Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"It's Me, Batman!"

I met a superhero today. It happened in an unlikely place.

My day did not get off to a great start. Already feeling a sore throat coming on last night, I felt it even more so when I woke up this morning. I felt terrible, and I was convinced that I had strep throat. So, my doctor squeezed me in for an appointment.

The strep test was negative. I was told that I probably have a viral infection and that I should ride out the storm at home with Vitamin C, Tylenol, and by drinking lots of water. Before going home to rest, I had one other errand to run. I needed to to put a small package in the mail at the post office.

That's when I met Batman. I don't mean Christian Bale or Adam West, but Batman himself. This particular Batman must have been four or five years old and did not wear a mask, but he did have on a dark blue cape. He ran up to me as soon as I walked through the doors.

"It's me, Batman!" was his enthusiastic greeting.

Who was I to argue? He said he was Batman, and I believed him.

"You sure look like him," I replied.

Batman was accompanied at the post office on this day by his grandfather, who may have been there as Batman's guardian and butler, Alfred, for all I know.

As I waited in line, Batman, with great energy, ran around the post office, flapping his cape and greeting everyone he saw with the same line: "It's me, Batman!"

Funny thing is, that was me at about the same age. I don't remember too much about what life was like when I was four or five. But I do remember (mainly due to my mother reminding me about it) that I frequently dressed up in my Superman costume and wore it around the house, all over the neighborhood, at the grocery store - everywhere but church. Fortunately, I didn't do anything too stupid, like thinking that I could fly and then jumping off of the roof.

Batman didn't cure my sore throat. But he reminded me of a cherished part of my childhood I sometimes forget about. He got me excited for Halloween, which is really one of the few times each year that most of us unabashedly get back in touch with that inner child.

When we have . . . become as a child in our capacity to love and obey, we are on the sure foundation.
-Elder Henry B. Eyring

Batman also made me smile, which was something I didn't think I was going to be able to do today. And that made me feel a bit better.

You rescued me when I needed it, Batman. And that makes you a true hero.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Saturday Afternoon at the Pumpkin Patch

Saturday afternoon, I traveled with my folks and Mike's and Dave's clans up to the Pack Pumpkin Farm in Farmington. I missed out on this little excursion when the family went last year - it's possibly going to become one of those yearly family Halloween traditions now - so I made sure to clear my schedule (which really wasn't that hard to do) and come along this time.

We were there for only about an hour, but it was enough time for the gang to see and do about everything. We all had a good time. My nieces and nephews, in particular, had a blast.

Here, Jana, Mike, and Jackson are getting ready to go look at pumpkins.

Here's Jenna and Luke in their wheelbarrow:

I love this picture of Kylee and Jackson:

Someone pointed out that Jackson's shirt made him look like Charlie Brown. So, here is our version of Jackson waiting for the Great Pumpkin on Halloween.

Meanwhile, Mom and Dad stayed behind and looked after three-week-old Kira.

After everyone had picked out their pumpkins, the kids ran through the child-size hay maze. Dallin, Kenna, and Luke were probably the most gung-ho about it.




Elsewhere, Kylee and I tried on some hats and posed with the scarecrows.

Before we left, Jackson, Kylee, and I stood for an obligatory picture behind the ghosts.

Fun times! If you're looking for something enjoyable to do this week with your kids, nieces, and/or nephews, I would highly recommend the Pack Pumpkin Farm.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Heroes

"Heroes" is one of the few TV programs I follow regularly. But that's not what this post is about.


As I was changing channels recently, I came across one of those celebrity gossip programs, such as "Entertainment Tonight" or "Extra." I watched it only long enough to see a news tidbit about a well-known celebrity couple, who are currently producing children like rabbits and are saving the world, one humanitarian project at a time, but have forgotten the small, important task of actually getting married. (My readers, assuming I still have any, are smart people. You know who this couple is. I don't need to mention them by name.) After this story concluded, the anchor referred to them as "role models."

"Yeah, right," I remember saying, out loud, even though there was no one else in the room to hear me. (Not even the chair!)

The charity work is commendable, I guess. And I suppose that these are both talented actors, though I have yet to see any demonstrable, physical proof of that from the female half of the duo. But it wouldn't matter to me if they were to solve global warming and our nation's dependence on foreign oil in the next week; because of the (lack of) marriage issue, I can't consider these people to be "role models" of mine, much less heroes.

Sadly, we live in a world that largely thinks that the need to get married is now a thing of the past. That's just one of many "values," if you can call them that, that the stars of these celebrity-worshipping programs are teaching us these days, both in their films and in their personal lives. (Then, they tell us how we should vote, too.) That's why I try to avoid these shows like the plague. As my dad might say, I wish I could buy a lot of these people for what they're worth and sell them for what they think they're worth. I have a bumper sticker on my car that reads: "Hollywood - Washington for the simple minded."

This leads to the question: Where are the role models or heroes? They most definitely exist. But they most likely won't be found in Hollywood.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about about my current work project. Since then, I have moved on from "Fact or Fiction" to my new subject, "Famous Dyslexics." Dyslexia is an issue with which we are very concerned at my workplace. We cater to a lot of clients who have to live with it. I can only imagine what kind of a challenge this must be to have to overcome. To all of them, our message is that not only can you live with it, but you can have great success in life, too.

So many people from the "Famous Dyslexics" topic have become heroes of mine. Consider the following names, all of who have/had dyslexia, and what they have accomplished: Ansel Adams, Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert), Hans Christian Andersen, Alexander Graham Bell, Agatha Christie, Winston Churchill, Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, Nolan Ryan, and George Washington.

One "Famous Dyslexic" was Thomas Edison, probably the greatest inventor who ever lived. In addition to being dyslexic, he lost all of the hearing in his left ear and 80 percent of the hearing in his right ear. Yet look at what the man did.

Thomas Jefferson - the same person who said "I cannot live without books" - had to beat dyslexia to read every book he ever picked up. He also would often stutter when he spoke. As he was not a great speaker, he became a great writer. Among other things, he wrote the Declaration of Independence.

There are a lot of guys named "Thomas" on this list, but I must also mention Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. I learned about this man only a few years ago when I first saw the film Gods and Generals (the prequel to Gettysburg), which focuses on Gen. Jackson. Though he was a Confederate general, I have the utmost respect for the man. He did not fight in the Civil War to preserve slavery but rather because he loved his home state and would give his life to defend it (which he ultimately did). He had an unshakable faith in God and prayed frequently that his cause would triumph. His troops loved him.

Certainly, a person does not have to have had a disability or to have had a physical challenge to be a hero. Many heroes are just normal people who have made a habit out of always showing up at the right places and being counted on to do the right things.

The men and women who speak at the Church's general conference each April and October (and at other events in between) largely fit this description, as far as I'm concerned.

A few years ago, I was a recently returned missionary who had just started a job at the Church Office Building. One day, outside of my cubicle, I ran into one of the members of the Seventy. I recognized him from his picture on the General Authorities' chart but also knew that he was currently serving in the Europe area presidency, where my younger brother Dave was serving his mission at the time. I asked him if he had been to Spain lately and if he knew how the Bilbao mission was doing.

Very politely and cordially, this good man took five or 10 minutes out of what I'm sure was a very busy schedule to chat with me. He not only had been to Spain recently but knew all of the comings and goings of the Bilbao mission in specific details, telling me about the chapel - the first owned solely by the Church - that had recently been dedicated in the mission boundaries. He also asked about the mission I had recently returned from and wished me well in my new job before our conversation concluded.

My encounter with then-Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf has always stayed with me. I was gladdened to see him sustained to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles just a few years ago and then, earlier this year, called to the First Presidency of the Church. He is one of many heroes of mine among the brethren, because, when I hear him speak, I know that his counsel comes from the Lord and that he practices what he preaches.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Kindertrauma


What scared you as a child?

That was the group question at last night's ward prayer. (Each week, everyone in the circle answers a question. It's a get-to-know-you thing we do, and it has helped me to learn tidbits about people that I might not have otherwise known.) With Halloween coming up next week, 'tis the season, I suppose.

I don't know if my childhood phobias were what you would call "normal" ones. I feel like I had my share of them, though. It can be therapeutic to share them with friends, right? (Don't make fun of mine, and I won't make fun of yours. Deal?)

Years ago, a Primary activity was held in our cultural hall. It was advertised, I believe, as a puppet show. I have no problems with puppets, per se. I was a faithful viewer of The Muppet Show for years. But this "puppet show" involved marionettes - not the same thing at all. I don't know what it was about them that scared me so (and still scares me, I will admit), but I did not stay in my seat for very long. I ran out into the hallway and tucked myself into the fetal position. (I'm not kidding.)

The E.T. poster that hung on the wall outside of my bedroom also gave me the creeps. Sure, E.T. is a kind and friendly (albeit odd-looking) alien creature. But when you're seven or eight years old - I really forget how old I was when this happened - your mind can play tricks on you at night. (It can play tricks on you at any age, really. Well, mine does.) For me, E.T. was the boogeyman.

Speaking of movies, the conclusion of Raiders of the Lost Ark - when the Nazis finally open the ark (you know what I'm talking about; don't make me go into the details) - caused me to lose sleep more than once. I saw Raiders a few more times over the years since that initial viewing but always closed my eyes during that last part. Like Indy and Marion, I kept them shut tight. (Only when I saw Raiders recently could I finally muster up the courage to watch the whole film with my eyes open.)

Fire in the Sky, IT, and Poltergeist are just a handful of the other flicks that have given me the willies. But nothing got to me like Raiders.

Then again, maybe it's just films by Steven Spielberg.

For a number of years, I helped with my family's paper route. It was good money when I was nine or 10 years old. During that time, we would get up at 5:30 a.m. every day, no matter what the weather outside was like, to put The Salt Lake Tribune on several dozen doorsteps in Bountiful.

More often than not, it was pitch-black outside as we made our deliveries. (As I wrote earlier, your mind plays tricks on you in the dark.) One morning, I carried an armful of newspapers to go on a "run" (as we called them) on foot. The others, in the truck, would meet me at a predetermined point and pick me up. All alone, I headed off on the run. At one house, I threw the paper near the door, which was always our goal. I watched it land on the porch. My eyes then looked up from the newspaper, and I saw that someone was sitting there and had been watching me the whole time! I took off running for my life, or so I thought.

When I caught up with the truck, it dawned on me that what I had seen was not a person but was actually a stuffed Santa Claus doll. I can laugh about it now. (My brothers sure gave me a hard time about it at the time.) But, at the moment, it scared the Dickens out of me. I've hardly ever felt the fight-or-flight response to such a degree.

What's so scary about good old Santa Claus, you may ask? Plenty.

Well! Now that this is all off of my chest, I realize that I've been sitting here, writing this in the dark, at night. I'm going to go and turn on the lights, put in a Church DVD or turn on some cartoons, and think happy thoughts.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

SAJAAAAAAAA!


This past week, hardly a day has gone by in which I have not had a chance to play Rock Band/Rock Band 2. It has been the unofficial "Week of Rock Band."

But who's complaining? They are quite possibly the coolest video games ever made and are also the most fun to play. (Well, that is, until Rock Band 3, Rock Band 4, and the like are released. You get the idea.)

Monday night, following a get-to-know you evening with our newly reorganized FHE group ("The Barnacles" have now absorbed "All 4 Fun") at the Myers' home, we fired up Rock Band in their basement. Laureen, Mandy, Ryan, and Sarah were among those who had their first try at the game, and they all seemed to have a great time doing so.

Next, on Wednesday evening, I was invited to my home teacher Joe's house for a group home teaching lesson. The new idea in our ward is that home teaching can be made a lot easier with group activities, in which home teachers can kill two or more birds with one stone (so to speak). Sadly, I was the only one - other than our friend Gary, who asked to tag along (but is not on Joe's/Duane's home teaching list) - to show up. Still, we made an enjoyable evening of things. Joe and Duane shared a brief lesson with me out of this month's Ensign, after which we ordered out for pizza and played a couple of hours' worth of (you guessed it) Rock Band. Joe and I goaded Duane and Gary into trying out the guitar for the first time, and, before long, they were both passing songs without failing once.

Then, last night, I attended the "Rock & Roll Party" held at Adam/Brian/Jordan/Mike's house. Rock Band was once again the core activity. Since far more than four people (the maximum number who can play Rock Band at any one moment) showed up, there were board games ongoing on the other end of the room. I fit in a game of what I know as Perudo (I'm not sure what they called it) between sets on the guitar and drums.

Incidentally, "SAJAAAAAAAA" is the generic band name we created a couple of months ago on Brian's Playstation and has been the band name we've been using since. It began as an acronym for "Shannon, Adam, and Jon," since the three of us were the first to play that particular evening, and it somehow ended up becoming "SAJAAAAAAAA." ("SAJAAAAAAAA!" is also now our war cry for whenever we pass a song or do something well in the game.)

(The above pic was actually taken the previous week, at my friend Mike Oliver's birthday party - hosted by Jared and Allison - in Farmington. In it, I am getting one of my first cracks at singing one of the songs from Rock Band 2. I believe it was Duran Duran's "Rio.")

Monday, October 13, 2008

Hangin' with the Kids for the Weekend

It was my sister-in-law Jana's birthday Friday. I got to help tend my nephews (eight-year-old Dallin and six-month-old Jackson) while Mike took her out to dinner and then to the Kelly Clarkson/Reba McEntire concert.

Ben and I teamed up and decided to take Dallin to Taylorsville to spend a couple of hours at one of our favorite Salt Lake valley hangouts, the Nickelcade. It was Dallin's first time going there (first time in any kind of arcade, he said). He enjoyed playing Skee-Ball (and outbowled me, I might add), and he also got his first crack at an old favorite of ours, Rampage. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I may have also set my own personal best score on Ms. Pac Man.

Dallin, who usually has a more-than-adequate amount of energy for an eight-year-old, fell asleep soon after we returned to Bountiful at about 10:00 p.m. (His bedtime on a school night is 8:00 p.m., so I guess he held out for as long as he could.) His little brother Jack-Jack, ironically, was still awake for a while. We enjoyed watching him play with some toys from the toy room in his little box before we put him to sleep:

His new nickname is "Jack in the Box," thanks to Grandpa.

Mike, Jana, and all four of their kids were back again Sunday afternoon for a family birthday party. We had a combined shindig for Jana's and my recent b-days, for which we ate dinner and cake; played "Pass the Parcel" (a family tradition, which is a must-have at our family birthday parties), won by 10-year-old Kylee; and also got in a few rounds of another family favorite, Mario Kart Wii, which Jeff was good enough to bring over.

While we were thus employed, Kylee and Dallin snuck outside and made a couple of snowmen on the front lawn. (The first snowfall of the season here came Saturday night/Sunday morning.) I think they did a pretty good job. I got this shot of their creations:

All in all, it was an enjoyable weekend.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Animal Cruelty

Today, I just wanted to post a heads-up for all those who are still wondering what they want to be for Halloween this year and are looking at potential costumes. Consider the following, which I came across this afternoon on the Web:

As a die-hard Star Wars fan (and as a dog lover), even I will agree that this is a little extreme.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Works of Art

For family home evening this past Monday night, we got in touch with an old childhood favorite: drawing with crayons.

I am not nor was I ever a great artist. There was a time, though, when I would doodle and draw during much of my spare time (and sometimes during class). I created one comic book after another in the fifth through eighth grades. (If you think my movies are bizarre, you should have seen the comics.) In my extracurricular junior high art class, I often drew my own interpretations of action shots from Sports Illustrated in pencil.

Well, I don't do that much anymore. But it's still fun to pick up a box of crayons and see what you can come up with.

So, back to Monday night. Each table was first given a minute with which to begin drawing a fairy tale or a nursery rhyme. Then, after the minute was up, we had to pass it to the person to our right, and that person would continue the tale. And so on. Next, we did the same with a story from the scriptures. Here is what the others on the table did with my version of the King Benjamin story from the Book of Mosiah:

I particularly liked the addition of the "Welcome to the Jungle!" quote. Finally, we had five minutes with which to draw a self-portrait. Here is what I came up with:


Note that we had only five minutes to draw this. I realize it's not worthy of the Louvre.

Following FHE, I drove out to LDS Hospital in the Avenues of Salt Lake City to meet my new niece, Kira Nancy, who had been born that afternoon at 3:59 p.m., weighing seven pounds and eight ounces. (Biz was smart enough to bring her camera when she and Jeff came out, and she's got some good pics of Kira on their blog.)

I got to hold Kira for about five minutes, which made the whole trip worthwhile. She is a cute little bundle, as were my other nieces and nephews when they, too, were just six hours old. I look forward to sharing some crayons with her in future days.

Holding a newborn in my arms is always an extremely humbling experience. Each time, it gives me a renewed sense of awe and wonder at the Almighty's power and the infinite love He has for all of His children.

Talk about a work of art.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

As the Cake Collapses under the Weight of the Candles . . .


This past Friday, I celebrated another birthday. (Well, maybe "celebrated" is not the term I'm looking for here. "Learned to live with" would be more like it.)

Birthdays seem to get more surreal each year. You realize that you're yet another year older - ready or not, and whether or not you "feel" that old. You also tend to reflect on the things that have brought you to where you are in life and the kinds of important lessons that life has, hopefully, taught you along the way.

On Friday, I got to thinking about one of the funniest and most insightful things I have ever read about birthdays and aging. It is called "25 Things I Have Learned in 50 Years," and it comes from Dave Barry (one of my favorite writers, thanks to Clayton and Darren, who helped introduce me to this satirist when we were in high school) in his book Dave Barry Turns 50.

Here are some of my favorites from that list:

- You will never find anybody who can give you a clear and compelling reason why we observe daylight-saving time.

- The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers.

- There comes a time when you should stop expecting other people to make a big deal about your birthday. That time is age 11.

- There is a very fine line between "hobby" and "mental illness."

- Nobody is normal.

- If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be "meetings."

- You should not confuse your career with your life.

- A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person.

- No matter what happens, somebody will find a way to take it too seriously.

- Your friends love you anyway.

- Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance.

That's some sage advice and keen insight. In that same spirit, I have come up with my own list of things that I have learned in my time on this Earth. I cannot promise that they are humorous or insightful, nor that I am living perfectly by them, but nevertheless I do believe them:

- "Wickedness never was happiness" (Alma 41:10).

- A true friend will still be your friend even after an argument or you have done something embarrassing; a fair-weather friend will hold a grudge against you and will disappear from your life.

- When you play "make-believe" with your nieces/nephews, all of your worries will vanish.

- Cast your bread upon the waters, and it will come back to you - soggy. (Dad taught me that one.)

- Never make fun of anyone's problems or struggles. You never know when they will become your own.

- You never know what demons other people are fighting. Always give them the benefit of the doubt.

- Never underestimate the importance of knowing how to use the words "please," "thank you," "excuse me," and "sorry." They will open more doors for you than a good sense of humor will.

- Death is an important teacher. It instructs us to say "I love you" and to say it now.

- Of the two kinds of regret, it is better to live with the regret of having tried and failed than the regret of not having tried at all.

- Trust your instincts, whether it's picking fantasy football winners or any other choice you may face. They know you better than you do.

- If you think no one cares about you, just miss a payment.

- "Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion." -Truvy (Dolly Parton), from Steel Magnolias

- I don't trust people who wear sunglasses. I can never tell how their eyes are looking at me under those things.

- People who don't like animals are most often people who don't like other people.

- Always accept a piece of gum or a breath mint when someone offers you one. You don't know if they're trying to tell you something.

- Don't ever make fun of a school your date has attended or is attending, even if you think you are obviously kidding. Trust me.

- Decisions made in haste or impatience are almost always bad decisions.

- There is a fine line between aggressively pursuing a potential mate and stalking.

- "Let's just be friends" is largely a myth, and it's best for both parties that it be that way.

- In movies, police officers are always inept and clumsy; the hero in most action movies will be pulverized physically in many ways, such as falling 20 stories, being punched in the face a dozen times, or being blown up with explosives, and will come out with only bruises, cuts, and perhaps a flesh wound from a bullet; the heroine in chick flicks will always choose the jerk before she realizes that the "other" guy is a better match; and TV shows with a laugh track think that you are a moron.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Backwards Diabetes Commercial



This is another local TV spot in which I appeared. (I was in two other commercials but don't know where they are online.) My ComedySportz colleagues Sina Amedson (who was also in the ARS commercial) and Jeff Blake appear, as well. We filmed it in August 2006 at Lakeview Hospital in Bountiful.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Advanced Restoration Systems TV Commercial



This is a local TV commercial for Advanced Restoration Systems, a disaster-cleanup service based in Cache County, Utah, in which I appeared. It was filmed in May 2006. I am the guy wearing the white coat on the right; my ComedySportz colleagues Sina Amedson (of Church Ball fame) and Trent Krummenacher (aka "Bob, the Drowsy Driver") also appear in it.

Coming Full Circle with The Brave

For the past several months, I have been working on a rather extensive project at work. I can't go into all of the details, but suffice to say that it involves researching and writing summaries on a wide variety of topics for beginning readers. It's practially, I would say, like writing children's literature. It's been challenging, but it's also been very educational, too.

My assigned topic for the last couple of weeks has been "fact or fiction." (Gee, I can't guess why they chose me to write on that.) For this subject, I have spent hours learning and writing about such things as crop circles, the Loch Ness monster, unicorns, UFOs, and the like - real National Enquirer-type stuff.

Today, it hits me: By doing this, I have indirectly fulfilled a prophecy from my high school newspaper, The Brave.

It is a tradition (or at least it was) for The Brave to publish a list of "senior predictions" in the final issue of the school year. These predictions refer to future careers, and a career is listed for each member of the senior class. For me, it reads "tabloid reporter."

Congratulations, universe. You win.

Might I add: I am not the only one about whom the senior predictions were right. As a joke, my classmate Kevin Eubank - who, at the time, was the son of local celebrity and weatherman, Mark Eubank - was correctly forecast (get it?) to become a meteorologist, too. You can catch him almost nightly on the channel 5 KSL newscast (local NBC affiliate).