December 25, 2019: Christmas in Houston

Christmas 2019. Wednesday. Actually managed to get some sleep last night. More sleep than I normally get coming in to Christmas morning. Dominica and I have the air mattress in the craft room which is not ideal, but we do have the ability to open the window directly above our heads and that allows us to cool off a bit. The weather is cold enough to allow us to be a little cool, but warm enough that having the window open isn’t really a big deal.

We got up around eight and headed down stairs to start making the coffee and eating what we could before the kids marched down stairs to start off the festivities. They all slept well, but were up on the early side. They get very excited. Luciana was, as she often is, the leader of the pack coming down to investigate Christmas morning.

It was not long after eight that we got started today. One of our earliest Christmas mornings that I can remember. The living room was pretty crowded and so warm that it was uncomfortable. So Paul and I set up chairs in the kitchen and had the kitchen door open to get a cool breeze and that helped a bit. You know it is really hot in the house when even Emily was sweating and complaining about the heat.

I think that everyone really liked what they got for Christmas this year. It seems like a very successful year. For the girls this was a year full of Dungeons & Dragons stuff including books, dice bags, and the really big deal were loads of Reaper miniatures. Reaper is one of the big makers of gaming miniatures and they come from Denton, Texas. So Dominica had actually gone to the Reaper factory to get these. They got a starter set of minis. Plus they got a painting kit for them. They got more in their stockings, too. And I got some D&D dungeon map stuff to use with miniatures to make using them in our campaigns easier! A big D&D Christmas to follow Liesl’s big D&D birthday just a month ago.

Luciana was the only one getting Legos this year. She is still really into Legos and does them all of the time. At this point Liesl is all but over toys. It’s weird how quickly she went from Playmobil and other toys, to just Legos, to essentially no toys at all. It seemed like it happened over night. Their bedroom still had Playmobile and Calico Critters and similar stuff set up in it just months ago. Now all of that stuff has been getting packed up into bins and I suspect that while Liesl would never say that we can get rid of that stuff, that the reality is that it will never see the light of day again. Which is sad because it was such a huge part of her life for so long. But really, she is eleven now and pretty old for those kinds of toys. She is all about video games, board games, D&D, and things like that now. We tried to make that part of her life last as long as she wanted it to and she played with those kinds of toys so much longer than I ever did, if I ever did at all. She and Ciana had the most wild, intensive imaginative play with those things for years together. I doubt that I will ever stumble upon the two of them deep in play like that again. It was such an adorable, endearing part of their lives.

This year for Liesl was very specifically lots and lots of My Hero Academia stuff. It is her favourite anime show right now. She is totally hooked on it. She got clothes, face masks, and all kinds of stuff. She is really into hoodies, too.

My big present was a combo present from everyone that was given to me in pieces. The starter piece was Paul giving me a smoker that I’ve been wanting for a year or two. It’s a small unit meant to be used in a kitchen or bar and while it can be used for food, it is very commonly used for drinks. I have been wanting to get into bar top smoking since I first had bartend-smoked whiskey at a lounge in Rochester that Dominica, Paul, and I went to together in 2016 the night before the kick off of MangoCon 1. A year or two ago I found a YouTube show that teaches bartending skills and one of their most recommended things was a smoker like this that makes it all so much more convenient and flexible. I’m really excited to get to try this out.

To go with my new smoker, the girls got me a smoking starter kick that comes with something like eight different types of wood (mesquite, cherry, apple, pear, and so forth) and different smoking attachments including ones for plates of food or a drink top. It’s really cool. Dominica also got me a new, large, copper cocktail shaker so that I can shake up multiple drinks at one time. This was my “bartending year”.

Dominica and the girls got matching Harry Potter Yule Ball tee shirts. The annual Carrollton Harry Potter Yule Ball is coming up in less than two weeks, so they are going to all wear these to match each other. I am not sure why the Grices don’t come up for that because I think that they would really enjoy being able to all do it together. Garrett is getting a bit old for it and I could see him not being that into it at this point, but the three girls would really like it and I think that he would put up with it as he really likes reading and really likes Harry Potter. Last year was the big Harry Potter Christmas, though.

The really big gift from Dominica and I to the girls this year was a new video game desktop. Up until December, 2015 we were using a big seventeen inch, very heavy HP laptop that was not very well suited to gaming (or anything else) that we were lugging around wherever we went. That’s what we used in Nicaragua and realized just how much we liked to play video games together as a family and would need something more robust to be able to play the games, but lighter and better for traveling. That HP had been a hand me down from NTG and was already pretty beat up and long in the tooth. I have absolutely no idea where it went when we replaced it. I have zero memory of anyone else getting it, I wonder if it is hiding in the house somewhere. Prior to that laptop, for most of a year we had a huge form factor and hugely expensive MacBook Pro that I had from the office in California and it was on that that I had played games like Tropico 4 when we lived in Spain. Before that, the only gaming machine that the girls had ever known was my HP Folio 13 that I got in 2012 in preparation for our back packing trip around Europe. That little 13″ laptop that is nearly eight years old is still what Luciana uses regularly for Roblox and what Liesl does almost all of her video game design on today! Other than the “7” key sticking a bit, that laptop is still plenty fast for most non-rendering tasks and runs perfectly. Best investment, ever. It is sitting right beside me as I type this. We’ve had that little portable laptop since Luciana was one year old, it is really all that either of the girls has ever known for video gaming.

In December, 2015 we bought a video game PC for the first time ever, the Asus RoG gaming laptop that we first took with us to Greece just weeks after we bought it and from there to Romania. It is that laptop that we hooked up to our travel projector and have played essentially every “real” video game on with the girls. That laptop is Steam to them. It still runs great and was an awesome choice for us. But it lacks the power for many new games and can’t handle VR games and it is not expandable and we are in need of a machine that can handle more and faster storage than that old laptop can muster. The biggest deal is that the girls (and Dominica and I, and even Paul) are wanting to get into VR gaming and that laptop is what is holding us back at this point. That old 2015 laptop is the laptop that Paula remembers as her only real video gaming experience. She used to come over to the house and watch movies and play video games on the projector from that laptop back in 2016.

We nearly pulled the trigger on a VR system last Christmas and ended up getting the Oculus Go (Paul got it for the family) to allow us to hold off on the big investment, and give us time to figure out if VR is something that we were really interested in and would be able to use. The Go has proven over this past year that we do, indeed, really want a VR system and want to try playing more intensive games. So after just over four years with the Asus RoG as our core video gaming system we decided to buy a very nice Dell gaming computer with a high end AMD Ryzen R7 processor, 16GB RAM (expandable), 1TB drive (which we will likely replace with a 2TB or larger SSD next year), and a really nice Radeon graphics card. We got a really amazing deal on this specific unit. I could not find anything that came even remotely close to it. The graphics card in it alone was worth most of the cost of the whole thing. I would have built my own system if it made sense, but there was no way for me to buy the individual parts involved here for the price that we got. We got such a good deal that on Amazon the price of this unit literally went up by the day. My guess is that at full price it would be $1,100 to $1,200 and we got it for around $630! We had planned to spend a lot more, we got really, really lucky. I’ve had the desktop set up in my office for a couple of weeks getting it all updated, games downloaded and tested and so forth and it is quiet, fast, attractive, stable. A really great deal, I am extremely happy with it.

It took a minute to explain to the girls what the new desktop was and meant. But once they knew what it was, they are super excited about it.

The even “bigger” present for the girls from their grandparents is the Oculus Rift S VR headset to go with the new video gaming desktop. Luciana knew what this was the instant that she opened it and she nearly fell over with excitement. This is a huge “we did good” in the present planning department this year. I’ll take some credit for that as it was my idea for both parts, and found the deals on both parts.

We also got the girls loads and loads of new video games over the last few weeks that they really don’t know about and many VR games like Beat Saber are loaded up and ready on the game machine. Plus they got lots of Steam gift cards and such for Christmas. Paul got Luciana the 3D art and drawing application called Google Tile Brush for Christmas so that she can do her art inside of the VR system.

Once we were done opening presents, it was time to start cooking dinner and cleaning out the living room so that I could start setting up the Oculus Rift for everyone to try it out. I think that Dominica might have been the most anxious to see it in action. She was very insistent that we get it set up and working straight away.

It is good that I got straight to it, it easily took two hours of monkeying with the system to get the Oculus working. It was actually a big stressful as everyone was wondering when it would work and what might be wrong and there was a line forming to use it, much like there was a year ago with the Go. Basically Emily was the only person not vying for a position in the queue. I eventually got it set up and working. I got to use it for a few minutes to do the initial set up and I have to say just those few minutes was incredibly impressive. The whole thing is so slick, way beyond the Go which was pretty impressive itself.

We had dinner and I got to watch maybe an hour of people using the VR. Liesl is amazingly good at Beat Saber already. Luciana thought that it was fun. Dominica and Paul have played it before up at the Newcomb’s in Missouri on their Playstation 4 and they know that they really like it.

While people were playing on the VR, Paul and I loaded up his truck that I had just driven down two days before and around seven we got on the road and left everyone in Houston so that we could get back up to Dallas to work the rest of the week. We both have an insane amount of work that needs our attention immediately. No rest for us.

There was hardly any traffic tonight once we got north of Houston so the drive was easy. Except that before we left Houston the Ford F150’s power cut out on us as we were driving north on I45! It just died and we had to dangerously work our way off of the highway. But it started back up and we decided to take our chances and press on and we ended up making it the rest of the way without incident. Paul thinks that his alternator might be failing.

Our only stop on the drive was around I20 to hit the Carl’s Jr where we each got two burgers at the drive through. Beyond Famous Star with Cheese for me. My favourite. I ate one in the car. And once we were back home, I had one just before going to bed.

Mia had a rough drive back. She was scared and shaking most of the way and at one point a bunch of boxes fell on her which she did not like. It took two hours at least for her to calm down. But once home, she was so happy.

I went to bed at about one in the morning tonight.

I got a lot of videos taken today throughout the day. I’ve included many of them here in the thread. All of my videos get posted to my YouTube channel in more or less real time.

December 24, 2019: New Year’s Eve in Houston

Tuesday. I got into Houston around midnight last night, saw the girls, and got to sleep. Dominica was up early this morning so that she could work with Francesca on Christmas stuff, and mostly that means being out running errands, last minute gifts, and so forth.

I did pretty well this morning resisting eating lots of cookies and so forth. I had a little of the holiday treats, but kept it very small.

The wifi at the Grices’ is not working. It works once in a while, but it goes down so often and for so long (presumably because the access point reboots itself it would seem) that it can’t be used for anything. I had to go to the 4G hotspot on my T-Mobile cell phone to be able to keep working. Even when the wifi was connected it was not as fast as the 4G, which tells you just how bad it is. So I was marginally online, but not able to work usefully. Madeline had reported that the wifi was not working when she first got home from college a few weeks ago, but apparently that’s all the farther that the news went. I knew from her Instagram posts that she was frustrated that she had no Internet at home, but everyone at her house, weeks later, acted surprised that the Internet didn’t work which seemed odd since I knew about it not even having been there. Turns out that not only did they know, but they had all completely abandoned it and moved to using their cell phones and none of the computers in the house really worked any longer. But mostly their computers are used for video games that are already downloaded so they don’t really notice the regular outages any longer as they’ve stopped using the wifi some time ago. Now the real question is: why keep paying for the highest tier of Internet access from the cable company if you’ve turned it off because it doesn’t work at all?

Paul and I did a lot of working outside today. We had essentially a few hours of meetings today and that was stuff that we needed so that worked out well.

I finally saw my first Die Hard movie, ever. I saw Die Hard 3 and I have to say, it truly is a Christmas movie and like nearly all Christmas movies, it is absolutely terrible. Terrible in every way. Exactly what I expected from a Die Hard movie.

So this throws a bit of a wrench in Paul and my plans of working from the house there. But it sure makes me glad that I did not try to come down any earlier, that would have been a disaster. I will have to go pretty soon, though. My thought that I would be here working for the week is not going to work. I will need to be back before the weekend! With as busy as I have been, there is no way that I can be away from the office in this way without really fast, rock solid Internet. I had brought my extra monitor and everything, too, so that I could really work while here.

This evening is the big family Christmas dinner that we always do. The perogies are my favourite for this meal. I did pretty well with not stuffing myself tonight, too. I certainly ate a lot, but not like so much that I felt stuffed. Just a good, filling amount. There is always so much food that I like on Christmas Eve night that it is always a challenge: fried shrimp, fried calamari, fried catfish, casseroles, etc. Lots of my kinds of food. The girls ate quite a bit, too. They don’t love any of the items, but they did a really good job of eating it all. I did have a canolo.

After dinner is, of course, the visit from the pajama elf and all of the kids put on their new, annual pajamas, did pictures, and were off to Madeline’s room for their Christmas Eve slumber party.

After the kids went to bed, Dominica and I put on White Christmas, our annual tradition. The only Christmas movie that I love. Well, that and Holiday Inn.

Present preparation went much more smoothly tonight than most years. It truly is a “light year” compared to usual. We got wrapping done early. We got the placement done early. I talked everyone into a new format where we put the presents in the living room rather than in the front room so that the presents are in the middle of the room and the fringe and we sit in the midst of them and there doesn’t need to be running back and forth from another room. It made setup way faster and easier.

They were still discussing plans when I went to bed. I have no idea why more plans were needed. But I wasn’t feeding into that insanity. I just went to bed and that helped a lot with getting a good night’s sleep. Francesca was planning on staying up, nearly all night, to enumerate gifts or something. Something very analytical with the presents. The reality is, though, that come tomorrow, it will be a frenzy with a huge amount of adults being distracted and no one really having a plan and no amount of prep tonight changes the outcome.

December 23, 2019: Errands and Running to Houston for Christmas

Monday. Last full day of work before the Christmas holiday. Had to start early this morning and it was an extremely busy morning with just hours of solid work needing me before doing anything. I did get a really good lead on someone interesting in helping look at Vetastic today, though, which is great and we are really excited about that.

My whole day turned out to be crazy busy. In the afternoon I had errands to run. Mostly dealing with the courts for the situation going on with the predatory towing company. I had to run to get fuel, go to the bank, deal with legal paperwork, do all kinds of jurisdiction research: just a really, really busy day.

I ended up running to Denton County to file my court paperwork today, but when I got to the court it turns out that they were closed today. Now I have to race back after Christmas and deal with this then. I had had everything planned out to deal with this on Friday, and in Dallas and everything just fell apart. This process is insane.

After getting the errands all done, I came home and loaded the truck and waited for rush hour to quiet down. I worked while waiting and then around seven I got in the truck and drove myself down to Houston.

Before I could leave town, though, Dominica needed me to run to our local grocery store, WinCo, and spend a good half of an hour in the bulk food section stocking up on every sugar free bulk candy item that they had because they want to use it for Frank’s Christmas gifts. That took a lot of time.

The truck has not been running well for me all week. But Paul was already aware that it was having issues so I figured that all was fine. I didn’t have it stop or anything on me, but it makes some weird sounds that a week from now I’ll realize is the sound of the fuel pump dying. But I could hear the motor issue and I think I’m the only one that hears these things so I have gotten used to not saying anything because everyone always things that I’m crazy.

On my drive down, I stopped at Carl’s Jr. and tried their new Beyond BBQ burger that Dominica had told me about. It wasn’t bad, but it was nowhere near as good as their normal Beyond Famous Star with Cheese. I am glad that I tried it, but I will be sticking with my regular choice in the future.

I arrived right around midnight. I parked in the driveway, unloaded the truck, and got straight up to bed. Both Liesl and Luciana stayed up to see me before they went to bed. So I saw them, and then it was right off to sleep. Dominica and I have an air mattress in the craft room upstairs which is not too bad.

December 22, 2019: First Time Home Food Delivery with a Service

Sunday. Since today was my free day at home I ended up spending absolutely the entire day working. The whole day, all of it. I had just loads of projects that were all needing attention today with the big one being a full corporate Active Directory migration with us putting in new servers, moving to the new servers, moving from an old domain to a new one, etc. Quite a lot of changes for a Sunday afternoon migration.

I took only a few minutes to myself all day while I ate my meals to watch some YouTube. Enjoying episodes of Drew Binskey as he explores the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Got a little Karl Watson shows in, too. Maybe thirty or forty minutes total, all day. I never even got in the car once today.

For dinner tonight I was really wanting Torchey’s Tacos and I have wanted to try out a food delivery service so I attempted using Door Dash to get Torchey’s Tacos delivered. It worked out great. It only cost me four dollars to get the food delivered, and it saved me tons of time plus the cost of taking the F150 over there to get dinner. So I’m guessing that it only ended up costing me about two dollars, and saving me a lot of time. So nearly free with all things considered.

The food was great, too. Three Torchey’s Tacos. I figured out the right order this time. Their salmon and tuna always sound so good, and they aren’t bad, but those aren’t the big hits for me. It is their avocado and mushroom tacos that I really love. And I tried their limited time fried catfish taco and that was amazing. So I have figured out the right order for me finally. So good. And Door Dash was just so simple and convenient and really, so cheap, I think that I will use this more in the future.

I worked till something like two in the morning. A very long day. One of my busiest days of the week.

Tomorrow I have errands to run, a lot more work to do, I need to pack up the truck, and then tomorrow night I am driving down to Houston to spend Christmas with the family.

October 23, 2019: Almost Finished with The Silent Spy

Wednesday.

Another very, very busy day. Got up and spent the entire day working. Lots of time on the phone, lots of time at my desk.

This evening I got more time with Liesl and Luciana to work on Nancy Drew and the Silent Spy. We put in several hours on it, but did not make it all of the way to the end. But we are getting pretty close. I am pretty sure that we will complete it the next time that we get a chance to play.