Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Winners and Losers

Wars, it seems to me, are ugly, brutal struggles, and usually at the end, there is rarely a clear winner. In reality, I think, wars are won by the side that ends up losing the least. And I don't mean the one that lost the fewest battles, I think more in terms of the side that had to give up the least in the whole process, and in the end.

America was pretty much destined to win World War II for that reason. I mean, we lost a lot of people, but then, everybody did. So did the Japanese. So did the Germans and the English. We lost a lot of hardware. But ultimately, only two or three times in the whole course of the war was American soil ever attacked. And at the time, none of those places were actual states, only territories. Our cities weren't decimated by bombs and artillery. Our economy wasn't ravaged by the war machine's destructive power. Quite the opposite. Our economy was fueled by it.

But even though we “won” the war, we were still losers. We still lost a lot of lives. We still lost a lot of money that was spent blowing things up and getting blown up. We spent a lot of time and money rebuilding the nations we blew up. And we spent the next 50 years spending more money and lives trying to maintain the illusion of world dominance that we thought we had won.

In the end, the winners are not so much “winners” as they are the ones that lose the least.

Why am I thinking about this today? Because it occurs to me that it's true not only on a national scale, but also on individual scale.

A good friend of ours decided to file for divorce today, from a husband that has been verbally and at times physically abusive. It has been building for the last four or five years, coming to direct battle a couple of times. But our friend has decided that she wants to stop losing. Or, at least, to stop losing as much as she has been. She's been losing life and happiness, and it's time to start rebuilding.

Divorce isn't pretty. It isn't easy. I don't think you can call anyone who goes through it a “winner”, but I admire her courage for deciding to stop losing. I think that can, at times, be called a “win”!

Mark Hansen

Monday, December 22, 2008

Kids Grow Up for Christmas

I had some interesting thoughts as Jodi and I were wrapping Christmas presents tonight. I noticed that the presents we'd gotten for our kids, especially Brendon, were representative of his voyage of self-discovery this year. I don't mean anything hugely profound, but he's really uncovered some real interests and personality traits this year. Quite a bit of growing up.

He's discovered a real interest in performing. First as a comedian, then as a magician. All along the way, he still thinks music, particularly drumming, is pretty cool. He's discovered an enthusiasm for origami. And, he's learning to cook.

Clearly some of these are because he's at that age when he likes to do things with Dad, so there's a lot of overlap. But even still, I'm not a magician, nor a paper artist. It's fun for me to learn along with him, as he steps out on his own.

It's been a very interesting year to watch him. He's become much more helpful and less whiny (a little) than before.

I'm proud of him!

Mark Hansen

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Footnote on Service

Tonight I was going to blog about Orson Card's opinion of LDS music. I'd read it a couple of times and was considering a couple of angles for my posting. While I was doing that, the doorbell rang a couple of times. Brendon ran in, a little nervous because it's 11:00 at night. I was a bit confused as well. Brendon's neighborhood friends have been known to come over at some pretty heinous hours in the morning, but never this late at night.

So, I got up and put on a shirt and went to the door, with Brendon right behind. As soon as I opened it, I saw a box and a bag on the snow on our porch. The box was filled with food, candy, and a few trinkets. There was a small turkey, and a whole bunch of canned food, including some wonderful roasted peanuts that I'm eating as I type!

The bag had clothes and things for the kids, as well as a few house decor items and even a CD!

All of it was delivered completely anonymously. Brendon was thrilled, and I was, too. I even feel a little guilty. When my whole job situation shifted, I had told a number of people in my ward about it, in an effort to network and find new job opportunities. It led to a few leads, but obviously, no actual jobs yet.

Still, I think people in the ward and the neighborhood are thinking we're worse off that we actually are. We have actually done OK this month. We've tightened up our belts, but Jodi had done most of our Christmas shopping last spring and summer, when we were in much a better financial situation. So, we're actually going to be able to share some cool gifts this Christmas. Not quite as many as other years, but still a few nice things. I won't mention them, because my boy sometimes reads the blog here.

Plus, my father has stepped in and helped a bit with some car repairs that hit us last month and things. We've been very thankful for their help as well.

With some careful management, we'll be OK.

But, it's still nice to know that people are thinking of us. And the clothing and the food will be put to good use. We're not hurting so much for an actual Christmas dinner, but here in a month or so, we'll be able to pull that out of the pantry and the freezer and have it and stretch that month's food budget just a little bit more. And we'll be very grateful for that! It's just wonderful to know that we're being thought of. We're in a great neighborhood, here!

So, whoever you are, thank you! You are in our prayers!

Peanuts, anyone?

Mark Hansen

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Service, Part Three

(Warning to non-Mormons: This blog post has soooo much Mo' jargon in it that I don't even want to begin explaining it. Other Mo's will understand it. Non-Mo's might want to skip until tomorrow. Sorry... Nuthin' persnal...)

Today's example of service is all about when I got to see someone else do service to someone else. Someone elser? Someone else else? Else2?


I'm not the world's greatest home teacher. Closer to the world's worst. But I got lucky and got a companion that was much more on top of it. And we got this family that I really connected with. The dad was suffering from a number of illnesses and diagnosis, including chronic fatigue. He almost never got to go to church, even though his family did. As a result we pretty much had a standing appointment each week to take him the sacrament.

His son and mine became friends, and they enjoy playing Yu-Gi-Oh and speed cup stacking together.

Then, because there are a lot of move-ins and move-outs, our home teaching lists got shuffled. I was really nervous, because I was afraid that his family would end up with a home teacher like I'd always been. Someone who never goes, never helps, doesn't care much.

I talked with our Elder's Quorum President to see if we could get it shuffled back, but before all that could happen, their new home teacher got a hold of me and asked about them, and came to pick up the sacrament trays so they could carry on.

It felt really good to know that they were in good hands. I've seen him a couple of times at church since then, and I still keep in touch as well.

Taggin' Other Bloggers!

Here's where I'm going with all these posts. I've been thinking a lot about service lately. I'm not sure why, but it's been on my mind. So, I'd like to start a Meme up. I'd like to hear your stories. When you get tagged:

  1. Tell a story of when had service done to you
  2. Tell about a time when you did some service
  3. Tell us about when you saw someone do some service to yet another person

You don't have to do it all in different posts, like I did. Do it in your own style. Here are the first five I'm gonna tag:

  1. Mormon Foodie (Maybe talk about service and food?)
  2. S'mee at Knot in the String
  3. Sparky at 3 Left Turns
  4. Is This Mike On?
  5. The Black Mormon Girl

Remember, when you get tagged, if you decide you want to play along, write up your story and then tag a few other bloggers and see what happens!

Mark Hansen

Friday, December 12, 2008

Service, Part Two

Where yesterday's post was about someone doing me service, today's bit is about me doing a little kindness for someone else. I know that sounds a bit like bragging, but in a few more blog entries, you'll see where I'm going with this.

Anyway, this morning, I stopped at a convenience store to get a morning snack. Diet Pepsi and a chocolate chip muffin. The breakfast of Champions.* There was this guy standing in line in front of me. While we were both waiting in line to pay, he and I kept glancing back and forth at each other. I kept thinking, "I've seen that guy somewhere, but I don't know where."

Finally, he speaks up and says, "I keep thinking I've seen you somewhere, but I can't place where..."

I was just thinking the exact same thing!

And we start exchanging bits of information, trying to figure out where we'd met. I live in Eagle Mountain City Center, he lives in the Ranches part of the city. He works at the elementary school in City Center, as the Assistant Principal. Oh, that must be it. I'm Jacob's dad! That was when recognition set in. We talked a minute about Jake.

To understand, you have to know that one of the biggest blessings in our children's life has been the experience they've had at the school. Especially Jake. The school administration has really rolled out the red carpet for him. They really take care of special needs kids at this school. It's a big difference between our experience here and our experience in other schools and in other school districts.

As we stepped up to the cash register, he was in front of me, and started to make his payment. I suddenly got an idea to repay him. I simply stepped up and told him to cancel his payment. And I covered his soda and snack.

It's not much, but Jodi and I really appreciate what he and his school have done for us.

And later, when Jodi went to take Jake some medicine, the Assistant Principal thanked her.

Mark Hansen

*Seriously. It's a well-balanced meal. It has elements of all 4 food groups necessary for sustaining life in today's fast-paced workaday world: Sugar, Chocolate, Caffiene, and Preservatives.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Coincidental Service

So, today wasn't particularly good or bad, through most of the workday. Still, when I left my job at 8:00 tonight, I was glad to be goin' home. Usually, either my wife or I will call the other while I'm on my way to "check in" and see how long before I'll arrive.

But tonight, about ten minutes after I had told my wife that I'd be about another 20 minutes, I noticed the truck was riding rough. I knew right away it was a flat, but I was hoping it wasn't. I pulled over and saw in a moment that it was.

This December hasn't been very cold, by December's standards, but it was still definitely not warm. It was also dark. Add to that the fact that I had never changed a tire on this particular vehicle before, and I was not happy. So, after calling my dear wife and telling her I'd be a little later, I crawled up under the butt of the car to check on the spare.

The good news: It's a full-size spare, not one of those toy wheels. The bad news: It's tied up under the truck pretty tight, and I don't know where the tools are to get it down. After a few minutes of digging in the back seat (under it, actually) and I found them.

So, I'm lying back underneath the back end trying to lower the spare, listening to car after car drive on past. Then, I see lights surround me. I'm thinking, "Either this is someone to help me, or kill me." One final thought, "Or it could be a UFO..."

Of course, it's someone helping. He starts loosening the lug nuts while I start to position the jack.

About this time, a lady comes up and uses her modern century flashlight (her blackberry with a bright white screen) to help us see what we're doing. I didn't recognize her at first (I was focused on the tire), but she lives down the street from us, and goes to our ward. We taught her daughter in primary.

Then, while we're working, I introduce myself to the guy helping, and it turns out he also lives near my house, a street over. He just moved in, a week ago, and also goes to my ward.

So, with the spare on, we all shake hands and with my thanks, we all get back in our cars. Then, we all convoy the last 10-15 minutes back to our homes.

It was a great day, after all.

...And my last words to everyone were, "Well, now I'll have something to blog about tonight!"

Mark Hansen

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A Day Without a Gay

I saw a news report today about tomorrow's "Day Without a Gay" strike. I don't know that "strike" is really the right word, but it's all I can think of. From the website: "Day Without A Gay seeks to shift our strong feelings about injustice toward service! Let's fight for equality by out-loving those who would deny us rights. Call in "gay" on December 10th (International Human Rights Day) and volunteer for your local LGBT and/or human rights organizations".

In other words, if you're gay, or if you support gay rights (whatever that means), you're supposed to not go to work tomorrow (December 10th). You're also not supposed to shop at stores that don't support gay rights. The idea is to show the economic impact the LGBT community has.

I remember the Mexican/Hispanic community tried something similar to show their impact as immigration issues were being debated.

This raised a number of thoughts in me. One is that usually when I stay home, I call in "sick". Now they want people to call in "gay". I thought they'd just spent the better part of a decade trying to convince us that being gay wasn't the same as being sick. Hmmmm...

I also thought that I could do this, too, just like the gays. I could call in "Mormon". Can you imagine that? "Hello, boss! It's Mark. I just wanted to tell you that I'm feeling really Mormon today, and frankly, I'm just too Mormon to work. I'll see you tomorrow! Thanks!"

But think what would happen to the Utah economy if we were to do that. We'd have to pick a day that really resonates with Mormons. Maybe Joseph Smith's birthday on Dec 23rd. Or even better! We could all not go to work on the anniversary of the day the Mormon Pioneers first stepped into the Salt Lake Valley!

Oh, wait... We're already doing that.

Hey, here's a better idea! Instead of only doing it one day a year, we should really show how much economic clout we have! We should do it more often! Like, monthly or even weekly! What would happen to Utah's economy if all the Mormons stopped shopping or working one day a week. Hey, how about Sunday!

Oh, wait...

Mark Hansen

Friday, December 05, 2008

Is This a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

So, last night, we're all gathered downstairs and we're getting ready to play "Apples to Apples". This is a fun family card/word game. But Jacob is freaking out. He's literally screaming. He doesn't want to play this game. We try to convince him, because he's had a great time playing it before.

Finally we get him calmed enough to tell us why he doesn't want to play it.

"It has a swear word in it!" He says through his tears.

Jodi and I look at each other. We can't remember any word on any of the cards that can be construed as a swear word. We tell him it's OK.

"NO! NO! It has SWEARING!"

Finally, we get him calmed down, and in the end we have a great time playing a completely cuss-word-free game.

But that experience kinda haunted me. I got to wondering if my son's reaction to swearing is good or bad. His brother does it, too. He'll shut off the TV sometimes if he hears a word that he thinks is "bad" or if it's "too violent". And frankly, his threshold for both is pretty low. "Stupid" is a swear word in their book.

On the one hand, I think it's great that they want to keep clean and pure. I want to applaud that. On the other hand, if they go on screaming crusades everytime someone around them lets loose a string of colorful language, they're going to live very lonely lives.

What's a parent to do? It's just so *%^$#!! confusing...

Mark Hansen

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Songs of Zion

Matt Whitney, Plan Be Music

I gotta just tell you the story of how I got to know Matt.

He and I were involved in the LDSmusicians email group, and we also worked together planning the LDS Independent Music Festival a couple of years. For one of those years (or maybe two), we actually put together a band. The first year, we called it a "project" because we knew that if we ever called it a band or gave it a name, it would end up in a horrible breakup with ugly litigation. Because that's how ALL "bands" end, right? So, we were quite adamant about NOT calling it a band.

It had Matt on keys, vocals (incredible vocals), and songwriting, John Newman on horns, songwriting, keys, arranging, and other miscellaneous things that we needed. Morey Day played the drums, and I played bass, guitar, and sang (thought not as well as Matt).

We were a twisted eclectic band. We did everything in a kind of weird way, because we all came from such diverse styles. John was our jazz, I was the rocker, Matt was the showman, and Morey was just along for the ride, playing just about anything we could throw at him. That first year at the fest, we did a few of John's tunes, one of mine, and a couple of Matt's. The hightlight, however, was this fast, funky jazz version of Book of Mormon Stories. We called it, "BookaMo". I can still remember it.

At one point we did actually get a gig in a park and at that point we decided that we had progressed beyond "project" and that we needed a name. One suggestion was "Matthew, Mark, Morey, and John". Another, since John, Morey, and I were all pretty stout, and Matt, being in the military, was in great shape, was to call us "Slim and the Fatboys". We figured that our schtick could have been that we would all argue over who was actually slim.

In the end, because our sound was so eclectic, and because our rehearsals always seemed to degenrate into silliness, we settled on the name, "Random Tangent".

In the end, we did split up. Matt went to Iraq, then to the east coast. John went back to school nights, and we just couldn't keep it together. Fortunately, it wasn't an ugly breakup. We're all still friends, and no one has even mentioned suing anyone.

In the intervening years, we've all progressed in our music in our own way. Matt, in particular, has just put up a website with a couple of tunes on it. He is an amazing writer, an amazing pianist, and an amazing vocalist. The big reason I find him most amazing is that he doesn't sound anything at all like all of the other Mormon pianist/singer/songwriters. His style is more show-y, with a cynical, yet heartfelt edge to his testimony that has been painfully honed by the sharpening stone of reality. When the scriptures talk about the sword that cuts the joints and the marrow, they're talking about his tunes.

Unfortunately, the ones of his that I like the best are not available for free download. But the ones that are there are certainly worth checking out.

C'mon, Matt! What about DC Tonight? :-)

Mark Hansen

Monday, December 01, 2008

Christmas Decorations at Our House

After 21+ years of marriage, you tend to gather some stuff. Lots of stuff. Some stuff is cool. Some stuff is pointless. Some stuff has accumulated, and nobody seems to know where it even came from.

But what's especially cool is some of the Christmas decorations we've gathered. One tradition we have had, ever since we started having kids is to buy one new ornament for each member of the family each year. That family member gets to choose it, and it should have something to do with the events of that year in that person's life.

So, the year that Jacob loved watching the Spiderman movie over and over and over, he got a spiderman ornament. Another year, Brendon just was wild over Pokemon, so he get a little pikachu in a pokeball (If you don't understand that, you probably don't have young kids). One year, I got a little metal electric guitar. Another year, I had been really into Magic cards, so I hung one on the tree. It was a 3/3 white angel. Get it? An angel? On a Christmas tree?

Oh, well, I thought it was clever...

When Jacob was first born, on Christmas Day, he was left in the hospital. So, that year, we got him a little teddy bear Christmas decoration with his suitcases packed.

The fun of this tradition comes as we start setting up the tree. It never fails to turn my thoughts back and my memories loose.

And among our other Christmas decorations with history is the tree itself. It's a big one, artificial, and was given to us by Jodi's mom and stepdad. It's become even that much more special now that Jodi's mom has passed on. We've also got this beautiful pearlish glazed ceramic nativity set that we made when Jodi's mom still had her porcelain doll shop open.

What are some of your original Christmas traditions?

Mark Hansen


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