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?