Saturday, September 10, 2016

More Thoughts on Polygamy, Pt. 3

The more I examine LDS doctrine as an ex-member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—commonly referred to as the Mormon Church—the less sense it makes. This surprises me because, for many years, I prided myself on being a rather reflective Mormon. I wouldn’t have thought I’d miss out on so many bizarre, problematic, improbable, outlandish, or blatantly nonsensical implications. In fact, I thought Mormonism was a particularly strong religion, philosophically speaking. And I guess I probably still think that of Mormonism, but I would make a distinction between Mormonism and LDS theology. The LDS Church believes its teachings simply are Mormonism. Why, they’ve even tried to prevent other sects from calling themselves Mormon, even when those sects trace their roots back to Joseph Smith and affirm the Book of Mormon as scripture. But Mormonism, to me, is something bigger than the LDS Church, and I don’t think the LDS Church is particularly good at practicing Mormonism. There is, from my perspective, a great deal of tension between the LDS Church and Mormonism, which is why some people such as myself who fall in love with Mormonism end up leaving the LDS Church when we realize the two don’t mesh. Put simply, the LDS Church doesn’t practice the Mormonism it purports to preach.

With my current interest in polygamy quite piqued, I have realized the explanations I was given in my youth for its practice are inadequate and unpersuasive. Now, there are numerous defenses of polygamy that have been offered over the years, many of which are quite familiar to the typical LDS person. I think they have all been shown to be problematic, based on historical and demographical inaccuracies, etc. But many of these—such as the idea that polygamy was a way to offer financial support to widows—are merely pointing to the supposed benefits of polygamy. They are not really explanations for why and how polygamy got started in the first place. As far as that goes, I know of only one explanation, and it is supported by official LDS scripture: Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of Mormonism, asked God about polygamy after seeing it in the Bible and was told that it was a divine law he would be required to obey if it was revealed and explained to him. That’s why polygamy got started, if you want the official LDS narrative.

There is a glaring problem here. The supposed revelation in which God explains polygamy and tells Joseph Smith he must obey it if it’s revealed to him has been canonized as LDS scripture. It’s section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants. It’s something anybody can read. The logical implication is that every single person who reads the D&C is obligated to practice polygamy and that not doing so brings one under condemnation. Of course, Mormons actually believed this for several decades after the “revelation” was received. Early Mormon Apostle Heber C. Kimball taught, “You might as well deny ‘Mormonism,’ and turn away from it, as to oppose the plurality of wives. Let the Presidency of this Church, and the Twelve Apostles, and all the authorities unite and say with one voice that they will oppose the doctrine, and the whole of them will be damned.”1 Meanwhile, Joseph F. Smith taught at the LDS Church’s 1878 general conference, “Some people have supposed that the doctrine of plural marriage was a sort of superfluity, or nonessential to the salvation or exaltation of mankind…. I want here to enter my solemn protest against this idea, for I know it is false.” And yet, despite the fact that anyone and everyone can now read D&C 132 and learn the “law” of plural marriage, the LDS Church today forbids its practice. Apparently, knowing the law is not sufficient for having to practice it—a notion that directly contradicts the official narrative for why polygamy ever got started in the first place.

Another problem: why did the requirement to practice polygamy extend beyond Joseph Smith when he was the only one to whom it was apparently revealed? Pretend for a moment that knowing about the law of plural marriage does obligate one to live it. As I’ve always heard and understood the story, God was warning Joseph that he was getting himself into something pretty serious and deep. It was like God was saying, “You know, Joe, once you open up this can of worms, there ain’t no going back. Are you sure you want to know about this stuff?” But if polygamy is such a sensitive, sacred, and touchy thing, why did Joseph’s curiosity have to kill the whole damn institutional cat? That is, why did the obligation to practice polygamy extend beyond the one person to whom it was initially revealed, beyond the one person who was supposedly willing to take upon himself such a burden? It doesn’t really add up.

But let’s go back to the fact that practicing polygamy, in this lifetime anyway, is now prohibited by the LDS Church. As I already suggested, this doesn’t make much sense given that anybody with an LDS Doctrine and Covenants can read about the law of polygamy, and knowing about the law of polygamy is supposedly what obligated Mormons to practice polygamy in the first place. As problematic as this is, let’s ignore it for a minute. Let us ask instead, why did the (official LDS) practice of polygamy come to an end? Much can be said about this, especially as it relates to politics and the desire for Utah to be granted statehood, but what is the official LDS narrative on the matter?

Again, we can turn to the D&C. In what is termed Official Declaration 1, LDS Church President Wilford Woodruff is quoted thusly: “The Lord showed me by vision and revelation exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice. If we had not stopped it … confusion would reign throughout Israel, and many men would be made prisoners. This trouble would have come upon the whole Church, and we should have been compelled to stop the practice.” Woodruff proclaimed that if the Mormons continued to practice polygamy, it would come “at the cost of the confiscation and loss of all the Temples, and the stopping of all the ordinances therein, both for the living and the dead, and the imprisonment of the First Presidency and Twelve and the heads of families in the Church, and the confiscation of personal property of the people (all of which of themselves would stop the practice).” Never mind that, in times past, the Lord supposedly made allowances for ordinances to be performed outside of temples when circumstances required it. Never mind that, in the past, it was nearly a hallmark of being a true prophet that one would be persecuted, arrested, or both. Never mind that official LDS Church publications had previously declared, “It would be as easy for the United States to build a tower to remove the sun, as to remove polygamy, or the Church and kingdom of God.” Never mind that Woodruff himself had previously stated, “If we were to do away with polygamy ... then we must do away with prophets and Apostles, with revelation and the gifts and graces of the Gospel, and finally give up our religion altogether and turn sectarians…. We just can’t do that … come life or come death.” Never mind that LDS Church President John Taylor had also received a revelation, several years earlier, in which the Lord said of polygamy, “I have not revoked this law, nor will I, for it is everlasting, and those who enter into my glory must obey the conditions thereof, even so, Amen.”

To reiterate, the practice of polygamy was stopped, according to the official narrative, because it would cause too darn much harm to allow its continued practice.

How very ironic.

In total, polygamy was practiced in the LDS Church for approximately 60 years. It has since been practiced by various offshoots of the LDS Church for nearly twice that long. I’m not saying polygamy was a good thing during the time the LDS Church sanctioned its practice, but even if we ignore that particular time period, the harm that has been caused by polygamy ever since the LDS Church disavowed it has been monumental. Assassinations, welfare fraud, ostracizing, rape, incest, and the sexual exploitation of children are just some of the things you’ll find taking place within polygamist communities, some on a regular basis. Yes, these things also happen outside of polygamist communities, but within such communities these acts are frequently tied directly to the community’s beliefs, teachings, and culture. In the Kingston group, for example, church leaders believe their bloodline can be traced back to Jesus Christ and must be kept pure. Incestuous marriages are thus fairly common. A brief look at the FLDS Church reveals practices too disgusting and disturbing to be worth repeating. Given the official LDS narrative, then, it appears that God was okay instituting polygamy knowing these atrocities would be the result. However, God was willing to stop polygamy in order to spare Wilford Woodruff and other high-ranking church leaders from going to jail.

It sure pays to be among the elect, doesn’t it? Feel free to take a vomit break. I’ll wait.

It is indeed an outlandish story the LDS Church weaves. Polygamy was so important that Joseph Smith had to practice it. God couldn’t allow otherwise—even though God would indeed allow otherwise just 60 years later, when the practice thereof would be an inconvenience—even though it was actually quite an inconvenience when it was first practiced, but that’s precisely why God warned Joseph Smith that he was getting himself into something he couldn’t get himself out of—except that you actually can get out of it, if it’s going to cause a lot of harm—even though God’s making people practice polygamy in the first place has led to way more harm than would’ve occurred had God never forced Joseph to practice it in the first place—but, of course, God couldn’t allow Joseph not to practice it, given that He was revealing the law of polygamy to Joseph and once you know about it, you have to practice it, no matter what—except that you really don’t, apparently.

Etc., etc., ad absurdum, ad nauseum.

Ad nauseum, indeed.

1 All quotations in this blog entry, except those from the LDS Doctrine and Covenants, are conveniently located at Those wishing for original sources may find them cited there.

Friday, September 02, 2016

More Thoughts on Polygamy, Pt. 2

I’ve had a lot of thoughts swimming around in my head about polygamy. Some of them I shared in my previous post, which was hastily written and published. I expect this post will be even more scattered than the last one. I’m just trying to capture some random thoughts and observations. Make of it what you will.

At the Sunstone Symposium, a woman said the following about why she and her family had chosen to leave the FLDS polygamous group around the time that Warren Jeffs came into power: “We left because we knew what was being taught didn’t match what was in the scriptures.” This isn’t an exact quote, but is as near as I can remember it. When I heard this, I could imagine many a Mormon nodding along, thinking this woman had acted so wisely to stick to the scriptures and not listen to anyone who tried to teach something counter to their message.

Oh, the irony! I honestly think one of the key reasons I became an unorthodox Mormon (back when I was still a member of the LDS Church) was my close study of the scriptures. More and more, I saw the modern LDS Church in opposition to the scriptures. Since leaving the LDS Church, these things stand out to me even more. Taking the Lord’s name in vain? That’s exactly what I see the LDS Church doing much of the time. Drawing near to God with their lips but otherwise denying Him? The LDS Church again. Calling bad things good and good things bad? You guessed it: the LDS Church. Trusting in the arm of flesh and denying the Holy Ghost? See also, LDS Church. False idols? Have I mentioned the LDS Church? But it goes beyond the principle-based stuff I’ve mentioned. Some teachings of the LDS Church are blatant and undeniable contradictions of what you find in scripture. To cite just one example, in LDS scripture, the Lord says, “Whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall … inherit the kingdom of God…. And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock” (3 Nephi 11:33, 40). Well, according to current LDS theology, you actually have to be baptized by the right people in order to inherit the kingdom of God, and being baptized by those people only allows you to inherit one-third of the kingdom of God, while truly inheriting all that the Father has requires being baptized by a Mormon, being confirmed a member of the LDS Church by a Mormon, dutifully attending LDS Church services, receiving the priesthood (if you have a penis) or pledging that someone with a penis will always rule over you (if you have a vagina), participating in sacred (but also secret) rituals within LDS temples, having your marriage sealed in an LDS temple by a Mormon, abstaining from alcohol, abstaining from tobacco, abstaining from tea, abstaining from coffee, not making unnecessary purchases on Sundays, giving 10% of your annual income to the LDS Church, and so on. (It also used to require having more than one wife—another rule that applies only to those with a penis.) Now what did 3 Nephi 11:40 say again? “And whoso shall declare more or less than [baptism and faith in Christ], and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil.” Yeah, well. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.

Going back to polygamy, I guess it annoys me when I see Mormons acting like polygamists are nuts when they themselves are guilty of so many of the same things. I mentioned last time that one of the shows I’ve been watching lately is A&E’s Escaping Polygamy. The show focuses on people fleeing from the polygamist communities in which they live. I was surprised how many people who choose to abandon polygamy nevertheless retain their fundamental religious beliefs. It’s not uncommon for the person fleeing polygamy to express a genuine concern that, because of her (or, much less often, his) choice to leave, she is going to be damned to Hell. These people are suffering so intensely that they are willing to choose eternity in Hell over life in polygamy, here and now. Super sad. Anyway, one of the main people on the show who helps others to escape—and who escaped herself from the Kingston group several years earlier—is now LDS. Maybe I’m reading into things, but I swear I’ve seen her balk at some of the comments that these former polygamists make. Not that I completely blame her. It’s wild to hear someone who has escaped the FLDS community express the belief that Warren Jeffs is a true prophet. It seems insane. But the LDS Church has a prophet, and the typical member of the LDS Church is unwilling to doubt anything that the LDS prophet says or does. The underlying mentality is the same. No, I don’t think Thomas S. Monson is a monster, and I wouldn’t want to compare him to Warren Jeffs. That’s not my point. Rather, I am comparing the unwavering confidence in and deference to church leaders that exists in both the FLDS community and the LDS Church. Thank God—literally—that Monson isn’t like Jeffs. But that doesn’t mean the LDS attitude toward church leaders is any healthier than it is in the FLDS community, at least from what I can tell. And thus it annoys me to see an LDS person roll her eyes at the “absurdity” of what an FLDS person believes.

Speaking of retained beliefs, another moment from Escaping Polygamy that stands out in my memory is when a person who had fled the FLDS Church talked about her experience meeting Warren Jeffs. Other people on the show, who had left a different polygamist group, were asking her how it felt. You could tell they expected it not to be a pleasant experience, as though the woman would have or should have sensed Jeffs’ depravity or something. But this woman, despite leaving, still believes Jeffs is a prophet. And when she talked about meeting Jeffs and shaking his hand, she described the experience as one that involved a sense of peace in her prophet’s presence. This isn’t one of those times when an LDS person scoffed, so that’s not my point. But I found it very interesting. LDS often point to feelings of peace as evidence that something is true, because they regard a feeling of peace as more or less synonymous with the presence of the Holy Ghost, and the Holy Ghost shows up and makes you feel peaceful precisely to inform you that something is true. That’s the Holy Ghost’s #1 job. So, in the LDS world, feelings of peace are markers of what is good and right. They play an essential role in gaining a personal testimony, to converting non-Mormons to the LDS Church (“Do you feel peaceful when I share my beliefs with you? You do!? Wonderful! That’s the Holy Ghost telling you my church is the one and only completely true church on the entire planet!”), and to living life in general (“I knew I should accept the job offer because I felt peaceful about it when I prayed for guidance, so now I know God wants me to take the job.”) Well, this ex-FLDS woman felt at peace when she met Warren Jeffs. How does that make any sense on the LDS model? It doesn’t, which means the typical LDS person will point the finger of blame at the woman herself. She was confused, or she fell prey to Satan’s trickery, or something. Just as the ex-FLDS woman probably “knows” it was the Spirit giving her those feelings, LDS folk “know” it wasn’t. Call it a win-win?

Probably the most poignant episode of Escaping Polygamy, for me, was one that aired only recently. It was about yet another woman who desired to leave the FLDS Church. She had a 13-year-old daughter that she hadn’t seen in three years, despite their both being FLDS. You see, the 13-year-old daughter, at the age of 10, had been selected to be part of the “United Order.” This gave the girl something of elite status, but it also removed her from her mother’s home and effectively severed their ties. As the mom described it, she (the mom herself) wasn’t “worthy” of seeing her daughter.

I was appalled. What kind of sick and twisted belief system would tell a mother she isn’t worthy of seeing her own child? The answer hit me like a ton of bricks: the LDS belief system. No, the LDS Church doesn’t literally and physically remove children from their parents just because the children are exceptionally righteous. Not in this life, anyway. But a key part of LDS theology is that, in the afterlife, families are together only in the celestial kingdom—the top bracket of the hereafter. Thus, as far as family relationships go, what the FLDS woman was experiencing today is exactly what the LDS Church teaches could happen to you tomorrow. Even if you’re a decent person, if your children are more “righteous” than you, it is quite possible that in the next life, they will be taken from you, to live with the elite class, and will no longer even be considered your children. You will not be worthy to go where they are, and you will be separated forevermore. Your children will literally be too good for you, and you will neither deserve nor be allowed to retain the title of mother or father.

I’m sorry, but this warrants profanity: fuck that.

Maybe I sound overdramatic, but this is some seriously sick shit. Few things about the LDS Church have hit me as hard as this realization. I’ve always known this was the doctrine of the LDS Church, but somehow it took seeing such an atrocity enacted in the here and now for me to grasp just how messed up of an idea it is. Had I not spent a few minutes being horrified before I saw the connection to LDS theology, I don’t know that it would have had the same effect. We’re desensitized to what we already know. LDS theology is so familiar to me, it’s hard to see it for what it is. That’s why leaving the LDS Church has been so eye-opening. The longer I’m away, the more certain things stand out to me and I can’t for the life of me believe I never noticed them or never realized they were so damn glaring.

Okay, I guess I’m going to turn this into a three-part series. The final thing I wanted to discuss takes things in a very different direction, so I might as well make it its own post. That’s not a bad thing. This three-part series will end up practically doubling the number of posts I’ve written this year. Yay!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

More Thoughts on Polygamy, Pt. 1

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve become more interested lately in learning about polygamist groups that trace their heritage to Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of Mormonism. Over the summer, Melanie and I watched several reality TV shows about polygamy, and I can’t help but find the culture fascinating. Some of these shows are more sensationalistic than others—“reality” is a loose term when you’re talking about reality TV—but the presentation isn’t what grips me. Instead, I find myself completely captivated by the ways in which these polygamist groups mirror the culture in which I myself grew up as a member of the mainstream LDS Church. If you have no connection to the LDS Church and know little about Mormons other than their historical affiliation with polygamy, it may seem absurd that I could find the similarities between the groups that still practice polygamy and the LDS Church startling. But mainstream Mormons today are about as anti-polygamy as anyone, and the majority of them would be appalled to think their culture bears any resemblance to the “depraved” and “apostate” sects that still adhere to the doctrine of plural marriage. That’s the mentality I grew up with. But now, I continually find myself shaking my head in amazement at the similarities. It can be truly stunning.

I listed several of the similarities between mainstream LDS culture and polygamist cultures in my previous post, but I didn’t really elaborate on them. I was simply reporting some of the things I’d heard at Sunstone from former members of polygamist groups. In this post, I will elaborate on those points but also raise some new ones. I will also explain why I find lacking some of the typical responses LDS folk often given for why polygamy was ever practiced in the first place.

Let’s begin with the similarities.

Similarity #1: Suffering persecution is evidence that you belong to God’s true church
I don’t know how much actual persecution the average polygamist faces, nor the average Mormon. But Mormons are notorious for having a persecution complex. Often, they will equate anything in the world that doesn’t cohere with their values, beliefs, and/or desires as a kind of persecution. At the risk of exaggerating—though not by much—a Mormon might see the fact that the corner grocery store remains open on Sunday as a form of persecution. Less controversially, Mormons being the brunt of a joke on TV could be seen as persecution. Almost certainly, non-Mormon Utahans griping about the LDS Church’s stronghold on state politics, about the obnoxiousness of LDS neighbors, or other general complaining about the surrounding culture is regarded as persecution. Sure, most Mormons aren’t being tarred and feathered nowadays, but they are persistently mocked and ridiculed by outsiders, at least from their own perspective. And why is that? Because the LDS Church is Satan’s enemy #1. And why is that, you might ask? Simple: because the LDS Church is God’s true church on the face of the earth. Thus, it is the only religious institution that truly threatens Beelzebub’s plan of dragging as many souls as possible down to Hell to be his partners in misery. The Devil has a vested interest in making the LDS Church as laughable to outsiders as possible, so as to prevent converts and encourage apostasy. From what I’ve heard out of the mouths of ex-polygamists themselves, polygamists say the exact same thing about why they face persecution—because Satan is working so very hard, and so very specifically, against them. After all, why would he bother stirring up trouble for those who already belong to false churches and who are therefore already in his grasp? (What’s that? Religious groups other than Mormons and polygamists face persecution? Hush, hush, now! It’s time to move on! Go!)

Similarity #2: Doubting or questioning what you’ve been taught is the result of Satan planting those thoughts in your head
It’s more of the same logic here. Satan’s out to destroy God’s work, so of course he tries to confuse you by making you cock an eyebrow whenever a religious leader tells you something like God can make a square circle. Don’t question it! Don’t try to make sense of it! The more you linger on a doubt, the more chains Satan is able to wrap around your neck! Don’t be that guy! It’s amazing how much peace and tranquility comes from turning off your critical thinking skills!

Similarity #3: When laws are passed that stand in the way of the religion’s wishes or moral dictates, Satan is to blame
This probably counts as a subset of similarity #1, but I’ve heard it from polygamists and LDS Mormons alike. Polygamists point to the example of child labor laws that stand in the way of their building up the Kingdom of God on earth, as they are striving to do. Mormons point to things like the legalization of same-sex marriage, which stands in the way of their building up the Kingdom of God on earth, as they are striving to do. When will people learn that God does not want happiness for children or the gays! C’mon, already! No matter which religious group you belong to, make no mistake that when it comes to the nation’s law books, Satan is head ghost writer.

Similarity #4: Ugly stories about the church, its history, or its leaders are lies concocted by those who seek to destroy God’s work
Who are in turn inspired by Satan, of course. It’s infuriating to me when Mormons refuse to believe anything that opposes their belief system because all such things are automatically dismissed as lies. Critically evaluate my position and dismiss it. That is fine. But that’s not how it usually works. Knowing something contradicts the narrative they were raised with is enough for most Mormons to stop listening altogether. Well, I consider it a giant red flag whenever a religious institution uses its beliefs as a Litmus test for determining truth rather than the other way around. I’m sure this is a problem in many religious cultures and not just among Mormons and polygamists. Even so, I have learned that “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” is indeed a common retort for the latter two. One woman who spoke at Sunstone is a lawyer who worked on some of the legal cases connected to Warren Jeffs. She spoke of two polygamist women who were made to testify and who had to listen to the recording of Jeffs having sex with a 12-year-old girl in the FLDS temple. After refusing to answer the lawyer’s questions about it, the judge finally forced them to answer. “The God and the prophet never do wrong!” was all one of them would say. The other simply reported that she didn’t trust the audio recording one iota, considering it a fabrication of those determined to harm the prophet and the church. Sigh. Unshakeable faith is not a virtue, my friends. If your faith won’t shake even when reality hits it smack over the head, that’s not a matter of standing firm. That’s just having one hell of a stiff neck.

Similarity #5: Extreme reverence for church leaders
Maybe this one doesn’t seem so bad on the surface, but hear me out. On one episode of Escaping Polygamy, a woman was fleeing her FLDS community. In the midst of collecting her belongings and whatnot, she had to sneak into an FLDS school. As she darted through the school, you could see photos of Warren Jeffs hanging on the wall. Knowing who Jeffs is, this turned my stomach. These people are quite literally victims of Jeffs, and yet their buildings and homes are pockmarked with visual shrines to the man. I found myself thinking, “Shouldn’t it be paintings of Jesus on the wall? Isn’t that who they’re supposed to look to? Isn’t that who they claim to worship?” And it immediately hit me that Mormons do the exact same thing with pictures of their leaders. The last time I attended the LDS temple, I found myself disturbed by the photos of church leaders hanging in the chapel where one waits for a temple session to begin. It just didn’t seem right. And it isn’t. I guess it’s okay to have images of people you admire in your house, but in LDS culture, it’s something of a duty to have at least one photo of the prophet on prominent display in your home. Why??? Mormons rise whenever the president of the church walks into a room, hold public celebrations in honor of their leaders, swap stories about when they had the honor of touching or even being in the same room as one of these men, etc. It’s all a bit disturbing. We do this with celebrities, yes, but that’s my point—are these men celebrities? Should they be???

Ay, carumba. I don’t have time to finish this post now, and I’m not even sure if it’s structured the way I wanted it to be. I feel like it’s a rough draft at best, but with the limited time I have nowadays, I don’t really have time to second guess it. I’m officially calling it “Part 1” and hoping that “Part 2” will be something coherent whenever I get around to it. I don’t feel like this post added much of anything. Like I said, it was a rough draft with me gathering thoughts. I wasn’t sure I’d hand them over like this without reorganizing and restructuring, etc., but oh well. Sue me.  Can you tell I’m ending this rather abruptly?

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sunstone 2016

Note: I am backdating this post to yesterday, because I had written most of it by then and just never got around to publishing it. Until now. So there.

This weekend at the University of Utah was the Sunstone Symposium, an annual multi-day conference geared toward Mormon and Mormon-related intellectualism. The bulk of the crowd consists of liberal and/or “fringe” Mormons. There are also many ex-Mormons who retain an interest in Mormonism, and then there are those who belong to groups (or have come out of groups) that also trace their lineage, in some way or another, to Joseph Smith. (Many of these people call themselves “Mormon” but are not members of the mainstream LDS Church headquartered in Salt Lake City, UT. While I believe they have every right to use the term “Mormon,” I make a distinction here purely for convenience’s sake—because nothing says convenience quite like a lengthy parenthetical aside.)

My first time attending Sunstone was two years ago. I couldn’t go last year because I was in Nauvoo, but this year afforded me another opportunity to be a part of the Sunstone extravaganza. Of course, I’ve gone through some big changes since I last attended. This year, I went as an ex-Mormon. As such, I was interested in far fewer sessions. I don’t really need to attend a session on how doubt can be a healthy thing and has its place within the LDS Church when I myself am no longer a part of the LDS Church and no longer feel a need to come to terms with how much (or how little) I doubt. But the theme of this year’s symposium was “Many Mormonisms and the Mormon Movement.” There was a conscious effort to bring a wider range of “Mormon” voices to the conference, and that resulted in many polygamous sects being represented (sometimes for good and sometimes for ill). My interest in polygamy has increased much over the last while (though I have no interest in practicing polygamy myself, I assure you), so I ended up attending only one Sunstone session that was not polygamy-based. The very first session I attended this year featured a panel of women who currently live in polygamist families. Edith Barlow and Elsie Blackmore are the 13th and 25th wife, respectively, of Winston Blackmore. Also on the panel were Elise Barlow, Hanna Blackmore, and Dollie Blackmore, three of Winston’s 145 biological children. (That’s not a typo. He has 145 biological children.) They spoke highly of their experiences within a polygamous family and culture and of the joy that it brings them. They were articulate and funny. I very much appreciated and enjoyed hearing from them, and I felt nothing but good will toward them. Then, as a kind of afterthought, I remembered some of the ideas that weren’t being expressed but are pretty much guaranteed to be a part of their polygamous culture—unhealthy ideas and attitudes about different races, for example. That made me sad.

Brady Williams, of TLC’s My Five Wives, was also at Sunstone. (So were his wives, but they didn’t want to be on the stage, having “had enough of the spotlight,” according to Brady.) He argued in defense of “progressive polygamy,” which he deemed “feminism’s strangest bedfellow.” His family left the Apostolic United Brethren years ago and now practices polygamy for reasons that have nothing to do with religious beliefs. It is simply the structure of the family they have created together, that they love, and that they want to keep intact (as they should). Brady defends a view that is very forward-thinking, wherein a marriage system can remain closed but accommodate any variety and number of parties to that marriage: a man and five women, two men and a woman, five women and two men, three women without a man at all, etc. The key is that each party to the marriage has an equal say as to whom the marriage will include, and each party’s voice must be heard. That’s an oversimplified retelling of his view, but it was certainly interesting. I see no blatant logical or ethical flaws in his position, though I question how emotionally healthy it would be for at least most people to have more than one (concurrent) spouse.

Most of the sessions I attended were not friendly toward polygamy. Most presenters spoke of it as inherently damaging and problematic, with several of them being former members of polygamist groups. What fascinated me above all else was hearing these former members of fundamentalist Mormon sects describe mentalities that are oh-so-familiar to me because of my LDS background and upbringing. These are mentalities that I have long abandoned, and yet examining them within the framework of systems that I believe are clearly morally corrupt and/or psychologically unhealthy made it all the more obvious to me that these ways of thinking—no matter who adopts them—are just plain batshit crazy (to use the phrase I most want to use, if I may be so frank). Here is just a sample of the kinds of thinking I heard: Persecution is “proof” that you belong to the one true church, because that’s who Satan would want to target and hinder the progression of. If you find yourself seriously doubting or questioning what a church leader has taught or something that you read in the scriptures, Satan is putting those thoughts into your head. Because of his grasp on the world at large, Satan is also the author and perpetrator of laws that go against God’s will, prevent the building up of God’s kingdom on the earth, and otherwise corrupt society—which, in this case, includes anti-polygamy laws and child labor laws. Stories that reflect poorly on church leadership (past or present) are lies made up by those outside of the church who are intent on destroying it and thwarting God’s work. These are shaming, paranoia-inducing, critical-thinking-discouraging, coercive, manipulative, and otherwise controlling mentalities—and every single one of them is very familiar to me as someone who was born and raised in the LDS Church.

On Sunday, Community of Christ held “Sunstone Sunday” to finish off the Sunstone weekend. Community of Christ is one of the sponsors of the Sunstone Symposium, so a special announcement is made inviting people to attend our church services the day after the official symposium concludes. We had a ton of visitors, which was cool. I met some new people, and they all seemed great. Community of Christ seems to attract the cream of the crop, I have to admit. But not all of the guests were new to Community of Christ. Lachlan Mackay, my boss during my time in Nauvoo, came out for Sunstone and taught our Sunday School class. He explored the question of how it is that, given Mormonism’s militant beginnings, the RLDS Church / Community of Christ could nevertheless develop into a “peace church.” Then, during the worship service, Toronto-based John Hamer delivered the sermon. Hamer’s theme, taken from Luke 12:13–21, was “Be Rich Toward God.” It was an awesome service all around.

And now for some photos from my Sunstone adventures:

This is probably my very favorite souvenir of Sunstone 2016, the work of a gentleman by the name of Matt Page.  (He also dressed as Brigham Young and was a popular photo-op among Sunstone guests.)

Many people aren't aware that Brigham Young's son regularly performed in drag. This is a cardboard cutout of a photo of him in character. And no, this isn't a joke.

Lately, I've been thinking of taking up that quaint old habit of reading books again.  I got this from the discount / clearance / bargain bin table at Sunstone and feel eager to read it.

Brady Williams and his wives are bookended by Mica McGriggs (moderator) and Lindsay Hansen Park (one of the top people at Sunstone but also famous for her Year of Polygamy podcast series, which is well worth listening to ... though it might make you both sick and sad).

A could-be-better photo of D. Michael Quinn and John Nielsen, who presented at a session entitled "Who Holds the Keys?: FLDS Perspectives on Authority." Did you know that, in the FLDS community, the Celestial Kingdom is divided into three levels reserved for those whose marriages consist of 3 wives, 5 wives, and 7+ wives, respectively? That was new to me!  Apparently, it all ties back to Freemasonry and Brigham Young, like so much of polygamist culture and belief does (though not the actual polygamy part, funny enough).

Being goofy in my souvenir Infants on Thrones t-shirt.  Now that I've left the LDS Church behind, Infants on Thrones is the only podcast I listen to with great regularity.  It's irreverent, often hilarious, and features among its pantheon of hosts none other than the aforementioned John Hamer.

Lach Mackay and I pose with Emma Smith and Joseph Smith III at the Salt Lake City Community of Christ on Sunday, July 31st.  I got somewhere between zero and two photos with Lach while working in Nauvoo, but I'm not sure any of them were just the two of us.  This was as close as I could get.  For whatever reason, cardboard cut-outs are all the rage lately.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Potpourri No. 42

I’m alive. Here’s an update.

Work Life
My job continues to go really well. They seem really pleased with me. I receive frequent praise. My supervisor called me into a meeting room today and told me she’s already trying to get me to be a salaried employee, complete with a pay raise. They don’t normally do this so quickly, but she thinks I’ve been doing an amazing job and, according to her, they don’t ever want to lose me. I like the job very much because I work largely independently and get to spend a good chunk of my day listening to music. Most of the time, it’s a somewhat busy but not-too-stressful job. A nice combo. I often think about how happy I am with it, and I don’t think you could ask for much more than that.

Personal Life
One of the best things to happen in the last month is that I’ve started taking guitar lessons again. As I’m sure I’ve said on this very blog, probably numerous times, one of my biggest fears is that I will look back on my life and curse myself for not doing a whole lot more with music. I’ve taken guitar lessons, in spurts, a few times in my life, but I’m a much more disciplined guy nowadays. I think this time around, it really has a chance to pay off. And so far, it is. I’m playing a lot more music, and in turn, I’m writing more music. I think having a job where I’ve been able to listen to so much music has helped inspire me. When I’m listening to really good music, I find myself thinking I want to spend as much of my free time as possible writing and playing.

Home Life
I guess this is a subset of personal life, but whatever. Melanie and I continue to love our home, but the first big problems have already appeared. When it rains, we have issues with flooding. One of our downstairs bedrooms gets water soaking up into the carpet. Apparently, there’s a crack in the foundation and the water in the ground seeps in. It’s not coming in so fast that it’s hugely problematic, but it’s certainly a big nuisance. And it stinks up the carpet, and it makes a good chunk of that room unusable because you don’t know what will get ruined. And then we have to run a high-powered fan for days at a time to dry things out, which is noisy and likely racks up the electric bill. Our garage is also quite bad if it rains a lot. It turns into a lake inside. Many books have already fallen victim to it. We can’t reliably store anything in the garage, apparently, because water will get to it eventually. My books were in boxes, but the bottom of the box gets all soggy and then the water starts to soak up into the book. There was only one book that was in such terrible condition, I threw it away. But several have become warped. And that depresses me. Books are one of my treasured possessions.

Family Life
Family life is going really, really well lately. We went through a very rough phase with Peter, where he was pretty much abusive to us, no matter what was going on. It didn’t matter how you treated him, he would treat you like garbage. It was extremely depressing, and I’m not using that term lightly. But that situation has improved dramatically over the last two or three months, and it’s wonderful. I also love that Melanie and I are in a situation where we can date once in a while. Just last Saturday, we went out to lunch and two movies at Broadway, a theater that specializes in independent film. It was a splurge, but it was great. I continue to be crazy about that girl, and I don’t get sick of spending time with her. In fact, it’s much harder for me to enjoy work now that Melanie and the boys are on summer vacation. I feel like I’m missing out, and that’s really sad. But I think they’re enjoying the summer thus far. They’ve kept busy playing around. As they should. Melanie, unfortunately, has to have surgery in a couple of weeks. If everything goes well, it will be an outpatient surgery and shouldn’t be too debilitating. But that doesn’t mean it will be fun or that she’ll be wanting to (or allowed to) go out and play the next day. I just hope she recuperates quickly enough to enjoy the latter half of her summer break.

In sum, life continues to get more and more wonderful. And that’s pretty damn cool.  I guess that’s all I’ll say for now.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

2015 in Review: Music

This is the fifth in a series looking back on 2015. Other entries will include booksmovies, food, television, and more.

The last time I posted an entry from my 2015 year-in-review series, it was January 30th. At the time, I felt sheepish about the fact that January was coming to an end and I was still recapping the previous year. Then I practically stopped writing blog entries at all. Here it is, touching on mid-April, and I still haven’t completed my year-in-review of 2015. It seems completely absurd to start it up again at this point, I’m sure, and yet I’m going to do so. I had stuff I wanted to say about my musical year of 2015, and I’m going to embrace the whole “better late than never” philosophy when it comes to this. So here we go…

For me, the first standout album in 2015, although an album much older than that, is Men Without Hats’ 1987 release, Pop Goes the World. I got this album from the library in early February and listened to it almost non-stop for weeks. I found it unbelievably catchy, and it coincided with my coming to a point of clarity in my spiritual journey that also left me feeling giddy. The album served as a perfectly upbeat companion to a time in my life when things were changing, when anything seemed possible, and when I was deliriously happy—which is the precise term I used in a blog entry I wrote at that time, wherein I give credit to both Pop Goes the World and my religious revolution. I now think of Pop Goes the World as my conversion album. Many of you will be familiar with the title track “Pop Goes the World,” a decent hit for Men Without Hats back when it came out. If you’re like I was just 14 months ago, you’ve never heard the rest of the album. But, man, it’s fun. Although there are several songs that are certifiable earworms, I’ve chosen to share “Moonbeam” below. Apparently, it was also released as a single in ‘87, but I have no recollection of it. Does it ring a bell with any of my readers? I apologize that the video is of such terrible quality, both visually and creatively speaking. But the audio isn’t bad, and that’s what we’re going for here.

I discovered The John Butler Trio in 2015 thanks to a YouTube video shared on Facebook. I admit, I haven’t listened much to this band since, but I was blown away by the solo acoustic performance of “Ocean,” which I will post below. It’s impressive enough to be worth sharing, no matter how much (or how little) the band has otherwise taken root in my mind. The guitar-playing is mind-blowing.

One of my favorite folksy artists is Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden. Hayden released Hey Love in late March 2015, and while it may be one of the least memorable of his albums, it’s still good. Here’s the video for “Troubled Times”:

One of my favorite punk bands, Stiff Little Fingers, released a new album in 2015 titled No Going Back. Their first three albums, released between 1979 and 1981, will forever remain their best, but they’re in pretty good form considering. I need to spend more time with No Going Back, but here’s a sample for you: “Throwing It All Away,” a rather radio-friendly none-too-raucous ditty if I do say so myself.

Barenaked Ladies also reappeared on the scene in 2015 with the release of Silverball, just in time to spend some time on our car CD player as we drove to Illinois to spend seven weeks living in Nauvoo. Silverball is a marked improvement over 2013’s Grinning Streak, but still near the bottom of the band’s extensive catalog. Multi-instrumentalist Kevin Hearn continues to be one of the group’s greatest assets, if not an under-utilized songwriter. “Tired of Fighting with You” features Hearn’s classic surreal lullaby sound and quirkily poetic lyrics. This track doesn’t showcase the more energetic pop-rock tone that dominates the rest of the album, but it’s a good song.

1980s New Wave superstars Duran Duran are still going strong, having released Paper Gods in September. Perhaps only one album will eclipse Paper Gods as the album that featured more heavily into my life during 2015—and no, I’m not referring to Pop Goes the World. (Oh, the suspense!) Creegan has been an incredibly fun part of my music listening over the last year. He is an avid music listener, and he picks out his favorites from every CD he hears and demands that they be replayed over and over again. The first three tracks of Paper Gods—titled “Paper Gods,” “Last Night in the City” and “You Kill Me With Silence,” respectively—were all exceptionally big hits with Creegan, who loved the album in its entirety. But I’m actually going to share the fourth track from the album, “Pressure Off.” Why? Because it’s catchy as hell. What other reason do you need?

One of the best releases in 2015, in my opinion, was Ben Folds’ So There. The album concludes with over 20 minutes of concerto music, spanning three tracks. Preceding that are eight piano-heavy pop tunes, in classic Ben Folds form but with more orchestration than he’s ever done before. My favorite is the opening track, “Capable of Anything,” which I’ll share here:

One musician I continually find myself surprised to enjoy as much as I do is Joe Satriani, guitarist extraordinaire who specializes in instrumental rock. I found his 2015 release, Shockwave Supernova, thoroughly enjoyable. The final track is one of my favorites on the album, the slower, aptly-named “Goodbye Supernova.” I really like the bass in this song. Not that it’s impressive, it just sounds really good to me. I think it reminds me of something else, which might not be what Satriani wants to hear, but regardless, there is a nostalgic quality to this tune that pulls me in and makes me feel like closing my eyes and reflecting. Here it is:

I bought Shockwave Supernova as a birthday present to myself along with a few other albums. I rounded out my Collective Soul collection by nabbing both 2008’s Afterwords, which I had previously neglected, and their new 2015 release, See What You Started by Continuing. Collective Soul is one of those bands that I really enjoyed in the 1990s and then stopped paying much attention to after a couple of their albums were merely so-so. After nearly a decade-and-a-half of pretty much ignoring them, I came by a really cheap copy of their 2009 self-titled album and gave it a listen. I quite liked it. I can understand someone arguing that many of their songs sound quite a bit alike, but such a complaint can be lobbied against many a good band. All I know is, the last few Collective Soul albums have been very enjoyable, and I’m glad to have them back in rotation. Below are the videos for “Hollywood” from Afterwords and “AYTA” from See What You Started by Continuing.

One of my absolute favorite album discoveries of 2015 was one of my birthday CDs, White Hot Peach by Primitive Radio Gods. Choosing one song to showcase from this album is incredibly hard. It’s so damn good. I’m not sure the audio quality is as good in the following video as I wish it were, but the song is awesome. Please enjoy “Fading Out.” After you listen to this, can you honestly say you don’t want to listen to it about 100 more times before doing anything else?

It was late October, or maybe November, when a friend of mine called me up and invited me to go with him to see Shakey Graves in concert. I’d never heard of Shakey Graves, but I went for it and had a very good time. I was amused that, of all the concerts I’ve ever been to, this country-tinged, electrified, singer-songwriter type gave the most rock star performance of any artist I’ve ever seen live. Brassieres thrown onstage? I’d never seen it before, but it happened for Shakey Graves. He had a certain boyish charm and energy about him that kept the crowd enthralled, myself included. He wasn’t shredding up the guitar like you might expect of a heavy metal musician, but man, could he fingerpick the hell out of it. I’ve decided that a video of a live performance is more fitting, since that’s how I experienced Shakey Graves. In this video, he looks very much like he did when I saw him at The Depot in downtown Salt Lake City: black baseball cap, plain white t-shirt, and a thick but short beard. Enjoy this dual performance of “If Not For You” and “The Perfect Parts,” both from the 2014 album And the War Came.

And now for the absolute biggest album of 2015, as far as my family is concerned: Blurryface by Twenty One Pilots. We got this album from the library, and even more so than with Duran Duran’s Paper Gods, my kids could not get enough of it. They knew a couple of songs from the radio—“Tear in My Heart” and “Stressed Out”—but they quickly fell in love with pretty much every track on the CD. I tell you, watching Creegan cock an attitude and sing along with “Stressed Out” is pretty darn entertaining, but even I found myself enjoying the crap out of this album from a purely musical standpoint. For all the many hours of continuous airplay that it received in our car, I never got sick of it. I still don’t feel sick of it, even though it still gets regular airplay. (Santa was wise enough to give us our own official copy for Christmas.) Twenty One Pilots are sometimes classified as an “alternative hip hop” duo. If you know me, you know hip hop is pretty far from my style, but I guess the “alternative” part is doing enough work to keep my ears perked up and happy. Yes, there’s a fair amount of rapping, but there is also plenty of melodic singing and even some edgy screaming now and again. Musically and lyrically, these guys are hella talented. Spoiler alert for when I review 2016, but I’ve since listened to another couple of albums by Twenty One Pilots and they are relentlessly amazing. Each of the three albums I’ve listened to had me instantaneously hooked. Twenty One Pilots are one of the best discoveries I’ve made in the last few years, without question.

I’ll be sharing a few videos to orient you to Twenty One Pilots. The first video is the official video for “Stressed Out,” which is on the radio almost constantly, it seems. On the off chance you haven’t heard it, now you can. The next video is one of Creegan listening to “Stressed Out” while in the car. I discreetly filmed him with my cell phone so he wouldn’t know what I was doing and stop behaving however he was. Sadly, despite seriously belting his heart out numerous times up to this point, it seems my filming had the cosmic effect of cramping his style. In the video, he starts off singing in a silly, non-serious way (not as he had been up to that point), makes an observation about the lyrics, mimics a drumbeat, and eventually just lip-syncs and dances a bit. It’s still cute, and you still get a feel for how he sometimes acts when he’s singing along, but it’s not what I hoped it would be. To make matters worse, the picture goes blurry for most of the video. But it’s the best I can offer. The third and final video below is merely the audio track of my favorite song on the album, “Hometown.” It’s amazing.

The end!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Everything Has Changed … A Little Bit More

Last time, I wrote about moving into a new place, starting a new job, and being ordained (along with Melanie) to the priesthood in Community of Christ. I shared some photos of all but the new job. Almost three weeks have passed since then, and now I have some new photos that show how things have progressed in respect both to our home and to our new church responsibilities. If you haven’t seen my previous post, you won’t get the full effect … and the effect will BLOW YOUR MIND! Well, not really. But it adds a little bit to the experience.

Let’s begin with the new home. About a month into living here, Melanie and I love it. I really love it. I don’t know what to say about it that I haven’t said before, but I’m incredibly happy here. It feels good. In my previous post, I shared a photo of Melanie sitting in a sparsely filled living room. But then we got our federal tax return—an incredibly nice one—and went on a shopping spree, which included a new couch, a rug, a new TV, and a TV stand. Yes, we’re playing grown up, and it’s mighty fun. Here’s how our living room looks now (which still isn’t finished, for the record):

Since being ordained, Melanie and I have had the opportunity to administer communion to our congregation. This is something I’ve looked forward to since we received our calls to the priesthood. We got to the church early on March 7th, prepared the bread and grape juice, and during the worship service, blessed them and served them to those in attendance. Melanie went first, blessing the water. I got teary-eyed during her prayer. After we had served the congregation bread, I blessed the grape juice. I tell you, as a former Mormon, it’s a lot more stressful to serve communion at Community of Christ. For one thing, you don’t just hand the tray to the person sitting on the edge of the pew and let everybody pass it down the row. In Community of Christ, the priesthood serves communion to each and every member of the congregation who partakes of it. That means that, this most recent Sunday, I was holding the tray the entire time I served. That makes it more stressful in and of itself, but add to that the fact that you’ve got a tray full of little cups of grape juice—dark purple grape juice that could stain anything it touches—and the stress of working up and down the rows escalates. It was a neat experience, but a much weightier one, no doubt. I wish I had been able to pay more attention to what Melanie was doing, because that would’ve been neat. I didn’t really see her serve anyone because I was too busy tending to my own serving. I especially wish I could’ve seen her serve it to our kids, which she said was a really neat experience for her. Shucks. Anyway, a good friend snapped a photo with her cell phone while Melanie and I were serving grape juice to each other. It’s from a distance, but I appreciate that we have a photo of our first time serving communion together, and the first time in Community of Christ. Here it is:

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Everything Has Changed

I’m not the same man I was the last time I posted on my blog. Or, at least, there are many things about me that have changed. I’ve started a job, I’ve moved, and I’ve been ordained to the priesthood at church. It’s a busy and exciting time, with an emphasis on “busy.” It’s so busy, in fact, that I’m hardly going to say anything about all of these wonderful and exciting developments. But I’ll say a little bit about each. That’ll have to do.

When I received and accepted a job offer, Melanie and I made finding a new home a priority. Living with Melanie’s parents for a year and a half was a necessity, and it had a lot of perks. But nothing compares to having your own space. And so, we began some serious house hunting. We had kept our eyes peeled for rental homes before I received the job offer, but once we knew I had a guaranteed income, we were empowered to act on any promising homes we found. When it came down to it, we were strongly considering two different rental properties: a townhome and a duplex. Originally, we had avoided looking into townhomes and duplexes because we didn’t want to have neighbors that were technically living in the same physical building. But there are some significant perks to these types of rental properties that weren’t typically available when renting a house, such as having your landlord take care of landscaping responsibilities and certain utilities, or having a much smaller security deposit. The townhome we fancied was in a pretty good location, not too far from where we had been living. The townhome community itself was built in 2007 and so was quite new, meaning it looked and felt rather fancy inside. It had some nice amenities, such as a clubhouse and swimming pool, and the guy who showed us the property seemed ready and willing to rent it to us. It was very tempting. But we were also considering a very large duplex, a duplex so large that the term “duplex” seems misleading. The duplex seems like a townhome of its own, with three levels, four bedrooms, an attached two-car garage, and approximately 2,000 square feet of living space. It’s an older property—built in 1970—but it’s been updated inside. And did I mention the space? The rooms are huge. It was also about $200 less per month than the townhome and even closer to Melanie’s and my works. And so, after giving it much thought, we decided to apply for the duplex. And we got it. And we’re living here now. And it’s absolutely wonderful. I love the location, I love the space. I’m ecstatic about these things. Here’s the first photo taken in our new home, with things still looking rather sparse:

When it comes to my new job, I started on Tuesday. The first day was new hire orientation, which included being taken out to a very nice lunch. That was cool. I then spent the next two days getting the impression they weren’t 100% sure what to do with me just yet. I think there weren’t any new projects for them to start me on, so they were kind of killing time. I was told to do things like investigate the company website and learn more about it, to set up a LinkedIn account, and other activities that probably aren’t the most pressing things one could do when on the clock. But by late Thursday afternoon, I was actually doing some real work, and I’m feeling incredibly optimistic. I already was optimistic, but I just think I’ve fallen into something really great here. The team is terrific, the scheduling and dress code are both very relaxed, the pay is good—I don’t know that I could realistically be happier working a “real” job.

And then there was today. Melanie and I have been preparing for ordination into the priesthood of Community of Christ for months now. Today, we were both officially ordained. It was a beautiful service with lots of love and support from friends and family. Melanie’s brother Brent even came down from Seattle to share the moment with us, which was pretty awesome. I was the first to be ordained during the worship service, being ordained to the office of elder. It was cool because the second I was done being ordained, I was able to hop up and assist in Melanie’s ordination to the office of priest. Serendipitously—or perhaps it was divine intervention—Melanie and I were extremely color-coordinated not only with each other, but with Jenn, one of the people ordaining us. None of this was planned or known about ahead of time. Melanie and I were both dressed before we saw that we matched. Here are some photos a friend of ours took of the ordinations. You’ll see what I mean.

Monday, February 08, 2016

We Interrupt This Program…

I’ve yet to finish my review of 2015, as if anybody notices or cares. Life has been so hectic lately, I just haven’t found the time to write. About anything. And a lot has been going on. Most of it is very good news, so I’m going to jump in and share some of the basics.

The biggest news is that I am starting a new job on February 16th. I am going to be an “email specialist,” which is something I’d never heard of but which, so far as I understand it, involves being on the more technical side of creating emails. In my particular case, it is my HTML skills—which are minimal—that will be put to use. Getting this job is a big deal for many reasons. One reason is that I haven’t worked in almost 10 years. Okay, that’s not quite true. I worked aplenty as a graduate student, and not just as a student but as an instructor of college-level courses and as a TA. I got paid for that, so it was all legitimate work. But it wasn’t traditional work. I also had a brief stint as a tour guide in Nauvoo during the summer, but that didn’t feel so much like getting a job as participating in some neat opportunity that happened to include an income. My email specialist job will be the first “normal” type of job I’ve had since I was a customer service representative in the summer of 2006. And I’m stoked, believe it or not. I’ve applied and been interviewed for a few positions over the last couple of months, and this job has been the most appealing by far. The rapport I felt with the people who interviewed me was off the charts compared to any of the other interviews I’ve had. The job sounds the most intriguing of any job I’ve applied for. The pay is better than any other job I’ve applied for. As an added bonus, I have a couple of good friends who work at the same company (in other departments). It’s all shaping up to be a very positive experience. I really believe that. I’m hopeful, and even expectant, that this could be a company I’ll be happy to be with for an indefinite period of time, and maybe for decades. Crazy, right?

One of the biggest perks of getting this job is that Melanie and I can finally afford to move out of her parents’ house. I’m sure her parents will appreciate it as much as we will. I’ve actually been amazed at how positive an experience it’s been to live here. Overall, I haven’t minded it that much at all. But it will certainly be good to re-embrace adulthood and live independently. Melanie and I have spent the last several days doing quite a bit of house hunting. It’s already exhausting. And heartbreaking. We’ve found a few really promising homes in fantastic locations, only to learn they are already taken by the time we call on them. You can get a lot of bang for your buck if you’re willing to move clear to the other side of the valley and live in what feels like the middle of nowhere. We’ve driven to see some of the homes out that way, but we only get about halfway to them before our faces take on sour expressions and our hearts start telling us there’s no way we can really imagine ourselves living that far away from what feels like our world. I don’t want to settle for something that is merely tolerable, just to move out. I believe if we’re patient we will get something we are extremely pleased with. But it’s hard when you’re chomping at the bit. Perhaps it will cloud our judgment. I don’t know. I’ve got a couple of decent leads that we’ll be acting on, but we’ll see.

I also have good news when it comes to my health. After two months of near-constant illness, I am feeling pretty darn close to normal. To recap, I had strep during the second week of December, was bitten by a mystery bug the following week, came down with bronchitis the next week, and then spent all of January bouncing up and down with colds, sore throats, and even the stomach flu. Even when I felt relatively decent, my breathing was never okay during this time. Often when I’d breathe out, it would sound like coffee percolating. I had a wheeze and shortness of breath. I felt very asthmatic, or how I assumed most asthmatics must feel. I’d never been diagnosed with asthma, so I wasn’t sure. On top of all of this, a white cyst had appeared on my left tonsil and had remained for weeks. That was peculiar. And so, I finally returned to a doctor (at an urgent care facility) over this most recent weekend. They tested my breathing, gave me a breathing treatment they usually give to asthmatics, then re-tested my breathing and found that I had nearly doubled my lung capacity. (I think I just didn’t do the first breathing test very well because I didn’t know exactly what I was doing. But anyway.) They x-rayed my lungs to check for pneumonia, which came back negative. But, due to all of my symptoms, they gave me prescriptions for an inhaler, an antibiotic, and a steroid. Within hours of taking my first antibiotic and steroid, I felt immensely better. My breathing feels normal, and I haven’t wheezed or percolated since. However, the urgent care doctor said he couldn’t really say anything about the cyst on my tonsil. He told me to go to an ear, throat, and nose specialist. I did that this morning. Apparently, all signs point to it being no big deal. I’m just supposed to ignore it, unless something crazy happens like it starts growing or hurting. The doctor said it will likely fall off at some point, but that it’s likely benign. And that gives me peace of mind. I wasn’t too worried about it, but with a new job on the horizon, I didn’t want to find out I need to have my tonsils removed or start chemotherapy or something crazy. So, I’m pretty thrilled.

So, that’s where life is at today. We’re on the cusp of significant changes, and it’s mostly exhilarating, so I’m in pretty good spirits.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

2015 in Review: Television

This is the fourth in a series looking back on 2015. Other entries will include booksmovies, food, music, and more.

As I headed into 2015, I naively thought it unlikely that I would be exposed to very many new television shows over the course of the year.  I had my reasons.  One, like many people nowadays, I don’t watch any TV at its regularly scheduled time.  I stream everything, or binge watch on DVD.  Thus, it is incredibly easy for me to pick and choose what I watch.  Two, I thought I already knew of enough shows to keep me busy and entertained throughout the year without adding to the list.  But despite all of this, I ended up trying no less than 16 new (to me) TV shows during 2015, several of which I plan to continue watching with regularity—which probably means binge watching a new season every year or so.

Not every TV show I tried was a success.  Melanie and I watched one episode of Difficult People, a Hulu original series starring Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner as two cynical comedians struggling to hit the big time in New York City.  I was originally drawn to the show because I enjoyed Eichner in his relatively brief stint on Parks & Recreation and because so many top-notch comedians were slated to make guest appearances, from Fred Armisen to Kate McKinnon to Seth Meyers.  And maybe the show is good if you stick with it for a while.  I wouldn’t know.  I watched one episode and was so annoyed that I’ve tried to avoid so much as thinking about it ever since.  I just don’t find myself entertained by characters who are total jerks and absolutely full of themselves, which is basically what the plot of Difficult People is.  No thank you.

I also wasn’t wooed by the rather popular (and well-reviewed) Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.  I guess CCGC (as I’ll call it) doesn’t rightfully belong on this list, since it technically isn’t a TV show.  It’s a “web series.”  Still, in our day and age, what difference does it make?  The setup of CCGC is rather simple.  Jerry Seinfeld spends the first few minutes of each episode showing off a classic car, then he goes in that car to pick up a famous comedian and go get some coffee.  The comedians toss around some witty banter and observations, and that’s that.  And really, that should be enough, if the comedians are likeable enough.  But from what I’ve seen, comedians who aren’t performing aren’t often that likeable.  It’s clear from the select handful of episodes I’ve seen that Jerry and his caffeine-imbibing companions greatly enjoy each other’s company, but playing voyeur to their outings isn’t as amazing as it sounds.  There is a certain degree of pretentiousness that permeates every episode, and I just don’t care for it.  I’ve found the show surprisingly boring, even when the guest comedian is someone I’m quite fond of.

There have been some wins throughout the year, however.   Netflix has hit a home run with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.  Co-created by Tina Fey, UKS stars Ellie Kemper as Kimmy, a woman who has recently joined the real world after living for 15 years in a type of underground bomb shelter as part of a polygamous-like cult.  As you can imagine, hilarity ensues.  Kemper is perfect in the title role, a painfully naïve but resolutely chipper gal who finds herself living in New York City of all places.  If that doesn’t sound gripping enough, UKS’s über-catchy theme song is bound to leave you hooked.  Singing chirpily: dammit!

If drama’s your preferred genre of entertainment, another excellent show can be found via Netflix competitor Amazon: TransparentTransparent stars Jeffrey Tambor as Morton / Maura Pfefferman, a sixty-something (seventy-something?) retired college professor who finally reveals to her family that she is transgender.  This sends Maura’s three adult children—each of whom already struggles with a fair amount of dysfunction—reeling, some more than others.  As a viewer, I’m happy to see Tambor in a role that commands some respect.  I was quite a fan of Arrested Development, but Tambor was always my least favorite component of that show.  I didn’t like his character—not that you were supposed to—and I rarely found him funny.  Despite Transparent’s serious themes and very adult nature, I have found Tambor to be more likeable and funny here than in his previous show.

AMC’s Better Call Saul is another winner.  Bob Odenkirk and the character of Saul Goodman gave me every reason to believe Better Call Saul would be a success, but spin-offs don’t have the highest track record and Better Call Saul’s parent show (Breaking Bad) is so iconic—I would call it the best show in all of television history—that screwing it up might seem the only genuine possibility.  Fortunately, show creator Vince Gilligan (along with co-creator Peter Gould) has given this prequel enough chronological distance from Breaking Bad that viewers will find themselves genuinely intrigued as to how the two shows ultimately intertwine.  You see, when Better Call Saul begins, Saul Goodman doesn’t yet exist.  Instead, he is Jimmy McGill, a reformed con-man working as a lawyer and, it would seem, sincerely trying to do his best.  Fans of Breaking Bad know McGill’s shady nature will re-emerge as McGill transforms into Saul, but how?  And when?  And why?  I can’t wait to find out.

The Affair is a drama/mystery that airs on Showtime.  To say the show is about a love affair between married writer Noah Solloway (Dominic West) and Montauk waitress Alison Lockhart (Ruth Wilson) is to grossly oversimplify.  It would spoil things if I said too much, but I will point out that one fascinating feature of the show is that each episode is divided into two parts, with each part representing a different person’s point of view.  The subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) differences in perspective draw the viewer more fully into the mysteries that unfold.  It’s a worthwhile show.

Showtime is also responsible for Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, a series that originally ran from 2003–2010.  I saw my first couple of episodes of this show in December, but I have since watched nearly the first two seasons via Amazon.  As Penn & Teller—well, Penn, since he’s the only one who ever talks—explain in the first episode, Bullshit! is the famous magicians’ attempt to follow in the footsteps of Harry Houdini, who devoted much of his later life to exposing frauds whom he saw as preying on the vulnerability of others—psychics, mediums, clairvoyants, and the like.   While Penn & Teller definitely address things like ESP, talking to the dead, and Ouija boards, they also come down hard on things like bottled water, the funeral industry, and health nuts.  While the show is unabashedly biased, the evidence seems fairly and reasonably articulated, such that I have been swayed on more than one issue.  Case in point: I’m not so sure I can support recycling anymore.  (What!?  Yup!  Go watch that episode and then get back to me!)  Bullshit! is laced with profanity, but it’s often as hilarious as it is informative.  I wish more people would watch shows like this.

Network TV was not without its charms in 2015.  I quite enjoyed the first season of Fox’s The Last Man on Earth.  Will Forte stars as Phil Miller, a man who finds himself all alone after a deadly virus wipes out all the rest of humanity.  Or almost all the rest.  By the end of episode one, after years of searching and leaving notes spray painted on highway billboards, Phil discovers he is not alone.  The show is a kind of post-apocalyptic Gilligan’s Island, and with Forte in the lead and Kirsten Schaal soon at his side, it’s no surprise it’s one of the better sitcoms to hit the network airwaves over the last few years.  That being said, the second season wasn’t nearly as funny as the first and it’s hard to see how the show will keep its momentum for very long.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed they can somehow make it work, but I’d be lying if I said I was entirely optimistic.

More recently, Fox gave us The Grinder, a sitcom starring Rob Lowe and Fred Savage as brothers turned partners-in-law.  Sort of.  Lowe plays Dean Sanderson, Jr., a famous actor who played an attorney in a wildly popular and long-running TV series (also called The Grinder) which has recently come to an end.  Savage plays Stewart Sanderson, an actual attorney.  Naturally, once Dean finds himself out of work, he believes his television credentials make him a perfect asset for brother Stewart’s law firm and, as much as Stewart resists it, continually imposes himself on the cases Stewart is handling.  It’s a pretty funny premise, and there’s something perfect in the pairing of Lowe and Savage.  Each plays his character well—Lowe as the blissfully naïve and outlandishly overconfident superstar, Savage as the disgruntled and serious family man who is ever stuck in his older brother’s shadow.  The pilot episode showed great promise, but sadly, the show has quickly become formulaic and I’m not sure it has what it takes to last.  It’s kind of a one-joke show.  It’s a good joke, mind you, but … yeah.

I’m on the fence about Superstore, a 2015 latecomer from NBC.  It’s about a group of employees who work at a Walmart-type store.  It doesn’t sound like much.  It’s a kind of ensemble comedy.  I don’t even know what to say about it.  Something right is happening with it—it has some pretty good laughs—but there is a pervasive sense of mediocrity that somehow underlies the whole thing.  It feels destined to be incredibly short-lived and remembered by no one.  I know I’m speaking vaguely, but I find it hard to articulate my impressions of this one.  There’s a spark in there somewhere, something I wish could survive and be refined.  But I don’t think it will.

I guess I should mention Inside Amy Schumer.  Amy Schumer has become something of a hot commodity in the world of comedy lately.  I hear a lot of people sing her praises, but I’m not completely sold on her.  She can be very funny, but she also finds herself too funny, and that’s unappealing in a comedian.  Her sense of humor is also a bit too juvenile for me a lot of the time.  I should clarify what I mean, because otherwise those who know me well will take me as a hypocrite.  For me, something is juvenile not just because it is sexually or scatologically explicit.  I can be as raunchy and boundary-pushing in my humor as anyone, though not everyone gets to know that side of me.  But I find it offensive and annoying when people act like something is funny merely because it is profane, or sexualized, or scatological.  And, in my opinion, Amy Schumer falls too often into that latter camp.  It just seems cheap and lame.  Anyway, if you’re wondering what Inside Amy Schumer itself is, it’s sketch comedy.  It’s not the kind filmed in front of a live audience—think Portlandia rather than Saturday Night Live—but each episode also contains snippets of Schumer doing standup and moments where she interviews real people on the street (usually about sex).  If you’re not afraid of hard-R comedy, you will likely laugh aplenty while watching the show.  But even I find myself offended—on behalf of good comedy, if nothing else—at least some of the time.

Friday, January 15, 2016

2015 in Review: Food

This is the third in a series looking back on 2015. Other entries will include books, movies, music, TV, and more.

When it comes to the world of culinary delights, there were certainly some hits and misses with the new things I tried in 2015. If you don’t count what was pretty much an extended working vacation in Nauvoo, Illinois during the summer, 2015 was the first complete calendar year I’ve spent living in Utah since 2005. That means plenty of exploring still needs to be done in terms of food. Much has changed about Utah in the past decade, after all, as has my lifestyle. And I’m not talking about the fact that I now consciously choose to eat a lot of fiber. I’m talking about my leaving the LDS Church and the dietary restrictions that go with it. That’s right, folks. 2015 is the year I started drinking those most evil of beverages, tea and coffee.

Tea has been the long-standing winner in the contest between tea and coffee. Melanie’s and my tea-drinking started around early February of 2015, with multiple trips to Teavana. It wasn’t long thereafter that we tried chai lattes and fell instantly in love. I am quite a fan of both the iced and the hot varieties of chai. For a while, we were drinking quite a bit of flavored iced green teas, courtesy of Lipton® and their powdered tea mix. All of these tea practices largely subsided, however, once we discovered the joy of a Green Tea Frappuccino® from Starbucks. That quickly became our go-to standard. In the spring of 2015, we had a tradition of getting a Green Tea Frap every Monday when I’d pick Melanie up from work. To this day, Green Tea Fraps have remained one of the most common tea drinks for us to get. For Melanie, it’s always the Frappuccino® version, but I’ve become partial to iced green tea lattes with sugarless vanilla syrup in place of the classic syrup Starbucks usually uses. It’s very similar to a Frap in terms of flavor, and also cheaper.

Coffee still tasted like garbage to me when I tried it in February for the first time since junior high. I didn’t try it again until August, when I experienced an impromptu desire for it while at a hotel in Laramie, Wyoming on our way back from Nauvoo. Being able to doctor the coffee myself, I had a much better experience, but I still drank hardly any of it before chucking it in the garbage. And then autumn arrived. I don’t know what compelled me to try coffee yet again, but Melanie and I stopped at a Starbucks one fall evening and I ordered a salted caramel mocha. Worried it would be too strong for me, I asked them to put only one shot of espresso in it rather than three as they normally would. The result? It was actually kind of good. It reminded me of these delicious caramel- and chocolate-covered pretzel sticks that we get every once in a very long while from a chocolate shop in the Avenues of Salt Lake City. Having enjoyed the drink, I thought I would try more of the seasonal specialty drinks Starbucks offered. And so, over the next few months, I tried several: Chestnut Praline Latte, Eggnog Latte, Peppermint Mocha, Pumpkin Spice Latte, and more. By far, my favorite was the Caramel Brulee Latte. In second place was the Holiday Spice Flat White. By the time I’d tried all of these drinks, I was no longer asking them to scale back the espresso. I was fine taking them full strength. I’d still say that I enjoy tea more than coffee, but coffee has its place. The last new coffee drink I tried in 2015 was a caramel macchiato that I got from a gas station (Maverik). It too was very delicious, although I’m not sure how high the coffee content actually is. It tastes so little like coffee to me that I’m skeptical. But maybe I’ve just developed a taste for it and can’t even tell when it’s there.

Okay, okay, this post wasn’t supposed to be all about coffee and tea! My taste buds have had other adventures over the past twelve months! One of the things Melanie and I have been the most desperate to discover in Utah is a really good Chinese restaurant. It’s funny, when we first left Utah in 2006, we complained about the lack of good Chinese food in the South. That complaint persisted until we discovered Tan’s Asian Café in Tallahassee, which remains my favorite Chinese restaurant of all time. Nothing we’ve eaten in Utah comes close to the quality of Tan’s. And believe me, we’ve tried. We’ve even looked at online reviews and tried to go to places only if they had decent feedback from consumers. It hasn’t worked out so well for us. Mulan Chinese was a disappointment, with thick and chewy (rather than crispy) egg rolls and pasty ham fried rice. Their dumplings and crab rangoons were actually good, but everything else registered as so-so at best. Fong’s Fine Chinese Dining is a step up from Mulan and was good enough that I wouldn’t be against trying them again. I suspect you could get an all-around pretty good meal, if you just knew which particular items to get. Our particular meal was hit-and-miss. The ham fried rice was pretty flavorless, as was the broccoli beef. The latter tasted “brown,” and that’s honestly all I can think to say about it. The egg rolls weren’t bad and had a very peppery flavor, while the mango chicken and pon pon chicken (the latter of which I’d never had before) were both good. The sweet and sour sauce they brought out with the complimentary wontons was very thin and watery, unlike any sweet and sour sauce I’ve had anywhere else in the past, and the Diet Mountain Dew I was so excited to see on tap was also quite watered down. The service was ho-hum. They didn’t clear things from our table when they could have, and it became a crowded mess. We also had a problem with our bill that had to be rectified. Fortunately, I did find a Chinese restaurant that I thought was quite good all around: Mandarin Garden. I went there for my birthday and was very pleased, although Melanie hasn’t been all that interested in returning since she and Peter both ended up puking the next morning. I don’t think it was related, but that doesn’t much matter. The damage was done.

We could always get some pretty good barbecue food in both Atlanta and Tallahassee, and 2015 saw us reaching out to some new (to us) BBQ joints in Utah. Dickey’s Barbecue Pit is not a place I’d go out of my way for, but it’s solid. We’ve eaten there a couple of times now, one perk being that they offer free kid meals—seven days a week at one of the locations we visited! For being a fast casual restaurant, I was quite impressed with their ribs. They weren’t amazing, but I’ve had tougher, less enjoyable ribs from full-service restaurants numerous times in my life. My biggest complaint about Dickey’s is that none of the BBQ sauce is available in a squeeze bottle that lets you easily apply it to your food. Instead, all of the BBQ sauce resides in a common area and must be scooped out of a vat using a ladle and poured into little plastic cups, such as you might use for dipping sauces. But unless you’re eating wings or chicken nuggets, who dips into BBQ sauce? You shouldn’t have to dip ribs or pulled pork. You can pour the sauce from the cup onto the food, yes, but it’s messier and harder to control. I think it’s annoying.

Wallaby’s is another BBQ place we tried last year, although I’m not entirely sure it’s a new place for us. You see, there used to be a Wallaby’s that served BBQ located maybe 30 or 40 minutes south of Salt Lake City. It disappeared many years ago, and now this new Wallaby’s has sprung up very near to where Melanie and I currently live. Is it the same? I’m not sure. The food doesn’t seem exactly the same—there isn’t the signature slice of white bread that accompanies your meal, for example—but how many BBQ restaurants named Wallaby’s can there be? We’ve only been to this new Wallaby’s once, but it was pretty good. I’d happily go there again.

The very best new restaurant I tried in 2015 is R&R BBQ. Word-of-mouth advertising is what drew me to R&R. One item in particular was receiving a lot of buzz: the Caveman Burger. I didn’t realize the Caveman Burger was a special item you could get only on Thursdays, but coincidentally enough, it was a Thursday the first (and thus far only) time we went. As described in a previous blog post, the Caveman Burger is “a yummy and indulgent burger featuring not only a ground beef patty, but butterflied links of smoked Andouille sausage and a helping of pulled pork, all topped with fried jalapenos, melted Monterey Jack cheese, and sweet BBQ sauce.” It’s exquisite, and everything else I tasted was also very, very good: the beef brisket, the mashed potatoes, the hush puppies, and even the French fries (which, let’s be honest, are not usually anything to crow about at BBQ restaurants). R&R is located in downtown SLC, which isn’t where Melanie and I spend a lot of time. That’s the only reason we haven’t gotten back to it yet, but we reminisce about it frequently enough.

Speaking of burgers, I tried some new burger places—or at least burger-friendly places—in ’15. I stuck to the grill side of the menu when my family visited Bumblebee’s BBQ & Grill. Bumblebee’s has a very high rating on Facebook, but I have to wonder if the votes haven’t been stacked. I’m hesitant even to say the food was fair. The hamburger patties looked and tasted like they had been frozen. Flavor was minimal. My burger purported to come with “blue cheese sauce,” but featured only melted cheese and was otherwise very dry. Only if you drizzled some BBQ sauce on something did it have much flavor. The fries were so-so. Melanie got sweet potato fries, and they also seemed like something that started off frozen and came from a package. The menu is divided into American and Korean cuisine, and maybe it’s the Korean side that is their specialty. I realize people have different tastes in food, but based on what I tried, I am sincerely baffled that anyone would consider this place better than okay.

Rich’s Burgers n’ Grub in downtown SLC was a winner. I’ve been only once and ran into a couple of snafus with them, but the food was high quality overall. I had the “Bacon Blue” burger, with gorgonzola (which was quite melted and oozy), bacon, and a squirt of blue cheese dressing. I threw on the tomatoes, pickles, and lettuce that came on the side. The result was messy, but tasty. On the side, my friend and I shared both the wings with buffalo sauce and an order of “Queso Fries.” The wings were unlike any I’ve had before, in that they weren’t wet at all but rather had almost like a dry rub to them. They were very crispy and tasted great. The Queso Fries had cheese sauce, diced tomatoes, and green chilis on them. Considering the toppings, the fries tasted fairly normal.

I’d put Citris Grill as my #2 discovery of 2015. A large group of us from Community of Christ went there one day after church services. Almost six months later to the day, I returned with a couple of friends. Both times I had the BBQ Burger, with BBQ sauce, smoked gouda, and bacon, all served on a rosette bun. I thought the burger was excellent, although I will admit that on my first visit, there was a very tiny piece of bone in mine. For many people, that would probably be a deal breaker. I assume (and hope) it was a fluke. I had no such problems on my return visit. You can tell that all of their food is very high quality just by looking at it, so I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt. I’d like to return here, not only for the burger but for some of the items listed on their breakfast menu, many of which sound absolutely delectable.

I should definitely mention Costa Vida in this post, since it’s the new place I’ve ended up eating at the most. You’d think that means I love it, but I don’t. Costa Vida is pretty much an exact knockoff of the monumentally popular Café Rio. How do the two compare? It depends on what you order. On my first trip to Costa Vida, I ordered nachos with steak. I’ve never had nachos at Café Rio—and I don’t think they even offer them. The steak nachos were very good and extremely filling. If nachos are your thing, Costa Vida is a good option. When it comes to anything else I’ve tried, Café Rio is the clear winner. And at this point, I’ve tried quite a bit of the Costa Vida menu—tacos, enchiladas, and burritos, with various types of meat. I’ve also had service problems on multiple visits. One location that we visited, in the middle of the day on a weekend mind you, was out of numerous items that we tried to order. Having been wooed on my first visit, I’ve since been repeatedly underwhelmed by Costa Vida. If you told me I could never eat there again, I would merely shrug.

Kneaders is another restaurant we’ve now tried a few times. Some of their stuff has been quite good, some of their stuff has been fine, but none of it has blown my mind. Someone told me the French Dip at Kneaders was the best sandwich in the world. It’s the first menu item I ordered from Kneaders, and I’m here to tell you, no, it absolutely is not the best sandwich in the world. It was just okay. There was not much meat on the sandwich at all—with a single, paper-thin layer of meat in some spots. The sandwich itself was also very dry. With a French Dip, crusty bread is great, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. It just seemed kind of old and stale, and the roast beef itself was not juicy. I’ve had more success with their soups. I can’t verify the exact name of their soups because they aren’t listed on the Kneaders website (fail!), but I’ve tried their loaded baked potato soup, their asiago soup, the red pepper gouda soup, and one called Autumn Bliss. I very much enjoyed the latter three. The potato soup was okay, but I’ve definitely had better.

I’ll conclude by talking about donuts. (Yay!) Back on National Donut Day (June 5th), Melanie and I decided to go out for donuts and chai lattes in the morning. The place we visited was called Zam Donuts. Their selection behind the counter was very, very slim, but I can only assume it was because of the “holiday.” The available donuts were almost all very basic, so I got a glazed (which was fine, nothing more) and a chocolate raised. Photos of their other donuts looked promising, but I don’t feel compelled to return—which is probably good, because the place has since gone out of business.

On the other side of town is a place called Fresh Donut & Deli. It’s a lame name, but it matters not. The donuts here are the best I’ve found in Utah. My family was quite in love with Donut Kingdom in Tallahassee, and I’m not sure Fresh Donut & Deli rivals our Florida favorites. But they come pretty damn close. Of special note are the glazed donuts. Now, I know what some of you are thinking. Some people look at glazed donuts the way others look at vanilla ice cream—as inherently boring. And I grant that if a glazed donut isn’t excellent, it’s often not worth your time. But when you get a really good glazed donut, they are among the best donuts that will ever hit your tongue. The glazed donuts at Fresh Donut & Deli are of this caliber. It’s not just the flavor, it’s the texture. Words escape me. They are perfection. It’s a good thing they aren’t more conveniently located, or I’d be in some serious trouble. Seriously.