Clean Sweep

Although many of these programs are watched in my household, I’m not a big for of the “swoop in and make an alteration in life” programs. There are certainly enough of them – Trading Spaces, While You Were Out, Date Patrol, What Not to Wear, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, ad nauseaum. There is only one that I do like, and that is Clean Sweep on TLC. Perhaps this one gets to me because I am and have always been so disorganized. Although I have said in no uncertain terms that if a camera crew from What Not to Wear shows up I will run away, I would welcome the Clean Sweep folks in.

I’ve been reading the Julie Morgenstern book, trying to make the necessary internal changes in my attitudes to make an organization effort take. Just this weekend I admitted to myself there is no point in saving clothes too small to wear. Getting rid of them seems like an admission of defeat, that I have given in to being too fat to wear them. I’ve decided that is not the case, and there is no sense surrounding myself with stuff I can’t use now just because I might one day use it again. I know that most of my disorganization is really procrastination. Things build up in big piles because I don’t want to deal with them at the time, and because they build up in big piles I never have the time to deal with them. Making sure that everything has a place such that I can get everything into it in minutes is the key. If things have no place, I either need to make the place or get rid of the things. One line from Fight Club that has always rang true with me: “The things you own eventually own you.” I’m trying hard to get out from under the thumb of my own possessions.


Estimating how much candy to buy is one of the arts I’ve never mastered. I always have way too much or way too little, but never close to what I need. Add to that, I never know if I’m giving out too much or too little. It would be nice if you could get pre-orders on this stuff, but that might be a lot to ask. Oh well. I just had a good looking Buzz Lightyear at the door. I also had what I swear was a princess in a white dress with an eyepatch. It was kind of cool. It made me wonder if maybe the kid just wears an eyepatch or if it was some kind of statement.

It’s a Beautiful Day

Today, the weather in Evanston is gorgeous. I’d have loved to bike into downtown for lunch, hang out at Borders with laptop and generally kill some time working away from the house for a while. Unfortunately, I’m stuck at home waiting on a furniture truck. If they get here soon, I might still do that but they have till 4 PM in their window. I hope the weather holds out and maybe I’ll do this tomorrow. This being my first autumn and winter in the area, I don’t know what to expect but I’m not taking nice weather in October and November for granted.


In one of those unpleasant moments, I woke up today and did all my morning rituals. I fed the dog, let her out, checked my email. For a little bit I was trying to decide whether to stay up or go back to bed and then I realized – it’s not Saturday, it’s Tuesday! Holy crap, I have to work. When I woke up, I was sure it was the weekend. I guess taking that unpleasant and busy trip made it feel like I never had one, so my subconscious was trying to make it up. What a drag, I was this close to crawling back under the covers.

Home Again

The ordeal that was this trip is now over and I’m back in Evanston. I feel less guilty about not talking to Atlanta friends, because there just wasn’t a whole lot of slack in there. I barely had time to do what I needed to, much less also being social and having fun. I had two hitches that really surprised me this morning.

One – you can’t check out of a Homestead Suites at 5:30 AM – their office is closed from 9 PM to 6:30 AM. You are supposed to arrange for early checkout 24 hours in advance. I found this out, of course, at 5:30 when I needed to be heading to the airport. I had never heard of such a thing and didn’t check this out because I had no concept that the office wasn’t open. Even the pissiest Super 8 can handle this.

Two – although I parked right under a sign in the O’Hare long term lot that said “G1”, getting on the bus labeled “G lot” doesn’t take you there. I was on Aisle G1 of Lot E. How the fuck does this make any sense? Why reuse the section numbers? Why not have section G1 in this lot, and start with H1 across the street? Why does every single lot need an A1 section? That’s crazy.

Now I’m home, exhausted from lack of sleep and the standard stress of modern air travel, and snarky emails from work are pissing me off. Maybe taking my wife to a lunch date at the Carmen’s pizza buffet will get me back on track.

Atlanta Pt 3

I’ve met with the realtor, I’ve cleaned out the crawlspace and thrown away everything that really needs it. I’ve gathered up all the stuff to take back to Evanston and now I just need to figure out how to transport it. I might see if I can box it up and check it, or possibly ship it out from Hartsfield. Since the plane leaves at 8 AM, that might be an issue. Maybe the PO down there opens at 6 AM. The main Atlanta one in Hapeville has weird, heroic hours.

It’s weird how sometimes I feel like the same idiot screwup that I was when I was 14 (and we all were, I suspect) and sometimes I feel like a highly comptent and responsible adult. This trip has had some of each. For an example of the former, doing my walkthrough of the house I found the last load of clothes I did still in the dryer. I was wondering why I seemed to have so few pairs of shorts. For an example of the latter, since my realtor meeting was the morning after the time change and I was not 100% sure he wouldn’t have slipped up I got here an hour early and waited for him. If he screwed up, I didn’t want him waiting on me even though it wouldn’t have been my fault. Weird, but that’s just how it goes.

Atlanta Pt 2

I need to leave for the airport in 30 minutes, and yet I’m still foot dragging. Man, do I not want to make this trip. Everything about it just feels like a superdrag. I just want to crawl back in bed.


I’m flying back to Atlanta tomorrow for a hit and run trip, mainly to check on the house and to grab a couple of things I had to leave behind because they didn’t fit in the car during the great exodus. I’m kind of depressed and slack about it. You’d think that a weekend back would be fun and I could make something out of it, see my friends, etc. In fact, I’ve done nothing, talked to no one. I don’t really want to go, but I must to check on the house, meet with a realtor and do responsible grownup stuff. I’m staying through Monday and taking the very first flight out that morning, and should be home by 9 AM in order to start my workday.

I’m not sure why I’ve been such a foot dragger about it all. I just don’t know what’s wrong with me. I feel like very little good came of the last stint in Atlanta and going back holds nothing good for me. I wish our house would just sell so we could cut ties, forget about the place and move on. I want it out of my life.

Getting away from it all

I’ve seen a few of these things now, tales of some family that Gets Away From It All. The first I noticed was the Island Chronicles from BoingBoing cofounder Mark Freunfelder and his family. The most recent is A Year in Cornwall with Frank Leahy and his family moving to rural England. It’s interesting to read the two in a row. The geography is totally different but there is a sameness between the blog and the island articles. This might be exacerbated a little by similarity of voice between the four authors from the two couples. One suspects that once this formula is established, they will all read similarly. Some form of techie, not retire-young wealthy from the boom but with a reasonable amount of money and with an established career and reputation, moves from the hustle and bustle of the big city to some remote place. Maybe it is an island, maybe a farming community. This new area is much simpler and slower paced, the customs and cultures are different, which causes some amusing misunderstandings, but at the end of the day everyone learns some important lessons about who they are. In the end, although the technocrat has a longing for the place because it fills a void in their soul, they return to the hustle and bustle but with a greater appreciation for their lives. It could be a movie. Wait, it was – Local Hero with Peter Reigert and Burt Lancaster. Good flick.

I’m reading these and others (haven’t I seen others? Maybe it is only those two but it seems like more) at the same time as I read Po Bronson’s What Should I Do With My Life, and I’m viewing all through a similar filter. Do people really understand what they get themselves into with decisions about place, career and other life-altering matters? Do I? I just made one of these moves with my wife although I traded up sizes of metro areas. On the other hand Evanston itself is fairly sleepy if you never leave its cozy confines. I continue to evaluate my career. I really like what I do in general, but I’ve had specific jobs that left me, uhm, distinctly less than fulfilled in life. Is that a problem with my decision making or just playing the hands I have been dealt?

I currently telecommute, which I enjoy quite a bit. I find that after doing this for a while, getting back into the routine of leaving the house and going to a job every day feels like torture. This really is the way it should be – wake up, be at work in 7 minutes, work till you need a break, then shower and lunch, work a few more hours, nap if you need it, knock off around dinner time. If you can’t let something drop (and you usually should), you can always walk back to the home much easier than you could drive back to the workplace. Assuming that I am successful at this lifestyle and am successful at keeping enough work this way to pay the bills, then the question of where you live becomes moot. Anywhere with broadband is sufficient. This puts burdens on you, by taking away the simplicity of “I’ll live where the job is” and puts it back in your court with “Where do you want to live?” Ideally, if this is a permanent lifestyle you should live in the cheapest place that meets your needs and keeps you happy. I like living in Evanston, but it isn’t a cheap place. Very much the opposite, in fact. We have been thinking about this for the long term, trying to identify places with low cost of living, cheap houses, access to broadband. It needs to be somewhere out of the way enough to be inexpensive, but with enough access to big city amenities that you can see movies or concerts without a huge hassle. There is a balance amongst all these things.

For the areas I’m familiar with, my best shot at answering this question is Crowley, Lousiana. It’s close to Lafayette and around 2 hours from New Orleans and Houston. There is plenty of Cajun culture, lots of stuff to do and ways to amuse oneself. The winters are mild, the summers terrible, but you can drink a lot and cool yourself down with drive through daiquiris. This remains a question to think about, but thus far the best answer I can come up with is this. It’s not a popular one in the household so far, but its my answer.

Daily life

I didn’t get to see Game 4. For some reason I was sure it was later, and we were experiencing the joy of furniture shopping in Schaumburg while it was happening. I found out it was on by walking by TVs in Ikea. There’s something odd about standing in a knot of people in a crowded story watching a TV, knowing that you are rooting for the opposite of every one of them. We furniture shopped till we couldn’t take it any more, then went off to dinner at Red Robin. We loved Red Robin in Portland and ate there frequently. It’s nice to have them available to us, but neither one is what you’d call convenient. We thought hauling up to Deerfield was a drag until we drove from Evanston to Schaumburg. I can say that’s a trip we won’t be making every day. However, next door to Red Robin is a Todai sushi buffet! That’s another place I loved in Portland.

It might be possible that one day I go nuts, decide to take a stack of work with me and drive to Schaumburg and sit and work in the sushi buffet restaurant for a few hours. When I was in grad school, much of my studying happened in buffet style restaurants. I’d sit there with my books, doing my homework, chugging on the endless drink refills and eating whenever I got a little more peckish. I find that a good way to live life. Depending on whether or not I haul the laptop, I might have to wait for a day when I have mostly offline work to do, like reading and reviewing documents. Neither restuarant is something I can go to at the drop of a hat, but knowing that I have Red Robin and Todai available in the metro area makes me happy.

Illinois Citizens

We went down for a hot date to the DMV last night. There’s a branch in North Chicago that was open until 7 PM, so D left work at 4 and we drove on down there. It took about 30 minutes on the titles and 2 hours on the drivers licenses. For our bit of absurd dada comedy of the day, at one point we are sitting in the chairs waiting to be called. We know there is a written test coming up, and we want to cram with the Illinois driver info book. However, the only copies we can find are in Spanish or Polish. We decided we’d do better with the Spanish, so for 10 minutes or so we were studying for the test in a language we don’t read. It was just like all those anxiety dreams I have. After a little while, we found English copies and could cram in our native tongue. I decided to keep my dormant motorcycle endorsement alive. I haven’t ridden one in ten years, but I’ve had it on my license continuously since then, through four state changes. I had to take two written tests, the regular one plus the motorcycle one. The DMV women assured me when I handed it to her for grading that unless I had studied for it in the book, I couldn’t pass. I agreed that it was quite hard, and I just tried to use common sense and my ancient memories of leaning and braking. I had to stop and think about which hand the clutch was on and which foot did the shifting. As it was, I barely passed, missing 3 out of 15, the very edge of passing. Now finally we can write checks at the Jewel/Osco without getting the skunk eye for our Georgia licenses.

More Biking and Evanston Life

I did the bike ride into downtown Evanston for lunch again today. This one went a little more smoothly (other than getting slightly lost, never so lost the grid plan eluded me). There were no invocations to deities this time, no “Just one more block, jesus, just one more block!” like when I did this a few days ago. I also remembered a bike lock, so I got to chill for longer in the Borders, browsing books and drinking a latte. What I forgot was my library card, which I needed to get set up to check out ebooks over the internet. Oh well, next trip. I’m hoping to make this bike ride at least twice a week, as a de-flabbing manuever. I’d like to get to where I can rip off a three mile ride in a short time without being completely winded, like I did back when I was riding to the train station in Portland.

Speaking of Portland, I bought one of the two new Chuck Palahniuk books while I was out, Fugitives and Refugees. If the guy is worried that coming out is going to hurt his sales, I figured I’d buy a copy of the book as a “Right on, brother” gesture. I wanted it anyway, but this seems like an apt gesture at what must be a tough time for him.

One More Chance to Get It Right

Since I’m unloading boxes of books onto empty bookshelves, I thought I might try to take advantage of this situation, and once and for all get them organized. My intention is to alphabetize by author/editor all the hardbacks and trade paperbacks in one section, and then all the paperbacks in another. One bookcase is set aside for computer and technical books, another for comics, graphic novels and SF magazines. We shall see how this all works. At the very least, if I have to double row the paperbacks to make them all fit, being alphabetized and organized will make it easier to find specific books. I’ve gotten very weary of it being easier to check out books from the library than find them on my shelves. My friend and programming parter at work Darin writes in his weblog about his experiences organizing and using Julie Morgenstern’s book Organizing from the Inside Out, which I also have. I have been a disorganized mess my whole life and it wears on my every day. I want to change that, and maybe this time I’ll see it through.

I Want to Ride My Bicycle

So my lunchtime bike adventure was a mixed success. I did in fact ride my bike from the house to downtown Evanston. I pointedly did not note how long it took because I don’t really want to know, not yet at least. I made it downtown, bought the new Sandman graphic novel, Endless Nights at Something Wicked. I ate across the street at Baja Fresh and my original plan called for spending a little time working from the Border’s bookstore right by there. However, like the non-detail-oriented dumbass that I am, I brought my Kryptonite lock but not the key. Since I couldn’t lock up the bike and I didn’t want it to walk away, I regrettably had to skip the hanging out at Border’s part. That’s a shame, because I wanted to digest my lunch and rest a little before tackling the ride home, but them’s the breaks.

All in all it went well. Note to self, though: when lighting out on the first bike ride in three years, 7 mile round trip is probably too ambitious. I made it, but it wasn’t pretty and wasn’t much to be proud of. By the time I got home, I was barely moving. However, I did it. I got out of the house and got moving, went somewhere and got back. The bike being out of repair probably made it a little harder than it should have been – I could hear it squeaking at several points – but the other 95% of that was pure me. While it is true that this made it very clear that I have become an out of shape lardass, it is also true that I actually went and did something. Not so bad. By a little clever map research, I was able to find a route that was very calm, had few cars and very little scary traffic moments. I will definitely do this again,

CJUG again

The CJUG meeting was pretty good. I was fretting some about getting there, but as it turned out taking the Metra was pretty plush, fairly fast, and took me across the street from where I wanted to be. Hard to beat that with a stick. The meeting itself was informative. The JUnit portion wasn’t of use to me, since I already know more than the introduction gave. The demo of the Spark Browser was more interesting and infromative to me, a SDK that allows for the conversion of web pages as HTML into arbitrary data that can be accessed via a Java API. I went ahead and paid my $40 to join for the year, figuring that I’ll be attending most or all of the events. What I didn’t realize is that they bring pizza, or I wouldn’t have had a big polish dog right before the meeting. Because my train got in about 45 minutes before the meeting, I wandered for a few blocks in every direction, scouting out what was around there. All in all, it was fun. I noticed on the ride home that the president of CJUG was on the same train as me, but he was heading even farther north than I. If you wanted to, you could stay on that train all the way to Wisconsin!


I’m going to have me a big adventure, taking the train into downtown to attend the Chicago Java Users Group meeting. I’m not 100% sure I know what I’m doing with the train, but I’ll try to figure it out. It’s cheaper to take the CTA train than the Metra, but the Metra goes right where I need it to and is across the street from my bank, so I can go it it easily. We have a winner!

Happy Crazy Baby Fun

Here’s a photo of me and my niece Emily. We both look pretty happy, but I have crazy eyes kind of like Jonny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Carribean. I’m not going to comment on how cute she is, because her father – my brother – is already unbearable that way. She is a fun, giggly baby for sure. It’s impossible not to perk up when you are around her.

Trader Joe’s

One thing that we really like about having moved to the northern suburbs of Chicago is once again having easy access to a Trader Joe’s. We shopped there a lot when we lived in Portland. You can’t go there with your heart set on specific stuff because they frequently don’t have all of everything, or the brands come and go. We got several bags of good gourmet stuff for under $50, including some frozen bowls of Indian biryani rice and kung pao chicken, some great tortellini and lots of other cheap yet delicious food. You can’t beat it. We were suffering from withdrawal in Atlanta, that’s for sure.

Chicago Living

Let me be the first to admit that I may have over-romanticized the Chicago/Evanston area. I’ve been talking about how – contrary to what my prejudices would lead me to believe – people in Chicago are nicer and calmer than in Atlanta. One data point was that people drive less aggressively here. While in general I do believe that is true (you can drive only 70 MPH on the interstate here without getting killed, unlike Atlanta) I have seen a fair bit of pointless road nonsense lately. Last night, crossing the street from one shopping center to the Westfield Mall in Skokie, the guy behind me was freaking out that I wasn’t making the right turn on red. He was making waving gestures and tapping his horn. I, like, didn’t have a turn signal on. I guess it was just out of his range of comprehension that I might possibly not be turning. I hope he felt like the asshole he is when I went straight at the green. A similar thing happened earlier in the day, when a tiny old lady was honking at some guy for not going at an intersection – except the light was still red. I guess if she had been in front, she’d have run it. So, Chicago drivers might be somewhat calmer but they ain’t perfect.

I also accidentally ran across an interesting Chicago site, Gapers Block. It has lots of local stuff, a calendar, restaurant reviews and other good links for me to explore.

Day One of New Life

Well, I can’t say I got a whole tremendous amount done for work today, but I do have everything set up. My computer works, I can VPN to the office and a lot of the stuff I was worrying about is fine (and stuff I never gave a second thought to didn’t work at first!) I don’t feel too badly about this, in retrospect it is kind of unreasonable to expect such major upheaval to come about without any repercussions. I’m still kind of zoned and weary and not that great at thinky stuff right now. I managed to delete the inbox on my Macintosh, so all those e-mails I was saving to answer later are gone and it is no one’s fault by my own. I was kind of bummed and full of that “I am such an idiot” self-loathing that I tend to feel at first. Now, I think of it as a liberation. I can get the last two weeks back, and the rest of it is just vaporized into the aether. If I hadn’t replied to the email in two years, what were the odds I was going to get on that today? None. Now I’m free of all those things, I can start over and all will be fine. Life is good, I’m in my beautiful new house with my beautiful wife and beautiful dog. Time to get on about having a beautiful life!