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!"