Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sicily and "La Famiglia" Arena

For those who don't know, I engaged in voluntary missionary work for my church from 1998-2000. Although that service sent me to Utah, Kentucky and Indiana, my final destination was Italy where I spent over 19 months amongst the unique and wonderful people of that country. I fell deeply in love with the country, people, language and culture. Looking back now, nearly a decade later, the whole experience has taken on a dream-like feel but when I speak Italian or meditate on the experiences I had there, I realize how real and life-changing the experience was. I still stay in touch with a few people but I have remained particularly close to my good friend Antonio whom I consider a brother. We met on a cold morning in the city of Palermo and on that morning, our lives changed forever. Before I write more about Antonio and his family, I'd like to provide some context to his story by describing some details about the mysterious and peculiar island of Sicily.

Although I spent the majority of my time as a missionary on the majestic island of Sicily, I still find it difficult to describe Sicilia. It's no wonder that poets and philosophers have often used the term "enigmatic" to describe this place. It is both beautiful and ugly at the same time, it's rocky landscape peppered with blooming flowers, citrus groves, vineyards and, almost all the time, the bright, crystal blue water of the Mediterranean Sea sparkling in the distance. There is at once a wealth of activity as the food markets bustle and the traffic screams around yet the specter of poverty looms. Although I don't remember the exact quote, a Greek writer once said that heaven and hell coexist in Sicily.

Sicily is not a dangerous place and although the mafia does operate, it's mostly behind closes doors and is no more corrupt than many of the corporations from which we buy products here in the U.S. in terms of the way money is worshiped and governments manipulated.

You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is never to get involved in a land war in Asia. And only slightly less well known is this: never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!
-From the Princess Bride

From wikipedia:

Sicily (Italian and Sicilian: Sicilia) is an island off the Southern tip of the Italian Peninsula.

Sicily is one of the twenty regions of Italy, albeit one of the five granted special degrees of autonomy. The population of Sicily is 5,015,591 (2005 est.) The capital city is Palermo. Although the official language of the region is Italian, the island is home to its own unique language.

As a consequence of Sicily's strategic location in the Mediterranean Sea, the island was conquered numerous times by various civilizations, resulting in Sicilians being a distinct ethnic group from mainland Italians.

The method I have found most effective in describing the location of Sicily to people is to simply say, "Hey, it's the football the boot is kicking, you know?"

The Sicilian Flag (creepy and cool eh?)


One morning my missionary partner and I were standing in a busy shopping center in downtown Palermo, the largest city in Sicily. I had spent the night on a lawn chair in a hospital (that's a whole 'nother story) so I was feeling a bit sorry for myself and we had split up in order to talk to as many people as possible. As volunteers for the LDS church, one of our primary goals is to talk to people about God. We like to find out what they think about God, life, death, etc. You know, the "big" and "terrible" questions that so many people want to avoid. As you can imagine, when one is walking busily through the streets to or from a particular destination, it's not easy to stop and begin having a ponderous conversation about the meaning of life. Nevertheless, this "street contacting," as we referred to it, is one of the few tools we had in order to share our message about God and Jesus Christ.

Most of the time things went like this:

"Buon giorno! Come stai?" (Good morning, how are you?).

"No, no!" (Do I really need to translate that?)

Even when people did stop, they usually did so out of curiosity since my companions and I were usually American or because they wanted to have an antagonistic conversation. As you probably know, the vast majority of Italians are Catholic not only "by religion" but as a result of their culture and heritage and, therefore, religion is something they grew up hearing at school, etc. and not something that affects their lives in the sort of intimate way that other religions and belief systems do. In other words when the average man or woman stopped to talk, the response likely sounded something like the following: "Yes, yes, of course I believe in God! You know, I'm not an evil person. Yeah, it all sounds very interesting, but I'm not interested and I don't have a lot of time. You seem like a nice young man, good luck with everything, but no thanks!" With that, he or she would be on their way. The older folks were always bewildered and the Italian girls just giggled and mumbled, "Like the Backstreet Boys!"

Now that I've provided that background information, you can imagine my reluctance to say anything to the handsome young guy in a hip coat who was sporting some fancy sunglasses and facial hair and whose very gait screamed, "I'm not interested in talking about God or anything else with you" as he walked toward me. I decided then that the fifty plus rejections that morning had been enough and that I'd simply remain silent or, perhaps, give a nod to say hello when he passed. As he approached, however, I felt urged to say hello. I shrugged it off. I was tired and besides, if he were really interested, he could approach me. Once more I felt as if I were being prompted to address the young man and once more I suppressed the feeling. He was almost upon me! Then, that still voice almost seemed to shout within me and I stuck my hand out and blurted awkwardly, "Buon giorno! Come va?" The young man turned to me, returned my greeting and we began talking.

I'll spare all of the details, but suffice to say that Antonio was easily the most intriguing person I had met during my missionary service. He was young, about twenty-four. He told me he was an artist and had just completed his art degree. At the time he was dating a beautiful young blonde girl and was basically living a life of leisure like most young Italians: working during the day and going out at night on the weekends from about 1AM to 6AM.

As we shared our beliefs with Antonio and challenged him to pray and ponder our teachings, he took the lessons very seriously. Eventually he received the answer to his prayers and, despite the objections from his parents, he decided to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was soon transferred to the city of Milazzo which is on the other side of the island and although we stayed in touch, he was sent of to complete his mandatory military service like all Italian men. We saw each other twice before I returned to the United States.

Despite some difficulties both spiritually and temporally, Antonio remained true to the faith and eventually married the ex-branch President's daughter, Gabriella, in the Swiss Temple. After serving in various callings, Antonio was called to be the President of the District of Sicily (the equivalent to a Stake President since there is not a stake there yet) which was a bit shocking considering the fact that he is quite young. Despite the fact that he often works past 6PM and on Saturdays, he has been able to fulfill his duties in this calling which often requires him to drive across the island and keeps him busy most of the day on Sundays. In addition to all of this, Italy is one of those places in which being a member of any church besides the Catholic faith can make one a bit of a cultural leper and, therefore, members are very much pioneers who face a great deal of ignorance and spite from other members of their culture.
Gabriella and Giada

Antonio and Gabriella have one child, a beautiful little girl named Giada (that's pronounced "Jah-duh" not "G-eye-dah" like people mistakenly say when referring to the Giada of FoodNetwork fame) who is about four months older than Carter which makes her almost four now.

When Sarah and I went to Italy in 2003 before we had any children we visited Antonio and Gabriella and had a great time. They live in a suburb of Palermo about twenty minutes from downtown where he and I first met. We went back to that exact spot and even reenacted the moment in which we met. I love Antonio like a brother and his example has helped me through some difficult times. In many ways I feel like he's my long lost brother since I don't have a brother of my own.

I hope someday he'll be able to come visit here, but life in Italy isn't easy for the average citizen these days. When Italy joined the European Union, they switched from the lira to the Euro which has been very tough. The Euro is worth a lot, way more than the dollar, and this has negatively impacted the cost of living because effectively everything became more expensive but peoples' salaries didn't change accordingly in all cases (this is a simplified explanation of a very complex economic process but you get the idea) and people like Gabriella and Antonio report that it's made their lives difficult. And besides, a lot of countries like Italy, despite its classification as a first world country, still don't provide the same sort of blank slate that America does in terms of education, real estate and so forth. If one finds a decent job, one sticks with it because you can't just quit and go looking for something else because you might not find it. I think the idea of nepotism must have come from Italy because it's all about who you know not what you know.

I leave you with this image from the Cathedral of Monreale. This is one of the most fantastic buildings I have ever seen. Monreale was the first city in Italy in which I served as a missionary and I've been in this church countless times. It has mosaics all around on the inside that depict scenes from the Old and New Testaments and most of it is done in pure gold. As you can see in the back of the chapel, the crowning image is that of Christ with his arms extended. This cathedral was built, if I am not mistaken, by Normans who had conquered Sicily at some point and much of the labor was done by Moors. I have taken by my parents and wife to this wondrous edifice.

Photos of Monreale.

More of the cathedral of Monreale here.


You probably know, or are, a geek. Most people hear the term and think of a person obsessed with technology or video games, but you can be a sports geek, a fishing geek...basically, anything you obsess over makes you a geek of that domain. So, the question is, what kind?
Click to enlarge and then click again to zoom.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Danny's Graduation at University of Redlands

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I never thought Danny's graduation would be so memorable...he still has two classes he is taking right now so I am not celebrating quite yet but graduation night was unforgettable...we were stuck in heavy traffic on the way there and ceremony's venue had to be changed due to the weather. We arrived on his beautiful campus and saw not the picture you see above, but the picture you see below!

As you may know, we were experiencing wild weather conditions here in Southern California. In fact, there was even a tornado near April and Wes' house. Check out the video someone got of the storm (obviously we're not used to these in SoCal):

It was actually hail on the ground and we walked through a fabulous thunderstorm. It was the first time Carter had heard thunder. Then, the graduation started late because the power went out. In the end, however, everything turned out stupendously and Daniel "walked" with his Masters of Arts in Educational Administration and his Tier I Administrative Services Credential (required to work as an administrator in CA public schools). He, along with most of his classmates, must finish coursework so he won't officially have his degree for another two months. Like I mentioned before, Danny received Administrative student of the year and his name was recognized in the program. We attended a dinner on Wed. night where he was given the award. I'll post pics when we get them from his mom. The dinner was wonderful, the people gracious and down to earth, and the food was delicious (Danny said we're paying interest on it since the program cost so much...).

An interesting side note: one of Danny's professors, Dr. Hunt, gifted John, Danny's dad, a Roman coin that is nearly two-thousand years old because he knew John is a history buff and wanted to thank him for raising such a wonderful son. Also, Danny and his dad had the chance to talk privately with the President of the University and his wife for a few minutes which was special.

Our parents and the kids were all there. We went to Panera afterward for dinner afterward...soup sounded so good because it was SO cold! Freezing weather and hail on a Thursday in late May made it a night to remember!

Danny with one of his classmates and good friend Alvin who also graduated with his MA but in counseling:

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Pork and Beans

This is one of the best music videos I've seen in a LONG time. You don't have to be a complete geek to appreciate it, but it helps. It pretty much works in nearly every major internet meme. Oh, been bringing you stuff on this blog besides just pics of us since 2007!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Funny, Scary and Interesting

Every once in a while it's intriguing to look up the silliness, craziness, and tragedy that's floating out there on the information highway all of which, of course, reflects what's going on in the very real, wide world around us. Here are a few fun things I've found recently that range from pure fun to dead serious.

Funny Food. Click on the images to see all of the rest of the collection.

Colorado men settle parking dispute with a Taser duel
Associated Press

BOULDER, Colo. — It wasn't exactly pistols at 30 paces, but police say a security company supervisor and a restaurateur shot each other with Tasers in a "bonehead" confrontation over parking.

Officers said neither man needed medical attention after the Saturday confrontation, but Harvey Epstein, co-owner of Mamacitas restaurant, was arrested on suspicion of felony menacing and using a stun gun.

Epstein, 36, didn't immediately respond to messages seeking comment left at the restaurant and his Longmont home Sunday by The Associated Press.

A police report said Epstein and Casey M. Dane, a supervisor for Colorado Security Services Inc., were arguing over a metal boot that one of Dane's guards had clamped on a wheel of a van parked behind Mamacitas.

Dane told police he was afraid Epstein was going to hit him with a 2-foot-long pair of bolt cutters. Epstein told police he had only tried to remove the boot with the bolt cutters and hadn't threatened anyone with them.

Epstein told police Dane put his hand on a holstered pistol and threatened to shoot him. Dane told The Associated Press by telephone that he did put his hand on the holstered pistol but never threatened to shoot Epstein.

Both men drew Tasers.

"They shot each other," Police Sgt. Pat Wyton told the Camera newspaper. "It was just kind of a bonehead deal."

The guard claimed the van, owned by a Mamacitas employee, was on property he was hired to patrol. The van owner denied that.

Tragic (and Scary!)

ALBANY, New York (CNN) -- At the age of 21, Christopher Jenkins appeared to have everything going for him. The University of Minnesota senior was good-looking, had a near perfect grade-point average and had a future in business.

Christopher Jenkins

Christopher Jenkins, 21, vanished on Halloween 2002. Four years later, police ruled his death a homicide.

Then, suddenly, he vanished.

He was last seen celebrating Halloween at a bar in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 2002. Jenkins' friends said he left about midnight. Four months later, his body was found in the Mississippi River, still wearing his Halloween costume.

Minneapolis police classified the drowning as accidental.

Jenkins' blood-alcohol level was well above the legal limit, and police told his parents that he'd probably had too much to drink after bar -hopping with friends. They thought he'd fallen into the river.

Despite a lack of evidence, his parents, Steve and Jan Jenkins, insisted that there had been foul play.

Continue article here.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Introducing Mr. & Mrs. Robert Carter

We had a fantastic wedding weekend in San Diego for Robbie and Laura's wedding! The week prior, we were shopping for shoes for Carter and discussing Uncle Robbie's wedding, when Carter politely reminded me that "you have to say 'wedding hotel' when you say wedding." Needless to say he was VERY excited about staying in a hotel and swimming in the pool. We stayed in a fun hotel in Old Town with my parents, grandparents, brothers, Jake and Amy, three aunts & uncles and a set of cousins! I love being together with family so that was my favorite part. On Friday morning, Jake and Amy were gracious enough to watch our children as soon as they flew in so we could go to the temple with Laura for her first time. We walked around Old Town that afternoon and thankfully, Carter took a nap, because he was so exhausted for swimming twice already that day and staying up to late the night before. The rehersal dinner was at Casa Guadalaraja's in Old Town and it was some of the best Mexican food I've had in long time! They make their own tortillas and serve way too big of portions. Saturday started with a run with Jake and Amy for me and then swimming (again) with the kids. Claire was so tired she passed out in her swimming suit.
Then we got ready and headed to the temple for the wedding. Carter and Claire looked adorable in their outfits and once again we were grateful for my brothers and significant others taking care of them. Robbie and Laura looked amazing and we were so happy to be there for it. We took a few pictures after, went to eat a Jewish deli called Elijah's right by the San Diego temple and then headed to the reception. Unfortunately, we had a little scare because we did the slide show for the reception but failed to plan the intricate details on how it was going to be shown. Thankfully, after a trip to Radio Shack and very helpful brothers, dad, Laura's uncle Mark and finally the photographer we got it to work! The reception was beautiful. It was at a place called Tom Ham's Lighthouse on the SD Harbor. Carter was the star of the dance floor and thought the whole thing was great...including his Shirley Temple, that he spilled on the floor. Here are some more pictures and for those who are interested the link from Rob & Laura's photographer: www.printroom.com/pro/crphotos.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Preschool fun

For the last year, I have been doing a preschool exchange (joy school) with Carter and 4 good friends and their children. We buy the curriculum online and take turns having preschool at our house for two days of the week. Carter has absolutely loved it and I have enjoyed the break and seeing my friends too. It is in the process of ending though, as Brayden is going to kindergarten and some of the other kids are going to a "real" preschool:) Carter will being going to First United Methodist Preschool in the fall (FUMPS) here in Riverside. He is going twice a week and I am looking forward to him having a professional schooling experience.

One of the most difficult things about the preschool we've been doing is that he is generally rotten when it is at my house. Last week I had it and it was really fun day. Avery and Averie have taught Carter to love dress-up 9he was made fun of the few times he wore the princess dresses at their houses). Anyhow, only 3 of the 5 kids were there last week and here are some cute pictures from the dress-up extravaganza.
Thanks to Amber, Anya, Megan and Sheri for being great teachers and friends and making the last year so fun!!

Spiderman Carter, Thomas Avery & Superman Sam

Chinese Pirate Carter, Thomas Sam, Superman Avery

Monday, May 12, 2008

Busy family news

We will soon have up pictures from my little brother's wedding...it was a fun filled but exhausting wedding weekend in San Diego! We generally feel like we have a lot going on and last Sunday we received a new opportunity to serve...Danny was put in as 2nd counselor in our bishopric! We are excited and he is just figuring out was this will all entail. Other big news for Danny--he walks next Thursday for his master's even though he doesn't finish school until July--but, we just found out he was nominated and selected as Masters of Arts in Education student of the year! We are so happy for him!! Look soon for pictures of the wedding and other events:)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Carter requires animal control

It's the first time but maybe not the last time:

Carter was over at his babysitter's house when he apparently stumbled upon a baby possum. He promptly picked it up, presented it to the babysitter who shrieked and told him to drop it which he did. Animal control was called and Carter now tells everyone, "You can't pick up a possum because it could bite BUT you can pick up chinchillas cause they don't bite."

Photographic evidence of the incident:

Monday, May 5, 2008

Claire's first word!

Claire recently spoke her first word: "Carter." It sounds more like "tartar," however. It happened last week; I think it was Friday...Sarah knows the exact moment I'm sure. She actually said it on Thursday I believe, but Sarah wasn't sure if it was just a coincidence but, when she repeated it the next day a number of times as she pointed at Carter, we knew it was the "real deal." We've always thought Carter is a sharp little guy, but Claire is speaking a good three months before Carter uttered his first word which was "hot" (he'd touched the oven a few times the week before he said that). I guess girls are smarter than boys!

I also think Claire said "Dadda" today quite a few times when she saw me after work, so we'll see if she repeats that in the next few days. Language, and the human mind, are truly amazing and it's breathtaking at times to watch children learn and grow.

We hope you all have a great Monday!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Funny Stuff

Sometimes images are worth a thousand words and a thousand laughs. OK, that was the cheesiest line, but it's what came to mind, ok! Check this out:

I thought this was funny...I mean jeez, you'd think the dude in red is the only one who knows the balloon is filled with liquid death or something! After seeing this image, a cowboy came up behind me and, in a thick, slow southern drawl said, "Hey partna', give the guy a break, you gotta' admit that balloon does look like it's going to pop when it's caught what with it's oblong shape and all." I looked back, concurred, and he sauntered away.

The joys of car trouble...and do you name your vehicle?

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We all have to go to the doctor once in a while for a check up or for medicine. We all must occasionally purchase a new dishwasher, new clothes, new glasses, and so forth. So why is it when the car breaks down and requires a repair does it feel like the world is going to end? I suppose the primary difference is that when the car breaks down, you cannot drive it and, therefore, you're out a ride unless you have a back up car (Riste).

About two weeks ago our old Ford Focus, aka: Farina, broke down. She'd been sputtering and producing all sort of strange noises for months, even years, so we knew this was coming. She required about a thousand dollars worth of work; the timing belt and its components needed to be replaced along with the water pump, spark plugs, radiator hoses, and a few other things. Although we should have had the maintenance done on the car ages ago, I'm sure it would have cost a lot more than $1K to get the services done, especially at the dealer, than it did to get the car fixed recently. If it hadn't been for Sarah's parents letting us borrow their car, things would have been very difficult, so thanks Jeff and Susan!

The break down, however, couldn't have come at a worse moment. Sarah and I were heading over to church to take part in a program when the call from April came in: she was stuck in the car with Carter and Claire in a dangerous spot on the 60 freeway. I immediately changed courses, met them there, got them shuffled off in a different card (thanks for helping Wes!), and got the car towed (thanks Mom). If it hadn't been for my mom and Matt Yacubic letting us use their AAA cards, it would have ended up costing us even more. I payed $82 to get the car diagnosed at a service station and then ended up getting it towed over to ProTrans in Riverside. They did the work relatively cheaply, BUT it took 9 days total (5 work days) and only called us to give us the status update once, all the other times we had to call them. Furthermore, I noticed on the invoice that the tech said that I gave him a verbal OK on the labor at a given price point when I did not, but I suppose those kinds of things happen when they're trying to get the job done (but I was at my cell the whole time waiting for the call).

Bottom line: we have Farina back and she's running as good as an 8 year old American ex-rental car that hasn't been maintained well can run. Did I mention I get the particular pleasure of rolling this ride? Sarah and the kids use the newer Honda Accord. We just need to come up with a name for the Accord. Any ideas? (She's a 2004 bluish/gray v-6 sedan). I think all cars deserve a name (trucks are usually masculine, cars feminine). Do you have a name for your car(s)? If so, what are they?