31 March 2013

He Lives

It is Easter Sunday and that, my friends, is a pretty big deal in Christendom. I dare say that it's pretty much the biggest deal of them all. On this day, those who call themselves Christian, celebrate Christ's resurrection - His victory over death. It is a day of hope, celebration, and peace.

I am one who calls himself a Christian. My Christianity may not be the same as my neighbors, especially since we don't live behind the Zion Curtain (aka Utah) and that is fine. I know that our Savior lives. I know that He died for me. And not just for me. For all of us. And that brings me peace.

You know, the Den has never been an overtly religious blog. That was never my intent. It's been a place for me to overshare what's happening in my life and that of my family (whether they like it or not). It's been a place to tell stories and in the end, it's a reflection of who I am. In a thousand years, heck let's face it, in ten two years, it's not going to matter much what I put down here. I am just one voice in a sea of billions.

Yet on this most sacred of days, I am grateful for my friends of a multitude of creeds and for how they have enriched my life. I am a better man because of those different perspectives. I am appreciative that you've allowed me to share who I am through this space and that we've done so without malice. That says a great deal about the good people in my life.

So I hope that this day has been one of hope, celebration, and peace. I'll let this arrangement of my favorite hymn (btw - if this arrangement is not sung at my funeral, whenever that day comes, I will be most displeased), confirm what I know to be true about this day - that He is my Redeemer and that He lives!

30 March 2013


The five senses that we possess as human beings are pretty remarkable things. Each of them, standing alone, are capable of amazing things and then when you time them all together, they are capable of recreating entire episodes of your life's history, for better or worse.

For instance, whenever I taste fennel, I am transported instantly to a restaurant in the basement of a winery in Napa Valley, CA, where I had the most amazing cream of fennel soup in 1995. I can taste every bite of that soup as if I were there right now.

Now the sense of smell is a tricky one. Like taste, it plays an incredible role in things both wonderful and foul. That overflowing, fetid hole toilet in Kolkata - yeah, I can smell it to this day. Conversely, the smell of vanilla wafts in and I am a man transported to a very good place. Earlier today, I had one of those transporting experiences with the sense of smell. I had to run an errand for the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML. Said errand took me to Pier 1, a place I had not darkened in as long as I could remember. As soon as I opened the door and was overwhelmed by the tsunami of aromas blanketing the store, I was a child again. You see, my mother frequented the Pier 1. Apparently, it was a gold mine for the decorative crap items that were essential to the myriad parties / shindigs / Church activities she threw as I grew up. As I navigated the cluttered aisles, it was as if I was accompanying my mom all over again. The store, nearly 2,000 miles away from the ones I went to as a child, smelled exactly the same and that's not a good thing. I'll say this though, it made me accomplish the task I'd been assigned in record time. It was as if the store could smell my fear.

I'm home now and the house is filled with the smells of prepping for Easter dinner. The garlic coating the homemade croutons is incredibly comforting. No smell of fear here. Take that, memory-inducing, sense of smell!

29 March 2013

A Good Friday

Today is Good Friday, which, when you think about the actual significance of the day in Christendom, it can be hard to call it 'good.' It seems odd, at first, to know that the day celebrates Christ's crucifixion, but it had to happen if there was to be a resurrection and hope that we could all conquer death. So, as one who believes, it is a good day.

It has been a good day. Primarily because I've spent it with my family. Of late, it's been very important to me that I draw them close. Life has a way of reminding you what is of most value and I am reminded right now how priceless my family and the time that I get with them is. So being with them today has been good, very good.

We all go through storms in this life. We are here to be tested. As I muddle through one of those tests right now, I know that it's one of those tests that in the grand and eternal scheme of things won't matter but in this moment, it can be a bit overwhelming. I'm grateful for the support I get. I'm more blessed than I deserve.

As I think about that and think about the time I spent with those I love today, I say again, it's been a good Friday.

24 March 2013

Sunday School

Growing up, church attendance was never an optional thing. It was what you did and I've been going to Church weekly, and faithfully for the most part, for as long as I can remember.

I said for the most part because I found that there were times when my attendance at one part of the meeting block (yep, our services constitute a three-hour block, divided into three separate meetings) may not have been as faithful as it should have been. For example, once I got a drivers license, I may or may not along with my closest friend A., have used the Sunday School block to get to the McDonalds in McCormick Ranch for some sustenance. I may or may not have been part of a not so silent ring to see how quickly we could get teachers rotated in and out of our class. Once I was married and our kids were little, I may or may not have spent most of the Sunday School block in the hall with an antsy child. A child made antsy by his/her arrested adolescent father. Of course, these things are all alleged to have happened. Allegedly.

As if my life isn't proof enough that God has a sense of humor, my current service position in our local ward (parish equivalent) is more proof. I serve as the Sunday School president and I'm charged with insuring Sunday School works, that the Gospel is being taught, and that people are where they are supposed to be. Turns out it's been a pretty great experience. This year, the youth curriculum was essentially turned on its head (good-bye to the same stories of Marjean and LaVerle being tempted to miss their curfew that have been in heavy rotation since 1959) and our teachers have a monthly Gospel theme, some amazing resources, and with a major dose of faith, they teach.

We are about one quarter in to the new program and I did some training with our teachers after Church today. It was a pretty cool experience to listen to these faithful people talk about what they were doing to make a difference in the lives of the youth that they teach. There was a good exchange of ideas on improving the teaching experience and it was heartening, really heartening, to hear about the successes people are having.

As we wrapped up the meeting today and I looked at the good people in the room who are teaching our youth, I realized how lucky both the teacher and students are now. They are having great interactive discussions. They are growing together. I also realized I probably owe no fewer than six Sunday School teachers from my teen-age years an apology. I gotta go write some notes...

23 March 2013

On the Humor Highway

Let me begin by apologizing (on the off chance that one or two of you have missed more regular posts here in the Den) for my absence of late. In short, work has been beating me down like a drunken wife beater in an Alabama mobile home park. Suffice to say, it's not been pretty and it's left me precious little time to do anything else when I get home than wish for the sweet relief of death. I kid. I kid.

With that out of the way, one of the things that has been a distraction from all the work madness, besides some amazing talks about what really matters with the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML, has been laughter. With my Pandora tuned to a few comedy channels, I find myself laughing to and from work. I've been watching some things that are a lock on making me laugh and it's been quite therapeutic. Now, I'm the first to admit that my sense of humor is not for everyone but because my life, and I'll borrow a phrase from another blogger, is an open blog, I'll share a few of the things that have been taking me down the humor highway of late. Which, with my luck, will lead me into the abyss. Good times.

Mike Birbiglia - he's a storytelling genius
Jim Gaffigan - pretty much the best way to recover after vomiting profusely somewhere over Saudi Arabia  during a 14 hour flight is heading straight from the airport after you land to one his shows. I know this from unfortunate personal experience.
Brian Regan - he plays clean. My people, the Mormons, love him. After seeing him live in a club in craptastic Ontario, California, I can never, ever look at an ironing board in the same way.
Maria Bamford - some of you may remember her as the crazy Target lady in the Christmas commercials. She's so much more than that and she's very, very funny.
Cheeseboy - he teaches elementary school. Why couldn't I have had such a funny teacher? Follow him on Twitter @cheeseboy22

Some of the comedians noted above curse. You have been warned.

Movies (in no particular order, either, and this is just the tip of the iceberg)
Airplane - see the "Detroit" post from earlier this month
Dodgeball - c'mon, Justin Long get nailed by a wrench! That's comedy gold, people.
It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World - an homage to all things funny
Oh Brother, Where Are Thou? - this is brilliantly layered funny

Other Junk
Because it comes from YouTube, I can think of nothing better to call it what it is: junk. But this stuff slays me. Here we go:

The Stop Sign Kid

It's stupid. The laughing in the background kills me every single time.

Faceballs - Ridiculousness

Go to 0:56 and see why I am probably going to spend a long time in Hell for how much this makes me laugh out loud each every time I watch it.

Ain't Nobody Got Time Fo Dat

Sweet Brown is brilliant. She could read the Internal Revenue Service Tax Code and I'd be dying laughing. Particularly with the Auto-tuning. I can't get enough of this train wreck. What is wrong with me?

So that's it. I know. Just shake your head. I know. Something may be a little off with me. But I like me a good laugh and this stuff just keeps giving.

17 March 2013

Ho Hum

I don't think I've felt this blah, meh, ho hum in pretty much ever about a Sunday in for as long as I can remember. Right now, I feel like I'm pretty much the most frequent guest that the Ho Hum Motel has ever seen.

I can't put my finger on it. It's not like it's been a bad Sunday. It's been fine. And by fine, I don't use it in that terror-inducing way a wife uses it at, say, the end of a heated discussion. You hear 'fine,' and you if you have any hope of survival happiness, know it's anything but fine and that you make it better than fine post-haste.

Like I said, it's been a good day of getting religion and taking it easy. It's just been really, really ho hum. I need to make sure that this is not a harbinger of things to come. Ho hum does not agree with me and I try to be at least moderately self-aware. So I've got to take control on this one.

With the horror that is the Partridge Family singing "C'mon, get happy!" rattling around in my head, it is time to check out of the Ho Hum Motel, with a commitment never to return. Adieu, blahs, adieu.

16 March 2013

Driving ovesized

It ruled. Really.
One of the defining rites of passage for the American teenager is getting a drivers license. We've been through it four times now with our three children (thank you, Connecticutistan and the Dear Leaders who rule here for making the Boy start all over again behind the Nutmeg Curtain). Based on the number of the Boy's friends who don't have licenses, I'm wondering if the allure of a license is not nearly as strong as it was more than thirty years ago when I was pining to drive.

I could not WAIT to get behind the wheel and drive. When I was at the point where I could learn to drive, like any good LDS family, in spite of only having three children, we had a Chevrolet Suburban. This 1979 model was bright yellow (so it could match the boat it pulled since my mom's inclination to have theme for everything extended itself way beyond parties) and it sat nine in three benches that were much like the benches that we sat in at church. With its built-in 8-track tape player and metal tinting (yes, metal tinting, you could cut yourself on it), it was awesome.

It was as daunting as it was exciting the first time I got behind the wheel of that leviathan. Remember, puberty came late for me and I was tipping the scales at about 120 dorkish pounds, three of which included the weight of my excessively thick eyeglasses that turned dark in the sun in yet another misguided attempt at trying to be cool, so taking control of a few tons of American-made metal was terrifying. The steering wheel seemed like it belonged on the bridge of a cruise ship instead of my scrawny hands. This is pretty much what I was trying to control:
On the bridge of the U.S.S. Suburban
Once I started driving this land yacht, the terror morphed into exuberance as I realized I was commanding what was essentially a land-based aircraft carrier. I got pretty adept at parking it, or rather, I got adept at disregarding the lines in which one would normally park and learned to just park it where I felt appropriate. My buddies and I had fun taking it to the river. It was the preferred mode of transportation to Stake Dances. I was always amazed how a nine-passenger SUV could accommodate 14 or 15 people with ease. Those were good, good times.

That experience imbued in me a desire to always want to drive a bigger car/ SUV. I liked the irrational confidence it gave me as a new driver but practicality had to take center stage as grew up. I got close a few years ago when I had my 4Runner as my non-commuter car when we lived in SoCal. But today, when I parked the Yukon next to a non-descript Kia, I just smiled. I was 16 again there for a second thinking this big chunk of metal I'm driving could mow over that little car and no one would be the wiser. Fortunately, I'm arguably a whole lot wiser now, so I settled in, turned on the 80's station on the XM and thought about how fun it was to learn to drive in a land yacht. And that it ain't all bad driving a smaller version of one now, thirty plus years later.

10 March 2013

T-Boned to Tina Turner

The soundtrack of my best car wreck
T-Boned to Tina Turner. How's that for alliteration, my friends? Today, I'll tell you the tale of being behind the wheel, listening to Tina Turner, when my car was t-boned and totaled.

I tell you this story as I have found myself recalling the days just before I left on my mission. So many of our friends have children, sons and daughters, who are getting their calls right now. Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Moscow are just a few of the places where these kids will be serving. It's pretty cool. So they are now busily preparing for what lies ahead.

In July 1985, like them, I was preparing to leave on my mission. I was off to the exotic locale called the Florida Ft. Lauderdale Mission, where I would be speaking Spanish. I was working 'til right before I left. On that typically soul-crushingly hot Arizona afternoon, I was driving home from my shift at a retail store on Scottsdale's then-pseudo swanky Fifth Avenue (let's just say it ain't what it used to be), where I'd spent my morning listening to wealthy women grouse about the heat as they decided what imported piece of European handicraft they needed for their home. I was excited to get home. Since I only had a couple more weeks at home, it meant an afternoon in the pool.

Driving home in my beloved little Honda, I had a can of Pepsi nestled between my legs, and Tina Turner was belting it out from the cassette lodged in the after-market stereo that I was convinced made the Honda cool (I was horribly mistaken). Why was the Pepsi where it was? Um, because this was nearly 30 years ago, and cars did not have 97 cupholders. The particular Honda I had had exactly none. Besides, it was hot, wicked hot, and a strategically placed cold can of soda is an absolute miracle worker.

Anyway, I was less than a mile from home and Tina was at full tilt with, ironically, "Let's Stay Together," when I saw the west-bound convertible a few ticks ahead of my north-bound vehicle and I knew said convertible was going to blow the stop sign. The driver apparently thought it would be better to use my Civic as a stop sign and in a split second, I'd been t-boned on the passenger side.

The force of the accident knocked me out briefly. As I came to, thinking I was dead, I could still hear Tina going on about staying together and I thought, 'Holy Crap! How cool! Tina is the welcome music here.' Then I felt the liquid pouring down my head and as I began to move and the pain tsunami erupted, I knew I wasn't dead. The liquid? Yeah, that was the Pepsi that had exploded all over me. The pain? That would be the cracked collar bone, ribs, and spinal bend I'd enjoyed. I do recall getting out of the car and having the presence of mind of telling the lady who'd hit me that she'd picked the wrong person to hit (thank you, lawyer father). I was stupid enough to refuse medical help from the paramedics, which led to a very unfortunate pain-medication induced visit to a slew of doctors the next day.

The Honda was totaled. In the end, I was OK. The first couple of weeks of the MTC experience were interesting with pain meds. I still wonder though if Tina will be there to sing me in when my time comes. I could think of worse things.

09 March 2013

It's worse than Detroit

"It's worse than Detroit."
"Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking."
"I am serious. And don't call me Shirley."
"Joey, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?"
"Oh, it's a big pretty white plane with red stripes, curtains in the windows and wheels and it looks like a big Tylenol!"

Ah, quotes from the brilliance that is the movie "Airplane!" Since its release in 1980 (seriously, that is 33 years ago! I was a mere 14 years old. Yikes!), I have never tired of this movie. Every time I have seen it, I have laughed. It kills me every single time. To me, it is timeless comedy.

For whatever reason, the movie is in pretty heavy rotation on one of the movie channels right now. So I'm getting a chance to laugh a lot. Turns out though, it may not be as timeless as I thought, or hoped. The  few times the Boy has been with me while this treasure trove of comedy is on, he has just stared at it, without laughter. He has looked at me and said, 'Dad, it's just lame.' A dagger to my heart, people, a dagger to my heart. I can only surmise that he's completely dead inside. OK, maybe not completely dead, but how can he not laugh himself silly at this movie?

I had a chance to meet Leslie Nielsen, Dr. Rumack from the movie, several years ago in a Delta lounge at Tokyo Narita. We were on the same flight back to Los Angeles and he could not have been nicer. As I recall, I think I said something like 'Thanks for the laughs in Airplane' and he was very gracious in his response. A few years later, I attended the 25th anniversary release party of the movie on one of the studio lots in Burbank. It was a really fun night. Several members of the cast who hadn't died at that point attended and pretty much every one in attendance could quote the film in its entirety.

It's not often that you get to make connections like that with some silly movie that's made you laugh for three decades. I hate to say it, but they just don't make them like that anymore.

03 March 2013

Yakking it up

My cultural touchstone, "The Simpsons," has a way of brilliantly skewering cultural preoccupations. One of their better ones was 'Afternoon Yak,' a not so thinly veiled parody of that Barbara Walters-led coven on "The View." It's brilliant.

Fortunately, the View and its ilk gets little regard in our home. Ellen? Katie? That's a different story. My wife and daughters share an adoration for the Ellen show that borders on fervent and Katie runs a close second with two of them. Interestingly, the high priestess of this genre, Oprah, never held that high a station, even though the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML was picked to be in the audience of said high priestess.  Wait...what?

It was August 2006 and it was our family's very first weekend in Chicago since we'd moved there from San Diego. I'd been living there for several months and had already been indoctrinated that the waiting list for tickets to get on the O show were nigh unto impossible to get. I'd thought that might be something fun to give to my wife as some kind of token of my gratitude that she'd been willing to leave our dream home and leave SoCal. Locals apparently waited years to get tickets. So dash that dream. That weekend we'd gotten tickets to "Wicked" and I was excited to drag the kids around downtown (Millenium Park, the Mag Mile) before the show. We'd forced them to dress up a little since we were going to the theater and of course, there was much gnashing of teeth about that but I really didn't care. As we made our ways up the stairs near the Chicago Art Institute, a couple approached us and asked if they could speak to us. I said no. 'But wait, we're producers with Oprah,' was their retort. Duly unimpressed, I was ready to move on. My wife and girls? Not so much. So I said, 'Prove it.' Out came the ID's from the great and powerful one and the line of questioning began. We'd been ensnared in the great Oprah web.

Turns out they were scouting for people to participate in a taping that would be occurring a few days later. The topic, 'Mother's Who Can't Say No to Their Children.' I bust up laughing as we'd just gone back on our vow to not let the Boy get an Air Soft gun. We'd been in Chicago all of four days and his new-found friends all had them. Guess who got one? Anyway, Our Lady of Awesome was trying to negotiate a car out of us at the time, so the topic just made me laugh. They were particularly interested in the mother-daughter angle and before you knew it, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML, Our Lady of Awesome, and CAL were on camera, being interviewed and filming bumpers for the upcoming show. My wife was given two tickets to the taping as well. The girls couldn't go as they were under 18.

So a few days later my wife as front-and-center as the Queen herself walked out, barefooted, to begin taping her show. She was followed by an assistant, teetering in high heels. Oprah assumed her throne and said assistant took off the heels and placed them on Oprah's feet. Indeed. That was the key takeaway for my wife. Huh. Somehow, my oldest daughter figured she was going to get a car out of the deal. She thought O would take pity on her, upon seeing her interview. To Ms. Winfrey's credit, she did not take pity.  Good call.

There you have it. Our run-in with 'Afternoon Yak' fame. If my daughters get there way, there may be one or more run-ins yet before all is said and done. We'll see.

I know I've been sharing a lot of stories lately rather than keeping up with what's current here in the Den. I  think I'm just a storyteller at heart. Who knows?

02 March 2013

Flaming Pop-Tarts

My brother-in-law recently posted a picture on Facebook. It was the aftermath of a kitchen fire in one his apartments, courtesy of one his tenants. The picture reminded me of our own run-in with a kitchen fire...

Winter 1989 was a simpler time for the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and me. We were newlyweds and were working on getting down the cadence of the give and take of marriage. They were exciting, challenging (in a good way) times.

One of the new things newly-married couples work to iron out is the most effective communication methods. I don't care how long you've known each other, the intimacy of marriage requires a reworking of communication. We learned this lesson one morning as we were getting ready for the day.

On that fateful morning, I was in the bathroom of our apartment in a four-plex in Orem and I recall distinctly that I was shaving. We were paying the princely sum of $275 a month for said apartment and we felt we were living in the lap of luxury. Looking back on it, it really was a nice place. My beautiful bride was in the kitchen/laundry room (yep the washer/dryer served as additional counter space since they were in the kitchen) making breakfast. My breakfast of choice that morning were two delicious and fairly toxic Pop-Tarts. Anyway, as I struggled with the chore of shaving, I heard SML calling me into the kitchen, 'Honey, can you come here, please?' I responded, 'In a second,' as I battled my morning beard. A couple of seconds later, I heard again, 'Honey, please can you come to the kitchen?' 'Just a sec!' was my response. Then I heard this, 'Honey, the toaster is on fire. Can you please come to the kitchen?' Wait, what? Fire. Did she say fire? So I bolted from the bathroom, clad in my towel, and ran the six steps to the kitchen to see something like this:
Indeed, the Pop-Tarts were meeting a fiery doom and the flames were getting close to the curtains over the window. Now a reasonable person would immediately douse the flames. Not me. Nope, I chose that moment to turn to my wife and argue why her entreaties for me to come into the kitchen had not been more urgent. As the toaster is burning, with a half-shaven face and in my towel, I opt to freak out because this wonderful woman had not panicked. She was able to quickly redirect my attention to the flaming toaster. My solution was to yank the thing out of the socket and toss it on to our snow-covered stoop. Flames were put out and the burnt carcass of my breakfast cooled off in the snow.

I started to cool off too, realizing my wife had done nothing wrong. She's not one to panic. She's not one to yell. She's very even-keeled and that was one of the things that attracted me to her. She was, and is, an amazing anchor to me. So the flaming Pop-Tarts taught me a lesson or two that morning. And by the way, to this day, I won't toast a Pop-Tart. No way. no how. Now the fact that I am still eating Pop-Tarts at my age is a whole other discussion topic...