Praise-Bomb to Two of My Favorite People

Don and Gwen McPhie

Some people you feel you’ve known for so long, they are just a part of you. Don and Gwen McPhie became like second parents to me during my formative years due to my friendship with their son Marty. The lesson I learned from this pair was just how the basic act of being kind makes a difference. Being a kind and caring role model for the friends of your kids makes a difference.

Don and Gwen moved into a house on Broadway around 1970. Right down the hill from my house, I would begin playing with their son Marty, playing ping pong, tennis, etc. We had lots of sleepovers and I came to really appreciate the hospitality shown me by this wonderful couple. By the way, Don has a recipe for sourdough pancakes that is better than any pancakes I have ever tasted.

The McPhies always liked the outdoors and I scored countless opportunities to camp with this wonderful family. Marty’s younger brothers Tim and Todd were great kids as well and the memories I have hanging out with this wonderful family are priceless.

One special memory I have is as an adult, going with the McPhies in 1991 down to Moab and riding bikes on the slick rock trail. I ended up doing a polish wheelie and went face first into the rocks and seriously sprained my ankle. They took me to a doctor and I ended up with crutches.

Don and Gwen both had various jobs. Don spent 41 years working at the Tooele Smelter, Dugway Proving Grounds, and the Tooele Chemical Depot. Gwen is best known for her many years working at Key Bank in the round building on Main and 100 North.

Having been married nearly 55 years, they both serve as a testament to how a marriage can work well. They relish in their three boys and four grandkids. The McPhies are an example of the wonderful kind of people who enriched my life growing up. Don recently turned 80 and I am grateful for the long lives and relative strong health of this wonderful couple. Having people like the McPHies in my life, is another reason why I am “living the dream.”

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The Value of the Hike

IMG_1388Take a hike my friends.  Seriously.  Take a hike.  This term may have a negative connotation, but for me, it is the best advice I can give myself.  One of the benefits of running, is that I am in shape to go hiking.  We live in such an amazingly beautiful place. We have canyons with side canyons.  We have impressive rock formations, diverse wildlife and plant life.  When it is cold, we have sunny locations.  When it is hot, we have shady ones.  If we feel a need to work our legs hard, there are steep places.  When we are stiff ad sore, there are relatively benign flat hikes.  The only reason I can think for not hiking is mud.  Now luckily, we live in a desert where mud is not the norm and when it occurs it is short-lived.

Now admittedly, people don’t travel from miles around to go hiking in Tooele.  And I’m glad of this fact, because part of the joy of hiking is getting away from other people.  I love people, but I also love solitude.  Never is that conversation that goes on my head so positive than when I am alone in the beauty of nature.  Growing up, we hiked into what we called “the acorn trees” which were scrub (gambel) oak in the foothills of the Oquirrhs above our house on Upland Dr.  As we got older and older, we proceeded farther up the hill until we began climbing corner mountain and the ridge behind.

During my college years, I still did my share of hiking enjoying places like rocky basin at the top of Settlement Canyon, as well as climbing Deseret Peak many times.  Hiking white pine canyon at the top of Middle Canyon was another favorite.  After college, my brother Gary and I began hiking together a lot, getting up to Lowe peak as well as the Kelsey peaks.  We even climbed Kings Peak in the Uintahs.

Both us got married and as what happens to married guys, we got busy raising kids and our hiking diminished.  Even so, I’ve tried to maintain it.  Lately, getting in shape from running has created a renaissance of hiking. This renaissance has not just taken me back to old haunts, it has taken me to discover new places.  Pass canyon, Hickman pass, flood canyon, among others have now had this middle-aged bureaucrat along its trails.  And I’m just getting started.  fall-2014-0401.jpg

Hiking can be hard work, but I have always found it worth it.

Coach For Life- Rich Valdez (Praise Bomb Alert)

Back in the late 1970’s, I was a snot nosed kid trying to find his way through those difficult high school years. Like many of my peers, important life lessons and the development of self-confidence came from sports and other extra-curricular activities. Because of this, I interacted with many coaches during my tenure from 1976-1980. An up and coming young coach and teacher during this time was Rich Valdez. Rich was a local boy who stayed in the community as did much of his family and they continue to make important contributions to our community to this day.

Rich has always been one of those people who seems to draw energy from young people, and seems to take that energy to fuel the development of the youth he associates with in what can only be described as a sort of synergy. Being a coach at the high school level usually involves teaching and in Rich’s case counseling as part of a full-time job, and then staying late to coach kids in wrestling, baseball, football, etc. Rich spent much of his coaching efforts maintaining and building one of the state’s better wrestling programs and received much recognition for his efforts as a wrestling coach.

As a young coach when I was in high school, Rich usually served as an assistant coach and as a result, his interactions with the athletes was a close one. To this day, I remember words of encouragement that made a difference when I began to doubt my abilities. Rich has a very positive demeanor which made a difference then, just as it does now. Kids wanted to excel not only for their own sake but to reward Rich for his belief in the individual athletes.

In addition to working as a coach, Rich also has coached numerous youth as a counselor as well, helping kids get through those difficult high school years, with an eye to the future and some positive direction in their life. Rich Valdez As the husband of a counselor, I know to some extent just how trying the job is of trying to get all your kids graduated, as well as looking to their future beyond high school. The extent to which Rich has touched lives is evident by the interactions Rich continues to have with former students. Many adults today who are the pillars of their communities received mentoring of one kind or another from Rich and many like him.

Rich spent over 30 years investing in the youth of our community and our community has reaped the benefits of his efforts. Rich also serves as an example to the kids he has served in his coaching, teaching and counseling capacities by also being a solid family man. Married for nearly 38 years and the father of 3 boys, he provides an example worth emulating. And because of his life-long investment in the human capital of our community here in Tooele, I felt Rich worthy of the latest praise-bomb.

My Little Pal Turned 8- Love My Becca

IMG_0152Some days, I just sit back and think what if?  Around 2005, my health had taken a turn for the worse, and I just about died from a serious cellulitis infection in my legs.  Having slowly recovered from that condition, I was determined that I would improve my health.  In 2006, I began running again (it wouldn’t last) but I did improve my health enough that one day my wife confided in me that for some reason, she was expecting (we had given up on a third one and assumed it wasn’t going to happen).

Well, nine months later, at the age of 45, I became a father for the third time and was blessed with this beautiful little girl we named Rebecca.  And what a blessing?  There have been some tough times since March of 2007 where she was the burst of light in a wave of stresses that just about did me in.  No matter how bad my day got, picking up this little girl at daycare was the thing that lifted my spirits.

One of her first phrases was “Daddy’s my pal.”  She was my pal when I really needed one, and the love of a little girl is something I’ll never take for granted.  As she grew, Becca developed her own cute personality.  A sense of playfulness coupled with a touch of manipulation, Becca has seemed to be the most socially adept of this branch of the Swans, and always seemed to be surrounded by girlfriends, whether at school or daycare.

A girly-girl who also has some athletic ability, she is a fascinating combination of features.  And though I have often been accused of being her grandfather, I have got used to it, and just laugh it off, because she is my little pal and I am just overjoyed that I get to be her Dad.  This past year, I got to take her on a New England Cruise with my friends from my credit union.  As the only little girl on the cruise ship, she was popular with everyone she met.  I got to tour Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Maine, New Hampshire and Boston with Becca as well as play ping pong and miniature golf on the cruise ship with her.  I think she’ll always remember that trip, and I will always remember just how wonderful it was to hang out with this incredible girl.

If you haven’t noticed, I love my Becca.  I owe her more than she’ll ever know.

Michele Case Rideout- Connection Catalyst

My second praise-bomb illustrates the breadth of which I’ll go to praise those around us.  I don’t believe I have ever personally met Michele.  True story.  However, through social media, I have come to appreciate her and and am proud to call her an online friend.  My interactions with her started when she developed a Facebook page called “You Know You’re From Tooele When”.  This simple act has been a catalyst for many people from my home town of Tooele reconnecting with old friends, and connecting with new ones.

In the new suburban world we live in, there is a certain alienation that takes place that social scientists discuss and ponder how to cure.  People live in neighborhoods and often don’t even know their neighbors two doors down.  In a sea of people, we drown of loneliness in a way that doesn’t make sense.  Along comes Facebook.  The thing that it provides that I find compelling is the ability to connect people of a like-mind and to fight the alienation that is going on.  And into this alienation, Michele walked into the online world and made it better for current and former Tooele citizens.

When you check out the page she created, you will see an astonishing variety of posts which serve as a catalyst to connection of people.  You can see stunning images from Tooele’s past, while also share memories of people who have past.  The things most unique about Tooele can be discussed by those who know the good, bad and ugly of our community all too well.

And always behind this is the care of Michele, moderating the page to make sure blood feuds aren’t settled online, that keep the discussion positive and purposeful.  Such a service should not go un-recognized and I hope all of us who enjoy the Tooele connection give due appreciation to Michele’s efforts.

Now since getting to know a bit about Michele, let me tell you what I have found out.  First of all, she cares deeply about other people and has a sense of fairness and justice that I respect.  She has the personal integrity and courage to take difficult positions and has even paid a price for expressing those opinions.

Michele also contributes to the world of theatre as she is involved in Silver Summit Theatre and Plan-B Theatre.  She evidently has shared her talents with many though I regret never to have experienced personally these talents.

I don’t know that much about Michele’s personal life though I believe she is married with children.  Michele doesn’t self-promote and she may unfriend me after reading this, but I don’t care.  When I see people making a difference, and who show characteristics I find praise-worthy, I’m not going to remain silent.

So there you have it.  Praise-bomb number 2, and a worthy praise-bomb it is.  If you are friends with Michele, tell her thanks.  Our lives matter and those who enrich it deserve recognition.  Praise-bomb those who enrich your lives.

Praise Bomb to a Wonderful Aunt- Nellie Zentner

If I really think hard, I can possibly go back to a time before I knew Nellie Zentner. It takes a community to raise a child, and part of the community that raised me was “Aunt Nellie.” When my family moved to Upland Dr. in Tooele, we were just up the hill from a more established neighborhood which included some incredible families such as the Batemans, Kirks, Russells, Partridges, Thomass, etc. (though I know I’m leaving out families that I know I’ll regret later) These were families with older children who joined forces with the younger families of Upland Dr. and other areas that composed the old Tooele 6th Ward. The Zentners were an important member of this neighborhood and Aunt Nellie would emotionally adopt many of the younger kids from this new neighborhood as her nephews and nieces.

My sister Amy, Aunt Nellie, Leta Bateman and I at my Dads 80th birthday.

My sister Amy, Aunt Nellie, Leta Bateman and I at my Dad’s 80th birthday.

Dean and Nellie Zentner raised a very fine family of their own and this blog post could contain volumes of testimonials to the worth and qualities that Nellie possessed and how her loving nature and positive attitude influenced those around her. Dean passed away in December 2012, much loved and respected by all who knew him. He died around age 94 if I remember right. The last time I saw him was at the swimming pool not long before he died where he was a regular (yes- swimming laps). Nellie as of this writing is still with us, living in assisted living.

My memories of Nellie include her involvement in church projects such as serving meals for families who lost loved ones. It also involved civic duties of serving as a volunteer at polling places during election time. Nellie always stayed busy and engaged with the people around her helping out people in more ways than this blog post can do justice to.

To me, Nellie exemplifies the power of human contact. I do not recall ever having seen Nellie without being the recipient of a hug. Nothing says I value you more than a full, meaningful hug. Always full of encouragement, you always felt better after seeing Nellie than you did before. Through example, Nellie has shown me that treating people as valuable costs me nothing, and only gains me a richer and fuller life. Nellie, quietly but consistently spreading love and good vibes with people makes a contribution to our community that doesn’t result in monuments being built, or buildings being named, but in lives being enriched. And it is lives that ultimately matter. People like Nellie showed me that being happy was about being of service to others. And that is what I call “living the dream.”

Praise Bomb Initiative- Beware

Out running the other day, I started thinking about the quantity and quality of friends I have.  It really struck me just how fortunate I have been during my life to be surrounded by so many incredible people.  I started thinking about the different ways I have met people and the many ways in which my life has been enriched through these contacts.  It also occurred to me the extent to which we live in a world of critics.  I am guilty of it as well, this tendency to see the worst in people and overlook the good.  A person can do so much good in the world, but often times the only recognition they get is when they stumble and they have the humiliation of their picture in the paper.

And praise?  It seems like the best praise people ever get is when they are lifeless in a box and are being praised in front of the shell that used to be their beating, breathing body.  Even then, I have heard too many instances of these events being hijacked by religious devotion.  It is time that people be recognized as worthy of adulation, while they still have a pulse, and hopefully a mind that can comprehend and appreciate a little acknowledgment.

On this run, my mind turned to my cousin Jenny Medford.  My cousin Jenny has this amazing capacity to see only the good in people.  She lives in a world where she loves you for who you are, and isn’t shy about saying “I love you” and hugging you like you are the most important person in the world.  As I have got older, I have found ambitions becoming less important than connections and the example of my cousin Jenny has often been on my mind.

My cousin Jenny with my sister Amy

My cousin Jenny with my sister Amy

All people have a need and a right to feel important, and to feel worthy of praise.  There is too much cyber-bullying going on, and not enough cyber-praise and recognition.  I can’t change the world, but I can make a start by praise-bombing the people who have enriched my life with their positive attributes.  So starting today, I’m going on a bombing spree, in honor of my cousin Jenny.  I apologize if such public praise makes anyone nervous, but I think the concept is important enough that I am willing to risk it.

As much as I can help it, I don’t want my friends going to their grave feeling unappreciated, undeserving, or unworthy of praise.  I’m willing to do my part to make sure they don’t.  I’m not sure where this initiative will take me, but in this world of personal mockery, cynicism, division, and tribal hatreds, I want to make my stand on goodness.  My goal is to become more judgmental.  Judgmental in a favorable way.  Don’t be surprised if you see someone you know praise-bombed.  Don’t be surprised if I approach you with a request for information on someone you know so I can make the bomb as accurate as possible.  Living the dream is about living in a connected world where people feel apart of, rather than apart from.  Beware of the praise-bomb.