I have officially re-joined the ranks of the (slightly) visually-impaired. About 5 years ago, I had LASIK done to correct my very terrible vision, and it was great. I tested at 20/20 and loved not having to deal with glasses or contacts anymore. However, LASIK does not prevent the continual deterioration of vision that most people experience - it only resets your vision to what it should be. So, after 5 years, I've finally come to the point that I need some help with seeing things clearly from a distance again.
My eyes are still not all that bad - I can drive and do most things just fine, but I can't always read the small street signs or everything on the screen in a meeting. I think they tested me at about 20/50. So, I went ahead and got some glasses, and I'll wear them as needed. I'm still glad I had the LASIK done, even though it doesn't "last" forever, because my eyes would be horrible by now if I hadn't. I may even do it again in a couple of years. We'll see.
In other news around the Kelso house, we have been busy preparing for Christmas. I decorated the house with some lights this year, and I think it looks pretty good for my first try at it. I've never done any outdoor lighting before, and I didn't totally "Grizwald*" the house (as my neighbor says), but I tried to do it up right.
We had a Christmas party at our house last weekend for our Sunday School class, and I think it was a great success. Almost everyone in the class showed up, and we had good food, a gag gift exchange, and played some games. It was really nice to get to know some of the newer couples. We've started to see some good growth in our class lately, and hopefully that will continue next year.
We have a couple more parties to attend this week, starting with a party at my boss' house tonight, a breakfast at work on Wednesday for the whole department, and then a dinner with the MTUG on Thursday night. After that (probably Saturday), we head to Michigan to spend Christmas with Mary's dad and some of her extended family. I'm sure there will be more Christmastime gatherings up there.
I really hope we get some snow while we are in Michigan, because I'd like to take Owen sledding. He's never really seen a heavy covering of snow, and even if he had, I doubt he'd remember it. We haven't had much snow in Nashville the last couple of years.
The only bummer lately (aside from another quick trip to Boston last week) is that I've been suffering from allergies, and it's worse than usual this year. I've got a lot of congestion in my throat and nose, and my voice is about half gone. I haven't been able to sleep very well, so I'm tired on top of it all. I just don't feel very well in general. I've started taking some stuff for it in the last couple of days, so hopefully it will clear up before we make our trip north.
Other than that, though, I can't complain. Things are good. We are blessed. Busy, but very blessed.
* This is a reference to the movie National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. If you have not seen it, stop what you are doing and go rent it right now. Really. Get going.
We had a great trip to Florida for Thanksgiving week. It was too short, of course - we always end up wishing we could stay a couple more days - but it was a fun time and fairly relaxing.
We left Nashville on Sunday after church and headed down through Alabama to see my grandparents in Tallahassee. Aside from a construction delay, it was a fairly easy trip, and we got there in about 8 1/2 hours. The only real concern was when we stopped at a Taco Bell to get something to eat, and I heard the employees discussing the fact that they had just moments earlier been robbed at gunpoint! It made me glad we had the construction delay.
We spent the night in Tallahassee, and after visiting with my grandparents through lunchtime and then stopping to see my aunt and cousin at work, we got back in the new van for the rest of our trip. Ivan was not too happy to be back in his car seat so soon after the long drive the day before, but we survived and made it to my parents' house in time for dinner Monday night.
On Tuesday, we didn't do much in the morning, but headed down to Lakeside Village for some shopping (mostly by the women) in the afternoon, and ate dinner at BD's Mongolian Grill. It's a lot like Genghis Grill, which is one of my favorite places to eat.
That evening, we had our family Christmas, since we probably won't see my side of the family in December. Our kids got lots of toys, which would not have fit in our car (thank goodness for the new van!), and I got a toy of my own - a very small, lightweight remote controlled helicopter. We had so much fun with it that my brother went and bought one (only $30 at Toys-R-Us!) and we flew them both in the garage to the amusement of (just about) everyone.
On Wednesday, we relaxed in the morning (do you see a pattern here?) and then left just before lunch to head over to the Tampa area. We ate lunch in Ybor City at the Columbia Restaurant and it was oh so good. I think just about everyone had the Cuban Sandwich with a side of black bean or Spanish bean soup, and we followed up with churros and guava cheesecake. And of course, the Cuban bread was excellent.
After a great meal, we went to the Florida Aquarium, which is one of my favorite places to visit. As Mary has already mentioned in her blog, I asked about a discount from our Nashville Zoo membership (the zoo being part of the AZA and having reciprocal benefits relationships with some of the other members) and didn't really expect to get much, but it was a significant savings. I think we paid $15.50 instead of over $50 for Mary, Owen, and me (Ivan got in free). I was glad I asked! The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga only gives us a couple of dollars off, but I think that's because it's so close and they expect to have a lot more Nashville Zoo members take advantage of the discount.
Anyway, Owen seemed to have a good time at the aquarium. I tried to get some pictures of him in front of the glass, but the lighting was low and he wouldn't hold still (you'd think he was a 3-year-old or something). He really giggled when we went by the otters and also at the stingray pool, where they come right up and splash you with their fins.
Outside the aquarium, they have a playground, which is probably a lot more fun in the summer months (they have a lot of water-based activities that were turned off). We did get some photos of Owen running around and playing out there - including riding the surfboard with Uncle Keith.
On Thursday, of course, we celebrated Thanksgiving, and Mom and her family did an awesome job as usual. The food was excellent and we had a nice time visiting with everyone - I have several cousins who I pretty much only see once a year at either Thanksgiving or Christmas. After lunch and some helicopter flying we took turns riding my brother's new scooter. Even my mom and my aunt took a ride on it. The weather, which had been a little cool earlier in the week, was beautiful on Thursday and Friday.
Since all the family was already there, we had a little birthday party for Ivan on Thursday night. He was thoroughly enjoying his cake when my mom decided to give him a strawberry. After all that sweet cake and icing, I guess the strawberry was pretty sour, because he puckered up real good and looked at us all like "what in the world did you just give me?". Of course, we just laughed and took lots of pictures. After a while, though, he got over it, ate some more cake, and then opened his gifts with a little help from big brother.
On (Black) Friday, I pretty much wanted to avoid any type of retail establishment. Mary had gotten a shirt that was the wrong size, so she went out with my mom to exchange that, but the guys (Dad, my brothers, and the kids) stayed at the house and watched some old Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes and played a little cards while the boys napped.
That night, we met up with one of my oldest friends, Shane, and his wife and their two boys. We took all the kids to Chuck E. Cheese's, and if I could sum up that place in one word, it would be "loud". Owen seemed to enjoy it for the most part, though. We played a few games, including driving a race car that he enjoyed, and he rode some rides. They also had a kid-sized air hockey table, so I had to run out and get the camera to take some photos of Owen and Landon playing air hockey. They didn't totally know what they were supposed to be doing, but they knew enough to hit the puck back and forth and had a good time doing it.
Saturday morning, we got up early to start the long drive home. I wasn't sure how bad traffic might be on the holiday weekend, but I was hoping most people would wait until Sunday to travel home. It moved pretty well until we got into the Atlanta area, where it got very thick and slowed down. Up to that point, we had only stopped once for gas, so we hadn't eaten lunch yet (mainly because the boys were sleeping and we wanted to take advantage of the peace - those of you who have traveled with kids know what I'm talking about).
We saw a sign for "Truett's Grill", with a Chick-Fil-A logo underneath it, so we thought we would check that out and see what it was. It turned out to be a really nice 50's-style diner that served Chick-Fil-A food and a lot more. The decor in there was incredible - it was full of old cars, both life-sized and scale models, and had a model train running on an elevated track around the whole restaurant (which, of course, Owen loved). I spoke to one of the employees and he said that S. Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-Fil-A, lived right around the corner and often stopped in there on Saturdays. I would have loved to meet him, but he didn't come in while we were there. It was a very neat place, though, and I recommend that anyone traveling through or around Atlanta stop in at one of the Truett's Grill locations (I think there are 3).
We spent a longer time there than we usually spend for lunch when traveling, but once we got through Atlanta, the traffic was light, so we still made it home at a decent hour and got unpacked and put the boys to bed. As much as we enjoyed our time in Florida, we were all very happy to be home.
Earlier this month, I flew to San Francisco for the Business Objects Americas User Conference, which I have attended almost every year since 2000. It used to be the International User Conference, but starting this year they have split it into two conferences - one in the US and one in Europe. It was kindof a bummer, because I've built some friendships with a few people from the U.K. that I didn't get to see this year.
Aside from that, though, the trip was a good one. I got a lot of good information out of the conference during the day, and in the evenings we were able to get out and see parts of San Francisco and eat some good food.
The weather was great while we were there, and we did a lot of walking. My hotel was a couple of blocks from the conference center, so fortunately, it didn't rain much at all and the temperatures were in the 70's.
The first night, we went down to Fisherman's Warf, and found a small Italian seafood restaurant. I was already full from the food provided at the conference, but I had some lobster bisque in a bread bowl, and it was tasty. We walked down to Pier 39 where you can see a large gathering of Sea Lions. They smell bad and make lots of noise.
Evening number two, we rode the cable car and stopped at the top of Lombard Street, which is "America's crookedest street". There were a lot of hills in that part of town, so you can get some good views of different parts of the city while giving your calf muscles a good workout. From there we walked down a steep road to Ghirardelli Square for dinner and ice cream.
Evening number three was the conference party, held at the Regency Center, and it was pretty cool. There were three levels of theaters, with tons of food and different entertainment in each. We spent most of our time listening to a jazz band on the top level. There was a bar made out of a solid block of ice, and they were serving ice cream cones out of it - including mango ice cream. Mmmm... mango...
The last day of the conference ended just early enough that we could drive out to the Golden Gate Bridge as the sun was going down. A consultant that we have worked with rented a car just for the occasion. I didn't get any good sunset pictures (just missed it), but there was enough light for us to drive across and up on the bluff overlooking the bridge and the city, and take a few pictures from there before going into Sausalito for some Thai food. Pictured here is Bob, on the right, and one of my co-workers, Kevin, on the left (believe it or not, that photo and the one at the top were taken well after the sun went down). There were two more of my co-workers at the conference, but they elected to leave the conference early and catch flights home instead of staying the last night.
My flight home left from Oakland, and I was fortunate enough to get a window seat on the side of the airplane facing San Francisco as we took off. I got several good photos of the city from the air, and in the closer ones I can find my hotel, the conference center, and many of the places we stopped (the photos don't quite have the same impact when shrunk down to fit on this page).
Even though it was a "business trip", it was nice to get out of town and away from the office for a while. I'd love to go back there sometime when I can actually have some time during the day to see more of the city and visit some of the landmarks. And of course, it would be great to have Mary and the boys there to enjoy it with me.
Yes, it's true. I did the unthinkable this month - I traded in my Miata. But I didn't just trade it in - I traded it in for a minivan. It's the ultimate sign of conversion to responsible adult (or insanity, depending on how you look at it).
Now, before you picture me driving a minivan to work each day, that's not what's happening. Mary is primarily driving the minivan, and I'm driving the Protege5 that I bought for Mary several years ago. When I bought that car, I knew that eventually we would need something bigger, and that the practical thing to do once we had multiple kids would be to get rid of the 2-seat convertible. So, I have always intended to drive the Protege5 at some point. It's a sporty little car, and fun to drive, so it's not like I'm suffering. In a lot of ways, it's better for the commute to work (automatic transmission, more quiet, roomier), and since winter is upon us, I will not miss the convertible for some time.
I'm sure I will miss it at some point, though. I could have kept it if I really wanted to. Mary would have been willing to trade in her car for the van, or we could have kept three cars (I didn't get that much for the 10-year-old Miata anyway), but I decided it was the responsible thing to do, knowing that I have plenty of time to get another "fun" car one day (my dad just recently bought himself an old Miata).
I really like the van we got, though. It's a Mazda MPV, and although it's a 2005, it was still "new" on the lot. I have always said I wouldn't buy a new car because of the instant depreciation once it becomes "used" (when you drive it off the lot), but since the dealer really wanted to get rid of their last 2005, they gave us a great deal on it, and I basically got it for the "used" 2005 price, but with a "new" warranty (4 years, 100,000 miles).
We did look at a couple of used vans (a Toyota and a Honda), but they were actually more expensive than this one, so it was hard to pass up the deal on a new vehicle. Also, Mary really likes the "Razor Blue" color. It doesn't have all the high-tech features (powered doors, DVD player, etc.), but it does have a few extras like tinted windows, and every MPV has the third-row-seat that folds into the floor, which is great for trips.
One of the reasons we wanted to get something this month is all the travel we have planned for the holidays. We drove the van down to Florida for Thanksgiving, and it was so nice to have the extra room and comfort on the trip. In a few weeks, we'll be going to Michigan for Christmas, and I'm actually looking forward to the drive.
The really funny thing is that some friends of ours have an MPV, and also had a Mazda 626. The day after we bought our MPV, they traded their 626 for a Protege5, so not only do we both have two Mazdas, we now have the same two Mazdas. At least they are different colors...
A lot has been going on and I'm in need of an update here, so this is my promise to write about the following:
I will write about these things in the next week. Including pictures. Honest.
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