Monday, November 26, 2007

Happy Pumpkinween (and no neighbors!)

When we first moved to Ogden we found an awesome pumpkin patch in Harrisville, which is a still-quite-rural community northeast of Ogden. We have bought our Halloween pumpkins there for the three Halloweens we've been here and we love it. They have piles of pumpkins, good prices and the salespeople walk around with large cannon things that shoot puffs of air at people. It is hilarious to watch people get hit by the wind then freak out trying to find out where it came from, all the while everyone else is laughing at them. It's kind of like when you run into a spider web, as comic Brian Regan says, you're spazzing and no one else can see why!

So, we picked out our gourds and took them home for carving. I didn't know what to do, so I stabbed blade into the pumpkin and started twisting (maybe I've learned something from my police reporting ... for maximum stabby damage, plunge and twist!) Anyway, it obviously produced a circular hole. I did another one and liked the outcome. I proceeded around the pumpkin's face and ended up with a goofy grin and some big eyes. When lit, it turned into the Cheshire Cat! Way to go me!

Crystal carved her pumpkin the next day, on Halloween itself, and went with a more planned attack (she drew it out first) and used V-shaped holes for the eyes and nose, along with a big, fanged grin. We got some candles and let 'em rip. Brilliant!

We put them on our porch and were taking pictures when our neighbor opened the door to find out what was going on outside. We said "Hi," but he just kind of grunted, saw what we were doing and went back inside. Then, he turned on the porch light! I'm sure he knew we were trying to take pictures of the pumpkins while they were lit, and I guess he thought his porch light (right next to ours) would help us take better pictures. Obviously it didn't.

We were kind of frustrated at the time, but have no decided to let it slide because about a week later, our neighbors moved! They had lived in the townhouse next to ours for about a year. During that time they had one baby, two dogs (got rid of the chihuahua for a pit bull), four different live-in roommates (at least ... remember, they're married!), five smoke breaks - a day - outside our windows, dozens of incredibly audible through our walls fights.

The smoke was rude and obnoxious, but could be stopped by closing our windows. The cigarette butts and dog droppings were not picked up, and that was obnoxious, as well. The fighting, however, was the worst. First, we could not stop it from coming into our home and it was heart-breakingly surprising to hear the words they would use against each other. Horrible, hateful words that I would never even think of using for someone I truly despise, let alone the person I profess to love. We were woken up in the middle of the night a couple times when they decided to yell-it-out in the parking lot below our window at 3 a.m. There were several times when I feared for the physical safety of both of them (she got just as crazy as he did) and the poor baby.

Although it was only for the last month or so that they lived next door, Crystal discovered a great way to get them to cram it. She went to our piano and stared banging out hymns. I think the vigor with which she played was partly to overcome their loud yelling and partly to get out her frustration. What I loved about the hymn defense was that it not only quieted the neighbors, it brought the Spirit back into our home. We work hard to keep our home a happy, quiet, peaceful place and having someone else take that away is frustrating. I am grateful for the hymns and the power they have to help turn our thoughts back to good things.

On a related note to this, I showed up to Bishopric Meeting on Sunday morning and asked the bishop and first counselor who we had asked to speak in Sacrament Meeting. They looked at me with the same blank look I had when I asked myself the same question on the way to church. Ouch! We all started to panic, thinking, "We'd better get something for the meeting, or we're going to each end up speaking!" At least that's what I was thinking, I imagine they had the same thought. I suggested we ask some members of the ward to talk briefly about their favorite hymns then we could have the congregation sing them. We asked five people to do it (it happened to be the five people who showed up for Missionary Correlation meeting a few minutes later) and they all were happy to name their favorite hymn. It was wonderful to see how fast they came up with their hymn and how different the hymns were.

When sacrament meeting started and Brother Gunderson, the 1st Counselor, told everyone what we were doing for the meeting, the whole congregation immediately grabbed their hymnals and started paying extra attention. The personal testimonies and thoughts each person shared about their favorite hymn were all beautiful and the Spirit was very strong. I was touched at the eager participation of the people in the congregation; I didn't count a single person who was not singing. After the meeting, I leaned over to the bishop and told him I thought the program went well (which was not our fault, for sure, but the Lord's) and that we should think about making a similar program a Sunday-after-Thanksgiving tradition. He said, "I don't think it would hurt us to do this more often."

The hymns are beautiful. My favorite is I Need Thee Every Hour.

Crystal, My Biggest Mistake

Crystal got sick Thanksgiving night, not from turkey overdose, but from a combination viral/bacterial infection that attacked her with coughing, headaches, chills and a general malaise. On Friday morning, Jordan got up at 4:45 a.m. to go out to the stores, not to shop, but to cover it for the newspaper. See his video of the shopping adventure here. Crystal didn't get up until later and even then only had the energy to sit on the couch.

By Sunday, she was still having trouble talking without coughing (singing, as well, which made her sad that she didn't get to participate as much in our Sacrament Meeting see the Halloween entry). Because of this, she asked me to teach her Sunday School class. She teaches the 14- to 18-year-olds in our ward. They are a good group, but sometimes prefer to relax their grasp on their attention.

Well, I was trying to make the lesson, on 1 Peter in the New Testament, as exciting for them as I could. Crystal was sitting next to me, not talking much (she later told me she was fantasizing about lying on the floor and napping), and helping me keep the kids in check. So, I started to teach the class about Peter's statements about Christ and how He gives us a "lively hope." I asked them what "lively" meant to them, and one boy said he thought of "hyper," and I then asked them to think about being hyper and excited about the gospel. Then I told them that the gospel is truly exciting and knowing that Christ offers me the chance to repent and become better each day is a very exciting for me.

Then my tongue got away from me.

I wanted to bear my testimony of repentance, and tell them I have made lots of mistakes in my life and that through repentance I've been able to overcome them, but that didn't work out exactly as planned. I said, "I makes lots of mistakes in my life," looked at Crystal, and continued, "and my wife here is a great example of that."


Crystal looked at me weird and the kids all sort of paused and cocked their heads, likely thinking, "I don't think you know what you're saying."

Luckily, I quickly realized what I'd said, and how I'd said "example" instead of "witness." I quickly corrected myself, then realizing more what I had said before, I said, "Wow, black hat for Jordan."

To make it even funnier, Crystal had to leave right then for a coughing fit, so it seemed like she walked out because she was mad.

When, I finally got my thoughts back together after my mega-faux pas, I told the kids I was very grateful for forgiveness and that I was going to have to ask it of my wife as soon as class was over. Crystal was gracious and forgiving, as always, and laughed it off. Whew!

Another example of why I WRITE for a living!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Hello Nissanifer!

After the Blue Banger died, we had a couple days to search for a new car and we drove all over town looking at car places. We test drove one zippy little Ford Escort ZR2 or something and it seemed to work fine, but the guy who owned it previously was quite obese and had done something to break the driver's seat. Not so great. Every time I stepped on the gas, the whole seat would rock back, so it felt like I was on a rocking chair rocket ship. Boo.

After hours of looking at lots and looking online, we made a big list of what we would be able and willing to pay if we a) used our savings only, b) used our savings and got a loan and, in a wouldn't-it-be-great-but-yeah-right, c) used only what we had in our checking account. With more thought and prayer, we decided that it would be best that we stayed out of debt (following the counsel of the prophet), so we prayed really hard that something would come along.

After searching Sunday and Monday, I called our neighbor Chace and asked him if he would go out looking at cars with me. He is a car lover who is up on getting good deals on good cars. We drove around for a while (including going to a junk yard that sells cars with salvage titles, and even rebuilds and repaints the good ones) then he mentioned off-hand that his dad had a car he wasn't using that he might be willing to sell. He called his dad and he said we could drive out to his house and look at it. He said he'd been using it as his "work truck," but it was mostly just sitting in the driveway.

Chace told me about the car, a 1990 Nissan Stanza, with 280,000-ish miles on the odometer, but with about 80,000 miles on its current engine and about 120,000 miles on the current transmission. The car had been in Chace's family for a while and his dad, an extremely talented hobbyist mechanic, had changed out the engine and fiddled with this part and that part making it run well. It was charcoal gray with minimal rust, no dents, really new tires, and my favorite of all, it was just as zippy as that rocking chair rocket Escort.

And, best of all, he only wanted $300.

I just about started crying and when I called Crystal, she was almost speechless. I couldn't tell Chace's dad thank you enough ... he even postponed his birthday date with his wife so he could show me all of the intricacies of the car. When I was writing him the check, I made it out for $350, because it was his birthday, he was totally hooking us up and I knew it was still far below what the car was worth to me.

That night, as Crystal and I were driving around in our new car (that definitely showed it's previous "work truck" history with all the dirt in it! -- again, Chace to the rescue, he loves to detail cars and came over and worked on it for four hours with me the next week, making it shiny and spotless, he even hooked up the radio and made sure the AIR CONDITIONER woohoo! worked) we said a prayer again thanking Heavenly Father for watching out for us as we tried to do what He wants.

We named the car Nissanifer, which is in relation to a joke my college roommates had about boy names being used for girls. We talked about how Jordan can be a girl's name, but Brandon would have to change to something like Brandy or Brandina. My roommate Jason said his name couldn't be feminized and said, "What about Jasonnifer?" We called him that all summer! Now my car is like his mechanical sister or something!

Anyway, here she is, Nissanifer, in all her work truck glory. She helped me move our potted garden after the cold hit and we had to get rid of our tomato plants.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Bye bye, Blue Banger!

So, this is Blue Banger, our 1988 Ford Ranger pickup, complete with an extended cab, seatbelts for five and a fire-breathing 90-horsepower four-cylinder engine. We bought the truck about a month before we were married, in July 2005, and Jordan has been driving it for work, play, etc. since then. It helped us move into our first apartment in Ogden and helped us move to our current home, a townhouse in downtown Ogden in February 2006.

We bought the truck from some portly fellow who runs a used car dealership in South Salt Lake for $750. The truck's name came from the yellow plastic tag on the keys the dealer had. It said "1988 Blue Ranger," but the "R" looked like a "B," hence the Blue Banger. The truck came with a tape player (which was just sitting in the dashboard not hooked to anything ... it is still like that) and the air conditioner blew air, but not cold air.

When we bought it, he said it passed inspection, but when we actually took ownership, absolutely none of the electrical system worked, like headlights, turn signals, etc. This was a problem for us, and a confusion, because we had no idea how it passed inspection. We decided Mr. CarSalesman must like shady business as much as he liked cream-filled doughnuts. I guess you can't fault him for the latter, but the former meant that we had to put a few hundred dollars into the truck to get the lights going.

A few months later, the heater stopped working right in the middle of a mid-January cold snap. Jordan drove to Salt Lake City a couple mornings for work and did not enjoy the 40-degree temperatures inside the cab. We learned that the problem was the water pump, so we got that fixed. In July 2006, we went camping in the mountains, and on our way home, the blower stopped working, which was fine in the summer, but we had to get that replaced in November so that the defroster would work.

The truck handled well, could get to 60 mph in under a minute and never had a flat tire. In the past couple months, we were especially proud of the Banger, because it was doing some very truck-like things; Jordan picked up a tractor load of compost to help a neighbor work on their yard, and (as pictured above) we used it to carry two pallets of No. 10 cans (946 in all) to Heber for a food storage project for Crytal's dad. We were also going to spend some time with Crystal's sister, Rachael, her husband, John, and their four boys.

The Banger has a manual transmission, and every now and then it would act up for a little while. It began acting up on the way to Heber, but Jordan just kept going, figuring that the transmission would settle down once we arrived and gave the truck a rest. We got to Heber and unloaded the cans (see Crystal with her dad's tractor in the picture).

The unloading went without a hitch, and we left the truck to rest for the night. The next morning, we worked on the food storage for an hour or so, then had to drive out of Heber, past Deer Creek Reservoir and down Provo Canyon to Provo for the baby shower for our soon-to-be niece or nephew being born to Jordan's brother, David, and his wife, Megan.

As we drove out of Heber, second gear began giving Jordan problems as he shifted coming out of stop signs and stop lights. The higher gears, however, did not offer any problems, so, as we drove past the Heber Airport and hit about 60 mph in fifth gear, we thought we were in the clear.

It was not the case.

We were rounding a curve just above the east end of the reservoir when the car made a decisive THUNK and the rear tires both locked up. They could turn a little bit, but we were skidding pretty bad. Luckily, the steering was not affected, and Jordan was able to skid us to the shoulder of the highway. Also, there was no traffic in either direction, which was another huge blessing. We thought it was a blown tire at first, but a blown tire doesn't skid, so that made us worry about the transmission. (Before we talk about that, enjoy a picture of our gnarly skid mark!)

Jordan tried to push the truck, but couldn't get it to go more than couple feet before the tires would lock up again. We called Rachael and John and they packed their boys into their minivan and brought us their Honda Accord sedan so we could get to the baby shower. Crystal was supposed to help with the food, but thankfully other people were able to help out because we got there late, obviously.

After the baby shower, Jordan's mom drove him back up the canyon in her Chevy Suburban and they hooked a tow rope to the Banger and forced its wheels to move; nothing could make the tires roll smoothly, not even putting in the clutch, moving the stick out of gear, etc. After a jerky tow, the Banger arrived back at Crystal's parents' house in Heber, where it is sitting to this day.

More later on our exciting car hunting experience.