Friday, December 31, 2010

Inspire Those Around You...

I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. i possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The last day of the year has come, we'll celebrate or morn the passing of 2010 with a party tonight or alone in front of a blaring television. I have heard many lament the stresses and worry that have plagued us. I would like to remember 2010 for the good and maybe forget all the rest. Maybe, just maybe, an attitude that focuses on the positive will bring or attract positive. We all know how much we could use more positive.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Merry Christmas, My Friend

By James M. Schmidt

Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all alone,
In a one bedroom house made of plaster & stone.

I had come down the chimney, with presents to give
and to see just who in this home did live

As I looked all about, a strange sight I did see,
no tinsel, no presents, not even a tree.
No stocking by the fire, just boots filled with sand.
On the wall hung pictures of a far distant land.

With medals and badges, awards of all kind,
a sobering thought soon came to my mind.
For this house was different, unlike any I’d seen.
This was the home of a U.S. Marine.

I’d heard stories about them, I had to see more,
so I walked down the hall and pushed open the door.
And there he lay sleeping, silent, alone,
Curled up on the floor in his one-bedroom home.

He seemed so gentle, his face so serene,
Not how I pictured a U.S. Marine.
Was this the hero, of whom I’d just read?
curled up in his poncho, a floor for his bed?

His head was clean-shaven, his weathered face tan.
I soon understood, this was more than a man.
For I realized the families that I saw that night,
owed their lives to these men, who were willing to fight.

Soon around the Nation, the children would play,
And grown-ups would celebrate on a bright Christmas day.
They all enjoyed freedom, each month and all year,
because of Marines like this one lying here.

I couldn’t help wonder how many lay alone,
on a cold Christmas Eve, in a land far from home.
Just the very thought brought a tear to my eye.
I dropped to my knees and I started to cry.

He must have awoken, for I heard a rough voice,
“Santa, don’t cry, this life is my choice
I fight for freedom, I don’t ask for more.
My life is my God, my country, my Corps.”

With that he rolled over, drifted off into sleep,
I couldn’t control it, I continued to weep.

I watched him for hours, so silent and still.
I noticed he shivered from the cold night’s chill.
So I took off my jacket, the one made of red,
and covered this Marine from his toes to his head.
Then I put on his T-shirt of scarlet and gold,
with an eagle, globe and anchor emblazoned so bold.
And although it barely fit me, I began to sell with pride,
and for one shining moment, I was Marine Corps deep inside.

I didn’t want to leave him so quiet in the night,
this guardian of honor so willing to fight.
But half asleep he rolled over, and in a voice clean and pure,
said “Carry on, Santa, it’s Christmas Day, all secure.”
One look at my watch and I knew he was right,
Merry Christmas my friend, Semper Fi and goodnight.

While a Lance Corporal serving as Battalion Counter Sniper at the Marine Barracks 8th & I, Washington, DC, under Commandant P.X. Kelly and Battalion Commander D.J. Myers [in 1986], James M. Schmidt wrote this poem to hang on the door of the Gym in the BEQ. When Colonel Myers came upon it, he read it and immediately had copies sent to each department at the Barracks and promptly dismissed the entire Battalion early for Christmas leave. The poem was placed that day in the marine Corps Gazette, distributed worldwide and later submitted to Leatherneck Magazine.

As Leatherneck (Magazine of the Marines) wrote of the poem’s author in 2003:

“Merry Christmas, My Friend” has been a holiday favorite among “leatherneckphiles” for nearly the time it takes to complete a Marine Corps career. Few, however know who wrote it and when Former Corporal James M. Schmidt, stationed at the marine Barracks, Washington, D.C., pounded it out 17 years ago on a typewriter while awaiting the commanding officer’s Christmas holiday decorations inspection ... while other leathernecks strung lights for the Barrack’s annual Christmas decoration contest, Schmidt contributed his poem to his section.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Animal Thoughts

Most email forwards are hardly worth the time it takes to glance through them. This one, however, was mostly funny and quite enjoyable. I hope you'll find it just as enjoyable as I did.

Dragonfly Lampworks: December Giveaway

Dragonfly Lampworks: December Giveaway: "The December Giveaway is a fine silver pendant named 'Flutterbye'. I realize that many of my readers do not bead, so I wanted to change thin..."

Sometimes, I just like to stop by and look at these wonderful hand-crafted beads.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cacao! The Worlds Best Bean That Grows on a Tree...

I was probably a bit into adulthood before I met someone who didn’t like chocolate. The very idea was so very foreign to me. Not liking chocolate was just about as unbelievable as being against breathing air. How could anyone think chocolate was not good!

I can hardly imagine a world without chocolate. It was only widely available over 100 years after the conquistadors brought it back to Spain from the ancient cultures of Mexico and Central America. Originally served as a drink only, new technologies and innovations brought chocolate into a whole new realm of flavors and textures. In fact, chocolate has gone a long way since Montezuma had his cacao (Ka KOW) drink.

Chocolate is available in so many forms. Spain, where you’ll find chocolate served around the clock – for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night snacks – has taken to chocolate like no other place in the world. Of course, they had that 100 year head start on most of the world.

I prefer chocolate in one of its purest and simplest forms – a bar of chocolate. In fact, I have been watching the labels closer lately. Often, packages are labeled with a certain percentage of cocoa, which refers to the amount of cocoa bean solids in the chocolate. The rest is sugar and milk. The higher the percentage of cocoa, the more bitter the chocolate will taste. The percentage of cocoa isn’t all that affects the flavor, though. Like wine, chocolates can vary greatly in taste depending on where the cocoa bean is from, its combination with other beans and how long it was roasted.

One other attractive quality of chocolate is that it doesn't have a "peak season." It's always chocolate season. I am grateful for all those people who work hard making chocolate just for me to eat, drink and use in cooking. I am grateful for all those chefs in all those kitchens who’ve spent so much time designing new ways to make tasty chocolate treats. I am grateful that my body hasn’t any adverse response to chocolate – well, besides getting fatter.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Jeremiah Saw The Latter-day Gathering

The weather in California isn’t nearly as cool as some other places in the country this Sabbath day. However, I have to say we’re feeling a lot cooler than it has been so far this year. I am grateful for the cooler weather because I truly miss the seasons I’ve experienced living in other parts of the country. A couple years ago, following a promise of employment and other security, we moved from Illinois returning to California almost 10 years after we left. It was something of an exodus, that 2000 miles. I avoided the most harrowing part of the trip since time did not allow for me to stay with the family, flying home to make it back to work on time.

Still, I look at the trip and cannot help thinking about other exoduses others have had to make. Of course, Moses led a grand exodus which took the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses spoke of the greatness of this exodus when he said, “For ask now of the days that are past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and ask from the one side of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it? Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live? Or hath God assayed to go and take him a nation from the midst of another nation, by temptations, by signs, and by wonders, and by war, and by a mighty hand, and by a stretched out arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightest know that the Lord he is God; there is none else beside him (Deuteronomy 4:32–35).”

A nation had to be formed, and that people had to leave Egypt in order for the nation to be created. Many generations later, Jeremiah saw visions of a latter-day event that the Lord said would be as great as the Exodus. Jeremiah recorded, “Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be said, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; But, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers. Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the Lord, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks. (Jeremiah 16:14–16).”

Could Jeremiah have been seeing the Latter-day Saint exodus to the Salt Lake basin? Could have he also seen the great missionary work that has taken place since the restoration of the gospel? I think so. Jeremiah speaks of fishers and hunters sent forth by the Lord. Elder LeGrand Richards said that the fishers and hunters described in Jeremiah 16:16 are missionaries of the Church. We have a part in this today!

I am grateful to have some insight into this kind of exodus. Still, I am more grateful for the work those who’ve come before me have done. I am grateful the Lord has provided for us to take part in this great gathering.

Lucy In The Sky

Have you ever looked at a clear night sky just to stare at the stars? I have enjoyed looking at the stars during every season but never from the southern hemisphere. Still, the stars vary enough throughout the year.

The spring brings the most recognized non-constellation, the Big Dipper. It’s a part of the much larger star picture of Ursa Major. The bowl stars from the Bear’s back and belly. From the star Dubhe, faint stars extending westward from the bowl make up the Bear’s neck and head, while five stars curve below (to the south) to form one of its front paws. Extending below the bowl star Phecda are other faint stars that represent its hind legs.

With the campfires of summer, the stars shift allowing a view of the Summer Triangle, three brilliant stars – Vega, Deneb, and Altair. They are set in a large triangle. Like the Big Dipper, it’s not an official constellation but just an interesting pattern among the stars. The three stars in the triangle actually belong to three separate constellations. The brightest star, Vega, is a brilliant blue-white star that glistens like a diamond within the constellation Lyra the Lyre, the mythical instrument of Orpheus. Altair, the triangle’s southernmost star, lays within Aquila the Eagle, marking the beak of the bird. Finally, the third star in the Triangle is Deneb, representing the tail of Cygnus the Swan. Always among the best of late summer is the Perseid meteor shower. So called since the origin, or radiant, of the shower is within the constellation Perseus.

The fall months bring opportunities to witness meteor showers as well, with November’s Leonid and December’s Geminid.

Winter is one of my favorite seasons for looking at the night sky, smog and haze give way to crystal-clear nights. This presents a wonderful opportunity to view Orion on center stage. The Hunter is the most brilliant constellation of all and easy to recognize. Look for the three equally bright stars in a row. These form his belt. North of the belt lies the bright reddish star Betelgeuse (Beatlejuice – loved that movie). Betelgeuse is the right shoulder of Orion (seen on our left). His left shoulder (our right) is represented by the star Bellatrix. Above the shoulders is a faint group of three stars depicting Orion’s tiny head. Below the belt are the stars Rigel, representing Orions’ left knee, and Saiph marking his right knee. Faint stars make up a shield he is holding in his left hand and a club raised high over his head in his right hand. Interestingly, Orion provides examples of stars with differing colors. One of the hottest stars known, Rigel’s blue-white is generated with a surface temperature of about 23,000 degrees – over twice that of our yellow sun. The other of the scale, Betelgeuse’s red color is generated at a surface temperature of only 5,000 degrees. Hanging from the belt of Orion are the dim stars of his sword. The middle star of the sword is actually not even a star. It is a cloud of glowing hydrogen gas known as the Great Orion Nebula by backyard stargazers.
“The stars are blazing like rebel diamonds cut out of the sun.” – Read My Mind by The Killers,
I am grateful for the night sky, for the stars shining above our heads. I am grateful for the times I’ve had to share the sky with my friends and family. I am grateful my daughters have graciously listened to me ramble about the starry sky. Yes, we are blessed with many wonders to behold but today I am particularly grateful for the stars in our sky.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Great Blessing of Pets

People seem to grow much attached to their pets. From my earliest childhood, I remember my parents had dogs. The first dog I remember was named Happy because my older brother perceived something of a permanent smile on the dog’s maw. When Happy was no long part of the family, my parents acquired another dog, which was replaced by another when it died. The next dog was with the family for many years, dying after I returned from living in Japan for two years. Named for the little doll made of tar used as a trap in the Brer Rabbit stories, Tar Baby was certainly a beloved part of our family. Interestingly the little tiny all black dog, a Chihuahua mix, outlived the one puppy we kept from her second litter. We named him Tuffy. Tuffy was a mix, almost twice the size of his mother. One afternoon, Tuffy returned to the house after being “out”. Tuffy liked to roam, even though we unsuccessfully tried to keep him locked behind the fence. This time, however, was different. It was the last time he left home. Someone had kicked him hard enough to bruise his backbone. The vet said there wasn’t anything but rest that could help Tuffy get better; so, I spent a lot of time nursing him back to health. By the time Tuffy was back to full activity, he had a habit of lifting his upper lip and showing his teeth at me in a doggie kind of smile. I had trained my dog to “smile”. Well, there’ve been stranger things.

In the last twenty years, we’ve had a few dogs as well. Currently, we have two Welsh Pembroke Corgis. One is marked with red and white, the other is mostly black. Their personalities are just as different as their coloring. Still, all things considered, they are part of my family. I spend time with both dogs every single day. Our hero dogs are Zoe Defender of Katan and Bailey Fancy Boots of Katan (AKC is a strange world). Funny, Zoe is the one who likes to sit at my feet just happy to feel me scratching her ears while Bailey is all about chasing that ball. What’s really funny, though, is how they’re so much the same in those differences. They only want to be next to the other members of the family. They seem to only find ‘joy’ in being with us, being a part of our world.

I try to avoid giving animals human emotions. Most of the time, I am very successful. These two little gals have gotten to me. I have actually started to think I can look at them and determine their thoughts.

Why do people have pets?

“Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.” – George Elliot
Pets are fun, entertaining, loving and they bring joy. Pets can improve health as well as strengthen the immune system.

The Baker Medical Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia conducted a 3-year study with over 5,000 people, and found pet owners to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels than non-pet owners. The National Institute of Health noticed that pet owners make fewer doctor visits and in a 1999 study the Journal of the American Geriatric Society found that older pet owners are physically and mentally more fit.

Pets promote social interaction. We all know the cliché of the guy with the cute dog in the park, sitting on a bench and all the passing women stopping by to pet the pooch which inevitably leads to a chat with the owner. But hey, it’s a cliché for a reason – it works!

Pets encourage exercise. Some more than others but more especially rambunctious puppies encourage people to move, to exercise, to get off the couch.

Pets are non-judgmental. Dogs love you without condition. Cats….are a bit more finicky, but still love you if you treat them well. And neither will care what you look like or accomplished that day.

Pets encourage laughter. They’re playful, reminding us not to take life too seriously.

Pets help with depression and loneliness. Depression and loneliness come from an inward focus. A pet provides an outward emphasis with the promise of love and affection.

“There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.” – Ben Williams
Children growing up with pets develop more empathy. Many times children view animals as peers and seem to understand them better than adults. Children can learn to read animals’ body language, and unlike adults, animals don’t pretend or play psychological games. Once they’ve grown, these children will better be able to read the body language of people, their learned empathy will also carry over.

Mental stimulation. Animals encourage social interaction which triggers memories and encourages communication.

Reduced blood pressure. Studies have found that having a pet actually reduces blood pressure and triglycerides.

Physical touch. Infants who are not touched enough, fail to develop well, both physically and emotionally. Touch is very important for the mind and spirit; however, many people are wary of touching even family members. Pets are a safer alternative for some.

Relaxation. The reason so many dentists and doctors have fish tanks in the waiting room: it provides a sense of calm, helps to decrease heart rate and blood pressure.

Maybe it is time to get our fish tank going again. We had fish before we moved to California. It was mostly a good experience until I bought those snails to help with fighting algae. They ate my aquatic plants instead.

I am grateful for the pleasure pets have brought into my life. My dogs are wonderful, always happy to see me, always wanting to be next to me, always seeking my attention. They’re standing at the back door watching me type this right now. I am grateful for the good energy they bring into my life.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Greatest Man I Ever Knew

Outside to this four-year-old boy was very fascinating. There is so much unknown space to explore, so much to see and touch. The backyard was a place protected enough to allow him to run without care or concern from his parents. At least he didn’t notice the protective eyes that watched over him as much here. Grass and trees, a swing-set and lots of space to run made for a great place to play.

There was that other space. The garden. The retaining wall bound the garden to a higher plane, one this little boy could not quite reach on his own. That alone enthralled the boy. There, just beyond his reach, was even more dirt, textures and little crawling critters. He wasn’t allowed to be there alone, though. It was not a playground. Well, that is what mom always said.

Today was a special day with new experiences. Perched on the retaining wall much like a carrion bird, the boy watched ready to pounce into action as his father turned the soil preparing the ground for the years first planting. He was “helping”! Helping dad in the garden was a very new activity. Like most young boys time with dad was his favorite time. Whether it was in the garage working on some cabinet or maintaining the car, working in the front yard or watching as dad worked the cement mixer, being where dad was meant fun. Spending time with dad was this boy’s most favorite activity.

An annual ritual that signaled the start of the long California growing season, the man took meticulous care as he augmented the clay soil with horse manure. The action of turning the dirt with a spade to mix the soil and fertilizer into one homogenous bed of nutrients for the vegetable garden took on an almost hypnotic rhythm. The spade sliced through the dirt, lifted, turned. Slice. Lift. Turn. Repeat. Repeating the same actions over and over became a therapeutic and calming event for the man. He was nearly finished with the preparation and it was almost time to plant. Nothing was as pacifying as the time he spent in his garden. Whether it was troubles at the office, difficulties at school, or minor puzzles to be solved in the yard, the garden was a place where his mind to work out the kinks. The child watching today created a new twist to this otherwise solitary task. The man was almost as excited to have him there, as the boy was to be with his father.

Hardly able to contain his excitement, the boy just couldn’t hold still. Of course, the shovel was far too big for him to manage so his time for helping had to wait. Anxiously watching, the peaceful moment dad was feeling was completely lost on him. The boy really liked the sound of the steel spade slicing into the ground. It was a very interesting scraping sound, very different from anything he had heard before. Shuddering once, it was not uncomfortable in any way but he could feel it deep into his bones. Sshhlusshh! Sshhlusshh! The boy felt his excitement build each time dad sliced into the ground. Sshhlusshh! Sshhlusshh!

The love the man felt for the earth was something he wanted to share with his son. There was so much to gain from the effort. In fact, the reward seemed so much greater than the required sweat. Even if gardening didn’t provide that calm he usually found, there was so much more to gain. Very little in this life was as god-intimate. A partnership between man and god provided such wonderful bounty. By simply planting a seed and maintaining a good growing environment, the outcome was almost always secured. So, today was special because he was going to share this love with one of the most important parts of his life, his son.

Setting the spade aside, the man handed a small gardening shovel to his son. It was time to start the planting. The current crop was corn. Spaced just right at the top of the raised rows, the boy would make small holes into which he would drop three or four corn seeds. It was the man’s turn to watch as the boy went through the motions. Drawing the boy close, the man helped the boy make the first hole.

“Not too deep but just enough to keep the birds from eating the grains. Take the shovel and make a small hole here,” he explained to the boy.

The boy’s only utterance, “OK.”

The boy took the little shovel in both hands and stuck it into the ground, pulling about half a cup of dirt out of place, moving it slightly to the side. The man handed the boy a packet of corn seed, motioning for him to open it. Being careful to avoid spilling the seed, the boy tore the envelope open along the top.

“Now, place just three or four kernels into that hole. Then, you just cover them up with the soil.”

Carefully, the boy counted out four kernels and dropped them into the hole, moving the dirt back to cover the seeds. The man and the boy moved over just a foot and repeated the motions. Only fifteen minutes later they had finished planting the first row. The boy beamed with pride, the father just as happy. Working together, the duo moved onto the next mound and continued to finish the planting.

****  ****  ****  ****

Today, I'd express gratidute for the greatest man I ever knew. My father. He was the most selfless man that ever walked the face of the earth. Never one to think of his own needs or concern himself with his own comfort, he provided the perfect example of service, love and kindness. I am grateful for the time he spent with me as a child, an adolescent and as an adult. I am grateful for the times he allowed me to help him but more particularly those times it would have been easier to do it alone. There is no way for me to recount all this man taught me. I can say this. No man was a better example. He never taught something he didn't practice in his own life.

I am grateful for my father, the best mentor, the best hero any boy could ever have.
"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."
- Thomas A. Edison

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Soundtrack of My Life

So, do you have a soundtrack in your life? I do. I am grateful for my soundtrack, my music. It makes my life more meaningful.

Music has a way to cause emotions to well up. The feelings are gripping, even irresistible. They sometimes seem to emerge from nowhere. Music can color moods, affect perceptions and generate behavioral patterns. It’s a fact that music has the power to evoke emotions. I don’t think there is anyone for whom music is completely emotionally neutral. Music can tap the still, mysteriously deep well of emotion.

The emotional response produced by music is different for everyone. In fact, that response can vary in the same person at different times. The emotions produced by music may also be varied – peaceful, relaxing, exciting, festive, boring, unsettling, invigorating . . . etc. Does your soundtrack change as your life events change? Mine does.

I remember listening to Bill Cosby talk about his theme music. Da d’da d’dum… Theme music like a super hero! Imagine what life would be like if others could hear your soundtrack. My life has always been too inconsistent to have always the same theme song. Maybe mine would be a variation on a theme. You know something like you’d find on any Law & Order show. The music has a consistent theme but changes a little depending on what is going on.

Music communicates better than most other mediums. Like the sense of smell, music will affect people more profoundly than most other forms of communication. Music not only explores all the features used in verbal communication, it does so in an explicit, structured way pushing beyond the limits, creating an interesting, useful window into human communication.

I am thankful for those aspects of life not immediately recognized as music. The rhythmic sound of a train, the waves breaking on the beach, the song of a cricket rubbing its legs together, even the buzzing of an electric fan produces a soothing quiet. Good music touches our emotions. Deeper than just emotions, music reaches into our very soul and leaves an imprint on us. This power music has is difficult to describe. Language cannot fully describe the power of music. Still, it is a mystical experience that is nearly universal.

Music can endow the listener with incredible pleasure. It can be simple or complex, subtle or overt. It can emanate from the rhythm or the melody; however, some of the greatness of music lies in the holistic nature of all the elements together. It’s a unique wholeness which may not be understood logically. Still, no matter how complex, music can easily be appreciated with the mind without formal training.

I am grateful that music doesn’t require an advanced degree to truly appreciate or enjoy it. You don’t have to know about instruments, pitches or notes. You don’t have to know how to recognize the dots and lines on a sheet to know that you like it. Music is wonderful. I am grateful that learning more about music doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.

I am very grateful for the soundtrack of my life, for the music that is everywhere, for the music in my head. I am grateful for the times I can share music with my wife, my daughters and my friends. I am grateful for the times I can just sit and enjoy music alone.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Wonderful Worlds Found While Reading

I remember the many times my mother and my older brother tried to get me to read a certain book because they thought I would like it. Having failed at that attempt, they would try again with another book. And, another. Then, another. I struggled with reading, even thinking I didn’t like to read. Never mind that I would inevitably stumble on a book I really enjoyed. I would consume that book like a starving beggar takes after a half-eaten sandwich. Sadly, this didn’t happen very often during my adolescent years. During those years, I wasted many opportunities at no fault to my parents or my siblings. I am grateful in the time since I’ve learned about many books that appeal to me. I am grateful for the wonders I’ve come to know because of reading. There are so many benefits to reading. Gordon B. Hinckley once said, “From the reading of good books there comes a richness of life that can be obtained in no other way.” I am grateful that I have found this to be true in my life.

Indeed, reading is one of the best hobbies a person can develop. I wonder why it is so hard to teach a love of reading. Why do some people find that enjoyment sooner than others? Why do some of us never find that wonder? Many truly believe they “don’t need no stinking books.” Well, here’s a small list of some very good reasons to start reading habitually.

1. An active mental process: Yes, reading makes you use your brain, which is very different than what you’re doing while sitting in front of the T.V. This process exercises those little things we like to call grey cells – you know, your brain. People get smarter when they think. Who doesn’t want to be smarter?

2. Improve your vocabulary: It’s true; reading will improve your vocabulary. You might remember this little exercise from elementary school. By reading the words around an unfamiliar word, I had to decipher the meaning of that word. You know what? I still do that when I read. When you read books, more particularly the more challenging books, you are more likely to be exposed to words with which you are not familiar. New words don’t have to be scary. I think this is a far better process of learning new words than those word-of-the-day calendars.

3. Glimpses into other worlds: The marvels of reading includes being able to go places you’ve never been, be exposed to new cultures and gain new insight. The strength of diversity right in your own living room! Imagine that. You could go anywhere in the world just by reading a book. Reading books can give you an insight into diverse places, people, cultures, customs and lifestyles. It’s a broad window into a very large world.

4. Improves concentration and focus: Reading a book requires you to focus on what you are reading for long periods. It’s not like reading a magazine, an internet post or even some of the longest e-mails. These all contain small chunks of information whereas books tell the whole story. Concentrating is like exercising your brain (see #1).

5. Self-esteem: The more you read, the more you learn, the more confidence you’ll gain. Confidence is the foundation of self-esteem. A wonderful chain reaction. When you learn things, people will start asking you for the answers. More self-esteem! Who doesn’t need that kind of shot in the arm!

6. Memory: If you don’t use your memory, you’ll lose it. Studies have shown crossword puzzles might stave off Alzheimer’s. Did you know reading has been found to do the same? Reading exercises your brain in ways similar to crossword puzzles. When you read, you need to remember details, facts and figures. Literature has plot lines, themes and characters that need to be remembered.

7. Creativity: A springboard for creativity, reading exposes you to new ideas and more information. This helps develop the creative side of the brain. It imbibes innovation.

8. Reduce Boredom: “Boredom is the result of a weak mind.” I read that a little while ago and I thought that was pretty good. When you are wondering what to do and you feel boredom coming on, pull out a book. Two things will happen. You’ll stave off that boredom and you’ll exercise your brain.

So, if you are looking for a way to break from a monotonous, lazy, uncreative and boring life, go grab a book. Find yourself a new world filled with information. I’m grateful for the worlds I’ve visited through books. I’m grateful for the how much better I feel about myself, my abilities and what I know because of the books I’ve read. I am grateful for the world of reading.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


The Lord promised us through the prophet Moroni: “If men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).

I am intrigued by several things about this scripture. The first is that the Lord gives us weaknesses. It isn't sin, He gives us weaknesses. This is so we will be humble. Humility is something I know I need to work on, it's not one of my strong points. Just think, if we were perfect in every respect, it would be hard to be humble. Even when we excel in specific things, it is hard to be humble with respect to those things. I have seen this in my life. I've allowed certain successes in my life make me feel like I was the king of the world. Maybe we all do sometimes. Still, if everything was perfect, it would be hard to be humble. So, we're given weaknesses to help us overcome this tendency we have to be proud.

But, then there's the promise. If we are willing to humble ourselves, then, the Lord's “grace is sufficient.” In the Bible Dictionary, grace is defined as an “enabling power” (697). Isn't that an incredible promise?

It is interesting how frequently we hear the word addiction used to describe destructive behavior There's often talk about being addicted to alcohol, to drugs, to pornography. All insidious and powerful evils, they are examples of the Lord's warning to His disciples that “whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin” (John 8:34). Similarly, Alma warned us about the “chains of hell” (Alma 12:11).

Sin weakens, bind, and brings us down to slavery. It's a great blessing that the grace of God and of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the resolution, the solution, the answer. I am grateful that by humbling myself, by turning to the Lord God and His Son, Their grace, Their enabling power, will help me throw off the chains of that slavery. But not just throw off these chains, Their grace will help me to become stronger than my weaknesses.

It is a great blessing to partake of the Lord's grace, to have the comforting power of the atonement. I am grateful for the Lord's love and guidance in my life.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Home Sweet Home

We sometimes get so comfortable with our surroundings it is easy to forget some of those most basic blessings that enrich our lives. I think we tend also to look away from the most blatant reminders of how fragile these basic blessings can be. We dismiss the guy standing at the freeway off-ramp as a scam artist rather than accept his “will work for food” plea. We look through the man pushing all his worldly possessions in a stolen grocery cart with his ragged blanket draped over his shoulders. How great it is to live without fear of losing everything during the night and having shelter from all that weather might have to throw at you! I am grateful for the house that shelters my family.

Many have experienced that strange dream of coming to the house you remember as your home only to find strangers living there. Your key doesn’t even work the door properly. How disconcerting it is! A basic need, shelter is something most people take for granted. More than physical shelter, home is a place that should protect us from psychological trauma as well. How wonderful it is to have these basics without concern for loss, harassment, or other fear. Imagine how unsettling it is for those families who have lost access to this comfort. Imagine how hard it is for those children’s parents. I am so grateful I have not experienced this in my life.

Years ago, I met a man at a busy service station only a few blocks from the freeway but many miles from where his wife and child waited for his return. He tried selling me his car stereo to get enough money for gasoline. I had no need for his stereo and felt compelled to help him fuel his car. He was ever so grateful for the little help I offered. We said our goodbyes and went separate ways. A few days later, a story in our local newspaper recounted the sad details of a family who lost their only child to the elements. Yes, even in California the weather isn’t always mild enough. The parents grieved because they unsuccessfully tried to provide the best they could but that just was not enough. This story stood out more because the man pictured in the paper was the same man I met at the fuel pump. In the days following this tragedy, he was offered work and he and his wife were able to get an apartment. Sadly, all this help was too late for his baby.

I remember this man and his family often. Whenever I see someone standing at the side of the road seeking help, I try to remember his plight may be far worse than it seems. I try to refrain from giving into the natural tendency to judge him for his circumstances. I am grateful every day for my home, the family that makes it a safe place to be, and the safety net on which I can rely. I am grateful for those who look out for me and my family.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Strength in Diversity

We live in a broad, varied world of peoples, cultures, languages, foods, philosophies, religions. The world is full of variations on all levels. Still, through the wonders of technology, the world seems to grow smaller every day. A few years ago, as part of a marketing campaign a telecom company used the audio of an operator answering the phone, “Kuala Lumpur!” Americans are dreadful with geography. I’m sure many still do not know where in the world Kuala Lumpur is. Exotic as it may be, when something happens in Kuala Lumpur, we can know about it in minutes. At the same time, we can read about what is happening in Warsaw, Poland. This makes the world seem so much smaller than it is. Electronic communications, high-speed travel and various other technologies have made our world accessible to more people. I am grateful for that accessibility.

Has the small-town feel of world news and travel translated into a place where we all look the same, eat the same, think the same, and do the same things? No, it hasn’t. In fact, we’re lucky our cultures have not intermingled into one gray blob of cultural mud.

I am grateful for the strength and variety of culture. From the world we have incredibly varying examples of music styles, cuisine, dress, and tradition. Even a reduced view of the world into one narrow segment, reveals a great diversity.

Milwaukee’s Jack experiences life completely different than Juan who lives in Rio de Janeiro. In fact, Jack probably knows as little about Juan as Juan knows about Jack. Jack prefers to watch football only when the Packers are playing. Juan plays for the Brazil national football team. These “Football” games aren’t even the same sport. Preferences aside, both sports are exciting examples of team play and personal exertion, teamwork and individual strength.

The Americans call him Santa Claus. The traditions surrounding this jolly old fellow are immense. His name changes, certain events change, his role during the Christmas holidays change as well. All depending on where you are in the Christian world. Does this take away from who he is? No, it strengthens his persona.

I am grateful I was blessed to spend a couple years in Japan. I grew to love that land, the people living there and the culture in which they live. My experience was over 20 years ago. Still, there’s a lot I learned while I was there and still more since I’ve been home. I would not have learned most of these things had I not been blessed with that wonderful experience. If I didn’t have my eyes opened to another culture, I would not have enjoyed many of the blessings that have been a part of my life since. I would not have been open to learning about various other cultures since I’ve been back, either.

I am grateful for the restaurants that present a wonderful peek into various cultures. Food is just one aspect but a very important part of a culture. The varying tastes, textures and colors are testimony to the wonders that come from all over the world. Gravies from one part of the world were originally created for a whole different set of reasons than the sauces of another region. Even when the same spices and herbs might be used, the results are incredible and different.

I am grateful for the strength we gain through having different cultures. Industry, Music, Medicine, Art and more have benefited from the perspective each culture has brought. The eastern mostly holistic view working with the western more segmented approach has advanced most aspects of our lives. It is through using the strengths of both that we’ll all be blessed.

I am grateful for this diversity and the blessings we all enjoy as part of a world community, though we might be living in different cultures. I am grateful for the technology that has allowed access to these things so we might all be more, better, stronger.