Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Growing Girl

Tonight Ellie came home from a party late at night. At first she didn't say much, and she went straight into her room to drop off her things. Then she came out and told us how they'd played foozball, and how we have got to get that game because it is SO much fun: there were about eight girls, so they'd each taken one of the handles and one side was BYU and the other was the U of U, and it was fun to play against each other.

The greatest thing, though, was watching Ellie talk. I can see the beginnings of a more mature young lady showing, one who has a lot of zest for life and friends and good times. Her natural beauty is more and more apparent, and it shines more brightly when she is exuberant and expressive. It was a joy to see.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sleeping Beauty

"Night. Fight. We fight all night." - Dr. Seuss

My boys stay up and fight with each other (and sometimes with their sisters in the next room) long past the time I put them to bed. If you'd like a personal experience, just ask my mom who has tried to sleep over at our house! But tonight, Thomas fell asleep early and I put him to bed alone... and then I had the rare opportunity to sit quietly and watch him undisturbed for a minute. A sleeping child must be the most peaceful and soothing image in the world.

Adults always have extra plans and expectations, even if just in the back of their minds; they have unspoken judgements or a veiled reluctance to fully invest their attention. In contrast, small children put their whole being into their actions and their expressions. While they're awake, they're 100% genuine; when they sleep, they put the day all behind them and their profiles reveal a gentle slumber that can calm the most troubled soul.

Tonight, I had the privilege of being touched by pure innocence.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sharing a Shirt

The other morning Thomas walked in wearing a red shirt and said, proudly, "Tolman let me wear his school shirt!" That was pretty amazing since they are pretty possessive about their clothing. I'm accustomed to hearing complaints from the girls about wearing each others' clothes, and maybe that's where the boys picked up the habit; whatever the reason, there are certain pieces of clothing which are their favorites and which regularly start fights between them.

Sure enough, Thomas was wearing the school shirt that Tolman got in kindergarten... which was perfect for Thomas now that he's in kindergarten.Then he said, "It's got Miss Smith on the back." Yep, her self-portrait is in the top-left corner, because Tolman had her back then, too.

He was so proud that you'd have thought he just won a game. And he's right: it is a big deal when your brother does something nice for you like that. And it's a big deal when one son does something nice for another son like that. I've got some praising to do.

Sweet, Sweet Cinnamon Rolls

Lynnette is a fabulous cook; she has spent a great deal of time and effort creating dishes and finding what really works for her. However, she hasn't had much luck baking. This is too bad, because cookies and breads are my personal favorite. But, seriously, she has tried and mostly failed when making rolls and pastries.

One night last week I came home to the wonderful smell of rolls. Suddenly I remembered that she said something earlier about trying to make cinnamon rolls, and sure enough she had a few dozen there. They looked pretty good. They tasted pretty good. My kids loved them, and my sister-in-law and nieces loved them. They really were awesome.

And she was knew it. At one point she beamed from ear to ear and said, "I did it."

Pretty cool, eh!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I Was Trusted To Help

It's not fun to be roused out of bed by the phone. And it's not fun to see someone you love hurting from pain and frustration. What is awe-inspiring is to be called at a late hour and be invited to see someone who needs aid... because that means that they think you are capable of providing at least some bit of help and comfort. It's touching, and more than a little humbling.

I hope I helped enough to honor their trust.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Joy Of... Curriculum?

Over a year ago, a friend of mine invited me to help out with her charter school. If you don't already know it about me: I love the whole academic scene, especially when it comes to kids. So I'd promised her I'd take a day to help out sometime.

Well, she contacted me the other day just to catch up, and she mentioned that she's starting computer classes for one of her schools. (Suddenly there's more than just one!) I asked if this was a good time for me to help out, and she said "yes," especially if I could come that week since the next week is when things really get busy. I could only do a half day; she said that would be fine, but we had a lot to do: train her on things like spreadsheets and RSS and podcasts and advanced features of word processing; design a curriculum for grades K-6; and get some of the library equipment going.

You know what? We did it. We did it all. We were rushed, but we basically demonstrated and outlined everything we needed in 4 hours. It's invigorating to accomplish something like that.

What's even better is the fact that she enjoyed it as much as I did. Turns out she was a bit apprehensive about the classes since she didn't feel particularly adept at computers, and she wasn't looking forward to training with me. But she's a great educator and of course she picked it up well, and we both had a great time. What a rush.

Thanks, Tina!

Good Conversation

I took a break the other day with a friend and we chatted outside for about an hour, covering everything from business to politics to career choices to tech to fiction to local and world-wide social improvements... everything but religion, though that's been a part of other conversations together.

It's always uplifting to have a good, long conversation with someone close. There's something transcendental about sharing and learning with one another.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Help, Out of Nowhere

So our Lake Powell trip involved 1 crippled houseboat (with only 1 working motor), 1 ski boat, and 21 people, only 1 of whom really knew how to drive the houseboat and run everything. That's Rob, and he spent the first day shuttling people back and forth from where the houseboat was parked. So of course that's when we got a good Lake Powell storm, one they said they experience only every few years or so. The wind started blowing hard, and it sent a canopy end-over-end on the sandy beach; our little Ellie ran and grabbed it, and then Abel and I took it apart to keep it from going further. I was kind of enjoying the change in weather, not thinking about what else might happen... until I saw the houseboat's back end pulling furiously on the ropes and threatening to rip free and plow into a houseboat on the other side.

Talk about sudden horror! Rob's 17-year-old daughter Ashtyn knows something about boats and we tried the best we could to keep it moored. We turned on our motor (Ashtyn's idea; thank heavens for her) and tried to get it to pull us back. I don't even remember what else we were doing; it was such a blur.

Then suddenly there were about 4 men helping out with the ropes, and coming on board to help get that back line tied tightly. Come to find out later they'd come from across the bay in their ski boat, braving the waves just to give us some assistance. Thanks to them we pulled our back line tight and maybe even pulled the whole boat into position. Besides the back-breaking, wet work, they got us to point the motor the correct way; turns out we had been making things worse by pointing in the wrong direction. Finally, we were set into place as good as possible, and the men left as suddenly as they came.

It took us a day to recover. The storm (combined with our work) pushed the boat up on the shore about 5 feet, and the back end was sitting low in the water. It took some digging and coordinated effort to get it pushed off the beach and into a good position. Things could have turned out much worse.

The next day, the men who helped came over asking for matches. We only had two boxes, and we couldn't afford to part with them.

Ha! I make joke.


This event is unlike most of the ones I record here: there was no strong feeling or grand revelation from the experience. There was simply a slow relief that came as the danger gradually subsided. But from time to time, I think back on these strangers' work and I feel a pleasant glow of appreciation. That's a treasure, and I'll always value it.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Wakeboarding FTW!

I am now 40 years old. Let's pause for a minute while you pity me.

Yes, it is sad. I now have physical pains that are not healing. More and more often I injure myself such that I have to skip basketball, my favorite sport. I expect to live a long time, so it's going to get more difficult as I do even less strenuous activities. Sad, as I said. Another pause.


In last week's trip to Lake Powell, we took some of the older people to try out wakeboarding.

Wakeboarding is something I've always wanted to do but have repeatedly failed at. I believe I successfully water skied on two skis once for a few seconds in my early 20s, but it was choppy and just didn't seem like much fun to endure so much just to stay standing. Wakeboarding seems to allow much more variety with jumping and spinning around... and I hear that it's easier, which is attractive because I sure take a beating trying to get up!

The first to get up was Andreas, a young man who already knows how to do it. After him, Andreas (his Dad) tried a few times but couldn't get up. Then Abel and Karin tried; Karin knows how to waterski already, but she couldn't get up either. Then Emily (another teenager) tried; she'd never done it before, and she wasn't able to either. Tough day for wakeboarding.

I wasn't going to try since I was exhausted (from almost constant work and little sleep), but I figured I'd regret it if I didn't. Of course, I failed a few times, but thanks to Rob and Andreas' pointers, on about the third try I got up! It was fantastic! Sure, being up on the water was fun, though I couldn't wait even 15 seconds before trying something and falling down, and that was the last I got up. But the best part was just accomplishing something that had dogged me for so long. So, in the first immortal words uttered after I got up:


The Endurance of a Little Boy

We planned a hike to see a "hole in the rock", where the wind has carved out a deep cave that has worn through to the other side, starting an arch. Thomas (4) wanted to go with us, possibly because we were going on the ski boat. Of course I said "yes". I started questioning the wisdom of that almost immediately since he asked to get on my shoulders as soon as we got off the boat and started walking. Luckily, I had water I could use to coax him along. Halfway along, Uncle Bob broke into song, and after we grew tired of that Thomas started singing one he knew. All in all, it was a good hike to the rock.

We enjoyed climbing around and taking pictures in the strange cave. The view was awesome, and it was much cooler than the desert around it. It would be nice to eat a picnic there or spend a night. Alas, we finally had to leave... but Thomas wanted to stay. I stayed with him a minute longer, but we were with a whole group of people so we had to catch up so they wouldn't have to wait on a child being selfish. I insisted it was time to leave, but Thomas wouldn't have it. "I'm staying here!"

"OK," I said, and I left him.

Tolman was concerned; I had to reassure him that I would not leave Thomas in danger. Luckily there is a small hill close to the formation, so I got out of sight and slowed down to wait. Thomas was crying, howling as loud as he could, but soon I could tell that he was coming. I continued my stroll. When he got closer, I asked if he'd like me to wait for him; he only scowled in answer, so we continued with him a dozen paces behind. Later I asked him again and got the same response. Finally he said "yes," so I walked with him.

He complained a bit about the hot sun on his neck, but he didn't give up and break down again. So I pushed it: we were far behind the others so I started jogging and encouraging him along faster. He came along! At one point he hurt his ankle and we walked for a short minute; he complained again about the sun, but he kept going; he drank the last of the water along the way. But we made it, and he stayed a trooper the rest of the time.

It's awesome to watch someone grow up right in front of you.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Recent Funerals

Are funerals sad?

No. We're sad at funerals because their whole purpose is to recognize what we've lost; we also have a hard time as we realize more and more how much we will miss that person in the future. However, funerals themselves are thought-provoking, solemn, and reverent. They bring out the deepest sentiments in everyone involved. They are truly growing experiences that help us learn to cope. In fact, they're exhausting for me because they're so powerfully emotional.

Of course, I hope I don't have to attend another funeral for a while.

The most recent one was where a neighborhood friend has been left alone after the loss of his soul-mate. I think back about her and remember how she was always positive, always happy to see you. And Lynnette and I would bump into them on a date together from time to time, and you could see how they genuinely enjoyed each other's company. I got teary-eyed at that viewing every time I'd think of his life without her. As we waiting in line to see him, I found it remarkable how he seemed so composed; he seemed to be the one comforting everyone else. When we got to him, he told me to cherish Lynnette because I never know when she'll be gone. That's powerful.

Before that one, we went to one for a local family who, in one year, lost 2 daughters to two separate diseases. Again, we could see what a hole was left in that family. That event continues to affect me because I met one of the daughters at a Thanksgiving dinner where she didn't interact much; I assumed she was quiet without much to say. However, I learned at the eulogy that it was because of the disease, and besides hearing it from her family I heard it from some high-school friends I hadn't seen for years; they all talked about how much she contributed when they worked with her. Wow. Talk about having your eyes opened! That meeting was touching because the full emotion of the family came through, especially in song.

Although I hope it's a long time before I have to attend another one, I will jump at the chance to go. There is no other gathering where we fully sense and focus on all the most meaningful parts of life.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Admiring a Young Man's Composure

This is Tolman's first day with Cub Scouts. They're going to Cub Country. We set the alarm and woke up early so that I would make sure to get him up in time to go; turns out he was already up and fully dressed in his new scout gear and didn't need breakfast. I remember how I used to get excited like that.

But more than his excitement, I appreciated seeing what came next. I stayed and watched for a minute after dropping him off while the leader talked to the boys about a few rules. First, she asked them to pick a buddy. She didn't notice one boy's choice and assigned him to someone; immediately he put his head down in his arms and would not talk with her. Someone else explained the situation and she assigned him to the buddy he wanted, so he finally looked up and answered her questions. In contrast, when she first asked who wanted to pick their buddy, Tolman quickly raised his hand, but I saw the disappointment as the leader let someone else pick first and both of his friends in the group paired up together, leaving him out. What a way to start the day with a dose of rejection! But he stayed calm and let her assign him with someone who he didn't know.

I expect he's going to have a fantastic day. And I have high hopes for this young man's future.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Novel with Integrity and Determination

I finished Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre" a few months ago, and the story has stayed with me. I'm going to recommend this to my girls -- and any young person -- because Jane displays a wonderful strength of character that makes her an inspiration for anyone.

Jane makes choices in the book that might not be right for others in the same position, but she makes them her own. She explains herself as she makes choices on small and large issues, from how to deal with her family and friends up to marriage and her life's work. In each of these situations, Jane makes a choice that is all her own, sometimes even creating an option that forces others to take stock of themselves. But the most enlightening part is how she arrives at each decision... and how she keeps her integrity and determines to live and deal with the consequences of each one.

One other marvelous part of the novel is Charlotte's description of the main characters. She manages to create realistic people having qualities to which I can relate, and she clearly identifies their quirks and sometimes subtle weaknesses. Personally, I don't even perceive these things in other people, and usually not in a way that I can consciously put into words.

I need to read more... at least, more works like "Jane Eyre".

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Police Are Watching

It was Saturday, and since there was plenty of work to do with our family business, I planned to go in to that office to get some things done. I played basketball at 8, ate breakfast, and then made some phone calls for our sick Olivia and for our broken computer, and by that time I felt I should just go in my sweats without showering or shaving; before walking out he door, Lynnette took one look at me and asked if I was going like that; I've learned some of the basic hints, so I put on a baseball cap so I wouldn't "scare anyone"... or maybe so that she wouldn't be embarrassed if I met anyone she knows.

Since Lynnette was working and doing chores, I offered to take Thomas, our 4-year-old who is infamous for throwing tantrums and being difficult at the worst possible times. (All our four kids are adopted; I'm afraid we would have stopped with him if he were our first.) There's always a chance that he'll throw a huge wrench in the plans, but he's definitely easier to handle one-on-one, so I hoped he would cost me at most a half-hour sitting in time-out.

I actually thought to bring along fruit snacks and his coat, which is not like me. I threw them in the seats along with the rest of my mess; when I've got multiple projects going on, you can see my disorganization spread throughout my car.

As we left, Thomas asked, "Can I ride my scooter?" He's a funny kid: sometimes he likes to walk to our destination while I drive close by, at least part of the way. Of course, he wanted to ride his scooter in the middle of the street; I made him ride on the other side of the street while I drove on my side, not too far ahead or behind lest he yell for me to stay close to him.

We went almost a mile, crossing one street and approaching the next street just before the freeway, so I said, "Thomas, I'd like to go fast now. Would you come in so we can go? You can have a fruit snack." He thought a sec and said "OK!" and brought his scooter across the street; I popped the trunk and fit his scooter in with the junk, then let him in the car and gave him a treat.

We took off, and as we got on the freeway I remembered his seat-belt, so I pulled over and buckled him in.

It's only 10 minutes to the downtown 4th South exit. We got off and headed to the next street. As I was waiting to turn onto 5th South I noticed a police car immediately behind me and to the left, angled to get right behind me and in front of the next car in line. Weird, I thought; you don't often see a cop doing something strange in traffic. As soon as I turned, his lights went on and he pulled me over. Great.

He came up to my window and asked me for my license and registration, but before I even got them he said, "I need you to put your keys on top of the car." OK... now I was getting a bit nervous. I instinctively went to my pockets, and of course he barked, "Get your hands out of your pockets, Sir." Sorry! Then he looked in the back and asked about Thomas, and said he'd need Thomas to get out of the car. OK... now I was extremely nervous. I start recalling stories about impersonators, and I wonder who I need to call to verify that everything's on the up-and-up. I asked him something (I don't recall what), and he quickly says, "We had someone report a man picking up a little boy on a scooter."

What a relief!

Seriously, that bit of information was a monumental shift in my perspective. One second earlier I was feeling scared and physically jittery, both for my son as well as myself. However, after hearing that, those feeling immediately washed away and I was genuinely appreciative and even giddy that a policeman was watchful enough to see us and stop us out of concern for Thomas; I was also glad that someone called in, worried for him... because this happened to be a situation where everything was extremely suspicious: a young Hispanic boy scooting along alone, followed by a grungy, white driver who offers him candy to get in a rather disheveled car. (I wonder these kinds of situations are actually common with me?)

The policeman took Thomas behind my car and knelt down to talk with him. Others arrived; I was asked if I had a picture, and other questions (such as if I had called anyone, since I had my phone out looking for pictures). They called Lynnette to ask her some questions, too. (You'll have to ask her about that sometime.) Police kept arriving until there were at least 8 around, with at least 5 police cars behind me as well as in the next lane over. I'm not exaggerating. Finally, they were fairly satisfied and they let me get out and be with Thomas; when they were totally finished I went around and shook everyone's hand. They gave Thomas a teddy bear. It was smiles all around... and especially for me. It turned into one of those cool times when you feel a glow for hours, appreciating people who have just done something magnificent for you.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Helping My Own Kids

One morning recently I helped Ellie a little bit extra with her math. She was a bit hesitant, saying it's frustrating when she doesn't understand. True. But I tried to help visualize and take small steps through the calculations of area and volume. It seemed like she understood, but whether she did or not, afterward she told me: "You're good at teaching math. You actually explain it."

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Speech (All Four Sentences of It)

Tolman agreed to give a talk in his class again. The last time, he didn't prepare and then simply didn't want to do it, and I made sure he went directly to a leader himself and told her that he wouldn't do it. I thought he wouldn't volunteer to talk again.

Well, this time I just found out the night before, so that night and the next morning I asked a few times if he wanted any help, and he always said "no". Finally in church, he asked me if he had to do it. I tole him I wouldn't force him, so he said he didn't want to do it. That's great; I just explained the consequence: if he wasn't going to participate with his class and follow through on his commitments, he wouldn't be able to stay with his class. Instead, he'd have to spend his time somewhere else, like my class. He didn't like that very much; he kept asking and complaining, and finally said angrily, "OK, I'll do it. But I don't want any help!"

Well, I knew it wouldn't end there, but it wasn't until we were singing the final song that he asked if I would help him. I told him it was too late for me to help, but I talked with him during the song: I told how I pick a story to tell; he came up with one, and he practiced saying the whole thing. He forgot how to wrap it up at the end, so we talked about it and he did it again with everything right. I felt that much was an accomplishment, and it was positive because he was no longer angry. However, I worried that he wouldn't remember everything.

So we went and sat at the front, and almost immediately he asked if I remembered it, because he had forgotten. Actually, I honestly couldn't hear what he said earlier, so I was sorry but I couldn't help at that point. When it was time to stand, I made the mistake of going with him up to the podium; he didn't say anything and looked at me for help. I told him to go ahead, and he whispered that he was thinking, so I sat down again. He was up there for a few seconds longer, just standing without saying anything. Finally, he told his entire story and ended it perfectly. It was short, but it was all his! I grabbed him and gave him a huge bear hug and told him I was proud.

I heard from a friend that he looked down the whole time, but I don't care. He owned it, and he finished it.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Thomas is our boy who resists doing anything new, so I was very happy when he agreed to practice riding a bike without training wheels. Sure enough, he pedaled hard, so he's almost ready to go it alone; he just has to be able to brake and stop by himself. So that's what we practiced: stopping without falling down.

I'm used to running around for basketball, but for some reason his starts and stops and near-crashes quickly had me winded!

After a number of tries, he started saying that he wanted to do it by himself. He's quite ready to pedal by himself, and maybe I should have allowed him to go and see for himself what happens at the end. But I said I'd help start and push him ONLY if we practice stopping, too; if he wanted me to totally let him go, then I would also let him get started all by himself. He kept asking, so I let him do it all by himself. He struggled to get on the bike, but he fell; I cushioned his fall, but he put his face down on the cement and balled. I sat down next to him. We just sat there for a minute while he wailed. He took his time and yelled for the sympathy of anyone nearby, spilling tears on the driveway.

Then he moved over to get next to me, curled up on his side, put his head in my lap, and went quiet. I put my hand on his shoulder. And we just sat for a while. The sky was overcast and a breeze was blowing, cool but comfortable here as we're emerging from winter. I hope I'll never lose that snapshot of us sitting there, with nobody else nearby... everything still and silent except for the company of the winter wind.

What a marvellous thing, to be trusted as a source of comfort!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

a great meeting with caring people

The other day, we had a great conference with some school teachers and administrators. It was about 50 intense minutes with 8 adults. I'll highlight 5 seconds of it as an example of why it was great.

We were mostly done, and the principal (Mrs. White) started talking straight at our daughter. She got direct, talking a bit sternly about what she expected. At one point, Mrs. White told our girl how she was sixth in some ranking in her class. Later, Mrs. White asked her, "Do you know why I mentioned your ranking?" I understood; she mentioned it because it showed how our girl was very capable, and able to do great work if she would apply herself. However, that's not how she took it; she said something about getting to the top place, meaning she felt like she was expected to improve from sixth to first.

Mrs. White contintued, not catching that she had misunderstood. So our Vice-Principal Mrs. Fletcher said something to our girl, correcting the misunderstanding. At this point, Mrs. White caught on to the confusion, and she attempted to fix it as she continued. All of this was done in a spirit of cooperation, with attitudes that showed respect even if someone needed correction.

Much more went on in the meeting, with many individual perspectives and even somewhat contrary opinions. In fact, there were times that someone was cut off or their point was dismissed because it didn't help with our goal. But everyone in the room was focused on a constructive outcome. Although I don't think it was perfect for anyone, I do believe everyone could feel the care and concern for our girl, and everyone showed true respect for one another throughout. It gave me pause afterward. It's good to be a part of that kind of thing.

What a great meeting.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

One of the Greatest Compliments

I've just been given one of the greatest compliments of my life. I was reminiscing with my mom about our family as I grew up... and as I was thinking about how much love we all got from my dad over the years, Mom commented off-handedly: "You do more for your family than your dad ever did."

I cannot express in words my deep satisfaction at being told such a thing.