Sunday, August 31, 2008

Life's a Rollercoaster - Family Update

Moving into September, here are some of the things that are happening in our family. Devery and Easton are now back at BYU and are living once again in south Provo. Devery will be finishing her degree this semester, taking 19 hours (!) of mostly business-related courses. Darren is about to hit the one-year mark on his mission and at present is still training a new missionary in Comayagua. We need to start looking into what it will take to get him back into school, anticipating that he'll be able to return a couple of weeks early next August so that he can return to BYU for the (entire) fall semester. Kiley is starting her junior year of high school and is busy with honors classes, early-morning seminary, and her cello-playing. Heidi and Kristy and their families are busy and have their trials. Dorine is back working as an EA at Chelwood Elementary School, and I hope to have a few recreational opportunities this fall -- a trip to Carlsbad over the APS fall break; a couple more hikes in the Sandias (South Peak, Piedra Lisa Spring); and a caving trip to the Guadalupe Mountains in November. So far I've resisted the idea of another trip to Las Vegas, where I haven't been now in almost two years.

I'm still not sleeping as well as I'd like, although last night I found it helped significantly to change out the air-filter element in my "VPAP" machine. But I still haven't had to resort to medications again, and that's the way I want to keep it. I still think I can overcome the minor "environmental" discomforts I'm facing, but it may take some time.

I have gone back to my "Rock 'N' Roll Favorites" posts from January-February and added links to video/audio files on Youtube for most of the songs (I couldn't find videos for a few of them). I think you'll enjoy following the links and seeing what my "favorite" songs by all those groups actually sound like.

The attached picture was taken in May 2007 on the "Ghost Rider" rollercoaster at Knott's Berry Farm, which of course is just up the road from Disneyland in Orange County, CA. As you can see, Devery, Darren, Kiley, and I all have interesting reactions to higher-than-normal g-forces!

Friday, August 29, 2008

McCain - Palin: A Home Run?

John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, as his running mate in the 2008 presidential election is, in my mind, an inspired choice, one that I've been hoping for ever since Jonah Goldberg first started touting her in National Review a few months ago. As many have already pointed out, it's a risky move, but one that can pay off richly in the end. She's young and relatively inexperienced, but it will be difficult for the media to make that point without highlighting the fact that Barack Obama is (a) almost as young and just as inexperienced, and (b) running for president, not vice president. It also remains to be seen how well-informed she is and how well she thinks on her feet in a debate on national television. (Regardless, the smarmy Joe Biden had better tread lightly around her; if he insults her or is condescending to her, he could easily throw the election to McCain.)

However, beyond the issues of experience and debating ability, I see nothing but upside to the Palin pick. One, she's an attractive and obviously intelligent woman, who not only presents a fresh, pretty face to the voting public but highlights the fact that there is no woman, pretty or otherwise, on the Dem ticket. (Her being a conservative woman will raise the hackles of certain feminists, and all other far-left elements, who regard a woman's being conservative as the very worst sort of blood betrayal, but this is a question of appealing to the moderate middle, not the loony Left.) Two, she's ardently pro-life (and even has a Down Syndrome child), which will excite the conservative base and draw a sharp contrast with the extreme-left policies of the opposition respecting abortion. Three, she's an anti-waste and anti-corruption crusader from a jurisdiction known for waste and malfeasance, which points up the fact that Obama, far from being a crusader, is actually a product of the even-more-corrupt Chicago political machine.

Four, being from Alaska, she's guaranteed to be more of an authority on energy policy and resources than the opposition, and she's on the right/realistic side of both expanded domestic oil and gas drilling (especially in ANWR) and the development of alternative energy sources. Five, she's an avid hunter and a lifetime NRA member, which is sure to appeal to the sort of working-class white voters who voted for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries. Six, her husband Todd is at least part Native American, plus he's a blue-collar fisherman and oilfield worker who races snowmobiles -- no Teresa Heinz Kerry, he! And seven, like McCain himself, she has a son serving in the Armed Forces who will be deployed shortly to Iraq; which at least gives her some personal stake in the U.S.'s Middle East policy.

Only time will tell if McCain's choosing Governor Palin as his running mate is a home run, but it certainly cements his reputation as a bold "maverick" -- Obama's choice of Joe Biden suddenly looks wussy by comparison. It's really shaping up to be an exciting election now!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Donnie Iris's "Ah! Leah!"

On the way home from hiking on Friday, I heard a song on the radio that I've long admired, but whose title (along with the artist who recorded it) I'd never been able to ascertain. I knew that it must have come out while I was a missionary in Chile, although I don't remember hearing it until after I came back to the U.S. After the song ended, the DJ came on and said the name of the artist: "Donnie Iris." I went home and immediately went on iTunes and searched on "donnie iris"; the first tune on the list was "Ah! Leah!" and, sure enough, it was the song I'd just heard on the radio. I quickly downloaded it to my iTunes, then went (a) to Wikipedia to read the bio on the artist, and (b) to Youtube to watch the music video for the tune. I found it strangely appropriate that Donnie, the singer, was a thin, curly-headed guy with horn-rimmed glasses and bad teeth, which also explains why his band didn't become a huge act in the coming Age of MTV, with its emphasis on pretty-boy looks and big hair. (Donnie, it turns out, had already played in The Jaggerz ["The Rapper"] and Wild Cherry [post-"Play that Funky Music"] at the time he recorded "Ah! Leah!")

In one sense, "Ah! Leah!" came out about five years too late -- I'm almost certain it would have been a #1 hit in the mid-70s (instead of topping out at #29 in 1980-81) -- but there's something timeless about a hard-rocking song about forbidden-but-irresistible love. I'm not sure where it would fall on my list of all-time favorite rock songs, but it would definitely be in the top five.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Hiking Again - North Crest Trail

John Brewer and I were finally able to go hiking again today in the Sandia Mountains. This time we went and hiked the North Crest Trail, which starts at Tunnel Spring, in the Placitas area at the northern end of the range, and ends at Sandia Crest. I knew from my experience in 2005, the last time I hiked North Crest, that it was both a long (12+ miles) and a deceptively difficult trail; nonetheless, John and I decided to start our hike by taking the more-difficult-still variant trail up Cañón del Horno, which cuts off at least two miles from the route. I had last gone up Cañón del Horno in 1990, when we took my mother-in-law Rhea Wilson (who was then dying of pancreatic cancer) up to Tunnel Spring to get some of the reputedly "healing" spring water. Being eighteen or nineteen years older now, I wasn't certain what to expect, and sure enough, the Cañón del Horno trail was steep and energy-sapping, making the rest of the hike seem quite a bit more difficult; it was also a sunny and hot day, and the heat didn't make things any easier. However, as I've said before, any day spent hiking in the Sandias is a good day, and I had a great time overall.

We had some difficulty working out the logistics, but ultimately we decided to take two cars, leave one at the bottom Tram terminus, then drive around to Tunnel Spring and leave the second car there. We'd hike beyond the Crest all the way to the upper Tram terminus, then take the Tram down to get the first car, and finally drive back out to Tunnel Spring to fetch the second car. Everything went more or less to plan, although we were gone a couple of hours longer than we'd originally anticipated.

I decided to wear my Vasque trail runners on the hike instead of hiking boots, and they worked even better than I expected. Not an ounce of foot pain at the end!

The top photo shows John and me shortly before we boarded the Tram at the upper terminus; the second shows me at one of the overlooks on the trail; and the third shows me on a typical stretch of the trail.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Farewell, Devery and Easton!

Devery and Easton are leaving tomorrow to go back to Provo and BYU, and we'll miss having them around our house. It was a great summer and we're glad both of them were able to work lots of hours, make good money, and save for school. We'll see them at Christmas, and I suspect we'll make one or two trips to Utah to see them before school ends in April, but it doesn't appear likely that we'll get them for another summer. I'm sure Devery will be glad not to have to get up at 5:30 am to ride into work with me, and I know she won't miss having to escort an uncleared individual around the limited area at Sandia Labs anymore (notwithstanding the fact that the individual in question was Sean Naegle, a nice LDS kid whose father, John, is a distant cousin of mine). However, Sandia has been very good to Devery and has done a lot to pay for her college, and she's understandably a little emotional and nostalgic about leaving after five summer internships. I hope they have a great year at BYU, and they're in excellent position to do just that.

At Sandia Crest, pre-Wedding

Following up on my last post, here is a photo showing what Dorine and I looked like at about the time we were married in 1984. It's scanned and cropped from what was one of a roll of photographs that Mike P______, my then-future brother-in-law, took of us at Sandia Crest for our wedding announcements (although we ended up sending out prints of a different pose with the actual announcements). I think back on what a leap of faith it was to get married at all, given (a) that I still had three-and-a-half years of school ahead of me (not to mention several unforeseen years of difficulty finding a long-term career), and (b) that I would be stepping into the role of stepfather to Dorine's daughters Kristy and Heidi (then six and three years old, respectively). It was a good thing that Mike was generous to Dorine, who kept books for his software company, and that the girls were getting social security benefits as the result of their father's death (which benefits, fortunately, didn't go away after I married their mother), all of which enabled us to get me through school with essentially no debt. As you can see, Dorine was still a babe when I married her, and I like to think I wasn't half bad-looking, either. (Man, I wish I could still wear contact lenses!)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Dorine - The "Lost" Years

Every now and then I come across an old photograph of Dorine, dating to the time of her first marriage (1978-83), that makes me eat my heart out not to have been her love in those days (notwithstanding the fact that I was on a mission or at BYU during much of that period). This photo, which probably dates to 1978, is the "worst" one I've seen in that regard: Dorine looks so young, fresh, and achingly sexy that it almost kills me to know she belonged to someone else!

Fortunately for me, she was still attractive, and fairly young, when we married in late 1984 (and she still looks hot compared to most women her age), but, well, a person is only twenty years old once. I call that entire era the "lost" years -- not "lost" in that they served no purpose (after all, Dorine had Kristy and Heidi by her first husband, and her first marriage instilled in her a certain maturity that fueled her interest in me later), but "lost" in the sense that I missed out on something fantastic. If being married to Dorine for the last 23+ years has placed any great mental burdens on me, that's number one on the list.

Our New Gate

One of the goals we had for the summer was to replace the trashed-out double gate on the east side of our house, and now we've finally accomplished it! Years ago, Dorine's brother Brian knocked out a cinder-block wall, and installed a double gate, to facilitate the storage of snowmobiles (on a trailer) in our back yard; however, Dorine's family no longer owns snowmobiles that run, and in any case the landscaping in our front yard prevents vehicular access to the side of our house. Nonetheless, we knew that putting up a new double gate would be much easier than replacing the original cinder blocks, so we stuck with it. Note that we used pre-fabricated squaring/hinge kits, which make it much easier to build gates from scratch. (Also note the old gate in the background of one of the photos -- you can see how awful it was.) Now if we could only get going on our budding jungle of a back yard!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

My Every-day Lunch

I have been eating the same brown-bag lunch at work now for I don't know how many years. Some people seem thoroughly amazed when I advise them of that fact, but there are certain advantages: it's inexpensive; it's easy to prepare; I can eat it quickly; and it's almost always the most-nutricious meal I eat on any given day. (I constantly remind myself of Judd Nelson's line from the movie The Breakfast Club: "Well, Brian, this is a very nutricious lunch -- all of the food groups are represented. Did your mom marry Mr. Rogers?")

So, what do I eat every day? A plain bagel with two slices of turkey breast and a slice of some kind of white cheese (swiss, currently), a small baggie full of "baby" carrots, a banana, a Quaker "Chewy" granola bar, and a quart of Gatorade. Occasionally, I'll get a Gala apple instead of the banana and/or a blueberry bagel (with strawberry cream cheese) in lieu of the granola bar, but that's it. I know many people who wouldn't think of spending less than $8.00-$10.00 every day on lunch (and who take an hour-and-a-half to eat it). On the other hand, my lunch, depending on the fluctuating price of Gatorade, probably costs between $2.00 and $2.50 per day, and I can easily down it in fifteen minutes at my desk (although this summer I've been eating lunch most days with Devery at a picnic table outside the building both of us work in). Never let it be said that I don't do my part not to break the family budget!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The 2008 Elections - What, me worry?

I've been meaning to write about the fall elections but have put it off because I didn't feel like launching into some long treatise about why I think Barack Obama is a pretty freaking scary candidate, even as Democrats go. Suffice it to say that he's an inexperienced, two-dimensional politician with reflexively socialist, elitist, race-conscious, and -- dare I say it? -- anti-American ideas and philosophies, and I don't think he, unlike Bill Clinton (at least), can be counted on to govern pragmatically from the middle. Thus the damage Obama could do in four years in office staggers the imagination. I keep mentally screaming at the American people (and, especially, at the mainstream media that seem intent on getting him elected by any "journalistic" means necessary) to listen to what Obama is saying, at least to the extent he's saying anything at all. I don't care how tired you are of George W. Bush or hypocritical Republican senators or congressmen -- do you really want the hardest of hard-left Democrats to be president? (I was heartened this week by a column written by Thomas Sowell -- an African-American I would vote for in a heartbeat -- in which he recalled taking an economics class from John Kenneth Galbraith. Galbraith's soaring rhetoric won him a standing ovation from his students on the first day of class, but as the semester wore on, he persisted in speaking in airy generalities, which in turn caused most of the students to stop attending class or even to stand up and leave in the middle of lectures. The obvious similarity there to Obama's cotton-candy campaign speeches causes Sowell to suggest that the American public will eventually tire of him and stop paying attention. One can hope so, even if John McCain isn't exactly a scintillating alternative.)

I think the notion that the lower and middle classes, to the extent that they vote Republican, are voting against their own economic interests -- and that Democrats are the champion of the little guy -- is utterly risible. Who wants to keep gasoline at $4.00/gallon, or have it go even higher, in order to depress demand and consumption? (And just whom do they think high fuel and energy prices hurt the most?) Who believes Wal-Mart is the embodiment of corporate evil -- inasmuch as it refuses to allow its employees to unionize -- notwithstanding the fact that its stores are where the little guy shops and is able to make his hard-earned dollars stretch farther? (And what would happen to the little-guy consumer if Wal-Mart prices suddenly rose 30-40% to cover artificially high labor costs?) Who is willing to trash the American economy, destroying billions upon billions of dollars in wealth in the process and imposing tremendous hardship on the poor worldwide, in order to chase after the bogeyman of anthropogenic "climate change"? Finally, who seems bent on following Europe, with its dwindling native populations, unsustainable social-welfare programs, and ever-shrinking will to defend itself, down what Mark Steyn calls the "eurinal" of history?

Don't get me wrong: I don't have much more regard for most Republican politicians than I do for Democrats, but clearly there is a bad choice and a worse choice here. And

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sleep Re-ordered, Part 1

Amazingly, I seem to have kicked my sleep meds, and it happened in a most unexpected way. I ran out of Ambien CR last weekend and couldn't immediately refill my prescription, so I first tried to take large doses of over-the-counter meds (which had little effect), and then I simply decided to stop taking all meds just to see what would happen. (My sleep doctor had scared me off the idea of quitting sleep meds cold-turkey, warning me that it would make me feel suicidal after a couple of sleepless nights; moreover, I believed him, because the one time last spring that I'd tried to go a night without taking meds resulted in my lying awake all night and feeling terrible the next day.) Anyway, I had a few bad nights last week, as I slept only two or three hours each of those nights; however, in the end I didn't have to take even one day off work, and by the weekend I was falling asleep fairly easily and sleeping six or six-and-a-half hours during the night. I haven't yet noticed a tremendous increase in energy during the day, but I don't have to tell anyone how much better I feel psychologically about sleeping without chemical assistance, and I think enhanced quantity/quality of sleep will come. I'm still using the "VPAP Adapt SV" breathing machine, and it helps that I've found a position in which I can sleep on my stomach with the mask on.

I've noticed two principal drawbacks to going off sleep meds cold-turkey. One, I do think I've suffered some actual, physical withdrawal symptoms, which have contributed heavily to my not feeling quite as well as I would otherwise feel at this stage. (The good news is that those symptoms, which I can't even describe in concrete terms, have already diminished noticeably.) And two, I've found that I have less ability to bear a number of aspects of my sleep routine when I go to bed in a non-medicated state: (a) the air that the VPAP machine causes me to swallow at night has made me feel slightly nauseated (which, needless to say, tends to impede sleep); (2) the mask, which I have to strap down tightly to get a seal against my face, has felt more uncomfortable; (3) I feel a little more frustrated by the limited movement allowed by the mask and the hose feeding from the VPAP machine; and (4) the earplugs I wear at night seem much more uncomfortable now. However, I view all of these things as short-term obstacles that I will overcome.

To what can I attribute this unexpected and dramatic success? I chalk it up to divine intervention and the answering of prayers -- somebody up there likes me, or at least doesn't dislike me! Stay tuned....

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Dorine at Fifty

  • Dorine turns fifty years old today, which seems surreal until I remember that she and I have been married nearly twenty-four years (and that she was twenty-six at the time of our wedding). I love her very deeply and can't imagine what life would be like without her, something I contemplate whenever I think of any of the two-dozen-or-so other young ladies I dated or with whom I was infatuated as a teenager or young adult. I credit her, and her alone, with raising our five very decent and loving children. She is the greatest blessing I have ever been given or am likely ever to receive. My only regret is that I haven't quite been the husband, father, priesthood holder, or breadwinner that she deserved, although I know she loves me every bit as much as I love her.