Friday, April 29, 2005

Better Than Mrs Fields!

Some friends of mine started a new blog the other day. It’s over at Heart of the Home. Their first post is a recipe for some chocolate fudge. So, I’ll join in the recipe party!

A long time ago, my wife got this chocolate chip cookie recipe from somewhere that claimed it was the Mrs. Fields cookie recipe. We tried it, and we didn't think it matched, but we did think it was really good.

So, we developed this tradition of making this CCC recipe on a Sunday evening. Usually about once a month.

The problem was, we would decide to make the cookies, not a day or so before, but that very Sunday afternoon. So, as the wife and kids would goad me into mixing up the dough, I would check to see if we had the necessary ingredients. At least half the time we'd be missing something. Being a good little Mo’ family from the heart of Utah, we're supposed to keep the Sabbath Day holy and not go shopping. But we'd still need our cookies!

So, we'd call our friends and borrow an egg or two, or some butter, and we'd be sure to save them a few cookies. Later, we just decided to get proactive and we pretty much keep the ingredients on hand now, so we can be spontaneous, strengthen our family traditions, and still keep the faith.

Then, one day, I lost the recipe. Gone. Our family went into a tailspin! Our sacred tradition was at stake!

After a few cookieless weeks, we realized that something had to be done. So, I sat down and tried to recreate the recipe from memory. My memory is not noted for being too strong. That’s why I carry a palm pilot, because if it doesn’t get written down, it didn’t or won’t happen.

The recipe I came up with is pretty good. It’s not like the one we had, but it’s close. My wife, bless her dishonesty, claims that it’s better than the original. I think she’s just trying to make me feel nice so that I go on making the cookies on Sundays.

So, now we have a recipe for a cookie that is almost, but not quite, like a recipe for yet another cookie that is almost, but not quite, like Mrs. Fields'.

By the way, I don’t specify an amount of chocolate chips in this recipe because I have found that different people feel very differently about how many chips is proper. Some seem content to have only a few chips per cookie. Others seem to think that you make the dough and then lean over it and whisper the words “chocolate chips” into the mixer, and that’s enough.

Me, I think that the only reason you have the cookie in the first place is to hold the chocolate chips together. So, dump it all in! The more, the merrier!

Anyways, here’s the recipe:

· 2 cups of Sugar
· 2 cups of Brown Sugar (listening to the Stones sing the song is not recommended on the Sabbath)
· 1 tsp salt (which hasn’t lost its savor)
· 1 tsp vanilla (I like to use a half tsp of vanilla direct from mexico, which is always much stronger than domestic vanilla extracts and imitations)
· 1 Tblsp baking soda
· 2 Tbslp baking powder
· 4 cubes (2 cups) of butter (actually, I usually start with this in the mixer, other than that, I’ve found that it doesn’t matter what order you put things in. Also please note that this is NOT margarine. Butter. The real stuff.)
· 4 cups flour
· 5 cups rolled oatmeal
· 4 eggs
· a boatload of chocolate chips (I usually use at least two bags for this recipe)

Mix it all up. Taste the dough. Drop onto cookie sheet while eating more dough. Eat more dough while cooking for 8-10 minutes at about 375 degrees f. While it’s cooling, put in the next tray. Taste the dough to be sure that it didn’t go bad while you were waiting.

This recipe can be halved, but if you don’t you’ll have a whopping lot of great cookies to take to your home teaching families. Sometimes we'll take the leftover dough, roll it into logs, wrap it in wax paper, and freeze it. It's not quite the same as fresh when you cook it, but it's close. So, that makes it almost, but not quite as good as a cookie that's almost, but... Never mind...

If any other family-oriented blogs want to join in the recipe game, post it, and please, make sure you tell the story behind the snack. Then, link back to Heart of the Home, as the starter, and when you post a comment there, tell them Mark sentcha!

Mark Hansen

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Songs of Zion

The Whole Armor of God
Produced by Greg Hanson

When I review a CD, I sit down and I listen to all the tracks and I take notes. I think about the music, I think about the words, the craft, the meaning, the impact. When I finally begin writing the review, I have to take into account four fundamental questions:

· Was it well done? Was the recording good and clear? Was the singing well done, were the songs well written?
· Did it fulfill its purpose? What was the artist trying to accomplish? Who was the audience they were trying to connect with? Did it succeed in appealing to that audience?
· Will you, the reader, like it? I can’t really know, but I can tell you enough of what it’s like so that you can tell if it’s something you might want to buy.
· Did I, personally, like it? What’s my own gut reaction? Did it move me?

The challenge with this particular CD is my own mixed feelings. After listening to it, I felt like it was incredibly well done. The singing was spot on and clear. It served its purpose well, and it will probably connect very effectively with its target audience. And I’m certain that there will be many members of the church that will love this CD.

I’m just not one of them.

“The Whole Armor of God” is full of the soft and soothing sounds that bring the Spirit and the message of the Lord to many. But which has always put me to sleep. Don’t get me wrong. I love it when a song touches my spirit, teaches me, or renews my testimony. It’s just that it’s usually other kinds of songs that touch me, speaking personally.

This CD is extremely well crafted. As I was listening, the musician in me was hearing some very intriguing arrangements and excellent singing. There were even a few that rose up and stood out among the gentleness of the rest. “One by One”, for example, was done as a choral work with the accompaniment of a chamber orchestra. There were some delightful things done with modulations and shifting tonal centers that really perked me up. It had a form that was almost sonata-allegro instead of purely verse/chorus/verse/chorus like almost all the others. Great stuff.

“Across the Plains of Eternity”, sung by Sam Payne was another one that stood out. Sam’s voice, in the first place, is a very rich and unique sound, very different from most LDS vocalists. The lyrics in this one were also very different, rich with imagery and not as preachy as the others.

The recording and the mix are pristine. This is an extremely well made collection, and my hat’s off to Greg for his expertise.

The purpose of the CD was to reprise some of the favorite songs of the old Seminary soundtracks of the late 70’s, through the 90’s. In that, it succeeded very well. The lyrics and songwriting did sound very much like a seminary lesson set to music. But then, they should, because, in fact, they were originally written to BE seminary lessons set to music. So, even though most of them come across kinda preachy, that’s what they were designed to do.

I’m presuming that its target audience is the now-grown-up church member looking fondly back on his or her seminary experience and remembering the songs anew. In that, this CD also succeeds very well. Will it reach today’s youth? The student in the third row of the seminary class of today? I don’t know. But then, don’t think it was intended to. I think it’s more aimed at his parents.

Will you like it? This CD will fit perfectly into the Sunday radio shows currently popular here in the Salt Lake Valley. It sounds like it will fit easily onto the shelves of Deseret Book or Seagull Book. If you like soft, soothing, traditional LDS music, you will love this CD. Because it’s full of soft and soothing done very well.

So, for that I’m giving it four stars. Why not five? Because it might be your style, but it just isn’t mine.

Mark Hansen

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Songs of Zion

TOA: "Silence"

OK, when you put on “Silence”, you’ll want to relax, and put your feet up on a Sunday afternoon. While you let the soothing vocal harmonies wash over you like ocean waves, let me set this up for you…

I’ve been seeing, more and more lately, some artists come out of the urban genres. You know, R&B, hip hop, house… It’s coming from artists like Alex Boye, Thurl Bailey, and, of course, Gladys Knight. It’s pretty exciting to see on lots of levels. One is because it lets the world know that we are a diversifying community. We’re not just white folks any more. And that really excites me.

TOA is a group of Polynesian singers that are helping to build that R&B and soul wing of the LDS music hall. I’m not sure where they are from (like, which island), but the CD’s credits show that it was recorded in Hawaii. Their website, though currently under construction, says that TOA means: “An ancient Polynesian term meaning “Warrior”, with the associated qualities of leadership, strength, courage, endurance, patience, strategic thinking, adaptability and collectivity.”

What follows as you listen is some seriously smooth R&B gospel singing. The vocals that these five guys put out amazed me and lulled me into comfort while giving me an encouraging gospel message. There’s a couple of songs toward the end that tried to get a little more up-tempo, but not by much. This is a sit-down-and-relax CD, not a get-up-and-boogie one. Unless, maybe, you want to slow dance with your honey on a Sunday afternoon…

Three of the tunes really stood out to me, especially. One was the title track, “Silence”. There were some really cool rhythmic things happening in the track, and the way the vocal layered over it sounded almost reggae. It was completely fresh.

And it just kept on being original and new. Another one of my favorites was their rendition of “The Lord is My Shepherd”. It’s the same traditional melody we sing in Sacrament Meeting, but with R&B harmonies. Still respectful of the text, though. There was nothing sacrilegious here. There was a guest singer on this one, too, a girl with an incredible voice. It didn’t outshine the boys, though. They hold their own.

“One Song” was one that grabbed me right away. It had an easy minor feel to it with a melody that drew me in right away. This one had a very “Boyz II Men” urban sound to it.

There were a couple that were sung in one of the Polynesian languages. One was a version of “I am a Child of God”. Not knowing the language, it felt odd to hear it that way. The other was titled, “Lo Ta Nu’u”. It felt as if it had been originally written in the language, rather than forcing translated syllables into a traditional melody.

When I first saw that they had done “Never a Better Hero”, my first thought was, “do we really need another version?” But this one had some cool variations in the vocal harmonies that I’d never heard before. I like that they were able to explore new ground on an old standard of the LDS culture.

Overall, I was impressed. It was soft and smooth, but not dull and trite. It was different from what we normally get as LDS pop goes. Well worth checking out.

Mark Hansen

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Loaves, Fishes, Junk, and Kindness

Remember a few months or so ago, when I talked about Jacob going to Tucson for a program called Conductive Education? You can read more about it, here.

Well, Jacob progressed so nicely there during those six weeks, that we felt that it was important for him to have more of that experience this summer. Jodi is planning to take him to Tucson again for a month and a half or two in June and July, and then we’re bringing the program here for a month in July and August, so that some Salt Lake City families can take advantage of it.

All in all, that’s going to cost some significant money. Probably around $18,000 or so. Fortunately, much of that is the cost of the Salt Lake program, and most of that will be covered by the parents of the other participating children. But that still leaves a hefty chunk for our own Tucson tuition, and also the living expenses as well.

So, some friends of Jodi’s banded together and decided to help out. One friend in particular really went above and beyond the call and put in a lot of work. She organized a massive group yard sale in the driveways of her house and her sister’s house (they’re next-door neighbors). With donated junk from I don’t know how many families we lined these two yards and driveways. This friend of Jodi’s also organized charity scrapbooking events.

I thought, that’s a really nice effort, but really, how much money is it likely to bring in… Maybe a couple hundred, tops? That’s not even going to chip a hole in the amount we need to come up with.

But with the fire that, I think, only a mother can muster, these two ladies got on the ‘net and their email lists, and their personal networks of family, friends, and ward members, and got mountains of donations. They got local stores to donate gift certificates for raffle prizes. They got people to sign up and prepay for the scrapbooking events.

And today was the yard sale. The stuff we had literally overwhelmed the two yards. And people came in a steady stream until the early afternoon, when it started to slow. It never really stopped, though. And as people learned that it was a charitable yard sale, they spent more, or they paid more, or they just simply dropped money in the jar at the table.

One man, kind of a grizzled old guy with a ponytail halfway down his back, paid 25 cents for two books, then dropped $40 into the kitty. And that was just one example.

And when it started to slow down, we looked across the lawn and there was still a lot of stuff. We’d been selling things all day. We could see the growing pool in the cash box and the contribution jar. But it didn’t look like things were moving. My wife’s friend, the organizer, commented that it was like the miracle of the loaves and the fishes.

It reminds me of the verse that tells us that there is plenty in this earth, and to spare. It makes me want to rethink that scripture. I used to think that it simply meant that we need to manage our limited resources. Now I wonder if it means that when we share we find that there is more than we started with.

And in the end? The total of all the efforts was almost $3000. I’m still amazed.

Mark Hansen

Thursday, April 21, 2005

A Funny Thing Happened...

It's been a crazy few days, but I had to tell you this funny story. It's one of those, "If I'm lyin', I'm dyin'" kinda stories.

I was in a grocery store, buying some things for Jacob before he went in to the hospital for his tonsillectomy a couple of days ago (he's now recovering just fine, thanks). Since I knew that I'd be spending the night at the hospital, I thought I'd pick up a magazine. So, I looked over the music rags, and there was this special edition reprint of articles by and about Ozzy and his various guitarists. It had this picture of Oz and Randy on the cover. It had some really cool tabulature transcriptions, of tunes that I've been wanting to learn, as well as the articles. So, I picked it up.

I went to the checkout line to pay for all this stuff, and the cashier was this quaint little old lady. Short, with grey hair all pulled back in a bun. She was this quintessential grandmother-type. Even down to the glasses.

Well, I started plopping my stuff down on the little conveyor belt. The first thing she picked up was, you guessed it, this magazine. Well, she looks at it, flips it open and says, "Randy Rhoads was sure great wasn't he?"

Knock me over with a feather.

So we start talking about all these rock guitar gods, and she's holding her own in the conversation. "I got one of these (referring to the magazines) a while back with Stevie Ray Vaughan on the cover!"

The poor teenager doing the baggin was trying to get a word in, to look cool, but it wasn't happenin' for him. He just wasn't as rock-literate as this old granny. He didn't know his shredders. Sad...

I left with a grin on my face and a scripture in my head. Something about, "Judge not, lest ye be judged..."

Shameless plug: Remember a few posts ago where I reviewed LDS rapper TJ Fredette's music? He's the featured artist now at Latter Day Songs! Check it out!

Mark Hansen

Monday, April 18, 2005

Who's Song is it, Anyway?

Here’s another interesting twist in the online musical revolution, one that was, in fact, predicted years ago by a teacher in a recording class I was in.

Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) has released a new single. That, alone wouldn’t be big news, unless I were a bigger NIN fan. What’s interesting about it is the format it’s being released in. It’s not a CD, it’s not an mp3 or a wma. Instead, it’s a 70 megabyte .band format. That’s the format used by the Macintosh Garageband program.

A little clarification: Garageband is a program that people can use to record music at home. They can assemble a song, track by track: first drums, then bass and guitars, keys, and finally vocals. I do all of my recordings on a similar program, called Cubase. It all runs on my computer and it’s a wonderful thing. It’s what allowed me to put “One United Generation” together without drowning in 25,000 worth of debt in studio recording.

So, what?

Why is this so amazing?

First of all, is the program itself. I paid around $400 for Cubase. Garageband ships with Mac OSX. That’s right. It’s free with the operating system. Now, it might not be quite as full-featured as Cubase or Sonar, or any of the other pro-level recording softwares, but it’s dang close. That means that every new mac user has it.

Second, Reznor is releasing the song, not as a finished, completed mix that people can listen to, but as a Garageband file that people can edit. That’s right. They can remix it, add to it, take away from it, rework it, change it anyway they want to. He’s created a community work of art. I have to hand it to him. Most artists don't have the confidence to let go of their work like that.

Now, this has some very interesting and far-reaching implications. Not the least of which deal with copyright and ownership. Once everyone has done their own versions of his song, will it really be his? It’ll be like a musical wikipedia… Like a musical barn-raising…

Mark Hansen

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Secret, The Sacred, and the Delicious

I know that it’s not appropriate to talk about temple stuff when you’re not in the temple. I know that’s a true principle, and I’ve promised to keep that sacred.

But there are times when I go to the temple, and things just fill me up sooo much, and I learn sooo much and I realize sooo much that I just can’t wait to get home and blog about it all!

But I’m a good boy, so I won’t.

As I was thinking about that fact, it occurred to me what one of the reasons why might be. The temple service is the same for everyone. The same words, the same patterns, the same actions. But it’s so deep that everyone responds to it differently. Personally. Internally. If we were to leave and start talking about it, it would dilute that personal experience. Especially if I were to toss it out there to the net in a blog setting.

The temple service is God talking to Me, using the same words, but not the same impressions, that he uses to talk to everyone else.

That’s why I’m so glad that I get to go back and do it again and again and again. It really does purify me, while it prepares those that have passed on before.

At any rate, you can tell that I had a great night at the temple.

Oh, yeah! One thing I CAN tell you—

In the cafeteria at the Jordan River, Utah Temple, the chocolate cream pie alone is celestial enough to give up sinning for.

Mark Hansen

Monday, April 11, 2005

Recapturing the Temple!

Apparently, someone in the bloggernacle noticed that when you type "Mormon Temple" into google, that it comes up with a lot of anti-mormon sites. In an effort to bring our own representative site into that mix, there's a linking campaign on.

So, like this posting over at Latter-Day Saint Liberation Front, I got my endowments at the Mormon Temple in Washington DC, and was married in the Salt Lake City Mormon Temple.

Mark Hansen
Cryin' Songs

One of the “holy grails” of songwriting is writing songs that make people cry. Now, there are lots of ways to reach someone through music. You can make them dance, make them think, make them feel… In church music, you can bring the Spirit, too.

Bringing someone to tears, though is like ringing the bell. It breaks downs the walls. It’s visible, tangible evidence that you got through to them. People can dance to songs they don’t like. I know. I’ve done it. People will clap for songs they didn’t like. But I’ve never seen anyone cry for a song that didn’t touch them.

There are a lot of other people’s songs that have touched me that way. And as I get older and more sentimental, that list grows.

Lately, “Growing Young” by Greg Simpson has been getting to me.

“Everybody used to tell me big boys don’t cry
But I’ve been around enough to know that that was the lie
That held back the tears in the eyes of a thousand prodigal sons
But we are children no more, we have sinned and grown old
And our father still waits and he watches down the road
To see his crying children come running back to his arms
And be growing young…”

Not long after we lost our first pregnancy to a miscarriage (after trying to get pregnant for 8 years), Border Crossing put out a song called “She Walks With Candles” about the loss that is felt after losing a loved one to cancer. Now, our little child wasn’t a cancer loss, but the sentiments were the same. I had a hard time listening to that one all the way through for a long time.

Border Crossing’s actually done it a couple of times for me. The other one is “The Other Way Around”:

“There’s a girl in California
Who loves to walk the beach
Feel the wind in her hair
The sand beneath her feet
She smiles at the sun
Smell the salty air
But her eyes have never seen
What she knows is there

Sometimes seeing is believing
Sights we’ve already found
Sometimes seeing is believing
Sometimes it’s the other way around…”

While it’s one thing to cry for someone else’s song, and another thing to see someone cry at your song, it’s altogether something else, when one of your own songs makes you cry.

That’s happened to me a few times. There have been two songs that have been so cathartic and cleansing for me to write that after wrenching them out of me, I sat down and bawled. One of those was “Toy Soldiers”. It’s all about the loss of a friendship. When I wrote it, my friend and I had spoken only a few times in several years. We had both apologized for the rift, but it still hadn’t healed. Writing the song helped me to see what I’d really done wrong, and clean it out of me so that I could really ask forgiveness.

I almost didn’t want to record that one because I felt it was too personal. Not that I didn’t want to share it, but I just didn’t think anyone else would relate to it.

“We’ve made our peace but it’s still not the same, now
It seems we’ve lost the chance to compromise
The dice are still and the battle is over
But through it all I’ve come to realize that
I don’t like fighting in real life
I like Toy Soldiers with plastic guns
With painted on anger
And die-rolled explosions
That stop when the game is done
Toy Soldiers are much more fun”

Another one was a big surprise for me. Usually, one expects a tear-jerker song to be slow, soft and dripping with syrupy sentiment.

But one day I was listening to what would end up being the final mix of “Here in Me”. I was at that stage where I keep spinning it over and over, and each time gets a little louder. If you’ve heard it, you’ll know that it’s a driving rocker, that tells how I feel when the Spirit moves me to action.

Well, this particular day, it moved me again, and I sat there with the song blaring in my speakers, tears streaming down my face, my testimony strengthened, and my purpose renewed.

I’m curious, dear readers, to hear your stories of songs that have moved you to tears. What connected you with the song, what made you feel it so much? Post a comment…

Mark Hansen

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Songs of Zion

TJ Fredette “In the Blink of an Eye”

For a long time, I’ve been saying that I want to see a full spectrum of LDS music. I want to see hard rock and rock lite (“One third the noise of our regular music”), and country, and pop, and urban, and yes, even hip-hop and rap.

I’ve long thought that if there were a good member of the church, that did good rap, it would find a place in the youth of the church.

Now, whenever I mention that, someone inevitably brings up the “Mormon Rap” song that was done by the Walter and Hayes band many years ago. That was a fun tune, but it wasn’t at ALL real rap. It wasn’t meant to be. It was a novelty tune.

Well, over time, I’ve run into a small handful of LDS rappers. One of the best I’ve encountered is one from New York named TJ Fredette. I recently got his self-produced CD, entitled “In the Blink of an Eye”. I’ve been listening to it off and on since, and anticipating what I would say about it in my Songs of Zion review.

I hesitated to review it, actually, because his website is currently down for renovations, and in my communication with him I found that he’s got some new material coming out. In fact, he sent me some tunes, and it made me think that I should wait for that release.

But in the end, my excitement won out.

“Blink of an Eye” has some great tunes on it. Let me just say up front that I’m not a rapper, and I’m not very well schooled in the genre. However, I have kept my ear to the ground and I’m liking what I’m hearing here! A big problem I’ve had with other LDS rap in the past is that it ends up sounding like a Sunday school lesson that rhymes. TJ’s material is driving and not at all preachy. It’s not flighty and frivolous, either. It deals with some real life stuff, and I come out learning.

“Drop to My Knees” is by far my favorite on the CD. It’s hooky and memorable, which is tough for a musical styles that doesn’t use melody. There are some schweet samples being used in the background here, too. I think it also has the strongest mix on the CD.

There were a few songs that used a sung chorus. That helped drive in the hooks, too, making those tunes even easier to recall. “Crisis was one”, and “We Don’t Play Around”.

I wish, for all those that enjoy mainstream rap, that I could send you to a site to buy this CD. At best right now, you can download “Drop to My Knees” at As cool as I think these tunes are, I gotta warn you, the stuff coming up is even better. He’s got the same drive and intensity in his vocals, the hooky sung choruses, and on top of that he’s got better production and smoother mixes. He’s truly kicked it up a notch.

But don’t worry, I’ll be going on about that when it comes out in full.

Also, I admit to my ignorance as a non-rapper, but it seems to me that the moniker “TJ Fredette” is not the strongest “nom d’ street” I could come up with… :-)

Mark Hansen


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