Saturday, August 30, 2008

O' I Believe In Yesterday . . .

This one's just for fun.

I was just going through some old stuff on my computer and I came across this picture from Ukraine. The 12 year old boy on the left was me just 3 and a half short years ago (I know that's difficult to reconcile now that I'm in my late 40s). The woman on the right is Lidia, someone who was absolutely crazy . . . which has everything to do with why I have missed her every day for almost 3 and a half years. Lidia did our laundry for us and whenever we went to visit her and her son, she chased us around the apartment to try to give us hugs and fought with us incessantly over every little thing we said. Of course, as is always the case in these types of situations, when we got to church around the rest of the members she was COMPLETELY normal and showed absolutely no signs of mental instability. This made me come to the conclusion that Lidia was not crazy but rather acted crazy; the difference being that a truly crazy person can't control the madness.

Despite the craziness, Lidia was one of the sweetest, humblest and most genuine people I've ever met. And she will most definitely be one of the first people I hang out with in heaven:)

On a side note, I would like to point out how dirty my pants look in this picture. You can clearly see the outline of my wallet. The truth is, I know they were a lot dirtier than they looked. I remember one time when my companion and I discovered we could write our names on our pants with our fingernails (that sounds so much worse to me now than it seemed at the time). Also, I still wear that belt. The pants are gone, however. And I'm pretty sure that tie is buried in some missionary's apartment thousands of miles away. Hopefully the pants were burned.

Gosh I miss Ukraine~

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Old Life

It's been 3 years ago last week that I got back into the states from Ukraine. It's hard to believe that that much time has gone by but when I think about being there again and seeing the people I knew and having some of the same experiences I had, it seems much much longer than 3 years.

I guess this anniversary is only contributing to what seems to be my bad case of brain marinated in nostalgia lately as I've thought a lot, especially in the last few days, about times I really miss. This is also common for me as I prepare to embark on new adventures. I just finished a three day law school orientation which is intended to prepare first year students for our classes which start on Monday morning. I've also moved (I'm so independent now!) and I'm just trying to get settled into a sort-of-new life.

The nostalgia of late has revolved around a time that I really haven't thought too much about over the past two or three years partly because so much has happened since this time that I have enough to occupy my brain but probably also because it can be difficult to separate the good memories from the really bad ones and so sometimes I just prefer not to think about any of them.

This time was my high school years in which I probably underwent my biggest changes, made my closest friends, and experienced the widest range of emotions on such a regular basis. Most of this was all just indicative of the age but much of it was also pretty unique to me and my little group of friends that was more like a family. We were all involved in a cross country and track-and-field program at a high school that was known for distance running thanks to a high-powered, incredibly successful nationally known coach who made it his life to ensure success for the team. What resulted were four years of year-round severely intense two-a-day practices (even on holidays in many case--like Thanksgiving). During school our morning practice started at 5:00AM. The teams (both boys and girls practiced together and were inseparable) got ready for the day at school, ate breakfast together in the coach's classroom while talking about training and results, went to classes and lunch (we often took classes all together as much as possible), started practice again immediately after school, and then several hours later made it home where we often met together again to spend the little time we had finishing our homework before turning in early so as not to compromise our strictly-regimented work-out schedule which would begin again at 5:00AM the next day. Summers were tougher in a lot of ways. We had mileage goals and extremely grilling workouts as a team, some running over 800 miles in a three month period all across the mountains and camp grounds of Utah. We traveled together, raced together, shared some bad memories together, competed against each other, dated each other, worked part-time jobs together, and even in some cases lived together when families moved and athletes needed places to stay in the area.

At such a volatile time in a person's life, the competition and politicking really wore on most of us. And for the most part we really loved it.Our group of friends was large but the closest group to me during that four years ended up being about 8 or 10 people deep. There was so much that went on at that time that even now sounds emotionally draining to me. I've never known a group of people to put so much pressure on themselves, often to the point of making themselves very sick, and yet constantly put themselves down for not being nearly good enough. I certainly had this problem and unfortunately some of those friends still suffer from the negative side-effects of that sort of mentality. The competition and constant pressure from competing on a national level and feeling like generations of athlete's performances from the successful years past eyed down on each of us, seemed a bit too much to bare at times and I watched myself and my friends hit breaking points and react in various ways over those years.

Some of these friends I've lost contact with despite my continued attempts. Some I still see regularly. Each of them will always be categorized in my mind as some of my closest friends with whom I shared such a huge part of my life and who, do this day, I feel are the people who usually understand me best.

I think one of the biggest purposes of life is to learn to get to know and love people. Otherwise there wouldn't be much of a point in putting us all down here together. And yet ironically it seems that most of life consists of saying goodbye to people we've just realized we really got to know well because often by the time you realize what a great friend you have, that friend is gone.

Maybe the biggest thing we can gain from nostalgia is appreciation--appreciation for what we have now that, if current trends continue, we'll later look back nostalgically on. Nostalgia for the friendships we have that are too conveniently accessible now to fully appreciate; nostalgia for the time when the adorable kids in our lives are sometimes too energetic to really see how sweet and cute they are; nostalgia for a time when we still felt young enough to ride a bike even though some days we preferred to stay in and do things we'll get sick of doing when we're too old to ride a bike. And maybe next to appreciation we can also gain a sense of urgency from that nostalgia--urgency to create as many experiences that we'll later be able to look back on with heart-ache and joy which together somehow make us really miss and cherish what we had because, although difficult to handle at times, those experiences have made up the parts of us that we like about ourselves~

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Scandal

Well I've completed day 2 of a 3-day-long BYU law school orientation (emphasis on the "long"). It's been pretty interesting so far and by far the best part of the experience is getting to meet so many new people and already feel the anticipated camaraderie that has presented itself as genuine niceness thus far. The law orientation adventure has been informative and mostly uneventful other than my all time best performance in today's mad-dash to get to the few remaining used books before they were all sold for a tenth of the price their new counterparts go for in the book store across the street. I was 25th in line and I managed to secure all of my books as well as the books for two other students who I tag-teamed with to find books for specific classes while they rummaged through the piles for our other classes. I didn't even have to run; I just walked in authoritatively and calmly claimed my prizes. I still don't know how it all worked out but I'm ecstatic that it saved us hundreds of dollars.

But the real reason I'm writing tonight is because of this evening's adventure. All new students were assigned in groups of 8 or 10 to go to professors' homes tonight for an intimate chat and refreshments: another ploy to get us to mingle, about which I have no complaints. I did, however, worry greatly about attending said event as I had not met a single person in my specific group and the instructions specifically stated that "you and a guest" are to come. I'm no expert but two days of law school orientation is enough for me to realize that that "guest" meant "spouse" as I'm quite sure I'm the only person in the class who isn't married and raising four or five kids. Realistically, (I know everyone gets a bit skeptical when I use that word) we were told that just over half of the class is married, but unless they are counting me as 50 people, I don't understand how on earth it isn't more like 85%.

So understandably I didn't want to show up to the small gathering with strangers and their wives completely alone. This is partly due to my shaken confidence this week which is a result of two hair-cuts at two different places within 30 hours of each other (another dramatic story for another dramatic day; suffice it to say, my hair is tragically MUCH shorter today than it was on Monday morning). In order to rectify the situation I asked my very good friend Alyssa to come with me and pose as my wife (we've often considered getting married purely out of convenience so this was just a trial). She graciously agreed to come thinking that I was probably exaggerating (imagine that) and that there would be plenty of other single people there. Well she was wrong and we knew it right when we got there and saw each person sitting next to their spouse in a circle of chairs while they talked about how to get through law school as a married couple (we did find out later that one girl in the back was also single; she must be the other one in the class).

Of course the group assumed that Alyssa and I were married (although we told noone this) and we got some great marriage advise directly from the professor who recommended that Alyssa and I take some class together. This was all after she and I realized that we missed our chance to set the record straight when we thought we heard someone ask if everyone there was married when we were disruptively mumbling back and forth about the girl who started breast-feeding right next to me in front of the entire group despite not knowing anyone there other than her husband and regardless of the fact that we were sitting in a circle fully exposed to each individual member of the group. Anyway, we weren't sure if that question had been asked and we thought it would be a bit awkward to say that we weren't married if that wasn't what they were talking about in the first place so the lies continued until we sat at a table 10 minutes later with one of the couples who asked us where we lived. I said that I lived in Provo and Alyssa in Springville which finally required the clarification that we were not married. Or engaged. Or thinking about getting married (we thought it was odd that anyone would ask that after we already told them we were not engaged. What if that was a touchy subject?) Anyway, apparently it was a bigger deal to this couple than it was to us that the whole group was functioning under the false pretense that Alyssa and I were building a life together because five minutes later it was announced to the professor that we were a "scandal" which I thought was a rather harsh and interesting choice of nouns but hey, I'm always looking to be a part of a good scandal. For this I officially award law student X the tellin' like it is award. Then the professor apologized profusely for recommending that Alyssa and I take a class together when we weren't even married which we assured him was no problem as we were really excited by the idea regardless of our marital status as it would be a fun way for us to sit on the back row together and be disruptive to an entire graduate class two or three times a week.

Despite the drama and looks of shock on the faces when our true selves were revealed, the evening wasn't so bad. Everyone we met was extremely nice and friendly and I can't wait to get to know them better. . . all except for the breast-feeding girl who didn't offer her milk to anyone else even though it was really hot and everyone was very thirsty.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Investor Vs. Depositor

I've been meaning to compose this post for a few months now in attempts to answer a some questions which I have been frequently asked this year by friends, family and many people I am in contact with through my job. For the past three years I have worked for a large national bank--one that I really like. You could say it's sort of a family thing; my oldest sister has worked for the same bank for a decade and my brother-in-law has also been affiliated with the company for several years. It's been a great experience for us all . . . until lately:) I say "until lately" because it has been due to recent turns in the economy, many of which are the result of terrible decisions made by the very companies (banks) that are now suffering, that have made work sort of a different experience this year. Because of all the hype and constant rumors, some perpetuated by the media which we've all sort of given more credence to than our own individual investigations and common sense, there has been an overboard panic and paranoia which is not entirely rational or justified. I am in no way a banking expert but I do know a thing or two and I hope to answer some of the most frequently asked questions today that I have been answering day-in day-out for months now.

Many of you are probably not fully aware of the paranoia I'm talking about. Those of us who are inside banks every day get front row seats to some of the madness as dozens of people (mainly the elderly for very justified and understandable reasons) storm the teller lines to quickly withdraw all of their funds "because I've seen the stock market today and you're going to fail any minute!!!" Please let me explain why this is COMPLETELY irrational:

1. Does a dip in the stock of a bank indicate risk for its customers?

Well, about as much risk as getting hit by lightening by going outside. Everything we do in life has some associated risk; depositing money in an FDIC insured banking institution brings no extra risk to anyone's financial security regardless of stock prices. Some of you just screamed "well why did the banks fail when the stock market dropped in the Great Depression?!" Well the government has imposed strict insurance regulations since that event in order to prevent a similar situation. As long as your money is FDIC insured, it does not matter how far a stock drops; you are just as safe with your money there as you are anywhere else. YOU ARE NOT AN INVESTOR; YOU ARE A DEPOSITOR. SO STOP WORRYING ABOUT THE STOCK. This is a simple principle that needs understanding. When someone pulls their money out of a bank because of a drop in stock price, the only thing it does is make the stock more shaky; it does not secure their money any more than if they had just left it in posession of the bank.

2. How much of my money can be FDIC insured and how do I know if mine is?

FDIC insurance has many rules that can seem a bit complicated but very simply put, typically each individual may have up to $100,000 FDIC insured at each banking institution with which they have a relationship. So if Suzy Q and Luke Skywalker have one joint money market account at Gringott's, they could have up to $200,000 in that account and still be completely insured. If they added their three children to the account who don't have any further relationship with Gringott's, their money would be insured up to $500,000 (100k per individual). You can find out if your money is FDIC insured by simply asking your bank. FDIC stickers are also placed all over branches.

3. But I don't want my money to be in a bank that fails regardless of insurance. I don't know how long it takes for the government to give me my money.

The United States government has no interest in doing anything that is going to create any more panic than already occurs when a bank falls. When the California based Indy Mac bank fell a month or two ago, the fed seized the bank on a Friday evening, worked furiously over the weekend, and opened the doors of the branches on Monday morning running business as usual. This was done with the intention of the FDIC running the operations of the bank until its assets were dealt with and the deposits were adopted by other banking institutions. The transition is smooth and relatively risk-free. I say "relatively" because of our next question:

4. Well, either way, wouldn't I be safer to just keep my money in cash under my mattress?

No. And slap yourself on the side of the head for asking that without thinking through it. The only reason you would want to keep all of your money in cash is because you don't believe the government is stable enough to insure your money when a bank fails. Well, if you don't think the government will last, I hope you don't think your dollar will be worth anything whether it's in the bank or in your pocket. I've also had some people recently decide to move their money despite the FDIC insurance because they didn't believe the government was going to make it, so they were putting funds into another bank whose stock seemed more stable. Well I don't know what bank you think will out-survive the government AND still make your dollar worth something but I think you're over-thinking it. I do think it's a great idea to keep some cash at home for emergency situations--especially local emergencies when banks may become temporarily inaccessible, but there is no sense in keeping your entire life savings under your mattress.

5. Should I just invest in gold? Gold will always be stable.

My personal opinion on this is that if you really want to "invest" then find something that will actually make you money; like a mutual fund. If you're buying gold just to keep your money secure, well the principle of the worth of gold is the same as the worth of the dollar: there is no intrinsic value in gold. The only think that will always have consistent value to mankind is food and shelter. Seems senseless to me to buy gold to secure or grow your money; but there are much worse things you could do.

In conclusion, I don't really believe we are going to see massive failings of national banks but rather, at worst we'll probably see a few more mergers and lay-offs but nothing that will affect a depositor's money as long as they have taken the necessary precautions. I'm a bit of an optimist but I think I'm also a realist. I'm a banker who is leaving his money alone and taking advantage of some of the great promotional interest rates in savings, money markets, and CD accounts that banks are advertising to try to retain some of the deposits that help the banks continue to function. If you have any other questions feel free to ask in the comments and I'll try to either answer or find the answer. Again, I'm no expert but I hope some of this info has been useful!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bernard's Last Ride

It's been a pretty exciting day at work so far. A pretty exciting one indeed.

Just when I thought it was going to be an ordinary day, cloudless and plain, up walked a most extraordinary creature. Smaller than my thumbnail, Bernard (known by those of us who have grown to love him) is green as a rain forest all over from his head to his feet except for one tiny spot on his back-end which is purple. Bernard, though beautiful and stunningly quiet, seemed like an ordinary bug for the first 30 minutes or so as I went about finding a cage for him (my pen holder) and some grass to eat (I assume he eats grass mostly because that's what color he is).

Before too long I learned that Bernard is quite the climber, scaling up the walls of his cage as you can see from the aerial shot looking down into his container. This prompted the piece of paper which I placed over the top. 3 minutes later I looked back at the cage and Bernard sat on top of the paper suspiciously eyeing me as if to say "how dare you?"

But all I cared about was Bernard's protection and safety. So I gently lowered him back into his cage and replaced the paper with a heavy envelope which I then anchored down with two bic pens. It wasn't 20 minutes later that I looked over at Bernard and was utterly shocked to see him standing on top of the envelope exactly between the two pens, again staring at me with his mysterious beady eyes.

I then had to take a lunch break and asked my boss (faithful blog readers know him as Meryl) to watch Bernard for me. The bottom picture is Meryl completely ignoring me at his desk when I was trying to introduce the two. Just as I started to walk away Meryl informed me that Bernard would be dead by the end of the hour. But I knew a little something about Bernard's perseverance and was quite confident that he could withstand the blows of Meryl even on his worst day.

I was correct; Bernard was not dead by the end of the hour but was nestled down comfortably in the grass at the bottom of his cage. Over the course of the next hour, however, Bernard became quite irritable, climbing all over the place seconds after I put him back into his cage. I loved that little bug so much but he seemed determined to undermine my authority in any way he could.

Just when I thought I had all of Bernard's tricks figured out, he did the unthinkable. He opened up his back and spread out long wings and VERY quickly flew across the room, slamming hard against the closed window. Yup. That's right. Bernard, though on initial inspection didn't seem to have any place on his body for the 12 inch wings that spread out on either side in one of his final moments of sheer panic, could fly.

I cautiously approached Bernard and looked down on him. He looked up at me with a hatred in his eyes which were narrow and dark but despite the hate they seemed to acknowledge that there was little he could do. His eyes drifted until they met Meryl, sitting far away oblivious to the situation, passing the same hate he clearly had for me to him as though that hate was all they had left in them. I knew that the hate that emanated from this bug was far from anything human. His eyes contained a darkness that was so far removed from anything that I had ever learned to be the attributes of purity and peace that it was painful for me to be around him for long. An evil existed there; some sort of satanic influence had penetrated his life and as I looked at him for that brief moment, I felt as though I could do anything but understand the creature that stood before me. And he stared a few seconds longer, sucking the life out of the cool crisp air, until he turned quickly and hauntingly strolled across the tiled floor, back the direction we had come. I watched him go, my heart wincing each time he glanced back at me until he disappeared into the crowd.

But Bernard was really beginning to piss me off. So I found him and squashed him.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Journey Into The Whirlwind

For a couple of years now I have frequently recommended a book to anyone who would listen to me. To this day I'm quite sure that nobody I've recommended this book to has actually read it (I cry myself to sleep because of this) so on my blog today I will make one more attempt.

Journey into the Whirlwind is far and away one of the most captivating books I've ever read; it really has changed the way I view a lot of things and gives a really good sense of what Communism and dictatorships can do to society.

Eugenia Ginzburg (or Yevgenia) was born in Russia in 1906 and was a first hand witness to the Bolshevik revolution and birth of the Soviet Union. As an adult she became a writer and journalist and a staunch supporter of the Soviet Communist Party and avid defender of its leaders (Lenin, Stalin, etc.). During the course of the Soviet Union, but most severely in the 1930s, the country began to experience something very similar, yet much more harsh in nature, to what the US saw in the 1950s with the Red Scare when hundreds of people were blacklisted and interrogated for accusations of communist leanings. But in Soviet Russia the accusations were concerning betrayal of the communist party or, for simplicity, capitalist leanings. Yevgenia, although a consistent communist, was accused in 1937 and was promptly torn from her husband and children to spend many many years in brutal prisons under solitary confinement throughout Russia and labor camps in the coldest areas of Siberia. She also had to make the 2+ week trek across Russia to Vladivostok crammed in a horrible train car with dozens of other sick and depressed prisoners. When Yevgenia was released after Stalin's death in the mid-1950s, she secretly wrote this book which was then smuggled abroad so it could be published. The book is a fascinating detailed account of her experiences from the time she was torn from her family, never to see or hear from them again, through all of the pain she endured because of false accusations. She explains how she survived and how she and the other prisoners worked together to save one another's lives. One of the most interesting aspects of her account is being able to see how she was able to support and help uplift the other prisoners she had contact with.

I could not put this book down after I got about 30 pages into it. It is a really shocking thing to read. It is a sad book but I generally wouldn't call it depressing because Yevgenia is really a positive person and it's fascinating to see how she coped with everything and still maintained an optimistic outlook despite living through hell.

On a side note, there is another great book I read a couple of years ago that also explores the horrors of a corrupt communist government. It's called Red China Blues and it is about a Canadian woman who went to China in the 1970s to participate in and support the communists' Cultural Revolution. When she got there she was completely crushed and surprised to find a very oppressed and violent situation. The author wrote her experiences in this book later on. This book is a bit more depressing than Journey into the Whirlwind but has a lot of similarities in terms of exploring how communism ruins lives.

By the way, you can sometimes find Journey into the Whirlwind split into two parts so if you do, make sure to start with part I.

So please give it a try. And I would love to hear any feedback!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

6 Facts

I'm not going to waste several paragraphs trying to validate my reasons for participating in this. I'm a sucker for tagging. Although I have already decided to be too lazy to go through and individually tag people. I therefore, by way of default, tag everyone.


1. You link back to the person who tagged you
2. Post these rules on your blog
3. Share six unimportant things about yourself
4. Tag six random people at the end of your entry
5. Let the tagged people know by leaving a comment on their blogs
6. Enjoy the results!

Six things

1- I once found out after months of lies that my freshman roommate regularly watched "Murder She Wrote" by himself when I wasn't home despite making fun of it regularly when I was around. I walked in on it one day and in his panic he tried to change the channel and fumbled the remote out of his hands until it went crashing onto the floor. I felt so betrayed. On a side note, I later watched an episode with him and kind of liked it. But don't tell anyone.

2- I dreamed about John McCain all night last night. I was trying to get him to write a letter of recommendation for me for the first half of the dream and then for the second half I was calling all of my friends to tell them that I felt I had been called to defend John McCain. Jacob told me to rethink it.

3- I was the only person at my work that didn't show up 30 minutes late today.

4- One time last fall I had the worst anxiety attack I've ever had. I was in the basement of the BYU library at about 11:30 at night (I had been there since 8:00AM and it had been a really stressful week for me). I got up and walked as fast as I could through all the isles of the abandoned government section barefoot and bent three pens in half for about 10 minutes with my heart-rate at violent levels. My legs hurt for several days after that.

5- When I ran the Park City marathon in 2003 I stopped at mile 19 to urinate blood.

6- One of my biggest pet-peeves is when people move to Utah and then complain about it. If you don't like it here, LEAVE!!!!! I don't understand how people can be so rude. I would never move to another state or country and then complain to all the local residents about the place.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Dead Bird Massacre Part II

Trust me. I didn't know there would be a part II either but my parents' backyard seems determined to be a toxic wasteland of death or some sort of bird graveyard. I really don't understand why this keeps happening here. I've always thought of my parents' yard as a birds' paradise: trees everywhere surrounding the immaculately clean bird feeders. Why don't the birds come here to live and then go three houses down to die where the neighbors seem absolutely determined to kill their grass this summer by taking the "Slow the flow save H2O" slogan a bit too seriously.

But I discovered the continuing trend of days-old-dead-birds this morning when I walked out into my parents' backyard and came tragically close to kissing a rotting dead bird lying face up, its beak opened wide, when I bent down to pick something up inches away from its body. I suddenly had flashbacks to the Dead Bird Massacre of July 26th (although today's specimen looked much worse) and I quickly fled into the house. I use the word "fled" because that's the word they always use in the scriptures when groups of people get freaked out and run for their lives.

I didn't think about it again until tonight when my mom came rushing through the back door, almost inaudibly ranting about some dead bird "with slugs coming out of its mouth!" (Cathie McCann: tellin' like it is) asking me to go out and get it. I must admit she handled the experience better than I did on July 26th which may have something to do with her experience with such situations; her brothers frequently put coiled rattlesnakes in the refrigerator growing up and I'm pretty sure she also had ring worm at some point when she was five although that may have been a made up story to get me to take a bath one night when I was seven.

Anyway, I told mom about July 26th and said as forcefully as I could that I took care of the last one and I was not willing to take the bullet again for these people. She laughed and 10 minutes later my dad walked outside with a thin garbage bag pulled over his bare hand (he had at least 10 fewer tools with loooooong sticks than I used to dispose of the previous bird) muttering something under his breath that was probably a curse to the heavens for only giving him one son and then making that son a pansy. On a side note I stopped feeling guilty for this about 8 years ago when I realized that Micalyne was the son he never had when she almost beat me in an arm-wrestle despite being my little sister, 2 years younger and about 70 pounds lighter.

But gone are the days when children could safely run barefoot through the grass without worrying about a decaying beak slicing their toe open.

And yes, I am in my mid-20s, and I do still live with my parents.