Friday, December 28, 2007

49° North

49° North was an interesting experience. We were talked into going skiing, the first time for Heather and Rachel, my first lessons and Win's first skiing in some time.

Texans are friendly, but the people at 49° North were just delightful. The lessons were great, by the third day they had us skiing in blue and green runs (though Win did one black diamond on her second day with her lessons).

For about a hundred dollars we got three days of skiing, equipment rentals and lessons. The group lessons had 2-3 students in a group and one or two instructors per group.

The people were just so very nice. Short lines (the only crowds were looking for tables in the lodge -- but lots of people just brought their own food, we did after the first day, though we bought drinks and hot chocolate all three days).

A great Christmas present. I'm not sure how long the place will stay so uncrowded, it is only fifty minutes north of Spokane, everything from beginner slopes to double black diamonds and the nicest people I've met in a long time. People that genuinely pleasant heal the soul.

Rachel wants to go skiing every day now (we had to explain to her that there isn't skiing in Dallas, just like we don't have snow like this). I don't blame her. The people who taught her lessons were as kind and friendly as the people who taught ours.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Courtney (February 16, 1992 to December 26, 1993)

Courtney (February 16, 1992 to December 26, 1993), I thought of you today, so very much, and so wish I could have had you here to share this day.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Some interesting links // a story

Suggest some interesting links in the comments.

My mother-in-law tells the story of when she gave a class on candy making. One of the sisters asked her for private lessons, so she went to the sister's house and they made candy together, very successfully.

At church the sister cornered her to tell her that the recipe did not work well.

"Did you use two cups of sugar?"

"No, I wanted fewer calories, so I used only one."

"Did you use a half cup of condensed milk?"

"No, I used skim milk instead, it is better for your health."

"Gee, no wonder the candy was bad, you did something, but it wasn't my recipe."

She told me that the incident taught her that when following the gospel we need to follow the recipe before we start complaining. Too often in life we change the recipe and then wonder why the results are not what we expected.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A view of leaders

Most leaders in any religion have several narratives that are a part of their lives.
  1. Many whom they see with doubts are struggling with serious personal problems or issues.
  2. Most have served in capacities (such as missionaries) where they have seen God bring people into the fold, and they see that in their current calling.
  3. Most have dealt with many, many people who left the fold and have now returned, bringing a renewed testimony of the faith with them.
  4. Most have been very successful within their faith and as it connects to their personal lives.
  5. Most have learned to associate resentments and other problems with self deception which can cause them to undervalue pain, or to see issues as a reflection of personal problems rather than external ones.

Are all doubts caused by serious personal problems? No. Is success proof of intrinsic merit and the grace of God? I reject neo-Calvinism in all forms. Are all hurt feelings, pain and resentments the result of self-betrayal and self deception? Obviously not.

But those are the personal narratives that any leader is likely to bring to the table, and to deal with leaders, to be helped by them in grief, to understand them, it helps to know those five things. Especially since with grief, the loss of a child or other serious pain, you already fall within the category of someone with a serious personal issue, albeit one that calls out for love and sympathy.

My own advice? Be gentle with them as you would hope for them to be gentle with you.

Friday, December 21, 2007

There are no words

Brigham Young and Joseph Smith wrote a number of times about how our language limited our understanding. That when God spoke to us, we were limited by our words, our experiences and the tools we had to work with and that an important part of allowing God to speak to us was expanding the tools we had to hear the divine with.

We are often caught up in the struggle between denotation and connotation. Between indentity and meaning, and in grief, so limited by the things we do not know. There are no words that suffice sometimes.

So we struggle. When God says "worlds without number" does God mean infinite, or does God mean more than the current audience would count, or does God mean an indefinite number of worlds (the "I've lost count" number in the math joke) or is it a poetic reference? All, none, some, or does it really matter? Can the right words help when we are in pain? Can those without the right words do much but spread ignorance?

I was thinking about the concept on the plane to my in-laws, struggling with a way to put into words the way that words are not enough. Then, last night, I read another story of grief, where words failed the author and those who spoke to him revealed only their own lack of knowledge, their own failures of language. As I read, it came to mind that there was little I could say to the author or others right then, there are no words sometimes. There are no words.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Wanting less

Our office party this year ran under budget. People ate a good deal less than expected, my boss explained, as I got a refund.

Which led to our talking about the fact that we can all eat as much as we want, when we want, of pretty much what we want, without it affecting our budgets. One of the secretaries talked about how after her child's birthday they bundled up the gifts and took them to Goodwill, the child already had too much "stuff" and they knew that there were others who needed it more.

My birthday is the 19th. My youngest child's birthday is on the 21st. At her party (held to fit in her friend's schedules) parents had been told that their child coming was gift enough. We meant it. When asked by a Catholic secretary what I would like for Christmas, I suggested that she light a candle for me. I'm swamped with books that I'm excited about reading and I have more than enough.

Growing up, living in trailer parks, knowing hunger from time to time, I would never have thought that life would resolve has it has.

I want more of people, more of happy times with people, just less of things that distract. More memories, fewer souvenirs.

I wonder what other people want for Christmas, what their hearts truly need.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Ham for Chanukah

There I was thinking that the "Mocha for Mormons" missed the point ("it is mocha, not coffee").

Hello Gorgeous

"Hello gorgeous" -- it is how I answer the phone when my wife calls.

Well, I'm in a mediation, our side has four claims representatives and three attorneys and she calls and I answer my cell phone. Next thing I know, everyone is looking at me.

It is getting late, one of the other guy's wife calls, and he tries that same answer. Immediate disconnect, he jokes "she must have thought it was a wrong number" but he calls back and stays on task.

The third guy's wife called (we went really late, missed a lot of things, it was a Friday night). "Hello gorgeous" he goes and doesn't miss a beat.

By the end of the night everyone had decided to adopt the nick name I have for my wife for their own. It was kind of neat.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Seasons of the heart, Christmas

I've been writing out the personal notes for Christmas cards. This year has been a blitz of presents (Win made over a hundred personalized glass casserole dishes, packaged them up and mailed most of them, and that was only a start). As the season progresses, with memories and everything coming in, makes me want to just find a way to disappear and resurface in March. There are only so many presents to give away, so much activity to interpose, and I can no longer hide behind food.

Jessica was so excited about being baptized. I've not known a kid not quite seven who was so enthused about getting to eight to be baptized. Now, Rachel is about to turn eight and it just brings back and lot of feelings. We head towards Christmas, where Courtney died on the 26th of December and Rachel was admitted to the hospital then, and it is a cold month, in so many ways, and this year, more than many before, a very hard month to face.

But, we got a tree, got it decorated, had the pets eat everything on the bottom few branches, and we have lights up (out of reach of the pets outside).

Wish I had better advice for weathering the seasons of the heart.

BTW, ethics, fair trade and everything else aside, is a link to the best granola bars I've ever found.

I've simplified my modified Shangri-la calories as well.

2 ice cubes, one cup of water, 1/4 cup oatmeal, 1.5 scoops protein powder, 2 tablespoons extra light olive oil, blend well (using a blender), drink right after getting up, no flavor for an hour, then I brush my teeth and go to work. It is simple, easiest two hour block of time to find (since I'm spending an hour of it sleeping), replaces breakfast and seems to work well. The powder binds up the oil and it is the most gag free approach I've found. A number of people use nose clips, but if you use Designer Whey, unflavored, it is pretty much flavor free with or without the nose clips.

Contains enough protein that you don't have to pay special attention to getting enough protein while losing weight.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

When is enough, enough?

Well, to each their own, apparently. I'm in the above category. My wife of eleven years stands in the opening to our living room this past weekend, arms crossed and brows furled. I already knew I wasn't going to like this conversation. It opens with a question about the bag of ON serious mass I have in the closet. And how many things do I need to exercise, the weight gainer, protein powders, protein bars, etc. She wants to know when it is going to stop, when will I be big enough. I don't want to get mad, but...we all normally are our own worst critics. We never see ourselves as others do. I am by no means big (5'07", 175 - 180lbs depending on time of day), but yes, certainly bigger than when we got married.

If I were guessing, I'll bet she likes what she sees, but ...

She was probably happy with what she saw ten pounds ago. You've hit the point she is happy about you, now she wants to know just how much further this goes, how much time you are taking away from her, how much more money you are going to spend.

Does that make any sense? Kind of like when a guy has a hobby. An hour a week, might make your wife smile and have her encouraging you. Forty hours a week, she is going to throw tantrums.

Five dollars a week? She may not even notice. Five hundred dollars a week, a surgeon making two million a year can get away with it, but the rest of us are going to be putting a major strain on a relationship.

She is really asking is this a supplement to your relationship or a replacement? When is enough really enough (and when does it become too much)?

From a discussion about wives and hobbies (this one by a weightlifter/ bodybuilder, but) the principle applies across the board to self improvement and hobbies and projects. It is important to ask yourself how what you are doing comes across. Is it a supplement to your life or is it a replacement for a part of it?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Hoping for my children

Our school district has a strongly held policy against moving kids up a grade. Instead they attempt to find some other accommodation or work-around. That finally failed with Rachel and she was moved, in spite of her objections. She is finding it easy, and as she makes friends it isn't so bad. The real test will come when they have to decide what to do about skipping fourth grade (she is already working into the fourth grade material and beyond). She already looks so short with the third graders. I'm grateful Girl Scouts gives her a chance to hold on to her friends.

Some parents have asked me for what kind of drills or special training Rachel gets. The stronger a policy gets, the more someone notices when it isn't followed, and this is a competitive school district. Sigh. Mostly benign neglect I have to admit. Some edutainment, lots of books in the house. We bought some flash cards, I've always meant to use them. We found an ADD medication that didn't cause seizures or other bad side effects. Some social psych help really helped her adjust (but had nothing to do with school work).

Socialization is what we have worked on. It can be so hard when you do not connect with those around you. If you do not think the same way, at the same speed, if you disconnect, it can be so hard. There isn't any trick to Rachel moving up. The big trick would have been to find a way to keep Rachel in second grade, which is what was her heart's desire.

I worry about my children. It is not easy to be beautiful or to be brilliant. If you do not embrace the world, beauty only draws attention you would like to avoid. I'll have to write about my oldest some time. She is beautiful, and aside from the amusement at discovering it, it is as much of a problem as Rachel's brilliance, especially as she has no malice and has been slowly understanding the dynamics. It was easier when she hid it.

I guess every father worries for his children. It is easy to think that brilliance, beauty or talent are answers. If only it were so. A good heart and the ability to relate to others, since I was very young, that is what I believed in.

Love doesn't come on flash cards and it isn't easy to quantify or explain as a goal. Little things are easy (always trying to remember to have money to give to the Salvation Army, small kindnesses here and there), but trying to focus on this as important is why in raising my children it so often seems that everything else gets left to benign neglect. Charity is the core of what I hope for my children, the one gift that I have faith never fails. Everything else pales in comparison.