Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Photos from Darren

Here are a couple of recent photos from Darren in his current area in and around Jesús de Otoro, Honduras. The first shows Darren fording a fair-sized river -- the only way to reach the house of a family he and his companion have been teaching -- and the second shows him, his Bolivian companion Elder Capiona (left), and another missionary with their latest convert, a lady named Argentina (who has a disability and must use crutches to get around). It's fun to know he's having such unforgettable experiences as a missionary! He gets along well with Elder Capiona and was happy that his mission president left them together for a second six-week "transfer" period. In another couple of weeks, Darren will have completed an entire year in Honduras.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Caving Featurette by Brent Peterson

Now that I've learned how to embed Youtube videos in my blog posts, I decided to upload the entire 4.5 minute featurette that Brent Peterson produced about my caving in 2004. This video gives a good idea of what it's like to go through the "Birth Canal" in Alabaster Cave -- and why it's crucial, if you're my size, to go through in the proper orientation, with the left arm "up" and the right arm "down." As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have since gone through the "Birth Canal" in the proper orientation, again, and had zero problems with it.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Guitar Solo from Ace's "How Long"

Here I am playing the guitar solo from Ace's 1975 hit song "How Long." I'm using my MIM (made in Mexico) "Classic 60s" Fender Stratocaster and my "new" Line 6 Spider II 112 amplifier. I'm not very good at playing other people's solos note-for-note, but for some reason I felt inspired a number of years ago to learn this one.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Las Vegas - The Great Days

This photo of me and my brother-in-law Mike P____, which probably dates to 1995, brings back good memories of fun times spent in Las Vegas in days gone by. Binion's Horseshoe was our favorite hangout, both because it had a preponderance of $2.00 single-deck blackjack games -- not to mention craps games that often had table minimums as low as $0.25 -- and because it offered value in other ways: (1) various food specials in the coffee shop (including a late-night $2.99 New York Strip steak special); (2) generous meal "comps" (a tremendous boon to low-rollers); and (3) free photos with $1 million (consisting of one hundred rare and out-of-circulation $10,000 bills). The casino smelled terrible and had oppressively low ceilings, but it also had tons of old-Vegas character and charm. In short, it (along with the Golden Nugget, before it started targeting a more-upscale clientele) was the heart of downtown Las Vegas.

The decline of the 'Shoe -- which coincided with Benny Binion's daughter Becky Behnen's wresting control of the property from her brother Jack -- was a tragedy to those who knew and had come to love the joint. It wasn't a good sign when the new management immediately did away with the free photos and sold all the ten-thousand-dollar bills (I'm informed they fetched three or four times their face value at auction) and then changed a lot of the games to raise the table minimums and to give the house a bigger advantage. Finally, after the daughter and her husband bled the property completely dry, they sold it off to people who were even more greedy and less knowledgeable about how to operate a casino.

Thus, "Binions" (minus the genitive apostrophe and the "Horseshoe" trademark, which was sold to a different concern) sits there on Fremont Street to this day, a sad shell of what it used to be. I haven't been to Las Vegas in over two years and have little idea what's happening there now, but I do know that practically nothing in downtown Vegas is as it used to be. I guess I've changed, too, pretty much having grown out of whatever penny-ante gambling "jones" I once may have had, but I still miss the old days.

[Update: I've now become aware that "Binions" has new owners who reportedly are interested in trying to restore the property to something approximating its former greatness. I doubt that will translate into $2.00 single-deck blackjack, $0.25 craps with 100x odds, and easy meal "comps," but maybe it will mean $5.00 single-deck "3:2" blackjack, $3.00 craps with 10x odds, and a few meal specials. That would be a start -- and if Vegas in general continues to tank along with the overall economy, the downtown properties may start targeting low-rollers again in earnest.]

Thursday, October 23, 2008

October Family Update

There isn't exactly a lot going on in our family right now, but here's a run-down. Kiley decided to start playing the electric bass with her high school's jazz band (with her friend, Brittany Remund, who plays trumpet), so she dropped Italian and now has two music classes. Kiley also got her driver's license and from now on will be driving to seminary and school. We were tabbed to be one of the "work houses" for the Albuquerque Youth Symphony luminaria fundraiser, and we'll be pretty busy with all of that up through "Luminaria Day," December 6. Dorine and I were able to put a few lengths of pressboard up in our attic space above the garage, laying them across the joists for shelving, and then I moved some stuff up there from the garage for storage. (It helped, but I'd still like to get more crap off the garage floor!) I have a caving trip planned for November 7-9 with Rod Williamson, Jimmy Williamson, and Jim Rasmussen (and possibly others, depending on who can go). We're going to the high Guads in southern New Mexico and have secured permits for Cottonwood Cave, Black Cave, Hidden Cave, and Pink Dragon Cave -- nothing particularly gut-clenching, with Hidden being the only one of the four that entails vertical rope work (aside from a gratuitous long, dead-end drop in Pink Dragon that I think we'll skip this time). I'm still struggling to sleep through the night, but so far I've been able to avoid getting back on the medication treadmill. I received a calling as a temple worker in the Albuquerque Temple and have worked on two Wednesday evenings so far; last night I even worked on the "receiving" side of the veil for a Spanish endowment session -- pretty good for a noob! (I'm hoping my temple calling will both strengthen my testimony and help me develop more affinity for other church members.)

Darren is still working in Jesús de Otoro, Honduras with his missionary companion Elder Capiona, and they've even had a few baptisms in between all their work with the members of the branch. Devery is still hard at work on finishing her degree this semester and finding a job so that she can help support the family while Easton continues to work on his degree. Easton was selected for a team representing BYU in the construction-management area, which will be going to Las Vegas for a competition. Heidi and Dion continue to work, and Kayla will have her second birthday in a few weeks. Kristy and Chris are busy with their kids' sports and other activities, and the twins are now seven months old. Chris is a little tired of the up-and-down nature of the auto-mechanic trade and has talked about going into law enforcement, probably with the county sheriff's department.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Confessions of an Anti-Social Mormon - Part 2

Every now and then I sit through a discussion in priesthood meeting that practically causes me to have a brain hemorrhage, and, unfortunately, yesterday's lesson in the high priests group fit into that category. The topic of the lesson was the three degrees of glory and, specifically, what the requirements are for someone to reach the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom. The instructor used a "basketball" analogy, suggesting that perhaps those who attain that level of glory are like NBA all-stars -- veritable Kobe Bryants and LeBron Jameses of the spiritual realm! Curiously, at no point did the Atonement of Jesus Christ enter the discussion, notwithstanding the fact that King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon (see the stock illustration with my...ahem... modifications) assures us that we're all "unprofitable servants" and cannot abide a celestial glory absent the grace of Christ. Nor did the Parable of the Talents come up in the discussion, in which Christ plainly taught that each person can receive the greatest reward based on what he does with the natural gifts that are bestowed on him. Finally, one might have thought to bring up the example of the Widow's Mite (or, rather, two mites), in which Christ made clear that the magnitude, in absolute terms, of a person's contributions in the kingdom isn't nearly so important as what those contributions represent relative to the person's means and resources.

If one injects the foregoing into the instructor's "basketball" analogy, it seems the following is true. One, that no one attains "NBA all-star" status based wholly on his own natural gifts or even his long years of practicing his "spin move." Two, that one may not require great natural gifts to tie into that great "$100 million contract with the Lakers" in the sky. And three, that it's conceivable that a relatively small contribution on the part of the lowliest of church members may well secure that person a spot in God's "starting lineup," ahead of people whose gaudy "scoring averages" bespeak much-greater abilities in an absolute sense -- it may all depend on circumstances and what's in the person's heart.

I have to believe all this is true, for otherwise I'm wasting my time, my substance, and what little remains of my self-esteem after a lifetime of attending church, and otherwise associating, with other LDS church members who seem all too eager to deny the efficacy of the Atonement and the scope of its effect on the poor in spirit (who, after all, are supposed to be the ones inheriting the Kingdom of Heaven at some point). Does a person have a chance who pays his tithes and offerings, obeys the Word of Wisdom, lives the Law of Chastity, attends the temple once in a while, helps out on the occasional service project, sings in the ward choir, and loves his wife and family so much that he continues to attend church, week in and week out, with people whom he doesn't particularly care for (and vice versa)? Does it matter that he simply doesn't have the emotional resources to do much more than that?

I can't say, except that I'm glad God's ways are not man's ways and that, presumably, his judgments are wiser than those of most people I know.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Carlsbad Trip - Staying with the Twitchells

Dorine, Kiley, and I are spending part of a long weekend in Carlsbad, New Mexico with Chad and JoAnn Twitchell, friends of ours who lived in our ward before moving down here about five years ago. (Chad took a position down here in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant [WIPP] program, which Sandia National Laboratories manages.) Chad and JoAnn currently have four of their six kids at home -- Kate is married and living in Utah with her husband Justin, and Paul is in Albuquerque attending UNM -- although it is anticipated that Curtis will start serving a church mission before the end of the year, leaving only Holly, Sophie, and Kenny at home. I very much like Chad and JoAnn's home (see photo), which simply oozes 1950s-era charm, and in many ways I envy their being able to have a simpler, small-town lifestyle. Dorine, Kiley, and I took our usual jaunt down to Carlsbad Caverns this afternoon and toured the Caverns, starting at the natural entrance (see other photo). I always enjoy the awe-inspiring walk through the cave, although it's pretty obvious that it only gets a fraction of the tourist traffic that it had, say, fifty or sixty years ago. The drive down here is much more pleasant now that U.S. 285 is a four-lane divided highway all the way from the Clines Corners exit off I-40. We'll hang out most of tomorrow with the Twitchells before driving back, but it looks like we will not stay a third night as I'd hoped.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hiking Again - South Sandia Peak

Today I was finally able to take the third of three hikes in the Sandia Mountains that I wanted to do this year. This time I went by myself, starting at the top of Menaul Blvd. and taking what Mike Coltrin's Sandia Mountain Hiking Guide calls the "Whitewash Trail." The top photo, taken from Google Earth (double-click for detail), shows my approximate route, which traces a more-or-less clockwise path from the starting point on the left. I first wandered my way up to the first little promontory at the head of Whitewash Canyon. From there, I was able to locate the main "ridge" trail, which skirts around the north side of the ridge, along the head of what the topo map calls "Long Canyon," before following the rest of the ridge, up and down, to Oso Pass. (I'd never been on the "ridge" route before, which is surprisingly well-defined most of the way up, even if it seems to meander its way past every boulder or rock outcrop en route.) At Oso Pass, I got on the upper part of the Embudito Trail, which is unrelentingly steep until it finally curves around to the east shortly before its terminus at the South Crest Trail, and then I took the little spur trail that leads directly to South Sandia Peak, which trail, judging from its well-worn condition, must receive a lot of traffic these days. (The photo on the right shows the approach to South Peak on the spur trail -- guess I needed to clean the lens on my camera.) I felt pretty crappy on most of the ascent, so I was surprised that I made it all the way to the top in three hours, fifty minutes -- pretty good time for me, given the difficult route.

I ate lunch at South Peak, snapped a few photos (see the photo on the left, which looks down on the ridge that I came up), and wrote in my journal for a few minutes. Then I went down off the back of the peak to find the enchanting little canyon we'd found in 2001 while backpacking with the scouts, which is notable for both its thick stand of aspens and a number of limestone pillars that resemble statuary. From there, I made my way east to the South Crest Trail, then took a swing past Deer Pass (one of my five favorite camping spots in the world) on my way back down the Embudito Trail. I'd already decided not to take the ridge back down, so at Oso Pass I took the Three Gun Spring Trail down to the Embudo Trail (the upper part of which is only barely recognizable as a "trail"), and followed Embudo Canyon all the way back down to where my truck was parked. (It was definitely the long way down!)

I was almost totally spent at the end, having been gone for nearly eight hours and hiking most of that time. It was a pretty ambitious hike, one that I'm not sure I'll ever care to repeat at this stage of my life. However, South Peak is perhaps the most-enchanting area of the Sandias -- in large part because there's no easy way to get there -- and I'm sure I'll see it again soon.