31 December 2015

Road Trip - The End

After a relatively brief four hour drive, the Oranges of Wrath Tour came to an end when we pulled into our hotel earlier this afternoon. It was, ironically, the longest day of driving thanks to hordes of cars adorned in the orange 'T' of the Tennessee Vols making their way to Tampa. Turns out the hotel I picked is within spitting distance of Raymond James Stadium where the Outback Bowel (not a typo) is being played and our hotel seems to be housing an inordinate amount of orange-clad Vols fans. I had no idea how literal the Oranges of Wrath Tour would become...

The highlight of today's trek was breakfast. Breakfast at the Waffle House. I've been fortunate to eat in some amazing places all over this world. I've had some really memorable meals. This was one of them, but not because of the meal. It was not a bad meal at all. It was a simple waffle and I loved it. As the three of us saddled up to the counter, I looked around and saw the most democratic, even catholic (broad or wide-ranging) institution I've ever seen. It was a cross-section of what our country is: multi-colored, multi-generational, all kinds of bank balances, all enjoying a simple staple of Americana, the waffle.


Now it's the last day of the year and I can say we are beat! Since we started this trip, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I have racked up 3,365 miles driving through ten states. By the time we return to Connecticutistan in a few days, our total state tally will be 13.

What a trip! It's been an honor to spend so much time with CAL. She's ready for this next step in her life. We'll get her settled over the next two days and then it's back to reality.

But my reality now is a bed. I'm tired. One of my most favorite cities in the world, Sydney, Australia welcomed 2016 hours ago, so as far as I'm concerned, I don't need to stay up watching horrible lip syncing and even worse scripted celebrity yapping from Times Square.

Thanks for sticking around for the Oranges of Wrath Tour. Happy New Year! 

30 December 2015

Road Trip - Day Three

Day Three of the Oranges of Wrath. Five states were traversed and as the day draws to a close, we are a mere four hours drive from the finish line! Here are the highlights:

Texas
As we got our start in Beaumont (where we stayed in the most ratched Residence Inn ever), CAL who is suddenly a Texan to the core, had to buy a pair of cowboy boots. We stopped at an emporium of all things Texas cowboy called Cavender's. I nearly got the pointy end of a boot rammed through my skull there. Note to self for my next trip to Cavender's: shorts (golf shorts, mind you not a "bro" version of Daisy Dukes) a pink Polo, and a pair of Brooks' running shoes are NOT appropriate attire for said store ever. Suffice to say, the welcome wagon was not rolled my way. CAL though scored these boots:
With the boots added to our already heavily laden transport, we made a run for the border.

Louisiana
This is a swamp. We are driving over it. Welcome to Louisiana. Lots more billboards concerned about my soul. The big question in Louisiana is if I die tonight, will I awake in Heaven or Hell. Given the ratched hotel from the night before, Hell had already been seen, so I'll take Heaven. Also between Scott and Baton Rouge, I decided to stop for boudin and cracklins. Taking one look at the place, I drove right on past sans the pork delights. It looked like a real-life version of the "Saw" set. Nope, even by my low standards.

Mississippi 
I wasn't driving so didn't pay a lot of attention. There seemed to be a lot of mobile home parks.

Alabama 
Apparently people in this state are very, very accident prone. I base this on the number of billboards for the services of accident / injury attorneys. It's almost as if these fine practitioners of the law are encouraging people to go out and fall at the Wal-Mart. But they wouldn't do that, right?

Florida 
Just 35 miles out of Mobile, we crossed the state line and found ourselves in the rainy Klanhandle. I am pleased to report that the body / storage bag strapped to our roof is living up to its 100% water-proof guarantee. Also, Floridians appear to be as accident-prone as their Alabama neighbors. This is an epidemic, people. Another epidemic - the Waffle House. There using at every single exit off the I10. This pleases me.

So we are calling it a night in Florida's Capitol tonight. That leaves us a mere four hours behind the wheel tomorrow. Can I get a 'woo' and a 'hoo'?

29 December 2015

Road Trip - Day Two

587 miles driven today and we are still in the vast expanse that is Texas, but we're basically Louisiana-adjacent at this point. When they said everything's bigger in Texas, my help, they weren't kidding. Sheesh!

Texas - all along the I10
We started the morning in Fort Stockton and it quickly became clear that the Texas countryside goes on for forever and a day. Note to self - people in this area wear cowboy hats and boots in neither an ironic nor hipster fashion. They mean business. Now as you get into the 'Hill Country,' it gets a lot prettier, unexpectedly so. From the I10, you learn that Texans love their trucks. Wow! Every truck seems to be the 'king cab' model and every SUV is the 'XL' model. It's like every driver has a raging Napoleonic complex. Also, there are an inordinate number of cars just left along the side of the freeway. I counted at least a dozen as we drove. It's like the I10 is a mammoth Goodwill drop off box for cars.

I also noticed, particularly in east Texas, billboards expressing a lot of concern for my soul and the souls of my fellow drivers. Apparently we are in trouble. The good news is that each of these offered up an 800 number with the reassurance that Visa/MasterCard/Amex are accepted  to ease the path to salvation. I'm going to  stick with the plan I'm currently on, but thanks.

We also happened onto the filthiest gas station bathroom pretty much ever. It made the cans at the Port Authority look like a sterile room in a CDC lab. Do yourself a favor and don't use the bathroom in the Exxon in Flatonia. It is a Level 5 HazMat situation. I think Ebola is incubating there. Be smart (and by smart I mean disease-free) and hit the Buccee's a few exits before. There is not enough hand sanitizer on the planet that would make you feel good about that place.

We found solace a few hours later in Katy at Rudy's. There is nothing that brisket, slaw, and peach cobbler can't cure. It was a great way to prep for the last 90 minutes of driving. Now we're done for the night. Tomorrow it's Louisiana, Alabama (may we not relive the epic episode of 'Top Gear' when they darkened Alabama) and then the Florida Klanhandle. That'll be fun.

CAL took this of us standing outside Rudy's in Katy, TX. That is not a dead body on top of the Escape. It's just a part  of the haul. Good times!

A short letter

Since we got to 'see' TMFKATB thanks to Skype on Christmas Day (P.S. Best gift of the year!), we got caught up on his week. So this week's letter was pretty brief. He shared the excitement of the baptism of someone they'd been teaching for awhile now. He was humbled by prayers offered. He affirmed that he's happy.

That was certainly true during our call with him. He's happy. He's funny. He's growing up. But he's still Parker. His insistence that his beard is savage (it is non-existent) and the smack talk between him and his brother-in-law confirmed he's still Parker. Hard to believe he'll be home in less than a year.

28 December 2015

Road Trip - Day One

As we made final preparations for Phase Three of Vacation Shenanigans 2015 last night, my brother-in-law made a crack about us recreating the journey of those unfortunate souls in "The Grapes of Wrath." That got me to thinking. Yes, we are making a cross country trek in a vehicle that has more seam-busting and junk bulging from it than a middle-aged German tourist in a Speedo on Mallorca. We are heading east to Florida rather than west to California in search of prosperity (well, CAL's internship). With those changes in mind and with all apologies to John Steinbeck, we are now on The Oranges of Wrath Tour 2015.

After 10 and 1/2 hours of driving that started this morning in Chandler, AZ, we are now taking refuge in a non-descript hotel under renovation in the middle (not even) of the snowy (yeah, thanks for that Ma Nature) country of Texas (it just never ends). Some highlights from the day's adventure:

Arizona
We stopped off on the far side of Tucson to see the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML's brother and his family. Knowing that we suffer from a dearth of good Mexican food in Connecticutistan, they chose a fine little Mexican joint. I ordered a chorizo burrito, which in retrospect and in the prophetic words of the great sage Ron Burgundy was "a bad choice." Why? Well, I love me some chorizo but it's effect on me is highly fluid, like the Kardashian family morals. Suffice to say, I have paid a price to insure that my wife and daughter did not suffer. I'll leave it at that...

New Mexico
The Land of Enchantment. No, no it is not. Sure, there's Taos and its beauty. There's Santa Fe and its art and vortexes. Then there is the glory that is the Hatch Chile. However, the highlights of NM along the I10 include Lordsburg, Deming and Las Cruces. I'm really glad CAL drove the NM leg so I could sleep. Sorry, NM, but enchantment is not the first word that comes to mind.

Texas
We blew into El Paso and its twin across the border, Ciudad Juarez, the day after they got pounded by a freaky snow storm. Very strange to see both cities awash in snow. We also got to see the physical manifestation of the idea of nirvana of everyone's favorite fascist, xenophobic, loud-mouthed bully of an uncle, Donald Trump, in the form of the wall between El Paso and Juarez. As we drove out of El Paso into the eerily dark Texas night, the presence of Border Patrol was thick. It's a very cold night here so hopefully it'll be a warm night for those taken in this evening.

So Day One is in the books. San Antonio, Houston and who knows how far into Louisiana we'll get tomorrow. This much I know though - there's a Waffle House with my name on it. It's not a road trip until you've choked down a waffle from the WH.

27 December 2015

27

And so it was that on this day in 1988, I married she who has been my partner, supporter, best friend and voice of reason, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML.

Today we celebrate 27 years of wedded bliss. Amazing, right? I think it is. I am amazed on a daily basis at my good fortune. I am amazed by the three children that we created and what they are doing. I am amazed at the love my sweet wife shows me on a daily basis. I am amazed at how quickly 27 years have passed. Dang, we were young!

We've had a great ride these past 27 years and tomorrow that ride goes literal as we embark on our little cross country drive. What a way to celebrate!

I'm glad to making this trip with her. I'm looking forward to many more. With 27 years of marriage under our belts, we're ready for more!

Let's go!

26 December 2015

23

Some things, like honoring birthdays, don't change here in the Den, so today is no different. Today, thanks to her parents and their impeccable family planning timing, CAL celebrates a birthday.

It is her 23rd. She is now a college graduate. She is embarking on that great adventure known as the Post Graduate Internship. She's chosen a career that puts her in the thick of making life better for children who are very ill. That tells you a lot about our birthday girl.

Another thing that tells you a lot about her is how she's willing to spend her birthday. Last year, it was with us, her mom and dad, walking around Washington DC. This year won't be quite so glamorous. The three of us will be jammed into her heavily laden moving van (and by moving van, I mean her Fird Escape) as we begin a test run in advance of Phase Three of Vacation Shenanigans 2015. We get to sing "Happy Birthday" multiple times as we drive from Utah's Dixie to the Valley of the Sweat, I mean Sun, to see family. Is there no finer way to celebrate your 23rd?

I'm just glad we get this time with her. Happy birthday, Princess!

22 December 2015

An Early Christmas Greeting

As we began Phase Two of Vacation Shenanigans 2015, we found ourselves in CAL's heavily laden ox cart of a Ford Escape emerging from the Zion Curtain, bound for the red hills of Utah's Dixie, St. George (I have no idea why it's called 'Dixie.' Maybe named for one of the polygamist wives that are all over the place here?). During that drive, we heard from TMFKATB. His letter, entitled Merry Christmas, was an early gift to us.

From the picture at the top of the post, our twenty year old son proves he is still a little kid. He failed to wait until Christmas morning to open the gifts we'd sent him. It made his mother and I smile, to be honest. So did the the thought of being able to Skype with him on Christmas Day. Talk about an awesome gift that's awaiting us. As for the rest of his update, it was good. It was a good week to serve! He talked about witnessing the power of friendship and how it helps people heal. It was great to read.

We, too, were reminded of the joy of friendships yesterday as well. Thanks to my inability to not post stuff on various social media sites on the Interwebs, we were able to connect with friends we'd not seen in nine years (since we moved from Temecula, CA). They just happened to be overnighting here in 'Dixie' on their way back to SoCal and we were able to spend some time together last night. As far as reunions with friends go, it was pretty darn sweet. It was an early and unexpected Christmas gift, for sure. Those are the best kind!

20 December 2015

Blessings

As far as weeks go, this has been a good one, dare I say a very good one. Seeing CAL graduate and hearing her talk excitedly about her post-graduate internship has been so rewarding. The stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I found ourselves counting our blessings with two of our children now official degree carrying college grads.

We continued counting blessings today. We are holed up with Our Lady of Awesome and her family for a couple of days before we move on to Phase Two of Vacation Shenanigans 2015. We joined them at Church for our sweet baby Jane's blessing. For those of you not of the 'peculiar people' faith (us Mormons), the blessing of a baby is like a christening, minus the baptismal part. What an honor it was to join my son-in-law Awesome in the blessing! It was particularly sweet that Jane wore the same dress that her mother wore when she was blessed as a baby.

It should come as no surprise that I let the man tears fly when the little church choir and congregation closed the service with "Silent Night," accompanied by both the piano and organ. Surrounded by family, a new baby, and the spirit of Christmas made it easy to count our blessings. Hence, the tears o'gratitude.

And now our day is winding down. I'm listening to my daughter negotiate dinner options with my two and a half year old grandson. From what I'm hearing, he has a bright future in hostage negotiations. My son-in-law is holding his daughter, our sweet granddaughter, and all seems right in the world.

19 December 2015

Gradumacation

When Homer Simpson once referenced the learning process, he called it 'edumacation.' Clearly, he was less than a stellar student. I figure he referred to his own graduation ceremony as 'gradumacation,' given that the brain power wattage there isn't exactly running at full power.

Last night, though, there was no display of dim brain power wattage. It was quite the opposite as we gathered at BYU-I in freezing, snowy Rexburg, ID to watch our CAL receive her diploma. Four years of hard work were capped as she strode across the stage, smiling from ear to ear, and shaking hands with the robed university and Church leadership. In that moment, CAL looked confident, happy, and relieved.

For the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and me, CAL's graduation was a  joy. We kept looking over at each other throughout the ceremony, smiling. We knew what this night meant for our girl. We've watched her work so hard, carrying a crazy class schedule in order to accelerate her graduation timeline. We would try to get her to ease up on her hours but CAL's independent streak and personal commitment won out. It was cool to see one of her professor's seek her out last night to congratulate her, hug her, and tell her "Well done!" I couldn't agree more.

Well done, Princess, well done!

BTW - Remember when we were here earlier this year and I ranted about the dirty Albertson's grocery store? Still not cleaned. Nice.

15 December 2015

On Florida Coming Back Into My Life

Late last night, my second-born, the lovely CAL posted the following on the Interwebs:

"I am so happy to finally announce that in just a few short weeks I will be making my way to Florida to begin my internship at All Children's Hospital as a Child Life Specialist. I am so excited for this opportunity and cannot wait for this new adventure!"

Excited doesn't begin to cover it! She has worked so.very.hard to get to this point and this opportunity at All Children's is amazing. This is the first step in securing full-time employment for her and training at a Johns Hopkins-affiliated hospital is some top-notch stuff. The process of securing this internship has been a massive lesson in patience for her, no thanks to the actions of a middling bureaucrat at her university. Suffice to say, I can't even get into it about this person's actions at this point other than to say even JoJo the Dog-Faced Boy would say they were terminable offenses. Maybe when my rage comes off DefCon 5, I'll be able to speak of it...

So my girl is moving to Flo-Ri-Duh. I never suspected that this state would come back into my life in the way it is now. As has been well documented here, I spent two amazing years in South America South Florida as an LDS missionary during the coke-fueled, Cuban boat people, Nicaraguan refugee, 'Miami Vice' years in the 1980's. I loved those two years and the people and I loved the crazy that is the state of Florida. That said, I never envisioned one of my children would be calling it 'home.' Yet, here we are.

When we were in Tampa / St. Pete for Thanksgiving trying to find CAL a place to live, I tried to give her a feel for life in the state that none other than Homer J. Simpson called "America's wang." As we explored the area, each time she or her mother would point out something that seemed a lot little off, I would just shrug and say, "Yeah, well that's Florida." To give her a little more color, I share the following insights (jokes) about Florida from Jack Donaghy (shame on you if you have to ask who Jack is):

But Central Florida is dominated by Jewish retirees, serial killers, and secretly gay Disney princes.

It's a combination of elderly shut-ins, beach bums, bus passengers who run out of money, swamp people, and pirates.

Have you ever been to Florida? It's basically a prison population. It's America's Australia!

Jack nails it, as always. While Jackie D is fictional and his comments about Florida may seem absurd, there is an amazing Twitter account that proves that, indeed, truth is stranger than fiction. I give you @_FloridaMan  

Florida Man Gets Lost at Sea While Riding Jet-Ski, Snapchats
Florida Man Surrenders Marijuana Crop to Police Chopper, Later Learns It Wasn't Looking for Him
Florida Man Caught Driving Cadillac Naked at 110MPH in the Middle of the Afternoon
Florida Man chokes to death while eating steak during his birthday

And then there is this gem, which is my current favorite:

Florida Man Hides from Deputies in Swamp, Eaten by Alligator

Yeah, that one pretty much sums it up. I'm excited that my girl will get to experience the madness. But I'm even more excited for all that she's going to learn as she works with her patients, children that are facing battles I can't even begin to imagine. She's going to help them fight.

I am one proud dad.

14 December 2015

Snowed In

Allegedly that's TMFKATB
in that shower of laser lights
Residents living behind the Zion Curtain woke up to a pretty big dump o'snow this morning. Here in Connecticutistan, where we currently have zero snow and are enjoying spring-like temperatures, this morning The Weather Channel was covering the Utah snow storm with a fervor usually reserved for, oh I don't know, one of those "STORM OF THE CENTURY" epics that wind up being a whole lot of nothing. Why I was watching said channel at 430AM this morning is something we can discuss another day because it's kind of creepy and just a little bit sad.

With the snow in mind, it made sense that this week's letter from TMFKATB was titled, 'Looks snowy out there!' From what he said, they won't be getting out and about today, their day off. It sounds like they could use a day in as he said they did lots of walking in the past week, as they worked with people all over their area.  He's had some good experiences in working with people in some pretty challenging situations, adding to life lessons that will serve him well. He's pretty excited about Christmas and has been pretty pumped about sharing this video.

As always, it was good to hear from TMFKATB. As we will be with our daughters later this week, it will be strange to not have him with us, but we wouldn't trade this experience for the world. He's growing and learning, but so are we. Progress and growth is always a good thing.

13 December 2015

Into The Cap

The Cap

Evidence of Russian handiwork
from Dad's cap
In the six years since my father died, in each of those successive years my mother has made it clear that she is ready to go. She is, so far, zero for six in her predictions, but this year she's taken things to a new level - think DefCon 4. We've had A LOT of super fun conversations (essentially every other one) about her "going over the rainbow." Spoiler alert - that is not a thinly-veiled reference to "The Wizard of Oz," but it is this year's euphemism for death. She has coupled these 'rainbow' conversations with items that she has decided to unload.

A few days ago, we got a box large enough to comfortably smuggle ship a couple of Bangladeshi sweatshop workers delivered to our home. One of the items included was a hat, a cap really, that my late father wore while he and my mother served in the Moscow Russia Mission for the Church. They were there working for Church Legal, where my dad was focused on ensuring contracts and transactions were fully legal (no small task in Russia where what is legal is, um, how do you say, highly interpretive). Dad would wear a cap to cover his bald dome in those brutal Russian winters. The one Mom sent me was one they had purchased there. The pictures I took of the real one were lame and didn't do it justice, so what I included at the top of the post is one I got from an online Russian hat store (seriously, it's a thing). Anything associated with Russia on the Interwebs makes me all kinds of nervous (e.g. hackers, little Eddie Snowden, sweaty mobsters in a Leningrad flat phishing for your credit card number) so I didn't spend a lot of time on the site trying to find a perfect match for the cap I now own. But I digress...

I tried the cap on and as with all things hats and me, it went horribly wrong. I do not have a head for hats of any kind. If you've seen a picture of me in any hat, you know I'm not lying. It was no different with my dad's cap. It looked as if some cruel prankster had put an infant's cap on the head of Andre the Giant. Suffice to say, I won't be wearing the cap and if I'm being honest, I feel a little sad about that. That cap represents a tangible connection to my father and I don't have a lot of those. I am so very grateful for the memories of him that I have and more importantly for his example and the values that he instilled in me. Those are far more important than any tactile connection. Still, I envisioned myself marching from the misery that is Penn Station to my office in midtown wearing his cap and working to do him proud. That's still important to me, even after all these years.

I thought of that cap and doing my late father proud today as I taught my New Testament Sunday School/Gospel Doctrine class. Teaching from the books of 1 - 3 John, we spoke much of the the simple statement that God is love. We talked about the love God has for us as His children and this familiar verse from 3 John 1:4 struck a chord with me:

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.

God wants what is best for us and He wants us to be happy. My father wanted that for me, my sister, and my brother. That is precisely what I want for my three children. His example and actions taught me that. The fact that my big old head won't fit his cap doesn't change what he taught me. It doesn't change the opportunity for me to choose to be like him each day. That said, I'll keep nearby as a reminder.

09 December 2015

The (Not Archie) Bunker Mentality

One of these things is not like the other
Growing up on the tough (and by tough I mean 'Mom, why can't I ride my bike to Smitty's to get a slice of pizza?') streets of Scottsdale, Arizona, it wasn't like we were in the thick of the cultural tumult that was America in the 1970's. Trust me when I tell you we weren't. Diversity came through the magic of one of the five measly TV channels we got at the time in the form of 'The Jeffersons' and 'Soul Train.' Controversy wasn't very welcome in our home which is why 'All in the Family' was pretty much verboten. Although I was not yet five years old when the show debuted, it ran until 1979 and I can remember furtively watching it from time to time, not appreciating the satire at play, but sensing this Archie Bunker guy really was some kind of a tool.

'All in the Family' served as vehicle to bring the uncomfortable truths (e.g. racism, war, xenophobia) America was facing at the time into the national discussion. Served up in the form of comedy, it made  talking about those issues easier. Somehow, laughing at the bigoted "U.S.-born, heterosexual White Anglo-Saxon Protestant male") rantings of Archie made his rants seem ludicrous. Seeing Archie bloviate about the black family that had just moved in next door gave viewers the chance to see how inane that attitude was in reality. Ironically, Mr. Bunker's vain attempts to understand the world helped viewers to break free from their own states of bunker mentality.

A bunker mentality is defined as an attitude of extreme defensiveness and self-justification based on an often exaggerated sense of being under persistent attack from others. Archie Bunker certainly displayed that mentality and it was probably no accident that the creators of the show gave him that last name. While Archie Bunker served as a comedic foil for the angst that the United States faced more than 40 years ago, there is a far less funny (and by far less funny, I mean not funny at all - if you are looking for proof, see his recent train wreck appearance on "Saturday Night Live") and truly bigoted "U.S.-born, heterosexual White Anglo-Saxon Protestant male" making what Archie did look like child's play.

I speak, of course, of Donald J. Trump. It appeared for awhile, at least, that his position behind the steering wheel of the Klown Kar that is the Republican Presidential Campaign was more of an exercise in self-promotion the likes of which our nation has never seen than anything else. From overstating his ratings performance while at NBC, to calling the voters of Iowa stupid, to bullying other candidates as if he were Nelson Muntz come to life, to suggesting he'd date his daughter, he could not outcrass himself, and somehow the people answering pollsters questions could not get enough of him.

Then came his xenophobic and Hitler-esque assertion that he would register all Muslims living in the United States. But he reminded us all that he's not a bigot. In the wake of the mass shootings in San Bernadino perpetrated by an American citizen, a Muslim, and his wife in San Bernadino, Trump let his bunker mentality freak flag fly higher than ever when he proposed a ban on Muslims entering the United States and peppering that with the idea of internment camps for Muslims as well. But he reminded us all that he's not a bigot. Methinks he doth protest too much.

Ask any Japanese-American who lived in the internment camps the United States established during WWII about how that went for them. Spoiler alert - it didn't go well. Read "Infamy" by Richard Reeves for more about the camps. I'd suggest that Trump read it but since his name is nowhere to be found in its pages, he won't be picking it up anytime soon. Despite that dark chapter in our history, the U.S. is not a nation prone to rounding groups of people up and imprisoning them based solely on suspicion and ethnicity. In Trump's bunker mentality version of U.S. democracy, it appears round ups would be all too real. It was all too real for the Jews and anyone else who didn't fit the Aryan ideal under the madness of Hitler. Look how that turned out. Spoiler alert - it went well for no one.

Winston Churchill once said, "Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it." I'm afraid that since the lessons of WWII to be learned from Japanese internment camps in the United States or the xenophobia that a bigoted megalomaniac created in Germany are lost on Trump since his name is not mentioned in the history books, it will be up to the American people to make this madness stop. Norman Lear helped us see the inanity of racism through the bluster of his character, Archie Bunker, and our nation changed bit by bit. Maybe this time, it'll be Twitter that gets the job done.

@JebBush Donald Trump is unhinged. His "policy" proposals are not serious."
@JennyJohnsonHi5 It's like Donald Trump is running for the office of America's Angry Racist Grandma

Even Satan himself isn't having it:
@s8n Comparing Donald Trump to me is really insulting

You know it's bad when Satan has been offended.

C'mon, America. Seriously. We are better than the paranoid state an unhinged megalomaniac would have us believe. We are better than this.


07 December 2015

In brief.

It would be foolish of us to expect that TMFKATB writes a version of "War and Peace" each week. In what is now 75 weekly letters, he has kept us up-to-date on what's going on his life and has rarely left us  wanting for more. Maybe since it was his 75th, today's letter was brief, as in MTV News brief (gotta keep it snappy when your audience is the very definition of short attention span).

Most importantly, he's happy. He has a new companion and is now working with a young man from Florida (the Panhandle area, which is a whole new level of Florida crazy that he gets to learn about) but he's enjoying working with him. Per him, it was a week with some excellent training and spiritual growth.

That said, it was awfully short on detail. When he's brief like this, I tend to do a little reading between the lines, just to reassure myself that all is well. In doing that today, I get the sense that he's doing fine. He's making sure that things are never boring as he serves. Life was never boring when he was home. He excels at making sure things aren't dull.

Even though he kept things brief today, even though it's been a few hours since we had our exchange, here I am mulling things over, smiling at some of the things he said and I'm grateful for that. So there is beauty in brevity after all.

05 December 2015

It must end.

When will we grow weary of reading yet another
list of names of those killed in a shooting? 
For the first time in 95 years, the venerated New York Times has today published an editorial on the front page of the paper. In 1920, the reason for the front page editorial was the nomination of  Warren G. Harding as the Republican presidential candidate. Looking back through the lens of hindsight now, that editorial seems superfluous at best. In the future, the same will not be said of today's editorial. The reason for today's editorial is far more compelling. In the wake of yet another mass shooting, in which 14 people were slaughtered, the editorial is a much needed call for greater regulation on gun control.

For me to try and improve upon the call issued by the Times would be ludicrous. I will only implore you to read it. For those who refuse to read the Times because the oracles of all things 'fair and balanced' at Fox News or the Blaze tell you not to, please read the editorial. It is not a left-wing grab to take away your right to own a gun. It is a call for our nation to be better. It is a call for our nation to at least try and stop the madness of uncontrolled gun violence.

When will we tire of reading the names of those who have died in a mass shooting? How many more times will we have to hear the neighbor or co-worker of a perpetrator say, "I never it saw it coming." Have we grown so callous that the anguish of a victim's family means nothing to us? I'm afraid the answer to that one is yes. Given that the massacre of twenty elementary school children spurned zero change in our gun control laws, our sense of decency took a long walk off a short pier.

Somehow this madness must stop. It must end.

"It is a moral outrage and national disgrace that civilians can 
legally purchase weapons designed to kill people with
brutal speed and efficiency."
End the Gun Epidemic in America - New York Times Editorial Board, Dec. 5, 2015

01 December 2015

The Power of Song?

The high note killed the auto-focus
on the camera
When TMFKATB got a second trainee companion, turning his companionship into a trio, about six weeks ago, I posted  some thoughts on them NOT being the Three Tenors. I may have been wrong in that assertion, based on the photos included in this week's letter. Although out of focus, no doubt due to the power of song they were generating, you can see these three going for the high notes in whatever song they had chosen to belt out at the moment. Turns out, as seen in another photo, they were going to town on a Christmas carol.
The Three Not Tenors
He didn't give us the backstory in his letter, other than to tell us that the lady at the keys loves these three boys like they were her grandsons. We do know that was taken at Thanksgiving so we were grateful to know he spent the day feeling loved. He talked a bit in his letter about serving, checking in on people throughout the week, and seeing good things happened. He was feeling loved and as a parent, you don't ask for much more than that.

While TMFKATB felt loved throughout the week, he also spent Thanksgiving Day feeling stuffed. They had an enormous traditional Thanksgiving meal and then a Mexican one. That one consisted of copious amounts of tamales and pozole. I would have given my right arm to have been at that meal since our Thanksgiving meal was courteous of the snack basket at JetBlue Airways. Thanks to the Terra Chips, I got my sweet potatoes that day and 82 degree temperates when we landed in the straight-up crazy that is Florida. So who's complaining? Not me.

I'm still chuckling as I think about my son singing with his companions. Neither his mother or I are musically talented. We are decidedly and horrifically not musical. I don't think the apple fell that far from the tree for my son either. That said, there had to be something sweet to hear these three singing. That's the power of song and music, I guess. It's good stuff.

26 November 2015

Thank You

Thank you.

Two simple words, when spoken simply and offered sincerely, are an expression of gratitude that can be balm to the soul. It is an expression that can launch so much good. Think about how you feel when someone offers a sincere 'thank you' for something that you've done. You're spurned on to do more of the same. Doing more good is never a bad thing.

Today, the United States celebrates Thanksgiving. Now a day more celebrated for its excess (food, pre-Christmas sales, drunken family fights that can only be solved by the power of She Who Must Be Obeyed, Adele - click here for the proof), at its arguably forgotten core, this is a day of gratitude. It is a day to pause, reflect (go ahead, count your blessings!), and to give thanks for what we have. Even if you think the things for which you can be grateful are meager, the fact is that you are so much better off than so many others in this world.

When you consider the meaning of gratitude, it is not only being thankful, but it also embodies being ready to return a kindness shown to you. Demonstrating that gratitude can be as simple as those two little words: thank you. It is an act of kindness. Those acts need not be grandiose. A smile at the elderly woman in the grocery store who is writing a check (rather than a sneer and the burning urge to display a middle finger). Declaring a ceasefire in your Twitter war with our nation's long-suffering national passenger rail provider. Offering to help the lady who has somehow managed to lug 34 carry-on bags onto the plane find places for her crap in the overhead bin, instead of wishing a pox on her. So those examples may be things I need to work on, allegedly, but you get my drift.

Be ready to return a kindness. On those opportunities, Ralph Waldo Emerson said,

You cannot do a kindness too soon,
for you never know how soon it will be too late.

Say thank you today. Say it every day. May your Thanksgiving table be surrounded in gratitude. Even if it winds up looking something like this, there is still much for which to be grateful:

Happy Thanksgiving!

23 November 2015

The Enforcer?

Post-mission career choice?
It appears from the picture that we got from TMFKATB in this week's letter that he has been regaling the good people who reside behind the Zion Curtain of his life growing up on the mean streets of Chicago, or the Greatest City in the United States. Per his letter, a member of the Church in his area bought him this gem of a Chicago PD knock off shirt.

I think I should clear up a few things about TMFKATB's "mean streets" experience. Here we go:

Those "mean streets"? Yeah, those were in Naperville, or Naperthrill, or the Dirty 630. The mean factor? Terrifying! It was embodied in the irate pearl-wearing, Volvo wagon-driving hausfrau upset about not getting covered parking in the downtown garage, thus exposing her to the elements while walking to the Ann Taylor store. And tough? You bet! Some of those kids had to ride the bus, the bus!, to high school up until the day they got their driver's license. It's a miracle that any of them made it out alive...

But made it out alive he did and he's telling tales as he serves. This week's letter talked a bit about the service opportunities he and his companions have had in the run-up to Thanksgiving. They spent a bit of time prepping turkeys and meals for distribution. It helped him to see again the needs that exist in the world and to feel the reward of selfless service. He also talked about being introduced to a former gang banger. Hearing that man's stories no doubt put TMFKATB's Dirty 630 experiences into stark relief. But what he found in this man was a good soul and a powerful lesson in not judging a book by its cover. There is good to be found in all of us was his subtle reminder.

It's a good reminder as we enter the Thanksgiving week. We should be grateful for the good in the world. It's there, even if it takes some digging to get to it. There is good out there. It's a blessing for which I'm grateful. I'm grateful for my Chicago cop wanna-be son and for what he teaches me every week.

22 November 2015

Where Do I Register, Mr. Trump?

Lady Liberty weeps
While I've tried to avoid politicizing things in the Den, there are times when my take on politics/current events has found some place here. This is going to be one of those (longer) posts, so for those of you who have not liked my take on things political in previous posts, move along - nothing to see here (as a card carrying member of a religious faith known for its conservative majority, being a moderate or even left-leaning is akin to being the Anti-Christ; not supporting Mitt Romney in 2012? 'Oh the humanity!').

Since the mass murders in Paris on November 13th by ISIS terrorists, U.S. presidential candidates have wasted no time in taking (or not) a position on how America can best protect itself against a similar attack.  Megalomaniac and everyone's favorite xenophobe Donald Trump wasted no time in bloviating his rational, well thought out, and humane position (because that's how everything he says is positioned, right?):

Establishing a national registry for all Muslims living in the United States

Wait...what? Read that again and let what that means sink in.

In one savage blast of hot air, Trump has legitimized bigotry and hatred on a national scale. The last I checked, bigotry and hatred were not included in the list of principles upon which this nation was founded. If I missed that chapter in my high school US History course, would someone please let me know. 

The thought of a national registry for any group should send shudders of fear through the collective soul of our nation. The Nazis began registering Jews in western Europe in the 1930's. Property was seized, Stars of David were sewn into people's clothing, books were burned, and when all was said and done, six million, that is six million Jews, Eastern Europeans, gays, POWs, and other 'undesirable' non-Aryans were horrifically slaughtered. In spite of that abominable history, in what is staggeringly unthinkable, plenty of Americans don't seem to have an issue with Trump's declaration. 

Well, I do. So does the Rabbi Joshua Stanton. In a piece for the Huffington Post, Rabbi Stanton says to Trump, "...if you do intend to target Muslims in in a national registry (or worse), please register me too." I echo Rabbi Stanton's rallying cry. This madness cannot be allowed to stand. So, Mr. Trump, I ask you, where do I register? I will not stand by as my Muslim brothers and sisters are made targets of your xenophobic madness.

Although it has been more than one hundred and seventy seven years since it happened, members of my own faith were under an extermination order issued by the governor of Missouri. Make no mistake, this was not an effort to rid their homes of pests. This was government-endorsed murder. In order to survive, those early members of the Church fled Missouri, eventually settling, albeit temporarily, in Illinois, before they once again fled their country before murderous mobs. These people were blamed for all manner of chicanery and only saw survival in the solace of the uncharted territory of the United States. They were unwelcome in their own country, fall guys for things totally outside of their control.

In the wake of Paris, Syrian refugees have become the fall guy for those attacks, for which they had no control. Governors of several states have declared these refugees as unwelcome. With those actions, we are betraying the very words of Emma Lazarus' poem, "The New Colossus," that have adorned the Statue of Liberty since 1903:

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Are there any exceptions in that second stanza? I don't read any that says, "...except for those of you who are willing to risk your lives and see your children drown in an attempt to flee a murderous regime." We cannot turn our backs on these people. I absolutely endorse doing everything in our power to turn back those who would destroy us. But how can we turn our back on those who have been "tempest-tost?" The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum recently said the following in a statement on the xenophobic reaction to the Syrian refugee crisis:

"While recognizing that security concerns must be fully addressed,
we should not turn our backs on the thousands of refugees."

When we visited the Museum last Christmas, at the end of the tour, there was an absolutely searing exhibit of photographs from the Syrian refugee crisis. If you'd seen it, you'd be asking Mr. Trump where you could register in order to stand with your Muslim brothers and sisters. I'd ask if Trump has seen it but since the Museum does not bear his name nor offer a branding opportunity for him, I don't think he'll be dropping by any time soon.

16 November 2015

A quick hello

So apparently he's learned
to use a jackhammer
Some Mondays bring lengthy letters from TMFKATB and ample time to 'chat' back and forth. Other weeks are akin to an email version of a drive-by. Today, friends, was a drive-by. His letter was fairly brief - a quick hello - and not especially detail rich, but he assured us all is well. That said, he sent a couple of pictures, including the one posted here. The other was of his companion working the same jackhammer. He provided zero context, but I take a couple of things away from it:

- He only has limited time on his P-Day, or day off, and I can't expect a "War and Peace" tome on the week that was.

- His mission continues to give him opportunities to serve and learn things he would never have learned living under my roof, like working a jackhammer. It's no secret I am no handyman and power tools are pretty much any kind are my mortal enemy. I mean I am a forty nine year old man who lives in abject fear of the day that I actually have to use my generator (I know I've said a lot of bad things, which you deserved, about you, Mother Nature, but please, by all that's holy, take it easy on us this upcoming winter!). That I have not taught my only son to use a jackhammer should come as a surprise to none of you. But here he is, gutting someone's patio as a part of a service opportunity. The kid's picked up a new skill!

I'll take the 'quick hello' letters, the out-of-context pictures, and the ongoing realization that he's learning and progressing. As a father, I would be selfish to ask for a whole lot more.

15 November 2015

Ce ne est pas une tragédie

It's not a tragedy. It is cold-blooded mass murder.
This past Friday afternoon, as I raced to Philadelphia's 30th Street Station to catch an earlier train back to the 'Stan (which, in a shock to absolutely no one who has ever been subjected to Damntrak, was inexplicably delayed by more than 90 minutes shortly before its scheduled arrival), my Blackberry message light began gyrating like a Kardashian when any one of them catches even the slightest whiff of cash. Clearly, something unpleasant was afoot.

Message after message was pouring in from multiple sources about serious mayhem breaking out in Paris. Within minutes, those messages were followed by internal requests for tracking impacted employees. It was "GO TIME" for me and my team. Of course, being on the train whose wifi service is more of a casual suggestion than an actual functioning thing, I spent the next four and half fours trying to run reports when the wireless felt like working and trying to stay on top of the never ending messages racing through my Blackberry. Dread filled my mind as I thought about my friends who call Paris home. I thought about my last few trips to Paris, which have been some of the best I've had and I was deeply saddened. 'Not again,' is the refrain that kept repeating in my mind.

There was one thought that kept putting itself front and center in my thoughts as it was clear this was an act of cowardice terrorism:

"Ce ne est pas une tragédie."
"This is not a tragedy."

But more than 120 people were murdered senselessly, you say. How can you not call this a tragedy, you ask? By definition, the word tragedy means a lamentable, dreadful or fatal event. The massacre in Paris certainly meets the definition of a tragedy. It was, and is, so much more.

It is an outrageous act of cold-blooded mass murder.
It is cowardice in the name of God.
Can we please call a time out on invoking the name of God to justify, oh I don't know, murder?
It is blasphemy on an epic scale.
Where in the Qu'ran does mass murder get a pass? That would be no where. And this just isn't about the Qu'ran. While I'm no televangelist scriptorian nor do I play one on TV, I know my way, albeit just a little, around the Bible, and the last I checked, no where within its august pages do I find a ringing endorsement for mass murder on any scale.
It is a travesty, a perversion, of all that is still good in this world.

It is an act of war by a decentralized and, arguably, faceless army driven by ideology and it is terrifying. How do you "bomb the s$%#" out of an ideology? Still waiting, waiting, waiting for a cogent answer on that one, Mr. Trump but thanks, Donald, for keeping it classy as you always do. Ahem...

I'm afraid we are in this for the long haul. This will not be an easily won battle. I fear that we will see more of what we experienced this week in Paris and just a few days earlier in the streets of Beirut. We'll have to band together as we did in the days after 9/11 or as we have with the people of Paris in the last 24 hours. This must be our cause, our fight. We are human beings. We are better than this.

"Terrorism is contempt for human dignity." ~ Kjell Magne Bondevik

Me on the streets of Paris




Aujourd'hui, je suis français 
Today I am French

Je suis pour la paix
I am for peace

11 November 2015

Thank You, Veterans

Today marks the observance of Veterans Day in the United States. While it marks the end of World War I on November 11, 1918, this day is one in which we pause to honor those who have served in the U.S. military. When you think about what the U.S. has become in its short 229 years of existence, an enormous debt of gratitude is owed its military veterans.

It was an arguably ragtag army that fought to create this nation. It was a military of brothers tragically fighting brothers that held this nation together during the Civil War. It was the Greatest Generation that preserved the country during World War II. It is the hundreds and thousands of those who serve across all branches of the U.S. military today to preserve our freedom whom we should thank.

Without those freedoms, where would we be? Think about it.

We would not be in an insane uproar over a coffee store's decision to take the most sacred symbols of Christianity (Santa, snowflakes, and sleds which as we all know are the true symbols of Christ's birth) off of their holiday throw-away cups.

We would not have a hateful megalomaniac and a little more than slightly off kilter neurosurgeon leading the Republican presidential clown car race for the presidential nomination.

And, we would not have America's most reprehensible family, the Kardashians and their ilk, were it not for these freedoms. But we also have a most cherished freedom - the freedom to turn the grossness that is the Family K off. Some days, that is the greatest freedom of all.

We are not a perfect nation. But we are nation of staunch defenders of the freedoms that make us who we are. We would not be that were it not for those who have defended those rights and freedoms since the idea of becoming an independent nation was born.

Thank a veteran today. They deserve it this day and every day.

09 November 2015

Making it work

Bike / All around hauler
 This week's letter from TMFKATB was yet another one that made me grateful for the wisdom possessed by a twenty year old. It often outstrips the wisdom that I think I have. I have to keep reminding myself that just because you are older, doesn't necessarily mean you are wiser.

He was pretty excited about the simple success of loading a week's worth of groceries onto a basket in a bike. The fact that the haul got from the grocery store to the apartment all in one piece was worthy of celebration. He was pretty excited to make it work.

The haul

There was that excitement but there was also perspective in his letter. He mentioned that they were the targets of a lot of yelling this week and he seemed to take it in stride. He tried to invoke the familiar refrain of "What would Jesus do?" and he did what he felt prompted to do and that was to express love. This is a kid who loves his fellow man for who they are. He sees people as brothers and sisters, not as labels or stereotypes. He sees the good.

I needed that little dose of wisdom and that reminder to see and find the good. I've been challenged to find the good in the last few days and it's not been easy. But I'm going to take a lesson from my son and find a way to make it work. And I'd do well to remember to see the good, too.

08 November 2015

Hoarding

When the "Hoarders" television series first aired, I saw the first few episodes and watched with my jaw agape, wondering how things could get that out of control in anyone's life. It wasn't long before I stopped watching because it doesn't take too many rat/cat/bird carcass discovery scenes before you get bored (more of a pathetic commentary on our media consumption and expectations than anything else, isn't it?) and off you go, never really giving the mental illness that is often associated with hoarding or its impact any further thought.

While I ran into a few hoarders during my missionary service thirty years ago and a couple of others since then, I hadn't given hoarding much thought until yesterday. Along with some friends from church, I spent a chunk of my day yesterday on a community service project (non-court ordered, by the way) that involved hauling nearly 100 bags of leaves, raked by kids from the local high school, from the yards of those that aren't able to do so to a farm for composting purposes. After playing a couple versions of real-life "Frogger" after a few leaf bags flew out of the back of the truck, it was off to our final assignment of the day - hauling refuse (let's be honest and call it what it was - junk, straight up junk) from a woman's home. Before we got there, we'd been told that there was a pile in front of the home, ready to go be scooped up and taken to our town's Transfer Station (aka dump - remember we live under the icy fist of Martha Stewart so apparently you can't use the word 'dump'). When we got there, we found that there were multiple piles and that the home was nearly indistinguishable from the piles. We literally did not know where to begin and there was no asking the homeowner. All we were told of her was that she was widowed and terribly hard of hearing and would not come to the door. So we tore into the largest pile, separating metal from wood from plastic from just garbage in hopes of making a little difference for the homeowner. Looking behind the pile, we found a 1966-ish Cadillac El Dorado convertible marooned in the earth with trees growing all around it. It was amazing and heartbreaking all at once. Staring at the heap of junk in the yard and the rusting hulk of that old car, I wondered aloud, "How does it get this bad for someone?" I wondered where was this woman's family. Where were her friends? Wasn't there someone in her life to say, 'Please let me help you.' There was work to be done and I had to stop asking questions and so I got back to tossing junk into the back of the truck. Although I had stopped asking the questions aloud while at the site, I haven't stopped asking them in my head.

I don't have the answers to those questions. I'm not a mental health professional, nor do I play one on TV, so I won't presume to try and answer the profound mental / medical issues at play here. I know that family dynamics can be a DefCon 5 / lit fuse on a powder keg situation in even the most perfect of families (P.S. there is no such thing), but how can you let a family member descend into such a level of despair? You can't. You just can't. While I have no idea how things can get so bad in someone's life that hoarding is the answer, I hope I can be a person who is there to say, "Please let me help you. Let me be your friend." I hope I can be that guy.

I've also been thinking a lot about my friends over the course of the last few days. I'm grateful for each of my friends and for what you've added to my life. Our lives, beliefs, and who we are, in many cases, could not be more different but I wouldn't want it any other way. I am better for it. I hope I've given back to you in some small way as well and that I'll be able to keep doing that.

Life can be stormy. In some cases, a person may find refuge from those storms in something extreme, like hoarding. Others are able to find comfort with family and friends. I'm happy to be that port in a storm for my family and friends. And I know you'd do the same for me. Thank you.

04 November 2015

Grandfathered

Grand, indeed.
With the arrival of our granddaughter, Jane, nearly three weeks ago, we upped the grandchild count to two. Those are not gross Duggar freakshow family numbers, but for the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I, two is pretty much perfection right now.

I was able to spend this past weekend with my grandchildren, my daughter and son-in-law, and as an added bonus, CAL came down. With TMFKATB just minutes away in his assigned area of missionary service, it was the closest thing to a perfect virtual family reunion that we've had for awhile. If I had to sum up the weekend in one word, it would be this: JOY.

It started as I drove down the I15, my heart swelling with joy, knowing my son was nearby, serving God and the Spanish speaking people that he has grown to love with all his heart.

The joy overflowed when I got further behind the Zion Curtain and held these two in my arms:
Happy
Holding Jane, this beautiful blend of her mother (my daughter) and my son-in-law, was awe-inspiring and life affirming. As the Boy Awesome climbed up (it was more like an assault, if I'm being honest - this kid is ALL boy) on me so we could get the picture above, my joy was complete.

Being grandfathered, unlike the unwatchable Fox series of the same name (seriously, it's hideous - Stamos' best work was on 'Full House' - and I literally just threw up in my mouth as I wrote those words), is pretty much the best thing ever. Having the Boy Awesome use me as his personal tackling dummy for the entire weekend was great. Taking him on a Grandpa/Grandson only trip to my alma mater, BYU, so we could get him a "Go Cougars!" shirt was awesome. Learning that he insisted that his sister wear a BYU shirt the day after we left made me smile from ear to ear. Here's the proof:
Never too early to be a Cougar fan!
While we were on campus, I ran into several kids from our days in Chicago. It was great to see the Boy Awesome interact with them. He particularly liked playing football in front of the Wilkinson Center with this guy (he's an elementary ed major and is going to be an amazing teacher - read more about his exploits here):
Barely got them to stop tossing the
ball to get this picture
There was also a bit of joy because it was Halloween and Grandpa got to walk around with the Boy Awesome with his dad as he worked the neighborhood in pursuit of the usual Halloween treats.
The Cowboy - the horse lasted about
half a house.

With his buddy, Captain America

Negotiating a trade with the Man in the
Yellow Hat from his favorite books,
"Curious George"

The Cowboy and the Pumpkin
Suffice to say, it was a delightful night. I suspect my smile matched the big ones carved into the pumpkins throughout the Awesomes' neighborhood. I smiled broadly later that night as I watched my daughter and her son-in-law negotiate bedtime with a two year old who was determined NOT to go to bed. As I listened to them talk to their boy, I was transported back to my own mostly futile attempts at negotiating with my three children when they were that age. These kids are a lot more skilled than I, I can tell you that.

It's fair to say I am a HUGE fan of this grandfather thing. There's a little less pressure being a grandfather, but like a father, I know I've always got to be my best self with my grandchildren. I've got to be there for them. I've got to be the grandfather talked about in this quote:

To a small child, the perfect granddad is unafraid of big dogs
and fierce storms but absolutely terrified of the word boo.
~ Robert Brault

So, to my grandchildren I say bring on the boo! Grandpa's ready to be scared