I took these pictures with my phone’s camera during a spontaneous family vacation this last weekend.
Last month I planned to call parents of two students per school day just to thank them for raising such great kids. Here’s how it went:
Well, I was very inconsistent. Between forgetting and being busy, I only contacted about a dozen parents, less than half of what I should have done.
Also, most of those contacts were via email, not phone. It’s just too hard to reach people at a moment’s notice. Once, early in the month, I tried leaving a voice mail, but I think it sounded weird: “Hi, this is a teacher and I want to say that I think your child is cool.” It felt awkward. I didn’t leave any more messages.
But a lot of good came of it. I clearly made some people’s day. Some great but usually overlooked kids got some praise.
My favorite contacts of the month were the two parents I called, only to find that they didn’t speak English. Both had email addresses in our system, so with the magic of Google Translate, I sent my message via email. Both replied with effusive gratitude. I don’t know why, but those felt especially good.
And there are still dozens of such students this year who need some attention, and whose parents deserve such recognition. I’ll keep this going.
I received a reply from Elder Robbins through his secretary, with the text of his talk and permission to share it. It’s in the link below.
This is one of my favorite messages I’ve ever heard at church, and I hope it spreads far and wide. Even more so, I hope we try to live it.
Every school day in November, I’m going to call the parents of two students, just to praise their child and thank them for all the great work they’ve done.
I’ve made calls like this before, but not consistently. They’re wonderful. We all know that when a teacher calls, your kid must have really done something bad. Parents are always scared at first. When I explain that I’m just calling with a compliment, they often don’t know what to say. They’re speechless. It makes their day.
But their kids often make my day, so it’s a small thing to return the favor.
I need more poetry in my life. This occurred to me not long ago when I noticed on my shelf Bill Brown‘s book, The Gods of Little Pleasures. I had bought this in a tiny craft store in Virginia on my honeymoon 12 years ago, and had still not finished it. This week, I finally did.
And loved it. Brown’s poetry is exactly the kind of thing I like. His themes include reverence for age and a domestic life enhanced by appreciation for the natural world. I wish I could share more of this wonderful collection, but here are two items.
First, Brown reading the last poem in the book, from which the title comes:
“Worship” appears to be the end of a little trilogy that concludes The Gods of Little Pleasures. The other two–“Backwoods Vespers” and “Prayer”–are also excellent.
Second, here’s another one I loved, appropriate for this time of year:
The cat on the porch cocks an eye
as I tote wood for October’s fire. Perhaps she
remembers naps beside the hearth.
“First frost, first fire,” my father said;
and this morning’s yard is ashimmer.
Lost in the push of my life, the one
to earn bread and shelter, it’s good
to recognize an order both immediate
and beyond my plans. Hope, like desert rain,
is always welcome. That’s the danger.
This morning hope comes in little rituals
lost to summer: splitting wood, gathering
kindling from oak branches at the fence.
Building the first fall fire is like lighting
a prayer candle to some space lost
among the daily rhythms of the heart.
One can stop time only in dreams,
but at the edge of a season, I sense
a slowing of the blood; something resolute
and fleeting is remembered for an hour,
then forgotten. I take my coffee to the porch,
sit by the cat, and watch the first smoke rise
in unknown messages toward heaven.
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!
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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)
Steve 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)
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.