Monday, August 31, 2009

Station Fire Time Lapse

This is one of the better time lapse series I have seen of the Station Fire above La Canada. This is exactly what we have been seeing over the past several days, as we travel the five or so miles north of our home to observe the fire. As of the posting of this, the fire has now reached over 100,000 acres, with a 25 mile long fire line. Stunning.

This video is so, well, disturbing. The ball floating around the pool, the sprinklers going on and off - and in the distance, all Hell is breaking loose. I am sure this is a metaphor for our life here on this earth, but I can't quite put it into words.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Pyrocumulus Overwhelming

Its like something in the back of your mind, all the time.

The past several days have had an ominous mood around our area. There is a new central topic of conversation - "have you been up to see the fire?" "Do you have friends up there?" "Are they safe, have they been evacuated"?

The morning sun is a burnt orange through the haze, and the outdoors smells sickly of smoke; the odor of destruction on a massive scale. And today, I learned a new word to describe clouds - pyrocumulus. These are the bizarre, massive, and foreboding clouds formed by wildfires. Dirty brown on the bottom and white on top. Like nothing you have ever seen. Over just the past three days, the Station Fire, as it is now known, has grown from a puff of smoke just north of La Canada, then to 1,000 acres, then 5,000 acres, and as I write this on Sunday night, is listed at just over 40,000 acres. Stunning. A force of nature.

I have lived within 10 miles of this fire area for all of my 51 years, and I have never seen a fire of this size and scope in my life. We have friends whose homes are threatened. Our family has taken time out to drive several miles north of our home to observe the fire progress over the past several days. It is truly massive in scope, and I have thought also about the massive carbon footprint this has created.

Two thoughts. First, I recall that a lack of controlled burns created similar massive problems at Yellowstone National Park in years past, and lead to a reassessment of fire control policies. Could this be applicable to Southern California?

Second, hats off and prayers for safety for the piloting skills of both fixed-wing and helicopter fire fighters. I have been watching them work at a concentrated pace the past several days, and have been thoroughly impressed at their accuracy, tenacity, and determination to save the homes of people they will likely never meet.

Also, fire agencies from all over Southern California and the West have joined the fight on the ground to protect homes. Just as on 9/11 - these brave souls see danger, and do not run away. They come running.

I am humbled by their efforts.

This last photo was taken about two hours ago by my daughter, Heather.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Citius, Altius, Fortius....Clarius!

Recession have you down? Feeling the blues?

I think I might be feeling some of those things. After a wonderful late summer break with the family in Canada, I am back to the grind here at home. Don't get me wrong, I love my job (and thankful beyond words to have it!) - but the daily beat of life and this bummer economy can get to a guy.

As we head back into the busy days of fall, full of activities, and schedules, and just plain lots of things to do - maybe we need a moment of inspiration and clarity. Or maybe, say, five moments.

John Williams is perhaps the most recognized composer of the 20th Century, and has become almost synonymous with the Olympic movement. One of my all time favorite Williams pieces is "Call of the Champions" composed for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

When asked about the ideas behind the composition of this piece, Williams responded:
"In thinking and reading about what we might have sung, I came across this Baron de Coubertin motto: 'Citius, Altius, Fortius' [swifter, higher, stronger]." (Coubertin was the founder of the modern Olympic Games back in the early 1890s.) "I thought it would make a wonderful declamatory handle, just that triad of words sung in a very forceful way by the chorus. We had all 350 members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing this and it was electrifying. It sounds like all the heroes coming down from Olympus and chanting together."

"Always this triad of words, but at the end of the piece I needed to break the rhythm of the text. So I took the liberty of adding the word clarius to the motto ­ a word a Roman might have used to speak of intelligence and clarity of mind."
Swifter. Higher. Stronger. And Clearer. Can we carry these words in our hearts and minds into the mess of everyday life? Can we do our jobs, love our friends, encourage one another, and contribute to our communities and our world in a way that embodies these words?

That is the inspiration I need today. Maybe you do too.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cousins at Canada's Wonderland

Thanks to Uncle Dave for this wonderful video:

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Julie, Julia, and the Family Next Door

Everyone has heard of the rule of Six Degrees of Separation.

As it turns out, I am only two degrees separated from Julia Child! I find this excellent, as I just love to cook, when time and life allow. To me, Julia Child was a woman who drank deeply from the cup of life.

How do these degrees of separation work?

When I was a teenager, a very cool family moved in next door. The parents were former Cal Berkley grads, and the Dad was an oarsman from Cal. I think he might have competed in the Olympics. The story was that this Dad worked with the "State Department". We bought that story. Completely.

Anyway, this was a wonderful family for me to hang around. First of all, there were more than three people, and being an only child, this was a very good thing. They used to have very fun, large, and loud parties, and were very gracious to my family, always inviting me over (perhaps they sensed my loss in life as an only child). Lots of laughter, always! I also remember stories about this families friendship with Julia Child, of all people!

We used to have some amazing basketball games in their swimming pool. We rigged up a real hoop that was attached to a full sized backboard, mounted on the diving board, which allowed for in the water dunk shots. For a high school kid who just loved basketball, this was excellent.

So, lets connect this to my date with my wife last night.

Nancy and I went out for a movie date, and saw the unabashed chick-flick, "Julie & Julia". The trailer is below, but suffice it to say this movie deals in part with the early life of Julia Child, one of the most famous cooking writers of all time. Great film, lots of laughter, and joy, and cooking and a real celebration of marriage. Quite refreshing, frankly.

Now, back to the two degrees of separation.

As it turns out, the Dad next door.....he did not exactly work for the State Department. He worked for the CIA. Much to my shock, I found this out just a couple of years ago, when the Dad next door passed away (guess there is a rule about telling the truth about that sort of thing), and I was reconnected via the Internet with the kids I grew up with. Also, a minor detail in the story is that the precursor to the CIA was the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

And here is the connection to Julia Child. Julia was married to Paul Child, who was an employee of the OSS, through the guise of the State Department. Many years ago, my childhood neighbor dad and his wife were stationed in Oslo, Norway together, and Julia Child and her husband Paul were stationed there as well.

Julia was trying to get her very first cookbook published, so she decided to test recipes with a cooking group that was made up of international embassy wives. Turns out our neighbors were in this group. They met once a month at a member's home, cooked all morning and then sat down to lunch and wine. The wife of the secret spy who lived next door where I grew up even spent time with Julia as the years went on, helping on occasion with her TV cooking show.

So there you have it. I almost, sorta, kinda, but not really knew Julia Child.

If my life gets any more thrilling than this, I may pass out from the excitement.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Sit, Swim, Read, Talk, Wonder, Repeat

Amid the great quiet, there is a soft, rhythmic sound here. Always there, off in the distance, not too far away.

It’s the gentle lapping of waves on the beach of Georgian Bay, just a bit north of Penetanguishene. Sound travels forever over these waters, and you can hear a conversation of two folks over the water 100 yards away. Off in the distance, you can hear the ski-doos and pleasure boats humming along. The sound of wind off the bay filling the countless trees. Everyone here seems focused on doing pretty much nothing. This is a very good thing.

The smells are of fresh breezes off the water, with an occasional whiff of varnish, from the neighbor who is applying a fresh coat to their dock, or the late afternoon smell of something hitting the barbeque next door. At the end of the day, the smell turns to that of a campfire on the beach, built by the kids for toasting marsh mellows. Smoke in your nose never smelled so good.

The touch is of soft beach sand on your feet, even though you might have to hunt for the soft spots between the rocks. Or the cool chill you feel all over when you jump in the water off the dock. Once in the water, the sand beneath your feet combines with some kind of mysterious Canadian algae to make it feel like you are walking….on velvet. Really.

And the sights. Oh, the sights. Hundreds of small islands on the distant horizon; all stuffed to the brim with maples, pines, and every sort of green tree. Water everywhere, dark and blue and inviting. Come on, just jump in! Here, at our vacation cottage on the bay, the sky is so big it’s almost overwhelming. At twilight, the deep blue of day fades to the light orange of evening, time for conversation and laughter with family around the dinner table, something so ancient, and yet so needed even today; a chance to connect with those we love.

The evening brings the chance to work again on that 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle that has been laid out on the table for three days. Perhaps a board game with the adults and kids together – the chance to laugh again and make fun of the odd uncle from Canada. Or America, take your pick.

Don't miss it. Outside in the dark, above this scene there are stars.
Uncountable billions. This is a place where the Milky Way stretches from south to north, spanning the entire sky. The Artist of this night sky filled His brush with stardust paint, wound up, and let loose with a massive and limitless spray of dots across the Universe. Stunning.

Just to look up at this grandeur, almost uncontrollably causes your mouth to hang open. The ability to speak leaves you. Lying on the dock near midnight is a time for silence; any words tend to mess up the wonder of it all. In a cloudless summer sky, the cosmos hang above you like the ceiling of a limitless cathedral. This nighttime gazing at the heavens are sacred moments of the most profound kind.

Frederick Buechner once wrote:

“Jesus is apt to come…into the very midst of life at its most real and inescapable. Not in a blaze of unearthly light, not in the midst of a sermon, not in the throes of some kind of religious daydream, but….. at supper time, or walking along a road…. He never approached from on high, but always in the midst of real life and the questions that real life asks….The sacred moments, the moments of miracle, are often the everyday moments.”

For this city guy, who is now wading deep in the waters of middle age, a week up here in the woods can be filled with sacred moments. There are more at home, in the business of everyday life. May I live a life that listens, touches, and senses these moments…..

Friday, August 07, 2009

Flying All Night and Lost Luggage Adventure

Today is a pretty good day.

I have, 1) caught up on lost sleep, after flying all night via O'Hare with my spiffy new (and expensive!) overnighted US Passport. After all the hassle of obtaining that darned passport, I really wanted the Canadian customs agent to look at my Passport and squeal something like a teenage girl, "OMG, will you just LOOK at this shiny new Passport!!", whilst waving it in the ear and shouting, "Fellas, come look at this!" No such luck.

And, 2) as an added bonus, Oldest Daughter's luggage has been retrieved from the mysterious clutches of Air Canada and United, and their evil 3 day international conspiracy to screw up our vacation.

May I comment about the luggage thing for a moment? For that matter, this is really a rant about the subject of customer service and the New World Economy.

It seems as if the entire world of customer service has left the US and Canada altogether. Everywhere across the North American continent, whenever anyone has a need, asks a question, or needs support with software, there is not a soul in sight who can help. We are a nation of people who are unable to help ourselves, or for that matter, employ our own people to help us. We have become a sea of mouth-breathing people who sit in front of PC monitors with malfunctioning software, facing error messages. Dumbstruck, we reach for telephone assistance, dutifully dialing the 800 support line. We are helpless. When we need airline tickets, or just as an example, say, to find our lost luggage, we commence mouth breathing. We grunt something in a single syllable - pick up the phone and call, yes, you knew it was coming....


I fear that some day in the not-to-distant future, we will wake up and find that the inner workings of all government, health care, the phone company, and all vacation planning will have been exported to the Indian subcontinent. This will be their final revenge for British Colonization.

Whenever I struggle with a mysteriously lost file containing every financial transaction I have ever made - my call for help (see, I am slack-jawed too!) is directed to some mysterious room in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, or Hyderabad. A demurring and exceedingly apologetic Indian person, who almost always has a single syllable westernized first name like "Liz" or "Tom" comes on the line to tell me that "I am so sorry, it's not a problem...". Unfortunately, there IS a problem, or I would not be on the line for hours at a time with a person 1/2 way around the world who is smarter than I.

Over the past two days I have been a part of The Incredibly Secret Luggage Confusion (as it shall henceforth be known). I need to add that The Luggage Confusion occurred 24 hours after the very near computer-induced cancellation of my reservation to join my family in Toronto by yet another lovely phone support person in India. During the past several days, I have been apologized to about 500 times. I swear it. The luggage support people can do wonders for your sense of false superiority. But, I don't want apologies, I want an honest answer about my luggage.

Phone support people of India - loosen up a little, enjoy your life, and please, just be honest with us silly Westerners. We need the candor on our end.

Below is a sample of the conversation I had yesterday with Air Canada Luggage Services (after an initial on-hold delay of 20 minutes):
Me: "Yes, this is Steven Norris, calling about lost luggage ticket number 54362. I would like to find out the status of my lost luggage."

Them: "Yes Mr. Norris, we are so sorry for your delay in holding, and for your lost luggage. We are now checking on this matter. Can you please hold again for a brief period?"

Me: "Ah, yes, if it will help you find my luggage." (Additional wait of 5 minutes - I can now hum for you ALL of the hold music they have!)

Them: "Hello again, Mr. Norris, we are so sorry. We do not have a status update on your luggage. But, we can tell you that your luggage may have left Las Vegas for Toronto. This also might have involved a flight to Orlando."

Me: "MAY have left Las Vegas? Orlando? What does that mean? Has it left or not? What flight is it on please?"

Them: "I am sorry, but we cannot give you that information"

Me: "Ok, then, can you tell me WHEN the luggage will be in Toronto?"

Them: "I am so sorry, Mr. Norris, but we cannot tell you that. The luggage must be confirmed to be located in Toronto, before we can confirm that the luggage is in Toronto, and is confirmed."

Me: (Now entering a dreamlike state of confusion) "So you cannot tell me where the luggage is, where it is going, or when it will get there? Do I have this right?"

Them: "I am so sorry, we cannot confirm that information."
Clearly, I was dealing with a room full of people who could not confirm whether they actually were even breathing. This was truly Orwellian. I will not bore you with further details, other than to say two things to complete this saga.

First, we received a phone call at 4:30AM from India with the following information:

"Hello, Mrs. Norris, this is Liz from Air Canada luggage services. I am so sorry, but we have no update on the status of your luggage. I am so sorry, but I am calling to tell you we have no status change. I apologize for the call, but I have nothing further to tell you. So sorry. Thank you. I am so sorry."

One would think they felt, well, a little sorry. Or maybe they just always feel that way. I mean, in 10 years they will probably feel sorry for us all; after they take over the world. The Phone Support people will subtly just lure us all into a stupor of absolute confusion.

Then they will occupy the Capital Building, and put us all on hold. Permanently.

Second thing. This morning at about 10AM, we got a call. This time, from the Luggage Dude at Toronto Airport. They had our luggage. We got it.

Welcome to the New World Economy.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

See The World

Yesterday was a banner day.

I found that my passport had expired on the eve of our family vacation! And so, I am picking up my "expedited" passport today, and off to Toronto tonight on a red-eye through O'Hare. Today, I sit at home alone, absorbing the near absolute quiet, relaxing and killing time before I head to the airport.

Although its been more than six weeks since our Oldest Daughter graduated from High School, today is the first day I have taken the time to look through her Year Book. And there, in the section for Senior Class pictures, is the smiling face of Kelly.

Each student is allowed a quote next to their name. Some quotes were quite thoughtful and often meaningful. Others, well, not so meaningful. No different than the sort of thing my high school graduating class wrote next to their photos 33 years ago. Yes, 33.

Kelly's quote, at first, did not quite register with me:
"And when all's been said and done
It's the things that are given, not won
Are the things that you earned"
Turns out, this is a portion of the song, "See The World" by Gomez, an English indie rock band (see below). And as it turns out, our Kelly really has seen the world, largely on mission trips with her church. Mississippi, Albania, Alaska. And last summer, in the trip of a lifetime, our vacation to London and Paris. Kelly loves to see the world.

Upon reflection, I like this quote just fine; it fits Oldest Daughter perfectly. Strangely, it seems very similar to something I read in the Bible.

I love who my Oldest Daughter is becoming!

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