Thursday, January 28, 2016

Mormon March Madness

Over the last 20-plus years we’ve lived in six different wards and two U.S. States. During that time I’ve had many church callings including “Stake Physical Activities Director,” “Regional Athletic Director” “Region Officials Coordinator,” and “Assistant Stake Physical Activities Director.” The titles sound much more prestigious than they actually are. The names are all just euphemisms for “church basketball referee.” Based on my many years of high school and church officiating experience, most objective observers feel this is the one calling for which I’m well qualified.

Sometimes, like Single Adults to a Church dance, I show up on Saturday morning and volunteer to help referee because I can’t help myself. On other occasions, someone finds out I own my own referee shirts and whistles and tells the Stake President. Once they find out about my striped secret, a calling to referee comes faster than primary kids to the refreshment table.

Normally I don’t mind refereeing for a bunch of guys reliving their glory days, but there are times when even my patience wears thin (like when I called 9-1-1 to have Brother “I-pay-tithing-and-you-can’t-make-me-leave” ---leave. Or the chair thrower, he also had to leave). Back in the old days you could get paid for officiating church basketball but now it’s a calling–-same work, only "spiritual" pay. Some guys without an official calling get to referee by being asked to stay and officiate the game after theirs. Players quickly learn that coming to the game with an excuse to leave as soon as the game is over is as important as bringing a ball or basketball shoes.

Regardless of how you got duped refereeing a bunch of guys who just woke up on a Saturday morning, refereeing is still an unpaid position in an athletic program that works because of its volunteers. According to; “The Church functions in large measure because of the unpaid volunteer ministry of its members. In fact, this lay ministry is one of the Church’s most defining characteristics. . . members voluntarily participate in “callings” or assignments that provide meaningful opportunities to serve one another.”  

The problem is, not every player realizes that when the referee calls a foul on him, he’s actually “serving” him. Normally, members are grateful for the service of others (free meals anyone?) but for some reason that gratitude doesn’t always extend to the referees. In fact, a few people feel it’s OK to yell at referees for the service they’re providing. To my knowledge, no one feels it’s necessary to scream at members serving in other callings.

But let’s pretend. . .

standing up and yelling out at a Sacrament meeting sustaining (after all, it’s in the same building) “Bishop, that’s a terrible call!” Or, at the Ward Dinner; “Sister Smith, this casserole stinks.” Or in a Recommend interview; “You clearly don’t have any idea what the rules are do you?”

There are apocryphal accounts of members behaving poorly in other settings, but it happens more frequently on Saturday morning in the gym. In basketball, even those who don’t yell at the refs can’t stop themselves from offering unsolicited advice. “That was a foul ref.” Or; “Ref, he’s over my back.” (No, he’s just taller, and can still jump.) I don’t offer advice to players, (“bend your knees, face the basket, stop yelling at the referee, and roll the ball off your fingertips towards the basket”).  I tell players who want to help me to pl
ease wait until I specifically ask for their help. . .  I don’t.

When the Earth receives its paradisiacal glory, referees will get 100% of their calls right (will there be a need for referees in a Celestial world?). Until then we do the best we can. Today’s best NBA team misses 53% of their shots. I guarantee referees do better than that. Any Ward team making 50% their shots would win every game. They never do, but that doesn’t make losing the referees fault. We get most of our calls right.

After referring thousands of basketball games I’ve discovered the secret to winning basketball games—make more baskets than the other team. It’s really that simple. The referee can’t do this for you, nor can he prevent you from doing so. If you score more than the other team you win. 100% of the time.  

Based on years of observation, I’ve come to the conclusion that yelling at the referee has no effect on the scoreboard. Players keep trying but those darn numbers never go up.

I’m as competitive as the next guy but I’m also old enough to realize that
IF you win all your games you get crowned champion of your “Coordinating Council” basketball tournament.  What does this prestigious title get you? A bigger mansion in the Celestial kingdom? A nursery calling? A “Get out of Home Teaching Free” card?

Nope. For all that effort you get nothing. No trophy, no T-Shirt, no calling to serve in the library, only a Facebook selfie announcing your triumph.

In conclusion, I propose the church either bless the practice of yelling at every member who fails to magnify their calling—or universally abolish the practice. I think we referees will vote for abolishment.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

LDS General Conference (Walking to Missouri)

Every six months, faithful Mormons eschew regular worship services and spend two days watching  General Conference on TV or online. In all but the most orthodox homes, this is done in pajamas or casual clothes. General Conference begins on Saturday morning with a welcoming address by the President of the Church. During his address, the Prophet often makes major announcements, such as the construction of new temples or significant changes to church policies. Each conference I’m pretty sure I hear a “major announcement” that all the upcoming guidance and instructions are for other, less faithful, members and I can return to my slumber. Strangely, my wife never hears this same announcement. Two years ago a “major announcement” declared that the eligibility age for missionaries would be lowered to 18. In 1999, another major announcement revealed that the Nauvoo Temple would be rebuilt.

Like many members, I try and turn off the lawnmower long enough to hear the opening address just in case the Prophet calls me out by name for mowing the lawn or makes a “major announcement.” “Major announcements” (and the accompanying speculation) actually travel across Twitter and Facebook faster than the speed of light. When the mission age was lowered to 18 for young men, the first Facebook meme appeared two minutes before the end of the speech.

For members, major announcements generally relate to prophesied signs about the second coming of the Savior. Members rank these pronouncements in importance by their ability to generate the most Tweets (in the olden days “Tweets” were called “gossip”). For example, an announcement that the lost tribes of Israel were found living in Wyoming would generate a few hundred Tweets while an announcement that “darkness will cover the Earth—starting tomorrow” would set a new record for Tweets, memes and rampant speculation.  

It’s important to listen or read the announcements in person as sometimes members get carried away in their enthusiasm for “big news”. For example, by the time a generic recommendation to; “prepare now for the Second Coming” gets to someone’s Facebook status it may morph into: “my congregation was just asked to be the first to exchange our cars for cattle which we’ll herd across the Great Plains to Missouri.” An anonymous family, into which I married, may possibly lead the church in making these kinds of announcement transformations.

Most conferences are devoid of major revelations and instead focus on trying to get us (the members of the church) to do the things we’re supposed to be doing (or not doing) as the case may be. We’re counseled to keep all of the commandments, avoid pornography, share the gospel, stay on the straight and narrow, have faith, be grateful, love one another, pray, study the scriptures, forgive one another, feed the hungry, do our home and visiting teaching, clothe the naked, pay tithes and offerings, avoid adultery and keep the other nine commandments, etc. etc. etc.

Sometime the list of things we should be doing (and not doing) seems very long. Perhaps that’s why members so anxiously await major announcements. We’re hoping we can forget about listening to all the “perfecting of the saints” stuff and just hear that starting tomorrow we’ll all be riding back to Adam-ondi-Ahman in air-conditioned RVs purchased for us by the lost 10 tribes where we’ll eat manna and play with lions. That announcement is coming right after the one that tells me I can go back to sleep.  

Monday, March 24, 2014

Losing a Loved One

We all love our companions madly, but unfortunately, their life spans are much shorter than our own. My wife has come to the realization that she must soon part with her faithful companion of many years. The thought of separation makes her sad as she searched for a long time for this companion and for her it was the perfect choice—not too big and not too small—just right. Now that it’s nearing the end of its life she’s sad, not just for the loss but also knowing that she’ll have to replace it. After all, a woman must carry a handbag. It’s in the code.

We’ve been married for about 20 years and I believe that over that time period my wife has purchased about 5-6 new handbags each year (Grand Total = 100-120 ish). We have coat racks and storage bins overflowing with handbags. Surplus bags go so frequently to Deseret Industries that our address is written with a Sharpie on the dashboards of their donation pickup trucks.  Over that same period I’ve had two wallets—a black elk-skin beauty that also held my checkbook (from when people still wrote checks) and a brown leather bi-fold. They hold money and credit cards. When people quit taking and writing checks I replaced the black wallet with a smaller brown one which I still use..

Luckily, none of the hundred or more handbags purchased by my wife over the last 20 years were “handcrafted of sumptuous embossed monogramed Empreinte leather with luxurious ornate handles.” More likely they are made of “faux leather with silver-tone hardware” sewn in Asian sweatshops and purchased from the clearance rack. When they prove “un-suitable” they go to goodwill (tax deductible!)

So, what makes for a perfect handbag? Apparently it’s a secret known only to women but according to Google, a perfect handbag is:
  • A most loyal BFF
  • More important than shoes (this was not written by handcart pioneers)
  • An illusion worth chasing
  • A Friend for Life
  • Indispensable 
  • An essential wardrobe piece
  • One that can be lovingly gazed at time and time again (my favorite)
Now you see why my wife is sad, she had the perfect bag and it wore out. Now she has to start “dating” again. Through her tears, I’ve been able to gather that the perfect handbag is a mix of “mystery, love, sex and suspense”. Oops, wrong blog, sorry. The perfect handbag (no one says “purses” anymore?) has to be chic, stylish, functional, and roomy but not bulky. While my wife was napping I stole her handbag to inventory the contents (for research only). Inside I found:
  • Clutch (similar to my elk-skin wallet—holds cards and money)
  • Small Tablet and smartphone 
  • ChapStick and Lipstick (easily accessible) 
  • Small bag containing band-aids, aspirin, two nail files, breath strips, utility tool, and cough drops.
  • Car keys
  • Pencil
  • More Breath strips
  • Feminine stuff
  • Cough drops
  • $1.78 in loose change
  • Nothing of Mine  
So, if I was listening attentively, everything on the above list and more must fit into a stylish, slim, sexy, and serviceable handbag. It took nineteen years to find this one. I’m hoping the next “right one” comes along sooner. To paraphrase Kayteejay46, “if bags were men, my wife would be a loose woman having short term relationships with bags which appear at first glance to have all she needs only to discover they’re not up to scratch and are unable to meet her modest needs.” However, unlike men, unsuitable bags can be given over to goodwill without any legal entanglements.

Wish us luck in the search. According to some handbag finder website, my perfect handbag is the “Longchamp LM Packable Nylon Tote”. Somehow I think it will be harder for Ms. Wonderful. I’m just hoping she can do it in less than 120 bags. J

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Mormon Olympics

Mormon athletes competing in the 2014 Winter Olympics accounted for two silvers and one bronze medal during the games in Sochi, Russia. That’s wonderful, but as every guy who has ever played church basketball knows, coming in second (or third) is a lot like losing. Now I don’t mean to disparage the accomplishments of these outstanding athletes, but aren’t bronze medals kind of like attaining the Telestial Kingdom?

In addition to better training, stronger athletes and more wins, perhaps we also need to add some sports in which Mormons would naturally excel. The modern Olympics awards medals in so called sports like rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized swimming, curling, ice dancing and parallel (but not perpendicular) snowboarding. During the Sochi game women’s ski jumping was added to the schedule. To increase Mormon’s gold medal count we need to petition the IOC to add some “Mormon-Friendly” sports to the schedule.

I’ve put some serious thought into this and I think I’ve come up with a few activities, that with a little lobbying (and some Relief Society meals), we could convert into sure-fire Mormon Gold Medal sports.

First on my list is “Moving Van Packing”. No one crams grandma’s priceless antiques into a moving van faster than Mormons. To qualify as a real Olympic event there would need to be some judges and rules. For example, breaking a leg off a Chippendale Side Chair would result in a ten-second penalty; scratching the top of a French Provincial Table would incur a five-second penalty. Judges would time the event and deduct points for injuries such as crushing a toe under the leg of a 900 pound piano or throwing out a back. Points would also be deducted for swearing.

The second event would be “Chairs” (two events—setting up and taking down). Mormons set up chairs in the chapel, overflow, classrooms, gym, stage, and in the Primary and Relief Society rooms—and that’s just on Sundays. We also set up chairs for church dinners, Stake Conference, Ward Conference, weddings, funerals, Young Men and Young Women activities, baptisms, basketball games, General Conference, Boy Scouts and family reunions. Heck, sometimes just for fun a bunch of guys will go down to the church and set up some chairs. I think “Chairs” would displace Curling as least interesting Olympic sport. 

I see “Chairs Setting” and “Putting Away Chairs” as respectively, the first and final Olympic events. The IOC would save a fortune by having Mormons set up and take down the chairs for the opening and closing ceremonies. All they’d have to pay us is a few gold medals.   

Teams for “Chairs” and “Moving” would comprise the same four guys in the ward who show up for every assignment (Elder’s Quorum President, his counselor and two random guys). In fact, knowing that a spot on the Olympic team is up for grabs might encourage more guys to show up for moves and chair assignments. Can you imagine how quickly we could unload a moving van or set up for the “Blue and Gold Banquet” if all 47 Elders in the ward showed up?

Once we get these two events permanently enshrined in the Olympics we can lobby to add some other “Mormon-Friendly” events like “Diaper Changing”, “Dodge the Bishop” and “Tandem Meal Delivery”. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to set up some tables and chairs for the “Sister Appreciation Dinner.”

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Fathers and Sons

Like most Wards in the Church, our Ward holds an annual Fathers and Sons campout. It’s a chance for fathers and sons to spend a little quality time together—huddling together in the freezing cold trying to stave off frostbite. Most fathers get very little sleep on this campout.

For the lucky few who’ve never been, Fathers and Sons works like this. First you go to Costco or Wal-mart and purchase a tent (or ask mom to find last year’s tent). For most families, this is the only time the tent gets used. Invest accordingly. Tents come in a variety of shapes and sizes but have two things in common, 1) they have more poles than a jigsaw puzzle has pieces and 2) they give the appearance of warmth without actually providing any.

After packing the tent and not enough warm clothing, you drive to the designated location. The path is usually marked by paper plates stapled to fence posts reading; “Prairie View Stake, 198th Ward Fathers and Sons Campout turn here” in letters too small to be read from a moving vehicle.

It’s always a good idea to arrive at the designated camping area while it's still light. This is important because trying to distinguish green pole “A” from blue pole “B” is nearly impossible by car headlights. Furthermore, if you arrive after dark, all of the food will be burnt or consumed. Nothing says “father/son bonding” like a starving child yelling: “I told you the pole wouldn't bend that far.”

Once all the tents have been assembled and dinner consumed then it’s time for a bonfire. If managed correctly, the bonfire gives fathers a chance to teach their young sons about fire, sharp sticks, hot coals, melted nylon jackets and second degree burns. Older boys learn about melting things like marshmallows and expensive tennis shoes.  

Following the bonfire the boys usually play night games. If someone remembered to pray; “bless us that no harm or accident well come upon us”, then no injuries more serious than a broken arm or sprained ankle occur.

By the time night games begin; most fathers have retired to their tents to enter the early stages of hypothermia. The process starts when you enter your so called “sleeping bag.” Sleeping bags have temperature ratings which are scientifically established following this formula: Manufacturers give bags to employee testers to try out and the employee reports the “temperature rating.” In other words; the rating is a "wild guess" as to how warm the bag will be for the "average person." 

For example, a sleeping bag rated for 20 degrees means that if you use the sleeping bag in 20-degree weather you probably won’t die from hypothermia or get severe frostbite. It does NOT mean that in 20 degree weather you will sleep, or be warm and comfortable

Most sleeping bags are made of nylon, a fabric able to stay extremely cold no matter how much time you spend in the bag. Every time you move, a new “cold spot” jars you awake—like putting your foot into a bucket of ice. The way to avoid this is to remain perfectly still for the entire night. I find that pretending I’m being stalked by a giant bear that will maul me to death if I even twitch puts me in the right frame of mind.

In the morning, fathers and sons gather around the fire pit and try and coax some warmth from the remains of the marshmallow/candy wrapper/ tennis shoe campfire while the bishopric prepares breakfast. If tradition is followed, breakfast comprises burnt pancakes, cold bacon and greasy eggs. Following the hearty breakfast, fathers and attempt the impossible task of stuffing the tent back into its original bag. I heard that was successfully accomplished once during the 1976 Fathers and Sons campout--but it’s never been repeated. Fathers usually give up and just throw the whole thing in the trunk and “let mom do it.”

After stuffing the tent and sleeping bags into the trunk, buckling in the sons and driving off to soccer games and yard work; fathers are left with the warm memory of that moment in the middle of the night when their son snuggles up close and says; “Daddy, I’m freezing.”

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Purses and other Medieval Weaponry

Purses and other Medieval Weaponry

I like to spend time with Mrs. Wonderful (yes, that really is her married name) even if it involves shopping. Of course, like all activities there are caveats. I don’t even enjoy watching football 100% of the time.

The other day we were spending quality time together shopping for running shoes (because that’s what you do after eating too much over the Holidays). We decided to stop at Runner’s Corner to see if they had shoes suitable for Mrs. Wonderful’s feet. The salesman was very helpful and knowledgeable and helped her try on approximately 475 pairs of shoes—hoping to find one that fit just right and didn't cost as much as a car payment.

Runner’s Corner is really cool and even has a mini jogging track (approximately 182 laps to the mile) so that you can try the shoes out in “real world” scenarios. Apparently, in order to properly try the shoe in a “real world” scenario, you can’t be encumbered by a purse. Have you ever seen a women jogging with a purse? Cell phone, iPod, car keys, pepper spray, emergency essentials, and all of the above at the same time—yes. Purse? No. Apparently, purses aren't like old shoes or backpacks that can be discarded anywhere, they’re like babies and must be held at all times.

Conundrum, what to do with the purse while jogging at the running shoe store? In my wife’s fantasy, the Old Spice guy would suddenly appear (shirtless) flex, and save the day by gallantly coddling the purse while carrying her around the pretend track. In real life, Mrs. Wonderful turns to her middle-aged husband of 20-years and orders; “here, hold this.”

But I don’t want to.

For me there’s only one thing worse than holding a purse—holding any form of feminine hygiene product. I don’t care what it is. I don’t want to be the guy walking around the store carrying boxes with the words “Acti-Fresh”, “Carefree” or “Amazingly Clean Protection” printed on them. The other day my wife handed me three items to hold while she looked for the perfect shade of lipstick or nail polish or hair color or some other form of artificial color. I quickly noticed the pink box and went looking for a shopping cart—an action that did not go unnoticed by Mrs. Wonderful who commented; “you just couldn't stand it could you?” No I could not.

You can look cool, fatherly and even manly when holding a baby, but when you hold your wife’s purse you look like—a guy with a purse. So, what’s the correct way to hold a purse? Do you leave it on the ground and stand over it like a guard dog? That could work but limits your fight or flight options. Do you throw it on your shoulder like you own it? Yeah, not in my world. Do you hold it at arm’s length like a stinky diaper which lets everyone know it’s clearly not yours? The Missus disapproves of this method.

When you absolutely must hold the purse, I prefer to either, a) hold it awkwardly using one or maybe two fingers (depending on the weight and size of the thing) which lets everyone know it’s UNDOUBTEDLY not mine or, b) grasp the strap tightly and wield it like a medieval weapon, poised to strike down the first person who snickers at a guy holding a purse.

Given no other option, I awkwardly held the purse and wandered over to the clearance table where I found a respectable pair of running shoes for only $14.99. They seemed to fit so I snagged them. Meanwhile, the Mrs. had narrowed her selection down to two pairs, both costing as much as a car payment. She decided to continue her quest for the perfect shoe. I purchased the $14.99 pair. So, other than the momentary discomfort I experienced while wielding the purse, the trip was a success. I got some new running shoes and jointly we only spent $14.99. However, as my astute cousin pointed out, the Missus can now buy the expensive pair because when you take into consideration my fifteen dollar pair, the average price of two pairs would be quite reasonable.

Look for more purse holding at Runner’s Corner this week. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Believe You Know-it-All and Then Act Like It.

I’m a pure-bred city-slicker who has ridden horses a few times including a two-day stint in high school helping drive cattle to their summer range, but most of my horse knowledge comes straight from Louis L’Amour cowboy novels. One day after helping my cousins brand cattle at their Wyoming ranch I decided to ride “Buckskin” back to the corrals. At this time I was probably 25ish and knew everything. Armed with this ignorance, I determined Buckskin’s bit was too tight and loosened it one or two notches. In hindsight this was like loosening the nut on the steering wheel of a car.

I climbed into the saddle and started down the bluff into the South field. It was about this time that the nut came completely off the steering wheel. Buckskin bolted for home. Confident in my ability to slow the horse, I jerked back on the reins. Nothing happened. No problem. I jerked harder. We went faster. I yelled “whoa” really loud. We still didn't stop.

Sensing something was wrong, (it could have been my yelling; "whoa" really loudly), Cousin Joseph and his horse tried to catch up to us but I had too much of a head start. I was jerking back on the reins as hard as I could but the horse just continued running. Looking back, I could see Joseph coming but he wasn't gaining on us. I was starting to wonder how badly I’d be hurt when my ride came to its inevitable conclusion. As we approached one of the ditches crisscrossing the field, I hung on to the saddle horn with both hands and managed to remain mounted during the jump. At this point I thought about jumping off, but the bad memory of jumping from a moving truck on the ranch years earlier convinced me to remain seated.

At the north end of the field there is a very stout barbwire fence with railroad ties for posts. This appeared to be Buckskin’s planned route home. I thought surely the stupid beast would see the fence before we hit it. Luckily I was right. At the last minute the horse veered abruptly to the east. I again managed to stay in the saddle. A glimmer of hope started to build as we approached the corner of the field where two fences intersect. With Joseph chasing me from behind, I started to think I might survive. My hope was fleeting.

As we approached the corner of the field, I thought Buckskin would slow down, and I was correct—momentarily. In the corner there was a gate made of three fence posts and four strands of barbwire. Inexplicably, Buckskin didn’t notice the gate was closed; he tensed and accelerated directly towards the gate.

As we again picked up speed I knew that one of two things was going to happen. We’d hit the gate and end up in a pile or; the horse would see the gate at the last possible second and come to an abrupt stop. I tried to prepare for both possibilities by leaning as far back in the saddle as possible and putting the stirrups next to Buckskin’s ears while bracing myself for the crash.

At the last moment Buckskin saw the closed gate and tried to stop but it was too late. We hit the barbwire. When we hit, the top strand pulled free from the post. The next strand was much lower, about thigh-high, which caused Buckskin to trip over the top of the remaining strands. Up until now I had remained in the saddle, but I knew from my extensive reading of Louis L’Amour novels that getting your feet caught in the stirrups was very bad, so I kicked my feet free of the stirrups and threw myself to the ground. I like to imagine this was done in an athletic manner but Joseph’s laughter told me otherwise.

Jumping quickly to my feet I snatched up Buckskin’s reins before he could regain his footing. Joseph was laughing hysterically. I didn’t find my near-death experience nearly as funny as Joseph did but I was thankful to be alive and unhurt (except, of course, for my pride). Buckskin had a small cut on his chest from the barbwire but was otherwise unhurt.

I was not about to climb back into the saddle while it was still attached to Satan’s messenger so I walked him the rest of the way to the corrals. When we arrived, we ran into Uncle Bruce and told him about my experience. He was very concerned—-about Buckskin. He wondered why I’d do something so careless and damage one of his good horses. Appropriately chastened I headed back to the ranch house. I’m not sure I ever told anyone about loosening the bit; at the time I decided to keep that bit of knowledge to myself.

They say that good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from exercising bad judgment. From this incident I learned that if you want to significantly shorten your life, believe you know everything there is to know and then act accordingly.