27 May 2012

As Memorial Day draws nigh

Tomorrow is the last Monday in May, when the United States observes Memorial Day.  While the day has become a time to remember those who have died, millions across the country will pause to remember the meaning of the day and will honor those who gave their lives for the freedom of this nation.

It is a solemn day.  So many gave their lives defending the freedom of this nation.  They may have questioned the reasons why they were sent to war (and I don't just mean our current one, so calm down, Bushites), but they went.  They died defending our system of beliefs.  They deserve our utmost respect and reverence.

I've often wondered how my generation would have reacted had we faced the cataclysmic events that catapulted the U.S. into World War II or had we been teenagers when the Towers fell on 9/11.  My gut tells me the reaction would not have been as admirable as that of our counterparts in 1941 and 2001.  I'm not proud of that.  Perhaps that's why I have a particular obsession with the literature of war.  From the Revolutionary War to the current brouhaha in Afghanistan, I have read a slew of books and I have been inspired and humbled by the sacrifices of those who were far less selfish than my generation.  I mean what does my generation have to call its own?  MTV. Madonna.  The coke-addled 80's.  We set the bar pretty low, people.

I'd like to share a list of some of the books that have had a profound impact on me as I've considered the actions of those who fought for this country.  For your consideration:

  • Band of Brothers, Stephen Ambrose - actually anything Ambrose has written is worth reading, but this telling of Easy Company and World War II is amazing.  The HBO mini-series is an incredible companion and should be required viewing in any and all American History courses.
  • In the Company of Soldiers, Rick Atkinson - gripping look into the early days of the Iraq War
  • The Greatest Generation, Tom Brokaw - the generation I wish my generation could be.  Read this and understand why.
  • Behind the Lines, Andrew Carroll - letters from the Revolutionary War to the Iraq War.  Deeply personal.
  • War Letters, Andrew Carroll - the first of two books that capture war from the eyes of those that fought.  Stunning.
  • One Bullet Away, Nathaniel Fick - inspiring story of the making of an officer in the Iraq War.
  • The Heart and The Fist, Eric Greitens - second story of the making of an officer in the Iraq War.  Both are stories of very smart young men who could have been sitting in an office on Wall Street, but instead chose to fight for their country.
  • Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand - incredible story of a U.S. Olympian turned soldier turned P.O.W. and his story of survival.  I was so sorry I hadn't heard this story when I was in school.  But I went to public school in Arizona, a state where you'll do more time for knocking over a 7-11 than for killing a child.  I shouldn't be shocked about the quality of my education.
  • The Cat from Hue, John Laurence - a reporter's ground-level view of the war in Vietnam.
  • Final Salute, Jim Sheeler - this is one of the most moving books I've ever read.  I wrote about it here.  I defy you to read this book without weeping for the lives that were cut short.  The subtitle of the book is 'A Story of Unfinished Lives.'  Is there anything sadder?
  • Lost In Shangri-La, Mitchell Zuckoff - while not about a battle field incident, this book is an epic story of survival and ingenuity during World War II.  Further proof why they were the Greatest Generation.
I am profoundly grateful for the actions and sacrifices of those who gave all for the freedom of this nation.  May we honor their memory on Memorial Day.

26 May 2012

On things old

I found myself encountering old things today.  For those of us who grew up as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, we attended Primary and one of the songs we learned was one about keeping the Sabbath Day holy.  It goes a little like this:

Saturday is a special day
It's the day we get ready for Sunday

All these years later, Saturday is still the day to get ready for Sunday.  One of those things I did today was to get my hair cut.  The place I stumbled into for today's cut offered old-school straight-razor shaves.  I hadn't shaved and thought, 'why not?'  So after my haircut, my face was covered is piping hot tools and then my beard got lathered up, and out came the old-school straight razor.  I've been shaving regularly for more than thirty years and I am not exaggerating when I say this was THE.BEST.SHAVE.OF.MY.LIFE.  I mean it.  As I sat there, completely relaxed, never once thinking about the fact that there was straight-edge razor dancing impressively close to my jugular vein, I kept thinking about the old school barbers you'd see in the old Western movies.  You know the ones...where they'd sharpen the razor on a leather strap and then shave away.  I was "Maverick" for a moment.  Once I came out of the reverie of the amazing shave, I realized I'm spoiled for any kind of shave again.  I have no idea how I'm going to go back to the razor I use now.  It's going to be rough tomorrow.

NOT the old man I ran into today
It was then time to check out a new grocery store.  Grocery stores, to me, tell a lot about a place.  I liked this one.  I picked up a couple of things and found myself at the front of the store, playing 'Gambling for Lanes.' You know the game - scope out the shoppers in front of you, assess how long it will take and if they are going to write a check, and then pick your poison.  As I went for a lane, an old man with a heavily-laden cart swung in front of me.  He took a look at the meager content of my cart and said, or growled, and I quote, 'Go ahead of me. I gotta wait for the damn wife.'  I chuckled and took him up on his offer.  He continued to harumph and complain to anyone who walked by about having to wait for his, and I'm just spit-balling here, beleagured wife.  I'm guessing life with Grumpy hasn't been a walk in the park for her either. 

While I couldn't help but chuckle over my encounter with this elderly version of Al Bundy, I made a promise to myself.  I am not going to be that guy.  I've been repeating it to myself all day.  I am not going to be that guy.  I'm not going to blaspheme the mighty fine and stunningly patient SML when I'm 82 and waiting for her at the grocery store.  I'll just be delighted if I make it to 82.

23 May 2012


Maybe it's the fact that ESPN Classic has, on what appears to be the best whim ever, been playing episodes of TV's greatest homage to mediocre talent and flash-in-the-pan stardom, 'Battle of the Network Stars,' or maybe it's the fact that we are just over two weeks away from completing the sale of our house that I'm waxing a bit nostalgic.

That wave of nostalgia rose to new heights today.  I'm test driving a brand-new, fully loaded Mercedes GLK350 for 24 hours.  Lest you think I've gone mad and am buying a new car while we are trying to close one house, move, and find another, I assure you that I'm not.  Buying a new car, I mean. Going, or gone, mad is subject to interpretation. Long story short is that from time to time at work we are asked to test vehicles for our fleet and provide feedback on them. So that's what I'm doing.  Don't worry my OMC (Old Man Car) is staying with me.

Anyway, since said vehicle has all the bells and whistles, as soon I got in it, I fired up the SiriusXM radio and went directly to Channel 8 - the 80's on 8.  In no time, thanks to that great music, it was high school all over again.  The memories flooded back, like the proverbial tsunami.  It was great fun.  I realized that it had been awhile since I had satellite radio and I'd forgotten that they'd managed to resurrect the careers of a few of these people:
Martha Quinn, who sure could use a sandwich from the looks of things in this picture, and the pseudo-rock chick blonde, Nina Blackwood, are both DJ's on the Sirius 80's channel.  Hearing Martha brought back a lot of good memories. Hearing Nina was terrifying.  If you haven't heard her lately, imagine, if you will, a smoke-filled Las Vegas casino that hasn't seen a renovation since 1968. Notably, it's not hired a new waitress since '68 either.  Now imagine that veteran waitress coming up to you after her smoke break where she managed to inhale an entire pack of unfiltered Camels and asking you, 'OK, honey, what do you want?'  You know what that voice sounds like and it's scary.  That's what Nina sounded like to me today.  It was rough.

It wasn't rough enough to kill the nostalgia buzz.  It's been great.  The more I think about it though,  I really do think this is about all that's going on here in the Den right now.  There's a lot changing.  In the face of change, sometimes you cling to the good old days.  It was good to take that trip down memory lane today.

20 May 2012

Measuring Life

When it comes to self-confidence, I've never felt like I've lacked in that area.  I've always thought I was pretty self-confident and self-assured, but not to the point of egomania (except for my teen-age years and for those of you who knew me then, all I ask is your forgiveness).

Here's a peek, welcome or otherwise, into my psyche.  My self-confidence has always eroded faster than Britney Skank Spears' mental stability whenever I've been told, 'Why can't you be more like So-and-so?' When told this, I hear the following: 'So-and-so is much better than you.  You won't measure up.'  This reaction was particularly acute when I was younger.  Monthly interviews with my mission president when I was nineteen and twenty were always fraught with internal tension for me as I waited for him to say, "Elder Lyons, be more like Elder So-and-So.  Look at all's he doing."  None of this was malicious in its intent.  It was meant for me to learn from those around me.  Learning, or being teachable, is a key hallmark of humility.  Suffice to say, I struggled with that principle.

Fast-forward twenty-seven years or so, and I still find myself wondering how do I, or more to the point, how does my life measure up?  When I measure my life up to this point, firmly seen from my middle-aged perch, I think it's been good, really good.  I'm not deluded enough to call it perfect.  That stated, I'm looking forward to getting some insight from this tome:
I've just started reading it and I'm intrigued by the book's premise.  Christensen is a brilliant thinker.  He and I share the same religious faith and I'm eager to see how he incorporates those principles into this book.  Those principles have already help me firmly root my life and show me the measures of my life that matter.  I'm still interested to see what insights I gain from reading this.

Thanks for indulging me.  I guess that's what happens when you find yourself getting all kinds of introspective on a quiet Sunday.

19 May 2012

More lessons

Oh the never-ending joys of selling a house!  The fun never ends.  The first time we sold a house back in the 90's could not have been easier.  I don't think our buyers asked for a single thing.  When we sold our dream house in California, we didn't sell it.  My then-employer bought it from us and sold it on their own. Talk about easy!  This time, however, not so much.

Selling a home in a buyer's market, which is of course what we are stuck in, is not fun.  Buyers are reading the Ph.D edition of the book featured here in the Den today.  The litany of back and forth and 'credit this/credit that' requests have us worn out, but not to the point submission.  We're going to get through this and our buyers are going to have a nice home.  The lessons in patience and controlling a smoldering rage are being learned daily.

This latest round of negotiations in closing the deal made me think of a time when I thought we were being extorted.  Our Lady of Awesome was about 18 months old and the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I decided it was time for a grown-up vacation.  We found four days and marched ourselves, just the two of us, down to Mazatlan, Mexico. It was a great getaway for first-time parents, made all the more awesome by flying Scare-o-mexico.  I am not kidding when I tell you the pilot wore a leather racing glove with all the fingers cut out and that there was a statue of the Virgen de Guadalupe in the center of the control panel in the cockpit of the MD80.

After a great break, we were heading back to the States, all our money spent on good food and cheesy Mexican silver wedding bands.  It was great to use my Spanish and as we approached the check-in agent, our spirits were high.  They were crushed quickly when the fascist behind the counter demanded several hundred pesos from each of us to leave the country.  What?  Snatching our passports and tickets (yep, long before e-tickets) and locking them in a cabinet, she kept demanding the pesos.  I finally got her to explain that it was for a departure tax not included in our tickets.  So I handed her my credit card because, seriously, we had not a penny, centavo, dollar, or peso on us.  She wouldn't accept the card.  Now this is when I snapped and informed her that my credit limit alone was more than her annual salary and that she needed to take the card.  All this is going on in Spanish and it was at this point that we were 'invited' out of line.

So I quickly translated our plight to my wife and said, 'Start begging.  Seriously.' Also, at the time, there was not an ATM to be had in this airport.  The early 90's were not good ones for international travelers.  So I hit on a plan to get a cab back to the city to the office of my then-employer to get cash off my corporate card there.  Realizing that said office wouldn't open for hours and that we'd miss our flight, I went back to the begging plan.  It was at this point that a man who had been in line and heard to brouhaha came up to me and in Spanish, asked if he could help.  I quickly explained my plight including my plan to head to the city. He lit up and pulled a credit card that employer (he was a customer) and said, 'I'll give you the money and then you can just credit my bill!'  I wasn't about to go into a lecture on the regulations that prevented from doing that.  Instead, I got his business card, gave him mine, and promised him he'd see the credit.  He handed over the cash and I marched to the head of the line to see the dour face of the same check-in fascist.  She seemed most irritated that we'd found the solution and she begrudgingly gave me back our passports and gave us our boarding passes.  And with that, we were on a plane, headed home.

What did we learn?  Always, and I mean always, have a small stash o'cash hidden somewhere on yourself when on the road.  When flying internationally, always make sure your departure taxes are paid in advance when the can be. Also, don't mouth off to the person checking you in as they can make your life an unmitigated nightmare if you cross them.  I'm still surprised we didn't get cancelled completely.  Good times.

16 May 2012

Another ride in the Wayback Machine

This past Monday night, I jumped on the Wayback Machine and took an awesome ride.  Awesome does not even begin to appropriately describe it.  I have ESPN Classic to thank for the ride.  What did they do?  They aired an episode of the inimitable "Battle of the Network Stars" from the early 1980's.  Battle of the what, you ask?  I realize that many of the readers of the Den don't even know what a network is anymore thanks to satellite TV and the interweb and I weep for you.  Weep because you never got to know the glory of this televised trainwreck.

Let me break it down for you - essentially this was an outdoor field day activity - think the 8th Grade Field Day you suffered through but instead of your pervy PE teacher yelling from the sidelines, it was Howard Cosell in a wicked leisure suit calling the shots - for TV celebrities from the three networks.  Yes, that's right, three networks.  That's all there were back then - three networks.  Today, the participants would be D-List at best, but back then, they were the top of the heap.

It was a sight to see again.  I couldn't believe it.  The feathered hair, the headbands, the inappropriately cut and disturbingly tight running shorts and that was just Scott Baio and the other male participants.  Terrifying!  The women included the likes of Daisy Duke from "The Pukes Dukes of Hazzard," a very manly Cathy Lee Crosby, and some blond from "CHiPS."  Do you understand how awesome this mess was?!  Two glorious hours with Howard Cosell doing the commentary.  I was literally in tears from the laughter.  It was completely awesome.

This could not happen in today's reality TV-soaked world.  That's probably OK too.  I don't think, no, I know I don't want to see the Kardashians doing anything. Again. Ever.  Anyway, if you are ever looking for a good laugh and an awesome trip in the Wayback Machine, watch an old episode of "BOTNS."  You will not regret it.

13 May 2012

On Mother's Day

It's Mother's Day, a day NOT invented by the Hallmark Corporation. This is a day when we honor the mothers in our lives. It's a day fraught with emotion, for a host of reasons. How do you honor the woman who gave you life? How do you honor the woman that gave your children life?  How do you honor the woman who gave your spouse life? It's a conundrum, I tell you.

Bart Simpson tried it.  He tried getting, and I quote, "a real boss tattoo" honoring his mother, Marge, but that plan was thwarted mid-ink.  That's probably a good thing as the world could do with a lot less tattoo-covered people.  Seriously, that plague has got to be stopped.  Disney has found a simpler solution.  Just turn on the killing machine and eliminate mothers entirely.  Think about your favorite Disney movie. Is there a mother?  If there is, how long before she was killed off?  Yep, it's not good.  If you're a mom in a Disney movie, you are as good as dead.  Lovely message. Just lovely.

The media is clearly not the solution for honoring the mothers in your life.  Mothers gave each of us life.  What greater gift is there? When you think about all that you've experienced in this life, you realize none of it would have happened without the gift of life a mother gave you.  I've been at the side of the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML as she delivered each of three children.  There is nothing more amazing, humbling, terrifying, and sweet than seeing your wife go, literally, to the edge to bring a new life into this world.  I think about it and realize again there is no greater gift.  I think my children know how lucky they are to have been raised by such an incredible woman.  They are who they are because of the influence, teaching, and example of their mom. I am so fortunate to have found a partner, a friend, a woman like the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML.

Here's the thing about mothering though.  You don't have to go through childbirth to be a mother to someone.  I've made no secret here about being adopted.  My mother did not give birth to me.  So what?  She is still my mother.  Always has been and always will be.  I couldn't have asked for a better mother. My mom is amazing. My mother-in-law has mothered me as well and she didn't sign up for that gig at all.  She raised my wife to be an incredible mother and I am most grateful for that.

Be grateful for the mothers in your lives.  I like this verse from the Old Testament:

A wise son maketh a glad father; but a foolish man despiseth his mother. 
Proverbs 15:20

Don't be foolish. Love the mothers in your lives.

09 May 2012


For the last couple of years, it's been a lot of fun watching the Boy develop and progress. With his older sisters gone, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I have had the opportunity to see him in a different, more focused light. Sure, he is the undisputed King of the Castle but he's also growing into his own.  It's been cool to watch him navigate the challenges and opportunities life presents him.  We've wanted to leap in and redirect him, and a couple of times we have.  That's what parents do.  You teach and guide your children and you correct with kindness (although I have probably failed miserably on the 'kindness' thing on more than one occasion).

One of the things he's been developing is a skill that comes to him naturally and that's leadership.  He truly is a natural leader and for the last two years he's served in student government at his high school.  For a school located in one of our fine country's most corrupt states, Illinois, it's been a pretty cleanly run student government.  It's been great to watch him progress as he's gotten more and more involved.  It's been really good to see him involved and having a good time.  That's what he does.  He gets involved and he has a good time.

Last night was the Student Government Banquet and the Boy was honored as Student Representative of the Year.  This was a peer-nomination award and in my humble opinion, he earned it and deserved it.  He's served well and I'm glad he was recognized.  He truly represented!

It was especially touching to me that he was awarded, given that this is his last year as a representative as a result of our pending move to New England.  As he was describing the award to me via text, I got emotional.  I was, and am, so proud of him.  I also got hit head-on by the Guilt Truck once again, knowing that this move means so many changes for him.  I am certain he's going to do well once we get settled because that's who he is.  And that got me more worked up. More emotions poured out because of the way he's accepted the move and the coolness he's displayed about it.  I'm officially a trainwreck.

I'm also a proud father and husband.  I am a ridiculously lucky man.

06 May 2012


Some 40 some odd days ago, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I put our home on the market.  Much like six years ago, when we put our dream house in California up for the sale, the market is a train wreck.  Sure, it's not as bad as it was a couple of years ago, but it's still not been a fun time to have a house on the market.  It's been a trying time.  Selling a house is never a walk in the park.

I am delighted to report that the house has been SOLD.  We signed the deal a couple of days ago.  So now we wait for the house inspection and it's off to the races, as it were.  With the deal signed, we are relieved.  We are grateful.  We have A LOT to do before the close in just four weeks.

I was talking with a friend today as we navigated our way through the thunderstorm, ground-stopped chaos that was O'Hare/ORD and he looked at me and said, 'Can you believe all that you guys have been through in the last six months?'  He's absolutely right.  Six months ago, I had no idea I'd be uprooting my family again. Six months ago, I had no idea I'd be unemployed for a few months.  Six months ago, we had two daughters in college.  It's all changed.  A few things haven't changed though.  Our sense of gratitude to a loving Father in Heaven who has been with us every step of the way through this time.  This has been a time of proving our faith.  I don't like to think of it as a trial.  It's really been an opportunity for us to prove our faith.  He has always taken care of us or led us in a way so that things worked out.  The opportunity to prove that faith will continue as we still have to move and find new digs.  The Den needs a new place to call home, people.  And let me say thank you to you, good readers, who have expressed your support to us.  It's meant a lot.  The prayers, the good thoughts, the metaphorical goat slaughtering.  Thank you.

We'll get through this next phase with our collective sense of humor intact as well.  We have to since there's really no crying here in the Den.  It's all going work out but expect stories from the quest for new digs as the months unfold. It's going to be a fun summer.

05 May 2012

Cinco de Mayo

Reason #129 - why I love Cinco de Mayo
It's Cinco de Mayo and it's no secret that I love, love, love this day.  It may, in fact, rank second, after Easter, in my pantheon of High Holy Holidays.  I know that's probably wrong on multiple levels, but I make no apologies about it. None.

I love this day.  It is one we have celebrated each and every year, regardless of where we've lived.  This year, even with the Den in flux, we are celebrating.  The house is filled with the aroma of chalupa.  The corn tortillas are prepped and ready to be salted and warmed.  The ingredients for the arroz mexicano are just waiting to be mixed and cooked.  The sweet corn cake beckons.  The tables are topped with bottles of Jarritos.  Even the hideousness that is the screeching, murderous tones of ranchera music is queued up.  Man, I love this day.  But boy do I hate ranchera and musica nortena.  It's just awful.  We may have to switch genres to the merengue before all is said and done.

Why the love for this day?  It's not my ethnicity, unless there's a bit of Mexican in me lurking in the genetic mystery pool that is my background.  Let's face it - it's the food.  Any day that means homemade Mexican food is a good day, nay, a great day.  And when crafted at the hand of the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML, all the better.  My wife is an amazing cook and her mastery of Mexican cuisine is outstanding.

This will be our last Cinco de Mayo in the Midwest.  I'm a little concerned about putting this together in New England, the soon-to-be new home of the Den.  It's going to take some additional planning, but mark my words, Cinco de Mayo will be celebrated wherever the Den lands.

03 May 2012

What's in a name?

Have you ever asked yourself "What's in a name?"  It's an interesting question.  More often that, I find myself asking a variation of that question, like "What on earth were those parents thinking?" when I've run across a child with a name that will scar him/her for life or lead to him/her getting beat up. A lot.  Or why parents give their daughters' stripper names.  But I digress.

I've been giving the whole concept of "What's in a name" a lot of thought of late. I've gotten involved in a bit of genealogy, not my own, mind you.  What am I?  87 years old.  No.  Rather, I've jumped in to a project to help index names from all sorts of sources, like birth/death records, draft registrations, and census records, to make names searchable for the real genealogists - the 87 year olds.  I got involved in it here. This may sound a little squirelly but it's been fascinating.

I find myself getting lost in the stories that these names represent.  I've done records from the 1800's where I'll encounter a family where there's a widow as a head of household and she's got seven children under the age of eight.  I'll stop on her name, read the names of the children, and then begin to wonder what their lives must have been like.  I wonder how they got by, and frankly, how many of the children made it to their 10th birthday.  As I've indexed draft registrations for WWII, I've wondered what each man was thinking as he registered.  As I've indexed records from the 1940 US Census, I've gotten lost in the families of Louisiana, wondering what it must have been like to be a sharecropper then. The way I imagine it, it wasn't good.  Each of these names has a story.  It would be really cool to get to know them more.

Doing this has brought me a new level of respect for those who have gone before me.  We have it too easy.  Sure, we have challenges but we live in a time of such abundance.  Most of us really don't know from adversity.  We're lucky.  I wonder if in one hundred years or so, someone will be clawing through my family history and wonder what story my name tells.  I hope it's a good one.