Sunday, July 27, 2008


Last week Stephanie's Aunt Jackie passed away. This was her dad's (step-dad technically) twin brother's wife. The passing was somewhat expected...she's been sick for a long time...but nobody really knew it was coming so soon. So we took a quick family trip to Madison over the weekend for the funeral.

First the good stuff...I got to meet a lot of the family that I hadn't yet. I met Steph's other 2 brothers and their families, her grandma, and Charlotte & Bob. All were wonderful and friendly and such, and I'm glad I got to meet them all finally. They all thanked me for updating the cancer blog and it really sank in for me how important that had been to people I had never met. I also got to experience some important Madison stuff...we drove by Steph's childhood home and high school and went to a Friday Night Fish Fry (it's capitalized when Steph says it...). We (the kids & I at least) were only there 40 or so hours, but we got a LOT in during that time.

The funeral itself was quite surreal.
First, it was a Catholic service. Having been raised Catholic, and having been an altar boy for years (no, I was not molested), I have been to more than my share of Catholic funerals. That was always from a perspective of an insider participant. This was the first one I've been to since I left the Catholic church. Aside from 1 wedding, I have not been to a Catholic mass since 1998. The ritual of it has all changed for me. I know all of the appropriate audience answers, I know the sing-songy responses to all of the prayers, and I know almost all of the songs. But I can't participate. I don't believe it anymore, and I don't want to cheapen it for those that do, so I can't just act clueless and play along. I know what it means and I've chosen to allow my beliefs to go in a different direction. That makes for an awkward service.

The other thing that got me this weekend was the fact that Stephanie is alive. Jackie's husband had 45 years of marriage with her. Sitting at a funeral for someone who had that kind of love for that long, it really sank in for me how close I came to losing Stephanie prematurely. I cried at the funeral of a woman I had never met. Not out of sadness, but out of relief and the realization that I was going to get to live that kind of complete, loving life with my wife.

When it's our time to die, we will be judged by the love we gave and the love we received. I am overwhelmed with relief that I get to continue building that kind of bond with Stephanie.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I'd like to introduce a character in my universe. He's the neighbor kid, known here as C-boy from here on.

C-boy was not a planned child. This is apparent. His older siblings are 18 year old twins, destined for college in the fall. C-boy is therefore in the unfortunate position of ruining his parents' empty-nesthood through no fault of his own. Not that they notice his presence. When we come home he's often in his driveway playing, many times in the old Jeep that sits in the driveway and doesn't move. (His "fort." He sleeps in there sometimes.) He'll come running over within 45 seconds of our arrival home and want to play with the kids.

This started out innocently enough. On the day we moved in, K1 noticed that hey, he KNOWS THE KID NEXT DOOR!!! HOORAY!!! He and C-boy are (were) in daycare together and were delighted to live next door to each other. C-boy's mom came over and introduced herself and welcomed us to the neighborhood and gushed about how we'd have to get our kids together to play!! Oh boy!! Since then that conversation has changed significantly in my rememberance and taken on a weird tone in my memory. I haven't talked to the mom since, or ever met the dad. I've spoken to both of the twins randomly, but not the parents.

The level of inattention to their child frankly scares me. He'll be playing in the driveway, see us, wander over, and spend 2 hours in our home without his parents ever noticing that their child isn't outside any more. He's wandered off with us on adventures and walks with Obi without ever telling his parents where he's going and they have never noticed. Maybe I'm weird, but I like to know where my kids are, ya know? And if they were ever going to spend time at a neighbor's house, I'd want to meet the parents, talk to them, make sure their home didn't have sharp knives for doorknobs...something. Knowing who your kids are hanging out with just seems (in my mind) to be such a basic function of being a parent. I guess they have different ideas.

So all of this puts Steph and I in an awkward situation. We feel bad for C-boy. His parents ignore him obviously. K1 asks us if he can come over all the time, citing the fact that "his parents don't pay any attention to him. They give him hugs and food, but that's about it." But Jesus...we have 2 kids, we have enough going on, and C-boy NEVER wants to just hang out. He comes over and demands that the kids change what they were doing to fit his whims. If the kids want to play, he wants to watch TV and vice versa. He'll ask K1 to show him Lego Star Wars and then 5 minutes later be playing in the corner with the kids' toys. We've fed him dinner and he's questioned what we're eating. If you're going to crash a party, try to blend in! I don't think he's ever come over when someone hasn't ended up crying by the time he went home. So he's not an easy presence. And he's not our responsibility. But I'm afraid there is always going to be a part of me that feels like I should just function as a fill-in parent for this kid too.

The world would be such a better place if people of all races, colors, creeds, and genders would fulfill the function of Parent to the children they bring into the world.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Changing the map vs. changing your life

In 2006 I was an active part of the Perlmutter campaign. Starting before the primary, I was at Perlmutter HQ at least 10 hours a week, gradually increasing to where I was spending 30+ hours a week volunteering. (And 12+ hour days in the week before the election.) I got to know Ed and his family, got to serve as his back-up driver when the regular guy wasn't available, and became a go-to volunteer around HQ. Eventually I got paid a bit, for the last month of the campaign, but mostly I was there because I wanted to be. I believed in his candidacy and worked my butt off to get the guy elected and flip the district from (R) to (D). In most cases this has proven to be well worth my time. He's been a solid vote on almost everything (with the exception of the recent FISA debacle. I don't know what happened there.) He's also done some neat stuff with encouraging 'green' construction nationwide.

So now we're in the middle of another election cycle, if you hadn't noticed. I find myself strangely uninvolved. Thinking back it's pretty obvious why 2006 was so different. Back then I was in a crumbling relationship with my roommate and girlfriend of 5.5 years. I didn't want to be home in the evenings and time at HQ (.25 miles down the road) was time away from awkwardness. It was an escape for me, in addition to being something I believed in. For all of her political leanings, Sarah didn't want to do much to actually get a candidate elected, so that became my escape. At the time I was also working a job that required me to actually show up zero hours/week.

2 years later, I'm a husband to a wonderful woman, a step-daddy of 2, and I actually have to go to work. This leaves pretty much no time to get involved politically. People from the old campaign are asking me constantly to help phone bank or canvass...things I absolutely loved doing. I hate saying No, but at the same time my responsibilities are so much greater at home. It would be nice if I had time to be idealistic and do what I could to help get Udall and Obama elected and (I believe) create a better country and world for my kids.

It's obvious to me now why the politically involved tend to be college students and retirees. When it comes to changing the world, there's so much more immediacy and intimacy in spending time your family than in struggling to convert voters to a candidate you believe will promote policies that will eventually create a better life for said family. I haven't lost my idealism or anything, but the expression of it has certainly changed with the changes in my life.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


A couple weeks ago Steph & I finally managed to sneak in a honeymoon. With the way things went right after getting married, we hadn't had a chance to get away together and enjoy being married. So we scooted off to Riveria Maya, just South of Cancun, and spent 5 days doing...nothing. Absolutely nothing.

If there was ever a case of taking the perfect vacation at the perfect time, this was it. Steph finished radiation a week before we left, so she was still recovering and a bit run down. As for me...well, not to brag or anything, but I've had a pretty full plate myself since taking on a family last October. Lying on a beach was just about the best thing I could ask for.

We stayed at the Grand Sirenis, a really new (opened last year) all-inclusive place. The food wasn't great, but we never went hungry or ran out of options; the alcohol was free and readily available; the pools were large and quiet; and the beach was beautiful and relaxing. The days were pretty much wake up, eat, go to the beach, eat, float in the pool or go back to the beach, eat, go watch the evening's entertainment, go to bed, repeat in the morning. It was pretty perfect. Occasionally somebody would walk by and try to talk us into an excursion or snorkelling or some such and we shot them all down. "Nope. We'll be sitting right here for the next 3 days. Thanks though!"

We came home relaxed and rejuvenated, with more fun memories to share. I'm sure more stories will trickle out later (the cokehead from England, Carlos the Hyperactive Entertainer, etc.), but for now here are some pics...

I'll start with me because I'm the least interesting to look at. On the little outcropping behind me was some sort of old ruin, probably a lookout of some sort. It had a tiny little toilet in it.

And then there's my lovely wife. This is standing on the outcropping looking back toward the beach (you can see one of the bars by Steph's head)And then some pics of us (taken towards the end of the trip, hence the sunburned raccoon look I'm rockin'):

And that's almost all of the pics I have actually. I'm very bad about remembering to take my camera along, and when I do I'm horrible at remembering to take pictures of things that I'm enjoying or might want to remember. Oh well, at least there's enough for a blog I guess!

Monday, July 7, 2008

The family grows!

The West/Smith family is proud to announce the addition of our newest member:

Obi-Sid Kenobi

Obi came to us from a German Shepherd rescue. He was given up by his old owner for unknown reasons in Arizona a couple months ago, sent off to Utah where he was not adopted, and then made his way to Colorado courtesy of the Rescue group (whose name I will track down...) who thought he'd have better luck finding a family here. He did that within a week! Overachiever.

From what we know he's a German Shepherd/Malamute (or Husky) mix, about 16 months old. He's a smart puppy, but still a puppy in many ways. Whoever owned him before didn't take the time to teach many manners, so we've started that. The place where we picked him up (I'll get names when Steph's awake tomorrow...) is a daycare/training facility that takes in rescue animals as a community service on the side and socializes them for adoptability. They're great folks, and have offered to keep working with our Obi for a couple days to help with some of his puppy-ish traits (jumping up on things, bowling you over when he wants petted, etc.) We've been keeping him home in the evenings and Steph has been dropping him off at 'school' on her way too and from work.

I guess I should explain his name...he was Sid when we met him, but to me that sounds too much like Sit (which he was just learning and has now mastered). It's hard to ask a dog to master hard consonants at the end of words. Also Steph had Sage and Summit along with Arlo and another S-name was confusing her up front. On the drive home we settled on a name we could all agree on...Star Wars for Kade and Kaia (yes, she watches it too...) but Steph and I retained veto power. Retaining part of his heritage, he is now Obi-Sid Kenobi, a.k.a. Obi, Obi Kenobi, Obers.

He's a smart boy. In the 3 days we've had him he's figured out his name (he never responded to Sid, according to the rescue folks), mastered the Sit thing, learned how to get along with the family and walk on a leash, and started on Stay and Shake. As with any puppy there are things to learn, like Don't Pee On Mom's Jewelry Armoire, and Don't Poop In The Basement, but you can tell he's an intelligent pooch and it won't be any trouble helping him learn these things. Now some pics, and bedtime for me...

First the side view for scale...he's about 80 lbs at the moment:

Here's me with Obi in the kitchen:

Obers on his first ever walk with Steph (he picked up on the leash thing quickly with the help of a "naughty boy collar"):

And on his first (brief) hike, cut short due to thunder and rain:

That's all for now. I'm sure there will be many more Obi pics in the future!