Monday, February 24, 2014

Little Bitty BIg News

I suppose if I was keeping some kind of strict standard on the content of this little publication, then things like birth announcements wouldn't be included. People have babies all the time, don't they? No big deal.
Still, there are a couple of things about the birth of Opal Ruth Johannsen that merit special mention. For instance, she (and just for I.D., she's our thirteenth grandchild) wasn't born in a hospital, but in a birthing center. The other noteworthy thing about this eight lb. wonder is that she is named for her maternal great grandfather, whose parents wanted a girl in the early part of the Twentieth Century.  He came out a boy, but that didn't stop his parents from naming him Opal Kneil. His friends took pity on him and called him "Ope". He died of cancer in the sixties, so neither I nor the baby's mother, our youngest, ever met him. But, in this slightly odd way, his name lives on. Baby and mom both doing fine one week into mortality.

I watched a good deal of the Winter Olympic games these past two weeks. It's not as big a show as the Summer Olympics, but there are still plenty of memorable moments, good and sad.
Don't ask me why, but the Winter Games seem to lend themselves to specialization by certain countries in certain events. The Austrians are downhill skiers, the Finns and Norwegians seem to be dominant in cross country skiing and ski jumping and the Russians almost always have top notch figure skating pairs.
This time around, two countries really schooled the rest of the world in things they were already known for. The Canadians are free to pound their chests and declare themselves the ice hockey country. Not only did their men take gold, but their women's team climbed out of what looked like a fatal grave to take out the USA in overtime after trailing by two goals with under four minutes remaining in regulation. If you're on the wrong end of that game, it's a little like a lifetime sentence of "loser". Hard to put behind you? More like impossible - the ugly gorilla following in your footsteps for, oh, three or four decades. But what can you say, other than "Well (gag) done, Canada."
Then there's the Netherlands - a country with flat terrain which lends itself to speed skating by having a large system of irrigation canals that freeze in winter. "Forget that skiing stuff. I'll race you on this canal to that windmill two miles from here." All the Dutch did this time around was to reach in with both hands and take away just about every medal worth having, all while dressed in blinding orange. It isn't a big country by any stretch, but they've got a competitive niche, and they're not giving it up.    

Monday, February 10, 2014

Normal Mitt

My living has no connection to California's agricultural industry, so I was more that a little surprised to learn that last year's dry weather was, in fact, about the driest ever in the Golden State. Then this year's winter precipitation so far seemed more like a drip.
Someone at Church headquarters observed the trend. Next thing you know, we were asked to fast and pray for wetter weather on Feb. 2nd, a week ago. So, we did, knowing full well that praying for rain comes pretty easily when you've lived in Utah for over 150 years.
We haven't even had to look for rain since, because it's been all over us. It could take quite awhile to get total rainfall up to the average range, but it's nice to think that the good guys' efforts are doing someone some good. 

Our Utah trip was really too short for more than one highlight (the baptism), but we also had the chance to see the documentary which follows both Mitt for President campaigns, 2008 and 2012. In truth, the political side was given pretty light treatment in favor of showing Mitt and family in more informal moments. The resulting mix, simply named Mitt, had scenes as far back as 2006, and as late as post-election 2012.
So, there's Mitt, in all kinds of situations: getting made up, discussing election fine points with his sons and others, romping with grandchildren. Mitt, for the most part, seems quite comfortable in all this, the guy next door who always wears a white shirt and in fact lives in large hotel suites. There are a few odd moments: Mitt making ironing touch-ups on the sleeves of a shirt he's already wearing, Ann insisting nothing worries her while she takes on a little horseplay with one of her horses, and the campaign moments which by now are familiar to anyone in the world with a TV set. But, campaign aside, Mitt seems like a good man, leading family prayers and resisting the nastiest anti-Obama quips that are the bread and butter of more than one Republican family. If such a thing still existed, we'd describe him as a GOP "moderate".
But something else shows up as well. Mitt's heart has, and will always seemingly have, a soft spot for the bosses. It's where he came from, and who he knows. Everyone else? They're not exactly invisible, but they are going to succeed or fail as their bosses do, so we might as well keep the top guys rolling in it in order to have more for everyone, right? He makes a little private comment warning against leaning too hard on those at the top even though much of the evidence suggests that government has been doing the opposite. Foreign policy seems to be about the last thing on his mind. He could always call Netanyahu, right?
It's hard to come away from seeing Mitt without hoping that the family is able to stay happy as well as rich, and that Mitt, in particular, finds causes that are both worthwhile and match his formidable skill set. For the record, I still believe I voted for the best candidate for President.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Children Step Up

For reasons too dull to repeat, I missed the Super Bowl this year. Everyone knows how it went - badly for the Denver Broncos. The postgame postmortem is liable to go awhile, and everyone from grade school kids on up will have a shot at saying what went wrong, but I hope it doesn't become a permanent cloud over the team, the city or the area. That would be like France, still unable to quite get over their military failure in WW II. In the meantime, congrats to Seattle, who has, if I'm not mistaken, their first major pro sports team champion since the NBA's Supersonics a good number of years ago. 

I know this family from church pretty well, including its lengthy list of children. Spencer is toward the bottom of the birth order, but, if anything, that seems to make it easier for him to talk to older people. He's just turning eleven.
I was at a Boy Scout Court of Honor last week and happened to be seated next to Spencer, who also knows me pretty well. Someone in the meeting mentioned that Boy Scouts can earn something like 160 or so different merit badges. Having earned exactly zero myself, I have long thought that the dearth of scouting experience is one of the greatest gaps in my entire education. Out of curiosity, I turned to Spencer and asked what merit badge he would like to earn.
The answer he gave was more than a little surprising. Without a moment of hesitation, he said "black  smithing." I had no reason to think he wasn't sincere, but it was a little hard to visualize his small body swinging a huge hammer onto a red-hot piece of metal. The idea made me wish that I could  live long enough to see Spencer get that merit badge, and any other he wanted. In fact, I look forward to the time when he's grown and we are friends 

Last Saturday, we found ourselves in Utah. It was pretty cold, and it's always dry, but there was a reason to be there. It was granddaughter Claire's birthday celebration. Even more important was her baptism, which, for Mormon children, first becomes possible at age eight. Claire handled her part of the event flawlessly and was almost overwhelmingly cute.
A baptism almost always includes a short talk or two noting the occasion and its significance. These talks are usually given by adults, but this time one of them was prepared and given by Claire's brother Lance, who isn't quite ten years old.
I have to say, he was impressive. He looked good, spoke without nervousness to the thirty odd people in attendance, used his time well, cited scriptures and generally did the things one might expect of a much older person. His address was neither too short nor too long. He made me feel that I had a small genetic input into a boy who could make a real contribution if given the chance. Well done, Lance. Thanks for being willing and ready to step up.