Saturday, April 26, 2014

Camp Out

Gather round, for a tale of terror...or at least of the boys and me at a Scout camp out!

Last night, the Scouts got together for a camp out - for Gus, an overnighter was a prerequisite before earning his Arrow of Light and moving on to the full Boy Scouts.  And because he was 8 days short of being 11, he had to have an adult sleep out with him. Since I was going, Niko might as well join us too.

We met the other guys at Prophet Elias and pitched our tent among the others in the back area behind the church.

This is what I expected:

But with the excitement of event, the boys ended up sleeping in Niko's buddy's tent that's attached to the top of their Land Cruiser. So I had the tent to myself - I'd fall asleep instantly, right?

Right. Except for amazingly loud traffic zooming by on Highland Drive. And the flood light on the side of the church that blazed on and off like a dying super nova. And the wind that picked up, rattling everything in its path, the drizzling of the on-again, off-again rain. Oh, and then, around 1:00 a.m. I heard the very distinct voice of a crying Niko...and it was getting closer.

Sure enough, he needed to be with me. Only problem was that in his escape from the car-top tent, he had abandoned his sleeping bag. And it was more than a little chilly. The solution? We crammed into my one-man bag.

Uncomfortable, trying to keep Niko asleep, I tossed and turned as much as humanly possible when cocooned with a 7-year old. And just when I started to believe that sleep may finally arrive, the heavens exploded, pouring a deluge down upon the weary campers. It was 3:40 a.m.

In the morning, with about 3 hours of sleep, I stumbled out of the tent.  It was cold and wet. But at least someone got some sleep.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Easter Selfies

Say what you want about cell phone cameras, but there is no denying they capture a moment like nothing else ever has. Holding a phone at arm's length and tilting your heads for a "selfie" records whatever is happening in real time. Don't like the photo? Take it again.

In our family, Easter has always been about celebrating, laughing and showing our love for each other. Thanks to cell phone cameras and selfies, my niece Carli and I were able to capture those feelings instantly. Sure, they're not the best quality. Nope, the lighting isn't perfect. Yeah, we look like we've had a couple of cocktails - because we had. But there's not doubt you can see celebration, laughter and lots and lots of love.
 The evening is early...with two of my favorite nieces, Carli and Ashley.
Oh, oh...tie has been loosened.
Nominee for my favorite nephew, Mike (Carli's husband).
 As the night went on...with leading favorite nephew candidate, Braxton.
Couple of little angels...Cindy Buckles, my non-sister-in-law, who I wish was.
Mom and me
Proof family is often chosen - the boys' babushka, my former Russian instructor, Nina.
Kelly gets in on the selfie action too!
So does the girls' great uncle, and my nouno!
And the start of it all, after a long night and a house full of celebration, laughter and love.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Holy Thursday with Tina

When I was a very young boy, before it was remodeled into part of a family room, a dark, narrow hallway separated two small bedrooms in my grandmother's basement. The hall ended at the storage area under the front porch, which we referred to as our grandfather's pantry - even though he'd been dead for more than a decade already.

On the east wall, just before the pantry, hung a large icon of the Crucifixion of Christ.
It looked something like this.
Lit by a small candle in a red holder, the images of the blood spewing from the centurion's stab wound, the wailing women, the anguish on His face captivated me. And frightened me. I hated being sent to that pantry because I knew I had to pass by the icon, even though my Aunt Tina told me time and again that I didn't have anything to fear.

So why am I sharing this? Two nights ago, Holy Thursday, I kept the vigil  at church reading psalms out loud in front of the cross with a crucified Jesus.
Ours looks similar to this one.
Since I live so close to Prophet Elias, I always take a "shift" after midnight. When I arrived at 1:00 a.m., two women were reading out loud. One left after a couple of minutes. The other woman and I read our alternating verses, until 2:00 a.m. when her parents arrived to pick her up. We were the last scheduled readers of the night. However, if I wanted to stay, she had keys and could lock the doors as she left. I chose to stay.

Turning off the lights in the narthex and exonarthex - leaving just the dim lights inside the church - she made sure I could exit through a side door, before locking the front doors behind her. I paused a second, keenly aware of my isolation. As the agonized image of Christ stared down at me, I started reading psalms - mostly about an angry, vengeful God.  My voice echoed off of the emptiness, and the doors rattled every time the wind blew.

The speed of my reading increased. It seemed to mimic my childhood feet rushing past the icon on the way to retrieve something from the pantry for my grandmother. It took me a minute to realize that I may have been by myself, but I wasn't alone. Call it fatigue, call it my imagination, but I'm sure I heard my Aunt Tina's voice reading every word with me.

That knowledge calmed me. I read for another 20 or 30 minutes, put the book of psalms on a pew, and quietly left the church.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Simply a Good Kid

I really have to admit, Gus is simply a good kid. Even though he's battling a cold, he served at the altar today during Holy Unction.

Yup, I'm a proud dad.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

West, Where I Belong

It's never been a secret that Utah wasn't my first choice of places to call home. Over the two decades I was a Californian, I used to joke that the best part of Utah was that I only had to visit.

Now I've been here for 5 1/2 years, I've grown more accustomed to it, but still dream of the day when home means somewhere beyond a square on the map with the upper right hand corner missing.
Don't get me wrong, there are many, many great advantages about living in Utah, like the natural beauty and the seasons.
And I'm grateful to be with my extended family, and for the friends I've made.

But some days, the only view of Utah I want is from my rear view mirror. Today is one of those days. 

Today the state to which I pay taxes and which counts me among its citizens, is spending a couple million of those tax dollars in front of a Federal Court in Denver trying to defend the notion that Utah has a vested interest in limiting marriage to one man and one woman. One of the arguments the state's Attorney General made today: same-gender marriage will create more "dead beat" dads.

Back home the AG's office has filed for an "emergency extraordinary relief" appeal to the state Supreme Court to overturn another judge's ruling forcing the Department of Vital Statistic to change the birth certificate of a child to reflect she has two legal mothers, and the state wants the court to halt any additional same-gender parent adoptions, and potentially invalidate any others that have occurred (this does not have any bearing on my kids - adopted in California).

And if that's not enough, today Murray City slaughtered three beautiful trees in my parkway because they posed a threat to the sidewalk.  We can replace the trees for $45 each.

I guess, the positive side is that I have a view out of my window of the canal across the street and the snow-topped Oquirrh Mountains (pronounced Oaker) in the west. West, where California is. West, where San Francisco and Los Angeles are. West, where marriage equality stands and families are put together, not torn apart.  West, where I belong.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Long Live the Queen

You may remember that several months ago I wrote about Athena's transformation from aloof cat into affectionate kitty after spending a few weeks fending for herself on the mean streets of Murray.  But even after she decided being petted and sleeping in our bed was pretty nice, she always had a healthy respect for  our personal space and never came near our laps.
But recently that all changed. One day last week, I was working away when all of a sudden she jumped up onto my lap and made herself at home.
A couple of days later, I was mentioning this new habit to my mom, when my brother Mike casually said, "Gracie's gone." I confirmed that indeed our good dog was no longer with us, when he said, "No, I know that. I mean that cat is on your lap because Gracie's gone."

I'd never thought about it in those terms before, but reflecting on Athena's relationship with Gracie, it began to make sense. Gracie was extremely tolerant of the cats that came to live at her house. Sometimes she was even happy to see them. Occasionally, in a blaze of glory, she'd half-hardheartedly bark at Athena, sending the cat fleeing and Gracie's tail thumping in laughter.

But when it came to me, there was no room for play, I was Gracie's human and her's alone.  And any of the animals, who forgot that were quickly was I with her head pushed onto my lap and a reassuring head pat requested.

Now Gracie's gone, Athena is free to show her affection for me safely, and confidently claim her rightful spot on my lap.
The queen is dead, long live the queen!