Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Eve Eve

Random post. Fair warning.

So it's the day before Christmas Eve and things around the house are settling into a fine holiday daze. The kids have been off school since last week, and are alternately stir-crazy with boredom or so anxious for Christmas to come that they can hardly stand it. Many have been the discussions about whether each of the kids has ended up on Santa's "Naughty List" or his "Nice List" -- taunting each other about the former, but deep down believing they're on the latter.

Now that I'm mostly home for the Christmas break, my children have different approaches of utilizing my presence. My younger son finds new and interesting ways to make me feel guilty for not being able to spend all my time playing Legos with him. My daughter doesn't seem to care about my presence one way or the other, so long as her reading time isn't interrupted. My oldest son? He spends his days trying to figure out some way to convince me or his mother to let him play video games all the time.

My wife will have them doing all sorts of crafts and other yearly traditions tomorrow, but for now things are pretty settled. We've got Christmas music going in the background, and I've been trying to wrap up my work responsibilities for the next few weeks. My wife is upstairs downloading even more Christmas music from whatever free sites she can find, and we're all just happy to hang out together. We've been playing board games (the non-electronic kind, much to the dismay of my older son), and my wife has been engaging the kids in baking (and eating) and doing crafts.

Truly it's good times. To me, though, it is odd that the kids will never know in their youth what it means to live in a place where it snows a lot, and gets miserably cold, and you have to worry about your car starting, and shovel the walk, and get to eat icicles (while their parents tell them not to), and walk to school in the snow (or just walk to school), and go sliding down a frozen driveway, and get so cold you can't feel your fingers, and build snow forts, and have massive snow fights, and build snow caves and igloos (really, few people can actually do this, but I did when I was a kid!), and have to take extra shoes with you to school so you could change out of your soggy boots, and goof off in the snow.

But they will know what it's like to do absolutely nothing, and watch Christmas movies, and sit in front of a fire, and drink a lot of hot cocoa, and read books during down time, and just be together as a family. And you know what? That's okay with me.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Weird Dream

Last night I had a weird dream. It was absolutely chock-full of references to things I've seen on TV or about other common-place things. It started with me sitting in a room that looked very much like a church, but later I concluded it was a school. There were benches or pews set in rows lined up throughout a large room which had at it's head a very large object covered in a sheet. Some fellow at the front of the room was expostulating about how wonderful his invention was and how he gave it a lot of smarts. After all his talk, he unveiled his mighty creation, which was ... a large robot chicken.

It was beautiful, with feathers and everything, but was more erect with a short neck. However, it was clear things were a little weird because it had a machine gun mounted on its chest. Of course, the thing went haywire and immediately killed its creator, who died, strangely, in a burst of feathers. It then turned on the group and everybody ducked down behind the pews. We heard machine gun fire and then we were calmly directed by a robotic voice to leave the room row by row, section by section. It didn't quite happen that way, but certain groups were allowed to leave while others were held hostage by the mighty robot chicken.

I myself managed to get out, but being somewhat familiar with how robots can break, I circled around the back of the building and found a way in. There was a long, white, brick-lined hallway down which I found an accessway to the rafters of the stage behind the robot chicken where quite a few people were fearful and hiding. Somehow, me and another fellow managed to reach down far enough to literally wrest the head off the top of the chicken. We frantically worked to take it apart, noticing that, yes, the robot chicken kept running around with its head cut off. As we pried the robot head apart, we noticed it was composed mostly of plywood with a few lights and cameras mounted inside of it. Indeed, the computer "brain" was nowhere to be found.

We looked around and saw the robot chicken -- sans head -- make its way across the auditorium, destroying pews and scattering people as it went. I looked down and saw the equipment that had a diagram of the robot chicken and it showed that there were two seats in the upper right chest of the chicken where people could be held. Why it was over where the human heart would be, I don't know, but that's where it was. It was unclear to me if the two people who could sit in those seats were in control of the chicken or not, but me and the other fellow somehow knew that the two people inside the robot chicken were being held hostage by the nefarious device, to what end we did not know.

Soon we managed to identify the exact coordinates of one of the people, and teleported him to where we were on the stage above the rafters. The fellow was non-nonplussed, not seeming to really care that we had "rescued" him, as if it didn't matter one way or the other, but he told me how the chicken could be destroyed. The robot then destroyed the side of the auditorium and started making its way across the parking lot, destroying cars as it went and causing people to run in every direction.

I just happened to have a military radio with me, so I made a call and as we watched from the window to the side of the auditorium, a helicopter came along with a bucket beneath. It flew over the chicken and dumped water on top of the rampaging robotic monster, and we saw a beautiful light show as it short-circuited and eventually fell over. Yes, the headless robot chicken had been drowned by nothing less than rain from the sky.

You just gotta love the unconscious mind.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Winds of Change

The past few weeks have gone by without much happening. The Christmas season is very much upon us and we have been enjoying the season as best we can. Lately, the weather has been terribly cold (for around here ... in the 40s) which has encouraged us to stay inside to keep warm. Hot chocolate, a warm fire, and a half-done puzzle on the coffee table are regulars in our home now as we enjoy spending time together as a family. Truth be told, though, the whole season has so far gone by so fast that we don't really feel like we've been able to truly experience it as we wish we could.

I've lamented my personal feelings about the unfriendliness of time before, but lately I've been feeling it quite keenly. My children seem to be growing up before my eyes. In particular, my youngest child is mid-way through his only year in preschool, and recognizes every alphanumeric character and recognizes every letter sound and can even do rudimentary math. How did he get so grown up?! Worse, though, he's been experimenting with "grown-up" behaviors, such as blatant disobedience and lying. We could do without that ...

But life doesn't ever sit still. At work, I feel like I've lost the whole year ... it feels like it should be February or March, not December, as I'm not done, yet! with that with which I need to be done. I look over this past year and my memories don't seem complete on the events that have occurred; they're like photographic flashes of places and people, rather than a continuous narrative of experience. For example, I'm certain my wife and I took an exceptional vacation for our anniversary in the spring, but that seems like a very vague and disjointed event, the details of which are not well-affixed in my memory. Our summer and fall excursions to Yellowstone and Big Sur, respectively, also feel like strange and distant experiences during which some other person took good notes and lots of pictures (um, I guess that was probably my wife ...). I know we had great times this year, but it feels like things have just happened so fast! It's not terribly fair.

In all honesty, I've been really content with life. Our little family is healthy and safe, we've managed to hold our own in the midst of the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression, and we're doing those things which we love to do. My kids welcome me home with a running hug and are always happy to see me. It's one of those times of which I wish I could take a snapshot so that I could go back and re-experience all the emotions and thoughts and feelings whenever I want.

But it is not to be. My kids do continue to get older, with all the blessings and troubles that that implies. My body continues to gain more creaks and groans as time goes on. The kids keep getting taller and heavier, which only contributes more to my aching back when they insist on jumping up to give me a hug or that I give them a "horse-back" ride (only for my 4-year-old, mind you).

Even at church, things continue to change. We have each had our current responsibilities for several years, her as the stake music chairwoman, and me as the bishop's executive secretary. Recently, we have each received new callings, she as the ward activities committee chair and me as the family history teacher. These new callings are currently additive for both of us. For me, the new calling is a temporary duty, but for her it is additional duty until her old duties can be handed to another. It is a time of excitement, uncertainty, and hope.

Despite all these changes, though, the one thing in my life that I would never put on hold is the one thing that just continues to get better and better: my wonderful wife. Every day, I fall more deeply in love with her. Every day, the fine features of her face are more firmly etched in my mind, and the tender love of her kind and giving personality etched in my heart. Not a morning goes by that I don't tell her I love her; not a night expires without the words "I love you" being uttered. My first thought in each morning is of her warmth beside me, and my last thought of each night is a prayer for her well-being.

So it is that the winds of change continue to blow (right now at a frosty wind-chill of 38 degrees Fahrenheit). There's nothing I can do to stop them, except to bundle up against it, try to face into it with dignity, and do my best to land gracefully when my feet are blown out from underneath me. I just hope the blown out from underneath me part doesn't come for a while because the hot chocolate in my mug would spill ...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Mr. Family History Man

That's what I'm turning into. Consider the following:

-- Last month, my dad asked me to mail him a CD with a copy of the latest family tree that I put together. Instead, I sent him a DVD full of pictures, family histories, and census records ... oh, and the family tree.
-- Two weeks ago, the bishop asked for suggestions for a new teacher for a Sunday course on family history and I made a good suggestion of one of our current gospel doctrine teachers. Nevertheless, in the finest tradition of no good deed going unpunished, can you guess who the new teacher is? On top of the calling I already have as the executive secretary?
-- Last week, a guy at church asked me if I could give him a few suggestions on how to get around the new.familysearch.org website. Guess who had this fellow over for dessert this past Tuesday to walk through the process of submitting names to the temple?
-- Today I announced my intention to start my family history class in January to the bishop and his counselors and that I hoped to announce the class in Gospel Doctrine on January 3rd. Guess who is speaking on the subject on January 10th in sacrament meeting?

I just gotta learn to keep my big mouth shut.

Even so, my parents are now more excited about family history than they have ever been, people in the ward are coming out of the woodwork with excitement about taking my class, and my friend from church is going to take his own grandfather's name to the temple to do the long-awaited work, years after wanting to do it. And the sacrament meeting talk? Well, ... um ... I can't think of anything good to say about that.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Generation Gap

I finally talked my oldest son into reading a "grown-up", honest-to-goodness science fiction book the other day ("House of Suns", pretty good), and he absolutely loved it. With that, we finally convinced him that grown-up books, even if they're "old", can still be good. So last night I finally got him to read "Caves of Steel" by Isaac Asimov. This is the interchange we just had:

"Hey, kiddo."

"Hey."

"How's the book?"

"Good."

"Did you know that book pre-dates computers?"

"Huhn?"

"That book was written before there were computers."

"How did they type it?"

"With a typewriter."

"Oh."

Well, it wasn't a completely honest discussion. ENIAC was built in 1946, and the book was published in 1953, so there was a gap, but certainly it was written before what we'd consider to be the first personal computer came into being. And it was probably written by hand ... and then given to a secretary to type into text ... and then given to the printer to put into print-type, but you get the drift. There's a generation gap here ...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Follow-up on Fall TV

So, I scanned the most recent episode of Stargate: Universe and found a lesbian cuddling scene. No, we won't be watching that show anymore. That was the last straw. Bummer.

You know what really chaffs me is that on network television (not the barely more graphic cable) Hollywood pretty much portrays every gay and lesbian relationship in some sort of ideal way, as if those relationships are somehow more meaning, trusting, and loving, as they do what they do in the face of this supposedly horrendous outside opposition. So very rarely do you see a normal, traditional relationship displayed with such a positive spin. Maybe because that's not dramatic enough, I guess.

A few thoughts from the scriptures:

Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! 2 Nephi 15:20.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; ... Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, ... Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves ... for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful ... Roman 1: 18-31

A lot of these labels can easily be placed on the so-called champions of the gay and lesbian community, as they spew out their hatred towards those of us who have the gall to speak up against that behavior. I respect their right to choose; I just wish they'd respect mine.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fall TV

This fall there's been a lot of television that has intrigued me. Since I'm a diehard science fiction fan, I've been absolutely delighted by the introduction of new shows to watch that are of this nature, such as the new Stargate: Universe, FlashForward, and V.

My wife and I, however, are particularly choosy about what kind of television shows we watch because: 1) we have certain moral standards, and 2) we tend to wholeheartedly commit to what we watch. So, let me give the run-down of what has basically happened this fall.

First off was Stargate: Universe. We watched the first episode and were miffed at the gratuitous sex scene that was included. However, we know that directors have a tendency to put stuff like that in a new show's pilot in order to be "edgier" and to grab target audiences who like that kind of stuff. We saw the same thing with the original Stargate television show where there was nudity in the pilot episode, but it cleaned up nicely after that to face an astonishingly successful 10 seasons.

So it was that we had similar expectations for this new show. However, we have been terribly disappointed. Not only has the show not lived up to the "fun-ness" of the other two Stargate series, but it has already had several sex scenes in its brief run, one of which was quite ... blatant. We're not very happy about it since we have high hopes and are looking forward to seeing where it will go. We haven't given up on the series just yet, but we're very close to doing so. We're watching for that little ratings box at the front of the episode to see if the dreaded "S" is included and treading lightly. Time will tell.

With regards to FlashForward, we watched the first few episodes, but have been disappointed in just how ... gross ... it can be. We're not into the whole "medical procedural" thing, nor do we particularly enjoy hyper-violence, but what really broke us here was the gratuitous lesbian sex scene. I know our society has become more "open" to this kind of stuff, but, as I've said in this space before (often), I don't approve of that behavior. I don't mind that a main character is a lesbian, really I don't. I just don't want to see her making out with some other woman, and I think they could have skipped that whole thing and still got "the point" across.

So, we dropped it. I still follow the story-line, casually, but only because I'm curious to know where it will go.

Lastly was V. We'd been burned by the other two shows, so we approached this one with extreme caution. I scanned the first episode and was stunned by the level of violence. My wife really does not appreciate that, so we decided not to even start that one. Too bad, too, because I really enjoyed the original ...

So, here we are, well into the fall television season and we have no new shows to watch. Our old standbys still keep us pleased enough (Survivor, Amazing Race, The Big Bang Theory, and we're awaiting Lost's return), but I was really hoping for something new. Ah, well, there's always next year.

Why, oh, why, can't there be a new television show that skips the sex, the language, and the hyper-violence, and instead focuses on intriguing and dramatic storylines? Why can't somebody entertain me without offending my moral standards? Why?!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

All My Hawaii Vacation Posts

This is a list that I'm keeping of all the posts related to Hawaii that I have written or intend to write. When I write a new one, I'll update the time-stamp on this entry to make it the most recent, and then I'll add the hyper-link to the post in this list. Entries that have no hyper-link are those which I have yet to write (of which, when I'm done, there shouldn't be any). The order is time-listed with the oldest post listed first.

-- Getting Ready for Vacation
-- Pre-Vacation Checklist
-- Back From Vacation
-- Hawaii Trip - Day 1
-- Kayaking, The Sunken Island, and The King of Kapapa Island
-- The Halona Blowhole
-- The Laie Temple
-- Sea Turtles
-- The Polynesian Cultural Center
-- Diamond Head
-- Snorkeling in Hanauma Bay
-- The Spitting Rock
-- The Arizona Memorial
-- The Dole Pineapple Plantation
-- Sunrise Atop Haleakala
-- Little Friends: Lizards, Birds, and Bugs
-- Funky Flowers and Other Green Growths
-- Olivine Pools, Dragon's Teeth, and A Mighty Banyan Tree
-- Snorkeling in Halona Bay
-- The Road to Hana
-- Swimming in O'heo Gulch
-- Red and Black Sand
-- Striking Images
-- Just Me and My Wife

Sunrise Atop Haleakala

Okay, so it's been about a year and a half since we went to Hawaii, and I never did finish up the blog posts recording the experience. However, some friends of ours are headed to Maui tomorrow, and we were reminiscing about all the awesome things that we saw when we were there, and it occurred to me that I need to work on finishing up these posts. So, I'm going to try to get back to it.

One of the things we told our friends about was about Haleakala Crater. It is a volcano with a rim that rises above 10,000 feet, and we had been told that we should get up about 3 a.m. and drive to the top of the mountain up the very windy road in order to see the sunrise. We did so, even though we were totally exhausted, with hopes of seeing some beautiful sights. We were definitely not disappointed.

First off, though, we went prepared. It is a very strange thing to pack winter clothes when you are preparing for a trip to tropical Hawaii. Nevertheless, we had read how cold it gets up there, so with some of our excess space in our luggage (ha!), we packed in our heavy winter coats with hats, gloves, and scarves.

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We were very happy to have them! Some of the people who also went to see the sunrise arrived wearing shorts and T-shirts, and clearly hadn't done their homework. When the sun came up, they snapped their pictures and fled back to the warmth of the lower altitudes. We were amused by that.

The road to the top of the crater is a windy road with more switch-backs than we were willing to count. At that time of the morning, I was tired, but excited enough to keep awake for the drive. Truth be told, I absolutely loved it -- I'm one of those kinds of guys that really enjoys driving, and driving windy roads greatly amuses me. (Hawaii as a whole kept me grinning goofily through much of our driving time ...)

When we got to the top, we were impressed by how many people were there. There was a large parking lot a little lower than the peak where tourists could park, and one higher where those who worked at the observatory could park. Choosing our parking space, we got out and set up our tripod for the pictures. My wife instantly went into recording mode and started snapping pictures about every 30 seconds.

The view, though, was certainly worth it. We were amazed as we watched the sun rise above the clouds. Yes, we were high enough that we were actually above the clouds and the sun rose above them! From where we were, you couldn't really take in the magnitude of the crater below us because of its massive size. Nevertheless, the winds blew from the east and pushed clouds over the tops of the opposing crater rim.

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We loved how the sun lit up the edges of the clouds, like golden lace on a down pillowcase. It was spectacular.

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As the sun continued to rise, my wife snapped picture after picture. I can't really include them all, but you can see that the colors were splendid. The crater was dark below us, contrasting sharply with the light shining across the "floor" of the cloud-deck.

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As the sun continued to rise, we were able to discern more details in the crater beneath us, and the clouds began to thin somewhat as it slowly "burned off".

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Behind us, the crater was so large that it cast a magnificent triangular crater across the ocean to the west. I took this picture a little too late, but you can get an idea of its size.

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Later, we went on a little hike down into the crater. We were suffering preliminary effects from altitude sickness by this time, though, and dehydration, so didn't spend a lot of time there. We did get some great pictures, though, such as:

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Here's the east peak, surrounded by clouds:

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Here's a series of cinder cones inside the crater itself:

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You could even see the snow-topped peaks of the Big Island off in the distance:

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We truly felt like we were on top of the world.

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Of all our experiences in Hawaii, we think that the trip we took to Haleakala Crater was probably the most memorable. Just thinking about that experience makes my wife and I want to go back to Hawaii and enjoy the islands again. We want to do more hiking and more exploring. The trails into the crater were tantalizing to us, and if we had been better prepared we certainly would have taken advantage of that.

It was truly an extraordinary time. As pompous as it may sound, we felt like we were closer to our Savior up there, in a place that was special and holy. We have a better understanding of why it was in ancient times that the Lord came to the tops of the mountains when he spoke to His prophets. There was a peaceful feeling, an isolation from the burdens of the world, and a focus that didn't have anywhere else on our trip. It truly was a wondrous experience, and we are grateful for it.

Don't You Hate It When ...

You crawl out of a nice warm bed to step into a cold shower because the water heater's pilot light went out? This happens several times a year to me ...

On the bright side, my wife pointed out that my showers are a lot shorter when this happens, and then it also occurred to me that we save a lot of water that way, too ...

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Lost Art of Dating

My wife and I have a problem. We are dating impaired. I'm not even certain that we ever really knew how to date before we got married, and I think our dating skills have been deteriorating faster than the half-life of polonium-214. You should not interpret this to mean that my wife and I do not know how to connect. Oh, no. In fact, I believe my wife and I have an extraordinarily stable and supportive relationship. Indeed, our favorite past-time is just being together and we are greatly blessed to not only be a married couple, but to be best friends, too.

Our problem is that we simply don't know how to date. On the rare occasions we do decide to pay for a babysitter, we usually end up going to either a church function or to the temple. These are certainly worthwhile endeavors, but it means we don't usually have the opportunity to simply be alone, together, in a "courting" environment. When we don't do either of these things, it is often because we have identified the one of perhaps two movies that we actually are willing to spend money on to see in the theater in that given year. Going to movies certainly counts as a "dating" experience, but one can't honestly say that it is one where real "courting" actually happens, as few words are exchanged. Even worse, sometimes our "dates" consist of shopping or running other errands.

These kinds of "dates" are pretty much all we have been doing for a very long time. We do have the occasional exception, but they are few and far between.

The odd part about this whole thing is that it began so innocently. We met, dated, courted, and married in 5 months while we were college students. During this process, we were both buried in school work up to our chins and had no money.

Our dating ritual at that time pretty much consisted of spending nearly every waking, non-class time together doing whatever we each had to do. This included her coming to where I worked as a consultant in a computer lab and spending time with me there. She would even stay with me and fall asleep on a nearby spot of carpet when I was up particularly late working on a project. Oftentimes, we would spend our evenings studying next to each other (our courses of study were very different).

On rare occasions, we would go to the dollar movie to see some lame movie, or rent a video to watch. I don't recall if we went to any dances aside from the homecoming dance, though I'm sure we must have. Even so, our dating experiences were pretty thin on the ground, and not varied. We were busy, we were very broke, but we were happy. It was a good time.

Naturally, after we got married, we got down to the business of becoming adults. We finished school (still broke), and ultimately moved to California where we started our family and began saving for a house. We learned to be frugal and when kids came along, going on a date became an even more expensive outing ($20 for a movie, $15 to $30 for dinner, at least $20 for a babysitter ... it adds up!). To this day, though our finances are somewhat better, we still have a hard time spending that kind of cash to go to a movie that we could simply wait six months to get from the Redbox (love it).

Thus, our dating impairment has several root causes, in order: 1) we are frugal, 2) we are very busy with family and church life, and 3) we are uncreative.

Much to our surprise, however, my wife and I did actually go on a real, honest-to-goodness date last weekend. (Never mind that we had to schedule it a month in advance ... see cause #2) We got a babysitter, took a coupon (to alleviate cause #1) to the nearby Marie Callendar's restaurant, and then went to a place called "Fin's Glow Zone" (which addressed cause #3). It's a silly place with indoor miniature golf that is decorated with an underwater theme, prominently lit by black lights.

We had a great time. Truth be told, I enjoy being with my wife doing pretty much anything, which explains why we sometimes just go shopping together. (Can you believe we pay a babysitter to watch the kids just so we can go shopping?! Lame, I know, but it sometimes works for us.)

There, though, we acted silly and enjoyed the experience. The place was empty (on a Friday night? we don't expect the establishment to stay open too long ...), so we were not self-conscious about being dorky (not really a stretch for us ...). The golf wasn't all that spectacular, but it was a fun environment and we had a great time taking silly pictures. I lost (honestly) to my wife, which always makes her happy, which makes me happy. She taught me a few tricks about how to hold a golf club, and, truly, they helped. The whole being silly thing was really weird for me; I'm not really sure when I became a grown-up, but the experience felt a little awkward for me because my kids weren't around to be my excuse for being goofy.

So, some evidence. I had my cellphone with me, so I tried to take some pictures. They're nearly all fuzzy, but what can you do? Here's a picture of my wife being silly with a treasure chest behind her.

Here's one of her trying to look all sober and pirate-y with a pirate helping her steer the ship.

And here's one with me getting eaten by a shark.

And here's one with me standing beside Triton with my mermaid groupie behind me. (We didn't realize she was there when my wife took the picture.)

Anyway, it was a good time, but I definitely think that she and I need to do stuff like this more often because we are clearly out of the habit. We'll happily take suggestions ... got any?

"Hello. My name is Roy and I am dating impaired ..."

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A First Edition Book of Mormon

I went to a stake priesthood meeting last night, and had a wonderful time. The speakers were great, and spoke about the power of The Book of Mormon to change people's lives. One fellow, who was baptized just a few months ago, told his twenty-year conversion story as he lived his youth and young adulthood in the midst of worthy priesthood holders who set a good example for him. He told us of his doubts that he himself could be a worthy priesthood holder and that if he joined the church he might not be the member he knew he should be. It was quite inspiring as he outlined his experiences and told about how he finally came to the realization that he didn't have to be perfect, he just had to do his best.

Finally, the stake president got up and spoke about how important it is for us to keep the commandments in this ever-changing world where we are watching the disintegration of moral standards. He focused on how the Adversary, who throughout his talk he referred to as "The Great Distractor", does his best to distract us from that which is good, and to keep us too busy in our daily lives to do what's right. We were warned against the very insidious nature of temptation, and how a very simple slip in our obedience to the commandments, for which one can easily find an excuse or rationalization, can quickly lead us into full-blown wickedness if we fail to repent and correct ourselves.

It was a great meeting. The first speaker was one of the counselors in the stake presidency, and, as I mentioned, he spoke about The Book of Mormon. He had many copies with him that were special to him for one reason or another, such as the one he used as a missionary, one in a language that he gave away as a missionary, and several in languages from where his son's served or are serving their missions. The one that made me do a double-take, however, was when he lifted one of the first edition copies. He had, in his hand, one of the first 5000 copies that were printed in 1830.

As I sat and he gave his talk, I had the overwhelming feeling that I needed to go up there after the meeting and look at it. Clearly, it's just a thing, an item that, in the grand scheme of things, is temporary and unimportant. Nevertheless, I felt a need to go see it, as I don't know if I will ever have another chance to look at one again. So, after the meeting concluded, I went to the stand and asked the owner if I could examine it. He said I could, without hestitation, and I was able to pick it up and leaf through its pages for a few moments.

The book itself was unremarkable, aside from its good condition. It's binding was roughed up and the inside pages were coming loose, though I found none that were completely free. The opening pages had text that I did not recognize, as the preface from that original version is not included in the modern version of the book. I attempted to take a picture of it with my cellphone, but they turned out fuzzy in the bad light, but I found some photographs here that I've included:


The picture I took of the outside of the book came out acceptably un-fuzzy:

It's a funny thing, holding a piece of history. The speaker himself admitted that what saddens him the most about having the book is that he does not know its history. He does not know all who owned it, all who read it, those who were touched by its words, and even those who had possession of it but dismissed it as unimportant. Clearly its journey has been a meandering one, and I was pleased just to be able to hold it in my hand and contemplate its importance in so many lives.

Truly the words of God are great.

(Want a free copy of The Book of Mormon? Click here.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Little Bit of Catching Up

A lot has happened since I last posted. We had General Conference, both of my older children had birthday parties, we went camping to Big Sur (finally!), my daughter got baptized, and at work I had a big review for a software development that I'm leading.

A few words about each of these. First, General Conference: it was awesome.

Second, my kids' birthday parties: they were very loud.

Third, camping at Big Sur: it was a wonderful time.

Okay, okay, I'll say more than a few words ... and add far more pictures than I usually do ...

Driving up Highway 1 is the Best. Drive. Ever. I don't think we ever get sick of taking pictures along this coast. Here's one of the few pictures I took during the entire trip. My wife is sort of a camera hog (I don't really mind), so it has to be a special occasion for me to take a picture, and an even more special occasion to get it with her in the frame.

And of course the sun over the ocean is always gorgeous.

And we couldn't pass up a picture of a bird.



While camping, we took a tour of the Point Sur Lighthouse where the kids listened with rapt attention to the stories of how people lived up on the rock, hauling their stuff up the cliff face, and dealing with storms and the isolation. They loved hearing about the ships that wrecked (and the air ship that wrecked) and really enjoyed the experience. One funny thing was that the hike up the hill is about half a mile around the back of the light house, and at the top when the tour was over, my oldest son asked if there was going to be a tram to take everybody back down to the bottom. The guide about fell over at that question, but then couldn't help but laugh. Silly boy.



We also took a day and went to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium. It was totally cool, as always. With the kids being a bit older, we can move a little more quickly, which was good because we were late getting there. The kids did get a little bored at times, even with so much to see and do. It is a really neat thing to see them reading the plaques on the displays and aquariums and learning about everything. We always love standing next to the kelp forest and watching it sway back and forth.

We also love the huge tank where this time they had the only great white shark known to be in captivity. It was awesome.

My wife and I really do enjoy museums of any type (except maybe art museums) and it is nice to see that my kids, readers all, seem to enjoy them, too.



My wife is kind of crazy for jellyfish, by the way. This is only one of about six million photographs she took.


The kids didn't really enjoy hiking that much. It was "too hard" and "too hot" and "too steep", but, of course, when we reached the end of where we were going and they saw the waterfall, they were glad they had done it. However, we couldn't convince them to go on any more hikes after that.

We did spend some time at Pfeiffer beach, which is always a treat. The kids loved it, and my daughter found a way to voluntarily fall into the water, so she was soaked and cold by the time we left. They had a wonderful time climbing the rocks and playing in the sand, even though we had no swim suits and no sand toys.



But, of course, camping is all about the fire. We paid way too much to buy firewood from a grocery store (a grocery store! for wood!) and were very pleased to inherit firewood left behind by other campers, so we had a huge amount of wood to burn. The children, of course, were delighted to have "poker" sticks that they would light on fire and then wave around (yeah, we put a stop to that pretty quick ...). We had s'mores and cooked many of our meals over the fire. The campsite we were at was pretty good, too, with hot water for showers and a playground. Not exactly roughing it, but since we were there for a whole week, it was nice to have a few comforts. And the weather was great, too. Had we come the week after, we would have been drenched by a fierce rain storm that swept the state.

Oh, and we had our bicycles, too.

My daughter's baptism was awesome. We originally expected to have my parents and my brother and his wife in town for that, but it didn't work out that way (my brother's wife's father passed away). It was a little disconcerting to realize that I didn't have any priesthood holders who I knew was going to be there to be witnesses to the baptism and to stand in the confirmation circle with me, but a few well-placed calls later and some of my good friends from the ward were happy to come and join me.

My daughter was so happy to finally be baptized. It is something she's been looking forward to since her older brother was baptized two years ago. Her anxiety was compounded by the fact that she is the youngest in her primary class and thus the last to be baptized. Both of her friends from her class were at the baptism, and it was a very nice event.

Afterward, we had dinner at our place for all who wanted to join us. We had quite a few people show up, and it was a lot of fun to socialize. The kids were well-behaved and we actually had some grown up conversation. We haven't entertained in so long, I had forgotten how much I enjoy doing it. Good thing the holiday season is upon us!

In any case, now that my daughter is baptized, I am so very proud of her as she is trying her hardest to keep her covenants, to act more mature, to be more kind, and to obey more promptly (though she still is a total book-worm, particularly now that we let her read the fourth Harry Potter book ...). She is a sweet and wonderful young lady, and I am very happy to be her father.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Passing of Our Hamster

Well, my hamster died yesterday. I didn't really think it was my hamster, but my wife felt differently. Truth be told, it was me who took care of her most of the time, aside from cleaning the cage. I fed her, made sure she had water, and let her out to roll around in her hamster ball most of the time. I even named her. Her name was Mabel. And I buried her yesterday in the corner of our garden.

She was a pretty good little hamster. She ran in her cage like a maniac and kept us up at night with her noise, but we learned to close the door where she was kept. At first we didn't really like her because she wasn't as fun to play with as the previous hamster we had. Eventually, though, as she aged, she got to be much more fun to play with and she definitely grew on us.

We also learned that she was an escape artist who found every possible weakness in her cage, even learning to undo the latches that kept it closed. We still don't know how she did it, but we finally figured out that if we ensured all the latches were closed and put a really heavy book on top of her cage, she couldn't get out. And when we forgot to replace the book, she reminded us that we needed to keep it there when we found the cage empty, with the entire top of the cage ajar. Luckily, we learned where she would go when she escaped, so we were able to find her soon after she got out most of the time.

Hamsters don't usually live more than a few years, but we only had her about eight months. We had no idea she would pass away so soon, though, as she seemed healthy.

We will miss her. Farewell Mabel.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Important Questions

"Why did God make bees and honey ... and peanut butter ... and not make us with four arms?" My youngest son asked this of me last week during church. Great questions, all!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pinewood Derby for Men

My Elders Quorum sponsored a pinewood derby for the men in the ward. This was after a friend of mine who had mixed feelings about a similar event in her ward posted a blog entry about their ward, which did a rocket-powered derby. Of course, at this absolutely brilliant suggestion (it was a suggestion, wasn't it?), I encouraged our Elders Quorum President to specifically make our own party a rocket-powered event. After much discussion, we went with the "no rules" approach for the event, which suited me just fine. All I wanted to do was stick a rocket in the back of a car and watch it go.

In any case, the event went spectacularly well. Last Saturday evening (after dinner, so there was no food involved aside from some root beer floats), we gathered in the parking lot of the church where we set up a ramp for our pinewood derby. The sun was going down and the weather was great, so we expected there would be no launch holds. And there wasn't.

We started with the "gravity" portion of the evening. There were about a dozen racers who all brought their cars and put them down the track. As we didn't bring any paper to keep track of the brackets, our Elders Quorum President basically wandered around, attempting to keep the winners and losers in his head, and asked everybody "how many times have you lost?!" It was hilarious. Nobody really cared. We just wanted to have a good time. It was an evening without the kids (though some people didn't get that memo, but it was fine ...) and it was our time to do Stupid Guy Stuff.

My car was a beautiful green car (we had a leftover can of spray paint from last year) that I molded into an aerodynamic wonder. My ultimate goal was to keep it on the track. I was inclined to put wings on the side, but I was worried about impinging on the space of the car I was racing, so I couldn't do that directly. Nevertheless, after stumbling around in the garage looking for leftover hardware that I could put to good use, I came across some brackets that would do a perfect job. I bent them slightly and then carved grooves in the side of the car to mount them. The intent was not only to provide some control over air flow, but also to weigh the car down.

I drilled the hole in the back of the car to just the right diameter for the booster I had purchased (the smallest booster I could get from the hobby shop), and then drilled a front hole so that the engine could back-vent, as engines of that size normally do in order to pop a parachute out of a hobby rocket. (Later that I discovered that you can actually buy rockets that don't back-vent, but whatever.)

After assembling the car, I found that it was still too light -- about an ounce below 5 ounces -- to meaningfully compete in the "gravity" races (even though there were no rules, specifically about the weight). So, I pondered what to do. Standing in my kitchen, I looked across the room where the kids had some Legos scattered on the floor, and it hit me that I should mount a Lego dude onboard to give the ride some style. After final assembly, I concluded that the Lego dude would participate only in the "gravity" races, as we didn't want any casualties during the "powered" races.

The end result was pretty impressive:

During the races, though, my little Lego dude couldn't really compete. He was able to beat the balloon-propelled car and a few others that had some obvious mechanical limitations, but even so, he went down in style. His protective dome even got scuffed a little bit after his first race when he skittered across the asphalt of the parking lot.

With twelve cars, the ultimate winner was a guy who ended up racing several cars of his, and he took both first and second place. Nobody was upset, we were just anxious for the next phase of the races to begin. We decided it would be best to lay the track flat for this phase of the evening, and some guys attempted to split some wires so that both rocket-powered cars could be launched with one starter, but that didn't work, so it was down to two guys pushing two different buttons.

The first successful race was with two cars that were made from a kit. They looked nearly identical, and had very big engines in them. I immediately noticed that neither of them had holes to manage the back-venting. After the typical count-down, the two cars zipped down the track and bounced off the end cushion. Immediately thereafter, the back-vent from the engines caused a secondary burst of fire, ejected the rocket engine from the back of the cars, and threw fire into the face of a bystander! Check out the video:


After the smoke dissipated, we determined she was all right. We learned to stand further away and be prepared for the secondary blast.

Soon it was my turn. One time, I went up against a guy who had a toy helicopter motor mounted in his car to make the wheels spin like mad. I put my car down, sans Lego dude, and fully expected my car to smoke the guy. Not so! Much to my surprise, the littlest engine I could get from the hobby shop was a very small engine indeed. I got smoked! It was so embarrassing. Here I am, an aerospace engineer who works for NASA, and my car got smoked! By a non-rocket-propelled vehicle! How horrid! Some of the by-standers saw the whole thing and were stunned, as well. In fact, I think it even got tweeted to President Obama, who was tempted to give me a bailout.

Happily, another fellow who was there had the same size engines I had, but with higher thrust ratings. So, time for a rematch. And this time, I cleaned his clock. He wasn't even halfway down the track before I passed the finish line! It was impressive. To make it even more impressive, my car stayed on the track!


Indeed, every race my car participated in stayed on the track, which was not the case for every other rocket-powered car there (and some of the non-rocket-powered ones, too). My goal accomplished, we moved on to more fun stuff.

We moved the track over to the grass and raised the end. With our rocket-powered cars, you can imagine the end result of that!

At first, we raised it only about a foot. Then we came to our senses and realized that if we were going to intentionally launch cars into the air, we should do it right, so we raised the end of the track up to about a 45 degree angle. What followed was awe-inspiring. With the sun now down and it quickly getting dark, we watched as a streak of fire screamed up the track and arced into the night. It was a true thing of beauty. This was then punctuated by a secondary flash of light from the back-venting that would fire like a rifle shot in some random direction, the result of the car tumbling into the distance.

Check it out:


It was a great night. As we all departed, we were conspiring about how to make the event even better next year. I look forward to it, with visions of winged cars and really big engines in my mind ...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Where I've Been

Wow, it's been over two weeks since I last posted. It's just been busy. It's not been busy in the "I have something going every second of the day" kind of way, but it's more like the "there's something every night that prevents doing pretty much anything else" sort of busy. I think I need acronyms for those ...

Anyway, I thought it'd be good to record what the events were so far this month, with the plans for what's to come:

-- Tuesday, September 1st: A free evening.
-- Wednesday, September 2nd: Had the Elders over for dinner.
-- Thursday, September 3rd: Worked on stuff for church on Sunday.
-- Friday, September 4th: My wife went out with the "girls" and I played a computer game. Okay, so this night wasn't so "busy".
-- Saturday the 5th: Prepared a lesson for Sunday.
-- Sunday the 6th: Spent the evening with the family after a very long day at church.
-- Monday the 7th: Labor Day. After playing all day with the kids, I spent the evening watching a movie with my wife. (Wow, by this point, my life doesn't seem so busy ...)
-- Tuesday the 8th: Took my son to tennis lessons, then split from there to go home teaching.
-- Wednesday the 9th: Took my son to scouts.
-- Thursday the 10th: Had some friends over for dinner.
-- Friday the 11th: Worked on stuff for church on Sunday.
-- Saturday the 12th: Took my daughter to the baptism of her good friend.
-- Sunday the 13th: Had a long day at church again (they always are), then had "interviews" with the kids.
-- Monday the 14th: Had Family Home Evening with the family.
-- Tuesday the 15th: Went home teaching again.
-- Wednesday the 16th: Relaxed and watched TV with my wife.
-- Thursday the 17th (last night): Our home teacher came over.
-- Friday the 18th (tonight): The "raingutter regatta" for my oldest.
-- Saturday the 19th (tomorrow): The pinewood derby for the Elders Quorum (I've got a rocket-powered car ... yeah, totally cool.)
-- Sunday the 20th: Home teaching again.
-- Monday the 21st: Family Home Evening again.
-- Tuesday the 22nd: My son at tennis again.
-- Wednesday the 23rd: My oldest at cub scouts again.
-- Thursday the 24th: My oldest's birthday, and we're having some people come over that night.
-- Friday the 25th: My oldest's birthday party.
-- Saturday the 26th: My wife will be at the Relief Society General Broadcast.
-- Sunday the 27th: Amazing Race starts!
-- Monday the 28th: Family Home Evening.
-- Tuesday the 29th: Tennis lessons.
-- Wednesday the 30th: A free night?! Really?!

After compiling this list, I detect a few themes: church and kids. Somewhere in there we get a few nights where my wife and I can just relax and do stuff for us, but you can see it doesn't happen often. Usually when it does, we just like to sit and stare at some TV show. We often get to the point where we totally know we should do something productive, but we just don't want to because we're just so tired. I'm not complaining, though, just stating the facts. In any case, life is pretty good.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

My Job Description

My daughter had an assignment in her third grade glass a week ago, which reads:

Pretend that you are going to write a report. First, write the topic of your report. Then, write three things you would say about the topic.

The results? Check it out (spelling is hers):

Topic: My dad's job.
a. My dad works at JPL.
b. He controls the space craft in space.
c. They are cercing for Aliens.

I love it! According to this, I control an armada of spacecraft in an attempt to hunt down alien life forms. Awesome. Technically, I don't think you could say she is wrong, but I never really appreciated that I'm an alien hunter ...

(By the way, I find her spelling of "cercing" to be very interesting; you have to love the flexibility of the English language. I am also impressed that she knew to call the vehicles in space "space craft". She didn't know it was one word, but she knows not to call them "spaceships", which connotes a space vehicle that carries people.)

Monday, August 31, 2009

Small World Destroyed

AP-Anaheim Disneyland's "it's a small world" suffered disaster today, ending in the soaking of dozens of families riding the amusement park attraction, and the complete destruction of the ride.

According to survivors of the incident, things went awry immediately when Ben Grimm, otherwise known as the Thing of Fantastic Four fame, decided to take a ride.

"He looked agitated from the moment he got on," said Emily Smith, a survivor who entered one of the ride's boats just behind Grimm. "As the ride started, he starting yelling at the characters as we passed by, saying they were insulting his intelligence. I was just worried about my kids."

Other survivors indicated that Grimm began to gesture violently at the characters of the ride and about halfway through decided to get out of the boat. Strictly against park policy, the park's security personnel were called to the scene in an attempt to calm the clearly disturbed Grimm.

Soon after, a few of Grimm's colleagues joined him inside the building that houses the ride. Witnesses say that an argument began between Grimm and Johnny Storm, otherwise known as the Human Torch, also of the Fantastic Four. Said Mike Aguirre, "Soon Johnny was shooting fireballs at that Thing."

Nearby riders, huddling in the ride's boats, found themselves diving into the water to keep from getting burned in the fracas. At this point, the building caught fire, and Grimm reportedly began moving from room to room in what can only be surmised as an attempt to put out the fire. This resulted in severe damage to the superstructure of the building itself. One member of the security staff, who was one of the first on the scene and witnessed the incident, said, "It was crazy! This guy was just pounding away at the 'small world' characters. It was kinda like he was trying to put out the fire, but I think that dude has some serious anger issues, too."

The park fire department was called to the scene and additional help was called in from nearby fire stations. Some confusion occurred at the gates when park security insisted that the firemen pay full admission before entering the park. It was only after Robert Iger, Disney CEO, rushed to the scene, yelling, "Let them in, let them in! Small world is burning down, you idiots!" that the firemen were allowed to enter the park to aid in the suppression of the fire.

Several hours later, the building was completely engulfed in flame, with the structure itself collapsing due to the internal damage caused by Grimm. In the end, all the riders had been safely removed from the building and there were no injuries. As clean-up of the site was finishing, Grimm was heard to say, "Oops."

It is expected that charges will be filed.

Meanwhile, it was announced on Wall Street that the Walt Disney Co. is purchasing Marvel Entertainment Inc. for the unprecedented amount of $4 billion in cash and stock. This news was met with Disney stock falling 3% while Marvel stock surged over 25%. Mickey Mouse reportedly squeaked that his good friend Walt was probably rolling over in his grave at the news.

As one person said, "The Happiest Place on Earth is gonna get pretty gnarly."

Friday, August 28, 2009

On Grandparents and Being Old

I just had this little interchange with my four year-old:

"Daddy, how come grandma and grandpa are so old?"

"Um, what do you mean?" I asked.

"They're old!"

"Well, they were born first, so that makes them old."

"How come?"

"Well, they were born a long time ago, and when they grew up, your mom's mommy and daddy had your mom, and your dad's mommy and daddy had your dad. And since we've grown up and now have kids, that makes grandma and grandpa old." Yeah, I'm often helpful like that.

His brow furrowed in a confused look, then he asked, "Why?"

"Well, that's how it works. We all are getting older all the time. So when you grow up, I'll be old."

"So, when I grow up, will you be my grandpa?"

"No, but when you have kids of your own, I'll be their grandpa."

Then he gave me a huge smile, and said, "Thanks!"

I giggled. "My pleasure, kid."

A moment goes by, then he asked, "How come we have three kids?"

"That's all Heavenly Father has sent to us so far."

Silence, then car noises resumed as he played behind me. Based on this interchange, he probably now thinks that if or when my wife and I have another kid that he'll be its dad!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

When Engineers are Sick and Bored

They stumble upon stuff like this ...

When Zombies Attack! Mathematical Modeling of an Outbreak of Zombie Infection

Important reading. Let's just hope our government has scenarios to deal with just such an outbreak to avoid the doomsday scenario ...

Very Sick

I've been quite down the last few days with the most terrible stomach flu. I've lost 5 pounds, and I am so weary that I've slept hours this afternoon -- something I normally just dream about. It's the worst sickness I've had in a long time, but weird. Aside from my stomach learning to sing in chorus, I'm actually quite well. I have no headaches, sore throat, or stuffy nose. My mind is clear, but, well, so is my intestinal tract. It's not been fun, but I'll count my blessings that it isn't worse.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

35th Birthday Follow-up

Last night didn't go exactly as we planned. On my way home, I was to meet my family at El Torito for dinner. Sitting in the parking lot for ten minutes, I finally got a call from my wife, who was clearly upset. She told me that she was pulling out of the neighborhood on the way to join me and got distracted just enough to over-turn and ran into the curb. No problem, usually, except this time the tire completely exploded.

She was so upset that she wasn't able to think clearly about the situation, and ended up leaving the van parked on the very busy street without the emergency lights even on (even though she probably could have popped it into reverse and slowly worked her way back around the corner ...). Worse, she didn't have the presence of mind to simply change the tire. She felt like she had completely ruined my birthday at that point (we didn't go out to eat, she popped a tire that'll cost hundreds of dollars to replace, she made me sit there forever ...).

Nevertheless, I tried my best to let her know that everything was fine. We quickly replanned: I would come home and change the tire while she took my car to go pick up dinner from the most awesome Stonefire Grill. We'd have a nice dinner at home and still be able to enjoy the evening.

Once she calmed down and we got the plans laid out, things went very smoothly and the entire evening was actually quite nice. It was really good just to be home and relax and enjoy being with my wife and kids. The gifts were great, too. I got a camping shovel, a new card game, some crafts from the two younger kids, a very nice letter from my oldest son, and some new biking gloves from my wife's parents (I lost my old pair a month back). My mother sent me the Transformers movie, half of which we watched after we played a hand of the new card game and sent the kids to bed. And my wife made a great cake, too.

It really was a very pleasant evening once things got settled. All in all, it was just another "regular" day with the family, but I'm counting my very many blessings.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

35th Birthday

Well, today is my birthday. I'm 35. A good friend reminded me that I am now halfway to 40, but, being somewhat familiar with math, I corrected him in that I am now halfway to 70. While pithy, I can't claim credit for it, as this was my clever wife's observation.

As it is, I woke up this morning at the usually insane time of 5 am and got in the shower. Afterwards, I went downstairs to have breakfast and was met with our family's traditional birthday decorations (streamers dangling from the hall to the kitchen, balloons scattered on the floor, banners with wishes of a good birthday stretched across the room). I smiled a bit and proceeded to walk towards the kitchen, only to have my two older children pop out and yell, "Boo!" I was surprised, to be sure, but more that they were awake at that early hour than by genuine surprise. My wife was next to them and chided them quickly with, "You were supposed to say 'Happy Birthday!', not 'Boo!'". I giggled, as this is just the way my kids are.

As it was, my wife had actually prepared breakfast for me yesterday in the form of French toast. She had labored during the day to bake the bread from scratch, and after seasoning and cooking it, she placed it on a tray in the freezer for the night. This morning, all she had to do was pop it in the toaster, and it was good to go! It was great.

She sent the kids off to bed again (as far as I can tell, they never fell asleep, but rather just laid in bed staring at the wall ...), then sat with me while I ate my French toast. I eventually sent her, too, bleary-eyed and exhausted, back to bed while I made myself an egg, prepared "over easy." It was a great morning.

Now, I'm at work, with plans to be stuck in meetings most of the day, but I do intend to cut out as early as I can. This evening, we'll go out to eat (I wanted Thai food, but we don't have a current coupon, so I will "settle" for Mexican food), then have cake and ice cream and open gifts. It's a simple day, but I'm delighted. I don't need a big party or celebrations; for me, the best birthday is a simple one spent with my family. And when I do hit 70 (since I'm halfway there), I hope that I can spend it exactly the same way (well, minus the going to work part ...).

Friday, August 7, 2009

Dodger Game

I took my two oldest children with me to a Dodger game last night. It was a great game. The Dodgers were playing against the Braves. They were down early in the game and stayed that way all the way until the end of the game. The children, my daughter, in particular, were cold and tired and anxious to leave, and I was inclined to leave somewhere during the eighth inning. However, I decided we'd stick it out because I wanted to send the message to the kids that it's important to finish what you start, and not to give up.

Little did I know what was about to transpire. Going into the 9th inning, the Dodgers were down 4 to 2. They manage to get three outs on the Braves and then began batting. It wasn't going badly, but no runs to home had occurred early on. As the inning progressed, the Dodgers found themselves with a runner on first and a runner on third. Manny Ramirez got up to bat and the Braves did everything they could to distract him. They took a time-out mid-batting, and delayed things as long as they could to distract him. It worked.

Then Andre Ethier came up to bat. Things weren't going so swimmingly for him, either, but then, suddenly, the loud crack of the bat against the ball slowly made its way to us as we watched the ball sail off over right field ... all the way to the bleachers! A home-run, three runs in, and the Dodgers won the game.

At this point, my lethargic daughter woke up enough to celebrate, and her adrenaline kicked in. They started screaming and yelling and raising their arms above their heads, and were amazed that the game could be over just like that. The audience in the stands were on their feet everywhere (those that didn't leave early) and the team all ran out onto the field and formed a jumping mass of players around home plate.

It was like something out of a movie, and I am so glad that we stayed until the end. We don't go to baseball games very often (read: once a year, tops), and I really hoped the kids would have a good experience.

I spent $5.50 on a bag of peanuts, and it was really funny watching them as they uncomfortably dropped their debris on the floor ("Dad, can we really just leave our garbage on the ground?"). Their guilt was evident in their hesitancy, and it wasn't until after somebody sitting next to us said that it's all right to just drop your garbage where you are that they loosened up a bit. Eventually, they settled into the habit of dropping peanut shells on the ground, but my daughter, unfortunately, developed the habit of flipping the crumbs off her lap onto the person sitting in front of her. I apologized often.

Later, I spent $3 on a bag of cotton candy because my daughter was starving. You'd think she'd learn to eat her dinner when it's time to eat ...

The highlight of the evening for me, though, was about halfway through somebody started the "wave." My daughter got so excited. She would track the wave as it progressed around the stands with an outstretched finger, giggling and laughing the whole time. Once, she yelled, "Look! Look! That is funny! They're going to get caught in the wave!" It was totally adorable.

As for my son, he was more mature in a public place than I have seen him in a long time. A few weeks ago, we had gone on a tour of Dodger stadium, so he took great delight in being the know-it-all and telling her sister what everything was around the stadium. The funny part was that he kept telling me everything, too, which was funny because I was on the same tour as him and probably learned more than he did. It was great just to be with them, though, and to have that experience. And even better that the Dodgers won!

The following images are some pictures from the earlier tour, which we took with my son's cub scout pack. We were able to go out on the field, which was really cool, but they wouldn't let us go on the grass. I thought that paranoia was funny, but I totally get it as I'm pretty uptight about my grass at home, too.

The day we went on the tour there was a yoga session going on down on the field.

A few years back, they renovated and put in new chairs. When they did, they restored the original colors, which were symbolic of life in Southern California. The yellow represents the ground we live on, the brownish color represents the sands at the beach, the blue-green represents the ocean, and the blue represents the blueness of the sky.

We saw the sign to the umpires room (can you figure out the joke there? ...)

The saw the press room, the private rooms, the "training" rooms, the first aid and security rooms, and even the organ that a little old lady plays live during each home game. The boys loved being down on the field, and especially being in the dugout.

It seemed like every time I took a picture, though, my son was making some goofy face. Here's the finest example:

What a crack-up. It was a great time.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tron Legacy

When I was a kid, I absolutely loved Tron. Then a few years back I actually watched it again, and realized that the story definitely left something to be desired. Nevertheless, even all those years later, I felt the special effects were something special. So it is with mixed feelings that I learn about a follow-on film, called "Tron Legacy". The trailer is below. With today's special effects being so extraordinary, I don't expect to be "wowed" by what they can do on-screen, but I am hoping that they focus on telling a great story. The trailer appears to show an appropriate gravity, so I have high hopes. Apologies if the video below is too wide ...

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Random Thoughts

Went to the beach today, got hammered in the rough waves, but it was still fun. I love body boarding and my kids are learning to enjoy it, too. My daughter got a major "burn" on her chin from scraping it against the sand when she got tossed head over heels. It's awesome and she's wearing it with pride. I really want to learn to surf.

Went to Harry Potter 6 last night. It was all right, but clearly a transition movie to the "end game". I thought it was disjointed and had a weak ending. And I really wanted to see the big battle inside Hogwarts. I look forward to the last two movies.

My youngest son asked about how we go to be with God. We told him that we need to keep the commandments and do what is right, and then we can go back. We told him that everybody makes mistakes, and then pronounced, "I'm perfect!" Uh huh. We shortly reminded him about when he hits his brother or scratches his sister, and told him that when we do stuff like that, we have to try to make it better and ask Heavenly Father to forgive us. He told us then that we pray so we can talk to Heavenly Father. He's 4, but he's starting to get it.

Work hasn't been ... fun ... lately.

My oldest has entered the "really, really annoying" stage of being a pre-teen. He drives us crazy.

The stock market has been fun to follow ... as long as I keep making money in it ... funny how addictive watching numbers rise and fall every day can be.

Facebook is a tremendous time waster. I recommend you just pick up the phone rather than join it. I've stumbled upon lots and lots of people from my past, and concluded I have absolutely nothing to say to them. I've moved on.

Did a little genealogy the other day. I found about a dozen new names ... anybody who says their genealogy is "done" is telling a bald-faced lie.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Apollo 11 40th Anniversary


Today is the 40th anniversary of the first lunar landing. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made history as the first men to take a stroll in that "magnificent desolation." The event occurred over 5 years before I was born, with the last trip to the moon occurring in 1972.

To me, it's always been something from the history books. I've seen the video countless times of Neil hopping down from the ladder and saying those famous words. Even so, it has never really seemed tangible to me because I didn't "see" it. I didn't stare at the black and white television for hours as did many of my older co-workers. I wasn't around to experience the social buzz or the public wonder. I wasn't thrilled by the glitches or aghast at their bravery. It was an extraordinary accomplishment, to be sure, and something I understand intellectually, but it really is no different to me than old television footage of World War II dog fights, or, worse, silent films. It was something that just ... happened ... when I wasn't around.

For most of my life, I have watched televised shuttle launches and more unmanned rocket launches than you can shake a stick at. For the last ten years, I have personally been involved in the robotic space program. Of this, I am supremely grateful and proud to have played my part. These things I have seen "live", and experienced the same gut-wrenching astonishment at the failures and the same exhilaration at the successes as the rest of the nation.

But it isn't the same. Today, this day, I mark with sadness. It's been 40 years since we first set foot on the moon. 37 years since we last went there. That's a long time. Longer than I've been alive. The space shuttle and the International Space Station are incredible feats, to be sure, but they have never been as awe-inspiring in the public mind as those brave Apollo years. For me, my greatest fear is that I may be lost in the historical middle. Too young to have experienced Apollo, and (at the rate we're going) I may not survive to see people land on Mars. This fills me with a profound sense of sadness.

The current "Constellation" program, which promises to return us to the moon and, theoretically, lay the foundation for manned missions to Mars, is a great thing, but it feels to me like a has-run. In every advertisement for it, the NASA public relations folks use the phrase "return to ...", which directly translates to the unfortunate concept of "re-run". The Constellation program seems to largely be an exercise in bean counting of the very worst kind. The managers and eggheads are trying to fit the whole thing within existing budgets, carefully measured and meted and scheduled. Transition plans for the manned space program are being delicately laid out, and all the while the public imagination flounders, far more interested in the latest Harry Potter movie than the space program (does anybody even know that the space shuttle is in orbit right now?!).

So I make this bold statement: While it would be extremely hard on me and my family, I would be willing to lose my job if our beloved president stood up and said we were going to dedicate the entire NASA budget to putting a man on Mars before 2020.

Today, I sat and listed to wechoosethemoon.org, where they were replaying the audio between the Apollo 11 astronauts and mission control (well worth the time, by the way). I was astonished as I sat and realized that the type of chatter they were having was exactly the same kind of chatter that I've personally done in support of a robotic mission. I realized that these people who accomplished Apollo were not great legends, somehow superhuman in ability and talent. They were just regular Joes who were given a job to do and did it to the best of their ability, which ended up being more than good enough. Given a task like that, I am absolutely confident that today's generation could perform feats equal to it and, indeed, surpassing it in greatness.

So, on this anniversary, I am left to wonder: where is my Apollo? Where is my audacious goal? I and others have more ideas and capabilities than we know what to do with, but our leaders have not unleashed the powers of my generation. Will they ever?

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