Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Ashlee's Bicycle

“Jesus, take the wheel
Take it from my hands
'Cause I can't do this on my own
I'm letting go
So give me one more chance
To save me from this road I'm on
Jesus, take the wheel”
--Carrie Underwood “Jesus, Take the Wheel”

My niece, Ashlee, is fiercely independent and almost pathologically shy. If I haven't visited in a couple months, it usually takes her an hour or so to warm up to me again. Starting a new school year is rather traumatic for her. Her mother, Diana, warns each new teacher of Ashlee's shyness; pleading for patience and understanding.

Once she warms up to you, Ashlee is as engaging and caring as you could possibly imagine. She loves to play pranks, especially on her mother. Diana has severe arachnophobia, a trait Ashlee does not share and loves to take advantage of. About once a month, she will place toy spiders and other plastic creepy-crawlies in her mother's bed, covered by the comforter. Once she hears the muffled scream of discovery, Ashlee giggles madly for at least the next half hour.

When she is riding with her mother in the family car or the big maroon Suburban (I call it the “'burban”), Ashlee loves to listen to Carrie Underwood, one of Diana's favorite singers.

One sunny summer morning, Ashlee told Diana, “Mom, I want to learn to ride my bike.”

“Okay,” said Diana. “When Dad gets home I'll have him put the training wheels on your bike and you can get started.”

“No,” said Ashlee. “I want to start now, without the training wheels.”

“Are you sure? Training wheels will keep you from crashing and getting hurt.”

“Yes, I'm sure.”

Diana followed Ashlee to the garage to get her bike, then down the driveway.

“Let's start on the sidewalk next to the lawn, so you have somewhere soft to land,” said Diana. “If you feel like you're going to crash, lean towards the lawn, okay?”

“Okay, Mom,” said Ashlee.

Diana held the bike steady, gripping under the seat as Ashlee climbed on. As Ashlee started pedaling, Diana began to jog behind her, maintaining her grip on the seat.

“Let go, Mom,” said Ashlee. “I can do it on my own.”

Diana let go and stopped, watching as Ashlee kept pedaling for another five or six feet.

The bike began to wobble and Ashlee, instinctively knowing she was going to crash, threw both hands in the air and called out, “Jesus! Take the wheel!”

The bicycle promptly fell over and Ashlee got her first scrape as the result of a bike accident.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Maybe it's a part of my periodic depressions or possibly due to my lack of aggressive tendencies, but I have never felt particularly driven to accomplish things that I would like to accomplish. I tend more to let things happen as they may, trying to make the best out of any situation. I don't try to change to situation to my advantage.

Well, that attitude it changing.

Today, for the first time in a long time, I felt the urge to make things work out the way I want them to. I have goals I want to accomplish, things I want to do. It's an odd feeling for me.

Maybe it's the result of having made some good changes in my life. I've managed to adjust some attitudes, tendencies and habits that I have. It's a nice feeling. And for once I'm recognizing the good things that I am doing. It's so easy for me to focus on the negative; to focus on the bad habits I have that feel like a prison.

I'm actually working on a list of goals. I think I can actually accomplish them. I still have a healthy sense of reality; I'm not making goals that are impossible to accomplish. I actually want to type up these goals and put the list where I can see it. As I imagine these goals, I'm visualizing how I'm going to reach them.

Sorry, I'm not going to share the particulars with everybody. It's a list that makes me feel good, but I'm just not read to share it with anybody.

A guy has to have some secrets, you know.

Friday, June 18, 2010


This evening I watched a CNN video on Joran Van der Sloot's prison cell. It's been referred to as a "hellhole." He is in solitary confinement. He was arrested for the murder of a Peruvian girl, to which he confessed, according to the Peru police. He was also under investigation for the murder of a US girl in Aruba a year or so ago.

As the news crew made their way to Van der Sloot's cell, they passed through the prison kitchen. They remarked that each prisoner is fed on $1.50 a day. Now, I lived in Peru for two years as a missionary for my church. We paid someone to cook for us. If I remember right, we paid 230 soles a month each. The exchange rate at the time was 3 soles to 1 dollar. So, we paid about 76.66 a month per missionary, about $2.66 a day for food. On this money we paid, we ate very well, and a good pensionista (that's the title of the woman who cooked for us) would be able to feed her family as well as the missionaries. So a $1.50 a day per prisoner isn't bad. Of course, their food probably isn't as good as ours was, but our pensionistas didn't have to cook for as many people.

The cell was small. A person probably couldn't lay out straight if they were to do so across the width of the cell. However, my first thought as I saw the bed was, "I used a blanket just like that one." He also has running water in a sink in his cell. No shower, go figure. I didn't have running water in each house I lived in. Some did, most didn't. When the news person said that Van der Sloot's toilet was a hole in the floor, I thought, "Well, that's actually pretty common." Really, not everybody has a physical toilet.

Yeah, the facility's standards are, I imagine, well below the US Penal system's standards, but it is a third world country we're talking about here. And Van der Sloot was arrested for murder.

I think he can withstand some base conditions. I did, and I hadn't done anything wrong.

Monday, June 14, 2010

True Story...

A couple months after I returned from my two-year mission to Peru my grandpa Terry died. He was the father of my father's first wife. I hadn't been related by blood, but Grandpa had always treated me well, so I traveled with my family to Ely, Nevada for his funeral.

My sisters had been asked to sing during the services and they asked me to accompany them on the piano. The morning of the funeral, we arrived early at the church in order to run through the hymn they had chosen to sing: "Because I Have Been Given Much." Three of my sisters were going to be singing. Most of the hymn consists of simple two-part harmony with accompaniment, but there is a section of three-part harmony.

All of my siblings who sing don't necessarily have great voices, but when we sing together we blend really well, due to the similar genetics of our voice boxes.

As we ran through the hymn, I noticed that my sisters weren't singing the third part in the three-part section. On the following run-through I sang the third part in falsetto, just to see how it sounded. After the verse, one of my sisters, Diana, asked me not to sing the third part, as it confused her and threw her off the part she was singing. I agreed and they decided to go through the hymn just one more time, then go up to the chapel to wait for the start of the services.

When we reached the three-part section, true to my word, I didn't sing the third part. However, I thought that one of the other sisters had decided to give it a try, as I heard the third part very clearly vocalized and blending very well with my sisters' voices. Upon finishing the verse, Diana shot me a look and asked, "Was that you singing?"

"No," I said. "Wasn't that one of you?" Chills ran up my spine.

My sisters hadn't sung the third part, and it wasn't me. It certainly wasn't my mother, who was in the room but only sings melody and has a distinctive voice that wouldn't blend with my sisters' voices.

A little weirded out by the experience, we went upstairs to the chapel.

When the time came for our number I listened carefully, but didn't hear the third part again.

After the funeral, on the way to the cemetery, I asked my father if his first wife, Patsy, had been a singer.

"Yes," he said, "she sang alto in the choir at church."

As near as I can figure, Patsy was present for her father's funeral and had participated when her daughters were practicing the hymn.

It's the only explanation that makes any sort of sense to me. I know what I heard. And my sisters know what they heard.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Breaking the Rules...

Not me personally. I tend to like following the rules.

As part of my duties at the hotel, I am responsible for setting up the breakfast room and keeping it stocked until I leave at 8 AM. The process for getting the breakfast room set up properly are as follows: At 6 AM I drive to the grocery store to pick up the doughnut order and purchase bread and milk as necessary. I drop off some doughnuts at the our sister property and get back to the hotel at about 6:20. For a normal occupancy morning, it takes me about 15 minutes to get breakfast ready. On a busy day, it takes about 20 minutes. I'm very efficient. Normally, I'm ready to open the breakfast room between 6:45 and 6:50. Well before the 7:00 open time.

Now, this open time is very clearly posted in two places in the lobby. One of the signs is rather portable, and I place it in the middle of the entryway to the breakfast room, which connects to the lobby. This arrangement makes it possible for me to run the breakfast room and cover the front desk.

Every morning, at least one guest walks in just after 6:30 and asks if they can eat breakfast. Most days, I haven't even started the set up at that time. I tell them that we open at 7. These people invariably come back about 10 or 15 minutes later and start helping themselves to whatever I've managed to set up. Now, if I were more bold, I would ask these people to leave and come back at the proper time. I'm not that bold. However, if what they are looking for hasn't been set out yet, and they ask about it, I tell them that I haven't prepped that item yet and that it will be a few minutes. And that item automatically becomes the last thing that I take to the breakfast room from the kitchen.

Petty? Yes. Satisfying? Also yes.

It just bugs me that so many people think it's okay to ignore the rules, that their particular situation warrants an exception. If you're in such a hurry to check out, check out and go to a fast food joint. The ten minutes it will take me to finish setting up won't affect you that much. I can keep up with a busy breakfast morning, but only if I can get completely set up before it all starts disappearing. It's one person, me, against 100 rooms of people, if we're sold out. Those odds aren't in my favor if I can't get a head start.

Rant over. I'm staying up late to watch the beginning of the USA/England match of the World Cup. I like soccer.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Johnsons...

I had some memories triggered in an odd place yesterday. My mother and I went to IHOP for dinner. We both love breakfast for dinner, so we enjoy IHOP quite a bit. I ordered their strawberry lemonade, which is served with a couple mint leaves on the rim of the glass. After sniffing the leaves and even tasting them, I had to spend a few minutes thinking about when I was about 5 or 6 and would eat the leaves that our next door neighbors, the Johnsons, had growing near the maroon fence in their front yard.

Irene and Sterling were a big part of my growing up experience. I was always over at their house. Their son Jimmy was, I believe, a senior in high school when I was about 5. Yet he always made time to "hang out" with me. He would buy a whole bunch of fireworks and give me some for the 4th of July. He would play Atari video games with me. He was always super nice to me and glad to see me. Not many high school seniors would give that kind of time to a 5-year-old neighbor kid, but Jimmy did. Some of the images I can see are the long walk down the hallway to Jimmy's room at the end of the house and playing Asteroid and surprising Jimmy by accidentally figuring out how to teleport in the game.

Irene and Sterling also had a couple granddaughters that would visit from Page, AZ that were the same age as my little sister and me (Hi Jessica!). We would spend a huge part of each day playing in the Johnson's back yard. I remember getting in trouble for swinging from the branches of the weeping willow. I remember trying, for the first time, a peanut butter and marshmallow cream sandwich. Good memories.

One thing that always confused me until I was about 10 was Sterling and Irene's relationship. See, I genuinely believed that Irene was a man. She had a deep voice. I never said anything to them, luckily, because that would have been horribly embarrassing. I have many memories like that one that embarrass me, but would have been that much more embarrassing had I not been such an introspective kid. I was precocious, always wandering away from home, only to have a church member call my mom and say that I was found wandering 5 or 6 blocks away, alongside the highway, but if I didn't understand something, I would think about it or look it up in a dictionary. I rarely verbalized these embarrassing thoughts.

The Johnsons were extremely kind, and I was never scared of them like I was of Mr. Robinson (correction, it was Mr. Perkins, the Robinsons were across the street), who lived on the other side of the house. He was scary.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

I Don't Think I Can Explain It...

...but I guess I should try.

My dad's been in a care center for the last 5 or 6 months. Before that, he was in the Mental Ward of the VA hospital in Salt Lake City. I haven't visited with him since I went to Kanab August 2009.

While I was in Kanab, Dad was having serious issues. When the sun went down he would get extremely agitated and wouldn't sleep. Mom needed someone there to stay up with him and keep an eye on him. The week after I left, Dad kept trying to get out of the house at night so he could walk the block between our house and the highway to throw himself in front of a truck.

Supposedly, he's doing much better now, but I just can't bring myself to go visit. For a whole bunch of reasons.

Yes, this makes me selfish and slightly unreasonable. However, I don't think it would be good for me. I have enough issues with depression and anxiety that I don't want to add to it. And I have serious issues with care centers. Yes, Dad is at a nicer one, but it's still a care center. Also, even when Dad was not afflicted with mental problems, we never really had all that much to say to each other. Mostly because all he wanted to talk about was me going to church. Not my thing.

Do I have some daddy abandonment issues? Maybe. However, I just don't want to put myself through the ordeal of forcing myself to go into a care center. Especially to talk to someone focused on trying to convince me to go to church.

Am I selfish and possibly a little childish? Yes. But realizing that doesn't make me want to put things aside and go to the care center.

Told you I couldn't really explain it.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

New Purchases!

I couldn't really afford to buy four books yesterday, but I did it anyway.

I went to Barnes and Noble in St. George with my little sister. I found four books that I'm really excited to read, when I get the chance. Two by Sherman Alexie: Black Widow Summer and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. I also decided to give Cormac McCarthy's The Road a try. It was a search to find one that didn't have the movie cover, but I found it. I also picked up the complete collection of Sherlock Holmes.

Now I can't wait to find an opening in my reading schedule to fit these in.

AND....if I read a chapter a day, I will finish Don Quijote by the end of July. Very do-able.