Archive for November, 2008

Week in Review 11/24/08: Pre-holiday Work Rush, Bolt, and Farrell’s

Monday, November 24th, 2008

The work week last week was pretty busy and stressful due to the rush to get various projects finished before the Thanksgiving holiday.  The team that I lead is most actively involved with projects during the early parts of the quality assurance process.  Since many teams really want their projects to complete over the first couple days of this week, the work piled on us quite a bit last week.  Our office is closed for Thanksgiving on Thursday and Friday, while the day before Thanksgiving is traditionally a 1/2 day with most staff wrapping up around 1pm or so.  That really only gives two full work days for this week.

Fortunately, the work load was such that I was really busy (and a bit stressed) while at the office last week, but it didn’t result in overly late schedules at the office or anything much in the way of weekend work.  I was typically pretty tired when I got home from work last week, but I still made it home in time to have dinner and help get my son off to bed each night.  I don’t really mind being very busy at work in cases like this where it doesn’t really interfere too much with my own time.

While I was a little concerned late last week that I would have to put in some time for work over the weekend, that turned out not to be the case allowing us to have quite a bit of time for family activities.  On Saturday afternoon, we took our son to see Bolt, Disney’s new animated feature which opened on Friday.  We have been pretty conservative when it comes to taking our son to the movies and this was only the third that he had seen in a theater (the two previous were Horton Hears a Who and a revival showing of The Muppet Movie).  So far, we have been very proud of his behavior at movies.  He did get a little fidgety around the hour mark, but we were able to settle him down very quickly.  He stayed very quiet throughout the movie, having taken very seriously our repeated reminders beforehand that a movie theater is a quiet place.  He seemed to enjoy the movie, although his attention did wander a little bit  The movie was targeted perhaps a bit older than we had expected.

I enjoyed the movie a lot, finding it to be fun, charming, and very funny.  The action sequences were surprisingly good for this kind of animated film as well.  I thought the voice cast was well selected and the character designs were appealing.  The film had some genuine heart as well, with the character of Mittens the cat being particularly effective in this regard.  On the downside, though, the film did have a pretty conventional look and style to it and the story line was almost entirely predictable.  My reaction was that this was a very good film, but not a particularly inventive one.  The end result was a fun movie, but one that is on a somewhat lower tier among Disney’s animated films.

Like The Emperor’s New Groove a few years ago, I think that Bolt is going to remain a film that I enjoy and admire, but where I also can’t help but wonder what might have been.  Both films evolved from projects that seemed much more ambitious than the final versions, but were halted when Disney management felt that they weren’t coming together in a commercially viable way.  In the case of Bolt, the film evolved from American Dog, which was to be director Chris Sanders’ follow up to Lilo and Stitch, which I believe to be Disney’s best, and most creative, animated feature since Beauty and the Beast.  Sanders was ultimately fired from the project and is now making films for Dreamworks.  As much as I enjoyed the final version of Bolt, I can’t help wonder if this fairly conventional film could have been something much more.

Shifting topics again (yes, these "week in review" posts can’t help being a bit rambling), yesterday’s main activity was a somewhat more intimate continuation of our celebration of our son Andy’s birthday.  For the big party last weekend on his actual birthday, we had to kind of go against his wishes in our choice of venue.  For his last two birthdays, we had taken him to Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour for dinner/dessert with a few of our adult friends.  He remembered last year’s party and really wanted to go back there again this year.  That isn’t really the best venue for a party with a large group of pre-schoolers, so we ended up promising him that we would take him to Farrell’s the following week instead.

The Farrell’s chain is one that I remember well from my childhood.  They have a very boisterous, celebratory atmosphere, with sirens and a big drum used to regularly announce birthdays and other special occasions as well as to herald the delivery of such large and elaborate ice cream concoctions as "The Zoo" or the "Pig Trough".  The chain all but disappeared about 15-20 years ago, but a new set of owners are now trying to revive it.  One of the only three current locations is up in Santa Clarita, only about 20 miles from our house (the other two are in Hawaii).  The Santa Clarita location is inside of Mountasia Fun Center, an amusement facility featuring various video and carnival games as well as miniature golf, batting cages, go-karts, and other similar items. 

Yesterday afternoon, we drove up there around mid-afternoon and spent an hour and half or so playing some of the various games while waiting for a few friends to arrive.  They have a small merry-go-round (basically one of the miniature coin-operated type) which Andy especially enjoys and was, in fact, one of his main reasons for wanting to go back there.  He spent a lot of time playing that, while my wife and I took turns wandering around playing some of the various carnival and ticket-vending games.  Andy did take a bit of an interest in a couple of the other games this time, particularly enjoying a basketball game (it was cool that that they had a child-sized one in addition to the full-sized adult game) as well as a race-car video game.

After our friends arrived, we went into Farrell’s for dinner and ice cream.  My wife and I both had pizza slices for dinner, which were pretty greasy, but still not too bad.  I was particularly surprised by how generous they were with the toppings.  They, of course, have a good variety of ice cream sundaes available for dessert.  I selected one called the "Hot Caramel Nutty Nutty", which pretty much is what it sounds like: vanilla ice cream covered in hot caramel with lots of pecans and Spanish peanuts.  My wife had an Oreo sundae and Andy had the kid’s "clown sundae", which was a scoop of ice cream with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and sprinkles and then a sugar cone placed on top such that it looks like a clown’s hat.

It was a fun evening that provided a chance to spend some time with a few good friends as well as to enjoy some family time.  It made for a good supplement to the bigger, more chaotic party of the week before.

Happy 5th Birthday, Andy!

Monday, November 17th, 2008

Andy5BDay

Yesterday was my son Andy’s 5th birthday!  This was an event that leaves me with some fairly paradoxical feelings.  I can’t believe that it has already been 5 years since he was born as the time does seem to fly quickly.  On the other hand, he has become such an integrated and vital part of our family that the time before he was there now feels a lot like a part of a different life.

Becoming a parent is unquestionably the best thing that I have ever done, with only the decision to marry my wonderful wife even coming close.  I’m well aware that I run the risk of becoming potentially intolerably sappy and sentimental in this post, but I simply don’t know how to accurately express my feelings towards my family without sounding that way.  For any readers of this blog that are turned off by an excess of sentiment, I’ll try to post a review of the new James Bond movie in the next day or two. :)

After 5 years, a bit of reflection pretty much comes automatically.  One thing that I’ve often heard repeated, both before and after becoming a father, is that parenthood involves a lot of sacrifice.  While I definitely understand the meaning behind such statements, I’m not so inclined to agree that “sacrifice” is really the right word.  Unquestionably, there are a lot of things that my wife and I did before Andy’s arrival that are much less common, if they still occur at all.  Reductions range from such small-scale activities as TV and movie viewing or nights out with friends, all the way up to substantial changes in vacation planning, major purchases and pretty much every other major life decision.

I tend to look at these as trade-offs rather than sacrifices, though, as the pleasures and benefits of being a father push way into the background any significant thoughts about what I might be missing.  While such activities as visiting a theme park or going to the movies have become more complicated (and in some ways restrictive), and often more tiring, I also find them to be rewarding in a whole new way.  Andy is mostly in a constant state of discovery and I find it tremendously rewarding to share with him many of the things that have brought a lot of joy to my own life.

The day to day routine is also full of moments that I treasure.  I absolutely love hearing Andy tell me about his day when I get home from work.  When I ask him about what he did at school, his answer always starts excitedly with "I played!", but it doesn’t usually take too much effort to coax longer and more detailed stories out of him.  His stories can be rather hard to follow and don’t always make a lot of sense, but they are told with a compellingly breathless enthusiasm that is usually a delight.

Andy has a tremendous imagination, so his stories of the days activities are often filled with rather colorful stories about pretending games involving such favorite things as cars, airplanes, fire trucks, and hotels.  Like many kids his age, he has an imaginary friend, but in his case that friend is an airplane who goes on all kinds of interesting adventures, although a lot of them seem to be more focused on the hotels where it stays rather than on the actual exotic (or not so exotic) destinations. 

Another favorite pretending game of Andy’s is bringing people imaginary food items.  During phone calls with his grandparents (via speakerphone), he likes to occasionally run off and then come back and announce that he is delivering some food item to them.  They get a big kick out of that.  He was similarly providing imaginary appetizers to our friends while we were waiting at a restaurant for our table during a dinner party a few weeks ago.  After finishing his cake at his birthday party last night, he also had to go around and serve other pretend food to many of the party-goers.

As I just mentioned, we did have a big birthday party yesterday afternoon.  We have been taking Andy to a class at the local Gymboree facility for a couple years.  For his party yesterday, we rented the facility for a couple hours and had a party for Andy and 19 other kids from his pre-school and Gymboree classes.  We were fortunate enough to be able to arrange for his usual Gymboree teacher to host and run the event, which ended up being a huge success.  The teacher did an outstanding job of providing a pretty much perfect mix of organized activities and free play time and really kept the kids all highly entertained for two hours.  It was a lot of fun and an event that I think will be pretty memorable both for Andy and for us.

Yesterday’s party brings me full circle back to the trade-offs that come from being a parent, but my hesitance to call them sacrifices.  Yesterday, many of our long time friends (most are not parents) spent what sounds like an exceptionally fun day at Disneyland.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading the various reports from and about their day.  Six years ago, I’m pretty sure my wife and I would have been there as well and it sounds like we would have had a great time.  Andy’s birthday party is absolutely where I wanted to be yesterday, though. 

Week in Review 11/9/08: Elections and In-Laws

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

Depending on whether I have enough to say and how disciplined about it I end up being, this may or may not turn into a weekly post on here.  I’m a terrible procrastinator when it comes to writing, but maybe I can talk myself into spending a little time each weekend writing up a few thoughts about whatever caught my attention during the previous week.

On a national (and probably even world) scale, the biggest event of the past week was obviously last Tuesday’s election.  I haven’t really made it a secret in previous posts that I’m a Democrat and supported Barack Obama’s run for president.  Therefore, I was happy with the results of the presidential election.  After the past 8 years, it is definitely nice to be back on the winning side and I do have hope that this will signal a positive change in direction for the country.

I do think that President-elect Obama has a very difficult job ahead of him.  More so than in the other presidential elections that have taken place since I’ve been old enough to vote, I genuinely felt quite a bit of enthusiasm as I voted for him.  I was certainly very aware of his policy positions and agree with him on most issues, but I also have an impression that he is someone with a vision that could genuinely lead to correcting some of the biggest negatives that I have seen in our political system, particularly in areas of corruption and cronyism and a sometimes stifling fear of trying something different.   It is pretty clear to me that I am not alone in feeling that way about what Obama has to offer, but I also think that will prove to be both a blessing and a major challenge for him.  He goes into office with a remarkably supportive public, but he also faces the potential to disappoint dramatically if he fails to live up to his promise.

Of course, this election also represented an historic breakthrough as this country selected its first African-American president.  I was very disappointed, though, that I couldn’t help feel the euphoria surrounding that was blunted dramatically by the fact that a majority of voters here in California, among others, also decided to vote in favor of continued discrimination against homosexuals.  At least here in California, many of the arguments used in support of Proposition 8 were so ludicrous that I can’t  help but see it as simple excuse-making by those that don’t want to admit bigotry even to themselves.  I do still believe that the clear trend is in the right direction here and I was at least heartened somewhat by how close the vote was on Proposition 8, particularly with younger voters pretty decisively opposing the continued discrimination. I do believe this setback to be temporary, but I was truly hoping that this would be more of a year of breakthroughs on multiple fronts.

Shifting gears to my personal life, this week was dominated by one of the recurring events regularly experienced by those of us who do have marriage rights: a visit by the in-laws.  My wife’s parents currently live in Arizona and we typically manage two visits with them per year, usually with us making one trip out there (which we did last February) and them coming out here one time.  For this visit, they arrived last Wednesday and will be staying through tomorrow.  While they aren’t quite the constantly "on-the-go tourists" that my parents usually are during their visits, I’m still pretty tired after a weekend of company, even though it was a very pleasant and positive visit.  I think maybe I’m becoming too used my wife’s and my usual weekend ritual of tag-team napping, making the change of pace a bit harder.

It has been a good visit and I’ve been very pleased with the amount of quality time that they have had with their grandson.  Andy’s grandmother has particularly bonded very well with him, spending quite a bit of time playing toys and reading with him.  Both grandparents have put in some time working on drawing and writing with him and he has also enjoyed demonstrating his various computer games to them.  His grandparents also joined us for his weekly Gymboree class this morning and our usual Sunday morning breakfast at McDonalds.  This afternoon, we had an early birthday celebration for him where we had a small cake and they gave him his presents.  Tomorrow, grandma is going to accompany Andy for at least the first part of his day at pre-school. 

Looking forward to the week ahead, it is back to work tomorrow although it looks like it could be another rather quiet week there.  Between the upcoming holidays and the slowing economy, there aren’t a lot of active projects going on right now, which has kept the stress level and number of work hours somewhat more manageable the past couple weeks.  I don’t really anticipate that changing.  Other big events of the coming week include the appointment to get the crown attached to my dental implant on Tuesday (hopefully the last step of that long process) and Andy’s actual birthday and birthday party next weekend.

My Last Baby Tooth – Part 3

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

Click here for Part 1
Click here for Part 2

I am way past due in getting around to writing the next part of this story.  As you might recall from the first 2 parts, I had one baby tooth that I had never lost as a child due to the permanent tooth never coming in.  Back in April, the tooth started bothering me and the dentist informed me that it was going to have to come out.  I had it extracted in early-May.

On August 22, I had oral surgery to put in a dental implant, the first part of the process of replacing the lost tooth with an artificial one.  This was the most invasive, and only surgical, part of the procedure.  The surgery involved the insertion of a titanium artificial root into the jawbone through an incision at the gap where the extracted tooth used to be.  Once the surgery has fully healed and the oral surgeon confirms that the bone has fused appropriately with the implant, my regular dentist will be able to affix a crown to the root, completing the process of replacing the lost tooth.

After I had the tooth extracted in late May, I had to wait a minimum of 6 or 7 weeks to allow it to fully heal before proceeding with the implant.  That timing pretty much ran right into a vacation that we had planned for the end of June as well as the July 4th holiday, so I ended up deciding to just put up with the gap in my teeth for a bit longer.  I finally contacted the oral surgeon’s office and set up an appointment for a consultation at the end of May.

The oral surgeon that I went to specializes in implant procedures.  I think that might be the only thing he does, although I’m not entirely certain.  Dental implants are expensive and generally considered by insurance companies to be an "elective" procedure (more on that later), so there actually was kind of a salesmanship element to the consultation.  I even felt a bit like I had been to a luxury dental office, with such amenities as bottled water offered while waiting for the dentist and even sunglasses provided during the exam to shade by eyes from the examination light.

After the examination, the oral surgeon told me that I was a good candidate for the procedure and spent a little time going over the procedure in more detail.  One key topic that he brought up in this discussion was the available options for anesthesia for the surgery.  He indicated that general anesthesia wasn’t usually needed for this (I’m not entirely sure, but I don’t think he even offers that as an option), but he did pretty strongly recommend the use of an oral sedative during the surgery in order to help me to relax and also to help to avoid movement during the procedure.

I then met briefly with a member of the office staff who went over some of the financial details of the procedure with me.  She indicated a cost of a little over $2000 for the implant.  Many dental insurance plans apparently do not cover implants, considering them to be fully optional, cosmetic procedures, even though they are now widely considered to keep the gums/jawbone much stronger and are also longer lasting than dental bridges.  Fortunately, my insurance does cover about 50% of the cost, although apparently it is 50% of what the insurance company thinks the cost should be rather than 50% of what the oral surgeon actually charges (and the patient has to make up the difference).  There are also annual maximums that come into play.  As of the time that I’m writing this, my insurance company still hasn’t finished processing the claim and I don’t yet know how much they will cover.

After the financial discussion, we then scheduled the appointment for the procedure.  I decided that I wanted to have it done on a Friday, which would then give me a couple days to recover without having to take more than one day off from work.  We initially scheduled an appointment for the next Friday after the consultation, but they called the next day and let me know that the office staff had incorrectly recorded the itinerary for an upcoming vacation the oral surgeon was taking and would have to push it back a couple weeks.  The August 22 appointment was the next available Friday.  I wasn’t entirely thrilled that the only time available was 7:30am, but I still took the appointment since the only alternatives were to either switch to another day of the week or put the procedure off for almost another month.

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