Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Search for the Perfect Salsa - Pedro's

I used to like quite a few different salsas with tortilla chips, especially the ubiquitous Pace's Picante Sauce. However, at one point Costco started selling a Garduño’s brand salsa that simply spoiled me for all the brands that I'd previously eaten: not only was it extremely hot, but it tasted like chile and not like tomatoes. Unfortunately, Costco stopped selling the Garduño’s salsa only a couple of months after it started, leaving me feeling deprived and unhappy. I tried all sorts of other brands -- Sadie's, El Pinto, 505 -- but all of them tasted like tomatoes and simply didn't have that chile zing to them.

Finally, I picked up a specialty brand of salsa, Pedro's, at Wal-Mart; lo and behold, it had the same magic qualities that the
Garduño’s brand had had. Pedro's salsa is expensive (almost $4.00 for a 16 oz. jar [roughly three servings for me], even at Wal-Mart), but I find myself splurging once in a while just to get my chile fix. Pedro's is a local concern, owned by Pedro and Kathy Ruiz (see picture); its website is found at

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cabin Trip, May 2010

This photo was taken on Tuesday, May 25, at Pinegrove cabin. I drove up with Darren and Kiley on Sunday afternoon and spent three nights there with them. (Kristy and Chris, whose week it was, spent the weekend at the cabin but had to go home on Sunday evening -- we ran into them in Chama as they were heading home.)

We didn't do a whole lot while we were at the cabin. Monday was a cold day, feeling more like late March than late May. We drove up to the summit of Wolf Creek Pass, and then back down to the "scenic overlook" and Treasure Falls, but we only barely got out of the car due to the chill. We drove back into Pagosa Springs and did some shopping and had lunch at the Malt Shoppe, and then we decided to brave the cold and try tubing in the river. As was the case a couple of summers ago, the "Rito Blanco," the tributary of the Rio Blanco that joins the latter right there at the cabin property, was running high and afforded a fairly wild ride (we lashed three tubes together and rode as a trio) -- especially with a few newly fallen tree branches that got in the way. I was pretty blue (actually red) with cold by the time we finished a second ride that day and was happy to go take a hot shower.

On Tuesday, we drove back into town and did a few things. We bought river shoes for Kiley and then went to the candy shop underneath the theater to buy fudge and some other goodies. Then we walked along the San Juan for a while before going back to the Malt Shoppe for soft-serve ice cream cones. Finally, we returned to the cabin, and, since the weather was at least ten degrees warmer than the previous day, the river sounded a little more appealing. We did the "Rito" twice more, together, before untying the tubes, at which point Darren and Kiley rode twice on the "Rio" from the bridge around to our usual getting-out point.

For entertainment, we watched a few movies, played Monopoly Deal (a card game at which I suck, pure and simple), and surfed the Internet and checked e-mail messages on my laptop. (The neighbors across the road keep their satellite wireless network "open," apparently so that people at our cabin can log on to it. Awfully nice of them!) Darren and Kiley also put together a couple of jigsaw puzzles, something for which I've come to have little patience. There was a lot of traffic up and down the road, causing me to conclude there must be some construction going on somewhere down at the end of the road.

Finally, we came back fairly early today so that I could get back in time for my temple shift. It would have been nice to stay longer, but at least I'll have another four-day weekend for Memorial Day.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Kiley's High School Graduation

Kiley, our youngest child, has now graduated from high school; the attached picture shows all five of our children (L-R: Heidi, Devery, Kiley, Kristy, and Darren) outside Tingley Coliseum (on the New Mexico State Fairgrounds) after the commencement exercises yesterday, May 21. Kiley's graduation marks the end of a 14-year string of our having at least one kid enrolled at ______ High School, as well as a 26-year string of having at least one child enrolled in the Albuquerque Public Schools. It's been a heckuva run!

Kiley won the school music award in the senior awards assembly on Thursday, as she was one of the top cellists this year in the Albuquerque Youth Symphony and she won an award as the outstanding bass player in the Albuquerque Jazz Festival, in which her school jazz band participated. (The electric bass was definitely Kiley's second instrument, although, with all her cello training -- especially her use of all four fingers on her left hand -- she looked like a pro bassist on stage.) Kiley will be attending the University of New Mexico this fall on a music scholarship.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

On Turning 51

Today is my 51st birthday, and I'd like to be able to say it's a happy occasion for me. It's ironic, however, that whereas I said last year that I felt much older at 50 than I did at 40, now I feel like I've aged an additional twenty years just in the last three-and-a-half months! (I have the lower back, joints, strength, stamina, senses, crotchety disposition, and [probably] life expectancy of a 71-year-old.) Not only am I still trying to deal with a sleep disorder that can only be treated with one or another prescription sedative (which I have to take with an over-the-counter antihistamine to obtain sufficient "knockout" strength) and the use of an expensive "PAP" machine, but now I'm dealing with the lingering, extremely debilitating effects of mal de debarquement, which I acquired as the result of trying to show Dorine a good time in the Caribbean for our 25th wedding anniversary. (I think I could be excused for concluding that no good deed ever goes unpunished!) I've also been fighting the sort of feeling of foreboding that only a person who senses his life going downhill can truly appreciate.

I've been drawing a lot of comparisons in my mind lately between serving a church mission and dying. When I went on my mission, was I as prepared for it as I could have been? No. Was I as prepared for it as I needed to be? Debatable. Was I as prepared for it as I ever would be? Absolutely! One reason I had difficulty finding motivation to serve a mission had to do with the "mission prep" priesthood-meeting class we had in the BYU 65th Branch during my freshman year, 1977-78, which was taught by people (including one son of a general authority) whom I regarded as extroverted narcissists. They seemed to believe that there was only one personality type (hard-driving and hard-selling) that could possibly be of any use to a missionary, and that anyone else would be wasting his time in the mission field. It wasn't until my stake president at home in Albuquerque, Jay Payne (who, after I'd been on my mission for only four or five months, died suddenly of a heart attack while jogging one morning), assured me that the Lord needed all kinds of personalities in the mission field, and that I could be an effective missionary without trying to change mine, that I began in earnest to prepare. It's difficult to say how good a missionary I really was -- I did a few things that I later regretted, and I certainly wasn't the hardest worker, by any means, in my mission. However, I had my share of unique struggles -- particularly with my health, as I suffered from low-grade nausea for virtually the entire time I was in Chile. I never stopped trying, and I never stopped working, even if I often wasn't as effective as I might have been had I felt better (and if other circumstances -- certain companions, certain areas, my first mission president -- had been different).

The analogy of a mission to death seems obvious. Per Mormon doctrine, am I as prepared to die, at this juncture of my life, as I could be? No. Am I as prepared to die as I need to be to reach the Celestial Kingdom? Debatable (highly so). Am I as prepared to die as I ever will be? Well, that's the question that's been weighing on my mind for some time. What I struggle with most is the disconnect between (a) the notion that our eternal reward will hinge on what we did with what we had (i.e., that a person's individual circumstances -- his talents, upbringing, DNA [now there's a topic you'll never hear discussed in General Conference!], overall experiences, and sacrifices made relative to resources [whether financial, emotional, physical, or spiritual] -- will be taken into account in the Final Judgement), and (b) the take-away from practically all church meetings, which is that there is some objective (if intangible and unknowable) threshold of personal righteousness or individual perfection -- which applies to all people regardless of circumstance -- that one must achieve before having any hope that the Atonement of Christ will fill in the gaps, as it were, of his personal failings and weaknesses as concerns reaching the Celestial Kingdom. I have church leaders now who seem to believe -- reminiscent of my priesthood instructors all those years ago at BYU -- that one must be some kind of Stepford Mormon and that anyone else (e.g., someone with a sense of humor or who purposely doesn't conform in order to maintain some kind of individuality or to avoid being saddled with what are, for him, intolerable burdens or responsibilities) is wasting his time. I hear church members suggest from time to time that there will be all kinds of people in the Celestial Kingdom, but, since that message never, ever comes from the leadership, I tend not to take it to heart.

So what kind of person have I been? I certainly haven't been precisely the kind of husband, father, friend, breadwinner, and priesthood holder that I could have been. I've done things that I've regretted, and likewise I've failed to do things that I wish I'd done. However, as was the case with my mission, my life in general has posed its own peculiar set of struggles -- my health issues becoming increasingly prominent among them -- and it is true that I've never given up or stopped trying. It's sometimes annoying to realize just how many people in my life seem to regard me as (to borrow a phrase from the movie Little Big Man) a "perfect reverse barometer" -- which I define, in my case, as someone whom others use to feel good about themselves by comparison -- but I've never let that completely discourage me or cause me to hate anyone. I'm not as good a person as I could be, or could have been under other life circumstances, and, again, the question is how much my circumstances will be taken into account (assuming there truly is a Hereafter). If my testimony has taken a battering over time, it is due to the implicit, unrelenting message from the pulpit that individual circumstances are immaterial and that one must be objectively as righteous as Brother X or Sister Y to have any hope of attaining exaltation. I can't be like Brother X or Sister Y (assuming they themselves aren't, after all, whited sepulchres), and I don't want to be, so I continually question whether or not my efforts as a church member are a waste of time.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The U.S. at the World Cup

The 2010 (men's soccer) World Cup will be played in South Africa in the latter half of June and the first half of July. I, of course, will be rooting for the United States, although how they'll perform in the tournament is a real question mark. In last year's Confederations Cup tournament, the U.S., which had a lackluster preliminary round (but then squeaked into the "knockout" stage by beating Egypt 3-0, the precise margin of victory it had to have in order to advance), defeated Spain, the #1 rated team in the world, 2-0, and then led Brazil, favored by many to win the World Cup this year, by two goals in the championship before conceding three in the second half, proving that it can do some damage when the ball falls the right way. It's too much to expect our guys to win four successive "knockout" round games at the World Cup, but it will be a major disappointment if they don't make it out of the group qualifying stage, especially with the draw they got (England, Slovenia, and Algeria).

However, the U.S. is still facing an uphill battle. One, we have a pretty limited pool of top-notch talent, and key injuries (especially to Charlie Davies, our fastest forward, and Oguchi Onyewu, our best central defender in a back line that has not otherwise distinguished itself in qualifying) have not helped. It's hard to say we have any world-class players; we have several who are capable of world-class play, especially Tim Howard (goalkeeper whose heroics in net can, and all too often must, compensate for the deficiencies of his back line), Clint Dempsey (see photo above -- search on Youtube for his brilliant goals this season for his EPL club team Fulham against Stoke City and Juventus, not to mention the opener against Brazil last year), and Landon Donovan (who, although he has a history of blending into the landscape against the better sides, has made some great goals lately, especially the second goal against Brazil last year, which came at the end of what was about the closest thing to a perfectly executed two-on-two "fast break" that you'll ever see in a soccer game at any level of play), but all of them will have to come up big merely for the U.S. to make it out of group play. Two, whereas the team's coach, the home-grown Bob Bradley, did succeed in getting the Americans to qualify in first place in the CONCACAF region, it's easy to wonder sometimes if he really knows what he's doing, especially when his players look lost and uncomfortable in their assigned positions, which happens dismayingly often. And three, the U.S. plays England, the top-rated team in its group, in the first game, and if it doesn't secure a result (win or tie) in that game, it will feel all the more pressure to play well against Slovenia and Algeria, which are fairly unknown quantities. Still, there are lots of countries who'd like to be in the U.S.'s shoes but instead are staying home, so we'll see how things play out.