Sunday, July 31, 2011

07-31-11 Life continues

Not quite sure where to begin, so I'll start with the most recent news. Yesterday, I went to see HP7.2 (Man, movies are getting more and more complex with their names, aren't they?). I thought they did a good job. Snape's scenes were amazing, but I also liked the part with the statues. I always thought they were cool.

But that wasn't the best part about yesterday; yesterday I got to see my niece get Baptized! It always surprises you to see how quickly they grow up until you realize just how much time has really gone by. People don't lie when they say time goes faster as you get older. I always thought as a kid that it was a myth. It was awesome to see though, and you could tell she was more than ready for it.

Going back a bit further, we have a new YM president, so that'll be pretty exciting, although I've been spending more and more time with the eleven-year-old scouts, so I'm not sure how much I'll get to see in person. Speaking of the scouts though, I've got to be the luckiest guy on the planet. What are the odds that I'd have a group of guys as interested in pioneering as I am? We've even started working on the merit badge in between rank advancement work. That reminds me, I've got to work on organizing that. We're hoping to have a few older scouts join us when we start our pioneering projects. I think the guys would get a kick out of that.

Anyway, I've got to finish getting ready for church. Outside of what I've already mentioned, mostly I'm working on the job search and seeing what else needs to be done before school starts in the fall. Fun stuff, right?

Oh, and I found out that you can download the hymns on the church website– with or without the words! Very nice. There are a few that have some copyright restrictions, so they couldn't be recorded, but most of them are still there. I've been trying to become more acquainted with the slightly less known ones. Good pick-me-up on the rough days, you know?

Anyway, I've got to run. Have a good one!

Monday, June 27, 2011

06-27.3-11 Yosemite (part3)

Okay, so once we all met up at Yosemite Falls, we hiked to the base of it and took some pictures, then looked at some nice viewing areas of it and headed back to the start of the trail. As we waiting for everyone to come back, though, we saw a visitor. There was a deer, literally feet away from us, just eating some grass by the fence. Awesome. Naturally, we took tons of pictures, and it was pretty cool. That guy totally knew he was a celebrity.

Once we were done there, we all headed up to Glacier point, which was one of my favorites. Massive panorama of the entire valley. Cool. On the way there, we also saw a place called Washburn Point, which had the best view of the trail to Half Dome that I've ever seen. I took a lot of pictures there. Once we were to the top of Glacier Point, we took the opportunity to take some group shots. Very fun. And the best part: Glacier Point had snow. Juggling snowballs is fun, by the way. You should try it. It also had an amphitheater (I've got a soft spot for them now) that was built on the side of the hill so it had a really nice view of the valley behind it. Location, location, location.

Friday was our last day in the park. We started by going to Mirror Lake, which was pretty fun. Any time you're hiking next to a river it's fun. The lake itself was cool, but it was kind of hard to get pictures of the reflection and Half Dome at the same time. Oddly enough, my favorite part was the rock garden next to it. Apparently, people left a bunch of these piles of rocks stacked on top of each other in this one area, and it's only grown since. Naturally, we made some of our own, which was awesome.

After we were done with that, we went to Vernal Falls and the nature center next to it. As you may know, Vernal Falls is the first step on the trail to Half Dome, so it was nice to go back after seeing it last year. We hiked to the bridge, then a part of us kept going to the falls. Apparently there was a little miscommunication there. Sorry about that... Anyway, we hiked to the top, took some pictures, and headed back. Before we left, we took the shuttle to the Ahwahnee Hotel (I think), which was interesting. A bit fancy for my taste, but pretty impressive. They've got a dress code for the dining area.

That just about sums it up. Saturday was spent packing up and heading home.

Now, for the checklist. I've been able to visit Yosemite twice now, so I've got my review to do.
Places to visit:

Mariposa Grove ***
This one was cool, and pretty quick too. A couple easy hikes. A good way to start the trip, especially if you're interested in seeing the trees in Yosemite.

Tunnel View *****
Must see. It's quick, it's got some cool things to see, and it has an awesome view.

Glacier Point / Washburn Point *****
Also awesome. If you want to see the valley in all its glory, this is the spot to do it. Washburn Point would also be a good place to visit before hiking Half Dome so you could see the trail from a bird's eye view.

Yosemite Falls (Base) ****
Easy walk, awesome sight. Plenty of cool rocks next to the path.

Yosemite Falls (Upper) *****
Takes a couple hours to hike to the top and back, leaving time for swimming at the top. The pools are really cool, there are rocks to jump off of, and on the way up, you have some awesome views of Half Dome.

Bridal Veil Falls ****
Extremely quick and easy. Good rocks to climb. You will get wet. And it's AWESOME.

Mirror Lake / Rock Garden ***
The lake itself didn't grab me quite as much as the rock garden next to it, which is definitely worth seeing. The hike is pretty tame, and it has some great photo ops either by the river or down by the lake.

Merced River ***
Floating down the river was great. Relaxing, great scenery, and a great way to cool off after a service project.

Half Dome / Vernal & Nevada Falls *****
You've got to do this, even if only once. It's awesome. The Mist Trail gives you some awesome views of the falls, and Little Yosemite Valley gives you an excellent chance to rest after the climb. Once that's out of the way, it's only a couple more miles to Half Dome. As you get to the base, you'll come to the stairs, and that's where you'll wish you'd never been born. No cables, straight up the mountain. Well, switchbacks, but that's almost worse. Get to the top of that, and the cables are a breeze. If nothing else, you're just glad to let your arms do some of the work after all that hiking. But trust me, the view is worth every drop of sweat and every blister (I didn't actually get any of those. xP). It's like being in an airplane, that's how high it feels. I don't even think it's possible to take too many pictures there. Breathtaking.

Visitor's Center / Shops / Shuttles ****
They're all good. I'd recommend doing them after a long hike, just to give yourself a break. You can relax, look around, and take a moment to learn about all the cool stuff you're seeing.

The Valley / Meadows ****
You've got to stop and look around at least once. There are some neat paths through the meadows with amazing views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, El Capitan, and pretty much everything else. Excellent way to throw everything into perspective.

Service Projects *****
When else can you cut down trees in national parks or dig holes with post hole diggers and put signs in campgrounds? Enough said.

Pretty sure that's everything. If I missed anything, I'll probably go back and add it later. Anyway, that was our trip. Awesome place.

06-27.2-11 Yosemite (part 2)

Still no pictures. Oh well.

Tuesday, we finally got into the park. It was about an hour's drive, right? Feels about right. The first place we visited was Mariposa Grove, where we went on a hike passed a fallen sequoia, a giant, and a bachelor. We stopped at a walk-through tree and took some pictures, then headed back to the car. It was fun though, the trail was a little some parts, so I got to carry the stroller with Naomi. She seemed to think I was a little weird. Probably right. Ooh, and Miriam and I made a snow man! Almost forgot that one.

After Mariposa Grove, we headed for the valley, stopping at tunnel view and taking loads of pictures. Afterwards, we headed down to Bridal Veil falls, which was AWESOME. It was like it was raining! Very cool. You get out your camera, take one shot, then take cover, wipe it off, and repeat. Got some decent pictures though, we still need to exchange all of those. I almost forgot about that.

Another cool thing about Bridal Veil Falls is that it has some really awesome rocks to climb by the parking lot. There was one that would have been Epic, but there was a lot of moss on the part that was easiest to climb, and it had just rained recently, so it wasn't the safest time for it... Bummer.

After that, we explored the visitor's center and took a shuttle around the park, checking out all the places we'll be visiting later. I think after that we headed back to the resort.

Wednesday we got up early so we could run to the park in time for our service project. Ruth had arranged for us to help out with clearing some conifers that were invading Cook's Meadow. The rangers were awesome. They showed us what to do, got out tarps, gloves, vests, and loppers, and led us into the meadow. Yep, that's right. We cut down baby trees in a protected national park in plain sight of a ranger and got away with it. I love service.

We had a blast, and we cleared out a pretty good sized area. We didn't quite make it to the road though. We were close. After that, we had lunch and checked out the shops. While working though, my flashlight slipped out of my water pack, allowing me to learn the parable of the flashlight and the grove, which I'll get to in a minute.

Thursday, we all decided to go to the park separately, using the morning to do whatever we wanted before meeting up at Yosemite falls. For Bjab, that meant going for a bike ride. For me, that meant heading back to the meadow to make a quick search for my flashlight. I went out there and looked for a few minutes, probably between fifteen minutes and half an hour. Then I finally had the idea to pray about it. I made it a quick one, just a 'if it's not too much trouble' kind of things. Eventually, I got an answer, but it wasn't the one I was expecting. I simply got the impression to get on my knees and ask again. I went ahead with it, and only then did I realize what a difference that really makes.

I didn't just ask about the flashlight. That was only ever a trivial thing. I talked about things that were important to me, things I had been concerned about. I learned that praying on your knees really helps you focus on the things that matter rather than just saying the same things over and over. I wasn't really worried about a flashlight. Granted, I'd had it for a while and liked it, but it was replaceable. The things I was really concerned about were the things I ended up praying about, not the flashlight (although I did mention it). And when I was finished, I got another prompting. And this one was different from the other one. I got this one pretty much as soon as I stood up.

I decided to look by the area where we were working last, and when I did, I found something, but not what I was looking for. Apparently, one of the loppers had been left out there, so I went ahead and grabbed it. I looked in that same area some more, but eventually gave up. I then got a prompting to check the path we had followed to when dumping the trees. Nothing. Just as I was about to go back and grab the loppers, something suddenly told me to look down. Just inches from my foot, partly hidden by some grass, was my flashlight.

There's a lot in there for being such an unimportant thing. I learned that sometimes we need to rethink about what trials in life are really worrying us the most. I also learned that when you are really trying to make your personal prayers meaningful, the best way is to do it on your knees, something I hadn't really considered that much. Finally, we may get promptings that don't make sense, but that's only because he has other plans. The bigger picture and all that. If I had been led to the flashlight first, I never would have found the loppers. No big deal, really, but if I was there anyway, why not have me grab them? No reason to let them go to waste.

Anyway, I'm often surprised by how often the Lord seems to use these simple things to teach me. I've never had a vision. No angels or anything like that. Just these little things, but for me, they're enough. The ALEKS experience back in '09 was probably my most treasured one, if only for the pure relief and joy I felt afterward. And the simpleness of it all. A single prayer, a single prompting. Just that brief moment was enough to fix something that I had been struggling with for over a month.

So yeah, kind of having trouble shifting back to Yosemite after that. I think I'll stop here and start a separate post. Why would that make a difference? Who knows, but it sounds good to me.

06-27-11 Intermission

Alright, taking a short break from Yosemite, let's go over some current events. I'm pretty sure my body isn't thrilled with me right now. First off, I almost died like seven times in one day. Yeah. Crazy.

Anyway, Wednesday started off with going swimming with the eleven-year-old scouts so we could go over the swimming / water rescue requirements. And being the young, disposable assistant scoutmaster I am, I got to be the practice victim. Really makes you question my intelligence, doesn't it? I just got rescued and brought to shore, and immediately afterward I swim out to the exact same spot and start drowning again. Smart, Ben. Smart.

Luckily, there just so happens there were three exceptionally able life savers ready to assist me. Kind of nice really. You can do all the stupid stuff you want, and you've got your own personal safety crew. I'll have to remember this.

Anyway, that accounts for the first six near-death experiences. The last one was when I almost bled to death on the bike trail, but I'll get to that in a minute. The YM went on their regular bike trip to In n Out, and as always, we ran into a couple mishaps. Before that happened, though, we had a pretty nice ride there. (Should have known something was going to happen... Well, actually I did, but again, I'll get to that later.) A few highlights: E Man, the ever awesome ninja, learned how to ride without using his hands, which I took a couple pictures of. (Missionary training: Learning to do everything I can while riding a bike. Seriously, being able to eat on the go is handy. And if they aren't supposed to take pictures while proselyting, doing it while in transit seems like a decent alternative. Just saying...) Also, I got to practice juggling while riding, which went surprisingly well. I got to a point where I could keep it up for about ten seconds, but beyond that I have trouble keeping a good idea of where the road is. (I usually stopped after five to make sure I was still good.) Yep, bike ninjas for the win.

One last highlight: We saw a guy on an Ellipti-Go, this really cool, almost scooter like thing. Someone basically hooked up an Elliptical to a chain and wheels, making it one of the coolest things ever. And when it comes to hills, that thing is a speed demon. We first saw it while stopped on the side of the trail, waiting for some others from our group. After waiting a few seconds, it occurred to me that I should take a picture of it, so I spent the next five minutes or so chasing him down. Seriously, you cannot catch that thing uphill. The guy was awesome though. We talked for a bit, and he even let me take a few pictures. Apparently those things can cruise pretty easily at about 14 MPH, but beyond that it doesn't go much faster. It's real advantage is on hills though, I'm telling you. They hardly seem to slow it down...

Anyway, at In n Out, we had a good time, made the mistake of looking at the nutritional facts, then spent the next ten minutes trying to be friends with our stomachs again. It took a bit, but they came around eventually. Shortly after starting the ride home, things got interesting.

So, there were these speed bumps on the road to the park where we connected up with the bike trail, right? And being the young men we were, we all decided to race over them. Great, right? You can see where this is going. Simultaneously, E Man had his chain come off and I went off of one of the bumps. I had been going at a decent rate by then, so I was apart from the ground for a second there– Apparently it didn't like seeing me again. I landed on my back tire, and everything looked fine. That is, until you took into consideration that my bike has rear suspension. The back end came back up momentarily, and when it did so, my bike tilted to the side slightly, so when my front tire landed, it was angled wrong. Long story short, I messed up my arm a little, and my front tire is pretty warped now, but other than that I'm fine.

(This is the seventh one, by the way.) Luckily, E Man happened to be there, prepared and ready with a first-aid kit. We limped over to the bathroom and started cleaning up while Bishop and Ethan saw what they could do with the rim. A quick bandage and an awesome pink bandanna later, I was as good as new. Thanks, E Man! Now, the rim. At first, it was almost warped out about four inches maybe? It couldn't even go through the frame, let alone the brakes. Ethan and I were able to snap it back a little, and by the time Bishop was done with it, it was done to about an inch or so, which would be enough to ride. The good news, a few of the warps came out while we were riding, so things were looking okay there. The bad news, E Man's chain on his bike was still acting up, and from what we could tell, getting worse. We tried to make some repairs, but they only lasted for a few dozen feet at best.

In the end, we rode up to the nearest road access and called for a ride. Yep, the young men have great luck with bike rides, don't we? I still don't think we've had an uneventful one yet.

Let me just say, though, that I thought this would happen. I love my bike. It's sturdy, it's dependable. It's never given me trouble before. But, just to be safe, and since I thought Mom would want me to, I brought a spare tube and some bike tools, just in case. It's cursed, I'm telling you. I've never had a problem before. Then, the first time I brought them with me, my bike starts rebelling and tries to kill me. Lesson learned though. My bike and I have made up, and I agreed not to carry tubes anymore. I trust it. And if something happens, heaven forbid, I'll walk it home and take care of it there.

Update: I spent a good bit of Thursday trying to fix the rim, but it wasn't until Friday that I came up with the obvious answer. A quick prayer later, I kept working, then got the impression to go outside and look at some of the old bikes we've been meaning to take care of. I stop, go out and check, and sure enough, one of them has a tire that matches my bike. The rim is a little wider than my old one, but it seems fine. I cleaned it up, checked everything, and just now put it on my bike. Lesson learned #2: Pray first. It saves time.

As far as I can tell, it's working great. I'll have to take it for a test ride later today. I need to check something out at the library and see if I can fix my account. It isn't letting me request books online at the moment. (And no, I'm pretty sure I don't have any overdue books. That's the first thing I checked.)

Going back to the recap, Friday Tom came over and helped us install some ceiling fans in the family room and office! Fun stuff! While we were working, we also talked a little about Team, something he's been pretty excited about. I wouldn't exactly same I'm excited, but it seems interesting enough. I don't think it's for me though. I've got my mission coming up, and I've still got my own questions about it before deciding if it's something I might consider once I get back. But really, it seems most suited for the ambitious entrepreneur or salesman, and I don't really fall under those categories. I'm fine working a regular job, and most things offered by Team are also offered through the church, with a more direct source– one that I already have a firm testimony of. As for Team, I haven't gotten any answer one way or the other, but I know that it's not something I should be worrying about at the moment.

Back to the fans. We took out the old lights, mounted some ceiling fan boxes, put up some drywall to cover the space where the lights used to be, and put in the ceiling fans. Pretty awesome. And the family room still has light in it at night now! How cool is that? During the day, the sky tunnel still gives plenty of light, but having the new lights up to use at night is great. Thanks, Tom!

Saturday. It started with setting up chairs for Stake Conference– Always a good workout– followed by helping Debi with her yard. Mom and Andrew helped her dump the old wood from her deck while I stayed behind and worked on digging up watering hose. Once they were done, they started working on that too, which turned out to be a little more interesting than any of us were expecting. The people who put the stuff in... made some weird choices. Anyway, it took a while to figure out, but things went pretty well over all. It was almost scary how excited we were to see pvc pipes.

Anyway, that was good. I got to add a couple blisters to my hand, which mostly either healed up or got popped the next day while taking down chairs after Conference. More awesome workout-ness.

And that just about covers it. Stake Conference was amazing, though. Saturday evening we learned a lot about joy and enduring trials without being weighed down by them. We also learned about labels and Alaskan zip lines, and swimming races, and the capabilities of the iPod Touch, and a whole bunch of other things. Then on Sunday, we had some more good quotes, like "One of my goals is to keep the commandments until I am safely dead." They were all good though. The Stake President talked about the twelve hundred sleeping bags story, and how he wanted us to use that same energy to become better about emergency preparedness and missionary work.

After the meeting, I even got to see an– not old friend, quite young actually. I got in trouble for that one... Let's just say a friend I haven't seen for a while. We got to visit, catch up. It was fun.

But that brings us up to speed. After Conference we had BYC, always an entertaining experience, and in the evening we played Loot and watched Gunther and the Paper Brigade, which apparently can be extremely distracting.

Now that that's done, I think I can go back to the Yosemite posts and finally talk about the actual park. See you in a bit!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

06-08-11 We'll start without them...

So, still no pictures. And come to think of it, I'll probably just put them on facebook anyway, so you won't see them here. That said, I might as well start the recap. After I'm done with that, I'll probably start on my Yosemite site reviews and checklist.

So, starting Saturday, we drove down to Bass Lake, where we were staying during our trip. A bit of a drive, but General Conference CD's are a great way to pass the time. Anyway, once we got there we were in for a bit of a surprise. The place we were staying was AMAZING. It's a kind of time share thing that Tom's parents have, only it has several locations and you use points to make reservations.

There were three units, so the Hinds, Rosers, and Robarts each had their own space, with the Aunts each staying with one of the families. The units themselves though? Crazy. They were two bedrooms, two and a half baths, completely with laundry machines and a fully functioning kitchen. There were two twin sized beds, and king or queen (whatever it was in the master bedroom), as well as a murphy bed in front room. Very cool.

We did a little shuffling once we got there, moving a lot of stuff from the other units into the Hinds', where we would be doing most of our gathering. The rest of the day was spent hanging out and playing games, just enjoying a little time to get settled in.

Sunday, we got up and went to church. And let me just say, any ward close to somewhere like Yosemite must be impossible to plan for. I mean, just look at the number of people who are there each week just visiting. How do you guess how many will be there? Anyway, I liked how they did it. They had a fairly small chapel with an overflow in the cultural hall, complete with a projector so the speaker could be seen more clearly.

The people were nice too; you could definitely tell they were used to spending a good portion of time recognizing visitors during lessons. So, that was good. The lessons were about the same as you would find anywhere. The Bishop had just had a training meeting with a couple General Authorities though, so he shared some of that with us. (I even got to get a copy of the notes he took. ^^)

After that, it was more games, more hanging out. While that was happening, though, we did get to have a pretty fun game of hide and seek. Now, the resort where we were staying had pretty efficiently stuffed everything into those units. Not a whole lot of empty space like you might want for hide and seek, but we had a blast with it. We had people in closets, stuffed with the murphy bed, hiding behind furniture, and even a few people in the kitchen cabinets. But the best hiding spot by far was Tom's.

He lifted up the couch cushion and hid under it, with Ruth sitting casually on top. The funny part: It took the kids nearly ten minutes to find him, even though he was right there in plain sight. Hilarious. There should be a video of it somewhere. Maybe even more than one. It was good.

Memorial day was pretty nice too. We would usually have spent it at Mount Vernon, but that's a bit of a drive from where we were staying, so we had to improvise. Tom found this great video online that talked about the story behind the national anthem, and since we couldn't find a service nearby, it made a really nice substitution. Well... Until we got to the end and learned that someone was using it for a political campaign. It was still nice though. After that, we went down to the lake, then changed our minds (which had really been made up even before we got there) and went swimming at the pool. That was nice. I still don't know why I'm so bad with chlorine. I open my eyes too much.

After that, we went geocaching, which oddly enough led us to a cemetery. Well... Next to a cemetery. But we ended up walking through it anyway. It was nice to stop and think about Memorial day is all about.

Then we were off again. We found one across from a Starbucks, although the log was missing from the cache when we got there. After that we found one that was hidden quite cleverly in a bridge near a store called the Purple Cow. Yeah, it's like it was made for our family. The store owner was really helpful too. He gave us clues and talked a bit. While we were there we got to see them making those cool hand carved wooden bears. Really cool.

With those wonderful adventures over, and with Memorial weekend coming to a close, we headed back to the resort to get ready for the real highlight. Yosemite. But that recap will wait until later. Once we got back, Ryan, Rori, Andrew on a hike up a mountain next to the lake before dinner. It was about half way to the trailhead when we realized the hike might be a little longer than we had once thought. So, we set a turnaround time and plunged into the trees. It was still a nice hike. We eventually got a pretty good view of the lake, even if it was infested with mosquitoes. Good times. Good times...

That just about sums it up. Next I'll be talking about Yosemite, so it should be pretty good. Until then, the job hunt continues! See ya.

Monday, June 6, 2011

06-06-11 Still no recap, but this should keep you happy...

For a little while at least. Just until I can get a hold of the pictures everyone else took. There were a lot of them... With this one though, I'm pretty sure it works best if you click the link and get the larger version.

Let me just say, though, there wasn't any panorama mode around to help me out with this one. This was rough guessing and photoshop all the way. So yeah... Standing up for the little guys. They can take pictures just as well as those fancy ones. It just... takes longer. Yeah...

...Anyway, Yosemite is amazing. I took this while standing in a really cool meadow that had some nice views of both Yosemite Falls and Half Dome. And since they're both pretty well known, I thought it'd be cool to get them both in the same shot. Not always easy. I'm pretty sure Ruth has these pictures, but I had to wait until I got home to put them all together, so I thought I'd post the completed shot just in case anyone wanted to see it.

That's it for me, I think I'll see if I can write something interesting later. See ya.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

06-04-11 Yosemite

So, I may wait on the play by play until I get a chance to go through all of the pictures and see if there are any I could use. For now though, let's just say that Yosemite is awesome. I've been there a few times now, and every time you can't help but be blown away. I got to see some different places this time though. Last time I went, we mostly went on the more known hikes. Half Dome, Yosemite Falls. We also got to go rafting down the Merced River and do a couple service projects. This time though, we got to see a lot more of the smaller, less exaggerated ones. One of my favorites was Bridalveil Falls. Lot's of mist, but really fun. (A couple decent climbing rocks too.) We also got the distinction of being able to say that we chopped down trees in a protected National Park in plain sight of a ranger and got away with it. Takes stealth. Anyway, some other highlights. Tunnel View and Glacier Point were both awesome, as were Yosemite and Vernal Falls. All in all, it was a pretty cool trip. And one of the nice things, we got to stay at a place not too far from the entrance of the park, thanks to Tom's parents letting us use their World Mark reservations. That made our stay /very/ comfortable. Anyway, I'll have more on this later, but for now I should get to bed.