The Groundhogs Strike Back

I wrote a few weeks ago about the installation of a fence around Denisa’s garden: an effort to fight back the marauding groundhog we have on our property. And for the first while, all seemed to be well. The groundhog stayed on his side of the fence, and the vegetables stayed on their side of the fence, and all was right with the world.

Except the groundhog is a cunning beast, full of wile and trickery. And that groundhog in question wasn’t a “him.” He was a “her.” Something she proved by revealing her master plan: two smaller copies of herself.

Everyone thought the groundhoglets were cute at first. They scampered around the property, staring at us when we came outside, totally unconcerned by the presence of humans. They like to go to the compost pile and eat whatever we’ve tossed out. One human’s cucumber scraps is another groundhog’s dinner.

Today, however, the true machinations at work were fully revealed. A baby groundhog scurried through the too-small–for-an-adult-groundhog-but-big-enough-for-a-baby-groundhog holes in the fence and hit pay dirt. Denisa came upon the scene of the vegetable heist, catching the hoglet in the act. Upon seeing the jig was up, it lost its cool for a bit before remembering that yes, it can fit through the holes in the fence. With that key piece of information back in its memory banks, it fled off into the blackberry bushes.

What will be the next part of this drama? Who knows. We’ve found several other groundhog burrows around the property, and we’re beginning to wonder if we haven’t been hemmed in by groundhogs. Perhaps it’s part of an enormous scheme to take over my house completely. Do we just have three groundhogs, or are there actually more of them? How many groundhogs can one and a half acres of property support? And do they have any further weapons in their arsenal?

Stay tuned, folks. I have a feeling this groundhog hole is only going to get deeper . . .

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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 posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? 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.

The Death of a Fridge

Ever since we moved into our house, our fridge has been a constant companion. Always in the background, humming, keeping our food cold and our ice cream frozen, ready to offer a little bit of deliciousness whenever we felt a bit peckish. And like many constants in life, we came to take our fridge for granted. It wasn’t moving anywhere. What other options did it have?

And as the years went by, it began to develop its own little quirks and nuances. It would keep your frozen section frozen, but if you didn’t open and close the freezer door periodically, it would decide maybe you weren’t that interested in ice cream after all, and so it would stop working as well. I don’t know why it did this, and I never really cared to look into the reasons too carefully. I just knew you had to open and shut the freezer door once a day or so.

But that was a red flag. A sign that our relationship with our fridge was waning. If we’d been smart, maybe we would have paid attention and fixed the problem. But let’s be honest. The fridge was never a top of the line model. It was just . . . there. Freezer on the top, fridge down bottom. Brand name? No clue. Mayfairgidaire?

In any case, a month ago, the freezer died completely. A whole tub of ice cream, ruined. All sorts of meat, done for. It started leaking water into the fridge compartment as well, and we knew the Time Had Come. All good relationships end eventually, I suppose. We needed a new fridge.

Except apparently the middle of a pandemic is a bad time to buy major appliances? Scratch that. You can buy the appliances. Companies have no trouble taking your money. But getting those appliances is a different matter. We found a fridge we liked at Lowe’s. We ordered it. As we were ordering, it said it would get here in mid-June (this was back toward the end of May). Fine. Whatever.

Once we’d bought it, they switched the estimation to mid-August. Nice. Even then, we thought we’d be able to last.

Until last week, when the fridge stopped working too. Now the whole thing is basically a cooler with a light in it. We have a back up fridge in the garage from when Denisa used to bake and needed the extra fridge space, but taking a trek to the garage every time I need a glass of milk is a bit much.

What if we ordered a fridge from Lowe’s or Home Depot that was actually in stock? We checked. We tried. No dice. Actually getting a fridge we wanted to get here before the end of August just didn’t seem to be in the cards. Denisa faced the problem head on and started calling local retailers. It took a while, but she finally struck pay dirt.

We now have a fridge coming on Tuesday. One that will even have a working freezer, and might even work without being finicky. (Hope springs eternal.) I will say that having grown accustomed to being able to get anything I want whenever I want it, this pandemic time has been a real eye-opener, reminding me of how it can still be elsewhere, and how it used to be for us.

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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 posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? 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.

Statues, Names, and Changing Society

I’ve been watching the increasing push to take down statues and strike names from buildings and institutions, and I’ve had mixed thoughts about the effort. For the first while, when they were focused around Confederate War monuments, it made sense to me from afar, though I realized I didn’t have much of a dog in the fight or a reason to speak one way or the other about it. The “Heritage Not Hate” pithy slogan has always seemed overly simplistic. When I was in Germany, there were monuments to the victims of the Nazi atrocities, not monuments to the Nazis who inflicted them. I have no idea if there were any “Good Nazi Generals,” but imagine trying to have that argument. “We should honor this guy, because he was a valiant soldier for his country, and he fought because he loved Germany, not just Nazis.”

I don’t think that would fly, and it shouldn’t. In the end, the cause you fight for is just as important as the way you fight. Yes, many try to argue the Confederacy wasn’t just about slavery, and I’m not saying the Confederacy was a bunch of Nazis, but the cause of the Confederacy was certainly problematic at best.

(Interestingly, there were also many monuments to the Soviet forces that liberated East Germany, placed there during the communist regime. You could certainly argue those monuments had some sort of historical significance. They’d been there for a while, and they commemorated various events. They still ended up being neglected and ultimately removed. Because the Soviets and Communists did a lot of terrible things over in that part of the country . . .)

However, there has been another push to call out any historical figure who was a racist or supported slavery (directly or indirectly), clamoring to tear down any statues to them or rename anything that bears their moniker. And this is an area where things get muddier for me.

When I was at ALA last year in DC, I sat next to a librarian who had crossed off the face of George Washington from their name badge. “I don’t want the picture of a slave holder around my neck,” they explained to a friend sitting next to them. I didn’t say anything (because what sort of a tool goes around butting into other people’s side conversations, even if those conversations are loud?), but it’s a statement that has stuck around in my brain for a while.

Is it fair to reduce George Washington to “a slave holder”? Or any of the other many founding fathers who didn’t just own slaves, but traded in them? Profited off their labors? Thomas Jefferson did plenty to smear his reputation, if you actually read history and pay attention.

In the end, the answer I came to on that question is “No.” It’s not fair to reduce people to a single label, but it’s also not fair to idolize them. The Founding Fathers were men. They did good things, and they did bad things. It’s important to remember both, because I’d like to think we could all strive to do more of the good things and avoid more of the bad things. When you put someone on a pedestal (literally, in these cases), you only set yourself up for disappointment.

The same thing holds true for religious leaders. Brigham Young University is in a tight spot at the moment, because a whole lot of church leaders said and did a whole lot of not great things about race. And since BYU is a religious institution, many of its buildings bear the names of those church leaders. Yes, you can argue “it was different back then,” and that certainly can explain away some of it. But that’s not a cure-all excuse. The Church says today that it “disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”

But there’s still this tendency to try to idolize past leaders. To think of them as perfect, even as their writings and actions prove them to be anything but. I’ve always been happy to know people make mistakes. I may not be ga ga over the specific mistakes they make, but if the curtain were drawn back on my life, and all my idiotic statements in the past were dragged out for everyone to see, I don’t think I’d come out of it with flying colors either.

So what do I think the answer is? For statues and naming rights, I think it comes down to looking at the person involved as a whole and deciding if the sum of their parts justify the statue or the name. Confederate generals being honored in towns still torn apart by racism? That doesn’t seem like a good call to me. Neither does the statue to Teddy Roosevelt that’s coming down, since it used racist imagery so blatantly. Naming a US military base after a Confederate general? Why was that even done in the first place? Probably to appeal to the people in the area, but would derail this post completely to dig into that concept more deeply.

Should BYU rename itself or its buildings? I don’t think so. (Not all of them, at least. The Smoot building name would seem to be a pretty easy one to change to at least show the Church and the institution is listening and sympathetic . . .) What would be better (in my book) would be if the Church and BYU would address the issue head on. Apologize for the statements made in the past. Admit they were in error. And start having some discussions around what they can do today to correct some of the errors of the past. Stating racism is a sin is a great start, but I think some actions behind that statement would go even further. A really simple (not-nearly-enough-but-something) start would be to name some buildings or put up some statues honoring some of the key minority Latter-day Saints.

I am not trying to dismiss racism of the past as irrelevant. Not all people in the past were racist, though I’d say to overcome the societal racism of the time took much more effort than today (though today’s societal racism is still very much present). But judging people in the past according to one trait and only one trait is shortsighted, especially when it’s a trait that’s so thorny. Denisa’s talk yesterday really resonated in this area for me. When the Salt Lake temple was built, it was built to perfection for its time. In the intervening years, the standards of perfection have been raised considerably. We can honor the craftsmanship that went into it even while recognizing the flaws we now know are present. Just because those flaws are present doesn’t mean it should be torn down, but rather that the flaws should be corrected as best we can today.

It’s not an analogy that covers everything (no analogy typically does), but it does get close to many of the thoughts I’ve been having. (Typical Bryce: more conservative than many of my friends would like, and more liberal than most of the rest of them would prefer . . .) There could be aspects of this I haven’t thought through all the way. If you’ve got constructive criticism, I’m ready to entertain it. Just keep things civil, as always.

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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 posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? 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.

On Self-Evaluation: Special Guest Post by Denisa

Happy Monday! (For values of “Happy” that include “still stuck in pandemic mode, and likely to remain there”) Denisa was asked to give a talk in church over the weekend, and I liked it so much, I asked her if she’d be willing to let me post it here. She was taken aback by the request (I guess she didn’t think it was as good as I did?), but she ultimately agreed. The talk touches on a lot of things I’ve been thinking as well. (When you’re stuck in social distancing mode, there’s a whole lot of time to think . . .)

Anyway–without further ado, here’s Denisa’s talk:

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Good morning,

Soon after COVID-19 closed Maine down in March, I started hearing from friends about all the fun-at-home-things they were doing—making art, spring cleaning, cooking, meditating, doing jigsaw puzzles. And, I was jealous. I was jealous because when the schools closed, my life only got busier. It is true that I wasn’t driving to work and driving kids to lessons and practice and dentists and orthodontists, but I as many of you had to figure out how to do my job and my calling from home. Having never done any teaching online, this was difficult for me and certainly took some effort to get used to.

One thing I kept coming back to was what a colleague said about teaching, “figure out what the basics are, what is most important, and do that”. Of the many things I could’ve taught in my classes at UMF and in seminary I needed to find the foundation/the basics/the gist and make sure we focused on that. This, while simply said, seemed like a lot of work because it meant I had to evaluate what I was doing, instead of just keep going like I was planning on before. It’s familiar and comforting to do what you always have done, and to do it the way you’ve always done it. It takes less energy and much less time to take the traditional approach, but living in this new and socially distanced world required me to go through the change. I had to change my thinking first and then align my actions with it, and though the new way of thinking seemed unfamiliar and strange, I knew it was what needed to be done.

It seems we continue to be experiencing a time of many changes. BC—before Corona, the news of the degradation of our environment including human-caused pollution of our land, water and air and the loss of biodiversity this leads to, was constantly on my mind. I read about it, talked to those who knew more about the situation than I did, and I evaluated my life and actions and resolved to make some changes, for example, in what I choose to eat, and where and how I shop.

The ever-changing news about the spread of Corona and the recent protests have made me rethink and evaluate where I stand on equality and human rights, science, health, and even economy growth. I don’t doubt these thoughts occupy your mind as well. We may have found out that we didn’t quite understand the situation and need to put forth more time and effort to correct this, or we may have noticed we’re not as accepting of others as we thought and that in reality, we care more about some things than what we always believed.

Evaluation and introspection should always be a part of our lives. I almost always dread the time when I look at my class evaluations and read what my students thought about my class and me as their professor. I try to do a good job, but I know my teaching style doesn’t fit well with everyone. In general, I’m usually nicely surprised, but there is always that one or two students who waited the whole semester for the opportunity to say just how much work I need to do to improve. While I don’t enjoy reading those evaluations, I do learn from them and they in turn cause me to look at my teaching through their eyes and again reevaluate to find out if in fact I should change some things. Dismissing the comments of those who say there is a problem would be shortsighted and would make the evaluations a waste of everyone’s time. Just because I didn’t see the problem (as I was comfortable in my own teaching, or living), doesn’t mean there is no problem.

In the past general conference, Elder Gary Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles reviewed some of the history of the construction of the Salt Lake Temple and explained upgrades that the temple is undergoing right now. The building was evaluated, and it was discovered that it has been cared for well for the 127 years since it’s dedication, but new advances in engineering (that were unimaginable at the time the temple was built) made the renovation including earthquake protection possible. It was Brigham Young’s hope to see “the temple built in a manner that it will endure through the millennium”. And so, the temple is now closed, so the needed seismic upgrades can be made, that it can endure through the millennium. Will there be more extensive upgrades in another 127 years? I would think so.

All temples have an inscription on them that reads “a house of the Lord”. In 1841 (coincidentally, the same year as our house here in Farmington was built) the Saints were instructed to build a temple in Nauvoo, so the priesthood could be restored there: We read about this in D&C 124: 27-28

27 And with iron, with copper, and with brass, and with zinc, and with all your precious things of the earth; and build a house to my name, for the Most High to dwell therein.

28 For there is not a place found on earth that he may come to and arestore again that which was lost unto you, or which he hath taken away, even the fulness of the priesthood.”

The original Nauvoo temple was destroyed by fire in 1848, but it was rebuilt, and it was dedicated in 2002. Great care was taken to make it a close to the original as possible.

Our house here in Farmington is just a house—we love it and have been slowly working on it, and though it has a beautiful spiral staircase, it is just a house for people. The Nauvoo and the Salt Lake Temple and all the rest of the 166 working Latter-Day Saint temples were built as houses of the Lord, so the workmanship and the furnishings are as close to perfection as was possible when they were built. On the other hand, you would likely not be surprised by the uneven floors and may other flaws of our house on Knowlton Corner.

Yet, the houses of the Lord require updates and renovations even extensive projects like the one taking place at the Salt Lake Temple right now. Perfection as we understand it in this mortal world cannot achieved all at once, it depends on information available to us and understanding of it we have at the time. And, so the Salt Lake Temple while built to perfection standards for 1893, needs work.

There is a lot we can learn from this—we should not let ourselves believe that we have a perfect understanding of things, but we should be willing to continue learning and developing ourselves, so we can be close to the perfection the Lord asked as to strive for while we’re here. This includes being willing to listen to and hear others with the goal of understanding. We know our Heavenly Father loves all of us and His love is what we know as the pure love of Christ—charity which is defined in 1 Corinthians 13 and Moroni 7:45:

45 And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

In Moroni 7:48, understanding what charity is, we’re told what we must do:

48 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.

When Christ visited the Nephites on the American continent after his resurrection, he took time for His people. He didn’t ask for those who were doing just fine, were well taken care of, who did not experience any difficulties—although that would’ve no doubt taken so much less of His time. He asked for those who needed healing as we read in 3 Nephi 17:7:

Have ye any that are asick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or bleprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will cheal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy.

He asked for those who were in the need of physical healing but ended by asking for those who are “afflicted in any manner”. I believe this would include those of us who are feeling comfy because all is going well for us—we’re set in our traditional thinking and living, “not looking for more light and knowledge”. This kind of life in missing the point of being here on the earth and the point of learning “line upon line, precept upon precept”.

So, if we are the ones who forgot to reevaluate and needed a big jolt, it is not too late. During this Corona time, may we take time to evaluate our lives as we have to change them to keep ourselves and our families safe. May we look for what is the most important.

My mission president, President Sorenson, would often ask us what he called “the hard questions”. These were questions designed to redirect us to the basics and stop worrying about how much success we had while on our missions.

Here are 3 of his hard questions:

  1. Is there a God?
  2. Is Jesus Christ the Savior?
  3. Is the Book of Mormon true?

While the difficulties of the missionary work didn’t go away, when we acknowledged God and Jesus Christ are in charge and that the Book of Mormon is true, we knew we would find the answers to some of the tough questions missions and life bring.

May we too look for those answers as we reevaluate our thinking and our life through speaking with our Heavenly Father, reading the scriptures, and pondering what we have to do.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

I Know You Should Wear a Mask, but WHEN Do You Wear a Mask?

Yesterday I headed with the family off to the beach for some much-needed relaxation and not-in-my-home-office-on-a-Zoom-meeting-ness. We drove down to Old Orchard Beach, stopping to pick up some Chipotle on the way and then getting some ice cream afterward. It was a lovely day. Probably about 80 degrees at the beach, though the water was much colder. (55 degrees, according to my Google search.)

I had worried ahead of time that it would be packed, but it was anything but. Usually there’s a road right by the beach that I drop the fam off at, and then I drive around hunting for a place to park for free. Yesterday, there were spaces right on that road. We parked 20 feet away from the boardwalk access. On the beach itself, I think the closest I got to people was about ten feet when we were leaving. A group had set up camp right by the boardwalk, so we had to walk by them to get to the car. Other than that, people were typically around 50-100 feet away. No one was wearing masks, but I didn’t really feel like anyone needed to.

That said, in hind sight, I do wonder if I should have been wearing a mask the whole time. After the beach when we got ice cream, we remembered only Denisa had brought a mask. We were still outside, and we still stayed 6 feet away from others, but I felt very hypocritical right then, realizing I had become that which I was speaking out against. It wasn’t really intentional, but that doesn’t matter.

I think the times the “Wear a Mask” rule is going to be most effective is when it’s clear and clean cut. “If you’re outside your house or office (or in your office with the door open) wear a mask” is much easier to remember than some complicated formula. I’ve seen a lot of chatter over when you need to have one on and when you don’t. How close you can be and be safe. Outside vs. inside. Windy vs. calm. You name it. As long as the rules are that squishy, people are going to end up like me: willing to follow the rules, but forgetful of what they’re supposed to be, and unprepared when it’s necessary. Even a rule that said “you must have a mask with you when out in public, even if you don’t need to have it on at the moment” would be better than nothing. Sort of like the life jacket law for adults in a boat in Maine. That way you have it there, and when you do find yourself in a situation where you need it, you have it.

Judging by the numbers coming out of some states (I’m looking at you, Florida, Texas, and Arizona, but there are other states out there with worrisome trends as well), this mask rule is going to become more and more important, especially if we’re dead set on opening up full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes.

I think many people want to do the right thing. They just have a hard time knowing what the right thing is right now.

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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 posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? 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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