Thom on June 24th, 2016

Thom on June 23rd, 2016

When I was a kid my cousin showed me a homemade cannon he built to launch tennis balls using lighter fluid and a bunch of cans joined together. This gentleman, in the interest of science of course, built a potato gun that works in much the same way. Only he made his from clear plastic so you can see all the stages of the launching process when viewed in slow motion. What follows is pretty darn cool, informative, and…pretty!

Thom on June 20th, 2016

I had a wonderful Father’s Day. Besides the fact that it was Sunday, which is often a peaceful, relaxing day anyway, I got some great gifts from my family. Yes, there were some things that came from stores–and those are appreciated, too–but I noticed there was something else in common with most of what I received yesterday: they gave me the best of themselves. Each person gave me something that represents some of their strongest talents.

My wife is an incredible cook, and though the menu for the day was not a surprise (more of a tradition, really), they were some of my most favorite things. Her breakfast cake melts in your mouth, and feels like a warm, gooey-crunchy-sweet hug on the inside. And her tofu pot pie–I could live on that for quite a while before I’d get tired of it. Even the cake, which was a brand new recipe, was an experience in culinary delight.

My daughter, as I’ve mentioned before, is an artist. I’ve been a little concerned lately, as she’s not been producing any art lately–or so it seemed. What she was doing was creating art in secret. I am now the proud owner of a very-limited-special-edition print of her piece “For the Win” (prints are available to the public, but mine is entirely unique). I may be a little biased, but this one is graphic-novel/book cover quality. I was blown away by just how good she’s getting. And she did it just for me.

My older son printed up a list of things he likes most about me, and it’s a heart-warming list that makes me think I might be doing okay after all. He also included a coupon for a free deck-building consultation for Pok√©mon. As I’ve likely mentioned before, that’s one of his areas of excellence.

My youngest son gave me a coupon for a free tennis match. That’s his main forte (among other things, but I think he senses I’d like that better than a free math session ūüėČ ).

I know some kids’ coupons have a reputation for being a bit lame, but I recognized immediately that mine are offering me their best stuff. These aren’t for “an hour of doing whatever you want” or “one free cleaning of¬†the garage.” These are things they do quite well, and they want to share them with me. They want to spend time with me.

Yesterday could have been renamed “The Best of My Family” Day. How could that not be an awesome day? From start to finish it was special. Even the dog went out of his way to play with me. It was a day the be reminded of just how great it can be to be a father.

“The Devil’s Only Friend” is the latest installment in Dan Wells’ John Cleaver series that began with “I Am Not a Serial Killer”, and nearly ended with “I Don’t Want to Kill You.” After several years and some other projects, Wells is back, and so is John, our troubled sociopathic teenager (no, that’s not being redundant, and if you read the series you’ll understand why a lot better) who studies serial killers with the specific goal of not becoming one of them. He created his own set of rules to live by to keep himself from going down that path.

The problem is, all that study also equipped him with the tools to identify other serial killers, so when a series of murders occurred in his small home town he was the first to understand what they were up against–or so he thought. He was right, but very wrong at the same time. This killer was something supernatural–a demon, for lack of a better word. Suddenly John was in over his head and having to bend or even break his own rules in order to protect his town.

Had that been the only one, he would have been fine. But the subsequent books revealed there are many demons, or “Withered” or “Cursed”, among us, and some of them didn’t take kindly to John’s killing one of their own. He was forced to fight others to protect his town, and each time the personal cost to John increased. After losing his mother and the only girl he truly loved he’s got nothing more to hold him to his home town. In the beginning of “The Devil’s Only Friend” we find he has been recruited by a special FBI team tasked with hunting down these demons. His ability to understand the Withered and identify their weaknesses is invaluable, but the team tends to keep him at arms length and out of the main action, which provides him with little outlet for his sociopathic urges.

But while on assignment in another town John and the rest of the team suddenly find themselves up against a rapidly growing number of Withered, and it appears the hunters are becoming the hunted in an all-out war. John must operate at his best if they’re to survive–and yet increasingly working as a team only gets in his way and puts lives at risk. And to further complicate things, Brooke, a girl he used to have a crush on, and who got caught in the middle of one of his previous demon hunts, is part of the team and his only remaining link to his former life. It’s going to be hard enough to keep himself alive, but he’s got to try to save her, too.

This fourth installment is very much in line with the previous novels, though most akin to “I Don’t Want To Kill You”. But since John is now part of¬†a professional team, it’s pretty clear that Wells is going to have to “up the stakes”, too. The body count (and body parts)¬†rises rapidly in this one, and though Wells tries not to be gratuitous, he doesn’t shrink from description, either. Gore is not the main focus, but it’s there. Language is kept minimal, and there’s no sex to speak of. For suspense/horror, it’s tame enough I can handle it. The real suspense comes from unraveling the clues and riding the twists and turns in the plot–of which there are plenty. Though Wells gives you hints at the twists, I seldom figured them out too far beforehand, and though I picked up on several, there were many more that I didn’t. Not that it mattered. I mainly enjoyed following along and feeling the cold thrill of those “Oh-my-heck-this-changes-things!” moments.

Wells keep the pacing taught enough to keep you turning pages, but not to the point of wearing you out. My only regret was that I was unable to read the last seventy pages without interruption, so the final showdown and payoffs didn’t have the impact for me¬†it could have. I would recommend you save the ending until you have the time to finish uninterrupted.

In general I’m a fan of Wells’ style, though not all of his books have had the same appeal for me. His Serial Killer series, however, continues to deliver. It’s not a genre I generally follow, but Wells does it well enough I gladly keep coming along for the ride.

Thom on June 14th, 2016

I know I don’t generally spend a lot of time looking back, and even less worrying about what I’d do differently if I could. Too many good things in my life came about because of some less than good things, and to change them would destroy much of my current happiness. It’s not worth the risk. It’s probably best to just take the bad with the good and move on.

But if I were to be willing to try a do-over, it would be in regards to my kids. I look back on the past fifteen years and I wish I had been better. I wish I had known then what I know now. There are certain mistakes I’d make good and sure I didn’t repeat.

It’s not that I don’t have good kids. I do. I have great kids. They have an excellent mother. And much of the time their father gets things right, too. I know I could certainly have been worse. But now that I’m aware that I’m running short on time with my kids¬†I can’t help but wish I’d been better.

But I suppose that’s one universal constant that we share with every parent all the way back to Adam. We can’t be sure if we’ve done “good enough” by our kids until it’s too late. We can only cross our fingers and hope we did at least as well as our parents did, or at least raised our kids to be smart enough to recognize the things we didn’t do right and fix it with their kids. I hope I’ve at least been teaching my kids that you don’t have to do things the same way as your parents did; they can take all the good things and improve on the rest.

But then I suppose it’s a good thing that we can’t go back. I can only imagine how long I’d take getting it right. It’d be like “Groundhog Day” writ large. All I can do, I guess, is to try to do better now, and hope that is what my kids remember most.

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Thom on June 13th, 2016

I thought I’d share this parody video that pays tribute to all the sensible women out there who don’t feel the need to “put it all out there.”¬†I echo the man in the video mouthing, “Thank you!”

I especially want to thank my wife and daughter for their choice to dress modestly, and especially for my wife for her “mom skirts”. What can I say? I love the look of a woman in a dress or skirt (and by skirt I mean something at least as long as mom shorts or longer).

Now, because some of you out there can’t help but look for double standards, let me just tell you about what I wear. On weekdays I’m seldom dressed below the slacks-n-polo level, and as soon as the weather turns cooler I’m in long-sleeve button-ups. On Saturdays I’m usually in jeans and t-shirt, though sometimes even then I’ll go with a polo. The only shorts I own is a pair of swim trunks and one pair of basketball shorts. On Sundays I’m in at least my suit pants and white long-sleeve shirt most of the day, though I do drop down to track pants and a t-shirt to walk the dog.

My boys? They do get to wear knee-length shorts and t-shirts, or slacks and polos on nicer occasions (and slacks, white shirts and ties for Sunday). But you won’t find any bare-chest men around our house. For me and my family, whether we’ve got it or not, we’re not flaunting it. We’re trying to teach our kids that their value lays within, not in showing skin. Comfort is fine, but we care about those around us enough to choose not to be a distraction. And I include in that clothes that are so tight and clingy that one glance and I know your body even better than I know my own. Please, we just met. Save it for your significant other.

What’s so bad about covering up more? And is it so wrong to not let everyone become intimately acquainted with your every contour?¬† Is modern fashion merely a reflection of our social media obsession, in which we feel a need to share everything? Is it a reflection of our celebrity-worship, in that we want to mimic people who are under constant pressure to reveal more and more in order to get more media attention? Is our driving goal these days to “break the Internet”? Give us all a break and yourself more respect. Let’s cover up more to give others the permission to do the same. Perhaps its time we all had a little less skin in the game, so to speak.

 

Thom on June 3rd, 2016

Summer has arrived in our area. Most of this week has been in the 80’s or 90’s. I’m not entirely happy about that. It makes my drive home feel even longer when my AC can’t quite keep up. But mornings and evenings… ahhhh……

Somewhere around 8:30 or so when the kids have gone to bed I step outside with the dog for a moment, and while the dog does his thing I sit on the steps and drink in the air, which has grown deliciously cool in the previous couple of hours. The greenery in the yard adds its own wet, earthy, flowery scent, and everything is calm. The cement step is slightly chilly beneath me as I sit with my back against the door, waiting for the dog to complete his rounds.

Under the heat of the day it’s easy to forget that it could ever be cool again. When we walk the dog only an hour or two earlier it’s still quite warm out. And yet the minute the sun goes down the heat disperses like naughty children when their parent’s glance has turned elsewhere, and earth sighs.

I’m not a fan of summer, but there is still something to love. One cannot truly appreciate those in-between times without the extremes of heat and cold the rest of the year brings. During summer there’s a daily reminder that trials do not last forever, and consolation is waiting.

It’s amazing, really. Science tells us that the Earth is perfectly positioned in the solar system. A little closer to the sun and we’d become a desert. A little farther away and we’d be an ice ball. And nestled within that narrow range we find humanity, only able to live unaided within a temperature band of a few hundred degrees. Even narrower is the range in which I feel truly comfortable.

No wonder I enjoy those few minutes so much. The entire solar system comes together in that moment just for me.

Thom on June 1st, 2016

My kids’ school year ends this week, though the only reason it didn’t end last week is because then they’d have to have nothing happening last week, which would encourage parents to wonder why they didn’t end it the week before that… and, well, that’s a vicious cycle that leads to no school at all. Slippery slopes and all. But still, I have to wonder why they’re holding school this week when the kids are doing nothing of consequence.

But I digress. This has been a landmark year in our family. It marks the first and last time we’ll have each of our three kids in a different school. My daughter entered high school this year, my older son continued in middle school, and my youngest was in his last year of elementary school. The great conjunction is at hand! Next year we’ll be back to two schools as the youngest enters middle school.

It’s been a good year for all three, complete with successes and challenges, but mostly successes. The youngest is chomping at the bit, ready to move up to middle school. Having two older siblings he’s always been a little “older” than other kids his age, so I think he’ll be more than ready for the added level of maturity of middle school. He’ll get to start exploring a little with electives, and I’m hoping he’ll start to develop some other interests. Right now he exists primarily for tennis, Pok√©mon, and reading. He’ll get to try an advanced math class next year, which we’re hoping he’ll enjoy.

The middle child has been taking his own course, and I’m proud of him. He’s a different type of kid than his sister, and he recognizes it. While she was into choir, writing, Chinese, ¬†and art in middle school, he’s into band,¬†tech classes,¬†and Spanish, and was a¬†strong member of the¬†chess club.¬†And that’s when we could get his mind away from Pok√©mon.

The oldest, our only daughter, had a lot of fun and a lot of stress this year in high school. She’s probably the most motivated of our kids. She was thinking about college and what she wants to do with her life before she even started getting bombarded with it this year from the guidance counselors. That’s got it’s pluses and minuses. She’s been motivated to take classes that will help her get accepted by colleges, but she’s also been taking classes that have threatened to overwhelm her.

But along the way she’s also been doing precisely what she should be, at least in my opinion: trying out things to decide what she most likes to do. This year it was band. I’m still not sure what inspired her to go that direction when she’d been in choir in middle school, but she took up the saxophone and quickly established herself among other students who had been playing longer than her. She fell in love with band, and for a while decided she wanted to be a music teacher and to go to Ohio State University. I was a little concerned about the potential high price tag, but wisely set that aside for the time being and tried to be supportive while encouraging her to keep her options open. She was only a freshman, after all. A lot can happen in three years.

And it did. Halfway through the year she burned out on band. And, as usually happens when she gets totally into something and then burns out, she went back to her art. She’s been self-teaching herself art for several years now, and she’s getting quite good. It’s been the one constant in a life of exploration. This time, perhaps, she reached the same conclusion her mother and I reached some time ago: she should be an artist, but with¬†a practical side. She came to the same conclusion when she got the opportunity to tour the school district’s technical education center and learned about their graphic arts program. That became her new goal, and her college aspirations shifted considerably closer to home.

I have to keep reminding myself that she still has three more years and may very well change again–and that’s okay. This is the time for her to explore.¬†Whatever she finally settles on she’ll do well at.¬†And I’m hoping her younger siblings will see her example and follow it¬†in their own way. I’m not worried about her–she isn’t happy without a plan. Her younger brothers, however, aren’t nearly so motivated. Yet. They just need to do some exploring of their own, I think. In that regard they are fortunate to have a trail-blazer sister. As it is, she decided she needs to take a language next year and, having selected French, has spent part of the past couple months studying it on her own. This girl has little use for teachers.

Each of my kids are so different from one another. Their interests sometimes overlap, but as often as not they’re off in very different directions. If there is anything I’ve learned from fifteen years as a parent it’s that you pretty much have to keep a different playbook for each kid. But then where would the fun be if we were parents to three clones?

It’s been a pretty good school year for our kids. But I have high hopes that next year will blow it away. But first, a well-earned summer break. My oldest especially needs some down-time and a chance to recharge. I just wish I could join them.

 

Thom on May 31st, 2016

As I may have mentioned before, I have two sons who are active Pok√©mon players. The older son has had a goal since last August of competing in the Pok√©mon World Championships. The younger son just loves playing and wasn’t all that interested in competing. Then the “tournament season” started, first with local League Challenges. The old son competed and did well. The younger son wasn’t interested.

Then came the City Championships season–an eight week stretch of about ten different tournaments–and a change in attitude from the younger son. He went to the first tournament and won first place in his division. The older got third in his (they are in different age groups). Suddenly the younger son became much more interested in competing.

It should be mentioned that to qualify for the World Championships a player needs to accumulate¬†a certain number of points, determined by their division. The Junior division, which the younger son competes in, needed 200, the Senior division, the old son’s level, requires 250. Each level within the tournaments (League, City, State, Regional, National) raises the total number of points that can be won and, depending on how many are participating in each division, lesser points are possible for lower placement. Also, only certain number of wins for each level can be counted toward the total.

So as it was, though both of them struggled through the city tournament season, at the end the younger son was five points short of enough for an invite to Worlds, and he still hadn’t maxed out his points from League Challenges–and he usually dominates there. The older son, however, had maxed out all his points and was still ten points short. He only had a few chances left to get his points, and those would be against much stiffer competition.

His first shot was our own State Championship. Things didn’t work out so well for the older son, and he didn’t place high enough to get more points. The younger son got second place, putting him well above what he needed for his invite to Worlds. So then we took a special trip to the next state for their State Championship. Again, the older son failed to rank high enough for points. The younger son took first. We tried to console the older son as best we could, letting him know that he could still go to Worlds, just not as a competitor (after promising the older son we’d take him if he could get in we couldn’t justify NOT taking the younger son just because it hadn’t originally been his goal).

There was still one more chance for our older son, though after his struggles at the State competitions it didn’t look so good for him going into Regional Championships. But to his credit he knuckled down and really focused on fine-tuning his deck and practicing against as many different decks as he could. At our local league meetings he would even beat some of the Masters level players with increasing regularity. He was probably about as ready as he could be.

This last weekend was Regionals. The younger son was just going for the fun of it, and gave himself a modest goal of tenth place. But the pressure was on for the older son. He had six rounds to earn a spot in the top eight players–and earn points–out of fifty-four. He got off to a great start, winning four straight games to be the only undefeated player headed into the fifth round. ¬†Then he lost round five.

In the final round he would likely need at least a tie to have a chance make the top eight. For the final pairing he was matched against someone from our local player group that he usually has no difficulty beating, but who he is friends with, and who was having her best performance in a tournament yet. If he won it would pretty much guarantee him a top-four slot, but if they tied she would have a chance to make top-eight as well. Pok√©mon allows for an “intentional draw”, allowing both players to take a tie if they agree. They agreed to take the draw.

As it turned out, my son got in at seventh place. His opponent/friend just missed it, coming in at ninth place.

He earned 75 points for that placement–more than enough to get him into Worlds. Both of my sons are in. The younger son, incidentally, got ninth place in his division,¬†slightly exceeding his own goal (and getting free booster packs as prizes, which was also a plus). Both of them were the highest-placing Utah players in their division.

So it looks like the Stratton Crew is heading to San Francisco this summer for the Pokémon World Championships.

Regionals01

This is the play area, showing the entire turnout for all three divisions.

 

Richard01

This is Richard in the first round. He went on to earn a 3-2-1 (3 wins, 2 losses, 1 tie) over-all

 

Walter01

Walter had just won a round when this was taken. Table numbers indicate how well you’re doing (the very top players play at Table 1), so he was already well on his way up at this point.

Thom on May 27th, 2016

Parenting. Never have I derived so much satisfaction from something I’m so terrible at. I really enjoy watching my kids grow and mature and begin showing signs of becoming competent adults. And I cringe whenever they display some negative behavior that I can point to and say, “Oops, they get that from me.” They have a good mother, otherwise these poor souls would be doomed.

But let’s face it, it makes no sense. I don’t get this much satisfaction from my work, and I’m actually fairly good at that. Nor do I get this level of satisfaction from most¬†other things I’m terrible at. (Husbanding comes close, mind you, but fortunately my wife is an adult (which is more than we can say about me), so¬†it’s harder for me to ruin her.)

It’s strange to think that we’re in the “home stretch”. Our youngest is eleven, and in eleven more years they should all probably be on their own. My brother and his wife seem to be handling “empty nesting” okay, so I suppose it’s nothing to fear, but it just seems…weird. And a little panicky.¬†I’m running out of time to try and fix my mistakes, and to give them final instructions. And at times it seems like they’re running so fast I can’t keep up. “Hey, wait for me! I can help you with that!”

So what’s got me so maudlin? I’ve had several chances this week to view my kids in their natural, non-home environments. We’re nearing the end of the school year, so there have been a lot of “final concerts” to attend. I’ve been able to watch my kids from a distance and see how they interact with their peers and their teachers. It’s enlightening, and reassuring. I’ve got good kids.¬†I think they’ll turn out okay. I just need to enjoy them while I still can.