Saturday, April 11, 2020
My dad has been gone a year today.
I have replayed in my mind, countless times, the moment I got the phone call from my mom. Her voice had a tremble, and her breathing was uneven. She had come home and found him on the floor. His heart had stopped. With impeccable health and physical and mental strength that defied aging, it was simply his time to go.
I’ve missed my dad. And it’s an ache that is hard to describe. I don’t just miss the 2019 version of my dad. I feel like I miss the entire 48 years I knew him.
My dad was a presence. You knew when he was in a room.
I miss that.
And yet I can tell you at least three specific times in the last year when I knew he was in the room. And not just that he was there, but where he was. I couldn’t see him. But I knew precisely where he was in that room. Each time. It is reassuring, it is comforting, and it’s a gift I wouldn’t dare ask for – because I don’t feel like I could reasonably expect such a thing. It’s this generous tender mercy.
April 2019 feels like a lifetime ago, because so much has changed in that year and my family doesn’t look the same. Lucy was baptized, Abbie went through the temple and got married, Josh joined our family, Garren came home from his mission in Brazil, Connor went through the temple and left on his mission to Washington, Roxanna had a distressing brain injury, Tanner’s voice is continually lower and his tallness is continually higher.
You naturally expect the emotion of certain “firsts” without your dad. His birthday, Father’s Day, Christmas, weddings, etc. With the expectations of those moments, you can somewhat prepare yourself. Not that they aren’t emotional, but you anticipate it and brace yourself.
It’s the moments that catch you off guard that really do a number on you.
When you come across someone – anyone – who knew your dad and they take a moment to tell you why they thought your dad was great. I was recently in the temple here in Provo and a man came up to me and asked, “Are you related to Ken Craig?” (I was named after my dad, so I had no idea if he meant my dad, if he had me confused with myself, or if he meant somebody else entirely.) I just stared at him, so he continued, “From California … he was a CPA.” “Yes, that’s my dad.” “I knew it. You look just like him.” This man had done some computer work for my dad back in the early 1980s. It caught me so off guard, it had an emotional impact on me that was different from missing him on a holiday.
My brother, Dehn, was in town one afternoon, for work. He texted and asked if I wanted to grab lunch before he left. Sitting across from each other at this quiet restaurant, we started talking about our kids. One of mine was heavy on my mind. It was something that I would have shared with my dad (and mom), but not too many other people. I felt vulnerable. But as I looked down at my plate, picking at my food, I started telling Dehn about it. When I looked up at him … I promise you, I was looking at my dad. It was Dehn, with my dad’s eyes. The softness and empathy. The concern, and also the confidence. Then Dehn started talking and he made this distinct movement that my dad always made. I could barely – barely – hold it together until I got out to my car.
Another time, I walked into a small post office to mail a package to my son in Washington, and playing over the sound system was Neil Diamond’s Hot August Night, his live recording from the Greek Theater in 1972. All my growing up years, it was Dad’s go-to album. My earliest memories have this album in the background. And it was this particular part of the album that you really just have to be a superfan to know. (It’s the very beginning, when the string orchestra is playing the prelude, before the drums kick in for Crunch Granola Suite. Do you know the part? If you do then you should know that you and I are instant best friends.) This is not an album that gets radio play, and it is certainly not a part of the album that gets radio play. It had no business being played over a speaker at a post office. I had to excuse myself from the premises.
And most recently, I came across this photo of my mom and dad laughing together. Do you see this? Can you feel it? No matter my age, no matter what else was going on – when I would see my parents laugh like this together, everything was right in the world. They were united and they were in love and they were joyful.
I hope my kids feel that when they see Katie and I laugh together. I hope that is part of the legacy I am leaving for my children and eventual grandchildren. I value this part of my dad’s legacy more than I would have thought.
I do feel like he is just around a corner, waiting for me. This is a temporary separation, and that offers more comfort than I know how to express. It is the thing that makes it all ok. It strikes me as poignant that today, this Saturday, is the one-year anniversary of his passing, and it falls on that “waiting day” between Good Friday and Easter. I am waiting to see my dad again – though I am grateful I don’t have to wait until then to feel him nearby. I love my Savior, Jesus Christ, and the peace that is always, always offered.
“We will all have our Fridays, but I testify in the name of the One who conquered death, Sunday will come.” – Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin.
Friday, January 24, 2020
My friends, as we begin a new year, and you engage in some self-reflection and ask yourself some hard questions about your health, your happiness, and whether you are going to keep Disney+, I wanted to share something with you. Something I found on the Interwebs recently.
It’s an article by Benjamin P. Hardy, found on the website Medium. The article is titled “50 Ways to Live on Your Own Terms.”
You are, no doubt, as intrigued as I was to know how exactly Benji Hardy knew what my terms were. Well, turns out … he don’t. What he does know is other stuff that he apparently thinks should be my terms…
In reality, some of these items he mentions are actually very important to me and do happen to be things that are priorities and practices in my life. But that doesn’t lend B.P.H. any credibility in my book. As they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day. Fling enough vinyl platitudes against the wall, and some of them are bound to stick.
Anyway, here is the list of Ben’s terms, in his order - and my thoughts about them.
1. Stop consuming caffeine. 77% of the people I know just tapped the table in front of them twice, and out loud said, “I’m out.”
2. Pray or meditate morning, mid-day, and night. I’m all about it.
3. Read 1 book per week. Does my Calvin & Hobbes Anthology count?
4. Write in your journal 5 minutes per day. Agreed.
5. Marry the person you love. Way ahead of you.
6. Make a bucket list and actively knock items off. Bucket List Item #1: Don’t let other people define the terms I live by. Bucket List Item #2: Sleep until noon. This is so easy, you guys.
7. Stop consuming refined sugar. HAHAHAHA! Oh, were you SERIOUS?!
8. Fast from all food and caloric beverages 24 hours once per week. Since this is on my terms, we’ll go with once a month.
9. Fast from the internet 24 hours once per week. Pssshh. This is a snap. I’m not trying to brag, but I do it at least 8 hours every night. That’s, like, 56 hours a week.
10. Stop consuming the news or reading the newspaper. And spend more time reading Medium! Right, Ben?
11. Do something every day that terrifies you. Does getting on Facebook count?
12. Do something kind for someone else daily. Does it count if I refrain from doing unkind things to certain people?
13. Go to bed early and rise early. This guy clearly doesn’t have children.
14. Get 7+ hours of sleep each night. See? No children.
15. Replace warm showers with cold ones. My ancestors gave their lives so I could take hot showers; and I’m not about to disrespect them by taking cold showers.
16. Say “No” to people, obligations, requests, and opportunities you’re not interested in from now on. My six-year-old lives by this philosophy. It’s not working out super well for her.
17. Say “Thank you” every time you’re served by someone. If you’re not already doing this … you might be a child.
18. Say “I love you” 3+ times a day to the most important people in your life. I do. But the cashier at Rockwell’s Ice Cream is getting super uncomfortable.
19. Consume 30 grams of protein within the first 30 minutes of waking up. No problem. There’s 30 grams of protein in Twinkies, right?
20. Listen to audiobooks and podcasts on 1.5 or 2x speed, your brain will change faster. Sure will. It’ll get annoyed quicker.
21. Decide where you’ll be in five years and get there in two. I’ll be 53 in five years. Why would I want to get there in two years?
22. Remove all non-essentials from your life (start with your closet). My kids already do this. They haven’t used a closet in years. They prefer the floor.
23. Consume a tablespoon of coconut oil once per day. How much coconut oil in an Almond Joy?
24. Buy a juicer and juice a few times per week. Or just buy juice. My favorite juice is a milkshake.
25. Choose to have faith in something bigger than yourself, skepticism is easy. Preach, Ben.
26. Stop obsessing about the outcome. And start obsessing about the process.
27. Give at least one guilt-free hour to relaxation per day. I’m going to stretch myself and go for eight guilt-free hours of relaxation per day!
28. Genuinely apologize to people you’ve mistreated. 100%.
29. Make friends with five people who inspire you. But Bill Murray won’t return my phone calls!
30. Save 10 percent or more of your income. I was. But movie theater prices keep going up!
31. Tithe or give 10 percent of your income away. Welcome to the party, Ben.
32. Drink 64–100 ounces of water per day. And be sure to move your desk directly into the bathroom.
33. Buy a small place rather than rent. When Ben isn’t writing for Medium, I suspect he’s a realtor.
34. Check your email and social media at least 60–90 minutes after you wake up. Ok, Boomer. [Did I use that correctly? That was my first time using that.]
35. Make a few radical changes to your life each year. I’m kind of too tired. Even using the word “radical” makes me kind of want a nap.
36. Define what wealth and happiness mean to you. I define them as “Things people should give me.”
37. Change the way you feel, think, and act about money. Sounds like somebody has asked Ben for a loan one too many times. He should just call them out. “Change the way you think about money, Peter!”
38. Invest only in industries you are informed about. Informed about? So…invest in Netflix and pizza. Got it
39. Create an automated income source that takes care of the fundamentals. Swell idea. Ben, what’s your credit card number?
40. Have multiple income streams (the more the better). Why do I feel like Ben is trying to get me into his downline?
41. Track at least one habit/behavior you’re trying to improve. Does it count as “tracking” if what happens is you are praying and praying for strength to become a better person, and you realize you’ve been praying for the same thing for several years … and kind of you’re still the same person?
42. Have no more than 3 items on your to-do list each day. Ben, what color is the sky on your planet?
43. Make your bed first thing in the morning. Now you tell me! I got rid of my bed after item #22.
44. Make one audacious request per week (what do you have to lose?) I guess nothing except my friends, since I’ll be developing a reputation of being that guy who walks around making audacious requests of everyone around him.
45. Be spontaneously generous with a stranger at least once per month. I like this.
46. Write and place a short, thoughtful note for someone once per day. Doing it right now. “Dear Ben, I think you have a gift for identifying the obvious and/or ridiculous.”
47. Become good friends with your parents. Check.
48. Floss your teeth. Once a year, whether I need it or not!
49. Eat at least one meal with your family per day. Of course. Wait. What are we having?
50. Spend time reflecting on your blessings at least once per day. Today I’ll reflect on the blessing of living life on my terms.
Wednesday, November 20, 2019
Dear Friends, Family, Loved Ones, Loyal Blog Readers & Other Riffraff:
I am incredibly happy to announce that I’ve written a book! Just for you! Just in time for Christmas!
My debut book – Faith, Fatherhood & Food – is now available on Amazon. You can find it right here.
I am truly grateful for all of you who have offered words of encouragement over the years. From “If you wrote a book, I would probably read it” to “You’re an idiot if you don’t write a book” – all of these flattering words have landed right on my heart and inspired me.
This is a book of personal essays - comprised of many of these very blog posts found here, over the years - plus a handful of new ones written specifically for this publication. I really am excited to share them.
I have self-published on Amazon – which means that people will only know about it if you or I tell them about it. So, if you like it – or think you will like it – here’s what you can do:
1. Tell your friends about it!
2. Buy a copy for all your friends!
3. Leave a glowing review on Amazon!
4. … that about it, I guess.
If you don’t like it, here’s what you can do:
1. Go pound sand.
If you've read my blog and enjoyed these stories or meandering thoughts over the last decade or more, then you will absolutely enjoy the book. In fact, you'll have read most of it already! Think of it! Cracking open a book and being able to tell people, "I've read most of it already." They will think you are a speed-reader and super cosmopolitan!
Thank you, again. For reading, for visiting, for checking in from time to time. I haven't decided yet if I will shut down my blog entirely, or leave it up. I don't write as often as I used to - but it's nice to have a place to do it if I do feel like it. It is a privilege to write for an audience who gives you the benefit of the doubt.
I love you all.
Friday, June 28, 2019
Pre-dating. When Katie was playing hard-to-get.
I recently came across an article on the Interwebs with the title 54 Questions to Ask Before You Get Married. (I assumed one of those questions would be, “Do you put an inordinate amount of trust into anonymous articles that you come across on the Internet?”)
I thought back to when Katie and I were dating, and how this article would have most likely inspired my own line of questioning. Mainly:
“54 questions? Who has time for that?!”
“Will this involve a polygraph?”
“How much will this cut into ‘kissing time?’”
…and so forth.
Dating. And time permitting, being adorable.
Since our courtship was before the invention of the Internet, smartphones, Ted Talks, or Robert Mueller, I didn’t have easy access to lists of questions I should be asking this highly attractive, hilarious, and wicked-smart love of my life. For me, when I was dating Katie, the Question List was much shorter.
1. Do you like me?
2. Do you think you could like me forever?
3. How do you feel about eating ice cream every night?
4. Do you consider it a hate crime that Bill Murray doesn’t already have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?
That’s about it, I guess.
The Big Day.
23 brief years later.
I learned a lot by reading this list of 54 questions, you guys. I’ve been married almost 24 years, and I’ll just say it, I kind of thought I was nailing it. But NO! I am so embarrassed. As I read these questions, I began to realize that after 23 years of marriage – there are still things we have never even asked each other!
I couldn't wait for our next date night, so we could get to the bottom of some of these. "Do you want kids?" I would begin. "How many?" "If it were up to you, when would we start having kids?" Katie would then wrinkle her nose and squint her eyes, like she was giving a lot of thought to my timely questions. Or like she was wondering when I'd started drinking in the afternoon, since the relevancy of these questions is questionable. "Why do we want to marry each other?" "How should I behave when you’re in a bad mood?" "If physical attraction were eliminated, what would be left in our relationship?" ("Ha!" she would answer. "Like we’ll ever have to cross that bridge.")
54 questions would seem like an exhaustive list, right? Wrong. Like, wrong wrong. You should be ashamed of how wrong you are.
Sit down, you adorable Gen-Z’er. Let me tell you the kind of hard-hitting questions you want to ask that flawless young thing sitting across from you right now … peering into your eyes … fully confident that you have never had body odor or blown your nose in the shower.
Wanna know who you are really marrying? Consider these 20 questions that you couldn’t possibly even know needed answering before you get married …
1. Does the Christmas season start on November 1st or the day after Thanksgiving?
2. Will using humor diffuse a situation, or throw gas on the fire?
3. Follow up: Is it more important to be right or to be funny?
4. How do you feel about having a conversation while one of us is sitting on a toilet?
5. What temperature is the thermostat going to be set at?
6. It’s midnight, but there’s a new episode of Brooklyn 99. Do we watch it?
7. The speaker at church is super earnest. I’ve decided to do an impression of him for you. During the meeting. But with an adorable lateral-lisp. How do you respond?
8. There’s precisely one serving of ice cream left in the freezer. Who gets it? (Follow-up question: And how did this happen when the carton was half-full yesterday?)
9. I have a story from when I was single and at a church social function where an older, married woman mistook me for her husband and stuck her hand in my back pocket. I will be telling this story at parties for the rest of our lives. Is this a problem?
10. When I feel overwhelmed with love or gratitude – or when our kids do something amazing – I will get emotional. In public. Will this embarrass you?
11. How do you feel about stints of unemployment or underemployment?
12. How do you feel about putting up decorations for every holiday?
13. I won’t sing in public. But I will sing to you. And those songs will usually be pop songs where I have parodied the lyrics to the point where they are about 85% innuendo. Do you find this amusing?
14. Do you feel lip syncing is superior to karaoke? Correction: Why is lip syncing superior to karaoke?
15. Dinner is almost ready, but I go to the pantry anyway and grab a bag of chips. Is this met with a) eye rolls b) sarcasm or c) death threats?
16. We agreed on a specific price tag for our Christmas presents to each other. I completely ignored it and surprised you with something way out of budget. Again. For the 23rd year in a row. Even though I promised you I wasn’t going to do that this year. How much trouble am I in? Why do I keep doing this? Do promises mean nothing to me?
17. We will most likely see U2 every time they tour. Despite the ridiculous ticket costs. Problem?
18. There will be moments in our life together when I feel inspired to take over the world! To do something amazing! Excited and determined, I will present you with my ideas and plans. After the music dies down and I realize my plans require a lot of work, I will go back to being just me. Will you be able to get excited with me and tell me how wonderful I am when I present my ideas – and then, will you be able to quickly forget them and not throw them in my face when absolutely nothing happens?
19. If neither of us is a doctor, are you still comfortable looking at weird things in unspeakable places and answering the question, “What do you think this is?”
20. How much of our lives is going to be shared on blog posts?
Monday, April 15, 2019
Friends and Loved Ones:
I know this is a broad and impersonal way to do this, but I wanted to let others know… My dad, Kenneth Nelson Craig, unexpectedly passed away last Thursday, April 11. He was 75 years old, and remarkably healthy, so it caught us all off guard. I immediately drove down to be with my mom, and over the weekend, all 8 of us siblings gathered around her.
It has been a gift to be able to be together – to wade through memories, to laugh while crying, to be grateful for our dad’s influence in our lives. I’ve felt incomparable peace and reassurance. I’ve felt the love of my Savior. I have felt my dad near. I just miss him so much already. Tremendously.
Per my dad’s wishes, there will be no funeral services; rather, we’ll hold a family memorial. It was my privilege to write a eulogy for my dad. I had a really difficult time. It reminded me of an experience from twenty-two years ago, when Katie and I took a trip to Israel. This was before digital cameras were a thing, and I was just burning through film, taking picture after picture – photos of all the details. It was getting expensive. One day, as I was snapping pictures in Jerusalem, Katie literally put her hand on the camera and stopped me. She quietly said, "You are not going to capture all the feelings you have about being here – no matter how many photos you take." And that's how I feel trying to write about my dad. I’m not going to capture all the wonder and influence of my dad’s life, no matter how many words I write. I could have kept writing and writing…it would never be enough. If you’re interested in a small glimpse – a high-level view of his life – here it is. I needed somewhere to put it.
The timing of this Easter season has been a blessing. I am immediately comforted at the thought of the Plan, of the Resurrection, of immortality and eternal life – and knowing that my dad is busy in a work that makes him happy, with people who love him. I can feel him aware of me, of us. As President Nelson recently said, about loved ones who pass to the other side: “[He] can minister to you in what I call ‘parenting through the veil.’ [He] can see us more clearly through the veil than we see [him]. We are sealed by eternal ties. [He] loves us now more than ever. [His] desire for our well-being will be even greater than that which we feel for ourselves.”
“Thou shalt live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die.” – Doctrine and Covenants 42:45.
I’m grateful for the gift of being able to love and feel loved.
Dad, at 19 years old. Also, I see my brother, Dehn.
Also, my son Tanner. And also, my son, Connor.
His favorite roles were loving husband to Dawn and exceptional dad to Ken (Katie), Justin (Trisha), Holli (Jesse) Blankenbiller, Marlise (Jonnie) Smurthwaite, Kendra (Erik) Johnson, Brett (Jessica), Dehn (Catherine), and late-comer Jared (Jan) Heiner. He was also a remarkable grandfather to 47 souls. It would be accurate to say this man was serious about replenishing the earth. It might have been his favorite commandment. (See Genesis 1:28.)
Ken suddenly and unexpectedly passed away on April 11, 2019. No pain, no failing health, no regrets. Just the way he always said he wanted to go. Only about 20 years earlier than he would have planned. The medical examiner concluded the cause of death was hypertensive cardiovascular disease. However, with no signs or history of heart disease or high blood pressure, his family has determined he simply complied with his often-stated philosophy – “when it’s your time, it’s your time.”
Ken was his own brand. He will be remembered for his adventurous spirit – scuba diving, sky diving, flying his Cessna 182, hiking in the Sierras, skiing, eating his weight in homemade strawberry ice cream, never driving the speed limit, and, on road trips, publicly changing his clothes in parking lots. He loved the beach, any advancement in technology, watching movies, sitting around the kitchen table and telling stories with his family, long discussions about the gospel of Jesus Christ, and See’s Candy. (As I write this, I’ve just finished off the one-pound box he had sitting on his desk.)
As a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Ken most recently served in the Cedar City Temple. He was previously the bishop of the Tahoe North Ward from 1995 to 2001, a counselor in the Reno North Stake presidency from 2001 to 2010, and a husband and father from 1965 to … well, forever.
He was fiercely loyal to his faith and his family, and constantly aware of his discipleship in following the Savior, Jesus Christ. He had a deep, guiding love for his Father in Heaven, and tried all his days to please Him.
But we’ve skipped over some great details. Let’s go back.
Our hero’s journey began in Rockwood, Tennessee, born to John and Doris Craig. Most of his young life took place in Tucson, Arizona, where he grew up as an only child. He ran track in high school, lifted weights, hunted deer, rabbits, and quail, and served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the New Zealand South Mission from 1962-1964. He loved New Zealand and the wonderful people there. In addition to proselyting work, he was put in charge of mission publications and preparing materials for educating local church leadership. During this seminal time in his life, his love for the gospel as well as his confidence in using his talents and abilities to effectively move the cause of Zion truly took root.
After his mission, he met Rhoda Dawn Tanner at the University of Arizona. He loved to re-tell the story of spontaneously asking her out one night, and she agreed. On their way out the door, some other guy called out to her, “Hey, I thought we were going out?” and she coolly responded, “I got a better deal.” They were married in the Mesa, Arizona Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in December of 1965. Ken always said that this is when his life began.
Our story takes an unhappy turn when, in 1969, Ken was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Vietnam, where he was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. He served honorably, but his harrowing experiences there were also influential and led to a lifelong intolerance for bureaucracy, abuse of power, authority, and being away from his wife for long periods of time.
Upon his return from Vietnam, Ken and Dawn settled in southern California, where Ken eventually started his own practice as a Certified Public Accountant. He often claimed he had mixed feelings about his career – but was always grateful that he found a way to provide for his family, work on his terms, and enjoy the flexibility in his schedule – regularly taking trips with his family and never putting off plans for “some future date.”
His career choice also allowed him to work from anywhere – which permitted opportunities to live not only in sunny California, but the remote Hawaiian island of Molokai, Lake Tahoe, and a small, rural community in southern Utah. He was known for not only his active lifestyle, but his active mind. He had an unquenchable desire for learning and studying – especially the doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Ken was ever conscious of his character and covenants. A student of the scriptures, he found profound joy in sharing what he learned – and whether formally in a classroom, or informally as a friend and parent, he loved teaching and inspiring others to choose a better way.
He lived by faith and had clarity about what mattered most in this life. His loyalty to Dawn and each of his children and grandchildren was unparalleled. He influenced and touched countless lives through church service, friendship, work associations, and his favorite role as husband and father.
Ken will be remembered lovingly for his generosity, his quick sense of humor, his extraordinary intelligence, his prominent spirituality, and his profound testimony of and devout love for his Father in Heaven, and His Son, Jesus Christ. He would frequently say out loud, as if he’d just realized it for the first time, “My life is so rich. I am so incredibly blessed.”
At this difficult time of parting, his family takes great comfort and finds abundant peace in knowing that Ken’s story has no ending, and that each of them continues to have a part in it.
Sunday morning - Palm Sunday - with my siblings and Mom.
Not pictured: Dad. Who I am confident was there.
Thursday, August 09, 2018
See our entire trip in 4 min or less.
The rumors are true, you guys. This summer, the Craig family pulled off a Griswold-worthy cross-country trip across this-here land of the free and home of the highway-bathroom stops! And it was glorious.
It all started when Katie’s parents declared they wanted to hold a family reunion. We’re fans of family reunions and of our families, in particular, so we were in. Then, they doubled-down by suggesting that since we are all spread out across the fruited planes and purple mountains (Katie being one of 10 children), that we should meet in the middle.
Which begs the question: Is Kansas … is that … is Kansas the middle? I’m pretty sure no. I’m pretty sure Hawaii is the middle. But then we crunched some numbers and turns out that if you’re going by budgets and expenses, Kansas is for sure the middle.
Then we decided that if we were going to drive all the way to Kansas, we should just make this trip – how the kids of 2014 say – epic. Yessir, we decided to go all the way! From sea to shining sea, baby!
If you're counting the Great Salt Lake as a sea, then yep! From Utah to Boston, Massachusetts!
For those of you keeping score at home, Katie and I have 8 children. (If you’re really a baller, then you know that one of our children is serving an LDS mission in Brazil and was not available for this road trip. But he’ll be available in 16 months, ladies…)
Anyway, the 9 of us piled into our 12-passenger van (alias: Big Red) and drove off into the sunset! Then we realized that was the wrong direction, so we turned that bus around and drove east! Like the old saying, “Go east, young man!”
We took 3 weeks, covered 17 states, and racked up 6,270 miles.
We made 8 lip sync videos. Technically, we made nine. But we never posted this one.
If you want to see the rest, they’re on YouTube.
We saw lots, my friends. Lots. The landscapes, the cultures, the people, the foods. But not everything. And that was maddening to me. It was like ordering a sampler plate. You know how when you are eating a sampler plate and you’re like, “Well, that was the right amount of stuffed potato skins (Hershey, PA), but I could have easily eaten an entire dinner of those sliders (Washington DC).” It was like that. We were in New York for precisely 10 hours. TEN HOURS. Sure, we saw Lady Liberty and walked the Brooklyn Bridge and played in Central Park. But is that enough? (It’s not. It’s like one and half sliders.) But I think we really nailed some cities. Have you EXPERIENCED the St. Louis City Museum? (Answer: You haven’t, and you should be ashamed.) We embraced Washington DC. High-fived Boston. And gave Philadelphia a sporty bum-smack. But some places, like Chicago, demanded more of our attention. And we just couldn’t fit everything in, or we’d still be out there. I even saw a billboard in Iowa that said, “Next Exit: Ride a boat pulled by mules.” And I thought to myself, “YES. That’s precisely what I want to do!” But time mocked us right to our faces.
But, perhaps most importantly, you don’t drive across America the Beautiful without learning a few things. Here are a few nuggets from this trip:
1. Our van fits in parking garages with a minimum 6’8 clearance. Not 6’6, not 6’7. We learned this the hard way at a garage in Washington DC. Worst. Sound. Ever. The good news is that we’ve traveled in this van for 7 years, with 8 children, on road-trips, eating countless meals, and nobody but nobody is interested in buying this used van from us. We clearly do not care what it looks like. We’ll just continue to abuse it until it refuses to run anymore. Which, if it were a person, and that person were me, that would have been 6 years ago.
Parking my 12-passenger van in downtown Manhattan. What?
2. Everything takes longer with a big family. EVERY. THING. And when I say everything, I am mostly talking about bathroom breaks. Try this with me. Hold your thumb out in front of you. Close one eye and really focus on it. See your thumb nail? Not the entire thumb, just the nail. Have you got it? That’s the combined-size of my three youngest children’s bladders. If we were a band, this would have been called The Bathrooms Across America Tour. And for reasons as varied as the urinary habits of children everywhere, each bathroom stop took 45 minutes to three days. After I realized this pattern, I had to weigh our opportunities before parking anywhere. “Hmm. Do we want to see Midtown Manhattan, or go tinkles? There’s only time for one.”
3. I am willing to spend big bucks for good treats. And we ate some good treats. We made several ice cream stops. If we weren’t stopping at bathrooms, we were stopping for ice cream, my friends. And it was easily $40 every time. But I dare you – I defy you – to drive across America in the summer and not stop at mom n’ pop ice creams shops, fresh fruit shake stands, or frozen custard places every time you see one. Never mind meals or souvenirs or toll roads or parking garages or museum tickets or subways or taxis or whatever else – you will go broke on ice cream. And you won’t care. Because it’s delicious and you’re American and if you had to, I bet you could find a bank that would let you open a line of credit just for ice cream.
4. When I’m out of my routine, and there aren’t any other demands on me, it is the most wonderful thing to sit and watch my kids. At the end of our day in New York, we were taking the subway from Central Park to Battery Park, and we were the only ones in our car. Connor (17) was flag-polling on one of the vertical subway poles, and Tanner (12) grabbed his legs and was running him in circles. Some of the kids were singing. Hillary (4) was laughing. She was just laughing so hard with Becca (10) and Lucy (7). What was so amazing about this moment? I can’t tell you. I was just looking at my people, and I was overwhelmed with how much I loved them, and how much I liked them, and how much I liked being with them. I didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world than on that subway, with my favorite people. And I missed Garren (18).
5. Sometimes I’d just be doing my thing, lost in my thoughts – driving or sitting on the bed planning the day or wondering if there was something back home I was supposed to be doing – and I’d turn and catch Katie watching me. Just silently, intentionally watching me. And when I’d look at her, she’d just give me this huge smile, and say nothing. It is by far her most powerful way of flirting with me.
6. You may learn some starting things about yourself on road trips. I was standing in the parking lot of a Walmart on the Indiana/Illinois border when I had a moment self-reflection. It was 8 AM and the parking lot wasn’t overly crowded. The kids were waking up and stretching, and I’d already gone inside to buy fruit, muffins and a 3D Chrome VIP Lounge Toilet Seat. (Just kidding – I just Googled “weird things to buy at Walmart” and that was the first item mentioned.) Anyway, we were anxious to get to Chicago, so rather than sleep, we had driven through the night from upstate New York. With no hotel room or other accommodations, but still needing to look and feel presentable before heading to the Art Institute of Chicago ... (you can see where this is going) ... I resourcefully turned to the Walmart parking lot. I stepped outside, rubbed on some deodorant, ran a comb through my hair, and thanks to a conveniently located drain, brushed my teeth. Then I changed clothes ... in the front seat of my van. I remember thinking, “This can’t be the first time people have done all this in a Walmart parking lot.” And though my logic was solid, somewhere in the part of my brain that sorts through social mores, I could sense that this was something I should be more embarrassed about. But also, I was tired, I knew I’d never be in this place ever again, I didn't know a soul there, and kind of, I just didn’t care. And that’s when I realized who I had become.
7. I really, truly love the history of this country. I was inspired over and over as we visited these old cities and read about those who “more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life.” I felt profound respect for those who collaborated, compromised, worked, and served to create one nation under God. And I felt that plea that God shed his grace on us, and crown our good with brotherhood.
8. We did the hotel thing for a few nights, but our favorite is always the people we get to stay with. We truly appreciate siblings, cousins, even friends I’ve known since I was 4 years old. I also got to visit with a friend I hadn’t seen in 28 years, from when I lived in Hawaii, and another friend I worked with 20 years ago…about the time that Katie was the age that Abbie is now. (For reals.) Sincerely, friends. This country’s greatest commodity is its people! Not the ones you see on TMZ, necessarily, and not the ones you did or didn’t vote for, in particular, but the ones running ice cream shops and the ones riding with you on the Staten Island Ferry and the ones who welcome you into their home and feed you delicious food and the ones who sit with you in the ER and the ones that help you get your keys out of your locked car and the ones who apologize and the ones who forgive and the ones who tell you that you can buy the CD for the Gettysburg Driving Tour or you can look it up for free on YouTube and the ones who confide in you and the ones who trust you and the ones that hug you and love you.
My friend, Ann Marie, from Hawaii. We went to her Junior Prom.
Most recently, we had lunch together at Katie's sister's house.
Most recently, we had lunch together at Katie's sister's house.
My friend, Terry, and his family. We've been friends since 1974. We were both single then.
My friend, Debby. She's great for a number of reasons -
but getting us a table at Grimaldi's and knowing the NY subway system makes her a national hero.
Katie was able to meet up with her high school pal, Beth.
And yes, it was as adorable as this picture makes it look.
One Sunday, we went to the church that Katie went to growing up in Reading, PA, and drove around her old neighborhood. It was so sweet to hear people gushing about Katie's family and their influence in the area. It was also sweet to hear Katie tell this heartwarming story about the first time she fasted, and Becca's hard-hitting follow-up question, "Which stall?"
If you don't have any MalleyCats in your life ... why?
Katie's cousin, Meredith, and her adorable daughters. It was minimal time, but maximum party.
Our friend Jjana, who literally gave up her bed for us.
And her husband Cliff (not pictured) bbq'd for us and it was insaaaane.
Katie's cousin, Marliese, and her family!
I have a sister named Marlise. TWO Marlises in my life? Yes, please.
Katie's sister, Shellie. Behind her? The Capitol Building.
But if you want something done, my money is on Shellie.
Katie's sister, Stephanie, and her kids. There was just enough room for me to sleep right in the middle, there.
9. I love cold cereal. I do. The “free-breakfast” hotels we stayed at all featured a variety – waffles, eggs, muffins, yogurt, bagels… No thanks. I’ll just have four bowls of Frosted Flakes and Froot Loops. Breakfast of champions.
10. At some point you begin to sense that back home, reality has not pushed “pause” while you’ve been gone, and Real Life is waiting for you at home. In fact, Real Life is mounting back at home. And you’re sad to see the trip come to an end, but grateful that you have a Real Life that you’re actually excited to get back to.
So that's it in a very small nutshell. In the end, we had one minor hiccup. It didn’t seem minor in the moment, but things are looking up. On our second to last night, our youngest, Hillary, took a spill down some stairs … and broke her clavicle. A quick trip to the hospital and an x-ray revealed a pretty bad break. The ER doc said that when we got back to Utah we should speak to a pediatric surgeon. We told the ER doc he was fired. Our doctor back in Utah assured us there was no need for surgery, and Hillary is on the mend!
Also after eating a donut.
Monday, April 24, 2017
If you don’t live in Provo, Utah, or never have, then this landmark might need a small introduction.
This is Provo's discount movie theater. It’s like a holding cell for movies, after they’ve enjoyed their standard run at the theater, but before they are released for home theater viewing. It’s a warm welcome, as far as holding cells go. “Here, La La Land, put your feet up. You must be exhausted after that long run at those upscale, prestigious theaters. Rest a bit. And don’t forget, you get one phone call.” Of course, during its one phone call, you’d find La La Land yelling at the theater, which is always full of chatty teenagers, “SHUT UP! I can’t hear anything with all your yapping!” And trust me, La La Land has a point.
You’ll notice the sign says, “Thank you for 28 years.” That means this theater was born in 1989. I remember. I was here. My freshman year at BYU was fall of 1989. This theater holds more memories, and more of my dollars, than I care to admit.
In 1989, my parents flew out to BYU with me, to drop me off and help me get settled. The night before they left, we went to dinner, and then went to a movie at Movies 8. We saw Chances Are, starring Robert Downey Jr. (You guys remember Robert Downey Jr.?) I remember my dad saying, “Three for Chances Are.” And the lady behind the glass saying, “Three dollars.” I had never heard of a discount theater, and my mind exploded. “THREE DOLLARS?! Cancel my contract at the freshman dorms, I’m living HERE!”
And I pretty much did.
You will never have an easier time finding one dollar and two hours than you will your freshman year of college.
“Dude. What are you doing?”
“We’re going to see Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. You in?”
“Of course. I haven’t seen it since last night, when I also had $1 and two hours to spare.”
“Sweet.” [Exchange of high-fives.]*
(*Based on actual events.)
My friend, Jim, and I had a Friday afternoon Psychology class my freshman year. We both learned quickly that Friday afternoons are no time for college psychology classes. The grade was mostly based on attendance, so we would go to class, sign the roll, and then leave for Movies 8. And we would watch whatever was playing next. It was like movie roulette. Sometimes we won – Uncle Buck! But usually we lost, including an unfortunate viewing of a festering turd called Ski Patrol.
One afternoon my friend Ty and I went to buy tickets to a movie that night for us and our dates. Dead Poets Society. But since we were already there, and our dates weren’t until later, Ty thought it would probably be a good idea to see something right then, as well. Something our dates would be less interested in. Count yourselves lucky if you’ve ever had a friend as smart as Ty, you guys. “Two for License to Kill, please.”
Movies 8 was the backdrop to many significant life lessons and rites of passage moments for me.
I learned about second chances. For example, when I took my date, Melissa, to see Weekend at Bernie’s, and at the end of the night, she still agreed to a second date. A date where she would choose what we would be doing, but still, a second date!
I walked out of my first movie, ever, at Movies 8. Airheads. So incredibly inane, our whole group unanimously looked at each other, stood up, and marched out. No words were spoken. The movie didn’t deserve our words. But if that movie still wants to apologize for stealing those 32 minutes from us, there’s no statute of limitations.
You may already be aware of my feelings about hand-holding at movies (I’m for it! You can read about them here), but if these soon-to-be-torn-down walls could talk! Once, during a viewing of The Abyss – the scene where Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio has to drown so Ed Harris can pull her to the station and then revive her! – my date and I skipped the entire timid-phase and immediately clasped each other’s’ hands, held them to our hearts, and stopped breathing. Then our hands just sort of stayed locked the rest of the movie. [Swoon.] Of course, another time, at the beginning of a relationship, my date kept bumping my elbow with her hand, and I kept apologizing and shifting in my seat, only to realize after the third time that she was trying to stealthily hold my hand. In my defense, I was entranced by another brilliant performance by Robert Downey Jr. (you guys remember Robert Downey Jr.?) in the magical and under-appreciated, Heart & Souls.
My most memorable moment? Katie and I had been dating regularly, though not exclusively, and things were … changing. Feelings were developing, though I, for one, was pretty ineloquent in trying to articulate how I felt about her and what direction I thought we were going. She was being a little bit vague as well. We were at Movies 8 one night, taking in a viewing of Only You, starring Marisa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr. (You guys remember Robert Downey Jr.?) At the end of the movie, I looked over, and Katie had tears running down her cheeks. She took my face in her hands and kissed me. I was a little caught off guard. “Are you ok?” I asked. “I’m in love with you,” she said, softly. “Then I’m super glad we chose this over Clear and Present Danger,” I said.
When we moved back to Provo a few years ago, I was so excited to be near Movies 8. For taking a family of 10 to the movies, a discount theater is the way to go.
It’s different now. In 1989, there were no stadium-seating theaters with such amenities as food being brought out to you by a waiter, and no lounge chairs that are essentially beds. The full-price theaters looked and felt precisely like the Movies 8 discount theater. They were all the same. Also, the lag time between when a movie left the regular theater and was released on video was much longer. Now, by the time a movie comes to a discount theater, it’s pretty much released on video at the same time. Sure, I could take my family to the movies for $10. OR I could rent it on-demand or Redbox it for $1 and watch the movie on my couch, with my own personal waiter* bringing me food while I lounge. (*Usually Roxanna, my 13-year old daughter who bakes amazing cookies.)
I feel like I haven’t shown the proper level of attention to Movies 8 since I moved back here. Like, I haven’t been going weekly, or twice in one day … and I’ve never ditched a psychology class on a Friday afternoon to go see Encino Man. But with Movies 8’s closing, I think I’d like to honor it by carrying on its legacy. Therefore, I will open my home to the public and be charging $1 admission to come watch movies at my house. I’ll provide my chatty teenagers for ambiance, and I’ll see if Robert Downey Jr. will come to my grand opening. (You guys remember Robert Downey Jr.?)