Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Where The Real Magic Happens

“Magic happens—but it often requires some planning.” —Neil Peart

I sat less than two feet from the TV. Fixated. My butt glued to the floor. Nothing else mattered except for the singing and dancing monsters, children and adults on the screen. The chill of foggy frosted winter mornings or the scorching summer Central Valley heat made no difference. My mom would vacuum all around me and I still wouldn’t budge. I didn’t hear or see anything else except for my special show brought to me by the letters A-Z.

“…can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street…”

That blessed little Children’s Television Workshop creation (now Sesame Workshop) that launched learning and imaginations not only for the Mama’s and my generation, but also for the subsequent generations since – including our girls. Over 45 years of Jim Henson furry Muppet fun on an imaginary inner-city street in New York City.

The Big Apple idea that shared big yet safe, sometimes socially and culturally sensitive, accessible information for toddlers and children (and their parents) about learning and life. So it was only appropriate that when we planned our big family vacation adventure to New York City and beyond, that we’d end where it all began for us as children – Sesame Place – the amusement park that celebrates all that’s huggable Muppet and more. To sit on that beloved corner of 123 Sesame Street with my girls

We’re West Coast folk for sure, but we decided that for this adventure we wanted to go east, to do something different and give the girls some travel sea "land" legs for a future of continuous discovery. We’ve traveled many different places with them prior to this, but this was the longest duration we’ve done “on the road again” since before they were born. The Mama architected the journey and I helped with a few finishing touches and then we were off…no step-by-step planning, just enough of an outline to guide us on our journey and make some magic.

Because that’s what travel is for us, experiencing new locales and their locals who light up synapses we never knew we had like exotic fireflies on a sweet summer night. That includes those across town or across the state or across the country or around the globe. As much as our budget bandwidth allows, and even then the Mama is quite creative with a dollar.

It’s important to us that our girls eventually find it important to them that there’s a whole world of adventure and experience out there, easy and hard lessons alike, spacious views and painful realities, that will give them a rich tapestry of perspectives and worldviews. We can only hope that these experiences, along with the mindful presence we try to impart on them over the years and the spirituality they may find, will help them hewn the strongest of life staffs for their journeys far and wide.

Oh, and there’s the fun. Tons and tons of fun.

So now after over 6,300 miles of planes, trains and automobile through three states, five cities, a cave and visits with family and friends in less than two weeks, we’re home.

And that’s where the real magic happens anyway, when the blur of what we've experienced pools in our busy heads and hopeful hearts like summer rain in Central Park.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

To Those Fathers Lost Loving What They Do

The voice mails knocked the wind out of me. Literally. After only hearing a few of them back to back I had to move on in the memorial and quickly. I've heard some of them over the years and of course have read, viewed and heard the countless tragic and heroic stories about what happened that beautiful blue sky morning.

But the voice mails, they really tore me up inside (with the "missing posters" coming in a close second). On this Father's Day nearly 14 years since it happened, I imagine those fathers (and everybody else that day) going to work that morning to do what they loved to do so they could help take care of their families. Of course not everyone feels this way, but I like to believe that besides bringing home a paycheck there's something or many things inherently motivating for us in the work that we do.

I talk about that a lot of late -- the fact that we're loyal to the work we love to do. But that's not quite the complete picture, only snapshot from the industry I work in and the work I love to do. Most of us are loyal to the family and friends we love and care about first, then the communities we share with other families and friends outside of ours, and then the work we love to do and/or the business we create that brings work that gives us meaning and a means to an end in those communities we share with many others.

There were those fathers (and everybody else that day) who worked on every floor of the World Trade Center twin towers, and those who worked in and around the streets below, and those who worked as first responders that fateful day.

During our family vacation this week we visited the 9/11 Memorial Museum. At first, the Mama and I were okay with our solo tours (we didn't bring the girls through the whole thing together, but we talked with them about it). But then, it became overwhelming, our own emotions from the memories of 9/11 pulling us under like a riptide.

But it was a double riptide for me listening to the voice mails of those calling loved ones from the planes or the buildings, telling them what was happening.

Then there's the part when the husband leaves his wife a voicemail that says, "I'm going to be okay. I'm in the other tower."

The second riptide is the automated voice at the very end of the loved one's message.

"End of message."

That's it. It doesn't matter which god you believe in (or not), or what part of the political spectrum you fall in, that's it. That automated part of the message marked the tragic end for so many people, eerily punctuating the end of their stories. And to the fathers (and everybody else) who tried to save so many others, God bless them all -- those lost and those who lost and those who live with the memories of horrific terrorism.

Because that's what it was. Crazy and not so crazy people who hated us willing to die to kill innocent Americans and many others from other parts of the globe. It doesn't matter what came before and what role our government may or may not have played in what led to it. What matters is how we mobilize to heal.

Like terrorist acts all around the world for thousands of years, they're crazy and not so crazy people who hate other people and would rather have them eradicated than actually have to co-exist with them. It's also about power and control and keeping those despised powerless and in constant fear of injury and/or death. These acts span a myriad of civilizations, religions and political factions, and do not fit neatly into any world view no matter how hard we try (and dear God, we certainly try).

Then there's the part when you're on vacation meeting decent Americans from diverse backgrounds and tourists from all over the world in one of the greatest cities in the world, New York, and then you hear about the terrorist attack in South Carolina, one where a single person took the lives of nine others in what is supposed to be a safe haven -- a church. Call it what it is, kids. This was terrorism, something we avoiding calling our own in this country, and thankfully many reputable media outlets are calling it just that. Terrorism against a black congregation because of a hateful white man's vendetta that blacks and whites should not live together in the same communities, a racist pox this country has yet to be able to cure, much less eradicate. The terrorist brought this pox and sat at with the Bible study group at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina, and then he killed them.

I'm writing this today, on Father's Day, to call for the same kind of mobilization we had on 9/11 for these terrorist atrocities in our own cities against decent Americans, whether in the North or South, East or West, Right or Left, Black or White, or any of the ethnicities that make up supposedly still one of the greatest "free" nations today. I call for us to mobilize and help this community and others like it and treat them with the same respect and reverence that we did on 9/11. The 9/11 Memorial Fountains are perfect metaphors for this kind of loss, the endless tears that flow into dark abyss after dark abyss -- while the people who gather around it pay their respects and many hope to make a difference for our future.

Because then I imagine the part when Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the nine victims who perished in the SC terrorist attack, leaves voice mails the morning of June 17 for his beloved wife and children while on the way to doing the work he loved to do for the community he loved doing it for. I imagine his family listening to it over and over again, mourning there loss, punctuated painfully by the automated voice saying, "End of message."

The other morning while on vacation our youngest daughter Bryce brought the Bible from the hotel room to breakfast. She doesn't really know what it it is, and we're not church-going folk (although I was raised so), but it was sweet how she called it her book of charm bracelets.

As I celebrate Father's Day with my wife and daughters in a hotel in New York City, I am so very grateful and draw upon my early Christian roots, sending healing thoughts and prayers to all the families who lost loved ones in Charleston, South Carolina, this last week.

My affinity is to those fathers lost loving what they do to make a positive difference in this world, and today I choose to celebrate them.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Not Really A Miracle On 34th Street

"Wait, why are you closed again?"

"Because we're moving stores soon."

No signs posted anywhere. No automated message when I had called the store. Nothing.

We were soaked completely through from the rain, although we now had umbrellas. The two young women who said they worked at the store smiled at us as if we should've known, like maybe we simply neglected to read the imaginary memo sent to us from afar.

"Sorry girls, no Promise Pets," the Mama said.

I looked up and cried out to the vacation gods in vain, but they only answered with more warm rain.


Six weeks earlier the Mama had launched the plan. We were in the midst of finalizing our big summer vacation to New York City and the girls really wanted Promise Pets -- these cute, floppy-eared Beagles you can get from Build-A-Bear Workshops. Since there was a flagship Build-A-Bear workshop in NYC, we were going to take the girls there, but they'd have to earn "stars" by helping around the house in order to get the beloved Beagles.

Beatrice gets the value of a dollar, or is at least starting to understand. Bryce, not so much, so the star idea was a good one. Week by week the girls helping the Mama around the house, unloading the dishwasher, folding the clothes, feeding our fish, and other helpful tasks. Bea worked hard to get all her stars, and although Bryce struggled for most of the time, she came through in the end.

And so just a few days ago we flew to NYC and our summer adventure began. It had been over 12 years since Amy and I had gone to New York, but even then we remember walking through historic and iconic Central Park for the first time. This time with the girls it was just as memorable, and being summertime as opposed to early spring the first time we went, the park was lush and emerald green, with the trees and vegetation offering cool refuge from the muggy hot City streets. But even in the park we wilted quickly, me and the girls more than the Mama who had grown up with humid summers in the Midwest.

With the girls in tow, we visited the Central Park Zoo, and then the Children's Zoo, and the historic carousel, and then one of the playgrounds and splash parks where the girls got to cool off. At times the humidity was unbearable for me, but I survived, even after we each had to carry Bryce for part of our journey. We came across a pair of park musicians who were amazing, playing guitar and violin and singing classics such as "Dear Prudence" by the Beatles.

“…the sun is up, the sky is blue, it’s beautiful and so are you…”

Indeed. All in all a fantastic first visit with the girls to Central Park. Then it was time to find the Build-A-Bear Workshop, the flagship store located not too far from Times Square. The subway took us part way and then we walked, and walked, and walked in and around Times Square, taking in all the sights and sounds and smells (good and bad) and aggressive migrant street performers dressed as Elmo, Pooh Bear and Minions, hawking hugs and pictures for money.

But we loved it all and the end game of course were those hallowed Promise Pets. However, even with GPS, we kept going up and down and in and around Times Square without finding the Build-A-Bear. Then, it started to rain, and immediately there were street hawkers galore selling umbrellas.

Which we didn't buy. At least, not at first. No, we kept trudging away. The Mama found the scent of the trail again and there we were, the B-hive marching through the Big Apple, block after block, until within 10 minutes we were completely soaked.

But, none of us were squawking, not even the girls. Nope, we just kept on and on until finally we slipped into a little side street store and purchased two cheap umbrellas and ponchos for the girls. Bryce didn't like the poncho at all but thankfully cheap umbrellas worked.

Suddenly there it was, shining like a warm beacon in the heavy summer rain, after hours of NYC adventure behind us -- the Build-A-Bear Workshop on the corner of 5th Avenue and 46th Street.

We crossed the intersection and stood perplexed because we couldn't find the door. And when we did, the doors were locked, although the store was lit from the inside and there were people moving around. They were difficult to see however because the entire two sides of the corner store were blocked out with a white covering; we couldn't see a thing except for said cracks where the locked doors were.

So I called the store that only led me into a mousetrap game-like phone tree experience and never to a live person, and the rain still hadn't let up.

"I want a Promise Pet," whined Bryce.

"Me too," said Beatrice.

Finally, two young ladies came to the locked doors near where we stood. They had an empty flat cart and knocked on the door, so we assumed they worked there.

"Do you work here?" I asked.

"Yes," one of the women said, smiling.

"Are you open?"

"No, we're not."

The Mama and I couldn't believe what we were hearing.

"What do you mean you're not open?"

The other woman spoke. "Oh, sorry. You can try our other store at [undecipherable]."

We just looked at each other.

"Are we getting the promise pets now?" both girls asked.

I shook my head in disbelief. "Wait, why are you closed again?"

"Because we're moving stores soon."

No signs posted anywhere. No automated message when I had called the store. Nothing.

We were soaked completely through from the rain, although we now had umbrellas. The two young women who said they worked at the store smiled at us as if we should've known, like maybe we simply neglected to read the imaginary memo sent to us from afar.

"Sorry girls, no Promise Pets," the Mama said.

I looked up and cried out to the gods, but they only answered with more warm rain.

That's when things went really fast--

We tried to hail a cab, but none would stop.

I said 'Let me use Uber.'

'Great,' the Mama said.

But then I realized I hadn't used the app for a while and had deleted it. 

I downloaded it again, but then couldn't remember my login info. 

I tried to connect with Facebook, but it tried to create a new account.

The rain kept coming. 

You've got to be kidding, I thought.

'Are we getting a promise pet?' the girls asked again.

Then a cab pulled over and got us.

I called the other [undecipherable] Build-A-Bear location, but it turned out to be Macy's.

So I told the cab driver to take us to Macy's on 34th Street (yes, the famous one), because we figured we could find toys there and we couldn't find the other Build-A-Bear anyway.

More rain. Traffic jam.

Time ticking.

We finally get to Macy's and we get inside and ask two other young ladies:

'Excuse me, where is the toy section?'

'Oh, I'm sorry. There aren't any toys here at this Macy's. We only carry toys at Christmas.'

We couldn't help but laugh. 

The girls were disappointed but kept the faith as we moved outside again, the rain finally stopping.

We found the Manhattan Mall just up the street, which actually had a Toys "R" Us Express, and was actually open, and actually had toys the girls wanted.

And me too.

Not really a miracle on 34th street, but the B-hive takes Manhattan nonetheless.

Right on. #BhivePower #NYC