Friday, December 10, 2010

Fricative

AWESOME new word I stumbled across. Seriously. Look it up. (Or you can be lazy and watch this.)

Random Pictures from My Old Phone

A few months back I got a new phone, a DroidX, which I absolutely love. (You still know you want one ...) When I happily dumped my old Blackberry phone, I copied all the files off it and found that there was actually quite a random collection of random pictures. My wife suggested that I blog about this stuff that I discovered, so that's what I'm doing here. I tend to avoid "photo blogging" as a general rule, but as sharing the pictures is actually the point of this post, so be it.

As you look through these pictures, be aware that there is no theme. This is just a collection of memories that, at the time I took them, I wanted to capture in pictures. Out of context, they are rather meaningless, but on the whole, I think they provide an interesting display of what is important to me in my life. I've sorted the pictures by date taken, and this is only a sampling of the stuff I found on the camera. So, here goes ...

My wife being silly in the car when we were going to the Los Angeles Temple on 27 Feb 2009. I think this was actually one of the first pictures taken with that Blackberry:

My youngest son, with a messy, chocolatey face on 7 Mar 2009:

My wife and I on a date in one of our favorite eating establishments, a small Thai restaurant here in town on 21 Mar 2009:

My youngest crouching down in the church cultural hall on 28 Mar 2009:

Me and my oldest son at a Dodger's game on 6 Aug 2009:

My daughter at the same game on 6 Aug 2009:

My wife sailing a pirate ship at Finz Glo-Zone, a black-light miniature golf place nearby, on 23 Oct 2009:

This next picture is actually one of my all-time favorites. It is of my lovely wife, looking stunningly beautiful, taken when we were at Six Flags on 7 Nov 2009:

The Saturn V rocket outside the space museum in Huntsville, Alabama, on 28 Apr 2010:

My youngest son so tired during a campout that he can barely eat his s'more on 14 May 2010:

The airplane I flew on to Germany for a business trip on 16 May 2010:

Some cobblestones in Darmstadt on 17 May 2010. I'm not sure I meant to take this picture, but whatever:

A Viking-looking dude at a park in Darmstadt on 18 May 2010:

My oldest son getting his awards in cub scouts on 26 May 2010:

My daughter all wet at a swimming pool during a trip to Utah, where we stayed with my sister in Mt. Pleasant on 5 Jul 2010:

The greenery during a hike with my oldest son's cub scout group up to some a waterfall on 9 Oct 2010:

My daughter with her hero, Wonder Woman, at Six Flags on 9 Oct 2010:

My daughter being a superhero outside of the Goliath roller-coaster at Six Flags on 9 Oct 2010:

Well, as you can see, it's quite an eclectic collection. With cameras being ever-present in our lives, it's interesting to look back at the detritus that's left behind. Some of these pictures tell stories, some just ... are. Even so, you can see the flavor of things that I've captured, and glimpse a little peek into what is important to me in my life, my family (not that it isn't fairly obvious to anybody who knows me at all ...).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Something Totally Cool

I like numbers. I'm becoming increasing convinced that I need to be an economist (as statistics still annoy me) in my next career ... assuming I ever tire of the one I have. As it is, I stumbled upon this video, which made me have warm fuzzies all over for a variety of different reasons:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

On Snow Storms and Being Cold

Apparently Utah, where much of my family lives, is getting hammered with harsh snow storms right now. This reminded me of the fact that I tell people an "Oh, yeah? You think you've experienced cold weather?!" story when they tell me how cold something is. Well, I did a little research, and sure enough, my story has basis in fact!

For all my doubters, here goes the story with the evidence to follow:

Many of my older siblings went to the same university that I eventually attended. As a kid, they had always told me that the winters were harsh and when I was preparing to go, they suggested that I be ready for very cold times. So, I went there with "low" expectations, and wasn't disappointed.

I distinctly recall one morning waking up and it being bitterly cold. Not just cold-cold, but so-cold-your-face-freezes-solid-cold. My only means of transportation was a bicycle, which I used to get to and from class. That morning, I got up as usual, showered, then headed off to class. The snow that morning was (and I am totally not making this up) up to my waist! Biking wasn't really an option in that weather, so I began to trundle on my way to class on foot, pushing my way through the deep snow, leaving a collapsing trench behind me. The wind was blowing harshly out of the canyon above campus, with bitter cold air biting at every part of my body that was uncovered. I was too foolish to wear a hat, so my hair, slightly damp from my morning shower, literally froze solid. My face and cheeks went numb, my lungs hurt from breathing the cold air, and snow was sticking to my clothes, only breaking away where I was bending as I made my way toward my class.

Being a dutiful student, and also somewhat oblivious, I didn't notice that I was pretty much the only one headed to class that morning. It took me twice as long to get where I was going, but I was still on time! Upon arrival, I was most pleased to get inside and went to my classroom. There I found many of my classmates had also made it to class! (You go, unflappable and reliable engineering students!)

I took my seat and began to thaw out. I couldn't feel my nose and ears, but soon the numbness turned to pain as they began to warm. My hair started to drip as it thawed out, and my clothes began to soak through as the snow frozen to them began to melt. I was chilled and miserable, but I was present!

The only problem? The professor was not. The usual 20 minutes elapsed (again, we were engineering students, and we liked to learn, so we extended the traditional 15 minutes to 20 ...), and then we finally, slowly decided we should leave. I was not terribly happy to do so, and was perfectly content to stay at the engineering building, but alas, it was one of those days where I didn't have any more classes until later that afternoon, and I knew I wanted to eat sometime.

So, I steeled myself against the cold, and made my way back to my apartment. The trip home was worse than the trip there, because all the water that had melted and soaked into my clothes began to freeze. It was horrible. When I got back to my apartment, I stripped down and headed straight for a leisurely shower, where I enjoyed the hot water. I think I ate Raman noodles for lunch that day (hot) and probably macaroni and cheese for dinner (hot) and eschewed all things cold. What a day!

The funny thing was, I didn't know that the miserable weather was anything out of the ordinary. My siblings told me the winters were harsh, and so I just expected it to be that way. Because of that, to this day, I don't have a lot of sympathy for those who complain about the cold. I've been there, done that. And notice where I live now: sunny Southern California. I don't miss the snow. Sure, it's nice to visit and go sledding and all that, and it sure is pretty, but I actually have a choice, so I'll take the sand and the sun instead.

Okay, now the evidence: At this link, there is an article about the coldest winters in Utah. There, it states:

1993: A whopping 23.3 inches of snow fell at Salt Lake City International Airport, the greatest single storm total, between Jan 6-10. For the month of January, 50.3 inches of snow fell, an all time monthly record.

At this link here, check out the winter of 1992-1993, where it indicates that between November and February a total of 71.3 inches of snow fell on the city where my school was located. And here, it indicates that the total average temperature for those months was 24.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Yeah, it was cold. And I had no car, so I walked or biked everywhere. Ah, the memories ...

On Chickens

There is this very weird phenomenon going around the country today where people are "getting back to basics", or other such rubbish, and deciding to get chickens. Phenomenologically, I don't understand it, but the recent salmonella scare certainly hasn't hurt its spread. (By the way, I heard somebody use "phenomenologically" in a sentence the other day, and I, first, wondered if that was a real word (it is), and second, realized that I just had to find a way to use it!)

A few years ago, my brother-in-law-in-law came home with a chicken or two, and, to put it kindly, since that time he has gone loco for el pollo. Living in a place where people have big backyards, over the past few years he has slowly been evolving his yard into a chicken paradise. A full quarter of it (something like a quarter acre, but since I don't really know exactly what an acre is, I'll just say it's something like that) has been allocated for the exclusive use of his chickens. What was once just a few chickens has exploded into several broods of chickens, of varying kinds! (I had to look up what a group of chickens is called, and got various answers, including "clutch", "flock", and "peeps" -- I'm absolutely sure he knows which is the right word to use ...)

Is he a chicken farmer now? I'd say yes. Does he live on a farm? Most assuredly not, but his neighborhood is zoned for that kind of stuff as it is a very old neighborhood. Happily the chickens are quiet, clean, and mostly odorless; otherwise his neighbors would probably go buy pitchforks. The chickens, of course, produce massive quantities of eggs. With four teenage boys living in his house, this is not usually a problem, but he has so many chickens that even with four ravenous boys under his roof, he still has enough eggs to give or sell away.

Now that he has made himself into That Chicken Guy (he even subscribes to chicken magazines!), he never lets pass an opportunity to extol the virtues of having your own chickens. Salmonella is never a worry, you get free eggs (well, not quite, there is a cost ... but he doesn't talk about that), they're recession and inflation proof, and when the chickens stop producing eggs, you can have a good chicken dinner. He is regularly suggesting with a wink and a nod that my wife and I would be wise to get chickens.

However, we live in Southern California, with something like 1/100th of an acre available in our backyard. I always used this as an excuse, which suited my needs well, but to be honest, I just can't see ever owning chickens. We are definitely not zoned for chickens, but a good friend from up the street has had several for many years and it has worked out well for them.

So, imagine my surprise when I find out that my wife has been talking with said neighbor and discussing the possibility of taking her chickens off her hands! I love my wife dearly, and my first reaction was vehemently against it. But I love my wife, and she finds a way to get what she wants. Soon she had sold away the kids play yard/slide (which they didn't play on anymore), and pointed out to me that since the grass was already dead underneath that, it wouldn't be a big deal to put a chicken coop there.

I told her I had no interest in taking care of chickens (but think of the fertilizer for the garden!), and that I wasn't going to feed them (the kids are excited to do that!), and that we didn't have the space for them (but it will fit right where the play yard went!), and that we aren't zoned for them (but our neighbor has had them forever and they are quiet and not smelly), and that we'd have to buy food for them (but we already buy barrels of grain to make our own flour!). Drat, she had thought of all of my arguments against it.

I gave my grudging approval.

So, imagine my delight when I asked said neighbor about it on Sunday, and found out that it turns out that she hadn't actually spoke to her husband about it, and that he actually is rather fond of them and wanted to keep them. She seemed rather embarrassed by the situation, but I assured her with all the feeling of my heart, that it was totally okay with me. My wife and kids? Not so pleased.

I still can't even fathom being an owner of chickens. We have a hard enough time keeping our fish alive, and gave up on hamsters a few years ago. Also, consider for a moment that the focus of my professional existence is on the care and maintenance of robots that have been hurled to other planets -- that's a far cry from taking care of chickens.

Well, in any case, I may have dodged a bullet this time, but I'm pretty sure I haven't heard the last of this, because the kids are terribly disappointed and that dead spot in the grass is still there.

Worst of all, if we do end up with chickens, I will never live it down with my brother-in-law-in-law.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mother Appreciation Night

Tonight the Teachers Quorum had a "Mother Appreciation Night". Each of the young men contributed in one way or another to putting together a dinner, and they all sang a very silly song, which turned out rather well.

Each one of them had an assignment to fulfill relative to the evening. One young man put together a presentation of photographs that each young man contributed of him and his mother. He set this to music, and it turned out rather well. Another was responsible for putting together invitations and a "program" of the event:

Others had different responsibilities for the food that was to be served. The boys served their own mothers a three-course meal, starting with a Caesar salad, followed by the main dish of lemon pepper chicken over pasta with a lemon sauce with rolls and buttered corn on the side. Dessert followed, which consisted of red velvet cupcakes, which a few of the boys made the night before. Each of them contributed supplies, and collectively they did almost all the labor for the evening.

My wife volunteered to help in the kitchen, and she was basically the boss, telling them to do this, then to do that. It went very well. The other adult leader and I, we also wandered around and pretty much made sure everything was in order. We tried our best to not actually do anything, but instead to direct the boys to do the work. Now that it's over, I'm tired from all the directing, but I am very pleased with the results of the evening and I think the boys felt ownership and pride in how well it went.

During dinner, each of them got up and shared some reasons why they love and appreciate their mother. The true miracle of the night was that these young men, all between the ages of 14 and 16, stood up and told their mothers that they love them in front of each other. Between that and the unabashed singing, it was truly a marvelous night. I am very proud of each one of them, and I feel grateful that I have the calling that I do where I can work with these young men.

It was a good night.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Bad Combination

Tonight after dinner, my youngest son was sitting at the table drinking some blueberry juice, which he absolutely loves. I turned my back to do something else, and behind me I hear him happily state, "Chocolate milk!" I didn't think anything of it, as his sister was drinking chocolate milk, but when I turned my attention back to him I see he is stirring some Nesquik into his blueberry juice! He took one sip and the most hilarious look of distaste came across his face, then he started to cry!

Being the totally awesome Dad that I am, I told him he shouldn't waste the juice, and that he needed to drink it. He asked if he could have some new juice. I told him he already had some juice. He asked if he could have some chocolate milk. I told him he already had some chocolate milk! He was not amused, and cried even more. Of course, I reminded him that juice and chocolate milk is not cheap, and he had just wasted a whole glass, and, again, he was not amused. I was, though.

In the end, I relented and let him go to dump it out, and then I poured him a fresh glass of juice. I went "from zero to hero, just like that!"

It was a funny moment, and, yes, I did try it, and, yes, it was awful.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Best of EFY

My calling in the Young Men's program at church is kind of weird. Most of the time, I don't really need to do anything, except be where the youth are going to be. Today was one of those days. Every year, our stake participates with 8 other stakes in something called "The Best of EFY".

EFY is "Especially For Youth", and is basically a summer camp for youth in the church to attend for a few days to hear speakers talk about gospel topics and to spend time with other fellow youth in the church. It usually happens in the summer, and usually caters to those who live along the Wasatch Front in Utah. However, on a rotating basis, one of the 9 stakes will sponsor a few of the EFY speakers to come to Southern California to visit with the youth and share with them a few topics on a given Saturday. It's rather small in comparison to the real thing, but it is wildly popular to the local kids and they love attending.

Today, our stake sponsored two speakers to come down, and coupled their talks with dinner and a dance, as is tradition. My wife had been asked to lead a youth choir between the two speakers, so she was able to be in attendance through the first talk. We sat together, which was great.

The first speaker, a fellow named John Hilton III, gave a talk titled "Dare Not to Compare". He spoke about how we need to be less concerned about what others have or what we look like. He cited several things that the kids seem to be focused on, such as grades or clothes or makeup. For the boys, they also tend to be worried about who is most athletic or who has the best skateboard or who has the newest gadget.

He shared the story from Matthew 13, about a householder who hires people throughout the day, each for the same wage, and how at the end of the day the ones who labored the longest complained that they didn't get paid more than those who arrived at the end. This he likened to the "It's not fair!" syndrome that is so easy to identify with. Each of the laborers had happily agreed to the terms of the work and the compensation to be received, yet at the end of the day, those who saw what others had received for their work felt that it was unfair. We each would probably feel similarly, but this comparison to others can be destructive.

He also said that pride can also lead to unwise comparisons. When we compare ourselves to those who may be "below" our standing, we often fail to realize that less is often expected of those who have received less, and thus we feel "better" than them. Conversely, when we compare ourselves to those who are "above" our standing, it is easy to fall into the trap of not appreciating those things which we do have because another may have something that is nicer.

A few interesting comments or references he made that I noted:
  • If we break the rules, the rules can break us.
  • The Lord looks on the heart (1 Sam 16:7)
  • The grass is almost never really greener on the other side.
  • We should avoid the traps of "can't wait until ...", "I wish I was ...", or "Wouldn't it be great if ..."
He encouraged the youth to not put themselves down, but instead remember who they are as children of God. He indicated that we should each work to build ourselves and others up, rather than wreckers who pull both ourselves and others down. Then he issued a final challenge: we should each try to spend the next 48 hours not comparing ourselves to anybody, and see how that goes. Hmm, interesting!

The second speaker was a man named Hank Smith. He was really quite funny and, ironically, compared his own name as being somewhat unsophisticated to that of the previous speaker, John Hilton III. It was rather silly, and I'm not sure if it was intentional, or just plain ironic, that he would spend the first few minutes of his talk comparing himself to the previous speaker. He also made a joke about how tomorrow, the first Sunday of the month, is going to be fast and testimony meeting, but how it would be totally awesome if there was an "e" in the fast, to make it "feast" and testimony meeting. If that were the case, I'm certain that many people would happily and eagerly pray and "feast" for others' well-being, something a little tougher to do when prayer is coupled with "fasting".

He then began talking about great break-up lines. A few samples:
  • We need to talk ... (You always know where that conversation is going ...)
  • It's not you, it's me. (Ditto.)
  • Roses are red, violets are blue, trash is dumped, and so are you!
  • I think it's time you know ... I'm Batman!
  • How will I know if I want to spend eternity with you unless I date other people?
  • (This one's to be sent via text.) Welcome to Dumpsville. Population: You!
  • You're like a lava lamp. Fun for a while, but not very bright.
  • There's only room for two guys in my life, Ben and Jerry.
  • (This one is a scripture reference.) You draw near unto me with your lips, but your heart is far from me.
Then he started talking about how, to the culture of the world, you can never have enough. You can never be pretty enough, or rich enough, or smart enough, or strong enough. There is always some way, in the eyes of the world, that you will be found inadequate. Compare this to the Savior, who always accepts us as we come to Him, and "hath purchased [you] with his own blood." (Acts 20:28)

Then he spoke about sacrifice. He shared the story of Abraham and how he really had only one thing that was so special to him that it would be difficult to give up: his treasured son Isaac. And yet it was this that the Lord asked him to sacrifice for Him, not because He needed him or even wanted Isaac to be sacrificed, but because He wanted Abraham to demonstrate a willingness to give up anything that the Lord may ask of him.

In this same way, we are asked to give up things as well. Not our children, as it may be, but instead we are asked by the Savior to give up our sins. The speaker challenged us to find something in our lives that is inconsistent with the teachings of the Gospel and to give it up, whether it be some form of clothing, music, media (pornography especially), energy drinks, moral behaviors, etc.

By giving these things up, we make a commitment to ourselves and to the Lord, hopefully permanently, that we will never do these things again. He shared the story of the Lamanites, who were a bloodthirsty and war-making people, who buried deep their weapons of war once they were converted unto the Lord, and committed that they would never take them up again, even when faced by enemies who would not have mercy on them and would slay them. This kind of commitment to turn our backs on our sins is what the Lord really wants of us.

The speaker reiterated that the Lord does want each one of us, unlike the world that will always find us wanting. He paid for all our sins, and calls us His people. The speaker urged us to not buy into what the world says, that looks are everything, for the world offers nothing but loneliness and sorrow, where the Lord says in John 14:27, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."

Good words.

It was a great evening. Following these two speakers, it was about 6 pm and they sent everybody outside to each sub sandwiches (I had a turkey sub). The youth swarmed the food tables, and there wasn't anything left by the time the dance started at 7:30.

For me, being at the dance was an interesting experience. The last dance of this nature I'd been to was back in college, almost 12 years ago. There, I was with my wife and we most certainly were being goofy. Here, though, I was an "adult leader" (when did I get old enough to be that?!) and expected to monitor the kids.

Truth be told, there wasn't anything for me to do. I'm kind of a mother hen to the boys in my teacher's quorum, though, so I wandered around and challenged each one of them to dance with somebody they normally wouldn't dance with. I'm not sure if they did, as I ended up leaving just after 8 pm (again, there wasn't anything for me to do and there was plenty of adult supervision), but my heart was warmed as I witnessed each one of them out on the floor dancing (and with girls!). One of the boys did arrive late, showing up after the dance started, but he immediately waded into the fray and found people to dance with. I was so proud I was grinning from ear to ear. My boys, dancing with girls!

A few observations, though:
  • Teenagers today dance differently than we used to. They gather in groups (even the boys), and don't ever really pair off unless it's a slow dance, and even then sometimes they don't.
  • It was quite funny to see people flee the room when a slow song started, both boys and girls. (However, each of my boys stayed in the room!)
  • I'm not familiar with much of the music of today's youth. Apparently much of it was from Radio Disney, or was Miley Cyrus or Taylor Swift, or other young artists.
  • It was so loud I could hardly understand the words, but the kids were singing along to it and seemed happy.
  • They raise their hands over their heads when they dance. I don't get the purpose of that.
  • There was a TON of cute girls there. Being who I am today, I would've been in heaven having all those options to ask to dance with me. However, I get that the boys were shy -- I was, too. What they say is true, "Youth is wasted on the young ..."
All in all, it was a very interesting evening. I am very glad that I went, and I look forward to more of this kind of stuff with the youth in the future.

Friday, October 29, 2010

On Birthday Surprises

My wonderful wife had her birthday a few days ago. I managed to get through it without too much stress, and actually felt pretty good about how it went. For all those who really know me, you know that gift giving holidays of every flavor fill me full of dread. I just hate, hate, hate having to come up with gift ideas for people, and the whole process of going to a store and buying something (or much, much worse, trying to be crafty and make something) is a horrifying experience for me. My dear wife loves me even so.

Nevertheless, as her birthday was approaching, I really wanted to do something nice for her. For her birthday, Christmas, Valentine's day, and anniversary (and I mean this in all honesty) I never fail to unimpress my wife. I have a major problem picking up on the little hints of things that she says that she wants, so it usually comes down to her (I'm totally not making this up) sending me a link on Amazon.com or circling something in a catalog, putting it in front of me, and saying, "I want this."

Because of this, whenever she opens a gift, it's a rarity that she is actually surprised. Usually when she is surprised, it's something that isn't quite right, and either needs to be returned altogether or exchanged for a better fitting model. She loves me dearly, and even with my bumblingness (is that a word? it is now), she always smiles at me, expresses her gratitude, gives me a kiss, and then later I find that she has quietly found the receipt and put the item in a pile of things to be returned.

I've long since learned not to be offended.

Nevertheless, while I struggle with the whole process of gift-giving, I do want to do something special for my wife, and get her something that is not only nice, but that is a total surprise and that she won't return.

This year for her birthday, I ended up with one that fit all three categories, and one that hit two out of the three. I felt pretty good about it, but still wish I'd been able to hit a grand-slam.

The first one I got was a kitchen appliance that my wife had been eyeing for a long time. Anybody that knows my wife knows that she loves cooking and spends a lot of time in the kitchen. She's always looking for new recipes and new things to try, and so I've been hearing that she wanted a hand blender. About a month ago, I went to Amazon.com and looked at her wish list there, and discovered that she actually had one marked that was a reasonable price. I jumped on it and ordered it as soon as I found it.

Well, last weekend, she actually dragged me off to Kohl's to do some shopping. She had a 30% off coupon that she wanted me to take advantage of, and sent me with a short list of a few things to pick up: new slippers (got 'em -- happy unsurprised birthday, honey!) and a hand blender. Hmmm, I wondered, how was I going to get out of buying the hand blender for her while at the same time not telling her that I already had one for her in a box at home? It was a conundrum until I found out the price of the one there ($60), which was more than double the price of the one I'd got online. Knowing the frugal nature of my wife, I figured I could honestly proclaim that I wasn't about to spend 60 bucks on a hand blender for her. I'd come off sounding cheap (which she appreciates, thank heavens!), but it would certainly throw her off the scent.

Bottom line, it totally worked. Come her birthday, she opened it, and was delighted. At first she called me a liar, thinking I'd bought the really expensive one from Kohl's, until she looked at it and realized I'd actually bought the exact one she had on her Amazon wish list. Ah, tricky me! So, even though she had told me to buy it, I still managed to surprise her because she didn't think that I had actually bought it. She's quite happy with it, and has already used it several times.

Now to the second gift.

For months I've been hearing that she wants an MP3 player. She totally expected me to go get her a $15 model from Best Buy or something, but I also knew that she was secretly jealous of the new phone that I got from work (a Droid X -- I absolutely love it! Forget the iPhone, just buy one. You know you want it already! And no, I don't currently own any Google or Motorola stock ... it's that awesome.) She's been watching as I've been downloading apps and playing games and organizing my stuff and she was doing her level best to keep the green envy monster in check, but she totally wanted one. However, I knew she'd be really mad at me if I paid hundreds of bucks to buy her one, nor did I want to monkey with anything that would make our combined telecom bills any bigger.

So, what to do? Then it occurred to me that I have all these frequent flier miles hanging around ... and they have electronics that you can "buy" with them ... and they have MP3 players there ... So, yes, I used my frequent flier miles, which I've been collecting from work travel for almost 10 years, to buy her an MP3 player. But I didn't want the little cheap one. I wanted one where she could download apps, put the scriptures on it, play games, show videos, etc. So, looking through the menu of players they had, I noticed that they actually had an iPod Touch available. I looked at the features, then at my available miles, then at the features again, then I clicked "Add to cart", and it was on its way to my house.

But then she started making my life even more complicated, starting to talk about how she was thinking of getting a new phone that could do more stuff like mine. She was really interested in being able to download apps, have a decent MP3 player in it, etc. She even found some models she could get for free, with certain data plans. There I was, with a gift that would meet her needs literally in the mail, but I couldn't say a word about it for fear of ruining the surprise. Well, Mr. Cheap came to the rescue again: "Honey, I really don't want to pay anything more for our telecom bills. I mean, the data charges alone ...!" It worked, but I could tell she wasn't satisfied. All I had to do, though, was put her off until her birthday. She must've got sick of hearing me say, "You don't need a new phone. The one you've got works fine!" It must've been small consolation for a woman who had download needs, but that's where I was. I don't think she noticed that I found ways to leave the room when the subject came up.

Well, before it arrived, I threatened my wife that she wasn't to pick up (let alone open) any packages that arrived at the house for a few weeks or else ... something. She was a good girl, and did as she was told, and this little box showed up. I'm absolutely certain she figured it was an MP3 player. However, when her birthday came, she unwrapped the box, opened it up, and this look of total confusion went across her face. At first, I'm not sure she knew what it was. Then it dawned on her. Then she got mad at me for spending too much. Then I told her I hadn't spent a dime. Then she got mad at me because it was too much. Then I told her she'd been wanting an MP3 player. Then she insisted it was too much. Then I told her it does everything my Droid does except make calls. Then she opened it and we had some arguments with the kids over who's iPod it was. Finally, a while later, she started smiling.

And all was happy.

Until ...

She asked, "Does this thing have a camera?" My heart sank. No camera?! Of course it has a camera! See, it's right ... um ... Yeah. No camera. I got online and tried looking for the product description again, but it wasn't available anymore. We had a little discussion about how, when she realized what it was, she was really excited to use the built-in camera to take pictures and videos.

I thought maybe they'd sent me the wrong one. I emailed the frequent flier people, who promptly responded with, "As stated in the Terms & Conditions of the program, no exchanges or returns on Apple products are permitted." The person who replied even sent me the invoice with the model number and product description, which clearly said nothing about a camera. Grr. So, I called customer service. Ironically, the person who answered was the same person who sent me the email! How can that be? Seriously? I mean, what are the odds?! And worse, she was absolutely unyielding. No exchanges or returns. Period. And, no, sir, it wouldn't help to talk to her manager because it's in the terms and conditions. Ack.

So, here we are "stuck" with a perfectly good iPod Touch, which is "3rd Generation", which is totally awesome, but now it has the stink of something that just isn't quite right. To add insult to injury, the frequent flier catalog now only has the 4th Generation version, which, of course, has a camera. I missed it by only a week or two. Curse my luck!

And now, here I sit, having given my wife some wonderful gifts that were really nice, a total surprise, and that she won't (or, in the latter case, can't) return. But still I feel strangely unsatisfied about it.

*sigh*

And Christmas is less than 2 months away, and I'm all out of ideas ...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Tribe Names

My daughter was grouped with three other kids into a "tribe" and they are supposed to be making up their own rules and stuff as part of a project. Their tribe name? The "Awesome British Gummy-Bears of Doom". I'd totally join that tribe!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Dangers Right Beneath Our Feet

I had a bad dream last night. I was out in the desert, surrounded by scrub brush and dirt and a lot of people. It was daytime, and we were in a fairly large depression that had been surrounded by earthen walls on four sides. My children were off playing with the other kids, basically running around in hordes and laughing hysterically.

As my children played, I went to go climb one of the walls to see what was on the other side. Just as I rose above the crest, I saw an old F-104 Starfighter amble overhead, largely flipped over so that it was almost top down. Soon, two F/A-18 Hornets screamed by in formation, and I knew they were supposed to bracket the old Starfighter and bank left. One of the Hornets got too close and clipped one of the wings of the Starfighter, which was clearly going to crash.

The pilot of the Starfighter miraculously managed to right the slow-moving plane and do a belly-landing in the soft desert dirt. Nobody was hurt, but the pilot immediately popped the top and started running from the smoking ruin. To my horror, I watched all the children swarm the plane, laughing and climbing on the wings and fuselage, which was starting to smoke more and more. I ran over and started yelling to the children to get away. I was keeping my own distance, knowing that the jet fuel in the plane could explode at any second, when I saw my own two oldest children climb right up on top of the cockpit. Where my two oldest children were, I was sure that my youngest child was sure to follow, but I did not see him.

I started yelling frantically for them to get down off the plane and waved for them to come to me, but they did not hear me and ignored my motions. My daughter, in her innocence, even began waving for me to come to her! Just as I was steeling myself to run in after them, knowing full well that it was going to be futile, I awoke with a start.

Some dreams carry residual emotions with them when you awake, and I retained the fear of losing all three of my children in that horrible accident this morning. I didn't sleep so well after that.

As it was General Conference this past weekend, I've been in a mode of contemplation, and I immediately began to consider the applications of this dream.

First off was the practical: it is simply impossible to warn your children about all the potential dangers that might occur to them in their lives. Seriously, have you ever warned your children that if a plane crash lands in the desert, you shouldn't climb on it because it might explode? (I probably will later today.) That kind of situation just doesn't come up in normal day-to-day life.

We warn them against all sorts of physical dangers: look both ways before crossing the street, don't run with scissors, keep your fingers out of wall sockets, and even brush your teeth really well or they'll fall out someday. At some point, however, children need to start thinking for themselves, and consider for themselves the dangers that there are in this world. For my own children, they seem to have a healthy sense of self-preservation, but not such a good sense of how their actions can injure another. They also haven't shown great wisdom in unfamiliar or unusual settings, such as illustrated in my dream.

So, I ask myself, how do I help my children to recognize dangers that could quite literally be right beneath their feet? Clearly I need to help them to recognize the promptings and direction that can come from the Holy Spirit. My two older children have been baptized and have received the Gift of the Holy Ghost, which means that they have the right to be guided by the Spirit of God at all times in their lives, if they live worthily. I can certainly teach them how to live worthily by modeling and encouraging good behaviors, but how do I, as a parent, teach them how to actually listen to the promptings of the Spirit?

So often my children get so excited about things that they don't stop and think about their surroundings. In my dream, it was quite evident that they were just following the crowd, all in the name of fun and excitement. This put them in a place that was dangerous to them physically. This panicked me, and I was deeply afraid of losing my children.

To draw the comparison, I think that it is all too easy to follow the crowd into places that are not only physically dangerous, but spiritually dangerous. I find myself wondering if my children would be discerning enough to recognize these types of situations, and to avoid them from the beginning. At this writing, I'm not so sure.

The dream certainly shook me, and I now know what we will be talking about during Family Home Evening tonight.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Tick-Tock

I was bringing my youngest son, who is 5, home from karate practice yesterday when I heard his little voice call from the back of the car, "Daddy, why are there tick-tocks in the front and the back?"

Uh, okay. First, I hadn't the faintest idea what a "tick-tock" was, and second, the front and the back of what?!

So, I replied most eloquently, "What?!"

He repeated his question, to which I replied even more eloquently, "Huh?!"

Then he said, "You know, on cars. Why do they have tick-tocks in the front and the back?"

At this point, realization dawned on me that he was asking about the turn signals, otherwise called "blinkers". (Understanding 5-Year-Old = Awesome Dad Moment.)

Thereafter ensued a discussion about how turn signals are put on the back of cars so that people who are behind them can see where the cars are going, and how turn signals are on the front so that people in front of or beside them know similarly. I'm not sure he got it, even though he said he did.

After I had this discussion with him, I was amused, but also fairly sad. Now that I'd informed him what they're really called, I'll probably never hear his cute little voice utter "tick-tock" in the same context again. The term "tick-tock" is sooo much more adorable than what they're really called, and so much more poetic. Such a pity.

Hmm, makes me wonder what other adorable sayings I've completely wrecked in my children's youth, all in the name of precision.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Triathlon

This morning was the big triathlon. It's an annual event sponsored by our stake (I think) and the teachers and priests from all over the area are invited to participate. A few months back, when I was called to be in the Young Men's Presidency, I decided that I wanted to participate as an adult, in order to show some solidarity with the boys. The other two adult leaders with whom I work are athletic, so it made natural sense that the three of us could form a team to participate. The triathlon wasn't a full triathlon, as the swim was "only" 400 yards, the biking was 5 1/2 miles, and the run was about 3 miles. Having just finished training for a 5 k (~3.2 miles), I was quickly able to press the other two into participating with me to do the swim and the cycling.

Then I had my appendix out.

Despite my best intentions and my seemingly quick recovery, the doctor thought that participating in a triathlon that soon after my surgery would be a little too much too soon. When I told my wife the doctor's misgivings, she jumped on the bandwagon and made the directive to not participate even more strict.

So, I had arranged to participate in the triathlon with a team, and suddenly was no longer able to participate. I still am grumbly about that. The other two, bless them, planned to participate and one of them had one of his adult sons fill in for me. (Truthfully, I think he was pretty happy about it, because he didn't want to do the cycling -- his assigned piece of the triathlon -- and his son was more than happy to do it.)

So, instead of my smiling mug here, you get this:

In keeping with my general policy, I won't be naming names on who these people are in this space, but they know who they are. I'm jealous. That was supposed to be my team, but whatever. *pout*

Anyway, the morning started beautifully with nice and cool temperatures that slowly rose as the day went on. By the time the triathlon was finished, the temperature was in the 90s, so it ended well.

All told, we had the two leaders, two other non-leader adults, and 11 boys participate, most of them from the teachers quorum. Four of the boys did an "ironman", running the whole race themselves. And they did great.

I helped get them all registered and ordered and teamed up, and then pretty much just wandered around taking pictures the whole time. It was pretty fun capturing the candid moments. There was this one where the boys were acting cool before the race:

And this one where one of the leaders was posing with his two participating boys for his wife:

And this one where everybody was standing around just waiting for the first leg, the swimming, to start:

My personal favorite is this one where one of the boys was flirting with a few young women who were there:

After each leg, I tried to capture pictures of all the boys as they came out of the water, cycled to the end, or clambered home at the end of the run. By the end, everybody was hot and tired (even the non-racers, like me), and felt a sense of accomplishment.

There was one boy who felt he had let his teammates down, and another who had crashed on his bike during the cycling portion:

Even so, I think most people went home happy. I heard several of the non-racing adults occasionally mutter, "Maybe next year ..." It really did look like fun, though exhausting. If I'm still in my calling next year, I definitely plan to race, maybe even doing it iron man-style! Assuming I don't have to have my appendix out, that is ...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Something That Makes Me Happy

My youngest son loves cars and Legos and trains and anything even remotely related to wheels. He is also five years old, which means that he doesn't naturally clean up after himself. In fact, being who he is, he tends to pretty much drop whatever is in his hands where he happens to be. This means that we regularly find Lego parts and Hot Wheels cars all over the house. As a parent I'm supposed to get annoyed when this happens, but, truthfully, it actually brings great joy to my heart. I love finding these little treasures all over the house, and I know for a fact that one of these days I am really going to miss it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Insult to Injury

So I'm well enough after my appendectomy to finally go to work. Then I catch the flu.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Glorious Day!

Okay, so I had to mark today as a Glorious Day. There are certain times in your life when you reach very special and extraordinary milestones, and sometimes we let those times pass. Well, for me, I just had to record it for posterity: Finally, my oldest son has mowed both the front AND the back lawn! A truly Glorious Day!

If Ye Are Prepared ...

It is a mantra that I've applied to my life in many aspects, from being a Boy Scout as a youth to taking finals in college to gathering food storage for my family. The phrase "if ye are prepared ye shall not fear" comes from the Doctrine and Covenants and is found in the midst of a whole pile of instructions to The Church regarding caring for each other.

In the last few days, however, as I've contemplated the appendectomy that I just had, many people have asked me if I was afraid at the time, or if I was worried about it. I can honestly state that never once did I fear for my life during the whole ordeal. I felt truly and terribly awful, for sure, and in the throes of my agony I stated more than once that "I feel like I'm dying!", but never once did I consider that I would actually die.

I do have a healthy sense of self-preservation, though my wife would sometimes disagree when I express my desires to go bungee jumping or skydiving (I'm still forbidden by her, by the way ...). Perhaps I still have an "invincibility complex" that I've never quite grown out of from when I was a teenager. Or perhaps, worst of all, I just simply didn't imagine it was a possibility. (By the way, a failure of the imagination in failure-mode scenarios is a huge no-no at my place of work, and has literally lost spacecraft before.)

Either way, it never occurred to me. I fully recognized at that time that appendicitis was an infection that people used to regularly die from. One of my brothers even had a brush with death because of appendicitis. Even so, I let the nurses knock me out and wheel me off to the operating room with barely a backwards glance to my wife. I said no goodbyes and fully expected to see her within a blink of my eye.

In hindsight, I think I was prepared for the worst, so I never feared it would come. It's like putting fire alarms in your house -- it's a really, really good idea to have them, and pretty much everybody does, but nobody expects to actually need them. Indeed, the only time most people pay attention to them is when the "low-battery tweet" starts to go off at 3 am (why is it always in the middle of the night?!).

My own preparations for the worst include the following, from short-term to long-term:
  • I have piles of sick leave available at work. I'm a generally healthy person so this has just accumulated over time.
  • I can do much of my work remotely, if need be, by computer and by phone, so I didn't worry about being gone for a long time to recover.
  • I have two very good and reliable wing-men for my calling at church on whom I can wholeheartedly rely for everything.
  • I have a will that clearly states my beneficiaries.
  • I have enough life insurance that would pay off all my debts and keep my family in order for several years.
  • My wife knows where all the important documents are kept.
  • My wife knows all the important passwords for my online life (financial websites included and especially).
  • My wife knows where to bury me, if that needs to occur (though we haven't purchased lots, yet -- we still think we're a little young for that and we don't know where life will eventually take us in the long run).

In the midst of all these preparations, my ultimate demise, while a serious blow to my little family, would not leave them uncared for. And while I am certainly nowhere near being perfect, I feel sufficiently comfortable in my religious well-being that the prospect of "moving on" does not fill me with absolute dread.

This is not to say that I feel "ready", not by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, I still feel like I have so much to do before that eventuality occurs! However, the saying is true: "if ye are prepared ye shall not fear". Trust me, I just tested it.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Appendectomy - 7 Days Later

My state of being, 7 days after having my laparoscopic appendectomy:
  • There is still no pain around any of my incisions. However, I recently went off all my pain medications, and I've noticed that the tape covering the incisions occasionally grabs the skin and hurts a little (big deal, I know, but hey!). I also notice that when I press on the incision sites, two of them do not cause pain, but the third, which is just below my belly-button, causes me to pause.
  • The itching from the hair regrowing on my belly has been slowly decreasing. It is still a regular nag in the back of my consciousness, but it's getting better.
  • Bowel movements and other associated acts are regular now. No pain or other issues at all.
  • Urinating is normal now. No pain or other issues at all.
  • My stomach still makes some weird gurgly noises on occasion as my innards continue to reorient themselves.
  • My appetite is still not full-strength -- hovering around 80%, I think. Of course, since I'm just sitting around all day, this is probably good.
  • My shoulder joints still hurt all the time right now. In fact, it got so bad that I went in to see the doctor on Sunday evening. The doctor wasn't very helpful and basically told me to tough it out, which I expected. She did give me a prescription for slightly more powerful pain medication (very slightly), which I ended up taking only once. On Monday morning, I elected to go cold turkey on the pain meds and see what happened. I did all right through the day, and kept a hot pad handy to put on the most offending shoulder. As of now, I'm no taking any of the prescription pain meds, but I did take some Tylenol.
  • Breathing is normal, with deep breathing possible now. Occasionally I still get a catch in my chest when I lay funny and my shoulders are giving me trouble, but I'm doing much better here.
  • The bruising on my largest incision appears to be healing. From the last post, I expected the bruise to widen across my stomach, but it appears to be dissipating now. Things are looking much better, and the redness and swelling is almost all gone now.
  • I only took one nap yesterday. That's progress.
  • My weight is currently 3 pounds below where I was before the surgery, and I expect it to stay steady as my appetite rises commensurate with my activity level.
  • My range of motion is pretty good, but I'm creaky. I raised my arms earlier to stretch and got all sorts of interesting popping noises through my chest and back. I think this is a side-effect of the largely sedentary life-style I've been living.
  • I can lay down without issue, on either side, though sometimes I still need to reconsider when I'm having certain shoulder problems. I still have not attempted to lay on my stomach.

All in all, I'm feeling better than I was, except for the lingering aches in my shoulders.

In other news, some of the kids from the ward came over last night to do 20 minutes of service. My wife had them wash the windows on the back of the house, which they did well. It was nice to see them, and I'm grateful for their service.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Appendectomy - 4 Days Later

My state of being, 4 days after having my laparoscopic appendectomy:
  • There is really no pain around any of my incisions.
  • The giant square they shaved on my belly to do the surgery now ITCHES like mad as the hair begins to grow back. My wife said it was this way at first for her when she started to shave her legs, but she's used to it now. I'm not going to start regularly shaving my belly, though, so I'm enduring it.
  • I finally had a bowel movement this morning ... 4 days later, which was a little disconcerting as I'm really quite regular. A little personal here, I know, but for all those scientifically inquiring minds out there, I figured I'd give a rather complete record.
  • Urinating is still preceded by a weird flash of pain, but otherwise goes normally now (no more fits and spurts).
  • My guts still seem to be reorienting themselves, as I hear some rather bizarre gurgly noises on occasion. Mid-day, after getting up from a nap, I could swear I felt something move two inches across my stomach.
  • My appetite isn't back all the way -- still about 60%.
  • I pass gas on occasion, which, apparently, is a very good thing as during laparoscopic surgery the doctors inflate you with air, and the doctors are somewhat nervous about where all that air goes in the days after surgery. Supposedly it eventually gets absorbed by the body, which is why the passing of gas is a rather important milestone. My frequency and, um, volume is down compared to pre-surgery, though, so things aren't quite normal, yet. (Again, this is for the record, people!)
  • My right and left shoulder joints hurt all the time right now. I think it's because of the aforementioned gas, some of which has migrated to my shoulder joints, and from all I've read on line, it'll go away in a day or two (I hope). This is the single most painful thing right now about my recovery, and is keeping me humble (and slightly grumpy).
  • I took a shower yesterday for the first time. It was a glorious event.
  • I still have issues, on occasion, getting enough air, and yawning deeply is a challenge for me.
  • My stomach is starting to look more like I had surgery, and the ugly green of the bruising is starting to spread out from the incisions.
  • I usually need a mid-morning nap, and some mid-afternoon solitude away from noisy kids. I feel so overwhelmed that I literally find myself fleeing to the quiet places in the house.
  • The painkiller does its job, and wears off on schedule. I'm extremely diligent about taking it, because I really notice it in my shoulders when I don't.
  • My weight is currently 2 pounds below where I was before the surgery, and I expect it to fall a little more, but with my appetite slowly recovering, we'll see.
  • My range of motion is pretty good. I'm being cautious about bending forward, and always lift with my knees, rather than with my back, but I was in the habit of doing that before. This whole thing is an excellent excuse to get the slaves -- er, the kids -- to lift everything for me.
  • Laying down is still a slight production. I always lay down by first getting on my knees, then sort of leaning to the left until I'm down. Then, depending on how I'm feeling, I'll sometimes roll to my back. If I'm feeling really well, I'll actually roll all the way to my right side. Never once have I rolled across my front. I'm not that adventurous, yet, and until the weird chest pains go away (let alone the shoulder ones, which hinder my breathing), I'm not going that far.
  • Did I mention my belly itches?!?
  • Seriously, did I mention the itching?

All in all, I feel pretty good, except for the miserable aches in my shoulders. I'll report again in another few days.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Appendicitis

Well, the title gives away the big surprise of this blog post to all my faithful readers (all 2 of you), but so be it.

It still came as a surprise to me. My wife this past weekend has been suffering from the flu, so it came as no surprise on Tuesday morning that I was feeling somewhat queasy in my stomach. Nevertheless, I wasn't "too bad" at that point, so I got up and went to work. As the day progressed, my stomach pains continued to increase in intensity. I left work slightly early (for other reasons) and went home. At that point, I was still queasy in the stomach, but I wouldn't say I was feeling nauseous in that I had no need to actually vomit.

Well, that night, I was feeling pretty bad, but went over to a scouting Court of Honor that I needed to attend. Before it even got started, though, I knew I was in bad enough shape that I should go home. So, I helped get things set up there, then left to come home.

Upon my arrival, I was still not feeling too hot, and my stomach pains continued to increase. I felt cold and clammy, and so I took the opportunity to go get in the hot bathtub. At about this same time, I asked my wife to go to the store to buy me some Pepto-Bismol, as I was feeling severe pains in my stomach area. She left, and the pains in my stomach continued to get worse.

I was so uncomfortable that even the hot bath was not helping, so I got out and headed to the computer. I remembered that my brother had had his appendix taken out and that it was a close call for him, so I've always been somewhat on the lookout for symptoms like what he had. I typed "appendicitis" into my search engine and found a list of symptoms, which seemed to match what I was experiencing pretty well.

I got dressed into some loose fitting clothes and started pacing, the intensity of the pain getting more severe. My youngest son was already asleep, my daughter was on her way, and my oldest was reading, so as soon as my wife returned to the store, I clambered into the van and told her we had to go to the hospital right now. She was a little unhappy about leaving the kids, but I knew things were not right with me, and that I had no little stomach flu.

Eventually, my wife called a wonderful neighbor of ours to go stay with our kids for the night. I knew it must have been terribly uncomfortable, but I am so very grateful for that kind woman's service.

As it was, we arrived at the E.R. at about 8:45. I was doubled over in pain, pale, sweaty, and clammy. Even so, they made us wait. And wait. And wait. For over 5 hours, we waited there before I was finally admitted. The entire time I spent rocking back and forth, trying to manage the pain. They wouldn't even consider giving me anything for the pain because I hadn't been seen by a doctor.

As it turns out, apparently on the night of the full moon everybody likes to get into auto accidents. From our perspective in the waiting room, which is separate from the ambulance entrance, we could not see all the traffic of people being wheeled in, bloodied, beaten, and bruised from other tragic events. From our perspective, looking around at the others in the waiting area, I was the only one in obvious severe pain, and even other people in the waiting area couldn't understand why they were waiting to admit me. One kind fellow, who eventually tired of the waiting and left, even offered to let me go in when they called his name. I hope he ultimately got the help he needed.

As it was, my wife and I went through multiple scenarios. I may have been admitted earlier had we called 911 arrived by ambulance. We may have been able to get in had we gone to a more-distant, but usually better managed, hospital. Several people around us joked that I needed to pass out, vomit all over the floor, or clutch my left arm and proclaim I was having heart problems. I wasn't very amused, but I appreciated the sentiment.

So it was that I pulled a chair over and placed it adjacent to another one. I crawled into it, curled into a ball, and tried to sleep. Several times I think my body just shut down, even with all the noise. There were kids crying, loud televisions (playing Animal Planet's "Monster Animals Unhooked"), and otherwise grumpy people (aggravated by their equally long -- and sometimes longer -- wait). Even with all this, I managed to sleep.

My wife, bless her, was a real trooper. She managed to keep her emotions in check. I know how she felt -- helpless. I always felt the same way when she had our babies. As it was, when the triage nurse asked me how I felt, I remembered my good wife's pains of childbirth, and told her it was an unfair question. Clearly it was not equivalent, but I ranked it as the most intense pain I had ever felt, which was a true assessment.

Well, after what felt like days, I finally managed to get admitted. They brought me in, put me on a bed, and very quickly gave me a morphine shot and something to manage nausea. All the medicines I was given, it seemed, started with the letter "z". Zoltron, Zeratul, ... something. Anyway, the morphine kicked in right away and I felt much better. The nurse was fantastic and was able to put the IV line in on the first attempt. She had a wonderful bedside manner, which was very refreshing after the stonewalling we had in the waiting room.

It wasn't too long until I was in having a C.T. scan. And not too much later that the doctor came in and indicated that yes, indeed, I did need to have my appendix removed. At this point, he could've said I was growing a third arm in my lower intestine. I didn't care, I just wanted whatever it was to be dealt with as soon as possible.

Well, I fell asleep several times for the next several hours, and my surgery was scheduled for 6 am. I was a little surprised they could do it that quickly, and at that early hour, but all the doctors and nurses seemed surprised by my surprise. It's the shift they were working, and it was all in a "days" work. They put a line in and I passed out quickly -- it wasn't really hard as I was exhausted anyway from the night of pain.

I woke up unaware of where I was and remember rubbing my head a lot trying to clear the fogginess in my mind. That didn't really work, but I eventually came to well enough to remember where I was and why I was there. I just stayed put, though, and they eventually took me to a room where I would stay for the balance of the day.

My wife had stayed long enough to talk to the doctor after the surgery, then ran home to relieve our good neighbor and friend. She stayed home the balance of the day, dealing with life with children. She later reported that the doctor told her that the surgery went very well, largely to the fact that I am fit (which made me feel really good -- losing all that weight has again helped me out in life). He was able to do the appendectomy laparoscopically, meaning that they made three tiny incisions, and used little cameras and knives to chop out the offending organ. Indeed, I have only three sets of bandaids on my belly right now, none of which are on the right side of my belly where the appendix is located, which surprised me.

All morning long, I pretty much slept. It was fitful sleep, though, as the doctors and nurses kept coming in to check on me and my room-mate, a teenager who had suffered from a major bicycle accident and was recovering from some internal injuries, had his monitors keep beeping. It seemed he was calling the nurse ever five minutes to ask for some painkillers. I was way better off than him.

In any case, it was a weird day. I felt like I was in the twilight zone. Twice I woke up and had unexpected people in the room. My good friend and new bishop showed in the morning on his way to work, and my good friend and home teacher showed up in the afternoon on his way home from work. Both visited for while, and it was wonderful having them there. The latter actually left his iPad with me and I was able to watch Iron Man.

Later that morning, I spoke with the nurse, who told me that I could be released anytime I wanted to be. This surprised me, as I was sure they were going to insist on me staying a few days. When she told me this, though, I had a new mission in life, and that was to get home where I would be far more comfortable. After some consulting with my wife, we conspired to get me out at around 5 pm, and I ended up arriving at my house at 6 pm. So, 12 hours from surgery to home. Wow, you gotta love modern medicine. The nurse said she had never seen anybody go home that quickly after an appendectomy. I was honored, but just wanted to go home.

A few difficulties I still am suffering from:

* Breathing deeply still hurts.
* Eating and drinking causes me to have trouble breathing, and especially causes trouble for me when laying down.
* Laying down hurts when I lay on my right side. I can lay on my left, and sometimes on my back, but definitely NOT on my right side.
* Urinating comes in fits and spurts, and still slightly hurts.
* I still haven't had a bowel movement, and that prospect makes me a little nervous.

Once I got home, my good friend and home teachee and one of the counselors in the Elders Quorum presidency came over and gave me a very nice blessing. I was just glad to have them there. All of these good men I appreciate and respect, and I am grateful for them.

One of the sisters who visit teaches my wife brought us some dinner, too, which we all enjoyed. I can eat pretty much anything, but my appetite is still pretty small.

I was afraid to try to lay down last night, but with the pain killers that the doctor prescribed, which I am faithfully taking ever 4 hours, I was able to lay down (on my left) and slept through the night without too much difficulty. I'm pretty tired now, though, and think I'll go take a nap. With all my guts jostled around, apparently putting everything back into place is hard work.

I'm grateful for lots of things right now. Grateful to be "fit" enough that recovery looks to be fairly straightforward. Grateful for a wife and kids who are understanding and can take care of themselves while I'm working through this. Grateful that I have a good job that is not at risk because of this and where I have sick time available and patient co-workers who will make progress even in my absence. Grateful for my good friends and neighbors, especially those in my ward, who are kind and generous and have checked in to see if there's anything they could do for us. Grateful that my appendix didn't actually burst, and that this was largely a preventative measure. Grateful that we have modern medicine that makes this largely preventative measure possible, and drugs to make the recovery bearable. And that's just the short list.

Through all of this, I managed to escape the hospital without having to give a urine sample. Can't recall ever accompanying anybody to the hospital for an admissible illness or injury where that wasn't required ...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Things Are Funnier When You Don't Feel Well

Consider the following:

My oldest son was reading some jokes out of the comics and this interchange happened:

My son: "Who fixes an astronaut's car?"

Me: "I don't know."

My son: "A quantum mechanic."

Me: "Hah, that's funny. Do you know what a quantum mechanic is?"

My son: "Uh, don't they build the rockets?"

At this point, my wife, who has a really bad cold and isn't feeling well at all, starting laughing and insisted that I blog this hilarious interchange.

My son and I just looked at her, but I love my wife, so I obliged.

Hmmm ... so, yes, it's funny, but not that funny -- at least not to me. Or is it? Did I just not get it? Or is this a clear example that when one doesn't feel well, one appreciates even modestly humorous things much more?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My Jury Duty Experience

In all the years I've been a registered voter (going on 18 years here ...), I had never been called for jury duty. This past May, however, I finally received the "dreaded" summons in the mail. I had seen them before when my wife received them, but she was always excused as she is the primary care provider for our children. My anxiety in opening the envelope was more about the timing of the service than the need to go. With work being somewhat chaotic, and my presence needful, jury service was likely to be not just inconvenient, but rather intrusive to my professional life.

When I opened the summons, I immediately took note of the dates: report the week of June 28th. It took me about 3 seconds to realize that serving at that time would likely impact our plans for the 4th of July, so I went ahead and called into delay my jury duty until mid-August (this week). No problems so far.

This past Sunday night, I made the call to determine if I was to report, and was surprised when I was. So many times people tell me that they end up calling in night after night, never being called in, until their week of service is finished. That was not to be my luck; I had to report on Monday.

This caused me to have to shuffle a lot of things at work. While I knew that I was supposed to do jury duty this week, I didn't actually expect to have to be present at the courthouse for the majority of the week. I had to re-schedule some things, ask others to present for me at some meetings, have others run other meetings I'm responsible for, etc. With email, I was at least able to keep a thumb on the technical interchanges, but not in a very timely fashion.

Monday came, and I arrived at the courthouse at 7:50 am, prior to the 8:15 reporting time. I went to the San Fernando Courthouse and walked up to the front doors. There, I had to go through security where they made me drop my keys, phone, and book in a bowl for being X-rayed. Everybody did it and nobody complained and the line moved swiftly. It was a downright pleasant experience compared to going through airport security.

Once inside, I made me way to the "ground" floor, which is the basement, where they had a very large room filled with chairs and people. There, I found a chair and sat. And read. And waited. For a LONG time. It wasn't until about 9:15 that somebody came and gave us our "orientation" for the day. Some of the highlights:

* We were to treat our parking tag as sacred -- a replacement would be difficult to come by.
* We were to report back to that room when we were excused by a judge to return.
* We were to no longer call the 800 number to determine if we needed to report -- now that we were there, we were to report back until instructed otherwise.
* We were not to discuss anything about the cases with anybody. Not with our friends, our kids, our spouses, our church leaders, our dogs, and most especially not with our goldfish. You never can tell about those fish -- they tend to be rather slippery.
* We were to wear our badges ALWAYS when we were in the building and the local vicinity so that the chatter-box lawyers wouldn't accidentally spill secrets they weren't to share. (Hey, it's not MY fault that lawyers have loose lips ... yet it was I who had to look like a dork wearing my badge all the time ...)
* There were plenty of places to eat in the local vicinity. The lady gave a big plug for a nearby place that, upon my later inspection, looked rather unsavory.
* We were to return any given paperwork back to them, because their budget had been cut for copies. She was clearly disgruntled about that, but, ironically, after reading the material I was no better informed, and found that I didn't need anything within it.
* We were to be paid $15 a day (wow!) plus mileage for our troubles -- except for the first day. I don't know why the first day isn't covered.
* We could be excused from jury duty for reasons X, Y, and Z; none of which applied to me.

After the lady finished talking, she invited anybody who thought they should be excused to come to the front of the room. Swarms of people went that way, and many of them eventually returned to their seats, rather than walking out the door. I drew an obvious conclusion from that, and continued reading my book.

Finally, at about 10:45, the lady announced that we could go to the 3rd floor to "Department G" where the bailiff would take charge of us. Everybody swarmed to the elevators and me and a bunch of other people headed for the stairs, only to discover that you can't get to the 3rd floor from an interior stairwell, and the exterior stairwells are emergency exits only. I sat and waited for an elevator and squished in when an otherwise full elevator of people from the ground floor arrived on the 1st floor where I was standing.

At the third floor, we all stood around looking uncomfortable waiting for something to happen. I found a chair and started reading again. Finally, at about 11:30, the bailiff came out and told us all to go in, and to take a questionnaire, which we would need later. Once inside, we were seated, he gave us some instructions, and the judge finally came in and gave some more instructions.

The judge pointed out the defendants there in the room, two young men who were charged with residential burglary and several counts of assault on one or more (couldn't really tell) police officers; it was a criminal trial. She was careful to remind us all that in the U.S., people are presumed innocent until proven guilty, so we were to think of them as innocent even as the charges were read to them, with wording that assumed guilt. An interesting dichotomy.

She read the names of the alleged victims, and asked if anybody knew any of those people or the defendants. Nobody did, surprisingly enough, particularly since I later found out that many in the room were from Santa Clarita (including myself) where the crimes supposedly took place. The two defendants did look familiar to me, but I still don't know why.

The defense lawyers, both of them, looked us all over carefully. One in particular looked at us like he was contemplating whether or not he wanted to squish us. The prosecutor, the District Attorney, was calm and collected, and later proved to have quite a sense of humor. The defense attorneys were an interesting duo -- the desire-to-squish-you one was older, dry, and tended to issue very obvious and leading questions. The other was younger, a little more quick witted, and seemed to really enjoy what he was doing.

At noon, after all these instructions, the judge finally had the court clerk call out 18 juror ID numbers. Those people came forward and were instructed to sit in one of the 12 jury seats, or one of the 6 seats in front of them.

Then ... the judge called a lunch recess and we were all to return at 1:30.

So, went off for lunch. I ate my lunch then walked around a bit, looking at the different restaurants in the area. There were quite a few, as the jury lady promised. It was boring, and I ended up going back to the hallway outside the jury room by about 12:45, where I sat and read my book some more.

1:30 came around, and I sat in the hallway and read my book. 1:45 came and went. Finally a few minutes before 2:00 the door opened and the bailiff ordered us all in. Taking a head count, the judge finally got things going.

The 18 "prospective jurors" were to read through the questions in the questionnaire, telling everybody in the room their profession, marital status, parental status, and the profession of any adults living in their household. They were also to indicate if they had prior jury experience.

After that, pages 2 and 3 of the questionnaire asked questions about whether or not they'd been victims of crimes, had committed any crimes, knew police officers, understood that they could be excused from jury duty at any time for any reason (and not to take it personally), and if they had any religious or philosophical reason for why they couldn't be on the jury. If anybody had reason why they didn't want to share their information publicly, they could speak with the judge and lawyers "privately".

As things progressed, a few patterns became apparent:

* Very few people admitted to committing a crime until pressed by the judge, who specifically asked -- in every single case -- if they had ever received a traffic citation. By the third day, people started realizing that they should admit to it right away.
* Most people had been the victims of a crime, usually a home burglary or a car break-in.
* There were a surprising number of people who were students in the room (all of whom were released so they could get to school one to two weeks later).
* Most people had friends who were in law enforcement of one type or another.

The judge regularly asked people if they could be fair to both sides, and almost everybody said yes. Those who didn't were clearly just being belligerent and wanted out of jury duty (they were all obliged). She also grilled people when they mentioned they were in a medical profession about whether or not they knew anything about bone structure, particularly in the hand and lower arm.

By this time, it was 2:20 and the judge told us to take a break and to be back at 2:40. We left to the hallway where I, surprisingly, read my book. Eventually, at about 3:10, the bailiff came out and brought us back in. The judge then let each of the lawyers take 15 minutes each to address the prospective jurors. The first was the squish-the-bug lawyer for the defense who got up and ran circles around his own questions to the point where there was only one possible way to answer. He was particularly uninspiring, almost always starting his questions with "Do you think ...", which meant that he always got a yes or no answer, and the most obvious answer to the question.

The second lawyer for the defense got up and he was much more personable. He actually cracked a joke. At one point, he was talking about the police profession and was pushing on how people tend to believe what one in their position of authority has to say. He cited this as faulty, as law enforcement officers are just regular people and are therefore subject to making mistakes and, worse, often have an incentive to lie to cover those mistakes. He indicated that their training is strictly law enforcement, and not focused on more esoteric things such as ethics and honesty. As a supporting example, he began a statement by saying, "Take for example lawyers. We are not trained to be honest ..." He trailed off, the courtroom burst into laughter, and he flushed red with a smile and a laugh. It was a faux pas, clearly unintentional (or he's a really good actor), but it was quite funny.

Without having seen any evidence, we were beginning to draw a picture of what the case was about: these two dudes were accused of burglarizing somebody's house, wrecking it in the process. At some point, the policemen apparently attempted to arrest them and the two attacked the police (it was specifically highlighted that the charges were not that they had attacked the police with a gun), and managed to injure at least one of them in the hand and arm in the process.

Every step of the way, the defense lawyers were asking questions about whether or not the potential jurors could declare their clients as innocent when there was no concrete evidence. Even the question of race was brought up, which made the potential jurors squirm.

Around 4, the judge dismissed us all with instructions to return the next day at 10:30, but be early because the security lines to get in can get crowded and she wanted to start on time.

So, the next morning, I'm there by 9:50. I sat in the hallway reading, of course. About 10:50 the bailiff finally lets us in at which point the D.A. had the opportunity to question the first panel of 18 people. Contrary to the defense lawyers, the D.A. was asking questions about whether or not the potential jurors could make up their own minds about the truth based on witness testimony, even in the absence of "CSI-style" concrete evidence. I got the impression that the case would be settled as a competition of testimony.

At the end of this questioning, the judge asked each of those who had said they wanted to visit with the judge in person to come to the back hallway with the lawyers. One by one, they there spilled whatever embarrassing information they needed to, and then returned to their seats.

At this point, the judge dismissed several of those people to return to the jury room in the basement for further instruction. At that point, the judge allowed the defense lawyers and the D.A. to excuse, in turn, one juror at a time until there was only 11 people left. At that point, the judge asked the court clerk to read off 7 more names to add to the "panel". Once seated, the fun started again with the questions answered, the judge following up, and the lawyers each getting their 15 minutes.

We broke for lunch again at noon, with instructions to return at 2 pm. I ate my lunch, and, what else? sat in the hall and read my book. At 2:20 we were let back in. Throughout the day, the show continued with a second set of 7 selected, then a third set. Towards the end of the second day, another set of 7 was to be selected, and I was finally called forward. I sat down as prospective juror #14.

I answered my questions to the judge (Yes, I've had speeding tickets and, yes, I know some police officers. How well do you know them? Quite well. Do you ever talk with them about their work? Why, yes, as a matter of fact, I do; just like most people in their profession, they are rather fond of telling stories about dumb things people do. Thank you, Prospective Juror #14.).

Then the squish-the-bug lawyer got up and had nothing to ask me. Then the other defense lawyer got up and he asked me what kind of engineer I was. He then asked me what I was reading ("In the Court of the Crimson King" by S.M. Stirling. Is it good? Quite good. Would you recommend it to me? I'd recommend it to anybody who has an interest in science fiction. Thank you.) Then he started going off on how it is in engineering that there is usually only solution to a problem, and I interrupted him and told him that I'm an engineer, not a mathematician, and that in most engineering problems there are many solutions and my job is to find an acceptable one. He moved on.

Eventually the D.A. got up. He had no questions at all for anybody. The judge excused a few more jurors and I moved to the seat of Prospective Juror #7. At that point the D.A. asserted he was happy with the jury as presently constituted, but the defense released one more juror which meant we'd have to call forward more prospective jurors the next morning.

The day ended at 4:30. On my way out, the recorder asked me the title of the book, as she hadn't caught it before. I told her and she entered it into the official record for the day. I found that amusing.

The first two days of jury selection, I had intentionally under-dressed. I hoped to not show my true nature, for whatever reason, so I wore shorts, my Star Wars T-shirt, and sandals on Monday; and jeans, a junky T-shirt, and sneakers on Tuesday. By Wednesday, since I was in seat #7 and the D.A. was happy with the jury, I was totally expecting to end up on the jury. To that end, I figured there was no sense being something I'm not, so I wore what I would normally wear to work -- business casual khaki slacks and a green and blue plaid button-down shirt. I was wearing my typical brown belt, brown work shoes, and my phone on my belt.

The next day (today), I arrived at 10:00. I sat in the hallway reading my book until 10:55 and then walked up to my seat #7, which I assumed I was going to be residing in for many days. That morning, however, when the squish-the-bug lawyer looked at me, I could tell he wasn't comfortable with me like he was the day before, but I figured there were bigger targets to remove from the jury before me. The morning progressed with the seven new prospective jurors called forth and the ensuing questioning. We broke for lunch at noon, as usual. I went to McDonalds and was hit up by two separate people for cash; being the credit card person that I am, I honestly couldn't help them.

Upon return at 1:30 (getting in at 1:45, only 15 minutes late that time ... improvement!), I took my place and the releases began with the judge releasing a few who were clearly not going to work. Then it was time for the squish-the-bug lawyer to release somebody. He hesitated only two seconds, then asked, "The defense would request that the judge thank and excuse Prospective Juror #7."

I was stunned. I stood, attempting to suppress a smirk, and strode out of the court room. I went down to the basement, picked up my release form and left.

So ended my time on jury duty.

Throughout the week, I had been vacillating on whether or not I wanted to be part of the jury. I had the feeling that I had seen these two young men before, even in the same setting, strangely enough, but couldn't place that memory. I also could easily envision them committing the crimes of which they were accused, so perhaps I was somewhat unfit for the job. Perhaps it was their demeanor -- they honestly looked and acted like guilty kids who got caught and were hoping they could weasel their way out of it. Even the demeanor of their defense lawyers spoke that they knew their clients were guilty, and their questions to the prospective jurors heavily leaned towards "well, if you can't prove they did it without any reasonable doubt, then you have to say they are innocent" rather than "these boys are innocent and it's up to you to say so".

Even so, now that I've been released, I'm somewhat relieved. I was very stressed trying to defer things at work, and was constantly checking my email and dealing with things day by day. If I had been put on the jury, that would have ultimately been fine, because I could have at least planned to be gone for a few weeks, but the intermediate state of not knowing was a burden.

It was an interesting process, and one I somewhat enjoyed, and someday I do think I'd like to serve on a jury just so I can have that experience. This time, however, it took 3 days to know it was not to be.

Ah, well. Despite the uncertainty, I really did like sleeping in ...

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