Archive: July, 2013

The new Puzzoni world headquarters

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 28, 2013, 10:59 PM | comments: 0

The 2009 do-over continued today when we bought a house. Well, not buy one, technically, but put the money down to fire up a contract to build one. That didn't take very long.

Now that it's all in motion, it seems like the perfectly rational and obvious thing to do. It wasn't obvious to us at first, because we were very much stuck in the world of moving in 2009 to Seattle. To recap, we moved to Seattle that year with two unsold houses and a mountain of debt. Houses in the area we liked, specifically Snoqualmie, were nearly $150 per square foot, and that was one of the less expensive areas. Basically, there was no chance of us buying anything for years. Even renting was a buck per square foot per month.

It's a different world now. No houses to sell (mine is pending, technically), no real debt, prices around $100/sq. ft. Honestly, it had not occurred to either one of us that we could buy or build a house here until after we committed to the move. When I started to work the numbers, it didn't take long to realize that the monthly cost of buying was at or below what rent would be. So while you certainly have to put a big wad of cash down to buy, the monthly cash flow works to your advantage to buy, especially if you can minimize the closing costs.

The area that we so quickly grew fond of has quite a bit of stuff on the market, none of it lasting on the market very long. It's mostly new, less than 10 years. But there's also a lot of new construction going on. Diana and I have said since we got married that when we would finally buy a house, we wanted it to be uniquely ours, so building makes a lot of sense.

Getting to this decision seemed pretty casual overall, but I think that was largely because it just made more financial sense. If you don't count the down payment, it's going to cost less monthly to buy the house than it is to rent the place we just moved into, and we'll have about a third more space. We negotiated the closing costs down to almost nothing, so we won't piss away too much on that. The only real negative is that we're putting down only 14%, so we'll probably be paying PMI, which is totally pissing away money, for a year or two until we make some extra payments toward the principal, and/or the house appraises to 20% equity. Mind you, even with the PMI, we'll pay less than typical rent in the area.

We decided on a two-story house, clocking in at 2,667 square feet. Truth be told, that's a lot of space for a family of three. That said, we had several goals in mind. First, Diana and I both want work spaces. Our hobbies are also side jobs, and we really want space to follow those pursuits. The layout of the house is pretty flexible in that sense, so we'll be able to work without being on top of each other. Simon will have plenty of space as well. And of course, the floor plan is very open around the kitchen. It's really a beautiful living space.

On the space issue, we couldn't have scored even 2,000 sq. ft. in Seattle for the same money. So it's hard to say if we over did or not. We won't be house poor, which was the first and most important consideration. I think we indulged a little, but we didn't go overboard. The lawn and pest control is provided by the HOA, which also operates a beautiful club house with a pool and splash pad. Oh, and we'll hopefully be able to see fireworks from Magic Kingdom every night from Simon's room or the loft area.

We've got about six months to watch it go up. In the mean time, I have to do the mess of paperwork and documentation for the loan approval. We're "prequalified," but of course I have to prove I actually make what I do. Exciting times!


Settling in

posted by Jeff | Saturday, July 27, 2013, 10:55 PM | comments: 0

We're sitting on our couch tonight feeling a little more like we live here. Diana has been like a whirlwind the last three days, nailing down the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. All I've really done is setup the TV and my office in that time. We've got boxes around, but we feel like we have a functional house at this point.

Of course, we're already looking at our next move. We've had to change our outlook, because we have a Seattle mindset, where you need to spend $400k for a decent sized house. That's just not Orange County. We keep doing the math, and for what we're paying for rent, we could be paying toward a mortgage, for a lot more space. It's completely strange, but renting doesn't make as much sense. So we're looking at a builder, to see if they can get us where we want to be.

But the bigger picture is less about the house and more about the feeling of living in the area. I feel remarkably at home. I like the job so far (and hope it renews or goes full-time), we're getting around pretty well, and sure is nice to be able to do "vacation stuff" in our spare time. There's something of a lifestyle change here that's very appealing.

In the general sense, it just feels good to be here. That feeling has come surprisingly fast.


Not much left to do with cars

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 26, 2013, 11:42 PM | comments: 0

I had a flat tire today. There was a big old screw in it. At first I thought it was vandalism, but the woman at the local tire garage said stuff goes into tires in all kinds of unbelievable ways at random. That, and I think the people where I work are too fancy to do stuff like that.

Despite the 90 degree temperature and access to roadside assistance that came with the car, I opted to just change the tire myself. Like the dude in A Christmas Story, I timed myself. Twelve minutes, thanks. Mind you, the tires come off pretty easily with a relatively new car and recent rotation.

When I was getting the tire plugged, I realized that there aren't many things I could really do these days with a car. I mean, oil changes and tire rotation, I suppose, but the car even tells me when I have low tire pressure. Not only that, but everything is exotic and electronic these days. The stuff under the hood of a Prius is already foreign, but what would you do with an electric car?

Having a beater that blew its engine in the first week I had it as my first car forced my hand to understand how cars work, and despite the pain and mental anguish that caused at the time, I'm grateful for the knowledge my dad had to pass along to me. Since owning that piece of shit, I've changed many brake pads, replaced belts, alternators, starter motors and radiators.

I think I'm done with all of that now. I don't know what I'm looking at with cars anymore.


Of house and homes

posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 25, 2013, 9:23 PM | comments: 0

Our 9,800 pounds of stuff arrived in suburban Orlando yesterday morning. I was a little surprised that we were up at that weight, as we were around 8,500 on the last move. I even shed a bunch of my crap! However, we did gain a washer and dryer, and several large pieces of furniture, so I guess that makes sense.

The day after I got here, I did a whirlwind of rental house shopping, and got kind of lucky to find the place I did. It had only been on the market for a few hours at that point. It's very roomy at 2,050 square feet. The weird thing is that it was only $50 more than our place in Seattle, for about 300 more squares. It's remarkable how much less expensive housing is here. This one was built in 2005 and it's in really good condition.

I think we could be pretty happy renting here for the long term, but we're also starting to realize that we're not bound by the same financial constrains that we would have in Seattle. Specifically, we don't have to wait for two or three years to save enough to make a reasonable down payment on a house. We could do it in six months. So for better or worse, we're being careful about what we unpack, because it feels like we should buy a house.

Let my indicate that despite my enthusiasm for the idea of buying (or building) a house, you can bet I'm gun shy about it. We've got a couple more weeks for my Cleveland house to close. I hate the idea that I could be stuck somewhere again, too. Mind you, there are more upsides than down about living here, but still. It's a crazy commitment.

The upsides of course are numerous, not the least of which is that prices are climbing fast, and interest rates are on the rise, so waiting is hard. Plus, while you tie up a bunch of money in your house, the actual monthly expense for a mortgage and taxes and such are frankly pretty close to rent.

To that end, I am going to talk dollars with a builder and see what it would really cost. I'm enthusiastic for the area and work here, and I certainly am not interested in another distance move any time soon. I'm not that scared of the commitment at this point.

For now though, we'll enjoy this fantastic neighborhood we're in. There are several playgrounds, great places to walk around various ponds and lakes, a very nice HOA pool, super easy access to retail and restaurants... it's really a fantastic area. It's a little out there from town (my commute to work ranges from 25 to 35 minutes), but that's about what I was used to in the burbs of Cleveland and Seattle. We've even met some of our neighbors.

Best of all, we won't be shoveling snow ever.


The optimistic pessimist

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 23, 2013, 9:30 PM | comments: 0

I read something very interesting the other day. Apparently, someone did a study somewhere that measured the "success" of people generally classified as optimistic and pessimistic. I use "success" in quotes because it quantified it in terms of income and career advancement. The surprise? The pessimists were far and away more successful.

Of course there were theories about why this is true, but the most obvious thing is that pessimism helps people filter out the things that don't have a realistic chance at succeeding. That makes total sense to me.

One might take this to mean that pessimists don't take risks, but I don't think that's true at all. I think it just means they don't waste time on things that don't get them to their goals. So for example, one could dream of making a business out of selling the invention they dreamed up, but they're likely to avoid a lot of flowery bullshit and tactically stupid actions to get there. They don't rely on optimistic warm fuzzies.

I can relate to this. I would describe myself as an optimistic pessimist. I'm not generally negative, but my threshold for putting up with things that just get in the way or don't add value is low. I don't deal well with people who think that posters with motivational nonsense on them make great wall ornaments. Clear action beats talking about it. I expect that the default outcome is failure, but believe that the right people and actions lead to success. More to the point, cheerleading is useless if it isn't associated with precise action.


The family transient

posted by Jeff | Saturday, July 20, 2013, 10:53 PM | comments: 0

It was a long week without the rest of my unit, but they finally arrived last night a bit after 6. Weather and rush hour made the last hour or so torture for them, but they finally made it. That was the longest I've been away from them, and it was exceptionally weird.

We've moved quite a bit in the last three and a half years (this is our fourth move in that time), and it's crazy to think about how flexible I've become about what "home" is to me. I used to find safety in deep roots, and now it's not that critical. And yet, being truly transient is a little unsettling. I think the issue isn't the don't-have-a-home problem, it's the chaos surrounding the movement. I'm also finding that it comes from empathy for Simon, who is struggling a little with the transition. Despite being an amazing traveler, he's really feeling out of sorts. And that makes sense, because he never left for a trip with an empty house and all of his things on a truck, at least, not since he was one and a half.

I think our biggest challenge is the gap between arriving here and having our furniture and stuff arriving. My frustration is building because the leasing company failed to mention that there was a wholly separate gas company (not sure who it even is), and that the existing gas service was shut off. Our rental house has no hot water. I'm a little pissed off about it.

Being proactive, we have talked a lot about what life looks like a year from now, before Simon starts school. We would like to have a more stable situation by then. This inevitably led to discussions about buying a house, which feels a whole lot more committed than renting, but it does make sense financially as long as the housing market doesn't take another dump. We even looked at some new models near us, just to satisfy our curiosity.

This is where I'm still rather gun shy. I associate owning a house with being stuck. Mind you, I did move away from my house, and paid for two at a time, but that situation sucked, and I never want to be in that situation again. I mostly believe it's not likely to repeat, but I still get nervous about it.

In any case, living in a hotel in the short term isn't very fun at all. It will be nice to have a little room to stretch out and be in a more conventional situation.


One week solo

posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 18, 2013, 11:25 PM | comments: 0

It was a week ago that I left Cleveland at sunrise, and it seems like a lifetime ago. A week ago tomorrow, I arrived in Orlando and checked into this extended stay hotel, split for a week from my family.

The weekend wasn't terrible, because I got to hang out with my best friend for a bit. It's weird to know someone pretty well for a dozen years or so and not live in the same state, let alone city. She helped me get around, showed me more local hang outs, and I played tennis (poorly) with her and her roommate. It was welcome human social interaction after two days driving with cats. It also made being in a new place a little easier.

Then on Monday, I jumped right into work. There isn't much I can say about that, because you can't really judge anything from a few days at a new job. I will say that I had three days going from 8 to 5 with a working lunch, which was a little more intense than I expected, but probably kept my mind off of the fact that I was a transient.

I kept busy in part with movies. I've seen four in the last week... three in theaters, one rental. This Is The End made me want to pee my pants. The Heat was exceptionally funny. Despicable Me 2 was cute, but needed more minions. This Is 40 (the rental) was a little darker than I expected, but still funny.

I also engaged by listening to music. I meant to write about this weeks ago, but the first half of the year has been awesome. My yearly playlist already has more songs than all of last year. I'm really thrilled by that.

While I found a house the first full day I was here, I still don't have the keys, and that pissed me off. My plan was to find a place, get it in a business day or two, buy a twin bed for Simon and then sleep in it until they got here. That didn't work out, so I've had more hotel nights than I hoped for.

Diana and Simon are half way here, and after chatting with her this evening, it sounds like Simon is definitely out of sorts a bit. He's no stranger to vacations and hotel stays, but a week without me around, and leaving his house empty with his toys on a truck is definitely something he doesn't understand. I'm sure he'll adapt, but I feel like I did him wrong in some way. I do realize that we're going to put him in a lot of situations growing up that are hard for him, but this is probably the first time.

Tomorrow we'll be one step closer to normal. Tomorrow evening can't come soon enough.


Calling life's calling

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 16, 2013, 10:59 PM | comments: 0

I saw an interesting discussion on Facebook the other day about how to figure out what to do with your life. That's a really simple question with a lot of complicated answers. If you really think about it, this is almost asking what the meaning of life is.

Generally the context is where a person is trying to figure out what to do with their life, and that's rarely just what you do for a job. I think that's a big part of it, maybe over-emphasized, but it's bigger than that. In fact, I think when you look at the bigger picture, there's something very freeing about the idea that there is no one thing that makes your life meaningful and satisfying. It also changes constantly.

Let's look at the first part of that. There's no question that what we do to make money is a big part of what we use to define us, and that's not surprising when you spend almost half of your waking hours doing it. For some people, it might be as satisfying as working on a line and taking pride in that work. (I certainly wish it was that simple for me!) Others measure the size and scope of what they do, and more than a few measure it in dollars. 

But people aren't just what they do. They're parents, spouses, volunteers, mentors, teachers, hobbyists, athletes... pretty much everything else you can do with your time. I think you will live a miserable existence if you're looking for the one silver bullet that defines what your life is about. We can't look for just one thing. The aggregate is probably representative of who you are. I struggled with this for years, trying to box in what was going to make me awesome and feel like I had purpose. It took awhile to see that was a huge combination of things that collectively make up my calling.

Then there's the other part, where that calling is dynamic. Sure, some people go through life building a great legacy, but most of us don't. Instead, our role in the universe changes and shifts as we go. Whatever got me out of bed in my 20's isn't the same as today. Now, it's mostly my 3-year-old that gets me out of bed, literally and figuratively. I'm a father, a husband, a steward of online communities, a maker of software... all things that I wasn't ten years ago. I'm not sure what my calling will be ten years from now, and I think I'm at peace with that.

So what does one do when they're trying to figure it all out? Well, what feels good? Or, what doesn't feel good? Do more of the former, less of the later. Just don't box yourself into a rigid definition of what you think is going to be the thing that defines you.


On being present

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 16, 2013, 10:07 PM | comments: 0

I was listening to a tech podcast on my first day of driving toward Florida, and the issue of technology and information getting in the way of real life came up. One of the panelists, a mother of young children, said that she suddenly realized that she was missing the life that was happening right in front of her when her 3-year-old told her to put her phone down. Then she ranted further when she noticed others were even bigger offenders all around her.

Most of what she was talking about was being present, in the moment in front of you, instead of constantly checking your e-mail, or Facebook or whatever. She said she sees it everywhere, and it's not making society better. The worst I see is when people aren't engaging with people in front of them in some kind of service transaction. That drives me nuts. But I also see it happen in face to face social situations, like dates at restaurants. That's completely ridiculous.

I have to admit that I have been that way at times, particularly when I'm bored. I hate to say it, but I've done it a lot recently while Simon plays with his toys. I'm not proud.

Here's the thing, I'm not suggesting that the technology is bad. I think the Internet and nearly ubiquitous access to it is incredible (even if it is largely squandered by the population at large). What I am saying is that it bothers me that people don't seem content to put down their fucking phones and see what's happening right in front of them.

Last month, while flying, I actually made it a point to just people watch at the airport, instead of getting out my gear and looking at things that could wait, or certainly didn't matter that much. It sounds silly, but I get some amount of joy in seeing families together, or a mother bouncing her baby, or a senior couple helping each other out. There's a lot of beautiful humanity to see if you look.

Maybe what I really don't understand is the need to be so connected that it becomes necessary to process everything in real time. Yes, I've run to reply to a text message right away, but even that I'm trying to back off of. Several years ago, I drew the line at e-mail, and I won't look at work e-mail on my phone. I won't be that guy when it comes at the expense of being present. Nothing is more important than what's happening right in front of you.

Try it. Turn all that shit off on your phone. Don't respond to any kind of notification beyond an actual ring indicating a call. Check up on the digital realm at an appropriate time, or a break in the action. Don't do it every time it vibrates.

It's liberating not to be over-connected.


Crazy airplane shots on Google Maps

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 16, 2013, 8:54 PM | comments: 0

Every once in awhile, you run into something on Google Maps that amuses you. Today, I found an airplane over the movie theater I was looking for.

Then I zoomed out, and saw that it appeared several times to the south. Crazy! Check it out.


Plenty of anxiety to go around

posted by Jeff | Monday, July 15, 2013, 9:31 PM | comments: 0

Aside from the house hunting, I was grateful for a little fun this weekend (even poor tennis playing on my part), because real life hit pretty hard today.

The first day of work was, as you would expect, not one where anyone can really add value since you don't really have the whole picture about what's going on. In fact, I would compare this gig to going to a party where you don't know anyone. You spend some time in one corner of the room and observe the dynamic for awhile before you start jumping into it all. At the same time, the clock is ticking, because it's a contract gig. Almost every contract job I've had has been for some specific project, regardless of the level of responsibility, meaning there was some specific outcome you were headed toward. This one is more broad, so when someone mentioned something about the first quarter of next year, I thought, I don't know what that looks like. They could renew the contract, make it full-time, or not. I could win the lottery, or they could decide they don't like me, or I don't like them. None of those outcomes are scary, it's just that I'm looking for something more certain to cling to when everything else in life is in motion.

Living in a hotel already sucks. The cats are all cramped up in here, and will be until Friday. The view of the mammoth car dealership next door is not scenic. It's just kind of a depressing and lonely place to come back to. I'm trying not to go out for every meal, but I'm not sure how much I can stay put. The lack of human interaction isn't fun, and I find myself using the TV for company.

I have mounting anxiety about Diana and Simon driving down. It's not a super difficult drive, I'm just more concerned about other people being dangerous drivers around them. I'll likely spend much of Thursday and Friday distracted and worried about them.

Diana is in a frenzy leading up to packing day tomorrow, and I'm sure she's tense about the drive as well. Experience dictates we're not fun to be around just prior to a move, but at least the last moves we were unpleasant together! Simon has really picked a poor time to demonstrate how 3 he is, unfortunately. He's really a handful lately. That said, I'm glad they got one last visit to Cedar Point today. I just wish I was there to help.

I tried to engage a little tonight in our online project, but I couldn't do it. Between visits to Seattle and Orlando, and then the planning leading up to the move, I ended up spending only about four weeks total on it, at around 20 hours each week. Not what I hoped for. I'm still going to try and make something of it this week, and then again once we're sleeping in our own beds again.

So there are two events to get us closer to normal. First is getting the keys to the rental house, about the same time that Diana and Simon arrive. Second is the actual arrival of our stuff. There's no real time pressure at that point, though Diana is fierce when it comes to unpacking and getting settled. Until then, I'm going to bitch and moan about it a little, even though it's all expected, by choice, and hopefully to a better long-term outcome.


First weekend adventures

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 14, 2013, 11:15 PM | comments: 0

After an exhausting two days of driving, I had a solid two days of productivity in what is, in a very surreal way, my new home town. I suspect it won't feel totally real until my family and truck full of crap is here, but it's getting there.

I can't even tell you how helpful it is to have a best friend already living where you're moving. My BFF Kara has carted me around town (or I carted her, as it were) and showed me how to get around, avoid tolls, where to shop, where to do touristy stuff, etc. In the chaos of trying to put down some new roots, it helps to have someone to help you figure out what's going on around you.

I found a place to rent relatively quickly. I looked at a half-dozen places, and scored one that had just hit the market that morning. It would have been nice to spend slightly less, but at the end of the day, it's the right place for us to spend a year. Stuff does not stay on the market for very long at all in terms of rentals.

For shits and giggles, I did look at a model for a new development going up. There's a part of me that would like to consider building, eventually, and Diana wouldn't mind either. There's admittedly something cool about having a place that's entirely your own, from its origin. It's fun to think about, but not something we need to be serious about for another six months (which coincidentally is the time I'll know more about my job state in terms of renewal, full-time, or moving on to something else).

Did I mention I've done a lot of driving? Some of it has just been testing the water for drive times and avoiding tourist congestion. I'm getting a pretty good feel for that now. Our new place is just down the road from the local grocery store chain in one direction, and Super Target in the other direction. Win-win.

I played a little tennis with Kara and her roommate today. That was a bitch. I didn't win at all. Between not playing in a year, and almost never playing outside, I couldn't put together a good swing to save my life. It's worth noting that the weather felt oppressive, but also worth nothing that the same would be true in Cleveland, which was hotter today, with the same humidity. Summers are very warm here, but in a consistent way.

I've also got a feel now for interesting stuff to do. I mean, there is no shortage of things to do here, obviously, but as a tourist, most of what I know is the theme parks, as visited from their resort hotels. There's more to it than that!

Tomorrow I go back to work, and I'm pretty excited about it. I'm not thrilled about the time it will take to actually get paid, which is a problem with this particular agency I'm working through.

Good first few days here, but I've got about two more weeks of being transient. That's not going to be very much fun. I've gotta stay positive and try to roll with that.


On justice and public outcry

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 14, 2013, 12:02 AM | comments: 0

Florida sure does like its media circus court trials. Today it ended another one, where George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin. Some segments of the population are furious and angry over it. I think it's reasonable to feel that the deed goes unpunished, but all of the hate for the legal system is misplaced anger, as far as I'm concerned. I always go back to the scene in Legally Blonde, where the professor quotes Aristotle as saying that, "The law is reason free from passion." I think some people forget that's how our legal system works.

Here in the US, the law says you're innocent until proven guilty. There has to be proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt. I've sat on the jury for a criminal case, and we convicted because the evidence was a slam dunk. Whether or not any of us wanted him to be guilty was irrelevant. But people want that accountability. They want someone to burn. I get that, but it doesn't mean that guilt is automatic.

In this case, I knew Zimmerman would walk, because there was just no way to determine if he was, or wasn't, defending himself. The evidence couldn't prove who was on top in the struggle. I didn't follow the case that closely, and I still got that out of it. Casey Anthony wasn't proven guilty either, because they could never prove how her child died. Heck, even going back to the OJ Simpson trial, the prosecution couldn't prove he did it with a mountain of largely cirumstantial evidence.

Like I said, I totally understand the desire to see someone fry for horrible crimes, but no matter what we desire, or whatever related issues we bring into a case, that proof still has to be there, and eliminate reasonable doubt. The system doesn't fail if it's not there... it works as designed.

Personally, I think Zimmerman is a douche, and who knows, maybe he is racist. Doesn't matter. The evidence didn't paint a clear enough picture to indicate he was the aggressor.

It's unfortunate people spend so much time thinking about it. It seems like we have bigger problems to worry about.


Tense driving

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 12, 2013, 10:12 PM | comments: 0

I'm very glad to not be driving anymore. Today should have been an easy drive, with all straight, flat roads, but the rain was relentless. The Sunshine State has not been very sunny.

The thing about me and driving is that I tend to be very intense. I'm always on alert with the assumption that everyone else intends to kill me. That's not a big deal with drives an hour or less, but it mentally takes its toll on really long drives. There's a physical toll, too, because I'm always clenching my shoulders and back. I feel kind of wrecked for not actually doing anything.

Yesterday, someone tried to kill me by sliding across three lanes to get off the freeway, nearly forcing me into the nowhere in between. Today the people were cooperative, but the weather was awful. Had my first downpour serious enough slow traffic to 30 mph. It was pretty crazy, I couldn't see the car in front of me.


Extraordinarily fast change

posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 11, 2013, 9:56 PM | comments: 0

My college advisor used to tell me, "A lot can happen in two weeks." Mostly, he was referring to the fact that he was bailing on the school to take a job in Florida, and that it all happened very fast. As much as I'd like to believe that I was receptive to his observation, and generally have tried to take decisive action in life, I know that I never really took it to heart until many years later.

So here I am today, moving (only 1,000 miles this time). In this case, the time from job offer to getting in my car to move was less than three weeks. That's new territory even for me. It took almost two months to move to Seattle the first time, and about the same time to move back. Things are different. Even though we had a plan in mind, it wasn't fast enough. And while there is a job involved, this is pretty much all on our dime. There were deep discussions before hand, so I wouldn't characterize this as a hasty decision, but it did happen fast.

Change can be pretty hard. Maybe some people find it easier than I do. I got complacent in my 20's. I mean, I had a wife, a decent car and a house, and jobs that were at least paying the bills. It was hard to deviate from that, maybe because "better" didn't seem worth the effort, or it would be uncomfortable. I think the thing that shook me out of that complacency was my divorce.

I admit that I like the comfort of home. Home for too long was defined by where I was used to living, but Seattle really shook me out of that. Still, when I was sitting in my living room for the last time last night, I have to admit that there was a fair amount of panic and discomfort in the idea that I would never sit there again. Fortunately, with my intention to get an early start this morning, I didn't have any time to be sentimental about it. This happened really fast. There are still some variables to work out (like where we will live), but the rate of change is extraordinary.

The only anxiety that's harder to process is around the split from my family in the short term. I suppose it's not that big of a deal, but it will be until they arrive safely. If I can get beyond that, the change is actually something of a rush. Being open to fast change really expands your horizons even further. 2013 sure has been interesting so far!


Our 2009 do-over

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 9, 2013, 11:13 PM | comments: 0

I've started to pack up stuff that's going with me or into original packaging for our move. In a few days I'll be a transient! I think I've got one burst of sentimentality left, but no time for it. It's weird to think that this room I'm sitting in, that I've occupied for 12 years minus 2, is one I'll never see again. In some way, hooray, but man, if these walls could talk.

When we moved to Seattle in 2009, it was so time to leave Cleveland. It's just that almost nothing was ideal about it. While we were never uncomfortable or subject to extreme risk, there were a ton of stressful situations that made it a whole lot less fun than it could have been. Consider this comparison:

 20092013
Houses to sell 2 0
Child situation 6 months pregnant 3-year-old boy
Credit card debt around $40k $0
Cash savings $0 lots
Cats 4 3 (missing Cosmo)
Moving experience Jeff: none
Diana: lots
Like it's our job
Career choices Anything I can get Can be picky

It's a different world this time, that's for sure. Yes, there are definitely some tradeoffs, and I still hope missing Seattle isn't too much of an issue. It's remarkable how much better the circumstances are this time around. Some of them were my own doing, and some was the world getting in the way, but it's a much better scene all around.


Trip report: Last Cedar Point visit for awhile 7/8/13

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 9, 2013, 3:08 PM | comments: 0

I never thought I'd try and spend an entire day at Cedar Point in July. I also didn't expect it to potentially be my last visit for the season, but life finds ways of surprising you. Team Puzzoni is moving to Orlando, so this was our last big hurrah for awhile. We also haven't done much in the way of adult rides this year, which is totally fine, but we definitely wanted to knock a few out while we could.

We started the day at Chet & Matt's for lunch, and it was delicious as always. The buffet is such a stupid good deal. We were first in, so everything was super fresh. I was skeptical of the "hot wing and cheddar" pizza, but it's delicious.

We arrived at the park a little after noon, and scored our Fast Lane+ bands. After a ride on the "buckets" (Skyride), I went to Raptor while Diana started Simon on the Midway Carousel and trucks in Kiddy Kingdom. It was my first time this year, and the intensity was somewhat surprising to me. I can definitely agree with the position that it's more intense than GateKeeper. It's still my favorite inverted B&M, no contest.

After parent swapping, I took Simon on the Kiddy Kingdom Carousel and Sir Rub-a-Dub's Tubs. I love the enthusiasm he has for these rides. From there, Diana took Simon to Giant Wheel, where they didn't care that he did not have Fast Lane (more on that in a minute), and I went to GateKeeper.

I've been on GateKeeper just once since the TV shoots and media day, and that was a short wait. This one would have been tolerable even without Fast Lane. I sat in row 4, outside left, and the vibration was a little more pronounced this time. I suppose I have all kinds of theories about why this might be, but wheel condition seems to have a much greater, more amplified impact on ride smoothness in the outside seats. It's still not a problem to the point of discomfort (most wood coasters will beat you up more), but I'm surprised that B&M didn't totally eliminate the problem. Regardless, it's such a great ride.

The switch from Pepsi to Coke has been a huge win, not just because I like Coke, but also the boatload of fresh signage around the park. It wears Coke well. Unfortunately, I don't think Coke is keeping up with demand. Almost every visit, we find some problem, like empty CO2 tanks, or a park-wide outage of iced tea or lemonade. On this day, Diana had to go to two stands for lemonade, after paying at one, then having to wait in line at another to get filled. We've taken advantage of the refill cups, but not without this peril.

I had a short wait for Wicked Twister. I'm not positive, but I'm inclined to believe that it was operating at full, opening-year speed. They have neutered that ride on and off, but the forward launches in particular felt full strength. I didn't think to look from the ground to see how far they were climbing. That's such a great ride, and completely underrated. I've grown indifferent about the standard impulse model, but this one still wows me.

From there, Diana did Windseeker, but I did not, as Simon needed a timeout. :) Ah, the problems of parenthood. We did ride a few things in Planet Snoopy right after that. While in the neighborhood, we backtracked toward Blue Streak. Diana went first, and I took Simon to the Cadillac Cars.

This is where the park has a big box of stupid to address. As I said, they weren't looking for a Fast Lane band on a 3-year-old at Giant Wheel, so I expected they wouldn't care at the cars either. Well, they said, sorry, you have to wait in the regular line. Let's explore why this is stupid. First, by my count, there are four rides a tiny person like Simon can ride. No one in their right mind is going to buy him a Fast Lane pass. Second, if I get on the car alone, the car is in use, whether it's me or four people. I wasn't going to let it piss me off, but I was certainly annoyed.

So let's talk about Blue Streak. It's no secret that since the big rehab several years ago, it has been running like a champ. This is still the case. The trains looked very shiny, and I seem to recall them going to PTC for refurb last winter. In any case, the ride is balls-out nuts right now. You can feel the upstop wheels hammer the bottom of the rails. The turn around felt like a bit of a mess though. The best moment is stopping in the brakes, and hearing the upstop wheel whirling under the train. Good times.

Watching the radar, we saw a downpour coming, so we ducked into the Jack Centennial Theater for their Broadway revue show. A friend of mine complains about recycled choreography, but I think from a vocal standpoint, it's a really ambitious show that delivers. It's a good example, too, of how casting makes a difference. The woman who was in Luminosity last year didn't seem well-suited to that show, but she's fantastic in this one. I mean really good. Two of the male leads are also fantastic. The ensemble of "One Day More" from Les Miserables is surprisingly good, even without Wolverine.

The rain stopped by the time we left the show, and we headed back for some laps on Simon's beloved Jr. Gemini. What a transformation for him. At the end of last season, he reluctantly went on, but wouldn't do the second lap. Now, he cheers for the second lap, and asks almost every day if he can ride. He's only been on Woodstock Express twice, and doesn't quite embrace it just yet. With the rain, it was down for the count, so we didn't get to ride.

Next we did a full lap on the train, then the Antique Cars, where they didn't care that Simon was without Fast Lane. The sky opened up again at that point, and we left the park to meet friends at Buffalo Wild Wings. Timmay, Lois and Tony were there to share stories and sauce. Good times.

Despite Simon being suboptimal in terms of behavior, we decided to go back to the park. It was definitely going to be a touch-and-go time, but most importantly for Simon, we did get on Jr. Gemini again. He is going to miss that ride!

Headed up the Frontier Trail, it was like a ghost town. No Maverick, which was a bummer because that was one of the rides we would have liked to snag. At this point, I wasn't interested in hitting rides I haven't been on in awhile. I'm not all that sentimental. Mean Streak will still suck if I don't ride it. Instead, I thought I should try to get on GateKeeper again, since my lifetime count on that is obviously not high.

There were more Skyrides, then we split up again. I was three trains from riding, front seat left, on GateKeeper, when it poured again. After 15 minutes, including block checks, they started loading again. I've only had one other front seat lap, so this was a treat. What a visually amazing experience. The airtime hill is very strong in the front, as is the pop into the midcourse brakes. The keyholes are dramatic in any seat, but really fantastic in the front. It's not as intense as Raptor, but I really think that's OK.

One more ride on Skyride, and we headed back toward the Soak City lot and our car, just before closing. Simon was a trooper, and closed the park for the first time. In a fit of awesome, the park opened up Dragster and Power Tower with only 15 minutes to go. I love that about the park.

I haven't been to the park on a day in July or August in years, and despite the weather, we had a great time. It's a little sad that the visits won't be as frequent. I hope Simon remembers how special it is.


Too overloaded

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 7, 2013, 11:18 PM | comments: 0

There are literally dozens of things that I've wanted to write about in the last two months, and it just never happened. It's so hard right now to be my normally relaxed, go-with-it self, because there are so many variables, challenges and scary things going on. I'm overloaded.

This is where my project management side tries to kick in and make sense of things. One of the things I really pride myself on is finding ways to make a lot of things happen simultaneously, to put the world into a multi-tasking mode. However, one of the things wearing on me the most, specifically finding a place to live, is a very linear process that has to happen in sequence. I have to be there, look around, sign a lease, and get it done before a truck with all of my crap rolls into town. No pressure!

At least some of the things that stressed me out on our last Cleveland departure are not issues. The house is likely sold, no one is pregnant, there is no five-day drive to do, etc. This temporary discomfort should be done in two weeks, hopefully.


Another farewell party

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 7, 2013, 12:11 AM | comments: 0

We sure have had a lot of farewell parties. In 2009, we had people meet us at the Dave & Busters in Westlake, Ohio. In 2011, we had a get together at our rental house in Snoqualmie. As last minute as it was, we had a relatively small gathering at our (sold) house here in Cleveland tonight.

This one, despite being relatively small, was special. The only way it could have been better would have been to have Seattle friends visit! The mix was completely strange, and yet, surprisingly conducive to conversation. My dad was here, my cousins Dave and Niki and their family, my dear friends The Freezes, the Kushlaks, who were the parents to two girls I went to high school with, and Brandon and his wife, representatives from the Cedar Point/amusement park circle. All told, it's only a dozen people, but each from totally different periods or aspects of my life. The weirdest thing about it is that none of them would likely have awareness about each other if it weren't for me as the common thread, but there were so many great conversations.

Also strange were all of the small world things that connected us. My dad knew people that the Kushlaks knew. She was also cousins with Tim, who was in both of my weddings. Dave is obviously family. Freeze knows me from work, where we both knew Tim, so he was one degree from the Kushlaks. Dave has been also coming to my parties for at least 15 years, and Brandon has been coming to my parties for about as long, so he knows Dave and Freeze that way. The bottom line is that various parties have known each other for at least 25 years in various ways, so no one was truly a stranger, despite ages ranging from 70 to 1.

After everyone else left, and Simon was in bed, Brandon and his wife joined us in the hot tub, and we had some quasi-drunken chats about everything from cars to family to vacations. It was really a fantastic time. We didn't really spend a ton on food or anything, but it was great to have even a few people from such different parts of my life all in the same place. It makes you realize just how rare good conversation is.

The really funny thing is that you probably can't live in a more ideal place to see friends (eventually) than Orlando, because everyone ends up there at some point. It's certainly not a permanent goodbye by any stretch of the imagination.


It's not that I hate Cleveland...

posted by Jeff | Saturday, July 6, 2013, 1:18 PM | comments: 0

Yes, I'm sure people have heard me say it. "I hate Cleveland (and/or Ohio)." Those are strong words, and probably too strong for what I really feel. The truth is, I'm just "done" with it, but some of the circumstances make it feel worse than it is.

I lived in Northeast Ohio for 36 years before I moved to Seattle. I resent myself a little for waiting that long. Almost everything about Seattle (save for the lack of theme parks) was a great fit for me. It was extraordinarily frustrating for me when I thought I had to move back because of my stupid non-selling house. Seattle opened my eyes to the fact that you can live in a place with better culture, more professional opportunity, and a whole lot of beautiful scenery. It isn't totally perfect, but it's "better" than Cleveland.

The fact that I couldn't entirely cut ties with it, in terms of the house, is certainly part of the resentment toward the area. Admittedly, this was somewhat by choice, and part of that choice was the idea that we wouldn't stay more than two or three years (hooray for making good on that). The other part of it is the lack of interesting work, the winters, the backward culture issues (a marriage inequality state), way too much state and local income tax, moronic politics... it just sucks all around.

That's not to say there aren't some wins here. There's a surprising foodie scene, great theater, some of the best museums in the world (especially the art museum), a great zoo, and of course, proximity to Cedar Point. The economy is too focused on specific industries, but I can't say that it's headed toward the shit kingdom it was five or six years ago.

Orlando certainly has its compromises as well. I don't think there is a single place that could be everything I wanted. However, for what we want at the moment, it's a pretty solid combination of location and weather, work potential and reasonable housing cost.


40

posted by Jeff | Monday, July 1, 2013, 11:50 PM | comments: 0

What am I supposed to write about to mark the time I turn 40?

I think it would be appropriate, to an extent, to be weepy and nostalgic about life to this point. While life has certainly had its issues, it has been filled with epic love stories, great adventures, successes and failures, and fairly recently, the blessing of a child. I wouldn't know where to begin.

What I think is actually pretty awesome is that being 40 has brought me the peace and wisdom to really savor the moment I'm in, right now. We spend too much of our lives trying to build toward something, sometimes at the expense of enjoying what's right in front of you. You can still be moving toward something or setting goals, but you can't allow it to get in the way of the life that's happening right now.

I also think it would be silly to be suddenly worrying about my mortality (or use it as an excuse to indulge in hookers and blow). I look at what I've done so far with my life, when the first 20 years barely count, and I think, shit, I've got another 40 to 60 years to go! If I have come this far with 20 adult years under my belt, imagine what I can do with the rest.

Maybe that's why I'm not quite ready for a midlife crisis. I'm still full of shit when it comes to a lot of things, but at least I'm self-aware of that. It also turns out that I'm really good at a lot of things, and I know a lot of things that I didn't before. Turning 40 isn't a sign of impending doom, it's a signal that you're more capable of asskickery than ever before.

Bring it, life. You might be thinning out my hair, but I've got your number.


Is risk living?

posted by Jeff | Monday, July 1, 2013, 8:05 PM | comments: 0

As one is about to turn 40, you can imagine that you spend a fair amount of time reflecting and taking inventory of your life. I read a lot about taking risks in the context of business and career on a frequent basis, and I've thought about whether or not I've really engaged in any significant risks. Mind you, there's a line between risk taking and being reckless and irresponsible, and I've definitely not done the latter.

Some people will argue that taking risks is living. Others will say the risk is itself the reward. Still others suggest that you can't truly be happy in life without taking some chances. There seems to be a cultural fascination with risk and how we associate it with how interesting our lives are.

As I look back, I can't really identify a lot of risk until the last four or five years. That's funny, because I've always felt that people become more risk averse, and generally rigid in their view of the world, as they get older. I think I've been the opposite. But should I have taken more chances ten to 20 years ago? That's hard to say.

In terms of relationships, I probably could have. If there was something to take away from the failure of my first marriage, beyond the problems we had, it was that we had no blueprint for what I wanted or needed in a relationships. It's hard to know what that is until you've dated a bunch and had enough self-awareness to know when you could be into something better. Between marriages, I finally gained this. It's where I learned that further dating for something that wasn't good enough was a bad idea. The risk of being alone or not in a relationship isn't a risk at all, it turns out.

Changing jobs I suppose incurs some risk, though for all of the startups and contract type of work, not a lot of it was by choice. Changing careers entirely was potentially risky, but that was only four years out of college, and frankly not that big of a deal.

Moving seems to be the thing that people are a lot more reluctant to do. When I was in college and thought I was going to be a big radio star (that was kind of stupid), I fully expected I would have to move where I had to move. But I didn't, and frankly wasn't motivated to go anywhere outside of Cleveland. I visited Portland in 1998, and thought it was amazing, to the extent that it was the first place I had ever been I'd consider moving to, but dropped the idea shortly thereafter.

I feel like the first time I really took a risk, I went big. With a pregnant wife, two unsold houses, a lot of credit card debt and virtually no useful knowledge about the destination city, I moved to Seattle. Honestly, that first six months there was a total blur. I think it was a year before I even came up for air and felt like I was taking meaningful control of my life. The risk was, for the most part, worth it. Nothing bad happened.

When I think about it in those terms, it seems to me that maybe it's not risk that we're really talking about. I mean, to me, risk implies you could lose something substantial in terms of money, relationships or even your life. It's not the risk that makes life "living," it's being open to the possibilities and acting on them.

Some people are content to live in the same place, be around the same people, doing the same job, for decades. I'm not saying that's bad, because if they're happy, I'm not one to judge. But what my move out west showed me was that the possibilities are actually pretty endless. Those possibilities could come with new adventures that enhance some part of your life.

In fact, the thing I realized was that the possibilities offer the potential to correct the things you're not happy with. For example, moving to Orlando can fix the unhappiness I experience when dealing with snow and winter. In terms of career, it might be more an issue of having more interesting work. And then there's the whole thing about living in a place where most people only vacation. I mean, what real "risk" is that? At worst, you have the same issues that get in the way of your happiness.

So I don't think you need to be a big risk taker to make life awesome, but you do have to look out for the possibilities that either aren't obvious or easy.