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Journal for 25 July 2007

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So, anyway, getting a replacement for my malfunctioning cell phone turned out to be more of an ordeal than expected. Verizon had promised to send me a new phone within a day of my support call with them, but after a week I was still waiting. I called up Verzion to see when the phone would be delivered, to which they responded that it already had been… Five days earlier.

As it happens, having the phone sent to my work was quite a tactical error. FedEx dropped it as part of a large skid–a skid signed for by a company representative–after which the phone promptly disappeared into my company’s labyrinthine 6000+ box mail system. In an effort to put a positive spin on the resulting experience, at least I can say I got to meet a large number of extremely friendly and professional coworkers.

Within a day of learning the phone was somewhere at work, I was able to identify why it hadn’t been routed to me. My department’s name was on the package–I had asked for it to be addressed as C/O my employer–but our shipping group informed me Verizon had neglected to put my name on it. From that we were able to identify where it was sent (Telecommunications, go figure), and a day later to which employee it was likely delivered. Of course, that employee was on vacation, so I ended up making the 10-minute trek to her cube to see if anyone else in the department could help me find it.

I’ve never seen so many cell phones in one spot in my entire life. There were probably over 100 phones on her desk and shelves, so I’d reached another dead end. I headed back to my office, sent a couple more emails and resigned myself to waiting another night.

The next morning I found a box from Verizon sitting on my desk. The friendly 100-phone coworker had apparently made the long walk to drop it off. I flipped over the box to see how Verizon had addressed it, and, indeed, the top line appeared to be my department. The box had obviously been damaged at some point during shipping, though, resulting in a thin crease in the cardboard that ran right across the top of the address label, a crease, that when straightened out, revealed the following: ATTN: MARK DANIELSON.

Typical.

~ ~ ~

Note to self: Lisa’s at home now. You can have her sign for packages.

Posted in Journal at 10:22 pm

Journal for 24 July 2007

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Watching TV with Lisa the other night, I realized our lives have begun to resemble those of college students. The TV? It only shows basic cable due to cost concerns. We like our apartment, but it’s really about what we can afford, not what we want. There’s also a continuous hording of quarters for the washing machine, and the associated damp clothing draped about our rooms and halls to dry. From a pure financial perspective, even ramen is starting to look good, although thankfully we haven’t made that jump yet.

Parking, as it happens, is often a bitch.

On certain nights, the smell of clove cigarettes drifts in through the front windows, sometimes mixed acoustic guitars, sometimes mixed with techno or trance. Other nights we get the sound of high heels on the floor above, or animated conversations from the building next door. And while the context has changed dramatically, just like in college, there are a lot of noisy late nights with plenty of drinking and even some puking.

~ ~ ~

A year ago, Lisa and I were childless homeowners going about daily routines, occasionally pausing to discuss marriage or going on a trip. How things have changed.

Posted in Journal at 11:30 pm

BookLog: Nothing Like It In The World

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Nothing Like It In The World is one of those rare books where the story told is engrossing enough to make a reader forgive, at least temporarily, a writing style seemingly designed to annoy the reader. Focusing mainly on how the work was done, Stephen Ambrose’s detailed review of the building of the transcontinental railroad jumps all over the country, taking readers through back offices, government corridors and construction camps along the way.

Ambrose covers a lot of ground. Readers get to see the planning of the line, the political moves necessary to make it happen, the funding, and, for most of the book, the construction. The timing of many of the events can be a surprise. Chief among them is the construction of the railroad begin during the Civil War. While some politicians saw the road as a way to tie the country together, the central drive of most of those involved was to make money, the war be damned. It’s one of the first revelations in the book that’s almost astounding by today’s standards.

Most amazing about the railroad, though, is that for all practical purposes it was built by hand. The grade was laid by thousands of workers wielding shovels and wheelbarrows, and ties and rails were placed and fastened by hand as well. (Take a look at the photos on this page for an example of the Central Pacific’s handiwork.) Even the tunnels drilled by the CP through the Sierra Nevada mountains were done this way, mostly by Chinese workers with sledgehammers, massive hand drills and dangerous quantities of black power and nitroglycerin. And when I say by hand, I mean by hand; the vast majority of workers didn’t even use work gloves. Again, the modern mind marvels.

Other areas covered by Ambrose include the infighting among the boards of the two railroads building the line (most notably within the Union Pacific, who’s management group was often outright dysfunctional); the constant battle to acquire materials and get them to the end of track; the threats caused by indians, striking coworkers and the “hell on wheels” towns following the construction; and, towards the end, the often ridiculous duplication of efforts as the UP and CP raced on quite literally right next to each other. We get to see surveyors out in the wilderness they loved, even as they recognized their work will lead to its destruction. We get to see Californians be fully impressed by the work of the Chinese, who in the past hadn’t been considered to be capable of much. And we get to see the political shitstorm that followed the UP’s financial books getting cracked open.

It’s a great ride. Unfortunately, like the early railroad, it’s not always a comfortable one, for Ambrose seemed determined to prove that he was exceedingly adept at repeating himself. It got to the point that every time I read “it had to be done, and they did it” or “what _____ needed more than anything else was money” or “build it fast” I could practically feel my eyebrow twitch in response. Thankfully, the book ended before I could come unhinged, but in retrospect I would’ve preferred a little more variation throughout the book’s 400 pages. To be fair, there was some cause for the repetition–the building of the railroad, tie by tie, rail by rail, was nothing if not repetitive–but that doesn’t mean Ambrose should’ve aimed to drag us though a literary equivalent.

Complaints aside, I’d still recommend this book. It’s an engaging, detailed telling of a story that may be even more amazing now than when it actually happened. 7/10.

Posted in BookLog at 8:54 pm

FoodLog: The Old Spaghetti Factory

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I had the distinct misfortune to experience one of the worst meals of my adult life this past Saturday. I’m not a food snob, but the meal I’m about to describe was so excruciatingly bad it may very well make me sound like one.

While staying at The Depot in Minneapolis, my parents asked the staff for recommendations on nearby restaurants, and, possibly out of spite following my folks’ decision not to eat at the hotel, suggested The Old Spaghetti Factory a few blocks down on Washington. My dad fondly remembered the OSF we’d visited in St. Louis a couple of decades ago, and despite my best efforts to get him to reconsider, eventually convinced us to go.

I fully expected the meal to be bad, but have to report that The Old Spaghetti Factory managed to exceed all expectations, reaching levels of awfulness not experienced in recent memory. On my 1-10 food scale, with “1” being held by my mom’s disastrous 1985 attempt at a vegetarian stew–stew that actually caused my brother to throw up on our dining room table–and “9” being held by Lisa and my delicious dinner at Kiki’s Bistro in Chicago, I’d rate my dinner at the OSF a, uh, 1.5.

It wasn’t just horrible, it was fucking horrible. (And this from someone who’s trying not to swear on his blog, because, you know, the kid may read it one day.)

You know what? I’m not sure I can do this. I’m getting so sick just thinking about this meal I almost can’t bring myself to describe it. (I had the No. #2. Talk about bad foreshadowing.) Seriously, they fucked up spaghetti. I repeat, THEY FUCKED UP SPAGHETTI. How do you fuck up spaghetti!? Is it a special gift, a talent? I wasn’t aware bad spaghetti was even possible, but now consider myself enlightened. The noodles had the consistency and strength of thin strings of toothpaste, the sauce tasted like watered down ketchup, and the copious piles of parmesan cheese made my nose burn. I could have gone down to Lunds’, spent a total of $5 on a cheap box spaghetti, bottled pasta sauce and a loaf of bread and given four people a meal that in every conceivable way would’ve proven itself superior to the crap we were served Saturday.

Seriously, stay away from The Old Spaghetti Factory. Far, far away.

Posted in FoodLog at 10:17 pm

Journal for 16 July 2007

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Mathias finally got to meet the other set of grandparents this past weekend. My mom and dad were only in town for about 24 hours, but they made the most of it. My dad only dropped his preferred nickname for his grandson once, and considering that nickname is Ralph, I’m glad it didn’t make much of an appearance. Regardless, both grandparents were happy, and lavished an inappropriate amount of praise on Lisa and I for “doing such a good job.”

As expected, there were a lot of photos, and of course presents for the baby. My dad decided Mathias must be a Tony Stewart fan–Tony Stewart drives car #20, and Mathias was born on the 20th–so there were a number of bright orange NASCAR gifts in the mix. We’ll have to make sure we have that #20 onesie along with us next time we travel across Wisconsin. If the car breaks down, we can wave Mathias in the air to get the attention of passing traffic.

As it happens, Stewart won his most recent race on Sunday. I’m not sure if that means anything. I just hope it doesn’t mean we have to start watching auto racing. (The last auto race I saw was, uh, animated.) I mean, seriously. There’s baseball on.

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Speaking of baseball, I’m not paying attention to the Brewers. If I do, they’ll start to do poorly, and I don’t want that on my conscience.

Posted in BabyLog,Journal at 10:12 pm

BabyLog: Mathias in Month One

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We took Mathias for a stroller ride around the neighborhood last night. His reaction could generally be referred to as mixed.

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I find myself looking at my son and marveling at how small he is, while at the same time being amazed at how wide a range of expressions and emotions can come from such a tiny body. He’s an incredibly observant little creature, and time and time again I’ve found myself watching him investigate the world around him. His head is heavy, but he’s grown adept at throwing it in whatever direction holds a sight or sound that interests him.

His fingers are tiny. It takes his entire hand to grasp onto my pinky, but when he does, he proves himself to have quite a grip. Meanwhile, his legs are strong enough to be dangerous. He’s only three weeks old, but he’s already learned how to move himself around the cosleeper, and has gotten surprisingly close to turning himself over.

Sometimes when he loses interest in his pacifier he’ll latch onto one of my index fingers. For some reason he seems to prefer my fingers over his mom’s (or his grandmother’s, for that matter). One time this past weekend, he grabbed me shortly after I sat down by him and we stayed like that for almost a half hour until he drifted off to sleep. From watching Lisa, it’s obvious that breastfeeding has been a lot of work for her, and more often than not has been both tiring and painful. I’m glad that I’m a guy and don’t have to deal with that, but from Mathias’ weird little habit of sucking on my fingers, I get what seems like a small hint of the connection he and his mom must have.

It’s been wonderful to watch the changes with Mathias over the past few weeks, but the experience has been a bit sad as well. It’s clear he’s going to grow so quickly, so fast. I’m excited to watch him grow into the great individual I’m sure he’ll be, but I know it won’t be long before I’ll be able to look back at this time and miss it.

Posted in BabyLog at 9:35 pm

Journal for 10 July 2007

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“I’ve been drinking coffee for some time, but it took me becoming a parent to realize its true importance.”

“See, you can’t say something like that and then claim your life hasn’t changed that much.”

Posted in Journal at 11:32 pm

Journal for 9 July 2007

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I’m 32 today.  Eh.

Posted in Journal at 12:25 am

Journal for 8 July 2007

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Kind of quiet around here lately. Turns out this parenting thing is a lot of work.

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Not much to report from the past week, really. Lisa’s mom was up for most of the week, and her dad dropped in a couple of times as well. It was good to get the support, although I can’t say I made much use of it. The house is still a disaster, although a few areas are finally becoming more functional in nature. My folks head up to Minneapolis next weekend. I look forward to introducing them to their grandson.

Mathias had his first big thunderstorm today. He slept through it.

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I’m still behind on my email. Phone calls have been a problem since last Tuesday when my Treo developed a weird issue that has the unfortunate effect of rendering it both deaf and mute. Verizon is sending me a replacement, but until then I’m relying on text messages. I’d say I feel like a kid again, except we didn’t really have text messaging when I was a kid.

Crap I’m old.

Posted in BabyLog,Journal at 11:02 pm

Journal for 1 July 2007

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If I owe you an email or a phone call, I apologize. I’ll try to get back to everyone this week.

~ ~ ~

I head back to work tomorrow. Lisa will have reinforcements at home this week in the form of her mom–through Friday morning, at least–so that should help the transition a bit. I have a lot to write about our life with the little guy, but my brain is too mushy at this point to be effective at it. In retrospect, I can say that many of the parenting stories I heard before Lisa and I became parents seemed to have been optimized specifically to terrorize us. Being a parent has indeed been a lot of work, but nothing a reasonable, well-read person wouldn’t expect.

There’s still a lot to do around the house. The living room, bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom and sunroom are pretty much done and set. The office remains in a transitional stage, and the dining room is still an unmitigated disaster. I hope to have it in a comfortable condition for living with baby by next weekend, but we’ll have to see how the week goes.

Posted in BabyLog,Journal at 7:20 pm

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