Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Kids Will Be Out of Your Hair ...

Uh huh. Those were the words my wife said as she walked out the door tonight to go teach her cake decorating class. She had just suggested that we get some light sticks out so the kids could run around in the darkening back yard. It sounded good at the time, but quickly thereafter ensued the following series of events:

-- I select three light sticks, of equal color to avoid fighting over who gets what color.
-- One child begins to throw a tantrum because the color is not likable.
-- Another child begins to throw a tantrum because two light sticks are more desirable.
-- The third child begins to throw a tantrum because the computer is a better way to keep entertained.
-- All three kids refuse to play outside because Dad wasn't going out there with them.
-- Some yelling ensues.
-- Some calming follows.
-- Some apologies from the kids occur (really, this was simply a miracle -- my kids don't apologize meaningfully, and they're never truly sorry).
-- Dad has to go outside with the kids.
-- It gets dark and the kids get bored.
-- Dad goes inside to do the dishes, with the kids on his heels.
-- Kids throw tantrums that Dad isn't playing with them, but willfully fail to comprehend that helping Dad do the dishes will help make him more available to play.
-- Kids start chasing each other around the house with the lights out, with the youngest crying every two minutes because he's scared.
-- Dad has to intervene every two minutes.

Needless to say, they weren't out of my hair. It wasn't a calm night. And I'm still trying to relax from the elevated stress. Ugh. I think she owes me a foot rub or something ...

Monday, February 25, 2008

The New Wii

My wife called me today and told me she got a Wii. Not the one that she has on order, but a different one from the store. On the way home from work (from which I left 3 hours early), I stopped at the same store, and picked up another one! So, we have two Wiis in our house, and one in the mail. My wife has already put up one of them on ebay, which we expect to sell for nearly $75 more than what we paid for it. It should be a good profit-maker for the two extra machines we have.

I spent about 45 minutes setting it up, both the hardware and the internal settings, and then about 15 minutes creating my "Mii". It's a little obnoxious, but the kids thought it was hilarious when I gave my character makeup and long hair. Afterwards, my wife and the kids spent another 45 minutes setting up their characters -- so nearly two hours had elapsed before we actually played anything.

Now we are bowling (the kids are already bored) as a family, just 'cause it's something we can play together. My wife already has on order a game with a second controller and it should be interesting to see how things go after that. Needless to say, it's going to be nonstop Wii the next few days -- my kids heads are probably going to explode ...

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Day With The Kids

Today has been a really good day. I've had the chance to pretty much spend the whole day with the kids. This morning, my daughter went with my wife to a Girl Scout activity, so I had the chance to spend the morning with my boys. We spent the morning doing a little cleaning, then played with Legos. Then we went out to stop in at an open house at the church, then we went to Wendy's to get a Frosty and some fries (to dip in the Frosty, of course).

Afterwards, we stopped by Best Buy and spent about half an hour just staring at the big screen TVs. My oldest son was absolutely mesmerized by the hundred foot wall completely covered with screens, and by a kid playing a Mario game on a Wii.

Then we went home and had lunch, which, of course, the boys weren't all that interested in. My wife and daughter came home then, just long enough to grab a bite to eat, then my wife took my oldest son to basketball while the youngest took a nap. My daughter and I had some quiet time playing on the computer, then when my wife got home, I took her out to go see the AMGEN race, which was stopping in town today after it's sixth leg. (We watched it last year, too.) We had a great time watching the bikes zip right by and just being together.

Afterwards, we went to McDonald's and got a hot fudge sundae, which we went to a park and ate it in the cold blowing wind (my daughter's idea, which she admitted wasn't her best). Then we went home and we had barbecued hot dogs for dinner and watched Wonder Woman (something the kids all enjoy).

It's just been a nice day with the kids.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Escape Trajectory

Okay, I'm a nerd. I was at an activity with my family, and my youngest son kept walking around the table. I told my wife he was "orbiting" the table. She's heard me say stuff like this before, so she just rolled her eyes at me. But then I raised the bar, when I stood up to grab my son and he tried to get away, and I said, "Look, he's on an escape trajectory!" My wife started busting up laughing, and the woman sitting next to her looked incredulous at how totally nerdy I am. But she knows me, so she started laughing, too.

Wii Are Crazy

My wife really wants a Wii. Ever since Christmas, when she played on one at her sister's house, she's been obsessing over them. She wants it so badly that she literally has been calling stores all week asking them if they got a new shipment of them. She's been going online every day looking for an online store, any store, to indicate that they are not back-ordered. To make matters worse, she hasn't been sleeping well at night, either. She's loopy over the whole thing.

Well, this afternoon, she finally found one. One of her links that tracks where Wiis are available had a broken link, and when she corrected it, she found that Toys R' Us actually had one. It was a bundle, the kind with a handful of other games included (most of which we wouldn't choose naturally), but she bought it anyway. She has been told that the individual games can be returned to the store for refunds separate from the Wii console itself. That's her game plan to offset the cost.

She was so excited by the possibility of ordering it online that she broke her own cardinal rule about bathing our youngest son while she finished the transaction. This is the same rule she constantly harasses me about: don't leave the youngest in the tub for longer than 3 seconds unwatched. She was around the corner frantically trying to put in the credit card number to lock in the sale online before all the others out there could take them. Needless to say, I gave her a little too much grief about her hypocrisy, but she was so excited about actually having one on the way, right now! that she quickly forgave me (I think).

As I type this, I think she's upstairs drooling over other games she could buy for the Wii. Gratefully, she paid the extra $10 for the faster shipping, so it should be here by Monday or Tuesday. While we wait, she'll probably drive me nuts about the whole thing. She's strangely giddy right now and carries an unfamiliar smile.

It seems she had a Nintendo when she was a youth, and absolutely loved it, so this is kind of like fulfilling some form of need to relive those days. I don't entirely get it -- I had a game system when I was a kid, too (the most awesome Atari -- ah, good memories), but you don't see me going all nutso about it.

In any case, she's happy, and that makes me happy. It's weird, yeah, but it will be fun. It's not like a typical game console where you sit around staring inanimately at the screen while your thumbs enact great acts of violence. So, it'll be all right. I just have to temper her desire to get all the fun gizmos that would go with it ...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Few Interesting Things

1.

The Navy shot down a satellite last night that was broken because it was loaded with rocket fuel and was so that big that it might have re-entered and made it to the ground largely intact; it was, shall we say, hazardous. They didn't want it falling on somebody's head, so they took the opportunity to test their newfangled weapons system -- er, I mean, to save some people from getting injured or poisoned.

While it's been touted as a public safety activity, I think it's also a good reminder to the Chinese (really late in coming, all things considered) that we can blow up satellites, too. Nevertheless, it would've been quite a sight to see in person. Here is a link to an article (written beforehand) that points to a simulation of how the debris would spread and eventually re-enter Earth's atmosphere, where the smaller pieces would break up before reaching the surface. Here is an interesting article (also written beforehand) discussing some of the rationale for event and political ramifications.

2.

Also last night was the last full lunar eclipse visible from my home until late 2010. My wife beat me to the post, but I did want to add that it was great fun to watch. Even with the slightly cloudy weather, it was fun to drag the telescope out and watch the moon get eaten and then re-appear. Totally cool. There are a few good photos here.

3.

I'm a Windows-based PC user. I'm not apologetic about it. I actually like my PC. I don't use Vista, the most glorious example of operating systems gone bad, as I'm quite happy with Windows XP. I have friends at work that are ridiculously fanatical about their Macs, particularly those running Mac OS-X. I roll my eyes as they often go on and on about how superior their operating systems are and how inefficient and bloated my PC is. Today, one of them forwarded me this link to an article outlining 50 reasons why I should switch to a Mac running OS-X. It's written from the perspective of a long-time PC user who recently made the change.

My response? More eye-rolling. I sent him an email which reads:

I roll my eyes at you. It's an operating system, not a religion. A computer is merely a tool to perform functions (and, yes, play games) -- I can do all the functions I want with what I have, and it is not a burden to do so. I don't sit around all day pining over my computer performance, how good it looks, or how vastly superior my operating system is. Relax! I can do what I want to do with what I have, and I'm happy with that. We can co-exist peacefully ... ;)

He hasn't replied, but he's probably about ready to burst a blood-vessel about now. I'm actually enjoying the torture that I inflict on him and the others who can't help sharing their clearly superior brainwashing, er, understanding, that Macs are without a doubt the better machines to have. On this topic, I once stumbled across a link that talks about something that PC users can do that Mac users just can't. Before I link to it, though, be aware that it is clearly R-rated material (written by a guy from Utah, no less), so if you're offended by, um, anything, don't go there. Hilarious.

The Fuzzy Line Between Being Practical and Being Romantic

This is something I stumbled upon today. "J" is the husband, "L" is the wife, "Julia" is their daughter.

J: What are you reading about?

L: Ida and Isidor Straus. They were an amazing couple! Instead of getting into the lifeboat, she decided to die with her husband on the Titanic. Of course, if Julia were grown, I'd do the same for you.

J: What do you mean?

L: What do you mean, what do I mean?

J: You're not getting in the lifeboat?

L: No, I love you too much to let you drown all by yourself.

J: But I won't be by myself -- I think they were playing poker and getting drunk.

L: So you're saying that you'd rather play poker with John Jacob Astor than cuddle with me?

J: That's not what I'd be doing, because if you're not getting your a-- into that lifeboat, then I am. We are not leaving an empty seat.

L: Oh, you're getting into that boat over my dead body.

J: Where the he-- is the Tylenol?

L: Try the bathroom ... you know, the place with the ocean blue toilet water.

J: You mean like the ocean you want both of us to sink to the bottom of?


Where is the line drawn between being practical and being romantic? I'm with "J" on this one.

Tough Parenting

Sometimes it's tough to be a parent. Last night was one of those times. My oldest son has been having trouble with his leg for weeks, limping everywhere he went. We didn't really think much about it, writing it off to his typical "any little bit of pain is incapacitating" behavior, until we noticed that he limped all the time. My wife took him to the doctor, who confirmed that most of his limping is in his head, but there is some real pain in his knee (the doctor ordered some blood work to check for anything more, but those results haven't come back, yet).

Needless to say, when the doctor ordered him to stay off his feet for a week, we knew we had an uphill battle on our hands. How exactly do you keep a semi-active eight-year-old off his feet? He's in the middle of his basketball season and he loves to play active games with his friends, let alone the normal chasing around he does with his siblings (you know the kind, the "let's run around the house like screaming lunatics to drive Mom and Dad insane" kind).

Well, last night I took him over to cub scouts. They were focusing on a flag ceremony that they're going to be doing this Friday for a special "Blue and Gold" ceremony (whatever that is, I'm still re-learning all the scouting lingo). My son is the one who's calling the flag-bearing scouts forward and leading the pledge of allegiance, so he really needed to go. After scouts, they always play games in the mostly empty parking lot, like tennis, or, like last night, dodgeball.

Before going to scouts, my wife and I warned him that if they played those games, he wasn't allowed to play. He told me he understood before we went, but you can guess what happened. Sure enough, when scouts was officially over and they all bolted for the door to head for the parking lot, he was right alongside them -- running with his limp. I called for him to come with me to go home and he had a meltdown. He started crying right there in the parking lot.

His friends were totally confused about what was going on, and I felt like the meanest father on Earth. He wasn't in trouble or anything, but I knew that all the twisting and dodging involved in playing dodgeball would not have helped him in the least. He kept repeating the words, "I'm fine! I'm fine!" to me. Nevertheless, I stuck to my guns and told him to come get in the car. To his credit and amazingly, he obeyed -- for which I'm grateful. He continued crying out "I'm fine!" all the way home (a 5 minute drive) and even into the house where my wife told him nearly the same things I did.

We reminded him how he needed to rest, how the doctor gave him a note excusing him from P.E. at school so he couldn't play now, either; and how the running and twisting of the game would not have helped him. Both of us challenged him to walk without limping, and being unable to do so, he told me that one of his legs was shorter than the other, which was why he was walking funny (I give him points for creativity on that one).

He kept asking to be taken back to the church so he could play the game, and we refused. By this time it was about 8:15, a good 45 minutes past his bed time. We could tell that some of his show of emotions was derived from his exhaustion. Sitting across from him trying to comfort him, I looked down and noticed that my fly was undone. Deadpan, I said, "Great, I've been walking around all night with my fly undone." The comment was so random and in his tired and emotional state, he thought that was the funniest thing he'd ever heard. It was like a giant reset button. He went to bed somewhat cheerfully after that.

I can totally understand why he was struggling with this. Our efforts to keep him from running around too much have been difficult, but his improvement is noticeable. Now that he's feeling slightly better, and getting used to being in pain, he thinks he can just run around like he normally would. He finds it difficult to understand that he needs to take it easy, now as much as a few days ago, so that he can heal, and we haven't been able to help him understand that concept very well.

Nevertheless, we're tough on him because we love him. Isn't that what parents do?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

My Paternal Grandmother's Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies

When I was a kid, my grandmother made the best banana chocolate chip cookies ever. I could eat them all day. Well, she passed away a long time ago, but last year I went to my sister's house to visit and she made these cookies for us. The smell alone took me back to my grandmother's house, and the taste, well, that took me back to her kitchen with her warm smile and gentle hands.

Tonight, we had some bananas that needed to be done in, so I decided to make these cookies with the kids. Of course, we'll probably eat far too many, but we'll do so with a smile. The recipe is a dump-and-stir, which makes it perfect for me and my kids to put together. It follows here:

2 bananas (medium sized)
2 eggs
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips (or walnuts, or both)

Dump, stir, and bake on an ungreased cookie sheet at 350 deg F for 10-12 minutes.

I tend to favor more chocolate chips, of course. Since they're full of bananas, I like to say that these cookies are "practically a health food!" My wife doesn't believe it, and regularly gives me a stern look when I say that. Still, they're delicious!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Reach

I really like this video. It gives me warm fuzzies.

The Day I Taught My Kids To Start A Fire With A Magnifying Glass

I'd done it before, but today was the day that the lesson sunk in. Even as I type, the kids are in the back yard finding things to burn. Will I regret this some day? Maybe. My older kids are fairly responsible, but I fear for my youngest son, who seems to be far more interested in this than he really should be for an almost-3-year-old. Nevertheless, this is something every kid needs to learn ... isn't it?!

3-Day Valentine's

My wife and I celebrated this past Valentine's Day over three days. We didn't really mean to, but it just sort of happened. We spent Wednesday night together, then Thursday we spent with the kids, then yesterday we spent with the kids and then went on a date late at night.

What we discovered was the following:
-- Flowers are insanely expensive to buy on Valentine's Day (I figured my $40 would be better spent elsewhere, and my wife agreed).
-- Flowers are dirt cheap the day after Valentine's Day, but they are the leftovers and look pretty haggard. Since I'd given my wife flowers the week before, we opted not to buy any at all.
-- A date can be just as fun with no plans as it can with plans.
-- Getting a table at a restaurant is much easier when there's only two of you instead of the 5 we normally are when we go out as a family.
-- The average age of the people at the mall on Friday night can be brought up dramatically by two people in their 30s walking in.

We like to spend Valentine's Day with the kids. It's as much a holiday for them as it is for us, and we want them to know that we love them, too (something that's tough to do if you leave them home with a babysitter). We had a fine dinner that evening with red-tinted, heart-shaped pancakes topped with whipped cream; pink scrambled eggs topped with melted cheese, and pink milk. The kids loved it. During the day, they consumed far more sugar than they should have, and my wife gave us all gifts (what a sweetheart!).



Last night for our little date, we didn't really do anything. We left the kids with the babysitter at 5, went and got gas in the car, bought some butternut squash soup from Trader Joe's, then headed over to the Elephant Bar & Grill for dinner. We split a grilled pork dish that had mashed potatoes, spiced apples, and sautéed vegetables, and we also split a side-salad. Normally a restaurant has either too much food or too little (the grossest of restaurant sins), but we've found this combination works best for the two of us.

Afterwards, we just drove towards the mall, no destination really in mind. We saw a Pottery Barn we didn't know was there, so we parked and went in. Of course, it's far too pricey there to buy anything on a whim (in our opinion), but we enjoyed just walking around. Then we went across the street to the mall, and literally just walked it's length one way on the upper floor, then came down and walked the it's length on the way back to the car on the ground floor. It had been a really long time since we'd just been together with nothing to do and went window shopping, and I really did enjoy it!

When we left, we headed over to a friend's house to pick up a book my wife wants to read, then came home. My wife took the babysitter home while I set up the TV to watch "Lost", which we had recorded the night before. While watching that, we had some coconut cream pie, which I had purchased from Marie Callender's two days before. It was great. When the show was done, we were so tired, we just went to bed -- reading for a while before turning the lights out at about 10 pm.

It really was nice just to be together. We enjoyed each other's company, and it was great to have some quiet time alone without the kids taking our attention. It's funny, Valentine's Day is a day to recognize the ones that we love. Society has changed this into a very commercial day where you're supposed to recognized your loved ones with gifts of various kinds. Well, we eschewed all that, and I believe we had a very meaningful time. I'm grateful for my little family, and I do love them with all my heart.

Happy Valentine's Day everybody!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

An Ode to Bad Poetry

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, so therefore men the world over are scrambling trying to think of something to give their loved one so that they aren't perceived as forgetful, cheap, neurotic, selfish, or just plain stupid. For me, gift-giving holidays completely freak me out. My wife gets so exasperated that I have the most difficult time thinking of meaningful gifts to give. She'll often tell me that just being together is good enough, but I know better; she really wants to be swept off her feet by her romantically-challenged husband. To this end, I occasionally try my hand at poetry -- what could be more romantic than that?

When I was a teenager, I used to write poetry all the time. I believe that the poetry that came from my pen was and is still quite good. What I have discovered, however, is that now that I am in a healthy and happy relationship with my wife, the words just don't fall together like they used to. Perhaps it is because my teenage angst, driven by hormones and loneliness, provided certain stimulants to the creative parts of my brain. I'm not really sure.

Nevertheless, I still try. Last year, for example, my wife and I celebrated our ninth anniversary (we are quickly approaching our tenth!). At that time, we concluded we should try to save a bit of money and instead just do creative gifts to each other. From this effort came the following poem, displayed here in all it's agonizing awkwardness:

2922

Two-thousand nine-hundred and twenty-two:
The number of days since I married you.
And during that time so much has gone on,
That I wish I could share it in a memorable song.
But since I can't sing, or carry a tune,
I'll do my best now to write this for you.

We've seen really poor times when we lived check-to-check.
We've seen really sick times with some pains in your neck.
Let me remind you of the one-room apartment
when your tonsils poisoned your body and throat.
Memorable days and, yet, just the beginning
As we started a family and, yes, started living!

Our children came, each one with a shout,
And let's not forget the one that fell out!
We're probably not done (so we hope anyway)
As we watch them, with wonder, grow more every day.
Each child is a marvel, with beautiful blue eyes,
That always remind me of clear summer skies.

When you met me, you were soon to find out
That I was the one who would take you about
From place to place and from state to state.
Even now we plan to broaden our plate
And travel to places and see things afar
And make some new memories to hang on our wall.

I remember in London the beautiful days
Where we saw so much, even a play!
We've stood within chapels and gazed upon castles
And at the top of St. Paul's we saw tens of cathedrals.
From the British Museum to Piccadilly Square
To Westminster Abbey, the tubes took us there.

And far from there, on the California coast,
We've gazed at the oceans and spent the most
Time that we could on the beach watching waves
As the sunset glistened down at the end of the day.
Drives up PCH, with the fog and twisted roads,
Betrayed flying kites and beautiful sail boats.

We've seen canyons, and mountains, small streams, flowing rivers.
We've seen farmland and ranches and buildings and bridges.
We've been frozen, so cold, that together we huddled.
We've been so hot sometimes that we wished we were naked.
We have flown, we have swam, we have run, we have crawled,
And best of all were the days that together we strolled.

All these memories, just a start, give me joy every day
And the best part of all is to know that you'll stay
By my side through it all, hand in hand, arm in arm,
To weather the winds and the sun and the storms.
These days, two-thousand nine-hundred and twenty-two,
Are just a start to eternity I will spend loving you.


It's truly bad, I know. It goes on and on, the meter is all wrong, and some of the lines don't even rhyme. But it came from my heart, and my wife was happy. Of course this might have been because I read it to her right before bedtime when she was completely exhausted and just happy to be going to sleep, but still, I gave it a shot.

So this Valentine's Day, I urge all of my faithful readers (all two of you) to be patient with your husbands when they write bad poetry for you. They are trying, really, and love you more than you can possibly comprehend, even if they can't form a single coherent sentence to express it -- let alone write you poetry.

And for all you husbands, usually your wife will just appreciate that you tried to write her poetry, even though it might be atrocious (and please ignore her when she acts delighted in the same way that she does when the kids bring home from school really awful art that looks like roadkill). Keep trying, for one day something surprising (in a good way) might result.

And Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Plan of Salvation

I went to lunch yesterday with a very good friend of mine. We've been friends for years, but have moved on in our professional lives down different paths. Nevertheless, we still get together about once a month to go to lunch and to catch up with each other's lives. In the past, he has always been reticent to talk about religion. He describes himself as a "deist", which to him means that he does believe there is some kind of all-powerful being who kick-started the universe and is out "there" somewhere.

Well, yesterday I felt it was important to ask him where he was with regards to religion these days. What followed was a most remarkable discussion that covered nearly every aspect of what is called the Plan of Salvation. To that end, I wanted to record the salient features of our conversation, as it was both intriguing and instructive.

The discussion began with my inquiry as to whether or not he believed in God. He was hesitant to answer, as he considers himself a man of science. Nevertheless, he did state that he believes that there is some being greater than ourselves who put together this universe. As an engineer and scientist, he sees too much order and pattern in the universe for it to have all been an accident.

I followed that question up by asking him if he believes that this supreme being, for lack of a better term, cares about our well-being. He replied that he thinks he/she/it does. He struggles with the concept of a benevolent God, however, because of all the misery and suffering that is in the world. He sees this misery and suffering as evidence that if there is indeed a benevolent God, then that God chooses not to interfere in the affairs of mankind.

I challenged him at that point by asking that if he is a hands-off God, why would he have created this universe in the first place? His response? He believes that it is this Supreme Being's intention to bring us all together in the end. I was surprised by this, as it sounds suspiciously like the scripture found in the Book of Moses, which I shared with him. It reads:

For behold, this is my work and my glory — to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

Then I challenged him again, stating that if this Supreme Being is hands off, yet it is It's intent to bring us all together in the end, then It messed up. He wondered how It messed up, and I responded that since there is so much misery and suffering in the world, then clearly the Supreme Being did something wrong. How could it be so Supreme and goof up the creation so badly?

What followed was an interesting discussion about the purpose of suffering. By his own words, he stated that people grow stronger by experiencing challenges in life. Again, it sounded so familiar; this is from the Book of Ether:

And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

I then shared with him that we believe that the Spirit is eternal and that we have always been. He agreed wholeheartedly with this principle, indicating that the essence of who we are is not some temporary flash in the universe, but an enduring entity, given life by this Supreme Creator for a purpose. Again, we agreed that this purpose is that we may all be together in the end.

Before we came to this Earth, we lived with this Supreme Being. I shared with him that before this Earth was created, God brought forth a plan, one where we would be given the opportunity to come to Earth, receive mortal bodies, and be tested by the challenge of free agency. From the Book of Abraham we read:

And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;

We must be challenged, we must have the opportunity to choose. This is our divine birthright. He agreed with this concept, and indicated that were it not so, if we lived in a world devoid of challenges, then even the smallest disagreement or injury would seem to us as the greatest of misery.

I told him then that at the time that God was proposing this plan for us, there was one who disagreed, who proposed an alternative plan that would make it possible for all of us to come back to be with God. Many at that time agreed with this alternative plan, and thought it good, but that plan, by bringing us all back to God, would of necessity deprive us of that divine birthright that we have been given: our free agency. This alternative plan, proposed by one named Lucifer, was rejected by God and Lucifer rebelled. From the Doctrine and Covenants, we read:

And this we saw also, and bear record, that an angel of God who was in authority in the presence of God, who rebelled against the Only Begotten Son whom the Father loved and who was in the bosom of the Father, was thrust down from the presence of God and the Son, and was called Perdition, for the heavens wept over him — he was Lucifer, a son of the morning.

Lucifer was cast out of heaven and was permitted to roam the Earth, tempting and trying mankind. The irony is that even in the very act of rebelling against God, Lucifer facilitates God's eternal purposes by providing temptation to those who come to Earth. The prophet Lehi gave these words to his son Jacob in First Nephi:

For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

So this life, then, becomes a time to be tested. The prophet Alma spoke of this, when contending with Zeezrom, when he said:

... this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead.

My friend was troubled by this. He is challenged by the fact that we will be judged by our deeds, since he recognizes that none of us are perfect. Further, it disturbs him that some religions proclaim that an evil person can repent on their deathbed, so to speak, and return to God, whereas a long-time good person can make one final mistake before dying and be banished to Hell. It can not be so black and white, he said.

I took the opportunity to express to him then that justice must be satisfied. I shared with him of the parable by Boyd K. Packer on the concept of justice, that illustrates the great need for mercy. Were it not for mercy, not a single one of us could return that God who gave us life. The prophet Nephi stated to his rebellious brothers:

Wherefore, if ye have sought to do wickedly in the days of your probation, then ye are found unclean before the judgment-seat of God; and no unclean thing can dwell with God; wherefore, ye must be cast off forever.

Clearly, we need a mediator, or savior, to pay our debt. In the book of 1st John, we read:

My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

We understand this to be the Savior of the world, even Jesus Christ Himself. He not only showed us a perfect example to follow, but took upon Him all the sins of the world. But there is still a price to be paid by those for whom He has done this: we must let him. We must exercise our free agency, our divine birthright, to allow the Savior of all Mankind to bring us back to that God who gave us life. This is done by accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior, through repentance, and by keeping the commandments.

Only by doing so can we overcome the two great obstacles that keep us from God, namely physical death and sin (sometimes called a spiritual death). Those who have done so can die with a calming assurance that all will be well, while those who die having done evil in their lives will pass on to the next life with fear and dread.

I explained to my friend that while traditional Christianity believes this to be the end, it most certainly is not. We still await the resurrection, where our Spirits are brought back together with a perfect, immortal body; and the judgment, after which we will finally receive our eternal rewards.

Alma the prophet spoke to his son Corianton on this very topic, saying, in part:

Therefore, there is a time appointed unto men that they shall rise from the dead; and there is a space between the time of death and the resurrection... Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection — Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life. And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow. And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of the wicked, yea, who are evil ... shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this because of their own iniquity, being led captive by the will of the devil. Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection.

I explained to him after expressing these sentiments that he was right -- it isn't as black and white as a simple heaven and hell. This judgment must come, and then all will be sorted into the appropriate place where they receive their just and happy reward. As the Savior himself said, as recorded in the book of John:

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

We know that there are different areas within the kingdom of heaven, sometimes called different glories, as recorded in 1st Corinthians by Paul the Apostle:

There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:

With this, my friend and I came full circle in our discussion. We once again came back to the question of whether or not he believes in God. He again expressed that he does, but does not believe that God is involved in the affairs of men. I asked him if he has ever prayed, and he said he does not, as he does not believe that God would lower himself to our level to answer our prayers, which he considers to be mostly mundane, repetitive, and selfish in nature.

He further repeated his observation that people the world over do the most atrocious and horrific things after having received what they consider to be divine guidance. Thus if some are inspired to do evil after praying, then certainly it can do no good. I asked him then how one is to learn the "truth" about God, and he replied, somewhat abashed, that he relies upon the "scientific method". He indicated that he tests and tries what he learns from all religions, seeking the common truth and that which feels right to him. He rightly notices that nearly all religions, for example, carry simple prohibitions against certain immoral behaviors, such as murder and theft.

I asked him if he could believe in a prophet, and he again said that he does not believe that any person can receive guidance from the Supreme Being since it does not deign to communicate with anybody. This made me very sad. My friend has literally cut himself off from all forms of communication that God has with His children, namely prayer and prophetic utterance, both living and dead.

Furthermore, he proclaimed that no one church can be "right", since by stating they are right, they, by implication, proclaim that all other churches are "wrong." It was with some irony that I was reminded of the words of one young boy who had similar feelings when faced with a great religious excitement. He was faced with many religions, each quite zealous to proclaim the truth, or their version of it, and was troubled by his inability to determine which was true. Indeed, this boy, Joseph Smith, later wrote:

In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?

As a 14-year old boy, Joseph Smith was humble enough to recognize that he needed help. He turned to the scriptures, which instructed him to pray to receive answers, and received a most glorious answer to his prayer. As a prophet of God, he taught the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and encouraged people to pray to know the truthfulness of what he taught, as well as to search the scriptures.

My poor friend refuses to do all of these. He refuses to read the scriptures, as, in his opinion, they are the so-called inspired (and contradictory, though he's never truly studied them) writings of prophets, which don't really exist. He refuses to contemplate that there might be a living prophet today, who could be receiving guidance and direction from the Almighty. And worst of all, he refuses to humble himself even in the least to utter a simple prayer of any kind. In this state, I can not fathom how my friend can ever truly understand in his heart even the most simple of Gospel truths.

Strangely enough, though, his search for truth using the "scientific method" has yielded him some understanding of divine principles. By and large he does live a moral life. He does seek to do good. He doesn't entirely know why, nor does he understand how his good works can ever be of benefit to himself. He does know that he has a role to play in reducing human misery and suffering, those very things which the devil himself brings to this world. I am reminded of another scripture, which explains his behavior. It was written by Moroni in his waning days:

For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God. But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.

And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged. Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.


My good friend does have this light of Christ, even if doesn't know it. It teaches him to be a good person and to recognize certain divine truths that encourage him to live a moral and honest life. I count myself lucky to be his friend, and even though I would not say this conversation with him was enlightening to him, certainly it was two good friends communicating matters of eternal importance. We left our lunch, both of us, agreeing to disagree in our approach to seeking the truth. We will meet again next month, and I pray that maybe something of what I shared with him will spark some greater desire to learn more.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Busy Saturday

Saturday was a great day. The weather was perfect, I spent a goodly portion of it with my children, and we got some stuff done on top of that!

The early morning was spent ignoring the kids as they played in the hallway (loudly) while we pretended it was still time to sleep. Then we got up and had a leisurely morning having breakfast and goofing off.

I went bicycling with my oldest son, going up to the top of the hill above our house where there's some dirt jumps to ride on. Then with a sly grin, I suggested we take a ride around the block. He thought that was a great idea and we started off. The way I took him, though, wasn't exactly "around the block" -- it was more like "around the range of hills separating my neighborhood from the one just to the west of us". I think it was something like a 3 mile ride up some really steep hills. We had a great time, though, going super fast down the hills, but we were tired and slightly sunburned by the time we got back!

By then, my wife was panicky since she needed to go out to do something and couldn't until I got home. When she came back, we went out shopping to go buy some flowers and other plants to put in our back flower bed. On the way home, we picked up some lunch from Burger King (the kids had earned certificates for free kids meals) and we ate lunch on the back porch.

Putting our youngest to bed, we then proceeded to garden. We worked really hard, getting most of the flowers in, clearing debris from our strawberry patch, cutting down some annuals that needed trimming, and generally cleaning up the back yard. The kids even spent some time weeding in the garden, doing a wonderful job.

About 1:30, we realized what time it was and we had to scramble to get my oldest ready for his basketball game at 2. We made it on time, though, and I enjoyed watching him play. He had a great game and really enjoyed himself.

Afterwards we came home and worked in the yard some more while the kids were playing in the water. My youngest was wandering around in a bottom-heavy diaper while my two older ones were wearing swimsuits. We worked hard until it was finally dinner time when we went inside and got the kids in the shower at various times. My oldest was quite motivated to get through his shower fast since we wouldn't let him play on the computer until he was done showering. My younger kids had a more leisurely bath.

For dinner we had leftovers from the night before (rice topped with a cream sauce with chicken, pineapple, chow mein noodles, and a few other tidbits). It was nice, and we had a pleasant evening together.

Before bedtime, we got out some glow sticks. We turned out all the lights and the kids ran around in the dark. We played a game where my wife and I would hide the glow sticks then they'd have to go look for them in the dark. One of them was such a bright green that it basically glowed so bright as to leave no doubt where it was -- my youngest was assigned to find that one. It was a great time.

Then my wife and I put the kids to bed, reading scriptures and saying prayers with them, and then had some quiet time together. We watched "Lost", which we had recorded Thursday night, and then just went to bed since we were so tired from the day.

It was a great day spent together as a family, with a good combination of work and fun.

In My Son's Classroom

I went to my son's classroom last Friday to give a presentation on Mars. They have been doing a unit on space and the planets, and my wife volunteered me for it (I wasn't unwilling!). It was quite a good time. The night before I had spent far more time than I should have putting together a presentation. My wife had asked a friend if we could borrow their projector so I could attach it to my laptop. Powerpoint and I are friends, so when I found out that I could do it this way, my fears of standing in front of 40 wiggly 8-year-olds without visual aids went away (thanks, wife!).

In any case, as soon as I went to the classroom, the buzz started. The kids were wondering who I was -- some knew already and felt really cool about that. My wife joined me with my youngest son, who occasionally would punctuate what I was saying with sound effects ("The rovers on Mars move really slow" = "Vroom!").

I set up the computer and the overhead projector so it was lighting up the white board at the front of the classroom. As soon as I put it on, there was an audible "oooh!" since my desktop background is a computer rendered version of Gale Crater on Mars and is, to be frank, nothing short of spectacular.

I then started in, talking about the relative size of Mars compared to Earth. I spoke about it's lesser gravity, it's thinner atmosphere, and how cold it is. The kids were so fun as they kept asking questions -- lots of them! These kids are really interested in this stuff, and it's unfortunate that most of them will lose that curiosity to the ease of video games and loud television.

Friday, though, they were just eating up the knowledge. They were most curious about two things: is there water on Mars, and have we found any aliens. (Yes, lots of it; and, no, not yet.). I showed them some overhead pictures taken from my spacecraft and compared them to some of the pictures taken by the rovers. They loved being able to see both perspectives, and even though they don't know why that was exciting to see desert-scapes filled with rust-colored rocks and sand dunes, they enjoyed it just the same.

At the end, as expected, they asked if anybody has actually been to Mars, yet. I told them that if everything goes as scheduled (which it won't, I'm realistic enough to know that, even if I didn't tell the kids that) then we should be sending people to Mars in the 2020s, right when they hit their own 20s. My comment of, "You could be some of the first people on Mars!" was met with raucous excitement.

At the end, I asked them if they wanted to watch a video, and, of course, they were enthusiastic about that, too. I put on a bootleg copy of a video circulated internal to my work back in 2003 that is a computer-rendered animation of the launch, cruise, and surface mission of the rovers we have on Mars. It was a huge hit. (The highly unofficial use of Lenny Kravitz's "Fly Away" music overlaid on the launch of the rovers is always popular ...)

In any case, I'm somewhat of a celebrity among the kids now. At my oldest son's basketball game on Saturday, two of the parents of the kids who were in the room were telling me how they loved the talk, but most especially the video, of course. It's tough to upstage a video ... ;)

I'm glad I had the chance to go and do that. It's always nice to be able to share something about what I do and what I know about Mars. These kids are good kids, but often don't ever get challenged to think big about their future. I just hope that maybe I sparked something in some of those kids to do just that.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

A Few Random Thoughts

I haven't posted much lately. Last week being what it was, I posted "privately" and held on to them for a while until I decided to publish them (1 and 2) now. Then this week, I've been back at work full-time again and every evening we've had something to do, so I haven't really had much time. Monday my oldest had basketball practice, Tuesday my oldest had scouts, last night I had a meeting at church to attend (Ward Conference Stewardship Meeting with out stake presidency ...), and tonight my wife will be at work and I have a lot of phone calls to make. Tomorrow morning I'll be presenting in my oldest son's classroom about ... something space related, haven't decided what, yet; and we will have the missionaries over for a dinner appointment.

Regarding my "private" posts, I did put up the first one and immediately got a comment on it that I should write this stuff in a journal and keep it private. I have two things to say to that: 1) This is my journal now, and 2) Why must we suffer in silence? Just because it was my wife who miscarried, do I as the husband not have my own feelings to express and have need for comfort? Ridiculous. So, the posts are up.

This week, I have been spending a bit of time at my other blog. I've been working a little on the new FamilySearch website and am delighted that I've actually been able to find some ordinances that need to be done! This is really big for me, since I've been an amateur genealogist for a few years now and have never been able to find any temple work that needed to be done. This new system is truly remarkable. The distance between the initial research and the temple work is so short now, that it is much more satisfying.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Quite a Sight

I'm subscribed to the "space weather" email notification list. Whoever "they" are, they send out notices every once in a while letting people know about upcoming astronomical events. Typically, these show up and tell you about something that's going to happen at about 4 am in a few days. Clearly, this is absurdly early, so I usually take note then delete the email. Well, this happened last Thursday, with an email that reads:

MORNING SKY ALERT: Set your alarm for dawn. On Friday morning, February 1st, Venus and Jupiter converge in the southeastern sky less than 1 degree apart; they will beam through the rosy glow of dawn like a pair of celestial headlights. It's a spectacular view worth waking up early to see. The February 1st alignment kicks off four mornings of beautiful views as the crescent Moon moves in to join Venus and Jupiter over the weekend. Visit http://spaceweather.com for sky maps and photos.

As is typical, I took a mental note, had no intention of being awake that early, and deleted the email.

Well, this morning, I woke up early to go to work and as I was backing out of my garage and on to the street, what should appear above my house? Two planets and a crescent moon in the eastern sky. It was absolutely beautiful. The horizon was just starting to alight with that deep blue that comes in early dawn, fading into blackness overhead. The two points of light were higher in the sky, piercing the blackness like pin holes. The brighter of the two was Venus, and I was surprised at how bright Jupiter appeared; it was no meager companion. Beneath these two was the crescent moon, just a few days from a new moon. It hung beneath them in the bluer sky, centered as if it were dangling by strings from the two planets, tips to the right and features bright.

It was quite a sight, and I wish I would've had a camera with me to record it. Nevertheless, this picture was taken from somebody in Turkey hours earlier. My sky was bluer and it appeared from my vantage point that the moon was more beneath them, but it's a fair likeness.

10 PM Awakenings

My daughter usually wakes up at around 10 or 11 every night. We don't know why. We think it may be because that's just after we check on her and somehow we might be disturbing her sleep despite our best efforts. Usually she'll stumble out of bed, and if we don't intercept her, she'll turn on every light in the house between her room and ours until she comes creeping in, eyes shaded from the bright light, mumbling something about a dream she was having.

Well, last night, I intercepted her at her bedroom door, quickly turned off her light, and ushered her back to bed. Once there, the following dialogue ensued:

"Daddy ..."

I wait. I know there's more coming. Seconds pass.

"I think ..."

I continue to wait. Maybe she has something to tell me about a dream?

"I need ..."

At this point, I'm expecting her to ask for a drink of water.

"... a little bit ..."

Hmm, so much for the water.

"... of ..."

Then she winds down. Ten seconds go by. Twenty. She's still awake, still struggling to pronounce whatever it was that was on her mind, but I tell her, "It's okay, just go back to sleep."

To which she replies, gratefully, "Okay."

Then she rolled over and went back to sleep. Funny little girl.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Super Bowl

So my family isn't exactly big on watching sports. We have the kids play sports -- my oldest son has played soccer, tennis, and basketball and my daughter has played soccer, danced, and is now in gymnastics. My wife plays basketball on occasion, and I myself have played tennis, racquetball, baseball, and soccer. Notice the gap in all of that? Yes, my family is not into football. At all.

So today I came home from church and announced that we were going to watch the Super Bowl. My kids got so excited. They started running around the house and when 3 o'clock rolled around, and I announced that we were going to turn on the football game, they started cheering.

Then my daughter said, "But Dad, what about the super bowling?" Umm. Yeah. My wife and I looked at each other and started laughing.

"No, honey, the Super Bowl is a big football game."

"Oohhh," she said, a look of both realization and confusion on her face. I could almost see the next question (which didn't come) of, "So why do they call it a bowl?"

Yeah, we're not really into football. Nevertheless, my two older kids are now old enough to actually follow the game, so I insist that they be exposed to this, um -- what would you call it? -- cultural event. My wife disagrees, but she's off to choir practice, so ... ;)

Friday, February 1, 2008

Mortgage Rates

Ack. I feel like I had a rug pulled out from underneath me. Last week I was looking at the mortgage rates at my bank, and I saw, with some measure of shock and awe, that there was a 20-year fixed mortgage available at a rate of 5% (no points). This was astonishing to me, and I was ready to jump.

However, I also had a real good feeling that "the Fed" was going to cut rates again, so I waited a few days. Sure enough, "the Fed" did cut rates, but going back to look at my bank, the rate was now up to 5.75%! I called the bank, and asked, "What gives?!" and the person on the phone was less-than-helpful and told me pretty much that what I saw that day was what I could have got that day and I was then out of luck.

So now I'm kicking myself. I could have cut 6 years off my mortgage (I'm 4 years into my current 30 year mortgage) for about $200 more a month (which I think we can do right now), and would have saved about $200,000 over the course of the loan if I had jumped when I saw the 5% rate.

Argh. Now I'm obsessively checking the stupid rates every day hoping to find some other freakishly low rate, and when it hits 5.125% or lower, I'm calling and making them lock it in.

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