Disney. I have also made a three or so trips over to Glendale and Anaheim. I actually enjoy doing business travel once a month or so. It breaks up the work and allows me to see new places. And the reason for the travel? It’s a huge company and some of my teams are in Seattle, some in Orlando, and our parks’ corporate offices are in Glendale while some conferences occur in Anaheim.

And although I can’t go into much detail about what all I’m working on I am definitely getting to work on some really exciting stuff centered around native mobile applications which run on iOS and Android devices. The project I’m working on now is for Disney’s Cruise Lines but I’ve been working closely with those working on other exciting things. I’ve been really happy so far. I get to be part of some awesome brand recognition. It’s a very large company and so it comes with it’s own set of challenges and as someone that’s been at the company for less than a year I feel like I’ve barely gotten acquainted with all that there is to know!

Right now we’re all living out of boxes as we’re waiting for our house purchase to close. We’ve placed an offer on a home in Edgewood. It’s not quite the picturesque Poulsbo that we’ve come to love but it’s closer to work than the 90 or so minutes I’ve been doing for years now. And getting to finally unpack and finally settle down in a home is something Crystal and I are very excited about. The stress of the process and stuff has really taken its toll on us. I think the biggest challenge for me is since joining my new job I’ve let myself go eating way more than I need to be falling into some of my old habits. It’s definitely mind over matter but I struggle with weight just like a lot of people. Probably the biggest detractor from my health has been the decline in my exercise. I think the time is the biggest factor. Folks say we need to make time. To stop making excuses. I’m not sure where I’m at.

If this whole house thing works out then I think I’ll be able to take a load off. In the mean time the kids are doing great. Harrison likes to disobey – he sure is headstrong. I once heard him tell his elder sister after she hit Henry during a spat over a game controller “Say it was an accident”. Sneaky little guy! We’ve gotta keep our eyes out.

As far as what I’m up to other than my livelihood? Listening to a bit of music. Don’t actually have much time for movies or much gaming. When I do game it’s something casual like World of Tank or Counter-Strike: GO. Something I can pop in and play for half an hour and leave.  Which brings me to my next game Dwarf Fortress. It’s all ASCII but surprisingly addictive. What’s beautiful is that it isn’t graphically intensive so it is great to run on my laptop on commutes or whatever. Heck, after I am done here I am going to play. It actually reminds me a lot of D&D because it requires the player to use quite a bit of imagination. And rather than spending time on the visuals the developer (who actually lives a few miles from where I live) most of the work is done with simulation and models around the items in the game.

We recently took the kids to go see the Ballard Locks and it was a fun trip. I think now that we’re going to be closer to things we’re going to get a chance to see a lot more things. I can’t wait to get the kids exposed to some cool things. I really hope the house thing works out. I liked living in Kitsap but there is definitely a lack of things to do around here. And after spending some time in Florida I am quite intrigued by the idea of moving there or somewhere similar someday. I didn’t realize how much I love warm weather.

I think my dream would be to do some sort of expat work. If a position ever opens up somewhere overseas I would have a hard time saying no especially if it’s Europe or Asia. Working where I’m at and what I’m doing I think I am definitely working my way into to that. We’ll see.

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House Hunting?

For those that know us our little family has had a certain amount of wanderlust moving every couple years and trying to find a place to settle in. Job situations change, careers take off, commuting adjustments, learning locales – I suppose it takes a certain amount of experience to make this sort of decision.

I feel conflicted about living on the West side of the Puget Sound. It is a little more rural and the ferry rides eliminate some of the urban sprawl that is typical on the other side. Nature and things to do are equally accessible but tend to be trafficked less. And while I do not mind being around people there seems to be a level of intensity living around Seattle or Tacoma that one would have to put up with which I am not thrilled about.

There isn’t much in terms of outings, social activities, culture, food, and shopping on the Peninsula. I recently read a Yelp review of a Chinese restaurant which rated the place as mediocre and the comment attached to it summarized the experience as “Good enough for Kitsap”. I feel compelled to overlook these shortcomings. We can live out our aspirations in raising chickens and having a larger plot of land relative to the distance from downtown. For some of these shortcomings we can make an effort to learn more about what is available. For example, there may be a lack of notable museums and trendy night clubs but there are celebrations and outdoor events we can attend.

As these thoughts swirl my mind I think of our current home. We moved here 2 years ago this September. And although our landlord is nice and he has offerred to sell us the house we are not so sure this is the place. The location is okay but the property is dark in the midst of the tree canopy and oddly shaped having a driveway that consumes a good portion of its use. The landlord lives next door and should he become the mortgage holder we would be still be left with a feeling of having to watch ourselves. Sure, once he sells the house it would technically be ours – or would it?

Houses are expensive. Some say to rent. Some say to buy. More land, higher cost. Smaller house, less sanity. Crystal and I have been discussing these things for a while. For some it seems like living in the same place for a decade signifies stability. While it may it can also be boring.

It’d be nice to stay somewhere for a while. Stop moving. Finally unpack and get rid of things or organize. At the same time I kind of want to purge us of “stuff” and move to somewhere a live a life of exploration. A co-worker of mine moved to Equador and lives on a boat working on Android remotely. Or work my connections in Prague and move there. Or move to the South and live in somewhere random like Alabama. Or move somewhere interesting like Argentina.

My folks are another factor that play into my thoughts. They’re aging and I would like to stay around and help them out. Perhaps even have them move in with us. I like the idea of taking care of them. I suppose having some family members around is nice. Sometimes, though, it sure is nice to put some distance in between myself and the in-laws!

The kids are growing. We’re homeschooling. We’re working. We’re busy. I don’t know what the best thing to do is. I don’t even know if I hope we decide something soon. In one way I kind of like having my options open.


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Never Bored

The last year has never been boring. Between work, side projects, friends, ministry, hobbies, the family, and what else I have had nonstop, no significant breaks in between. And I’m not complaining at all. I’m actually glad I have things filling my schedule. I’m glad that I have things to do. Make no mistake, I still manage time to read, relax, and play some video games. And 2012 was a much better year than that infamous 2010. I’m hoping to not repeat that year ever again.

My mom and dad have been up to their usual shenanigans. Between month long expeditions to Lhasa or some remote Amazonian villages they spend time remodeling their home and driving me a little crazy. I enjoy them, though, and although we don’t always see eye to eye I have learned and grown to appreciate them much more. They’ve worked very hard and done the best that they could. And for all our disagreements I love them and hope that they live life to its fullest now that they’re both retired. It’s in these last few years that their health, still good, is seemingly starting to wane. It is causing me anxiety and depression at times. I have made an effort, as has Crystal, to get the children out in front of them as often as possible. Skype, at their place, at ours… whatever.

My kids are awesome. I love them to bits. Sure, when they break something my sanity and patience get tested but all said and done they are a fantastic bunch. Henry is learning to read, likes to totally own in World of Tanks, and has enough Legos to meticulously reconstruct Prague on his bedroom floor if Harrison would give him a chance. He often asks about things he sees or hears and Crystal and I always take the time to explain everything using adult language. So when he says words or recognizes things from around the globe I know what we’re doing is on track.

Helen is my sweet pea. She’s sweet and plays with her dolls and animals. Often she plays alone. She is learning to be a little lady. Within in her is a kind, gentle, and loving spirit which resembles that of her momma. It is incredibly precious to see. Of course, she’s also the loudest. When something doesn’t go her way – boy does she let everyone know! She also lovs to learn. She follows along on story books, feeds the puppy, and does the best she can to make sure she looks pretty with all her crazy clothing configurations she chooses. She whines like no other. Boy, does she wine. She walks slow. She dilli dallies. It can be frustrating but I remind myself that she’s a girl and developing in a way that’s different – even sweeter – than boys.

While Henry and Harrison are both my little men, Harrison is my little guy. He’s rough and tumble with no holds adventurous, curious, and boisterous. He finds things and explores them. He has a magnificent sense of humor and will head butt anyone coming into the house in an eager attempt for hugs. He like both Henry’s and Helen’s toys and makes sure both are amply frustrated when attempted to construct elaborate scenes with the various toys they have. He’s decided he’s had it with diapers and with that we close a chapter in our child rearing experience.

The Christmas break I took was much, much needed. Crystal and I had a chance to reconnect. We both work very hard. When I’m commuting and working she’s hauling and teaching kids, working out, sharing leadership goals with recovery house residents, leading fitness and running groups, blogging, and looking good. When we’re heads down, day to day, it is difficult to make time for one another. We rarely get to talk and be intimate.  Regardless of schedule we are blessed with the “quality over quantity” philosophy. We don’t need to spend gobs of time together if we both work hard to make the most of what time we spend together. I love her very dearly. More than when we met. More than when we married. More than when she bore my first child. More each day I grow more fond of her cherishing everything she does for me day in and day out. I think that is what makes what we have so special. We trust each other implicitly and whether she needs something for herself or I need to do something for myself or one of us needs to do something for any of our many chores and responsibilities or even just plain old amusement we make sure we get that. Our marriage is strong not just because of our mutual commitments but from our strengthening bonds through Christ who empowers us to accomplish everything and to rely that He maintains us through whatever we go through. A two-way roundabout circling around the Lord.

The winter months have brought with them cold which draws over us a canopy of rain, wind, and the usual delights of Washingtonian winters. This year we enjoyed a long summer. Since we really only have two seasons – rain or not rain – it was straight into the rainy season after the sunshine ended. I rode my motorcycle all the way until the first week of December shrugging off the occasional shower. I washed it, plugged it into a battery tended, and made a mental note that I’d ride as soon as it was a little warmer as to avoid the frost.

2012 saw the beginning of a couple food hobbies. We’ve made wine, several types of cheese, a couple types of sausages, and other delicious libations. We enjoyed some success and some failure. The first sausage was bland, one of our cheeses ended up not aging properly, and our apple cider went sour. It is a learning experience. We make food at home for many reasons but each creation, while not cost saving in the short term in any way, has been an immense learning opportunity for the entire family. We are very excited about self sufficiency, learning about skills, being healthy, eating things that won’t hurt us, and avoiding things that aren’t needed or good for the body. With that we’ve also taken it upon ourselves to lose some weight and gain some strength and endurance. Since that horrible year which I hope doesn’t repeat itself where I weighed a hefty 285 pounds, I’ve lost 54 pounds so far. My changes were small but reasonable. It isn’t a religion. Eat less, move around, and when I do eat I try and feed myself things that are unprocessed and unmodified. This tends to suggest things that are organic or at least GMO free but we do what and when we can.

Now Crystal and I are going to the gym consistently. Heck, since August I’ve been going at least 5 days a week with a couple exceptions. The Thanksgiving to New Year’s block stalled my weight loss journey. However, since the 1st of the year we’ve both become reinvigorated and have added to our list of daily checkins. It’s been fun to have something to work at together. We’d like to be in shape. It takes time but the rewards are all there.

It’s odd how food, attitude, and various inputs become important. I now catch myself thinking about my snacks, my food choices, my beer drinking. It sounds a little obsessive. The way I figure is that I have about a year or two worth of stringent attention to reversing about a decade of disgusting physical dilapidation.

Quite frankly I look back at my 20s – heck we both do – and look at it with some regret. Some say we shouldn’t have regrets and although I mostly agree I think that at some point acknowledgment of regretful missteps make us better people. It is in those regretful moments where we garner enough impetus to make necessary change. This may just be how I address my own short comings. With food, finances, education, work, friendships, marriage, and even our children. Things need changing. Life if short and spending it only on the most selfish behaviors, although legitimate for most folks, cause much of the sadness, dysfunction, and lack in many lives I see around me.

2013 is a new stone turned over it is already looking like a brighter part of my life’s journey. I like what I see already. I am planning out rides. I’m getting in shape. I’m a better husband. A better father. A better employee. A better manager. A better friend to those that want my friendship. I am in no ways all there but I think things are looking up.

Bon voyage!

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Introducing Atlas

After a few bad starts we’ve finally decided to go ahead with a dog. Above is our new friend Atlas. It sounded like a traditional name that suited the names of the kids, sounded masculine, is bad ass because the name’s origin depicts someone holding a globe, and we had just seen Atlas Shrugged.

With previous dogs we tried but had failed at making sure we were good owners. Like children, it takes more than simply feeding them. Keeping them occupied, clean, well mannered, polite, and trained were things that we simply, as two working adults, couldn’t find time to do. Additionally, I see many dogs whom are poorly trained around me doing things that should not be allowed.

Atlas is a basenji. What attracted me to the breed is that it doesn’t bark. It is extremely clean (and self grooming). Lacks the usual dog stench. It was a good compromise for everyone. I know my dear wife would love a powerful rescue dog and I sympathize with her desires. Atlas will grow to be about 20-25 pounds – on the lower end of medium sized dogs.

We look forward to spending some fun days with our new companion!

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