Here I sit, at the end of the first day of a new year, staring at this blank screen and wondering what I am doing here.  “Leave that blog alone,” that inner voice whispers.  “You have 8 posts in draft state that you never had the patience to get to the second paragraph,” they say.  But I’m feeling somewhat like a runner who hasn’t run, a singer who hasn’t sung, or whatever other practice-oriented thing you can come up with — I need to get back on this horse.  So… I’m going to do my best, here, to get through a whole post.  Whatever comes out, whether it’s 3 paragraphs with incomplete sentences, or a magnum opus will stand as a testament that this isn’t just a dead corner of the Internet.

So what happened, you ask?  No, I haven’t resorted to private blogging, or even another form of journal writing.  I suppose you could say I fell victim to micro-blogging — facebook posts and tweets — that take a lot less thought and effort (although a brief review of my history here suggests that not so many posts here had that much thought or effort, either).  But, in the last few years I’ve even slowed that down to a crawl.  I suppose I’m one part out of time, two parts out of energy, and three parts out of brain power to compose something coherent on a regular basis.  That, and, at times I was reminded that people don’t like to read words as much as they like to look at pictures (which, I hear, are supposed to contain at least 1000 words or more), and — well — the truth is that I dislike pictures.

Whatever the reasons, we find ourselves together now.  As I look back at the last two years since I posted anything substantive here, I am immediately hit with how much our lives (and we) have changed.  When last we met, Noah was a newborn, we still lived in Dallas, Audrey still worked at JCPenney, and pretty much everything about our lives was different.  Here is a summary of what the last two years has brought, some thoughts and feelings that I’ve experienced along the way, and what I see coming in 2016…

The Wreck that Was 2014

March 2014 – Audrey accepted a new job at Petco.  It wasn’t news that JCP was on a major decline for years, but the stuff finally hit the fan in her world with a large changing of the executive level of her department.  Some of her most trusted and valued coworkers were fired, forced out, relocated, or otherwise displaced.  While her job wasn’t under particular threat, we chose to make a leapt that would (hopefully) provide a more positive work environment and outlook for her.  We made plans and preparations to move to San Antonio where her new job would be based.

For the record, I thought this was a spectacular idea and supported her 100%.  We would just move, right?  People move all the time.  No big deal.  Turns out, it was a major-big deal.  It first hit me in March, when we came house hunting.  We feverishly searched the inventory of new and pre-owned homes over the course of 3 days.  We had a specific wish list and the world’s most patient, understanding realtor.  After an all-encompassing search, we found the perfect home for us.  The morning after we decided to purchase the home and signed the contract, I woke up a complete mess.  It was at that moment that I realized we were moving from our home in Wylie.  The deep friendships, memories made, and close family relationships would not follow us here to San Antonio.  We.  Were.  Moving.  Yikes.  That was an ugly, ugly day.  (Poor Audrey probably didn’t have any idea what to do with me…)

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Lots of cousin time in Bandera!

After getting over that little hump, we made our final preparations to close on our house (remind me some time to tell you the story on how we took a bath on the stupid buyer’s VA loan terms), and moved to San Antonio in June of 2014.  Correction — moved to Bandera TX — to live with Audrey’s parents while our home was being finished (completion date late-July, early-Aug, according to the salesman).  Living with Audrey’s parents was definitely a blessing, but it was also a difficult few months, as we both were commuting 45-60 mins each way to our jobs in San Antonio every day.  By the middle of July, we were ready to be closer to work, and out of their hair — and our house was nowhere near completion.

To make a long story short here, we decided to back out of that contract, and after a very patient realtor took us on the circuit again, we found another house nearby that was only a few months old, move-in ready, and a quick close.  We signed everywhere we could possibly sign to get that closing on July 31.

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Aug 3, 2014

Eager to put the summer of transition behind us, to get our stuff out of storage, and to get into our new routine, we scheduled an all-day move-in on Aug 2, 2014.  I was to be at the house supervising the movers while – for a reason I can’t recall – Audrey stayed with the boys in Bandera.  I say this day specifically, because it was a day that would change my life forever.  At about 6pm, content that we had enough beds put together and boxes open to bring the family back to stay the next day, I headed back out to Bandera.  I decided to call my mom to share an update, only to hear some devastating new; my father had passed away that day, taking his own life.

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With the support and love of some of the greatest family and friends a family could ask for, we somehow made it through the subsequent week.  Time froze.  I spent a lot of time staring at the walls and ceiling, trying to make sense of it all.  My mom was incredible through it all, being the rock that she always has been, and carrying us all through the ordeal.  I also can’t say enough about the incredible in-laws we have in our family (including my wife), and particularly my brother-in-law, Scott, who were there to support us, tell us where to stand, hold our hands, and lead us through everything we had to go through.  Looking back, it all feels so surreal, even now, 18 months later; and part of me keeps expecting for Dad to walk in one morning, blearing at the top of his lungs, “Oh what a beautiful morning!  Oh what a beautiful day!  I got a beautiful feeling, everything’s going my way!” as the alarm clock for Saturday morning breakfast.

Life changes.  And there isn’t anything you can do about that.  And though it’s not fair, and it doesn’t make sense (as hard as we try to make it make sense), events like these serve as huge milestones in our lives and define, shape, and give perspective to our lives.  (If you want to hear more about my perspective on this, and how I felt about it from a spiritual perspective, feel free to peruse this talk I gave in church shortly after the event occurred).

We returned to San Antonio, still in a daze, but ready to get situated and into our new groove.  This hardly lasted, though, because God had a different plan in mind for me.  And in September 2014 I was called to serve as a counselor in the Bishopric of our ward.  Yes, it all happened less than a month from when Dad died.  It was insanity.

For those non-Mormon friends who might read this, each congregation of Mormons is presided over by a Bishop who is assisted by two counselors.  They are lay-leaders – regular members of the congregation, who are asked to volunteer for a period of time.  It’s a fairly large responsibility, encompassing both and administrative (making sure logistics of meetings and organizations run smoothly) and ministry (serving those with special physical and spirtual needs) responsibilities.

Without going into too much detail, here, I will say that this calling ended up being the miracle that saved our move, for me.  Besides grieving for my father, I was still having acute feelings of homesickness for Dallas, and – because God knows us all best – he also gives us what we need to move forward, and though I’m a weak instrument in his hands, he knew that I needed the challenge that this calling would be to re-focus my energy here in the present, and be here for my family in this place and in this way.  Through a series of special, personal experiences this experience demonstrated yet again that God knows and loves and cares for each of us individually in our own, personal way.

After a wonderful seasons of Thanksgiving (in San Diego) and Christmas (in Saint George), we were now ready to tackle 2015, with great hopes for the year to come.

The Dawn of 2015

This year proved to be full of both triumphs and tribulations.

Looking back, our biggest challenge was with health issues.  Everyone in our family, except me, had some acute issue this year (which is ironic because I am the one who exercises the least and eats the most unhealthily).  Audrey had the great pleasure of enduring two fairly unexpected and emotionally and physically taxing surgeries this year.  This was extremely disheartening, as she is actually in the best shape she’s been in since college.

We did have one health triumph, which was to find a great pulmonologist for Eli who has finally gotten us trained as asthma parents, and on a set of medications that has, knock on wood, kept Eli out of of the hospital since June of this year.  This has been a huge relief and blessing for us, as we were constantly feeling like repeat customers, with upwards of 10 ER visits between Eli’s 2nd and 4th birthdays for acute asthma attacks.  For now, we’re feeling some relief there.

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We love the hospital, we hate the hospital. Last hospital visit, Jun 2015!

Another long-running saga that played itself out over the course of 2015 was related to my work.  In Sept of 2014, my boss at work was laid off, which put our team of 8 or 9 in an odd position.  As one of the more senior members of the team, I and another person took interim responsibility for the team during the transition period, which ended up lasting until March of 2015 when we hired a great replacement.  We spent the spring and summer doing great work together, thinking all was well, until a huge organizational change upended everything and landed us in a new, unfamiliar organization doing somewhat similar work we had been doing previously.  After what felt like an eternity of transition, and two manager transitions later, I was asked to take on the role as manager for our team of 10 designers.  Professionally, it was a year full of constant change, and now lots of opportunity for growth in a new role.  It’s been a year of saying good bye to many great professional relationships – with people leaving the company and people moving into new roles – so that has been hard.  In all honesty, I wouldn’t be upset if 2016 saw a lot less change and a lot more stability, though I’m not putting any bets on the table just yet if history is any guide.

Due to the amount of organizational transition, and in an attempt to be a player and not just an observer, 2015 also was the year I traveled the most in my professional career.  This was a great advantage for me professionally, but also a huge burden on our family.  Audrey and Evie (our awesome nanny) did such a great job shouldering the burden of me being gone for at least some part of about 20 weeks last year.  (33% travel?  Not in the job description. 🙂 )

Our boys have grown and changed significantly this year.  Having a four-going-on-five and two-going-on-three provides new challenges and adventures every day.  The good news it that I think (and I’m not biased) that they are some of the best kids around, and have such great hearts and budding talents (already).  We frequently get comments in public about how much Noah looks like me, which always makes me feel good (and some sense of dread for him as well).

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One of my only resolutions I remember from last year was to spend some more quality time with the boys. To facilitate this, we bought season tickets to the San Antonio Missions. It was surprisingly affordable for the ticket package, but the $100 in concessions every evening sure did take its toll! 😉 All-in-all, we really enjoyed this great new tradition, and hope to continue it this year.

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I also made significant progress in 2015 toward my master’s degree. Perhaps one of the contributing factors to my stopping the blog has been my return to the classroom. However, I am now more than halfway through my program, and we’re looking at how I can get it done by the end of this calendar year. It will be tight, but I think it can be done. (And there will be much rejoicing when I do!)

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With new perspective from 2014, we tried to enjoy family more in 2015.  We took a week-long cruise to celebrate my mom’s milestone birthday, we spent a week with my extended family for Thanksgiving, and spent Christmas with Audrey’s grandmother.

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IMG_1928I also had the great experience of being invited to sing with the BYU Men’s combined choirs (as an alumnus) during April’s general conference, a wonderful 15 year bookend to the last time I sang in the conference center in April of 2000.

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It was ironic that we sang “For the Strength of the Hills” because that was the hymn I auditioned with in 1999 to get into this choir…

And this one was nice, too…

If you only watch one of these, make it this one. This one kind of sums up much of 2014 for me… And it’s a very Staheli-esque arrangement.

Looking into 2016

Looking ahead to 2016, I have no idea what to expect.  We used to spend time making lists of “stuff we’d like to do” at the new year — an exhaustive, uninhibited list of things we send out to the universe to see what we can actually have happen that year.  We started one the other night, but have yet to really get into it, but we need to.

For now, I guess I just have a few — let’s say — ‘hopes’ in mind:

  • I hope for a year filled with health for my kids, my wife, and myself (if there’s any good health left over after those 3)
  • I hope for a year where relationships with friends and family grow and blossom.  I guess that means I should nurture them more than I have in the past…
  • A year of professional success and growth for both of us (and maybe a tad less travel for me).
  • A breakout year for our side-business, so we can get that Tesla!
  • A presidential election where sanity prevails and reality TV ends… (ok, not really holding out hope there, but trying to keep the politicking down this year)
  • I hope to be more present, and happy, in every context and every moment of life.  (I had to throw in something esoteric!)
  • Maybe I’ll pick up an old hobby again… like writing on the blog??  (Don’t count on it, and don’t hold me to it, either…)

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2 Responses to Twenty Sixteen – Two Years of Catch Up (Ketchup?)

  1. Grape says:

    Sam, good to have you on the blogger scene again….yup…sure do love you and your family. Maybe in 2016 I can make a trip to South Texas for a visit. Much love to you and yours. The Grape

  2. Mark Nelson says:

    Hi Sam,

    Don’t worry about the infrequent updates. Catching up on two years in a fairly long post worked just fine for me, and I am really glad to get all the news that I’ve missed from you since my move to North Carolina.

    Great news to hear that you are in sight of the MS. I will be one of those rejoicing when that happens.

    Hang in there with the craziness that is your life today. As one who is about one generation ahead of you, I can tell you that the hard investments you are making today will be returned with interest in the years ahead by the Lord – often in very unexpected ways.

    And keep writing. You have an uncanny ability there. I don’t know what it means, but you need to at least keep exercising it.

    – Mark

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