29 July 2015

An African Proverb

I came across this quote as I watched the credits scroll to a not awful movie that didn't get a lot of play called "The Good Lie." The movie tells the story a group of Sudanese 'Lost Boys' and their experience in the United States. While the movie itself was a little cloying, the story of these refugees from Sudan is anything but. Their stories are compelling and if you do watch the movie, the featured proverb makes perfect sense.

When you think about it, the proverb makes perfect sense in so many settings. I thought about when I was running consistently (meaning when I was thinner and had lost my spectacular man rack #dadbodsrule), I always ran further and better when I ran with my Wheaton, IL running group. There was something so motivating about the group dynamic, not to mention the conversation, laughter, camaraderie and commiseration!

I thought about the millions of miles I've been lucky enough to have traveled, many of those have been alone. By and large, those solo trips have probably gone faster, with the exception of every.single.trip. on Satan's favorite railway, Damntrak, but they'd have no doubt been better by going with someone. Or at least sharing part of the experience with someone. By that I mean, when I'm traveling solo, I've got to be better about sharing a greeting with my seat mate on the plane. I've got to be better about 'engaging' the locals about the best places to eat when I find myself some place new. Some of my most memorable experiences while exploring this world have come courtesy of the tip of a local. But those experiences have been most enjoyable when shared. I think of the time the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I marched off a plane early one Sunday morning in Sydney, Australia after nearly 24 hours of flying to be met by our two Aussie friends who showed us the sights of that amazing city. Sharing (fantastic meat) pies at Harry's with them was one of the highlights of that trip. We saw things we'd not have seen were it not for being together with friends.

This concept of going farther by going together I'm finding applies to my own learning as well. Learning doesn't stop with the awarding of a degree. It happens every day if we'll let it. Turns out the guy selling empanadas on the corner outside your Midtown office has a story. It's a story that can teach you something. I see this opportunity to learn together manifesting itself every other Sunday as I get to teach a class at church. As I prepare for that class, one of my objectives is to insure we are learning from one another. I don't want to be pontificating, My head is literally too (physically) big to have a hat that lets you pontificate, if I'm being honest. One of the things I enjoy most in that class is what I learn from the comments and insights from those in attendance. I learn far more from them than they from me, I'm quite certain.

But that's the beauty of this proverb. Alone, you can certainly do a lot but in the end, we'll do better by doing things together. I like that.

The children of South Sudan still need help. The crisis is not over.
Click here if you want to learn more and help.

27 July 2015

On learning a thing or two

He gets wiser
When TMFKATB was serving in Mexico during Part One of what we are now calling the Mission Two'Fer, we could pretty much set our clocks to the arrival of his weekly email. As was manifested last week (a day late!) and by his not getting on until around 2PM our time today, we can no longer plan our days around his emails. We (mostly me, I suppose) need to resign ourselves to the fact that they'll turn up when they do. No matter when those emails starting hitting our inboxes, it's a good thing.

This week's email was pretty reflective. TMFKATB had a week that was much different than he had expected (busy, full of teaching engagements). He saw miracles happen in the lives of some of the people they are working with. He had some insights into what happens when we are too hard on ourselves and that can hamper our progress in this life. He is seeing how important it is to do all you can do and to trust in God to make up the rest. In his letter to us, he reminded us all to do the same.

As a father, it's something else to be watching this transformative experience in one of your children. My daughters have passed through them and it's been just as rewarding to watch it. Our eldest becoming a mother and watching CAL traverse the waters of starting a career have given us the opportunity to witness their transformations. Being able to share in TMFKATB's transformation is different because due to the circumstances of his mission service, it's a little more passive than it was with our girls. It's been equally rewarding though.

I'm glad this 'Dad' thing doesn't end by virtue of your child turning 18 and now being seen as an adult in the eyes of the government. I'm happy it goes on, well, forever.

24 July 2015


For any of you that have ever done / spent time Behind the Zion Curtain in July, you know that this day, the 24th of July, is a big day in the Beehive State. It's a state holiday wherein the place pretty much shuts down to celebrate that fateful day in 1847 when Brother Brigham arose from his wagon, looked out over the desolation before him and declared, "This is the place!"

Wait, what? you may find yourself saying. If you were A) educated in the American public school system; B) grew up outside of Utah; and C) are not Mormon and you have no idea what I'm talking about, you're not alone. Pioneer Day as the 24th of July has come to be known celebrates the day Mormon pioneers, having been on the run from all manner of persecution, first entered the Salt Lake Valley and decided to call it 'home.' The story of the Mormon pioneers has been told many times and the stories of what they endured and the faith they demonstrated are amazing. The best I've ever read on it is in a book called "Journey to Zion" by Carol Cornwall Madsen. Madsen compiled the diaries and journals of myriad pioneers who made the journey to get behind the Zion Curtain and it is such a compelling read. I had ancestors who were a part of it and as I read Madsen's book, I could not help but be humbled and grateful for what these people experienced.

The 'pioneer' legacy looms large in Church culture today. The sacrifice of these people is legendary and is a part of the family history of so many members. Each year, literally thousands of youth groups from the Church recreate bits and bobs of the journey in the form of two and three day 'treks.' It helps connect youth to the past and to give them but a tiny, tiny sense of what happened all those years ago.

The stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I, along with Our Lady of Awesome, did a trek together several years ago when we lived in California. We donned our 'pioneer' clothing, loaded up the handcarts (seriously) and with a large group of kids and other adults dragged our way through the high desert of scenic Riverside County (you know, the Inland Empire, or as it is truly known, 'The Land of Meth and Camaros on Blocks'). What made it all the more interesting is that the week before we were to make the trek I had fractured (hairline) my spine in a roller-blading 'incident' that we don't speak of anymore. The only way I made it through the trek was the modern pioneer's best friend, Mr. Vic O'Din. Some of you may know him. Anyway, it made it bearable. It also made it easier to forget some of the more challenging bits of the three days. I do to this day though, remember some of the actions of the kids on this trek. Watching them forget their own exhaustion and hunger and dropping everything to help pull another group's cart up what seemed like an impossibly steep hill stays with me today. It still inspires me.

That experience reminded me that I would have made for a lousy pioneer in 1847. Frankly, I'm not sure I would have survived. Let's face it, pioneering for me is having to fly Economy Class now because I've lost my elite status with a few airlines. Suffice to say, I am grateful for those who sacrificed and endured the way that they did all those years ago. They are for better than me.

23 July 2015


Riding dirty with the ZL's
'Sorry' was the title of this week's email update from TMFKATB. He threw us for a loop when we heard nothing from him on Monday. By about 2PM our time on Monday, we were officially befuddled as we had not heard a single word from him. By 5PM, I was borderline 'Angry Dad,' throwing some shade at my son for failing to get a letter to us. Suffice to say, we closed our Monday evening feeling like we were just hanging.

Tuesday afternoon, he redeemed himself. As I sat in meetings in my Midtown office, I saw an email come across from TMFKATB, entitled 'Sorry,' and I was relieved. Turns out their regular Monday P-Day (day off) was switched to Tuesday to accommodate a big Temple excursion. So as usual the one who had to repent for throwing shade and judgement was me. Excellent.

He's had a busy week and will have a new companion next week. He's hopeful to stay in the area he's in as he has built some very positive relationships and would like to continue to be a part of their progress. He talked a bit about being one who is planting seeds and how much he appreciates the missionaries that came before him. Another good lesson for a young man - to recognize how you may not immediately see the results of your efforts, but the results will come. It's not a bad thing to lay a foundation. It's certainly not a bad thing to learn that lesson early in life either.

He may be learning value lessons but he's still a kid. Here's some proof:

I really hope he never loses that 'kid' side.

18 July 2015

Breaking (the) Bad

When Our Lady Of Awesome was a toddler, she was very fond of her pacifier. It wasn't just something she had to have as she slept; it was something she had with her at all times. With visions of her sporting the teeth of one Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel, it was clear we needed to do something about her habit, or dare I say it, pacifier addiction. At the time, we were living in an apartment complex that now sits squarely in the slums of Mesa, AZ, and that place had an incredibly scenic view of the parking lot with an awe-inspiring vista of the trash collection area (jealous?). This was fantastic for Our Lady because she loved, loved, loved seeing the trash truck. When she heard that truck, everything and anything she was doing in her busy two year old world came to an immediate stop and she made her way to the window to see that truck. It was that truck that inspired the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML to break the pacifier habit for our first-born.

In a moment of weakness, Our Lady slept without any of her myriad pacifiers. This was the moment! SML grabbed them all and cut each one of them up. When Our Lady awoke, SML showed her the wreckage and explained that her pacifiers were broken and that they would need to go in the garbage, which meant the garbage truck would come and get them. This somehow made perfect sense in the mind of our two year old. The pacifiers were ceremoniously laid to rest in the garbage and then were given a fond farewell when the beloved garbage truck came by. That was it. The habit was broken with nary a tear, nor the teeth of a resident of an Alabama trailer park.

Fast forward twenty three years and Our Lady, now a mother herself, was facing the same vexing pacifier habit with her son. Unlike her, his pacifier habit was reserved to just sleep time, but with another baby on the way, she decided it was time to break his habit sooner rather than later. So earlier this week, she took the 'cold turkey' approach and simply took it away. How did the Grandson Awesome deal with it? Like a boss, that's how. He did not miss a beat and has slept like a champ since without it. He was pretty proud of himself, as evidenced in this photograph (a new pair of basketball shorts with pockets - he's OBSESSED with pockets - as a reward helped, too):

No tears..that's a cool wink
How this played out got me thinking about the habits that we all have that we know we should ditch. In the two examples I've shared, it would seem that it's fairly easy to break a habit, if you're two. Given that those of you who are bothering to read the Den are a little older than two, we know it's not quite that easy. Some of the bad habits we have may bring us significant pleasure (I'm looking at you, Shake Shack). Some may relieve stress and some may eventually kill us. And yet, we don't give them up. If only it was easy as cutting them up and tossing them in the garbage.

On bad habits, Benjamin Franklin is purported to have said,"It is easier to prevent bad habits than to break them." Some of you Luddites may argue that the world's ills can be blamed on Ben for his pesky kite and lightning electricity discovery, but you've can't argue with what he said there about habits.

Bob Gilbert said, "First we form habits, then they form us. Conquer your bad habits, or they'll eventually conquer you." Think about the times when that annoying bad habit you have has controlled the choices you've made. It rarely feels good, right? Typically, it's led to something regrettable.

I wish there was one magic formula to make breaking a bad habit easy, although based on the 'Self Help' section at your local bookstore, it's a cottage industry. It takes will power. It takes recognizing the need to change. It takes support. It takes knowing you may stumble along the way to getting rid of it and being willing to forgive yourself. It takes action.

Bad habits are easier to abandon today than tomorrow
Yiddish proverb

I certainly have my share of bad habits that need to go to the garbage, just like Our Lady of Awesome's pacifiers did all those years ago. But better to start the purge today than waiting until tomorrow.

13 July 2015

Brief update from behind the Zion Curtain

Proof positive he's no longer in Mexico
The stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I are noticing a change in our communication to and from TMFKATB since he was reassigned behind the Zion Curtain. Since we are quite familiar with his environs, we are not asking him the litany of questions we peppered him with weekly when he was in Tuxtla. We were so eager to hear as much as we could from him about his area, the people and all that he was experiencing. Now that he's "This Is The Place" adjacent, it's a different line of questioning. Suffice to say, it's not quite so in-depth. His letters are no different in terms of the detail, not that his letters from Mexico were encyclopedic in their information. Today's letter and updates were no different.

He described a conference he attended that left him highly motivated and happy. He and his companion met the performance goals that have been set in his mission and that also left him very excited. His companion's mission is ending in a little over a week, which means a new assigned companion. He's hopeful it will mean full time Spanish work.

They are being well taken care of by the people they are serving. The picture of the pizzookie should be proof positive of that. He also raved about the homemade torta de cochinita with Yucatan seasonings he got.

It may not look like much but he said it was amazing. These two pictures illustrate the beautiful war of opposites that is being a "SpanAm" missionary. One minute, you are immersed in the culture of the people whose language you have learned. The next you are enjoying the artery clogging hallmarks of the diet that makes your country infamous famous the world over. One minute you are helping to explain the inner workings of the US government to a newly arrived immigrant and the next you are doing the same for the American that has lived here his whole life. But you love the people in both cultures and both languages. You cherish every minute of it. As a former "SpanAm" missionary myself, I know I did.

So while his update was brief, he reminded us that all is well. He's happy. Hence, we are too.

12 July 2015

On her birthday

This is NOT how we've celebrated
Lest anyone think I was somehow tipping off the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML about her birthday gift in yesterday's post, as I wasn't. When you've celebrated as many birthdays together as we have, birthdays come without a lot of fanfare.

Today is the 27th birthday that my wife has shared with me. See what I just did there? I told you how many birthdays we've had together without explicitly revealing her exact age. Another tick in the #Husbandoftheyear box! Yay me!

Her day began as it has for years. Breakfast in bed, served from a tray on the 'you are special' plate. It's funny how that breakfast has transitioned over the years. When flax seed is an important, dare I say critical, element, you know your carefree "Doesn't matter what I eat!" days have long since sailed on. Gifts were then opened and the Vancome Lady (see yesterday's post) would have no doubt spouted off some mildly judgmental whiff of approval in French again with the delighted reaction to the perfume, I mean par-fumeh.

Then, like any other Sunday, we went and got some religion. It was a good morning of church. Once we were home, I got down to business to make a birthday lunch. I made an "Asian Lemon Chicken" that I found on the Pinterests. With some brown rice and edamame, it was a really good lunch. I do, however, have a bone to pick with the web of lies that is spun by the pictures people post of their food creations on the Pinterest. On what planet does anything, EVER, come out looking so glossy as it does on their site? I'll tell you what planet - NeverNeverLand, that's where. As long as it tastes good and doesn't look like an organ transplant gone horribly wrong on the plate, I'm fine with it. So even though my chicken looked nothing like the picture, it sure tasted good. Mission accomplished.

We'll cap the day with a few friends coming over to celebrate and the day will be done. We won't be climbing on the dining room table to gaze longingly into one another's eyes, a la "Sixteen Candles." I'd probably fall off and break something, like my arm. Besides the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML has a pretty strict "No Ruining The Classic Films of the 80's with Crappy Reenactments" policy, so it's out of the question.

Sitting on the dining room table or not, all in all, it's been a good birthday here in the Den.

11 July 2015

The Eau de (insert here) Lady

Yeah, her.
Admittedly, I can be a little down to the wire when it comes to preparing for the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML's birthday celebration. My track record is spotty, including once when it was forgotten (not my finest hour, can I just tell you?) and twice when I tried to tell her that her gift were the houses that we had just purchased, I tried to get away with that in California and here in the 'stan because we signed on those houses in July right around her big day. Not cool, I know.

For her birthday tomorrow, I was determined to be more on top of things. To my credit, I have her birthday meal planned and I am, in theory, confident it is not going to be horrible. As for gifts, I long ago took the easy way out on that and asked for a very specific list in order to avoid disappointment on all sides. No different this year, nor was the fact that I waited until the last minute - this afternoon - to get it together, making me once again a leading candidate for #Husbandoftheyear.

As said candidate armed with my list, earlier today I ventured into a certain store whose name sounds a little lot like 'Abhora' to secure one of the items on her list. I knew exactly where I needed to go in this place as I do not make any trek here lightly as it terrifies me. Why? Look, I'm secure enough in my middle-aged dadbod masculinity to march through any store that caters to women. When you are the father of two daughters, you get comfortable with those stores or every trip to the mall is worse than your annual prostate exam. This store has the power to turn me into a quivering mass of discomfort. It's not the weird makeup lighting throughout the store. It's not the borderline toxic cloud of 300 perfumes. It's the veritable army of saleswomen clad in black and red who march through the store like overly made up stormtroopers armed with lethal makeup brushes. These women, each of whom has been pulled so tight that their legs snap open when they speak, are a force of nature. It was the same today. I knew exactly where I needed to go in the store but I was about three steps in when the fatal flaw in my plan was made bare. I had no idea where the item I needed was stocked in that section. One of the stormtroopers instantly picked up on my mistake and she swooped down on me like a pelican on chum. I told her what I needed and we made our way through the perfumed haze to it and this happened (please note that I have spelled out some of this to give you a feel for it):

PERFUME LADY: "Do you want the (suddenly she burst into a French accent) Oh Day Twah-lette or  the Oh Day Pahr-Fumeh?
ME: Brief stunned silence, as I was still trying to process the sudden appearance of the French accent..."Um, I'll take perfume, please." I instantly regretted that I did not say "Si vous plait"
PERFUME LADY: Turning her head and glaring looking over her shoulder at me, saying, "You mean you'd like the Oh Day Pahr-Fumeh?" The French accent was back.
ME: Trying to process the fact that she seemed to think we were in a parfumerie along the Champs Elysses in Paris and not an outdoor strip mall built a top an old golf course in the middle of freaking Connecticut, I said, "Yes, the par, I mean, perfume, parfume." The way I stumbled over 'perfume' was a not so subtle intonation for her not to hurt me.

After this little verbal take down, she asked me if there was anything else I needed, like a special cologne for myself. I said no, thank you, blowing the chance to toss in 'merci.' In retrospect, that was probably wise. I suspect it wouldn't have ended well. So better to continue to birthday preparations, which is precisely what I did. Because #Husbandoftheyear.

06 July 2015

Seeing things differently

The real deal, not just readers anymore
"Hey Mom and Dad, my eyes are completely dilated right now. I went to have my eyes checked and luckily it's not too bad. I'm just nearsighted so the doctor got me some glasses. Oh they put anti-glare on my glasses."

And so it was, Monday, July 6th and another update from behind the Zion Curtain. Suffice to say, the news of the glasses was not the whole update but being declared nearsighted officially was a thrill for TMFKATB. I don't know why. I've been wearing glasses or contacts since the 5th grade - that's closing in on 40 years for those of you keeping score - and it's not all that great, if I'm honest.

From his letter, sounds like the last week was not as productive as past weeks so that was challenging. He did see himself stretched in terms of exercising faith and seeing the power of prayer take effect on behalf of someone they are working with. He's seeing that it's OK to ask for help when you don't have all the answers either. He's seeing things differently as he grows in his mission service.

So it was a week of learning for TMFKATB. He's still positive in his outlook and feeling great. That is a blessing for which we are so grateful. Can't stop expressing our gratitude for his recovery. He continues to teach me too as he grows from his experiences. It was a good reminder today that you can always see things differently.

04 July 2015

Because 'Murica

Chuck Norris. Enough said.
 Another celebration of America's Independence Day is upon us. 239 years ago, the thirteen colonies declared themselves a new nation, paving the way for appliance sales, drunken barbecues, and treacly patriotic songs (Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Lee Greenwood's 'God Bless The USA'). It is precisely what the Continental Congress must have envisioned on that fateful July day when the Declaration of Independence was made, right?

I am proud to be an American. My US passport is proof of my citizenship and has unlocked the world for me. I've loved being able to experience different parts of the world, but coming home never gets old.

I am in awe of our unfailing sense of exceptionalism. One need look know further than Chuck Norris for that. Check out the pinnacle of his acting career in "The Delta Force." The film is in a word, hideous and exploitive (OK, two words, so sue me). But it's Chuck at the apex of his American bravado.

I love that our nation's press can a run a headline about a 'sleepover' hosted by a failed presidential candidate for two of the 382 vying for the nomination and no one bats an eye. Lest you were confused, these are U.S. presidential candidates having a 'sleepover,' not candidates for student body president at the local high school. One can only hope that the Romney's house help are able to find a place to hang the Trump piƱata that Rubio is no doubt bringing.

This holiday also allows for the displaying of our flag in all manner of ways, both beautiful and unfortunate. Even in the borderline socialist, never met a tax we didn't love state that we reside in, flags line the streets right now and they are beautiful. Flags also are acting as pants, shorts, shirts, and swimming suits. By and large, this is unfortunate and anything but beautiful.

Unless you are the owner of a craptastic tae kwon do shop. Because who is going to want to take a roundhouse kick to the face from those pants? No one. Because 'Murica. Except for the United Kingdom, I don't recall seeing a country's flag used as apparel as unfortunately as it is here in the United States. It is a nutty phenomenon and I guess that it is one of those things that makes us unique. We are a nation that is free to let its flag free, no matter how awkward it may be.

In spite of the madness of letting the flag act as someone's Daisy Dukes, the United States is still an amazing country. Its geography is like other in the world. Its people are as diverse as they come. Its politics are an ongoing train wreck. It is a nation that embraces its freedom in all kinds of ways. It is a country I am proud to call my home. I love this place,

May God continue to bless America, in spite of itself.

03 July 2015

July '85: When Tina Turner sang me through the gates of Heaven

Yes, I did think it was a sports car. 
The summer of 1985 found me preparing to embark on my LDS mission. I'd completed a year and half of study at the BYU and I was home for a couple of months, earning some mission cash. I was working again (I'd worked there during high school but I was no longer required to where the 'elf' outfit - let's not speak of it again) in a Scandinavian imports store in what was then Snottsdale Scottsdale's answer to Rodeo Drive (if Rodeo Drive were populated by Gilbert Ortega Indian jewelry outlets). I'd roll in to work on those summer mornings in my super sweet Honda Civic 1300FE, with the sounds of the B52s blaring from the cassette deck. If you're wondering what the "FE' stood for, it was not 'Ferrari Engineered. It was, wait for it, Fuel Economy. My teenage delusions led me to believe I was driving the coolest sports car ever. These were the same delusions that led me to a most unfortunate "Urban Cowboy" phase earlier in the 80's. You would have thought I would have learned a thing about delusions from that hideousness alone, but I did not.

While the B52s were my morning jam, my musical accompaniment on the way home was usually Tina Turner and her career restoring album, "Private Dancer." Even then, I was wickedly susceptible to ear worms and in the summer of '85, there was no escaping Tina. So on a hot July afternoon thirty years ago, I was on my way home from work, listening to Tina, with my open can of Pepsi (I know, I know, Pepsi. I was 18. Chalk it up to teenage foolishness) ensconced between my legs. That was what we called a cup holder in those days. Cars did not come with the pre-requisite 79 cup holders like they do today. We had to improvise.

As I was heading northbound towards an intersection, listening to Tina demand "Let's stay together," I noticed that the car heading westbound was going to blow through the stop sign that only the east and west bound drivers had. At that moment, everything slipped into that slow motion, suspended animation that any of you who have been in a car accident may recognize. Within seconds, this little Fiat convertible T-boned me in the passenger side of my car and sent my Civic spinning into the yard of one of the houses lining the street.

The force of the accident slammed me into my door, knocking me unconscious and causing some other fun, albeit minor injuries. Of course, I didn't know that. The force of the accident also slammed my legs together, causing the open can of Pepsi to explode like a volcano, covering me in its carbonated goo. As I began to come out of the blur, I couldn't, or wouldn't, open my eyes. I felt like I was covered head to toe in something wet (the aforementioned Pepsi) and all I could hear was the raspy voice of Tina Turner imploring that we stay together. It struck me as odd that she just kept saying, 'Let's stay together.' I thought because I couldn't open my eyes and wasn't feeling anything that I was dead and that Tina was the lead 'Welcome' songstress. This was an answer to prayers because I was really hoping that the chorus of heavenly angels would be a little more peppy than the Mo'Tab. I, at that point, was delighted with how things were turning out for a dead guy. I mean Tina Turner leading an angelic choir. I'd had a pretty awesome life up to that point. So if was the way I was going out, it was time to just wait for my name to be called or for someone to say, 'Go towards the light.'

And then, the pain kicked in and my eyes sprung open. I could no longer hear Tina. I heard sirens. I was not dead. Dang it. What followed was a delightful chat with the police and paramedics, including my refusal to be treated on scene because 18 year olds are invincible. I wasn't invincible as my visit to our family physician proved the following day. I was wrecked but I was in far better shape than my totaled car. For the car, it was fatal, but for Tina, not so much. I managed to pry the cassette out of the tape deck because priorities.

As the car was towed away a couple of days later to be parted out, a part of my youth went with it. It was time for me to grow up. I was leaving for a two year mission in what was then a matter of days. I had no idea what was ahead of me. The growth. The challenges. The tests. The joy.

I hear the first few notes of "Let's Stay Together" today and it's July 1985 all over again. It was the summer I straddled the line of adulthood with marginal success. It really did kick off my trip into adulthood. Thirty years later, I'm appreciative of the lessons of that summer.

And I'm still hoping that when it is my time, Tina is there to sing me in.