Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Travel Test

UPDATE: Apparently I jinxed myself with this post. I made a commitment to do better, and today I was given a great opportunity to do just that. It started with an hour and a half long drive from Bowling Green to Nashville, where our flight was delayed by 45 minutes due to an issue with the "air conditioning" - an excuse which was also given on my flight yesterday, though later we were told we had to wait for the captain to get back from "running up to eat his dinner." So, I'm thinking that "air conditioning" is code for something much less important. It seemed that almost every single person on the flight was trying to make connecting flights, so a good five minutes before the "ding" sounded to let us know we could get up and get off the plane, people were jumping out of seats and throwing open the overhead bins to grab bags. 

There were a handful of us trying to make the flight to Salt Lake, at least six, and when my speediest/long-leggiest co-worker arrived at the gate, they had just closed the boarding doors (10 minutes early despite the fact that there were at least six of us coming from a flight which they had to know had been delayed but had arrived at the airport. The plane was still sitting there as the rest of us got to the gate...but once shut, that boarding door is as unmovable an object as exists. So, some frustration was coming up. 

They started to book us on the next available flight, 2:30pm tomorrow - what's an extra 18 hours really? There was an 8:55am flight available, but only my dad was able to get on that one due to his lofty travel status. However, because I have some pressing things happening tomorrow, my dad was very kind and switched flights with me. THANKS DAD! As part of the process, I asked the gate agent if she could change my name from WESR to WEST, and the answer...that would be a 'no'. Once a ticket has been booked, there are no name changes, so in the 15 seconds between when I started making the request and when I finished, apparently that ticket was booked and I was out of luck. (Interestingly, in Nashville, I went through security without addressing the name issue. I ended up int he line with TWO TSA agents checking every ticket, but neither one caught the discrepancy. I think it was because I distracted them with really charming small talk, referring to them both as 'sir' several times.)

Next up - let's get some hotel rooms. Oh wait. They're "out" of hotels that they can pay for. What we can do is to book rooms ourselves, from their list of discounted hotels, and then submit the receipts later for reimbursement. Really appreciate that offer, so generous. I maintained a decent attitude through all of this, I was rising above, I was doing better. 

My co-worker's sister (a Dallas resident) was kind enough to pick us up from the airport in her very small two door vehicle. After a long, humid day, three of us squished together in the back seat and appreciated the fact that there was a strong deodorant small, rather than another strong odor. 

When we arrived at our chosen (non-discount) hotel, I was determined to order some really expensive room service. I walked into my room, dropped my bags and went straight for the menu. I read that room service ended at 11pm, no all-night options...and I slowly turned around to see that the alarm clock read 11:11pm. In high school my friends would always say, "It's 11:11, make a wish!" My service, and alas, it was not to be. There is a market in the lobby and I had seen some nestle milk bottles, so I got a bag of Cheetos and was looking forward to washing them down with chocolate milk. Oh but guess what? They only had strawberry milk and banana milk. STRAWBERRY AND BANANA! I haven't ever even seen banana milk before in my life. Cursed! 

You would think that we would be able to get a decent meal, paid for by the airline. Our food vouchers however, offered $12 for dinner and $7 for breakfast. Guess what the IRS says is the standard amount which should be provided for travel meals in Dallas? $23 per meal. So....American Airlines apparently has a much different method for making these calculations. I was dismayed at this development. And then I was told that these vouchers were only valid at airport culinary establishments. GAME OVER. 

No more being a better person. I could handle being stripped of my identity and being kept from my home and my cats, but I WILL NOT BE DEPRIVED OF MY RIGHT TO A DECENT MEAL. American Airlines has crossed the line. I will not smile at any of their employees tomorrow when I go back for my flight. And I will make the flight attendants give me extra napkins if they spill soda on me again. And I will recline my seat if a short person is sitting behind me. I might just put my small bag in the overhead bin sideways so it takes up the maximum amount of space, and I will not be giving them a good post-flight review when they send me that survey. 

I am not a better person, I am an angry and inconvenienced traveler. 

Today I am traveling to Bowling Green, Kentucky - one might think I am writing this to brag and make everyone jealous of my exotic travels compared to their lowly summer vacations to Lake Powell, Boston, Disney World, Mexico, etc. But one would be wrong in that assumption. 

I arrived at the airport in plenty of time, checked in, and was waiting in the security line when I realized the name listed in my ticket was JENNIFER WESR. Crap. So I schlepped back to the counter to explain the situation and see what could be done. The woman there told me that the name is pretty close, she understood how such a typo could happen since the 't' is right next to the 'r' on the keyboard, but that she couldn't change the name on the reservation so close to departure. She told me to go to security and see if they will "just not be so picky and let me through." Despite the fact that I was pretty sure they wouldn't, and that I would've just stayed in the security line if I had thought that was a possibility but instead wanted to take responsibility for my own issue and proactively solve it without holding up the line...despite that, I went back to security. When I reached the TSA agent and explained the problem, she said, "If it had been spelled WETS or WSET or something like that, it would be closer." I'm not sure that's true, but the explanation of the proximity of the 'r' and the 't' on the keyboard wasn't cutting it with her. Apparently the TSA is understanding of dyslexic mistakes, but keyboard-proximity typos...not so much. If I were a terrorist, I might look at ways to exploit this. 

"DAM that's great art" The girl sitting next to me when I took this photo
looked pretty concerned/disgusted about whatever she thought
 I was doing. 
I should note that when I first asked the TSA worker about my ticket issue she very noticeably looked down at my chest before responding. Today I am wearing a favorite t-shirt which, as you may notice, very prominently displays the word DAM, which in this case stands for Denver Art Museum where I bought the shirt. But of course it isn't spelled the way the swear version is. While I can't be sure about the reason for the woman's inappropriately focused stare moment, due to the fact that her  initial friendly, helpful tone definitely lessened immediately afterwards, my guess is that it was related to the prominence of the word DAM. I would assume that if there was a different sort of motivation behind the stare, her tone would have changed from friendly to friendlier. However I can't say that I'm endowed in a way that generally excites attention and positive responses, so maybe her lack of helpfulness was a result of disappointment at what she saw. Who knows. 

Anyway, after being cast aside by my less-than-subtle TSA friend, I trudged back to the American Airlines counter, telling the woman they weren't going to let me in but that they said I could get a security pass. Her response? "Sure, I'll get that for you right now," and she had it printed for me in less than a minute. So then I was
confused...this woman had told me to try the security because she couldn't change my ticket, she clearly knew that a security pass was used in such situations and would require almost no effort on her part to provide one for me, but I hauled my bags back to and through the security line (maybe only the second time ever when I didn't check my bag) just to see if they might not be as picky as she knew they usually were? In Geometry I learned that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and the line between the counter and security in Terminal 1 is a straight line, but the shortness principle only applies if you don't have to walk it four times.

And what happened next? I went to a shop at the airport to buy some headphones since I had none for the flight. The employee working there immediately pounced, and when I tried to explain that I just wanted very simple basic headphones, she insisted on getting my entire listener profile - Would I be watching movies? Did I care more about strong bass or clarity of sound? How deep did I want the headphones to go into my ears? (What are the possible answers to that question - do some people prefer 1/2 inch insertions while others like 1/4 inch?) When I explained that I don't like them to go into my ears at all, and that I just wanted something like my basic Apple headphones, she walked me over to the "cheap" end of the wall which contained only the insert-into-ear variety. Finally I saw a pair of over-ear headphones that were only $25 and said I'd take those, insisting on my choice after she tried to show me the better over-ear options. On our walk to the counter, she also attempted to sell me a portable charger, an iPhone case, and phone cleaner. There should be a law against hard-selling people in airports. Isn't there some kind of rule about not being able to take advantage of a captive audience? If I hadn't just had to check-in three times (each encounter with the American Airlines woman required her to uncheck me in), and go through security twice, I might actually have been feeling generous enough to buy something a little pricier to help this woman make a bigger commission. But I had exhausted my patient and generous quota. 
As I walked to my gate, I heard a man  behind me speaking to his friend, with a lovely, attractive southern drawl, saying, "I don't know why we all just can't be decent to each other." And I was immediately feeling a little ashamed. I treat traveling as a challenge and a test of my character. Or maybe I just see it as an opportunity to be better than other people, a much less noble motivation, but maybe more accurate. I have heard horror stories about travel workers and travelers behaving badly, so whether it's passengers, TSA workers, flight attendants, etc., I am determined that no one will have to do extra work because of me, and no one's day will be worsened because of me. Examples: I never recline my seat. I never ask for drink refills or blankets. I never put my carry-on in the overhead if it is at all possible to fit it under the seat. I am willing to be the recipient of chatter when sitting next to someone who seems to need a listening ear, or just likes to chat. I always give flight crews good reviews when I get post-flight surveys. I never complain when I'm near children who fall asleep on my lap, and try really, really hard not to complain when they pelt me with goldfish crackers. I even occasionally smile at people walking by. I know it's probable that these very, very small efforts really make no difference to anyone. But at the end of my journey I usually feel proud, maybe even a little self-righteous, like I sacrificed for the good of others. It doesn't speak well of my selflessness or considerateness that I feel a sense of pride at simply refraining from potentially inconveniencing people. I am nowhere near being the person who brings doughnuts for the flight crew (see previous post) and unfortunately even my minimally better self seems to be a magical character transformation that only lasts till I walk out of the airport. 

Today I felt a little bit proud for not being short with any airport people, and being outwardly appreciative for the not-so helpful assistance they provided. And yet here I am writing a post criticizing them for the way they handled problems I created in the first place for not typing my name correctly and forgetting my headphones. So I'm going to better. And I'm not even going to mention the flight attendant who spilled soda on me, wiped up part of my tray table, and told me just to put it up anyway where it would drip onto my newly-purchased headphones in the seat pocket. But I WILL mention the very kind teenager who used her last two tissues to clean it up for me. 

Saturday, May 2, 2015


When I graduated from high school my mom gave me the coolest book of advice and notes from a huge list friends and family. One of the contributors who I respect and deeply admire wrote, "Seek out diversity and what you can learn from it." At the time I thought it just reinforced my already-planned approach: I would go down to Provo but not get caught up with all the BYU zoobies. Instead I would find the more interesting types. But inherent in my interpretation was actually a focus on finding similarity (those like me) and not on seeking out diversity (those very unlike me).

Recently I've had several encounters which finally caused the real meaning of that advice to click. Two of these were particularly memorable:

Blond Bow with Dog (BBWD)
BBWD was a passenger on my flight to Chicago who I first noticed while we were waiting for our flight to start boarding. She was blonde, very nicely dressed, in her late 30's or early 40's, had a red bow in her hair, and a small dog in one of those little carriers that can go under the seat of an airplane. My initial reaction to seeing her included a degree of scorn (due to the red bow on a middle-aged woman) and a degree of dread that I would end up sitting next to the poor dog being stuffed under the seat. Obviously not an "embrace diversity" reaction.

Our flight was delayed for about 3 hours and when we finally started to board, the flight attendants were rushing us all into our seats so we wouldn't miss our departure window. They were clearly feeling stressed and having to deal with a lot of unhappy passengers.  When I was settled in my seat, I saw BBWD stop the flight attendant walking by her row and present her with a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. She apologized that the doughnuts weren't warm anymore, she had picked up a fresh box on her way to the airport that morning as a gift for the flight crew but in the three-hour delay they had gotten cold.

I was shocked! Not only had this woman thought to bring doughnuts for the crew of an airplane, she kept the doughnuts with her for three hours (in addition to her dog and other carry-on bags), AND she was perfectly pleasant despite the frustrating delay. My scorn and dread of course became shame and admiration. Agreeableness in the face of stress or irritation, and thoughtfulness, especially directed at strangers, are not common character traits. This woman impressed me. While I can't say that her behavior had a pay-it-forward-type ripple effect, I certainly tried to be more pleasant and helpful to others that day, and I've been more conscious of my own agreeableness and thoughtfulness since. Now when I think of her - the bow and the dog are secondary. I remember her more as Thoughtful Agreeable Doughnut Giver.

Danny Bardeaux

I met Danny in the waiting room of a car audio shop. I expected to be there for about an hour and a half, and I had list of things I planned to get done while I waited. However, when I walked in, Danny was the only other person there, and he was watching a History Channel show called Pawn Stars. We each said hello, I started to work on my list, and he started making comments about the show. It seemed rude to just ignore him, so I laughed or nodded occasionally and somehow we got into a lengthy, unrelated conversation.

While we talked I learned that he is my age and from Cincinnati, though not quite the same
Cincinnati as my Montgomery-residing cousins. He was very clean-looking with casual but high-quality, down-to-earth clothes, which made an impression on me because it seemed like a stark contrast from his dirty blue-collar fingernails as well as his bloodshot eyes, semi-yellow teeth, and constant cursing. We talked about his background and career - he was a drug addict, now seven years clean and sober and working as a contract industrial pipe-fitter/technician (or some job that sounds like that). This means he travels all over, only staying in one place for a few weeks or months at the most. His aspirations include working this job until he accumulates enough money to buy some real estate; specifically, he wants a few rental properties or ideally a storage unit facility, which he said would allow him to have at least one steady income source that doesn't require his being present. In reference to owning the storage unit facility he thought it would be like, "Owning a money tree." He also aspires to settle down somewhere without winter cold but also without scorpions (the only things in life that terrify him). When he shook his head after I asked him whether he'd considered southern Utah, his one-word response to my questioning look was, "Mormons." (Side note: He apologized by saying, "No offense if you were one." Not sure what to think of his use of 'were' vs. 'are'...)

So that's Danny. Those facts paint a certain picture of a person who, despite my admiration for the way he has dealt with hard things, I would seek out or choose to befriend.

But he also told me about his uncles - a surgeon, an attorney, and a Bank of America executive in New York. He explained that he knew he had the intellectual capacity to be very successful (and I absolutely agreed by the end of our conversation) but had made poor life choices that he had to deal with. He told me that he'd grown up in a really traditional home, even going to church every Sunday, but in the last few years his parents declared bankruptcy, his Mom came out, and her girlfriend from the UK is coming to live with her. But she and his dad are still living together because he has three younger siblings (youngest age 9) and the parents are trying to make things as stable and easy as possible for them. He was leaving for Cincinnati the next day because he hadn't been home in a year and felt like his siblings needed a big brother around.

He explained his comment about Mormons by saying he couldn't understand a religion that wasn't even as old as the country where it started - a very surprising and interesting response. He told me about the epiphany that caused him to get his life in gear: When he was working with disabled adults he came across a 45 year-old woman who had disabilities but was very aware of them and wished she was capable of having a more "normal" life - specifically just one child, a job she earned and provided opportunities for progression, and a place of her own. After meeting her he realized, "It was EXPLETIVE selfish for me to waste my God-given abilities."

He talked a lot about other people and made insightful observations about how people think and interact. When we were discussing his career thoughts I told him he seemed to be pretty knowledgeable about psychology, and seemed to really enjoy his time working with the disabled, afterwhich he laughed and said, "I've spent a lot of time with therapists." As someone who has also spent a fair amount of time with therapists, I gave him my spiel about how great I think therapy is, how it's like having a personal trainer for your mental/emotional self, and how everyone ought to go in for a tune-up every once in awhile. He responded by saying, for him, the real value of therapy was increased self-awareness, which he thinks is so crucial and important. Suddenly I had one of those moments that occasionally occur in conversations (mostly with good friends) where the other person puts words to a nugget of thought/feeling I share, and just gets in a way no one else has.

Unfortunately, that last comment was where the mechanic came in and told me my car was ready. We shook hands, introduced ourselves by name, and I left. Not only was I surprised by Danny, and I certainly learned from and admired him, but I connected with him on something that I hadn't necessarily connected on with anyone else.

For me - and I think this is what the advice I received was getting at - similarity is safe, but it isn't stretching or stimulating. Diversity of experience, thought, age, character, etc. offers me opportunities for meaningful learning, self-improvement, entertainment, enrichment, empathy - all things that are worth "seeking out".

Friday, April 17, 2015

3 Hashtags to Describe the "Single Adult" World

While I was in Chicago last week I went to an SA ( LDS Single Adults over 30) Ward with a friend who is over 30 but not single. It was a testimony meeting, so a variety of different ward members (and leaders) spoke. After the meeting my friend commented on how great she thought the meeting was, and how she admired the people there, and since I mostly felt discouraged, I was surprised how different our experiences were. This Ward (branch actually, too small to be a Ward) was a great example of the single adult environment not just over 30, but probably over 25. It offered perfect examples of the 3 hashtags which most effectively describe SA Wards:

1 - #HumbleBrag
Every testimony meeting in every Ward includes a humble brag or two; however, with SAs the problem becomes more pronounced, and not just at testimony meeting. At a certain point in every single person's life, you suddenly realize that you don't have built-in story recipients anymore. You don't come home at the end of the day and have your family to talk to about the little things that happen on an average day. Your close friends get married, have kids, move away, and people just get spread out. You might have roommates, but even then they're all busy professionals or students with independent lives and you don't generally sit down together for a meal or to rehash the day. So, single people can sometimes get backed up with conversation without an outlet. Of course for the big stuff we can call or get together with friends and family, but the little things that might be nice to share (I got a 98 on my term paper and the professor used it as an example in class) or even just interesting thoughts (Doesn't it seem as though, anatomically speaking, it would make more sense for women to wear pants and men to wear skirts?) get kind of stifled and tucked away. But things start to leak out.

I was once given an analogy for this sort of phenomenon. Think of an old wood burning stove. There will be smoke in the stove, but if the chimney pipe is closed off, the smoke will find a way out anyway, just not where you want it to get out. 

Specifically, I've observed that most (though not all) single people above 25 tend to talk about themselves and their thoughts a lot. They bring up stories when they aren't completely relevant to the current topic of conversation or they passive aggressively try to elicit questions for which they have answers they want to give. It's not a purposefully selfish thing in most cases, in fact it's completely understandable. I sometimes feel that I am constantly trying to plug leaking holes of over-sharing (example of leaking hole - this blog, clearly not plugging this one right now). It's tricky and I understand that, but it's not endearing or appealing. And when SAs are given a platform for sharing AND an opportunity to strut their stuff in front of potential dates (testimony meeting) - it tends to get ugly.

This Ward was no exception, started out with bang. The newly called 2nd counselor (only single member of the branch presidency) spent 15 minutes humble-bragging about the process of getting his calling: how many other people could have gotten it - but that he did, how he knows the Lord thinks he (the speaker) can help all of us (congregation), etc. Another one said he wanted to talk about honoring women but mostly just talked about all the things that make him a great son, and as a bonus - his "testimony" included a little bit of creepy discussion about wombs. And it went on from there....

2 - #WhereAreTheNormalAndCoolPeople?
There are three types of LDS SAs - those who don't come to church at all, those who come and leave after one meeting, and the types who come to church, stay all 3 hours, serve in at least one calling, and go to almost every random activity. Personally I have been part of both the first and second groups, and will probably never be in the third. But I aspire to be a three hour church attendee and occasional activity attendee. The problem's really hard to find other middle people! When looking to be part of the ward community I am unlikely to find very compatible people in the third group. There are a few nuggets, but they're also considered the most normal in that group and the most pursued...and the competition is just way too much work. The second group has potential. They obviously don't come for the social connection, and they're old enough that no one is making them come, and it would be easy not to go at all, so I appreciate the apparent level of commitment to coming to church. The problem is how to get to know the people that leave! 

I propose a secret linger longer/much n' mingle in the parking lot after sacrament meeting where the leavers can really just be seen as grabbing some food on their way out and sometimes happen to meet other people, not because they're trying or need anyone or anything, but just without making any effort and without being one of "those" single ward weirdos they end up chatting with some chill people. In Chicago there were at least 3 (out of the total 15-20 people there) leavers. They were there before the sacrament was passed and were gone before the closing prayer.

3 - #TimeToLowerYourStandards 
My friend could look at this Ward with a degree of detachment because she wasn't and won't be dependent on them. I, of course, am not attached to that particular group in Chicago, but it doesn't inspire hope for the future. When I expressed dismay at the fact that this was my pool of options, she of course brought up the fact that I'm not 30 so my pool is bigger, and that we were in inner city Chicago. She also made a good point that I may not find someone as smart or thoughtful or ambitious or grounded as I would like, and I need to be open to that possibility. In other words she was telling me I need to face the realization all SAs ultimately reach: I might just have to settle. 

You know those standards you set? The "musts" in potential friends? The "husband list" you made with roommates in college and that you basically add to all the time when you see attractive, kind or interesting men? Might be time to give those up. 

You can be just fine with friends who don't know who is running for president (other than Mitt Romney who should DEFINITELY have won last time), and love nothing more than 80's and country dancing in Provo, followed by froyo and movie night with whichever boys in the area will have them. Definitely, right?
  • You can date someone who wants to take you to nickel cade and agrees to split the tickets earned from the games (acting as though this is a chivalrous thing to do, despite the fact that you won most of them). Sure, better than nothing right?
  • You can be friends with people who only listen to classical music, make their own clothes, and want to stay late after Sunday School, asking you to hold their New Testament while they refer to it to finish writing margin notes in their Book of Mormon. No problem, right?
  • You can date someone who knows almost nothing about sports in general, literally will ONLY ever talk about Philosophical topics such as Kant's Categorical Imperative, insists on pointing out logical fallacies in everyone's everyday speech (the Philosophy version of a grammar nazi, but much worse), and shaves every visible portion of his body because he thinks complete hairlessness is really attractive. You could be very happy together, right?
  • You can be friends with someone who constantly talks about her rugby team, dreams of being a US Marshall, and offers to "beat up" every guy that comes up in a negative way during any conversation. Loyalty is a really rare quality, right?
  • You can date a guy who casually mentions the number of women he slept with after his divorce but before his conversion to Mormonism (in a repentant, "I didn't realize how lost I was but also I want you to know how cool I am" kind of way) and who is also closer to your mom's age than yours. It's all ok...right?You could be very happy together, right?

FYI - All of these represent real, mostly nice people whom I have encountered and who I was friends with (at some level) or dated (at some level). Are my standards too high?

I suppose the lesson is that to appreciate and survive the SA world I've got to laugh at the quirks and be more open-minded about the different types of people there. After all, the only ways out are death or marriage. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

My Aunts

I have heard the phrase, "Friends are the family you choose" a lot - and as I understand it, this means something like: Thank goodness I can choose my own friends so I'm not stuck with these weirdos I happen to be related to. I thought that a lot more than I care to admit, until I grew out of my teenage years and became the fully enlightened, mature, and humbled adult I am today. Friends are great, but if hadn't been "stuck" with the family I have, I probably never would have chosen most of the best people I know. Specifically I'm talking about a few of my aunts.*

  • When I was 8 years old Anna and my aunt Sarah (my mom's sister who is the same age) took me on my first sleepover adventure. They took me to Hires for a hamburger, so even if the evening had stopped right there, I would have felt like I'd died and gone to Heaven. But we also went bowling, where we all had fun bowling names (I think mine was something like Bacon Bowling Babe?), and then we went toilet-papering with all their friends. We were caught, but one of their boyfriends helped me hide in the grass so we didn't have to help clean up. That was the greatest night of my life to that point, and still the best sleepover I ever had. 
  • Anna taught me to play Nerts well enough to beat mere mortals, even so I sometimes think I'm pretty good. But I'm not good enough to beat Anna, the aunt we lovingly refer to as the "Nerts Nazi." Despite the fact that she's really talented at Nerts, and almost everything else, she never feels the need to make other people feel bad. After a particularly painful loss in a family tournament she didn't feel the need to rub it in, but immediately acknowledged how close the game was and how well everyone did. 
  • When I was in Elementary School people often told me that I looked like Anna, and I was always so proud to be associated with her. She probably one of the straightest-arrows I know, in the best way possible. She does the right things for the right reasons without making anyone else feel bad for doing things a different (usually less-right) way. 
  • I visited her in Washington D.C. at age 9 and I still remember the roast beef dinner she made. 
  • If you were in a room with Mother Theresa and Emmy, Emmy would be the first to express love and admiration. She has nothing but kind things to say and is always thrilled to see me. In fact, sometimes she seems so happy about the prospect of seeing me that I'm sure I can't live up to the hype. But she always makes me feel like I'm worth being excited about, regardless of how interesting and exciting I may actually be. Sometimes people who are really nice and positive can seem a little fake, but Emmy is always completely authentic. She's not just wearing rose-colored glasses or saying what people want to hear. She just focuses on the positive and doesn't seem to care about people's flaws, no matter how glaring they may be. 
  • Emmy listens really well. She doesn't feel the need to jump into a conversation to get in her two-cents or share her own experiences. She listens intently to everyone, whether it's my six year-old cousin or my 91 year-old grandpa and engages with them in a way that makes them feel important. 
  • I've been to stay with Katie in Cincinnati two times and in both cases I have very vivid memories of the food she served. It wasn't that it was gourmet or fancy, but it was fresh and delicious and the way everyone gathered around to eat and enjoy made mealtimes so fun. 
  • Katie is a consistently great conversationalist.  I remember going to a family gathering at my grandma's house one Sunday when I was in Elementary School and pulling up a chair to the grown-up table rather than going outside to play with my cousins, all so I could listen to the conversation because Katie was in town.  Since then I've enjoyed being part of so many conversations with Katie that lasted for hours, without having a clue of how much time is passing. In the long row of beach chairs at our annual family Newport trip, a spot to next to Katie is a coveted one because she doesn't just spew interesting conversation herself. She pulls interesting-ness out of everyone around her. Even the less-talkative ones in the group feel at ease and are drawn into conversation when Katie is around. 
  • It's really common for conversations that revolve around people, and the most interesting conversations usually do, to turn into judgmental gossip sessions. However, Katie manages to talk about people's differences and difficulties in a way that is interesting but not judgmental. She is quick to compliment people on their strengths and clearly wants the best for everyone. 
  • When I was young and my parents would go out of town periodically I always felt stressed and upset after a few days of being at home with a babysitter. My parents called Ruth several times to come rescue me for a few hours. She had her own kids at home and plenty of other responsibilities but she never made me feel like a burden and I was always completely thrilled just to be spending time with her and her family. During one of my parents' trips she even attended my 5th grade spelling bee. When I was eliminated on the word "sovereign" (still can't spell it without spellcheck), simply said, "Sovereign...what a stupid word," and turned what could have been an embarrassing incident into a really fond memory. 
  • When I was 14 and in a terribly emotional argument with my dad about attending our Stake Youth Conference, I begged him to call Ruth because I just KNEW she would be on my side and understand why I shouldn't have to go. (I should note that my dad was pretty understanding of the fact that I was new to the Ward and hadn't been camping before and was really worried about having to live in the woods for three days with strangers.) My dad reached out to Ruth and she told both of us that she thought it was a good idea for me to go - and I felt totally betrayed. I sent her a dramatic email about how I was probably just going to run away and live in a park, since that couldn't be any worse than camping with strangers. Rather than rolling her eyes at my typical teenage behavior she apologized to me and sympathized with me and explained why she thought that doing hard things was important. I went to Youth Conference, and it was actually pretty awful, but I still appreciated the way Ruth treated me.
  • Ruth and I go to dinner about once a month. I so look forward to those dinners because I know I can share anything with her and still come away feeling supported and loved. 

Due to the age differences and geographical spread, and the fact that I am generally just not on their level, I probably wouldn't have had a chance to make them my "chosen" family (friends), so I'm really grateful to be stuck with them. 

These women are the standard to which I aspire. Even at times where I lack self-respect or feel ashamed and unworthy of their gene pool, they have never even once made me feel less than loved and a part of their "in" crowd. They're fun and interesting, and I'm always better for having spent time with them. 

*If this post seems a little braggy and makes you jealous, that's because it is and if you don't have aunts like this you should be jealous.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Utah vs. BYU

Disclaimer: This has nothing to do with sports.

I'm in the middle of my third semester at the U, finishing the Philosophy degree I started at the Y. This is the list of things I've noticed (so far) that work a little differently at each school:

At the U
Choosing a seat:
It was all about keeping a low profile (in the back) and having the most comfortable chair.
It’s all about avoiding lung cancer. Just trying not to sit next to classmates with secondhand smoke wafting off of them.
Religious Questions from Classmates or Professors:
"Which of the prominent ethical theories matches best with the teachings of the Book of Mormon?"
Note: My answer is Ethical Egoism.
“Is anyone familiar with modern Mormon theology as it relates to the consumption of chocolate covered espresso beans?"

Also, “Do Mormons allow BLANK?” Note: Blank usually refers to various sexual terms which, I admit, I usually have to look up on Urban Dictionary. Now I know that a good rule of thumb for any future questions - if I have to look something up on Urban Dictionary, the answer as it relates to Mormon values is probably, "" 
Bad. Parking tickets galore!
Bad. I couldn’t get a parking ticket if I wanted to because there aren’t even any illegal parking spots available!
Talking to Professors:
It can be a little awkward to refer to a professor as “Brother Smith.”
It’s EXTREMELY awkward to refer to a professor as “Brother” anything. Bad mistake. Way worse than calling your elementary school teacher "Mom." 
The Weekends:
80’s dancing, country dancing, going to the “hot pots,” hiking the Y. And was the weird one who never did that stuff.
Almost a year of interacting with other students without even ONE reference to 80’s dancing, country dancing, hot pots, or hiking any letter of the alphabet, Y or U.
“I was reading D&C 84 last night and...”
“I was a little loaded last night and..."
Caffeine on Campus: 
“I’m going over to the gas station between classes for a Mountain Dew run…you need any?”
“This latte is from the little deli in the Humanities building, but I like the ones made in the MFA cafĂ© better.”

Tattoos, and piercings and beards…oh my!

Note: I did not intend to convey a preference for either school in this post. If I failed...well maybe I can't help it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


Well...I miss David. Part of the issue could be that I've been bedridden all day with what I'm sure is the Black Plague, or at the very least severe and  deadly pneumonia. Being sickly and in bed could add to the depression I'm experiencing from last night's traumatic farewell, but David is the kind of guy who really leaves a hole when he's gone. 

David is, of course, not perfect in every way, but he's perfect in just about every way that matters. He's nice, and just plain caring. He always looks out for the underdog. 

He's smart, though in our family he maybe doesn't get as much credit for that as he deserves. He's fully, 100% committed to the gospel, not because he's supposed to be but because he truly believes at his core. Peer pressure doesn't affect him because he's confident in what he believes and who he is. He's sweet, and even though he is capable of losing his temper (only West child to ever be suspended from school), the guilt he feels afterwards makes it impossible to be upset with him. He's the best sibling in our family and has a positive, personal relationship with all five of the rest of us, and my parents. 

On that note, a more personal note, David has always made a real effort with me. I am single and live alone - I like my independence but sometimes I need help and David has always been there. He brought me a drill at 11:00pm when I was having serious issues replacing the lock on my front door. He came back the next night (20 minute drive one way) to help me lift a heavy package into my house. He accompanied me various places when I couldn't make myself go alone. Don't get me wrong, I bought him a lot of dinners to thank him. 

Something I can never really thank him for is how he always made me feel welcome within our family. My family is great, across the board, but sometimes I haven't been the most liked member, largely due to my own grumpiness or impatience. David never lets me get in the way of being part of the family, no matter how much I might resist. 

I could go on, believe it or not, but the bottom line is that David is just a guy you just want to have around. That's why not having him around for two years is really, really hard. For now I'll share him with the people he'll meet over the next two years because other people probably deserve to get to know him too.