Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Battle of Raccoon Hill

So, I’ve been trying to get caught up on some work things lately, since I have been taking time off for Youth Conference, holidays, scout camp, etc. This has required me to stay up rather late.  Late nights have always appealed to me – I guess you could say that I love the night life (I've got to boogie – QUICK! NAME THE SINGER!). Last night, I looked at the clock, which showed 2:30, and decided it was time to quit.

There is something tranquil and wonderful about a sleeping house. Almost every light is off; there is no noise from televisions, computers, or video games; you know the phone or doorbell isn’t about to ring – everything is quiet and predictable.

Part of my nightly routine involves touring the slumbering house to turn off lights, check doors, and enjoy a few seconds of watching my beautiful children sleep. Boris the angry Bulldog invariably accompanies me on this trip, and I invariably am touched by his loyalty to me. Truly, I relish this experience at night – definitely one of my favorite times of the day. And did I mention, it’s predictable? There are never surprises.

This peaceful lamb enjoying an undoubtedly peaceful evening
is a perfect metaphor for how I feel during this process.
So, you can imagine what a shock it was to my system when I opened the garage entryway door, and literally stepped in a CIRCLE of EIGHT CLEARLY-RABID, DEMONIC RACCOONS!

Did you see what I said there? THEY WERE MURDEROUS RACCOONS! AND THERE WERE EIGHT OF THEM! AND THEY WERE POSSESSED OF THE DEVIL! In the blink of an eye, my peaceful, nightly stroll had TURNED INTO ARMAGEDDON!
Dramatic Reenactment!
Some quick back-detail on the story. We have a feral cat that has adopted us. He is a sweet little guy who follows Pax and Goose around the neighborhood when they are out playing or riding bikes, and proudly brings us an occasional decapitated mouse – he’s very protective of the family. Because he is still, by definition, a wild animal, we let him come and go as he pleases. He has a bed and food in the garage, and we leave one of the garage doors open about eight inches, for his convenience. It was through that slightly-open garage door that the DEMONIC, MURDEROUS RACCOONS (THERE WERE EIGHT!) entered the garage.

So, back to my tranquil night. I needed something from the garage before I could climb into my soft, warm, peaceful bed. So, I opened the door from our home into the garage; and as I’ve done thousands of times before, I stepped into the dark garage while I was turning on the light. However, unlike the previous thousands of times I have followed this process, my foot didn’t land predictably on the wooden platform in the garage. No – instead, what my bare leg felt as I stepped into the dark was a vast movement of fur, claws, and whipping, wiry tales. When the light filled the room, Boris – ever present – must have thought that I had arranged a play date with a group of funny-looking new dogs in the neighborhood. Hence, he immediately moved past me into the chaos (and then quickly turned around, when a few of his new friends tried to scratch his eyes out).  Completely caught off guard and freaked out, I exclaimed an array of expletives that made me glad my kids were sound asleep.

The food we keep for the cat is on the top of the steps leading into our house from the garage, so that’s where these angry little demons were – perched in a circle around the bowl like spokes on a wheel. What was absolutely crazy about the situation (and a little off-putting and creepy, even now) is how they had no fear of me. One or two of them scrambled at least to the bottom step into the garage, but none of them actually ran. They all just stopped, stared Boris and me down, bared their teeth, and started growling and hissing. It was almost as if we had stumbled upon them with their kill, and they weren’t intending on sharing it.

Another dramatic reenactment. A poor one, really –
because in reality, THERE WERE EIGHT OF THEM!

And so there we stood for fifteen seconds, or so. Boris had now realized that if this was a play date, it must be with dogs from the doggie juvenile detention center – so he had backed off to stand behind my legs. And, I guess I was just trying to figure out what to do. But Chloe, our nine-pound Yorkie, didn’t need any time to decide; for out of the dark house behind me, she came tearing through my legs, launching herself at two of the growling raccoons.

And that’s when all hell broke proverbially loose. The two raccoons Chloe had attacked took, oh, about three seconds to have her on her back, and about one more second to get their sharp little teeth at her throat. So, Chloe starts screeching like she is dying (which, in fairness, was where her little exchange was heading); the raccoons were growling and screeching; Boris starts doing his concerned bark (which is downright sad and funny, if you ever get a chance to hear it); and I am trying to find something to throw at the ones on Chloe, to break them up. The only thing I could get my hands on was Lucy’s bucket of driveway chalk, so I launched that at the pile of raccoons/Chloe. Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to even temper their now full-bodied bloodlust – they just kept at Chloe’s throat. So, without really thinking, I reached down and grabbed the one on top of the pile by the nape, and threw him across the garage; and then I sort of kicked at what was left of the combined pile of one raccoon, Chloe, and little broken bits of driveway chalk. That dislodged the raccoon from Chloe, and Chloe wasted no time to screechingly scamper back into the safety of the house (thanks for your help there, Chloe – you really handled that well). 

Right, Chloe – I’m sure they were terrified of you.
 With Chloe’s exit, there was chaos. The one I had kicked off Chloe was trying to claw and bite my foot, as I kept kicking at him. A couple still perched on the garage steps literally launched themselves at me (and Boris, who was still by my side – love that dumb dog), smacking into my arm and back - I sort of flailed them away, as best I could. The others quickly scampered over and through the porch railing, into the garage. And keep in mind that all of this was now happening with Lucy’s driveway chalk rolling and crunching under our feet – it was like a zany kid’s movie, where the kids throw down marbles to keep the bad guys from being able to catch them.

From that point, I lost track of most of the evil, little incubi – other than a cacophony of their deep, creepy, guttural belly growls. And that’s what was absolutely surreal. They had an open garage door they could have used to escape off into the dark of night. I don’t know if in their panic, they didn’t realize it; if they were still hungry and desirous of finishing their meal; or if they were just sizing me up, talking to each other through their brains (they can do that, you know – they’re the devil) about the best way to collectively attack and murder me. But for whatever reason (although probably the last one I mentioned), they all stayed in various hiding places in the garage.

The logical thing, at this point, would have been to go back inside, turn off the lights, and let them all leave at their leisure. But it was 2:30 AM, and I was feeling startled, protective (even of stupid Chloe, who seems to think she’s about 200 pounds of attack dog), and quite irrational. So, with Boris still by my side, I grabbed an umbrella and a steel garden rake, and I prepared to go full vigilante.

This was the only one I was able to photograph.
 Now, I love animals – really, all animals. I hate to see them hungry or suffering. But in my irrational mind, these demons had turned in their animal cards, and had become vicious killers. I found one in the corner, behind the outdoor Christmas tree light bins. BAM! I hit him with the business end of the rake. I found one under Susan’s car. BAM! (You can’t get a good swing under the car, so I had to use the rake more like a pool cue.) I found one hiding in an old Tupperware container we once used for bird seed. BAM! I found two hiding underneath the wooden steps/porch going into the house. BAM! BAM! Each one of them first got the rake; and if they made the mistake of moving closer to me after getting the rake, they got the umbrella. I walked around the car, and saw a striped tail sticking out from underneath the lawn mower. I smacked the tail with the rake, and then smacked the tail’s owner with the umbrella when he came out. BAM! POW! He made the mistake of defiantly turning around, looking me in the eyes, and hissing at me. I’m quite satisfied to say that the little rodent vastly underestimated how fast I could move with the rake. BAM!

And it was working. I was bravely fighting off the evil attackers. With each swing of the rake, I was sending another one cowardly into the night. I like to imagine them today, regrouping in a sort of triage area they’ve carved out in some scrub oak – bruised and beaten enough to know that they messed with the wrong rake owner. Talking among themselves, they collectively decide to stay clear of my house, the next time they decide to participate in their raccoon gang activity.

Anyway, back to the battlefield. By now, I had made enough noise to have awoken Susan, who came into the garage with wide eyes. I can only imagine how I must have looked – wild, crazy eyes; a rake in one hand, a now-broken umbrella in the other; loudly saying, with interjections of profanity, things like, “You want to go to war? I’ll go to war with you!” Or, “You want some more? I gotta lotta more! Bring it on, baby!” All the while, Boris the angry Bulldog (who by now has decided his master has come up with a REALLY FUN GAME) is bouncing up and down at my feet, barking these excited little yelps, and chasing each new demon raccoon as it retreats into the night.

Finally, the only one that appeared to remain had jumped back into the Tupperware bird seed container. He stared me down – hissing, growling, and spitting – murder in his eyes. With Susan and Boris watching, silently in awe of my courage, I slowly approached, rake drawn – the final battle! But instead of using the rake as a weapon, I used it to flip closed the hinged door on the container. The container became alive with motion, flopping around with the movement of the highly panicked (and fully trapped) raccoon. Holding the door shut with all my strength (lest I lose a finger), I carried the entire container around the side of the house; thumped it with my fist a few times, for good measure; and opened the door. And with that, the last of the army of raccoons retreated onto the golf course.

Not today, murderer!
Not in my town!
Eventually, I went back into the house, restarted the process of locking/shutting everything down, snuggled with Boris the angry Bulldog to reward his loyalty (LOVE that big knucklehead), and climbed into bed – where I lay for a few hours, unable to sleep. This morning, in my tired state, the whole thing seemed almost like a bad dream (although the messy condition of the garage confirms that it wasn’t). Meanwhile, I think I might invest in a BB gun. 

I half expect to find this on a postcard in my mail soon,
Well played, raccoons! Well played!
 Lastly, I leave you with this dramatic scene from the movie "Elf." Evil, little rodents!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Porter Thorkelson - a GREAT KID Needs Your Prayers!

For those of you who are so inclined…

We have a wonderful young man in our ward named Porter Thorkelson. The Thorkelson family moved in a few years ago, and I met Porter while driving him to a scout jamboree, down at the U. To say that the day was awful would be unnecessarily kind. The event was disorganized, poorly designed, and over-attended. I felt bad for myself, having to be there all day. But I felt even worse for the boys – for many, this was their first experience with Scouts.

Throughout the day, we would regroup as a scout troop, and try to figure out where everyone was supposed to be. Porter brought comic relief to each of these “get-togethers.” Finally, when we mercifully decided to leave early, Porter entertained me and the kids in my car, during the entire trip back to our homes. I was struck by how deep and subtly sarcastic his humor was. (Everyone who knows me knows that I love sarcasm. Subtle sarcasm is the best – where you and maybe only one or two other people get it) I remember telling his father that I had really enjoyed Porter, in part, because he has “an adult’s sense of humor.” His dad’s face told me that I probably needed to explain that better, which I did. (No dirty jokes, Dad. Just comments and the occasional barb that showed a refined intelligence.)

Porter messing around. He's always messing around; and if there is a new kid that needs to be welcomed, Porter is there!
Porter with one of his wonderful sisters.
About two weeks ago, Porter hurt his leg playing rugby. It didn’t seem like a big deal, at the time – it was just something that would require a little time to rest. When the swelling wasn’t receding after a few days, Porter’s parents took him back to the doctor, and the doctor ran some tests. You can imagine the family’s dismay when the doctor said, “We need to get Porter in right away to do a biopsy on the area where his leg is swelling." And by “right away,” they weren’t talking about the next available appointment, next week sometime. They were talking about going to the hospital right then, and staying until the biopsy was successfully taken. Several excruciating hours later, the doctors took Jared and Mary Ann (Porter’s wonderful father and mother) into a small conference room in the hospital to give them the bad news: Porter had bone cancer, and it was serious. Their recommendation was to place a port into Porter’s chest while they had him in the hospital, and start using it for aggressive chemotherapy treatments as soon as they could be scheduled. They were hopeful about saving him. Their plan is to go aggressive with the chemotherapy for about three weeks. Then, they will do surgery, I assume to remove any trace of the tumor they can find. If the tumor has spread, or if it is just bigger than they anticipated, they will remove the leg. Following surgery, they will start the chemotherapy again for at least another month.

One tough kid. Porter told his family that if anyone in the family had to get cancer, he was glad it was him.

Since we heard this news last weekend, I have been walking around in a bit of a funk. Of course, I love Porter. The world needs a boy like Porter! He has way too much to offer for his mission here to be finished. What put me in more of a funk, though, was the horrifying thought of what Jared and Mary Ann are going through. I’ve hugged my kids more this week than I had in a long time. Porter is a healthy kid. You would have never known something like this could be lurking in his body. The unpredictability of it just really gets me.

So, back to what I was alluding to in the opening line of this post. Our entire ward held a special fast for Porter on April 15. Even if you don’t know Porter, fasting for Porter would be so appreciated. If fasting is not your thing, we would welcome your prayers. And this definitely isn’t an exclusively Mormon invite. We welcome folks of all races, genders, and religions to join us in raising up our voices to our Heavenly Father (or whatever presence you pray to, when you do such things).

Also, Porter's family and friends will be wearing blue on April 27th, and posting pictures to the Support Porter Facebook page.

(On a side note, I just reread the talk given by Elder Neal L Andersen during the Sunday afternoon session of General Conference. If you haven't read it, you should. It's here:  What Thinks Christ of Me?    It's pertinent to this situation with Porter.)

Porter’s father has put up a Facebook page, to provide updates on his condition. If you would be interested in joining, drop me an email through Facebook, and I will get you an invite.

Thanks in advance for your participation, friends!


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Motivating for Grades - Opinions Wanted!

Okay, I haven’t written anything in a while. Sometimes, I think of things that might make interesting subjects; but I hold back, thinking, “No, that’s stupid. Who would care about the minutia of my boring life?” Then, IT HITS ME! Writing about the minutia of my boring life is the very reason I started a blog to begin with!



So, here’s an important topic! If you read this, I would love your opinion – be it in the comments below the blog post, or on the Facebook post that brought you here.

Pax’s first year in middle school brought its typical challenges. He’s a smart kid (if I may say so myself); but he’s not so terribly organized. Consequently, he’d miss assignments, and struggle with the timing of studying adequately for tests. As the year went on, we experimented with different ways to incentivize him, so that he would take ownership of his grades. By the last quarter of 7th grade, we had found a system that seemed to work. More than anything in life, Pax loves his electronics (hereafter referred to as his “stuff”) – his Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, iPhone, etc. Using his “stuff” as the carrot, we set up a sliding scale for his grades. As long as he had an A-Minus or higher in all of his classes, he could have his “stuff” as much as he wanted – after, of course, he did his chores and homework. At B-Minus and higher, he could have his “stuff” for one hour on weeknights, and up to three hours on each weekend day. If even one class got below B-Minus, our house became a “stuff-free zone.”

Each day, the first thing Pax does when he gets home from school is to traipse up the stairs to my office. Together, he and I log onto the school’s website, and check his grades. For each quarter after we implemented this program, his grades climbed higher. Finally, for the first quarter of this year – 8th grade, for Pax – the quarter ended with one A-Minus (Science), and six A’s. Susan and I were thrilled! This could be a system we use until he graduated from high school!
Pax - 8th Grade - One Handsome Dawg!
 So, Parent-Teacher conferences roll around for the first quarter, and we proudly go from teacher to teacher – excited to hear the glowing things they have to say about our clever son. And most of it was glowing! The common thread among all of the teachers was that Pax was a student who was actively engaged. Literally every teacher, independent of the others, mentioned how a day never passed without Pax waiting at the teacher’s desk, wanting to discuss a test result, an assignment score, an opportunity for extra credit, etc.

I almost got the feeling that Pax’s aggressive, proactive approach to his grades was an irritant for one or two of his teachers. They didn’t say anything directly, mind you – it was just my perception. Overall, Pax’s teachers seemed to sincerely enjoy him. I felt so proud of him that evening. It wasn’t just that he had achieved good grades – of course, learning how to be a good student will be one of the most valuable lessons he can learn in life. No, what pleased me even more was his persistence. I probably didn’t have the wherewithal in 8th grade to be that gritty with my teachers – to be that direct with any adults, for that matter. And I know that in the real world, that quality of dogged determination will be incredibly vital to Pax’s success – probably even more important than his ability to memorize facts for a test.

So, while still basking in the afterglow of an extraordinarily-positive parent-teacher conference, I was surprised when Pax came home the next week and told us about something that had happened to him at school that day. Apparently, one of Pax’s teacher’s assistants had pulled him aside, and said, “Mr. XYZ asked me to tell you to stop obsessing over your grade in his class. You’re doing yourself no favors by bugging him about it every day.”

At first, I was defensive – ready to have an angry discussion with the teacher, and the principal. But ultimately, I held back. Maybe the conversation had been exaggerated. Maybe it was taken out of context. Maybe there was just something I was missing. I had, after all, gotten the sense at parent-teacher conferences that a couple of his teachers had felt this way. So, I decided to investigate the situation a little deeper.  I sent an email to each of his teachers, explaining the incentive plan we had in place – and I asked them for additional feedback on Pax.

The response I received was almost entirely positive. Indeed, most of Pax’s teachers really did seem to genuinely enjoy him. Some said that they got a kick out of how on top of his grades he was – they found it refreshing. One said that she had originally worried that we might be “Nazi parents” – but that she felt a lot more comfortable after meeting us, and getting a little insight into why Pax was so “grade-motivated.”

There were two exceptions to this positive feedback. The first was the teacher that had allegedly been the source for the “stop bugging me about your grades” comment. He didn’t even bother responding to my email. Now THAT really DID raise my ire – let’s just say that I’m probably not this teacher’s biggest fan, at this point. The second exception was what has really gotten me perplexed – something into which I have really put a lot of thought, over the past several weeks. The comment was, “I wish Paxton would spend more time obsessing about learning the subject matter than he does about getting an ‘A’ in the class.”

I want to have an open mind about this.  I sincerely approached this whole thing with a desire to be a better parent for my student. In other words, I am not just looking for validation regarding my opinion. I want to understand!

Why would those two things (“getting an ‘A’ in the class” versus “learning the subject matter”) be mutually exclusive items? Wouldn’t you suppose that “getting an ‘A’ in the class” would automatically entail “learning the subject matter?” Outside of cheating, how could you possibly get an A in a class and NOT have learned?

Are there any teachers reading this who would be willing to speculate – to offer some insight into this? Maybe I’m over-analyzing it? I would truly value your input – both on the comment itself; and on anything you might have done as a parent to motivate your child to take ownership of his or her academic performance. I hate the thought of trying to motivate my kids by simply hounding them until they accomplish something. What’s worked for you?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

An Important Life Lesson: When Faith Isn't Enough!

When I was about ten, during a Sunday night church service at the First Baptist Church of Englewood, Colorado, I asked a simple question that started me down a road to spiritual discovery.

We had missionaries from Africa as guests that night. For my many Mormon friends, being an LDS missionary is different than being a missionary in just about any other church. In other churches, missionaries are adults – oftentimes, completely established with families. For them, serving a mission is a lifetime task. But they have to have funding. So, every so often, they fly back home and do a tour of churches. Usually during a Sunday Night service, they relate experiences from their mission, show pictures, and ask for donations.

It was on one such night that I had my question. While showing pictures of some of the people they had come across in Africa, these missionaries mentioned that many of the people there had never even heard of Jesus Christ. I don’t think I heard much else of what was said that night. My mind was troubled. It was a warm summer night, and our church was less than a mile from our house – so we had walked. On the walk home, I posed my question:

“Dad, how is it that those people in Africa haven’t heard about Jesus?”

“It’s just different there,” he responded. “They don’t have churches like we do. That’s why it’s important that we support missionaries.”

That led to a new question: “But what about the people who never hear about Jesus – what happens to them?”

My dad was quiet for a moment. “Well, they go to hell.”

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Lady Pooper

Lucy comes into my office this morning: "Daddy, Mom needs you to get some Tylenol. It's on the Lady Pooper in the bathroom!'

I give her a blank look. "The what, Goose?"

"The Lady Pooper!" She gives me an exasperated sigh. "Come on! I'll show you!"

I follow her down into the bathroom. She opens the bathroom cabinet door, and points to the round double-shelf that turns on a swivel. "It's on there!"

"Lucy, tell me what that is, again?" I ask.

She giggles a little, in response: "I don't want to!"

"Come on, Goosey," I say, smiling, "Tell me what it's called!"

"Um, I think it's the 'Lady Pooper?'" She mumbles the second half of the sentence, as her face turns bright red.

I can't contain my laughter. "Oh sweet Lucy! That's called a 'Lazy Susan!'"

"Whatever, Dad! Mom wants the Tylenol!"

A few minutes later, she comes back into my office, gives me a big, unsolicited hug, and says sweetly: "Daddy, you won't tell anyone about what I called that, will you?"

"Of course not, sweetie."

Chalk one up for the Anderson family lore!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Lucy and the Family's Butts

So, the other day, I needed to edit a video on my iPad. This isn’t a task I perform regularly, so I had to get some instruction from an Apple-obsessed nephew (thanks, Alex) on the process. When I start importing my video, I notice that my Camera Roll – the folder the iPad uses to store pictures and videos – is full of pictures. This is strange. I don’t remember having ever used my iPad to snap pictures.

So, I start going through the pictures, and I see a trend. They seem to have been taken from a perspective of about three-and-a-half feet off the ground. There are pictures of the dogs. There are pictures of Barbies, going about their daily Barbie business (eating, lounging, looking fabulous, etc). There are pictures of various household items. There are lots of pictures of my lovely Lucy, like this one.

Some of these have been edited, like this one (I have no idea where she learned to do this – my then four-year-old little girl said she just figured it out herself).

And then, there are pictures of butts: Paxton’s butt; Sue’s butt; my butt; the dogs’ butts (including one particularly-nauseating close-up of Boris the angry Bulldog’s butt) – just butts! The only person whose butt is missing from the collage is Lucy’s.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Drugged-Up Dinosaurs – Road Trip to Colorado!

So, we just got back from our annual New Year’s trip to Colorado. Since we’ve been married, I think we’ve only missed this trip one year. The drive is a little over 500 miles – about 8 ½ hours, if you stay reasonably close to the speed limit. I estimated this to be my 75th round trip, Salt Lake City to Denver. I love the drive! Susan and Lucy usually drive one way, and then fly back. I would much rather drive – even at 11,000 feet, in the middle of winter. We’ll typically stay in a hotel on the way out – it breaks the monotony; and the kids love staying in hotels. Then, Pax and I will drive straight through on the way back.

This year’s highlights:

·       Arriving at the hotel, and watching Pax and Lucy act punch-drunk with the energy they’d accumulated, being in the car for four hours. One minute, they loved each other. The next, they – um – didn’t. At one point, Lucy said they were running around like “drugged-up dinosaurs.” (No idea where she got that!)

·       Listening to the cacophony of Lucy singing along loudly with fairly horrible pop tunes (e.g. Party in the USA), while Pax loudly expresses his dissatisfaction with Lucy’s choice of music. (“AND THE JAY-Z SONG WAS ON!” “This song SUCKS! Dad, tell her to turn it off!” “AND THE BRITNEY SONG WAS ON!” “OH MY GOSH! THIS SONG SOUNDS LIKE IT WAS WRITTEN ON THE SHORT BUS!” “MOVIN’ MY HIPS LIKE ‘YEAH!’” “DAD! I hope you know that this is making us all DUMBER!”)

Good times! Not bad times!