Saturday, December 31, 2016

Living In A Winter Wonderland...

Because of the topography where we live we get what are called winter inversions. This means that cold air is trapped between the mountains and hot air above seals it in, like a lid on a pot. The trouble with inversions is all the pollution that normally vents itself into the atmosphere is trapped as well. People with breathing problems (and, really, everyone...) has to breathe the dirty air. I've heard that the area was known to the Native Americans as place for deep fogs that occurred every winter, long before any car or factory or wood-burning stove graved the land. I've researched, but I can't confirm it.

Everyone complains about the bad air. Everyone complains about it, but they still seem to drive their cars. I suppose I'm against it as well, but there's one result of the winter inversion that I absolutely love--it's the way it makes everything look. More specifically, it's the way everything, from plants to buildings to rocks, are encased in frost.

This morning and tonight I went outside and tried to capture the beauty on film (even though there's no film involved...). You know what I mean. I got a few shots, but I couldn't get just how beautiful is is, at least beautiful in my eyes.

Tonight as the kids are playing boardgames with their friends as they wait for 2016 to disappear only to be replaced by 2017, I ventured outside to a small pine tree we decorated with star-shaped LED lights. If you look carefully you can see what we're breathing encased in ice.

Eventually the inversion breaks apart, usually by a storm or a big wind, and the sun returns to our darkened world--it happens every year. All the frosted plants, buildings, and rocks are freed from their frozen prison. It's good for the lungs, but makes everything look ordinary again. Like everything else, there's a price to pay for beauty.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Anyone Want A Nuclear Heart...?

Yesterday, I mistimed the train back to work so I had about ten minutes to kill before next one came. Luckily for me there's a used/new bookstore right across the street from the station. 

I went in.

Five minutes later and one dollar poorer, I came out with a copy of Popular Mechanics, the May 1969 issue.

Talk about a gold mine!

I'm being serious--this thing is amazing! First, it cost 50¢ back in 1969 so the thing's doubled in price. Second, I thought it might be interesting--to be honest, I thought it might remind me of my dad because he was a mechanical engineer back in 1969 (actually, his degree was in tool engineering, but I've been told the modern name for the degree is mechanical engineering...). It did remind me of him, but I also found something in it's aging pages I didn't expect--a ton of story ideas! This thing is chuck-full of amazing bits of information that would make incredible stories. I'm going to dedicate at least one, and maybe several blog posts about this. But that's later.

For now, I'll leave you with just one story I found in the magazine. It's for a nuclear heart. When I read, "The nuclear-powered heart would function as a tiny steam engine, including a minute boiler, with pumps attached to the arterial and venous parts of the blood system" I couldn't believe it--that's steampunk, baby! And I've written several steampunk stories. Imagine a person with a nuclear steam-powered heart walking around. Once you get rid of that pesky isotope plutonium 238 decay, it's smooth sailing after that. It seems unimaginable today, but back then, they actually considered it, or thought that's how it would work.


The old magazine has so many things to think about, almost every page has something interesting. At least, I found it interesting. And it was only a buck. It's easy to look back and see what they got wrong, but what I love is that they dared to dream. They saw a problem and considered solutions using the information they had available. And, who knows--maybe in forty-five plus years someone may find a copy of a digital magazine from 2016 and laugh at what we were thinking. Someone might even want to use what they find as the subject of stories. You never know.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Saying Goodbye To A Dedicated Co-Worker...

Yesterday I received an I/M letting me know one of my first supervisors was retiring and his farewell gathering would be today. I knew I had to go to this one.

When you work in a company with hundreds and hundreds of employees, and when many of those employees have worked in excess of thirty years for the company, when one of them retires, it's a big deal--especially for the retiree. Today was Doug's day. And there were eclairs.

To reach the get-together, I had to take a light rail train to the building where I've worked for fifteen years, a building where, when I received my first promotion after working for six months, I met Doug. He was my immediate boss. Because of the type of work we did, the best way to learn the job was to just do it. And because Doug had been doing that job for more than a decade, I turned to him so many times for advice. 

"What would you do, Doug?"

And he would tell me. And I'd make the decision. Such was our working relationship for years. I ended up moving to different departments and different buildings, Doug remained answering thousands upon thousands of questions from co-workers and customers alike.

Beginning in 2017 we'll be Doug-less, all that decades-old experience will no longer be available to the team. I'm glad I went to the retirement party today. I'm glad I got to shake his hand, get a quick picture, and chow down an eclair. But most of all, I'm glad a man who has spent years and years of his life working for one organization can finally be needed in other, more important things.

Thanks, Doug, for answering all those pestering questions and for everything else.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Advent Calendar...Deceptive?

Fortunately, I was not scheduled to work Christmas Eve this year. It was a Saturday. And because I was home on Christmas Eve I woke to the sounds of my youngest two children deep in conversation. And what were they talking about? Opening presents the next morning? Santa? Going to church on Christmas Day?


None of those.

The kids were talking about their advent calendars.

We were lucky enough to get Trader Joe's Advent Calendars this year. They're a rare item around here. Our state only has only one Trader Joe's so many many people are vying for the chance to get one. We got six, one for each member of our family.

And life was good.

Good, until Christmas Eve, that is.

The conversation I heard as I woke up went something like this (I apologize if I can't quote it word-for-word--I was a little groggy...).

"Yeah, I opened the Christmas Eve box and it was the same size as the other days."

"Really? It wasn't bigger than the rest?"

"Maybe just a little, but not much."

When I got up, I asked them what they were talking about. It seems the little chocolate "prize" beneath the Christmas Eve 24 door was not as large as my children were led to believe. To be honest, I didn't much think of it.

Until today.

I left my calendar at work so today was the first time I could experience what my kids were talking about. If you look at the calendar, you'll see the 24 door is almost twice as big as doors 1-23. Naturally you'd assume the candy inside would be almost twice as big. It was bigger, but only just.

We learn by experience. My guess is if we get Trader Joe's Advent Calendars next year, my kids--and me--will know what awaits them.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

So...Am I Off Book?

A few weeks ago I was asked to be in a show. I accepted knowing I'd have less time than normal to memorize all my lines. I made a little deal with myself--before I could go see the new Star Wars: Rogue One flick, I had to be off book.

This morning the fam loaded up the van and we saw the movie.

The question remains...did I memorize all my lines? Am I off book?

The answer...well, it can be looked at a couple of ways. I suppose I'm off book. In a few hours, I'll be able to prove it. We have rehearsal tonight. I can leave my scripts in my chair and just go for it, which is what I'm planning on doing. It may work out. I might crash and burn, but I'll be off book. Plus, I know the show well--I can improvise. That is the last thing, however, that the director wants me to do. Each word is important. Other actors key off the exact words the other actors say. I know I do.

But, I have to admit that I'm not 100% memorized, but I'm getting there. The show opens up in about ten days and I guaranteed I'll have every line, every block committed to memory. 

This morning I saw the movie, enjoyed the movie, found out when we got home that the last actress on the screen passed away...bittersweet. If you're in the area and you'd like to see You Can't Take It With You, or even if you've never seen it, pick up some tickets. Both casts are great, but I'm on stage Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. And if you do go when I'm in the show, come up after and let me know what you think.

Monday, December 26, 2016

We Wish You A Cthulhu Christmas...

There's a new kid in town and its name is Cthulhu. My friend Steve has somewhat of an affinity towards the mythical god so as my wife and I searched for Christmas gifts, I snapped a few pictures featuring Cthulhu and sent them over.

He never replied.

It's not that unusual, him not replying. Personally, I thought the games were great--sort of a way for those people--like Steve--to have a little fun and somewhat honor Cthulhu. Of course, I didn't buy the games--we've got the godless versions at home.

Cthulhu is big right now. Maybe he's always been big. I don't know, but I doubt his image would be used to push decade's old parlor games. Earlier in the year I was asked to include a short story in an anthology. I wrote about a Louisiana taxidermist who ran into a pod of Cthulhus (not quite sure if "pod" is an appropriate term for more than one Cthulhu gathered...). I'm about 1/3 through the entire collection. I haven't run into any other Cthulhu stories, more of a H.P. Lovecraft-style themed menagerie.

Now that this year's Christmas has passed, I wonder how many Cthulhu games are left lining the shelves of toy and department stores. Did they sell well? Will more be on the way? Will we be seeing "Are You Smarter Than A Cthulhu?" or "Cthulhu Chess," "Cthulhu Operation," (I'd hate to see what objects they'd pull out of there...) or "Cthulhu Clue" next year?

I guess time will tell.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Cost Of A White Christmas...

The first thing I did after returning from church was to start shoveling snow. Since we didn't need to dig out in order to get to church, I put it off until after.

Since we hadn't used our snowblower in a couple of years, I drained the old gas out of it, and put in new. After about a hundred pulls, we realized the gas line had broken off where it connected to the intake. We stretched the existing rubber tube and attached it. The snowblower started, but didn't run well enough to clear the foot or so snow we received. We had to resort to the trusty shovel.

A couple of hours later, we had cleared sidewalks and driveways. It allowed us to travel to my in-laws for a family get-together. We had a terrific meal, exchanged gifts and enjoyed sitting inside a warm home shielded from the elements.

"It's sure beautiful out there," we said as we gazed outside. And it truly was. For those praying for a White Christmas, their prayers were answered--and how! But while we admired the view, I thought about the costs of that beautiful view. On a superficial level, a huge snowstorm means, if we want to go anywhere, work has to be done. People have to shovel out, city, county, and state trucks need to roll to plow the roads. There's definitely a cost involved. The beauty we saw was not in any way free. And even if you're in a home and free to just enjoy a White Christmas from inside, work--a lot of work--had to be done beforehand. Food had to be purchased and brought in. Energy to keep everyone warm, safe, and dry had to be earned.

There's a simplicity in life, a constant. There is both good and bad in the world. In fact, without one we wouldn't know the other. It was an absolutely beautiful day. There was a cost. For me it was worth it (even though I'm going to be sore tomorrow...). I hope you and yours had a wonderful Christmas day. God bless.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Illuminating The Season...

Years ago, my cousin held an annual Christmas Eve family get-together. We'd go to her house and bring a soup or stew or some other kind of food item. We'd all hang out in their family room, eat until we were stuffed and have a fantastic time. Of course, the experience wouldn't be complete without getting in our cars and driving around the neighborhoods to see the decorated homes and yards and to also see the Luminaries. Luminaries, if you don't know, are basically tea candles in paper bags. Alone a single Luminary is not too impressive, having an entire neighborhood lined with Luminaries spaced only a few feet apart is.

So much has changed since we used to go to my cousin's house in the mid-2000s. People are no longer with us, families have expanded, but we've tried to at least gather on Christmas Eve for soups, games, and fun. This year, we had a get-together and we wondered if those neighborhoods still put out their Luminaries. We decided to find out.

The answer is, yes, they do. However, by the time we drove by, most of the paper sacks were slumped over and soggy from the rain/snow, their candles long since extinguished. We did, however, see many wonderfully decorated homes.

My son suggested we drive to a house in Centerville that had a display timed to music. It was the last stop of our adventure, the last Christmassy thing we did before returning home and getting ready for Santa's arrival. I decided to include photos of our indoor and outdoor lights and the one a few miles to the south where music and lights crated magic.

Merry Christmas Eve, everyone, and if you're reading this tomorrow, Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Feeding The Elders...

If I said that our family fed dinner to a pair of elders, anywhere else in the country, you might think we had served meals to a couple of nursing home residents. But if I say that same thing where we live, everyone knows exactly what I mean. No, we didn't feed a pair of elderly individuals dinner--they weren't elderly at all. In fact, the two were relatively young, under twenty-years old.

Feeding the LDS missionaries is something we members do a lot. Of course, not all missionaries are as lucky (and well-fed...) as others. Case in point, I did the mission thing in the mid-80s. Where I served, there were not mormons in ninety percent of the homes, nor were there mormon churches on every other corner. No, I served in Europe, Denmark specifically, and there's about five times more mormons in the small-ish community where I live now than are in the entire country of Denmark.

Members in America are the same as members all over the world--they want to help the missionaries any way they can, including them having them over for dinner. But, fewer members means fewer opportunities to feed the missionaries. In Denmark had several opportunities to break bread with Danish mormons, but I'm pretty sure the two missionaries we had over will eat at members homes more this month alone than I did in the entire two years I lived among the Danes.

I hope it doesn't sound like I'm complaining, because I don't mean to. I had some amazing experiences, and--on the plus side, I got to learn how to prepare food for myself--something that came in handy in college.

The missionaries were great company, and they enjoyed the dinner my wife and family prepared. We snapped a couple of pictures so we could send them back to their parents. It's something members in California did for our own son many times, and each time they did, we were extremely appreciative. 

Feeding the missionaries is a rare occurrence for us. There's so many members that we get to have them over once ever half decade or so. That's okay--that way everyone gets to help out. So, if you're ever wondering what it's like to have missionaries over for dinner, if they come knocking, just invite them back for dinner. I'll bet they'll take you up on your offer.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Trimming The...Cubicle For Christmas

I won't be back to work until after Christmas, but before I left, I did a little decorating. Last week I came to work and someone brought Christmas lights and stockings to hang. I went to town. I strung lights around my cubicle and connected them to the lights from my cubicle neighbor's already strung lights. It made for quite a display.

And since I wanted to add even more festivity to the whole decor, I put in the blinkers. Sometimes I really like the blinking lights, sometimes, not so much. But, for my workspace, it looks good. Before I left work, I unplugged the lights and my little Christmas tree. When I return there will be no more anticipation for the holiday for it will have passed. I'm sure we'll keep up the lights until after New Years, at least, I will.

So, while we gather with family and friends to exchange gifts, watch football (and Hallmark movies...), and eat way too much, there'll be a lonely cubicle all decorated for Christmas, waiting for us to return. So, please enjoy the festive lights that will be silent until next week. It's sped up for your viewing pleasure. Merry Christmas cubicle!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Sparking In The Dark...

A new tradition was born at our latest show. Before places were called several of the cast (and sometimes crew...) would gather in a darkened corner of the theater. Each of us would be given a Wintergreen, or Wint-O-Green Life Saver® and then told a list of specific instructions.

We were told to gather around in a circle to reduce the amount of light, and with an open mouth begin chomping down on the Life Saver and if you're lucky, you'll see sparks.

I know "sparking" meant something else long ago. It was fun to ask people go join us to go sparking. I tried to get sparks on video, but it didn't work. However, almost every time we did it, I saw several sparks from fellow cast members. No one knew, but after the first time I didn't chomp with everyone else. I just watched and enjoyed my Life Saver after the sparking session ended. It kind of hurt my teeth. But, truth be told, mine were usually the oldest set of teeth in the group.

Tonight we closed the show. I don't know if I'll be involved in any sparking events any time soon, but even if I don't, I'll look back on the last couple of week and smile. We had a lot of fun. So, here's a video of my attempt to capture the sparks. It's what we did the last couple of weeks.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Some Sunset Pictures For Stephanie...


 I saw the beginnings of tonight's sunset from the train window. You never know how it's going to turn out, but I thought it had the makings of a good one. Of course, I had to get to a spot where I had a good view to try and get a good picture or two. As luck would have it, it was still around when I pulled the car into the driveway and it even got more spectacular as I took picture after picture.

I noticed a friend's Facebook post after I came in. She posted a shot she took and complained that the camera on her phone couldn't quite capture what she saw. I thought, "that's tonight's blog post," to post picture I took for her, so Stephanie, here you go!


Monday, December 19, 2016

Another Star Wars Movie...Another Reason To Delay Watching It

Last December I decided to not watch the then new Star Wars film until my son returned from his LDS mission. This meant I wouldn't be seeing the show until the end of February, 2016. Many people talked to me about this. Most couldn't believe I would do that, but for me it was relatively easy. I usually don't go see movies in the theater anyway, so waiting seemed to me normal.

Eventually February came, my son returned home, and we all went to see a pretty good flick. Flash forward twelve months and I find myself in a similar position. A new Star Wars film is now out and playing. Like last year many of my friends attended advanced screenings or made sure they'd be the first to see the new spectacle. And like last year, I didn't. With all the children at home, I wondered if I would go the first weekend, week, or even before December ended.

Then came another opportunity to delay me attending. Last week I was asked to be in another show. Someone had to drop and I was honored to be asked to join the production with just over three weeks until opening night (usually, a cast gets two months to prepare...). I'm excited to be in another show with such a talented pool of people, but now I've got to learn lines, blocking, and my character in days, not weeks. I've decided to wait to see the new movie only after I've memorized all my lines.

Because the new show I'm in opens the first week of January, I really don't have a lot of time. My family wants to see Star Wars: Rogue One soon, so we decided we'll be going a week from tomorrow, the Tuesday after Christmas. Of course, I'm sure those in the play would like me to memorize all my lines before that and hopefully, I will. But, if this time is like the last, I'll be glad I waited.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Family Christmas Party...2016 Edition

The Sunday before Christmas my wife's parents invite us over for a get-together. It's my mother-in-law's Sunday before Christmas Party. This year we combined two family traditions, the party, and helping to decorate my in-law's house for Christmas.

A few years ago we were asked to help decorate their home, so we went over a few weeks early and put up their tree as well as all the other knick-knacks. This year we waited just a little bit. One thing I've enjoyed doing is taking out the camera and snapping a few pictures. 

I'm including all these photos more for my benefit than for yours. I have no idea if this blog will even been accessible years or even decades from now, even though it should be. I hope, though my kids will be able to access this and other blog posts and remember that on a cold day in December, 2016, we went over to their grandparent's house and had a delicious dinner, played a fun White Elephant game and helped decorate a house for Christmas.