Homeward Bound

The only thing on our plate today was getting back to San Jose from San Antonio.  We had lots of time to do this, so we got up late and decided to watch a movie.  I selected the Alamo Drafthouse theater because it had a brewery attached to it, so perhaps we could also get a burger.  When we got there, we discovered that they serve the food and beer WHILE watching the movie.  Awesome!  We watched “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” while eating delicious food and drinking awesome beer.

After the movie, we returned our rental car and went to the airport.  As we were sitting there waiting, I got a text from Southwest: our second flight had been cancelled.  The guy at the counter was extremely helpful and booked us  through San Diego (rather than Las Vegas), and we’d be home 45 minutes sooner.  Now that’s service!  Since the two flights were so close together in San Diego, and in a different terminal, the gate agents took all us San Jose folks for a walk across the tarmac.  We got to see how all the baggage got handled.  It was pretty cool.

We got home without a hitch and our luggage even arrived with us.  Now that we’re home, it just seems weird that we watched a movie in a different state only a few hours ago.  It just doesn’t seem possible.

Final Day

The day started early with church.  When we got on base, we found Jeffrey – he was getting yelled at by a drill instructor for walking alone (to where we had asked him to meet us).  Barbara ran over to him quickly, which cut short any further yelling… since now Jeffrey was no longer alone.

The church service was fun and loud.  The message on sacrifice was awesome, and maybe 50 of the 250 or so in attendance came to the altar and gave their life to Christ.  It was quite moving and it brought me to tears.  People in boot camp really need Jesus!

After lunch, we hung out at the Lodge until we decided to go shopping at the main BX.  Jeffrey had never been on this side of the base so it was very new to him.  Now this is what a usual Air Force base looks like!  The boot camp side was sparse, barren, and without any entertainment.  This side of the base was beautiful, family-oriented, and had the type of architecture I had come to associate with Air Force bases – big, impressive structures usually painted in earth tones.

We bought Jeffrey a suit bag for his uniform and checked out computers (Jeffrey bought a computer the following day!)  Jeffrey and Courtney also bought better quality headphones for their iPhones, since base prices are so much cheaper.  Lunch was at the food court.  After lunch, we headed back to the Lodge, watched a movie, then said our good-byes to everyone: Grandma and Grandpa, and Jeffrey.  On the way to drop Jeffrey off at the barracks, we returned the movie, and Jeffrey then took out money for tithing — what a good kid, tithing at the very start of his career!  We then dropped him off.  For one brief moment, he looked like a little kid again, giving us a little wave, and then he straightened up, turned around and walked away with a very adult and military bearing.  And then he was gone.  I don’t know when we’ll see him again.

Barbara spent time with her parents.  Courtney did homework.  I watched the rather excellent Pro Bowl game (they should draft every year!), and then we all went to bed.

San Antonio day

It was supposed to be a nice 60 degree day today, but this morning, it was still 30.  We picked up Jeffrey at 9AM, dropped by the Lodge to pick up the grandparents, then headed off to downtown San Antonio.  Today would be a walking tour.

Our first stop was at the parking lot right by where we would end the evening.  I could not believe that all day parking was only $10!  In San Francisco, it would be $30 easy.  We walked to the first historical site, and it was closed.  Fortunately, it was right by a Starbucks, so that became our first stop.  It felt good to be inside with something warm in our hands.  Down a few blocks, we came to the town’s original cathedral.  The church was fairly large, but the most impressive thing in there were the remains of the soldiers who died at the Alamo — all in one sarcophagus!  Daniel Boone was there, as was Jim Bowie.  Next stop was the old Governor’s Palace.  It was really just a very nice home for a Captain, but I guess he was also the Governor.  Nice rooms, good displays, it was just like walking through many of the Spanish Missions back in California.  Beyond the Palace stood the town’s original Mexican Market, or Mercado.  This was a fun and lively place.  Since it was now lunchtime, we went to the best place there and ate lite (since dinner would be so heavy).  The food was awesome!  We walked a section of the River Walk after that, stopping by one of the buildings that was used in the filming of Ghostbusters.  Now that it was warmer, we went back to our car, dropped stuff off, then headed to the “History Store” which stood across the street from the Alamo.  My guidebook said to stop there first and see the show before going to the Alamo.  I’m really glad we did.  We got to learn a lot about the Alamo in that store.  They had a massive diarama there and the lecture was given (via audio) by Phil Collins.  We then headed to the Alamo.  It was a nice place, but without that lecture beforehand, I would never have understood any of what I was looking at.  We went to the nearby mall after that for more coffee, and then we walked a lot of the River Walk.  What a nice walk! About the time we were getting tired, we got to my next destination – The Hard Rock Cafe — so I could buy a t-shirt.  We sat in a very nice hotel lobby for a while after that and then headed to our dinner destination: Texas de Brazil.  This restaurant was voted the best in the city, and it sure was!  The salad bar was filled with marvelous and wonderful things, and the meat…. wow, so much meat, and all of it good!  We all left completely stuffed.

Graduation, Museum and family traditions

When I got up this morning, there was snow on the ground, ice on the roads and ice on the palm trees.  The newscast reported that 200 accidents had happened in just 20 minutes at the start of the commute so they closed all the highways in San Antonio and asked people not to drive anywhere.  Wow, I sure am glad that the military postponed Jeffrey’s graduation until 1PM!  I wasn’t able to get into my car because it was enveloped in ice.  I first had to chip away the handle, and then the door to get in.

By 1PM, it was still below freezing (19 degrees).  We got bussed over to Jeffrey’s training facility and were put into one of the classrooms.  This is where the impromptu graduation ceremony would take place.  All of us were sort of bummed because this ceremony was happening five hours later than originally planned, which meant five hours that we weren’t out in the city having fun.  Fortunately, the ceremony was much abbreviated.  With that complete, we were shown the dorm rooms.  The place was spotless and everything was perfect… due to frequent inspections.  Jeffrey kept a drawer full of perfectly folded clothes just for inspections.  He wore the clothes that he kept hidden in a different drawer.  His bed had perfect hospital corners.  Jeffrey needed to get his new orders, so the barracks tour was also abbreviated.  On the way to get his new orders, we saw ice dropping from trees, power lines, buildings and lamp posts.  It was sort of dangerous to walk around!

Jeffrey got his new orders for tech school (also finally, officially getting his job title: F15 Test Equipment Technician).  This took about an hour.  Courtney and I shook trees to watch the ice fall down.  Thanks to the shortened ceremony, we were still able to get off base by 3:30.  Jeffrey wanted to get to Steak N Shake sometime during this trip (since these don’t exist on the West Coast), so that’s where we headed first.  It was less spectacular than the one in Florida that we had been to, but it was still good.  The next stop was the San Antonio Art Museum, one of the highest rated sites on TripAdvisor.  The museum was fairly large and had an impressive collection of Non-Western Art.  The American art collection was pretty good and was exceptionally Mexican-heavy.  They had a whole room dedicated to Diego Rivera and his followers.  The European collection was practically nonexistent, offering only one major piece, a Bouguereau (I love Bouguereau!). All through the museum, we took “bench tour” photos, something my family does.  In the old days, I had started taking pictures of my tired and bored kids on benches so I could show them later on in life how much we had tormented them by taking them to museums and historical sites.  These days, they practically run to the benches for the photo ops., since it’s now tradition, but they actually like looking at the art and visiting the historical sites.  Jeffrey really liked this museum, though he did spend a lot of time looking for the “real” art… the European Art.  I guess I had that influence on him, since I’m a European specialist when it comes to art.

Our last stop was another non-West Coast eatery, Dunkin’ Doughnuts.  We love the coffee (it’s the only thing we brew at home), and hate the service, but this is another tradition we have started – stopping at every Dunkin’ Doughnuts place we find, getting coffee, then complaining about the bad service.  It made for a perfect end to our day.

Yeah, we get to see our son!

We were up pre-dawn.  This hotel really has this graduation weekend thing down.  Knowing that the Airman’s Run is early, and the first briefing even earlier, they started breakfast at 5AM on Thursdays.  We were there at 5:08 and the place was beginning to get full.  Breakfast included Texas-shaped waffles (which I had every morning while I was here!).

We got to the base by 6:30.  The weather report called for a high of 60 degrees… at 5AM, followed by chilling winds and 30 degree temps by noon and icy rain and snow by midnight.  At the moment, we were nice and warm.  Barbara found her parents and we parked together over by where the Hemenes family had told us to stand for the Airman’s Run.  The parking lot was closed off on one side, but we found an entrance that wasn’t blocked.  We were the only ones in this lot (we would use this lot a couple of other times as well because no one else knew about it!).  Barbara and her parents went to the 7AM parent briefing.  Courtney and I went to guard our ideal corner spot on the corner of Peace Street for the Airman’s Run.  This was the spot where the airmen would run by, circle around, and then run by again.  This location also had the added advantage of causing a huge gap between us and other parents on the other side of the road (since no one is allowed to be on the streets) which would make it much easier for Jeffrey to find us.  At 8AM, wave after wave of Airmen ran by quickly, each with their own colored shirts representing their Squadron and Flight.  Jeffrey’s Flight was dressed in gray and would be near the end of the run.  Eventually, the “Warthog” Flight ran by and… we couldn’t find Jeffrey!  Everyone looked the same, and frankly, we didn’t know what Jeffrey looked like bald.  Fortunately, after his Flight had jogged around the loop and returned down Peace Street, having to slow down to pass the barricades, we saw him waving to us as he passed.

With the Airman’s Run completed, it was now time to reserve a spot on the benches for the coin ceremony.  Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea.  Our ideal spot for the Run was very un-ideal for getting to the bleachers quickly.  We got some of the last remaining spots on the benches well behind the action.  As we sat down, the wind began to pick up and it was COLD.  Courtney, Grandma and I guarded our seats while Barbara and Grandpa attended a second parent’s briefing.  The coin ceremony wouldn’t be for another 2.5 hours!  By the time the event began, it was 30 degrees, and maybe lower with wind-chill, and my back really hurt!  The coin ceremony was shortened a little bit due to the weather (it had begun to rain).  Afterwards, we got to grab Jeffrey and take him to the Air Force Lodge, where Barbara’s parents were staying.  First though, we decided to go to the Golf Course to eat lunch.  We had been warned that the food court at the BX would be packed full of 650 graduates and their families.  The bowling alley would be packed too.  We figured that no one would even think about the Golf course, and we were right, only two graduates showed up. By now, the wind was gale force and it was really unpleasant to be outside.  The food was pretty good and the place was nice and warm.  We watched the golf flags flutter and lawn furniture roll across the greens outside as the rain came down at a 45 degree angle.  After lunch, we stayed in the Lodge until Jeffrey had the idea to go and watch the Zero Week recruits get yelled at inside the small BX.  For the Zero Week recruits, today was the day to get all their basic supplies.  This turned out to be pretty fun to watch.  The drill sergeants were on everyone’s case and even the cashiers were rude to these recruits.  Outside in the bitter cold, the recruits were standing in lines getting yelled at.  Hey, at least it had stopped raining by that point.  Eventually, it got too cold for us, so we went back to the Lodge.  At dinner time, Barbara and Grandma went to the big BX to get Arby’s for the family.  We ate dinner in peace at the Lodge, away from crowds (which had been Jeffrey’s request – he was tired of crowds and people after 8.5 weeks of being with people 24/7).  After that, we took Jeffrey back to his barracks and headed home for the evening.  We were told that tomorrow’s ceremony would be at 1PM, not 9AM, because of the coming overnight storm.  It never snows in San Antonio, so this was something “special,” but unwanted by those who lived there.

San Antonio

Our flights to San Antonio were smooth and uneventful.  At our brief stop in Phoenix, Courtney bought $45 of cactus candy to give to her friends upon our return.  Cactus candy was something that I had always gotten for our kids back when I used to visit Phoenix for business.  Courtney still remembers cactus candy fondly.

I wish getting out of the San Antonio airport had been easy, but it was not – I stood in the car rental line for over an hour.  Dollar Rent-a-Car was out of cars so they were only handing them out as they came in.  In the past, this meant that whatever car was available is what you got, and it was usually a serious upgrade.  Not so today – there were enough people requesting full-sized cars that we had to wait for our mid-size.  We got a Chevy Cruise.

First stop was to eat lunch.  I had heard good things about a Mediterranean place near the Lackland Valley High gate, so we went there.   Good choice, the food was excellent!  We went to the visitor’s office afterwards to get our passes, but it turned out that the pieces of paper Jeffrey had sent us WERE the passes.

Our hotel was really set up for this graduation weekend.  The guy who greeted us told us just about everything we would need to succeed in this coming week.  He also gave us a room that had a view of Lackland base… except it didn’t; it had a view of a wall and a vending machine.  We laughed about our “million dollar view” all week.

In the evening, we met up with Barbara’s parents who had driven from Arkansas and were now staying on base at the Air Force Lodge.  As an ex-Air Force person, Grandpa was allowed to do this.  We could too, since we were here for the graduation, but our accommodations would have been pretty rustic, unlike the digs Barbara’s parents were able to get, so we stayed off-base.  We wanted to go to the mall near our hotel, but the mall turned out to be a strip mall, and all the places were closed.  I had picked out a top-rated restaurant in that mall for tonight’s meal, but no one was hungry.  Barbara and her parents went back to the Lodge to catch up.  Courtney and I went to Arby’s for dinner, and then back to our hotel so Courtney could start doing all the homework her teachers had assigned here during her week off from school.

English CSET is done!

About a year ago, when I was taking my Art CSET (teacher’s) exam, my good friend Brian, who has a Master’s Degree in English from an Ivy League college, was taking the English CSET.  He hadn’t studied for it; he simply wanted to see if he could pass it.  He failed all four sections.  I was now going to attempt to pass the same exam, and I have only ever had three English courses in College, and none with above a C+ grade.

I guess in a month from now (now that I have completed the exam), I’ll see what only three weeks of studying gets me.  This is the least I have studied for any of my previous CSET exams.  With six to eight weeks of studying (each), I was able to pass History, Art and Technology on my first try, and in fairly specular fashion.  This English CSET has been the hardest for me so far because it’s the furthest away from my areas of competence.  Sure, I can write a sentence and I’m fairly well-read (at least in Science Fiction and Religion), but I know NOTHING about grammar and very little about literature as a historical subject.  My only prior knowledge in these two areas are my German studies from fifteen years ago, where I was forced to learn some English grammar as a result of learning German grammar, and my Art History degree, which uses the same historical time period names that Literature does.

During my preparation, I took several pre-tests and I consistently got below a 65%.  To pass any of the CSET tests, you need a 73.3% or higher.  In the final days of my preparation, I used those pretests as a study guide, so hopefully, I’ll get that minimum 73.3% score that I need.

On test day, I was given five hours to complete four tests: two essay tests and two multiple choice tests.  I would have to keep a pretty good pace just to complete all four tests within five hours.  The first test on Literature was fun and I felt fairly good about it.  I had studied Literature more than anything else in preparation for this exam because I knew so little about it and because it was the subject of two of the four tests.  Still, about half way through the first test, I got really tired of reading all those literary passages and I could feel my comprehension dropping.  I was mentally drained.  The second (essay) test was also on Literature.  I felt less good about this test because I was already drained, and because it’s simply hard to write two complete essays in such a short period of time.  They gave me plenty of scratch paper to create an outline or a draft on, but I went right to the final draft in both cases to cut out a lot of extra writing.  I hope that this strategy will work!  It took me 3.5 hours to complete these first two tests.  When I looked up at the clock and realized that I only had 1.5 hours to complete the second two tests, I panicked a little.  The two remaining tests were a multiple choice test on Grammar, which I knew nothing about, and an essay test involving four one paragraph answers on drama, oratory, creative writing, and print media, which I did know.  I flew through the Grammar test and finished it in half an hour.  I also flew through the short answer test in 40 minutes.  Wow, I actually finished all four tests with 20 minutes to spare!

So… how did I do?  I may have passed two or three of the four tests.  I do not feel that I passed the Grammar test.  I also got the feeling that I was going to be awfully close to 73.3% on the three tests I did better on; in other words, I may have passed three tests or I may have passed none.  If, by some miracle, I actually do pass the Grammar test, it will only be due to the fact that there were some teacher skills questions and some early childhood development questions included in the test.  That stuff I do know.

I really, really hope I passed the two essay tests because I don’t ever want to write that much again in a testing situation.  The good thing about the CSET tests in general is that once you’ve passed a test, you don’t have to take it again – even a partial victory is a victory.  So long as I pass two or more of the four English tests, I’ll go back to complete the rest.  If it turns out that I only passed one or less, I’ll see this as God’s clear direction that I shouldn’t be teaching English.

Oh ya, my wife also took her test on Home Economics.  She had passed two of three required tests previously, so she only had one to go this time around.  I hope she passed.  She said that she bombed one of the essays, but did very well otherwise.

Transition Week

Monday was a “transition day,” where I would help the new teacher get used to my former classroom and to the campus.  He had really made the room look nice over the Christmas break!  He was also really impressive to watch — he is an excellent teacher!  I showed him around campus and helped him wherever I could.  I also got to see my two former English classes, which was great.  They missed me.

On Wednesday, I subbed.  I was supposed to be studying for my English CSET, but one of the teachers in the English department was very sick and had called me at home Tuesday night to ask if I would be in her class.  On Monday and Tuesday, she had asked random subs to show movies.  Now on Wednesday, she needed a sub who could actually teach something, so she wanted me in there.  What a nice compliment!

I got a call on Friday from the Principal’s secretary, asking if I could do an emergency sub job.  I had to turn her down because I really had to study for the CSET.  It made me sad to turn down any request for my target High School, but I had to, and she understood.

Tomorrow is CSET day.

Stanford Day

We went to Stanford today just to get out of the house.  My kids have been to the campus a lot (annual summer “splash” sessions), but I never have.  I’ve only gotten as far as “The Loop,” the drop-off spot at the front of the campus… to drop off my kids, and to the stadium to watch a couple of football games.  I guess I’ve also been to Stanford Mall, but that’s not really part of the campus.  Today, we would walk the rather large campus and also visit the art museum.

We started at the Cantor Museum, which is Stanford’s (free) museum.  It’s a great little museum with some major works including a whole Rodin sculpture garden.  One room had art on loan from the SFMOMA (under construction) including one of 17 versions of Duchamp’s “Fountain” (a urinal on its side with R. Mutt painted on it).  I much prefer his “Nude Descending a Staircase.”  There was also a Thiebaud “Pie” painting.  I love Thiebaud’s work.

While in the museum, we did a “bench tour,” something I have done with the kids since 2009.  This time though, Jeffrey wasn’t there, so this became the “Lonely Bench Tour 2014” as Courtney posed alone.

The Stanford Campus is really quite lovely.  We walked through the old center section, to the bookstore, where I bought a shirt (Rose Bowl stuff was now on sale – they had just lost that game a few days ago), and then to the newer buildings and dorms.  Our trip ended at the very closed Tourist Information Center right by the stadium and athletic grounds.

Once out of there, we went to Castro Street in Mt. View to eat Thai food, and then Tapas food (yes, we had two lunches!).  Both were excellent.  After that, we came home and crashed, having walked around six miles.

Happy Financial New Year

First off, Happy Birthday to my wife!

Well, another year gone.  For me, it was a great year even though for the third year in a row, I didn’t have regular employment.  I consider all the time off a blessing though.  If only I were able to travel more!  This year, 2014, I really need to find regular employment.  My cash reserves will definitely run out sometime this year if I don’t have regular employment.  Of course, I’ve been saying that for the last two years, and the money hasn’t run out yet (thank God!).  I’ve been able to stretch my funds with odd jobs, contracts and substitute teaching.

As with all New Year’s days, I began my day by going through my annual finances.  For the third year in a row, despite not having a job, we’ve actually made a profit because our stock gains have outpaced our cash losses.  Albert Einstein was right: “compounding is the most powerful force in the universe.”  And this was a very good year, a 26% gain for us.  Alas, before I pat myself on the back for my stock-picking prowess, I must also come to terms with the reality that for the third year in a row, I did not beat the S&P500 (29.6% gain in 2013).  By this measure, I’m actually losing potential gains, and I’m a below average stock picker.  For nine of the thirteen years that I’ve been in the stock market, I’ve beaten the S&P500 quite handily, but about three years ago, I started to go conservative on my portfolio to avoid losing money.  And while I have indeed lost less money, I have also not gained as much… so late in 2013, I went back to my old ways, and truthfully, most of my gains for this year were from the last quarter, after I changed back to my old ways.  Hopefully, this won’t bite me too much whenever the market drops.  These days though, I put stops on most everything to avoid some of my past disasters – riding the market to the bottom and then having to crawl back to where I was.  For now though, I’m happy – I hit a particular financial goal of mine that I’ve been working on for years, and it looks like I will, indeed, be able to retire in the manner to which I have become accustomed.  God is good!  He takes care of me!  My personal goal for this year is to again start beating the S&P500 by several percentage points on an annual basis.  It calls for a riskier strategy, but also offers more rewards over time.