31 December 2013

Aching out the end of the year

As a year, any year, draws to a close, it causes people to review their triumphs and travails, ups and downs, and to plan for the year ahead. Goals and resolutions are made, which typically fall apart around 30 days into that new year. I'm no different than any of you and as I ponder the highlights of 2013, I'm aching it out.

Aching? Yes, aching. Why, pray tell? This past Friday night, after our big anniversary dinner at a Brazilian temple of meat, my right big toe began to burn a bit. I thought it might be due to the fact that it was the first time in six days that I was wearing a dress shoe. I paid it no mind although I thought it strange that night as I crawled into bed that the touch of the sheet on said toe hurt. I had no idea what was coming.

I awoke Saturday morning in wicked pain, with a swollen toe, sporting a raging purple ring around it, and radiating heat. It was no better, even worse, on Sunday when we had to march ourselves, or limp in my case, through the Orlando airport. I chose to march through the airport sans a shoe on my right foot. I actually had to argue with the TSA Fascist agent when we were routed through the Pre-Check lane that I WANTED to keep my shoe off. Just for that, they made me get my hands swabbed for bomb residue. Have I mentioned how awesome they are (not)? At this point, the Boy had used the hypochondriac's interweb crack, WebMD, to diagnose me, correctly it turns out, with gout. I shrugged that off as I was under the false impression that gout was reserved to morbidly obese elderly men.

Upon our return to the mildly frozen tundra of Connecticutistan, it was clear I would need to see a doctor and that was first order of business on Monday. Before the doctor arrived in the exam room, the nurse asked me to remove my sock so she could see my toe. As soon as I removed it, she took one look at it and declared, "Oh honey, you've got the gout!" The doctor was in shortly after that, took a look, and declared the same. Diagnosis: Gout. While I'm not elderly and just a little obese, I got the gout just the same.

According to the Boy, when you say you have gout, it sounds like you have an STD. Based on a few of the reactions I've gotten since declaring my status as one who has the gout, umm, he's right. I might as well be saying, 'Well, hi there, I have a raging case of the Clap. Good to meet you!' based on the way people draw in a deep breath and step back ever so slightly when you say you've got the gout. Good times.

So I'm not contagious. I just don't want anyone close enough to even graze my toe. This gout crap hurts something awful. Seriously. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy, probably. But thanks ever so much to the wonder that is pharmacology, the pain ebbs and flows. I'm looking forward to it going away completely. Soon. Really soon.

Suffice to say, I will not be dancing in the New Year. For any of you who have seen me dance, you will see this gout attack as a blessing knowing that I won't be darkening the dance floor this year. I'll just be glad if I can sleep without the sheet acting as an agent of pain as 2014 makes its arrival. Happy New Year to me!

27 December 2013


On December 27th, 1988, in Mesa, AZ, a starry-eyed, ridiculously young (but not Appalachian hill people cousin marrying young) couple, surrounded by a small cadre of family and friends sealed the deal, as it were, and began a life together. 

Since that day, twenty five years ago, they've called five different states 'home,' and not because they were running from the law or low-level participants in the Witness Protection Program. It's just where the corporate life has taken them. They've been blessed with three children, two girls and a boy, who have brought that couple more joy than words can describe. The oldest daughter has married an outstanding, even awesome young man, and has brought this couple an immeasurable sense of joy in a grandson. 

In the twenty five years they've been married, they've seen a bit of the world together. They've been fortunate to show their children what an amazing place this world is. They've served together. They've been sad together, supporting one another through the sudden losses of both their dads. They've not been perfect but they've tried to learn from the times when things were tough. They've tried to be better for one another.

I know a thing or two about this couple because I'm one half of it. Today the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We are celebrating it with our children and it's been great. We've tossed around the word 'perfect' more than once to describe the celebration. Not sure I could ask for much more.

We look a little different tonight than we did twenty five years ago. And by 'we,' I mean me.  I've gained two pounds for each year we've been married. Good for me! My wife is as beautiful tonight as she was the day we married. It's been an amazing first twenty five years. I say first because there's many more to come. I'm looking forward to each and every one.

Because I'm a bit of a social media dork, I wanted the denizens of the interweb to know about our anniversary so I tweeted, I Facebook'd, I Instagram'd. I didn't do anything with Google+ because I wanted to share! remember? I even asked Joe Scarborough, from MSNBC's "Morning Joe," to give us a shout out and he did. Here's the proof:

Joe's pretty cool. Little icing on the cake on what has been a fantastic day. 

I'm more blessed than I should be and I know that. It's been an incredible ride so far and I don't take that for granted. I could not have asked for a better partner in this life and I sure am glad we have one another. I am a better man because of her. 

26 December 2013


It's another birthday for one of the residents, albeit a part-time one, and it's one of those milestone birthdays. It's CAL's 21st birthday!

We feel very fortunate to be able to spend this birthday with her. She spends so much of the year in her own private Idaho, working hard to complete her undergrad degree. So being with her this week in Florida has been great fun. It's been a CAL kind of a birthday - sleeping in, shopping, and some fancy pizza for dinner. Do NOT get me started on just how epically wrong a decision it was to go shopping today. My role was to simply drive and watch Benson. The 5 mile drive to the Temple of Hell that is the Orlando Premium Outlet Mall quickly devolved into a two hour exercise in wishing for the sweet relief of death.

Anyway, CAL found more than a few things for her closet and that made her happy. And her happy, big, brilliant smile lights up a room. It always has and that's one of the myriad things we love about our CAL. She's grown into a thoughtful young woman who makes us proud each and every day. I can hardly believe she's 21. I'm excited for her and what the next few years will bring her. She will make a difference for good in the lives of those around her. That's pretty cool for a parent to see.

Happy birthday, CAL! Glad we get to share this one with you.

25 December 2013

Christmas Wonder

Being more than 1,000 miles away from home in the artificial Paradise that is Little England, wait Little India, no wait, I mean Orlando, Florida, Christmas takes on a little different feel. The stunningly patient and mighty fine SML has labored to insure Christmas would still feel like Christmas while we are here. For example:

The Christmas Tree? Right on the wall. Paper discs taped to the wall with a paper star on top.
Tree lights? No need lights and bows are hung along the bar.
Traditions? The Christmas bells made it down here so we could FaceTime with dear friends and keep up the silliness of ringing the bells across the country.
The food? Brisket was smoked. Buttermilk pancakes were made and Mexican Christmas dinner is cooking now. The only fail? Tamales. For the first time in, well, forever, tamales are not on the menu. Apparently that's too 'ethnic' here in the Mouse-controlled hermetically sealed environment that is Orlando. But I did manage to find a Colombian bakery and we've got empanadas de carne on tap. The pan dulce con guava y queso got wolfed down before dinner.

It has been an amazing Christmas Day for us. We are surrounded by our three children an awesome son-in-law, and this one:
I love this picture. We took it this morning as we watched him take in all that is his first Christmas. The wrapping paper was more intriguing than the gifts themselves but no matter, the wonder in his eyes made our day. It was such fun to see him take it all in. Our Christmas celebrations are going to take on a different feel now that there is a grandchild! There is wonder in this day and we are blessed to see it through the eyes of a child once again.

Merry Christmas all!

23 December 2013

On Discovering

Our second day of Christmas vacation has been nothing short of perfect. I'll let this picture, taken earlier today by The Boy, sum it up:
When your 18 year old son, having spent the entire day with his sisters, parents, brother-in-law and nephew, declares it a perfect day, you know something has gone well. And it has.

Our first full day together was spent at Discovery Cove and it was fantastic. The weather was gorgeous. The park has expanded slightly and we've discovered a few things:

CAL still hates the very thought of a fish touching her so no snorkeling for her.
Brits love them a bad tattoo almost as much as their American cousins and Discovery Cove is like a living memorial to over-exposed, pasty, bad tat-covered, corpulent English skin.
The Awesomes had a fantastic time swimming with the dolphins.
The Baby Awesome loves a nap in the hammock.
And we've discovered how great it is to have our little family all together. Naw, that's not a new discovery. We already knew that and have been anticipating this reunion anxiously. The stunningly patient and mighty fine SML summed it up nicely in the caption to this Instagram, posted earlier today:
With zero apologies to Peaches and Herb for snatching a lyric from one of their songs, I echo the sentiments. This reunion - it feels great. 

If we discover or experience not one other new thing this week, this trip has already been worth it. As I fall asleep tonight, I will, rather than counting sheep, be counting my blessings.

21 December 2013

A Christmas Letter

Merry Christmas 2013
Dear friends, family and anonymous blog readers (but preferably not the creepy blog traffic troller-bots who stalk the Den regularly),

It's been six long years since we've sent a formal Christmas letter along with the standard photo card. There are a host of reasons for the lack of said letter. Surely one of those reasons is my poor time management (seriously, it's not like Christmas is a sneaky surprise every year), but more than anything I blame social media and the interweb. It has changed the Christmas letter forever.

Before the explosion of social media, the Christmas letter was a way, and in some cases a not so subtle way, to brag about your family, I mean let people know what happened to your family during the year. The interweb is chock full of the more horrific examples of these letters and I suspect you've held on to some of the better ones you've gotten over the years. But now, in the interweb age, the Christmas letter is nearly dead. If you're tied into social media at all, your friends and family already know what happened to you during the year.

The residents, both full and part-time, of the Den are an example of this. Between us, we have:

With that presence, our lives are varying degrees of wide open. So you pretty much know what's happened to us this year, thus nullifying the biggest reason for a Christmas letter. In other words, no need to rehash the events of 2013 here.

I think the Christmas letter is nearly dead., another casualty of the internet age. In an absurd twist, as the traditional Christmas letter dies, traditional horrible brick-and-mortar retailer Kmart still, somehow, manages to survive. I don't get it.

I do want to take a bit of virtual ink though to say what an amazing year this has been here in the Den. We've grown (and I am not referring only to my unfortunate waist line and moobs) with the arrival of the Baby Awesome - being grandparents RULES! We've advanced further in school, with both CAL and The Boy getting ever closer to graduation from their respective schools. There have been challenges but we've learned from them. We've been happy. And happy is good.

Merry Christmas!

15 December 2013

Sunday's Sense of Snow

View from the deck of the Den
Thanks to our first big winter storm, Electra (please, please, please do not get me started on how stupendously lame it is that our nation is now naming its winter storms), we awoke to a significant layer of snow this morning. By significant, I mean several inches. Several inches that required shoveling.

So I was up early to begin the dig. As much as I may like to lament the snow, I do find a certain peace in it, especially right after a significant storm. There is a soothing stillness that permeates the air and there's a lightness about it as well. That stillness and lightness were perfect companions as I began to shovel. My thoughts were on the Sunday School lesson I would be teaching later in the morning and before I knew it, I was near the end of the driveway.

It was now time to get out the big guns (aka The Boy) as the plows had been through and created their usual dam of snow rage at the end of the driveway. I, being a middle-aged train wreck, needed the assistance of my son to break through the muck to finish up the work. The Boy joined me without complaining because he really is a good great kid and we were done in no time.

Church was a little under attended today. Apparently the snow was daunting and our ward is so large geographically that digging out posed a challenge for a lot of folks. The irony is that several of us dopes who made it are natives of California and Arizona and have no business adapting to this stuff. Anyway, as a result, we held just one meeting and we were sent home. The Boy and I headed out to dig out one elderly couple and when we got home, we helped a neighbor clear the end of his driveway.

A little snow, a little service. A good thing to do on a Sunday.

14 December 2013

Now and Then - The 30 Year Edition

As the year draws down, unbelievably, I find myself looking forward to 2014 and what it portends. It's going to be a big year for one of the residents of the Den. Of course, I speak of The Boy and the fact that he will graduate high school in June and then is on to bigger and better things. Things that are still TBD, but that's neither here nor there.

The Boy will graduate exactly 30 years after I graduated from high school. It hardly seems possible that it's been that long, but it's true. The Boy has had a great experience in two high schools, schools which could not be more opposite (e.g. his Chicago high school - nearly 4,000 students; his high school here in this little corner of Connecticutistan - nearly 500 ((not a typo)) students). One thing is the same though - the shenanigans that lead up to graduation. We just got through one of them - senior pictures.

Senior pictures today, or here in the Now, are a lot different than what they were 30 years ago. With the proliferation of digital photography, cheaper high-performance cameras, and an overabundance of people who fancy themselves professional photographers now, it's pretty easy to to score some really good photos without the classic dreaded Olan Mills (if you remember Olan Mills, who are still inexplicably in business, I know how old you are) experience. I'd say the experience today is far better. Here's the results for The Boy:
The Now
Senior pictures in the olden days, or the Then, were significantly different. In the summer before senior year commenced, you were mailed, yes mailed, a packet from the photographer your high school had sold their soul to, and you were given all manner of instructions for the upcoming personal photography session. Our designated photographer was Duke Photography, who to this day are still serving the tragic needs of Phoenix-area seniors. Who knew? Anyway, back in the day, they took three different types of photos:

  • The Yearbook Photo - in my case, we were supposed to be in coat and tie
  • The Casual Shot - we were encouraged to wear a favorite 'look' - mine involved a plaid Polo shirt and I'm fairly certain a heavy dose of Polo cologne just to bring the mood - don't hate. It was the 80's.
  • The Active Shot - we were encouraged to be photographed in our favorite hobby, activity or the like. I was a big water skier back then. I give you the result:

Where do I begin? Seriously. Words fail me. The shorts, and let's emphasize short here, well at least they were plaid. The shirt? Yeah, the tie dye effect was on purpose. I loved that shirt and it had a bleach tragedy, but I continued to wear it. The helmet hair. Yikes. The 'Blue Steel' - Zoolander stare. At least I was ahead of my time there. On the bright side, I was as skinny as my ski. And believe it or not, I had a steady girlfriend at the time. No lie. I did. Who wouldn't have wanted that train wreck?

Suffice to say, times have changed. Mercifully. In looking at my children's senior pictures, they did way better then their dad. But then, the bar was pretty low. I'm glad it's been raised. The sick thing, though, is that I wish I still had that stupid shirt.

11 December 2013

Doldrums. The Winter Ones.

While the term 'doldrums' has a maritme meaning, in every day speech, it refers to listlessness, depression, and stagnation. Welcome to my world of late, my friends!

With our first real snow (meaning the stuff is sticking) and attendant chill, the Winter Doldrums are here. I'm thrilled. And by thrilled, I mean seriously not pleased. Most of it stems from the fact that we are going to have the whole family together for Christmas and that reunion can't get here fast enough.

Of course, the more the excitement builds for our holiday reunion, the busier I am getting at the office, which makes the break seem like a completely unattainable goal. That chasm then makes me, how do I put this, irritable in a big way. Suffice to say, it ain't no way to live.

So, it's time to find a way to snap out of this and get myself set for all the festivities ahead. I'm taking suggestions.

08 December 2013

Newlywed Gaming

Are you familiar with "The Newlywed Game"? If you aren't, congratulations and stop reading if you don't want a brief primer on it.

Said TV game show had its broadcast premier far too long ago (the same year I was born) and allowed viewers to watch 'newly' married couples drown in cheesy double entendres, incorrect answers to bad predictions, and the heinous euphemism 'making whoopee.' The host of the show liked to use that phrase a little too much, pushing him into that creepy uncle stage that not one of us likes, but I digress.

Why the primer? Because we played a version of it last night. It was on the occasion of a Christmas progressive dinner with a group of friends that culminated with dessert, a white elephant gift exchange, and a version of the aforementioned game. Dinner was great (my prime rib was delightfully rare) as was the company. It was a fun evening but I'm always a bit ambivalent about the versions of this game that get played at things like this. Just as things unfolded on the show, very often it leads to recriminations and some unpleasantness between at least one of the couples in attendance. For whatever reason, playing versions of this game has been pretty popular amongst our friends, no matter where we've lived. Over the years, I've seen some couples walk away plenty pissed after playing the game. Not that anything like that happened last night, even with my well-documented ability to say something inappropriate.

Actually, last night the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I were nicely tuned to one another's answers. That made getting through the game a whole lot easier. The fact that it was late, and by late I mean after 11PM (laugh at the hour being perceived as late, but I'm middle-aged), and I was tired probably minimized the risk of me saying something that would go horribly wrong. We are just shy of our 25th wedding anniversary (19 days and counting), so you'd think we'd be pretty good at knowing one another at this point. I'd say we are and I'm sure glad about that. Like I said, it made for a much easier night last night. I'll say this though if last night had been like the show, at least we'd have walked away with a nice consolation prize, like a year's supply of laundry detergent, instead of the creeptastic mother and child figurine that we got from the white elephant extravaganza. Just saying...

07 December 2013

First World Problems - A Perspective

It's been a week of First World Problems. For those of you who are unaware of the nature of these tragic incidents, well, you then are a well-adjusted person with perspective. Then there's the rest of us. Here's a sample of my run-in with First World Problems this past week:

  • Tragic Incident #1: I had to go into New York City Sunday night on the busiest travel day of the year. Amtrak was packed, as in standing room only packed, and the free Wi-Fi was not working for the entire three hour trip.
  • Tragic Incident #2: On Tuesday, I had a six-hour westbound transcon nonstop on Mother United on an ancient sub-United 757 that was NOT equipped with Wi-Fi
  • Tragic Incident #3: My room at the Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey had an awesome view but I was in a conference room for 12 hours and I could not enjoy said view.
  • Tragic Incident #4: See Tragic Incident #2 but on Wednesday, it was reversed - now it was the eastbound flight
  • Tragic Incident #5: Last night, after an evening of taking care of some Christmas shopping, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I decided to stop at our local purveyor of craptastic donuts, Dunkin Donuts, for a tasty, and mostly lethal, treat. There was not a donut, muffin, or that little death delivery system, the Munchkin, to be had. The staff had just thrown Every.Single.One out. Apparently, it was the end of their day. Two things - on what planet is the DD not open all day/all night with at least one homeless guy acting as door greeter? Um, that would be in our neck of Connecticutistan. Apparently that's not allowed here (Curse you, Martha Stewart!). Two - DD, how about donating your excess crap? Surely there are plenty of agencies that could take your excess inventory for the needs they have in providing breakfast, etc. Just a thought....
Such is the nature of First World Problems. They are ridiculous. And I hope you've picked up on my sense of sarcasm/snark. If you haven't, oh dear...There are much more pressing and real issues in this world than the lack of free wi-fi and donuts, like the loss of a hero of freedom and hope.

Nelson Mandela died earlier this week. His impact on the world is immeasurable, as it affected nations, policies, and people, from the highest of leaders to the impoverished slum dweller. I know he changed my world view and I am grateful for that. There is so much more to this life than our silly First World Problems. We can, each one of us, make a difference in this world. I love what Mr. Mandela said here:
Thank you, Mr. Mandela.

29 November 2013

Black Friday

Black Friday. Is there a worse day on the planet? Not if you are trying to make a living in the retail sector in the United States there isn't. Seriously. It's a horror story. On what other day are people routinely shot, assaulted and trampled in an attempt to get more stuff? Anyone? Aside from looting associated with super fun things like riots and natural disasters, nothing else comes to mind. But every year, like lemmings, we Americans flock to the opportunity to assault one of our fellow citizens so that we can save a few bucks on a craptastic item that we genuinely do not need.

I say we, because the Boy and I entered the scrum that is the mall in pursuit of an item for the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML. Bargain hunting was not our goal, but clearly upon arrival at the 7th Ring Of Hell, I mean mall, our goal became survival, nothing more, nothing less. With the laser-like focus of a Navy Seal in pursuit of Osama, we were determined to get what we need and to get out alive. I am pleased to report that we met our objective - survival and a gift in hand.

Truth be told, now that we're home, I'm a little disappointed in myself for going out into the melee today. Call it 'Survivor's Guilt,' but I could have waited a day or two or more to do the shopping that I did today. I don't think the store in which we made our purchase will boost its profits one single cent as a result of our purchase. They won't. And I don't think the sales associate is going to get a bonus because of our purchase either, although they should get hazard pay for working this day.

Do I think our national obsession with this day is going to fade anytime soon? Nope. There's too much cash to burn. Would it be nice to see stores stay closed all day long on Thanksgiving? Yes. Will they ? Nope. Ours is a country that seems to thrive on the possibility of saving even one dollar in the pursuit of something. No matter what that something is.

24 November 2013

On my 747th post

This entry marks my 747th post. As a certified airline / airplane geek, I could not let this occasion pass without mention of my favorite airplane, the Boeing 747. I'll warn you now, my geek flag is going to be flying high so bow out now, if you feel so inclined.

I won't bore you too much, but some things to know about the 747:

  • In the 1960's, Boeing essentially bet the entire company on the development of the 747
  • The late, great Pan American World Airways was the first to order the 747 in April 1966 (not too long before I was born)
  • The first 747 rolled out of the factory in September 1968 and flew for the first time in February 1969
  • Her first commercial flight was in January 1970 from JFK to London. In a none-too-auspicious start, the flight was delayed due to a mechanical. Given that it was an inaugural, the passengers didn't seem to mind as they were mostly half in the bag, thanks to the copious amounts of champagne Pan Am was serving while still on the ground.
  • There have been multiple versions of the airplane, culminating with the latest version the 747-8.
  • The airplane is a renowned symbol of the United States, as it serves as 'Air Force One,' flying the President around the world.
My first flight on a 747 was on a United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Honolulu in my early teens. My first trip to Europe was on a Pan Am 747. My most recent flight on board a 747 was just last year on Korean Air flight from Seoul to Shanghai. I've flown on multiple versions of it and each time I fly her, I am in awe of the fact that the airplane, given its size, manages to take to the skies. She is an amazing aircraft and truly deserves the moniker 'Queen of the Skies.'
Rollout of the 1st 747
What flying in Theater of Cruelty / Coach class used to be like on a 747...seriously

There was a piano back there too...in Coach
And this was life on the upper deck...once upon a time
Gracing the skies today - the 747-8
So to British Airways, Japan Air Lines, Korean Air, Lufthansa, Northwest Airlines, Pan American World Airways (sniff!), and United Airlines, thanks for the memories on each of the types of the great Boeing 747 that I flew as one of your passengers. I'm not done with this airplane yet though. I still need to fly the 747-8 and I will. I'm too much of a committed airline dork to NOT do it.

And one last little known fact...the 747 can take a hit from a small plane, taking out the cockpit crew, and be flown by the lead flight attendant, who does so without getting a hair out of place while the plane barrels through the sky at 400 miles an hour with a gaping hole in the side. No lie...it was all chronicled in one of the most craptastic movies of all times: Airport 1975.

Look for it on your local purveyor of crappy movies - your local cable / satellite provider. It's worth the price of watching just to see the cavalcade of B-listers scream their way through this one. Enjoy!

23 November 2013

Simple things

For whatever reason, we tend to make our lives far more complicated than is necessary (e.g. the government's health insurance website). In doing so, we add layers of complexity that wind up distracting us from the simple things that matter most, like spending time with those closest to us.

I had a near-miss with one of those simple things today. I'd spent (to be clear, by 'spent' I mean paid for after sitting in the waiting room of the garage) a bit of my morning with my BFF/local car mechanic on winterizing the Taurus and delivering some odds and ends to a lady the Boy and I home teach when I got a text from the Boy asking if I could take him to lunch before he worked his afternoon shift at the Old Gravy. Thinking he wanted me to take him to lunch because we didn't take him to dinner the night before (um, it was date night for his mother and me and he was working), I was a little reluctant, but the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML gently said, 'Maybe you should just go and enjoy some father and son time.' Brethren, if you haven't learned already, hear me and learn this now:

A woman's intuition is a powerful thing. Heed it.

The Boy and I had less than 30 minutes for lunch. It was enough for a good burger and even better conversation. The content of the discussion does not matter. It was simple, but powerful. I continue to be awed by the depth of understanding the Boy is gaining as he matures. He's beginning to understand the place he can have in this world and what it may take to secure that place. He's recognizing so many things and I am so humbled that he feels he can talk to his mother and me. It terrifies me, as it did and still does with my daughters, that I am going to give them insufficient, or worse, wrong guidance. I strive to keep it simple. Out of simple things comes great things, right?

To date, during this Thanksgiving month, I've avoided formal declarations of gratitude, but today, I am thankful for simple things, for...by small and simple things are great things brought to pass. I am grateful for the intuition of an amazing wife. I am grateful for a good conversation with the Boy today. I am thankful. 

16 November 2013

What happens in Vegas

As the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I prepare to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary at the end of next month, we've heard the siren call of nostalgia and it's led us to a dusty box of bulky VHS video tapes. Those tapes documented  the highlights of the early years of our marriage and what we did with Our Lady of Awesome, CAL, and The Boy. One of the videos we watched captured a family trip that included a stopover in Las Vegas.

That's right a family trip to Las Vegas. In the mid 90's, Las Vegas was being buffeted by a really bad economy and some marketing genius decided that the way to capture back tourists was to promote Las Vegas as a family-friendly destination. Suffice to say, it was a failure with a capital "F." The castles of the Excalibur were a low-rent substitute for the castle owned by a Mouse (I dare not mention them by name for fear of severe repercussions). The New York New York was not even a good fake of the real thing and the rides at Sewer Sewer Circus Circus were straight out of a bankrupt traveling carnival (for fun, ask CAL about riding one of the rides there ~ she's emotionally scarred to this day). Still, that didn't stop us from stopping in the city for a couple of nights on our way to Zion's National Park.

On the second morning of our stay, the mighty fine SML and our friend that was traveling with us had gotten up very early to go to the LDS Temple in Las Vegas. Since the kids were all under seven, we couldn't leave them alone (well, it was Vegas, so we probably could have...), I stayed in bed. We had two connecting rooms and the girls were in the other room and I had the Boy with me. I heard the door to our room swing open, but I hadn't heard the key clunk like you do in hotels, which seemed odd. Being blind as a bat without my contacts in or glasses on and from the bed, I couldn't see the door anyway, I thought the mighty fine SML had come back for something. Turns out not so much. There was the sound of someone scraping against the wall, which seemed odd, so I put on my glasses as the room filled with the smell of, well, a rough night in one too many bars. Suffice to say, it was not my wife. It was some guy. Some drunk guy. He continued his path into the room and saw my clothes from the day before slung over a chair. He got to the chair and started to pull off his shirt. At this point, I jumped from the bed and said, 'Dude, you're in the wrong room.' This phased him not a whit. He then picked up my pants and it was at this point, I took him by the shoulders and said again, 'Dude,seriously, you are in the wrong room!' The girls were up at this point, and staring wide-eyed in disbelief from the adjacent room. Still holding our new drunken friend by the shoulders, I led him out of the room and into the hallway, where he continued bouncing from wall to wall, like a blip in a Pong game, towards the other side of the hotel.

As I closed the door, I made sure it was locked, calmed down my freaked out daughters, and rang the hotel's crack security team. Given all the other shenanigans that they deal with, I'm quite certain my tale of a drunk coming into our room and trying to put on my pants was, well, mild. They were non-plussed by my story. It didn't take long to surmise what happened. He was looking for his room, and not knowing what room, let alone what floor he was on, he was just bouncing into doors, seeing which one would open. We figure that when the mighty fine SML and our friend had left that morning, they thought they had pulled the heavy door shut, but hadn't, hence the surprise visit. No harm, no foul, right?

Moral of the story - always make sure your hotel room is really closed and don't leave your clothes out for the random drunk to try on. All you need is for said drunk to get upset when he realizes you don't have anything in his size.

11 November 2013

On Veteran's Day

Today is Veterans Day, a day set aside to honor all those who served in the armed forces on our nation's behalf. To each of them, I say a heartfelt thank you.
Thank you

Thank you
Inscription at the World War II Memorial
According to a report I heard on NPR this afternoon, each day 600 more World War II veterans die. As noted in the inscription above, we do have a solemn obligation to them, as well as every other veteran and active military person. We owe them our freedom, we owe them our highest regard. We owe them our thanks.

Go watch "Band of Brothers" or "Taking Chance." Read "Final Salute" by Jim Sheeler. Thank that active duty soldier you see this week. Pay for his or her meal. Tell them thank you.

10 November 2013

Inside Voice

Wise counsel
If you've spent any time here in the Den, or any time with me for that matter, you know that it is my wont to to say what's on my mind, because apparently I'm opinionated. I may say something that you know every one else is thinking, but just won't say it. This annoyance quirk was particularly vexing to my late father. He used words beautifully and with great effect and he had a wonderful talent to measure what he said. Suffice to say, this is a trait that I did not get from him.

Admittedly, I have worked on this (no, really, I have) and I think I'm far better at measuring what I say than I was when I was, for instance, a teenager. For those of you who knew me then, once again, I'm sorry. Seriously.

That said, even today, there are times when I like to think I'm saying something using my inside, or inner, voice, rather than my outside voice. Far too often, I may have thought I was using my inside voice, when in fact I've used that pesky outside voice. You know that feeling, or maybe you don't (and if you don't, good for you), when you realize you just said OUT LOUD what you were thinking. That very scenario played out for me today in our adult Sunday School class. A comment was made about the NSA already knowing everything we were doing and out of nowhere I made a comment that 1) I don't even remember specifically now and B) I thought I was using my inside voice about the Church and the NSA. Based on the immediate groans, shaking heads and fairly robust nervous laughter around me from the class, it was clear I'd used my outside voice. And that's what I essentially said as a follow up, "Wait...did I use my outside voice?" Yes, yes I did. Ouch. A member of the class afterwards said to me I could have said much worse. She had a point, but then again she and I share the same feelings (none of which are good) about Fox News and its ilk. See, there I go again.

Clearly, I've got a way to go as I make my way through this learning we call life. I'm just grateful, eternally so, that each day each one of us is presented with an opportunity to try again. Each day is an opportunity to be better than the day before. There is so much comfort in that knowledge for me. I'll take every day I can get to strive to be a better person because I'm going to need them.

05 November 2013

"Go see if the temp is dead."

Earlier today at work there was a minor kerfuffle in the women's restroom. The restrooms have shower rooms attached and one of my co-workers grew panicky after the showers been running for a couple of hours. She was convinced someone had died in there but refused to check for fear someone really was dead. Turns out no one was dead. It was just someone who felt compelled to leave all the showers running.

This reminded me of another work incident involving the restroom. Several years ago, while working in the greatest city in America, Chicago, I was in an office whose facilities were, well, less than desirable. The bathrooms were hideous. I've been in Port Authority cans that were more appealing than what we faced each and every work day. And you'd be disturbed, even repulsed, by what went on in there in addition to the normal things...like washing lettuce for salads, haircuts, and warming slow cookers. And sleeping off benders. Wait...what?

I was at my desk one afternoon when one of my colleagues burst into to my luxurious and semi-private cube and tersely intoned, "Dude, go see if the temp is dead!" He told me he'd just left the men's room and he was insistent that our mail room temp who was in the bathroom was dead. I was the only other male manager and he was adamant that I go see if said temp was dead. Hesitantly I made my way to a place that could normally be described as a crime scene to see if it now actually was one.

I walked in and could hear the muffled sounds of rap music coming from the handicapped stall. I'd been told that's where the temp could be found. The door to the stall was slightly ajar and with more than a little trepidation, I pushed it open. What greeted me haunts me even today. There he was - our temp, sitting on the 'throne,' pants around his ankles, splayed out for the world to see, with the sounds of gangsta' rap oozing from his earbuds. He was out cold. The very soft snoring was proof enough for me that he wasn't dead. With more than a little relief, I left Sleeping Beauty on his perch and backed out of his 'sanctuary.'

I'm not sure when he came to but he did. He repeated this napping activity a few days later and he was then invited to find work elsewhere. I'm not sure what became of him but I can only hope he found a better place to rest. I give him props for taking the word 'restroom' literally. Also, I've never been more disturbed in all my life. Thanks, temp.

03 November 2013


despair.com nails it every time
Fall is a beautiful time of year but it is not without its dangers. The biggest is that Fall is the gateway to the trifecta of American consumerism - Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmukahwanzaa (that's Christmas, Hannukah, and Kwanzaa, for the uninitiated). These three events are responsible for more drama than just one afternoon with the Skanks of the Apocalypse, the Family (and I use that word loosely) Kardashian.

There are lots of reasons for all the drama and much of that comes from the traditions associated with these big events. At their core, traditions are not a bad thing, as they are something, whether a belief, custom, or practice, that are handed down generation to generation. Unless your family tradition is to re-enact the marriage ceremony between Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley at family reunions or wearing matching 'heartwarming' holiday sweaters as a couple to the family holiday party is seen as awesome, I'm not going to quibble with your traditions. Probably.

With Halloween just passed, I've been giving the traditions in our family some thought. Both of my daughters, Our Lady of Awesome and CAL, honored their mother, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML, by invoking some of the traditions they grew up. Like many other families, Halloween for us meant a big pot of chili, cornbread, and some kind of pumpkin goodness for dessert. This year, thousands of miles away from us, both girls did their version of our family tradition. The Awesomes had family over and enjoyed white bean chili. CAL cooked up chili, cornbread, and pumpkin dessert for her roommates and friends. It was, dare I say it, touching to see my girls, grown up and living their lives, calling on the traditions they had grown up with and rolling them out in their lives. Chili and cornbread on Halloween is a simple thing and a tradition in our house, but aren't the life's greatest pleasures the simplest ones?

Yeah, give me the simple traditions and simple things of life, please. I'm looking forward to watching how our traditions play out as our children continue to make life their own.

30 October 2013


A plethora of choices
Long ago in a time seemingly forgotten, there was a thing called daytime television, wherein one saw all sorts of amazing things, like game shows. Games shows like "Password," "Match Game," "The Hollywood Squares," "Jokers Wild," and "Let's Make A Deal" ruled the channels. Of course, in those days, if you were lucky you got three channels, maybe five. These were dark times.

I've been thinking about a certain aspect of "Let's Make A Deal" of late because of the paradox of choice with which the costume-adorned contestants were presented. Three big doors and all that stood between the winner and the prize was Carol Merrill and the paradox of which door to choose. Behind one, maybe two doors, could be something awesome, or something craptastic. You never knew, you just had to choose. If only there was something great behind every door...

Right now, choices and what results from them are top of mind. The Boy is eighteen. He is in his senior year of high school. The application for his university (Rise and Shout!) of choice is open for completion. Thanks to a change in age requirement, he will be eligible to serve a mission for our Church as soon as he graduates from school in June. He's got big choices ahead of them and none of them are bad. Starting school, getting some time away from home is not a bad thing at all. Jumping right into his missionary service isn't a bad thing either. He's got the paradox of which door to choose. All are good choices..which is better? Or which is best?

It's been exciting to watch him work through these choices, which isn't to say he's made up his mind. He hasn't and he doesn't have to right now. He continues to demonstrate a growing maturity as he talks through his options and as he seeks guidance. The Boy is a young man of faith and that is helping to guide his decisions. He's included his mom and me in his thought process and that's been humbling and sweet. I am confident that he will choose the best path.

Dallin H. Oaks said, "Desires dictate our priorities, priorities shape our choices, and choices determine our actions." The Boy has his priorities right, so the choices and actions will follow. It's going to be fun and, admittedly, a bit of melancholy over the course of the next few months as I document his path here in the Den. This is it, our last one, preparing to take his leave of the Den. It's going to be interesting preparing ourselves for this next phase of our lives as we help prepare him for his. I wonder, Carol Merrill, what's behind the big door for the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and me?

Stay tuned...

27 October 2013

A gift from 28 years ago that keeps giving

La Bandera de Cuba

A few things Cubano

Celia Cruz

As I've noted previously here in the Den, I was able to serve a mission for my Church when I was 19 years old. I served in most of my mission in Miami, Florida and to say it was one of the richest experiences of my life would be something of an understatement. Although I may not have recognized it during some of the more challenging days of those two years, I have since recognized what a tremendous gift I was given. I was given experiences that helped to form my character, for the better mind you. I felt things that anchored me spiritually for the better. I worked with and among amazing people. And I learned a language, espanol, that has opened more doors of opportunity than I can count.

Since Miami is the cross-roads of all things Latin American, my mission afforded me the opportunity to work with people from every Spanish-speaking country. My first area, Hialeah, was all kinds of Cuban, and it was there where I fell in love with the Cuban people, culture, and their unique version of Spanish. On my first night in my first area, my companion and I had dinner with a Cuban family where I was introduced to black beans and rice ('moros y cristianos'), tostones, full-throated yelling to simply ask for something more to drink, and a language that was nothing like what I'd been learning for the previous two months. R's had become L's and T's seemed to be a nothing more than a suggestion. My head was spinning at the cacophony that crazy, chaotic night, but little did I realize that I was falling for a people and their language. In short order, the Cuban accent and dialect became my go to as I served in areas loaded with Spanish speakers from countries other than Cuba. I was not a perfect speaker of the language but I embraced the gift I'd been given.

After my mission, I had opportunities to use that gift in my work on many occasions. I never envisioned that I would be giving HR guidance to directors from across Latin America in Spanish, but years after my mission, there I was in Mexico City doing that very thing. I never thought I'd be helping a lost Peruvian family with directions but there I was at Tokyo Narita Airport rattling off directions in Spanish to get them to their next flight. And I never expected to hear what I heard last week while I was in Barcelona, Spain, where I was facilitating a small group session at a conference. The conference was being presented in English but I decided to do a brief part of my session in Spanish. After I broke back to English, one of the participants, a woman from Madrid leaned over to me and in Spanish asked me what part of Cuba I was from. In an instant I didn't know if I would burst into tears or take her up in a grateful bear hug. She told me her father was Cuban and my accent was distinctly Cuban. I was thrilled by this, amazed that 28 years after learning her language, I still had a semblance of it rattling around in my head.

It was humbling too. I know this was a gift that I'd been given by a loving Father who knew what a 19 year old kid needed all those years ago. I needed those two years in the mission field more than the mission field needed me. I needed to struggle to learn a language. I needed to struggle with who I was and grow firm in what I believed. I needed all that I experienced for those two years. I am grateful for each and every day of it. I am still in awe that it's still paying off, even after all these years.

19 October 2013

I know what I have to do

Reason #347 why treadmills blow...
Typically after an annual molestation physical, there is some kind of medical blow back, either good or bad. My experience earlier this week was no different and the blow back, or medical guidance, I got was no surprise. The exact diagnosis alludes me at the moment, but let me put it in layman's terms: I am big-boned, straining the laws of physics in those pants, fat. Again.

This does not come as a surprise. I could not look my physician in faux abject horror when the diagnosis was pronounced. I went in knowing that I'd gotten lazy and the wages of that laziness are amply on display. I've done this to myself. I got lazy and allowed old bad habits to creep back in. I won't even call myself a runner anymore in order to not shame that awesome group.

Now before we go any further, I do have one huge bone to pick with the BMI calculation gods. According to it, based on my data, I should currently be doing all my clothes shopping at Wahid's House of Big Boy Caftans. So I entered my measurements when I was at my peak running condition (28 pounds less than what I am now and running 20 plus miles a week) and I was still on the chubby side, per the BMI calc. For giggles, I entered my weight when I got married, and it turns out that number is what puts me in the optimal condition for the BMI. Um, at that weight, I looked like I had just checked out of a forced stay at the Hanoi Hilton, and with my shirt off, you could count every rib. No thank you.

Anyway, I know what I have to do. I miss running. So I'm starting back, just like I did nearly five years ago, when I said, 'No mas,' and I changed my diet and started running and kept at it for three years. I'm back on the dreadmill treadmill. I know what I have to do. I have to start over and relearn the lessons from those days. I remember how it felt, which was good. And I want that back.

Why am I going public with this? Is it to feed, so to speak, my need to overshare? Nope. It's about making me accountable. It was either this or post a picture of myself sans a shirt to really get me motivated. You can thank me in whatever manner you think appropriate for not posting said terrifying image.

So keep me honest, people, keep me on track. Or on any of the myriad running trails around here.

15 October 2013

The Paper Gown Epiphany

It wasn't working for me either
Yesterday brought me that highly dreaded responsible day known as the annual molestation physical. I wish I could say a good time was had by all, but I can't. It was a physical, after all. In short, I was weighed, measured, palpitated, and poked. I got wired up like an Alabama double-wide stealing cable for my EKG. Sadly, I lost some chest hair (the gray ones, which are waging a winning war on me, managed to avoid removal, thank you) in the removal of those leads. I turned, I coughed, and I was prodded. I've been sorely tempted to yell out something like, 'Do your worst! I'll never tell you where Osama is!' during the prodding portion of the physical but decorum has always gotten the better of me.

Decorum is a funny thing when you are dressed in a skimpy and highly not stylish paper gown, meeting your physician for the first time. As I sat on the exam table in a yellow room that had a weird nuclear haze glow to it, thanks to the sunlight pouring through the window, covered in that over-sized piece of blue construction paper, I had my epiphany. I couldn't help but see the genius in the awkwardness. I would shortly be asked a series of highly personal questions by someone I had never met before and being so (literally) exposed, why would I try and lie hide anything in my answers? I couldn't think of a thing. It made for a lively conversation, as my new doctor and I discussed my health, life in Connecticutistan, and why, as a Mormon, I only had three children. Seriously. That seemed to bother him more than the sight of me in that paper gown.

I'm not sure what took this long to have that epiphany. It's not like this was my first time at the annual physical rodeo. But the epiphany led to a really good discussion with a medical professional about (my) health. Good open discussions are a healthy thing. This does not mean that I'm advocating that they be done in a well-ventilated paper gown, but hey, maybe I'm onto something here. Maybe it's a new business management application. Difficult conversation with an employee? Toss on a medical paper gown and let the discussion fly!

I need to get to work on this...

12 October 2013


With my mother-in-law and The Chief Pilot in town, we've had an opportunity to see a bit more of this corner of New England that we are calling home. They came up to do some peeping, leaf peeping, that is. Turns out leaf peeping is a thing (read here to see what the source of all things true on the interwebs has to say about it).

Leaf peepers got real for me earlier in the week when I encountered a tour bus full of them, over from Europe.I was at a hotel on the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border for a meeting and it was there where the Euro-peepers had holed up for the night. I watched them lead an assault on a hotel breakfast buffet that made the Battle of the Bulge look like a playground quarrel. These people laid waste to the bacon spread in a way that was equal parts inspiring and terrifying. As I noted on Facebook as I witnessed the assault, had this manner of bravado been on display in the early days of World War II, the Nazis would not have stood a chance. But I suppose these people needed to fortify themselves for their frolic in the foliage.

Inspired by those Euro-peepers, I joined my in-laws and the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML for their last day of peeping today. Having motored through different parts of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticutistan in the last couple of days, I can now say that this place is the most beautiful of all the places we've lived. It really has been spectacular to take in the explosion of color and diversity of landscape. It reminds me a bit of a hymn that truly works my last nerve, 'For The Beauty of the Earth.' This world really is a beautiful one. It really is a gift. Here's a couple of things we saw today:

NOT in Madison County!
It's been a good day of taking in the beauty around us. It's funny how we let our 'busy' get in the way and how we can miss some pretty spectacular things. I'm glad I got to take a time out today to take a bit of it in.

06 October 2013

Words of Wisdom

It's the morning of second day of the semi-annual Mormon version of the Hajj (OK, admittedly, that may be stretching the range a bit on comparisons) known as General Conference. In all things Mormon, it's kind of a big deal. It's a total of ten hours of guidance, instruction, learning, and reflection. And gorging. There, I said it. Yes, gorging. Wait...why? Because, thanks to the modern miracle of satellite TV and the purveyor of all things true, the interweb, we take Conference in at home, with a veritable buffet set up the entire time. It makes for a good time.

The three sessions I've attended so far have been rewarding and instructive and well-worth the time we've dedicated to being a part of the conferences. Indulge me as I share a few of the take-aways:
  • The past is to be learned from, not lived in. Faith is always pointing towards the future.
  • Blessings are often subtle, observable only to the humble and attentive.
  • Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.
  • We all need each other.
  • Meekness is not weakness.
On their own, some of these statements may seem simple, even trite. To me, they are neither. Each represent an opportunity for me to learn, improve, or apply. There's still two more sessions today from which I expect to add more opportunities to improve and grow. The challenge for me is to now go out and apply what I've learned. Consider the gauntlet thrown down!

04 October 2013

Nine Holes

My Waterloo
Golf has never been my sport. I played a bit in college and I even got a set of clubs for college graduation. I should have known that the game was going to be a challenge for me when I was teaching at the MTC while at BYU. Several other teachers from my district and I went out on our day off to play a round at Hobble Creek in Springville, UT. I was still a rudimentary golfer at best, but where I was not novice was my creative cursing in moments of frustration. Said talent was on Academy Award-winning display during this game. Probably not the best group to display an unbridled tongue. While this was not the last time I played golf, my teaching career at the MTC was over not long after that, but not because of the golfing debacle.

Anyway, I can probably count on two hands the number of times I've played a round or gone to a driving range since. Suffice to say, my skill set has not improved, although I have tried dilligently to bridle my tongue. Ironically, The Boy is a golfer. A good golfer. He loves the game. He gets the game. He has the patience, dedication, and drive to succeed in the game. By not playing, I've probably missed some good time with The Boy, but that has started to change.

Recently, I was challenged to participate in a golf tournament by one of suppliers at work. I had all intentions of saying no, but my boss said yes on my behalf. This has led to all manner of consternation for me but it has also opened the door to me picking up a really good golf instructor:

My Golf Sensei
Turns out The Boy is an amazing golf instructor. He has been spectacularly patient with me. He has been wise with his instruction. It has reminded me of how patient my Dad was when he was teaching people to water-ski. I don't know why I remember that specific example but it's what comes to mind. My Dad was enormously patient as he would show my friends how to water-ski. He explained things calmly, demonstrated how to do something time and again, and never lost his cool. The Boy has been the exact same way with me. It's a virtue that I somehow missed but The Boy seems to have gotten it in spades from his grandfather. And for that, I am grateful.

We played nine holes last night. I think it was the first time I've played a hole, let alone nine, in more than ten years. I'm sure The Boy wanted to ram a nine iron into my head more than once, like the third ball I lost into a water hazard. But if he did, he never showed it. Instead, he was a never-ending font of encouragement and enthusiasm. I think most of my shots would have elicited a cry of 'Oh the humanity!' had there been a commentator, but instead I felt like with each shot, I was being taught something by my son, The Boy.

The nine holes were a train wreck. It's a good thing the event I'm playing in on Monday is a 'scramble.' But it's an even better thing that those nine holes gave this middle-aged man a chance to learn from his son. I am looking forward to getting out there again with him. He's got a lot he can teach me and not just about golf. And I think there's still a thing or two I can share with him. And maybe I'll even improve my golf game along the way. Maybe.

28 September 2013

When you're 80

When you're 80, you get to take a lot of pills
A non-resident of the Den, but let's face it, without whom there would be no Den (so for those of you who find yourselves upset by the Den, blame said non-resident, not me), celebrated a significant milestone birthday yesterday. Indeed, my Mom celebrated her 80th birthday. This is no small feat (for some riveting reading on the aging population in America, read here). I mean, how many 80 year old people do you know? The fact is getting older is not for the weak and I am amazed at the strength of my 80 year old mother.

From what I've seen, when you're 80, you've got a lot of leeway on things. Here's some things I've observed:

  • When you're 80, you get to make wild pronouncements, like 'OK, this is the year I'm dying. So this will be my last (insert key event here).' Now my mother has made this pronouncement well in advance of said big birthday, but it's a specious argument in her case. She comes from a long line of stubborn people who manage to live into their 90's without vital organs. Now, they may give up some of the sanity along the way (early in our relationship, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML was accused of stealing my great-aunt's purse at a family reunion. That great-aunt was in her 90's at the time and her conversation with SML up to the accusation was muddled, since she thought SML was her dead husband. Said purse was in her lap the entire time), but like a good Timex, they keep on ticking.
  • When you're 80, you've got children who worry about you, your health, your inability to clear the voicemail messages on your cell phone, among other things. 
  • When you're 80, get honored. It's a big deal. You get surprised on that big birthday. You get discounts. You get good parking, especially if you have that boss parking pass hanging from your rearview window. You are pushed through airports regally, like the Queen of Sheba, and you get to board airplanes early without paying extra.
  • When you're 80, the girls in your family look to you as a trend-setter:
    Daughter, Daughter-in-Law, two granddaughters working that awesome Nana look!
  • When you're 80, you get to hold your first great grandchild. You have family, near and far. But it doesn't lessen the fact that you miss your husband of fifty years terribly. Every. Single. Day. He misses you too.
So 80 doesn't appear to be that bad of a gig. I'm so glad we were able to surprise my Mom a little early and be with her in advance of her big day. I hope if I make it to 80, I'm able to plug away at life the way she is now. I'm just glad she's who she is and that we were able to celebrate her 80th year. Like I said, no small feat, Mom. Well done!

21 September 2013


As is tradition here in the Den, I've made it a point to post about the birthdays that are important here and to do so on said birthday. I am a day late, but what follows is a recap of yesterday's birthday shenanigans. The celebrant? Me. So settle in, as this is a long one:

The quick back story on my 47th birthday involves my mother, who turns 80 next week. 80 is a big deal, right? A few weeks ago, my brother and sister and I were talking about an appropriate way to celebrate and they suggested we get together as siblings and surprise my mom. Knowing she would be out of town on her birthday, we decided to do it on my birthday, one week earlier. So plans were made, tickets were purchased and before we knew it, it was the morning of the 20th and the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I hightailed it out of Connecticutistan Friday morning, a mere eight hours after my inflight drama the night before. Speaking of that fun-filled flight, as we left the gate, I saw that plane on another tarmac, looking forlorn as it was clearly and rightfully out of service.

We got to the inferno that is Phoenix by 11AM (seriously, 104 degrees...it's September and there is no need for that kind of heat insanity) and due to Martha Stewart's apparent ban on Mexican food where we currently reside, we wasted no time in getting to Tia Rosa's, a Mexican place we frequented when we lived here. Those thin chips and green and red salsas were screaming our names. We must have looked like starving refugees to our fellow diners, given the ferocity with which we assaulted the chips. Anyway, we settled into our meal when this happened:

Holy Mother of Surprises!
Into the restaurant walked the Awesomes! As is now my wont, I began to cry like a little girl, and I admit that without shame, as I saw my daughter, my son-in-law, and my grandson. Suffice to say, a scene was made. They had chosen to come down from behind the Zion Curtain and surprise me for my birthday and it was amazing. The stunningly patient and mighty fine SML had pulled off yet another coup! How lucky am I?

As we wound down our meal, our waitress asked if we needed anything else and I asked for the check. She said it had been taken care of. I immediately turned to my son-in-law, Awesome, to reprove him for buying the meal (he'd slipped out for a second as we were eating). It wasn't him. The waitress told us that the man at the the table behind us had bought our meal. We were, to quote my Brit friends, gobsmacked. We went to his table and thanked him. He and his wife were so kind, just said they wanted to do it. He even got to hold Benson, who let down his current 'stranger danger' freak out mode, for just a moment. As we thanked them, we promised to pay it forward.

It was then time to move on to the real reason for our visit, surprising my mom. My brother had told her that he and his wife would be picking her up at 4:00PM to go to dinner. Much like Florida, dining early is totally normal in AZ, with its 'older' population. So we get to her house, and she doesn't answer the door. Repeated bell ringing and door knocking, and nothing. So I call her, and I've clearly woken her up, and tell her that there's a delivery company calling me saying that they are at her door with a package. She continued talking to me as she walked to her door. She opened the door, and it was priceless. Clearly, surprise #1 had been pulled off.

Once things settled down, we explained the next phase of the surprise, which was dinner with her children. She was truly taken aback by all of this. It was fun to listen to her say repeatedly as we drove to Scottsdale, 'I just can't believe this.' My brother had selected a great steak house, brought roses for her, and it was great to be together. The meal was well worth it and just seeing my mom take it all in was worth it all.

The birthday folks

Mom and her clan
During dinner, we revealed the next round of surprises for her, which is a get together today at her house with her children, grandchildren that are local, and now, thanks to the Awesomes', her great-grandchild. Pretty cool stuff.

Suffice to say, I think both my mom and I will say that birthday surprises are pretty good. No, they are amazing. I am more blessed than I deserve. Now, I need to go figure out how to pay it forward...

20 September 2013

It was bound to happen

When you fly as much as I do, strange things are bound to happen. However, in the last 48 hours, I have experienced two of the most surreal events in my flying experience. Buckle up, return your seat to its full upright position and read on:

Wednesday  - New York LaGuardia
I was third to board the flight to Atlanta and I made myself at home in my assigned seat, 3D. About 10 minutes later, a boarding passenger stops at my seat and says, 'Are you supposed to be in 3D?' To which I said yes I was. He then informs me so is he. Seat Dupe. Awesome. Experience has taught me to not move from my seat, so we flagged down a flight attendant. The flight attendant took his boarding pass and looked at mine on my iPhone, and he did a triple take. He said, 'You both have the same name, you know that, right?' Um...how would we know that, Copernicus? Turns out we had the same exact name and the same seat assignment. The flight attendants were incredulous and the gate agents looked perplexed. So ML2 made his way to Coach to wait it out while the agents did their thing. As usual, boarding was chaotic. I was asked two more times by different agents if I was who I said I was and then the door shut and we started to back away from the gate. I figured ML2 found a seat in Coach. And then a flight attendant ran up saying we had to stop since there was a passenger in the back with no seat assignment. Alas ML2 was sans a seat, so we taxied back in and a gate agent came aboard. I did not release my seat belt. I had no plans on leaving. A few short minutes later, ML2 was invited to disembark. But, he didn't leave empty-handed! I gave him three, count 'em, three free drink coupons. See, I'm a giver that way. That and the fact that I don't drink. 

How surreal it was to be looking at someone who shares your name! While an awkward circumstance, it was kind of funny. Surreal but funny. The next incident was decidedly not funny but even more surreal.

Thursday - Atlanta
I was flying back to Connecticutistan after a long, but rewarding, day of meetings. About 15 minutes after take off, I was ensconced in 3B, and was anticipating my ice cold Coke Zero, when el capitan's voice comes over the PA and announces there is a minor issue with the hydraulic system and that we would be returning to Atlanta, post-haste. A few groans from passengers, but what are you going to do?

Then things got interesting. I noticed all four flight attendants were huddled I the galley, reviewing their red plastic emergency evacuation checklists. Yep, things just got real.  A couple of them moved past me quickly, cards in hand to start preparations in the rear cabin. I then decided I needed to offer my help. I went up to the galley and said to the two flight attendants, 'Do you need some help?' Now, bear in mind, they've made no announcements yet, but they sensed I had something of a clue as to what foolishness was underway. I was told that there was a paraplegic in 4D and that they needed me and the guy in 4C to carry him to the exit and get him down the slide when we landed because, and I quote, "we don't want him to be trampled in the evacuation." Things got really real. The captain had announced we'd be circling to burn fuel to lighten us for our landing. I then got coached in what commands to listen for upon landing. They kept saying that they didn't know what was going to happen but that I should be ready for anything. We went back and talked to 4C and 4D and then they had me come back to the galley to review instructions again.

Just as they were going to begin the PA about the emergency instructions (bracing, etc), one of the flight attendants came up for the back, saying that we were too heavy to land in Atlanta safely and that we'd go on to Hartford. The captain came on and announced it had been deemed safe enough to soldier on. Really?! 

So soldier on we did. It was a very quiet 90 minutes. Landing was uneventful, although I held my breath, saying more than one prayer. The cabin broke into applause once we realized that whatever had ailed us took a long enough breather to let us land safely. Massive props to the flight attendants for their calm professionalism and to the pilots for doing their thing. 

So I've had some close calls in my years of flying. The last two days though have been surreal. But it was bound to happen at some point. I'm just glad the stewardess was NOT flying the plane!