Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Thoughts

It is always a struggle to put aside the fun, colorful, and thin decorations that wrap themselves around the reasons we celebrate Christmas. This year was no different but two back-to-back videos helped me.

The first was from the Church’s Christmas web site and it was a series of interviews of people who as adults discovered the gospel, repented and joined the church. They all expressed the incredible lows and depression felt by living worldly rules. They described their inability to find happiness or peace from a treadmill of a modeling career, or empty business transactions, or endless intoxication. Then when they prayed for help and received the Savior’s warm forgiving embrace they felt the true power of the gift of his life. He gave us the way to return to that safe harbor which is our heavenly home. I realized that is the reason we celebrate his birth.

The other video showed a professional choir disbursed among a large group of holiday shoppers at a busy mall’s food court. They were wearing everyday clothes and couldn’t be recognized. Suddenly the mall music system stopped playing the jangle of some dopey reindeer song and a powerful organ started into Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. A young lady stood up and in a beautiful voice started singing this inspiring piece of music. She was joined by others in the choir giving song to the ancient scripture of Isaiah’s adoration of the advent of the Savior’s life, majesty, and gift. Within a very short time the entire choir was standing and singing praises to God. What struck me was the setting. Here was a crowded shopping mall, the height of commercialism, taking pause as “ordinary” people raised their voices to honor the birth of the Savior and the promise of his perfect life. There is a vital place for the spiritual side of Christmas to shine and be remembered.

For Christmas weekend there was nearly 8 feet of snowfall in the mountains, but none here. It is so weird to have 50 degree weather in Denver this late in the year. We had Danica and Dave over for Christmas Eve and enjoyed one of the greatest meals ever prepared, with turkey, prime rib, fresh Chinese egg rolls, pear salad, and twice baked potatoes. It was a wonderful busy holiday kitchen and dining experience. We gave each other a moving dance party game and a soda pop maker. We must be at a very comfortable place in life to give such gifts.

At Danica’s on Christmas morning, it was a typical little kid gift opening frenzy. I received a special gift as my daughter’s had teamed up to digitize old family movies and I could watch 3 year old Austin praddle around the kitchen, stealing finger gouges of butter for a long time. Those old movies reflect a very blessed and happy group of lucky kids growing up with a big yard and big bedrooms, with a rabbit pen, a deer blind, a picnic table, woods to explore, and grass to run on with no TV. What a sweet treasure to watch those movies again and see our younger selves.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Congratulations to Don and Leslie

What a great experience I’ve enjoyed over the last couple of weeks. It has to be considered one of the highlights of my life to gather in Phoenix with Tracy, Don and Austin and go through the temple for Don and Leslie’s endowments. It was so powerful and sweet to be Don’s escort as he received his endowments and then join with Austin, Tracy and the Galan’s in the Celestial Room after the session. How lucky can one dad be?

The next morning was a kick as well because Don took us to the gym to workout. He said he would pair back his workout because we were there, but I encouraged him to challenge Austin, mom and I. So we started off with 3 sets of 10 pull-ups and did a ton of additional weight work on various machines. I’m delighted to say that I could keep up pretty well with Don and may have surprised Don and Austin. As long as I impress Tracy I’m good to go.

We went house shopping and picked out two houses to buy for Don to rent out as the start of a business. It was crazy to try and buy two houses, take the family’s Christmas picture, meet and party at the Galan’s, and pick up all the kids from the airport and get ready for the wedding and reception in only two days. It was fun busy and we even snuck in a couple of movies and a dancing contest.

The wedding was amazing because it became an early glimpse of heaven. Here were Tracy and I with all six of our kids in the sealing room at the temple. Don and Leslie were so striking and happy. It was strange to hear Bro. Barrand and it not refer to me. I looked out at our family and pictured us all in heaven together, all of us at the age of 24 and thought what a great promise for the future. With all the twists and turns of life to have us all arrive here and be able to participate in this glorious day for Don and Leslie was incredible. I will treasure that feeling always.

Half a day back in Denver and then we were getting up at 3 am for the plane flight to Orlando to kick around with Celeste’s family at as many amusement parks as Celeste could plan to attend. We spent Thanksgiving Day at airports but did squeeze in a wonderful turkey dinner at a local restaurant. It is a lot easier to eat out. We spent the next day shopping, getting discount (?) tickets, and playing at the pool with the grandkids. It was a good day.

We ended up hitting 5 parks in 5 days; Sea World, Disney Magic Kingdom, Disney Movie Studio, Universal Islands of Adventure, and Universal Studios. You could also throw in Disney Quest as well. We would pack a lunch each day and drag ourselves back home every night exhausted. Everyone including grand kids did great. Loved Sea World, although they have toned down the Shamu show and nobody gets in the water anymore. The Dolphin show was like a Hollywood production with cliff divers, trapeze artists, streamers, birds, and very colorful costumes. Somewhere in there the dolphins still brought tears to my eyes.

We liked Universal better than Disney: Newer attractions, colorful ideas, and far fewer crowds. The Harry Potter exhibit was incredible and Butter Beer is very good. I also like Toy Story Mania a ton. Everyone had their favorite ride and we got around to doing something for everyone. I got to be the designated runner to collect fast passes and move us to the front of the line. It helped to burn off excess energy while waiting in long lines.

I felt a little guilty spending a lot of money on amusement park rides and events but I got to be with and know much better my grandchildren who I don’t see enough of, as well as Celeste and Brad, but most of all, time away is good for Tracy and I.

It has been a great couple of weeks, now to survive Christmas.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Agony and the Ecstasy

Three weeks ago I launched into a project I have done everything I could to avoid for over 7 years – the pursuit of the Series 7 exam for Securities. It is the mother of all ugly tests but allows you to sell individual stocks, bonds, options, margin accounts, and other odd stuff. I have been able to avoid it for so long I thought I could escape it’s pain but recent sales and some potential future business required me to get it at this time. Many a good agent has had to take the “7” multiple times to get a passing 70 grade. I knew of the study and focus it required and I simply didn’t want to give up that much time and take the test.

Wanting to avoid crashing on the rocks of defeat like some many others had done I decided to spend several hundred dollars and take a class. That was another fear – paying a bunch of money to sit in a class room all week and sleep through half of the material. Since junior high school I have fallen asleep in virtually every class, training, workshop, play, and movie I have ever watched. To prepare for the week I got a blessing from my home teacher to stay awake.

The class was a miserable experience. Eight hours a day for 5 straight days sitting in a classroom listening to the instructor give a rapid fire lecture on the most menial facts and minutia. It was exhausting to sit through but I didn’t nod off even once through the entire 5 day course. I’ve never done that before. That week included study and work every night trying to remember what I had learned during the day. The next week was even worse as I tried to work a few hours and then study the remaining 10 hours. The course material was two telephone book sized study guides. Then the practice tests. Endless 3 hour practice test and the goal was to get through 10 to 15 of those before the actual test. My life was glued to my desk and those books and the results were terrible.

I needed to be scoring in the 70 and 80’s in order to pass and I was scoring in the 60’s and low 70’s. I was brain dead, I hadn’t done my new church job, I didn’t talk to the kids or say hi to the new missionary, and the worse is I didn’t pay any attention to Tracy for two weeks and that makes life really stinky.

I took the 8 hour exam on Tues and the blessing paid off. The question seemed so easy compared to practice tests and I ended up with an 82% for my final grade. I can’t describe the elation and joy of having passed that ugly test – in time to leave the next morning for a rewards trip to Cabo San Lucas. Home Teaching blessings really work.

With only about 2 hours of sleep we got up the next morning for a 0 dark thirty departure for Mexico. I didn’t want to think for the next 4 days, just relax and spend time with Tracy, plus a little scuba diving. We filled our time with checking the sand at the beach, eating tons of good food, catching rays, going shopping, visiting with a few other agents. We also zipped around on Jet Skis, cruised along the Land’s End coast with sea kayaks, did a little really wild body surfing in the pacific, and read and relaxed.

A couple of highlights needs mentioning. While sea kayaking, Tracy and I tried to shoot through this narrow little gap between rocks and ended up tipping over and getting a little bloody on the rocks. I cut my hand and Tracy her leg and now her neck hurts. The body surfing was incredibly wild with a high and low beach which poured the outgoing tide onto you at different angles with real force. Sand got everywhere. We were scheduled for a sunset cruise and everyone made it on the ship except for mom. No one could find her. We left the dock but kept trying to reach her and finally when we were in the middle of the bay she went to the hotel lobby. They hustled her down to the beach plopped her down on a jet ski with a hot Mexican guy who said, “Hold On” and he zipped her James Bond style out to the dinner cruise. Everyone labels Tracy as the Bond girl of the trip and she loved the attention.

We were in Cabo the weekend of the world’s largest Marlin fishing tournament and were lucky enough to be down at the docks when they were pulling in 550 and 600 pound fish. It was amazing. It was a million dollar purse and one boat brought in an 800 pound Marlin, but they arrived 10 late past the reporting time and lost the chance for the prize money. Too bad they couldn’t have jumped on a jet ski like mom did. The diving was good although I didn’t see any whale sharks like I wanted to. I did see massive schools of skip jack and snapper. There were thousands of fish in these schools and the snappers weight between 40 – 60 pounds each. It was like being in a snow storm of 50 pound snowflakes. We saw some sharks and a cool sand cascade. Well worth the time and effort and I want to go back.

I’ve decided that I don’t need quite as much agony to enjoy the ecstasy.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


My next 2 1/2 weeks are going to be torture. It's hard to think of a more ugly way to torture someone then to have them go through Series 7 training. For the next week from 8 until 5 I get to sit in class listening to the most boring convoluted and complex crap about Options and the Securities Act from 1934. Then I get to study all that garbage for another week and then take an 8 hour exam. Yes the exam lasts 8 hours. I'm afraid my head will explode. I'd rather eat 7 courses of meat loaf and watch Pride and Prejudice multiple times than do the Series 7. The only consolation is that we leave for Cabo the day after the exam. I'll either be very happy or ready to punch out the nearest whale shark. Tracy is hoping I'm happy.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pictures don't lie

It is amazing what a little time, a rigerous workout schedule, and a great trainer will do for a body. I've been with Mary Ellen for 3 months now and all those plank pains have paid off. Mom has been my inspiration and my body is looking better as you can tell from a actual photo from a workout session. A little photo shop doesn't hurt either.

Mom and I attend Cavalia on Friday night and had a fantastic time. It is one of the best Cirque D' Solie I've ever seen. Take all the beauty, speed and power of horses plus all the gymnastics, actrobatics, and daring of Cirque and fold in the music, set design, and whimsy of incredibly talents artists and you have Cavalia. It was amazing.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Greatest Show on Earth

Not much out of the ordinary this past week except a fun Saturday afternoon visit to the circus with Lily and Jensen. Dave and Danica won a trip to the supped up Grand Prix go-kart racing at Stapleton and let us have the kids for the day. So we went to the annual Highlands Ranch circus. They put up the tent and set up all the attractions in the morning and run the “The Greatest Show on Earth” under the Big Top in the afternoon and evening.

Steve Jackson got up seat upgrades and we had front row seats for the parade of entertainers. We saw everything from trained dogs, to ponies, jugglers, balancing acts, high circling baskets, trapezes and three racing elephants as the finale. We saw them, but I don’t think the kids got much out of the experience. Lily was performing her own acrobatic stunts as I couldn’t find her shoes so she was barefoot and I was trying to keep her from running around in the dirt. She climbed all over me, mom, and the lady sitting next to us. The lady didn’t quite appreciate Lily’s athletic abilities.

Jensen was way more interested in munching down on the caramel popcorn and holding the binoculars. Not looking in the binoculars but just holding them. I did have some luck having Jensen feeding a miniature cow with a big tongue. He was grossed out with the cow’s first lick on his sensitive palm. He kept wiping his hand on his pants trying to remove the icky feeling that wouldn’t go away. I couldn’t get him to feed any more animals. I don’t think Jensen will select veterinary work as his chosen vocation.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Labor Day

What a great Labor Day weekend. We were just missing Celeste and Don's family and it would have been totally perfect.

We were able to fit in biking with Bryce and Austin while Tracy went with the rest of the adults horseback riding. We all had a picnic lunch while the kids were playing and wrestling and getting along great. We filled the rest of the day with a wild game of wallyball, Tri Tip Bar-B-Que, and a successful BYU game. I got to do one of my favorite things - taking Tiana and Preston on a private tour of the aquarium, Austin was there as well on a date. WOW everyone was happy.
Quiet time Sunday morning relaxing and talking, good church meeting, then a fun family dinner with the roar of happy children and more wrestling with Dave. Tracy hosted a jewelry party with a non member and the rest of us went to Danica's for games and dessert.
Monday morning we were able to squeeze in racquetball games, ultimate frisbee, a little house cleaning, playtime in the park, and an outdoor lunch at McDonald's with food from other restaurants. Follow by a little more shopping, visiting a prairie dog village, a trip through the old neighborhood and a nap before we hug and said our good byes.

It was a great weekend. Love you all.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

What are we thinking???

It started out a normal week with a few appointments for both Tracy and I and no big life changing events, but life has a way of jumping up and surprising you all the time. On Tues night we met with a fun Chinese neighbor who had a proposition for us to take on two Chinese foreign exchange students. A boy and a girl. We started out with a NO, which worked into MAYBE for two weeks to help out, and ended up as YES for the whole school year. What were we thinking? We like our independence and don't really have time to cook meals, entertain, or run kids around. What were we thinking? It only took two days before the mission office to call and say - "You can't do that with Sister Missionaries." Now I have a whole new reason to love the missionaries. What were we thinking?

We did do a little entertaining taking them to Pike's Peak, the movies, to see Tracy's horse, the Alpine Slide, and a short hike to St. Mary's Glacier. Life is interesting at all times.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Summer Saturday

It is mid August and summer is about to end and so I felt the urge to use up the glorious Colorado sunshine while it is still here. After an appointment in Boulder mom and I headed to the South end of Rocky Mountain National Forest to hike the Ouzel Waterfall trail. It was a perfect day include something I can compliment Obama was a "fee free" day at the park set up to encourage people to get out and enjoy the natural beauty. It saved me $20, and I got to take these pictures.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

It's Only Money -

This has been a disastrous week as a blow to our financial future. It is the accumulation of a string of bad news related to our finances and it has nearly sent me over the top in anguish. The judge ruled against us in our 1031 lawsuit against First American Title, it is a case we should have won easily but it wasn’t argued well and the judgment went the other way. It means we have lost the $33,000 of equity in the Provo condo plus I have to pay my legal fees which so far amount to another $32,000 and the court will probably have me pay the legal costs on the winning side. That amounts to about $55,000. So instead of walking away with $33,000 in our pockets we will end up losing all of that and pay out $87,000 in legal fees. If I appeal it will only add to the bill, but then it may also go my way and we could have everything restored.

There is something criminal about our judicial system when I have to lose $120,000 to fight and eventually lose a legitimate claim to money rightfully mine. I have always disliked lawyers, but judges are now high on my list as well. Look what one judge in CA did as he rejected the majority vote of 7,000,000 citizens and overturned Prop 8 and allow gay marriage. He is openly gay and didn’t recue himself from the case – totally dishonest. Then the weenie judge in AZ (Clinton appointee) overturned the legal proceedings of the state’s immigration bill. If you can believe it; our federal government supports a foreign government (Mexico) and has sued the state of AZ for putting into state law the same language as the current and unenforced federal law states about immigration. I have lost trust in the judicial system.

It has been a string of financial disasters and losses for us and I just need to write about it, to get it out of my head.

1031 case - $120,000

Ponzi scheme - $115,000

Preferred Care - $ 40,000

Branson home - $ 40,000

Codling - $ 20,000

McFarland - $ 15,000

Total - $350,000

Thanks goodness it is only money and the sun still rises in the morning and we have a loving family and good friends around to soften the blow of a very harsh and unfair world. Heavenly Father has blessed us and I need to be grateful for the true joys in life – those that can be taken with us into the next world. Pray that a few things can turn around for us or we will be relying on our kids for our retirement living.

Here are a few shots of the important things in life: