Sunday, December 26, 2010

Oh Timber Tannenbaum

This year my wife decided she’d prefer having our floors covered with real pine needles rather than the fake ones from our once beautiful, fantastic, life-like artificial tree. I was against the idea purely on financial grounds, thinking the simulated tree still looked fabulous after 15 years of faithful service. However, to my wife it now looked like a threadbare stick. Since my opinion rarely matters when it comes to home decorating, the life-like "paid-for" tree was disposed of.

To replace our Christmas classic, we decided to make like the pioneers and harvest our own tree directly from the mountains. After obtaining an un-pioneer like permit for $10 from the Forest Service, we picked our only free Saturday and headed south to the Mountains of Levan. The Mountains of Levan are really just red-dirt hills east of an almost ghost town named "Levan". Since “the Mountains of Levan” sounds more romantic than “the hill on the west side of Chicken Creek Road,” I will refer to the location as “the Mountains of Levan.”

Before we embarked on the trek to the Mountains of Levan, my wife laid down the rules for the excursion. Rule number one, there was to be no bickering, arguing or contention. With the fun extinguished, we climbed into the truck and headed south to the Mountains of Levan. After burning about $50 in gas we left the highway and drove east on Chicken Creek Road until the truck could not make any more progress on the icy road. At this point we did what survival books advise against—we abandoned our vehicle and set out on foot.

About one mile up the road my wife spotted the “perfect tree.” It was about 1000 feet up the snow covered 87 degree slope on the other side of Chicken Creek. Since there was to be no contention we all cheerfully agreed to examine the tree. After what seemed like hours of joyous contention-free bushwacking our way up the icy brush covered hill, we finally reached the aforementioned “perfect tree.” (Bushwacking is a term for making your own trail. In this case the term comes from the habit of the lead hiker holding back the tree branches impeding his progress until the second person gets close and then suddenly releasing the branches, thus “bushwacking” the follower across the face.)

When we finally reached the “perfect tree” we discovered it was 37 and ½ feet tall. My wife commented that the tree looked much smaller from the road, which now appeared as a faint ribbon, much like the Great Wall of China when viewed from outer space.

Since our permit only allowed us to capture a tree up to nine-feet tall (and since we intended to use the tree indoors) we ruled this fine specimen out. The hunt for the “perfect tree” continued. Each new possibility had to be carefully examined to determine its “perfectness.” Moving from tree to tree required tremendous exertion as the hill was covered in shrub oak which grasped at our clothing and poked at our faces each time we moved.

After several more miles of contention-free “facewacking” across the mountain slope we finally found the “perfect tree.” The only problem was the tree appeared to be slightly taller than the permitted 9 feet. We solved this by leaving a taller stump for which tripping deer now curse us. Once the tree was cut we just had to pack it down the brush-covered 87 degree slope back to the faint ribbon of road. Fortunately we had gravity in our favor. We found a steep avalanche chute and covered the distance very quickly and without serious injury to the tree. At the bottom of the chute, quite near the truck we passed two even more “perfect” Christmas trees but decided there had to be something wrong with them as cutting them would have been too easy.

Sometimes when I’m wrong I will admit it and this is one of those times. I was wrong, the real tree (when placed in the new $25 tree stand) is more beautiful than our old threadbare stick. The old tree did have one advantage over the new real tree. It never tipped over in the middle of the night, spilling water all over the living room and triggering the “Christmas Story” Leg Lamp ornament to blare; “Oh, look at that! Will you look at that? Isn't that glorious? It's... it's... it's indescribably beautiful! It reminds me of the Fourth of July!”

However, since the falling tree and blaring Leg Lamp ornament only woke my wife (who cleaned up the mess while I slept) it really was the “perfect tree.”

Monday, November 1, 2010

Far and Away on the Folding Chairs

Mormon’s like to reenact history. For example, every summer thousands of youth wear their finest pioneer costumes (coordinated of course by the Ward and Stake Pioneer Clothing Specialists) and pull custom-built handcarts across the Wyoming desert in $200 hiking boots. This experience helps the youth experience the deprivations suffered by our ancestors; except the real-pioneers walked barefoot in a snowstorm while starving to death. In modern-day treks, leaders disapprove of any treker deaths.

A more common LDS historical reenactment is based on the Land Rush popularized in the Tom Cruise movie "Far and Away". The Land Rush opened American Indian land for homesteading on a first arrival basis. In church we reenact the Land Rush each Sunday when the doors open for sacrament meeting. Like the Land Rush, prime real estate is up for grabs. Early arrivers get the cushioned pews near the front (not too close). “On-timers” get the cushy folding chairs in the middle of the chapel. Late comers get the hard metal folding chairs at the back.

Like the Land Rush, first arrivers to Sacrament meeting must stake their claim. Federal law specifies “claim boundaries must be distinctly and clearly marked as to be readily identifiable.” Similarly, when staking out a pew, LDS tradition stipulates that boundaries must be clearly marked and readily identifiable; the use of leather bound embossed personalized scripture cases is preferred.

Last week one family tried to stake a claim using church hymnals. Since the hymnal is obviously not “identifiable personal property” an elderly congregant placed the hymnals back in the racks, obliterating the claim. The dispossessed family was forced to sit on the front row which, like outer darkness, is a place no one wants to sit for the eternity of Sacrament meeting.

Federal statute limits a claim to a maximum of 1,500 by 600 feet. The rules for staking a pew are a little more murky. For example, one set of scriptures should theoretically claim the width of one bottom. Thus to claim space for a family of eight you should have eight matching sets of embossed scripture totes. However, tradition holds that you get to reserve everything between two sets of scriptures—provided they’re embossed with your name. Thus, if you place a set of scriptures at one end of the pew and another set at the other end, you get the whole pew.

There are some who believe if you stake out the same pew three weeks in a row then that particular pew is yours for life. They erroneously believe they can be five minutes late, waltz into the chapel flaunting their gold embossed calfskin scripture cases and claim their seat in the fifth pew back on the right. I like to shake these people up by claim jumping “their” pew.

In fact I like to claim someone else’s pew every week. I know it’s sinful, but I like watching the exasperated expression on their face when they arrive and see me already perched in their pew sanctimoniously reading my scriptures. Just last week I sat in someone else’s pew and Brother Thurston (who has permanently claimed the ninth pew on the left side) tapped my on the shoulder and asked what I was doing on his side of the chapel. I told him I was the new claimant of the eight row pew. He seemed skeptical of my claim as I didn’t have an embossed scripture tote.

I’m thinking of offering a staking service where if you do my home teaching for me I’ll come by your house, pick up all your scripture totes and arrange them neatly on the desired pew. That way you really can waltz into the chapel five minutes late and sit where ever you want—I’ll even guarantee you the pew of your choice by beating the Smith kids to “their” pew.

To avoid hard feelings I think there’s only one Christian way to assign seating—attentiveness. The Bishop will judge how well you pay attention and seat you accordingly. Texters, gamers and sleepers will sit at the back, families with small kids in the middle and attentive note takers in the front. I don’t know about you but I’m buying a stadium cushion for my folding chair.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Miracle of the FatBoy

In my Ward I hold the prestigious office of First Attendant to the Ward Mission leader. One of my responsibilities (according to the Ward Mission Leader) is offering the prayer prior to “munch-n-mingles.” I don’t want to overstate the importance of my contribution to the success of the activity, but without the blessing, the food can’t nourish and strengthen us. As everyone knows, a blessing on food is not complete unless you utter the phrase; “bless this food that it will nourish and strengthen our bodies.”

However, in Matthew Chapter 6 verse 7 it says; “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions . . ." In my humble opinion, nothing exemplifies “vain repetition” so much as the phrase; “nourish and strengthen our bodies.” To avoid vain repetition when I pray I try and say something like “strengthen and nourish” or “feed and toughen our bodies.” Sometimes I even say “nourish and strengthen our bodies so that we’ll arrive home safely.”

Last Sunday we had another munch-n-mingle and was I asked to say the prayer. For refreshments we were serving ice cream sandwiches prepared by (I’m not making this up) the FatBoy Ice Cream company. Each sandwich has 240 calories and satisfies 25% of your daily saturated fat requirements. In addition each FatBoy contains significant amounts of cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrate, and sugar. Sure, FatBoys taste great but perhaps they’re not the thing your empty stomach needs after three hours of church.

So, I begin the prayer covering all the basics; grateful for the freedom to worship, thankful for our many blessings, etc. etc. etc. Now for the important part, the blessing of the food. What to say about the FatBoy? Bless it that it will be good for us? Nourish us? Bless the FatBoys so no one will acquire type II diabetes from its consumption? Bless it that the sugar they infuse into the bloodstream of the primary kids won’t cause their parents undue stress? My mind went blank and as sometimes happens when my mind goes blank, my lips stopped moving. Silence.

Everyone was waiting for “amen” so they could partake of the refreshments. My mind raced to find just the right blessing for the FatBoy--I couldn’t think of anything! When I can’t think of anything to say I go with what I know, I said; “bless this food that it will nourish and strengthen our bodies, amen.”

Failure. I hadn’t come up with an appropriate blessing for the FatBoy and had resorted to vain repetition.

I'd like to hope a miracle occurred last Sunday and the several hundred FatBoys consumed really did nourish and strengthen our bodies. Sadly, I don’t think I had enough faith to change FatBoys to bran muffins and I just have to be content knowing that each FatBoy contained some vitamin C and calcium.

On the bright side; we may not have been nourished but as a result of my prayer we all “arrived safely at our destinations without suffering any serious harm or accident.”

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Near Death Experience

I had a near death experience (NDE) the other night—actually, truth be told, I had back-to-back NDEs. I’ll relate them to you. Since I’m approaching middle-age (yes, I fully expect to live to 96!) there are occasions where I have to wake up and use the restroom in the middle of the night. The TV tells me that it’s because my prostrate is growing but I think it’s because I drank too much water right before bed.

So, the other night I woke up at about 3:00 a.m. and realized I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep without emptying the bladder (so to speak). Wearily, I slither out of bed, careful to not wake sleeping beauty (Honey, it’s my story and I’ll tell it the way I want to. I do not use the bed as a trampoline.) Usually in a NDE there is a bright light but in this case I left the light off.

After taking care of business I flushed our balky toilet which does not always completely empty. At 3:00 a.m. I’m not always very alert but something caught my attention. The water in the bowl seemed especially dark. Now since I hadn’t consumed anything weird, I flicked on the light to examine the turbid commode water. This is when the first NDE occurred.

As the last of the water went down the hole I noticed it was bright red. I was dying. My whole life passed before my eyes. I wanted to start calling people I’d offended and apologize. (After 8:00 a.m. of course.) I wondered where I’d want my remains to be interred.

The fear-induced adrenaline rush sharpened my mind and I began to analyze my symptoms—there weren’t any. I felt great. No pain, no burning. Everything seemed fine. As I carefully climbed back into bed without so much as depressing a bed-spring, I started searching for another reason. Crayons? No, Dan is past that. Rust? No, too red.

As I searched for a cause it dawned on me that maybe it was my wife’s fault. No, I didn’t think she was trying to kill me or anything, I just wondered if perhaps something in an incompletely emptied bowl may have alarmed me when I discovered it at 3:00 a.m.

I couldn’t go back to seep without knowing for sure I wasn’t dying, so I decided to wake her up and ask.

There are two types of people—morning people and not morning people. The spouse falls squarely into the “not morning people” category. But this was urgent. I had to get back to sleep.

With all the tact and skill of Prince Charming I carefully nudged her. When that failed to produce the desired result I resorted to bouncing on the bed—that worked. Adrenaline hit her like a cup of ice water. “What, what is it?” she asked, now fully awake. “I was just wondering if perhaps it was “that time of the month” for you. Is it?” I said.

“Yes” she answered. Like liquid from a water balloon, the tension and fear left my body. My fears assuaged I quickly started to go back to sleep. “You woke me up to ask me that?” She said. “Yes, I thought I was dying, but I’m OK now. Go back to sleep.” I replied.

That is when the second NDE occurred. . .

Monday, March 1, 2010

Speculation Olympics

As this is the Olympic season, our neighborhood has decided to hold our own special event. I like to call it the Speculation Olympics. Opening ceremonies were last week at Stake Conference when a member of the Stake Presidency fired the figurative starter’s pistol by announcing that this week our Ward, and the Zoramite and Rameumptom Wards would have a single meeting—a joint Sacrament meeting.

With that announcement, thumbs texted and tongues talked. In the team competition, the Rameumptom Ward took the early lead by speculating that their ward would be translated and taken to heaven to join the citizens of Enoch. Those who weren’t quite ready to go would be divided among the two remaining Wards. They spent the week wrapping their food storage in pretty gift baskets and ding-dong-ditching it on our doorsteps.

The Zoramite Ward organized a telephone tree to hypothesize that Sunday meetings would be shortened to one hour at three different times to accommodate their busy recreation schedules. They spent the week eating food made from storage wheat and shopping for boats and RVs.

The ladies in our Ward spent the week on the phone, going over the Rameumptom and Zoramite ward directories to see who they wanted as new visiting teaching companions. Once all the names had been accepted, the sisters held an NFL style phone draft where each sister on the call selected one of the available names until every sister’s name was selected. Following the visiting teaching draft, each sister typed up an email to the Relief Society president requesting sister so-and-so as her new companion. The emails are saved on iPhones and Blackberry and will be sent as soon as Sacrament meeting concludes.

In the individual speculation competition, it’s currently a tie between the Young Men’s and the Relief Society presidents. The YM president “has it on good authority” that one of the wards will be dissolved and their members split among the other two wards. This “good authority” is the “eye of Sauron” (the neighborhood busy-body) who observed the Stake President walking up and down the streets with sidewalk chalk. The Relief Society president countered with her opinion that the Bishop’s office was unusually clean and he was seen shopping for non-white dress shirts at Macy’s—which of course means he’s getting ready to be released.

With only hours to go until the official announcement the phone lines are burning as members talk among themselves wondering if they’ll:
· be released
· still have to prepare a lesson for next week
· switch meeting times
· like the “uppity” people from the Rameumpton ward
· be perceived as “holier than thou” by the Zoramite ward

As for me, I just hope that I’ll be home in time for the gold medal hockey game, the steaks will be thawed in time for dinner, and that my home teaching families will be in the “new” ward so I don’t have to visit them on the last day of the month.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Galloping Turtle

Like every good American, I start each New Year determined to lose weight and get into a less-round shape. This year I hope to achieve my goal by running more. For motivation, my wife Heather and I signed up for a 5K run at the end of January. My main race goals were to; a) run the entire distance and b) not come in last. After several weeks of not-so-grueling training I was confident that I could easily achieve at least part "a" of my goal.

Race day dawned clear and very cold (what do you expect for January 30th?). Prior to the race I announced to Heather and my friend Dave that I’d achieve part "b" of my goal by picking someone from the crowd and beating them to the finish line. To make good on my boast I pointed out the smallest girl I could find—she looked to be about ten. Certainly I could beat her, I announced. (Once at a 5k to support organ donation I chose a lady with an artificial heart as my runner-to-beat. I think the suitcase sized pump she carried slowed her down.)

At 9:15, the starter’s pistol fired and we were off. I started slowly, and then slowed even more--pacing myself for the final uphill mile. At the first mile marker I passed Heather who had stopped to take off her sweatshirt (part "b" of my goal accomplished—I wasn’t going to finish last!). The next mile flew by like an entire week, runners settled into their paces and each of the 12 spectators gawked appropriately as we passed.

From the second mile marker to the finish line, the course turned uphill and into the wind. At this point, my extra pounds felt as if a small child were clinging to each leg--mocking me with each step. My pace slowed from turtle to snail. Near the crest of the hill a rather large women who looked as if she was smuggling basketballs in her tights passed me. Franticly, my mind searched for an excuse; perhaps those “basketballs” were helium filled. I was falling closer to last place and there was no sign of the ten-year-old girl.

With the finish line in sight I increased my pace from snail to galloping turtle–long gone was the lady with the helium-filled basketballs. About ten yards from the finish I was able to speed up to a trot and pass one more person. I'd finished and I was still alive!

I’d accomplished both of my goals; I ran the whole way and didn’t finish last. In fact, I finished third in my age group. (Third was also last as only three hearty men of my age showed up). Following this miniscule success I’ve determined to continue my racing career, after all there is still weight to lose and room to improve—next time I’m beating the basketball lady.

At the awards ceremony I was hoping that neither Heather nor Dave would notice the tiny runner receiving the second place medal. No such luck. Heather nudged me and said; “isn’t that the little girl you said you were going to beat?” Yes, in fact it was the same aspiring track star. And yes I’ve learned my lesson. Next time I pick someone to beat I'm picking someone bigger—much much bigger.

Monday, January 11, 2010


We recently returned from a short business/pleasure trip to San Francisco, California or as I now call it, Calorganica. Californians know everything about health and the environment. Don’t believe me; just ask one. For the California consumer, if it’s not organic, then it’s no sale. After a lot of out-of-state research I discovered there’s also a name for non-organic food—“affordable.”

For example, I wanted to buy a dozen eggs for breakfast; the first grocery store the in-car GPS directed us to was one specializing in organic foods. At the local grocery store back home we generally have one variety of eggs to choose from—white—they cost about $1.49 a dozen.

When you buy eggs in California you have to pay extra just for eating animal products in the first place. If you feel really bad about eating chicken offspring you can pay $7.99 to buy eggs laid by free-range, pasture-fed chickens eating only feed enriched with canola oil and flaxseed. These are really happy hens because they’re making 67 cents for each egg. They use the cash to enrich their diet with candy and soda from 7-11. If you don’t feel quite so badly, you can buy eggs from cage-free hens for about $3.00. Somewhere in the middle are free-range and pasture-fed hens.

After callously selecting the cheapest eggs, I also added a box of “Honey-Nut Os” to my cart. These of course are made with all organic ingredients, including honey. Apparently, organic honey comes from bees who only gather nectar from plants that have not been sprayed with bug killers. My thinking is if the bees came back alive then the pesticide wasn’t harmful. To enforce this requirement, bee police guard all the pesticide-treated petals from the organic bees. This costs extra and is reflected in the price of the honey.

Although many studies show that organic foods have no nutritional advantage over “affordable” foods, Californians sanctimoniously believe differently. At the Muir Woods cafĂ© they offer a variety of dessert choices and all but one are labeled “organic”. When it was my turn to order I defiantly selected the only non-organic item; the brownie. Judging by the icy stare I received from the surly hippie behind the counter she must have thought I’d also brought my chain saw to the park with me. She watched me eat the whole brownie to see if I was going to suddenly clutch my throat and drop dead. I think she was disappointed when I didn’t.

According to recent studies, Utahans are happier and live longer than Californians. Some people attribute this to our abstinence from things like alcohol, tobacco and caffeinated drinks. I attribute it to our abstinence from looking down our noses at people who eat regular food and drive SUVs.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Eau de Joy

In the dusty bottom drawer of the bathroom vanity I have (at current consumption rates) several lifetimes’ worth of men’s toilet water (or “Eau de Cologne” as marketers prefer to call it). You may ask; “Why do you have such a large stockpile of these potions?” Well my friends, I have such a large quantity because I acquired them before I married. After I married, I discovered they don’t work nearly as well as advertised.

In the commercials, the faintest whiff of cologne drives women crazy with desire—causing them to stop what they’re doing, remove some of their clothing and throw themselves at you. In reality, several drops will usually elicit a compliment from my wife but she doesn’t stop vacuuming or doing the dishes and attack me like she should.

In fact, according to my wife, the scent of a single drop of dish soap on MY hands (assuming it was legitimately acquired in the sink with actual dirty dishes) is a better aphrodisiac than an expensive bottle of cologne containing “a masculine blend of botanics, spices, and rare woods.”

If these concoctions worked as advertised I’d have only empty bottles, but over time I’ve discovered that no amount of cologne cures feminine headaches, fatigue or monthly “ills.” There’s actually a web site where they rate colognes by recommended age and use. I searched all of the best sellers for a cologne where the recommended use was “getting your wife to stop doing the dishes and come to bed.” Sadly, my search returned no results. The guy who comes up with this fragrance will make billions.

When men are dating, they believe that several drops of strategically applied eau de cologne will cause women (and their fathers) to overlook acne, strange body noises, bad algebra grades, crappy cars, dead-end jobs and poor financial planning—it doesn’t. Women notice that you smell nice but they still want to see the report card and bank statements. After you’re married you only hope your expensive fragrances will erase your wife’s memory of the aroma you released in the car.

After 1.634784 decades of marriage I have discovered that colognes do work as advertised approximately twice annually (wedding anniversaries and Valentines Day). Strangely, no amount of cologne works as advertised on Super Bowl Sunday. Well, I suppose it might if you mixed liberally with dish soap and abstained from watching football.

Since partially consumed bottles of cologne have limited resale value I guess I’ll save them to hand down to my son once he starts combing his own hair and wearing deodorant. Of course he’ll only get the bottles where the recommended age is “grandpa” and the recommended use is “repelling teenage girls.”

Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to the kitchen sink to try some “eau de Joy" on my wife.