Hanging Shark

Chocolate at the Aquarium

While speaking to Nickolas’ teachers months back, Michelle and I were finally ridden of the guilt that we must take Jacob and Nickolas on enjoyable excursions together. We had been so fixated on spending time as a family, we were limiting the places and fun we could have based on Nickolas’ sensory issues. Our poor adventurous Jacob was left waiting on the sidelines, bored to tears. So we planned a trip to the Maritime Aquarium for just him, me, and Michelle.

The aquarium’s website was promoting a Chocolate World Expo on January 26 where you could sample sweets while spying sea life. Just like that, we had a date, time, and something fun for both parents and children in one fell swoop. Yum!

We found out later that hundreds of other people had come to the same conclusion. An employee revealed the aquarium normally doesn’t see a quarter of the visitors who came out for the Chocolate World Expo. By the afternoon, it felt as though we were plodding about in Disney World, the halls were so congested. Thankfully we are morning adventurers, so avoided most of the heaviest gridlock.

Michelle, Jacob, and I arrived ten minutes before the aquarium opened, earning us a clear view of the aquatic attractions and first pick of the tempting treats. Fish, crabs, sharks, turtles, manta rays, frogs, salamanders, jellyfish, and seals were all in attendance. And Jacob touched every one he could, much to the disgust of his mother.

Jacob absorbed most of what he knows about sea life and the ocean from cartoons like Wild Kratts and Octonauts. While admiring one seemingly ordinary fish tank, he started schooling me in the ecology of the coral reef. His retention of detailed knowledge for subjects he loves seems magical to me.

Watching an otter dancing in loops through the water was Jacob’s favorite part. We visited that exhibit at least three different times. I have a soft spot for the illuminated jellyfish tanks myself, both for its beautiful tranquility and its ability to keep Michelle squirming in horror. I’m a naughty husband.

Overall the Chocolate World Expo was a little light on the chocolate. There were definitely lots of sugary treats, but we expected many more chocolate treats in an event headlining chocolate. Aside from the fudge and chocolate chip cookies—I loved the cheesecake and red velvet fudge!—most of the free samples involved dark chocolate, which Michelle and I are not big fans of. Add to that a strange mix of flavored peanut butters, rum cakes, teas, cheeses, and other foods that do not scream chocolate, and you may start to understand our confusion with the event’s theme.

When it came down to purchasing any one treat out of the whole place, Jacob chose a strawberry gelato and Michelle got a teeny bit of chocolate with a Chips Ahoy sorbet. I was torn between the piña colada rum cake and the fudge, but hefty lines at the time kept me from either. So sad.

The feeding of the seals was another highlight of Jacob’s day. He attentively waited almost a half hour for it to begin, making friends with one of the workers by asking her a ton of questions. Michelle and I sat back at a table on the opposite side of the pool enjoying the whole interaction. I couldn’t help but jest how proud I was that Jacob was working his moves on a cute redhead. Michelle agreed that us Cortés men are all the same in our love of the ladies.

We left the Maritime Aquarium after four hours of fun. We might have stayed longer if not for the immovable crowd. Next time we’ll skip the special event and go on a calmer day, but it didn’t stop Jacob from enjoying himself immensely.

Bitstrip Work Collage

Résumés, Portfolios, and Networking…Oh My!

My sister, Ang, pointed out recently that my posts have been severely lacking of late. Checking the calendar, I found the time registering as only a week and a half in my mind to be three solid weeks of silence in actuality. Shame on me.

When I laid out the three milestones in my resolution of change, I pictured making pretty equal progress between them each week. A chain of circumstances catapulted the Job Satisfaction goal to the tippy-top of my priority list though.

Anyone who has been paying attention to the Bitstrips I post on Facebook may have noticed me venting some work frustration. There is something strangely therapeutic about having a silly personal comic to let loose with. My very first Bitstrip from late November included my fiery face amid a roaring conflagration. Obviously not one of my jollier work days.

Angry Fire Jay

Come December, it was clear that I needed a change. I needed to be challenged in new ways. I needed to create instead of maintain. I needed to find excitement, accomplishment, and pride in what I did day in and day out. So I took the remainder of my vacation days to split between holiday fun and prepping for a major job hunt.

My first focus? Redesign my website. As a web designer, before seeking greener pastures, I have the insatiable need to overhaul my old design with something fresh that also showcased my latest skills. I never mean to recreate the site from scratch, but it inevitably takes on a life of its own. So I laid out colors, designs, workflows, code, interactions, and spawned a monstrous project I couldn’t hope to turn around in the week’s time allotted for it. What I did manage to create was a ghastly bottleneck that prevented me from actually starting my four- to six-month job hunt.

It was two weeks into January before I realized this though, and I had to about-face quickly. Luckily, good old LinkedIn held a solution in their Professional Portfolio feature, which allowed me to post portfolio pieces specific to each company I ever worked for right on my profile page. After so many years in web design, I had mounds of samples showcasing my design and code for potential employers to peruse. Having my own custom portfolio site was not going to make or break me. It only slowed me down.

With that monkey off my back, I could finally tackle the most critical component of the job search. My résumé.

I did something right during my time off in December by redrafting my résumé from scratch. I exchanged all paragraphs for bullet points, honing in on accomplishments rather than daily minutia. It was a great start, but a solid week and a half of January involved tweaking bits of it to no end. Everyday I scoured the job boards, mindful of the terms being used to describe things I knew how to do, but under dated, less trendy names. Those terms then made their way onto the umpteenth-hundred version of my résumé.

All the cogs were in place by January 20th, my goal date to let the world know I was available for hire. In days of yore, that meant submitting to every job post across a dozen different job boards for any position remotely involving web design within a hundred miles. I’m happy to say I have grown beyond that.

I had a clear vision of the position I wanted, how far I was willing to commute, and what my skills were worth. I cannot properly stress how important having crystal clear goals and limits are. Work and family balance holds such a central place in my life right now that it would be self-destructive—absolute folly—to settle for anything less.

I also knew that submitting to everything under the sun, even if 100% qualified for the position, is almost completely useless in these times. Countless internet articles drill how 80% of jobs are landed through networking and referrals. So the daunting task before me was to reach out to my connections and let them know I still exist! Oh, and that am looking—that’s important too!

There was a lot of silence at first. “The magic formula of networking was not going to land me a job overnight,” I decided. Or was it? By Wednesday, I had a very solid lead. A week later, that lead evolved into an offer that met all the goals and limits I set for myself. It still seems a little unreal and mind-boggling, but I’ll let you know if it was only a dream when my new job begins in two weeks.

With the Job Satisfaction milestone accomplished far ahead of schedule, I’ll refocus on the other two again. Michelle and I already reopened discussions about From House, To Home while Post Less, Post Often will get back on track starting with this post. I have two family adventures involving aquariums and pinewood cars that should be shared soon.

Pyro Brothers

Secret of the Flame

On New Year’s Day, I posted a video of Jacob and Nickolas playing with fire on Facebook. Comments expressed equal parts amazement and bewilderment, but I chalked it up to my boys being superheroes-in-training with mastery over fire and immunity to flame. For anyone who missed it, here’s the clip again:

Digitally added movie magic? A rocking new toy? An optical illusion? I can reveal to you now that it was none of these. Sadly, my boys have no super powers—unless hyperactivity is a super power. In any case, they are not impervious to flames. They were merely playing with a fancy fake fireplace.

Michelle and I were in Ashley Furniture on our third day of browsing for living room and dining room sets. Our goal was to just get a sense of prices, sizes, and styles. We already had Bob’s Discount Furniture and Huffman Koos under our belts and planned to trudge through a dozen other furniture stores over the next several weeks. The open floor plan of our living room, dining room, and kitchen had Michelle and I convinced it would be a grueling process to find sets that went well together within a reasonable budget.

Three hours in Ashley Furniture proved our assumption wrong.

Strewn throughout the far corners of the store were pieces from the Porter Collection, whose style somehow walked the middle ground between me and my wife’s disparate aesthetics. With each discovery of a different piece from the collection, our hearts pounded ever more rapidly with the joy and disbelief at finding everything we wanted far sooner than expected.

It was time to get serious. Time to carefully review each item. Time to sit down and talk numbers. More importantly, it was time to distract the boys who were running on fumes from a delayed lunch and a boring morning of shopping.

While passing one of the freestanding fireplaces, a childish wonder took hold of me. How could such an exposed flame be safe in the house? I passed my hand near it and did not find the heat I expected. The boys were at my side, growing curious along with me, nervously reaching into the flame themselves. It was only slightly warm. Some kind of smoky vapor lit up by orange lights. Nothing more.

I left them to play in the “fire” while Michelle and I talked through this huge purchase of couches, chairs, and tables we were about to make. Jacob and Nickolas were having fun. Mommy and Daddy were having fun. It was a win-win for everybody. Then an associate came over and told my boys it wasn’t safe to play with the fireplace.

She was right of course, so I grudgingly steered them away from the magical device. What a terrible mistake. The next twenty minutes were pure chaos. Nickolas started crying for food. Jacob lost his tablet. Nickolas lost another tablet. There was screaming, bouncing, climbing, searching, and struggling. Any hopes Michelle and I had of closing a deal went up in fiery smoke.

We took the boys home for lunch and rest. They had done remarkably well for kids dragged out shopping from 9:30 in the morning till 2:00 in the afternoon. Just ten more minutes in the fake flames might have staved off the implosion. Wishful thinking.

After a few hours’ break, we ventured back to Ashley Furniture, picked out a matching rug, and finally closed the deal. Interest-free financing is a good motivator. Only three days until the furniture arrives. Here’s a teaser of what the pieces looks like: