Thursday, December 31, 2009

Hasta Luego, 2009

Ready or not, the New Year is upon us.

In a few, short hours, 2009 will be a thing of the past, and 2010 will be here. Not only that, we will be looking at a brand-new decade as well.

(Yes, I know that it's still technically the same decade that began in the year 2001 - there was no year 0, in other words. But you don't refer to a song or a movie released in the year 1990 as something from the '80s, now do you?)

I kind of always imagined I would end up spending New Year's Eve 2010 watching the movie 2010: The Year We Make Contact - a very underrated sequel to Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey - but that will not be the case tonight. I will instead be taking things quite casually, dropping in on a few friends' parties, as I'm still not feeling 100-percent great following my hospital visit last week - though I am feeling somewhat better.

I may have to watch 2010 before the week's out, however.

As I look forward to the coming year and decade and to resolutions that need to be made and kept, one thought pervades, as delivered by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin in his final conference address in October 2008:

"Come what may, and love it."

Happy New Year, my friends.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Improvables on YouTube: November 13, 2009 - Part II

Here are two additional Improvables games, "Mumbling Movie Murder Mystery" and "Story Genres," that were recently posted to YouTube and which were played during the November 13 show, featuring Bryan, Johnny, Keenan, Michael, Parker, and Shannon and yours truly as the M.C.:

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Eve and Second Chances

For the third time in five years, I spent Christmas Eve in the hospital.

Over the past few years, I have developed this odd tradition of spending at least part of my Christmas holiday under close medical scrutiny. In 2005, I went into the E.R. with a severe rash on my arm; originally diagnosed as a spider bite, it turned out that what I had was actually shingles (which stayed with me for the next two months). Then, two years ago, I had surgery performed on my right shoulder just a few days before Christmas, and I did not react well to the anesthesia; as a result, the next week or so was a rather difficult one for me.

This year's saga begin on Monday night, when I began to experience chest pains unlike anything I had ever felt before. Things didn't get much better for me over the next couple of days; in fact, they got worse.

Initially, I went to InstaCare to get checked out. But as soon as I mentioned the term chest pains, they sent me directly to the hospital, as they claimed they were not capable of treating that. This is how I ended up in the E.R. at about 1:30 p.m. Christmas Eve.

The doctor and nurses who examined me originally thought I might have gallstones. For those of you Brian Regan fans out there, yes, they did ask me what my pain level was on a scale of one to 10, and I really was tempted to say 8 - but I didn't.

At any rate, after undergoing a series of tests, including an EKG, an ultrasound, and X-rays, it was determined that my hiatal hernia, which is caused by acid reflux - something I was initially diagnosed with in the summer of '99, over 10 years ago - had been acting up and was the cause of my chest pains. Further, I learned that several things I had lapsed on doing - not eating close to bedtime/after midnight and taking my daily Nexium/Prevacid pills - had aggravated my problem.

Additionally, the doctor mentioned that the number-one worst thing for acid reflux in anyone's diet (following drinking alcohol and smoking, which don't apply to most of us, myself included) is caffeinated soda. (Did you catch that, friends of mine who are so in love with Diet Coke?)

As we approach the New Year and the time for making resolutions, it looks like cutting out all soda - not just caffeinated soda - will again be at the top of my list. I tried it last year, and it took for only about two or three months. Well, appears that it's time to make a final break with Dr. Pepper, once and for all; no "just being friends," either.

I guess the good news about this strange pattern of events is that I can look forward to taking off Christmas 2010 before beginning to dread Christmas 2011!

In addition, I am very grateful that there wasn't something worse wrong with me. I spent many moments Monday through Thursday in terrible physical pain and often felt like I was dying. When acid reflux/esophagitis flares up as badly as it did with me, I'm told that the symptoms mimic those of a heart attack.

When I stop to consider the car accidents, prolonged illnesses, and other injuries that my family members have survived over the past few years, including my mom's stroke this past summer, I am additionally grateful that we are all still alive and kicking. I was, in fact, fortunate enough to be out of the hospital by the early evening and home with my family in time to participate in the annual family Christmas pageant, singing of Christmas hymns, and opening of presents.

In the many hours I waited in the E.R., the thought occurred to me that Christmas is, after all, a time for second chances of many kinds. As I was released from the E.R. and got to go home, the thought remained with me, and I was grateful that I was given a new lease on life, from a certain point-of-view.

For example, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, as told in A Christmas Carol, is all about taking a second look at his life and being given a second chance to live it. Such is the case with George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life, my favorite Christmas movie of all time.

Indeed, the whole idea behind Christmas - the coming of a Savior to the world - is about mankind being given a second chance and being offered the opportunity to repent when we sin or make mistakes.

Maybe it's the heavy pain medication talking right now, but that's what I gathered from this experience.

And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, everyone.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"The Twelve Days of Christmas," Muppets Style

I grew up listening to the John Denver and the Muppets Christmas album during pretty much every holiday season. Here's the next-best thing, with Jimmy Fallon filling in for the late John Denver during a recent episode of "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon."

Merry Christmas, everybody.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever!

Last night, several family members and I ventured down to Salt Lake City to see the Church's Savior of the World musical at the Conference Center Theater.

It had been a number of years since I had last been to see SOTW, which originally debuted eight or nine years ago when the Conference Center was completed. It was the same fantastic production I remember seeing once before, though I noted that a few minor changes to the score and such had been made.

For those of you who may not be familiar with Savior of the World, it is esentially the story of Christ's birth in Act I and His Resurrection in Act II, as well as the faith and sacrifices of those who knew Him personally and who believed in Him. Maybe that's why it is always performed around Christmas and Easter.

Without a doubt, it is the best Christmas pageant I have ever seen. If you haven't been to see it yet, I hope that you take the opportunity to do so.

Friday, December 18, 2009

"What Shall We Give?"

I particularly enjoyed this latest Mormon Message by Pres. Monson and the video that accompanies it. I hope you take a look at it if you haven't already done so:


Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Here is the latest and greatest project from my cousin Eden, a Lego film titled "Extremity":

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Marvelous Work and a Wonder

Two weeks ago, as we were about to take the stage for another Improvables performance, Parker came back to the green room and told us that his brother Keenan had suffered an accident while riding an ATV and, as a result, had broken both of his legs.

This has to be some kind of joke, I remember thinking. Keenan had, ironically, recently played the character "Legless Larry" on stage during a show, moving himself around using only his arms.

But this was no joke. Keenan had indeed broken both of his legs and was undergoing surgery to have a metal rod inserted into one of those legs as we were taking the stage. This would have been a painful and tragic occurrence in anyone's life, but add to that the additional fact that Keenan was scheduled to enter the MTC just under three weeks after this accident. Many of us, myself included, feared that his missionary service would end up being postponed for several months.

Fortunately, that wasn't the case at all. Keenan was a quick healer in the hospital, being discharged after only a couple of days of recovery. He continued to make further progress after that and began to walk with a cane.

Two nights ago, he again took the stage for his final Improvables performance for two years, a mere two weeks after his devastating accident. Though he needed to use his cane to get around, he put in another fantastic performance. Then, this morning, Keenan delivered his scheduled farewell talk at his ward in Centerville, with his plans for heading into the MTC this Wednesday and then going on to serve in the mission field in New Zealand still intact.

As I sat through today's meeting, the thought occurred to me more than once that I had witnessed some sort of miraculous event in Keenan's quick healing over these past two weeks. The Lord truly does watch over His work and those who labor in it. The sacrifices made and the blessings received by past, present, and future missionaries are nothing short of "a marvelous work and a wonder" to me.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Yes, it's quite cold out there. In fact, my brain and my fingers are currently frozen to the point that I can't think of what to type beyond the phrase "It's Cold Outside."

Weather wise, it's still technically the autumn. But as I write this, the temperature is 21 degrees, with a predicted low of 9 degrees tonight.

Thank you, Al Gore, for warning us about this.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year Returns!

I am officially feeling the Christmas spirit now. A most enjoyable weekend, one full of holiday-themed festivities, has helped me to get into the holiday mood.

I was assigned to M.C. Friday night's Improvables show, for which we played our first game of the Christmas season, called "Deck the Halls." Then yesterday afternoon, it was our Improvables Christmas party. Somehow, I walked away with a brand-new Snuggie from the white elephant gift exchange.

Some guys have all the luck!

Last night, Biz and traveled down to Provo for our monthly performances with the crew at ComedySportz. Even more Christmas-themed games were on the docket.

Thanks to my good friend Pepe, still going strongly as a devoted member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, I was again given tickets to attend this evening's First Presidency Christmas Devotional at the Conference Center in Salt Lake. Pres. Monson, Pres. Eyring, and Pres. Uchtdorf, in their respective unique ways, each delivered inspiring holiday messages. The music by the MoTabs was, likewise, most inspiring.

Following the conclusion of the devotional, we strolled around Temple Square to gawk, "ooh," and "ahh" and at the holiday lights. No matter how many times I have seen them, they never cease to amaze me - especially the orange ones surrounding the Assembly Hall.

And we're just getting started! More Christmas-related festivities, including performing Improv at various Christmas parties, the ward Christmas party, and seeing Scrooge at Rodgers Memorial Theatre, are directly ahead.

Friday, December 4, 2009

"If You Give a Vampire a Cookie, Part 2"

Here is the second part of Bryan, Keenan, and Parker's award-winning film:

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"If You Give a Vampire a Cookie, Part 1"

Here is the first part of a very funny film starring my Improvables colleagues Bryan Dayley and Parker Abegg. Apparently, it won an award as part of a filmmaking contest at Salt Lake Community College.

Parker's brother Keenan also mentioned to me that he wrote some of the dialogue and did some camera work, to boot.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Movin' In

This week, Steve moved into his brand-new house, located in Foxboro area of North Salt Lake.

I ventured down to take my first look at the place last night along with Mike, Jana, and their four rambunctious-but-lovable kids. I must say that I was very impressed with the house, and I'm sure that Steve will be quite cozy in his bachelor pad.

The kids kept us entertained throughout the evening, running all over the place and causing the usual amount of havoc. In particular, Jackson, who couldn't seem to keep his pants from falling down, and McKenna, who got caught inside the couch that she tried to take apart, did their best to break in the new digs:

Good times were had by all.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Anger to the Max

Unless you've been living on another planet, by now you know that the BYU Cougars and the Utah Runnin' Utes played their annual football game over the weekend.

It was a hard-fought contest, as it always is when these two teams meet. The Utes dominated the first and fourth quarters, while the Cougars dominated the second and third quarters. By the end of regulation, the score was tied at 20-20. In overtime, the Cougars edged the Utes 26-23 on Max Hall's touchdown pass to Andrew George.

If losing to BYU weren't offensive enough to Ute fans, Cougar quarterback Max Hall was interviewed afterward and said: "I don't like Utah. In fact, I hate them. I hate everything about them. I hate their program, I hate their fans, I hate everything. . . . I think the whole university, their fans and their organization, is classless. They threw beer on my family and stuff last year, and they did a whole bunch of nasty things, and I don't respect them, and they deserve to lose."

As a result, I have been spending much of the weekend reading comments on Facebook or otherwise hearing war chants from deeply offended Ute fans, calling Max Hall the spawn of Satan and saying that Max needs to die, preferably by being drawn and quartered at the earliest possible moment.

Let's face it; Max Hall is a good person. He got caught up in the heat of the moment and said some stupid things, for which he issued an apology the next day. But did anyone catch the part in which he said that last year Ute fans at Rice-Eccles Stadium were verbally abusive to his family, poured beer on them, and made vulgar and obscene gestures? Did these people ever apologize to the Hall family? Somehow, that seems to get lost in all of the hoopla.

I do not condone what Max said. But I can understand why he would say it.

In 2006, I sat in the stands of Rice-Eccles Stadium at that year's BYU/Utah football game, rooting for the Cougars. Throughout the game, the Ute fans who surrounded my brother and me - from teenagers and college-age attendees to men in their 50s and 60s - were verbually abusive to us and directed a slew of foul language our way. This handful of rowdy fans was definitely "classless"; I have never been treated so poorly as an opposing fan at any sporting event. (The only saving grace of attending that game, in fact, was John Beck's TD pass to Johnny Harline as time expired, capping a 33-31 Cougar victory. You could have heard a pin drop in the once-rowdy Ute cheering section as we filed out of the stands.)

As a closet Cougar fan, I also once worked in the ticket office at several Ute football games. During that period of time, I heard countless negative and classless comments uttered about the Cougars and the BYU organization as a whole.

Again, I don't justify what Max said. But having had a few personal experiences with rude Ute fans myself, I do understand why he said it. Most anyone whose family had been attacked in that manner would feel the same way.

Further, some Ute fans tend to forget that Utah standouts Alex Smith and Morgan Scalley - otherwise good and upstanding people, like Max Hall - each uttered hateful comments about BYU in years past.

My point, and I do have one, is that in the BYU/Utah rivalry, it's a two-way street. Players and fans on both sidelines have said and done dumb things in the heat of the moment. And I'm not saying that BYU fans are innocent of mistreating Ute fans, either; classless acts have occured on both sidelines.

Fortunately, the vast majority of the people I know and am friends with, both those who bleed blue and those who bleed red, would and will never act in this inappropriate manner.

How does that apply to us, then - the so-called "normal" people who go to these games and root at these events? I think what happened to Max Hall's family is an important reminder of the responsibility we all share to stop verbal (and other types of) abuse if and when we see it take place, either by intervening personally or by contacting ushers to have unruly fans booted. There is a greater need for civility and common decency on both sides.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Many Thanks

This was the year for my married siblings to attend their in-laws' Thanksgiving meals - we tend to trade off year after year - so there was no Thanksgiving Day meal at the Plowman household this year.

Instead, my cousin Scott and his family invited my parents, Steve, Becky, and I down to their home in Lehi for a Thanksgiving meal that included Claudia's (Scott's wife) parents, Tony and Margarita, and sister, Elizabeth, along with her family.

With 20-plus mouths to feed, Claudia and the others who brought food and goodies had their work cut out for them. Somehow, our plethora of pickings worked together very nicely, and we all enjoyed a good meal together.

It had been some time since I had seen Tony and Margarita, and it was good to visit with them as well as to dust off my Spanish.

It had also been about six months since I had seen Scott, Claudia, or their kids, and it was good to catch up with them. Steve and I both noted that 14-year-old Ashlyne and 12-year-old Meikayla had seemingly grown up by leaps and bounds during that time. Chantel just turned 19 years old and is in the process of finishing her first semester at UVU in Orem, and Eden is now a senior at Lehi High and continues to act in school productions and make excellent Lego-animated films on the side.

Ten-year-old Madison also challenged me to my first-ever game of Stratego and proceeded to mop the floor with me in that game.

Following the meal, Steve, Becky, and I stayed around for a few extra hours to play other board games with our cousins, including Sequence, Apples to Apples, and Imaginiff.

It was a long and busy Thanksgiving Day today, but I always consider time spent with family as time well spent. And that may the thing for which I am most grateful right now.

Monday, November 23, 2009

FHE Dance Party '09, Take Two

It was another great family home evening and another enjoyable ward dance tonight.

There was no theme this time, although cha-cha, waltz, and Lindy hop instruction was included, and new ward member Kyle handled the D.J. duties very capably. That left me free to "Y.M.C.A.," "Electric Slide," disco hustle, and otherwise boogie to my heart's content for basically the entire three hours.

Heck, we even ended the evening by doing the "Macarena" together. It had been several years. I found that the rumor is true - you can perform the actions to "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" in tune with the song.

I am already aching and sore from tonight's festivities, but it was well worth it. Good times were had by all.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

RSL Wins the Cup!

This past weekend, our very own professional soccer team, Real Salt Lake, edged Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Posh Spice, and the Los Angeles Galaxy in penalty kicks following a 1-1 tie in regulation and overtime to win their first-ever Major League Soccer cup.

It was quite the amazing accomplishment, especially when you consider that RSL had a sub-.500 record during the regular season of play and that teams from our state, well, rarely win things like these - ever. RSL was an underdog in pretty much every sense of the word. If you listened to the ESPN commentators, they were basically rooting for L.A. to win, too.

Assuming you live in another galaxy, of course, this would be a news flash.

Taking home the championship to Utah is rather cool stuff, I must say. Having spent many years playing soccer while I was growing up, I have been a fan of the sport for a long time. Having also spent a couple of years working part-time in the Real Salt Lake ticket office when the team still played at Rice-Eccles Stadium, I have basically been an RSL fan since they became an expansion team five seasons ago.

Now, if only the Jazz could get on board this championship thing. . . .

Saturday, November 21, 2009

"Shredder Buys a Shredder"

Here is a very funny short video recently posted to YouTube by Jeff Krammer, brother of my Improvables colleague Scott. It pretty well speaks for itself, especially if you are a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan:

Friday, November 20, 2009

Improvables on YouTube: November 13, 2009

Here are three of the latest Improvables videos uploaded to YouTube, games that were played during last week's Friday the 13th show at Rodgers Memorial Theatre: "Musical Hot Spot," "Accents," and "The Dating Game." I was the M.C. of this show, which featured Bryan, Johnny, Keenan, Michael, Parker, and Shannon.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Revenge of Twilight

Just in case you've been hibernating or living on another planet, the next installment of the Twilight so-called "saga," New Moon, opens in theaters at midnight tonight.

Who knows? Included among the throngs who will be going to see the film may be several single girls my age, salivating and audibly "ooh"ing and "ahh"ing over teenage vampires and werewolves.

Beer me strength!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Great Balls of Fire!

Late last night or early this morning, depending on how you look at things, I was working on the computer when crash! bam! alakazam! a very bright light shined in the sky to the west, lighting up everything I could see outside of my window for about two or three seconds, after which everything went dark again.

My initial thought was that another refinery in Woods Cross had exploded. That was followed by a thought - and it was not an altogether unpleasant one - that Las Vegas had been incinerated by a nuclear explosion and that Harrison Ford would soon come bouncing down my street in a lead-lined refrigerator.

Then, this morning, I learned that what I saw was actually caused by a meteor that landed somewhere in the western desert of Utah or the eastern desert of Nevada.

By now, this is old news if you live here along the Wasatch Front, but for the benefit of any readers outside of that sphere - assuming I still have any - it was pretty dang cool.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cold Dogs and Warm Hearts

For last night's family home evening activity, a handful of members of my ward and I braved very cold temperatures and ventured up into Mueller Park Canyon in east Bountiful to build a bonfire, cook s'mores and hot dogs, and drink hot chocolate.

In spite of the unseasonably cold temperature, which dropped somewhere into the mid-20s, we nevertheless managed to have a great time together. When you're surrounded by good people, just about anything can be enjoyable at almost any temperature.

At this point, my aforementioned tooth had not yet been fixed - I finally made it to the dentist this morning - so biting into the frozen chocolate of s'mores last night was no simple task.

Not surprisingly, it appeared that we were the only ones up in the canyon on a night like Monday night. In addition to cooking s'mores and hot dogs, the Bishop gave a spiritual thought, and we sang Primary songs.

We are, indeed, a "peculiar people," and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Good times were had by all.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Toothless People

Yesterday afternoon, one of my front teeth became loose and began to wobble and wiggle. Then, earlier today, the tooth simply fell out in my hand as I was brushing my teeth and getting ready for church.

As of tonight, this is how I now look:

To say that the ladies at church today found my smile irresistibly attractive would not only be an understatement; it would also be a lie!

Today's incident was just another one of the many problems I have had with this same tooth over the years. It originally chipped back when I was in the sixth grade and I attempted to run up the slide on the playground at recess; a classmate of mine slid right into me, knocking me off my feet and face forward into the slide. (Whether or not he did it on purpose was a source of controversy for the remainder of the school year.)

A few years later, the tooth chipped again when I bit into a sucker.

Good times, these. Can't wait to go to the dentist this week!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

It's Beginning to Sound a Lot like Christmas

Here it is, mid-November, Thanksgiving is still two weeks away, and Christmas music is being played on many of Utah's radio stations - some on a 24/7 basis.

I love Christmas music, and I'm honestly ready to listen to it once the dust from Halloween clears. What I often don't love, however, is the song selection employed by many of these radio stations. It is often, well, boring - for lack of a better word. Every other song seems to be sung by either Céline Dion, Gloria Estefan, or Mariah Carey. As far as putting me to sleep goes, many of these songs work faster than, say, tuning in to C-SPAN or the Home Shopping Network.

I would love to be a radio D.J. for a day and shake up any one of these Christmas song lineups significantly. We all can dream, right?

Because I have nothing better to do today, and due to a discussion I recently had with some friends about the worst or most boring Christmas songs out there, I now present my Top 10 list of the worst Christmas songs:

#10. "All I Want for Christmas Is You," by Mariah Carey It's a Mariah Carey song - need I say more?

#9. "Redneck 12 Days of Christmas," by Jeff Foxworthy This song only serves to give me yet another reason to dislike country music.

#8. "The Little Drummer Boy" I don't doubt the Little Drummer Boy's heart nor his good intentions, but I think a drum is about the last thing a mother would want her newborn baby to hear.

#7. "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town," by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band As a children's song this is harmless, but when Bruce Springsteen tries to make it sound funky, it just comes across as annoying.

#6. "Do They Know It's Christmas," by Band Aid In the mid-'80s, a group of pop and rock singers, including Bono and Phil Collins, got together and formed Band Aid with the intention of raising money for the poor in Africa. However noble that effort was, the result was this song, which at times sounds like a rejected Superman theme.

#5. "Mary, Did You Know?" by Kenny Rogers Everytime I hear this song, I want to scream, Yes, Kenny. She knew! She knew before anybody else!

#4. "O Little Town of Bethlehem," by Bob Dylan "O Little Town of Bethlehem" was one of my favorite Christmas songs until I recently heard Bob Dylan butcher it like no one else could. This one really has to be heard to be believed - it's that bad.

#3. "Feliz Navidad," by Céline Dion If you thought José Feliciano's original version of "Feliz Navidad" was bad, well, Céline Dion's is 100 times worse because of - well, Céline Dion.

#2. "Christmas Shoes," by NewSong Pretty much everyone I've talked to lately is of the consensus that this is a terribly annoying song in spite of its intention of spreading Christmas cheer and goodwill. I don't think anything further needs to be said!

#1. Santa Baby No matter who sings it, be it Madonna or Miss Piggy, this is a dirty, filthy song that sounds like nails on the chalkboard to me and is easily my least-favorite Christmas song ever recorded.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Shout Out to the Veterans

It's Veterans Day - arguably one of the most underappreciated holidays on the calendar - today. All day long!

When I think of the many veterans who fought for our country, I think of my neighbor Frank Whittaker. Frank is someone I've spoken to only a few times over the course of many years of being his neighbor, mainly through accompanying my dad on home teaching visits. He participated in and lived to tell about the Battle of Iwo Jima, fought on the small Pacific island over the course of five grueling weeks in February and March of 1945 - some of the fiercest fighting of World War II.

I think of "Colonel Jack," as he is called by everyone who knows him, whom I met through a variety of circumstances in the summer of 2008. A handful of friends and I spotted him playing his trumpet, which he said he does each week to honor his fallen comrades, on Bountiful Boulevard as we arrived at the mouth of the canyon for a ward hike. A couple of weeks later, one of our leaders invited him to speak to us at an FHE activity, during which he told us about his many combat missions flown during WWII and Korea.

Additionally, I think of a man whose name I did not learn but who stopped to speak with me for 10 or 15 minutes earlier this year while I was at a physical therapy session. He was there with his wife, who was rehabbing an injury, and I noticed the "Proud Veteran of the Korean War" hat he was wearing - how could anyone miss it? I mentioned to him that my brother served his mission in South Korea and that it was probably due to the service of American and Allied forces in the war that Korea was even opened to missionary work in the 1950s, and I also thanked him for his service. Veterans, I have learned, do appreciate being thanked for their many selfless sacrifices.

Does this contradict my previous post, when I wrote that "wars not make one great"? Not necessarily! Wars made these three (and many others) great indeed.

If you feel so inclined, feel free to thank one or more veterans today. I'm certain they will appreciate it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

"Wars Not Make One Great"

At a recent fast and testimony meeting, a friend of mine came up to the pulpit to speak and mentioned that because he had not served a mission, he felt that he did not stand much of a chance of ever finding a girl who would want to marry him.

To that friend, I quote the immortal words of Yoda: "Wars not make one great."

But Jon, what does that have to do with serving a mission? you ask? I will explain what I mean.

When young Jedi Luke Skywalker meets Jedi master Yoda for the first time in the swamps of Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back, he tells the little green Muppet - not knowing that he is already looking at Yoda - that he is looking for "a great warrior." Yoda replies, "Wars not make one great."

If we can apply that teaching to the real world, I would paraphrase Yoda's comments by saying that "missions not make one great."

Sure, missions help to build character, and they instill important principles that can guide you throughout the rest of your life - my mission, I feel, certainly did that for me. But just because someone served a mission, it does not automatically exalt that person nor make him Captain Moroni.

While I am on the subject, one of my mission companions comes to mind. He was an excellent teacher, a hard worker, and very dedicated at accomplishing the tasks he set out to perform. He also hated me.

There's no other word for it but hated. He criticized me constantly - often in front of other people or in public, he refused to talk to people he deemed "unworthy" of being taught, and he was otherwise mean, selfish, and a grade-A jerk. He was also openly rude to the members of our fledgling little branch. For 2½ months of serving with him, my life was a living hell. Needless to say, as a companionship we got very little accomplished during that time. The thing is, after serving with him for that length of time, I never did find out why he acted this way. Several months later, I came to find out that his behavior with every single one of his companions was essentially the same.

In a nutshell, some of the worst people I've ever known I encountered in the mission field. Conversely, some of the best people I've ever known did not serve missions.

I have often heard the saying that the "best two years" of one's life are spent in the mission field, but I do not believe that is true. I believe that perhaps the "best two years" of one's life may have been lived up to that point, but if we truly believe in eternal progression, then we should try to make the next year better, and the next, and so on.

Again, to my friend, I say, you're doing just fine.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Perils of Online Dating

Earlier today, I received the following message in my Inbox on one of the social Web sites to which I belong:

hay friend you very beautiful
my name is claryce i from brazil

I would remark that this kind of thing - flattering as it might be - is out of the ordinary, but it is not. Each month, I receive three or four messages like this on the aforementioned Web site, and they usually come from people who apparently learned their English by watching "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" or one of any number of other sitcoms produced in this country.

Why are the lyrics to "America" from West Side Story ("I want to be in Ah-mer-ee-kah, okay by me in Ah-mer-eekah . . .") now running through my head?

As a result of this kind of green card-grabbing attention - is there really any other name for it? - I suppose I am left wondering aloud whether there is a tactful way to deal with these unsolicited e-mails or if the best thing to do is just to ignore them or leave the site(s) entirely.

I have also found that many people who already live in this country and are seeking spouses do not so much have problems with being overly eager and perhaps giving "too much information" as they do with being, well, honest.

Over the years, I have been a member of a few different social Web sites with little-to-no success, though I have made a few friends and pen pals from the experience. At the same time, I have discovered that people will often put up different kinds of fronts on their profiles - inaccurate or out-of-date pictures being the primary problem.

I guess that's the chance that one takes. Everyone's chances are about the same, I guess - because I do have a number of friends who have met people who became their eventual spouses through this kind of thing (social Web sites, that is).

Then again, there are those who are of this opinion:

"As far as I'm concerned, the Internet is just another way of being rejected by a woman." -George (Steve Zahn), You've Got Mail

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Words of Wisdom from Pres. Uchtdorf

Pres. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of the Church, was the speaker at the latest CES fireside, broadcast Sunday night from the Marriott Center in Provo. He delivered an excellent message that I felt contained good reminders and many important teachings that I needed to hear.

He started off by talking about the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale "The Ugly Duckling." Just like the bird who thought he was ugly and good for nothing, we can often be our harshest critics and forget our true natures as children of God.

He then provided three examples of common questions he is asked as a Church leader:

#1. "I’m unhappy and depressed. Sometimes it seems like the world would be a better place if I weren’t in it. Why should I go on living?"

#2. "I’m so lonely. Will I ever find my soul mate?"

#3. "Can I remain faithful?"

His answers to these three questions - questions I think that perhaps we have all asked at one point or another - were spot on and contained some wise counsel. It was particularly entertaining to hear him relate the story of his and his wife's own courtship.

Regarding asking questions in general, I like that he said: "Inquiry is the birthplace of testimony. . . . Asking questions isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a precursor of growth. . . . God commands us to seek answers to our questions and asks only that we seek with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ. . . . Fear not to ask questions, but doubt not."

In a previous post, I mentioned that I met then-Elder Uchtdorf of the Seventy many years ago and enjoyed a nice discussion with him. Ever since then, he has been one of my many heroes among the General Authorities. In many ways, Pres. Uchtdorf's pleasant, warm demeanor and speaking style remind me of a previous second counselor in the First Presidency - Pres. James E. Faust - albeit with a German accent.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Trunk-or-Treat Strikes Back

A handful of Millstreamers and I gathered at the stake center last night for our ward's Seventh Annual Trunk-or-Treat activity. It is one of my favorite events of the year - I have been to all seven! - and several hundred Primary kids in the stake and the surrounding neighborhood came by to pick up candy from us.

Many of those who dressed up for Monday's FHE Halloween party again reprised their costumes - I again dressed up as Pacha - including Adam (Ghostbuster), Mollie ('70s dancing queen), MaryAnne (Giselle), and Pepe (Robin Hood):

Alex (vampire); Gary (werewolf); Steph and her dog, Gus; Nadine (vampire), Lisa (schoolteacher), Kathleen (G.I. Jane?), and Cecily (hunchback); Mark (construction worker); Tracy (Tinker Bell) and Kristen (pirate wench?); and Ryan (Hello Kitty Darth Vader) rounded out the rest of our motley crew:

The Trunk-or-Treat wrapped up at about 7:30 p.m., but the festivities continued at the after-party at Adam/Brian/Mike/Ryan's house. Several members of the Improvables joined us there. Included among the many activities was Rock Band 2, and even Hello Kitty Darth Vader got in on the action:

I don't remember which song Scott was singing in the above picture, but his rendition of it was most entertaining.

And so, another enjoyable Halloween comes to an end. Only 364 until the next one!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Improvables' Halloween Extravaganza

This week's Halloween festivities continued with last night's first-ever Improvables Halloween show, which took place in our usual venue at Rodgers Memorial Theatre in Centerville. I got to perform alongside seven talented people, including Biz, Bryan, Ian, Michael, and Parker, with Grant accompanying us on the keyboard and Steve as the evening's M.C.

We kicked off the show with all of the members of the troupe in attendance coming out on the stage to dance to a portion of Michael Jackson's "Thriller." Under the red lights, and without red-eye reduction, I think we looked rather creepy indeed:

It was fun to learn the "Thriller" dance; it also required a lot of work and a lot of rehearsing.

As for the show itself, I think it was one of the better and more enjoyable ones I have been lucky enough to take part in. The place was packed with many enthusiastic and regular attendees as well as a few new faces.

We introduced three new games, including "Campfire Tale," "Movie Pitch Meeting" (an Improvables original!), and "Oxygen Deprivation," which has long been one of my favorite Improv games.

Ian, Parker, and I were soaked after playing "Oxygen Deprivation," as was the stage, but that is the price you pay for Improv at its finest.

Among the other games, we also played another one of my favorites, "Greatest Hits," during which we make up songs on the spot. The theme for this "Greatest Hits" was trick-or-treating.

A handful of those in attendance dressed up for the costume contest. The audience favorite was the guy in the white shirt, wearing the fanny pack:

After the show, several members of the Improvables dressed up in their own Halloween costumes: Scott (Arthur Dent, from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, including the Babel Fish in his ear); Parker (Little Mac, from Nintendo's Punch-Out); Bryan (the Riddler); Johnny (King Leonidas, from 300); Keenan (the creepy-looking one with the bag on his head, a costume which he claims is based on some Cartoon Network program); and easily my favorite costume of the evening, Ryan (Hello Kitty Darth Vader).

And it ain't over yet! Today is Halloween, the Big Day itself. I am looking forward to even-more festivities here in the next little while.