Sunday, January 29, 2012

Random Thoughts

aBear with me, some of this might be interesting to you.

I went running last night at the gym because that's what you do on a Saturday night and your wife isn't in town. I loved it. I was listening to an episode of This American Life and it just kinda got me thinking about some things.

The episode in question was about jobs, stimulating the economy, that sort of thing. They talked at length about Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin and some campaign promises about bringing back over 250k jobs to the state. The reporters questioned him at length about his philosophy and what it meant to be bringing back jobs.
The funny thing about the report was that the reporters just seemed to have a pretty fundamental lack of understanding about conservative politics. They just didn't get how Walker wanted to shrink the size of government and give incentives to businesses and stimulate the economy through economic growth rather than intervention. One of the reporters even made the point that by reducing taxes, the governor was promoting growth in the short term, but ultimately that would lead to a long term reduction in quality employees because people wouldn't come out well educated and they would be worse off as employees.

I marveled at that assumption: spending on education=better students/employees, etc. If the US is not already at the top of the list for spending on education then it's very close to it, but has that really meant better educated? Not necessarily. We are in dire need of some education reform. Other countries that are spending less are getting more out of their students. Why would that be the case?

One thought that came through my head was because of greater character and integrity. Someone with integrity naturally demands a lot out of him(her)self. If we fail to instill that in ourselves and in those around us, then no amount of spending will make up for the loss in quality of person, no?

That thought caused me to think about an article I read earlier this week that someone somewhere linked to about What's Wrong with Teenager's Minds. The writer speaks about how kids are reaching puberty at earlier ages than ever before, but reach adulthood at much later years. It's an interesting read.

And then that got me thinking about a conversation Amy and I had last week about how funny some parents are with their kids. Nowadays it kind of seems like some church members will have a newborn and then take Sundays off for a couple months like they've been given a free pass. I can't refer to any actual numbers and I probably sound judgmental, but that's just the feeling I get from people, you know? And we both remarked at how people from previous generations would have never let that stop them from attending Sunday meetings, how people with greater "awareness" and more available knowledge seem to be able to do less with it than before. Like I said, I'm not speaking to anything specific, just a feeling I have.

Last random thought from today: I got to sit in on a combined priesthood/relief society meeting because of it being the 5th Sunday. (Although I love my calling in the primary, oh how I miss regular church.) The subject was the priesthood and ward members submitted questions they had about it. I was surprised at how little knowledge some of the leaders had about the priesthood, but that's not my thought. One person asked about how he(she?) had heard of a sister bear testimony about giving a blessing by the authority of her husband's(dad's?) priesthood. The question was if that was proper. This isn't my thought either, but I'll finish this part to get to what I want to share. The bishop answered and said that the spirit will dictate what is proper in what circumstances, and while it's probably improper to mimic a priesthood blessing without being conferred the priesthood, faith can do great things.  I thought that was well put. I really do like our bishop.

This brings me to my thought:A sister behind me asked if the person was healed as a result. If so, then there's your answer, meaning that it would indeed be proper to act in such a manner, but I thought that was making too large of a jump. The reason that the person was or wasn't healed has to do with whether it was God's will. The outcome is not relevant to how the miracle happened because in the end, God's will supersedes all of that. Just because you got the desired outcome doesn't mean it was carried out in the proper manner. I won't bother with examples.

And there you have it. G'night, y'all.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Breakin Up

Last night Amy and I watched 500 Days of Summer. I was surprised at how much I had forgotten about the movie. I was also surprised by just how good the movie is at depicting the ups and downs of a largely one-sided relationship.

I love the method of story-telling in the film. I love both of the actors: Joseph Gordon Levitt is just always so good and Zooey is just perfect as the sometimes interested, but often distant not-quite-girlfriend. She's very selfish, but he's foolish for falling so helplessly. And the soundtrack is just perfect. Always, always love that.

As the movie proceeds, you get a non-linear story of what their relationship is like, jumping between different days, and early on he ruminates largely on the good parts, glossing over the many deficiencies that his relationship had, which doesn't really come until the end.

Without revealing too much (although I'd be surprised if anyone reading this hasn't seen that movie yet), the movie ends on an positive note, which makes it easier to revisit the movie because it doesn't leave the sour taste of disappointment with the viewer.

Mostly, it just made me really glad to be done with the dating part of my life and having to cope with the highs of potential and possibility, only to be met by the crushing agony of despair and dejection. I really am glad for the experiences that I had, and I think going through real, soul-crushing heartache is good because it gives you so much depth, I'm glad that whatever kinds of difficulties that are yet to come my way don't have to be of that variety.

Breaking up is just hard to do.

Lots of great scenes, but I'll just leave you with this one. I love how happy it is:

SOTU and the GOP

Amy is out of town and I'm left fending for myself. That meant that tonight I had steak nachos for dinner, and I watched a man movie: Walking Tall. You can't tell me that Dwayne The Rock Johnson isn't the best action star in Hollywood right now, although I think Daniel Craig is pretty darn close.

Anyway, just thought I'd comment on a few things:
  • Didn't really catch the State of the Union, but we happened to tune in in time for the GOP response to the SOTU given by Mitch Daniels, governor of Indiana. I was thoroughly impressed. It was such a concise and direct response to Obama's weak oratory. The only part that I really caught of the SOTU was when Obama was talking about investing in green energy and it just made me so mad to hear him talk down to American citizens as if Solyndra and all of the other failed green companies that were loaned enormous amounts of money didn't already fail, and that we have an opportunity to get ourselves on the way to energy independence and he won't sign off on the Keystone Pipeline. For this reason, I loved Mitch Daniels' response:
    The President's grand experiment in trickle-down government has held back rather than sped economic recovery. He seems to sincerely believe we can build a middle class out of government jobs paid for with borrowed dollars. In fact, it works the other way: a government as big and bossy as this one is maintained on the backs of the middle class, and those who hope to join it...

    As Republicans our first concern is for those waiting tonight to begin or resume the climb up life's ladder. We do not accept that ours will ever be a nation of haves and have nots; we must always be a nation of haves and soon to haves.

    In our economic stagnation and indebtedness, we are only a short distance behind Greece, Spain, and other European countries now facing economic catastrophe. But ours is a fortunate land. Because the world uses our dollar for trade, we have a short grace period to deal with our dangers. But time is running out, if we are to avoid the fate of Europe, and those once-great nations of history that fell from the position of world leadership.

    So 2012 is a year of true opportunity, maybe our last, to restore an America of hope and upward mobility, and greater equality. The challenges aren't matters of ideology, or party preference; the problems are simply mathematical, and the answers are purely practical.

    An opposition that would earn its way back to leadership must offer not just criticism of failures that anyone can see, but a positive and credible plan to make life better, particularly for those aspiring to make a better life for themselves. Republicans accept this duty, gratefully.

    The routes back to an America of promise, and to a solvent America that can pay its bills and protect its vulnerable, start in the same place. The only way up for those suffering tonight, and the only way out of the dead end of debt into which we have driven, is a private economy that begins to grow and create jobs, real jobs, at a much faster rate than today.

    Contrary to the President's constant disparagement of people in business, it's one of the noblest of human pursuits. The late Steve Jobs - what a fitting name he had - created more of them than all those stimulus dollars the President borrowed and blew. Out here in Indiana, when a businessperson asks me what he can do for our state, I say 'First, make money. Be successful. If you make a profit, you'll have something left to hire someone else, and some to donate to the good causes we love.'

    "The extremism that stifles the development of homegrown energy, or cancels a perfectly safe pipeline that would employ tens of thousands, or jacks up consumer utility bills for no improvement in either human health or world temperature, is a pro-poverty policy. It must be replaced by a passionate pro-growth approach that breaks all ties and calls all close ones in favor of private sector jobs that restore opportunity for all and generate the public revenues to pay our bills.

    "That means a dramatically simpler tax system of fewer loopholes and lower rates. A pause in the mindless piling on of expensive new regulations that devour dollars that otherwise could be used to hire somebody. It means maximizing on the new domestic energy technologies that are the best break our economy has gotten in years.
  • Not sure if Romney has actually been performing better in the debates, or if the tide is just turning against Gingrich, but Romney is coming back in the polls that matter: Florida. Polls through the 23rd had Gingrich pulling ahead of Romney, all the ones following the South Carolina results, but since then Romney has rebuilt his lead. Florida will go a long way in determining how long the not-Romney-moment lasts for Newt Gingrich. I just hope that he's learning that he needs to be a little more impassioned and human instead of so deliberate and prosaic. He needs to connect with voters and he has a hard time doing that outside of his regular supporters.
 That's all I got for that, as of right now. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Can't Hold Onto Anything These Days

I used to kind of pride myself on not losing things. I'd forget things, or misplace things, sure, but I'd never actually lose things. My stuff had its places and I always knew where things were, although I can be absent-minded about remembering to take things with me. I'm bad at that.

But it seems that I'm bad at holding onto my stuff now. I blame marriage. Not my wife. Just marriage. That's the only thing that's really changed since I started losing EVERYTHING.

A few months ago I misplaced my wedding ring. Didn't have it for at least 2 months. Then all of a sudden I found it. Just sitting on the ground below my nightstand.

I thought I lost our GoPro chest harness, which had our tripod mount in the bag as well. I thought I might have left that in Vegas since that was the last place I can remember having it. It wasn't there. Wasn't anywhere. Then I ended up buying a new tripod mount. Turns out it was in my backpack this whole time. Found it this morning.

This morning I spent 20 minutes trying to find my keys. 20 minutes! I've NEVER been that person, but now it's happening all the time.

Now I can't seem to find my Ipod shuffle, which is actually a pretty big deal. I love having that thing on my long runs and I'm about a month away from ramping up my training for Utah Valley. I thought I left it in my office, but it turns out that it's, in fact, not here.

Ugh. I'm an idiot.

*UPDATE: Found my shuffle. In a pocket of my backpack that I would've never thought to look in if I wasn't actually looking for something else already. Phew. Doesn't change that I'm still dumb.

A Few Impassioned Items

Not me so much, but from these writers.

I've mentioned him before on here, and quote him frequently, but if you don't know Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe, you really should get to know the guy. I get his weekly feeds and he has the greatest perspectives on so many different topics, and he speaks so intelligently. I think he's pretty moderate, but leans conservative. He had an article last week about Tibet and the oppression from the Chinese government. He went on act length about self-immolation (burning oneself alive) and the kind of desperation that leads to someone committing that kind of suicide. Here is the article, and an excerpt from it:
NEAR THE KIRTI MONASTERY in a Tibetan area of China's Sichuan province, 21-year-old Lobsang Jamyang publicly set himself on fire last Saturday. It was the fourth time this month that a Tibetan protesting Chinese repression had resorted to self-immolation. When local residents attempted to retrieve his body from the police, Chinese security forces fired into the crowd, reportedly wounding two.

So far little is known about this latest Tibetan to burn himself alive. A few days earlier, however, a 42-year-old "Living Buddha" -- a prominent Tibetan monk named Sonam Wangyal -- swallowed and doused himself with kerosene, then set himself aflame in the western province of Quinghai. Sonam was an admired spiritual leader who had run an orphanage and a home for the elderly, and was regarded as the reincarnation of a high-ranking lama. Radio Free Asia reported that before immolating himself, he prayed and burned incense on a hilltop, and distributed leaflets calling his death a protest "for Tibet and the happiness of Tibetans."

Buddhist monks hold a candlelight vigil in Dharmsala, India, after learning of the self-immolation by Tibetan monks at the Kirti Monastery in China.

The Chinese Communist Party crudely suggested that Sonam had killed himself after being discovered having an affair with a married woman. Such vulgar insults say more about the regime that spreads them than about the martyrs it seeks to defame. So does Beijing's propaganda accusing the Dalai Lama -- the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate -- of orchestrating the self-immolations.

Since last March, 16 Tibetans -- nearly all of them Buddhist monks and nuns -- have set fire to themselves, desperate to open the world's eyes to the relentless brutality with which Beijing tyrannizes their people. The world is noticing. The wave of fiery suicides, the State Department's spokeswoman said last week, reflects "enormous anger, enormous frustration with regard to the severe restrictions on human rights, including religious freedom, inside China." In response, the Chinese foreign ministry sourly warned Washington not to use "Tibet-related issues to interfere in China's domestic affairs."

If you're anything like me, the "Free Tibet" slogan seems something trite and not really something consequential in my life, but it should be, you know? It's unreal the kinds of atrocities that go unnoticed because nobody really wants to rock the boat, except for some very brave and very desperate dissidents.

And then a post from the guys over at Powerline. I guess Obama, over the weekend, while commemorating the Roe v. Wade decision said, "government should not intrude on private family matters." That comment led to this post about all the ways in which public officials have intruded on private affairs. A long excerpt:

The subject of Obama’s declaration was abortion. But suppose your teenage daughter can get an abortion without your even finding out about it: is that a government intrusion on “private family matters?” Sure, but one that liberals like Obama favor.

How about the electricity that your family uses? If you have a large family, or one with a lot of computers and other electronic equipment, you probably use more electricity than your neighbors, and are willing to pay for it. But in many communities, there is a sliding scale for usage, so that if you consume, say, 20% more electricity than your neighbors, you pay a 40% higher bill. This is because liberals believe it is their business how we live, and how much power we consume.

Electric power reminds me of light bulbs. Did you think that your choice of light bulbs is a “private family matter?” Until a few years ago, it would not have occurred to anyone to disagree with you. But not today, as President Obama and his allies in Congress now dictate what light bulbs your family can use to illuminate your house.

Disposing of garbage used to be a “private family matter.” Not anymore. Every community has laws and regulations about recycling that inject the government into your garbage.

One might have said that providing for your family’s health was the quintessential “private family matter.” But that was before Obamacare, which not only will require you to buy health insurance, but will require it to be in a form dictated not by you and the insurance company, but by the federal government, so that you pay for dozens of coverages that your family doesn’t want or need.

Did you think that how your children plan their futures is a “private family matter?” That isn’t what the Democrats believe. If you have children in public schools, you are aware that they are constantly bombarded with global warming propaganda. Several years ago, when my youngest child was in the 4th or 5th grade, she had a homework assignment in which a series of questions hectored her as to what she intended to do in her future life to combat global warming. I was proud of her when she wrote answers like, “I will never fly in more private aircraft than Al Gore,” and “I will never live in a bigger house than John Edwards.” (That, by the way, was before we suspected that Edwards was destined for the Big House.)

Speaking of school: is where you send your children to school a “private family matter?” Of course not! The District of Columbia had a school choice scholarship program that allowed parents some discretion in selecting schools for their children, but Barack Obama and the Democrats killed it.

When parents think about private family matters, one thing that comes to mind is babysitters. Until now, you could negotiate a reasonable fee with a 16-year-old neighbor and, if you live in a neighborhood like ours, feel confident that your kids will be well cared for. No longer; not here in Minnesota, anyway: Minnesota’s Democrats are pressing for unionization of all child care workers! If they have their way, you and your wife won’t be able to go out to dinner without dealing with union bosses–not because of your free choice, but because of government intervention into private family matters.

The idea that liberal Democrats like Barack Obama regard anything as a “private family matter” is ludicrous. As far as they are concerned, every single thing that you and your family do is a proper subject for government regulation. The doctrine of “choice” ends once your child is born. If you think that there is some other aspect of your life, or your family’s that is so personal and so private that the Democrats couldn’t possibly want to regulate and control it–well, then, you are a fool.

I just thought both of these pieces were kind of cool because the writers feel so impassioned about the topics, particularly the latter of the two. I don't normally read their tone as being especially upset, but this time John Hinderaker was, and I think that's admirable. Not everything has to be measured, you know? Especially coming from someone who does approach things with a level head, it's nice to have the occasional outburst.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

This and That

A few things:
  • Romney is having a hard time right now and it mostly has to do with his decision to release (or not) his taxes for previous years. I was listening to Michael Medved and he thinks it was a huge mistake for the Romney campaign to not have anticipated having to release his tax returns in light of the fact that he would be running for the presidency and be subject to some pretty intense scrutiny. The reason why is because it's looking like he probably only paid the 15% rate on capital gains, which is lower than what most citizens are paying and further paints him into the corner of being among the elites who are out of touch with the country. I can see Medved's reasoning, but I can also sympathize with Romney. It's not likely he does his own taxes and whoever is in charge of his money probably thought they were doing him a favor not paying just a little bit more in taxes so as to avoid this issue. I don't know. I do think it's a mistake that they aren't acting more quickly on this and just getting the issue out of the way. Romney seems to have a lot of these types of seemingly non-issues that tend to become bigger ones because of how his campaign decides to confront them. 
  • The Muppets movie is adorable. It's just so happy and very funny. Everyone should go see it.
  • I love Coinstar machines, the ones that count your coins. I had been avoiding these kinds of machines because they normally charge a fee to count your coins, but you can get e-certificates free of charge, and Amazon is among the retailers you can get them for. Perfect! I love Amazon, and now I love Coinstar. $40 in mostly pennies later and who knows what I'll be getting. It's awesome.
  • Perfect practice makes perfect. That's what I'm counting on as I take the GMAT (again) this next month. Here goes!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Put Away Childish Things

Don't be misled by the title of this post. This isn't going to be too serious. I was just noticing the other night this guy that had gone out on a date. This was at least a second or third, and I was just taking note of his wardrobe for the evening. Knowing that he was interested in the girl, I was a little disappointed in what his "going out" clothes for that evening were.

When you're an older single, I think it's a good idea to have some go-to dating clothes. It's not that a person has to invest heavily in clothes, but it's definitely appropriate to have clothes right for the occasion. I think that's part of being a man, no? If you go to a wedding reception, out to the theater, or other somewhat adult functions, you need to dress to match. If you dress up for church, isn't it also a good idea to dress up for other things too, right?

Which is funny that I bring this up, because my brother doesn't have the same kind of philosophy. Even though we were both seemingly raised by the same parents, he has very little regard for clothes and the occasion, as evidenced by his wearing jeans and a pretty casual button-down shirt to my wedding.

Come on, man. Our parents are tailors. They fix clothes for a living. We should have a better sense of how to dress. Anyway, I digress.

When you're approaching 30, it's time to know. Time to put away childish things. Spend a paycheck on some decent shirts. Future you will thank me for this wise piece of advice.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Signs of Prosperity

There are certain times in my life when it becomes all too clear that I really have it good. This isn't a story that will make you go aww, but it still seemed so clear the time that it happened that I thought it worth mentioning.

I was on my way to school and I was listening to a Ted Talk using an app on my phone, while my phone was plugged into the audio jack that I installed in my car about 2 years ago. If you don't know what Ted talks are, you really should get acquainted with them. They are often these really inspiring talks given by really impressive people on an array of topics. The that I happened to be listening to was called, "Don't Regret Regret." Really good.

Anyway, I excited my car while still listening to the talk on my way to my office and it just dawned on me how good I have it.

I just can't believe how fortunate we are. Amy has a great job, and I have great opportunities ahead of me. We have this amazing technology available at such a cheap price, and I can ponder esoteric things like regretting regret without worrying about my health, finances, or living situation. It may be a down time, generally speaking, in the US economy, but neither Amy nor I have any concerns about our future prospects. I have a paid off car that has never given me problems.

We just have it so good. That's all I wanted to say.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Next: South Carolina

This is about Romney's win last night in New Hampshire from Rich Lowry:

New Hampshire is good, home territory for Romney and he’s worked it hard. It showed. The exit polls tell the tale of strength across-the-board: Romney won men and women; he won everyone over age 40; he won all education groups; he won everyone make $30,000 and up; he won Republicans by an impressive 49 percent; he won moderates, somewhat conservatives, and very conservatives; he won voters who support and who are neutral on the Tea Party; he won Born Again’s and Non-Born Again’s; he won Catholics and protestants; he won voters who think leaders should compromise and voters who think leaders should stick by their principles; he won in urban, suburban, and rural areas.

So, like, everyone, right?

I like Romney all right. I definitely was more all for him in 2008, but for some reason, I'm kind of skeptical of him right now. It's hard for me as a member of the LDS Church to want one of our own in such a prominent position of power. The Church becomes even more of a lightning rod than it already is, and I'm not entirely confident in his capacity to rise to that capacity. It's a little scary, isn't it?

What gives me more pause, however, is that he hasn't actually worked in an actual political capacity since his one-term as governor of a very liberal state, and his positions do seem a little too politically expedient, don't they?

But I don't have a better answer. I don't want to get behind the guy just because he's one of our own and that means I trust him, but I'm all for hoping that he will rise to the moment and be the type of person that the country needs him to be. For that, I think his life is a good testament to his unimpeachable character and dedication to right, and that's why I think I can support him in all good conscience.

Last night's win was especially big because it was so dominant. Yes, NH is right next door to where he governed so he had a built in advantage, but no other candidate can really seriously challenge him given how divided the rest of the field is. There is no single person for voters coalesce around, and Romney is already leading in the polls in South Carolina, in spite of whatever anti-Mormon sentiment may come from evangelical voters.

Like Rush Limbaugh and some others have said, Gingrich and Perry's attacks on Romney's professional career only highlights the strengths of the GOP argument versus what rhetoric the Democrats have when it comes to the strengths of capitalism.

At some point people will begin to favor Romney  because he really is the one with the most viable shot of unseating the current incumbent. So, onto South Carolina, and eventually (hopefully), the nomination.

Friday, January 6, 2012

GOP Nomination

I read this the other day from my guy, Jay Nordlinger:
Obviously, Romney has done a lot of tacking in his political career: first on the Massachusetts stage, now on the national stage. “Tacking” and “tacky” are words that sound an awful lot alike.

I believe that Romney is a conservative, and that he would make a very good nominee and a very good president. Furthermore, I believe he is the only Republican candidate who can win.

But how can you prove such things? You can’t, is the answer. Any of these propositions would have to be tested. Think Newt can’t win, or Santorum? The only way to prove it is to nominate him and see. Think Romney would go all Elliot Richardson on us if he were in the Oval Office? Only one way to find out. Think he’d be more like Reagan? Only one way to find out.

Etc. A very great deal of political discussion is speculation -- informed speculation, maybe, speculation of varying intelligence and credibility, but speculation all the same.

When people speak in absolute tones, as though their political opinions were chiseled on tablets from Sinai, watch out. The more people know about politics, I find, the less absolutely and obnoxiously they speak.

I really appreciated that. Anytime anyone tries to be an expert about this stuff, they are probably way off-base. Jay posted some of his reader response to this topic and one person who had close ties to someone that was highly successful in the market wrote about his exchange with this expert about what he thought about the upcoming year, to which he replied, "your educated guess is as good as mine."

That's all any of the punditry is. Careful of guys like Paul Krugman that pretend to be experts, and more especially, those who refer to him as if his columns were handed down from Mt. Sinai. That guy, and many others, most assuredly, are far from knowing everything about everything, no matter how much they might pretend otherwise.

Anyway, with all of that, just a few thoughts.

  • My brother-in-law-in-law (that's right) made some comments on Facebook about Romney winning the Iowa caucus. I loved the short dialogue we had on there about it, and what I mentioned on there I'll say here also: That result is especially interesting because from the media spin, it would be hard to know that Romney actually did win that one. So many people, and many among the media, are in the mode of anyone-but-Romney. So far, Romney is the only GOP candidate not going away, unlike Bachmann, Cain, Perry, and Gingrich. Santorum will likely be the same, but we'll see.
  • The nice thing about this primary season, and something that I had forgotten until I read about it recently, is that this year most states are going with a proportional system instead of winner takes all. Maybe you are aware, but in case you're not, in the primary season, a candidate receives the nomination by winning the most delegates from all of the states. States have a certain number of delegates allotted according to their populations. Formerly, and as recently as 2008, many states were winner-take-all. This meant that although a candidate might have only gotten 40-50% or so of the votes in a primary, that candidate would receive ALL of the delegates. A proportional system awards them based on proportions. Super Tuesday, which will be in early March this year, kind of became moot because candidates would drop out early because they wouldn't get awarded delegates because of the winner take all system and the cost of continuing what appears to be a lost campaign. This year, it will take awhile before the nominee is determined because there is no obvious favorite in the GOP field, including Romney. He's still the most likely, but it will be a fight until the end. But I think that will be a good thing because...
  • This is the President of the United States we're talking about here. The last time we ended up electing....the current President of the United States.
  • A lot is at stake, as always. May the nomination go to the candidate most likely to defeat President Obama, which at this point still looks like Romney.

California Christmas

I am behind on blogging. Sorry, folks.

Something that I always love about Christmas time in California is the stark contrast that it is going from Utah to California, but this year has been probably the most mild winter I've ever seen in Utah. It's unreal. I've been outside running twice this week and it's early January.

In any case, California still didn't disappoint in that department. We got there late Thursday night and stayed until Tuesday afternoon and the temperatures ranged from high 60s to low 70s and even the 80s while we were there. I got to go do my favorite run in Peter's Canyon while we were there.

The trip was supposed to be more low-key this time because we thought more people would be gone. Dave and Caitlin were the most notable absentees, but we just thought there really wouldn't be anyone around. We thought we'd have all kinds of time to explore the Southern California only things that I've never really had a chance to do with Amy, but instead it was one appointment after another, which we really love more than anything.

We started our first full day in California by heading to Magic Mountain. Always a favorite. We hit all of the big rides, and especially having the proximity of time for our last Disneyland trip so close, it was easy to compare the magnitude of awesomeness for each of the rides. Disneyland really is so much about  atmosphere, which is amazing, but nothing compares to those rides at Magic Mountain.

I was going to just try and describe some of the rides, but I have some footage so I may as well let that do the talking:

MMCA11 by silva888
Our schedule looked like this:
  • Friday - Magic Mountain; Matt and Laura; Crash
  • Saturday - Redfords and visit with Greg and Laura, Mom and Bro's family; Doug and Kris for games and snickerdoodles (woo!)
  • Sunday - Our very first married Christmas morning; Church; Dad's; Doug and Kris to pick up present; Greg and Laura for games
  • Monday - Shopping; Dave and Vanessa for lunch; Shopping; MI4 with Greg; Games with Greg
  • Tuesday - Spur of the moment change in phone plans and upgrading to the Cool Kids Club with smartphones.
Someone was telling us that it gets kind of tired running around and trying to see everyone, but I hope I never feel that way. Seeing everyone and spending time with people was the best part of the trip. I can't believe how blessed we are to have so many great people in our lives. It's so great.

But yeah, we upgraded to smartphones now. Amy and I had been wanting to make the move for a long time now because with the Sprint family plan, it's actually cheaper for us to be on there than it would have been to continue like we had been. Dumb. We had been searching for awhile for someone to jump on with, when it finally occurred to us that Greg and Laura are not only family, but they would be good candidates to do it all together. So, without having to switch numbers even though none of us were local and we had a couple different area codes, we got our new plans that even came with a student discount for University of Pacific (BYU has one too, although not as good), and we've upgraded to this decade. Amy spent a good portion of the car ride black playing on her phone, while I spent much of the following week getting every free app that I thought would interest me.

And Amy and I made out pretty well for Christmas. She got a 35mm lens; I got a new laptop; we really upgraded our board game collection; some new clothes, and other fun things.

We had a long trip home because of Vegas traffic on a Tuesday afternoon. What? But we made it, and we were happy to be in California, but happy to be back now too.

Monday, January 2, 2012


This is a little late in coming, but still a great article by Jeff Jacoby. This is a big chunk of the article, but check it out:

I wouldn't presume to argue with the pope about the religious significance of Christmas, and I will readily acknowledge that the holiday shopping season can certainly be stressful, expensive, and more than a little materialistic. Nonetheless, as a measure of cultural and communal health, I can't help seeing this yearly impulse to shower friends and family with presents as one of our society's most endearing and heartening traits.

Ten days ago I took my 8-year-old son Micah to a local Dollar Tree Store, where he was eager to spend his savings -- 11 dollars and change, grubbily folded into a miniature wallet -- on Chanukah gifts for his family. We had done this together last year, and Micah had been besieging me to pick an evening when the two of us could make a return trip.

I found it a wonderful experience, no irony intended. Dollar Tree isn't exactly Tiffany & Co., and in any case Micah chooses gifts with all the sophistication and refinement you'd expect from a rambunctious third-grade boy who loves bugs and can never seem to keep his shirt tucked in. The presents he picked out for his mother included a desktop picture frame for her office, glow-in-the-dark necklaces ("Mama can wear them if she goes for a walk at night"), and two boxes of Milk Duds; for his teen-age brother he found an air horn, Lemonheads, and a container of "noise putty" that emits flatulent sounds when poked. A devotee of Martha Stewart Living the kid is not.

But whatever Micah may have lacked in style and taste, he more than made up for with the unfeigned delight he brought to the whole project. He couldn't wait to turn his little clutch of dollars into presents for the people he loves. He wasn't consciously trying to be altruistic or selfless; and he's never given 30 seconds' thought to the meaning of generosity. He was simply excited by the prospect of giving -- and indeed, when the moment came a few nights later to bestow his gifts on his recipients, he was practically bouncing up and down with elation.

If this is crass commercialism, let's have more of it.

Would modern society really be improved if the happiness of gift-giving were not an integral part of one special season each year? Granted, anything can be overdone, and materialism is no exception. And it is important to remember that the hustle and pressure of buying presents for loved ones doesn't reduce our obligation to give charitably and generously to the poor.

But how diminished our culture would be without that hustle and pressure. Children learn an important lesson when they see the adults in their world treat the joy of others as a priority worth spending time, money, and thought on. No one has to teach kids to be acquisitive and selfish -- that comes naturally -- but what an inestimable asset they acquire when they find out for themselves that it really is more blessed to give than to receive.

It is only a coincidence of the calendar that links Christmas and Chanukah; theologically the two holidays have little in common. But essential to both Judaism and Christianity is the principle of imitatio Dei, of striving to walk in God's ways, above all by being kind to others as He is kind to us. Isn't that what underlies the expense and scramble of our holiday gift-giving? In lavishing gifts on others, we reflect the openhandedness with which God lavishes gifts on us. Maybe that's not the entirety of the season's "true joy and true light." But if my 8-year-old's unaffected joyfulness is any indication, it makes a great start.
Hope your Christmas was merry and bright.