30 March 2015

Drive By Communication

Yep, this pretty much sums it up
TMFKATB surprised us by checking in about an hour earlier than normal today. I got a quick head's up email first, saying things were crazy this week with people celebrating Semana Santa (Holy Week) and that he'd have more to tell in his big letter. He then quickly added that he was on his way to Tuxtla to see a gastroenterologist because his, and there is no delicate way to put this, runs are working his last nerve. Lovely.

So in spite of that, his weekly letter was upbeat. His attitude gives me hope. Anyway, he continues to see the value of hard work and the rewards it brings. He was amazed by all the shenanigans in the street related to Holy Week, including some cross dressing and folks dolled up as Satan. Now to me, that was, and is, pretty much any given day of the week on South Beach, but it was a little jarring in his Mexican town. It's all a part of his learning and experience. He then briefly detailed the gastrointestinal fiesta that's led him see a doctor in Tuxtla Gutierrez, but I'll spare you all of that. He wrapped it up saying he had time for questions before he caught his bus and that he had a slew of pictures to send. And we heard no more. Like that, he was gone.

No more responses. No more pics. Nada. It dawned on me that we had just gotten a drive by communication from him. So now we wait. Here's hoping we have a more robust exchange next week.

27 March 2015

A dagger to a word nerd's heart

Oh, the soul-crushing agony
It's no secret that I harbor a wicked case of bibliophilia. For certain, there are far greater -philias that one can suffer in this life. I'm glad that the -philia I've developed is one that brings me immeasurable pleasure. Sure, it's one that has literally cost us dearly on our multiple corporate moves (since those costs are calculated by weight and hardcover books aren't delicate flowers). My sagging bookshelves are a hoarder's delight but I can't apologize for that. Books are awesome.

One of the things I like doing when I'm in a new city is to hit a bookstore and I don't mean a soulless big box one, but an independent bookseller. This is no easy task anymore as so many of these smaller, independent bookstores continue to fall by the wayside. Far too often, I get to one and I see a sign like the one in the photo above taped to the door and it is a virtual dagger to this word nerd's heart. It really does hurt. While we were in the desert last weekend where we saw a large glowing, warmth producing orb in the sky - I think you call it the 'sun' - I heard about a going out of business sale at a location of the one remaining soulless big box book retailer and I thought I should check it out.

Now lest you cry "Hypocrite," hear me out. I love me some books, but a good book doesn't necessarily come cheap, so why not check to see if there wasn't a deal or two? I got to the store and saw a sea of empty shelves. I know that they hadn't sold out of inventory. All the good stuff had either gone back to the publisher or to other stores. What remained did do my word nerd's heart a bit of good. All that was left were games, cards, and junk that has no business being in a bookstore in the first place. Whew! Like I said, that did my word nerd heart some good.

So word nerd, what have you been reading, you ask? Here's a quick peek at what's on my nightstand:

Ghettoside by Jill Leovy - murder and injustice in America today
Flash Boys by Michael Lewis - Wall Street unpleasantries
Redeployment by Phil Klay - the stories of those who have gone back to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

All non-fiction. All the time. I can't get away from it. I wonder what that says about me? Hmmm
Do me a favor. Go read a book.

25 March 2015

Hello poppet he says

Apologies for the delay in getting this week's update posted. Travel schedules made it difficult and the last time I was on the road and posted an update from TMFKATB, it was riddled with errors. Not repeating that again.

This week's update from TMFKATB was strangely titled 'Hello Poppet.' Apparently he was channeling his inner Johnny Depp / Jack Sparrow. Because pirates are like missionaries? I have no idea. It was all a bit surreal. It didn't help that I was standing in the Detroit Airport charging my iPhone when I got it. Detroit. Pirates. It was all a little off-putting. What was not off-putting, though, was his update.

Suffice to say, it was a good week. He spent most of it with other missionaries while his companion was in hospital. He is now back and they are working. TMFKATB seems to be hitting his stride, gaining further confidence through the things that he is experiencing. He shared how it felt to seeing someone on the street who looked like they were hurting and being prompted to stop and talk with that person. It was a conversation to see if the person needed help and the person's grateful reaction had a profound impact on TMFKATB. He said he feels like experiences like these are helping him to become a more charitable person.

It's great to see him growing like this. It's also fun to see that he can still pull random film references out of the blue while sharing some really cool experiences. Reason #237 why we love Mondays.

20 March 2015


After a few days of planes, trains, and automobiles, I'm on a little break. I've escaped the wintry confines that are Connecticutistan for the deserts of Arizona and am getting reacquainted with the large glowing orb some call the "sun." Some of you may be familiar with it. It's been interesting to see it again.

With some free time, I've also been exposed to the foolishness that is morning television and it appears to be a bleak race to the finish line of vapidness. This morning, for example, every one was chirping about the fact that today is International Day of Happiness. Seriously, it's a thing. Surprisingly, it does not appear to be invented by Hallmark or its ilk. I've never heard of this day and don't really get it, but hearing the term 'happy' being tossed around has gotten me thinking about happiness.

Happy. I like what Marcus Aurelius had to say about it:

Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself in your way of thinking.

Marcus is right, you know, at least for me. It doesn't take a lot to make me happy. I may be simple, but family, friends and food are three core elements to making me happy. I've had them all during this mini-vacation and they've all made me happy, particularly last night's Punjabi gosht rogan josh and the Thai drunken noodles I had for lunch today.

One man's happiness may be another's undoing, I get that. I mean it's not everyone that can find bliss in a plate of rogan josh, but I can. That's the thing about happiness. It's up to each one of us to find our happy and to find it every day. One of life's blessings is the opportunity that we have to start anew each day. I can choose to find something good in the most challenging thing I face each day or I can opt to let it knock me down. I'll go for the good because good gets you the happy.

And happy is a good place to be.

16 March 2015

Six months out and not a dull moment yet

Fresh mango with salt and chili - his favorite snack
Tomorrow may be St. Patrick's Day but for us it will make for something a bit more significant. The 17th marks TMFKATB's six month as a missionary. This means that, unbelievably, a quarter of his two year service is now complete, but who's counting? You would think that time would be crawling for us, not having him around. It's been quite the opposite actually. I'm amazed it's already been six months. For us, each of his weekly updates during the past six months has been anything but dull. Today's letter was no different.

He first sent me a quick response to my weekly letter that had this cryptic comment: btw i'm companionless now. Wait...what? In life as a Mormon missionary, you are NEVER without a companion. Clearly, this demanded an explanation. His family letter clarified his cryptic comment. Without divulging a lot of details, the companion he was training has become seriously ill and is now getting appropriate care. This did send them back to the 'green room' clinica for a couple of days before it was clear this young man would need additional medical attention. Based on what TMFKATB shared with us, it's been quite an experience dealing with the situation and it's allowed him to learn some additional lessons about the challenges we are dealt in life. Suffice to say, the last several weeks have given him ample opportunity to learn.

In spite of it all, he was able to drive home just how good he has it food-wise. First, the picture. That's a fresh mango, seasoned with salt and chili. He says it's his favorite snack. And then to burnish the point, he shared the following:

so i didn't take a pic but i ate a delicious torta on the street this week. salchicha, chorizo, jamon and i have no idea what else. it was awesome. they put mayonaise on everything here and i'm starting to love it. the mayo is with lime so it is delicious. i think it's gonna take me lots of time to get used to food in the usa. i also ate caldo de pata. it was gross. its like a soup tradition here. its the hoof of a cow and you eat the soup and then suck all the tendons off the hoof and the skin. it was weird. the soup had good flavor but the hoof was gross.
Not the caldo he ate, but you get the idea
I'm going to take the fact that he has no qualms about eating street food whose ingredients are unknown and that the only thing he's called 'gross' in six months is the hoof of a cow. Truly he is his father's son. May the iron stomach chain never be broken!

15 March 2015

Mad at Life's Histories

Last night, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I gathered with other members of our church for an evening of worship and teaching. For whatever reason, and I lay that fault squarely at my own feet, I wasn't agog with excitement about this meeting. The day had been extraordinarily dreary (yeah, thanks for that Mother Nature, you never-ending shehag) and after this endless winter, perhaps one.more.day of dreary was wearing me down. So the thought of a couple hours of meetings wasn't exactly enticing.

Now, as the meeting opened, I was delighted to see the music on the program. We are fortunate to have a nationally known mezzo soprano, Tamara Mumford, in our congregation and she was a soloist at the meeting. Accompanied by a pianist and a cellist (that's about as crazy instrumental we get musically in our services, unless you count some of the organs with the fancy pants pre-recorded 'ringing bell' function), she killed it with my favorite arrangement of my favorite hymn. I am amazed by those blessed with incredible musical talent and am grateful for their willingness to share that talent. I reveled in the feelings that came along with the song. Yet, I still found myself getting distracted after that. My mind simply drifted.

It was during that empty-headed drifting when one of the main speakers mentioned 'being mad at life's histories.' That caught my attention and I immediately wished I could push 'rewind' on his full commentary. I was able to surmise that he was relating a story of someone who had been consumed by all the wrongs that had occurred in his/her life and how being mad at the past had made for a very unpleasant present. I've been ruminating over that statement - 'being mad at life's histories' - and what it means ever since.

As I've noted previously, our lives and how we live them are a series of chapters constituting the book of life that is each one of us. Not one of those books and the chapters within is the same. What happens to us in this life shapes those chapters. Thanks to things like forgiveness, we can edit some of the chapters as necessary. We can look back on those chapters and use them as learning touchstones. We should not use them as an albatross around our necks. I think that's why that statement from last night has stuck with me. There's no point in being mad at the past. By dwelling on it, we prevent ourselves from moving forward. We are no longer able to write our futures if we stay stuck on the issues from the past.

That's what is so great about these books that each of us is writing. We are writing them. The voice is yours. I'm not turning my life story over to some ghost writer in a smoky sweat shop in Manila (you think I'm kidding about that - check out how a lot of what you read in your newspaper is strung together now). I want to keep telling my story letting what I've learned in the previous chapters of my life influence my future chapters positively, not drag me down.

These books aren't 'put to bed' until our lives end. Can you imagine the library that awaits us? For a book nerd like me, it's a good thing forever is forever. That's lots of time to read all those stories.

11 March 2015

Against the Grain

You know how places can have quirks that are unique to them? Many of them are stereotypical, like women in Texas all have big hair, Chicago is windy, or English food is terrible (that one is true). Stereotypes are based on reality or the reality of one's experience, but they can't be the only thing that defines a place The fact is places do have characters and quirks.

When we first moved here to the filling in between NYC and Boston, we were shocked by the number of people festooned in dark clothing who would walk into traffic, typically against it, at night. At first we thought it was a fluke because where we live there is no such thing as a sidewalk. Anywhere. If there is a sidewalk, it spends half the year covered in snow anyway, so not a lot of value on offer and it seemed people were forced, when walking, into the streets. But this kept happening, no matter where we found ourselves in this neck of the woods. People would just be walking into traffic at night in the street. From time to time, they simply dart across the road. It was too frequent to be a fluke. Was it some kind of dare? A death cult? I had, and have, no answers. I just knew I had to be mindful while driving at night.

Now after nearly three years here, this phenomenon has not abated. Even as I drove home from the train station last night, I must have played "Dodge the Dingus in the Street" no fewer than six times in less than two miles. I should point out that I drive a hulking heavy piece of environmentally offensive American steel in the form of a GMC Yukon. I doubt I would even feel it if I hit one of these people. It's madness.

Maybe it's that colonial spirit of rebellion. Maybe it's some kind of empowering statement. This much I know - it's exhausting. I'm tired of playing "Frogger" when I drive at night. I was no good at it in the creepy, musty arcade in the mall in 1982 and I'm not much better now as it plays out in real time. Would it kill people to, if nothing else, buy some reflecting tape? Then again, if they did, that would take away one of the quirks that defines life here. I'm willing to see that happen.

09 March 2015


A little different look than last week's hospital bed 
After last week's 'View from a Clinica Bed' update, we were, once again, anxiously awaiting TMFKATB's Monday missive. It dawned on me that, thanks to the switch to Daylight Savings' over the weekend, he is now two hours behind us and we'd hear from him an hour later. Well, that proved to be true. It was an hour later than normal once his letter arrived and it was worth the wait. To say that it was a study in contrasts from last week would be understating it. He kicked it off by saying, "so this was an awesome week." And with that you may have heard the sigh of relief that the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML let out simultaneously. It may or may not have knocked down one of our trees. Clearly whatever he was given during his stay in the clinica did the trick. He reported that health-wise he'd had a great week. He also shared several stories of how he saw his faith building and seeing the rewards that come from working hard on behalf of others. He got to see some people he'd taught previously and had a sweet reunion with them. He made his way into what he called "Jurassic Park" to meet with some other people.

I marvel at the experiences he is having. We can see him changing and growing in ways that will benefit him the rest of his life. Over the years here in the Den, I've shared proof of how everything TMFKATB touches turns to gold. Everything. It hasn't been that way for him in Mexico. He's learned, and will continue to learn, that life can be a series of surprises, good and bad, wanted and unwanted, and that how you react to them defines who you are.
"Entering Jurassic Park"
It's a privilege to get to watch this. As parents, you try and prepare your children for all that life may throw at them. I've realized that's just not possible. I'm glad he's learning what he is in this most unique environment that he finds himself in now. He's where he is for a reason - well, lots of them. It's all good.

A quick note of thanks to all who checked in with us after seeing the picture of him in the clinica last week. He continues to mention that he feels the power of prayer. And so do we. Thank you, friends.

07 March 2015

Man Down!

From time to time, I get a tad agitated about what I'm doing to better serve others. For the two of you who have reserved a spot on the sofa here in the Den through your frequent visits, you've read some of my lamentations about my dilemmas over charities, service, etc. That said, one thing I've consistently done, and done well I might add since I was 35 years old, is blood donation. If the number of units donated were like frequent flyer miles, I'd be a 'million miler.' I'm proud of that. Not even a #humblebrag. I'm straight up proud of it!

I'm also proud that prior to this morning's double red apheresis donation, I'd only had one 'incident.' Several years ago, in one of those cozy blood mobiles, I passed out in the middle of a regular donation. It was totally my fault as I had broken my donation day routine. The only thing I'd eaten that day was a yogurt. Of course things were going to go horribly wrong. The best part of that one was when they yanked out the needle, it sent a spray of blood all over my jeans. It looked like I'd just walked off the set of "Friday the 13th Part 83." They've made about that many craptastic sequels to that cinematic screed, right?

That incident didn't spook me and I kept on donating, sans issue until this morning. As far as I know, I did everything right. Good night's sleep. CHECK. Balanced breakfast. CHECK. Lots of liquids. CHECK. Blood pressure. EXCELLENT. So all was in order. My nurse was great. She got the machine primed and in no time, the donation was under way. About 10 minutes in, I felt things get just a little tingly and then very, very hot and I thought, 'Perhaps I should say someth...' and I was out. When I came to, my face was covered in cold towels and I was surrounded by several staffers who were shaking my knees, asking me my name, and saying things like 'Welcome back!' Now why they said that, I have no idea. I heard no one telling me to go towards the light during my brief slumber. I did, though, have the presence of mind to immediately check to see if things had gone awry with my bladder. Delighted to find that things were as dry as the Gobi Desert, I then began responding to the assembled throng. Turns out, when I'm coming out of an event like that, I like to use a really loud voice. Like the kind older people use with people who don't speak English ("If you speak really loudly, it will be easier for them to understand English." - no flaw in that logic, is there?). Frankly, I was mortified. I'd done everything right. And heaven knows, it wasn't that I'm too thin to be giving blood. Quite the opposite, I'm afraid. I kept apologizing because they weren't going to be able to use any of my draw. The staffers were great, assuring me that this happens more than one would think. Still feeling like a tool, once I had it together I headed home.

My sister, the PA, thinks it was nothing more than vasovagal response, which if you asks me sounds like something hideous or to my inner sixth grader, potentially naughty. It's not. Just further proof why it's a good thing I didn't pursue a medical career. You're welcome. In spite of today's hiccup, I shall not be deterred. Vasovagal response or not, I'll keep giving. And if you are able to give blood, so should you!

02 March 2015

Getting clinical

From inside the Linda Blair Memorial Ward
So TMFKATB has never been one to understate a situation but he may have done so with the first line of this week's letter. He had titled his email 'weird week' which was a bit of a hint. "So this week was rather strange" was the first sentence. He then began to explain why it was strange and weird. Thanks to a resurgent bout of chikungunya, he spiked a nasty fever and was racked with pain. He wound up at a 'clinic' for two days, being pumped full of, well, who knows what. It apparently worked because he went on to detail how he was feeling better and looking forward to a full week of work and as he put it, 'miracles' this week.

So, suffice to say, this week's letter was a little unsettling for us. As you can see from the picture he sent, some one really needs to talk to the folks that painted the interior of the clinic. Apparently they took their inspiration from Linda Blair's pea soup cavalcade of vomit from "The Exorcist." There's nothing soothing about those walls. I'm still trying to figure out what the big tank is next to his bed. Helium? Oxygen? Salsa? I don't even know and maybe it's best to not know. I'm just grateful that whatever the doctors did, it seemed to do the trick. He's better.

I will never lament medical care in the US again. Ever. Last year when my gall bladder decided that it no longer wanted to reside within me in the angriest ways possible, I spent two days at a teaching hospital. Some of our friends acted as if I'd gone to JoJo's Casa Of Chicken, Oil Changes and General Surgery when they learned that's where I'd opted to have my surgery. It may not have been the fanciest of hospitals but I had outstanding care from the 600 residents that paraded through my room every 42 seconds. I look at that picture my boy sent and I'm just grateful for the doctors and nurses who did their best caring for him with what the limited resources that they had. To say that we have it so well medically in this country is a massive understatement, in spite of what Fox News says.

The good news is that he was positive throughout his letter and his sense of humor is fervently in place. That made us feel a lot better. He assured us that he's feeling a whole lot better. He had to be if he was able to wax poetic about this meal:
tacos bistec y guacamole
He's gained a wicked appreciation for the hand-made foods of southern Mexico. Seems to me that a meal like that could cure of you pretty much anything. Seriously, is there nothing a taco can't solve?