Monday, September 29, 2008

Out Shopping

My wife is out shopping tonight. Since we both have lost about 25 pounds, our clothes just don't fit us anymore, and we are in great need of just a few "in between" clothes until we get to where we want to be and can then shop with confidence. She's supposed to get me some new T-shirts, and she says she had a productive trip, but she isn't home yet to show me the results.

In the meantime, I took the time to do a lot of things that needed doing. I paid some bills, scanned some family pictures, and did a little online shopping for my wife's birthday party. The kids were zombies watching Aladdin (which they hadn't seen in ages because it was "too scary", but now, for some reason they can't explain, it's just fine ... go figure), so I was able to get an early start, and it's been a productive evening.

Now if I just would've had time to play a video game or two ... too tired now, though. I'm going to go to bed and read a book.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

What's in a Name?

My daughter is a silly little almost-seven-year-old. The other day, she came home and told me that she doesn't like her name. After very, very much discussion, I finally learned that she doesn't like her name because ... wait for it ... because she doesn't think she can hear very well. Huh!?

She's complaining that her hearing isn't very good because she can't hear what other people are whispering about, and can't read lips. I tried to tell her that when other people are whispering to each other, they don't want her hearing what they have to say, and that there are very few people in the world who are good at reading lips, but there's no convincing her.

I believe that she hears just fine, but most of the time she doesn't listen very well. There is a fine distinction there, that's for sure, but again, there's no convincing her. She is a very obstinate little girl, who has turned into a book worm of the best (worst?) kind -- a focused and determined reader who can ignore everything happening around her. We'll probably end up taking her to the doctor and have her hearing formally checked before she'll even consider the fact that her hearing is fine. Even then, she may not believe us, because she's still convinced she can't see well, despite passing with flying colors the vision tests they just did at school.

Anyway, so back to the name thing. She's been complaining that she wants a different name. We told her that when she's 18, she can pay the thousands of dollars it takes to make a legal name change. She didn't like that idea very much.

When I started one particular conversation, I flippantly said we could call her "Rose" because she's pretty, smells good (most of the time), but can be all prickly, too. To my astonishment, she loved the idea, and now she keeps complaining that we don't call her Rose. This name is unacceptable for a variety of reasons, but secondarily because I have another relative very close to me with that name.

Primarily, however, the name is unacceptable because it isn't what her mother and I named her. We gave her the name she has for a very good reason, and we love it. It is a cute name with a cute name-fragment that we call her most of the time. It matches her perfectly, and we have absolutely no intention of abandoning it on some youthful whim.

Even so, my wife and I have been having some interesting conversations with her. We spent some time talking with her about how names don't really matter, and I related a story to her that I had once read about a man who named one of his sons "Winner" and a different son "Loser", wondering if their names would define their person. As it turned out, things were exactly opposite in the long-run: Winner went to jail, and Loser was quite successful in life. This conversation mellowed her a little bit.

We even looked up what her name meant, and it turns out that her name is a diminutive form of a name that means "Pearl". Strangely enough, though we didn't know it, it turns out that with this meaning my daughter is named for one of her great-grandmothers (which makes her name just as good as her older brother's, which is from one of his great-grandfathers). When I shared this with her, she got contemplative.

During this last day, she hasn't been asking too much about it. My wife and I have pretty much decided to ignore any future pleadings to call her something else. We won't even entertain the conversation because it just upsets her; we will instead change the subject when it comes up. After all, she's got a perfectly good name which we love, and, well, we are her parents and that's what we call her.

Once I suggested that we should call her Malfooney Bibblesnap. She didn't like that at all.


So this post doesn't make much sense. On the one hand, I'm telling her that her name doesn't matter, but on the other hand I'm telling her that her name is important. So, whatever. It's late at night and I'm tired.

Bottom line, the most important name is her last name. I would that she would respect it, and set a good example so that people would always associate the family name with honor and reverence. I once started telling her about this, but it soon became apparent that she is just too young to comprehend that principle -- or at least was not in a fit frame of mind to comprehend it. Many phrases come to mind, such as "Remember who you are!" and "What are you doing with my name?" Useless to an almost-seven-year-old

It's a phase. It will pass.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Post-Vacation Thoughts

This past week, my family and I took a vacation to Utah to see my wife's oldest brother get married. His first wife passed away earlier this year after being deathly ill for decades. We were delighted to be there to enjoy the company of his new wife, who is a very kind woman whom I'm sure will make him very happy. The temple sealing was beautiful, and the tears in his eyes as the sealer spoke of children were moving -- children were something he never thought he could have because his first wife couldn't have children after beating cancer shortly after their marriage. We hope they can have children immediately.

The trip was a pretty good one. We took the 12-hour drive in one long stretch last Wednesday, and arrived late that evening. The kids had to do homework nearly the whole time in both directions. With them being gone for 6 school days, we had to sign a "contract" to make them do school work during their absence. It's ridiculous -- can't a kid just cut school for a week and call it good?!

The following morning I took some time to go down to Provo to visit my grand-aunt, my paternal grandmother's sister and the last living member of that generation in my immediate family (she's 84). We had a delightful time visiting about our family history. She shared stories from her youth and we walked through a bunch of pictures I had so she could tell me who all the people were. She also sent with me a pile of photographs to scan and mail back to her. I was delighted, and recorded the entire conversation. Probably the best part of it was hearing her giggle at one picture of her on a horse with two of her siblings. It was downright precious.

That evening we had a family party with most of my wife's family. We went to the condo where my wife's parents are living while they are missionaries in Temple Square, and it was alternately loud, raucous, and deafening. There were far too many kids in a confined space -- my three children are loud enough without being inspired by their cousins ... It was great to see everybody, and it was the first chance I had to visit with the new soon-to-be-sister-in-law-in-law.

The next day, I went with my brother-in-law-in-law out to Antelope Island to help some people put up some hot air balloons. I'd never done anything like that, and after considering how rare an opportunity it was, I decided to go despite being completely exhausted. I got up at about 4:30 AM, showered, and rode in the car half-dazed, only to stand around for two hours while the wind failed to cooperate. Eventually, three balloons went aloft and I got some great video and pictures of the whole experience. I wish I would have been able to ride, but I didn't really expect that I'd be able to. Nevertheless, I'm glad I went!

My wife stayed "home" and made the wedding cake, which turned out beautifully. The wedding itself went very well on Saturday. They were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple and we took pictures on the grounds afterward. The kids were so excited just to be there that they asked if they could go "touch the temple." I laughed at that, but of course let them go and do so. They really enjoyed themselves, even if they were a bit uncooperative for family pictures.

At the family "lunch" afterwards, it was a good time, as well -- basically a repeat of the family party with the in-law's family under foot. Nobody, as far as I could tell, mingled with the other family. Everybody was cordial and smiles all around, but there were just too many people to try to have a meaningful sit down visit with anybody.

The next day, we were at my parents' house and we had a family party there, too. Three of my siblings were able to come out: my two brothers and my second sister. Their families being with them, my children had a great time just running around being silly. My youngest, in particular, seemed the happiest as he had a new place to explore, new toys to play with, cousins to follow around, and, most importantly, new trucks to play with (big metal ones from decades ago). He was very sad to leave on Tuesday. I really enjoyed the party, despite a few unfortunate events. I had the chance to visit with all of my siblings in attendance and had good conversations, I think -- better than I usually have with the kids zipping around like maniacs. As it turns out, one of my brothers and his "new" wife are looking to adopt a few children! We're very excited about the possibilities, though it will no doubt be a hard road to travel for them -- they're looking to adopt older children, which usually come with a lot of emotional baggage for the trip. Nevertheless, what an amazing thing they want to do!

The next few days, we pretty much spent the time visiting with my parents. I managed to cajole my parents into "interviewing" with me about their youth and about their family history. I recorded this, as well, and have a lot of neat stories now. I'm grateful they were willing to put aside their fears and humor me. My parents are awesome, and have lived wonderful and honorable lives, even if they often think they haven't accomplished much (hah! 7 kids ...).

On the way home, we split the trip into two days. We drove halfway to St. George, stopping in Hinckley to visit some of the homes that my grand-aunt had mentioned. She drew me a map of where everybody lived when she was a child, and most of the homes are still there. We stopped to take pictures, then found our way to the local cemetery where some of my ancestors are buried. I took pictures of the tombstones and was grateful for the excursion. It was humbling to be where they worked so hard to scratch an existence out of the desert soil -- it is now a beautifully green farming community.

Our stay in St. George was at a hotel with an indoor pool. We swam in the morning, then hit the road. My son was recovering from having a touch of diarrhea so it seemed he was asking us to stop every 5 minutes so he could use the bathroom. Truth be told, he was just paranoid and wanted to pee every time he had the slightest urge to do so. It was infuriating, but what can you do?

After coming home, we found our house in good order. While we were gone, we had new tile laid in the entryway and kitchen, which looks beautiful. The house has a fine layer of dust on everything, and we still have a lot of putting away to do, but it sure is good to be home.

We did find that one of our fish, which we had called "Oreo" due to his black and white spots, has now changed into a "Calico". It has orange spots and most of the black has faded to white. Weird.

And, happily, I didn't put on any weight while on vacation! In fact, I took 1 1/2 pounds off! Thanks to my wife, who worked really hard to meal-plan and pack up food to take with us, this trip went great and didn't derail my diet. I'm now down about 27 pounds! All my clothes are hanging off me (my work pants won't stay up!), but I don't want to go buy any more until I'm done losing weight -- probably another 5 or 10 pounds.

And last night, after getting home, we went over to the Raingutter Regata for my oldest son. His cub scout pack had their competition and my son took 2nd place! Not bad for a kid with asthma-in-remission. In the few races where he lost, he didn't take it well, so we have some sportsmanship lessons to teach him, but it was still a pretty fun experience.

It's been a very busy and exhausting week. Now that we're back, we're starting to get re-overwhelmed by all that lies ahead. It's incredible how family life is just one long to-do list that adds two things whenever you check off one. Nevertheless, it's still a good life.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A True Moment of Peace

I'm sitting upstairs in my "office" on a conference call for work. My two oldest children are at school, my youngest is off playing quietly somewhere else, and my wife is down by the piano singing a lovely tune. I don't even know what song it is. Nevertheless, it's peaceful and wonderful, and right now life is pretty good.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Funny Headline

The linked article has a funny, and eyebrow-raising, headline:

Big Bang experiment gets turned on.

You know somebody somewhere (or is it Robert Evans, the author?) is laughing his head off. Too funny.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Diamond Head

Diamond Head in south Oahu was awesome. We took the Pali Highway in the morning over the mountain from Kailua, stopping along the way hoping to get some pictures. It was too foggy, but we did discover that Hawaii has an awful lot of free-roaming chickens, which we would continue to encounter at random times throughout our stay on both Oahu and Maui.

Anyway, Diamond Head: it's a crater -- a really big crater on the southeast corner of the island just east of Waikiki (which we elected to avoid -- the drinking, hard-partying scene isn't our thing) and just west of where we later went snorkeling in Hanauma Bay. We arrived early enough that we were able to drive through the tunnel that takes you into the crater and park inside, instead of having to park outside the crater and hike in (which is over a mile walk).

[Image 1882]

Once inside, we were surprised to find that most of the area is covered with fields and scrub trees. It wasn't exactly the lush green that you expect of Hawaii, and reminded us more of home where we live in a chaparral region. In any case, we parked and soon started our hike up the mountain. Looking from the bottom, it doesn't really look like it's that far up, but after climbing it, it really isn't for the fainthearted.

[Image 1881 cropped]

All told, it was a lengthy hike, much of it with stairs to climb. I took a picture of the sign that describes the hike.

[Image 1880]

With steep inclines, switch-backs, tunnels, and great staircases to climb, it was quite an interesting hike up. If one had a fear of heights or suffers from claustrophia, it definitely wouldn't be a trip to take because the top of the steps is not only really high up a steep incline, but also ends up being well-enclosed by shrubbery and the mountain all around you.

[Image 1868] Switch-backs

[Image 1808] Tunnels

[Image 1866] Staircases

Once we got to the "top" we were surprised to find ourselves inside an old, giant, concrete military base that had been built into the mountain. The history of the facility was quite fascinating to learn, and it was quite clear to us why its location would be of value as a military facility. Climbing around inside, we could envision giant guns placed within the concrete structure, and could only imagine the deafening roar when they would go off.

[Image 1810]

Much of the facility was closed, all of it was gutted of anything interesting, and it was largely falling into disrepair. I was saddened by this, and thought it would make a riveting museum if it were done up properly. I was reminded of the underground Cabinet War Rooms that Winston Churchill lived in during World War II (which my wife and I visited several years ago), and while no famous person led a war in Diamond Head, a little museum to talk about the lives of those who lived and worked inside the crater's edge would have been fascinating.

Once at the top, however, my wife and I both had fun playing with our new camera. She had a delightful time zooming in on palm trees that were far enough away that we could barely tell which one she was looking at with the naked eye. We also were able to take a picture of our car from the top of Diamond Head! A 10-times zoom in a little hand-held camera is a pretty amazing thing. Nevertheless, we also enjoyed looking around at the lighthouse to the south of the crater, and I took a full panorama for the fun of it. Click on the image and scroll to the right to see what I mean.

[Image 1816] Stitched

The climb up was exhausting (we ended up stopping at the top of each flight of stairs), and the climb down was painful (we really had to go to the bathroom!), but it was very well worth our trip. At the top, we spent a long time just looking. The ocean was absolutely beautiful. We could see Honolulu in the distance, ships passing by, helicopters buzzing around (below us!), and we think we even saw some whales. At the top there was this metallic cover thing to the stairs that didn't have a good way up -- I climbed up anyway and really enjoyed being as high up as I could be. My wife stayed safely below. There were a lot of people milling around the very tight viewing areas, but we just took our time, enjoyed the scenery, and appreciated the beauty all around us. We even took some time to take some really silly pictures during the walk.

[Image 1879]

Um, yeah.

We had a great time!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Exhausting Day

It really has been an exhausting day today. I "slept in" until about 7:30 and then got up and got ready for the day. At 9 I went out to go walking precincts for the November proposition, and then right afterwards I scrambled over to meet my wife and kids for lunch at Carl's Jr. (I had a grilled chicken salad -- it was pathetic compared to McDonald's Southwest chicken salad, which is really quite good ...). At 1 pm, I took my daughter and we scrambled over to her first soccer game, where I ran around the field and refereed for that hour. Then we came home in time to meet with a good friend (who is a contractor) of ours for an estimate on the new tile floor he's going to install for us. Since then we've been chilling out trying to cool down.

None of these things seem particularly challenging by themselves, but the temperatures have been really high today. With the temperatures soaring into the high-90s, low-100s, I was heat exhausted even before going to run around the soccer field with my daughter. My poor little girl, who had also gone to gymnastics from 11 to 12, was simply unequipped to perform any athletic feats during her soccer game. They got so clobbered (the other team scored about once every minute) and they were so miserable in the heat that the coaches agreed to call the game 10 minutes early. I feel bad that her inaugural soccer game went so badly, but I can't really fault them for a bad performance. The girls just simply didn't have it in them this week, and were lacking a few key skills that would have made all the difference.

Hopefully next week will be better, and the temperatures cooler. And there's no way I'm mowing the lawn today ...

Friday, September 5, 2008

On Sitting

My wife and I are taking a break from all useful evening activities (mostly). This past week, aside from my wife going to cub scouts and me making calls for the bishopric, we have done absolutely nothing of intrinsic value. This is quite an accomplishment for us, as our evenings are usually filled with places to go, things to do, stuff to achieve, people to call or visit, etc.

Over the summer, and especially since school started, we've felt quite overwhelmed with life in general. So, once the kids are in bed we have looked at each other, and asked "What do you want to do tonight?" The answer? Without fail, the answer has been "I want to sit."

Now, the word "sit" in our household actually means that we lounge on the couch and watch television. I read somewhere that the average American watches 5 hours of television a day -- I can't even fathom that! We probably average about 1 hour a day, if we can stay awake that long. Since there's no shows on TV that we want to watch right now, we've been watching old Stargate SG-1 episodes, and loving it. Watching one episode a night, we've been working our way through season 10 and enjoying every minute of it (though we'll be really sad when we finish it!).

I would feel guilty about not accomplishing anything. After all, the checkbook needs to be balanced, my wife's scrapbooking is woefully behind schedule, we could work on genealogy/family history, the laundry needs to be folded, and the house could stand to be cleaned, but you know, we're taking a break. I would feel guilty, but really, this week, all I want to do is sit.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Callings I've Held

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and since there is no paid ministry therein, each and every member is usually given the opportunity to serve in one capacity or another. Ever since I was a kid, I've pretty much had at least one calling. Thinking back, it was a little difficult to reconstruct the callings that I've had, but I've taken a stab at it here:

-- Deacons Quorum President: I don't remember much about this calling. I was young, dumb, and I think I only had this calling for a few months before I moved on to the teachers quorum.
-- Teachers Quorum 1st Counselor: I don't remember this one, either. It was a long time ago, and I do remember being grumpy that I wasn't named as the president. It's probably because of this attitude that I was never asked to be the Bishop's 1st Assistant (the Priest's Quorum analog of a president) when I became a priest.
-- Home Teacher: When I was a teacher, I was assigned to be the home teaching companion to my father. He took me out faithfully every single month and we went and visited the really old people he'd been assigned to home teach for, well, forever, I think. I really hated it as a youth, but getting into college, I realized that my father had shown me an amazing example of one who does his duty. I now have a powerful testimony of home teaching, even if I do miss visiting with a family for which I am now responsible every few months.
-- Name Extraction Specialist: I was asked to do this in college, and I hated every minute of it. Since it was a self-starter calling, I went over to the church a few times and typed in a few pages of names into the computer, then never went back. I've had guilt about it to this day. If my memory serves, I was called to this calling twice in different years -- and the 2nd time didn't go any better. Ironically, I'm now quite interested in genealogy. This calling no longer exists in favor of being called to be an Indexer.
-- Full-Time Missionary: Yep. Did this. On my own dime (sorta, my parents paid for me). Went to the Texas Dallas Mission (mostly East Texas, really), speaking Texan. It was hard work, the heat and humidity were miserable, and I ate a whole lot of good steak. I met some great people, had respectable success, but I have absolutely no interest in going to "the South" ever again. I love missionary work, and I'm the person I am today because of that experience.
-- Trainer: As a missionary, I was asked to train two new missionaries. In all honesty, the months I spent as a trainer were the best months of my entire mission. I had some wonderful experiences teaching my two "greenies" how to be missionaries, and was grateful for that trust.
-- District Leader: As a missionary, I was eventually named to be a "District Leader" for a group of missionaries. It was mostly just a babysitting job to keep the Elder missionaries out of trouble, to keep the sister missionaries from killing each other, to collect reports every week, and to run meetings.
-- Ward Mission Leader: After I came home from my mission, I was asked to be the Ward Mission Leader in my student ward at Utah State University. I was spectacular at this -- literally baptizing HALF the non-members in my ward! 50%! Truly! Of course, there were only two of them, and the one that got baptized was my roommate who was dating a member girl, but hey ...
-- Elders Quorum Instructor: This calling was one of my all-time favorites. I taught twice a month in Elders Quorum for years. It was the best because the prep time was minimal, the audience always participated, and it was a "Sunday" calling. I did this calling in two different wards.
-- 11-Year-Old Scoutmaster: This calling was hands down the most difficult one for me. Being responsible for a half-dozen kids with varying levels of interest in the scouting program was very challenging. I took over after a deadbeat, so the kids knew nothing and had terrible attitudes about the whole thing, so I had my work cut out for me. I eventually did push the kids so that all of them were "First Class" by the time I was done with them, but I have to admit I wasn't the greatest at that calling. Happily, many of the boys I helped kick-start at that age continued in the scouting program and became Eagle Scouts -- even one who I'd considered "high risk". I'd like to think I had something to do with that, but who knows?
-- Gospel Doctrine Teacher: This calling was a lot of fun. I team-taught with another fellow, so I was again teaching twice a month, but this time to a much larger adult audience in Sunday School. I did this for over three years, teaching all or part of all the books of scripture. I learned so much and when I was finally called into something else, I really missed it.
-- Executive Secretary: This calling is what I'm doing now. My Bishop asked me to do this calling because he knew I was an organized nerd, and something about "feeling it was right". I've been doing it for a few years now, and I have really learned to enjoy it. One thing I discovered is that because of this calling, I now know eeee-verybody in the ward. Really. Everybody. It's weird. I like it.

So, there you have it. Every calling I've had since birth that I can remember. It's a pretty decent list, and I'm sure it'll be twice, if not three or four times, bigger than this by the time my life on Earth is done.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Book Review: Breaking Dawn

All right, I'm about six years late (it seems) on writing this review. I actually just came in possession of "Breaking Dawn" this past week, and, shockingly enough, this one sucked me in. In fact, I pretty much just sat around all this past holiday weekend (it was Labor Day, I think) reading this book, much to the chagrin of my very loving and patient wife. (Truth be told, she couldn't very well tell me not to be a lazy bookworm, as whenever she's got a book she really wants to read, she's not much better!)

Let it be known, however, that I'm a guy, and I'm a guy who really likes science fiction (not fantasy, mind you, which really should never be placed on the same shelf as science fiction in a book store, in my opinion), so the fact that this one actually engaged me was remarkable. I'd read the earlier books, and they all seemed to have far too much romantic nonsense to be worth all the crazy attention they had received.

With this last book, however, I feel like Stephenie Meyer finally got around to story-telling. Interestingly, I believe I'm a lone voice in the crowd in that I believe this book was far superior to her previous books. All the previous ones, if you deleted all the mental gyrations of the protagonist, could probably be summed up tidily in a 20 page, illustrated chapter book. To me, their only redeeming value was in setting the stage for this book, which was sharp and fast-moving and veered left, and then right, on it's way to the final conclusion.

I consider myself a fairly sophisticated reader, and it takes a lot to truly engage me. Yet this book not only did that, but it actually surprised me -- not just once, but several times. This, despite having been privy to several key spoilers. Some of the criticisms I've heard are about how the book predictably ended -- to that, I say that I like "good" endings. Others criticized the introduction of a second point of view -- I thought adding that second voice introduced a wonderful dimension to the story and gave us a richer experience. Indeed, if she had added one or two more voices, I may have been even happier (Edward, Carlisle, or even Alice?! -- now that would have been a challenge ...).

In any case, I must actually recommend the book. If it wasn't for the fact that you couldn't understand it if you didn't first read the other books, I'd say skip them altogether and save your time to savor this one, but they do provide needed context. Nevertheless, this one pleased me well, and I give credit where credit is due. Good job, Stephenie Meyer!

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