The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

December 20, 2018

A Letter To My True Love

Filed under: Holidays — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:17 pm

(Yes, I’m still alive and well.  I know I haven’t posted in, oh, somewhere around 3 years, but I’ll have to do something about that.  I’m sure there’s plenty to catch up on, but in the meantime please enjoy this,)

December 26, 2018

To My True Love,

First of all, let me express my gratitude for your very generous Christmas gifts this year.  I see that you have chosen to go with a, shall we say, rather traditional theme for your Christmas gift giving this year, and I am at a loss for words to describe your generosity.  That said, I must confess that your gifts have left me with several logistical challenges that I must now attempt to rectify.  I imagine that your Christmas gift must have been a significant undertaking requiring careful planning, so I trust that you may have some advice for me in my current situation.  Please allow me to explain:

  • The partridge doesn’t seem to care much for the pear tree she arrived with, which is currently taking up a significant portion of my rec room and blocking my view of the television from the couch .  I suppose I could attempt to transplant the tree into the front yard, but the middle of December doesn’t seem like the right time of year to be doing that type of thing.  Besides, who would want to be out in the yard digging a hole in this weather anyway?
  • Unfortunately, I am currently unable to locate the turtle doves.  I also haven’t had the time to expend much effort in trying to locate them since I’ve been otherwise occupied (as I will explain further).  My suspicion is that they simply flew away at the first available opportunity, but mostly I just hope that my Maine Coon didn’t eat them.
  • Try as I might, I haven’t found any provision in my Home Owners Association’s covenants that clearly explains whether or not backyard chickens (which I assume would cover the category of French Hens) are permitted in this neighborhood.  This is currently the least of my worries with the HOA though, as some of your later gifts have attracted the unwanted attention of the board;
  • Although the four calling birds were a very thoughtful present, they seem far too enthusiastic about calling for their own good.  Thus far, I have had little luck in being able to quiet them down, even late at night.  I have sought for the best earplugs money can buy, but even those have been less than effective in this matter.  The neighbors have also taken notice, and I have received a number of complaints.  Do you have any advice?
  • As beautiful as the golden rings are, to be perfectly honest I am not quite sure what to do with five of them.  They all look basically the same so there’s not much point in wearing a different one each day.  If I try to wear all five at once it makes me look like a mobster or something, and I don’t even want to know how much the jeweler would charge me to resize all of them to fit anyway.  Oh, and you happen to get these appraised by any chance?  As much as it pains me to admit it, I may be forced to sell several of the rings to cover a number of unforeseen administrative expenses related to some of your other presents.
  • The swans and the geese unfortunately don’t seem to be getting along very well right now.  I suspect most of it has to do with the fact that they are all currently housed in a kiddie pool on the back porch (which I had to borrow from the neighbor’s kids; do you have any idea how difficult it is to buy one of those around here in the middle of December?) but my initial research suggests that a pond of sufficient size to accommodate them would not only take up a significant majority of available space in my back yard, but would also violate at least six or seven sections of my HOA covenants.  And while we’re on the subject, I’m not sure exactly what the six laying geese are supposed to be laying right now, but the current condition of my back porch and lawn seem to suggest that they are currently misguided on this matter.  I’m half-tempted to just let them all fly South for the Winter and be done with it, but I’m sure that would come across as rather ungrateful.  Please advise.
  • The maids were especially thoughtful, but I find myself rather short on dairy cattle lately, so I don’t seem to have the means to employ them appropriately at this time.  I have made inquiries to several local dairy farms for advice, and each one I have contacted (including some of the really pretentious hipster ones) informs me that those tasks are generally automated now, and there is little need for milkmaids anymore.  I have been able to find some light clerical tasks they can assist with in the short term, but it seems like such a waste of their unique skills. Can you suggest any ideas?
  • Those leaping lords I received several days ago are certainly impressive in their performing skills, but lately they’ve been getting, shall we say, rather frisky with the milkmaids and the dancing ladies, to the point that I’ve had to spend most of what little time I have remaining after tending to the impromptu aviary that my backyard has become attempting to chaperone them.  Yeah, I know, the birds and the bees and all that, but can’t they at least get a room?  And preferably not one of mine?  It’s probably a good thing the geese chase away the neighborhood kids if they get anywhere near the yard (I apologize, I probably should have mentioned that a little bit earlier) or I might be having some rather awkward conversations with their parents right now.
  • The pipers and the drummers have been, in a word, cacophonous.  That isn’t to say that they aren’t skilled in their chosen professions, but I suspect they could have used more rehearsal time prior to their arrival, and I suspect a properly trained conductor could do wonders here.  They also seem to have little regard for the neighborhood’s quiet hours rule, and between the aforementioned calling birds, geese, pipers and drummers I have found sleep very difficult to come by as of late.

In short, things around the house have become rather hectic as of late, and I am unfortunately at a loss for ideas on how to handle the situation.  Although I hesitate to even suggest the idea, I must confess that I have considered returning at least some of your gifts to the store, but it appears that none of them came with a gift receipt, and to be honest, I don’t know which store I would even attempt to return any of this stuff to in the first place.

Lacking that option, the best solution I can think of is to try to put together some sort of Avant-garde performance art piece or something, but I have learned that theater owners are not particularly enthusiastic about animal acts (I don’t think I got much out of the expletive-filled tirade over the phone but I did hear “health codes” mentioned once or twice) and even though the dancers are quite skilled in their art it seems that none of them have much in the way of Choreography skills.  In the mean time my room and board costs are getting rather high; My pantry and fridge have been completely cleaned out and during my most recent visit to the local McDonald’s they hastily taped a “CLOSED – Kitchen is on fire” sign to the the door, locked it and hid behind the counter until I left.

Unfortunately, I am at a loss as for what to do in this situation.  Any ideas?

With love,

Your Dearest

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.

February 14, 2015

The 2015 Sledgehammer Valentine’s Day Kitsch Roundup: The Things We (Probably Shouldn’t) Do For Love

Filed under: Holidays — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:59 pm


Once again Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and once again, you probably have to do something about this.  Depending on your relationship status, you might find yourself needing to either pursue a relationship or maintain one.  Depending on the circumstances, you could be under a fair amount of pressure to produce something that will either knock his or her socks off (possibly among other articles of clothing, depending on the situation) or something that’ll just simply not mess things up.

As Pat Benetar once sung, Love is a battlefield.  And these are the weapons you do not want to be wielding if you know what’s best for you.  Every year since 2008 I have been doing one of these Valentine’s Day Kitsch Roundup posts, and every year the stores reliably produce a questionable array of seasonal merchandise that will land even the most hopeless romantic on the couch for their Valentine’s night.  Of course, everyone’s tastes are different, and it;’s entirely possible that you might even have someone who would appreciate some of these, but in general, a lot of these things are a bad idea no matter who you’re dealing with.

Previous Valentine’s Day Kitsch Roundups:

You’ll find this year’s selection of questionable Valentine’s Day merchandise after the jump.


December 24, 2014

The Sledgehammer 2014 Last-Minute Christmas Gift Guide: Procrastination is the Last Refuge of the Scoundrel

Filed under: Holidays, shopping — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 2:09 am

Well, you blew it again.  This year, you swore that you would do your Christmas shopping at a reasonable time so you wouldn’t need to scramble at the last minute.  You figured that you’d have plenty of time to do it, but just never got around to it somehow.  As the time creeps closer, you think you’ll take a quick trip to the mall and get everything done at once,  And then you realize that this is what you’re going to have to wade through to get to the mall…

And it suddenly dawns on you that maybe you’re in just a bit of trouble here.  Once again, you’re doing your shopping at the last minute, and once again, you’re pretty much doomed.  Well, I’m here to help…  Sort of.  You see, by the point you’ve waited this long, pretty much all the good stuff has been taken, packed up and placed under some unsuspecting tree.  By this point, you’re pretty much stuck with whatever happens to be left, and there’s a pretty good chance someone is going to be very disappointed in you.  But there’s hope.  In what has become a more-or-less annual tradition (although I didn’t do one last year due to spending most of the Holiday season in the Caribbean) allow me to present my Sledgehammer Last-Minute Christmas Gift Guide, filled with ideas for stuff you should be able to easily find on the shelves.  Of course, there’s typically a very good reason that most of this stuff is still sitting on the shelves, but that’s just a minor detail, right?  Anyway, without any further ado, let’s get to the gift guide, which you will find after the jump.


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.

February 12, 2014

Valentine’s Day Kitsch Roundup 2014: How Do Fools Fall in Love?

Filed under: Holidays — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 7:53 am

Oh, the troubles I’ve seen…

Well, Valentine’s Day is fast approaching once again, and as always, there is one thing on the hearts and minds of men all around the globe:  Don’t screw this one up.  Yes, there are plenty of nice things you can get your significant other to show how much you care, but at the same time there are also plenty of things out there that are, to put it briefly, rather inadvisable.  And for the seventh year now, I have made note of some of the more egregious examples found on store shelves all over the area, and compiled them here, partially as a convenient excuse to make snarky comments, and partially as a “What not to do” warning for those who dare to tread into this dangerous territory.  Along this path lies heartbreak, anguish, and quite possibly even sleeping on the couch.

As usual, I present this with the disclaimer that I am by no means an expert on this subject, nor do I pretend to be.  If I was then maybe I would have figured out how to stop being single at some point in time.  Then again, my girlfriend doesn’t seem to be a big fan of the traditional Valentine’s Day stuff anyway.  A couple of years ago, our Valentine’s Day date consisted of a lunch in one of the fancy steakhouses here in Bellevue, which quite frankly didn’t really go over so well.  Last year it was dinner at IKEA followed by a visit to one of the local Go-Kart tracks.  Not surprisingly, that one went over a whole lot better.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that to everyone though;  somehow I get the suspicion that I’m dealing with a bit of an edge case (not that I’m complaining, mind you…)  I don’t tell this story for any particular reason, but know that everyone is different, and sometimes you’ll find that the reality of the situation is far different from what the greeting card companies might have you expect.  Anyway, without further ado, the 7th annual Sledgehammer Valentine’s Day Kitsch Roundup can be found after the jump.

Previous Valentine’s Day Kitsch Roundups:


December 27, 2013

Christmas in a Bubble

Filed under: Holidays — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:06 am

Photo by Flickr user Lee Jordan, Creative Commons

Once again, Christmas has come and gone.  All the usual festivities are in the books, the presents have all been opened, the Christmas stuff in the house has gone back into storage (actually, in my case it never even came out since I was gone for a lot of it and the Christmas stuff in the stores has hit the clearance rack, and aside from New Year’s Day in a week or so, it’s back to the usual routine, accompanied by the traditional three-month slog through the Seattle Winter (such as it is.)   And although the whole thing has been nice as usual, I just haven’t been able to shake the feeling that it all seems just a little bit strange this year.

I suspect that a lot of it has to do with the changes going on within my family this year (which included my parents moving into a new house some distance away, my brother moving out of the state and a new niece and nephew born this year, while I pretty much stayed put) and the various disruptions to the usual order of things that come with it, but we did still manage most of the usual traditions along the way.  We had the standard Christmas Eve get-together at my parents’ house with the extended family, but since my parents live much farther away from almost everyone now (it’s about a 42-mile drive on mostly backroads from my house, and as much as an 80-mile drive in each direction for some people)  we opted to have it a couple of days early on Sunday.  This meant that for the first time in recent memory I was actually on my own for Christmas Eve.  Fortunately, I did have some plans lined up (I attended a choir and symphony concert at Benaroya Hall) and managed to figure out the rest as I went along.  Christmas Day was celebrated in the usual fashion with a family gathering at my parents’ house, albeit a smaller one than usual (albeit just as loud, six young children running around the house hopped up on candy and presents will do that.)  In the end, all the usual highlights of the season in the family were checked off, and yet things still felt a little unusual.

Of course, the most obvious explanation for this was the cruise I took prior to Christmas.  As I alluded to in the last post, there’s something about a cruise ship (no matter how big it is) that places it off in its own little world, regardless of where it happens to be at any given time.  Even though you’re not truly cut off from the outside world while you’re at sea, most of what’s going on doesn’t really seem to matter much on board.  There’s a couple of news channels on the TV, but hardly anyone seems to pay any attention to them.  There is also ESPN, but it’s the Caribbean feed rather than the American one, which seems to concern itself mostly with Soccer and Cricket (although they do also find a way to get the NBA and NFL games whenever it’s convenient.)  Internet is also available, but it’s very expensive (unless you’ve been on enough cruises to get free Internet minutes on the ship through the cruise line’s loyalty program, and even then you only get enough to use about 20-25 minutes a day at most) and best used in small bursts.)  And even though the ship is decorated for the Holiday season, pretty much the only acknowledgement of the Holidays besides the decorations is that occasionally they’ll have some Christmas movies on the stateroom TVs or on the big screen on the top deck.  I understand that things tend to be a bit different if you’re on board the ship during Christmas itself, but even then it’s far from the traditional Christmas you might come to expect on land.  Combine this with the fact that (assuming you’re in the Caribbean) it’s 80 degrees and sunny every day, and it gets to be surprisingly easy to almost entirely miss the fact that the Holiday season is even happening.  Even in the ports of call that the ship visits (on this particular trip it was St. Thomas, Dominica, Grenada, Bonaire and Aruba) there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of Christmas in the air.  Sure, the decorations are out in force, and the reggae music playing in the shops and the flea markets includes a fair number of Christmas songs, but even with all that it’s still hard to take any of it seriously when it feels like Summer outside and the day’s schedule involves a trip to the beach.

And then after nearly two weeks away in that little bubble (as nice as it is, it still feels like living in a bubble) I get home just in time for Christmas to happen, and immediately start to wonder where all the time went.  I’m pretty sure I can account for most of it, but it definitely tends to distort things a bit.  As for the cruise itself, I’m sure I’ll be talking about it some in future posts, but in the meantime you can find a few of my thoughts on the trip in this post over at Cruise Critic.  To make a long story short, I really enjoyed the itinerary and the chance to see a number of different ports I hadn’t been to before, but there were a few minor quibbles along the way.  I’m not sure I’d be rushing to go do it all again at this point though.  I think it would be a good time to stay put (sort of) for a while.  After all, if I start needing a vacation from the vacation I needed after the last vacation that starts to complicate things a bit.

November 27, 2013

Going Around the Table, 2013 Edition

Filed under: Holidays — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:19 am

Well, once again it seems that Thanksgiving is fast approaching.  This shouldn’t be too big a surprise to anyone really (although one or two people I know might want to occasionally double-check the date before they take the wrong day off of work,) but to be perfectly honest, it’s managed to sneak up a bit on me this year.  Work, as always has been keeping me pretty busy lately.  Things have actually been slowing down somewhat for a few weeks now, but the past few days have seen things flare up, and just this past weekend a problem with a test vehicle in California ultimately required a last-minute trip to San Jose to sort some things out, as outlined in my last post (more on this coming up soon.)  On top of that, me and my friend are now less than two weeks away from the vacation we’ve been planning for months, and trying to get things in order for the trip is taking a fair bit of effort.  It’s amazing just how much work can go into what is supposed to be a relaxing (for once) vacation, especially when you need to account for formal nights, “smart casual” outfits for the dining room on the other nights, not to mention all the arrangements you need before and after and all the stuff you need to plan out.  Sure it’s a lot of effort, but if it lets me spend two weeks conveniently forgetting about work, then it’s worth it.

Anyway, as has become my custom over the time I’ve been writing this Blog, as Thanksgiving approaches it is time for my annual “Going Around the Table” Blog post.  For those of you unfamiliar with this, in the Vanderhoeven family we have a tradition on Thanksgiving where just before we all sit down to dinner we each take a turn going around the table and talking about some of the things we are grateful.  Naturally I participate in this along with everyone else, but for a number of years now (I believe this will be my sixth one) I have written a Blog post as well talking about the things I am grateful for.  In a way, these posts also act as checkpoints of a sort, something of a miniature encapsulation of my current state.  When I go back and read some of my previous Going Around the Table posts, it’s generally pretty clear when things seemed to be going well, and when things seemed to be a struggle.  Regardless of where I was (and where I am) I have still tried to be positive about things, and know that I wouldn’t be where I am without some help.

This past year has definitely been an interesting one (well, when you think about it every year is interesting, but the definition of “interesting” rarely seems to stay in one place.)  When I wrote this post a year ago, I stated that in many ways I seemed to be in something of a holding pattern at the time.  There were many things in my life that could have gone one way or another, but didn’t seem to be going anywhere at the time.  Fast forward a year later, and although there are still a number of those things that I haven’t quite managed to resolve yet, but quite a bit has changed in the past 12 months.  A year ago, I was rapidly approaching the end of a contract on the Kindle team at Amazon that I had enjoyed and felt that I had done quite well at, but which had pretty much wound down at that point and didn’t look like it had much long-term potential.  That ended (as expected, with plenty of advance warning) just a couple of weeks after Thanksgiving.  At the time, I had planned on taking it easy for a bit before moving onto the next thing, but the next thing showed up a lot sooner than I expected.  It was just a week and a half after the end date on my Amazon contract that I found myself starting my current job with Airbiquity, where I now test software for use in luxury cars.  Although the pay here is significantly better than my last job (and even there I thought I was doing pretty well,) I do have to admit that the first few months were rather difficult for me as I tried to get used to the system I’m working on and deal with some people I found it difficult to get along with at first.  The project I’ve been working on has consistently been challenging, and at times has taken up far more of my time than I would like, but as the past year has gone by, I feel that I’ve managed to gradually figure out things reasonably well, and over time I found that the people I had trouble with at first became a lot easier to deal with as I got to know them better.  That doesn’t mean that things aren’t still quite challenging at times, but at least they seem manageable.  All in all, even if it did take some time to get settled into it, this job has definitely been a good opportunity, and it’s allowed me opportunities I haven’t had in the past, so I’m definitely grateful for it.

Elsewhere, it seems like everyone else in my family has been changing quite a bit, and yet I’m still in pretty much the same place I was a year ago.  Over the course of this past year, my parents have moved out of Redmond to a lovely new house in rural Snohomish County, and even though they’re still close enough to visit, it’s a lot longer drive to get there now.  Also during the course of the year one of my brothers and his family moved out of the area to Provo (and added a daughter recently) while he works on a degree at BYU, and my other brother (who lives down there already) got married in May.  One of my sisters also added a fourth boy to their family, and my other sister’s husband has just finished a PhD at WSU.  Me?  I’m pretty much in the same place where I have been.  To be perfectly honest it’s a rather comfortable niche with little to complain about.  At times it does feel like I’m still a little bit stuck in a rut, but regardless of what may be happening elsewhere, at least I do have the sense that I’m at least making forward progress on things, even if it isn’t as fast as I’d like it to be.

But if there’s one thing I’m truly grateful for this year, it would be the friends I have and the opportunities I have to spend time with them.  There is one friend in particular who has become my frequent traveling companion and confidante, with whom I now find myself spending a great deal of my time.  In the interest of maintaining privacy I’ll keep from talking too much about her here, but if she’s reading this I want her to know just how truly grateful I am to have her around, and how nice it is to have someone with whom I can be comfortable just being myself.  I know we each have our own sets of challenges and complications to deal with, and I can appreciate how much it helps to have someone to share them with, even if I do have a tendency to overexplain things at times and occasionally have to be reminded not to get into swordfights with small children in gift shops (long story.)  I’m also grateful for the opportunities we’ve had to travel together over the past couple of years and the ones we have coming up.  Sure I could travel on my own if I really wanted to (and I have done so in the past on occasion) but it’s just so much better to have someone to share the experience with.  And in the end, that’s what makes all the difference.

Regardless of the circumstances I happen to find myself in at any given time, there’s always plenty to be thankful for.  And even if things aren’t ever quite perfect, at least I can see them heading in the right direction.

June 23, 2013

The Fine Art of Setting Money on Fire

Filed under: Holidays — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 12:09 am

Not just yet, but getting there…

Well, once again it’s the middle of June.  And that means that once again, the Fourth of July is right around the corner.  As you can probably guess from some of my earlier posts on the subject, this is easily my favorite holiday of the year.  Sure, some of the other ones are nice, but last time I checked, I tend to get in trouble if I try to set things on fire on Christmas or Valentine’s Day (Long story, don’t ask.)  It’s also the one holiday that I have an occasional tendency to go overboard on, as has been evidenced by some of the gigantic piles of fireworks at previous family get-togethers.  Then again, it doesn’t take too much searching on the Internet to find people who are putting far more into their fireworks shows than even I’d do.  For example, here’s a show from a couple of years ago down in Bonney Lake that makes even our Culdesac of Carnage look like a safe-and-sane value pack:

Of course, by the time you’re motivated enough to put a show like that together, you’re pretty much going to have to start buying your stuff wholesale.  In comments on another YouTube video showing the setup for all that, the person responsible for that show puts the cost around $5,000, although half of it is coming from donations from the neighbors.  All the stuff used there is 1.4g consumer fireworks, but by the time you’re spending that much you’re getting pretty close to 1.3g (professional fireworks) territory.  On one hand, I’m pretty sure I could get much better bang for the buck (literally) by contributing to something like that.  On the other hand, I’d much rather be the one lighting stuff than just watching someone else do it.  There’s just some sort of primal satisfaction to watching some amazing display of color up in the sky and knowing that you were the one that lit it off.  Combined with the fact that the Fourth of July is one of the few opportunities we get to really go a little wild with things (complete with an easily captivated audience of young and impressionable minds to corrupt,) and it’s no surprise that the Vanderhoeven 4th of July keeps getting bigger every year.

Of course, over time, it also starts to become clear that there’s more to the Fourth of July than just random reckless pyromania.  As far as I can tell, we’ve been doing the annual Fourth of July get-together at my Aunt Pam and Uncle Mike’s house every year since 2008 now, and every year the pile of fireworks has gotten larger and larger.  It’s started getting to the point in recent years where we had so much stuff that we were mostly lighting it all off to get rid of it.  It’s one thing to be doing that when it’s mostly little stuff you’re lighting off, but when you start finding yourself doing the same thing with Excalibur shells, that’s when it’s time to start rethinking your approach to the whole fireworks thing.

For  a number of years now, I’ve wanted to try out some of the bigger cakes on offer at the various stands, but have not bothered to do so previously, owing mostly to the ridiculous price tags attached to most of them.  It’s one thing to drop $60 on a 24-shot box of Excaliburs or some other big canister shell, because you at least get 24 satisfying large shots that you can spread out throughout the show.  If you’re putting that same $60 price tag on a single 500-gram cake (which is pretty typical for a lot of the 500-gram cakes at Boom City) which you light once and have it last all of a minute (although they do look pretty impressive in the process) you’re investing a pretty big chunk of your fireworks budget on one single item.  Granted, a lot of the big 500-gram cakes tend to be referred to as “finale cakes” because they’re intended primarily to act as a grand finale to a backyard fireworks show, but an even bigger problem with these cakes is that you’re basically shopping blind in a lot of cases.

This is a pretty typical scene of what you see when you arrive at the fireworks stand.  Lots of colorful graphics, and basically zero information on what any of it actually does.  Sure you can get recommendations from the stand owner, but I suspect that even they have trouble keeping track of that many different items all at once.  And while you could probably just buy from their recommendations and get a pretty decent show out of the deal, It still seems like there’s a better way.  And that’s where the power of the Internet comes in.

One of my longstanding theories about researching things is that if you do a bit of searching, you can find a bulletin board on the web about just about any subject you could think of, filled with people far more knowledgeable than yourself that can be used as a valuable source of information (although this does come with the caveat that you need to be able to filter at times for excessive fanaticism.)  It didn’t take long to find out where all the pyros hang out (that’s pyrotechnicians not (necessarily) pyromaniacs,) and from there it took just a little bit of browsing to not only find some really good recommendations for both 200-gram and 500-gram cakes, but also to find some much better sources to buy fireworks from than the reservation stands, with much larger (and higher quality) selections than you’re going to find on the usual stands.  And most importantly, prices on things that put the reservation stands to shame.  Granted, it’s still more expensive than buying wholesale, but there’s no point in stand owners even bothering with the whole thing if they can’t make a profit out of it, right?

Even with better sources to buy fireworks from, there’s still the problem of figuring out what things do.  Which is also solved quite nicely, thanks to the power of YouTube.  A quick search can bring up a video of just about any firework you can think of being set off, all the way from the 3-for-a-dollar mini fountains to the big 500-gram cakes and giant nine-on-a-board shells that will run you big bucks even in the best of circumstances.  Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve spent hours going through YouTube videos of fireworks, watching videos to audition fireworks (often several times to make sure I know what I’m getting) and cross-referencing them to a list of inventory and prices, and ultimately making a list for a pre-order to pick up the Saturday before the 4th.  Even though I am throwing a box of Excaliburs into the mix (and paying $15 less than I did last year for a box,) I’m going for a quality over quantity approach this year.  Sure there won’t be as many fuses to light this year as there have been in the past (although I suspect there will be no shortage there either), it will give me the chance to just sit back and watch for a bit while the others light their stuff, then break out the big stuff later on.  And believe me, there’s going to be some big stuff in there.  Even if you are doing something as ridiculous as basically burning money for fun and profit, you’ll have a lot more fun doing it if you just do a bit of homework first.

Just in case anyone was wondering, the Vanderhoeven Fourth of July might be a little ridiculous this year.  Just saying…

(Quick plug:  If you want some of the big stuff at shockingly non-ridiculous  prices, give Stinky’s Fireworks in Stanwood a try.  It’s where I’m getting most of my stuff from this year, and quite possibly for years to come.)

February 13, 2013

Valentine’s Day Kitsch Roundup 2013: Love Conquers All (Except for Bad Taste)

Filed under: Holidays, shopping — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 11:30 pm

Between all that stuff, you ought to be able to find something to regret the next morning.

Once again, Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and with it comes the usual shelves full of random merchandise to help you to celebrate the season in what the world’s various marketing departments and greeting card manufacturers have deemed to be an acceptable manner.  Whether you’re wading through the obligatory pile of Vaguely Valentine themed cards that get passed out to everyone in your kid’s third grade class, trying to navigate an awkward teenage crush, looking to win the heart of the one you’re convinced you’ll be spending the rest of your life with, or just trying to keep them around, there’s no shortage of ways to express whatever sentiment happens to be appropriate for the situation at hand.  Naturally, some ways are better than others.  And naturally, some ways are not particularly advisable for anyone really.  It’s the stuff in the latter category that holds the most interest to me, mostly because with some of these items the whole “Who in their right mind thought THIS was a good idea?” factor of some of this stuff is off the chart.

This marks the sixth year that I have done the Valentine’s Day Kitsch Roundup on this Blog, and it remains one of my favorite posts to write each year.  Shockingly, there seems to be a lot less of the truly egregious examples of bad taste that have characterized the Kitsch Roundup than there have been in previous years (looking back at the earlier posts, I think the 2011 post is going to be pretty tough to top) but that doesn’t necessarily mean that marketers of Valentine’s Day-themed merchandise have had a sudden bout of sanity, just that not quite as many of the usual bad ideas seem to have made it out onto the shelves this year.  There also seems to be a number of the more “popular” items from previous Kitsch Roundups that continue to show up on the shelves for some odd reason.  As usual, this is not intended to be a gift guide of any sort; quite the opposite in fact.  I make the assumption that most people reading this Blog will have enough common sense to realize this, but these days you never know.  Either way, you’ve been properly warned.

Anyway, without further ado, it’s time for another excursion into the dark corners of the seasonal shelves for another look at ill-advised Valentine’s Day merchandise.

Previous  Valentine’s Day Kitsch Roundups:


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