Saturday, April 27, 2013

Why you shouldn't go to Moab when a car show is going on

Plan A: Pack one day's worth of camping gear plus 7 people into 2 cars. Fail.

Plan B: Pack one day's worth of camping gear plus 7 people into 3 cars. Success.

Plan C: Drive to Moab and find a spot to camp. Uber fail.

Plan D: Drive through 8–10 campsites searching for somewhere—anywhere!—to spend the night. Fail.

Plan E: Give up on the camping idea and look for a hotel. Success.

Plan F: Drive to Monticello and book a room at the first hotel you find. Fail.

Plan G: Hurry to the motel that reportedly has two available rooms and procure them. Success.

Plan H: Eat at an awesome steak restaurant. Fail.

Plan I: Eat at a non-fast-food restaurant. Success.

Plan J: Buy Pop-tarts for tomorrow's breakfast. Success.

Plan K: Head back to motel and play games. Success.

Plan L: Attempt to sleep in beds that are slightly softer than rocky terrain. Uber fail.

Plan M: Leave the motel by 9 a.m. Success.

Plan N: Find a good parking spot at the place where hikers park their cars. Fail.

Plan O: Hike to Delicate Arch. Success.

Plan P: Find sustenance. Success.

Plan Q: Head back home to go to stake leadership meeting. Fail.

Plan R: Change flat tire at the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon. Success.

Plan S: Go to leadership meeting a half hour late. Success.

Plan T: Unpack all the camping stuff we didn't use. Success.

Plan U: Recover from vacation. To be determined.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


One of the downsides of working in marketing for 2+ years is that I pay attention to ads now. That's not to say I read junk mail for fun now or unmute commercials for educational purposes, but I notice billboards and company Facebook pages and homemade signs tacked to business doors, and I can't help but analyze what the message actually conveys versus what the marketing team intended to convey.

While driving to work the other day, my gaze fell on a new billboard that said "HOPELESS." There were no images, no small text at the bottom with the company's name and phone number, no flashy colors to draw the eye. Just eight black capital letters slapped on a white background.

Directly below this billboard was another billboard that said something like "1 in 6 people are hungry. 5 in 6 can do something about it." I don't know if these two billboards were working together to create one powerful call to action, but if they were, it was a definite failure on the marketing team's part because the connection certainly wasn't clear.

That billboard bothered me. The word "hopeless" floating in the sky isn't exactly what I want to see when I'm already surly about the fact that it's morning. What is the point of advertising such a destructive word to the world (or, in this case, residents of Midvale, Utah), anyway? Senseless tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombings are enough to encourage people to give up on humanity, thank you very much. The message conveyed in the billboard was the exact opposite of a call to action; instead, it said to me: "Cease action immediately. You can't change anything. Give up."

It's possible that whoever created that billboard was going for the shock approach, hoping to make people like me retaliate into proving them wrong. Maybe they want me to proclaim to the world that our actions do make a difference, that change is always possible, that you should never give up. Maybe they wanted me to see the stark difference between "hopeless" and "hopeful."

If that's the case, then I glare in their general direction.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A special kind of shepherd

Today my ward was combined with another ward and my bishopric was released. It's the fifth time in two years my ward has been shuffled to another building. Salt Lake singles wards tend to be quite a bit larger than BYU wards—alas, the ward boundaries actually cover more than half a block—but the Union YSA ward is one of the runts of the singles wards in the Salt Lake Valley, though its fierce "unicorn" pride makes it one of the more well-known wards of our stake. It's hard to forget the Union Unicorns when they show up to every basketball, football, kickball, and softball game wearing homemade unicorn headbands.

So today was a new beginning of sorts, and was filled with the nervous excitement that accompanies the beginning of every new singles ward. It's impossible not to be excited at the prospect of all that fresh new meat.

As each bishopric member being released, along with their wives, spoke to a congregation of snifflers, I thought about each of my singles wards bishops and how they helped shape me into the person I think God wants me to become.

Bishop Long, my first singles ward bishop, recognized that I was a brand new fish in an unusual and friendly pond and introduced himself to me on my very first Sunday. It took him a while to remember my name, but he always knew who I was. He entrusted me with a variety of callings and helped me grow from scared teenager to a competent adult.

Bishop Dort was the kind of person who could look straight into your soul and make you want to be a better person, without even saying anything to you.

Bishop Davis was integral in my preparing for the temple when I did. He knew before I did that it was time for me to get my endowments, that I would need those blessings well before I needed marriage.

Bishop Ayre, my bishop who was released today, was my bishop during some of the most tumultuous periods of my life. I wasn't well known throughout the ward and never had an "important" calling, but every week, without fail, Bishop Ayre was there to greet me with a smile and a "How are you?" During this time most of my spiritual growth happened independent of my role in the ward, but I never felt like a lost sheep and I know without a doubt that he prayed for me regularly.

Singles ward bishops are a special kind of shepherd. They are given the daunting task to act as counselor, father, teacher, disciplinarian, and servant in a way that is quite different from bishops of "normal" wards. They are in charge of an entire flock of young people who are trying to figure out who they are and what their place is in the world, who are making important decisions all the time that will affect the course of their lives. Without their parents' constant supervision, it is so easy for these young people to fall off the face of the earth. A singles ward bishop's job is to make sure that doesn't happen, and, in my experience, they do a spectacular job of it. Singles wards are a powerful testament to me that God loves each of his children, and is mindful of the unique challenges young single adults face in today's world.

Today I moved on to singles ward bishop number five. It's always hard to say good-bye to a beloved leader and accept someone else, but already it's apparent that the mantle has shifted. I'm looking forward to seeing what influence Bishop Beveridge will have on my life journey.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

On strength

It's a common relief society topic: How to turn weaknesses into strengths.

It's also a popular job interview question: What are your strengths and weaknesses as a [insert profession here]?

But what is strength, really? I found the coolest definition today:
A strength is "an activity that makes you feel strong." It is an activity where the doing of it invigorates you. Before you do it, you find yourself instinctively looking forward to it. While you are doing it you don't struggle to concentrate, but instead you become so immersed that time speeds up and you lose yourself in the present moment. And after you are finished doing it, you feel authentic, connected to the best parts of who you really are. (Source: Copyblogger)
Imagine that: strength being defined as something that makes you strong.

I tend to think of strengths as something you're good at, and weaknesses as something you need to work on. However, there are several flaws to this argument, starting with the fact that it's possible to be good at something you don't enjoy doing.

For example, in middle school I decided to learn to play the flute. My decision to play this particular instrument was based entirely on the capability the instrument case had of being stuffed into my backpack. I was proud to join the Band Geek Club, but I wasn't dedicated enough to lug a 50-pound instrument around school where all could see and judge.

As it turned out, I was a fair flute player. I just didn't like playing. My friends didn't understand why I wanted to quit marching band after just one year or why I wanted to focus on choir in high school rather than band. I'm sure some thought it was a shame that I didn't care about my skill, as if by not playing the flute I was throwing away a rare and beautiful talent.

But playing the flute wasn't empowering for me. I dreaded practicing, I hated performing in concerts, and I was incredibly self-conscious whenever I thought anyone could hear me. In short, I felt weak when I played the flute. I get the same feeling when I go to mingles and parties bursting with people I don't know, when I try to do math in my head, or when I'm writing a white paper or research paper. I wouldn't categorize all of these things as weaknesses per se, but they certainly don't speed up time or refuel my energy tank.

Contrast those things with playing the piano, writing, bossing people around, reading, crafting, and playing softball. Again, I wouldn't categorize all of these things as my core strengths, but these are the types of things I want to fill my days with. It's the reason school doesn't overwhelm me, because my homework requires me to do things that "connect me to the best parts of who I am." It's the reason I enjoy leadership responsibilities, even though they add stress to my life.

There's still a lot to be said for turning discomfort into empowerment, but I like the idea that the things that make you happy also make you stronger.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

16 things I blame my parents for

April 14, 1984
My parents celebrated 29 years of marriage today. It's been a while since I've given them an anniversary present. Other than the traditional cleaning-the-house present, I think the last one was years ago when we made Mom and Dad Precious Moments displays out of plastic canvas and then tried to be sneaky about presenting our lovely gifts. I believe we used the ol' drop gifts on the doorstep, ring the doorbell, and run away trick. We even complemented our gifts with a beautiful bouquet of weeds. And then we were surprised that they immediately knew the presents were from us. . . .

The older I get, the more I realize that all the best things in my life can be traced back to my parents. I've actually started this post three times now (this post is literally three years in the making), trying to give credit where it's due, but I never published it because, well, cheesy gooeyness makes me uncomfortable. It doesn't matter if I'm on the receiving end of it or if I'm the one inflicting it. It doesn't matter if I'm standing in front of an audience or writing on my blog. My body associates tributes with lots of staring at the floor while blood rushes to my face. This feeling is not on my list of Emotions I Like.

But, my parents are awesome, and I don't tell them that nearly enough, so I'm just going to have to suffer the consequences and say it straight out. Mom and Dad, I blame you for the following:

1. Six deep, meaningful relationships. Since we're a family of introverts, our best bet at making friends is latching on to those who come from the same gene pool. My relationships with my siblings and my parents are the most deep and meaningful ones I have.

2. My high expectations for my future spouse. I never doubted that my parents loved each other. At times I've seriously wondered how two very different individuals came together and made a marriage work, especially since it took Mom five years to get Dad to talk. Love must be more powerful than I can understand at this point in my life.

People always say that if there's one thing dads can do for their daughters, it's to love their mom. Dad does this naturally. A few years ago, I watched the primary program put on by the kids in my home ward. At the time, Mom was in the primary presidency and helped out heavily with the music, and Dad was the bishop. As the bishopric/stake presidency members strained their necks and twisted in their seats to get a good look at the clump of children, Dad watched Mom conduct the music. His look said it all. Dad has set a high precedent in my quest for a spouse, but if I can find someone who will look at me the way my dad looks at my mom after 25+ years of marriage, it'll be worth it.

3. My career success. I'm always surprised by the level of appreciation my employers have for my work ethic. Doesn't everyone come to work to work, every day? Doesn't everyone do something when they say they'll do it? Doesn't everyone understand that to move up in the world you have to really work for it? Apparently not. My success in the business world so far is largely due to values that were instilled in me from a very young age. Even though the five of us kids have the Carter-famous "do everything you can to avoid extra work" blood running through our veins, and despite our unofficial family motto—"I have to do everything around here"—we all learned first-hand the value of good, honest work, and that is something that will continue to benefit us in all areas of our lives.

4. My independence. I'm pretty sure my first complete sentence was "I did it all by myself," so I don't think I can blame my independence entirely on my parents. However, we definitely weren't coddled as kids. We were expected to take turns at all the household chores, take care of our cars, fund our own college tuition, cook meals, get jobs, and do a bunch of other things, all before we moved out. Our reward is the freedom that comes from independence. As a fully independent woman, let me just say it is immensely satisfying to not have to rely on others for anything.

5. Loud laughter in our home. We may pretend to have manners when we're around normal people, but at home we are loud, and we laugh a lot. The Jeremys are still a little scarred, I think.

6. Years of musical memories. I can't imagine what my life would have been like without hours of early morning piano practices, years of choir and band concerts, and the musicals that graced my childhood. Our home wouldn't be the same without the random bursts into song, ranging from Josh Groban and Snow White imitations to full-out musical conversations. And lest you think it's just the girls who create all the musical memories, I'll have you know that I caught Tyrel singing Beach Boys at the top of his lungs while he was hanging upside down on the inversion table once (not to mention he does a spirited performance of "That Thing You Do" on the piano), and Dad sometimes will sing Rauol's parts in The Phantom of the Opera. A singing person is a happy person indeed.

7. A solid understanding of the importance of being parents first, friends second. Parents do their kids no favors by letting the kids be the dictators. I thought my parents were the cruelest people in the world at times (it seemed like I was the only person in the universe to have an 11:00 p.m. curfew on weekends), but, like everything else, they did it for our own good.

8. A firm foundation in the gospel. Our home was a safe haven for a lot of reasons, one of those being that it was a Christ-centered home. Even with numerous failed family home evenings and the difficulty we had with daily scripture study, the gospel was always at the center. Mom and Dad have always had solid testimonies, and they're not afraid to let their kids know it. A childhood firmly rooted in gospel principles is probably the best gift my parents could have given me.

9. My education. As a kid, I wasn't too thrilled about the thought of four years of school after finally breaking free from public education. However, education was always important (that was our second family motto: "Go to college or be executed"), so I eventually got used to the idea. Now I'm working on my masters degree and I am incredibly grateful for the doors my education have opened up for me. The benefits of education extend far beyond career opportunities, though. Stuffing your head full of knowledge is actually quite fun, and it ensures you're always progressing.

10. The fact that I'm still a Jazz fan. This one's mostly Dad's fault. Is it bad that I only want the Jazz to make it to playoffs so the Lakers don't?

11. A fantastic childhood. Ah, so many good memories.

12. My inability to be completely content in the city. Growing up in a small town like Elk Ridge is seriously the best: beautiful surroundings, down-to-earth people, no city noises or lights. Even when times got rough and it made no financial sense to stay in Elk Ridge, we stayed because that is where we needed to be. The hardest part of moving out has been adjusting to city life; for me, cities are for visiting, not for living in.

13. Hours of sleep lost due to late-night conversations. I wouldn't trade those talks for anything.

14. More books and movies than I have room for. Our family's three main sources of entertainment are movies, books, and card games. So naturally, I have to get a little creative when it comes to storing my DVDs and books. My next idea is to move into a bigger apartment. Or house.

15. The knowledge that money doesn't produce happiness all on its own. Money was never abundant in our home, but happiness was.

16. The fact that I still enjoy going home. And it's not just for the food, though that is still a strong incentive (hint, hint). Because of all the reasons listed above—relationships, laughter, music, Jazz/BYU games, love—I'll always have a good reason to go home. That will never change.

March 2012
Thanks a lot, Mom and Dad.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Weird names

When I worked at the Humanities Publication Center at BYU, one of my co-workers started a Funny Names List. Whenever anyone came across a particularly punny or unpronouncable name, they'd add it to the list. It became a little bit of a competition to see who could find the best names; the winner got bragging rights and staff admiration, of course.

I've missed that list since I started grad school, because all of my teachers would qualify for the list. Maybe you have to have an unusual last name to pass the secret screening process to become an online faculty member, or maybe they just use pen names to protect their identities. (Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if that were true.)

Because, seriously, some of these last names look like keyboard malfunctions:
  • Makhanlall
  • DiSabato
  • Schiffman
  • Guttman
  • Parbst
  • Brodsky
At least they all have perfectly normal first names, like Mark, John, and Jane.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Crossing a writerly milestone

"We received a lot of great entries for this contest, and it took some time to read through them all. Although we did not select [your story] as an award winner, we are delighted you considered [us] as a potential home for your work."
My first rejection email. It's official: I'm a real writer.

One of my New Years resolutions this year was to enter 12 writing contests. I haven't had the guts or the work ethic to do this before, but after combing through my budget, I realized I would have to get creative to come up with an extra $7,000 dollars by year's end to pay for the rest of grad school if I wanted to avoid taking out another loan.

My solution: continue to put a chunk of money into my Money Market account every month, keep an eye out for manageable freelance opportunities, and enter writing contests like crazy. Publishers offer anywhere from $100-$3,000 to their grand prize winners, and I figured if I was persistent enough, I was bound to catch some of the cash being thrown around to prospective writers.

I was prepared to polish some of my blog entries, to submit short stories I've written for grad school so far, and to write fresh pieces that fit the parameters of any publication I liked. I gritted my teeth whenever I saw the words "Entrance fee required," but I knew I would have to invest a little bit if I wanted a big payoff.

What I wasn't prepared for, though, was how scary it would be to actually click the "Submit" button. I didn't expect to feel so vulnerable, like I was taking a giant leap of faith off a cliff. I've never been good at opening up with anyone, and here I was, sharing a small piece of my soul with a committee of complete strangers.

And then came the rejection. I waited for the hit to my self-esteem to come, for the crushing realization that I'm a failure, and for the intense need for brownies to make everything all better. None of it came. Instead, I felt liberated. 

My classmates in my grad school program always make snarky references to their growing pile of rejection letters. While I could commiserate with them, I couldn't really relate to that experience. So when I got my first rejection, I felt like I had crossed a crucial milestone to being a real writer. No writer makes it big on their first try--they usually have to pick themselves off the ground over and over again before they see a glimmer of success. Now, finally, I can at least say I'm on the right path.

Instead of printing out my rejection email for the sole purpose of burning it, I am starting a collection. Each rejection is just another affirmation that I'm doing something, rather than just waiting for something amazing to happen. In fact, tonight I think I'll enter two more contests.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

April showers

My car is covered in dried raindrop splatters. I have to use artificial lighting a lot more at home because the heavy clouds outside don't let much sunlight in. The dip in the sidewalk by my apartment is always full of water when I leave for work in the morning. The world smells like it's being baptized in spring.

I love April showers.

Yesterday I went for a walk in the rain. Sadly, it wasn't as awesome as I thought it would be. It was annoyingly windy and temperatures dropped down to the 40s. Listening to Jill and Eustace travel to the land of the giants through four feet of snow didn't really make me feel warmer, either. Plus, water droplets kept collecting on my glasses. A huge pet peeve of mine.

I think I'll save my rain walks for the summer. There are plenty of other ways to enjoy April showers, like burrowing into the couch and studying material for brand new classes. As much as I've loved the extra sunlight we've been getting the past month, rainy days unearth little delights that sunny days only cast shadows on.