Friday At the Park

The sun sits low off to the side,
Sliding in sideways:
A perfect light for reading.

Only when I focus do I notice the birds,
Invisible infinities in the distance,
Their overlapping music a hum
So loud it becomes a dull roar we don’t notice:
A drumroll at the horizon.

Three little girls squat at the edge of the pond
Throwing old grapes to the ducks.
The girls stare at the patterns of rippled water
Spreading out behind the ducks,
And squeal in surprise when long wings suddenly appear
And flutter at the sides of geese.

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40 For 40 Progress Report 3/12

Yesterday marked the end of the third month of being 40–that puts me 25% of the way through the year. Ideally, for the things I want to do 40 times, I should have ten by now. Here’s where I stand on my goals:

  • The big item first: I only finished one more item in the last month–40 straight days of sit ups–bringing my grand total of completed goals up to big fat whopping…four. My abs are pretty strong now–I can do 40 (coincidence) crunches in a set with no resistance on my feet.
  • I wanted to check off the “40 push ups in one set” goal this month, but I tested myself twice in the last couple of weeks, and I can only do 30.
  • Today was day 34 of reading the Book of Mormon in 40 days. It’s a pretty amazing experience. More on that next week, after I finish.
  • I’ve done 15 days of temple or family history work.
  • I also wanted to be able to check off the 40 positive contacts with students’ parents, but reaching people is harder than it sounds–I’m only up to 16.
  • This is day 12 of tracking what I eat–I need to do better with recording calories and protein, though, but I’ve never stuck with this kind of resolution this long. It’s sobering.
  • This is day 8 of no soda. Man, I love Dr. Pepper.
  • I’m starting to wonder when I’ll even try 40 days of no social media or no Netflix. Not sure if I even can. How sad.
  • I’ve changed the “run ten miles 40 times” goal–which was far too ambitious to be realistic–to the much more sensible “run a 10k 40 times.” I’ve only done 4 of those since my last birthday, though, so I’m still way behind. I’ll try to add a 5th later today.
  • I’ve only relaxed in the bathtub eight times. Two behind schedule! I’ll add a 9th to that later today, after my 10k run :)
  • Twenty bike rides so far…but only 4 if I don’t count the ones at UNLV…
  • If I want to learn 40 Portuguese words a month, I’m already over that goal! According to Duolingo, I know over 600 words. Still, I’m not checking off this goal–I need consistent practice over time–the real goal is to become fluent. I’m averaging every other day for practice since December, but I need to step that up.
  • I’ve finished 12 books since my birthday, just slightly ahead of the goal.
  • Not sure why I specified “symphonies” in the list of goals, but any classical music will do. Actually, I’ve decided to do nothing but Haydn this year, and it’s been great. I recently heard his Piano Concerto in D major, and it was fantastic!
  • 12 albums from my youth listened to again, but only 4 new jazz and blues albums. Hmm.
  • I’ve eaten at nine new places so far. Mostly really great!
  • Last week I sent out 12 cards for Sunshine Snail Mail. I’ll do 5-10 more this month.
  • I’ve decided that my Simpsons goal will be achieved by re-watching all of seasons 4 and 5. Glorious!
  • This is day 15 of reading Calvin and Hobbes again. It seriously does get better as I get older!
  • Ten great movies with the kids so far, including a few Marvel movies, a nature documentary, a history documentary, and two black and white classics.
  • I’m finding it hard not say anything negative for long at all. Sarcasm comes much too naturally to me. I’ve had to start that one over three times already :(
  • I’m over halfway through 40 journal entries, but barely started any poetry. Not sure my heart’s really in that last one. Maybe it’ll end up being mostly limericks and haiku. We’ll see.
  • Last month, there were 17 goals that I hadn’t started yet at all. Now there are only nine!
  • This project would have been much easier when I was ten.

 

4 Great New Places For Mexican Food

One of my goals for the year I’m 40 is to eat at 40 new places. I’ve done six so far, and the last four have all been Mexican places, because I love me some Mexican food.

1. Taqueria El Buen Pastor

I pass this truck on the commute to work all the time, but never stopped by until recently. I grabbed a couple of cheap tacos–two for under five bucks–and loved them! Service was fast and friendly, place was clean, and the tacos were excellent! They even have a full condiment bar on the side. Highly recommended!

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2. Rivas Mexican Grill

I went to the one on Aliante and 215–great place! I tried a fish taco here for the first time, and was surprised at how much I liked it. Plenty more of these in my future. Highly recommended!

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3. Frijoles and Frescas

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40 For 40 Progress Report 2/12

A couple of days ago I finished my 2nd month of being 40. Of the 40 goals I have set for this year, I have successfully completed…three. There would be a fourth–doing sit-ups–but my consistency was spotty, and I decided to start over.

It’s frustrating to see such a big list with so little apparent progress, but in my notes I see that most of my goals have some work done. Last month, I had done something for fewer than half the goals. Now, there are only 17 that I haven’t started.

The biggest problem for me before was the one about Portuguese vocabulary–how exactly to do that and track it? I decided to use Duolingo at least every other day, and if I keep that up, that’ll count. Three weeks into that so far. Parabens! 

My biggest worry now is the one about running ten-milers 40 times. Seems a bit ambitious. I ran a solid 10k this week, but while that’s good, that’s still zero to check off for the goal. Can I really get better and do 40 of those in under 10 months now?

Note that #29–about service–has changed. The wording before was too ambiguous; I needed something simple and specific, so I could be sure of achieving it. I plan on doing 40 letters for Sunshine Snail Mail for this now.

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Quiet Biking at Night

Last summer I bought an old van with enough space in the back for my bike, which I started taking with me to work this semester, so I could ride it across the UNLV campus on the days I teacher there. It has saved me a lot of the rushing and running I’ve had to do from parking to classroom for over a dozen years, but even better, it has allowed me to simply spend more time on my bike.

One of my favorite things about the fall semester is the atmosphere on that beautiful campus on any November night–most everyone else has already gone home by the time my evening classes get out, and the trip back out to my car was always very quiet, cool, and pleasant. Now, getting to do that on a bike, it’s even better.

One night last month, I did that ride while listening to the soft, luminous Lou Reed track, “Revien Cherie.” Bikes rides have rarely been sweeter.

Speaking of, I spent one afternoon in October riding my bike home across town from my day job, listening to the live stream of Celtic music from Thistle Radio. That was also an enjoyable time, and a little memory worth having.

Life is really good.

C.H. Spurgeon, Rachel Peden, Katrina Kenison, and Me

bassThis is the story of an invisible community, where one voice at a time leads us to connect with others, in a chain back in time.

It starts with Katrina Kenison, who edited the annual Best American Short Stories series in the 90’s and early 2000’s. I love the essays she’d write as a foreword to each volume–usually loving little slices of the literate life, crisp and juicy together. For example, consider the paragraph from her essay in the 2001 volume, below. Isn’t it perfect?

Actually, her very best such essay was the one that started off the 2004 volume. I’ve used that essay a number of times with students, as a model of style and form–it seamlessly weaves a meditation on books with an illustrative anecdote, written in a way that creates comfort while it also demands engagement and action. I don’t have a copy handy just now, so I can’t provide a quote, nor is it anywhere online that I can find, but this book–along with all the volumes she edited–is worth tracking down just for her essays alone.

(She’s written other books, but I wish she’d compile one just collecting all these essays. What a treat that would be!)

 

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In the 2004 edition essay, however, Kenison mentions several older books that she’d found in a used book shop that was about to close. She tosses off titles with brief reveries about the contents–tiny taglines meant to offer whisps of joy found between those covers–and I’ve long wanted to find some of them myself.

This year I finally did. One in particular stood out to me, Rachel Peden’s Speak to the Earth. As I recall, Kenison called Peden “a naturalist of the first order.” Sounded good to me.

No library in southern Nevada had a copy, so I used the interlibrary loan program available at the university where I work part time to borrow a copy from whomever had one to share. Continue reading

40 For 40 Progress Report 1/12

I’m a month into being 40 now. I set 40 goals for this year for fun and self-improvement–the list is at the end of these notes on my progress so far:

  • I’m finding that for the ones that say “do such and such 40 times this year,” I need to average 3-4 times per month, and most of those are still at zero. I’ll make a weekly list for those to keep me on better track. I’ve also had to decide what counts and what doesn’t–eating at a new location of an established franchise I’ve been to before for #28? (No.) Riding my bike across the UNLV campus at work for #19? (Yes.)
  • I started with some that I felt were easy and/or foundational–today is day 32 of morning and evening prayers, and drinking 40 oz. of water. The prayers have helped me be more serious and self-reflective…and more critical of how I pray. I missed one night of prayer around that halfway point–not sure how to handle that. The water has been really easy and very rewarding–I have less soda and junk food just from trying to drink more water; I find that I crave even more than 40 oz. now.
  • Today is day 12 of doing sit ups–I realized that I didn’t want to just do these goals in isolated rounds; it would be better if they overlapped at irregular intervals. I’ll start another new one this week, as the first round starts wrapping up soon.
  • The biggest failure so far is the one about learning 40 new Portuguese words a month–I did nothing at all with that last month. Well, time to start and do better now.
  • Other items I’ve made some progress on so far: 2, 5, 6, 18, 19, 23, 24, 28, 30, 35, 36, 39, and 40. It was a great month, but life always has so much more to offer!

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“The little warm concrete faith in my hand”

Two hands on sunsut.

Overwhelmed by all
but underwhelmed by myself.

How do stress and wonder blend so cleanly
inside the same small minutes
every single day?

It’s enough force to crack the soul
like continental plates, grinding like my teeth.

So I go courting the Spirit
trying to make the magic moments
that already are:
the paradox of conscious effort.

But maybe that conflict is good,
to highlight the steady solids by contrast,
because in a corner of this epic drama
I feel the little warm concrete faith in my hand.

Three Old Poems From Las Vegas

I saw this page in a now-defunct alt-weekly sixteen years ago, and fell in love. I don’t often like new poetry, but I really enjoyed all three of these. I tore out the page and put it up in my classroom. It’s followed me from school to school since. Sometimes I’d refer to it, sometimes students asked about it, usually it just sat among the detritus that teachers collect year after year.

Last summer, I came across it while doing some decluttering, and took these pictures of each poem, and here they are, preserved now in Internet amber.

I like these because they each tell a specific yet oddly relatable slice-of-life story, told in vivid language, but not at all flowery. These are unadorned decorations on small moments, as most of my favorite poems are.

I just Googled the titles and authors–none of these poems are available elsewhere online, it seems (indeed, none of them seems to have been collected at all), though the authors all seem to still be writing, with some professional success. That makes me quite happy.

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Hiking At Gold Strike Hot Springs

My oldest son took me hiking a couple of weeks ago during his leave after graduating from Marine boot camp. I can’t believe this awesome hike existed around here and I never even knew it was there!

It’s a narrow trail that winds down a desert canyon outside of Boulder City, not far from Hoover Dam. There are frequent big drops along boulders that must be carefully scaled–many have ropes in place to help hikers safely navigate the rocky dips that are too far to jump.

But it’s absolutely worth it. The hike itself is a worthy challenge for experienced and agile hikers, the hot springs along the way are impressive, and the end of the trail–at the edge of the Colorado river–is flat out gorgeous.

We began in the early morning darkness, and the trail was empty–we didn’t see anybody until we started back to the start. It was a fantastic way to spend a morning.

40 For 40

In less than three weeks, I’ll turn 40. While many people dread that milestone, I’m looking forward to it! And I want to do something special to celebrate this coming year.

Since my late 20’s, I’ve kept a bucket list and a list of things that bring me joy. After more than a decade, I only regret that I spend so little time engaged with the things on either. With that in mind, I made a combined and condensed list of goals for growth and fun. I’m going to do these 40 things during the year of November 2, 2017-November 1, 2018. You may notice that each goal has something in common.

  1. Read the Book of Mormon cover to cover every 40 days
  2. Do some family history or temple work 40 times
  3. Read 40 articles about the Bible
  4. Talk to 40 people about the Book of Mormon
  5. Study 40 General Conference talks
  6. Make 40 positive contacts with students’ parents
  7. Track my meals and nutrition for 40 straight days
  8. No soda for 40 straight days
  9. No fast food for 40 straight days
  10. No sugary treats for 40 straight days
  11. No social media for 40 straight days
  12. No Netflix for 40 straight days
  13. Don’t buy anything unnecessary for 40 straight days
  14. Drink 40 oz. of water a day for 40 straight days
  15. Run ten miles 40 different times
  16. Do sit ups for 40 straight days
  17. Do 40 pushups in a set
  18. Take 40 relaxing baths
  19. Ride my bike to work 40 times
  20. Learn 40 new Portuguese words each month
  21. Sketch 40 new drawings
  22. Study 40 paintings
  23. Read 40 great books
  24. Listen to 40 new symphonies
  25. Listen to 40 new jazz and blues classics
  26. Listen to 40 great albums from my teenage years
  27. Learn 40 new chess moves
  28. Eat at 40 new places
  29. Do 40 acts of service
  30. Watch 40 classic Simpsons episodes
  31. Watch 40 episodes of The Twilight Zone
  32. Read Calvin & Hobbes comics every day for 40 days
  33. Pray every morning for 40 straight days
  34. Pray every evening for 40 straight days
  35. Give my wife 40 back rubs
  36. Watch 40 classic films with my children
  37. Do 40 fun activities with my children
  38. Don’t say anything negative about anyone for 40 straight days
  39. Write 40 poems
  40. Write in my journal 40 times

General Conference and Choosing the Bigger Life

Late last year, I was preparing for 2017’s New Year’s resolutions. As I surveyed where I was and where I wanted to be, I knew that I wanted to simply get more out of life. I was already happy and satisfied, but I just wanted even more: more happiness, more goals reached, more great experiences, more memories, more health, more spiritual feeling, more deep and rich living with all the wonderful people around me. I decided to approach the new year with a private new motto: “Choose the bigger life.”

This means that whenever I had any choice or opportunity–even in mundane daily activities–I would do whatever would lead to those things, no matter if it took time or energy I didn’t have or want to give. That would lead to the bigger life. And I’ve tried to center my life in the Church more than ever because, more than anything else, that vehicle leads to all of the things I want–it’s our Heavenly Father’s gift to us for realizing the abundant life.

This isn’t the kind of resolution that one keeps “starting right NOW.” It’s a process, and like all such processes, your vision of it grows as you practice. I’ve done a lot more with life this year, but I also realize just how much farther I can and will go.

Nearly twenty years ago, I was sitting in the celestial room of the temple. I didn’t have any particular question or issue on my mind; I was just thinking about my life. In one of the clearest spiritual manifestations I’ve ever had, a concrete idea came into my mind, in a character different from my usual internal monologue. It wasn’t a voice, distinctly, just an outside feeling coming in, and it used a phrase that was pretty common at the time. “It’s time to kick it up a notch,” the thought said. I knew what it meant and have tried to live up to it.

As with this year’s new motto, it’s been a gradual process of fits and starts. Still, it’s made a difference. I really have had a bigger life this year.

What does any of this have to do with General Conference? After all of these talks, I really want to recommit and do even better and even more. I’ve been feeling very tired, stressed, and run down lately. But not now. Now I’m excited, and I want to crystalize that motivation and direct it to the most important things. I want to choose the even bigger life.

Going forward into the final third of 2017, I still have the motto from that resolution in mind. The teachings and stories of General Conference have added fuel to that fire. Looking back on the finished life of Elder Hales, the winding down life of President Monson, and the examples from the life of President Nelson shared by himself and by Elder Andersen have all shown me anew the way to live exactly the kind of passionate, productive life that leads to the biggest life of all, eternal life.

Let’s do this thing.

 

Reviewed and Recommended: F. Paul Wilson’s Nightworld

7957849I recently had such a great reading experience! So many of the books I read are deep, or classics, or deep classics–this time I just wanted something fun. Because of that, I spent a few days in a row staying up late so I could keep reading. That hasn’t happened in a while.

Nightworld is the final book in a series that begins with Wilson’s classic The Keep. (Yes, I skipped to the end of a series just so I could get to the gripping, white-knuckled conclusion. Fight me.) Like all great horror novels, the plot is as elemental as any dark fairy tale: a powerful evil entity is making each day on Earth shorter than the one before, and at night hungry creatures come out of the ground to ravage the world. Each night is longer than the one before, and each night brings larger and more aggressive monsters. Soon, the world will be kept in permanent night, ruled by this demon and his army of monster minions. And only a small rag-tag band of human heroes can come together to stop him.

Pretty awesome. Wilson delivers. Why isn’t there a movie of this? Tons of fun. Highly recommended.