Video Games in Quarantine

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We have tried to avoid allowing Max to use tablets, computers, or video games. Ashley and I were in agreement from the start: we did not like the idea of Max spending his time playing on a tablet or playing video games. We eventually made concessions for long trips (whether it be for car rides or air travel). Then came kindergarten, where use of tablets and computers became semi-frequent as our public school system adopted this technology for testing. It irked me, but I was not going to move Max to a new school over it.

Then came the quarantine. Max has been doing some work via Khan Academy on an iPad. We now have frequent FaceTime calls with friends and family. We also started to allow for more video game play, using our Sony PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. I was hesitant at first, but a friend of mine who does play video games with his kids talked about how he used that time as bonding him with his kids. I started to understand that if you’re playing with them, it can be a good connection or activity to do together.

Max has become enamored with Sonic the Hedgehog. It has been many years since I lost my Sega Genesis, but I wanted Max to see the first Sonic game. Fortunately, Sega has published a version of the original Sonic the Hedgehog on the Nintendo Switch. He enjoyed watching me play the original (much of our video game time is Max watching me play; I have tried to get him to play instead, but he will only play certain games). Then, we found my Sega Dreamcast along with my copy of Sonic Adventure. He pleaded with me to play.

My Dreamcast somehow still works. I have to place a heavy object on top of the CD-ROM lid to keep the lid closed so the system will read the disc and I have to set the date/time every time we power it on (I am assuming the the clock battery is dead), but the system still plays fine. It took some time to get reacquainted with the controls, but they are quite finicky compared to controllers from consoles of today. The graphics are not as appealing on an HDTV as they once were on my old CRT TV, but after a few days I adjusted.

Sonic Adventure can be a very frustrating game. If I did not have a copy of the strategy guide and online guides, I am not sure I would have been able to complete Sonic’s story. The controls, especially the joystick, can be quite unforgiving at times.

After completing Sonic’s story, we started on Tails’s story, but we didn’t get very far; Max had moved on to wanting to play other games. I am happy that we played the game together. It makes me happy to have these shared experiences and memories with him.

Backyard Camping

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Max has been asking to go camping for awhile now. We waited a few weeks for good weather. This weekend was the best weather, overnight, that we could ask for: overnight lows would be in the 60s. Additionally, it would be dry. This was our weekend.

I do not feel comfortable going to an actual campsite at this time. I figured the campsites in our area would be packed. We decided to pitch a tent in our backyard. It was great to get the tent out of storage. Max even helped me with the tent. I let him swing the rubber mallet to drive the stakes into the ground while I held them (he only missed the stakes a few times, but got my hand every time he missed).

Our camping trip was a success. Even though we were in the city, it was still fairly peaceful. Once the neighbors’ party (trying not to judge) died down, we were able to fall asleep and stayed asleep until the very early morning (for whatever reason, I awoke around 03:30 and could not fall back asleep).

I do not recall how many times I camped in the backyard as a child, but I only remember one time though. I was staying the weekend with my brother’s father, who I thought was my father (it’s a long story for another time). We were in the backyard and I finally fell asleep. I remember it being cold and dark when I woke up. I was now alone. I remember being scared. I wasn’t sure what to do. I figured it was sometime in the early morning, but did not have a watch with me. My brother’s father had left the tent and went inside the house to watch television instead. I found him passed out on the couch. I do not recall my exact age, but I would guess I was around eight. I will never do that to Max.

13 Minutes to the Moon

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I recently discovered a new podcast called 13 Minutes to the Moon. The first season documents NASA’s Apollo Eleven mission. “13 Minutes to the Moon” references the descent of Eagle from Columbia to the lunar surface. I am halfway through the first season and I am loving it. It is such an emotional, powerful story. The second season is about the Apollo Thirteen mission. I am looking forward to that season as Thirteen is my favorite Apollo mission. I love the resourcefulness exhibited to safely return the crew back to Earth.

Last summer, Max’s preschool spent a few weeks talking about Apollo Eleven during its fiftieth anniversary. Max became enamored with space travel, the moon, and Neil Armstrong. All astronauts are very interesting to me, but the astronauts from the Apollo Eleven mission are truly fascinating. We spent weeks reading about the members of that crew and their journey.

One day, while discussion Apollo Eleven, Max asked me if Neil Armstrong was still alive. I was not ready for this. We had not (and still really have not) had a discussion about death and what that means. Max was quite familiar with the concept of “extinct”, but we had not really discussed death. I clammed up. I did not know how to reply. My fear was that if I told him that Armstrong had passed, he would become scared and not want to be an astronaut. Knowing full well that Armstrong had passed in 2012, I feigned ignorance and told him I did not know. I am a coward.

Coping with Coronavirus Part 3

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We have been ordering takeout and having meals delivered from local restaurants. We are trying to help local businesses, but every order is sprinkled with guilt and smothered with anxiety. I am attempting to trust the common wisdom that ordering takeout from restaurants is safe, but every order is a journey.

First, I clear off the counter space. Next, I lay out the clean plates where I will plate the food. Then, I watch for updates on our delivery. Once the food arrives, I quickly bring the food in and place the bags on the counter. I take the containers out of the bag, then immediately dispose of the bag. I then pop open the containers, followed by twenty seconds (sometimes more, never less) of hand washing. After this, I swiftly plate the food, then dispose of the containers. With a Clorox wipe, I saturate the counter top and anything else I may have touched in the process (drawer handles for instance). After another bout of hand washing, I am ready to serve our dinner.

Over the past few weeks, I have become rather efficient with this process. However, I am always stressed and filled with anxiety as we eat. It is unlikely that the food itself is contaminated, but I still worry as Ashley and Max consume our dinner. I am on edge if Max is “helping” get dinner ready or if he wants to “help” unpack our groceries after a grocery trip. Not touching anything until I can get everything sterilized would be the greatest help of all, but a six year old hellbent on helping is difficult to deter.

Each time I order takeout or ask someone to risk their health by bringing us food, I feel guilt. I loathe myself for contributing to a system that forces people to work and risk their health at a time like this. To all the workers in the food industry, rather it be the grocers, cooks, or delivery people: I am eternally grateful. I make it a point to thank you as much as I can in our brief exchanges. I tip whenever I can.

Thank you.

Coping with Coronavirus Part 2

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I have been a remote employee for one and a half years. I miss working in an office, but I have grown accustomed to digital communication amongst coworkers. Even though I do not always go out for social gatherings, I still enjoy visiting with friends whenever life permits. The past few weeks have been tough. Some of my regular outings are no longer necessary (school pickup, taking Max to the park) or permitted (dinner and a beer, ice cream with the family at Jeni’s). Compound this with the absolutely dreary weather we have experienced over the last few weeks and I was quite glum.

During a walk with Brie (our mischievous Beagle), it started to rain. I was suddenly caught in a downpour. As we walked, I became drenched. I looked up to the sky and appreciated the warm shower. We finished our walk and I felt comforted. A few days later, the weather broke and we now have sunshine. Sitting in the sun, feeling a breeze, fills me with optimism that this will pass.

Coping with Coronavirus

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The last week has been a strange experience. Last week, we received the call late Wednesday evening: Max’s school would be closed on Thursday and Friday leading into Spring Break. Not a huge deal for us. Ashley is on leave, bonding with Adelaide. We had already planned a Spring Break trip to his grandparents’ house for Max. Through the weekend, we realized we were all uncomfortable with the idea of Max traveling during this time. Max was devastated, but we canceled his trip. We assured him he would get to visit his grandparents soon, but we could provide no timeline. It was difficult.

The gut punch came a few days later: school is now closed through April 3rd. We now realize how unrealistically optimistic even that timeline is. We felt it was necessary to prepare for the long haul. Ashley started putting together a schedule and a homeschool plan. Fortunately, Max is in kindergarten. It is easy to piece together a small lesson plan for him. Unfortunately, Ashley is caring for Adelaide at the same time. Ashley is remarkable though; the energy and thoughtfulness that she is bringing to this challenge is inspiring.

The most difficult part of this experience for me has been the time Max has missed being a kid. We are isolated in our home, leaving him unable to play with friends from school or even from the neighborhood. To his credit, he has handled this situation with patience. There have been a few questions of “Why?” and “Why not?”, but for the most part he has been great.

It has been an adjustment. I am fearful for the time that he finally asks, “When will this end?” I have no idea when things will get back to normal, or if they ever will get back to normal. At this point, I am just hoping for a “better than now normal.”

Adelaide

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In January, Ashley and I welcomed Adelaide into the world. The last few weeks have been quite emotional and very tiring. Max is now six years old. I am completely out of practice. Even if you are out of practice, it comes back to you. After a few hours, I felt comfortable holding a newborn. After a day or two, I remembered how to adequately swaddle a newborn.

Then there are the things that come back, but are not helpful. What worked to soothe one does not always work to soothe another. That has been a hard lesson to learn. I am learning what works for this one though (lots of music and gentle bobbing, much like walking). She cries. She poops. She is beautiful.

The most surprising change has been watching Max interact with her. I knew he would be gentle and respectful. I was not prepared for how much affection he shows her and how understanding he is with her. He reads to her. He talks to her. I try to take it in as much as possible. This is not my first rodeo; I know that these moments are fleeting and one day I will wish to have them back.

I am working hard at being more patient. I remember becoming quickly flustered with Max if he started to cry or became upset. It always felt like I could not soothe him. Either Adelaide is easier or it is easier because it is my second time around the course. Either way, I am appreciative of this time. I am very fortunate to be working for a company that gives a generous paternity leave this time around (whereas with Max, my previous employer offered zero paid paternity leave). I was able to bond with Adelaide over the first four weeks of her life, without worrying about work. I am grateful for that time. Additionally, I still have two additional weeks of leave that I plan on taking later in the year; it will be exciting to have additional time with her when she is out of the newborn stage, when her personality has developed more. She will most likely be a completely new person in a few months. They change so fast.

Welcome to the world Adelaide. I cannot wait to see who you become.

2019 Kentucky Gubernatorial Race

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I am unhealthily obsessed with my home state’s politics and state-wide races. I have not lived in Kentucky since 2009, yet I still follow Kentucky’s political news via a Courier Journal subscription. I was disappointed when Matt Bevin won the 2015 Kentucky gubernatorial race and became the governor. I knew he was running on the idea of rolling back Kentucky’s Medicaid expansion. This concerned me as Kentucky’s enrollment in the Medicaid expansion had been sweeping and popular. I was concerned about Kentuckians losing their health insurance or not getting the medical attention they need.

My disappointment evolved into anger over the years as Bevin continually spurred negative headlines. He was rude and condescending. It hurt me to watch him treat public educators as though they were inferior. His assault on public education has been maddening. During his entire tenure, it felt as though he was trying to disassemble or belittle the public education school system in Kentucky; a school system that I was fortunate enough to participate in.

When Ashley and I were considering our move back from California, one of the reasons I wanted to move to Louisville was to have the chance to vote Bevin out of office. I looked forward to casting my ballot for whomever opposed him. Unfortunately, we did not move to Kentucky; I became a spectator to the 2019 Kentucky gubernatorial race from Tennessee. I was happy that Andy Beshear won the Democratic primary. I watched the returns last Tuesday night and was ecstatic over Beshear’s victory.

However, my excitement soon gave way to anxiety. Bevin refused to concede. Worse, he dropped baseless (without proof) accusations about voting irregularities. Instead of bowing out gracefully, Bevin is trying to harm democracy on his way out. I would love to feign surprise here, but I won’t; Bevin is behaving in a classless manner. At this point, I wouldn’t expect anything less. On November 5, 2019, the people of Kentucky voted against one of the most unpopular governors in the United States, regardless of political affiliation. It’s time to acknowledge your defeat, pass the torch, and fade into the background. Perhaps if Bevin would have attended the same public schools in Kentucky that he is wont to attack, he would have learned how to treat others with respect and to carry himself with grace.

Goodbye Instagram

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Since 2016, I have almost entirely checked out of social media. I made my Twitter account private and no longer log into it. I also do not check Twitter anymore. I initially deactivated my Facebook account, then eventually deleted it altogether as I realized I had no use for it and I also did not like the thought of Facebook retaining my data 1. I still occasionally check Snapchat, but only when people share things with me; I rarely share anything with Snapchat. The only strong hold out to social media prohibition had been Instagram.

Instagram was in this weird gray area with me. I obviously knew they were owned by Facebook. However, it almost felt as though they were sandboxed from the parent company. I would tie myself in knots to justify it in my head that it was okay to use Instagram but not okay to use Facebook. This past weekend, I finally became fed up with Facebook and decided to delete my Instagram account. I’m sure I will eventually miss some parts of Instagram, but so far I do not. If I want to share photos with people, I’ve realized I have a perfectly good vehicle for sharing photos: blogging. Sure, it’s a hurdle for people if they want to view my photos, but I think it’s a good trade off. If I’m not tied to as many social networks, that’s probably a good thing in the long run.

  1. I’m not delusional here; I have no faith that Facebook has actually deleted my data and it would not surprise me in the least if they still retain some or all of my data. 

Expedition: Gatlinburg

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Back in August, Ashley and I decided to get a new car. Our Land Rover had been in the shop quite often over the last six months. The cost of gasoline had started to wear on me. I had been lusting over a particular electric vehicle over the past few months. After calculating the cost of the vehicle and researching our charging options, we finally decided to buy an electric vehicle: the 2019 Jaguar I-Pace.

Since August, the I-Pace has been our only vehicle. I adore this vehicle. It is a delight to drive. The acceleration is thrilling (0-60 mph in 4.5s). The lane assist and heads up display are superb. The design of the exterior is bold and attracts attention whenever we are out. We opted for the model with the wheel package upgrade; the 22 inch rims are the largest I have ever driven with. Due to the extended wheelbase (with no internal combustion engine in the front, Jaguar has moved the front wheels up significantly), it has taken an adjustment on our part to become accustomed to the new turning radius. I always felt our Land Rover LR4 had an astonishing turning radius for such a large vehicle. The I-Pace’s radius seems much more arching, not quite as maneuverable in tight spaces. After a few weeks of driving it, we were still adjusting. At nearly six weeks with the vehicle, I finally feel at ease with the new radius.

We have done quite a bit of local driving (around the middle Tennessee area) as well as quick excursions to Clarksville to meet up with family. These round trips have been well within the I-Pace’s advertised range of 234 miles. However, October is a special month in my family. My father’s family travels to Gatlinburg every October for a family vacation. Approximately fifteen relatives rent two cabins in the Great Smoky Mountains. We were aware of this upcoming trip and, with a little research, we knew the mileage there would be approximately 223 miles: just under the advertised range of the I-Pace. Not being the gambling type, I made a plan to stop in Knoxville to make use of a DC fast charger (0-80% charge within 40 minutes). My plan called for a fast charge in Knoxville, some light level 2 charging in Gatlinburg while we played, followed by a fast charge just south of Gatlinburg (in a state park) on the last day of our trip, then finally a fast charge in Cookeville on our way home. All in all, four days, three fast charging periods, a few slower charging periods. Best laid plans…

The first part of the trip was a success. We made it to Knoxville with about 15% battery remaining. I should have started the trip in Eco mode; we possibly could have made it to Knoxville with 20% remaining. One thing I did not account for in my planning: steep inclines and the power drainage when climbing steep grades. The interstate from Nashville to Knoxville has a few areas of steep grade, but has long stretches of shallow grade inclines. The part that scared me most here was knowing we had more to climb once we started approaching Gatlinburg. No bother; my estimates planned for some wiggle room.

We got to the cabin fine. The next issue was the lack of charging in Gatlinburg. There are chargers, but they’re all on the Blink network which is apparently very flaky. Additionally, these stations were not well maintained and most were not functioning. The ones that were functioning were frequently blocked by internal combustion engine vehicles. Fabulous.

We did find some refuge in Pigeon Forge at the Tanger outlets. However, traveling to these outlets and back would zap about two hours worth of charging at the outlet. We would need to stay at the outlets for more than two hours to have a positive impact in our charge. No bother, I still had the fast charger just south of Gatlinburg at the Sugarlands Visitor Center.

Until I didn’t. I started to get a bit panicky on Saturday and decided I needed to ensure the charger there was functioning. After some research, I discovered the fast charger at the Sugarlands Visitor Center has been out of service for months. This is the time to become concerned.

I brought my trusty slow charger with me, one that I can plug into a wall outlet. It’s less than ideal, but if I’m going to be stationary for hours and hours, I could accumulate some charge. I quickly hunt for a receptacle outside our cabin and find one. I plug in, only to see a bad omen: fault code. Something with the plug is not sufficient for my charging needs. I will not be getting any charge at the cabin.

I start planning. There is a fast charger in the wrong direction. It’s the closest and we easily have the range for it. We can stop there on our way home. I also look and realize we are technically in range of the fast charger in Knoxville. This charger has the benefit of being located on our route home, as well as being familiar (this is where we charged on our way to Gatlinburg). After eating breakfast, I become resolute: Knoxville or bust.

We opt for the shortest route (mileage is our axis and ally at this point). The roads are smaller roads and highways. Even better, since this will require slower speeds and thus extending our range. We plan our route, ensure we’re in Eco mode, and we go on our journey. I am happy to say we made it to the fast charger in Knoxville, with 15% to spare. Relief.

Now that we are home and I have had time to reflect, I realize a few things. The first: I still love this vehicle. It makes me incredibly happy when I drive it. The second? I need to start trusting my math and the vehicle’s range some. Especially knowing what I can do to increase the range of the I-Pace. I do wish the fast charging network was more saturated. I hope these chargers will roll out in more places, especially along interstate highways. I figure more electric vehicles being sold will lead to more fast charger installations. I hope I can trust this instinct as much as I can trust my math when planning out trips.