Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bedtime Story. I wrote this two years ago and a few things have changed since then, but I don't think this ever saw the light of day after I wrote it

I am a dad. That’s how I think of myself. I know I am a husband first, and a child of God foremost – not to mention a member of the Common Family of Man, but none of these aspects has quite the same impact as being a dad. Daddiness (n: The condition of being surrounded by a large flock of children) drives my days and permeates my dreams. Every morning I try to wake them. Every night I try to get them to go to sleep. Most nights my twelve-year old son Chad is trying to talk to me half an hour after I went to sleep, or Lillian – currently age four and President of the local Boyack Children’s Association – crawls in bed with me sometime during the night, to snuggle me with her bony elbows and knees, moved betimes with sharpness.

I talk to them on the phone as I commute home. When I’m traveling I write to them via email and stay in touch with them via chat in the evening. They prescribe all my social outings – which is OK considering otherwise I wouldn’t go anywhere there are people – and they monopolize the time of my sweetheart, with whom I last had a date in 1997, when we were the parents of three. We have since added two to the collection, and all five are screwed up in their own little ways. Juuuussst kidding . . . (mostly). What are the chances they’ll read this, anyway?

I worry and fret and think and plan . . . because I have no other skills. But, also, because I love them. Want proof? I get out of bed and leave them for twelve hours a day! You men are connecting with this, right? Children are great because they bring out all the good qualities that were latent inside us until we became daddies. Hmm – actually, the wife brings those good qualities out of us by explaining the needs of the children using a vocal pitch that causes the bones of our skull to vibrate and threatening us with the Icy Stare. Children need things like beds: “No, she can’t just sleep doubled up on the baby bed. She’s twelve, dear.” Or clothes: “well, I don’t know, are you still wearing the clothes your mother received at your baby shower?”

Anyway, as you know, if it weren’t for all these other people, Wendy and I would be living comfortably in a small apartment with a big-screen TV and a grill on the balcony. And I could work part time! Well, Wendy would have to work too, but I assure you, she’d be doing about one tenth the work she does now as the Mom and Queen of the home.

So when I say that I think of myself as a dad, it is because it’s my occupation. It’s not how I earn my living, but it definitely occupies my life. For an example, let’s examine the process of “tucking in” President Lillian. This is how I handled it last night:

Wendy, Kimber (16), & McKay (13) were already in bed. Chad(12), Hannah (9) & Lilly form the “Bedtime Resistance Force”. Last night, per usual as of late, Hannah & Chad flanked me while Lillian took the offensive.

She wandered in and tried to get in bed by Wendy. I told her to go to her bed. She left the room briefly and returned with my digital camera, and pointed it at me. “Can I use your camera Daddy?” I gave her the one-two punch: “No! Put the camera on Mom’s desk, and go get in your bed!” to which she responded by turning her back on me and leaving with the camera and a smile on her face. One Hundred Percent Pure Insolence, from Concentrate. This cannot be tolerated, right? If she proves at age four that I have no authority here, we’re all doomed. So I chased her down, took the camera, and tossed her into bed. (I think that was pretty reasonable and restrained, but she saw it differently). She cried and kicked until I got her giggling – by tucking her in with her feet on her pillow and her head buried in the blankets. Then I helped her with her prayer, including the request “Help me to have happy dreams. And if I have a bad dream I can come to mommy’s bed.” I threw this in for two reasons: A) if she’s thinking of coming to Mommy’s bed, as opposed to Daddy’s, then she’ll squirm in by Wendy and not by me, saving me many aches and pains in the morning. B) Because if she actually sleeps long enough to have any sort of dream before getting into our bed . . . well, then that’s progress.

She calmed down, but she wouldn’t let me turn off the light until I found her several stuffed animals, which I obediently procured. But oh, what fickle promises! She still wouldn’t let me turn off the light without her screaming. I would have left the room with the light on, except big sister Hannah won’t stand for that. I can fix this! I gave Hannah a blindfold. Cool idea, right? I thought the bed-time gods had accepted my sacrifice and I could go to my bed, but just then Hannah made a wonderful sisterly suggestion. She told Lillian to find the Big Tigger with the candle in his hand, which, of course, could be absolutely anywhere in the house. Lilly and I searched the primary toy boxes for five minutes until I said “Enough. I’m done. You’re history, sister. Get in your bed!”

So then Lilly’s mad because she’s got to have just that toy, and then I’m yelling and telling her she has to go to sleep without it, and in the nick of time I see it – on her bed. Hannah tells us how to turn on Tigger’s light: push his tummy. I tuck her in for the second time, this time with a book to read. Now she’s mad because the Tigger Light turns off after ten seconds. I tell her he turns it off because he likes his tummy scratched and eventually she is OK with that.

(I have to interrupt for an editorial note. Please remember that while I apparently command no respect, I am motivated by a survival force not to allow her into my bed.)

Success! I turn off the light and return toward my room. En route, Chad – he’s twelve, remember – heads me off at my door. He has decided he wants to be tucked in – just for old time’s sake. I unclench my jaw and hands, and take a deep breath . . . I can do this. He climbs in the top bunk and I throw his blankets on. I can’t reach him to kiss him, so I kiss my hand and slap his forehead. And turn out the light. Free at last! In my room I don my pajamas and brush my teeth. My blankets are calling me, and I gratefully answer by tucking myself in next to my sleeping wife.

A moment later the light came on. . . . “Guess Who” was at my elbow with a bright smile on her face whispering to me (She doesn’t want to wake up Mom). She gave me two critical pieces of information: First, she accidentally tore a page out of her book. Second, her pajamas are too small because she keeps growing. Then just to make sure I was listening, she then demanded that I tuck her in again.

I am Daddy! Hear me roar!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Boyacks Annual Report, 2009

Forward and Acknowledgements: Since this dang thing is long enough to be a book, it may as well have a forward. And it’s time to acknowledge that John has gone completely cuckoo for Coco-Puffs and is no longer respecting the bounds of Christmas Letter propriety. You know: one page, two sides, lots of photos, short blurbs about the family, hardcopy delivered by the 15th. None of that from me - just one long, long, electronic letter. If it were hardcopy at least you could put it next to the commode and read at your leisure. I hope you’ll forgive the length and format. Since it will take superhuman endurance to read to the end of this letter, I’m prepared to offer a small bribe. Read on and in the letter you’ll be given a code which can be redeemed for a home made cookie – no matter your location. Now how much better does it get?

Hi, everyone! It’s that time of year again! Set up the tree, dust off the angels and elves, hang up the stockings, gather around the fireplace, snuggle up with someone you love, and read the Boyacks’ Christmas letter! These and other time-honored and family-friendly traditions will push away the stress of modern life by reminding you that if your trials this year were too difficult to laugh at, then cheer up! You have friends to laugh at!

What’s new this year? First the dreadful news: I’m being treated with physical therapy for a mass discovered in my midsection. I first noticed it when I took up bicycling on my lunch breaks. Every time a knee came up, there was a big squishy blob getting squeezed between my leg and my chest. It made the bicycling that much more challenging, as I trailed along behind a group of guys ten years younger than me – OK, in truth, they’re not all younger, but they’re ten years “fitter” than me.

Humiliating. But . . . I am a father – I can blame “baby fat”, can’t I?

So, as you would expect, the physical therapy is the treadmill, some weights and calisthenics, and more bicycling. But I am not a willing patient. I need more than a spoonful of sugar to make this medicine go down. WHY ARE THERE SO FEW DONUTS IN MY LIFE THESE DAYS?

Ahem . . . I will have you know that as hopeless as it seems, I did lose three pounds, and I will NOT gain them back (the three I gain back will be completely different).

Meanwhile, in a fitness challenge, Chad is cleaning my clock. He played JV football this year and lost about 10% of his body weight. The competition doesn’t end until New Years Day, though, and football is over, so I still have a chance. I’ll win if he gains, oh – about 20 pounds – in the next two weeks.

It’s time for me to add a few special treats to his Christmas Stocking.

Meanwhile, I’m seeing much success in combating the other effects of middle-age. My short-term memory is improving, thanks to my Blackberry, (A.K.A Tricorder, A.K.A. Liahona). My efforts toward hair-regrowth are paying off, at least in the ears, nose, and eyebrows area. And the top of the head is going to come around soon – I can feel it! And one youthful trait that is not fading into the middle-age sunset: my gift for romance continues to bless our marriage.

Just last month I was on my way to the bathroom to trim my eyebrows , and Wendy suggested we snuggle up and watch a romantic movie together. Thanks to my quick thinking, what could have turned out to be a boring evening turned into something we’ll both remember for a lifetime. I put on some soft music, turned down the lights, and asked my dear Wendy to trim my eyebrow hair. The bonding time was beautiful, and my left eyebrow has almost completely grown back now.

At church I’m the Primary chorister (Primary is the children’s group, and I teach them songs and lead the music). This is normally a woman’s job, but I don’t mind going where no man has gone before. I absolutely love it – it’s my favorite assignment so far (and I have had many). I have made friends with 30 people from ages 2 to 12 who I didn’t know before, and I have two daughters in that group, which makes it even better.

Well, as for the little things: I’m still employed at Merix as an Oracle Business Analyst, which is, in fact, a legitimate way to make a living and not a job title I just made up; I’ve learned a little about finishing wood; I really stink at fishing but I keep going back, and I tried geocaching, Facebook, and blogging.

I write on my blog very infrequently, so it’s more of a periodical than a blog. I do try to make it humorous enough to be worth your visit - hence the infrequency. The problem is I tell all the funny things that happened to us that we didn’t find funny at the time. Some times it takes a few weeks to see the humor! I’ll appreciate any readers that come my way, so please stop by and leave a comment. http://www.trustyplummet.blogspot.com/ is the place to go.

Wendy has been up to her customary multi-tasking. No – that doesn’t quite express it. Let’s call it “omni-tasking”: she teaches the following: Seminary at the Mormon church, voice lessons at home, technical theater at the high school, musical theater at the Dance Studio and, of course, home school to four of our kids. Throw in some child care, intense workouts and daily blogging, and she almost has a full day.

She blogs on Sparkpeople.com, where she has been named a “Motivator”. Her writing is funny and spiritual, and makes you want to be better today than you were yesterday.

She has had a hobby developing over the last fifteen years which is really picking up now: she is an amateur masseuse / chiropractor / therapist, and she gets plenty of practice. She really enjoys it, and so do her “clients”, who now include a professional masseuse and a chiropractor’s wife. She also adjusts attitudes, but those customers – who all live here – aren’t quite ready to give public endorsements.

One thing that I find completely amazing is that she can prepare lessons or write at the same time she is enjoying some random TV murder mystery on streaming video (Netflix). She likes the TV shows OK, but she mostly just does it to show off to me. I can do two things at once as long as one of them is walking. If one of them is TV I pretty much shut down all brain activity . . . OK, and most bodily functions.

Wendy took the lead on many family activities, including canning, gardening, once-a-month cooking, and packing up Sayaka’s stuff and moving her out.

  • We canned spaghetti sauce, three flavors of salsa, (ALL are muy caliente), four or five flavors of jam, two kinds of pie fillings, grape juice and peaches, and the amazing home-canned tuna. I know what you’re thinking, and I’ll just say “Let the salivation begin!” There was a couple of minor incidents this year involving heat and pressure: One where seven jars of spaghetti sauce exploded into thousands of marinara shards; another which singed McKay’s bangs and eyebrows. There were no injuries, but all the same, don’t try these at home – at least not more than once.
  • We grew our most productive garden ever! You name it, she grew it. McKay is an excellent assistant gardener. And we planted grapes and blueberries for the coming years.
  • Once-a-month cooking is just what it says. Introduced by Wendy’s friend Char, she does a month’s worth of work in one day and throws it all in the freezer. Yummy and convenient, except for one pan of lasagna that has been stuck to the bottom of the freezer since March.
  • Sayaka has moved. Long, funny story told short and boring: after four years with us she left without notice. So we packed her room (80 plus boxes from a 10x10 room, which we did not know was possible) and sent it away. We now have a workout machine, a TV, sewing desk, and a massage table in there. No, I don’t know how that is possible either.
Wendy has one more assignment at church: in addition to Seminary Teacher, she is also the Primary Pianist, which makes Sundays really fun for me, because we get to spend all three hours of our church time together, the last two singing songs with all the kids.

Wendy anchors the faith in our family. Her determination to constantly do works of goodness is an inspiration to me. Her knowledge of the scriptures is a godly gift she shares freely with anyone who asks.

Kimber (18) is all grown up (frownie face from me about that). She finished her home schooling, completed her GED testing and in January she’ll start full-time college classes at Chemeketa Community College. She’s teaching dance classes at the Dance Studio, which keeps her doing what she loves and earns a little cash. She is very good with kids. Her goal is to graduate in Dance from WOU. This is good because she’ll be nearby for at least four years.

She’s instructing Lillian to take over as the primary caregiver of one of the dogs and all three cats, and is the official cat wrangler when there’s a vet trip.

She got glasses on her eyes to replace the braces on her teeth, except the braces aren’t quite off yet. She’s coping with that, and having a blast in the local YSA ward (young single adult congregation of the church). Her assignment is to lead the weekly Monday night activity. Weirdly, they call it Family Home Evening, because many of these kids are living away from home anyway. She’s making new friends all the time.

One of the most amazing, artistic things you will ever see is a spray-paint shirt designed and made by Kimber. She has always had an creative streak in her, but this is in the next class up. Last year for Christmas she crocheted winter hats for everyone. This year, perhaps with a hint, I’ll get a spray-paint shirt of – oh, I don’t know – an outdoor activity theme?

Kimber has a new grace and confidence, and her kindness continues.

McKay (16) is growing up too fast. She seems to have her life planned out, which means she’s in for some fun surprises. She’s considering a career in massage therapy, in which she has some talent, like her mother. Whatever she does, she’ll make the most of the blessings God has given her – she’s that kind of girl.

She got her braces off, didn’t get glasses, and grew her hair out to approximately eighteen feet. Just Kidding – she’s growing it out for two years, ending next May, to give to Locks of Love. The two-year span coincides with our friend Raymond’s mission service. Come to think of it, Kimber and Hannah also grew their hair. Hannah gave up first and in November cut off a long, fat braid to donate.

McKay is a great driver. At my insistence, she and Kimber both got their permits last year. They have driven the required amount of hours and waited the prescribed twelve months, only to discover that they don’t know anyone who is willing to pay for their insurance. Alack and alas! Oh, the Angst!

I don’t know how they are so patient. In my day driving was a right and a rite of passage. I couldn’t have imagined waiting years for a drivers license as seems to be so common in Oregon these days. Days after was sixteen I was rolling down the road on my own. Then again, at seventeen I was rolling down the road with the top down – and the wheels up.

She takes some classes at the high school, which lightens the load of the home-school teacher.

McKay’s a great singer - she sings in the high-school choir, and some solos. She was way funny in “The Sound of Music” (the lady who bows ten times at the end of the talent show). She got a great part in the upcoming school musical, “Starmites”, which, as it turns out, is NOT actually about giant singing insects that eat space rockets made of wood. It’s about a huge inter-galactic conflict between women and men, and it’s playing in February 2010.

She has been bow hunting for four years, and this year got closer to the deer than ever. She’s learning that it’s a joy to be out in the wild enjoying nature, and a bonus if you get the kill. . . . OK . . . that’s all I should say, but let me just tell you there is a really, really funny story here that McKay will absolutely double over laughing at – in about three decades. . . . But back to the point, she’s got the stealth and know-how, and her accuracy with a bow is absolutely deadly up to 35 yards – which, coincidentally, is the reason I’m not going into any more detail at this time.

McKay is a special person who loves the Lord Jesus Christ. She is not afraid to share the Gospel, and is true friend to all whether they share this interest or not.

Chad (14) and I have done lots of things together this year, including sleeping in a pine scented snow cave, watching Central High’s winning football team, and floating down the Willamette River – sometimes in the canoe, sometimes not.

He had a great time playing on Central’s JV team, which has a tendency to shut out its opponents. He worked hard, had great fun, made friends, contributed to the team, and tore some ligaments in his tailbone. The tailbone injury slowed him down some. But, on the upside, it’s a great reminder of the importance of tying his shoes. Plus, he got to sit on a donut.

We also went fishing together. This is not something we do too often, because, even though he LOVES fishing, and has been trying to learn it for about twenty years, he’s lousy at it, and he never showed me how to catch a fish, and I can’t stand sitting there doing nothing. I’d rather poke sticks into my eyeballs. So when he begs and begs for me to go fishing with him I tell him no way. Take Lilly – she’ll go.

If you’re wondering, Chad took over writing that last paragraph.

But we did go fishing. Actually we went on a week-long canoe trip down the Willamette River. This was the Scouts’ “High Adventure” trip, and it was very adventurous. I was fishing as we paddled our way downstream. Just like driving, you have to keep both eyes on the road, because one log lurking just under the surface can give you quite a surprise. On the second day I was SLAYING the fish, and since with Chad there I could have TWO lines in the water, I started setting up the line. It seems to have slipped my mind to mention to Chad that I wasn’t steering . . . or paddling . . . or watching the river.

Our life jackets were on and tight, our gear was tied down good, and our clothes were double-bagged. So when Chad yelled, and I noticed that we were floating sideways down the river and about to hit a submerged log, I was calm as could be. I did NOT blurt out my favorite potty-mouth word, but jumped gracefully into the water as the canoe tipped, and laughed through the whole thing.

Actually that was a lie, but Chad did laugh. I think he laughed at the shock on my face. But it is true that the gear was tied in well. We kept our beds, clothes, kitchen equipment, food, chairs, even a plastic grocery bag with my shoes in it. We only lost two things. . . . Sigh . . . two fishing poles.

That evening, with a rain shower soaking the camp as we sat inside our tent, we discovered that Chad’s clothes bag was perfectly dry. Mine wasn’t. That morning I had volunteered to put the second plastic bag on each of our clothes bags, and it turned out my clothes were wet inside of only one layer of plastic, and Chad’s were safe and dry inside three. What a great dad I am.

Another activity we enjoyed together was shaving. This month I coached as he shaved his moustache for the first time, and there was hardly any blood. The only shaving he had done previously was the back of my neck with electric clippers, late one memorable evening when everyone else was asleep. As I recall we collapsed into a heap of laughter after he showed me how straight it wasn’t.

Chad is taking three classes at the high school – which is a big change from home schooling through the 8th grade. It’s especially challenging that he has to get up at 5:30 for seminary at the church, when his previous habit was to sleep from midnight to ten in the morning. He’s taking choir and welding – both of which are difficult teach at the kitchen table, as well as algebra.

Chad and I have made a lot of great memories this year, which I will treasure for a lifetime.

Hannah (almost 12) is becoming quite the young woman. She recently got glasses, last month she cut her hair short, and with her own money bought heels and a dressy coat (to wear to church in the winter). So a person (dad) would hardly recognize her for all the changes. But she’s still daddy’s girl, and I still get to tuck her into bed sometimes, and she asks me to listen to her sing and watch her dancing.

She’s a great singer – she is not afraid to sing in front of a big audience, and the audiences enjoy it. Like her sisters, she dances a lot at the Dance Studio in town. In fact she’s an assistant teacher in a beginning class.

She did the most amazing thing this year. She took a cake baking class – for grownups. She had always loved cooking and baking, and the stars lined up so she could take this class. She made some more grown-up friends (which is not hard for her to do) and she now makes the most delicious and beautiful cakes! She hand-made Frogs, swans, butterflies and mice, along with hundreds of flowers and lacy patterns. Some of them were funny, like the “spaghetti cake” she made for Chad’s birthday – it looked like a big plate of spaghetti with meatballs and sauce on it. The meatballs were fudge! She won two blue ribbons at the county fair for a small wedding-style cake and some chocolate cookies.

You can look at our brood of children and definitely say we are blessed, but how lucky can a guy get, to have his daughter make him a cake every week! Unless . . . those were meant for me, weren’t they Hannah? I am very blessed to be Hannah’s daddy.

Her two favorite foods are potatoes and ice cream. In fact, she has extorted ice cream from our home teacher from church. Tricky girl!

Lillian (6) is another singing Boyack girl with dance in her pants, and the youngest to perform in a high-school musical. Which, by the way, is a movie trilogy that got way too much play time at our house this year.

This year the high school performed “The Sound of Music”, and Lillian was cast as Gretyl, the youngest singing Von Trap child. This became a family event, as McKay also had a role, and Hannah sang in the nuns’ choir. Wendy was the stage manager, etc., etc., etc.; Kimber ran sound, and Chad operated the spotlight. My job was to go watch the show every night, which suits my skill set.

It was funny that Lillian was the youngest person in the cast but could make her voice heard throughout the auditorium better than most. The director held her up as the example of how to “project”. Her daddy’s favorite part of the show was “Do, Re, Mi” where she gets to sing “Do” by herself about ten times – at just the right timing, and with her head bobbing to the side. Maybe you had to be there to appreciate it, but let me just say that no head was ever bobbed to the side with more serious conviction – a little furrow in her brow and everything. And sometimes the music would overcome her and she’d add a special toe tapping or shoulder twist.

Lilly does well with her schoolwork. She’s learning to take care of the animals and do her chores, and she loves her baby dolls Patrick and Emily Elizabeth (a big doll hand made by Kimber for last Christmas).

Lilly is learning how much Heavenly Father and Jesus love her, and she is trying to do what’s right.

Other highlights this year were three visits from the Tapasa family, and once when we got to visit them on the Northern CA coast. We toodled there by way of the Wildlife Safari park, and South Umpqua falls, where Lilly found a tick buried in her shoulder. She was very brave, and though we had an unexpected delay getting a doctor’s help, we still had plenty of time left for fun with Taps, Joanna, and the kids.

Last New Years we had the Hewitts visit us from Idaho, and they learned that the phrase “when it rains, it pours,” actually originated to describe the western Oregon weather in winter. We took them to the coast, the aquarium, and the cheese factory. Next year we pack up and head east to Utah for the Boyack reunion. It is wonderful to be with family.

We have been sharing our weekly family home evening with a couple more families in our ward – once or twice a month. It has helped us maintain the habit and brought us new friendships, so thanks to the Earl, Thurston and Depuglia families. 

Well, there was so much to be thankful for this year! One letter can’t possibly contain it, but it sure seems like I tried, doesn’t it? Those of you who read this far are gluttons for punishment! Did you find the secret cookie code?. Writing once a year is kind of a lame idea for the reader, but it sure was fun for the writer. . . Tell you what, if you want the cookie deal, send us the code word “three pounds” by letter, email, phone, or canoe.

The most valuable thing we have to share is our testimony. I love the Christmas season because it reminds me of the love God has for us. The miracle of Jesus’ birth is a precursor to the miracle of his atonement for our sins, and his death and resurrection. The celebration of his birth reminds me of the new life he brings. He has certainly blessed me and my family this year, and I give thanks for his blessings and his care.

We love and appreciate all of you. Please accept our sincere wishes for a happy Christmas and a successful new year.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Slushy, Spinning Memories

December 12 is my brother Lorin’s birthday. Congrats, bro! Today was a cold, icy day in Western Oregon.  And coincidentally, it’s 25 years since a momentous day in my life – a snowy afternoon which found me traveling from Provo to Springville on a lonely road.

But not lonely enough.

It seems one of Springville’s many conservative drivers, contemptuously referred to as “adults”, had chosen this slushy road to plod along with an overabundance of care. He probably left work two hours early just for this exercise, and was headed home to sip hot cocoa with his family and gaze at the snowfall. Meanwhile, I was an important high-school singing star, and had places to be. I was seventeen, and like most seventeen-year olds, 7/8 of my brain was still in a cryogenic sleep exactly as I had placed it age 13, and it was at least 2 years until the thaw would start.

I was driving my mom’s brown Datsun B-210, and as I came up behind a small pickup truck, I slowed the car down to a tortuous 40 mph. “Unbelievable. How could anyone drive this slow? The road isn’t even snow-covered! It’s just a little slush, and I can clearly see strips of pavement exactly where my tires have to go, so it’s perfectly safe. Speed UP!”

He wasn’t listening.

My next response can be explained by the primitive instinct all teenagers have to selectively deny the existence of certain laws of physics. This has been the case since Cain and Abel, who, before their unfortunate disagreement, used to dare each other to jump their cows off of ramps built of rocks.

I pushed the pedal down and pulled out in the center. Just as I moved up alongside the rear of the pickup truck, the car became freakishly free of all influences from the road. The steering wheel moved in my hands as if the wheels were floating on air, and suddenly I was just a passenger en route to some lofty destination chosen by the car. “I’M FLYING!” I shouted. Then the car knocked out a road sign, turned sideways and slid off the left side of the road and down an embankment.

I was a little surprised when the horizon began to rotate before my eyes, and the ground reached up and pounded the top of the car, crushing the windshield. At this point my latent spirituality blossomed, and I started to see the future. I had a vision of myself groveling before my father, and of him sentencing me to clean the basement for the rest of my natural life.

I decided at that moment, as I fell onto the ceiling of the car and closely examined the sage brush and snow through the cracked windshield, that the force of gravity was unfairly arbitrary. I also decided that my dad would not settle for a clean basement, and that I should immediately hitchhike to some faraway forgotten place.

The car finished its roll and landed on its wheels. I walked up the slope to begin my trip. . . . How about Nebraska? But I was interrupted by a sudden stream of visitors who wanted to meet the kid that rolled the car.

Soon I was being examined by EMT’s, who asked all kinds of personal questions. I really wasn’t hurt at all, but at their insistence, I was eventually able to identify a pain on my back. The consequence of saying “my back” when you’re in a wrecked car is that you get strapped to a board and taken to the hospital.

Going to the hospital by ambulance may seem a little overkill, when you consider the pain I was feeling was a tiny mole on my back that got torn when I was bouncing around in the car, but it was actually desperately needed. You see, this was the finger of providence that changed the path of my entire future life.

The 911 dispatch operator arranged for my parents to come stand by the road and watch as I was carried on a stretcher up the hill to the ambulance. As I passed by my parents, I felt something very special. I saw tears in their eyes, and tears came to mine. A great peace settled over me as I realized that seeing me like this had removed their will to have me hanged by the neck until dead for wrecking their car.

I knew at that moment I was off the hook.

In fact, my parents were very accommodating. They met me at the hospital, my mom took me home from school the next day when I realized I felt like I had been in a car accident, and my dad found me a six hundred dollar car that I could crash any time I wanted to.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

To the Church On Time, Awake, and In Style!

When a man becomes a father, great transformations take place: First, he sheds his rough and careless exterior like a snake sheds its insensitive, inconsiderate, scaly skin, and becomes a new man: tender and thoughtful, but still scaly if you rub him the wrong way. Second, he learns to control the gag reflex. Third, he learns to put clothing on an infant imitating a ten-pound Raggedy Ann doll.

In my case, even more amazingly, I learned and the ability to coach my children on their daily fashion choices. Now mind you, there is room to improve. I'm no Calvin Klein, but I have been able to steer my kids away from potentially hazardous clashing, such as a pink tutu with brown cowboy boots; or simply impractical choices for the event, such as an 18-month old going to church wearing her mother's brazier like a hat: one cup on top and the other, Rapunzel-like, trailing down the back. This would be totally embarrassing, because hats are not worn to church anymore.

Lately the stakes have increased as I help my 14-year old son get ready for Seminary. For those of you not familiar with Mormon Seminary, which is, I assume, both of you, this is a religious education class held at six in the morning on school days. The primary function of this class is to stretch the faith of Mormon high school students by encouraging them to accomplish something difficult - for instance to attend a class at six in the morning on school days.

Chad loves Seminary. I can tell, because he gets there less than thirty-minutes late every day with only five or ten minutes of threats required, and does the assigned reading two out of three days, when Mom has time to threaten him. Sarcasm aside, this is actually a big accomplishment for a kid who has been home-schooled through eighth grade, and is used to sleeping ten hours a day and getting up after 9:00 am.

This is how the routine goes:

First, Mom puts breakfast on the table for Chad. This could be corn flakes, eggs, leftover tomato soup, or cat food; the menu doesn't matter at all because he will not be conscious. The important thing is to have FOOD. Then she goes to his room every minute for seven minutes and says motherly things like: "Chad, it's time to get up." "Breakfast is ready." "Let's go! Lets go!" And the heavy artillery: "If you miss Seminary you won’t get a ride to football.”

One time my wife put me in charge of getting Chad out of bed. It took me only about ten seconds, but there was a problem: I forgot about gravity. Now I had a 190-lb Raggedy Andy doll sitting on the floor against the bed; head flopped to the left; golden retriever licking his face. Yipes. How could I have been so stupid?! I yelled for help. “Wendy! Bring the camera, quick!”

She came in, looked at me with her hands on her hips and that special wrinkle between her eyebrows. Then she turned her attention to our son and said, “Chad! You wanna walk to football?”

Eventually the dead will arise and stagger to the table. You remember those cute pictures of your little boy asleep in his ice cream on his first birthday? We do that every morning, in super-size. After breakfast, we guard all the beds in the house, because, with his eyes closed, he can sense an empty bed. “m jus lie down fr one min . . .” and he will slip into a bed and back into slumber. This is the only point where people will start to lose patience, because as he gets into your bed he’ll get tomato soup on your pillow.

If Chad is particularly late getting started, I get my chance to employ my fashion sense, working without a net (no Garanimals). While he’s in the shower, I will go get him some clothes to wear for the day. I will choose something “sassy” (a shirt) and something “classic” (jeans). I may get them from his closet, or, if the path is hazardous, I will pick something off the floor and give it the sniff test. It matters not what I bring because this is the stage that he actually wakes up.

Chad was never fashion conscious before this school year started. I think somehow at high school he must have discovered Girls. Because before Girls existed, he would wear his pajamas 24/7, and comb his hair once a week. Now, he showers twice a day, takes ten minutes on his hair, and is extremely choosy about his wardrobe. “Dad, that doesn’t match!” And off he will go to sort through the choices himself. If he asks for my contribution, it will not be my opinion, but something concrete. “Dad, I need a clean white undershirt.” I tried once to fudge on the cleanliness, but was rejected because the other shirt he would be wearing was going to be open, not buttoned.

David, my brother-in-law, went through a phase like this – and he’s still going through it. When he was a kid and his mom told him to go put on a clean shirt, he would do just that – but not remove the dirty one. One spring when they went swimming and he took off his clothes they found shirts that had been missing since Christmas. At family gatherings they’ll tell his wife all about this, and she thinks those stories are “Cute!” because she has never seen a hair out of place on his head. He became a duke of fashion, landed the girl, and kept impressing her from then on. Smart guy.

So Chad is way ahead of me on this, and I’m sure Wendy is pleased. As for myself, there was a time I straightened up and got a good wardrobe. But it only lasted for one day, because after the wedding I had to return the tux.

Some snake skins shed more quickly than others.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Warning: Halloween Contains Addicting Levels of Sugar

Those of you who know me even a little are generally aware of the embarrassing truth that I contain 70% high fructose corns syrup. You know because it is plainly printed on the label I wear. Those of you who don't know can be excused, because I am generally sitting on it. Ah, if only my objection to physical exercise could trade places with my fondness for all things sweet. As you know, the Holiday Season has started, and I started it with a bang – or at least the sound of a jelly-filled donut hitting the fan.

The Mormons in Monmouth celebrated Halloween this last Saturday with the annual “Trunk or Treat”, in which children who go around begging for the “Treat” get thrown into the “Trunk” and driven across the Independence Bridge. Just Kidding! . . . ha ha – who would ever think of such a thing! No! Trunk or Treat is where hundreds of families gather in the church parking lot and give out “Treats” from the “Trunks” of their cars. This is a really fun and safe Halloween activity which goes back generations. This year, before the Lion Kings, Dorothy’s, Witches and Power Rangers came out to politely request their treats, they enjoyed potato sack races, a cake walk, a fishing booth, and a “Haunted Maze”. The women did a great job putting on those activities inside the church, while the men who were supposed to be doing that wandered across the street to the Western Oregon University field where a physics professor profoundly inspired this years engineering students with an assignment to build a pumpkin-tossing trebuchet.

This was an sacred moment for most of us men, but eventually, we remembered our families back at the traditional church Halloween party. I helped my Wendy with our traditional treat of hot cocoa and hot cider, which make us a favorite “trunk” among the parents of all the little ghouls and boyglers.

Speaking of traditions, they say that "Halloween" originated as "Holy Evening", a special holiday on which everyone went to church dressed as Sponge Bob Square Pants. Seriously, the legend is that they used Jack-o-lanterns to scare away the evil spirits, because the next day was a special religious holiday.

This came to be again this year for the Mormons. With November 1 falling on Sunday, it meant Halloween was followed directly by the Mormon holy day known as “Fast Sunday” which occurs on the first Sunday of each and every month. “Fast Sunday” is not a day which goes by really fast in the sense of “time flies when you’re having fun”, but a day in which you DO NOT EAT.

May I just suggest that, as a rule, a 4000 calorie day should not be followed by a 40 calorie day. This clue dawned on me this weekend as I rocked back and forth in a fetal position while my blood sugar level descended from numbers normally recorded in scientific notation.

So while for others Saturday is the probably the best day for Halloween, for Mormons it may be the worst. But I have to admit, it was an effective detox day. Like my alcohol imbibing counter parts of other-than-Mormon religious persuasions, I largely recovered from my chocolate hangover during the course of Sunday. In other years with Halloween falling on a mid-week day I would have started the day with Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs, and it would have taken days to get over the sugar high. But this year in a mere 24 hours I was no longer tasting chocolate in the back of my throat, feeling my heartbeat in the hair follicles on my wrists, or singing “How Dry I Am” with Tootsie Roll drool rolling down my chin.

Whew! Glad to have that over, I energetically went back to work on Monday, where I found – by casually looking around, NOT by walking all the cube rows on the entire second floor one at a time – that many, many people had brought their children’s Halloween candy to work.


I have a duty to help save their children from a life like mine. Me and my label are going to work!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Calories Count

I have been reading labels lately. It's all the rage now, and soon to be required by the government. There will be a form that you have to sign as you leave the grocery store, indicating that you read each and every label, and you accept the responsibility of knowing exactly how many grams of poly un-saturated LDL Carbohydrates are in each and every Little-Debbie’s Donut Stick, and you further waive all rights to obesity-related health care benefits.

But that's not why I'm reading labels. Not because of all the government hype, but because I am in tune with my body, and conscious of the affects that the things I take in can have on this beautiful machine God has given me. Occasionally that means I am looking to reduce my calories and balance the protein, fiber and sugar that are in my snacks and meals. This kind of behavior in me usually occurs in the midst of a sugar coma - when I (not diabetic) have consumed so many calories in such a short period of time that my body and mind enter a kind of hyper awareness, in which I am aware of each and every sugar molecule, which blood cell it has climbed aboard, and which organ it arrives at. It's like I can hear the festive sugar molecules in, say, my left lung, greeting the arrival of each new buss-load of little sugar partiers, "Hey DUUUUDES! Come on in! We can fit another ten thousand of you! OK everyone, let's do the Twitch!!! Make this thing ROCK!"

Meanwhile, my left lung is trading places with my large intestine 24 times per second.

Yes, THIS is when I start to think of new calories as a bad thing, when I already have my buzz. But otherwise, I find the labels very useful to GETTING my buzz. "Hmm - the King size Hershey Chocolate with Almonds is 240 calories, but the Kit Kat is 280. I'm going to get cool with the Kit Kat!"

Now, I know some of you by now think I'm an idiot, and some of you are right. But before casting judgment, you have to know this is actually only one part of a much more sophisticated calculation. Another factor that must be considered is craving. A craving is a spiritual connection with the food. You need a quiet moment to perceive it, but it is real. For me, I can usually achieve this by staring through the glass of the vending machine for several minutes. By focusing on and imagining the taste of each and every candy bar, one at a time, you start to hear their little voices. They call out tiny cries of affection - well, or anger - most of them are rather passive-aggressive. The one that says how much it misses you is the one you are craving.

This isn't just me, . . . Is it? It happens to other people too, . . . right?

The third factor is economic. You have to calculate the Calories per Dollar (CPD). Candy with a high CPD is to be preferred above others - regardless of the total calories. For example, if you're needing a 300-calorie fix, and you have the choice of one bag of chocolate-covered pretzels, for $1.50, or two bags of Mother's Giant Cookies, for $1.20, you have to take the responsible approach and save the thirty cents for the next binge. A CPD rating below 2 hurts a food's chance of becoming my next snack.

For those of you working in a cubical farm like myself, one important way to keep your average CPD high is to browse the desks and offices for treats and snacks. You can call it “Candy Stalking”, which has a nice, Holiday ring to it – and that is precisely the time of year this technique will be most successful. These calories are absolutely free, so dive in!

Of course you would never leave your workspace on company time just to hunt for snacks, but you will, in your normal course of business, come across various individuals who keep a candy jar, or get gifts from vendors, or who love baking and bringing things to work.

People who have snacks at their desk are very important people while their supplies hold out. These people are your Friends. They are your Most Significant Colleagues. They are Interested in You, your Needs and Ideas. They Love to have you Visit because you make them Successful. Your presence at their desk is the actual definition of “Synergy”.

Keeping these small suggestions in mind, visit them ONLY as needed throughout the day, and don’t talk to them or even look at them after their snacks are gone. Saving money, getting your fix, and making the company more efficient! You are Super Effective!

In summary, you can mock the government bureaucrats, live life on a natural high, and become God’s gift to your company simply by consuming as many calories as your are physically able. I will leave discussion of the health effects of such a food plan to others who are more qualified.

Now: can anyone tell me a good brand of stretchable clothing?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Targeting my allergies

I was taking this little white pill - loratadine - for hay fever. I started sometime in 2006, and just kept taking it. I'm pretty close to a drug company's dream - even though I don't go to the doctor often - because if I find something that works, I stick with it. Anyway over the years I found I'm alergic to this and that - and in Monmouth, Oregon I'm surrounded by grass seed farms and wheat fields. A stunningly beautiful agricultural area, actually. I think that's why I can tolerate my 50-mile commute.

We cycle from pollenation to harvest to mold and back again. I thought I needed that pill to keep the allergies at bay, but a few weeks ago I got lazy and stopped taking that little pill.  No, Noooo - for the record let's say I was testing my resistance.  And . . . Ta Daa!  All was well! The grass fields were all cut, baled, and most of them hauled off to the barns. It would be several weeks before the combines were out again.  I could take a few weeks off and save some money for the candy machine.

I went more than a week with no problems - and just imagine, right outside my bedroom window is a stack of ten bales of hay! Ha ha - what was I thinking, you say? Does this little pile of grass not pose a giant problem? Nope, not one bit! Maybe I probably don't even have allergies! Let me try to remember when was the last problem I had . . . Well - I don't know! Maybe I imagined it and now I'm addicted to a little white pill for no good reason. Good riddance!

That haystack is there for my daughter, McKay's, archery practice. She wants to go deer hunting on the bow hunt, so I built her a covert archery range so she can practice up. We're keeping it covert because a bow and arrow is treated like a firearm, and I assume it's illegal inside city limits.

"Assuming" is about all the effort I'm going to put into that question, because I'm not a very sneeky person, and if I ask someone down at city hall they're going to look it up in the city code book and give me the official answer. If they tell me it's not legal to shoot a bow in town, I would likely get all shifty and say "dangit! . . . well - hmm - can you tell me how anyone here would know if I made a discrete little place to shoot? um - hmm there aren't any exceptions to this rule are there? . . . We're at 705 West Church and I'm sure I can make it safe there . . . well - ummm - nevermind! G'bye!" I would trot away and then they would write a little something on a sticky note, and patrol cars would be coming by on a regular basis, to keep the neighborhood safe.

Neighborhood cats, to be more specific.

Juuust kidding! - I don't have my own bow.  McKay's shooting has been going very well. The range here is only 20 yards long, but she's got tight grouping and when we went out to a longer range she held it tight at 30. At 40-yards she's a little shaky, and Bambi's Daddy has a fighting chance. I think she's pulling about 55 lbs, but its an older adjustable bow, so I don't really know.

On Monday one of her arrows missed the foam block, found a gap in the hay, and hit the plywood backstop. The plywood was a good touch, don't you think? I am Mr. Safety Himself! Any Monmouth law enforcement officer would have to be impressed. I put up a sliding plywood backstop, eight feet tall and just as wide, framed using mostly pieces of a romantic garden swing.

That's another story.

The arrow was stuck in the plywood. I mean STUCK! And these are round-tip target tips, not the razor blades you use for game. Her arrows pack some punch! I got a hammer and nail and punched it loose from the backside. And then . . . and then . . . oh that little white pill.

. . . I re-stacked the hay tighter to close up any gaps. Set your timer to T minus 30 minutes until major hay fever attack. My throat itched so badly it ached. My eyes were on fire. My nose was a faucet (needed the weight loss, but it won't last) and my ear tubes were burning! I could actually feel every millimeter of my Eustachian tubes!

It’s 96 hours later, and I’m still shaking it off. That little pill went right back in my regimen, and my memory is starting to clear up.  Guess what I remembered!  I used to have hay fever attacks all the time when I wasn't taking that pill!  I once came back from San Jose, got off the plane and had an attack, only to find that I was out at home and all the stores were out.  Everyone loves loratadine. 

Now I keep a supply, and I have a pill organizer, just for that little white pill.