30 November 2010

At Home

I was at the bookstore yesterday and picked up Bill Bryson's new book At Home, a room-by-room narrative of the origins of pretty much everything in the average home.  I've been really looking forward to this one, and although I'm only about 1/2 an inch into it so far, Bryson does not disappoint.
"Houses are amazingly complex repositories.  What I found, to my great surprise, is that whatever happens in the world-- whatever is discovered or created or bitterly fought over-- eventually ends up, in one way or another, in your house.  Wars, famines, the Industrial Revolution, the Enlightenment--they are all there in your sofas and chests of drawers, tucked into the folds of your curtains, in the downy softness of your pillows, in the paint on your walls and the water in your pipes.  So the history of household life isn't just a history of beds and sofas and kitchen stoves, as I had vaguely supposed it would be, but of scurvy and guano and the Eiffel Tower and bedbugs and body-snatching and just about everything else that has ever happened.  Houses aren't refuges from history.  They are where history ends up."
When I resurrected this blog, I said that one of the main things I was hoping to accomplish was to portray the "value in telling the story of the small, everyday moments and interactions that make up the bulk of our existence."  (It feels kind of nice to quote myself.)  It seems that Bryson has beat me to the punch.
Take a commonplace, clean it and polish it, light it so that it produces the same effect of youth and freshness and originality and spontaneity as it did originally, and you have done a poet's job.                                    -Jean Cocteau

29 November 2010

My Life's Soundtrack

All blogs are, at some level, an exercise in megalomania; please forgive this latest lapse.

I was thinking today about my favorite bands at different points in my life, and thought it might be fun (and potentially embarrassing) to put together a complete anthology.

Age 8: Elvis Presley- This is the first I can remember caring enough about music to have a favorite.  We listened to a lot of oldies, particularly on hand-picked mix tapes my mom made for my brother and me.  For some reason that I can't quite recall, I picked "The Pelvis" as my favorite.

Age 10: Weird Al Yankovic- First introduced to me by my cousins.  What self-respecting boy of the 80s didn't love "Eat It" or "Smells Like Nirvana"?!  Bonus points for still being relevant (could that possibly be the right word?) fifteen years later while I was teaching high school and heard my students singing "White and Nerdy".

Age 12: Aerosmith- I think the first CD I ever bought was "Big Ones."  Sang the heck out of "Dream On" at the 8th grade end-of-year karaoke.

Age 14: Garth Brooks- I gone country for a short time, and can still sing every word to every song.

Age 16: Eric Clapton/Tom Petty- I was fortunate enough to see both of these guys in concert during my formative teenage years. At the first concert I saw some guy strip completely naked and thousands of middle-aged yuppies scream "Cocaine!"  At the second I got the only contact high of my life thanks to TP's rendition of "You Don't Know How It Feels" (Let's get to the point, let's roll another joint...)

Age 18: Counting Crows- When asked, these guys are still my favorite band.  Between Adam Duritz and Van Gogh, I'm totally convinced of the whole tortured artist thing.

Age 20: Michael McLean and/or W. Smith- Admittedly, pickings were pretty slim on the mission.

Age 22: Guster- Totally underrated among karate-chopping bongo-based bands.  "Lost and Gone Forever" is definitely in my personal top 10 albums of all-time.

Age 24: U2- I love you too.

Age 26: Tracy Chapman- Seriously.  Not only does she allow me to get in contact with my inner urban black woman, but she also makes great Tetris background music.  Seriously.  The first five or six times I heard Tracy sing, I wasn't sure if I was listening to a man or woman.  Seriously. (This IS getting embarrassing.)

Age 28: Queen- My taste in music has become increasingly eclectic, but if forced to choose a favorite, I would probably have to go with a band who glues me to the stereo every time. Bonus points for being an immensely cover-able, especially by choirs.  "Get on your bikes and ride!"

In honor of the Christmas season, I put together a playlist of my favorites singing Christmas songs.  It made me question either 1) my taste in music or 2) the wisdom in artists recording Christmas songs.  Enjoy (but I recommend skipping the first three songs)!

28 November 2010

A Letter from Scholastic Books- RE:Mockingjay

Scholastic Books 
557 Broadway
New York, NY 10012

Mr. Russell Andrews
Book Critic Extraordinaire
Orem, UT 84097

November 28, 2010

Dear Most Honorable and Esteemed Mr. Andrews:

Please accept our sincerest and most deferential apologies for the doggerel that we tried to pass off as the third installment of Susan Collins’ The Hunger Games series.  We realize the disappointment that you must have felt when the highly anticipated conclusion of Ms. Collins’ trilogy turned out to be the crudest piece of rubbish that we could print and still refer to as a “book”.

Having read the first two novels in the series, you are of course aware of Ms. Collins’ ample talents as an author, despite this latest fiasco.  We too must share in the immense blame; by pressuring her to complete Mockingjay by the lucrative August deadline, we effectively replaced her eyeballs with dollar signs and her brain with a piggy bank.  We regretfully acknowledge that this last book reads like a poorly-scripted Shayamalan movie on 8X fast forward—skipping from scene to scene with reckless abandon but without coherent thought or cogent prose.  Thus a promising series comes to an ignominious end.

As a gesture of concern over this matter, and in an effort to restore your faith in our business, we would like to send you an autographed copy of every Newbery Award-winning novel, first published in 1922.  In cases where authors have died and autographed copies are otherwise unavailable, we will exhume the bodies and guide the skeletal hands in an exact replica of the author’s signature.  We hope this act of contrition may begin to appease your quite understandable wrath.    

With our most penitent regards,

Scholastic Books
Former Book-fair Company of Choice

27 November 2010



In addition to being Black Friday, today also marks the annual celebration of Quit-or-Commit, a holiday observed by a group of my friends.  Every year, on the day after Thanksgiving, each person declares a  personal commitment to either go through with something (a relationship, a job, a habit, etc.) or to quit it altogether.  It's sort of a New Year's Resolution/Lent on steroids.  (Quit-or-Commit was originally founded to commemorate a somewhat ludicrous ultimatum issued by an unwanted suitor.)

This year, I commit to keeping first things first in my MBA program--to make sure that my pursuit of an MBA does not conflict with the reasons for why I went back to school.  (Likely more on this in a later post.)

As a footnote, the Roman poet Ovid apparently also celebrated Quit-or-Commit: "Either do not attempt at all, or go through with it."  I think he stole that quote from Yoda.

26 November 2010

Family, Food, Football, and Facts

Today we celebrate the Pilgrims, a group of trans-Altantic voyagers who carved out a settlement on the American continent nearly 400 years ago.  But did you know that the musket-toting, buckle shoe-wearing party that stepped off the Mayflower was actually an accidental merger of two very different groups of people?

The original plan was that two ships (the Mayflower and the Speedwell) would set sail from England.  The Speedwell would carry a group of radical Separatists who had initially fled England for Amsterdam, which they found a little too unseemly for their Puritanical lifestyle (surprise, surprise).  The Mayflower, on the other hand, held a group of hopeful planters seeking some soil to call their own.  One group sought a free land; the other, free land.

The two groups, dubbed the "Saints" and the "Strangers" (presumably by the Separatists), were not friendly to each other, and probably intended to have nothing to do with one another.  That is, until the Speedwell sprung an irreparable leak and all 102 passengers had to climb aboard the Mayflower (hence the overcrowding).  Two months later, they arrive in Cape Cod, just a wee bit off-course from their intended destination: Northern Virginia.

My favorite tidbit of the Pilgrims story, however, is that after sailing halfway around the world, the Saints and Strangers could have chosen to name their new colony anything they'd like.  After what I'm sure must have been much heated deliberation--and in one of history's least creative moments--they decided to name it the exact same name as the town they'd just sailed from: Plymouth.  If I ever have a chance like that, you can rest assured that I'm not naming my colony New Provo.   

25 November 2010


Last night I dreamed that I was having dinner with Sarah Palin, Al Gore, and Hillary Clinton.  No joke.  We were discussing how they each planned to run for President in 2012.

"Guys," I reasoned with them, "This is a very bad idea."
"But I could be a really good President," Gore argued.
"Yeah, I just need the chance to prove myself," said Hillary. 
Palin chimed in, "And how will we ever know if we don't put it in the hands of the voters?"
"The voters have already made their decision!" I exclaimed.  "If they wanted you, you would be President now!" The three prospective candidates nodded their heads sadly, disappointed but impressed with my logic.

I woke up feeling quite wise. 

(Tonight I hope to dispense career advice to Keanu Reeves, Vince Young, and the writers for Glee.) 

23 November 2010


I'm currently reading a book about a man reading the encyclopedia, who tells the story of a man relating a fable about another man wanting to read an encyclopedia.  (Confused?  That was Inception-esque.)

Anyway, that's not the important part.  The important part is the fable itself:
A king called a meeting of all the wise men in his kingdom, and he said, 'I want you to gather all the world's knowledge together in one place so that my sons can read it and learn.'  The wise men went off, and after a year they came back with twenty-five volumes of knowledge. The king looked at it and said, 'No. It's too long. Make it shorter.'  So the wise men went off for another year and they came back with one single volume.  The king looked at it and said, 'No. Still too long.' So the wise men went off for another year.  When they came back, they gave the king a piece of paper with a single sentence on it: "This too shall pass."
Beautiful. Simply beautiful.

21 November 2010

Purple People

For my birthday Star got tickets to the touring production of "The Color Purple".  For a show dealing with such heavy topics, I was was somewhat skeptical of the banners proclaiming it "Soaring and Joyful!"  I was surprised, then, to come away feeling reaffirmed about the strength of the human spirit.

The singing was incredible.  The staging and costuming was beautiful.  And the finale number was so face-melting good (a term Star has coined for songs that cause goosebumps, spine-tingles, and other physiological reactions out of sheer excellence) that I've included two links to it: 

And because it seems that every blog (mommy blog or no) should link to Oprah at least once:

My favorite part of the whole show, however, was the meaning of the title.  Most people have a hard time describing their brushes with God--we talk in terms of light, or fire, or even of tasting salt-- incomparable experiences so beyond words that we can only approximate with other sensations that defy description. (How do you explain what salt tastes like?)  The color purple is another attempt to explain the inexplicable, as well as an appeal for us to look and be thankful for God's many gifts: "I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it."  Nice thought this Thankgiving-time, I'd say.

20 November 2010

Friday Night's Alright for Fighting

Yesterday was the 6th anniversary of "The Malice in the Palace", "The Throw-down in Motown", the Pacers-Pistons (fans) brawl that was perhaps the worst melee the NBA has ever seen.  No idea what I'm talking about?  Check this out:

To commemorate, I came home last night and played the new NBA Jam game (which is incredible, by the way; same gameplay, better graphics).  I played the Pacers vs. Pistons, and with less than a minute left abruptly turned off the Xbox.  (I thought about next playing Street Fighter, which seemed fitting, but couldn't think of a character who rivals Ron Artest in strangeness.)

19 November 2010

What brings me to the yard?

I love milkshakes.  Love them.  I love spoon shakes and straw shakes.  I love hand-scooped ice cream milkshakes and fast food milkshakes from a mix.  I love huckleberry Shoop shakes and homemade peanut-butter-and-chocolate blender shakes.  I love the freezing stainless-steel “extra” cup from a diner and the “pipe” that comes with a Carl’s Jr. Cap’n Crunch shake.  I even love blend-it-yourself shakes from the gas station.  I LOVE milkshakes.

(Coincidentally, Wikipedia says that the term ‘milkshake’ first referred to “an alcoholic whiskey drink that has been described as a ‘sturdy, healthful eggnog type of drink, with eggs, whiskey, etc., served as a tonic as well as a treat.’”  If I were a drinking man, I’d probably like that kind of milkshake too.)
Last night, for the very first time, I ordered a Neapolitan milkshake.  It had never occurred to me before that when asked, “Chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry?” I could simply answer “Yes, please.”   But after yesterday’s swirly deliciousness, I’m not sure I will ever order anything else.  Highly, highly recommended. 

18 November 2010

In Awe

In my continual quest to find awesome things, I came across an entire list of awesome things.  Everything from 'Intergenerational Dancing" to "Mixing cookie batter with your bare hands" to "Your Eyebrows."  Awesome! 

Warning: This may eat up the next 15-45 minutes of your alloted web-surfing time.  Also, the list of 1000 awesome things currently boasts only 620 awesome things.  Hope you're not disappointed.

17 November 2010

Ballet Class

Every morning I drive to school and park in roughly the same spot—in a strip of spaces directly facing BYU’s dance studios.  Without fail, as I pull into my parking space I glance over and see a troupe of ballerinas going through a… workout? Practice?  Routine? What do you call what ballerinas do?  Whatever it’s called, they seem to mostly stretch and cling to the bar like children just learning how to swim.  A dozen or so ballerinas—unvaryingly clad in black leotards and flat-toed silk slippers—posing in first, second, third position, preparing for some future pas-de-deux.

(As a side note, I think that I am culturally middle-class.  I very much appreciate theatre and music and dance, right up until it gets into the really “high-class” art.  I love musicals, but can’t stomach opera.  I enjoy music –who doesn’t?—but the bulk of my knowledge of classical composition comes from Looney Tunes or Fantasia.  And I enjoy dance performances, but ballet is mostly lost on me.  Maybe what I don’t understand about these high-class art forms is that to my untrained senses they have remained largely unchanged for centuries, while the less sophisticated forms have evolved over the last four hundred years.)

So each day, before heading up to class, I watch about twenty seconds of ballet.  It has become one of those odd routines which has lost its strangeness through sheer repetition.  Do you have any strange routines?

16 November 2010

It's the most sunder-ful time of the year!

I regret to inform you that we are entering the time of year when more people break up than any other period.  Not-so-happy holidays.

I wish I had a clever explanation for this phenomenon, but alas, I don't.  Any theories?

15 November 2010

'Tis a gift to be simple

On my mind constantly lately. Take it for what it's worth.

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
                                Antoine de Saint-Exupery

14 November 2010


You know that point where someone is right on the verge of tears—eyes welling up, lower lip trembling, chin quivering?  That is what the weather has been like all week—desperately trying to hold it together long enough to get somewhere, anywhere else.

I wrote this at church this afternoon.  As I’m posting it tonight, it has started to snow (and likely won’t quit until April).  Sigh…

13 November 2010


While looking for a good read this weekend, I stumbled across Tinkers, Paul Harding’s Pulitzer Prize winner for 2010. (I’m a sucker for books with fancy award seals on their covers.) 

It was brilliant.

Great books generally have memorable opening lines (or maybe it’s just that we remember great books, and the first lines just come along for the ride).  See if you can name these classics by their first sentences:
  • It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...
  • All children, except one, grow up.
  • Call me Ishmael.
  •  It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
  •  All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
  • Marley was dead, to begin with.
  • Who is John Galt? 

Tinkers opening line: “George Washington Carver began to hallucinate eight days before he died.”

Thus begins the story of an ailing octogenarian and the rich life slowly draining from him. It is a story of a man and his father and his father, and of the dual severity of nature and nurture in Calvinist New England at the turn of the century.  The true star of the novel, though, is Harding’s prose. A single sentence, just to give you the feel:       

This is the season—persevering done, woodpile high, north wind up and getting cold, night showing up earlier every day, dark and ice pressing down from the north, down on the raw wood of the cabins, on the rough-cut rafters that sag and sometimes snap from the weight of the dark and the ice, burying families in their sleep, the dark and the ice and sometimes the red in the sky through trees: the heartbreak of a cold sun.

Read it.  All one hundred ninety-one pages.  I’ll even let you borrow it.


I just discovered an incredible new site: Mental Floss's Amazing Fact Generator. Here are a few of the seemingly endless inspiring pieces of trivia:

A Mercurian day is longer than its year.
The Chinese used black pepper to cure cholera, Europeans used it as currency, and Attila the Hun demanded 3,000 pounds of the stuff in exchange for discontinuing his sacking of Rome.
Trees do not grow higher than 130m as it is physically impossible for the water to rise higher.
To make themselves smell pleasant, the ancient Egyptians would place scented cones of fat on their heads, and as it melted, it would dribble down their bodies, and was sort of like a modern-day perfume to them.
Food chemist William A. Mitchell helped invent Tang, Cool Whip and Pop Rocks.
A person from Nigeria is a Nigerian, while a person from Niger is a Nigerien.

Every time I hit the button, a beautiful new fact pops up. And now I can't stop.

11 November 2010

6:25 am

I half-woke to a muffled buzzing sound, or maybe it was a subtle vibration; at that level of sleep one’s senses muddle together into a single amorphous impression of pleasure or pain.  It took four buzz-throbbings for me to realize that I had left my phone on vibrate, and that this was my cue to be rising and shining. 

In a rare moment of early morning lucidity, I was unusually grateful for the snooze button.  I say 'unusually' not because it afforded a momentary delay of wakeful activity (that feeling occurs daily); but because today, for the first time, I realized that I never fully slip back into the cocoon of sleep.  The snooze button carves out an extra five minutes where I am neither conscious nor unconscious, but simply alive.  It is that fleeting period where neither whimsical dreaming nor mundane rationality occupy center stage—where one can contemplate the day—devoid of its cares and concerns—and its infinite possibilities.

Perhaps it’s time to start sleeping with a notebook on the nightstand…