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“Surprise Vacation” – Our Latest Adventure

View at the young couple being in loveThanks to everyone who’s supported us in our new business venture: Surprise Vacation. We started off with a great launch earlier this month, with almost 400 hits on our first day and several contacts from interested leads. It always takes a leap of faith to discover whether or not one’s crazy idea is going to fly, of which it’s far too early to say for this budding project. Especially while it’s in its infancy, your word-of-mouth can go miles.

Anyway, Teresa and I thought about the different ways we could approach this. (1) We could meticulously plan out every detail of travel, lodging, dining, activities, and entertainment for every customer, or (2) we could try to automate the service with tried and true packages. We decided on somewhere in-between: designing sixteen vacations based on the sixteen personality types, then customizing these packages to meet the needs of our customers. The idea of correlating locations with personalities is, of course, arbitrary, though after a fair amount of research, we think we’ve found some pretty good fits. Sight-seeing and fine dining for the cultured, carefree amusement for the fun-loving, high adventure for the courageous, and relaxation for the comfort lovers.

It’s been fun to design the quiz and the methodology for assigning vacation spots to people’s personalities. It’s pretty basic right now, and our algorithm is far from perfect, but the more who try it out, the more data we can collect, and the better the service gets. So, if you’re like us and prefer adventure over predictability, check out the link above to find out your “ideal vacation.” As always, we’ll be happy to give friends (and even acquaintances) killer deals. Just contact me.

Party on. Or better yet, vacation. You deserve it.

Because I Feel Like Bragging

Here’s an average day’s cuisine in Gashlaria:

Breakfast

Smoothie made of strawberries, bananas, mangoes, oranges, dates, and chia seeds
Home-made granola (fresh out of the oven) with freshly-made cashew milk

Lunch

Chocolate-dipped strawberries
Spinach, tomato, and cucumber sandwich with grape seed oil and balsamic vinegar
Home-made, whole wheat fettuccine with alfredo sauce made from cashews, coconut, and garlic

Dinner

Spinach Caesar salad with home-made whole wheat croûtons and a dressing made from vegan mayonnaise, lime juice, balsamic vinegar, and garlic
Tacos made with yellow corn tortillas, home-made refried red beans, and home-made salsa

Dessert

Home-made ice cream made from cashews, bananas, dates, and cocoa, sprinkled with coconut

Moral Relativism Versus Faith

Andrea_di_bonaiuto,_apotesosi_di_san_tommaso_d'aquino,_03_fede“Moral Relativism (or Ethical Relativism) is the position that moral or ethical propositions do not reflect objective and/or universal moral truths, but instead make claims relative to social, cultural, historical or personal circumstances” (http://www.philosophybasics.com/branch_moral_relativism.html).

Judging by moral relativism, it is folly to believe in a moral rule such as that men should marry women and have children. If there is such a rule in a society, it’s founded on the prejudices of that society and not on any natural law. To state that men should marry anyone is to presuppose that there’s some superior value to entering into an exclusive and committed partnership over a life of solitary, self-motivated promiscuity. To state that men should specifically marry women is to presuppose that there’s some physical balance between the sexes and that diversity is superior to homogeneity. To state that couples should have children is to presuppose that it is good for humans to reproduce, which would lead to the absurd conclusion that it is better to be alive than dead.

Moral relativism is the ultimate reductio ad absdurdum (anyone else finding frequent occasion to use that phrase lately?), because it boils down all truth into binary equations of consistent or inconsistent, fair or not fair, whether or not these equations adequately represent reality. If immediate and absolute proof cannot be provided (which it never can be), the moral relativist considers it his moral prerogative to draw no conclusion and define no rules, to replace the acquisition of truth with a belief that truth cannot be found. Thus moral relativism isn’t so much a philosophy as the manifesto of the cynic, the permission for anything, the condemnation of nothing, and the justification for inaction. Even if lines are drawn, to state that something is right in one society and wrong in another society is to equate right and wrong with cultural whims, putting a fine line between moral relativism and nihilism.

If there are no absolutes, then the very concept of morality is lost in recursion. What, then, can it possibly mean for something to be immoral? Inconvenient? Problematic? Offensive? Without absolutes, what one does in the dark becomes irrelevant so long as he can destroy the evidence. The philosophy echoes the sentiment from Disney’s Alladin: “Trouble? Now way. You’re only in trouble if you get caught.” This so-called moral framework becomes the foundation and justification for ideas such as “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” and “if it feels good, do it.”

More and more, it seems that moral relativism, in all of its paradox, is the rule book by which world society is reinventing itself. The virtues of forbearance, fidelity, integrity, purity, industry, and charity (to name a few) are replaced with the single virtue of tolerance. But ironically, without standards to judge against, there’s no difference between tolerance and apathy. It seems that the only way to achieve the unconditional tolerance the world demands is through widespread moral anarchy. And of course, within this “tolerant” framework, if one society goes against the grain in deeming a certain behavior immoral, the more-enlightened majority will surely pressure this wayward minority into accepting the common doctrine, as evidenced by the way that society, as a whole, has rapidly changed its moral views over the last few decades. Thus the practical implementation of moral relativism becomes very hard, indeed, to distinguish from nihilism. If it weren’t for a universal zeal for the illusive virtue of equality, the two might be indistinguishable.

And now to my justification for this being a Sunday post: where faith comes in. It seems to me that where moral relativism demands instant proof, faith trusts in intuition and discernment until proof can be attained. Where the moral relativist states, “Until I can see it with my eyes and handle it with my hands, I will not believe,” the believer states, “I have no fail-proof arguments, however, when looking at the big picture, this course of action makes the most sense to me.” By maintaining an open mind, faith, ironically, becomes the tool of the scientist, whereas the demanding of immediate proof becomes the tool of the ignorant.

When viewing the immediate and long-term effects on individuals, families, societies, and nations, there are many, many good reasons why, as a rule, men should marry women and have children, but none of these can be adequately represented by the question of fair or not fair, and so the baby is thrown out with the bathwater. By the rules of this new game, I cannot defend myself, and I cannot win. Of course, the game is rigged, though illustrating this epistemalogical quandary in the heat of debate is so difficult that it seldom happens. Occam’s Razor becomes the de facto means for settling truth in all accounts, reinforcing a consensus reality of a one-dimensional and polarized universe filled with lovers and haters.

True enlightenment does not come from judging a book by its cover. It doesn’t fit well into political slogans. It seldom comes furnished with immediate proof. Determining what’s right and wrong requires faith in a grander scheme, a deference of judgment until all evidence is obtained. It requires acute discernment from delicate criteria that cannot be easily put into words. It requires the integrity to accept the inconvenient reality that everything we do has effects, that our actions, big or small, can matter a great deal, whether or not anyone is watching. It requires the courage to reject blind permissiveness and stand for what may be unpopular or against the “rules.” It requires patience and looking at the big picture until it all comes into view.

Thus, it would seem, that true enlightenment requires faith, an idea that doesn’t fit well with moral relativism. But then, truth has never been popular.

The Abolotionists and My Intention to Get Shot

TheAbolitionistsFBThere’s something ironic about walking into a Cinemark megaplex decked with posters for superhero movies, which are playing in half of the theaters, then entering one of the few showings of a movie about an actual hero only to see four other people in the entire theater. Stilted plots, gratuitous violence, amoral antiheroes, unbelievably evil villains, and just enough sex for a PG-13 rating, America’s latest obsession with comic books on the silver screen simply isn’t for me. In fact, the last superhero movie I think I actually sat through was Spider Man 2, back in 2004 … and I wish I hadn’t. But immerse me in a story with real good guys and real bad guys, such as The Abolitionists, and I’m hooked.

The Abolitionists is a documentary that tells the story of ex CIA Agent Tim Ballard and the organization he formed, Operation Underground Railroad. Their mission is to rescue children from sex trafficking. The movie shows real operations, through which some fifty-six children were rescued during its making. It made me cry. Teresa will confirm that I don’t cry. This is a movement that needs our support.

It’s hard to imagine, but slavery is still a big problem in the world. Chances are, you’ve eaten chocolate that was, in part, brought to you by enslaved children in Ghana and the Ivory Coast (especially if you buy Nestle products). According to Wikipedia, there are approximately 20 million slaves in the world today, with the vast majority of them involving sexual exploitation. According to the U.S. State Department, approximately 80% are female and half are children. Unlike the inane frivolities we, the pampered decadents of a dying empire, fret over, human trafficking is a real problem. I mean, how can we exhaust or passion over who should be allowed in which public restrooms while millions of innocent children are being raped on a nightly basis? It’s so easy to waste our energy on what appear to be good causes but which will, in the end, return a net result of zero. Which pretty much sums up the majority of modern political activism.

Tim Ballard is inspiring because he’s found his calling in life and has dedicated himself to it. He doesn’t have time to argue about how the world needs to change; he’s too busy changing it. He’s making a real difference, not by writing blog posts but by actually fighting bad guys. And I intend to follow suit. I signed up to volunteer on their website, indicating that I’d like to join their jump team. And I fully intend to get shot. Teresa has given me the green light to do so. One couldn’t ask for a better wife.

Faith and Jesus Christ’s Incredible Doctrine of Everything

2817f6f9e38f48cf9546c2964a09091aBeing as it’s Sunday, and I don’t know what else to do with myself, I’m going to muse on the subject of faith.

Many times I’ve wondered why faith is so integral to this life. Wouldn’t it be better if we were equipped with a divine text book? Why would the same being who said that “The Glory of God is intelligence” (D&C 93:36) purposely hide himself and leave us with nothing more credible than the words of self-proclaimed prophets by which to make sense of the universe?

And yet, what if we had started out with a complete instruction manual on life, the universe, and everything? From a scientific point of view, there would have been no need for a Galileo, Newton, or Einstein. Like pampered nobility born into privilege, our imagination, innovation, and realization would have been severely stunted. And then comes this wonderful quote from Thomas S. Monson:

“God left us the world unfinished for man to work his skill upon. He left the electricity in the cloud, the oil in the earth. He left the rivers unbridged and the forests unfelled and the cities unbuilt. God gives to man the challenge of raw materials, not the ease of unfinished things. He leaves the pictures unpainted and the music unsung and the problems unsolved, that man might know the joys and glories of creation.”

So while the full nature of faith as the means by which one can obtain the full blessings of God still remains something of a mystery to me, I see enough wisdom in the principle that, for now, I’m more than willing to … take it on faith.

And in pondering this still mysterious principle of faith in the divine, namely Jesus Christ, I’ve felt a need for a better definition of what, exactly, this concept means. Fist I’ll tell you what I think it’s not: I don’t think it’s a state of mind, nor do I think it’s pretending to believe in something one truly doesn’t. I think it’s more like the following analogy:

Say you have a brilliant epiphany on the subject of astrophysics. You realize that you’ve pieced together the complete theory of everything, and you’re dying to tell others about. But the problem is, hardly anyone will have any clue what you’re talking about, because not only have they not qualified themselves to understand, they’re probably not even interested. Tragedy. In the same way, I feel that Jesus Christ has obtained the true doctrine of everything, and he’s dying to tell us about it. But once again, most of us are either unqualified or uninterested. We simply wouldn’t know what to do with such pearls of great price.

I think his “elect” are those who exert themselves enough to both wrap their minds around the knowledge he’s given and follow the path he’s set. That is, faith is “getting it.” Because when we get it, we do it. Faith is not getting everything, because perfect knowledge would no longer be faith. It’s just getting enough. The crucial knowledge is there, and boy is it ever. The limiting factor is not the information itself but our willingness to internalize it and act upon it. Again, I think faith is an applied combination of knowledge and action.

And here’s where the miracles factor in: for those few who put themselves on the path of faith, God is going to help them, because he’s dying to have someone else experience what he has and know what he does. He has a vested interest their success. And yet, as much as this may torment him, he can’t just give us this knowledge in a text book, because it would inevitably go to waste. It appears that this world of mystery, where each of us must figure out for ourselves who we are and why we’re here, is the only way that a proper inquisitiveness — a kind that leads to godliness — could be instilled within us. But as mysteries are unfolded, we begin to perceive the true universe. Higher laws act upon lower laws, and “miracles” occur.

In the Book of Mormon, it’s Laman and Lemuel who most needed faith, though they never understood why. They didn’t get it, because they didn’t want to get it. Such would require too much effort. Their youngest brother, Nephi, however, did get it. He saw that faith wasn’t just for malignant sinners or the down and out. Far from a silly belief system for blubbering ladies in fast-and-testimony meetings, faith is power for the righteous, those who don’t fall back on religion as a crutch but hold onto it as a ladder to perfection. It is the light, knowledge, and hope of the redeeming gospel that empowered Nephi to complete dangerous missions, obtain profound visions, prophesy of the future, engineer brilliant things, cross uncrossable seas, sculpt beautiful edifices, lead nations, and leave legacies for his posterity. Could a foundation of doubt have led to such amzing accomplishments? What interests me about faith is not just the power that helps the lost get found but the power that helps those who have already found themselves become gods.

Last night I attended the priesthood session of the General Conference for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For an hour and a half I sat on a hard chair, surrounded by men and boys in white shirts and ties while we listened to old men call us to repentance. Such an image may stir less than exciting feelings into my readers. In fact, it may be the antithesis of what’s deemed as a “cool” activity for a Saturday night. And yet, over the course of this conference, I found the messages so stimulating that I took over 5,000 words of notes. While there are many things I don’t understand, I believe I can say with confidence that I “get” this gospel. The doctrine is wonderful. The advice is good. The examples are phenomenal. And most importantly, the fruit is sweeter than anything else I’ve ever tasted. I don’t have a perfect knowledge and nor will I ever in this life. It seems that that is the point of this life. And yet, when it comes to the fundamentals, I get it. I understand the basic tenets of Jesus Christ’s doctrine of everything, and I want to learn more. I want to experience the course he’s laid out for me, because I know, from experience, that it leads to joy and intelligence.

What struck me last night was how much we’re missing when, like Laman and Lemuel, we choose not to “get it.” In a world where agnosticism is viewed as a trait of the enlightened, we often say, “Unless I can know for certain, I will not act.” But this logical construct we build up in our minds can never be satisfied, for, as it appears, the full truth will not be made known to us in mortality (at least not at this time), which, once again, appears to be the point. We’re forced to choose between moving forward in faith and spinning in circles of doubt. Afraid of falling into the traps of wishful thinking or delusion, we choose not to “get it.” We opt out of experimenting with Jesus Christ’s doctrine of everything by studying scriptures, praying, meditating, fellowshipping, and trying out the works of Jesus Christ for ourselves, because we’re certain that we already know what the results will be. And yet this is not scientific. If we really wanted to know, we would have to try to prove ourselves wrong.

“And now I, Nephi, cannot say more; the Spirit stoppeth mine utterance, and I am left to mourn because of the unbelief, and the wickedness, and the ignorance, and the stiffneckedness of men; for they will not search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be” (2 Nephi 32:7).

It’s been argued that doubt is a better instrument for the pursuit of truth than faith. While this may be true in a laboratory, and while a healthy skepticism can always help cut through deception, doubt alone can easily turn into an roadblock to action where action is required. It may lead to the distorted view that what we don’t know should take precedence over what we do know. It may close the mind, heart, and will from seeking to understand Jesus Christ’s good news, simply because, from a distance, such good news may seem fantastic. But before we doubt our faith, perhaps we should also try doubting our doubts.

Last night the wise speakers pleaded with our generation of men to start looking past our own noses, to truly be there for their wives, children, and neighbors. It was if they said, “You don’t have time to doubt your place in this great work of salvation, because if you can’t even get past helping yourself, how on earth are you going to fulfill your callings to help others? You already know it’s true, so stop falling on your doubts as an excuse to withhold action. In so doing you are damning your potential and destroying your family, your society, and your posterity.”

And that’s what I think it really comes down to: the question of “to act or not to act.” Perhaps forcing us to make this decision is the true purpose behind this great simulation called earth. The great deception is to equate faith with mere belief, a state of mind, wishful thinking, or even delusion, while the great truth is that faith is one and the same with action. I do not believe there is an alternative to this choice between faith and action and doubt and inaction. This is not to imply that no one can live a good and meaningful life while simultaneously rejecting the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but is my belief that there is nothing better out there than Jesus Christ’s doctrine of everything, nothing so empowering, nothing so good for the individual soul and the entire human family.

My personal resolve is, as I’ve suggested, to place my knowledge over my doubts, and to exercise more faith through more action. I can honestly say that the more I’ve exerted my faith, studied my course material, and followed the footsteps of my Savior, the more real, profound, and literally true his doctrine of everything has seemed, and the more enlightened and happy I’ve felt. Inversely, the more lax I’ve become, and the more I’ve distanced myself, the more it all seems like wishful thinking, and the more confused and dark I feel. While it could be argued that such confusion is inevitable while deconstructing a false foundation, I don’t buy it. Real truth warms, enlivens, and inspires like the rising sun. And once you’ve experienced it, you know it. When you’ve comprehended even the smallest portion of Jesus Christ’s doctrine of everything, you see that no other explanation comes close.

A Very Merry Christmas … and Thanks for the Blender

04d8762c-e9ff-48b4-800b-25850e9c6e80I’ve been fighting an inner battle lately. Part of me says, “You should wax philosophical and write a blog post.” Another part of me says, “But time is so precious, and I’m exhausted.” Since I was a teenager, it’s been my tradition to go on late-night Christmas Eve walks. With no one but God, I look at the dark, sacred night, the stars, the icicles, the inflatable reindeer, and get sentimental as I question my place in the universe. Once, when I was going through my “bumming” phase, I even spent a Christmas even in a newspaper bin. But this Christmas, what with work, three jabbering little mouths to feed, my real work (the projects I’m passionate about but only have a few uninterrupted hours for each day), and every other familial, social, and ecclesiastical duty, I simply lacked the energy.

The first part of me (the young Stephen Gashler) said, “Aha! You’re getting old. You promised to never get old.” The second part of me (the current Stephen Gashler) replied, “I’m most certainly not getting old. It’s just that I’m in a phase in my life in which I’m living my dreams (or enough so for the present), which diminishes both my time and my motivation for planning out my life. I must put every possible minute of free time toward achieving my goals.” To which the young Stephen Gashler replied, “Oh bull. You’re just old.”

In the end, I ended up breaking tradition and sleeping on Christmas Eve. But on Christmas day, something happened that forced my conscience into gear, having since compelled me to wax philosophical after all and write a blog post, because anything less would be ungrateful. So with no further ado, I would like to say thank you to my family’s mysterious benefactor who generously endowed us with the gift of a Blendtec Blender. I know these wonderful devices don’t come cheap, and it’s already proven to be a great blessing to my family, as, being on a plant-based diet, we use blenders for practically everything, and Blendtecs are frankly amazing. This mysterious contribution was no doubt inspired by the social media post I made on December 23rd (mine and Teresa’s anniversary):

For those of you who were wondering, I have now, in fact, broken 9 blenders in 9 years of marriage. Happy anniversary, shmoopy pie.

I verified with Teresa that this number is correct (or nearly correct; we may have lost count). It’s hard to say just how I did it. The first one, I recall, I simply burned out, because it was a cheep product. The second one, I believe, I accidentally melted onto a stove. One I recall shattering by accidentally leaving a spoon inside of it before turning it on. Another I burned out while trying to make cookie dough. The latest, after who knows how many smoothies, nut butters, batters, and fondues, I simply murdered through exhaustion. Apparently the rest of my casualties have been blotted from my memory. Perhaps they were too painful to hold on to. But having caused many fires and explosions in my kitchen over the years, it doesn’t take much stretch of the imagination to recreate the trauma in my mind. For me, cooking is one of the purest forms of creation, and with unbridled power, disasters are inevitable.

Could our mysterious benefactor be the same person who gifted us with a basket full of candy bars earlier this year following another one of my social media posts? Regardless, the intrigue of these gifts has made our lives much more interesting, so, whoever you are (one or several people), thank you again.

I’d also feel ungrateful if I didn’t record how much my family has enjoyed this Christmas season, which has included the following: a gluttonous ward party, several extravagant company parties with fine dining, lavish gifts, and a very generous bonus, many delicious caramel apples, countless chocolates, fudge, banana bread, pumpkin bread, fine nut cheeses, and more delectable foods and goodies than I can possibly list, several tree-decorating ceremonies, many inspiring church services, devotionals, and concerts, including the Utah Valley Handbell Ringers and a spectacular performance in Salt Lake City by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the lovely Laura Osnes (she’a amazing), the lights at Temple Square, a wonderful drive-through light show that was gifted to us by the car in front of us, two extended family Christmas Eve gatherings, three Christmas day gatherings and feasts, sledding, hours of board games and family fun, countless Christmas carols, and, of course,  a smorgasbord of presents. I’m fairly certain that Jesus of Nazareth, if he were to attend these festivities on his behalf, would be a fan.

Months ago, we asked our girls if they would consider a different kind of Christmas this year: instead of receiving the usual boon from Santa Claus, we would write Santa Claus a letter and inform him that we’d rather use the money he would otherwise spend on presents for helping the poor. The girls loved the idea. (Secretly we hoped to spare our house from another invasion of plastic, painfully pink ponies and princesses.  Did you appreciate the alliteration?) So aside from some treats in their stockings, the only gifts from Santa Clause were a check to mommy and daddy, which they would in turn give to their chosen charity, and a letter in which Santa thanked the girls for their selfless decision.

Notwithstanding, thanks to grandmas, aunts, and uncles, there was anything but a relief from pink plastic this year :-).

The night before, the girls wanted to stay up and wait for Santa, but of course, they had to go to bed or he couldn’t come. Not longer after they retired, I got a ring of jingle bells and shook them as loudly as I could as I moved through the house. I got on my bed and jumped on and off several times, making as much noise as possible. I rang the bells right outside of the girls’ door. Following this, Teresa and I even barged into their room and exclaimed, “Did you hear that noise? And what’s that in the sky?” Notwithstanding all this effort, none of our sleeping kids so much as batted an eye, and the next morning, they had no recollection of these events. Oh well. I’m still telling them truth on a regular basis, that I’m the real Santa Claus, and the guy at the mall is a fake. The more I tell them this, the less they believe me, as if I were some award-winning liar …

And … that’s all I’ve got. Oh yeah, except for this interesting tidbit I learned in church today. During this season, we often hear the following quote from Luke 2:14:

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

However, this is a mistranslation. A little research reveals that the more accurate translation is:

Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.

It’s a subtle distinction but a world of difference in meaning. The mission of Christ was not, in fact, to bring peace on earth and good will toward men. He could not possibly do this, nor can anyone, because it’s entirely up to the individual members of planet earth as to whether or not they’re going to contribute or detract from the general peace. Consider this new translation in light of John 14:27:

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

The peace that comes to the disciples of Jesus Christ is not something that can be indiscriminately dished out to the world. Good will is the prerequisite, not the end result. And I feel that this little principle wraps up the entire Christmas season. To those of good will (or who will to do good), it is truly a time of peace and joy, a peace that is not of this world, a peace, for which, I thank my Lord and Savior, of whom I truly believe in.

Steve and Teresa’s Fabulous Child-free Dream Date

Stephen and Teresa GashlerOn Monday, Teresa and I dropped off the kids at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, then we set out to Salt Lake City. It was wonderful to be able to complete a sentence without being interrupted by a screaming child. Our first destination was the Clarke Planetarium, where we wrapped our minds around the great concepts of astronomy and astrophysics. Physical exertion can be rewarding, but so can mental exertion. Again, it was wonderful to be able to make complete thoughts.

We ate dinner at Costa Vida, where we saved a whole dollar for being vegetarians. A dollar! Then we went to a place called “Mystery Escape Room” or something like that. We were locked in a room with creepy dolls, creepy music, and a creepy painting of a woman, where we had to solve a long series of puzzles within less than an hour. Solving puzzles would reveal key combinations, which would open chests or closet doors. In one closet, which I had to crawl into, there was a skeleton, and rubber cockroaches fell from the ceiling. It was all pretty cool. It scared Teresa. I just thought it was hilarious. If ever there were an old, abandoned, and allegedly haunted mansion that would be given to the brave soul who would dare spend the night in it alone, I would totally do it. Ghosts crack me up, what with their uncanny knack for showmanship and all. All it takes to defeat them is a little existentialism. Anyway, we didn’t solve the puzzles in time, though we did pretty good. The event usually recommends groups of twelve.

For desert we had ice cream covered with fruit at a nearby parlor. Mmm, boy. During all this time, we went through items of a lofty list we’d made of ways to improve our lives, from managing our time better, to being more spiritual, to achieving our career ambitions, to upping our chefdom, to the adventures of Eliza R. Snow, to becoming kick boxers. I never grow tired of talking to this woman, because she loves to dream with me.

We stayed at the Best Western hotel. Can you believe that? THE BEST Western hotel. Only the heater in our room was lousy. Though the pool and hot tub were nice. We stayed up into the wee hours watching cooking shows. We don’t normally watch TV, you see, so when we do watch it (pretty much only when staying in hotels), it’s riveting, even calling for a pizza delivery.

The next morning, after a kingly breakfast, we returned to the planetarium, eager to fill our minds again with the wonders of the cosmos. Only this time the place was overridden by children. Children! That the defeated the purpose! No more children! So we bagged the planetarium and instead roamed around the City Creek Mall for a couple of hours.

Next we hit up Ensign Peak. It’s a nice, little hike, offering a nice little view of Brother Brigham’s city, which I predict has less than forty years until fire reigns from heaven or the like.

On our way back, we stopped at the capital building, wherein we craned our necks back to behold the cathedral-like depiction of God sending down his legions of seagulls to punish the ungodly crickets. Among the other great artwork and architecture, we were perplexed by the sculpted lions with pink wings. … Huh?

There we pondered on the brilliance of having both a senate and a house of representatives. Far from a single monarch to call the shots, there’s not only a large council but two large councils, a brilliant system to make sure that nothing gets done unless it’s really important. Though I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the need for a governor or a president. Don’t commanders and chiefs run the risk of defeating the purpose of congresses by possessing the authority to actually get stuff done?

Our last stop was a restaurant called Bud’s, perhaps the weirdest restaurant I’ve ever eaten at. There’s nowhere to park. There’s no special signage or anything to indicate what the restaurant actually serves. The place is a tiny hole-in-the-wall corner of an old building, big enough only for a couple of people to take your order through one window and hand it to you through another. The only place to sit is at a couple of tables by the sidewalk. But the food was brilliant: 100% plant-based sandwiches. Teresa ordered a “pulled pork” sandwich made out of something called jackfruit. I ordered a Buffalo “chicken” sandwich. It was the best faux meat I’ve tried, and I’ve tried a lot. Isn’t it just like life? The most brilliant things are esteemed as naught while the most awful things are celebrated with spotlights and confetti. I shall liken thee, O Israel, unto an harlet.

And then it was all over. The blissful dream of two in love in a world without tantrums, quarrels, and diapers had to burst beneath the chains of reality.

I hope you don’t gather from my writing that we actually resent our children. I’m a bit of a satirist.

A Typical Breakfast in Our Nearly-vegan Wonderland

IMG_20151123_110112911 Here in Gashlaria, we’ve been almost entirely on a plant-based and whole foods diet for over three years now. We make exceptions when eating out or with family or friends (and, because frankly, now and then everyone needs a Saturday night bag of Cheetos), but at home we’re pretty strict, and in general, we’ve never felt healthier, and our food has never been tastier. For breakfast, this morning, we had savory waffles with cheeze sauce and an orange smoothie. This may not sound extraordinary until you consider all the ingredients this breakfast required (and didn’t require):

(Edit: as several people have asked, I’ve turned the following list into a recipe. I don’t normally use recipes, so each of these measurements are just estimates.)

Waffles

  • 1 half cup steel cut oats
  • 1 half cup whole wheat
  • 1 half cup raw cashews
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tomato
  • 1/2 onion
  • 2 mushrooms
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 half cup cilantro

(Instructions: blend dry ingredients until smooth. Dice wet ingredients, then add them to the mix. Add just enough water to make a lumpy batter. Cook in waffle iron with spray-on oil (we use coconut oil)).

Cheeze Sauce

  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • 1/s block tofu
  • 1 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 tomato
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 2 tsp Sriracha sauce
  • 1 tbsp Grey Poupon
  • 1/4 tsp Liquid Smoke

(Instructions: blend all ingredients until smooth.)

Orange Smoothie

  • 1 orange
  • 1 banana
  • 1 pear
  • 1/8 pineapple
  • 10 whole dates
  • 1 tray of ice

(Instructions: blend all ingredients until smooth. We cup up lots of fruit at once and freeze them in bags. Then, when blending, we add water instead of ice.)

As my family will verify, this is very typical of the kind of breakfasts we eat almost every morning. With the possible exception of a small amount of coconut oil (one of the best oils and probably just enough to be good for the body), there was nothing destructive about this meal whatsoever. No refined starches or sugars, not much salt, no preservatives, no cholesterol, no MSG, no empty calories, and almost nothing packaged, processed, or preserved. Plus, we walk away filled with nutrients (including plenty of protein), and feeling great.

A few years ago I would have shunned this health nonsense. Then, one day, I realized I’d developed a pot belly and was not, in fact, impervious to weight gain as I’d supposed. Since then Teresa and I have decided to more fully live the Word of Wisdom, and it’s been an all-around-blessing.

Lest you think this crazy hippie lifestyle is impractical, here’s a couple of hints: (1) it took less than thirty minutes to prepare (helps having a Blendtec), and (2) we spend much less per month on groceries than the average American household. You’ll be amazed at how much good stuff you can get and how much money you can save when you stop buying animal products and junk food. And for anyone who thinks we’re missing out on the good stuff, as one who’s thoroughly ranged the spectrum, you don’t know what you’re missing.

“And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones; And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures; And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint. And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them. Amen.”

I can verify that this is true. I’ve never had a faster one-mile sprint, I recently achieved my best time in a 10k, and I’ve never been able to do more push-ups. While family and friends will judge your chicken neck, believe me, you’ll look much better in a swimming suit.

The Devil Broke My Printer (And Other Interesting Events in My Life)

EPSON MFP image

Some weeks back, I was under a crunch to print some CD’s for my musical, but our printer wasn’t behaving. I have a hacked Epson printer, you see, for which I set up a continuous ink system. It’s saved us hundreds of dollars. But every now and then, something goes wrong, and it’s the devil to fix (as you’ll see). In the process I got ink everywhere. When I finally wrapped up after an unsuccessful ordeal, I thought it would be fun to turn the paper on which I was collecting ink into an inkblot test and give myself a psychoanalysis. This produced the picture you see. And thus I learned why I was having so much trouble: Satan.

IMG_20151115_164357443-bOn a happier note, have you seen this? It’s also old news, but I’d just like to point out that my show is totally above( and more prominent than) Idina Menzenl’s show. Also, the headline and caption seems to be implying that not only was our show on some sort of tour, but it’s destined to fill the earth (see Daniel 2).

On an even happier note, last night my four-year-old Aspen drew the following picture for me. She explained that she had written the word “boy” to clarify the gender of the subject, for, as she also explained, “I’m not very good at drawing boys.”

EPSON MFP image