I write this post with a little of a heavy heart. Recounting what happened this summer to a former friend, I realized that this summer there has been my car accident, two friend’s parents died, two friends went through surgery (one brain surgery), I found out that my Mom’s best friend is dying, and that my family has bigger issues than I realized.

Last year, both schools acted like I was a traitor for not being “only at one school” when THEY were the ones that set up the joint program in the first place. It was like siblings fighting over toys. Now, I am no longer part of a joint program, but still doing two Master’s degrees at the same time. My present degrees dovetail better than my previous degrees did, and where scheduling may not fit with one, I then get material in the other. I feel like I am pulling up a zipper and whatever this clothing item is fits nicely.

I am no longer being split apart. It is harder in some aspects because neither school naturally communicates with the other, but I finally got over that at the end of last year and decided that if I was going to do this, I had to keep up and do it on my own. I work as hard as I can with my advisors, but in the end these degrees depend upon my coursework and not on anyone else’s work, ambition, or similar things.

Along with this is the need for a job. I had one job, and then another opportunity presented itself. That opportunity evaporated, and although I may be able to get the old job back, the commuting costs versus the pay and hours did not come together well. I need something else.

School feels steady. I am only starting the semester, but along with that I feel like there is a genuinely secure feel even though nothing is truly set up. Why am I so calm? Why have I been pretty calm through all of the employment shifts and changes? The only thing that really shook me up was the family trouble, and somehow that has to work out. I think that I am extremely lucky that it is the beginning of the semester, and I need and am able to get something together instead of feeling like I am only ending up somewhere.

Despite or because of all of the insanity of the summertime, I feel surprisingly calm. Not exactly happy, but somehow dealing. Not neutral, exactly, just… to quote from the Bible, “I know in whom I have trusted.” (gentle paraphrasing), so I’m not freaking out quite so badly as is customary in a dead economy when nothing really makes that much sense. Pressing forward even when there isn’t time to process life. I guess it’s called growing up.

Best to all,



Something New

Because I can, I started another blog in addition to this one. This one deals now more with my musings on politics, religion, and then professional family history, personal family history, and whatever else comes to mind. The other blog is strictly about food, cooking, etc. I can’t get away with writing without something to do with family history in the process, so there are some family stories in there, also. If it goes with the food or explains the results or why we did what we did when we did it, there you have it. Call it a memorial to my Mom. There were some passions that she was more-able to develop in life and instilling a love of food and cooking into her posterity was one of them. So, feel free to look at it, if so inclined. There are maybe five recipes up so far and a lot more to follow.

This semester I start my new program, Digital Humanities, and continue my other program, Library Information Science, with emphasis on the digital aspects. Meta-data, programming, etc. By the time I get through both Master’s programs, I will be a programmer with a solid emphasis in Instructional Design. Was not planning on going into Instructional Design, but if it gets me to making the family history repository app, then I will do what is necessary that way.

The main element I can see coming out of the ID courses is the ability to teach family history better, and to create better online learning portals for doing that. While education is not my primary focus, I am always looking for better ways of teaching the topic, so this major is unusually applicable to where I can find a job. My bedrock skills are always useful. Adding to the research skills knowledge of best practices in teaching, and creating one of the tools that teachers and lay people may use to make teaching much more effective and efficient is kind of sheer genius. I do not give myself credit for the thought process. That’s all Deity. Good things come from Deity, and saying that it is my idea feels strangely like a cop-out.

Not sure what will happen. I am part of a class of a maximum of seven people for a total of tops of twelve people in the program. We are only the second class in this program, and no matter how hard it will be (which I am SURE that it will test me to limits I have never seen before), this will be GOOD!

Gratitude Journal:Death and Dying

The happiest person I know is dying. The friend mentioned in the previous post: she was one of my mother’s three best friends, and she has stage 4 breast cancer.  I learned what that meant earlier in the week. Stage 4 means that you know your death cause, but I didn’t know how long she’d known. Three years. During this time, she had a roommate who did not respect others enough to let them into her life more. But had I realized this earlier, I’m not sure what I would or could do.

When I read how long she had over email today (she could die any day, and there’s no telling how long it will be; sicknesses will get to her, but she will die from organ failure as the cancer runs its course and terminates things.) it took me so much aback that I did not know how to reply. I marked it as “Mark as Unread” and walked back to the El station to take the trip to the bus to get me to dinner and then home. Normally, Friday nights I volunteer at my temple. Without a car for the past while due to an accident, I haven’t been there as much lately. Should have the car back tomorrow.

Rode the escalator to the El platform after a stressful day of editing a movie to finish a class from Spring semester, then read the email enough to absorb what it meant and I started to cry. I put my phone away and kept crying as the El showed up and took me to the bus that was a half hour late, or more so. Pigeons overhead in the rafters, I felt annoyed that they were there, despite the efforts of the city to stick miniature steel spikes in the most likely places. Many people gave up and started walking of their own accord. I finally rode the bus.

This lady is talented, has three kids, one married, one barely graduated from college, and one who is the son of a second marriage and not yet in middle school. Her husband died shortly after the child was born, and she never re-married. She is lucky that she has family, that there is a pretty supportive Church network (ward), and that she has close friends. I’m lucky that I know her at all. She moved to my Church network when I was maybe 12? She saw my family through a heap of life, and she has been essentially surrogate Mom as there are no older women in the family who are like my Mom left. All of the direct-line ancestral biological female relatives are dead. The ones who are alive do not see me as Mom did, save her, and this friend is only related to me back in the 1600’s from a different marriage of some old guy that was either Dutch or in New England. For that ancestor, one wife died and then he married another and their relatives went every which way. I have other female biological or marriage-related relatives, but only see them rarely and then I am in guest roles.

Mom’s friend rarely complains, and she gives me reality checks when everyone around me either acts like I’m great or awful, or can’t give me solid advice to save their lives. My friends are extremely good people, but she never tells me anything for her gain or with personal bias involved. I’m not that good all the time and want to be. She also inspires me to do better. She knows at least six languages, and is always learning. I love that about her.

My birthday is soon, and in my selfish self-pity I thought about the timing. I found out that an extremely good friend was dying after a very long day and then I looked back across the bus stop filled with birds and their droppings and feathers to where people came off the El. Thought about how each of them had their own story, and how God is their Father, too, and wondering how in the world He kept track of us all. I couldn’t do what He does, that’s for sure. (Not without serious, massive help at the minimum.)

Anyway, I am tired, have much on my plate, but despite things beyond my control, I made it through the day and I should make it through tomorrow. Just have to finish these last items, and then school starts immediately thereafter. A little scared, and if there is a sudden death, then I’ll need an airplane flight. Otherwise, must keep going. Living at this point in time means that there isn’t that much time to process. Have to keep going no matter how dreadful or how joyous life gets. I wish that there was more joyous. All that I can do is to try to be good to people, comfort, and be kind.

The Things That Matter

I found out today that one of my Mom’s best friends has Stage 4 terminal cancer. It’s not the sort of cancer where she will be dead tomorrow, but now… cause of death is known for when it happens. I wish not to be blase about this, but seeing as this is knowledge in advance of the death versus a sudden death, it’s strangely “easier” to deal with.

No, I’m not glad about it. No, she’s not in extreme pain or such. There are plenty of medications that she is on, and she just had brain surgery to relieve one of the tumors, but she’s still alive. She does have a great attitude about it, all things considering. I don’t think that it is less usual anymore for people to know in advance that they only have so long to live. I’m also a little surprised that I’m dealing with it as well as I am. Over the last seven years, there have been eight deaths. Some sudden, some not-as sudden. Call it preparation for part of what may lay ahead.

I’m also not scared about where she is going. It’s not trust in a dead religion. It’s that I know what needs to happen to “go to heaven.” It’s rather plainly spelled out in the doctrine of my Church and it’s not the effect of a frenzied mind that I believe it. It’s being true and knowing that there is more than life here. Life is more than simply the efforts of the natural creature eking out a living from point A to B. There’s a lot more to it than that. Lifting my head above that mess, there is a light and it is real.

It’s hard to think that there are people who refuse to believe in anything. Not sure whether that is selfishness in that they don’t want to follow anything outside of themselves and basic ethics of the land, or if it is a fear of responsibility once they figure out that there is a God. It’s not just some step in AA. Belief in a higher power is a fundamental principle of society- family is part of it, and without God (whatever religion, so long as it’s not Satanic) I don’t know how people make it from day-to-day.

Better said, denying God, I don’t know people survive. So much of my thinking, so much of my decision-making processes… you come to know who God is, and how He acts over time and experience, and see that He honestly leads you in better paths than you may choose for yourself. Good things or bad things… events change, but God does not.

So back to heaven and hell. Yes, both places exist. The fundamental core doctrines of Christianity agree to that. From there, I have an innate confidence born of testimony from God that there are certain things needed for returning to live with God, and I know that my friend is about as okay as you can get in this regard. There is so much confusion in the world which the gospel makes clear.

The rock solid base is that the truth is what it is, and the gospel is true. My friend and I discussed her death a little, but neither of us freaked out about it. You freak out when you don’t know either a) where people may go after mortality is over, or b) when you really don’t know where you stand before God. Is she Polly Perfect? Nope. Is she working hard, has her heart in the right place, and trying her utmost to be the person that God wants her to be? Yep.

For all of the philosophizing away that many people try to do, God exists. He loves us (His children), and there’s nothing that other people try to say or do that changes that. It doesn’t make His children unaccountable, and it doesn’t eliminate need for grace and for personal righteousness. There are more tools in the bag, and a better chance of having the right tool at the right time. That’s what religion does. Things work better when there is functioning religion centered in Jesus Christ. I like people from all the faiths encountered to this point who wish to be good people, and I treasure truth more than life.

So that’s what matters. Friends who are family, and understanding each of our fundamental roles in the various aspects of life.

Hoping for goodness and blessings,


Document Yourself: Genealogy for Beginners

Associates keep asking me how to start their family history. This reply may be so basic that I do not wish to sound obvious, but start with yourself and move backwards. A lot of people understand the conceptual “going backwards” part, but the starting with yourself leaves them with non-connecting looks.

Think of your living space, and/or that of your parents or children. Think of where you work, where you shop, go to Church (if applicable), pay taxes, and everything else. What are the basic records found at each location? What are the major events in your life? Has anything in your life ever cost more than $1,000 (US)? Then there should be some sort of documentation for it, and it probably was a big deal when the purchase happened such as for a house, a car, school, a birth, etc.

Although papers are important, there are many stories that pass down through generations without papers. Sometimes, unless there is a specific need for a paper’s creation, major events do not receive record. But, start with what you have. A) Anything that is paper that has your name on it, which is from an official source of some sort is worth looking at. Driver’s licenses are not paper, exactly, anymore, but they also count.

General guidelines (not the professional standard, but things that I look for when gathering basic documents):

  • Name or variant of name
  • Location or institution of some sort (State of Illinois, Carnegie Mellon University, Holy Cross Hospital*, Department of Defense, Our Father Lutheran Church*- *some of these locations may or may not exist. These are given simply for hypothetical purposes only)
  • Numbers (date, or identifying number of any sort)
  • Anything that looks official or pertinent.

Some items may look official and be complete fluff. Other items could be small or odd shapes, and those are the ones to keep track of carefully as there is usually only one of them in the world. The archivist in me does not want to make copies of items due to light damage, but sometimes only surviving copies ARE the only thing that survives. Not everything is on 100-year microfilm or gold archival-quality DVDs. Scanning helps, but it takes effort to up-date formats. Possibly the hardest thing about family history is that there is no way ever to say that it is done (save Deity says it) and finished due to updating formats for documents alone.  

However, start smaller.  Look around the house. Notice what is on the walls. Pictures are documents in their own right in many cases. Although photoshop works wonders, most people are not about to try to break into your house to steal a 100-year-old picture of Great Aunt Susie to digitally craft something or someone else in there. Despite Hollywood, most people’s families really are not that interesting to anyone outside of their family, if even to them. So work on it in bits and pieces.

Organize the items first by surname, and then by generation. When you deal with much larger quantities of family members, then separation into geographic locations is a better idea. If all of your family documents fit into either a single 2″ binder or a single-drawer file box, then organization by surname is not a bad effort or method entirely.

Make the record of yourself. You think that you are not interesting? Try writing your story and then read it back to yourself out loud. If you need to, read it to a friend or family member. You will be surprised what happens when importance and weight come into play from another’s opinion.

Healthy, “Boutique Food” at McDonald’s

I do not normally eat at McDonald’s. I prefer grocery stores if time permits. When I was younger, I had a small time when I was addicted to their hamburgers based upon the pickles alone, but they changed their suppliers, and the craving went with the change. Today, in a quest for AC and free wi-fi, I went and looked at their menu for options that were inexpensive and maybe decent for me. I am not under illusions that McDonald’s will be great food. It’s what you eat when either it’s a craving, you don’t know the area (McDonald’s is consistent at least), or something like that. It’s not “first choice” food. However, it’s less expensive than Starbucks (also home to free wi-fi), is open later, is closer to where I live, and I am lucky that people typically leave me alone here. There are zero pretensions. It reminds me of Wal-Mart, and in different areas of the country they are linked inextricably.

The menu, while copying whatever sells in an area, lacks less-expensive options of the veggie nature. I am not a total food snob. I rarely shop organic on purpose (honestly, yeah for the earth, but wash your veggies, people), and it’s not like I expect McDonald’s to be or supply organic stuff. It’s more like, my body does better on veggie-based products. This year I’ve spent a lot of time eating as inexpensively as possible. Strangely enough, that means produce and so I look for the cheapest and best quality. To quote people at a business conference, if you stick to the outer perimeter of the grocery store, you are likely to do better than if you head to the center aisles. It was not like this when I was a kid, but that was the ’80’s. People still cooked instead of watching the Food Channel.

My neighborhood does not have a Trader Joe’s, does not have Whole Food’s, or anything similar. I do not want to drive to locations that have those places just because gas is super-expensive. Instead, I have local grocery stores with less-expensive produce. So, you use what is available.

I know that McDonald’s has a massive coffee menu, imitating Starbucks. Why don’t they offer humus and chips, too? They do offer apple pieces and some salads, but the salads are more expensive than the burgers. I disagree with this.  And there is only ONE fish offering on the menu, and it’s fried. I realize that you know what you’re getting when you go there, but my complaint today rests in the fact that I’ve been trying to eat as healthy as is possible given present circumstances. No, I’m not a vegetarian. I will admit to craving seafood more than almost any other substance, but I will eat ham, bacon, beef, chicken, turkey, lamb, and if there is an interesting meat substance that I haven’t tried yet, I’ll give it a whirl. However, instead of massive meat portions, produce is king. When I cook, I prefer to use meat as a carmelized flavoring agent. Spread about, flavoring the item versus a piece of meat, bread, and then set produce that gives few, if any nutrients whatsoever.

This McDonald’s is full of families. I always wondered where families went for fast food. My preference is Wendy’s or if I want a good burger, Five Guys is king. Stuff that is worth the intake for the experience of taste-bliss. People walk out with bags like they’re carrying contraband or the kids eat food and the Moms stare into space.

I want the food to be top quality, yes, but make the veggies options more appealing. Salads are hard to eat in grab-and-drive fashion. Why aren’t there wraps with veggie basis? Put them on the dollar menu, or make them $2. Use squash for the main body element along with the lettuce, carrots, and tomato. Zucchini or squash are extremely inexpensive, and avocado is great stuff. Or are they afraid of being accused of becoming Carl’s Jr? Six dollar burgers are worth it.

Also, why is the orange juice more expensive than soda? Which is better for you versus which leads directly to epidemic obesity and diabetes? And why did Florida cut down all of the citrus trees that belonged to private citizens? NOT good. I will admit to drinking soda here and there (Sprite, orange, grape, root beer and mocktails), but since I found a container that works better for me, and better regular city water, I drink water non-stop. Cannot help it in this heat. Further, I am learning that added salt is not always a bad thing, so long as you are the person adding it. Salt could have its own blog post alone. Sea salt and kosher salt are fantastic, but without it, I notice that my mind literally feels shaky if I do not get enough.

The older I get, the more I notice that what I put into me makes a huge difference in how I feel and what I feel. I am glad that the newest jeans that a friend gave me are starting to fall off without my trying to keep them on. It could be the cut of the jeans, but I hope that it may be summer weight loss. I miss in-door tracks where I can listen to my music as I walk around climate-controlled areas in the same direction as everyone else, so I never really see who anyone else is and I can take my time and not care about whether anyone is judging me.

I’ve always had issues with gym class, and now I am lucky that for my occasional spurts at exercise, they tend to pay off. I miss circuit training. That was fun, but I prefer free. I can’t walk in my neighborhood alone very far without feeling completely out of place. Usually that means that it’s time to move, but in my case I think that it means that it is time to find a nice little indoor gym somewhere and not worry about the other ramifications, or else to find a good path by the lake. I do not have enough discipline to do work-out videos on my own. I also miss dancing. It’s been way too long since I knew anyone who could swing dance, especially West Coast style. It’s flirty, sexy, and just plain pretty. I’m not thinking along the lines of Dancing with the Stars of anything similar, but just something meant to have fun, and be fine with it.

Church dances when I was younger were incredible. People upheld standards and it was like having a teenage club, no smoking, no drinking needed. People dressed to dance, but not exposing skin, and nothing super body-hugging. And yes, it was great dancing. We had smoke machines, lasers, lights,and/or projected videos, a games room, decent food, disco ball(s) for effects, and massive FANS including the building AC cranked at max. If the windows in the building weren’t fogged to oblivion, it wasn’t good enough. The heat in those dances was amazing. It was normal to have upwards of at least 300 people in attendance. Those were my “glory” days. Haven’t found them again, but that’s okay.

My nostalgia notwithstanding, there are good ways of finding exercise, and maybe I will be stuck joining a gym. My schools are far enough away that I may have no choice. Not looking forward to it. I could walk miles along the lake and be happy with it. Gyms? *groans* Yeah, you don’t stick with things that don’t make you happy, and gyms… just don’t. Meat markets that smell bad. That, and I can’t stick to them to save my life, minus circuit training with only girls.

I refuse to run. I don’t have a need to do that. I need to find something around here that will work. In the meantime, I will take my daily multi-stairs and worry about the rest of my life. I’m just glad that I have the miracle shoes that let me walk for miles without pain. Without them, this would be much harder.

One Year Mark

Today I reflect on one year in this town. The anniversary already passed in mid-July, but I was a little busy to reflect on it much then. I kind of hate saying it, but it took me a year to transition from life in Utah to here. I came here, and it was “comparison city.” A fish that went from the salt water pond to the fresh water lake, it was probably the hardest transition made since I first went there. I never thought that I’d get used to it, or that any of it could ever be considered home. I denied it the whole time that I was there, but I was pretty much hooked. It wasn’t about the place, it was the people. People make a place home for me. I get asked where I am from. Still mention where I grew up, even though I haven’t been back there since Jan 2006. That was for a weekend for a friend’s wedding.

I’ve never told anyone that I was from Utah. I likely never will. It was home, though, for six years. People ask me where I am from now, and I get to say my town, and I feel like I’m from a cooler place. (There is more to do here, period.) I never made fun of the location when I got here, though, because I lived there and I learned to appreciate it. I met someone’s sister and it was actually the first time that I made any in-kind jokes about the place. Nothing bad, just hadn’t done it before.

I am a lot more sensitive to people making snarky remarks about the place. While there are people who have to transition like I did, I never knew that was what they were doing until I had my year of crazy where I had to get used to life behind “the Mormon curtain” as a friend put it. You live in Utah and you get used to things being a certain way, which is absolutely different from everywhere else on planet earth. There is no place else quite like it. It’s not better and not worse than anywhere else. It’s just another place. Coming out of Utah, though, you get really sensitive to the culture and splitting the Church, the gospel, and the culture apart got harder than when I was growing up. I never saw the changes at all until I had that brief conversation with the guy’s sister, and then it was as if I saw where I changed incredibly. I was partly back to my old ways (pre-Utah) where I could see things in a manner where things were funny instead of being claustrophobic.

Being in this town, though, I have learned more respect than I had out there. My ward here is full of people from everywhere. That is nothing new to me. I’ve lived in big city (or multi-ethnic populated wards) my whole life. I served a mission in LA, and it is much more normal to me to have people from every walk of life and everywhere than a bunch of people who look, act, and think alike.

There’s no one right way of living the gospel. There are as many ways of doing things right as there are people within it. The basic commandments are completely standard. It’s not a “make up your own religion” place. There was a general authority sister, Chieko N. Okazaki, who wrote about giving a talk somewhere and holding up in one hand a bottle typically used for canning peaches, and a basket. Both used for the same purpose, gathering and preparing food for the respective women’s families. One way was not right and the other was not wrong. There are a lot of standards in the Church that dictate life patterns. This is on purpose. But honestly, being single or married, having children or not, being in a city or being in a rural area, in high-tech land or without electricity, the gospel works just fine in any environment. It’s not a bunch of middle class white people, thank heavens.

Also, it’s definitely not made up of only people with ancestors who crossed the American Mid and Mountain West in the 1840’s. Although I found that population disproportionately higher in Utah, that’s NOT how it is in the rest of the world. Also not how it is for my life.

When I was a child, I lived in a suburb of a big city and there were a lot of people who came there for work from Utah, Arizona, and Idaho. They acted like where they just moved to was a dirty place or that somehow it was not as good as where they left. That attitude left an extremely bad taste in my mouth, so to speak. I grew up thoroughly prejudiced against people from those areas. Now, I realize that either they didn’t know any better or else they needed the year to transition. I have more compassion for new kids from parts west. They’re not completely ignorant. That was another assumption that I had, and I tended to be one of the annoying Easterners who thought that I knew so much more than those westerners and made “corrective comments” in classes in college.

Well, guess what? Nothing works that way. No one is smarter, no one is prettier, no one has a right to judge unless given the authority from God to do so (and that’s pretty rare), and even then (to quote my Mom) God has better taste than to do that 9x/10. So now I’m living in a city where finding $10 when I was out of cash randomly is really humbling. And where 95% of my ward are converts (meaning chose to join the Church on their own versus growing up in it) and for the people who grew up in it, there is a deeper strength here that I have not seen. People here work HARD to be members. It is a choice, and it’s not an easy choice. Being a part of my Church has a lot of benefits to it, and it’s also not easy because you are different from other people around you. It’s not specifically a self-reflective thing about the difference. Other people see it and it makes a difference one way or another. If you’re not living up to what you covenanted to, that’s pretty obvious, too.

Living in Utah and being where I was gave me a lot of good experiences, and those should be coming out in a book soon. I was able to get a lot of experience with idealistic ways of how the Church can be, and I figured out ways of making things better that others hadn’t tried and they worked well before. They also work now, even if the actual product is different. The fundamental concepts behind it are the same. That is comforting.

I love this place, and I am extremely grateful for the people who I know, the people who I meet who are nice (and for the gruff or silent ones, I know that they have great hearts…just takes longer and more patience to get to know them if they allow it) and there are good things done here by extraordinarily great people. I have never been among a group quite like this before.

I have definitely loved groups that I was a part of in the past, and the people tried hard (for the most part) and accomplished a lot. Those places and the people were pretty transient and I got used to never really getting to know people THAT well. It is a tiring existence. Here, there are families and more-stable situations. People here are nicer, they care about each other, and they try VERY hard to do what is right.

It’s this little miracle group in the middle of a big city that’s not known for being kind, but gets things done. You know it’s here, but I was able to ignore the city for years without any problems. It’s kind of this amazing thing that leaves me in awe whenever I think about it. I’m among a bunch of titans. Whether or not we all agree all the time, that’s not the point. I love these people. I don’t know them all yet. Working on it, though. And I hope to have enough time here to get a chance to do it. I live in city-meets-suburbs, and you can see that the people here are genuine. We can be ourselves, and people WANT you to be yourself. It’s kind of fantastic in its own way.

I’m grateful for where I am now. I am not done by any means, and my life this past week alone changed so spectacularly that I am not sure how it will all work out, but I do know that things continually get better and I look forward to it.

Thanks for the hardest and most challenging year of my life so far,