27 January 2016

A little late but it's my bad

Chillin' or chilled? He looks cold to me.
I totally own the fact that this week's update from TMFKATB is completely my fault. I was in a snowy, slushy (not to be confused with the famed Slushie, but gross, dirty, shoe destroying, melting snow slushy) Manhattan from Monday afternoon until this evening and I have yet to master the art of blogging to the standard upon which you all have become accustomed via the Blogger app on my iPhone. It gives me fits, I'm telling you, fits. I did try but the formatting was hideous, so I voted no.

As for this week's brief letter, it was a week of #firstworldproblems, Mormon missionary style for TMFKATB and his companion. They got snowed on (Utah winter = snow). Then their car died on a snowy morning. Then they got a free meal at Brazilian churrascaria. They stayed busy and had some successful teaching sessions. Like I said, tough week.

I love getting these letters. While they'll never be recognized for their detail-rich writing, each week brings a picture of these two years of service that is uniquely his. It's great to see him maturing, but I love that his personality still roars through each week. As I've said before, it makes me happy. That's all I need right now.

25 January 2016

1000 Posts


Those are just three slangy ways to refer to the number 1000. That number, 1000, looms large in today's post because after 999 posts, this is the 1000th post here in the Den.

It's taken eight years to get here. I started  this little endeavor in December 2007. It allowed me to lament the weather in the greatest city in the United States, Chicago, and get indignant over the pimp mothering stylings of one Lynn Spears (she who spawned Britney). Lynn now looks absolutely angelic compared to she who has assumed that throne now and forever, the horrific Kris Kardashian. What a difference eight years make!

In those eight years, the makeup of the Den has changed. The son-in-law Awesome and two grandchildren have added to the headcount. We said goodbye to my father. The Den took up new digs in Connecticutistan. I've changed jobs three times in the ensuing years. There have been graduations, both high school and university, jobs, internships, and that little matter of TMFKATB's two-fer mission in Mexico and behind the Zion Curtain in the heart of Mormon Mecca, Salt Lake City. Whew! A lot has happened over the course of these past eight years.

I've overshared plenty in these 999 posts, too. And what lessons have been learned in all of that? Let's see: I was an awkward teenager. My wife, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML, deserves a medal. I'm proud of my family. I've rarely met a meal I don't like. I don't recommend getting sick on a plane. I'm terrified by the prospect of a Trump presidency. And you most recently learned that running tights can kill.

At the core of all this foolishness is a love of storytelling. That's what the Den is. It's the story of the life I know and love. We all have a story to tell and I've enjoyed telling mine. I have appreciated the comments over the years. There's a couple of you that seem to like this, so I'm going to keep chugging along.

So I hope your comfortable here. Settle in and enjoy the read.

24 January 2016

The parable of the running tights and the Jaws of Life

Where were these last night?
A parable is a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. Who knew I'd be living my own...

As I got up yesterday morning, I knew I'd be running around a bit in advance of the arrival of #winterstormjonas. So I threw on a pair of my running tights as a base layer and went about my day. Little did I know that a clothing decision would becoming a teaching moment.

First, a comment on #winterstormjonas. Much like the awful Jonas Brothers band, for those of  us in this part of Connecticutistan, the storm was a flash in the pan and lacking in any kind of depth or punch. As I'd implied in an earlier post, the hysteria that preceded Jonas was completely over the top and unnecessary, also much like the screaming fans of the aforementioned Jonas Brothers, but I digress. Let's get back to the parable.

As I went throughout my day, my running pants were doing exactly what they were designed to do: keeping me warm and aerodynamic, if the occasion called for it. As information, it did not. It was pretty clear by noon that the storm was going to be a bust. I should have at that point gotten out of the pants but I chose not to. They were doing their job. I was warm, all was good. What I'd forgotten is that those pants are called tights for a reason and the longer you wear them, the tighter they become. It's subtle though. You don't realize that you're essentially choking out your lower extremities the longer you wear them, especially if you are lounging around (my Saturday afternoon downfall). After a casual dinner at the house with friends, it was time to call it a night and I began the simple task of losing the running tights. After more than 12 hours in them, there was going to be nothing simple about it. There was a struggle, and I mean a struggle, between me and the pants that ended with me stumbling to the ground in our closet, and me crying out to the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML, "I need the Jaws of Life! Get me the Jaws of Life! I'm never getting out of these things!" Suffice to say, we don't have a set of Jaws of Life laying around in our vast (and by vast I mean, two) collection of power tools. What I got from my wife was the sound of her laughter. That was enough to spurn me on and, after a wrestling match with myself (trust me when I tell you that is not going to be an Olympic event anytime soon), out of the death grip of those pants. Whew!

Waking up early this morning to go shovel snow at the church, I opted NOT to wear the tights again. While I was shoveling, I got to thinking about the stupid pants and the consequences, while not bad in the grand scheme of things, of my choice to wear them all day long. It got me thinking about the choices in general and what happens as a result. We've all long been taught that for every action, there is a reaction (think the classic one of choosing to put your hand on a hot stove as a toddler). When we make a choice, there will be a consequence, whether it be good or bad. Some, like the toddler and the stove, are very obvious. Then there are the ones like the running tights. It doesn't seem like a bad choice at all. You've had good experiences with them in the past, so what could go wrong? You get comfortable and don't realize the consequence that's occurring (in my case yesterday the subtle assault on my slightly over-extended waist line by scientifically engineered fabric). Before you know it, you're in trouble and you're fighting like mad to get yourself out of a mess. You do nutty things, like demand that the Jaws of Life be delivered to you post-haste to get you out of a situation of your own making. You eventually find a way out, or a solution, and quickly vow to never make the same choice again.

The question is - will you remember the lesson you've just learned? Or how quickly will you forget it? That's one of the things that I'm most grateful for in this life is that each day brings me the chance to choose more wisely than I did the day before. It's an enormous blessing for me.

So, as always my friends, learn from my mistakes (take the running tights off before it's too late)
Choose wisely.

Freedom of choice is more to be treasured
than any possession earth can give. ~ David O. McKay

21 January 2016


Hysteria, thy name is Winter Storm Jonas.

Not familiar with Jonas, are you? Then you mustn't live on or near the East Coast, or if you're smart, you've elected to NOT watch television. For those of you familiar with television, you know that right now, it's all Jonas all the time for us denizens of the East Coast. It's DefCon 5 or maximum hysteria for the local weather prognosticators. Even here in the 'Stan, where we aren't expected to take the spanking that say Washington DC is predicted to get, it's RED ALERT, people, RED ALERT. Call me a hater but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say it's a bit of hyperbolic overkill.

This hysteria that always seems to accompany these 'storm of the century' events kills me. Are we so ill-prepared as a nation that the threat of being indoors for a day, maybe two, requires the absolute obliteration of the neighborhood grocery store? Are you really going to make that many sandwiches over the course of 24 or 48 hours that every bit of bread is gone from the shelves? Do you really need a pallet of bottled water to get you through those two days? It's not like this nation is some kind of Third World country, although for anyone who's ever flown through LaGuardia you may disagree. Who in this country is going to the market each and every day to buy that day's sustenance? Pretty much no one and yet, once again, panicked people are launching assaults on the Piggly Wiggly as if they were a Kardashian who was told there was free money on the other side of a brick wall. You'd be a fool to get in the way, right?

One day we'll learn to deal with these things. Keep some food and other necessities around and you can avoid all this madness. As for me and my house, we're ready for the terrifying specter of three inches of snow. I've got plenty of Coke Zero, a snow shovel, and an environmentally offensive 4-wheel drive GMC Yukon. So no hysteria here. Although, I may need these to sustain me through the storm:

So keep calm, my friends, and enjoy the snow.

18 January 2016

A Milestone (of sorts)

His new shoes. Apparently the Salt Lake
branch of 'Gangsters R'Us' was having
a close-out sale.

Shoes are a big deal when you're a missionary. You're on your feet a stupid number of hours each day. Your shoes need to be comfortable. They need to be able to withstand whatever climate you find yourself in. It would be nice too if they'd last more than a couple of months. If you can keep a pair of shoes more than a year, you are some kind of superhero in missiondom. TMFKATB had a couple of pair of shoes that did yeoman's duty while he was in Mexico and faced the jungle rot like champs. Now that he's behind the Zion Curtain, he has upped his shoe game apparently. I'm guessing this based on the shoes he bought today, representing a two-tone milestone of sorts. He's worn out another pair of shoes (now that's a milestone) but channeled a 1940's Zoot Suit wearer when he bought his new ones. He included a picture of them in today's letter.

His letter was a good one, albeit brief. He's learned very quickly that being a part of mission leadership takes busy to 11. He's in meetings, leading trainings, and managing the mundane, like bike deliveries to various sundry missionaries. He's learning, even in his first week, that his actions speak far louder than his words and he's trying to lead by being a doer. He's also thrilled to be working with a diverse group of Latinos. It makes life better for him. He just seemed really, really happy. I'll take that any day of the week.

Fun for us to see a picture of him in
action - facilitating a training session

16 January 2016

A rose among the thorns

Yale University @yale.edu
The stunningly patient and mighty fine SML awoke this morning with an URGENT need to go to that purveyor of all things Swedish (except there was not a Volvo, Saab, or ABBA department to be found), IKEA, for dishes. Yes, dishes. Don't ask.

This being Connecticutistan, per the Politburo that runs the state, it means that no "big box" retailer can be located conveniently to anyone and that it must involve at least a 45 minute drive (hence increasing the chance you will have to get gas and plough more tax dollars into the coffers for which you will receive ZERO benefit), so it was off to New Haven for us.

New Haven. It sounds so pastoral, so New England, doesn't it? After all, it has the word 'haven' in it. A haven, as defined, is a place of safety or refuge. It even suggests a place of tranquility. Well guess what? The word 'haven' needs to be suing New Haven, CT for defamation of character as it is anything but a tranquil place of refuge or safety. What it is is a place of high crime, significant diversity and poverty issues (talk about income gap), and a craptastic infrastructure (suffice to say, methinks the New Haven Visitors Bureau shall not be asking me to write this year's tourism brochure). It is also a place of roses among thorns. Wait...what?

Rose #1 - The Yale University Campus
After a successful incursion at IKEA, we made our way over to the Yale campus for a bit of a walk around. If you've never been to the storied campus and you've envisioned an old campus in the leafy foothills of New England, snap out of it. The only foothill is an onramp onto the I95, just south of the university. Instead you have a beautiful old campus, punctuated with greenery, and smelling of history, smack in the middle of the sickly ('Get a transplant, STAT!') heart of New Haven. As we walked through a couple of the colleges, the engraved arches, the heavy iron gates and stately wooden doors to the buildings quietly honored the rich history of the university and the learning that continues to this day. It certainly helped that since Mother Nature has yet to go all 'Snow SheHag' on us that the campus was fairly green in places. We talked a bit about the beauty of the campus and its 'rose among thorns' status and that has stuck with me today.

Rose #2 - Shake Shack
Right across the street from the Yale campus is an outlet of Shake Shack, definitely the other rose in the thorn fiesta that is New Haven. We went there for lunch post-IKEA, mostly as a reward to me because I managed to get through the IKEA without loudly complaining. This proves that even though I am entering my 50th year, I am still an arrested adolescent. Lovely. It gave us the chance to try their new Chick'n Shack sandwich, and I can happily give a "Go Eat This!" rating. That's based on just one bite as it was the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML's lunch order. I can't not go to the Shack and not get a burger. That would be a travesty.

So post-Shack / IKEA, I've been thinking about roses among thorns. Our lives are full of them, I know mine is. In Kolkata, India, I saw it in the light in the eyes of the people who had less than nothing and are largely scorned as they smiled at me from their shacks (and I'm being generous in that description) on the outskirts of a huge outdoor marketplace there. In that same city, I saw roses in the form of the sisters of the Missionaries of Charity order as they tenderly cared for the 'thorns' there. The 'thorns?' The forgotten, rejected, 'untouchable' people, not thorns at all. I've seen it in random of acts of kindness all over the world. I've heard it in the laughter of my grandson. That laughter is a powerful reminder that there is joy and goodness in this world.

A complaint-free trek through IKEA.
The sensation of a bit of the grease, yes grease, from a really good burger dribbling down your chin.
The beauty of an inspiring university campus.

Roses among thorns, indeed.

One last thing - why has Yale not erected a statue to its most revered alum, C. Montgomery Burns? Talk about a travesty....

11 January 2016

Not every week is perfect

Missionary thuggery
Having served a two-year mission myself, I know that there are days and weeks of service that are far from perfect. There are frustrations and disappointments. The trick is how those days are handled and what you learn from them. If learned well, those are lessons that will serve you well the rest of your life. TMFKATB is going learning those lessons right now.

His letter this week reflected the challenges a twenty year old has when things aren't turning out exactly as you'd hoped. One of the things he's loved about his service is the chance to teach and in the last couple of weeks, those teaching chances have been few and far between. In the regimented (and rightfully so) world of a Mormon missionary, your options for working through those frustrations are limited, so you have to get creative in how you deal with them. So TMFKATB wrote that he we focusing on changing his mindset, with this quote in mind:

"We must learn to become creators of circumstances and not creatures of them.

Not bad guidance. Not bad at all.

As I read and reread his letter, as a father and as one who has been in his shoes (albeit 30 years ago now), I tried to read between the lines to make sure I wasn't missing anything or if there was some magic bullet I could share with him. I realized he's learning these lessons for himself and when he can challenge himself to focus on being his own agent of change, I could breathe a little easier.

It didn't hurt that he also shared how a recent meal of higado (liver) drilled right through him faster than the #8 Combo Meal at Taco Hell Bell. You know that all is right in the world. That's my boy.

10 January 2016

I Was A...

Before YouTube, it was public access that made guys
like this famous
I Was A Male War Bride
I Was A Teenage Werewolf
I Was A Teenage Zombie
I Was A Teenage Republican

If we were playing a game of "Three Lies and A Truth" and it was my turn, which of the four responses above would you choose as the truth? Stymied? Let me help you out.

The Zombie one is somewhat believable, as I've posted one of my high school senior portraits as proof of my latent puberty, Zombie-esque mien. The Werewolf one is somewhat believable too, especially if you've seen me after a day without shaving or even worse, sans a shirt. The Male War Bride is out of the question. I was too young to go to Vietnam and the only war being fought in my teenage years was Nancy Reagan's uber-successful war on drugs. Ladies and gentlemen, just say no.

And speaking of Mrs. Reagan, that leaves us with the Teenage Republican option, and if you chose that one, you chose wisely. In fact, in high school, I was a card-carrying member of the Maricopa County sect branch of the Teenage Republicans. So committed to the cause was I that I served as Treasurer (as I recall) of said organization. I was always interested in current events and politics as a youth, but I was even more interested in girls. What girl wouldn't want to date a dork kid interested in politics? By my count and experience in high school, none of them. Except for one girl, who was with her sister very active in the TAR organization. Suddenly, I was politically active. Here's what I learned: our club was affiliated with the College Republicans chapter at our nation's most respected and academically challenging university, ASU, and their sole purpose was to date the high school girls since they were not exactly BMOC material. I also got to see a little of the train wreck machinations of the state political machine and my disillusionment with the GOP, and political parties in general, was underway. It didn't help that a few years later my home state would elect an off-kilter slightly racist auto dealer as a governor and that I watched my fellow students at BYU lose their collective minds when a woman had the testicular fortitude to run for student body president. Did I mention that was in 1989? Not 1889. So is it any wonder I am where I am politically today? To my Mittite friends, I promise it does not make me the Anti-Christ.

I suppose it could have all turned out a little differently. Perhaps if there had been a more effective way to discuss all things political back in 1982, I'd have a different perspective on things? In 1982, the Internet wasn't a thing. Cable TV really wasn't much more than HBO and something creepy called ONTV. There was no public access cable to speak of, but that was soon to come. Without it, we'd never have met Wayne and Garth and been reminded of the glory of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." But today, thanks to the interwebs, there is no end to the options for a teenager or any maniac (I give you the flotsam that is the Kardashians) for that matter with an opinion, valid or otherwise. There's a lot of junk when it comes to the never-ending discussion of politics and current events, but I've stumbled onto a political discussion show that gives me hope. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Unnamed Political Podcast.

(Full Disclosure - I know one of the co-hosts, Clark, and his family well. Clark didn't tell me about this. I found out about his efforts through some other friends.)

These are two high school kids who actually know what they are talking about, especially if you lean uber-conversative (note the Bill O'Reilly - it just pains me to type that - book over the shoulder of one of the co-hosts). These guys have done their homework. They're savvy, placing themselves on the YouTube and the Instagrams. They are pumping this stuff out on a regular basis and it's pretty great. By and large, I don't agree with 95% of what they say but I can't get enough of this. For my conservative friends, you'll think you've died and gone to heaven. I'm telling you, these two could replace Joe and Mika on Morning Trump Joe tomorrow, but I think Fox News would be a little more welcoming environment. Also, I think after you've watched the clip included above, you'll agree with me that the "Chairman Mao" kid needs his own segment on every show. Seriously, these guys should make the leap!

It's so refreshing to see this level of engagement in politics, current and world events from a couple of high schoolers. Like I said earlier, it gives me a little hope for what lies ahead. Given how different their version of public access is from the aforementioned Wayne and Garth, I don't think we'll see the boys of the Unnamed Political Podcast doing this anytime soon:

Somebody help me get these guys a show!

04 January 2016

A late start

An effective reminder that it's colder for
him in the Zion Curtain than here in the 'Stan
TMFKATB has been really good about his weekly letters being sent at the same time every week. It's rare that he deviates and when he does, it's weird and it seems to send our schedules into disarray. Today's letter was one of those that arrived quite a bit later than normal. Fortunately, the reason for his tardiness was simple (in his own words, 'lazy') and not concerning, like being hospitalized when he was in Mexico.

Not only was his letter a little later than normal, it was pretty brief. He'd had a busy week and saw blessings come into the lives of some of the people they've been working with, so that made a busy week even better. There's some buzz in his mission about a worldwide meeting for all missionaries on the 20th of this month as everyone is trying to figure what it might be about.

He's managing the cold and snow. Funny that our climates have switched completely. We have yet to experience any real snow to speak of and he's seen more in the last month than he'd like to see in a year's time. Through it all, though, he's got a positive attitude, still happy to be learning and growing. It's a good perspective to have as the new year dawns.

03 January 2016

2016 - I'm already exhausted

So we are three days into the new year - 2016 - and I am already exhausted. Quite simply the last three weeks of non-stop activity (there was that little matter of the Oranges of Wrath tour) came to roost this morning at 330AM when the alarm went off. On purpose. Someone in the Den needs to stop, and I mean stop right now, opting for first flights out of any city. Given that said someone is me, it's time to listen to myself. Perhaps that will be my one and only resolution this year...

Three weeks of not sleeping in your own bed, moving through multiple time zones, and hotels that only seem to offer Satanic feather pillows that offer as much as support as the Duggars have birth control tend to make a person weary.

That weariness was made plain this morning as we boarded our connecting flight in Atlanta. As the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML made her way into the window seat, her purse brushed the lady in the aisle in front of us. The lady proceeded to flop as if she were playing in the Barclays Premier League. She grabbed her shoulder and writhed as if she had been shot while storming Omaha Beach. Had an attorney been present, I'm quite certain she would have filed suit right then and there. It was ridiculous. Had I been a little less exhausted, I might have asked, nicely, if there was a problem. Instead I wanted to react poorly. I was stopped by my more level-headed companion of twenty-seven years. She reminded me that I was tired and to let it go. For the most part, I did. Let's just say, though, I wouldn't have felt bad had an errant bag from the overhead compartment bonked her on the noggin when we landed. Like I said, exhaustion does funny things to a person.

When we finally landed back in the 'Stan, it felt like we'd just won the Exhaustion Games. I ran the figures in my head as we taxied to the gate. 18 days of travel. 13 states. 3,365 miles of super fun cross-country driving. 3,800 miles of flying. Countless amounts of Coke Zero consumed. One spectacularly good burger demolished in St. Petersburg.

I'm going to use that burger (the Rasta Monsta, if you were interested) as an omen for 2016. If this year is even half as good as that burger was, it's going to be a great year. For right now though, I'll focus on getting some sleep. Quick nap, some dinner with whatever we can pull together in the house, and then a full night's sleep.

It's back to work tomorrow. Let the great 2016 begin.