Saturday, September 27, 2008

7 a.m.? On a Saturday? Seriously?

Okay, I know things need to get done, and I know people have their work to do, but this morning before 7 I was awoken by a relentless weed-whacker right outside my window. Of all days and times for this activity to take place, does it have to be SO early, and on the weekend? Not a huge deal really, but come on! Eventually it stopped, but it seemed to go on forever. Amazingly, I remember something really similar happening when I lived in a Provo apartment seven years ago... Being woken up by grounds maintenance outside my window. I guess it needs to be done.

The good thing about the whole situation is that the offending sound worked its way into the dream I was having. All I remember about the dream is that someone was using a blender intermittently in the next room, making fruit smoothies or something. I was glad they were making smoothies, but the sound was driving me crazy and I wished they would hurry it up and finish already.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Bad news, everyone, and I hate to be the bearer of it, but... :

I guess this is sort of going directly against his statement in the following interview (UPDATE: had to find a new clip... for some reason the last one is no longer available on youtube. Relevant portion begins at about 4:30):

Interestingly, Part II of this interview explains a LOT about Clay's identity confusion. Classic Daddy issues. Poor baby. It may explain a lot, but it doesn't excuse anything.

I heard about this last night, but couldn't believe it until People released the article officially this morning. This news is especially baffling considering his outright denial of homosexual tendencies in a 2003 Rolling Stone article, as well as a chastisement of Diane Sawyer for even asking him a couple years ago. I guess it wouldn't be so disheartening if he hadn't outrightly lied about it numerous times in the past already. The most troublesome thing is the dishonesty. I guess everyone lies now and then, but what is especially problematic to me is the fact that he lied specifically about this, and also that honesty is his reason quoted on the cover of the magazine for coming out at all. For those who don't know, the baby, Parker Foster Aiken, is the product of IVF with "friend" Jaymes Foster, a woman who is almost twice Clay's age (reportedly they are raising the child together). Stupid Clay even said something about the baby's future sexuality (saying, it's "already probably up inside the code there") and then goes on to state his own definition of family. Clay, is it really you??

I mean, I militantly defended this guy. Even as recently as one week ago! This was a man I thought would be in the spotlight and still be able to fight the stereotypes, like he said to Diane Sawyer. Looks like he caved like the most of them. I still think he's talented, but interestingly, my interest in his music was starting to fade anyway. Another example of why depending on famous people will often just leave you disappointed. Time to eat some words, I s'pose. Also, I guess he has a two-part interview scheduled, again, with Diane Sawyer for this week. Looks like he has some words to eat too.

The craziest part about this whole thing is that for years Clay has denied this, and practically nobody believed him. Then with one word he comes out and everyone believes it without batting an eye. So for years, everyone has considered him a liar regarding his sexuality, and then he says one thing (that conveniently goes along with the tabloids and society's rubbish rumors) and everyone believes it? Why should we? He's apparently always lied about it! What's different about this time? Oh yeah, because it's cool to be gay, and uncool to not.

Sorry, Clay, but for the last several years, you have lied and hid things, and this outing doesn't make you any more honest. Hopefully your disintegritous legacy won't follow you as you raise your boy.

Others who have recently jumped on the bandwagon, new to my knowledge: Neil Patrick Harris and Lindsay Lohan. Good heav.

Monday, September 22, 2008


By the way, I have added the silly Followers gadget (right, below), so if you like, feel free to become a Follower of my blog! I don't really get this feature, since some of my friends' and family's blogs have the feature enabled, but don't allow me to become a Follower, but apparently a few people have figured out how to do so on my blog so far, so if you like, go right ahead!

Peace out.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Good Art Alert!!!

Yesterday at the Conference interpreter meeting they said they had a few extra tickets for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir concert to be held later that evening. They even said the visiting soloist's rendition of "The Impossible Dream" was especially stirring. Still, I didn't think too much of it, I hadn't heard of the concert before then, and I didn't know if I would be free in the evening.

So then Lacie called later and said her parents had gone to said concert the night before and that she HAD to try and get in with standby tickets. So she called me and asked if I wanted to join her, and also clued me in a little as to what the program actually entailed. It was the O. C. Tanner Gift of Music Concert, "An American Songbook", featuring the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Utah Symphony, visiting conductor Erich Kunzel (conductor of the Cincinatti Pops Orchestra), and guese soloists Denyce Graves and Brian Stokes Mitchell. For those who don't recognize that last guy's name, he's only one of the best stars of contemporary musical theater, having starred in the original cast of Ragtime and the amazing revival of The Man of La Mancha, as well as providing vocals for The Prince of Egypt (as Jethro). I pretty much died at the fact that I almost missed this opportunity. We headed up to the enormous Conference Center, and while we really didn't have anything to worry about as far as tickets go, they still nearly filled the entire hall. The program consisted of American classics, such as patriotic favorites, standards and brilliant Broadway selections (and a lot of pieces that had become my favorites during my mission years). As promised, Stokes Mitchell's "The Impossible Dream" was probably the best I've ever heard, and there were several moments when the choir joined the soloists and the effect was overwhelmingly intense, such as the incredible Denyce Graves leading the choir in "Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor". I cried during "The Star-Spangled Banner" and the Ragtime selections, "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" was appropriately stirring and the choir was impressive in the John Williams-penned 2002 Winter Olympics theme, "Call of the Champions". President Monson and dozens of others rose during the Tribute to the Armed Forces medley, the rousing finale of "God Bless America" was just incredible, and then as the proverbial icing on the cake, an encore of Wilhousky's Battle Hymn. I thought it was odd it was left off the program, but presumed it would be performed as an encore, which it was. We basically floated home, but not before getting a Crown burger and serendipitously catching "Wheels of a Dream" (from Ragtime) on Showtune Saturday. Seriously, what ARE the odds?? I thought I was going crazy looking for and not finding Belinda in the crowd, but turns out she was home, unfortunately not feeling well. Still, all in all, a free night of a brilliant concert which turned out to be exactly what I needed.

So, here we have a clear example of good art. (See previous rant.) It was such a refreshing experience, an amazing venue absolutely filled with glorious music. Now and then there are those experiences that really affect you, and this was one of them. My perspective cleared and I felt for a few minutes like the worries I had were worked out, or at least that they would eventually. The Spirit works through many mediums, and music is one of them, which is why it's so important to seek out that which is "virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy." There is bad art, there is mediocre art, and there is good art. As far as expending our effort and spending our time, why should we settle for anything less than good? It's good to be reminded there are those in the Church making worthwhile art. Balances out the kitsch. (Incidentally, Mom found an amusing 1971 interview with Hugh Nibley entitled "
Kitsch in the Visual Arts and Advertisements of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints". If you get a chance, read it, it goes along with my Bad Art Alert post perfectly.) Also, it is always a breath of fresh air to hear a performance by groups and artists who are unafraid to outrightly and unabashedly praise God, as these did, without fear of being politically incorrect or unpopular to certain groups. It makes me even more grateful to Him. As the anthem says, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation.

In general, I have been really impressed with the direction the choir has been going in the last ten years. I know they were always pretty good, but their CD releases continue to impress me. I was so glad to get to know them better while on the mission. I mean, the visiting conductor even went so far as to add to President Reagan's statement regarding the Motab as America's Choir, and called them "the world's greatest and best choir". There you go.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Will These Guys Ever Be Free??

Within approximately one week I have watched 48 episodes of Prison Break (Season 1 was half over when I left for the MTC, and now Season 4 has just started). That is a lot of Scofield and Burrows. Luckily it was fun to catch up, or else all those hours would have been quite painful. There are only a couple of shows I felt like I needed to catch up on if I wanted to keep watching. As much as I love 24, Survivor and American Idol, those are shows you can just pick up and start watching again. If I started watching LOST, Prison Break or even The Office without catching up, I wouldn't have known a single thing about what was going on.

For the record, I think the first season of Prison Break was best of all of them. The rest are still okay, but going on a slight decline down the slope. And even though a lot of people hate Sara, I think she's cool. I also think they are really banking on the audience buying the fact that no one in the entire world could ever possibly be more brilliant than Michael Scofield.

That's all. Amazingly, I've also managed quite well to keep up with classes and had my first exam yesterday, which also went quite well, as far as I guess.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Mind the Street Sign

Today I was basically hit while crossing the street on the way home from school. It wasn't serious, but it was enough to shake me up a little.

I was crossing just south of campus, and saw the car coming from about 100 yards away, but he seemed to be slowing to the stop sign, and I thought surely he could see the pedestrian immediately in front of him. I had kind of stopped paying attention to the oncoming car when I realized he was REALLY close to me and still hadn't stopped! If I had started crossing two seconds earlier he would have barely missed me, but as it was he did actually roll into me and I barely had time to react. He pushed my legs out from under me sideways and as my hands slammed onto his hood I caught myself from falling. He finally hit the brakes and he and the girl next to him in the car looked at me with enormous eyes and mouths forming perfect, astonished "O" shapes. I just looked at them like, "Uh... yeah," and kept walking. They seemed pretty embarrassed, but probably relieved they were rolling and not speeding on through the sign. I actually wasn't really upset with them, just kind of amazed that they could possibly not have noticed me in such broad daylight and with such ample warning. It's not like I ran out into the street at the last second or dashed onto a crosswalk with no stop sign. Everything about the situation should have been completely uneventful.

I actually walked away thinking that there are probably times I should rethink my personal bad habit of rolling through the occasional stop sign...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The College Years: Back to School

Time for my first installment of Kuab Ci: The College Years! It's been kind of an interesting experience going back to school. A little bad, a lot of good, but mostly the time back has just made me think about the future and what I'm going to do with my ever-lovin' life. I'm enrolled in five Psych classes, aaaaand that's about it. It makes my head hurt sometimes but I am working hard and after two weeks I can gladly say I'm still caught up with reading and homework! (Now, if only I had all of my books...)

In the last two weeks, I:

  • Shaved. *sob*
  • Bought almost all of my books online, for the first time (I usually just like to get them all at the bookstore, but five books at 150+ each, no chance. I bought online and saved at least $300, and they'll all here by now but one).
  • Moved into a house south of campus (A total of NINE guys live there--three shared bedrooms upstairs and three private rooms downstairs, three bathrooms, two kitchens, actually pretty spacious). It's a 15-minute walk to school, five-minute walk to Elise and Jeff's house, and really pretty close to a lot of my friends who moved to Provo.
  • Worked out my class schedule (which includes two night classes, but also features a Friday completely free of classes).
  • Attended FHE (seems like a nice, varied group of students).
  • Made callbacks for Concert Choir (at which I thought I was a shoe-in, due to the shocking, American Idol audition-esque display there), but did not make the final cut (the reasoning given: Recent shortage of basses has made competition for other sections quite stiff, and apparently, "when you're up against people who have taken voice lessons for ten years or are vocal majors", your chances are even smaller... Turns out there are BYU choir politics after all, even if it means there's a weaker choir as a result. She said if I were a bass I would have been in like *that*. Whatev. She offered me a spot as Tenor II in Men's Chorus, but the time slot wasn't good for my schedule, and I decided to try to concentrate on getting into grad school this semester).
  • Looked for new work (I told Jandaco I'm still semi-available during school, but I think they hesitate to contact me in case I'm too busy).
  • Helped Elise and Jeff through their bad scooter accident (Luckily, Lacie and I were half a mile away and could rush to the scene immediately). I was terrified when I saw the ambulance and police lights, but they were incredibly fortunate to have suffered relatively minor injuries (in Lili's case, well, none, and Jeff is such a good sport to be bound by two slings).
  • Finished one George Orwell book and started another (what a writer! And I can't believe I've never read Animal Farm or 1984 until now).
  • Applied and was accepted to serve as a Hmong interpreter for General Conference next month.
  • Nearly caught up watching Prison Break.
  • Traded in my sad, old iPod for a discount on a new Shuffle, perfect for running (I really was sad to say goodbye to it, and felt weird going to the Apple store, like I was walking into a futuristic toy store rather than a store of higher-end electronics).
  • Went to the airport to see a couple of mission friends come home, and went to hear one of my dearest ones speak at church.
  • Spent time with a few nice girls.
  • Saw at LEAST one mission friend every single day on campus (generally it's more like two or three on average).
  • Stressed just a little about my chances of getting into grad school (I think my referrals are going to be the key).
  • Talked to six people (and counting) on campus and one person over the phone about my FAFSA. It's a long story, and a pain, but it should be through in the next few days. In the meantime, a nice short-term loan is my friend.
So, there you go! A few events that have been occupying my time for the last fortnight. We'll see how this semester works out. It's nice being back in Provo, but I miss home. In fact, I'm home at this moment.

Friday, September 12, 2008

An Amusing Diversion

Though some might mistakenly consider this a negative waste of a post, I thought this video was hilarious! Definitely worth sharing. There are actually two of these (one of outtakes, I guess), but this one is more family-friendly, as it were. Much thanks Elise and Jeff for showing it to Lacie, and to Lacie for introducing me to it last night. Observe:

Apparently I wasn't the only one who thought his Batman voice was silly!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


I'm not generally a huge fan of Ziggy, but now and then he hits a resonant chord. Today's installment in the Daily Universe caught my attention:

Kind of relevant and even profound, isn't it?

Monday, September 8, 2008

I Refuse...

... to waste my blogposts going on and on about saccharine likes and interests without writing my true and honest feelings. I get bored with friends' and/or family's blogs that post nonstop sugar-coated posts with barely anything interesting and real to read. It's not realistic. It's not human. It's not life. This is something I learned especially on my mission. I tried to be honest in my letters home. I thought it wasn't an honest reflection of my feelings and thoughts to report only the gushy, gooey goings-on and ignore the trials and struggles and disappointments. I didn't like to DWELL on the negative, but I didn't want to pretend it wasn't there either. My parents were really grateful to hear all aspects of what was going on with me, it helped them feel involved and know what what in my heart and mind, good and bad. I like to post honestly, rather than fake around and pretend nothing is frustrating me. I would rather post the good and the bad and come across as a multi-faceted, realistic person with likes and dislikes, especially if something is bothering me. I think it's good to help others know what's out there and hopefully help them avoid some of the less worthwhile things themselves. Why is it such a big deal to have the occasional rant anyway? I think it makes things interesting. Otherwise, enjoy your no-conflict, real-life Seriously-So-Blessed blog.

And I only bring this up because my blogging practices and techniques have recently been attacked. Go figure.

EDIT: I also generally welcome and allow all comments, even negative ones, on my blog. I feel censorship of respectful opinion is a very unAmerican and Big-Brotherish practice. I really don't mind if people disagree with me, in fact, I quite like when people express their dissenting views, as long as they're respectful and venue-appropriate. It leads to healthy discussion (and sometimes amusing tirades), and formulation of educated and informed opinions. Disallowing opinions and views other than those that agree exactly with your own shows far more about the censor than those expressing their thoughts.

Some of the greatest changes of the world have happened when people expressed their frustrations in a public venue. And, if you can't vent on your blog, where CAN you vent?

Friday, September 5, 2008

It's Coming...

Today I went running at high noon.

Three weeks ago such an activity would have proven impossible due to the killer sun and intense heat.

That's right... Fall is on its way.

Bring it.

One More Note about Wisconsin...

By the way, I ended my report a little abruptly and I don't think I took the time to sufficiently express how grateful I am to Mom and Dad, especially lately. They took me on such an amazing trip and were such good sports while I carted them all over the state of Wisconsin at all hours of the morning and night, and were so great while I introduced them to dozens of people, many of whose speaking they couldn't even understand. It was really important to me that Mom and Dad see and experience part of the great things I did for the last two years, and was really thankful we could make it happen. They were a huge hit with the people there, and were really awesome in situations that could be sometimes awkward. Mom was shy to meet some of the new people, but she is always gracious and friendly and winning. Dad is just brilliant too, and he has something to talk about with everyone. (Oh, and FYI, I have put a lot of pictures up on here, but there are even more on facebook if people are interested. I didn't want to overload the blog with pictures, but I definitely don't mind overloading facebook with them.) I'm pretty sure I have the beyyyst parents in da wurld.

You're the best! Thanks again for everything, and I miss you already. Call anytime.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Summer of 100 (+) Movies

Or, as Matt said, "Summer of Doing Nothing Else but Watching Movies". Ha. Not entirely true.

So yes, I realized my "Recent Movies Watched" list was getting a little out of hand, so I decided to put an archive listing of the summer's films and respective ratings in a blogpost and refresh the list. Even I was surprised at the number of movies I've seen since I came home 5 1/2 months ago, but you know, if you're gone for two years, you have a little leeway to catch up. (Actual count is approximately 106, FYI, not counting the full seasons of TV shows also watched.)
Random statistics:

Top Five:
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  • Enchanted
  • Hairspray
  • Shaolin Soccer
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
There are several which came close to making this list (such as Flushed Away, The Prestige, Ironman, to name a few), so they will receive Honorable Mention.

Bottom Five:
  • Spider-Man 3
  • Return with Honor
  • The Singles 2nd Ward
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
  • Happy Feet
The Golden Compass and The Da Vinci Code earn Dishonorable Mention for the bottom list.

Estimated hours spent watching movies: Too many to feel right about posting.

Poll results to the question, "Have I seen too many movies this summer?" were as follows (based on five votes):
  • YES! Good heav, do you do ANYTHING else??? - 1 vote (20%)
  • No, that seems like a perfectly healthy amount of movie watching. - 3 votes (60%)
  • It's all right, I guess, after all, you are catching up from two years of no movies whatsoever. - 1 vote (20%)
  • I am absolutely ambivalent either way. - 0 votes (0%).
Number of "page downs" it took to scroll through the list: 4.
So anyway, nothing new listed below, just a condensed version of the list that's been listed on the right since the end of March. This ought to clear up that sidebar quite nicely. Movies go in order from most recent to least recent seen, starting 24 March 2008, ending 25 August 2008.

Kung Fu Panda **** / Charlotte's Web **** / The Last Mimzy ** / A Lot Like Love *** / Bridge to Terabithia **** / Failure to Launch ** / Apocalypto *** 1/2 / Pan's Labyrinth *** 1/2 / Happy Feet ** / Song of the South *** 1/2 / Freedom Writers *** / Rocky Balboa *** 1/2 / Casino Royale *** / August Rush **** / Déjà Vu *** 1/2 / Scoop ** 1/2 / 3:10 to Yuma *** / Poseidon *** / Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog **** / The Dark Knight ** 1/2 / American Dreamz ** 1/2 / Mamma Mia! **** / United 93 **** / The Other Boleyn Girl **** / The Guardian ** 1/2 / The Ultimate Gift ** 1/2 / Wall-E *** 1/2 / The Spiderwick Chronicles *** / Millions **** / Click **** / She's the Man *** 1/2 / Catch and Release ** / Evan Almighty **** / The Diving Bell and the Butterfly *** 1/2 / The Golden Compass ** / The Da Vinci Code ** / Persuasion (BBC) *** 1/2 / The Illusionist *** / Music and Lyrics *** 1/2 / The Nanny Diaries *** 1/2 / The Fox and the Hound 2 *** / Flushed Away **** / High School Musical 2 ** / The Invisible ** 1/2 / Disturbia *** / The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep *** 1/2 / Cinderella III: A Twist in Time *** 1/2 / LOST (Season 4) ***** / Brother Bear 2 ** 1/2 / No Reservations *** / Iron Man **** / Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull *** / P.S. I Love You *** / The Devil Wears Prada *** / Magic in the Water ** / Loch Ness *** / Lars and the Real Girl *** 1/2 / Becoming Jane *** 1/2 / The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian ***** / Nancy Drew *** / The Nativity Story **** / One Night with the King *** / I Am Legend *** / 27 Dresses *** 1/2 / Chaplin *** / Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End ** / Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest ** 1/2 / Mission: Impossible III **** / Ocean's Thirteen **** / Stranger Than Fiction **** / The Prestige **** 1/2 / World Trade Center ** 1/2 / All the King's Men *** / Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street *** 1/2 / Thumbarathon ***** / Nanny McPhee **** / 1408 (Director's Cut) ** 1/2 / Stardust ** 1/2 / Across the Universe *** / Miss Potter **** / Premonition *** 1/2 / Lady in the Water **** / The Holiday *** 1/2 / X-Men 3: The Last Stand **** 1/2 / Dan In Real Life **** / The Singles 2nd Ward * 1/2 / Return With Honor ** / My Boy Jack *** / The Pursuit of Happyness **** / Dreamgirls **** / Transformers *** 1/2 / Night at the Museum **** / Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed **** / Meet the Robinsons **** / Juno **** / Ratatouille ***** / 12 Monkeys *** / Fun with Dick and Jane *** 1/2 / Spider-Man 3 ** 1/2 / The Invasion **** / The Color Purple ** 1/2 / The Office (Season 3) ***** / LOST (Season 3) ***** / Shaolin Soccer ***** / Superman Returns **** / The Simpsons Movie **** / The Office (last half of Season 2) ***** / Hairspray ***** / LOST (last half of Season 2) ***** / Enchanted ***** / Nacho Libre *** / Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix *****

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Wisconsin Report Day 5: Time to Come Back Down to Earth

Day 5:

A lot of Hmong people asked me why we didn’t just make plans to stay with them. I guess that would have been less expensive, but I felt bad, as if I were already imposing on them. So on our last day we checked out of the Red Roof Inn and headed out for our last visit to Milwaukee. I was sorry to receive a message from Milwaukee member Ka that she, her husband Jimmy and her three adorable daughters were still in Appleton (where Jimmy had been playing in the football tournament and where Ka’s parents live), so they wouldn’t be able to make our Monday morning appointment. This is probably the one thing I regret about the entire trip, not being able to see Mala and Nali (I actually ran into Jimmy, Ka and their newest baby, Hayden, whose chubby baby picture you can see me kissing on Day 3 at the Oshkosh, tournament, but OMG, those two older girls…), and I’m afraid the next time I see them they won’t remember me! Though Ka says they talk about me and Johns quite often and with much fondness. The feeling is mutual, girls, believe me. We drove around, taking in a few sights and getting a good feeling of the beautiful, dirty city (although I’m afraid to say I don’t remember it nearly as well as I once did!), looking at the skyline from the North Avenue park, passing by Marquette University, seeing the Frank Lloyd Wright-esque art museum and checking out the lake, even passing by Dep’s Hall of Fades on 27th Street. We stopped by a couple of houses and places to find people not home (“Here’s your taste of missionary work,” I told Mom and Dad) and places closed (due to Labor Day—no Safe House or Sprecher root beer… tsk).

We stopped by Molly Moua’s house to say hello to her and her two daughters Emily and Brittany, both now much taller and getting ready to be in middle school together, and then made for one last visit to the Barretts and then the 1 ½ hour drive back to Chicago.

We didn’t have time to stop by the temple or do any sight-seeing there, but we were ready to get on the airplane and get home to recoup as much as possible before going to school the next day (EEP! Moving! Books! Classes! *dies*).

After a minor crisis involving security not letting me past due to my temporary license (even though it had been allowed at three checkpoints prior) and a detailed security check, we were boarded, and now here I sit. The adorable toddler boy in the row ahead of me spent several minutes expressing just how unhappy he was to be traveling, but his dad is now walking around the back of the cabin while the little one falls asleep. I’m sitting in on the aisle in between groups of people who don’t speak English and Mom and Dad are sitting behind me. My eyes are tired, but my heart is happy. It wasn’t too, too weird to go to Wisconsin as a non-missionary, and it was the perfect time. Any sooner and it would have seemed like I never left, and any later and I might have been forgotten already. It was just amazing to see the fruits of the work I did there, and even though I know that the work isn’t mine, it was nice to know that I might have made a difference in the lives of some of these children of God. Everyone said just the nicest things about me to Mom and Dad, but I tried not to hear. That’s not why I was doing it. Some of these people I want to be friends with forever. And now my laptop battery is about to die.

Sib ntsib dua.

Wisconsin Report Day 4: The Beautiful and Dirty City

Day 4:

Sunday morning Seethong made breakfast of scrambled eggs and french toast and I made ready for church, then went to pick up Mom and Dad. It had been a sort of struggle to decide if I was going to go to church in the Appleton Hmong branch or the Milwaukee city branch, but when it was made evident that Suying and Pang Kou were going to be confirmed, Seethong was going to be sustained and four elders were going to be in town, my answer was clear. It was great to see the small but solid branch, this time with a couple of babies that had been bumps in their mommies when I was last here. I was looking forward to just sitting back and relaxing while the elders took the weight of the responsibility I had felt for six months (especially since I knew they would make a big deal and gush about me visiting, since they always do when the elders return to visit), but they didn’t let me rest long. Seethong asked me to sing with him while his brother played guitar and one of the elders played violin to I Am A Child of God, and I was also put on the spot to translate the excellent talk of Sister Johnson from the Appleton 2nd ward. It was a pleasure, and I found that while I stumbled a couple of times, my Hmong was not too terribly rusty. We stayed for Sunday School but felt like we should take off after that. We said hello to a couple of Miskas families in the hall, including the exuberant Stephensons, who I loved so much when I was here, and who are also expecting.

Then after sampling the much-anticipated deep-fried cheese curds, butter burgers and frozen custard that Culver’s provides, made our way the 1 ¾ hour drive to Milwaukee!\

I had some serious indigestion on the way out of Appleton, and while Dad insists such a cause is unlikely, I maintain that a lot of it was psychological because I was so sad to leave. It’s a weird feeling, to be there as a “civilian” as it were, but not unpleasantly weird. It was just exciting to be able to see everyone again and look forward to when we would see each other again. We checked into our final motel and headed right back out, stopping by the old apartment (still with the barred windows and faded portrait of Jesus) and the beautiful European-looking church building in the city, and then stopping by various points of interest (the yard-art house on Cherry Street, the undeniable ghetto, the many day care centers and afro-hair salons, the Miller Park baseball stadium, etc.) until we finally made it to Yeng and Mao Lee’s house.

For those who don’t know them, these are basically the Seethong and Mai Chou of Milwaukee. Yeng was baptized as a kid, but Mao and her two kids from a previous marriage, Cindy and TJ, started taking the lessons officially when they moved out of Yeng’s parents’ house, having been to church many times already, and set a baptism date days later. I was also blessed to participate in their baptisms and confirmations the first time I was in Milwaukee, and even more blessed to attend the temple when Yeng and Mao were endowed a year later in Chicago.

Mao is serving on the Relief Society Presidency and they recently had their first baby together, Victoria, who is much bigger and absolutely, breathtakingly adorable. (See for yourself!:)

We had some barbecue, but didn’t stay long as to wear out our welcome. It was interesting to me that I felt so completely at home and comfortable lounging around their yard and house, lying in the hammock, watching TV with the kids (Cindy with her PhotoShop projects and TJ with his currently not-in-use bluetooth headset). We stopped at the “Mormon Cul-de-sac”, where live several young families going through dental or medical school, to see the Jolleys, fellow Disney and Harry Potter enthusiasts who always were so great to the elders, and who also recently had a baby (good heavens, Wisconsin is welcoming a new Baby Boomer generation!), who they named Harry (Harrison), and who they insist was not named after the Boy Who Lived.

We stopped, though it was late, at the legendary Ua “Tiffanie” Vue’s house for one of her famous haircuts, and I must confess it’s probably one of the best haircuts of my life (though Mom gets offended when I say so, and her haircuts are also awesome). It was hard to let go of my long hair, but like Ua said, "It's okay, it's only hair."

Ua’s life hasn’t been easy lately, as her husband left her some two years ago for dubious and devil-inspired reasons, but she’s holding strong, and she and her family can now go back to church and move on with their spiritual lives.

Everywhere I went I kept thinking of Johns and how jealous he would be, but I’m sure what goes around comes around, and I’ll be sufficiently jealous when he visits here, and with a wife, so as to avoid the constant questioning about dating I faced! It was late, and we had less than 24 hours left in Wisconsin, so we decided to get some rest and make the most of them the next day…

Wisconsin Report Day 3: Thousands of Hmong

Day 3:

After such a long and crazy day of so much driving, I promised Mom and Dad that the next day would be much less hectic. Saturday morning we woke up leisurely and readied ourselves for one of the main events of the trip—the Labor Day Hmong Tournament in Oshkosh. (Throughout the year, especially the summer, in various locations around the country, Hmong people look for any excuse to get together with friends and family, including such tournaments, which feature games of soccer, football, volleyball and traditional Hmong games, and which usually also include a show of traditional song and dance and bazaar-type lines of booths and shops, at which the elders will generally rent a spot to offer free Jesus DVDs and get referrals.)

We stopped on the way at our old apartment on Coolidge Avenue, and then at Cheng’s house, a man I met my first time in Wausau, and knew my second time as well, whose work schedule finally allowed him to worship on Sunday and fulfill his wish to be baptized just after I left Wausau the second time, but who had moved with his family to Menasha (near Appleton). We were excited to talk for a few minutes.

Then Mom, Dad and I drove twenty minutes to Oshkosh and walked a nice long way into the community park where the tournament was being held. Not even one minute after walking in we ran into two of my former companions, Elder Findley and Elder Boam.

We quickly found the elders’ table and it was so convenient—all of the Hmong elders in the entire mission were there, having just finished their semi-annual Hmong elders’ conference, and seeing as how most of the Hmong people in their areas would be at the tournament anyway. I was able to reunite briefly with old companions (Jolley, Boam, Findley, Hiatt, Miller) and see others I had met only briefly or had never served with (Bonilla-Barrera, Chapman, Coffey, Heath and Jones) and also ran into a lot of familiar faces from all of my past areas. I showed Mom and Dad around the dozens of booths which sold clothes, toys, Hmong souvenirs, medicine and herbs and food.

We bought a sausage and sticky rice, and I even had them try the papaya salad, some of the spiciest Hmong food in existence, and the woman who made it even made it extra spicy. All or nothing, right? HA. Mom and Dad tried it, but only a little.

We bought a few egg rolls for the elders, I gave them the poster boards I had made of the three lessons in Hmong (I realized I have no real use for them at home, but they could use them for many things if they were left in the mission), which were promptly displayed on the table.

Seethong and Mai Chou bought me a very amusing shirt with an anime Hmong guy and a caption that reads (in Hmong): “I don’t want to be alone.”

Incidentally, it is amazing how nearly every single person we ran into asked if I were married yet… Not dating anyone, but married! It was great. I’m like… give me a few months! Even more amusing is how at least four people asked about the same girl (who Sister Barrett insisted I look up), even though I haven’t even officially contacted her yet! We came back and crashed at the hotel for a few minutes (it’s amazing what a face rinse, a potty and a ten-minute nap can do) and headed again to the Yangs for pho, a traditional Hmong soup-type dish with noodles and beef broth, meatballs and some green veggie seasonings and spices. Mom loved it so much she decided she wanted to eat it every day for lunch and dinner from now on, and Dad noted that he really likes the spicy stuff (that’s my parents!).

But even before dinner, Mai Chou and Nhia decided they wanted to dress up Mom in traditional Hmong clothes, and Dad’s turn followed shortly. I fell over when they came out of the bedroom in their khaub ncaws Hmoob and we took picture after picture with camera after camera.

I just kept wondering if I could get any happier, when suddenly Seethong said they had another surprise to tell us. I had this weird feeling… like I could guess… and I was right! Mai Chou is expecting! I always knew they were taking their time, making sure they were ready when kids came, but this is so perfect. She’s due in March, so it could even be born in the covenant, after they are sealed. I was unbelievably thrilled and secretly hope they’ll name the baby Kuab Ci. Unless it’s a girl. Actually, even if it’s a girl! Ha ha.

That night I consented to stay at their place, and I dropped off Mom and Dad at the hotel and came back, driving, for the first time, all by myself down the streets of Appleton. Of course it didn’t last long, in effect, since I called Elder Findley to tell him the news about the upcoming newest Yang. WOW. We didn’t stay up quite so late this time talking, but still visited for quite a while. I showed them family pictures, Seethong played his guitar and sang the song he wrote for Mai Chou while they were still dating, and Mai Chou painted her nails. They pulled out a mattress and some sheets for me and I crashed hard on the living room floor.

Wisconsin Report Day 2: North to South

Day 2:

Friday morning started quite early. We had to be out the door around 7:30, which means that we weren’t even in the hotel for eight hours! I had planned for us to visit Sheboygan in the morning and head up to Wausau in the afternoon, but due to the schedule of some of the members in Wausau, those visits were switched. We drove the approximately 160 miles up to Wausau, the furthest north I ever served (and where I was for 7 ½ months collectively). It was beautiful as ever, rivers and trees all over, but none of the brilliant fall colors had yet appeared—give them two weeks. Appropriately, the first Hmong family I took Mom and Dad to meet was the first I met. Tong Lee (who gaveme my Hmong name) and his wife Nou and children Vang and Gao were very sweet and happy to meet us, and even prepared Mom and Dad’s first traditional Hmong meal (very usual fare, but excellent as it ever is at the Lees’—sticky rice, boiled vegetables, spring rolls, three kinds of meat with veggies, pink guava juice, and Mom and Dad’s very first Hmong egg rolls!). They’ve been members for a few years, and Tong and Nou were endowed in the St. Paul temple when Jared Johns and I were in Wausau together. I will never forget the look on their faces and the light in their eyes when they expressed their astonishment at the experience in the Celestial Room. Tong is also currently serving in the Wausau ward Elders’ Quorum presidency.

After that I drove Mom and Dad to an apartment complex wherein live several Hmong people, and showed them the makeshift Hmong farm in the back, maintained by the residents.

Later we stopped by Gilbert Yang’s house (his wife Lilly was working), and spent a few minutes with him and his four kids who were baptized just after I left Wausau the second time and have been going strong ever since.

There were several other people I wanted to visit, but due to limited time we stopped by one Miskas (American) family, the Mikelsens. The parents weren’t home, but I said hello to many of their eight kids (it took a couple of them a minute to recognize me) and they were really excited to see us all.

I had a feeling we should stop by and see Dang Vang, an awesome member, which turned out to be a good idea, since he was getting ready to pack up and move to Oklahoma the next day...

And then, after stopping by our old apartment, I took Mom and Dad to Rib Mountain State Park (and believe me, they use the term “mountain” quite liberally) and we drove up to the top and had a good look at the view from the 96-stair step tower from one of the highest points in Wisconsin, at a staggering 1,940 feet.

We stopped to try the legendary 1 lb. soft-serve cone at the local Briq’s (Mom and Dad shared but I had my own “zebra”, OMG, probably the best ice cream ever) , and after filling up with gas and stopping for a few minutes at the beloved-by-(most-)elders East Bay retail store, headed down toward Sheboygan via Green Bay.

I never served in Green Bay, so I didn’t really know anyone there, but we stopped there briefly, meeting up with dear Elder Petersen at the Lambeau Field parking lot (I know, I know, Easty Bay AND Lambeau Field in one day?? Who am I anyway?!?). Elder Petersen, an English-speaking elder around whom I served for three months in Milwaukee, and thus had grown to love very dearly, was satisfyingly surprised to hear I was in town, and as he and his companion Elder Hansen both go home next week, they were curious about the transition and the feeling of coming down that escalator and seeing your beaming family waiting for you.

I would also have liked to see Elder Hawkes, who trained Elder Banez and with whom I lived for several months in Appleton, but he was in a neighboring town biking with his companion, so I told him it was enough to know we were this close to each other, ha. We raced the sun for the 60ish miles to Sheboygan in order to see the beach on Lake Michigan before sunset and see a few people before driving another hour or so to our plans in Appleton. Stopping to check out the old apartment, we then went to the lake, which was looking stunning and calm, and we were just walking out to the lighthouse when I saw who looked like two sister missionaries (the nametages are pretty unmistakable). Upon closer inspection I saw it was Sister Yoshimoto and her companion (who I had never met), Sister Bryner! Apparently there was a YSA activity for the Winnebago singles branch on the beach and the sisters were in attendance. After saying hello we continued walking until I saw someone who could only have been a swimsuit-clad, very tan indeed Tom Strawn, a member from Sheboygan with whom I had made dear friends during my 4 ½ months there. We had a tearful reunion while Mom and Dad had a stroll down toward the lighthouse to get a look at the seemingly endless lake. Later down the beach I ran into a slew of familiar faces including Elder Brinton, Elder Merrill and his boy Elder Schaffer (who I hadn’t met, but with whom my boy has been serving in a zebra for the last six weeks), Elder Findies, Sister Hafen and Sister Johnson, and Vong Xiong, a Hmong member from Sheboygan who had served a mission in Fresno (and who had been companions with one of my MTC teachers) and who was a good friend and big help to the Hmong elders there. It was such a bizarre coincidence that we would just happen to run into so many familiar faces at once (and thus negate a need to stop a couple of places).

Another hour or two in Sheboygan would have been nice, but we had a reunion in Appleton to attend to. We drove just over an hour into Appleton and straight to the home of Seethong (pronounced See Tong) and Mai Chou Yang.

(For those who are unfamiliar with the Yangs of Appleton, allow me to attempt to describe how amazing they are briefly… Think of the most golden couple you have ever met as a missionary or even heard of. Then multiply how awesome they were by infinity. These are people who were truly searching, people who dismiss anti material delivered by relatives of other faiths almost immediately because of the strong Spirit they feel. This was a newly-wed couple, elegant, educated, sophisticated, adorable, searching for a church to bring their family closer together. Seethong’s father and younger brother had both passed away due to unrelated incidents three years prior to our first meeting, so they were grieving and mourning the loss of family whose absence they couldn’t explain or understand. This is a couple who took their paperbound Book of Mormon and True to the Faith with them on vacation to California and called from their hotel room in the evening with questions about what they had been reading. They read the pamphlets and wrote notes in the margins, looking up the related scripture references. They delivered Christmas presents to us before they left the state for their honeymoon. They picked US up and drove us to church when we were without a car. They took keeping commitments and asking questions to a whole new level, and approached US with a desire to be baptized. I doubt if they will ever know how much they meant to the missionaries and the branch, not to mention the Lord’s evident joy at their joining the kingdom. I had the rare pleasure of participating in not only the finding and teaching, but also the baptizing and confirming of Seethong , his wife, and his mother Nhia. When they were baptized and confirmed, there was something really noticeable in the air… something tangible and electric… Something exciting about to happen. It really is difficult to understand how wonderful they are until you meet them, which is why, after 9:30 pm though it was, I was determined for Mom and Dad to meet them immediately.)

I had been excited to see Wausau and even Sheboygan, but I was sooooo pumped to take that drive into the familiar streets of Appleton. Mom, Dad and I joined Seethong, Mai Chou and Nhia, as well as Seethong’s college-student brother and sister Suying and Pang Kou for more excellent Hmong food and a nice long visit. We were joined a few moments later by dear Elder Findley (my second boy, for whom my last six weeks were basically the MTC) and his companion Elder Chapman (my first boy’s trainee, ergo my “grandson”—one big family reunion). The Yangs were immediately taken with Mom and Dad, and vice versa, and we were all excited that for the first time I didn’t have to rush home at 9:25 in order to be home by missionary curfew! (Although Elder Findley stayed a little late, but he's usually quite obedient, and as he said, this was a magical moment.) Seethong broke the news to me that his youngest brother and sister had been baptized the week before and were being confirmed the following Sunday. I just stood there… eyes wide and hands over my open mouth… WHA?!?!? I just started laughing and crying, I was so excited. How everyone (including the elders) had managed to keep this secret from me is beyond me, but I was so happy to see the light in all of those eyes. Mom and Dad, great sports that they were, were tired out by all the traveling of the day, so went to check into the hotel while I stayed and chatted with Seethong and Mai Chou until 2:30 am. It was nice to talk as friends (although we WERE friends when I was a missionary, it’s just different—you can talk a little deeper and more personally when the nametag and suit are off and the flip-flops and t-shirt are on) and see how strong they’re staying. Mai Chou was recently called as Young Women’s President for the branch and Seethong was about to be sustained as Elder’s Quorum President! I mean… five months after baptism… And they are totally ready. They wanted me to stay the night but I thought I better head to where Mom and Dad were at the La Quinta on College Avenue, where I joined Mom and Dad in getting some much-needed rest.

Stay tuned!