Monday, December 22, 2008

Sickness and singing

Sadly, my time off for Christmas has begun with several days of sickness. Why does our body wait until we have some free time to give up on us? It doesn't seem right. School let out Friday and that very night I began to feel horrible. Saturday day was miserable and there was little sleep that night as I made the trek from the bed to the bathroom over and over. Relief did not come on the Sabbath so I missed my meetings and even today (Monday) I am weak and less than able to fulfill my duties for the season. It appears I may have a stomach flu bug and it just has to run its course but I DON'T LIKE IT one bit. When I'm king of the world, I will make it illegal for any bugs to infect us during our vacation times. They will only be allowed to afflict us during working days and the employers we work for must make adjustments in the way they do things to accommodate this change. And if the bugs don't like it, then they can go bother the other primates or mammals of this world. So there!!!

As I sit around being miserable, I have the opportunity to listen to a great deal of Christmas music coming from our radio. Mostly it's pretty good but I have noticed that there are some arrangers, composers and performers who do much better than others. For instance, most every Christmas carol arranged by Chip Beck (Mannheim Steamroller) or Kurt Bestor is excellent. Even some of the songs that have been on the bottom of my favorites list can be made enjoyable with the right hand at the helm. I have never really liked 'O Holy Night' but the productions by both of these artists are very enjoyable and move way up my favorites list. And anything that Karen Carpenter sang (she has passed on for those of you not aware) is very pleasant to the ear.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for many of the 'modern' performers that ply their trades. And I think I have discovered the reason so many are distasteful to the ear. One young lady, singing a quaint little carol, was unable to decide which of the many notes in the scale of music should be used for her rendering so she seemed determined to use them all. Her "warbling" became so obnoxious and difficult to endure that I finally had to turn off the music. Most singers of the modern age seem to feel it is better to cast about, looking for the right note and never settling on anything in particular, rather than choosing one tone and sticking with it. Even performers who have better control are prone to wander about, letting us guess where they might eventually land in their search for quality music. If you listen to those who are trained in real music, you will seldom hear a note that slides or is indefinite in its performance (I am currently listening to Garth Brooks as he sings 'God Bless Ye Merry Gentlemen' and he slides on almost every note he sings). Maybe that is why I enjoy performers like Karen Carpenter, Neil Diamond (who doesn't really sing but still hits the notes) Andy Williams, Josh Groban and others. They act like they know where they are going and make sure they get there with good quality. I suppose the younger generation may consider this being nit-picky but I believe it is a sign of good quality singing.

While I am on the subject, I have a bone to pick with some performers on their choice of music. I greatly enjoy most of the music Josh Groban offers on his albums, but when he delves into the popular songs, he is stepping to an area his voice does not fit. His rendition of 'A Bridge Over Troubled Waters' is almost painful to endure and I cringe when he tortures 'Starry, Starry Night'. Someone needs to help these very talented folks remember what genre of music they are designed to share. Oh, I know there are guys like Michael Buble' who can do most anything but they are more rare than people want to believe. I mean, can you imagine James Taylor trying to sing something from Phantom of the Opera? Or Ludacris crooning like Frank Sinatra? And what if Alan Jackson decided to branch out and sing some of the music from Les Miserables? Performers need to be selective where they use their voices so they don't look ridiculous doing things that don't fit their style.

OK, I know this is something I shouldn't bring up, but when I hear Barbra Streisand, Barry Manilow or Neil Diamond singing Christmas carols, I want to giggle a little bit. Like I said, I shouldn't but I do. And one last thing!!! Right now the radio is playing "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music and they are calling it a Christmas song. WHAT does that song have to do with Christmas? OK, that's enough on music for one day…but don't be surprised if the subject comes up again.

I was going to get a little more introspective but I think I will save that for next time. I hope all have a wonderful Christmas and remember the reason we celebrate these special days. The Lord Jesus Christ has come to THIS world and we have been blessed by His presence, even though it took place 2000+ years ago. His message of peace and love for all mankind is the substance of what the Gospel teaches us all. May we learn from Him and find our lives more like His so that we may be with Him. He is our Lord and Redeemer and the Light of our lives: The only Light that can take away the gloom of this mortal, imperfect world and bring us to God our Father. I love Christ and the Father and will follow Them thru Eternity. Merry Christmas to you all. MW

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Greetings and Salutations for Christmas

I haven't had time to really think much about Christmas because we have been very busy in our home. It occurred to me today that I haven't even put up Christmas decorations in my classrooms yet so I took a few minutes and took care of that at the Jr. High. Not sure what to do for the HS but I will see what I can do. Joel and Teresa have done all the festive improvements at home so I am thankful for their efforts. It's not like I haven't thought about things, but with tithing settlement and house repairs and being lazy (oh, that one wasn't supposed to get in there), I just haven't done very well. There are still a few days so maybe I will improve…probably not!!!

Last night I was under the house (crawl space) looking at some of our plumbing and noticed there was a pipe joint that was dripping quite badly. Now, I am a fix-it man of sorts but there are two areas where I am always reluctant to take a risk: plumbing and electrical. Both of these areas of repair have challenged me my whole life and if a project is deemed (by myself or Teresa) to be too large or two dangerous, we call in professional help. My discovery was determined by me to be much too dangerous and so I contacted a plumber and he came to give us an estimate on the work. Sadly, these guys are much better at finding problems than I am so by the time he left we had found about $1000 in work for them to do. Overnight Teresa decided that part of it that had to do with her daycare could wait so the price has gone down substantially but it is still a big shock. So much for getting a new receiver for our sound system (the old one died a couple of years ago). Ah, but we will be safer from flooding and water damage now that we have had the problems fixed.

The Christmas season has caused a huge time shift in Joel's focus. He is part of the High School Madrigals and they perform nearly every night leading up to Christmas. Sadly, I have not been able to attend because of my own scheduling conflicts but I hope to be able to attend the school concert on Wednesday (tomorrow) and maybe another performance this weekend. Teresa says they have been exceptionally good and it has been a pleasure for her to be with them. She has been one of the drivers for many of the performances so she has seen them in a variety of circumstances. I guess they had a little girl pass out last night because she locked her knees. Sorry I missed that one…maybe someone will copy her antics..!!??

One last thing before I close up. My sweet wife has informed me that I need to do a better job in my scheduling. I don't do very well with keeping a calendar so I often forget things and have to hustle when the item is needed. Her suggestion is to get one of those phones that have a daily calendar built in and start to keep things on that. I do always have my phone so it might be a useful idea. I think my only reservation is that I would want one with a full keyboard, not one where you use the predictive dialing for the words. It makes me crazy when I text and the thing keeps giving me suggestions on words that aren't what I want. And sometimes it won't give the word I am spelling at all. I suppose a Blackberry or something similar will work for my needs. We'll see what happens.

Friday, December 12, 2008

How’s Your Heart?

The other day I was reading the Church News and came across a recap of a message Elder M. Russell Ballard had given at the U of U for Institute students. His companion speaker was Elder John Huntsman Sr. and the message he gave is what struck me the most (not dissing on E. Ballard because his talk was excellent). Elder Huntsman spoke of an experience he had with Pres. Howard W. Hunter, while Pres. Hunter was serving as the Prophet. Here is the part that I was interested in sharing:

He said he had learned much from great leaders he has known, including President Howard W. Hunter.

He recounted that on one occasion, as he was driving by President Hunter's home, he felt a prompting to stop and see how he was feeling. The Church president asked him for a blessing.

"He [President Hunter] said, 'Today, President Huntsman, I had an ill thought toward another individual. It has made me physically sick. I need a priesthood blessing, because I cannot continue to function if I have any ill thoughts toward any man or woman on earth.'"

Elder Huntsman said the incident made him think of the statement by the Savior, blessed are the pure in heart, "for I was in the presence of someone who was pure in heart." (Church News, Nov. 22, 2008)

What is the real power of our actions on our physical health? Here is a man who, because of the decisions he made while in mortality, had reached the point where any negative/ill thought toward another of God's children caused physical sickness in his body. Could it be that there is more connection between our spiritual and our physical persona than we have realized. Those of us who suffer from frequent disorders in our bodies might want to check out our relationships with those we love and serve. I won't go so far as to say that every sin we commit might be a source of sickness or weakness, but it seems logical that we could increase our physical health if we were more thoughtful of our spiritual existence.

There is also that phrase, "pure in heart", that rises up before us, calling for examination of our commitment to Christ and His Kingdom. Can we really say that we have purged our souls of all unrighteousness and are seeking to become like King Benjamin's subjects:

And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually. (Mosiah 5:2)

This is not a lecture for others, but more of a self-examination of my own motives when I deal with others. There are certain words in my vocabulary that might (or most assuredly would) be considered derogatory in nature when spoken aloud. I have a tendency to use phrases like "knucklehead", "goof-ball", and even "loser" when I describe people I know. Mostly, it comes in anonymous stories and such but it is still something that sets a tone others hear and may assume would include them in different instances. There are also times when decisions made by others seem to be incorrect so, while I may not say anything vocally, I am prone to have "an ill thought toward another individual." Sadly, many of these thoughts are toward people I love the very most and probably manifest themselves in my associations with them.

Could this ability to have a pure heart explain why the Prophets have a tendency to live such long lives? Not being weighed down by the stress of judgment on others, they can focus on the lifting and blessing of Heavenly Father's children. The love that is present when we refrain from criticism and degrading comments must have some beneficial results in our lives. I wonder if this is the "Balm of Gilead" spoken of so much in the scriptures.

My desire is to learn to withhold remarks or thoughts that might put me in the arena of experiences causing harm to my spiritual and physical self. It is a lofty goal, but obviously (at least based on E. Huntsman's story) not out of the realm of possibility. There is a lot of reconstruction to be done and many old habits to weed out of my life, but it is something I would like to tackle as I move closer to the end of my mortal existence. Pay attention and let me know if you think I am doing better.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

News and Views for the week

Nothing special on my mind so I will just freestyle for a while. Sometimes these take on a form as they progress and other times they end up as a long treatise on many things. Let's see how it goes.

The other day, in my 9th grade seminary class, one of the kids asked me, "Brother Whitmer, do you ever sin?" Now most of you who know me realize that this is a really dumb question so I said, "that's a really dumb question." Then this same student said, "Well, what sins do you commit?" I really thought this was a pretty personal question so I replied, "I am not going to tell you because you aren't my Bishop." As I think about that experience I wonder why we ask people dumb questions. Is it really any of our business if someone is going to have a baby? Aren't we running the risk of offending a sweet soul simply because they have put on a few extra pounds? Why take the chance? And why should we be asking a young couple when they plan to have children? What about questions that have to do with the salary range of your job or the price of a new house or car? Can't we let people have some privacy without delving into all their private affairs? I think this all rises from the lack of respect we seem to have with one another in our personal relationships. We have become so 'familiar', calling everyone by their first names and forgetting common manners, that we think everything is fair game for our asking. It would be nice to have some of the courtesy we once felt was common in our lives.

Most of my years teaching have been accompanied by an effort to keep live plants in my classroom. It gives the room a better feel and I am of the belief the extra oxygen is good for the brain power of my students. Unfortunately, there has been a scourge raging through my plants for the past few months. At least 5 long-term residents of my room have succumbed to some form of…something…that has resulted in their deaths. Where I could formerly recover these plants, I am coming up short and losing some beloved friends. My daughter, Melissa, thinking I have a green thumb has sent one of her ailing subjects to my laboratory but it appears what magic I once had is beginning to wane in its power. I fear I shall lose her plant as well as one or two more of my own. Possibly, it is time to get some new victims but I really hate to give up on these little (and big) guys until they are completely deceased. Reports will be posted at another time on the results of my efforts.

Completely Dead ------------------------ On the way to Death (Missy's Plant)

Dead but showing green. --------------------- One of the few that lives!!!

The current rage to watch and read the Twilight series has been of interest to me only because so many of my family and students have participated. I have not read any of the books and have no desire to see the movie. My only reason is that it just doesn't sound interesting to me. Sort of reminds me of when I was in high school and the "Lord of the Rings" books were becoming popular. All my friends were reading them and raving about how wonderful they were but I just never could find an interest in little people and elves and orcs and such. Many years later, when the movies came out, I decided to see what I had missed and found that much of the series was interesting and readable. But those silly poems would have killed me in high school so it's a good thing I didn't try them in those days. Now I know how to skip over dull parts and get to the meat of the book, but then I would have felt obligated to read it all and would have learned to hate the whole series. It is possible the Twilight books will end up the same but I suspect it will take many years to find out.

Why is it that a small painting project in the house can turn into a major remodeling job? Teresa wanted to paint the walls in the living room, kitchen and dining room and so we decided to give it a go. Now we find that we also need to redo Joel's room (done first BTW), fix the ceiling in the hall, and put in some new lighting in the living and dining rooms. What was going to be a few hundred dollars has become a bottomless project, sucking our checkbook dry as the Christmas season approaches. And it is all our fault. It's not like we haven't had this happen before. Every time we come up with a small change, a cancer breaks out and the whole house decides it needs work performed. One time we wanted a new door and it evolved into a complete change in the family room. Even when we know the changes will be major, we get into things and they increase exponentially in their difficulty. Someday we will get smart and hire someone else to do the work so we can just watch and laugh. But then they will laugh all the way to the bank with our money.

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin passed away last Sunday night. He was a wonderful man who set a great example for all who knew him. I wasn't aware that he had 8 children and only one was a boy. What a household that must have been. He REALLY was a saint to have that many daughters in one home and not go crazy. He will be missed for his direct and pertinent messages in our conferences. I have also enjoyed his dry wit that is sometimes hard to catch if you are not paying attention. May his family be blessed to have strength in his passing and may he truly revel in the reunion with his beloved, Elisa. He is a good man who will be missed by all.

Time to wrap up for now. Christmas is near and there will be lots to report. Hope all are doing well and living the good life. See you next time.