All posts by Prollins

The Power of Legacy: Tribute to My Gramps…

A couple of weeks ago, the last of my grandparents passed away.  The funeral was beautiful, but the day was emotionally draining for me.  I loved all my grandparents dearly, but Grandpa Hall had a special piece of my heart.  He just radiated goodness and he had a super tender heart.  He was 93 when he passed.  He lived a great life and was wonderful example of what a man is and should be.

As the oldest of his grandchildren, I got to know him in a way many of the other grandkids did not.  I have memories of him when he was still young and vibrant.  I am only a few years younger than grandpa’s youngest son, my Uncle Jared.  So, I got to see and experience Grandpa before life and age slowed him down.  During the summers as a boy, I would go down to Provo and spend a week or so at my grandparent’s place.  They spoiled me rotten, especially my two aunts, Laurie and Wendy.  I worshiped Phil and Jared, my uncles who are only a few years older and watched as they built model airplanes and blew up dirt hills with M-80’s and endured the endless teasing of my older uncles Brian and Rod.

Gramps Older

Grandpa was a WWII veteran, a fact in which I take enormous pride.  I always stuck my chest out a little bit when I got a chance to talk about his legacy of service to our country in one of the world’s darkest hours.  He served in the Army Air Corps, 20th Air Force, 509th composite group based on the Island of Tinian in the South Pacific.  He got into the war in 1942 serving as a radio operator on a B-29 Superfortress and was on his way to active combat duty when the United States dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, which effectively ended the war.   He always told me that the Japanese surrendered because their intelligence services had found out that H. Blaine Hall was coming.  I believed every word of it, even when my elementary school teacher said otherwise.

 

 

He instilled in me a passion for BYU sports, especially the football team.  From as long as I can remember we would sit in the stands at the then Cougar Stadium with Grandpa to watch the football games.  These were special times for me and we bonded over the team, always hashing over how the team was doing or how good they would be for the upcoming season when we would get together.  Saturdays in the fall will always have a hole in them now for me.

During the funeral, I listened to the speakers talk about Grandpa.  They told a lot of stories that I already knew, but some that I had never heard before.  I listened as well-wishers told me about how my Grandpa had had a positive effect on their lives. He served in many church leadership positions and was a very active member of Kiwanis and Sons of the Utah Pioneers.  He was always serving others.  As I listened to these stories, I was struck by the legacy he left and the legacy we ALL leave and my mind has not been able to leave the subject alone.  Thus, my need to empty my noggin with this blog post.

I was impressed with by this notion of legacy.  Legacy is something that is transmitted by those who have gone before and received by those still going.  It is one of the few things that can be left behind when we die.  This legacy can be both good AND bad and it can have a powerful impact for good or ill on the surviving posterity.  As I listened to those talking about my grandfather’s legacy, I thanked God for the overwhelmingly positive impact he had on my life.

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Gramps with my kiddos.  So glad they got to know him. 

Since the funeral, I have been thinking about this notion of legacy, especially as it pertains to me and the legacy I will leave behind.  I have asked myself repeatedly over the past few days, “What am I leaving behind?” The question has haunted me.  I try to be a good person.  I think we all do.  I worry about what impact my weaknesses will have on my children.  I pray all the time that I don’t screw them up.  I hope that when its my turn to lie in that casket that my posterity and associates will say the same things about me that were said about my grandfather.

We all have our strengths and our weaknesses and so did Grandpa.  But, he lived so that his strengths made him who he was and lived so that his weakness did not define him.  I hope that I am doing the same for myself and for my posterity.

Gramps Steerman
Gramps in front of a Steerman.  This is one of the planes he trained in during pilot school. 

There was a beautiful feeling of love and family at that funeral.  I have been so blessed to have good family around me.  That is another legacy that Grandpa left.  His family was his utmost priority.  To this day, his children get along with one another and love and respect each other and there is harmony, with one unfortunate exception, a point of deep sorrow that sadly Grandpa had to take to his grave.  He loved his family and you knew it when you were around him.  I remember when I would leave his house or say goodbye to him on the phone that he would choke up and therefore, so did I.  I am choked up now as I write this and reflect upon those moments.  Those moments tenderly telegraphed love from his heart to mine.  I loved him.  He was a beautiful person.

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Gramps during his Honor Flight visit to DC.  He’s in front of a B-29, the plane he served in during WWII.

His last few weeks were not good for him.  He died slowly, going in and out of coherence and in some pain.  I was in Utah about 3 weeks before he died and paid him what I knew would be my last visit.  He wasn’t well and I was worried because I hadn’t seen him that bad before. I phoned my Uncle Jared who came and we helped him use the bathroom and take his pills and get him comfortable in a chair – a minor but sacred act of service I am so glad I got to provide.  As I left, I told him I had to say goodbye, to which he responded, “I know.” I kissed him and told him that I loved him and that I was so thankful for his good example.  He said that he hoped that he was.  Oh, was he ever!  I will forever treasure that tender moment and the lovely mercy that he was coherent and knew who I was in that moment.

Me with Gramps
Saying goodbye to Gramps.  

I am now left with my thoughts and personal resolve to take greater care for the legacy I leave.  Grandpa’s funeral was a good reminder that I have work to do and lives still left to touch and influence.  I acknowledge the need to improve upon my weaknesses to further strengthen my family bonds and to avoid leaving harmful footprints upon my posterity. And lastly, I am thankful for my belief that our relationships do not end when this life does.  How can something so beautiful as love possibly be defeated by death?  It cannot, or God is not a God love.  Love you Gramps.  God speed and until we meet again.

A Place to Live and Curious Coincidences

Winter still has its icy grip on northwestern Montana, though things have begun to slowly thaw.  Our little stream is now a proud creek, swollen with snow melt and hurriedly making its way downhill to Ninemile Creek. But, I still wonder if winter will ever go away.  It is the coldest and snowiest it has been in Missoula in nearly fifty years.

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Cromwell Creek:  A generous name for a mere trickle in the summer, but buoyed by melting snow, it lives up to its name.  

 

 

I can’t wait for winter to pack its bags and leave.  I’m not really a big winter person, but that is not the reason I want it to make a quick exit.  We’ve got a deadline to meet or we’re homeless.  Not landless, but homeless.  At the present, we are in a temporary rental – a duplex in a small town outside of Missoula.  We had agreed to be out by June or July, but now they want to move into the duplex sooner.  So, we’ve got to be out by May.  We’ll see if Old Man Winter decides to move out by then, too.

When we moved to Montana in December of last year, we were still a bit unsettled as to what we were going to do for living quarters once our short lease ran out.  We had pretty much settled on the idea of buying a travel trailer, parking it in the shop and roughing it until we could get the house built.  But, we reconsidered that option once we finally closed on the land and had a chance to get into the existing 30′ x 60′ shop and check things out.  The shop had a about 1,100 square feet of space that had been used as a makeshift apartment and marijuana growing operation in the attic.  We can refurbish this space into a small apartment for not much more than buying a new travel trailer and then we could have a space to house guests or to even rent out if we wanted once the main house was built.  Also, having a more permanent structure will allow us to take our time on the house construction and not rush things financially.

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This will be our home sweet home for awhile as we build the house on top of the hill to the left.  We’ll see if we survive it!

It is peculiar that many of the people we have spoken to in Montana have done the same thing, that of building a shop/garage first or living in a shop until the house is done.  It is as if it is some sort of Montana rite of passage.  So, we’re going to get real cozy and live in a shop apartment.  Fortunately, the duplex we’re in now isn’t much bigger, so it has helped us get prepared for close quarter living.

An interesting coincidence has provided us with a top-notch contractor.  it is remarkable how this whole move has worked out, so many little things falling into place.  Some would call it a coincidence, but I know that they are God’s little mercies as he opens doors to help get things done and provide for our needs.  Turns out that my brother Robert married into the fine Stevenson family that produced Bryce and Brandon.  They moved their families to Montana a little over a year ago.  They own Stevenson Homes,  building houses in Utah and I would guess soon in Montana.  They happened to build my parent’s home and they do excellent work.  Nice to have them as we knew no one in Montana before moving up here.

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The main floor living area.  The bathroom is framed in as well as the closet for the washer and dryer and the furnace and water heater.  

The Stevenson boys have already finished the demolition and started to frame up our little apartment.  Though Old Man Winter still won’t let go, he can’t get inside the shop so we are thumbing our nose at him and getting started anyway.  Hopefully, with a productive month of March, we can get the apartment well on its way to completion.

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The attic space where we will lay our wee little heads at night.  Basically the attic consists of two, 30’x 12’spaces that will be the sleeping quarters.  There will be some windows on the wall on the left to bring the light in. No more marijuana growing happening here!

Lots of fun and excitement for our family these days.  The kids have adjusted well to the move and are enjoying Montana.  The school district we are in is very good and I’m so happy with this part of the move.  It is so nice to see the kids get such great individualized attention.  In another curious coincidence, our moving to Montana provided Quincy with a full-time aid, which has really helped him and provided a job for a wonderful person who needed it.  Coincidence?  I think not.

I have found living here to be a little more taxing from a travel point of view.  Missoula is in the middle of nowhere and requires an extra flight than I am used to.  This means a lot more early morning flights and late night arrivals.  But, so far I haven’t been too bothered by it.  I did get a bit homesick a couple of weeks ago.  It was so fun to live within a block of Ben and Scott, so I have missed that and the many times we got together with my folks, in-laws and extended family.  However, that will make the reunions that much sweeter and I’m looking forward to the fun times hosting family and friends at the farm in the months and years to come.

My Thoughts on Obama’s Presidency

A little over eight years ago, I was on a business trip in Wilmington, Delaware on election night of 2008.  Later in the evening, when it became evident that Obama had won, I ran to the local Walgreen’s to pick up a few things.  There were a lot of people in the street in a very happy mood, most of them black people wearing Obama paraphernalia.  As I was in line at the store, a couple of black women embraced, tears of joy streaming down their cheeks at the prospect of a black president.  I remember thinking in that moment that Barack Obama had a chance to be a transcendental president and one that had a unique chance to heal a nation still bereft of racial tensions, especially in the inner cities.  I thought that Obama had a real chance to bring American together.

Unfortunately, eight years later, he has proven not to be the transcendental leader I thought he had the chance to be.  For me, Obama’s presidency has been a disappointment.  I feel like so much potential was left on the table, so much good that could have been done is sadly left undone.

One of Obama’s biggest challenges was that he was woefully unprepared for the heavy administrative duties of the Executive Office.  From the beginning he showed his inexperience.  But, I really don’t hold that against him.  Where he really failed in my eyes was his absolute inability and unwillingness to put aside is political ideology and show a desire to cross the aisle and work with the other side.  He felt he had a mandate to bring to pass the liberal panacea.  To be fair, the Republicans took a “we’re gonna block everything”strategy, but Obama never really got outside is beloved liberal ideology.  Because of this, he, the Democrats and the Republicans only further polarized American politics and deepened racial divides and tensions in the inner cities.  I would have liked to have seen him step up, show leadership and show his side and the other, that America comes first and that we can compromise.  But, there was no compromise, on his part or by the Republicans.

I don’t think my opinion is too far from reality, really.  Why do I say that?  Because Barack Obama’s failures in leadership has handed the presidency to the likes of Donald Trump.  And it is not just Trump.  Since Obama has been elected, the Democrats have lost 1,030 seats in government all over this country. That is an astounding number and in my mind, a unmistakable repudiation of Obama’s leadership and policies.  The American people have been voting against him and his party for the last four years.

Another huge problem with Obama was the fact that he was one of the only presidents to oversee 8 years of GDP that never, ever went beyond 3%, the national debt was increased by 12 trillion dollars.  That number just sickens me as generations of Americans will be saddled with the burden of this irresponsibility.  True it is that Obama doesn’t have the power of the purse, but his liberal policies and inability to work with the other side, drove up the debt without a budget.  In addition to the huge debt, 1/3 of the American population remains without a job or not in the workforce.  Nearly one third are on welfare assistance of some kind.  More and more Americans are struggling to find decent jobs with many working two jobs to equal what they had pre-Obama.  The USA has never really got out of the funk caused by the last recession, which begun in the waning days of the Bush administration.

Obama’s one and only signature policy was the Affordable Care Act, which while it helped a relatively small portion of the American population, has also grievously burdened the middle class and the self-employed with outrageous premiums and deductible hikes that have driven thousands to drop healthcare altogether, thereby defeating the purpose of the ACA.  Premiums for the self-employed and others have reached levels to where they are paying more for monthly healthcare premiums than for a mortgage and the deductibles are ridiculously out of reach.  ACA has been a major failure by all accounts, even by the honest Democrats.

Obama’s immigration policies were disgraceful and dangerous to America.  Essentially, because he disagreed with the current immigration law and because he could not work with Congress, he chose to ignore the laws on the books and encourage a disorganized free-for-all on the southern border that has put millions of people, both illegal immigrants and Americans at risk.

I thought his foreign policy was too weak, but I’m not surprised as it was quintessential liberal foreign policy thinking.  On some levels I agreed with his foreign policies such as avoiding further international conflicts, but he pulled out too quickly in Iraq and he flat out bungled the situations in Libya and Syria and thousands upon thousands have suffered greatly because of it.

But, despite all my disagreements with Obama politically, I can say that I have been deeply impressed with him as a man, a husband and a father.  By all accounts he loves and is faithful to his wife.  He loves his children and seems to be interested and involved in their lives.  I have to respect this as these are significantly important values to me.  His presidency was scandal free, especially of the salacious kind.  His rhetoric as president has largely been measured and fair, though I wish his actions more matched his words.  In addition to him, I thought Michelle Obama portrayed a very good example of what it means to be a strong woman, a partner to her husband and a good mother.

Obama has handled the transfer of power with great class.  I can imagine that it must be hard to hand over the office to the likes of Donald Trump, but to his credit he has respected the will of the people and the Constitution.  He has not got down in the gutter but has respected the process.  My hat is off to him for that as it is so important to promote a peaceful transfer of power.

I am happy Obama is leaving office, mostly because change is needed and change is good. The change in power concept afforded by the Unites States Constitution is an awesome thing. Unfortunately, in this instance, the change brings us Donald J. Trump.  I will keep my fingers crossed for my country these next four years.

I believe in the rear view mirror of history, Obama will be viewed as a largely ineffective president.  His biggest claim to fame will be that he was the first black president.  He could have been much, much more than that.  He came in promising hope and change.  For me, there wasn’t much to be hopeful for and we certainly didn’t get the change we needed.

Moved in – Sort of

The last 3-4 weeks have been a little crazy in our family.  This is the first chance I have had to sit down and collect some thoughts.  We left Utah on December 3rd in a caravan consisting of a small U-haul, our minivan and my truck and headed north.  My brother Scott was good enough to come up with us and help us offload some things from the U-haul and then fly back the next day.  We are temporarily renting a duplex in Frenchtown, Montana while we figure out our more permanent living conditions.

The biggest thing so far about Montana has been the absolutely brutal cold and snow that has hit us over the past two weeks or so.  It started on the Sunday after we arrived and hasn’t really let up since.  We’ve had about 18″of snow and then just downright frigid temps with daytime highs well below zero with wind chill  All the locals keep telling us this is abnormal weather, but so far I just think everyone is lying.

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Piles of snow on the road in Missoula.  We got slammed!

 

It didn’t take us long to get settled in the duplex.  We didn’t really bring a lot of stuff and the rest of our stuff is in a storage shed right now in Missoula.  It has been amazing how little we’ve missed all that stuff.  We’ve hardly thought about it.  It is a good lesson that sometimes we get attached to our “stuff”and we don’t really need it.

Madison and Q have settled in to school quite well.  Madison was particularly brave to face the big change head on.  I was really proud of her and has already found a few friends to hang with.  Her only complaints are that school starts too early (same time as in Utah) and that she actually has to do strenuous physical activity during P.E.  Apparently, they don’t mess around here in P.E. and its killing her because she is not used to that level of activity.  I find it kind of amusing, really.  Quincy is in a great little special needs program and has a full time aide with him, something he didn’t have in Utah.  I’m very impressed with the Frenchtown schools and the level of funding and resources generally in Montana schools.

Probably the best piece of news is that we closed our our property this last Friday.  It is now ours.  I had to borrow a portion from the bank to buy it and the process of borrowing money for a land purchase is a gigantic pain int he butt, compounded by the fact that we were out of state while getting the process going.  Finally, it is now complete.  Heidi was as giddy as a school girl the day we signed.  She is super happy to have the land.

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This is a shot of the lower portion of the “farm”.  We will build the house on top of the hill to the right of this picture.  Sure was pretty with a fresh blanket of snow.  

I’m happy to be here and excited about the change.  I’m seeing some huge blessings and benefits already from doing this move, namely the schools for our kids.  This alone may make the whole thing worth it.  I love the fact that they are getting more one-on-one attention.

We visited the property yesterday.  I am now calling it a “farm,” even though it is nothing more than a piece of land at the moment.  Perhaps it is the romantic in me that likes the idea of having a farm.  I sort of feel like I’ve reconnected to my family’s past to the days when my Grandfather was a cowpuncher and dairy farmer.  I feel a need to have that sort of thing in my life.  I feel really comfortable in the rural setting.  The quiet rural life really appeals to me.  So, maybe soon, I can acquire the necessary animals and implements to justify calling the property a farm.

The farm was beautiful yesterday.  All the pines covered in a nice blanket of snow.  The view as the sun finally peeked through the clouds and bathed the surrounding mountains in light was amazing.  The shop needs  a lot more work than I had initially thought to get it ready to live in.  The shop has an area that was made into a couple of rooms, but it is going to have to be gutted.  The plan is to get the shop ready to live in and that we will do until the house is built.  One idea we’ve had is to put a kitchenette and a bathroom in the shop then sleep in a travel trailer that we would pull into the shop.  We’ll see.  There are a lot of options.  There is enough room to maybe even live in there and avoid the travel trailer.

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The Clark Fork River at sunset as you leave Ninemile Canyon.  The bridge you see is Interstate 90.

I’m having  a hard time enjoying things too much right now. I feel stress over all the money its gonna take to get the shop ready and I do not like feeling of being unsettled.  I get cranky when I’m not settled, so this whole thing has me well out of my comfort zone.  But, I have found that being out of your comfort zone is a growth opportunity.  So, we’ll see what lessons there are to learn!  I’m really excited about the opportunity.

Now, if it will just warm up a bit!

 

Thoughts on voting in 2016

United States of America Election Day. Vote badges. Voting.People vote for all kinds of reasons.  I’ve come to learn that fact over the years.  But, I’ve been really amazed to see so many do all kinds of mental gymnastics to justify their vote this year, especially those who voted for a presidential candidate of the two major parties.

I know my way of voting is not the same for everyone else.  I get that.  I respect your right to vote and your ability to form your own opinion.  But I just don’t see how anyone can justify voting for the presidential nominee of the two major political parties in the 2016 election.  Perhaps my idea of voting is a bit too romantic, I don’t know.  When I vote, first and foremost,  have to see the person who I’m voting for.  Who is this person?  What are their values?  These values don’t necessarily have to match mine exactly, but I need to know that my vote is going for someone who at their core values things like: honesty, integrity, respect for others,  and a love for constitutional principles.  If we don’t get these basic fundamental qualities in a candidate, what do we have left?  I have to see these things first, before I see party affiliation, issues they support or any other factor.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve never seen two more poorly qualified candidates than we have now representing the two major political parties.  Neither come anywhere close to meeting my value conditions.  Donald Trump is a narcissist.  This alone is a very dangerous quality to possess while at the same time holding great power.  He is a proven misogynist.  He clearly has used dishonest tactics to get ahead in business and make money.  Remarkably, has been completely frank and candid about who he is this entire race.  Yet, despite these very glaring and troublesome characteristics, people will happily vote for him.  I ask sincerely, “Will he simply stop being who he is once he is cloaked in the considerable power of the United States Presidency?”  It is dangerous to put power in hands of one like him.

Then there is Hillary Clinton.  A lifetime politician who has been proven over and over again to have colluded with law enforcement and foreign entities, accepted large sums of money from corporations and foreign persons that were intended to gain favors and access while she was Secretary of State.  She has taken millions of dollars from Wall Street companies where she has said what they wanted to hear contrary to her own party’s platform.  She is bought and paid for.  She is everything that is wrong with the current state of politics in the United States.  She has been shown to disregard the laws of the country with this recent email scandal, purposefully destroying evidence after a subpoena. Just think about that for a moment.  She does not meet my standard of honesty and integrity.  Again, I ask, “Will she suddenly stop being who she has proven to be once she is clothed in the mantel of the presidency?”  I think not.  We will get more of the same.

When you vote for a candidate, you are voting for them and all that they bring.  You are not voting for Hillary just because she is a woman and would break a long awaited glass ceiling.  You are not voting just for the repeal of Obamacare if you vote for Trump.  If you vote for Trump, you are not doing so just to avoid a Hillary presidency.  You are not merely voting to support a party.  No, you are voting for everything in that candidate, the good, the bad and the ugly.

Look, I get it.  No candidate is perfect.  I’m not looking for that.  But, I think that one has to consider the big picture and see the candidates for who they are and demand, through our votes and through our participation, that people hold up values that will represent us and that will protect us.  The two party system has failed us this election cycle by offering two poor choices.  There are consequences with elections and the responsible party is us, the people, for putting them there.

I voted for a third part this year for president.  I consider myself a conservative minded individual, but I voted for some Democrats as well.  We must get out of our silo thinking regarding party and issues.  We don’t vote for parties.  We don’t vote for issues.  We vote for people.  And we must take great care to ensure that those we vote for have as high of a moral fiber and as we can find.  In my humble opinion, voting for an issue or a parry or any other thing, without considering the person is shallow and irresponsible thinking.

There.  I finally got that off my chest and can now happily go about my Wednesday.

A Huge Step Forward

It was empty.  A shell of what it was for the last little more than 11 years.  It was quiet and it felt weird to see it vacant.  Today, we finished the very last details of moving out of our house.  We accomplished this in just twelve days.  Not by ourselves, but with the help of some amazing people who love and care for us.

This evening, I placed the keys on the countertop in the kitchen and sat alone, crossed legged on the living room floor and thought about what had happened in this house over the last few years.  So many pivotal and important events happened to my family here.  Madison grew up here.  We brought Q home for the first time here.  Yes, it is just a house, mere wood and plaster, but to me that house represents so much.  It represents a portion of my life of which I will look back in great fondness.

It represents people we have come to know and love.  For me, this is the hardest part.  I’m excited for our Montana Dream, but I am not ready to let go of good people.  People who served us and loved us. There are far too many to name.  I had the opportunity to interact with so many of these wonderful people and families as I served in my church’s youth organizations and watched many young men grow up, mature and turn into husbands and fathers.  I served side by side in church and civic capacities with so many.  I had the great fortune to provide service to many who passed through hellish trials and watched with admiration as they bore such burdens with grace and strength.  Though distance will come between us, I have learned that in life true friendship endures – it is eternal –  and I am often surprised at how even after so many years apart, a reunion with a good friend seems so familiar and as if time has not even passed.

This house represents family.  One wonderful thing about living here has been that I’ve had two brothers who have lived just a block away, one of which is kind enough to house us for a while.  My Madison, basically an only child given the age difference between her and Q,  has had the amazing and irreplaceable experience to play with and get to know her cousins.  I’ve also had all of my other siblings and parents and in-laws within and hour or so of us.  How fun that has been to be able to spend time together, borrow tools, and help each other out.  I will miss that more than they know.

We are so exhausted.  We have worked non-stop for 12 straight days.  My emotions are on the surface as I think about all who have made an imprint on our lives.  I thank God for them.  We will never forget this chapter of our life and will forever remember our 11 plus years living in our little community on the Lake.  Thanks to so many who loved us and cared for us.  We look forward to the many reunions to come!

 

 

 

 

Our Montana Dream Begins…

Several years ago, I took Heidi on a fly fishing trip to Missoula, MT.  I’ve always loved fly fishing and ever since I read Norman Maclean’s classic novella, A River Runs Through It, I have wanted to go to Missoula and fish the great trout rivers there.  But, oddly enough, it was Heidi that fell head over heels in love with Montana.  Impressed by the beautiful pine forests, the confluence of three beautiful rivers and the small town feel, she fell hard for their charms.  We returned the following year only to confirm our initial perceptions.

We began dreaming about one day moving there.  But, I knew that without a job in Montana or financial freedom, you just don’t up and move there.  Three years ago, my job situation changed and we are now in a position to realize the dream.

It was Heidi that pushed for the change.  I was reluctant at first, preferring to take it slow to get finances more in order.  But, in March of this year we decided to take the kids and go to Montana over spring break to look at properties.  Once again, Montana impressed and I began to really consider it and to seriously start looking at properties.  I spent hours in the evenings after work looking at properties online.  Then, a couple of weeks ago, Heidi and I went back to seriously consider some properties.  The goal was to see what was there and if we found something to pull the trigger, and if not we would wait until next spring.  We had a carefully laid out plan to really consider a broad range of options.

We found our dream on the very first property we visited.  So much for carefully laid out plans.

So, just like that, in the space of two weeks, we have agreed to a price on the Montana land and have our house in Utah up for sale.  Funny what a difference a couple of weeks can make.

Now we are facing complete uncertainty about where we will live for the next however long it takes to build a house.  We’ve even considered buying a travel trailer and living on the property through the winter.  Who knows?  It is an adventure waiting to happen.

When we moved back to Utah 11 years ago, I swore that we would never move again.  We had moved eight times over the course of nine years.  But, over the past 6 months I have felt strongly that a change is needed.  I don’t know the reason, but I am confident it is the right thing for our family.

So, why Montana?  Everybody asks me that.  I have a few reasons and I’m sure Heidi has hers.  First of all, I’ve just had it with he unchecked growth in Utah County and Utah in general and the free-for-all building of the little city we’ve called home these past 11 years.  It is out of control.  Montana is one of the last frontiers of the west and I like the rural feel.  It has not yet succumbed to the building frenzy that has plagued other parts of the west like Las Vegas and Phoenix.  There is a wildness about the state.  It has a frontier feel to it and I like the good, decent, hard-working, down-to-earth people there.  My travels allow me to have a taste of the big city, but retreat to the calm of the country so Montana seems like a good fit.  It doesn’t hurt that western Montana is so beautiful and the outdoor possibilities are endless.  Being so close to nature is really appealing to me and to be able to commune with God through his creations on a daily basis calls to me!

I love my Mormon faith, but I’ve had enough of the bubble.   Utah is just a hard place to be Mormon and have some individuality.  I look forward to enjoying the tenets of my faith without the inevitable bubble mentality that exists when everyone on your street shares the same faith.  I’m looking forward to some diversity of thought and people.

I am excited for my children because they can actually attend a school where they will get some individualized attention.  Madison’s High School graduating class would have around 1,200 kids if she were to stay in Utah.  That’s insane!  I want her to have opportunities to play sports, to participate in drama and dance without having to compete with a thousand other kids.  Student to teacher ratios are 9:1 in Montana compared to the 30:1 in Utah.  Madison will probably have around 110 kids in her high school class.  That’s a better number!

The hard part will be leaving family and friends.  This is by far the biggest negative with moving.  When you have stayed in a place for 11 years, you forge some amazing friendships.  I love our little neighborhood and will greatly miss the fabulous people there.  For this reason, I am happy for the social networks of the modern age that allows us to stay close to people that have touched our lives. And our Montana door will always be open to our friends and family!  Just visit at your own risk – Montana has a way of stealing your heart.

Both my mother and mother-in-law are not happy with us.  My mom has all her kids in one general area and now I’m ruining that.  But, my circumstances will allow us to visit often, so I’m not too worried about this.  That’s the good thing about mothers – that they love you anyway.

So, keep checking back.  I’ll keep you posted on our progress.

Exploring Laos…

I recently had the pleasure of spending a few days in Laos.  My purpose in going was to attend a conference in Vientiane, Laos’ capital.  In accordance with said conference, I also took advantage of being there to visit the massive Xayaburi hydroelectric scheme being built on the Mekong River halfway between Vientiane and Luang Prabang.  I am chasing a large project for our company at that site and a visit to the site would help move things along.  It always makes a big difference to see a project site in person.

I’ve had this trip scheduled for quite some time and I must admit that is was dreading the trip a bit.  I assumed that Vientiane was a poor site for a conference and all I knew about Laos was that it was a backward communist country in extreme poverty.  I could not have been more wrong.

Laos

Laos is a one party socialist republic sandwiched between Myanmar, China, Vietnam and Thailand in the Indochina region.  The country is not a big one, with a population of around 7 million people.  It is run by a politburo dominated by military generals, but seemed to be well run and organized.  I felt very safe there and while there were communist and Marxists flags everywhere, I didn’t really get a sense that the government was overbearing in anyway.

Vientiane

I found Vientiane to be a sleepy little capital.  Located right on the banks of the Mekong, Vientiane isn’t really much to look at.  There are some beautiful buddhist temples and a couple of famous landmarks, but other than that it is really quite unremarkable.  However, the city is clean and in comparison to other Asian capitals, the traffic was tolerable.  The capital is dominated by government buildings, all decked out in the Laotian and communist flag.  There seems to be significant investment in the city with several large high rise buildings and large worldwide hotel chains under construction.

Luang Prabang

The real jewel of Laos are the villages.  I had a chance to visit one in Luang Prabang.  It is the historical capital of Laos and today is a UNESCO world heritage protected city.  It is in a beautiful setting in a forested area located right on the banks of the Mekong River.  A small town of about 50,000 people, it has several very nice hotels and a thriving tourist trade.  Among its treasures is the Wat Xien Thong temple constructed in the 16th century and the formal royal palace of the Laotian kings.  The city is charming and intimate without the hustle and bustle of Vientiane.  It has one main street that sees the bulk of tourists and a hill (Mt. Phousi) in the middle of town that commands a beautiful 360 degree views of the the town and its surroundings.  There are several great restaurants in town and a wonderful little night market targeted at the tourists.

People

I found the people to be incredible friendly and polite.  They seem kind and peaceful.  Although my impression is that the vast majority of the people are poor, I did not witness the abject poverty of people living in shanty towns and begging for food as I have in India and parts of Africa.  However, the best buildings and homes were those of the bureaucrats and communist party leaders.  The Laotion diet is pretty simple:  fish, meat, rice and vegetables.  I had some good dishes, albeit simple ones.  Incidentally, I had one of the best pizzas I ever had at a little pizza place in Luang Prabang owned and operated by a Canadian.

Summary

Overall, I rather enjoyed this trip.  I would definitely come back for a visit and this trip has given me the desire to explore more of Laos as well as Thailand and Vietnam.

8 Daily Habits That Build Confidence

A couple weeks ago, I put up a blog post about a book I had recently read.  In that entry I stated the following:  “When our daily habits and  energy are focused on action in the present time it leads to success, which builds confidence.  Confidence is a fear killer.”  A couple of readers responded, asking about what I meant by ” daily habits.”

What you are about to read are habits that I have developed that help me to build confidence in myself.  I do not presume to be an expert on how best to manage your life.  Nor is this intended to be a brag post detailing how amazing I am at life management.  Furthermore, I don’t purport to be some life management guru a la Stephen Covey.   Instead, this is simply a list of habits that I have incorporated into my life that have helped me build confidence in myself.  Take what you want from this and discard the rest.

Confidence is not arrogance.  Many people confuse the two.  Arrogance is an attitude that says, “I am good and you are inferior.”  Confidence is the ability to say – and truly believe – that, “I am good.”   Confidence kills fear and its offspring, anxiety, depression and  hopelessness because one believes deeply in his or her ability to confront and manage the difficulties and challenges of life.

Much of what drives my habits are things I have learned over the course of my life.  I haven’t always done these things.  But, as I have read, studied and experimented I have found habits that have  helped me to find success in my career, personal pursuits and my family life.  I am not perfect in these habits, though generally I do them consistently.  I have picked up many things from many sources, including books and conversations with others.

Habits lead to confidence because they allow us to have daily victories.  We become depressed and hopeless when we do not feel we have control over our lives.  Good daily habits teach us that we can control our lives and  once we see ourselves have victories each and every day, the confidence builds, self-belief grows and you banish  negative feelings and thoughts that inhibit growth.

  1.  Wake Up Early and Let the Light In

My alarm goes off at 5:30am and I hit the snooze a couple of times, but I’m usually up by 6:00.  The first thing that I do is to pull out the scriptures and study the word of God.  The light I am referring to is not the sun, but the light of knowledge and truth.  If you’re not a Christian or much of a religious person, then study something else that adds value and brings light into your soul.  There are many sources of truth and light.  For me, it is so crucial to kick off the day in this manner because it sets the tone for the rest of the day.  It is also one of the most positive things I can do all day.

2.  Prayer/Meditation

Following scripture study, I take time to think and ponder about what I have read, to be still and pray.  I like the mornings because it is so quiet  and peaceful and lends itself to deep thinking and prayer.  Its a great time for inspiration.  Sometimes I fall asleep in the middle of a good meditation session because it is so relaxing, but most of the time it allows me to begin the day on a positive, calm note.  It is important to have time each day to pray and think and search for inspiration.

3.  Daily Plan

Every morning before beginning my work I take a look at the day ahead.   It is at this time that I determine what are the priorities for the day.  I have found that I can only really accomplish 3-5 major tasks each day.  Trying to plan for more than that is setting yourself up for failure.  Be honest about what you can truly accomplish.  I feel good about myself when I can tick off a list and when I put too much on my plate, it just makes for stress.  I think of my day in terms of my roles, in other words as an employee, husband/father and home owner, etc..  I have a list of to-do items for today, this week and this month and I keep the list to one page.  I print it out and use it through the day to jot down notes and such.  I have tried doing it electronically, but I have always preferred good old fashioned paper.

I don’t get caught up too much in planning for the future, especially setting long term goals.  Short term goals are much easier to achieve and you have much greater control over the immediate future than over what happens six months from now.  I prefer to have an “end in mind”, rather than a fixed goal.  Perhaps they are one and the same, but I try not to set fixed goals that are too specific way out in the future.  It just causes anxiety and stress, especially when you can’t control the future.

4.  Daily Learn

I take time each day to learn something new.  At the present time I am trying to hone my Portuguese skills, so on some days I take 30 mins to practice that language.  Somedays I will research a particular topic or read from a magazine or trade publication.  The point is, that I feel the need to make sure I am filling my mind with knowledge and challenging myself to do something new.  Blogging is one of those items because I often have to do a lot of learning before posting.  Hobbies can also fit in here.  When you learn, you open your mind to new worlds and possibilities and confidence is the result because you are not limited by ignorance.  Knowledge opens the door of opportunity.

5.  Daily Read

I take time each day to read.  I’m always reading something.  My biggest problem sometimes is that I will have 3-4 different books started at one time.  I focus on biographies, history or self-improvement type books. I love to read about famous and successful people in history because I always learn something about what made them successful that helps me in my life.  However, sometimes a good fiction book, like a good movie,  can help to relax and detox.  I can’t emphasize enough the importance of reading.  If you’re not reading, you’re not learning, in my humble opinion.

6.  Daily Exercise

Balance is key in life and you can’t just exercise the brain.  Exercising the body is critically important.  This statement is backed up by a host of great research.  But, notwithstanding the research, I personally can vouch for the importance of exercise.  I choose to exercise in the late afternoon.  I tried doing it in the morning, but it requires that I get up even earlier and hey, I’m weak and a 4:30 am wake up call is just asking too much.

Exercise for me is like a microcosm of life.  Sometimes it hurts while you’re doing it and you have to push the mind to disregard the body, which is screaming at you to give up.  Then, when you complete a rigorous workout, you have the personal satisfaction of knowing you overcame the body and its pain and then once the endorphins kick in you feel like a million bucks.  I like the way I feel after a good workout and I notice that I sleep much better at night, too.

Exercise builds endurance.  When you can endure the pain of a workout, you begin to build a toolbox that gives you the instruments to endure the mental and physcological challenges that life can bring.  Exercise gives you the confidence to believe in your ability to endure the pain and overcome the negative messages that the mind sometimes gives you.

7.  Daily Review

To me, this is one of the most important habits that can build confidence.  I struggle the most with this, but mostly because I’m often lazy and I am too tired at the end of the day to want to do it.  However, keeping a journal is a healthy habit.  I try to keep a daily journal, making an entry at the close of each day.  This entry should not simply be a recap of the day’s events or a passive account of the weather, but it should serve as a time of reflection about what went well and what you can improve.  This should be a positive time where you note your victories, not a beat-yourself-up session.  Along with your victories, you should note the areas where improvement can be made and how you plan to improve.  When you do this, you begin to see how much you truly accomplished and how much good you  are cable of and then your confidence grows.  Journal writing teaches you to be accountable to yourself for how you spent your time.

To be most effective in this habit, you should ponder the days events with questions like, “how has someone blessed my life today?, or “how has God’s hand been in my life today.”  When we stop and count our blessings and consider our efforts, we can see the good things stacking up and it gives us hope.

8.  Remind Yourself of Who You Really Are

Throughout the day it is important to remind yourself of who you are.  Maybe this seems like an odd concept to you, but I feel that if we have an understanding of who we really are, we will rise to that standard.  For example, when I think if who I am, I think of the fact that I am a son of God, a husband to a great wife and a father to wonderful kids, etc.  This standard reminds me that I have something to live for and something to live up to and my decision making is therefore in line with that standard.

Anyway, these are my daily habits that I employ to help me deal with this crazy journey we call life.  I find that these steps provide me with  the tools to be happy with who I am striving to become.  As a result, I can be confident in myself because these habits lead to little victories each day.  Day after day, they add up and you start to believe that you can accomplish anything and manage life’s challenges.

I would love to hear about the habits that work for you.  Please feel free to share.

 

Why the Gun Control Debate is a Waste of Energy

If you turn on news these days and watch it regularly for any amount of time, you would likely come away with two conclusions about life in America.  Those conclusions would probably be:  1.  Deaths by gun are rampant and out of control and 2. Deaths by terrorists are at an all time high.  You will likely come away fearful or apprehensive about your safety and the future of our country.

Every time that I hear of a mass shooting it saddens me greatly.  What a horrific, cowardly act for someone to indiscriminately shoot other human beings and take their lives.  It is senseless and I will never quite understand the sickness, hatred and/or desperation that drives a human being to so ruthlessly take the life of another.

The news coverage following these events is hard to watch.  The bias of the different media organizations comes through as do the political agendas of so many who have that platform at their disposal.  Politicians unashamadley  use the victims to push a political agenda.  Unfortunately, these platforms and agendas are often abused by complete fabrications, half truths and fear mongering with the ultimate goal of selling copies of a given publication, thereby driving up TV ratings or passing legislation.

My attitude about these shootings is almost always the same.  I think of what a great tragedy they are and then ponder over how can we as a society help those who would act in such a manner.  There must be constructive ways to help avoid such ruthless and disturbing actions.  I think my reaction is similar to a lot of Americans.  Yet, when you listen to the talking heads of radio and TV, it is almost always the same.  It always gets boiled down to a miserably inaccurate and overly emotional debate about the place of guns in American society.  Too many of us blindly swallow what the news media tells us without really making the effort to challenge and prove out what we are hearing.

The Truth About Deaths by Guns

When you take a step back and look at the statistics of deaths by cause in America, it paints a drastically different picture than that portrayed by journalists and the news media outlets.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) publishes annual statistics detailing the cause of death in Amerca each year.  For purposes of this blog entry, I will use the statistics of 2012, which can be found on the CDC’s website (www.cdc.gov).  In 2012, nearly 50% of all deaths in the United States were caused by heart disease (23.5%) and cancer (22.5%) for a total of 1.2 million deaths between the two causes.  After that the percentages drop dramatically and includes the next two highest causes:  respiratory diseases (5.7%) and then accidents or unintentional injuries (5.0%).  Death by firearms, of which mass shootings are included, totaled  33,636 of which about 64% (http://www.newsweek.com/2015/10/02/americas-biggest-gun-problem-suicide-374547.html) were ruled suicides.  That leaves us with around 12,000 deaths that were homicides by firearm.  This number would place death by firearm well below 15th place on the list of causes of death among Americans.  Suicide by firearm incidentally would rank squarely at the 15th place of causes of death.  Ironically, when the media talks about the suicide issue in America, guns are hardly ever pegged as the main problem, but rather they cite things such as “clinical depression, financial woes and drug problems”.

However, when you look at the top 15 news stories of 2012 (http://www.people-press.org/2012/12/20/timeline-top-news-stories-of-2012/), you will find extensive coverage of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting, the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, the terrorist attack in Benghazi and the Trayvon Martin shooting.  Those four stories represented 26% of the top news stories for 2012.  It seems to me to be far out of proportion given the actual statistics of deaths by terrorism and gunfire, each cause respectively well below 5% of total deaths.  So, given these cold, hard facts, why is it that we spend so much time and energy talking and debating about gun control when statistically speaking, it does not appear to be a problem worth the energy?  Really, if we were honest with ourselves, the leading news stories each night and the debates in the public square and Congress ought to be how we can reduce deaths by heart attack and cancer, which are gigantic problems, statistically speaking.  You have far greater odds of dying from falling down the stairs than of being killed by gunfire (http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2013/02/daily-chart-7?fsrc=scn/tw/te/dc/dangerofdeath).

Now, lest you accuse me of being an insensitive jerk, my argument is not to say that we shouldn’t do anything to try and reduce homicides by gunfire, instead my argument is that we are allowing ourselves to be driven into a debate that could potentially result in limited personal freedoms by the sensationalistic news media that is fear-mongering its agenda right into your life.  I’m simply saying that we should stand back from the ledge of irrational fear and examine the problem for what it really is:  not much of a problem at all.  Statistically speaking, there are much bigger problems in America that deserve our attention and energy.

The political left loves to indulge in the emotional, heart-string-tugging, tear-jerk anecdotal stories to make its argument about taking guns away or severely restricting their use by citizens.  The political right uses fantastically ridiculous arguments such as that armed citizens reduce crime, that more guns means less crime and that if you register your gun it is only so the government has a list of gun owners so that they know who you are when the time comes to confiscate your gun.  In my opinion, given the aforementioned cited statistics, it is just as ridiculous to make an argument that you need to carry a gun for your protection as it is to say that confiscating guns will result in greater public safety.

The reality is that there are more guns than ever  in America and yet gun violence has dropped dramatically after 1990 and has remained relatively stable for the last 15 years or so (http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2015/08/graphics-americas-guns).  So, I think it reasonable to conclude that no amount of laws or lack of laws seems to be contributing to much of a change in the rate of gun deaths.  Deaths by gun violence is not even a blip on the radar of death causes.  Yet in spite of this, we continue to beat the proverbial dead horse, using ridiculous emotional and hyperbolic arguments to defend our positions.  It is energy that could be better used to solve a whole host of other, more pressing and real national problems.

Truth About Death by Terrorists

The same logic applies when considering the current state of threat from terrorist organizations.  For the sake of consistency, I will use statistics for 2012 to make a similar point regarding deaths by terrorists.  In 2012, according to CNN, the total American deaths by terrorist were 18.  Yes, that number is correct.  Since September 11, 2001 (an outlier year), the number of terrorist caused deaths has declined and remained fairly consistent year after year (http://www.cnn.com/2015/10/02/us/oregon-shooting-terrorism-gun-violence/).  Yet, that statistic probably surprises you given the inflated amount of news time and political speech spent on the horrors of ISIS and other terrorist organizations.  The Atlantic Magazine reported that “a comparable number of Americans are crushed to death by their televisions or furniture each year (http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/06/americans-are-as-likely-to-be-killed-by-their-own-furniture-as-by-terrorism/258156/).  It makes you wonder why we spend so much time, energy and  American resources into fighting terrorism, which we do it rather ineffectively, in my opinon.

There is no doubt in my mind that ISIS and other terrorist organizations constitute a genuine treat to America, its people and interests.  We certainly can’t ignore the threat.  However, I wonder how much better off we would be if we avoided inciting hatred in a relative handful of religious extremist nut-jobs by not meddling in parts of the world we should avoid in the first place.  Does the notorious threat levels that our government issue help us or hurt us?  How much more helpful to the American physche would  it be if the news media placed the terrorist threat in the appropriate context?

It is very easy to point the finger at the news media, though in my opinion they do shoulder a large portion of the blame.  Yet we as consumers of the media readily fall prey to our intrinsic need to rubber-neck at the traffic accident.  We want the salacious, gory and sensational stories.  The fact that Mr. Robinson died of a heart attack yesterday morning doesn’t do it for us.  We are the ones that look to our government with irrational fears and beg them, at the expense of our own personal freedoms,  to protect us from a statistically improbable event.  We don’t watch the news unless something crazy is occurring.  The media knows this better than anyone and so do politicians, ever looking for an excuse to increase their own power base.  Ultimately, it is our fault, for we feed the beast through our inability to do a little homework and think for ourselves.

It is easy to get caught up in the tidal wave of fear and hopelessness that the media, especially the 24 hour cable news stations, who consistently and irresponsibly beat an incessant drumbeat of fear and sensationalism to drive up ratings.  My challenge and the point of this blog entry, is that no matter your political position, to just take a breath and chill.  Think things through and see the bias of others and look to the facts.  The probabilities of you dying by gunshot or terrorist bomb are so ridiculously low that it is pointless to worry or fret over it, much less willingly surrender your freedom because of it.