30 December 2008

POTHOLES

In a good weather year, driving the Chicagoland freeways and streets is an exercise in patience and skill as one plays a game of dodging the pothole. Well, this winter, which has been psychotic, is making the dodge game a real "treat." It's been stupid cold, with lots of snow, then it warms up, everything melts, and we are left with potholes all over the place. And IDOT doesn't even have a prayer of getting them filled (probably because our criminal sociopath governor is withholding funds in exchange for keeping his street cleared and potholes filled).

Driving the I88 has become an exercise in hanging on for dear life. Every lane, not just the outside ones, are now riddled with potholes, and not small ones. The Swedemobile was not designed for this. I am fully convinced that I'm shortly going to leave behind a critical piece of mechanics, like an axle, in one of these monsters. About the only thing that seems appropriate to traverse this heinous piece of roadway is a tank. And who wants to drive one of those? Well, this guy did:

As I dodge the potholes, I'm starting to understand what was going through this guy's head.

27 December 2008

20

December is a busy, or brutal, depending on your perspective, month of celebrations, particularly for us. But today's celebration, our 20th wedding anniversary, was worth it.

It's been a good day. We awoke to the sounds of rain, which only meant it had warmed up. We are living in a psychotic weather world right now, I mean Sybil had fewer personalities than our weather has - two days ago, we had three feet of snowdrifts and ice so treacherous you couldn't drive. Today, it was 55 degrees and rained most of the day. This 'heat wave' put the world in a whole new light for my wife. She was overjoyed, so the day started well. The kids slept in too and Beijing wasn't her usual barking annoying AM self. More good karma.

I then took off to get an anniversary gift, in spite of the fact that we had said we weren't doing gifts. We made our trip to Australia earlier this year our gift, but really, how often does a 20 year anniversary come around? Not that much, so I felt it had to be honored. So off to the land of the little blue box...Tiffany & Co. I managed to find something nice and that did NOT require a second mortgage.

I figured I need to get a haircut too so I could look presentable on this most auspicious occasion. I've ranted before about the fact that I can't find a good, inexpensive barber in the Chicagoland 'burbs and that I've been stuck at the various franchised haircutting mills, which I believe are where Satan keeps most of his stylists on retainer. Well, once again, my 'stylist,' and I use that word loosely, had a whole lot of mileage on the engine, as it were, and it was just a lousy experience. I have now decided to bite the bullet and just go to one of the local barbers in my 'burb and pay the cash premium. I can't take one more of these train wrecks using my scalp as a proving ground for how easy it is to use the clippers...

So that didn't go so well. I did decide, since it is our 20th, that the occasion merited flowers - even red roses. I want to point out that in the 20 years we've been married, you can now, including today, count on one hand the number of times I've given the stunningly patient SML flowers. I also will go on record that I reminded SML as I presented her with said roses that this did not represent a break in my lack of romance nor was this an indication that I might be softening my stance on the stupidest day of the year, Valentines Day. She was cool with that.

Then the day got mundane. I got all 'Hazel' and did all the ironing and then marched off to the grocery store. Nothing says lovin' like doing the groceries.

We did cap our evening with dinner. We had intended to go into the City but again, the weather is not cooperating. Walking down Michigan Avenue in the rain just wasn't what we had planned. So we had dinner at Mortons and man, was it good! We had a booth and spent most of the evening recalling things, some little and some big, that we've experienced over the years. Let me just say that dinner was fantastic - the bacon-wrapped scallop with the apricot chutney - amazing! Is there anything that bacon CAN'T improve? Our steaks were really fantastic (and for the coin I laid out, they better have been!) and the service was terrific.

As we talked this evening, we marveled at how blessed we've been. I almost didn't want to talk about it so as to not jinx things. But we have been so, so blessed. Our children are healthy and doing well. We have landed well with each of our moves. We've been all over the world together. And we like each other. We really, really like each other. More than a couple of people have commented on how different SML and I are but those differences have complimented the other and serve us well.

It hardly seems real that twenty years have gone by but they have and I wouldn't have it any other way. I can't imagine what the next twenty will bring but I'm just glad the stunningly patient SML will be along for the ride. She really is the love of my life. She has to be, because, as my mother says to this day, "She has to love you because I don't know who else would put up with you."

26 December 2008

16

Today, 26 December, is CAL's 16th birthday. She's 16! I can't believe it. I could blather on about how the time has flown by and that it is simply unbelievable that our second child is already sixteen, but what's the point, she is and she's growing up.

She got her drivers' license today and is now legal to drive sans a parent. However, the weather is pretty awful (we are now in all kinds of wicked thick fog) and that's going to make us highly reticent to toss her the keys to the Taurus (the family's third car) with abandon. That's one of the sucky things about a winter birthday in Chicagoland - you're not going to get to take off at will. CAL also got her beloved cell phone today, finally stripping us of the title as strictest parents' EVER for not letting our kids have cell phones until they turn 16. So breakfast in bed, a new cell phone, and a drivers' license makes for a pretty good day.

CAL deserves it. This is one good girl. She's bright, a delight to be around, and she's headstrong (which can be a challenge but she's learning to handle that). She is a wonderful, wonderful friend. She makes a mean cupcake too!

I don't quite know how I managed to get such a good daughter. Well, I do. I was very, very lucky to convince the stunningly patient SML that marrying me was a good idea. She bought it and as a result, three amazing children. It's fun to honor CAL today. Looking forward to having dinner as a family tonight in the 'burbs. We were going to haul it into the City tonight, but the weather really is just too crappy.

Happy birthday, CAL - you are awesome!

25 December 2008

Merry Christmas


630AM - Me, up. The rest of the house quiet. I get showered and head downstairs.
700AM - Working on the the rest of the morning's breakfast (I had started it at 11PM on Christmas Eve). Note to self: the French Toast casserole that I've been making the last few years is the butter-and-egg equivalent of a nuclear bomb. Perhaps it's time to rethink it.
730AM - the Boy has awoken the stunningly patient SML but not his sisters, who are far less patient.
800AM - Our Lady of BYU and CAL do arise and the opening of gift shenanigans begins. First, the stockings hung by the chimney with care, are opened and then we move to the living room where we each assume our assigned positions on the respective couches. I am armed with two trash bags. My compulsion to have things orderly really flies out at Christmas. No gift box is opened until the wrapping is in the trash bag. Everyone has learned to deal with said rule.

The Boy still acts as the elf, distributing gifts and adding color commentary. It's funny as the kids are all now teenagers, with one nearly out of teenage-dom, how gift-giving and reactions have changed. Our Lady of BYU essentially bought all her gifts this year, but that works, no weeping, wailing, and or gnashing of teeth. CAL was very specific in what she wanted and even helped picked some of it out - so again, no holiday drama. There's still some surprising the Boy, but had this been one of those videotaped Christmas's, it would have been pretty boring. No screaming in surprise, no gasps of shock/joy. Just a lot of contentment. And that's not bad.

930AM - the breakfast comes out of the oven, the cinnamon syrup is made and warm, and we gather around the table. We give thanks as a family for this day and then we eat. Within ten minutes, the phone is ringing. As suspected it was one of the Boy's friend's, calling to check on how the Boy made out. To the Boy's credit, he did say that he'd have to call him back, without getting the eye from either parent. Suffice to say, his breakfast moved quicker from there.

1000AM - the movement of gifts to rooms begins. iHomes need to be set up, DVD's need to be watched, clothes need to be modeled. I'm still befuddled, and a little bit frightened, frankly, by my eldest daughter's new four-inch heeled shoes. I am real curious to see how she is going to negotiate the hill up to campus in those, but who am I to ask?

100PM - The puzzle table is set up. It gets worked on little by little. The sun is now shining brilliantly. It's reflecting off the mounds and mounds of snow that cover our front yard. It looks deceptively warm. It's not - it's only about four (4) degrees outside, gracias to the windchill.

It's quiet and peaceful here. It's Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all!

24 December 2008

Do They Know It's Christmas?

For people of a certain age, the 80's will always be remembered as a time of self-centered excess. It was also a time when famine in sub-Saharan Africa found its way into the headlines. This juxtaposition, unbridled excess and hideous human suffering, cried out for action. Led by Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats, musicians found a cause they could support and the result was Band Aid.

The result was a single, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" that led to all kinds of famine-relief fund-raising. It somehow made us feel like we were helping when we bought the song (either on vinyl or a cassette). The video is a riot to watch now - if nothing else, just to see the crowd gathered. Take a look:

Merry Christmas!

23 December 2008

50

December is a month chock full of significant events for my family. Most importantly, we celebrate Christ's birth on the 25th and that really goes without saying. We also celebrate CAL's birthday, and three wedding anniversaries - ours and my parents and Jill and Wes, who celebrate seven years this year. This December is of particular note - CAL turns 16, the stunningly patient Shari and I mark 20 years of marriage, but my parents take the prize - today, 23 December, they celebrate 50 years of marriage.

Can you even stand that? 50 years! I tried doing a little research on Google and Wikipedia to see what's the percentage of marriages that last fifty years and the answers were pretty consistent - close to zero. Nice, huh? I'm sure that part of that is attributable to the fact that people die before they make it to fifty years, but the sad truth, is that most marriages break up long before they even get close to a number as high as fifty.

So tonight as I write this post, I can't help but honor my parents. They've certainly beaten the odds as it were, as if that were ever a question with these two. I have never met a couple more devoted to one another. My father treats my mother with such caring and respect and he always has - I cannot recall him ever uttering a cross word or even a sideways glance of frustration with my mom. And my mom has simply always adored my dad. They've gone all over the world together, mostly in the service of their Father in Heaven and they've had some pretty amazing experiences. They've blessed the lives of so, so many. But selfishly, I'm glad that they've blessed my life and the lives of my brother and sister. I know that the three of us have challenged my parents far more than they deserved. I am forever grateful for their collective patience with their three children. And I'm glad that last month we could all gather and be together as a family. We have not gotten together for a very long time and a picture like this doesn't happen very often:

The three of us, my brother Rich and my sister Suzanne, together on Thanksgiving thanks to my parents

As I will shortly celebrate twenty years of marriage with my wife, I look to my parents' example and realize that, as usual, I am falling short. But I know I am looking forward to learning day-by-day from my parents ongoing example of love and dedication - I am looking forward to growing old (well, older, because the way my eyes are screaming for bifocals, I'm old now) with Shari.

I look at my mom and dad now and realize that there really is no appropriate gift that I can give them for this anniversary. They've made it clear that they have all the material possessions that they could ever want, but I hope to find something. I guess the best that I can do is to really live up to and honor the legacy that they've created. I've been blessed to be their first-born child.

Thank you, Mom and Dad - it seems wildly insufficient as I ponder all that you've done for me and my family and for all that you've done for so many other people over the years - but thank you and congratulations on this most special of days.

20 December 2008

When Your Governor Is A Sociopath

When one becomes a citizen of the great state of Illinois, one realizes that a certain level of political shenanigans are simply the norm. This is heightened if you live in the Chicagoland area, like we do - let's face it, Chicago honed the "political machine" like no other - it's high art here. But say what you will about the city of Chicago, the machine works really well.

The same cannot be said for our governor, Rod Blagojevich. His political machine, which was apparently was held together by the same hair product that held his helmet hair in place, has failed him completely, as has his tenuous grasp on his own sanity. Since his arrest early last week for pimping the open US Senate seat of President-elect among other felonious pursuits, he had, up until yesterday, kept his yap shut. The Governor and his few remaining loyalists allowed their collective inner sociopath to come raging out in the form of a press conference. It was nothing short of stunning. If you didn't get a chance to see it, here it is:

Where does one begin? How many times have we heard politicians claim ever so piously that they have the truth on their side? I liken that argument to the death-row inmate who suddenly finds redemption in the Bible and that makes the murder or two they committed all go away. And how often do we hear politicians justifying what they do on the backs of either the poor, the elderly, or children - healthy or sick. In this case, the Governor called on the levers of the elderly and sick children. Umm..let's see - in his elderly support move, he gave the elderly free rides on public transportation. Great. Unfortunately, that has exacerbated the budget trainwreck that is public transport and those free rides are going away as service is cut. Nice. And sick children. Wow...apparently from the tapes, the Governor was SO concerned about sick children that he demanded a donation to his campaign in order to get money to a children's hospital. No donation, no millions to the hospital. Awesome.

So now what are we, the citizens of Illinois, stuck with? A delusional Governor who believes he can lead. Really? The Lt. Governor, the AG, the leaders of the Illinois House, the President-elect, and about everyone else, are calling for his resignation. Impeachment proceedings continue. The State is going to have a tough time borrowing money since lenders tend to get a little skittish when your Chief Executive is staring down the barrel of time in the clink. But, Rod and his Hair are going to continue to lead. Although one of his attorneys did say that the Easter Bunny (you can read that quote and other gems in the coverage in the Chicago Tribune) may bring news of what the Governor will do next. That's really respectful of the people, Governor. Nice move.

While it was hoped the Governor would pull an Eliott Spitzer and resign, it didn't happen. So I guess we'll just sit back and watch as our state is effectively paralyzed. That's serving the people, Governor. Keep it up.

18 December 2008

And then there were cinco

Our oldest daughter has returned from her winter break - we are a family of five again. She's been home a couple of hours and it's good to have her home. Really good. She got in before the winter storm that they've been screaming about since last night hit - and so far, it's a whole lot o'nothin'. We'll see if anything materializes. They've already said that the snow that's supposed to fall is the heavy, wet heart attack-inducing snow. That's lovely. I mean it's enough that Chicagoland is just chock-full of folks on the heart attack border...what with sausage and Italian beef being a staple, having a sociopath for a governor. And then you've got Bears fans like these:

We've got enough reasons to have heart attacks here - we don't need heart-attack inducing snow as a result of shoveling. I suppose I'll get to test the theory in the morning.

Excellent...

15 December 2008

The Den's 1st Anniversary

Today, 15 December, marks the 1st anniversary of the Den's appearance in the blogosphere. Here we are, some 154 posts later, and today's post is not much different from that first one. My first post lamented the cold, snowy weather we were enduring in Chicagoland. And it's not much different today. While I'm not shoveling snow today (because it's frozen solid to the ground), I am dealing with ice and wicked cold temps. Wind chill is screaming in at about minus nine degrees. I had to carve my way through the ice to the handle on the Swedemobile this morning in order to get into the car. Yeah, it's not good.

So the weather hasn't changed much, but plenty of other things have. Since December '07, our house population has shrunk by one as Our Lady of BYU graduated high school and hightailed it to Utah; we all got older; SML went back into the paid workforce; CAL is about to get her drivers license; the Boy remains the Boy; and I lost 35 pounds (good riddance, man boobs). And a whole bunch of other stuff happened, much of it chronicled here.

This blog thing has been good for me. I don't think it's been a particularly cathartic thing or a forum for me to get in touch with my feelings. I can hire a therapist for that, although I don't recommend employing this one:

I've simply liked chronicling what's doing with me and my family. And it's also been good to further open the window to my own brand of madness.

So the long, strange trip into the Lyons den will soldier on. I hope you've enjoyed the ride and that you'll stay on for awhile.

13 December 2008

Head Cold

It started subtly Thursday night. Like a tropical depression out in the Atlantic, it started spinning (in my head, thank you very much) and gathering strength on Friday and today, it hit me full on - my head cold. And I'm over it. Not a big fan of taking medication and what little I've taken isn't helping. I did do the chicken route cure tonight but it wasn't chicken soup made by your favorite local yenta:

(How AWESOME was Mike Myers as Linda Richman?!)

Instead, I made General Tso's chicken, even adding some extra red pepper (both cayenne and more flakes) and that did nothing. My eyes are watering, no, sweating like a corpulent Finn after a particularly long go in the sauna. I'm a mess. I'm glad I have the day off on Monday. I just hope I can get through a big ol'day of religion tomorrow.

10 December 2008

Karma

Given what's happening in Illinois right now, I have to recognize karma and her stunning return to the forefront.

Frankly, once "My Name Is Earl" started to jump the shark (Oh Joy, where did your trailer park sting go?), I thought karma had fallen asleep at the wheel.

Well, starting last week, karma began a quiet comeback. First, O.J. Simpson finally got sentenced to jail for an act of stupidity and hubris. It took long enough and it wasn't for the hideous murders that we all know he committed, but off to the clink he goes for stealing his own collectibles. Genius! And then, karma got a tad more bold when the two frat boy spastics who, through sheer stupidity, made it to the final three of "The Amazing Race" did NOT win or place second. And now, karma declares herself back with a vengence! Through more hubris and stupidity and AWESOME delusional behavior that makes Elliot Spitzer look like a choirboy, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is arrested for essentially selling the Obama's Senate seat and that's only one of the charges on a 76 page long indictment. 76 PAGES! Incredible, simply incredible. And the best part is that he honestly believes he's done nothing wrong. Seriously, what color is the sky in that world?

Great job, Governor! Really. You've done Illinois proud.

07 December 2008

Feasting

In chapels across the peculiar world that is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints today, member after member stood and bore witness of their individual faith. For those unfamiliar with Mormon culture, the first Sunday of every month is reserved as a day of testimony as well as fasting and today was no different here in Chicagoland.

Our service today was, and I don't want to be crass using a sports analogy for a religious event, a home run. Those who bore their testimonies today knocked it out of the park. We truly feasted today, listening to the testimonies and feeling the Spirit so strongly. You could feel people drawing close together and frankly, from my perch on the pulpit, you could see it happening. Nothing unites like the spirit of God - may it keep happening for us, because it was really cool today.

Heck if every testimony meeting were like this, it would kill the need for "Testimony Bingo." If you have to ask, you don't play and I'm not going to spill the details.

We'll shortly be feasting in a more temporal way - dinner. Sweet potato fries and pork loin. All good. You have no idea how much I love the humble sweet potato!

And I could KICK myself for refusing to eat one until I was in my late thirties. Another stupid decision. When piled up in the grocery store in the produce section, they aren't much to look at, but man, what you can do! Cut them up lengthwise, fire up the oven, drizzle them in olive oil and kosher salt, and toss them in and in no time - you've got awesome fries. And don't get me started on what happens when you mash them and mix in some maple syrup, some brown sugar...fantastic.

01 December 2008

Thanksgiving Recap

I worry sometimes that reading a post can give you that same kind of feeling you got when you had to sit through a hideous night of slides from some stupid vacation and not your vacation. It was usually the vacation of someone you hardly knew. You know what I mean...remember when your dad dragged out the screen (the one that felt like sandpaper) and out came the slide projector and the carousel of slides. You just KNEW no good was coming from that night...but I digress.

With that preamble, I ask you to indulge me just a little. It's not very often that your parents celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary, but that's why we fled to Phoenix last week, with Our Lady of BYU joining us, to celebrate my parents 50th. Technically their anniversary is 23 December, but given trying to coordinate calendars around that date, it made sense to celebrate at Thanksgiving. In order to spare you the pain/utter agony of an hour-by-hour recap, I'll be sparing in words and use a few pictures to tell the story:

Wednesday, 26 November
Dinner with my brother and his wife, my sister and her children, and my parents at my sister's house in Scottsdale. My brother made a really good paella. We had a good time talking - it's been years since we'd all been together.

Thursday, 27 November
Up at the crack of down in order to drive halfway to Los Angeles (OK to Peoria, AZ) in order to run a 5K, sponsored by the Arizona Roadracers. My brother-in-law, Wes, joined PTL in this race - this was PTL's first.


PTL put forth a great effort. He struggled during the first mile and I have to admit, so did my patience. But karma got me back for just as I was about to lose my patience, I tripped on my shoelace and went down hard. Tore up my right leg below the knee, but I hopped right back up, sufficiently humbled. If I hadn't calmed down, I would have missed the opportunity to cross the finish line with my son. Crossing the finish line with him was the highlight of the day.


Later in the day it was off to my brother's in the New Mexico-adjacent city of Queen Creek for Thanksgiving dinner. Again, my brother's chef skills were on display. He and his wife did a great job with dinner. Once again, good to be with family.


Friday, 28 November

Lunch in Mesa with my parents - Mexican food. Friday night it was back to my brother's (another endless drive) to do something my dad hasn't done in an estimated eighteen years. He watched a movie from start to finish. We watched "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" and it was a kick. My dad laughed and laughed. That was one of the highlights of this whole trip. This movie was made a few years after my parents were first married and this was a wonderful way for them to relive memories. It was a little painful for my kids - it's a long movie and awfully different from movies today but there's no beating the horror that is the late Ethel Merman in this movie.

Saturday, 29 November
Hang on - we're almost done. Spent some time hanging with my sister-in-law and her family, as well as my inlaws who had just flown in from Hawaii. It was great to see them too. Saturday afternoon it was time for the event we were least looking forward to (OK, the event I was least looking forward to) and that was family pictures. We trundled off to Gilbert to take said pictures. There were two other families at the same spot when we got there and we are all dressed the same - blue jeans and black shirts. Ridiculous.

My sister and her three children

My parents - the reason we all got together

After the photo fiesta, we had one more family dinner and then it was back to my parents for a night of memories and honoring my mom and dad. It was an amazing night.

Sunday, 30 November
Not much to report - up at 330AM in order to make a 6AM flight on stupid Ted, again, back to Chicago. We were off on time and with only one dog this time. We got to O'Hare about 45 minutes before the snow started to fall. And fall it dead. It didn't stop until around 1PM today. Five inches of snow on the ground. More to come this week. Umm...winter is here. Funny though, even though it was gorgeous weather in Phoenix and we came back to snow, it wasn't enough to make me want to move back to AZ anytime soon.

28 November 2008

Thanks Given

It's the day after Thanksgiving and I must admit that we are enjoying the mild temperatures that Phoenix offers in November. It really is nice out (but still not enough to convince me to move back). SML, Our Lady of BYU, and Jill, SML's sister, are out shopping. PTL went with his uncle and cousin quadding for the day, and CAL and I are at home with my niece.

My sister-in-law and her husband live in a gated community - one that I learned is like the "Hotel California" - you can check in anytime you like, but you can never leave. I discovered this at 530AM when I went to run. Got to the gate and discovered you can only get out with a key, a key I did not possess. After falling during yesterday's 5K, I was not about to go climbing fences, so I just ran around their neighborhood - a lot. When I got back to their house, I learned that their front door has no latch. It was still too early to start ringing the doorbell, so after about ten minutes of pacing out front and pondering my fate, I leaned against the door and it flew right open. I was happy to get back in but was also questioning the security of said door.

We had a good Thanksgiving yesterday. The girls went and saw the schlock that is "Twilight" with my mom, sister and her two daughters, and I am pleased to report that none of the three (SML, Our Lady of BYU, or CAL) thought it was all that great. Maybe twenty years of me and my opinions is starting to pay off! PTL and I went with my Dad to my brother's to get ready for Thanksgiving. My brother and his wife went all out to make a nice dinner. My Dad and I had to make a trip to the only open grocery store to try and find an elusive baguette near my brother's house (which I swear is New Mexico-adjacent) and that was a hideous Wal-Mart Super Center. Don't ever go to one on a holiday...I'm just saying. On another note, apparently baguettes are more difficult to find than bin Laden himself.

I am giving thanks today for the re-emergence in my life of Diet Pepsi Vanilla:

This hasn't been sold in Chicagoland now for probably a year but this sweet nectar of the gods is still avaiable here in Phoenix, so I am enjoying it here while I can. For this, thanks is given.

26 November 2008

Good thing that TED is dead

We've made it to Phoenix where in spite of it only being around 70 degrees, I'm sweating like a Finn in a sauna. I think something must be wrong with me...seriously. I'll probably have a stroke during the 5K tomorrow.

We had the misfortune of flying on TED to Phoenix this morning. This was United Airlines' ill-conceived attempt at a low-fare airline within the airline. It lasted longer than all the other experiments (RIP-Metrojet and Song), and there's a reason all these carriers are dead. They sucked, well, Song didn't but the concept did. Anyway, TED will be dead sometime next year and not a moment too soon. Things looked so good when we got to ORD today too. No lines at all and the crowds weren't awful. We holed up in the new Red Carpet Club on the "B" Concourse and then went down to the gate only to discover that the inbound aircraft was late. The crowd at the gate was an indication of things to come. It was a cacophony of crying babies and yelping, barking dogs. The kind of little dogs that go in carriers in the cabin. The next three and half hours weren't going to be good.

We boarded about ten minutes late and it looked like we were going to get out pretty close to ontime. I had a dog in my row and another dog was behind SML, CAL, and the Boy. They had a crying baby behind them along too. Well, then the flight attendants start counting dogs and things went south. 40 - that's forty - minutes later, it was determined that we had too many dogs in the cabin so a dog had to go. So did the accompanying passenger. We got to watch the "Ballet O'Blame" in between the customer service agents too. I was livid by the time we finally backed off the gate.

So once we were in the air - TED continued to blow. As usual, one cup of soda, no whoe can for anyone. The crying baby fiesta went on most of the flight. I could go on and on. It was just a whole lot of unpleasantness. I'll be so glad when TED is officially dead - maybe Mother UA can go back to focusing 100% on its core customer base. Now - I do have to give a shout out to the purser on the flight. He was cool - he came back halfway through the flight to thank me for my business, and as he put it, "helping to pay United's bills." He also offered to comp a "mini meal." That was cool. But that's another thing...

What compelled United to include a can of tuna in their for sale meals? Why not just hand out vomit scented blankets? It's the same thing. The lady in my row could not buy the meal with the tuna in it fast enough and when she cracked open the tin o'tuna, its noxious fumes filled the cabin in no-time flat. What would compel an airline executive to think that putting canned tuna in an enclosed metal tube that is already, in most cases, a flying labratory of sickness, is a good idea? FYI - it's not. It's hideous. All it does is make you question why you paid several hundred dollars to be exposed to canned tuna fumes. And it makes you angry.

This explains why as soon as we picked up Our Lady of BYU that we made a beeline to In-N-Out. That was a good thing. So, now that were at my sister-in-law's, comfortably settled, it's time for the Thanksgiving festivities to begin. Only three more days until the TED return.

24 November 2008

Peace: A Snow Run

What started out as rain during the night quickly turned to snow here in Chicagoland early this morning. Once the snow stated to fall (which, I am delighted to report, was melted and gone by 10AM), I felt compelled to get out and run. These were big snowflakes and I had just read a blog post in Runners World about that first run in the snow and I knew I had to give it a go.

It wasn't a long run - only about 2.5 miles - but it was really satisfying to find myself running as the snow came down. The face mask and hat I had on made me look like I was dressed to commit a felony armed robbery at the local mini-mart but it also gave me a different perspective as I looked forward during the run. I found myself focusing more on what surrounded me. The sensation of the snowflake or two that slipped behind the mask and cooled my face was refreshing. It was quiet too. I was surprised at how different our neighborhood looked with a nice dusting of snow. I look forward to more runs like this but am not sure how I'll handle it once the snow comes down in earnest, sticks, and piles us up. Something tells me I'm in for a real boss slip and fall injury - maybe a broken wrist before the winter's over.

After my run I made my way to the Naperville Running Company to get some decent gloves. I am a huge fan of this store. Their staff is awesome. Totally friendly, helpful, and non-judgmental. You don't have to be a Dean Karnazes or an Usain Bolt to get treated well there. When I was there today, they put to bed the rumor I had heard that Brooks was discontinuing my shoe. Mercifully, they are not...just releasing an improved version in January. I was all set to by a couple of pair if they were being discontinued and I'm mighty glad I don't have to do that!

Snow and cold will not be much of a worry for the balance of the week. We head to Phoenix on Wednesday for Thanksgiving. Our Lady of BYU will join us so we'll all be together for the first time in earnest since she bailed on us in June. It does look like we might have some rain on Thanksgiving but that's not a bad thing. PTL and I are running a Turkey Trot 5K with my brother-in-law, Wes, and it's supposed to by in the mid-60's and rainy. Perfect Chicagoland weather.

You know, it's good to be alive. Yeah, the world economy sucks and looks as though it's going to get worse. Our President continues to redefine lame duck presidency into complete and total do nothingness. But it's still good to be alive. It's good to be counting blessings and giving thanks.

21 November 2008

Spirit of the Y -3rd Place- Really?

As readers of the blog know, I recently made my way to Provo, UT, to meet Our Lady of BYU for Parents Weekend. You can read the older posts from October and see that we had a really good time. I found out that BYU had a photo contest for Parents Weekend and I submitted one of our photos on a whim, without telling anybody. Well, lo and behold, I found out earlier this week that we won! We took third place in the "Spirit of the Y" category. Here's the winning entry:

As far as I am concerned, we should have taken 1st! You can judge for yourself by going to the Parents Weekend website. We won a $10 Gift Card to the BYU Bookstore. I hope Our Lady of BYU spends it wisely.

Getting ready this afternoon to accompany PTL on an overnight in the local forest preserve. Umm...it's gonna suck. Supposed to be about 14 degrees tonight without the windchill. Ah...midwest winters. Maybe we'll get a surprise snowstorm to make it all the better tonight.

18 November 2008

Is it Friday yet?

Really. Is it Friday yet? As I was leaving the office this evening, I honestly thought it was Thursday. Alas, it's only Tuesday but it feels like it should be Thursday. That's the kind of week it's been already.

Started the morning teaching Seminary at 0600, then raced to the office, where I was at my desk for a grand total of one hour today. I was awash in meetings today. No, not awash, flooded, even inundated with them. Even managed to miss one - only a critical one with my boss. Awesome.

Traffic was brutal coming home. As I was driving home, I called SML to check in and heard the sounds of a crying baby in the background. I knew it wasn't ours since we checked out of the baby stage long ago. We weren't babysitting either but I heard a baby. Well, I forgot that CAL is taking a "family life" class in high school and for the next two days (through Thursday), we have a "baby" in our house. Said "baby" is crafted from what I'm sure is the finest Chinese plastic and looks fairly authentic. Its cries, though, are dead-on. The makers of this robo-baby recorded the sounds of a real baby and loaded it up. This baby cries, A LOT. CAL has to care for this thing like there's no tomorrow because it records how it's treated. I held it for all of five seconds and have never been more creeped. CAL has to haul it to school or wherever she goes in a baby carrier. Fine lessons for the high schoolers. Screaming reminder why I am way glad we aren't having babies in our 40's. But every time I hear that robo-baby cry, I wish even more that it was Thursday.

Heard from Our Lady of BYU today. She's entered blogdom. I've put a link to her blog in the "Linked" section of this blog. You can read her blog here. Maybe she can make the weekend get here faster. Someone has to - I'm going to lose my mind.

15 November 2008

"Fireproof" thoughts

So last night, for the first time in ages, SML and I had a chance to get out as a couple for a date. We joined our friends M & E for dinner and a movie. Dinner in suburban Chicagoland on a Friday night can be a battle against massive lines but last night, no. Perhaps it's because we edged dangerously close to the "early bird" special crowd and ate at 530PM. Mercifully not a single member of the blue hair/wash and set gang was seen and we had a good meal and conversation.

We then dashed off to the movies. I no longer pick the movies when we go out with other people - this is for a host of reasons, not the least of which includes my "unique" sense of humor which apparently doesn't translate to the masses and the fact that some of my previous choices have been regarded as questionable (I'd like to point out though that I was not the one who picked out "New York Doll" - that's all I'm saying). So last night's movie was "Fireproof." Perhaps you've heard of it...it's getting all sorts of play with the evangelical set and in marriage seminars. Based on the number of people in the theater and their average age, it's aimed squarely at the over-40 set (we are in that target group but we were skewing the averages lower) - it almost looked like we'd walked into an audience with Dr Phil. I'm not sure that's the target audiences the producers of the movie wanted but that's what they were getting last night.

The movie is getting a lot of buzz as a must-see for couples. I knew I should have been nervous about it when earlier in the day I mentioned to my mother that we'd be seeing this movie. She reported that all of her friends said it was the most wonderful movie ever - call me crazy, but I'm not sure that a gaggle of bunko-playing ladies who lunch in their 70's are the most authoritative sources of film review. So I was already approaching the film with caution. I was just glad going in that we had some free passes to the theatre.

So here's my take on it - this is not the most wonderful movie ever made (sorry, bunko ladies). The acting (and I use the word acting very, very loosely) was horrific. Kirk Cameron, (80's flashback - name his sitcom), starred and it was more like watching "Acting Pains." The other actors were wooden at best. I mean the original "Jonny Lingo" was more convincing ("Mahana, you ugly!" - the classics never go out of style!) The most convincing actor was the woman who played a stroke victim who never uttered a word. The camera work early on was pretty rough too. Methinks they used a lot of interns. And subtlety was a word the directors had banished from their collective vocabulary.

Now, that being said, the film's message is a powerful one and is worth thought and even application. In a successful marriage, there needs to be three partners - husband, wife, and God. Putting God and His Son at the forefront enables love in a marriage to flourish. Putting His love first makes forgetting a spouse's quirks and foibles so much easier to forget. Putting His love first makes forgiveness second nature and not a burden to carry. The message is a good one and I'm sure that some marriages will be saved as a result and that is good. I probably learned a thing or two...

That being said, next time I'm picking the movie.

12 November 2008

I got nothin'

Maybe it's the fact that we are in that weird weather transition phase here in Chicagoland or maybe it's a case of the post-election blahs, but seriously, I got nothin' people, nothin.

It's gotten cold fast here but not wicked bad cold. It's been gray for days and I know that's working on me. And it's been wet, so I've not been able to run outside and that completely blows. Back to the treadmill at the gym at the office. I know that is weighing on me. No pun intended.

And now that the longest election cycle ever is over...what's one to do? I guess watch the press turn on Obama, which they will do. And watch the Democrats take this majority and implode through in-fighting. Which they will do.

Like I said, I got nothin.

08 November 2008

Eating from the hot pot

It looks like fall has packed its bags and left the building. It got cold and rainy/sleety yesterday here in Chicagoland and it looks like that unpleasantness is going to stick around awhile.

With the weather turning cold, thoughts turn to foods that warm. A typical Midwest winter dinner doesn't center on the hot pot, but ours did last night. And it was delicious! We've been trying to get together with some friends who recently returned from a big trip to China so we could trade Asian travel stories and last night was the night.

Derek and Mari put on a wonderful dinner. It was a traditional Asian hot pot meal. Think a really hearty soup, chock full of Asian elements. It was really fun to watch it all being prepared. The vegetables that made their way in were tremendous and the fish, meat, and dim sum just made it all the more amazing. I had made some bao (did chicken this time) to accompany the hot pot. We had a great time talking over our travels through Asia and then we moved onto Europe and our mutual experiences there.

We also found ourselves talking about our mutual university experiences. Mutual in the sense that we all went to the same university, but I was once again reminded that I'm old. We got to talking about my recent visit back to campus to visit Our Lady of BYU and Mari mentioned a French class she took in the JKHB. I mentioned how surprised I was by the renovation, which I thought had been done recently. Turns out it was done while she was an undergrad there, which wasn't so long ago. Shari reminded me at that point that I'm old. And I guess I am getting there.

Since I am old, per my family, I felt no guilt today in literally taking it easy most of the day. I gave blood this morning and took the counsel of the folks there to rest up today. So I holed up in the basement, watched a few episodes of "The Office" - Season Four on DVD, and have been laughing a lot. You just can't get enough of watching Michael Scott mowing down Meredith in the first episode. Good times!

05 November 2008

The Day After

What an interesting time to be from Chicagoland?! Our Senator has been elected as the 44th President of the United States of America. Looks like the mantra of "change" resonated with the electorate. It was something to watch the crowds massed in Grant Park last night. What a great way to showcase this amazing city! Can I give my city a shout out too?! No riots, no overturned vehicles - I mean Philly did that when they won the World Series.

What an election this has been! It's caused so much introspection at a personal level and that translated so deeply in the voting booth. I know the ever patient Shari and I had several conversations about this election and we never questioned how the other would vote. Frankly we didn't know how either would vote until our votes had been cast. I was also impressed at how the Boy took an interest in this. We sat up for awhile last night watching the returns. I appreciated getting the perspective of a thirteen year old on all the madness. He's got some wisdom, that one.

So now, two more months until Barack moves into the Casa Blanca. I kind of think GW is already trunky and may have most of his stuff packed so I don't think it will take the Obamas long to settle in. I am on my way to Dallas right now...maybe I can scope out some new digs for GW and Laura.

04 November 2008

It's almost over!


Praise the heavens, my friends (how many of will puke if you hear either of the Presidential candidates-in particular McCain-call the masses "my friends" again!?), it is almost over. A matter of hours and the longest Presidential campaign EVER will be over.

Now if you happen to be watching any of the network coverage, it would appear that this election is over. And it would seem that the Angriest Man in the US Senate will remain angry, but just not in the White House. Um...shame on the networks. How is it that they are calling winners when, on average, the percentages upon which they are basing their calls are under 10%. Do none of these saps remember the debacle of 2000? Not that I think that this election is going to be decided by the brain trust that is the US Supreme Court, but c'mon, network wads, let's dial it back. Case in point - I cast my vote at 630PM and had to use a paper ballot and based on the Cataract Crew of volunteers working our precinct here in Chicagoland, I can assure you my vote has yet to be counted.

Hopefully when this is all over, and may that be soon, can we all take a collective breather and calm down just a little? Seriously. Matter of fact to get it started, watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert cover the election tonight on Comedy Central. Laugh a little.

01 November 2008

A Tale of Two Meals

I am never one to turn down a good meal, ever. As a result, I got a little thick around the middle (code for FAT). It got worse once I hit my 40's. I knew it was time to change when the concept of wearing a bro, or a mansierre (gracias, Kramer of Seinfeld fame), was beginning to make sense. So about ten months ago, I embarked on the weight loss bonanza (better diet and running) and so far, it's worked. That being said, I still refuse to turn down a good meal.

Last weekend, I had a meal that was not good, with a capital "G". Of course, the target is an easy one. It's cafeteria food. And by cafeteria food, I don't mean Luby's, Chuck-A-Rama (or Upchuck-A-Rama as we loving called it) or their commercial ilk...no, I mean genuine Grade-D university cafeteria food. I dined with Our Lady of BYU at her cafeteria, the newly rebuilt Cannon Center. Our Lady and her friends, Meesh and Sheridan, swore six ways til Sunday that the best option was the omelette and something from the grill. So I followed their counsel. You be the judge, jury, and executioner:

The omelette is in the upper right hand corner of the picture. That's exactly as it was served. I hadn't even touched it yet. Looks like it was shot out of a rifle at point blank range. The main, pork loin and sweet potato fries, finished it out. This much I will admit...the sweet potato fries were good. It is a little unfair to pile on about cafeteria food, I get it. But c'mon. I'll give them this much though - this will keep the dreaded "Freshman 15" weight gain from happening.

Now, this afternoon, it was a much better meal. We finally went to the Flat Top Grill here in our neck of the Chicago suburbs. It's a chain (but that seems to be a requirement if a restaurant is to survive in the 'burbs) with a little more upscale take on Mongolian BBQ. Very friendly service and they put out a good meal. I loaded up my bowl with spinach, edamame, carrots, celery, garlic, pad thai noodles, and a kickin' vindaloo sauce with sirloin to round out the protein compliment. Take a look:

The roti is really good too. You can use that as your fork. Everybody in Casa Lyons was happy with this place. We'll go back...

Now speaking of good cooking, we all remember Julia Child, who went to the big French kitchen in the sky a few years ago. French cooking is not my favorite and I never could figure Julia out. The accent drove me to complete and utter distraction. For those of you that miss her terribly, do you realize you need look no further than Senator Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) to see her again?


When did Julia inhabit Liddy? I first noticed it earlier this week when USA Today ran a picture of the Senator. She was a dead ringer, no pun intended, for the late Julia. Freaked me out. But I may not have to worry much about it after Tuesday. It looks like Sen. Dole may get swept out in the anti-Republican fervor that has gripped the nation. But as Peter Sagal, the host of NPR's "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me!" said today, in not so many words, "Leave it to the Democrats to lose an election with so much going in their favor." Well, let's see what Tuesday brings.

29 October 2008

When MTV Played Music

A really boss old song asked the following question: "War, what is it good for?" It's a question that has spawned tons of other questions, like this one: "MTV, what is it good for?" That would be nothing and certainly not music videos. Until now...thanks to the Web.

Matt, husband of Heather, coolest.cousin.ever., sent me a link to a website that brings MTV to its glory days. Oh 1983 and 1984, you are back! MTV Music is where to go to see all those old videos that made high school tolerable and that made you think you could get a cool girl dancing at the Palace (the Star Palace, that is). It's been a total kick to find videos from a hundred years ago and laugh. And to be appalled. I realize, looking back on these videos, that the musicians from the 1980's are single-handedly responsible for the hole in the ozone layer. I've never seen so much teased, shellacked aerosol misted hair in all my life (except for maybe BYU in the summer of 1984).

This has given me a great escape from the election. Make it stop. Isn't it November 4th yet? Is this, the longest campaign EVER, over yet? Just make it all stop. We, as a nation, have got to move on, regardless of who is elected. So until then, I am just going to keep scouring the MTV site to find old video gems to dust off and play.

27 October 2008

BYU Parents Weekend Recap

I am now on the West Coast, in Portland, prepping for a presentation to the Travel Industry Association tomorrow, but wanted to give a recap of the rest of the weekend with Our Lady of BYU.

I didn't meet up with Our Lady until Saturday morning for the 5K, which, may I remind you, I ran alone since she pansied out. Two of her really good friends joined us as my support team and off we went to the Richards Building. Normally at races, you hear the sounds of either "Eye of the Tiger" or "Rocky's Theme." Not at BYU, mis amigos, oh no. What greeted us? "It's A Sunshine Day" by none other than the Brady Bunch. I KID YOU NOT! I liked to have died. I will admit, though, that it did make you want to run, fast, so you didn't have to hear that musical offense fest any longer than necessary.

(Quick flashback - after registering, I saw someone I recognized. It took me a second and then I realized that it was a guy who had been in my district/room at the MTC. Have not seen the guy in more than twenty-three years but believe it or not, we both recognized each other. As I recall, I was not particularly nice to him. As an eighteen year old missionary, I had an overabundance of confidence, can you believe it (?) and wasn't afraid to tell people what I thought of them. I've tried ro get better in the ensuing years. That being said, it brought back a ton of memories to see him. He's got a freshmen son at the "Y.")

The race was all around the outer ring of the campus and it was tough - tough because of the elevation. My lungs were screaming by the end of the first kilometer. It was not pretty. But I got it done. Came across the finish line to the cheers of Our Lady and her two friends. It was a good time.

So then it was off to the game after that. Sat in the student section with Our Lady and that once again reminded me that I'm old. We did have a brush with BYU fame when Cosmo the Cougar blew through our section. We got this picture:

It was an ugly win, but a win just the same. We headed over to University Mall after the game to get Our Lady some more cold weather gear, which seemed odd since it was 70 degrees out. Anyway, we did it.

Saturday night, I took Our Lady and her friends to dinner at Cafe Rio. It was fun to be with them. I laughed a lot with these girls. It was good to see our friend Natalie:

And here's a shot of the whole dinner posse:

So then Sunday rolled around and I once again found myself driving down Memory Lane before going to meet Our Lady for Church. I went by my old condo, indeed where I met the incredibly patient Shari all those years ago. The years have been kinder to us than they have been to the condo:

Lots of good memories and good times there.

Our Lady has church in the JKHB, where I spent my entire senior year. Bizarre to be back in that building. It's been totally renovated and looks nothing like what it did. Church was funny, as it always is in student wards. Those Bishopbric members are saints, that's all I'm saying.

We had lunch at the new Cannon Center after that. Bottom line - it's still cafeteria food. You can build a new building and have various cooking stations, instead of the prison lines like the old Cannon or Morris, but it's still pretty bad food. I could not help but laugh as we were eating as I watched the ballet that is selecting the "cool" tables. I realized that absolutely nothing has changed since I was a freshman there. It's the same cast of characters (the guys who were the BMOC in high school, the princess girls, the dorks, the sweet spirits) trying to make it all work - it's just that now they are our kids. Finished the day seeing Sarah's dorm room as well as that of her friends. They are living the life. I laughed so much with them.

Saying good-bye wasn't as hideous as I thought it would be. I think it's because I got to see just how well Our Lady is doing. She's doing beautifully. She has good friends. She's happy. Couldn't ask for more.

26 October 2008

Soft Sounds of Sunday

If it's the "Soft Sounds of Sunday" coming through the radio of my crappy Chevy Malibu rental car, piping in contemporary Mormon music (really?) mixed with a little Mo'Tab, it must be Sunday morning in Provo. If piles of college kids are walking to campus to go to church, it must be Sunday morning in Provo. And, indeed, it is. I am back in Happy Valley. And it is still all kinds of unreal. And I still find that I love it.

It's day two of the BYU Parents Weekend and it's been a blast. I am currently "borrowing" a wireless signal in the parking lot of Sarah's dorm, waiting to meet her for Church. It'll be a kick. We've had a wonderful time. She's doing great.

I'll post some more pictures later but just a couple now - here the BYU Cougars take the field on Saturday against UNLV (we won buy boy was it ugly...)

And here's a shot of Our Lady of BYU taking in the game:

I'll post later about the things I've done with Sarah and her friends, as well as some notes on the nightmare that it is to run a 5K in Provo. Um...it's a little different than Chicagoland. Who knew just how big an impact elevation is....

23 October 2008

Parents Weekend in Happy Valley


Tomorrow I leave for the land that time forgot, Happy Valley, Provo, UT - home of BYU. It's Parents Weekend and given that this is the first one for Our Lady Of BYU and us, her parents, there's no way I am missing this!

When the subject of Parents Weekend came up, we decided I'd go out for it and it worked out beautifully as I have to be in Portland on Tuesday to speak at a conference. It's going to be an awesome weekend - 5K on Saturday (which, I'd like to point out, our Lady of BYU weaseled out of), a football game (it's UNLV, we better spank them something fierce) and then a night out with Our Lady and her friends. I'll go to her Student Ward on Sunday, which will no doubt age me another hundred years, and then I'm off to Portland on Monday.

I am really looking forward to this weekend! I've finally gotten over, for the most part, the shock of having a child in college and having her move out, but it's been too long since I've seen her. I'll say it again, this has been much harder than I ever anticipated. They should offer a class for parents on how to deal with this. Seriously.

22 October 2008

Working from home

When I took on my new role with my employer, I also took on working from home three days a week. My first two months in the new role precluded me from working from home due to a massive project. Well, now that the project has ended and I'm back in the country, I am in the second week of working from home three days a week.

I haven't worked from home consistently since 1999 - 2000. I've got an office set up in the basement and the Company has set me up with everything that I need to make work, well, work. And it is working. I do find myself working longer when I am at home, but I do find that I have more time to address pressing issues. I think this is going to work out well except for the Public Radio Fundraising.

What? I like public radio, even NPR. Our local NPR station, WBEZ, does a great job but the pledge drive is killing me. Killing me. It almost makes me wish they ran commercials. These earnest employees begging for money is insane. And this morning, they had some doctor, a sometime commentator, shilling for donations by essentially saying constipation was caused by NOT donating. My take is that he's just a little bit senile. He better be...that's all I'm saying. This much I'll tell you - the on-air pleading just makes me not want to give them a dime. It's awful...and it's not just the Chicagoland station. It was just as bad in LA. Actually it was worse...I think, given the length of my commute there, I could listen to no fewer than four public radio stations and imagine all of them shilling at once for money. How I didn't shoot myself escapes me.

19 October 2008

Did the Palin parody jump the shark?

I stayed up last night, with some anticipation, to watch how SNL would handle Sarah Palin's appearance. I'll cut to the chase - I turned it off after the opening sketch. Tina Fey looked positively pained to be portraying the Alaskan Ice Princess yet again. It was wooden at best and that was before Her Honor even made an appearance. Suffice to say, the Palin Parody has jumped the shark. Jumped the shark? Click here for mas informacion.

The painful sketches are further proof that this election cycle (or foreshadowing of how long an eternity in Hell feels) has got to end. And mercifully, we are now in the home stretch. It would appear that the McCain-Palin took another hit with Colin Powell's endorsement of the Obama-Biden ticket. This endorsement really hits at the heart of the Obama refrain that a McCain campaign is another four years of failed Bush policies in Iraq. Powell is a very smart man who was in the thick of the Bush White House at the beginning of the Iraq debacle. One can argue that he knew that there were no weapons of mass destruction or that he was completely misled. Either way, it is clear that his Obama endorsement says staying the course is NOT the way to go.

It's been a slower Sunday than normal, one that does not find me in a suit for twelve or thirteen hours straight! It was Stake Conference today and so no regular block of meetings. Enjoying the day at home as a result. Have added two more books to my pile to read:
The White Tiger
Scattershot
I have no idea when I am going to finish all this stuff. Maybe by Christmas. Maybe.

18 October 2008

The BKK Trip Report

As you've been reading and seeing from the previous posts, I recently made my first trip to Bangkok. I spend some time on another site, airliners.net, and its audience is the commercial aviation-obsessed, the perfect outlet for my aviation-related disorder. I post stuff there from time to time. Here's a review of my flights to/from Bangkok that I recently posted (with some edits):
*****
I started my journey out of ORD on Mother UA. Nothing special to report - typical 757 service in First Class. I did have a friend of the family on board the flight. I should have given up my seat up front to her, but she was in a middle seat, non-economy plus and given that I was staring down the barrel of a 17-plus hour flight upon arrival at LAX, I just couldn't do it. I did buy her Minimeal and took her the chocolate cake from my tray to assuage my guilt.

Upon arrival at LAX, I walked over to the Tom Bradley International Terminal-TBIT-as it was a nice night. It's been years since I've flown in or out of the TBIT. I'd forgotten it, or better yet, repressed it in my mind. What a hole! It's not even Third World. It's just awful. All it takes is one step inside and you'll know what I mean.

Once I made it through the sea of humanity and crossed through the construction to check-in, there was only one agent handling Royal Silk passengers, and there were far more Royal Silk customers in line than Economy. After a long wait, I was checked in and on my way to the Star Alliance Lounge. The Lounge is no great shakes. Although they do have a mean, spicy ramen available.

Just prior to boarding, I made my way down to the gate. It was insanity. The gate area was under destruction/renovation and it made for a chaotic boarding experience. A delegation of Thai government officials didn't help either. Once on board, it was nice to see the Thai crew adorned in the traditional Thai uniform. It was interesting to note the seniority of the crew. While nothing like the dinosaurs working transpac on a US carrier, I have to admit I was surprised. To be fair to Thai, average age of the cabin crew was equal to just the seniority of the most junior US cabin crew working transpac (45 years, by my estimates). The crew was efficient but not friendly at all. I settled into 12B and shortly thereafter, doors closed. I had 12A to myself. That would be the only empty seat in the forward cabin of the A340 that seats 30.

The Royal Silk seat on this aircraft is identical to the Japan Air Lines Executive Class seat - shell seat, decent size monitor, slanted lie-flat. Having flown JAL many times, I was at home in this seat. We backed out on time and began a long take-off roll shortly thereafter. Given our distance, I was happy to have an aircraft laden with fuel.

Shortly after take-off, the first of three meals began. Although it was midnight Pacific time, eating sounded right. I had the Thai offering - again the service was efficient, bordering on cold. As soon as dinner was over, I fell asleep. I awoke about seven hours later for the second meal service - again went with the Thai option. The crew could not get a handle on the "mood lighting" on this plane. It was almost like a child playing with a dimmer switch. I watched a couple of movies and then had the third meal about 90 minutes out of Bangkok. Again the Thai option. At this point, the crew had changed into their Western uniforms.

We landed in Bangkok shortly after 6AM on the 5th. It was all kinds of foggy that morning. The airport was quiet as we disembarked and getting through Passport Control was a snap as I was invited to use the Diplomat line (in spite of having no Diplomatic credentials). My bags were essentially last off - so much for "Priority" tags.

Five days later, I was on my way back to Los Angeles. I got to BKK at around 445PM and was swiftly and kindly checked in at the dedicated Royal Silk checkin. Passport Control was a snap. From there, you almost trip into the Royal Silk Lounge. Nice lounge. Large. Free WiFi. Decent array of snacks. I hung out there for awhile and then decided to check out Suvarnabhumi. It's a big airport, but how many duty free shops can you really see? Seriously. So I headed down to the gate. Cleared Security on the C Concourse - got the patdown. Not two seconds later, got the patdown again at our gate to LAX. Kind of lame to get two patdowns and no one bought me dinner!

We boarded on time. There was no PA announcement - an agent just walked around with a sign in order to announce boarding. I was seated again in the forward cabin. I did have someone (an American woman all adorned in tattoos, including the ever-popular and ever-visible 'tramp stamp' - can I go on record on how much I HATE tattoos?) seated next to me this time, but after doors closed I did see that there were four empty seats in this forward section. The crew this time was a bit friendlier. We backed out smack on time and were off shortly thereafter. The take-off roll was even longer than the one out of LAX.

Dinner was served shortly after takeoff. Three meal services were scheduled according to the menus. I again planned to go Thai for all three. I had dinner and then settled into a fitful sleep. Slept about five hours. Kept waking to the smell of bananas. Tattoo Lady could not sleep and ate a pile of bananas during the flight, leaving the skins out for the crew to collect. Apparently that wasn't done all that often. Nor was there a second meal service. If you wanted the second, you had to ask for it. I watched a few movies after that and then about two hours out, another dinner was served. Again, the crew seemed challenged by the lighting system on the plane.

We landed early - about an hour early. Sa-weet! But that dumped us into TBIT again along with several other international flights. Getting to Passport Control required a hardhat, some faith, and a jackhammer. Did get through Passport Control quickly and then waited about 40 minutes for bags. Again, so much for Priority. And then the line to get through Customs was unbelievable. I kid you not....one agent posted to look at each of the Declaration forms. It was an hour to get out. Ridiculous....no wonder people hate coming to the States. I'd avoid LAX like plague if you can.
*****
So there you have it. It's been a good day. Got a 6K run in this morning. Weather turned beautiful. Helped set up chairs at the Church for Stake Conference. CAL went up to Six Flags with friends and PTL ran around all day. Made him and his buddies Thai fried rice for lunch. The ever patient Shari and I ended the evening at the Saturday Session of Stake Conference.

And now I wait for SNL to start. Will Palin make an appearance? I haven't wanted to stay up for SNL since about 1980, I think!

17 October 2008

The rest of the Bangkok pictures FINALLY!

I have not been able to resolve the issue of being able to get the last of the pictures I took while in Bangkok off my stupid Blackberry but thanks to the mobile Facebook app, lo and behold, I managed to get the rest of the pictures downloaded. So here they are:

This was taken from my seat, 12B, on Thai Airways TG795, as we were on short final into Bangkok. There's a lot to be said for the seats upfront!

Upon arrival, I jumped into a cab with a few colleagues from NBTA, and were off to an ENORMOUS weekend market called Chautuchak, just off the last Skytrain stopped called Chit Lom.

It is stupid huge. Literally acres (they print maps of the place!) of stalls, selling everything from silks, to light bulbs, artwork, pets, and food. Some of the food on sale:

I don't know what it was but it was some serious fried goodness!

At another market, I happened upon the most colorful rice I've ever seen. Each is supposed to have very specific health benefits and curative powers. Amazing!

And the colored rice wasn't unique to one market. I saw it in the outdoor markets as well as in the food halls in some of the fancy-pants mall that have sprung up all around Bangkok.

Food drives me pretty much everywhere I go (which explains why I run now) and Bangkok was paradise. One evening, a couple of colleagues from Australia and I happened upon a restaurant near Pad Pong (avoid Pad Pong like the plague unless you are interested in catching something akin to the plague...).

And here's me in heaven...pad thai for less than $2.00USD! Our entire meal (three of us) was $10.00USD!


From the earlier post, you know the highlight of this trip was my day at Baipai, the boss Thai cooking school. This picture is of me working the grill, prepping my chicken satay (brushing the chicken with coconut milk using a palm frond):

And finally, a class photo:

I'm glad to get these posted...it was driving me nuts, having them stuck on the 'berry.

Fall has hit Chicagoland - it's raining and cool. Didn't get out of the 50's today and it was chilly this morning. Half the trees on the street are now bare, while the other half are still exploding in yellow, orange, and red, but they'll all be bare soon too.

15 October 2008

The Thai Cooking School Experience

Well, I've fought the good fight for far too many days now trying to get the rest of the pictures I took in Bangkok downloaded off my stupid Blackberry...to no avail. The ones that I did manage to get off were all related to my cooking class at Baipai, so here we go.

On Friday, 10 October, after nearly five days in Bangkok, most of which spent in conferences and meetings, I was able to take the day off and enjoy a cooking lesson at a Thai cooking school. My flight back to the States did not depart until 7PM and I really wanted to get a sense for Thai cooking, so a cooking class made perfect sense. I had found the school, Baipai, online after researching and reading recommendations.

Let me just say that I can't recommend the school highly enough. It was the highlight of my trip. The staff is incredibly friendly, the facilities great, and the food was delicious. And the value - outstanding. One of the greatest parts is that the cost of transfer to/from your hotel to the school is included in the rate. You can't beat that - not having to worry about a cab in chaotic Bangkok!

Baipai offers a morning and afternoon session and I took the morning session, with ten other guests. We were four Australians, two New Zealanders, two Brits, a Venezolano, and two Americans - a veritable UN. Our menu included chicken satay, prawn salad, cashew chicken, and mango sticky rice. Our hostess, Wan, was very friendly and got us organized quickly.

We started our morning in the markets - and not the Thai version of the Jewel, Albertsons, Safeway, Tesco, or any other grocery store that you may know. We went to one of the countless outdoor local markets that dot the landscape in Bangkok. Here's a look at the poultry section:

This was a little different than the wet markets in Hong Kong and Shanghai. These chickens were already prepped - not so much in the wet markets. There you pick your live one and let the butchering take place right before your eyes.

And I loved the air-dried beef section:

There were three trucks lined up like this, their beds chock-a-block with drying beef.

It was an incredible experience to walk through the market with Wan and to meet the local vendors and to be able to touch, smell, and taste so much of what was for sale. It was a party for the senses - the colors of the various fruits (explosive reds) and vegetables (deep, deep greens) on display were amazing, the tastes - lemongrass, coconut sugar were unforgettable, the smells - some indescribable, for a reason, others stunning. Don't let what may appear to be unsanitary, to Western standards, conditions get you. There is something so satisfying to walk through these markets and to get to know the culture at its most normal - going to the market for the daily stuff. It was amazing. We also went through one section that sold nothing but Thai fast food:

Who needs a value meal when you could walk away with a meal here for all of about .75 cents?

After the excursion through the market, it was back to class where Wan introduced us to our teacher, Nam. She was a lot of fun. We gathered around the main table as each course was demonstrated and then we would go to our individual cooking stations and prepare our own. Here's a shot of Nam and Wan in action:

Nam is on the left and Wan is on the right.

We cooked with woks and over open flame when we made our satays. I can't say enough about how well organized the class was. We were given recipe books and were able to take notes along the way. Our stations were prepared in advance of each course. There was plenty of time to ask questions and very importantly, time to enjoy the fruits of our labors. Here's a shot of our final course, the mango sticky rice:

This is what I prepared - the decorator flourishes, like the flower, were added by the school, but that's my rice. FYI - the sticky rice liked to have killed me. It was the most challenging of the four things to prepare!

I'm excited to give this all a shot here in Chicagoland. Fortunately, I can get all the ingredients here. Especially since there's a huge Asian market right around the corner! Anyway, I can't recommend this experience enough. If you are ever in Bangkok, beat a path to Baipai. It will be a highlight.

It was a good way for me to end my trip to Bangkok. I struggled with Bangkok. It's the first city in Asia that I don't feel like I need to see again. It's a big city, polluted and hot, but that's not bad. The Thai people are absolutely amazing. Gentle (and not in the weak sense of that word) and serene. What turned me off about Bangkok is the pervasive and perverse influence of Western culture - and not just American culture. Sadly so much of the Western culture that has made its way into Bangkok is Western culture at its worst. I won't get into it but some of what you see, completely inadvertently in Bangkok, makes Amsterdam look almost holy and pure. And that's what saddened me and made me not want to go back to Bangkok - you have a wonderful people and there are many of them that have been grabbed up by these vicious influences and those influences have destroyed them. It was tough to take.

That being said, I'd go back to Thailand in a minute - so much more to see. I've barely scratched the iceberg that is Asia. I look forward to seeing more and more.