King of White Elephants

Our Christmas Eve tradition involves the typical fare: excessive food, do-it-yourself gingerbread construction, lots of family and friends, and a white elephant gift exchange. For several years, the gift exchange has developed into a war of attrition to see who can bring that one wonderfully terrible gift which is simultaneously appalling, clever, and hilarious. One year, it was a box of potatoes. The next, a 3 foot tall plastic doll accompanied with a bottle of root beer, which was supposed to be a "date." (I ended up with that one...everyone thought it was quite funny -- I humored them.)

Last year's winner was from my brother. He gave, in a very elegant brushed stainless steel frame and signed "Best Wishes", a black and white version of his senior picture. Audacias? Yes. Completely worthless? Yes. Best gift ever? Yes. The fact that it landed in the hands of a recently married 19 year old woman? Priceless.

But, by far, the best gifts are the ones that last from year to year: this is "re-gifting" elevated to the sublime. The plastic doll was one of those. And, in a great irony, my brother's narcissistic picture survived the year in someone's trunk to again be passed around the white elephant circle and land in the hands of my brother's wife -- who is, in all honestly, the only person that might enjoy it.

We all thought that was the coup de grace; the gift of the year, until we we saw this year's gift from my brother, the following weighty tome:

Bryan, you are king of the White Elephants.


90 seconds...

While I was enjoying the Christmas program at my parent's ward, my cohorts in the singles ward were anxiously engaged in giving 90 second talks. Apparently, they do this twice a year, the premise being that you are limited to no more than 90 seconds to share whatever message you think most important. So, if you had to forgo the lame jokes, humorous anecdotes, weak analogies, faith promoting experiences, and the recitation of moderately applicable song lyrics, what message would you share with everyone?

At the ward Christmas dinner on Friday night, I noticed a lot of fretting by the ladies who were asked to speak. (The guys would probably be worried, too, but we're just not that self aware in the first place...) Listening to their concerns, it made me wonder what I would say in my 90 seconds, and so I present my 90 second list:
  • Remember that time is money. Every dollar you earn and every item you buy costs a measure of your time that cannot be replaced. Hard work is necessary for happiness, but at some point the money is not worth the time. You will always arrive at this point earlier than you think, even if it seems that only a little bit more of your time would bring significantly more money.
  • Never take yourself too seriously and don't let others take you too seriously either. Nearly every situation can be improved by a good sense of humor.
  • It's the little things that make the largest difference. Never underestimate the power of a sunny day, a passage from a book, a great hug, or a classic song to change your day.
  • Never stop learning. Your body will age, and you will inevitably loose your looks, voice, jump shot, killer serve, and wicked carve, but you won't stop progressing if you continue learning.
  • In life, focus on the things that extend beyond mortality: the depth of your commitment, the service you've performed, and the relationships you've made. In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. (Thanks John and Paul -- Beatles lyrics are pretty frequently applicable.)




I just finished wrapping Christmas presents. My tongue it really dry, like when you fall asleep with your mouth wide open. I think it's because I stick out my tongue when I wrap presents, kind of like Michael Jordan driving the lane. For some reason, the act of wrapping requires an inordinate amount of concentration and patience for me. To make it easier, I even put everything into boxes this year, but I still managed to mess a few up. When you see the box with the patch over the torn corner, that's my handiwork.

Maybe I should take a page from Dad's playbook: make my sisters do it. My dad has these big gorilla like hands, so the thought of him trying to crease and tape a roll of flimsy paper over some box really makes me laugh. That's why, every birthday, Mother's day, and Christmas, dad's gifts were summarily deposited into a basement room and the favor asked, "Hey, can you go wrap those for me?"

Now I'm beginning to understand why.


Subtle Signs

If you look around my house, you will see the subtle signs of bachelorhood. I say subtle, because the roommates and I keep a pretty clean and well ordered place. There is no pyramid of empty soft drink cans, pile of empty pizza boxes, or any hint of locker room smell. The carpets are vacuumed, pantry well stocked, kitchen well outfitted, and you won't find a TV in the living room. The furnishings are a little sparse, but still comfortable. Despite this, things are still slightly amiss, and I think that any off the following would clearly show that you are indeed visiting a bachelor pad:
  • The university sticker in the bedroom window.
  • The plant growing out of a nalgene bottle (I've been meaning to plant it, I really have!)
  • The plastic darts stuck on the kitchen window.
  • Reading material in all the bathrooms.
  • The Christmas tree with only one ornament.


The Curse of the PT Cruiser

While filling out my expense report for my most recent trip, I counted the number of times that I'd been to San Diego in the last few months. It was some ridiculous number like 6 or 7. Every time I've traveled to San Diego, I've been cursed with driving a PT Cruiser. Ungh. I'll take anything else. Give me your Malibus, your Impalas, your G6s, just NO MORE PT cruisers.

I'm so sick of driving that little car. The buttons are all in the wrong place, it doesn't get good gas mileage even though it's so small, it turns like an elephant, and sometimes the headlights stay on even after you turn them off. And to top it off, nothing screams "Look, I'm from out of town!" like driving a PT Cruiser in San Diego.

Two trips ago, I was standing behind this guys in the rental car line. He completed his paperwork, took the keys, and went out into the parking lot. He was back in about two seconds. He said, "There's no way I'm driving that." What was the car? A canary yellow PT cruiser. I totally agree with him, too. The car is effeminate enough without being pastel.

At the rental counter this last time, the lady said, "Well, I have a Corolla and a PT Cruiser." I got all excited and said, "I'll take the Corolla!" But when she punched it in, she frowned, motioned to the guy to my right, and said "Sorry, looks like he got it."

Agh! Like the Miami Dolphins, I remain winless.


Pink shirt

I had a great uncle who said, "Never trust a lawyer in a pink shirt." This was the 80s. I thought of it today because I wore a pink shirt to church. The beard makes me look manly, so I think I can pull it off. I also wore a red striped tie, so I kind of looked like a big candy cane. Festive, I suppose. My roommate (who is a lawyer, and who, I might add -- I have never seen wear pink shirt) said that in court this week, the judge came in wearing a pink shirt. The bailiff started to give him a hard time about it. The judge's reply? "It's not pink, it's manberry."

Manberry or not, I think I'd still be concerned if my legal counsel wore a pink shirt.


Sunday School PowerPoint?

So, I was in Sunday School today when the instructor gave his lesson through a PowerPoint presentation. There he was: laptop, projector, and fancy remote to flip through the slides crookedly spilled past the pull down screen onto the wall. Before he started, I wondered to myself: "Am I about to hear a timeshare sales pitch?"

At one point in the lesson, our row (the back row as it turns out) was asked to take turns reading out loud what was on the screen. When it came to his turn, the guy next to me squinted at the white text on blue background and said, "I feel like I'm at the eye doctor!" We all laughed.

Tonight the roommate and I were discussing how odd it was to have this technological intrusion into Sunday School. We thought of several more flippant comments we wish we had made:
  • PowerPoint? Wait, I don't even have the syllabus yet!
  • Is the text required?
  • How much does the text cost? Can you get it used?
  • Do we need ALL FOUR books?
  • Do I need to get a Scantron form?
Fortunately, we thought better of ourselves and didn't make a fuss. In all reality, the lesson was fine, just a slightly unorthodox presentation. Of course, the presenter has branded himself as a hard core nerd, so I hope he's okay with that.


The Problem with Bluegrass

I friend got me into bluegrass a few months ago. So far, I'm digging it, but there is one distinct problem. This evening, I got into my car, and my iPod shuffled to a song that started out with some really awesome licks. Suddenly, I felt the nearly irrepressible urge to go rescue my cousin Luke from Boss Hog somewhere in the back woods of Hazzard county.


You think my Accord could jump a ditch?


We meet again Trebek!

I've been thinking today about my brain -- about all the stuff that's crammed in there. For example, I know where the word stiletto comes from, the meaning of quixotic, and what a Stradivarius is. I also know all kinds of gee whiz science things like why the sky is blue, why water expands when it freezes, and why you can't ice skate when it's very cold. I know weird medical things, like how MRIs, CTs, and SSRIs work. I also have the typical manly knowledge, like the difference between carburetors and fuel injection, 2 stroke versus 4 stroke, and why you want a limited slip differential. I also do okay when it comes to literature: I can quote a little bit of Dante, Dickens, and Demosthenes. I've read Austen, as well as Aeschylus and Asimov. I can also quote, at length, parts of the Princess Bride, Top Gun, Sneakers, So I Married an Axe Murderer, and several SNL skits. Give me an actor, and the odds are good that I'll be able to name at least one movie that they've been in before.

Now, before you shake your head in disgust, please know that I'm not trying to paint myself as a Renaissance man. Just knowing this random stuff doesn't mean that I'm actually intelligent (or would be successful at Jeopardy, as my mom thinks), but it may certainly give that illusion.

There is a very real irony in what we call intelligence, for in the last three months, I have not once, but twice, left my check card in the ATM and driven away without it. So much for being smart.


Grandpa's Computer

I know all my readers (the two of you) were anxiously waiting to hear what happened with Grandpa's computer. In an earlier post I explained that his computer was on the fritz and needed to serious scolding. The computer parts arrived this week, so I went out there this fine Sunday afternoon to spend the afternoon with them.

Grandpa and I watched football with the TV muted, because neither of us can stand the inane commentary. We talked about the fact that Coke is on sale at Albertson's -- five 12-packs for ten dollars (Grandpa drinks at least two diet cokes a day). We also teased grandma for filling every nook and cranny of the apartment with something (like piling the unused bathtub high with bulk paper products). I also went slightly insane because the battery in their smoke detector is dying and emitting that pitiful chirp every 2 minutes, but neither of them can hear it (Yes, I changed it before I left.)

When it was all said and done, it was a day well spent. Grandpa's computer is running like a champ, we ate some of my homemade lasagna, and I listened to them reminiscings. And while all their stories are interesting, one in particular is worth relating:

When I was about two years old, we lived in a little apartment in southeast Idaho. Grandpa and Grandma stopped by to visit on their way to Salt Lake from their home in Oregon. When they pulled up, I ran out to greet Grandpa, who hoisted my into the air and gave me a big hug. Grandpa says I was "cute as a button." When he put me down, I noticed Grandma opening the car door to get out. I immediately ran over and heaved my tiny body against the door to close it on her! I'm sure my mother was mortified. Grandpa thinks it was hilarious. All I can say is that I guess even at that young age, I was afraid of girls. Some things never change.


Traveling Pants

Growing up, I had a favorite pair of flannel pajamas. Gray, black, and green plaid with big pockets and wide ankle openings. Entirely hideous, but for most of my teenage years, they dutifully filled their role in my repertoire of sleepwear. Imagine my surprise, then, to see this week old picture of my marathon running sister:

Yes ladies and gentlemen, these are/were my flannel pajamas. They are now probably 15 years old. Countless Saturdays growing up, I would pad around the house in these pjs, driving my mother completely insane to know that it was 1 or 2 in the afternoon, and I still "wasn't dressed." Through countless washings and gentle abuse, I nursed these pjs from their stiff and too tight initial state to their current status as an article of well worn comfort.

When I left for college, I decided they were far too unsophisticated for my new intellectual pursuits, so I left them home both as a memento and to be worn on those weekends when my presence would again grace the homestead. But, on one of these return visits, they were conspicuously absent from the cache of clothes I kept at home. It wasn't long until I discovered them on my sister. I saw this as the ultimate affront, and demanded that they be returned and freed from their ignominious fate as female sleepwear. The furtive cry I heard was, "But ... they're so comfortable...!"

I didn't care. Something about college had made their hideousness decidedly cool, so I took them with me for that first year of college. After that year, I went on my mission to Brazil. Given the climate and humidity, I assumed that flannel would not make suitable sleepwear, so I left them home, where there were again subject to rape and pillage by my siblings.

Upon my return, I had to cajole, coerce, and threaten to get most of my things back (I think I'm still missing CDs), but the pjs were already back into my dresser, neatly folded -- waiting to be worn. The borrower finally understood the magic of the pajamas. And that's why, several years later, and just a few months since her recently married self moved to Washington DC, I sent her those ghastly flannels. Maybe they played a role in her finishing the marathon in an amazing 4:20 (that's slightly under 10 minute miles, folks), but I can't really say.


Picture Day

Remember picture day in elementary school? Lined up alphabetically in the best clothes your mom dared to have you wear at recess? I remember hair neatly coiffed, cemented into place by a whole can of Aquanet, while the blue cloud backdrop seemed genuinely surreal in the story pit. And how about that poor frazzled soul using his photography degree to half-heartedly coax smiles out of 500 pre-adolescents? I'm sure he wanted to take my picture about as much as I wanted it taken.

And then there was the waiting, the anxiety. Would mom's 10 dollars be well spent? Did I blink again this year? Was I flush from playing in the chill October air? Did someone give me a noogie at lunch that unearthed that unruly cowlick?

It takes weeks to know the answer, and on that fateful day I'm presented with a waxy envelope of glossies in assorted sizes. I sneak peaks throughout the day, wondering if mom will be pleased, and maybe trade a few wallet sized with friends. The rest, though, are carefully secreted away in my backpack, which I clutch tightly on the bus ride home.

Finally, the moment comes when mom gets to see the return on her investment. At this, she usually sighs, "John ... Why'd you make that face?

My answer, "What face? That's my face!"

You know the only thing worse than picture day?

Picture retake day.


San Diego, Redux

This week, I found myself again in San Diego for work. Nearly everything was an the opposite of my previous adventure there. Instead of hot, dry, Santa Ana's and temperatures in the 90s, there was a slow cold sea breeze that brought the fog and mist ashore and kept things in the mid 60s.

Items of note on this trip:
  • Sometimes less is best. Normally when I travel I stay at moderately priced business class hotels. Because of the firefighting effort most cheaper places were booked, so my reservation was at a very nice hotel: travertine floors, 24 hour concierge service, 4 star restaurant, full sports club and spa, and valet parking service. All wonderful things, but the internet is 10 bucks a day, the bottles of water in the room are 2 dollars each, the gym is 10 dollars a day, and there's no continental breakfast -- all things that are included when you stay at the less expensive place. Can someone please explain to me how a hotel that charges MORE offers LESS complimentary service?
  • San Diego is beautiful. The night of my arrival, I took the 5 north to my hotel. Traffic was light, the scent of the ocean was palatable and a beautiful sunset stretched out to my left along the coastline. At the same time, rising from the trees and mist, was the striking San Diego temple.
  • While wandering the halls of my employer's main facility (I work in small satellite office in another state), I passed someone straining under the weight of an old-school 17 inch computer monitor. As I turned to look, I realized that it was the company president. I was instantly impressed. How can you not like a company like mine, where everyone pulls their own weight?
  • While waiting for my flight home, I sat a row behind a young Marine on his way home from deployment. He was wearing his dress blues. I was thrilled to see so many people come up to him with a smile, to shake his hand and thank him for his service. It is great to see that, even with an unpopular war and an unpopular President, patriotism still runs deep.


Amber and Nerds

Around noon on Friday my cell phone rang. Being a pretty slow day, I decided to answer it even though I was at work. It was Grandpa. His computer was on the fritz. I get these kind of phone calls all the time from family, but this is the first time from Grandpa. Most people have to endure a little needling from me when they call for computer help: "Sounds like a PBKAC error", "Are you sure it's plugged in?", "Computers only do what you TELL them to do." But I spared Grandpa; anyone who's 82 years old and uses a computer is pretty savvy in my book.

So, I went out to see them this afternoon. When I arrived, the computer seemed to be behaving itself. False alarm. This also happens a lot. Infernal contraption. Once the computer figures out that I'm coming, it decides to behave itself, just like a child that's no longer sick one you suggest that they have to see the doctor. But, for my trouble, Grandpa and Grandma took me out to one of their favorite places, the restaurant Amber.

See, I know what you're thinking. "Amber? That sounds posh." Well, let's clear that misconception right away. My grandma explained that Amber is probably a step below the Chuck-A-Rama. As we walked up, Grandma said, "This is where your parents had their wedding luncheon." Eying the drab brown exterior I asked, "Has it changed much since then?" Grandpa butted in, "I don't think it's changed AT ALL."

Amber is the antithesis of dining today. No rowdy mixed drink menu, no trendy decorations, no overpriced signature dishes. Here, the flatware is from Wal-mart, the mashed potatoes are still instant, and the only lettuce is iceberg. As Grandma put it, "We like this place because it's just ordinary. Ordinary people eating ordinary food." Grandpa then added, "Well, the clientèle does border on geriatric, but we're okay with that."

Anyplace that offers 10 dollar prime rib is okay in my book. I had mine with the instant mashed potatoes, doused in gravy from a mix, and a vegetable medley that I'm guessing made it's journey to the restaurant in a frozen bag. And you know what? It was all deeply satisfying, both the company and the cuisine.

During dinner, Grandma asked me about work. She said that she had tried to explain to one of her neighbors what I do but ended up saying that I was a "computer nerd." She said she thought "computer genius" was a little boastful and hoped that computer nerd was okay. I told her it was just fine by me. It's both a badge of honor and the simplest way to explain my job.

And that's quintessential Grandpa and Grandma. They don't mince words, and in a very complex world, they remind me of how simple life can be. Grandma explained: "Every day, I wake up and say 'Good morning Old Man', and your grandfather says, 'Good morning Old Woman'... Every night, it's 'Good night Old Man' and 'Good night Old Woman.'" Way to tell it like it is, Grandma.

And as I watched them walk out of the restaurant Amber, I watched those two 82 year-olds hold hands. That's them -- food and life: uncomplicated.


Perception vs. Reality

Sneakers is probably my favorite movie. It's been 15 years since it came out, but the questions it asks are still relevant, and the characters are still funny. I mean, how can you go wrong with Robert Redford, Ben Kingsley, James Earl Jones, and these lines of dialogue?

"I could have been in the NSA, but they found out my parents were married."

"You should have that guy checked for rabies."
"Rabies occurs only in warm blooded animals."

"Cattle mutilations are up..."

"I want peace of earth and goodwill toward men."
"We're the United States government, we don't do that sort of thing!"

"The girl with the, uh, Uzi... Is she, uh, single?"
"...Wait a minute... you can have anything you want, and you're asking for my phone number?"

And, of course:

"I learned that the world is not based on reality..."
"... but on the perception of reality."

This is a true and powerful principle. Everything we do and think is clouded by our perception of the world around us and the people in it. Too often, I think we become complacent in our perceptions. We forget to challenge what we think and to remember that our understanding is certainly incomplete. One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone is so firmly convinced of their world view that they won't even consider that there are alternate and equally valid realities.

A case in point: earlier this week I was hanging out with some people that were discussing the upcoming election and a proposed law that would provide vouchers for students attending private schools. One guy presented a very well reasoned argument in support of vouchers. Despite his compelling argument, I couldn't find myself agreeing with him at all. The reason? His whole argument was based on the idea that the educational system is dominated by "liberals." My question to him, which he dismissed out of hand, was, "Are you sure the educational system is liberal or is our view conservative relative to the educational system?" As I see it, perspective is just as important as the argument itself. Unwillingness to even consider an alternate reality immediately makes me wary.

The problem is that eventually our perceptions serve only to support the realities we chose to embrace. Everything becomes evidence of what we "know" to be true. It's not that I blame us for being this way; sticking to a reality is comfortable. It fits just like our favorite pair of jeans. The challenge, as I see it, is to be brave enough to constantly question perception. I'm not advocating moral relativism; I do believe that there is a right and a wrong answer to many questions. In the end, the right answers are the ones that are reinforced regardless of the reality from which they are viewed.


Warren Miller and Human Nature

"You know what the street value of this mountain is?"

Every year, the Warren Miller ski movie marks the unofficial beginning of winter. This year was no exception. I sat in a packed theatre and issued my share of "oohh"s and "aahh"s as we were all mesmerized by 8000 foot verticals in Alaska, waist deep powder in Utah, and something called "speed riding" over the craggy alps (more about that later.)

Despite the fact that the lifts and trams won't run for another month, I find myself anxious for the white stuff. Unlike so many people I know, I want it to fall by the bucketful. I figure that if I'm going to live in a place that's freezing cold for a third of the year, I might as well enjoy it! It's all I can do right now to NOT put the snow gear on right now and waddle around the house.

So, back to this "speed riding". This is, basically, the most insane thing I have ever seen in a Warren Miller film. These two guys fly down this mountain in the alps using parasails, going 50 to 60 miles an hour, jumping across this Seussian looking terrain in a surprisingly similar fashion as those really weird flying scenes in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but with a punk rock soundtrack. The footage is amazing, and the mountains are so shear and violent that they look decidedly alien. When you're done marveling at the scenery, you quickly realize that these two men are probably the most insane people in the world. Every second of flight, the line between an eventual safe landing and becoming a tomato colored stain on a granite outcropping is blurred.

And, that brings me to my second thought of the evening. It occurred to me today that one of the biggest differences between man and animal is that man will purposefully do things that he knows are not good for him. In fact, this seems to be the very curse of our intelligence. Though granted the wisdom to avoid hurt and and limit pain, both physical and emotional, we still, at times, ignore it. Sometimes we move inexorably towards self destruction. Other times, we take risks and expose ourselves because we hope for something better or more exciting. And while we're not always successful, and pain does inevitably ensue, I think it's this very proclivity to rise above the "safe" course that does truly make us human.

That said, I'm still not jumping off of any French mountains.


The Hot Crazy Line

Where are you with relation to the Vicki Mendoza diagonal? Barney's comments are very sexist, so I'd like to point out that the hot/crazy line applies to both sexes equally, though for men, it's more of a money vs "funny looking" line. In other words, the funnier you look, the more earning potential is required.

In a similar vein, have you heard about the woman who advertised her self-described beautiful self on Craigslist suggesting that only men earning over $500,000 need apply? Well, some hedge fund honcho replied to her with a little lesson in economics (edited a little, because apparently Mr. Half-Million didn't have his secretary write the post):

"Here's the rub: your looks will fade, but my money will likely continue in perpetuity … in fact, it is very likely that my income will increase, but it is an absolute certainty that you won't be getting any more beautiful...

So, in economic terms, you are a depreciating asset, and I am an earning asset. Not only are you a depreciating asset, but your depreciation accelerates. Let me explain: you're 25 now and will likely stay pretty hot for the next 5 years, but less so each year. Then the fade begins in earnest. By 35 it's over.

So in Wall Street terms, we would call you a trading position, not a buy and hold... if you want to enter into some sort of short term lease, let me know."

As for me, I'm more in the market for a lease with an option to buy. Eternal amortization is okay with me.



"From up here, these city lights burn like a thousand miles of fire..."
-Story of the Year, Anthem of Our Dying Day

One can only imagine how harrowing it is when a fire burns like a thousand miles of city lights. That's exactly the view I saw on my flight out of San Diego this evening: ribbons of red flame snaking through the canyons and engulfing mountainsides.

That view punctuated the end to a very short and surreal trip to Southern California. I woke up this morning in my motel room to a surprisingly calm city, given the situation. E-mails from the boss reported that the San Diego office was shut down, and the news reported that that massive evacuations had been ordered. Some freeways were vacant, while others were packed. My car was coated in fine ash.

It's amazing how, in the midst of so much devastation, life keeps going on so quasi-normally. That was the surreal part to me. I ate lunch at a restaurant perhaps 10 miles south of an evacuated area, and it would have been entirely business as usual, if it weren't for the TVs showing nothing but news coverage, and the hostess mentioning that she had just been evacuated and decided to come into work. If it wasn't for the pervasive smoke in the air and the unspoken sense of unease, you'd never know how bad things were.

I hope that the winds calm down soon.



I have terrible timing. The worst. I wonder how it's possible for me to have worse timing sometimes.

I find it ironic because I've been so amazingly fortuitous in other areas of my life: school, finding work, finding a place to live, but my dating clock seems to be synchronized to the clock on another planet or something. I have the impeccable ability to call exactly when the girl just decided to date someone exclusively. (Someone, that is, who is not myself.) Ack!

In other timing issues, I was rear-ended on the 7200 South off-ramp list last Friday. I was able to stop without hitting the person in front of me, but the person behind me wasn't. Foiled again by timing!

I could use a little dumb luck. Anyone feel like they have extra to share?

I guess I'll just have to start making my own.


Two little buttons...

Every e-mail program has two little buttons right next to each other. Each are very useful, but one has great potential for social regret.

You will almost NEVER use the button on the right. You've been warned. If you disregard this advice, the following will almost certainly happen at some point:
  • Your co-workers stone you for filling their inboxes with pointless e-mails that say, "I agree!"
  • You will reply to an e-mail from sibling 1. In your reply, you complain about sibling 2. Sibling 2 now has proof that you're a total jerk.
  • Everybody and their dog will think you have a crush on someone in accounting.
  • You will inadvertently reveal the grisly details of your intestinal discomfort to someone you find very attractive.



One week ago today, on October 4, Army Specialist Vincent Kamka of the 82nd Airborne died while serving in Iraq.

I knew Vincent.

For five years, my father and I home taught the Kamka family. From the time that I was twelve until I left for college, we visited the Kamka's home once a month and knelt in their living room to pray together. In those days, Vincent was a quiet, honorable young man. He is all the more now.

Being touched for the first time in a personal way by the inherent tragedy of this conflict, I have reached two conclusions. First, politics are irrelevant when considering weight of this, the ultimate sacrifice, and second, words seem too blunt and insufficient an instrument to express my gratitude.

All I can think to say is, "Thank you Vincent."


A Utah phenomenon?

Attending the Priesthood session on Saturday night, I witnessed a very irritating Utah phenomenon. Just after President Hinkley finished his closing remarks, but before the closing hymn or prayer, a number of men (some were fathers with sons) fled the chapel with the urgency you'd expect of someone with bladder control issues. I felt like booing or at least mocking their apparent incontinence, but that would have been juvenile and immature.

These guys didn't realize it, but they were making a subtle statement about what kind of people they really are. It's one of those very small things that I think is a surprisingly good indicator of a person's true character and priorities. When someone leaves early, it makes you wonder in what other ways they might "leave early". In life and particularly in relationships, there's no "leaving early." Those who cut corners and bail out before the end simply aren't successful.

It may seem a stretch to infer the nature of someone's character from such a simple act, but there's really no excuse for leaving early like that. What pressing business do you have on a Saturday evening? I don't care how bad you think traffic might be. I don't care what football game might be on TV, or that you're going to miss the beginning of Grey's Anatomy. Just don't leave early.

If you have a genuine NEED to leave early, you will probably know this in advance and should make arrangements to leave inconspicuously (ex: Sit near an exit and leave between acts.) Or, you should try apologize in advance (ex: "Please excuse Brother so-and-so, his daughter is singing in his home ward.")

In certain very rare circumstances (such as being morally offended) it is appropriate and justified to leave early, as you both making an important statement and defending your character. In most other situations, however, leaving early says that you are any combination of being insensitive, uncultured, pretentious, ignorant, self-absorbed, and just plain lazy.

I think we need a code. My suggestion is below.

Though shalt not leave before:
  • the closing prayer.
  • the mess is cleaned up.
  • the fire has died.
  • the last pitch.
  • the last shot.
  • the last pass.
  • the clock reads 0:00.
  • the credits roll.
  • the house lights come up.
  • the last encore.
  • the last curtain call.
  • the last kiss.
  • saying goodbye.
The list above is certainly not all-inclusive. And I should mention that great experiences are to be had by lingering -- don't be in such a hurry to take off when things are over. I remember deep conversations while credits roll, running into old friends where you least expect them, and really getting to know people while doing dishes.

Okay, my rant is over -- and I'll bet that no one who reads this is someone who leaves early. But I have to wonder, is it just me, or does "leaving early" seem much more common in Utah than elsewhere? (I've even seen it at the Conference Center, of all places.)


Intimidating Women & ROI

It's been a year since I left the old college town that I loved so much. It took a fair amount of time to acclimate to my new and more metropolitan surroundings, and one of the biggest adjustments has been to the increased caliber of the women in the dating pool. I've noticed that men have a word for high caliber women: intimidating, and it's rather unfair, but let me explain why.

These women are successful, intelligent, and poised -- all things that make them all the more desirable, but it can give you a serious inferiority complex. When a women has a successful career, a great education, and everything she appears to need, it makes you wonder what you could possibly offer. It doesn't help that a quality woman is usually busy with all sorts of worthwhile activities: callings, volunteering, taking classes, dancing, singing, rescuing orphans and hedgehogs, you name it. And let's be honest guys, is this the sort of stuff that we do with our free time? Not usually.

So, in some ways it seems laughably absurd to suggest to a woman like this that she take some of her time to go out with you. If you were to view dating and relationships like a business venture, its a simple question of ROI (Return on Investment). Are you really making her a good offer based on the value of her time?

To be successful, you have to believe that you are, implausible as it may seem. And why do I bring this up? Because it's something I struggle with. For some reason I'm attracted to really smart, talented women. (I'm attracted to hot, ditzy ones, too, but I realize that's mostly chemical.) Maybe I should lower my expectations like Calvin. (Okay, not really.)


San Diego!

Right now I'm in San Diego, and I love it. It's 72 degrees in the day, 60 at night, and I don't have any yard work to do when I here.

I flew in to give a product demo to some higher-ups in the company. What was supposed to be a simple demo between me, my manager, and the program manager morphed into a major event. Other program managers were invited, then the vice president, and then the president -- all for what I hoped would be a low-key, informal demo. For a relatively green employee, this was a daunting assignment -- to sit in a conference room with ALL your superiors to showcase the product that you've been working on for the past few months. To make it slightly more awkward, it's even a product in which I only reluctantly involved myself initially.

So, here I am, in this darkened conference room cast in gray hues by the projector lamp, giving a spiel to all these people, many of whom are twice my age and twice my experience. Everything seems to be going well as a get started, but about 5 minutes in, I look over and see the President, head on his chest, eyes closed. My heart totally skips a beat, and I stumble a little, but soldier on. Everyone else seems pretty interested, with a lot of questions, and even the president asks a few in his moments of alertness, but every once in a while I notice out of the corner of my eye that he seems to have dozed off again.

When it's all over, everyone seems really pleased and surprised that the product has turned out so well and so far under budget. It's actually quite a coup, but I still have mixed feelings because of my narcoleptic supreme leader. My concerns are assuaged, however, when I run into my manager a few hours later, and he explains that, in fact, the Prez falls asleep in nearly every meeting and product demo they do. My sigh of relief was probably audible when I heard that.

I can handle a over-tired company president. At least he's not Ron Burgundy.

Stay classy, San Diego.


The busy paradox...

I hate being "busy". I hate the sensation of feeling like there's too much to do and not enough time in which to do it. You know what I'm talking about. It's filled with laundry, dry cleaning, vacuuming, dishes, returning phone calls, sitting through meetings -- all the banal activities that seem the hallmark of adult life.

The flip side of that coin, though, is that without any pressure on my time -- if I get to pick and chose what I WANT to do, it seems like I get NOTHING done. The way life seems to go is that I work so hard to unburden my schedule that by the time I get some "free time", I'm tired and all I want to do is relax. So, I end up filling the hard fought non-busy time with stuff that's not particularly important, like catching up on TV shows that aren't that interesting anyway, writing this blog, immersing myself in pointless pop culture, or playing video games.

I'd like to believe that I'm a highly evolved being with fine sensibilities and a greater purpose, but the realities of everyday life seem so utterly pedestrian as to drive out any thoughts of my life being remotely sublime. So in the end, which is better? A day busily spent in unremarkable work, or a relaxing day spent doing nothing in particular? Why can't I seem to do a little of both? In the end, what I'd really like is to be busy doing important things.

Okay, so I'm oversimplifying. There are some things I do everyday that are sublime, I just wish I was doing more of them.

Congratulations Kelly and Bryan!

This weekend I was in the land of 10,000 lakes for my brother's wedding. He is now married to a really sweet gal who is easily twice as good as he his, (and he's a pretty good kid, himself.)

It was a truly eventful weekend, in so many ways. On Thursday, the day before the wedding, the Twin Cities were lashed by a crazy powerful storm. There were tornado warnings, marble sized hail, and torrential rains. As the semi-responsible person selected to pick up my aunt at the airport, I was dropping my folks off at the family dinner about the time the storm really picked up steam. In fact, as they ran into the church where we were having the family dinner, you could hear the dissonant howl of the tornado sirens.

As I navigated the streets by GPS, I had the windshield wipers flapping like the wings of a deranged duck, but I still couldn't see more than 20 feet in front of me. The hail sounded like buckets of pebbles poured onto the roof of the car. Everyone on the interstate was driving at ten miles an hour with their flashers on. Cars were pulled over underneath bridges and against the walls that border the roadway.

In retrospect, I was a complete idiot for thinking they'd let my aunt's plane land in that weather, but I went out to the airport anyway, waited a bit, and then received word that her flight had indeed been diverted to Sioux Falls. So, I worked my way back to the dinner, but traffic was still snarled from the weather. Parts of the city had their power knocked out, and there were branches all over the roads. Only a block or two from the church, I saw a telephone pole that had snapped off at the base and was being held up by the power lines themselves. All told, it took me nearly an hour to make it back to the dinner, by which point, everyone was leaving to go see what had happened at Kelly's house during the storm.

As we drove up, her house was totally obscured from view by a fallen tree. The ancient red oak in their yard had been struck by lighting and split nearly right down the center. Half was still standing, the exposed core blackened and scorched, while the other half of the 50 foot tree engulfed the whole yard. Miraculously, the fallen portion landed entirely into the front yard and did no damage to the house at all. By the time we stopped by the next morning around 10, the power was still out on their street, but ward members and family were hard at work dismantling the tree.

In the end, though, the wedding went off as planned, and that's the thing that really struck me about the whole experience: real love isn't deterred. The weather, the tree, the power outage, and all the other little things that might not have gone as planned simply didn't matter. Congratulations Kelly and Bryan!

And, in case you were wondering, the theme song for this trip was Carl Douglas' "Kung Fu Fighting"


Murder Mystery

This weekend was another first. I played a part in a murder mystery dinner. A friend had a friend planning the evening and expressed a need for more male participants. I was feeling adventurous, so I said yes. I guess I'm not surprised that guys are a little gun shy of events like this, because they involve dressing up being downright silly. It's a lot like corporate America sans 401k.

I don't know why it is, but a lot of guys are hesitant to ham it up. Everyone likes to be the life of the party, but they don't want to look a fool doing it. At least, that's the only reason I can think of as to why I would be voted as giving the best male performance out of the 20 or other males in attendance -- I was the only one without shame. I know it wasn't the 30 dollar Walmart costume that won over the masses.

Of course, it probably helped that my character was quintessential deranged anachronism. I played a Bolivian, who, as a child, saved his village from marauders, and then went on to play Hercules on TV to the point that he became convinced he was Hercules. So, with this persona, I, and a gaggle of others with similarly odd characters, went from house to house, acting out the different parts of this murder mystery, revealing clues about how things unfolded so that someone in our part met there untimely demise.

And, it was a surprisingly good time. I got to wander around all night in armor, with a battle ax, saying things like, "The valet never knows how to park my chariot" and "Oh, that chakra ... I think left it in my other tunic."

"Blessed are they who can laugh at themselves, for they shall never cease to be amused."


Office High Jinks

Have I mentioned that I really do love my job? We have a great, low stress atmosphere, but are still quite productive.

Case in point: today was salsa day. We cleared the conference table off and then filled it with bowls of everyone's different homemade salsas. We sat around sampling the salsa and joking about the Patriots getting fined for spying.

The office is also very family friendly, which is something from which I hope I'll eventually benefit. Right now, a coworker has his four year old in the office as his wife runs some errands. She was running around with long strips of tape on her fingers. In her exuberance, she tripped on the carpet and hurt her ankle, starting to cry. Unconcerned, my coworker starts to talk to her. This is how the conversation went:

Dad: What happened?

Child: Ow! I hurt my ankle! [howls a little]

Dad: Well, are you going to die?

Child: [sniffles] Naw, I guess not.

Dad: Besides, you can't cry in here, people are trying to work.

Child: Oh, okay...

It's amazing that you can have such a logical conversation with someone that still sounds like a chipmunk.


Girls are Weird...

Is there a formal body of research on why girls are so weird? Of course, that premise implies that men are the non-weird ones, which I don't think I could ever argue.

The thing that is weird about women, if there is anything, is the effect that they have on men, whether they are conscious of it or not. With a flick of the hair, a slight touch on the shoulder, a lingering glance, and all of man's rationality and sense will simply evaporate. Perhaps men have the same effect of women, but it seems to me that that they are at least moderately aware of what is happening to them -- and have at least the option to resist. Men, however, seem the hapless pawns of biology and chemistry.

Men wouldn't mind their kryptonite so much if the members of the fairer sex didn't seem so fickle, irrational, and, at times, downright crazy. But when it comes down to it, I surmise that when a woman acts crazy, it's because a man is driving her nuts. Gentlemen, you know how truly asinine we can be. Can you imagine what it's like for someone without a Y chromosome to help interpret our moronic behavior?

Since I barely understand my own mind, it makes perfect sense that women would remain an enigma. Who can fathom the feminine mind? Not I. And it's not particularly relevant anyway, since I hold the same opinion as Hobbes: "I like 'em anyway."


I miss Calvin & Hobbes

I miss Calvin and Hobbes. I credit them with getting me to read the paper at all when I was younger. Bill Watterson drew C&H from 1985 to 1995, and I figure I read it religiously for those last five years. C&H was the perfect mix of honesty, juvenile humor, and social commentary. It was never heavy handed, overtly political, or partisan. In short, it was genuine and beautifully whimsical.

I have to say that I've hardly read a newspaper cartoon since then (even Dilbert, which is a homage to my profession.) And this, I think, is a very telling commentary on the fall of the newspaper and print journalism in general, but that's a topic for another time. What I'm about to do is probably a violation of various copyright laws, but I'm going to post some of my most favorite strips. (Click on the images to blow them up.)



I have a scratch across the knuckle of the middle finger on my right hand. I don't even remember exactly how it happened. What I do remember is that 10 minutes after I changed the lawnmower blade and was subsequently criss-crossing the lawn, the crease of my knuckle was stained dark red. The wound is inconsequential. It's almost magical how quickly it is healing.

Sometimes, when I look at the shrinking sore, I marvel at the rest of my hand, turning it from side to side, alternatively clenching a fist or inspecting the creases in my palm. I wonder about the story that each fold tells, and what my hands say about me. It seems that a man's hands seem to encapsulate the history of his life's work.

Thank may sound odd coming from a software developer, but I'm not talking about what I do at "at work." When I look at my hands, I don't see the countless lines of computer code that they've typed, but I see them covered in dirt from planting my first garden or coated in grease from changing the spark plugs in the 85 Benz. I think of shaking hands with Bishops, investigators, and home teaching families. I remember hands that smelled like garlic and tomatoes from making lasagne for friends, and tired, sore hands after picking rocks from a farmer's field to pay for scout camp.

Fortunately, my hands are still young, and they have lots of mileage left: pages to turn, things to fix and build, food to prepare, and hugs to give.


To shave or not to shave...

I'm conducting an informal and very unscientific poll regarding my facial hair. About 3 months ago on a camping trip, I let my beard grow unabated and grew accustomed to the persistent itching. Since then, I've trimmed it once a week, and enjoyed the little bit of notoriety that comes with changing looks. Some people have responded positively, while others seem indifferent. So, I'm interested to hear what the world thinks.

Here are three pictures of myself with varying amounts of facial hair. They are shown in chronological order. After the mission, I grew out the goatee and kept it for several years because I thought it helped me look older (I was concerned that my ample cheeks would give me an overly youthful appearance.) I then went back to shaving for several years, which started largely due to a relationship. (She seemed impressed that I was willing to shave off the goatee. I'm not really sure why, since it would only take a week to get back...) And that brings us to now; my first attempts at a full blown beard. The bearded picture below shows the hair in it's recently trimmed state -- it ends up being a little fuller and darker than that at nominal length.

On the right of the page, you should see the poll. Vote for which look you think suits me and my 28 year old self best! (Mom, you only get one vote.)


Dating, Love, and Furniture

Every day when I get home from work and look around my house, I think to myself that I should get some nice decorations and perhaps some better furniture. But, then, I remind myself that I'm single, and I'm sure that everything I own and anything I would buy is probably be unsuitable in the eyes of a woman. So, I've resigned myself to a nice house with mediocre furnishings -- everything I have is DI ready.

In the mean time, enjoy some of these insights into the mystery of love:

I've literally, in my entire life, had two guys come up to me and ask me out. Other than that I have had to go and try to spend time with them, or sort of start the conversation, basically spell it out in a Sharpie, like, you know?

- Jennifer Love Hewitt

Many a man who falls in love with a dimple make the mistake of marrying the whole girl.
- Evan Esar

Money can't buy love, but it improves your bargaining position.
- Christoper Marlow

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt.
- Charles M. Schulz

Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That's relativity.
- Albert Einstein

Men are from Earth. Women are from Earth. Deal with it.
- George Carlin

The bravest thing that men do is love women.
- Mort Sahl

Love makes time pass; time makes love pass.
-French Proverb


Here Fishy, Fishy, Fishy

I spent the weekend up at a friend's ranch. 6000 acres of sagebrush, ragweed, and whatever else decided to assault my sinuses. I hate fall sometimes, but it was a good time. Besides the ATV riding, the trap shooting, the sleeping under the stars, and the canoing, the highlight was probably the fishing.

I found myself on a pontoon boat in the middle of a pond stocked with feisty rainbow trout. My companions on the boat were three novice fisherwomen. The results, frankly, were hilarious. Not much thought had been given to what to do with the fish once they were reeled onto the boat. The first catch of the day brought this oversight to light. I removed the hook from the fish's mouth and asked, "Well, do you want to eat him?" (All fish are considered male, in case you were wondering.) She seem convinced that yes, she did want to eat the fish, so I said, "Well, you're going to have to kill him then." (This is why all fish are male, because it's easier to dispatch a male fish.) I will happily tie lines, bait hooks, and help with a cast, but I only kill my own fish.

She seemed less than thrilled about the prospect, but proceeded to grasp the trout in both hands firmly by the tail and went to swing it against the aluminum railing. It went like this:







"I think he's dead..."

There's nothing quite like the sound of squishy clang of a fish's ahead against a metal bar.

I also wonder, does helping a girl clean her fish count as an act of chivalry?


Birthdays and Friendship

I turned 28 today. You want to know what I did for my birthday? Laundry. It was the world's largest load of jeans.

Just kidding, I did a little more than that. My family all called and sent gifts, and my roommate made brownies, which we then set ablaze (think I'm reaching the practical limit of how many candles one should put on a cake.) All told, it was a pretty low key affair. Now, I'm not above dropping subtle hints to my friends that it's my birthday, but this year things were so busy with work and vacations that I didn't want to make a big fuss. On top of that, my birthday last year was so amazing, that I figured it was okay to take a year off.

Last year, my birthday was two weeks after I had moved from my home of 6 years -- the college town that fit me like a worn baseball glove. Those were hard weeks -- moving to a new place, trying to meet new people, and get settled in a new apartment. Amidst my acclimation, I received a call from my old Bishopric for whom I had served as ward clerk. Turns out they wanted me to come back for an evening to help take pictures for their ward directory. Having done their previous 3 directories, I agreed to come up for their activity, which happened to fall the day before my birthday.

Birthdays for me are always bittersweet because they frequently coincide with end of summer as well as the start of school and all the stress it brings. This time however, the timing was ideal because all my friends were were back in town for the start of class, so I got a chance to see everyone all together again. I felt so at home with all my friends and that Bishopric that I'd grown to love that the evening just flew by, and soon it was dark and we were cleaning up. Most everyone had left, leaving just the Bishopric and the nucleus of the ward leadership, who happened to be most of my good friends. I looked around and was so glad that I had made the trip, and so thankful that I was blessed with such camaraderie.

Just when things were winding down, the Bishop appeared with a wonderfully decorated birthday cake. I was so touched; I just about cried. (But if anybody asks, I'm still going to blame the high pollen count.) So tonight, on the big 2-8, I propose a toast to friendship. The memories may fade, but the feelings remain -- and so long as you live by the examples that your friends set, they'll always be with you.


One year later...

One year ago at this time, I was safely ensconced in my rented college dorm, in my comfortable college town, with a cushy job and an convenient group of friends. And now, a year later, so much has changed. For a recap of the past year:

  • Moved to SL area after 6 years in my college town. I seized the chance to move in with an old college roommate, who helps me acclimate to my new surroundings.
  • Old roommate gets engaged, so I find new digs in the same general area with two new roommates. They both prove to be good new friends.
  • Start blog. World rejoices, and eats Sir Robin's minstrels.
  • Get LASIK. Able to see clearly for the first time in 20 years without lenses of any kind, and feel the tremendous urge to vacuum.
  • New roommate gets engaged. I decide I'm sick of this, so I look for a new place.
  • Vacation in New York and Washington DC.
  • Find new place, this time to buy. Offer is accepted.
  • Plant very first garden at soon to be new place. (Along with lots of other firsts, like taking out my own garbage can, paying my first electric bill, etc.)
  • Visit San Diego for fun.
  • Move into new place.
  • Weed very first garden.
  • Visit San Diego for work.
  • Hike to Havasupai, spraining ankle.
  • People take pity on my Havasupai cankles, and I make some new friends.
  • Harvest the first vegetables from my first garden.
  • Realize that it's been a full year since I moved from my comfort zone. And here I am writing this blog entry. It's been a really big year, and a great year. Looking back, I'm so glad that I took the plunge and moved from that sleepy college town. I'd be lying if I said that it didn't freak me out at times and that there weren't any sleepless nights, but it was still totally worth it.
  • Celebrate 28th Birthday. Quite satisfied with where life has taken me.


What's done is done?

Tonight while serving the dutch oven chicken to a big line of guys and girls from the ward, it reminded me that men and women generally have very different ideas of what "done" means. Many women carefully inspected their chicken, poking it carefully, while the men didn't seem to care. I've noticed the same thing with steaks and my sisters. Pink is absolutely verbotten.

These seem to be the rules for doneness:

For women:
  • Moisture, juices and oils (i.e., the flavor) should not be present in any state on the exterior of the meat, or when the meat is cut into.
  • The meat should be firm enough that it could be used as a tongue depressor.
  • The color should be entirely uniform. Spackle colored for chicken, grout colored for steaks.
For Men:
  • The meat must have criss crossed char marks.
  • The animal must be dead.
Now I understand why so many women don't seem to like a good steak! I'd dislike it too if it were a blackened, dry disc. Trust me ladies, it's already dead, there's no reason to kill it again.

I'm never doing that again...

You know what happens when you miss your committee's planning meeting? You get put in charge of the next activity -- even if you had a perfectly good reason for missing the meeting, like being asked to help bless a relative's baby.

Tonight we made dutch oven for the ward. About 75-100 people. That's BBQ Chicken, dutch oven potatoes, and cobbler for four score and some people. A month ago, I made the mistake of making dutch oven potatoes for a ward cooking competition, so somehow that qualified me to cook a whole meal for everyone.

So, 10 dutch ovens, 25 lbs of chicken, 25 lbs of potatoes, and 4 cobblers later, I will officially say that I am NEVER DOING IT AGAIN. Okay, I suppose I might -- because, if I do say so myself, the food turned out amazing. I had all these fresh vegetables in my garden that just made everything sublime. Of course, dutch oven tastes better the longer is sits, so I think I'm really going to enjoy my leftovers.


Another hint...

I walked downstairs last night and immediately noticed a pungent, musky odor. It was something like cologne mingled with air freshener and rotting fruit. Just as I opened my mouth to accuse my roommate, he said, "Can you smell that skunk?"

My eyes widened, I lost my accusatory look, I said sheepishly, "Oh ... I think I know what that is."

The night before I nearly ran over a skunk. On my way home from work in the late evening, this furry thing scurried across the road, and I laid on the brakes. The violent deceleration pitched me forward enough that I could see the telltale white stripe of a skunk as it disappeared under the far right side of my hood. I waited for the terrible thunk that was sure to follow. But, there was no thunk. By this time, I had slowed to about 10 miles an hour, and that's when I figure he exacted his revenge over the right side of my Accord.

Oddly enough, I can't really smell it inside the cabin of the car, but when I parked the car inside a sweltering and humid garage, the odor came alive and invaded the basement.

Note to self: if you hit a skunk, or almost hit a skunk, don't park in the garage.


SM seeks SF for clothes shopping

When I was small child, my clothing refused to match. And try as she might, my mother was unable to get me to wear anything that might remotely coordinate. Apparently, I was a quiet but stubborn child. I must have been a formidable 4 year old.

Rather than have daily battles over clothing, my mom came up with a unique solution: buy me all blue clothing. My wardrobe is still remarkably blue.

I don't blame her for it, because as an adult, when I actually WANT to match, I still don't match that well. I don't know how many times I'll visit the homestead, or a female member of the family will be visiting, and I'll hear (along with the sound of a suppressed laugh): "You know that doesn't match, don't you?" I heard this most recently when I was wearing some green camo cargo shorts and an light orange shirt. (Before you cringe, let me defend myself by saying that it was Saturday.)

Fine, I'll admit it, I'm totally clothing impaired. Add to that my general loathing of shopping, and you'd think that I wander around dressed like a John Cusack in "Better Off Dead" or a cast member from "Revenge of the Nerds". Fortunately, those same women who point out that I don't match also come to my rescue. For the last few years, clothing is the only gift for which I've asked, and they're king enough to oblige. It's not that I lack the means to shop, but I certainly lack the skill -- the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, if you will. And though I know they're sick of trying to find things that match taste while being reasonably hip, my sisters and mom have been diligent in keep my wardrobe updated. They're also try not to act too surprised when I happen to by something moderately fashionable on my own.

So, props to all those women everywhere that make sure the shoes match the belt, that white socks are never worn with slacks, and that Weezer t-shirts are only worn while mowing the lawn. I hope that whoever I marry is ready for this obligation.


The problem with texting (II)

I just got my cell phone bill, and it made me think of another problem with texting. Last month I sent 140 messages more than my pre-paid allotment. That's the cost of pretty good lunch. And it was spent sending pointless little messages into the ether. Stupid texts.

If you could only have one album?

If you could only have one album, what would it be?

I think mine would be Billy Joel's Greatest Hits. What's that you say? Compilations are cheating? Fine. If I can't have a compilation, then it would probably have to be The Joshua Tree, but I'm still sticking to my three discs of the Piano Man.

I don't know how Billy Joel did it, but I can listen to his albums all the time. When I'm down, I always go back to them. How can you go wrong with "For the Longest Time" and "An Innocent Man"?

And if you haven't heard his latest, "All My Life", you should give it a listen. It's his first song in 14 years.


Good Guys Redux

Here's some dialogue from Episode 2 of The Hills.

Lauren: "I think that everyone can change if the right person comes along. And I think that every girl wants to be the right person. Every girl wants to be the one girl that can change that guy."

Lo: "But why do you have to have a guy that you have to change? Don't you want to meet someone who's good already?"

Laren smiles: "...That's too easy."

All I have to say is BOO!


The problem of texting

I'm ambivalent about text messages. Sometimes it's perfect to be able to fire off a little message when you have nothing particularly important to say, or if you have something to say but don't actually want to talk to the intended recipient.

But, I think they're almost too convenient. I've come to this conclusion because I have a friend who doesn't have text messaging. Every text I send has minimal cost associated with it, and since I'm trying to be cognizant of that, I don't want to send them on a silly whim, like I do with so many other people. It's made me wonder what it would be like if all my text messages were actually calls. I'd never call to say pointless things like, "Ungh, my staff meeting is SOOO boring", or "This totally cute girl just walked by." And I'm thinking that's the problem with the text message: it trivializes communication. It's so convenient that we stop working at it -- which, if you're a male like me and not prone to communicating well anyway, practically dooms you.

Of course, texts are great for saying things inconspicuously, like if a co-worker has his fly down, so I don't think I'd ever be able to give them up. But outside of that, I'm thinking I might try to lighten up on the texting a little. If it's not important enough to call, is it really that important?

Conversational Plagiarism

I have a friend who is dating someone who has no opinions. She seems to not care about anything. On the one hand, it's great because she's pretty much always up for whatever he suggests. On the other hand, it can be rather dull at times. Friend explained that when he expresses his opinion and asks what she thinks, she pretty much always agrees but doesn't add anything. We decided this is conversational plagiarism. You can't just take whatever I said, simply add, "I agree", and have that count as a meaningful statement.


Random hints for first time homeowners (like me)

  • When changing blades, be sure to:
    1. Turn off the valve in the fuel line between the gas tank and engine.
    2. Tip the lawnmower so the carburetor/air filter is facing up.
  • If you do not do the above, the following will happen to your lawnmower:
    1. It will leak gas all over the place and leave a dead spot in your lawn.
    2. It will probably not start, regardless of how bad your hernia is from pulling the cord.
    3. If it does seem to start, it will likely belch sooty fumes and vibrate terribly before dying.
    4. It's air filter has become a Molotov cocktail waiting to be lit. You will need to replace what was a perfectly good air filter with one that is not saturated with gasoline.
  • When re-attaching the sharpened blades:
    1. See the bullets above.
    2. Do not just hand-tighten the bolts that attach the blades to the mower.
Making fresh salsa:
  1. The ratio of tomatoes to onions is not 1 to 1 or even 2 to 1. Try at LEAST 4 to 1.
  2. Habanero peppers are perhaps the hottest substance known to man. Handle them only if you have sinus congestion or wish to cause serious leaking from your mucus membranes.
  1. One zucchini plant it plenty.
  2. One cilantro plant is plenty.
  3. Tomato cages are stupid.


The Hills...

What is wrong with me? It's 2:00 am, and I'm watching "The Hills." I think I may need professional help.

Here are some of my favorite lines from episodes one and two:*

Lauren: I met this adorable boy ... from London ... with an accent .. who's leaving tomorrow... Jackpot.

Jen: I'm totally focused on like, my real friendships right now.

Heidi: I'm not a catty girl... I don't have time for this...

Lauren: Ya ... it totally feels like... you know, one of my friends died or something.

Lauren: His name's Justin, but he like wants to change it to Bobby.
Lo: Why?
Lauren: Because his friends call him Justin Bobby.


*all quotes must be said in a valley girl accent to be funny.


Mr. Face

We call my dad Mr. Face. It's because he has so much face. There's really no other way to describe it. The excess face is really an echo of his personable demeanor -- when he smiles, there's no doubt that he's smiling -- and when he laughs, it's like tectonic activity underneath his cheeks. There's no place that Mr. Face is more noticeable than when my dad is sitting up on the stand during sacrament meeting.

Mr. Face was released from the Bishopric today. He had served nearly 6 years. For those 6 years, he had endured his children making faces at him during talks, numerous playful accusations of falling asleep on the stand, countless interminable meetings, and staying late at church every Sunday to do the ward finances. He did it all without complaining because he loves the gospel and people of the ward.

He bore his testimony right to us, the rowdy kids in the third pew back on the right side. He reminded us of his grandparents. They joined the church in Holland before World War II. After the war, they immigrated to Salt Lake City to be where the church was strong. They arrived in this country with very little, and when they left this world, they had little more. What they did take with them, though, was their testimony of Jesus Christ, and a rich heritage of children, grand children, and great grandchildren, all raised in the Gospel. And as my dad put it, "They took with them all that really mattered."

We love you Mr. Face!


What's wrong with being nice?

A few weeks ago in church, our bishop gave a talk in which he complemented the ward membership for some of our better traits. He said, "You're all good ... and nice ..." At which point, everybody laughed, including me. The Bishop quickly defended himself, "being nice is a good thing!"

I wonder why we all automatically laughed, and then it dawned on me that the connotation of "nice" has changed significantly. Think of the words you would use to describe someone who you've met, but you don't really find attractive. Often, I think you'd say, "well, she's very nice..." Or, at the end of a date, have you ever heard the words, "Listen, I think you're really nice, but..." or, "I had a nice time, but..."

It seems that when someone is labeled as nice, it's implied that something else is missing or that being nice isn't enough. What I want to know is: where's the shame in being nice?

I bring this up because I try to be a "nice" guy, and I don't want to be lumped together with all that generic and meaningless "niceness" being thrown around. So, once and for all, I unabashedly declare that I AM NICE. However, that does not mean that I'm overly sensitive, weak, naive, a pushover, or ill-equipped for modern society. In contrast, I'm nice because I enjoy it. I've learned that being helpful, courteous, and kind is much more fulfilling that being sarcastic, rude, and self-serving.**

Let me provide one example. Throughout high school, I felt largely unremarkable. I belonged to none of the typical groups and had no claim to notoriety. But after three years, when it came time to graduate, I was quite literally surprised to realize how many people actually knew who I was and how many of those were genuine friends. I'm quite sure that this hidden popularity is almost entirely attributable to "being nice."

That's why it is so frustrating that the adage "nice guys/girls finish last" seems to be coming true more and more often, particularly in dating, but fortunately less so as I grow older. I declare that there's nothing wrong with being nice. And, as tempted as I might be to discard my current persona in favor of one that's cooler and edgier, I don't think I could ever be happy that way. I think the same is true for all of us. Let's declare that there's nothing wrong with being NICE!

**WARNING: The author may appear to be describing himself as a saint. He wishes to warn his readers that this is not so, that he actually is frequently sarcastic and inadvertently mean, but on the whole, he tries to be nice.


President Faust

I was about to step outside to do some yard work when the breaking news on sltrib.com caught my attention. President James E Faust passed away today. It's a testament to our faith that you can feel so much love for someone you've never met in person. Whenever he spoke in General Conference, I felt like I was being addressed by a grandfather I didn't know I had, with his tender heart and warm demeanor. I'll always remember how he shed tears when recounting a tale of some youthful misdeed that a lesser man would have deemed inconsequential. Were I so humble.


Unrequited Love

A friend and I have been exchanging e-mail lately about our experiences with “unrequited love.” If you don’t know about unrequited love, then you’re not old enough to read this blog. Bookmark this page and come back in a year or two.

Unrequited love stings unexpectedly, well after you thought you had moved on. A scent, a song, or an old friend’s innocuous question can resurrect memories of what might have been. You carry those memories like badges of honor, passport stamps of the places your heart has been. Their dull ache is as comfortable as it is painful, a reminder of how good things can be.

So, as bittersweet as a love unrequited can be, I wouldn’t wish my memories away. How else will I know what I’m looking for? And how else will I recognize when I've found it?

Grandpa and Grandma...

Grandpa and Grandma are two of my favorite people. They've been married for 63 years. That's downright amazing any way you look at it. Like all married couples, they have their little tiffs and bickering, which, more often than not, are hilarious to the casual observer.

Once I called to get directions to their place for an upcoming visit. I got Grandma first, who dutifully transferred me to Grandpa, who began to describe how to find their condo. What follows is a transcript of the phone conversation:

Me: "So, I take I-80 North."

Grandpa: "Yes, take I-80 and get off on 13th East."

Grandma (who we had no idea was still on the phone) interrupts: "Morris! The sign doesn't say 13th East. It says 1300 East."

Grandpa: "LaFonda, I'm sure that John knows that 13th East is the same as 1300 hundred East."

Grandma: "Well, not everyone knows that sort of thing..."

Grandpa: "He's a bright kid, I'm sure he can figure it out..."

Grandma: "... even so, you never ... "

Grandpa: "Fonda, he doesn't take after your side of the family!"

I still laugh about that conversation today. It may have sounded mean, but I assure you it was just a little sparring match to keep things lively. I hope my wife and I are still poking fun at each other when we've been married 63 years.


Fish and Chips

I took yesterday off to go fishing with my Grandpa and brother. There's nothing quite like spending 8 hours on a lake and doing absolutely nothing -- it was man heaven. We didn't even talk that much; just three guys out there, dragging lines our lines in the water as the wind pushed the boat around..

Most of our minimal talking revolved around the tuna fish sandwiches Grandma made us. We wanted to bring those whole roasted chickens, but apparently Grandma was appalled at the thought of her husband and two grandsons out on the boat tearing at a chicken like Neanderthals. We concluded that's exactly WHY we wanted the roasted chicken.

When I got into the office today, I noticed that one of my mischievous coworkers had played with my Mr. Potato Heads. Someone took the bunny ears off of the Easter Potato Head and put them on Darth Tater. How immature is that?!?


What the?

In my new community, it seems like everyone is out on Sunday evenings: families on bikes, young couples with strollers, power walking women, and of course, lots of dog walkers. But today I saw something that I had never seen before: a man walking a large black lab, and a woman, presumably his wife, walking a goat -- complete with leash and collar.


Foiled again by air travel...

I've traveled a fair amount for work in the last couple of years. I thought I was pretty savvy. I know how to get through security quickly, when to use the sky cap, where to find the outlets to charge my laptop, when to book flights when they're cheaper, etc. But, today, I was totally flummoxed by our modern air travel system.

My flight left early. Let me say that again... MY FLIGHT LEFT EARLY. When does that ever happen? Like a lot of business travelers, I have the timing down perfect so that I don't waste too much time sitting in the air terminal . But, to have someone just up and decide to leave early, well, that's unheard of! What do you tell your boss when you miss your flight? That they decided the plane was full enough and just decided to go? Yeah, like he/she is ever going to believe that. Luckily, I made my flight anyway. The ticket agent warned me that the plane was leaving early (information that would have been useful YESTERDAY.)

But even though I made my flight, the airline had even more in store for me. My weakness, you see, is that I hate carry-on. Yes, I know it's faster and there's less chance of losing a bag, but it's so nice to be able to just slip into your seat without heaving something into the overhead bin, and then risk getting crushed when you have to pull it out again. And, in all my travels, I have NEVER lost a bag. So, I usually tempt fate and check it, like I did this morning. The problem came when I arrived at the destination and went to the baggage carousel -- and waited, and waited, and waited. There was an announcement over the PA saying that our bags were at a different carousel, so a whole bunch of us stampeded over there to wait some more. Then, bags arrived, but from a totally different flight. It was now nearly an hour since we landed, and I went back to the original carousel. It was then that I noticed all this luggage lined up against the wall, with people from my plane looking scouring for their luggage. So, I did the same. And surprise surprise, I found my luggage! Against the wall, nowhere near either designated carousel.

Was this some kind of cruel arline joke? Or did our luggage somehow leave early, too?

Please Hold...

I'm on hold with Papa Johns. I hate it when they put you on hold. The thing I don't understand is why they ask if you will "hold". What do they do if you say no? Will they immediately take your order? Is that why I was on hold for 15 minutes, because I was the only one polite enough to be put on hold?



My parents have just about got all the kids out of the house. We have been replaced by dogs. I don't doubt that the dogs are more well behaved than we ever were...

You know the great irony of the picture above? The golden retriever in the middle isn't even our dog. She belongs to the neighbors, but has taken to sitting on the bench with my folks.


The Best Worst Date Ever!

I was at a party the other night listening to a woman my own age describing what is perhaps the worst date of which I have ever heard. It had everything: lack of manners, inappropriate comments, disgusting revelations, and the whole gamut of deplorable behaviors sometimes exhibited by my gender. I was honestly appalled that anything like that could happen. While I'd love to recount the experience, I certainly wouldn't do it justice, and I don't think I could finish this post before I collapsed into fits of laughter.

So instead, I can describe the worst date to which I have every subjected anyone...

I had been eyeing this girl most of the summer. In retrospect, my advances were CLEARLY unrequited, but I was blissfully oblivious. So, in August, I asked her out, and planned, in great detail, an evening to remember. The date even coincided with my 24th birthday.

Hence begins an infamous evening. First off, I arrived at the door with flowers (yes, a bit much for a first date, I know.) We then took off to this wonderful little Italian bistro recommended to me. As we approached the intersection nearest the restaurant, my wonderfully vintage 1985 Mercedes (eg., old) began to sputter and lurch unexpectedly, dying at the stop light. I said a quick prayer, willing my car to NOT die on this evening of all evenings. The car started back up, but as I begin the turn into the parking lot, it gave up again, this time entirely.

Clearly flustered and baffled, the date and I did a "Chinese fire drill", where she ended up in the driver's seat, and I ended up in the back, pushing. Outfitted in my finest "smart casual" clothing I strained against the weight of 2 tons of German over-engineering as she guided the car about 50 yards, past the restaurant, to the parking lot in the rear. Sounds embarrassing, doesn't it? Well, now consider that the restaurant offered wide expanse of cozy patio seating, and I was actually pushing my vintage car past about 20 diners in various stages of dinner.

I was determined to not let the car troubles ruin the evening; we went into the restaurant and had a relatively enjoyable meal with the typical level of awkward first date conversation. Throughout dinner, I had been praying that the car would start working again, and my prayers were answered about an hour later. At this point, you might think that I would take the hint that the night was not to be, but instead, I a soldiered on with post dinner plans. What I didn't count on, though, was that my car would again die, about 3 blocks from my house, in the busiest intersection of my college town.

This time, three guys took sympathy on me rushed into the street to push my car into a nearby parking lot. Finally resigning my car to its non-functioning state, I searched the car frantically for my cell phone, but then remembered that I hadn't brought it! I had been so petrified of committing that most grievous of date sins by using my cell phone, that I had left it at home. (Yes, this was a moment of brilliance on my part.) So, we went into Ruby Tuesday's where I explained that no, I didn't need a table, just to use their phone.

I called my apartment. My roommate came and picked us up (thank goodness he was home!) We drove back to her house, me in the back, and her in the passenger seat. At this point, I think she took pity on me, because she volunteered to go back to my place and watch a movie. So, we sat, and watched, on two separate sides of the couch, Ocean's 11. I definitely was not channeling the rat pack that night. At the end of the movie, I walked her down to her car where we shared an awkward hug. And, despite it all, despite the fact that fate had clearly spoken ... I asked if I could see her again.