Category Archives: Personal Stories

First Week of Kindergarten

Our son started Kindergarten this week, officially starting his journey through the public school system.  This is definitely one of the most prominent of the well-known moments of mixed emotions experienced by parents.  I am immensely proud of the smart and very personable kid and thoroughly enjoy the experience of seeing him grow and mature. At the same time, I miss the baby that he was and the ability for my wife and/or me to be there for every part of his life.  Even as I write this, I know that this whole dilemma sounds kind of clichéd, but it also is unquestionably real.

I’m sure it is normal for us as parents to have quite a bit of apprehension and uncertainty as our son starts school.  We have a lot of awareness of both his strengths and weaknesses and can’t help but wonder how each will affect his experience.  We do know that our son is quite smart, even already having some pretty decent reading skills.  He has known basics like his alphabet and counting since not too long after he learned to talk and he has even learned some simple math.

On the other hand, he also has some definite problems with listening and following directions, which are going to take some work to overcome.  After his very first day of school, the teacher already noted that he wasn’t listening as well as he should and moved him to a desk closer to the front of the room.  We’ve also recently learned that his eyesight is not very good.  While he got his first set of eyeglasses yesterday, he is still nearly blind in one eye even with the lenses.  Obviously, that is going to be a bit of a challenge to overcome and probably also explains why his motor skills haven’t been as strong as his intellectual talents.

Our son has been through 2 years of pre-school as well as a few months at a drop-off school-skills class, so we didn’t experience as much separation anxiety as some families do.  Even when he first started pre-school, there really wasn’t any major problem when my wife left him for the first time, something that surprised us a bit since he had always had a really difficult time with babysitters.  My wife, who is a stay-at-home mom, has probably had more of a difficult time with the adjustment than my son has.

The shift from pre-school to Kindergarten is still a big adjustment.  His pre-school was only 4 days a week, 3-hours per day.  The elementary school he is going to has a full day Kindergarten, which means 5 days a week, 6 1/2 hours per day.  This includes lunch at school, which is also a pretty big change.  The pre-school was a cooperative type, which meant that my wife stayed to assist with the class one day a week.  It also had pretty much an open-door policy where parents were pretty free to stick around if there was something going on that they wanted to observe.  Not surprisingly, Kindergarten has much more of a closed atmosphere.

We definitely do still intend to be very involved in our son’s school experience wherever we can.  My wife has already made certain that the teacher and the parent’s organization are aware that she is available to volunteer as needed and we expect that there will be many opportunities.  The class has 24 students and there are no teaching assistants, so the teacher did indicate that parents should have opportunities to stick around and assist in the classroom periodically.

While my work schedule limits my availability, I certainly hope to be able to take part whenever I can as well.  I did take the day off of work this week so that I could go along to the parent orientation on Tuesday, which gave me the opportunity to meet his teacher and see the classroom.  I expect to attend parent activities and meetings whenever my schedule allows.  I also definitely plan to continue to spend lots of time working with my son directly to help reinforce and practice the lessons he is learning in school.

I was impressed by the teacher and the classroom during the orientation on Tuesday.  The classroom immediately made a very good first impression due to the teacher’s decision to heavily feature “The Cat in the Hat” as a central theme to the decoration.  That was one of the very first books that we bought for my son and we have read it (and its sequels) together numerous times over the years.  My son’s reading skills have been improving rapidly and, just last weekend, I helped to guide my son through his first time reading “The Cat in the Hat” himself. 

The teacher herself definitely seemed very kind and skilled to me, based on my first impression.  She has quite a bit of teaching experience and seemed to have a good handle on how to work with kids this age.  After the first 2 days, my son’s impression of her is very positive and he still seems excited about going back again tomorrow.

While it is not always easy to watch my child gain independence and move forward, he is also my greatest pride and the most important part of my wife’s and my lives.  I look forward to continuing to share this adventure with my family!

CompuServe Memories

On June 30th, America Online finally shut down the original CompuServe Information Service, which they had purchased in 1997.  While I haven’t really used the service for several years, this is still bittersweet news to me due to strong personal connections.  CompuServe was my first exposure to the concept of online computing back in the 1980s and my first professional job in the early 1990s.

My first computer experience was with a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model III that my father purchased in 1980 (when I was 10 years old).  Around that same time, Radio Shack made a deal with CompuServe to package and promote their service.  Under branding that Radio Shack called “Videotex”, they packaged CompuServe either with a dumb terminal or with terminal software sold for the TRS-80s.  My father bought a 300-baud modem and the Videotex package for the Model III, giving us our first look at connected computing.

My exposure to the features of CompuServe during this time was really just a taste as the service came with a pretty high hourly fee for use.  I mainly recall spending a little time watching over my father’s shoulder as he used it to access various news, weather, and information like that, although I recall that he generally preferred a competing service called The Source, which CompuServe eventually bought out and absorbed.  I also recall having a couple rare opportunities to spend an hour playing some of CompuServe’s primitive early online games.

Due to the hourly fees, I never spent any time in discussion boards or chat, instead getting early exposure to these via privately-run Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs) and, a few years later, with General Electric’s GEnie service, which was one of the first to offer discussion boards and a few other services at a fixed monthly fee instead of charging by the hour.  CompuServe was actually one of the last services to drop the hourly charges, which probably played a big role in their eventual decline.

After I graduated from college in 1991 with a degree in Computer Science and Engineering, CompuServe was one of the many technology companies to which I applied.  I ended up accepting a job with them as a junior engineer in their Entertainment Technology group, which focused on game products and the CB Simulator, which was their name for online chat.  I worked there for around 4 1/2 years, before I decided to move to California to pursue other opportunities in mid-1996.

The CompuServe headquarters was a campus in an industrial park located in the Columbus, Ohio suburb of Upper Arlington.  It consisted of two major buildings, the larger one (where I worked) housing the corporate business offices and the operations managing the consumer service.  The other building mainly housed their very lucrative network services division.  There was a nice employee cafeteria (The Oak Room), which was run by Marriot and an employee fitness center.
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The Oak Room had pretty decent food and I generally ate there a couple times a week.  They had a selection of standard grill items (burgers, chicken strips, etc.) that were available every day as well as a featured entree.  They would occasionally do prepared to order stir-fry or pasta that were immensely popular and would result in long lines during lunch hour.  I’d typically eat there on days that the entree sounded particularly good or when my schedule made it tough to leave the office for lunch.  When I did leave, there was a Wendy’s, a Pizza Hut, and a sandwich place across the street as well as numerous other restaurants that were a fairly easy drive.  The Oak Room also served as a location for larger meetings and employee gatherings.  I even remember just about everyone in the building gathering in there to watch the OJ Simpson verdict on a big-screen TV.

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Fourth of July Memories

I’ve always really liked the 4th of July, a holiday that has always seemed particularly celebratory while still being generally more casual and lower pressure than most.  I’ve always had a bit of a patriotic streak and enjoy the day of paying tribute to the United States.  I also have a definite fondness for the marches and other patriotic tunes that dominate the holiday.

For the past several years, my family has been going to Disneyland on the 4th of July to see their special fireworks show.  We have learned how best to manage the crowds on that very busy day, making it a pretty easy experience.  We also get a hotel room close-by in order to avoid having to deal with the night-time traffic.

When I was growing up, more often than not we spent 4th of July at home instead of trying to go out to see a professional fireworks show or some other public event.  Generally, we were pretty satisfied simply enjoying the day at home as a family.  This would usually include watching the Boston Pops’ 4th of July concert on TV or other similar patriotic shows.  We would often have a BBQ dinner at home.  There were a few years that we did go out to municipal fireworks displays, though, so I did at least have that experience a few times as a kid. 

The most memorable trip out to see a 4th of July fireworks show was in 1977.  That summer, my father had just taken a new job that required our family to move from Florida to Flint, Michigan.  For the first couple months, we had to find an alternative place to live while we were waiting for the house my family had purchased to be vacant and ready for us.  We had a Starcraft pop-up style camper that we used on vacations, so we spent that time staying at the Holly Hills Campground (based on an online search, I think it is a KOA now) in nearby Holly, which was just a short distance outside of Flint.

On that 4th, we decided to drive into Flint for their big municipal fireworks show downtown, but it ended up being Mother Nature that put on the more memorable performance that night.  There was a huge rainstorm and I honestly can’t remember for certain whether or not the fireworks display actually took place, although I think it did.  The most memorable part was returning that evening to learn that a tornado had touched down in the campground while we were gone!  We were lucky that the actual touchdown (and most of the damage) was on the opposite end from where our campsite was located, which meant that our camper was ok.  It was definitely a bit of a fright and still is the closest call with a tornado that I ever experienced.

I don’t remember completely for certain, but I don’t think we ever went out to public events on the 4th of July in any of the other years that we lived in Flint, instead opting for celebration at home.  In the late 70s and early 80s, Michigan had pretty loose restrictions on the sale of fireworks for home use, which meant that every supermarket had big display tables with a big selection of firecrackers, sparklers, roman candles, bottle rockets, and other similar items.  My parents were appropriately nervous about these types of things, though, and would only allow us to get some sparklers, which we would only use with close supervision.

Many of the neighbors did buy and use the other kinds of home fireworks, which meant that there was always a sort of second-hand display that we were able to watch a bit on the evening of the 4th.  On the 5th, the neighborhood streets would be very littered with the spent casings from many of the fireworks and firecrackers that had been set off the night before. 

My best friend and I had a tradition, which we obviously never told our parents about (this post may end up as a confession…), walking through the neighborhood on the 5th examining the litter from the night before searching for accidentally discarded fireworks and firecrackers that had not yet been fired.  Each year, we found and gathered up quite a bit of stuff that was still live.  I remember one year we even found an unexploded cherry bomb, which was a particularly exciting find for a couple pre-teen boys.  I don’t remember exactly what we did, but I remember that it was never much of a problem finding a spot outside of eye and earshot of parents in order to light off everything we found.

Regardless of whether I just stayed at home with family or went out to do something special for the holiday, my memories of the 4th of July are pretty much all positive.  Here’s hoping for another great 4th of July holiday tomorrow.  Happy Birthday, USA!

Holiday Memory: The Disneyland Candlelight Stampede of 1998

As a very regular visitor to Disneyland over the last 12 years or so, I have seen a lot of major events at the park and have been there for a few customer-relations stumbles as well.  In one case in particular, namely the poorly run ticket-distribution for the 1998 Candlelight Processional show, one of Disneyland’s less shining moments ended up being one of my personally most important and memorable experiences at the park.

The Candlelight Processional is a long running holiday tradition at Disneyland.  It is a concert program that they typically run around the first week of December, which is a musical celebration of the religious aspect of the Christmas holiday, featuring a professional orchestra and a large massed choir formed from numerous church and school choirs as well as some Disney employees.  The show also features a celebrity narrator, who tells the Biblical Christmas story in between the songs.  This show has been a favorite Christmas season tradition for me for as long as I have lived out here in Southern California.  It is something I really look forward to every year.

Traditionally, this concert is performed on a stage set up in the Town Square area of Main Street, with the Railroad Station used as the backdrop.  In most years, there are just 4 evening performances of the show, two each on Saturday and Sunday.  The majority of the Town Square area is blocked off for the stage as well as for a large seating area.  Tickets for viewing the show in the seating area are mainly distributed to Disney’s corporate partners and other VIPs while regular park guests start staking out seats early to the sides and further back in order to get even an obstructed view of the show.

This can result in a lot of logistics problems and major bottlenecks in that part of the park on those days.  Because of this, Disney a fairly short-lived (5 years) experiment starting in 1998 of moving the show to the Fantasyland Theater, an outdoor performance venue located across from "It’s a Small World".  Walt Disney World had moved their version of the show from Town Square in the Magic Kingdom to a similar theater in Epcot a few years earlier and had eventually managed to expand it multiple shows a night throughout the holiday season, with reserved seating tickets being sold through popular dining packages.  There was a lot of speculation that this experiment with a change of venue at Disneyland was also hoped to eventually lead to a similar expansion of the program, although that never materialized and the show was finally moved back to Main Street starting in 2003.

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My Last Baby Tooth – The Conclusion

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At long last, the series of dental procedures to replace my baby tooth have completed.  Last Wednesday, I went in for the final appointment where the dentist set the crown (the artificial tooth) onto the implant. 

About 3 weeks before, I went in to get fitted for the crown.  Unexpectedly, this turned out to be one of the more unpleasant parts of the process.  The main part of this process was taking wax impressions of my teeth that a lab would then be able to manufacture a properly fitting crown.  To do this, they stuck a fairly large wad of the wax impression material into my mouth, had me bite down, and then I had to keep it in place for about 10 minutes or so until it set.

They started off by taking the impression of my upper teeth (the implant is on the bottom).  This was kind of uncomfortable, but not too exceptionally bad.  The worst part was that the wax had a very slight, strangely spicy flavor to it and I found that it kind of burned my lip a bit while it was in place.  While waiting for the impression to set, the staff left me alone in the room and went off to gather supplies and/or tend to other patients.  For some reason, I kind of felt oddly self-conscious during that time.

After the upper impression was completed, they next took a couple X-rays to verify the exact angle and positioning of the implant.  I thought it was interesting, and encouraging, that while reviewing the X-ray, the dentist spontaneously exclaimed that the oral surgeon is “a master”.  Apparently, the implant was very precisely and cleanly positioned, creating a pretty ideal situation for the placement of the crown.

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