Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The End of 2009

Where did 2009 go?

Where did the DECADE go? Damn - that was a fast 10 years.

Seems like yesterday.....In the latter part of 1999 there was a ton of chatter about Y2K and the possibility that when the clock struck midnight on January 1 microchips in computers and electronic devices wouldn't recognize the year 2000 from the year 1900. The computer geeks were seriously stressed out over this.

Personally, I didn't think my microwave or TV really cared what year it was. I just wanted to make sure they both worked and I was able to heat up leftover pizza and watch sports but apparently the banking industry was a tad anxious about this date since interest payments and deposits could get screwed up.

Alas, as our family gathered around the TV set, breathless, we watched New Year's celebrations unfold in Australia, then Russia, Paris, London, NYC and around the globe until it was the pacific time zone's turn....


NOTHING bad happened.

Our TV's kept working, planes didn't fall out of the sky, our cars and power grids didn't fail and the banking industry survived pretty much intact for another 8 years until that finally blew up.

The new year will bring some milestones...

I will turn 50 in 2010. I certainly don't feel 50 and my wife frequently reminds me that I certainly don't act my age (is that a compliment or a jab?). Sometimes my back feels that old, but for the most part each day I'm walkin' tall and feelin' good. I haven't used the magic sleep machine in over 2 months. Sleep apnea? Cured.

Alec will complete his physics degree in 2010. When he get's straight A's in the spring, he'll graduate with a perfect GPA. I gotta believe that's hard to do. I'm proud of his work ethic. Apparently the math gene skips a generation since my dad was a gearhead yet I still can't balance my checkbook. Hmmmmmmmm

Jake will take his handsome mug to the U of Utah and begin the great experience that is college life. Look out world.

Me? I am committed to a return to the ski slopes - frequently. I'll pass on the mogul skiing that took up a good part of my youth but I'm ready for steep and deep powder runs and the beautiful solitude that exists in the Wasatch mountain range.

I'd also like to go see this part of the world....Petra, Jordan.

Oh and I'd like to talk my wife into getting a new dog.

A Great Dane.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Shopping: How it's Done

It's that time of year again. Everyone stressing out about Christmas. Not me. I'm good.

The emotional rollercoaster ride of flying to South America, seeing Jake again, touring Ecuador and returning home has subsided. I'm rested, relaxed and ready for the classic "Days Before Christmas" scamper.

This is when I do my best shopping of the year.

Frankly, most of the stuff I buy is delivered to my doorstep by UPS or Fedex. There is zero hassle in shopping from home on my trusty laptop. I can't even remember all the stuff I've purchased over the past few weeks so it's actually fun for me to open up the boxes to see what I ordered on ambien.

I do however enjoy going to the mall to feel of the holiday spirit although sometimes this goes badly since people are all jacked up on stress or booze or pills and sometimes all three (eg: Tiger).

There are the usual parking lot arguments, long lines and my personal favorite: Screaming kids accompanying an overly stressed mom . These monsters are twisting their moms arm off, snot running down their faces, lying on the floor, germs everywhere. Live theater - the best. I prefer to shop alone....I like being by myself....The Lone Ranger.

I wandered around the mall today and picked up a few things. It was EASY. I also hit up the gift card center at Von's. Check this out: in the past I would race from one place to another picking up gift cards. This took a lot out of me. Last year I discovered that Von's has an area in their stores that have pretty much every gift card you would want from airlines to restaurants to Home Depot to Michaels....I don't even have to set foot inside these joints. I picked up 17 gift cards today and it took me 5 minutes. I believe I have perfected the art of Christmas shopping.....for a guy that is.

It's true. Look it up.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Adventures in Ecuador: Seeing Jake Again

We're back from our sojourn to Ecuador. Loved it. Loved it. Loved it.

There is a sultry smell to South America that is born of heat, humidity, sweat, dirt, car exhaust and the occasional rainstorm. I just couldn't ever feel completely clean once I left the confines of the air-conditioned hotel but that's part of the experience.

Ecuador? It has American power. The electrical plugs were just like back home. No European vacation-like blowing out the circuits. Computers, phones, and Kindles were always fully charged.

Ecuador's official currency? The United States dollar.

What's on TV on Sunday in Ecuador? American Futbol.

Is it just me, or is this country screaming to be the 51st state?

Not only did we have football games on the TV but were blessed to an NFL triple-header that ended with the Eagles beating the Giants to take over sole possession of first place in the NFC Beast. I felt like I was back home just without the HD.

By the time our crew got to Ecuador, we had about 24 hours until we picked up our missionary. Since Alec is fluent in Spanish, we turned over our shopping negotiations to him. By the time monday arrived, Janae was more than ready to see her son again. Me too. The 2pm scheduled pickup took place 23 excrutiatingly slow minutes later. When the door to the office finally opened, there was our Jake. We embraced and in a split second the last 2 years seemed to have past in an instant. First impressions: He was taller than before. Tan. Skinny. Handsome. Seeing him for the first time in 2 years was better than I could have ever scripted it.

Of course the reunion with Jake required a lot of hand sanitizer. Allow me to explain. Shaking hands with a dozen missionaries who shook hands with at least 3 dozen people who had done heaven knows what earlier in the day necessitated my overusage of purell to the point of exhaustion. Once I thought I was fully disinfected, another missionary would waltz in and shake everyones hand. Again. Grrrrr……

Our first stop after dropping off the luggage was to Iguana Park. Riding in a cab through some serious traffic, windows down, I gulped in so much car exhaust that it gave me a splitting headache. That soon passed once we started playing with the reptiles. Iguanas were everyone...in the trees, on the grass, cruising the park for food and posing for pictures with the gringo family from Las Vegas.

We spent a lot of time visiting with some of the families that Jake had grown close to while serving in Guayquil. Just like our trip to Peru a few years ago to pick up Alec, we fell in love with the people we met.

On Tuesday we hopped a bus for a 3 hour ride to Machala. I heard that in the United States some bus companies offer a “frequent rider” program that mirrors airline mileage awards. Do you know how pathetic your life is if you have a frequent rider bus card? In South America, the buses are a necessity - and surprisingly, they run pretty much like clockwork.

I digress.

Machala is the banana capital of the world. Seriously. We were treated to a variety of different bananas. This gringo had previously thought there was only 1 kind of banana....I now stand corrected.

The best part of the trip was providing Christmas presents to Freddy and his family. That a family of 5 live in what is essentially a hut on stilts was, to me, profoundly sad. Their "home" is about 15 feet x 15 feet. 2 twin beds. There is no running water, no toilet, and a single electrical outlet that powered up an old refrigerator. The place reeked too - It took me a half hour to peg the smell. It smelled like the inside of a fishing creel - you know, with dead fish. The 3 boys loved their gifts and were probably the most well behaved 10, 9, and 8 year olds I have ever been around.

The mean streets of Machala required that we take cabs everywhere...even if it was for only a few blocks. A family we visited with insisted we take this precaution. I told Jake to translate the following: "In America, my dad's hands are registered as weapons." Laughter all around. "Take a cab," was their reply.

"Ok. I believe you."

Leaving Ecuador was difficult and not just because of the people we said farewell to....

The airport in Guayaquil is apparently staffed with patients from a mental hospital.
Delta didn’t open the first class check in line so we had to stand in line behind the Ecuadorian circus in order to get boarding passes and check our bags. This took at least a half hour. The sarcasm began to drip from my mouth....sometimes I can't stop it. I am impatient.

Then comes the Ecuadorian extortion part: Another line over to the left is for some sort of airport tax....$28 bucks per head on the way out of the country – cash only. This is not in any travel book. The guy then short changes me by $10 bucks which we corrected on the spot.

Starvin' we had two choices at 10pm; a frozen hot croissant (I know), or a tuna fish sandwich. We opted for the croissant not knowing that the outside would be piping hot while the inside remained frozen. Yum yum. Burp.

Leaving only got worse after that. Going through security I was wanded for the 1st time but was able to keep my shoes on. We were being paged. I was summoned to go downstairs for a luggage check. Hmmmmmnnnn???? Despite numerous international adventures, this was a first: One of our bags was randomly selected to be searched. I was escorted down the jetway, down a set of stairs, walked past a couple of jet aircraft and taken to the bowels of the luggage area. Once there, I was told to select my bag. There were 3 very serious looking dudes wearing cammo pants, combat boots and tight black t-shirts standing by. One of them picked his way through the luggage and sniffed anything that might conceal Ecuadorian artifacts or drugs. I was also wanded a second 2nd time. After 20 minutes I was escorted back to the gate.


Now it was time to board the plane. I was wanded 3rd time; my carry on baggage was searched by hand also for the 3rd time and by now I was really being sarcastic with the patients who were running the assylum. I was in group 1 to board and ended up being the last person on the plane. Alec, Tiffany and Jake were laughing as they passed me taking off my belt, emptying my pockets for the umpteenth time and having steam come out of my ears.

Once onboard I needed a cold fresca...but the lazy-ass flight attendant said there would be no ground service so they could get the plane off faster.

Puzzled look on Keith's face. "Come again?"

Then my headphone battery dies just as plane takes off. 5+ hours of airplane noise. No Led Zeppelin. No Stones. No Tommy Bolin. Uggghhhhhh…….

You know what though? All the hassles of traveling were more than worth it so we could go and see where Jake has spent the last 2 years of his life.

We love having Jake back.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

It's About Damn Time

It's time.

2 years have come and gone since we last saw our dear, dear Jake. On Friday Janae and I will hop a flight to Quito, Ecuador, spend the night sucking air at 10,000 feet, and then ride by burro to Guayaquil the next day. Alec and Tiffany will be traveling the same route exactly one day behind us due to work and school commitments. I'll leave markers on the side of the trail for them. I love the element of danger that exists in South America. There is something about the quasi-lawlessness that appeals to me.

My brother will be staying at the house and guarding it while we are gone. I haven't fed the dogs for a few days so they will be alert and cranky if any bad guys make the mistake of dropping by the house. Eric's flattop and ink should be sufficient to scare off any intruders as well, but I've set the perimeter alarms and supplied extra ammo around the house sort of how Dr.Robert Neville set up his place in "I am Legend."

We will see Jake on Monday. This will allow us a day to rest up from our travels and scope out the town before we meet up with our son. Jake is SO EXCITED to show us the places he has served over the past 2 years. Having been to South America before, we are prepared for anything. I have packed up the essentials: Beef jerky, immodium and gatorade.

I have always loved the following piece that was written by General Douglas McArthur. He wrote it to his son while in the Phillipines during WWII. It was made
after his death in 1964.

A Father's Prayer by General Douglas McCarthur

Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough
To know when he is weak and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid;
One who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat,
And humble, and gentle in victory.

Build me a son whose wishes will not take the place of deeds;
A son who will know Thee – and that to know himself is the foundation stone of knowledge.

Lead him, I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort, but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenge. Here, let him learn to stand up in the storm; here let him learn compassion for those that fail.

Build me a son whose heart will be clear, whose goal will be high, a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men, one who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past.

And after all these things are his, add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor, so that he may always be serious, yet never take himself too seriously. Give him humility, so that he may always remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, and the meekness of true strength.

Then I, his father, will dare to whisper, "I have not lived in vain."

I am proud of both my sons. You rock.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pretzel Logic: What's Wrong Wiff the BCS

For those of you who aren't football fans, BCS stands for Bowl Championship Series. The member conferences of the BCS are the ACC, SEC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12, and Big East.

Somehow these conferences conspired together to create the BCS and in the process aced all the other conferences in the country out of the big money bowl games that are held each year after the college football regular season winds down. These so-called "elite" conferences or "power conferences" made the big money grab of alltime..... and no one stopped them.

All other NCAA sports whose teams compete for a national title use a playoff format that consists of more than 2 teams - which is the current maximum # of BCS title game participants. You read that correct: 2 teams make the playoff. Even Division II and Division III football programs have a playoff in order to ensure that every qualified team has a shot at the title. The games are thrilling to watch.

The lucky participants of the BCS title game are decided by computers that are as sophisticated as those used to launch the space shuttle. Two teams are selected. And make no mistake, 2 great football teams WILL meet at the Rose Bowl on January 7, 2010....it's just that another 3 or 4 teams, maybe more, have LEGITIMATE arguments to also be included in that very game.

Every single year there are at least a couple of teams that should be included in the discussion of who should play for the national title. Last year it was Utah and Boise State, this year it's TCU, Cincy and Boise State....again.

Why the NCAA FBS schools can't get together and figure out a better plan is annoying has hell.

Arguments for maintaining the current system are laughable:

Many BCS proponents wish to maintain the integrity of the bowl games. This is BS. Bowl games sold their soul and with it their integrity 2 decades ago to sponsors waving wheelbarrels of cash. The younger crowd doesn't remember this, but the "Tostitos Fiesta Bowl" was once just called simply "The Fiesta Bowl." Players wore sombrero's and panchos instead of snacking on tostitos scoops or Tostitos Restaurant Style Chips with Hint of Lime.... The Fedex Orange Bowl was once, you guessed it, just known as "The Orange Bowl." It was played in a rickety old stadium that was named, guess again, The Orange Bowl.

Really, who cares about all those meaningless bowl games - and they are all meaningless except one of them. A playoff would provide instant credibility to EVERY BOWL GAME since the loser goes home. What better motivation is there for kids having to play in Las Vegas in cold and windy December than the winner gets to move on and play the next week in Orlando? Or Miami? Or New Orleans?

Arguments that school administrators use like "keeping kids in school" are laughable. These very same schools HOLD THEIR BREATH while the NCAA Men's Basketball field is picked HOPING their school gets an invite - no matter how much class the kids miss. A ticket to the big dance means money and prestige. It's the golden circus ticket.

For once I would like to see an Athletic Director decline a NCAA tournament bid based on the grounds that the kids just can't miss any more classes. That'll never happen. Never, yet they use that argument against a football playoff all the time. I'll go out on a limb and say that football players are, generally speaking, smarter than their basketball counterparts so if any group needs to stay in school for class, it's certainly the basketball players.

2 years ago Ohio State played their last conference game 51 days before playing for the BCS title. Not only was the product on the field lousy after not competing for nearly 2 months, but many saturdays were wasted on meaningless Pointsetta/GMAC/Bell Helicopter bowl games. These games meant nothing.

So why does the BCS continue to operate and essentially freeze out all of the other conferences except those in the BCS? Shouldn't "National Championship" mean that all schools have the opportunity to play for the title and not just the SEC, Big 12, Pac 12, ACC, Big East, and Big 10 schools?

What if, for example, the same logic was applied to the men's basketball tournament? Schools would freak out if the BCS template was used in basketball yet somehow the BCS supporters most of whom are fat, white, crazy, old, plaid jacket-wearing, skirt-chasing dinosaurs don't want to pull back from the money trough. They are blinded by greed. to the detrimant of the entire system, the BCS lives on.

It's time to blow up the BCS for good. It's time for a college football playoff. Hey Obama, alittle help here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Why I Need a TV Show

3:15pm Tuesday

"Uh oh... Houston....We have a problem."

That was the first part of the text message from my wife.

My first thought was that we hit a snag with the Christmas party that is scheduled for this Friday.


The rest of the message spelled out the problem thusly:

"Basement flooding, Pedro on the way."

The connotations that come to mind when the word "flooding" is used are always scary. And in my mind, the entire pool had emptied itself into the basement. As usual, my brain tends to think in extremes.

I tossed my laptop into my bag and sped home. Images of water lapping against the basement steps and a lot of sparks emanating from all the electronics downstairs swirled around inside my head.

As luck would have it Coco had sent her son Javier to the basement to store some boxes when he noticed the floor on the east end was taking on water. The room is used for storage and of most of the stuff down there is kept in rubbermaid containers...even the gun safe is raised up just a skosh to prevent water intrusion. Javier hollered something in Spanish and Coco and Co. rushed downstairs to begin immediately mopping and cleaning up the water.

The Spanish got even faster and louder at that point.

Apparently, as one of the pool pumps was being worked on, a ghost in the machine turned the system on and water began spewing out of the pump against the house, which soaked the ground and seeped into the places that water goes and finally wound up bleeding out of the lowest part of the house - the basement.

No one was manning the pool equipment when it turned into a water feature as Pedro was en route to get a part for the pump. I think I MAY have switched the system from "Service" to "Normal" at some overzealous point last night. Okay, so maybe I was partially to blame for this circus. Partially.

After the pump was shut off, the boxes were cleared out of the room and the floor mopped up, it was time to survey the damage. The good part is that we live in the driest climate in the country. The walls, floor and ground will dry without question. Mold? This word has taken on such dreadful meaning in the past few years but I am convinced that since the pool is filled with chlorinated water we won't have an issued with mold. That's my plan and I'm sticking to it. Mold has been around forever - deal with it.

From this little hiccup I sped to church. Cleaning time again. Once again I pulled bathroom and toilet duty. Wearing rubber gloves I can clean anything so it wasn't a big deal plus the other people there to help clean weren't really the cleaning types. Sure then can wave a duster around, or vacuum. When the ox is stuck in the quagmire you do what you gotta do. Me? I can clean.

We had signed up a few weeks ago to feed the missionaries on this particular evening and like the other times we have done this we ended up ordering pizza and wings since we ALWAYS find ourselves double or triple booked when we offer to provide dinner.

The sister missionaries met us at church and followed us home. They were from Salt Lake and Milwaukee respectively. We talked, they ate. An hour passed. By now, the activities committee had started arriving at the house....more people. More meetings. More things to plan and review.

9:30pm and the last guests were leaving....

They were admiring our Christmas lights....

Janae let the dogs out....

Ray Ray raced to pee on his favorite tree....

That had lights wrapped around it

Lights Out.

This. Is. My. Life.