End of Summer Recap: I’ve Always Been All About That Bass

Welcome to my end of summer recap! As the first wave of fall air has blown into the DC region this weekend and football season is well underway, it seems appropriate to look back on the last month of lazy summer days.

I call them lazy since, as Gina’s due date is now only double digits away, we’ve been in full-on Baby Panic Mode here at Casa de Salmons for the last couple of weeks. How long ago the summer was! How innocent we were! How much stuff does a newborn really need? I’ve already progressed through a few stages of abject terror in realizing that our little one is going to be here before we know it, and until recently it felt like we hadn’t done anything to get ready. Rest assured my nerves are in good shape now, though.

But I digress! Let’s talk August, people.

After our Bermuda trip, a bunch of the guys and I went on our annual camping adventure Somewhere In Central Virginia. This has taken a couple of forms, but this year we hung out in a private lodge with dead animals hanging on the walls.

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Meet the gang.

The weekend, in a nutshell, involved much farting, laughing, drinking, card playing, grilling, water basketball, hiking amongst trolls, and catching the same fish three times. The main star of the weekend, however, was the beautiful Blue Ridge.

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I guess I could settle for retiring here. Sheesh.

Gina and I completed the trifecta of vacationing with the time honored tradition of Labor Day at the Lake, hosted by Jen’s family. The cast – and the lake – has changed over the years, as you can see below. It’s also expanded to include a bunch of kids, but the fun keeps on coming.

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The cast of the mid-2000′s, but really not that much has changed.

This year, I even got to be flipped out of a tube to hit the water at high speed, just like old times! And what trip would be complete without sharing some popcorn with some old friends?

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Chomping good fun.

We had to leave the lake early this year for another commitment (more on that later), but I’m very glad we got the chance to take a breather with our old college crew.

So in all seriousness, this summer was a good one, even though we were blissfully in denial about the monumental preparations ahead of us. Oh well, now it’s go time! Let’s do this!

Back From Bermuda

Hello! How are you? I’ve been off the grid lately. Shortly after Gina and I discovered we were expecting, we booked a last-chance vacation to relax before getting into the baby preparations for real. As Merlin said in The Sword in the Stone, “blow me to Bermuda!”

Merlin knows.

Merlin knows what’s up.

The logistics of the trip package we bought included a bus transfer to and from the cruise terminal in New Jersey, and the cruise itinerary included an almost three-day stop in Bermuda. Great! Relaxing! Beautiful! The forced relaxation of a couple of days at sea! Sign me up.

The bus portion of the trip also allowed me to do something I usually don’t do: take down notes, travel journal style, in real time, using Google Docs.

This lasted all of three days into the trip.

After that I forgot what the Internet was thanks to insanely high Wi-fi and cellular data prices on the ship and in port. I enjoyed the time being disconnected, but as a travel journal project goes, it was basically a failure.

However, as a special bonus to readers like you, I’m going to post my notes in raw, mostly unedited form and then wrap this whole thing up with some quick impressions of Bermuda.

Quick impression: it's pretty cool.

Quick impression: it’s pretty cool.

Here we go:

We left the house on schedule. Coffee cup mishaps: I nearly spilled McDonald’s coffee on myself before getting in my car, then left it on top of our cab that was taking us to the bus pickup. It toppled over when he pulled out but it stayed on the roof. Still drank it. Then Gina stepped on it when shaking bus driver’s hand. Still intact, still drinkable. Thanks McDonald’s!

Made great time to Baltimore. Stopped at Best Western to pick up a family where one of them was in a raccoon suit. Walked to McDonald’s. The whole morning was sponsored by McDonald’s (I’ve never been to McDonald’s more in a 12-hour period in my life). We waited for the raccoon suit family to show up, go to McDonald’s themselves, and eat breakfast in the parking lot while talking to each other like they wouldn’t be spending a few hours together on a bus. One of the Dads looks like Tommy Lee Jones, but he’s not going on the trip.

I’m sure they’re very nice people.

Turns out we’re waiting on one more person, so they’re allowed to stand around and eat.

The final person was related to the first group. They were late but she had her husband go to McDonald’s to get breakfast anyway, so we left later than we could have but still 10 minutes ahead of the bus’s schedule.

Next stop: Philly for 5 more people! I hope they’re prompt. Look at me, getting somewhere 30 minutes early for once and all of a sudden looking down on people.

Stopped at a park and ride lot outside Philly. No McDonald’s in sight. One couple already here, had to wait on three more. They got lost and ended up in the wrong parking lot. Found out later that the directions they got were for the wrong parking lot. Bus company fail.

I wish I’d packed a sandwich.

After Philly, despite numerous highway signs saying the Bayonne Bridge was closed, bus driver bravely tried to cross it anyway. Bus driver got lost in the residential side streets of Staten Island. I finally used Google Maps to help him get to the cruise terminal, to the relief of every anxious person on the bus. Made it there with an hour and twenty minutes to spare before ship pulled out.

First night was a blur, very tired. Stumbled our way through to dinner and the first show. Met a nice family from outside Philly who would be our dinner companions for the week.

Next two days at sea relaxing. Sort of a sleep hangover the first full day, took us a while to get situated and figure out where everything was. Got a little bit of sun deck time. Figured out that the stern sun deck was the quietest place away from the Jersey Shore-like atmosphere of the main pool deck. This was the first formal night, took some pictures that Gina actually liked.

By day three, our second full day at sea, firing on all cylinders again.

As I said, from that point I gave up keeping notes, but the rest of the trip would have read like this: three days in Bermuda allowed us to tour historic St. George’s, the first capital of Bermuda and the first permanent settlement there. There’s a really old and fascinating church, lots of narrow twisty streets, and a cool old fort. I love the Bermudian architecture – the homes there are all basically made of limestone, so they can stand up to darn near anything. We went to a street festival in Hamilton, the modern capital with high-end shops, frozen yogurt places, and other things a big city has to offer. We spent half a day at Horseshoe Bay, one of the famous pink sand beaches, and it was wonderful. We took a glass-bottom boat at night out to a coral reef and a shipwreck in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle and came out without disappearing. We ate ourselves silly on the cruise ship and made friends with the family from New Jersey at our dinner table. We competed in a trivia contest and almost won, saw a Vegas rock-n-roll juggler, and worked on our tans. I read three books.

Really the only downside to the trip was the bookends with the bus company. My notes already hinted at the company’s planning failures, but the return trip was even worse. After we dropped off the Philly people (which was after the driver missed the exit again and took a 30 minute detour), the bus broke down on the side of I-95, and it was almost two hours before a new bus got there and we were off again. Starving and exhausted, we arranged for Gina’s mom to pick us up in Baltimore versus braving another thrill ride with our sleepy driver. All this made us pretty delirious after going with no lunch for hours on end, and we were a little angry that our trip ended that way. But we just tried to imagine the cars that were rushing past us at 80+ mph with inches to spare between them and our bus were mere waves crashing into a pink beach. That worked until all of our snacks were depleted.

But hey, in summary, Bermuda was great! Just don’t take a bus there. More photos to come when I get them sorted out.

The Butterfly Effect of Owning a Home

It’s funny how one thing can lead to another, right?

A few weeks ago, Gina noticed a faint water spot in the ceiling of our music studio / home office / library / crafts refuge / basement fun room. I crossed my fingers and closed my eyes shut really tight and hoped that it would go away. Surprisingly, it got worse.

That meant, of course, that it was time to get a plumber involved. And not just for your average toilet clog. No, we’re talking sawing-through-the-ceiling, drywall-dust-everywhere, blowtorch-wielding, no-holds-barred plumbing action. At the end of a Friday afternoon, two pipes with pinhole leaks had been replaced, and there was a giant hole in the ceiling of our fun room. A younger version of Bret might have called up a handyman next to patch the hole, but now I’m older and wiser, and trying to save every dime of money I can now that there’s a baby on the way.  So I resolved to take care of the cleanup and patchwork on my own.

Eatin' drywall dust.

Eatin’ drywall dust.

This part wasn’t too bad, actually. I think I surprised everyone, including myself, by patching the hole up rather nicely with some replacement gypsum board, drywall tape, and a healthy amount of joint compound. It’s amazing what you can fake your way through after watching a few YouTube tutorials. I’m still picking the stuff out of my fingernails three weeks later, but it was a triumphant occasion. I climbed down from the ladder and gazed at my accomplishment, but only for a few minutes. If you’ve ever patched up a ceiling or wall, you know that the patch is only half the battle. Patches may look good on your jeans in the late 80′s or on your eye if you’re a pirate, but no one wants a discolored, mismatching glob on their ceiling. And so I knew I had to paint.

There are times in our lives when we know, deep within our soul, what the right thing to do is. Maybe you see an elderly lady struggling to help her husband out of the car, so you take up their offer to help. Perhaps you find a lost dog with a collar, so you call the owners to bring the dog back to its loving home. Maybe you’re facing a relatively small painting job, but you realize that if you really want to do the job right, you should just go ahead and paint the whole room to match the colors you and your wife had picked out but still hadn’t bothered to extend to the bottom floor of your house. These are the times that try men’s souls, but it’s a testament to your character if you press on and do them anyway. So, reluctantly, I did.

I should point out that Gina, by this time, had succumbed to a nasty summer cold that left her in alternating fits of coughing and sleeping for three solid weeks, so I took on the job knowing she couldn’t help that much. I still did it.

Our fun studio room is packed deceptively densely with memorabilia and other items of, well, fun. It took me the better part of a day just to clear out the shelves and other totes, bins, and boxes until the adjacent basement family room resembled a small-town general store, or maybe just a teenager’s bedroom, with every surface covered by random stuff. From there, it was a time-consuming but otherwise uneventful and uninteresting process to paint the room. Sometime along the way, though while I was painting, Gina began going through boxes of mementos to try to thin down our massive collection of junk stuff that I’d hauled out of the room. We’d long ago decided that we were going to try to purge the house as we began preparing the nursery. It’s as good a time as any, right?

What’s amazing is what she found: mementos of nearly all the trips we’ve taken since we’ve gotten married, stuffed in boxes for years. While she sorted through, we got to relive pieces of our honeymoon cruise and road trips that we’d nearly forgotten. She even dug out some emails that we’d exchanged while we were dating in college – mushy stuff, mostly embarrassing, but they brought smiles to our faces all the same. For my part, I took a break from the brushes and mined out a box that held notes I took while trying to play some early computer games – passwords, notes to myself on where to find items, that sort of thing. But I also found a calendar from high school where I’d actually marked the days when some of the best times of my teenage years happened.

I guess part of life sometimes is your wife noticing a water stain that ultimately leads to her and you sharing memories in a hallway overcrowded with junk. Thanks, butterflies.

When I finally did go back to paint, leaving Gina to finish up the sorting of papers, I smiled despite the aches in my neck and shoulders. For the first time in a while, I was conscious of the fact that we’ve really built a nice life together, even if it means patching a few holes now and then.

I crossed my fingers and closed my eyes shut really tight and prayed that would never change.

A New Addition

If you’re reading this and we’re friends on Facebook, you already know. And since I’m pretty sure only my Mom reads this blog, she definitely already knows anyway. But let’s pretend you’re neither my friend nor acquaintance nor person who brought me into this world so I can break some awesome news: I’m going to be a father! Gina and I are expecting a baby in December. I’m thrilled!

Most of the advice I’ve gotten from other young fathers (and this is one area where people freely give advice) has swirled around one basic theme – that words can’t accurately express how my life will change. Not all of them were talking about simple things like losing sleep or having to change diapers, either – they were trying to convey how awesome fatherhood is, I think.

I suppose I’m as ready as I’ll ever be for this, because the concept doesn’t freak me out. I’m not going to pretend that I’ll be prepared or know at all what I’m doing on day one, but that’s okay. I’ve been an adult long enough now to realize that a big part of life is just adapting to new stuff and new situations, and I know that together Gina and I can eventually stumble toward something resembling our own parenting style.

Announcing our news has also got me thinking about my own parents and how I can’t wait for them to meet their newest grandchild. My Mom and Dad prepared me for life in every way possible, and I’m forever grateful to them for that. From reading to me at night and encouraging me to keep picking up books, to pushing me out of my comfort zone to do things like spelling bees and Space Camp. They took me on camping and fishing trips to learn to appreciate the outdoors and the environment. They taught me the value of hard work by making me help around the house and sweat through countless big projects in the basement. They showed me that using your brain can usually lead you to a better solution. They imparted their ethics while letting me figure out where I stood on my own. They nurtured my faith. They provided me with the opportunity and encouragement to go to Virginia Tech, which affected my life in countless ways. And to this day they exemplify what it means to be part of a larger family and good neighbors.

If I prove to be the merest fraction of a parent as mine are, then my kid will surely turn out fine. Thanks Mom and Dad!

So, anybody know where the official parenting rule book is kept? That’s a thing, right?

Austin Convention Trip Notes, Part 2

Below continues my write-up of our latest trip to Austin. Read Part 1 here.

What About The Music?

No trip to Austin would be complete without seeing at least one live show, but once I discovered I was not chosen for a taping of Austin City Limits, I defaulted to selecting one by venue instead of by “band I’d heard of before.” Thus I found myself at the legendary Stubb’s! (It’s a BBQ restaurant in the front, and a party in the back! Or, you know, upstairs and downstairs.) It was a night of local favorite bands playing four in a row, and not all of them were my cup of tea so I didn’t stick around for the whole shindig. It was, however, just cool seeing somebody up on that stage in a historic venue and being part of that scene. I guess you could say I also experienced six or seven free live shows while walking down 6th Street at various times, and I also re-visited my friends at Waterloo Records to see what they were featuring that I would be interested in listening to soon.

The most profound connection to the world of Austin music, however, came early in the week when I paid a visit to the memorial statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan standing on the shores of Town Lake. From here, Stevie stands with the downtown skyline as a backdrop, the statue casting a symbolic shadow of him in the middle of a guitar solo. The plaque behind the statue simply calls him a “musician,” which is fittingly understated for such a game-changing guitarist. RIP, Stevie.

Let’s Wrap It Up: Miscellaneous Thoughts

Another reason Austin is a great town is the built-in 10-mile plus trail looping around Town Lake, crisscrossed with several bridges including a couple of pedestrian-only options. I was able to keep eating all the great food I mentioned above without feeling terrible by going on several long, humid runs around various sections of the trail. I looped into the expanses of Zilker Park and Barton Springs on several occasions, as well, and I was never alone on the trail matter what time of day I started jogging. Three cheers to you, Austin, for fitness.

Gina, a group of her co-workers, and I tried to check out the Congress Ave. Bridge bats one evening. Apparently June is a hit-or-miss season for them, unfortunately. We crowded against the rails with several dozen others, hoping for a Batcave-worthy swarm of the nocturnal masses, but the swarm never came. We did see decently-sized groups of the bats dart in and out from under the bridge in brownish blurs, and we certainly heard their chirps (or whatever you call the noise a bat makes) rise up from below. I also smelled them quite plainly when I jogged underneath the bridge later that week, but that was it for bat sightings. I guess the bats will have to wait until next time.

One last food-related plug: if you’re in Austin and in need of some sauce (either barbecue or hot, it doesn’t matter), there’s only one place you need to go: Tears of Joy.

Since I think it’s clear I’m fond of the city and I’ve said everything positive I can say over the course of what has turned into a treatise, I will close my Austin odyssey with a note about graffiti and construction. It seems the local government is a-okay with officially commissioned murals and probably less-official graffiti adorning the various sides of historic buildings and newer structures alike. These pieces quite often rose far above the mere scribblings of gang members; I would call many of them proper works of art. Some were commercially tied to restaurants and bars, some gave shout-outs to Willie Nelson and other Texas heroes, and some were just plain weird. For this reason, I kept my eyes open and camera ready as I walked through downtown, always on the lookout for some kind of graffiti Easter egg, and they usually made me smile.

Just a small sampling of Austin's free artwork.

Just a small sampling of Austin’s free artwork. Yes, that is a tank coming out of the side of a building.

Austin is a great city, but that’s no longer a well-kept secret. Throughout the week, streets were periodically closed due to construction, and it was clear that several buildings had been recently demolished or were being hastily constructed to keep up with growth. Orange cones were littered everywhere. The residents I talked to had very mixed reactions about this kind of growth, which I can totally understand coming from densely populated and traffic-choked Northern Virginia. The picture below sort of sums up Austin’s current state in my mind: a cool, retro, slightly odd public building being quickly obscured by construction.

Progress is progress, and change isn’t something to be feared. I just hope as Austin grows, it’s done smartly. And I hope those in charge manage to keep it weird.