Friday, December 12, 2008

The Wilton Rose


So I learned how to make a rose out of icing today. It's both harder and easier than it looks. I wish I had a picture of the first one I tried to make. It looked like a cabbage. Now they just look more like carnations. That's all I really have to say about it.
P.S. The class I'm taking requires a specific design with only a small amount of flexibility so the nasty ugly rainbow one from earlier was not of my choosing. Even worse than that, however, was last week when they felt it needful to teach us how to make clowns...ugliest and scariest clown cake I've ever seen. Worse than you could probably imagine. The good thing is that the techniques we learn are applicable to other designs. So I guess there is that.

Learning from the mistakes of others

Like most married couples, Michelle and I talk about money a lot. A lot a lot, in fact. And with the financial crisis going on, I've come to a firm conclusion: If it had to happen, it couldn't have come at a better time for us.

Now, I don't mean to be insensitive to people that have lost their job. Frankly, I'm worried that things might not look a lot better in two years when I have to get another job. But I'm glad that we have been able to see all of this happen before we made some of the mistakes that people just a little further along in life than us have made.

A couple of years ago, I was having lunch with a smart friend who was getting a finance degree at BYU. We talked about people who were taking out mortgages on their home to invest in stocks or bonds (under the logic that the interest rate for the house was lower and tax-deductible). He said, "It's a terrible idea to pay off your house sooner than you have to." I asked him, "What if you lose your job later and can't make the mortgage payments?" His answer: "Yeah, that's the only drawback." Some drawback.

Note that this was a smart friend who actually studies finance at a school owned by a church that emphasizes frugality as though it were a sacrament. At the time, I didn't even think he was wrong. "Hey, maybe times have changed" I thought. Well, guess what? Staying out of debt (or at least borrowing carefully) is just as important as it ever was since time immemorial.

These are the lessons I've taken from recent events, either for my own sake or for my future kids:

1. Homes are a consumer good, not an investment.
If you are putting money in a retirement account, then 200,000 is twice as good as 100,000. That's because a retirement account is an investment (ostensibly). Homes aren't. Sure, you might get lucky and see the price go way up in a few years, but over the long haul, the value of homes typically move only at the inflation rate (you can look up the charts yourself if you don't believe me). If you didn't have to live in a home, there'd be no reason to buy one. When you buy a house, you're spending money, not investing it. So financially speaking, a $100,000 house purchase is twice as good as a $200,000 purchase. This sounds simple enough, but almost everyone forgot it, myself included. Thank goodness I didn't graduate three years ago when I might have felt the need to buy instead of rent.

2. Don't borrow to buy more education than you need.
I've been reading about lawyers making $45,000 a year with $150,000 in debt. Dodged a bullet on this one. I could have gone to a slightly higher ranked law school for about $20,000 a year more, probably $25,000 when you count urban living expenses. That's $75,000 more debt than I currently have, for a school that wouldn't have gotten me a better job than the one I have now. No thanks. (amazing to think it was a close call at the time). The correlary to this is as follows: If you have no plans to make good money someday, don't even think about taking tens of thousands in loans. Go to a state school or get a scholarship. If I had the debt I do now, but I were a Spanish teacher rather than a lawyer, I'd be sweating gallons right about now.

3. Paying off a loan is better than investing money.
Most financial advisers tell you to pay only the minimum on your subsidized student loans, because the interest rate is so low. Then you can invest what's left over. I think this is self-evidently wrong. I have a subsidized loan with a 7.5% interest rate. If I pay extra on that loan, that's a guaranteed 7.5% annual return on investment. Is there a bank or investment firm in the world that can guarantee a rate like that now? As soon as this hit me, we called our IRA and told them we would stop contributing for the time being.

4. If you don't need it, you aren't saving money by buying it at a discount.
When Michelle and I moved up here to Alaska, we considered buying an HDTV because, "we're out of school now, our TV is ancient, we'll be spending time indoors, and it's only $700 for a pretty good one...Hey, wait a second, don't these Flintstones vitamins we've been taking look suspiciously like stupid pills?" Luckily we thought better of it, and guess what? You don't need HDTV to enjoy "The Office". Does anyone really want to see Dwight Schrute's face in any greater detail?

Does anyone have thoughts on this? I think we make so many financial mistakes because everyone's afraid to talk about finances with people they trust. If so, some frank discussion is in order.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Reasons to be thankful for my wife on Thanksgiving

I know this is a belated theme, but I figured it was best to wait until we had some pictures from Thanksgiving. By the way, we went to two Thanksgiving dinners. This is us at the Gardener home (I'm the inebriated-looking fellow on the left. Will I ever look normal in a photo?).
1. She is beautiful (See pictures)
2. She knows how to make an incredible pumpkin chocolate cheesecake pie (yes, you read that correctly). It won the dessert contest at the first Thanksgiving dinner we went to. 3. She is always looking to improve herself. A couple of months ago she mentioned that she sometimes wished she had gone to culinary school instead of teaching, so that she could try making cakes professionally. I sort of casually mentioned that there are all kinds of teaching resources on cooking that she could use without actually going to culinary school.
Before I knew it, she was signed up for cake baking and decorating classes at the nearby Michaels store. The cake below is the VERY FIRST CAKE that she made. It was delicious. 4. She tries very hard not to laugh at me. Sometimes. Like when I can't go more than a couple feet without falling during my first stab at cross-country skiing (or any kind of skiing). This was the day after Thanksgiving, in a city park here in Anchorage.
5. She works two part-time jobs so that we can burn through our credit cards (the right way). This one paid for a good portion of our Euro trip, but it's a thing of the past.
6. She is perfect. Most of you knew that already.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Europe Photo Entry #11: Innsbruck

We took another day trip to Innsbruck, Austria, to go hiking in the Alps. This is one where, yet again, the pictures just don't do it justice. I repeatedly forced Michelle to sing "The Sound of Music." OK, so it was really me singing it. Don't tell anyone.



Michelle takes a drink next to some friendly cows in a mountain pasture. The people that own the farm have an outdoor restaurant with some mean grub and an oompa band. When the tubas started playing, all of the cows came over and stood at attention. I think it was their anthem.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Europe Photo Entry #10: Neuschwanstein

Neuschwanstein ("New Swan Castle") is a castle in the Bavarian Alps right on the border of Germany and Austria. It was built by a Bavarian king known as "Mad King Ludwig". Ludwig had an obsession with swans, and his castles are decorated everywhere with swans on the inside.

Perhaps more significantly, Neuschwanstein is, according to legend, Walt Disney's inspiration for Cinderella's castle at Disneyland. As you can see from the pictures, if that's not true, it may as well be. It's a stunning sight, and sits between a valley and a mountain range that are as pretty as any place on earth. This was probably a top-five day out of our month in Europe.






The Alps on one side...And the valley on the other.This is Hohenschwangau ("High Swan Something-or-other"), Ludwig's "other" swan castle (you can never have too many), which is right next to Neuschwanstein. It was his "hunting lodge".P.S. After looking at these photos, I'm amazed at how well they turned out. This is one of those places that's just too beautiful to screw up photographically.

UPDATE: Michelle and I were watching "The Great Escape" last night and Neuschwanstein is actually in the movie! How did I not notice this before? It's during the part where two of the escapees steal a Nazi fighter plane. Weird coinicidence.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Jack is Back

Apparently this is “pop culture” week on our blog.

Other than sports, there aren’t many TV shows I watch regularly. Basically just “The Office”, “24” and “The Biggest Loser” (Having lost 120 pounds myself, I’m transfixed by that show).
For those of you who watch the show, you know that “24” was horrible last season. Nothing made sense, and they forgot that the show is all about Jack Bauer killing terrorists without joy or regret, saving the world in the meantime.

Well, last night there was a two-hour movie as a prequel to the next season that starts in January. It was called “24: Redemption”. I thought that was a terrible name. While Jack may be “cursed” in the sense that he has to do all of the horrible things that no one else is able or willing to do, he doesn’t need to be “redeemed” for anything he’s done. He always does the right thing, even if the world hates him for it. Based on the name, I was worried that the show would turn Jack into this regretful shell of himself, apologizing to every middle-eastern dictator whose minions he has had the unfortunate need to kill.

I shouldn’t have worried. When Jack said to that loathsome U.N. weasel with the bad haircut, “Why don’t you go hide in the shelter with the OTHER children?”, I literally jumped out of my seat and yelped. If there has been a better put-down in any movie or TV show, I can’t think of it. If there were any justice in the world, the guy who wrote that line would win an Emmy, a Pulitzer, a Grammy (for the spoken-word album recorded by Kiefer Sutherland), a Congressional Medal of Honor and, most importantly, a Nobel Prize (it should be the Peace prize, but Literature works as well).

Oh, and Jack killed all of the African warlords, in case you were wondering.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Oh, Twilight

I realize that the majority of people who read this blog are Michelle’s friends, so I’m going to be careful in how I word this. I won’t be going to see “Twilight” with Michelle this week. She’s going with a friend, a woman, and that is as it should be. I’m not 100% against seeing a romantic movie with my wife, but it’s pretty obvious to me that “Twilight” is strictly a female phenomenon. Actually, “phenomenon” is the only way to describe it; it seems that every woman I know is obsessed with the books to an unseemly extent. It’s like their version of college football.

Indeed, I hear about it so much that I can basically piece together the plot without having read any of the books:

“Twilight”- In this book we are introduced to Bella, a highly intelligent, highly attractive high school girl who, like most such girls, considers herself above all those immature high school idiot guys. Along comes Edward. [Oh, the pretentiousness of that name! He could never go by “Ed” or “Eddie”, or even, to be unconventional, “Ward”. Nope, it’s “Edward”, as if he were some rich British exchange student, son of the 12th Earl of Saxony.]

Bella and Edward live in an appropriately gloomy town on the coast of Washington. Bella finds herself strangely attracted to Edward’s pasty white complexion and brooding countenance. She’s also stunned by his rock-hard body [Um, Honey, should you be reading that?]. They begin to date, fall in love, etc., but then Bella finds out that Edward is a vampire. No problem though; he only drinks the blood of animals. Just make sure to keep him away from your sanguine little Fluffy. Vampires are immortal, so Edward is actually like 150 years old or so. Not sure why he’s still in high school; maybe he didn’t want to graduate without a girlfriend.

Apparently there are other vampires who drink the blood of humans. Not only are they dangerous for regular folks, they also want to kill vampires like Edward who don’t. I’m not sure why this is. Can’t they just make fun of Edward like the rest of us make fun of vegetarians?

Even if the story didn’t have vampires, it would still be considered a “fantasy” book for the following reason: Bella wants to make out with Edward, but he is always slowing things down. Sure, this happens all the time. Then the Easter Bunny makes a dramatic entrance as he’s being chased by a hungry Sasquatch. OK, that second part didn’t happen, but the story wouldn’t be any less plausible if it had. Like I said, it’s a fantasy book. At each of these “romantic” scenes, the women readers swoon, thinking, “There really are men out there who love a woman without wanting to proceed too quickly to making out. How romantic.” When I was single, I thought it was enough that we Mormon boys weren’t trying to, well, break the Law of Chastity. The bar has now been raised.

“New Moon”- In the 2nd book, Bella proceeds to ruin a good thing by vacillating between Edward and a new guy named Jacob. Jacob is a werewolf, by the way. Apparently dating only one Halloween monster wasn’t “dangerous” enough for her. This is a watershed moment, as women readers are divided into “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob” camps. Jacob doesn’t treat Bella nearly as well as Edward does. The decision between them is nonetheless difficult for Bella because, well, she’s a girl and girls like jerks. [Every guy right now is nodding]. Hey, even Hitler had a girlfriend.

“Eclipse”- Not really sure what happens in this one, other than more consternation about whom Bella will pick. She eventually settles upon Edward, which makes her the first woman in history who, when faced with a decision between two “dangerous” guys, picks the one with less facial hair.

“Breaking Dawn”- Edward and Bella get married and Bella becomes pregnant with a vampire baby. Vampire babies are different from human babies because they are like a parasite which consumes the mother’s blood and makes her extremely ill. Oh wait, that’s just like a regular baby.

So there you have it; I’m not too worried about Michelle falling in love with Edward because I am at least as solicitous and protective of her as Edward is of Bella. I may not have his rock-hard abs, but at least Michelle hasn’t bought a “Mrs. Cullen” sign yet. [Ladies: you can purchase them from my friend Kristyn: http://lorinandkristyn.blogspot.com/2008/11/tattered-trunk-boutique.html. ] I don’t get it, and I never will. But then, Michelle’s not going to sit down for the Ohio State-Michigan game this Saturday either…

[Editor's Note: I thought Michelle would laugh at this post. She didn't. She said it was "kind of funny, I guess." Her rebuttal is forthcoming.]

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Europe Photo Entry #9: Dachau

The Dachau Nazi concentration camp is located just outside Munich. When we originally planned our trip, we considered going to P0land, which would have allowed us to see Auschwitz. The difference between Auschwitz and Dachau is that Auschwitz was an extermination camp specifically designed for killing. Dachau was begun as a work camp for Jews, POWs and political dissidents. It was the first large-scale concentration camp. Eventually a gas chamber was installed, but historians believe that it was never used. Nonetheless, at least 20,000 people died in Dachau due to disease and starvation, and over 200,000 were crammed into its barracks. In the end, it was good that we ended up going to Dachau instead because Michelle said she wasn't sure she could have handled Auschwitz. Arbeit Macht Frei: "Work Makes You Free"
The Exterior of the Gas Chamber
The interior of the gas chamber, labeled as a shower.
This is where the zyklon B pellets were poured in.

This shower head isn't even hooked up to a water pipe.
The Crematorium
Each row that you can see in this picture used to be a barracks. Bizarrely, many Soviet POWs stayed at the camp for years after the war ended because they didn't want to go back to Russia. The barracks were destroyed sometime in the 60s.A cell for higher profile political prisoners.
A table used for beatings.
A plaque for the American liberators.

Europe Photo Entry #8: Munich

We used Munich as a jumping-off point for various cities throughout Bavaria. We did spend a day seeing the sights of the city itself. My personal highlight was eating some delicious pretzels and sausage at the famous Hofbrauhaus beer hall. We only have video of that, though.

This is Michelle in front of the magnificent Nymphenburg Palace.


This is still on the palace grounds. The sign says not to let your dog drink from the trough, but there's no problem with people is there?
Here's Michelle in Munich's English Garden. Remember in "I am the Walrus", when John Lennon sings about "sitting in an English Garden, waiting for the sun"? Well, we had to see what the big deal was.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Get the Missionaries to the Obama Home, ASAP!!

In this interview transcript, I see an opening here for Mormon missionaries:

OBAMA:" …There’s the belief, certainly in some quarters, that people haven’t embraced Jesus Christ as their personal savior that they’re going to hell."

FALSANI: "You don’t believe that?"

OBAMA: "I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell. I can’t imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity. That’s just not part of my religious makeup."

Obviously, he's never heard of the doctrine of baptism for the dead.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Catching Up

Haven’t posted for awhile…

To catch you up on things, I should start by showing you this picture of my beautiful wife. You see, as we’ve been putting up pictures of our trip to Europe, both of us have mixed feelings because we weren’t in the best of shape at the time. Traveling/graduating/moving/staying with family/saying goodbye to family and friends/studying for the bar exam will do that to you. Also, Michelle wasn't able to do her hair while we were over there. Both of us have lost about 20 lbs since we came to Alaska, so I thought you ought to know just how good she looks now. I’m quite proud to be her husband. Speaking of the bar exam, I passed. It’s a minor miracle when you consider that in the two months before the exam, I 1) spent over a month’s worth of potential study time in Europe, 2) spent a few days back east for Logan’s wedding, 3) did not take a review class. I had a lot of doubters (i.e., “Aren’t you supposed to go on vacation AFTER the bar exam?”), and I was tempted to gloat over them. However, gloating is beneath me. Instead, I choose to gloat about being too good to gloat, which is morally superior. You see the difference, don’t you?

In other news, congrats to Nate for leaving the dating pool permanently next month, and congrats to Elder Sumpter for reentering it in a big way next week after two years of missionary toil. I wish I could be there for the un-retirement ceremony when they pull your jersey down from the rafters.

If you don’t want to hear anything more about the election, don’t bother reading the rest of this. Trust me, I understand.

First, I’m proud that our country has come a long way, in a very short time, from Jim Crow to electing a black man as president. In fact, I dare say that this is the only non-black-majority country where this would be possible at the present time. I wish it weren’t quite such a big deal, though. Everyone’s been patting America on the head as if it were some emotionally disturbed child who had managed to go an entire day without throwing a rock at his teacher’s head. My point is, I think America’s been ready for a black president for a while now. Does anyone remember the mid-90’s when something like 70% of everybody said they would vote for Colin Powell if he chose to run? So by all means, let’s be proud of country, but let’s not pretend that we came out of Apartheid last week. Obama’s victory has far more in common with Bill Clinton’s or even George Bush’s election than it does with Nelson Mandela’s (and we should be grateful for that).

Second, I would encourage anyone who’s really distraught over this election to calm down a bit. Of all the elections in my lifetime, this one had the fewest real differences between the candidates. On economic stuff, McCain and Obama are basically from the same Republicrat Party which believes that Government Can Solve All Your Problems If We Just All Work Together. I hope that someday a titanic, Reaganesque hero will raise his mighty sword to smite the Socialist hordes that would turn us into a Macrocosmic Canada. John McCain was never going to be that guy. On social issues, Obama may be pro-abortion, but when did you ever hear McCain address abortion? We do know that McCain is pro-marriage, since he’s already had two of them (bah-dum-CHING!). And when it comes to the war, I simply refuse to believe that Obama is prepared to surrender in an Iraq War that we are currently winning. Obama is a smart guy, and I don’t think he’s going to turn the Democrats into the “surrender at all costs” party for another generation.

Now that there is a liberal in the White House, liberals, and the media in particular, will begin to talk about how we have to finish the job, defeat our enemy’s, etc. They will pretend that they have always supported the mission of our troops, just as the media in 1984 said, “We have always been at war with Eastasia.” It’s infuriating, but it also might be just what the country needs.

Friday, November 7, 2008

My Vacuum...

So I'm currently lacking a healthy and stable relationship with our vacuum. It doesn't pick anything up. I end up going back over it as a "human vacuum" doing what it should have done. In the past, vacuuming has been the chore I enjoy the most and I love the way the carpet looks afterwards. I need help. I need a vacuum I can rely on. One that will be there day in and day out to do what it's asked to do: suck up trash. Does anyone have a vacuum that they are passionate about? I welcome all thoughts.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Advice to New Americans

One of the surprise perks of my new job is that I was given the opportunity to speak at a naturalization ceremony this past Friday. There were probably 40 people sworn in as citizens, from at least 25 different countries (some would blow your mind). You never saw a group of people so proud to be Americans. Here is the speech that I gave:


First of all, I want to say congratulations to all of you. Today is the first day of your life as citizens of the United States of America. I am humbled to speak to you today for a couple of reasons. One is my age; most of you are older and certainly wiser than I am, so I’m hesitant to stand here and give advice.

The other reason I’m humbled is that those of you who will be sworn in as citizens today have made the conscious decision to become Americans. I’m very proud to be American. However, I was born American, so I really had no say in the matter. Those women who sang here a few minutes ago used a line that I liked; they said, “America, land of my choice.” America really is the land of your choice in a very literal sense. I think one of the great tragedies of our day is that many Americans, born and raised here, have no concept of how blessed they are to be part of this country. I wonder how many of my fellow Americans who were born and raised in this country could pass the multiple-choice test that they gave to you. (Laughter). The very fact that you are here today, by your own will and choice, shows that you understand better than most what a great country this is.

In June, my wife and I visited Europe. It was my first time leaving my home country. It was a wonderful trip, and there were several events that happened while we were there that made me realize just how different America is from other countries. I only have time to discuss three of them today. The first occurrence was in Hungary. In most countries of Europe, especially at tourist sites, if you can’t speak the native language they’ll immediately speak to you in English because that is the most popular second language. In Hungary, however, people would speak to us in Hungarian, and when we didn’t understand, they would speak to us in German. One lifeguard at a pool we visited tried to speak in Hungarian, then German, and then about five other languages I didn’t recognized. He was a very multilingual lifeguard, but he didn’t speak English. Finally, I asked him “English?” He looked at me and asked, “America?” I nodded yes and he said “Maaaaamaa mia!” (Laughter). I have no idea what he meant by that exclamation, maybe he doesn’t like Americans, but when he said, “Espanol?” our problem was solved because I do speak Spanish.

The lesson I took from that experience is that an American can look like a Hungarian, a German, an Englishman, a Spaniard, a Russian, an African, an Asian, or a Latin American. Americans come from all those places. There is an American people, but there is no uniquely American race. If I were to look at each one of you individually, I would have no idea where you were from. But seeing you all here together today, I know that there is only one country that could possibly be home to every one of you.

Another experience in Germany illustrated much the same point. How many of you are soccer or “football” fans? Well, entirely by accident, we happened to visit Europe during the Euro Cup, the European Soccer Championships. It was a very big deal over there. In fact, while we were in Germany, the Germans and the Turks met in the semifinal match. It wasn’t a surprise that Germany was there, but the Turks were a big surprise. Some of you may already know this, but there are many, many Turkish immigrants in Germany. The day after Turkey won its quarterfinal game, which matched it up with Germany, we were visiting a small German village when out of nowhere there came a huge parade of hundreds of Turkish men and boys banging drums, dancing, and carrying Turkish flags. What I noticed is that you had men of every age, from small boys to very old men, walking in this parade. Many of them, based on the way they interacted, were obviously fathers, sons, grandsons, and grandparents. And the thought occurred to me that many of these men had spent the majority of their lives in Germany. Certainly many of the small boys had been born there and had never been to Turkey. Yet they still thought of themselves as Turks.

The point is that throughout the world, being part of a country means more than just living there. There must be something else that unites you.

Those Turkish immigrants had something that united them. They had the same homeland, and most of them were of the same race and religion.

If there is no singular “American” race or religion, what unites us? If I might make a brief reference to current events, think of our two major presidential candidates this year. One of them, John McCain, was not born in the United States. He was born in Panama while his father was in the Navy. The other, Barack Obama, has a father who was not even American. Yet these are the two candidates for President of the United States. Being an American is more than just where you were born, and more than just who your parents are.

I submit to you that perhaps the most important thing that unites us is this. (holding up copy of Constitution). Can anyone guess what this document is? I heard a good answer over here; it’s the Constitution of the United States. It was adopted in 1787 and amended 27 times since then. It might seem strange for me to say that we can be united by a piece of paper. But the Constitution is more than that. It prescribes our system of government, with the checks and balances necessary to ensure that no one, not the president, not Congress, not even the majority of the people, is greater than the law. It guarantees that our rights as individuals will be preserved, even if the whole world is against us. It makes us “a government of laws, and not of men.”

Abraham Lincoln said that America is a nation “conceived in liberty”. What does he mean by that? It means America was born as a free country. England is a free country, as are France and Japan and many others. But these countries were not born free but rather as the private dominions of kings and emperors. Freedom in America, however, began with this nation’s founding. There literally never has been such a thing as a “United States of America” in which freedom and self-rule did not reign. Our country is effectively co-existent with this Constitution.

Now of course, as I mentioned, the Constitution is a piece of paper. A piece of paper can only bind us together if we abide by it. Let me cite an example. We’re here in a courthouse today. Most of the time, people end up in this courthouse because something has gone wrong. Often, what has happened is that two parties signed a contract and then one of them failed to honor that contract. In other words, they treated the contract as if it were merely a piece of paper; they felt no duty to abide by it.

Today, you swore an oath to defend this Constitution. If you want to live up to that oath and be true Americans, you must abide by the Constitution and defend it against those who refuse to honor it, and those enemies of America who seek to overturn it by force. I took this same oath when I began my work here with the court. There’s another very important group of people that takes such an oath; the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces.

That brings me to my third story about my trip to Europe. While we were there, we visited the Nazi work camp at Dachau, Germany, a place where hundreds of thousands of Jews, Allied prisoners and political dissidents suffered and tens of thousands died under unimaginable conditions. At the entrance to the camp, there are monuments to the American army units, the 42nd Infantry Division and the 20th Armored Division, that liberated the camp. As I stood there, I fought back tears as I thought of the American servicemen who risked their lives to bring the freedoms they enjoyed at home to strangers abroad.

Well, the members of our armed forces today are no less brave and no less honorable. They are the best of us. They risk their lives to protect us, and without them, the freedoms promised by this Constitution would be meaningless, just a worthless piece of paper. You cannot be truly American without honoring them.

Today you have been adopted into the American family. As part of that family, you receive the inheritance left to us by our Founding Fathers, and by those generations of Americans who have kept our nation free until this day. You have the duty to exercise those freedoms. So vote. Exercise your freedom of speech, your freedom of religion, and your freedom of conscience.
I would also add that if you want to be American, you should do the things that Americans do. Put the flag outside your home on patriotic holidays. When you hear the national anthem, put your hand over your heart. Go to a barbecue on the Fourth of July. Visit a monument or memorial on Memorial Day if you can. Read the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Learn about the history of your adopted country.

I doubt that I really need to tell you to do these things. Most of you have been living here for quite some time, and your love for this country can be seen in your faces. I wish that everyone I know could have watched each one of you introduce yourselves and tell us how you feel about this country. My heart leapt each time I heard one of you say “God Bless America”. You’ve showed me what a blessing it is to be American, and for that I thank you.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Alaska State Fair

So the Alaska state fair is a big deal around here. Everyone goes, as is shown by the absurd line. It's held in Palmer, which is about 45 minutes north of Anchorage.



(Editor's Note: I was trying to make the same face as Friar Tuck in that picture, so that's the explanation for my weird smile- Matthias)
Oh, my goodness. It cannot be told how divine the corn dogs at the fair were. By far, they were the best corn dogs I had ever tasted. Matthias liked them too, even though his face doesn't really show it.

Here was mine right before I took a gigantic bite.



One of the best parts of the fair was seeing the huge produce they're able to grow here because of all the sunlight hours. Check it out:


To the left of this head of lettuce, you can see a typical-sized head of lettuce.


And my personal favorite:
Never before have I seen a "giant puffball". What sort of dish does this particular piece of produce add to?
And if the food at the fair wasn't enough, we came home to have some of my birthday cake. I had to take a picture because it looked so fantastic. Some nice people from Matthias's work made it for me. I added the cream cheese icing to take it to a whole new level of deliciousness.

In conclusion, if you are ever planning on coming to Alaska to visit, coming during the summer when the state fair is going on is a great time to do it.