Take a Vacation

Inspired by Free Money Finance’s post, I thought I would share our upcoming vacation plans. Everyone should take a vacation! Here are our plans for the year so far:

  • Spring Break to New York to see Hamilton and a Yankee game
  • The girls are taking a Girl Scout trip to Georgia
  • Summer trip to the Great Smoky Mountains to see the eclipse
  • Trip to Orlando to go to Harry Potter World and for my daughter to go to a dance competition

That doesn’t seem like nearly enough, and I’m sure we will also do a long weekend here and there to keep things balanced. What are your 2017 vacation plans?


Last fall, I finished the Navy-Air Force Half-Marathon in 1:29:19. I had set a goal for myself: if I finished under 1:30, I would theoretically project to running a full marathon in under 3:10, which would be a solid time to qualify for the Boston Marathon. In that case, I told myself that I should make the attempt to run a Boston Marathon qualifying time. I even had a race all picked out: the Potomac River Run Marathon is a nice flat course with a limited number of runners and would have been great for my attempt. Alas, scheduling doesn’t look like it is going to work out. But on the good side, delaying to the fall will let me run the same course, and I will be attempting to qualify for the 2019 edition. Since I will be 45 at the time of the 2019 Boston Marathon, my qualifying time can be 10 minutes slower!

I pitched a New Year’s resolution story to The Billfold a couple of weeks ago. At this point, it looks like they aren’t going to run it, so I figured I would post it here. I thought it ended up being decent, but maybe a little short for what they wanted, based on what they have run so far. Still, it felt good to write things again, which is why I decided to start writing here again, I suppose. Plus, just writing it fell in to the “taking chances” theme of the piece.

Taking Chances
Being a parent can make you extremely risk-averse. Not just in the sense that you don’t want your kids to get physically hurt, but you also tend to shy away from making choices in your own life that could negatively affect them. At the same time, you want to teach them that failure is a part of life and things aren’t always going to go your way, and they can learn from their mistakes.
That’s how I found myself last October, trying to decide whether to leave my job of 18 years. It was a difficult and scary decision, but I decided to take a chance and accept a position with a much smaller company. The move wasn’t even that risky; the job paid more and was on a 4 year contract, but I still felt really nervous. When I was in high school, my father lost his job twice in the course of a few years, and the resulting gap in income put a lot of stress on the whole family. In contrast, this was a voluntary move. I know I could have worked in my original job for many more years with very little risk of losing my job or taking a hit to my income. Ultimately, it’s frightening to think that I’ve been doing something for nearly 20 years and I’m not even sure if it’s the right career for me. The thing about being risk-averse is that you can too easily get stuck in a rut with no way out.
How do you know what you’re made of without testing your resolve? As 2016 came to a close, I found that I didn’t have an answer to that question. I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, but I decided to take more chances in 2017 to put my mettle to the test. The job change was just the beginning. Perhaps I’ll find that the problems with my old job have followed me to the new job and I’ll want to make a more radical career change. Maybe I’ll want to move from the high cost-of-living of Washington, DC to a more affordable area. I already have some things lined up to challenge myself in the upcoming year. I’m going to try to qualify for the Boston Marathon in the spring fall (see above). In the fall, I will try again to qualify for the Club National Championships in curling. Both of those goals seem destined for failure, but that’s okay! Despite my introverted tendencies, I’m going to get out of my comfort zone and meet new people at events like Creative Morningstech talks and group running. I’m also going to branch out and find a new hobby, maybe even something that can turn into a side hustle. This week, I even applied for a “side job,” if you can call it that, helping to run a series of trail races that I love.
As my kids have grown, I’ve noticed that they have followed my example and have become overly cautious and wary of trying new things unless I really encourage them. I’m hoping that, by taking chances in my life, they will start taking chances in theirs too. They both decided to try curling this fall, and my daughter joined the backstage crew of her middle school’s play. We’re even going skiing together for the first time in March. I’m proud that they are trying new things outside of their usual routines.

Trying New Things

The Silver Line is open after a long, long wait. On Monday, I had to drop off the minivan at the Honda dealer for some recall work. Since the dealer is literally right next to the Silver Line’s Spring Hill station, I decided to ride it for a couple of stops to McLean. My train’s car was full, but not packed, when I got on. People were boarding at every station in the Tysons area, a bit to my surprise. Also surprising was how long the short tunnel under the high point of Tysons was.

Eventually, I hopped off the train at the McLean station. I probably could have walked the rest of the way to work, but with ongoing road construction on Anderson Road, I decided to try out the Fairfax Connector bus instead. Buses were arriving fairly frequently, and there were quite a few people hopping off and heading to the Silver Line to commute in to DC. I expect there will be a lot of those to start off, but that the reverse commuters (especially those who work at Mitre right next to the McLean station) will start picking up in the next few months. Oh, and that nifty Park and Ride lot at the McLean Station? Total ghost town. So much for the parking apocalypse.

On my way back to the dealer, I took the Fairfax Connector again, this time the one that was replacing the old 24T Metrobus route (which is still signed along the route, but I let Metro know so they can fix it). The bus, as the 24T always was, was nearly empty, making me wonder why they are still running this line with huge buses. It’s certainly not for my couple of times a year I use it when dropping my car at the dealer. The route ran right back up to the Spring Hill station, and I walked across the station bridge to avoid trying to cross the umpteen jam-packed lanes of Route 7. Overall, it was a pretty decent commute, made convenient only because of where my car dealer is currently located.

Yesterday, I rode my bike to work and decided to check out the new “upgraded” Route 7 bridge over I-495. What. A. Nightmare. First off, I forgot how steep the hill up Magarity Road is, and my quads were burning, big time. Then came the moment of truth, the attempt to cross over five separate highway ramps. The first two were easy, as the light at Magarity and Route 7 was in my favor, and I was able to get across them without any trouble. In addition, one of the ramps actually has a signal, so I could be sure it was safe to cross. However, that single ramp was the only one with a signal out of five I had to cross. The first problem came when I tried to cross the ramp from I-495 northbound to Route 7 westbound. A steady stream of cars came off the ramp, with no break to see, all proceeding too fast for me to try to get anyone’s attention to allow me to cross. With the clover leaf approach, most cars didn’t even see me until they were 50 feet away. Finally, after several minutes of waiting, a wonderful gentleman in a Honda Accord stopped and wave me through. PHEW! The walkway on the bridge is nice and wide, but then came the ramp from Route 7 westbound to I-495 southbound. The sidewalk there veers to follow the ramp, then forces a sharp left turn across the ramp, with very difficult visibility of the traffic approaching from behind on Route 7. Luckily, the traffic there was all proceeding westbound on Route 7, and I was able to scoot across quickly. The last ramp also had difficult visibility, this time due to the vegetation growing between the sidewalk and the ramp itself. Honestly, if I was going to ride this route again (which I am not), I would probably wait for a favorable light at Route 7 and Magarity, and ride in the roadway, rather than try to navigate the ramp crossings on the sidewalk. If I was taking this route with any regularity, I would likely choose to ride one of the buses to cross I-495 on Route 7 rather than put myself at risk with the extremely dangerous ramp crossings.

Proceeding west down Route 7, I considered taking Towers Crescent Drive over to Gallows Road, but instead decided to continue west straight to Gallows Road itself. Alas, the sidewalk after Fashion Boulevard was closed, and I was forced to cross near the Fairfax Square shopping area (home to Chef Geoff’s). I then cut over on Aline Avenue to Gallows. Here, there was a short, but harrowing ride in high speed traffic before I reached the relative safety of the Gallows Road bike lane which inexplicably starts after Madrillon Road, rather than connecting all the way up to Route 7. Again, if I rode this route again, I would certainly take the Towers Crescent route, which would drop me on Gallows Road in the middle of the bike lane. The bike lane could use some sweeping, as there was lots of gravel and debris in it, but was a smooth ride that allowed me to pass several cars stopped at lights. Room for road education: those dotted lines in the bike lane leading up to right turns? Cars are supposed to cut into the bike lane at that point prior to making the turn. Really, it’s okay, it lets me know that you are turning at a more gradual pace, rather than cutting across my path in a right hook. All the cars I saw stayed in the car lane, even when I was pretty close behind them. One more side note, there was a little hill down Gallows near Idylwood Road, and I totally blew past a sputtering moped, highlight of my ride for sure.

This post shows there is still a lot of work to be done in the area to accommodate pedestrians and bikers. Even when transportation engineers and planners try to add facilities, as they did with the commodious walkway on the Route 7 bridges, they fail to consider the big picture of how people are going to get to and use the facilities. In the case of Route 7, no one is going to try to regularly cross those ramps without signalized crossings like the ones provided by the HOT lane ramps. Unfortunately, VDOT is continuing to ignore these basic realities while touting its new pedestrian accommodations, like the planned Route 123 sidepath and the Idylwood sidewalks to nowhere. (P.S. It would have been really nice to put in bike lanes when you repaved Idylwood Road, guys!) I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, since they still haven’t even added needed crosswalks in Tysons during the YEARS they had to prepare for the Silver Line opening. Tysons has a long way to go before it becomes the idyllic walkable Arlington-esque paradise planners envisioned. I am optimistic that it will happen eventually, but if I were new to the area and looking for somewhere to live, I’d go to Dunn Loring over Tysons right now. The Mosaic District is great, and once the construction surrounding Dunn Loring station is complete, it will be extremely easy to access for pedestrians and bikers alike.

Bike Train

Somehow I got roped into leading the Safe Routes to School program at Ellie’s school. Most of the time it’s boring stuff like going to Town Council meetings and asking for sidewalks and stop signs. But last week was the Vienna Bike/Walk Challenge. All of the elementary schools in Vienna tried to have the highest proportion of their students walk or bike to school. One of Marshall Road ES’ strategies was for me to lead a “bike train” to and from school every day. This is what it looked like.

Kids locking up their bikes in the morning. The racks were jammed full every nice day. We may need to get more.

Getting ready to head home after school. The students were remarkably well-behaved, even in the tight space here.

Stopping at the stop sign. Always obey traffic signs and follow the rules.

The kids had a great time, and in our first year back doing the challenge, we had the second highest number of overall walkers and bikers, as well as the second highest number of bikers. Not too shabby considering we didn’t even have bike racks at our school until March!

Megabus review

With airfares getting really high lately, and the only good fares in this area belonging to the remote outpost of BWI, I decided to try out the Megabus to get myself home from Michigan.
My father-in-law dropped me off at the Rosa Parks Transit Center in downtown Detroit around 11:30pm on Saturday night. The crowd there was about what you would expect: mostly minority, some clearly homeless, and a few hipster types. They were all well behaved, and there was a security guy there trying to make sure that people were actually waiting for buses and not just loitering. On the other side of the building was the Megabus stop, not the most clearly marked, but the map inside the building did show where it was. After a short wait, the bus arrived, my ticket was checked, and I hopped on with 4 other people for the trip to Pittsburgh. The ride was uneventful, though interestingly there were two drivers on the bus. I guess they staff with two during the red eye runs? It was somewhat annoying that the guy got on the loudspeaker and turned on the overhead lights when we stopped at a rest area, but otherwise it was a quick trip, even for me and my utter inability to sleep on buses/planes/etc.
Once in Pittsburgh, I had a little over an hour to kill before the next bus, so I set off in search of food. FYI, not much open at 6am on Sunday in downtown Pittsburgh! But, I did eventually find a McDonald’s that had just opened and grabbed breakfast.
The Megabus reps were helping out at the Pittsburgh bus stop, getting people in the correct line for their destination. Once the bus arrived, it was smooth loading, and fairly full this time, with only one or two empty seats for the trip to DC. The actual ride was fine as well, except that the rest stops seemed excessively long, especially the 25 minute one in Frederick, a mere hour from our final destination anyway!
In DC, the Megabus lot had clearly marked signs for each line, and they even had tents up to shield waiting patrons from the hot sun. I hopped off the bus and took a quick walk to the Metro, and got home 45 minutes later.
Overall, it was a long trip (I left Detroit at 12:15am and got to DC at 12:30pm, and got home at 1:30pm), but for about $30 one way, it may have been worth the money (and security hassle) I saved over flying. The one glitch so far is that the return trip may be even longer due to a schedule change that leaves me with a four hour layover in Pittsburgh. At least this time it will be on a Friday morning, so there should be more things actually open.

2010 Favorites

It’s time once again for my yearly favorites!
First, in the book category, for non-fiction we have Blind Descent and The Big Short. For fiction, Let the Great World Spin and A Visit From The Goon Squad. Overall I finished 45 books, just a few short of my goal of 52, but not bad.
In the ever-present beer category, I didn’t review nearly as many as usual, but I most enjoyed Founders Nemesis and Drie Fonteinen Oude Kriek.
And as always, we relive the rest of the year’s events:

Looking forward to 2011!


Last month, you may have noticed baseball and football players wearing pink to raise awareness and money for breast cancer research. This month, I have decided to join the Movember movement to raise awareness about prostate cancer and men’s health. Here’s how it works: I start out November clean shaven, then all month I grow a moustache and you all donate money to support me in my efforts. I will post occasional blog updates with pictures on my progress, and you all donate money to support me in my efforts. Did I mention the part where you all donate money to support me in my efforts? I’m trying to raise $1000, but I’d settle for $500. Every little bit helps. If everybody gives just $25 or $50, we’ll hit my goal and then some. Click the link there to view my MoSpace page and donate today. Here are some pictures to get your imagination going.

Day one.

Day two.

Day three.

Now, how about some badly Photoshopped previews of what style moustache I should grow?

The trucker goes nicely with a wife-beater t-shirt.

The pencil thin is a classic, and Jimmy Buffett did a song about it!

Ooh, don’t I look dastardly???

So come on, folks, click the link and donate today!

Breaking out of a slump

I have been in a bit of a slump lately. A couple of things not quite going right, unexpected expenses, stuff like that. But this weekend was pretty darned good, I have to say.
On Saturday, the kids and I went to a local park to go geocaching with some friends of mine. The kids were great the whole time, and didn’t complain. They actually had a lot of fun, and were very good when we got home and discovered that we were covered in some sort of tiny bugs (ticks or chiggers, not sure which) that required laborious tweezer removal.
On Saturday night, Lisa and I went to the Eddie From Ohio concert at Wolf Trap. It was a fun date night away from the kids, even if it was still pretty dang hot. Did you know that they let you bring ANYTHING in to the show? Alcohol, coolers, food, whatever, they don’t care. Somehow, I managed to scam samples of Fin du Monde (wonderful all around) and Ommegang Abbey Ale (I think the guy has had this for a while, so it’s “aged” well: reminded me of these Vosges chocolates with goji berries we’ve had before).
And yesterday, the kids and I made our first ever FTF geocache! You can read all about it here.
I think it’s safe to say I’m out of the slump now. It was a good weekend.

Father’s Day dinner

Yesterday, we went downtown for dinner at Jaleo, one of Jose Andres’ restaurants (perhaps you heard Alex name drop him on Top Chef DC last week?). It was “Kids Restaurant Week” in DC, which meant that the kids paid their age for two tapas and a fruit dessert. It was a good thing too, because it was not a cheap meal! I took a few (bad) cell phone pictures of the food, so allow me to describe them to you.
First up was the sea urchin:
Sea urchin on Twitpic

A spoonful of refreshing summer goodness. Next up were three Ibérico hams.
Tres ibericos! on Twitpic

As you can see by the picture, this was one of our favorites, and I didn’t get to take the picture before most of it was gone already! I really enjoyed the fancy shmancy acorn-fed Lomo Ibérico de bellota.

The fried artichoke was a mild disappointment, though the tapenade was very good.
Fried artichoke on Twitpic

Then came Lisa’s new favorite dish: fried bacon wrapped dates. I have to say, this was definitely a standout.
Fried bacon wrapped dates on Twitpic

The menu said you would want to eat them every day, and I think that’s absolutely true. I miss them already.
The last dish I took a picture of was the rabbit confit.
Rabbit confit on Twitpic

It was a good dish, the apricot puree went nicely with the gamy rabbit, but the sauce was a little grainy for me.
Not pictured: the kids’ chicken croquettes (not at all like chicken nuggets), salmon, Pan con tomate, and garlic shrimp. Also, Lisa’s rice with duck confit and warm green bean salad. Also, the desserts: Chocolate and hazelnut mousse torte, and apple charlotte, both of which were delicious.
All told, we had a good time at our fancy dinner with the kids. The favorites were definitely the ham, the dates, and the desserts. Here’s hoping your father’s day went just as well.