5 Things 4 Which W3 Are 2 Be Thankfu1

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Last night I loaded up the kids and made a quick Wendy's run while the Normal Mormon Wife pulled her best Cinderella impersonation and cleaned the house in preparation for the arrival of our Thanksgiving house guests. I was a little disturbed that when I left the NMW was dressed in rags and having a conversation with two mice about riding away in a pumpkin chariot, but hey, she likes to keep it real.

During the ride I turned down Radio Disney (I think it was hour 9,379 of a 10,000 hour straight HSM3 marathon) and asked the kids what they were thankful for. Both kids immediately said, "My family!" It was a heartwarming moment, but then they both tried to hit me up for $10 because they could sense my guard was down. After I forked over the cash they both listed "The Gospel" and "School" to round out the top three things for which they are thankful. If I am being serious for a moment, I would also have the family-gospel-work trifecta at the top of my thankful list. Okay, now that the serious moment has passed, here are five random things that I am extremely grateful for:

1. My Garmin GPS Device. My sense of direction is similar to that of an intoxicated, blindfolded homeless person who is let loose in a mall, spun until he is dizzy, and then asked to find the Abercrombie store. (Just follow the smell of immorality, it'll lead you right to it.) I have lived in North Carolina for 5 1/2 years and can still only find my way to work, home and church without getting lost. The reason for my lack of directional fortitude is simple - I was born in Utah and learned how to find addresses based on the grid system (e.g. 11000 S., 1780 W.) If you ever get turned around in Utah, just locate the big mountains and that is east. Or you can smell the air for dead brine shrimp and that direction would be west. The federal government should pass legislation mandating that all cities must use the address grid system to bail out those of us who are directionally underprivileged. After all, the government is doing its darndest to insert itself into every other nook and cranny of our lives, why stop now?!

North Carolina roads are incredibly confusing. Roads change their names willy-nilly and without notice. Kind of like He Hate Me and Chad Ocho Cinco. For example, within a three mile stretch the same major road goes from Piedmont Pkwy to Hilltop Rd to Groomtown Rd to Neener-Neerer Your Lost Now, Huh? Ave. I think the NMW was tired of me calling her on my cellphone from the car and saying things like, "I'm a little turned around right now. Can you pull up Mapquest and tell me how to get to the YMCA? I just passed a big sign that said, 'Welcome to Alabama!'"I think we were both thrilled when she bought me a Garmin GPS device to help me get around town.

I have really bonded with my GPS over the past several months. It has even been given a name. Our last name starts with S., so I named her Gretchen Pumpernickel S. (note the clever GPS initials.) The name Gretchen has always been a favorite of mine because I think you could have all sorts of cheezy Saturday afternoon shows hosted by a Gretchen. For example, a yoga video could be called "Stretchin' with Gretchen." A dog obedience program could be called, "Fetchin' with Gretchen." You want a craft show? "Etchin' with Gretchen." An infomercial about stomach problems could be called, "Retchin' wi......" Never mind.

The middle name of Pumpernickel is necessary for the times when Gretchen gives me bad advice on which roads to take. During my High School days my friends and I used to call each other "Pumpernickel" as an insult. And yes, we were definitely the walking-on-the-edge-of-the-cliff Mormon kids. I think the word "fetch!" and "dang!" occasionally slipped from our lips as well. Pumpernickel is a perfect middle name to use when I get upset and say, "Awwww, come on, Pumpernickel! You've led me straight into the ghetto!" Fortunately for both Gretchen and me I rarely have to use the P-word because of the faithful friend she has become. I am thankful for Gretchen.

2. Monday Night Football. As an avid sports fan I love attending professional and college games whenever I can. I was there and rushed the field when the Ty Detmer-led BYU football team beat #1 Miami in Provo. I was at the Salt Palace in the late 80's when Magic, Kareem, Worthy and company came to town and put on Showtime. I went to a couple of Arizona Diamondbacks game the year they won the World Series. (I watched the game. The NMW spent three hours staring her boyfriend, Ken Griffey Jr., through her binoculars. I think I detected drool on the front of her shirt by the third inning.) But I am not a complete sports fan yet because I have never attended the most important game of them all - the WNBA!

Just kidding. It's the NFL, of course.

The whole "keep the Sabbath Day holy" thing has prevented me from ever going to an NFL game. You know how people get up and bear their testimonies about crazy things that happen to them when they break the Sabbath? I think I've heard at least six people say, "...so we decided to go boating instead of going to church and my boat ended up sinking and I've obeyed the Sabbath ever since!" Well, I am positive something freakish would happen to me if I ever went to an NFL game on Sunday as punishment for my disobedience. I would not be surprised if I got attacked by a rabid fox and had to run a mile to my car and then drive myself to the ER with the fox still attached to my arm.

But all of this will change on Monday, December 8th, 2008 when the Carolina Panthers host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Charlotte for a game that may decide the NFC South. The two tickets were a gift from the NMW for my birthday a few weeks ago. It ranks right up there with my mini-Ms. Pac-Man arcade game that I got as a kid as the best gift I have ever received. Thank you, NMW. Thank you, Monday Night Football. I am truly grateful.

3. The Flavor of the Holidays - In a way I am thankful that egg nog, peppermint ice cream and pumpkin pie are only available during the holidays. I long for them ten months a year and once they hit the shelves - BAM! - I'm all over them like Oprah on a hot ham! Wait, isn't it hypocritical for me to make fun of Oprah's eating habits when I'm confessing to gorging myself on artery-clogging junk food?

Anyway, as an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I do not drink alcohol, but can I somewhat understand why people who do like to wind down with a drink at the end of the day. I just experienced this with egg nog when I got home from work before my family arrived from running an errand. In those few moments of solitude I poured myself a glass of egg nog, sat on the couch, forgot all of the stresses of life, and just sipped the thick, delicious drink until it was gone. Every sip was savored. Then the NMW and three kids arrived home and our house returned to the zaniness of a den of wild badgers trapped together in a small cardboard box. Egg nog, peppermint ice cream and pumpkin pie - I am grateful for you.

4. Alan Devine. Okay, this one just illustrates what most of you already know - I'm a total nerd. Alan Devine is my Madden franchise quarterback. I drafted him in the 1st round in 2010 because of his strong arm and Michael Vick-like speed rating of 90 and acceleration of 87. Unlike Vick, however, Devine will not have his career cut short by going to prison for dog fighting. The one drawback about Madden is that it whitewashes the terrible off-the-field stuff that takes place in any given NFL season. If I were the game developer I would immediately install circumstances were players are notified that, "Your WR was arrested for posession of cocaine and is currently suspended pending NFL review" or "Your All-Pro MLB was has been charged with murder". The NFL will never, ever, ever allow this, but it would be awesome.

Between Alan Devine's 65-yard touchdown bombs and 40-yard scrambles, my Madden franchise cannot be stopped. I have won the Super Bowl on the All-Madden level for each of the past three seasons, going 57-0 during that stretch. Take that, 1972 Dolphins! Yes, I'm a dork. But I'm thankful for my dorkiness.

5. You, My Readers. Okay, this one may sound like I'm pandering a bit here, but I am honestly thankful for the thousands of people around the world whom I have never met who read my blog. My blog's small following has has been a completely unexpected surprise this year. I went from getting 10 visits a day from family and friends to hundreds of visitors a day. With encouragement and appreciation from my readers, blogging has turned out to be one of the more enjoyable creative outlets that I have. Heck, I've even earned a little money through advertising. (Thank you, Husband Hero. Go visit their site. Now. Go ahead. This post isn't going anywhere.)

Knowing that there are a few people out there who like my writing style has even prompted me to take a stab at writing a novel. I already have the concept in mind and have dipped my big toe in the water by writing a few pages and scoping out several of the chapters. I am hoping that by mentioning it here that it will motivate me to keep chugging along in my spare time and see if I can write a semi-compelling story. Anybody know a publisher who is willing to take a chance on a completely unproven Madden addict?

And if that fails, I can always go back to blogging about Twilight.

Now if I can only work out the logistics of leaving three small kids at home (one is still nursing) so that the NMW and I can escape for three hours and see the Twilight movie......

Getting away for a hot night out with the NMW? Now that's something I would be really thankful for!

Happy Thanksgiving!

In Your Face(book)!!!!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Uh-oh. What have I gotten myself into? I just joined Facebook and after one week I have an ominous feeling of doom in my gut.

I've had this sensation of impending self-inflicted destruction before. It is the same feeling that I had when I bought a pet tarantula in high school and then had to feed it hairless baby mice. I think the spider's name was Izzy. I wonder what ever happened to good ol' Izzy? Another time was when I bought a used Kia Sephia and arrived home from the dealership only to find several recall noticed already waiting in my mailbox. In both instances I knew right away I had made a mistake.

In retrospect, I wish I would have immediately taken Izzy back to Petsmart instead of keeping him in my windowsill where he just stared at me year after year devouring "pinkies" and plotting ways to escape from his aquarium and bite into my jugular. Similarly, I should have taken the Kia back under the Lemon Law and purchased something more reliable. Like a Honda. Or a blind, infirm, three-legged mule.

I am afraid that I have made a similar mistake by venturing into world of Facebook.

Quite simply, I could waste my entire evening trolling through Facebook profiles of my old high school and college friends that I have managed to reconnect with. Rediscovering my friends has been wonderful since I am a notoriously poor keep-in-toucher. Despite having vowed to keep in touch with about four thousand people whom I have met in previous wards, high school, college, work and my mission, I have only remained in contact with two of them. That's right - two. My friend retention rate rivals that of Ben from Lost. The time commitment required to being a good Facebooker is more than I had bargained for and I am wondering if I should jump off this train before it gets too far.

Also, my sister recently canceled her Facebook account because of a few nasty political conversations where flying around and there was little she could do to stop it. The lack of control over what gets posted also has me nervous. For all I know somebody could post something terrible on my page without my consent. Like swearword acronyms. Or pro-global warming sentiments. Gasp!

But Facebook is not all bad. In addition to the whole "How in the heck are you doing?" emails, I really enjoy looking at the photos of people I have not seen since 1993 to see who has gained weight, lost hair, or went from "geek to chic" (and then debating what percentage of that transformation was natural versus paid for on an installment plan.) Yes, I'm shallow that way.

While it has been wonderful to trade some emails with long lost friends, I just don't know if I have the time to keep up with everybody now. It was hard enough to keep in touch with two people to begin with. Between work, family, church, sleeping, blogging, fantasy sports, Madden, and TV, I think being a good Facebooker will eventually wear me out. I mean, where am I going to find the time to be Facebook friends with 47 more people?

Since many of you are probably already experienced Facebookers, please give me some advice on what I should do. Do I go for it, or get out before I let 47 people down? If you are too lazy to comment, you can vote as well.

Wait, now it's 48 friends!

Izzy the Tarantula found me! We are Facebook buddies now! You can be his friend as well. Just search for "Izzy Tarantula" on Facebook to see what my old pal is up to.

Just don't be surprised when I fail to reply to his email.

(Updated 11/20)

Amx - My tarantula's name was BUTCHER!!!! Of course! Thank you so much for reminding me about that. How could I have ever forgot the name of the spider who wanted to kill me? Thanks for jogging my memory. And, yes, are you an incredibly awesome sister for taking care of that hideous beast when I took off for my mission. I won't mention whether he was dead or alive when I got home (ahem, ahem), but you were a champ for doing that for me.

Butcher (aka Izzy) Facebook Update - Butcher now has 5 Facebook friends. Thank you to the adventerous people who have decided to take a neglected, ugly spider into their circle of friends. Butcher even has a complete Bio and some photos uploaded. He's still taking friend requests, if anybody else is interested (and hopelessely, depressingly lonely.)

A Tribute to Primary Music Leaders Everywhere

Friday, November 14, 2008

Two Sundays. Two Sacrament meetings. Two different wards. Two Primary Programs. One revelation:

Primary Music Leaders rock!

Two weeks ago I was able to watch my seven-year-old son and four-year-old daughter participate in our ward's Primary Program. I sat and beamed with satisfaction as they spoke their parts and sang the songs they have been rehearsing since the Sunday after the 2007 Primary Program ended. Last Sunday we were in Georgia spending time with family and were able to see their ward's Primary sacrament meeting as well. After witnessing the back-to-back junior versions of Music and the Spoken Word, I came to better appreciate Primary Music Leaders everywhere. These two Sisters leading the songs were on fire! But before I get into that, a little background may be helpful.

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Primary Music Leaders. You see, when I was a kid in Primary I used to purposefully change the lyrics to the songs in an attempt to be funny. Take the song "Love One Another", for example. The correct lyrics at the end of the song are, "By this shall men know, Ye are my disciples, If ye have love, One to anooooooooooother." My version of the song went like this: "By this shall men know, Ye are motorcycles, If ye have love, One two three foooooooooooour five." I always thought it would be ironic to get the Primary Music Leader to flip out on me after singing "Love One Another", but those good Sisters never took the bait.

I was also one of the kids who yelled, "Eee-Eee!" after every line in "Book of Mormon Stories", but I can hardly be solely blamed for that one. You did it too. Admit it! You did. Does this sound familiar? "Book of Mormon stories that my teacher tells to me (Eee-Eee!), Are about the Lamanites in ancient history (Eee-Eee!) Aaaahhh, memories (Eee-Eee's!) Again, those patient Sisters never yelled at me, they just kept on magnifying their callings.

While I did everything humanly possible to be an annoying little twerp in Primary, the music that I learned was very important in my spiritual progression as a child. I always felt the Spirit when we sang the boy/girl "Mine Is a Home....." and "I See My Mother Kneeling..." song (Love is Spoken Here?) I used to try to drop my voice an octave or two when I sang about the priesthood and it helped me to appreciate having parents who lived the gospel and loved their family. While I do not remember many of my actual childhood Primary lessons, the music has stuck with me throughout my adult life and I still to this day find myself occasionally humming a Primary tune. Well, either a Primary song or something from Sing Star Pop Version 2, but it's all good.

Now, back to the reasons I was left so impressed with the Primary Music Leaders that I just witnessed in action. After watching these Sisters lead the music, I realized that a good Primary Music Leader must have four important qualities (you can vote on which is most important):

1) Drill Sargent
2) Saturday Night Live Cast Member (Minus the coarse debauchery)
3) Multilingual Interpreter
4) Warshack Test Administrator

The Drill Sargent - It is a minor miracle that a Primary Music Leader can look at fifty kids and get them to stand up and sit down on cue with just a raise of her hands. How do they do this? Seriously. It sometimes takes us seven minutes to get our two kids to sit down at the dinner table, and that's even after we threaten to withhold dessert. Yet somehow the PML can control their every move as if they were programmable robots, like Vicki from the TV show Small Wonder. Or Dakota Fanning. They can also get the kids to sing louder or softer and smile bigger by simply gesturing. Amazing.

SNL Cast Member - The pressure to perform is on every single Sunday for the PML to do something fresh and innovative. She has to devise creative games, prizes, contests, props and pictures to keep things new and exciting during music time. As soon as she starts recycling material, she will lose her audience. Once a week for 48 weeks it's lights! Camera! Singing Time!

Multilingual Interpreter - Between the two Primary Programs we watched I think we heard or saw the children sing in nineteen languages, including English, Spanish, Spanglish, French, Sign Language, Chinese, Latin, Sweedish, Vulcan, Ebonics, Panguitchian and Mental Telpathy. How does one woman pull this off? From one song to the next she may be saying, "Erin - you're stressing the wrong syllable in 'bautismo' - it's bow-TEEEES-mo, not BOW-tees-mo." Then, "Mike, you need to bring your left hand higher when you are making the ASL sign for love!" Talk about the gift of tongues in action.

Warshack Test Administrator - One of the keys to being a successful PML is having the ability to make signs that represent the words that need to be sung. This is a particularly important skill since most kids in the United States between the ages of 3-12 cannot read anything beyond the controls of their iPods. I am always sitting behind the PML and cannot see the pictures that get held up to prompt the kids, but it has to be hard drawing images that represents song lyrics like, "...down in the River Jordan....." How do you draw that? Here is what I would be holding up:
Okay, the kids today might not get the River Phoenix reference, but it goes to show how much creativity the PML's must have to come up with enough of these things to last an entire 45-minute program.

So, for all of you Primary Music Leaders out there, thank you! Thank you for the energy. Thank you for the creativity. Thank you for the patience. Thank you for inviting the Spirit. Thank you for drilling uplifting songs into our heads. Thank you for teaching my kids. Thank you for surviving one difficult Sunday every October or November. Thank you for magnifying your callings.

You are all an inspiration to me.


South Carolina, Hobos, & Doggie Doo

Thursday, November 06, 2008

South Carolina does not do itself many favors when it comes to public relations. Far too many people think South Carolina is a backward hillbilly state that just got plummin' and electricity dern near ten years back. I oversee a plant in SC and I quite like the state, so I decided to take my camera with me when the Normal Mormon Family drove south of the border last week to set the record straight for those of you who have misconceptions about the Palmetto State.

Why does South Carolina have such a bad rap? First off, the Confederate flag flew over the state capitol building until 2000. This poor decision is as subtle as if the state of Missouri decided to fly the Mormon Extermination Order over its courthouses or wait until 1976 to repeal the order. As if anything that crazy could ever happen! While the Confederate flag has come down, there are still window decals on all SC state government buildings depicting the mischievous character from Calvin and Hobbes relieving himself on a map of all of the "Yankee" states. I'm shooting for 2095 for those to come off.

Another self-inflicted public relations wound was the decision to select the Gamecock as the mascot for the University of South Carolina. I can just imagine the Board of Trustees having the following conversation:

-"We need a dignified mascot. Something regal."
-"You mean, like a varmint of some sorts? Maybe a dingo?"
-"Perhaps. But I'm envisioning something just a little more noble. More valiant."
-"What about a mole. Or maybe a chicken?"
-"Yes! Perfect! A chicken! But there needs to be a hook. An angle. Something that says this chicken is special."
-"How's abouts an egg-layin' chicken."
-"Naw. I want something more backwoods. Perhaps something illegal and blood-lusty."
-"A gamecock?"
-"Somebody get this man another helpin' of turnips!"

Just to show that South Carolina has come a long way over the years, here are some of the images that caught my attention during our quick trip a few days back.

If you are passing through the state and need to get some fresh veggies, I highly encourage you to stop by and visit the kind folks at Hobo Hollar Produce. I do not want to speak for the rest of you, but when I have a hankerin' for some squash or cucumbers I definitely think of homeless people yelling at the tops of their lungs. I heard that the owners just opened a second store in downtown Charleston called Hobo HOLLA! Produce.

One of the most popular items on the menu at Hobo Hollar are the hot boiled P-Nuts. I have heard of peanuts before, but am not quite sure just which"P-" nut they are referring to. Pinenuts? Pistachios? Does anybody know what to expect here?

If you look closely at this picture you will notice two key elements: 1) The trendy, classy "Hobo Hollar" font that is now available on Microsoft Word. This font takes random letters and decides to willy-nilly capitalize some of them in order to form words like HoT BoiLED P-NuTS. 2) The sign in the lower left hand corner that expressly forbids dogs from using Hobo Hollar as their personal Port-a-Potty. I bet this "No Going" policy was as difficult to implement as a an Indoor Clean Air Act in Winson-Salem. Just for fun, here is the close up:

This sign underscores the point that South Carolina is actually much more progressive than most other states. For example, in most other states we see signs that say things like, "Shoplifters will be prosecuted" and "No shirt, no shoes, no service." While businesses in the rest of the country have to focus no preventing bare chested thieves from stealing VCR's and Slim Jims, South Carolina businesses are only worried animals not defiling their premises. Now that's a state that has its house in order!

So take that, every other state!

Oh, yeah, anybody up for some cockfighting?