Monday, December 30, 2013

A Clovis Christmas

This year Robyn and I spent Christmas week with her parents in Clovis, California.  It was a great week.  We had loads of fun.  We went on a few adventures, had lots of relaxation, and lots of family time.

I'm just going to warn you now, I started writing this and it got really long.  I won't be offended if you don't read all the way to the end.  Just know it was a fabulous week.  Here are a few highlights.

The Nativity
Robyn's family has a tradition of acting out the Christmas story on Christmas Eve.  Her Dad reads it from the Bible and we all get to play various characters.  We're a dramatic bunch, and I feel this picture captures some of the drama that goes into this family room production.

Teanca was an excellent angel that made everyone sore afraid.
I don't know how to describe what stollen is.  It's German.  It's delicious.  That's all I know.  Here's a Wiki if you need to know more. Robyn took lessons from her Oma and she made us some stollen.  I told her she needs to make it every month so she doesn't forget how.

She's the cutest little stollen maker.

And look at that deliciousness.
The Interpretive Dance
Out of the entire week, there were 3 1/2 minutes that shined like a jewel as the greatest 3 1/2 minutes of the entire trip.  Robyn's Dad read "The Night Before Christmas" while Robyn and Teanca performed an interpretive dance.

It was the greatest thing ever.  Despite that, Robyn is embarrassed about it.  (She's embarrassed that no one else can even approach her awesomeness.) So I'm not sharing the video, but here is an animated gif made from some of the highlights.  Hopefully that won't embarrass her too much.

We're bikers
I wasn't doing my normal exercise routine, but we tried to get out and do something every day to exercise.  We even did some biking.  Despite the pain in the buttocks region, it was a lot of fun and after our ride I told Robyn I want to buy a bike, so we can do more at home.  She agreed and said we totally should when there is no snow at our house.  Woot!

We're totally bikers.  We biked to the John R. Wright station, named after Robyn's Dad.  It was 9.2 miles round trip.  Not a bad little ride.
Angry Birds
Have you ever played Angry Birds on your phone? Have you ever wished you could catapult birds at piggies in real life? We got a fabulous gift for Christmas. Take a look at this.
The moment we've all dreamed of is here.

The piggy death star.  Destroy it before it destroys you.
It was just as fun as it sounds.  Here's a video of us taking it on its maiden voyage.

The Zoo
We took one day and went to the zoo in Fresno.  I've loved the zoo since I was a little kid.  What can I say?  I love animals.

I FED A GIRAFFE!  I totally got to pet them as well.

Will was not nearly as excited about feeding giraffes as I was.  In his defense, their tongues were as long as his whole body.

The goat let me pet him, but when I tried to take a selfie with him he ran away.
Also, this happened.
Sometimes Teanca poses with statues.  It's how she rolls.

Woodward Park
We took a couple hours to explore Fresno's Woodward Park.  I want a ginormous park like that.  Good thing they're building a new park right by my house.

Robyn said she didn't remember a fountain being in this park, but we found one anyway.

There were these weird structures all over the park.  I assumed they were built by an ancient civilization.  Robyn said they were exercise equipment so people could do circuit training outside in the park.  I like the ancient civilization theory.

There were millions of ducks and geese.
In California, they haven't invented urinals yet.  Instead they use troughs.

Yosemite National Park is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.  It's only 2 hours from Clovis, so I convinced Robyn to take a day trip with me.  It was totally worth it.  We did the Mirror Lake hike this time around.
The trail was really pretty.  I loved the bits of snow and ice amid the beautiful trees.

Just looking up at the mountains.

Mirror Lake isn't much of a lake.  In the winter it's basically a stagnant river.  The word on the street is that in the spring there's much more water.  Robyn looks really cute standing in what would be the bottom of the lake at a different time of year.

It looked like a stairway to heaven.  I climbed it.  It was just a stairway to some rocks.

Sometimes I'm a tree hugger.

There's no scale in this picture but this crow was ginormous.  It followed us for a half mile because I was eating a cookie.  It reminded me of the movie "The Birds".  It would just fly and sit somewhere near us until we got more than 30 feet away and then it would fly somewhere in front of us again.  It was creepy and awesome.

Robyn is cute among ginormous trees.

I loved seeing the mountains and trees reflected in the water.

You can't go to Yosemite without taking at least one picture of half dome.

Christmas Morning
Of course, Christmas morning is always a highlight.  I think the best part of Christmas morning was that my 18 month old nephew decreed that I was his official assistant to open his presents.  I think it was because I had him help me open one of my presents.  After that, he just kept bringing me presents and I let him rip them open.

Eventually, he brought me a present that wasn't addressed to him.  I made him take it to his Dad, who it was addressed to.  That act of betrayal lost his trust, and he didn't bring me any more presents.

The Christmas tree before we opened anything.
Megan and Will frolicking in the wrapping paper.  Sometimes the paper is better than the presents.
Of course, the best thing was just being together with family. We had lots of laughs and lots of good times. That's what Christmas is all about.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Snapchatting Christmas

I've had a fabulous Christmas vacation in Clovis, California.  It's been filled with fun visits with family, adventures in nature, fun presents, Christmas traditions and delicious food.  I promise to fill you in on all the festivities in more detail later, but for now, here are some of my favorite snapchats that have transpired since my first snapchat update.

I bet you didn't know I was a timelord.

Also, my niece is the Dark Lord who crafted the one ring.

Did I mention my niece actually played nearly every character in the Hunger Games movies?

Also, I'm a Jedi.  And if the caption doesn't make any sense, I have an app on my phone where you tap it to crack an egg.  I'm getting so close to hatching that thing!

Christmas may be over, but Teanca's shiny nose will live on in our hearts.

Monday, December 23, 2013

How I became a Paparazzi

"Why would you talk to each other when you could snap chat?"

That is the wisdom of my niece.  She brings up a good point.  Who needs conversation when snap chat exists?  If last night is any indication, the answer is "no one".

If you've never heard of Snap Chat, here's all you need to know:  It's what the kids are doing these days.

Also, you might want to know that I'm young and hip, so I do stuff the kids are doing these days.  Or, if you prefer something more along the lines of the truth, my niece is young and hip and she introduced me to Snap Chat.

I know you're all young and hip, so you don't need this explanation.  But, just in case you don't know what the kids are doing these days, Snap Chat is an application on Andriod and iPhone that allows you to take pictures, add captions and send them to your friends.  Your friends can only see the picture for a specified number of seconds (10 seconds maximum).  But, if the picture is particularly awesome, you can take a screen shot and immortalize the snap.

Last night will forever be known as the great snap fest of 2013.  (It wasn't actually known as that until I gave it that name just now.)  It all started when I snapped my niece a picture of herself.  That began the era of "ninja snapping".  The objective was to take a picture of someone without them knowing, and then snap chat it to them.  This era involved people taking pictures through Christmas trees, or crawling behind couches to discreetly take a shot.

Of course, ninja snapping quickly gave way to the traditional snapping that involves funny captions and drawings.  Here were some of the best of the night.

The best snaps truly are without explanation.
Is he angry because he's writing emails?  Because he's being snapchatted?  Because he hates Christmas?  Who knows!

Robyn didn't even have Snap Chat before last night, but she was welcome the moment she downloaded the app.

Graham was trying out a new religion.

Is she human or is she dancer?

Faces of all kinds.

So you might say I'm a Snap Chat paparazzi.  I follow my family members around and take awkward photos of them that I victoriously send through Snap Chat.  It's how I roll.

But just remember, families that Snap Chat together, stay together.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Hardest Part About Christmas

I love Christmas.  I really do.  I love every little thing about it.  I love Christmas parties.  I love ordering presents for people on Amazon.  I love feeling like I'm opening presents when I open all the Amazon boxes, even though it's all stuff for other people.  I love spending time with family.  I love eating all the little treats, even though it makes my weight loss for the year very anticlimactic.

I love reading the Christmas story from the Bible.  I love looking at the snow on a white Christmas (even though this year I'll be in California, where there is no such thing).  I love opening presents Christmas morning.  I love the look on someone's face when they are surprised by the perfect gift.

In short, I just plain love Christmas.

But there is one aspect that I don't like.

In fact, you might say I more than dislike it.  I despise this one thing.

I hate wrapping presents.  There, I said it.

It's not something I've done a lot of in my life.  When I was much younger, I would hire my sister to do the job.  She did excellent work for somewhere around 25 cents per present.  Since then things have changed, she's become a phlebotomist (it means she sucks blood for a living, similar to a vampire except that "for a living" means "for money" in her case, and not "for nutritional content").  It turns out that phlebotomists are not willing to work for 25 cents per present.  Her rates went up, and priced me out of the market.

Amazon does gift wrapping, but it's $3.50 per present.  If I wanted to pay that, I'd hire a phlebotomist.

My wife is a saint, and she takes on the responsibility of doing all the wrapping of presents that we give to other people.  But who does the wrapping of presents that I give to my wife?

That falls to me.

It turns out wrapping presents is hard.

When Robyn wraps presents there's all sorts of cutesiness.
There are snazzy things like bows, and the tag is written in some sort of cute font that is not supported by my hand.

The corners are tight, and there are no unsightly bulges.
When I wrap presents, it's a whole different ball game.  Part of the problem is that making things pretty is not exactly my forte.  I understand the whole "conceal the gift" idea, but I feel that would be much better accomplished by just wrapping it in duct tape, don't you think?

I mean, people wrap gifts and the whole thing is held together with one tiny piece of tape.  Doesn't that just shout "INSECURE!"  to you?  When I wrap something, I want it to withstand the apocalypse.  But a securely wrapped present is not socially acceptable to place under the tree.

Aside from my yearning to use too much tape, I'm pretty sure I also use too much wrapping paper.  Or maybe not.  I don't even know.  All I know is that "unsightly bulges" are a way of life for me when wrapping gifts.

And when I write on the tag, not only am I using a way outdated font, but apparently I can't even remember whose name goes where.

It's clear that the hardest part about Christmas is wrapping presents.  And the hardest part about wrapping presents is knowing that I could be outdone by a toddler.

But maybe I could afford a toddler's rates.  Does anyone know a toddler who is looking for work?  Preferably one that doesn't plan to become a phlebotomist?

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Mystery of the Emergency Button

Have you ever pondered the deeper mysteries of life?  Where did I come from?  Why am I here?  What does the fox say?

These are the mysteries that man has sought to solve since time immemorial.  Today I'd like to add another mystery to this list.  What does this button do?

To give you some context about this button, it's located at Gold's Gym in Orem, Utah.  There is a room with a swimming pool and a hot tub.  It is about 5 feet from the hot tub.  I would have given you a picture of the hot tub with the button in the background so you could see it in context, but the people in the hot tub were giving me weird enough looks when I was taking a picture of the button.  They probably would have started rioting if I took a picture of them chilling in the hot water.  (But maybe they would have considered my creepy picture taking to be an emergency.  They could have pushed the button and solved the mystery.)

So, I'm trying to figure out what exactly this button does.  How does it know the nature of your emergency?  Does it drain the pool in case of drowning?  What if it's a chocolate emergency?  Does it dispense chocolate?  Does it put up the bat signal in the sky?  Does it call the button pusher's mom?  Maybe it just says some soothing words.

If I were designing an emergency button, I think one of the first things I would have it do is notify the staff that there is an emergency.  The staff would be able to determine the nature of the emergency much better than the feeble skills of the simple button.  But the one thing that we know about this button is that it doesn't notify the staff.  They want the pusher of the button to do that manually.

The only comforting thing is that the sign doesn't say, "notify Jack Bauer if used."  That at least leaves some hope that the button notifies Jack Bauer.  If there's anyone who knows how to handle an emergency, he would be the guy.

But I ask again, what does this button do?

Naturally, we spoke with some of the staff to see what they knew about it.

"Don't push it."

"But what does it do?"

"Just don't push it, it's for emergencies only."

We went around in that circle for several minutes.  The lady was very adamant that the button was not to be pushed.  She also was very adamant that the result of pushing the button was not something that mankind was ready to know about or comprehend.

I can only assume it's some sort of Doomsday device.  If the enemies of the gym have taken control, we push the button so that the gym self destructs and the precious gym never falls into enemy hands.

Or maybe it dispenses chocolate.

What do you think the button does?  I'd love to hear some theories.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Best Books

A friend of mine posted on Facebook asking for people to list ten books that have moved you or touched you.  I thought for a few moments, named a few books that had been important in my life, listed them and moved on.  It was no biggie, just a fun little Facebook game and a chance to share the names of a few books that I have enjoyed.

A few others shared their lists but then a stranger commented and said the following:

The Book of Mormon, The Holy Bible, The Pearl of Great Price, The Doctrine and Covenants, The Book of Mormon again. Lather, rinse, and repeat = 10. Who really needs more than the word of the Lord?
That's a valid question, I suppose.  I'm certainly an advocate of the word of the Lord, but I wholly disagreed with this person's message.

I wanted to reply.  I wanted to say something.  But, I didn't want to argue on a friend's wall, especially with a stranger.  I also wasn't sure if this person was fully serious, and I didn't want to unnecessarily cause hurt feelings.  Finally, I didn't feel like Facebook was the forum to share my thoughts.  I didn't want to be misunderstood or misconstrued due to trying to share my feelings briefly enough to be read in a Facebook post.

Luckily, it turns out that I have a forum right here where  I can share my thoughts and be as long winded as I like, in order to fully convey my feelings.

I'm sure that person will never read this, but I wanted to answer their question anyway.  It's something I want to say, not for it to be heard by that person or any person in particular, but just because I feel it needs saying.

So to answer the question, "Who really needs more than the word of the Lord?"

I do.

I guess that's the simple answer to the question, isn't it?  I could just stop there, and I would have answered it.  But I want to be clear about why that is the answer.  First, I want to be clear that in saying that I need something besides the canonized scripture, I'm certainly not disparaging scripture in any way.  I can honestly say that if I were only allowed to keep one book from my collection, it would be The Book of Mormon.  The Book of Mormon remains the book I have read cover to cover more times than any other book.  The Holy Bible, I will admit, I have only read cover to cover twice, but I have spent countless hours studying specific topics or specific sections.

I read Luke chapter 2 every Christmas Eve, so I've read it at least 32 times. (But I know the number is much higher than that.)  The story of the birth of our Savior still touches me.  I also love to read 3 Nephi chapter 1, to get the story from the perspective of the people in the Americas.  I particularly love the words of  the Savior whispered through the Holy Spirit on Christmas Eve: "Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfil all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets."

I imagine what it must have been like, for both sets of peoples as they gazed upon the star, realizing that the God they had worshiped was coming to earth to pave the way to forgiveness from sin.  That He would be a mortal man, a baby even.  I marvel at the feelings they must have felt, the emotions that must have run through them.  The stories are powerful and poignant.

I tell you all that, just so that you understand my perspective.  I love the scriptures.  I cherish the word of the Lord.  But that doesn't diminish the fact that I have a need for other stories, other words.  I have a need to learn from other mortal men and women, from their victories, from their defeats, from their thoughts, from their myths and from their tales.

The scriptures themselves even say that we should seek words of wisdom from the best books.  I challenge anyone to watch an entire session of General Conference and see if you can find one session that never quotes from literature outside of canonized scripture.  Certainly, the prophets and many men of wisdom agree that there are treasures to be found in books.

I want to share with you a few books, a few stories that have been transformational in my life.  These books may or may not touch you if you read them.  I fully expect that the books that touch you will be different in many cases.  Your personal experiences and needs are different from mine.  I'm so glad that there is a whole world of books to teach us all the things we need to know.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

This book did not have the most interesting story in the series.  There are other Narnia books I enjoyed more.  However, there was one scene that was so profound for me.

The boy Eustace has been turned into a dragon, which is quite inconvenient.  He wants nothing more than to be a boy again.  But he needs Aslan's help.

"The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. but the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I dont know if he said any words out loud or not. 
I was just going to say that I couldn't undress because I hadn't any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that's what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and , instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I jsut stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.
But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that's all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I'll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.
Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.
The the lion said - but I don't know if it spoke - 'You will have to let me undress you.' I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it. 
The very first tear he made was do deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know - if you've ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.
Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off - just as I thought I'd done it myself the other three times, only they hadn't hurt - and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was Ias smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me - I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on - and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I'd turned into a boy again. You'd think me simply phoney if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they've no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian's, but I was so glad to see them.
After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me - (with his paws?) - Well, I don't exactly remember that bit. But he did somehow or other: in new clothes - the same I've got on now, as a matter of fact. and then suddenly I was back here. Which is what makes me think it must have been a dream."
Of course, Aslan is symbolic for Christ.  This scene was so profound for me because there are things we try to change about ourselves or weaknesses that we try to overcome.  We try and try and try to do it on our own, but we just cant.  Then we give it to Christ, and He changes us.  Sometimes it really hurts, but it's only through Him that it's possible to achieve what we really desire.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

The first time I read this book I was a scrawny little kid.  I had felt what it's like to be bullied by people bigger than me.  The idea of a kid who overcomes beings more powerful than him through his smarts was so appealing to me.  It was such an empowering story.

Then I read it again, years and years later, after I had gone through a period where I was no longer the little kid.  I went through a period where I took advantage of the fact that I was bigger than other people.  I became a bully.  Reading this book as an adult and looking back on those times makes me realize how powerful this book really is.  When I read it as a child, I glossed over the parts where Ender was terrified of becoming like his cruel brother.  I ignored his sorrow at having harmed others even if it was only to protect himself.  I felt his empathy and his sorrow for the harm that he committed.

The underlying theme of the importance of empathy for others, even when those others seek to harm you, is incredibly profound.

His Needs Her Needs by Willard F. Harley Jr.

I read this book on my honeymoon.  I had just entered a new phase of my life, and I wanted to be armed with the information I needed.  This book explained that my wife's needs are different from mine.  Having that information articulated for me has been foundational to helping me build a healthy relationship.

Your First Year With Diabetes: What to do Month by Month by Theresa Garnero

After being diagnosed with diabetes, I was terrified.  I had no idea what the next step was.  This book was the perfect comfort.  It started out with something I could read every day.  It was perfect for me.  Each day I would read the new information and just work on that.  At first it was things like, "stop smoking."  It was sure nice to know I was already doing some things right by not smoking.  It added things like, "eat more vegetables", but eventually got more complex, explaining blood sugar, what insulin is, how the pancreas works and various other things.

After a while, I just finished the book rather than delaying it with the month by month information, figuring I was ready to digest everything it had to offer.  I'm actually still in my first year but I've lost 65 pounds and dropped my A1C to 5.6.  This book really helped hold my hand along the way, especially in the beginning when I needed to be spoon fed and take baby steps.

The Foundation by Isaac Asimov

There wasn't anything in particular about this book that moved me or changed me, other than the fact that it was the book that truly started my hunger for reading.  I read this book and then devoured everything written by Isaac Asimov, and branched out from there to other authors.  So, this book made me a voracious reader, and that has changed me more than anything.

The Good Samaritan
I know what you're thinking, "Jeff, this is a Bible story.  I thought you were going to share books besides scripture."  Yes, you're right.  This is a story that comes from Scripture.  It's a good story too.  A story about how we should love our neighbor.  But there's more to the story that isn't in the Bible.  When Jesus asks, which of the three was neighbor unto the man that fell among thieves?  The answer is, of course, the Samaritan, the man that showed mercy.

But why did Jesus use a Samaritan as the merciful individual?  This story actually has undertones of being a lesson about racism.  The Jews hated Samaritans.  They were mud bloods. (Hat tip to the Harry Potter books for giving us the perfect term to describe how the Jews felt about Samaritans.)  Jesus was trying to teach that it's not one's station or race that makes you a neighbor, it's how you treat other human beings.

Do you know where I learned about the relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans?  I can't even remember what book it was in, (thus why I put "The Good Samaritan" as the heading) but it was an essay by Isaac Asimov that I read when I was 13 years old.  Of course, I've studied ancient cultures much more in depth since then, but my first exposure came from an essay written by an atheist.   And, though I've learned that lesson a number of times in different books, and I've delved deeper in scripture study guides and other aides, I will always be grateful to Asimov for teaching me the importance of understanding the deeper context.

I guess the message I'm trying to convey is that I truly love books.  I see value in reading and learning out of any great literature.  I'm not saying we shouldn't study the scriptures, but I am definitely saying that we should study out of all the great books of the world, and glean truth from anywhere that we can find it.

I'm saying that there are much more than 10 books that have moved me or touched me.  I'm saying that I need much more than just the scriptures, and I'm completely okay with that.

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