31 December 2012

2012:A Recap

Unbelievably, another year is drawing to a close. As I continue my uncontrolled spiral into middle-age, each year seems to pass even faster and that's certainly true of this year. Here we are - it's the last day of 2012.  It's an appropriate time to look back on the year that was.  Most importantly, I'm delighted to attest that the following did not happen:
We're still here
There was a lot of weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth over the anticipated end of the world that was slated, thanks to a non-existent Mayan prophecy, for just a few days ago. We're still here, people. However, if you really want it to be over, go download/rent the movie '2012.' The acting is so bad you will be looking to hang yourself from the nearest rafter. Speaking of hanging yourself from the nearest rafter, one of Satan's minions, Kim Kardashian, announced on the last day of this year, that she is spawning having a baby with Kanye West. If that's not a sign of the end of the world, I don't know what is.

On a much different note, things here in the Den look a bit different from what they did as 2012 dawned. We were living in the 'burbs of our beloved Chicago, where I was unemployed and knew that we probably wouldn't be in Chicago by the end of the year. Prayers were answered when I landed a great new gig and started in the beginning of March.  That began my five month fiesta of living in hotels and shuttling back and forth between New England and the Midwest. Good times.

While I got familiar with what would be our new life in this corner of New England, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML remained in Chicagoland with the Boy while he finished school and she oversaw the sale of the house. Yet again, prayers were answered as our house sold in fairly quick order (for the craptastic real estate market that was Chicago earlier this year).  They joined me in June and they managed to do in three days what I could not do in months - find a house.  We were in a new home by the end of July. CAL came home from school at that point, just in time to help her mom get the house all set up.  We were 'home' in no time.

Home is conveniently sandwiched right in between Boston and New York City. We've been able to take advantage of both cities quite a bit since getting here. We've settled into a good groove here as well.  The Boy has adjusted well to a much, much smaller high school.  He's made good friends.  All in all, it's been a fairly good adjustment.

We've seen a bit of adjustment too. I'm not on the road as nearly as much now. While I did get back to France, China, and Singapore this year, I hardly traveled. One epic lost bag in Paris, but aside from that, travel was mostly incident-free. With me home more, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML has probably earned her 'patient' title in spades.

We found ourselves adjusting to a changing family structure too.  Our Lady of Awesome graduated from college.  CAL turned 20. And then the Awesomes announced that they were on the baby train, thus making us grandparents. Grandparents! We could not be more excited for them and we are, selfishly, more than a little excited for what this means for us. While I'm still wrapping my arms around the idea of being a grandpa, I could not be more thrilled with the way this has all come together. It is a good thing.

So that's the 2012 recap of what went down in the Den. Feel free to go back through the year's posts for more highlights. Prayers were answered in droves this year. We've been blessed. We are grateful. We are looking forward to what 2013 brings. Thank you for spending some time in the Den this year.

27 December 2012

24

24 - it's more than just a number, people
24 hours - that's how many there are in a day
24, a Fox TV series, featuring the craptastic acting skills of one Keifer Sutherland
24 years - the number of years one Wendell H. Ford served in the U.S. Senate (I'm not making that up - Google it!)

But who cares about Wendell (with all apologies to Mr. Ford and his descendants, but I don't)...24 years today is the number of years that the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I have been married. Yep, it's our wedding anniversary.

Over the past several years on this day, I've paid homage to my wife in this forum.  The last thing people should take away from this is some kind of picture-perfect, Mormon Mommy blogger idyllic life that we are leading.  All you need to do is read a couple of posts here in the Den to understand that there's a reason (frankly, there's more than one) why my wife is called 'stunningly patient.'  And yet, she goes and does things like calling me 'the man of her dreams.' My wife has interesting dreams, let's leave it at that.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I marvel to this day at how lucky I am. I could not be more lucky or more blessed. She is amazing. She's figured out how to give me enough rope without letting me hang myself. She's done an incredible job raising our three children. I was traveling an obscene amount when the kids were younger and so much was left to her to do alone. My children are who they are because of their mother's guidance, example, and love. It does not get better than that.

And now we are on the cusp of grandparenthood and what an incredible experience that will be!  I think the both of us are reasonably convinced that we are still young and somewhat cool.  Apparently this is not true, based on a decision we made today that in the eyes of our children lifted us out of complete dorkdom.  As an anniversary present to one another, we retired our nearly nine-year old mini-van.  Our Odyssey did yeoman's service for us, but at 100,000 miles, a winter in the snowy New England hills is just not in its future. So a four-wheel drive GMC Yukon, which we pick up on Saturday, joined the Den today. Based on our childrens' reactions (two of whom who are adults - mind you), you'd have thought that the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML had been driving JoJo the Dog-Faced Boy's AMC Pacer of Fun for the last several years. Ridiculous. Silly.

24. Like I said, it's more than just a number. It's our 24th anniversary today. I'm eager for many more. As I count my blessings tonight, they will start and end with she who has put up with me for all these 24 years. She's done more than just put up with me. She's loved me and for that I am a better man. And I am grateful.

26 December 2012

20

Today we celebrate, as we have for what is now the 20th year, the birth of CAL, our second child. I, for one, cannot believe that she is 20. That leaves us with just one teenager left in the Den.  As far as I can tell, and it's not even been one full day yet, CAL has moved into her twentieth year with grace and style, which is how she rolls anyway.

Her mother and I continue to be enormously impressed at the young woman she has become.  It's been interesting to talk with her since she's been home (and it's wonderful to have her home for the next few months,  thanks to BYU-I's weird track system).  CAL is a double-major in elementary education and special education and since the horrific classroom slaughter in Newtown, CT, we've had a bit of time to get her perspective as a future teacher. While she is not yet in a full-student teaching position, she's in an elementary school classroom every week, observing, interacting, and teaching.  She says that there security training is next to non-existent but instinctually, she knows what she and the other teachers would need to do to protect their children. She's also pretty irritated at how some of the media is putting the blame for the shooter's actions for his suspected place in the autism spectrum. Suffice to say, she's not having it.

I'm proud of my girl. I'm proud of the young woman she's become. She makes me smile with her love of music, some of which I simply don't get (it's OK...since I'm now on the grandfather track, I can say things like that). She makes me laugh when she is willing to take me on in an epically embarassing throwdown in 'Just Dance 4.' She's just a lot of fun to be around. I'm glad she's home to celebrate with us.

Happy birthday, Princess!

24 December 2012

The miracle of the tamales

Milagroso!
When asked to describe me, a variety of words/descriptors might come to mind, several of which may not be printable in a family-friendly venue such as the Den. That said, one of the words that I don't think is top of mind when describing me is 'sentimental.'

I'm not particularly sentimental, nor am I a slave to tradition. Except when it comes to Cinco de Mayo and Christmas.  Could there be two less similar days? Yes and no. So what's the link? The food. In the Den, Christmas is another reason to celebrate the glory that is Mexican food*. A key part of that celebration is the tamale. For years now, I've been responsible for getting the tamales on the Christmas table. There is something very special about a tamale at Christmas.  Here's some insight as to why from the good people at the New York Times. In southern California, that was never a challenge. It was overflowing in tamale goodness. In the 'burbs of Chicago, it got a little more challenging, but all was well once I discovered multiple options in Aurora and Pilsen.  It was awesome and made for memorable meals, year after year.

Since moving to New England, I knew tamales were going to present a problem. For about the past week, I've been searching, to no avail. This is what happens when you live in the heart of "Connecticut Yankee" country. I mean this is where people wear pants with whales printed on them without a hint of irony. Believe you me when I say tamales aren't on a lot of folks' menu here.

I would not be deterred. I embarked on the final phase of my Yelp-guided journey this morning. After finding two of the suggested places closed, I sent out a despondent desperate message on Facebook. It wasn't a message. It was a cry, a plea, for help. Within minutes, the beginnings of a miracle began to unfold. A post from my Bishop's ('bishop' is my local ecclesiastical leader - this man is great, I mean he has a 'Nixon Now' bumper sticker on his car) wife (a fellow anti-Mittite), pointing me to an area of Hartford that would fit the bill, with the hopeful words that there was still time to get the blessed tamales. This was now hour four of my fruitless search and I hightailed it towards Hartford.

In short order, I found El Mercado. I also found that parking was at a premium, particularly where I could keep one eye on the car. I mean I was in the good car. Had I been in the Boy's car or the mini-van, I wouldn't have been so vigilant. I made multiple rounds of the block, searching for that parking spot. My search for a parking spot was fruitless and I was beginning to doubt that the search would be fulfilled.  It was then that I turned down a new street when I came upon this:

El Sarape Restaurante
Se vende tamales

Parking was available smack in front of the restaurant.  The sign, declaring that they sold tamales, drew me in like a moth to the flame. And right in front me, there they were. Tamales - pork and chicken - just waiting for me to buy them. I swear I heard an angelic choir singing as I gazed upon them. I think it was actually the theme song to the novela that was on the TV in the kitchen, but it was angelic all the same. A dozen of them were purchased and I was back in my car and on the way home in no time. For me, it was a miracle.

OK, miracle may be a stretch. More of a #firstworldproblem silliness, but for someone who is decidedly unsentimental, finding these tamales was awesome. It means a tradition I cling to will go on. It's something my family looks forward to and it will be great to be together tomorrow as we dive into this meal.

* - Don't get me wrong - we are keenly aware of the true reason for the season - celebrating the birth of our Savior. I so look forward to celebrating His birth tomorrow with my family. He is the real miracle of this season.

23 December 2012

54

From the late 70's, 1977 to be exact, as disco was reaching its zenith until 1981, Studio 54 in New York City was purported to be the world's most famous nightclub. It was the place to see and be seen in circles where that kind of thing mattered. As in so many things in pop culture deemed the "it" thing, the club's fame was fleeting and short-lived. By 1981, it was over, sold ignominiously by its ex-con owners. Its alleged coke-addled patrons moved on to the newest "it" place and Studio 54 never regained its former fame.

Studio 54 didn't amount to much. It didn't make it 5.4 years, let alone 54 years. It couldn't survive its own fame/infamy. Very little does in our pop-culture obsessed world today, except for the awful Kardashians, but I digress.

I know some people for whom the number 54 has some significance, especially today. They are decidedly not 'Studio 54' types. Never have been and never would be. I mean the man I am thinking of was more comfortable mowing the lawn in a suit, so hitting the glitter covered dance floor is beyond the realm of consideration. Of course, I speak of my parents.  Today, 23 December, would have been there 54th wedding anniversary.  They were married 50 years before my father died in 2009. In today's society, keeping a marriage together five years is seen as nothing short of wondrous, so my parents making it to 50 was frankly, a miracle akin to Moses' going mano-a-mano with the Red Sea and parting it.

I've told their story briefly here in the Den before in observance of their anniversary in past years. Here's what I know - I was born of goodly, and Godly, parents. They did their best as they started their family when most of their friends were already a ways down the child-rearing path. They did their best to juggle the demands of God, family, and professional work. My father never failed to put my mother first and make it clear that she was the 'Queen' in our home. Some today may call that old-fashioned, but I call it one of the reasons that theirs was a love affair of 50-plus years.  Theirs was a marriage that lasted, and I believe, will last for the eternities.  I am grateful for that and for their example. Eternally grateful.

It would be wonderful to be able to wish them both a happy anniversary today but that's not possible right now. I'll call my mom to be sure. I suspect my dad has been closer to her today than she might suspect. Even though death may separate us physically, we are never that far apart. In that, I am comforted.

20 December 2012

On the eve of the end of the world

It's over...allegedly
So the world has got its collective panties in a wad over a Mayan prediction of the end of the world at 6:12AM Eastern Time on 21 December 2012. Russians, whose growing interest in this blog is equal parts mysterious and terrifying, are hording vodka in advance of the impending doom. That seems logical.

As usual, we have this all wrong.  All wrong.  The Mayans never predicted the end of the world.  Read here for the background - fair warning, it's from NPR and I don't want to be the reason for a stroke from an unsuspecting reader who thinks NPR is a tool of Satan (it's not).

With all the hype, I've had the lyrics to R.E.M's "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" banging around my head. What better to have rattling around in your head than an apocalyptic theme song? It's made better by the fact that it's sung by Michael Stipe, an American version of Morrissey. Nothing says 'end of the world' like ironic, plaintive, depressive activists.  If it is the end of the world as we know it, like Mr. Stipe, I do feel fine.

While the Mayan doomsday scenario seems to have been debunked, there is some rock-solid proof that the end is nigh: the McRib is back. What better, and by better I mean gut-wrenchingly appalling, food to usher us into the apocalypse! When all is said and done with this world, I am convinced three things will remain:

  • Cockroaches
  • The Kardashians, and
  • The McRib
I'll leave you to ponder that then on this, the alleged eve of the end of the world.

19 December 2012

Comforting

There's a lot of this - comforting - going on 
Since the still too hard to absorb, let alone begin to comprehend, events of last Friday, when 20 children and seven adults were slaughtered by a madman, it's been difficult to think of much else. Living less than sixty miles from the site makes it all the more too close to home. It's all anyone can talk about.

It seems that there's comfort to be found in talking about it. The talk is now turning to taking action.  Not vengeful action for there is nothing to be done there, but rather, action to ensure this kind of violence does not affect another child, family, or community again. In my circle, people are resolute in the commitment to seeing that it doesn't happen again and that is comforting.

Comfort has been important in the last few days. I've been grateful to find comfort in my family.  CAL is home and the house feels complete again.  The stunningly patient and mighty fine SML made a lasagna last night and that warm comfort food, which is even better the second day, has done a yeoman's job in providing comfort.  I'm grateful to be surrounded by my family right now.

I've not had a lot of snark in me since last week's massacre. There's been a great deal of introspection.  I've been thinking of the families who lost their loved ones.  I've been thinking of the 'first responders' who have born the brunt of the horror of this.  I've thought much of the clergy who have been tasked with comforting the mourning families.  Regardless of the many faiths they represent, this cannot be an easy task and they have been in my thoughts and prayers. Their stories are compelling.  Jeff Benedict wrote of the experience of a Stake President from my church who rushed to the Parker family in Newtown as they learned of the loss of their daughter Emilie. Regardless of your faith background, it is a beautiful read. Read it here. I am in awe of what these men and women of God are doing as they serve those who are hurting so much.

It's comforting to know there are so many who are responding to the urge to do good in the face of this horror. Get on the #26actsofkindness bandwagon. Do something good, do something nice for someone else. Just because.

15 December 2012

The 5th

Five years on
The Fifth Dimension
Beethoven's Fifth
Fifth Disease
The Five Browns
Five Guys Burgers & Fries

Five. Today, 15 December, means that this post, with apologies to the Count from "Sesame Street," is brought to you by the number five. Why five? It's the fifth anniversary of the first post here in the Den.

Five years ago today on a snowy day in the 'burbs of Chicago, I opened up the Den with a post lamenting the snow.  648 posts later, I look out the window as I write this and the snow is falling. Remind me again why we left Southern California?  Seriously.  Remind me again.

This blog hasn't changed much in five years, I don't think.  It's been my space to unleash share my thoughts and take on things.  It's been a place to share what's happening in my life and that of my family , warts and all. My family certainly has changed in the last five years and I'm grateful that they've let me document it.  'Let' is probably being a little generous on my part, since I decide what gets posted.

I won't share the numbers behind the blog, but I'm gratified by those of you who've stepped to the plate and publicly acknowledged that you follow this written train wreck.  I've enjoyed most of all the comments.  I'm still trying to figure out the sudden surge of interest in the blog from Russia though.

So after five years, it looks like I'm here to stay. I hope you'll stick with me as well. Lots to look forward to, I think.

Gutted

Today has been nothing less than surreal. Words fail describing what has happened. In a matter of minutes, 20 children and six adults were slaughtered a mere 60 some odd miles from our home. They were gunned down by nothing less than a cowardly madman. A cowardly madman who was armed to the hilt. It is absolutely senseless. I am gutted.

President Obama addressed the nation earlier tonight and his emotion was raw and visceral. 20 children will never see graduation or have their own families, as he put it, wiping away tears. The scope of this act is beyond comprehension. It hurts. It sickens. As the President so touchingly said, "They had their whole lives ahead of them."

And it begs a question - why are people permitted to carry assault weapons? They aren't hunting weapons. They are meant to do one thing and that is to kill a lot of people fast. That mission was achieved with sickening, gut-wrenching ease today. When the founding fathers spoke of the right to bear arms, it was NOT to ensure that movie theater audiences, mall goers, and elementary school children would be cut down by an armed maniac. But guess what? That's precisely what's happened in the last few months.

How many more people will have to die before we change our gun control laws? This madness has got to stop. I don't see how an anti-gun control advocate could sit own with one of the grieving Newtown parents and successfully defend their position. It grows more and more defenseless with each death.

This has to stop. Call your Senator, your Representative in Congress and tell them to make a stand against this madness. Make it stop. It.has.to.stop.

11 December 2012

The Quiet Car

Living in this little corner of New England now makes getting into New York City a different experience.  When we lived in Chicago, I was the King of the Same-Day Turn (6AM Theater of Cruelty Non-Stop to LGA on Mother United with a 6PM-ish, depending on the rage of Mother Nature and the angry ones at the FAA, return back to ORD). With NYC just about 125 miles away, no more flying is required, but I don't like driving into Midtown if I don't have to so I'm all about, wait for it, Amtrak. Say what you will about this government-owned operation, I'm digging them.

Aside from the cluster that is Penn Station, I am a total fan of the Amtrak now. And I'm an even bigger fan of the Quiet Car.  The what, you ask? It's a designated car on the train that is free from ringing cell phones and inane conversation. It's a quiet slice of heaven. It's also self-policed by those riding in that car.  Pity the fool who decides to start yammering into his cell phone about the latest deal he closed and how ridiculous his boss is. He'll very shortly be told to shut his yap (the politeness of this request depends solely on the obnoxiousness of the conversation being conducted on the phone) by one or more of his fellow passengers. Ignoring this rule is not to taken lightly.

What I enjoy most about the Quiet Car (QC) is that it is indeed quiet.  My ride is about three hours in each direction and when I score a seat in the QC, that time is mine to read, to think, and to just enjoy the quiet.  It's never library quiet as the trains aren't exactly "Whisperliners," but it's quiet enough to recognize how nice it is to have that, well, quiet.

There's a lot to be said for some periods of silence, for reflection, and simply, some time out.  I find I get that in the QC and I appreciate that. I'm sure it's a sign of my getting older that I relish that time, but I can't help it. There is so much distraction in the world and it's nice to have put some of that away, even if for just a few hours. So I'll continue to take advantage of rides in the Quiet Car whenever I can.

08 December 2012

And so the lights were hung

Well there's no denying that the Christmas season is upon us, no matter how I wish it weren't. I don't say that simply because of my Grinchian feelings toward so much of the detritus associated with this time of year. Christmas means the year is over and I am amazed at how fast each year passes as I continue this slog through middle-agedness.

It also means that I am forced delighted to drag out one of the Satan's playthings, the Little Giant Ladder, and hang the outdoor lights. Any tool / appliance that requires multiple viewings of the DVD instructions just to figure out how to unfold the demonic thing is something that must not be underestimated.  And yet, each year what do I do? I tempt fate and drag it out to hang the lights.

Given that we are in a new house this year, it took a little longer to figure out just how to get the lights hung. Thanks to the stupid placement of the electrical outlet, stringing the lights along the front of the house involved geometric equations. Geometry and I did not get along in high school (I walked out of the class the second week in, never to return, as I was the only senior in a class full of freshmen), so why some thirty years later would I be able to figure out such equations hanging off a stupid ladder?  Did I mention that it was misting and that I was wearing my most slippery cross-trainers?  Another excellent decision, I might add.

After a couple of false starts and some creative cursing (yes, there will be some repenting at the end of the day), the lights got hung. The stunningly patient and mighty fine SML has, as she does each year, done a phenomenal job beautifully decorating the house for Christmas. The least I can do is hang the lights outside. This much I know, it is only a matter of time before that ladder folds in on me or I slip off as I tend to hang the lights whenever the weather is bad. I guess nothing says Christmas like a little trip to the ER, cursing Santa all the way. Maybe next year...

02 December 2012

Sunday Service

A typical Sabbath observance here does not begin at 4AM, nor does it include shovels or respirators.  Today was an unusual day.  It was an awesome day.

Nearly fifty of us, including the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and The Boy, from our little ward (parish, for those not familiar with Mormon lingo), met at 530AM, and after a brief Sacrament, we jumped in our cars and headed for Far Rockaway, NY, to join Mormon Helping Hands to provide relief from Huricane Sandy.

Believe it or not, nearly five weeks after her furious attack on the East Coast, Sandy still looms large for far too many of her victims.  It was positively surreal to drive around Far Rockaway, taking in the damage.  The air is still heavy with the smell of, well, mold.  The wreckage of flooded homes is everywhere.  The presence of the NYPD is pervasive and has all the feel of marshal law.

That said, what an experience it was to don our yellow vests and knock on the door of a family that had been waiting for help.  The Puerto Rican couple who we met and worked with could not have been more gracious.  It must have been a bit overwhelming to have more than twenty people swoop in, but it was amazing. With our respirator masks firmly in place, we went to work.  We took a water-logged basement down to its studs in a matter of hours.  Linoleum was ripped up as was a cast-iron tub that weighed a ton.  My foot can attest to that weight since it got dropped on my left foot.  As more and more debris piled up in front of this couple's home, more than one neighbor appealed for help as well.  We did what we could but there is still so much to be done.  The scale is truly epic.

After breaking for lunch, we were able to tackle another water-logged basement. This homeowner has still not been able to return home and the water in his basement was only pumped out yesterday.  Yesterday!  It hardly seems possible in a resource-rich nation like ours that five weeks have passed and homes are still water-logged.

With daylight disappearing, we had to call it a day. We could have stayed for days as there is still so much to be done.  I could not have been prouder to be a part of this group today.  Everyone worked so hard.  It was easy to forget yourself in the work, knowing it was making a difference.  There was no expectation that those people we helped today show up at one of our services in the near future.  We were there to help and to bless the lives of those who have had it rough of late.  The funny thing is that we were the ones who were truly blessed today.
Getting started
Insanely heavy tub
Clean up conga line
I can't say we'll have another Sabbath like this again soon, but it was awesome!

01 December 2012

Christmas Songs - The List

While waiting on an oil change and alignment on the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML's mini-van this afternoon, I was subjected to a non-stop barrage of Christmas music which included the song, "The Christmas Shoes." For the two you who have not been subjected heard this song (you should be grateful), it is an oozing maudlin pile set to music.  It is awful and it is one of the songs that makes me go all kinds of irritated Grinch this time of year.

Probably not the shoes the kid had in mind for his dying mother
With more than enough time on my hands at the dealership, after hearing this and a couple of other train wrecks, no thanks to 24/7 holiday music on every radio station, I got to thinking about the Christmas songs that are responsible for my loathing of this music. So, in no particular order, here's a few of the high, or low, lights from that list:

"The Christmas Shoes," NewSong - as noted previously, it's oozing, maudlin claptrap that goes straight for the jugular of weepy sentimentality. It's also why Christian pop is perceived as more cheesy than the entire state of Wisconsin.
Any Christmas song by Celine Dion - Our Lady of Quebec takes no prisoners when it comes to blowing out a song.  Tradition be scorned, my friends, as Celine will shatter any of your favorite carols with overextended notes and a screeching octave reach, rendering them impossible to enjoy again.
"Santa Baby," Madonna - Madge trying to channel Betty Boop with horrifying results.
"O Holy Night," Christina Aguilera - With the gusto she lends to this reverential hymn, you figure X-tina thought this song was about the doughnut shop on Sepulveda that she was going to hit on her way home from that recording session.  Much like the doughnut holes, she should have left this one alone.
"Wonderful Christmastime," Sir Paul McCartney - for this mess, Paul should have had his "Sir" title stripped.  This one gets in your head in much the same way the creature from "Alien" made himself at home within that poor guy's gut with the same gory results.
Any Christmas novelty song by anyone - there are just too many to list here, but you know the ones, like "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer."  If only the same had happened to the lyricist of that song before pen was put to paper...

To prove that I'm not completely soulless and filled with bitterness at this time of year, first you can thank me for not including audio/video files of any of the travesties listed above.  You're welcome.  Secondly, here's a peek at some of the Christmas music I do like:

"The Messiah," Handel - this is exquisite, absolutely exquisite. The story of our Savior's birth and mission set to Handel's music is as good as it gets. There's a version that the London Symphony Orchestra did that is in heavy rotation this time of year for me. The Mo'Tab has a version that knocks it out of the park as well.
"Do They Know It's Christmas?" Band Aid - most will probably say that this song should be in the list of horrors cataloged above, but I just can't do it. This almost single-handedly sums up my musical experience in my late teens and it managed to get people to think about the famine that was destroying Ethiopia at the time.  It was the 80's, remember? Not a decade known for its collective concern for the welfare of others.  Besides watching it today you can play a game called "Dead, Rehab, or Jail."  See how many people you can pick that fall into those categories.  If you default to Boy George or George Michael, you'll pretty much sweep the game.

I know I'm in the minority here on my distaste for the Christmas music scene.  It certainly didn't help that I worked retail in high school at a year-round Christmas store.  That will scar you for life. But I'll just hunker down with the music of "The Messiah" for next 24 days and all will be well.

27 November 2012

The sweater was the least of my concerns

Yesterday, after a great time with the Awesomes, we drove them to our now go-to cheap airfare airport, JFK, to send them on their way.  As the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML made our way back to our little corner of New England, and after losing count of the dead dear in Westchester County (it was NOT a good day for Bambi's kin to be playing a live version of Frogger), I saw a beautiful Porsche 911 Carrera speeding up the I-684.  Beautiful car driven, as expected, by a middle-aged dude who was seriously overcompensating.  The fact that I overtook him in my OMC (Old Man Car) was reason enough why he shouldn't have had such a nice car, but I digress.  Anyway, it took me back to my own experience behind the wheel of a Porsche - settle in as this is a long one.

It was Thanksgiving 1984.  I was in college and I was at the peak of my college freshman, overconfident hubris.  That hubris occasionally blinded me from satire, including "The Official Preppy Handbook."  I embraced plaid and Izod's with a fervor reserved for deathbed conversions, although I never went so far as to run around with my collar turned up.  I mean, c'mon, I had standards.  I had just flown back to Utah that Sunday after Thanksgiving and had been tasked with returning to the Salt Lake Airport that night to pick up a girl that I had been on again/off again dating.  Said girl had a Porsche 924 that she had foolishly agreed to let me use to pick her up.  I was sans car that semester, thanks to my umpteenth ticket, so I had to use something to pick her up.  Why not the Porsche, I ask you?

I wasn't going to pick her up looking like a slouch, that is for sure.  While I wasn't wearing plaid, there was an argyle sweater vest, a pink shirt, and, wait for it, a Member's Only jacket involved.  And penny loafers. Paying no heed to the weather, I left Provo for Salt Lake City.  I should have paid attention, because a snow storm was developing very, very quickly.

Now would be a good time to remind you that I had grown up in the desert of Arizona and had driven in the snow, um, never.  And by never, I mean never.  This lack of experience was going to come to roost momentarily.

As soon as I was on the I-15, the snow storm had unleashed its fury.  I, again thank you hubris, ignored the slowing, cautious drivers around me, and sped on. Why not?  I was in a fine German driving machine.  Right  outside Orem, near Lehi, my stupidity got the best of me as I began to slide, ever so slightly.  My reaction was to slam on the brakes.  Said fine German driving machine instantly converted itself into a very heavy, and out-of-control sled.  I'm not sure how many times I spun around but I know what stopped me...the snow piled up on the median.  The car was still running as I sat there, stunned.  There was snow all over the hood and for some reason, I could not open the door.  Probably because I'd forgotten how.  So I opened the sunroof and crawled out.  No one was stopping to check on me, as, no doubt, they'd seen me blow past them earlier, and were thrilled to see I'd gotten what was coming to me.  There was a rest stop across the freeway and I made my way over to it, none to pleased to do so. Rest stops were more than a little unnerving.

Anyway, since this was in the pre-historic era before cell phones, I used the pay phone to call the Highway Patrol.  It took forever to get through because of the storm.  When I finally got to a dispatcher, I immediately launched into my story of woe.  The dispatcher asked if anyone was hurt.  I said no.  Wrong answer as the dispatcher said I was stuck since there were a lot more serious issues to be addressed.  I was stunned.  I told her, "I don't think you get it.  This girl's Porsche is stuck in a snow mound and I'm in an argyle sweater at a rest stop.  You need to send someone.  Now."  As I recall, she hung up in less than three seconds. The sweater should have been the least of my concerns.

Knowing I still had to pick this girl up, I did the only reasonable thing I knew to do. I called another girl I'd been on again/off again dating who had a 4-wheel drive and asked her to come pick me up and take me to the airport to pick up this other girl.  And she did.  Unbelievable.  In the meantime, while waiting for her to get to the rest stop, I'd called a tow truck, and we agreed that he'd meet me there later to get the car out of the ditch.  So, 4-wheel girl shows up, drives me to SLC, where I pick up the other girl and have to very deftly explain why we are going to be driven back to Provo by this other girl.  Incredulously, she was forgiving.  Whew!

It's been a long time since that happened.  I'm glad to report I've mastered driving in the snow.  I'm even more pleased to report that there are no Member's Only items in my closet.  But there are still some argyle sweaters.  Some habits die hard.

25 November 2012

Getting Used to This

We've had a great Thanksgiving holiday here in New England. The weather has cooperated, with the air crisp enough to remind us that it is fall, but not cold enough to make us miserable. The turkey, which we smoked, a first here in the Den, was a success. Suffice to say, smoking the bird is how we'll be doing things in the future. It's been great to have Our Lady of Awesome and Awesome with us. We missed having CAL with us but are grateful she celebrated with friends and that she'll be home in a couple of weeks for the semester.

Black Friday wasn't terrible, at least for some of us. We only went to two stores before I lost the will to live. We were shopping for maternity clothes for Our Lady. That is a strange experience, can I just tell you? She doesn't look pregnant but she throws up like she is. Buying the maternity stuff certainly cements the fact that she is going to have a baby. I've got to get used to this.

The Boy had to work on Black Friday. He had to work retail at the near epicenter of Black Friday awfulness - Old Navy. During our maternity clothes excursion earlier that day we went into another Old Navy and it looked as if it had taken a direct hit from Superstorm Sandy. The Boy was in for it. Some of his texts once he got to work included:

Ugh!
Holy crap!
I'm quitting today. (This was sent about 20 mins. into his shift.)
Dying
I just quit (he didn't)
Seriously this store is a mess

The good news is is that he survived. He can now wear that as his own badge of courage since he faced down the thundering herds and lived to tell the tale.

On Saturday, we took the Awesomes to Boston. Although the sun was shining, the wind was far too reminiscent of our Chicago days, which meant it was dang cold. That didn't deter us from taking the ferry to see the USS Constitution and to marching all around the North End. We ate in Little Italy and braved the hordes at Mike's Pastry for cannoli, which was totally worth it. On our way home, I mentioned that the next time the Awesomes were in town that we'd have to go to NYC. I then said, since I'm trying to get used to the grandparent thing, that they would have a stroller in tow. The stunningly patient and mighty fine SML then said, "Well, they can go out to a show while in the city and Grandma and Grandpa can babysit." Without thinking, I said, "Why on earth would your parents be here?" "We're the grandparents now," she rightly said.

Seriously, I have got to get used to this grandparent thing. Sooner rather than later, preferably, because this is happening.

22 November 2012

Thankful

It's Thanksgiving Day.  Millions of Americans are counting their blessings by overeating, drinking too much, and getting into fights (food/fist/knife to name a few) with family members who they haven't seen in a long time and who they don't like in the first place.  Isn't this a great country?

I am thankful for a country that pauses to remember its blessings in an orgy of overeating, all in preparation for two days of shopping and overspending.
I am thankful for a country that is more consumed by the liquidation of Hostess Bakeries and the potential demise of the diabetes-inducing Twinkie than they are about the near state of war in the Middle East between Israel and, well, everyone else.
I am thankful that I am able to turn off the TV when I want and do not have to be subject to the horror that is, and forever will be, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and the cavalcade of the damned that are the lip-synchers (shame on you, Neon Trees!) on the floats.
I am thankful that the presidential elections only happen every four years.
I am thankful that I can load my iTunes with such a freaky array of music that when that catalog of music is uncovered in 100 years, people will say "What was going on with this one?"
I am thankful for a world that has given me so much to explore, especially its food.
I am thankful, eternally thankful, for a wife who is so patient with me and who has grown with me in a way that takes my breath away.
I am thankful for my three children who are growing into amazing adults.
I am thankful for a daughter who decided to run a 5K on the spur of the moment today.
I am thankful for a grandchild who joins the Den in May.
I am thankful that I am able to search, ponder, and pray and that I find answers.
I am thankful for good friends and for the good times we've had.
I am thankful for trials and tests.  I may not like them when I'm going through them but I like what I learn from those experiences.
I am thankful this day for all that I have.  I am humbled by what I've been blessed with in this life.  I am grateful.

Thank you to all of you who read the Den, who comment, and who, for whatever reason, like spending some time here.  I appreciate you.  I'll say it again, on this day of Thanksgiving, thank you.

20 November 2012

Honoring Lincoln

What better way to celebrate finding out you are going to be grandparents than indulging in a movie wherein you know the central character is going to die?  Well, I'm certainly glad the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML decided to do that very thing this past Friday night.

We made our way to local cinemessplex to see Steven Spielberg's newest film, "Lincoln."  It was, in a word, amazing. Daniel Day-Lewis positively inhabits the role of Lincoln and brings our greatest president to life.  As I watched this movie, I couldn't help but think of the recent presidential election and what Lincoln would have thought of it.  I shudder in shame.

It's no secret that I'm fairly obsessed with Lincoln (editorial note - if you enter in 'Lincoln' into the search bar on the Den, you'll find something like eight posts so far about him) his leadership, his courage, and his humanity.  He was far from perfect but he he literally saved this nation.  This movie does an admirable, inspiring job of paying homage to the man. In one pivotal scene, one of my favorite speeches (I wrote about it here) that Lincoln gave, is recreated.  I'm going to cash in one of my Man Cards now and admit that it moved me to tears. It was incredible.

So if you've got a few hours to spare, go honor the man, and see this movie.  It beats the heck out of the drivel that is playing on the screen next door.  That's right, Barfing Breaking Dawn, I'm talking to you.

17 November 2012

Grand...grand what?

Grandpa Abe Simpson...icon?
When you think of a grandparent, what do you think of?  You may recall experiences you had as a child with your own grandparents.  If you're lucky, you still have your grandparents and you're able to spend time with them now.  If you are my age or older, in all likelihood, your grandparents have probably long since passed on. That is certainly the case for me.  My grandparents on both sides have been gone for a long time and I miss them.

As a result of a recent announcement, I've been thinking just a little bit about grandparents.  Why? Because Our Lady of Awesome and Awesome are having a baby, hence making the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and me grandparents in May 2013.  While we were a little surprised by this news (Editorial Aside - they called us on Facetime and I was the one who cried), we could not be more excited for our daughter and our son-in-law.  And, selfishly, we are more than a little excited for ourselves!

As I said, I've been thinking about grandparents.  Think about what we've had in the media:

  • Grandpa Munster, "The Munsters"- no grandchild should be worried that Grandpa is going to eat him for dinner
  • Grandpa Jones, "Hee Haw" - no grandchild should be worried about the damaging affects of inbreeding as manifested in their grandpa
  • Grandpa Simpson, "The Simpsons" - no grandchild should have a grandpa that yellow, unless of course said grandpa is affected with an epic case of jaundice
As far as role models, grandpas in the media are out.  So I think about the grandfathers I've known:

  • Grandpa Wade, my maternal grandfather - Man of legend.  Cowboy. Sheriff.  Amazing story-teller.  Epic with the curse words at Church (J. Golden Kimball had nothing on him).  Unique ability to have two TV's going at once at full volume and still have a conversation with anyone in the room.
  • "Dobby" Lyons, my paternal grandfather - Man of quiet patience. Example of love, patience, and goodness.  We called him "Dobby" because that's what my sweet cousin Laurie, the first grandchild, called him.  I'm sorry I didn't know him better, but I suppose I did because my Dad was so much like him.
  • My Dad - paternal grandfather - much like his dad, my Dad was one of quiet patience with his grandchildren.  He wasn't much of a 'get on the ground and roll around with the grandkids' grandpa, but that's OK.  He taught them so much in his example.  I'll never forget watching him take the Boy fishing.  It meant the world to the Boy.
  • Papa Thompson - maternal grandfather - the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML's dad only got to see two of his grandchildren before he died.  Watching him with Our Lady of Awesome when she was a baby was an indication of how he'd raised his children.  It was amazing.  I'll never forget watching him, this big man, cradling my daughter in his arms and telling her secrets that made her smile.  Pretty sweet stuff.
  • Grandpa Paul - maternal step grandfather - College football star. Air Force pilot. Airline captain. Missionary. Since he joined our extended family, he's not been a 'step.'  He's been Grandpa Puul and he's treated my children as his own grandchildren and they, no, we are all the better for it.
With examples like that, I've got some excellent guiding lights as I carve out this new path to being a grandfather.  I've got some time to figure it out.  I probably won't change much from who I am now, so this grandchild is in for it.  That was probably summed up best on Facebook by a very good friend when she quipped:  "Poor child."

It's been great to get a ton o'feedback on the Facebook and via text since word got out about this grandchild.  It's probably worth a "Top 10," but thought I'd share my favorite text so far, but I can't reveal he who sent it:

Great news!  You'll love being a grandparent - even sleeping with a Grandma.

I didn't see that one coming but I loved it.  And I think know I am going to love this whole grandpa thing.

15 November 2012

Lounging, Part II

The Prestige Class Lounge on the Korean Air A380
It's no secret that I harbor a significant helping of airplane dork/airline geek inside of me.  My recent trip to Asia allowed me to check off a couple of the boxes on my "Airplane Dork/Airline Geek" checklist.  Here's the skinny:

Box 1 Checked - Fly Singapore Airlines. Since the Wright Brothers flew their pseudo-paper airplane on the shores of North Carolina, people have complained loudly about air travel.  And since air travel, particularly in the US, has become a Master Class in Theatre of Cruelty, the complaints are mostly richly deserved.  One that has mostly risen above said complaints is Singapore Airlines. Their emphasis on service is legendary and I finally found out that, for the most part, the kudos are well-deserved.  While my flight with them was relatively short (just over five hours, thanks to good weather) and in, dare I say it, Steerage Coach, it was pretty much amazing.  Hot towels, menus, choice of meals, in-seat power, seat with a footrest, more than 1000 movies (no lie!) - and this was...Coach.  The cabin crew was really good.  They are a little Stepford Stewardess-ish, though, but at least you aren't afraid that one of them is going to slug you for asking for a Coke Zero.  Well, except for the one who was so made up that it appeared a post-flight drag bar appearance/competition was on tap.

Box 2 Checked - Fly the Airbus A380.  Yep, it's been five years since the A380 took to the skies and I finally got to fly it.  I flew a pretty new Korean Air A380 from Seoul Incheon to JFK and it was pretty cool.  The upper deck of this aircraft is where the Business Class (Prestige Class on KE) cabin is located and there are only 94 seats, so there was plenty of room to spread out.  Thanks to a fairly light load I found two seats to myself right near the Lounge.  Yes, the Lounge.  At the back of the cabin, you find the lounge pictured above.  I was delighted.  It's a fifteen hour flight and it's a daytime flight, at least according to my body clock, so I knew sleep was going to be elusive.  Being able to literally lounge about for several hours was completely awesome.  It made for a great flight.  Other things of note - the plane is deadly quiet, in spite of engines the size of small countries; sitting in the last row on the upper deck during heavy turbulence is not the wisest after a starter of kimchi.  You have been warned.

The trip to Shanghai and Singapore was a good one, made better by sating the yearnings of the inner Airplane Dork/Airline Geek.  I still adore Asia, its people, culture, and food.  This is an amazing world in which we live.  I feel so fortunate that I've been able to see a bit of it.  I've only scratched the surface of this place we call Earth, but boy am I grateful for it.  It's an incredible place.

12 November 2012

Veterans

Thank You
Veterans Day is officially observed today, meaning banks, some schools, and government offices are closed, giving people the opportunity to complain bitterly, and without a hint of irony, about not having those services this day.

Why ironic?  Because this day, in which you hear people griping is about honoring those men and women who have served and, in far too many cases, died to protect those very freedoms.

I just came back from several days in China, a nation not exactly known for its embrace of honoring the rights of its citizens, and each time I go there, I am reminded of just how fortunate we are as a nation to have the freedoms that we do. We are free to express ourselves as we desire, although based on the absolute hysteria, vitriol and rancor on Facebook and Twitter during the longest.presidential.campaign.ever, a little Chinese-style media clampdown may not have been such a bad thing.  I will say this, I was in Shanghai on Election Day and Chinese media coverage of the U.S. election was subdued at best - take a note, American media networks.  We are free to do as we please within the bonds of the law and we are free to make the life that we want, regardless of who sits in the White House.  We still live in a place where we are free to control our destiny.  I worry that we take our freedoms for granted and that we spend far too much time blaming the other side of whatever side of the political spectrum you are on for what ails us.  We just need to take a long deep relaxing breath as a nation.

We are enormously fortunate to live in a country wherein its citizens voluntarily serve to protect it and its freedoms.  It has been that way since this country was founded.  I am humbled by the sacrifice of those who have volunteered to serve this nation and to protect it. I am grateful for what they have done.  I am moved by those who have given their lives for it.  I've talked about a book and a movie that for me sum up the sacrifices of those who have served here in the Den before and I'll refer to them again now:

Read this book - "Final Salute" by Jim Sheeler
Watch this movie - "Taking Chance"

You''ll be glad you did. You'll be all the more grateful for those who have served.
Thank you to our veterans.

02 November 2012

Lounging

After years on the road, I was pretty much a pro at criss-crossing the globe.  I took a few years off the  "road warrior" path and it was good to be grounded.  While I don't see myself gaining my "warrior" status back, I'm getting back into it.

I find myself lounging in an Asian airline's First Class Lounge tonight.  I was the only occupant for awhile but not anymore. I am the lone Westerner, as per usual.  That's one of the reasons I like flying Asian carriers.  I wind up being the "one of these things is not like the other" guys.  If you're that guy on a U.S. airline, you'll find yourself on the wrong end of a TSA fascist's rubber glove.  You have been warned.

Speaking of being not like the others, my sister was that person in our family.  Why?  Because she was the lone girl, stuck between two brothers.  It is her birthday today.  She's done life on her own terms and it's cool to see what she's done with it.  She's raised three children, got herself through college and grad school and is now a Physician's Assistant.  On a side note - so she's a PA, my brother is a lawyer....guess who didn't go to grad school?

Anyway, a happy birthday to my sweet sister.  I only have one sister and I got a good one.

30 October 2012

A whole lot of nothing and that's OK

After 48 hours of non-stop media hysteria (trust me when I tell you that it was wall-to-wall coverage), Hurricane Sandy arrived in this, our little corner of New England.  We are fortunate enough to not live on the coast and so we were spared the shrewish Sandy's angry, Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, fury.  Instead we got this:
Nothing. And a whole lot of it.
We were ready for the worst.  The Boy and I had the garage converted into a storage area for all our deck furniture.  The generator had been tested, charged, and ready to go.  We were prepared.  That part of the hysterical media's message we did heed.  Sunday came and so did Sandy and for us, what happened? There was some rain, but nothing dramatic.  There was wind, but not a lot of it.  Sure it howled occasionally but we've experienced far worse. It seemed for a second during one of the howls that things might get interesting, but alas, no.  After all the hysteria, a little part of you kind of wished something did happen.

Then we woke up Monday to the coverage of what had happened in Jersey and New York City. All you wished for now is that your friends in Jersey and NYC were going to be OK. I'm just sick about the destruction, the impact on people's lives, and am in scary awe of nature's unequaled power.  To quote my mother, "Oh my hat!"

So am I ever glad we got served a whole lot of nothing.  I am secretly glad that I didn't have to fire up that generator.  I feel pretty firmly that I would have wound up blowing up the house had we really needed to use it. I am really grateful for the myriad friends and family who reached out to see if things were OK in the Den during the Sandy debacle.  How grateful I am to be able to report that all is well.  Our prayers are now extended to those who didn't escape her wrath.  It's going to be a tough recovery.

27 October 2012

Hunkering Down

For those of you currently living under a rock or who are fortunate to not have access to the Weather Channel, you've not heard about Sandy, a late season hurricane whose eyes appear to be squarely set on our neck of the New England woods.  Sandy has been described with equal parts somberness and delirium by the local weather hysterics as the following:

Epic!
Monstrous!!
Frankenstorm!!!
The Perfect Storm!!!!

If my years of living in Florida are any indication, Sandy will be none of these things. Every hurricane I rode out in South Florida was a big old bust.  I hope Sandy will prove the same.

However, if she doesn't, thanks to the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and her wicked organizational skills, we here in the Den are ready for Sandy's arrival.  We tested the new generator this morning and it started immediately.  I did have to go down to the local Ace to ask one of the extremely harried salespeople where I'm supposed to set the generator up.  After he looked at me like I had two heads, I quickly explained I was new to the area and never had need for a generator before.  He made it clear that I needed to leave it outside, regardless of the weather, once I had it fired up and going.  He started to give me a lecture on the perils of carbon monoxide but I assured him I was aware of said dangers. I've got more oil for the generator as well as several gallons of gas. We're ready there.

I had to stop at the grocery store for one last item for the "hunkering" and that was additional amounts of Diet Coke and Coke Zero.  This was critical.  How can we be expected to ride out some crazed hurricane without said beverages? Based on the gutting the store was taking, it looks like a lot of people were not ready at all for the impending cataclysm.

I get it.  We've heard all the stories from those folks who lived here last year and endured another late season shrewish hurricane (Irene).  No power for eleven days.  Not good, so the simmering hysteria is merited.  It is, however, being fed by a nutty local media.  The local NBC station is running a maudlin, gooey sweet commercial of their coverage of last year's storm and reminding all their viewers of how they were there for us last year and that they'll be there for us this year.  It is cloying and more than a little ridiculous.

So we'll see what the next few days bring.  Like I said, I'm leaning toward my previous experience with hurricanes and that this is going to be a whole lot o'nothing.  In the meantime, we in the Den will do as instructed above:  Keep Calm and Hunker Down

24 October 2012

I probably shouldn't admit this

The Den is my place to say what I want.  There's no safe word here as it my space and I've had plenty to say over the last few years.  In some cases, I've said more than I probably should, but that's rarely stopped me in the past.  And yet I've gone back and forth on whether I should admit this:
Just Dance 4, people, deal with it
I didn't realize that Just Dance 4 has been unleashed on an unsuspecting public and I could not be more excited.  CAL texted me earlier tonight that she and her roommates had just picked it up.  I called her and she was full of breathless abandon about the awesomeness of said game.

That I am in the full graying, bi-focal contacts with readers on top of that horror of middle age and that I am more than excited about this game is equal parts pathetic and terrifying.  I documented our fun with Just Dance 3 in my December 31, 2011 post.  On one of our last nights in Chicago, we played JD3 with friends for several hours.  You don't look at life the same after you've watched your friend Greg bust it out to "California Gurls."  You just don't. Just looking at the JD4 playlist promises for more full-body seizures disguised as dance moves. They Might Be Giants!  Panjabi MC! and Rick-Rolling with the 80's Ginger Poster Boy, Rick Astley.  Oh, the awfulness. It's going to be awesome.

I should be completely ashamed of myself, shouldn't I?  I couldn't dance 30 years ago when it mattered and dance is one of my 'skills' that has decidedly not improved with age.  But what is life if not to have fun?  So what if I'm going to embarrass myself about this.  There are far worse things in life. Far, far worse.

The stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I have been trying to carve out some time to break out version 3 again.  Now we have to ramp up for the coming train wreck that is JD4.  Good times ahead, people, good, good times.

21 October 2012

And then the note got passed

Yesterday, the Boy and I volunteered to help clean up the yard (note to self - if I get to the point where I have more than one abandoned vehicle on my property, it's time to move, or set fire to things) of an elderly couple who worship with us at church.  It was an absolutely gorgeous fall day and a good way to spend a few hours on a Saturday morning.  While we were driving home, the Boy asked me a few things about college life and I got to reminiscing about how I would go back to those days in a heartbeat.  I loved every minute of my college experience and regretted nothing.  Except the following:

Living in what was then known as 'Condo Row' (today it qualifies as a tenement) in Provo, we'd gotten very tight with our neighbors.  One of them, a cool girl from Salt Lake City, had made the decision to go on a mission and so a slew of us, including my roommates and the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML, drove up to SLC for her farewell.  Now this was back in the day when the farewell was a two day affair (open house the night before, farewell talk the next day, and another open house after that).  We decided, as I recall to only show up for the farewell.

So here we were at a chapel in SLC, a slew of young twenty-somethings, assembled to hear our friend speak about the experience upon which she was about to embark.  Now you have to remember that when my roomates, A. and M. and I got together, typically there was a lot of laughter, some tears, and somebody walked away offended (I give you the audience of a late showing of "A Fish Called Wanda" in Orem, UT who stormed out because of our laughter as evidence).  Anyway, as I recall, the mighty fine SML was seated next to me as a buffer (little did she know that it was during this meeting that the 'stunningly patient' title would be born) between the three of us.  Shortly before the meeting started a woman and her daughter sat down in front of us.  The daughter was adult-aged but clearly was developmentally disabled.  Because the three of us were idiots, this would prove our undoing.

As the meeting began and progressed, the young lady in front of us began to make guttural throat clearing noises.  As the meeting progressed, the noises grew louder and, well, chunkier.  As I noted earlier, because the three of us were young idiots, we started snickering about what was going on.  The mighty fine SML shot more than a couple of disapproving glares, as did a couple of the other girls that were with us.  However, we were not to be deterred.

In timing that Hollywood could not have scripted, three things converged at once: our friend was hitting the spiritual acme of her talk, the girl in front of us reached thunderous heights with her snorting, and M. passed the following note to A. and I:

Do you want a fork with that?

We tried to not laugh audibly.  We could only stifle the laughter by what must have looked as though we were have full-body seizures.  I can't recall who finally lost it first but one of us did and the laughter was loud and noticeable.  And it also became uncontrollable.  In what I'm sure was a flash but felt like an eternity, the three of us stumbled over those seated next to us, like three people fighting to escape a fire in a theater, to get out of the chapel.  We could not have been more obvious.  Or awful.  Really, truly awful.

I'm the first to admit that it took us awhile to stop laughing once we got outside. We wisely chose not to go to the open house after the meeting ended. Besides, I was getting a flight to Dallas that afternoon anyway.  That was probably a good thing.  To say that the mighty fine SML was displeased was an understatement.  Yet somehow, she managed to find it in her heart to forgive me and still marry me.  This would not be the first time she'd have to endure my poor judgement.  Hence, the 'stunningly patient' title.

I really do regret this one.  It really was bad form on our part to be laughing at this girl (good grief, it's not like we were a bunch of 5th grade boys...or were we?).  I feel bad about the farewell and the ruckus we created.  So, Sister JF, if you read this, I'm sorry.  Really sorry.

However, is it bad to admit that nearly every time I see a fork, that darn note still comes to mind?  Thanks, M.  You played that one well.

20 October 2012

Nothing

The great comedian and storyteller Mike Birbiglia has said, "The internet is an infinite well of nothing."  Knowing that truer words have never been spoken, I have not wanted to add to that infinite well by posting something in the Den, simply because I should.  It's been a weird week, one where I've felt almost zero compulsion to post.  I've had nothing to add, nothing to say, nothing to share. So I've stayed silent.

Silence can be is golden, as the saying goes.  I guess I've been pretty golden this past week.  I intentionally opted to stay above the latest Presidential debate angerfest that broke out on social media this past week.  Is it November 6th yet?  Lo, that it were...

Speaking of that auspicious date, I'll be in China, where I'll be silent on the blog, as it appears the blog is still banned there.  That said, it will be interesting to see how Chinese media covers the elections.  The stunningly patient and mighty SML and I were in Sydney, Australia during the 2008 election campaign, and watching the Australian media cover President Obama's nomination at the DNC Convention was awesome.  It was no-holds barred commentary, something that any of our dying broadcast media networks would ever dare to do.  I somehow think the Chinese will cover the U.S. elections a little differently.

So, on this quiet, gorgeous fall afternoon in this little corner of New England, I'll get back to pondering what I can do to contribute more actively to the infinite well of nothing that is the interweb.  Feel free to post your suggestions.

14 October 2012

Walking it out

Along the Farmington River
With the leaves falling and with those trees that have retained their leaves exploding in brilliant hues of orange, red, and yellow, fall has decidedly arrived here in our odd little corner of New England.  It is an absolutely beautiful time of year and I'm glad that we are able to experience this season here.

Yesterday the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I decided to take advantage of the crisp but not yet cold fall air and take a long walk along the Farmington River.  As you can see from the picture, with leaves serving as our carpet much of the way, it was a beautiful walk. While the scenery was exquisite, even better was the opportunity that she and I had to simply talk.  I am pleased to report that after nearly 24 years of marriage, we haven't run out of things to talk about.  Of course, with me as a spouse,  I'm not sure that the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML will ever run out of things to discuss. Admittedly, I give her plenty of fodder.  Unfortunately, it can often begin with "Why did you have to say (insert my latest inappropriate comment/observation) while we were out with (insert couples' name)?"

That said, much of what we talked about on our walk focused on what's next for us, particularly as a couple on the cusp of full empty nestedness (I don't really think that's a word).  The reality is, though, that with Our Lady of Awesome married, CAL in school full-time, and the Boy less than two years away from a mission, we are much closer to being lone parents in the Garden of Eden than we probably think. It was a little exciting to talk about some of the things we might do.  It was a little scary to talk about some of the things that could loom ahead as well, too.  Scary simply because of the unknown, nothing more dramatic than that.  I can report though that my dream to be called 'Fred' in place of 'Grandpa' is dead.  I will not under any circumstances be allowed to let any grandchildren that we might have call me 'Fred.'  And before any of you think that I am telegraphing an announcement here, let me be perfectly clear, I am not.

I hope we get a few more walks in like this before it gets hideous here.  Maybe we'll get lucky and we'll have a mild winter.  We'll see what else we can figure out on our walks.  Perhaps we can tackle what to do about the Middle East next....we're all for a good challenge.

13 October 2012

Vitriol

VITRIOL - as defined by the word nerds at dictionary.com, means: something highly caustic or severe in effect, as criticism.

Welcome then, my friends, to the week that was in social media.  It's been a veritable cavalcade of vitriol.  And what pray tell was the source?  That would be the one and only Vice Presdential debate of this insufferably long political season.

Earlier this week, America's favorite crazy uncle, Vice President Joe Biden, and Republican congressman, VP candidate, and P90X/Tony Horton acolyte Paul Ryan debated.  I was only moderately interested in the debate and as it began, my wise best friend, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML, suggested that perhaps I watch something else or watch nothing at all.  I opted for watching nothing at all.  I then started checking my Twitter feed and comments on the interweb's favorite place to spew, Facebook, and decided that maybe I should not look at that either.  So I started reading a book about North Korea and the modern-day underground railroad that exists to help people escape that vicious regime.

Based on the invective that was all over the two aforementioned social media outlets the following morning, I was never so glad I opted to read a book.  I'm all for a good debate and I'm all for political discourse but the level of personal vitriol that has erupted is incredible to me.  And I'm not talking about the snarkfest that was the spat between Biden and Ryan.  I'm talking about what I saw on the FB and Twitter and for comments that were directed to me personally because I am not of the Mittite tribe. Wow.

I have friends from across the political/social/religious spectrum and if I stack up the comments that were made during the VP debate and the first Presidential debate, in terms of acting/reacting really poorly and spewing personal attacks on those who choose not to support their candidate, the folks supporting Team Romney win.  Frankly, I'm not sure that's an award you want to win.  It's been interesting to have those supporting Team Romney (and who, ironically enough, share the same faith as me and Romney) call me an idiot, call me ridiculous, and mock me because their candidate "won" the first presidential debate or because I somehow had something to do with crazy Uncle Joe's snarky performance.  If only I had that kind of influence...I don't.

Everybody, relax.  Remember what you were taught in your high school civics/government class (except for those of us educated in the Arizona public school system), these things have a way of working themselves out.  We still live in a mighty and great nation.  Be grateful for the freedoms we have.  Be grateful that we are free to have open political dialogue.  Be grateful you aren't a young Pakistani teen-age girl with a bullet in her brain, courtesy of the Taliban, because you had the audacity to speak out.  Be grateful that you aren't living in a vicious, oppressive regime like North Korea.

That said, Tuesday, November 6, can't come soon enough.

07 October 2012

18/19

Yeah, these numbers are going to have new meaning
Every six months, we members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints gather for a worldwide conference.  It is a time to be fed and taught spiritually, to be reminded of what is important in life, and, occasionally, to shake things up.

Thanks to the satellite television and the interwebs, this is one conference that we enjoy from home.  It makes for a different experience as we gather to hear the counsel of a prophet and to be taught.  Sure, we also wait to hear of anything new, like new temples (congrats, Tucson and Arequipa, Peru) or to see if any long-rumored changes come to fruition (c'mon, two-hour meeting block!).  While the two-hour meeting block was not announced, yesterday an announcement involving the numbers 18 and 19 was made that was nothing less than epic.

In the Church, it has long been expected that young men upon reaching their 19th birthday embark on two-year missions.  Young men sacrifice two years of schooling, work, etc., to serve these missions at their own expense. They are sent all over the world to do some good.  These are life-changing experiences.  I was honored to serve the Spanish-speaking people in Miami for two years in the Florida Ft. Lauderdale Mission and my life was forever changed for the better as a result.  Not only did I learn practical skills, including another language, but I learned to be a better man.  I served with a lot of great people, including young women who voluntarily served for 18 months, beginning at age 21.

As of yesterday, 18 and 19 became the new 19 and 21.  It was announced that now young men can embark on missionary service at age 18, provided, of course, they have graduated high school.  Young women can now serve, if they choose, beginning at age 19. The reaction to this announcement was priceless.  The reaction of those assembled at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City was audible.  Several young men who looked to be about 18 and whose reactions were caught on camera looked like they had just been punched. Young women were giddy.  Several mothers looked stunned.

The stunningly patient and mighty fine SML was one of those stunned mothers. She immediately began to cry, saying, "I just lost a year with him (him being The Boy, of course)!" Well, not really, I explained to her. He doesn't graduate until May 2014, about four months shy of his 19th birthday.  This realization seemed to be a bit soothing.  I'm sure plenty of families have tons to think about right now.

This is a pretty exciting thing for members of the Church.  It will be most interesting to see how this plays out. I'm eager to see how this goes down.

While this little bombshell announcement has overshadowed the Conference, there has been great teaching this weekend as well. The counsel to man up here is one I will be studying and will work to implement. I've got to be better for my family and for me.

06 October 2012

Trial by Jury, Part II

Mercifully, Hollywood opted NOT to inflict a second installment of Pauly Shore's crapfest acting opus, "Jury Duty," on us. I, however, have chosen to give you a follow up to my last post on my fun in the jury pool.

Once we fled Arizona for Nirvana north of San Diego, it seemed like the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I got jury duty notices with alarming regularity.  This is where I was introduced to professional jurors. These are, for the most part, elderly people with nothing better to do than hang out at the local Courthouse, hoping to fill in for all the prospective jurors who elect to skip out on their summons.  It was also in SoCal where I ran into maniacs who would stop at nothing to get out of jury duty a la Liz Lemon from "30 Rock:"
The costume didn't work for Liz and similar shenanigans failed for some of the prospective jurors I ran into on multiple occasions.  It was on my last summons that I found myself unable to get out of my civic duty and I was selected to serve on a jury.

In spite of my pronounced desire to NOT be there, once I was picked, I took my role as a juror seriously.  You don't grow up the son of a highly-respected trial attorney without respecting the legal process.  I wish my fellow jurors had taken the case a tad more seriously.  It was a criminal case, involving charges of police brutality and questionable immigration status.  Anyway, the juror next to me spent the bulk of the trial downloading porn to his cell phone.  Nice.  The other jurors, a mishmash of the aforementioned professional jurors and a few people who were more concerned about where they would be going for lunch, seemed pretty much disconnected from it all.

I made the mistake of taking notes.  I made the mistake of noting that when the Spanish-speaking mother of one of the accused was speaking that the court-appointed translator incorrectly interpreted what she said. Why mistakes? Because when the case was handed over to the jury, guess who was made foreman unanimously?  Me, good readers, me.  Fantastic.

When one of my professional jurors announced, with more pride than she should have, that every jury she'd ever been in had ended in a mistrial because she was always the lone hold out, I knew things were going to be interesting. When she said that, I looked at her, and said simply, "Ma'am,that will not be the case with this jury." So we deliberated for a day and a half.  This was no "Twelve Angry Men" but our deliberations had there moments.  I am delighted to report that we reached unanimous verdicts on all of the counts.  We did our work.  Civic duty done.

A funny thing happened the day after we delivered our verdict.  Since I'd been in the trial all week and working at night to not be completely buried at work, we took the kids to the San Diego Zoo.  As we walked around that animal jail (I'm not a fan), lo and behold, we run into my professional juror lady.  Her husband pulled me aside and said, "She's been on a lot of juries and she says you're the best foreman she's ever worked with."

So, I guess that was a good thing? Now we wait - wait for the summons here.  Who knows what lurks in the jury pool here...