Saturday, December 22, 2007

Bizarre Rudeness

Yesterday, my wife and I had the unexpected opportunity to go see "National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets", without the kids. It was a wonderful movie, and I'm glad we went. However, when we went to the theater, it was a complete zoo. It seems a lot more people than usual had Friday off because of the holiday than we normally encounter on a weekday.

The theater had two screens showing the movie at 4:30, and we showed up at about 4:00. One of the theaters was completely sold out, with the other filling up quickly. We were afraid that we wouldn't get tickets in time, but we did. However, when we went into the theater, it seemed as if they'd oversold.

There was not a single pair of seats available except on the very front row. Since we'd end up both blind and crippled (with a broken neck) if we sat on the front row, we decided to investigate the other theater to see if it was a little less crowded. Sure enough it was, and there were individual seats scattered here and there.

We looked around and found a few seats right up towards the middle of the theater that were empty. A guy was sitting between two empty seats, so I asked him and the people on each side of him if anybody was sitting there. The man in the center indicated he was alone, so I asked if he'd move to one side or the other so I could sit with my wife.

He said no! I was flabbergasted. The theater was totally full of people, he had empty seats on both sides of him, and he wouldn't move. I asked him why and he said he had the center seat and wasn't going to move. He was totally rude about it. The people all around him were looking at him and he was unwilling to accommodate even in the least.

After a few moments of exasperation, I shook my head and looked at my wife for ideas. She said very loudly, "Well, we'll just sit on both sides of him." She was hoping he would feel somewhat awkward by the situation he'd created and would yield, but no go. She even sat on my lap briefly just to be funny about it. Didn't work.

So, I took a look down the row and found what seemed to be yet another seat on the same row that was empty. I left my wife there and walked up the row to ask if the seat was indeed empty. It was, so I asked the seven pre-teenage kids between the empty seat next to the rude man and the other empty seat down the row if they'd mind shifting one seat down so we could have two seats together. Without even hesitating, they said they would and did.

So my wife and I had two seats together, next to what this rude man said was the center seat in the middle of the theater. Sitting next to him shaking our heads, we looked around at where we were. From our perspective, it seemed that both my wife and I were actually in the center seats of the theater! We giggled over that little bit of irony and settled in to enjoy the show.

It was great. The second the credits began to roll, the rude man immediately stood up and made a bee-line for the door. Clearly, he didn't want to even look at us, let alone face the possibility of actually carrying on a discussion with us -- not that we actually wanted to talk to him. Once he was gone, some women sitting behind us, who had watched the whole thing go down, leaned forward and said, "What an a--!" We laughed together about how unbelievable this guy was. They said I handled the situation well, which I guess I did.

It was just really weird.

Regardless of the very rude man, the show was well worth seeing. I give it three and a half stars! Even worth the encounter with the rude man.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Blind Parenting

My wife insists that I write this as a therapeutic means of expressing my frustration. We went over to Six Flags this morning and had a very pleasant time. Right before leaving, we decided to stop and let the kids play in the "ball" house -- it's a pretty neat little area with thousands of foam balls that can be gathered and shot around in the room with air-compressed guns. It's a pretty neat place, but tends to be a little unruly.

So, I'm following my youngest around -- he's 2 2/3 years old -- and there's another little person there. I'm standing back to see what they'll do when the other child, who was about two inches taller than mine, sticks his chest out, puts his face right next to my son and looks down on him. Then he winds up a fist and pops my son right in the nose! I was shocked. It was exactly like what a bully in high school would do to the little nerd.

My son wasn't really hurt, but like any good parent, I grabbed the little punk by the arm, moved him back, and told him "No! You do not hit." Then this little boy did something astonishing. He wasn't apologetic at all; he looked up at me with a look of utter and complete hatred. I'd never seen that expression on a child his age, and it was unnerving. He didn't say a word. I looked up and there was his mother about fifteen feet away looking at me. She was far enough away and it was so loud that I pantomimed that her son had hit my son in the face. My son at this point had already turned to walk away, so I turned to follow him.

At this point, I was just going to put everything behind me, but eventually my son wandered back towards the other little boy, and I was soon confronted by both of the parents. The mother told me that her son was complaining that his arm was hurting him. She had stripped off all his clothes down to his T-shirt (he had several layers on) and was looking at his arm as if it had a compound fracture! While pointing at it, she was telling me that I had hurt her son! (There wasn't even redness on his arm, as far as I could tell.)

The father was standing by and I told them both that their son had hit my son in the nose, so I moved him away. The father seemed mollified, but his wife was still on the rampage. She kept going on and on about how he was complaining about his arm and how he shouldn't've felt anything through all those clothes, let alone be hurt, if I had been gentle enough. The little fink had ratted on me! I was flabbergasted. There was no apology from the parents, no acceptance of the fact that their precious child had done anything wrong -- just blame. The mother kept repeating over and over again that she watches her child closely and would never allow that to happen. Yet ... um ... hello! ... it just happened!

My wife had joined me mid-berating and we soon excused ourselves to leave. I was shocked and upset by the whole thing. I just couldn't believe what had happened. I had done absolutely nothing wrong, and yet I was somehow made out to be the bad guy. These parents (well, I think it was just the mother) were simply unwilling to be accountable for the actions of their child, instead placing blame anywhere but where it belonged. It was so weird.

Keep in mind that I'm around children all the time. It's tough not to be when you have three of your own who have play dates and birthday parties coming out their ears. In our church, we're also greatly outnumbered by the children, so I interact with them on a very frequent basis. I think of myself as a fairly decent parent, and I am not afraid to correct a child who is not my own if I see behavior that is out of order. In this particular case, my correction was mild, pointed, and I did not linger with a lecture or make a big deal. I simply moved the child away, told him not to hit, and went on my way.

In the clarity of afterthought, my wife suggested that we should've asked them what they would have done if it had been our child who had popped theirs in the nose. I'm sure they would've done as I did, or perhaps had an even stronger reaction. Then my child would've been to blame, and I would have been even more clearly to blame since I had raised my child so badly. My wife further suggested that some parents are completely blind to the fact that their children are not perfect angels.

Not me. I harbor no illusions that my kids are perfect. They're pretty good kids, don't get me wrong, but they make mistakes, as do we all (myself included!). But today, I know for a fact that my son and I did nothing wrong. So why do I feel so horrible about the whole thing?

First Day of Vacation

Today is the first full day of my Christmas vacation! I won't be working until the 7th of January, so I have over two weeks to chill out and be with my family! I am so excited. Of course, we have plenty of plans, but if we don't get to any of them, I'm not going to care too much ... I'm on vacation!

We do have planned to go to Six Flags as many times as we can muster while our season passes are still good. We'd like to go down to the L.A. Temple to see the Christmas lights. We want to take a walk over to a street nearby that is all decked out in Christmas lights. We need to make some goodies and take them around to families we'd like to visit. We are going to Utah to visit with both sides of our family. These are all our plans, but if we don't get to them, oh, well! I'm on vacation! (Well, maybe the Utah trip needs to happen ...)

It should be a nice couple of weeks, assuming the kids don't fight the whole time. Of course, I am on-call for work through next Wednesday ... I'm hoping everything goes smoothly with my spacecraft so that I don't get a call.

It's just astonishing that Christmas is in 4 days! My wife and I spent last night wrapping gifts and watching Stargate. It's amazing how much stuff we've accumulated to give away to people -- most of it we have to haul to Utah. Lots of fun! I'm on vacation!

Thursday, December 20, 2007


I am culturally clueless or, as I've said before, acultural. I used to think I was anti-cultural, but that's not really true since I do enjoy some cultural things. This morning, though, I was walking in to work and I saw a woman drive by. I could hear what I think was "gospel" music blaring from her car and she was driving with one hand.

She was moving her other hand, which was palm to the roof of her car with her fingers pointed behind her, up and down in a rhythmic fashion. I usually see this done with two-hands, but since she was driving, I'm glad she had at least one hand on the wheel.

So, what makes me acultural here is that I have absolutely no idea why people raise their hands above their heads in this fashion when listening to music or when they get particularly excited. People sometimes make a hooting noise to accompany the hand motions.

So ... why do people do this?! What is the significance? Does it represent something? How does one learn this behavior? I just don't get it ...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

On Clinkers

Do you know what a "clinker" is? I didn't. My father said this word not long ago and I was baffled by what he meant. It took some explaining on his part before I finally understood that a clinker is what's left (the ash) after coal is burned. "Back in the day," when people had coal-burning stoves, the remaining coal ash would make a "clinking" sound when they bumped together. They would have to remove this ash fairly regularly, so sometimes the person tasked with removing the ash would also be called a "clinker".

To my knowledge, I've never seen one. I know that when wood burns down it's ashes certainly don't make a "clinking" sound when they are bumped together, but coal is much harder, so I guess it's not outside the realm of possibility. To me, this is weird.

This is an example of some bit of cultural knowledge that has become outdated and is being lost as time moves on. To me, the very term seems quaint.

So imagine my surprise to be on the receiving end of a similar experience.

One day when my oldest son was being particularly repetitious, I told him with some exasperation, "You sound like a broken record." He looked at me like I was a space alien. He didn't have any idea what a "record" was! What soon followed was me trying to clearly explain that they used to make disks -- much bigger ones than DVDs -- that had grooves in them, and there exists machines that spins these disks and pulls a needle across it's surface. The little vibrations caused by the pulling of the needle across the surface of the record would be amplified by the machine into music.

He was flabbergasted. Never had he heard such an idea, and of course he wondered why they didn't just use a CD. It seemed so complicated to him. Lost on him was the pleasure of placing the record gently on the turn-table then setting the needle ever so carefully on the edge of the disk. He'll probably never know the joy of listening to a big band as it blares from crackly speakers in all 78 rpm glory (wow, so fast!).

Another bit of cultural knowledge lost on the next generation. What is this world coming to?! (I wonder if my father asks that question sometimes ...)

Pre-Holiday Doldrums

Do you ever get the pre-holiday doldrums? At work, my productivity has tanked. It's not even my fault, either. Everybody that I need to talk to that has that one piece of information I need to make some forward progress is either already on vacation, or already mentally on vacation. This means that I have spent pretty much the whole day moving items from today's to-do list to January. The few things that I actually could do, I can't do because others have come to me to get that one piece of information that they need to make some progress, and they need it right now before the holiday.

So now today is wrapping up and I am left with just one more workday (tomorrow) to get everything done that really needs to get done before my Christmas vacation. I don't have much hope that anything will really get accomplished, but honestly, who cares?! Nobody else around here does, and my work will be here when I get back. My biggest fear is that management will make bad decisions in the first week of January that I will need to wrestle with when I return the second week of January. What a wonderful thought on which to leave on vacation ...

Monday, December 17, 2007

Family Home Evening - I Am Clean!

Tonight we had a Family Home Evening. We were originally intending on baking some goodies and delivering them to my Home Teaching families for FHE tonight, but that went bust as both my wife and I were home sick for the day. So we had to scramble to find a topic for tonight, and when we realized the kids needed a bath and they started to complain about doing so, this idea popped into my head: let's talk about being clean!

I remembered a story about a man named Joseph F. Smith, the nephew of the prophet Joseph Smith that was in one of the church manuals from a year or so ago that was about this very topic. Being unable to find my manual quickly enough, I simply did a google search for "i am clean" and voilĂ ! In 15 seconds I had it -- the internet is so awesome. The particular rendition I found was from a talk by the current prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley. I quote from that article here:

Joseph F. Smith was the son of Hyrum Smith, who was the brother of the Prophet Joseph and was martyred with him in Carthage. Joseph F. was born at Far West, Missouri, on November 13, 1838. He came out of Missouri as an infant. As a lad not yet six years of age, he heard a knock on the window of his mother's home in Nauvoo. It was a man who had hurriedly ridden from Carthage and who told Sister Smith that her husband had been killed that afternoon.

When he was 9, he drove an ox team with his mother across the plains to this valley. At the age of 15 he was called on a mission to Hawaii. He made his way to San Francisco and there worked in a shingle mill to earn enough money to buy passage to the islands.

Hawaii was not a tourist center then. It was populated by the native Hawaiians, who were, for the most part, poor but generous with what they had. He learned to speak their language and to love them. While serving there he experienced a remarkable dream. I quote from his narrative concerning this. Said he:

"I was very much oppressed [when I was] on a mission. I was almost naked and entirely friendless, except [for] the friendship of a poor, benighted . . . people. I felt as if I was so debased in my condition of poverty, lack of intelligence and knowledge, just a boy, that I hardly dared look a . . . man in the face.

"While in that condition I dreamed [one night] that I was on a journey, and I was impressed that I ought to hurry—hurry with all my might, for fear I might be too late. I rushed on my way as fast as I possibly could, and I was only conscious of having just a little bundle, a handkerchief with a small bundle wrapped in it. I did not realize . . . what it was, when I was hurrying as fast as I could; but finally I came to a wonderful mansion. . . . I thought I knew that was my destination.

As I passed towards it, as fast as I could, I saw a notice [which read B-A-T-H], 'Bath.' I turned aside quickly and went into the bath and washed myself clean. I opened up this little bundle that I had, and there was [some] white, clean [clothing], a thing I had not seen for a long time, because the people I was with did not think very much of making things exceedingly clean. But my [clothing was] clean, and I put [it] on. Then I rushed to what appeared to be a great opening, or door. I knocked and the door opened, and the man who stood there was the Prophet Joseph Smith. He looked at me a little reprovingly, and the first words he said: 'Joseph, you are late.' Yet I took confidence and [replied]:

" 'Yes, but I am clean—I am clean!'

"He clasped my hand and drew me in, then closed the great door. I felt his hand just as tangible as I ever felt the hand of man. I knew him, and when I entered I saw my father, and Brigham [Young] and Heber [C. Kimball], and Willard [Richards], and other good men that I had known, standing in a row. I looked as if it were across this valley, and it seemed to be filled with a vast multitude of people, but on the stage were all the people that I had known. My mother was there, and she sat with a child in her lap; and I could name over as many as I remember of their names, who sat there, who seemed to be among the chosen, among the exalted. . . .

"[When I had this dream,] I was alone on a mat, away up in the mountains of Hawaii—no one was with me. But in this vision I pressed my hand up against the Prophet, and I saw a smile cross his countenance. . . .

"When I awoke that morning I was a man, although only [still] a boy. There was not anything in the world that I feared [after that]. I could meet any man or woman or child and look them in the face, feeling in my soul that I was a man every whit. That vision, that manifestation and witness that I enjoyed at that time has made me what I am, if I am anything that is good, or clean, or upright before the Lord, if there is anything good in me. That has helped me out in every trial and through every difficulty" (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. [1939], 542–43).

The core of that meaningful dream is found in the reproof given by Joseph Smith to young Joseph F. Said the Prophet, "Joseph, you are late."

Replied Joseph F., "Yes, but I am clean—I am clean!"

The result of that dream was that a boy was changed into a man. His declaration "I am clean" gave him self-assurance and courage in facing anyone or any situation. He received the strength that comes from a clear conscience fortified by the approbation of the Prophet Joseph.

I shared this story with the children, and they suddenly quit complaining about taking their baths. It was more interesting, however, to see them understand that I was talking not so much about being physically clean, but about being spiritually clean. They understood that we need to repent when we make mistakes and even though we may sometimes be "late", it is important to be clean when we finally do arrive at our Heavenly home.

It was a good lesson, but as soon as it came time to ask which of the kids were going to get into which shower or tub, they started fighting. *sigh* Funny how even in the act of getting clean, sometimes we get dirty ... and I wish that was something we could grow out of ...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

I've Been Tagged Again

By my wife, of all people! So now I'm supposed to identify seven random facts about myself and then identify four other people to tag. Well, I guess the first random fact about me that I'll share is:

1) I detest chain letters and so-called email tagging. In this particular case, however, since it is my wife, I'll go ahead and humor her. (Love you, babe!) When it comes to email chain letters (you know, the kind that if you don't forward it on to everybody in your address book, a bus will fall off a bridge and kill your cat), no matter how well-intentioned, they always come off as being self-righteous and stupid.

2) In colege I got myself a b in technicul writin. I now firmly believe that english college profesors are dimwits. I done never met one who wasn't totally full of themselves with actual reason to. Being well-read is totally useless if you're personality have more flaws than this here paragraf.

3) I am the owner of a green car, which my wife and I call "El Guaco". The car is "guacamole" colored and it's name is a spin on "El Guapo" from the movie "The Three Amigos." I drive it to work nearly every day, and I quite enjoy doing so, even if it has the acceleration of a slug -- a pea green slug.

4) I actually like yard work. I especially like to mow the lawn. When I was a kid, I grew up hating it, but I made that chore into an art form by making patterns in the large and spacious grassy areas of my childhood home. Now I live in a house with only a small bit of grass and find that I somewhat miss the ability to make the patterns. In addition, I dig really well. In fact, whenever I'm talking to my kids about my talents, I always mention that I dig really well. For now, they think this is pretty cool. I also like to trim trees and take them out of the ground, even though it is usually miserable work.

5) I've read the Old Testament front-to-back 4 times, and I'm working on a 5th time. I'm reading towards the end of Job right now. I think it's the least appreciated and least understood body of scripture we have.

6) I love science fiction books and movies. I have a very soft spot for disaster movies, and enjoy watching the total mayhem. Oddly enough, however, I don't enjoy what some call "military sci fi" and I especially don't enjoy gore in the movies. I also have little patience for fantasy, which, in one of the most atrocious mistakes of the 20th century, has been literarily grouped in the same category with science fiction. Such a categorization cheapens and weakens the appeal of true, "hard" science fiction.

7) Aside from activities related to my family, my job, and my church, I have no hobbies. What are these "hobby" things, anyway?

Looking back, this is a strange list indeed. It's pretty random, which I guess was the point. (There you go, my love!)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Entire Family Is Sick

That's right. The entire family. This means that my wife, usually the anchor of our little family, is also struggling, so you should expect our house to undergo a supernova event sometime soon.

It actually started two weeks ago. My wife caught a light cold at that time, but managed to beat it back. It was mild and she thought she was in the clear. Then last Saturday, my oldest caught something that gave him a dry, hacking cough, mild headaches, and a slight runny nose. A the time, we thought it was the same thing as what my wife had. That Tuesday, my son ended up coming home early from school, and we kept him home on Wednesday; his cough was incessant.

Come Monday evening, I was showing similar symptoms, and they quickly got worse. I ended up taking two sick days from work, an extremely rare occurrence, but I was home from work since Tuesday (I worked from home when I felt up to it). My symptoms manifested themselves as an exaggerated version of my son's -- without so much of the headaches.

Tuesday, my youngest had a runny nose, but the cough wouldn't come 'til Thursday. Wednesday, my daughter finally manifested symptoms, staying home from school Thursday and Friday.

Then the real blow to our family came last night. My wife, whom I had figured had navigated the shallow reefs of this sickness without running afoul, started showing symptoms last night. This dispelled two of our assumptions: that what the rest of the family had was the same thing she had two weeks ago, and that she would make it through without catching it.

It is typical for our family to pass any and all sicknesses around to each other, and in a way, this apparently quite contagious strain of ... whatever ... has done us a favor by getting us all sick simultaneously -- this way we shouldn't be passing it around and prolonging the misery.

Hopefully we'll all be over it and healthy by Christmas, assuming we don't catch something else. All the kids seem mostly better, though the cough is lingering for all of them, worst of all in my daughter. I feel somewhat better, but still tired and my cough is lingering, too.

So now my poor wife has to face up to this cold. She's supposed to sing two Christmas songs in church tomorrow, but she may not even be able to talk by then, let alone sing, if the cold progresses as it did for me. I'm hoping she beats it faster than I have been. She usually does; I think it's a Mommy superpower. Nevertheless, it's over-optimistic that she'll be okay for tomorrow, and I'm going to encourage her to plan accordingly.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Stargate is Real!

Sorta. This is a tongue-in-cheek posting from a NASA watcher. I am a huge Stargate fan, so I got a kick out of it. Check it out.

A New Annual Tradition - The Cookie Exchange

Two years ago, my wife threw a little party and invited practically every woman we knew from the ward. It was a cookie exchange where everybody was to bring three dozen cookies and a Christmas tree ornament. They sat around in a big circle and exchanged the ornaments white-elephant style while munching on cookies. Everybody took home a big plate of assorted cookies having enjoyed a nice time visiting.

Well, my wife did it again last year and it went very well. And so this year she felt somewhat obligated to do it again. It's now a new yearly tradition that several of the women in the ward really look forward to. It's funny, she held it the first time so she could get to know the rest of the ward, and now she's "stuck" doing it every year. One of the women in the ward actually purchased her ornament to exchange before my wife had even sent out the invites!

Now, my wife enjoys holding the exchange, but I can tell she feels a little pressured to keep it going every year. To add to her frustration, she sent out 46 announcements this year, and only 9 people showed up! It just turned out to be a really bad night to hold a party. Nevertheless, I believe it still went very well. The women who came seemed to enjoy themselves, the ornament exchange game went well, and there were plenty of good cookies to go around.

The funny part is that throwing the party is actually quite easy -- all my wife needs to do is distribute the announcements, get the house cleaned (which she can delegate, unfortunately), and bake three dozen cookies. Nevertheless, she still feels pressure to try to make it go absolutely perfectly.

In any case, I believe it's a wonderful thing she does -- a nice, informal party where some of the women from the ward who don't normally get the chance to come to these sorts of things can come and enjoy the friendship of the other women. It's a great thing, and I'm grateful she does it (and I like the cookies, too!).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Doctor's Assessment of My Broken Finger

I went in to the hand surgeon today to go see what he thought about my broken finger. In hand was the X-ray I had yesterday, in which I was not able to discern any improvement. He took one look at it, though, and said, "Oh, yeah, it's filling in." Apparently the bone is indeed repairing itself and I'm just being paranoid.

I also had the chance to visit with a few friends yesterday who have had broken fingers in the past. They let me know that the healing of a finger takes months, a sentiment which the doctor echoed to me today, which was reassuring.

The doctor changed my instructions, though. He said I no longer need to buddy-tape the finger, nor do I need to keep it wrapped all the time -- only when I'm doing "work". It was unclear to me whether or not that meant typing, so I'm going to assume it does not. But hauling things around, lifting kids, and other activities where the finger can be jarred are no-nos. He did say that the thing to avoid the most is twisting the finger; if I should do so, that would make him "happy".

In any case, it looks like I will have it wrapped for a long time, but he does want me to work on bending it to try to improve my mobility. My goal is to be at 100% by April, which seems achievable.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Broken Finger X-Ray at Break + 3 Weeks

I went to get my broken finger X-rayed today again prior to my appointment with the surgeon tomorrow. I am quite dismayed, because the new X-ray doesn't obviously show any improvement over the last one -- to my untrained eye, it looks practically identical.

This greatly concerns me. I can't fully straighten the last joint, and I can't bend each joint beyond about 10 degrees. I have no idea if this is normal, or if I have some kind of damage to the inner workings of my finger. Aside from the bruising clearing up, I haven't been able to discern any improvement in the functionality of the finger.

Then to see the X-ray where the break is just as visible as ever (there doesn't appear to be any more mass in the middle, as I expected) and the jagged edges right where they were before just makes me more concerned.

The wait 'til my appointment with the surgeon tomorrow is going to be really long.

Twilight Meets Harry Potter

I haven't read the book, but I know all the women in the world (it seems) is gaga over the Twilight books. So it is with trepidation that I publicize that the teenage heart-throb from Harry Potter will be headlining the film. Read on:

Potter's Pattinson Joins "Twilight"

(FROM HOLLYWOOD REPORTER) - Robert Pattinson, who played Cedric Diggory in several of the Harry Potter movies, has been cast in Summit Entertainment's teen-vampire thriller Twilight. The actor will play Edward, a teenaged vampire who falls for a non-vampire high school classmate (Kristen Stewart). Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen) is directing from a script by Melissa Rosenberg (Step Up) based on Stephanie Meyer's young-adult novel. Meyer also wrote two sequels and Summit hopes to turn Twilight into a franchise. Pattinson has also been cast as Salvador Dali in the upcoming Little Ashes, APT Films' project about Spanish writers, artists, and filmmakers in the 1920s.

They just guaranteed a huge box-office return ...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Paucity of Good Family History Tools

I'm an amateur genealogist. Some would call me a family historian. I can trace all of my ancestry back to the early 1800s, most lines into the 1700s, and some lines even back to the 1500s. Very little of this is the result of my original work -- I have just collected it. In this wonderful digital age, I'm delighted to be the beneficiary of lots of labor by those far more disciplined in the art of genealogy than me.

What I've found is that all the "easy" work is done. What I'm left with is mystery, ambiguity, and doubt. These are not fine companions for an engineer who likes to have all the answers and everything buttoned up nice and neat. So thus is my labor that will probably take the rest of my natural (and unnatural) life: the cataloging of all the research that has gone on before me, plus whatever else I personally can contribute.

I have been asking my parents questions about their past, scanning images of ancestors, collecting family histories, researching census records, and basically digitizing everything that comes my way. What I'm frustrated with now is my inability to organize and share it very well. I also have an enormous collection of family histories, letters, and other documents that are sitting in a box, that are begging for me to digitize them. It's daunting. My parents were very gracious to let me take all this material away, but they want it back -- soon.

I think what I'm going to end up doing is simply photographing every page. There's just no way I can get through these thousands of pages by transcribing it into the computer, and even using "Optical Character Recognition" (OCR) software won't save me any time. This will allow me to get the documents back to my parents, but it doesn't solve my problem of digitizing it so I can share it with others.

What I really want is an easy-to-use "wiki" (sort of like this blog) that will allow me and people I identify as "trustworthy" to collaborate, so that we may edit family histories, submit and annotate images, publish family histories, outline family trees, and completely index and associate every name to every picture and every bit of text. And I'd like to have a graphical user interface for viewing the family trees that allows three dimensional manipulation of the trees to facilitate not just going "up" the ancestral lines, but also coming "down" (this latter is especially needed for me since it seems evident any original research I do will be of this nature), so that I can see where the gaps are in the data. Then I'd like this database to allow rapid searches so that you can zoom around to find exactly what you're looking for. And I want it all online so the world (my family, especially) can see and contribute to it by submitting sources, transcribing photographed pages, cleaning up images, adding family trees and references, etc.

To my knowledge, nothing like this exists. There are poor cousins to these ideas, to be sure, but nothing of the simplicity, scale, and grandeur I envision. And none of the tools out there promise staying power in the midst of format and application wars, let alone the uncertainties of the online market. I've got a thorough idea on what it should do, but lack the programming and database management expertise to make it work. It's truly an information management nightmare, and the tools of today just don't cut it. I'm frustrated.

Does anybody know a good programmer, a webslinger, and a database engineer who would work this project with me for free? If we did it right, we could make a killing off it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Credit Cards Paying Me?!

A few years ago I took my wife and we went to London. It was a great trip, but we were never able to make heads or tails out of how much it actually cost us. We figured we were within a certain percentage and so didn't panic. I never felt quite right about all the uncertainty, but just let it go.

But then we got some official-looking letters in the mail that said that we were the beneficiaries of a class-action lawsuit. Turns out that Visa, Mastercard, and Diners Club were playing games with their currency-conversion charges, got caught, and now have to provide a refund! I could go back and calculate how much they owe me, but it'll be much easier just to take the flat refund of $25. Since both my wife and I got a letter, we'll return both and maybe we'll get $50 out of it.

Being skeptical about this, I looked it up in and sure enough, this is on the level. Huh, go figure -- the credit card company is paying me! I'm going to enjoy this feeling until I get my next bill ...

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Side-by-Side Gaming

Okay, so here's my first successful post of a video. I had to download some (free) software to down-convert the video that comes out of my camera to lower resolution, but I finally got it to work. And the results are stunning, aren't they? The base image is hilarious ... my expression is priceless.

In the video, you get a good glimpse of our house, in not so good order, but, hey, we're human, too, eh?

Oh, and my wife changed my header (with a few inputs from me) and format in this blog because she didn't like it before. The results are just fine ... I'm not emotionally fixated on the format of this blog, just the content, so she did a good thing.

Mitt Romney on Religion

Mitt Romney is running for president! Have you heard that? If you have, you're probably LDS. If you're uninformed and for him, you're probably LDS. If you're uninformed and an Evangelical, you're probably against him. If you're informed and anything else, well, make up your own mind.

Either way, he's an interesting character. Knowing his background, he seems about as squeaky clean as they come, but there's been a lot of hullabaloo about his religion, which some consider to be a "cult" (usually The Uninformed -- caps intended -- say this).

(As an aside, check out the Miriam-Webster dictionary definition for "cult" -- the first three definitions: 1: formal religious veneration : worship; 2: a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also : its body of adherents; 3: a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also : its body of adherents. By these definitions, anybody who believes anything could be considered to be in a cult ...)

John F. Kennedy was a staunch Catholic, who, when he was running for president, gave a wonderful speech about his religious beliefs and how he would not govern as a Catholic, but rather as an American. It's sad that such a speech couldn't stand on it's own two feet to prevent religion from ever being considered a litmus test to who can run for office.

Nevertheless, Mitt Romney this past weekend gave a speech that arguably could be considered a companion speech to the famous JFK speech that set the tone of religious tolerance in public office. If you have the time, feel free to read it, it's well-worth it.

His speech has spawned quite a bit of dialog in the public realm about the place of religion in today's politics, and to the rational observer, it seems as if Romney's stock has just gone up dramatically, particularly to those whose religious views typically are intolerant of those held by Mitt Romney.

One such article was quite funny, written by a favorite author of mine, Orson Scott Card, as he discusses the nature of God as viewed by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (he being one of us). Feel free to read it here. I'm going to copy, verbatim, one section of text, which I thought was really funny. Let me preface this text by saying that I have had very similar and frustrating discussions with people of other faiths regarding the nature of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, that left me feeling frustrated and annoyed. To quote:

A line is perfectly straight and infinitely long. All lines in the same plane either touch or they don't touch. If they don't touch, they are parallel and they go in the same direction, infinitely. Those are the only two choices with lines in the same plane: They're either parallel or they intersect somewhere.

Now here's a theological argument between a traditional Christian (TC) and a biblical Christian (LDS):

TC: The Trinity consists of three parallel lines, which touch each other.

LDS: If they touch each other, they're not parallel.

TC: Nevertheless, they are parallel, and they touch. They touch at every point.

LDS: If they touch at every point, they're the same line. Not three.

TC: They touch at every point, yet there are three.

LDS: That doesn't make any sense. Lines can't be different yet the same, parallel yet intersecting. The words stop having any meaning when you say such things.

TC: That's because you have a finite, mortal mind, which cannot comprehend the nature of geometry.

LDS: That's just crazy. The Trinity is three lines, completely distinct, perfectly parallel, so they go infinitely in the same direction. That's simple, it's clear, and it's true. In fact, we've seen the lines.

TC: That's blasphemy! You can never see the lines! They're only imaginary!

LDS: Your lines are imaginary. The lines we've seen are real.

TC: Then you are not Geometers!

And that's where the discussion always ends.

Yep, 'tis true. The discussion always ends with disagreement, with myself scratching my head at the arguments to which I'd just been exposed. It's mind-boggling how sometimes and otherwise learned people can get so wrapped around the axle on these topics.

Anyway, I just thought it was funny.

Going back to the start of this post, though, I think that a person's religion really is quite important, as an amoral, irreligious person could cause great harm in public office. The Book of Mormon is littered with examples of times when a wicked ruler dragged his people down to destruction, and how a righteous ruler saved his people. The Nephites had a tradition of choosing righteous people to be their leaders, sometimes even when they weren't so righteous themselves. Doing so resulted in safety and security. It's a good lesson to keep in mind.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Getting Fit

There was a time when I could sneeze and lose five pounds. Those times are clearly over. While I've never been exactly "fit", I have been quite healthy and physically able. Now in my late early thirties, I have difficulty dropping the pounds as easily as I once did. However, several years ago, we bought a treadmill and I used it well to train for a 5k race. I did well at the time, but really haven't been dedicated since. Unfortunately, it shows.

But now things have changed. My wife and I are planning a trip to Hawaii next April to celebrate our 10th anniversary, and I find myself in the unenviable position of needing to drop a few pounds. Okay, I'll be honest, I could stand to lose 10 or 15, and, well, probably more. But the beaches call me, and I want my wife to be able to look at her man and be reminded why she married this studly, pale-skinned, hairy, short ... um, well, okay, never mind all that -- she didn't marry me for my body.

As for Hawaii, I really just don't want my belly hanging out too much. So, I'm back on the treadmill again ... tonight I did 2.2 miles and burned 342 calories. For a desk jockey, that ain't too shabby! It's going to be a long four months.

And They Called Him Jesus

My wife has been preparing for a few months to participate in a big choir that was performing at the College of the Canyons in a program called "And They Called Him Jesus". It was a public event intended to celebrate the Christmas season, and also to demonstrate to some of the doubters in the area that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are indeed Christians.

The program consisted of arrangements of typical Christmas hymns, such as "O Little Town of Bethlehem", "O Come, O Come Emmanuel", and "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" and other Christmas songs that don't start with "o". There was a choir with over 180 volunteers from the two stakes in the Santa Clarita Valley, and a full, professional orchestra. The music was orchestrated and conducted by Alan Williams, a true professional who does film and television scores, and who also happens to be a local bishop.

Tickets ranged in price from $10 to $39. I bought a cheap seat (barely before they were gone!) and sat in the nosebleed session last night. It was a great experience. I loved watching my wife down in the choir. She seemed truly and honestly joyous to be there. She doesn't get the chance to sing in a choir very often since she's both the ward and the stake choir director. For her to have the opportunity to be directed by a professional in such a large choir was something she appreciated.

The performance went very well. The men were completely not together during one section of "The First Noel", and the sopranos came in two measures too early in "Silent Night", but aside from those two noticeable glitches, it was really quite good.

Watching the conductor himself was a treat. He owned that stage. I'd never really seen anybody conduct like he did. Also, I quite enjoyed watching the drummer. Yes, the drummer. He was nothing short of mesmerizing as he kept the tempo for the whole thing using drums that were bigger than my children and sounded extraordinary. I found myself wishing to hear "The Little Drummer Boy" just so he could shine, but it wasn't to be.

I have to be perfectly honest, though, about something. When the "final" song was played, the conductor turned around, bowed, then headed off stage as everybody stood and clapped. He then returned seconds later with a feigned "Oh, if we must" attitude and turned to the choir and orchestra and they performed one last number. To me, the whole production of him walking off stage to be called back on to perform a number that everybody clearly was expecting was nothing short of absurd. I mentioned this to my wife, and she tried to explain that it was just a normal thing. Since I'm somewhat acultural, I'll have to accept that, but it still seemed disingenuous.

During the performance, they did have a few voice-overs and video clips that they played on the big screen above the orchestra. They showed scenes from church videos that depict the birth of the Savior and related events, and they were well-done and flowed with the production fairly well. The transition from one number to another didn't go smoothly in some cases, but it was a fine addition that added good ambiance to the performance.

All told, it was really quite an enjoyable evening. My wife gets to go and perform two more times tonight. She is excited about that, but dreads having to be on her feet for so long ... twice! I'm so happy that she has the opportunity to do this. One of her dreams is to someday be part of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but my career being what it is, there's absolutely no way we could live in Utah to make that possible. Nevertheless, hopefully last night's experience gave her some little taste of what that dream-fulfilled might be like. She clearly fits the part.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Nothing Else To Do

It's quarter to eight, and I'm at work. Still. I have been all day, since quarter to eight this morning. We're in the middle of a big training exercise and I'm the lead for my project. And I'm in limbo. Stuck between two hectic activities -- one that ended two hours ago and one that won't occur for another four hours. Some would say that I should just go home, but going home would mean driving two more hours today and the second trip back to work would require driving late at night -- twice. No, I'm just going to stay right here. Maybe I'll watch TV. Maybe I'll read the news -- no, already did that. Maybe I'll blog -- no, already doing that. Hmmm ... what to do. What do you do when you're in limbo? For me, it happens so rarely that I'm at a loss. I've got a short list of things I want to do, but they usually require more time or focus than I think I can muster right now. I also have a long list of things I need to do for work that I could use my time to work on. *sigh* Guess I'll do that ... I've got nothing else to do.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Last Two Weeks

Sunday, 11/18/07:
5:00 - Wake up and get ready for church.
6:30 - Attend Bishopric Meeting.
8:00 - Attend Priesthood Executive Committee Meeting.
8:50 - Panic and drive home to pick up the kids for church since my wife went to choir practice at 8 since she's leading the choir.
8:56 - Arrive home to find the kids don't have shoes on and the babysitter playing a board game with them.
8:58 - Get in the van with two crying children and a babysitter that would rather be anyplace else.
9:04 - Arrive at church late, but still before the meeting actually starts; wrestle with children who are not happy for the next hour.
9:35 - Wife directs choir and it goes really badly; it is easily the worst performance in my wife's three and something years as ward choir director.
12:30 - Finally be done with church and go home ... for an hour.
1:50 - Return to church to help the Bishop as he interviews people.
3:00 - Finally go home for the last time, very early compared to most Sundays.
3:30 - Call my parents and spend an hour and ten minutes on the phone with my parents; wife gets grumpy.
5:30 - Pull together dinner with the wife for the kids.
6:30 - Wife eats two bites then leaves for yet another choir practice. It's bath night.
7:30 - Kids finally finish their baths/showers.
7:50 - Kids finally are in bed with the lights out.
8:00 - Cruise the net and wait for my wife to come home.
8:50 - Wife finally gets home, and we talk the balance of the night.

Monday, 11/19/07
5:20 - Alarm goes off and I'm too tired to get up. Figure I can work from home, turn the alarm off, and go back to sleep.
6:45 - Wife's alarm goes off and she gets up to take a shower.
7:05 - Wife wakes me up and the kids are really noisy. Get up and shower.
8:00 - Begin working from home.
9:00 - Dial in to a meeting at work. Spend the rest of the day mostly spinning my wheels.
11:30 - Take a half-hour lunch with my wife and youngest son.
4:20 - Stop working and start spending time with the kids.
5:30 - Have dinner with the family and do a Family Home Evening.
6:00 - Get a call from my home teaching companion - he's sick and can't come home teaching with me.
6:45 - Help my wife get the kids ready for bed after falsely remembering that my home teaching appointment was at 7.
7:45 - Leave to go to my home teaching appointment. Have a great discussion with a new couple and one of their sets of parents who are in town for Thanksgiving.
9:00 - Go home and spend time with my wife.

Tuesday, 11/20/07
5:10 - Actually get up to go to work. Sleepwalk through pre-work procedure.
6:10 - Begin drive to work.
7:00 - Arrive at work. Discover it's a ghost town due to the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Find out from manager he wants me to write a procedure for a training exercise coming up in two weeks. Spend the rest of the day writing said procedure (it goes badly).
3:00 - Go home a tad early -- it is a holiday after all!
4:00 - Arrive home and spend time with the wife and kids. Have dinner.
7:10 - Leave to go home teaching again, this time to pick up companion.
7:25 - Discover companion thought the appointment was at 8 and isn't home. Leave to go home teaching alone ... again ... without a lesson prepared.
7:30 - Have wonderful visit with a very kind sister.
8:10 - Leave to go pick up companion. He's finally home, but still somewhat sick.
8:30 - Arrive at second appointment for the evening, which goes very well, but companion spreads his germs everywhere.
9:30 - Take home teaching companion home, then go home and crash.

Wednesday, 11/21/07
6:30 - Awakened by the kids after sleeping in. Yes, 6:30 is sleeping in for me.
7:30 - Take the kids to school.
8:00 - Get home and prepare to go out with the wife.
11:00 - Go out with the wife, dropping youngest son off with a good and very pregnant friend, and go out to lunch after running some errands. Go to lunch at sandwich shop -- it's a decent meal, but overpriced, and we won't be going back.
1:45 - Go home to await arrival of daughter from school. Go pick up youngest son. Hang out at home (a favorite past-time of mine). Spend the balance of the evening doing laundry and wondering when my brother-in-law with his family will show up the next day.

Thursday, 11/22/07 (Thanksgiving)
6:30 - Sleep in again, then spend the morning with the kids having breakfast.
8:45 - Go to play football, the annual Turkey Bowl, with my ward.
9:55 - Break finger, re-set it myself, and go home. It still moves and doesn't hurt much.
10:00 - Explain to wife what I did. Receive stern look. Wife runs to store to buy a splint.

11:00 - Brother-in-law shows up with his wife and four kids. Enjoy their company while finger stops flexing, starts swelling, and starts hurting a lot.
12:00 - Have sandwiches for lunch. Wife requires help of nephew to prepare turkey, a task I normally do.
1:00 - Family plays games and enjoys company. Finger continues to swell. Wife continues to prepare Thanksgiving meal without my help (sorry!).

4:00 - Turkey is done and brother-in-law (who is something like a decade older than me) carves turkey for the first time in his life since I can't (and he does badly). Dinner is enjoyed by all -- left-handedly for me.
5:15 - Dinner is done and I finally decide to go to Urgent Care.
5:30 - Arrive at Urgent Care and discover it, too, is a ghost town. Get X-rays and discover finger is broken. Leave Urgent Care in 20 minutes -- a world record.
6:15 - Drive home and get taunted by in-laws. Play more games and have a good time. Discover I greatly prefer the word "cripple" to "gimp."
8:00 - Struggle getting very excited children to go to sleep; having three boys in one room doesn't go well.

Friday, 11/23/07
7:00 - Sleep in a lot since kids are distracted by in-laws; it's fabulous.
7:15 - Shower and get ready for the day.
10:00 - Leave to go to Six Flags for the day. Use free tickets for brother-in-law and his oldest son who are both not so sure about the rides. Have a wonderful day and convince them they really like big rollercoasters. Broken finger doesn't limit my ability to enjoy the rides.
11:45 - Eat lunch and spend $11 for a cheap burger and fries at the park; drink is excluded from this price, so I drink water.
7:45 - Tired but exhausted, leave park and return home. Kids are getting ready for bed -- it goes slightly better.
8:15 - Spend the evening playing games.

Saturday, 11/24/07
6:30 - Sleep in.
10:30 - In-laws leave to return home. Their trip was short, but enjoyable. Spend the rest of the day relaxing, cleaning the house, and putting up Christmas decorations.

Sunday, 11/25/07
5:00 - Wake up and get ready for church.
6:30 - Attend Bishopric Meeting.
8:00 - Attend Priesthood Executive Committee Meeting.
9:00 - Family joins me for church.
12:00 - Go home for a quick bite to eat.
1:00 - Go back to church to attend Ward Council.
2:30 - Bishop begins interviews while I help organize who's there; wife has choir practice at the same time, so the kids are home with the same babysitter as the previous week.
4:00 - Finally go home.
7:00 - Wife goes to Christmas choir practice (where she is not the director) while I put the kids to bed.
7:30 - Kids are in bed. I have a peaceful evening.
9:00 - Wife finally comes home. The evening just got better, though she's feeling under the weather.

Monday, 11/26/07:
5:20 - Wake up and realize that my wife is sick enough that she needs me home. Spend the rest of the day taking the kids to school, being helpful, and trying not to work too much (and failing).
9:00 - Dial in to a meeting at work; spend what I can of the day working on a presentation for Wednesday and reviewing sequences of commands for my spacecraft. Take a half-hour lunch with my wife.
4:30 - Stop working, and spend time with the kids. Have dinner.
6:00 - Have a family home evening on being kind because the kids had been fighting a lot.
7:00 - Put them to bed; spend time with wife and watch old Stargate episode. Pack for business trip, to which I would leave the next day.

Tuesday, 11/27/07:
5:20 - Wake up and actually get up to go to work. Spend the day in meetings. Stay late and decide to go home before driving 1 1/2 hours to location of business trip.
6:30 - Arrive home and spend next two hours with the family. It's a welcome departure from the plan to go straight to the business trip.
7:00 - The kids are in bed, a miracle because they haven't gone to bed that early in years.
7:30 - Discover the oldest isn't really asleep and spend the next twenty minutes convincing him it really is bed time.
8:30 - Depart for business trip location.
10:00 - Arrive at hotel of business trip. Call wife to tell her to go to bed, fully knowing she won't actually go to sleep. Find out later that she stayed up 'til about 2 am. Discover that she was researching a holiday vacation next year to Hawaii. Still be a little grumpy that she didn't sleep, but temper it with the understanding that she didn't sleep because I wasn't there.

Wednesday, 11/28/07
6:50 - Sleep in after a fitful night.
7:20 - Go to breakfast. The hotel has a free breakfast, with a cook who will make a breakfast to order. I choose a ham, cheese, and spinach omelet -- it's light on the egg, but tastes magnificent.
8:00 - Have extra time, so go back to the hotel room and channel surf. End up watching ten minutes of Ice Age 2 (sad, but true -- I've never seen it before).
8:30 - Go to the business meeting and spend the whole day there. They had pastries for snacks in the morning and delightful cookies in the afternoon.
11:45 - Break for lunch and go to Panda Express. Get orange chicken -- it's very spicy.
1:45 - Present my portion of the meeting for 45 minutes -- it goes very, very well.
6:00 - The meeting finally adjourns and I go to Carl's Jr for dinner. Get a spicy salad. Realize too late that two spicy fast food dishes in one day doesn't sit too well. Drive home to see my family that night. Spend the night at home while work pays for the hotel that sits empty in my absence (but I left my luggage there!). Find out my wife intends to bring the kids the next night and skip school (something they have never done) on Friday so they can play at the hotel.

Thursday, 11/29/07
6:30 - Sleep in and then have breakfast with the kids.
8:00 - Drive to hand surgeon to have him examine my hand and the X-rays that were taken the week before. Discover that I don't need surgery and that my finger should be fine in a month (though it will be slightly crooked).
9:30 - Drive back to business meeting.
10:45 - Arrive at business meeting where it is in full swing.
11:30 - Discover my spacecraft went into safemode again due to a simple human mistake -- the second time in as many weeks. Upper management freaks out and we spend the day trying to explain that sometimes a mistake is just a mistake. They don't buy it and believe that "the process" is broken. Multitask during the meeting to try to recover from safemode as quickly as possible.
12:00 - Go to lunch at Jack-in-the-Box. Order a great burger, curly fries, and a mint chocolate chip shake which sits a lot better than the previous meals I'd had.
1:00 - Returned to business meeting where things are still chaotic.
5:00 - Family shows up at the hotel. I let them into the hotel room then head back to the meeting, which adjourns within minutes.
5:30 - Take family to dinner at Carl's Jr. Have a burger and not much else. Started really getting sick of fast food.
6:30 - Returned to the hotel and took the kids to the really big spa, even though it was really cold out. They had a great time and afterwards they crashed hard.
8:00 - Watched Survivor with the wife and had a very pleasant evening together with the kids passed out in the other room.

Friday, 11/30/07
6:45 - Slept in, even though my oldest woke the other kids up at 6:00. He spent the morning reading in the bathroom while we tried to get the other two kids to go back to sleep. We finally gave up and got up with them. I took a shower and went over to get another omelet (same kind, it was great!) while the rest of the family had cold cereal. It was raining and my daughter was so excited to have a covered patio off the room that she ate out there in the cold while it rained.

8:00 - Went to the meeting where things were really fascinating -- the scientists for my spacecraft were sharing some of the results of their recent activities. My family apparently went to the beach despite the cold and rain and enjoyed themselves there.

12:00 - Meeting ends. Find out my wife checked out of the hotel and headed out to lunch. I follow her on the way home.
1:00 - Finally catch up with my wife at Jack-in-the-Box where we have the last burger of the week (*phew* my constitution couldn't take much more).
2:30 - Make it home and spend the next little while cleaning up.
4:30 - Go to dinner at a local pizza joint with my daughter's soccer team -- the last game was the next day and this was the final celebration. She received her first trophy ever and had a wonderful time with her friends. She lost $1 in a "claw" game she didn't know how to operate and was sad (it was a good lesson she learned) and my older son lost a quarter in a faulty toy machine, but he bugged the workers in the restaurant 'til they gave him a new quarter (it was also a good lesson he learned).

6:00 - Went home, put the kids to bed, read books on Hawaii, and watched more episodes of Stargate. It was a nice evening.

Saturday 12/1/07
6:45 - Woke my daughter up and got her ready for her soccer game.
7:30 - Left for soccer game. It was really cold outside.
8:00 - Refereed my daughter's last soccer game.

8:35 - My daughter scored the only goal for her team during the game, and the last for the season. She was very happy.

9:00 - Took the kids to Home Depot to do their monthly project. Hammered lots of nails in the project for all the kids as they made a "memory" tray -- basically a wooden tray they can put anything in.
10:00 - Went to a furniture store that is going out of business to look for a dining room table.
11:00 - Left furniture store having not found a table in our price range and went home. Spent the rest of the day doing laundry and making cookies for the ward Christmas party that night. My wife is quite sick and sore from our stay in the hotel caused a too-soft bed, residual illness from the week before, really cold weather, plus an overdose of fast food.
6:00 - Finally wrestle the kids into the van and head to the party.
6:10 - Return home to get something we forgot.
6:20 - Finally make it to the party to find it in full swing, which is remarkable, as Mormon standard time, the one time we count on it, wasn't in effect. Have a great dinner (tri-tip steak!) and a great time at the party. Join in an ad-hoc bell choir. Watch my older son and daughter play a shepherd and a sheep, respectively. Chase my youngest around. Watch my wife take center stage and help with other songs she didn't really know (and do great!). Watch some of my good friends who were at the manly football game where I broke my finger dance across the stage wearing pink tutus to the tune of "The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy". Tried to keep my kids from eating too many desserts.

8:30 - Go home and put the kids to bed. They crash. Watch another episode of Stargate (okay, we're addicted).

Sunday, 12/2/07
6:30 - Wake up and get ready for church.
7:30 - Arrive at church to make copies. Be there for an ad hoc Bishopric Meeting.
8:00 - Attend Priesthood Executive Committee Meeting.
9:00 - Family joins me for church. It's so cold outside and the building isn't properly heated. Most people stay huddled under blankets and my wife took my suit coat for the last hour.
12:00 - Stuck around after church to watch people be set apart for new callings at church.
1:00 - Went home.
2:00 - Got a call and realized I was supposed to be at yet another meeting at church. Went back to church in my jeans (I hate doing that!) with a bowl of leftover cookies from last night, which was super insensitive since it was fast Sunday and most people at the meeting hadn't broken their fast, yet (oops!).
3:00 - Made it home and spent a short time with my wife.
3:55 - Wife leaves for a Christmas choir practice.
3:57 - Start writing this blog entry.
4:30 - Start making dinner for the kids.
4:34 - Ran over to my neighbor to give him a soda and some medication since he couldn't get up by himself -- he just had a heart transplant (!) and came home two days ago.
4:40 - Re-started dinner - macaroni and cheese with canned corn on the side.
5:00 - The older kids got in the shower so they could play their Harry Potter computer game afterwards and before bedtime. They were motivated and finished quickly.
5:30 - Tossed my youngest in the tub. Received a call from my mother and spoke with her for about 45 minutes.
6:15 - Got off the phone with my mother and washed my youngest, who was a water-logged prune by that time. Got my finger brace wet.
6:30 - Got the kids to sit down with me and read a story to them about the Mormon Trail.
7:00 - Put the youngest to bed. My wife finally came home and we put the oldest kids to bed together.
8:00 - Amazing Race starts.
8:27 - I finish the first draft of this blog and save it for the evening. I intend to drink hot cocoa (had ice cream instead), cuddle with my wife (which I did), and watch more Stargate (which we did).

Friday, November 30, 2007

Things That are Different With a Broken Finger

I went to the orthoscopic/hand surgeon yesterday to have him look at my hand. He took a look at the X-ray and after hearing my story, he, too, said I did a good job re-seating the dislocated finger. He then followed this up with a smile, saying, "Which does not make me happy." I was taken aback by this, and he further clarified that it meant that he didn't have any work to do for me. *phew* It was an awful joke.

After inspecting my finger and it's mobility, he concluded that I will not have to have surgery, which was a relief to me. Apparently, I just need to keep it mostly immobilized for the next four weeks and it should be fine. The finger will be slightly crooked when all is said and done, but I shouldn't lose any strength or mobility. He also cautioned me to not re-injure it, or else I would make him happy.

Any way you look at it, though, there have been some changes to my life because of the broken finger. It is nearly always bound up inside a metal brace and "buddy-taped" to an adjoining finger. I decided to itemize them, since I'm so fond of lists:

-- I can't wash my hands as easily, so I steer clear of getting them dirty even more than I used to.
-- I used to be a full ten-fingered (and fast) typist, and now I'm down to seven or eight, because of the "buddy-taping" and since the right pinky isn't so useful on the keyboard when "orphaned".
-- Right-clicking a computer mouse is challenging.
-- Going to the bathroom is a whole new procedure.
-- Washing my hair is a challenge on my right side.
-- Tying my shoelaces is much more difficult, and I can't get the laces really tight anymore.
-- Turning the key in my car's ignition is difficult, though driving hasn't proven to be so since I'm a dominant left-hand driver.
-- Holding my cellphone is awkward and I'm prone to dropping it.
-- Retrieving anything from my right front or back pockets is extremely difficult.
-- I can't shake anybody's hand anymore, and have to issue an apology and experience a moment of awkwardness.
-- I look stupid when I wave, and I think people occasionally misinterpret my wave as flipping them the birdie since my ring finger is sufficiently close to the middle finger and is always erect.
-- Carrying a cup is hard if it has a wide diameter with my right hand.
-- Gripping pretty much anything that is heavy is no longer possible with my right hand.
-- Slipping on a shirt, jacket, or backpack almost always jars the finger unless I exercise great caution.
-- Changing the diaper of my youngest is extremely difficult, particularly if he's gone #2.
-- Riding a bike with my oldest is totally out, as is helping my daughter learn to ride hers (it will have to wait).
-- I can't hold the hand of two of my children at once anymore, since they are not careful not to jar or twist my hand.
-- Worst of all, I can't hold my wife's hand with that hand anymore, or gently caress her beautiful face the same way I used to.

On the plus side, there are a few good things about it:

-- With the metal brace, I can incessantly tap it against anything and drive people insane.
-- I get people's undivided attention when I wave my finger in front of them. Seriously, everybody checks the finger out then pays attention to what I'm saying.
-- I have an ice-breaker story.
-- I have an excuse to not carry anything heavy.

The disadvantages very much so outweigh the advantages.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Rollercoaster Mania

The day after Thanksgiving, I had the chance to go to the local amusement park, Six Flags Magic Mountain, with my brother-in-law and his oldest son. As a forty-something male without much roller-coaster enthusiasm and a pre-teen with little roller-coaster experience, they weren't quite sure they could do/tolerate all the rides I was so anxious to get them on. Looking back at the day, though, I don't think I've ever had a more intense roller-coaster day in my entire life! The park was nearly empty so the lines were really short. Here's the run-down:

(Deja Vu was closed)
Riddler's Revenge - front row
Riddler's Revenge - middle row
Riddler's Revenge - front row
Batman - front row
Scream - front row
Scream - middle row
Scream - front row
Goliath - front row
Jet Stream (log flume ride)
Superman - back row
Tatsu - middle row
X - back row
(Viper was closed)
Revolution - back row
Tatsu again - back row
Ninja - middle row
Superman - front row
Goliath - middle row
Scream - back row
Scream - back row

We were at the park from about 11 am to 7:30 pm, taking about half an hour for lunch. So, assuming 8 hours in the park, we rode something about every 25 minutes. That's a remarkably high ride rate for any roller-coaster park, let alone Magic Mountain -- and let alone with a couple of guys who weren't so sure they could handle it. They left the park with smiles, though!

While riding Tatsu for the first time -- a truly remarkable roller-coaster that is my personal favorite -- my brother-in-law kept repeating "This is wrong! This is so wrong!" while he was riding. I was laughing so hard at him that I could barely breathe.

It was a great day.

Broken Finger

It was Thanksgiving morning. The clock was running out, and the other team was fourth and inches from making a touchdown that would give them the game. The ball was hiked to the quarterback, who faked left and tossed to his right. I went forward and wrenched it from the poor man's hands. Throwing off two burly linebackers, I made a dash for the other end of the field. I reached the 50 yard line, the 40, the 30. I could feel the breath of the other team's desperate players running hard to catch me. I was 20 yards out, then 10, and was just about to cross the goal line when I felt hands pull on my back and begin to drag me down. But it was too late, so with a smile, I went down with them, the ball firmly clutched in my hands as I fell across the goal line.

I had scored the winning touchdown! Crashing to the ground, the tip of my right ring finger got caught just wrong beneath the football and was twisted horrendously to a 45 degree angle. I felt the crack and the pain. Pulling myself up from the twisted mass of bodies that had just tackled me, I looked to my finger and realized it was clearly not right, so I held it with my left hand and wrenched it with a satisfying double-pop back into it's proper position. It didn't hurt much, not 'til later, so I just smiled to my teammates as they lifted me onto their shoulders in triumph at winning the Annual Turkey Bowl! What a day!

Okay, so it's not quite what happened. Truth be told, it was an hour into a three hour game when I was reaching to pull the flags off a friend of mine (and missing) as he twisted and knocked my finger out of joint. Honestly, though, which story is more interesting? The one where I triumphantly win the game? Or the one where I get injured reaching for my guy friend's back side?!

In any case, it was Thanksgiving, and it really didn't hurt much at first. I was doing a pretty good job convincing myself throughout the day that I had just dislocated my finger and that there was no other damage, as I was able to move it; but the pain and the swelling continued to increase throughout the day. I refused to go to "Urgent Care", though, because I believed it would be an absolute madhouse with people lined up needing stitches from mis-cutting turkeys, or others with broken bones on bone-headed wanna-be sportsmen (like me), or still others who needed their stomachs pumped because they'd eaten the stuffing they shouldn't've cooked inside the turkey.

Nevertheless, reality won me over (and dinner was done), so I went to the doctor at about 5 pm. It was a ghost-town there! I went right in, was X-rayed, and went home within twenty minutes. Sure enough, though, the finger is broken. I've got the badly bruised finger on the outside to prove it, and the X-ray that clearly shows the break in case there was any doubt. Now I'm looking at maybe needing surgery (I'll find out when I go see the doctor in two days) and have to keep the finger mostly immobile for the next two months. It really stinks.

But I did have fun at the football game ...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Moment of Poetry

Last night I was putting my daughter to bed when I had an unexpected poetic moment. She doesn't like the dark, and gets mousy when we send her upstairs to go to bed by herself -- sometimes even if the light is on. I escorted her to her room, put her in bed, and turned the light off. Returning to her bed to kiss her goodnight, she said, "Daddy, I'm scared."

Here's the poetry: "Well, you'll have to fill in the darkness with the color from your dreams."

A heard a contented sigh, and she responded, "Okay. Good night, Daddy."

"Good night, my little girl," I told her as I heard her snuggle into her bed. It's funny how these moments come at the most unexpected times.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Awesome Wife

My wife is totally awesome. That's a true, honest-to-goodness fact. I'm sitting here entering receipts into Quicken to track our spending, and I've just entered three receipts for groceries from the local Ralph's grocery store. Ralph's does double coupons, and my wife has been coupon clipping for years now (indeed, it's the only reason we get the local paper). Anyway, she's gotten really good at it. For example, the last three shopping trips she went on look like:

-- Total Purchased: $123.48
-- Total Discounts: $55.45
-- Total Out-of-Pocket: $68.03
-- Percentage Reduced Cost: 44.9%

-- Total Purchased: $148.92
-- Total Discounts: $78.60
-- Total Out-of-Pocket: $70.32
-- Percentage Reduced Cost: 52.8%

-- Total Purchased: $81.29
-- Total Discounts: $34.78
-- Total Out-of-Pocket: $46.51
-- Percentage Reduced Cost: 42.8%

Can you believe that she regularly cuts our grocery bill nearly in half?! And to top it off, she does a lot of shopping at Costco, for even more savings, and doesn't buy hardly anything else unless she's got a coupon or there's a good deal somewhere. My wife is just awesome, what can I say?

(Now, for those of you who don't live in Southern California and are thinking the grocery budget reflected above is high, you'd be right -- but that's life in Southern California. I think that if we lived in Utah with the bulk of our extended family, my very awesome wife would probably be able to get all our groceries for the week for a buck and a quarter.)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Near-Miss Asteroid Found to be Artificial

The title itself speaks a thousand words. The article itself isn't quite so long, but it has lots of interest factoids in it.

First, there really isn't a central agency, in any country, that tracks and monitors all space assets, near or far. The U.S. has a pretty good system going, but not every country, especially those not-so-friendly with us, report all space launches and destinations. And even if they did, the initial trajectory on which a spacecraft is set isn't necessarily it's final trajectory.

I'm personally in the business of sending spacecraft to other planets, and recognize that doing planetary fly-bys are par for the course. We do it all the time as it is a cheap and easy means of gaining or draining energy from a spacecraft's orbit. We spend an enormous amount of time and money to ensure that a fly-by doesn't accidentally become an impact.

Yet whenever the public gets word that we're doing a fly-by of Earth, people start to panic -- especially if there's a nuclear power source on board. For example, when the good ship Cassini flew by Earth several years ago, the doomsayers were out in abundance. Here is one such example. In the case cited in the title article of this post, Rosetta certainly isn't the Battlestar Galactica (neither was Cassini), yet people start to believe these things are going to land on their heads. Because of this, most of the time it isn't widely published as a "Big Deal" that a fly-by is designed into a spacecraft's trajectory.

This has both good and bad things about it -- it allows a space agency to proceed without dealing with a potential and usually totally misplaced public uproar (which is costly -- especially if it ends up in courts), but it has the stench of "cover up" if such an uproar does end up occurring (which is also costly -- to do public damage control).

Nevertheless, planetary fly-bys are good. One of the finest examples of these is the "Grand Tour" performed by the Voyager 2 spacecraft as it flew by Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune on it's way out of the solar system (see the image, below). Each fly-by allowed it to pick up speed to get to it's next destination. Even Galileo used fly-bys -- of the inner planets, no less -- to get to Jupiter, and then used them all the time to guide it's trajectory around Jupiter and it's moons (the Jovian system).

Still, the article cracks me up. People were right on the verge of panicking, but a moment's hesitation saved a lot of people a lot of embarrassment. I wish it were always so in my business.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

No Charges Filed

I'm very pleased to find out that the 10-year-old boy who started the fire near my home several weeks back will not be charge. An associated press article states, in part:

No charges for 10-year-old fire starter

LOS ANGELES - A 10-year-old boy who admitted starting a 38,000-acre fire last month that destroyed 21 homes in northern Los Angeles County will not be charged, prosecutors said.

There was no evidence of intent by the boy who accidentally ignited brush outside his home by playing with matches, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said in a statement Tuesday.

Authorities are referring the case to the Department of Children and Family Services to determine if further steps are necessary.

I've been a 10-year-old boy. I've played with matches. I've even had a fire get out of control before (though I've never started a forest fire). I totally understand what happened. As of last week, the news reported that should authorities have to press charges against the boy, his family could be responsible for millions of dollars in damages and he could have gone to jail for up to 7 years. 7 years!

I'm grateful this worked out the way it did. This kid has learned a very important lesson, and I'm grateful that his youth and his family's life hasn't been ruined by this event. I am sorry for those who lost homes, however, and I hope their insurance doesn't play games with them. Mistakes happen, and sometimes it's best just to forgive and move on.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Day at the Temple

Saturday, November 10th, 2007, was The Big Event. We had been waiting over a year for it, my wife more so than others due to her direct, personal involvement in it. It was a time for us to attend the Los Angeles temple for a meeting in the temple's Assembly Hall -- a room that is only used with the direct permission of the prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Gordon B. Hinckley. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the temple, and last year the current temple president, President Richard M. Andrus, received permission to use the room for special commemoration meetings each Saturday this year for each stake within the temple district -- 43 in all!

The day had a full schedule and was intended for members of the church who hold current temple recommends. All year long, people have been preparing for this meeting. Some who didn't have a temple recommend for many years prepared themselves so that they could receive one to be there. Our stake president specifically asked that the young women of the stake make themselves available to babysit all day, for free, while the members with young children were at the temple. My wife was also the choir director for a very small group (less than 35 people) that would sing during the meeting, so was holding practices leading up to the event.

Saturday morning, my wife and I picked up some friends of ours and we carpooled to the temple. It was a quick ride (the freeways were shockingly clear), and when we got there, the parking lot was completely full. We ended up parking way back in the lot -- about a five minute walk from the doors of the temple. It was marvelous to see all those people at the temple.

From then, once we entered, we went and changed into white clothing for the balance of our temple experience. At every turn within the temple, we saw good friends from our ward and stake. The feeling of anticipation was palpable. People were excited and greeted each other with warm smiles, firm handshakes, and happy hugs. While the temple is a place of quiet and peace, there was ever-present a low buzz of whispered talk from the hundreds of people there.

The morning started for us with a meeting in one of the chapels of the temple (the larger of the two). There we had the chance to hear some words of wisdom regarding how we should look forward to the day, and maintain a spirit of reverence while we served in the temple. It was a brief meeting, but it set the tone for the day.

Following, we went and did an endowment session. We had just two of the seven wards in our stake in the endowment session, and we nearly filled the meeting rooms that accommodate over 200 people (some of the largest rooms of any temple). This was quite a wonderful sight and again it was great to be there with all the people we know and love from our ward. The session did take a long time because of all the people that were there. I was able to help people at the veil, as I usually do, and it was my privilege to help a few of my friends, one in particular who really struggled and needed a patient helper.

Following this, I raced down to the cafeteria for a quick bite to eat, while my wife went up to the assembly hall to have a quick choir practice prior to the meeting. I "snarfed" down my food as quickly as I could and then went up to watch her and the choir practice. Upon entering the assembly hall, I was stunned by how big it was. It extends the entire length of the third floor of the temple; if you were to look at the temple from the outside, you could get a feel for it, but inside the room feels even larger. A friend of mine whose wife was in the choir commented that he felt you could put a whole plane in the room -- I think he under-estimated and you could get several.

Strangely enough, I was also surprised by how plain the room really was. Elsewhere in the temple, things are beautifully decorated and ornate, but this was just ... a really big room. As the meeting progressed, though, I gained an appreciation for that -- the purpose of the room is not to be wowed or impressed by the architecture, but rather to focus on the purpose of ones attendance there, the Spirit of the Lord to be felt there, and the instruction that one would receive there.

On each end of the very long room there were stands with rows of chairs. Each level of the stand represented a different priesthood office, from the first presidency of the church, the highest offices of the Melchizedek priesthood; to the office of deacon, the lowest office in the Aaronic priesthood. The meeting was conducted from the third level down on the Melchizedek priesthood side of the room, and I was impressed by the order and significance of the reverence with which the higher rows were treated -- had the prophet of the church been there, he would have sat on the top row.

The meeting finally began and I was honored to watch my wife direct the choir as they sang the opening song. What an awesome experience for her! The use of the assembly room is a unique opportunity that happens so very rarely, and for her to not only be there for the meeting, but also to direct a choir therein may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for her. Within the cavernous room, I expected the small choir to not be loud enough, but as they sang at her direction, the room was filled with the beautiful music they had prepared for us. It was magnificent, and I was moved by how much I love that good woman.

The meeting proceeded with various speakers who addressed the 50th anniversary of the temple. Some in the room were there for it's opening all those years ago, and shared stories of that time. The last speaker was the temple president himself, who expressed that while we had looked forward to the day for so long, it was not an ending, but rather a beginning, and he encouraged each of us to make temple attendance a higher priority in our lives and to serve there more often. It was a wonderful meeting.

At the conclusion of the meeting, my wife directed the entire congregation -- thousands of people all dressed in white -- in singing "The Spirit of God", a hymn that was sung during the dedication of the Kirtland temple in 1836 -- the first temple dedicated to the Lord in modern times. She knew that moment would come, and she had tried to prepare herself to remain stoic and professional while conducting, but I could tell she was caught up in the emotions she was feeling and struggled to keep tears from flowing. That hymn is a special one to her and to me, and singing it in such a place with so many people was moving to both of us.

To close the meeting, the wife of the bishop in our ward was asked to say the prayer with only a few moment's notice. She was completely unprepared, and she told me later that prior to that time, she had been looking forward to hearing the words of whoever would say that closing prayer -- not knowing it would be her. So it was with surprise and concern that she went to the podium to offer it, and I can honestly say that the Spirit of God gave her the words to say. Her words were poignant and appropriate and summed up the meeting in perfect form, calling upon God to bless the congregation that we could go forth and continue to do the will of the Lord. It was beautiful.

After the meeting, my wife and I lingered and did the very Earthly act of collecting the music that was distributed to the choir and congregation. We stayed and visited with some good friends for a few minutes, then left the room. We changed our clothes and went outside the temple (it was too crowded to stay inside as everybody was preparing to leave), and we again lingered there. It was as if we didn't really want to leave, which was certainly true.

Finally departing, we went out to eat that night with two other couples -- good friends -- and had a great time visiting with them. (We had a long wait to sit down, though ...) We arrived home late and offered to pay the young woman who babysat for us for the unexpected time she watched our children, but she wouldn't hear of it -- she's a very good young woman.

Come the next day, Sunday, the temple experience was all the talk. At church, we again saw our friends, and it seemed every conversation turned to the events of the previous day. It was a wonderful, uplifting, unifying experience, and I am grateful for it.

Friday, November 9, 2007

French Lessons

The Lord takes care of his children. That's the only way I can explain it.

I was in the temple this morning, doing my normal thing. Two weeks ago, I had been asked if I was interested in learning the Spanish version of the temple ordinance with which I help, so I could help people who speak Spanish. At the time, I ended up doing something else, so I didn't have time. Today, however, I did have a little extra time, so I decided to get the paperwork that showed English on the left side and Spanish on the right. I also had the fleeting thought that I should get the French version, too, so I could compare the two.

Now, I don't speak Spanish, but I do live in Southern California where a lot of people do. Learning Spanish would be a good thing to do, but I just haven't gotten around to doing that, yet. Regarding French, when I was in high school (over 15 years ago!), I took four years of French and I also took one quarter of it in college. (Having done this, I thought I was assured the opportunity to serve a mission for my church in a French-speaking place, but it wasn't to be -- I ended up going to Texas speaking Texan.)

Needless to say, I haven't exactly pursued my French studies, but I still remember a lot about the structure of the language and can read simple text. As for Spanish, I knew that the two languages were similar in structure and can't have helped being exposed to it, living where I do; so I figured that it might be useful for me to compare the French to the Spanish in order to better derive some meaning.

Well, when I went to get the French translation, the woman who keeps them discovered that the French version was not where it was supposed to be -- I walked away only with the Spanish version. About five minutes later, after puzzling over the Spanish version for about five excruciating minutes, I went to return it and discovered another man talking with the woman, also asking for the French translation. While I was gone, the woman had looked for it, and found two copies.

As it turned out, there was a couple from French Polynesia attending the temple today. Suddenly, I was being asked not only to learn the French version, but to help one of these two people during the ordinance! I had about an hour to figure it out. Well, I didn't memorize it, but I can honestly tell you that my mind was quickened and my understanding made clear as I studied it in that hour. When it was time to help the good woman who spoke only French, I took my translation with me and did my best -- which apparently was good enough. She came through, gave me a grateful smile, and said, "Merci beaucoups."

For the life of me, I couldn't remember the French version of "you're welcome", and was about to sputter out "de nada" when I decided just to smile and nod towards her. (For the record, it's "de rien".) She was content with that, and I was grateful for the opportunity to serve.

We often think that the Lord works in mysterious ways. Back when I was a youth, I figured I'd find a way to put my French to good use, and the balance of my adult life, that hasn't been the case. However, today, I had the opportunity to help somebody with what little I remember from all of that experience. Interestingly enough, the way I feel today, if all those years of studying French were only for the purpose of helping this good woman today, then it was worth it.

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