31 May 2015



Thanks to the soothsayers over at Wikipedia, you can learn all sorts of things about the number two that you never wanted to learn. For instance, did you know that divisibility by two is easily tested? Or that two is the smallest and first prime number? Neither did I and those two math gems are liking to kill me. Interestingly, there is no reference to the scatalogical nature of the number two, which is an indication that Wikipedia is not staffed by a bunch of eleven year old boys. We can all rest easily now. But enough about that and all things numbers and math.

Why the two? Because there is a birthday in the Den. The Grandson Awesome turns two years old today. As he turns two, B has proven to be a force of nature. He's determined. He's physical. He's a thinker. He know what he likes and what he doesn't. He's funny.  He's happy. He's a reflection of two parents who love the heck out of this boy.

And as his busting at the seams proud, which is not a statement on my waistline, grandfather, I can saw we love the heck out of him, too!

Happy birthday, B!

30 May 2015

This Is The Place

Brigham called it and so did The Boy
Since The Boy returned from his eight months of missionary service in Mexico, our family's collective goal has been to get him back to full health so he could return to the service he loved. It's been hard for him to be home, caught in a limbo world between his life as a missionary and life at home, the last place he expected to be. We've been walking a thin line too, trying to give him space but being ever mindful of getting him better and wanting to keep him close.

Suffice to say, we were all extremely relieved when his infectious disease specialist (yes, we had to go to that level) cleared him last Friday to return to service. Interestingly, in his approval note, the doctor noted that The Boy would need to stay in the continental US. We had not said anything to him about that. With that approval, the waiting game was on for a new assignment.

A couple of days after The Boy got home, he announced that he knew he would be reassigned to either Idaho or Utah. I, for one, scoffed at either. I knew he'd be assigned in the US, as a SpanAm'er (Spanish-Speaking American assignment), and having served as a SpanAm'er in the Florida Ft. Lauderdale mission 30 years ago, I selfishly (albeit silently) hoped he might be assigned to my old stomping grounds. I think a father-son duo who think they are Cubans may have been the thing to push the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML over the proverbial edge, so it was not to be.

We learned yesterday what is to be. The Boy will follow in the footsteps of his pioneer ancestors and will settle into a desert valley nestled against the Wasatch Mountains. Upon his arrival into what became known as the Salt Lake Valley after a heinous trek, Brigham Young looked out over the vast expanse and declared, "This is the place." The Boy can now say the same. He has been assigned to serve in the Utah Salt Lake City South Mission as a Spanish-speaking missionary. He is excited and we are relieved. It's good to know where he'll serve the balance of his mission.

Now some of you may be shaking your head at a mission call to Salt Lake City. 'Isn't that the mothership?' you ask. Indeed, it is the headquarters of the Church and it is home to a whole slew o'Mormons, to be sure. It's that, for sure, but it is also a place with opportunity to serve, grow, and learn, like any other missionary assignment. I heard from a friend of mine yesterday as his son had served in the same mission as a Spanish speaker. He said, "Even though we were subject to wisecracks and disbelief that accompany a call to SLC, it was a great blessing for him and for us." Amen, brother, and thank you.

So now we wait. We have no idea when he leaves. This call was extended via phone, rather than the white envelope that normally is associated with a mission call, so there's a lot we don't know. We've got a few things to figure out in the coming days. Good times, my friends, good times.

25 May 2015

In Memoriam:Memorial Day

Memorial Day 2015

In between the mattress sales, the complaining about the traffic getting to/from the beach, and the inevitable brawl at the barbecue, can we pause to remember what this day, Memorial Day, is all about?

It is a day in which we pause to remember those who have given their lives while serving in our nation's armed forces. In spite of our faults, which are myriad, this is still an amazing country. So many have given their lives to protect our way of life and we should never forget that. Never.

As is now tradition here in the Den, I repost my annual Memorial Day post written a few years ago:

Today is the last Monday in May, when the United States observes Memorial Day. As this day is a time to remember those who have died, millions across the country will pause to remember the meaning of the day and will honor those who gave their lives for the freedom of this nation.

It is a solemn day. So many gave their lives defending the freedom of this nation. They may have questioned the reasons why they were sent to war (and I don't just mean our most recent one, so calm down, Fox Newsites), but they went. They died defending our system of beliefs. They deserve our utmost respect and reverence.

I've often wondered how my generation would have reacted had we faced the cataclysmic events that catapulted the U.S. into World War II or had we been teenagers when the Towers fell on 9/11. My gut tells me the reaction would not have been as admirable as that of our counterparts in 1941 and 2001. I'm not proud of that. Perhaps that's why I have a particular obsession with the literature of war. From the Revolutionary War to the current brouhaha in Afghanistan, I have read a slew of books and I have been inspired and humbled by the sacrifices of those who were far less selfish than my generation. I mean what does my generation have to call its own? MTV. Madonna. The coke-addled 80's. We set the bar pretty low, people.

I'd like to share a list of some of the books that have had a profound impact on me as I've considered the actions of those who fought for this country. For your consideration:

  • Band of Brothers, Stephen Ambrose - actually anything Ambrose has written is worth reading, but this telling of Easy Company and World War II is amazing.  The HBO mini-series is an incredible companion and should be required viewing in any and all American History courses.
  • In the Company of Soldiers, Rick Atkinson - gripping look into the early days of the Iraq War
  • The Greatest GenerationTom Brokaw - the generation I wish my generation could be.  Read this and understand why.
  • Behind the Lines, Andrew Carroll - letters from the Revolutionary War to the Iraq War.  Deeply personal.
  • War Letters, Andrew Carroll - the first of two books that capture war from the eyes of those that fought.  Stunning.
  • One Bullet AwayNathaniel Fick - inspiring story of the making of an officer in the Iraq War.
  • The Heart and The Fist, Eric Greitens - second story of the making of an officer in the Iraq War.  Both are stories of very smart young men who could have been sitting in an office on Wall Street, but instead chose to fight for their country.
  • Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand - incredible story of a U.S. Olympian turned soldier turned P.O.W. and his story of survival.  I was so sorry I hadn't heard this story when I was in school.  But I went to public school in Arizona, a state where you'll do more time for knocking over a 7-11 than for killing a child.  I shouldn't be shocked about the quality of my education.
  • The Cat from HueJohn Laurence - a reporter's ground-level view of the war in Vietnam.
  • Final SaluteJim Sheeler - this is one of the most moving books I've ever read.  I wrote about it here.  I defy you to read this book without weeping for the lives that were cut short.  The subtitle of the book is 'A Story of Unfinished Lives.'  Is there anything sadder?
  • Lost In Shangri-La, Mitchell Zuckoff - while not about a battle field incident, this book is an epic story of survival and ingenuity during World War II.  Further proof why they were the Greatest Generation.
I would also invite you to find this movie on DVD and to watch it. Please watch "Taking Chance" as a part of your Memorial Day remembrance. It is a powerful reminder of the sacrifices made and the honor given to our soldiers.

I am profoundly grateful for the actions and sacrifices of those who gave all for the freedom of this nation.  May we honor their memory on Memorial Day.

23 May 2015

I am appalled

You and me both, Sister.
In the eight years since I sat down on the sofa here in the Den, like any snarky soul would, I've been compelled to call out a few of our nation's 'celebrities' for their shenanigans. The list includes the family Spears (Britney, et al), Lindsay Lohan (at times just too easy a target), and the Kardashians. I've also popped off about how creeped out I was by the Duggar Family. I could never put my finger on the exact reason why, but they creeped me out. What bothered me most was Jim Bob's unrelenting patriarchal order and his wife's eerie vacant stare. It was like she was straight off the set of a horrible Lifetime production of "The Stepford Wives Go To Arkansas!" Something just wasn't right at Casa Duggar, if you asked me. On more than one occasion, I was told by a few Duggar fans that I was terribly judgmental and disrespectful of such a model family for having such suspicions.

There is now no need for me to rehash the headlines of the past couple of days involving the Duggars. What has been admitted by the perpetrator is awful and tragic. What is worse is how the parents hid it for a year and how they 'resolved' the issue. I didn't think there was a family in America that could be more appalling than the Kardashians. I was wrong. I never thought I'd be white knighting for the K's but at least you know what they worship (money) and they are 100% open about it and hide behind nothing. Appalling, yes? Honest in a gross way, yes. The Duggars, honest? Not so much but even more appalling than the K's.

We should all be appalled at how a father knowingly hid incidents of child sexual abuse from authorities for a year. We should all be appalled that the parents' fix was sending the perpetrator, their son, to a family friend for a "stern talking to." Said friend is now serving 56 years on child pornography charges. Why is this OK? It's not. It is so not OK. If you want a powerful perspective on why this is not OK, read here.

Ma and Pa Duggar once said, 'You don't have to compromise conviction to be compassionate.' What conviction would you not compromise in order to show compassion to the victims (allegedly your daughters) of this abuse? While I'm no Bible scripture master, I can't think of a single verse that lets them skate by on this one. I can only hope there can be some healing now for those who were victimized.

And as for that compassion, perhaps the compassion was in one of the checks from TLC?

18 May 2015

Guest Post:TMFKATB Reflects on His First Eight Months of Service

It had never dawned on me to offer up the opportunity for a guest post here in the Den. Then The Missionary Formerly Known As The Boy (TMFKATB) returned home to heal a bit. While he is progressing, we are eagerly awaiting some test results which will give us definitive insight into what's next. In the week he's been home now, he has shared some stories from his experiences as a missionary in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico. As he was telling us a story one night, I realized I needed to have him share a bit here in the Den and in his mission blog. What follows are his reflections, in his own words:

First, I would like to talk about my time in Mexico. The 8 months while being away were the best 8 months I could have asked for. Since the moment I landed in Mexico, my love for the country and its people began to grow. I started my time in Mexico with the best trainer I could have asked for. Before entering the field, many people told me i should pray to receive a good trainer because they can really start the feeling of a mission. My trainer was definitely an answer to many prayers. We hit it off from the beginning and we both just had a huge desire to work. My first area was one of the harder areas in the mission that hasn't seen "success" in a very long time. When i arrived, my companion told me we were going to leave the area better than we found it. Thanks to the grace of god, i think we were able to do that. That area will always be my favorite and something i will never forget. The lessons i learned there were incredible. I learned the power of obedience and the miracles that come from it. Some of my favorite families came from that area. Following my short training with my trainer, I was called to train and be a district leader. I felt so incapable of doing those two things, for i had not had a full grip on the language yet, let alone much experience in the field and the ability to motivate my district of missionaries. I ended up opening a new area and training a brand new missionary from Guatemala. I was forced to open my mouth and talk to everyone in my new area. This speeded up my learning of spanish ten fold. I had to do everything, just as my first companion had to do everything when i arrived in my first area. In this area i saw the power yet again of miracles. I began to get super sick again and as a companionship, we saw lots of trials in our area. We weren't seeing lots of "success" but we decided we would change some things and we just went to work. By the end of my time there we saw miracles. I learned patience and the power of prayer in my time there. I was often getting switched around with other missionaries that transfer due to my companion getting sick as well as myself. I saw so many things i would never have seen if i weren't in that situation. The lord was preparing me in so many ways. I was able to do a lot in those 8 months in Mexico. The things i learned there will only prepare me for my next phase ahead of me. as i got home, there were a lot of different things i am still getting used to again. A hot shower feels foreign to me still and it burnt me pretty good the first time. the amount of things we have in the states still shocks me. the support i have felt from my family principally and then from all my friends and people i don't even know has been wonderful. I know that this next phase will be incredible. I know that the lord needed me in mexico for the short time i was there. he prepared me in many ways for my next mission and i am positive i will see the reasons for why a lot of things happened while in mexico in my next mission. I love missionary service and i am itching to get back out there. The only thing i do is trust in the lord because if i do anything else, this would all be not worth it and i would be pretty upset. The fact is that i needed to be in mexcio for while i was there and i know there is things i will only be able to learn in my next area. for that reason i am going there. the lord does not get confused or make errors. i can't wait to see the reasons of all these events in these upcoming 16 months!

So there you have it. Many of you don't know TMFKATB personally but he, as he said, has felt your support. We have too, and I can't say it enough, but thank you again.

16 May 2015


Kind of home (baggage claim doesn't really count)
It was funny how time seemed to sail by in between our weekly communications as TMFKATB served in Mexico. When we learned about ten days ago that he would be returning home for medical reasons, time all but came to a standstill.

Since his return this past Monday night, time marches on, albeit slowly. His return was an understated affair. None of the over-the-top shenanigans any of you who have passed through the Salt Lake City International Airport have most certainly seen. No videographer, no posters or balloons, no play-in music, no throngs of acolytes. Just two mildly anxious parents waiting to see their son walk through the Curtain of Incompetence (aka airport security). He walked through alone and into  our arms. Given the amount of weight he'd lost, it was easy to wrap him up in our collective embrace. His belt was doing the same, given that it could nearly wrap around him twice. Tears freely flowed from all of us.

We knew he didn't want to be here. His heart is with the people he was serving. As he walked around our kitchen when he got home, he marveled that our kitchen floor was not made of dirt. He opened our refrigerator and said, "We have so much." Ironically, we'd barely filled it in advance of his return as we did not know if he was going to be on a normal diet or throwing back Ensure like a 78 year old geriatric patient. The emotional adjustment was looking tougher than the physical at that point.

Five days later, I can report progress is being made. TMFKATB has seen multiple doctors and has had multiple tests. For whatever reason, I've decided to exercise a modicum of restraint and NOT describe a few of them. I can tell you that after his GI doctor reviewed the notes from the doctor in Mexico, confirming that it was a good thing that he came home when he did,  as well as after his initial exam, we are cautiously optimistic. The test results, expected early next week, will confirm that optimism. It looks like this is entirely manageable. This means a new assignment to serve will not be too far off.

In the meantime, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I are working to get a little more meat on him. He wears a hoodie everywhere to stay warm. May I remind you that it's spring here? Everyone else is in shorts and he is freezing. Nothing a couple of extra sandwiches can't fix, right?

Yes, this week which went a little bit slower can be summed up in one word: progress. Our son is making progress in getting back to full health. He is making progress on his goals to stay focused on missionary service. We, as his parents, are progressing, too. This has been a time of learning for us. It's been a time of learning to become more willing to accept the kindness of others. The outpouring of support from all of you has been awe-inspiring. Your words, offers of assistance, your prayers have been felt and appreciated. For many of you who spend time here in the Den, this LDS mission experience is completely foreign and perhaps a tad peculiar, but you have been so kind in your expressions of concern and offer of prayer. We are grateful for all of that and can tell you, those prayers have been felt and heard. We thank you and are in your debt.

So. progress. Here's to more of it this upcoming week! We recognize this is a unique opportunity to have our son home, but we know he'd rather be back out, serving in the mission field. We'll do our best to get him there.

10 May 2015

Coming Home

If you've been following the adventures of our son, TMFKATB, of late in his missionary service, you'll know that his gastrointestinal system has gone into full angry rebellion. That's never a good thing and things have escalated quickly.

When your key operating systems/defenses go into rebellion, what do you do? You pull out the big guns and throw all your resources at it to quell the insurgence. At least that's what you do according to the "Hunger Games" and "Divergent" series, right, Katniss and Tris? To that end, our missionary son will be returning home tomorrow so that the big guns, AKA GI docs and their ilk, can get a full picture of what's going on, quell the insurgence and get him better.

This coming home is an extremely difficult thing for him. He does not want to come home. He wants nothing more than to stay among the people he has grown to love in their country. He has the presence of mind though to understand that whatever is afflicting him is not going to relent if he stays where he is, so he knows that a change in plans is what is best at this time. He wants nothing more than to get better and serve once again, even if that means he can't return to Mexico. In the last couple of days, his mission president told him, "You were called by God to serve and that's what matters; where you serve is the assignment, not the calling." That counsel will no doubt serve him well in the coming days.

Since this escalated so quickly over the last 48 hours or so, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I have been fraught with a slew of emotions. We are so proud of our son. We are hurting for his ongoing physical challenges and for the pain of having to leave his mission and the people he has grown to love in the time that he has been there.  We are humbled by the love shown us by our Church family. Our bishop (local lay clergy leader) stood before our congregation this morning and with genuine care and concern, announced our son's impending return and solicited the prayers of our church family on his behalf. It was a beautiful moment, marred by the muffled sobs of some ugly crier in one of the pews. Oh, wait, that ugly crier was me. Well played, sir, well played.

While we can't be certain what the coming days will bring, we are confident in the knowledge that it is all a part of the greater plan God has for our son and us. Truth be told, a 'sneak preview' of what's in store as far as that plan is concerned would be nice. In saying that though, I know it's not going to happen. Instead, we'll take comfort in the peace we felt as we talked to our boy yesterday. We'll take comfort in the peace we felt with our church family today.

We know this will all work out in the end.

09 May 2015

A gift given a day early

So this just happened...
For the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML, Mothers Day came a day early. We just got off a joyous Skype session with our daughters, our grandson, our nearly twerking son-in-law, and TMFKATB, our missionary son! As he is currently in the mission office, Sunday is pretty much a work day, so he was able to call his Mom and family today. It was, in a word, sweet.

Delighted to report that he is still The Boy. He, along with four other missionaries, kicked the call off serenading his mother in Spanish with a song dedicated to moms. One of them was even playing a guitar. I can assure you that they will not be replacing One Direction or their ilk any time soon, but they were number one in the heart of TMFKATB's mom. She loved it. His spirits are good as is his attitude and outlook. He had us laughing with his singsongy accented English and his inability to remember certain English phrases. His Spanish is quite good. He has declared my Spanish, well, bad. Apparently, my Cuban Spanish and its delightful dropping of certain consonants with abandon is an offense to his Mexican-infused ears. I see a language showdown in our future.

Suffice to say, it was so good to have us all on and able to see and hear him. He is at peace. He said that time and again. We needed to know that more than words can express right now. Knowing that he is at peace, he has given his mother the best Mothers Day gift and he doesn't even realize it. It's one of those tender mercies that we are sometimes given unexpectedly. I'm going to cherish it.

05 May 2015

Cinco de Mayo y la segunda nieta

I'd say he was fairly non-plussed by today's news
Cinco de Mayo is one of my most favorite days of the year. Even though it's not really a 'thing' in Mexico, unless you are from Puebla, and I defy you to find an American who knows what the day really stand for (and no, it has nothing to do with excessive indulgence of enchiladas and margaritas), it has been a day worthy of celebration for many years in the Den. Until we moved here, where the Iron Fist of Martha Stewart looms large and makes celebrating this day an event that must be secluded in secrecy, if at all. So I was kind of glad that I was in my Manhattan office today. My office is a block away from the Mexican consulate so I was hopeful that the infamous Tamale Lady would be out front, but she wasn't. Instead, a ridiculously good taco truck, Tacos Juquilita, had set up shop. I was able to enjoy three Mexico City street-style chorizo tacos, at Mexico City prices, not Manhattan. So it was truly a celebration all the way around.

As I was walking back to my office, reveling in the goodness that was my lunchtime celebration, I got a text from Our Lady of Awesome with the following announcement: GIRL. It was quickly followed an announcement on the Instagrams, starring a completely non-plussed almost two year old. As his mother put it, 'He doesn't know what's about to hit him. Baby GIRL coming in October. We are soo excited.' Given his expression, I think the excitement is currently reserved for his parents. And us, this baby's maternal grandparents. We are delighted to know our second grandchild is on the way and so happy that we have a little girl joining our growing crowd. Even though he doesn't look too excited, that boy is going to be an amazing big brother. One thing is for sure, that little girl will have a built in body guard with him. At the rate he's growing, he should be the size of a five year old in October and he only turns two at the end of this month!

The stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I are so excited for our oldest daughter and her husband. It's more fun than I could have imagined to sit back and watch your own children parent. You wonder, 'Did she get that from me?' when she says something to her child. Then you wonder, 'Did we do enough to prepare all of our children for the role of parent?' Because I chose very, very wisely and married up, I rest a little easier when answering those questions.

Well, October can't get here soon enough. Can't wait to welcome that little girl into our family and to hold her and say, 'We are glad you are here. I think you're going to like it a lot!'

04 May 2015

Of Colonoscopies a la Mexicana

Reunited with some of his favorites
Not sure where to start with what TMFKATB had to say to do. His letter arrived earlier than last week, closer to what it's normally been. He sent a note to me first though and it was a bit of a butt barn burner since it contained a delightful, and by that I mean gross, description of his Mexican colonoscopy. He was keen to know if I'd had one yet and I think he walked away more than a little proud that he got the First Timer's Trophy on that one. I've had other medical indignities thrust upon me, so I'm not worried about losing out to him too much. Without disclosing too much that would get me a HIPPA violation, it looks like he'll be having some more 'fun' within the confines of the Mexican medical system.

The good news is that he's been reassigned to a new area with a missionary who's been out a little longer than him. His companion is Mexican national, so once again TMFKATB will have a tremendous opportunity to enhance his language skills and learn more about the culture of this people that he has come to love so much. They are working hard and seem to be having a good time together. TMFKATB's attitude continues to blow me away. He's finding the positive in everything, even his jacked up intestinal fiesta.

As I read his letter, I wished he'd gotten a bit more of my cast-iron stomach. Why I can essentially eat roadkill in the streets of Kolkata or some unknown 'meat' out of a burning oil drum in Shanghai and not bat an eye and he's struggling in southern Mexico is beyond me. I'd trade places with him in a second if I could though. That said, as we read his letters, his sense of humor radiates and his positive attitude brings us a sense of peace. We were promised he would be watched over as he served. It's a promise in which we have enormous faith. Sometimes this feels like a bigger challenge for us than him. In some ways, it probably is. This mission experience is a tremendous time of learning for the young man or woman who chooses to serve. Turns out, the parents learn a whole lot as well. I need to be a better student and trust a bit more in the Teacher right now. I'm just glad that kid of mine in southern Mexico is such a great example.

It's good to be reminded that a Dad can always be learning from his children.