Leaving the blah behind

»  mark    8 Feb 2010 @ 21:59    

Mid-winter is always a tough time for our family. Besides the weekly bout of whatever sickness is hanging around at Church, the weather is often drab, Olya and the kids have a hard time getting outside, and the air in Utah is downright unhealthy.

This year was no different, but we took a page from a few years back when we visited some of Olya’s friends in St. George and decided that we would head somewhere nice to escape the blah.

Now that our good friends the Mirandas are back in Southern California, we knew we had a good reason to go. So early in January, Olya hunted around for airline tickets and found that San Diego was really quite affordable. And the rental car rates from there were surprisingly low as well, so we went for it.

The five days we had to kick back, visit with friends, and just enjoy the beautiful weather and scenery were just what we needed. We really couldn’t get enough of the 65 degree weather, steady breezes, and lovely sea air.

We decided to take Anya along since she still isn’t a great sleeper at night and figured the other two kids would have a better time with Grandma if they had a little more undivided attention. Anya was perfectly happy to have the extra time with Mama and Papa, but she reminded us why air travel with a < 2 year old is always a gamble. This is the first flight I've been on where I've had a beverage dumped on me in both directions! To top it off, the man sitting in front of Olya spilled his beverage which then dripped through the seat on her bag. :) Notwithstanding the volatility of the refreshments, we couldn't have asked for a more enjoyable time. The weather held steady as a rock with sunshine and clear skies. Timing was perfect. Had we come only a week before, we would have witnessed one of the biggest storms to hit that area in years. The local newspapers had photos of flooding in some areas, complete with cars stranded, trees knocked over, and other damage. At the tail end of the trip, we stopped by to visit Tatyana, one of Olya's friends from Moldova. It was fun to see how things were going for them and she gave us a crash course on Balboa Park, a very large refuge downtown San Diego that we could have wandered for days. We had to settle for exploring the botanical gardens because we had a plane to catch. Maya and Elijah were none the worse for their mini-vacation at Grandma's. They took advantage of the 3 foot deep snow to get in a lot of sledding, snowman building, and other exploring. We knew they'd be fine when we told them that we'd be leaving them with Grandma for a few days and Elijah responded with glee, "We get to go to Grandma's for 6 days without you?" Olya enjoyed her first trip to California. We both enjoyed the scenery and the weather, but the cost of living will probably keep us from resettling there any time soon. But don't count us out for another visit next year when blah season comes around.

Train ride

»  mark    26 Sep 2009 @ 22:20    

This weekend we decided to do something I’ve been thinking about for quite some time. We bought a family ticket on the commuter rail FrontRunner that connects Ogden and Salt Lake and took the kids on a train ride.

I was pleasantly surprised at the speed and comfort of the train, since I take TRAX now almost daily, the rapid rail (tramway) that goes south toward my new office location. The commuter rail, by comparison is quiet, smooth, and gives you the feeling it is hardly moving, a deception that is proven by the fact that at its top speeds you can look out the windows and watch the cars you are passing on I-15 (and I know they don’t follow the speed limit).

We took the train to the end of the line, Ogden’s historic Union Station, and spent an hour looking around the railroad station, old car museum, and railroad museum. The kids enjoyed watching the model trains move around the museum and taking pictures on decommissioned rail cars and locomotives. Enjoy the pictures!

Zion’s Camp 2009

»  mark    18 Aug 2009 @ 00:51    

For the 5th year in a row, I had the privilege of joining the brethren of the Wilson Ward on an overnight camp last weekend. This year, Elijah and I traveled with the small group to Little Deer Creek Campground, about 40 minutes southwest of Heber. We had a great time and I desperately wish I had taken a few pictures.

It was almost not to be, though. We took a wrong turn at Cascade Springs, just 10 minutes from our final destination and went down what must have been a jeep trail, because it was rocky, uneven, and remarkably close to the edge of the flowing streams nearby. I remember our fearless leader had told us to expect a few large rocks in the road, but this was something else. Elijah, who had slept the hour before that, woke up from all the jolting, looked out the window and said simply, “This is the wong woad.”

Well, Bob Brown and I who were navigating the vehicle were beginning to come to the same conclusion. Of course, we didn’t take Elijah’s word for it. We waited until we had driven 5-10 more minutes and were about to give up on the camp. Then Bob offered a prayer, we took one more look at the map, and decided we needed to go in exactly the opposite direction.

From that point, everything fell into place and we arrived in camp shortly afterward. I was hoping to see some meteors that night as this is usually a pretty favorable time of year, but the stars mingled with clouds, and our barbecue dinner was greeted with a few sprinkles. But that didn’t damper our spirits too much. I found a piece of aluminum foil and pressed it onto Elijah’s head to make him a waterproof helmet that he quite enjoyed as he didn’t have a hood on his coat.

We got the tent up and slept very comfortably thanks to Reed Watson’s many kind gestures, including his own queen-size air mattress, which he pumped up for us to boot. I thought we slept quite well, as camping goes. So I couldn’t help smiling the next morning when I asked Elijah if he slept well and he replied with a totally straight face, “No, I slept vewy badwy.”

Unfortunately, we didn’t pack up the tent fast enough and were pounded by marble sized hail for a few minutes after breakfast. Thank goodness for the refuge of our fine car. In all, the camp was a success, Elijah was at his best, and I can’t wait to go camping again real soon to retrieve my glasses that I folded up hastily inside the tent!

Eid Mubarak

»  mark    8 Oct 2008 @ 23:20    

The end of Ramadan came and went with the annual festival Eid al-Fitr or literally, celebration of the breaking of the fast. Happy Breakfast!

The Eid festival is a national holiday in nations with large Muslim populations and sometimes it is celebrated for three days. It is a joyful time, as people visit neighbors and relatives, gather for big feasts, and give thanks to God for sustenance through the previous 30 days.

I was really looking forward to this day, not as the end of “suffering”, but as a celebration of accomplishment. Since I do not live in a predominantly Muslim country, I had to settle for a festival at the main branch of our Public Library.

Maya and I braved the crowds (probably at least 150-200 people) to participate in some of the children’s crafts and games. Maya made a bead bracelet and had her hand painted with henna.

In addition to the crafts, there were people writing sayings in Arabic calligraphy. Maya asked for her name to be written; I requested “Eid Mubarak”. What a fun event! You could really feel the excitement and celebration in the crowd.

This past month will stay with me for many years to come. With great support from my family, friends, coworkers, and my God, I achieved many of my original goals. I finished the Book of Mormon audio, donated to organizations battling global hunger, and learned a lot about a religion that I was painfully unaware.

Ramadan is a humbling event, pushing yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually to overcome weakness while forgiving others’. On the other hand, there is something so empowering to join millions of people united in a good cause. The unity and brotherhood of Islam are admirable, something Christians of every sect and denomination would do well to emulate.

Would I consider observing Ramadan again? Absolutely. Next year? Ask me again in 10 1/2 months.

Male bonding part II: Camping

»  mark    21 Sep 2008 @ 15:54    

After an exciting morning at the mine, we decided to end the day properly by camping in the backyard. You couldn’t have detected that Elijah was the least bit disappointed by the location the way he ran around our “campsite.” Somehow, miraculously, we got the tent set up, a feat that merited a round of applause from Elijah. Rightly so. I’m pretty sure the instructions (if we still had them) would agree that this two-man job requires that both individuals be older than two.

Then we cooked (burnt) some meat over a campfire (charcoal barbecue), and sat around the coals soaking up smoke while we ate in the dark and looked at the stars. Terrible camp cooking doesn’t taste so bad when you can’t see how bad it looks. Thank goodness for ketchup.

To make the experience totally authentic, I gave Elijah our only emergency flashlight so he could run the batteries out and then we crawled under the blankets without brushing our teeth. Ahhh… there is something totally therapeutic about living like a grub.

Male bonding part I: Trucks and diggers

»  mark    21 Sep 2008 @ 14:53    

A few months ago, Olya thought it would be a great idea to go visit a friend of hers in Chicago. Her friend has a daughter a little older than Maya, so we thought Maya would enjoy tagging along. Unfortunately, we happened to mention the idea to Maya after purchasing the airline tickets and she has been pacing back and forth for the past month asking if it was time to fly yet.

But Thursday, the day finally arrived. Elijah and I took the girls to the airport and sent them off without a hitch. Since I couldn’t take 5 days off work, I decided to stay with Elijah Thursday and Friday and then take him to Grandma’s house for the remaining few days. But what to do with him here?

Kipper all day? Nah. I decided we’d try to do things he would enjoy that are hard to do with the baby around. Elijah loves diggers and trucks, so we couldn’t go wrong by visiting the largest man-made excavation in the world, right? Friday morning, we jumped in the car and drove out with our retired neighbor, Bob to the Kennicott Copper Mine in Bingham Canyon. Although it is less than 45 minutes away, I had never been there, and Bob hadn’t visited since his kids were Elijah’s age.

This enormous open-pit copper mine lived up to its billing. Diggers galore.

Update on Ramadan

»  mark    14 Sep 2008 @ 22:13    

Some of you may be wondering if I was really serious about my intention to observe Ramadan. So I thought I would give a status report halfway through. That’s right, 15 days down, only 15 or so to go.

The fasting is harder than I first imagined. While it isn’t as hard as a 24 hour fast, it is relentless. Kind of like running a 5k vs. a 600 yard dash. That may not be the right metaphor but you get the picture. My body is adjusting, most of all, to the lack of fluids. I hope my kidneys forgive me.

So let’s examine my goals:

  • Fasting
    I have fasted each day. This hasn’t been easy, but I’m sticking to it the best I can.
  • Charitable donations
    The fast really has given me more compassion toward the hungry. Eating nothing and eating not enough every day are different feelings. I’m not sure which is worse. I have scoped out several organizations I would like to make donations to, and will write more about that later.
  • Prayer
    I have been praying more than usual, though not the quality times I had hoped for. This could use more work.
  • Worship at local mosque
    I did manage to make it to a mosque in San Jose, though I did not enter. The temple, on the other hand, I have been able to attend several times since the start of Ramadan. Anya being my major deterrent. How can someone so tired fight sleeping so much? She didn’t learn that from me!
  • Reading the Qur’an
    I haven’t made any progress on the Qur’an, but I have been listening to the Book of Mormon recited on my MP3 player. I am at Mosiah 15, only 178 pages into the 531 page book. I should be 87 pages ahead at Alma 22. Need to pick up the pace!
  • Refrain from worldly influences
    Ooh, this is a toughy. I admit to reading the newspaper in San Jose. And I have watched some television programs with Anya in the evening. The background noise calms her. That’s the truth! On a positive note, I have refused to watch my favorite programs when not bouncing Anya, and I’ve avoided Google News almost entirely. Some improvement to be made here.

So how would I grade myself so far. Probably a C+. It is not an easy task to leave the world behind when it invades my life on so many fronts.

Do you know the way to San Jose?

»  mark    12 Sep 2008 @ 23:37    

That tune (Carpenters version) has been stuck in my head for the past few days as I visited San Jose for the first time. I was fortunate to be able to attend the 32nd International Unicode Conference. Unicode is a standard for representing language sets from many of the world’s active languages as well as some historic ones no longer in day-to-day use. The standards are, in my opinion, what hold the world wide web together internationally.

Some of the other discussions at the conference:

  • internationalization (making programs usable for multiple cultures)
  • localization (making programs work well for specific cultures)
  • bi-di language display (right-to-left scripts sometimes mixed with left-to-right words)
  • mojibake (garbage characters that sometimes show up when text is not encoded properly)
  • regional time, date, number, and other locale-specific formatting

Fun, fun! I’ll bet you are all so jealous. :) But beyond the conference, I was really impressed with San Jose, itself. It is the 10th largest city in the United States, but I never felt like I was in a really huge city. Maybe living in Seoul has changed me. I found it to be quite accessible; easy to get around.

When I travel to new places, I love to just walk around and try to get off the “beaten path”, to see what life is like for ordinary people. One thing that immediately caught my attention was the strength of the Vietnamese community. On public transit, all signs are in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese. I quickly discovered why, as not 3 blocks from my hotel there were 2 Vietnamese grocery stores, a Vietnamese restaurant, a Vietnamese sandwich shop, and various other stores and retailers with decidedly Vietnamese names. I had no idea.

The day I left, I ventured into the Vietnamese grocery store half a block from my hotel to look around. What a smell! This little shop crammed with goods everywhere you looked brought back such memories of street markets in Korea. It’s tough to describe smells, but maybe you can imagine the combination smell of fresh seafood, a butcher shop, fermenting vegetables, and wet city cement. If not, then you’ll just have to visit to see what I mean.

And of course I had to find the nearest Trader Joe’s since it has been talked up by so many people we know from California. That was interesting. Kind of like Wild Oats er… Whole Foods in the sense that they carry a lot of whole-grain, organic, and other nutritious stuff. I was not disappointed and obtained a hefty bag of jams, grains, tortillas, cookies, and other goodies. I don’t recommend trying to take such items through airport security in carry-on luggage, though. Don’t ask. :)

One thing I never got used to in San Jose (at least downtown) was the close proximity of the airport. Because the city kind of expanded around the airport, I had the distinct impression while downtown that an airplane was going to land on one of the buildings or the streets. It was a little unnerving at times. Here’s a picture of an airplane just clearing Adobe headquarters.

While at the conference, I quickly made friends with a Muslim man, Seyed, from Brunei who was also observing Ramadan. We talked a lot about his family and how they observe this ritual in his home country. The second night I was there, Seyed and I set out in search of the local mosque, the San Jose Islamic Center about a mile away from where we were staying. Seyed wanted to end the day properly with prayers at dusk and I was curious if the mosques in California look like those I had seen in Central Asia.

From the outside, the Center looks like a small church. The photo in the album below is not this center but an old cathedral in the same neighborhood. I chose to wait outside to show respect for this sacred spot and quietly attended to my own prayers. It was a beautiful evening with a cool breeze and the sound of the 40-50 foot palms swaying in front of the Islamic Center. Very peaceful.

If anything, this trip helped me rediscover how much I enjoy diversity in culture, religion, and customs. I’m continually impressed by the wide variety of ways people search for happiness, meaning, and betterment.

Here are some more photos of downtown San Jose. Sorry for the awful picture quality. The little camera lens attached to my work phone just doesn’t compare to Olya’s Nikon. :)

My first Ramadan

»  mark    31 Aug 2008 @ 08:58    

For many years, I have wanted to participate in the annual Muslim observance of Ramadan. This might have been a whole lot easier 8 years ago when I lived in predominantly Muslim Central Asia, but I wasn’t prepared then. Some might think of this as a marathon run or maybe a slow ascent of a high peak, an event you can’t just decide to do the following day. I think the comparisons are apt. This year I’ve been watching the calendar studying up on general practices and the purpose of the ritual and I feel ready to give it a go.

Many are familiar with the 30-day fast associated with Ramadan. I’ve had to reassure people that the fast is not an abstinence from food and water for 24 hours, but just while the sun is up. Muslims will typically eat a half hour before the sun rises (sahur) and again shortly after sunset (iftar). As the timing of Ramadan depends on the lunar calendar, it could fall during the long summer months or the shorter winter months. This year, Sept. 1 – Oct. 1 means each day’s fast will be between 13 and 12 hours.

Why would anyone want to do this voluntarily?
Any religious observance is done for a variety of reasons. For Muslims who take it seriously, Ramadan is a time to evaluate their life, try to overcome bad habits, and get closer to God. Traditionally, this month is considered to be holy and a time of great revelation and purifying. The gates of Hell are said to be closed and the gates to Heaven open. So one has greater help from above while temptations of evil spirits are not present. The Qur’an, the sacred writings of Islam was also revealed during this season.

Okay, but you aren’t Muslim
True enough, so my observance will be a little different. Here are the guidelines I will follow:

  • Fasting
    The same. I intend to keep the fast each day.
  • Charitable donations
    One of the purposes of the fast is to help believers understand what it is like for the poor who are often hungry. Muslims are encouraged to be generous with charitable donations at this time. I plan to donate to humanitarian causes during this time.
  • Prayer
    An increase of prayer is expected during this month. While I won’t be praying in typical Muslim fashion, I will strive to pray more frequently.
  • Worship at local mosque
    I don’t think I will attend the local mosque to recite the Qur’an and pray, but I will make an effort to worship at the temple, the holiest place for members of my faith.
  • Reading the Qur’an
    I might read some of the Qur’an. I’ve read the first two “chapters” in preparation and find the common ancestry Muslims share with Jews and Christians (through Abraham) very interesting. I was also somewhat surprised to see so many references to Isaac (Isaaq), Jacob (Yaqoub), Moses (Musa) and other Israelite prophets. While many Muslims will try to read or hear recited the entire Qur’an during the 30 days of Ramadan, I will attempt to completely hear the scripture unique to my faith, the Book of Mormon, which came to light at the time of a different celebration of revelation, September 1827.
  • Refrain from worldly influences
    Many advocate limiting television, movies, and music to give time to more prayer and worship. I agree with this in principle. I don’t know if I will be 100% free, but I will greatly reduce media consumption during this time.

I would hope Muslims would not take issue with my choices. While my methods may be different, my intent is the same: course corrections in life and greater spirituality and closeness to God.

Does your wife know about this?
Of course. She has committed to support my decision, though she will not be participating. It shouldn’t impose too much strain on our family. I often eat breakfast by myself before I go to work in the morning and our family tends to eat late, often after dark (kind of a European thing). The fun begins tomorrow. Ramadan Mubarak!

Additional Reading:

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Elijah’s early Halloween party

»  mark    8 Jul 2008 @ 20:27    

Last week, when Elijah began showing more than a passing interest in our spice rack, I tried to think positively. Perhaps this was to be the beginning of a lifelong passion for cooking. So we let him sniff and sample, pour and mix (a little), and blend together his spices in the kitchen.

What started out as a little culinary experiment exploded today, as Elijah decided he would like to cook on a much grander scale. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he had stayed with his little spice jars. Alas, why play with spices when you can swim in Mama’s cotton dye powders? 16 jars to be precise, tossed on the floor with Elijah playing the entree in the middle.

We cleaned him off the best we could, but his skin does have a bit of a tinge to it. And the dark outlines of his fingernails make him look like a regular corpse. Eerie. Despite our initial shock and immediate disapproval, we had to capture a few photos. Someday, this will be really fun to look back on.

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