Jon Thysell

Father. Engineer. Retro games. Ukuleles. Nerd.

Category: Personal

My soul was forged in the redwood forest

The reason why we feel good when going to a great forest or a hill is because our spirits are usually cramped. – Chuangtse

I have enjoyed the wilderness my entire life. A decade in Scouting let me hike and camp up and down California, and one year even gave me a week in the forests of Oʻahu. But that’s not where my love of the great outdoors began.

As far back as I can remember, my family has made an annual camping trip to the California Redwoods. We’ve hit a few different spots, but our primary choice is Burlington campground in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Burlington has long history with my family; my grandparents used to take my mother there when she was a child.

We know the campground inside and out. We’ve hiked on every trail, from the short jaunts down to the river, to the two mile trek to Weott, where we stop to pick blackberries for tomorrow’s pancakes. As children we’d stop at the general store to buy comics and ice cream before the long hike back to camp. We ride our bikes down the the Visitor Center, and look at the same old displays we’ve known and loved for years. We hang out at camp and play cards or talk story around the campfire.

Some years we make the two hour drive to visit Paul Bunyan at the Trees of Mystery; other years we head to Ferndale, where we explore the little shops and admire the Victorian homes. As a child I’d spend forever in the used bookstores, trying to decide how best to spend my allowance.

In recent years, the highlight has been the trek to our secluded beach on the river. We drive a few miles up from camp, pull over on the side of the highway, and climb down the embankment. Then we pack our gear into an inflatable raft and swim to the beach on the other side, where it’s inaccessible by dry land.

We spend the day exploring the beach, swimming in the river when it gets too hot or stopping to make mud-castles. And at the end of the day we have to pack everything up again for the return swim, and the wet scramble back up to the highway.

Burlington and the redwoods are more than just a favorite vacation spot, it’s our home away from home, a place of family legends. The two times I almost drowned. The time my brother skidded his bike underneath a truck. The time we were hiking and an earthquake set the whole wood rocking. Each year we add more to our trove of Burlington stories.

This year I get the pleasure of introducing others to our family traditions. My girlfriend Anne and I will drive down from Seattle; it’ll be her first time camping in the redwoods. I’ll also be witness to the breaking in of my two nephews, as they write themselves into the family history at Burlington.

I’ve seen a good deal of the world’s beauty in my travels, but there’s a certain swell of the soul that only comes when standing before the majesty of a redwood forest.

It is, and shall forever remain, my favorite place in the world.


Call me Kamalani

My name is Jon, I introduce myself as Jon, so it only makes sense that most people who meet me, know me as Jon. Which begs the question, why do half the people who know me, know me only as Kamalani?

One day, when I was five, maybe six, I remember playing in the front yard at our home in Newark. Grandma sat on a wood bench with iron armrests near the house, and she called me over to sit with her. When I finally caught my breath, she asked me if I wanted her to call me Jon, or if she could call me Kamalani. That’s my Hawaiian name, the name she gave me. She asked what to use, because she didn’t want me to feel embarrassed in front of my friends.

Grandma in 2006

I told her, “Grandma, you can call me Kamalani.”

Since that day, she never called me by anything else. That’s why her friends all know me as Shirley’s grandson, Kamalani.

I have a wealth of cherished memories with my grandmother, more than I have time to tell. We visited her house so often, to this day I still have more dreams set on Moyers Road than any place I’ve ever lived.

When I was probably seven, Grandma taught me that good things sometimes come in small packages. My birthday gift that year was my first nice watch, a Timex Ironman Triathalon, which was a Rolex compared to the sea of cheap Casio kid watches.

In the third grade, she said she would buy me a video game system if I got straight A’s. As you can imagine, the bribe worked. Now, nineteen years later, I work at Xbox, which I think officially makes that bribe an early investment in my future career.

When I hit my teens, she pestered me about when I was going to get my ears pierced. All the kids are doing it, she said. She let me stay with them over the summers when I worked at the CoCo Hut. I didn’t drink caffeine growing up, so working at that coffee cart was a crash-course in workplace stimulants. So yet again we have another investment in my future career.

I could go on and on, and I’m still only talking about what I remember, what I saw in the last third of her life. I mean, she remembered surviving Pearl Harbor; I can’t even begin to catalog the amazing life she had. I only know that she was one of the toughest, generous, and loving women I know, and that I’m going to miss her with all of my heart.

My name is Jon Pekele Kamalani Thysell, but for you Grandma, you can call me Kamalani. You can always call me Kamalani.

Until we meet again,


In memory of Shirley K. Jones
September 20, 1935 — May 9, 2012

My Grandfather’s Desk

The most important things Grandpa ever said to me were in private, in low voices, and usually at his desk. If you spent time with Papa, you know what I’m talking about. He’d wait in the garage doorway, and when he caught your eye he’d call you over, tell you to shut the door, sit down, and listen.

As a kid I was enchanted by his desk. It was off limits, but he had all kinds of treasures in there. A pair of designer sunglasses he’d found on a park bench. A one of-a-kind coin. Tools and parts and other knick knacks. And if I didn’t know what it was, he’d give me a “What’s the matter with you kid?” look. Like a five year old’s supposed to know what a wire stripper is for.

Me and Papa at the San Pablo Reservoir

One time we all went down to the reservoir to go fishing, and sure enough he took me aside and pulled out a little jar of green slime. He told me to dip the bait in it, but keep it quiet. Don’t say anything cause it’d make the other fishermen angry if they found out. To this day I have no idea what that green slime was.

He was always letting me in on secrets like that. He’d give you money for the ice cream truck, but act like he’d got the cash from a bank heist or something. Cash, everything was cash with Papa. And he knew the exact location of every penny he had. I tell people everything I learned about watching your money I learned from Papa.

I don’t remember seeing much physical affection between my grandparents. I don’t remember seeing them kiss, or saying “I love you” to one other. Grandma once told me, you get old enough, and it’s like living with a roommate.

But Grandpa loved her, and I learned to see the signs. When she was having trouble with the TV, he took me aside and handed me two grand in cash and told me we’re going to get her a new one, something HD. I told him, “Papa, they’re not that expensive anymore.”

One night, a few years after Uncle Teeny passed, and Papa’s health started to go, he called me back into the garage. He told me to not worry about him. He said, “I may look bad and sound bad, but I’ll be fine. It’s Mama I’m worried about. You know she’s got it worse than me. She doesn’t look it, but she’s the one you need to watch out for.” I think it’s the first time I ever really saw him express how much he cared about her.

I love you Papa, and I’m going to miss you. Someday I hope I have my own desk in the garage, just like you did.


In memory of Mart N. Jones Jr.
January 26, 1935 — September 27, 2011

P90X Day 90 “Done! Well, sorta…”

So today marks the official ninetieth day of of my P90X journey, so I’m done right? Well, not quite…

I’ll say first and foremost that I expect that if you follow the system completely and don’t waver, you’ll probably get better results than I did. Not that I’m complaining; I may have cut some corners here and there, but I’m still pretty happy with how I turned out. It’s no surprise to me that I didn’t end up looking like Tony Horton at the end of 90 days.

So what didn’t I do, and why? First off, I would say a major factor was that I started this trek while I was still looking for work, and took advantage of the fact that if I woke up and didn’t feel like working out right away, I could almost always find the motivation in the middle of the day. Midway I started my new job at Xbox, which meant, as I mentioned on Day 60, there were some weeks where I missed a workout or two. Sometimes it was because I was too exhausted from work, but a lot of the time it was because I couldn’t dedicate that 1-1.5 hours in the morning before work to exercising.

I would get distracted, usually doing the things I was too tired to do the night before, and then I’d look at the clock, calculate that I didn’t have the time, and resolve myself that I would do it when I got home. Then after work, usually I’d be too busy or tired to do follow up. It’s a vicious cycle.

The other thing I didn’t follow at all (didn’t even read the material) was the diet / nutrition guide. That wasn’t such big deal when I was unemployed, because I rarely keep any junk food around the house, and I was good at drinking protein shakes all the time. But now that the big chunk of my day is spent at work, I find myself visiting the vending machine for a chip fix.

Overall, I skipped the workouts that were less in line with my goals, but due to my OCD at having empty chart entries, I did every workout that had spots for recording weights/reps. To that end, I can see (counting today) precisely 14 workouts that I missed, almost all of them in Phase III.

So what’s next? At this point I think the hour plus workouts a day are too demanding on my schedule, as my overall priorities are shifting a lot toward my other goals, such as my career growth. But I don’t want to drop it all completely, and while I may have missed more of the “cardio” options in those 14 skipped sessions, on many occasions during those three months I felt the desire to just go on a run. I had just done another round of Couch to 5k (which I also highly recommend) before starting P90X, and I missed the sheer simplicity of just running for a half-hour (instead of jumping up and down like a madman).

I’m exploring several potential options at the moment, but right now I have a few possibilities:

  1. Go to the gym . (I get a free membership from work to a nice gym, it’s just that I’m not too big on exercising around a bunch of other people)
  2. Do P90X again, but this time follow the “lean” option and actually follow the diet plan. (Least likely to happen, but it’s crossed my mind more than once)
  3. Do a custom routine of my own, probably using Beachbody’s 10 Minute Trainer series (the copies I have are interesting) along with regular runs.

For the immediate future, I’m considering “making up” those 14 workouts I missed, and then take a week or so break, explore my options, then kick things back into high gear.


P.S. It may be a bit of a biased judgment, but my girlfriend is appreciative of the end results.

P90X Day 60 “Two-Thirds”

Coming in on the final stretch, only a month left! I’m still trying to bring it every day, but I’ve been experiementing with moving my workouts around, doing some out of order or moving them from the morning to the afternoon.

It’s not been entirely successful, as I have gottena  little out of sync, but I’m focusing on the workouts that I really care about, aka the chest, back, arms and shoulders for that upper body strength. I’m a little more lenient about missing workouts, though I keep track of them so I can make them up later.