Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sledding! In Richmond! In December!

Today was a big day. It snowed, like for really reals, and for the first time in my 35 years on this planet, I was actually prepared. One might even say over-prepared.

Last night, with the threat of snow looming large over the Richmond area, Alastair and I trudged over to REI, braving Short Pump traffic at its worst, and got all manner of snow stuff: 3 different pairs of gloves for him (one for sledding, a pair of mittens for cold days, and a pair of gloves for when he bitches about mittens), matching balaclavas, new snow mittens for me (because I've finally decided to be done with cold fingers), and snow pants & gaiters. It was a pricey trip, but well worth it, since his grandparents bought a house at Wintergreen and he'll likely be spending a fair amount of time in the snow over the next few months.

We also managed to pick up another Zipfy mini-luge at Target a month or so ago. If you don't know what a Zipfy is, you're missing out. These little sleds are seriously fast, pretty easy to control, and light enough to carry up a hill dozens of times before being "over" the whole snow thing.

So with Zipfy and snowmobile/sled in hand, we trudged over to Bryan Park this afternoon for a couple hours of bliss and sweat. And for the first time ever, we both stayed dry. I didn't even realize that was possible until today. He had one wet wrist, and that was it.

And we totally rocked the park with a new trick: he'd start out in my lap on the Zipfy (no easy feat--they're barely large enough for one), and about halfway down the hill I'd scoot backward off the sled and give him a quick shove. His butt fell neatly onto the seat and he completed the run solo. We did it over and over again to laughter and cheers from the other winter frolickers.

Then we came home and took a much-needed nap. Because snow is awesome, but damn is it ever exhausting.

Friday, November 12, 2010

NASA Fall Finale @ Summit Point

My 2010 racing season ended on a high note and with a plan of action for next season that will make it both the best and least expensive yet. Booyah.

This event was to be all about blowing through the last of 2010's consumables: tires, brakes, oil, etc. I don't like to put old stuff back on the car in the Spring, so everything had to go. Hell, there was even 11 gallons of fuel left over from October's VIR trip. No sense letting that rot, either.

Oh but was it cold. I was thoroughly unprepared for how cold it would be in the trailer. I didn't have enough amperage to run two heaters at once, and the fan/heater job was only good at keeping the temps around 55 at night. On an air-mattress, that's COLD. There's nothing to insulate you from below, and my dumb ass didn't pack a sleeping bag. Just sheets & a blanket. Brr...

I was so cold and had slept so poorly that I couldn't be bothered to check tire pressures Saturday morning. I figured they had to be pretty good, though, since I managed a 1:29.7 in my 2nd session, my fastest to date. That lap turned out to be my fastest for the day, and good enough for a 3rd place trophy!

My paddock-mates insisted on checking my tires in the afternoon, and we found that each was at least 2 pounds down from optimum pressures, which meant that Sunday would be faster. It was.

With proper pressure, I went out Sunday morning and knocked off .2 seconds from Saturday's best, but on a lap where I had to give up the end of the front straight for a caution flag. I knew I could do better.

In my 2nd session, I turned a 1:29.141. Six tenths better than Saturday, and only 1/10 off the first place pace from Saturday. Fortunately for me, the guy who set that pace didn't come back Sunday, and each day is a separate event. Saturday's 2nd place driver told me that he couldn't possibly match my pace, and the only other car that could do it wasn't classed properly. So I won. I won the final event of 2010.

And even though I only competed in 6 of 15 events, I accrued enough points to be in either 5th or 6th for the season.

My average finishing position was 3.33, with an average field-size of 7.66 competitors. And if the guy with the fire-breathing turbo Miata gets classed out of TTE, the average becomes 2.83 out of 7, which is good enough to win a free tire from Hoosier at every single event.

Better still? Using that average, and assuming I'll be able to make all 15 events, I should finish next season well over 100 points ahead of the points-leader for 2010. Even a consistent 4th place finish could warrant a 1st place trophy for the season.

And since Time Trials isn't nearly as abusive on hardware as HPDE's (fewer laps means less fuel & less wear), consumables can last much longer. Add instructing and camping to the mix and--barring major incidents--next season should cost less than the first two events of this season alone.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Last Weekend at VIR

Well, ok, not actually last weekend, but the weekend before...

A scant week after my final HPDE of the 2010 season, I headed down to VIR for my penultimate Time Trial weekend of the season. The neat thing about doing back-to-back events is that (assuming the car isn't broken) there's very little to do between events. Just pack some food, hitch up, and go.

The other neat thing is that the brain stays in performance-driving mode. Going a month between events gives you too much time to cool down. Too much time to look at video and data, over-analyze both, and settle back into a routine of drinkin' beer and watching TV. But a week? Just enough time to still be excited about the previous week's activities, just enough time to assess what the car is telling you.

I pulled 3 whole seconds off my previous best TT lap time at VIR. And that previous best was in July, just over two months ago. That's huge. Yes, I pulled 25lbs out of the car, but all of it from the wrong side to be helpful. In fact, the car is now wildly imbalanced, almost 185lbs off to the left, with only the left-front wheel carrying over 600lbs at rest.

And my 2:24.873 lap probably wasn't a fluke or a trick of the timing beacon: I'd managed a 2:24.9 earlier in the weekend. Traqmate says there's a 2:24.1 out there, which means there might actually be a 2:23.8. Either way, it was only good enough for 3rd place on Sunday (1/10 of a second out of 2nd place--argh!).

And I'm learning a lot each time I do a TT. I'm learning that once I've blown my own mind with a hot lap, it's time to be done. No more scrounging for that last ounce of performance, as I did twice. Both times I went off in big dramatic fashion, and both times my sessions were disqualified.

I'm also learning that a "full day" of TT can comprise 1 or 2 sessions, that the hardware can last a lot longer than initially expected because of the shortened days, and that there's a lot of room left to make the car go faster. I'm still 40lbs overweight for the class, and can make a few mods to the car without jeopardizing my classing.

And finally I'm learning, each and every time I get in the right seat, something new about instructing. I've now had two students go "off", both because they weren't really listening to what I was saying. They got mired in their own thoughts, fears, and desires, and tuned me out. Concentration exercises (e.g., forcing the driver to identify something unique about each flag worker) help get their focus back where it belongs, but each new student is presenting a new set of challenges that I'm having to solve on the fly. It's scary, frustrating, and a lot of fun.

So I can now claim four Time Trial events (each weekend is two separate events). And in that short period, my first podium finish. Three weeks from now I'll be at Summit Point for the final weekend of the 2010 season. If I can put down consistent laps, I should be just able to get 3rd place again. Wish me luck!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Security Elevation...Feature?

--Nerd Alert--

Last night I migrated from an old failing Windows 2003 file server to a shiny new[er] one. I got the printers, the shares, the permissions, and all the stuff you'd expect. Yay success!

Except somehow I managed to overlook that it was also the site's DHCP server. Oops. Fortunately Microsoft makes a handy-dandy DHCP migration tool that exports all the old databases and imports them into the new environment. Which is great so long as you include it as part of your planning process. Trying to run it after the fact results in spectacular failure.

I took the old server out of the domain, renamed it, re-IP'ed it, and rejoined it to the domain "just in case" we needed it. Rejoining it should also, in theory, deal with any lingering SID issues that might abound in a globally-distributed domain where replication intervals can become an issue.

Once that process was done, I removed, renamed, re-IP'ed, and rejoined the new server, using the old servers name and IP address. Simple server swap, right?

But now I needed to install DHCP services on the new one, which should have come up deactivated and required an Enterprise Admin account to activate. It didn't. It came up hot and is serving out addresses without explicit activation. That's crazy!

The whole point of needing an Enterprise Administrator to activate a DHCP server is to eliminate the risk of internal poisoning of your namespace. If any local site admin with privileges to add or remove a computer to the domain can activate a DHCP server, then you have no security. Somehow Microsoft's engineers believe that "security" for a core infrastructure service should be based on IP address and not SID.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Alastair's First Track Weekend!!!!!

I took Alastair to Summit Point this weekend. I was nervous about it, concerned that an over-amped driver coming off the track might blaze through the paddock and mow him down, or that he'd wander off to places unknown, or that he'd just be bored to tears and whine all weekend.

He was awesome.

My parents met us at about 4:30pm on Friday, helped pack a few last-minute items, and we were off to the mountains of West Virginia. The drive took a little longer than usual, but traveling w/ a 4-yr-old tends to add time to any trip.

We got to the track a few minutes after 8pm, and it was pitch black. Alastair was a huge trouper about getting everything set up for the night, and as a reward got to ride in the Miata around the paddock area. We even went and watched the go-karts for a little while before coming back to the trailer. When we got there, he told me that he needed to go to bed. And indeed he did--it was 9:45pm!

We slept fitfully, having only brought one pillow for the two of us to share, but the next morning we were both quite chipper, in spite of the cluster that awaited...

First off, the track was super slick on Saturday morning. I got out late and only turned a few laps before parking the car--it's just not worth the effort sometimes. Then, as I was preparing to get in the right seat to instruct Mr. Gohlke, another guy came up and told me I was his instructor. Um... uh oh. Turns out there'd been a mix-up at Registration, and I'd been assigned a completely green student. Which meant we had no idea who was supposed to instruct Daniel. And naturally, we only had about 2 minutes to resolve it before the session began.

Oh, and? Alastair had to be left alone, by himself, in the trailer during the session. With more than a little trepidation for his safety, I fired up a movie, stuffed my helmet on my head, and headed out for what would be an eventful first instruction session.

My guy was very green (it was his first track day ever), but seemed to have a good knowledge of what the car could do. Unfortunately, about 2/3 through the session, we spun. No biggie, but it was early enough in the day that I decided to park him and let him cool down a bit. He was shaken, but no harm had been done. Daniel fared a bit better with his instructor, only scaring the guy half to death a few dozen times as he reacquainted himself with the car (we got the situation resolved later--switched students, and Daniel got promoted to Intermediate AND got solo-ed).

I came back to find things going quite well, and indeed things remained very stable throughout the day, except for a couple of minor issues. The day went so well, in fact, that Alastair asked if he could camp in the trailer again that night. So we said adieu to my parents for the day and prepared for the night.

But first...

...we got to put Alastair's go-kart on the race track. Holy. Freakin'. Cow. I thought he'd be bored after doing 1/3 of a lap, but he wanted to keep going and going. He drove almost the entire track before the temperature started to drop, including Karussel, Corkscrew, almost the whole front straight, the Stonehouse Straight, Hook, and Trigger. We had to cut under some track-walkers at one point, and as we came down the main straight, a crowd gathered to watch him toodle along. Seeing his fans, of course he decided to wave.

And then it was time for me to go karting. Daniel and I entered the 1-hour enduro race at Summit Point kart, and for 30 minutes I held the lead, passing the reins to Daniel in horrible form with a late black-flag and a boot that stuck on the brake pedal. We ended the race in 3rd place, 32 seconds behind the leader, but still on the lead lap (in fact the very last kart on the lead lap).

Alastair cheered through it all, pausing along the way to make some friends and share toys.

We capped the night with grilled hotdogs & beans, took a nice long shower, and Little Man asked weepily to go to bed immediately thereafter. He was worn out.

The next morning I was assigned yet another student. Another instructor had suffered an injury in the night, and I got to take a solo check-ride in a blazing fast Hyundai Genesis. And in the afternoon I had a guy in the Advanced group ask me to ride along with him. So for an event where I was accepted as a provisional instructor with only one student, I ended up having 4 students!

Everybody got to ride in the Miata at least once--dad on the first day, Randy on the 2nd, Daniel rode twice (I think). And in my last solo driving session, I set a personal lap record of 1:45.195. It was a fantastic weekend. Alastair was a delight and didn't gripe about the 3-hour trek up or back, the car held up (even if the tires didn't--all 4 were showing cord by Sunday afternoon), and everybody made it home safely.

And ya know what? I get to do it all again this weekend at VIR!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Tomorrow Marks 18 Months

Hard to believe she's been gone that long. Harder, still, to believe that she last slept in our bed in February '09.

I've been moody this past week. But I've also been productive. Her closet is mostly empty, and now even has a few of my things in it (in addition to her 803,972 pairs of shoes). Her pictures and some of her nick-nacks have been removed from the bedroom.

Somehow it has been an amazing process to look through her things this week. I've tried to do it before, but always got lost in sentimentality within the first 10 minutes. This time, I'm good for about an hour, and things that never had any real significance at all are finally just empty objects. Brushes, decorative boxes, pictures of people I never met.

And because I've spent so much time in my bedroom this week, I noticed how empty it sounds without all those things in it. It's weird, but the sound-signature in the room changes ever so slightly when any item is removed. Spend 7 years in a room without changing anything, and then take something out. See if you don't notice the same thing. This has actually made it hard for me to navigate to the bathroom in the dark--I'd never realized how much I relied on the sound of the room for that.

But I don't regret it. It needed to be done. More needs to be done. I can't hang on to artifacts. As Trent Reznor reminded me the other day, they're "just a fading fucking reminder of who I used to be."

And even crazier? I've found an inner peace in doing this cleaning. Sure, the room is bare right now, but somehow I feel like I'm finally laying Amanda to rest. Well, more so than I have before.

Monday, September 13, 2010

School starts tomorrow!

My little guy starts pre-school tomorrow. I'm super excited for him, and more than a little bit nervous that I'll forget to put some essential item into his tote-bag, but I figure it's high time to look back over the summer and reminisce a bit...

King's Dominion

We started the summer off by buying King's Dominion season passes. What a great idea! We've been no fewer than 4 times, and it's been a pretty easy way to mark his physical growth, which has been frankly astonishing. In June, he was just barely at 42"; able to ride the Ghoster Coaster (the Scooby Doo for you KD oldsters), Avalanche, and a couple of rides in Water Works. We spent a lot of time in the kids' area back then, when things like simple carnival rides were still really amusing to him.

We went back a couple of weeks ago for my birthday, and he'd grown 3 full inches. Since June! Holy crap! He's now big enough to ride Ricochet, which has instantly become his favorite ride. Without a doubt, we're gonna do season passes again next year.

The Little Gym

We renewed our membership at the Little Gym for pretty much the entire next year. A few weeks ago, one of the teachers completely accidentally figured out how to get Alastair excited about the gymnastic routines: let him lead the class. Since then, he's been far more engaged in the activities, though his little temper flares when the other kids don't do exactly what he's shown them. Oh, buddy, life is gonna be hard for you...

And he won a free birthday party! So come January, the only thing I have to worry about is providing them a guest list. Woot!

Virginia Beach

We capped our summer with a repeat of last year's big vacation: a week at the beach. Post-Labor Day rates made it really easy to justify spending a whole week, and the lower temperatures of September made the idea super appealing. It was awesome. He played in the sand, made beach friends, had two games of Putt Putt, ATE AND LOVED SUSHI, and was so exhausted on the last night that he didn't have one last swim left in him. He just wanted to go to bed. SO cute.


He'll be old enough for league racing at the local dirt roundy-round next year, so I took the opportunity to get him started with a relatively fast electric kart. He's really taken to it, and I'm FINALLY getting him to the track for a whole weekend of motorized fun in early October (more on that later).

I know I'm forgetting a bazillionty things, like July 4th and countless other minor moments of awesome, but we've had a really good summer together. He's done two different Vacation Bible Schools, just graduated into a new Sunday School class, has started to actually play with other kids (instead of just co-playing). Yadda yadda yadda. My little boy is growing up. I love him so much!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Yes and Hell Yes

Alastair earned his first paycheck today (not counting his turn in a WIC commercial in 2006).

He was at The Little Gym, starting to get slightly disruptive as his class moved over to the final station of the day, and definitely not listening to the teachers. Instead of running around like a lunatic, though, he decided to sit next to the main teacher, Miss Shayla, whereupon he proclaimed to the class, in a highly affected "adult" voice, "I'm Miss Shayla, and I'm going to tell you what we'll be doing at this station."

Bent over in laughter, Miss Shayla told him to go ahead and lead the class. He organized a pretty good routine (all normal stuff they've done a million times before), and class continued rather uneventfully.

Both teachers came out to tell me what a riot my kid can be, and after class was over, he was excited to tell me all about it, too. So I told him that he should ask if he gets a paycheck.

He ran right over to the counter and asked, perfectly seriously, "Do I get a paycheck?" Explosive laughter. And yes, they wrote him a paycheck. He clutched it all the way home, and talked about it all afternoon.

That's my boy: exhibiting a strong work ethic at age 4.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Previously, on ahamos...

I've started and stopped a number of posts recently. Things have been...well, they've been mixed, really. There's been some good, some bad, some AWESOME, and some meh.

There have been a bunch of behavioral issues with Alastair, but those are being directly addressed. He'd spent too many nights and weekends being passed from one set of hands to the next, and while it made for a dynamic summer for both of us, it also made it tough for us to find time to enjoy each others' company.

For 2.5 weeks, however, he's not sleeping anywhere else than home; he's not going to bed late; he's not watching anything with a screen after 7pm; he's getting to nap at 1pm; and he's eating what he's served, which is generally healthful. It might sound totalitarian, but we're actually having a ton of fun:

Last night we trekked down to World of Mirth (a fantastic local toy store), where we found some really cool dinosaurs. We bought a big spinosaurus--with articulating jaw--and a pachyrhinosaurus (which he initially misidentified as a styracosaurus). We also bought a bitchin' marble roller coaster thing, and I can't wait to start building it with him.

We also introduced the "clean plate club" at home. Members get dessert at dinner. Holla!

We've gone to King's Dominion in the evenings.

And this weekend is gonna be a non-stop action fest! First up, as usual, is Saturday morning Special Breakfast and The Little Gym. Then there's the Filipino Festival right across the street from my house. After nap is the Richmond Kickers' final game of the season, and it's gonna be a big ol' party lasting into the evening hours.

Sunday starts off with brunch at the Jefferson Hotel, which is like Special Breakfast times eleventy. This will lead directly to nap (for both of us), hopefully followed by either a mess o' karting or Maymont or, if it's raining a movie.

I'm keeping him occupied at all times, keeping him focused on productive activities, and trying my hardest to guide him positively and not negatively.

I'm a little bit bummed that our experiment can't last a full month, but I'm pre-paid for a track weekend right before my bday. After that, though, we're gonna get lots more time of focused and dedicated daddy/boy time, with a week-long trip to the beach in early September.

It's only been 4 days since I started working on his habits, and we're already making some serious progress. The first two nights, he was up over and over again 'til way past 11pm. For the past two nights, though: he's dropped right off to sleep. When he goes to sleep earlier, he also stays asleep longer, making him much more pleasant in the morning. With the "clean plate club", we've had much better success at not only eating, but eating at a reasonable pace. And most importantly, the smart-talk has dwindled. He had been floating in a state of either 100% bliss or foul mood, with almost no transition time. Emotional extremes. That is evening out--thank God.

We're gonna keep driving the party bus and beating the routine into his head until it clicks, and minimize the interruptions to that routine to less than half what they had been. I'm through putting up with impediments to my child's development--he is all that matters.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Followed by a whole lot of AWESOME

So yeah: MazdaDrivers put on a craptastic event. And I have it on good authority, and from multiple sources, that they won't have the chance to fail so dramatically again.

But Trackdaze and NASA? Epic.

I hit the Trackdaze HPDE @ Summit Point Main a couple of weeks ago, and while attendance was way off, the experience sure wasn't. With fewer than 20 cars in each run group (and only about 10 on the 2nd day), the track was wide open, and I had almost no mechanical issues. I ran out of gas once, had one set of questionable tires go away completely, and the worst thing I had to deal with all weekend was some INSANE rain on the way home. It rained so hard that the trailer roof leaked again. Grr...

Two really cool things came out of that weekend, though.

1. I got to run my first ever session of passes without point-bys. Late in the 2nd day, I ran with the instructors with my window-net up (first time ever on track). I learned that the net is really distracting and that there must be a much higher level of trust between drivers when there's no pre-negotiated agreement on passing.

2. I became 100% convinced of my need for a Traqmate. So I bought one. I'll get back to it, but holy crap is it awesome.

Both of those things became instrumental to the event I just completed: NASA's Sweaty Summer Slam @ VIR. This 4 day event(!) was not only the longest I've ever done, but comprised entirely new activities for me.

I took the Level 1 and Level 2 Instructor Clinics, and spent Saturday and Sunday teaching others how to drive their race cars. The classes were long, but very content-rich; the on-track exercises were...startlingly realistic; the students were amazing.

I finally got to experience that moment I've heard about from other instructors: when a student goes from driving a car on the track to track-driving. "Magical" doesn't quite describe it, but it's close.

I also began my competitive track career in Time Trials. I managed to finish in 4th place in my first ever event, and 5th place on Sunday (after disqualifying myself by going off-track).

Know what made that 4th place possible? The Traqmate. It also enabled me to put down my fastest VIR lap ever on Sunday morning during warm-up, at 2:26.1 (still off pace for SM, but I'm getting there). What was really surprising, though was learning that, if I'd done everything to the best of my ability, I could have managed a 2:25.2. That's cookin' with gas!

I got a new camera, too: a GoPro Hero. The old Aiptek broke off its mount at Summit Point (video here), leaving only a threaded plug attached to the mount. The GoPro got some good footage, but after I added the Traqmate data, that footage went from being entertaining to being, as one coworker put it, a Business Intelligence tool. And she's not wrong. Check out 4 laps from my fastest session, beginning with my personal lap record.

From a Time Trials perspective, though, the real benefit of the Traqmate is the display unit. It updates all the way around the track with predictive lap times, telling you instantly if you're moving faster or slower than your best. That's powerful stuff.

And since we're on the subject of pure freakin' awesomeness, I got a new truck. The F-250 was just getting a touch too unreliable for repeated trips to West Virginia (those mountains are TOUGH!), and the Mazdaspeed3 filled no practical voids in my life, so I decided to consolidate down to one vehicle.

I did some research, and it turns out that many trade rags are in agreement: the Dodge Ram 1500 is the best half-ton truck being made today. Coil springs, anti-sway bars, independent suspension, and let's not forget: a bitchin' 5.7L V8 Hemi. The truck is rated to tow 10,000lbs, so it's a little bit future-proof with regards to trailers (my trailer is rated to 7000lbs, and probably weighs within 10% of that, fully loaded).

It tows like a dream, and I just got towing mirrors, a backup camera (to assist hitching), and a weight-distributing hitch with built-in sway control.

And Alastair LOVES the new truck. He sits high and proud in the middle of the back seat, and has a commanding view of the road. But his favorite part is the 7.3 second 0 - 60. "Wow, daddy! I didn't expect it to be fast!"

Oh, and? Alastair starts preschool September 14. Before he does, though, we're gonna go spend Labor Day week at the beach. Off-season rates are less than 50% of summer rates, so it's a steal, and this will be the last year we'll be able to escape during the school year.

So yeah: Summer 2010 is kicking all kinds of ass (and you don't even know the best part...ha!).

Monday, June 14, 2010

An exceedingly strange track weekend

This is gonna be long and probably boring. Sorry.

Last week was scramble time. I accomplished oil changes on the Miata, the truck, and even the Mazdaspeed 3. I changed plugs & wires on the truck, brakes & fluid on the Miata, and buttoned everything up just in time to haul down to VIR for the annual MazdaDrivers event on Grand East.

This is one of the only (if not in fact the only) events all year to use the Grand East configuration, which has 34 turns, a ton of elevation changes, and a glorious turn called The Bitch. It's a 4.2 mile lap that takes just under 3:30 to complete, and it's full of exciting challenges. It's also ungodly expensive because it takes a lot more staff to man the flag stations.

To offset that expense, I was excited about repeating the whole camping-in-the-trailer thing that I'd done last month at Summit Point, but I couldn't remember if there were electric drops in the paddock. So I sent an e-mail. HUGE mistake. VIR was willing to provide me a camping space for $50 / night, which is nuts because I don't need water hook-ups or any of that fancy crap. So I declined, but they forwarded my name to their head of security, so I knew they'd be on the look-out for me to be camping unauthorized. So I booked a hotel room. Boo. There goes another couple hundred dollars into this overpriced weekend.

So I got everything ready, came home early from work, kissed my boy, and hauled down to VIR in the 90+ temps. Smooth sailing all the way down, I'm rockin' out to good tunes, no cops in sight the whole way.

I get there, and there's a sign on the front gate: Electricity $25. DAMMIT! I just committed to $200 for a hotel that's 15 minutes from the track. Lesson learned: NEVER ASK PERMISSION. EVER.

Anyway, after unpacking my trailer, I find a list of driver/instructor pairings, whereupon I realize I've (once again) been bumped back down to the Intermediate group. In Intermediate, passing is only allowed on approved straight-aways. Not cool (and really boring, frankly). I got pissed off and sent a fiery email to the event coordinator.

Saturday morning I got the issue resolved to my relative satisfaction, met my instructor, and prepared to have a weekend full of awesome. Only it was not to be. After waiting more than 5 minutes for my instructor, I finally went looking for him. He was resting casually at his paddock space, thinking I was still running in the other group, which wasn't scheduled to be on track for another 30 minutes. As he was scrambling to get in the car, he smashed my rearview mirror with his helmet. Oops. My side was still intact, and I could see out the back, so we were ok.

And then I overdrove the car so badly he had to ask several times for me to keep it under control. I got passed all over the place. It sucked.

2nd session, I finally got things to settle down a bit, started to pick up the pace, and he told me afterward that he enjoyed the ride and would sign me off for solo. Yay! Good driving to come! Only not!

Just before the 3rd session of the day, high winds came rolling through. Everyone was advised to take down their tents and awnings and seek shelter immediately. This is no easy task when winds are already blowing above 30mph. Oh, and I was busily trying to swap to my rain tires because of bruised looking clouds on the horizon.

But the storm mostly blew over, and we got out on track for an abbreviated session. Yay?

For the 4th session, my rain tires were already on, and the rains finally came. Woohoo! It was wet. It was treacherous. It was FREAKIN' AWESOME. For about 2 laps, whereupon a silver M3 decided to attempt a barrel roll with predictable success. Black flag all, day over.

To make matters worse, the black flag came out right as I and another Miata were passing a corner station. The worker waved the flag at the Miata in front of me, and we both thought he was being flagged. He pulled way off line, slowed, and pointed me past. So I passed him. This upset the event coordinator, who wanted to have harsh words with me. Oh yeah? Bring it, fucker--I'm done with you anyway. He and the Chief Steward and I had a nice long talk about it, and the Chief Steward conceded that the flagging was not clear, and that there is technically no rule about passing under black. Mr. Coordinator-Fancy-Pants looked at the ground and tried to walk away, whereupon the Steward called him back to discuss the many things that MazdaDrivers do differently from EVERY OTHER CLUB, and how difficult it is for the VIR corner workers to keep up with the weirdness. Again: suck it, jerk.

Sunday began with an RX-8 missing a shift, slamming the wall on the front straight and spewing parts all over the place.

Then our first session came, and it was by far the best experience of the whole weekend.

2nd session, on the out lap (not under yellow, though) another BMW M3 felt inspired to go off in the exact same spot that the first one had done Saturday. Only he didn't flip. What he did do, though, was one of the dumbest things I've EVER seen a human being do: he got out of the car to see if it was damaged. On a hot race track with cars passing 20' from him, in an area known for spins. Black flag all. AGAIN.

3rd (and final--at least for me) session, I got stuck in a long train before finding another Spec Miata to play with. We were putting down some frickin' awesome laps before...another black flag all. Apparently a 'Vette overheated in the climbing esses, and the driver decided to hop out at the top of the hill to pop the hood.

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with these people? I know it's hot, but the lapses in judgment by far exceeded anything I've ever experienced at an HPDE. As a refresher: YOU NEVER GET OUT OF YOUR CAR ON A HOT TRACK UNLESS IT IS ON FIRE AND BURNING TO THE GROUND.

So that was fun. Then, as I'm packing everything up, another biblical storm comes and knocks out power to the trailer, where the temps climb quickly into the low 90's. Storm passes, I head out at 4pm. At 6:10, I'm climbing a hill and noticing that, not only is the truck slowing, it's overheating. A glance in the mirror shows huge plumes of smoke billowing from the driver-side trailer tires. Oh God.

Both tires are blown, one is obliterated. I have one spare, an a jack that's just strong enough to lift one side of the Miata. This won't end well.

In my haste to deal with it, I forget to leave the truck running. Strange noises begin emanating from the hood, but I'm in full-on panic mode, so I don't notice that for a couple of minutes. When I do, the truck wheezes back to life, runs terribly for a couple of minutes, and then settles back down as the coolant does its job.

Back to the tires...

I'm less than 1 inch from the paved surface of Rte 360, a busy highway, and no room between the trailer and the ditch on the other side. Just as the panic begins to get bad, I hear a dude whistling for my attention. Frank, as it turns out, lives right next to where I'd stopped, and just happens to be a tow-truck driver.

I told him my plight, and he told me that everyone seems to get flats right next to his home (and it's true--there were TONS of tire carcasses all over the place). He measured my bolt-pattern and came back with a very small wheel & tire that fit perfectly. He stood in the highway and directed traffic around me as I raised the trailer (after first taking the Miata out so that the jack wouldn't break). He helped put his wheel and my spare on, gave me good tips on where I could find air to get everything up to optimal pressures, and wished me good luck. He even helped re-pack the trailer. Frank is a fantastic man. If you ever break down 10 minutes south of Chula, ask for Frank. He'd give you the shirt off his back and ask for nothing in return.

Anyway, I got moving again, tried several times to stop and find someone to sell me tires--always without success--and eventually limped the whole thing home at about 35mph.

Incredulous that I'd made it to my driveway on Frank's badly dry-rotted tire, I parked the truck and sighed in relief...only to hear dripping. A quick check under the truck showed a river of oil.

So it wasn't the best weekend ever.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Never Forget

Jack Ramsey Amos, USAAF. B-24 Nose gunner/bombardier. KIA January 31, 1945 in a bombing run on Ploesti. He never met his son, my father.

Albert Paul Chamberlain, US Army. Infantry. Stormed the beach in Normandy, said it was impossible to tell when daytime ended and nighttime began because all the explosions lit up the sky, and the number of airplanes overhead darkened it. My grandfather never told his wife the horrors he saw, insisting to his dying day that he spent his military days waterproofing tanks. She knew better, though, because for decades he awoke screaming in the night.

My son carries both of their names. We will never forget.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Memorial Weekend, Indeed

I don't know what you have planned for your weekend, but Alastair and I are gonna make a big bag of awesome out of the next 3 days.

Tomorrow, we're heading up to King's Dominion. Neither of us have been there since August of 2008, and he's big enough to ride a lot more rides now. We're gonna do the grown-up go-karts, all the kids' rides, and eat 'til we puke. It's gonna be stupendiferous.

Then Sunday morning, we're getting up bright & early to take the race car down to Dinwiddie for an autocross. This will be Alastair's proverbial toe-in-the-pool of racing weekends. I'm hauling the generator in the trailer, and while I'm racing, he'll have his choice of either staying in the trailer (with the AC on) or playing under the awning. And as a super duper uper shmuper bonus, he's gonna get to drive his ride-on F1 car on the course. Bad. Ass. We tried to do this back in March, but he ended up getting to the autocross too late to drive it.

Sunday night he'll stay at Amanda's parents', but then Monday afternoon we're going to a dinosaur tea party. I have no idea what the hell that means, but it's sure to be awesome. There will be other kids there and he'll act silly and it will KICK ASS.

Come on, Friday, hurry your punk ass up and be done: I have an awesome weekend to get started!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

10th Anniversary

10 years ago, May 19, 2000, I married my college sweetheart. We'd been engaged one day shy of 6 months, had just moved into a new house, and I had (only 4 days prior) started a new job. It was a bit of a whirlwind.

Our wedding ceremony clocked in at 27 minutes, something our mid-20's friends REALLY appreciated. After a bit of a delay for pictures, Amanda and I took an English taxi to Henrico County's Belmont Golf Course for our reception. There was a vicious thunderstorm outside while we ate cake and danced and acted silly inside.

At the end of the reception, we gathered with our friends on the back patio at the facility and burned enormous illegal sparklers, then retired to our house for even more partying.

The next day, after everyone left, we took our sweet time packing for Asheville, pausing to open a number of really awesome gifts (including a bunch of Star Wars Lego sets!). We spent days in Asheville, staying at the Grove Park Inn and visiting the Biltmore and Chimney Rock Park. We decided then & there to return for our 5th anniversary (whereupon we further decided to return for our 10th).

And then we spent almost 9 years of wedded bliss together.

And then she died.

My plan for today had been to return to Asheville in her absence. Maybe take Alastair, maybe not. I had wanted to scatter her ashes at Chimney Rock.

But that would mean planning it. And planning to discard her ashes (which aren't even in my care) is just too much to consider. She's gone, and I know that, and sentimentality is not the same as memory, but letting go is so damned hard. I recently opened her closet to help a friend find a dress for a wedding. I was horrified to discover that some of her clothes are already moth-eaten, but they're still her clothes. Which is dumb, because there's no more "her".

It's so much easier to just leave the closet closed.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Maybe I'm getting old

But I'm having a really hard time relating to people who get overly emotional about their politics. I know I used to, and there are things that I still feel very strongly about (in fact, probably most things), but I just don't see the point in getting angry at another human being because they vote differently.

Perhaps if I lived in a country where people were dying for their rights, but I'm not--my forebears already did that for me. They did it to secure a chunk of land where people would be free to disagree and discuss those disagreements civilly. To find common ground. They even wrote a big ol' Constitution guaranteeing our rights to do so, providing an amazingly flexible framework to secure those rights and freedoms for generations to come.

It comes as no surprise to most that I'm generally conservative, at least fiscally. I believe that people will succeed or they will fail. Irrespective of outside influence (i.e., welfare programs), the same people who would have failed on their own will continue to do so with help.

I believe in Capitalism and voting with my dollars.

I also believe in personal freedoms, and here my views (evidently, though I don't understand how) become quite liberal. Leave people alone to make their fortunes, their mistakes, their LIVES. Gay, straight, bi, whatever: live & let live.

But all too often I see real-live grown-ups getting pugilistic over this nonsense. Gay? NOT IN MY BACK YARD! Capitalist? UNFAIR AND I HATE YOU! And in the end Godwin's Law becomes more and more quickly proved: if you don't agree with me, I'll call you a Nazi. Cute.

And what do you say to that? "Yeah? Well you're a Nazi, too!" The argument is stupid, trite, and frankly irrational. And yet I hear it on things that both political spectra believe.

Don't-Ask/Don't-Tell is an amazing example of political ass-hattery. When it was instituted, the Right was up in arms. How dare this crazy liberal president dictate policies on sexual orientation to the military--it'll never work! Now? How dare these crazy conservatives defend the policy--it doesn't work! But...but...I really haven't heard anyone other than the mouthpieces defending the policy. So...we all agree. Right? But why can't we just say, "Hey, we agree: this policy is teh dum"? Is it because that would show weakness in the face of our political adversaries? 'Cause I gotta tell ya: that argument is teh dum.

So I call myself a conservative, right?

But yeah: the Tea Party shit has got to go. Seriously: it's embarrassing. I know there are some good people out there who have similar beliefs to my own, but the Glenn Becks and Sarah Palins of the world really make it look quite silly, as if all conservatives believe only that Obama isn't a citizen, Global Warming isn't real, and evolution is just a fancy myth perpetrated by the left.

The Boston Tea Party was a revolutionary decision that halted trade and had life-or-death consequences. That's why it worked. There was risk. This crap is just a media frenzy, and for all the wrong reasons.

It's lazy political action, like yelling at people on Facebook. If you want to make a difference, quit yelling and start talking.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dear 2am

We've seen a lot of each other over the last two weeks, and while the experiences we've shared have been both intense and intimate, I think it's time for us to start seeing other people.

You're just not healthy for me. You affect my daily life far more than you should--I think about you ALL THE TIME, which is making it hard to concentrate on work, Alastair, my social life outside of you. And let's face it: you're pretty abusive.

Please return my letter jacket and Primus t-shirt.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Panic! Panic! The Sky Is Falling!!

I've amended my APRIL FOOLS post to to clarify it for American audiences. The Japanese version was better.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

It's Race Season!

Hot damn, but that was an awesome way to start the season!

I just spent the weekend at Summit Point Raceway in West Virginia. There was racing, Time Trials, HPDE, and karting. There were TONS of Miatas, and I got to steal a bunch of really good ideas for my dashboard setup.

But the highlight of the weekend, at least for me, was the door-to-door action in the advanced HPDE group.

It's always a little scary in the first event of the year. Do I remember the track? Do I remember how my car handles at the limit? Do I, in fact, even remember what the limit is? Turns out: yes, yes, and mostly.

Summit Point Main is the only track I've ever run and never had proper instruction. I figured it out on my own and by watching other faster drivers. And I've gotten pretty consistent with 1:33 laps, occasionally churning out a 1:32. I know the car can do at least a 1:30, and looking at data I know now where I'm leaving time on the table.

But Sunday, man o man! I got hooked up with a couple of guys who were turning similar lap times, and we had a nice long chat about various ways around the course, agreeing that we'd look for each other in the 2nd session. Well, we found each other and ran together for about 15 minutes. And it was awesome! There was a Porsche 944 that's being prepped for 944 Cup, a seasoned Spec Miata (though in new hands), and my orange popsicle. We traded places, took turns side-by-side, ran nose-to-tail, and had an absolute blast. And I got it all on video.

A white Porsche Cayman S was following the action and got some good shots of one particularly dicey lap. Once I'd gotten by the other Spec Miata, he had a hard time keeping up and severely over-drove the car, eventually spinning off in Turn 10.

Now, I've run with guys before. I've found people with similar cars or similar talent and played with 'em for a few laps, including one great session at VIR last summer, but this was really the best fun I've had to date. Back then, I was running in Intermediate, which meant no passing in the corners. But now we can actually practice real racecraft, going 2 or even 3 wide white-knuckled through some really scary turns. And at this level, there's a trust between drivers that didn't exist before.

There's a guy I met last fall who was kind of overwhelmed in our group, spinning off once (or twice?) and having a hard time controlling his way-overpowered Porsche 997 GT2. But I made him pass me on the inside of a terrifying turn to show him that he could do it, and afterward I think he got a level of confidence that was sorely missing. If you don't trust yourself and the car, you're gonna go off or spend your whole day driving slow.

Hard to believe I have 9 more weekends to look forward to this year, and yesterday I picked up a new car that we're gonna build for Chump Car & LeMons, two series for <$500 race cars. And this weekend I'm heading down to North Carolina to pick up a 24' enclosed (and insulated) trailer. Time to start tailgating and stop paying for hotels!

2010 is gonna be the BEST track season ever.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Long and exciting. Yours?

How was your weekend?

Mine started Thursday night, care of Good Friday and curious holidays in the private sector.

Alastair and I went to bed Thursday night with excitement in the air: a trip to the zoo was planned for the morning, and Maymont Park in the afternoon!

Somehow, in all my life, I'd never actually been to a zoo. I'm unclear as to how this oversight might have occurred, but occur it did, so when we got there, I was more mesmerized than Alastair, who's now been at least 4 or 5 times. And of course, since he's been there a number of times, he knows where everything is. I felt like I was the kid for half the day!

We saw lions, tigers, bears (oh my...<--sorry, it's obligatory), emus giraffes, all manner of monkeys & apes, bats, and well, everything else you'd expect to see at a zoo. And we rode the sky-car over the rhinos, which, while exciting, were evidently nowhere near as exciting as their poop. I swear: Alastair talked about rhino poop for two solid days.

We also saw an Audi R8. That was my favorite.

Then, while he napped, I started tearing the Miata down in preparation for a timing belt & water pump swap. I figured if I disassembled it Friday afternoon, putting it back together on Saturday would be a snap. Which it was, until it wasn't.

After nap we met a friend and her two girls at Maymont, where mysteriously all the animals except the birds, bears, and fox were...missing. No idea where they were. Dad & Randy showed up to walk the park with us, and it was a delightful way to spend the afternoon. The kids entertained each other, the grown-ups got to talk, and then unfortunately one of the girls did an epic swan dive over her own foot. A bloody knee and 8 zillion tears (now with dramatic over-sell action!) later, we were all spent.

Saturday was even more awesomesauce for Alastair, who got to go to two Easter egg hunts. One at church (grr...) and one at his friend's house. While he was at the church one, and while he napped, I toiled away on the car, getting it almost back together.

We had a fantabulous time at his friend's house--truly, they're like peas in a pod, and it is so much fun to just watch them play.

After I dropped him off at Grammy's for the night, I went home, Daniel showed up to help with the Miata...and it wouldn't run. Dammit.

Teardown & rebuild: nothing.

Daniel wished me luck and went home (it was already pretty late), and at midnight I started another teardown, this time with the idea that I'd leave it torn down overnight and approach the timing issue in the morning with fresh eyes. Yeah, not so much.

When I got down to the belt, I had a revelation that I could abandon all the fancy marks I'd made on the belt if I could calculate TDC, which I fortunately could do because I happened to have a compression checker. Yay me!

At 2am, the car was buttoned up, and she roared to life (sorry neighbors!).

The next morning she threw the alternator belt. FML. At least that was a 5-minute fix.

P-Nut's Easter Party! Woohoo! Monument Ave Easter Parade! Jello shots! Champagne! RedBull & vodka! Ow my head!

Before Alastair came home, I happened upon a stranded motorist in my neighborhood. Her car had overheated, and she was about a mile away from home. But she was blocking traffic, and the cops were less than amused. So I went home, got my truck & trailer, and hauled her to her house.

Pizza with a boy for dinner, 834.2 loads of laundry, and one completely spent daddy.

It was a damn fine weekend, even with the extra 5 hours of work on the car. Now on to the remaining 5 hours worth of work, and next weekend's the circus!

Friday, April 02, 2010

The Book of Seder

Amanda really enjoyed my satirical efforts, and had wanted to repost this on her blog annually. So, never one to deny my wife...


And so, as the Seder feast approached, Jesus called unto his disciples and said, “I have received news which is my Father’s news, and that is to be given unto you. That you are to collect the eggs of hens throughout all the land, and bring them to the temple on Seder-eve. There the eggs will be emptied without breaking, and brightly colored so as to show the love of my Father.”

And so the disciples set out upon the land to collect the offerings of hens. And it was so, that they rejoined unto each other on Seder-eve at the temple, each with his measure of eggs. And Peter asked, “Lord, how are we to drain the eggs without breaking them?”

Jesus replied, “Does not the ewer empty with even the smallest hole? We shall prick tiny holes in each end, and blow with forceful breath upon one end, that the yolks shall flow forth. And we shall collect the yolks in great urns, so to bake treats for the children.”

And they began to drain the eggs, with Jesus draining many times his measure. But the disciples were discouraged, for their eggs broke. And they asked unto the Lord, “Lord, our eggs are breaking. Soon there will be no more eggs. How can we present broken eggs in the temple?”

Jesus considered this and replied, “Not all eggs need come from hens, though those that do not must be rich indeed. Peter, look in that urn, and bring forth what you find.” And Peter peered into the urn, and drew forth strange material, shiny and smooth. “Lord, what is this treasure you provide us?”

“Plastic.” And so they continued, filling the plastic eggs with small treasures, baked goods beyond measure and coins bearing Caesar’s image. The eggs of hens were brightly painted to capture the splendor of the Seder feast, and the plastic eggs were filled.

And on the morning of Seder, Simon went to fetch a hare for the noon-day feast. And Jesus said unto Simon, “Cook not the hare, for he represents the work of my Father on this day. Nay, praise the hare, and place an egg before him, that you have painted. And when you see a hare before Seder, say unto any who stand near, ‘Happy Easter’, for the Lord my Father has brought the beasts of the land upon the East winds, so to feed his children the Israelites.” And he asked of Luke, who had thus far sat quietly, “Luke, go to Mary’s house, and request from her that which she has been keeping for me.”

And Luke went to Mary’s house, and retrieved Jesus’ bunny-suit. Then Jesus did say, “Let us go to the mall, and pass out our eggs, but hiding several for the children to find. And afterward, let us dine together, as a family might.”

And so Simon went to fetch an ox, which was not protected by the word of God, and they feasted heartily. And afterward they ate chocolate.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Hard to share

Hey kids-kadoo, this was an April Fools post. Seriously, before you even look at the title or the content, look at the date. Or read the comments. Or the tags. It's your call, but if you can't do any of that, call -->ME<-- and ask.

There are a lot of really good things going on in my life right now. And with those really good things must come the occasional really hard decision.

A few months ago, shortly after qualifying for my 1A race license [this only exists in Gran Turismo 4, a PlayStation 2 game], I was approached by a Mazda factory rep. The guy had seen some of my in-car footage and at come out to watch me at two events (didn't know it at the time), and was interested in recruiting me do drive for the company. [seriously? Racers work their WHOLE CAREER for this kind of opportunity. I've been driving less than 5 years, and only done 12 events.]

Unfortunately everything had to be very quiet until all the contract details were worked out, but starting in June I will officially be a Mazda driver. With that, however, comes a series of multi-month training trips that will have me all over the globe for the next 3 years or so, competing in various international racing venues as I go. [this is all complete bullshit]

It's exciting, and it's really what I've always dreamed of doing.

But what about Alastair?

It's been no secret that we've had some exceptionally rough patches, even before Amanda died. The "Special School", some physical roughness that I can't seem to shake, and with less than 18 months to prepare, I've still not even budged on picking a school for him. To the backdrop of all this I need to add the potential of a custody battle [this part comes straight from the book The Art of Racing in the Rain--you should read it]--let's just say that our impasses haven't gone unnoticed.

So when I said before that 2010 was going to be his year, I meant it: he's going to get a better daddy. The last couple of months have been such hard work, and hopefully the good times we've had will be firmly cemented in his memory, but the fact is that I cannot provide the level of care and attention that he so desperately needs. And for that reason, shortly after his birthday I contacted an adoption agency. Tomorrow we meet the potential new family.

It's the hardest decision I've ever faced, but I have no doubt that it's the best choice for him. [ok, for real now. If you've read this far and are still clutching your pearls, I can't help you.]

Sunday, March 28, 2010

And Then I Went for a Run

The Ukrop's Monument Ave 10K holds a lot of symbolism for me. 4 years in a row, it's had a big impact on my life.

The first year, 2007, was the first time I ever tackled it. Amanda and I ran it together, and while I vowed never to do it again because of all the damned walkers who insisted that they should be in Group A, Amanda decided that it was an event that she would do annually. We really did have a great time running it, and we ran into a bunch of friends afterward, and it was really just a lot of fun. I fell off the training wagon shortly thereafter, figuring I was done.

But not Amanda. It was when she was first starting to prepare for the 2008 race that she realized Something Was Wrong. An initial run outside saw her get no more than 4 blocks before she came home with a racing heart and feeling very ill. She decided to skip the race and gave her bib to her friend Kim Thies the night before being admitted to the hospital. The race was run the same day our hell began in earnest.

Last year, the race was 3 days after her death. I'd just returned from Texas the night before, had just told Alastair that his mother was gone, and we spent the night with my dad, who lives on the 10K route. We got up the next morning and cheered on the runners, several of whom were running in Amanda's memory.

This year, because she loved that race so much, I decided the best way for me to commemorate the anniversary of her death was to run the thing myself. I'd put down a pretty good pace in '07, and figured with 3 months to train, I'd match that time.

Two months into training, my back decided that running was not my friend. I hurt so bad I could barely walk, and had to give up running for 3 weeks to get the pain back under control. With two weeks left before the event, I started again, managing only 3 miles the first run, and just over 4 in my last training session. I was devastated. I went into the race yesterday very upset that I was going to fail her memory. She'd endured so much pain just to survive, and I was going to let a little pain prevent me from doing something to honor her memory. It was sickening.

The whole race I felt off-pace, and when I got to 4 miles, it became a misery to put one foot in front of the other. At 4.5 miles (roughly), I stopped to kiss my boy, who was sitting once again on my dad's porch. It was a serious struggle to get going again, and at 5.2 miles, after getting a sip of water (and choking on it badly), I gave up and walked a couple blocks.

People look at you strangely when you stop running and start walking, especially in some of the faster run-groups--I actually got a couple of scornful looks. I really could have used some encouragement, and I found it thinking about Amanda. I picked my feet up and ran again, promising myself I'd walk again before the finish line. I never did, and ended up crossing the timing line 6 seconds faster than I did in '07. My final time was 52:11, and as soon as I crossed the line I started crying. It's really really hard to cry when you can't inhale, and I felt like there was a stone on my chest. But I'd finished, and I'd done it for her, and I was so upset and just couldn't get the emotions out.

And I'll do it again. Absolutely.

I really appreciate all the support of my friends who contributed to my fund-raising efforts. All told we raised $790 for Massey Cancer Center. Whenever I felt down and out in the race, I'd think about all of you and your support, and it gave me strength to push just a little bit farther.

A Very Pleasant Distraction


Planes, trains, and no goddamn race cars. Can you please shut up about the race cars? I'm sorry I told you there would be race cars. Jeez. We have one at home.

To mark the anniversary of Amanda's death, we went and did some of her favorite things. It got us out of the house, out of our routine, away from the Internet and work and all the things that give me time to sit and reflect on my loss. And it was fabulous.

We got up bright & early Thursday morning, the electricity of impending adventure filling the air in the house as we scrambled to eat a quick breakfast. We got to the train station with only 5 minutes to spare (perfect for traveling w/ a 4-yr-old, but Amanda would have been vomiting with angst). The ride up was gloriously uneventful. Alastair was delighted and maybe a touch bored with train travel, though he had to admit it was far more comfortable than going by car--he could get up, pee, play with toys, and even had a fold-down table for his snack!

That same manic energy pervaded at the thought of underground trains, and he was making hardened DC locals giggle at his continual announcements on the Metro that our stop was next.

We checked our bags at the hotel and wandered off to the Air & Space museum, only to realize upon entering that there was no coat-check, and that we would have to throw our lunch bag away if we wanted to enter. This was not an ideal solution, and neither was walking the 7 blocks back to the hotel, but walk we did. Now, a 4 year old can do 7 blocks. He can even do 14. But asking him to do 21 because you didn't realize you'd need to store your lunch bag makes him crabby & tired. It will also make you crabby & tired because at some point you'll be carrying him.

Ultimately we got to Air & Space, and his mind was blown. All the airplanes hanging from the ceilings were cool, but the walk-through exhibits left him gape-mouthed, and the rockets! The scale-model of the shuttle! Exploration of space and hands-on exhibits and...and...and...! We even spent the $14 to ride in the flight simulator, which got us off our feet for a while and was actually pretty convincing, if a touch nauseating.

That child spent 2 solid hours in Air & Space. Every time he'd ask if we could leave, his eyes would catch something else that he HAD to explore. And of course, we HAD to go check out the gift shop, where he got a little toy space shuttle that became the GREATEST TOY EVER (if only for 24 hours).

Exhausted, we walked back to the hotel again, ate our lunch, checked in, and I passed out cold for an hour while he played on the floor. Honestly, where does the energy come from?

After my nap, we took the Metro to the Natural History museum, where I'd promised dinosaur bones. This child--this 4 year old child--walks into the dinosaur exhibit and immediately begins accurately identifying skeletons. Skeletons! He'd never even seen bones in his whole life, but he's identifying bodies by bones. Holy junk!

It took some prodding to get him into other parts of the museum, because really: what can compete with dinosaur bones? But explore we did, and with some pretty awesome results. When he saw the right whale suspended above us, he immediately identified the seemingly-inverted jaw-structure. He watched a video on octopi and marveled at the cephalopod remains. We identified species from "Finding Nemo", including the giant jelly-fish. He had an AWESOME time.

Once again we hoofed it back to the hotel, got ready for dinner, and headed out to the District Chophouse to meet some very dear friends.

The District Chophouse, I must mention, is one of my favorite places in the world to eat. Amanda and I discovered it quite by accident on a trip to see Curve play at the 9:30 Club back in '98 or '99, and I have never been to DC again without stopping there for a meal. Amanda quite enjoyed it, too, just as she enjoyed trains, museums, and travel, so it was important to me that we eat there.

Alastair hated it.

Oh well.

After a delicious dinner, it was time to take the Metro one last time for the day, take a bath, and put a boy to bed. I went downstairs with the worst possible book in the entire history of the world, and proceeded to weep openly in the lobby. Pro tip: on the anniversary of your wife's death (esp. to cancer), DO NOT read The Art of Racing in the Rain.

Friday morning, we got up, headed downstairs to a really wonderful buffet breakfast, donned our swimgear, and headed out in the cold windy rain to the rooftop pool. Now, before you think I've completely lost my mind, it bears mentioning that this particular pool is both heated and enclosed within an inflatable structure, so I was not endangering my boy too much. We splashed around for about an hour before dashing our way back through the cold wind to prepare for our final museum: the American History musuem. And that's where the wheels came off.

I had made the mistake of telling him that there were trains, motorcycles, and race cars. Because dammit, there used to be race cars there. Oh, sure: there were 4 big, completely awesome trains, a bunch of old cars & motorcycles, a Mack Truck, and even a trolley, but I failed my child because there were no discernible race cars. We even found a helicopter there--something he'd desperately wanted to see (but didn't) at Air & Space--but no race cars.

And he let me know his dissatisfaction. For hours. Dear sweet Jesus, we have a fucking race car at home. One that he can crawl all over with NO repercussions. It's not roped off, it's not behind a glass wall. He can sit in it, wear my helmet, and flip all the switches. But there was no race car in the museum. STAB STAB STAB.


We got out of American History with less than an hour before our train back to RVA, high-tailed it back to the hotel, grabbed a quick McD's lunch, scrambled with our bags through two Metro lines, and got to Union Station with 10 minutes before our train boarded. Again, Amanda would be puking and probably not speaking to me, but with Alastair the timing couldn't be better.

And he passed out on my lap for about an hour of the ride.

And he wants to go back. We had a really great time, and he's been running his mouth to anyone who'll listen about all the awesome stuff he saw, and he's excited about the possibility of going back. AND he started getting really excited about going back to the beach, too. Every time we were in the hotel he'd start yammering about how much the room was like the one we had at the beach.

So I think it's gonna be an AWESOME year with my bold little adventurer. And I can't wait. All aboard!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


So now it's been a year. Tomorrow will mark the anniversary of her death, but today marks the anniversary of our last conversation. You'd have to rewind all the way back to March 7 to find the anniversary of our last embrace, and somewhere in the middle of that is Alastair's last
physical contact with his mother.

Last night I found several old videos that I'd forgotten taking. They covered Alastair's birth, our first overnight trip with him, and one perfectly serene video of them gibbering at each other.

To say that I was upset would severely undersell the sentiment. I'm very good at repressing memories and emotions, but when they well up, they do it with a vengeance. And now, for the first time in a long time, I feel lost again. Rudderless and alone.

Tomorrow Alastair and I are taking the train to DC. We're gonna distract the hell out of ourselves with trains, subways, museums, rich food, friends, and swimming. Then Friday we're coming back after doing EVEN MORE museums.

Saturday I'm running the Ukrop's Monument Ave 10K in Amanda's memory. A number of truly fabulous people have contributed to my fund-raising efforts (and you can, too!), and a bunch of folks are also running in her memory.

I'm touched and deeply grateful for all the support and prayers of the last two years. I'm grateful to be super busy at work. I'm grateful for my boy and all the joy he brings me. I'm grateful for 14 1/2 years with a beautiful, smart, sassy lady.

Miss you, 'Manda.

Friday, March 19, 2010

19 Days? Really?

Has it really been that long since I last posted?

The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind. The sun came out and dried up all the rain. The boy's been in a great mood. Facebook Scrabble occupies HOURS of my night. And of course there's the Wii. Oh, and it bears mentioning that my weekends have been off the chizzain.

And work? Oh my God I've rarely been so busy. I'm in the middle of several pilot deployments right now: Google Apps, WebSense hosted security, SAML 2.0 Single Sign-On. And since we're investigating SSO, it's causing us to re-think our login processes for other hosted solutions.

We're booting our offsite backup storage vendor, too, so that's a major overhaul in the works. And, as if all that weren't enough, I'm rolling out Active Directory to new international sites AND I'm still the only dude supporting the servers.

Busy much?

But it's good, because I'm too busy to let my head really wrap around the fact that it's March.

I have the 10K coming up next weekend, and I had to take almost the last month off from training because of a worsening back problem, but yesterday I got my first chance to run on the street. And that's when the emotions really broadsided me. I was less than half a mile from the end of my foreshortened run when I started tearing up. The emotion of WHY I'm running this thing took over. The fact that I was listening to a sad song about lost love probably didn't help,

So anyway, there's all my excuses for not posting. I would promise a post for the anniversary, but I will be out of town visiting museums with a very special boy. But I'll try.

Hope everybody had a good St. Patrick's Day. I drank far less than I should have, but hopefully I can correct that this weekend.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Odd little weekend

First a big shout to all the Jibans. You guys rock.

We've had a big week. Last weekend was action-packed, we saw the doctor on Thursday, and Alastair got to see a movie on Friday night.

We started Saturday morning bright & early with a trip to the dyno. I've had the Miata for 4 years and never once stopped to actually check the motor. Alastair helped out by getting up early, eating his breakfast really well, and generally being very amenable to the morning's activity (we watched one pull before he asked to go back into the relatively quiet office, where he got to play with the shop puppy).

Then it was off to the Little Gym for "Bring a Friend" week. Alastair's friend Kaden met us there, and they had such a great time playing together. It's fun to watch them play in an environment where you're not really responsible for their behavior.

But then lunch was an absolute chore. We went to Panera, where he took forever-and-a-day to eat a sandwich, twice as long to eat his yogurt, and then dropped most of his cookie on the floor. He wasn't happy, and his unhappiness made me unhappy, so nap time was most welcome.

I dropped him off at his Grammy's after nap and headed down to Williamsburg for a night of bowling (followed by an afternoon of karting).

The boy I picked up yesterday afternoon was the same bad-mood boy I dropped off, augmented by a bad spill he took on the driveway as we left. And a runny nose. Oh joy, we're gonna be sick again.

Toys R Us, Mexican for dinner (sopapillas for dessert), and a bit of Mario Kart before bed.

A fairly busy weekend, so really it wasn't surprising that we got on each others' nerves a bit.

But then we both woke up with nightmares this morning, and he's been coughing horribly all day. My nightmare consisted of me being in a group therapy session (something I've never done), puling about how much I wish I'd been there in Amanda's last conscious moments. The therapist then asked me if there were any two or three things Amanda could have said to me that would have been life-changing. In other words, could my having been there have really made a big difference?

And it's been on my mind all day. I suppose I wish she could have explicitly named the school she wanted him to attend, but if I'd been there, would I have been quick to call her parents, or would I have pulled the plug too soon, thereby robbing them of the opportunity to say their goodbyes? But really, the way it went down is the way it needed to. Her father was there, and he's much more level-headed in those types of scenarios than I am. He was able to make the necessary calls and arrangements.

Why this would wake me up in a cold sweat is truly vexing. It's perfectly rational stuff to wonder--it's not like I was dreaming of being chased by an ax-wielding madman.

Alastair's nightmare was that Vivienne had died. He woke up extremely upset that she was gone, and I curled up in the bed with him and assured him that she was just fine, that she wouldn't die for a long long time.

I'm not really sure what to make of this. I'm guessing our choreographed nightmares are as much a result of our dietary choices as anything else, but the fact is that he's been talking about death more and more. I hadn't seriously considered putting him into counseling because most of it is geared for slightly older children, but given how much of his time it seems to take up, he might be ready for more help than I can provide in understanding the meaning of death.

Friday, February 26, 2010

What a difference a year makes, ahamos edition

This week last year was one of hope, travel, and possibility. Just like this year, it began with a birthday party for one of Alastair's friends, but that's where the similarities end.

I had just started a new job. Just over a month into it, I was learning the ropes and still putting names to faces. I'd done a ton of learning in a short time, and it energized me. I like what I do when it's full of challenge and growth.

Alastair had just turned 3.

I was putting the finishing touches on the race car, truck, and trailer in anticipation of a March 1 track event.

And Amanda was en route to Houston to begin clinical trials.

The energy in the house was amazing. She was still hoarse, and not thrilled about leaving her boy(s), but the prospect of a medical team that wasn't about to write her off--one that might have real results to offer instead of just maintenance--put her in pretty good spirits.

We were in a good place.

Sunday Alastair and I went to the same party. And that night he had a night terror (and another one last night).

He talks about death a lot now. He's adamant that he doesn't want either of us to ever die.

I've been at my job for over a year, and the shiny has largely worn off.

Racing season starts soon, and I've done nothing. Absolutely nothing. I've seriously considered selling all of it, but since I've pre-paid for 4 events, I guess that's not a really viable option.

But I don't feel like I'm depressed, so much as I feel like this is just winter blahs. It's hard to say.

The widow I recently met stirred up a lot of emotion that I thought was long-settled. I certainly don't blame her for it--they're emotions that I've put off or simply ignored for far too long.

And even now, almost a year later, I still don't know how to properly express them. My feelings are like one of those crazy fish balls: thousands of fish swimming in a tight and nigh impenetrable ball. Only what predators do I have to worry about? The tuna of conscience? The shark of responsibility?

At Alastair's check-up yesterday I was asked if he'd been lead-tested. I realized that I had no idea. Not because I'd never been told, but because that, like so many other details of our lives, was something I could always rely on Amanda to remember.

I'm rehashing stuff I've said before. And I'm guessing I will again.

I miss my wife.

What my mom did

I feel like I've told this story here before, but in my 18.3 second search of previous posts, I couldn't find it. Seems a bit bass-ackward that I'd spend more time re-typing than searching, but that's how I roll.

So last year, a week after Amanda's memorial service, my mom had her annual Easter party. She does it up pretty big, with Easter egg hunts, tractor rides, horse rides, play-fishing, and other random "only at the farm" events. It was fun for us in '08, and was the last event we did as a family with Alastair before the hospitalizations began.

I told her we'd try to make it, but after mom's arm-clenching at the service (she wouldn't let me out of her sight for almost an hour after the service was over) I just didn't want to deal with her. So we went to the Monument Avenue Easter Parade instead. It's fun and decidedly less stressful.

See, mom tends to make everything about her. Last summer--oh goodness, I guess now I mean summer-before-last--when she came to visit Amanda in the hospital, my dad was there. Mom didn't feel like she got the personal attention SHE deserved, so she left. The day after Amanda died, I called to share the bad news, and she boo-hoo-hooed for several minutes on end about how much this affected HER. How upsetting it was to HER. Then she showed up at the airport after being expressly asked not to, and made me drive her weepy self all around the airport parking lot because "in her sorrow" she'd forgotten where she parked.

And did I mention she was high at the service? She's been high for every service we've both attended for, well, probably all of my life. She was high at her dad's, high at her mom's.

Anyway, I didn't want to deal with her fruitcakery on Easter. BFD, get over it.

So when we got back from the parade, I called to apologize for not coming. I got a 20-minute lecture on how disappointing it was that we abandoned her on her biggest day of the year. Mind you, Amanda had been dead for less than 3 weeks. Then she hit me with the big 'un: "You know, you're lucky Amanda died so you'll never have to know the pain of divorce."


Ok, seriously?


We haven't spoken since. Now, that's not exactly abnormal for our "relationship". Several times we've let almost a year pass without communication, but I feel no desire to ever speak to her again. Every time we speak, it's poison to my soul.

Amanda and I had long-since agreed (actually before Alastair's birth) that mom would never have unsupervised time with Alastair. Her lies are so thick and told with such sincerity that they were hard for me to unravel--I will not have that pain inflicted upon my son. In the wake of such a charming encounter, I see no reason for her to ever be allowed to speak to him. Supervised or not, her presence is toxic.

I resent my mother.

Where to begin?!

I worry a lot about what kind of father I am.

Alastair is a great child. Really, he is. He's easy-going, well-mannered, and very gentle. He apologizes for his wrongs, shares well, and tells me all the time how much he loves me.

So I feel bad when I reprimand him, but then I wonder if maybe the reprimanding is why he's so well-behaved. It's a catch-22: I want to be lax and non-restrictive with him, but that is exactly what I think leads to ill behavior. I distinctly recall some early interactions with my mother as being very negative, and I don't want him growing up afraid of me, but I also don't want him growing up with today's whacked-out sense of entitlement. Respect must be earned. Privileges may be revoked. These are truths of life, and treating a child like a prince or princess will not prepare them for the world.

On the other hand, I want my little boy to be my little prince forever. I shower him with love and hugs and affection. He's all I have, and the only reason I'm still even remotely sane after 11 months without Amanda. Hell, he's probably the only reason I didn't kill myself after she died.

So I hate myself whenever I'm short with him. TV shows and movies don't help, where they always show a father and son who've grown distant. I couldn't bear to be distant from him.

And yet he apologized to me the other day for "always making me angry." Oh how I died inside! Have I become what I fear most? Overbearing and unyielding? I try to pick my battles carefully, and I told him that he doesn't always make me angry--that I only get upset with him when he doesn't listen (just like his sitters, his grandparents, and everyone else in his life). And my being upset is nowhere near as vehement as it was a few months ago.

I've said before that this is going to be Alastair's year. I mean it. He's not gonna be little for much longer, and I don't want to miss a moment. We got a Wii recently, and now, in addition to our nightly monster truck racing and wrestling, we try to sneak in a game of Mario Kart or a bit of flying in Sports Resort. He loves it, and both games force me to relax and let him just be a crazy little kid.

And this morning he learned that what works in the games does not always work in the real world. In Mario Kart, it's just fine to slam into things. In the kitchen, on his Lightning McQueen ride-on, slamming into things hurts his crotch. So yay for learning!

Right now my poor little guy is suffering from a bit of a fever. Yesterday he had his 4-year checkup, and he had to get 4 shots, including his MMR, which made me the sickest I've ever been in my life. But he got great marks everywhere else, weighing in at 41lbs and measuring 41.125" tall. His vision is like mine: 20/30, and he's my sweet angel.

I love my boy.

Please Stand By...We're Experiencing Emotional Difficulty

I have so very much to say, and on so very many things, that I let the day go by without posting anything. Mind you, February 25 did not go by unnoticed, and my heart has been heavy.

I love my boy, I resent my mother, I miss my wife. There's more, but that's the crux of what's been on my mind.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

M-M-M-Monster Jam! Thunder Nationals!

Yup. I did it. Put aside my high-brow tastes and took Alastair to see the monster trucks. And ya know what? It was pretty awesome.

I made a decision a few weeks ago that 2010 will be Alastair's year. Last year we didn't do very much. I let our Children's Museum membership lapse, we did one trip to the beach, and hit Busch Gardens on the hottest day of the year. But this year he's old enough to really get excited about exploring new things, so we're gonna try to pack it all in and see what works and what doesn't.

It's gonna rock hard core.

He's been watching the monster trucks on TV for the last two years or so. He has at least 50 of the toy trucks, a monster truck ramp, and a rotating platform smash & crash stadium thing-a-ma-bob. So when I found out they were coming, I bought tickets. Nosebleed section, just in case the show scared him.

He had toys of 2 of the trucks that were there, so he brought those with him, along with a fancy set of headphones that he never took off his head ("Daddy, I'm gonna keep my headphones on the whole time. I promise.").

And to be honest, the monster trucks themselves were perhaps a bit anticlimactic. He can't play with the real ones, they're really loud, and he'd seen 'em on TV. The only thing the live experience could add was the nauseating smell of exhaust and tire smoke. But the jet-powered go-karts, now THOSE caught his attention. And the battling robots? Oh, yeah.

But the absolute best part of the whole show was the R/C monster trucks. There was something of an intermission during which a few dudes brought out some really high-dollar R/C trucks--the kind that really do go about 60mph. They set up ramps and one of them was able to jump all the way over 5 cars while doing two back-flips. And the crowd went wild. More so than for the real trucks, honestly.

As it was winding down, Alastair started to get kind of tired of the whole show, and told me that he wanted to go. Turns out we were watching the last truck do its last performance, so he made it through the whole show. Good for you, buddy! Then we got as close as we could to one that was parked near our seats, and I got a great picture of him grinning like a loon in front of it.

If you have a young boy, go see the daggone monster trucks. And make them wear hearing protection--those go-karts made the whole building shake, and when the monster trucks do donuts, it's positively deafening.

Next up: the circus!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

My Thoughts on Lost S6 Premiere

I've not seen these ideas discussed elsewhere (but frankly I'm too lazy to look much farther than the first 20 comments on Pajiba), so here are some randoms:

1. Jack recognized Desmond not because his mind is splintering, but because they have met before. When Jack was running up and down the bleachers in that stadium, they chatted briefly. Long before Desmond went sailing around the world. AND HOLY MOTHERFUCKING SHIT, YOU GUYS!!!!! DESMOND IS WEARING A WEDDING BAND! You only catch it in a couple of frames, when he's standing to let Jack into the seat, but it does flash brightly.

2. But maybe Jack's mind really is splintering, a la Daniel Farraday and Desmond Hume.

3. Fake Locke / Smoke-Monster wants to go home. He is, however, hundreds of years old, so home cannot be so simple as "Paris" or "Madrid". It has to be some place unaffected by the passage of time. Hell? Possibly. Heaven? Equally possible. If so, then Jacob is (was) either an angel sent to keep him trapped or a demon sent for the same purpose. Odds seem likely that Jacob was an angel, given FL/SM's conniving efforts to escape through the centuries.

If FL/SM is a demon, and the island was an energy prison of some sort, that would explain the need to continuously move it, as God would seek to protect man from the evil, yet man's fall from grace would also explain the continuous need to seek it out.

Sorry to drop the obvious heavy-handed religious themes here, but either Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse are the smartest two guys in the whole history of story-telling, or it's gonna go Matrix on us. I don't see any other way out.

4. Richard Alpert. FL/SM said he was glad to see him out of those chains. Was Alpert a slave on the Black Rock? This I have seen covered, but it seems unlikely to me. I've long thought Alpert was a crew-man on the ship, that Jacob was its captain, and that at some point there was a serious mutiny. There are not other "others", but two groups that can both trace their history to that one ship. Those who served, and those who mutinied.

5. The split time-line. I can't be the only person who noticed that the 2004 non-survivor passengers are being forced together in spite of their good landing. There are threads tying them all together, and I'm curious to see whether or not they need the island physically to be forced into interaction. Perhaps the differences in the alternate time-line were imposed by whatever energy/spirit/whatever in order to produce the same results. Sort of a manifest destiny, if you will.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Everything hurts

Epic snow-pocalypse #2 for this wintry season, #3 in the last 12 months. Richmond, as a rule, just doesn't get snow. We're nestled between the mountains and the ocean, and most big systems either stall out in the mountains or sweep just north of us. But we've had 3 snow-storms with accumulation in less than a year, with more expected this weekend. Holy crap.

Since it doesn't snow much here, there's not much call for having fancy snow-toys. Yeah, sure: we have an inherited old sled (the kind with the wooden deck and metal rails), but it's heavy, doesn't glide well on anything other than packed powder, and requires maintenance. Screw that!

When it does snow, the 3 or 4 places in town that stock toboggans are inundated with requests. I didn't want to be "that guy", and I knew my little boy was statistically unlikely to see much more of the white powdery stuff around town too terribly often, so I splurged.

Wednesday of last week, I ordered these two pieces of pure awesome:

For Alastair, the Zipfy Freestyle Mini Luge. It's bigger than it looks, but still by far the smallest thing out there on the slopes. Alastair had little trouble keeping it upright, and was actually doing some moderate steering by the end of the weekend.

We did find another little boy who had one, and we got to do some racing.

For me, the Flexible Flyer PT Blaster. This one is actually smaller than it looks. I had thought--based on some reviews--that I'd be able to put Alastair in front of me, but that turned out to be extremely cramped.

This things FLIES. Holy crap. No seriously: holy crap. It was the fastest thing out there, went farther than anything else, and could steer. Everyone who rode it raved about it. You should buy one.

My in-laws kept Alastair most of the weekend, taking him Friday night and keeping him thru Sunday afternoon, so I got a chance to try out both sleds before taking him out (didn't want to trudge all the way out only to realize they were both duds). But when we did get out, whoa.

I was scared to let him go down by himself the first time, since almost all hills in Richmond end with creeks, so I tried running down the hill beside him. I was able to stay right at his side at almost a full run, but at the bottom of the hill, I didn't correct for the flat ground and face-planted. Not wanting my son to get his first exposure to freezing water, I flung my arms out like a diving football player and managed to catch him as my face hit the snow. TOUCHDOWN!! And the crowd went wild--literally. I got cheers for my save.

We moved over to another area with a longer run-out and spent over two hours trudging up and down, trading toboggans, and having THE BEST TIME EVER. He got the hang of his mini-luge in a hurry, and we didn't leave the park 'til after dusk.

Monday I had to stay home with him because the babysitters were unavailable. I needed to get a bit of work done, so I figured we should try Forest Hill Park (I'd heard good things about the crowd-levels and quality of hills there). Man o man is that place out of control! Mostly in a good way, but still a bit bonkers.

Their snow has been packed into moguls on one side, and nearly-flat surfaces on the other. Of course Alastair was drawn to the moguls. So here's my son, not yet 24-hours into his first sledding adventure of his whole 4-year life, jumping moguls. Fairly successfully, too. Sure, he fell plenty of times, but he also landed that Zipfy like a pro. Twice he mashed his face into the snow, and both times came up grinning like a loon. The first time was good enough to elicit cheers from the crowd. He'd gone straight down like a rifle-shot, hit a small mogul, launched off a larger one, flew sideways through the air, and came down pretty hard. There was a collective gasp from the crowd when he launched, and cheers when he sat up (with snow mashed behind his sunglasses). No tears, no whining. He just rubbed his head and said "ow", grabbed his luge, and headed back to the top. My kid is hard-core.

After an extremely late nap, we dashed back to Bryan Park to get in as much more fun as we could before the cops closed the park, and with temps in the 40's and 3 days of sledding behind it, the hill was slick and fast. FAST. And extremely dangerous. Alastair got clobbered by an adult at the bottom of the hill. Solid hit to the ribs that flattened him. He did not get up quickly, and when he did, oh boy was there some crying. The guy felt awful, but really it was Alastair's fault: he likes to sit at the end of his runs and relish the moment. Everybody understands that it's the responsibility of the walkers to get out of the way of the sleds. Everybody but my son.

But after that, he got it. And we found that little boy who had the other Zipfy, and the three of us had race after race after race. Alastair is fast and stable on that thing, but in a race he looks around too much. One time he careered into the other little boy, cutting him off and making him fall. Alastair "won" that race, but I'm pretty sure he should have been penalized.

Again we sledded until it was too dark to do so safely, and I hauled his wet tired butt out of the park on my sled.

My ass hurts, I'm exhausted, and they're calling for more snow this weekend. Hells yes.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Jason's Deli

I can't for the life of me figure out why I go there. Every time I do, I end up crying.

The day after I got to Houston, Amanda and I trekked out to do some window-shopping. We stopped at Jason's Deli for lunch--neither of us had ever eaten there, and we were FAMISHED. I had a muffaletta, which I'd loved so much at Central Grocery on our trip to NOLA, and we had a great day. An exhausting day, even for me--I can't imagine how much so for her.

And that was the last time we ever ate out at a restaurant together.

Sure, we hit the hotel restaurant on my last night, but that really wasn't eating out, not in the same way that actually leaving the building is. Just like eating at the rodeo really wasn't eating--anyway, you get the point.

So there's a Jason's Deli near work, and I stop there every once in a while for a quarter-muff. They're all decorated exactly the same, so just sitting down at the table transports me back instantly: Amanda sitting at my left, hot & tired from a 2+ mile walk on a very sunny day, us running our mouths trying desperately to avoid discussing her condition.

And as if that weren't enough to undo me every time, yesterday there was a family with a 18-month-old boy sitting near me. He was so cute from behind, with his little toddler mannerisms, and I realized that I'd blinked and missed my son's last couple of years. He's 4 now. How did that happen?

And the man behind me is telling his mother about what matters in life, that money is great and all, but that time is the most valuable asset. Time. How it slips away!

So there I was, trying not to get choked up about Amanda or my no-longer-toddler, when the little boy turned around and I realized he had Down's Syndrome. And I realized that I'd never seen a really young child with Down's, and how many challenges that little boy would face, and I couldn't handle it. I came completely unglued.