Friday, January 30, 2009

Timzilla v. Bambi

So, the final tally is: Tim 1; Bambi 0. Actually, there were no winners in this particular contest, which was, of course, no contest at all.

It's been 30 years since I was involved in a collision with a deer, but last night on the way to a meeting in downtown Salt Lake it happened ... bam! ... just like that, without so much as a split second warning or chance to slow down.

I feel bad for my little corolla, certainly, which wasn't designed to flatten deer, but I feel worse for bambi, whose life slipped away on the cold asphalt in near freezing weather, guilty of doing nothing more than typical "deer stuff." Sadly, anyone who lives in Utah occupies a chunk of traditional winter range for mule deer, which have nowhere to go when the heavy snow falls but down in the valley with the dogs and the cars.

(To avoid paying our insurance deductible, I tried to use photoshop to fix the car, but--alas!--it didn't work. So I just hit "max" everything and came up with this. At least it's colorful.)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Real Hero

The funny thing about heroes is that they usually aren't. Take any popular hero, scratch the surface, and one typically finds a lot of flaws. Which probably says more about our human tendency to oversimplify and exaggerate than it does about the hero herself. More than anything, a hero strikes me as an ordinary person who does something extraordinary in a moment of crisis, or, on a more basic level, simply does the right thing under extraordinary duress.

Don't get me wrong: I still like heros. Long for them. Idealize them. Celebrate them. Though I suppose my view of what constitutes a hero has changed over time. These days I'm less impressed by the brave soldier who goes down in a hail of bullets than the cancer patient who faces his diagnosis and treatment with grit, determination, and a sense of humor.

But here's a hero I think we might all agree on: Eric Liddell (photo above), the "Flying Scotsman," who took the gold medal in the 400 meters at the 1924 Paris Olympics after choosing not to run in his best race--the 100 meters--because the qualifying heat was scheduled on a Sunday.

While the movie "Chariots of Fire" popularized that part of his story, I was even more impressed by the untold story of Eric Liddell--the story of what happened after the Olympic games.

In short, he returned as a missionary to China, showed grace, courage, and compassion to a lot of people during the Japanese occupation, and died in an internment camp in 1945 at the relatively young age of 43, after giving up his opportunity for an early release to an expectant mother. One of his fellow prisoners described him as "as the finest Christian gentleman it has been my pleasure to meet. In all the time in the camp, I never heard him say a bad word about anybody."

That's my kind of hero. I'm sure he wasn't perfect, but he seems like an awfully good guy. Three cheers for Eric Liddell.

(Photo and other general information available on Wikipedia (as well as many other websites) at the following address:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A New Appreciation for Bar Chocolate

So, I made chocolate truffles today, and it taught me a greater appreciation for ordinary bar chocolate. After some five hours and an enormous amount of work, I managed to convert two perfectly good blocks of Callebaut chocolate into a lot of smaller, rounder pieces of Callebaut chocolate.

Actually, it wasn’t quite that bad--and the truffles, for their part, were quite good (what's not to like about melted chocolate and fresh cream?)--but I’ll never look at a truffle the same way again.

(Photo from Portakal Agaci; available at

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Button Jar

I’ve thought a lot recently about time, and how fleeting life is. My mother’s been dead for seven years now, all my grandparents are gone, receding quickly into a few words and memories, and my oldest son, who just turned twelve, is nearly as tall as his mother. Of course, I remember him well as a little pink baby with a wrinkly face and bright eyes, wrapped in a hospital blanket and tucked into a warming bin that, today, would barely hold his sneakers.

Days blur into weeks that blur into years and, suddenly, I’m 37 and approaching my 20year high school reunion. I’m not “newly married” or “newly graduated,” I’m new nuthin.’

That’s not to say I’m depressed about it; to the contrary, life’s been good to me—a constant adventure, a series of blessings—and I enjoy where I am and the perspective that comes with a little more age and experience.

But that feeling of perpetual motion—the inexorable grinding of the gears--is bittersweet, as reflected beautifully in this poem by Carolyn Hall, one of my favorite haiku poets:

so suddenly winter
baby teeth at the bottom
of the button jar

If, as observed in an earlier post, children stand as proof that the most difficult things in life are the most worthwhile, they offer a similarly potent reminder that life is brief, and “time’s fatal wings do ever forward fly.”

(Photograph courtesy of tenthousandstars on Flickr; available at:; quotation from English composer and poet Thomas Campion (1567-1620).)

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Not-So-Bleak Midwinter

Deep in the mountains
too deep to know of Spring
sparkling beads of melted snow
fall slowly, drop by drop
on my pine bough door
- Shikishi Naishinnō

A brief mid-winter thaw today reminded me of a favorite Japanese poem, dating from the thirteenth century. It speaks to me of the first hints of spring, even as the land remains cloaked in winter.

While we typically think of spring as an April event here in Utah, in truth, spring is well on its way, even in mid-January. The winter solstice occurred on December 21, 2008, nearly three weeks ago. As a practical matter, that means the sun warms this spot on the earth for 30-40 minutes longer today than it did then, and will continue to add a few minutes of light and warmth each day from now until the summer solstice in June.

Northern Pintail ducks, some of which overwinter in Central America, are already winging north to their breeding grounds.

Crocuses and Snowdrops, which often bloom in late February in Utah, send up their first green shoots even earlier, right through the snow if necessary.

And midges, a tiny insect beloved by both trout and fly fishermen, hatch clear through the winter, though they seem to like it best on snowy days when the temperature hovers right around freezing.

So, while it seems like we still have weeks and weeks left of bleak, grey winter, Mother Nature is on-the-move and ever changing. Like time itself, she waits for no one.

(Photo courtesy of kittykatfish on Flickr; available at: Poem from Oriori no Uta: Poems for All Seasons by Ōoka Makoto, translated by Janine Beichman.)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Modern Nursery Rhymes

A few year's ago, I had fun experimenting with nursery rhymes in my free time. After all, I wondered, why have we cannonized only few from England in the 17th and 18th Centuries? The English language is no less fun and interesting now than it was then, and we have even more great subjects to write about. So, for better or worse, here are a few of those experiments. Please read them out loud to your children before bed for the sound morals they convey:

Zoe was busy
Zoe was smart
each day was filled
with soccer and art
Latin jujitsu
then what does she do?
Yoga and calculus
all at age two

let’s have a little fun
when Mommy’s away
such games we will play
with 9-1-1!

Oh, what a shame!
the video game
we played it from dusk until dawn
our eyes turned red
we longed for bed
but we still played on and on

spit shined shoe:
one for a dollar
two for two
conquer the world
in a spit shined shoe

Never mind the bedbugs
why, they wouldn’t hurt a flea
and–what’s more–they’re something that
you’ll never have to see
those bedbugs, they’re so friendly
so courteous and kind
they only creep out late at night
to bite your soft behind
they creep from corners dark and deep
on tiny tiny tiny feet
and suck your blood til morning bright
or somebody turns on the light
So go ahead! Your mom won’t mind
turn on the lights, pull up the blinds
They cannot get you, creepy creep
if you never fall asleep

The dentist waits
with bitey bits
for you to come
and sit sit sits
Don’t worry, son,
it’s just a prick
it only hurts a tiny bit
a pinch, a sting,
then nothing more
and you’ll get ice cream
at the store ...
Oh, the lies
these parents tell
in point of fact:
it hurts like Hell

(Photo courtesy of try-whistling-this on Flickr; available at; original by Harry Whittier Frees in “The Little Kitten’s Nursery Rhymes,” Rand McNally 1941.)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Seven Kids

So, we've been watching my sister-in-law's four kids for the past several days, leaving us with seven kids age twelve and younger. Yesterday I had six of them by myself for about three hours, and let me tell you, I gained a new appreciation for my parents, who raised eight, and other big families.

The whole thing was kind of a blur of runny noses, struggling with car seats, chasing toddlers around, cleaning up messes, and general chaos—-like bussing tables or making pizzas during the evening slam, only more hectic and with a significantly higher “ick” factor. Yesterday at its worst I thought, "Well, at least my parents' kids were more spread out." But they weren't. After doing the math, I realized that my parents matched or bettered that, particularly in terms of the all-important “number of kids in diapers” calculus. Good on ya, Mom and Dad! Let’s just say I gained a new appreciation for any overwrought parent tempted to run into the master bedroom, lock the door, turn out the lights, and hide in a corner (assuming one has a master bedroom with a lock that works).

While all that has left little time for reflection, it hasn’t been all bad, and I’ve been reminded of an important life lesson: the most worthwhile things in life require the greatest effort. Kids are, perhaps, the greatest proof of that.

(Photo courtesy of my niece, Grace, age three: a real character.)