Monday, October 15, 2012

An evening to remember

It was the sort of thing you don't want to be late for: a fireside with an apostle.

It was the sort of thing you really don't want to be late for: a fireside with an apostle in which you are conducting the music and are therefore supposed to be sitting on the stand.

We had piled into the car and begun our journey with a decent amount of time to spare. I was carpooling with two friends, April and Lydia. As arranged by the lovely and wonderful sister missionaries of our ward, we were to pick up two investigators to bring with us to the Young Single Adult/Single Adult fireside with Elder Bednar, which was scheduled to begin at 7pm at our Stake Center in Saline, MI. 

A couple of minutes before 6:15, April, Lydia, and I pulled into the Institute parking lot, where we were to meet our first investigator. We parked and waited, passing the time by observing a very unabashed squirrel scurrying around and digging for nuts in the flowerbed next to our parking spot. At 6:15, right on time, our investigator rode up on her bike. The missionaries arrived at the exact same moment, so we chatted with them for a second and introduced ourselves to the investigator. The investigator climbed into our car (April's black Ford Focus named Toothless [How to Train your Dragon, anyone?], which incidentally has nothing to do with this story, but is a fact that nonetheless deserves to be shared) and then we were off. As we were leaving, I had a small thought in the back of my mind that I ought to check with April to see if we had the next investigator's phone number so that we could call him when we arrived at his apartment, but for whatever reason, I didn't voice my thought aloud. A couple of minutes away from the Institute, however, sense did get the better of me, and I sent a quick text to the missionaries asking for the phone number, just in case.

We were headed to North Campus to a ritzy [and by ritzy, I mostly mean "ridiculously expensive"] complex called the 'Courtyards.' As I had been to the Courtyards many times and have several friends who live there, we had no trouble locating the large complex or finding the particular building we needed. However, it was then that we realized we didn't have our investigator's exact apartment number. And in a building so large and with such high security, this was quite problematic. The missionaries had not yet responded to my text, so I asked April if she had the investigator's phone number. She thought she did, but when she checked the text the missionaries had sent her, like me, she only had the address, and of the address, she also lacked an apartment number. In fact, when it came right down to it, neither of us even knew our investigator's last name.

No panic necessary yet, I thought. I'll just give the missionaries a ring. I found their number in my phone's address book and dialed. The phone rang. And rang and rang. And then it went to voicemail.

So I tried again.

And again.

And then again. 

Then April tried. 

Still no luck.

By this time, I was beginning to feel the panic rise. Ditching an investigator was the last thing I wanted to do. But being late to a fireside with an apostle was also the last thing I wanted to do. So...what to do?

I tried dialing the missionaries yet again. Please pick up, please pick up, please pick up, I thought silently.

Voicemail again.

"Shall we just go?" April asked.

I said a silent prayer. Please, Heavenly Father, please please let the missionaries answer their phone.

"Let me try one last time," I said aloud.

I dialed. 

The phone rang. And rang.

And then one of the sisters answered.

Relief flooded through me. I quickly got the investigator's phone number from them, and then I called him. He answered after the second ring. After spending a couple of minutes with each of us trying to figure out where the other was, we found him. As it turned out, he had already been waiting outside, but on the opposite end of the complex.

As we sped out of the parking lot, I glanced worriedly at the clock.

"We should be able to make it right on time," April said reassuringly. "I'll pull out my D.C. driving skills." 

We drove. Traffic on the freeway seemed heavier than normal for a Sunday evening, but perhaps that was just my panicked brain's interpretation. 

We made decent time, and with ten minutes still to spare, we were at our freeway exit. 

We drove along Saline's main road. So many stoplights. 

"Turn green!" April commanded as we approached one.

It turned green.

More red lights ahead. 

Please let them turn green, I prayed.

And green they turned. Stoplight after stoplight. Green. Green. Green.

At last, we pulled into the giant parking lot of the Stake Center. It was fuller than I'd ever seen it before. 


We located an empty spot in the back corner and parked. I jumped out of the car as if I'd been electrocuted and apologized over my shoulder for deserting my carpooling companions as I bolted the length of the parking lot and into the building as fast as I could manage in heels.

I entered the church through the double doors, and could see in through the open doors of the chapel and the gym behind it. The seats were packed. 

And then, once what I was seeing had had time to register, the signal my ears were sending reached my brain.

My worst fear became reality. I could hear our Stake President speaking at the pulpit. The meeting had already begun. Five minutes early.

Without thinking, I rushed past a couple of men in suits toward the door that led to the stand, wondering as I ran if I had just plowed through security. There was another man standing by the door through which I wished to enter. Glancing behind my shoulder, I saw that one of the other men had followed me. 

In a very kind, non-accusatory manner, he asked, "What do you need? That door is locked."

I waved my hand in the air deliriously. "Supposed to be conducting music...late....investigators..." I tried to explain.

Before I had finished my jumbled sentence, his keys were out and he was unlocking the door for me. He opened it, and I rushed through, my sole goal to make it to the stand and be seated as quickly as possible. I sat just as the Stake President, President DeVries, said, "And thanks to Brother Eric Lewis, who provided our beautiful organ prelude music, and to Sister Britny Clark, who will conduct our hymns this evening. We will open by singing hymn number 277, 'As I Search the Holy Scriptures,' after which brother Lance Betts will offer our opening prayer. We will then be addressed by Sister Bednar, following which we will be pleased to hear from Elder Bednar."

And then he sat down, I stood up, opened the hymn book on the music stand, smiled at the massive crowd in front of me, and conducted the opening hymn.

As I conducted, I was simultaneously marveling how many prayers Heavenly Father had answered for me in the last thirty minutes, how hard Satan will work to try and prevent an investigator from being able to hear a prophet of God speak, how perfect God's timing is, and that I was standing two feet away from a living apostle.

The meeting itself was incredible. The opportunity to attend a fireside like that from the point of view of the stand is quite a rare one. So many people at rapt attention. Such a strong spirit filling the meeting. I learned so much. Sister Bednar told us about some "behind the scenes" General Conference experiences, which were very interesting and wonderful to hear. 

When Elder Bednar got up to speak, he asked us to take out a piece of paper for an exercise he was going to have us do as we watched clips from three different General Conference talks (Elder Bednar, Elder Ballard, and Pres. Eyring) that were given last weekend. As soon as he had voiced this request, the chapel and cultural hall were filled with the sounds of ripping paper. Elder Bednar also asked us to take out our scriptures. ("And if you don't have them," he said, "shame on you!") Elder Bednar emphasized that we were not to try and scribble down as much verbatim as we could, but that we should "hear what is not spoken," listening with the Spirit.

In a very small nutshell, this is what I learned:

We were presented with a "template" to follow as we study the General Conference talks. The template is:

1. Identify the doctrine or principle being taught
2. Identify the invitation being extended
3. Identify the promised blessings that come from acting upon this invitation

Through the united voice of the 15 (12 apostles and 3 members of the First Presidency), Elder Bednar said we can know what the Lord would teach if He were here. [Isn't that cool?! I had never thought about General Conference in exactly that light before.] Therefore, once we have followed the template given above for their talks, we should be able to line up the columns and see what the overarching doctrines/invitations/blessings are on which the Lord wishes us to focus.

Elder Bednar pointed out that this process does not necessarily bring out the same answers for everyone--if we complete this exercise in light of our own lives and questions, we will discover what the Lord needs and wants us to individually know.

After Sister and Elder Bednar had spoken for the first hour, Elder Bednar opened the second hour up as a question and answer session. I got just as much out of it--perhaps even more--as I got out of the talks that had been given. Before Elder Bednar called on the first person to ask a question, he gave us examples of "good" and "not as good" questions. ("Not as good" included, "Where is the sword of Laban?" Har har.) The "good" example of a question he gave was, "Elder Bednar, you were one of only 15 people in the room when Thomas S. Monson became President of the Church. What was that like? What has it been like to serve with him? What have you learned from him?" 

Someone was smart enough to ask that question a few questions into the question and answer session. When Elder Bednar answered, what he said really hit me, perhaps because I had given a Stake Conference talk the day before on much the same theme. Elder Bednar said that perhaps the greatest thing he has learned serving with Pres. Monson and serving as an apostle is "the individual nature of the Lord's love." He illustrated his point by telling us a remarkable story about an experience he'd had traveling to visit a particular stake, and then told us that he gets to experience remarkable stories like that every day, seeing firsthand just how individually the Lord loves each of his children. He reminded us that when President Monson tells us stories about delivering chickens to widows on Christmas, he's not talking about delivering chickens to widows on Christmas; he's talking about ministering to people one by one.

The Lord truly does minister to us one by one. Elder Bednar mentioned the fact that the Lord prepared Pres. Monson for the specific duties of a prophet for 44 years before he actually became the President of the Church; Pres. Monson spent 22 years serving as an apostle and 22 years serving in the First Presidency--truly a lifetime of dedication and instruction from the Lord.

There was another question whose answer also struck me. The question was something to the effect of: "Each of the apostles and members of the First Presidency are men of great and varying intellectual knowledge, backgrounds, and distinction. How do you achieve such a sense of unity?"

Elder Bednar replied that when there is no ego, no sponsorship, and no yearning for credit, unanimity is not hard to achieve. Sometimes, yes, this unanimity does take time to reach--line upon line, precept upon precept--but it is never because of concern for ego or credit. He gave an example of a committee on which he has served with Elder Oaks and Elder Holland. Elder Oaks, he made a point of saying, is a powerful, particular man with much training and experience, who may very well have been on his way to becoming Supreme Court Justice before his call to serve as an apostle. When Elder Oaks considers an idea or a topic, he thoroughly considers every aspect and attribute of it. One time, after such a process, he presented something to the Brethren. After his presentation, there was one person who raised an issue that Elder Bednar was sure Elder Oaks had considered; however, Elder Oaks did not take offense. On the contrary, he simply said, "I am not certain that I have studied this issue in exactly the particular light you have presented. I will carefully take into consideration what you have said and present this again." He did so, and something concerning this issue did end up being changed, made possible by the absence of ego and Elder Oaks' careful reevaluation.

Elder Bednar also gave the example of The Family: A Proclamation to the World. Yes, it was written by the First Presidency and the Twelve. But somewhere along the line, at some point in time, someone had to get the first draft down in writing. But do we know who that was? No. Will we ever know who that was? No. No ego, no sponsorship, no yearning for credit. What an excellent principle to apply to all aspects of our lives.

Finally, it was past 9pm, and Elder Bednar told us that we needed to finish because he had grandchildren he wanted to go visit and put to bed. Due to these circumstances, he said, he would regrettably not be able to stay and shake hands. I'm sure everyone's heart sank a little as he said these words, just as mine did. However, I was grateful to have had the opportunity to be taught through the Spirit by a living apostle and prophet and his wife for the previous two hours.

After Sister and Elder Bednar bore their testimonies, we sang the closing hymn, 'I Believe in Christ,' and concluded with a closing prayer. After the prayer, Eric commenced with postlude music on the organ, and people in the audience began milling around. Elder Bednar said farewell to the Stake Presidency, the Stake Relief Society President and her husband, and the first counselor of the Detroit temple presidency and his wife, who had all also been seated on the stand. 

And then he came to Eric and me. 

He put his arm around Eric as he played and said something to the effect of, "Thank you for the beautiful, inspiring music. It added so much to the spirit of our meeting." And then he held his hand out to me. I shook it. His grip was firm. "Thank you," he said, looking me right in the eye. "Thank you," was all I could reply. And then Sister Bednar offered her hand to me. Soft and gentle, she shook my hand and smiled.  "Thank you," I said again. 

And then they turned around, made their way to the door, and left.

Definitely an evening to remember.

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

A fishy tale

"Are you sure you don't mind taking care of him while I'm gone?" my friend anxiously inquired as she peered into the small aquarium.

"Not at all!" I said with what I deemed to be a reassuring smile. After all (thought I to myself), how much trouble could it be to keep a little betta fish alive for a few days?

Famous last words, said a little nagging voice in the back of my mind.

"All right, then," she said with a nod and a smile. "His name is Ink. He needs to be fed once in the morning and once at night. When I feed him, I usually just twist the cap of his food bottle, and enough flakes fall out that I don't actually need to remove the lid."

"Great!" I said. "Sounds easy enough."

"Yeah, he's a pretty low-maintenance pet. All you really need to do is feed him, and he should be fine," my friend assured me.

Hahaha! chortled the nagging voice, full of mirth. Don't you know how temperamental pet fish are? Don't you remember what happened to every fish you and your siblings ever won from those summer reading programs at the library?

"But...but..." I thought, a small panic beginning to chisel away at my confidence.

What if something deadly suddenly happens to Ink while he is in your care? the nag continued. He could have a heart attack. He could unexpectedly stop eating. He could go insane (how would you like to spend your life cooped up in that tiny tank?). He could drown (but really). Are you sure you want to undertake this kind of responsibility? 

"But...but..." I desperately floundered for a counterargument.

A realization dawned on me. "Wait! Aha!" I thought triumphantly, temporarily overruling the nag. "Those library fish were just inexpensive little creatures whose life expectancy was short to begin with. They probably came from Wal-mart or the dollar store. Ink is a tropical fish who lives in an oxygenated fish tank--surely he has a better chance than those goldfish did. His background can't be that dismal."

Well, why don't you find out?

"Where did you acquire Ink?" I found the nag forcing me to question out of feigned curiosity.

"Oh, I just bought him for a couple of bucks at Meijer* the other day," my friend said nonchalantly.

Ha! I wiiinnnnnnnn! cried the nag.

"No, no! Ink is not dead, so you have proved nothing! Resilience often stems from modest beginnings." I distraughtly replied as I showed my friend to the door, my outward demeanor giving no hint at the inward turmoil I was experiencing.

We shall see, said the nag in an aggravating, know-it-all voice. We shall see.


The next morning, I awoke to the sun streaming through my open window. Ink's first feeding the previous night had gone without a hitch, which had proved to be a serious blow to the voice of the nag. As I climbed out of bed and walked into the living room, I could see from afar that Ink still seemed to be in good health, swimming about his aquarium as usual.

"No heart attack or drowning victims here," I thought smugly. Another blow to the nag. I confidently supposed that, should I manage a successful morning feeding, I could silence the nag once and for all.

"Good morning, Ink!" I said in my best sing-song voice, reserved for times when no other humans are within earshot. "Are you hungry?"

I removed the lid of the fish tank and set it carefully aside. I picked up Ink's fish food and gently twisted the cap, just as my friend had shown me, and just as I had the night previous. This time, however, only a very sparse sprinkling of food came out.

I twisted again.

Almost nothing.

I tilted the bottle downward a bit and twisted again.


And again.


Ink nibbled at the few tiny shreds of food that had made it into his tank, and then became motionless, head tilted toward the top of the tank, his mouth opening and closing as if to ask where the rest of his breakfast was.

I decided to ever-so-slowly unscrew the cap from the tilted bottle, holding it over the top of the tank so that any excess pieces that might fall would go into the tank and not dirty the carpet on which the tank rested.

Careful! said the voice of the nag. Don't let too much food drop into the tank. Overfeeding is the number one cause of pet fish death. Care--

In the moment that the last bit of ridge on the cap left its groove on the bottle, I knew I had made a mistake.

Dump went the contents of the suddenly unbalanced bottle--right into Ink's tank.

I was stunned. Ink was stunned. Even the nag was stunned to silence.

As the food began to spread along the top of the tank, Ink seemed to jerk out of his daze and began a feeding frenzy.

"No, Ink, no!" I commanded uselessly as he surfaced again and again to gulp down another piece of food, and then another.

Now you've done it. Now you've really done it! cried the nag. If Ink doesn't eat himself to death, the protein in the uneaten food will break down into ammonia and nitrites, and Ink will be swimming around in a toxic wasteland!

As much as I hated to admit it, I knew the nag was right. I needed to clear the food out of the tank. I ran to the kitchen and grabbed a cup from the cupboard. By the time I got back to the tank, however, the food had become saturated enough that it was sinking. Ink's tank was a blizzard of fish food pieces, some already beginning to blanket the blue pebbles at the bottom of the tank like a sort of eerie red carpet.

I dipped the cup into the tank in an attempt to catch some of the food, but all I really did was successfully terrify Ink, who darted behind the plant in the corner.

With a knotted, panicked feeling in the pit of my stomach, I knew the only way to save Ink would be to clean his aquarium. But I wasn't prepared to clean it--yes, it was just a little one-fish tank, but I had so many questions! Where should I put Ink while I cleaned the tank? Would he be able to survive a sudden environment change to a tiny glass of chemically-treated drinking water and no oxygen tube? Would he get claustrophobic? What temperature did his water need to be? Would the shock to his system be too much for his tiny fish self to handle? Perhaps the nag's warnings of a heart attack or insanity hadn't been so far-fetched.

You claimed resilience stems from modest beginnings. Well, here's your chance to prove it, said the nag smugly.

Seconds ticked by. I knew that any further indecision on my part could cost Ink his health, his sanity, or even his life. I had to act.

Carefully, I unplugged Ink's tank, removed the oxygen tube, and swiftly carried the aquarium from the living room to the kitchen sink. I then dipped the cup back into the water and coaxed a very frightened Ink into it, carefully setting the cup on the counter.

The nag began to dramatically hum the funeral march.

"Ink is not going to die," I said.

The nag ignored me and continued humming.

Turning my attention back to the tank, I carefully removed Ink's fake plant, rinsed it off, and set it aside. I then dumped the food-filled water of the aquarium down the drain. The blue pebbles at the bottom were still covered in bits of red flakes, so I began a tedious process of rinsing and dumping, rinsing and dumping. Every few moments, I would steal a glance over the rim of Ink's cup, making certain he was still alive.

At long last, I refilled the tank with fresh water. As I did so, however, I realized I had no idea what temperature the water was supposed to be. I dipped my finger in and decided that the water was too cold.

Out with the cold water, in with the warm. As the tank began to fill, the water from the faucet began to grow increasingly warm. Though I tried to regulate the temperature by shifting the handle on the tap, by the time the tank was filled, steam was wafting out of the tank.

Death by boiling. A mode of demise I hadn't even considered, the nag interrupted its funeral march drone to snootily remark.

As I had no intention of informing my friend I had boiled her fish, I dumped the water out and tried yet again.

At long last, I achieved what seemed to be a desirable water temperature. I placed Ink's plant back in the corner of the aquarium and then immediately picked up Ink's cup and carefully introduced him back into his old habitat.

After plopping into the aquarium water, Ink remained motionless for a few moments. Both the nag and I held our breath as if waiting for a verdict from the little betta.

Slowly, Ink began to swim around his tank.

I exhaled a sigh of relief.

Well, he's alive, but he's definitely moving much less energetically than usual. Not a good sign, observed the ever pessimistic nag.

I wondered if the chemicals in the water were causing Ink harm. What could I do?

With a troubled air, I carried Ink's aquarium back to its original spot in the living room.

Ink had become motionless again.

"Please don't die, little Ink! Please don't die!" I mourned as I replaced his oxygen tube.

"Since I took all his food away before, perhaps if I give him a little more now, the trauma will pass," I thought to myself.

Not likely, said the nag.

I picked up the fish food bottle and glanced at its considerably diminished contents. Now a veteran fish feeder, I sprinkled a few flakes into Ink's tank with great care. I waited, motionless, to see Ink's reaction. Ink ignored the food. My heart sank.

I replaced the cap on the bottle and set it next to the tank. And then I noticed something else. A bottle--a small bottle--near the tank that was not food.

I picked it up and read the label. Ah, the fish fairy had smiled upon me! The bottle was none other than a fish tank chemical regulating liquid! Joyfully, I squeezed eight drops into Ink's aquarium, adjusting the dosage for the size of Ink's tank, as the label indicated.

I placed the bottle of droplets next to the food and then realized with a glance at the clock that I needed to get on with my day. Only time would tell the fate of dear little Ink.

That evening, as I inserted my key and unlocked the deadbolt of my apartment door, a sense of dread began to fill the pit of my stomach. I stepped into my living room, closed the door behind me, and removed my shoes.

"Please be alive, Ink. Please be alive," I pleaded as I plodded toward the fish tank.

The aquarium came into view and my eyes swept the tank. No Ink darting to and fro. No Ink hiding behind his plant.

This could only mean one thing.

I removed the opaque aquarium lid and tearfully gazed down onto the surface of the water.

And there he was.

Ink. Poor Ink.



So much for resilience.

I couldn't believe my eyes. Though I'd had my doubts and fears, I had not been expecting this.

Diminutive, innocent creatures certainly have a knack for losing their lives around you, the nag observed. bunnyrabbit...a betta fish...what's next?

Sorrowfully, I peered down at Ink.

And then I peered more closely. Could it be? Were Ink's tiny fins moving?

I peered closer still.

Yes, yes they were!

Ink gave a wiggle, and with a sudden swiftness I did not expect, he darted to the bottom of his fish tank.

"Ink! You're alive!" I cried in elation. "You're alive, you're alive, you're aliiiiive!"

What! exclaimed the nag. Unbelievable! It can't be.

But it was.

I replaced the lid of Ink's tank and did a victory dance around the living room.

The nag's incredulous outcry was to be its last.

Ink frankly forgave my caretaking ignorance, and to this day, we remain amiable acquaintances. When my friend came to reclaim her beloved betta, it was with fondness that I bade farewell.

As I closed the door behind them, I gazed into the now empty corner of the living room where the aquarium had been. And I smiled to myself.


"We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails." --Anonymous


*Meijer (pronounced "my-er") is a basic equivalent to Wal-Mart that I've only encountered in the more eastern states of the US.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

In life

There is much uncertainty.
There is much injustice.
There is much anguish.


There is more warmth.
There is more light.
And there is more love.

Although the dark moments may seem sometimes to conquer the light,
it is only the battle they win.

Never the war.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

An eye-deal solution

The time had come for my biennial trip to the eye doctor for a checkup (though considering the history of my absolutely stellar eyesight, this excursion really ought to have been more of a biannual venture).

As physicians with advanced degrees and their own offices are wont to do, my regular optometrist (and by "regular," I mean "the optometrist with whom I have had appointments since I was five") was slated to be on vacation for the entire time I was to be in Utah. And so I made an appointment with the other optometrist in the office. So much for my twenty years of loyalty.

The day of my appointment soon arrived. After waiting a usual--but, might I add, nonetheless extremely ridiculous--amount of time and allowing boredom to morph me into the person who randomly texts people when she's got no other entertainment options aside from rifling through February's issue of Better Homes and Gardens or a battered copy of Horse & Hound, I was at last led into the back where I endured the usual series of eye drops and air puffs. I was pleased when I received a more experienced technician than usual--he actually believed me the first time I explained that, no, I could not see even the top line (yes, the giant "E") without my glasses. This technician eventually led me to a side room where, at long last, (and after waiting several minutes more), Dr. Lewis came to see me.

He strode into the room, shut the door, and sat down on his small, swivelly chair, my charts and records in hand.

"Well, Britny, I don't believe I've seen you before," he said, glancing from my name on the folder in his hand to my face.

In an effort to break the ice, he made a little small talk (I let him carry most of the conversation, as my previous small talk experiences have been perhaps a bit less than...ideal, shall we say). As he glanced through my chart, he turned the top page so that he could see my previous record.

"I see that you wear corrective lenses," he said, reading the paper.

Well observed.

"And how long have you worn them?" he asked, turning another page back. And then another page back. And another page back.

And another page back.

And another page back.

Finally, he just got down to business and skipped to the very last page.

"You've worn glasses since your very first appointment when you were five?" he asked, his voice a strange mixture of mirth and pity.

I nodded and confirmed that yes, indeed, there was really not a time in my life that I could clearly remember not sporting hardware on my face. While some people may look through polaroids or scrapbooks and be able to tell how old they were in the picture by the haircut they had or the clothes they were wearing, my distinguishing factor is the variety of metal frames that have always been a necessary part of my visage. From large purple frames with black speckles to frames of dark orange and black tiger stripes, my glasses have always been a fashion choice over which my parents (sometimes a bit reluctantly) have given me free reign.

After Dr. Lewis checked my eyes, I was given some dilation eye drops and then led back to the lobby for a second round of my favorite waiting game. The technician rescued me before I had lowered my standards enough to pick up Horse & Hound, but after a test or two, I was merely led to another smaller waiting room where I did not even have Horse & Hound to pass the time.

After awkwardly spending nearly 45 minutes sharing the 10x10' waiting room with an unfortunate middle-aged man who was probably giving up his entire lunch break as he waited for his contact lenses to be adjusted in the lab, I was at last led back to my previous room where, once again, Dr. Lewis came in to see me.

After shining a painfully bright light into my dilated irises several times over, he declared my eyes to be perfectly healthy (other than the fact that they can't focus clearly on anything more than two inches away from my face), and flipped the lights back on. He showed me some pictures of the inside of my eyes, after which he began scribbling his findings on my latest chart.

At last, he looked up and said, "Well, your eyes have undergone minimal changes since you were last here. In fact, I'll leave it up to you whether you even want to get new lenses."

At first, the words that had just come out of his mouth didn't even register.

But I gave it a few moments, and before long, my mind began to go into an appropriate state of shock.

For the first time in my life, I did not need a new prescription. 

I was flabbergasted.






Thoroughly astounded.

Perhaps Dr. Lewis didn't sense the profundity of the moment. He barely even paused before he announced, "In fact, in another year or so, I would advise you to seriously consider Lasik."

By this time, I was in a state of delirium akin to what Edmond Dantes must have felt when he discovered the possibility of escaping the Chateau d'If. (Although, in all fairness, he was only imprisoned for 14 years, whereas my deficient vision has held me captive for more than 20.)

My latest diagnosis is nearly 20/800--the clarity of something that is actually 20 feet away looks as if it is 800 feet away to me. Without my glasses, someone sitting across the room might as well be two and a half football fields away. Literally.

Perhaps you begin to see the cause of my level of excitement over the possibility of acquiring a level of natural vision I never even remember having.

Needless to say, the $130 I spent on my checkup is solid proof that money can, at least, buy happy news...

And now, dear readers, I shall leave you with a highly fashionable photo. If you are suddenly overcome with a strong desire to donate to my Lasik fund, I will gladly accept.

In my defense, the sunglasses they gave me to protect my dilated eyes wouldn't fit over my glasses, so I had to get creative.

Like I said, highly fashionable.

Friday, June 29, 2012

In which I have a sudden epiphany

100°F in Ann Arbor today with 63% humidity. According to the heat index calculator, I am living in what feels like a 133°F tropical rain forest.* (High humidity slows down the evaporation of perspiration that our bodies produce to cool off, thus making high temperatures feel much higher when humidity is added to the equation.)

Within milliseconds of walking outside this afternoon and attempting to breathe the impossibly thick air, I began to feel an incessant biological urge to sprint to the nearest enclosed, humidity-regulated structure I could find. Of course, this would have involved turning around and heading straight back into my apartment building. As this was not an option (due to the fact that I had eager young minds awaiting their weekly dose of instructional musical brilliance), I proceeded to battle my instinct of self-preservation and traverse the steaming parking lot as quickly as I--one who was under the immense pressure of looming suffocation--possibly could.

As I climbed into my car and a rush of endorphins congratulated me on my narrow escape from asphyxiation, I began to wonder what temperature the thermometer is required to reach before people actually do become physically unable to tolerate such heatwaves...

And so, after concluding my duties of musical knowledge bestowal several hours later, I returned home and thought to myself, "well now, what better way to spend a Thursday night than reading about hygrometers, humiture, and thermoregulation!"

Which is what I did.

Below, I quote a couple of interesting facts I learned from the "How Stuff Works" website, which you can find here (yes, yes, please abate your mockery at my choice of sources--I am working on a master's degree, but my MM will stand for Master of Music, not Master of Meteorology).

Humidity can be measured in several ways, but relative humidity is the most common. In order to understand relative humidity, it is helpful to first understand absolute humidity.

Absolute humidity is the mass of water vapor divided by the mass of dry air in a volume of air at a given temperature. The hotter the air is, the more water it can contain.
Relative humidity is the ratio of the current absolute humidity to the highest possible absolute humidity (which depends on the current air temperature). A reading of 100 percent relative humidity means that the air is totally saturated with water vapor and cannot hold any more, creatin­g the possibility of rain. This doesn't mean that the relative humidity must be 100 percent in order for it to rain--it must be 100 percent where the clouds are forming, but the relative humidity near the ground could be much less.
Humans are very sensitive to humidity, as the skin relies on the air to get rid of moisture. The process of sweating is your body's attempt to keep cool and maintain its current temperature. If the air is at 100-percent relative humidity, sweat will not evaporate into the air. As a result, we feel much hotter than the actual temperature when the relative humidity is high. If the relative humidity is low, we can feel much cooler than the actual temperature because our sweat evaporates easily, cooling ­us off. For example, if the air temperature is 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius) and the relative humidity is zero percent, the air temperature feels like 69 degrees Fahrenheit (21 C) to our bodies. If the air temperature is 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 C) and the relative humidity is 100 percent, we feel like it's 80 degrees (27 C) out.
People tend to feel most comfortable at a relative humidity of about 45 percent.

Is it weird that I find this stuff fascinating?

...okay, maybe a little.

I might add to the above commentary that high humidity in combination with low temperatures creates a very biting, bone-chilling effect. When combined with wind, this may cause even the fiercest and loyalest of flip-flop wearers to ponder their choice in foot adornment.

But let's not get off topic here.

Eager for another fact to log away? Did you know: pianos are built and designed to remain at 42% relative humidity, with an 8% moisture content in the wood. In a nutshell, treat your piano to the same living conditions you would a dearly beloved child.

Now that I have completely exhausted your interest in humidity, I shall go to bed.

From the mitten, over and out.




It just dawned on me...I live in a mitten. Mittens are designed to retain heat.

No wonder it's so hot.

*I do technically live closer to the equator than I do the North Pole, but only by a couple hundred miles--we passed the 45th parallel in northern Michigan on our way up to the UP during our most excellent vacation a couple of weeks ago.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pure Michigan

You know how sometimes you get together with friends and fantasize about an amazing trip you all want to take? Everyone is gung-ho, and the anticipation and excitement spreads like wildfire, with a culmination of someone proclaiming, "Yes! Let's really do this!"

And so everyone stands up, and the party dissolves as people chatter about the plans they're going to make and they put on their coats and shoes and proceed to the door.

Unfortunately, however, as the evening air fills their lungs and they proceed down the porch steps, the Real World with jobs and school and lack of funds knowingly smirks at them. After giving them a few last moments to relish and revel in their dreams and high hopes, it maliciously pounces, feeding ravenously on their eager enthusiasm, until, by the time they turn the key in the car's ignition and pull out of the driveway, all that is left of the original spark is a small ember of a memory of a discussion that was...well...what was all that insensible talk about, anyhow?

Days, weeks--even months--pass by.

Time and again, another gathering comes, another gathering goes. The vicious cycle repeats.


No matter how hard the Real World tries, there seems to always be that tiny remaining ember in the back corner that is left smoldering, threatening to flare up at any instant.

Simply awaiting the perfect moment to catch fire.


This past weekend, I and three lovely ladies took quite a fabulous vacation to northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula (known amongst Michiganders and other in-the-loop folk as the "U" "P"). 

File:Map of USA MI.svg
(Remember when I discovered that Michigan had another whole landmass aside from the mitten? hehe)
Three pianists, one speech pathologist, and nearly zero camping experience--what could possibly go wrong, thought we. 

Early Friday morning, we packed up the Honda CRV. With 296,273 miles on it, our trusty periwinkle automobile had more than enough experience to make up for our lack thereof.

We packed it up with just enough equipment to survive an apocalypse,

and off we went. 

After four hours of driving and a couple of bathroom breaks, we arrived at our first destination: Mackinac City (pronounced and sometimes spelled "Mackinaw"). We bought our ferry tickets to Mackinac Island, and then decided to grab some lunch. We proceeded to find a parking spot downtown and then visited a small restaurant where everyone but myself tried the famous Michigan "pasties," a northern Michigan/UP delicacy very much akin to shepherd's pie. (I went with a nice cheesy pizza instead, party pooper that I am.)

We then visited a small shop across the street, run by a group of newly-immigrated Russians, which had every flavor of popcorn imaginable, and then some:

I even found a shoutout to BYU on the top shelf:

After being offered enough popcorn and ice cream samples to feed a third-world country, we paused a moment to watch the art of fudge-making before exiting the store: 

We walked around town a bit, admiring the beautiful architecture and often feeling like we were exploring a city full of life-sized dollhouses.

After a few minutes, we headed back to the dock to wait for our ferry.

Our ferry was a Cadillac, because, yeah, we're awesome like that.

We rode on the semi-open-air level of the ferry so we could see the views and get the full ferry-riding experience. It was definitely a bit windy.

The ferry spurted out quite an incredible tail of water.

We got a pretty expansive view of the five-mile long Mackinac Bridge, which connects mainland Michigan to the UP.

We also got a nice view of Mackinac Island as we drew closer: the long white building is the Grand Hotel--a pricey place where they expect you to don formals for dinner, and where the movie "Somewhere in Time" was filmed.

There are two reasons Mackinac Island is famous:

1) No automobiles are allowed on the island. Everyone who lives there gets around by foot, bike, or horse-drawn carriage (no kidding). Hence, all the pedestrians in the streets:

 2) The fudge. Oooooh, the fudge.

We bought five kinds to try: german chocolate, chocolate walnut, chocolate cherry, chocolate chip vanilla, and butter pecan. Drooling yet? Pretty much everyone who walked past us did an envious double-take. ;)

As we walked around town, we decided to be adventurous. What better way to explore than by...tandem bikes?

We decided to pedal around the 8-mile perimeter of the island. It is safe to say that this was the most enjoyable, beautiful path I have ever had the pleasure of riding. Unfortunately, I didn't take many pictures at the beginning of the ride because I was too busy drinking it all in. Gorgeous greenery, old houses, cottages, lakeside mansions, the rocky shore...

We stopped about three-quarters of the way around the island at a beautiful, rocky beach and dipped our feet in Lake Huron. It was the cleanest, clearest lake I had ever seen in my life:

The 8-mile ride ended all too soon, and before we knew it, we were back downtown where we had started. We returned our beloved tandem bikes and did some more exploring as pedestrians.

The harbor

Inside the church

How many little boys must this sign tempt? ;)

Stilettos made of chocolate
After having our fill of Mackinac Island, we boarded the ferry for a return trip to Mackinac City on the mainland. We then hopped in the trusty Honda and drove to our campsite.

Our first night of camping was quite an enormous success, if I do say so myself. Our tent was pitched in no time flat, our fire was lit without a hitch, and our hotdogs, baked beans, and s'mores were eaten with a satisfaction that only food cooked over a campfire can give.

After dinner, we visited the beach near our campsite and did some relaxing and meditating.


Saturday morning, our alarms went off at the ripe old hour of 5am, and we drug ourselves out of our sleeping bags, knowing that we had a three-and-a-half hour drive ahead before arriving at our kayaking destination on Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula. I got ready in true camping style, pumping water to wash my face. However, I then succumbed and walked to the bathrooms to use a toilet. In the bathroom, minding my own business, a lady with purple hair suddenly interjected as I was at the sink: "Are you Mormon?" Completely taken aback, I replied that yes, I was. She said, "Me too!" and explained that she had guessed that I was such from the "We are Honor" BYU shirt I was wearing. We proceeded to have a lovely conversation--she was a convert of approximately one year from Saginaw, Michigan, and a hairstylist (hence the choice of hair color, I suppose?). After finishing my conversation detour, I hurried back to the campsite and hopped in the waiting car, after which we officially began Day 2.

Of course, the three-and-a-half hour drive was so beautiful, we hardly noticed the length of time at all. Our timing was perfect, so we crossed Mackinac Bridge just as the sun was rising.

As soon as we entered the UP, we were surprised by how different the scenery suddenly became--many new kinds of vegetation and particularly an abundance of spruce trees.

We found our destination, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, with little difficulty and with time to spare, so, after checking in with one of the kayak guides, we packed our lunches and then broke out the fudge and sunscreen, helping ourselves to gobs of both (one ingested, the other absorbed--I'll leave you to decide which was which).

After receiving some brief paddle training on the beach and being shown how to don our classy spray skirts, we each claimed a kayak (my group continuing our tandem theme), and pushed off into the water, ready for our 12-mile adventure. We were paddling in Lake Superior, which holds an astonishing 2% of the world's fresh water! In some places, it is more than 300 feet deep. Because of its depth and sheer enormity in size, the water temperature is never warm. Right now, it is approximately 49 degrees Fahrenheit. The water is extremely clean and clear--because of this, we were able to paddle a little way out from the cliffs and see a shipwreck on the lake bottom, which has been there since the 1800s, preserved due to the cold temperature of the water.

Kissing Rock--the only place it actually touches is in the middle.

Though it looks like paint, the rocks are actually colored by sediments and minerals. The white is calcium.

Look how clear the water is! We could see right down to the bottom.

Bucketlist: kayak in a cave. Check.

The cliffs are constantly eroding, crumbling, and changing. The most recent collapse happened in February.

The water here is much deeper than it looks. So clear!

After kayaking, which was an all-day venture (we stopped halfway through to have lunch on a beach, which was invaded by a billion nasty black flies that bit us endlessly. Most of us ended up wading out into the water and carrying our lunch with us to eat standing there. My legs are now covered in a bunch of tiny black bruises where I was bitten...), we headed to our next campsite, owned by a Native American family headed by a woman with the longest hair I have ever seen (almost to her ankles, and it was braided). With one night already under our belt, we practically felt like pros setting up camp and making a fire.

After cooking our soup and devouring another delicious dinner, we went out on the lake next to where we were camped (Otter Lake) in paddleboats.

We had a little race.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure ours was broken... ;)

There was a small playground.

And we even played croquet.

Sarah made friends with a nice Sri Lankan family near our campsite who gave us some sort of spicy coconut pancake.

After dark, we lit the lanterns and climbed into the tent. Michal put on a shadow puppet show for us, and then we fell asleep to the persistent call of a whippoorwill.

The next morning, we slept in and leisurely made breakfast. The girls made coffee for themselves (I of course stuck with water):

We had an incredibly beautiful campsite.

After packing up camp, we decided to visit a nearby waterfall. Once again, the drive was incredibly gorgeous. I felt like a hobbit:

We arrived at Laughing Whitefish Falls and, after hiking a small portion of the North Country National Scenic Trail through a forest with the ground covered in ferns, we arrived at the actual 100-foot waterfall.

After exploring the waterfall, we took a long drive (Michal chose some excellent Sunday music--hymns--some I was familiar with, some not--improvised upon by a pianist) back to mainland Michigan and headed to a place on the western side of the state called Traverse City. After eating dinner, we explored the town a bit and then took a lovely walk along the beach of Lake Michigan. We met a woman with a three-legged dog named Snowball who was from Germany but has spent the past 23 years living in Kentucky. Imagine a German Southern accent. Yup.

That night, we camped just outside of Traverse City. Jong Sun and Sarah did a little firedance:

The next day, we woke in the wee hours of the morning to drive to Sleeping Bear Dunes. Just after we left our campsite, it began to rain, with accompanying lightning and thunder. It was quite a splendid show. After a half hour's drive, we arrived at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, amidst quite the downpour. We entered the park and drove through a scenic route that made us feel like we were in the middle of Jurassic Park and that dinosaurs might burst out of the woods in front of or behind our vehicle at any moment. The woods grew darker as we got further in and reminded me of a dark, enchanted forest.

When we arrived at the scenic overlooks, I decided to get out of the car and see the views, even though I had to fight the pouring rain and the highspeed winds. I was very glad I did:

At a different overlook, the storm was beginning to clear. I felt like I was standing at the edge of the world, just like CS Lewis described it in the Chronicles of Narnia:

At another overlook, we thought we could see the Platte River (which it turned out not to be, but oh well), so we decided to drive and try and find it:

Instead of the Platte River, what we did find was an unbelievably warm lake, just off the beach of Lake Michigan (in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the two connect at high tide).

Lake Michigan beach

One last stop at a different beach, and then it was time to head home to Ann Arbor.

With a total of approximately 1200 miles and $221, I must say: I had a pretty spanking good vacation. My ember is officially an undying flame.