Thursday, January 16, 2014

Early Morning Phone Calls

I grew up in a time when phone calls were not the common occurrence they are now. Sure, each home had a phone, but usually only one. Sometimes bigger homes had an extension - two or more phones that were connected to the same line. This meant that more than one person could be on the same call at the same time, wh ich was convenient for big family calls like on Christmas day, or other similar events. It was inconvenient when you wanted to call your friend to see if she could come play, but your mom was on the phone. If you were sneaky and a light breather, you could listen in on calls that you shouldn't be. Fine, it was eavesdropping. 

Long distance was a luxury. Those calls were reserved for either very special occasions (the aforementioned Christmas Day) or emergencies. The cost was measured by the minute and distance, so not a lot of time was wasted on idle chit-chat. You got on, established the other party was who you wanted to talk to, said your piece and listened to theirs, then got off. This led to some very sudden endings to calls, and even when long distance charges were turned into one monthly flat rate, my mother would still end calls abruptly, leaving me looking at the phone, perplexed, wondering if I had said something offensive.

The social norms for calling times were very well established. If you knew someone well or were family, you could call starting at 8:00 a.m; otherwise, nine o'clock was the general accepted rule. And if someone called after 9:00 p.m., they'd better have a darn good reason.

Long distance charges were allowed to stretch the call times for family members. My parents were both early risers, and since long distance charges rose substantially after 7 a.m., most family calls were made before that time. It helped that we lived in an earlier time zone than most of my family. So it wasn't entirely uncommon for our phone to ring before 6 a.m. We were all up anyway. 

But when phone companies started competing with the original Ma Bell for business and the flat rates were instituted, the practice of early morning calls lessened. It got to the point where if the phone rang before 8 a.m., you emotionally braced yourself for some bad news.

This morning our house phone rang at 5:15 a.m. Linda was in the shower, getting ready to go teach seminary. I was awake, but only just, and certainly hadn't made any overtures towards actually rising. At first I thought maybe I imagined the sound.  I listened carefully, and heard it again. I flung the covers off, opened my bedroom door and stumbled into the living room. (I haven't had a phone in my bedroom since I was the early-morning seminary teacher, as my roommate would receive calls after I had gone to bed.)

The person on the other end couldn't understand why Linda hadn't answered the phone and kept asking me if I was sure I wasn't her. I couldn't understand why the caller wouldn't identify himself. Phone etiquette - one of my pet peeves. After we finally established each other's identities and I assured him that I wasn't going to hand the phone to my showering roommate, but would instead relay the message, things went much better. 

On my way back to my room, I paused at the bathroom door and hollered in, "That was the chapel custodian. He wants to know if the heater is working today, so I told him you would call him when you got up there." I paused, and she acknowledged she would do so. Then I said, "And if you could please tell your friends to not call at five-fifteen in the morning, I'd appreciate that."

She laughed, "Yeah, Vern and I are best buds." We both chuckled, and I went back to bed. 

I'm still expecting that bad-news phone call, though. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Birthday Celebration

For my birthday this year, Linda, Cim and I went to the Safari Park in San Diego - formerly known as the Wild Animal Park. It's affiliated with the San Diego Zoo, and does a lot of conservation and work to get endangered animals bred and back into the wild. They're non-profit, which they make sure to tell you all day long, so you don't feel resentful about the exorbitant cost of food, souvenirs, etc. High prices notwithstanding, the main event of our day was to be the zip line.

Our time for that wasn't until early afternoon, so we made sure to get there early so we could take in the sights and as many animals as possible before dangling above them in a harness.
 The lemurs weren't leapin', but they were grooming each other after a nice breakfast.

 This little dik-dik kept trying to get to the bigger animal's food - just feet away from us while we waited for the tram safari to get underway.

 Beautiful cheetah!

The flamingos were far enough away we didn't have to smell them. They're prettier that way. 

Eric, the white rhino. 

Herbert, the wildebeest. Unlike Eric, I don't know if this was the wildebeest's name or not, but he lumbered alongside our tram as we escorted him to his herd.

 Look! Herbert again!

 Some people were feeding the giraffes - another  up close encounter you could pay for the privilege of having. 

 The lioness sunning herself on top of a car. She had just given birth three weeks prior to twin cubs, which she subsequently abandoned. They're being cared for in the nursery, and were dang cute! If this had happened in the wild, which it does, they would have been left to fend for themselves and die. Here, they will be raised, survive, and thrive.

 Don't you just want to run your fingers through that mane?

 I love elephants.

At the bird show we saw so many different types - I can't put them all here as it's already picture-heavy. This was a hawk, guarding his prey. 

 The secretary bird, their largest raptor, running out to come attack and "kill" his toy snake.


After some lunch, it was time for our big event - the zip line. They showed us a quick training video, strapped us into our harnesses, and then off we went. First was a little one as training - just to get us used to the basic mechanics. Then we took a truck ride up a hill (thank goodness we didn't have to walk that far in our harnesses!) where we got to see some more of the facility we wouldn't have had time for, including the previously endangered California Condors. They're gorgeous in their own ugly way.

Then, the zip line over the same area we had seen earlier via the tram. At two-thirds of a mile long, it's the second longest zip line in the United States- the longest being in Alaska. It took about a minute, and they saw the speed ranges from 40-60 mph. It was quite fun.

And here's the video to prove it.

(Argh. You'd think Blogger and YouTube would do a better job of talking to each other since they're both Google products. So here's the link instead.)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Christmas Equation

Each year when it’s time to take down the Christmas tree and other decorations, I feel mild pangs of guilt. Did I appreciate all the beautiful Christmas lights and decorations enough? Did I make it a point to get out and actually see them instead of just taking the festive lights for granted? Did I feel peace on earth and good will towards men? Did I listen to enough Christmas music? Did I sit quietly in my own living room to enjoy the simple light cast by the Christmas tree lights? Did I take enough time to contemplate the birth of the Savior? Did I, did I, did I?

With the exception of one of those questions, the answer to all of them is invariably “No,” and with that realization comes a sadness brought by regret. It is slightly alleviated with the knowledge that in another eleven months or so I’ll have a chance to improve on last year’s holiday spirit, which is almost immediately dampened with the memory of having the same thought eleven months prior and still failing.

So. Christmas is over. And it’s true – I didn’t listen to enough Christmas music, or sit under my own tree, or drive around looking at lights. I definitely lost some feelings of goodwill towards men as I negotiated busy parking lots and long cashier lines and a perceived general lowering of other drivers’ IQ levels, causing me to frequently echo Scar’s sentiment, “I’m surrounded by idiots.”

Some of the guilt comes from the (probably false, or at the very least, misplaced) belief that Christmas should be as magical for me as an adult as it was when I was a child. For all that I still believe in Santa Claus (truly!) and magic, I don’t think it’s possible to reclaim the childlike novelty and mystery surrounding the holiday. As my brother wisely points out, it’s a simple matter of percentages. When a child is two, the next year is 33% of her life, the next is 25%, etc. When a person is 47 (to pick a not-random number), a year is a little more than 2% of the remainder of her life, assuming death at 90 years of age.  In other words, the older you get, the ratio of responsibilities begins to way outdistance magic.

But if we’re using math to explain why the magic disappears the older you get, it actually seems like it should be even MORE magical because the math says that the ratio of magical vs normal days lessens, which should make it even more mysterious and thereby delightful.

Sadly, the reality is that the heaviness of everyday life tends to weigh the average adult down. Memories and experience add to the weightiness of those scales, and the (perceived) responsibilities of living up to the hype of the season makes it nearly impossible for some to rise above the heavy-laden expectations and achieve peace, let alone joy or happiness, regardless of what every greeting card you received says.

So now what?

I don’t know. Unfortunately, the equation for finding n where n = Christmas joy and magic will vary for each individual. But I do know that the more expectations I place on myself to have the house decorated by a certain date, or presents bought, or cookies baked, meals prepared, feelings felt, lights viewed, the less I enjoy the season.

I will tell you that I really enjoyed this essay by Mark Evanier, a gentleman’s blog I follow. In it, he explains why Christmas didn’t feel stressful for him (his half-Jewish status notwithstanding) or his family – because they didn’t feel the pressure of being nice to each other during one season of the year, because they already WERE nice to each other. It’s a good read – give it a try.

Meanwhile, I do hope your holiday season was joyful, or as joyful as you knew how to make it. And if you’ve got secrets on how to enjoy it more, please feel free to pass those along.