Monday, October 29, 2007

The highest form of flattery

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When I was growing up I had written a story. It was a story of which I was incredibly proud. I had shared this story with my little brother, Yancy. A few weeks later my little brother was very excited because a short story he had written won a writing contest and would be included in a publication at his elementary school. It wasn’t long before the stapled-together booklet came home with my brother’s short story. As I read the first sentence I found myself my temper beginning to rise within me. The reason I was feeling angry was because the story my brother had written was my story. The one I had written and had told him about.

I immediately wanted justice for this “stealing” of my idea. Had I known what the word plagiarism was back then, I probably would have used that when I was stating my case to my mom who, after listening, responded with something like, “Jason, your little brother copied your idea because he looks up to you. You’re his big brother who wrote a story; he wanted to write a similar story…he did it because you’re his hero.”

I didn’t see how stealing my idea had anything to do with being a hero, and once-again tried to get my mom to see my side of the situation. After listening to me rant on yet again, my mom tried to get me to see what she was trying to say. I just didn’t get it. She ended the conversation with the following words, “Jason, imitation is the highest form of flattery, and one day you’ll understand it.”

Many years have flown since that day when my brother and I were both children, and I have to say that over these days I have finally came to understand what it was my mother meant. When we copy what someone else does, we are in essence saying, “I want to be like you,” or “You are somebody that I look up to.” By imitating them, we are sending a message, a message without any words.

I was recently absent for about a week from the classroom where I teach sixth grade. When I returned to school today, I was greeted with a surprise. You see, four days each week I dress up for school—usually with a white shirt and tie. Today was no exception. However, as I went outside this morning to retrieve my class, I noticed that one of my students, whom I’ll christen as “Chase,” was wearing a white shirt and tie as well.

At first I didn’t say anything to him about this, but instead just gave him a little wink and a smile as he walked into the school with the rest of his classmates. After the first few hours of classes I found myself on recess duty, walking the playground with Chase following in my wake. I stopped and began to talk to him, “Chase, you dressed up today. Could I ask you why?”

Chase smiled and said, “Well Mr. Z, you were gone all last week and I knew you were coming back today and, well, I just felt like dressing up.”

As Chase and I walked the playground together talking, I began to remember that time as a boy when my little brother had copied my story. I’ll admit I hadn’t thought about this story for quite some time. As I did I smiled. My mom was right when she’d said that one of the greatest compliments we can give to others is our emulation of them.

I spoke with Chase’s mother this evening. In our conversation she said that Chase had had worn his white shirt and tie for several of the days I was absent from school. She also said that last night he was adamant that his white shirt needed to be laundered; it needed to be clean in order for him to wear again at school. “I think he was trying to impress someone,” she said.

Impress someone he had.

When the end of the school day arrived I thanked Chase. I thanked him for the compliment he had given to me. There are no words more powerful this boy could have spoken to his teacher which could have sent a message greater than the one he did by simply coming to school wearing a white shirt and a tie.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Breakfast with Dad

Pin It October 27, 2007
The morning would bring with it an excitement like Christmas and yet sadness too, like the last day of school in the spring. This bittersweet feeling came all because of something my dad had whispered to Yancy and me late that night, “Tomorrow we go to the Hoot Owl.” This small statement, coupled with the fact that my flight took off later that afternoon, had me feeling a mix of emotion.
So, what's The Hoot Owl? Well, The Hoot Owl is one of those little restaurants which you can only seem to find in small towns. It’s the place which has been run by the same family for years and the menu doesn’t ever seem to change…it’s like stepping back in time to a place that never seems to age, no matter how much I do.
On Saturday morning I was the first awake, and I carefully awoke my brother and dad. I felt like I did when I was a kid…trying so hard to be so quiet on Christmas morning, and yet wanting to be loud so we could get things rolling. It didn’t take long before the two of them were wide awake and we slipped off into the early morning mist and shadows which still covered the sleepy neighborhood on Red Clover Drive.
As we drove to The Hoot Owl the sun slowly broke into life, rising ever so leisurely with its first rays of morning reaching over the mountains to linger on the treetops, orange and yellow. We parked in the dirt lot next door and made our way to the brightly-lit restaurant which greeted us not only with warmth from the chilly October air, but a bundle of smells which all spelled breakfast.
Years ago my dad used to joke with us, telling us that each of the flies which always buzzed about this cafĂ© all had names, and were personally trained by the family, being kept in little cages at night and released every morning to greet the customers. Though the thought of flies in a restaurant may sound nauseating, this is just one of the small things about this little restaurant which gives it a feeling of home. I’m sure that a part of this sentiment is due to the fact that it is a place that I’ve only been to with my dad before, and no matter how old we get we hold on to traditions—even those which have only been in existence for a few years.
My dad, my brother, and I sat there and talked over our steaming plates of breakfast. We didn’t necessarily discuss anything which was life-changing, or anything which was incredibly profound…we just talked. Many moments I just listened to what was being said. Amidst spills of water and maple syrup, laughter and deep thought, and friendly greetings from other people my dad and brother knew, we had the opportunity spend a last little while together before I left for Utah…this is something which doesn’t seem to happen near enough with my dad.
As we walked outside once-again into the chilly October morning, we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. As I climbed into the rental car, fired up the engine, and began the two-hour drive to the Spokane Airport, I thought of how fortunate I was to have a family who cares about me, and one I care about back. Already in my mind I was anticipating breakfast at some future time again with my dad and brother at The Hoot Owl.

It could always be worse

Pin It Did you ever have one of those times when you were feeling bad for yourself and then saw someone who was worse off than you? That’s exactly what happened to me tonight…I was walking along the train tracks and had crossed over the river on the trestle to take a few photos. When I was on my way back I noticed a tent down near the river amongst the bushes and trees…hidden away from the people driving on the road just to the other side of the railroad tracks.

As I looked down at this man who was calling this place home, I suddenly felt very fortunate and blessed in my life. Yes, I may have things in my time here on Earth which aren’t the greatest, but there is always someone else who has it harder than I do. I do need to count my blessings…

Small town service with a smile

Pin It A small town has so much less than a big city…the movie theater only recently got the movies which left the big cities weeks ago, the gas is usually $ .10 more expensive per gallon, and the public library—the place where you finally managed to find wireless Internet service—closes at 5:00 PM, making it incredibly difficult to get online for any lengthy period of time. However, a small town such as Sandpoint has what I like to think of as small town service.
An example of this service started out on Wednesday morning. You see, I went to Yoke’s grocery store in order to get a maple bar for breakfast. As I looked at the donuts, I saw some reddish-colored fritters and I wondered to myself if they were raspberry or cherry. I just had to ask…after all, I love raspberry fritters. Melissa, the employee working in the bakery, informed me that they only made cherry and apple fitters. Oh well, I could always get a raspberry one when I came back home, right? Melissa gave me a smile and asked if I had wanted raspberry. I told her that I was fine but she insistent and said, “I’ll tell you what, we’ll make some raspberry fritters tomorrow, okay? Isn’t that right, Dave?” She called over to the man who was working with her.
Dave, the baker, said that they would have one raspberry fritter especially for me the next day.
I hadn’t planned on going back the next morning, but I was curious if they really were going to make raspberry fritters. I got up early and before my drive to the town of Chewelah, and I stopped in at Yoke’s. When I walked up to the bakery, Melissa saw me and broke into a smile as wide as Christmas. “I’ve got your raspberry fritter right here!” she called, handing me the donut she’d carefully been saving to the side. “We made a bunch this morning and they went like wildfire…I had to set yours aside so nobody else would get it.”
I couldn’t believe just how much effort these two people went to just to make sure that an out-of-town customer could have something he wanted. I was so impressed that I had to mention it to their manager, who was not greatly surprised at the extra mile his employees had gone. To him, it was something which was expected, but it was nice to hear the appreciation from customers.
As I walked out of Yoke’s that morning, I left with much more than a raspberry fritter, I left with the appreciation and knowledge of just what going the extra mile can do for someone else. Did their making a donut just for me change the world? Probably not. However, did it make a day of live a little bit more enjoyable? Absolutely.
Never underestimate what a seemingly tiny act of small town service can do for somebody else.

Friday, October 26, 2007


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I have tried to compose a blog several times now, and nothing seems to come. The only line I’ve had thus far is, “Life can change on a dime.” I think that Kathleen Kelly, Meg Ryan’s character in You’ve Got Mail, summed up how I am feeling perfectly when she said,

Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life. Well, not small, but circumscribed. And sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven't been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book [or saw in a movie], when shouldn't it be the other way around? I don't really want an answer. I just want to send this cosmic question out into the void. So goodnight, dear void.

That is it.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Desert Journal

Pin It My mom gave me this great desert journal. It is so great to have a place in which I can record the things I experience while out here in the area I love the most.

Giving Up

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(October 12, 2007)

It is really amazing what life teaches us through what we see around us. As I woke up this morning I was greeted by a beautiful day. I was up immediately and was taking some photographs when I found two trees, side-by-side.

One of these trees was alive and the other was dead. Both had gnarled bark and each was stooped, as if standing straight had been far too much. However, it looked as if one of them had just given up.

It amazes me that both of these trees took different pathways and is still with us, while the other is not.

Is this not a metaphor of life? That there are many around us still in the land of the living, but inside are “dead” because they’ve given up?

As I sit there and gaze at these two trees, I am faced with a daunting question...which of these two am I?

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The $100 photo (or music for the fish)

Pin It I took a drive up Provo Canyon today and found myself at Cascade Springs. What a truly glorious afternoon it was to be out enjoying the beauty of the world at this wonderful time of year. In fact, while up at the springs, I took quite a famous photo that is worth $100. Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering just how I was able to calculate the value of this fantastic photograph...right?

Well, make yourself comfortable because I will spin you a tale which will undoubtedly cause you to laugh, cry, and draw in your breath as you clutch the person next to you. Yes, it really is that good.
To answer your question, I need to let you know about a little thing know as economics. You see economics, or the study of goods and services, teaches us about something called “opportunity cost.” Opportunity Cost quite simply states that we cannot have everything we want because our wants are limitless, and the things we very often desire are scarce. When we “purchase” something, either with our money or our time, it comes at the cost of something else which we could have gotten/done instead. Say, for instance, I wanted to go to the movies to see “Hairspray” yet, I also wanted to make sure the kitchen and bathroom at my house were clean before I left for ComedySportz that night. Well, because my time is scarce, and I can’t “make” any more of it, I need to spend it on that which will do the greatest good, right? (By the way, the movie was awesome).
“So”, I can almost hear you ask, “Just what was the opportunity cost of this photo, Jason?”
Suffice it to say, the “cost” involved with my famous photo came at the price of something else…Now, before you start second-guessing and decide that I spent too much of my day there (which I had planned to do anyhow) I will just tell you. You see, I went to Cascade Springs fully intending to spend some of my time there, it was not a cost to me, however, what I did not expect to spend was this:

Now, there are undoubtedly some of you whose little brains are already working this one out. For those a little less adept I will explain. You see, I was on this arching bridge and looking up at the glorious view you saw previously in the top photo. I thought a much better depiction of the scene could only happen if I were to hold my camera right above the water and snap the photo from this vantage point.
The plan was beautiful—however not flawless—for as I leaned out over the water something slipped from my shirt pocket and fell with a splash into the crystalline water, flowing like liquid silver beneath me. It took only a split second to figure out what it was. I quickly placed my other valuables on the shore by the bank and returned to the bridge, leaning out over the side and feeling around under the rapidly-flowing water. The stream was ice-cold and as my fingertips floundered around mossy stones and watercress, I came up empty-handed.
An elderly couple was quite sympathetic of my plight as they had witnessed the entire tragic event from the shore. As I looked down into the quickly-flowing water and stabbed my hand in for another go, the elderly gentlemen (whom I will christen as “Rufus”) felt free to tell me something entirely obvious, “I saw something black slip out of your pocket...but I don’t see it anymore.”

Thanks, Grandpa Rufus…I couldn’t figure that one out all on my own.

I soon gave up my attempt, passing it all off with a laugh and wandered up the trail, after all, Rufus and this wife had wanted to use the bridge to get their picture taken by their son and I was in their way. As I walked along the trail alone and in complete silence, I was lost in thought...I was thinking of ways which I could reacquire my Mp3 player. Undoubtedly, rainbow trout were even now enjoying the sounds of Nickel Creek or had started listening to the 7th Harry Potter audio book...they probably wanted to know what was going to happen with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named just as much as I did. It was at this moment that I came up with my ingenious plan to get my player back…
I remembered a sign earlier on in my walk proudly proclaiming that 7,000,000 gallons of water flowed from Cascade Springs every day. Alright, since there are 24 hours in a day with 60 minutes to each, that would put you at 1,440 minutes per day. Multiply this by 60 seconds per minute and you’ve got 86,400 seconds. Now, divide seven million by this number and it gives you roughly 81 gallons of water flowing every second...however, since some of this must sink into the ground, and animals must drink a portion of it as well as some of it being lost back to the air through evaporation, I was probably only looking at about 70 gallons.
Whoa…70 gallons! When I think of gallons I always think of containers of milk…and that, my friend, is a lot of milk. I have a pretty good understanding of a gallon because I did a “gallon challenge” at a ward party awhile ago and I tried to drink a gallon of warm lemonade before any of the 9 other idiots did. It only took me about ¾ of the gallon before I began throwing it all up (along with dinner) but had to continue doing it anyway because all of my friends (as well as complete strangers) were cheering me on and chanting my name, however, that is another story. My point is…70 gallons a second is a LOT of water.
Alright, that means my first plan was not only ridiculous, but theoretically impossible as I had no way to divert 70 gallons of water for even one second…much less any way to soak it up. My second idea was much better and it was only a simple matter of logic to arrive at it. I didn’t have to block the water flow at all, but instead conduct an experiment which would allow for me to not only find my Mp3 player, but to prove that all of that junk I learned years ago in science when studying about aerodynamics could indeed come in handy.
All I had to do was to find a rock similar in weight and size to my Mp3 player, copy the trajectory and entry into the water exactly as it had fallen out of my pocket, watch where the rock landed, and I would know the exact location of my submerged musical gadget! Ah…I walked quicker, and as I did I congratulated myself for my sheer genius and brilliance!
Well, rocks are not all too plentiful in areas of water. Undoubtedly, there had been many children in this area for countless years who’d scoured the ground pretty thoroughly for rocks…since most of these were probably already in the brook, it took a little longer to find one than I’d originally anticipated. After a few minutes of searching I finally found one that would suit my purposes. I returned to the bridge with a smug grin, fully believing that I would retrieve my Mp3 player...and perhaps it wasn’t ruined after all but would work again once I had dried it out. Rufus’ wife—I’ll call her Agnes—had helpfully pointed out that cell phone batteries could be saved once they were submerged in water if you buried them under rice. Not that I had any rice with me, but I could try this out once I gotten home.

I very carefully took my stone and repeated the “fall” just as it had happened before. I watched carefully as the rock quickly sank into the water, not five inches downstream from its point of entry.
I quickly positioned myself on the bridge and reached down into the water yet again. I searched more thoroughly than I had done before. I also noticed several people who’d been walking down toward the bridge suddenly seemed to change their mind as wanting to cross over it…probably thinking I was lying there because I’d just crawled out from underneath it, like the trolls you always read about in fairy tales who lived under the bridge and collected tolls from unwary travelers.
Well, after successfully freezing both of my hands and scaring off a 10 year-old and his dog, I came up once-again empty handed. It was no use, my Mp3 player was officially MIA.
I walked back to my car, somewhat forlornly. I climbed inside and started the engine before I noticed what was on my windshield…

You have got to be kidding…
Well, I searched around for my National Parks Pass so I could flash that to the ranger and get out of there without paying the extra fee but it was no avail…I couldn’t find my pass at all…I must have taken it out of my car. Why? I don’t know…maybe I thought I’d be walking to a national park instead of driving. I dug around in my car for the $3 fee but the smallest bill I had on me was a fiver…there was no way I was going to give up two extra dollars when I figured that Forestry Service owed me a new Mp3 player anyhow!
Unfortunately, people just wouldn’t see it that way and if I said anything they’d probably have ticketed me for “littering” or something like that. I did, however, take quite a bit of pleasure in paying for my “visit” in small change.

Oh, and by the way, I was wrong with what I’d originally said…that picture is actually worth $103.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Just a thought

Pin It I suppose that there are times when each and every one of us wishes that we could just be abducted by aliens and have it all over with....Yet, I wonder if they’d immediately take us back to Earth when they realized just what it was they’d picked up. They’d undoubtedly become aware that they got far more than they’d originally bargained for.
Just a thought…
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