Tuesday, November 23, 2010

On Snow Storms and Being Cold

Apparently Utah, where much of my family lives, is getting hammered with harsh snow storms right now. This reminded me of the fact that I tell people an "Oh, yeah? You think you've experienced cold weather?!" story when they tell me how cold something is. Well, I did a little research, and sure enough, my story has basis in fact!

For all my doubters, here goes the story with the evidence to follow:

Many of my older siblings went to the same university that I eventually attended. As a kid, they had always told me that the winters were harsh and when I was preparing to go, they suggested that I be ready for very cold times. So, I went there with "low" expectations, and wasn't disappointed.

I distinctly recall one morning waking up and it being bitterly cold. Not just cold-cold, but so-cold-your-face-freezes-solid-cold. My only means of transportation was a bicycle, which I used to get to and from class. That morning, I got up as usual, showered, then headed off to class. The snow that morning was (and I am totally not making this up) up to my waist! Biking wasn't really an option in that weather, so I began to trundle on my way to class on foot, pushing my way through the deep snow, leaving a collapsing trench behind me. The wind was blowing harshly out of the canyon above campus, with bitter cold air biting at every part of my body that was uncovered. I was too foolish to wear a hat, so my hair, slightly damp from my morning shower, literally froze solid. My face and cheeks went numb, my lungs hurt from breathing the cold air, and snow was sticking to my clothes, only breaking away where I was bending as I made my way toward my class.

Being a dutiful student, and also somewhat oblivious, I didn't notice that I was pretty much the only one headed to class that morning. It took me twice as long to get where I was going, but I was still on time! Upon arrival, I was most pleased to get inside and went to my classroom. There I found many of my classmates had also made it to class! (You go, unflappable and reliable engineering students!)

I took my seat and began to thaw out. I couldn't feel my nose and ears, but soon the numbness turned to pain as they began to warm. My hair started to drip as it thawed out, and my clothes began to soak through as the snow frozen to them began to melt. I was chilled and miserable, but I was present!

The only problem? The professor was not. The usual 20 minutes elapsed (again, we were engineering students, and we liked to learn, so we extended the traditional 15 minutes to 20 ...), and then we finally, slowly decided we should leave. I was not terribly happy to do so, and was perfectly content to stay at the engineering building, but alas, it was one of those days where I didn't have any more classes until later that afternoon, and I knew I wanted to eat sometime.

So, I steeled myself against the cold, and made my way back to my apartment. The trip home was worse than the trip there, because all the water that had melted and soaked into my clothes began to freeze. It was horrible. When I got back to my apartment, I stripped down and headed straight for a leisurely shower, where I enjoyed the hot water. I think I ate Raman noodles for lunch that day (hot) and probably macaroni and cheese for dinner (hot) and eschewed all things cold. What a day!

The funny thing was, I didn't know that the miserable weather was anything out of the ordinary. My siblings told me the winters were harsh, and so I just expected it to be that way. Because of that, to this day, I don't have a lot of sympathy for those who complain about the cold. I've been there, done that. And notice where I live now: sunny Southern California. I don't miss the snow. Sure, it's nice to visit and go sledding and all that, and it sure is pretty, but I actually have a choice, so I'll take the sand and the sun instead.

Okay, now the evidence: At this link, there is an article about the coldest winters in Utah. There, it states:

1993: A whopping 23.3 inches of snow fell at Salt Lake City International Airport, the greatest single storm total, between Jan 6-10. For the month of January, 50.3 inches of snow fell, an all time monthly record.

At this link here, check out the winter of 1992-1993, where it indicates that between November and February a total of 71.3 inches of snow fell on the city where my school was located. And here, it indicates that the total average temperature for those months was 24.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Yeah, it was cold. And I had no car, so I walked or biked everywhere. Ah, the memories ...

On Chickens

There is this very weird phenomenon going around the country today where people are "getting back to basics", or other such rubbish, and deciding to get chickens. Phenomenologically, I don't understand it, but the recent salmonella scare certainly hasn't hurt its spread. (By the way, I heard somebody use "phenomenologically" in a sentence the other day, and I, first, wondered if that was a real word (it is), and second, realized that I just had to find a way to use it!)

A few years ago, my brother-in-law-in-law came home with a chicken or two, and, to put it kindly, since that time he has gone loco for el pollo. Living in a place where people have big backyards, over the past few years he has slowly been evolving his yard into a chicken paradise. A full quarter of it (something like a quarter acre, but since I don't really know exactly what an acre is, I'll just say it's something like that) has been allocated for the exclusive use of his chickens. What was once just a few chickens has exploded into several broods of chickens, of varying kinds! (I had to look up what a group of chickens is called, and got various answers, including "clutch", "flock", and "peeps" -- I'm absolutely sure he knows which is the right word to use ...)

Is he a chicken farmer now? I'd say yes. Does he live on a farm? Most assuredly not, but his neighborhood is zoned for that kind of stuff as it is a very old neighborhood. Happily the chickens are quiet, clean, and mostly odorless; otherwise his neighbors would probably go buy pitchforks. The chickens, of course, produce massive quantities of eggs. With four teenage boys living in his house, this is not usually a problem, but he has so many chickens that even with four ravenous boys under his roof, he still has enough eggs to give or sell away.

Now that he has made himself into That Chicken Guy (he even subscribes to chicken magazines!), he never lets pass an opportunity to extol the virtues of having your own chickens. Salmonella is never a worry, you get free eggs (well, not quite, there is a cost ... but he doesn't talk about that), they're recession and inflation proof, and when the chickens stop producing eggs, you can have a good chicken dinner. He is regularly suggesting with a wink and a nod that my wife and I would be wise to get chickens.

However, we live in Southern California, with something like 1/100th of an acre available in our backyard. I always used this as an excuse, which suited my needs well, but to be honest, I just can't see ever owning chickens. We are definitely not zoned for chickens, but a good friend from up the street has had several for many years and it has worked out well for them.

So, imagine my surprise when I find out that my wife has been talking with said neighbor and discussing the possibility of taking her chickens off her hands! I love my wife dearly, and my first reaction was vehemently against it. But I love my wife, and she finds a way to get what she wants. Soon she had sold away the kids play yard/slide (which they didn't play on anymore), and pointed out to me that since the grass was already dead underneath that, it wouldn't be a big deal to put a chicken coop there.

I told her I had no interest in taking care of chickens (but think of the fertilizer for the garden!), and that I wasn't going to feed them (the kids are excited to do that!), and that we didn't have the space for them (but it will fit right where the play yard went!), and that we aren't zoned for them (but our neighbor has had them forever and they are quiet and not smelly), and that we'd have to buy food for them (but we already buy barrels of grain to make our own flour!). Drat, she had thought of all of my arguments against it.

I gave my grudging approval.

So, imagine my delight when I asked said neighbor about it on Sunday, and found out that it turns out that she hadn't actually spoke to her husband about it, and that he actually is rather fond of them and wanted to keep them. She seemed rather embarrassed by the situation, but I assured her with all the feeling of my heart, that it was totally okay with me. My wife and kids? Not so pleased.

I still can't even fathom being an owner of chickens. We have a hard enough time keeping our fish alive, and gave up on hamsters a few years ago. Also, consider for a moment that the focus of my professional existence is on the care and maintenance of robots that have been hurled to other planets -- that's a far cry from taking care of chickens.

Well, in any case, I may have dodged a bullet this time, but I'm pretty sure I haven't heard the last of this, because the kids are terribly disappointed and that dead spot in the grass is still there.

Worst of all, if we do end up with chickens, I will never live it down with my brother-in-law-in-law.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mother Appreciation Night

Tonight the Teachers Quorum had a "Mother Appreciation Night". Each of the young men contributed in one way or another to putting together a dinner, and they all sang a very silly song, which turned out rather well.

Each one of them had an assignment to fulfill relative to the evening. One young man put together a presentation of photographs that each young man contributed of him and his mother. He set this to music, and it turned out rather well. Another was responsible for putting together invitations and a "program" of the event:

Others had different responsibilities for the food that was to be served. The boys served their own mothers a three-course meal, starting with a Caesar salad, followed by the main dish of lemon pepper chicken over pasta with a lemon sauce with rolls and buttered corn on the side. Dessert followed, which consisted of red velvet cupcakes, which a few of the boys made the night before. Each of them contributed supplies, and collectively they did almost all the labor for the evening.

My wife volunteered to help in the kitchen, and she was basically the boss, telling them to do this, then to do that. It went very well. The other adult leader and I, we also wandered around and pretty much made sure everything was in order. We tried our best to not actually do anything, but instead to direct the boys to do the work. Now that it's over, I'm tired from all the directing, but I am very pleased with the results of the evening and I think the boys felt ownership and pride in how well it went.

During dinner, each of them got up and shared some reasons why they love and appreciate their mother. The true miracle of the night was that these young men, all between the ages of 14 and 16, stood up and told their mothers that they love them in front of each other. Between that and the unabashed singing, it was truly a marvelous night. I am very proud of each one of them, and I feel grateful that I have the calling that I do where I can work with these young men.

It was a good night.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Bad Combination

Tonight after dinner, my youngest son was sitting at the table drinking some blueberry juice, which he absolutely loves. I turned my back to do something else, and behind me I hear him happily state, "Chocolate milk!" I didn't think anything of it, as his sister was drinking chocolate milk, but when I turned my attention back to him I see he is stirring some Nesquik into his blueberry juice! He took one sip and the most hilarious look of distaste came across his face, then he started to cry!

Being the totally awesome Dad that I am, I told him he shouldn't waste the juice, and that he needed to drink it. He asked if he could have some new juice. I told him he already had some juice. He asked if he could have some chocolate milk. I told him he already had some chocolate milk! He was not amused, and cried even more. Of course, I reminded him that juice and chocolate milk is not cheap, and he had just wasted a whole glass, and, again, he was not amused. I was, though.

In the end, I relented and let him go to dump it out, and then I poured him a fresh glass of juice. I went "from zero to hero, just like that!"

It was a funny moment, and, yes, I did try it, and, yes, it was awful.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Best of EFY

My calling in the Young Men's program at church is kind of weird. Most of the time, I don't really need to do anything, except be where the youth are going to be. Today was one of those days. Every year, our stake participates with 8 other stakes in something called "The Best of EFY".

EFY is "Especially For Youth", and is basically a summer camp for youth in the church to attend for a few days to hear speakers talk about gospel topics and to spend time with other fellow youth in the church. It usually happens in the summer, and usually caters to those who live along the Wasatch Front in Utah. However, on a rotating basis, one of the 9 stakes will sponsor a few of the EFY speakers to come to Southern California to visit with the youth and share with them a few topics on a given Saturday. It's rather small in comparison to the real thing, but it is wildly popular to the local kids and they love attending.

Today, our stake sponsored two speakers to come down, and coupled their talks with dinner and a dance, as is tradition. My wife had been asked to lead a youth choir between the two speakers, so she was able to be in attendance through the first talk. We sat together, which was great.

The first speaker, a fellow named John Hilton III, gave a talk titled "Dare Not to Compare". He spoke about how we need to be less concerned about what others have or what we look like. He cited several things that the kids seem to be focused on, such as grades or clothes or makeup. For the boys, they also tend to be worried about who is most athletic or who has the best skateboard or who has the newest gadget.

He shared the story from Matthew 13, about a householder who hires people throughout the day, each for the same wage, and how at the end of the day the ones who labored the longest complained that they didn't get paid more than those who arrived at the end. This he likened to the "It's not fair!" syndrome that is so easy to identify with. Each of the laborers had happily agreed to the terms of the work and the compensation to be received, yet at the end of the day, those who saw what others had received for their work felt that it was unfair. We each would probably feel similarly, but this comparison to others can be destructive.

He also said that pride can also lead to unwise comparisons. When we compare ourselves to those who may be "below" our standing, we often fail to realize that less is often expected of those who have received less, and thus we feel "better" than them. Conversely, when we compare ourselves to those who are "above" our standing, it is easy to fall into the trap of not appreciating those things which we do have because another may have something that is nicer.

A few interesting comments or references he made that I noted:
  • If we break the rules, the rules can break us.
  • The Lord looks on the heart (1 Sam 16:7)
  • The grass is almost never really greener on the other side.
  • We should avoid the traps of "can't wait until ...", "I wish I was ...", or "Wouldn't it be great if ..."
He encouraged the youth to not put themselves down, but instead remember who they are as children of God. He indicated that we should each work to build ourselves and others up, rather than wreckers who pull both ourselves and others down. Then he issued a final challenge: we should each try to spend the next 48 hours not comparing ourselves to anybody, and see how that goes. Hmm, interesting!

The second speaker was a man named Hank Smith. He was really quite funny and, ironically, compared his own name as being somewhat unsophisticated to that of the previous speaker, John Hilton III. It was rather silly, and I'm not sure if it was intentional, or just plain ironic, that he would spend the first few minutes of his talk comparing himself to the previous speaker. He also made a joke about how tomorrow, the first Sunday of the month, is going to be fast and testimony meeting, but how it would be totally awesome if there was an "e" in the fast, to make it "feast" and testimony meeting. If that were the case, I'm certain that many people would happily and eagerly pray and "feast" for others' well-being, something a little tougher to do when prayer is coupled with "fasting".

He then began talking about great break-up lines. A few samples:
  • We need to talk ... (You always know where that conversation is going ...)
  • It's not you, it's me. (Ditto.)
  • Roses are red, violets are blue, trash is dumped, and so are you!
  • I think it's time you know ... I'm Batman!
  • How will I know if I want to spend eternity with you unless I date other people?
  • (This one's to be sent via text.) Welcome to Dumpsville. Population: You!
  • You're like a lava lamp. Fun for a while, but not very bright.
  • There's only room for two guys in my life, Ben and Jerry.
  • (This one is a scripture reference.) You draw near unto me with your lips, but your heart is far from me.
Then he started talking about how, to the culture of the world, you can never have enough. You can never be pretty enough, or rich enough, or smart enough, or strong enough. There is always some way, in the eyes of the world, that you will be found inadequate. Compare this to the Savior, who always accepts us as we come to Him, and "hath purchased [you] with his own blood." (Acts 20:28)

Then he spoke about sacrifice. He shared the story of Abraham and how he really had only one thing that was so special to him that it would be difficult to give up: his treasured son Isaac. And yet it was this that the Lord asked him to sacrifice for Him, not because He needed him or even wanted Isaac to be sacrificed, but because He wanted Abraham to demonstrate a willingness to give up anything that the Lord may ask of him.

In this same way, we are asked to give up things as well. Not our children, as it may be, but instead we are asked by the Savior to give up our sins. The speaker challenged us to find something in our lives that is inconsistent with the teachings of the Gospel and to give it up, whether it be some form of clothing, music, media (pornography especially), energy drinks, moral behaviors, etc.

By giving these things up, we make a commitment to ourselves and to the Lord, hopefully permanently, that we will never do these things again. He shared the story of the Lamanites, who were a bloodthirsty and war-making people, who buried deep their weapons of war once they were converted unto the Lord, and committed that they would never take them up again, even when faced by enemies who would not have mercy on them and would slay them. This kind of commitment to turn our backs on our sins is what the Lord really wants of us.

The speaker reiterated that the Lord does want each one of us, unlike the world that will always find us wanting. He paid for all our sins, and calls us His people. The speaker urged us to not buy into what the world says, that looks are everything, for the world offers nothing but loneliness and sorrow, where the Lord says in John 14:27, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."

Good words.

It was a great evening. Following these two speakers, it was about 6 pm and they sent everybody outside to each sub sandwiches (I had a turkey sub). The youth swarmed the food tables, and there wasn't anything left by the time the dance started at 7:30.

For me, being at the dance was an interesting experience. The last dance of this nature I'd been to was back in college, almost 12 years ago. There, I was with my wife and we most certainly were being goofy. Here, though, I was an "adult leader" (when did I get old enough to be that?!) and expected to monitor the kids.

Truth be told, there wasn't anything for me to do. I'm kind of a mother hen to the boys in my teacher's quorum, though, so I wandered around and challenged each one of them to dance with somebody they normally wouldn't dance with. I'm not sure if they did, as I ended up leaving just after 8 pm (again, there wasn't anything for me to do and there was plenty of adult supervision), but my heart was warmed as I witnessed each one of them out on the floor dancing (and with girls!). One of the boys did arrive late, showing up after the dance started, but he immediately waded into the fray and found people to dance with. I was so proud I was grinning from ear to ear. My boys, dancing with girls!

A few observations, though:
  • Teenagers today dance differently than we used to. They gather in groups (even the boys), and don't ever really pair off unless it's a slow dance, and even then sometimes they don't.
  • It was quite funny to see people flee the room when a slow song started, both boys and girls. (However, each of my boys stayed in the room!)
  • I'm not familiar with much of the music of today's youth. Apparently much of it was from Radio Disney, or was Miley Cyrus or Taylor Swift, or other young artists.
  • It was so loud I could hardly understand the words, but the kids were singing along to it and seemed happy.
  • They raise their hands over their heads when they dance. I don't get the purpose of that.
  • There was a TON of cute girls there. Being who I am today, I would've been in heaven having all those options to ask to dance with me. However, I get that the boys were shy -- I was, too. What they say is true, "Youth is wasted on the young ..."
All in all, it was a very interesting evening. I am very glad that I went, and I look forward to more of this kind of stuff with the youth in the future.

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