Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Gratitude Day 30 - Done!

So for my final day, I'm cheating a little.  I'm recycling aspects of my previous lists in order to highlight the top #3 things that I'm most grateful for.  The irony is that none of them are "things":

1) My Heavenly Father, who has given me a compass to follow, a moral code that improves my life, a belief system that inspires eternal hope, and a village of like-minded people in which to raise my family.
2) My wife, as my marriage to her was simply the best decision I have ever made.
3) My children, for they bring joy to my life and hope for the future.

So, I did it.  I finished 30 days of my Gratitude List.  At times, it was actually pretty hard to think of things that I hadn't done before.  For today, I cheated a bit but this was really how I wanted to end this anyway.  So ... what are you grateful for?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Gratitude Days 27-29

Ack, so another few days have gone by without me posting my Gratitude List.  I've only got a few more days, which will be somewhat of a relief because life is, frankly, busy, and being required to write every night has been a pain.  Anyway, here's my list for today, related to events from the past few days:

1) I'm grateful for good friends who bring us Christmas goodies.  Even though my hypoglycemic wife can't eat any of it, I sure do appreciate it!  And she does appreciate the sentiment, even if not the goodies.
2) I'm grateful that my children have a great piano teacher that cares about them and encourages them and, the meanie, forces them to have bi-yearly recitals to show off what they've been learning.  Without those, I'm not sure they would learn anything at all!
3) I'm grateful for the good people that work for me.  I lead a small team of software developers -- one of many of the duties that I do at work -- and each one of them is a reliable, responsible, and effective worker.  A few years back, when I was assembling my team, I was throwing the dice looking for a few good programmers, and the team that I have is awesome.
4) I'm grateful that my oldest son has finals right now.  He hates studying, but my wife and I are having a wonderful time torturing him.  We're so glad that he's being forced to be responsible with his schooling and take things seriously.
5) Related to this, I'm grateful that my wife is such a great teacher.  She has bachelors degrees in elementary education and special education, and even though she's never used those degrees in a professional setting, I can honestly say that whatever measure of success my children have had in school is a direct reflection of her amazing influence.  Right now she's drilling my oldest son on the structure of the federal government and how certain states rights are limited.  Awesome.
6) I'm grateful for Christmas.  I think I said something about this before, but my previous item was about the holiday season.  I really am grateful for Christmas itself, and how it is an opportunity to remember the great gift of the Savior and all the amazing things he has done for us.
7) I'm grateful for the U.S. Postal Service.  I know there's lots of people that want to do away with it, but I appreciate the fact that I can send a letter for a reasonable price and that mail is delivered to me reliably.  At this time of year, we use this service quite a bit exchanging Christmas cards and the like, and I am grateful that we can count on them.
8) I'm grateful for Christmas cards.  We take all the ones we get in the mail and tape them to the back of our front door.  This has been a tradition that I got from my parents, and it is a wonderful thing to see, at a glance, many of the wonderful people that we have crossed paths with in this life and who, at least for this one time of year, think about us and we about them and how they are doing.  Despite the evident cost savings that come from sending digital "cards", I hope that social inertia keeps people sending physical cards around.
9) I'm grateful for my health insurance which I get through my work.  I hate unexpected bills, and my HMO keeps me from getting nasty unexpected bills in the mail at random times.  The fact that my wife and I can go and randomly visit the doctor for various purposes (including getting physicals and blood work done for our adoption efforts) and never worry about the overall cost to us (okay, I admit that I detest paying out for co-pays) is something that I actually do think about and appreciate.

So, that's it for tonight!  2 more nights to go!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Gratitude Days 23-26

Wow, so I totally fell down this week in doing my Gratitude lists, so I'm going to do them all in one blow.  A few notes from this week ...

 Wednesday I came home late from work and found all well with my family.  My wife was still suffering some of the worst effects from her cold, but she was doing all right.  We did nothing noteworthy that evening.

Thursday I went to work in the morning for a review to determine the readiness of my software to be deployed for use the by Mars missions (which went very well, as usual) and then came home early so I could get a nurse to look at where I had my TB test done on Tuesday.  I met with the wife and daughter and we went out to lunch and had a great day.  I tried to work from home the balance of the day, but it was scattershot due to my wife still not feeling very well and me volunteering to go pick up my younger son from school.  My older son, though, went to volunteer at the library (2 hours of sorting books -- woo hoo!) and then he and I went to the church for a white elephant party with all the young men and women from our ward and our neighboring ward.  It was sorta silly, but I wouldn't say it was "fun" because people didn't bring very inspiring stuff (the hottest gifts were some pink Christmas socks, a Christmas blanket, and a remote control spider that supposedly climbs walls).

Friday (last night), I went to Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles with my oldest son.  The occasion was a field trip for the kids in his grade who are taking Spanish.  We took the Metro (1 hour both ways!) to get there and he was grouped with a bunch of nice kids.  We wandered the street for 4 hours!  We didn't need anywhere near that much time, but that's how the Spanish teacher scheduled it.  Myself and another father were the chaperones for our little group of six kids and it was quite nice to visit with him.  It took us a few hours to figure out that we were both members of the church, and he actually attends our old ward over in Valencia.  It's funny how we Mormons tend to find each other ...

This morning (Saturday), I went with my kids over to Lowe's for a workshop where they assembled a little wooden train. This was the third Saturday and the final one to get the complete Christmas train.  Afterwards we went to the mall and wandered around.  3 hours later we returned home nearly empty handed ... I had some light bulbs for some nightlights that we've needed and my younger son had purchased a little gift for his mother.  Ah, gotta love shopping right before the holidays.  We had some funny discussions about how when we go shopping for Mom for Christmas it's a tough job because it has to be a combination of something she wants or needs, but at an acceptable price, which is tough to do knowing what a bargain shopper she is.  We giggled about how she's not averse to taking things back that she gets for Christmas and all the kids thought it was funny when I said, in a high-pitched voice, "You paid how much for that?" mimicking my wife.  Okay, it wasn't funny, but ... well, okay, it was funny.  Meanwhile, my wife was off at Costco braving the crowds and not having any fun at all.

Now, I'm blogging instead of cleaning the toilets ...

So, my Gratitude List:

1) I'm grateful for being a salaried employee, so that I can take the time to be home when I need to be home, and make it up at other times.
2) I'm grateful that my work supports telecommuting and teleconferencing, for without that, it would be so much harder to make up those times ...
3) I'm grateful for the ability to telecommute and teleconference, in all its various flavors, so that I can work with people all across the country and in Europe and barely flinch at the differences in time zones and environments.
4) I'm grateful for my older son's voluntary attitude.  Sometimes he volunteers to help a little too much (example: he will on occasion offer to help people do the work that they are paid to do), but his willingness is always surprising.
5) I'm grateful for Christmas parties and that they only come once a year.  If they came more often then they wouldn't be so special.
6) I'm grateful for the school my oldest son goes to.  It's a charter school and is focused on college prep, and it actually hard for him.  As a smaller school with a dress code, it doesn't harbor many of the problems that run rampant through the regular junior high schools.
7) I'm grateful that my daughter is being home-schooled.  It's a wonderful blessing for her to be home with her mother and I appreciate the time they have together.  One of these days she's going to go back to public school and I think my wife is really going to miss having her here, and my daughter, I know, is going to miss having that time with her mother.
8) I'm grateful that my younger son has the wonderful 1st grade teacher that he has.  He had her last year in a kindergarten/1st grade split, and he's been cycled back in for his 2nd year.  She's a fantastic teacher that loves her students and I'm grateful that he has her as a teacher.
9) I'm grateful for my wife and that she is a very frugal woman.  She makes it possible for our little family to always have what we need because she uses the resources that we have so well.
10) I'm grateful that I have time to be with my children and to be able to go places with them.  Just walking the mall with them (and telling them "No, we're not buying that" about a million times) is such a rewarding thing for me, as I feel so blessed to have them.
11) I'm grateful that each of my children are healthy.  Talking with the other chaperone last night, I discovered he has a Down Syndrome 2-year-old, and I can't even imagine how challenging that must be and the long road he has ahead of him.
12) I'm grateful for Christmas lights, for they make everything look so bright and cheerful.

There, I think that catches me up ... a little random, but there you have it!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Gratitude Day 22

I stayed home from work today in order to go get a tuberculosis test this morning.  My wife also had the same test and also had a physical examination by the doctor.  We had to do these things as part of our paperwork to get ready to adopt.  Apparently, they want to know that we're not going to fall down dead the second after we get children in our home.  I can see their point, but it's a terrible hassle.  Worth it, though, we think.

The mid-day interruption, though, completely killed my productivity for work.  Ah, well.  That's the way it goes sometimes.  It didn't help that my wife wasn't doing very well this morning, so I took the time to take my boys to school.  This killed a good 45 minutes, but on the way, somehow my oldest son and I got talking about anti-trust laws.  It's so weird to have these kinds of conversations with him, as this is quite a grown-up topic.  Even so, he was fascinated as I shared with him the tale of Microsoft and their clobbering of Netscape in the browser wars, and how they were taken to court due to their anti-competitive policy of bundling Internet Explorer with the Windows operating system.  Crazy stuff.

Later, I heard some interesting news from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that is now recommending that all handheld usage for texting and talking be disallowed due to such activity being such a prominent cause of accidents.  They would make it illegal for drivers to use these kinds of devices, including in so-called "hands free" modes.  They make no such statements for passengers.  I can totally see their point, and I know I am not a great example when it comes to using such devices while I'm driving.  It'll be interesting to see how it goes.

So, my Gratitude List is an odd one today, related to these three topics:

1) I'm grateful for doctors, because it is very nice to be able to go to somebody who -- most of the time -- can provide words of wisdom, direction, and help when I'm not feeling so well.
2) I'm grateful for the NTSB.  Really, I am!  I watch The Amazing Race enough to see what the rest of the world is like for drivers, and I'm very, very grateful that we have such a governmental organization whose sole purpose is to seek for better transportation solutions.  They're not a flawless organization, to be sure, but I'm confident we're better off with them than without them.
3) I'm grateful for anti-trust laws.  The fact that we, as Americans, can go into pretty much any kind of store and be confronted with such an amazing assortment of choices at prices as low as they are (yes, they really are low compared to most other places in the world) is testimony to me that having businesses compete is by far more beneficial to the consumer than otherwise.

These things are a little random, but I do appreciate them!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Gratitude Day 21

Today was my second day back at work since getting sick.  It was ... well ... it was.  I had a decent day.  I finished reviewing a 51 page document, met with some people to dispel some misunderstandings they had about how expensive it is to do some of the work that I do, and made plans to attend meetings in the near future in places that will be much colder than it is here.  I'll have to

1) I am grateful that I live in sunny southern California, where even when it's not sunny, the weather is still better than pretty much anywhere else in the country at any given moment in time.
2) I am grateful for opportunities that I have to travel to other places.  I prefer doing so with my family but I don't mind so much when I need to travel for work.  I appreciate that I have the freedom and the resources to do so and I most especially enjoy being able to explore new places and to experience new things.
3) I am grateful that I have the job that I have because, well, I actually like it.  This is huge, I know.  The other day I was looking through some stuff from my past and came across the final report for my senior project.  When my daughter asked what it was, I told her that it was the source of all things that enable her to live a comfortable life.  She didn't get it, but it is absolutely true that the genesis of all of the success I have seen in my career is that little spiral-bound senior project report.  Funny how life is ...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Gratitude Day 20

Today is Sunday.  It is supposed to be a "day of rest", and today kinda was.  I ended up flying solo to church with the kids because my wife still isn't very well.  She seems to be bouncing back today, though, and we'll see how well she is doing tomorrow.

Sacrament meeting was pretty darn peaceful.  My kids were well-behaved and the speakers were quite good.  There was a musical number by seven sisters in the ward who played a musical number on the flute.  It was quite good and I was very impressed.  Playing the flute seems to be a dying art, and it was surprising that there were so many in our ward who play.

True to expectations, I didn't get a chance to share my lesson during deacon's quorum today.  The new secretary needed to be set apart, and the boys needed to debrief from the campout, and we needed to do some training on how to appropriately stand when they pass the sacrament.  All this ate up all the time, and when they finally turned the time over to me, we were already due to end the meeting.  So much for my preparations, but at least I was able to give the boys something to walk away with.  I had prepared a flyer on the Duty to God that outlined steps for finishing their deacon duties.  It's another tool they can use to help them make progress ... and another one for them to ignore, if they choose.

Anyway, after church we came home and had some quiet time and then I took my oldest son over to the church for a board of review so he can advance to the rank of 1st Class in the Boy Scouts.  He was well-prepared and I didn't worry about him at all.  The rest of the family joined us and we went in to visit with the bishop for tithing settlement this year.  It was a nice meeting, but my wife still wasn't doing well, so I sent her home pretty quick.

The rest of the day my wife and I called our parents, we played with the kids, dinner was made, dishes were washed, laundry was folded, and we watched The Amazing Race from 2 weeks ago.  The kids were happy and they each did what they each like to do ... the two oldest kids read and my youngest played with cars and Legos.

A good day.

So, my Gratitude List for today:

1) I'm grateful for the Boy Scouts of America.  It's a great program, which has given so much to me personally and to my family collectively.
2) I'm grateful for Legos.  They're expensive, but worth it.
3) I'm grateful for books.  My children are readers and it is special to be able to share so many ideas with them.

Well, there you have it.  Good night!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Gratitude Day 19

Today was a strange day.  I actually got up and went garage saling with my wife, and we found a few really great things.  One was a baby gate, which we managed to get for a song, and we also got a bunch of winter clothes that we've been needing, which we later found was worth several hundred dollars.  Score!

Later in the morning, we went over to Lowe's for their workshop, where the kids made a "coal car" for Santa's train.  Next week they'll build the actual engine, which should be interesting.

After that, we stayed home and mostly did laundry and picked things up.  We started reorganizing the room where my wife's craft stuff was kept, which we will be turning into an honest-to-goodness bedroom again for the child/ren we hope to adopt in the new year.  This meant we also needed to do some cleanup in our room, as most of that stuff is going into there.  We've done some furniture shuffling (I moved the treadmill and a bookshelf twice!) and have even gone through and weeded through some books that we've been hoarding for years.  It's been therapeutic in a way.

We also did some cooking to prepare for the Ward Christmas Party, which I went to without my dear wife, who is still quite sick from the cold she caught.  It seems clear she caught my daughter's version of the cold, as the symptoms are not quite like mine and she seems to be bouncing a lot faster than I did.  We'll see, though.

My oldest son finally got home from his camping trip a few hours before the party, and he was safe and happy, so we are, too.

The party was great.  As always, the ward did a fantastic job pulling it together.  There were a few songs, a performance of "The Night Before Christmas" (including an appearance by Santa!), and, best of all, a video about the birth of the Savior.  They had tri-tip steak, baked potatoes, corn, rolls, and brownies with ice cream to eat.  The kids were in heaven, though I'm grateful my wife stayed home as she couldn't really eat any of that except the meat (we brought a lot home for her).  As for me, I was mostly anti-social.  I remember a time when I used to visit with everybody, but tonight I mostly just felt like sitting and watching.

The kids came home happy from the party, and quite full.  I tried to be Responsible Dad and only let them have one serving of the dessert, but after the kids were so insistent about it, Cool Dad made an appearance.

Later tonight, I prepared a lesson for church tomorrow, which I probably won't be able to give because the quorum meetings are so darn slow going.

Quite the day!

My Gratitude List today includes a bunch of random stuff sort of related to this:

1) I'm so very grateful for our great ward, with such good friends whom we love and appreciate.
2) I'm so very grateful that we live in a safe place where we can enjoy peace and tranquility and where we can have civility enough to enjoy these kinds of things.
3) I'm so very grateful for meat.  And brownies.  Seriously, I love them both.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Gratitude Day 18

Yesterday my wife began exhibiting signs of a cold.  I felt horrible for her, because what I've had has been no party. Her symptoms, however, are more like those of my daughter, and my daughter was able to get over her cold relatively quickly.  I'm hoping that's what my wife has instead of the long-slog cold that I have.

Today I actually made it to work for the first time since before Thanksgiving.  It wasn't exactly a party, and I spent most of the time in meetings that have been put off forever and the rest of the time frantically testing to finish up what I needed to finish yesterday.

My oldest son went camping tonight with the Boy Scouts from church.  Normally, I'd be there with him, but seeing as I'm still recovering from my cold, it's probably best for me not to go sleep in the outdoors in near-frigid temperatures or brave a 10-mile hike that they'll be doing tomorrow.  Feeling the way I do, I don't feel too bad about not going, though I do regret that I can't participate in their breakfast.  No joke, the boys planned the breakfast menu to exclusively consist of doughnuts and apples.  Clearly this was boy-planned and there were no women in the room when they did so.  The very thought makes me laugh!

So, tonight my wife and I are going to find a way to put the kids down early (or something else distracting), so we can just sit on the couch and be bumps on a log while watching TV.  We'll probably watch Survivor, which we're 4 weeks behind in watching.

Anyway, my Gratitude List tonight includes the following:

1) I'm grateful that I was able to go to college and get the college degrees that I did so that I could get the job that I have so that I can take such good care of my family.
2) I'm grateful that my wife also went to college and got the college degrees she has, as it is ever so evident that smart moms make smart kids.
3) I'm grateful that my entire family has a love of reading, and that we can enjoy many of the same books and talk about them and experience them together (well, not at the same time, because, you know, it's tough for 5 people to read the same book simultaneously).  I'm thinking here of the Harry Potter series, but there are many others, particularly the scriptures.

That's all for tonight!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gratitude Day 17

Today I've been busting my tail doing some software testing for work.  I'm still home, blowing my nose ever 5 minutes and coughing every 2 minutes, but this work needed to get done and get done today, which it isn't.  Oh, well.  I have to finish it up tomorrow, I suppose.  And my head hurts, too.  Did I say that I have a headache?  Some funky sinus pain right above my right eye, related to blowing my nose, I think.  My heads hurts.  I said that, didn't I?

Anyway, so right now I'm sitting next to my 6-year-old as he's doing a writing assignment.  He's very distracted right now, and my poking him in the side to motivate him isn't really helping.  He's writing about how "someone" comes on the night before Christmas to deliver presents.  And he keeps giggling about the fact that Christmas has the word "Christ" in it, which he knows is kind of the point, but he still finds it funny.

This reminds me of a conversation that I had (don't ask me why, my head hurts) with my daughter not long ago about how she wishes that we could live in an environmentally friendly manner.  I asked her what she thought that meant, and she talked about living outside.  I asked her what she would do when it got cold.  Or hot.  Or rainy.  She then said it was more about living simply, without electronics, and I asked her about giving up TV, and movies, and music.  She didn't like the way the conversation was going, and I reminded her that everything we have that enables us to live comfortable and content lives is related to the industrial world we live in, including all the clothes she wears and all the food she eats.  It has to get transported to our house, and we use cars and trucks to do that, but somebody has to build the cars, and they need all the stuff to build the cars, and it takes industry to do that.  The book she had on her lap represented a marvel of modern industry, which included everything from logging trees to chemical treatment of that wood, to the chemical composition of the ink to print on the page, to the metal industries required to build the paper rollers, and the oil industries required to make the glue to hold it all together.  The fact that we spent only a few dollars for all of that amazing industry to come together so she could sit on the couch under a warm blanket with soft pillows and enjoy the words printed thereon, made her head swim with its implications.  I like reality checks sometimes.  Tree huggers and environmentalists and Occupy people need to get off their high horse and appreciate what they have sometimes.  Did I say my head hurt?  A little stream of thought, this is.  Like Yoda, I am.

So, my gratitude list:

1) I'm grateful for the industrial revolution, which has led society to this point where I can sit in my house with a laptop on my lap typing out something as unfocused as this here blog post.  I'm reading a book right now about Columbus's voyages to the Caribbean and it went well.
2) I'm grateful for the fact that while I do this, my young son is actually sitting with paper and pencil and struggling to get words on the page, and that I can sit next to him as he does so.  This is an important skill so he can learn to be more like his old man.
3) In general, I'm grateful for homework.  Given in appropriate amounts, it can reinforce within my children's heads the lessons they're supposed to be learning throughout the day.  The much harder part aside from doing it is actually getting them to do it, meaning that once they sit down to do it, it's usually not all that hard.

Anyway, wow.  I need some Tylenol.  I'm grateful for that, too ...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Gratitude Day 16

Today I worked from home (I'm still miserably sick) all morning and then in the afternoon a social worker came by to do her first evaluation of our household.  This is a necessary step for the State of California to ensure that we aren't some crazy family (which we sorta are, but don't tell her that!) that wants to adopt children for the little bit of money that comes with them (which we aren't).  The meeting went well, and much of our anxiety about changes we'd have to make in our household to accommodate another child were dispelled.

For example, we had previously been told that we couldn't have children in the house sharing a room that had an age gap greater than 6 years.  We figured she would tell us we'd have to move our oldest son to a different room from our youngest son (despite them only being 5 1/2 years, and we were prepared to argue the distinction).  This would've seriously caused problems in that we don't have 2 extra rooms available (1 for our oldest son and 1 for the new child). Nevertheless, this turned out not to be the case. 

In addition, we were worried that she'd go all Nazi on us about earthquake proofing the house, which also wasn't the case.  We do need to get some child safety locks to lock up our medicines (expected), anything chemical-related that is marked "keep out of reach of children" (mostly expected), and the chemicals in the garage (unexpected).  In the end, we felt buoyed up and quite prepared to take on another child, which is good because, you know, we already have 3 and they live safely with us, too.

Some of her questions made us laugh.  My favorite was when she asked if we have enough food in the house for 3 days.  We reminded her that we're devout Mormons with a substantial food supply.  But, really, 3 days?  Who doesn't have enough food on hand for 3 days?!  We showed her the fridge (full), the cupboards (full), the closet under the stairs (full), and the shelves in the garage (full).  Yeah, we're not worried about that one.

The two things that surprised her quite a bit were that my wife has dual-degrees in elementary and special education (she kinda knows how to take care of and teach little ones ...) and that I have been CERT trained, both the normal training and the psychological training (I kinda know how to respond in the event of a major disaster).  The astonished look on her face was priceless when we shared these tidbits with her.  She was also surprised that we had done so much homework on the whole process and that the children were so well-informed and supportive of the idea.

A few things that pleased her was that we are interested in a child that is older than an infant, up to about 4 years old, and that we're open to adopting more than 1 child if that is an option.  Our only caveat is that at least one of them must be a girl (to maintain balance in the household).

This interview by her was the first of 3.  The next one will be lengthy one-on-one interviews with each member of our family.  The last one will be a "final check" prior to getting certified.  We also have to go through some training classes, which will eat up our Saturdays in January.

So, my Gratitude List today is related to this experience:

1) I'm grateful that the state has programs in place to keep children safe when their parents don't.  I wish they were even more effective.  It is troubling to me that somewhere there is at least one child that we will be adopting that may be in unsafe or neglected conditions right now.
2) I'm grateful that my wife and I feel confident in our decision to adopt another child.
3) I'm grateful that my children are not only willing but anxious to adopt another child.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Gratitude Day 15

My list today includes things that are related to comforts we have in our home.

1) I'm grateful for electricity.  It's a marvelous thing that provides so much benefit to us that we often take it for granted until it's gone.  Everything about our modern life utilizes the principles of electricity in one way or another, and some of the scariest literature I have ever read discusses life (and death) after losing it.  A temporary power outage has hit some local people recently due to the wind storms and that is terrible enough, and I pray that we never experience any catastrophe that makes it anything more than a little temporary.
2) I'm grateful for air conditioning.  See here, this wouldn't be possible without electricity, but I'm grateful for its application to make our homes, cars, stores, and places of work conditioned with air that is comfortably cool.  Here in the deserts of Southern California, when it gets hot, it can get really hot, and it is no exaggeration to say that I most definitely would not be living where I do without air conditioning.
3) I'm grateful for heaters.  See here, this little convenience could be possible without electricity, but the modern form that I have in my household utilizes electricity to sense the household temperature, to light burners (that burns natural gas that is piped here using electricity, naturally), and to turn fans to move warm air around.  I was talking to my oldest son the other day and he was complaining in the car that it is always either too hot (and so we need the air conditioner) or too cold (and so we need the heater).  I told him that people are fickle that way.  He didn't appreciate that comment.

I'm grateful for these things today, and I'm usually even more grateful for them when I don't have them.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gratitude Day 14 - My Children

Wow, these 31 days of a Gratitude List is turning into my ode to being sick, because this cold just won't let go.  This weekend the head faucet (i.e. the nose) started running and I just can't get it to turn off.  I keep hoping I'm getting better and with my undeserved sense of optimism I keep making myself believe it.  "I'm feeling much better!  I think I'll go for a walk!"  Right after I take a hot bath to warm up ...

So, in honor of my cold, my Gratitude List is NOT related to it:

1) I'm grateful for my oldest son, who is a great young man and makes me proud with every success he achieves.  On the flip-side, I roll my eyes at him when he does incredibly stupid stuff, but, as a pre-teen, he just rolls his right back.  Even so, I'm very grateful for him.
2) I'm grateful for my daughter, who is a wonderful young woman and makes me proud with every success she achieves.  Her good nature and peacemaker attitude keeps her brothers alive, and I'm so very grateful for her.
3) I'm grateful for my youngest son, who is a wonderful young man and makes me proud with every success he achieves.  His love of life, curiosity, good-natured boyness, and quickness to laughter is such a delight and I am very grateful for him.

Okay, I realize I'm cheating a little today.  3 kids = 3 items for the Gratitude List.  And I realize I said the same thing, really, for all three of them, but isn't it true that I can be grateful for each one of them?  They are three of my greatest blessings, and in hindsight, I'm a little surprised it took me 14 days to get to them because, frankly, they belonged on Day 2 right after my wife.  Better late than never, I suppose!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Gratitude Day 13

Today has been pretty miserable.  The faucet in my head keeps running, so I've got a sore nose from dealing with that.  I stayed home from church today with my daughter and we spent the day watching Christmas movies.  We started with The Santa Clause, moved on to Miracle on 34th Street, then finished up with the Muppets Christmas Carol.  We normally don't watch all that much TV on Sunday, but nobody was feeling very good.  Even my wife took a nap this afternoon, which is practically unheard of.

As for me, I am improving a little bit.  I think yesterday marked the worst day of my illness, so if I measured that day as a 10 out of 10 on a sickness scale, today was probably about a 9.

My Gratitude List today is related to the stuff I was able to do, between blowings of my nose:

1) I'm grateful that I was able to mindless watch these movies with my daughter, and that she seems to be doing a lot better than me in her recovery.  It is a wonderful thing to live in a time when media is so available and that I can share these things with my children.
2) I'm grateful that I was able to sit and read quietly with my youngest son, as it is a very special thing to be able to do.  He is doing very well with his reading, and it is wonderful when he bursts through unfamiliar sentences.  He hasn't taken to reading as voraciously as his siblings, so his progress is heartening.
3) I'm grateful that I was able to make my oldest son work on some of his Duty to God stuff, because I want what is best for him.  The new program seems to not be taking too well anywhere, but at least I can say that I, as a parent, am doing my part to help him succeed in it.

So, that's it for today.  Good night!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Gratitude Day 12 - Paraphernalia to Manage a Cold

My cold, which has kept me home all week giving me false hope that "tomorrow" will be better, has doubled back and walloped me a good one this weekend.  I'm far sicker than I was earlier this week, and the cold has moved into head (well, mostly my throat and nose, which is running incessantly).  Therefore, my Gratitude List tonight is dedicated to the paraphernalia that comforts me when I'm miserable like this:

1) I'm grateful for a warm bath, which I can draw without a second thought as to how the hot water was collected, cleaned, treated, and delivered to my house so that I can soak in it until I finally get warm.
2) I'm grateful for Kleenexes, which I use without reserve as I nurse my ever-running and starting-to-get-sore nose.
3) I'm grateful for warm blankets, which I can throw across me to keep me warm as I lay like a log on the couch staring mindlessly at whatever is on the TV.

This whole gratitude thing is getting pretty easy.  All I have to do is think about the things that made me the least happy in any given day, then look on the bright side and voila! I've got my list ...

Well, 12 days in that's how it is anyway ...  ;)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Most Pointless Sentence Ever

I have to tease my daughter a little bit for this sentence that she constructed on a trip she would like to take to Hawaii.  This sentence followed another sentence that listed a few things she would like to do:

"Those things are things there, but there are things there to do, too."


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Gratitude Day 11 - Parties

Okay, so maybe doing this Gratitude List during the Holidays is too darn easy because we're in the midst of parties, shindigs, and all other manner of social events designed to celebrate the Christmas season.  That said, here's my list for tonight:

1) I'm grateful that my wife throws a cookie/ornament exchange party every year because I get to try lots of great cookies while my wife gets some adult female interaction that she so sorely needs.  "Happy wife = happy life."
2) I'm grateful that we have family Christmas traditions so that we can use the time to remember these special times and enjoy their familiar and heartwarming uplift.  While I wouldn't say my little family is overburdened with tradition, we have just enough to suit our needs but not too much that they ever feel like a burden.
3) I'm grateful that Christmas traditions aren't just a family thing, but largely a cultural one as well, that we can feel a kinder bond to our neighbors, friends, and coworkers.  Even my Jewish friends, I think, feel differently at this time of year, even if for other reasons.

So, that's it for tonight!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gratitude Day 10 - Electronic Entertainment

My list for tonight is related to electronic entertainment:

1) I'm grateful for worthwhile television and movies, because they are a great escape from regular life and I can enjoy them with my family and talk about them with them, which brings me closer to them and provides opportunities to teach my children.  (We've been watching a lot of Star Wars related stuff lately ...)
2) I'm grateful for clean video games, because they allow me to turn my brain off and relax, even though they have no real redeeming qualities.  (You know, I got to thinking that video games are modern man's equivalent to whittling a stick and sitting around singing campfire songs ...)
3) I'm grateful for quality music, which can be soothing to my soul as well as move me emotionally, something that's actually pretty hard to do.  (My phone has some pretty random music on it, which can take me back decades to strange memories as a teenager.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Silly Cat Lily

So, I vowed that I would never post a funny cat video.  Ever.

I lied.  I can't resist because it was so silly and it made me laugh.

Gratitude Day 9

So, remember yesterday I posted about being healthy?  Well, I'm more sick today than I was yesterday.  I don't think I'm going to work tomorrow.

1) I'm grateful that I have sick leave at work so that when I am sick, I can stay home.
2) I'm grateful that, at work, we are well-practiced in the art of teleconferencing so that I can dial in for the important stuff.
3) I'm grateful for my cat, Lily, because she makes me feel paternal because I'm her favorite person.  You'll see why in a minute when I post a video about her ...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Gratitude Day 8 - FHE

Tonight was Family Home Evening, where we spend some time talking about a Gospel topic or do an activity or have a treat (or all 3!) ... basically just being together, which is great.  Tonight, I shared with the kids the story of when Alma met the sons of Mosiah after their 14 year mission to the Lamanites, and how happy they were to be reunited after all that time and to find that they were all still faithful in the Gospel.  We likened this to the importance of keeping the commandments and always doing what is right, even when it is hard, which it most certainly was for Alma and the others.

Afterwards, I took my oldest son and we went to deliver some cookies that I had made (thanks, wife, for the recipe!) to the families that I home teach.  I didn't get out to actually teach my families this month, so this was my penance.

Today, too, I was home with a cold, which is never fun, and worked roughly 3/4 of the work day.

So, with all this, my Gratitude List goes as follows:

1) I'm grateful for my health.  Even though I have a cold right now, I am usually quite healthy, free of disease and long-term illnesses, and have been blessed with a strong body that enables me to do the things I really want to do.
2) I'm grateful for Family Home Evening, where we can have time to weekly remind the kids about Gospel topics that we need to cover to help our children be more respectable individuals.
3) I'm grateful for The Book of Mormon, because not only does it contain the fullness of the Gospel and is a second testament of Jesus Christ, but it has awesome stories in it that I enjoy reading.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Gratitude Day 7 - Church

As I've reported in this space before, I'm a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  We worship on Sundays, and so this morning I went to church with my family and some of my in-laws.  It was a great day, and so my Gratitude List is related to that:

1) I'm grateful for my faith that God exists and that He is concerned about me individually and all of us collectively.  This gives me confidence that what I do actually matters and that there is a purpose in life.
2) I'm grateful for my faith that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to Earth to make it possible for all of us to be forgiven of our all the sins (i.e. all that stupid stuff we so easily do to offend God and those around us) we commit throughout our lives.  This gives me confidence that even though I'm not perfect, I can look forward to a better future with so much more cool stuff to do!
3) I'm grateful for the church, which is God's own church upon this Earth designed to strengthen and uplift us and to teach us better ways to enjoy life here and to prepare for life beyond this mortal existence.  This gives me the tools I need to try to be a better person, so that I need to utilize that whole repentance thing even less.  Yeah, it's a cool system.

So there you have it for today.  Good night!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Gratitude Day 6 - Extended Family

So quite a few of my wife's family members have been staying with us for the last three days, which was crazy, noisy, busy, and downright wonderful.  We live very far away from most of them and so whenever we see them it is a great experience and always seems to end too soon -- it's made even better by them coming to visit us instead of the other way around.

That said, my Gratitude List tonight includes the following:

1) I'm grateful for my in-laws who not only tolerate me, but actually seem to like me!  This helps me feel like a worthwhile person and that my wife wasn't totally off her rocker when she married me.
2) I'm grateful for the space program.  This morning, the next rover to be sent to Mars, the Mars Science Laboratory (or Curiosity) launched successfully and this bodes well for us at work.  Successes like this (well, there's still a long way to go and a lot could still go wrong) make my personal career move forward and ensure my continued employment in the field I love.
3) I'm grateful for the internet because I "know" practically everything when I have a browser in front of me.  I like being smart.

Well, that's it.  A little random, but that's the way it is sometimes.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Gratitude Day 5 - The Beach

Today, with many of my in-laws staying at my house, we decided to head to the beach so that their Utah selves could brag about how un-cold they were in the frigid water and crisp, breezy wind.  My Gratitude List is related to this:

1) I'm grateful that I live within an hour of the beach, so that I can go and enjoy the beauty of that natural setting.  Today, the tide was VERY low ... lower than I'd ever seen, with an extensive expanse of beach and tide pools for everybody to enjoy.
2) I'm grateful that I have a kayak that I can take out on to that ocean because I find it so enjoyable to be out on the water.
3) I'm grateful I survived attempting to get the kayak out past the water today so I can be grateful another day, because any sane person would've taken one look at those waves and would have realized they'd have been crazy to attempt to try to swim past the crashing breakers.  (I ended up taking the kayak to the marina, carrying it over my head with the help of my nephews-in-law until we finally arrived and could enjoy the serenity of the marina.)

So, there you have it for today!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gratitude Day 4 - Thanksgiving

Well, today is Thanksgiving, so of course my list is going to be along that theme:

1) I'm grateful for excuses to take some time off of work to get together with family and eat copious amounts of food, because it's good for me to do that so I don't become a working drone.
2) I'm grateful that I was able to take my oldest son to play football in the annual "Turkey Bowl" for the first time this morning so that I have the great memories of him making a lateral pass (even if it was in a panic), pulling somebody's flags, and bobbling a few catches.
3) I'm grateful that we have the resources to have a comfortable life with a roof over my head, food on my table, and all the comforts of modern society so that I can have time to relax and enjoy myself doing "useless" things.

Well, there's my list for the day.  Thanksgiving rocks!  We have many of my in-laws in town and the house is quite full.  With 10 children under feet, it's also very loud, but we're loving it.  Tomorrow we expect to go to the beach and go kayaking, and then on Saturday we'll probably put up the Christmas lights.  It's looking to be a great weekend!

Oh, and yesterday I took my youngest son to Six Flags Magic Mountain and we rode a total of 3 rides (Revolution, the Sky Tower, and Ninja) but we had a great time together.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Gratitude Day 3

Tonight my items of gratitude have no theme:

1) I'm grateful for my youngest son, whose quickness to laughter and bright-eyed wonder at the world makes me so very happy.
2) I'm grateful for extended family who will drive 12 hours (okay, one family made the trip in 9 1/2 hours?! with their teenager behind the wheel at times?!?!?) to come see us for Thanksgiving, as it always warms my heart that people will make such a sacrifice to come and see us.
3) I'm grateful for Thanksgiving, as I don't spend enough time being grateful and it is a good reminder to be so.

Well, that's it!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gratitude Day 2 - The Temple

Tonight I took my oldest son to the L.A. Temple to do baptisms for the dead.  It was a great experience, and so my 3 things for my Gratitude List are related to that:

1) I'm grateful for the temple, and the blessings that can be had there, especially those of eternal marriage and eternal families, and that I can be sealed to my dear wife and children (and ancestors) and be with them forever.
2) I'm grateful that my oldest son is now old enough to go to the temple to do baptisms for our ancestors, as it was a great bonding experience between us.
3) I'm grateful that my oldest son is mature enough to appreciate the great work that goes on in the temple, as this means a lot to me that he is beginning to glimpse what that sacred place means to me.

So, there you have it.  Note a few things about tonight's entries ... as I write each item, I'm trying to write why these things are important to me personally.  This is harder than it looks!  Typically, one simply says one is grateful for things, without really saying why.  I think this next month is going to be illuminating for me ...

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Month of Gratitude - Day 1

For Family Home Evening tonight, my wife gave a lesson on gratitude.  Even though this is a seasonal topic, it is one that we always need to keep in mind a little more than we do.  As part of her lesson, she challenged each member of our family to record three things every night that we're grateful for.  I suggested we target doing so for a month, and since this blog is my sort-of-journal, this is where I'm going to record it.  So, for the next month, I'll have a blog entry each day with three things listed that I'm grateful for.

So, without further ado, here's my list for tonight:

1) I'm grateful for my wife who is far more spiritually in tune than I am and that she encourages me to be a kinder and gentler person.
2) I'm grateful that my wife provides service whenever called upon to do so, and makes dinner for people who are in need, just like she did tonight.
3) I'm grateful that my wife is grateful for me, because I do not underestimate the importance of spousal validation.

Now, don't think that I'm cheating by always complimenting my wife, as the challenge was to be specific -- none of this "I'm grateful for everything you do" nonsense.  So, we'll see how this goes.  If I run out of time, or forget a day or two, I hereby commit myself to go back and make it up, so there will be no fewer than 90 items listed by the time I'm done.  (You know, when I think of it that way, it doesn't sound like this will be all that hard ...  Even so, I think developing a better habit of expressing gratitude is a worthy endeavor.).

So, let the experiment begin!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

On Merit Badges

I am an Eagle Scout.  I am "proud" of being so for just about as long as it takes for me to remember that if it wasn't for my mother's encouragement, prodding, and not-so-subtle insistence, I wouldn't be one.  So it is that I have a fairly long history with the Boy Scouts of America.  While a Boy Scout, I went on more campouts than I can remember, attended the National Boy Scout Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia; and even went so far as to keep going with earning merit badges until I had earned an Eagle Palm after getting my Eagle.

That said, I was always on the "scout" side of the Boy Scout program.  More recently, though, I've been more involved in the "leader" side of the program.  A decade back, I was asked to help with the 11-year-old scouts in my ward, where I was specifically tasked with the objective to help the boys under my charge reach the rank of 1st Class before turning 12.  That was my charge, and I took it very seriously.  I am once again "proud" of the fact that many of those boys that came under my wing at that time continued to pursue scouting until they, too, became Eagle Scouts.  Once again, this pride remains with me only as long as it takes for me to remember that it is the boys who accomplished that feat, not me.

So it is that my oldest son is now formally a Boy Scout, having reached the mighty age of 12.  Having completed the requirements for his First Class, he is now entering the wonderful world of merit badges.  He has recently been attending some events sponsored by the stake -- something called a "Merit Badge Midway" and other merit badge workshops sponsored on Thursday nights.   At these events, he can complete most (if not all) of the requirements for the merit badges he works on.  So far he has completed 4 merit badges, and he's only been working on them for a few months.

This mode of scouting, namely the mode where the focus moves away from a checklist of skills to be learned (knot tying, first aid, outdoor cooking, etc.) and instead moves towards earning merit badges, seems to suit him particularly well.  It certainly is a much less stressful thing on my wife, who previously was always poking and prodding him to do the tasks for the lower ranks.  She is delighted that he is now moving into this realm where he must take more personal responsibility for advancing in rank, and even more delighted that he seems to be up to the task.

As for me, my previous experience with the 11-year-old scouts mostly ended at 1st Class, and I only dabbled in helping the boys earn merit badges, something that at the time I didn't enjoy at all.  Now, however, I'm having a great time.  As I'm working with the 12- and 13-year-olds as the Assistant Scoutmaster, I am enjoying pretty much everything -- the planning, the training of the boys, the camping, and the encouraging of the boys to get the merit badges.  I never thought I'd actually like doing this, and yet I do.

I'm getting a kick out of constantly asking my son, "So, what else do you have to do for that merit badge?" and him responding with a well-timed roll of the eyes and a grumble as he trundles off to get the binder with his merit badge paperwork.  I'm of the opinion that these boys should finish with their Eagle before they turn 14, as I recall how difficult it was to finish things up when I was 15-turning-16.  Hopefully my son can pull that off, but again, the best part about this whole thing?  It's now on his shoulders, not mine.

After all, I already have my Eagle (thanks, Mom!).

(Irony noted ...)

Monday, October 24, 2011

An Interesting Night

Here's the rundown of my evening:
  • Got home from work.
  • Played Lego Indiana Jones with my youngest son.
  • Had dinner with the family.
  • Watched a Charlie Brown cartoon with the kids (It's Magic, Charlie Brown).
  • Skipped soccer practice for my daughter because she's not feeling well.
  • Read Harry Potter to all 3 kids, who were paying rapt attention.
  • Put the kids to bed.
  • Couldn't find the cat, so I spent the evening walking the neighborhood calling for her like an idiot, posting signs all over the place, only to have her show herself right when I walk through the door in exhaustion.  Then I had to go out again and take down all the signs.  Glad we found her, but ...  Stupid cat.
  • Now my wife is downstairs blow-drying the bread she made tonight.  (Don't ask.)
Yeah, weird night.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I was reading an article on some of the progress made when studying the samples from the Genesis spacecraft. One sentence made me snort (yes, actually snort):

On September 8, 2004, the spacecraft's sample-return capsule came to rest in the Utah desert after executing what might euphemistically be described as a geobraking maneuver when the parachute failed to deploy.

I'm well-acquainted with aerobraking, having helped with the aerobraking operations for both the Odyssey and MRO spacecraft, and as I was actually in Utah watching the Genesis return (see here) when it performed this so-called geobraking maneuver, this new word just made me laugh.

Gotta love it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

On Adopting Another Child

My wife and I have been trying to have another child for about 5 years, with no success.  We were able to conceive a few years ago, but that ended in a miscarriage. Since then, things haven't gone well for us in that regards.  My wife's hypoglycemia has continued to monkey with her biology and though she remains quite healthy, her reproductive system appears to no longer be functional.

So, we've elected to adopt.  This isn't a new thing for us ... we've actually been contemplating and researching this for several years.  My wife's brother adopted a baby boy twelve years ago through LDS Family Services when they believed that they couldn't have any children after their first son was born.  (And there they now are with two more biological children, for a total of four!  Go figure.)  Having watched their lengthy and sometimes painful experience, we have no illusions about how easy this whole process will be.

Even so, we feel that it is something we should do.  Our family of three children, which is wonderful and which we greatly appreciate and love, just doesn't seem ... complete.  There's no way to really describe it and -- for those who aren't in tune with their spiritual sides this won't make any sense -- we have felt for a long time that our family should have at least one more child.  We're open to two more children, if that's how the adoption process works out, but we'll be happy with just one more.

Our children are delighted at the prospect.  Our daughter, in particular, is keen on having a little girl join our family, but she knows that the sex of the baby is completely outside of our control.  Yesterday I caught her (the mighty 10 year old that she is) cuddling a baby doll in her arms and carrying it gently up the stairs.  I said nothing, but she bashfully smiled under my bemused regard and went on her way.

There are many options for adopting a child.  The one that seems to be the "easiest" is to go with an international adoption.  This approach, however, is prohibitively expensive for us.

A second option is to go through Los Angeles county's adoption services.  This approach, however, is coupled with the courts system, which implies that any baby that we might get would likely come from an abusive or drug-exposed home.  In addition, the county is more interested in keeping families together than in placing adoptive children.  To make matters worse, the training and "certification" programs are designed around first-time parents and are very lengthy and intrusive.  We already have a family that needs my wife and I here in the home, not spending many weekends off at some ineffectual training course.  Neither are we interested in a "special needs" child (fault us in this regards, if you must).  The uncertainties in the court process, however, was the killer for us -- we don't want to have a baby in our home for up to two years, only to have it yanked as some judge decides to return it to the birth mother.

A third option is to use LDS Family Services, as my wife's brother did over a decade ago.  We began looking into this and were refused help due to a recent policy change that declines to provide services to couples that have more than two children.  So much for that.  However, they did say that they will help us with the legal stuff if we were to find our own adoptive mother.

(An aside: The policy actually reads that they won't provide services to couples who have more than two biological children.  We grumbled at the fact that we noted prospective adoptive couples on their website who have mixed biological and adopted children who number more than two, and it was clarified for us that the policy is for all children, biological or adoptive, and that those couples on the website who have more than two are "grandfathered" in -- implying that they've been waiting for a long time to adopt another child.)

Which brings us to option four, which is to find our own adoptive mother.  This is the path that we've elected to take.  It has only a small chance of success, but we figure that given everything else, it's the best option for our little family.  To that end, we've begun reaching out to everybody we know.  Some years ago, I joined Facebook as an experiment to see how many people I could friend from my past ... I was stunned by the magnitude of my results, but now find that my connection to all those people is a great and wonderful thing.  We'll see if it works out.

The crazy and ironic thing about this whole adoption thing, which is intended to be a virtuous and noble (albeit somewhat selfish) endeavor, is that we seek to take advantage of somebody's misfortune.  We're looking for a young woman (though we'll take a not-so-young woman, too!) who finds herself pregnant without desiring to be so (though we'll take a woman who simply likes to be pregnant, too!).

Despite the circumstances of this woman's life, we hope that this woman will respect and love her unborn child enough to care properly for herself so that when the baby is born, it will be healthy and strong, even though this birth mother would not be the one to benefit from the effort it takes to do so.

We equally hope that this mother might see within my family a place where her child can be placed with confidence that it will be cherished and appreciated, loved and adored.  We also recognize, however, that emotional attachment is not everything, and we would hope that this mother would also recognize that my home is one that is safe and secure, where I am able to provide the resources to rear her child with all the appropriate educational, medical, financial, and social opportunities that can enable a happy childhood and a stable environment in which to grow into a responsible adult.

It's a lot to ask. We ask for a mother to simply give her child to us.  In return, we promise to take care of her baby to the best of our abilities and with all our resources as if the baby was one of our own.  This promise, this covenant, is one we take with the utmost of seriousness, yet we are so powerless to bring it to fruition.

So we wait.  And we talk to people.  And we post blog entries like this one, and Facebook statii, and make phone calls, and talk to people at work and at church and in the supermarket and on the street with the neighborhood kids and, well, you get the picture.  We've set up a blog dedicated specifically to a prospective birth mother, that she may get to know our family a little and see a little about what we're about.  Check it out:  We've even set up an email where contact can be made specifically on this topic:

So, please, if you know of somebody who might be in a position to let their child be adopted, please pass a note on to her.  We would be most appreciative.  Until then, the wait continues ...

Monday, October 3, 2011

Life Changes

I haven't written in this space for a while because, well, I've been busy. It's clear that sometimes actually living life prevents you from documenting it. That said, this post is a quick run-down on what I've been doing, for all those who have been holding their breath:
  • I went to Utah to visit with the in-laws for my wife's parent's 50th wedding anniversary. If you recall, we went to see my parents for their 50th wedding anniversary earlier in the year. To be blessed with those examples of marital fidelity from not one, but both sides of the family is a real treat, and I wish I could express to everybody what an amazing accomplishment I find that to be. In today's world where everything seems temporary, it's wonderful to see that some people still know what it means to make a promise, and keep it, forever.
  • I went to Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, again -- this time for a peer review that served as a pre-meeting for a design review that has now been moved to the new year. A "pre-review" is a "pre-meeting". Yeah, we laugh at Dilbert where I work, but it is painfully reflective of the truth sometimes.
  • I went to ESA's Spacecraft Operations Center (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, again - this time for a one-day "technical interchange meeting" on lots of topics we needed to address. I went with only one other fellow, so it was a whirlwind trip, but it was well-worth it. We got a lot done.
  • We took a vacation and went to the beach during one our kid's fall break. We went up to El Capitan State Beach and camped out. We hauled the beach gear and the bicycles and the kayak, somehow managing to cram it all into and on our van; and ended up only using the first two. Even so, we had a wonderful time, even though the freight train that blew its horn and seemed to come through our tent at 2 am still makes me a little twitchy when I think about it.
  • We've installed the latest version of the software for which I'm the task lead at work, which was quite a feat given that I've been out of town the bulk of the last month.
Some other changes in the family:
  • Our oldest son is in the process of getting braces.
  • My two younger children are participating in soccer, and between practices three times a week and games on Saturday, we're BUSY.
  • My wife and I have decided we'd like to adopt another child. I'll post more on this later, but see here for the relevant blog.
  • I conferred the Aaronic Priesthood on my oldest son and ordained him to the office of a deacon. He's very excited about being with the bigger boys, and he is maturing into quite the young man (in fits and starts).
So, life is busy, but good. When people ask "what's new" in our lives, I don't have anything really to say, as life just keeps moving onward. This is a great blessing, and I only wish that I could somehow bottle how good life is right now and keep it affixed in my slippery memory.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Another Thing to Make One Happy

My six-year-old is downstairs singing "I'm Trying to Be Like Jesus", occasionally interrupting that with car vrooming sounds from his toy cars.

Friday, September 2, 2011

On Jealousy

The other day I was perusing Facebook killing a few minutes (because there's really no added value to your life when you're on Facebook ...) when I saw a post by somebody who was so excited to be going on a cruise. This post followed other posts by and pictures of this person and this person's family spending gobs of time boating and off-roading. When I saw this post I was struck with a very sharp feeling of jealousy of this person. This took me by surprise and disturbed me greatly (hence this blog post), because I'm not a person who is prone to jealousy. My life is really quite good, and I generally want for nothing.

Even so, over the past few days, I've been thinking about this quite a bit, and trying to reconcile my jealousy, which hasn't gone away, with my own life. Why is it that this person, who isn't any better than me (see? I have a very well-developed sense of self-importance, so this jealousy is not derived from low self-esteem or self-worth ...), able to have all this free time and money to do these expensive and time-consuming things?

This is difficult for me to answer and I can only guess at the nature of this person's finances, so I have been forced to turn the question around: How is it that I do not have all this free time and money to do those kinds of expensive and time-consuming things? This question is much easier for me to answer. I work hard for the money I earn, and even if I had gobs of extra money, I don't think I'd choose to spend it that way; and, well, I work and when I do have free time, I choose to spend it visiting with family and going on other more pointed family vacations (see here for this summer's travels).

So, why is that I still feel so much jealousy when I wouldn't choose to spend my time and money doing what this person does, even if I had more time and more money? I'm not really sure, but it probably has something to do with how I'm wired. I have always want more out of life. I never feel like I have enough time to do all the things I want to do, and, much to my dismay, I often find I simply don't have the strength or brain-power to well-utilize the time I do have. It's a terrible conundrum.

This whole experience reminds me of a cartoon I once saw, which I was able to find:

Is it really true? Do we always want more because we feel entitled to it, even when we clearly aren't? I am not entitled to taking long vacations with a boat and ATVs any more than the next person, and yet when I see somebody else do this, it makes me want it.

So I'm in a tricky spot. How can I suppress this jealousy? Just internalize it and let it eat away at me? Or ... and perhaps this is WAY better ... I should try to convince this person to take me on their next vacation ... and pay for it, too.

Is there a third option?!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

On Manual Labor

Last night was the 5th Wednesday in the month of August. Our ward has a tradition of allocating that evening for the young men and young women to provide service to people of the Bishop's choosing. All the youth from ages 12 to 18 typically attend and are sent out to spend roughly half an hour helping one or more families in the ward, often those who are sick or otherwise infirm.

Last night, I went with two other adult leaders, four boys, and two girls; the youth were all between the ages of 14 and 16. We went over to one man's house (who has recently been quite ill) in order to do some yard work for him. When we arrived, this man had already meticulously done more than half the work, and the lawn mower and an edge trimmer were already out and ready to go. Pretty much all that needed to be finished was the edging of the front lawn, the mowing of the front lawn, and a few branches trimmed off a tree in the front yard.

Frankly, I was NOT impressed with the youth. I understand that young people of every era aren't typically voluntary. But they all knew why we were there -- we were there to help in any way that we could. Instead, they goofed off most of the time, being silly with each other, until the adult leaders actively prodded them with an instruction to do something specific. Sometimes, even after a direct instruction, the youth would resist doing what they'd been asked, making an excuse of some kind or simply not responding.

Most infuriating was one boy who stood and stared at me as I instructed him to go get the leaf blower from the man who we were there to help and to do what he was doing. Another sad example was when one of the girls, when asked to use the edger and after I had shown her how to use it, told me she couldn't do it because she's a girl. Really?!

With six able bodies, we should've been done in about ten minutes. Instead, it took us the full half hour to prod these children to do the job.

Only one of the boys had actually used a lawn mower before. Only one! I know for a fact that every teenager that was there lives in a house with a yard, which implies that either their parents don't have them help with the outdoor work, or their parents hire gardeners. I can't fault the parents for using their probably hard-earned resources to pay for a gardener, but sometimes I wonder if we (and I include myself here) often do what is easy, rather than what is right. It is certainly easier to hire a gardener. It is certainly easier to do the work ourselves so that it gets done promptly and the way we want it done. Nevertheless, I feel that parents do their children a great disservice when they fail to provide them with opportunities to do some of this menial labor around their own homes. Last night crisply illustrated the point for me.

Now don't get me wrong. Usually, I'm quite impressed by the moral character and the spiritual strength of these youth, but last night, I was downright disgusted by their laziness and ineptitude. It seems to me that these youth do not have an understanding of the value of manual work, nor did they carry with them the spirit of volunteerism that is held by people who provide service to others. I could make excuses for the youth, citing how busy they are with school and extracurricular activities and church responsibilities, but I'm not going to, because there was really no excuse for the behavior I saw last night.

Personally, my wife and I have had a long-standing policy that the kids help with the chores in and around the house. My 11-year-old son actually mows the lawn now, and does a fine job of it, too -- and he is a full 4 years junior to most of the youth that were there last night. Am I perfect in this regards? Not on your life, but at least I'm making sure he gets exposed to hard work in the sun and the heat, and learning the value of hard work.

So, parents out there, my challenge to you: let your gardener go and get your teenagers to mow the lawn. It won't result in perfect lines in your lawn and beautiful edges, but it may just result in a more perfect child.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bed Time

What is bed time? For an adult, bed time is generally considered to be the time when the adult has finished doing whatever that adult is doing and no longer wishes to remain conscious. At that point, the adult will generally find a soft horizontal surface on which to lay and will then be silent and motionless until a state of sleep is achieved. This is how it normally works.

For a child, bed time is the time at which that child's primary authority unit (typically a parent) says that the child should also find a soft horizontal surface on which to lay, be silent, and remain motionless until a state of sleep is achieved. Generally, it is helpful for the child if the place where they lay is quiet, dark, and comfortably warm (or cool, depending on the time of year).

For my three children, bed time has three very different meanings.

For my youngest son, bed time is immediately preceded by a drink of water, a hug from one of his parents, and a story. This child will usually then climb into his bed and will then proceed to chatter for several minutes about very random stuff until his parent eventually makes an excuse to leave ("I really have to go to the bathroom!"), says goodnight for the thirtieth time, and walks away. He will usually be found asleep ten minutes later.

For my daughter, bed time is a process whereby she turns on a lamp that shines a dim rainbow across her walls (and in her face! despite her parents telling her not to do that) and stares at it until it turns off after it's ten minute timer expires. At that point, she will turn it on again and stare at it some more. This sometimes will happen three or four times until she finally drifts off to sleep.

For my oldest son, bed time involves at least one act of dishonesty. Every night at the appointed hour, he is instructed to go to bed, and every night, with a yawn, he agrees that it is time to do so. He will then go to the bathroom (slamming the toilet seat down in the bathroom right next to his sleeping sister's and brother's bedrooms), get a drink from the bathroom sink by noisily turning on and off the sink, and then slamming his door shut as he goes to bed. All this is done without any thought -- any thought -- on his part as to the effect it may have on his siblings.

Last night, he took a book with him into his room as he was closing the door. Knowing my son very well, I told him not to take the book in his room with him, as it was bed time and he needed to sleep. He then told me he wasn't going to read, but wanted to keep it in his room so he knew where it was in the morning. I told him to leave it in the hallway and he could get it from there in the morning. I also reminded him that he typically doesn't have time to read in the morning because he is often slow moving (and grumpy) when getting ready for school. He then assured me again that he wasn't going to stay up and read, and insisted that he would be quick when getting ready for school in the morning. Skeptical, I allowed him to take the book with him.

Half an hour later, my wife and I decided to go to bed, too. As I always do, I checked on the kids before I went to sleep, and sure enough, I found my daughter was still staring at her rainbow, my youngest son (happily) was sound asleep, and my oldest son had his reading lamp on and was reading. I took the book away, told him he was being dumb about this as he knows he needs his sleep, and threatened him that he better be quick to get ready and not give his mother trouble in the morning. His totally lame response? "I wasn't going to read when I went to bed." Uh huh.

This appears to be a regular routine for us for his bed time. Why doesn't he recognize how noisy he is being when he does his final stuff before going to his room? Why doesn't he recognize how hard the next day will be if he doesn't go to bed on time? Why doesn't he comprehend that the process of falling asleep requires that he be inactive, with the lights out and his mind idle? And most importantly of all, why does he insist on breaking his insistent promises to not stay up late reading? Because he's a stupid pre-teen, that's why. Studies have shown that children of that age don't reason properly, logical decision-making is impaired, and selfishness and self-centeredness is common.

I shake my head in bewilderment. I love my son, and I am grateful for him. Even so, I look forward to him getting through this stupid phase. I hear it will take another ten years ... *sigh*

Thursday, August 25, 2011

New Calling with the Deacons

A few weeks back, I got a call from the 2nd counselor in the Bishopric of our ward. I answered the phone with some trepidation, expecting that I was about to be asked to give a talk during sacrament meeting. Instead and worse, he asked if he could stop by the house to visit with me for a minute. At that moment, I knew with 99% confidence that I was going to receive a new calling.

Judging by the fact that it was the 2nd counselor who was coming to visit with me, I could assume it was going to be a calling in the Primary or something else in the Young Men's organization. I also knew that they were in the process of finding a new Ward Mission Leader, and that was the only reason I could think of for why they would move me out of the Teachers Quorum, where I was finally settled and was planning to re-kickstart the Duty to God program among the boys. Bottom line, I was NOT ready to be moved as I felt my work was not yet done there.

Even so, he showed up and eventually asked me to be the Assistant Scoutmaster and the Assistant Deacons Quorum Advisor. I was stunned, mostly because I had no initial expectation that I'd be moved out of the Teachers Quorum. Frankly, though, I was mostly relieved that I wasn't going to be called as the new Ward Mission Leader.

The other day, my wife suggested that my time with the Teachers Quorum, abbreviated as it was, was really a time for me to get "trained" in the Young Men's program in preparation for this new calling. I can always count on her to think of these things. The Teachers Quorum was a delightful place to be and I felt comfortable there, so it makes perfect sense that I couldn't stay there for long. As it is, I do now feel quite prepared to be with the Deacons Quorum, a feeling I know I wouldn't have if I hadn't first spent a year with the Teachers.

The two men I'm working with, the Scoutmaster (who is mostly responsible for the scouting side of the boy's activities) and the 2nd Counselor to the Young Men's (who is mostly responsible for the Sunday/religious side of the boy's activities), are wonderful men that I consider to be good friends. I'm looking forward to working with them, and I understand very clearly how I can help them: I'm an organizer by nature and can help them plan to get these boys moving forward with their scouting, and, having had experience with the Teachers with regards to the Duty to God program, I can help get that moving, too.

My oldest son will be joining the quorum very soon, and it will be good to have a direct hand in what he does once he gets there. I also look forward to the regular campouts that we will be having; camping is something I greatly enjoy and I know the boys love it, too.

It was very strange, though, on Sunday, when I went to the Deacons Quorum for the first time. I was struck by just how little the boys are compared to the Teachers. Most of the Teachers in my old quorum are taller than me, so looking down to these boys was just plain weird. My wife reminded me that most of the boys just turned 12 and will likely sprout up in the next few years while under my care. Even so, it was still very strange to me.

It was also very strange to stand in front of them and attempt to have a serious discussion. They are prone to interrupting, silliness, and random expressions of thought, and few, if any, of them have filters between their brains and their tongues. I was able to find out where they are in scouting, and I'd consider most of them to be "behind", and, as far as I can tell, none of them have done anything with Duty to God.

*sigh* There's a lot of work to do ...

Friday, August 12, 2011

My Birthday!

Today is my birthday and I have now officially entered my early late thirties! It's a terrible thing, I know, but, despite my best wishes, I can't seem to slow time down. Even so, I'm grateful to still be marking the passage of time.

I also happened to have the day off from work, as it is my regular Friday off. It's been a good day, and I had a decent list of things I wanted to do. For the run-down, this is what we've done:
  • Woke up late (well, all the way until 8:15!).
  • Went to Chick-Fil-A for a free breakfast sausage biscuit for breakfast (a few shopping errands followed).
  • Opened presents (a few great movies, a book from my parents, and a bag of peanut butter M&Ms -- awesome!)
  • Played Super Mario Brothers 3 on the Wii while the kids watched the old-school game play and proclaimed they could do SO much better than me (as if).
  • Had delicious homemade hamburgers (thanks, wife!) for lunch, with an amazing Asian cole slaw (double thanks, wife!) and some melon.
  • Went to Captain America with the wife (I quite enjoyed it, but felt the ending was a little soft).
  • Played Jungle Uno and Sorry Spin with the kids.
  • Went to Claim Jumper for an amazing dinner (the Grilled Cob Sandwich with the Spicy Peanut Thai Slaw on the side - wow!).
  • Had cake at home with the family.
  • Watched the end of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets with the two older kids.
So, it's been a strange day full of food, media, and family. It's been very restful, and I feel very blessed! Happy birthday to me!!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Movie Smackdowns

So in this past week, I've managed to watch most of four movies, an unprecedented feat that is even more astonishing given the craziness of my family's summer so far. The movies were each pretty good in their own way, but I had thoughts about which were the better movies in the two pairs I watched. One pair was a set of "kids" shows. The other was more PG-13 fare. So, a quick rundown, then the smackdown.
  • The Lion King: Yeah, I know it's an old movie (we have it on VHS!), but my kids hadn't seen it in a very long time and most certainly didn't remember it. This is still one of Disney's finest cartoons of that era, and the children were entranced. I put it on just to listen to the opening sequence to test the surround sound connection to our VCR. One by one, the kids came over and sat down and didn't move. This, of course, had a stellar message about taking responsibility.
  • Rango: Okay, this one was a PG movie that had a lot of buzz. I'd been told it was weird, but, wow, was it weird. I wouldn't have actually rated this as PG, either, because of all the swearing that's in the movie, all of which could have been left out. Clearly in PG-13 territory, the kids were complaining about the swearing and it frightened my youngest son in all the wrong places. Yeah, it was weird. I did appreciate the messages it was conveying, especially the one about how you are what you choose to be.
Smackdown result between these two movies? Clearly, The Lion King wins. Rango was too inappropriate for very young children.

Okay, so the next set:
  • Source Code: I had heard lots of great things about this movie, so we got it from Netflix and watched it in one sitting (that's a feat for my wife and I). We enjoyed piecing the puzzle together through to the very end. I won't spoil it here, but I thought the ending was satisfying.
  • The Adjustment Bureau: I hadn't heard very much about this movie, but Netflix suggested it as a good choice. After reading about it and watching a little video online that showed how they constructed one of the "doors" scenes, I was intrigued. My wife was completely clueless about the movie, but we were enthralled from the first scene. It was a great movie, with interesting theological suggestions, and had a satisfying ending.
Smackdown results? I think The Adjustment Bureau wins. While Source Code had a stronger and more emotionally fulfilling ending, I have to fault that movie for being derivative. My wife and I are well-schooled in alternate realities and diverging timelines thanks to our passion for nearly all things Star Trek, so we weren't wowed by the big reveal at the end. The Adjustment Bureau, on the other hand, posed some very fascinating questions about the nature of free will, God's (oh, excuse me, The Chairman's) divine plan for humanity, and how unrestrained freedom can run amok to cause so much trouble. Wrap this up with a solid romantic plotline and both my wife and I were satisfied with the results.

Okay, so, with this smackdown, a few recommendations:
  • Re-watch The Lion King. It's just good-hearted fun.
  • Watch Rango ... once. But only if you have nothing else to do.
  • Watch Source Code.
  • Definitely watch The Adjustment Bureau.
Ah, summertime ... Who knew I'd have time to actually watch these many movies, let alone construct this blog post about them? (And, please, please, don't remind me of any of the million other things I should have been doing instead ...)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Where Have I Been?

So I must really apologize to all of my extraordinarily devoted readers out there ... all 2 of you! Thank you for your patience as I have been traveling a whole lot the last few months. I was going to try to do a blog post to tell a little about where I've been, but I think it's easier to just look at a map (click it for a bigger view):

Yeah, I've been a few places. Most of these trips have been in the last two months, too. Quite a summer!

And all this has been on top of the usual stuff nearby my house, such as temple trips, and excursions to Six Flags Magic Mountain and Hurricane Harbor. We've even managed to squeeze in a few movie nights and hosted/participated in a few dinner parties, too! It's been quite a summer, and it isn't even over, yet! (Un)happily, it looks like things are slowing down a little as the kids have their last few weeks before going back to school. We're still struggling to schedule that garage sale we've been meaning to have since April, but, hey, we'll get to it eventually!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Our Favorite Scripture Stories

Mondays are a little crazy around our house right now. We normally set aside Monday evenings for Family Home Evening (FHE), where we pray together, have a little spiritual lesson, play a game, and eat a treat. Since my oldest son has been in 7th grade, though, we've learned that Mondays are complicated by the fact that his teachers load up the kids with their weekly homework on Monday. Since our son goes to Boy Scouts on Wednesday and the homework is usually due on Thursday, it is imperative that he get his homework done on Monday or Tuesday. Also, since he is a procrastinator by nature, we make him do as much as he can on Monday. This collides badly with our hope of having a quiet FHE.

Anyway, that's neither here nor there, as I wanted to write briefly about last week's FHE. Last week we simply sat down and went around the circle to ask what everybody's favorite scripture story was. Here's the results:
  • My older son likes the story about Ammon. Typically, when most people talk about Ammon, they remember the story of him hacking off all the Lamanite arms, but he actually likes the story that follows where King Lamoni became converted. He surprised me by sharing that he appreciates that Ammon's service had the effect of helping others to become converted to the Gospel. Sometimes my older son can be so mature ... not often, but sometimes.
  • Our daughter likes the story of Alma the Younger when the angel of the Lord came and told him to quit being an idiot and to stop fighting against the church. She was impressed by the fact that he changed his heart and later became a prophet and leader to his people.
  • Our younger son loves the story of Noah and the ark. Usually, when it is his turn to share a lesson during FHE, he will pick this one to share with us. We were not surprised.
  • My wife loves the story of Alma the Elder, and how he had such incredible faith that he risked his life to stand up for Abinadi and then later led his people to freedom in Zarahemla.
  • There's lots of stories I like and I struggled to pick a "favorite", so I shared the story of Nephi building the ship, and how he showed such faith and followed the directives from the Lord even though his stinker brothers weren't very cooperative.
Anyway, I just wanted to share that.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Holy Unexpected Truths, Batman!

So I read somewhere that if you click the first link in a Wikipedia article that is not in parenthesis or italics, and then repeat this, you will eventually land on the article for philosophy.

I tried it out with the word "Stargate" (since I kinda liked that show and everything related to it), and followed this chain of links:

Military science fiction
Italic languages
Indo-European languages
Language family
Meaning (philosophy of language)

Say what?! Not only did it lead to the article on philosophy, but it did so rather quickly, in my opinion. So I then tried it with a physical science, figuring it couldn't reasonably lead back to philosophy:

Rupture (this lead to "ductile fracture" under ...)
Stress (mechanics)
Continuum mechanics
Natural science
Property (philosophy)
Modern philosophy

Okay, by this time I was annoyed, because there had to be something that didn't relate. So then I tried it again with something I figured would have no possible chance of leading in that direction:

Lady Gaga
Stage name
Italic languages
Indo-European languages
Language family
Meaning (philosophy of language)

Not only did it get there, but it got there faster with Lady Gaga than it did for volcanism! Truly amazing. I'm sure there are other things you could check, but with 3 data points that uphold it, I'm satisfied that this theory holds ... for now.

How about you?

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Wow, I'm a nerd. I actually used the word "perspicacious" when writing up a performance evaluation for somebody at work. I'd be willing to bet that the supervisor who received my evaluation has NEVER seen that word before and will have to look it up ... *snicker*

Perspicacious : of acute mental vision or discernment : keen

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

On the Pronunciation of Jaguar

A silly thing to post, I know, but this blog is about my musings after all, and I think about all sorts of random things.

Here's a pet peeve of mine: on the radio the other day, there was a Jaguar ad spoken by a guy who had a weird accent. It was most definitely not a British accent, but something elsewise European. Anyway, so he kept repeating the name of the car he was advertising, as he should have, but every time he said it, I flinched. I recognize that I'm a pseudo-redneck unsophisticated American hack with no hope of being considered truly pretentious, but seriously, the word "jaguar" in the United States is pronounced ja-gwar. Look it up. Yet he kept pronouncing it ja-gyoo-ar.

Now, I recognize that in England, the latter pronunciation is correct, but the radio spot was not delivered in England! I can understand the desire to sound sophisticated, particularly for that brand of automobile, but even so, it was downright annoying.

Here's how sophisticated I am: when I think of the word "jaguar" I think of Mater from the Pixar movie Cars when he says, "You know, I once knew this girl Doreen. Good lookin' girl. Looked just like a ja-gwar, only she was a truck! You know, I used to crash into her, just so I could spoke to her."

It's just me, I totally know it.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

On Missing Two Front Teeth

My youngest son's second front tooth just came out yesterday. Even though the other one is coming in and you can see it's white nub, he now has a very marked speech impediment. My favorite quote so far, spoken when he was wrestling with his shoelaces before church this morning: "My latheth are tho thlippery!"

We try so hard not to laugh, but it's so adorable that we can barely contain ourthelveth!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Vacation in San Francisco

Last week I took my little family on vacation to San Francisco. We were originally planning on going during the summer, but I figure we cut the cost by about 40% by going during our oldest kids' spring break instead. The risk, of course, was that the weather would be bad, but in the cold calculus of our cheapitude, a lot of money saved outweighed the threat of a little rain. Even so, we still spent a pretty penny (there goes our tax return ...), but it was well worth it. As there is absolutely no way that I have time to do a complete run-down of our experiences, I'm going to show one picture from each of the places we went, most of them NOT the typical tourist pictures, which hopefully will give a feel for what we did ...

Sunday, April 17th

We drove up north on Sunday, which is something we always try to avoid, but it just didn't make sense to do anything different. Even so, we wanted to have some religious content to our day, so on the way up we stopped at the Oakland Temple, where we took a lot of pictures. Again, I'm only going to show one, but suffice it to say that we took pictures of the temple, of the awesome view from the temple (we still have to assemble the panorama shots), of the inside of the visitors center (there's some amazingly beautiful paintings in there), etc. In what was to become a pattern over the next week, the children each had their own cameras, which they used to take pictures of everything from their legs to black walls.

Of course, being in Oakland, we were on the wrong side of the bay, so we went across the Bay Bridge. My wife had purchased a San Francisco travel guide, and read to the kids the history and information on the bridge. The older two didn't really care, but our youngest son, who is into all things mechanical, thought it was awesome. Their biggest complaint was that they couldn't see the bridge very well from the back of the van.

We were hoping to see Fort Pointe Sunday night before it got too late, as it is only open Friday through Sunday. Alas, in making our way there, we got stuck due to construction and by the time we figured out how to get there, it was past closing time. Even so, in part of our unexpected detour, we found ourselves in the Presidio military cemetery. My wife had never been in such a place, and it was a good reminder to everybody of the sacrifices that people make so that we can enjoy our freedom. We noted many tombstones that showed many people had actually participated in more than one war.

Even though Fort Pointe was closed, the wiggly part of Lombard Street, arguably the crookedest street in the world, doesn't ever really close, so we went over there to show the kids. We made the mistake of going east on Lombard Street towards the top of the hill, which meant we were in a row of cars many blocks long all trying to go down it. While waiting, I had the wife and kids get out of the van and walk up the hill a few blocks to get there and they actually were able to walk down and then back up it and return to the van before I had moved more than two blocks closer. We eventually bailed from the long line, and determined that we could skip it altogether by coming from the south along Hyde Street and simply turning right at the intersection. The kids were alarmed that we were "butting in line", but to me it was a demonstration of great wisdom rather than a show of a lack of ethics. Note to all future Lombard Street tourists: do what we did.

Monday, April 18th

Monday morning we set off for Golden Gate Park, a beautiful tract of greenery cutting a swath through urban San Francisco. Within the park was the Japanese Tea Gardens, which was free to go into if you got there before 10 am. We arrived just after 9 and walked through the gardens. It was slightly drizzly (the worst weather we had all week, actually), so the kids were a little anxious about that (remember, they're Southern California children ... rain is very much akin to a meteor shower in both their frequency and their potential impact). Even so, the walk through the gardens was beautiful and we were able to convince our daughter, at least, to just be still and enjoy the peaceful surroundings.

After we went to the Japanese Tea Gardens, we walked across the street to the Academy of Sciences, a museum that had lots of different sections. We walked through the butterfly infested rain forest, stared down the albino alligator, grinned at the sharks, and played with the starfish. The kids love that kind of stuff, even if they'd rather look and run rather than gaze and read. We spent nearly the whole day there, and were so very happy that we were able to get in to the planetarium for a star show. The children had never been to anything like that and they were truly in awe as we appeared to zip through the stars and swerve between planets. It was very, very cool.

After we left the Academy, we went over and, after a bit of difficulty, found some parking near the Children's Playground. The kids had a great time going down the concrete slide and climbing the rope tower. My oldest son was too afraid to go all the way to the top until his younger sister showed him up (after I demonstrated to her it could be done -- yeah, I'm a big kid). I think it was that night that we came back to the hotel and went swimming at the hotel pool, which waters were quite warm, but the air was SO cold. The kids got in, but my wife and I didn't. In fact, my wife stayed back at the room because she was so cold. Undeterred, the kids had a blast, though.

Tuesday, April 19th

No trip to San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf would be complete without stopping at Pier 39 to watch the harbor seals. The noisy, smelly, rude animals always make me laugh. The kids were under-impressed, though, so we moved on.

We walked over to the Aquarium of the Bay and got there just as it opened. A relatively small aquarium (we were used to the likes of the Monterrey Bay Aquarium), we only spent a few hours there. The kids enjoyed it, though, particularly the really long tunnels that wrapped around under their big tanks. The kids had their cameras out and were taking picture after picture of sharks and rays and schools of fish floating over their heads. It was a great time.

When we were done at the Aquarium, we walked down the street to Joe's Crab Shack for lunch. It's totally bad for your body, but it is arguably one of my favorite places to eat. I'm a big burger fan, so when I saw their "Surf 'N Turf Burger", I was sold. It's a big hamburger with shrimp on top with deep fried onions and sauce (okay, there's lettuce and tomatoes on it, too). Again, it was totally bad for my body, but it was so totally worth it. Oh, and the wife and kids enjoyed it, too.

After lunch, we walked/sauntered/rolled over to the Hyde Street Pier. We just wanted to take a quick look at the ships from the pier, but then discovered that all of them were open to visit for free that day. Never ones to turn down free stuff, we happily clambered aboard each of the ships in turn. Our favorite of the bunch was most definitely the Balclutha, which not only had an interesting story, but was well-fitted for visitors. The kids were well-engaged and had a great time walking its decks. There was actually some kind of a youth program going on at the time, too, with people pretending to be sailors instructing a bunch of pre-teen kids on how to take care of a ship. Judging by all the sleeping gear left in one of the cabins, I think it was an overnighter for them. Such an amazing ship, we were stunned at its size and, given how we are used to such a mechanized world, amazed that such a huge thing (fully loaded, even!) could be moved just by wind power alone.

That night, we drove over to the Financial District. The kids wanted to see the Transamerica Pyramid. We drove around and the kids again took lots of pictures, most looking up at the buildings around us. They're city kids, but not city kids, and thought it was really neat. I still don't think they comprehend just how many people live in the big city, being so densely packed in compared to where we live.

After the Financial District, we drove up to Coit Tower and were stunned to find we could drive all the way to the top and get parking! All the previous times I'd been there, traffic to the top was a nightmare and we ended up parking down below and hiking up, so parking at the top was a real treat. We went inside, but declined the ticket to go to the top. Even so, we enjoyed the murals on the inside (the kids finding the part where a guy was being held up) and the view from the outside. We took some playful pictures, and also some great shows of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Wednesday, April 20th

Wednesday morning we went to the U.S.S. Pampanito. See my innermost thoughts on this here. We had a great time climbing through the submarine, and the children were very impressed by how cramped the quarters were, how tiny the kitchen was, how the sailors just slept wherever there was space, how there were pipes and wires and knobs and dials practically everywhere in sight, and how huge the torpedoes were. I don't think they truly appreciate the challenging life of a sailor, particularly one at war, but I'm confident I don't, either.

Later that afternoon, we took the ferry over to Alcatraz Island. For a place with such a dark past, the island is actually quite delightful to visit. The National Parks Service has done an excellent job, and the ranger/guide we followed for a 45 minute walk was engaging and entertaining. We were regaled with stories of people who attempted to escape from the prison, which was a wonderful lead-in to the actual audio tour itself. Each of us donned a pair of headphones and walked the halls of the prison. I walked with my six-year-old son as we listened to the stories of the place. Occasionally, he would hear something and look up at me with a long face and surprised eyes. It was priceless to watch his expressions change as he heard about the inmates' misbehaviors. I think each of my children appreciated that prison is not someplace they want to be. We'll be renting "Escape from Alcatraz" soon.

Thursday, April 21st

Thursday morning we went to the Exploratorium. My wife and I had visited there when we lived nearby just after getting married, and loved it then. In the years since, it hasn't changed beyond recognition, and still was quite enthralling to the kids. (Okay, and us, too. Blast it, it's just so hard to hide that we're nerds!) Again I went with my youngest son while my wife stayed with the older two children; their paces were just too different to stay together. We had a great time exploring each section, and actually ran out of time (which made the kids kind of grumpy when we left). They wanted to stay all day to play with the various exhibits. I think that of all the stuff there, a few favorites were the iron filings that could be assembled into structures on two opposing magnetopoles (you could actually see the magnetic field lines in the structures that could be assembled!), the sound tube that ran for 100 yards that you could talk into and hear yourself echo, the camera that took multiple frames that superimposed images with slight time offsets (my wife had, like, 30 arms!), and the wall where you could assemble tubes and ramps to make marbles roll down. My older children also really enjoyed all the stuff on electricity on the upper floor, a concept my youngest didn't quite understand (though he did really enjoy putting wires together in random, meaningless ways).

After we left there, we walked the Palace of Fine Arts briefly, so that we could take some pictures. Even with how beautiful the place is, its history is equally enthralling. However, I was struck with a sense of disappointment in that there really wans't much symbolism or meaning associated with the place. In comparison to the monuments and churches and other things we have seen in London and in Germany, it just seemed kind of ... second-hand. Still beautiful, but without the emotional resonance.

That night we took the cable cars over to Chinatown. Our first stop was the Sam Wo restaurant in San Francisco. I remember that place from over 20 years ago when I went there with my parents and siblings. Ever since then, every time I go to Chinatown I have been able to stop for dinner there. It is such a quaint little place with wonderful food. You have to walk through the kitchen area to a flight of stairs that takes you to the seating area where the waitress, if that's what she is, took our order. The food was delivered by dumb waiter to the second floor and we had to be careful to order water in cups, otherwise they bring bottled water and charge you for it. My youngest really doesn't do mixed or saucy foods, so he pretty much just ate rice, but the other two children really enjoyed it, as did I. My wife had a great meal of mostly meat and vegetables, which is just what she needed to keep her hypoglycemia at bay. We all walked out with smiles and slightly distended bellies.

Walking around the rest of Chinatown, we wandered the streets somewhat, stopping at a fortune cookie "factory". It was really just a garage where fortune cookies were assembled by two older Chinese men. I'm not really sure how food establishments pass food inspections in Chinatown, because nothing seemed terribly sanitary, but the kids thought that was interesting. We also did our shopping for souvenirs there, and the kids loved spending their hard-earned money on random things. Between the wooden sword, the really cool dragon paperweight, and the Baoding balls (and more!), we got sufficient touristy stuff to keep everybody happy.

Friday, April 22nd

Friday was our last day in San Francisco. We had ridden the cable cars the night before, but wanted to ride them again during the daytime. We took a different line this time, which still landed us in the Financial District, but this time we were able to get better pictures. The kids enjoyed the ride, especially my youngest son, who would often turn around and just watch the cable car operator as he worked the handles. We spent a bit of time learning about how they worked (which was different than we thought ... check it out). My two older children were excited to be able to hang off the side, and while they were somewhat disappointed that they weren't allowed to jump off it while it was still moving, and that they weren't allowed to hang out over the street, they greatly enjoyed themselves nonetheless. Truth be told, the time I ended up standing was actually a better experience because you can see a lot more of the buildings around you from that vantage point.

After that, we checked out of the hotel and drove up to Twin Peaks. Having lived near San Francisco, in hindsight I'm surprised that I'd never been up there before. The views were great, but that particular morning it was cold. We originally anticipated that we'd have a leisurely lunch and climb the nearby hills to the top, but it was just so cold that we had a quick lunch, snapped a few pictures, and left as soon as we could. The next time we're in town, we'll try again.

We then drove over to Fort Pointe. After finally navigating there successfully, we had a very nice visit at the fort. The kids like climbing all over the place, and while they weren't interested at all in the historical exhibits, they did like climbing the neat stairs and looking out at the Golden Gate Bridge and the bay.

Finally, we actually drove across the Golden Gate Bridge and stopped on the other side. By this time, everybody was cold and tired and had sore feet. My daughter being the most vociferous of the bunch, she actually threw something of a tantrum about not wanting to walk out across the bridge. After much difficulty, we got her out there in time for her to see a few seals playing in the waves. It was really cute to see my youngest periodically stick his head between the rails so he could see if we were over water. We walked out to the first/north tower and took lots of pictures there.

We had a wonderful visit to San Francisco, and we are so glad we took a week to see the sights. As always, I was happy to be able to spend the time with my wife and kids.

I think there was much more we could have done, and it would have been good to have a few more days, but we all left satisfied with the experience. After the long drive home, we found all mostly well at home: our cat was still alive, we only lost one fish, and only one of our two frogs had croaked (sorry, couldn't resist).

(Postscript: it took me a week to assemble this! *phew!*)

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