Thursday, February 9, 2012

Ronald D Christensen - A Dear Uncle

We just returned home from Boise and Idaho Falls where we attended the funeral and burial of my uncle Ron. It was a challenge to get there, but we are happy that we endured the inconvenience and stress to be there, but I'll get to those details later. First, uncle Ron.

Ronald D Christensen
I have 8 aunts/uncles, 4 on my dad's side and 4 on my mom's. Uncle Ron is my mother's youngest brother. As would be expected, I had/have varying degrees of relationships with my parents' siblings. I always felt close to Ron, partly due to the fact that he lived in Spokane with his two sons, Derek and Robbie (both just younger than I) and they were often present at family events and other gatherings. But the real bond came from our shared love for guitars. Ron always had a new guitar to show off. He would let me borrow one every once and a while. We didn't jam together as much as we should have; however, he reinforced my love for the instrument by showing me a new lick here and there, introducing me to some new music (not usually new, but always new to me) and letting me use equipment that I could never afford as a junior high/high school student. But, being the young and self absorbed teenager that I was, I really never realized or was aware of Ron's personal struggles. Behind the cheerful demeanor and general enthusiasm Ron was constantly fighting a battle with addiction and its peripheral issues.

Because of the way his illness played out, Ron had time to plan his own funeral. He requested that my mother do the life sketch and that she specifically not shy away from his lifelong battle with alcoholism and to share how he came to know God through the AA program, which eventually led to him returning to the church of his youth (LDS). I gained so much respect for him because of that. We all have our vices/additions. For many of us, we can keep our imperfections private and they are not broadcast to the world. Ron didn't shy away from it; conversely, he wanted everybody to learn from his past mistakes and be better people because of it. At the end of his life, he was fully active in the church, giving service wherever and however he could and attending the temple daily.

His life came to an end on January 26, 2012 in his own home on his own terms, shortly after being sung to by his sister.

Getting There
So, it used to not be a big deal for me to jump in the car on short notice, drive several hours in the middle of the night, sometimes over mountain passes in less-than-ideal driving conditions. However, things are a bit different now. It's not just me any more and the sporty sedans have been replaced with a minivan. Getting to Boise for the funeral was going to require some sacrifice and inconvenience. I needed to be in Missoula for work that week. One of Ron's sons, Derek, who lives in Coeur D'Alene, needed a ride as he didn't have the means to get down to Boise on his own. The plan was for Amanda to pack up the car and the kids on Wednesday afternoon, pick up Derek on the way out of town and meet me in Missoula around quiting time. From there, we planned to drive down to Boise in time to get a night's sleep and make it to the funeral at noon on Thursday. The decision we needed to make was which route to take from Missoula to Boise. There were three choices:

  1. The long, but straight and all Interstate route (I-90, I-15, I-84)

  2. The shortest, but through the mountains, route (hwy12, hwy 95)

  3. The second shortest, but also heavily mountainous route (hwy 93, and various others)
I took a long look at a map, really to decide between route 2 and 3. Strangely, it never dawned on me that the irritation of the extra 170 miles of driving that route 1 would require would pale in comparison to the pain and suffering that would result from driving a snakelike, mountain road, with two legitimate mountain passes in heavy show with car full of kids and a very anxious wife. Sadly, and in retrospect, idiotically, we decided to take the shortest route, route #2.

Amanda's trip to Missoula was event free and our first 90 minutes or so of journey from Missoula was fine too. As the road went literally uphill, the journey went downhill, figuratively. I missed a necessary turn, so by default we ended up taking route #3. Three hours later, after having zig-zagged only 100 miles through snowy mountain passes, I began to wonder if we would be spending the night on the side of the road. It was a true test of endurance. The words "reckless" and "irresponsible" kept rolling around in my head, especially each time we stopped on the side of the road to let one of the kids pee in the undisturbed snow. I am not a single college student with the ability to stay up all night anymore and I am no longer only responsible for myself. In this case there were three little boys, a wife and cousin in that car with me. The closer we got to Boise the easier the drive became. We rolled into to Boise at 4am, dropped Derek off at his mother's place and checked the family into a hotel for a brief rest. I felt a bit sorry for Derek. I'm sure he would have preferred a short flight from Spokane to Boise, but instead he got 14 hours in a minivan with three kids, watching Pixar movies and Veggie Tales DVDs.

We were blessed with a decent night's sleep and made it to the funeral at noon the next day. The funeral was very nice, a little long, but the local bishop arranged to have someone watch our kids in the nursery so we were able to focus on the talks and presentations. My brother George played his own arrangement of How Great Thou Art and my mother gave the life sketch. We drove over to Pocatello that night so that we could be there for the burial in Idaho Falls in the morning. The burial included a military honors, which was powerful and left quite an impression. We drove back to Spokane on Saturday. All in all we spent about as much time in the car as we did not in the car.

We have been home for a week now, back to real life. We have a few things of Ron's to remember him, including Sam and Charlie. Sam took a bracelet and Charlie took a camouflage pillow. For the kids, I hope that attending the funeral and burial will help them internalize some of the facts about life, death and the Plan of Salvation. I know that for me I am grateful that I had the opportunity to celebrate his life, get to know him better and be strengthened by his experiences and his faithfulness in truly enduring to the very end. I am happy to have known him and am proud to call myself his nephew.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

And so starts 2012

So much for posting something every week. I'll keep trying.

Picking up where I left off - Christmas day. One of the good things about being a public accountant is that I don't have to work on or usually near major holidays; specifically, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. On the flip side, I cannot take any breaks/holidays from mid January through the end of April, but it is a very good trade - I'd much rather work presidents' day than Christmas day. So, consistent with prior years, I took the entire week after Christmas off and a day or two the week after that. We took that opportunity to do a few home upgrades (paint Isaac's room), do some organizing, goal setting and some relaxing. The week is far enough in the past that I have forgotten many of the details. What I do remember is that it was very nice to be home for several weeks in a row with no travel.

Sadly, that has come to an end. I write this from a hotel room in Evanston, Wyoming. The travel season has begun. For the third year in a row I celebrated my birthday in this small town. This year I enjoyed a sub par Chinese dinner, watched some CNN, played some Words With Friends and fell asleep in my hotel room with the TV on. Knowing well in advance that this is where I would be this week, we celebrated my birthday with a dinner at my parents' home on Sunday night with my brother Allen's family and Clint Burgess' family. It was nice, the kids always have a great time with their cousins. Sam was very excited to give me the gift that he helped mom pick out. He couldn't wait for me to open it and was quite unable to keep it a secret. He told me that he wouldn't tell me what my present was, but minutes later he revealed that it was a movie, but he then stipulated that he wouldn't tell me which one, but that he knew that I would be so happy with it. Just that week I had begun to plagiarize portions of the Indiana Jones movies during story time. So, I put two and two together. We opened it on Saturday night and had a movie night with the two older boys. They asked questions throughout the entire movie: "What's Indiana doing dad?", "Why is that bad guy trying to get him dad?", "Why are the eating monkey brains dad?" and so on and so on. Funny kids. They are a blast.

And so starts 2012.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas 2011

I'll return back to update the advent daily Christmas events from where I left off later, but for now I want to document the highlights and some elect details from the days leading up to and the actual day of Christmas. Technically Christmas day isn't quite over, but since it is really all about the kids, essentially it is because they are now asleep.

What made Christmas 2011 unique, probably the most significant detail was the fact that Amanda's parents drove up from Pocatello a few days prior and were here for the whole event. This was even more significant because, as far as I know, they have never spent a Christmas outside of Pocatello, where all their immediate family (with the sole exception of Amanda) and a large portion of their extended family reside. I hope they enjoyed themselves - they wouldn't say anything if they didn't, so we may never know.

Christmas Eve
This is the third year that we have celebrated a Christmas in Spokane as residents of Spokane. In each of the previous two years we spent Christmas eve with my parents and my brother's family (Allen and Shannan), including their 4 kids. Their family is much more particular about Christmas traditions than I am or Amanda is and they have quite a few more Christmas' under their belt, so in each of the past two years we have really just followed their lead; however, this year was much different. Because Amanda's parents were here, we decided to have our own Christmas eve "program" and dinner. I threw together a super basic turkey dinner, consisting of only turkey breast (roast), mashed potatoes and gravy, StoveTop Stuffing and store-bought rolls. After cleaning up we put forth our best attempt to act out Luke 2 (and a little from Matthew 2). Charlie selected the role of angel, Amanda was Mary and Sam was a wise man from the east. Grandpa Roger was pegged as a shepherd, Mister Incredible (Sam's Build-a-bear teddy bear) was the baby Jesus, I was the narrator/reader and Isaac simply roamed the stage. Using a rocking horse, a stuffed Aflac duck and an Eastern Eagle stuffed toy we set a manger scene. We employed several blankets, sheets, belts and other items to dress the boys up. They were quite excited. Knowing well in advance of his chosen role, Sam had prepared gold, frankincense and myrh to gift to the baby Jesus and a star, which he hung from the mantel using a long piece of Scotch tape. It took no more than 5 minutes to act it out, but the kids were absolutely great. Charlie smiled big as he repeated the words of the angel. Sam peacefully placed the three gifts on baby Jesus as he knelt in front of him. Whether any of it was internalized and the real meaning of Christmas understood, we will have to wait and see, but it was sure fun. We followed that up with a reading of 'T'was the Night Before Christmas', read by Grandpa Roger. We then opened one gift each, which is, has been and will always be a new pair of pajamas. For whatever reason, I think that Amanda and I thought that those things would take the remainder of the evening, however they did not. So, as Grandpa finished reading the closing words "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!" the clock was barely showing 7pm. Too early to put them to bed, so we riffed it a bit and put in a movie - A Muppets Christmas Carol. We had convinced Sam that we should leave two creme puffs and a class of Root beer out for Santa rather than the traditional cookies and milk. This way Santa would remember our house and would look forward to coming back next year. Also, earlier in the day, on his own accord, Sam declared that he would not only leave out treats for Santa but that he would also leave Santa a note, thanking him for the presents. So after the movie ended we put out the treats and note and put the two older boys to bed (Isaac had gone down during the movie). We cracked the laundry room window and while I improvised yet another bedtime story Amanda jingled some bells from just outside the window, pretending the bells were from Santa's sleigh. The boys were quite excited and quickly fell asleep.

Christmas Day
We have settled into to the "tradition" of leaving the Santa gifts out - unwrapped - for each child. This year those gifts included the following:

  • For Sam - a 16" x 16" Lego sheet and a 3 in 1 Lego set

  • For Charlie - an apron (made by Amanda) and some cooking utensils - Charlie is our little helper in the kitchen. You cannot begin a baking project without Charlie pushing a chair up to join the fun.

  • For Isaac - a play grocery cart and a push toy

  • For all - a race car Trio set, put together by me the night before.
Given the floor plan of our home and the fact that the kids were sleeping in the master bedroom (Grandpa and Grandma were in Sam and Charlie's room), Amanda had the boys wait in the bathroom until the grandparents were awake before entering the living room to see what Santa brought. They didn't seem to mind as they were playing iPhone games. Finally the moment came, the kids ran in to see what Santa had brought. Although they loved their Santa gifts, they seemed much more excited to dig into the stockings. Charlie was very amusing to watch. He individually showed me, Amanda, Grandpa Roger and Grandma Maryanne each item that he pulled out of the stocking. It took him much more time to get through his stocking that it did Sam. After that we had a big breakfast, cleaned up and took off to attend sacrament meeting at my parents' ward (because it met at 11am and ours didn't meet until 1pm). We planned on waiting until after church to open all of the other presents, so once was returned home we opened presents. Trying to maintain any sense of order while a 3 and 5 year old worked through two very large stacks of gifts was quite difficult. This will probably be remembered as "the Lego" Christmas as there were several Lego sets and related gifts. Papa and DeeDee (my parents) joined us at about 2:30 with another stack of gifts. We had to pull the kids away from putting together the Lego sets to open the new wave of gifts. Thank goodness for grandparents, otherwise our children's loot would have been only a fraction of what actually was. Amanda gave me Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in Russian and a season of DVDs of one of my favorite TV series. I gave her a new set of scriptures and a kitchen scale. I love that she gave me things that were not on my list (my mother-in-law requires a Christmas gift wish list from me each year, usually in mid-November, otherwise I wouldn't make a list). She gave me things that she knew I would enjoy and she exceeded any expectations.

We finished up the evening with dinner with both sets of grandparents. Beef stroganoff, a forever favorite. We visited a bit before Papa and DeeDee went on to Allen and Shannan's.

I sit here now feeling extremely blessed. Blessed to be surrounded by caring family members. Blessed financially. Blessed with healthy, happy children. Blessed with a loving wife. Blessed with a knowledge of and testimony of our Savour Jesus Christ and his Gospel. Tonight, as I lay sandwiched between Sam and Charlie as they dozed off to sleep, I felt so full of love for them. To a degree that I would have never thought I could have ever been capable. I guess fatherhood does that to you - expands and deepens ones ability to love another human being. Perhaps its part due to the season. Nonetheless, I adore my three boys. It was a blast to see them bask in the Christmas spirit and excitement and I look forward to many more.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Magic of Christmas

This is certainly a fun time of the year. This Christmas season is really the first season that one of our children seems to remember the previous Christmans and, consequently, has some expectations. Specifically, this child is Sam. He is 5 now and his memory is getting better. It probably also helps that we are doing Christmas in our home for the second straight year, so it looks and feels much like last year (Christmas 2009 was spent in Pocatello and we were staying in a hotel room). We are having fun with it and are trying to generate as much excitement and wonder as possible. The primary catalyst has been the advent calendar.

We were given an advent calendar by my sister-in-law a few years back. We tried it out last year but were not super dilligent and it really wasn't catching on, so we didn't get through the full 25 days. Total 180 this year. Each day the kids get up and pull out that days advent token and note. The note contains the description of the holiday-related activity that they get to do that day. It has been fun to see the light go on in Sam's mind. If we are not awake when he gets up, he will bring the note to us in bed to have us read it. So far this is what the first notes for the first 8 days have said:

  • Day 1 - "It's the first day of December, as you might know. So, tonight we'll start it off with a fun show. We'll make popcorn and have lots of fun, but first we must get all of our work done."

  • Day 2 - "Santa is busy and needs all your wishes. Get your list to him, but don't ask for fishes! Put it in an envelope and mail it out, so be on your best behavior and better not pout."

  • Day 3 - "It's Saturday, and time to pick out our tree. Let's pick out a big one and then you will see. Decorating with goldfish and legos will be all kinds of wrong. Let's put on the won't take long!"

  • Day 4 - "Today we'll go to church and we'll learn a lot. Hopefully, you won't have to sit on a pot. Then we'll help decorate another tree. Papa and DeeDee's house is where it will be."

  • Day 5 - "The trees are decorated and look so very cool. We did it ourselves without even a tool! Time to get your very own ornament today. Does that sound good, what do you say? You get to pick whatever you think. Hopefully, ou don't choose anything pink."

  • Day 6 - "We'll have some fun and do some crafts. It'll be lost of fun and we'll have some laughs. We'll be holly, jolly and merry. You make some Christmas trees, and I'll make a fairy.

  • Day 7 - "We've got some presents under the tree, but daddy needs one as you can see. Let's pick out some good ones and wrap them tight. I need all your help to get it just right.

  • Day 8 - "When it gets dark, and it's bedtime for the sun, we'll put on a movie and it'll be fun. Get on your pajamas and turn out the light. Sit very quietly and better not bite."
Amanda is bearing the brunt of this as I had to travel this past week and will travel agagin next week. Day one we popped popcorn, fried up some french fries and watched "A Muppets Christmas Carol". It was a huge hit. Picking out the Christmas tree was fun. We had debated the idea of going to a tree farm, hiking around until found the tree, cuting it down, lugging it back, yadda yadda; but, more efficient minds prevailed and we swung the minivan by a tree-kiosk in the parking lot of the former Alberstons and had it back to the house in 45 minutes. Isaac napped while Sam and Charlie helped us decorate. A few ornaments didn't survive the boys' enthusiasm, but the majority made it on the tree. I am excited about some of the other things coming up.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

Time for a quick recap of the events surrounding Thanksgiving 2011.

We stayed in Spokane for the week of Thanksgiving. Uncle George, who was the only out-of-Spokane Skidmore who came to town for the holiday, flew in on Tuesday night so we spent the vast majority of Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at Papa and DeeDee's house (Papa and DeeDee are the somewhat self-chosen grandparent names for my father and mother).

Someone let a bug into the house

We should have known something was up when Sam fell asleep at the foot of DeeDee's couch on Wednesday in the early evening. Up to that point I could have counted on one hand how many times Sam has fallen asleep while in the middle of something. To keep things simple and since we were coming back early the next day, we transferred the sleeping Sam to my parent's guest bedroom and took the rest of the kids home. At around 11pm, Isaac woke up crying, which in of itself, isn't strange; but this time the poor guy was covered in his own vomit. Between Amanda and me, we were up with him the rest of the night. The poor guy kept yaking even when there wasn't anything in him to yak. Sure enough, when we called the parents in the morning to see how Sam's night was, we were greeted with a similar report: violent, frequent vomiting. It was a tough way to start the holiday, but we were not alone. By the end of the weekend, the bug had gotten to a handful of other family members, usually knocking them out for a day or so.

The Uncle George Factor

Uncle George's presence, my older brother, adds a unique flavor to any family gathering. George has a rare combination of a truly gifted mind and a sincere desire to learn as much as he can. This probably isn't the time for a George Dee Skidmore bio, but a little background would help with illustrating what I mean. George has a PhD in physics. His focus coming out of school was nanotechnology, so I often describe him as a "nano-physicist", it sounds cooler than just "physicist". He received the inventor-of-the-year award in the state of Texas a few years back. He owns or contributed to the issuance of several patents. He is a very capable chef and he makes his own wine and cheese. And he is a skilled pianist. So George prepared a significant portion of the Thanksgiving meal, including the appetiser, which has become both somewhat of a tradition at holiday family meals and an experiment of form and presentation. This year's appetiser was titled "Cabbage Wreaths" (see picture) and consisted of several types of cabbage, prepared in different ways (boiled, cured, fried) and some other garnishments, including a beet shaped into a bow. Consistent with George's love of creating things from scratch, on Friday we pressed fresh apple cider from the apples picked from my father's trees. This is the second year that we have pressed cider at my parents house. After all was said and done, we generated 12.5 gallons of cider. The kids love to help in whatever way they can. The little kids like to throw the apple pieces into the device that shreds the apples and help to collect the juice from the press (however, they drink quite a bit of it as well in the process).
On Saturday night, George put on a 60-75 minute holiday piano concert which this year was hosted in my brother Allen's home on their newly acquired Steinway piano. This is the second year that George has put on such a concert on in Spokane; however, he has been doing this for several years at his home in Dallas.

Lastly, casual conversations with George around are vastly more interesting than your run of the mill type. First of all, they are much more factual as George will fact check, using his smart phone, as the conversation goes. There were several example of these throughout the week, one of which ended with my sister-in-law Shannan declaring "you are all a bunch of nerds" as she left the room after jolting awake after having dosed off during George's fairly technical explanation of three-way transistors and integrated circuits. I may not have adequately articulated it above, but George is never condescending or demeaning. I never feel dumb while I am around him. I am usually left feeling a new desire to know stuff and to better understand the world around me.

The Meal Itself

We (Amanda and I) provided a relish platter, pre-meal appetizer and Amanda's cheesecake, which has become a staple at Skidmore family holiday meals. As usual, we all went around the table telling what we were thankful for. Charlie was prompted by DeeDee to say that he was thankful for Papa and DeeDee's house and Sam volunteered on his own that he was thankful for starfish.

All in all a pleasant and memorable Thanksgiving. Happy to have spent it with family.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Great Getaway of 2011

I just returned from a two-week long business trip to the east coast. It was the last of the most recent string of out-of-town business trips and I am very happy to be home. There will be more out-of-town work in the future, but for now I get to enjoy a few weeks at home, including Thanksgiving week.

It was during this two-week east coast trip that Amanda and I took advantage of a Moss Adams company perk - for anybody that travels more than 75 nights a year, the company will pay for one round trip airfare for a spouse or significant other. We decided, months ago, that this past weekend would be the best opportunity to take advantage. We booked tickets for Amanda to fly out to Pittsburgh and made arrangements to have my parents watch Sam, Charlie and Isaac for three days (and three nights). Due to a medical issue, we had to make some last minute rearrangements and the three boys ended up staying with my brother's family - three days with their cousins, whom they absolutely adore. That was probably a better result. I don't think they missed us for even one minute, not even Isaac.

The weekend was great, exceeded my expectations. Other than a seating issue with a hostess at P.F. Changs, the weekend couldn't have been better. I had been over 2 years since we had spent a night away from our kids and the first since Isaac's arrival. Amanda needed a break; consequently, we did very little. The good thing about having a weekend away in Pittsburgh, as opposed to Paris, France or New York City, is that there really isn't a ton of stuff to do, comparatively. The Steelers were out of town, so the downtown area was quiet and uncrowded. We got a great hotel, right downtown, directly across from the two stadiums (Heinz field and PNC park) and within walking distance to almost everything downtown that was worth seeing. Although it was early November, the sun was out and the temperature hovered around 60 degrees. We slept in, took walks, did some shopping, overate at some great restaurants and had several, much needed, uninterrupted conversations. I was great to reconnect. We both became a bit sad as the departure time of Amanda's Monday morning flight neared, but reality could not be escaped.

We are very grateful for all those who made it possible for the getaway to happen: parents, sister-in-law, my employer, Delta, Marriott Hotels, the TSA. We are very blessed to be surrounded by family and friends. For the next getaway, I am not sure that Pittsburgh will be the first city on our list, but for the 2011 getaway, it was perfect.

It's been a while

I'm feeling somewhat inspired by a fact that I recently learned about my mother. Apparently, for a period of time beginning shortly after parents were married (summer of '68, a year before Bryan Adams picked up his first real 6-string) my mother would write a weekly letter to her parents and in-laws. The key subject matter of the emails was the goings on of her family, with a significant focus on her children - my brothers and me. These letters were retained by my grandmother and are now being organized and bound in a book/binder by my mother. What a cool thing to have. The only thing that I have that is remotely similar to this are the letters that I sent to family during the two years that I spent as a missionary. Those missionary letters, coupled with a journal that I kept fairly well during that time, are priceless and I am happy that I have, at least, some of that period of time documented for future prosperity to enjoy. The thought that someone in the future (most likely a child or grandchild of mine) will want to spend their time reading about my life leaves me feeling kind of arrogant - often times even I find the details of my daily life quite unenlightening. However, I am very grateful that a life sketch, or mini autobiography was put together on my grandfather's (dad's dad) life. It has allowed me to learn about him in a way that I was not able to before. By the time I came of age, my grandparents had either already pass away or were well into their twilight years. The pictures are almost as fun as the text.

The thing is we don't communicate in even remotely the same way that our parents did (my parents are 70+). Letters were much more common. Long-distance calling was very costly and communication via computers didn't exist, in fact, during the time frame during which my mother was writing her letters, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs hadn't even begun to conceptualize the personal computer. Letters leave a great trail, are easy to document and retain. What is a good equivalent to that now? Personal emails? Text messages? Twitter postings? Facebook postings? I really don't think that I want my Facebook history to be used as my personal life history. Cell phones, VoIP, Skype and other facetime gadgets eliminate historical costs of long-distance calling, so we do that a bunch more, leaving less reason to write letters or email that would contain family history type communication that is retainable.

Long story short, I think that regular postings to a blog, like this one, could be a good way to communicate the goings on in the Skidmore family and, if retained, could serve as a make-shift family history. Consequently, I am going to make it a goal to post something weekly and I will encourage my wife to do the same (her excuse for not posting is that she is not a good writer, well neither am I, as evidenced above, but I am not going to let that be a deterrent). I suspect that I will look back at these years of my life with a great deal of fondness. Our boys are Sam, Charlie and Isaac are 5, 3 and 1, respectively. They are so much fun and are still so innocent and sweet, eager to learn, fascinated by new things and want to spend time with their dad. I hope that never changes, but I am sure that it will; but when the day comes when they begin to ask what they were like as kids, I hope to have some good answers for them and some documentation to back it up.