Friday, December 26, 2008

A White Christmas


Christmas came fast this year.

I guess that’s what happens when you move into a new home the week before Thanksgiving.

Last July marked the 9th month that we had been looking for a new house for our family. 9 months of looking on the internet, marking neighborhoods on a map, touring homes for sale, and driving miles and miles of roads to find our new house. We ended up walking through over a hundred homes. A bunch were new homes that had never been lived in. Whole streets of them—like ghost towns with nothing moving but a few tumbleweeds—victims of the recent screaming halt to the Utah housing boom.

After a few months of house-shopping you realize it’s a bit like going on an endless series of blind dates. You recognize within the first minute or two that you’re stuck on a 20-minute tour of a house that you know you don’t want to be stuck with. At first we were so tactful with the listing agents…trying so hard to be polite about floor plans that we really didn’t like. But after seeing fifty or so homes you lose all diplomacy.

“Nope, don’t like that.”

“Hey, that’s really nice!”

We had house-shopping down to a science.

Yet after 9 months I said to Lori, “I don’t feel like we’re any closer to finding our new house.... Where is it?”

Well, just a week or two after that we found it.

Problem is, finding our new home set in motion all the events that would make the coming of Christmas a startling surprise.

Offers, contracts, mortgage qualifications, national mortgage companies going bankrupt, (then back to square one), new mortgage company qualifications, piles of full-disclosure paperwork, an arm here, a leg there, getting our old home ready to sell, keeping it showroom clean by threatening the very lives of 6 children….


Then moving out, moving in, unpacking, meeting new neighbors, giving talks in the old ward, giving talks in the new one, re-painting the old house, setting up the new one.

And then, BAM! Merry Christmas!

Ah…Merry Christmas.

It hit hard and fast but when it got here it was magical.

And talk about a White Christmas! We haven’t seen this much snow for years.

On Monday night Lori and I walked the mile and a half to my parents' place—through snow-covered streets, past houses brightly lit for the season, the air brisk and cold. It was quiet and still—the powdery snow soaking up all the sound—nothing but the crunching of the snow under our feet and the quiet puffs of our breath in the air.

We rode my dad’s ATV back to our house and I hooked up a sled on a long rope behind it. Emily was my first victim, since Connor and Natalie had been (pretending to be?) sick yet claimed to be miraculously healed when faced with a possible sled-ride. I’m no dummy, so I told Connor and Natalie to rest on their sickbeds until the next day.

So Emily and I faced the wintry darkness by ourselves—and she trusted me to pull her willy-nilly around a nearby field. I half-expected her to be terrified, but was delighted to find that she was thrilled and laughing uncontrollably.

Next, I unhooked the sled and we motored through the neighborhoods on the ATV toward my brother Rod’s house. For years the 15 minute trip that separated our old house from his seemed like a journey. Now, to be separated by three minutes seems like he’s next door.

So why not just pop on by?

After our visit we zipped back through the quiet streets and I made Emily laugh again by fish-tailing the ATV around a few corners.

And she gave me one of the world’s best hugs when we arrived back home.

So, like Christmases Past, we stuck to our traditions. When Christmas Eve came we had a dinner of dinners—turkey, stuffing, gravy, garlic mashed potatoes, fresh homemade rolls, sweet corn, spinach salad. We all pitched in and made it happen.

The Christmas tree was lit in the family room, Christmas carols piping over the speakers.

Then we had our nativity program with every one taking a part…. Natalie and Ryan as Mary and Joseph—a toy snowman as baby Jesus. Jason and Annie as shepherd and sheep, Tanner as a wise man, Emily as our angel, Lori as narrator, Connor as musical maestro.

Me, taking photos and singing Beautiful Savior.

After that, a visit from Santa, who sounded oddly like my 78 year-old father.

Ryan was absolutely transfixed by the bearded, old fellow.

As Lori and I sat and watched our kids open their gifts, we resolved to enjoy this Christmas Present—soaking in the sights and sounds of our 6 wonderful kids loving each other. We tried not to think too much about Jason being gone in two years—off on a mission for our Church. We realize that, in a way, it will be the beginning of the end of this whole, intact, little group. Childhood is fleeting.

But in the meantime we enjoyed the laughter.

And we may have closed a chapter in the White family story by moving away from our previous great little home, but the friendships we made there are still alive and well.

It’s been snowing for days now and the wind has whipped the snow into waves of drifts. The landscape is mainly shapeless and I can’t quite remember what’s underneath those lumps of snow.

Is that a rock or a bush?

Where do those steps end?

But, like our Christmas Futures in this new home and neighborhood, it will all be revealed soon.

And we’re confident that we’ll like what we see.

Merry Christmas!

The Longest Gig

“So Wendy wants me to audition for the voice of the KBYU Kids’ Club. I can’t do that!”

Lori said that 10 years ago.

People have always told Lori that she has a young-sounding voice. And I suppose they’re right. In fact, it’s not unusual for her to be dealing with a rude customer service rep over the phone—and they think they can bully her because she sounds like a kid. Then suddenly this kid-sounding voice stands firm. Surprise! She’s not backing down! You can’t be a mother of 6 without growing a backbone.

But...yeah...she does have a youthful-sounding voice.

So soon after we moved into our first house in 1998, her new friend, Wendy Thomas—Program Manager for KBYU Television—asked her to audition for the friendly, cheerful, young-sounding voice of the KBYU Kids’ Club.

Lori was duly flattered but felt exactly like she'd just been asked to sing karaoke in her underwear for the halftime show at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

There’re some people who would say, “Okay, what do you want me to sing? And do I wear whitey-tighties or boxer shorts?”

But Lori’s not one of those people.

Not even close.

So it took a lot of talking to get her to try. After all, it’s just an audition right? Just get in a booth, speak in a microphone, give it your best shot and walk away laughing with a good story to tell.

And hey, on the long shot that you get the job you can comfort yourself that it’ll only be broadcast to a few million people....

Funny thing is…she got the job.

And she’s been doing it ever since.

For ten years.

Now that’s what I call a long gig.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Don’t ask me where Ryan gets his acting skills. Far be it from me to dabble in such silliness.

But put the kid in a costume and he becomes the character.

What you see here, my friends, is the strong, silent type—broad in the shoulders, narrow in the hips. Heck on wheels with a gun. He’s not lookin’ for trouble, but if trouble comes lookin’ for him he’s not gonna shy away from it.

Straight out of a dog-eared Louis L’Amour.

Not that I read that stuff. After all, I’m a very serious reader as you can see by my no-nonsense Recommended Reads. Heck, I wouldn’t even know the names of any real Louis L’Amours. I’d have to make ‘em up—like, High Lonesome, or Dark Canyon.

Ha! This is easy! I can just flip a switch and put my mind on western dimestore-novel random.

Maybe North to the Rails or The First Fast Draw. Yeah! Those sound like romanticized cowboy titles that Louis L’Amour might write.

You wouldn’t ever catch me putting down my serious historical analysis of The Bounty for a guilty peek at how Ruble Noon, the mysterious tall gunslinger, kills Ben Janish in some ridiculous novel Louis L’Amour might creatively title The Man Called Noon.

No, you don’t see lists of such absurd fare on this blog.

And you wouldn’t catch me dressin’ up like a cowpoke on a pioneer trek a few years ago. Lookin’ just a little like The Man from Snowy River in my outback hat that I drove all the way to Salt Lake for because I was hopin' I'd be mistaken for Jim Craig.

No, I wouldn’t like the way the sun is settin’ behind me as I fiddle with my Nikon—lookin’ like some wannabe, weather-beaten, cow-punchin’ photographer.

No siree little feller.


I don’t know where Ryan gets it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

This is Hoddaween

One of our favorite shows is Nightmare Before Christmas. The two little boys love it. Okay, I love it too. Just enough scary—yet not too threatening. We love the opening song, This is Halloween—or if you’re a 4 year-old, This is Hoddaween.

After the show Ryan creeps around the house—claws in the air—and sings it just like that… “This is Hoddaween. This is Hoddaween, Hoddaween Hoddaween.”

Last Tuesday night the Young Men and Young Women in our ward put on a Halloween party for all the little kids in the neighborhood. There was station after station of fun games and candy prizes. Most of the neighborhood showed up and all the kids were in costumes. Before we arrived, Lori dug into an old box and came up with two perfect little cowboy costumes—made 13 years ago in Pennsylvania for Jason and Connor. Complete with boots, chaps, western shirts, vests, bandanas and 6-shooters.

They fit Ryan and Tanner perfectly.

I remember when she carefully sewed them by hand. Material spread out on the floor, snippets of cloth strewn around.

I was in graduate school then and we had to make every dollar last. We looked forward to a day when I would have a job and we’d own our own home.

But, looking back, we had everything we needed. Two feet to take walks down lanes of fireflies, bicycles with child seats to carry us around town, a few dollars for ice cream cones, and two little cowboys who stepped onto Norman Rockwell-like porches, rang the doorbells and shouted, "TRICK OR TREATIN’!"

We carved pumpkins tonight and those memories came flooding back.

Yeah. This is Hoddaween.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

July 2008: Grand Teton National Park

Out on the trail night birds are callin'
Singin' their wild melody
Down in the canyon cottonwood whispers
A Song of Wyoming for me.

--John Denver, from Song of Wyoming

The kids always know when we’re getting close to the campground.

That's because I change the music from whatever we’re currently listening to (an eclectic mix of new and old spanning Sara Bareilles, Sting, Keb’ Mo’ and James Taylor), to a collection of John Denver songs that I’ve creatively labeled: Camping Mix.

Yeah, I know that John Denver peaked in the late seventies and, at that time, you couldn’t look anywhere without seeing him to the point of nausea (Movies, TV specials, Muppet Shows, etc.).

But, I don’t know…it just seems appropriate.

And we’ve never pulled into a campground without playing a little JD.

So as we entered Star Valley, Wyoming heading north on US-89, it was time to switch the stereo to my Camping Mix. And suddenly the rolling, wild, mountain vistas of Star Valley bubbled up some long forgotten memories of watching a summer lightning storm split the skies of Yellowstone when I was kid.

It was a good memory...magical somehow.

And maybe it was somehow appropriate that I was currently reading John Krakauer’s Into the Wild.

We were heading to Grand Teton National Park—a park we’d never camped in before. Our specific destination was Colter Bay Campground on the shores of Lake Jackson.

A little luck had played a part in our scheduling the trip because our good friends Ryan and Kristy Lindstrom happened to plan the same trip at the same time—and they’re old pros at camping in the Tetons—so we just followed along.

As it turned out, their extended family had been coming to the Tetons every year for years and, arriving before us, Ryan’s sweet mom reserved a great camp site for us. We had inadvertently busted in on the annual Grand Teton Lindstrom family reunion—but they made us feel like family.

Before arriving in Grand Teton you pass through Jackson Hole, Wyoming—a sort of dude ranch town that conjures up images of Jim Carrey’s fringed buckskin get-up in Dumb and Dumber. But the moment you leave the town, heading north, you’re immediately transported to one of the most beautiful sights in the western United States.

The Teton Range raises its serrated edge to nearly 14,000 feet. It’s among the most rugged mountain ranges in the world—with blue lakes at its base and a meandering valley full of sagebrush and pine at its eastern side.

Occasionally we’re asked by non-campers, “What exactly do you guys do when you’re camping?” We have to chuckle at the underlying wonder that a family could entertain themselves out in the bush for 4 or 5 days and not go crazy.

And I’m not sure there’s a way to describe it in terms that a non-camper would understand.

Maybe it’s the fresh air, the clean skies, the green of the trees, the surprise of seeing a red fox, the lack of a schedule…time to catch toads or read a book or ride a bike. Maybe it’s popping Jiffy Pop on the gas stove, roasting a marshmallow, the hiss of a Coleman lantern, lying in a hammock….

Maybe it’s taking a night swim in a cool mountain lake or grilling mushroom burgers over an open fire. It could be the lazy afternoon naps or rowing a rubber boat or skipping rocks on a lake as smooth as a mirror. Maybe it’s having the time or the open possibilities to do whatever comes to mind—walking to the campground store for an ice cream cone, taking a golden hour drive to shoot a few photos, or laughing with the kids.

Game Boys, XBoxes, Wii’s and iPods are all banished. Cell phones are turned off. There isn’t a computer in sight. No work in the morning, no project deadlines, nothing on the schedule other than where your whimsy takes you.

When you’re tucked away in one of Colter Bay campground’s thickly forested camp sites you and a few easy-going neighbors could be the only people left on Earth. And a leisurely drive in the evening reveals a wild, rolling, Rocky Mountain setting where bison, elk, eagles and grizzlies are expected.

We spent a lot of time on three glacial lakes—Lake Jackson, Jenny Lake, and String Lake.

We bought a rubber row boat a couple of years ago. It sat in its deteriorating cardboard box, rolled up tight, unused and waiting for the chance to be inflated and lazily floated on lakes just like these.

So, yeah, anytime you want to go boating with us—let us know.

Here comes that big ole prairie moon risin’
Shinin’ down bright as can be
Up on the hill there’s a coyote singin’
A Song of Wyoming for me.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

June 2008: Three Amigos

Needless to say, we got some weird reactions.

When you tell your friends that you’re going to Disneyland and you’re only taking one of your kids, their immediate thought is: But what about all your other deprived, neglected kids? Surely they’re going to weep every day that you’re gone and hold it against you and when you’re old they’ll put you in a nursing home much earlier than necessary.

But hey, at some point, each one of your kids needs a little one-on-one time.

So when Jason’s band, the Steel Institute, was invited (again) to play in Disneyland, Lori and I decided that it would just be him and us…and two of his friends.

I had originally thought that with four-dollar gas we would drive to Southern Cal in my Camry. It gets pretty good gas mileage and it’s comfortable…if you’re under 5’10” that is. Problem is, Jason’s friends, Richie Dowd and Rick Doxey are both well over 6 feet. So instead of 27 mpg in the Camry, it would be 16 mpg in the Suburban.


Note: the White family can’t do anything unless we have a bag of treats. Watch a movie at home? Gotta have treats. Going to play in the Park? Gotta have treats. Going camping? Gotta have treats. Taking a long road trip? Gotta have treats.

Apparently Richie’s family is far more sensible and health-conscious than the White family because Richie was astounded at the plethora of treats that we loaded into that gas-guzzling Suburban. Then, to supplement our mobile larder I bought a gigantic bag of beef jerky at a gas station along the way.

But besides hitting another déjà vu headwind between Baker and Barstow we made it to Orange County without putting a dent in the Suburban or the über treat-bag.

So, with lots of June midsummer light left we headed straight for Newport Beach. Once there, we busted out 4 longboards and 1 scooter ‘cause the boardwalk is much more fun on wheels. The boys and I were skateboarding—but Lori’s not a skateboarder—so the scooter was for her. You gotta give a 39 year-old mother of 6 credit for being game.

We immediately headed down the boardwalk for the Balboa Pier. Naturally, after eating all those treats we were hungry. There’s this little pizza shop that we discovered last year and we promised the boys a slice. But they aren’t just slices—they’re GINORMOUS.

I had quite forgotten how big they are so naturally I ordered 2—and the boys followed suit.

Can you say stuffed?

Afterward we tooled around the Balboa and Newport piers—the boys reenacting a scene from the Titanic and generally acting like the big boys they are—and Lori and I tagging along.

The next day the boys headed off to Disneyland while Lori and I, having no previous plans, scanned the hotel’s tourist trap brochures for something to do. None of the day-tripper leaflets were really catching our eye until I saw one for the RMS Queen Mary.

There’s a story behind this.

Both my father (Quentin) and my mother (Marja-Riitta) served as missionaries in Finland during the period of 1954 to 1957. My dad was a typical Utah farm boy and Mom was (okay, still is…) a beautiful Finnish girl from Vaasa. As young, unmarried, LDS missionaries they each had companions of their same gender, lived in different cities, and were living under strict rules regarding how they could socialize—i.e., no dating, no flirting, etc. So, we’re told that they more or less ignored each other and only occasionally bumped into each other throughout those years.

In 1957 my dad finished his missionary service, promptly bought a Vespa, and buzzed off throughout continental Europe to see the sights. Not long afterward, my mom also completed her missionary service and, deciding to immigrate to the U.S., boarded the Queen Mary at Southhampton, England. And (surprise!) guess who was onboard? Yep, handsome Utah farm boy, Quentin.

Nothing to do but hang around a beautiful ship and practice those long-inactive flirting skills.

The rest is history.

Anyway, Lori and I thought it would be cool to see the old ship—which is now moored at Longbeach.

And cool it was.

That’s all I have to say about that.

Afterward we somehow decided that it would be important to visit Venice Beach.

It wasn’t.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Now the good part…. Eating.

I’m not a big fan of Mexican food, but I’ll never miss an opportunity to eat dinner at El Cholo.

Seriously, if you haven’t eaten there and you’re hanging around Southern Cal, go eat there.


You won’t be disappointed. Just thinking about it right now makes my stomach growl.

I recommend the Taste of History with Green Corn Tamales.

Yum again.

The next day it was off to Disneyland. Once again Jason had some great performances with the Steel Institute. One highlight was a memorable solo during Rush’s, Where’s My Thang….

Click the play button to see and hear it.

Lori and I let the boys go do their own thang while we hung out together. I even convinced her to ride the Tower of Terror—no small feat considering her fear of heights.

So, yeah, it was fun to focus on just one of our kids and hang out with Jason and his two buddies, Richie and Rick.

I suppose what said it all was when Jason found us throughout each day and gave us hugs with a big smile on his face.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Spring Break 2008: Zion National Park

We actually scheduled a spring break vacation. Yup, in 18 years of marriage this was the first spring break that didn’t take us by surprise.

It’s always just “snuck” up on us…. A couple of weeks before spring break we’d suddenly realize that it was coming—then I’d frantically try to get some time off from work and invariably find that my coworkers had covered the week with their names…so guess who had to cover for them while they were gone? Then, even if I was lucky enough to get some time off…all the cool vacation destinations were booked.

So last January we booked a camping spot at Zion National Park—and we scheduled the whole week. And before my coworkers could even think of raising their pens to the calendar, I had scrawled DEREK OFF through the week of April 14th.

So with our Suburban covered in bikes, and our Coleman pop-up trailer covered in more bikes we headed south toward Zion. I had to wonder just how many times I’ve been hauling a heavy, awkward load with the most un-aerodynamic array of things sticking out above my vehicle…and heading directly into a determined headwind.

Jason was actually driving another car behind me—and he wondered why his ol’ man was going so slow. Of course being a fairly new driver he didn’t notice all the weeds were pointing north while we were pointing south. And being new to the peloton he didn’t realize that the reason his Corolla was getting, like, 75 miles to the gallon was because he was drafting behind my huge hindquarters.

But when we finally reached Zion, a cute, young Ranger lady (oxymoron I know) informed us that their computer had messed up our reservation and had assigned us a spot just big enough for a Volkswagen Beetle. And that was the last spot.

So we took it. And with the luxury of a few centimeters to spare, we transformed our Coleman into our Zion home-away-from-home.

Almost immediately Natalie and Emily were off hunting lizards.

And they’re good at it too.

We’ve been to Zion many times before and they’ve honed their lizard-grabbing skills to perfection. But this being a public blog I will not admit to letting them remove said wildlife from national parklands to be installed in a comfy terrarium in our home and kept fat on slow, domesticated crickets lest their elementary school teacher (ex-Ranger lady) tell them (again) that their daddy will go to jail. No, WE ALWAYS LEAVE WILDLIFE IN THE PARK FOR OTHERS TO ENJOY. EVEN IF THERE ARE TRILLIONS OF THEM AND THEY REPRODUCE LIKE RABBITS.

Soon after arriving, Jason wanted to cycle the canyon White-family-style. Hey, we don’t bring all those bikes for nothing! We’re serious cyclists! We ride those bikes all the way to the shuttle station, load them on the shuttle, ride the shuttle to the top of the canyon…and ride down! On the way down we always seem to see silly people in biking shorts and skin-tight jerseys riding up the canyon. Don’t they know they can get a free ride up?

After stopping at the lodge for ice-cream (serious cycling food) I noticed a young boy wearing a BYU Cougars t-shirt and was just about to shout, “GO COUGS” when I recognized his dad—my old high school buddy, Craig Dalley. So I rode behind Craig with my face shielded by my hat brim and said in my best nerdy voice, “Gee whiz, I’m trying to ride my bike here. Could you get outta the way?”

He wasn’t fooled. Instead, he laughed his big Craig Dalley laugh and instantly recognized me through the extra pounds of padding on my face. He was there with his wife, Lisa, and four of their five boys. He and his boys had hiked the Angels Landing trail that morning. They were planning on doing it again the next morning—and he invited us along.

So at dawn the next day Jason, Connor, and I met him at 6:45 sharp and began our ascent to Angels Landing.

It was a good thing that Lori didn’t come with us.

I’ve witnessed her paralyzed with height fright over a 15 foot jump into a river. There are times during the Angels Landing hike when the only thing that separates you from a 1200 foot drop on one side and a 900 foot drop on the other side is a ten foot wide ridgeline and a stout chain. Several times I had to remind myself and my boys, “Don’t look down and don’t take your hands off the chain.”

But the views when you get up there! Incredible! I’d do it again and again if I get the chance. I just won’t look down and I won’t take my hands off the chain.

Back at the campground later that day, Ryan, our four year-old, kept asking me to take him on a bike ride—and Daddy just couldn’t resist taking him any time he asked. His new Boot Scoot bike is a little two-wheeler with no pedals that he’s learned how to scoot and coast like a pro. He was the star attraction for all the retired grandmas and grandpas in our campground. They’d see him come zipping by and they’d laugh and stare and slap their knees and say, “Look at him go!”

After that we fell into the White family camping routine—throwing rocks into the river, taking naps, riding our bikes, taking more naps, touring the campground to find the weirdest camp trailers and motor homes, reading a few books, playing games, eating treats, watching movies late into the night—and topping it off with some midnight toad-catching. (AND NO, WE DO NOT REMOVE SAID TOADS FROM THE NATIONAL PARKLANDS BECAUSE EVERYONE KNOWS THAT CUTE LITTLE TOADS DO NOT MIX WELL WITH CUTE LITTLE GIRLS. AND BESIDES, THEY’RE HARD TO TAKE CARE OF—YOU HAVE TO BUY THEM LIVE CRICKETS, LIKE, ONCE EVERY TWO WEEKS AND KEEP THEIR LITTLE SWIMMING POOL FULL. AND FOR ALL THAT THEY LIVE LONG AND HEALTHY LIVES FAR AWAY FROM HUNGRY COYOTES.)

Spring break vacation. What a great idea.

So when we returned home at the end of the week I promptly bought a 2009, 2010 and 2011 calendar that I’ll post at work. And I’ve already marked out spring break with DEREK OFF.