Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Rancho La Puerta...

We are up bright and early for our flight to San Diego, then crossing the border into Baja California (Tecate, Mexico) so we can spend some time at Rancho La Puerta, a health spa/eco-resort.

Rancho La Puerta was founded in 1940 by Edmund and Deborah Szekely and quickly became the standard for destination spa vacations that are all about health and fitness. Brent’s been anxious to check the spa out and I’m certainly game to accompany him.

The internet and cell phone connections are kind of iffy, so I may not be able to email or text or blog. Or maybe I’ll be able to, but just take a technology break for a few days! We’ll see...

So we’re off to our first spa adventure!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Kid Swim...

Yesterday was the last official Kid Swim for the summer at the Knudsen Pool! The photo is from an earlier date; yesterday the pool was practically maxed out and I was too busy with crowd control to get any pictures.

Kid Swim has been a fun way to get to know more of the new moms and kids that we’ve been blessed to have move into the Los Gatos Ward.

I'm really impressed with the parenting of many of the young moms. They’re good at making sure their kids use good manners. I always notice things like that. And I’m always impressed when kids are polite and appreciative!

Near the end of Kid Swim a mom arrived with one year old twins and I had promised to help her if she came. That was quite an experience! It makes me wonder how mothers of twins get anything done! I was too exhausted to cook dinner afterwards; luckily we still had leftovers from the company party.

The Kid Swimmers and Moms gave me a cute autographed beach ball as an end of the season thank you. A thoughtful gesture and I was touched.

Our neighbors have even been tolerant of the weekly noise! Although happy noise shouldn’t be too bothersome. All things considered, it’s been a fun activity and certainly one I think I’m game to host again next summer. I’m usually dead tired at the end of kid swim but I also forget about that by the next day (one plus to memory loss!).

Monday, August 29, 2011

“I Ache To Believe..."

I read a passage recently in a blog that I found fascinating and also troubling. A woman wrote: “It’s no secret that I ache to believe in God. The truth is I ache to believe in something. What’s also true is that slowly, with almost infinitessimal steps, I’m finding myself doing so, in my own way.”

I find her desire/ache wonderful on one level but sort of sad on the other. Religious belief hasn’t ever felt that tricky to me. For the most part, I’m nonplussed by the parts that are illogical. It’s okay, because the parts that speak to my heart are so clear.

I’m grateful the gospel has been a such a guiding force for my life. Call it a north star, a template, a blueprint, a whatever; it gives me direction, meaning and purpose.

Religious belief does require faith. Sometimes a leap of faith. Perhaps even a big leap. But regardless of parts where we need to suspend disbelief, it still works for me. On so many levels!

I’ve been blessed by living the commandments. I know that without a shadow of a doubt. And the things I don’t know I can take in faith and slowly that faith seed planted has usually brought forth fruit.

“I envy my dad and his faith. I envy all people who have someone to beseech, who know where they’re going, who sleep under the fluffy white comforter of belief.” -Kelly Corrigan, The Middle Place

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Fast Sundays, Slow Sundays

Poor Bishop Walton steps into a weekly tradition with the Primary kids that he may curse the day Bishop Knudsen began it. And, it’s a tradition that Mark certainly doesn’t need to continue. It may be too cumbersome, not to mention a bit unruly.

But I have to admit that I was somewhat an accomplice to Brent’s weekly practice (as the candy and toy supplier). Basically the Primary kids drop by the Bishop’s office at the end of church, in theory to quote an Article of Faith in exchange for a candy.

In practice, there are times that the chaos level is so high that the Article of Faith discussion takes a back seat to the treat selection. But, the Primary kiddos do love to visit the Bishop’s office and forming a positive relationship with their bishop, even and especially at a young age, seems like a win-win.

Recently Brad Parker told Brent the story of his daughter, Laney, inquiring whether a given Sunday was a Fast Sunday or a Slow Sunday. Apparently Laney had figured out that Bishop Knudsen gave out little toys (think Affordable Treasures gadgets) instead of candy when it was Fast Sunday. Therefore, by logic, since candy was handed out on other Sundays, Laney assumed those must be Slow Sundays. So, now when the Parkers’s arrive at church, Laney wants to know whether it’s a Fast Sunday or a Slow Sunday.

So, Laney is just one reason (others would include the rest of the Sunbeams, Stars, Valiants, etc.) that Brent enjoyed this funny tradition of Primary visitors dropping by his office, even if they got a little rambunctious. In fact, it may be one of the things Brent will miss the most today, his first Sunday since being released. Like the rest of us lay members, Brent won’t have any office space at church. But, like Laney Parker, he can always drop by Bishop Walton’s office and recite an Article of Faith! :)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Think Different...

Apple Computer’s “Think Different” ad campaign in the late 1990’s may not have been entirely correct grammatically, but it was still a huge success for the company.

The advertising campaign was a turning point. The free verse poem, “Here’s To The Crazy Ones” appeared in many prints ads and on Apple posters. There are a couple versions of the poem, but, sort of in honor of Steve Jobs, and his genius, the complete text is below:

Here’s to the crazy ones.
The misfits.
The rebels.
The troublemakers.

The round peg in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently.
They’re not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.

You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them,
disbelieve them, glorify of vilify them
About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.
Because they change things.

They invent. They imagine. They heal.
They explore. They create. They inspire.
They push the human race forward.
Maybe they have to be crazy.

How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art?
Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written?
Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?
We make tools for these kinds of people.
While some see them as the crazy ones,
We see genius.

Because the people who are crazy enough to think
They can change the world, are the ones who do.

It's really hard to imagine Apple Computer without Steve Jobs as the main man. I think the company will continue to thrive but without a renegade like Jobs, it’s not likely we’d have all the amazing technology toys Apple has introduced! Has Jobs ever been Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year?” If not, I nominate him; his impact on the world is incredible!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Practice Makes Perfect...

This is a lousy photo but it does confirm my sincere efforts in grandmother training. I was so engrossed in reading “There’s Only One You” to Emily, Chloe, Ethan, and Jake I didn’t even realize Paige took a picture.

But just look at these cute kids/guinea pigs I can practice my grandmothering skills on!

My grandmother training is just an avocation, but as hobbies go, it’s a fun one! There’s no ad hoc schedule for training, just hit or miss moments when little munchkins might linger after group runs.

For instance, this storytime followed some rambunctious havoc in the playroom. The little people were unsupervised (my bad), while the runners enjoyed some adult conversation upstairs.

Of course, when you don’t hear children for a few minutes, the quiet is generally not a good sign. Quiet usually equates to mischief making. And sure enough, the little people had upended the humongous table filled with Jelly Belly’s and strewn them everywhere. It wasn’t a epic disaster, like say, permanent markers adorning the walls, so it could certainly have been a lot worse.

Plus, the Jelly Belly stash was probably due to retire or purge anyway. So, the ruckus in the playroom provided the perfect window of opportunity. And the kids even helped pick up hundreds of Jelly Belly’s and we tossed everything.

So, what is the lesson (besides supervision) this grandmother apprentice learned from the experience?

Well, I happened to notice how the energy of little people can feed off each other. If one child in a room is fairly manageable, you simply bring in a second and silly behavior might begin. Add a third and it isn’t just tripled, the chaos grows exponentially. Four or more kids together and all heck can break loose.

In adults we might call this behavior “herd mentality” or “mob rule.” But the psychology when it pertains to kids is much more adorable. But, just to practice my best grandmothering, I did decide to supervise a little better after the Jelly Belly incident, hence the storytime. Ah, practice makes perfect!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

I love this old picture of Steve Jobs from the 1980’s (before the days of his black turtleneck & jeans uniform).

Yesterday Jobs resigned as the CEO of Apple, Inc. and news was abuzz of the potential demise of the company and how Apple stock could plummet. All the brouhaha seems a little dramatic. Certainly a perfectionist like Jobs created a company culture that can succeed without him at the helm.

Steve Jobs gave a great commencement speech in 2005 at Stanford University. He shared three stories; first about connecting the dots, then about love and loss, and, finally, about death. It’s well worth reading the whole text but I’ll just comment on the last part.

In his third story, Jobs talks about his pancreatic cancer diagnosis in 2004. Initially the doctors told Jobs to get his affairs in order, his life expectancy might be just three to six months. Well, later on they discover his cancer IS curable with surgery, so he was treated and recovered. But, during the time he thought he would die shortly, he thought a lot about death and shared some of his thoughts with the Stanford graduates:

“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

In his concluding commencement remarks, Steve Jobs mentioned “The Whole Earth Catalog,” a publication he enjoyed looking through in the 1970’s. On the back cover of the last issue was a photograph of a country road with the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”

As a farewell message to the Stanford graduates, Jobs notes that those words were always something he wished for himself. So, from The Whole Earth Catalog to Steve Jobs to me, I think those are pretty good words of wisdom. And, if the corporate teams at Apple follow this sage advice, the company should be okay! But it is still a sad day for those of us who greatly admire Steve Jobs!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I Think, Therefore I Am!

"How few would believe that from sources purely imaginary such happiness could be derived! ...What a treasure is thought! What a privilege is reverie! I am thankful I have the power of solacing myself with the dream of creations ... May I never lose that power, may I never feel it grow weaker." - from the diaries of Charlotte Bronte

One casualty of a busy lifestyle might be that we don't leave time to simply be thoughtful! Even as someone who loves time to think and wind down, I find it’s easy to overschedule and not leave windows where I can enjoy peace and solitude.

In fact, sometimes silence makes people uncomfortable. When I’m running with friends the chatter is fine (and often a nice distraction) but I don’t mind long stretches of quiet on the trail either. Although it makes some runners nervous if every space isn’t filled with noise.

Like Charlotte Bronte, I treasure thought. I’m more recharged by quiet, which probably speaks to my introversion. The good part of enjoying solitude is that even if I’m home alone, I never feel lonely!

“The happiest of all lives is a busy solitude.” -Voltaire

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The 4 year old brunette...

Andie is appalled that Emily didn’t get a blog post on August 16th for her 4th birthday. Since Andie, as one of my only readers, has threatened to revolt, or quit reading, I’ve got to rectify the situation.

Hence, a shout out to Emily Alice Bryan, the adorable birthday girl, blowing out the fancy candles of her five tiered cupcake cake! Technically, Emily was blowing out the regular candles; the fancy ones were candy sticks with frosting flames in Jennifer’s creative cake masterpiece.

Also, according to Jennifer, Emily was a bit perplexed when she looked in the mirror on her 4th birthday. For some unknown reason, Emily had it in her head that when she turned four she would have blonde hair. Which is not likely to happen at 4 or 40 for Emily (without profession coloring anyway).

The only explanation Jennifer can surmise from Emily’s 4-year-old-equals-blonde-hair logic is that many of the 4 year old little girls Emily knows (Avayna, Sabrina, Laney) are blonde.

If everyone Emily knows that is four is blonde then it stands to reason that she might ascertain that all 4 year olds are blonde. Isn’t this how society unfairly stereotypes (ie. one surly cop makes all policeman mean)?

Well, even if Emily spends every waking hour in the sun she is not likely to go blonde, so I hope she won’t be too disappointed to be a darling 4 year old brunette.

And hopefully this cute photo will put me back in Andie’s good graces for slighting Emily on her birthday. However, Andie should know that even though Emily is really bright and knows that her birthday is August 16th, she doesn’t actually know when August 16th falls on the calendar. So, her birthday gathering/kid swim get-together was actually on August 19th and Emily was none the wiser. The 16th came and went without her parents mentioning the B word (birthday) once.

So, I’m not the only remiss adult! And when Andie has a 4 year old daughter (who might wonder why her blonde hair isn’t changing to brunette) and Andie delays her daughter’s celebration and maybe Andie is too swamped to blog, only then will Andie have new empathy for Jennnifer and I! However, I am glad that Andie is always looking out for the underdog (or in this case, for Emily!).

Monday, August 22, 2011

Changing of the Guard...

The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, is probably best remembered for his doctrine of change being central to the universe, or more succintly, his quip that, “The one constancy in life is change.”

Nowhere is this as true as in the organization of our lay church. We serve in callings without ever knowing the length of our stint.

So, yesterday the Los Gatos Ward Bishopric was changed which replaced Bishop Knudsen and his counselors, Tim Hegstrom and Brian Kingsbury with a new group at the helm. The incoming bishopric we sustained is Bishop Mark Walton with Dave Bohn and Dennis Lange as counselors.

Like all church callings, we’re admonished to live worthily and not aspire to positions, but to be prepared, ready, and willing to serve wherever we are called. Brent truly enjoyed serving as the bishop; it seemed like a natural fit for him (even if he has a stubborn wife who prefers life out of the fishbowl).

I’m probably biased but even with my protests over rambling announcements and other sundry minutiae, I think Brent did a great job (I just like to give him a hard time :). He certainly gave (and gave and then gave some more) of his time lovingly and without ever complaining. I might have complained but Brent never did.

About six months ago I had a premonition that Mark Walton would be the next bishop. When the thought came to me, it just felt right. I even kidded Maria Walton that they’d better stay in the ward boundaries if they move just in case my hunch was accurate. Call me clairvoyant!

I love a quote by President Hinckley about callings generally. He said: “No calling in this church is...of little consequence. All of us in the pursuit of our duty touch the lives of others....Whatever your calling, it is as fraught with the same kind of opportunity to accomplish good as is mine. Our work is to go about doing good as the Master did."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

It Takes A Ward...

Brent used the African proverb: “It Takes A Village To Raise A Child” in his remarks at the Court of Honor Friday night. Our 4 new Eagle Scouts (Aaron, Alex, Blake, and Michael) have clearly been shepherded by great families and lots of wonderful leaders.

Today during Sacrament meeting the Los Gatos Ward Bishopric is being reorganized so Brent will be released in a few hours.

I think I could revise the well known proverb just a tad to say: “It takes a Ward to Raise a Bishop!”

Bishops need practice and getting into a groove and the Los Gatos Ward has been a great place for Brent to learn and grow into the calling. This ward has “raised" a stellar bishop and the bishop has been fortunate to have members who are good examples, members who are patient, and members who go above and beyond their callings.

People in our ward have been incredibly accommodating of Brent’s enthusiasm. Since he oozes with energy he can get some grandiose ideas rolling and the ward leaders are generally willing to “go and do” and follow up on myriads of assignments.

I really do appreciate and love the members of the Los Gatos Ward. They’ve blessed our lives in untold ways. Yep, it takes a loving ward to raise a exemplary bishop!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The SWAN Philosophy....

In a Wall Street Journal article this week a financial advisor talked about money management using the SWAN principle.

He used the acronym SWAN to stand for “Sleeps Well At Night” investing. He proposes helping his clients make sure their financial risks are cautious enough so there is always a cushion. This way his clients can sleep without worries of losing everything.

As I read about this SWAN method of investing, I decided that the SWAN approach works relative to living the gospel.

While some people think commandments restrict them, I’ve always found the exact opposite to be true. By keeping the commandments I’m definitely more likely to Sleep Well At Night. I never lose sleep over addictions, fear of arrest, torment of sin, or guilt over behavior. In fact, the more I try to live the gospel, the more content I am generally which contributes to inner peace and a good night’s rest.

While it behooves investors to consider a SWAN approach to their portfolios, I’m also confident that living the gospel is another tactic that helps me Sleep Well At Night!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Grammy: short on criticism, long on love!

“There were two things about Mama. One is she always expected the best out of me. And the other is that then no matter what I did, whatever I came home with, she acted like it was the moon I had just hung in the sky and plugged in all the stars. Like I was that good.” -Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees

Kingsolver’s description of Mama in The Bean Trees reminds me of Grammy! Anything Grammy’s grandchildren do is beyond spectacular. Yes, Grammy is a bit bragadocious when it comes to her grandkids. And, like Mama, Grammy also expects her kids and her grandkids to always do the right/best things!

I remember meeting Gramps and Grammy’s home teachers randomly on a boat ride in St. Petersburg, Russia five years ago and when they figured out who we were, the home teacher’s wife exclaimed: “Oh, I’ve heard ALL ABOUT your family!” And I am quite sure that was not an understatement!

Yes, Grammy takes a lot of pride in believing her grandkids are exceptional and extraordinary in every way. Her neighbors probably get a real earful if they happen to ask how any of the grandkids are doing.

But, since it’s Grammy birthday today, I won’t disparage or be too harsh on her incessant pride and just note that Grammy is also the quintessential grandmother figure. We’re are lucky to be related, even if she’s a bit of a shameless braggart about her practically perfect grandchildren!

“What children need most are the essentials that grandparents provide in abundance. They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humor, comfort, lessons in life. And, most importantly, cookies! -Rudolph Guiliani

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Look Who’s In the MTC...

“Missionary service is not easy, but it is infinitely worth it.” -M. Russell Ballard, 2005, April General Conference

This picture shows cousin Alex laughing it up while doused in whipping cream after he lost a bet in Sun Valley. To my best recollection, Grammy had some sort of wager between Team Alex and Team Paige with volleyball bumps.

I’m not sure of Alex’s age in the photo but I think his glee showcases his temperament well. Generally good natured, Alex doesn’t seem to get distraught over much.

Apparently Alex lost the bet, hence all the whipping cream, but he doesn’t appear very bothered by his loss. In typical fashion, Alex takes it all in stride.

And yesterday Alex entered the MTC! His easy going nature almost assures that he’ll have a good experience on his mission. When you have a cup half full personality, you’re able to find the silver lining or bright side of anything.

Armenia could be a tough mission with the turmoil the country has been in for hundreds of years so I think Alex’s optimism will be quite a blessing. And after the harsh rules at the Air Force Academy, the MTC experience should be a walk in the park!

Aunt Lisa said Alex’s setting apart was a wonderful experience. Especially since Oakley, Alex’s handicapped friend, and Oakley’s whole family, the Hansens, attended. The Hansens were pretty emotional about how much Alex means to their family. And finally the MTC curbside drop off and Bruce and Lisa went home to a very empty and quiet house!

Lisa sounded a little sad last night but she’s also grateful that Alex has made good choices. The 2 year separation for missions is hard on families but filled with wonderful blessings. I wouldn’t trade those 2 years when Webb served in Russia, his experiences, and our family’s memories of those years for anything in the world!

“There are few things in life that bring as much joy as the joy that comes from assisting another improve his or her life.” Richard G. Scott, October General Conference 1997

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Irreplaceable Childhood Friends...

“The essence of childhood, of course, is play, which my friends and I did endlessly on streets that we reluctantly shared with traffic.” -Bill Cosby

Shelly Tingey and I have been buddies since childhood. So, when Paige emailed from London awhile back to ask if I knew someone named Shelly Tingey, I immediately responded: “Of course I do!"

It turned out that Elise Hansen, the BYU student most compliant to accompany Paige on long runs during study abroad, was Shelly’s niece. In fact, when I told Paige to ask Elise’s dad, Steven Hansen, if he remembered me, Steven (then just a pipsqueak kid brother, now medical Doctor Hansen) confirmed that I was a fixture at their house, even known to tag-a-long on their family vacations.

Shelly had I have been friends for over 45 years. We were goofy youngsters, always roaming the neighborhood looking for action. We spent hours on the golf course in between our homes and squandered our summers in the pool at the tennis club. We’d pester Shelly’s big sister, Terilyn, for rides, annoying her until she’d consent.

For innocent, naive teenagers Shelly and I were pretty fearless. We pulled all sorts of pranks together, including sneaking off with her dad’s truck and my sister’s car, before either of us had a license or knew how to drive.

In high school there wasn’t anyone more spirited than Shelly. My memories of Highland Pep Club all involve Shelly. Then we were roommates at BYU’s May Hall freshman year and both nearly gagged at a ‘candle passing’ the first week of school when a girl in our dorm got engaged.

BYU gave Shelly and I our first taste of real church callings; somehow a very courageous bishop asked us both to teach Gospel Doctrine. It was a risk because although we were completely active, we were both kind of goofballs.

By sophomore year we became less attached by virtue of different paths; Shelly left for a semester in Hawaii and when she returned I left for Vienna. Then, shortly after my return Shelly married Tony Tingey.

But we’ve stayed in touch over the years and it was a pleasant surprise that Paige and Elise figured out the connection. I have great memories of a wholesome and happy childhood that Shelly was a big part of. And, I’ve always looked up to Shelly as a great example; she always radiates positive energy.

On Monday, we got the gang together to hike the Desolation Trail (Shelly, Elise, Paige, Andie, and me). I’m so glad Paige figured out that Elise’s Aunt Shelly was one and the same as my childhood friend, Shelly.

Shelly has been a blessing in my life and now Andie and Paige got to experience spending time with her too. Maybe being with Shelly even helps them understand some of my zany behavior which probably took root from hanging out with Shelly (although she might argue it the other way around)!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Childbirth at 65...

Childbirth at 65

With all the new technology regarding fertility, recently a 65-year-old was able to give birth.

When she was discharged from the hospital and went home, I went to visit.

"May I see the new baby?" I asked.

"Not yet," she said. "Let’s visit for a while first."

Thirty minutes had passed, and I asked, "May I see the baby now?"

“No, not yet,” she said.

After another few minutes had elapsed, I asked again, “May I see the baby now?”

“No, not yet,” replied my friend.

Growing very impatient, I asked, “Well, when can I see the baby?”

“WHEN HE CRIES!” she told me.

“When he cries?” I demanded. “Why do I have to wait until he CRIES?”


Monday, August 15, 2011

Our Sweet (but Studly) Cousin Alex!

Cousin Alex is one darling (soon to be) missionary! I’m so delighted that we had the whole family in Salt Lake for his farewell speech on Sunday.

Alex’s talk was sincere and heartfelt. He talked about thinking he probably wouldn’t serve a mission and what made him change his mind.

Alex related a story when his close friend, Christopher, was preparing to serve his mission in Germany just over 6 months ago. Lots of their mutual friends were grilling Christopher on his reasons for going. Christopher’s testimony was simple. He just knew when he kept the commandments and read his scriptures, his life went better, and he wanted to share that happiness he’d found with others.

Alex tested Christopher’s theory and started reading his scriptures more earnestly and felt comfort during really tough times as a Air Force Cadet. Amidst the chaos of the Academy, Alex felt at peace and genuinely happy.

Alex didn’t even need to tell us he was happy; it’s noticeably palpable. I don’t claim super powers but there are times when I feel a good spirit being around certain people. Right now, Alex is one of those. There is just something genuine about Alex’s desire to share his testimony of the gospel.

Besides Alex’s tender remarks, we were also quite impressed with the entourage of gorgeous girls that pitched up to hear Alex speak. Then after church we walked into the Olsen’s house filled with beautiful blond babes, all vying for Alex’s attention. As Paige said, “Who knew Cousin Alex was such a stud?”

I’m really proud of Alex. I’m glad he’s discovered the happiness, joy, and meaning spiritual things bring to our lives. I’m especially glad he’s decided to share this message by serving a mission. Alex will bless the lives of many Armenians.

“I’ve grown up in Utah, hearing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing and listening to church leaders address us, but I’ve never felt closer to God than when I was crawling through a mud tunnel, completely spent, in the middle of bootcamp. I didn’t think I could possibly do it, but God lifted me up and got me through.” -Alex Olsen, from his farewell talk

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Life Lessons...

"If you can think of times in your life that you've treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it's probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we're here for is to learn how to do it. I know that sounds a little pious." -David Foster Wallace

This quote actually comes from a transcript from David Foster Wallace talking with journalist Dave Lipsky on a road trip years ago. It’s kind of sad to read the quote when you know that Foster Wallace ended up taking his on life in 2008.

David Foster Wallace was a gifted writer but struggled with depression. It’s a shame that he wasn’t able to treat himself with greater compassion. Some of the writing he left behind is extraordinary; he’s almost got a cult-like following. I just happen to like this quote a lot (as well as several others by Wallace).

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Light the Fire Within...

It’s hard to believe that next February will mark 10 years since Salt Lake hosted the Olympic Games and put Utah on the map globally!

We arrived in SLC last night and instead of our usual stay in Park City, we opted to stay at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake. The Grand America was the flagship hotel for the Olympic games so it always reminds me of the 2002 events.

Since Grammy’s birthday and Alex Olsen’s mission departure both fell in August it seemed like a good weekend to celebrate and say farewell. In fact, all of the grandchildren are in town for the occasion which is a real compliment to a good Grammy and a cool cousin Alex!

Whenever I’m in Salt Lake I enjoy seeing Olympic remnants (well, the Rice-Eccles stadium isn’t exactly a remnant, so I guess I like seeing reminders that the Olympics were here). The Olympic Motto for the 2002 games was “Light the Fire Within.” For a city that is steeped in religious history to host the competitive athletic games, the motto seems poignant in many regards. “Light" and “Fire" are both used relative to spiritual things and in lighting the fire within, the motto connotes personal excellence that can apply to many aspects, particularly physical.

Utah is the sixth state in the US to host the Olympic games and the Salt Lake games were some of the most successful in Winter Olympic history with a surplus of $40 million at the end of the games. That money has been used to maintain and operate many of the city’s Olympic venues.

It should be a fun weekend ahead with lots of catching up with the relatives. Ever since the 2002 Olympics and the warm reception Utah displayed for the athletes and the world at large, I’ve felt proud to say I grew up in such a beautiful place as Salt Lake.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Nineteen and still going strong?

“If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion.” -Robert Pirsig

In preparation for the marathon, Amy Meier’s training schedule said we should run a 19 miler this week. So yesterday was the day for the big distance.

We started at 6 am to avoid the heat which was a good plan. It might have behooved us to start even earlier with my plodding speed.

It’s been a while since I’ve cranked out 19 miles in one stretch and luckily my legs held up. There were five of us at the start, three planning to run 14 miles, which just left a 5 miler at the end for Amy and I.

We ran around Lexington Reservoir and down towards Vasona Park, which was still closed, so we headed back up towards the dam and made a few circuitous loops until we nailed the full nineteen miles. I’m slow but reasonably steady, which, as I recall, didn’t fare too poorly for the tortoise.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Look at the Fish! Look again! Look again!

Louis Agassiz was an early naturalist who taught at Harvard University in the 1960’s. In David McCullough’s book, Brave Companions, there is a wonderful chapter on Professor Agassiz and his belief that students should study nature itself rather than learn facts through books.

In a interview for admittance to his class, Agassiz would present a dead fish to a student and ask them to carefully study it. The assignment has been dubbed The Incident of the Fish.

One student said after ten minutes he thought he’d noted all that could be seen in the fish. But Agassiz hadn’t returned to the room so he had to stare at the fish for an hour, and then another hour. The fish looked loathsome to him. The student went to lunch, returned for more fish observation and finally decided to draw a picture of the fish. In doing so, he started discovering new features in the creature.

Professor Agassiz finally returned to the classroom and they discussed his observations. But again, the student was told to go back to the fish: Look again! Look again!

Initially mortified to have to study the ghastly fish again, the student then resolved with new determination to discover something else, something unique about the fish. Eventually he began to really see the fish, he started to see things he hadn’t seen noticed earlier.

Then Professor Agassiz sent the student home with the task of thinking about the fish overnight. The next day he gave an account of his discoveries, particularly his observation that the fish had symmetrical sides with paired organs. Professor Agassiz was pleased but when the student asked what he should do next, he was told: “Oh, look at your fish!”

For three more days the fish was placed before the student’s eyes with the repeated injuntions to “Look, look, look.”

In later years the student realized that this was one of the best lessons of his life and a turning point for him.

The fish story (told much better by historian David McCullough in the book) has so many layers of meaning. I can conjure up all kinds of analogies beginning with an obvious: learning from nature itself rather than merely reading about it. Or, discovery by staying focused on things for long and concentrated periods of time.

The fish story also demonstrates how initial perceptions of things are limited. If I’m quick to judge I may be misinterpreting information. Careful and close analysis leads to more accuracy. Refining and analyzing what I see moves me closer to truth. And, perhaps most important, I come to my own understanding and don’t simply rely on conclusions or observations made by others.

The Incident of the Fish and Louis Agassiz’s teaching methods remind me of gospel study too. In so many aspects, especially scripture study, I sometimes read too quickly and move on. When I stop and really delve into a verse or study a work (say, The Book of Mormon) over and over, I notice other things I hadn’t seen until I spend inordinate amounts of time with it.

I particularly like the fish story; David McCullough is superb at historical storytelling. Plus, I love the premise that I can learn so much from observation. Besides, I tend to skim a lot of things; I’m quick to seek but also quick to judge. So, being admonished to “Look at the fish” is a good reminder for me to pay closer attention, look, look, and then look some more.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Three of the Guys at Five Guys...

Andie’s been raving about Five Guys so when the hamburger chain opened in Almaden we checked it out. And took along two of our favorite little people.

Five Guys opened their first location in Arlington, Virginia in 1986. The five guys (Matt, Jim, Chad, Ben, & Tyler) are the five sons of founders, Jerry and Janie Murrell.

I read an Inc. magazine article where Jerry Murrell commented on finding a book about JW Marriott in his hotel room a few days before opening their first location. In the book, Bill Marriott Senior talks about his success with the Hot Shoppes chain and notes that “anyone can make money in the food business as long as you have a good product, a reasonable price, and a clean place.” So that is what Five Guys has tried to do.

We all agreed that the burgers were pretty good, possibly better than In & Out. But the best part of dinner was actually the commentary from Emily and Spencer.

When Brent quizzed Emily about starting preschool he used the word “school” and Emily looked nervous and made certain Brent understood the type of school she’s agreed to attend. Emily responded to Brent’s inquiry with an emphatic: “My school is just for little people, where everyone will be the same size as me!”

Clearly Jennifer has assured Emily that she’s not getting sent off to college, boarding school or even Van Meter Elementary. It seems Emily wants no part of school unless it’s a friendly place without frightening big people!

When we told Spencer we were delighted he came along and hoped he would come over to swim next week he’d said he could only join us for swimming as long as he didn’t have (his words): “interfering schedules. Because I have a lot going on right now.” We loved his comment since Spencer used to be the little boy who Andie could snag at a moment’s notice, back before he was on the swim team, cub scouts, etc.

It looks like our favorite little people are starting to grow up; Emily off to preschool this fall and Spencer with his busy calendar. Maybe we’ll have to bribe them for outings with the promise of Five Guys burgers & fries!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Lighten Up!

“Only you know your circumstances, your energy level, the needs of your children, and the emotional demands of your other obligations.

Be wise during intensive seasons of your life. Cherish your agency, and don’t give it away casually. Don’t compare yourself to others - nearly always this will make you despondent.” -Cheiko Okazaki, Lighten Up

When women of my generation grew weary of the “you can have it all” feminist rally cry, the “lighten up” voice of Chieko Okazaki was like a breath of fresh air.

I see Chieko as a pioneer in helping LDS women feel empowered by their choices. Instead of trying to have it all, she admonished us to love what we do have and feel good about it. Chieko epitomized the “it’s all good” phrase before the saying was popularized.

Chieko Okazaki passed away last week at the age of 84. Her death will touch many women because her books and her frequent speaking engagements were inspiring to so many of us.

I’ve read most of Chieko’s books and have a copy of her bestseller Lighten Up!. I got to meet her over ten years ago when Anita invited me to join a Saratoga Ward RS retreat in Santa Cruz where someone had snagged Chieko as their guest speaker. I remember instantly likely Chieko, her beauty, warm personality and hopeful remarks make her an easy woman to admire.

I like the theme that runs through many of her talks and books, which is encouraging women not to take themselves too seriously. Chieko always admonished women to be themselves and celebrate our unique qualities. She was an inspiration to many of us, always framing the gospel as a resource to help us with challenges.

Chieko was a convert to the church and felt so blessed by her membership. And, somewhat ironically, her messages were a huge blessing that have helped so many sisters. Yes, in LDS circles, “Lighten Up!” and “Chieko Okazaki” almost feel ubiqutious.

Her son, Kenneth, said the following about his mother: “With her light touch and subtle humor, she was able to bring religion down to earth. She inspired women to have a backbone.”

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Happiness Flow Chart

“In about the same degree that you are helpful, you will be happy.” -Karl Reiland

I used the Happiness Flow Chart on the left for a Relief Society lesson I gave in July. The lesson material came from a General Conference Talk by President Eyring called “Opportunities to Do Good.”

I love this flow chart because it breaks things down to the basics. First of all, are you happy? If yes: keep doing whatever you’re doing. Simple enough. And I would argue or affirm that if you are happy then you are likely doing good (since there is a strong correlation between people who serve others and people who are happy).

If you aren’t happy, do you want to be? If not, you can also keep doing whatever you are doing (which isn’t likely much serving).

Finally, if you aren’t happy and you would like to be, change something. Again, fairly straight forward. And I'd vote for the change to be, you guessed it, serving others.

For Family Home Evening last night Dad and I were the only ones home so he insisted I give the lesson I’d shared in Relief Society. Things were going along swimmingly when you can imagine what happened....that’s right, Dad fell asleep! Oops! I’m not sure whether it’s a reflection on my lousy teaching skills or a very tired Bishop at the end of a long day. And I’m not sure who was more embarrassed: me as the put-you-to-sleep-teacher or my errant pupil.

So much for an engaging lesson! Dad’s trying hard to spin his lesson time nap in a positive light. For example, later on he told Paige his nodding off was a compliment because he was so relaxed. Yeah, yeah. He is just lucky that because I was serving (giving the lesson) I was in a happy state of mind. Otherwise he might still be in the dog house.

“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.” -Seneca

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Soul Surfer...

“Knowing that God loves me and that He has a plan for my life that no shark can take away is like having solid rock underneath me.

Look, lots of bad stuff happens to people. That’s life. And here’s my advice: don’t put all your hope and faith into something that could suddenly and easily disappear. And honestly, that’s almost anything. The only thing that will never go away, that will never fail you, is your faith in Christ.” -Bethany Hamilton, quote from the book Soul Surfer

The Soul Surfer movie is based on the true story of surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost her left arm in 2003, at thirteen years old, when a shark attacked her in Hawaii. I expected the movie would probably be like a made-for-TV (think lower budget) show but I still wanted to see it because I read Bethany’s book (published back in 2004) and find her resilience and her faith so inspiring.

Bethany’s story is touching and also motivating. Her will to keep surfing after losing her arm was so strong she was in the water a month later. And she’s been surfing (and competing) ever since!

I really admire people who don’t let stumbling blocks in life slow them down. Bethany’s determination has been a blessing in her own life but also for many other people. Since the shark attack she’s stayed in the limelight while sponsored by Rip Curl as a competitive surfer and people take notice. Bethany gets plenty of mail reinforcing the difference her optimistic can-do attitude has on people who struggle with similar challenges.

I’ve heard it said that the only handicap someone has in life is a bad attitude. And, the converse, with a good attitude people can pretty much overcome any disability that life throws them. Bethany Hamilton’s perseverance with surfing, her gratitude for life despite challenges and her faith in God is an wonderful example for all of us! (photos of Bethany: on left in 2004, on right in 2010)

“I am thankful. I could have died. I could have been really mangled or hurt so bad I might not have been able to surf again. I have lots and lots of things to be thankful for.

I don’t know how to sound smart or sophisticated in interviews. I just say what’s in my heart and and hopefully my mouth cooperates.” -Bethany Hamilton, Soul Surfer

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Time: the Great Equalizer!

"Since time is the one immaterial object which we cannot influence - neither speed up nor slow down, add to nor diminish - it is an imponderably valuable gift." -Maya Angelou

Lately I’ve been wishing I had a few extra hours in my day. It just seems like there are always more projects than minutes.

As Angelou notes, time is a valuable gift and something that puts everyone on a level playing field. No one gets more or less than anyone else within a 24 hour day. Our time to use or squander. And some people waste hours while others pack more into one hour than many of us accomplish in an entire day.

I love that "Time is the Great Equalizer." We have no guarantee how many years we'll live but we all have exactly the same seconds, minutes, and hours in a day!

"Time you enjoyed wasting is not wasted time." -Bertrand Russell

Friday, August 5, 2011

Riveted in our Seats...

Riveted by Robyn Sarah

It is possible that things will not get better
than they are now, or have been known to be.
It is possible that we are past the middle now.
It is possible that we have crossed the great water
without knowing it, and stand now on the other side.
Yes: I think that we have crossed it. Now
we are being given tickets, and they are not
tickets to the show we had been thinking of
but to a different show, clearly inferior.

Check again: it is our own name on the envelope.
The tickets are to that other show.

It is possible that we will walk out of the darkened hall
without waiting for the last act: people do.
Some people do. But it is probable
that we will stay seated in our narrow seats
all through the tedious denouement
to the unsurprising end - riveted, as it were;
spellbound by our own imperfect lives
because they are lives,
and because they are ours.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Perhaps you had to be there....

Mark Twain coined the adage: “I can live two months on a good compliment.” A variation of that sentiment for me might be: “I can live all week on a good laugh.”

Whenever something silly makes me laugh, reprocessing the moment makes me smile over and over and over. In other words, I can get a lot of mileage from a little goofy humor.

And, as you will see from two incidents last Saturday that I’m still laughing about, quality is not essential either. Sometimes the dumber, the better (or funnier).

The first comment was expressed in a panic by Brent when he was working by the pool and suddenly yelled to Paige and I that someone had stolen our pool chairs. The sense of urgency and frustration in his voice worried Paige and she rushed outside. I was concerned too. But not about the pool chairs. They were safe and sound at the Patio Furniture Restoration warehouse getting recovered.

No, my concern was for Brent who had simply forgotten he had ordered new covers for the chairs, picked up those covers, and even talked to me on the phone when I had to make multiple trips to drop the chairs off. When I headed outside and helped jog Brent’s memory of the chairs whereabouts we all had a good laugh!

Shortly after we solved the disappearance of the patio chairs Paige was getting ready for an outing to the Gilroy Garlic Festival. I noted the rising temperature and mentioned how hot it would be in Gilroy. Paige looked at me, somewhat confused and said something like, “You’re right, do you think I should wear less?”

“Wear less?” I repeated Paige’s question a bit confused as I noted her very short linen shorts and thin t-shirt. “What less could you possibly wear?”

Paige took inventory of her outfit and we both started laughing because there wasn’t much less she could be wearing as it stood. Although I’m sure you do see less with some skanky attire from the rougher side of town that frequents the Gilroy Garlic Festival. But, for Paige’s dress standards, there wasn’t much less she could possibly wear lest she join the sleazier crowd.

Now I just have to think “someone stole our pool chairs” or “should I wear less?” to keep me laughing. And I’m not laughing at my family, just with them, and as you can see, it doesn’t even have to be all that funny for me to find humor in simple daily occurrences.

“What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul.” -Yiddish proverb

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

J.P. or Ben? Who are these Men?

“Critics said reality television’s latest evolution was supposed to be like disco - - a hyper-popular fad with a relatively fast burnout. But three years after CBS’s reality cash cow Survivor became the surprise hit of a bland summer schedule, and 12 years after The Real World changed reality TV forever, the voyeuristic genre is still going strong.” -Robert Morast, Argus Leader, 2003.

Before Monday night I had never watched The Bachelorette. But Paige had about a dozen girls over watching the season finale and since Brent had a red-eye flight, I tuned in with the show enthusiasts.

The majority of the girls in our living room were rooting for Ashley to choose J.P. (Kelli was even sporting her homemade "Team J.P.” shirt - funny girl! :).

I was probably a bit of a buzz kill for the die-hard Bachelorette fans on our couch questioning the “reality” of the show. But, I did come away from my first episode understanding how Paige and company becomes sucked into the drama. For instance, I really liked Ben too and obviously both guys can’t win so it’s heart wrenching TV viewing.

I’m still completely perplexed how these Bachelors or Bachelorettes charm, date, and ostensibly “fall in love” with more than one guy at a time. It seems like the show only works if there is drama which I’m still skeptical whether that is real or played up.

According to the TV ratings, viewing was way down for Ashley’s final show. But, since I was one of the 9.5 million viewers, my personal average for viewing The Bachelorette skyrocketed! And I might even be willing to give the show a chance next season. Stay tuned!

“I think people watch this for the elements of bizarre. There’s a sick sensation by watching humans in risk or fail. We criticize people who stop at the side of a road to watch traffic accidents ... in a sense, it’s the same thing as that.” -Dr. Jeff McCall, Communications professor at DePauw University

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

If the shoe fits..

In a very strange chain of events I lost one of my shoes at the hoedown over the weekend.

It doesn’t quite look like Cinderella’s lovely slipper but I’m still hoping to find it. One brown desert boot doesn’t really do anyone much good so hopefully it will end up in the lost & found at the Triple E Ranch.

Brent is admittedly responsible for the missing shoe (it’s a long story!) and has graciously offered to buy me a new pair, except I don’t need a “pair,” since I’m in possession of the shoe for my left foot.

Besides, I only wear these shoes a couple times a year, maybe less if I don’t get invited to any western gigs. I’ve owned them so long they’re like a vintage model and who wants a 2011 version of the classic old desert boot anyway? I prefer my old ones!

The solo shoe in my closet reminds me of the solo earring collection I held onto for years. One compartment in my jewelry box had all the earrings that had lost their mates. I kept them, just in case the missing half to each set ever pitched up. Time passed, and with no success stories the half pair earring collection was finally purged. Let’s hope my shoe has better luck!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Meanwhile Back at the Ranch...

Liz Semichy’s 75th Birthday Celebration at her Triple E Ranch in Woodland, California on Saturday afternoon/evening was quite the event!

Allison and Max put together one very fun party. With corn fields surrounding as a backdrop, we enjoyed happy hour, games, blue grass bands, an authentic BBQ dinner in the big barn, a program with entertainment, dancing, and fireworks.

Over 100 guests drove several hours to honor Liz and it was a blast to see so many friends from Almaden Country School days.

Liz was one of Nan Hunter’s first school hires, she’s stayed at ACS for 30 years and Liz is very beloved by the ACS community. Nan and Julia Hatch were joined by Sherry and Kendra Curtis singing a little tribute to honor Liz’s dedication as a wonderful Kindergarten teacher.

It was definitely a nostalgic night catching up with people from our family’s ACS school years and brought back lots of fun and tender memories. It was also fun to see Liz in the limelight and I’m sure she was thrilled to be encircled with so many friends and family who love and adore her!