Where NOT To Get a Smoothie

Here’s a fun game: let’s say you live a really evil life, so you end up spending eternity at the Smoothie King in the northwest part of Las Vegas.

You can pass the time by trying to count all the signs they have posted that basically yell at you in advance. There are 8 1/2 x 11 laminated signs all over telling you not to steal, and that the bathrooms are for customers only, and that they don’t honor certain specials, and to hurry up and leave, etc.

Anyway, I counted 11 such signs on my last visit. Eleven!

Don’t try using a coupon there. They will make you suffer.

They have virtually no seats, so they can make more room to stock shelves full of pseudo-healthy junk to sell (“Amazing herbal bar melts away the pounds!” kind of stuff).

The only conclusion I can reach is that Smoothie King actively hates its own customers.

I’ve been there four times over the last couple of years, trying to give it another chance, because I love smoothies. I’ve never seen the same person working there twice–high turnover, perhaps? Maybe, because on three of those four visits, the people working there were rude, curt, and depressed. I can’t tell if they just hire miserable people, or if working there makes people miserable.

On the plus side, do you know what I just noticed this summer? On Aliante Parkway and Centennial, there’s a new Tropical Smoothie Cafe. Yea!

Where To Get Your Car Fixed

I’ve been taking vehicles to Honest-1 Auto Care for a few years now. I can’t say enough good things about them. It’s just the beginning to note that, unlike most other places, they don’t try to rip you off. Their work is superior, and they really care about helping you out and doing great work.

A guy named Rich runs the place, and my wife and I have come to like and trust him. We used to compare their suggestions and quotes with other places; after doing that a few times, though, we know just to take our cars to Rich now. Far and away the best car shop I’ve ever been to.

Use Honest-1 Auto Care for all your car needs. They’re the best.

The Depth of Time and Detail

I don’t remember individual tweets, blog posts, or status updates for very long. I do remember individual novels, vacations, and relationships.

Time and detail matter.  They have depth, and weight, and life.

And yet, I also feel the cumulative substance of the more ephemeral experiences in which I habitually engage: meals, sunsets, church meetings, and exercise, for example.

But even after years of overindulgence, reading tweets, blog posts, and status updates have very little cumulative substance.

A ton of feathers may weigh the same as a ton of bricks, but years of sunsets outweigh years of tweets.

I want to read the complete works of Charles Dickens. I want to spend years exploring and gardening the same patch of homeland. I want to be married to the same woman forever.

These are the kinds of things that take a lot of time and involve deep detail.  They do matter because they have matter.

(Inspired by Katrina Kenison’s introductory essay to The Best American Short Stories 2006. Copied from my journal entry, 1.24.2015)

A Letter From Boyd K. Packer, Artist

PackerArt 3Besides being a bold firebrand of an apostle, the recently departed Boyd K. Packer was also an accomplished folk artist.

Ten years ago, my family and I toured the Church History and Art Museum in Salt Lake City.  One of the exhibits was of the painting and wood carvings Elder Packer had done throughout his life.  I was struck by how excellent they were, particularly the wood carvings of small animals and birds; clearly the result of careful real-life observation and exquisite technical skill.  (An example of his work is seen to the left.)

Later, I wrote him a letter thanking him for some talks he’d given and complimenting him on his art, especially the wood carvings.

He replied in a letter dated August 17, 2005.  One paragraph reads: “I am glad you enjoyed the museum visit.  That seems like another life as the years have moved on.  Because of causes incident to age, I am not able to do that fine work anymore.”

The pathos of those statements also struck me.  I noted that he didn’t blame his lack of recent art on the demands of his ministry, but only on the realities of advancing age.  (In retrospect, it’s inspiring that despite “causes incident to age,” he still maintained a vigorous and productive global ministry for another decade after writing that letter!)

Clearly, though, he loved those carvings and it hurt to not be able to do them anymore.  At least in his golden years he had all those great achievements to look back on, and the memory of the feeling of creating them in the first place.

Truly, this was a life deeply and well lived.

More examples of his art can be seen here and here.

President Shields

This Sunday the president of the North Las Vegas Stake of the LDS Church will be released. He and his counselors have served for nine and half years. The president himself served as a counselor in the previous presidency for ten years, meaning he’s been in the same leading body for nearly two decades.

President Shields has earned a great deal of love and respect from the North Stake. Here are just ten of the many highlights from his years at the head of our stake:

10. Call to make sacrifices for the stake. Soon after becoming stake president, he asked members to make some kind of financial sacrifice and donate what they could to the stake. He stressed that blessings would come to those who would make a real sacrifice for the stake. In fact, especially in his early years in the calling, he emphasized the blessings that would come to people if they would stay here and not move away.

9. Practical counsel. Around the time the recession started, he gave stake members a list of eight frugal habits to practice that would help get them through hard times, including not letting our vehicles’ gas tanks get more than half empty, and picking up an extra can of food each time we go to the store. If anybody remembers the rest, please let me know: I don’t have them written down and I forgot!

8. Urging everyone to get a blessing. In the September 2007 stake conference, he implored everybody to get a priesthood blessing before General Conference. This endeavor was largely realized through the ministrations of home teachers.

7. Temple painting. President Shields commissioned a unique painting of the Las Vegas Nevada Temple to be done by a talented member of the stake high council, which he then encouraged members to place prominently in their homes. The painting is highly symbolic, including the very vantage point: the temple is seen from several hundred yards away from the southeast, which puts much of North Las Vegas in the background. The painting, titled “A Light on a Hill,” is described in the section of the same name in this Deseret News article.

6. Service initiative. As the recession worsened and more people needed financial help, he instituted a program whereby people needing assistance would be asked to also help in the maintenance work of church buildings, and service for the homes of those stake members who couldn’t physically do it themselves. This program was a beautiful win-win of charity: nobody getting help was idle, and everybody involved got the experience of helping each other.

5. Temple attendance. President Shields once challenged stake members to increase their temple attendance, suggesting that they try for once or twice a month, if possible, for a year. He reiterated the challenge throughout the year, and set an example himself: the stake presidency attended the temple together every Thursday night.

4. Stake choir and orchestra. First he organized a stake choir, to which several dozen members were called; they rehearse weekly and perform at stake conference, every ward conference, and at special concerts throughout the year, including pop concerts, a patriotic fireside in July, and at an annual stake Christmas devotional. Then, he organized an orchestra with members called for that purpose, who perform with the choir. The quality of their combined work easily rivals anything coming out of the Tabernacle! A promotional CD was put together at one point, available on YouTube.

3. Ordained dozens of new high priests. One time, after much meditation in the celestial room at the temple (where President Shields is known to often ponder issues for several hours at a time), he was inspired to do something that nobody had ever heard of before: ordain dozens of men throughout the stake to the office of high priest. There was no calling associated with the ordinations; it was purely a move to strengthen the priesthood and motivate the stake to greater service and devotion. Ultimately, 60 men received such ordinations.

2. Three sessions of stake conference. I was once in a stake that went a year and a half between stake conferences. In North Las Vegas, not only are conferences held every six months, stake priesthood meetings are held halfway between each of those. In fact, in another unprecedented move, President Shields initiated three sessions of our stake conferences—wards would be assigned, say, an 8:30 AM, 11 AM, or 1:30 PM session to attend, where the presidency would speak and the choir and orchestra would perform at all three, and each would feature speakers invited from the wards attending that particular session.

Attendance is always high at our stake conferences.

1. Reading the Book of Mormon. Perhaps the single most impressive thing President Shields has done: our stake’s Book of Mormon reading. In early 2013, he announced in a conference (spontaneously, he explained) that the stake would all start reading two chapters of the Book of Mormon, out loud, in their families, every day. Every household in the stake would read the same chapters, starting and finishing together.

It took about four months, and it was dramatic. He encouraged people to pray about the truth of the Book of Mormon on the last day, and many people wrote down their testimonies and sent them to him.

During this period, sacrament speakers would often refer directly to passages that everyone had just read that week, or would read in the week coming up. The effect was powerful.

In fact, President Shields repeated the same program the next year, and our stake just finished the Book of Mormon together, again, last month.

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These are hardly all of the amazing things that have happened during President Shields’ tenure, but they’re my favorites, and the ones that he personally created and managed. Among the other great events that he’s been involved in over the last decade are these seven:

• Stake young men shuttling up to Salt Lake and then spending days riding bikes the 500 miles back to North Las Vegas, together, with spiritual experiences along the way.
• Stake young women having high adventure excursions.
• A stake Primary sports program being organized, with seasons for softball and soccer.
• A vigorous Spanish-language ward (not branch) having amazing activation and attendance rates through a process of personal ministering that President Shields has taught since day one.
• The founding of a Samoan ward (our stake officially has 14 wards now).
• The building of a beautiful new stake center.
• Heavy renovations and improvements at a stake park here in town and, especially, at a camp up in the mountains—those latter improvements have been easily doubled the usefulness and capacity of the camp.

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As the North Las Vegas stake prepares to say goodbye to the leadership of President Shields, we all know that it’s not good bye for us as much as it will be hello for many others. After such a record of strong discipleship—and still only in his 50s—every Latter-day Saint around here knows that we’ll be seeing him in much larger and wider roles someday soon.

The $1 Study Bible

I’d been looking around for study Bibles to supplement my scripture study when I was at Alexander Library on Wednesday and saw The NIV Archaeological Study Bible on the shelves.  It looked really good–tons of color maps and articles–but I didn’t check it out at the time.

I kept thinking about it, though, and on Friday I was near Aliante and stopped at their library, hoping they had the same one there. As soon as I walked in, I faced their racks of used books for sale.  The first one that jumped out at me was The NIV Archaeological Study Bible.

It was in perfect condition and was on sale for one dollar.  The cover price was $49.99.

I took the hint and bought it.

My New Article on Temples and Families in the Bible

The Integration of Temples and Families: A Latter-day Saint Structure for the Jacob Cycle” was published on Friday.  This is my first peer-reviewed, academic article, so I’m pretty excited.  Anyone with an interest in Biblical literature, or its temple and family themes, would likely enjoy it.

David Grayson’s Under My Elm

elm 1#1162 in Life’s Little Instruction Book says: “Try to find a copy of the book Under My Elm by David Grayson (Doubleday, 1942). You might have to order it.

I did have to order it.  Here are the passages I marked:

 
I don’t know what it is, but there is something about steady manual labor like this, alone in the fields, that gives one a curious deep satisfaction. I like the sense of doing hard work that is also useful work. One’s mind at first drops asleep, except for the narrow margin relating to this or that repetitive process. One lets go, calms down. For hours, sometimes, while at such work, I came near the point of complete mental vacuity. The mind sets itself the minute task it has to do and goes off somewhere to its own high pastures, serene uplands, to rest and play. The hours pass magically: the sun that was low when the work began rides high in the heavens—and suddenly the mind comes home again. It comes home refreshed stimulated, happy. I always know the exact moment of its arrival. Yesterday it did not return until I had nearly finished my work in the field. It seemed to cry out: “What, asleep! Listen to the bobolinks.”
I straightened up quickly and realized that I had been working for several hours without hearing or seeing much of anything—this literally. The whole world now became flooded with delightful sounds, not only the bobolinks, but a hundred other voices both of nature and human nature, so that I had a deep and indescribably friendly feeling towards all things. I thought it good and beautiful to be there and to be alive. Even the grass clinging wetly to my legs as I walked seemed consciously holding me close to the earth; and the shovel held warmly, even painfully in my blistered hands, was proof that I had at last become part of a universal process. These sensations, even as I set them down, seem difficult to express, but they were there, and they were true and sound. (11-12)

 

elm 2Steve had been working all day, harrowing and fertilizing his tobacco land, and should, I suppose, be properly tired. But the weeds in the onions are growing! Down on his knees he went and began weeding. A moment later his wife was at his side. The children cried a little, for they were tired and hungry and wanted to go home, but soon whimpered down. I wondered what an American family I know of, which keeps a nurse for each of their weakling children and a second girl to help the nurses, would say to this way of “raising” children! These two little Poles are magnificent physical specimens, and the boy, when clean, is really beautiful. At eight-thirty when it was too dark to see, the family trailed homeward, Steve carrying the little boy in his arms. Can these people be beaten? (86-87)

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The New Star Wars Trailer–A Cinematic Appreciation

The best thing about the new Star Wars teaser trailer is how thoroughly cinematic it is.  Most trailers, especially teaser trailers, are just a lazy mess of spotlighted clips.  This one, though, was clearly constructed with a specific narrative arc in mind.

It naturally falls into three acts:

Act I: Establishing character and setting

First we see Tatooine, then we see a hero.  The hero is tired, sweaty, and scared.  And alone.  That’s how we know he’s a hero, despite the Stormtrooper uniform–villains never appear so beleaguered in Act I.

The soccer ball droid reassures us that two big mainstays of the series are still present: innovation and whimsy.

The next shot reaffirms the first: a panicked, lone hero in a hurry.  No coincidence here: clearly, we’re meant to know that this film will show our new protagonists in a fractured, oppressed state, desperate to escape a threatening presence.  This, of course, is highlighted by the gravelly voiceover.

The fourth “scene” reaffirms the second: a reassurance here, not of innovation and whimsy, but of action and equipment.  Few series are so rooted in their weapons and vehicles as Star Wars, and this part of the trailer shows us J.J. Abrams doing what he did with Star Trek: preserving the bets of the old while updating its peripheral elements.

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Light and Color in Layers at Red Rock Canyon

Took several of my children hiking at Red Rock Canyon this morning.  My favorite pictures of the landscape are these two, showing mid-morning sunbeams streaming down over a lush desert vista, rolling out in layers.  This view is facing southeast from the highest point of the Keystone Thrush Trail.

 

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Of course, the whole family’s favorite view of the hike was this little critter.  I’ve lived here my whole life, and this is actually the first tarantula I’ve seen out in the desert:

 

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Life and Learning Happen Most in the Margins

Last month as I was walking across the UNLV campus one afternoon, a former high school student of mine crossed my path and stopped to chat.  She got excited and said she was happy to see me because she wanted to thank me.

For some amazing lesson we’d once had in class?  No.  That Spring I had been doing some decluttering, and had brought several boxes of old books to class.  I told the students to just take what they wanted.

She took a few books and promptly forgot them in some hidden corner of her room.  She found them over this last summer and read them.  One in particular became her favorite book, an energizing window into a great new branch of literacy for her.

The book was W. Sommerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, by the way.  It’s one of my favorites, too, and we talked about it for a while.

Funny how often the biggest effects we have on people’s lives are from the little extra things we do.

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“My Grandfather Had a Life”

This essay will turn eight years old next week.  In the age of constant bombardment by media content, we’re lucky to remember anything specific from last week, but I think about this one essay all the time.  It is that important.

My title comes from this quote: “My grandfather was born in 1888 and he didn’t have a lifestyle. He didn’t need one: he had a life.”

Among the many other great parts:

I suspect that my grandfather’s life was real in a sense that my father’s life hasn’t quite been, and my life is not at all.
The crucial difference is my grandfather’s lack of self-consciousness, and that self-consciousness is a hallmark of the perpetual, infantilised adolescents we have all become, monsters of introspection hovering twitchily on the edge of self-obsession, occasionally aware that the life that exists only to be examined is barely manageable; barely, indeed, a life.

Note that the article ends with some very sane–and therefore radical–truths about adulthood.

Required reading.

Late Summer 2014 Photos

Some of my favorites as I review the contents of my tablet from the last two months:

Sunset at North Las Vegas Stake Pioneer Day, Saturday, July 26, 2014

Sunset at North Las Vegas Stake Pioneer Day, Saturday, July 26, 2014

At Zion National Park, August 2014, approaching the Narrows.  In canyons, I like the contrast between high stone walls and sky.  Here, I also like the dark tone.

At Zion National Park, August 2014, approaching the Narrows. In canyons, I like the contrast between high stone walls and sky. Here, I also like the dark tone.

And here I like the bright tone.

And here I like the bright tone.

Great shade of blue in this one.

Great shade of blue in this one.

I like this view of receding canyon walls, lapping like waves.

I like this view of receding canyon walls, lapping like waves.

It was a cloudy day, which created some nice contrasts, such as here, with darkness in the foreground and light farther off.

It was a cloudy day, which created some nice contrasts, such as here, with darkness in the foreground and light farther off.

Preparing to splash around with the kids in the Virgin River.

Preparing to splash around with the kids in the Virgin River.

Directly above the previous picture.

Directly above the previous picture.

At Spring Mountain Ranch, west of Las Vegas, August 29, 2014.  We went to see a production of Shrek, and it was a ton of fun, but I always like the wait--standing out there just before sunset creates some excellent chances to see light streaming sideways through these mountains.

At Spring Mountain Ranch, west of Las Vegas, August 29, 2014. We went to see a production of Shrek, and it was a ton of fun, but I always like the wait–standing out there just before sunset creates some excellent chances to see light streaming sideways through these mountains.

And into this nearby field.

And into this nearby field.

Going...going...

Going…going…

A small pool created by the setting sun.

A small pool created by the setting sun.

Sun's almost done for the day, and the light rays are stronger now.

Sun’s almost done for the day, and the light rays are stronger now.

My favorite view of the Salt Lake Temple: Saturday, August 30, 2014.

My favorite view of the Salt Lake Temple: Saturday, August 30, 2014.

Sunrise on my way to work, Friday, September 5, 2014.

Sunrise on my way to work, Friday, September 5, 2014.

The horizon is giving birth  to a sun.

The horizon is giving birth to a sun.

Notes and Quotes: September 2014

EDUCATION

I’ve always said this: teachers don’t leave because of bad pay, they leave because of poor working conditions.

WSJ: Four Ways to Spot a Great Teacher.

 

HUMOR

I suspect I find this funny for reasons other than those the artist had:

shirt

 

LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE

Gioia’s intro to Finnegans Wake

WSJ: Shakespeare as a Life Coach.

14 Reasons to Read the Classics

Fight the Moral Madness: Read Charles Dickens to Your Kids

 

LIVING WELL

Fun parkour video.

I’m a sucker for great astronomy photography.

Beautiful photo of contrasts.

Sunset AND a castle?  Wow!

Here’s a chart I found online with some good productivity ideas:

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POLITICS AND SOCIETY

Ten Ways Mormons Can Celebrate Independence Day”  Good advice for all of us, for every day.

Great essay about defining conservatism–required reading for all poli-sci wonks.

On conservative literature–a good start.

The complicated politics of Shakespeare.

On ostensibly conservative college students being intellectually stunted:

“They cannot think with a conservative worldview because they have had limited exposure to conservative values. Children spend thirteen years in a school system which was founded upon progressive ideals about education and which increasingly promotes statism. For eighteen years the entertainment industry communicated to them an equally progressive worldview. From all sides children are taught to believe in the inherent goodness of humankind and to cherish the values of tolerance and diversity. There is no good and evil; there is just diversity. There is no justice and truth; there is only tolerance for other opinions. Democracy has become a good in its own right instead of being founded upon virtue. When democracy becomes its own end, any atrocity can be justified by a majority vote.”

Great comment on an Instapundit link about politically biased professors:

I noticed that back when I was in university: the liberal students were so used to everyone around them validating their opinions that they didn’t learn to make good arguments; the conservative students knew they needed good arguments, so they learned to make them,

The unfortunate part comes when these liberal students go through many years of schooling, get loads of validation for twittering about the talking point of the day, and then turn into incredulous, raging jerks when an adult conservative makes a point contrary to their ideology.