My Grandfather's Song

One of the cool things about the world today is that each of us creates a impact on the world that lives on long after we're gone. A few hundred years ago, people left behind memories, physical objects and, if they were important, portraits. Then we had photography that allowed us to see scenes from the Civil War and President Lincoln at Gettysburg. Live action came in the form of the 16mm film (no audio of course) of my father as a child that allows us to peek back into the 40's into everyday family life. In the 70's we had 8mm and Super-8 in our hands and some pretty crazy movies that we did for our Boy Scout Merit Badges! But even those are silent.
For audio, we had to rely on cassette and reel-to-reel tape recorders. My brother, Steve, had this cool reel-to-reel that we used as young kinds to go crazy and I bet he's got some priceless tapes sitting around his house. My first portable tape recorder went to Europe with me in 1972 and I used it to record hours and hours of running commentary about our trip around the Continent. I haven't listened to them in decades, but I would love to get them digitized and listen to myself at age 12.

In April of 2007, my Aunt Marta found a tape of her son Eric playing a concert for the family on trumpet. Since Eric is a couple of years older than me and he sounds about 14 on the tape, I'm going to assume that it was recorded in about 1972 as well. At the end of the tape, my Aunt thought she heard someone singing so she gave the tape to Steve and asked him if he could convert it to digital.

After Eric plays a few songs on trumpet, evidently the tape recorder remained running as everyone left to go home leaving my Grandfather Deas alone in the room. He's obviously a long way away from the microphone and it's very difficult to hear at first. We did some editing of the audio which becomes clearer when he begins to sing. My grandfather's voice! Listening to the recording, I can envision him laying on the floor looking through some book and quietly singing to himself a song from his Cuba. It's kinda neat to peek into this private moment to hear him sing.

I filtered and amplified the track to make it audible and played the song for my father and Aunt. Tears were evident! But, nobody knew the song. I listened to that song so much during the cleanup that I found myself singing it to myself in the shower. I did an internet search on some of the words but couldn't find anything.

Then one day, I'm driving in my car and listening to the new Buena Vista Social Club CD and all of a sudden I find myself singing along to a song that I had never heard before. I was jazzed, I had found my grandfather's song! My grandfather was singing Viente Anos! I was on cloud nine. For some reason, it was a really powerful moment for me and, as far as I know, it's the only audio recording of my grandfather. It was nice to hear his voice again.

Have a listen. He starts singing just under a minute into the recording. Thought I would include the version from Buena Vista Social Club as well.

Grandpa Singing

And the original:
Buena Vista Social Club - Veinte Años

Theft, TSA and Blind Faith

On Saturday, January 5, 2013, our family checked in at the airport for our United Airlines flight 194 to Maui. We dutifully weighed our bags to make sure they weren't too heavy and passed them over to the airline, never wondering about the safety of the contents. Later that evening, Pamela was unpacking her suitcase in our hotel room when she discovered that her MacBook Air was missing. The power cord was there, but no computer. There was a nice little tag notifying us that our luggage had been searched by TSA Agent #5414 in San Francisco. Well, according to Pamela, Agent #5414 had stolen her MacBook Air, but had left the power cable behind in the suitcase.

Secretly, the kids and I were pretty convinced that we were going to find the MacBook waiting for us on our bed at home where the suitcase was packed. But Pamela was firm so I went online to find out how to report a theft by TSA. There is a nice helpful phone number, but a call to that number just asks you to leave a message. She dutifully left a detailed message including all of the information about flight, Agent #5414 and what was stolen. Online, there was a form that you have to fill out to file a claim with TSA. After reading it over, we realized that it wasn't simple and certainly not something we could do while on vacation since you need original receipts and other "documentation". We abandoned this particular task and decided to handle all of this when we got home.

Before we dropped the subject entirely, I remembered that when I set the computer up, I linked its "Find My Mac" to my Apple ID. So, using my iPhone, I tried to locate the machine which, of course, was "off line." Not to be deterred, I went ahead and asked apple to notify me if the machine was located and to send it a "lock" code if it does. I stopped short of sending the computer a "Wipe" command because, after all, it probably never *really* made it into the suitcase.

It is a bit jarring when you realize that something has been stolen from you. There were a few thoughts that ran through my mind. The first was disbelief; surely the machine is just sitting at home waiting for us to return. The second was amazement that there are people in the world who steal. Not just anyone but a TSA agent who, theoretically, is being monitored by video surveillance and has to actually walk out of their place of work with something out of a traveller's suitcase. On top of that, this agent had to put a little slip in the suitcase telling us that Agent #5414 did the deed.

On closer inspection, the tag that notified us of the inspection had the agent number written in by hand. I know that thieves aren't smart, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to maybe just write in some other random number on the tags that you place in suitcases you steal from. If this truly is their system than maybe I need to rethink my ideas that TSA has any anti-theft processes in place. Maybe there is NO video surveillance and maybe there is no check when they leave work to make sure they aren't carrying valuables home.

We kept the tag, our boarding passes and went on about our vacation. When we returned home a week later the first place I went was upstairs to check on the bed. Neatly made, and empty.  Now we knew for sure; TSA stolen Pamela's MacBook.

     

 The Infamous TSA Inspection Slip

The Infamous TSA Inspection Slip

And, we weren't alone. If you want some interesting reading, do a quick google search. In fact, so many people do this search, that here is what google shows you when you type "tsa th"...

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If you've been reading my blog, you will know that at the end of January, I went to the Giants Fantasy Camp in Scottsdale, AZ. One evening I was diligently writing a blog post when two emails came in. The first told me that Pamela's MacBook Air had been found. The second told me that it had been successfully "locked". The first message had a neat little Map showing a house in a dense neighborhood in Milpitas with a blue dot indicating the MacBook's location. Now we really know that it was stolen and that it was still within a day's walk of San Francisco Airport. And we know where the thief lives, or do we?

Apple laptops and desktop machines don't have GPS chips. How they figure out where they are in the world is a bit of a mystery. Apple tells you that it uses known WiFi access points and other information to approximate the location of the machine. Lest you think that this can't be very accurate, you are wrong. It is eerie and if you want to read about it, check out Skyhook's How it Works page.

It is amazing how little law enforcement agencies care about petty theft. At work we have had numerous occasions to try to get police involved in situations only to be thwarted at every turn. First, there is the jurisdictional problem. The theft occurred at San Francisco Airport. The loss wasn't discovered until we were in Hawaii. And, the party that "suffered the loss" (us) is located in a town 90 miles north. Finally, the machine is in yet another city. Trust me, whoever you call will tell you that you need to call someone else.

We experienced this at work when somebody took one of our checks and used them to make their personal checks with our account and routing numbers on it.  So, basically, they would write a check, but when it got to the bank and the machine read those funny little numbers on the bottom of the check, it would take money out of our corporate bank account.    Simple, effective and almost impossible to stop (don't try this at home.)

The first one of these that came through was for an online porn site.    In hindsight, I think that the thieves were just testing the account number before actually forging their new checks.  Nothing we could do about that but cancel our new subscription.  Then came a charge at an Emeryville Walmart.  We found it as soon as the check cleared, and a call to the bank quickly reversed the charge. 

This happened a few times so we decided to call the police.  From the checks that had cleared, we had an address in Emeryville, so we called the Emeryville Police Department.  They told us to call our local police department because the loss was suffered in their jurisdiction.  So, I sat with an officer and went over all the fraudulent charges.  Then he asked if we were out any money.  Of course the bank reversed all the charges so we were fine.  That means the party who suffered the "loss" wasn't in their jurisdiction either.    He told me we had to report it to the individual stores were the checks were passed.  They were spread around in different cities and we gave up. 

This is a complete failure of our law enforcement system.  Petty crime to be sure, but still crime.

This time instead of calling the police, our intrepid IT Manager, Scott,  got the call.  I had kept him in the loop about all of this and he was convinced that we could get the machine back. I only had one condition.  Whatever we did has to be anonymous. I didn't want to send a self-addressed stamped envelope to the house saying "You are a thief!" So, he devised this convoluted solution that involved using the local UPS store, a helpful staff, and a lot of luck.

One morning, I went with him to the UPS store with a box. Inside the box was packing material, including strapping tape to reseal the box, and a note. The note basically said "You have our laptop. Put it back in the box and return it to a UPS store and we won't call the police." He also created a throwaway gmail address so the thief could contact him anonymously.

I humored him through this process. First, I didn't believe for a minute that the MacBook Air's location was good enough to pin point an exact street address in a neighborhood. Second, I didn't think that any self-respecting thief would actually follow our instructions. I was wrong on both counts. Kinda.

We anxiously tracked the package's arrival the next day. A few hours later, Scott received the following email:

  To whom it may concern:

I bought a Macbook air on craigslist. When I met the guy he told me he had suddenly lost the charger and so he'd drop the price from $750 to $650. He told me there wasn't a password, so after inspecting it including turning it on, etc. It looks like a 2012 model and according to the seller he bought it only couple of months old. It looked legit at the time. By looking at the mac book it looks pretty new. I gave him the cash and went home. When I got home I tried to create a new account, suddenly it was a password in the system preference it was locked.  I tried contacting the seller and he hasn't responded. I tried calling him back but the number is disconnected. I had no idea it was a stolen until I received your letter. So I am returning laptop. Hopefully you will be able to return it to the owner.

The next day we picked the MacBook Air up from the local UPS Store. It was in perfect shape and, after unlocking it, had all of our data still intact.

We sent the guy who was out $650 a $50 gift card for his trouble. In this whole cycle, he was the only loser. We got back our machine. The TSA agent is probably still stealing at San Francisco Airport with an extra $650 bucks in his pocket.

It's nice to have the computer back.  I will never trust TSA again.

Update: 8/5/2013 As many people have pointed out, maybe it wasn't TSA after all.     Here is an article about the arrest of a United employee.    So sorry, TSA!

 

Adults and Kids - Key Moments

This is more of a personal story so if you want more Giants Fantasy Camp, there is only a tangential connection. If you've heard me talk about family and raising kids you have probably heard me talk about mentors.  When I was on the school board, experts would talk to us about student success factors. They would talk about things are indicative of student achievement?  There are many.  Kids have to be fed, safe and supported.  These are some of the obvious ones, but there are others that aren't so obvious.

One of the non-obvious ones has to do with whether a student forms a bond with an adult mentor/role-model who is not one their parents.  Think back to who that person was for you.  Often it is a coach or music teacher - someone you spent time with outside of the 30-1 student-teacher ratio.  A club advisor, a drama teacher, sometimes even just a family friend fits the bill.   

As an aside, this happens more to teachers, as a profession, than any of the others.  Think about that incredible responsibly.  Teachers are awesome.  The ones that aren't, know it.

As a parent you can't pick this person for your kids.  You can't predict who it will be either.  Our responsibility is to put them into as many situations as we can so that they can pick.  And sometimes it is a surprise. 

Nelson decided all on his own that he really enjoyed the dog adoption events put on by Lake County Animal Services (LCAS).  His mom or I would drive him to Novato or Petaluma every Saturday were he volunteered his time working for Karen - who is LCAS.  Later he drove himself.  Karen didn't treat him like a kid.  She treated him as a valuable volunteer.  She talked to him and listened to him often while giving him a ride home.  They picked each other. 

That's just one example.  We all have similar stories.  I would love to hear yours - add a comment to this post and tell me your story.  Or email your story to me and I will post it.  Name names, these people deserve to know that they had a positive impact on a fellow traveler. 

I had two mentors, both coaches, one in junior high and one in high school.  In different ways, they each changed my life. 

Ron Puccioni was the junior high Gym teacher.  He also coached a number of the junior high sports.  I had never played organized sports, no little league, no CYO basketball, nothing.  I was in seventh grade and was just hanging out in the gym on a rainy day playing pickup basketball.  It must have been early in the year because the basketball season hadn't started yet.  Coach Puccioni called me out of the game and asked if I would like to try out for the team. 

As an adult, I am 5'10" tall.  As a seventh grader, I was 5'10" tall, so you might see why he was asking me.  I agonized over the decision.  It was pretty intimidating to go out for basketball having never played with a team.  Everybody else on the team had been playing CYO since 4th grade.  They knew each other, they clicked.  I was definitely not part of the sports clique.  In the end I decided to give it a try.  I think a lot of it was my mother being tired of me having nothing to do in the afternoons.  She encouraged me.

So, I showed up for practice and made the team.  I wasn't good.  I couldn't shoot, or dribble.  Coach Puccioni showed amazing patience with me.  He taught me how to shoot.  Interestingly, I have a nice shot to this day because I didn't learn how to shoot until I was old enough and strong enough to do it right.  So, I never had to unlearn bad habits. 

Much to my surprise, I started the first came at center.  And the second, third, and fourth games.  I didn't take many shots and those that I did take, I missed entirely.  About that time, I decided to ask Coach what in the world he was doing.  I knew I hadn't scored a single point.  I was resented by the other team members; after all, I was taking somebody else's place on the court. 

After the next game when everyone else had left, I approached the Coach.  I explained that I didn't understand why he was playing me for the whole game even when I wasn't scoring any points.  The first thing he did was show me the rebounding stats.  Did I mention that at 5'10" and 7th grade, I could touch the rim?  I couldn't shoot or dribble, but I could jump!  Rebounding was fun and it was easy.

Then he spent some time telling me that the rest of the skills were going to come.  Be patient, he said, some of your shots will start falling.  Trust me, he said.  I did.  Shots started to fall, I had a great year and a great junior high sports experience. 

My organized sports career started because a coach saw something in me that I didn't know was there.  He also spent the time to encourage me.  He put me in a position to succeed while still contributing to the team.  He was demanding but kind and a wonderful role model.

At the time, I think that Coach Puccioni also coached high school baseball.  So in the spring of eighth grade, he took some of us "athletes" out to the pitching mound during lunch.  He was prospecting for the Freshman team, so he had each of us throw a few pitches.  I *think* that if I had thrown a few strikes, I might have played baseball in high school.  Instead, I couldn't pitch at all.  So, he moved on to the next prospect.  In my mind, I interpreted my inability to pitch as equivalent to an inability to play baseball. 

Today, at the Giants Fantasy Camp, I tried to pitch again.  It's been 40 years since that 8th grade tryout.  I am no better.  It's amazing how easy it is to play catch with someone who is 60'6" away,  and yet, it is so hard to throw a pitch to a catcher.    It was a humbling experience.  I am not a pitcher.  By the way, I did this in front of two awesome retired professional pitchers.  Yikes.  Thankfully, it was just on the practice mounds, not in a game.

When I got to high school I met John Stepp was the varsity Basketball coach and, in time,  a friend.  He is the first adult, not a parent, who actually talked to me about important things in life.  He asked questions because he had a daughter who was about my age in a different school.  He wanted to know how young people thought.  He didn't tell me much of what was going on, but I did get the impression that raising kids was hard.  This was probably the first time I thought about it from a parent's perspective.

When I was a Sophomore, he asked if I wanted to come up and play Varsity.  Who wouldn't!  The next thing I knew I was on the court with Juniors and Seniors and the level of play was far beyond my abilities.  I was out of my league.  I knew it, and Coach Stepp knew it.  But he waited.  He gave me a week or so of practice and I finally went to him and told him that I needed to move back down to JV.  Amazingly, I didn't feel like a failure.  I just wasn't ready and he allowed me to make the decision saving a lot of my dignity. 

After that first Junior High experience, I found that sports came pretty easy to me.  I was fast.  I could jump.  I had great hand-eye coordination.  From 8th grade on, I was a three sport a year guy.  Football, Basketball and Track in a continuous cycle.  I had a huge advantage over other kids early in my career because of my size.  I remember one Pop Warner Football touchdown where I literally reached over the top of a small kid and took the pass out of his hands.

As I got older, this advantage went away.    Whenever I see coaches working with kids who are young, I think about this.  They think that they can pick the kids who "belong" at shortstop.  They think they can pick the team superstars and the awesome hitters.  We have all seen it when a coach picks the "strong" players at a point in their lives when you can't know who the strong players will end up being. 

It's why the Healdsburg Little League Positive Coaching approach is so valuable.  Somewhere there is a kid who can't hit, and can't catch at age twelve.  But that same kid may turn into an amazing player at age 15 or 23.  Teach all the kids equally.  There are plenty of people who are passionate about a sport, who can't play (trust me I am with many of them right now!)  You can't predict the future, so inspire kids to find something they can be passionate about: as a player, a fan, a coach or an official.

Amazingly, some of the ex-professionals here have spoken about really mixed skills at early years.  In some cases, they were much better at other sports, and only in college developed into baseball players.  I don't remember who it was who went to college on a basketball scholarship, but was injured and was "offered" a position on the baseball team in order to keep his scholarship.  Turned out he could pitch.  He didn't start playing baseball seriously until college.  Wow.

I started every single Basketball game from 7th grade until my Senior year when a couple of those guys who had barely made the team in prior years, took my place.  They deserved it.  They had worked hard, they just grew late, but when they did, they were awesome.  I know, I got to watch them from the bench and it was amazing.  We had a great team and a great year!

Man, Am I Busy!

Here am I am sitting in my office on a wonderful Saturday in February. Pamela is off at a CPR/First Aid class at the Healdsburg Fire Department. She got up early to go, but turns out that the class didn't start until 9 so when she arrived at 8, there was nobody home. So she called me a I hauled myself out of bed for a quick shower and grabbed her purse (which she had forgotten) and met her at Starbucks at 8:37. Enough time for a quick coffee and sitdown. Then she was off to her class. Nelson is at Youth Orchestra until 1:00pm, so I figured it was a good time to go to the office and try to get the year end GL ready for the accountants. It isn't exactly late, but I like to have it to them early February and today is the 11th. So, my goal is to get them stuff on Monday so that our taxes will be done on time.

As I was sitting here accruing 2011 commissions and bonuses that were paid in 2012 back into 2011, I was thinking about all the things going on at the moment. It isn't always like this, but right now, I'm doing a crazy number of things.

So, I thought I would take a quick break a list some of them.

First, we have been in massive and sustained development of our iPad App, Io for almost 2 years. And we have a meeting with the Germans on Tuesday and Wed of the coming week. So, I have this large punch list of things that need to get finished.

I'm also getting all the books ready for the accountants. The end of the year has W-2, 1099's and a whole bunch of year entries that need to get made. So there is a bit of work on that front.

We are also right in the middle of construction for the new Hotel. Although it doesn't have a name, everyone is calling it the Hotel Deas. There are huge and tiny decisions that have to be made daily. I'm the one that appears to be in charge of all decisions, or at least focusing on getting people to make decisions. What kind of lighting? Bedding? What colors do we use? What about artwork on the walls? Should this wall really go here? You get the picture. Thousands of decisions each week, or so it seems. I think I'll write another blog post just on the hotel!

I am also playing in two bands. I really like the Healdsburg Community Band, but I love the Windsor Jazz Ensemble. I get to play lead. I think I'll write another blog post on my trumpet!

Then, I decided to take jazz improv lessons from Gary Johnson once a week. So, each Wed, I go home and sped an hour feeling like a fool. But it is interesting and I am learning (I think).

On top of all this, Kevin and I decided to restring a piano. This is definitely a labor of love. I'm really enjoying it and learning a lot. The piano was pretty sad when we got it, but it is looking wonderful. I need to write about this process too!

See what I mean, life is crazy! Seriously, it is one of the things that I am proud of about myself. I get a lot of stuff done on a regular basis. I can honestly say that very little grass grows under my feet!

The Glamour of Travel

I used to travel a lot. The best part of that sentence is the "used to" part. It gets old pretty quickly, especially when there are kids at home. We used to have jobs all around the country and I would often spend weeks at a time trying to get all the bugs out of some system. Some of the places were glamorous like Hawaii and others were Podunk towns in the middle of nowhere with a single Motel 6. On some level it didn't matter much. Wherever we were we worked ungodly hours often getting to in at 8 or 9 and working late into the evening. So, the biggest difference between Van Wert, OH and Denver was the food. Seriously, all we did was work, eat and sleep. Most of the work sites were the same, and it's hard to care much about your hotel room while you are asleep, so food was the make or break differentiator. The local Bob's Big Boy for breakfast, lunch and dinner was hard to take.

There were some exceptions. I once of found myself in Tampa attending a Dry Cleaning Convention (don't ask). I realized that Orlando and Disney World was just a short drive and I had a free day, so I went to Disney World - by myself. You might think this was strange, but I had a blast. It was empty, so I could go on rides multiple times, sit down and relax for awhile it was fun. Standing in lines was a little weird, but I soon found that if I talked a bit to someone else in line, I didn't look do alone.

Working in Hawaii wasn't as much fun, but did have its moments. The first time I went, I stayed at the airport Holiday Inn. The people at the refinery were appalled. They asked if we were charging them for expenses. When I confirmed that they were, they told me to move immediately to the Hilton Hawaiian Village, which is where I stayed from then on. Even the one time that Scott and I had to spend a few weeks leading up to Christmas when everything was booked except the most expensive rooms. We had bathrobes that trip.

There were other nice things. Since we had to wear blue nomex fire suits in the plant, we didn't need anything but T-shirts and shorts. Easy packing and the Smurf Suits weren't too bad to work in. Also, Hawaiians don't work the crazy hours that we usually did on jobs. Each day at 4:30 we stopped. That's it, no negotiation. That left a lot of evenings to hang out on the beach or wander the streets of Honolulu. Got old pretty quickly, but it beat the heck out of Pocatello, ID.

The laid back approach to all things in Hawaii did lead to some conflicts in culture. There was one time in late January 1990 when I was on a mission to get the job done and get home. I kept pushing Lorrin (finally remembered his name!) to leave me behind when he went to lunch, and to stay late. He resisted this, so I told him that I had a deadline and really had to finish the job. Lorrin says, "What, are you having a baby?". To which I answered, "Well, not me, but my wife is!". They stayed late, worked long (well, longer) hours and I was home three weeks before Kevin was born.

The strangest thing about working in Hawaii was this correlation with major medical events in our family. After Kevin's birth, my next trip was scheduled for April. I flew out although Pamela was a little under the weather. I landed in Hawaii about noon and was met at the concourse by Lorrin who told me that Pamela has had emergency gallbladder surgery. I never left the airport, instead, I caught the next flight home. Must be close to the worlds record for the shortest stay in the vacation paradise.

But, the job was still waiting for me. And, in their incredibly laid back Hawaii way, the folks at the refinery kept asking when I would be able to travel. Everything seemed to be settling back to normal at home - well as normal as it can be with two small kids and a mom who is recovering from the last non-laparoscopic gall bladder surgery performed in the United States. I scheduled a flight out late on a Sunday and also Mothers's Day. I figured if I get there the evening before, I'll get an entire Monday of work and that would get me home sooner.

But it was Mother's day and Kyle had a stomachache and then threw up all the junk that he had eaten at brunch. We were worried about him, so we took him to the doctor who agreed that it was nothing to be worried about. We were relieved but, I had already missed my flight. There was another flight that we could just make. So we loaded the kids in the car and off to the airport.

When we arrived, I jumped out of the drivers seat, grabbed my bag and started sprinting to the ticket counter. Pam pretty quickly realized that I have the car keys in my pocket and that I am about to leave her stranded in the white zone forever. I heard calling my name and turned around to see her making the universal car key sign (I guess that is like turning on the air-ignition). So, I grabbed the keys out of my pocket and threw them to her. Luckily this worked, but it could have been a disaster on so many levels.

Anyway, it turned out that I missed that flight anyway, do I spent the night in the city and flew out early Monday morning. I think that this single event led me to developer a "never run for a flight" philosophy that I still adhere to to this day. I don't run for a flight. If I miss it, I was meant to miss it. It I make it, I was meant to make it. Period end of story. Unless, of course, I was headed home. Then wild horses couldn't keep me away for 1 minute longer.

But, I digress. Back to Hawaii and that Monday morning when I arrived in Honolulu. Since it is only midday, I went straight to the refinery where I was handed one of those huge Motorola cell phones from 1990 and told that I had to call my wife. Turns out that Kyle did have appendicitis and has already had surgery. All while I was over the Pacific. He's in his room in a hospital gown for children that Pamela thinks shouldn't exist in the world.

At the hospital the next day, Dr. Mucci chastised Pamela for carrying Kyle so soon after her surgery, so she said, "Well, YOU carry him, then." So, he did. It was during that part, when he was burning up with fever that he kept asking for water, if he was good.

When I got off the phone Lorrin said, "so your son had his appendix removed and he's fine, now, do you can stay, yea?" The other Chevron folks are slowly packing up the tools But, Pamela has told me to get the damn job done, so I stay 3 days and come home to a recovering Kyle and Pamela and a very young Kevin.

About the only good thing about traveling a great deal is the perks that come with being a 100k flyer. For 3 or 4 years most of my flying was in first class. Nowadays when I try to upgrade, my name appears on the list at the bottom. You know, an aircraft with 8 first class seats, and I'm number 25. That bottom. But not back in the early days. I was even seated in economy once and they came and got me because of a no show and moved me. I enjoyed that.

Once, on my way back from Hawaii, I asked how much a first class ticket cost. I got one of those, if you have to ask, you can't buy one looks. Turns out that my little $800 ticket was more like $4,000 for first class. It made me appreciate the free upgrades!

One time that I wasn't upgraded was on a redeye flight leaving SFO and headed to JFK. I ended up sitting in the very last row that didn't even recline on a full flight. It left San Francisco bout 9:00pm do I had been able to spend the whole day with the family. By this time we had two kids and were building our house.

I wasn't happy about being on the flight and put out my best "don't talk to me" vibe. The woman sitting beside me was a writer for Vogue Magazine and she started up a conversation anyway. The flight was dark and quiet and we spoke in quiet tones for most of the flight. I told her about the frustration of not being home and the toll that travel was taking on everyone. She told me about her unsettled life shuffling between offices. She had a boyfriend in San Francisco and one in New York. Neither knew about the other.

At some point, she decided to sum up our situations:

Wait a minute. You are bummed and frustrated by your place in life, but look where you are. You are happily married to a woman who is obviously wonderful. You have two kids who sound awesome. You are building your own house and doing a lot of the work yourself, AND you have your own business with employees and everything! All of that and you are only 30! I, on the other hand, am 35 and can't even figure out which boyfriend I want to be with. Get a clue, you are living a charmed life!

I don't remember if it was get a clue, or buck up, but the meaning was clear. I think about that conversation when I get disheartened or overwhelmed. A random flight: a random person: and a perspective for life.

Speaking of random beautiful women, here is my favorite travel story. This one happens before the Vogue encounter, but it is another late night long travel day. I get off the big plane in Boise and head over to the regional terminal where all the puddle-jumpers depart. It's probably close to 9pm and I've been traveling for hours and still have one more flight to get to some tiny town that is about 90 miles from the Chevron pumping station that I have visit.

I'm hungry and not in a great mood when I walk up to the United Express ticket counter. The lighting is subdued at this time of night in this small terminal, not the glaring brightness or the main terminal. Behind the desk are two beautiful women; one in uniform and one out of uniform, but dressed to kill for a night on the town.

There is nobody else around as I checked into my flight. Just little chit chat going back and forth, when the women out of uniform leaned over the counter and said in a sultry, low voice, "If you miss this flight, I will buy you dinner.". I was stunned. This sort of thing never happens to guys like me. Yes, I am married and have kids at home but, seriously, this has never happened to me.

As these thoughts are going through my mind and I'm working my way back to the "Wow, thank you, but I'm married" response, I can see her expression change as she realizes how I have interpreted the situation. She stammers and says "ah, I'm sorry, ah. I would buy you dinner, but I wouldn't be with you, I just want your seat on the plane to go visit my boyfriend."

Sigh, these things just never happen to guys like me! Someone else must have taken her up I her offer though because she sat next to me on the flight. Her boyfriend sounded like a great guy and, yes, she only had one.

Presents for Strangers

Christmas is always a crazy time at our house. This is all Pamela's doing. The house is always wonderfully decorated on the inside. Nobody drives by so there is no wasted effort putting up exterior lights because nobody would see them. So, with the focus on the inside, it is all the more crazy. First, there is the Christmas tree. Long ago, we used to get live trees. We would go out to one of the farms, or stop by the Healdsburg Boys and Girls lot and pick out the "perfect" tree, haul kit home and start the process. This was my families tradition and I loved it.

Until one year in about 2005.

If you are going to be putting a of effort into decorating, you want to be able to display it for the longest period of time possible, so we headed down and found the perfect tree on the weekend after thanksgiving. But, by my birthday, it had lost millions of needles, was a fire hazard and a constant cleanup mess. So, I come home from work and Pamela tells me that we have a new artificial tree, so take down the old one and put of the new one.

I grumble about it not being necessary and, with Xmas in a couple of weeks, surely we could get by with our "real" tree. This argument goes no where and we take all the ornaments off the tree, and haul it out the door and in the process it looses the remaining 99.0999% of its needles and proves Pamela right.

I'm still not sold on the artificial tree thing, but we put it up. A 12' pre-lit tree. We fill it with ornaments and it looks just spectacular! That's it, I'm sold. We have a new tradition and I'm almost happy with it. Year after year, we have used the same tree and it looks more and more beautiful each year as it collects more ornaments. Wow!

I have two concerns about this tree. First is that the annual fixing of the lights is a pain in the ass. A task I truly hate. Before AND after Christmas I find myself one the floor of the living room going through string after string replacing lights (don't even get me started on the different bulb voltages and bases). After doing this for hours, I am usually stiff, sore and grumpy. But, the the tree goes up and it's gorgeous once again.

The second problem is that, as the kids go away to school, there are fewer and fewer people to help me put this behemoth up! Seriously, I am going to kill myself trying to put the top two heavy, heavy sections on this tree! It is nuts and involves standing on ladders while manipulating a heavy unwieldy thing. Or leaning over the balcony and trusting my life to the hand rail.

Someday we will replace this with an LED and, hopefully, smaller tree, but who knows when that will be. 2011 and counting.

After the tree, there are dozens of Santas. Don't ask me where all these came from, but they come out of closets and adorn various tables around the house. These are followed by Snowmen who go on the little shelves up high in the family room. Snow Globes are scattered in between and Nutcracker Soldiers march into the living room.

But, we aren't done. The 30" bears, Santa and Snowman go into the foyer freaking the dogs out. Lit garland on the stair railing (did I mention that I hate fixing lights?). Various unlit garlands complete the look and we are done.

The amazing thing is that nobody looks at any one thing. Do people notice the snowmen way up high? I doubt it, but if you took out any one thing the whole would diminish. I love it. When the kids come home from college they should walk into Christmas. That should be their reward for finals and the stress of school. I think we've succeeded!

Our extended family Christmas Eve traditional get together used to move from house to house. for the past few years, my funny Mother will wait until I'm around when someone asks "where will we be doing Christmas Eve this year?". Then she turns to me and says "I don't know. Paul where are we doing it?". So we cheerfully volunteer.

By the time Christmas arrives, the tree is overflowing with presents. We end up putting some of them under the piano. It's a great look. On Christmas morning, there are stockings for everyone: even the dogs.

Yes, kids, there is a Santa and her name is Pamela.

Which leads me to this year, 2011. Early December, Pamela read a story about a Project Holiday, a wonderful program that pairs families in need with donor families. They provide an information sheet containing the family number, first names, clothes sizes and Christmas wishes. There is even a place for special requests like "nothing pink" or "anything with Dora the Explorer".

So Pamela goes about being Santa for a family in need. She shops at Kohls until midnight. Wraps presents until 2am. Even puts bows on the presents. I think Pam's standards are that if a gift is worth wrapping, it deserves a bow.

The presents get delivered by noon to the local Boys an Girls club and the families show up between 1-4pm to pick up the gifts. The entire Gym is full of presents and the kids add our stack of 20+ to the floor and head home.

All this happens without much from me. I offer to help wrap but, wisely Pamela declines. At some point, I mention that what she is doing is truly a wonderful thing. She is quiet for a moment. Then she says:

Here is the thing. There are presents under our tree for dogs!!! It is not ok for families less fortunate to go without.

Yes, kids, there is a Santa. And her name is Pamela.

It's Ok Dad!

One of the things that I am grateful for in life is that Pamela and I have such similar child-rearing philosophies.   Much of our approach has been to make sure that our kids understand that there are "Natural and Organic consequences to their actions".  That's Pamela's phrase, but I really like it and she has quite a few of them.  Another one is that someday "the people giving you consequences won't love you".    You might be able to talk your way out of coming home late because your parents know you, know you are responsible and love you.  But, it's hard to talk your way out of a speeding ticket. Speaking of speeding tickets, one of the fun things that I always wanted to do was go to one of these "Skip Barber School of Driving" .  You know, big powerful cars and high speeds in a controlled environment.  Well, Pamela gave Kyle and I an enrollment in the Contra Costa County Sherriff's Department's "Driving for Skills and Thrills" class.  We added Scott to our group and were looking forward to a great day on the airfield. Yup, that's right, you drive on the Buchannan Airfield in Concord and you drive police cars!   It took a while to get to class.  We kept scheduling and they kept cancelling.  Officers got sick, enrollment wasn't high enough, I don't even remember all the reasons.  Finally the day came and we loaded up into a car and headed to Concord.

There were two policeman with the sherriff's department who were our instructors for the day.  It was remarkably informal.  We met in a trailer and talked a bit about what we were going to do for the day.  Then, we got on a bus and headed out to an unused portion of the airfield.   The officers had setup cones and we spent the morning doing different tasks.  They pushed and pushed us to go faster and to drive harder They wanted us to take both the car and ourselves out of our comfort zone.  A large area was setup with sprinklers and cones and was designed to make it easy for us to put the car into a spin.   The officers would sit beside you saying "Faster, Faster, Push it".   They weren't satisfied until the back end broke lose and we had to recover.

We did backup drills and found that out of the 6 or 8 students, Kyle was probably the best Reverse Driver.  He still is; just watch him back out of our driveway.  Finally we did high-speed lane changes.  Now this was fun.  Try taking a car to 40MPH and drive down a lane of cones toward a dead-end.  As you approach the dead-end (yeah, dead end with cones), the officer would say either left or right and you had to do an emergency lane change.   If you can do it at 40MPH, try 45MPH or 55MPH.   Here, take a look at me trying it at 50MPH.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1D6mmhe5eyY&hl=en&fs=1]

In the afternoon, we got to get serious. They laid out an entire course with cones. It had everything; zig-zags through the slick area, long straight-away terminated with a stop sign and a lot of hard curves. We ran for times and they pushed us. Let me tell you there's nothing quite like coming out of a hard turn and stomping down on the gas pedal and accelerating hard right up until you moved your foot from the gas to break for the stop-sign. Going from full acceleration to full anti-lock braking was a serious charge!

Well, after doing timed runs through the course for most of the afternoon, they asked us if we wanted to move on to pursuit. You didn't have to ask us twice. So, now we had an officer in the front car and we had to try to catch them. This just emphasized what we had already learned during the day; that the driving skills of the professionals far outpaced our own amateur abilities. They were impossible to catch, but it was a blast.

There were a couple of giggly girls in our group. One just had a permit and the other was just 16. They were pretty timid earlier in the day and the officers had to keep pushing through each exercise. And, they thought the officers were cute. Up until this point every task had been done with a student driver and an officer in the passenger seat. But the girls really wanted to chase the cute officer and they asked permission to go together. Scott jumped in too, and they headed off. At this point, the girls were wound up, exciting and no longer thinking.

All timidness disappeared, they were in a cop car and they were going to catch the cute guy. They egged each other on, "Go Faster, Go Faster". The 16 year old girl behind the wheel left her comfort zone so far behind that she entered the first curve without taking her foot off the gas, the car spun out, crossed a dirt area and ended up parked on top of one of those runway lights that show airplanes which way to go. Here's what one looks like before it's been run over by a police car.

Runway Sign

Well, that was the end of the day. One of the officers had to get in the car and get it unstuck and I'm sure there were consequences with Buchannan Airfield. We had a day that was safety first right up until the time that giggly teenagers got into a car together. If you ever wonder if having the provisional license restriction of not carrying other minors in the car until you've had your license for a year is silly, remember this story. There are consequences. Sometimes things can be fixed, and sometimes they can't.

A few years ago, there were a couple of High School Seniors who had an encounter with alcohol after a special date.  After that date, which is clearly communicated to all students, any drug or alcohol violation results in the students not being able to attend graduation.  This policy was implemented because during the last 6 weeks of school, there just isn't enough time to have meanful consequences without jeopardizing graduation itself.  

You would not believe the campaign that was waged by these kids' parents to overrule the district policy.  Since I was on the school board at the time, I was the focus of phone calls and arguments along with the other board members.  In the end, we did not change our policy and the students were not allowed to participate.  However, they attended graduation, wore robes, sat in the audience and stood up when their class received their promotion.  What were these parents thinking?  Why did they believe that their kids deserved to go through graduation?  I simply don't understand.

So many parents have strange ideas of what constitutes serious consequences.  Let's be clear, serious consequences are things like jail and death (of yourself or others).  I take serious to mean "life changing".  Something that happens that takes your life on a different (and usually less-desireable) path.  Failing to graduate from High School is a serious thing.  Failure to walk across the stage at a ceremony is NOT.  Not participating in graduation wasn't going to keep these kids out of college, or have any lasting effect on them.  That doesn't mean that it wasn't a bummer for them, but it was simply the consequences of their own actions.  

Then, this year we have another drama.  Dozens of seniors left the Senior Dinner Dance and headed to a student's house whose parents were out of town.  By all accounts, the parents had given their child permission to have this party, understood that there would be alcohol.  Some parents think that they can be the "cool" parents and give kids a place to drink responsibly.  Remember that all of these kids drove to the party or were driven by other kids.  Who knows how this would have ended.  Kids are stupid.  They do stupid things - even the good kids.  Any parent of a teen has the primary job of keeping their kid alive through these years, not to be "cool". 

It seems like every class has some parents who fall into this mold.  Kyle had a friend whose parents regularly allowed sleep over parties with alcohol.  They collected keys in order to be responsible, then let the kids drink themselves silly while tending a bonfire by a lake.  They had no right to do this with MY kid.  They want to let their own kids drink and puke, go for it.  You take it upon yourself to do this with other people's kids and you crossed the line.   Sometimes Parents are Stupid too. 

Anyway, the parents of the unchaperoned party kids went nuts.  They attacked the school district for blowing the whistle on the party. They pointed fingers at the principal and the vice-principal.   They filled the board room with parents talking about a toxic atmosphere at the high school.  Their kids still drove.  Their kids still played sports.  Their kids still hung out with their friends. Parents hired lawyers to bring up civil rights issues (who invite the police in anyway?!?).  They hired lawyers to keep the "overraction" from the records of their students.  What's wrong with this picture?

We made sure that our kids knew that if they would have been involved, we wouldn't have been standing with the other parents. We would, instead, be standing behind the principal and thanking the vice-principal for intervening before someone got into a car. Our kids would have experienced the natural consequences of their actions at home and it wouldn't have been pretty.  

I learned something important because Kyle rolled through a stop sign before he was 18.  Actually, I learned a lot of things, so I'll start at the beginning.  If you get a ticket and you are a minor, you have to appear in court and you have to take a parent with you. We didn't think much about this whole affair. It was a simple traffic ticket and we treated it as such. Because we love Kyle and because we know that he's a fundamentally responsible kid (ignore preceding paragraphs) and because this wasn't a horribly bad infraction, there were no consequences for him at home. Then we went to court.

You enter the courtroom with about a dozen kids and their parents. These are the people that you spend the next hour with as, one by one, each minor gets up to face the judge. The pattern became clear quickly. The minor would get up in front of the judge, the judge would describe the infraction and give the kid a chance to have a say. Most of the interactions went something like this:

Judge: So, you were cited for going 95 MPH on the Freeway and you tried to outrun the police car. Is that what happened?

Kid : Yes

Judge: Ok, What consequences did you have at home?

Kid: (big heavy sigh), I got my car taken away for 2 weeks!

Judge: Two Weeks?!? Could you point out your parent?

Kid: Yeah, my mom is back there (pointing)

Judge: Hi, could you please come up here and join your son? Thank you? So, you understand that your son was cited for going 95MPH on the freeway and evading an officer. Right?

Mom : Yes

Judge: Ok, and you really think that 2 weeks without a car was the proper punishment?!?

Mom : Well, I guess maybe it should have been longer? (hesitanting) but it was difficult to move him around.

Judge: Ok, Ok, Ok. Let's see how you move him around for the next year! Bailiff, please confiscate the minor's license and mark it for return one year from today. NEXT!

Many parents think that it's fine for new drivers to drive their siblings around. It's a common thing and the language in the DMV manual is vague. I can tell you, first hand, that it's NOT ok. There was a kid who was driving his little sister to school in the morning because both parents left for work early. The judge asked for the parent to come forward and then asked who was the little sister's parent. The judge noted that the 16 year old driver was not a parent and it wasn't his job to get his sister to school. To emphasize that, the Bailiff took the kid's license for 6 months. Now they both had to get to school.

Seriously, they all went like this. Here's what you did..... What happened to you at home?... You're kidding?? Bailiff, take the license !

I'm sweating bullets in the back of the courtroom. I mean, Kyle had no consequences at home. None. Occasionally after one of the "Bailiff" instructions, I lean over and say to Kyle, "you had no consequences!!!" and he would calmly respond, "It's Ok Dad!". Well, it wasn't ok. The judge was confiscating driver's licenses at a rate that I had never imagined and Kyle was next.

He went up to the front of the courtroom and I tried to shrink behind the chair in front of me. And, it started:

Judge: So, you were cited for not coming to a full and complete stop at a stop sign, is that correct?

Kyle : Yes

Judge : What happened to you at home?

Kyle : My parents sent me to the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department driving school which we just attended last weekend (keep in mind the scheduling and rescheduling of this class!)

Judge : Please point out your parent.

Kyle : My Dad is back there (pointing to the empty chair that I'm hiding behind)

Judge : (with two thumbs up) Good Job! Now that's what parenting is about!

The looks of scorn cast upon me by the other parents in the room was overwhelming. Kyle was dismissed with his license intact and we left the courtroom.

There are natural and organic consequences of your actions. Sometimes those consequences are given to you by people who don't love you. Sometimes, you get lucky.

Mathew D John is Having a Bad Day

There are many wonderful things about being married. In fact, I've found myself over the years being a marriage embassador extolling the virtues of wedlock. But there are fundamental differences between the way men and women view the world and relationships. At times this is something we can laugh about and sometimes it isn't. A dozen times in our 22 years of marriage I've found myself thinking "Wow, things are going pretty well right now" only to find that I'm living in an artificial reality bubble. There have been plenty of times when I've had the same thought and been right, but when I'm not, the collision of realities is shattering.

Here is one of the many indicators that you've got a problem. If you're sound asleep in bed and your spouse walks into the room, turns on the light and starts speaking in an angry voice while you are still trying to get yourself out of sleep, things aren't good. There have been times when I honestly had no idea what was wrong or what I had done. If you have to ask, it just makes the situation worse.

I've really been trying to avoid these situations. For the past 6 months or so, I've made it an goal of mine to think more about how my actions affect people around me. I have been trying to not assume that things are well, I've been actively trying to make them better. Part of this is just being more self-aware and actually dedicating part of your thought processes to examining your relationship. I know that this may be foreign to men, but it can be done. Well, I think it can be done. I guess the results of my experiment are still pending.

Last night Pamela slept downstairs in the living room with Colin who is suffering from the flu. She was going to keep him company and to be there in case he needed anything. I've learned that doing the "nightly" things like putting the dogs away, locking up the house and helping carry things upstairs is critical to marital happiness. So, I made sure things were settled and asked if it was ok for me to go to bed upstairs. I received assurances that it was fine, so I headed off to bed.

I've taken to listening to podcasts to get to sleep. This is partially due to the novelty of the thousands of podcasts that exist in the world and partially due to the lack of an engaging book on my nightstand. I usually use only one earphone so I can hear what's going on in the room, but even at that, it takes me a bit to hear something going on in the room. I don't think that Pamela likes this. I think she would much prefer that I become engrossed in a good book. Anyway, it's possible that I missed some activity downstairs, but I don't know.

What I do know is that at 6:00am, the house phone started ringing. I groped around in the darkness to find the phone. When I managed to get the phone to my ear and mutter a very sleep "Hello" there was a moment of silence. And then she said "So, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!?" I snap awake immediately. Adrenaline rushes through my system and I search for my failure. The earphones, the list of "nightly" things and snippets of our conversations all pass fleetingly through my brain as I try to make sense of this question.

Then, I hear another sleepy "Hello" as Pamela answers the downstairs phone. Whoa. The light is starting to come on. "Who is this?", I ask. Pamela, who hasn't heard our mystery caller speak answers, "It's me!". Then there's a long pause and the woman on the phone asks "Is this 707-431-1043?" I tell her that it isn't and she quickly appologizes and hangs-up leaving Pamela and I talking to ourselves in the same house. It isn't much of a conversation as we hang up and try to get back to sleep.

In the morning, I do a reverse number lookup for the phone number she gave me. A house on Haydon Street with a phone number one digit different than ours. It's registered to Mathew D John and I head off to work thinking that he's not having a good day. Pamela and I have a good day.