Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Irony

At work we often have little seminars and sessions. An email came in today regarding one, that I laughed about. Tell me you don't see the irony in this?

Due to illness, the "Thriving In the New Year Presentation" is cancelled today.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A New Form of Sorrow

My wife just miscarried. I am experiencing a form of sorrow I have never experienced before. It's been a very long time since a family member passed away, and a few years since any friend passed away, too, so of late I've been quite sheltered from the realities of the end-point of life on this Earth. Even so, I consider myself not quite ignorant of the emotional experiences that one must experience when a loved one passes away.

But this is different. This is a sorrow bred of denial. I have been denied the opportunity to know this little person, to parent him or her. Lost are the opportunities that could have been, the experiences, the potential, the joys, and the sorrows. My family's future is suddenly and irrevocably changed from what I thought it might have been.

I have an intellectual understanding that miscarriages are nature's way of bringing forth only healthy babies. The nurse at the doctor's office called the miscarried fetus "tissue", as if to de-humanize what it was. She said the miscarriage happened because of "chromosomal" reasons. I get all this, but all this clinical understanding doesn't change the fact that this was a little baby, and it still hurts to lose it.

What my wife and I have discovered, being largely ignorant on this topic, is that miscarriages are incredibly common, with perhaps up to 30% of all conceptions being terminated prematurely in this way. It seems that everybody we speak with has had this experience before -- something comforting to discover, but it is odd to find out since nobody ever really talks about it. It is clear that there is a social stigma to this discussion and families often keep it private.

It hurts. It is sad. But we want another baby, so me and my wife will try again, and risk this again. Each one of our live children was worth this risk, and any future child will be, too. We'll make it through this, together.

A Downer Day

So yesterday was church. I got up at the usual time and went to my normal early Sunday meetings at 7 am. It was busy, and went well enough, but my family wasn't able to join me for sacrament meeting. My wife had a need to go to the sacrament meeting of the ward that meets before us, and choosing not to subject the children to two hours of sacrament meeting, she skipped ours and took the kids home for a few hours between the sacrament meeting she attended and the remainder of our own church meetings. Therefore, I ended up sitting alone during our own sacrament meeting while my family was at home. (Did you catch all that?) Normally, this would be a good thing as I can usually focus much better on the speakers when my kids aren't talking aloud and hopping on my lap. However, I just didn't really enjoy being alone yesterday.

So church proceeded as normal, and, again, it went well enough, but it just wasn't quite as nice as it usually is. Something just felt amiss. After church, I stayed around to help facilitate the bishop's interviews, as usual, and they, too, went well. They even ended early, so I was able to be home by 3:15 (remarkable!), just in time for my wife to leave to go back to church to lead choir practice. This put me on child watch. All things considered, it was a decent time -- my youngest was asleep and the older kids were well behaved. But again, things just felt off.

Then dinner came and went and our home teacher was supposed to come at 6. Before that, I got a call from the family I was to visit that night for home teaching and there was some drama going on there. After fighting that fire, I waited with my family, and waited, and our own home teacher never showed up. My own home teaching companion showed up at 7:15 (he was supposed to be there at 7) and so I left and went to my home teaching appointment.

Again, this appointment went well enough, but fifteen minutes into it, my wife called and told me that the prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley, had just died a few hours before. It was sad news. We had a good discussion after that about succession in the presidency of the church, and we wrapped it up. It wasn't a great visit, but good enough.

So we then went to our second appointment and sat down to visit with that family. We had a good visit there, and shared a lesson about how to feel more comfortable at church. Since this particular family doesn't attend church, it was an honest and frank discussion, and I think they just might come next Sunday. I'll fall out of my chair if they do, but I've vowed to never give up on them.

Anyway, so after that, my home teaching companion took me home. My wife called when we were half-way home, and I decided not to answer my cell phone since I was going to be there in a minute or two, anyway. Well, I went into my house and my wife was sitting on the couch. She told me to be fast and to go get my home teaching companion, but he had already driven away. So, what was up?

My wife is pregnant. Well, she might be pregnant. We've kept it somewhat quiet, but chose to announce it a few weeks ago since we were confident the pregnancy was going to take (history was on our side!). She is over ten weeks along in her pregnancy, and for some reason she was bleeding last night. When she told me, my stomach sank. The pregnancy and birth of our previous three children went so very well that we often call them "textbook" pregnancies. This was something new. She had never bled during her pregnancies before, so immediately we concluded she might be miscarrying.

We called a friend from up the street to come down and to help me give her a blessing. He came over and we did so, but for some reason it just didn't feel very comforting. The balance of our evening found us trying and failing to distract ourselves from the fears in our minds. Going to bed, neither of us slept well, and I just kept having nightmares about her losing the baby.

This morning, her bleeding continued to get a little worse. She called the nurse at the doctor's office to ask some advice, and they put her off for two hours before calling her back. (They were busy, I guess, but still ... my wife might be losing our baby!!) She's been discharging not just blood but some other substances, too. It seems evident that she has indeed miscarried the baby.

We had an ultrasound already scheduled for tomorrow, and after finally talking with the nurse, who had consulted with the doctor, we've been instructed to keep her flat and hydrated, and to wait for tomorrow's appointment rather than going in to see the doctor today. Apparently, there wouldn't be anything they could do, anyway. Tomorrow's ultrasound will be either extremely wonderful or extremely horrible; it all depends on if we hear a heartbeat.

Now, I know that miscarriages are perfectly normal. They are nature's way of ensuring that only mostly healthy children are born. Nevertheless, we tried so very hard for this baby (it took us a year and a half to conceive) and we were so excited when everything finally "came together." It's a double-whammy since we were so confident that things were going well. My wife has never miscarried before, and never had any issues other than the usual morning sickness and dietary changes forced on her by the baby.

So now until at least tomorrow, we have a constant fear. It's looking quite likely she has miscarried. If so, we get the lovely opportunity to tell everybody what has happened. While we're sure that informing all our friends and family (some of whom will probably read this soon ...) will elicit plenty of sympathy, it is telling our children that will be the hardest if the baby is, indeed, lost.

We don't need any calls right now -- we handle emotional trauma together, as a married couple, and we do just fine. Nevertheless, we won't ever turn down some prayers on our behalf. Indeed, this past day has been a downer.

A New Disease

There's a disease out there. It's terrible. It's everywhere, and most people don't even recognize it as a problem. My wife and I used to suffer from it until we were cured nine years ago. It's called "Nearby Family Syndrome" (NFS). It's a nasty disease that is caused by two things: close proximity to very social extended family members, and an inability to say "no".

It's pretty easy to recognize. Whenever you need time or attention from somebody to go home teaching, or to go visiting teaching, or to come over to dinner some night, or to come help with some event, service or otherwise; and the person chronically says they can't because of any variety of non-immediate-family obligation, it's very likely that that person is suffering from NFS.

Sometimes people don't even recognize that they have it. Everybody wants to be close to their families and, of course, the best way to do that is to spend time with them. This is natural, good, and encouraged. Nevertheless, when spending time with extended family begins to prevent you from doing your duty, from providng service, or from socializing with others on a casual basis, and even from spending some alone time with your own family, then something is clearly wrong.

Typically, NFS can be cured by addressing one of the two causes. You can move away or you can learn to say "no" to your own family. It is important for people to realize that they just don't have to go to every family dinner or get-together. Before moving, we often had a hard time saying no, and since we were cured by moving, we can more deliberately plan the events that we get together (and it takes a lot of planning ...). Ironically, we actually feel closer to our parents since we now call them every week, something we never did faithfully before we moved.

I am particularly frustrated by others who suffer from NFS around me. It's vexing when I get to the end of the month without being able to go home teaching because every night that I could go (of which there are many), the family couldn't receive us at their house because of NFS-induced conflicts.

So, if you are a victim of NFS, please address it immediately. While it may not cause suffering in your own personal life, consider the lives of others who may be experiencing secondary suffering, and do something about it! After all, NFS is a preventable and curable disease. We should all work tirelessly to combat it.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Cinnamon Rolls

This afternoon after the Family History fair, my wife was panicky because my oldest son's basketball pictures were an hour earlier than she expected. As it turned out, she was halfway through making cinnamon rolls when she had to rush out the door. That left the remainder of the task to baking-challenged me and my six-year-old daughter. Well, I'm proud to report that we were up to the challenge. I read the instructions carefully (they were pretty good ones!) and we proceeded from one step to the next together. It was pretty fun spending this kind of time with my daughter. She usually is off in her own little world (as she is right now), so when we have quiet time alone, I'm not usually invited. It's weird, but true -- she's a very independent little girl that enjoys her solitude and her own imagination.

Nevertheless, we had a good time making the rolls. She enjoyed greasing the pans, mixing the sugar and cinnamon, cutting the rolls, and helping me lay them in the pans. It was a good time. We're not awaiting the results, and when they're done baking, I'll get a picture and post it here ...

Okay, so they ended up a little crispy, but she and I both had one and we wouldn't turn down another one ...

Family History Fair

I attended a family history fair this morning learning about the new FamilySearch website. It's a wonderful new tool for members of the church (or family history volunteers in family history centers) to help people manage their ancestral information. It's intent is to help manage ordinance work being done in the temple to reduce duplication and to aid cooperative genealogical research. It also streamlines the process to submit names to the temple to have their temple ordinances performed.

It's awesome. Earlier this week, I went to the site and registered and immediately up popped on the screen my entire line up at least 8 generations. This new website will help me to go find out if that is really true. So far, I have barely scratched the surface of what's in there, so my problem is really going to be verification of the content and combining duplicate records.

It turns out that I am the beneficiary and unfortunate victim of being the descendent of very long lines of church members, many of whom were gung-ho about doing genealogical and temple work. What this means is that, as far as I can tell, "all" of the temple work for my ancestors has been done. Additional research of lines that have not been done will not be easy, as they are very far in the past or the records are not readily accessible, if they exist at all. Nevertheless, I'm doing my best, and will probably begin going "sideways" and "down" my family tree.

Last year, I actually pulled some bishop's records from a church in England to research a dead-end line on my family name. I found all sorts of interesting records, including one that gave the actual marriage date of my great, great, great grandfather, which, to my knowledge, nobody contemporary ever knew. However, when I went to look to see if the ordinances had been done for the people that I had "found", it turned out that the ordinances had already been done through the "extraction" program. Now I need to piece together the puzzle and make sure the temple work that's been done is comprehensive. It is a lot of fun to make these discoveries, but it is very frustrating to find that the temple work has already been done for these people, because I want to do it myself!

Ah, well, that's the breaks. I'm very excited to learn more about this website and to finally clean up my family history. It'll be a long road, but one that's worth it.

Baptisms for the Dead

Last night I took my wife and we went to the temple. The occasion was a baptism for the dead excursion where three new members of the church were to go and perform temple service for the first time. Each of them are in their 20s, and newly married, so their spouses came with them. There were several other people from the ward who came with us, so we had a total of 15 people there.

We started the evening going out to eat. We went and enjoyed dinner at The Cheesecake Factory -- an overpriced restaurant, but one which, as far as we can tell, doesn't have a bad dish on their entire menu. We ate too much and were a bit uncomfortable the rest of the evening, but it was a very nice dinner. It was so stress free without the kids that we wondered why we hadn't taken a night out without them for over a month. We didn't have any good reason other than that we've been very busy.

In any case, after dinner we finished the trek to the temple and arrived right on time, as did everybody else. We went in and after having our temple recommends examined, went in and got changed into white clothing. The evening progressed with most people being baptized and confirmed for about fifteen people who have passed on to the other side. I spent nearly the whole evening recording the ordinances, a task I was comfortable with since actually performing the baptisms with the grown adults would have wreaked havoc on my bad back.

I did have the opportunity to perform a few confirmations at the end, and that was nice. I did not get into the water, just out of circumstance, but still felt quite content to have been there and had a role to play in helping these people on the other side receive these saving ordinances.

We arrived home late (okay, it was 10 pm) and my wife took the babysitter home (who babysat for free for us -- her parents "encouraged" her to do so, and we are grateful).

Altogether, it was a great evening. We are so grateful to be able to perform this type of service, and it was wonderful to be there with these fine young people who are just beginning a wonderful journey in life together, which hopefully will include many, many trips to the temple.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Winds of Change ... on Mars

Wow, check out this picture. Click on it for a high-resolution version of it. It's part of an article that was released from my place of work.

This picture was taken by the spacecraft I work on, and this article heavily quotes a guy who sits less than 100 feet from me. With every new spacecraft we send to Mars, we seem to discover Mars all over again. Truly miraculous. Mars really is a whole world unto itself.

It's Snowing!

It's snowing in the mountains right behind where I work! It's unbelievable. People have been complaining about the weather all morning. A guy I work with said it was sleeting when he came in this morning on his motorcycle. Crazy. It's been so cold around here that there's been major delays on some freeways, people are stranded in mountain villages, and accidents are beginning to pile up from the slippery roads. Oddly enough, at home (on the other side of the mountain range from where I work) we haven't dipped below freezing, as far as I can tell. Even so, it's pretty remarkable weather for sunny southern California!

This picture came from an article that talks about people getting stuck on the I-5 freeway heading north through Gorman. This is just north of where I live. It is up in the mountains and is the primary route to get from anywhere in L.A. to anywhere up north. Quite a mess!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sexist at Six

We were sitting at church today and my six-year-old daughter was sitting next to me. The opening hymn music began to play and one of my good friends -- a man -- got up to conduct the congregation in singing the hymn. My daughter leaned over and asked, "What is he doing up there?" I about burst out laughing.

You see, most of the music conductors in our church are female (okay, nearly all of them), so it would be only natural that she would have that response since she's never seen a male music conductor. Nevertheless, her question was such a surprise to me that I couldn't help myself, and I snickered.

To make matters worse, we were on the second row, about fifteen feet from him, and I'm certain he heard her. Throughout the meeting, he did a brave job of conducting, even though he often waved his arm in the air off-tune (is that the right word?) and didn't know the words to many of the songs. He clearly looked uncomfortable standing up there, being the center of attention.

Nevertheless, despite her question and my own little snicker, he is a good example of one who is willing to do his duty and try new things, and I'm grateful for him. I'm confident he'll eventually learn to conduct better. The better question is: can I teach my six-year-old to not be so sexist?!

Friday, January 18, 2008

A Dumb Thing That Matters A Lot To Me


See this? It's a picture of my parking tag at work from 2007. It's crazy, but this is one of the most important perks I have at work. Where I work, parking is in insanely short supply, and our security personnel manage the parking privileges like they were 10th-century monks guarding their few copies of the Bible.

To be able to park on the facility itself, rather than in one of the not-so-near parking facilities, is a privilege that is revoked from employees at the first sneeze of rebellion. A co-worker of mine was literally fired a few years back for having an argument with security over parking matters.

So it is that I cherish my parking hang-tag. The bad part about it, though, is that it is a temporary tag. It's only good for one year and at the end of the year, it must be renewed ... but only if I continue to earn the "high performer" status. Since the process whereby I earn this status is entirely a mystery to me, I sweat at the beginning of every new year, wondering if I'm going to get a new hang-tag.

Happily, I got one for 2008, so I'm good for another year. Now I just have to avoid the monks -- er, Security -- so I can keep the parking tag.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Visitor Near Work

My workplace is nestled up against a mountain range. All the coffee-swilling, tree-hugging, fitness-crazed, Ph.D.-laden people who work here often take their lunch break and go for runs up the canyon nearest the back of the facility. We regularly have deer of various varieties on site and are quite used to close encounters with wildlife. (Last year, though, one coffee-swilling, tree-hugging, fitness-crazed, Ph.D.-laden bicyclist actually ran into a deer last year and died! It was truly tragic, but quite bizarre.) You could say that we've become jaded to the presence of animals of every variety and the runners don't even flinch when they see something new. Yesterday, though, somebody saw the mountain lion pictured below stalking the runners. Needless to say, the coffee-swilling, tree-hugging, fitness-crazed, Ph.D.-laden runners aren't running today.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Some of My Favorite Songs

I was on the way to work today when a song came on the radio that I absolutely love. It's a somewhat silly song that's somewhat old, but I got to thinking that I could listen to it pretty much any time, over and over again. I don't own the CD, I don't know all the words, but I just love how it sounds. I got thinking about what other songs are kind of like this, and I came up with this list (and, yes, I know some of these have not-so-nice lyrics, but that's not the point here):

-- "Dead Man's Party" by Oingo Boingo
-- "Lullaby" by The Cure
-- "Major Tom" by Peter Schilling (not the one by David Bowie)
-- "Fortress Around Your Heart" by Sting
-- "Into the Ocean" by Blue October
-- "It's the End of the World as we Know It" by REM
-- "Wherever You Will Go" by The Calling
-- "Walk On The Ocean" by Toad the Wet Sprocket

There's a whole pile more, but these ones came to me this morning. Lots of fun!

Monday, January 14, 2008

A Spark To Service

My oldest son is now over eight, and has been behaving much more maturely these past few weeks. This week, I had two bits of service that needed doing that I decided to take him on.

The first was an "emergency preparation drill" where I was to walk around and deliver a pamphlet to some nearby members of my church. He had a new light on his wheel and he was excited to use it in the dark, so I thought it would be fun if we got our bikes out and took a spin. We did and had a great time.

The second was a trip to a nearby church to set up chairs for a big meeting on Sunday. It just seemed appropriate to ask him to come with me, and so I did. He jumped at the chance, and we were two of just eight people who were there to set up over 1000 chairs. It was busy and hard work, but he again seemed to enjoy himself.

What I find most interesting is that my relationship with him has been great the past little while. Sometimes we seem to just butt heads all the time, but I've noticed that when both of us are engaged in service, we get along a lot better.

I'm so proud of him and of his desire to serve, and I hope that I can continue to set a good example for him and provide these opportunities to him, so that he can develop that inner spark that would encourage him to serve others of his own volition. He's a good kid, and I am grateful to be his father.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Destroyer

In the Doctrine and Covenants 105:15, the Lord said: Behold, the destroyer I have sent forth ... Turns out he lives in my house. He is two years old, with blonde hair, a cute little smile, and a friendly disposition. Nevertheless, he has no mercy. If left to himself, he will find and destroy anything that gathers his attention. Normally, he's pretty good about leaving things alone, but sometimes ... Oh, yes, but sometimes ...

Behold, the workmanship of The Destroyer!

This is my work laptop. Needless to say, I'll have some explaining to do on Monday ...

Strangely enough, when I saw it, all I could do was laugh. I originally thought he had just pulled the keys off and that I could pop them back into place, but upon further inspection, he actually broke the little plastic brackets that hold the keys on. It's still pretty funny, but I am very glad that my place of work has a contract with people to fix these kinds of things ...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Something Awesome Isn't Coming

A few days ago, I posted that there might be an impact of an asteroid on Mars, and we were very excited about the possibilities. Well, the 1-in-28 chance reported earlier then went to a 1-in-40 chance as the trajectory estimates improved, and have now gone to a 0% chance. The article clip reads as the following:

Updated Jan 9, 2008 – As expected, scientists at JPL's Near-Earth Object Office have further refined the trajectory estimate for asteroid 2007 WD5 and ruled out any possibility of a Mars impact on Jan. 30. The latest trajectory plot of the asteroid was made possible by adding to previously obtained data some new data from a round of observations acquired by three observatories on the evenings of Jan. 5 through 8. Based on this latest analysis, the odds for the asteroid impacting Mars on Jan. 30 are 0.0 percent. The latest observations come from the German-Spanish Astronomical Center, Calar Alto, Spain; the Multi-Mirror Telescope, Mt. Hopkins, Ariz.; and the University of Hawaii telescope, Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

Such a pity.

A Week of Firsts

This week is a week of several firsts for my little family. First of all, I'm back full-time at work after the holiday. It's not exactly a picnic, and I'm relearning how much I absolutely love getting up at 5 am.

For my oldest son, he started basketball for the first time on Monday night. He has no prior experience and barely knows the rules to the game. During the practice, he performed a little better than expected, and really seemed to enjoy being out on the court. It was quite funny watching him (and I know he felt silly) standing out there bouncing with his knees slightly bent and his arms in the typical basketball defensive position. He's got a lot of learning to do, but what matters is that he enjoys himself and I'm confident he will. His first game is Saturday and with only one practice under his belt, it should be very interesting.

For my daughter, she started gymnastics yesterday. It's all new to her, too, and luckily we discovered her class is actually more about tumbling and less about performing on any of the gymnastics equipment. This was a relief to us since we weren't sure we wanted her doing any of the complicated stuff until she learns to do a cartwheel. She had an absolutely wonderful time during her lesson. She was so very excited to be there and to do everything that she threw her whole self into it. From a parent's perspective, my wife described her kindly as a "spaz". This morning, she woke up with every muscle in her body below her neck being sore. She's in quite a bit of pain from stretching and using muscles she didn't even know she had, but she'll get over it -- as loudly and whiningly (is that a word?) as she can.

The up-side of this week is that it's been a lot of fun for everybody. The downside is that my oldest son is up late two nights in a row, and yesterday he nearly had a complete meltdown since he was so tired. For an eight-year-old, sometimes he acts just like a four-year-old. I keep hoping he'll grow out of the crying and complaining, but others assure me that won't happen until he's, like, thirty or something. (Thanks, people! You're a lot of comfort!)

So far, it's been a pretty interesting week.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Trip to Utah

The last several posts about our trip to Utah all seemed to be somewhat negative, so I figured I'd at least admit that I'm glad we went and we had a great time. Our visits with both sides of the family were enjoyable and it's always good to have time for the kids to bond with their grandparents and cousins -- something they get to do all too rarely. Regardless of the stomach flu that some members of my family caught and the miserably cold temperatures we had to endure while we were there, it was still a good trip. Here's a few pictures from the excursion:

The guy on the right? He's the source of the stomach flu we caught.

My daughter discovering the wonders of sucking on icicles (though my wife freaked out about the unhealthful aspects of doing so ...)

My wife's sister in what I think is her natural state.

My dad with his latest pride and joy -- his train set which he's had since he was a child. Just lately it's been reassembled, and with the help of my oldest brother it is working again.

My oldest son with two books he's been very anxious to read, which my parents got him for Christmas.

My youngest son enjoying an Oreo cookie.

That's me with my dad outside shoveling the sidewalk. My kids are somewhere out of view, and they loved the shoveling! Funny how hard labor is desirable when it's a novelty.

My daughter making a really good snow angel.

My wife and oldest son being really silly with the camera.

It was, indeed, a really good trip!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Something Awesome Might Be Coming

Check out this article. If this asteroid really does hit Mars, it'll be something awesome to behold. With the latest estimates indicating there's a one in twenty-eight chance of impact, which are really good odds, astronomically speaking; all our scientists are waiting with great anticipation to see what happens on January 30th. And our cameras are standing by ...

For the record, I've copied the entire article here:

Astronomers Monitor Asteroid to Pass Near Mars
December 21, 2007

Updated Jan 2, 2008 – With new observations taken Dec. 29, Dec. 31 and Jan. 2 by the Magdalena Ridge Observatory in New Mexico, scientists at NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., have updated their trajectory estimates for the asteroid. Based on this latest analysis, the odds for the asteroid impacting Mars on Jan. 30 are now about 1-in-28, or 3.6 percent. New Mexico Tech operates the Magdalena Ridge Observatory.

For more information, visit the Near-Earth Object site at http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/ .

Updated Dec. 28, 2007 -- Astronomers have identified asteroid 2007 WD 5 in archival imagery. With these new observations, scientists at NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif have refined their trajectory estimates for the asteroid. Based on this latest analysis, the odds for the asteroid impacting Mars on Jan. 30 are now 1-in-25 -- or about 4 percent.

WASHINGTON - Astronomers funded by NASA are monitoring the trajectory of an asteroid estimated to be 50 meters (164 feet) wide that is expected to cross Mars' orbital path early next year. Observations provided by the astronomers and analyzed by NASA's Near-Earth Object Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., indicate the object may pass within 30,000 miles of Mars at about 6 a.m. EST (3 a.m. PST) on Jan. 30, 2008.

"Right now asteroid 2007 WD5 is about half-way between Earth and Mars and closing the distance at a speed of about 27,900 miles per hour," said Don Yeomans, manager of the Near Earth Object Office at JPL. "Over the next five weeks, we hope to gather more information from observatories so we can further refine the asteroid's trajectory."

NASA detects and tracks asteroids and comets passing close to Earth. The Near Earth Object Observation Program, commonly called "Spaceguard," plots the orbits of these objects to determine if any could be potentially hazardous to our planet.

Asteroid 2007 WD5 was first discovered on Nov. 20, 2007, by the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey and put on a "watch list" because its orbit passes near Earth. Further observations from both the NASA-funded Spacewatch at Kitt Peak, Ariz., and the Magdalena Ridge Observatory in New Mexico gave scientists enough data to determine that the asteroid was not a danger to Earth, but could potentially impact Mars. This makes it a member of an interesting class of small objects that are both near Earth objects and "Mars crossers."

Because of current uncertainties about the asteroid's exact orbit, there is a 1-in-75 chance of 2007 WD5 impacting Mars. If this unlikely event were to occur, it would be somewhere within a broad swath across the planet north of where the Opportunity rover is located.

"We estimate such impacts occur on Mars every thousand years or so," said Steve Chesley, a scientist at JPL. "If 2007 WD5 were to thump Mars on Jan. 30, we calculate it would hit at about 30,000 miles per hour and might create a crater more than half-a-mile wide." The Mars Rover Opportunity is exploring a crater approximately this size right now.

Such a collision could release about three megatons of energy. Scientists believe an event of comparable magnitude occurred here on Earth in 1908 in Tunguska, Siberia, but no crater was created. The object was disintegrated by Earth's thicker atmosphere before it hit the ground, although the air blast devastated a large area of unpopulated forest.

NASA and its partners will continue to track asteroid 2007 WD5 and will provide an update in January when further information is available. For more information on the Near Earth Object program, visit: http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/.

An audio interview/podcast regarding 2007 WD5 is available at: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/podcast/mars-asteroid-20071221/

A videofile related to this story is available on NASA TV and the Web. For information and schedules, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/ntv.

The Pure Sorrow of a Child

My wife sat down with my daughter to read a blog entry from a friend that recently moved away to Colorado where she talks about how she misses California. This friend's daughters used to come to my house all the time to play with my daughter, and my daughter basically broke down in sorrow this afternoon. She was crying uncontrollably and was inconsolable. We did our best to help her understand that sometimes friends must move away and that throughout our lives we will have to say goodbye to some of the dearest of our friends and family. We even spoke about our ancestors, who came from England as pioneers to settle in the valleys of Utah and had to say goodbye to their families forever when they left their homes. It didn't help. But what we did do was have her sit down and dictate an email that we could send out. I thought it was interesting, so I wanted to post her text here:

"I really, really, really, really, really miss [you]. I want to have a play date with you so, so, so, so, so much -- badly. I miss them because you moved. I miss them because we spent time playing with toys and playing games. We played dress up and played different games. [Friend's daughter #1] was always Sleeping Beauty, [friend's daughter #2] was always Snow White, and I was always Cinderella. Tell [them] this when you see this message. I really wanted to move close to where you live. I wanted to send you a letter asking you to find a job for my Dad, but Mommy said no because Dad likes his job."

After composing this, we sent it out and she was finally calm. It's interesting the amount of true and sincere sorrow that she felt. It's good that adults manage their emotions better, but I don't think we ever really feel such pure, sincere, and unfettered emotion. She's a funny little girl.

My Wife Spent Too Much

Christmas was really good for me. My wife went crazy and spent entirely too much. It all started when she decided to buy me a new set of scriptures. The new ones aren't exactly cheap, so that should've been all she bought for me. She bought me both a new Bible, since my old one's spine is coming off, and a new Triple Combination, since they're practically entirely redlined.

Anyway, she's an early shopper so she purchased them several months ago. Needless to say, several months is far too long for a wife always on the look-out for deals to sit on a wallet, so clearly things came along that she couldn't resist, particularly since she likes to spoil me.

So about a month ago, she bought me a big telescope. It's big and beautiful and I absolutely love it. I'm an amateur astronomer, but had always been frustrated by the telescopes I've had at my disposal that were simple azimuth/elevation telescopes. So when I opened this and saw that it had an equatorial mount, I was absolutely delighted since it allows me to avoid the frustration of finding an object then have it track out of the telescope's field of view in two axes. It also has some fine adjustment knobs that allow me keep objects in the field of view with minimal difficulty. Now I will finally get some good use out of my favorite astronomy book!

Then just days before Christmas, we had been talking about having difficulty with our current digital camera, which had been dropped by my daughter about a month ago. With the case cracked and the zoom sticking, it's an exercise in frustration to get good pictures. So, of course, a deal comes along and my wife jumped at the chance to get a new camera. It's a beauty, and we look forward to using it. It's an 8 megapixel camera, which means the images will be much larger in size. Since we tend to be camera happy, we'll probably fill up our hard-drive in a few weeks and need one of those new terabyte hard drives ...

As for what I gave my wife? I've been officially put to shame. A lame DVD, a board game, and (this was the best thing I got her) a beautiful sarong for a trip we're planning for our tenth anniversary. What can I say? I've got an awesome wife who loves me!

Friday, January 4, 2008

An Accident En Route

On the way home from Utah two days ago, we had the lovely opportunity to be involved in an automobile accident while passing through Las Vegas. We were parked outside a gas station and behind me was a fellow waiting to pull in to a gas pump. I backed into him and I don't even really know why. I did check behind me when I pulled out. My back windshield was very salt-encrusted from the soggy weather and salt-covered roads in Utah, and he was parked at a funny angle where I don't think I could see his cab through my rear view mirror. Nevertheless, I can't really point to either of these as the root cause of the accident.

The impact was minor; nobody was injured. I hopped out immediately to survey the damage and the first thing going through my mind was, "Oh, great. Now my car insurance is going to go up." (I haven't had good experiences with auto insurance companies in the past ...)

The guy I hit got out of his truck. He was a big burly guy with tattoos and at least a hundred pounds on me. Strangely enough, though, I wasn't anywhere close to being intimidated. I offered my apologies and suggested we trade insurance information, to which he balked. I was surprised by his unwillingness to share his information with me, and I have to be honest that my attitude wasn't very good for a few moments after that.

I did get my policy information out and before I knew it, he was on his cell phone with my insurance company making a claim! Later, I found out that he had been in an accident recently where the "other guy" tried to pin the whole thing on him, which was why he wasn't keen to share his information with me and was quick to call my insurance company.

We did eventually swap information. I later made a call to the insurance company to report my side of the story (which in theory is the same with his story, judging by what I heard of his side of the conversation while he was on the phone with the insurance guy). I also did instruct my wife to get out with the camera and take as many pictures as she could. It never hurts to have those! So, here's a few of them that sort of tell the story.

His bumper was higher than mine, so we did not collide bumper-to-bumper. I struck the back right bumper's corner with the back right of my mini-van. You can see in this next picture that his truck was already pretty beat up to begin with. If you look at his bumper on the right of this picture, you can see a little gray dust on his bumper. This is the salt and perhaps a bit of gray paint from my van. His bumper, to me, is only minimally damaged more than it was before the impact. It was already pressed up and in from earlier damage, so I can't even really judge what is new and what was old.

My van, on the other hand, was damaged much more. As you can see in this picture, the right side of the back door of the van has been pressed in. The depth of damage is about one inch, maybe an inch-and-a-half. The door is still fully functional, but the paint is cracked and it will be messy when it starts to flake and the body start to rust. It's also pretty ugly, and unlike the other guy's truck, it is out of character with the appearance of the rest of the van.

I detest the process we're about to go through, though, as we get contacted by the insurance agents, have to get the damage appraised, and then get bad offer after bad offer from the insurance company to cover the damages. Such a mess.

As an aside, while we were in the parking lot dealing with the accident, who would happen to show up at the exact same gas station? My home teacher! It was so random that my home teacher would show up at the scene of an accident I've been involved in five hours away from home. He, too, was returning from visiting family in Utah and happened to stop at the same place to get gas and take a break with his wife and kids. We didn't really need him there, but it was just a funny coincidence that he showed up. He'll probably remind me of this for years to come that he shows up whenever we need him most, even a whole state away!

Additionally, we did catch another picture of the sky above us as we were on our way home. This little bit of rainbow high in the sky was so strange that we just had to get a picture of it. I'm curious to know what it's called, as I'm sure it has a name, but it eludes me ...

The Amazing Bouncing Boy

Utah can be a great place. When we arrived about a week ago, the temperatures were in the teens (Fahrenheit). It was so cold that my nostril hairs would get stiff. The temperatures during the daytime would climb into the twenties, which seemed to suit everybody who lived there just fine. One of the side-effects of this extreme cold is that the snow would become really icy.

When we were at my in-law's place, I took my two older children to a local park which has the best sledding hill around. Since people had been riding down the hill, the cold temperatures essentially iced over the hill to make it really fast. Kids were literally standing at the top of the hill pondering how safe it was to go down. To top it off, there were bumps at the bottom of the hill where, when you would reach your fastest speed, you could be thrown off the sled or tube. People were at the bottom videotaping people who dared to take the hill, perhaps for legal purposes.

So it was that I took my children there, borrowing some tubes from my wife's sister's family. They joined us as well, but not until after I had the chance to send my kids down the hill first. I sent my daughter down, who managed to make it down to the bottom with a smile and a mild wipeout.

Then I sent my oldest son down, who somehow magically found the largest bump at the bottom of the hill, which summarily launched him airborne. From my vantage point at the top of the hill, it appeared he was tossed at least three feet into the air. With a thump he came down and landed flat on his back. Then he just laid there. The people who were videotaping came running over, and I thought I could hear his cries drifting up the hill on the freezing breeze.

To be honest, all I could do was laugh. Other people at the top of the hill were also chuckling and some commented on how that was the best wipeout they'd seen all morning. With a huge fatherly smile on my face, I did my best to trundle down the hill to comfort him. He was embarrassed by the whole thing and complained about back pain for the next two days. He was so afraid of taking another spill that he absolutely refused to go down again -- yes, he only went down once the entire time we were there.

The funny part is that even though he was afraid to go again, I asked him if it was fun. His answer? With a sheepish grin he said it was fun ... until he landed.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Out on Vacation

To all my loyal readers (all three of you ...): I haven't written this past week because my family was on vacation in Utah. I've got plenty of stories to tell, including stories about a bender-fender, the stomach flu, over-sized Christmas gifts, sledding and the amazing flying boy, family get-togethers, and my own personal feelings about snow and ice. But alas, I can't sit here for three hours typing since my kids are pulling on my leg, my wife wants to go shopping, and I've got Christmas toys to play with. Nevertheless, I really do want to record these stories, so they will be trickling in over the next few days.

In any case, if I haven't said it before, I'll say it now: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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