One Week Down…

Last Monday as I drove to work for the first day of school, I flipped through radio stations hoping to find a song that might serve as a good omen for the year.  The soft adult contemporary station was playing Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young.”  Hmmm…nope.  The classic rock station was playing The Who’s “Baba O’Riley;” you know, the one that goes, “It’s only teenage wasteland.”  Heh heh.  Nice.

But a couple of days later the same station was playing “School’s Out For Summer.”  Really, classic rock station?  On the third day of school?  That’s just mean.

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My class sizes are pretty bad, just like every one else’s.  My smallest class has 36.  I have two classes at 45.  At least I don’t teach freshmen.  Thanks, budget cuts!

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In one of the sections of English 101 that I have two nights a week at UNLV, I saw a familiar face.  Turns out he’s a kid I had his first year in high school, four years ago.  I guess he wasn’t looking forward to another year with me: he dropped the class the next day.  I’ll try not to take that one personally!

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I got a lot of traffic for a post I wrote last week about my teaching resolutions for the new year.  I forgot a very important one: never again will I ever refer to a student aide as “yon servant wench.”  Apparently, nobody thinks this is funny except me.  But now who will fetch me flagons of grog?

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I usually get a sore throat by the end of the first week, but this year I got it by day two.  Not a good sign.  Must be getting old.  I feel much better after the weekend, so we’ll see how it goes today.  I look forward to my annual cold by the end of the month.  It’s a cruel twist of fate that my easiest month of the year–August–tends to be followed by my hardest–September.

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We went to a football game Friday, which was fun, except it was hot and there were teenagers there.  I forgot, that’s why I never see popular movies on opening night, too.  We moved to the very edge of the stands, where it was much cooler and there was a lot less cussing.  I noticed the visitor side, which was sedate and comfortable.  The next time we see a football game, it will be when we’re the visiting team!

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At the end of the fist week every year, I have every student write a letter about themselves, their goals and opinions for the year, and I seal it up and lock it in a drawer until the last week of school.  No matter how much I tell girls not to write that they’ll be with their boyfriends forever, most do, and they end up laughing or crying when they get the letter back in June.  This is also a good illustration of transiency around here.  Though some kids remember to ask for their letters when they move, most of us forget these for most of the year, and even though I try to track down the kids who are still at our school but in different classes, every June I end up throwing away at least two dozen letters, and a good fourth of the class in June won’t get a letter because they weren’t here the first week of school.  Way to be stable, Mom and Dad!

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I’ve only scared three kids out of my honors class so far.  Must.  Try.  Harder.

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Miles Davis Live!

Sort of.  Though he died a while ago, this year is the 50th anniversary of Kind of Blue, his legendary masterpiece, and one of my favorite albums.  A couple of weeks ago, one of the kids and I went to see some local jazz performers give an all-Miles Davis concert at the amphitheater at Rainbow Library.  We laid out a blanket on the grass, had some snacks, and enjoyed the music.  Of course, it was past bedtime, so he was asleep by the end of the second song.

We only stayed for the first hour, but that half was heavy on Kind of Blue.  They opened with “So What?” and also did “All Blues” and “Blue in Green.”  It was that last one that was my favorite moment of the night, as it differed from the album version with an even softer, shimmering aspect to it, mostly achieved by the drummer using brushes and chimes.  They turned a classic ballad into a mirage having a daydream.  Good jazz music leaves blisters on your imagination.  Here’s a good performance of “Blue in Green;” I liked this one more than most of the full-throttle versions on YouTube which seem to ignore the spirit of the original:

Job 1:5 On Parenting

Job 1:1 says that Job “was perfect and upright.”  Perhaps part of that is due to his exemplary parenting as shown in Job1:4-5: “And his sons went and feasted in their houses, every one his day; and sent and called for their three sisters to eat and to drink with them.  And it was so, when the days of their feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.  Thus did Job continually.”

I see six aspects of Job as a father that are worthy of emulation here:

  1. He “sanctified” his children, which probably means he performed priesthood ordinances directly for them.
  2. He “rose up early in the morning,” showing his commitment to sacrifice his comfort and serve his children seriously.  This appears to be a formulaic commandment to disciples to prepare them and for them to show their devotion to the Lord in the scriptures (see for example Exodus 8:20 and 1 Samuel 29:10). 
  3. He offered burnt offerings for them, another example of his gospel-oriented labor for them.
  4. He offered those sacrifices for all of them–there were no favorites and no empty chairs. 
  5. Job said that he did these things because they might have sinned.  This was preventive maintenance.  No matter what their actual spiritual status may have been, Job wrestled spiritually for them as much as he could so that they might have all the blessings they might receive, for when they might need it. 
  6. And Job did these things “continually.”  He didn’t let discouragement get to him, he didn’t let his own trials slow him down, and he never, ever gave up.

When I find verses of scripture that I really like, I’ve started looking them up on BYU’s excellent “Scriptural Index to the Latter-day Prophets,” where they show each instance of every verse of scripture being quoted in official teachings by church leaders, from Joseph Smith and other 19th century leaders in the Journal of Discourses, to more recent leaders in General Conference.  Strangely, Job 1:5 seems to have never been referenced in a major teaching setting. 

I hope that other parents will see counsel and comfort in this verse in the future.

MSP: Tenderfoot Requirements 4b and 9

In our weekly family home evening yesterday, I did something that I think the family will have to get used to–I spent a few minutes demonstrating Scout stuff so I could check it off. 

First I explained why we use the buddy system (requirement #9), then I showed how to tie a double half hitch and a taut line hitch.  I used a cheap little nylon rope that came with some camping stuff and which I’d never used. 

As I tied my knots, I told the kids that when we went to Lake Powell with their grandparents last week, I tried to help anchor the boat by tying a couple of ropes together with a square knot.  I did this twice, and one of them came out as soon as it was pulled.  I thought I’d gotten it right, but maybe the ropes were just too big for that to work.  I was a little discouraged by that, but then on Saturday this knot practice really paid off.

We went out to eat with our kids and they were each offered a balloon.  They’re too small to handle balloons reliably on their own without losing them and crying as the colorful toys float away, so I usually just tie the string around their wrists loosely, but in a simple knot that can’t be undone.  This time, for the first time, I was able to do better.  I tied the strings with a taut line hitch, and slipped the loops over their wrists.  They could adjust them, and take them on and off when needed (like in the van), but they stayed on with no problem when we wanted them to. 

As I told my kids about the practical value of knot tying and showed the family what I’d learned, my wife smiled at me.  But then I had to untie my practice rope from the leg of her piano.

A Beautiful View of Lake Powell

My family and I got to spend a few days at beautiful Lake Powell recently, courtesy of the in-laws.  I got to see the amazing Rainbow Bridge (I snapped a shot of two of my kids standing in front of the arch) and the awe inspiring narrows of Cathedral Canyon (I wish I’d taken pictures of those–only a few feet on either side of your boat are sheer cliffs towering up for over a hundred feet), but my favorite sight was of an obscure little indenture in a rock wall.

We anchored the houseboat in one of the deep coves on the left going into Last Chance Bay, and after I discovered the joy of kayaking, I went into the end of the cove and saw that the southeast corner had an even deeper recess that twisted in a bit and went further into the rock.  Wondering if it might be a cave, I went in to have a look.  It wasn’t a cave, but what I saw surprised me even more.  That deep recess was rounded and the bottom twenty five feet or so went back even deeper into the corner, for about another fifteen feet, forming a perfect, natural amphitheater, with the wall gently sloping toward the water.  I tried to capture its grandeur, but neither my camera nor my skill were quite up to it–I wish you could see a panorama of how well it wraps around you, and appreciate that the rock above you reaches up for at least ten stories.  Here are a few pictures; perhaps between them you can get a good idea of what I saw.

It was incredibly peaceful in there.  However, I wonder why nobody’s ever thought of putting some floating barges in and having a little concert–it would be a perfect venue.  Well, it’s probably for the best that it remain mostly untouched. 

 

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On Being Released From the Bishopric

Today at church our bishopric was released.  After 2 ½ years of being a counselor, I find myself with a huge drop in responsibility, a drastic rise in free time, and a bittersweet ache in my heart.  It’s sentimental and it’s melancholy.  Call it sentimentacholy. 

I didn’t see this coming.  My first reaction when I found out about this last night was profound sadness.  As I explained in church this morning, I deeply loved serving with everybody in my church and I’ll miss it terribly.  And of course, I feel that I left too much undone. 

Here’s what I’ll miss: doing temple recommend interviews, hanging around joint activities at Mutual, being the first person to bring a welcome spiritual message to the home of someone who hasn’t been to church for years, giving priesthood blessings to people with no other access to the priesthood, powerful monthly meetings with the stake presidency, taking the youth to the temple for baptisms, giving the bishopric message in Primary, giving treats to the youth for catching me without my scriptures and having their copies of For the Strength of Youth, trying to set a visible example of obedience to our leaders, sitting in on disciplinary councils (a surprisingly spiritual experience–always positive for everyone involved), being able to give useful information to auxiliary leaders about their work, and just getting to know the real lives of dozens of the best families anybody could ever meet–especially the overwhelming acts of service and sacrifice for each other that I never would have known about were I not in this position.

Here’s what I won’t miss: Continue reading

New (School) Year’s Resolutions

On this eve of yet another glorious year of teaching, I want to set three goals for myself to improve my work.  After reflecting on what my strengths and weaknesses are, and what I want to achieve, I’ve settled on these basics:

1.  More time for independent readings in class.  Each quarter will start with a good book chosen by each student from my lists, and I’ll set aside a couple of class days to read and take notes and/or fill out a log.  After that, they might bring in their own stuff for a few more days of reading here and there.  We read plenty in my classes, but it’s usually from the textbook, with most of their other reading being done on their own.  That doesn’t cut it.  This will pack in more quantity of reading, which kids desperately need.

2.  Speaking of desperate needs, we’ll do more short, spontaneous compositions with instant editing and feedback.  I always want to do more of this, but never get around to it, and it’s so essential.  Quick writing workshops with paragraph-or-two compositions that they’ll peer edit / I’ll edit and they revise in another quick draft, all in one day.  This will benefit their mechanics better than enything else I can think of.  This must be done every other week, at least. 

3.  Finally, I’ll be nicer.  Not in class, I mean, where if anything I should be more strict and where my ability to act enthusiastic when “on stage” serves me well, but outside of class, when kids come in for help or make up work, or when I see kids outside of school.  As it is, my painfully shy, introverted side takes over there and I tend to mumble dismissive one liners and look the other way.  As much as I hate to admit it, a more engaging personality from me does improve classroom performance for them, so here’s one to work on…

Reviewed: Watchers, by Dean Koontz

13739102I picked up Midnight from a library shelf a couple years ago at random and absolutely loved it.  I’ve started a couple of other Dean Koontz books since then, but nothing has been nearly as good, and I haven’t bothered finishing them.  But I decided to end my summer with a fun, easy, puffball of a book, and I picked up Watchers

Koontz is not a very good writer, but he is a terrific storyteller.  (I cringe every time he flaunts the word “preternaturally” as an all purpose spooky adjective–as he did twice in this book–and I pretend he’s doing it on purpose when his characters converse in speeches more stilted than in an old Disney movie.  Still, he knows how to pace a plot, that’s for sure.)

I liked Watchers.  Like Midnight, there is suspense and even violence, but it rarely punches below the belt and always affirms individual dignity and even glory, and does so in a very traditional, and often outright spiritual, context.  Despite the menacing cover, the title is not referring (as I first assumed) to some voyeuristic spies that the good guys must overcome with their open, honest virtue.  No, the title actually refers directly to those Apollonian protagonists themselves: at one emotional point near the end, a character says, “We have a responsibility to stand watch over one another, we are watchers, all of us, watchers, guardians against the darkness.” 

Yes, Dean Koontz is the novelistic equivalent of Thomas Kinkade as a painter–much glossy romanticizing in an idealized world (though to make the analogy more apt, Kinkade’s quaint village cottages would have to also be under assault by genetically enhanced killers produced by shadowy collectivist governments who are ultimately dispatched by a sympathetic band of rugged, clean-shaven regular joes who come together to weather the storm)–but so what?  I like Thomas Kinkade paintings, too.  Kinkade and Koontz make pleasant places. 

 

Final Grade: B

Star Wars FAIL

I enjoy the Star Wars movies, but I’m not nearly so rabid about it as many of my generation.  Perhaps that’s why I’ve especially liked two things I’ve read recently: this, a detailed reflection on the several awful drafts of the first Star Wars script before the 1977 movie was finally made, and this, a run down of some of the biggest logical loopholes in the physical designs of that universe. 

The best part of the latter is reading the superior comments from readers, and the best part of the former is seeing just how many of Lucas’s original ideas–which were far too lame and got cut from the first Star Wars film he made–mostly got recycled and ended up in the prequel trilogy.  As if we needed more vindication for hating Episode I. 

Speaking of the prequels, here’s a huge failure of reason from Episode II that I’ve never figured out.  Why the heck does the Republic, much less the Jedi, trust the clone army in the first place?  Obi Wan finds that the army was created–allegedly–under the secret auspices of a dead Jedi master, but was clearly done so without the consent of the Jedi council.  Further, the army was patterned after a mysterious bounty hunter who tried to kill Obi Wan.  And didn’t it strike anyone as suspicious that this army just happened to show up at the precise time that the Republic found its resources strained by new hostilities and in need of more muscle?  Shouldn’t that alone have made people leery of bringing these guys on board?

I mean, if America were suddenly under increasing siege, and the president’s advisers found that someone had just finished secretly training an army for decades under the orders of a former high ranking general–but who had launched the program without the authorization of the president–and those soldiers had been trained and molded in the exact pattern of a known terrorist, wouldn’t you think we just might not send those guys right into action for us? 

Please, if you can, someone explain this to me.

Beautiful Bird Discovered

Not “discovered” in the sense that I saw it first, but in the sense that I’ve seen it for the first time myself.

When our family was camping in the mountains a couple of weeks ago, I was the first one awake and went out to get the fire started.  As I sat around for a while, I saw the most colorful bird I’ve ever seen in nature flit by the camp, stopping to peck at the ground, then zipping up to the top of a nearby tree, then diving down to a little shrub next to our tent to look around.  Then, he was joined by several of his friends.  As the kids started to wake up, they got to see some of these birds, too.

When we got home, I googled the best description I could come up with: “bird with yellow breast and red head.”  Amazingly, I found what I was looking for right away: the bird was a Western Tanager.  Here’s the picture from Wikipedia:

 

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I especially liked this line from that entry: “…when a non-birder tells a birder, “I saw the most amazing bird!” the birder can guess it was a male of this species.”  I’m proof of that!

I’ve never been a bird watcher, but perhaps I’ll pursue that merit badge when I get to that part of my Man Scout Project.

Six Summer Goals Achieved

You know how you always look forward to time off, and make grandiose plans for sucking the marrow out of every second, and then when the time finally comes you invariably squander it?  I do that constantly, but summer is the worst.  This year I decided to break down some of my larger goals and focus on making small progress on some of them. 

On May 22, I wrote a list of 27 things to do this summer.  I gave myself until the last day before I would go back to work–August 18–to do them.  Now, two of them were very poorly planned, so I really had 25 things to do. 

Out of those 25, I did 6.  A few others were close or in progress, but only 6 can be confidently checked off. 

Still, sadly, that makes this my most productive summer ever.

Here are the six things I did:

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Bloom County’s Ongoing Relevance

Today I thought about the following cartoon, from Berke Breathed’s 1987 collection of Bloom County comic strips, Billy and the Boingers Bootleg.  It was probably meant to be satirical, but shoot, even more than twenty years later it strikes me as pretty accurate.  I feel your pain, kid. 

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Skills of An Artist

The title here is a Homestar Runner reference.  Brownie points if you get it. 

While camping this weekend, I wanted to practice something I love but that I haven’t worked on in a long time: pencil sketching.  I wish I’d put more time into this; I think I could be pretty decent if I did.  As it is…well, the kids were impressed. 

Here’s a sketch I did of a scene from our campsite: some pine and evergreen branches in the foreground, a mountain face in the background, and a cloud.  I never know how to do something as detailed as the mountain face without making it look too “busy.”  True story: in a fourth grade art class, we had an hour to draw a scene.  At the end, I still had a mostly blank sheet of paper because I insisted on drawing each individual blade of grass at the bottom of the page.  So I’ve gotten over that. 

Still, my work strikes me as clumsy and sentimental (much like my writing).  The shading I use to indicate the late afternoon is desperate.  All that being said, though, I actually like this–the only really bad part is the branches coming in from the left side, which look like they could have been drawn by Napoleon Dynamite.  But it made me happy to do it, and I enjoy the rough, impressionistic style I’m developing (this would be more evident if you could see my jagged lines closer up).  When I opened the sketch book I use, which I hadn’t seen for over a year, and flipped through the other pages, I was delighted to see some pleasant other work I’ve done.  Now I think I should do some work in charcoal. 

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MSP: Tenderfoot Requirements 1, 2, 3, and 7

This weekend we went camping specifically to test the readiness of our family’s 72-hour emergency kits.  We spent 24 hours with little else at the gorgeous Old Mill campground in the Spring Mountains area.  I thought this would be my best opportunity to do the first three requirements for the rank I’m working on.

1.  Present yourself, properly dressed, before going on an overnight camping trip.  Show the gear you will use.  Show the right way to pack  and carry it.  I dressed for warm weather for obvious reasons, with a pair of old work boots I rarely wear, which I now realize are too small and need to be switched out for a real pair of hiking boots.  I’ll check at Deseret Industries for some.  As we packed our backpacks with the relatively sparse supplies that would constitute our emergency kits, we discussed what was essential, including our tent and sleeping bags, our food and water, and our tools.  The packing was difficult and taught us a lot about saving space and making priorities.  I tried to make my bag look like the picture in the handbook.  Good packing is a lot like playing Tetris. 

2.  Spend at least one night on a patrol or troop campout.  Sleep in a tent you have helped pitch.  It was a very enjoyable campout, though since we were trying to skimp on supplies, we didn’t have any padding for our bedding.  I was surprised to wake up not very sore at all.  I pitched the tent myself since my wife was busy preparing lunch and watching the baby.  Did you know that seven people can sleep almost comfortably in a 9’x7′ tent?  It helps when five of them are children, and nobody minds snuggling up.

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The Problem With Sin

Besides the fact that it’s a rebellion against the will of God and contrary to covenants that disciples of Christ have made, the problem with sin is that it promotes selfishness.  In the way that it focuses our attention on our own desires and on gratifying them, magnifying their importance in our lives beyond a proper proportion, sin drives us to become that much more narcissistic.  Sin is self-involvement personified.  Sin and humility cannot coexist, nor can sin and charity. 

This is especially bad because we have all been called to develop precisely those virtues–humility and charity.  A large part of our existence is to be spent in serving others.  We can’t do that if we’re spending time on things that bring us temporary, physical satisfaction, instead of making sacrifices for the good of others.  We can’t think about filling our own increasing appetites at the same time that we’re thinking about the needs of widows and orphans. 

Which is another problem with sin: it’s a waste of time and a waste of energy.  Oh, yeah, and we can’t forget that God said not to do it–that’s still the big one.  So by my count, the score stands at: Righteousness 5, Sin 0.