10 Extremely Awesome Things That Happened In 2016

In no particular order:

1. The last 30 seconds of the NCAA basketball championship

 

2. Captain America: Civil War

 

3. People Are Awesome videos

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Fast Food Reviewed: Flippin’ Good Burgers & Shakes

Here they are on Yelp. This place is on the southeast corner of Fremont and Las Vegas Blvd, right off the Strip. Great spot: big screen TV shows sports in a clean space, and the basic menu is somewhere between Five Guys and In-N-Out, both in price and quality. Closer to Five Guys, though.

My wife and I loved their stuff, but the sizes ran a bit small–order a bigger burger; you won’t be sorry. The fries were solid, and there are some great jalapeños you can add. Fry sauce is available! We didn’t try the shakes, because it’s cold, but we look forward to it another time. Definitely worth trying this place out if you happen to be around.

 

My Conversion Story

An old friend recently asked me to tell this story, and I realized that I hardly ever do. I guess I don’t think it’s very special. But still, it’s mine, so here it is.

It starts in 8th grade, when the emotional problems that had always plagued me drove me to some anti-social behavior so severe that my poor parents had to withdraw me from school and place me in a mental health facility. By the time I was released to go home that summer, I knew that I was missing something and needed some kind of major change.

I’d always been a pretty religious kid, though my family never went to church much. I went to a kind of church class after school in 3rd grade, and enjoyed it. I tried reading the Bible a couple of times. I felt like there was some kind of spiritual truth out there, but I didn’t know exactly what it was.

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New Year’s Resolutions 2017

I get excited about goals and self improvement–I make a ton of resolutions every year and I actually keep most of them…or at least I keep trying to reach them. I also have a bucket list I made a decade ago and I keep track of progress towards each item; most of my resolutions come from that (alas, I’ve only finished six of them). It’s helpful to publish goals and create more accountability, so here are some plans for 2017.

Infinite, permanent “cold turkey” resolutions are rarely successful, so I’m starting off with a couple of one-month goals: no french fries, soda, or Netflix in January. I’ve done these before, and the short-term aspect works really well. Sometimes I renew goals like these, sometimes not. I’ve gone months without soda several times over the years, but I always end up going back. I’m okay with that, though.

I try to start new goal projects before New Year’s–I find that that helps, too. Less artificial pressure. I’ve already started those above, plus this one: only check Facebook and Twitter twice a day. Clearly, I’m trying to reduce time wasting. It’s weird that I feel boredom so often pulling me to these habits, but that just means that refraining is important.

I said that I make a ton of resolutions, but they don’t all start at the same time, nor are they equal. A list might be sequential throughout the year. Other items are small enough that they can be worked on in tandem. These are to be done in order: Update 72 hour kits, type 50 words/minute, work through a college algebra textbook.

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The Weight of Time

I turned 39 years old last week. While a lot of people my age are freaking out about being 40 soon, I couldn’t be happier. I love getting older. Every year is better than the one before.

I like the feeling of memories, and the growing accumulated weight of experience that aging gives. Every adolescent seems to enjoy posing as a wise old sage, but to actually have those things that come only and naturally through the measured passing of many calendars…there’s a sense of being in harmony with life just by participating in so much more of it.

Remembering things that are only history to the younger people I work with–that’s a good feeling. It’s warm.

Having actual nostalgia for decades long since disappeared–that’s also its own special experience.

I like watching public figures I care about getting older with me over the years. I like seeing  those figures from earlier generations in their past work and realizing just how young they  truly were then.

It seems like all the most beautiful women, for example, are all about 40 now. I suspect that in another 20 years they’ll be the 60 year olds. That’s fine by me.

Aging is like a heavy cotton comforter. You can wrap it around you and feel its solid weight. Youth–that ephemeral idol of our society’s worship–is just a light, silky blanket by comparison. There’s no real substance. I like substance. I prefer the comforter.

I realize, too, that this pontificating is coming from someone who still isn’t really old yet, but that’s just it. I know that. I don’t dread it. Of course I don’t look forward to the aches and pains, the diminished physical capacity that aging brings, but the increased store of memory and experience makes even that worth it to me.

I can’t wait to be in my 40s. I’m sure that my 50s will be even better. Decades of joy are still ahead.

Remembering The Huntridge

We took the kids to the Nevada State Museum this summer, and one area was dedicated to remembering the Huntridge theater. It really had a fascinating history. I saw plenty of concerts there in the 90’s, including Nine Inch Nails just as The Downward Spiral came out. I had to take some pictures of these displays, as they brought back some great memories. Strange that I never think of this stuff–I work only a block from there and drive by it all the time.

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Look at all these forgotten 90’s bands! Hemlock, Dinosaur Jr., Suicidal Tendencies, The Ataris, Dance Hall Crashers, KMFDM, Save Ferris, Voodoo Glow Skulls! I used to save these little fliers and put them on the wall of my bedroom. I wish I still had them–there were dozens just plastering the whole thing.

 

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I used to have that exact KUNV shirt in high school! I just checked eBay, and nothing, sadly. The “Rock Avenue” slogan on the right refers to the legendary overnight show that radio station used to play–the DJs there knew everything and played the most amazing range of stuff.

Weekly Family History Hacks

I just started a Facebook group called Weekly Family History Hacks. I’ll share resources and tips for people at all levels of research there. It’s open to the public and participation is encouraged, so please join and share!

The first post covers signing up for Family Search, using the Social Security Death Index, and getting the new Family Search Memories smartphone app.

Huston. Front- Asa Huston, John Henry Huston, Ellen Huston. Back- George A. Huston, Mildred M. Huston, Fred C. Huston, Cassia Huston Reams, John W. Huston.

My grandfather is the middle-aged man on the left. My great-grandfather is the old man in the front. 

 

Which Episodes of Star Trek Should Be In The Reboot Universe?

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With Star Trek Beyond set in the middle of the “5-year mission,” we’ve officially reached crossover time with the original series.* Despite the alternate universe of the reboot, V’ger is still out there, the whale probe is still on its way, and the Klingon moon is still likely to explode.

Besides those later movie references, the TV series itself offers some rich grist for the mill. Consider the great 2nd season episode, “The Doomsday Machine.” This one featured a giant automated device with an impenetrable hull from beyond our galaxy that would slice up entire solar systems. It drifted in from off our charts and wreaked havoc. Nothing in the altered timeline would change that. It’s still out there, and at about the right time to merge with the reboot universe.

The original episode does a decent job of conveying the machine’s size and strength, but obviously the budget and effects of the time left it largely to imagination. Today, a story on such a scale could be realized much more effectively. If the Starkiller Base in The Force Awakens was a big step up from the old Death Star, a new Doomsday Machine could make Starkiller Base look like child’s play.

Future reboot movies could do a lot worse than including a new Doomsday Machine.

 

* I used to worry that the reboot series was moving too far too fast, but then it struck me that Kirk probably joined Starfleet several years later in this universe than he would have in the original series. Having them in the “5-year mission” era already seems defensible. Besides, its the 3rd film in the series; no need to hold off forever on the timeline.

 

Mio Dolce Vita

Three recent slices of my sweet life:

  • I drove up to the library early in the evening to pick up some items that were on hold for me. On my way in, I passed a former student, there with her younger siblings. We smiled and exchanged greetings–very pleasant. As she left, I heard her praising me to the small children. I got the books and movies I’d been looking forward to, then went across the street to 7-11 to get a large Slurpee, which I’d been craving. As I drove home, the setting sun lowered the temperature just enough to make the breeze comfortable with the windows down. I thought everything was about as perfect as it could get. Then “Paradise City” came on the radio.
  • My family went up to the mountain after I got home from work one afternoon, and set up in one of the  picnic areas. We made quite a meal of it, running my big propane stove, the charcoal grill, and the open fire pit with some food over it. My daughter climbed onto a rock in the shade and started reading. My son taught a friend who’d come with us how to set up and take down a tent. The smallest children sat by the fire, staring. As everything cooked, I sat at the table, enjoying the bristlecone pines everywhere, and thought about how enjoyable a way this was to spend an afternoon and evening. A ranger came by and told us we were lucky–with a dry season under way, orders had just come down from the bosses that all sites on this mountain would ban all fires–even smoking–for the rest of the summer, starting at midnight. We picked the best and last day for our picnic.
  • Today’s the last day of summer school. It’s been the easiest, most pleasant summer of my career; my class only has ten kids, all of them juniors and seniors, all of them truly decent people. The only problem we had to deal with all summer was a bit of boredom. On my way in this morning, I stopped at Del Taco to pick up some nachos (which I do about once a month–man, I love nachos). I also got an order of hash brown sticks for each of the students–they’ve been great, and they deserve it. I want them to know what a great summer they’ve given me. We’ll each snack while we start the day with our regular half hour of reading whatever books we bring in each day (students with no book can borrow from my set of Catcher in the Rye). Driving in to school (with the windows down), I thought about how life doesn’t get much more sweet than this. Then “Come Sail Away” came on the radio.

Bookworm Adventures

I’m not a big video game guy, but I really love Bookworm Adventures. It’s a cartoony, Scarbble-esque game where you combat literary-themed enemies (Cyclops, Dracula, etc.) by making words out of random letters. The better the word, the more powerful the attack.

A few nights ago I played a bit with some of my kids gathered around me, and we made quite a team. Fun fr the whole family!

There’s plenty of humor in the game, and there’s even a sequel that’s heavy on science fiction.

Totally worth it, especially if you live around here, where the library has it for free!

The Best Sports Story You’ve Never Read

Sports Illustrated ran this feature about 15 years ago, and posted it online last year. It’s an amazing true story of heart and community. I can’t believe there still hasn’t been a movie made of it yet. In a sleepy little Ohio community of old-fashioned Mennonites, the new high school basketball coach was, as they put it, “an unmarried black Catholic loser.” Just try reading it through to the end without choking up.

Twin Lakes Memories: Mr. Bass

This is the first in an occasional series of memories about my elementary school in the 1980’s. 

Mr. Bass was principal for all but the last of my elementary school years. He was a wonderful man: friendly to us kids, committed to the positive environment of the school.

I say he “was” wonderful because as I look him up for details now, I find that he died in 1999. Reading there about how race was a major factor in his life reminds me of a comment my 4th grade teacher once made about him to our class. She said that when she first met him she was surprised to see that he was black. When she’d spoken to him on the phone before, she’d assumed he was white. She told us this as a compliment about his speaking. Nobody thought anything of it. This was in the mid 1980’s. I don’t suppose such a comment would pass innocently today.

My main memory of him now is from one random day during recess. All the kids were running around and I was in the big sandy area with the swings and monkey bars. Suddenly a girl screamed. She had fallen off the monkey bars and gotten hurt–it turned out later that she had broken her arm. As she wailed and cried, someone went to the office for help.

Mr. Bass came running out and went right to that girl. Quickly and calmly, he took off his suit coat and wrapped her in it, then gently picked her up to carry her to the nurse. It’s not just what he did that day, but how confidently and caringly he did it–that was a lesson in real leadership.

An elementary school named after him opened here in 2001. That’s also wonderful.