Saturday, June 30, 2007

Treating Death

Tonight in line at the Lowes customer service counter, I noticed the woman in front of me holding a badly singed gift card. One edge was entirely melted and black. Before I could even begin to imagine how the gift card had gotten burned, I over heard the words "airplane," "crash," and "wallet."

I hope the woman and her friend forgive me for eavesdropping, but as they were right in front of me, and as one does not see a singed gift card every day, I leaned in a little to see if I couldn't get more of the story. All I could figure out from my vantage point was that she wanted to replace the card, which apparently still had some credit on it, so she wouldn't have to carry around the burnt one ( I wouldn't want to carry it around either).

I waited while the two women signed the necessary receipts , took their card, and walked away. Then I leaned in close to the clerk and said, "Did they just say something about an airplane crash?" The clerk explained that the woman's husband had been killed in an airplane crash several months ago, and that in his wallet was $100 in cash, and that gift card, all of which was burned, but not destroyed. That means that whoever responded to the crash site would have found the body of this woman's husband and would have looked for a wallet for identification, would have found the money and the gift card, and would have used the identification in the wallet to ultimately trace the man back to his unsuspecting wife. She would have had to identify the body, perhaps, and at least take any of the salvaged personal belongings recovered from the wreckage.

I have never had anyone even remotely close to me pass away. A few acquaintances in high school were killed in car accidents, or committed suicide, but no one in my life, no one that would cause true personal grief has ever died. I can't imagine what went through that woman's mind and heart when she received word that her husband had died, how awful the site of the singed money and that card must have been, how disgusted with it she must have been. Perhaps she could not look at it. Perhaps for months it sat in an unopened drawer, still smelling faintly of smoke and scorched leather, perhaps she could not bring herself to do anything with the wallet. To spend the money would be to admit his passing, to admit that it was okay to move on, that a part of her had not died in that plane crash, or that somehow that part was now replaced. To move on with life, would be to forget, and to forget would be to admit deaths superiority.

"Now, of all the benefits that virtue confers upon us, the contempt of death is one of the greatest, as the means that accommodates human life with a soft and easy tranquility, and gives us a pure and pleasant taste of living, without which all other pleasure would be extinct."--Montaigne

So the question that arises of course, is what changed? What happened in that woman's life (and I keep resisting the phrase "poor woman") that made it okay now to exchange the money at the bank and the card at Lowes. Perhaps nothing happened. Perhaps she found it in her drawer and had forgotten all about it. On the other hand, perhaps the exchange of that singed card meant more to her than I could ever begin to extract from a few moments of eavesdropping. Death has come to her, has taken from her, has burned scars into her mind. But maybe, just maybe death has finally moved on, perhaps the dark shadow of grief and longing no longer hang over her home and heart.

"The most extreme degree of courageously treating death, and the most natural, is to look upon it not only without astonishment but without care, continuing the wonted course of life even into it."--Montaigne

I have no way of knowing of course, and I don't claim any ability to understand, or even empathize with what that experience must have done to her, but the words of Montaigne are comforting to me, when I think of her husband, living life the way he wanted to, perhaps dying the way he wanted to. Certainly he did not wait for death to take him. He flew towards it, never blinking, only living.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Some jobs should never be outsourced

So, on a local radio station the other night I heard a commentator talking about a billboard ad in Manhattan that shows a procession of rear ends adorned with smiley faces.The ad, which some find offensive, others creative, is for something called a “Washlet.”The “Washlet” is a Japanese invention, sort of a bidet for men and women that can attach to any normal western toilet seat. The word itself is of Japanese invention, and the product sells over there under the same name, except they pronounce it “wa-shoe-reh-to” (we had one of these in Japan, and found at least one good use for it (click here to read a post from our Japan blog to learn more).

A friend of mine who lives in Japan swears by his Washlet , and while I have used them before, I am a confirmed wiper, and I believe that the rest of America is too. In other words, I think Toto, the Japanese company trying to market the Washlet in the United States is crazy to think that Americans are going to Stand up (or, sit down, a the case may be) and get in line for one of these.

“We deserve a little pampering. It's like down comforters.”

Not only does the product ask Americans to change one of the most fundamental habits in human culture, but it also expects you to pay top dollar to do it. Think about it. Toto is not only asking you to stop wiping, but its asking you to switch to a power-washing and a blow-drying instead, and Toto thinks that you will be willing to spend from $700 to $2000 on the over-achieving heated toilet seat? Not this patriot.

I've got to give Toto credit for trying. The “cheeky” billboard is eye-catching enough, if mildly offensive to some. But the website is almost farcical. Navigate to and be prepared for a slot machine style cascade of buttocks, smiling at you. When you click on an image, the buttocks then scroll away, only to be replaced by a series of cascading head shots.

“Whats ordinarily a pretty ordinary task is turned into an opportunity to refresh yourself, to restore yourself, to pamper yourself, every day of your life.”

Each models' skin tone coordinates nicely with the bare bum they replaced, and the heads, which are displayed in an unnerving combination of still photo and short video, line up across the screen and occasionally twitch, blink, or glance sideways like the smiling heads in the opening credits of the Brady Bunch. Click on a model's head and you get a brief video describing one of the many “benefits” of the Washlet.

“Warm air, warm seat, warm water, pretty darn good way to start your day.” customer testimonial

Each video involves the model casually walking across an empty sound stage and coming to a halt beside the Washlet. The actors describe the Washlet, and many sit on it, reclining casually as if they were talking at a party. One spot includes several customer testimonials, another has a computer generated diagram of how the Washlet's retractable arm does its magic.

“I never thought my toilet could be an oasis of comfort and happiness. Who knew?” customer testimonial

The main drive of the campaign falls under the dogma, “clean is happy,” suggesting that a variable temperature, variable pressure, variable patterned stream of water, followed by a fumigating blow dry, will make my bathroom experience more enjoyable, and by extension, make me more happy. Granted I appreciate when the caretakers of a public restroom splurge on quilted two-ply toilet paper, but beyond simply having a clean flushable toilet and some TP handy, I don't think changes to that particular part of my life register on the “What will make me happier” scale.

The other part to this whole thing, is that some jobs should just not be outsourced. Let's just put it this way, I would never buy some automatic face shaver that attached to the wall and shaved my face while I stood there because I would be a bit paranoid about missing a spot. Enough said.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Happy (baby) Valley?

So, you've purchased a cart load of items from Costco, pushed them clear to the opposite end of the SUV jungle, unloaded all of it including milk and cheese. It's blazing hot outside, you've returned the cart and your kids are finally all buckled in. Your 3 yr old urgently says "Mommy! I need to go potty!". What do you do? Of course you unbuckle, grab the baby and B-line it for the potty, back across the parking lot and through the entrance, clear to the 'conveniently located' Costco potty. Your 3 yr old makes it, just in time, but you realize right then he's not the only one who needs to go! So you look around for one of these nifty Koala Baby seats and think, "these are at the library, and probably ToysRUs, and this is Happy (baby) Valley, why not here!?" There are no willing Baby-holder Grandma types in sight, in fact there's not another soul in the restroom. You wish you were Male and had one of those Handy-camping-gadgets (Grandma's name for them) at least or a stroller or cart or something! What do you do?
You plop that 7 month old on the floor of the Handicap stall (It's bigger, less dirty, right?) and go faster than you've ever gone before, scoop the baby up, wash your hands AND the baby's hand (ICK!) and dash back out the door, back to the car, buckle all little ones and turn on the A/C, hoping the milk and cheese didn't suffer much, that's what you do.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

That Dog is Chillin'

Forget Hot Dogs....

1 ratty, well loved "Doggy"

Chill at 0 degrees in freezer at least as long as it takes to brush teeth, read two stories and listen to a "mouth" story. Carefully remove from freezer, keeping "doggy" as cold at possible and place in arms of waiting child.

Serves 1 tired, too hot 3 yr old

PS. It was Callan's original idea! One night last summer in Japan he came running out of his room with doggy in hand, threw open the freezer door and tossed him in.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Musical beds

Saturday night, after a full day in Salt Lake City, and an evening of perusing the chic and cheap at Ikea, we arrived home to put our children and ourselves to bed. Callan went to sleep on his bed, Nolan in his crib, Melissa in our bed, and I fell asleep reading on the couch. Around 2am Nolan woke up, which woke Melissa up, who woke me up. We all ended up in our bed. Shortly thereafter Callan woke up and climbed into bed with us too. However that didn't last very long, as all four of us cannot fit in one queen sized bed very well. I put Callan back in his bed, but he didn't want to sleep alone so I laid down next to him and we both fell asleep. I woke up a little later and went back into our room, got Nolan, put him in his crib, and went to sleep back in my bed next to Melissa. Then, Nolan woke up again and I retrieved him and put him in our bed with us, and finally, we all went to sleep. Nolan's crib was the only bed that wasn't overused, and we all slept in until 7:55am (If you think thats early, you obviously don't have small children).

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

bobble heads and weeble wabbles

Callan is, for lack of better metaphor, a weeble--At least when it comes to bedtime. I've written about his night time routine before, but tonight his ability to bounce right up after we put him down in bed showed real determination. Even after doing the entire routine of picking up toys, taking a bath, getting snack, playing a quiet game, reading scriptures, singing a song, saying prayer, brushing teeth, reading two stories, and telling a mouth story, Callan still spent an hour and a half getting out of his bed. He used every excuse in the book. He was hot , cold, hungry, bored, scared, and at one point wanting to sleep on the floor. I was pulling weeds in the backyard for most of this, but when Melissa came out into the backyard to inform me that Callan, who I'd put to bed nearly an hour earlier, was still up , and it was my turn.

In Bedtime for Francis, the mom and dad badger have the same problem with there little one, but I'm not sure I like their method of handling it. After Francis has gotten up for a drink, and been scared of the wind, and scared of a monster that turned out to be a pile of clothes, and a half dozen other reasons, father finally threatens Francis with a spanking if he (or she? come to think of it, I'm not sure I've ever figured out if little Francis is a boy or girl?) doesn't go to bed. The book ends with Francis hearing a noise that reminds her of spankings, or something like that, and she opts for bed rather than getting a swat.

I'm not sure my method was much better. I'm trying to teach Callan appropriate (what does that word mean anyway, and who decides what fits the definition? Me? Yikes), and as far as I am concerned kicking and screaming because he doesn't want to go to bed even after we've done the full bedtime routine is not appropriate. Tonight I decided he would go into time out (sit on his stool in the bathroom with the door closed) if he lost control, and he was welcome to come out as soon as he was ready to act civilized. I reiterated several times to him that I was not mad and that I loved him and that I wanted him to express his feelings to me in constructive ways. After several trips to the bathroom for a calm down time out, He finally decided to lay down (on the floor with no blankets because he said his bed was 'too hot') and relax. I laid down next to him and talked to him about how he was feeling and then he fell asleep a few minutes after I left the room.

Nolan is more like a bobble head than a weeble. Since his mobility has increased, his willingness to lie still and fall asleep has all but disappeared. We used to set him in his crib and he would lie there with a stuffed animal and fall asleep on his own. But now that he can sit up and crawl around a bit he rolls over as soon we set him in the crib and even if he's half asleep he'll crawl over to the edge of the crib and either pull himself up, or find the crib bumper tag to play with or suck on his blanket. Three times tonight I came into his room to find him sitting up, half asleep, head bobbing up and down, trying to play with something. Three times I put my hands over his eyes and helped him lie down, and three times he got back up a few minutes later. I finally had to bring him into our bed and lay down next to him until he fell completely asleep. Then I carried him back in my room. He fights sleep as hard as I do, insistent on finding something to do with himself besides get horizontal.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Life as we know it...gone for good

Nolan began crawling yesterday. We're calling it his father's day present to me. He's been scooting, nudging, inching, tipping, and teetering for weeks, but yesterday, sitting up on all fours, he finally figured out how to move his knees forward in concert with his little hands and now he can't sit still. His world has just gotten infinitely larger and our house has become infinitely more dangerous. Now every crumb, marble, paper clip, rock, cheerio, and toothpaste cap in the house is a potential choking hazard and every coffee table, chair, house plant, and file box is a potential accident.

When a new baby begins to crawl for the first time, the event is accompanied on the one hand by a cheering section of onlookers excited for the huge accomplishment, and on the other hand by a byword group of naysayers who see nothing but trouble in the babies new found skill. Ironically the two groups are usually one in the same. In the same breath I find myself calling out encouragingly to my son as he begins to crawl and then saying through the side of my mouth that we are in for it.

"Why are we encouraging this?" is the common refrain, as if crawling were the end of something wonderful, or worse, the beginning of something awful. I've said it several times, always in jest, of course, because thats what you say when a baby begins to crawl. Like any number of preprogrammed social interactions, when a baby learns to crawl it is our duty to verbalize the pre-established commentary. I ask other students "What are you studying?" and young married couples "How long have you been married?" I ask children what grade they're in? Bus drivers how long they've been driving, teachers how long they've been teaching. When a teenager gets a drivers' license, they're sure to hear someone make a crack about staying off the sidewalks. Its not the repetition that makes cliche so unbearable, but rather the lack of creativity associated with the canned conversations we engage in everyday with otherwise interesting people who are either too tired, too busy, or too complacent to come up with something original. I want to get beyond the hellos and how are yous, the weather conversations, and the small talk over fences . I want to get over awkward glances, and dead fish words that fall limp on cold ears.

Sure crawling means that we'll have to keep a better eye on him, that he'll be more apt to get himself into dangerous situations, more likely to disappear if we turn our back for a second, but doesn't it also mean that the freedom of movement will mean less frustration, a greater variety of play. And what if he didn't start crawling until he was a year? I would be nuts with anxiety. Everyone around us would wonder aloud in private if something wasn't the matter with him. The parents of early crawlers would feel good about their child's apparent developmental advantage, and I would feel ever increasing pressure to help my child adhere to the established normality. Maybe we don't all think this way, but certainly it hints at what we are capable of, or perhaps not capable of. Maybe my own assumptions are cliche in their own right, maybe when all is said and done, cliche is all we have to live with, and what really takes the cake is our ability to, rain or shine, call upon the long list of faithful phrases that, like two peas in a pod, seem to match up so easily with the run-of-the-mill situations we run into in our daily lives. Perhaps cliche saves us the hassle of being creative--a bird in the hand, is after all, worth two in the bush, and if we've got to break-a-leg in order to get the juices flowing then it might be worth it to let dead dogs lie. After all, when it comes to creativity, most people would rather have their cake and eat it too, than go the extra mile. Instead of crying over spilled milk about our incesant need to rely prescribed communication, I think I'll just stop and smell the roses while I watch to make sure my seven month old doesn't climb into them.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Camping Anyone?

Being the week after memorial day, we figured we could hit the canyon in the late afternoon last Friday and have little trouble finding a campsite. Unfortunately we weren't the only ones who thought that. After making the inevitable last minute trip to the store to buy essentials (in this case hot dog skewers, hot cocoa, a lantern, paper towels, and hand sanitizer), we headed north on I-15 towards American Fork Canyon. After getting off an exit early and weaving our way through downtown American Fork we made it to the tollbooth at the mouth of American Fork Canyon. However we didn't have the requisite 3$ in cash to get access to the canyon so we pulled a U-turn and pulled some money out at a gas station ATM down the road.

The campsite we were aiming for was full, and so was every other improved campground on the north side of the canyon and we drove around for almost an hour, getting more tired, hungry, and frustrated with every passing minute. We had our entire car packed to the gills, including our dog who had just begun molting in the summer heat, which meant her hair was tufting off into the air every time she adjusted her position. More than once she tried to climb over Nolan's car seat to get out of the car when we stopped to ask directions, or get money out. Callan did so well almost to the end and we were about to give up when a friendly camp host told us about a large open area called Salamander Flats just a mile up the road that had one toilet and room for lots of people. We pulled in at 7:45pm , and had our tent up and a fire going by 8:30pm.

We have this ridiculously huge two room tent that can sleep a family of 8, but it sets up easy and its tall enough to stand up in, so we bring it anyway. Nolan looks like the incredible shrinking human when he's alone in it, and even when we're all inside the tent, the airiness betrays the fact that we are in a tent and not a gigantic Walmart bag. We couldn't be happier though, except for maybe some thicker sleeping pads and warmer clothing. We were planning on warm Utah Valley weather, and didn't think much about cool Utah mountain evenings. I managed to stay fairly warm, but Melissa was short a few layers . As for Callan and Nolan--Callan seemed okay in his sweats and sweatshirt, and Nolan wore a sweat suit over pajamas over a t-shirt, (and incidentally, an extra pair of Callan's underwear on his head to keep his noggin from getting too cold) Shelby spent the majority of the trip tied to a tree, besides a short-lived off-leash experience that ended in her racing off down the road after what I'm sure must have been some amazing smell and me calling frantically at her to come back, visions going through my mind of her jumping into the dinner of some unsuspecting camper. She slept outside the tent and only barked every hour or so, which meant between the hard ground, the cold, and the dog barking, we got a typical amount of sleep for a weekend excursion into the mountains. Oh yeah, and there were what sounded like dozens of teenagers across the clearing who kept at their loud talking for an impressively long time into the early morning hours.

This all must sound like I'm complaining, but really that 's not my intention. My desire is to 1) outline the extraordinarily poor planning we brought to this trip, and 2) talk a little bit about the woods. Because everything we so last minute , we forgot many things, and didn't plan quite well enough for the things we did remember, but the woods were still the woods. The stars were still aglow overhead, and the moon--the blue moon--was so bright that I would have thought someone was shining their headlights into our tent had the light not had a blue lunar tint to it. I can't help but think about pioneers when I sit around a campfire and roast marshmallows, or when I cook eggs and sausage over our green Coleman stove. I find a minor amount of shame in the idea of going into the woods for recreation when I think about the centuries that society spent trying to get out . There really isn't a huge difference between weekend campers like me and guys who dress up in civil war regalia to reenact famous battles between the blue and gray. The nostalgia, myth, and make believe involved in both activities provide meaning to a person's life, they provide connection to a different world--maybe empathy, but mostly escape. It seems silly to transplant my family into the woods--even for one night--to sleep on the ground, cook on a propane stove, gather firewood to roast marshmallows, and share a well worn field with perfect strangers out for the same escape.

The family we camped next to--The Christiansens from Alpine, Utah--have been coming to Salamander Flats for years. At one point in their lives they were coming up every Sunday night and camping with there six children. They would ride their mountain bikes all day Monday and start the week on Tuesday. The Christiansens I think have found something in those woods that goes way beyond nostalgia or escapism. The field we camped in was pretty, if unexciting, and it was cut and slashed through by mountain bike trails, and it was free to camp, but other than that the site lived little to be desired . What they have been coming out there for then, must be more about them and their family than about the woods itself. It must have something to do with setting your six- month-old down on a blanket in unplanned grass, cooking your breakfast in mountain air, lying next to the earth in tent full of the people you care--and worry--about most.