Thursday, July 10, 2014

Poetic Waxings

In the last month or so, I've blogged at least once a week, but it's been several weeks since I did a Sunday School post, which is a shame because I missed some good stories in that stretch, like David and Goliath, and Bathsheba, and Samuel hewing Agag in pieces. Hopefully I can get back on track starting this week. On Sunday we're covering Psalms (yep, the whole book), so to mark the occasion I thought I'd share some poetry I wrote for my creative writing class last Fall.

I posted a few of these poems last year, but I'm fond enough them that I figure they deserve to be read again. We'll start with my favorite, which I came up with when our assignment was to write a prayer. In addition to being a fun jab at the mingling of commercialism with religion at Christmas time, if you look closely you'll see that I count down the 12 days of Christmas in an unusually clever way.


Dear Santa, I can't sleep. The clock on my nightstand shows a pair of twelves.
It's Christmas Day. Noel. Even now you're speeding home to your wife and your elves,
But you see all, you know all, and I ask that you listen to my prayer.
You've been in every house tonight, but when I go downstairs I fear I'll find no presents there.
If that's the case, I beg you to change your course, make your sleigh turn around
And come back. Let Christmas Eve now get a redo, and with it a profound
Change in your philosophy. Let "naughty and nice" become six of one,
Half a dozen of the other. For if I've learned anything in my short span
On this earth, it's that mercy should be the hallmark of our species, not justice.
Win souls with reexamined doctrine--we ought to receive gifts at Christmas
Not by works, but by belief. Some say faith without works is dead, but don't listen
To that. I believe in you, Santa. So...can I get an iPhone? Amen.

(As I pointed out the first time I shared this on my blog, I was shocked to find that none of my classmates had ever heard the expression "six of one, half a dozen of the other." Crazy.)


[The assignment: write an accentual poem (each line has the same number of accents). I actually blew that a little bit, but I did still come up with this tribute to Edna Krabappel, shortly after the death of actress Marcia Wallace, who voiced Edna for over 20 years on The Simpsons.]

Oh, Edna. I can't believe you're gone.
A sub stands at the chalkboard in your class
But you can never be replaced. Never
Again will I see your trusty green sweater,
Or hear your trademark "Ha!" I've loved you
Since our first moment of intimacy
In Martin's playhouse. I could have had you forever,
Could have married you, but I got cold feet.

Since then, I watched you with other men--
Comic Book Guy, Ned Flanders, even
The drummer from Aerosmith. Each new beau
Shattered my hopes anew. Yet I still hoped
For a reunion, and I believed I had
All the time in the world. Time operates
Differently in Springfield. You seemed ageless,
As if you'd been teaching Bart Simpson
For decades. I thought you'd always be here

But now you're gone forever. Oh, Edna,
I can't handle Mother being the only
Woman in my life again. Please come back
To me. Take a field trip from heaven.
I'm sure God will sign the permission slip.


[The assignment: write a poem in which at least 75% of the lines are enjambed. Also, we were given the choice of a few lines from famous poems as a jumping off point; I selected the "etherized upon the table" line from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," one of my all-time favorites.]

The slab of beef lies cold on the countertop
Like a patient etherized
Upon a table. I poke it, prod it, and with my scalpel
Trim away the fat.
Each incision makes my patient
A little healthier. I take spices—my medicines—
And apply them to the lifeless meat. I rub them in
Knowing that they will help enliven the slab, make it dance
On taste buds.

Next comes the mallet. Some may call my methods
Unorthodox, but by smashing the meat, breaking it down, I know
I'm helping it reach its full potential, like a sculptor
Hammering at a mass of marble. Any wounds caused by the tenderization
Will be cauterized by the heat, the flames
Of the oven, and my patient will emerge
Unscathed, like the three Hebrew children
In the Babylonian furnace. Like them, the slab
Was not only unharmed, but it smells
Better than ever too.

Post-op, the patient is taken
To a countertop recovery room to rest.
The loved ones have arrived, anxious to know
If the operation was a success. Meanwhile, they nurse
Their drinks. In neighboring wings

The coroner wraps cor'ned beef
In plastic to send it home with families,
Newborns are bottle-fed in the veal ward,
And billing agents calculate amounts due
By the pound. But the real meat and potatoes
Of this facility is where I ply my skills.

I scrub up, change
Out of my red-stained smock, and announce
To the visitors that the patient's temperature
Has stabilized. The meat has been fully
Cured. Health and happiness are more rare
Than we would like, but in this case the job was

(There was even a bonus Old Testament reference in that one!)


[The assignment: write a poem that rhymes. No other instructions, as it was the first assignment of our poetry unit. This is the revised version I turned in with my final portfolio; the original, shorter version is included in the post I link to above. I'm not sure which version I prefer.]

It shouldn't be this big a deal,
Considering how long we've dated.
But she says "You know how I feel;
Putting labels on things is overrated."

At times she’ll let me steal
A kiss, and when that happens I’m elated.
I’m tempted to buy a ring and kneel
But I worry that she’s just too jaded

To say yes. So we’re just spinning wheels
While our "coupling" remains unconsummated.
I make my eloquent appeals,
And yet she says "It's best we waited."

I cannot wait. Though I know that she'll
Be beyond annoyed--oh, she will hate it--
I have this impulse to reveal
Something; it won't subside, it must be sated.

If it's not on Facebook it's not real--
My relationship status? "It's complicated."


[The assignment: write an 8-line poem. The astute among you will notice that this poem is longer than 8 lines; again, this is a revised version I turned in as part of my final portfolio. The original work is almost identical to the first two stanzas shown here.]

Did you hear? The guy from Maroon 5
And The Voice--yeah, Adam Levine--
Is now the sexiest man alive?
At least, so says People Magazine.

Somehow they managed to overlook me
Yet again. I don't mean to nag or
Complain, but if they'd watch me they'd see
He's not the only one with moves like Jagger.

Can't fret too much, though, there's still the TIME
"Person of the Year." I like my chances.
Hold on, what's this? A greater crime--
They've given the title to Pope Francis!

Beat out by a rockstar and a pope
These editors are bent on japes.
But I'm not beat yet, there's still hope--
Is there a mag devoted to sour grapes?


[The assignment: write an aubade.]

Traces of natural light sift through the blinds, mingling
With the artificial glow of the laptop monitor.
The mixture is sufficient to rouse me
From my unplanned power nap. I raise
My head from the keyboard and look
At the screen--b bnvnhjnhj bn jnhhhhhhhhh. Darn.
No infinite simian Shakespeare magic
Working in my favor tonight. My conscious mind
Is a better writer than my unconscious--but just
Barely. Still only on page four of ten.

I sip my blood-red Mountain Dew, and realize
My lifestyle has become sub-vampiric--
They at least get to retire when the sun rises.
I sink my teeth back into my writing,
This English term paper that seems as if
It will never reach a terminus. I crank out
Sentence after sentence, yet the end
Remains in shadows, and I wonder
If Frost was also a procrastinating college student,
For dawn has come and yet it feels like
I still have miles to go before I sleep.

(The gibberish in line 6 is the result I got by actually smashing the keyboard with my head. I'm all about authenticity.)

I think the last two pieces are tied for 2nd place in my mind, though I like them all at least a little. Which is your favorite? (Or least favorite, I suppose, if you want to be that way.) After you let me know in the comments, get to work on reading those Psalms. You only need to read 25 Psalms for each of the poems I included here to complete the book!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Watch With Jeff: 2014 Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest

With family get-togethers, parades, the World Cup, staking out the best firework-viewing spots, and who knows what else occupying your time on Independence Day, it's possible you may have missed this year's edition of the biggest event on the competitive eating calendar: the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest.

Don't worry, that's why I'm here. It's time for another installment of Watch With Jeff! It doesn't appear that the video can be embedded in the post, but here's the link. So grab your favorite beverage, some hot dogs to dunk in it (optional), click that link, and enjoy!

0:06: Right off the bat, we get a look at Eric "Badlands" Booker, a veteran contender who won the qualifier I participated in back in 2009. He fancies himself a rapper, so maybe we're getting some sort of freestyle intro.

0:28: Nope, he's just talking, apparently. Booker's not one of the major stars of the "sport" anymore so I'm surprised he's being featured so prominently.

0:55: "Joey Chestnut stands alongside those legends [of baseball and other sports]..." If you've never watched the hot dog contest before, brace yourselves for insane amounts of hyperbole.

3:28: Champion Chestnut's girlfriend (now fiancee) is also a competitive eater, but far from the best (both genders competed together at Coney Island until 2011, now there's a separate women's event). She needs to step up her game if these two ever hope to join the ranks of athlete power couples like Lindsey and Tiger, Andre and Steffi, or Mia and Nomar.

4:14: I love how ecstatic the giant dancing hot dogs are for the newly engaged couple.

5:23: I love how everyone goes along with Major League Eating's efforts to portray this as a real sport, with weigh-ins and championship belts and everything. I'm actually a big fan of title belts, and think they should be used whenever possible in competitions. It's a much easier way to let everyone know you're the best than attaching a trophy to a chain and wearing it around your neck.

6:00: Rich Shea and his brother George (the huckster on the stage in the background) are the driving forces that have made competitive eating a real thing, with a national (and sometimes international) circuit, world rankings, a Hall of Fame, even a video game. They've never met an exaggeration they didn't like, as you'll notice as the show continues.

8:31: If you're interested, you can watch the full women's competition here, but this video only has highlights.

8:54: Did you notice Shea's "conscious uncoupling" joke there? Making jokes and allusions to pop culture happenings is par for the course at Coney Island on July 4th. I wonder how disturbed Gwyneth would be if she knew she was in any way connected to this orgy of gluttony.

10:27: Ah yes...I forgot that the Watch ESPN player doesn't edit out the commercial breaks in their archived events.

13:01: And we're back!

13:40: Even though Chestnut was a 7-time reigning champ heading into yesterday's contest, if you've only heard of one competitive eater it's probably Kobayashi. MLE has had a number of contract disputes with the former champ in the past few years, and he hasn't competed at Nathan's since 2009. They usually ignore him in these broadcasts now, but if they do refer to him it is decidedly not complimentary.

16:12: To Chestnut, not being able to eat 60 hot dogs and buns in ten minutes equals not figuring out one's body. I think most people figure out easily that their body doesn't want to do that. And that's why we enjoy watching this freak show every year.

17:18: Such a trash-talker! Even the Larry Bird "which one of you is going to finish second?" stories seem humble by comparison.

19:12: Ahh, hair glad you're here, Cari Champion.

22:20: As you've certainly noticed before this segment, all competitors dunk their buns in water or some other liquid to help them go down faster. That was the part I was most nervous about when I competed--gagging on soggy buns. When I did it for the first time it was weird, but not nearly as gross as I had anticipated.

24:43: 4 liters of food...oh my. This is perhaps the most revolting thing I've ever seen (but I'll still hit up the pizza buffet once a month with my brother, no problem). Thanks Sport Science!

28:44: Joey's tweet on July 5th: "Just waking up to an insane amount of gas."

29:17: Time for George Shea to work his magic. By the end of these introductions you'll feel that hot dog eaters are the world's greatest superheroes.

32:28: There's our friend Badlands again. As you've noticed, everyone here has a nickname. My competitive eating moniker: "The Love Handle."

32:40: Whoah, George Shea is the one who ended up rapping!

33:51: This guy's also a burping champion? How versatile!

36:48: Tim Janus is a pretty cool name already, but this guy goes by his alter ego, "Eater X," complete with Ultimate Warrior-style face paint (will the rain mess up his paint? we'll have to wait and see). Eater X, Badlands Booker, and Chestnut are the only guys left from 2005, when I first watched the contest. I miss Cookie Jarvis, Crazy Legs Conti, Deep Dish Bertoletti, and all the others I "grew up" watching. Hopefully this new crop of talent will be just as memorable.

37:23: Watch that first step, X, it's a dooooozy!

38:25: Just once in my life, I want to be carried into a room on a divan. If he wins again and they have to carry him back out, they may need an extra guy. He's going to be 20,000 calories heavier, after all.

42:37: Hold on...was that badlands rapping a hot dog version of "Gangsta's Paradies?" Weird Al must be spinning in his grave.

43:44: And they're off!

44:22: "Luis Suarez bite." Well played, Shea, especially since you won't be able to make World Cup jokes again for another four years. Luckily there are still elite tennis players, golfers, runners, football players, boxers, etc., that you can pretend these guys are equal or superior to.

44:47: It rained a bit during my contest five years ago, but it seems to be raining much harder here. It might soften up the buns more, but I bet it also messes with their concentration.

47:17: I wonder how one becomes a Nathan's referee? Or a scorecard girl, for that matter? And if any of them want to trade places?

48:46: #Megatoad

49:24: "Quote-unquote great Kobayashi..." Let it go, Rich Shea. Just let it go.

50:57: I think one of them must be trying to eat the microphones or something. Hot mic, hot mic...

53:14: "I am not given to hyperbole..." So great.

54:00: When the buzzer sounds, whatever you have in your mouth counts as long as you swallow it, with no "reversal of fortune" (i.e., puke).

59:21: Dog fight. Heh. Nice one, champ.

59:56: Congrats, Joey! You're simultaneously really good and really gross. I would trade places with you in a heartbeat. See you next year.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Ninety and nine problems

There are two LDS hymns that, when sung in meetings, used to always generate strong, almost electrifying spiritual sensations for me (hair standing on end, feeling something akin to the "burning in the bosom" mentioned in the scriptures, etc.). Well, more accurately, a line in each of the hymns: "find in thee my strength, my beacon" from "Lord, I Would Follow Thee," and "Wake up the world" from "Praise to the Man."

You'll notice I said "used to;" for the last two or three years, these hymns haven't had the same effect on me, coinciding with a general absence of strong spiritual experiences in my life. The Spirit certainly still influences me, but there has been a lack of what I might call "outpourings" of it when compared to other times in my life. There's likely a number of reasons for this, but I suspect that one of them is the amount of noise in my life--when I'm at home, I'm almost always in front of a TV screen or a computer monitor or both. I'm not doing bad things, but I'm leaving very little space for pondering, for introspection, for meditation.

But then last Sunday...last Sunday, in sacrament meeting, we sang both of the aforementioned hymns, and I experienced spiritual sensations similar to those I've felt in years past. I think much of this can be attributed to the fact that I blessed the sacrament for the first time in years.

From the time I turned 12, continuing through my Aaronic Priesthood years, my mission, and my various Young Single Adult wards, there weren't many weeks that I wasn't involved in either preparing, blessing, or passing the sacrament. Now I've been in a family ward for 3+ years, and the Young Men and their leaders generally are able to cover the sacramental duties. But a lot of people were gone last Sunday, and they asked me to help. I gladly agreed, because I love serving in that way. I love the feeling it gives me. And I totally get why women would want that same experience.

Yep, this is a post about the Ordain Women movement. Because you haven't read enough of them yet. I've been reading all of the same blogs and articles (sometimes even venturing into the comments section before quickly retreating), listening to all the same interviews, that you have, and thinking about it a lot (hey, I am capable of introspection! my time spent pondering this topic likely also played a part in my experience last Sunday), but even at this late stage in the news cycle these thoughts still haven't coalesced into a single, flowing post, so you just get a series of bullet points instead.

--First of all, I do not support the ordination of women at this time. I choose to align myself with the statements and decisions of church leaders and official church spokespersons, and feel that is the right thing to do.

--Anyone who views a fellow Saint's excommunication as a celebratory event needs to be much more charitable.

--Like I said, I've been reading a lot of blogs, articles, and Facebook posts, and I have a minor and a major pet peeve in relation to the common talking points used by either side. First, the minor pet peeve from those who support Ordain Women, or at least were opposed to Kate Kelly's excommunication: it irks me a little when they say things along the lines of, "I can take this blow, but what about my daughters?" Are their daughters not as resilient or as faithful as they are? You have dealt with injustices and inequities (real or perceived) for a long time and have remained active in the church; why cannot your daughters do the same? It might be difficult, but if the LDS Church is Christ's true church--I submit that it is, and the basis of your statements indicate you feel the same way--then it is worth the sacrifice.

My minor pet peeve with those who oppose female ordination: any variation of the comment "I don't want the Priesthood, I have enough to do already!" To me that is dismissive of the questions and complaints of OW supporters, and also at least a little dishonest. What if women are ordained at some point? I don't think it will happen, certainly not in the very near future, but I might be wrong. It is certainly in the realm of possibility. If that day ever comes, does your comment mean you would decline ordination? I don't think you would. I think most would serve diligently in whatever capacity they are called to do so, just as they do today. You likely do have a lot to do right now, but it's because you're the type of person who willingly takes on callings and assignments and other service opportunities, and you would still be that kind of person if female ordination ever happens.

--Now for the major pet peeves. On the OW side, I don't like the way the idea of "asking questions" is equated with having the moral high ground. Framing what they do as merely asking questions ("All we're doing is asking questions;" "Why should someone face church discipline just for asking questions;" etc.) oversimplifies and obscures the goals of and tactics used by their movement, and ignores the fact that their primary question has been definitively answered, at least for now.

On the other side...I think all statements (including Elder Oaks' recent General Conference talk) indicating that women exercise Priesthood power and authority in a way equal to men is disingenuous, or at least incomplete in addressing the concerns of OW and its supporters. Pretending that there is equality between genders in the hierarchy of the church is just silly. It's simply not true. But I'm ok with this inequity, because in the ways that matter most there is true equality. You're likely burned out on reading about this stuff by now, but there are two lengthy blog posts that I urge you to read (after finishing this post, of course). They resonate more with me--by far--than anything else I have read on these topics, and I feel they do an excellent job expounding on these major pet peeves of mine. Both were written before excommunication became part of the story, and that might be part of why they seem so refreshing. The first is a paper by Neylan McBaine on how the paradigms we should be viewing our church experience through can create true equality between genders; the second, by Jeff Giliam, outlines the way questioning can "mask rather than resolve the tensions between Mormonism and intellectualism." Again, both pieces are fairly long but well worth your time.

--On to church disciplinary councils. While serving as a ward clerk a few years ago, I attended two disciplinary councils, and...they suck. And I had it comparatively easy--in both cases, a member had been disfellowshipped, and this was a follow-up council after their probationary period in which full privileges were restored. But the previous councils and the events that led to them were reviewed, follow-up questions asked, and plans made to avoid relapses. They were uncomfortable experiences, hopeful but melancholy. I imagine it's even worse when more severe penalties are involved. Yes, they are "courts of love," but also quite intimidating. If you're reading this, there's good chance you've seen the late-80s church video How Rare A Possession, which includes the story of Vincenzo Di Francesca, the Italian pastor who found a coverless copy of the Book of Mormon, read it, and was converted. As a result, he was brought before a disciplinary council and ordered to burn the book or face excommunication (you can watch the scene here, it's about seven minutes long).

While this is not a perfect comparison (the video is a dramatic reenactment, Kelly's council would've had fewer people involved, all Latter-day Saints would agree Di Francesca made the right decision, etc.), there are enough similarities between the situations of Vincenzo and Kate that the video can help us better understand what she was feeling when she learned of the impending discipline. Appearing before a panel of your hierarchical superiors, people who you've worked with and admire, people who you believe love you and the Lord, but they're asking you to destroy something very precious to you or face severe consequences. Add in the fact that it's an all-male panel--potentially frightening to a woman anyway, particularly so in this case due to the charges that prompted the council to begin with--and it's easy to understand why Kelly has reacted so negatively both to the idea of church discipline generally and to her case specifically.

That being said...the way things have been playing out, some type of disciplinary action was inevitable, and I have a hard time believing that Kelly or any of her supporters were surprised by this outcome. Their sadness makes sense; their shock does not. Personally, I do not think excommunication was necessary--yet; Kelly was on some sort of informal probation before, I think it would've made more sense to impose a formal probation, set guidelines for her to follow to avoid excommunication, and schedule another council for six months or so later. If this plan was followed, and she indicated at the time that she could not or would not comply with the guidelines set out, there would still be no need to act hastily. Give her a chance to change her mind, to repent, to align herself with church leaders and doctrine. It seems probable that excommunication would still be the ultimate result, but I would have liked to see her receive one more chance.

--A few thoughts on John Dehlin, while I'm addressing church discipline. I haven't read nearly as much by or about him as I have about Kate Kelly, but I have read this. Based off of that information and the other things I've read, I would say that: 1) Dehlin essentially stating that he values his church membership, but does not want to be a member of a church congregation, earned a big eye roll from me; 2) he has many beliefs and opinions that run contrary to church doctrine, and while he espouses those views he should never hold a calling in the church that would allow him to disseminate them in an official capacity; 3) with those restrictions, there are still plenty of ways he could serve in the church, if he chose (and had a less mutually antagonistic relationship with his ward and quorum leaders)--assistant clerk, quorum secretary, home teaching coordinator, building security, etc.; and, 4) though the majority of his beliefs are contrarian and unorthodox, he does not seem to be advocating them to others, certainly not in any organized way comparable to what Ordain Women does. He's basically an inactive member who has lost his testimony. There are, sadly, millions of other Mormons in that same situation. It's regrettable and concerning, certainly, but not grounds for excommunication in my view.

It made me sad when, in the first day or two after the news broke that Kelly and Dehlin may be facing church discipline, I saw a number of Twitter and Facebook posts where people indicated one or both of these newsmakers were their only connection to the church. I hope that they at least have a connection to the gospel through their faith in Christ, however small; that is also a connection to the church. But those who are struggling should (and likely do) have more mortal connections to the church than they realize.

In that same first day or two after this hit the news, I was (as usual) watching a syndicated rerun of The Simpsons. In this particular episode, Bart is sent to military school as punishment for his bad behavior. Lisa voluntarily enrolls with him, seeking a challenge she just wasn't getting in public school. But being the only girl in school proves to be a bigger challenge than she anticipated, and the situation is exacerbated when even her brother shuns her in an attempt to fit in with the other guys. Later, he apologizes (you can see the scene here, beginning at the 15:08 mark, though when The Simpsons are involved I always recommend watching the full episode :-)):

Bart: Sorry I froze you out, Lis. I just didn't want the guys to think I'd gone soft on the girl issue.
Lisa: [sighs] I'm tired of being an issue, Bart. Maybe everyone would be better off if I just quit.
Bart: But if you quit, it would be like an expert knot tier quitting a knot-tying contest right in the middle of tying a knot.
Lisa: Why'd you say that?
Bart: I dunno, I was just looking at my shoelaces. But the point is, you're going to make it Lis, and I'm going to stick by you.
Lisa: Don't do that. Why should we both be outcasts?
Bart: Then I'll just stick by you in secret. Like a sock maker secretly working on a top secret sock that...
Lisa: (interrupts) Will you stop looking at your feet?

A few lessons we can take from this:

--Guys often struggle to relate to what women are going through, or to say the right thing even when they do relate.
--In the church, there are women's issues, but the women themselves are not "issues." They are real people with real feelings and real concerns. And they are our sisters. We ought to stick by them. Most of us do, at least a little bit. Most of us could also do better in this regard.
--If you're feeling like Lisa Simpson right now, please don't quit. If you keep at it, you're going to make it. You may never receive the thing you currently desire, but you can receive the thing we all should desire most--the eternal equivalent of a "satisfactory completion" medal (seriously, watch the full episode).

It is possible to, like Bart, get inspiration while looking at our feet. But we will receive much more if we look to the heavens. I hope we will all do more of that as we seek to know God's will for us, our place in the church, and the best way to interact with our brothers and sisters along the way.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Take me out to the ball game

If I were going to start a Tumblr called "Attending Major League Baseball Games With Beautiful Women," I'd have a decent amount of content to get started with. But, since I think it's a rule that all Tumblrs must somehow incorporate Nicolas Cage, I'll just post the evidence here instead.

Back in March, my friend Liz and I took a road trip to Arizona to check out spring training. March is definitely the best time of year to spend time outdoors in the Phoenix area, when the temperature is only in the 80s instead of the 110s.

We saw three games in two days, including Angels/Mariners at Diablo Stadium (ironic name for the home of the Angels), Giants/White Sox at Scottsdale Stadium (the Giants are Liz's favorite National League team), and Diamondbacks/Rockies at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick (no pictures here from that facility, which the two teams share, and that's a shame because it's gorgeous, as nice as an actual Major League stadium, just with fewer seats).

More recently, I took my first-ever trip to Seattle, where I saw a bunch of friends I hadn't seen in a while, but Jen was the only one who wanted to go to a game. Before my trip two weeks ago, it had been over six years since Jen and I had seen each other. My favorite team, the Tigers, were playing the Mariners. As we walked to our seats, an elderly usher commented on our conflicting team allegiances, and then actually pulled two baseball cards from his pocket and gave them to us--one of a Seattle player, one of a Detroit player, both from 1998. I love old ballpark employees, because they all seem to really love their jobs. I saw the great Miguel Cabrera hit a home run, but alas, the Mariners were victorious in the end.

From Seattle I flew to New York, and went to Yankees games on back-to-back nights (making three games in four nights; I've had two big baseball binges this year and it was so great). I went to the first game with my friend Bryan; he's a handsome enough guy, but there's no room for him in this post. The next night, my friend Erin joined me. She was one of my favorite people when I lived in NYC, and luckily she hasn't moved away yet like so many of my other favorites. We waited out an hour-plus rain delay, and I got to see Derek Jeter play in person for likely the last time ever. If I was a fan of Jeter and the Yanks, that might make me sad. I would be more broken up if I knew that I'd never again get to see the weird Cracker Jack vendor from our section.

A couple things are evident here: one, the regular iPhone camera takes much clearer pictures than the front-facing camera on my Android; two, I have extremely attractive friends (they're also great people and delightful to talk to, but that's harder to convey in a selfie); and three, combining one awesome thing (baseball) with another awesome thing (gorgeous gals) results in a doubly awesome thing. I had two pretty stellar vacations.

You may all begin making your "getting to first base" Take me out to the ball game, indeed.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Laird of Dunans

In one way or another, I've lived in a state of arrested development virtually my entire life. I was sickly as a child, and unable to learn to swim or ride a bike at the typical age. I was a bed-wetter for longer than I care to admit. I'm a decade (or more) past the age when many of my friends began marrying and having children, yet I'm still single.

But in the last few years, nothing has made me feel like less of a grown-up than seeing my peers start to buy their own houses, and realizing how far away I am financially from being able to do that. It's a little intimidating, quite frankly.

However, thanks to my brother Derek, I need hang my head in shame no longer. I'm now a property owner! And not just any property--I own part of a Scottish castle! Well, the castle grounds, anyway. You know that company that sells the naming rights to stars and things like that, and how ridiculous it seems? Well, they also sell land and titles in connection with Dunans Castle (pictured above), and that is totally not ridiculous. Derek bought one for me for my birthday back in April, and it took a while but the deed finally arrived:

That's right, I'm now a Laird of Dunans. Not to be confused with "Lord of the Dance." In fact, I've been specifically instructed that I am not to use the British aristocratic title Lord. Just Laird, which simply means "landowner," ranking "below a Baron and above an Esquire."

Much of Dunans was destroyed by fire in 2001, and they're selling these titles to help pay the restoration costs. I'm not sure if I will ever visit my property; getting to Scotland is tricky enough, and the area the castle is in isn't easily accessible from the main tourist destinations. It's actually not far from a town called Dunoon, where I was once stranded overnight as a missionary because the weather was bad and, as I said, it's kind of in the middle of nowhere.

But should I make it, I'll be able to take a free tour, during which a landmark will be pointed out to me, enabling me to find my "estate." If you blow up the picture of my deed, you'll see my plot number; it indicates that if I walk 5,878 feet north and 2 feet east from said landmark (why the Scots are using English feet instead of metres, I don't know, but they should be ashamed), I'll be standing on my inheritance, and I can raise my arms to the sky to exult in my lairdship. But the arms will have to be straight up, or I'll be encroaching on another laird's plot.

Oh, did I forget to mention that my property consists of a single square foot? But that's one more square foot than I own in America, and one more square foot than any of you own on the grounds of a Scottish castle. You homeowners can have your HOA fees and your sprinkler systems and your drywall and your matching dinnerware sets. I'll just keep on living the good life. The Laird life.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

I will not leave you Ruthless

I was out of town most of the week (on likely the best vacation of my adult life; I'll chronicle it on this blog in at least some capacity next week), and am playing catch-up on work and church and TV things, so this post will be pretty short.

This week in Gospel Doctrine we learn about Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz, plus Hannah, Eli, and Samuel. The title of this post is an amalgam of a well-known verse from the Gospel of John and an awful Bible pun (not like the "awesome" Bible puns I included in my last post).

The pun I'm referring to was made frequently by one of my religion professors at BYU, and indirectly cost me thousands of dollars. Here's how I described it on my old blog back in 2009:

For a few of the job applications I've filled out recently, I've had to include my college GPA. One even asked for a year-by-year GPA, which meant I checked out my transcript for the first time in a while. I was remarkably consistent in college--I had a cumulative 3.89 GPA, yet never had a semester with a 4.0. It reminds me of the time I took Julie Camp to the Christmas Dance in high school. We went bowling before the dance, and Julie got a 79 without a single spare or strike. Now that's consistency. 
My lowest GPA for a semester was 3.64, due mainly to the C+ I "achieved" in my Old Testament class--my worst grade ever at any level. The C+ was my fault, though at the time I blamed my professor. He made awful jokes, all the time, the same ones over and over again (like calling the fourth book of Moses "Leave it to cuss," or talking about how grateful he was for the Book of Ruth, because "it would be a shame to be Ruthless"). I've made my share of bad jokes before, but I'm usually aware that they're bad, and I haven't been a serial joke-repeater since my childhood "Why did the fishermen go fishing?" days. 
Even worse, he gave a quiz every day, and then we graded our own quizzes in class. That means I'd have to suffer through "if I put [something vaguely related], can I get half credit?" types of questions every time. This process took at least 15 minutes in each class, and since we only had two 50-minute sessions a week to begin with to cover about 800 pages of OT curriculum, and since it was an 8 AM class, I gave in to my frustration and skipped almost half of the classes. Since I wasn't there to take the quizzes, my grade slipped down past the Bs. 
For my first few years of college, I had a grade-based full tuition scholarship, which I got one year at a time, and then it would be renewed if my grades were good enough. My grades, as stated above, were good, but so were my classmates' (Communications is a pretty easy major, I'll readily admit that), and that fall my GPA was one-hundredth of a point below the cutoff for full tuition, and I got a half tuition scholarship instead. 
So, my laziness or stubbornness or whatever you want to call it in relation to my Old Testament class cost me about $1600 (BYU is remarkably cheap compared to other schools, isn't it?). I ended up receiving a departmental scholarship that covered the rest of my tuition, but I probably would've got that anyway, and could've used that money for any number of other things. Pretty frustrating, and I only have myself to blame.
That college 4.0 has remained elusive since my return to academia last year, as I got a single A- in my first semester back and two of them in my most recent term. Someday...but anyway, how about that Ruth pun?  Pretty Samuel the LAME-anite, am I right? Well, jokes aside, you still have some time before class to study about Samuel, Boaz, and some of the most impressive women in all of scripture. See you Sunday!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Punday School

This Sunday's Gospel Doctrine class covers the Book of Judges. There are some great, inspiring stories and characters in the book, like Gideon and Deborah (a female prophet who was friends with a guy named Barak; feel free to consult this post from a few weeks ago for some Obama jokes to either use or brace yourself for, and definitely get ready for at least one derogatory comment about "liberals").

But it's also arguably the book with the highest page-for-page ratio of brutal acts and shocking behavior, and that's really saying something with the Old Testament. The list includes but is not limited to:

--Jael pounding a tent stake through a guy's head, "and fastened it into the ground" (Judg. 4:21)
--Jephthah sacrificing his daughter in order to keep a silly vow he had made (see Judg.11)
--Samson slaying thousands of Philistines single-handedly, including a thousand in one battle using only the jawbone of an ass (see Judg. 14-16)
--a sad, bizarre narrative where the rape and mutilation of a concubine leads to the near-extinction of the tribe of Benjamin (see Judg. 19-21)
--a wicked king so obese that, when a hero slays him with a knife, "the fat closed upon the blade...and the dirt came out" (Judg. 3:22); this one is so out there that the brutality becomes comical

It's not violent like the above examples, but perhaps the most surprising verse is the one in which the aforementioned Samson calls his new bride a cow, and not in a good Johnny Lingo kind of way. When she betrays Samson by revealing the answer to his riddle to their wedding guests, he says, "if ye had not plowed with with my heifer, ye had not found out my riddle" (Judg. 14:18).

Ouch. For your enjoyment, here are some more Bible-based riddles. They're also cringe-worthy, but in a different way than Samson's diss.

Q: Who developed a potty mouth at a very early age?
A: Job--he cursed the day of his birth

Q: Who was the best doctor in the Bible?
A: Job--he had the most patience

Q: Which Bible character had no parents?
A: Joshua, the son of Nun (they're not ALL about Job)

Q: Why shouldn't Christians watch TV?
A: At the Transfiguration, Jesus said "tell the vision to no man" (Matt. 17:9). Thank goodness it's just a joke--So You Think You Can Dance returns tonight, and it would be terrible if watching Cat Deeley was considered a sin.

Q: What kind of car did the ancient apostles drive?
A: A Honda--they were all "with one Accord" (Acts 1:14, 2:1, etc.)

And, bringing us full circle...

Q: Who was the greatest comedian in the Bible?
A: Samson--he brought the house down! (Of course, as referred to above, the one time Samson told a joke, he didn't like how his audience responded so he killed 30 people. I'd definitely laugh at his act.)

So study the Book of Judges, because if we all show up to Sunday School "with one accord" seeking to be taught by the spirit, then our testimonies will be strengthened. And that's no joke.