April 5-19: The Sycamores are cut down, but I walk Magnolia Lane

I’m playing catch-up again. No bueno. Here is a quick recap of the last two weeks, and then I’ll send out this week’s blog tomorrow.

First, I returned from Texas late Saturday night, April 4th. I stopped in Price, Utah on my way up the canyon and grabbed some groceries. I had sent a survey out and gathered some responses from ward members as I wanted to provide a little service, and we weren’t able to meet for anything. I decided to make pizza for anyone who wanted one between sessions of General Conference. More people were still in town than I imagined, and so David Kaiser and I made 21 pizzas in a little over 2 hours, running them out the door and delivering them and keeping the oven cranked to 500 degrees the whole time. They all turned out really good, i.e. none of them burned, we had enough ingredients. Everyone was very grateful, and David and I (joined by Porter towards the end) enjoyed the chance to serve and cook – both things we all like to do.

Until 1752, Great Britain – and by extension the American Colonies, celebrated the New Year on March 25th. Of course, this was with the Julian Calendar, which is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar, which we use today. So, for millenia, New Years was celebrated on April 7th. I think that April is a month of rebirth, the month that spring arrives, the world rejoices and blooms, and the promise of a brighter future is before us all. It is my favorite month.

Additionally, for me, April perhaps more than any other, is a month of tradition and history. For whatever reason, some major events are inscribed in my memory, and I think about them a lot in April. The start of the Civil War: April 12, 1861. The end: April 9th, 1865. Sinking of the titanic: April 15th, 1912. (Mom actually met a Titanic survivor as a child, who lived nearby them in Colorado). Also April 15th, (but in 1865) is when Lincoln was assassinated. And of course, April 19th  marks the anniversary of the start of the Revolutionary War. Now, we celebrate Patriots Day on the 3rd Monday of April. (April 15th has marked many horrible events; besides the two listed above, it was April 15th, 2013 that the Boston Marathon Bombing happened. I can still remember where I was, it shocked and surprised me so bad. I left school and was just pulling up to play Sugarwood Golf Course in West Virginia when the news came over the radio. I immediately called Mom to see if she knew. Beware the ides of April).

That was a very long digression; the whole point of this is I want to say that there are two events I look forward to, that have become a tradition in my life.

The first weekend is of course General Conference. I look forward to two days of hearing the words of the prophets, and this is the first time while living in Utah I haven’t attended in person, as all sessions were closed to the public, and only broadcast. Even the Tabernacle Choir didn’t sing, but had recorded songs played to make sure they kept under the governments 10-person or less guideline. I loved the messages, and will be reviewing them again. There was released a new Proclamation, entitled, “The Restoration of the Fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: A Bicentennial Proclamation to the World.” It’s a powerful message.

The second event I eagerly wait for, is the Masters Tournament, held the second weekend of every April. This year the tournament will be held in November. The final round television broadcasts from 1970-2019 are online though and free to view and if I could only watch one thing on tv for the rest of my life, I think I would choose these. Sometimes when I am painting or if I am cleaning the house, I will put one on and let it play in the background. So so good. One that I watched recently was the 2012 final round. This brought back a ton of memories. The Masters for me ends on Saturday (usually – 2019 excepted), but in 2012 I visited Bro. Parrish in the hospital and we spent a couple hours together watching the broadcast. He was interned as his diabetes had worsened and the doctors were cutting off the bad areas in his toes and feet. I will forever remember those hours there. Louis Oosthuizen (from South Africa) made an incredible double eagle from 260 yards on the second hole, the first time anyone had made a 2 on that hole. Most importantly, I sat and absorbed a lecture on mortality and living well. I sure miss Bro. Parrish.

Absent the actual playing of the tourney, I have been able to go out and play a few times at least. I went to Hobble Creek with Lawson and Kimball. Social distancing was in full effect there. No carts allowed, only walking, and the flagsticks couldn’t be removed, nor were there rakes to rake bunkers. The clubhouse was locked besides for the bathrooms and all tee times had to scheduled and paid for over the phone. We had a great time, and played the back nine on April 11th, and the front on April 18th. I also went with Kevin Ford and played at Sleepy Hollow. Pictured below is Hobble Creek, hole #9. This year I’ve been driving it so consistently its not fair. I put the ball on the tee, swing, and go find it 320 yards away, dead straight. I LOVE IT!

The weather has been beautiful and it has been perfect for golf and gardening. While I was in Texas, Utah had some unseasonably cold temps and even some snow fall and accumulate. While this might have prevented some seeds from sprouting, not all is lost. The carrots are struggling, the spinach doing ok, the beets even better, and we have a bumper crop of radishes on its way.

My garlic is still inside, and I have a bunch of cloves growing in separate jars, which allows to me conduct lots of experiments in terms of sunshine and watering and soil depth, etc. These two are the highest so far.

This is the start of a garlic empire!

Tuesday has traditionally been our EQP meeting, and even though we don’t have much going on in the ward, we still meet. Of the different presidencies I’ve been a part of, this with Dillon and Reigen has been my favorite. We really jell together, work hard to get stuff done, and always have a great time. Tuesday April 7th resulted in lots of laughs, culminating in a hilarious leg-wrestling competition in my front yard.

Here, Shandi is about to flip Dillon’s brother Dave.

On Tuesday the 14th, Carson came down from Bountiful and we made and ate pizza, then played pickleball. We strung Carson’s slackline between two cars in the church parking lot, and played with that as our net. It actually worked fantastically and we had a few good hours of play before the sun set.

I was hoping for a pic of the actual set-up, but some of me being a ham will have to suffice.

We are all trying to be safe, with plenty of handwashing and keeping group sizes small. Also, I do avoid visiting older people, and definitely won’t be going to the nursing home to sing anytime soon. Otherwise though, my life hasn’t changed much with all the government mandates going on. I am so, so glad that Utah is one of only a few states that don’t have a “stay at home” law in effect. Our book club still has walk-n-talks at a local park, and I am grateful I can be outside without any problems. One thing that has changed is going to the grocery store. It’s a pain. Rancho Markets has had a line going down the sidewalk every time I want to go, and I finally sucked it up and waited my turn to enter.

The benefit was after waiting for my turn, the store was super empty and I found some items I’ve never seen before. Some of the basics like flour, baking soda, yeast, and olive oil have been tough to find still in Utah, but I only get produce at Rancho Markets and they had everything stocked.

I’ve had some more culinary adventures. This is a a yellow lentil and rice recipe I tried out. And ate for lunch+dinner two days in a row. 0/10 would recommend. The smoothie however has been a repeat hit, with cranberries, limes, coconut flakes and evaporated milk combining into one delicious drink.

I was craving burgers, and made some, cut up a bunch of fries, made homemade bbq sauce, and some wheat bread for the bun. 10/10 on these.

Besides the lentils, another first was bruschetta and a lemon pasta that Porter and I had for a Sunday dinner. Sundays have been fun. I’ve been taking 3 mile walks and doing lots of studying of the scriptures. Kelson usually comes over for a few games of chess, and Porter always has supper with me which is a highlight every week. Dellan and David joined one week for giant burritos, and our discussion ended up lasting from 3:30-8 pm.

Monday nights are also great; we’ve settled into our family “Come Follow Me” discussion via zoom, comprising the Bach’s, Texas, and sometimes Porter+Tanmarie. I love seeing the fam and hearing their gospel insights.

I heard back from BYU Law School – they said that the class that applied has record high LSAT scores and a record number paid their deposits – so no one was admitted from the waitlist. There is a slight chance that I’d get in after the second deposit deadline in June. However, the dean of admissions basically guaranteed me a seat if I got a 166 on June’s LSAT. When I heard that, I figured UCONN is where I’ll be going. Then, the dean emailed again and let me know that if I got a 166, I’d get a 1/2 ride scholarship, and a 167-168 would most likely mean a full-ride. That was unexpected news, so I signed up for the June LSAT and will give it one more shot. UCONN did increase their offer, and I think it would be a great place to end up; the idea of a 3 year full-ride though makes me salivate, and I talked with my work manager the next day about quitting. Part of me thinks its crazy – in this job environment, and with no guarantee of getting a higher score. It was a night of tossing and turning weighing the options, and I talked with the manager, Ben Stokes, and asked to let him know of my final decision on Monday. The reasoning being, if I quit my job and studied full-time, I would have 5 weeks before the test to study and if I get a higher score, the scholarship increase would more than make up for anything I could earn while working.

Additionally, my stimulus check and tax refund both arrived and have helped me reach my May 1st savings goal, and I think I might even hit my June 1st savings goal before I quit, which helps give me some room to chase my goals.

I have a small-list of movies that I want to watch, and I crossed one of them off on Saturday the 11th, as I went to Casa Picante, and joined the ladies who live there, as we watched Casablanca. We had planned to watch it outdoors via a projector, but the sky looked ominous, so we moved inside. Sure enough the rain began to pour halfway through the movie. This movie is famously what Mom and Dad went to see for their first date. I’d heard it mentioned my entire life, and I’ve seen it on all the lists of best movies, and amazingly, it exceeded my expectations. I really, really enjoyed the film.

To close, here are a few important verses from the book of James, 4:1-4

From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence even of your lusts that war in your members?

Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.

Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lust.

Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. 

 

 

 

March 23-April 4th: A Season for Everything

I spent March 23rd-April 4th in Texas. Here are some highlights:

We met regularly as a family and went through the “Come Follow Me” manual. I really enjoyed being with family and being able to talk about the gospel together. We did this at night and it was the perfect way to wind down a day.

Waggie- he is such a great dog! He’s still in puppy mode and I loved seeing him so excited. Every time I would pick up my car keys, he’d start prancing around, and when I would open the front door, he would sprint out ready to go anywhere with me.

We played lots and lots of games. I’d take 10-15 minute work breaks and we would play knockout and almost every night we would play a board game or two. I think parcheesi was the favorite this trip. Pictured below, is a game we made up. It’s called, “How fast can you run to the Counts’ mailbox and back?” Sawyer, Miller, and Breyer were all excited to play and estimated how quick they could run to the top of the hill, touch the Counts’ mailbox and return. I gave Breyer 3 minutes, Miller 2, and Sawyer 1:45. It was hilarious, and everyone enjoyed the challenge. Breyer and Sawyer just made it, and Miller was a few seconds over. Smaller races happened throughout the visit. Another favorite repeated 10 times, was the race around the outside of the house, a la Sophie and Uncle Aaron. I gave them a little head start and then would release Waggie, and he would chase them down and beat them back to me. Amazingly, when we would go out the back door, Waggie loved it so much, he would line up on the start line, ready for another race.

Another game that has arisen due to the coronavirus, is risk. Over the last few weeks, we’ve played many a round on our phones with Tanner and Porter, as well as cousins Luke and Evan. Now that I’m back, Breyer calls wanting to play, and sometimes texts using Mom’s phone or Dad’s Ipad. I get lots of unicorn and cat pictures during the games too. One of her texts went like this: “Risk tonight?” and when I didn’t respond right away, she followed up with, “Join us” “Please” and “You might find a girlfriend there”. Every game we do play is started off with her asking “Want to be allies?” Its a good time.

Another memory owed to Breyer is that of Karaoke. I’ve never sang karaoke, nor wanted to, but she loves her karaoke microphone and so we had a few karaoke nights. Breyer and Cooper were the best. Cooper did a hilarious Barry White impression, and Breyers best was Whitney Houston’s “I will Always Love you.” She sang it with much gusto and passion, but kept throwing in her own absolutely hilarious lines too, including near the crescendo this unforgettable line,

“I hope life treats you kind
And I hope you have all you’ve dreamed of
And I wish to you joy and happiness
But above all this, I wish you looooooove and a kitten!”

I didn’t take any vacation time, although in retrospect I wish I had. Instead, for two weeks, I worked in the garage, setting up my equipment and making a bureau into a standing desk. It functioned well, and I loved working outside-ish, hearing the birds and feeling the breeze. I put up really good numbers and had good success working during this time, but I should have taken advantage more of the time I had in Texas instead of working from 8:30ish-5:30ish every day.

I introduced some new foods which has us in stitches. First, after hearing Dad talk about some stuffed peppers he made, I offered that stuffed radishes are also quite delicious. Of course, I was then questioned what do you stuff radishes with? Stammering, I muttered peanut butter, and my bluff was called, which meant I had to make some. I scooped out the center, put a dab of peanut butter in, and this is the reaction I received:

Those brave enough to try, all agreed that the combo actually wasn’t bad.

Breyer really got into the spirit of April Fools and had pranks going all week, but I think I took home the prize. I had nothing planned, but while preparing some beets, I realized that the tail of a beet looks very similar to that of a rat. With my hands all bloody looking from cutting beets, I dropped the end on the floor, shouted rat, and mimed slashing the ground, then stood up and announced that he got away, but I got his tail. Skepticism turned into amazement as I held up the beet end. Miller proved most gullible. That was only with my siblings though, and when I tried it that night with Mom and Dad, they didn’t fall for it.

The meal I was making at the time has since entered family legend. Mom was working and I thought I would help out and make dinner. Its tough when its not your kitchen, and I hadn’t prepared anything in specific. Inspired by my quest to cut down on meat, I used some leftover pinto beans, and blended them up with some milk and a powdered cheese packet. I then added this mixture over scalloped potatoes. For a side, we had beets and butternut squash, both roasted. The vegatables were received well, but the bean/potato dish was not. At all. The taste wasn’t bad, but I neglected to realize that while the blended mixture looked okay, after being baked for 45 minutes, it looked completely unappealing and added a crusty brown layer to the top. That presentation left 1/2 the family boycotting the dish, and relegated me to eating leftovers for two days.

Veggie pizza at least was a success.

I wanted to go canoeing, and Breyer was the only one who wanted to go. We went to Lake Granbury and paddled around for a little while Dad fished. The weather was beautiful, and she talked and talked, as she is apt to do, while we appreciated the serene setting.

As I mentioned, Waggie would come running every time I went outside. He wasn’t the only one who loved going on rides though. While I never really went anywhere, Breyer also loved hopping into the car for a quick loop around the neighborhood. During our drives, she would talk and talk and I would listen and listen and learn. Lots of funny sayings and stories came from these trips, and I also learned that Breyer wants a sister. Who knew! It was eye-opening to hear her open up about new subjects and talk so frankly about what she wants to do and what is important to her. She isn’t sure if she wants to live in Montana when she is older, but is still leaning that way. Modeling is the dream career, but 12+ kids remain her ideal. So many times she would have these boy/girl twin name combos she would share, which always made me chuckle.

We played lots of basketball and foosball. The ping pong table is in need of some repair, so it sat this one out. I acquitted myself quite well, winning a majority of knockout games against Sawyer and Miller. Miller and I also were rivals in foosball, with lots of close games. During my visit, in two weeks I went once to the gas station to fill up, and once to play frisbee golf with Sawyer, Miller and Waggie. The city park course was still open and fairly empty. We played 18 holes, had a good time, and in this, I admit both Sawyer and Miller whooped me.

Me and Breyer had a spa night, and used some face masks I brought. Face masks and risk is a great combo for the record. A ward member stopped by and dropped some clothing off, and Dad snapped this candid of me:

I wanted to do one movie night, and we were able to gather as a family and all watch “Life is Beautiful.” I’ve talked about the movie before, so I’ll just add that once again there were lots of laughs followed by lots of tears. You know its a good movie when 13 year old Miller and 9 year old Breyer both enjoyed a foreign language film, having to read subtitles for 2 hours.

I heard back from UCONN and the University of New Hampshire regarding law school. Both offered around 75-80% scholarships. I am very grateful for the offers and have absolutely no idea what I’ll be doing. I bought a ticket to visit New England April 9-14th, but that looks like it will be cancelled.

This was truly a great trip. I loved literally every second.

Nevertheless, I felt like I needed to return to Utah, and it wasn’t quite time for me to spend the rest of the summer there.

Dad helped me tune the car up, topping off lots of the fluids and buying a spare tire. Alas, the DMV was closed as I had hoped to renew my registration, and I was left to drive 1170 miles back with expired tags.

I was cruising again and making very, very good time until I hit New Mexico. Sirius XM had just made their services free due to coronavirus, so I was able to get BYU radio and listen to General Conference. I was looking at a 9:30 pm ETA until outside the town of Waterflow, New Mexico, population 1600, I hit a giant pothole hard going on a curvy one lane road, and knew immediately that I was in trouble. 1/4 mile ahead was a 4-way stop sign, so I passed that and pulled over. Sure enough, I was losing air rapidly. At this moment, I was so very, very grateful that the day before my Dad put in time and effort to help me secure a spare tire. For there I was, in the middle of nowhere, and the thought of having to be towed (especially with so much closed due to corona), makes me shudder.  If I didn’t have a flat tire, I can imagine an angry word or two, and a great feeling of despair. Instead, I was filled with gratitude and timed myself, making the change and getting back on the road in 15 minutes. The highways were mostly empty and I avoided all trouble. Near Moab, the car in front of me was pulled over for speeding, going only 6 or so over, and I counted my blessings, as I was doing about the same speed. During the trip, I couldn’t help but feel how this trip was different than all the ones I’ve taken before.

Always, when I’m going to Utah, I feel the anticipation of so many adventures, and so much promise in the upcoming semester/months ahead. This time, I don’t know what I’m going towards. Everything is shut down; I am not returning to any dates, or to school or even to church activities. There is a huge probability that my time in Utah is coming to an end and I’ll be leaving to New England soon. There is great excitement in the unknown, but still a longing for the path that inevitably will not be taken. Time will tell what will happen.

One of the best parts about my visit was having church with twice with the family at home. I have reflected often recently on a discussion that President Lim and I had years ago. While living in Proctorville, President Lim was my hometeaching companion. I recall the visits we made together very fondly and am grateful for the many lessons he shared with me. On one, on our way to the household of Jamie Wolfe, he talked about how the church has made spiritual self-reliance more of a focus and shifted the responsibility to the individual. Mind you, this was sometime in 2012-2013 and he talked about how much has changed over the years in terms of scheduling. Church used to be split up over many nights. When we talked, we were attending only a 3 hour block every Sunday. This allowed more family time and allowed the individual more time for personal study, etc. He predicted a time when church would not happen, and everything would happen on the familial and personal level. Now, church has not happened for weeks, and this status will likely last for many more weeks. I am confident that similar events will play out in the future, whether another pandemic or something entirely different, like the restriction of religious liberty, and we will need to be self-reliant. Now is truly the time to prepare for then, and to make sure that we are in a position to be ok during a long-lasting shutdown.

March 16-22: But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep

One of the reasons I graduated early was because i thought it would be hard to get a job. I thought a recession was coming (never in my mind did I imagine a pandemic being the cause), and now that we are in the midst of one, I am very grateful to be employed still. During our company meeting on Tuesday March 17th, we were informed that everyone would be taking a 10% pay cut, in an effort to cut expenses and not have to lay anyone off. 10% doesn’t seem like much, but it does make a big difference. And yet it seems so small comparatively. 10 million people filed for unemployment in two weeks. That number is hard to grasp, and leaves me praying that relief will be found quickly.

I’ve continued to work from home. It’s been a pretty easy adjustment for me. My work station is set up on my desk and I have everything I need. I am sure there will be a time when there is a different vibe working without having any coworkers physically present, but that hasn’t hit yet.

Below, this is my favorite work-from-home snack.

I volunteered to drive Cooper home to Texas. Because he has campus housing, they released him from his contract and he had no job or anything holding him here, and I’m always up for a visit. He packed up and on Friday night, with a cold rain falling, we loaded all his belongings into the van. I couldn’t help but reflect back almost exactly five years ago, to April 2015, when I was the freshman loading up my belongings, heading back to Texas, leaving BYU, and getting ready to serve a mission. My goodness, so much has changed, and the time has gone by so, so quickly. As a kid, I used to wish time would speed up and I could be an adult. Now, time passes too quick and I wish it would slow down a little. There was a flood of memories as I thought about what my dreams when I left BYU five years ago, and what has happened since then. It felt more poignant as my time in Utah is almost assuredly ending. Cooper stayed the night at my place, and helped get us on the road early. We left about 7 am, and started on the roughly 1168 mile trip.

Having been on so many road trips, during which there is a lot of time to think, I’ve developed a “traveling philosophy,” and this trip was chance to test the latest iteration. The estimated driving time is 18 hours, 30 minutes, which means that we had to be efficient; 18 hours is about the limit and there is no room for mistakes if we wanted to make it in one day. Our Food: 4 pounds of celery, 3 pounds of radishes. The celery hydrates without you having to drink water and thus have more bathroom stops. It also keeps you chewing, useful for staying completely aware. The radishes also are great for hydration and have enough of a kick to eliminate any drowsiness. Those veggies along with fruit kept us feeling full, and around 3 pm we stopped for a Little Caesar’s pizza in Bernalillo, NM. Opting for a “Hot N Ready,” so we wouldn’t have to wait for it to be made, we went through the drive through as Covid-19 had left only that option available. Add on 3 bathroom breaks/gas fill-ups, and we were stopped driving for only 20 minutes, which is a fantastic number. Put another way, we were on the road for about 59 minutes and stopped for only 1 minutes of every hour.

We kept the windows open, not because one of us had the dreaded radish burps or the feared celery gas, but because it was a beautiful day.

We made good time, and had to unfortunately pass on many interesting historical sights, as the clock was ticking and we also lost an hour going from mountain time to central time. Cooper was an excellent companion. Around 4 pm, I was worried when I saw a sign and read “Repent drunk drivers!” before getting closer and reading “Report drunk drivers!” A radish or two later though, all was well, and despite an intermittent drizzle and then a constant rain over the last 5 hours, we successfully, and safely made it to Granbury at 1:20 am.

Sunday, I woke up to cinnamon rolls and kisses, so life was good. It was wonderful to be with the family. I loved having church at home with them.

That afternoon, Mom had a test for her search and rescue team and Breyer and I went along. The dogs needed to find someone and I was curious to see them at work. While admittedly I was tired, it was fun to see the dogs go through all sorts of brush, nose down, and be able to find us again and again. The test was to be conducted at a “park,” but that meant something much different than I imagined, so I wasn’t quite dressed the part. Breyer and I still willingly went through the creek, which moved fast from all the recent rain, but wasn’t enough to hide our scent. The bloodhounds performed admirably, and Wagner seems to have the ability but needs a lot of training still to reach their level.

 

Another sign that caught my eye was in Clovis, NM. We were driving slowly through the town when I saw an old building. It was apparently named Integrity something or another. That word was visible and right below it was a sign on top of the company one reading, “For Sale, $100,000.” Taken together, I read “Integrity – For Sale, $100,000.” Are you willing to sell your integrity? An old story relates how the devil came to some one and said, “For $1,000,000 will you cheat on this?” The person rationalized and thought about how much money that was, and said sure. The devil then countered, “Fantastic! I’ll offer you $20.” The person, confused asked what happened to the million, and the devil replied, “You showed that your integrity is for sale, now we are just negotiating the price.”

Here is what James E. Faust said:

“Complete and constant integrity is a great law of human conduct. There need to be some absolutes in life. There are some things that should not ever be done, some lines that should never be crossed, vows that should never be broken, words that should never be spoken, and thoughts that should never be entertained.

Yet there is a place for mercy, for equity, and for forgiveness. Even the stalwart Peter, the chief Apostle, was forgiven for a moment of weakness (see Luke 22:54-62)…. I believe this incident strengthened Peter’s commitment. He was never to be weak again. the resolve borne of that disappointment in his own temporary weakness tempered his metal in the hardest steel. he proved his devotion every day of his life thereafter and in his death. So it can be with all of us. When we have been less than we ought to be and have fallen below our own standards, we can have newfound resolve and strength by forsaking our weakness.”