Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Larsen's 2009: A Year in Review

Some may remember last year that I said that I wasn't a really big fan of the "brag letters" that now tend to be a standard part of Christmas Cards. Part of me finds them a little obnoxious and self serving, yet as I look back at the year that is 2009, it strikes me that, well, we had one of those years that makes me want to crow a little bit (LOL!). We certainly had our ups and downs; it was a challenging year on a lot of fronts, but it was also a year where a great deal of noteworthy things happened to me and my family.

For me, 2009 would be a year of "rewinding". Of the many memorable things to have happened this year, none strikes a more surreal chord more directly than a company asking to release material my old band recorded between 17-20 years ago. Demon Doll Records signed us to a distribution deal where they now can release and sell CD's of High Wire's material. To add to that, all of us got together August 22nd and performed together for the first time in 17 years. It was a fantastic night and one I will honestly not soon forget!

I had the chance to serve as Staff on an LDS friendly Wood Badge Course. It took a lot of time and effort to put together, but I was happy to have had the experience, and I greatly enjoyed working with my group of Bobwhites, all of whom should be well on their way to earning their Wood badge beads (but I'm going to have to start checking up on them pretty soon :) ).

My son Nicholas earned his Eagle Scout award this year. To say that's an amazing accomplishment is an understatement. It's a big deal, and I'm really proud of him. I'm also really proud of the fact that he has put effort into learning how to play the Viola. It's fun to come home and hear him playing music for school, or holiday songs, or even more entertaining, the theme music to video games like Mario Brothers (LOL!). He's enjoying his lat year of intermediate school for the most part, but looking forward to attending High School next year (yikes, do I really have a kid who's about to go into high school?!)

Karina is growing into a beautiful young lady (see my previous post this month :) ), and her art skills are simply phenomenal, for lack of a better word. I always enjoy seeing what she has drawn, and what she wants to put together next. She's been working on an illustrated book about a girl and her dog for months... I'd love to say more about it, but she won't show it to me until its finished (LOL!). Karina is in 5th grade, and short of the usual drama that accompanies girls and friendships at that age, I think she's doing really well.

Amber is my joyous little imp, and it's so fun to watch her interact with everyone and see her grow up. She's a 3rd grader this year, and it's been fun to see her show her classmates her love of "Indian Dancing", drawing, and her love for the outdoors. It's also been funny to watch her take hold of a Winnie the Pooh bear that she will bring everywhere with her, and I mean honestly anywhere. It's really cute :).

Christina was released this year a the Primary President, a role she has had in the Church now for four years, and she now serves with the Compassionate Service Committee, helping make sure that new moms get meals, or helping out in ways that people need when they need additional help. I've enjoyed watching Christina grow into this new role, and become reconnected with the Relief Society after so many years in Primary. We both grew a year older this year, and celebrated 17 years of marriage on December 5th, punctuated by a Sushi dinner and watching an old friend's band play down in Cupertino :).

So 2009 is almost gone, and it's been fun to reflect on the year that was, and to look forward to a new, year, a new decade, and the many challenges and adventures that this new year will bring.

Monday, December 14, 2009

My "Little" Girl (LOL!)

Sometimes in our mad rush to do stuff, we don't stop to think about the time that has passed and the milestones that are reached. Karina turned 11 two weeks ago. She's a fifth grader right now, and she is suffering from the same genetic anomaly I suffered from, i.e. "stork syndrome". Karina is taller than just about anyone in her school, male or female, so sometimes people look to her and think she is much older than she really is. It's funny, I sometimes fall into that trap as well. That's why I love the times when she acts all silly and cute to remind me that she really is still a little girl in many ways :).

We took this picture yesterday after we came home from church, and she's reminding me that she's as tall a Mom now and can wear all of Mom's clothes (which in some ways is very cute, and in others somewhat alarming). While I can admit my daughter is growing up, I'm really in no hurry for her to move the process along at any great speed, either (LOL!).

Happy Birthday, Karina :)!!!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Shedding of Innocent Stuff: Tools for Habitat for Humanity

It's been awhile since I've done a Shedding of Innocent Stuff entry :).

When we first bought our house back in 1999, I was convinced that I was going to be doing many of the repairs and updates to the house, and so it seemed only logical that I should outfit the house with all of the tools necessary to build and maintain a house. Thus getting a table saw, a router and router table, plus other attachments for each seemed to make sense.

Fast forward ten years, and the majority of these tools, plus a number of items that I purchased to support the making of Pinewood derby cars for my son's Cub Scout pack over the last decade now no longer being used for that purpose because, well, he's not a Cub Scout anymore, and what we have is a number of expensive tools that take up a lot of garage space and that just sit and collect dust. As an experiment on January 1st, I decided to gather all of the items that did not get used, or that I figured i would not use, and I put them all on a shelving unit in a corner of the garage. If I found that, in the course of a hear, i had any need for these items or if I used them during the course of the year, I could justify keeping them. If I did not use them during the course of the year, then it made sense for them to go to a new home.

Last weekend, I decided the experiment had run its course, so I took a table saw and support legs, a router and router table, various blades and attachments for the table saw, one of a number of sanders, a band saw, a scroll saw and the shelving unit that did nothing during the year but hold these tools, and I brought them over to Habitat for Humanity in Oakland. For those who are not familiar with habitat for Humanity, their mission is to help people build housing who otherwise might no9t be able to afford to buy or maintain a house. it was this spirit in which I decided to donate these tools to them. as I went down to drop off the equipment, I passed by a familiar landmark. The Habitat for Humanity ReStore center was just a few buildings away from what used to be Paradigm studios, the place where High Wire used to rehearse and store our gear. I was also gratified to see the look of surprise and happiness on the faces of the volunteers who took in the donation. they said that they knew these items would be placed quickly and be in use in short order by a grateful team of people who were in the process of doing re-work on houses in the area.

So now I have a fairly large section of garage that is now open and free of stuff that was collecting dust. This experiment also let me see which tools and items I actually used and which ones were important to keep. What's more, I had the opportunity to get a tax write off for items that I know will be helpful and useful to people to help them achieve and have a part of that American Dream that is owning and maintaining their own home.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Is Samurai X OVA “Trust and Betrayal” Really The Best of The Best?!

Yeah, it's another anime post. What can I say, I'm on a roll :).

A few days ago, I commented on the fact that I came across what I felt was one of the best anime series I had not yet seen, Wolf’s Rain. I freely admit to being a dilettante when it comes to anime; I’m not a rabid fan, and I do not wait in line to read and scour the news of every new title, or even classic titles that I hear about. I like what I like, come across what I do often by chance encounters, and oftentimes, what I like doesn’t always follow public taste or even popular interest. I freely admit to being an outlier fan of things that many others either don’t like or they wonder why on earth I would be interested in [fill in the blank]. Case in point, my girlfriend in college was the one who turned me on to ElfQuest, and for many years I was a huge fan of that series. I can’t claim to be an original fan, or one who necessarily knew every nook and cranny about it (though I did know a lot about it :) ). I also realize that it was not a really “cool” title to dig if you were a late teen or early 20 guy in the 1980s, but I liked it because I liked it, and that was enough reason.

In my quest for Anime titles and other such things, I occasionally look to rating sites, or to forums, just to see what other people find interesting, and to see what strikes people’s fancy or makes them react a certain way. I also often see that titles I like a lot may not rank highly, and titles I’ve never heard of or know little of or haven’t sought out rate way up there. Every once in awhile, I want to find out if there’s something I’m missing, something that will astound me or make me really take notice. Thus, when I started looking at some ratings sites and looking at different weightings and ratings, one title stood out time and again with the most representative votes as being considered, possibly, the best of the best. That title was “Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal”.

Now, for those who are curious... Samurai X is a pseudonym for the character of Himura Kenshin, and he himself is the protagonist for the often goofy and cute anime and manga series “Rurouni Kenshin”. With RK’s somewhat cutesy style and simple, classic anime elements, it comes across as a sometimes light-hearted telling of a Ronin samurai’s life after his time and era have passed (RK takes place in the era just after the close of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the rise of the Meiji restoration, when, effectively, the class of samurai was made obsolete and allowed to die out in real world Japan). Again, having seen a few episodes of RK, it was a cute series, but really, I wasn’t quite sure where people were coming from when they would consider “Samurai X” so highly. Was I missing something?

The answer is “yes”, in a big way. If you take a look at the style of animation for “Rurouni Kenshin”, it’s the fully “Kawaii” cute style of so many television anime productions, the style made famous by shows like Ranma ½ and Azumanga Daioh. Samurai X, on the other hand, goes for a much more real look, striking in its difference from the televised anime. In addition, the character of Kenshin is never portrayed as cute or silly; here the story is grim and focused, and it is also gripping. Where Rurouni Kenshin may have played to teens and young adults, Samurai X is clearly developed to appeal to an older audience. It’s high drama, and with a story beautifully told. There are two OVA’s in the Samurai X series. The first, Trust and Betrayal, is the prequel to the events that take place in Rurouni Kenshin. The second, called Reflection, takes place after the events of Rurouni Kenshin. In Trust and Betrayal, we discover what led Kenshin to become the swordsman that he ultimately became, the politics and the machinations of the ending of the Tokugawa era, and the bittersweet story that foreshadows the events of Rurouni Kenshin, and answers the question “where did he get that X shaped scar on his face”?

Again, those expecting to see a light hearted romp akin to the anime series will definitely not find what they are looking for here. However, those interested in a rich and beautiful depicted story, albeit highly on the “graphically accurate” side, will find much to like here. For those who like their anime real, with deep character, honest storytelling, and a minimum of added gimmicks, and where the artwork is absolutely breathtaking, definitely see this. For those wondering what to get me for my birthday or Christmas, if anyone wants to surprise me with Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal, I’ll be overjoyed :). Does it rise to Best of the Best? Well, that’s a subjective thing anyway, but I can say this much… it’s definitely way up on the excellent meter. I can certainly see why so many people do consider it so highly. If you decide to watch it (or have already seen it), let me know what you think.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

An Anime Classic: Wolf's Rain

Somehow I missed this one the first time it came around, but in my quest for searching for new titles to see and enjoy, I came across what has become one of my favorite shows in Anime, and felt like sharing it here and my reflections of it.

"Wolf's Rain" is the story of four wolves. In this world, Wolves have been hunted to the brink of extinction. To survive, the remaining wolves have found a way to take on human form, or at least to appear human to most of the people that see them. The goal of the series, and the story arc, takes these four wolves as they travel a war torn and life weary world as they search for "the Flower Maiden" and open the gate to Paradise, a place where the wolves can live free and renew their war torn world.

OK, first, this series is visually stark, frightening, and beautiful, all at the same time. It's a production by Studio Bones, who have done a number of other gorgeous Anime titles as well (RahXephon, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Eureka Seven some prime examples). The series is encapsulated in 26 regular episodes, plus four additional OVA episodes that extend the story arc. With the exception of four re-capitulation episodes (used as a recap method in the middle of the story, telling the preceding events from the perspective of the four main characters) the series moves along very well and each episode is enjoyable in its own way, and often for different reasons. We see both wolves and humans dealing with very real problems and very real emotions in ways that are both believable and redeeming. It's an Anime, so it takes some dark turns here and there, and the story can be pretty grim at times, but it is also hauntingly beautiful and satisfying if you stay for the entire ride.

For me, the music of an Anime is just as important as the story, as often much of the music used in Anime comes to be part of my regular listening. In the list of composers that have become part of my everyday musical repertoire, none hs had the impact or staying power that Yoko Kanno has had, and here she does not disappoint. The opening and closing themes are both beautiful, haunting and mesmerizing in their own ways. The opening theme song, "Stray" has a Seal vibe to it, and it's a song I enjoy listening to as a standalone title. The ending theme, "Gravity" is also strikingly beautiful. Once again, Kanno shows how varied and skillful her musical talent is, and how well she blends in with the titles she scores.

So with all that, concider this a huge two thumbs up for Wolf's Rain. It works on a lot of levels, and it ultimately a very redeeming and beautiful story told from a perspective of what is ultimately a Shinto and Buddhist world view put to images and music. Here's hoping you may enjoy it as much as I have.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Some Thoughts about Ordeal Weekend

For those who know me, my involvement with Order of the Arrow is something that I enjoy, and I'm trying to teach that joy to others in my Troop and around my council. I've long said that I did my Church Callings in Scouting as my calling, My Cub Scout jobs in Scouting as support for my son (and now I can say the same for being Scoutmaster), but that I did O.A. for me, and that's still true. Not to say that I do not enjoy my callings or my service in Scouts as a leader 9I very much do and have) but that O.A. was the one thing that others felt I would be good at doing (i.e. they elected me to it) and my involvement in it is wholly on my back and owned by me.

This past weekend, we brought one youth and one adult up to participate in the Ordeal weekend as candidates, one youth who had been a member of O.A. for a year and was looking to become a Brotherhood member, and my son, his friend, said friend's Dad, and me. The purpose of Ordeal weekend is to induct young men and adults into the Order of the Arrow, perform some meaningful service, reflect a bit on life and what our purpose is, and also to have ceremonial elements from Native American traditions.

When we arrived up there, my son and his friend were asked if they could participate in the Ceremony team and dress the parts for the candidates. While they knew that they would not be able to 100% cover the lines, they had the scripts and some small LED flashlights to help them. With this they said they would do it, and so they did.

I did my part as Ceremony guide (I often split this role with another adult in the Lodge, he does it during the Spring Ordeals, and I typically do it during the Fall Ordeals). It gives me an excuse to break out the buckskin regalia I made a few years ago and wear the Headdress I purchased.

My son and his friends did a presentation of the Lodge Dance Team during Lunch, where they didn't say anything until the end of the performance, and that was "to learn more about the O. Dance Team, come visit us after dinner!"

Since we had two friends going through the Ordeal, Chris (the dad of my son's friend) and I did all we could to help get the ceremony grounds ready and looking good, including cutting wood, setting up a ti pi and marking the trail the candidates would take. Since we had all of the Lodge regalia there, we were able to outfit many of the participants in full regalia and have them line the trail, standing next to smudge pots (large reel film canisters filled with wood chips and paraffin and set afire for dramatic effect). Finally, the candidates came in, received their sashes, we had a great dinner and then we went home at 10:00 PM (and truthfully, I struggled a little with this, as it was later than when I usually left Ordeal, but we had two cars patrolling each other so that helped a lot :) ).

Yesterday, I will freely admit, I was useless. I was *so* tired yesterday that I pretty much spent the majority of the day napping or not doing too much. Is this a sign that I'm getting old? I used to bounce back from these things pretty quickly, but I was really feeling the effects yesterday. Still, it was a great weekend. two new Arrowmen, one new Brotherhood member, what I felt was a great ceremony considering two new members were recruited just prior to the ceremony, and my son and his friend, i felt, did a fantastic job under pressure, and yes, I'm very proud of both of them :).

So now it's back to the real world and everyday life, but I will admit, I do enjoy these weekends when they happen, and I enjoy being able to help this group induct new members. Here's hoping those new members get the same sense of joy and good feeling from O.A. as I do, and I hope to see them become active members, too.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Dread Pirate Roberts Consulting

For those who are fans of the movie "The Princess Bride" you will know this character :). He was portrayed by Cary Elwes (the alter ego of "Wesley") and the foil for many of the characters to go up against. The parts of the movie I remember the best were his quips when he and Buttercup were walking through the Fire Swamp and he was describing how he became the Dread Pirate Roberts. I'll not spoil the whole setup for the perhaps two or three people out there who have not seen this movie, but there's a section where the "Dread Pirate Roberts" takes in Wesley by saying "well, I've never had a valet before, so let's see how this works, but be warned, I shall probably kill you in the morning" (paraphrased).

I've long thought on this quote and wondered "what would I do in my everyday life if I had that as a way to work and to live, the notion of work hard, work well, do what you can, I shall probably kill you in the morning"? How would you do things differently? How would you approach problems? How would you approach projects? Lately, I've felt overwhelmed by many things, as though I'm trying to get so many aspects of my life to line up correctly. For grins, I'm taking a page out of Dread Pirate Roberts play book, and approaching each day as if it were a standalone, with work, with play, with family, with scriptures, etc. and I'm asking myself "do I feel that this is the best use of my time considering the Dread Pirate Roberts will probably kill me in the morning?" If the answer is "yes", then that's truly been a good day. If the answer is "no", then it's really time to de-emphasize that piece, whatever it may be.

Here's wishing you all great days and great efforts, whatever they may be. May you not be killed in the morning. Oh, and do your best to avoid the R.O.U.S.'s, too ;).

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

White Otter Makes a Great Show at Conclave 2009

This was an interesting event this year. A few of the Lodges who have been traditional mainstays in the Pow Wow competition at Conclave were not there this year because our Section areas were adjusted. Last year, we lost two Lodges, Talako and Ut-In-Seleca, to the old W3-B Section (now called W3-N). In exchange, we picked up two new lodges, Ta-Heech and Toloma (formerly of W3-B) and now part of our newly named section, W3-S (don't worry if that's confusing, just know that it means that we still have 8 Lodges, but we've changed the makeup and geography).

What this did mean was that the Pow Wow competition was missing a few of its long time supporters and standard bearers, and we all had to decide the best way to set up and do the Dance Team competition in what we called the "20 minute committee meeting". Through it, it was determined that the three lodges that sent full contingents to dance (Esselen, Achhewan Nimat and Ohlone) would take on the responsibility of running the Pow Wow, doing the judging, and announcing the event. With that, my friend Scott from Esselen lodge became the M.C., I became the Arena director and Head Judge, and Charles from Achewan Nimat became the lead singer for the Northern Drum (while Esselen and their dancers sang as the Southern Drum).

With that, it was time for us to get suited up and hold our Pow Wow event. I have to admit I missed seeing my friends from Talako at this event, as I've come to know several of them over the years and looked forward to seeing them each year, but we made some new friends in the Ta-Heech and Toloma lodges, which was fun. As many of you may remember, while our official name is the "Ohlone Lodge Dance Team", we have taken to referring to ourselves as the "White Otter Dancers" in honor of our mascot "Otto", the grayish white California Sea Otter that is our Lodge's symbol. This year, White Otter fielded five dancers. One of our boys who had never participated in a dance event suited up as a Southern Straight dancer, two boys dressed in Grass Dance regalia, my son Nicholas donned the Fancy Dance regalia, and I decided for a change of pace to dress in Northern Traditional garb (it having been the only one I had not specifically worn in a Conclave as of yet :) ). The weather was very hot at the beginning of the event, but thankfully as the sun moved across the sky the field ended up mostly in the shade of the coastal redwoods, which was much better :).

During the competition phase of the events, we were pleased to see that our Southern Straight Dancer took 2nd place in the beginners category, and one of our Grass Dancers took 1st place in the beginners category as well. Nick took 2nd place in the beginners Fancy Dance category, and I took 1st place in the adult category (not really a scored event for the competition, more of a camraderie thing for the advisers and others so that we can get out and compete a little, too :) ).

We had a number of boys go out and participate in the Open event, and Nick was doing great until an unfortunate incident occurred. The choker that was holding his neck bustle in place broke, and the bustle went flying. In Pow Wow competition, losing any part of your regalia is cause for disqualification. He was bummed but he took it in stride. At the end of two songs, one of our Grass Dancers (my son's friend Nick D.) had earned a 3rd place finish. It was a great showing for him, especially since he was hemming and hawing the whole day that he didn't feel he should be competing because "he didn't know what he was doing". Well, I think it's safe to say that talk like that was stopped right quick after that finish (LOL!).

As we tallied up the scores, Esselen finished in 1st Place, Ohlone/White Otter finished in 2nd place, and Achewan Nimat finished in 3rd. This was a big deal for us because, frankly, we had never been able to field enough dancers to even get on he team board in the past. Being on the team podium is a big deal to me, and I'm excited that we made it to this point. My thanks to all of the guys that danced and participated at this event (since this is an Arrowmen event, my girls did not participate this time. With the event being held at Moffet Field next year, it's my hope they will be able to come out and participate (it'll be a lot easier to just bring them out for the Pow Wow event rather than have them have to stick around all weekend). Here's looking forward to future events and future travels of the White Otter Dancers :).

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Labor Day Weekend Pow Wow 2009

As I mentioned a few days ago, over Labor Day weekend we have made a tradition to go to the CIHA Pow Wow held at Camp Pollock in Sacramento. This year, it was just me and my girls, and I will say that we had a great time :). The girls learn a bit more each year and fit in more comfortably each time they participate. they also really look the part now, thanks to the great outfits made by my friend Lauren (I can do the guy stuff just fine, but when it comes to women's outfits, I go with a pro :) ).

In addition to the dancing, they also held a number of workshops for the participants. this picture was taken inside of the main lodge during a class on peyote stitch (or gourd stich) beading. Yeah, I dig this picture, too :).

Amber got seriously intense with this workshop and she did a really good job, as did Karina (though Karina has to wrestle through my project and often deal with fixing things I messed up on (LOL!)).

This is a shot of Scott Sutton's wife Lynette and Amber. Scott, in addition to being the one who put on the workshop, is also the author of the book "Beadwork Techniques of the Native Americans" and it is a book that I very much would like to own (consider that a hint to any friends wondering what I would like for my birthday or Christmas this year (LOL!).

Labor Day weekend in Sacramento would just not be the same without 100 degree plus weather... well, this year, Mother nature gave us a break. It was about 85 while we were up there, and a bit cooler at night. Very doable and not at all withering like previous years, but the girls insisted on getting down to the river and playing around, so hey, I obliged :).

For those who say that girls are neater and more dainty compared to boys, please review Exhibit A and get back to me :).

Amber getting ready to splash me until I warned her that I was holding her camera (LOL!).

Karina frolicking in the American River.

Amber being her perpetual show-off self (what else is new :) ).

Karina venturing out as far as she was willing to go (the river was relatively calm, though).

I usually am the one who takes all of the pictures, so there's usually very few shots of me doing anything, but Karina decided to change that this year, so here's some shots of my outfit and some pictures of me dancing for a change :).

Amber just before heading out to the arena to dance.

Karina is all set and ready to go :)!!!

Here's a cute picture of Amber with several young Fancy Shawl dancers (Cheyenne Chisholm is in the middle of the picture and the only one of them I know by name at this immediate moment :) ).
Here's a great picture of Karina with her friend and mentor Lauren Wallace (CIHA Witiyapi Princess 2008). The last couple of years, Lauren had joked that Karina followed her around in the dance circle, prompting Lauren to say "hey, do I look like a Momma duck to you?". It was cute that this year Karina walked up to her after the dance and said "thanks for being my Momma Duck and letting me be your Baby Duck!" It was really sweet, but made slightly comical by the fact that Karina is now *taller* than Lauren is (LOL!).
All in all a terrific weekend. Looking forward to some of the quarterly events coming up, and I've already made plans to be at nexct years Pow Wow, too :).

Thursday, September 3, 2009

You're Welcome, But You Aren't Invited

This Labor Day Weekend, my daughters and I will be going to participate in what has become an annual event for us. This is the Labor Day Pow Wow that is held by CIHA (California Indian Hobbyists Association). It will be in the same place that it is most years, at Camp Pollock in Sacramento (just off the American River near the junctions of Interstate 80 and Interstate 5).

This is an interesting event, in that it's one of those things that happens, a number of people are aware of it, but very little promotion of it is ever done. I discovered my first year of attending that that is by design. The organizers of the event enjoy having new people come in and participate, but that's the key right there... they want to have people come in and "participate", not just hang out and see what is going on. When I came my first year, one of the organizers and long time participants said something that fascinated me, and I've thought about it ever since. He said "this is the type of event where you are welcome, but you are not invited". It took me a little while to absorb that statement, and after a few years, I think I'm understanding what he means.

Many things in life require us to be invited, or at least we feel it appropriate that we be introduced and some form of "personal contract" be made. We don't just show up at a job without filling out an application, and then being interviewed and subsequently hired. We tend to not just show up someplace and pick up a shovel and go to work on a project. For these examples, there's a social contract that says "we have to accept you as part of the community first, and then you can participate". My experience with CIHA was different. I came because I heard about it, and I asked if there was something I could do to assist, and they let me step right in and do whatever I could (which in this case consisted of helping clean up an area of grass for dancing and helping set up benches for the dancers to sit). After awhile, I was able to start talking to people, and getting to know a little bit about them and what they did and why they came each year. It was from that experience that I made some friendships, and committed to coming back and participating in whatever way I could.

How often do we hear the phrases "ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened"? So often, we wait for others to tell us it's OK to do something, or we wait until we are invited to participate. My example with CIHA was exactly the opposite. I had to make the decision to seek them out, and once I was there, I had to put myself into the fray and participate. If I waited to be asked to join them, I would have been kept outside. In this case, my just going up and offering to help gave me the in I needed. That has served as a metaphor for many of the things I do today. It may be seen as a strange re-rendering of the phrase "it is easier to beg for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission", but it is somewhat similar. Many times in life, if we wait for an invitation, we'll wait forever. At times, it is not only acceptable and appropriate, but expected that you need to make the first move. Will it always work? No, and in some areas it's disrespectful to be so presumptuous, but many times in life, the most interesting experiences are not the ones that you are invited to participate in, but the ones you make a conscious effort to see out and do on your own.

This weekend, my girls and I will go up and renew that experience, and learn more about the friends that we have made over the years, and perhaps we will also meet some new people that have decided to just join the group and put in their effort. Either way, I'm looking forward to another memorable Labor Day Pow Wow weekend :).

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Introducing "The Jello Belt"

No, this is not a post about some new exercise fad, or some odd choice of clothing. This is about an online friend of mine (she goes by "Janey" in the forums I frequent, I'll let her out herself if she wants to be outed ;) ), and her unique experiment with writing an online novel, geared towards an LDS audience, while deliberately steering clear of the many pitfalls and foibles associated with "LDS Literature".

To that end, may I introduce you to The Jello Belt: A Mormon Blog Novel.

To read in Order, go back to the earliest post and start with Chapter 1, then follow on with each successive post after that. Don't be surprised if you spend a whole day getting caught up.

This is the "book" back blurb:

  • Tracy Nesbitt has been running away for years, hiding in low self-esteem and junk food. If she doesn't find the courage to face her past, she risks ruining her relationship with her daughter.
  • Carly Simmons is the perfect Mormon. She has to be or she can't be happy. And to prove her worth, all her children are perfect. Except her oldest daughter, Danna. Only Danna stands between Carly and perfection, and Carly isn't about to let anyone stand in her way.
  • Nicole Benton is living an ordinary Mormon life. She's got a loving husband, and two healthy boys, until one day one of them isn't.
  • Amanda Grayson walked away from Mormonism years ago, right into the arms of the best husband a woman could want. But Mormonism puts down deep roots, and when Amanda feels the pull to return, she faces a husband who doesn't want her to go back.
  • Maria Anderson glided through life, smoothing away the rough edges, until a priesthood blessing persuaded her to be honest. As honesty peels away years' worth of facade, Maria faces a truth that will blow her family apart.

    Join the families of the Juniper Bend Ward as they grapple with the things no one talks about, and find their faith in the events that threaten to destroy them.

If you think this sounds like "Relief Society Desperate Housewives" or "The Real Housewives of Draper, UT", well, you're on to something there, but to say that that's what it is is to be correct and to miss the mark entirely. While the title may sound cutesy, what Janey covers here is anything but. This is a slice of "Mormondom" from the vantage point of an insider, and one who shows that "Molly Mormon's" and "Matthew Missionary's", while a common stereotype, are not really accurate. Latter-day Saints are a complex mix of people, even in what many may consider a very homogeneous Utah (and hey, that's where Janey happens to live, so it's going to be based on her areas of expertise and knowledge, plus she shows that Utah isn't quite as jhomogeneous as we all might want to think ;) ).

Still, the characters that she describes are real, their issues are real, and they are the issues that many of us have faced. While the stories revolve around the women, the men in their lives are just as real and as fleshed out. We know these people, they are familiar to us, we see them every week, and quite frankly, several of them are us (and one of the characters, Danna, is *me*, or at least, she is me when I was 15 years old, were I a teenage girl... where was I going with this (LOL!)?). Seriously, the characterization is rich, the people feel very real to us, and one of the things I like about Janey's portrayal is that she doesn't overdo the descriptions of the characters; she lets us fill in the blanks, and what happens is that we feel like we are reading about our friends, our ward members, and the challenges they face are our challenges, and in some ways, my challenges.

This is a great story, and it's a great return to the "days of Dumas"... if you ever wondered what it felt like to read a "book" in serial format,well, here's your chance. If you are a member, you'll find a lot to like in here. If you are not a member, some of the comments may feel like they are in code, but there is still a lot to like in here. More to the point, if you ever thought that "Mormons" were all alike, I think it's safe to say that this will help remove that feeling and you just may understand how unique and different we are when it comes to life and its experiences. We all have a common goal and a common focus, but how we get there and the challenges we face are as unique as each one of us is.

Come on, Janey, publish some more chapters now, please :).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Been a Tad Bit Busy!!!

It’s taken me a few days to process all of this, and to put into perspective what I want to say. August has been a n insane month for me, one in which I’ve had the experience of living the absolute of two different worlds and having them both come together.

Earlier this month, I had the chance to drop everything and be a dedicated full time scout leader for a solid week at Scout Camp (August 1-8). While fun, it definitely has its challenges (talk about exhausting, and that was with 5 additional adults there). Shortly after coming back home, we had boards of review to conduct (August 11), and Courts of Honor to hold, two of them. The first was an Eagle Scout Court of Honor for Jonathan Ott (August 15, who for those keeping track, gave his Kente to Sean Conley, which now means that, when Sean gets his Eagle Scout Award, he will be giving his Kente to a 5th Generation recipient (and I can probably guess who it will be :) )). Shortly thereafter, we followed on with the Troop Court of Honor (August 18), and a lot of awards being given out (actually, we think it may be a record number of awards, 76 merit badges and 8 rank advancements).

Once that was out of the way, the next step was to gear up and go absolutely ballistic with promotion of our reunion show (on August 22). The day of the show, we all went to San Rafael and rehearsed for four hours, as well as did a warm up show for the kids and family members that were not going to be at the night time show, and then we went down for sound check at Vinnie’s, headed back to the Concord Hilton to change, grab a light dinner, and then return for what was an absolutely amazing night of rock and roll, old friends, and reliving memories and making some brad new ones. It was phenomenal :). The next several days after that have been processing all of the pictures and video from the show and saying thank you to everyone that came, and cajoling those who didn’t as to what they missed (and believe me, those who missed it missed something genuinely amazing, and I’m not just saying that because it was my band, either :) ).

I’m writing all of this to give you an idea why you’ve heard so little of me this month. Suffice it to say, I’ve been a tab bit busy (LOL!).

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tomorrow Night is *SHOWTIME*!!!

Anxious? YES!!!

Understand, I haven't been on a stage as a singer since 1993, and its been seventeen years since I played with this particular band. I cannot begin to say how amazing it has been to see so many friends from so many walks of life want to come out and see this show. I feel great about it, but at the same time, I fel a different kind of pressure to perform well than I ever have before. Does that sound weird? Anyway, in 37 hours, the doors will be open and the games will commence. As we used to say... "anything can happen at a High Wire show... and frequently does" (LOL!).

For the full details about this event, here ya go :):

Start Time: Saturday, August 22, 2009 at 8:30pm
End Time: Sunday, August 23, 2009 at 12:00am
Location: Vinnie's Bar & Grill
Street: 2045 Mount Diablo St
City/Town: Concord, CA
Price: $12.00 advance purchase, $15.00 at the door (21 and older ONLY!!!)


If you need a place to stay, go to

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

High Wire Plays Again in 4 Days!!!!

This has been a long time in the works, but we are finally coming down to the last few days. To say that this has been consuming my thoughts and actions these past few weeks would be an understatement (LOL!).

Here's a picture that I didn't get a chance to post here yet. You all are familiar with how we looked back in the day. Well, now you can see what we all look like now :)... and yes, that's *all* of us. We'll be performing with all members that ever made their way through the lineup. Expect pictures :).

Monday, August 10, 2009

Home From Scout Camp

HEy there, it's been a few days, but I'm still getting adjusted back to life after having been at Wente Scout Reservation for the 7 days. It was a great week for all of us. Some milestones:

* 17 boys from our Troop went, which I think is a record (well, at least since I've been a member of Crystal Springs 1st Ward it's a record, can't speak to anything before 1999)

* six adults attended camp (seven actually, two adults shared the time up at camp during the week and traded off on Wednesday).That was also a record for this troop (again, at least since 1999).

* we also picked up two more boys from Oakland that were added to our Troop as provisional scouts (having led provisional s 2 years ago, I felt it important that we invite these boys in to join our Troop, and I like the fact that the camp thought to ask us first if we'd take them in :).

* I learned how to sail a Hobie Cat and a Laser small sailboat this week. So did my son. I'm still not all that particularly good at it, but it was a lot of fun to get out onto the water and let the wind take us where we wanted to go.

* the boys earned 71 merit badges this week, which is an average of 4 plus badges per attendee. In addition, we also racked up the potential for 13 rank advancements (actually 15 since two boys are eligible for double headers (Tenderfoot/2nd Class and 2nd Class/1st Class). We also have three Boy Scout World Conservation Awards, one earner of the Mile Swim Award, and 23 boys and adults that earned the Finney Valley Award.

* Nick^2 now both qualify to receive Bronze Eagle Palms (both boys racked up five merit badges each this past week).

* I got to take our oldest attendee out on a Whitewater kayak trip down the Russian River (and let me tell you, rapids you would scoff at in a raft become a whole nother matter in a kayak! Exciting, yes, but I have a few bumps and bruises from this particular trip (LOL!).

* I dealt with the typical things that a Scout leader has to deal with when it comes to camp, including trying my best to follow up on boys and make sure taht they are where they need to be at a given time, dealing with minor feuds between boys, dealing with homesickness with some of the newer guys, and otherwise just making sure all of our boys make it home in one piece (which they did) overall happy (which they did) and having accomplished all they set out to do (well, OK, some room for imrovement there, but overall verty well done on all counts :) ).

So now it's time for me to adjust to life back home. It may take awhile (LOL!).

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Needles and the Damage Done

I was ever so hopeful that i would just be able to go into Kaiser and have them print out a nice little manifest to show that I had all of my immunizations and that they were up to date... but no such luck! turns out there are a number of immunization records that have not been recorded for me, and a few that I have not determined immunity for.

so today, what I had hoped would be a fifteen minute in and out for paperwork became a three hour circuit where I got tested, gave blood, and got screened to determine that I needed at least two shots and possibly more. I received my tetanus booster cocktail today (felt like getting gasoline pumped into my arm, ouch!) and I also received my first of three Hepatitis A and B vaccinations. I will need to do a TB test when I come back from scout camp, and *then* I should be all caught up.

Sheesh, the things I do to be a good example to my Scouts (LOL!).

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Shedding of Innocent Stuff: Paper by the Pounds

This is one of the most aggravating aspects of my reality; try as I might, paper always seems to find me. What's worse, it always seems to accumulate. Much of the time, the paper that accumulates is not of a high enough importance to actually keep it, but I get terrified when I try to decide if I should throw it away.

I woke up early this morning to try to get through what has amounted to reams and reams worth of paper related to certain areas of my life. There are household papers (receipts, warranties, manuals), there are mortgage papers (which we have paid off, but we need to keep a while longer just in case), there are financial papers (account statements, balances, accounts that no longer exist), tax papers (going back as long as Christina and I have been married, and I would really like to purge some of these years), and yes, the most egregious bulk of papers consuming my existence, Scouting papers. In fact, my Scouting paper is approximately 60% of the stuff I have accumulated, most of which is not relevant at this stage anyway (most of the papers are flyers related to events and activities with a moderate but not indefinite shelf life). I had hoped I would make a decent dent, but I was not completely successful. I did manage to vacate my office of all superfluous paper, but in the end, all I really did was bring it down to the garage and downsize it a little bit (There is so much more I still need to do).

Today, though, I have prepared myself for what shall be a merciless battle. Granted, all of the paper and items are in the garage, but that gives me one tremendous advantage... it's all in one place now! IN anticipation of this, I have hooked up the shredder, gotten out the multiple page protectors and clear cover binders, and tonight will be a massacre of unparalleled proportions. In short, I will not set foot into my house until the paper monster is drawn, quartered, beheaded, and the items in question given their due place:

1. Home papers in the filing cabinet in the appropriate slots.
2. Financial papers in their appropriate folders.
3. Tax papers in their associated binders (and likewise in the filing cabinet)
4. All Scout related paperwork put into binders and (gasp!) put into our Chartered Organizations Scout Closet!!!

Do I believe this will be a once and for all victory? Of course not, but I do believe, if I really approach this with the necessary effort, that it will go a long way towards resolving this issue. It will of course take diligent effort to stay on top of this, and make sure that it doesn't creep back up on me again.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Madd Money: Peninsula Library System and Safari Books Online

One of the things that has made 2008 and 2009 memorable for me is the fact that I made a conscientious decision to not buy new books, and to use the public library as often as possible to read, learn and discover things. One area that I have found to be mildly frustrating has been the area of technical books for Computer Science. In many cases, the books that I am most interested in (or need to be most interested in) are the newer ones, and in many cases, the Public Library doesn't have many of those yet.

What's more, not every technical book is created equal. I freely admit to being a fan of the O' Reilly book line. O' Reilly is probably best known for the old style wood block prints of various animals on their covers, but even more key is the way in which their books are written. There is a specific formula, and this formula is especially appealing to me. They use every book and teach fundamentals (regardless the topic) for the first three or four chapters. Everyone who reads these books knows this, and because of that, tech geeks joke about the books that we never read past chapter 3 or 4, or the books that we all have that we start on chapter 4. So in general, when given a choice, I tend to gravitate towards O' Reilly books. There are some O' Reilly titles in the library, but many of them are the broader and more general topics.More specific titles are a little harder to come by.

Several years ago, O' Reilly launched Safari Books Online. This is a collection of technical books, cross references and code samples that allows for the user to read through literally thousands of books, many of them as specialized as your needs require. There is a subscription fee associated with the service. If you have a steady diet of technical books, say one or two a month (in previous jobs and at various times, I certainly have had that level of demand) the subscription made a lot of sense. However, in the last few years, I have not had the same level of need, and thus paying for the subscription was seen as a luxury. But I really did miss it at times, and often wondered if I should renew it for my own career development.

Well, the great news is that the San Mateo Peninsula Library System (i.e. the one that I am a part of) has answered it for me... it's a service offered by the PLS, and my library card gets me access to the Safari Books Online subscription! Lately, I have been exploring C#, a programming language my company is deciding to use for all future development. Going the traditional library route, I may have to wait several weeks for a title to come in, and in the event that it's not an O' Reilly book, i may work through several sections to decide that I'm not digging this particular book (unlike a business book or a novel, I need to actually feel connected to a computer or technical book. If I don't, I don't feel that I learn as well. Sometimes, even O' Reilly books have this problem, and then I may need to wait a few more weeks before another title is available that I can try. With Safari, I can go right to the titles that interest me, and withing ten or 15 minutes, I will know if this is a book that will work for what I want to do.

So for those of you out there who often cite the lack of certain titles as to why the library won't work for what you want to do, especially you computer geek types like me, ask your public library if they have a Safari Books Online Subscription, or if they use a comparable service. If they do, try it out for awhile and see if it works for what you want to do, and finally, if you find yourself being a dedicated user of the system, consider giving SFO some love and subscribing directly. If it's going to be a "Casual Affair", then by all means, use the library's system... you do pay for it, after all :).

Monday, July 27, 2009

Took A Few Days Off, and Did It Ever Feel Great :)

Starting Thursday afternoon, my family and I decided that we wanted to have some time together and go off and do some things together. This was a busy several days, but so very fun. We started out by camping in Big Basin Redwoods State Park down near Santa Cruz. Nick and I took responsibility for the cooking and setting up of the camping area, and the girls had fun helping set up the fire and just exploring the area around where we were camping (Blooms Creek, the first main camp area as you enter the park from the North side). Nick regaled everyone with his excellent Dutch Oven cooking skills, treating us to Coca-Cola Chicken and Philmont Ranger Peach Cobbler for dinner and Dutch Oven Train Wreck for breakfast. We then explored around the park and looked at truly massive Coastal Redwood trees and other stretches of forest that made us feel right at home, and far away from home, both at the same time.

After our time in the park, we drove through the various "mountain towns" that stretch along Hwy 9. between San Jose and Santa Cruz. These towns include Boulder Creek, Ben Lomond and Felton, among others, and we had some fun looking at various sites along the way. NNick spotted a house that was made to look like a castle. He asked if we could stop so he could get some pictures of it. By doing so he met the maintenance crew for the house, and they invited us in for a tour of the place; unexpected, but very cool :). As we continued driving down Hwy 9, we also made our way into Santa Cruz, and then turned up the Cabrillo Highway to explore some of the beaches and natural preserves that run along our coast. One of the neat stops was at Pigeon Point Light Station near Ano Nuevo Natural Preserve. It's a neat old Lighthouse that also has a youth hostel on its grounds. The Lighthouse is a rapidly disappearing method of navigation, but one that was used for centuries. Northern California has one of the foggiest coastlines in the world, and its fair share of shipwrecks. Thus, the various Lighthouses that can be seen along the California coast are great reminders of our recent past, and it was fun to stop and take a closer look.

We also celebrated our version of "Pioneer Day" this weekend with members of our Stake at Coyote Point in San Mateo. This was a big gathering of the six wards that make up our stake, and it was a lot of fun to see so many people that I only occasionally get to see. It was also fun to see Karina, Amber and Nick playing and hanging out with their friends. Recently, the Crystal Springs 1st Ward and the El Camino Ward merged their Primary, Young Men's and Young Women's groups together, so our Young Men's group has picked up several new boys. It was terrific to see both Young Men's groups spending time together and getting to know each other more :).

The final cap of the weekend was to get to spend time with the Delgado's. Carlos and Kelly are literally the longest tenured couple that Christina and I have known together. In fact, Carlos and Kelly were at the Stone in September of 1990 when I first met Christina (Carlos was and is the lead guitar player for High Wire). We had wanted to have an opportunity to get our families together to do something fun, and this weekend, that finally happened. We went to meet up with them at the California Academy of Sciences, and it was so fun to watch our kids interacting with each other. Amber and Gabriel were inseparable much of the time, which was really cute, and Karina loved doting on little Sara. Carlos and I had fun geeking out on all of the exhibits and explaining to our kids what they were (that is, when our kids weren't explaining them to us first (LOL!) ).

All in all, a fabulous whirlwind three day "vacationlet", if you will. Now it's back to work for one week, and then I'll be gone for eight days with Troop 250's scouts at Summer Camp.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Shedding of Innocent Stuff: A Life With No Habits?

It's taken me awhile to come to grips with this, but over the past several weeks, I've been reading a lot of Winget (don't worry, this is not a Larry Winget exercise per se, but it fits today's topic somewhat), and he's really big on changing habits and replacing bad habits with better ones. As I was looking at my various habits (and I have a few of them to say the least) I was struck by the fact that, actually, what I really suffer from is a overall lack of habits.

Over my life, I've known many people that are honest and serious creatures of habit. My wife Christina is one of them. This is by no means a put down, but for much of her life, she would have the same meals for breakfast for months or even years on end, she has a very solid routine of things that she does every single day, and this is part of the structure of her life. By contrast, my life is markedly without ingrained habits; most of what I do is what I refer to as "opportunity activities"; I do what I have to do when I have to do them, but there's generally no rhyme or reason to why or how. Take food, for example. When Christina and I go out to eat at a restaurant, it's generally a given that Christina will, depending on the restaurant, order something familiar that she likes (nothing wrong with that at all, it beats ordering something she hates). By contrast, I actually make it a point any time I go to a restaurant to almost never order the same thing twice, I always choose something I have never tried, if indeed there is an option I haven't tried. In some ways, I think this sense of "must be different" is about the only truly consistent habit I have.

In many ways, this feeds into my online life where, OK, I do have habits, and some of them not really all that good. I read sites that I enjoy probably way more often than I should (not because they are bad, but because they can be major time sucks when I need to be doing other things). Seems logical that I should say "OK, I will limit my time to viewing site [fillInTheBlank] between (time A) and (time B)". I have every intention to follow through with it, but I almost never do. The reason why? It would require me to submit to a scheduled habit, and I'm discovering that's a really difficult thing for me to do, silly as that may sound.

The point I'm trying to make is that we talk about the clutter in our lives and shedding of it so that things will be more orderly and tidy in our lives, but rarely do we consider that not having habits about certain things can be seen as "life clutter"; it's like a messy room with no organization (or very little, in any event).

To this end, I'm trying an experiment for the next 21 days. Why 21 days? Because that's the amount of time many psychologists believe it takes for a fledgling habit to actually become one. Thus, for the next 21 days, I have decided to put together a list of things that I know that I need to do on a regular basis, and I commit here and now to set aside time to deliberately do them, and make every attempt to do them on a schedule. You may think this would be obvious to many people, but I assure you, to me it isn't. This way, I'm hoping to make it so that many of the things in my life I keep saying I mean to do I will actually do in a more timely manner, and I will also hope to corral those things that threaten to suck away my time into specific areas and spaces where they can be prioritized and allowed to run free for their respective times, but once the time is up, that's it until the next day.

This is going to be a real challenge for me, so don't be surprised if this topic comes up often in the next few weeks (LOL!).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Madd Money: Eat Out For the Adventure, Not the Habit

In my world view, the whole point to going out to a restaurant is to try something I have never had before. Since I often look at the costs associated with anything that I do, I want to be sure that I'm going to both enjoy the place and also enjoy the food item that I have never tried before. Also, I tend to want to go out for food that I would otherwise not eat at home.

Going out to eat is an expensive endeavor in the grand scheme of things, but that doesn't mean that you cannot enjoy the experience, or that you have to forgo it entirely. Christina and I used to be big time foodie geeks, and when we lived in San Francisco, we would go out a *lot*. Now that we have three kids and all that goes with that, we have trimmed back on the various "food expeditions" but we still like to go out perhaps once or twice a month, and when we do so, we want to find something unique, interesting and worth the time and money to scope it out.

With this in mind, I want to give some solid props to K-Tofu and Grill in San Bruno. For those who are fans of Korean cuisine, this is a great place to get a solid Korean food fix without breaking the bank. The dishes are reasonably priced and they have a wide variety of food options to try. Their Moeun Ohjinjoh Twigim (deep fried spicy calamari) and Dolsot Bibimbab (mixed beef, vegetables and rice served in a hot stoneware pot) are both notable and quite memorable dishes, and price wise, you get a substantial amount of food (Christina and I were quite happy with the two items listed above and more than fed both of us very happily :) ).

So if Korean is your thing, check out K-Tofu and Grill on San Mateo Avenue in San Bruno. If you never considered Korean food as being "your thing", well, this place may help you start :). Wherever you decide to go, if you want an adventure and want to try something truly unique, going out may be the best use of both your time and your dollars. Otherwise, do more meals at home and aim to make those nights out truly unique and special :).

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Aches and Pains of Getting Older

I never imagined I'd be one of those people grumbling about "oh my aching this" or "oh, my aching that", but this past weekend has both made me aware of it, and how very capricious life is and what causes things to happen.

My weekend was summed up by some great high points. The Troop had a terrific "mostly minimalist" campout at Sam McDonald Park. I say mostly minimalist because we had to still pack up more gear than I would have liked to (but since we had some brand new scouts that had never been backpacking before, we decided to bend the rules a little bit :) ). I slept out under the stars with just my sleeping bag, my bed roll, a ground cover, and nothing else. I also brought nothing my pack couldn't carry, so I was totally self sufficient on my pack this weekend. We hiked the Forest Loop Trail with a fair amount of vertical ups and downs, and later went to Pescadero Beach and played among the rocks and the sand and the surf. Through all of this I felt fine, and had not troubles at all.

Waking up on Sunday morning was when everything went south. Somehow, while sleeping in my comfortable king sized bed, with all of the comforts and modern conveniences of home, I managed to pull a muscle in my upper back (feels like it's right over my right scapula). This has made moving around a rather eventful experience, to say the least. getting dressed, taking a shower, ducking in and out of a car, all of this has been made to be more eventful than I ever hoped it would be (and aggravating, just to be clear on that front as well).

Why is it that when I go out and do things that most people would think would trash you, I suffer no ill effects, but when I come home where it's comfortable and safe, all of the annoying things happen?! Yes, I realize that that's not really the case; I've had my share of scrapes and bruises and "owies" occur outside of home, too, and even on my outings and activities; I'd be full of it if I said that I didn't get hurt at times doing those things, but somehow, life conspires to wait until I get home to do damage to me much of the time, and I find it slightly ironic that my body's biggest enemy is my own bed (LOL!).

Sorry for grumbling today, but this is one of those days where I'm feeling rather irked. I know I'll be better soon enough, but it's the waiting for the soon enough that's going to drive me crazy!

Friday, July 17, 2009

On Dealing With Stress

You all will have to forgive me if I’m on a bit of a “Winget” tear these past couple of weeks, but I’ve been reading through the four books of his I’ve picked up from the library, so a lot of his core philosophy is taking up a fair amount of my time lately. Still, there’s a lot that he says (bluntly and with no subtlety whatsoever (LOL!) ) that make a lot of sense, and I really liked the thoughts he has concerning stress (note, this is his concept and his chapter from "Shut Up, Stop Whining, and Get a Life" that I'm talking about here, and this is honestly verbatim the exercise he suggests that you do in the book, so here it is for your voyeuristic pleasure :) ).

Now, here’s a rhetorical question… if you could give up all your stress right now, would you do it? I think the answer for most people is a resounding “YES”, but that brings up back to the question of, “how am I getting stressed out to being with?!” There are people that will help you do “stress management” and figure out ways to help cope with stress, manage stress, and work with stress, but wouldn’t it be great if we could all just learn to eliminate stress entirely?!

In Larry Winget’s world view, and one I feel I am agreeing with more and more, (and this is a direct quote):

“Stress comes from knowing what is right and doing what is wrong.”

So what causes you stress? Here’s some of the things that I deal with and often cause me stress:

· getting ready for Scout Outings
· studying for school (when I went) or studying for work (which I do now)
· dealing with yelling and noisy kids
· arriving late to anything
· missing work deadlines
· annoyance at rapid transit for delays
· not being in the physical shape I want to be
· earning enough to cover the basics but wishing I had more for [fillInTheBlank]

That’s a fairly decent and representative list (LOL!).

So here’s the premise and the idea to follow on with. In each of those listed items, what is causing the stress? Is it the item in question, or is it my response to it? Actually, is it the fact that I am not responding to it correctly that’s really the cause? In each and every one of those areas, I know what I should be doing. The fact that they are a stress in my life is that I’m not doing what I should be doing.

So let’s take the list and let’s see what we can do about it:

· getting ready for Scout Outings (this one is actually really simple; just make sure that all of the gear is packed well in advance, that all parties know what they need to do, and then let the chips fall where they may. If the boys forget something, they forget it and they do without. If I forget something, the same applies. Freaking out over it doesn’t help anyway).

· studying for school (when I went) or studying for work (which I do now) (yes, it’s tedious at times, and yes it’s the last think I may *want* to do at any given moment, but it’s these things that reap positive benefits down the road. The answer is to not procrastinate, to do a little each day and focus on small steps instead of trying to accomplish big jumps. Plan the work, work the plan).

· dealing with yelling and noisy kids (is it the kids problem, or is it my problem? Why does this stress me out? Because I don’t want to hear it, or because I have not done the necessary things earlier on to prevent the escalation to this point? Ah, now there’s the rub! Instead of getting aggravated that the kids are yelling at each other, I should be earlier in the process [maybe days or weeks] helping them understand how to deal with and interact with each other).

· arriving late to anything (this is pretty simple, actually… leave earlier and prepare to do something if that action gets me there early. If something happens along the way that delays us beyond our control, well, realize that… it’s beyond my control, and stressing won’t change that fact).

· missing work deadlines (now really, this is just all about the man in the mirror. If it’s because I did all I could and couldn’t get it done on time, then I have to simply state I did all that I could and that the time just wasn’t enough… but often that’s just not the case. The real reason is procrastination or poor planning, or not reading through and understanding how long something will really take. While on a rare occasion there is an unrealistic deadline, ultimately I have to be the one to say “this can be done in X amount of time” and then I better darn well make sure that I allocate enough time and focus to accomplish the task in X amount of time, since that’s my word on the line there).

· annoyance at rapid transit for delays (if I can control it, and if I can make an alternate plan, I should do so. If I can’t, I need to contact those who may be waiting, explain the situation, and then let go of it. I’m not the train conductor; there’s nothing I can do to make them arrive on time. While I’m waiting, I might as well do some other things that require attention).

· not being in the physical shape I want to be (dude, this is entirely “man in the mirror” stuff; no one to blame but yourself. Eat less, exercise more, make the time to do it. Otherwise, just pipe down and deal (LOL!) ).

· earning enough to cover the basics but wishing I had more for [fillInTheBlank] (the real question is “what are you willing to do about it?” Is overtime an option? Can you freelance a little on the side? Would talking a second job be an option? Are you allocating your money correctly to the areas that are most important? Have you asked your manager for a raise? Have you done work of a quality that is commensurate with the asking? Each one of these questions is squarely in MY court. If I have stress here, it’s my own fault, and my own domain to do something about).

So what makes you stressed? And at the end of it all, is it the circumstances, or is it you and how you deal with them? I know my answer after doing this. How about you :)?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Simple Night Out With My Older Daughter

Last Night, Karina and I went out for a daddy-daughter date. Because of work and so many other things going on, I haven't had much of a chance to spend some 1:1 time with my older daughter, so we decided to change that last night.

First stop, Shaw's Ice Cream and Candy... this is Karina we are talking about here, so does this surprise anyone (LOL!)? We each had a single scoop cone and I asked her all about her current camp program she is attending this week (we have an in-town camp called Camp Kaleidoscope, where the kids get to be involved in a lot of games, activities and crafts. Each year we have opted to give each of our children a week or so opportunity to get out of the house and interact with other kids and do things they can't do at home. This was what Karina chose to do this year :).

Afterwards, we decided to go and check out the Millbrae public library, since it's nearby. Now, you may not think that a date to the library is much fun, but Karina really enjoyed it, especially since this isn't our regular library that we go to. It's interesting to see how the buildings are laid out,m what each one offers, and how they differ from our regular library in San Bruno (and since they are all linked together, we can check stuff out on the same account :) ). Millbrae has a large selection of DVDs, about 3 times what the San Bruno library has. I also noticed that there were a number of Korean television series DVDs in the foreign language section... wonder if my friend Tom had anything to do with that (LOL!)? We both decided to pick up a few DVDs to see over the next week or so. Karina picked up some instructional DVDs related to art and watercolor. I picked up "The Animatrix", just because I wanted to see it, and we both agreed on the 3rd season of The Muppet Show :).

It may not seem like much, but it was a great way for us to spend two hours together, have some time to talk without interruption, and the whole cost of the thing was a pair of ice cream cones (well, Karina picked up a bottle of Skittle Spray for herself... I don't even know how to begin to describe it except to say image Binaca breath spray, but it's made by Skittles. You're welcome :) ). I'm looking forward to seeing how she likes the Muppet Show (she knows many of the characters, but seeing the original show is a different experience (LOL!) ). Should be fun.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Scoutmaster Mike: SM is Getting a Home of Its Own

After much consideration, thinking and the need to make something that is a big part of my life more specific, I've made the decision to start a new project. While I will still update MKL's Muse on as close to a daily basis as I can, one set of posts are going to go away, or more accurately, one set of posts will be getting a more specific grouping and a blog of their own.

I have created a new blog called "Scoutmaster Mike", and this will contain many of my musings commentary and other aspects about being a Scout leader and all that goes with it. This will be the first of my blogs that will be topic specific. In other words, my various musings about Scouting that are specifically scouting related (trips, activities, thoughts about Scouting), will now appear there, so those who are Scouting Geeks, I encourage you to jump on and follow along. That's not to say that I will not put the occasional Scouting post here, too, but I will tend to save those for the moments and thoughts that are more personal and reflective of me and for me (and of course, for those voyeuristic types that like to follow along with my musings (LOL!).

Today's Post is the Scoutmaster Minute that i shared last night, and I will from time to time make a mention of posts that I make there in my entries here. My thanks to those who have encouraged me to consider spinning this section off. There's no questions it's the one area of my life that I am actually something of an authority on and can speak at length about (well, outside of the dumb and silly things I do in my day to day life, I have the equivalent of a PhD in THAT :) ).

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Getting Things Done, 15 Minutes at a Time

I've been trying to jump start a number of things that I have wanted to get done, but many of these things have just been sitting around and waiting to get the inspiration, desire and nerve to jump in and do it. This may sound easy to do, but it's more elusive than it seems at times. I think the biggest reason for this is that so many things overwhelm us and we make them out to be larger than they really are.

I have decided that it's important to break these things down and make them accessible, so I'm practicing a new model so that I can get some of those "quick wins" in to motivate me to get going and do more. To do this, I've decided to focus on very specific items, give myself a very concrete time limit, and make a simple criteria for saying "It's Done" or "It's Not Done". Example; I'm currently in the process of learning C# and C# Script. The reason is that I want to be more conversant with the development team that I work with and get a better understanding of the products that we develop and what goes on "under the board", so to speak. A vague and nebulous plan like "learn C#" is a hard thing to wrap one's head around, but "read chapter 3 in C# book and work on the question s at the end of the chapter" is an easy goal to wrap your head around. It fits what I like to call a SMART approach to accomplishing tasks (those Wood badge geeks out there already know what the SMART acronym stands for; Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time Based.

I've discovered lately that the last element, "time based" can be my worst enemy or my best friend. When a project is nebulous, and it's needed in a short time, I tend to get hung up on the details and suffer from a, "analysis paralysis", or I get so anxious about it that I find reason after reason to put it off, only to convince myself "ah, what's the use, I can't do it anyway!" Personally, I *HATE* this aspect about myself, and I know that I do it way too often. there are many things that I love to do, and when I love to do them, I can totally dive in and spend hours and hours on them. It's the other tasks that I know I need to do, they will be important and reap dividends down the road, but they are tedious, onerous or just plain hard, and sometimes not in a fun way (I really wish I could say that programming is fun for me. It is, but not in the way that, say, backpacking or snowboarding is).

So how does one get over the hump and start getting some "wins"? For me, it's the 15 minute rule; I break down anything I need to do in 15 minute chunks, and I determine very specific things I need to do in those 15 minutes. Why 15 minutes? Because I can handle anything for 15 minutes! What happens is that, after you get some small victories under your belt (you read through something, you accomplish a small goal, you put into practice something you have learned, you can focus on the next fifteen minutes, and the next and the next). This way, instead of just saying "I tried to do something today, but it didn't work out" you can say, I accomplished eight steps towards my goal today, and those eight steps took me two hours to complete.

One other big benefit of the fifteen minute rule is that, if you see that you are not getting anywhere with something, you can make the decision to stop and do something else, and not feel like you have totally blown your plans or your momentum. I've discovered I'm a terrible multi-tasker. I need and relish the ability to focus on one task at a time, and also, I'm way too prone to give into distractions if I try to do too many things at once. The fifteen minute rule allows me a simple method of focusing on something. It also allows me the option to tell people "sorry, I'm right in the middle of something, but if you give me [component of 15 minutes left, then I can talk with you about [whatever]].

Don Aslett and Larry Winget are two guys whose no nonsense approach to work and getting things done greatly appeal to me, and both of them have the same philosophy when it comes to time management... they think it's a crock; you cannot manage time. You can only use time, and what you choose to do while you use that time is what makes the difference between success and failure. Don't manage time, manage accomplishments; if stringing together ten or twenty accomplishments gets you to the goal of doing what you set out to do, then by all means do that. At the end of the day, you will always feel better saying "I did 20 or 30 small things" or ""I made 20 or 30 steps towards accomplishing my goals" than you will if you said "I worked the whole day, was busy the whole time, but didn't feel like I accomplished much of anything". If you feel like the latter statement (and believe me, I have lots of days like that) try going the 15 minute approach and making lots of small steps. You may find that you get to the point where a given area gets so familiar and so well covered that, over time, you only need 15 minutes to get big things accomplished. Like many things in life, though, that only comes with experience, so start setting your timer (or stopwatch or whatever you want to use to keep you honest :) ) and start setting some 15 minute goals today!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Shedding of Innocent Stuff: Video Tapes and Media

Do you ever find yourself in this situation? You have a cabinet that id dedicated to media that you have purchased (DVDs, VCR tapes, CDs, video games, what have you) and you think to yourself "am I ever really going to watch any of these again?" I'm going through this experience right now. I realized that we had a skewed sense of what we had and why we kept it when I realized that we had moved a storage cabinet into the 1/2 bath upstairs, and that the storage cabinet housed video games and DVDs. I wish I was kidding about that.

It helps to move back a little in time to where our heads were at regarding this. We knew that when we bought our house in 1999, its 1800 sq. feet was going to be a limitation eventually... and that's not a bad thing; if anything it forces us to be realistic about the stuff we have gotten over the years, though not realistic enough to realize that we have been doing an endless shuffle of stuff because of it. Now, for the record, I'm not going to go the George Carlin route... buying a bigger house so I can keep "more stuff"... we are very happy with the home that we have and we are not going to move in any time frame less than decades, seriously... but that still brings us to the point of "what do we do with the stuff we have in the space we have without buying more stuff to hold the stuff we already have (sorry, Carlin does it so much better (LOL!) ).

Anyway, one area that I keep looking at is our videotapes and DVDs. Frankly, I have just a few things I really like to keep and will hold onto indefinitely, but many other items are just strangely hanging around for years and years. Yes, I'll admit it, I have my top five movies as DVDs, I have a few classics, and I have some of my favorite anime series on DVD. We also have a bunch of videocassettes that we have held onto for the kids, yet I seriously wondered if they have bothered to look at any of these lately, and if they would actually miss them.

If you decide to be the "big meanie" and try this, here's my suggestion... take all of the VCR tapes and DVDs that you think might genuinely not be missed, put them in a box and put them someplace not obvious (but not someplace you would totally forget). Put a date on the box, say three to six months. Then wait... if you get one of your kids coming up to you saying "Dad, I can't find [fillInTheBlank]", then you know you have come across one that somehow matters to the kids. Go and get it, say that you found it, but don't divulge the hiding place of the other tapes (I don't know about the rest of you out there, but with my kids, anything that is suddenly in eye sight becomes indispensable, never mind the fact that they haven't watched or thought about it for close to two years prior !!!).

Right now I've gathered a good sized box of kids VCR tapes, most of them likely to never be watched again. Frankly, if I'm going to strike on this, I need to strike now, while VCR tapes are still a viable media. Five years from now, there may be no interest among friends for VCR tapes; they be about as coveted as 8 tracks (and yes, I am old enough to have owned 8 tracks, don't rub it in (LOL!) ). I would much rather see these go to people that have young kids that would enjoy seeing them than keep them floating around my house not being used, not being watched, and taking up space that is coming at a greater premium each year as the kids get older.

Thus we have begun a new experiment. I'll check back in October to tell you all what ultimately happened :).