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

Grace

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.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Who Served Our Country

World War I – also known as “The Great War” – officially came to an end upon the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919. The fighting, however, had stopped seven months earlier when an armistice or temporary cessation of hostilities between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Thus, November 11, 1918, is regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

"To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations,” proclaimed President Wilson in November 1919, establishing November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day.


Originally, the celebration was a day of observation with parades, public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 AM.

Approved May 13, 1938, an Act of Congress (52 Stat. 351; 5 U.S. Code, Sec. 87a) made 11 November each year a legal holiday, dedicated to the cause of world peace and known as “Armistice Day.” The primary intent was to honor veterans of World War I. After World War II required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history and after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress amended the Act of 1938 by removing the word “Armistice” inserting “Veterans” in its place. This legislation was approved on June 1, 1954, making November 11 the day to honor American veterans of all wars.

On October 8, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first “Veterans Day Proclamation”.

"In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans' organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose. Toward this end, I am designating the Administrator of Veterans' Affairs as Chairman of a Veterans Day National Committee, which shall include such other persons as the Chairman may select, and which will coordinate at the national level necessary planning for the observance. I am also requesting the heads of all departments and agencies of the Executive branch of the Government to assist the National Committee in every way possible."

Some of my closest friends are veterans, having served their country with incredible selflessness. I am grateful for their dedication. I am grateful for everyone who’s served and protected our country. I am particularly grateful to those who’ve given their lives in defending our constitution, our freedoms and our land. I am grateful for those soldiers who've fought from the foundations of this great country, gaining then preserving our freedoms. We would not be who we are if it weren't for their great actions. From revolutionaries to the Marines fighting in Afganistan and Iraq they all deserve our gratitude. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Changing Seasons

There’s so much to be said about the seasons, these aren’t so prevalent in our world here in southern California. I loved the way things changed as the year wore on. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to experience true changes in seasons for a few years.

We all hear the song, Winter Wonderland and think about Christmas. I am more inclined to remember the wonder that is the morning following an ice storm. The world is as if a jeweler built everything out of diamonds and white cotton. Sparkling trees look to be made from the finest of the finest crystal. Such splendor exceeds anything you might think possible in the starkness that is found in the depths of winter. Winter’s stark frozen ground of ice and snow, trees without leaves gives way to the rebirth that is spring, a very strange juxtaposition indeed.

Spring’s gradual take-over of the world where the trees first bud, blossom and finally green is so shocking we seem to think it happens overnight. I love how beautiful the world becomes; lush, green and young. The tulips pop up in colorful displays, not at all bashful, seeming to say, “I’m the most beautiful thing around!” You know what, they just might be. Trees seem to have their annual but wonderful race to bloom; the apricot, plum and cherry trees provide a magnificently bright white and pink sign spring is off the starting blocks. Perennials come on with certain gusto like the final blow to winter’s end.

Spring slowly gives way to the dog days of summer, where warm days become the norm instead of the exception. Mowing lawns and other yard work become weekly, or even more frequent, activities. The fruits of spring planting, gardens start to reward the backyard farmer with wonderful and delectable vegetables and fruits. Corn, watermelon, zucchini are among the many great seasonal treasures they’ll find. Who doesn’t enjoy picnics! Independence Day and festivals are plentiful through the warmest months of the year. Summers are wonderful, full of summertime activities like camping, swimming, and fishing. As summer seems to be relinquishing its hold on us we still push for more barbeque, more burgers, more potato salad. School is back in session but we’re still holding on as much as we can.

Autumn’s colorful leaves are incredible, the weather is cool but not too cold. Football! Halloween! Thanksgiving! Who doesn’t like what Fall has to offer! There is so much color! Raking leaves only to jump into them with great speed makes for some great fun. Pumpkins and winter vegetables, apples are everywhere from crisp desserts to pies and wrapped in caramel. Hay rides, corn mazes, ever green trees are hallmarks of this season.

Yes, I love the seasons and am grateful for what they all bring. I am grateful for the colors and smells, the cold and the heat. I am grateful for the simple joy of wearing a light jacket or bundling up in a heavy coat. I am grateful for flip-flops and shorts or heavy boots and wool socks. I am grateful for winter sports and summer fun. It’s all so wonderful.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Friendship

“The worst solitude is to be destitute of sincere friendship.” - Francis Bacon
We come into this life alone to a family who will love us no matter what. Mother and Father nurture. Regardless of how they might feel, brothers and sisters are pretty much stuck with us. This is true for the rest of the family as well. However, friends choose to be part of our lives. I am grateful for those people in my life who've chosen to be my friend. I am ever so grateful that my brothers and sisters have chosen to be my friends too. I am a lucky man, indeed.

Still, it is the friend who is key to making the most out of life. A rainbow is more colorful when shared with a friend. The moon and stars shine brighter when sitting beneath them with a friend. Dark clouds lose their power to threaten when a friend stands by our side. Great discoveries are greater when shared with a friend. Sadness is more bearable when a friend bouys us up. Jokes are funnier when told to a friend.
“There is nothing we like to see so much as the gleam of pleasure in a person's eye when he feels that we have sympathized with him, understood him. At these moments something fine and spiritual passes between two friends. These are the moments worth living.” – Don Marquis
Is there anything more valuable than friendship! I am grateful for friends near and far. I am grateful for friends I've never met in person. I am grateful for friends who agree with me. I am grateful for friends who know they can disagree with me. I am grateful for friends who can say anything. I am grateful for friends who don't need to say anything. I am grateful for friends who love me the way I am. I am grateful for friends who love me for who I could become. I am most grateful for my best friend, who loves me, with whom I'll spend all eternity, my wife.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Eye-Opening Conversations

We all have opinions. To some we hold stronger than others. It is these opinions which foster incredibly eye-opening conversations. Sometimes talking with people that agree with everything you might have to say becomes boring and predictable. Moving beyond what I like to call the "yes sir!" mentality, or choir seat practitioner, there's a whole world of thought just waiting to be discovered. This is actually very important. This is where the passion resides! I am grateful for this passion. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn more, feel more and understand more through open dialogue.

I am grateful for conversations that help open my eyes to new ideas and new perspectives. Our lives are viewed from very limited, prejudiced and closed perspectives. It is not possible to get past these boundaries alone. I am grateful for people who are willing to talk about their own views in a manner that helps open my eyes to unknown perspectives.

How boring would life be if we all saw the same thing in the same manner! How dull indeed! I know what I think and why. Sometimes talking with someone who just does not see life the same way I do, helps me understand the mistakes in my own theories. Sometimes I am exposed to new thoughts I've never even considered before. Sometimes through conversations with people who hold a different viewpoint, I recognize the weaknesses in my logic. I am grateful for those oportunities.

Opinions are definitely not in short supply, everyone has them. Sometimes it is just the best possible solution to find someone whose opinions do not mirror our own.

I have sat down with people to watch a professional sport being broadcast on T.V. Fans of one team root while the fans of the other jeer. How fantastic and lively that experience becomes! Still, no one feels like they are being attacked. It's just a matter of perspective as to which team is better.

I think much of our personal philosophies are very similar to the way people choose a favorite sports team. Taking the time to speak with others about our feelings, about our politics, about our philosophical commitments, opens us up to a few things. First, we have the opportunity to share the reasoning behind our decisions. Second, we hear about another perspective. Third, we are confronted with the weaknesses and strengths of our own arguments.

It is through recognizing the weaknesses in my perspectives that I can move to make improvements or outright reject what I might have believed to be true. I am grateful for these opportunities. Is it not just as important to reject untruths as it is to strengthen our understanding of truth?

I am grateful for eye-opening conversations, for opportunities to improve my perspective, and improve the strength of the logic I use to support my perspective. I am grateful for eye-opening conversations that help me see new things which I might not have considered on my own.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Personal Revelation

In this world of difficult and sometimes confusing decisions, I am grateful for divine guidance. Yes, I am grateful for the right to enjoy the marvelous gift of the Holy Ghost that is conferred upon every member of the Church soon after baptism. In fulfillment of the promise the Savior made, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever” (John 14:16), I have been blessed with that most wonderful and powerful guidance in my life.

I am grateful for the personal inspiration in the small events of my life as well as when I am confronted with the giant Goliaths of life. Even as the young David, hardly a grown man, volunteered to fight Goliath, knowing that inspiration had brought him to fight, to save Israel. David responded to Goliath's insults proclaiming that he came in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel. He said that all who gathered there would learn the Lord does not save by the sword and the spear, "the battle is the Lord's"  (1 Sam. 17:47). He then threw a rock, a little rock was enough to fell this giant man.

I am grateful that David's living God does not stand mute, uncommunitcative, and silent today. I am grateful we do not have to ask, "Does God love us less than those who were led by prophets of old?" I am grateful that our God knows we need His guidance and instruction just as much as those who lived before. I am grateful God loves us enough to give us the same rights and opportunities.

I am grateful President Joseph Fielding Smith spoke the truth when he said: ‘The Lord not only blesses the men who stand at the head and hold the keys of the kingdom, but he also blesses every faithful individual with the spirit of inspiration’ ” (Roy W. Doxey, Walk with the Lord [1973], 173–74; emphasis in original).

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Laughter

It's like the best drug on earth! I am grateful for laughter. Just looking at the word is enough to make me laugh. The English language is full of strangely spelled words and laugh is just as funny as any of them.

But, I am serious as a lobotomy. I am so very grateful for laughter. I don't mean loud, innappropriate laughter. I do mean good, wholesome humor.

What can laughter do?:
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increase vascular blood flow and oxygenation of the blood
  • Give a workout to the diaphragm and abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg, and back muscles
  • Reduce certain stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline
  • Increase the response of tumor- and disease-killing cells such as Gamma-interferon and T-cells
  • Defend against respiratory infections–even reducing the frequency of colds–by immunoglobulon in saliva.
  • Increase memory and learning; in a study at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, humor during instruction led to increased test scores
  • Improve alertness, creativity, and memory
Humor works quickly. Less than a half-second after exposure to something funny, an electrical wave moves through the higher brain functions of the cerebral cortex. The left hemisphere analyzes the words and structures of the joke; the right hemisphere “gets” the joke; the visual sensory area of the occipital lobe creates images; the limbic (emotional) system makes you happier; and the motor sections make you smile or laugh.

Laughter just makes me feel better. I remember a long time ago, Steve Martin did a skit about a banjo. "The banjo is such a happy instrument--you can't play a sad song on the banjo - it always comes out so cheerful," he said. Laughter is something like the banjo except everyone is born with the ability to play it. You don't need to learn how to read music or where to place your fingers. Also, you don't need to develop callouses to laugh well. I think adults sometimes forget how to laugh.

Even the worst day of my life so far was made just a little more bearable because we could laugh maybe just a little. Tense situations become lighter and easier to bear with laughter.

I am grateful for laughter. I thoroughly enjoy spending time with my wife because inevitably we'll end up laughing about something. I think she sometimes pretends my jokes are funny. We laugh together, though. For that I am grateful.

I am grateful for laughter. I am grateful for the times I've spent laughing with my daughters. You should have seen us tonight. I think their mother was ready to strangle us all. I love to laugh, though. Sometimes, we laugh when we don't know why we're laughing. That's fun too.

I am grateful for laughter. I am grateful for the times I've spent laughing with my friends. Isn't that why friends spend time together. We talk, we laugh. We bag on each other, we laugh. Laughter is an important part of friendship.

Laughter is great.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Patience

I am ever so grateful for patience. No, not so much the patience I've exhibited for others. It is that patience others offer every day, a gift of great value indeed.

How wonderful this life is, and better yet as people allow for the slow moving. It is only uncommon that people do not allow for others to make progress as personal circumstances allow. How great is that! I am grateful that most people are kind enough to have patience in such times.

It is the most dedicated teacher who works with the young people today, exhibiting incredible patience as the children learn their how to read, write, add and subtract. No, this patience is not limited to the first few years of school. All through elementary, middle and secondary schools, teachers have incredible patience. It is through this patience that many thrive, learning not only the basics required to get through their lives but also by example what it takes to be there for others who might need their help. Most teachers are extreme examples of the power of patience, what can be achieved when patience is excersized. I am very grateful for teachers who've been willing to spend the time, taking personal time and patience to guide me in my life and do the same for my children.

A parent will find their patience tested time and time again. I am grateful for the strength of their patience. How better to show love than to express patience when a child is trying to learn something difficult. Time is the greatest blessing a parent can give their child. Certainly, in such efforts the grandest ingredient is patience fueled by love. I am grateful for the patience my parents showed toward me throughout my childhood and into adulthood. Truly, I'm sure I've tested their patience more often than I could even imagine.

Older Brothers, younger brothers and sisters too, are incredible examples of the power of patience. We have all experienced those times when we've done nothing but test the nerves of those that should be closest to us. The joy that swells when siblings take the time to help each other is wonderful. The friendship and love brothers share is beyond compare. It is all built on a foundation of patience, this is sure. I am grateful for the patience my brothers and sisters have had for me and the choices I've made in life. I am grateful for my daughters and the patience they have for each other, too. The close relationships siblings have is a blessing of great value.
"How poor are they who have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees."
- William Shakespeare
I am grateful for the patience strangers show in every day life. Mistakes are human, the divine attribute of patience help us overcome these mistakes. It also helps us all to learn from our own mistakes. The struggles in life would be far worse if strangers didn't also have patience. I am grateful to all who've shown such powerful patience with my foibles even though they might not know who I am.


Thursday, November 04, 2010

Because They're My Girls

Although it might seem a little trite, I am very grateful for my girls. Between all they do and who they are, there's little room for disappointment. They are great. I cannot hardly express how proud of these ones I am. You see, I've watched others live a selfish exsistence, out to get what they want and damn the rest. Well, my girls aren't all that. They have taken on a greater persona. I am grateful that my girls share, serve and care.

When the world suggests the winner is the one who dies with the most toys, selfishness is touted as not only normal but expected. I have watched my girls all buck that trend. They all watch out for others, showing a caring spirit that is rare these days. I am grateful my girls have not followed this crowd, choosing not to develop a sense of entitlement.

Yes, I am grateful for my girls. They are the greatest.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Troubling? Experiences? Troubling Experiences?

I'm grateful for the challenges I've had in my life. A very funny thing for which one would be thankful for sure. Still, I have to express my gratitude for the challenges I've faced in my life that have made me stronger, that have brought me down a notch, that have helped me with clarity. Troubling experiences have been the foundation of much of what I see as me.

While I lived in Japan, I struggled to maintain a healthy level of nutrition in my food. I just did not have the funds necessary to do it. Since that time, I have found it very easy to be grateful for any food. I know what it is like to go without and I know how blessed I am that I am not hungry. Now, this also comes with a little bit of a kicker. When I see another asking for help, just a few coins, because they are hungry. I cannot pass them up without giving what I can. Good or bad, that's just how I roll anymore.

Challenges in my life have provided me a certain strength that I never knew before. If life were always easy, I would not realize the struggles some people face and how they must be addressed. I realize that some mistakes people have made aren't always out of stubborness or ignorance. Sometimes, forces outside of mortal control interfere with what might be an otherwise successful life. Humility has never been a strong part of my personality. Challenges in my life have helped me to recognize this, however.

The troubles I've faced in my life have helped recognize God's hand in everything. I can clearly see how the larger picture is greater than I am. My place in this great forever is small in comparison to the real goal. Challenges in my life have helped recognize the role service plays in helping us become better people. As we serve others, our challenges seem to become less important. Clarity truly sets us free from self-pity, self-loathing, and selfishness. This clarity is provided by way of serving our neighbor.
“If you will call your troubles experiences, and remember that every experience develops some latent force within you, you will grow vigorous and happy, however adverse your circumstances may seem to be.” ~ John Heywood
I am grateful for the troubles that have beset me in my life. I am grateful for challenges that teach me better who I am and what I can become. I am grateful for the incredible perspective life's challenges have granted me.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

November 2 - Get Out And Vote

I am grateful for the efforts great men made 236 years ago, to work out independence from tyranny. I am grateful for the even greater efforts men made 225 years ago, to work out a document that established a great government balancing the need to be governed with the need to be free. I am grateful that even through over 200 years of changing times, the U.S. Constitution still stands to protect us. Today, I am grateful for the opportunity to join with many and exercise my rights, my responsibility, to vote. I am grateful that most people, most of the time, make the right decisions when they enter the polling place.

When I look at all the world, there are plethora an example of countries who've risen up, rebelled against an oppressive government, claiming independence from a tyrannical regime. When the smoke clears and all the fighting has settled, these people find themselves under another regime with much the same oppression. Yes, blood and treasure wasted to no good effect. It took our forefathers nearly 10 years to work out our constitution, to work out a free government, to establish a framework that allowed for change without bloodshed. I am grateful for their longsuffering and their patience. These men established a great country with great opportunities for all men.

Yes, we are truly a blessed nation.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Grateful For A Wonderful Wife

The first thing I need to realize is that I would not be who I am today without my most important friend. She has been a major part of my life for over 20 years. Every big and little development, every aspect of my life, she has been there. When I get discouraged, she is there. When I want to celebrate, she is there. Yes, Jennifer is my everything. I love her and am very grateful for who she is.

I am grateful for her creativity. To everything in this life there is the way most people would do it and then there's a creative way to do it. Creativity lends to a much more fulfilling life. Why do we have to be just so when we can be better?

I am grateful for her brilliance. Quick thinking has been a Hallmark of our life together. New ideas for making everything better and more livable.

I am grateful for her loving heart. Even when things seem to be just about as unbearable as they could be, she has shown how much she cares.

Thanksgiving

November is a wonder month here is North America! The fall season is brisk with leaves changing and falling. It's also a special month because of the great holiday, Thanksgiving. A holiday from early in our history, the United States has celebrated Thanksgiving since 1789 when President George Washington established the last Thursday in Novemeber as Thanksgiving by presidential proclamation. Tradition and presidential proclamations kept the holiday on the last Thursday of November until 1941. It was then that a United States Congressional declaration officially designated the fourth Thursday of November as the date of the Thanksgiving holiday.

I think this is the greatest of holidays. This year, I am going to do a little something different. For the month of November, I am going to focus on thanks with 30 days of thanksgiving. I think it will help me remain focused on why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Maybe we all should try do something like this a little more often than just this once.