Sunday, December 28, 2008

Rolla, MO

What was once this:

Has become this:

Me=really, really happy.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Annual Christmas Eve Blog-Write

Years ago Melody started enforcing the new tradition of the Annual Christmas Eve Journal-Write. Whether or not any of us had written in our journals for days or even months, at least we would take the time to write at least a few pages at the end of the year. This is the first Christmas Eve I've spent at home by myself (meaning without any siblings), and it makes sense, since I'm the last single one, after Elise's wedding in May. And, while I was militant about keeping a daily journal as a missionary, I've done quite poorly since I returned. What I have done well, on the other hand, is blog regularly! So, I figured this year I would get with the times and update Melody's tradition for the 21st Century.

There have been a lot of festivities so far this year already, and I'm so glad I could be here for them. The last two Christmases have been really meaningful in their own ways, but I definitely missed spending time with the family and being a part of the events of which I saw many pictures and heard many stories. Tonight, contrary to usual traditions, Mom, Dad and I just stayed home and relaxed. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was on ABC, and it turned out to be the perfect movie for Christmas Eve (it even has Father Christmas!). I hadn't seen this film in years, and remembered now what a brilliant movie and near-perfect adaptation of the source novel it is. Then, later tonight I went browsing the blogs of friends and family to see if there were any festive Christmas posts, and what I found were both good and bad. I found some inspiring posts on Christ and His birth and what it means for all of us, and I found some that were really confusing, not even to do with Christmas, but current political trends, and certain personal feelings toward certain political figures, and certain bewildering, circle-running ideologies that skew toward the world and away from Christ. It kind of took the wind out of my proverbial Christmas Eve sails, but gave me a lot to think about, and heaven knows that's not necessarily a bad thing. I've been silenced before I guess, but not usually when I calmly and politely outlined my thoughts, even in dissent. Then there's always the controversy of those who are so against religion and God and Christianity in general that they try to take away even the mere mention of Christmas (our country is dying of PC!), or at least acidly protest it in loud and intolerant ways. Why is it hip and trendy to be any religion but Christian? It's really curious and bothersome to me. Anyway, I don't really know what the point of this post is, except to say that I really am grateful for what I have, grateful for my faith and freedom to express it, and especially grateful that Christ was born so that He could die for us and ultimately redeem us, if we do our part. Agency is such a gift, but it's so misunderstood and misinterpreted in these times and I worry about our misuse of it. I am luckily not to be the judge of the souls of humankind (who would actually want to take that responsibility on themselves?...), but I also know that we are commanded by Christ to judge righteously, and judge from behavior, right from wrong. Hurrah for the Light of Christ, and the Spirit's guiding promptings!

To end, I guess I'll just post my favorite Nativity painting by an LDS artist (Walter Rane). There are a lot of LDS painters, and the Nativity has been treated by them all, most likely, but I like Rane's textures and colors and drama, and how it looks like I'm actually seeing a scene that really took place, rather than a fuzzy, golden-glowy, modern-Mormons-as-models painting.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Let earth receive her king.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Not Allowed

I'm all for being festive, but some things are simply not aesthetically allowed.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


I ran across this today (check out a source here):

WTH? Here's to our President-elect and his baby-killing #1 priorities! I just do not understand how people can talk about murder of infants so nonchalantly, with such cavalier attitude and lanugage. I guess we're going to get change in this country after all, but nothing to do with education, foreign policy or the economy, but moral degradation and the ever-lowering of social standards!

Thov Vajtswv pab peb sawv daws.


Finals are over! And they were my best ever, I'm fairly certain! It felt great to have one test each day on Monday through Wednesday, a group presentation, and a hefty final paper (which is really quite interesting... perhaps I'll blog about it sometime), and then be done and done!

And now... I have bigger fish to fry...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Only in Sheboygan...

... Does this make news.

If you ask me, the owner of this poor creature shouldn't have been arrested for animal neglect for leaving his dog out, he should be arrested for allowing the dog to get that big.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Tale of Two iPods

Once upon a time I had two iPods. One was a Shuffle and one was a Nano. Approximately one week ago, tragedy almost struck both of them.

First, on my way back to my car after church meetings on campus, I noticed my Nano in its protective leather case lying on the parking lot next to my car. It looked as though it had fallen out of my pocket as I left my car earlier that morning, and also looked dangerously in the line that the car next to me would have taken to park after me. I picked it up and amazingly noticed that it looked virtually unharmed, and when I tried playing it in the car, it worked perfectly. I figured the car next to mine must have gone right past it, without actually running over it. It wasn't until several hours later when I was plugging it into the computer to recharge/reload with podcasts and new music that I noticed something odd: The adapter to the computer wouldn't fit into the iPod's slot, even though it had previously clicked into place easily. I realized with a sickening pit in my stomach that it must indeed have been run over, and the slot had been narrowed ever so slightly, making it so that the adapter would not fit...

Second, after going on a run last weekend, I foolishly ran a load of laundry without checking the pockets of my shorts. It wasn't until I loaded up all my darks in the dryer and heard the loud rattling of something not clothes-ish being tumble-dried. I thought perhaps it was just the buttons on my jeans, but instinctually opened up to check, and imagine my horror when I saw my poor Shuffle, headphones and all, tumbling around with my darks!!! I usually don't put it in my pocket after running, but for some reason this day I had. I examined it and noticed that it looked and smelled linen-fresh, but I realized that this poor device had been soaked, soaped, spin-cycled, and now, even tumble-dried. This was especially frustrating, since, you may or may not recall, this is not the first time I've soaked an iPod...

Fortunately, and amazingly, the end to both of these tales is happy.

...After panicking about the grim prospect of using my Nano until the battery slowly died, with no hope of recharge, and after a little bit of working the slot and examining the negligible damage, the adapter suddenly clicked once more into the bottom of it! It takes the slightest bit of coaxing but the hearty little device is otherwise unharmed. So the Nano is so small and thin that it can be run over by a 4-Runner and still be in nearly perfect condition?? Amazing!

...I went about this wetness predicament quite differently this time. I did research again online to discover the best way to handle a possible resurrection of a drowned iPod, and found that this time, my chances were infinitely better for many reasons: 1) The iPod was NOT playing when it was soaked, in fact it was switched to "off," 2) The headphones WERE plugged in this time, rather than leaving a wide open entryway for the water to go into the inner-workings, 3) I did NOT immediately turn it on to see if it would work, but rather waited several days, 4) The Shuffle apparently has no inner moving parts, which leads to less likelihood of it going on the fritz, 5) It had plenty of time to dry, not only in the dryer, but also in front of a desk fan for several days, and 6) It was probably in the pocket of my shorts for the duration of the wash (I don't know if this would actually affect it in any way, but it seems like it might). SO, after several days, as instructed and with the slightest apprehension, but with Julie's moral support and encouragement, I plugged it into its adapter, and a few long seconds later, the little light started blinking and it appeared in iTunes, starting syncing with my running playlist and I was back in business. So the Shuffle is so sturdy and resilient that it can be soaped and squeaky clean from a turn in the washer and eventually work like new (not to mention smelling so nice and clean)?? Incredible!

The moral of these tales is that I'm either cursed or clumsy or irresponsible, or some combination of the three, when it comes to handheld electronics on which I rely far too heavily. I know I have two of them, but they have their unique advantages, and if one were to disappear, it would be quite a weight on the temporal side of my heart.

So, much to my astonishment and pleasure, both iPods are still in working order, both appearing almost as if nothing had ever happened. It's a Christmas miracle!

Friday, December 12, 2008

More Christmas Bells

Yesterday was eventful for a few reasons: My last ever Psych Stats class, my last ever Psych of Gender class (including my presentation that went rather well--perhaps I'll post the powerpoint of it up here sometime), and the annual Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert! There was a huge fiasco getting there and getting in, and thanks to my class, we were pretty late, so our seats were given away and we were denied entrance into the Conference Center. It's amazing, they almost always have a few extra seats during General Conference, but come the Christmas concert, people are practically breaking the doors off their hinges to get in! When we were refused entrance, we were invited to head to the Tabernacle across the street, so we did (and there were PLENTY of seats available there...), but when we entered, the concert had started, and the choir, orchestra and dancers were there on the screen, but... where was the sound?!? As the ladies next to us said as they walked out, "they can get it to play in Europe, but they can't get it to work across the street??" Eventually a tech guy appeared, turned a knob, flipped a switch and the sound came on. Eventually again, the lights were dimmed and it was finally like a concert.

Although we were unable to get into the actual venue, and as I'm quite sure the experience would have been rather enhanced by that difference of seating, it was still a really nice concert. The guest soloist was the amazing Brian Stokes Mitchell (whom you may or may not remember from my post on a previous Motab concert, and whom I'm not going to bore you gushing about again), who charmed the audience with his style and personality, and the guest narrator was Edward Hermann, who provided a moving and inspiring recount of the story behind they hymn "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day". It's really interesting how every year the choir gives a consistent concert, but manages to make them different, tailored particularly to the style of the guests. I do want to say that last time Brian came to sing with the choir, I kept hoping he would sing "Through Heaven's Eyes", which he recorded for the soundtrack of The Prince of Egypt, but he didn't, until this concert, when he did! And now it shall forever be a Christmas song to me. Also, just as I was thinking of it, they started "Whence Is that Goodly Fragrance Flowing?", which I certainly love (see previous post). Of course there were dancers, bell ringers, and the flawless Orchestra at Temple Square, and in the end, Mom, Dad, Elise, Jeff, Lacie and I were really glad we went. Temple Square was gorgeous as ever (albeit with a shocking lack of snow) and the company was nice. I know they release it on DVD, so we could have just waited until next year to see it at home, but I really needed this, and it was a great way to end up my last official day of classes.

And as ever, thanks ever so to Britney and Belinda for getting us tickets! Whether or not we were able to get in, we were certainly in attendance. Well done for another year!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Christmas Bells Are Ringing...

That title would refer to lyrics to a few songs. It can be reference to whatever you each would like.

So yes, as I said, now that Thanksgiving is over, my iPod is full to the brim with Christmas albums. Umm... I really like Christmas music. If you didn't know that about me, it's high time you did. Music in general has such power in many ways, and Christmas music especially. Now and then in July I get in this funk and the only thing for it is to listen to Linda's "O Holy Night" or Donny's "Mary, Did You Know?" or something. I'm especially into music that is unabashedly non-secular. Of course I love "Sleigh Ride" and "White Christmas" and such, but the ones that I love best are the ones that aren't afraid to call a spade a spade and celebrate Christmas for what it is. Interestingly, I'm willing to overlook a certain amount of the element of cheese when it comes to Christmas music (it kind of goes with the territory sometimes), but I also have my limits. For example, I realized that Dickens's A Christmas Carol has been made into at least four different versions of musical (including the Muppets' immortal offering), some of which have made the most of the source material, leading to an emotive, mixed list of storytelling songs, but some of which just mangled it. Also, I sometimes get the feeling that an artist or studio just throws a Christmas album together just to get it out there, without really caring if it's an actual quality album, which is sometimes quite obvious, and then kind of bothersome. Regardless, I usually will give most Christmas music a chance at least.

Now then, I was looking through my iTunes Christmas music playlist and I realized that I have upwards of 96+ albums of Christmas music (not to mention the singles and songs from shows and movies)... I mean, seriously... I'm a packrat. The good thing about it is how nicely they all fit right here on my hard drive and/or iPod, and I don't have to drag a big book of CDs around in the car and elsewhere like I used to.

And here are some random, unsolicited statistics about my Christmas music:

  • Favorite Christmas song: "O Holy Night" (despite its relative ubiquity... seems like everyone sings it), followed by "O Come, All Ye Faithful" (I also love Angels We Have Heard on High, for the "glorias", and "The First Noel", although it has some minor lyrical issues that are hard for me to get past).
  • New albums for this year: A Lovely Way to Spend Christmas (Kristin Chenoweth), A Christmas Celebration (Celtic Woman), White Christmas (Martina McBride), Joy to the World (Faith Hill) and Joy: A Holiday Collection (Jewel), Christmas Duets (Elvis Presley), Carol of the Bells (Emmy Rossum).
  • Number of Christmas songs in my iTunes: 1561.
  • How long it would take to listen to the entire collection straight through: 3 days, 18 hours, 17 minutes, 45 seconds.
  • Total computer space used to store said collection: 5.50 GB.
I know, I'm a little bit ridiculous about it. It just happened, okay??

And now, for those who are interested (and for the original purpose of this blogpost), I am going to outline my Top Ten Favorite Christmas Albums! I'll also include a brief review and my pick of the best track from each. While there are many that I like or love, there are a few that dominate the list. So, here they are!

10. This Christmas (98 Degrees, 1999)

Okay, don't judge me. I've had this CD for a long time, and it's just that good. They handle the sacred material considerably well, when you think about what they're usually singing about. The boys seem to be sincere with their handling of the pieces. Besides a kind of crappy album design (I mean, seriously, was that cover picture taken with someone's cell phone camera? And come on, Nick, everyone's smiling but you), the sound at least delivers.

Standout track: "Silent Night" (I really wish I could find a copy of it in the world without the sappy bass sending out a gooey Christmas message, but I still like how they pull out the last verse).

9. Barenaked for the Holidays (Barenaked Ladies, 2004)

So the crazy guys from Canada have a pretty interesting mix put together for their holiday album (and yes, I used the term "holiday" rather than "Christmas" for a reason... their album is decidedly mixed between songs about Christmas, Hannukah and even New Year's Day). True to BNL form, they are quirky and fun, and they don't try to take themselves too seriously, but they still manage to evoke some real emotion and even sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus at the end of the final track. They also do a fun duet with fellow Canuck Michael Bublé.

Standout track: "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings" (duet with Sarah McLachlan) (It's a perfect blend of sacred and rock, and the medley goes really well together, even as a round in the final verse).

8. Christmas Portrait (The Carpenters, 1978)

So, apparently this can also be found in a two-disc set entitled "Christmas Collection" (disc one is "Christmas Portrait" and disc 2 is "An Old-Fashioned Christmas"), but in either case, the Christmas Portrait album is the best. Definitely a product of their time, The Carpenters are admittedly dated a little, but something about Karen's silken take on classic and new Christmas carols is kind of enchanting. They throw in some orchestral pieces and medleys for good measure, but whether for nostalgic purposes or just because you love her voice, it's a really nice album (despite her sometimes humorous chewing on the words).

Standout track: "Merry Christmas, Darling" (The ultimate in Christmas schmaltz, but still really touching. You know you love it, Chiv Keeb).

7. Home Alone (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, score by John Williams, 1990)

What could have ended up as a forgotten hack of a Christmas movie (as so many do) actually ends up now being rather an enduring, funny and touching film about the importance of family, and boasting a surprise score by the legendary John Williams. I hesitate to make bold statements, but I think some of the themes in this film are among his best.

Standout track: "Somewhere In My Memory" (A beautiful and soaring melody, which also serves as a musical cue to the film's emotional themes).

6. The Muppet Christmas Carol (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, 1992)

I've always loved the Muppets, and while I still think Muppet Treasure Island tops the list of funniest Muppet movies, The Muppet Christmas Carol gives it a total run for its money. Respectful of the source material, and yet genuinely funny, this film's soundtrack features songs performed by all the Muppet performers, as well as Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge. This is one of those versions of Dickens's Christmas story that actually does it justice. I'm pretty sure Charles would have approved of it.

Standout track: "Bless Us All" (Robin is touching as Tiny Tim, and you actually believe that Kermit and Miss Piggy are Bob and Emily Cratchitt, leading their children in an anthem of gratitude and praise).

5. Christmas At Home (Donny Osmond, 1998)

Although I'm a little disenchanted with the Osmonds of late, I can't disregard the joy this Christmas CD brings me. Donny has developed a fairly unique style, and I like to hear how he spins some of the well-known carols. He employs the help of his wife and kids for one track, and shows off his impressive range (with a few forgiveable howls).

Standout track: "Baby, What You Goin' to Be?" (I love how he mixes several tracks of his voice for a multi-layered and quite dramatic effect. Also, I've always kind of liked this song and I'm glad to hear a decent treatment of it. "Mary, Did You Know?" is also a nice selection, they're kind of companion pieces, asking questions to both mother and Child).

4. A Celebration of Christmas (The Combined Choirs and Orchestra of Brigham Young University, 1995)

Naturally, I'm drawn to the pristine, trained sound of the choirs of BYU, and this album has always been one of my favorites. While the sound quality of Tantara's releases is always curiously subpar (low volume levels... perhaps to do with the method of recording?), the content is always excellent. Featuring pieces by each of the four audition choirs at BYU, as well as the BYU Philharmonic Orchestra, BYU knows how to treat Christmas carols, and certainly aren't afraid to sing about, you know, Jesus.

Standout track: "Angels We Have Heard on High" (Having since become a staple of Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas concerts, Mack Wilberg's arrangement was first gloriously displayed in the de Jong Concert Hall, featured here. It starts with a soprano solo and ends with a brilliant climax).

3. Spirit of the Season (Mormon Tabernacle Choir, featuring Sissel, 2007)

While many of the Choir's releases are noteworthy (I debated about Sing, Choirs of Angels! for a long time before settling on this one), I decided to settle on just one for my list. Last year's Christmas release, featuring guest soloist Sissel (Norweigan sensation, apparently), is a wonderful blend of classic and lesser-known carols, and in some ways a sort of departure from their traditional Christmas releases. The Choir deftly handles Eric Whitacre, sings in several languages, and Sissel's crystalline, soaring soprano is extremely easy on the ears.

Standout track: "Like an Angel Passing Through My Room" (Written by one of the songwriters from ABBA, this is a gorgeous, touching and haunting melody handled beautifully by Sissel. Easily one of my new favorite Christmas songs).

2. Noël (Josh Groban, 2007)

Yeah, I'm on the Josh Groban bandwagon, so sue me! His baritone is remarkable, and he always has an interesting array of selections on his recordings. Noël is a very consistent follow-up to his previous albums, maintaining the feeling and variety that he usually displays (singing in Latin, Spanish and French). He doesn't disappoint his fans with his Christmas release (finally!). He does throw us a few surprises though, featuring duets with some surprising guest artists (Faith Hill, Brian McKnight, guitarist Andy McKee and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir!), and even features what some would call a Thanksgiving carol. Everything about this album is noteworthy, so I'll just let it sing for itself.

Standout track: "Silent Night" (I can still remember driving up John Street in Appleton listening to this first track for the first time, hoping it would sound a certain way, and feeling chills when it sounded exactly as I hoped it would. Although I wish he had sung the lyrics for the other verses, rather than repeating the first verse's words for the last, the modulation and background choir positively sparkle).

1. Christmas Stays the Same (Linda Eder, 2000)

Sure, maybe this is a biased decision for number 1, since I consider Linda the finest vocalist, perhaps ever, but after eight years (which surprises me), this is still by far the most enduring Christmas CD I can think of. This pick might be confusing to some, since she's not all that well-known, but this is a total winner. It always seems fresh and new, and while she has total respect for traditional and sacred Christmas material, she throws out a couple new and outstanding pieces, and features the Broadway Gospel Choir on some tracks. She's just a brilliant performer, and if you get a chance to see her Christmas concert on DVD, you will be won over as well.

Standout track: "O Holy Night" (Yes, I think I can safely say hers is the best rendition I've heard. It's not perfect, and the choir could back down a tiny bit, but she builds perfectly and adds her personal flair to make it exciting and powerful).

Standout track 2 (that's right, she gets two): "Here Comes Santa Claus/Santa Claus is Coming to Town" (It's just... brilliant. I don't know how else to put it. A fun and sparkling medley, sprinked with familiar jazz and Broadway themes, she pulls out the stops for the finale).

And there you have it! The following earn honorable mentions, since I really wanted to include them:
  • A Lovely Way to Spend Christmas (Kristin Chenoweth, 2008): Kristin's first Christmas album, and although I wish there were a little more emphasis on Jesus, she has some really remarkable recordings on here. Standout tracks: "Born on Christmas Day" and "Sleep Well, Little Children/What a Wonderful World".
  • Let It Snow! (Michael Bublé, 2007): Mostly I included this because it's the Christmas CD that the perpetually flat (by thaaaat much) Harry Connick, Jr. could only dream of. It's been released in several formats, but most recently as a six-track EP, which is fun and festive. His voice is the perfect combination of the Rat Pack style and contemporary sensibility. Standout track: "Let It Snow" (Live).
  • Merry Christmas With Love (Clay Aiken, 2004): This album kind of falls in the category I cited above, seeming almost like they just cranked out a Christmas CD because they wanted Clay to have one in the stores that year. Despite this, Clay has some memorable moments on here. Standout track: "Hark the Herald Angels Sing/O Come All Ye Faithful".
  • A Christmas Together (John Denver and the Muppets, 1979): Seriously classic, and again with the Muppets. I mean, to hear them singing Silent Night in its original German?? Not to mention Piggy's peppy treatment of "Christmas is Coming" and the classic "Twelve Days of Christmas". Standout track: "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas".
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas (Danny Elfman, 1993): Although I have trouble classifying this as a full-on Christmas album, I think it definitely deserves mention. It had a huge impact on me when it was released, and it's the perfect soundtrack to listen to in the gap between Halloween and Christmas. Standout tracks: "What's This?" and "Sally's Song".
  • Any and all Mannheim Steamroller... That's right.
  • Don't let's forget Tchaikovsky's glorious The Nutcracker Suite and Handel's immortal Messiah!
  • Final honorable mention goes to Christmas J.A.M. You know who you are!!!
And for a final surprise, here are a few standout tracks from albums that generally haven't earned full mention:

"Rejoice" (Il Divo)
"Whence is that Goodly Fragrance Flowing" (Mormon Tabernacle Choir)
"Christmas Wrapping" (The Waitresses)
"Dream A Dream" (Charlotte Church)
"All I Want for Christmas is You" (Mariah Carey)
"Christmas is All Around" (Billy Mack)
"There Is a Star" (BYU Combined Choirs)
"All Is Well" (Clay Aiken)
"2000 Miles" (Coldplay)
"Christmas Lullaby" (Mannheim Steamroller)
"Where Are You, Christmas?" (Faith Hill)
"O Come All Ye Faithful" (Katherine McPhee)
"I Saw Three Ships" (Sufjan Stevens)
"Step Into Christmas" (Elton John)
"The Twelve Days of Christmas" (Relient K)

Well done if you made it through! Really, it's your own benefit if you did. I love how I had a top ten and then kind of like ten honorable mentions. Oh well, that's how I roll! Now let's feel that Christmas spirit! It's out there to be found and to be shared, even if some are trying to silence it.

Born is the King of Israel.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Volunteers Needed! Compensation is a Warm Fuzzy.

For those who didn't receive my mass facebook message last night:

I'm part of a group in my Research, Design and Analysis class, and for our final group project, we're conducting a study on the correlation between fast food consumption, frequency and motivation for exercise, and overall happiness/life satisfaction. As such, we are in need of volunteer participants. All that is required is that you complete a short, anonymous survey, which will take approximately five to ten minutes. Anyone who has a few minutes, and hasn't done so already, please take the time to complete the survey so we will have enough of a sampling to calculate some statistics and make inferences about the population. We need participants of several demographics, so anyone is invited and encouraged to participate. It's painless and easy, and then you can say you were a participant in a psychological study!

Survey here.

Thanks everyone! I'll be sure and post some of the results, if you're interested, including what we've hypothesized, and how the results compare to our predictions. Yay for school.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Day of T-Gives

So yeah, I just thought I would blog about yesterday, since, you know, it's a major holiday and we had a lot of fun activities and such.

We started out with Amber's 2nd Annual Cedar Hollow Turkey Trot, which I missed out on last year, so I was way excited to be able to participate this time. Amber seems to opt for the slightly longer 4-mile race (unless you would rather do half at 2 miles), rather than a traditional 5K, so that was a nice change. It was raining in the morning, but turned into a light drizzle eventually, which was perfect to keep cool during the race. Apparently, according to the results, I placed 13th, and heck, based on the demographics of the turnout, I bet I'm even in the top three of my age group! Woot! And yes, in this picture, I'm totally rocking fingerless gloves. I'm just that hardcore a runner nowadays.

Mom and her three boys! (She doesn't like to exclude the in-laws in classification as "sons".)
It was Matt's first race (I think), and he did great!

After that, it was still really early so we came home to get things ready for later, but I crashed for a while on the couch while watching Archuleta schmaltz his way through "Crush" and Kristin Chenoweth dazzle me with "The Christmas Waltz" in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Eventually everyone appeared and we had an awesome meal and great times. I was reminded of last Thanksgiving in Appleton, where I was blessed with a great meal, but uncomfortable surroundings. I was really excited to be surrounded not only by amazing food, but the best company I could ask for. The rest of the day consisted of a ping-pong tournament (I don't want to talk about it, okay??...), which predictably ended with a showdown between Matt and Jordan, a boys vs. girls jigsaw puzzle competition, which the boyz won fair and square (all right, it was only by about 20 seconds, but still!). Last year the girls won, and there are many theories as to why the boys dominated this year... Yeah. Anyway, people trickled out slowly and we ended up having a rousing game of Wackee Six and quoting Fred all night. Good heavens, that game hurts my head sometimes.

It was really nice and relaxing. It's so lovely to be able to just sit and, well, do nothing for a while. No GRE to worry about, no major academic events in the immediate future. I was finally able to put on my Thanksgiving playlist (if you're creative, you can actually find several songs that could be about the idea of generally giving thanks, thus Thanksgiving).

And now, at LAST, I can finally listen to Christmas music unabashedly and unashamedly, without reasonable fear of reproach or chastisement. If now's not the time, when is??

Also, thus begins the countdown... For maybe the first time in my life, I'm just as excited, if not more so, for the the day after Christmas as for the day itself.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Post-GRE Catharsis

I am spending today doing... well, nothing! And this temporary lack of desire to act is based on two things: First, I am one class away from Thanksgiving break, and second, the GRE is in my personal past. Since people might be wondering how it went, here's the official, albeit brief, report.

The test was administered at a testing center in Lindon, with security measures comparable to those of Fort Knox, but I felt fairly well-prepared when I arrived. It took me three hours to complete, and even though it's almost impossible to study (per se) for an exam like that, I was grateful to roommate Jeff for loaning me the book he used to prepare (he took it a few weeks prior), it actually helped in understanding the most effective way to eliminate wrong answers and guess when you have no idea (which I did a couple times for sure). It wasn't as painful as I expected, although I wouldn't necessarily want to do it again right away, and in the end, I scored higher than I had on the practice test the night before, and just slightly below the average for grad school applicants at BYU, so I think I'm pretty good there. There were also two written portions, which will be graded separately, which I felt pretty good about too.

So yes, that's all I have to say about it. It was a rough couple of weeks of intense preparation, but it seems to have paid off (so far). And the rest of the weekend was devoted to... like I said... nothing. So nice.

Although I did watch the BYU/Utah game... I know, who am I anyway?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Opening Night...

Yes, yes, while people all over the world should be lining up and getting their first look at the latest Harry Potter installment, they're instead drooling over the drippy angst that is Twilight. And, in case it weren't bad enough that WB keeps taunting and teasing us with the fact that Half-Blood Prince is still half a year away, as if to add insult to injury, Twilight's date was moved UP from 12 December to 21 November. Apparently SOMEONE realizes that the fall/Christmas movie market is fairly lucrative. While I'm pretty sure the film released tomorrow is going to be fairly awful, I'm also quite confident it's going to be well-received. They could throw poo on the screen and call it Twilight, and some people will eat it right up anyway. After all, they were content with Breaking Dawn, right?

Recently Julie drew my attention to a relevant and disturbing piece of news:

...Just last week the 22-year-old British actor [Robert Pattinson, who plays Edward] was at an Apple store in New York City when a 7-year-old girl asked to take a photo with him. No big deal, right?

“But then she went really quiet and she was like, 'Can you bite me?' ... It wasn’t a joke...I looked at her and thought, 'Do you know what you’re saying?' There are these kinds of sexual thoughts that come out of people that they don’t even know are sexual.”


There is something seriously so wrong about that. Poor guy, but at least he seems to realize the fans are insane. Good work, SM, another example of even a pre-tween caught up in the subtle, subversive sexual world of Twilight.

And now... back to my GRE prep. Only a couple days left.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Final GRE Countdown Begins...

T-minus one week... and counting...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Post-Prop 8 Goings-On

Oh my word... Things have exploded in the world. I have a few very interesting things to post about what's been happening since the people voted and Prop 8 was passed (as well as related propositions in other states), but I recommend people visit Lili's blog, because she has been keeping quite up to date with a lot of brilliant thoughts and damning evidence of intolerance by the No on 8 crowd.

Let me start by saying this: This is a democracy. Concerning socially desired changes of policy, there is a certain protocol that must be followed. Some such issue is brought to the table, the people vote, and that's it. Sometimes there are changes or amendments or whatever, but in general, that is how it works. When a presidential candidate I don't much care for is elected, I might complain as far as my personal and rational sphere allows, but I suck it up, hope for the best, and move on. When Prop 8 was passed the first time (this news surprised my roommate when I told him yesterday... he wondered why they even voted on it again if it's already passed... Good question, Jeff), that should have been it. Instead, the activists pressured and prodded until the powers that be overturned the voted-upon result and another proposition was up for debate. Does this not steam anybody else?? Does the majority vote not matter anymore?? I don't know why anyone's surprised it passed again, when you think of it. It passed last time, and societal morals don't shift that dramatically in just a few years. I will say that, unfortunately, I feel this is a delay of the inevitable, however, since by the time the older generations are gone, the younger, indoctrinated generation of voters will be around. Who knows, though? Maybe tradition and values will play a part even in the malleable minds of the MTV generation.

So, some of the things going around.

This is an outrageous, unfounded and pretty much ridiculous attack against the Church's involvement in the Proposition 8 issue. I mean... seriously?...

Here is an LA Times article citing the absurd protests at the LA temple... I mean, really, what do they expect? That the temple president is going to say, "Hmmm, you're totally right! Your obviously love-motivated actions have made me realize that the Church and dozens of other churches were wrong to promote family values and traditional morals! Since I'm the head of the LDS Church, I'm going to do something about it right this moment!" Please!!! I've never seen such hatred and intolerance displayed than in the articles about these protests. It's like a child having a tantrum because his mom didn't give him a cookie. And when people start blocking entrance and/or exit from MY temples, I am NOT happy. That's infringing on religious liberties, which ARE unalienable constitutional rights.

Then, a little closer to home, this article tells of the pointless and misdirected efforts of those protesting in Salt Lake City. Honestly, when are these people going to realize that there was a VOTE, and the majority spoke? It's stupid anyway, as if the LDS Church is the only one who participated in support of this proposition? Here's an awesome excerpt from the article:

Bishop William Weigand, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, Calif., and former bishop of the Dioceses of Salt Lake City, lent his support to the LDS Church in a statement Friday.

"Catholics stand in solidarity with our Mormon brothers and sisters in support of traditional marriage — the union of one man and one woman — that has been the major building block of Western civilization for millennia," Weigand said in the statement.

"The ProtectMarriage coalition, which led the successful campaign to pass Proposition 8, was an historic alliance of people from every faith and ethnicity. LDS were included — but so were Catholics and Jews, Evangelicals and Orthodox, African-Americans and Latinos, Asians and Anglos."

Weigand called the "bigoted attacks on Mormons" for their part in the coalition "shameful."

"I call upon the supporters of same-sex marriage to live by their own words and to refrain from discrimination against religion and to exercise tolerance for those who differ from them," he said. "I call upon them to accept the will of the people of California in the passage of Proposition 8."

And finally (for now), this is the ultimate expression of intolerance. See for yourself, it'll blow you away. They dare demand tolerance while exhibiting this kind of behavior?? Can it be a joke?...

One good thing I will cite, though, is a news feature about the SLC protests featuring my dad, and the full, raw footage of the interview with Dad, one of the few people willing to stand up against the attacks and against the moral decline of the country, as far as he's able anyway. I applaud anyone who is brave enough to take a stand like this.

In other avenues, WTH?!? First Richard Dutcher, then Stephenie Meyer, and now Steve Young?? Is it at all possible for a Mormon in the spotlight to stand up and be a decent representative of the Church??

Monday, November 10, 2008

Weekend Update

... That is all. See management for further details...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Just Call Me Utah Jazz...

And now, for something completely different...

All right, all right, although it's against all my better judgment and taste, I'll put it up...

I'm a Jasper! I found out through Which Twilight Male Are You? Take the quiz and find out!
Take the Quiz and Share Your Results!

Sheesh... Still, it could be far, far worse.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Few Words for Election Day Adam

(Matt used to apply the term "Adam" as the day after a holiday, since Eve indicates the day before. Anyway...)

So yeah, I thought I should say a little something about yesterday. And I mean little.

Yesterday there was a lot of drama involved in my being able to vote at all, due to car troubles. Luckily, thanks to help from Jared and Jessica, and ultimately Dad, the car started and I was able to vote! There were a total of two people voting when I arrived at 7 pm, so I had to wait a total of two seconds. Of course, by the time I arrived at my parents' place, the race was pretty much over already. It's kind of what I expected actually, but I still felt a certain pit of my stomach that hasn't exactly left, and I don't quite expect it to anytime soon. I'm not going to throw out buzzlines like "foreign policy" or "international healing", I'll just say that the burden of proof now lies squarely on B.O.'s slender shoulders. You better bring it now, man (even though last night he was already qualifying the possibility of not following through on his promised changes... "These changes may not take place in a single year, or even a single term...").

Last night I was in a right state, and it's still sinking in, but I am feeling more prepared. All I can say is that I'm amazed and thrilled about Prop 8 and similar efforts in Florida and Arizona.

So we have elected our first half-black president. Good thing race never had anything to do with it, right?...

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Few Final Words for Election Day Eve

It's weird, even though I totally have seen this "historic" day coming, Election Day still sorta sneaked up on me this time around. I'm pretty sure how I'm going to vote, but I'm actually not quite sure how it's all going to turn out. Last time I was pretty darn sure President Bush had it in the bag, but this time, I'm just not certain. I definitely have hope for a certain direction, but we will see.

So, rather than post a lengthy rant about my personal politics, I will post a few videos I've run into online lately.

Honestly, these terrify me, and they seem like the people making them are completely serious about them, which scares me even more. Make of them what you will.

There is something so manipulative and wrong about using unwitting kids to further a political agenda, and everything about this song (especially the conductor) screams Communism. Word is Obama, obviously touched by the "spontaneous" display of affection and support from children who don't even understand what he believes in, had this creepy, Naziesque song on his website until he realized, well, it makes him look like a Communist.

As for this one, why do celebrities seem to insistently think the public actually cares about their political views? A paganistic chant of "Obama" and a multi-culti display of celebrities reading canned lines isn't going to impress anyone but people who already support him.

This one just amuses me:

So vote!

(...For anyone but Obama...)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Out with October, In with November

So, as much as I'm not a fan of Halloween in general, we had a pretty nice, eventful weekend, and I thought I would give a little report on it, for those inquiring minds which want to know. First, I will state a seasonal pet peeve of mine, relating specifically to Halloween. It is this: It really bugs me when people pronounce Halloween like "HALL-oween" (as in Miss Scarlet with the candlestick in the "hall") as opposed to "HAL-oween" (as in the name of the mutinous navigational robot in 2001: A Space Odyssey) I am utterly unclear as to the origins of this mispronunciation, since the root of the name of the holiday refers to the ancient pagan celebration of "All Hallows' Eve". If anyone can offer me an explanation to this, besides the obvious reasoning of possible original mispronunciation in the media and such, please let me know.

On to the big fun, then. Mom, Dad, Amber, Melody, Jonny, Julia, Elise, Jeff and I headed up to Logan in three shifts with plans of running the "First Dam Run" 5K on Saturday morning. Secretly we wanted to run it just to get the shirts with a cleverly appropriate swear on them. Grandma and Grandpa are doing fairly well, and Grandma even had a nice list of chores for us to help out with. Friday was Halloween, and marked the first year in several that I didn't don my traditional Harry Potter costume, and as such, decided to go as, well, a runner, since I had just finished my run up to the Logan temple and back. When Melody and Jonny brought the little bee, we decided to let her take advantage of the glorious pile of fall leaves I had been accumulating.

I know she looks like she's leaning away from me, but she's actually posing.

Melody and Mom joined in the raking and bagging leaves fun.

Come on, baby! Cooperate for the picture! Still cute, though.

We had a total of two trick-or-treaters (although the doorbell is reportedly broken, which could have contributed to the relative lack of kids asking for free candy), who were dressed as a storm trooper and Snow White. Later in the evening we watched Grandma's latest netflix delivery, Penelope, which turns out to be quite appropriate for Halloween, and then slept in preparation for the 5K.

Leaving the pumpkin with designated babysitters, Elise and Jeff, Grandma, Mom, Amber, Melody, Jonny and I headed to the park to get ready for the race! As it turns out the weather was perfect, not cold or windy, but brisk and bracing, with only the slightest bit of rain in the early hours. (Incidentally, I think all such races should begin around 10 am, it's the perfect time for such an event.) I decided to try and keep up with Jonny, which determination lasted about ten seconds until his swift foot carried him far ahead. But the miles went by, and in the end, we all did really well. I even set a new personal record! 24:38, which gave a 7:57 mile. Woot!

The ladies:

The fellas:

And we had a lot of finalists! (I didn't place too high in my age group but I was mostly racing against myself and my former time, so I was totally satisfied.)

Thanks, Lili and Jeff, for holding down the fort and keeping the child entertained.

We had a nice lunch and spent some time together, and then it occurred to me that November is finally upon us. I haven't broken out the Christmas music just yet (although certain radio stations and stores certainly have, and, although I have purchased a couple of new exciting Christmas music CDs new this year...), but it's quite clear that winter is not too far off. We drove home, again in three shifts, and I slept quite soundly after a nice session of the LOST club.

Happy HAL-oween.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Word or Two About Agency

Your Heavenly Father has given you agency, the ability to choose and to act for yourself. Agency is essential in the plan of salvation. Without it, you would not be able to learn or progress or follow the Savior. With it, you are “free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil”.


You might be wondering why I put a picture of a jail cell under a blog title and quote about agency. This is for a couple reasons. First, I've been wanting to blog about agency for a while now, considering its relevance to the current political and cultural climate of our country. Also, for my Abnormal Psychology class tonight we took a field trip to the Utah County jail in Springville. We had a short spiel from Sgt. Wall (which felt like a string of scare tactics intended to warn troubled youth against bad and addictive behavior rather than a presentation to a group of college students who just finished studying the psychological causes and effects of substance-related disorders), a brief tour of the facilities (in which we weren't sure who were the caged animals and which were the zoo visitors, us or the inmates, the way they were ogling us) and concluded our visit with a short Q&A session with two young ladies who were serving their respective sentences for extreme and repeated possession, use and selling of various and numerous illegal substances (both of whom were younger than I am, and one of whom had been in and out of jail a total of 21 times... so far...).

So, with the presidential race, as well as issues such as Proposition 8, a lot of LDS people are using the concept of agency (which, as stated above, is our God-given freedom to choose between right and wrong, a gift given to man since the very beginning with Adam and Eve--indeed, according to Preach My Gospel, it's among the very first principles taught to those investigating the Church) in some sort of convoluted misunderstood reasoning against standing for their traditions and beliefs. Agency IS a good thing, and everyone has it, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't strive to stand for and yes, even enforce good things. Agency is sort of a double-edged sword, because we all love and want to be able to choose what we want to do, but at the same time there are always consequences, for good or bad. The poor girls at the jail tearfully expressed their regret for their poor decisions, but at the same time didn't seem to shift the responsibility or blame to anyone else (they indicated they were among the most sober of the other inmates, others might not be so quick to accept the blame). Now, a lot of people feel like enacting and supporting/promoting amendments and laws that protect a preferable way of life or align with your beliefs is in some way infringing on others' agency. This mindset seems completely off to me. According to that logic, why should we even have missionary work or strive to share our beloved beliefs with others? Why would God even give or enforce commandments and why would we have to suffer consequences? Couldn't that be considered an attempt at infringement on agency? Similarly, people feel that we should vote for so-and-so because said candidate believes in, say, abortion and gay marriage, since those are things people should be able to choose, and to vote otherwise would indicate that we DON'T want to allow choice. That is hardly the point. Laws and commandments that protect morality and enforce the right are NOT an infringement on agency. People are always free to choose whether or not to follow or adhere to a set of rules (be they laws, commandments, amendments, recommendations, or friendly suggestions), but we have to do what we can to promote the good while we still can.

I believe that God gave us agency. I also believe that He wants us to use our agency to further His work and share what we believe in any realm, be it social, cultural, political or spiritual. I don't believe efforts such as promoting Proposition 8 are taking away anyone's agency. Standing for truth and righteousness in any way helps us learn and progress and follow the Savior.

Incidentally, both of these tragic ladies (who the Sgt. feels will be back in jail once released, despite their adamant insistence that they were going to clean up for good) responded identically when asked what single word of advice they would give in five seconds to keep people away from making bad choices and ending up like they did:

Keep God in your life.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Movie Trailer News

Two new movie trailers of interest:

First, the new international trailer of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Further taunting and teasing from WB, who knows that the fans know the movie is pretty much done, but they are still making us wait until July. Real cool. At least the movie looks better and better with each new trailer. That Hermione is a total sass.

Second, a trailer for Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood's latest gravelly, brooding picture, in which he stars as a curmudgeon living next door to a family who happens to be Hmong! Probably the first treatment of the Hmong culture in a major motion picture, so it's somewhat noteworthy. We'll see if it's more of Eastwood's typical, morally-thought-provoking, blue- and gray-tinted fare or if it's something a little different. I know I saw a paj ntaub on the wall of that Hmong house, so that's something new! Anyway, check it out.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

"To the One..."

Apparently I was the subject of a most vicious and bitter (and, to borrow a phrase, poorly-constructed yet potentially harmful) blog diatribe back in the midst of my first new-to-the-blogging-world controversy which came to my attention just tonight. I am continually amazed at the passionate feelings this subject elicits, although I guess by now I really shouldn't be. I realize my very being is a threat to a currently popular worldview, but I am who I am. So yeah, according to this blogpost, I exhibit "a limited vocabulary and ... inadequate grasp of grammar", a certain amount of self-loathing, and old-fashioned views. Oh, and my Hmong name is the result of a diet Sprite spill on my computer keyboard (that was actually pretty amusing).

Ummm... I write in general against principles and subjects, never against individuals. Why is it okay for some people to do that?


P.S. the link above contains some swears, but even more dangerous are the falsehoods and tragic story of a misdirected and misunderstood loss of faith. Just so you know.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Speaking of 8...

From Proposition 8 to an 8 Things tag... I read this on Cami's blog, and her final 8 made it quite clear to me that I was tagged to do this as well.

8 TV Shows I love to watch:
  1. Prison Break
  2. House (sometimes, not so much lately)
  3. The Office
  4. Survivor
  5. American Idol
  6. Daria (though I've seen every rerun a billion times)
  7. The Simpsons (not religiously, but I do die laughing when I watch it)
  8. LOST
8 Favorite Restaurants:
  1. Olive Garden
  2. Macaroni Grill
  3. Cafe Rio
  4. Wendy's
  5. Carl's Jr.
  6. Bangkok Grill (or any number of certain Thai places)
  7. Los Hermanos (or any number of certain Mexican places)
  8. Those awesome Chinese buffets they have all over the midwest (Appleton's Big Shanghai Buffet is amazing)
8 Things That Happened Yesterday:
  1. I went to church in Moab.
  2. We had a really good lunch of BLTs with the inspired addition of avocado.
  3. I listened to a boring Disney podcast.
  4. I watched a hilarious episode of the IT Crowd on the way home from Moab with Elise and Jeff (which ride home was long and painful).
  5. I webcammed with Emily for her birthday and Julie for fun.
  6. We had an amazing plate lunch gathering with the family for the twins' and Amber's birthday.
  7. I went to be at a semi-reasonable hour (not really though).
  8. I took some medicine in an attempt to not feel like total rubbish.
8 Things I'm Looking Forward To:
  1. Christmas music!!
  2. Being done with my two tests this week.
  3. Finishing The Great Gatsby tonight.
  4. Watching Prison Break live tonight!
  5. LOST starting again.
  6. Getting my grad school application together and sent off.
  7. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince coming to theaters at last.
  8. 6-9 November.
8 Things On My WishList:
  1. New running shoes.
  2. A new suit, preferably one that fits.
  3. A French Horn (I've wanted one since high school).
  4. Acceptance into grad school.
  5. To not be sick anymore!
  6. An iHome setup of some kind.
  7. LOST seasons 2-4 on DVD.
  8. A new car (why not?)
8 People I'm tagging:
  1. Melody?
  2. Emily?
  3. Vanae?
  4. Jared
  5. Lacie
  6. Elise
  7. Julie
  8. You (to borrow Cami's answer)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Proposition 8

I guess it's about time I reported on this!

A week ago the Church produced a broadcast, featuring Elder Ballard and Elder Cook of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles, and Elder Clayton of the Seventy, at which attendance was encouraged for students and young adults in certain areas around the country. This fireside-type broadcast was particularly for students from and in California, educating and informing them on the issue, but I suppose all were welcome to attend (and besides, we were with Jeff, and he IS a native of California). I was glad to see the church building eventually packed to capacity! The leaders broadcasting from Salt Lake City stated in no uncertain terms the Church's clear position on the issue of gay marriage and how we who believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His restored Church should react. Some have criticized the leaders of the Church for taking a stance on what they call a merely political issue, but this issue blurs the lines of politics by involving what is actually a purely moral issue. Gay marriage is just a stepping-stone for the pro-gay agenda, and I worry what roller coaster we'll be on when/if this gets passed in widespread fashion.

"At the request of the Protect Marriage Coalition, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is making arrangements for them to call friends, family and fellow citizens in California to urge support of the effort to defend traditional marriage." (Source)

Anyway, we were exhorted to get involved technologically (blogs! texts! wallposts!) with getting the word out and encouraging people to make the right decision. I have added the countdown widget in my side bar, and I encourage you all to visit any of the following websites.

Protect Marriage - Yes on 8
Preserving the Divine Institution of Marriage
The Divine Institution of Marriage (LDS Church's August statement)
The Family: A Proclamation to the World

I'm still amazed how LDS can seriously feel opposed to this proposition... Must be the last days.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Surprise on the Drive Home

I was on my way out to the car heading from Mom and Dad's house back to Provo, when I felt something on my face... Looking up in the glow of the streetlight, I saw it. Yes, the season's first snowfall. It wasn't much, but it was something! I have it from the elders at the MTC that it was also snowing this morning! I cried tears of joy for a moment and then smiled all the way home.

That is all.

UPDATE: Two days in a row!!! It is taking everything in me not to put on some Christmas music right now...

Friday, October 10, 2008

What the...

Today after my long, hearty run in the bracing fall air, I saw that I had received a very curious message on my cell phone! It stated the following:

"Hi Drew ... calling from the Missionary Training Center. Uh, we have a Hmong teaching position which will be available at the end of this month, and we're wondering if you'd be interested in coming in for a second interview..."

*blink* *blink*

Sooooooo, maybe the previous email was a mistake, or maybe they just were done evaluating me, or maybe, oh, I don't know. I'm ultra-confused, and kind of annoyed that it caused me a noticeable amount of emotional stress for apparently no reason (yet), but yeah. In any case, I'm still down, and I called to set up an interview time! Maybe this job is in the cards for me after all.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

General Conference Weekend

I'm pretty sure everyone knows, but in case you don't, the Church to which I belong (and which I believe to be led and run by Jesus Christ Himself, under the direction of God the Father) has a General Conference twice a year (once in April, and once in October), where we are instructed and taught by general authorities of the Church, including modern-day Prophets and Apostles.

Okay, now that I've said that, most of you know how I felt about Conference weekend (more of the same, a lot of good talks, some issues sidestepped when I personally felt they should be addressed at the very forefront, but overall very nice). I've been wondering why I have come to expect some huge, different result every Conference. Generally they discuss and address a lot of the same topics these days. Anyway, there were some highlights to the weekend for me, and here they are:

Elder Corbridge of the Quorum of the Seventy talked about Christ being the only way to return to Heavenly Father, and not only that, indicated that any other attempted way is "madness". He was direct and to the point, and didn't dance around the issue, but spoke outrightly, which is so important in this day and age when people are twisting the words of the Church leaders to mean what they want them to mean. "Latter-day Saints have two choices: Follow the Lord and be endowed with his power or go some other way alone without his support and be in despair." I heard of one member who changed the channel while Elder C. was speaking, because she thought he sounded too much like a "preacher." WOW, is all I can say. The funny thing is, if this exact talk were given by Elder Holland, Elder Oaks or President Eyring, I seriously doubt the channel would have been changed.
  • Jared translating the opening prayer and Elder Holland's Saturday afternoon session talk.
He did great! His tones were spot-on, and it was really exciting to hear him deliver the message along with Elder Holland. (More details on the translation process below.)
  • Elder Hamula's Priesthood session talk.
Elder Hamula spoke to the young men of the Aaronic Priesthood, but his words are relevant to everyone. He spoke of how we can win the war with evil (and make no mistake, we are engaged in a constant state of battle for our very souls, and for the souls of those around us). He also was quite straightforward with his address and indicated that as we chose to follow Christ's plan and come forth in these days, we have a responsibility to stand strongly against the attacks of Satan. He encouraged us to be sober, in the Book of Mormon sense of the word, and not to fear because of the impending battle, but be diligent and prepared, and we CAN be victorious, just as were in the war with Satan before this life. It was inspiring. For those who were not at the Priesthood session, I recommend this one when it becomes available.
  • Translating.
For the last several weeks, I was privileged to have been able to serve as translator and interpreter for one talk (Elder Hamula's, cited above) and the closing prayer in the Priesthood session. I had always heard of former mission companions serving in this capacity, and looked forward to the opportunity to translate as well. After we received our assignments and attended a few training meetings about how to interpret for speaker (some of which seemed kind of already second-nature for we who spent every Sunday in the mission field doing simultaneous translation), the rough drafts of our talks were sent to us so we could prepare them before Conference, as translating on the spot for such an important event is kind of risky. (This process consists of translating, or taking the English text and actually translating it into your target language, and interpreting, or the actual delivery of the text for broadcast. For most languages, I understand, they give you the text already translated by official Church personnel, and you just do the interpreting, but for Hmong we were responsible for both the translation and the interpretation. Thanks for the help, Jared!) All of the translation booths are located in a large upper-floor hall of the conference center, dozens of booths, each labeled with the appropriate language, and each equipped with TV screens and microphones to broadcast the translations in dozens of languages online and in church buildings across the world. I was quite nervous, as I heard Elder Hamula's speech rate was one of the higher speeds, but I was able to keep up until he decided to change his talk almost completely halfway through! The ideas were the mostly same, but they were all jumbled and rearranged, some omitted completely and some completely new! I tried really hard to skip around with him, but eventually couldn't find the place, and the other interpreter in the booth tried to help find the spot too, but before long, I just threw it out the window and started listening and concentrating really carefully and translating on the spot. Just like old times! It was a little nerve-wracking, but I really enjoyed the experience!

So yeah, those were the highlights for me. I think I'll try and get involved with translating next Spring as well. It was also fun to see a lot of mission friends and relatives up at the beautiful Conference Center. OH, and also the protesters. They are always fairly amusing.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"We Regret to Inform You..."

So, after being invited and encouraged in July to return to the MTC to be reevaulated for future teaching possibilities (they weren't hiring at the time, but said I showed potential and they would like to see me again), I signed up and finally found an open spot for last Thursday. One of my old MTC teachers is about to be finished teaching there, so there will be an opening really soon, so now I thought would be the time to be reevaluated. I went and taught, I thought, a decent lesson, just to the two evaluators, since no one else had shown up to fill that time slot. We had a nice conversation about the missionary purpose, according to Preach My Gospel, and how we can apply this purpose to our lives. We became acquainted and had a good time, and then, as they always do, they told me that in a few days they will contact me with one of three messages: 1) We will be recommending you for a teaching interview (basically meaning there's a job open and they think I could fill it), 2) There isn't a job opening at the moment, but feel free to come back and be reevaluated in a few months (which is where I fell last time I was evaluated), and 3) Thanks, but no thanks, don't bother trying again (which, I figured, was for people who showed NO potential, and was just a nice way of getting them out of the way). They did state the ever-diplomatic caveat saying that if I fell into this third category, it has nothing to do with the strength of my testimony, or how well I served as a missionary...

Imagine, then, my surprise when I received an email, just a few short hours later, that stated:

Thank you for your interest in participating in teaching and serving the missionaries at the Missionary Training Center. We appreciate your preparation in coming to teach others in the evaluation session and hope that you had a good experience. We regret to inform you that we will not be considering you for a teaching position. If you are still interested in working at the MTC you may apply for any non-teaching positions available through BYU Student Employment.

End. Just like that?? Last time I didn't hear for at least a week! So yes, I fell into that third group, after being encouraged to apply again, after having shown "potential". Like they said, I guess I just wasn't "the right fit." But... but... but... I keep going through the entire exchange, trying to think of ONE wrong thing I said or did. It might not have been a perfect lesson, but I certainly tried to get all the checkpoints (promised blessings, strong commitment, use of scriptures, personal experiences, class participation), and most of all, I strove to have the Spirit to tell me what to say. That IS the key to missionary to work, and teaching new elders especially. I strayed from the lesson a few times just because I thought I should. I know several elders from my mission who came home and were hired by the MTC straightaway! What's the difference? Funny thing is that I used to make fun of people who worked at the MTC, saying it was just the projection of a desperate need to hold on to the mission memories and the language, but now (eating more and more words every day), I realize there is that, but a lot of other reasons. I really wanted this job. And I know it has nothing to do with my testimony or my missionary service, I would just like to really know with what it DOES have to do.

I decided to write them back, asking briefly and calmly what I might have done wrong, for future reference, and indicating my confusion that, after being invited back, and now that there was an opening, I would be summarily dismissed like so. I didn't, and still don't expect an answer, but I felt like it was worth a try. Despite being completely unemotional in it, I'm sure they'll just perceive it as whining, a last desperate attempt at acceptance by a failed applicant.

Jared thought maybe it was a mistake? The wrong form letter accidentally cut and pasted into the email they sent? I think maybe it's further proof that I blow everything I audition/apply for. I guess I could just chalk this all up to, "maybe the Lord has different plans for me." Well, if He does, I would sure like to be let in on the plan.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Borrowed Tag

I borrowed this from my friend Julie's blog. It was an unofficial tag, and I felt like doing it, so there.

i am - home from a long day of classes.

i think - too much about little things. (I borrowed this answer from Julie too, it fits me perfectly.)

i want - a lot of money (maybe just "a comfortable amount of money").

i have - a lot of awesome friends and family.

i wish - I could give up my bad habits.

i hate - bad acting in movies.

i miss - Appleton.

i fear - being alone forever.

i feel - sleepy, but accomplished.

i hear - "Patience" from Dreamgirls (and crickets chirping outside).

i smell - remnants of a kitchen fiasco yesterday involving a roommate's overcooked and badly burned burrito.

i search - for the best way to translate random, pseudo-deep church phrases into colloquial, understandable Hmong.

i wonder - why WB really decided to push back the release of the next Harry Potter movie.

i regret - being mean to my younger sisters when we were little.

i love - ice cream.

i care - about the details.

i always - check my email.

i am not - good at remembering things (which goes against caring about the details, I know).

i believe - " Christ, He is my King..."

i dance - hardly ever anymore! But in my day, I was quite the clogger, and even did a little tap. (Sometimes I kind of dance while running... like, dance-running, but mostly running in time to my music with occasional subtle hand flourishes.)

i sing - often and always. Not always out loud, but there's usually an earbud growing out of my ear, and I sing along in my heart.

i don't always - remember to read my scriptures every day.

i write - using unusually and unnecessarily verbose and superfluous verbiage. I rest my case.

i win - at nothing for which I audition or apply!

i lose - pounds every day I don't eat but still go running. (I know, totally healthy lifestyle, right?)

i never - feel prepared for an exam at school.

i listen - to musical theater soundtracks. A lot.

i can usually be found - on facebook.

i'm scared - of sharks.

i read - every day (usually text), and I'm getting through 1984 at last!

i'm happy about - Linda Eder's new CD.