28 February 2015

Clowning Around

Name one you don't want to kill...yeah, that's what I thought
Clowns. There are very few words in the English language that are creepier than 'clowns.' Just typing the word, I sense the hair on the back of my neck standing and it feels like the skin on my back is trying to leap off of me.

On clowns, I am not a fan. That said I do not suffer from coulrophobia, which is an excessive, debilitating fear of clowns. It's a thing, a real one, and you can read all about it here. To prove it's just not a Wiki thing, read this on the topic from the good people at the Smithsonian.

Look, I just don't like them - clowns, not the good folks looking over our nation's attic over at the Smithsonian. Clowns are evil. The only one I can tolerate is Krusty the Clown. How can you not love a drug-addicted, four-fingered, Jewish, Borscht Belt clown with a superfluous third nipple, who is yellow on purpose and not from cirrhosis of the liver from his rampant alcohol abuse ~ allegedly!

My hatred and sheer contempt for clowns was set alight anew this morning as I came down our stairs and saw that pink-hatted spawn of Satan you see in the photo above staring at me through one of our entry way windows. I liked to have died. This was not my first run in with Lucifer's Lil Court Jester. At a 'white elephant' gift exchange at the Christmas holiday a couple of months ago, I was one of the last to pick a gift. The innocent, festive packaging  betrayed what lurked inside. Imagine my horror when I opened the package and saw it staring back at me. I recoiled in fear and revulsion and determined right then and there that Hellspawn wasn't coming home with us. And it didn't. Until today.

I am now left to ponder the fate of Lil Beelzebub. I think I've calmed down enough at this point to NOT put a "For Sale" sign up in front of the house because I'm not living in the clown version of "The Amityville Horror." This much I know. It will be disposed of and will be the recipient of the fate it so richly deserves. I can't wait.

23 February 2015


All smiles with his companion
After last week's letter and its opening salvo, "I'm dying," we were more than a little curious about the news we'd get from TMFKATB today. Happy to report that his letter, entitled 'i feel better,' was a most welcome read. Aside from the statement, "I feel so much better," he spoke no more of last week's dream date with chikungunya. Check here for a huge answer to prayers. HUGE.

The rest of the letter was pretty pedestrian, quite frankly, with the exception of a little run-in with some 'possessed' people. There is nothing like a mission experience when you find yourself constantly seeking to serve others that you see people in their best and worst moments. He had one of those pretty scary moments where he encountered someone who was convinced she was possessed. He didn't give a lot of detail but suffice to say, it's a heavy thing for a nineteen year old to experience. These are lessons that you wouldn't pick up in a college classroom. Based on what he said though, he's growing up in ways that are hard to describe. I'm amazed at the faith that he's demonstrating. Amazed.

One of the fun things that he and I have going is his weekly report of the best thing he ate. When he's feeling especially cheeky, he'll send a picture. He did it again this week, with some delicious looking tacos al pastor.
Clearly he was feeling more than well enough to feast on these. And I couldn't be happier for him.

21 February 2015

First World Problems - The Alarm Edition

First World Problems. Vexing little devils, aren't they? In case you don't know what I'm talking about, I'll give you the definition from Urban Dictionary:

Problems from living in a wealthy, industrialized nation that third worlders would probably roll their eyes at

Although a bit of a grammatical haz-mat situation, that definition is pretty spot on and is, probably, the least profane in the whole of the UD. You have been warned.

I had a run-in with First World Problems at 3:45AM today. I was jolted out of a sound sleep by the sound of a screeching that normally is heard when Kris Kardashian finds out one of her cash cows children made a public appearance without getting the cash first. It's as calamitous as you might think. That horrific screech was followed by a robotic voice announcing, "Low battery." I thought I was dreaming and then exactly one minute later, there it was again. One more minute later, it was back. I wasn't dreaming. It was our CO2/Smoke alarm, which is hard-wired, so I was a tad befuddled as to why it was screeching on about the low battery. Remember, people, I'm not an engineer so it took me a second to realize that the infernal thing has a battery back-up. I took the battery out. It kept screeching. I went in search of 9V battery. During that search, the tragedy of #firstworldproblems came into full relief:

Guess who had no more 9V batteries in the house?
Guess who lives in a 'hood where there is no such thing as a 24 hour convenience store?
Guess who has a screeching monitor with no 'hush' function?
Guess who has a screeching monitor, while just two years old, is no longer featured on the manufacturer's website, making it impossible to find the users manual online?

Mercifully, it was resolved by 645AM. All it took was a quick trip to the gas station mini-mart to grab a 9V battery. This little showcase of chewing tobacco, lotto tickets, smokes, and more saturated fats than you can shake a stick at was our salvation. The cashier, sensing my trauma, was apologetic about the price of the battery. I would have given him my kidney if it was going to get me that battery. I raced home and all but slammed the battery into the sensor and the screeching stopped!

With our ears ringing from the three hours of screech, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I lit out to enjoy another drubbing, this time in the form of a visit to Costco. Before we got there, we stopped at a little diner not far from BDL for breakfast. It was clearly a neighborhood place - the kind where the waitresses all know your name (and if they don't, your name is 'hun' or 'dear') and how you like your eggs. Although we were interlopers, we were treated like family. Our waitress was concerned about my ability to finish what I had ordered and ribbed me each time she came to check on us. I should have listened to her, as it would have been wiser to have ordered two of their hubcap-sized pancakes instead of three. Duly noted for next time. 

As I labored to finish my cinnamon oatmeal pancakes, soaking in the atmosphere of this little diner, the lunacy of the morning was made plain. My #firstworldproblems weren't a problem at all. I had a minor inconvenience. A minor inconvenience. I asked myself, 'Are you getting the picture of just how silly these problems were?' I was lamenting the fact that a LIFESAVING device was making a lot of noise, inconveniencing things here in the Den, and I was unable to fix them immediately. The fact is that it got fixed. I was with my lovely wife enjoying a breakfast and we were about to go to a place where you can buy caskets in bulk if you really wanted.

You realize how silly this all was, right? Yeah, so did I.
#firstworldproblems - the struggle is not real

16 February 2015

A little plague. A little robbery. All in a week's work.

A rare two-fer post day here in the Den. First, a birthday post and then the latest from TMFKATB.

When you get an email directed solely to you from your missionary son serving in Mexico and it includes the words 'dying,' 'plague,' and 'stress,' you tend to perk up a little. OK, A LOT. That's how things played out today with TMFKATB's first email to me, not his mother. I'm sure he figured it was more important I relate to his mother about his current state than he just surprise her in his family letter. This is how he laid it out:

I ate some tiburon (shark) and gorditas that were delicious. I'm dying right now of a disease called chikungunya. It's a plague here in Mexico and it has let me to a lot of stress.

Before his family letter arrived, I told the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML. We quickly Google'd it and found out that chikungunya is, in fact, a thing. You can read here what the CDC has to say about it. His weekly letter did bring us a bit more comfort, once we read it a couple of times. Although it's been a stressful week, he seems like he's actually doing pretty well and his concern is more with the other missionaries in the district he is leading who have been affected with it than himself. So as we read about how he was handling what sounds like a pretty painful malady, he tossed in the following:

At the beginning of the week, I got robbed by like seven little six year old girls. They jumped all over me and stole my pass along cards (cards with images of Christ and information about services). It was super funny. One threatened to pull my pants down. It was hilarious.

Sheesh. First, a bunch of six year old cholas jump him for his Church cards and then a mosquito or two or three brings the pain of viral disease that sounds like something found during a colonoscopy. That's quite a week he's had. Again, I am in awe of how his sense of humor shone through in the letter and also at his concern for his fellow man. He's maturing in amazing ways.

I'm also humbled by the sense of peace that enveloped the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I as we read of this week's events. Sure, it may have gotten our hearts racing a little more than usual but as we read his letter over again and saw his sense of humor and his strength, we were a bit more at ease. 

That said, for any of you medical professionals who stop by the Den, feel free to weigh in on your thoughts on chikingunya. We'll be glad to listen. 

At a taqueria, downing Fantas. I'm surprised that foul stuff didn't give him what he's got now.


25 years.

A quarter of a century.

The silver anniversary.

If you're car is twenty five years old, it's most likely considered a "classic."

If you're twenty five years old, you're an adult now, whether you like it or not.

We're talking about the number '25' a bit here in the Den today. Why? We are celebrating the birth of our oldest child and first-born daughter, Our Lady of Awesome. Twenty fives years old today. I won't waste a lot of virtual ink lamenting the fact that I have a child who has been on this earth for a quarter of a century. Instead, I'll celebrate her. It's her day.

I love this girl's sly sense of humor. I love her willingness to be silly with her brother and sister. I love that she does not suffer fools. At all and never has. I love her commitment to her husband and her son. I love that she still checks in with her mom. I love that she's happy.

I'm a lucky dad. I honestly had no idea what I was doing as a dad when she was born. She was our 'crash test dummy' and she came through it with flying colors. Amazing.

Wishing her a happiest of birthdays today!

15 February 2015

Winter's Discontent

Now is the winter of our discontent.
"Richard III" - William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare coined that prophetic phrase in 1594. Four hundred and twenty one - 421 - years later, I would say, without doubt, that we are truly in our own winter of discontent.

Why, you ask?

The snow. The shoveling. Throw in some delightful wind chill. Then more snow. Then more shoveling. It's turned into a vicious cycle. It's like we are on a never-ending hamster wheel in Satan's playground and, quite frankly, we are ready to get off. Perhaps the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I have both have a raging case of seasonal affective disorder (also known as SAD, without a hint of irony). Who knows? But as we crept down our hill on the snow-packed road this morning to go get some religion, we both looked at each other with a knowing look that said, 'It's enough already.' True that.

A state of discontentment can actually be a good thing. It's usually an uncomfortable state to be in and it's not something you want to wallow in. Unless of course you like that state of mind. However, if managed appropriately, discontentment spurns change. I think it's safe to say we are ready for that here. While we have no control over the shrewish and angry hag that is Mother Nature, I am determined she will not get the better of us.

I'm taking this quote from the late Gandhi to heart: 

Progress it is. Progress it shall be. In the meantime, Mother Nature, you won't win this one, even if it kills me.

13 February 2015

The things we do for love

What could have gone wrong?
As a result of some horrifically unwise decisions to follow trends when I was younger (ask me about my time as an "Urban Cowboy" devotee - better yet, don't, please don't), I've not been an  'early adopter' of all things trendy, if I adopt them at all. For instance, I've been slow to jump on the #TBT train on the interwebs. If you are more in the dark than I and don't know what that is, be not ashamed and let me clue you in. #TBT, shorthand for Throw Back Thursday, is a hashtag assigned to a photo from your past that you post on a Thursday somewhere, mostly the Instagrams or maybe on the Facebook. The more awkward the photo the better it seems.

Like I said, I've been slow on the uptake on this one and I finally posted my first official #TBT picture yesterday, which was, in fact, a Thursday. It's the photo featured on today's post. How does this picture qualify as 'throw back' and what on earth, you ask, does it have to do with the title of this post? Well, let me tell you.

This picture was taken about 15 years ago in our home in Temecula, CA. Said house was some kind of Spanish-style gem (we loved that house) that dot Southern California's myriad planned communities. Our planned community was no different and the fascist HOA dictated what the house looked like on the outside but had no say on what we did inside. Our home had very high ceilings and had this ridiculous 'bell tower' feature. PS - there was no bell up there. The only thing up there was one of those little sticky hands that you get in a bubble gum machine. You get one guess as to how it got up there. If you guess anything other than the Boy when he was four years old, you would be wrong.

It is that bell tower that I'm painting. The picture is an answer to the age-old question "Why do women live longer than men?" Because a woman would never take a 24 foot ladder, wearing weird apostolic sandals and surgical gloves (safety first!) and hang off it to paint in a way that is sure to end in disaster. But a man, yes, without a second thought, scrambles up the ladder and goes to work. This photo only captures phase one as I ascended higher to get that whole thing painted. And paint it I did. I was proud of my efforts. It wasn't until later that I realized I should have been proud of the fact that I didn't lose a limb.

So why'd I do it? Because it's one the things we do for love. If you are suddenly humming along to the somewhat dire 70's song of the same name from the British band 10cc, sorry, not sorry. You do things to make the person you love happy. I climbed that ladder because I wanted to paint that tower for my wife, the woman I love. She had a vision for that home. Who was I to say no? Now said woman I love, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML, warned me that the way I positioned myself on the ladder was, perhaps, not the wisest (and by that, I'm pretty certain she met borderline dangerous and clearly foolhardy). She even offered to hold the ladder. I rejected the offer in much the same way I would reject a request to stop and ask for directions (again, more proof why women live longer than man). Because that's what men do. Grr....

There would be more walls to paint, in the name of love, in the ensuing years. I'm delighted to report that none required the ladder gymnastics of the Temecula house. But I'd do it all again. Why? Simple. It's the things we do for love. Speaking of which...

09 February 2015

"I have no fear"

One of the 'ranchitos' in his area
Another Monday. Still our favorite day.

Another ridiculous Monday snow storm. 3rd week in a row. Still not one of our favorite things.

Another letter from TMFKATB. It was one that showed some significant growth in him. It also showed his sense of humor remains intact.

First the bit of humor. He had to take a seven hour bus ride to Tuxtla Gutierrez to participate in leadership training. Apparently the climate change was a little hard for him to take. Here's what he said: "We arrived in Tuxtla and I thought I was gonna die. It was so dang cold. Probably only 65 degrees but with wind. It was freezing." Bear in mind, this is a kid who claims Chicago as his hometown and spent the last two years living in not balmy Connecticutistan. He knows from cold. As we read his humorous little lamentation, we were looking at 20 degrees and hour eight of non-stop snow. We win, but it's not a game I want to win.

Then for the growth. He talked about how they just jump on cumbis, or mini-buses, and just go where they feel like they should go. Very often they aren't sure where they'll wind up. For those of you who know TMFKATB, you know this is huge, and I mean, HUGE, for him. He said, "I'm sure you all remember how scared I used to be of going to new places and being alone. God has blessed me and I have no fear. It's awesome." He's not kidding about that fear. When he was young, that fear, at times, could be nearly paralyzing for him. The reasons why are probably worth a post some day but are more a reflection of my leaving the TV on when we lived in SoCal during a rash of child kidnappings / killings when he was really young. #awesomeparenting

Taking in his words were a source of tremendous comfort to me. I've had very few concerns about him as he embarked on his missionary service but how he would handle this challenge has not been far from my thoughts and prayers. It's been one of the things I've been most concerned about. It was also something I really didn't know how to ready him for, outside of platitudes and fatherly guidance. I knew he'd have to learn it on his own. He's learning that lesson and I'm more than a little relieved.

It's just one of many that he'll learn during these two years. They are lessons that will serve him well for the rest of his life. This is why I like, no, love these Mondays.
It's National Pizza Day today. Not that these three knew that.

08 February 2015


My father died almost five and a half years ago and today, 8 February, marks what would have been his 79th birthday. Recent circumstances have caused memories of my dad to be at the forefront of my mind. It's days like these, birthdays, that the sense of loss is more acute.

It also reminds me that I've been pretty lousy at grieving the loss of my father. According to Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and her Kubler-Ross model, there are five stages of grief associated with death. The five stages are:

Denial / Anger / Bargaining / Depression / Acceptance

When I recall the events around my dad's death and the ensuing nearly six years, it seems to me that per the model, I skipped the first four stages and went directly, in much the same you do when playing the world's most arduous board game, Monopoly, bypassing 'go' and going directly to jail, to 'Acceptance.' I don't think I had much of a choice. There wasn't time for the first four stages when it happened and since then, acceptance seemed to be the only option.

To be sure, part of that acceptance comes with my faith and belief in a plan for us after this life. That sense of surety I have is, for me a source of great comfort but today, and I can't quite put my finger on it, I'm just a bit out of sorts over this grieving process. I can't help but wonder that because I wasn't prostrate with grief or anger at the time that I haven't honored my father's life or memory. I don't think so but it's bothering me just a little. I'm not saying that I should have leapt on his coffin as it descended (think the burial scene in Jonathan Demme's delightful Married to the Mob). That would have been ridiculous but I still can't help but wonder if I've grieved appropriately?

Loss and how we handle it is a deeply personal thing. Yet, and I've pointed this out before, it is not lost on me that I am ironically making it a public thing by writing about it in this forum. I know for others, opening up a raw nerve in a silly blog like this would be unthinkable. For me, though, this works.

Sure, I wish my dad was still here to be celebrating his 79th. Who knows? Maybe we'd have been by his side today. If nothing else, we would have picked up the phone and talked. I'm glad I was able to wish him a happy birthday on his last. He was a good, patient man. I take great comfort in that patience.I feel like he's being patient with me to this day as I figure out this grieving process. For that, I am grateful.

07 February 2015



People's every day stories. Sure, the over-sized, outrageous, jaw-dropper of a story is fun to hear. But it is the tale of every day life that has me endlessly fascinated. I love hearing them. If you've spent any time on the virtual sofa here in the Den, you know that I like sharing stories, too.

Everyone of us has a story to tell. You may not think so but every single one of us has had an experience, or two, or two hundred, that is unique to us. Those stories are worth telling and there are myriad ways to tell them. Besides the written word, there are two standouts for me for story telling:

The Moth - this radio show / podcast of live story telling events is full of humor, bravery, sadness (but not in a maudlin, Hallmark Channel / Nicholas Sparks made-for-TV vomit-inducing way), hope, and achievement as told by the people who are telling their own stories. It's thought-provoking and well worth a listen. And yes, my Mittite friends, it is on public radio, but calm down, I'm not asking you to donate! Just listen and enjoy the beauty of the stories.

The Story Trek - once I got past the lady in her uber-Utahn accent closing out each show with the same tagline, I found I was really able to enjoy this folksy (there, I said it, folksy) television show. The host goes around the country and knocks on random people's doors and gets them to tell their stories. It beautifully highlights how each of us, no matter who we are, has a story. They are stories worth hearing.

My life story, like yours, is made upon a whole slew of stories; some funny, some sad; some long and drawn-out; and some that are 'quick reads.' I realize that the story we are all telling in this life is an ever-evolving one. Unlike a fiction writer, I can't write ahead or dictate what's going to happen to the characters. I can't hit the "delete" button either if a scene doesn't play out the way I might have liked. Frankly, those moments can make for some pretty good stories. I may never be brave enough to tell one of those stories on "The Moth" but I'm going to keep telling stories here.

Our different stories make us who we are. Imagine a world where we all had a better understanding of who we are. We may be a little less quick to throw down the hammer of judgement. We may just be better to one another.

Tell your story.

02 February 2015

It's a little warmer

Sadly, I've stayed in worse places
Last week's letter and spot communication from TMFKATB reflected a young man who'd been served a heaping help of change with a side order of surprise and how he was trying to deal with it. The Boy, or TMFKATB, does not like the unknown. Surprises are not his friend. He's cool so long as he has an idea of what's going on. So we knew last week's changes had the potential to rattle him. We were more than a little anxious to get today's missive.

Today's letter was a literal ray of sunshine in an otherwise dreary day. By dreary, I mean non-stop snow for 12 hours which meant 12 inches of snow and a couple of nightmare shovel bonanzas. His letter, although written in his rat-a-tat stream of consciousness and ever worsening English, showed that he's stepping up to the challenges that his new assignments and new area are giving him. He's also recognizing the rewards of working hard. He's learning about working hard to earn the respect of others that don't automatically grant that respect. I have to hand it to him though because his sense of humor continues to shine through.

He was kind enough to send us a picture of his bathroom. It's safe to say we breathed a collective sigh of relief when we saw that toilet paper was present and accounted for. Of his shower, he said, "The bathroom here has a little warmer water. It's still freezing but not ice cold haha." Nice perspective. He also let me know that he had powered down 13, yes 13, carne asada tacos at one sitting. One of my aortas constricted with joy and envy when I read that.

With some of the missionaries and members in his area
He just looks happy. And tan. He's getting a little George Hamilton-esque! Ironically, The Boy and I ran into Mr. Hamilton when we were in Miami last year. Suffice to say, all that tanning did George zero favors, but I digress. That smile and that tan on our boy made our day. He's happy, he's outside working. He's loving the people he is serving. Couldn't ask for much more.