My Guitar Living Will

Yesterday was a surprisingly special day due to the fact that I bought a new guitar. I certainly wasn’t expecting to buy a guitar, but sometimes when you find the right one there is simply no other potential course of action. This morning while driving to work, I started thinking about writing a post describing my new guitar, as well as talk once more about how excited we are for our trip to Las Vegas tomorrow to celebrate my Mom’s birthday. Soon I started expanding on that thought and decided it would be cool to write about all of my guitars; after all, each one has its own unique story that would be fun to share. Then, as the physical wheels kept turning, so did the figurative ones, and my thoughts expanded onto the concept of writing what I’m calling ‘My Guitar Living Will.’

Basically my guitars are my most prized possessions, and should something ever happen to me I wouldn’t want to leave Jessica with the burden of having to decide who should get what. Believe me, there are plenty of other possessions of mine that she would have to make the call on, but considering how special each guitar is to me, I felt like it was my responsibility to determine what should happen to each of them. Before I get into it let me make one thing clear; I’m not planning on going anywhere anytime soon. I have a long life still ahead of me, as well as plenty more guitars to purchase during that time, so if your name is on this list and you’re getting excited about one of these guitars, all I can tell you is not to hold your breath. I also reserve the right to modify this will at any time I see fit. Again, I expect to purchase more guitars down the road, but at this point my collection is worthy enough of necessitating delegation.

I’ll warn you ahead of time – this is by far the longest post I have ever written. Each guitar has its own story, as well a bit about the person whom I wish to receive it, and since I am the proud owner of 6 guitars, lets just say that makes for a lot of writing! Good thing I love writing nearly as much as I love playing guitar because this post is going to be over 4,000 words by the time its all said and done. So, you’ve been warned. If you want to hear the story behind each guitar, as well as who I want to someday receive it, then get a cup of coffee and read on, otherwise you’re better off to quit now while you’re still ahead 😉

Here it is in all its glory:

My Guitar Living Will

October 30, 2014

Silvertone Electric

When I was 7 years old, my favorite movie was ‘Back to the Future’. By the time I had seen it approximately 27 times, I wanted nothing more than to be Marty McFly up on stage playing ‘Johnny B. Goode’. What I didn’t realize at that time was that Marty McFly was simply trying to be Chuck Berry, but that’s okay, because it was that movie, and that character specifically, that inspired me to start playing guitar. I expressed this interest to my parents and they decided to go along with it. Before I knew it I was the proud owner of a Sears Silvertone junior electric guitar. I say junior because it’s a smaller guitar that was probably meant for kids. Although inexpensive, those old Silvertones are responsible for a million guitarists first getting started with the instrument, and I was no exception.

Since my parents couldn’t have expected me to teach myself how to play guitar at the tender young age of 7, they decided to enroll me in lessons at a local music store. I vaguely remember attending these lessons, but unfortunately all I really remember about the experience was that playing chords and melodies was really difficult, and that it hurt my fingers badly. I don’t think it was a commitment issue; after all by that time I had already been going to Karate class for two straight years and would continue doing so for another 8 years. I just think that at that young age I needed more physical activity and didn’t have the patience to sit down and learn an instrument. Frankly, I was more interested in hip throws, side kicks, and spinning backfists than I was in strumming chords or learning major scales.

So, after only about a month of playing the guitar, I decided to put it away, and away it stayed for another 7 years. By the time I was 14, I was a freshman at Lindbergh High School in Renton, WA, and the guitar bug came back to bite me in a major way. Suddenly I found myself infatuated with Jimi Hendrix, as well as up and coming bands (at that time) like Weezer, Soundgarden, and Smashing Pumpkins. My interest in martial arts was starting to fade and was quickly being replaced by my interest in music. Since I already had a guitar in my closet, I decided to pull it out and give it another go. Although it was badly out of tune and had horrible string action, I didn’t know the difference, and I soon found myself playing with it everyday.

Obviously I didn’t know it at the time, but only a few months later, on March 2, 1995, my Dad would pass away. Although by that time I also had an acoustic guitar (see below), I still very much wanted to play my electric guitar. Not long after Dad passed I realized what poor condition my Silvertone was in, so my Mom and I took it to A# music in Renton to get fixed up. Somehow while talking to the repair guy at the store, the story of the guitar coming from my recently deceased father came out. He agreed to work on it, and a week later we came to pick it up.

Much to our surprise, there was no charge for the repairs, and the guy actually got choked up giving it back to me. My Mom and I never expected this but were so grateful for his generosity. I was thrilled because the guitar was in better shape than I could have imagined and played so well. Although it wouldn’t be too long before my collection began to grow, this guitar will always be my first, and will therefore always hold a special place in my heart. So will A# Music in Renton. I haven’t been there in years but every time I think of that store I smile. It’s technically the least valuable guitar I own, but it spurred my love to play music. I’d like Jessica to hold onto this guitar and someday give it to our first grandchild. Hopefully it will have the same effect on them (or one of their siblings/cousins) that it had on me.

Seagull Acoustic

To this day, this is the one and only acoustic guitar I have ever owned. When I was a 14 year old High School Freshman, I fell in love with everything about the guitar and wanted to spend my time doing nothing other than listening to music and playing guitar. I didn’t care one bit about girls, cars, money, or sports; just music. At that time it was quite common for kids to bring their acoustic guitars to school and play them in common areas during breaks between classes. Although I had my Silvertone electric (which I could barely play), I quickly found myself feeling left out at school because I didn’t have an acoustic to play during break.

After a few months of my parents seeing me play my Silvertone every single day, they decided that I deserved something new. So, in November, 1994, my Mom and I went to a local music store to look at their selection of acoustics, and although I had never heard of the Seagull brand (from Canada) before, I quickly fell in love with it. Unfortunately, at $350 it was well out of my $150 price range, so we left empty handed. I just couldn’t bring myself to buy some super cheap Fender after playing that Seagull. Later that night I was in my room listening to records (yes records) and my Dad came in to ask me about guitar shopping with Mom. I told him I found one that I loved but it was too expensive. He asked me how short I was on cash and I said $200. As if on command, he pulled out $200 from his pocket and set it on my dresser, then told me to go get the one I loved.

This was a perfect example of who my Dad was. He never cared about having anything for himself, he just wanted everyone close to him to be happy. His old saying was that he would give the shirt off his back to someone who needed it. He hardly ever wore a shirt anyway so it wouldn’t have matter one bit to him. Of course I was extremely appreciative and quickly found myself back at that music store buying the guitar I loved. Although I couldn’t have known it at the time, this would be the last present I ever received from my Dad, and to this day the thought of replacing it with another acoustic guitar has never crossed my mind. Like the Silvertone I received when I was 7, this isn’t my most valuable guitar, but it’s value to me cannot be measured. It only seems fitting that this guitar should go to Ava; my first child. Ava has already shown an affection for singing and entertaining, so who knows, maybe one day she will be my little folk singer? Obviously every folk singer needs an acoustic guitar, but regardless of whether or not she ever picks it up, I still want her to have it.

LTD JH-600 Jeff Hanneman

In 2008, the U.S. economy was in shambles. It didn’t make much difference to me though, because I was working my ass off. I waited tables 5 nights a week at the Waterfront Seafood Grill, which was a very profitable gig, and I worked 5 days a week as an up-and-coming mortgage broker at Washington Financial Group. Although that entire endeavor is worthy of its own story, I’ll keep it short and just say that I attempted to get on the mortgage bandwagon just as the market was crashing. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this wasn’t the industry for me, but my hard work paid off and after not making a dime for 3 months, I finally found myself as the top earner in the office in my 4th month. A month later I quit. What’s more important to the story is that the government passed a bill that year called the ‘Economic Stimulus Plan’ which stated that every taxpayer in the country would receive a check from the government. Their hope was that people would receive this money and go out and spend it, which would in turn help revitalize the economy. Although its value to the national economy was questionable, I decided to take it for face value and spend the money, as they had intended. After all, I didn’t need the money to live on, and at that time it had been about 6 years since I had bought a guitar, so it seemed like a great excuse to buy myself a present.

From the ages of about 16 – 30 I was really into heavy metal. To this day I still love listening to Metallica, Lamb of God, and a few others that most normal people would hate. Although I’ve never been much of a metal guitar player, I always wanted a ‘metal guitar’ that I could plug into a high gain amplifier and just shred on. Once I knew I was going to buy a metal guitar with my economic stimulus package I went nuts researching what to buy. I studied every metal guitar on the market and based on all factors, ended up selecting the LTD JH-600 Jeff Hanneman model. For those that don’t know, Jeff Hanneman is the late lead guitarist from Slayer who passed away unexpectedly last year due to a kidney condition. Although I was never a die-hard Slayer fan like some of my friends, I always really liked Hanneman, and I loved his guitar.

LTD is the child company of ESP Guitars. Although they also make an ESP-version of the Hanneman model, it cost several thousand dollars and I couldn’t justify spending that much. The LTD models are made in Korea, and because of this I was a bit skeptical, but I bought it brand new on ebay and just hoped for the best. As it turned out I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised. It’s an amazing guitar. I took it into Parson’s Guitar Shop on Westlake (which is where I got all my work done for several years) for a setup, and when I came to pick it up several days later, Randy Parsons himself couldn’t stop talking about how nice it played. If you don’t know, Randy Parsons is huge in the guitar world. He makes custom guitars for tons of famous players, but unfortunately has left Seattle and relocated in Ventura, California where he focuses on his own line of custom instruments.

Since this is my one and only ‘metal guitar’, there is only one person that I can logically leave it for: my nephew Kallan. Like myself many years earlier, Kallan absolutely loves music and spends all of his free time playing music and listening to music. Also like myself, he loves heavy metal. I’ll never forget taking him to see Metallica and Lamb of God on December 1, 2008 at the Key Arena in Seattle. I actually have a confession to make about that night; although Kallan was only 13 at the time, I decided to buy him a mini bottle of Rumple Minze (I’m sorry Dana, please forgive me). He had never drank before but it was a special occasion and I knew he would be with me all night, so I convinced him to drink it by telling him it would taste like a candy cane. He took it down like a champ, then almost threw up all over the person in front of us. Luckily he kept it down and the two of us had a blast all night. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of amazing concert experiences in my life, many of which with my wife Jessica, but this one ranks right up there near the top of the list. I’ve never given Kallan any alcohol since then (I’m much too responsible now to do something like that), and to be honest I’m not proud of what I did, but everything turned out fine. Since I will always think of Kallan as my ‘heavy metal buddy’ it would only make sense that someday he should have my heavy metal guitar.

Gibson Midtown Custom

Last night (October 29, 2014) I purchased this guitar at Tommy’s Guitar Shop in Everett, WA. I certainly wasn’t planning on purchasing a guitar that day, but sometimes that’s just how it happens. Buying a new guitar makes for a special day, kind of like buying a new car. My plan was to drop of my Jeff Hanneman guitar at Tommy’s to get a setup while we’re away in Vegas celebrating my Mom’s birthday. Ironically enough, the last guitar I purchased before this one was the Jeff Hanneman, which was over 6 years ago, and it hasn’t had a setup since taking it to Randy Parsons’ shop that same year. It’s been badly in need of some love, and I generally like to support smaller local shops over the big corporate ones whenever possible.

After dropping the guitar off in their repair shop, I started browsing the store and suddenly my eyes fell upon a gorgeous 2011 Gibson Midtown Custom Black Beauty. My other Gibson guitar, which is a 1980 Gibson Les Paul Custom, is also a Black Beauty, but what makes these two guitars very unique is that they both have chrome hardware. Almost every Gibson Black Beauty guitar you’ll find has gold hardware, and although I like the look of gold hardware on red or white guitars, I’ve never cared for it on Black Beauty’s. Although this guitar was used, I couldn’t believe the condition it was in, or the price. The sales guy started telling me all about it and I soon found myself spending the next half-hour playing it through a nice bluesy tube amp.

By the end of this session I was completely in love with it and quickly found myself conspiring with the sales guy on how to convince my wife to let me buy it. To use an old saying of mine that Jessica loves/hates, “I couldn’t afford not to buy it!” I practiced my sales pitch to her the whole way home in the car, but before I could even get 3 words in she said “You want to buy a guitar, don’t you?” I asked her to just hear me out and she kept saying no. After enough pleading I got her to hear me out and explained all of my reasoning: I haven’t bought a guitar in over 6 years, I’ve been wanting a semi-hollow body guitar for a while, I won’t buy another one for several years, etc. I could tell she loved hearing me beg like this but I didn’t care.

After much persistence she gave in and gave me the okay. All I can say is that I appreciate her understanding so much and look forward to returning the favor in the form of a very special gift in the near future. I’m very lucky to have a wife that doesn’t mind my wacky combination of neurosis, desire, and persistence. I’ve always been this way and will likely never change. Once I set my mind on something it’s nearly impossible to make me change it. More often than not this leads to beneficial things, like career changes, but sometimes you just have to accept that it also leads to impulse purchases of beautiful guitars, and the like.

I have a feeling this is going to become my main guitar for quite a while, starting right now. Chances are it won’t stay in it’s current pristine condition for long, but I’m willing to exchange that for the joy of playing it regularly. I’ve never agreed with the idea of buying an instrument for its value, and then never touching it because you don’t want it to have any wear and tear. In my opinion, instruments are meant to be played, and not doing so is akin to removing their soul. Since we’re so close to the birth of our son Enzo, it only makes sense that this guitar should someday be his. I hope he loves it as much as I do, especially because it came into our lives so close to the time that he did.

Paul Reed Smith McCarty Prototype

This guitar is extremely special to me. I bought it at Guitar Center in Seattle on Westlake in October, 2002. Although I’m no guitar historian, my understanding is that Paul Reed Smith was one of the head luthiers at Gibson for many years. Eventually he moved on and started his own line of guitars. In addition to their signature body style, they were the first brand I ever heard of that featured coil tapping in their pickups.

Basically what this means is that there are two main styles of pickups in guitars: single coils and humbuckers. Single coils were made famous in the Fender Stratocaster, and are known for a quacky treble-dominant sound that was made famous by guys like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and post-Cream Eric Clapton. The biggest disadvantage to using single coil pickups is that if you combine them with a distorted amplifier, they produce a 60-cycle hum that you cannot get rid of. Modern pickup manufacturers have solved this problem, but only very recently. Humbuckers, on the other hand, have two coils in the pickups, which means they have no hum, and they end up giving you a more full-bodied, bass-dominant, sound. They sound especially good when combined with heavy distortion.

Well, with a PRS guitar, you have both styles of pickups. Although they look and sound like normal humbuckers, you can pull the tone knob out and split the coils, which effectively turns them into a single coil pickup, with the added benefit of having no hum! When I discovered this guitar I was absolutely in love. Not only did I love the pickups, I also couldn’t get over how comfortable the neck was on this guitar. To this day it may be the best neck I’ve ever played, plus I loved the way the bridge was setup, as well as how comfortable the guitar was to hold and how easy it was to access the upper frets.

The other cool thing about this guitar is that it’s a McCarty prototype. Ted McCarty was the president of Gibson Guitars for a long time, but I guess he left Gibson to go to PRS. In later years the McCarty became one of their standard models, but this guitar was built as a prototype of that model before the model was ever officially released. It was used, and had a little wear and tear on it, but I didn’t care. To me that just gave it some soul and character. I just couldn’t get over how well it played.

During my mid twenties I spent all my time playing guitar and singing in a band. This has always been my favorite musical experience of my life, and probably will continue to be until the day comes that I find myself in a new band, but that probably won’t be for a long time. During these years, my PRS was my main guitar and it got a TON of playing time. I like to think that I really learned to play on this guitar, and I have so many great memories associated with it. For some reason it just reminds me of my daughter Elise. It’s subtle and sweet, just like she is, and someday I want her to have it. Although it has a few battle scars, its still a very valuable guitar due to the fact that it’s an early PRS prototype. I believe it was made in 1995, but I’m not positive on that. It may not have quite the same sentimental value as some of the others in terms of how I acquired it, but the fact is I couldn’t have loved a guitar more than I love this one, and I continue to play the hell out of it. I hope she loves it and cares for it like I always have.

1980 Gibson Les Paul Custom

I turned 18 on July 30, 1998. I spent that whole summer selling women’s shoes at Nordstroms Store 1 in Seattle. I was part of the big move from the old store to the new one, which was a big deal on the local news, and I was preparing for my freshman year in college at the University of Washington. I worked hard that summer and saved my money with the intent of buying a Gibson Les Paul. I had owned a few Fender Stratocasters before that (which I unfortunately no longer have), but there was something about the Les Paul that I always loved. Clapton played them in his early days, Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin and Slash from Guns ‘n Roses played nothing else, and plenty other favorites of mine like Randy Rhoads, Zakk Wylde, Joe Bonamassa, and Warren Haynes were also big Les Paul players.

At that time there was no such thing as online shopping, so I would constantly go to music stores to look at them and try them out. The brand new ones were out of my price range, so I would look through the classified ads in the newspaper everyday to see if anyone was selling a Les Paul. Right around my 18th birthday, on a Friday night, I went to see the Supersuckers at a 99.9 KISW Pain In The Grass outdoor show at the Seattle Center. The Supersuckers were very successful in Seattle but never quite made it on a national level. It was a fun show, particularly because I was with friends and had never seen the Supersuckers before.

Two days later, on Sunday, I was on my way to look at a Les Paul that was advertised in the classifieds section of the Seattle Times. As it turned out, the guy selling the guitar was named Ron, and he was the lead guitar player of the Supersuckers. Coincidentally, the guitar he was selling was the Black Beauty Les Paul Custom that he played throughout that entire show that I had just seen two days prior! I recognized it immediately because, as previously mentioned, you almost never see a Black Beauty with chrome hardware. They almost always have gold hardware, which I’ve never been a fan of on black guitars. Even more coincidentally, it was a 1980 Les Paul Custom, which is the year I was born.

I ended up spending a couple hours at his house listening to stories about the local rock scene. My favorite story was the one about Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler trying to get Ron to score him an 8-ball of cocaine, even though he had just left rehab. More importantly, I loved the guitar and couldn’t keep my hands off of it. There was no question in my mind that this was meant to be my Les Paul, and I’m so happy I bought it. It’s also my most valuable guitar. I paid $1,800 for it back in 1998, and today I found an identical one selling on for $3,500, so it has basically doubled in value since I purchased it. It’s impossible for me to determine which one of my guitars is most special to me, just as it would be impossible to choose a favorite child. They’re all equal in that department, but due to its age and history, there is no doubt that this is my most significant guitar, and I want my amazing wife Jessica to keep it. After all, like myself she is a child of the year 1980, plus she is the love of my life that I chose to spend my life with, so its only fitting that this guitar should someday be hers. Even if it never gets played, its one sexy piece of wall candy with a good story to boot. I hope she keeps it forever and remembers my love for her every time she sees it.

A tragedy nearby

There was a fatal shooting at a nearby high school today. Two students are dead (one of which was the shooter), and several more are in critical condition. You hear about things like this from time to time in other communities, and of course it’s always terrible, but somehow it feels even worse when it happens so close to home. When you combine the proximity with the fact that we now have children of our own, the whole thing feels even worse. Although I have dealt with a fair amount of loss in my life, none of it compares with what it would be like to be a parent of one of the injured or deceased students. My heart truly goes out to them.

You wish there was a reason, an answer, or even a bright side to look on, but there isn’t. Nothing can be said that can even begin to make sense of such a horrible tragedy. As a parent you wish there was a safe place to take your children, where an act of this nature wasn’t even possible, but unfortunately there is no such place. The fact is, this is the world we now live in. This never happened when I was growing up, and it sickens me to think that this is a reality that my children will have to face as soon as they venture out of the household and into school. When I was a kid we drilled for earthquakes; now they drill for mass murderers that are likely medicated, with access to a variety of guns and weapons. Even at work we now have a protocol for this type of situation and everyone is required to watch training videos on it.

You hear people on social media calling for guns to be outlawed, but I truly don’t think that is the answer. Just because something is outlawed doesn’t mean you won’t have plenty of access to it. Are the parents to blame? What about doctors and psychologists? Is it the fault of society in general, or perhaps the school districts? I have no idea. All I know is that the thought of my children ever being involved or affected by a tragedy like this in any way is too much to bare. After all, even the kids that weren’t physically harmed today will probably be scarred in some way for the rest of their lives. At the very least, their innocence is gone.

I had been planning on writing a post today to talk about the fact that we’re only a week away from vacation and are so looking forward to visiting my Mom and family down in Vegas, but I can’t get this shooting off my mind. Regardless, there isn’t much more I can say to express my sorrow for those affected, or my disgust for the nature of the crime, so it’s probably better to focus on our own personal lives, which have been going very well lately.

Last Sunday we joined our neighbors for what they called an ‘Apple Cider Party.’ We weren’t exactly sure what that meant but decided to make an appearance and see what all the fuss was about. The day before, a few guys from the neighborhood went down to an apple orchard in Sumner and spent 90 minutes filling up an entire truck bed full of apples. Then the following morning we all congregated on one of their driveways to make cider. It was quite the production, with an impressive turnout, and everyone had a great time, as well as a job to do. Kids were keeping busy washing apples, while others were grinding apples, pressing apples, filling bottles with juice, etc. Everyone pitched in a helping hand, and although at times I felt like I was part of a commune, I must admit it was a lot of fun. We had donuts and coffee, plus the Seahawks game was playing, and the juice we made was the best I’ve ever had. Although we had only planned to hang out for about an hour, before we knew it 3 hours had passed by before we were preparing to leave.

Ava probably had the most fun of anyone there, and took her job of washing apples quite seriously. The only task more difficult that relieving her of her post was stripping her down naked in the driveway in an effort to clean things up; apparently she had a little too much apple juice that day and lets just say it really cleaned her out. Since that was more than enough excitement for one day we were all quite content to spend the rest of the day watching football and relaxing at home. As I write this I’m just finishing off our first gallon of apple juice, but don’t worry, there’s another one waiting for us in the freezer.

Both of the girls dealt with a bit of sickness this week but luckily it was short lived in both cases. Elise got another tooth, which lead to a fever and general sense of malaise for an entire day, but she bounced right back the following day. Poor Ava had a really rough night on Monday and of course Jessica was gone at work. She had a fever all night and didn’t want to get out of bed. I went to bed around 10:00 that night and was rudely awakened by Ava at 11:30 when she came into our room crying, climbed up on me while I was asleep, and threw up all over me. I cannot describe to you how disgusting it was, particularly because I was sound asleep and had no idea what was going on. Jessica wasn’t home from work yet and I kinda freaked out. One minute I’m out cold, and the next I’m covered in puke with a feverish child wailing in my face. I didn’t know what to do first, but opted to get Ava some juice with children’s Tylenol in hopes that it would suppress her fever. After getting her settled I dealt with cleaning up as much as possible, stripping the sheets, starting the wash, and cleaning myself up. Luckily Jessica arrived home from work shortly thereafter and I was able to get back to bed in anticipation of a busy day at work. More importantly, whatever Ava had didn’t last long and within 24 hours she was back to her energetic little self.

I’ve been spending a lot of time at work over the past two weeks preparing for a pair of presentations I was giving, and yesterday was the big day where I finally got to get up in front of the room and do my thing. Although I didn’t expect to get nervous, you never know how you’re going to react once you’re actually in that setting. As it turned out everything went extremely well and I couldn’t be happier with how well my presentations were received. I started off doing a 30 minute talk on CSS and CSS Preprocessors, then after someone else did a 30 minute talk, I got back up and did a one hour talk on JavaScript MVC frameworks. These presentations were part of a series of talks being put on by my team throughout the week, and not only was I the only person to do more than one presentation, but my JavaScript presentation, which was the final one of the week, received the largest turnout of all. In addition to presenting to a full room of software engineers, designers, and managers, I was also being filmed and broadcast to a room of similar individuals in our Toronto office. Again, the nerves never hit; there was no quivering voice, no uncomfortable pauses, and no missed beats. I never looked at my speaker notes because I quickly got into a flow and just rolled with it. I was even able to manufacture a few laughs in the midst of an otherwise pretty dry set of topics. The ultimate gratification came when I was approached afterwards by several engineers who gave me enthusiastic comments and feedback. It definitely felt good to get up there and do a good job, and I now find myself looking forward to doing something like this again in the future. It’s still a little hard to believe that I’m only 3.5 years into my career and I’m up in front of a group of Amazon software engineers and managers educating them on web development, but I’ve got the necessary confidence to get up there and own it, all the while doing my best to demonstrate the types of leadership characteristics they’re all looking for.

A week from today we’ll be flying down to Vegas for our vacation and we’re all getting very excited. Even Ava can’t stop talking about it. My Uncle Terry has been doing a ton of work at my Mom’s house in anticipation of our visit, so I can’t wait to see how it’s all turned out. The basic plan we have for now is to make a really nice birthday dinner for my Mom on Friday night, then go out with friends on Saturday night so Nana can have a night at home with her girls. We’re also hoping to go see a movie one night while we’re in town, which is something we don’t get to do very often, meaning that will be another night for Nana to have fun alone with the girls. Not sure what else we’ll be doing but I know its going to be a great time and I’m sure I’ll have lots to write about by the time we get home. This is a big birthday for my Mom and I’m so glad we’ll all be there to celebrate it with her. Hopefully spending it with her granddaughters will be the greatest present of all.

Ava having fun washing apples at the cider party
Ava having fun washing apples at the cider party

Looking forward to our vacation

As I sit here and write this on a Friday evening, I’m completely exhausted. It’s funny because my job has absolutely no sense of physicality, yet by the time I go to bed every night, which is early I assure you, I can hardly keep my eyes open. There’s no doubt that the work I do is mentally draining, and I’m sure that plays a big part in it, but as Jessica likes to suggest from time to time, maybe I’m just getting old. True as that may be, my usual response is to agree with her, then gently point out that I’m still not quite as old as she is…

Tonight Jessica is working her fourth consecutive night this week and it concerns me. She shouldn’t be working that much, and although I realize that they are only scheduling her this much because they have no other choice, it still bothers me. Luckily everyone she works with is very careful not to let her do anything too strenuous, yet simply being on her feet all night this many nights in a row is hard enough on her. Luckily she has this weekend off with me, so I’m going to make sure she gets plenty of time to relax, nap, and get lots of rest. Unfortunately next week, which is Seattle Restaurant Week, looks very busy for her at work, meaning there is a decent chance she will have to work four consecutive nights again. Hopefully she can find a way to give up one of those shifts and split the week up a bit.

Not having Jessica at home all week means I’m on full-on Dad duty. Making their meals, doing baths, brushing teeth, all that fun stuff. Elise doesn’t seem to notice the difference but every so often Ava will make comments about how Mommy does things, and of course I feel bad that I may not be meeting her expectations, but I’m doing my best. I also feel like she likes to test me at times, just to see how I’ll respond. There have been a few occasions where she refuses to listen and I get a little short tempered, but overall the three of us have been doing pretty well. In general Ava is content to do her own thing for much of the evening, while Elise just wants to be with me, regardless of what I’m doing.

Tonight we were all pretty tired, and Elise didn’t seem to be feeling very well, so we all just stayed up in the guest bedroom and relaxed. Ava was keeping busy playing with her toys and watching shows, while Elise spent most of the time curled up in my arms asleep as I continued reading “Life” by Keith Richards. More often than not I’ve got some sporting event on TV downstairs, so it was nice to spend this evening with the girls ‘in their environment’.

I’ve got a busy week coming up next week at work, including two presentations I’ll be giving to a room full of software engineers. One will be on CSS and CSS Preprocessors, and the other will be on creating single-page web applications using JavaScript MVC frameworks and JavaScript template frameworks. I’m giving these details not because I expect anyone reading this to have any idea of what I’m talking about, but because someday I will come back and read this post and its fun for me to look back and reminisce on what I was doing at certain points in my career. I’m generally not a big fan of public speaking, especially when the subject matter is so technical and I’m delivering it to a large group of very smart people, but strangely enough I’m not the least bit nervous about it. I think I’ve finally gotten to a point where I have enough self confidence in my knowledge to consider myself an expert in a certain subject matter, and therefore am totally qualified to do this sort of thing. Although I may still suffer at least somewhat from the ‘imposture syndrome’, I can confidently say that it continuously affects me less and less.

Not only will there be about 40 software engineers in the room for me to present to, but they will also be filming the presentations and broadcasting them to various scattered Amazon offices, both domestic and abroad. No pressure, right? On top of that, I think I may be the only person that is doing more than one presentation. The CSS presentation goes for 30 minutes, and the JavaScript one goes for an hour, so I’ve got a lot to talk about. These are the kinds of things I need to be doing though, in order to get to the next level, so I’m all for it.

I’ve had a couple weeks to process all the feedback I received on why I didn’t get promoted, and although it felt like a punch in the gut, I’m doing my best to take the high road by accepting their feedback and doing everything I can to mitigate their concerns, all of which are extremely technical. The problem that I’ve had to come to terms with is that I work in an organization consisting of about 600 people, yet I am the only true web developer. My organization is very much focused on software engineers, and therefore it’s impossible for them not to evaluate me as a software engineer as well. There simply isn’t a solid set of criteria for them to evaluate me as a web developer, nor is there a higher level web developer present in our organization who can evaluate me. I raised this as a concern with my manager today during our weekly 1:1 meeting and he completely understood where I was coming from. Ultimately we have a plan for moving forward and as long as I stick to that plan I have no doubts that I’ll make the cut 6 months from now, which is when I will be re-evaluated.

In order to make sure that I don’t get passed up for promotion again, I’ve already started dedicating a significant portion of my free time towards working on the software engineering concepts that were listed in my feedback. Unfortunately this means that something else has to slip, as there are only so many hours in the day. Obviously I’m not going to sacrifice my time with my family, especially since we get so little of it with all four of us present (soon to be five…), so it basically came down to either taking a break from playing guitar, or taking a break from studying German. I chose the latter. Per Jessica’s encouragement, I’ve decided that playing music is such a great outlet and stress reliever that it would be silly for me to stop. I’m enjoying it so much, particularly because I’ve already sacrificed it once recently in order to make time for school. The whole time I was in school I was saying I couldn’t wait to finish so I could start playing my guitar again, so I’m not about to stop now that I have a new set of curriculum on my hands.

Taking a break from studying German really sucks, but I don’t have any other choice. Obviously it will be there waiting for me whenever I’m ready to get back to it, but I’m bummed because I was making a ton of progress and I hate the idea of starting over again down the road. I’ve even stopped going to Jiu Jitsu because I simply can’t make time for it during my daily work schedule, and I don’t have time for it in the evenings due to my family duties and studies. While I’ve never minded being busy, and maybe you could even say have thrived on it, it can be tough at times to feel like you’re constantly behind the 8-ball with more to do than you have time for.

Luckily we’ve got a nice vacation to look forward to that is only two weeks away. It’s actually exactly two weeks away, and I can’t wait! We’ll be heading down to Vegas to celebrate my Mom’s birthday, as well as visit with family and friends. The weather is going to be a nice break from the crap we’ve been dealing with here lately, and it’s going to be so nice to just get a little time away from it all. Not only am I glad that my Mom will be getting plenty of time with her granddaughters, but I’m glad that it will be in her own home. Elise has never been to her house and Ava hasn’t been there since before we moved back to Seattle. Plus this will give Jessica a full week off work, so I’m sure it will be good for everyone.

Once we get back from Vegas we’ll need to start preparing for Ava’s 3rd birthday party. Her birthday in on a Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving, so we’re throwing her party the Saturday before. Amy and Tom will be coming up from Colorado, and sticking around for Thanksgiving at our house. Rick and Chris will be coming into town on the evening of Ava’s birthday so they can also spend Thanksgiving with us. We also have my sister Dana and her husband Brad coming over, plus Butch and Carol, meaning there will be 10 adults and 2 kids. It’s going to be a full house but it should be a lot of fun; we’re definitely looking forward to it.

It’s hard to believe Ava is already going to be turning three, but then again it’s also really hard to believe that we’re getting close to having our third child. I don’t think either of us ever could have guessed that we would have experienced so much in our first five years of marriage, but obviously we wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. Here’s a few recent pics of the girls; they’re growing up fast.

Ava having fun in the sand
Ava having fun in the sand

Someone is ready for Halloween...
Someone is ready for Halloween…

Elise dragging Pippo around the Ballard Locks
Elise dragging Pippo around the Ballard Locks

Happy girl, as always
Happy girl, as always

My girls
My girls

Returned home from Dallas

Wednesday at 1:00 3 of my co-workers and I flew from Seattle to Dallas, Texas so we could spend all day Thursday visiting a couple new fulfillment centers in the Dallas – Fort Worth area. This was my first time visiting the great state of Texas and it ended up being a lot of fun. As with any work trip, there isn’t much time for having fun because you have so much on your agenda, but we had a really good group and made the most of our short time there.

I had been wanting to check out Gas Monkey Bar ‘n Grill on this trip, and since it was only 20 minutes from the airport, everyone else was fine with it. Generally the hardest part of eating as a group is picking the place, so they were more than happy to follow my lead. I’ve mentioned this before, but in case you don’t know what I’m referring to, the restaurant is owned by the owner of Gas Monkey Garage, which is the focal point of a TV show on the Discovery Channel called ‘Fast n Loud’. It’s one of my favorite shows and based on the success of the show, the owners decided to open a restaurant, which is a really cool place with an outdoor bar, outdoor stage, huge indoor area with a stage, and of course a shopping area where you can buy all kinds of shirts and other Gas Monkey apparel.

There was some confusion on my part as to whether the location we were visiting was the main location, or just some knock-off near the airport. As it turned out there is only one Gas Monkey Bar ‘n Grill, and that’s exactly where we were. I recognized it from the show as soon as we arrived. The first thing you see when getting there is the long line of Harley’s parked out front. This wasn’t surprising, however seeing a Ferrari and a Bentley next to them was a bit unexpected. I had to remind myself that, like Seattle, Dallas is a very wealthy city, but unlike Seattle, Dallas is quite famous for flaunting that wealth, which is something that quickly became apparent to me during our visit.

I had promised a co-worker of mine that I would get him a t-shirt from the restaurant if we ended up going there, so I stayed true to my word and, after finding a table near the outside bar, I headed in to do some shopping. I ended up getting him and myself the same shirt, which is the one I constantly notice on the TV show. One of my co-workers that was there on the trip with us ended up getting her husband a shirt as well. She had never heard of the restaurant, or the TV show, but really liked the style of the place and confided in me that she is secretly and subtly trying to replace his entire wardrobe.

We ended up choosing to sit outside because it was packed inside and we would have had to wait 45 minutes for a table. It was fine though, as it was still quite warm out, plus there was a Johnny Cash tribute band playing on the outside stage. The food was good, the service was friendly, the atmosphere was exactly what I was hoping for, and all in all I left there having had exactly the type of experience I was hoping for. Nice way to start the trip!

I made a Facebook post on Tuesday night saying I was heading to Dallas for a work trip the following day and several people mentioned that I should ‘look out’ for the ebola virus, which had just been confirmed there. This was the first time a confirmed case of ebola had ever made its way into the U.S. and people were freaking out. The news channels were having a field day and there were helicopters circling the hospital where the infected person was staying 24/7. Even some of our co-workers in Seattle emailed us to ‘be careful’ while down there, as if there is something you can do to avoid it. Obviously everything turned out to be fine but it added a little drama to our excursion.

Having spent the vast majority of my life in the Pacific Northwest, I’m quite used to the attitudes and personalities associated with that area. I certainly don’t mean that in a bad way; it is what it is, but its easy to see when you go somewhere like Texas, how different the people actually are. I’ve heard people from different parts of the country say that the Pacific Northwest is very standoffish and passive aggressive. My experience in Texas made those sentiments feel pretty true. I quickly noticed how outgoing and friendly the people were there. Just based on the general way that strangers address you in various public places made me realize how different it actually was, and you know what, I liked it. I don’t mind talking to strangers and I like being friendly with people, so even though my appearance (Vans sneakers, sleeve tattoos) may not have been very ‘Texas’, my personality seemed to fit right in.

After several public encounters with these overly friendly Texans, I took to Facebook to mention my initial observations of Texas, which is that it was very hot and muggy, the people were quite friendly, and that I liked it there. It was a lighthearted comment that I didn’t expect much response to, but of course one of my Seattle ‘friends’ had to make a prototypical pretentious Seattle-like comment about how if you’re okay with being anti Women’s rights, anti voting rights, anti minority rights, anti health care for the poor, blah blah blah, then yeah Texas is great. I wanted to respond, but I knew that doing so would force me to break my number one rule with social media, which is that if you don’t have something positive to say, don’t say anything at all. His comment angered me because it felt like he was in some way insinuating that I was okay with everything he listed, and then of course several other Seattleites ‘liked’ his comment. The whole thing annoyed me and I came away from it feeling a sense of responsibility for making the mistake of saying something that could be in any way attacked or disagreed with. Even though my comment was lighthearted and positive in nature, it was no surprise that somebody was able to find a negative angle to poke at it. I guess the lesson here is to stick to posts consisting of family photos and updates. After all, no one can disagree with the adorableness of our little ones.

The actual work portion of the trip went quite well, and I enjoyed getting to observe these new state-of-the-art fulfillment centers. By far the greatest satisfaction for me came when I got to witness hundreds of people in these massive (and impressive) facilities doing their jobs on software that I helped create. It’s not very often that I get to see my work ‘in action’ in a true production environment, and I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride. Part of that comes from the fact that I’m responsible for the visual layer of the software, which is the part that the associates are interacting with. Although I have nothing to do with the business logic or back-end of the system, I am solely responsible for coding the user interfaces that the associates see when packing orders, so I can very closely relate with everything they see on screen. I ended up spending an hour or so packing real orders with the software I helped create, and that turned out to be a lot of fun. You’d be surprised how hard it is. There are so many different sizes of boxes, different types of tape, etc. I often found myself gawking at the various products people were ordering, and in turn my packing ‘rate’ was probably unacceptable. It was obvious that I was the least experienced person on the line but the girl next to me was happy to point me in the right direction when I got lost. At the end of my session my manager asked me if anything needed to be improved in the software and my response was that the software was just fine, but that the packer (which was me) definitely needed some work.

As we left our final fulfillment center and got into the rental car, a huge thunderstorm rolled in and started dumping on us. When you combine this with being in an unknown area, the result is a rather entertaining and memorable journey back to the airport. We had plenty of time to spare and found a great restaurant on Yelp that we wanted to have dinner at. I had seen a place with the same name on the street earlier that day, so I thought that’s where the map was taking us to, but as it turned out it was navigating us to the same restaurant within the DFW airport. We quickly found ourselves driving through the airport, which is as big as Disney World, trying to find a restaurant within one of the terminals. Once we figured this out I felt a bit silly, and the rest of the group had a good laugh at my expense, but we eventually made it there and ended up having a nice meal before boarding the plane to head home.

The 4 hour flight between Seattle and Dallas is the longest flight I’ve been on in years. All of my flying in the past decade has been to either Las Vegas, San Diego, or Denver, so being on a plane for that long is a bit foreign to me. It was fine though, and gave me plenty of time to finish reading (for the 2nd time) Eric Clapton’s autobiography. I love that book so much, and since I’ve been so into playing guitar lately I felt like I needed to hear his story once again. Next up is the autobiography of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. I’m sure there will be plenty of interesting stories in that one as well. As mentioned in a previous post, I just can’t bring myself to read fiction lately, so reading the life stories of various rock stars has become my reading material of choice.

Having a trip like that breaks the week up nicely, meaning that by the time I got back into the office it was already Friday. Unfortunately the week didn’t end on a good note, as I received the news yesterday that I had been turned down for the promotion that my manager had submitted me for. We talked for quite a while and the general response I received was that I came very close to getting it, and that from a leadership standpoint, as well as a user interfaces coding standpoint, I was doing excellent and was already there. The one part I came up short in was related strictly to software engineering, which is something that I’ve been focusing on heavily but still have room to grow in. We put together a plan for how to improve on the 3 areas referenced in my feedback, and we’re both very confident that 6 months from now, when promotions are re-considered, I will have done enough to make it to the next level. Ever since I started working there everyone has made a point to tell me that getting a promotion at Amazon is extremely difficult. They simply do not promote people unless you are already doing everything a person of the next level would be doing, meaning that by the time you get promoted you have already been working in that role for some time and the promotion is just a form of recognition. I know I’m really close, and obviously I wasn’t thrilled to hear that I hadn’t made it, but I had to remind myself that 3 years ago I was a professional bartender, and today I’m being considered for a mid-level engineering role at the largest and most trusted e-commerce company in the world. When I look at it from this perspective I have nothing to be ashamed about. I’ll get there soon enough and at least now I know exactly what I need to focus on, plus I have a manager that is dedicated to getting me there.

When I write posts on here, I always try to keep in mind that the most important part about this website is to share our life experiences with our children, and this experience I had yesterday is a prime example of the kind of lesson that I want them to learn. Even though things have been going incredibly well for me over the last 3 years, there are still going to be setbacks. That’s just part of life. The important part is how you deal with those setbacks. The easy thing to do would be to get frustrated, think that their evaluation was incorrect, and start thinking about looking for a new job, but that would be the wrong approach to take, as well as the easy way out. The right thing to do is accept the fact that you are not perfect, embrace the feedback you’ve been given, and follow a plan to improve in the appropriate areas. Keeping a positive attitude throughout something like this is most important, so that’s what I’m doing. The truth is I didn’t expect to get this promotion, but going through the process, regardless of the outcome, will make me a better web developer and a better leader. I have no doubt that I’ll make it to the next level very soon, but learning how to deal with setbacks and shortcomings is the ultimate lesson here. The biggest bummer for me was that Jessica has already given me ‘permission’ to purchase a new guitar once I get promoted, but I guess that’s going to have to wait until next year. Oh well, just gives me more time to obsess over it and regularly change my mind about what I want.

In more important family news, Jessica is doing well with her pregnancy with Enzo. It’s noticeable that she is carrying Enzo lower than she carried either of the girls, and I have to remind myself to enjoy this sight because I’m never going to see it again. Elise has become quite the walker and talker lately. It seems that her favorite word is ‘Ava’, and it really reminds me of when Ava was learning to speak and couldn’t stop saying the word ‘Apple’. Although Elise hasn’t come close to reaching the level of repetition that Ava once had, I’m sure its just around the corner.

Not a lot going on this weekend. We’re doing a family trip to Costco later today, then Jessica will be working tonight. Even though I was only gone two days it felt much longer, so I’m excited to be home tonight playing with my girls. Tomorrow will probably just consist of watching football and relaxing with the family. Being away, even for the shortest of trips, makes me think long and hard about how lucky I am to have what I have. It’s too easy to dwell on the negatives in life, but ultimately I’m in a place I could have never expected with a family I barely deserve. For that, I am eternally grateful.