Saying Goodbye


Today we had to say goodbye to one of our best friends. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Roxie was one of the most loving pets I’ve ever had. She was our lap cat: if your lap was empty she would sit in it; if it wasn’t, she would sit on whatever was in your lap. She would occasionally go to bed with us and fall asleep on my chest, purring softly. Even people who hate cats liked Roxie.

We adopted her and Max a little over ten years ago, but she was already seven while Max was just two, so she was a very old lady. She had been sick for the past couple of months, and recently she stopped eating, so we made the very hard decision to have her put to sleep. The doctors at Banfield in Leesburg were great and very understanding of how big of a deal this was for us. They even gave us a clay impression of her paw print to take home with us. It was an incredible gesture that I was not expecting. We brought Max with us in the hope that if he was there he would understand that Roxie wasn’t coming back with us. Max and Roxie weren’t really close and mostly just tolerated each others’ existence, but I think he will miss her just the same.

There were a lot of things about Roxie that made her unique. Unlike most cats, she liked to lay on her back with her paws up in the air, and if you scratched her back at the base of her tail, she would lick whatever you put in front of her. If there was nothing there, then she would just lick the air, which provided endless amusement to many of our friends. The best thing, though, is that she would obey the rule of “fives.” Roxie was notorious for stealing your seat when you got up and laying in the warm spot. But if you called “fives” when you got up and she heard you, she wouldn’t take it. Courtney used to think that this wasn’t a real thing and just coincidence. Then one night she got up from the couch to get a drink. As she was walking to the kitchen, Roxie made her way over to the recently vacated spot. Courtney turned around, pointed at Roxie, and said “fives.” Roxie stopped where she was, looked up at Courtney as if to say “well played,” and went back to where she had been resting before.

RIP, Roxie. My lap will be a little colder from now on.

Defining Morality

There is a brilliant post over on Reddit on how you don’t need a god to define morality and how taking the position that you do need said god actually weakens the definition of morality.

I think Christians are stuck on the horns of dilemma: is God good only because he defines what good is, or is he good because the things he does–the things he encourages and supports–are good in themselves? In other words, does God define “good” arbitrarily, or does he have a reason for saying that certain things are good?

Do you remember that episode of Friends where Joey needed money, and Chandler wanted to give it to him, but Joey refused to take charity? Chandler invented a card game called “Cups” that had arbitrary rules he thought up on the spot so he would “lose” money to Joey. You weren’t surprised when Chandler managed to “lose” exactly the amount of money he intended to give to Joey: Chandler made the rules, so of course he did what he set out to accomplish when he invented the game.

The choice of analogy for his explanation is spot on, and I highly recommend you check out the entire post here.

Vegas Reunion


I just got back from an informal reunion with some college buddies in Las Vegas, and we had a fantastic time. It was my first trip to that oasis in the desert, and I was really excited to go. I knew basically what to expect from others I know who had been there, but that still didn’t prepare me for the sheer scale of the place. The resorts there are enormous marvels of modern engineering, and it was fun just walking around the different hotels and seeing how they were designed.

We stayed at the Mirage, which turned out to be an excellent choice. It’s a reasonably priced hotel for being right on the strip within walking distance of tons of other places. I didn’t take a cab the entire time I was there (aside from the airport); we were able to walk to anywhere we needed to go. Granted, we didn’t go down to the far ends of the strip, but we were able to make it as far away as the Rio on foot.

We spent the majority of the first day wandering around and looking inside all of the different resorts. The architecture in those places is pretty amazing. Caesar’s and the Venetian are both large enough to get lost in and practically have full shopping malls inside. Some of the resorts connect to each other, like the Venetian and Palazzo, so you never even have to go outside into the blistering heat. There was even a tram that ran from the Mirage to Treasure Island next door. We ate lunch at a pub, but I have no idea which resort it was in. I think it was the Venetian. While there, we ran across this amusing sign:

In Vegas, it’s always an emergency.

We also toured Madame Tussaud’s (Steve got us in for free) and looked at the wax replicas of famous people. Some of the replicas were dead on, and some of them were a miss. It was interesting to see how much shorter people were than I expected them to be. Later that afternoon, I played in a poker tournament with Steve. I was doing pretty well until I lost to a bad beat (K6o over my AA). That happens all the time, though. I practically expect it at this point. Thought it would be nice to win, I really enjoy just playing in the tournament atmosphere. After Steve and I busted out of that, we all ate dinner at Otto Pizzeria in the Venetian, where I had the most amazing pizza I’ve ever had. It was their special of the day called Pizza Carbonara. It had cheese, a white sauce, egg, and some kind of non-smoked Italian bacon that I can’t remember the name of. I never would have thought to put egg on a pizza, but it was phenomenal.

My last day was spent doing a little gambling at the various casinos, mostly Caesar’s and the Mirage. I played some craps, blackjack, and slots. I didn’t come out ahead, but I look at gambling as part of the entertainment and budget out a set amount to play with. We had an early dinner at Joe’s at Caesar’s Palace where I had probably the best rib-eye I’ve ever had. It was cooked perfectly and deliciously seasoned. After dinner, it was off to see Penn & Teller at the Rio. We decided to walk from Caesar’s, and over the course of the trip we got catcalls from women and men. We also got yelled at by a homeless person. The Penn & Teller show was amazing, and I particularly enjoyed Penn’s patter. If you have the chance to see them, I highly recommend it. I still have no idea how they do the magic bullets trick. After the show, we capped the night off getting drinks and watching the fountains at Bellagio, a perfect ending to a truly enjoyable trip.

I definitely plan to go back to Vegas because I had a really fun time, and there are tons of places I wasn’t able to see on this short trip. I’m hoping that we can make this an annual thing with the guys, and I know a few of them are keen on the idea themselves. If you haven’t been to Vegas, and you get the chance to visit the city, you should go. There’s no other place like it.

Me, Jim, Jeff, Steve, Matt, Phil, and Ray having dinner at Joe’s

Our Little Slice Of Domestic Paradise


Spring is finally here in our part of the world, and we are loving the (generally) warm weather and the green appearing everywhere. We bought our house in December, so we had absolutely no idea what the yard would look like in the spring. We knew it would be pretty, but we didn’t know just how beautiful it would be. The previous owners definitely put a lot of work into the place, terracing the hill in the back yard and adding a large variety of plants, bushes, and flowers. We knew we had rose bushes and holly bushes, but that was about it.

When spring first arrived and all of our neighbors’ yards started blooming (read: they had landscapers come in and plant fresh annuals) we were a little disappointed. Everybody’s yard looked so nice, but ours wasn’t blooming yet. Fast forward a few weeks, and our yard has exploded. It looks gorgeous! We already loved our new place, but now we love it even more. We’re very thankful to the previous owners for putting so much work into the yard. Now all we have to do to see paradise is look out the window.

Click the images to view full size.









Oh, and we’re not the only ones who appreciate the newly flowering back yard. The cats have been glued to the screen door every day when we have it open. We have squirrels, birds, and rabbits that they would just love to murder. Luckily for the wildlife, they are strictly indoor cats. Sorry, Max.


32 Years Was A Good Run


My wife and I recently purchased our first house and moved in back in January. Now that spring is finally here, yard work has begun in earnest. Prior to owning this home, I had never done yard work in my life. When I was growing up, the yard was the purview of my father, who would occasionally allow us entry into his domain to play football or soccer or Ninja Turtles, so long as we did not throw its pristine state into disarray. I don’t recall my dad ever complaining about yard work, which leads me to believe that he actually enjoyed it. This hypothesis is further supported by the fact that I was never once asked to mow the lawn when I entered my teenage years, a duty most of my friends’ parents were all too happy to burden their children with when they reached the appropriate age.

When I grew up and left home to start life on my own with my wife, life conspired to place us in habitats that either had no yards or the yard work was taken care of for us. We lived in two apartment complexes and one condominium in the ten years prior to now, and not once in that entire time did I ever have to deal with yard work. As the title says, thirty-two years was a good run.

But that streak has now come to an end. Now that we are homeowners, it has fallen to us to tame the wild vegetation that grows upon our land. Toward that end, I purchased a small electric mower and an electric string trimmer. I chose these options for a couple of reasons:

  1. They are both zero emissions appliances. I like to help out with the environment where I can, and the fact that these are both pure electric with no emissions were great selling points to me. Yes, there is inevitably the environmental impact of generating the electricity itself, but that is more or less a sunk environmental cost.
  2. My yard is small enough that a single 100′ extension cord will let me mow/trim the entire property. I can plug the cord in a single outlet in the back and do the entire back yard and the same with the front. Sure, it’s sometimes a little annoying having to move the cord out of the way occasionally, but I think this is a small price to pay for not having to remember to go to the gas station to get fuel for a gas-powered mower. I also don’t have to worry about charging a battery-powered mower and replacing said battery when it inevitably dies. I can see the two pieces of equipment I’ve bought lasting for a very long time.

I’ve only had to mow/trim the lawn a few times since we’ve moved, but already I can see why my dad didn’t pass this chore on to me. It is, indeed, work, but there is something very satisfying about sitting down on my deck, cold beer in hand, and surveying the fruits of my labor once I have finished. Living in the modern age we do, I no longer have to till the earth for my food, but when I have finished molding and sculpting the yard around my home, I feel like I am tapping into some small portion of what my ancestors must have felt when they harvested their crops. We have taken the soil and bent it to our will and made it ours. And so, for now, I will savor these moments while they are fresh. I hope they never grow stale.

Dream Diary: Night of 4/27/13

Last night, I had some very vivid dreams. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I don’t remember my dreams when I wake up, but I remember almost everything about these. What follows is my recollection of these dreams as far as I can remember.

I’m in a hospital getting diagnosed for a knee problem. I don’t know how I injured my knee. It doesn’t particularly hurt, but when I walk, I walk with a limp, as if my knee just won’t work properly for some reason. The doctor sits me down and examines my knee, and that’s when I notice that there are two white strands sticking out of the skin in my knee. There’s no blood or cuts or anything, just these two strands that have the texture of twist ties. The doctor says I’ll have to come back tomorrow at four in the afternoon for surgery so he can open me up and tie the two ligaments back together.

I leave the hospital through the parking garage and get into my red Lamborghini. I don’t remember actually driving it anywhere, but suddenly I’m in a different garage. I get out of my car, and I hand my valet the keys. “Sir?” He asks. “Aren’t you going to lock it?” I don’t know why, but in this dream, it made perfect sense to lock the car. The way I locked the car, though, left it so that the valet could still park it, but no one could steal it. He handed me this ornate brown jewelry box along with the keys I had handed him earlier. I notice a small keyhole in the box. I flip to the Lamborghini key, and pressed it to the handle of the car key is an even smaller key. I pull the smaller key out of the inset in the larger key, insert it into the beautifully carved box, and turn. Nothing appears to happen, but I just know that the car is now “locked” and cannot be stolen. I hand the box and the keys back to the valet.

I’m now walking through a series of tunnels. Then I realize they aren’t tunnels. They are bleachers. I continue walking under them until I find an opening. It leads out onto a football field where a game is taking place. “Is that Lane Stadium?” I ask myself out loud, already knowing the answer is yes. “This isn’t right. I’m not supposed to be here,” I mumble. I don’t mean that I will get in trouble for being at Lane Stadium; I mean that I know I need to have knee surgery soon, so I should head back  to the hospital. I turn around to leave and I make my way through a bunch of other bleachers situated underneath the main bleachers. These bleachers face perpendicular to the ones above them, yet somehow manage to look onto the exact same field. I can turn around 180 degrees and see the exact same game playing in both places.

I make my way through the bleachers to leave, and I notice that the stands are populated by people from previous dreams. Whether these people are from actual previous dreams or previous dreams from inside this dream, I have no idea. I know without looking that if I turn this direction or that direction that I will see this specific person sitting there. Right at the exit, I see an old man sitting on the front corner of the last set of bleachers. He looks well for his age, and I stop to tell him, “Oh, I see you got better!” I knew from a previous dream that he had been very sick and close to dying. I was very happy that he was still alive and able to enjoy the game.

I leave the stadium, and am now suddenly on a cliff-side. I’m on a dirt and rock path maybe fifteen feet wide. The cliff wall shoots up hundreds of feet to my left, and a chasm drops off into blackness on my right. I know that this is the way back to the hospital so I continue on the path. In the distance I see two young women in sundresses running toward me. Both of them have red hair. I know that one of them is my current girlfriend who I’m not very happy with, and one of them is someone that I love but never told.

The first girl to reach me jumps into my arms, and I grab her in a big hug. At first I think it’s my girlfriend, but when I set her down I know that this is the girl I love in secret, and she looks like Christina Hendricks. Not Mad Men Christina Hendricks, but Firefly Christina Hendricks. The conversation we have is blurry, and I don’t remember any of the words. But over the course of it, I tell her that I will break up with my girlfriend to be with her. My girlfriend has reached us by this point. She overheard the entire conversation and walks away from us sad, but not crying.

I’m now immediately back in the parking garage by myself and walk up to the valet and ask for my car. They bring it around, and I look into my wallet, but I don’t have any cash for a tip. I tell them I’m sorry, that I don’t generally carry cash, and they give me a look like, “Sure, guy, whatever.” I feel really bad getting into my car, and as I’m getting ready to leave one of the valets leans in the passenger window and stuffs a $20 bill between the sun visor and the ceiling. He says something along the lines of “Have a nice day, sir” in an incredibly sarcastic tone. Now I really feel like an asshole. I have a Lamborghini that these guys took care of for me; I should have money for a tip! I get out of the car and try to explain to them that I don’t actually have any money with me, but I will bring some later. They seem to understand. They mention that they are very thirsty, since it’s hot in the garage, and that I should take the $20 and get them some bottled water. I immediately agree and say I will do it before I go for my surgery.

I’m unsure what happens next. I remember moving in places, an empty hallway up in an attic for sure, but everything else is a blur. I know that I am lost trying to find some bottled water, and I know that I’ll never find it. I know that the valets are going to be extremely mad with me because now they will think I stole their $20. I can never go back to the garage, and I never make it to my knee surgery.

I now switch dreams completely. I am inside a fantasy massively multiplayer roleplaying game, not unlike World of Warcraft. It’s not WoW, but the art style is very similar, with lower polygon counts and sharper angles but still very beautiful. I’m some kind of hunter character, with a sword in one hand and a rifle in the other. I’m with a group of other players who I know are my guildmates, and we’re in some sort of coastal pirate village. If you have played WoW, think Booty Bay but much larger.

We are on a variety of quests, and leave the town to head into a swamp-like area where the water is chest deep. We have to wade through this for a long time. I don’t remember completing any quests here. All I know if that it is the job of one of our guild members to transcribe our adventures for later publication. Suddenly we’re back on the docks at the pirate town and turning in our quests. As my guild mates turn in their quests, little runes carved into the wooden planks glow brightly. Before each guild member turns in their quests, all the runes return to their darkened state. The first few members of my team are able to light up maybe two or three of the nine that are set in a semicircle.

When my turn comes, I light up all nine runes, each one blazing a different color. “Who is this?!” a deep voice yells. A tall figure, whose face I cannot see, is pointing to the lit runes on the planks. I raise my hand, as do two of my other guildmates. We realize that all three of us had completed all nine objectives, but we’re not sure whose were being counted at the time. At the start, I was certain it was me, but now I’m not so sure. All I know for certain is that I did complete all nine objectives.

“Cheaters!” the tall figure bellows. He thinks we combined our efforts to light up all nine runes instead of doing it individually. I know that it is very rare for one person to light up all nine, let alone three, but I know that we were all completely honest. I am suddenly knocked on my back along with my guildmates. We are pinned there by some invisible force. We try to use our hands and feet to push back on it, but we can’t move it. I am aware of a growing crowd gathering around us, each person voting on whether or not they think we cheated. The more people who think we cheated, the more powerful the crushing force gets. We all have votes too, and we vote that we are honest. But more people gather around and vote that we cheated, and the pressure grows. Some people vote that we’re honest, and give us moments of reprieve, but the pressure always comes back.

I look up at the tall figure and notice that it is Conan O’Brien. He leans down toward me and laughs in my face. “Why are you doing this?” I ask. “You’re not evil, you’re good!” Despite the banality of these statements, I know that they are actually clever, as if it’s a code phrase to shut him down. A sudden realization seems to come to him that, indeed, he is good, and the whole trial immediately ends. My guildmates and I get up, and most of them immediately leave the game. I’m left with a single friend, and we both check our quest log to see that we only have a couple of mining quests left and decide to just go ahead and do them.

While walking along the docks to leave town, I notice a rock that doesn’t appear to belong. It sits by itself on a wooden terrace. It’s not labeled as interactive, but it looks like I should be able to do something with it, so I hit it with my mining pickaxe. The rock immediately cracks open to reveal a huge vein of gold. I begin mining as fast as I can because I know others will try to steal it. Sure enough, some guy immediately tries to steal from my ore vein, but I brandish my sword and frighten him off.

Once I have all the ore, my friend and I make our way around the docks to the blacksmith, so we can refine it and get the gold out. We’re both extremely excited at how rich we’ll be. This has been the biggest ore vein ever found in the game! But as I start to melt down the ore, I know something is wrong. It is not gold in the ore at all, but some yellow plastic substance. It’s fake. My heart sinks, but suddenly my friend grabs my shoulder. I turn to see the plastic substance reforming itself into a map! I know instinctively that this map will lead us to the greatest treasure in the game.

We grab it immediately after it cools and take a look at it. It contains pictures of areas in town aligned in a specific manner, so we know we have to stand someplace specific in town to see where the map is pointing to. We run around town frantically, trying to find the place with the correct view. We eventually find it and notice that the map points out into the ocean along the coast. We run down the docks, dive into the water, and immediately begin to swim toward where the treasure is hidden.

We are now joined by one of our guildmates, the one whose jobs it is to chronicle our adventures. As we swim along we run into a large group of people from another guild waiting for us in the water. They are very unhappy. Apparently our journalist member has severely misrepresented their guild in something he has written and published, and they want us dead. My other guildmate and I point out the transcriber as the guilty party and tell them they are welcome to him if they let us go. They agree.

We begin swimming off toward the treasure, and I hear the journalist guild member yelling from behind me as the other guild attacks him: “Wait! You don’t want me! I’m not a very good writer! Take him! He writes much better than I do!”

I wake up.