Monday, October 16, 2006

Whoa There, Big Fella!!!

Photo Courtesy of Royce S. on Flickr

I had an interesting experience the other day. I was on my way home from work trying to transition my mind from my workplace mindset, to my home and family mindset. I was listening to the radio and a rather innocuous commercial came on. I listened to part of the commercial, and then turned the radio off.

My mind began following a series of thoughts based on the commercial. As my mind went down its track, my internal warning system went off. Like the old Lost In Space TV show when the family robot would warn: "Danger Will Robinson! Danger!"

I began to perceive that the Spirit of the Lord was imploring me to stop this line of thought. I felt the Spirit beginning to withdraw from me, and I wondered why. It was like stopping a wagon, with a runaway team of horses. I had to rein in my thoughts, and say WHOA!

I began retracing my steps. Where had I gone astray? What was it that had grieved the Spirit. As I retraced the progression (or digression) of my thoughts, I finally got back to the commercial that I had heard on the radio. Then it hit me! The Ah-Hah! moment. I knew what was wrong with my thinking.

The commercial had been from a company which encouraged you to buy their products to give as a gift. The item was a nice thing, and something that I may well give to someone in the future. But where I had gone wrong, was in my attitude about giving the gift. I had begun to think of what I might gain by giving the gift -- Not how it might make the other person feel. I had begun to think of what rewards I might recieve (or even be entitled to) because I had been such a good gift giver. The underlying motivation of such behavior was to gain credit for myself, instead of truly, freely, and unselfishly giving.

It was at this point that the Spirit had stepped in. "Stop!", it said. "This is hurting you." "I will leave if you keep going down this path." I had begun to feel a dark, emptiness in my heart as the Spirit was beginning to withdraw. It was at this point that I reined in the runaway horses, and began tracing my steps back to find out where I had gone off the main road.

I repented on the spot. I made my course correction, and I felt the sweet presence of the Spirit return to my soul once more.

Wow. What a lesson! All in the space of but a few moments. Upon reflection, I am grateful for the lessons learned through this experience.

First, the lesson of true gift giving. True charity seeketh not her own. That is what I was doing wrong in my thoughts. I was thinking of my own selfish interests, not of the welfare of the individual who would be receiving the gift. The sweet feeling of unselfishly giving of yourself, with no thought of reward or recognition for yourself would be lost. Likewise, blessings from God would be forfeited if a gift is given under such circumstances. Somehow I lost sight of these things as my thoughts got away from me that day.

The second lesson was about the built-in alarm systems we have in ourselves if we are trying to live close to the Spirit of the Lord. I was warned not to proceed with this line of thought. I am thankful for the warnings that we can receive, if we are listening to that Still, Small, Voice. Not only can we be warned, but we can be taught important truths. And armed with that truth, we can avoid making mistakes in our lives.

Yes, I was warned, and I was chastend. And I am all the better for it.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A Wacky Week

It's been quite an eventful week. We had originally planned to take a mini vacation to Moab, Utah this week. The kids were out of school for the UEA conference on Thursday and Friday. I had arranged to take the days off from work.

As the time grew closer for the trip, we reviewed our finances, and determined that taking a vacation right now was not the prudent thing to do. Because of this situation, we decided to cancel our vacation. It would have been fun. My parents and brother were going to come along in their motor home, too. It was disappointing to have to call it off, but we didn't have the cash right now, and the trip would have been charged to our credit card -- which we didn't want to do.

I ended up working on Wednesday and Thursday, which I originally had scheduled off for the trip. In fact, I ended up working all night Wednesday, and into the early afternoon on Thursday. We had upgraded to a new server at work, and we encountered many problems as people came to work on Thursday morning. After working nearly 27 hours straight, I turned everything over to my boss and my co-workers. I went home and crashed for a few hours, got up for the evening, and then got a good night's sleep Thursday night.

It took me a few hours on Friday to come to grips with what day is was, the passage of time seemed like such a blur. It was like having major jet lag! I've had to pull all-nighters at work before for various projects. However, this one seemed to take a heavier toll on me than the last time -- The last one was back in 1999, in preparation for Y2K.

I still had Friday scheduled off from work, and my boss graciously let me take it off, even with the situation at work. I had originally planned to have a kid's day, and a mama day this weekend. Kid's day would have been to have me take the kids out of the house, to give mama a few ours of peace and quiet. For mama's day we had hoped to go see the new film about Joseph Smith in the Joseph Smith Memorial building in downtown Salt Lake City. We had also hoped to visit the Church Museum of History and Art. The plans for those two days melted away, in the wake of my all-night work marathon.

On Friday, we decided to have a family day, and visit the Alpine Loop, around Mt Timpanogos for a picnic. I really needed to get out after pulling my all-nighter. It was nice just to get away for a little while.

Once on the mountain, we found that the Autumn leaves were past their prime. Most of the Aspen trees had already dropped their leaves. There were only a few spots with yellow aspen leaves here and there. Recent snows have dusted the mountain peaks.

We found a little out-of-the-way spot for our picnic near the Little Deer Creek campground, in Wasatch State Park. Our spot was amid a few of the last golden Autumn leaves. We made some sandwiches from some special deli meats. I tried my hand at making grandma's famous shell macaroni salad -- and it turned out pretty good!

It was nice just being outside, hearing the birds sing, and to navigate some 4-wheel-drive trails. My favorite activities are 4-wheeling, and photography, and my family graciously let me indulge in both that day.

After our picnic, we started heading back. It so happened that we encountered a large mud puddle. I couldn't resist going through it at a fairly high speed just for splash effect. After we went through it, I heard a chorus of "Do it again, daddy!". What could I do but oblige. After going through it a couple of times, we decided it was worthy of a picture. (You'll have to click on the photo to get the full effect.)

I consider having mud on my truck a badge of courage. A kind of social statement that says, yes, I really did have some fun this weekend! How about you?

I'm driving the truck to work on Monday, with mud intact, just to brag about my weekend!

After slathering our truck in mud, we found ourselves in camo mode. We came across some deer near the edge of the road. Two does, and one fawn. They didn't seem too worried to see us. They must of known we meant no harm. Maybe it was our mud camouflage, who knows? We stopped long enough to take a few photos. This was the best one. After snapping a few pictures, I felt like saying, "Run Bambi! Run!" We had seen some hunters nearby on ATV's.

We had a nice time on the Alpine Loop. The kids got to run around and have some fun in the woods. And I got a needed breath of fresh air. My wife got to see a smile on my face as I took photos, and plowed through the mud puddle, and negotiated the 4WD roads. You can see more of my Alpine Loop Photos here.

Finally, as I was working the all-nighter on Wednesday night, I remember wistfully thinking during the wee hours of the morning that, "Gee, I could have been in Moab right now!" Instead of going bleary eyed during the server migration. This is a photo from our last trip to Moab in 2004 of the Salt Creek Canyon area in Canyonlands National Park. We probably would have visited this place again, had we gone there.

Oh, well, I came back to reality soon enough. I know we made the right decision not to go. We'll get to go there again someday soon -- Maybe next Spring if things work out!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Des Plaines! Des Plaines!

Just a few more thoughts about my Chicago trip. I spent a great deal of my time in the City of Des Plaines, Illinois. I drove past this water tower several times.

I have to admit that each time I saw the name of the town, that I immediately thought of "Tattoo" on the old TV show, Fantasy Island when he would announce the arrival of the new guests to the island each week by exclaiming "Da Plane! Da Plane!"

I actually enjoyed my time in Des Plaines. It was near my hotel, it had restaurants and shopping, and I could navigate their streets (Well -- pretty much, anyway!)

They had some interesting things in Des Plaines, including the McDonalds Museum. This was the location of the first Franchised McDonalds restaurant. This is a replica built as it was back in 1955. This was McDonald's Store #1. The museum is not a working McDonalds, although there is a modern-day operating McDonald's nearby. Inside the museum are replica's of the equipment they used, complete with an all-male mannequin crew, dressed in black trousers, white shirts, and the old white paper hats that they wore. I took this photo with my little tripod from across the street. Unfortunately, the museum wasn't open while I was there.

After taking the photo of McDonalds, I turned around and noticed a White Castle right across the street. I had never been to a White Castle before, but had heard those from the East and Midwest rave about it. I decided to try them out. I ordered a Jalapeño Cheeseburger, for 89¢. What I got was a little hamburger, about the size of a dinner roll. Instead of a quarter pounder, it was more like a one-tenth pounder. The patty was covered with a split jalepeño pepper, smothered with a slice of melted Montery Jack cheese. Even though the hamburger was small by usual standards, it was very tasty. I have heard stories of people getting a bag of White Castle Burgers for dinner (usually from college students). I thought this practice seemed a little odd. However, after experiencing White Castle first hand, I can see how folks just might have a craving for those little burgers -- In fact, I could eat a couple of those Jalapeño cheeseburgers right about now!

Finally, I have to say I really enjoyed seeing the water towers in the Chicago area. Some cities just printed their names on the water towers, like the one at the top of this post. However other cities went to great lengths to make their water towers more decorative. This tomato looking water tower was found right next to where my training class was held. If you look closely, you can see a paint crew hanging on a scaffold, touching up the tomato top.

I come from mountain country. I can look up, see the mountains, and immediately know what direction I am heading. The land in the Chicago area was flat as a pancake. In unpopulated areas, it was covered with trees. However, rising up above the trees, were water towers. They became welcome landmarks for me to follow in this unfamiliar land, that to my poor eyes had few distinguishing marks. One place looked pretty much like the other. I got to know a few of the water towers by sight in my travels, such as these two. They became a source of comfort, because when I saw them, I knew I was in the right place and headed in the right direction.

No matter where you are in life, its always nice to know where you are, and in what direction you are going. I'm thankful for the water towers in my life, that rise up above all the noise and confusion, and help point me in the right direction. I hope you are so blessed with water towers in your life too.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Chicago - Lakeshore Drive

I had never seen any of the Great Lakes before my trip to Chicago. I noticed that if I stayed on the same street that the Temple was on, that I would eventually run into Lake Michigan. So that was the route I took to the Lake.

It was cold and windy the day I visited Lake Michigan. (Who would of thought that could happen in Chicago?). I spent a few minutes listening to the waves come in. The roar of the surf was similar to that of the ocean. However, I noticed a few differences from the ocean. For one thing, there was no salt-air smell. There were no birds flying around the beach that day. And surprisingly, there were no sea shells of any kind on the shore. Just sand. (I know, there were no sea shells because this wasn't the sea. However, when we visited Lake Powell last year, the beach was littered with freshwater clam shells.) Still, I loved hearing the sounds of the waves as they rolled in, and lapped upon the shore.

After visiting the Lake, I headed South toward downtown Chicago. Once again, I really missed having my navigator at my side. Along the way, I passed by a couple of major universities. First I passed Northwestern University, which technically is located in Evanston, Illinois, just North of Chicago. As I continued on Southbound, I passed by Loyola University as well. Even though I didn't drive right past it, the University of Chicago was not far away either.

I was amazed at the number of cathedrals and beautiful buildings I saw. The best one was the Cathedral that was near the Northwestern University Campus. The sun was getting low in the sky. The light had a soft-yellow golden glow to it, as it touched the spires of the cathedral. The end of the cathedral was covered with stained glass windows, which were lit from within, and started to really shine in lowered light levels of the setting sun. It was very beautiful. I dearly wanted to photograph it, but I was on a crowded, one-way street, in the one of the milddle lanes with no place to park. I looked at it longinly in the rear-view mirror until it faded away. I've tried to find photos of it on the Internet, but with no success so far.

Finally I reached the famed Chicago Lakeshore Drive, or LSD as the locals call it. Lakeshore Drive is a series of roads, mostly freeway style, that take you past downtown Chicago, along the shores of Lake Michigan. I would have preferred a road that I could dawdle on. I wanted to view the city's skyline, and see the lake with its piers and Marinas. However, I had to blast along at freeway speed, watching out for interchanges to make sure I didn't end up heading to Milwaukee or Detroit!

Finally I saw an exit for the Navy Pier, so I decided it was time to get off this roller coaster ride. It was nice just to slow down and look around for a moment. I drove up to the parking plaza at the Navy Pier, and saw a sign which nearly made my jaw drop: "Parking Rate is $22.00 -- flat rate." At first I thought, they can't be serious can they! (As it turned out - They were!) However, I was tired, hungry, and needed to get out of the car. I didn't want to get back on the freeway maze again either. So I entered, and found a place to park.

There were a number of attractions at Navy Pier, which is 3,000 feet long. Attractions included a huge 150 foot Ferris wheel. A children's museum, a stained glass museum, a Shakespeare Theatre, numerous shops and restaurants as well as -- a pier. There were several boat tours available, including dinner tours, architectural tours of the city's skyline, among others. None of which time permitted me to enjoy.

I checked out the restaurants, and was torn between Joe's Be-Bop Cafe, and the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Restaurant. I love Cajun food and jazz music, and Joe's Be-bop Cafe had both, with a live Jazz band. However, shrimp is my favorite food, and I just couldn't pass up the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. As you might guess, the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. is based on themes from the movie, Forrest Gump. The shrimp was very good. I wish I would have had time to go back to Joe's Be-bop Cafe as well. However, spending as much for parking as the meal cut down on the appeal of going back.

After dinner, I got my camera out to take some photos of the pier, and of the Chicago Skyline at night. This time I forgot to bring my little tripod with me, so I had to improvise. I found that along the waterfront, there were a series of metal posts with flat tops on them. I could sit my camera on these, and use them as an impromptu tripod. I could set the self-timer on my camera, and get shake-free photos -- which is what you need when your exposure is as much as 4 seconds long.

This was my favorite photo that I took of the Chicago Skyline. I had to take many exposures, experimenting with different exposures to get it just right. I found that taking night photos is a lot more demanding than daytime photos. You have to have a tripod, or something to sit our camera upon, and you have to have a camera that allows you to vary your exposures. Daytime photos allow you to tweak them if they are a little under or over exposed once you get them on your computer. However nighttime photos are less forgiving if the exposure isn't right. One nice thing about digital photography vs. 35 mm film is that you can review how your photo turned out right away, instead of having to go have the film developed to see how it turned out. With the instant feedback of the digital camera, you can change the exposure, and try it again right then, until you get it right.

Before leaving for Chicago, I found a Webcam that actually showed the Navy Pier, and its signature Ferris wheel at night. I was pleased, when I arrived at Navy Pier, and found the same Ferris wheel that I had seen on the webcam from home. It made me feel like I was in familiar surroundings, even though I was in an unfamiliar place. I just had to photograph that Ferris wheel for myself.

Taking the photos was something that I really enjoyed. It was a calming influence on me after the tension of having to navigate the Chicago freeways (and tollways!) I found that I was actually better able to navigate the freeways of Los Angeles, than I could those of Chicago. The LA freeways seemed much more intuitive and easy to follow. Of course, I probably owe the intuitive part to my trusty navigator (my wife!) who was with me in LA.

Even though I didn't have time to do all the touristy stuff, I still got to do something that I really enjoyed in taking the photos. You can see more of my Lakeshore Drive photos here.

One of these days I'll learn to schedule a couple of days of vacation at the end of these work trips, so I will have time to explore the area more. I barely scratched the surface of Chicago.

Actually, If I would have had a few of more days in Illinois, I probably would have visited Nauvoo. I have never been there before, and Chicago is the closest to Nauvoo that I have ever been. I have ancestors who once lived and worked there, and helped build the temple. I long to see what they saw, and walk in their footsteps. I would like to find where their property was, and the graves of my ancestors that are there. Ah, well -- I'll make it there someday.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Chester Carpenter

My Uncle Chester recently passed away. I didn't know him well. He lived in Indiana and we lived in Utah for all my life. I wish I could have known him more. I think we would have had a lot in common. I think the only time we met was at my grandma's (his mother's) funeral.

My dad remembers Chester finding a shady place to sit under a willow tree on a warm summer afternoon. There he would curl up with a writing tablet, where he would write prose and poetry, including lyrics to songs.

He enlisted in the Army just before Pearl Harbor. He was about to be drafted, but decided he would have more control over his assignments if he enlisted. Eventually he worked his way into the army medical corps, and became an officer where he attained the rank of Major. His assignments included tending to the wounded from D-day, Battle of the Bulge, and other historic battles of World War II. He was injured while in England from the German Blitzkrieg, which resulted in visual impairment for the rest of his life.

After the war he would pursue his education, thanks to the GI bill, and eventually became a college professor. He taught at Florida State University, and later at Indiana State University, in Terre Haute, Indiana. He remained at Indiana State until his retirement.

He was buried in the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, at St. Louis, Missouri -- with full military honors. It is my wish to honor him, and his service to our country. Even though I didn't know him well, I want to remember him well.

I have typed a copy of his personal history on my family history blog. You can read more about his life story here.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Chicago Temple

While visiting the Chicago area, I wanted to visit the LDS Temple in Chicago. Much like the meetinghouse locater, there is a web site that will give you driving directions, hours of operation, and other information about the temple. I was able to locate the temple without too much trouble.

The temple is located in a suburb North of Chicago, called Glenview. The community is a nice area, but not ritzy either. It is located near a forest preserve, which was amzinging beautiful, right there in the heart of the suburbs along the Des Plaines River.

This gives you a good idea of what the forest preserve along the Des Plaines River looks like. The forest preserve is about 28 miles long, and about 2-3 miles wide. It goes through the city limits of many municiplaities in the area. The bike trail is pictured here, but there are also campgrounds, picnic areas, and hiking trails.

The wilderness aspects of the preserve make for a nice neighbor to the temple.

I actually visited the temple grounds 3 times on my trip. The first time was on Sunday after I attended church. I took some daytime photos that day, but could not go onto the temple grounds because it is closed on Sunday.

The second time, I took my handy mini-tripod, and took some nighttime picutres. Some of them came out quite nice. By now I was getting good at taking time exposures with my tripod and the self timer. You can see more of my Chicago Temple pictures here.

My third visit was on Thursday night, my last night in the Chicago area. I attended a session at the temple. Class let out early that day, and I was able to get there in time for the 5:00 pm session. It was a small session, 5 men and 2 women. But it was nice. It was as beautiful on the inside as it was on the outside.

I spent a lot of time at the temple in my three visits. But I couldn't think of a place I would rather be. -- Besides, it kept me out of trouble!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Notre Dame

While I was visiting the Chicago area to take a class for work. I decided I would like to visit Notre Dame University. After all, it is only 90 miles away!!

I naively headed on my way right after class let out, at 4:30 in the afternoon. I figured what, only 90 miles. That should only take about 1 1/2 hours or so on the freeway, right? Well, about 3 1/2 hours later I drove onto the campus at South Bend, Indiana.

What I had not taken into account was 1) Getting Lost. 2)Road Construction, 3) Silly freeway interchanges, Oh, and did I mention Getting lost? (I found my way on the freeway to Indianapolis at one time!)

Once again, I sorely missed having my navigator (my wife) at my side. Actually, I figure this was her way of getting revenge at me for leaving her to stay at home with the kids!

I did have an enjoyable time once I got there. I was impressed with the gothic architecture with most of the buildings I saw. Many of the walls were ivy covered.

I wish I could have been there during the daylight. It looked like a beautiful campus. I would like to take a tour someday.

There were students milling about the campus as I was there, attending night classes, going to the library -- the normal student things. I must have looked a little odd there with my mini-tripod taking photos of the buildings.

The tower of the Cathedral (250 ft. tall) has a carillon in it. It would chime on the hour, quarter hour, and half hour. It reminded me of hearing the carillonon the BYU campus when I was a student there.

I was only able to stay there for about an hour. Then I had to get back to Chicago, and be ready for my class the next morning.

I finally ended up at my hotel about 12:30 in the morning. Oh, what a night!

You can view more of my Notre Dame Photos here.

Arlington Heights

While visiting the Chicago area for work, I decided to look up the nearest LDS ward, and attend Sunday Services with them. The church has a nice web site that lets you find the nearest ward or branch in whatever location you might find yourself in, pretty much anywhere in the world!. I plugged in the address of the hotel I was staying in, and then they tell you the ward that covers that area, and what time their meetings are held. You can also print out a map with directions of how to get there from your location. Cool!

It turns out that I was in the boundaries of the Arlington Heights 2nd ward. They met at 11:00 am, which gave me some time to find the chapel. After a few false starts (this wouldn't be the first time I would miss having my "navigator" -- my wife -- on this trip) I was able to find the chapel.

I really enjoyed the meetings there. In Sacrament meeting, a couple spoke. He had been a police officer for more than 30 years in Des Plaines, Illinois. Des Plaines is an adjoining town to Arlington Heights in the Chicago suburbs. They spoke of their lives before being members of the church. They belonged to a protestant congregation. Their two daughters participated in the youth programs. They were very active in their church.

Eventually one of their daughters began dating an LDS boy. After a while, he invited her to church. She developed an interest in the church, and asked for permission to attend with him. Eventually the relationship with the boy dissipated, but surprisingly their daughter's interest in the church did not. Eventually the mother decided see what this church was all about, so she attended with her daughter. Right away, she felt at home.

They invited the missionaries to come to their home. The daughter was baptized. The mother wanted to be baptized, but chose to wait until her husband was ready to join with her. A couple of years later, he was ready, and the couple was baptized together. Their older daughter went on to attend BYU, eventually married a member of the church. They now have 4 grandsons, two of which have served missions. The other daughter attended BYU for a couple of semesters too. However, she has never joined the church up to this point in time.

The sacrament meeting talks were moving and touching. It's a story I will not soon forget.

The rest of the meetings were interesting too. The Gospel Doctrine teacher was a former member of the Chicago Temple Presidency. He taught a great lesson. The instructor in priesthood meeting was also an institute instructor in the area. There was one fellow that I sat next to in priesthood meeting , who had just moved there from Midvale, Utah. I could tell he was a little homesick. His wife's family was in the Chicago area, and they had moved back to be with them. He was eager to hear the news from the Salt Lake Valley, and wondered how things were here.

An interesting thing they did there, was to gather together on General Conference Sunday. In-between the sessions, they had a pot-luck dinner at the chapel. What a great idea. I wish we did more that kind of thing here in Utah. They handed out fliers (above) along with the programs for church services that day.

I really enjoyed my visit to the Arlington Heights 2nd ward. I felt right at home there. I'm sure that there are thousands of such wards, the world over, in which I would feel at home too. Ain't it great!