29 September 2014

Rooted Out

As noted last week, in my body's ongoing and ugly quest to remind me that I am middle-aged and getting older, I had a tooth fall out as easily as the leaves raining down from the trees here in Connecticutistan. This led to an emergency visit to the dentist which then brought me to today's dental delight, a root canal.

I've intentionally insulated myself from the horrible intricacies of dental procedures. This was not an easy task being married to a very talented and gung-ho dental assistant. The stunningly patient and mighty fine SML knows from teeth and procedures. I quickly learned that her 'talking shop' at the end of the day grossed me out. I could not handle hearing about the procedures. Loved her enthusiasm, just couldn't handle the details.

Over the weekend, in dreaded anticipation, I did, begrudgingly, ask her to break down what I was in for  in terms of this procedure. She started to break it down, like my tooth, for me. When she got to talking about the need to fill the wreckage of my tooth with paper, I was done. The less I knew the better at this point.

The name of the procedure, 'root canal,' infers a lot of digging about and unpleasantness. There's a lot about the process to dislike but writing this some six hours later, it wasn't as bad as I thought. No massive bleeding or gore. A lot of Novacaine made it easier, a lot easier. I will say this though, a lot of what they say to you about what they're doing during the procedure could be seriously misconstrued if taken out of context. 

Now, I'm left with a splitting headache and the specter of more dental work in a few weeks. Oh, and the admonition to avoid 'crunchy' foods. And here I was so looking forward to downing a box of Grape Nuts tonight!

27 September 2014

The Empty Nest, or Our New Normal

With the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML's return last night from her week-long sojourn in the deserts of Arizona, we have officially embarked on our new life as empty nesters.

For those of you of a certain age, I beg you to please not confuse our new life with that which was depicted in the massively awful late 80's/early 90's sitcom, 'Empty Nest,' which reminds us A) what a vast cultural wasteland was the state of television in those bleak years and B) that the male lead was actually the Bald Eagle in 'The Muppet Show.' Seriously, this new life of ours is far from a sitcom. What it has been and will continue to be is is a pretty simple, good life.

I mean today was fairly mundane. I had my version of a 'spa' day - in the barber''s chair, getting a haircut and watching a Premier League match. Then it was off to the grocery store where we spent about half what we normally do now that it's just the two of us. If this continues, this is a benefit of the Empty Nest Syndrome that I'm going to really, really like. We then hung out later in the afternoon at a little deli/market, grabbed a couple slices o'pizza, and watched people go by. It was nice to just soak up the sun, as this will probably be the last really nice weekend we have for awhile, and and just be together.

We still have a lot to figure out as we embrace this new life. But let me be clear, no one is depressed or suffering clinical anxiety as a result of our last one, The Missionary formerly known as The Boy, leaving. It's actually a pretty exciting time for us. Who knows what we'll do? Maybe we'll take up a hobby together. If you're expecting it to be ballroom dancing, you can just forget about that right now.

Bollywood dancing, maybe, as that would go nicely with my current obsession with the music of Panjabi MC; but ballroom dancing, no way, no how.

24 September 2014

Missing Something

Why, yes, you are. Thanks for asking!
There are things that happen during your childhood that are rites of passage, like that first day of school or learning to ride a two-wheeler without training wheels, that are momentous. There are other things that are mundane, like losing a tooth, because as a child, you lose a lot of them.

You do not lose teeth randomly when you are an adult in most cases, unless you are on the receiving end of a punch from Manny Pacquiao, enjoy a delightful meth addiction, or are a middle-aged man who clearly should not have taken a bite of that 100 Grand bar. Today, I learned that lesson. 

After taking a bite of the chewy caramel goodness that is the aforementioned bar, I felt that one of my upper teeth had a bit of caramel clinging on. A flick of the tongue did nothing so I thought a quick tap with my finger would do the trick. I know, probably TMI, but before you puke, this was done in the privacy of my home office. As I tapped, I felt the slightest give and before I knew it, I had two-thirds of my tooth in my hand. Not a bit of pain and no blood. Just most of my tooth. Don't believe me? See for yourself:
I was incredulous. Although alone in my home office, I blurted out, 'Holy crap! I'm Cletus, the slack jawed yokel!' Soon after, a raging headache set in. I cleared my calendar and called the dentist. When I explained my predicament, the receptionist sounded like she didn't believe me. 'Ma'am, I'm telling you, my tooth fell out. I'll text you a picture,' I said. She said that wasn't necessary and told me to come on in.

So a few hours later, I have some two-thirds of my tooth missing and an appointment for a root canal, which is only one phase of many to repair the tooth, on Monday. The dentist did some work on the tooth to 'clean it up,' in her words and get me ready for Monday's fiesta. I've been told that for the next few days, I'm to avoid crunchy foods (?) as well as bagels (?). So it looks like I'll be enjoying a nursing home diet of scrambled eggs and soup. This seems fitting, doesn't it?

On another note, we got an honest-to-goodness mailed letter from the missionary formerly known as The Boy today. It's been posted on his mission blog, Once Upon A Time In Mexico, if you want to take a look.

22 September 2014

The First Sighting

It's been five (long) days since we dropped off the missionary formerly known as The Boy at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. Until this evening, we had yet to hear any thing from him. While we still haven't gotten a letter/email, what we just got was worth a thousand words.

That smile says it all.
He is happy.

Can't ask for much more than that. I think I'll sleep more soundly tonight.

21 September 2014

Late on 48

Yesterday was my 48th birthday, marking another notch in the belt of my aging, but I'm late on reporting on it. For the second year in a row, it started on an airplane and ended in Phoenix with dinner with my mother, brother, sister, and their families. Well, it actually ended with a peach-laden waffle from the good people at My Waffle Crush, but I digress. Seriously, there is no need for birthday cake when you can dive into the goodness that is a Liege waffle.

After dropping The Boy off on Wednesday, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I split time behind the Zion Curtain between the Awesomes' and a BYU Alumni Chapter Chair conference. Spending time with our grandson was a soothing balm in the face of The Boy's departure. Watching him made us laugh a lot. Being back on campus was really good too. To say that it is a unique campus is a bit of an understatement, but it is a place I love.

Saturday morning we boarded an early flight to Phoenix in order to participate in our niece's baptismal service. It was good to be a part of that service, surrounded by family. It was good to catch up. We were relaxing in the backyard when one of Phoenix's infamous dust storms, I mean haboobs, literally swept in, sending us inside to take cover. When, may I ask, did a dust storm become a haboob? I grew up there and they were always called dust storms. What memo did I miss?

We wrapped up the day with a dinner with my family. Seeing my mom, brother, sister, and their families was a lot of fun. It was good to catch up. My mom's unparalleled ability to give gifts that you didn't know you needed was on full display. I am the proud new owner of Krazy Glue and rainbow-striped duct tape. Not only will my windows be securely sealed shut with Krazy Glue when the terrorists come for us, but they will be distracted by the rainbow hues of the duct tape. It's all good!

Indeed, it is all good with another year down. In the end, it's just another day, but it sure was good to be with family this go-round.

17 September 2014

I held him in awe then and today

On the far left is an image from nineteen years ago and on the right is an image from earlier today. There are a couple of things in common with the two pictures - the subjects are the same, a father and son (me and The Boy), and I am in awe of him in both.

Nineteen years ago, I held this newborn baby boy wondering, as you can see, what it was going to be like to be a father to him. Our girls had come first and the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML knew from girls. No need for an owners' manual with them. The Boy brought a whole new set of opportunities for us to learn new things as parents. As I held him that day, looking at him in awe and wonder, I tried to imagine what his life would be like. More than anything, I wanted it to be a good one, where he would grow up happy and be able to choose well in this life.

Today, I found myself holding him and once again, looking at him in awe as he began his two year missionary assignment. He's a hair or two taller than me now, so I certainly wasn't cradling him like when he was a baby. I did wrap my arms around him and held him tightly as I said, "See you in two years." 

Our curbside goodbye at the Missionary Training Center was, by design, brief. Think of it more like a drive by shooting, but with brief hugs instead of bullets and swarms of missionaries approaching your car to take the luggage instead of a couple of thugs looking to jack your ride. The young men who assisted us with The Boy could not have nicer. They were sensitive to us as parents but more importantly, quickly helped put The Boy at ease. That said, they got things moving fast and before you knew it, they were walking our Boy off. It was probably better that way. Turns out, I'm an ugly crier.

As we drive away, I could hardly breathe. Not out of fear for him, but because of how much I felt I would miss him. I began to breathe again when I heard my wife say, through her own tears, "He's going to be okay." She's right; he will be okay - he'll be more than okay.

Right now as I wind down my day, I'm thinking of my son. It'll be good to get his first email. We'll rest a bit easier at that point. I'm realizing, eight and a half hours into this, that parents of a missionary have some adjusting to do just as he does. We'll get this figured out.

One last thing, I know many of you who have taken a virtual seat on the sofa here in the Den are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and that this whole process may seem mighty peculiar. I suppose it is but I am so honored to share this experience with you. Your support today through various social media outlets has been amazing. To all of our friends, thank you for the love today. Thank you.

15 September 2014


Two years in three bags
If you've ever wondered if it's possible to pack, literally pack, two years worth of living into two checked bags, each weighing 50 lbs. or less (thanks, fascist airline baggage weight limits), I am here to report that it is indeed possible. The image to the right shows The Boy's life for the next two years, packed into those three bags. It's all in there. Suffice to say, there's not a lot of room for extras in there. Can I just say how good it is that he wasn't going to some place with a some harsh winter climate?! We'd have been done for if we were packing all manner of coats, etc. It's a good thing mosquito netting and industrial-strength insect repellent packs in a compact way.

It's here. What began nineteen years ago with his birth is now here. Like the lyrics to the late John Denver's song 'Leaving On A Jet Plane', his bags are packed and he's ready to go (I can't be the only one who can't get over the irony of the fact that Denver died in a plane crash, am I?). He was set apart as a full-time missionary tonight (read more about that HERE in his mission blog. He's no longer The Boy. He is Elder Lyons.

Not only is it here, it's real. He's been saying good-bye to friends all day. He's turned over his phone to us. He's turned off his music. He leaves tomorrow for six weeks of intense training to ready him for his life in Mexico. He's getting in the 'zone' tonight. He knows his life is changing.

We can't wait to see this unfold. The next two years are going to be an adventure. I'm just glad we've got another day with him before it all begins. I'm even more grateful for the nineteen years of adventure he's already given us.

Godspeed, Elder Lyons.

14 September 2014

Bonds of brotherhood, with a hallucinatory aside

Willowbend Country Club, Mashpee, MA
As a part of The Boy's Farewell Tour, he spent his last 'civilian' Saturday at his favorite place - a golf course. A great friend of his and golf teammate was golfing in a match up on Cape Cod and asked The Boy to serve as his caddie. Not wanting to miss a day with The Boy, we joined him, his buddy, and his buddy's parents, who are wonderful friends, for a day on the Cape. Well, let me clarify, yes, we were on the Cape, but we saw no ocean, unless you count the bay that meandered its way through the golf course.

It was a beautiful day. It had been threatening to rain, but in true quixotic Mother Nature behavior, no rain appeared until we began the drive home. This was a fun match because we were able to follow the golfers the entire time. We never had that opportunity during The Boy's high school golf team career. Watching The Boy act as caddie to his friend was a kick. Seeing them interact and listening to them joke and talk 'smack' on the three hour drive up to the Cape reminded me of how powerful the bonds of friendship can and should be. As men, we are typically rather reticent to acknowledge just how powerful those friendships are. To do so, we've been taught, somehow mars our masculinity. This is unfortunate. I've seen how good the influences of friends have been on my son. The examples of his friends is one of the reasons he is embarking on his mission in just a few days. I've seen him doing things to help his friends. I've seen him grow frustrated and saddened by some of the choices his friends made. I've seen him make a difference in his friends' lives.

As I listened to these two yak it up on the drive yesterday, and as us four parents laughed and, on occasion, rolled our eyes, I thought of the friends I've had with whom I shared experiences. Some of these friends have been in my life for close to forty years. Some a shorter time, but I am fortunate to call them friends. I'm mindful of what their examples mean to me. My life is better for friends, near and far, who have influenced me for the better. I hope I've done a little of the same for them.

So it was a good day yesterday, but it was long. I'd woken up, as per usual, way before any normal human being so as we began the three hour drive home, I was fighting to stay awake and lost. Fairly early into the car ride, I was out. Apparently I missed a whole new edition of the boys' story telling but I gave them fodder when I woke up. I must have been out because as I felt the car stop, I awoke completely unaware of where we were. I looked around, saw a log cabin-esque gas station and watched my friend fly out of the driver's seat and into the gas station as if he was on fire (as it happens, he kind of was - his need to go to the bathroom was fiery). I suddenly loudly blurted out, demanding, "Where are we? Where is K going? Wait....where are we?" I genuinely had no idea where we were. It took me a bit to get my bearings but I heard four people howling in laughter watching me try and figure out why we'd stopped at an oddly-themed gas station in Sturbridge, MA. I'm sure it's a lovely place but in my tired, hallucinatory state, I'm not sure I'm the best spokesperson for it. I'm still trying to understand why I bought a liter of Coke Zero there. Or why The Boy insisted I buy him Strawberry Quik. That's just not right.

11 September 2014

On 9-11...13 years later

Today marks the 13th anniversary of the attacks on New York City, Washington DC, and the psyche of not just the United States, but the world in general. It is also the day when America's war on terror began as a 757 slammed to the ground in Pennsylvania after a group of passengers and crew gave their lives, fighting to stop what surely was to be another attack on Washintton DC. 

It hardly seems possible that it's been 13 years. As I sat in my office in midtown Manhattan today, the events of 13 years ago were not far from my mind. I thought of the thousands of innocents slaughtered that day. I thought of how those events changed the world. This is a reverent day for me. Allow me to share some excerpts of comments I made when I spoke in Church on the 10th anniversary of the attacks:

Tuesday, September 11, 2001, was an unusually bright, clear late summer day in New York City.  The images of those brilliant blue skies are seared into our collective memories; however, now we remember the smoke that choked that blue sky.  We remember the image of a plane slamming into the now-fallen World Trade Center.  We remember images of people jumping from the burning towers in order to escape the roaring flames.  We also remember the pictures of firefighters and police personnel who ran into the towers in an epic, valiant struggle to save their fellowmen.  We are haunted by the heroic words uttered by a passenger on board United 93, "Let's roll!" as those few passengers decided to stop the terrorists from hitting yet another target.

The terror of that day, ten years ago, is still fresh for so many of us.  It is an event that touched us all and it is a defining moment in not only American history, but world history.  In the days following these horrific events, our nation came together in a way that many said had not been since World War II.  I remember standing in our front yard in our home in California with our neighbors as we joined our fellow countrymen in a national moment of prayer.  It was as if our nation was seeking spiritual comfort as a whole in those dark days after the attacks.

That sense of unity and desire to seek spiritual comfort as a nation has abated in the ten years since that unforgettable day.  Our nation has found its way back to its divisive ways.  In his first official blog post printed earlier this week in the Washington Post's "On Faith" column, President Thomas S. Monson of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, said, "Sadly, it seems that much of that renewal of faith has waned in the years that have followed.  Healing has come with time, but so has indifference.  We forget how vulnerable and sorrowful we felt.  Our sorrow has moved us to remember the deep purposes of our lives.  The darkness of our despair brought us a moment of enlightenment.  But we are forgetful.  When the depth of grief has passed, its lessons often pass from our minds and hearts as well."

The Scriptures are rife with examples of how we, the children of a loving, caring Heavenly Father, have forgotten our Father and the lessons of lives time and time again.  The Book of Mormon is especially illustrative of this cycle of forgetfulness but it also shows our Father's consistent, loving commitment to us. In his blog post, President Monson continued, saying, "Our Father's commitment to us, His children, is unwavering.  Indeed He softens the winter of our lives, but He also brightens our summers.  Whether it is the best of times or the worst, He is with us.  He has promised us that this will never change."

In Midtown today, it appeared that many have forgotten that fateful day. Somehow getting a picture with the Naked Cowboy seemed more important. As I walked to Penn Station, I happened upon an older couple who clearly hadn't forgotten. On the lapel of her jacket was a large picture button emblazoned with a black ribbon. It was clear that the young man in the picture was their son and he'd lost his life day. His name, although unknown to me, was read today, I'm sure, as were the names of all the other victims. They are not forgotten. 

May we never forget.

09 September 2014


The year I turned 19, a synth pop masterpiece entitled "19" made its way onto the music charts. The song, by Paul Hardcastle, was an 80's style protest against the travesty that was the Vietnam War, which had been over just ten years (in the American attention span, ten years is an eternity) when the song was released. The number referred to the average age of the American soldier fighting in that war. As a nineteen year old, I was grateful that I wasn't going to war. Instead, I was going to Miami as a missionary. But now that I think about it, a lot of Miami was like a war zone back then...

Today, there's a new nineteen year old in the Den. It's The Boy's birthday today. He is the last of our children navigating his last year of teendom. Those can be tenuous years but he's made the most of it, giving the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML a lot more to laugh about than cry about. He's a young man now and in just seven days, he embarks on his two year mission. It's something we've been anticipating for nineteen years.

Nineteen years ago, when we held The Boy for the first time, we hoped that nineteen years later he would be making the choice to serve a mission. In my mind's eye, holding that brand-new baby then, I saw a glimpse of a young man in a white shirt, serving somewhere. We knew then that if he did make that choice, that his nineteenth birthday would be bittersweet. That bittersweet day is today.

The Boy's had a good last birthday at home. He's making the most of his last few days here. Next year, he'll celebrate his 20th birthday somewhere in Chiapas, probably eating goat. We won't be with him, but he won't be far from our thoughts.

Happy birthday, son, or more approprietely, feliz cumpleanos!

06 September 2014

An 'Odd Couple' Moment

My late father, while one who possessed the biggest heart and personified compassion, was not known for his gut-busting sense of humor or a proclivity to outbursts of uncontrolled laughing. That's simply not how he did things. I do recall a few times when I saw him laughing hard - whenever he watched "It's A Mad Mad Mad World," "The Jeffersons," or when I thought he might bust his spleen wide open watching Felix Unger act as his own counsel in an episode of "The Odd Couple." I thought of my dad earlier this week as I had a flashback to the opening credits of "The Odd Couple," specifically this scene:

Here we see the high-strung Felix about to get whacked by an old lady while attempting to help her cross the street. She's having none of it. A few nights ago, I was in the city, walking back from dinner with a group of colleagues from London and Hong Kong. We were at a light at 3rd Avenue and 42nd St., waiting for it to change. Standing next to me was an elderly woman, using a walker. I felt a tug on my elbow and discovered that it was the woman. She rasped, "So I'm going to need your help getting across this street. Can you do that?" I didn't hesitate to say yes. Delighted to know I wasn't going to get nailed across the face a la Unger, as the light changed, I took her by her elbow and we began our trek across the great chasm that is 42nd Street. She had the bone density of, oh I don't know, a paper towel tube and while fairly steady with that walker, I feared if she went down, her hip was going to snap as quickly as one Satan's spawn, a Kardashian, jumps to attention at the smell of cash or a paparazzi sighting. It was funny to listen to her kvetch about the state of New York City streets. She blamed both Bloomberg and DeBlasio so she seemed like an equal opportunity complainer. Safely across the street, she said thank you and waved me on as she made her way to the bus stop.

You had to admire her chuztpah. The city has been her home all her life, and she wasn't going to let a ruddy street stand in her way. She made me laugh. The encounter made my colleagues laugh as well and thus began an evening of good-natured teasing about the 'cougar' who had made me her prey. Thus is the British sense of humour.

I'm glad she asked me to help her. It only took a minute or two to do her that little favor. I like to think that as I do those things that some one will do the same for my mother or any one else's mother. It would serve me well to do more of those little things for others. Heck, if we all took just a minute or two to do something nice for others, and not to get all Pollyanna-ish here, wouldn't this world be a little bit better?