Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Excellence

The question is occasionally asked (such as by Hugh Nibley) where the Mormon excellers are. Where are the Latter-day Saint Nobel winners, the LDS Michaelangelo, the LDS Usain Bolt.....? The concern is then usually expressed that the LDS are too satisfied with kitsch, with mediocrity, etc. The riff then generally abuses some poor popular LDS artist, like Kapp Perry, or Kinkade (who doesn't appear to be LDS but seems to appeal to a lot of members).

I've never enjoyed this motif much. I have a slightly different theory that was well expressed recently by Steve Sailer who was answering a question of Tyler Cowen's: what are the odds that the most talented basketball player is actually playing the sport? Among his response, he writes:
Then there’s the question of whether being a screw-up in most of the rest of your life might be considered a talent. Would Bobby Fischer have been Bobby Fischer if he was good at other things? As an exercise, consider Vladimir Nabokov, who for a number of years was crazy about chess (or at least chess problems). Nabokov had the energy, determination, intelligence, ability to hold many things in his head at once (think of the architecture of Pale Fire), competitive streak, and so forth to be a top chess player. But he had other things to do with his life, such as entomological research and writing great novels. Fischer didn’t.
As I've blogged earlier, the Church puts a lot of emphasis on balance. It has to - living the religion adds a LOT of extra stuff a person's life and if we don't learn how to balance competing demands, we go crazy. And what do Church authorities say? "No other success can compensate for failure in the home" and "The most important work you do will be within the walls of your own home" are some of the better-known quotes. Pres. Hinckley reminded folks that this is not an excuse to short-change your employer, but that the long-run priority of responsibility is 1) family; 2) work; 3) church; 4) self.

To be Bobby Fischer or Michaelangelo or any of a number of other truly outstanding people in their fields requires sacrifices in the other areas of a person's life. With the lack of balance and the excessive focus on self promoted by the modern corporate-artistic structure (ooooh, look at the economist try to sound like a sociologist!), it's little wonder so many turn to self-destructive behaviors. It's also little wonder that people who have achieved some level of balance in their lives and put first things first don't end up spending the 100 hours a week at work that it takes to become top.

Yes, we should seek to excel. Elder L. Tom Perry said to BYU students: "I hope that you do not plan to be just common but that you plan to excel. There is no place in this world for mediocrity; we need to strive for perfection." We also need to have a more balanced, holistic, inclusive definition of what excelling is.

[I haven't run this by Joy, but I can guess her response to the motif would be slightly different: our criticism of the heartfelt, Spirit-inspired work of others can prevent us from feeling His influence in our lives and closes the doors to our own inspiration while we are so busy judging other people.]

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Golden Christmas Moments

We flew to my parents' house in California for Christmas. My brother (Steve) and his wife (Emie) were there with us [Derrill, Joy, Hyrum, Pop, and Grandma Boo] for 10 days, plus my Dad's mom (Grammy) for Christmas Day. The crown of Christmas was Hyrum's experience at church, which I already talked about. Here are a few other golden moments from our Christmas stay.

Joy also really enjoyed her experience at the Christmas program. "I was really happy to be feeling well enough to sing with the choir, and I gave about all I had when we sang the Hallelujah Chorus. So when we got to the last song, Silent Night, it was a great blessing that Dannon Story was singing my descant with me because I pooped out in some places." Pop had taught his choir Joy's descant an earlier year because it's so beautiful. "And Dad thought I did great with the sopranos, and I never get to sing soprano, so that was fun."

The thing I was most looking forward to was taking my sweetheart to the LA temple where I proposed to her 5 years ago [on the very stone in our new title picture] and doing some temple work. When I proposed, they were closed. This year, for some strange reason, they were open. They set up a special sealing session just for us so we could be extra romantic. It was very cuddly. "And Derrill, as a very romantic gesture, took me to eat at the temple cafeteria. This is romantic to me because it reminds me of when I used to serve in the Provo temple and how much I loved being at the temple, even more than for doing service. He knows it's special to me. I feel very grateful that the thing that Derrill wants to do the most when he has time off is go to the temple. I really married a man who cherishes the Lord's house and it makes me cherish him even more."

It was so great to see Grammy. We really missed being with her last Christmas. Seeing Grammy was the primary reason that we wanted to go to CA for Christmas rather than have mom and dad come here. "When I was talking to Grammy around the dinner time on Christmas day, I told her that I thought that our son looks just like Pop, her son. She told me that Derrin, her son, looked exactly like Hyrum when he was Hyrum's age. Then Grammy told me that he would be thrilled to know that. So, before the dinner started and Pop was in the room putting things on the table, Grammy told him how he had looked exactly like Hyrum when he was little. It was really special to me because it felt like such a unifying moment, seeing the generations so similarly and that Grammy his own mother saw it too. Pop and Hyrum are two peas in a pod not just because they look like each other. They are definitely bosom buddies. Even across the miles in Ithaca, Hyrum thinks of his Pop frequently, with wonder, and with urgency."

Speaking of Grammy, she loved Hyrum's toys. It was very fun, the night she got to town, seeing her play with this toy where you knock a ball through a hole with a hammer and the lion plays you music. She was so taken with it, I took this video of it. The best comments, though, were just before and just after the video as she told my parents she wanted Hyrum's toys for Christmas next year.
video
"Another of my special memories was helping out with dinner. Mom had received a blessing counseling her to take it easy in preparing for Christmas for her health and happiness. When I talked to her about Christmas dinner later, I was able to volunteer to do many of the things that she would not be able to do. I made a pie, the potatoes, helped Emilee make a crab cheese ball, and made a relish tray with Emilee. After helping with the dinner I really felt like I had helped the Lord fullfill his promise to mom and it felt good."

Hyrum's big success was eating Belgium chocolate covered cookies and drinking apple juice for the first time during the trip. Yay!

Another golden Hyrum moment was caught on video. Pop was reading him a story he got for Christmas, "The Rain on Kapiti Plain," but he got up and walked off. Watch Hyrum's face VERY carefully when Pop asks him if he wants to sit in his lap. That's the mischievous imp grin - such expressive eyebrows. He played that joke another 6 times, each time to uproarious laughter. Joy says, "I love it when that game works in my favor!"
video
Among Hyrum's favorite presents was a little plastic nativity. He carried Mary around with him everywhere saying, "born." We're not sure whether he thinks that's her name, or he's remembering that Jesus was born. We wondered why he wasn't carrying baby Jesus around, until Steve finally found Him between couch cushions.

Hy also served as a great elf. He picked up presents from the tree, carried them to a favorite adult to ask who the present was for. We'd tell him, then he brought it over to the right recipient. He was gentle with them and wouldn't try opening anything until we said, "Open." Then he could tear into it with increasing delight. He got the hang of it pretty quickly, unlike last year. "I begin to understand the magic of Christmas as I see him learn to do a simple thing as opening a present, that is magic to me."

Emie got a Disney nature video she had really wanted, narrated by James Earl Jones, aka Darth Vader. As we sat around watching it, we cracked many jokes about the animals on it. Emie called out at one point in response, "That's not what Darth Vader said!" Best comment of the night.

I really enjoyed getting a book of classical music favorites that I spent the vacation playing through on the piano. It was so nice to have a piano handy. I could sit down and play most of them on sight, though by far not perfectly. Just well enough to enjoy. "Hyrum would often start clapping when Derrill finished a peice or paused in playing the piano." Reminding everyone else to clap. I was also delighted when Hyrum carried his little xylophone up to the piano and asked me to play with him. Of course, he wanted to play on the piano WITH the xylophone, but it was the first intimation of our future duets and trios together.

The night before we all left to come back to the East, Steve, Emie, Joy, and I sat around and pretended we were adults. That is, instead of getting out a game, we actually talked. Dude. "It was fun. We just talked about anything, more important things, and though I wouldn't mention on here what they were, they were all special. It felt like we were close friends. So nice to be getting to know them."

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sixth Sense: I see religious commentary...

... even when they don't know they're talking about religion.
I mean, what's more likely -- that I have uncovered fundamental flaws in this field that no one in it has ever thought about, or that I need to read a little more? Hint: it's the one that involves less work.Hovering over the picture, the alt tag reads: "I mean, what's more likely -- that I have uncovered fundamental flaws in this field that no one in it has ever thought about, or that I need to read a little more? Hint: it's the one that involves less work."

This reminds me of so many one-sided conversations I have listened in on and tried vainly to head off from people who 'know' the Bible or Book of Mormon is a fraud without having investigated it themselves or who think they've found a contradiction in the scriptures that's been answered since Augustine..... *sigh*

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hyrum's dream come true

Hi there. Hy here.

I had the most magical Christmas Sunday yesterday! I just had to tell you about it. Last week was the Christmas Sunday at our branch and yesterday was the Christmas Sunday at Pop and Grandma Boo's ward. Mom was in charge of the first, Pop in charge of the second.

I liked Mom's: Dad and someone else read me the story of the nativity and the choir sang songs. I wanted to go up and join them, walking back and forth in front of them and helping the conductor when I think he needs it; Mom kept me safe, though, and I rewarded her by being reverent the whole time.

I really liked the music Pop picked. Dad asked me after each song if I liked it. It wasn't really my normal type of music, but after giving it due thought, I would say to him, "'gain."

Then Dad got up to join the choir. What was going on? Dad sat at the piano and started playing my anthem: The Hallelujah Chorus!

I stood up. I was so excited! I conducted a LIVE choir singing my anthem! I was in heaven. It was the most glorious experience ever!

I had lots of people come up to me after the program to congratulate me on my conducting. I had perfect timing over much of it. I reminded everyone of my talented, exuberant Pop who also led the music. Mom and Dad just couldn't get away from the throngs of people saying how talented, cute, adorable, special, musical, chip-off-the-old-block I am. Facebook was atwitter all night with reports. Pop admitted he and Boo had considered announcing there would be a guest conductor for it, but there was no need. Everyone saw me stealing the show.

Proud? Me? I'm just reporting the honest facts. It was a pity Dad and Pop couldn't see me much, but Dad said he really wished he had had permission to use a video camera.

Dad's already mentioned my growing love of the Chorus twice. That's not the half of it. The night he posted about it last, he made an announcement at the dinner table: There will be no more "yeah" in this house! "Yeah" does NOT mean Hallelu-yeah anymore. If I wanted to listen to the heavenly song, I must say "Chorus."

That night, I learned to say "Chor" and by the next day, I had perfected my first two-syllable word: Chorus. I say it every 5 minutes at least. Chorus. Chorus. Chorus. Dad. Chorus! I've listened to the Chorus over 200 times (according to the computer) in the last 10 days. Aunt Emilee put an embargo on it today: anything but the Chorus. I'm very proud of my Dad, who can play it on piano for me any time I want. I also decided Mom and Dad singing it together do a good job, and accepted their unaccompanied version on the plane.

Pictures of this magical Christmas are forthcoming. I'm having so much fun in California!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Italy Random 2

Italy's pizza was remarkably disappointing. A disappointing pizzeria in Murano put us on our guard. We saw many pizza shops, all with very uncheesed, lack of sauce, lack of toppings, lumps of dough. Other than the good one we found in Verona, we had one other good one. Saturday night with DeWayne and Mari we had a big ol' feast with some cheese and jam, lots of sugary treats, and this pizza: half ham, half fries and sausage. The sausage was a lot less spicy than American "Italian" sausage. Joy remembers it being pretty good and we ate it pretty fast. We also played Thurn and Taxis several times.




"Hi there. Hy here, briefly. Italy was one of the first times I climbed into a toy car and moved around in it. I only drive Ferrari.







"On our way back from Venice, I opened my eyes just a moment from my nap and this is what I saw from the water bus.







"My favorite Venice memory, though, was Mom and Dad coming back from their gondola ride. Here we were in the restaurant that put the fear of running out of money during our first week in Dad. He vowed to go out to eat as little as possible after that, but didn't tell anyone. ... If he didn't tell anyone, how do I know? First sons just know these things. The rest of Italy wasn't as expensive, though, so he recovered soon enough. My poor dad."




That'll do, Hy.

Here's another shot of Venice from the bus boat.








Remember that old bridge we found while exploring in the Dolomites? Here's Sammy crawling across it with his dad looking over him.





Later on in the Dolomite National Park, another beautiful waterfall.







The front of Miramare castle. Man, was that place impressive. I may have taken extra shots of the outside to compensate for not having enough of the inside. You can find a couple over at Wikipedia and view Google Image Search but there really aren't many online either. They do a disservice to their own tourism not posting some.






The mysterious albino ostrich. That zoo really specialized in albino livestock.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Random Italy 1

And so with full hearts, we returned to the States. It was a really rough set of flights for Hyrum, who slept a total of half an hour during the almost 24 hours until the last flight into Ithaca from NYC. We had one sad, miserable boy with us. But I finally got him to sleep on that last flight and KEPT him asleep through the airport, into the car, and back home into his bed. Now THAT'S Dada Magic! (Speaking of Hyrum, he is currently sitting mesmerized by Grandma Boo's screensaver of an aquarium with noisy air bubbles and some swimming fish.)

If you want to know more about anything from our trip, you have only to ask and I can put up a lot more. Here, as is my wont, is a random set of pictures from all over the trip - the kind of images that might flash before our eyes as we go to sleep, dreaming of our wonderful once-in-a-lifetime trip three months ago.



Little Anna, the fairy









Cameos displayed in Venice.








St. Mary of the Miracle Church in Venice, another view.



A road through the Dolomites. On the other side on the left is the start of the waterfall trail.







The cafe of Castle Grad, Lake Bled, Slovenia







The Old Man and Lake Bled. From the top of the castle. Go, camera zoom!







At the Salburger Dom, there's this giant golden ball with a mannequin standing on top of it. From here, it looks very real.






A bird pond at the zoo near Verona.

Trieste


We spent our last day in Italy at Trieste. We visited the Grotto Gigante (The big grotto) and Miramare Castle ... both of which had rules forbidding taking pictures. Bummer for a blogger.

You descend (and later ascend) about 500 steps into the grotto, which is beautifully lit. The tour guide stops you at strategic points to play a recorded message in as many languages as your group needs. It's one of those breathtakingly beautiful places that manages it physically as well as emotionally. Should you visit, do remember that it's really cold down there: they close it during winter because it's wet down there and all the steps become covered in ice. Either bring a sweater in summer or else have a 30 pound baby in a backpack to keep you warm. Make sure the baby is well layered.





This shows you the path you travel. You start in the upper left corner, go down the stairs and enter the large cavern. You climb back up on the right and out again in the center-right.




The Miramare Castle was owned by an archduke who was annointed Emperor of Mexico, where he was promptly assassinated. We already commented that this was the most impressive, luxurious, well-furnished, "gee, it might be nice to actually live here" castle we've seen in Germany, Austria, and Italy. The fellow apparently made his wealth in shipping, so there are pineapples carved everywhere. His bedroom and study were designed to resemble his rooms aboard his ship with a portrait of his lovely wife, the princess, above his small bed. The entry hall featured an unusual skylight: it's actually an aquarium with real fish in it. The royal bedrooms above were the most sumptuously appointed in gold and burgundy, gold statues, expensive gifts from the Pope, decorative tables, heraldry from nearby leaders .... very wow. He also had a second entrance crafted so that visiting dignitaries could disembark from the port next to the castle and walk right in. The throne room included 10+ foot tall paintings depicting the royal line (including demonstrating that the princess and the archduke were umpteenth cousins and linked to the same royal line).



We got to take little Anna with us through the castle. She was most interested in finding the baby princess' room, but we never found her quarters. We found Maximillian's room, and his wife's, and the servants' ... but no rooms for kids. It seemed very odd.






On the outside is this strange statue looking down on you. Don't jump, man! It's not worth it!







The Victory Lighthouse was built after WWI in commemoration of their fallen. Gorgeous edifice, really dominating across the harbor from the castle.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Hy at the zoo



Hi there. Hy here.

Sure, Dad told you about the animals we drove past, but we had a much better adventure than that.

Oh yeah, that's my cousin, Sammy. He was with us too and shared my daddy's lap. He's been wondering all these weeks when a picture of him would finally show up on the blog. He and Anna were a lot of fun. But back to the story.










They have this "petting zoo" at the zoo. We passed by a giant tortoise and some other animals I didn't care about too much to get there. At the petting zoo, I found exactly what I most wanted:







ROCKS!

Oh, what a wonderful collection of gravel.

And Mom and Dad let me play with all of it I wanted.




Then suddenly, I was attacked! Mom put me on her lap and opened a granola bar. These furry creatures called "goats" swarmed all over me. They tickled.







Then I started exploring the goats. I liked this one the best because it stayed right there. I played with its mouse and its head and was very excited.






This is me petting the goats.

I had a lot of fun.







Oh yeah, Dad and Sammy had a lot of fun too with the hippo statue on the way in. Dad tried to get a picture of me in the hippo's mouth. I didn't think it was very funny.









Hyrum Watson, adventurer.

Crying over spilled milk

When Joy was pumping milk for Hyrum, the process was long and took a lot out of her physically and emotionally. When even a drop of precious Mommymilk spilled, it was a traumatic experience. We learned a whole new side of the old saying "Don't cry over spilled milk."

I used to think it meant not crying over piddling things - what's a little milk? When milk is your child's lifeblood and comes at great cost to your beloved, milk is much more valuable. To a dairy farmer, milk might be your livelihood and the ability to feed your family and keep them warm. Milk is important!

But what is done is done. Crying won't change that fact. You just take your licks and move on.

We've had a lot of licks lately!

I was cleaning dishes 10ish days ago when a glass shattered into my pinky finger. I'm still getting all the infection out of it. It'll leave a scar.

I was putting in the rest of the storm windows Friday morning and put one on the other side of the baby gate. I stepped over the gate and put a 6 inch scrape in my leg on the storm window that bled much of the day. Though it's hurt for most of the last 3 days, at least I'm not limping.

Joy got a second degree burn on her elbow last night while making cookies for home and visiting teachees.

Joy has a cold sore.

We're all either getting rid of colds or trying to avoid them. This implies that I'm behind on my sleep and have been aching all over my body most of the last few days.

Hyrum has a terrible dieaper rash and doesn't want to sit anywhere. We think he's also getting ready for a growth spurt because he's been irritable as anything and not sleeping as well as usual (aka 8 hours isntead of 11).

Then today at church, we returned to the spilled milk. I got out of the car and spilled a cup of milk on my suit and the car ... just like happened last week ... TWICE ... when getting out of the car and when Hy dumped a cup on me and my seat while perched on my shoulders. Another cup fell from the pew when Joy moved something else and it burst open, so I ran to bathroom to get paper to wipe it up during the sacrament itself. We no sooner got home, but the third sippee cup of milk we brought for Hyrum burst open and spilled over the floor and Joy.

Oh, and then I dropped my lunch - chicken parmesan - on the floor next to the gargbage can.

And no, it doesn't help that the pioneers had it worse. No use crying over any of it, though. Just keep moving. "Clean it up. See if you can do better next time" Joy adds sagely. "Laugh when you write it down on your blog." Now I'm off to cook our stir fry.... Pray for it. Gravity is ag'in us.

I Created a Monster

In one day, Hyrum insisted on listening to the Hallelujah Chorus more than 50 times. We need a better system.

The one we've tried this weekend goes like this:

Hyrum comes up and says, "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!" This is how he asks for the chorus.

We play it.

He says, "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!" again. We say, "No, it's Mommy's turn."

Mom gets to pick a song. Then Dad gets to pick a song if he's home. Having now patiently waited for two songs to pass, he sometimes forgets to ask for his again, so we get through 2-3 more songs before he comes up to ask for "Yeah" again and restart the process. Sometimes, he'll even like the song we picked and ask for it "'Gain! 'gain! 'gain!" in which case we listen to it a-gain, that was his turn and we bypass the Chorus.

Occasionally we remind him, asking, "Is it your turn?" and he says "Tu'n." By the time we got to the evening yesterday, though, we were just as glad that we had to help him get in his dinner chair - that means no music during dinner. Imagine, Derrill wanting no music at dinner!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

7 Random Pictures

Sleepless night, so here are some random shots from the archives:


This was the first rose I gave Joy. We were getting together for our second date to watch General Conference and I was preparing to ask if we could revisit her earlier suggestion that we be bf/gf.

She said yes.

I have no idea what they talked about that conference. And I'm sitting here with a big, stupid grin on my face. Thank you, Love.




My birthday last year was at Chuck E. Cheese's. Hyrum had not yet learned to fear all foods and was fascinated by Joy's orange soda. Never drank any, but boy he wanted to hold it.









Lifetime Achievement Awards: Too little, too late? Discuss.

















Like stepping over baby gates when you just put a storm window behind it. Oooh, that hurt! It stung most of the day. It's pretty ugly looking. I put a pic on Facebook about it. We'll see if it warrants a blog post also.










Early one July B.H. (Before Hyrum) we traveled to Lake Placid to see the horse jumping competitions. We loved it. Joy is planning on using her birthday money to pay for her first horse riding lessons.











Sadly, Chris didn't actually discover himself. He discovered the 70s instead. Thankfully, that just means we get to be retro-Columbus every 30 years. Bell-bottom cargo ships, anyone?










*singing*
When I first came to this land [8 years ago]
I was not a wealthy man
So I got myself a cat
And I did what I could

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Come Thou Fount for Hy

This is just a sneaky way to "download" the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing so that Mama can play it for Hyrum as often as he wants.



I love you, Joy.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Three thoughts on humility from the bathtub

1. I had often heard, particularly from Pres. Boyd K. Packer, that being a father would teach me a lot about God. (e.g. "Much of what I know that really matters I have learned from being a father" and "being a father of a family gives you opportunities to learn to govern with love and patience.") I had imagined that as a father, I would feel for Hyrum what God feels for me, and so come to find Him in me more.

That was not quite right. I've found more and more that what I learn about God comes from finding Hy in myself and realizing how God sees me. In many ways, I'm still an infant and a toddler (Is that Hyrum in another 7 months on the right?). I worry what I'll find out about myself when Hy is a teenager.

2. Hyrum asks for many things. He will ask for many more as time goes on. We want him to ask us, and we have invested a lot of time in teaching him how to ask. It's only beginning. No matter how accommodating we try to be to his requests, though, we end up saying "no" or "later" or substituting something else we know he needs more and try to get him interested in it as well.

God spends a lot of time trying to teach us to come to Him for help and to ask for what we want. He really wants us to ask. What we ask for isn't always feasible, "expedient" (ie - not a good time), or good for us. So He says "no" or "later" or tries to get us interested in something else.

Hyrum tops a lot of us in how he responds to such treatment. Hyrum lets us know he is disappointed in our choices, but really doesn't throw fits very often. He doesn't try to get even with us; he doesn't try to make us miserable. He submits (to me anyway) tolerably well most of the time.

So many of us respond by getting angry at God. 'This was really, really important to me and God didn't do what I wanted, so I'm going to stop going to church or stop saying my prayers or do something else to get back at Him."

So many of us respond by what would be delusionary if Hyrum did it: Hy has never said, "Mom and Dad didn't give me my truck when I asked for it, so they don't exist."

It takes humility to see somthing in the world that we think isn't right - that our definition of a just, merciful God wouldn't allow - and to respond, "I guess I don't understand God as well as I thought. Lord, help my unbelief." They are opportunities to know Him better.

3. That in turn got me thinking about Mosiah 3:19, which says that we, as fallen or "natural" men and women, are enemies to God unless we become as a child. The first, dare I say natural, reaction is to say "say, what?" Then we draw an invisible semantic point that being childlike is not the same thing as being childish, the one being equated with everything good about children and the other all the negatives.

Hyrum doesn't know the difference, though. He's just a child: both childlike and childish. ... and so am I. And with that thought, I saw two new possibilities:

3.1. God looks at the good and the bad and chooses to mention and bring to our notice the good. My confidence increased that He sees us the same and tries to bring out that good in us. That was how Pres. Hinckley spoke about the youth all the time and is how Pres. Monson speaks of them now. Emphasizing the good brings it out and overpowers the bad.

3.2. The good that God mentions being in children is that they are humble. Specifically, the natural man must yield, and become as a child: "submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father." Maybe that's the most important good. If you've got that - if you're willing to submit to anything God does with/to/for/at you - He can take care of the rest. And if I can't learn to submit the way Hyrum does to me, there's precious little that can be done with me, no matter what other skills I have.