Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Reluctant Wanderer

Writing a short story is such a different beast than tackling a novel. Having written two full length novels (of around 100,000 words each), it was a bit of a challenge to write a couple of short stories recently. One is called The Howler King which was submitted for a short story contest. (I won't hear for a few months how that did). The second one I did on a whim for an anthology about evil tumbleweeds. It's called The Reluctant Wanderer.
One thing about doing anything creative is that people may like it or not--and for various reasons. I get that. There are certain authors I like to read, or music I like to listen to, and some I don't.
The gatekeeper / editor of the evil tumbleweeds anthology has "declined" my story. The comments were that the story was "too vanilla" (I guess they prefer chocolate) and the tumbleweeds were not "evil" enough. They offered me the chance to re-write the story.
I considered doing just that--for about 2.3672 seconds. Then I decided, "Nah, I like the story the way it is--I'm not going to change it just so it fits better what a certain person wants." Now this may seem a bit headstrong, and it probably is, but in the end, I want to be proud of the stories I create.
When I was shopping The Hidden Sun, one of the rejection letters said that the story was too tame and that if I were to add some swearing and a sex scene or two, they would consider it. For that comment, I considered doing that for 0.0000000001 second--if even that long.


**Update 5/7/11** The Reluctant Wanderer has been published in an anthology called How The West Was Wicked by Pill Hill Press. More information can be found here and here.

A bit of a warning: some of the stories in this anthology are a little more "wicked" than others--meaning read them at your own risk.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Where does the white go when the snow melts?

This picture was taken my by talented daughter Kelley. It's a shot of our backyard.

I've seen snow in various amounts at different locations in my life. Unlike the common saying that Eskimos have something like 5,627 different words for snow, I just have the one--and it's a four letter word.

Actually, that isn't fair. I have a love / hate relationship with snow. In Utah, there were days I would wake up, get ready for work or school, and then leave the house just to find my car buried under several feet of snow. Heck, I even kept a shovel in my trunk. In addition, I'd put big, heavy bags of rock salt in the trunk as well, not only to help weigh down the back of the rear-wheeled drive vehicle, but also to use as a melting agent if I got really stuck.

Even earlier in my life, we had a paper route. The Sunday edition was done first thing in the morning. On would go the heavy coat, mittens, two pairs of pants and those awesome moonboots we had back in the 80's. (Actually, I sort of miss my moonboots) I'd walk from house to house, trudging my way through snow, trying to keep the papers dry and myself warm.

Of course, this would be a good time to mention how I had to walk to school in the snow, uphill (both ways), wearing cardboard shoes, with wolves at my heels and only a "brick" of Shredded Wheat for breakfast--but it wouldn't be true. I didn't have cardboard shoes--I had my awesome moonboots.

In all my years of school in Utah, I only recall school being closed down early once. It was the day before Christmas break, and it had been snowing for several days. There was something like 5 feet of snow, and it was still coming down--hard. They let us walk home early from school that day--though it was uphill with wolves on our heels.

The most snow I've ever seen was a trip we took as scouts to Yellowstone. They said they had like 12 feet of snow or something like that. The only way to get around was on snowmobiles. That was pretty sweet.

And then came my time in Connecticut. This is where the hate part comes in. OK, maybe hate is too strong a word--how about: "an incredibly intense dislike" for snow. Why? Because working at a TV station meant never ending snow coverage. Forget any plans you had with your family--snow meant long hours at work, telling people over and over again: "It's snowing!"

Now that I've moved to North Carolina, snow is back to something of a wonder. Overnight, we got about 6 inches of snow. They say it is the first white Christmas time in the Raleigh area in 60 years. To put into perspective how much 6 inches of snow is for this part of the country, I came up with a formula: You take the number of inches of snow, multiply it by 5, and replace the word "inches" with "feet."

Finally, there is the questions of "where does the white go when the snow melts?" I've asked this question many times to many people. I've gotten all sorts of answers--some very scientific in nature. My favorite response by far was, "It goes into the ground and turns green."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Click, click, click

The clock radio was old. It was so old, the numbers displaying the time were on little flat plates that would flip over when the time changed. In fact, the clock made an audible clicking sound when the time changed. At night, the time could be seen by the little light that illuminated the block numbers.
It was the only clock we had in the bedroom I shared with my two brothers. It sat on a bookshelf where we could all see it. Most of the time, I wasn't aware of the little clicking sound it made--it was just background noise--like the humming of the fridge, or the sound of the heated air blowing through the vents. However, on this particular night, I was very aware of the clicking sound. With each of the small, timely noises, it meant it was that much closer to morning.
I had fallen asleep fairly easily that night, but my little 7 or 8 year old body was just too excited to stay asleep. It was with dismay that I woke up and saw that the clock read 2:30 am. Let's see. If I was to get up at 7:00 am, that meant I had, wait--let me think about it--about 4 and a half hours to go. How many clicks was that? Ug, too many to figure out.
How did I sleep most of the time? What was the trick? Certainly my body was tired enough to sleep, but my mind had other ideas. It was filled with, oh, what was that saying? Ah, yes. "Visions of sugarplums dancing in my head." (What the heck is a sugarplum anyway, and why would it be dancing? Frankly, that's kind of scary--no wonder I had a hard time sleeping if my mind was filled visions of those)
I didn't want to wake up my brothers. No, let them sleep. Just because I was too excited to sleep, I shouldn't deprive them of the pleasure. Dang, only 2:47 now.
"Thad? Are you awake?"
" No, and neither are you. Go back to sleep."
Harrumph.
Click, click, click. The minutes painfully passed. Click, click, click. Is that what the author was referring to when Santa came down the chimney? It kind of made sense now that I thought about it.
Then I got an idea. They said that counting sheep helped you fall asleep. But why sheep? Why not goats, or cows, or platypuses (or should that be platypusi as the plural of platypus?) Bah, it didn't matter. Sheep were fine. I imagined 60 sheep in a pen. Each second, one sheep would jump out of the pen. I'd start the count when I heard a click of the clock. That way, when the pen was emptied, another precious minute would have passed, bringing me closer to 7:00 am.
Darn if that pen didn't keep filling up with sheep.
"Kenny, are you awake?"
"Yes!"
"Me too!"
"I'm too excited to sleep!"
"Me too!"
Pause
Pause
Okay, back to the sheep. I waited for the clicking so the pen would fill up. Click. Ah, there we go.
After the longest night of my life, we closed in on 7:00 am. Even Thad was awake now. We got dressed as the time got closer.
Then, it happened! 7:00 am! Whoo hoo!
"Mom! Amy! Time to get up!"
They were slow to respond. Bah! It was 7:02 now!
Amy came out of her room. As the oldest, and the only girl, I wondered if she understood how important this was.
"Mom's going to be taking pictures. I always look gross. I'm going to take a shower first," she said.
Are you kidding me? It was now 7:04 am! Taking a shower? I don't think so. Thankfully my two brothers voiced their displeasure at the idea as well.
Mom was up now. "Get in a line at the top of the stairs. Youngest to oldest," she instructed.
We did as we were told. C'mon! It had to be at least 7:06 by now!
"All right," she said. "Let's go see what Santa brought."
And so we did.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Customer service ratings--to the extreme!

I've noticed as a consumer that there has been a bigger focus on customer service surveys recently. I guess it makes sense. In an economy where jobs are hard to get and money is tight, businesses are doing whatever they can to make sure they retain their customers.

I'm all for receiving excellent service. If I go somewhere, I want to be treated nicely, not talked down to and certainly not treated like I'm a nuisance.

However, just like many things happening in corporate America, things can be taken too far. Think about the last time to went to your bank. Now, if I were to ask you the following questions, how would you rate your experience on a scale from 1 to 6 (6 being the best):

1. They went out of the way to please

2. They did things right the first time

3. They treated you like a valued customer

4. They made your business their top priority

5. They followed up and kept their promises

All right, have you figured out what you would have rated them? How many of you gave a perfect "6" in all the categories?

Now, did you know that if you scored anything less than a "6" in any of those categories, the person you "graded" would have a black mark given to them?

Now, let's take it to the next step. Let's say in any given month, 14,000 people go to a certain bank location. Of those 14,000, 10 people are randomly called. Of those ten, the minimum goal is 80%, or 8 out of 10 have to grade their visit with all perfect 6's across the board.

Any math whizzes out there that can figure the margin of error with those numbers?

I, sadly, have worked in such an environment. In my opinion, it is completely unfair--especially when the employee is held accountable for the non-perfect shop, even if they did all they could to take care of the customer.

Need more proof? Here is a true story that happened to me:
I was at a training class for a couple of days. When I returned to my store that I manage, I'm told that a customer came in while I was gone. He was very upset because another store, a good hour away, had messed up his accounts and caused him fees. My team fixed the issue, refunded the fees, and escalated the issue to the area manager--because the man was that upset. I was contacted by the area manager and asked to buy a gift card for the customer to "make it up to him". I was also told at the time that I needed to update the man's zip code in the system.
So, I did as was asked. I even called and left a message for the customer apologizing for what he had gone through and told him the gift card was on the way.

When out next surveys came in, this customer had been called and scored us very low. What was worse? The survey pinned me as the person who got the bad survey. How could that have happened? I had never even seen or spoken to the man. The survey was triggered when I updated the man's zip code in the system.

The result? Not only did I lose a big chunk of my bonus for that month, but I was also written up for the low survey--because it was policy that anytime that low of a survey is received, the person had to be written up.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Video memories

Not so many years ago, people would preserve their history in journals. Scrapbooking was a newer way--taking photos and arranging them into neat designs. With more technology comes more options. One way I've kept a family history is by making music videos. When I made my first one about 12 years ago, that was pretty cutting edge. With today's computers, just about anyone can make home movies into something neat. Every Monday night we have something called Family Home Evening. As noted in previous blogs, it is a time where we get together as a family to sing a song, have a prayer and lesson, someone demonstrates a talent, we do and activity and have treats. One of the activities the kids enjoy is watching movies of themselves when they were younger. It's amazing how much they have changed in such a relatively short period of time. I'm including a video we watched just the other night. It was taken in 2004. A little background: the girls had seen these large dolls and had done something to earn them (I don't recall what it was) These dolls were huge!--and frankly, a little scary. This video shows them giving names to their dolls.
video

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Don't inhale

"When I was in England, I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn't like it. I didn't inhale and never tried it again." –Bill Clinton

It was labor day weekend, and I was the manager on duty. The grocery store was one of those "no frills" places where people bagged their own groceries and took them out to their car. The floor was cement and the shelves were made out of wooden 2 x 4s. The products were often still the boxes they were shipped in, just cut open with easy access for customers to get what they needed. By far, we had the best prices, but the warehouse feeling of the store was almost too much for some people.
We were just about to close up for the night when a very loud whistling sound came from the far back corner of the store. It was like nothing I'd heard before. I tried to call the store manager, but he was out of town. The same was true for the store owner.
My assistant for the night was a cute girl who weighed maybe half of what I did. We looked at each other in concern, and then decided to check it out.
As we got closer to the back corner, the sound was so loud, we couldn't hear each other speak. It was from a large closet of sorts where the noise was originating. There was a fine, white mist coming from the room, but it wasn't smoke--nothing smelled like it was burning.
I told my assistant to wait outside the closet and I would go check it out. (That was me being the brave macho manager dude). I opened the door to find the room was filled with this white mist. In the room was all sorts of machines--none of which I recognized. I stepped in further, trying to see what was causing the issue. Very quickly, I started to feel light headed, and there was spots dancing before my eyes. A still small voice told me to get the heck out of there.
So I turned, and panicked for a moment when I couldn't see the door. I was really getting dizzy now and stumbled my way toward where I thought the door was. I found it and got out. The world was spinning now, and my assistant looked at me with pure fear in her eyes.
Somehow she helped me get to the front of the store--to this day, I'm not sure how. She must have been working out to get such a tall guy like me to move when my body didn't want to. At the front of the store was the fire department and an ambulance. Even in my foggy state, I wondered who had called them, to find out later, the fire alarm had tripped.
The next part was fuzzy, but I recall being placed in the ambulance next to my assistant where we were both put on oxygen. It turns out that that one of the compressors that kept the freezers cold sprung a leak and was spewing Freon into the air. Now, I don't know a lot about such things, but I was told breathing in Freon was bad--like too much and it could kill you kind of bad.
I survived, and I took a deeper lesson from it. Many times in my life, I've been placed in situations, both professionally and socially, where there are things around me that are dangerous. I'm not only talking about physical things, but also behaviors. At one of my places of employment where I ended up leaving on my own, the "air" was becoming polluted with negativity, micromanaging, double standards and questionable ethical behaviors.
Just like when I was in the room with the white mist that seemingly was harmless at first, longer exposure would most certainly have led to unpleasant results. So, again, I listened to that still small voice in my head that told me to "Get out!"--and I did.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Extend this!

I have a love / hate relationship with extended warranties. By and large, I think they are a waste of money, though on occasion, they have paid for themselves several times over.
After I graduated from Brigham Young University, I took a job at an electronics retail store. I was looking for a job in TV, but those were hard to come by and I knew it may take a while. Add the fact my wife was several month pregnant, and the urgency to get a job was pretty high.
The place I worked is no longer in business--and it is no wonder why. We were straight commission sales--plus we had to empty the trash, mop the floors and clean the bathrooms in our suits as a "perk" of working there. (Again, we were straight commission, so you can imagine how much commission I got from scrubbing toilets)
One thing they really pushed was the extended warranties. In fact, they would track the percentage of your sales dollars and the minimum expectation was that 10% of your sales came from the extended warranties. And if you think about it, why not? After all, you are getting people to pay for something they may never use. It's almost pure profit.
Again, think about the term: it is an extended warranty--meaning it only kicks in after the manufacturer's warranty expiries.
Here is a true story: I sold a customer a cell phone and as well as the two year extended warranty. A few weeks later, he came back with the phone, telling me it stopped working, but he had bought the extended warranty. I had to explain to him that for the first year, he had to contact the manufacturer--but since I am such a nice guy, I helped him find the number and we called from the store. The result? He was expected to send the phone back to the manufacturer in the original packaging and he would get it back in 6 to 8 weeks. If he didn't have the packaging, there would be a fee. I honestly thought the customer was going to deck me.
After that, I had a hard time selling the extended warranty because I didn't believe in it. I quit the job soon after because I got my first TV job.
But the extended warranty stories don't end there. My wife and I got a car and were "talked into" getting some sort of paint coating protection. A couple of years after we had the car, we noticed some issues with the paint, so I called the number about the warranty. They said they would be "happy" to help us. We would just need to drop it off to an authorized repair shop--and that it could take up to a week to get it done. Where was the nearest "authorized" shop? 3 hours away.
But here comes the "love" part of the story. When we bought our last van, my wife was a hard nose. She is quite the shopper and bargainer. We actually walked out on the salesman because my wife wasn't happy with the offer on the trade in. He called us back a few days later with a better offer, and included an extended warranty at no extra cost--and it was for 8 years or 80,000 miles.
Just this week, with our van at 78,000 miles and less than 4 months until it turns eight, we took it in to have it looked at. The call from the service man said that we needed a whole new rack and pinion system as well as a number of other things. He told me what all of these were over the phone. I listened politely. After he was done, I said, "Well, it sounds like you have some work to do. Go ahead and get started."
He was all excited and started to give me a quote when I nicely interrupted him. "We have the extended warranty."
There was silence on the other end of the phone for a moment. Then he said, "You do?"
"Yes."
"Let me call you back," he responded.
15 minutes go by. The phone rings again. It is the service guy. "After talking it over, I'm not so sure all those things need to be replaced."
"I have a list here of what you told me, and I don't think you would want one of your customers riding around in an unsafe van, would you?" I answered.
"Well, no. But there is no way we could get all that done today," he says.
"That's ok--tomorrow will be fine for me. Thanks for calling and letting me know about those problems. We'll see you tomorrow."

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Ohmyhecknoway!

Growing up in Utah Valley was quite the experience. It most certainly has its own unique culture--which isn't a bad thing. It just is what it is. As a general rule of thumb, traditional swearing was frowned upon by the general public, but that didn't stop people from uttering different words instead.
What kind of "curse" words would you hear in Utah Valley when I was growing up? Well, there was "shoot", "darn", "fetch", "heck", and "jeeze" to name a few. One of the more common exclamations was "Oh my heck, no way!" However, it was so common, and often said very quickly, it was jokingly referred to as one word, hence, "ohmyhecknoway!"
There were those that told me that saying a substitute for a word was just as bad as saying the "real" swear word. For example, if I were to hit my thumb with a hammer and then proceeded to yell, "FETCH!" it was the same as dropping the F-bomb (that's a nice way we referred to that other "F" word).
On this point, I'm going to respectfully disagree. I don't believe that using a different word in place of a swear word is the same. Why? Simple. Words have power.
Now, I'm not talking about the "My name is a killing word" (Dune reference) type of power. I'm saying that certain words in and of themselves have power. For example: "I now pronounce you man and wife" has a totally different meaning than "I now pronounce you man and banana."
Need another example? How about instead of "You are under arrest" you say, "You are under a mattress". Still not convinced? All right, one more: instead of "You're fired!" you say "You're hired!"

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I'm @ home & typing blog # 52! (at no $ for the reader)

There was a time when computers weren't in almost every house. It's true! I'm almost ashamed to admit we have 3 now. What did people possibly do before computers? Well, for writing letters and such, we had these devices called "typewriters". This next statement will show how old I am: in High School, we learned to type on typewriters.
The semester I took the typing class, I broke one of my little fingers playing sports. It was fairly early in the semester and I wore thing honkin' big cast. Instead of learning to type using all four fingers and my thumb, I only use the first three fingers and thumb on each hand. It's weird, but, it works for me.
When you made a mistake while using a typewriter, it could be a painful process. Some of the more advanced type writers would "white out" the character you mistyped. Other times, we had to physically insert a little sheet of white out. Either way, it was a mess.
I recall getting an invitation to a cub scout event that had been type written on a 3 x 5 card. It said the event started at @:00 pm. @:00 pm? When was that? I freaked out, telling my mom that I think they invented a new time. She assured me that it was 2:00 pm because the "@" symbol was above the "2" on the typewriter.
Of course, that brought up the next question: what the heck is the "@" symbol? She patiently explained it was short for the word "at". My little mind back then works very much like my mind now. So, someone took a two letter word and converted it to one symbol? Why would they do that? It's not like they were abbreviating the word "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious". (Although maybe they should create a symbol for that word).
Next time my mother had the typewriter out, I asked her if there was more funky (we used the word funky because this was in the 70's) symbols like the @. In fact there was. # was number. $ was dollar. % was percent and so on. Again, this was before computers and the internet so I couldn't just look up where the symbols originated. It remained a mystery.
Just last night, my wife noted how the symbol @ was all but unused until email addresses came about--now you see it everywhere. And she's dead on. What's also a trip is that on my smart phone, there is a "shortcut" for ".com" -- it's ALT B. I wonder what's next.
To wrap up this blog, here is a little quiz. Try not to look at the very bottom of the blog for the answer. This quiz will determine if you are a computer nerd or not. After you read the questions, think of the answer in your mind.
Here we go:

What is 5 plus 1?

What is 10 minus 4?

What is 2 times 3?

What is 4 plus 2?

What is 7 minus 1?

What is 6 times 1?

What is the first vegetable that comes to your mind?

Okay, this is the part where you see if you are a computer nerd or not.


If you answered carrot, you are a computer nerd. Why? Because the symbol above the "6" on a keyboard is the "^", also known as the carrot.
By the way, how do you capture a rabbit? Easy, you hide behind a bush and make the sound like a ^.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

How young is too young to get married?

In the movie "The Princess Bride" (which, by the way, was a major inspiration for my book The Hidden Sun) there is a great scene where Buttercup and Prince Humperdinck are to be married. The "Impressive Clergyman" that performs the ceremony has one of the many memorable lines in the movie. It can be viewed below:Often my blogs are inspired by something I've seen or experienced which then leads my mind to ponder on the subject. For this blog, it came from a picture from a recent trip to a certain fast food restaurant.
The part that got my attention was the "3 - 12 years old can play. Parents too!" You could read this that if you were a parent between the ages of 3 and 12, you are allowed to play in the play area as well.
Granted, I do not know of any parents that are under the age of 12. However, my wife and I did get married at what many consider to be a very young age. I was 22, she was 19. In the part of the country where I grew up, this wasn't all that unusual. However, when I moved to Connecticut, I discovered how truly rare that was.
There were people that insisted that it would never work out between my wife and I. I'm happy to say that 19 years later, we are still going strong--but it wasn't by fate or dumb luck. It's taken a lot of hard work.
For five years we tried to have kids, but to no avail. Then our sweet Kelley came along and we were delighted! 18 months later, beautiful Emily joined our family. Another 18 months after that, and our darling redhead Amy came along, and now my wife and I were outnumbered. At times, it felt like we had triplets. It took 3 more years before our creative, silly Stephanie completed our family.
Stephanie just turned 8. It's almost hard to believe. But as my wife and I talk (which we do often) we've realized something. The only way our marriage has survived for this long is because both of us are dedicated to it 100%. In addition, we are always communicating about our dreams, goals, concerns and such. If there is something bothering one of us, the other is there to support and help them.
Now, this isn't to say that I believe all marriages will work out. As I stated above, I believe both people have to be 100% dedicated to the happiness of the other person. A successful marriage can't be held together by one person.
Also, I don't believe that everyone will find their spouse in their early twenties. And if it is later in life that you find your spouse, that doesn't mean there was anything wrong with you. Some things are worth the wait.
I, personally, have been blessed with a wonderful wife who forgives me of my shortcomings. She makes me want to be a better person. At the same time, I want to her be happy, which means I can't be selfish, and I must give up some of my freedom to do so. However, the rewards for doing so totally outweigh any perceived freedom I've surrendered.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Bad hair day

There has been this weird sore on the end of my nose for a while now. It's not on the very tip, but it is visible if you look at me. For the longest time, I just ignored it, though it would bleed time and again. I finally went to the doctor and the doctor said, "No more monkeys jumping on the bed!" In addition, she said it was more than likely a pre-cancer that needed to be addressed.
And how do you do that? In my case, they shot liquid nitrogen (at a nice cool -321 degrees) on the sore and the area around it. If you've ever had that done to you, anywhere on your body, you know how fun that is. After the procedure, I asked them it was still manly if I teared up a bit. The nurse responded, "Oh, yes. In fact, it was even more manly that you didn't flinch." The doctor chimed in, "Or said any swear words." My response? I mumbled, "At least not verbally."
So for the last few days, I have a nose that Rudolf would envy. All right, not really, but it feels that way to me. It is getting better, but it has also made me appreciate when I don't have a giant sore on the end of my nose.
Really, that is the point. It could have been so much worse. After all, I still have food to eat, shelter to keep me warm and safe, an incredible family, my faith, and the list goes on and on.
There is a song we sing in church. It is called "Count your many blessings". The gist of the song is when things are going bad in your life, or there is something worrying you so much it impacts all other aspects of your day to day routine, take time to look at all the good things you have in your life. Every time I've done that, the "good list" totally outweighs the "bad list".
Another saying I like is, "You have to have the bad days to appreciate the good days." Here are a couple of examples.
When I was a teenager, I was very active in the scouting program. On one of our many camp outs, we climbed up into the mountains in the dead of winter. There must have been several feet of snow at our campsite. We pitched our tent, and before I went to bed, I put on every scrap of clothes I had before climbing into my sleeping bag. Even with all that, I didn't sleep a wink as I shivered the whole night. If I hadn't had that experience, I wouldn't appreciate sleeping in a comfortable bed at the perfect temperature.
A second example is around food. While I was going to college, I lived off campus. I was working full time and going to school full time. I wasn't making a lot of money, and so I had to be very careful with my money. I figured I had about $2 a day to spent on food. Let's just say, Raman noodles was my primary meal. (Side story, when my wife is out and I'm left to my own devices to make myself lunch or dinner, I make Raman noodles). On Sundays, I would go to my mom's for dinner. I would savor every mouthful of food she prepared. It was like manna from heaven!
During this Thanksgiving time, it is always nice to reflect back on all the things you are grateful for. If you really think about it, there are things you should be grateful for that you may not realize.
My encouragement is for anyone that is having a bad day, including the infamous "bad hair day", to take a few moments and think about all the things you are grateful for. I promise you this: if you do so, that "bad hair day" will not seem as bad--and it will make you appreciate when your hair looks smokin' hot.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Palindromes revealed

In my previous blog, I shared a story full of palindromes (words or phrases that are spelled the same forward and backward).

As promised, the answers are listed in this blog. But before I get to that, there is one more palindrome I discovered. It is the word "aibohphobia". As you can probably guess by looking at the word, it means the fear of something, but what? The answer? Aibohphobia is the fear of palindromes.

Hannah looked at Bob with a level gaze. Her face was getting redder by the minute. "Desserts, I stressed!"
"Wow, calm down! I did get your note, as well as the other eight you sent. It wasn't clear. I had Otto and Dennis look at them as well. Some men interpret nine memos different ways."
Frowning, Hannah asked, "And who's radar didn't pick up on the desserts?"
"It wasn't me or Otto. I believe Dennis sinned on this one."
"Dennis? That man is as drab as a fool, aloof as a bard." Hannah said. "This civic event is going to be the end of me. Nothing is right. Did we at least get the right main course? These are the members of the salami board, after all."
Bob mumbled under his breath, "Go hang a salami; I'm a lasagna hog."
"What was that?" Hannah asked.
"Nothing."
Hannah stomped around the meeting hall. "And what about all these cats? They have to be moved! Stack cats five high if needed. I don't want us to step on no pets. Bah! These cats are crazy!"
"They aren't crazy. They are just old--senile felines. I'll move them."
"You shouldn't let Ma keep so many cats," Hannah complained.
Bob turned and faced Hannah. "She has a kind heart. So do I. Ma is as selfless as I am."
"Too soft hearted," Hannah said, nodding.
"Don't nod," Bob said. "I hate when you do that. Don't lose focus. This is a big event. What is the salami board's motto? Oh, yes. 'Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era?' We should be honored they chose to have the event here."
Hannah walked to the decorative fireplace. "Did the salami arrive yet?"
"No trace; not one carton."
Stomping her foot, Hannah said, "Nothing is going right! Even this place is decorated all wrong. From the goldenrod-adorned log to the tin mug to the brown kayak."
At that moment, Anna and Nita walked in.
"Yo, banana boy!" Anna called.
Bob scowled. "Don't call me that. I don't like fruit. No banana, no lemon, no melon, nothing."
"Okay, how about I say 'Yo, Bob! Mug o' gumbo, boy!' instead?"
"Stop it, you two," Hannah said. "We need to clean this area up. Speaking of mugs, Anna, get this tin mug out of here."
Anna turned to her companion. "Hmm. What to do? A tin mug for a jar of gum, Nita?"
"Yes, gum will bombard a drab mob with happy feelings." Nita replied.
Hannah approached Anna. "Did you do as I told you to get rid of the wart on your hand? We can't have you serving the salami board with a warty hand. I can get more straw if you need it."
"Straw? No, too stupid a fad; I put soot on warts," Anna replied. "It will be gone in time."
Hannah gave Anna a stern look. "It better. We can't have you looking like an oozy rat in a sanitary zoo."
"I heard that Tarzan raised Desi Arnaz' rat," Bob chimed in. "True story!"
Hannah growled at Bob. "You aren't helping! If I had a boot, I'd kick you.
"Too bad I hid a boot," Bob said, smirking.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Fun with Palindromes (no relation to Sarah)

In The Hidden Sun, I use anagrams throughout the book. If you aren't familiar with an anagram, it is a word that is spelled using the same letters as another word. For example, the contest in The Hidden Sun where young men compete to become guardians is called the "Mortentaun". Not familiar with that word? That's ok--I made it up. However, if you take the letters for Mortentaun and rearrange them, you get the word "Tournament".
But anagrams aren't the only fun things you can do with words. Palindromes are also fun. A Palindrome is a word, or group of words that reads the same forward as it does backwards. Example: "I did, did I?" (granted that is a fairly lame one)
For giggles, here is a short story full of Palindromes. Can you find them all? I'll post the answers in my next blog.

Hannah looked at Bob with a level gaze. Her face was getting redder by the minute. "Desserts, I stressed!"
"Wow, calm down! I did get your note, as well as the other eight you sent. It wasn't clear. I had Otto and Dennis look at them as well. Some men interpret nine memos different ways."
Frowning, Hannah asked, "And who's radar didn't pick up on the desserts?"
"It wasn't me or Otto. I believe Dennis sinned on this one."
"Dennis? That man is as drab as a fool, aloof as a bard." Hannah said. "This civic event is going to be the end of me. Nothing is right. Did we at least get the right main course? These are the members of the salami board, after all."
Bob mumbled under his breath, "Go hang a salami; I'm a lasagna hog."
"What was that?" Hannah asked.
"Nothing."
Hannah stomped around the meeting hall. "And what about all these cats? They have to be moved! Stack cats five high if needed. I don't want us to step on no pets. Bah! These cats are crazy!"
"They aren't crazy. They are just old--senile felines. I'll move them."
"You shouldn't let Ma keep so many cats," Hannah complained.
Bob turned and faced Hannah. "She has a kind heart. So do I. Ma is as selfless as I am."
"Too soft hearted," Hannah said, nodding.
"Don't nod," Bob said. "I hate when you do that. Don't lose focus. This is a big event. What is the salami board's motto? Oh, yes. 'Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era?' We should be honored they chose to have the event here."
Hannah walked to the decorative fireplace. "Did the salami arrive yet?"
"No trace; not one carton."
Stomping her foot, Hannah said, "Nothing is going right! Even this place is decorated all wrong. From the goldenrod-adorned log to the tin mug to the brown kayak."
At that moment, Anna and Nita walked in.
"Yo, banana boy!" Anna called.
Bob scowled. "Don't call me that. I don't like fruit. No banana, no lemon, no melon, nothing."
"Okay, how about I say 'Yo, Bob! Mug o' gumbo, boy!' instead?"
"Stop it, you two," Hannah said. "We need to clean this area up. Speaking of mugs, Anna, get this tin mug out of here."
Anna turned to her companion. "Hmm. What to do? A tin mug for a jar of gum, Nita?"
"Yes, gum will bombard a drab mob with happy feelings." Nita replied.
Hannah approached Anna. "Did you do as I told you to get rid of the wart on your hand? We can't have you serving the salami board with a warty hand. I can get more straw if you need it."
"Straw? No, too stupid a fad; I put soot on warts," Anna replied. "It will be gone in time."
Hannah gave Anna a stern look. "It better. We can't have you looking like an oozy rat in a sanitary zoo."
"I heard that Tarzan raised Desi Arnaz' rat," Bob chimed in. "True story!"
Hannah growled at Bob. "You aren't helping! If I had a boot, I'd kick you.
"Too bad I hid a boot," Bob said, smirking.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Save us from ourselves

There is a lyric in a classic rock song that states, "Those who know what's best for us, must rise and save us from ourselves." While the author who worte those words was being sarcastic, there are those in the world who feel the need to do it anyway.

In the spirit of some of my previous blogs, here are some images of good intentions gone wrong.



This is where I'd write something clever, but frankly with this picture, I got nothin'.



I just want to know how many people actually tried this before they had to put up a warning sign.



I, personally, have cut my hands 17 times on this sign. If only I had read it closer. Oh, and what does the fine print say at the bottom?



Here is a rare photo of the number to call before they switched it to "911".



Kinda puts a whole new spin on the term "finger food", doesn't it?



Yes, after you die, they will search your body for $200. And if you don't have it in cash? They will sell anything the find on you to raise the funds. That'll teach ya!



It's all fun and games until someone gets hit in the eye with a wrench.



This sign isn't what you may think. It actually means, "Danger! The cars here are so tough they can fend off low flying aircraft!"



You must really suck to pull this one off.



Now THIS is a sign I can comply with!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Do you wanna go out?

Asking a person out on a date was an art form in the 80's. Granted, it still may be somewhat the same these days, but since I've not asked anyone out on a date (aside from my wife) in over 20 years, I may be a bit out of touch.
Where I grew up in Utah, we would have these "Dinner / Dances" held every 6 weeks or so. They consisted of some of the traditional themes like Homecoming, Sadie Hawkins, Jr. Prom, Preference, and a few others they added along the way. You would take your date to dinner, and then go to a dance afterward.
For each of these dances, it was either boy or girl choice to ask. It wasn't enough to call someone up and ask, "Do you wanna go out?". Oh no. That didn't work at all. It was expected that you ask the person out in a clever way.
Sometimes you would ask by giving them instructions on how to respond. I remember for one of my dances, my then girlfriend asked me out by giving me a box of Froot Loops and some string. I was to create a necklace out of the Froot Loops in a certain pattern if the answer was "yes" and wear it to school the next day. Granted, on this one, I cheated a little. I did, in fact, create said necklace, but wore a jacket to cover it up so I wouldn't walk around the school embarrassed all day.
Then there were those times you were asked out and your response was left open. A good friend of mine had a girl respond to his request by giving him a block of ice with the response in the middle of it. After smashing it open and getting the note out, it said, "Now that we've broken the ice, I would love to go!" (Ahhhh . . . sweet!)
I recall responding to one of the times I was asked out by doing the following: I bought like 30 helium balloons. On each balloon, I wrote one word of my response, with the last balloon giving the answer. I then tied the end of each string to the knot of the previous balloon. The end result was a string of balloons that reached pretty high into the sky. I then tied the bottom balloon to her door handle, rang her doorbell, and took off. She was forced to pull in the balloons one by one to read the answer (which, of course, was "yes!")
One of the crueler ways I asked someone was to get "revenge" on my girlfriend for the Froot Loop caper. I wrote my request to ask her out on 20 or so papers, about an inch square with one word and a number so she could tell the sequence. I then crinkled up these papers. My next move? I bought a BIG old bag of popcorn--one of those about a foot in diameter and several feet long. Inside this bag, I randomly placed the papers--which happened to look very much like popcorn. :) (She still said "yes")
But the greatest "asking out" story is something of a legend. There was a guy who would be considered a "nerd", but a very smart one who really didn't care what others thought of him. If my memory serves me correctly, the dance was around Easter time. This guy bought a dozen or so very cheap Easter Baskets. He then wrote a note in each basket saying, "Will you go to the dance with me? If yes, return this basket with your favorite candy. If no, please understand the sorry this will bring me, and return the basket filled will all sorts of candy to help soothe pain." He then gave these baskets to all the cheerleaders or girls he knew had steady boyfriends.
Not one of them said yes--but that wasn't the point. He made out like a bandit on the amount of candy he got in return.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Be good, or be good at it

"Be good, or be good at it" is probably not the best advice to give someone--at least to someone who you actually care about and want to be a good person. What's another saying about advice? "Free advice usually worth what you pay for it."
I've actually gotten a lot of good advice over the years. Some that come to mind are "don't chew tinfoil", "never spit into the wind" and "never fall asleep with gum in your mouth (it usually ends up in your hair)".
Then there are the immortal words you learn while camping with the scouts. If we ever got a cut or a scrape, we were advised to "rub a little dirt on it--you'll be fine". For a twisted ankle or knee? It was always, "walk it off--you'll be fine". If your hot dog you were cooking on the end of a stick falls to the ground? "Rub the dirt off of it--you'll be fine." If you get caught in an avalanche? "Swim with the snow, and once you get buried alive, spit, so you can tell which way is up, then start to claw your way out." Thank goodness I never had to test the last one to see if it worked.
Fortune cookies are very generous with advice. Here are some that I remember: "Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret." "Eat your vegetables and will grow up to be strong like Popeye." "The greatest danger could be your stupidity." "Never forget a friend, especially if he owes you." And my favorite of all time: "Ignore previous cookie."
Another bit of advice along those lines is: "Never judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes. Then, when you judge him, you will be a mile away--and you'll have his shoes."
One of the best bits of advice was from my parents-in-law when my wife and I were married. In our wedding card from them, in big letters that were underlined was one word: "COMMUNICATE!" At the time, I thought Well, duh! Of course we'll talk to each other. Nineteen years later, I've truly come to understand what that means.
My wife and are different. I know how shocking that may seem. Granted, we have a lot in common, but we are also different in a lot of ways. One thing we've become especially good at is communicating effectively. Often, that results in me saying "Yes, dear" a lot. (Alright, not really) But what we have learned is that the way one of us does, or would do, something may not be the only way, or even the best way. It's amazing how much I've learned by keeping my lips from flapping and opening my ears and heart to what my wife is saying.
The last bit of advice I'm going to share is one of the worst pieces of advice I have ever gotten. I've held management or supervisory positions at my places of employment for a good part of the last 20 years. When I was hired at one of my jobs, my boss told me his key to successful leadership: "You have to make your employees fear you. They have to feel like their job is always at risk unless they do as they are told. Only then, will you be successful."
My response? "With all due respect, I've never seen that type of behavior be effective in the long run. I believe that you should teach people what is expected of them, make sure they know how to do it, and if they can't or won't do it, what the consequences of their actions will be."
He laughed and said, "Good luck with that!"
By the time I left that position, we had a solid team that worked together well and produced outstanding results. People told me what an amazing job I had done with the department. When asked, "What was the key to your success?" I responded, "Ignore previous cookie."

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A "I can't believe what just happened" moment

Have you ever had one of those moments where you thought, "I can't believe what just happened" or "I can't believe what I just saw?" I'm not talking about watching a video replay of an event like the space shuttle blowing up, or the attacks on 9/11. I'm referring to something that happened in the moment--and it was amazing.
I was reflecting on one of those moments recently. A little background first. It all stemmed from an issue I had with my left knee . . . in Mexico . . . on my Mormon mission . . . in 1989. (I wrote it that way for dramatic effect) Now when I say issue, I'm talking about me, my bike, a car and an incident that caused me from being able to bend my left knee. (That's a whole other story--heck, I may even write a book about the experience)
This story picks up when it was determined that I needed to have surgery. I was to fly back to the USA from Mexico. I was able to walk with the help of a crutch. It was one of those metal ones that had an inch of foam at the top for padding, a rubberish like handle and a rubber cap on the end.
To get to Utah from the Yucatan, I would be taking several shorter flights. The itinerary had me flying from Merida, Mexico to Mexico City to Mazatlan, Mexico to Denver, Colorado and finally to Salt Lake City.
We landed in Mexico City around 10ish in the morning. I was to have about a 2 hour lay-over there. However, I had a bit of an issue. First, I had two suitcases I need to take from one side of the airport to the other, and I was only able to walk with the use of my one crutch.
I remember standing at the gate with my suitcases (we were on a small plane so there was no going to baggage pick-up. We were given our suitcases when we got off the plane) and wondering "What the heck am I going to do?"
A kind gentleman from the airport spotted me and offered to help me get to my next gate. To get there, we had to go through the metal detector. Now remember, I am using a metal crutch to walk. Once I get to the detector, I go to hand them the crutch with the intention of hopping through on one leg. They insisted I use the crutch to walk through. So I did. And the detector went off. So they had to pat me down and use the "magic wand" to make sure I wasn't packing heat or something like that.
I finally arrived at my gate. The man that helped me with my suitcases stood there with his hand open. Knowing that I wasn't going to be coming back, I gave him all the rest of the pesos I had on me aside from a few coins and one small bill (worth about 20 cents US) that I kept as a reminder of the trip. It was all the money I had on me--I didn't have any U.S. bills.
I still had an hour or so before my next flight and so I made myself comfortable as could be and waited. After twenty minutes or so, a man came up to me. He asked me if I was a missionary. (We weren't allowed to wear nametags in Mexico--I don't recall why) I said "Si" and then realized he asked me that in English, so I then responded "Yes." He stood there for a moment, a puzzled look on his face. He then said, "I don't know why, but I feel very prompted to give you $10." I thanked him for the offer, and told him I'd be fine. He was quite insistent, so I agreed. Out of habit, I put the $10 bill inside my tie to keep it safe. (That's where I kept my large peso bills when I was in Mexico).
Time passed and I was on my way to Mazatlan. I was actually served a meal on this flight, and with the clouds and angels as my witness, it was Spam. As we landed, we were told that everyone needed to get off the plane and go through some sort of check point. It was the next announcement that was one of those "I can't believe what just happened" moments. I know for a fact that my Heavenly Father was watching over me at this time. How do I know? Because we were told that at the checkpoint we would need to pay $10--and it had to be in U.S. bills.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Knock, knock

Have you ever had people knock your door and want to talk to you about religion? How did you react? Did you slam the door in their face? Did you nicely tell them, "I'm not interested" and then slam the door in their face? Did you invite them in with a hope that you can show them the error of their ways? Or perhaps, just perhaps, did you stop for a moment and wondered, "What would inspire a person to come knock on my door?"
I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (AKA "The Mormons"), and at one time, I was one of those young men who had doors slammed in my face. But before doors were slammed, you had to get to the doors first.
Here is a quick tale of getting to my first door:
I was called to serve in the Mexico Merida mission (that's on the Yucatan Peninsula). Before going to Mexico, I spent nine weeks in the Missionary Training Center--not only to learn the lessons we would teach people, but also to learn to speak Spanish.
We were assigned into groups, called "districts". After our training time, off to Mexico we went. Of my district, four of us were going to the same mission. We landed in Mexico and were taken to the mission office. We spent the night there and were told we would get our assignments the next day.
The four of us had grown close over the last couple of months, and it was sad to see us sent off in different directions.
We waited in our room until it was our turn to be told where we were going, and then the person selected would leave.
I was the last one to go. I sat in the room, by myself, for what seemed a couple of hours or so. Finally, two of the more seasoned missionaries came to get me. Neither spoke English and the only Spanish I knew was from my crash course over the last nine weeks.
They drove me to a bus station. From what I gathered from them, they said, "You are going to Motul. The missionaries are at a hotel there. They don't know you are coming (phones were not common where we were). Your companion is Elder Soto Lopez. You will be serving in Dzemul. There has never been missionaries there before."
With those instructions, I was put on the bus and sent on my way. Now, this was one of those buses that had not only people, but chickens, dogs and a few animals I'd never heard of before. I sat next to a man who looked to be about one hundred and forty years old. I tried to talk to him, but he would just smile a toothless grin and nod at me. It wasn't for a few hours later that the person behind me explained that the man spoke only Mayan. Even then, I had a hard time talking to the person behind me, and he seemed to barely understand me. What I did gather, though, is that the trip would take us about eight hours.
We arrived in Motul after the sun had set. The bus station was empty aside from a boy who must have been about ten or so. He walked over to me and picked up one of my two suit cases and asked, "Hotel?"
Now, I had no idea how big Motul was, or how many hotels there were, or how far away it was. So, I used my excellent Spanish and responded "Si!"
With that, the boy took off down the road with my suitcase. I was right behind him with my other suitcase. He appeared to know where he was going. We took several streets, made several turns and after about fifteen minutes ended up in front of a two storied building with letters written in faded paint that said "Hotel".
The boy grinned up at me and held out his hand for payment. I didn't have any pesos on my person and the smallest bill I had was a 10 dollar bill. I gave it to the boy and he looked as if he had just won the lottery.
I approached the office. There was a large man sitting behind the counter. He took one look at me and pointed to go up the stairs.
For a moment, I realized that I was in a foreign country, in a town I'd never heard of with basic grasp of the language. But, I had made it that far, so the man above had to be watching over me.
I climbed the stairs, wondering which room the missionaries were staying in. The thought of just knocking on random doors didn't seem like the best of ideas (the irony of that isn't lost on me now).
However, at the end of the hall was a door with the words "Los Eldres de Israel". It was the first door I knocked on in Mexico--but it certainly wasn't the last.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The best Halloween story--EVER!

Everyone likes a good, spooky story on Halloween, don't they? Alright, maybe not everyone. My wife isn't too fond of scary things. She still reminds me that I had her watch The Sixth Sense, promising it wasn't scary (I didn't think it was scary--spooky maybe, but not scary) and it freaked her out.
So, for this Halloween, I thought I would retell one of my favorite "spooky" stories. To be clear, I did NOT make up this story. (I had to make that clear so I wouldn't get sued. *grins*)

It had been three days since my wife and kids had gone to visit her parents. At first, I was looking forward to the peace and quiet. We had three daughters, all under the age of four, so finding any moments where there wasn't one crying, screaming or banging on something was rare.
The first couple of nights were great. I came home with fast food, turned on some music, and sang at the top of my lungs without fear of waking up whatever child was asleep at the moment.
The third night, however, was something completely different. It was late October in New England. There were a few leaves that still clung onto the trees for dear life, but most had given in to peer pressure and had fallen to the ground with the others.
I was sitting in our living room, watching TV and relaxing after a long day at work. A storm had rumbled in during the course of the day and had covered the sky. Although it wasn't raining, the wind was blowing steadily, and the heavens were lit now and again with streaks of lightning followed by growling thunder.
Just as the show I was watching was about to end, the power went out. I hated when that happened. No power meant no TV, no computer, no internet . . . nothing. I remembered thinking, What did people possibly do at night before electricity? I sat there for a moment debating my next move. I decided to light a candle and read--even though flickering light gave me headaches. I was trying to remember where my wife kept the candles and matches when there was a thump on the front porch. I nearly jumped out of my seat from being so startled.
It sounded like something heavy had landed on the porch. I thought it was probably a branch that had broken off in the storm and had fallen. I chided myself for being so jumpy. I was about to get out of my chair to investigate when there was a loud bang against the front door.
I froze in place, the hair on the back of my neck bristling. That couldn't have been a branch. Someone, or something, had hit the door. I sat there, my hands gripping the armrests of the chair, and listened.
There was no other sounds aside from the howling wind. And to think, I had been looking forward to the quiet.
Nothing happened for several moments aside from the occasional flashes of lightning. It took me a moment to realize that even though I was seeing the lightning, the thunder had stopped, though the storm had increased in its fury.
Finally, I gathered my courage and decided I was not going to let things that went bump in the night have the best of me. I took a deep breath and stood up.
At that very moment, the front door burst open with such force that it was ripped off its hinges. In the doorway, silhouetted by the lightning, was a coffin. It was deep black in color--so dark, in fact, it seemed to swallow the light around it.
I tried to will my feet to move, but they wouldn't. I tried to look away, but my eyes stayed locked on the coffin. I tried to scream, but the sound would not come.
Slowly, the coffin tilted up, as if someone was standing it on its edge, though there was no one in sight. I couldn't move. It continued to raise itself up until it stood up completely.
Thunder sounded so loud and powerful that it shook the very house. It was as if all the thunder for the last few moments had been stored up and released at once. At the same moment, the coffin lid swung open, revealing that it was empty inside.
For the briefest of moments, I was relieved. Part of my fear came from what could have been in the coffin. That relief soon vanished as the coffin slowly, purposefully, moved toward me.
Whether it was the coffin moving, or the thunder sounding, I'm not sure, but suddenly the flight part of my instincts kicked in. I ran to the closest room in the house--our bathroom. I locked the door and backed up into the tub, the only window to the room at my back.
I could hear the coffin scraping along the floor as it continued to approach. I realized that coming to the bathroom was not the smartest move I could have made. The window was too small for me to fit through. There was nowhere I could go.
My mind raced. What could I do? What was the old saying? Fight or Flight. I had tried fleeing and that didn't work. I was left with the only other option. I looked around the bathroom, catching glimpses of objects here and there when the lightning briefly lit the area. I needed something heavy to use.
There! On the countertop was a large bottle of Robitussin. I took one step out of the bathtub and grabbed it, just as there was a loud bang at the bathroom door, though it stayed closed.
I retreated back to the tub, wielding my new weapon as if it was Excalibur.
Again, the lightning came, but no thunder. I stared at the door. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest in anticipation.
Nothing happened for a long drawn out moment. I thought, Maybe it went away. Maybe it could sense I was going to defend myself.
The bathroom door crashed open and there was the coffin, the lid still open. It seemed to pause for a moment, then again it started to move toward me.
With all my strength, I threw the bottle of Robitussin.
The coffin stopped.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Yummy ghosts

One of the cooler Halloween traditions we had growing up was decorating Halloween cookies. My mom would make sugar cookies and we would frost them then add any combo of candy for decorations.
All grown up now with my own kids, we still do this. On Monday nights, we have something called "Family Home Evening". We get together as a family, have a prayer, sing songs, read from the scriptures, share talents, have a spiritual lesson, play a game or do an activity and then have treats. For this FHE (Family Home Evening) we combined the activity with the treats. :)

I've included photos of the family with one of their "masterpieces".



Yes, those are "bunny ears" behind my beautiful wife's head. Isn't that a great pumpkin she made?


That's Emily with a lady ghost all dressed up for a night on the town.


This year, we convinced Stephanie that the goal was not to put as much candy on the cookie as possible. She did a great job!


Amy decorated this ghost as Abrecan--the villian from my book The Hidden Sun. Seeing how many people really disliked Abrecan, it looks like he is getting his just desserts. (Sorry, couldn't help myself with the bad pun)


Kelley was going for the "eclectic" look with her cookies this year. Also, isn't that an awesome shirt she has? What you can't see is the title "When milk goes bad" and then the broken eggs from the container.


Frankly, this picture is just plain old distrubing on several levels.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Are scars really scary?

I've cut myself--on more than one occasion. Usually it is from doing some sort of work gone wrong, and almost always some sort of reminder is left behind. It seems the older I get, the more scars I collect.
Most of my scars came from my days in college when I was working at a grocery store. We would use box cutters, which are basically razor blades encased in a metal shell with the tip of the blade sticking out, and if you were not paying attention, the result could be unpleasant. I have a scar that runs down my left forearm from an experience of a case of good box cutting gone bad.
I also have a pretty decent scar on my left thumb from when I worked in the meat department. Let me just say that the knives in the meat department are rather sharp. One little slip and "Oops, there goes part of my thumb."
Some of my scars were not self inflicted. When I was around 10 or so, we learned that if you threw metal tipped darts at the asphalt street when it was dark, it could sometimes cause a visible spark. We also learned you could freak people out by throwing the darts near their feet. One of the neighbor boys turned out to be a pretty bad aim because one of his throws ended up stuck into my right shin. It stuck there pretty well, too.
Sometimes scars are from accidents when doing something nice for someone else. We had a foster brother when I was younger. I must have been 4 or 5 at the time. He was awesome. He loved to play with us. One thing we liked to do is have him grab us by our ankles and swing us around. He was swinging me one day and misjudged how close I was to a corner of the wall. I remember the trip to the hospital and I still have the scar on my forehead as a reminder.
What got me to think about this subject was something that happened on my anniversary this week. My wife and I went out to celebrate our 19th anniversary. I know! Can you believe anyone has put up with me for 19 years? Anyway, as we were holding hands, I noticed that she, too, had a few scars that were not there when we first were married.
These could have come from any number of projects she and I have tackled over the years (but that's a whole other story). Here is one I remember: I was on the computer, probably writing, or re-writing something for The Hidden Sun when I heard my wife call my name from the kitchen. She didn't use that tone of voice very often, and usually only when there is something significant happened (like when her water broke during her last pregnancy).
In this case, she had been washing the dishes and a glass pie plate broke in half, and in the process, cut a pretty deep slice into her thumb. She couldn't bring herself to look at it. I sat her down, and calmly I had her lift her other hand so I could see the cut. When I saw bone, I figured we better get to the hospital. It all turned out fine, but the scar remains.
What came to me on our anniversary was this: scars come from something that at the time can cause quite a "scare"--which is just the word "scar" with an "e" at the end. But then my mind started playing, as it tends to do, and I thought to myself, "Self, what if I were to move the 's' from the beginning of 'scare' to the end of the word. I'd end up with 'cares'". (My mind does stuff like that from time to time)
After figuring that out, I looked again at my wife's hands and didn't see scars. Instead, I saw evidence of how much she "cares" for me and our family.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Both sides of the camera

My bio says I'm an award winning television director, which is completely true. I've won awards from shows I've directed. However, just like any statement, it can be taken many different ways. The programs I directed primarily were newscasts, though I did direct many interview type programs as well as several musical programs.
I was drawn to television production because I really had an interest in how things on TV worked. I took electronic classes in high school (and even won a statewide contest called "The Vocational Excellent Award" which awarded me a scholarship). I worked at Orem High School's radio station my junior and senior years. (Fun side note: it was called KOHS, which I pronounced "chaos" simply because all of us were so new we were trying to figure out what to do--and it reflected on the air)
My career eventually took me to a TV station in Connecticut where I was the operations manager as well as a director. The most significant event during my time there was 9/11. Heck, I could (and may) write a book on that experience. I was so involved in covering the event that I didn't really deal with my feelings on the tragedy for quite some time. I recall when I finally had a chance to mow my lawn after the event, I heard a plane fly over head. What did I do? I turned off the lawn mower and ran to my basement. Pretty manly, eh?
Eventually, being all call 24/7 (as well as a few other reasons) for seven years got old and I felt like I was missing out on watching my kids grow up. So I decided to make a big change.
My little brother is a bank manager and lives in North Carolina. After several talks with him, I applied for a job with the bank and was hired as a bank manager and we moved to NC. They hired me for my managerial experience, and taught me all about banking. While banking has its own set of challenges, you know that you can keep commitments to your family. No more "Breaking news! Everyone has to stay until it's over!"
And then came the robbery. It could have been a lot worse--no one was hurt. But as the police came and the media surrounded the building with a chopper overhead. With police "crime scene" tape everywhere, it wasn't lost on me that I was on the other side of the camera now. Instead of reporting the news, I was part of the news.
Frankly, it wasn't fun. My emotions have been all over the map since the robbery. As the manager, I feel very protective of my work family. How dare this robber come into my "house" and take from "family"! I'm proud that everyone handled it perfectly. Still, to see my bank on the news (I'm even in a shot or two) was fairly surreal.
Thankfully the bank was very supportive of its employees during times like these. Everyone reacts a differently way. In a couple of days we'll be back to "normal" (if there is such a thing), but until then, it's given me quite a lot to think about. I've come to two basic conclusions:
#1 Mr. bank robber: shame on you! Your selfish act impacted many people in ways you can't begin to understand.
#2 To the media: You can report the news, and still be respectful about it. To all those "consultants" who preach "to get people to watch, you need to grab them and don't let go"--you can be compelling without being sensational.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Parenting: one size fits all?

One of the girls I dated in high school came from a family of four daughters and no sons. I actually felt a bit sorry for the father. After all, to be the only man in a house full of women? At the time, I couldn't imagine what it would be like.
Now, I don't have to imagine it. I am living it.
And you know what? I couldn't be happier. I have four daughters: a brunette, a blonde, a red head, and a strawberry blonde. And each of them are as different as their hair color.
My wife and I have learned over the years that a "one size fits all" approach to parenting doesn't work. Granted, there are some universal truths in raising kids, but how you go about doing it may depend on the child.
My red head, for example, has what we call a "tender heart", meaning, she is very sensitive. All I have to do to make her cry is look at her sternly. At the same time, she is quick to forgive. She also makes friends very easily. As a younger child, she would say, "I love everybody!" and she meant it. She is quick to give hugs.
My brunette is extremely organized and very much like her daddy as she likes gadgets (hello ipod touch!) as well as always looking to be fair and do the right thing. She is a fiercely loyal friend.
The blonde? She is very smart. Like, spooky smart. In addition, she has a very understated sense of humor. She's extremely clever, but in a quiet way. She is like her mother in many aspects--very practical and thoughtful.
And then there is the baby of the family. This little strawberry blonde is like the son I never had. She loves legos and playing ball. She has a boy cousin the same age that lives close and when the two of them get together, they can play for hours on end. In fact, this little boy cousin once said of her, "She's only a girl on Sunday when she wears a dress."
These wonderful children of mine have taught me so much in life. They also have taught my wife.
While things are a bit easier now that they are older, it wasn't always so. The oldest three were born about 18 months apart, so we had our hands full for those first few years.
My wife tells a story of when the red head and hit the blonde with a toy or something when they were very young. The blonde started crying, obviously, because she just got hit. My wife came to see what happened and asked the blonde, "Why are you crying?"
"Because my little sister hit me!"
Sleep deprived and frustrated with the latest minor conflict between the children, in the heat of the moment my wife said, "Well, just hit her back!" (Understand my wife is one of the sweetest and gentlest people in the world, so this was extremely out of character)
The blonde looked up to my wife, tears forming in her big blue eyes and said, "No, Mommy. I love my little sister. I don't want to hurt her."
My wife marveled at this little girl who could show so much love and forgiveness. She choked back her own tears at the tender moment.
However, without missing a beat, the brunette spoke up and said, "I'll do it!"

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Who is to blame?

"Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it." I've always loved that saying. Why does everyone talk about the weather? It is something that impacts everyone--the sun doesn't shine only on certain races, genders or social classes. The weather is an equal opportunity event.
Something else that people discusss, but rarely do anything about is ethics. Hang on! Don't let your eyes gloss over just yet. Give yourself a chance to think about this for a moment.
One of the classes I took in college was "Values and Ethics". There was one story in particular which I recall quite well: The Ring of Gyges. It was a story told in Plato's Republic. Basically, the ring of Gyges had the ability to turn the owner invisible at will. The question the story asked was, "would a typical person be moral if he didn't have to fear the consequences of his actions?"
But what if you had another type of power, aside from turning invisible, that you made you feel like you didn't have to worry about the consequences of your actions? "Like what?" you may ask. Oh, I don't know--have you read the news in, let's say, the last 100 years? How many public figures have been "caught" for doing something wrong and ended up going to jail? When I lived in Connecticut, the governor was "caught" taking bribes--so was the mayor of Bridgeport. Both went to jail.
Why would they do that? Did they honestly feel that with their power they could do what they wanted, and therefore didn't care if it was "right" or not? Or was it because of the pressures around them?
In the book, Utopia, Sir Thomas Moore basically said, "If the leaders don't provide the common people with the means to support themselves, and the people are forced to do whatever they can to survive, whether or not it is considered legal or ethical, it is the leaders that are to blame."
Sadly, I've seen this happen in corporate America--and it is getting worse. Bosses are making more demands on employees because with the high employment rate, people are willing to do just about anything to keep their jobs. Some of them are even willing to do things that are by their very definition are unethical, but they see it as their only way to survive. If the so called "leaders" of a company are making such high demands that the only way some people can truly compete is by bending the ethical rules, who is truly at fault? Plus, if all you hear from the leaders is "results, results, results!" and ethics is only discussed after someone is "caught", you have to wonder--where is the focus?
Don't misunderstand me. I believe everyone controls their own choices. But consider this: imagine you had children at home who were starving. You go look for food, and spot a loaf of bread at the same time 3 others did. All of you need it. What would you do to ensure you got that loaf of bread? Would you fight them for it? Steal? Kill?
At one of my jobs, we had to take a very long and intense class around ethics. At the end of the session, the teacher summed it up with two sentences. #1 "Just because it is legal, doesn't make it ethical." #2 "Treat others the way you want to be treated."
Hmmm. I know I've heard that second statement somewhere before . . .

Sunday, September 26, 2010

It's a sign!

My wife has a silly sense of humor--which is one reason we've been married for so long, I'm sure (you can read into that statement what you will). We've lived in several different parts of the country--Utah, Idaho, Connecticut and North Carolina. We've driven across the country, as well as taken several long road trips. In doing so, we've noticed signs or other odd things along the way. Some of them make sense--others I'm sure can be explained, but where is the fun in that.
Here are a few examples:


Are we looking for a particular rock or will any rock do?


You mean this road wasn't build just for me?



Does this mean a truck is stuck ahead? If so, why would they spend the time making a sign instead of just removing the truck?



Dang it! I was about to pass all willy nilly.



Yes, I agree. A truck should drive will all its wheels touching the ground. This is a good reminder.



Ah good! A place where my trailer can drop a duce if it needs to.



What isn't shown here is that the sign before asked, "Can you spot the dot?" This is the answer.



I believe this one has to do with a mime stuck in a box.



Most of the time, these are closed. I'll say, "Look, the weigh station is closed." My wife will respond, "No weigh!"



Doesn't this contradict itself?



Well, at least this sign has come to grips with the fact it doesn't know what it is for.