30 May 2016

Memorial Day 2016

Memorial Day 2016

In a year wherein we are looking at the very real and terrifying possibility of a xenophobic, racist, small-handed bigot becoming the leader of our armed forces, 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, 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. Please watch it today.

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 2016

Funny how things work out

TMFKATB and Elder S
For all two of you who pay really close attention to the photos that make their way into the Den, you may be saying, "Today's picture is a repeat, doofus. Get it together."
I know it's a repeat and there's a reason why.

Today's letter from TMFKATB was full of reassurances of that everything is going "super well!" It had been a good week but today was transfers and that can be challenging. Transfers can mean leaving an area you love and a companion you've worked really well with. It could also mean you're staying in an area that's been really difficult or you're going to be with that absurdly challenging missionary for one more transfer.

TMFKATB loves the area he's been working in for the last several months and has really enjoyed working with and learning from his companion. Today, he learned that his companion was being assigned to a new area and that his new companion wasn't new at all. TMFKATB's new companion is one of his favorites, a missionary he trained when he was brand-new to the mission. TMFKATB now gets to train him in the leadership role that they currently have. Suffice to say, he was, in his own word, "pumped!" He'd wanted very much to serve with Elder S again, so it's funny it has worked out the way that it has. So to honor the fact that they are working together again, I had to repeat a picture from their first go-round. We are happy for him.

It made for a good Monday. Given the week ahead, I'm glad it started that way.

22 May 2016

Another Lesson from 'Learn From My Mistakes'

"May I suggest Lava the next time?"
This blog is many things. It is a history of me and my family, whether they like it or not. It is a showcase of my rants and raves. It is a view, albeit an unsettling one at times, into what makes me tick. It is in many ways a train wreck and not doing any one any favors. There are times, though, when it does some good. Dotted throughout the blog are posts where I have learned life's lessons the mostly hard mortifying way. On more than one occasion, I have cautioned you, the good denizens of the Den, to learn from my mistakes. Today is another of those posts wherein I will beg / caution you to do exactly that.

It all began innocently enough today because it went down at Church. We had just taken our seats in another pew, different from our regular one, which may have thrown me off just a little (thanks for snatching our pew, Logan). Services hadn't started yet when my Ted Cruz fangirl and Mistress of All Things Fox News frenemy (friend, really I promise!!) came up to talk to the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML. After resolving a critical issue about flowers, she turned to me to ask if I'd seen her post to me about an International Food Truck Festival.

If you've spent anytime here in the Den, you know I love me food something fierce. You also know that it's all the better when it comes off a food truck. So the mere mention of food trucks is going to provoke a reaction (think 'Trump fans reacting to a Muslim attending one of their rallies' reaction) in me. It did not matter that we were sitting in church, I reacted. The last time we attended a food truck rally here in the 'Stan, it was cataclysmically disappointing. So with my desire to protect the integrity of real food trucks engaged, I launched into a screed about the food truck scene here in the 'Stan.

Me: "OK the International Food Truck Festival? We've done it. Taco Bell is more international and less risky. The International Food Truck Festival! The International Food _uck Festival..."

Yes, right there in church, it happened. I dropped the bomb. The "F" bomb. As soon as I said it, I felt a heat flash through, akin to the power of a thousand suns, and I looked at my friend. There was a look of abject horror, followed by laughter as I bolted from the pew. I had to get out of there, if for nothing else to get a drink of water to cool the burning of mortification cranked up to 11.

Now, for once I was using my quiet voice, so only the two of us heard it. So there's that. But you try repeating "International Food Truck Festival" a few times fast and see what comes up. I don't think it's going end well for you either.

So what have we learned today, people?
It's not a good idea to put the words food, truck, and festival together.
It's a really bad idea to get me amped up about the sanctity of food trucks in church.
As we saw today, it's just not going to end well.

I'm off to enjoy the taste treat that is a bar of Lava now to atone.

If I've said it once, I've said it a million times...learn from my mistakes.

16 May 2016

Distractions, don't let them get in your way

"It is so important that we don't let distractions get in our way."

Simple counsel that's familiar to many of us. In this week's quick update from TMFKATB, those words of wisdom were the keynote of his letter. It seems like he'd had another busy week and he saw the rewards of staying focused on objectives. He shared a quick story of how they were determined to get a family to church for the first time so, determined to meet that goal, they spend an hour and half at the family's house on Sunday morning waking them up and getting them to church. I'm sure that was quite an alarm clock. I'm hoping he didn't employ any of the more severe tactics we had to use to rouse him from his teen-age slumber. That was never pretty for any involved.

I'm loving the growth he's experienced in these nearly two years. I'm excited to see where it will take him and how he'll handle it all. Heaven knows he will be drowning in distractions once he returns. Aren't we all anymore? Not letting them get in our way, man, that's a little easier said than done, isn't it?

There were a couple of pictures this week but Blogger's ability to load photos is not working. I'll upload once it's restored.

13 May 2016

You had one job

A couple of days ago, at the end of my work day, I mowed the lawn. That's normally a Saturday chore, but last week we had what seemed like seven straight days of rain and last Saturday was one of those water-logged days. So I didn't get a chance to tackle the lawn until earlier this week. (Side note - if the literal swarm of gnats and biting noseeums that used me a veritable buffet are any indication of what's to come here in the 'Stan this spring and summer, it is going to be hellacious. Hellacious.) Maybe it was the loss of blood from the bug attacks, but once I was done with the lawn, I was craving two - not one, not three, just two - slices of pizza. We had no pizza in the house and I really didn't have it in me to thaw out some of the pizza dough the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML has on hand and make one. So I thought I'd go pick up a couple of slices in town. This would prove to be a mistake.

It's important to note that it was 530PM. It was not 1130PM or even 1000PM, when the street lights in our 'hood go from fully functioning to a simple flashing yellow light. So we've established that it was normal business hours. I went to our local deli / open mic night talent train wreck emporium. They are always good for a couple of slices of pizza. A few patrons were seated outside but it looked a little dark inside but I saw the pizza oven was still aglow. As I walked in, I was told they were closed. I pointed out the door was open. I was told again, 'We're closed.' So I thought maybe it was just a brief thing (like transition from lunch service to dinner service). I asked if they would be opening soon and I was told, 'Yeah, tomorrow.' Shaking my head, I walked out, recognizing that the place can be a little quirky, but still...

With my quench for two slices of pizza unfulfilled, I remembered that there was a pizza place right around the corner. We'd never tried there pizza but I figured I'd give it a go. I walked over and went in. I could see one man working diligently on a couple of pizzas in the open kitchen. The menu proudly proclaimed that it sells pizza by the slice. I should also point out that I was the lone customer.   So I went straight to the counter and the following went down:

Truculent Pizza Lady (TPL): Yes?
Me: I'd like two slices of pepperoni pizza to go, please.
TPL: No.
Me: I'm sorry?
TPL: No, no slices.
Me: What? There's several pizzas right there. (I could see them under the ever inviting warming lights.)
TPL: Slices only at lunch. No slices.
Me: You're serious?
TPL: No slices.

I spun on my heel and walked out. TPL, you had one job. One job - simply selling a couple slices of pizza. The request was not to make a gluten-free, vegan, no animals were harmed in the making, kosher pizza. It was two slices of pizza. You had one job and it went horribly wrong.

P.S. - The good news was that the next day I was in the City and my pizza desire was successfully sated.

09 May 2016

So this happened on Mothers Day

Those smiles. Those faces. 
During the years that a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints serves, they are permitted to call home twice a year. They call home on Christmas and Mothers Day. With the advent of the interwebs,  it's safe to say that the vast majority of those calls are on the Skype or one of its competitors. So we were pretty excited about the chance we had to see and hear from TMFKATB.

Suffice to say, our 45 minute call with him was the highlight of the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML's day. Breakfast in bed and me cooking dinner paled, and rightly so, in comparison to getting to spend some time with TMFKATB. Even better was being able to patch in the Awesomes and CAL. Being all together, even it was via Skype, was truly a little bit of heaven and sure made us excited for the time, which is rapidly approaching, when we will all be together again. We had a lot of fun talking to him. His accent is, well, pretty Cholo / Ese, if I'm being honest. That, of course, led to a lot of good-natured teasing. He also informed us that his beard is now fierce and that he almost has to shave twice a day (hyperbole..yes, please). He also informed us that since being in Utah, his GI system has never betrayed him or, how do I put this delicately (let's face it, I don't), his underwear. Good to know.

In addition to those gems, he told us of his love for his service and the people he's working with. He smiled continually as he spoke of what he's doing. It was good to see him so happy. He followed that up today with a brief letter, given that we'd spoken last night. In this week's letter, he mentioned some of the challenges of keeping his zone focused on goals and his faith that this week would be even better work-wise. He believes that they will see miracles. He's a young man of enormous faith. I trust he'll see success.

What a great way to end Mothers Day. We saw our boy. We had our family together virtually. We gratefully counted our blessings as we called it a very good day.

08 May 2016

On Mothers Day

In the run up to Mothers Day, I've been thinking a bit about this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson. I've been asking my middle-aged self if I am the man my mother wants me to be. In spite of the fact that I am thisclose to turning 50, Mom is still mothering me, trying to mold me into being a better man.

Since my father died seven years ago (side note - how has it been seven years already?), there is much in the dynamic between my mom and I that has changed. As that shift has led to myriad discussions about her life and her experiences, I have learned so much more about her and the reservoirs of strength that she possesses that I often didn't see as I was growing up. I see it so much more clearly now. She will be a mother forever. As far as I can tell, she will never stop reminding me to drive carefully, to remember who I am, or that I married up (significantly). She will never stop panicking when she hears about bad weather wherever it is we are living. She will never stop worrying that every flight I board is going to be the target of the next terrorist event. And can I just say no thanks to Fox News for endlessly feeding those fears....

Conversations with my mom - even the ones that don't always end well (ladies and gentlemen, I give you our last discussion about the U.S. Presidential campaign) - are ones that I cherish. In each of them, I am reminded that I still need to be the man my mother raised me to be. I know that I am lucky  to still have those conversations. I don't take that for granted.

I get to hear the conversations my wife, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML, has with our children. We live so far away from our children and she doesn't take her conversations with our children for granted either. She talks frequently with our daughters and I see her mothering them in each of those conversations. Although her conversations with TMFKATB right now are limited to weekly emails (except today - Skype's taking a beating today as missionaries from around the world get to call their moms!), she mothers him in each of those exchanges as well. She loves each of our children fiercely and yet has given each of them the self-confidence to live their lives to the fullest. My children are who they are because of their amazing mother.

I am indebted to the women, as mothers or mothers-to-be, who have made my life what it is and there are not enough words to express my gratitude.

To my mother-in-law for raising an amazing daughter who decided it might be fun to take me on as a husband and partner
To my daughter, Our Lady of Awesome, for blazing your own trail as you mother our two grandchildren
To my daughter, CAL, for incorporating what you learned from your mother as you embark on a career making the lives of terribly ill children better
To my wife for, well, everything. It rare that words fail me but I find it most difficult to express what you've done as a mother to our children. You amaze me every day.
To my mother for still raising me, even to this day. I'm a better man for it. And I can't thank you enough for conversations like this:

Mothers. They rule.

Happy Mothers Day

02 May 2016

In brief

107 days until TMFKATB returns, but who's counting?
Brevity, thy name is TMFKATB.

With this week's letter, he continued his streak of brief updates. I am beginning to believe he's doing this on purpose because he knows it's driving me nuts. If that's his real intent, well, he's hitting it out of the park.

The reality is I don't have much longer to gripe about the length of these weekly updates. Late last week, we got information regarding his release date and travel request information for his return back to the 'Stan. He's going to be home in the proverbial blink of an eye and this two year cavalcade of stories that I've been sharing with you will come to an end. I'm going to miss sharing this experience. Until that day comes, though, I'll keep the updates coming, no matter how brief the content.

As for this week, he's happy and he's focusing on the three things that have helped him to stay happy: humility, repentance, and forgiveness. While he didn't get into specifics, natch, he mentioned how those three principles have helped him to stay happy throughout his missionary service. I know that if he can stay focused on those principles in his post-mission life, he'll sure have a better understanding of his fellow man and some of the things that make them tick. It will help him to stay happy.

We have an additional measure of happiness awaiting us this weekend when we'll be able to see him, thanks to a Mothers Day Skype call. Sunday is going to be a great day, can I just tell you? At that point, it'll be down to 102 days, but who's counting?


Yeah, this is pretty much how it played out
One of the things I had warned CAL about as she made the move to America's, oh how do I put this delicately, most insane state, was its state bug, the cockroach, or the Palmetto Bug as it is graciously called there. Let me assure you, as I tried to assure and warn her as any good father/Florida refugee would, there is nothing gracious about this indestructible strain of cockroach. I knew it would only be a matter of time before she'd have a dramatic encounter with one of them.  When I woke up this morning and opened my Twitter feed, there it was. She'd had her Palmetto bug showdown and she documented the whole thing in an epic Twitter rant. With her permission, I share it with you now in the order it played out, because it's genius.

  • Tonight marks a truly defining moment for me. As I'm getting into bed I hear this noise in my blinds. I thought it was just a fly no big deal.
  • I keep hearing the noise and then I see its no fly...it's a FREAKING COCKROACH! So I jump out of bed and run into my bathroom and slam the door.
  • I sat in the bathroom for 3 minutes listening to this nasty thing take over my room like its the freaking Queen of England 
  • After 8 minutes of hiding in the bathroom and every so often opening the door to see if I can see it, I decided to put on my big girl pants.
  • I stepped out of the bathroom flip flop in hand ready to kill, and I saw it on my laptop. No way was I going to get it on my computer.
  • So I ran back into the bathroom. Two more minutes pass and I step out again. There it is just siting on the floor...taunting me... 
  • I flailed my arm and smacked down on the ground as hard as I could. I had my eyes closed so I didn't know if I'd actually killed it.
  • So I open my eyes hoping this cockroach would be dead & not spring back at me the second I opened my eyes. And there it was dead on the ground.
  • I had killed it! There was no life left in that cockroach to come back at me. I ran back to the bathroom to grab tissues to cover this thing.
  • Then I grab that pile of tissues with the roach dead inside and flushed that thing down the toilet as hard as I could.
  • And that is the end of my story. It was probably the most terrifying 13 minutes of my life.
  • But I alone killed a cockroach and I didn't even cry or scream for help. Tonight is a really big night for me.
So there you have it. No crying. No screaming. PETA be damned. She took care of that nemesis. That she had the presence of my mind to document it on Twitter in near real time makes me laugh. This probably means if she's ever in an airplane evacuation, she'll put the evac on Periscope.