Heavy Meta #22: The Return of Michael Johnson

In this episode, Kelly and I are joined once again by Michael Johnson, who has another book out, because he’s just that impressive. This one is Can’t Stand Still, a biography of Taylor Gordon. If you’re like me and have no idea who Taylor Gordon was, you’ll find out more in the podcast, but (spoiler) I can let you know he was a famous African American spiritual singer in the 1920s. Check it out!

Right click to download audio file.

I Fought the Deer and the Deer Won

Really, it’s more remarkable that I’ve been able to go 11.5 years in Maine without hitting a deer with my car. (The turkey, of course, is another story.) But my remarkable string of deer-free driving came to an abrupt end last Friday.

In my defense, it took two of them to take me out. Clearly the word had gone out that I was about to go for the record or something, because two deer crouched on the shoulder, waiting. Watching. All set to spring out as soon as they saw my red Prius barreling down the road at a little over 55mph.

When the time was right, they sprang. One out in front covering the left side of the road, and the other slightly behind to make sure I couldn’t swerve to safety. No. They were dead set on me getting some fur on fender action that day. I saw them make their move, and I slammed on my brakes to try to avoid them. I didn’t swerve. You don’t swerve in a car unless not swerving is going to kill you. (If, say, you’re about to hit a moose. A deer? Not swerving.)

The front deer hit my driver side light, smashing it with what must have been a very satisfying crunch. Sort of like how I crunched through ice encrusted puddles on my way to work today. I had braked enough that I didn’t do too much damage to the deer. It bounded off along with its buddy, no doubt giving each other deer high fives all the way.

I pulled to the shoulder and looked around. Assessed the scene. No deer that I could see. (The police in Maine like you to hang around in deer related accidents if the deer are still by the side of the road, dying or dead. On the plus side, you also get to keep the deer in those cases. Though I’m not quite sure what I would have done in my Prius. Strapped it to the hood as a warning to any other deer,?) I drove back along the road, checking to see if the beast had just flopped down dead somehow, but no. It was clear.

My headlight was not so lucky. Speaking from experience, it takes less than 24 hours for a policeman in Maine to pull you over for having only one working headlight. Lucky for me, I’d left the piece of deer hide lodged in my headlight-remnants, so it was clear I wasn’t making things up. He gave me a warning.

I took the car for an estimate. Just over $2,000 to fix. So today’s blog post is brought to you by the letters I, N, S, U, R, A, N, (again), C, and E.

Drive safe out there, folks. The deer are unionizing.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Latter-day Saint Missions Shortened to 18 Months*

Leading up to general conference this year, I’d heard plenty of rumors. There have been quite a few significant changes recently, so it’s no wonder people are buzzing with ideas about what else might change. This time around, I was hearing talk that the length of time young people serve on missions was going to change. Men were going to just serve 18 months. Or women were going to start serving 24 months. Or it was going to be up to the individual, regardless of gender, to serve 12, 18, or 24 months.

Or. Or. Or.

Conference came. Conference went. Mission lengths did not change, if you noticed.

However . . .

I learned through some research something older members might be well aware of, but which was new to me. The church DID make a big announcement in a leadership conference, shortening the length of missions for young men from 24 months to 18 months.

It’s just that they did it back in 1982.

In speaking for the First Presidency, President Gordon B. Hinckley said that “much consideration has been given to the term of service for young men in the mission field. Costs of maintaining missionaries have risen dramatically. Many of our families face extremely heavy economic pressures. The problem is aggravated by the fact that more and more young men are being called from lands outside the United States and Canada, many of them from lands where rates of inflation have been extremely high and have taken a serious toll in the real incomes of people.”

He added that in a number of areas young men are subject to “regulations which preclude extended absence from school or apprenticeship programs”; likewise, military requirements in some countries prohibit two-year absences to fill missions.

“It is hoped,” said President Hinckley, “that improved training will better qualify [the missionaries] to work more productively when they arrive in the field. It is likewise anticipated that this shortened term will make it possible for many to go who cannot go under present circumstances. This will extend the opportunity for missionary service to an enlarged body of our young men.”


But then, in a letter from the First Presidency in 1985, the change was changed back:

The First Presidency’s November 1984 letter emphasized that those pressures are still a matter of concern. But because of the earlier six-month reduction in the length of missionary service, the letter continued, “many missionaries have felt that at the conclusion of their missions they have had to go home at a time when they had developed the greatest capability to do the work.

“Particularly is this true of those who have learned a language.
“We feel this change will enhance our ability to proclaim the gospel to all the world, especially in areas where missionaries learn a second language. It will also give missionaries greater opportunity for increased spiritual growth and development.”

The First Presidency urged local priesthood leaders to “be sensitive to family resources,” and, where necessary, see that assistance is made available to families. “We hope no worthy young person will be overlooked for this most important Church service because of concern for financing a mission.”

Will the length change again? Who knows. Different times call for different approaches. If you read church history, you’ll find a lot of what ended up being cemented in stone around church practice started out as various people trying different approaches to solve problems.

If you’re familiar with Latter-day Saint doctrine, you’ll know the story of the Brother of Jared, who was tasked with coming up with a way to light ships for a long journey. Ships that had no windows. His idea ended up being to have God touch white rocks, which would then shine brightly for the journey.

I find the story inspirational. God, who was fully aware of everything from electricity, battery packs, nuclear fission or fusion, ended up going along with the “bright rocks” idea. Not because it was the best or perfect solution, but because it’s what His child had come up with, and He could make it work. How much of what happens in the church happens because God follows this same principle?

Food for thought,

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Eat Your Vegetables (The Right Way)

I’m still trying to be healthier, a few sugary relapses aside. This basically has boiled down to exercising every weekday, avoiding sugar (more or less, and not counting conferences), and not eating as much. I can tell the times when I cheat on the sugar and the eating too much. I definitely don’t feel as good–I feel better hungry than I do stuffed, that’s for sure.

But it wouldn’t take a genius to recognize the flaw in my approach. I take a multivitamin each day, but me and vegetables only have a casual relationship. I typically eat two bananas each day, and maybe a clementine or two, so I’m at least somewhat okay when it comes to fruit, but vegetables are something I eat at dinner when they’re there, and forget about the rest of the time.

It’s not that I don’t like vegetables. I actually like them quite a bit. But I don’t like preparing food. I’m lazy enough that when faced with a choice of eating something I can just grab or anything that requires slicing and washing, I’m going to go with the grab option every time. In fact, if I look in the fridge and all that’s available takes preparation, I almost always just decide to be hungry instead of eating something.

But Denisa has been reminding me that vegetables are important, and I had a health coach appointment that said the same thing, and so I’m making a more concerted effort to add veggies to my diet. Since most days I still just eat oatmeal for breakfast and dinner, that means I have to try to search for vegetable opportunities outside the normal meal times.

Case in point: the other day, Denisa made broiled vegetables for dinner (cauliflower, potatoes, carrots). I really like cauliflower, and I hadn’t had any vegetables yet that day, so I asked if I could have some. (Since I’m usually on oatmeal for dinners, Denisa has learned not to include me in her dinner calculations. You don’t want to get between Denisa and her dinner calculations, speaking from experience.)

But this time, Denisa gave me the thumbs up, so I had a few pieces of cauliflower. And a few more. And a couple more after that. Until somehow the cauliflower was completely gone. That’s when Denisa got up to get seconds . . .

That day, I learned a very valuable lesson. I learned that, no matter how much your wife reminds you that you should really be eating more vegetables, this does not give you immunity from eating all the cauliflower. (No matter how much you think it might.) Apparently there’s a right way and wrong way to eat vegetables, or at least a right time and a wrong time.

“I’m new at this” is also not an acceptable excuse, just in case any of you out there were wondering . . .

I’ll get the vegetable thing down, though. Practice makes perfect.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.



Question Common Knowledge, and You Might Be Rewarded with Delicious Food

Ever since I moved to Maine, one of the things I’ve missed the most (from a cuisine perspective) was the abundance of great Mexican food places in Utah. Not just the Tex Mex stuff, but the actual, real Mexican restaurants. It didn’t make any sense to me that there wouldn’t be any in Maine. I mean, the best Mexican restaurant I ever ate at was in Nebraska of all places, so if Nebraska can have fantastic Mexican, why not Maine?

I asked around some, but no one really had any great suggestions. Chipotle is all fine and good, but it doesn’t cut it for me. There were some burrito places that have popped up in the area, and there have been some food trucks that did their own sort of Mexican food, but I never found anything that came close to the places I’d go in Utah. Great, cheap restaurants with fantastic food, huge portions . . . Mmmm . . . .

So imagine my surprise yesterday when I was in Bangor and asking around for ideas of places I should eat. The Bangor library director asked me if I liked Mexican.

“Yes, but they don’t have the good stuff here in Maine,” I said.

“Have you ever tried Las Palapas?”

Friends, I hadn’t even heard of Las Palapas. He told me it was great, authentic Mexican food. I was skeptical, but I tend to value the opinions of librarians more highly than the opinions of the general masses. We’re trained information professionals, for one thing. And we don’t mess around when it comes to good food.

I went off to give the place a shot. It’s not the easiest restaurant to find. It’s tucked back between a couple of hotels just off the freeway, over at the Bangor Mall. But when I walked in, the smell was just right, and when I sat down, they plopped a huge portion of fresh tortilla chips and salsa in front of me, and they were fantastic.

Needless to say, it was a wonderful meal. Rice, beans, and a burrito smothered in cheese. It makes me hungry just thinking about it again. So why in the world did I not know this place existed?

To explain, I need to tell another story. When I was on my mission in Germany, I was told early on that “Germans don’t have fresh milk.” This was something all the other missionaries I came in contact with took for granted. The only milk Germans ate came in a box that didn’t need to be refrigerated. It was nasty stuff, but if you cooled it down, it was quasi-edible.

Why did I believe this? In hindsight, it seems preposterous. An entire first world country that just doesn’t drink milk at all? And yet for the first half year of my mission, I believed it completely. Missionaries would go shopping with other missionaries, after all. And navigating a grocery store in a foreign language is tricky for an adult, let alone a 19 year old guy. So we all knew what other missionaries ate, and we stuck to that. (I shudder at the memory.)

Until my mastery of the language improved, and my sense of adventure increased. I started branching out into other areas of the grocery store when we went each week. And one week, I was looking for cheese, and I came across this strange box in the chilled food section. It said “Frische Milch.” “Fresh milk.”

I remember even bringing it over to my companion. “Check this out,” I said. “Do you think it’s real?”

“Germans don’t have fresh milk,” he assured me. “It’s probably a marketing gimmick.”

But my love of cereal and milk in the morning was great enough that I decided it was worth a 2 Mark investment. I bought the product. It turned out (surprise surprise) to be perfectly normal fresh milk. And from then on, I became an evangelist not just of the Gospel, but of the existence of fresh milk to my fellow missionaries.

Why hadn’t we known about fresh milk? A couple of reasons.

  • The milk came in different containers than we were used to. Instead of jugs, it came in plastic bags or boxes. So the thing we identified as “milk” by sight didn’t match up with what we were seeing.
  • We accepted the experience of missionaries who had come before us, and we weren’t exposed to many other missionaries at once. “What do you drink for milk” just wasn’t a common conversation topic, so for the first six months, I think I’d gone shopping with a total of 4 other Elders.
  • We didn’t question the reality we lived in.

I’d like to think I put all of that behind me years ago, and yet there I was yesterday, believing Maine had no authentic Mexican food for 11.5 years, only to find out one day that I was wrong. All it took was asking the right person. Of continuing to question and wonder and be curious, and then be open to the answers I got back.

So what other areas am I limiting myself right now? Maybe I should just ask the public at large. I could really go for a great German restaurant in Maine. Anyone got any recommendations? (Or am I expecting too much?)

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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