The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

November 25, 2015

Going Around the Table, 2015 Edtion

Filed under: Family, Holidays — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 11:39 pm

Yes, I am well aware that I haven’t posted anything on this Blog in, oh, around 6 months or so.  It seems I’ve been a little busy.  During that time I’ve managed to move to a new apartment, get engaged and married, go from having zero cats in the house to having some indeterminate number  between 1 and 3 at any given time (it’s a long story, don’t ask) and started a new job as a contractor that turned into a full time position six months later.  Naturally, it’s all taken quite a bit of adjustment, but I certainly can’t complain.  And yes, I know I need to Blog more, and when things settle down a bit I will try to get back into a more regular pattern, but since this is one of the few posts I do on a yearly basis that I use as something of a checkpoint to look back at where I was, I think it’s important that I get it posted.  Oh, and there’s also the part about being grateful for things too.

At the beginning of this year, I had a pretty good idea that some big changes were coming, but didn’t quite know exactly when they would get here or what form they would take.  The contract at Airbiquity that I had worked in for the past two years had ended, and although it was a good opportunity at the time and paid quite well, it just felt like the job in general and the project in particular that I spent most of my time there working on was going nowhere.  The product I had been working on at the time did eventually ship in some form, but I seriously doubt anyone was particularly happy with the end result, and some of the subsequent stuff planned for the project (including some things I actually thought were working pretty well) ended up just getting cut.

I knew it was getting to be time to start looking at my options, but around the beginning of last December I got informed that they were ending the position at the end of the year.  I was grateful to have plenty of notice, and grateful to be in a position to not have to be in a big hurry to get into something new.  Fortunately the job market for my skillset is pretty hot around here right now, but it took a little longer than I anticipated to find something that both sounded interesting and paid the kind of money I was looking for.  After some delays for assorted red tape I know little about, in mid-April I ended up starting a contract position at Groupon doing mobile app testing, which subsequently became an FTE position at the beginning of last month.

Even though it doesn’t pay quite as much as the last place I worked, I’m enjoying it a lot more.  I still get to play with all the latest and greatest devices, I work with a great team of developers and testers, the stuff I work on actually gets released (most of the time anyway), and there’s a lot more flexibility and room for advancement than I’ve had in the past.  One of the best parts of this job compared to some of the others I’ve worked in is the fact that our entire team is local, which is a refreshing change after having spent years dealing with offshore developers.  This isn’t so say anything bad about any of the developers I’ve worked with over the years (I’ve actually worked with some very smart people in China, India and Ukraine), but it’s just so much easier to get your bugs fixed when your devs are two desks away instead of twelve time zones and potentially a language barrier away.  I’m grateful to have landed at Groupon, grateful for what I’ve learned and accomplished so far during my time there, and grateful for the opportunities I have in the future.

Of course, the job is far from the biggest change that has happened to me this year.  That honor would go to my new wife, to whom I was wedded on August 15th at the Seattle LDS Temple.  Having spent the previous ten years living on my own prior to this, married life has definitely taken some adjustment for me, and at times it has been difficult for both of us (I’ll refrain from discussing the little incident that resulted in adopting another cat as part of the apology) but I’m especially grateful for my wife and her patience with me as I learn to be her husband.  I do not talk much about her either here or elsewhere because she prefers to keep to herself for the most part, but she has changed my life in ways I could not possibly imagine both before and after I married her, and I’m grateful to have her as a friend, companion and spouse.  I know we’ve both faced challenges, but we can get through them together.

As another Thanksgiving arrives, I’m grateful for the opportunity to spend it with friends and family, and to reconnect with people I see often and not so often.  I’m grateful to know that I was raised well, and have come to realize over the past few years that some people are not afforded that luxury.  I know that in my life things tend to work out one way or another, but I rarely see it until it actually happens, and I also know that for some people it can be tough to see it happening.  Nonetheless, I know how blessed I am, and even if things aren’t perfect (or even sort of perfect) I know there’s still lots to be grateful for.

November 25, 2014

Going Around the Table, 2014 Edition

Filed under: Family, Holidays — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:32 am

Well, it’s just about time for Thanksgiving once again, which is always one of the nicer holidays out of the year.  In many ways, I actually like Thanksgiving better than I like Christmas these days because aside from the occurrence of the holiday itself people don’t really make a big deal out of it the way they do for Christmas (although the creep of Black Friday into Thanksgiving itself does seem to be something of a worrying trend.)  That leaves us free to enjoy it for what it is: a time for the family to get together from its scattered  and give thanks for the blessings in our life, enjoy the traditional Thanksgiving feast (and the now traditional complaints about we keep having turkey every year) and watch certain people get way too worked up about the Cowboys game.  Also, as I’ve previously discussed on this Blog a number of times, one of the Vanderhoeven family traditions that we follow is that in one form or another, we all take some time on Thanksgiving to talk about the things that we are thankful for.  Although the format has changed over the years, the notional idea of “Going Around the Table” still remains, so I continue to stick with that.

As I’ve done each year since 2008, I like to take this opportunity to discuss some of the things that I am thankful for in my life.  And although the idea may admittedly seem a little trite these days, I still find that these posts serve as something of an annual checkpoint for me as to where I am with my various life goals and accomplishments, dubious as they may be sometimes.  To be perfectly honest, I really try not to write too much about my personal life here on my Blog, mostly because I’m pretty boring.  That said, I do feel that on occasion it is necessary to write at least a little bit here and there, partially because every once in a while something interesting does actually happen that’s worth sharing, and partially because I do keep this Blog as something of a personal record, and it can be useful to go back and have some of these things available to read again later.

Generally in these Going Around the Table posts I do try to talk about where I am and what I’m doing at any given time, but I do have the tendency to keep things vague, mostly out of respect for the privacy of the friends and family members who might not want me plastering their lives all over the Internet (and I can’t say I blame them.)  Nonetheless, when I go back and read these posts, it becomes pretty clear to me where I was at the time, and what was to come.  And although I generally try to keep these posts (and my Blog in general) fairly upbeat, there have been times when I can go back and read these posts and see that I was clearly struggling with one thing or another at any given time.  There used to be a time when I was incredibly cynical about…  well, just about everything really.  It’s a bad habit to get into, and even now I find myself falling into it every once in a while, but at least I think I’ve managed to get better at not showing it over the years.  Nonetheless, I’m pretty sure it manages to sneak in every so often.  Nonetheless, it’s still instructive to see where I’ve been and where I was going at the time (hindsight, of course, is 20/20.)

That said, I really don’t have anything to complain about right now.  Even if I don’t see them nearly as much as I used to these days as a lot of us have gone off in whatever various directions life has taken us in, I’m still grateful for a loving and supportive family that I know I can rely on if I ever need them, and which has seen the addition of a niece and a nephew over the course of the past year.  I’m also grateful to have friends that share my offbeat sense of humor (I have to say that we both do a surprisingly good job of putting up with each other’s antics, all things considered) and whom I can trust to be there when I need it.  I would be the first to admit that I tend to be slow to get to know people (some of that is me having trouble putting names to faces sometimes, and some of it is just me occasionally being a little stubborn) but I truly believe that the friends I associate myself with are there for a reason, even if it may have taken me a bit longer than it should for me to realize that.  I just hope I can do for them what they have done for me.

I’m also grateful for the job I have, even if it has been a challenge at times.  I’ll admit that the first six months or so that I spent at my current employer were a particularly challenging time for me, as the project I was working on didn’t seem to be going well and there were people I was having trouble getting along with.  Ultimately I stuck with it, and over time things have gotten better.  That’s not to say that there aren’t challenges, but I think I’ve grown into it reasonably well, and it does come with some nice perks, not the least of which is getting to mess around with a lot of the new phones when they hit the market, and I get to (occasionally) drive a really nice car as well without having to pay for the gas.  All in all, it’s actually a pretty good place to work.

I’m also grateful for the ability to travel, and the traveling companions that accompany me on my various adventures.  This year has not offered quite as many opportunities to visit new places as last year did, but we did still get a chance to see Alaska for the first time (which reminds me that I still need to finish up the post about the second part of my Alaska trip at some point) and next year should have some interesting things planned as well.  I know that eventually I will have to settle down and raise a family which will presumably put a damper on my ability to do so, but in the meantime I consider myself fortunate that I have the ability and the means to do so.

I do still have my challenges, and I do still have my shortcomings (who doesn’t?) but ultimately, I do think things are headed in the right direction, and I’m grateful for that.  And sometimes, that’s the best thing you can hope for.

April 9, 2014

A Grownups’ Guide to Chasing Kids Around the Yard

Filed under: Family, Random Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 1:01 am

I certainly can’t figure them out… Can you?

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (which I belong to,) there are two Sundays a year where, in lieu of our regular Sunday meetings, we have what is known as General Conference.  Over the course of the weekend, a number of different sessions of the conference are held in Salt Lake City where church leaders speak to the membership of the church.  These sessions are broadcast by a number of various means to members around the globe, and are translated and transcribed into over 90 different languages.  Although the option is available to view the conference by satellite broadcast at the various church meetinghouses, these days most members of the church opt to view or listen to the conference by Internet from the comfort of their own homes.   In my family, we tend to use the Conference Sundays as an opportunity to have our own little get-together, something that can be difficult to do at times due to the greater distances between us these days and differing meeting schedules we have on Sundays.  This past Sunday, we had one of these get-togethers at my parents’ house up near Granite Falls.

As members of the family have moved away from the area for various reasons (one of my brothers moved to Provo last year to go to school at BYU, and my younger sister and brother-in-law recently moved from Pullman to California for a job after he completed a PhD at WSU) our family gatherings have gotten smaller over the years, to the point that this time around it was just me, my parents and my sister’s family.  It turned out to be a surprisingly nice day for it though, with the rain mostly taking the day off and even some decent sunbreaks throughout the day.  Since my parents moved into their new house about a year ago they’ve been working on getting the yard (basically a big patch of dirt when they bought the house) into shape, and one of their projects was adding a patio, complete with a fire pit that has recently been completed.  Today provided a nice first opportunity to make use of it.  Sounds like the makings of a nice quiet Sunday afternoon in the backyard, right?  Not particularly.

My sister has four boys of various ages (the oldest one currently being 7 years old, and the youngest six months) and when it’s nice outside they’re all over the place, especially Conner and Corey, the two oldest out of the four.  If I was that age and had that big yard to play in, I can’t imagine I wouldn’t be doing the same, but to be perfectly honest, I have a bit of a hard time keeping up with them these days.  It’s not that I’m (too) out of shape or anything like that, mostly it’s an issue with my knee that slows me down a bit and makes it hard to do much running.  Naturally, this presented a bit of a problem when they decided they wanted to play tag, and I was it.  Just chasing them around the rather large yard straight-up wasn’t going to cut it, so clearly some strategy was needed.  After all, even on a good day they’d have a distinct advantage in mobility and agility, not to mention that there was two of them.  It was also clear that, anytime it seemed like I might be gaining some sort of an advantage, they were going to just change the rules, Calvinball style.  The trick is to take this approach and figure out how to turn it around on them.

At first, it was just Corey chasing me around, so it was easy enough to make a few (incredibly) halfhearted efforts at catching him.  After all, when you’re dealing with a five year old it doesn’t even really require bright shiny objects to distract them (although it certainly helps,) so the trick is to wait until something else grabs his eye and he isn’t paying attention, then tag him and run (or quickly walk) away.  Of course, eventually they start to catch on, so the effectiveness of this approach tends to diminish over time.  Pretty soon they start recruiting their brothers to join in and chase after you, and you have to start picking one at a time to chase.  Of course, even with their speed, agility and endurance you’re still going to catch to them eventually, which right about the point where they start throwing the whole “Base” thing into the mix.  Base, for those of you who may have forgotten the  vagaries of various childhood playground games, is basically a convenient excuse for someone not to be it when they’re tagged.  Normally the location of said base is a fixed position in some easily accessible central location that can be reached quickly in the event of a rapidly approaching it.

This generally holds true right up until the time when the base suddenly ends up being inaccessible with the It approaching quickly.  It is at this point that the definition of Base tends to shift around a bit.  First it’s in one spot (which, of course, they happened to reach about .003 seconds before you managed to tag them), then it’s another spot, and then when none of those work things start to devolve into more theoretical things.  At one point, I think they decided that anything made out of wood was base.  Although this idea would theoretically result in a dramatic increase of the base-enabled surfaces available, it was also rather short-lived after I managed to find a convenient rake handle and call it a portable base.  This resulted in a rather hasty reconsideration of the whole thing.  Eventually it was decided (after a lot more running around trying to call various items base) that anything solid was now the base.  If we were going by boring technical definitions that would have basically rendered the entire game physically impossible to play (unless everyone figured out some way to assume a gaseous state of some sort and then managed to find a way to chase each other around without dissipating into the atmosphere.)  Of course, even going by a second grader’s definition of a solid this didn’t accomplish much anyway, since I pointed out that the big patio in my parents’ backyard that we were all standing on happened to be quite solid.

By this time I think we were all spending more time constantly redefining the ground rules and trying to flaunt whatever rules actually managed to stick than playing the game, and pretty soon it turned into hide-and-seek, which doesn’t work all that well when the only real hiding spots in the yard were either on the porch or behind the shed.  And after that, I think everyone just went back to trying to set each other’s pants on fire with magnifying glasses (it’s a long story,) but fortunately/unfortunately there were too many clouds for any of this to be particularly effective.  Eventually things mostly managed to settle down, but something tells me that those boys could keep going for quite a bit longer given the opportunity to do so.  It can be tough to keep up with them sometimes.

When you’re dealing with young children on a sunny day with a large backyard, eventually everything ends up turning into Calvinball.


November 22, 2010

Going Around the Table, 2010 Edition

Filed under: Family, Holidays — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:37 am

Yeah, I really need a new Thanksgiving dinner table photo.

As it always does, Thanksgiving week has arrived, bringing with it family, food, and hours of sub-zero camping out in front of stores for incredible bargains (for other people at least, such bargain hunting requires being awake at hours I’d probably never be awake at if I could help it.)  Owing mostly to the now standard three months of wall-to-wall Christmas (it would probably be four, but they’ve got to find somewhere to stick all the Halloween stuff) we get subjected to these days Thanksgiving has a tendency to sneak up on you, but at the same time it also seems that at some point the whole thing turned into one big weeklong turkey-flavored blur.  I’ve already spent several evenings over the past week and most of my Saturday afternoon working on Christmas ornaments for the annual Vanderhoeven ornament exchange (you’ll be seeing more on the ornaments after Thanksgiving, since several of the attendees will be reading this and I don’t want to ruin the surprise,) and tomorrow evening is the first of several Thanksgiving dinners which will be consumed over the course of the week, with a drastically shortened work week somewhere in between all that.  In a way I almost look forward to Thanksgiving more than Christmas these days, but each of these is enjoyable in their own way.

Of course, with Thanksgiving comes the annual family tradition of going around the table before (or occasionally after) dinner and talking about some of the things that each of us is thankful for.  For the past two years I have also done Going Around the Table Blog posts as well, and once again the time has come to count my blessings and take another trip around the virtual table.  Although a lot of my relatives seem to have pretty much given up on Blogging over the past few months, my sisters have been doing things that they have been thankful for as a theme on their Blog posts all month now, so at this point pretty much all I’m doing is trying to catch up. 

In preparation to write this post, I have gone back and read the past couple of Going Around the Table posts that I have done in 2008 and 2009.  Back in 2008, I was at a point where I felt like I was finally making some progress toward my long-term goals after years of stagnation, but was also at a point where I was just beginning what would ultimately be a fairly lengthy challenging period, first being out of work for six months , then ultimately having to settle for a Microsoft contract which was a signifcant downgrade both in pay and a significant step backward in my long-term career development.  Although the team I was on had some good people on it, the work was repetetive and things didn’t work right a lot more often than they did work, making the whole thing quite often a frustrating experience.  Even so, the job was getting the bills paid without too much trouble, and working is always better than not working, so I certainly can’t complain about that.  Thanksgiving of 2009 saw me at this point, where I had gone through some challenges and knew that there were more ahead, but I definitely knew that I could have been in a lot worse shape than I was, and I was certainly thankful for what I had. 

Fast forward to the beginning of this year, and once again I was facing a great deal of uncertainty.  The Microsoft contract I was on had come to an abrupt end, and prospects for finding another Microsoft contract without having to go through the 100-day break in service looked shaky at best.  Fortunately, it didn’t take long for an opportunity for some short-term work to come in, and within 2 1/2 weeks, I found myself reporting for a 2-3 week contract assignment for some company I had never heard of in a 120-year old third-floor walkup in Pioneer Square, where I was promptly informed that I would be testing the Beavis and Butt-Head app for iPhone.  This, of course, thoroughly horrified my mother, but the pay was good, and it was giving me an opportunity to work in some new things  Don’t tell anyone this, but the day I walked into this place was actually the first time I had ever used an iPhone (well, an iPod Touch) for more than a few minutes of playing around with a demo unit in the Apple store.  Fortunately, nobody seemed to notice this (filing some 15+ bugs against the app on the first day probably helped), and apparently I did a reasonable enough job with this that the 2-3 week contract ultimately turned into seven months, providing opportunities not only to work with iPhone and iPad, but also with Android (which I hadn’t used at all before that) and Blackberry (which mostly served to make me wonder who in their right mind actually uses this stuff, but that’s another post.)  If there was one thing that I really got out of the time I spent at Teleca, it was the realization that although I have (mostly) enjoyed the time I spent contracting at Microsoft and had learned quite a bit from it, at this point it had really turned into a dead end.   Getting some time to get outside of the artificial bubble that Microsoft forms around itself and getting a chance to work with and gain some skills with competing products has turned out to be very good experience, and one that I am certainly thankful for.  Getting into a FTE position at Microsoft was one of my long-term goals for many years, but now I’m not so sure that would necessarily be the right path for me to take (although I would certainly consider it if the opportunity came up.)  I’m glad that I got a chance to figure that out without necessarily needing to do so the hard way.

If you’ve been reading the Blog you’ve probably already been through the 2,700 word epic I wrote about the whole Amazon/Motricity situation (if not, scroll down a couple of posts and prepare to have your insomnia miraculously cured,) so I’ll refrain from rehashing that again here.  To make a long story short, as Thanksgiving 2010 arrives, I am finally getting into a more stable job situation with a good salary, good benefits, paid time off, room to grow and a walkable commute, and although the past 10 1/2 months have certainly been an emotional roller coaster in ways that have both been expected and completely unexpected (with more ups than downs, fortunately) I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities that I have been given even if they do inconveniently all show up at once, and that I know that the Lord is continuing to watch over me in spite of my shortcomings.  I am also grateful for my family (which has grown once again this year as Jared and Emily’s first son Benjamin was born in May) and the support that they continue to provide.  I am also grateful for my other nephews (Connor, Corey and Brooks Jr.) as well.  Unfortunately, I’ve had to come to the conclusion this year that my whole Mean Uncle Brian routine was never going to work out, so I’ve decided to go with Crazy Uncle Brian instead.  I’m also thankful that in spite of the various difficulties that I’ve gone through over the past couple of years, one way or another I’ve always been able to make it through everything in one piece, and without ever reaching the point where I have been unable to pay the bills.  A combination of my parents’ teachings and experience (quite a bit more experience than I’d like really) has taught me to be careful with money and to plan for the unexpected (which in most cases has turned out to be a lot more expected than I’d care for,)  but the right things always seem to happen at the right times.  One way or another (and as I’ve said before, lately it’s been happening mostly in the “or another” category) things always seem to work out, and it is perhaps for that which I am most grateful of all.  There are still some things that I need to fix and that I need to find (foremost among those being a wife) but I’m grateful for all that I have.

Anyway, for those family members who might be reading this, if for some reason you haven’t been doing posts on things you’ve been thankful for all month, feel free to dust off your badly neglected Blogs and put together a post of your own.

April 13, 2009

Some Slightly Less Fussy Pictures of Baby Brooks

Filed under: Family — Brian Lutz @ 12:45 am

When I met my new nephew Baby Brooks for the first time on Friday, it seemed that I might not have exactly caught him at his best time, as he spent much of my visit alternating between sleeping and crying, and didn’t provide a whole lot of good photo opportunities.  I’m happy to report than when me and Jason went over there again today for Easter dinner, he was not only awake, but in a much better mood than on Friday.

I, on the other hand, continue to remain stubbornly non-photogenic, regardless of how cute a newborn I might be holding at the time.  Between Brooks playing his guitar on the other side of the room and the ceiling fan spinning overhead, Baby Brooks seemed to be rather fascinated by it all.

Another picture from just about the same time.  And no, I don’t have the slightest idea who that person on the right side of the photo is.  Well OK, actually I think  do, but that doesn’t make that face any less silly and quite possibly somewhat uncalled for when we’re trying to take serious photos here.


And here’s Baby Brooks hanging out on the floor with his nice Uncle Jason (as opposed to his Mean Uncle Brian, a title I have thus far been trying to establish with Jacki’s two sons Conner and Corey with very limited success.  I suppose I might have an easier time of it if I was, you know, actually mean or something like that, but that just wouldn’t be very nice now, would it?)

Although I’m definitely no expert on the subject, I suspect that three and a half weeks might be just a tad early for an infant to start crawling, but he’ll get there eventually, right?

And if for some reason anyone out there happens to want to see the back of his head, well here you go.  There seems to be quite a bit of hair there already.  Anyway, there should be more stuff from this trip coming up later on  This will probably be when I get back home, although I am not yet entirely certain of when that will be just yet.  Tenatively I plan to drive back on Tuesday, but it looks like there could be some weather issues on some of the mountain passes brewing around that time, so I’ll have to see what happens.

April 11, 2009

Meeting Baby Brooks for the First Time

Filed under: Family — Brian Lutz @ 1:01 pm

The main purpose for my trip down to Provo this weekend was to meet my new nephew for the first time.  As you probably know, Brooks Junior was born a little more than three weeks ago, and although the rest of the family is planning to come down in a couple of weeks for BYU graduation and Brooks Junior’s blessing, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to come for that, so I decided to come down this weekend instead.  Baby Brooks (as he’s being called right now, although I suspect that might not go over so well in a few years) is cute, although he was a little bit fussy when I was there last night.  This was taken shortly after I arrived (the rest of the drive down was a bit rainy but otherwise uneventful,) and he was asleep, so he hadn’t quite had a chance to meet his Mean Uncle Brian just yet.  To be honest, I don’t think he’s quite met me while he’s awake yet…

Eventually he decided to wake up, and  proceeded to provide a demonstration of his apparently healthy lung capacity.  This picture shows Heather and Baby Brooks doing their best impersonation of those theater masks.

It was a little bit tricky getting any pictures of Baby Brooks in any state besides sleeping or screaming, but I think I managed to catch him somewhere in between on this one.  It’s too bad the picture didn’t turn out better…

Anyway, there will be some more stuff from Provo later on, I’ll be here for a couple more days before heading back home.

January 11, 2009

Bedtime Stories for Insomniac Toddlers

Filed under: Family, Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 12:15 am

Yesterday, my nephew Corey celebrated his first birthday, and as is typical in our family, we had a little get together at Jacki and Terence’s house to celebrate the occasion…  Well, the grownups were celebrating anyway, Corey himself seemed mostly to be vaguely aware of some new toys appearing and wondering why everybody was watching him eat cake, but we’ll give him a year or so to figure out the whole birthday bit.  My sister Jacki put up a post over at their family Blog detailing the celebration, which mostly involved frying things, something of a tradition within the Vanderhoeven Machine for celebrating various  things in a not-entirely healthy manner.  Between the Krokets, Lumpias, and just about everything else in the house that could be battered and deep fried. I don’t think there was too much calorie counting going on.

Among the presents that Corey received for his birthday was this board book:

I’m sure anyone who has or has had children at some point is quite familiar with these things.  For the most part, these types of books tend to top out at about 10-12 pages, and might fill those with all sorts of cute little baby animal pictures (as seen in the example above) or other similar material, and if the author of the book was feeling particularly ambitious  this time around you might get about fifty words worth of story (give or take a dozen) crammed into those pages in big,  toddler-friendly lettering.    This book, on the other hand, seems to buck the trend.


I didn’t bother counting the pages in this particular example, but compared to most of the toddler-oriented literature I have encountered in my 30 1/2 years on this planet, this thing is huge.  I can think of grownups (well, at least one anyway) who might not  have the attention span to get through this whole thing in one sitting, no matter how many cute baby animals it might contain.  If you do decide to read a big thick board book like this, you might want to take a few precautions to make sure that you don’t end up falling asleep before your kids do.  Then again, there seem to be a lot of kids out there these days reading through big 700-page epics at an age when most of the kids were barely getting past the Dr. Seuss stuff when I was in school, so I guess you might as well start them early.

December 24, 2008

Having Ourselves a Merry Little Christmas Eve

Filed under: Family — Brian Lutz @ 10:57 pm

In a normal year, Christmas Eve is a time for the whole Vanderhoeven family to get together for a big gathering, with the highlight being the white elephant gift exchange (I think the obligatory fruitcake that always seems to find its way into the exchange is now nearing its tenth anniversary.)  Normally, my parents are the ones who host the get-together, but unfortunately, due to the ongoing snowstorms that have made a huge mess of the area for the better part of two weeks now, it was unlikely that anyone was going to be making it up here (well, they might, but getting back out of my parents’ street  in any of their cars would be highly unlikely.)  This means that the usual Vanderhoeven gathering happened in an alternate location, but none of us were going to be able to make it down there.  Instead, we all had a smaller get-together at my parents’ house.  With Jason, Heather and Brooks in town from Utah, it meant that the entire family was here, although our little gathering ended up being somewhat scaled down as a result of the weather.

Since we weren’t going to be able to do the full-blown Christmas Eve that we usually do, we decided to change things a bit.  My Dad happens to have his birthday on Christmas Eve, which means that he often gets shortchanged a bit on the whole party bit.  With Heather around to run the proverbial show, it means that we got the whole thing put together quickly, complete with streamers, balloons, banners, a cake, and even those pointy hats.

Connor and Corey seemed to quite enjoy playing with the balloons.

After a light dinner of cold cut sandwiches, potato salad and a bunch of other snacky foods  (which is usually what we end up having on Christmas Eve at the big family get-togethers,) we gathered in the living room for the scripture reading and carols, which is also typical of the Vanderhoeven gathering, although with less of us there things were a bit scaled down this year.  Corey seemed to be more interested in all the shiny bows on the presents under the tree than in singing (we’ll give him a few more years on the singing.)

After the singing, it was time for my Dad’s birthday cake.  Lighting that many candles requires a team effort in order to complete the task before the candles all burn out, but with three people on the job, it was taken care of before we could set off the smoke alarm.

When all was said and done, my Dad was still able to blow out all the candles without trouble.  Once I managed to find a portion of the cake that hadn’t been gotten hold of by either Corey or Imola (don’t ask,) it turned out to be quite good. 

It’s too bad that we weren’t able to join the rest of the Vanderhoeven Machine for Christmas Eve this year due to the weather, but at least the entire Lutz Family was able to gather together to celebrate Christmas Eve in as close to our accustomed style as we could manage given the circumstances, and we will be able to do so for Christmas tomorrow as well. 

For those of you wondering why we wouldn’t be able to make it, this should give you some idea of what we’re dealing with up here on the streets.  Fortunately, I was able to get my car out of my parents’ driveway on Saturday with the aid of my Dad’s 4×4 towing it up the street, but at this point I’m not even bringing it here since there’s no way my car’s getting  back out of there on its own until this stuff melts.  Earlier in the week when this was still mostly ice, Jared and Emily were able to reverse up the street with the chains on, but in this slushy mess they weren’t going much anywhere, and ultimately needed to get towed out by the truck themselves even with the chains.  As long as the forecasts hold out, this stuff should hopefully be gone in the next few days.  The whole “White Christmas” thing sounds fun in theory, but this year,  Christmas is starting to look just a bit too white for my liking.  Nonetheless, may it be merry in whatever weather you’ve got.

November 28, 2008

Some of the Ties That Bind

Filed under: Family — Brian Lutz @ 12:15 am

The good news is that I managed to make it through the remainder of the drive down to Provo relatively unscathed, aside from a dodgy inverter that blew out fuses in two different cars before we made it out of Oregon.  All things considered, the drive actually wasn’t all that bad,  The next couple of days, on the other hand, might be just a bit more of a challenge than I was expecting.  Although Thanksgiving dinner was a much smaller production than the customary Vanderhoeven versions that I’m used to, it was still far from being small.  Between the seven of us who came down from Washington, and four more from down here (Jason, Heather, Brooks and Tijs Sirrine,) we still managed to have eleven people for dinner at the Lively apartment, shown here before dinner. 

The apartment is actually quite nice, but with that many people, the place can get a bit crowded after a while, especially with a couple of toddlers in the room.  Since at this point I seem to have little practical experience in the time honored profession of parenting, I haven’t quite figured out how to deal with rambunctious two year olds yet.  This means that when the going gets tough, jumping off the nearest third story balcony hasn’t quite been eliminated from the possible list of coping strategies.  I’m guessing that there’s some secret parental switch that gets turned on when the time arrives for such things, but as a single guy used to living in a nice quiet apartment, remaining calm at the point where a curious two year old discovers the wonders of stomping on the floor of a third story apartment can be a bit of a challenge, and makes the future challenges of parenting to come (I think) seem all that more daunting.

One thing that I have learned is that some of my dogsitting experience has proven surprisingly relevant.  Earlier in the day before dinner, a number of us went to a nearby park to get out of the house while preparations were underway.  Connor came with us, and as could be expected of a toddler, every little thing was a source of wonder and fascination.  As with Imola and Minardi at the dog park, this means that on occasion, he’ll completely ignore everything else and focus on something like a few bits of gravel on the ground or some random puddle.  Unlike the dogs, I don’t think that there’s much chance that I’d be able to get his attention back with a couple of pieces of chicken jerky (and I don’t think that Jacki would care much for me trying to do so either.)  Connor is actually getting to the point where he is starting to actually recognize people (my name is still missing most of its consonants, but we’ll work on that part later.)  It’s just dealing with the tired and cranky stage that I need to work on a bit (sometimes, the kids can be a bit tired cranky too…)

To be honest, I should probably not complain about things like this so much, since It’s not like I won’t ever see these people again (and in fact I have to ride back up to Redmond with them in a couple of days.)  The situation is a bit easier to deal with when I have the option of eventually going home to my own apartment, but when that happens to be about 900 miles away, there isn’t much to do but sit quietly and ponder that third story balcony option, but realize that the whole thing won’t last forever.  After all, they have to turn into angst-riddled teenagers at some point, and by the time I have some of those I’ll probably be longing for the days of the noisy toddlers…

November 22, 2008

Going Around the Table

Filed under: Family — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 3:36 pm

One of my family’s longstanding traditions on Thanksgiving is that either before or after dinner, we will all go around the table and state the things that we are thankful for in our lives.  This year, things are a little different, as the family seems to have become a lot more far-flung than we have been in the past, which means that for the first time in thirteen years,  there won’t be any representation from the Lutz family at the big Vanderhoeven Thanksgiving get-together.  Instead, myself, my parents and the Keenans will all be renting a big 8-passenger SUV and driving down to Provo to have Thanksgiving with Jason, Heather and Brooks.  While it should be fun to get the family together down there (assuming I manage to survive the 13+ hour drive  each way with two toddlers in the car at least,) at the same time it means that we won’t have the usual chance to go around the table (although I suspect that the obligatory “Oh no, not turkey again!” whine from all the kids before dinner is served will probably proceed as usual.)  In lieu of this, my Mom has decided to put this into a Blog post, and Heather and Jacki have followed suit, so I guess that means that it’s my turn to post some of the things that I am thankful for in my life.

These days, when everything seems to be off to you-know-where in a handbasket, I’m fortunate that so far, things have worked out pretty well for me.  Sure, there are a few things that I need to work on (mostly little things like figuring out who I’m supposed to spend the rest of eternity with and actually ensuring that I actually meet that person at some point in my life,) but all things considered, I can’t complain (but, as Joe Walsh observed back in the Seventies, sometimes I still do.)  I’m thankful that I’ve finally managed to get past the point in my career development that I felt I was stuck at for several years, and that I have been able to find a good team at Zune to work with to help get versions 3.0 and 3.1 (released earlier this week) out the door.  My contract there is actually just about to end as my annual 100-day break in service comes up, but it’s been an excellent opportunity, and it’s kind of cool to be able to go to the store and see a product that I helped make sitting on the shelf (even if I have to dig through a big pile of iPods to get to it.)  There are definitely some interesting things planned in the next couple of years for Zune, and although I can’t talk about any of them right now, I hope to be able to go back when I am eligible to do and continue to help bring those ideas into reality.

Sure, there seems to be a fair bit of uncertainty ahead, but I know that throughout the years, one way or another things have worked out.  On occasion I find myself getting just a bit impatient with the whole process, but one way or another, things work out eventually.  I’m thankful that I have a loving and supportive family to fall back on when needed, and that my parents are the ones with the dogs so I can go visit Imola and Minardi whenever I want, but that I get to go back to my own nice clean house (yeah right) afterward.  I suppose if I wanted to, I could claim that I timeshare on a couple of Beagles since I seem to be over there dogsitting a lot lately, but that’s beside the point.  I’m also thankful that in spite of some of my shortcomings and occasional shortsightedness, I have yet to make any of the really big mistakes, and I hope that I can continue to avoid making any of those.  It’s kind of nice not having my life be messed up too badly…

Finally, I’m glad that I’ll finally be able to take a vacation down Florida in a few weeks, even if I haven’t got the slightest clue what I’m actually going to do with that time yet (aside from figuring that I can probably skip most of the Princess-related stuff for the time being.)  Sure, it may not have all the excitement and thrills of driving down bumpy old highways and  taking pictures of abandoned Route 66 gas stations, but I’m sure I’ll manage to figure out something to do while I’m there. 

So, who’s next?

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