Confessions of a Little League Father

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I had been waiting for this basketball season since March 2003.

And no, I'm not talking about the Lakers having the best record in the NBA or my ward basketball team trying to repeat as stake champions.

(Speaking of the Lakers and pro sports in general, please visit Grahamtastic Stickers, the newest sponsor of NMH. You can buy car window stickers with the logos of pro sports teams - NBA, NFL, etc. - and other items like Chuck Norris and Edward/Twilight stickers. It's a cool site, so please check it out.)

This basketball season was all about my seven-year-old Normal Mormon Boy. One of my all-time favorite pictures was taken in March 2003 while the Normal Mormon Wife and I lived in a cheap apartment complex in Tucson, Arizona while I attended grad school. We never felt completely comfortable in our apartment complex because we were the only people who lived there who were not...ummm...drug dealers. But on the plus side it did have a small basketball court where I could teach the Normal Mormon Boy important life skills like shooting a basketball and how to seek cover when you are caught in the middle of a gang war. One day while we were at the basketball court we took the following picture of a determined, undaunted, never-give-up 20-month-old NMB trying to make baskets on a 10-foot hoop.

The basket may as well have been 100 feet high when compared to this little knucklehead who still relied on his parents to change his diapers. But to his credit, he just kept shooting and shooting and shooting, convinced that he would make the next shot even though he needed to get about seven more feet of arch to hit the rim.

The NMB has always loved basketball. The fact that his sports crazed parents bought him a Lakers uniform as one of his first outfits and put plush basketballs in his crib may have had a little bit to do with this, but we can tell that he genuinely likes the sport on his own accord. At the age of five he wanted to play in the local county rec league for kids ages 5 through 7 so we signed him up and turned him loose. He did well as a five year old and scored a few baskets, but it was hard for him to get the women's sized basketball up to the eight foot rim against kids who were a head taller than he was. When he was six years old he held his own on offense and defense and even led his team in scoring a few times.

This year he was one of the oldest, most experienced kids in the league. And I'm not afraid or ashamed to make the following confession:

I was giddy with the prospect of watching my son dominate!

And in several games he did just that. It was a very cool experience as a father watching my son succeed.

Now please don't get me wrong here. The NMW and I are not the self-promoting, in-your-face, my-kid's-better-than-your-kid type of parents. Our parental cheering style is more like Bill Walton watching his son, Luke, play for the Lakers (analytical, supportive, involved) than Allen Iverson's over-the-top mama (hey everybody, look at me!) rooting for her son. But there were games where the NMB was all over the court - scoring, rebounding, defending, holding out for a better contract - and I was just beaming on the inside.

Again, I was not proud that my son was better than some of the other kids. I was happy that he was able to learn a valuable lesson that success can be attained through practice, sacrifice, hard work and listening to his coaches. And by taking steroids (whoops, I've said too much. No more trips to the Dominican Republic to visit our "cousins", right, A-Rod?)

What a great lesson for a seven year old to learn.

And, to his credit, the NMB does practice a lot. We have a basketball hoop at our house and he is always challenging me to play games of one-on-one or HORSE with him. I take those opportunities to make sure he learns correct fundamentals like getting his butt down and sliding his feet on defense, using his left hand, jumping forward when he shoots, and how to trip your opponent and make it look like an accident. Our most recent backyard challenge we invented has been hilarious. Instead of HORSE we came up with a game called, "If I Make This, You Have To..." and then fill in the blank. Here are a few of the crazy items we have come up with as we shot around this week.

"If I make this, you have to..."

-NMB: "Pay me $100 trillion dollars every second for the rest of my life."
-Me: "Go on your first date with a skunk when you turn sixteen, let the skunk repeatedly spray you, and then cook the skunk and eat it for dinner."
-NMB: "Buy me 50,000 houses and an airplane to take me to Disney World whenever I want to go."
-Me: "Shave your head and change your name to Crazy Face McGee."

But the award for best fill-in-the blank goes to the NMB with this gem:

-NMB: "Get a tattoo on your rear end that says 'exit'."

We both burst into laughter with that one. I know that as a responsible parent that I am supposed to discourage both tattoos and jokes about private body parts, but I just couldn't keep a straight face when the word "exit" came out of his mouth. Can you blame me?

One of the other reasons I enjoyed watching the NMB do so well this year is because next season the rims get raised from eight feet to ten. The ball will go from a smaller women's ball to a larger, harder-to-handle men's ball. Just as he did when he was five years old, the NMB will probably struggle to get his shot off on a higher hoop against older kids who are a head taller than he is. Next year he is going to have to learn once again that despite how hard he works or how much he practices, he is not always going to be the best. There will be kids who are bigger, stronger and faster than he is. He will have to practice more and work harder than he ever has before if he is going to succeed.

That's a pretty valuable lesson for a little boy to learn as well.

But rest assured, while I watch the NMB struggle next year against older, better kids there will be one thought coursing through back of my mind:

Just wait until 2011.

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The Layoff

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sometimes my job is hard.

I oversee Human Resources for six manufacturing facilities in the southeast and east coast for a large Fortune 500 company. Working in a regional HR role is both challenging and rewarding because it allows me to spend a significant amount of time in shaping strategy and playing a key role in the overall success of our business while still remaining close to the employees in the plants. My style at work is to have much more of a spine than Toby in The Office while not being quite as evil as Catbert.

Call me Tobybert.

While in general my job is complex and very demanding, I can normally handle the stress, the fast pace and the constant threat of being sued. But there is one part of my job that is particularly difficult.

Layoffs.

Unfortunately, this has been the major part of my job since the day I was hired. I have handled at least two major layoffs or consolidations every year over the past five years. It seems that just as soon as one RIF is complete, it is time to start planning another one. My company is not alone in this nor are these decisions taken lightly. This is just reality for the vast majority of employers in my industry involved in US manufacturing.

Three weeks ago I was responsible for planning and administering a reduction in force of more than twenty of the people who work in my plant. It takes several weeks to determine which departments to include, how many positions to reduce, how to restructure shifts and job duties of the remaining employees, and objectively selecting the individuals who will be let go while making sure our decisions are legally defensible. During this lengthy process I know which employees will lose their jobs as I pass them in the halls every day, watch them work hard, and talk with them about their families.

At the same time we were planning the RIF at my plant I was overseeing two additional restructurings in my region. Those layoffs, one of which included the complete closure of one of our smaller plants later this year, were announced today. I had to travel to the facility that will be closed to assist the Plant Manager who made the announcement and to field questions from the forty employees who were told that they would be losing their jobs.

Their response to the news was inspiring.

A few employees responded with tears. Each one of them had a coworker who gave them a shoulder to cry on or a hand to hold as we gave them the somber news. Several employees openly expressed their gratitude for the leadership and compassion of our outstanding Plant Manager and the ideal work environment she created for them. Others thanked me that the company is giving them several months advance notice before losing their jobs. A few commented that they appreciated the company's generous severance and outplacement policies. Yet another told her coworkers how important it was for the facility to remain focused on getting quality products delivered on time to our customers up until the day the doors are shut, because that is the type of people and operation we have at that location. Heads nodded in agreement.

There was no bitterness. No anger. No resentment. Just professionalism, class, dignity and faith.

As the meeting concluded one of the more senior employees in the plant spoke up. He is an openly God-fearing man and many people in the plant look to him as a spiritual leader of sorts. He invited anybody who was willing to join hands in prayer before going home. I did not see anybody leave. As I held hands with a 6'4" African American maintenance worker to my left and my HR Administrator to my right, we bowed our heads and listened to a good man speak with our Heavenly Father. His prayer was full of faith, humility, hope and gratitude. After we each said our "amen", many people embraced and expressed their love and appreciation for their coworkers before returning home to deliver the bad news to their families.

More than one of them told me, "When God closes a door, he always opens a window."

I have been praying that everything will work out well for my coworkers because I know what it feels like to be desperate for work. In 2001 I quit my job and moved my wife and 4-week-old son from Provo, Utah to Tucson, Arizona where I would begin my MBA studies at the U. of A. At the time I enrolled in the MBA program there was a 97% job placement rate at graduation with average salaries earning double what I had been making at the job I left behind. September 11th happened a month after I started my Master's program and on-campus recruiting dried up completely. As graduation began approaching in 2003 I had three companies that were recruiting me. Each of them subsequently sent me rejection letters within five days of each other in what turned out to be one of the worst weeks of my life.

I was confused, angry and disillusioned. I felt like a complete failure as a provider for my young family. There were several nights where insomnia and worry overpowered sleep and I watched the sun rise while lying in bed. The Normal Mormon Wife continued to brim with faith, optimism and confidence in me. Scripture study and prayer took on a whole new meaning in my life and became more sincere. While these things lifted me up, the constant weight of facing the prospect of not being able to provide for my family nearly crushed me. It was a bleak time in my normally charmed life.

And then the phone rang.

The company I had interned for suddenly had a job opening in North Carolina. I interviewed a few days later and had a job offer almost immediately after my interview. We relocated to NC one week after graduation and our life here has been full of blessings and happiness.

I wish I could go back in time and let the desperate, dejected 2003 version of myself see the way my coworkers handled their setback today. Their examples would have made my time of trial much easier to endure. I would have known that when it seems like all doors have been closed, God opens a window.

Based on the faith and determination of my coworkers, it's going to get drafty in that plant over the next few months.

That's what happens when forty windows are opened.

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An Abnormal Mormon Valentine's Day

Saturday, February 14, 2009

About four weeks ago the Normal Mormon Wife gently reminded me that it was my year to plan our Valentine's date. This knowledge has been looming over me like an Eeyore-style raincloud for the past month because I generally have a hard time coming up with original, creative date night ideas. While my subscription to Husband Hero has been helpful in sparking some spontaneity, not even the pros can tell me what to do every time I plan a date. My success rate at pulling off fun date nights is pretty similar to Shaq's free throw shooting percentage. I've been dating for almost as long as Shaq has been in the NBA, yet we each only manage to get the job done 53% of the time.

Since the moment I was notified that the pressure of Valentine's Day rested squarely on my shoulders, 73% of my brain has been dedicated to carrying out major life activities like breathing, working, parenting, churching, eating and completing the off season in the year 2015 of my Madden franchise. The remaining 27% of my mental capacity has been consumed with figuring out what to do with the Normal Mormon Wife on the holiday that Hallmark invented. Not only do I have to whip up a memorable date with enough activities for 3-4 quality scrapbook photos, but keeping it secret from the NMW is nearly impossible. She has a sixth sense of guessing what I am scheming for our date nights and for figuring out what presents I bought her for major holidays and birthdays.

For example, let's say I was going to buy her a completely random, nonsensical gift. Something that she should never be able to guess in a million years. Like a chainsaw. The NMW is just too smart for her own good and ends up figuring out my surprise gifts to her by conversations like this one:

Me: "Wow. Look how big the branches on that tree are."
NMW: "Yep, those are some big branches. What made you notice tree branches all of a sudden?"
Me: (Panicking) "Uhhh...no...reason..."
NMW: "You're going to get me a chainsaw for my birthday, aren't you?"
Me: (Driving the car into a ditch to protest the injustice of never being able to surprise the NMW.)
NMW: (Fastening her crash helmet and Hans device since she had previously guessed that my reaction would be to wreck the car when she figured out her birthday present.)

We decided to go out on our date last night (Feb 13th) since we normally try to avoid fighting the crowds on Valentine's Day. Nothing says "romance" like sitting for two hours in the Olive Garden waiting area with four hundred other people hoping that your little UFO thingy will light up and start vibrating. The NMW and I try to skip the crowds since the babysitter meter increases as fast as the national debt clock every minute we are away from home. Plus, it would probably be a little insulting to our 17-year-old dating-age female babysitters if we called to ask them if they were available to babysit for us on Valentine's evening. You know, as if they would otherwise be sitting home with nothing else to do. I could see a couple of young women's Facebook statuses being updated with less than happy one-liners if we insinuated they would be spending Valentine's at home by themselves. (Speaking of Facebook, if you like this blog blog you can join the NMH Facebook fan group if you wish.)

I started to panic on February 10th when I still had not figured out what to do for our date. But my inability to come up with a plan was not from lack of trying. I just simply froze, like Ralphie on A Christmas Story when Santa asks him what he wants for Christmas and the only response he can come up with is "a football." I had several lame football-caliber ideas and had even got to the point where I was thinking up excuses as to why we should just stay home for Valentine's this year (e.g. "You know, honey, with the economy the way it is..." or "I had a peanut butter sandwich for lunch today and I think it was manufactured by the Peanut Corporation of Amer......." and then fake a seizure.)

Then, on February 11th, inspiration struck. I knew the NMW liked gazing at the stars, so I thought maybe I should do something outdoors and away from the city lights where we could see constellations, planets, astronaut tool boxes and satellites crashing into each other in the heavens above. Since the babysitter comes at 8:00 p.m. when the kids are ready for bed, we would have already eaten dinner and would probably just want dessert. Hmm...what dessert goes with being outdoors? S'mores! And since S'mores require a fire, this date would also allow me to satisfy my constant craving to burn stuff. I think most men have some primal urge to build fires and go to bed smelling like smoke for some reason. Heck, I even recently bought myself a flint stick and have been perfecting lighting fires using nothing but flint and a pocketknife. Some people call that a "mid-life crisis." I call it being prepared to keep my family warm if we ever have to escape the city and live like aborigines in the forest. And, no, I have not been to Australia recently so don't try to blame me for the whole continent being ablaze.

I called the campground, bought some firewood, assembled the S'mores ingredients, got the obligatory Welch's sparkling grape juice, grabbed two Milk Chugs to wash down the S'mores, packed my iPod and speakers for some music to dance to under the stars and got ready for a romantic evening alone with the NMW. I also packed my hibachi grill just in case I failed to light a fire with my flint stick and/or the backup lighter I brought. And guess what?

I TOTALLY SURPRISED HER!

The NMW had no idea where we were going or what we were doing. When we got to the campground and she started putting two and two together, she seemed to be delighted at doing something so different from what we normally do on date night. As we entered the park, a large female deer stood directly in front of our van about twenty yards away and made us feel like we had escaped the real world for a minute. As we unpacked and built the fire (I got a small fire going with the flint - BOO YA!) we heard two owls hooting in the trees near us. Unfortunately there was thick cloud cover and we couldn't even see the moon, let alone the stars, but the sights, sounds and smells of nature and the flickering light of a campfire were very cool. Okay, I'll say it. It was romantic. The S'mores were delicious, the Milk Chugs were a hit and dancing all by ourselves in the middle of the woods to Norah Jones was was memorable.

Just when I thought the night could not get any better, the NMW gave me my Valentine's gift. She has used sites like Blurb.com before to make books for grandmas and grandpas, but this time she had them publish a hard-backed book called Normal Mormon Husbands Vol. 1: The Best of 2007 and 2008. She spent hours going through my old blog posts and picked out her 19 favorite columns. The end result was a 117-page professional-looking book full of some of the more entertaining moments from our lives. She included many of my favorite posts, including The Price of A Boy's Soul? $1 (which is my all-time favorite post, BTW), The Twilight Series for Dummies, 1 Boy + 16 Girls x Estrogen = Awkward, Christmas and Angels and many others. It was such an incredibly thoughtful, insightful gift for her to give to me. I will cherish this book for the rest of my life.

The next time I see Shaquille O'Neal go to the free throw line with his team losing by one and no time left on the clock, I am going to have faith that he will sink both attempts and win the game.

After all, if I can pull off a date like Valentine's 2009, anything is possible.

(Not to get too far off topic, but would any of you be interested in buying a Best of NMH book? Now that a lot of the work has already been completed by the NMW, it wouldn't be too hard to reprint it. Please vote in the polls on the right and let me know.)

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Mediation: The Boogey Man

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Parenting is hard. There is just no way around it. Sometimes it feels like you are wrong no matter what you do as a parent. Get too strict with the kids? They rebel. Be to hands-off and passive? They walk all over you. It seems at times that no matter what we do as parents our kids are going to end up changing their names to "Ace", "Snake", or "Texas Pete", getting a tongue stud and joining the World Series of Poker tour.

When I feel like I am totally messing up my children I like to tune in to ABC on Monday nights and watch an episode of Super Nanny. Super Nanny makes me feel better about myself because no matter how challenging things are with my kids, the families featured on that show are in a completely different universe. There are three key lessons that I have learned over the years of watching Joe, the Super Nanny, verbally berate terrible parents on national television:

1) Husband and wife have to be equally engaged and committed to immediately addressing poor behavior.

2) Consequences for bad behavior need to be swift, severe and consistent.

3) NEVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, LET YOUR KIDS SLEEP IN YOUR BED!

Fortunately for the Normal Mormon Wife and me, our three kids have always slept in their own rooms. At one time or another both of the two older kids made a push to sleep in our bed. Their excuse was normally "I'm scared" or "I had a nightmare" and then they would ask to spend the night with us. Our response was to lovingly tell them, "No way, Jose!" and then barricade our bedroom door like Mel Gibson did to his home after the aliens invaded in Signs. After a few nights of being rebuffed by their parents, our kids took the hint and trudged back to their bedrooms to face off against Freddy Kruger without the assistance of their callous mom and dad.

We are not the only ones who have struggled with getting our kids to sleep through the night on their own. Agents D, S, JD, TJ, M, A, and JB responded to the mediation post by asking for help with the following issue:

"Now for my dilemma: How do I get my 6-year-old to sleep in his own room despite the fact that he's frightened, driven out by his very noisy 2-year-old sibling, and not tired?"

Alright, these are three separate issues and I can help you out with two of them. You are on your own with handling the noisy 2-year-old because there are just too many variables (e.g. do you have open rooms in your house? How hyper is the 2-year-old? What are their bedtimes, etc.) for me to know where to begin.

The first dilemma is how to help your child overcome his fear of sleeping in his own bedroom. Fortunately for you there is a tried and true method for getting rid of the Boogey Man. All you need to do rent the movie Major Payne, purchase a Glock and do the following:



(And yes, I like the movie Major Payne. I am man enough to admit that I am one of seven people on the planet who find this movie funny. Hilarious, even. Fortunately for me, the Normal Mormon Wife is one of the other seven. Every time I go to Wal-Mart I dive into the $5 DVD bin and hope that I will find a copy of Major Payne. The day it gets lumped into the El Cheapo bin along side every Pauly Shore movie ever made is the day Major Payne enters my DVD library. Does anybody else out there like this movie, or have I just lost any semblance of credibility that I had with you?)

The second issue is how to get your son tired enough so that he falls asleep in a relatively short amount of time. I've got to give credit to our 7-year-old Normal Mormon Boy for coming up with the solution to this one. You see, the NMB took it upon himself about a year ago to start waking up extremely early on Saturday mornings in order to maximize his Play Station time. We limit his "video time" (tv, Play Station, computer) to one hour a day Monday-Friday. On Saturdays, however, we loosen up a bit and let him play the PS2 for a couple of hours. This caused the NMB to start waking himself up at like 6:00 a.m. on Saturdays to play Lego Batman, Lego Indiana Jones and Lego Major Payne for an hour or two before the NMW and I would wake up and begin monitoring how long he had been playing on the PS2. The NMB benefits because he gets much more PS2 time on Saturdays. The unintended benefit for us is that he is a zombie by the time his bedtime rolls around at 8:00. He falls asleep on Saturday nights faster than Grandpa Simpson telling a complicated story.

I think my son inherited this attribute from me because I did the same thing as a kid. I used to wake up early on Saturday mornings so that I could watch the Pac-Man cartoon, Pee Wee's Playhouse and play Wings of Fury on our Apple IIG-S computer. Ah, good times.

The solution, therefore, is to purchase a Play Station and an alarm clock and give your son free reign to play it on Saturday mornings. He'll be plumb tuckered out when it's time to go to bed.

Nothing says "effective parenting" like pistols and Play Stations. Oh, well. I'm still doing a better job than most of the dads who end up on Super Nanny.

Somebody get the "M-V-P" chant going for me....

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Mediation: Name That Baby!

Saturday, February 07, 2009

I played high school basketball with a guy named Manjuan. Seriously. Manjuan. While he simply went by "Juan", we all knew he had the word "Man" in his name as well. Most of the guys on the basketball team ended up being doctors, engineers, shipping managers, and food storage/weapons/ammunition/survivalist supply brokers. But one of us turned out to play pro football.

Guess who?

Manjuan, of course.

I am almost positive that Juan's biceps ended up bigger than my thighs because of his "Man"-ly name. It also increased his vertical by 9 inches, decreased his 40 time by .2 seconds and made it completely impossible for him to watch romantic comedies.

One of the most important decisions we make as parents is the name we slap on our kids. It stays with them forever, unless they pull a Homer Simpson and change it to Max Power or Hercules Q. Powerful as an adult. Sometimes we give them names with a meaning, like Christian or Chastity, and hope it influences their behavior. You know, like how Christian Bale shows patience, forgiveness and love for his fellowmen while filming his movies.

Sometimes we pick a baby name because we just like it. For example, Kobe Bryant's dad picked out his name because his favorite meal was kobe steak. It would have been wonderful if Kobe's dad was addicted to ham hocks or pork loin instead of kobe. I can just imagine Marv Albert announcing Game 7 of the NBA Finals with the Lakers down one on their final possession.

"Odom inbounds to Fisher at the top of the key. Gasol sets a pick for Bryant who pops to the wing. Fisher gets the ball to Pork Loin Bryant. Pork Loin drives baseline. Pork Loin pulls up from fifteen...hand in his face...the fade away jumper is up...IT'S GOOOOD! Pork Loin brings home the bacon!"


The topic of naming babies is a very important one in the LDS world because we have to do it so many more times throughout the courses of our lives than the general population. In fact, I have blogged extensively about this subject and even developed a point-based system to help prevent LDS parents from having to explain to their son why they named him Mahonri Moriancumer Johnson. You can read the Baby Name Manifesto and the Baby Name Scoring Test from March 2008 if you need a refresher.

Baby naming can be so hard that even the NMW and I could not agree on the spelling of our second child's name and we agree on almost everything (except for pronouncing the word "coupon" and eating wheat pasta.) The NMW and I are not the only ones who have struggled picking baby names. A reader of the NMH blog called Runningfam responded to the mediation post with the following plea for help:

"My husband and I are expecting our fourth child, a girl, after having three boys. He loves a certain girl name that I hate, but he has his heart set on using it. I think if both parents don't love a name, it's out. He thinks that because he loves it so much, I should give in because 'the name will grow on me.' We've been debating about this for almost 11 years. Help!"

After swapping a few emails with Runningfam I received her permission to list the names they are considering for their baby. They have been very good sports about the whole thing and consented to letting the names be voted on by you, the NMH community. Little did Runningfam know that by allowing me to put the poll on my blog they are now legally obligated to use the name with the most votes. Ha ha, suckers! Next time read the fine print! They originally sent the following seven possibilities (their last name is pronounced "Bart-uhl", not "Bar-tell"):

Shyloh Rebekah Bartle
Lindsey Nicole Bartle
Alexis Paige Bartle
Kyra Michelle Bartle
Autumn Taylor Bartle
Sarah Kate Bartle
Allison Kennedy Bartle

Since seven names are too many for a poll, I am claiming the executive privilege of paring the list down to five. Based upon my personal preferences the name Shyloh Rebekah was immediately axed because the poor girl would spend her entire life saying, "My first name is spelled S-H-Y-L-O-H and my middle name is with a "-kah", not a "-cca". That would get annoying pretty fast. The second name I eliminated is Kyra Michelle. I don't have anything in particular against either of those names but I am pretty sure there will be a cheesy female superhero named "Kyra" who appears in a lame movie in 3-5 years. I am expecting a thank you email from the Bartle's in 2014.

As for my vote, I'm going with Alexis Paige.

So, everybody, a child's future hangs in the balance. Please choose wisely. Your vote may put this little girl in the White House or the Big House.

Or in the NFL. That would be awesome.

I wonder if the Bartles ever considered naming her Womanjuan?

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Mediation: LOST in Translation

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Normal Mormon Wife and I just finished our Wednesday night tradition of laying down on the couch together under a warm, heavy blanket and watching Lost (okay, we snuggled, but it looked really feminine when I first wrote the word "snuggled".) Beside our date night that we try to scheme every weekend, I think watching Lost together is some of the most enjoyable time we spend as a couple every week. It is an absolute necessity that we watch Lost together for two primary reasons:

1) The NMW has to explain to me what is going on several times each episode. The whole time travel thing has really, really messed me up.
2) I serve a purpose similar to that of a cat's scratching pole for the NMW every time Ben does something creepy.

Because of my first-hand experience with how a television show jam packed with murder, deceipt, genocide, lying, manipulation, time travel and torture can enhance a married couple's love for each other, I felt compelled to come to the assistance of a reader named LOLiTA who said:

"My hubby and I have a disagreement when it comes to how we watch tv/movies together. I like the closed captioning on; he likes it off. This has caused a wedge in our tv viewing, and now we have to watch LOST on separate tv's; in separate rooms. Please help unite my family!"

Lolita, you and your husband are on dangerous ground here. If you cannot overcome this issue pretty soon you may end up living separate lives, just like when Sawyer and Kate were trapped in the opposing polar bear cages. You may never again experience the joys of riding a two-man bicycle, frolicking on a teeter-totter or sharing a bareback horse ride on the beach as the sun goes down behind the ocean. On second thought, all of those two-person activities sound fairly painful and would result in soreness, chafing and a possible staff infection. Maybe you would be happier and healthier living separate lives...

On a more serious note, the NMW and I attempted to watch a portion of Lost tonight with the closed captioning on as research for my advice to you. After about thirty seconds with CC, I made my decision:

Your husband is right. You need to take one for the team and turn off the closed captioning. There are a few understandable reasons for this.

1) I found myself paying more attention to the letters on the screen than on the actor's facial expressions, subtle movements and flaming arrows sticking out of their chests.

2) The CC jumps all over the screen when two people are having a conversation, which is distracting. It also covers up the actors faces at times. Since I have a mild crush on Kate and the NMW kinda digs Jack, covering their faces with closed captioning is like painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa.

3) Sometimes the captions appear on the screen before one of the characters delivers a dramatic, intense one-liner, spoiling the moment for everybody.

But having the CC on was not all bad. Reading along with the dialogue helped me remember some of the details that I would have otherwise paid no attention to. Also, there were a few funny moments where the closed captioning described sounds in the background like (waves crashing), (wind blowing through trees) and (Hurly's stomach growling like the sound coming from the Pit of Despair in The Princess Bride.)

I think if we had enabled the closed captioning during tonight's episode when Sawyer goes back in time to see Kate delivering Claire's baby, it would have looked like this:

Kate: Push!
(Claire moaning)
Kate: Push, Claire!
(Claire grunting like Pumbaa from The Lion King)
Kate: Puuuuuush!
(Claire cursing)
Kate: I see the head!
(Rubbery stretching sound coming from Claire's body)
Kate: The baby's out!
(Baby crying)
(Sound of afterbirth being delivered)
(Sawyer throwing up in background)

Now, while I agree with your husband to kill the CC, perhaps the two of you can strike a deal. Unless you TiVo Lost you probably have a few minutes of free time during the commercials. What if you turn the CC off during the show and then turn it back on during the commercials? Since most programs have about twenty minutes of commercial breaks you would still be able to satisfy a little bit of your strange addiction to closed captioning.

Do whatever it takes to start watching Lost as a couple again. It will enrich your marriage and give you at least one night every week where you can lay down on the couch, wrap your arms around each other, and get comfy under a big blanket.

Just don't call it snuggling.

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Mediation: Messin' With Texas

Monday, February 02, 2009

The responses to the Normal Mormon Mediation post a few days ago is one of the reasons I enjoy having this blog so much. You guys really came through with some deep yet whimsical examples of disputes that you would like to have resolved. Your creativity was inspiring. Plus, hearing about the issues that some of you are facing reminded me that my life is way, way, way easier than 98% of the population. Thank you for helping me count my many blessings.

The first dispute that I am going to settle was posted by a reader named Ann, who said the following:

"Our dilemma is thus: Is Texas considered part of the South or part of the West? Everyone from the West says Texas is in the South while everyone from the South says Texas is in the West. Please help settle this argument. (Saying that Texas is an entity unto itself is a cop out and unsatisfactory.) We would appreciate your input as an objective nonparticipant who grew up in the West, but resides in the South."

When I initially read about Ann's dilemma, I immediately jumped to the conclusion that Texas was in the west. But then the Normal Mormon Wife and I went out to dinner on Saturday night and we debated this topic for quite some time. The NMW, who has much more common sense than I do (she beats me by a 16:1 ratio - I've researched this topic on many occasions), made a convincing case that Texas is actually part of the south. When the NMW and I have differing opinions on a topic that requires common sense, basic life skills, or finding food items in the pantry, I feel like former American Idol Kelly Pickler while the NMW normally plays the part of Nathan (the 5th Grader) in the clip below:




By the way, Kelly Pickler is a product of the North Carolina public education system. I just unilaterally decided to start saving up for private school for our kids...

Anyway, my point to the NMW was that Texas is in the west because I have a mental picture of Texas as being a rugged, deserty, lawless, rootin' tootin', saloon buildin', country music singin', Ford pickup drivin', longhorn cattle stealin', tin-star sherrif wearin' part of the wild west. When I think of the south, I have images of Cajun folk sitting on the edge of the swamp cooking up jambalaya and trying to avoid getting eaten by alligators. Not to paint with too broad or too demeaning of a brush, but I think of Adam Sandler and his mama in The Waterboy when I think of the south, medulla oblongottas and all.

The NMW focused most of her argument about Texas being part of the south on the fact that all southerners have one thing in common - an accent. And Texans definitely have accents. Since the NMW and I were both pretty sure about the stances we had taken we decided to call the NMW's mom (my mother-in-law) to get her opinion since she was born and raised in Texas. To my horror, the Normal Mormon Mother-in-Law agreed with the NMW that Texas is part of the south! My mother-in-law is a very smart, practical person and was quick to point out that her opinion represented just one of millions of opinions that Texans would have on the matter. After hearing the opinions of two very smart, intelligent, logical women, I started to waver and thought that I should change my opinion. But then I considered one more item that left me with the gumption to declare without hesitancy:

TEXAS IS PART OF THE WEST!

(Oh, gosh. I just publicly disagreed with my wife and my mother-in-law. Maybe they won't read my blog for a day or two...)

The logic that Texas is part of the west is as simple as it is sound - just look at the names of their professional sports teams:

1) Dallas COWBOYS (NFL)
2) San Antonio SPURS (NBA)
3) Dallas MAVERICKS (NBA)
4) Texas RANGERS (MLB)

Cowboys + Spurs + Mavericks + Rangers = West. No doubt about it. This is conclusive. If Texas were part of the south, their team names would have been something like this:

1) Dallas Opossums (NFL)
2) San Antonio Yes Ma'ams (NBA)
3) Dallas Gravy Biscuits (NBA)
4) Texas Bible Thumpers (MLB)

The other professional sports teams in Texas have to do with the space program - Houston Rockets (NBA), Houston Astros (MLB) and the Dallas Stars (NHL - which is a little-known sports league that plays hockey, allegedly.) So by using the sports teams as the indicator of geography criteria, if Texas is not part of the west then it is part of the moon. The south comes in a distant third place.

Ann, this should settle your dispute once and for all. Texas is definitely part of the west. I would really like to hear the opinions of you readers out there to see if I was right to stand my ground or if I should have listened to the NMW and NMM-i-L. You can post your comments to agree or disagree and also vote in the poll on the right. If 75% of you disagree with me in the poll I will officially change my stance, issue an apology to Texans everywhere, and admit that my wife and mother-in-law were right.

Like I said, the NMW is right on a 16:1 ration on common sense stuff like this. I just hope today is that lucky one time I get every once in a while.

I've gotta be right on this one, though. I mean, whose ever heard of the Dallas Gravy Biscuits?

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